Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King and its characters belong to WB and Shoot the Moon Productions. No infringement is intended. This is written for entertainment purposes only. Please do not redistribute or reproduce this story without my permission.
Timeline – 4th season, probably after Stemwinder but before Nightcrawler
Genre – Angst
Warnings – violence, reference to murder/rape, mild swearing
Author - Charlie
Summary – While on a mission to a war torn country, Lee is forced to leave Amanda behind
Notes: My first attempt at angst. I've been told it keeps you on the edge of your seat so beware! Anyone who wants to make constructive criticisms, please do. Many thanks to Ermintrude for all of her help and advice!
Title – Left Behind
Lee heaved a sigh of relief as the trees began to visibly thin. Just yards ahead of him was the clearing where they would rendezvous with the chopper. His arms and shoulders were beginning ache from the strain of carrying the 2 small children as well as supporting most of the weight of his partner and a field pack. He had briefly thought of abandoning the pack but if they should miss the scheduled pick up, it contents might make the difference between survival and death.
"Almost there." He paused and offered the reassuring words to the trio. The toddlers clung to him silently. They hadn't spoken or even cried since being rescued. Lee knew they were in shock from having seen their parents murdered. Their silence was a blessing in that it had initially helped hide their escape but...Lee shook his head. Even at such a young age, the emotional scars these youngsters had suffered would last the rest of their lives.
Amanda offered him the briefest of smiles. Her jaw was set against the pain she was suffering. Every ounce of strength she had was going into putting one foot ahead of the other. The bullet was still lodged in her thigh and she could barely put any weight on her leg. Every movement was excruciating. The loss of blood, combined with the heat and humidity made her feel faint and she wanted to drop to the ground and give up. It was only fear of the rebel army behind them that kept her going.
Readjusting the children in his arms, Lee began to move ahead, shortening his stride to match Amanda's hobbling pace. He felt her fingers tighten around his waist with each step and he wished he could sweep her up into his arms and spare her the pain she was enduring.
They finally reached the edge of the clearing and Lee carefully set the children down. He helped Amanda ease herself to the ground and gently smiled at her while the children nestled themselves closer to her. He stood and surveying the area for any sign that the rebels had lookouts posted. There was no reason to suspect that the enemy was here, but an agent could never be too cautious.
At one time, this had probably been a small farm owned by local peasants but years of political coups and fighting had reduced it to ruins. The shell of a small home and an out building were all that remained and the fields that should have produced food for the family were overgrown. In another year or so, the surrounding jungle would reclaim the land completely.
The area seemed clear, but Lee hesitated to leave the shelter of the trees. Something wasn't right. He cocked his head to the side and listened but heard nothing in the distance. That was the problem. The chatter of birds and animal life in the canopy above had stilled which could only mean one thing. People were approaching.
Damn! He looked at his watch. The chopper should be here in less than10 minutes but were the Freedom fighters that far away? He briefly considered moving his charges to the relative shelter of the broken buildings but quickly dismissed the idea. That would be the first place that would be searched. Instead, Lee decided to move his small entourage to the far side of the clearing so that when the chopper came, it would be between his little party and the approaching army. If, heaven forbid, rescue didn't come, they would then slip deeper into the jungle and try to lose their pursuers.
Bending down in preparation for picking up the children, Lee started to explain his plan to Amanda, only to discover that she had lapsed into a semi-conscious state.
"Amanda! Amanda!" He gently tapped her face. "Wake up. We have to go just a little farther."
She opened her eyes and shook her head. "I can't."
"Yes, you can. Here." Lee took the canteen and held it for her so she could take a drink. "Does that help?" He stared at her anxiously, while at the same time offering sips of water to the children at her side.
"Hmm," she sighed in gratitude, her eyes starting to close.
"Amanda King, you stay with me! We're almost there. The chopper's due any minute. Do you hear me?"
"Yeah." She licked her lips and nodded, making an effort to stay alert.
Torn between caring for his young charges and helping his injured partner, Lee decided he'd have to move them in stages. The clearing was roughly circular and he wanted to get to the far side but didn't dare cross it openly. Instead,he would move around the circumference, taking the children a short distance, setting them down and then coming back to get Amanda. It would take several trips but he didn't want to leave any of them alone for too long or have them too far away.
"Now stay awake," he addressed his partner. "I'm going to move the kids over there," he indicated a spot about a quarter of the way around the clearing, "and then I'll come back to get you."
Lee smiled as reassuringly as he could at the children, picked them up and carried them to the place he had shown Amanda. He told them to wait right there, he was going to go back and bring the lady. Silent eyes stared at him and he briefly cupped their faces in his hands and caressed their cheeks with his thumb trying to convey to them that everything would be all right.
"I'll only be gone a moment, don't worry," he told them again before leaving to get Amanda.
"I'm back," he touched Amanda's shoulder and woke her from the light sleep she had fallen into. "Up we go." Lee hoisted her into his arms, snagged the field pack and made his way back to the children. He set his partner down and was planning on repeating the process so that they would be on the far side of the clearing but froze as he heard sounds coming at him from two different directions.
The rebels were quickly closing in from the South but the sound of an approaching helicopter also filled the air.
"Come on, come on," he urged standing and scanning the sky for the as yet unseen rescuers.
Lee crouched back down and spoke to Amanda. "The chopper's almost here. Can you hear it? Let's get you up so we can make a run for it as soon as it lands."
Amanda tried to stand but everything kept going black. She swayed drunkenly and then crumpled to the ground.
"You can do it," Lee urged, lifting her again and propping her up against the trunk of the nearby tree.
"No, Lee. I'm sorry, I can't." She slid down the trunk, and collapsed at its base, her half open eyes black against the whiteness of her face.
Lee looked at his partner in despair. The trek through the jungle hadn't been easy. They'd fought their way along the overgrown path, the razor sharp edges of leaves causing a myriad of small cuts and scratches. Little rivers of sweat and tears had left their marks on her dusty cheeks and her hair was sticking to her forehead. His eyes drifted down to her blood soaked pant leg and he swallowed hard knowing she'd lost a dangerous amount of that vital fluid.
"All right. I'll carry you to the chopper when it lands," he declared.
Her eyes fluttered open. "But you take the children first."
He opened his mouth to protest but the look on her face stopped him.
"The children go first." he conceded. "And then I'll come back and get you."
"I know you will," she smiled weakly, closing her eyes again.
Lee, standing in the shadows of the trees, alternated between anxiously scanning the sky and the jungle. The sound of the chopper grew louder almost drowning out the sound of the approaching men. He could hear them shouting and starting to run, obviously aware that their prey was about to escape. A few random shots were now being fired and Lee's stomach clenched.
He shifted nervously and crouched, ready to grab the children and run as soon as the chopper was even close to the ground. Glancing at Amanda, he saw her eyes were open and staring at him intently as if she was trying to memorize his features. His eyes locked with hers and he felt as if his chest would explode from the feelings exchanged by that simple look.
Lee reached out his hand and traced her mouth with trembling fingers. She weakly reached up and clutched his hand, pressing a kiss to it.
Just then the helicopter appeared over the clearing and began to descend. The surrounding foliage started to buffet back and forth from the force of the wind it created. Over the roar of the machine, Lee shouted, "I love you" and quickly bent to give Amanda a hard kiss before reaching for the children.
"I love you, too." she replied as he stood to go.
Lee gave her one last searing look before tearing his eyes away, grabbing the children and racing towards their rescuers, bending low to avoid the whirling blades. As he crossed the opening, the rebels burst into the clearing, dropped to their knees and began firing at the helicopter.
Arms reached out of the chopper, taking hold of the children and Lee, pulling them inside. Lee set the children down and pulled back, "I have to get my partner!"
"No time man," a voice yelled at him, tugging at Lee to enter the chopper.
"No - I've got to go back." Lee strained against the two men who were now intent on keeping him in the machine. He braced his hand against the doorway and started to break away. A bullet whizzed by his head and grazed his hand, causing Lee to lose his grip and giving a momentary advantage to the men inside who were trying to keep him from leaving.
"They're firing at us. We have to take off!" shouted the pilot. "Get that fool in here!"
The helicopter began to rise, Lee still only partially inside. He twisted frantically against the hands that held him, half turning and trying to jump out. His panicked eyes took in the sight before him. Fighters swarmed over the clearing...
"Amanda! Amanda!" Lee struggled violently against his rescuers. Suddenly, the helicopter banked to the right and he was thrown backwards away from the door. He hit the wall on the far side, his head snapped back at the sudden stop and he slid unconscious to floor.
(Told from Amanda's POV)
Something told Amanda that this might be the end. Maybe it was the blood slowly leaching from her body, or some primitive instinct, but as she gazed up at Lee, the need to memorize his face was overwhelming. If she never saw him again, his image would be forever committed to her memory.
He was crouched beside her, his eyes darting from the jungle to the sky. No doubt his quick mind was rapidly calculating the odds of the chopper appearing before the rebels arrived and was plotting his defence should rescue come too late.
Of course, there would be no defence. They were down to one able bodied agent and two guns. The army was ruthless and would not hesitate to open fire, even though there were children with them. Already, the youngsters' parents had been horribly murdered and the Freedom Fighters didn't want news of their deeds leaked to the outside world. If rescue didn't arrive in time, Amanda knew they would all die.
She lay there studying the man she had worked with for the past three years. His strong jaw was clenched, a nerve twitching and revealing his inner tension. Hazel eyes were half shut as they scanned the area around them. A sweat stained shirt stuck to his body, outlining his well muscled torso and his crouched position pulled the material of his pants taut over his strong thighs.
His form was the stuff that dreams were made of but, while she appreciated his physical presence, it was the man inside that she loved. He could be quick-tempered and ruthless but he was also fiercely loyal, protective, highly intelligent and possessed a deep sense of integrity.
Few people knew of the gentler side of the agent called Scarecrow. Lee kept his emotions hidden behind a wall but Amanda had managed to break down his barriers. She knew of his painful childhood, the emotional scars left by losing everyone close to him. Sharing this had been difficult for Lee but it had deepened the bond between them.
After years of working together, they had finally crossed the friendship barrier and were starting to explore their relationship as man and woman. And now, just when they were finally really getting to know each other, it was all coming to an end.
In all truth, Amanda doubted that Lee would have the chance to save both her and the children but she couldn't let him know this. She could hear the rebels getting closer. Once the helicopter landed, Lee would be lucky to get to it without being gunned down. Instead she agreed with him, that he would come back to get her after seeing to the safety of the children. In her heart however, she knew this was goodbye.
The sound of the helicopter grew louder in her ears but shouting and gunfire were also filling the air. Lee's fingers traced her lips and she pressed a kiss to his hand. She could barely hear him saying, "I love you" and then his head blocked the light as he bent, kissing her roughly. One last look was exchanged before he grabbed the children and ran across the clearing.
'Please,' she prayed, 'Let him make it.' She saw the bullets hit the ground behind him, small eruptions of dust appearing as the deadly bits of metal missed their target and dug into the ground instead. Amanda watched the children disappearing into the waiting helicopter. Arms were grabbing at Lee and he was trying to turn to come back for her.
'No,' she cried silently, 'Go! Save yourself.' She gasped as his hand suddenly jerked - a bullet must have hit him - and then the helicopter was lifting off, Lee still only partially inside.
Was that his voice she heard, calling her name? 'Goodbye,' she sobbed, 'Know that I'll always love you.'
As the chopper banked to the right, she lost sight of him and closed her eyes, tears trickling down her face.
If the noise of the helicopter wasn't deafening enough, the gunfire and shouting of the rebels made it impossible for Amanda to stay lost in her grief. All attention was turned to the chopper - no one had yet noticed her lying at the edge of the clearing.
She hadn't yet completed her Agency training but what little Amanda did know, began to take over and direct her actions. The will to survive gave her strength she didn't know she had left. Grabbing the field pack, she slid back along the ground, deeper into the cover offered by the lush foliage. Scooting backwards on her bottom, her progress was slow but it was her only chance. If luck was with her, they might think she had gotten on the helicopter and not look for her.
Even a simple search would reveal the path she had taken. The bent leaves, the marks left by her heels and the trail of blood from her leg would all act like arrows pointing out her location.
The sound of the helicopter faded and Amanda stopped her painful journey into the jungle. She slid sideways under a bush-like plant and pulled some of the leaves forward in an attempt to hide where she was. Then she sat and strained to hear what was happening back in the clearing.
The gunfire had stopped as had most of the yelling. Angry voices could still be heard but it didn't sound like they were fanning out in a search pattern. Maybe they wouldn't look for her. A loud discussion seemed to be occurring. After what felt like hours, a decision must have been made and retreating footsteps could be heard.
Had they really gone? She wasn't sure, so staying hidden would be the best course of action. Soldiers could have been left behind to look for her or to watch in case the chopper returned.
It wouldn't, but the fighters might not know that.
Leaning back against the thick base of the bush, Amanda mentally travelled with Lee and the children to safety. They would head to Santa Marietta where a US Naval base was located. From there, the children would receive medical treatment and, once declared fit, be sent back stateside to their grandparents, retired Senator James Duffy and his wife Helen.
Lee would be treated for any injuries sustained - had his hand really been hit by a bullet? Then he would be sent back to the Agency for debriefing. She ached for him, knowing the mental agony he would feel over leaving her behind. He would blame himself, just as he had when his previous two partners, first Dorothy and then Eric, had died in the line of duty. It wasn't his fault on either of those occasions and it wasn't his fault now but that would make little difference. She hoped he wouldn't lock everyone out this time.
Shifting a bit, she brushed the flies away that had settled on her wounded leg. There hadn't even been time to apply a proper dressing and the blood had simply streamed down her leg into her sock and shoe then soaking into her pant leg. Lee had made a makeshift tourniquet but the need to keep travelling had prevented it from doing much good.
She felt light headed from the blood loss, heat and stress. Closing her eyes, she knew she should try to cleanse and bandage the wound. There were a few medical supplies in the field pack but she was tired and, if she was going to die anyway, what did it matter? As long as she didn't die at the hands of the rebels.
Shuddering she thought of how the children's mother had died: beaten and raped before having her throat slit and being left to bleed to death. The father had been shot in the head while frantically trying to reach his dying wife ... No, she'd rather die of infection, alone in the jungle, than at the hands of the army.
Sighing, she wondered if her body would ever be found or if it would just decompose and become part of the jungle. She let herself slide sideways down to the ground and gave into the waves of darkness. Her last vague thoughts were of her family and what they would be told about her fate.
Lee's eyes slowly opened and he winced at the brightness of the room. Blinking, he adjusted to the light and his eyes scanned his surroundings. White ceiling, white walls, boring picture on the wall, curtains around the head of the bed ... Damn! He was in another hospital.
'How did this happen?' He asked himself, searching his mind for clues. They'd been on a rescue mission in Central America ... the intelligence had been all wrong ... the race through the jungle with the children ... Amanda had been shot ...Amanda!
'Oh my God, those idiots took off without her. They wouldn't let me go back.' He remembered fighting against someone ... he'd almost made it to the door and then...nothing.
Struggling to sit up, Lee realized that he was strapped to the bed.
'What the hell is this all about?' He inventoried his body. The regulation IV was in his arm. His head hurt, probably a concussion, maybe stitches. A bandage wrapped his right hand. He spied the call button near his left hand and signalled for a nurse, a doctor, someone...
Soon after, a man entered the room.
"Ah, Mr. Stetson! Awake now are we?" The man's ID tag indicated he was Dr. Thompson.
"Yeah - we are awake and we want to be untied! What the hell is going on here?" Lee demanded.
Ignoring his patient's comments, the doctor peered into Lee's eyes, felt the back of his head causing Lee to gasp slightly and then checked the IV flow. Once satisfied, the doctor went to the door and gestured for someone to enter before finally answering,
"You've been unconscious for almost 24 hours but were thrashing about so much that we had to restrain you for your own safety - let alone ours." He added the last bit in a dry, quiet voice while tossing a look at the person who entered. It was Billy Melrose.
"Billy, what's going on?" Lee didn't offer a greeting. "Tell this medical moron to let me go and I'll be on my way."
"Lee - you're being your usual charming self, I see. Good to see you, too." Billy smiled sarcastically at his agent. "I'm sure the doctor intends to release the restraints."
The doctor nodded and proceeded to loosen the straps. Lee immediately sat up and swung his legs off the bed, attempting to stand. He swayed and quickly sat down again.
"Mr. Stetson, you've sustained a mild concussion and have several stitches in the back of your head. I advise you against sudden movements like that. You need several days of rest so that the injury can heal." Seeing Lee's glare and anticipating an argument, the doctor turned and left the room, tossing instructions over his shoulder, "Mr. Melrose, I'll leave you to deal with him - you know the routine. His medication is on the table beside his bed."
Lee ran his hand through his hair in frustration but immediately regretted the action. His head throbbed like the very devil. He looked at his boss and friend. "Billy, I've got to get out of here." He unsuccessfully tried to stand again.
"Lee," Billy interrupted, "Calm down and lie down. You won't do anyone any good if you try to do too much and pass out. You're our only source of information. I came back from vacation to find two of my best agents had been sent on what could only be described as a suicide mission. Dr. Smyth has a major burr up his butt because the whole thing is a mess. No one around here knows what the hell is going on and the only person who does know has been unconscious for the past 24 hours and seems intent on making himself unconscious again!" Billy's voice had risen steadily throughout his tirade.
Lee gave up his efforts to stand and lay back down, putting his hand over his eyes. He shook his head slowly.
Billy, seeing Lee's obvious distress, continued in a softer voice, "What happened down there, man? What went wrong? I got this frantic call from our local agent, Sam Jacobs, that only you and two children were rescued. Where's Amanda? Where are Paul Duffy and his wife, Lisa?"
Wiping his face with his hand, Lee sadly looked over at Billy. "Dead. The Duffy's are dead, Billy, and by now, Amanda probably is too. The kids and I are the only ones that made it out." Closing his eyes, Lee began to relate the past 3 days.
It was a rescue mission aimed at retrieving the son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren of a very wealthy, powerful and well-liked retired senator. James Duffy had served the nation for years and was now enjoying life in the private sector. He still carried significant political clout and was known to have the ear of several high ranking White House officials.
Duffy's only son, Paul worked as a diplomat and had just been sent to the small but politically sensitive Central American country of Cantala. Years of civil war had finally subsided and a government friendly to the United States had been established. Paul Duffy was attempting to strengthen ties with the country by bringing health and educational aid packages. As a sign of his belief in the stability of the government, Paul had his family come with him. His wife Lisa, who had been involved in relief projects before, had no qualms about bringing the children: Olivia aged 3 and Paul Jr. just 18 months old.
Unfortunately, peace had been short-lived in the small country and civil war had broken out again. Word reached the States that the diplomat and his family were being held hostage by rebel forces who called themselves the Freedom Fighters. The United States government didn't make deals with rebel armies. There was no way of saving the Duffys.
That was where the Agency got involved. The retired Senator rattled a few chains, called in a few favours and a covert rescue mission was launched.
Lee and Amanda, posing as documentary film makers, had gone to the tiny island nation of Santa Marietta where a small US Navy base was located. Santa Marietta was just off of the coast of Cantala. Taking a small boat, Lee and Amanda had supposedly been filming the island's beaches. In fact, they purposely allowed their boat to drift farther out to sea and then, under the cover of night, had made their way to Cantala.
A small inlet had provided a hiding place for their craft and they had snuck into the seaside town and then to the compound where the Duffy family was supposedly held. Of course, once Lee and Amanda arrived, they discovered that the family had been moved to an encampment deep within the jungle.
Frustrated, the two had made their way back to their boat and used the radio to contact Sam Jacobs, the Agency's local man. Jacobs had pulled a few strings and had gotten the Navy to unofficially help determine where the rebel camp was located. Unfortunately, it was miles into the jungle. The chances of freeing the Duffy family and then escaping undetected, all the way back to the boat, were slim. Instead, the Navy had agreed to unofficially provide helicopter transportation out. A rendezvous site was found just a few miles away from the camp and a pick up time was determined.
Lee and Amanda were given a tight schedule for completing their mission. They would trek through the jungle, use whatever means necessary to rescue the family and then quickly get to the prearranged meeting spot. There would be no means of contacting the helicopter if they couldn't make the rendezvous. Lee hadn't liked it but since the help was "unofficial" he couldn't really protest. It was their only option.
Lee had expressed his doubts about taking Amanda along but she had argued he couldn't leave her behind - a civil war was going on! It was safer to go with him. Besides, she'd be able to help with the children. He needed her to watch his back. The usual arguments had ensued and, as always, Amanda had her way. They had set off through the jungle together.
Meanwhile, the Fighters had heard that the US wouldn't make a deal for the hostages and had taken their frustration out on the hapless couple. Hardened from years in the field and his time in 'Nam, even Lee had been appalled at what had happened. The woman had obviously been beaten, raped and then left to bleed to death, her throat slit. Her young family had been witness to much of it.
When Lee and Amanda arrived, they had heard the sounds of shouting and yelling. From their hidden vantage point at the edge of the camp, they had seen Paul Duffy trying to reach his wife's lifeless body as it lay in a pool of blood. One of the rebels kicked the dead woman and Paul had flown into a rage, almost escaping those who restrained him. A comment had been made, crude laughter had followed and then they had shot the man in the head, dropping his body in the dust beside his wife.
The men had then walked away, paying little attention to the two small children who sat frozen on the ground in the shade of a makeshift hut. Sitting beside a fire, the rebels had callously proceeded to share a few drinks, eat a meal and settle down for a mid-day nap.
Amanda had been almost catatonic with shock over what she had witnessed. Lee had cradled her in his arms and crooned soothingly, all the while drawing upon years of training to force his own feelings down. They still had a mission to complete. Those two children needed to be returned to their grandparents. There would be time for sorrow and anger later.
He had said as much to Amanda and she calmed a bit. The children were still sitting unattended and thankfully weren't crying or moving about. It could be from shock or possibly they were drugged. Either way, Lee had thought they could use this to their advantage. With the Fighters temporarily distracted by food and drink, Amanda and Lee had crept around the perimeter of the camp.
Once they were close enough, Amanda, being more experienced with children, had commando crawled her way to the youngsters who by now had fallen asleep. She had scooped up the little girl first and taken her to Lee and had then gone back for the boy. The children hadn't stirred, confirming the idea that they were drugged.
The two agents, each holding a child, had begun their trek to the rendezvous site, unable to believe the ease with which this part of the mission had gone. They were actually ahead of schedule and an overgrown path, obviously used only infrequently by the local population, seemed to lead them towards the pickup site.
The journey had been difficult. The heat and humidity were intense. Leaves slapped them in the face, and they had done their best to keep the children's faces sheltered. Swarms of almost invisible insects had risen up as they passed by, getting in their mouth, nose and eyes. The path twisted and turned around trees, fallen logs and unexpected out-croppings of rock. There was no way to really see what was coming around the next corner.
It was the unpredictable nature of the path that proved to be their downfall. As they took yet another turn, they had suddenly met up with two members of the rebel forces. Both parties had momentarily frozen before reacting. Lee had moved first, shoving the little girl at Amanda and drawing his gun.
"Get down," he had yelled and Amanda had dropped to the ground, shielding the children with her body. Lee had fired twice and then dove to the side, taking shelter behind a tree. The gun fight had been short and Lee had managed to take out one of the men, the other, slightly wounded, had hastily retreated. Not willing to waste time pursuing him, Lee had let the man escape.
While gathering the gun from the fallen fighter, Lee had spoken to Amanda over his shoulder.
"We're going to have to move quickly now. That fellow will warn the rest if they haven't already heard the shots. They'll see the kids are gone and know something is up. I expect they'll be on our trail within minutes"
As he finished speaking, Lee had turned and noticed Amanda still lying on the ground, her eyes closed in pain and her hand clenching her thigh. Blood had oozed between her fingers and dripped to the ground forming a red pool on the jungle floor.
Lee had rushed to her side, his heart pounding. She had been shot. The bullet was still lodged in her leg since there was no exit wound. Frantically, Lee had searched through his field pack for material to make a bandage. He had ripped her pant leg open and murmured words of comfort while trying to staunch the flow of blood by pressing firmly against the wound. Finally the bleeding began to slow.
"That's my girl," he had encouraged, using his shirt to wipe her blood off of his hands. He had grabbed the canteen and offered her a small drink.
"Oh my gosh! How could I get shot at a time like this," she had despaired.
Jokingly, Lee asked if there was a good time to get shot and she had smiled at his attempt to lighten the atmosphere. The children were starting to stir, the drug they had been given was wearing off. Amanda had told Lee to leave further medical treatment until later.
"We need to get out of here quickly. You can play doctor once we're at the clearing."
Lee had agreed that time was of the essence and had helped her up. She had barely been able to stay upright and the gravity of the situation had rapidly become apparent. Two children and a severely wounded agent depended on him to get them through at least another mile of jungle while being pursued by a rebel army.
Reluctantly, Lee had abandoned one of field packs, knowing even his strength had its limits. He had helped Amanda balance against a tree and had then lifted the two children who were now awake and staring wide eyed at him.
"Hi! My name is Lee." He had said to them softly. "I'm going to take you to your Grandma and Grandpa but I need you to help me. You have to keep your faces turned towards my chest so the leaves don't hit you. Can you do that?" There had been no response but neither had they cried, instead nestling their faces against his shirt.
With the field pack on his back, a child in each arm and Amanda using him as a crutch, they had set off down the path moving as quickly as possible, knowing their pursuers were likely gaining on them every minute. Amanda hadn't asked to stop or take a break and Lee had feigned the need instead, making her drink frequent sips of water despite her protests to save it for the children. The beads of sweat on her forehead weren't just from the heat and humidity but she hadn't complained about the pain she was obviously experiencing. He remembered thinking that she had more guts than any other agent he had ever worked with.
"And so, we made it to the clearing with only moments to spare but by then Amanda was too weak to walk anymore. The chopper arrived just as the army started to pour out of the jungle. She had me take the children to the helicopter first and the Fighters began to fire as I ran. The navy personnel in the chopper grabbed the kids and I was turning to go back and get Amanda when the pilot started to take off. I tried to tell them to wait, to let me go and get her but they wouldn't listen. A bullet grazed my hand and I must have lost my balance, hitting my head because that's the last thing I remember."
Lee finished his narrative and sat silently thinking about his partner, his friend, his love. He'd told her that he would come back for her. She'd trusted him. Tears welled in his eyes and he blinked rapidly and stiffened his chin. It wouldn't do to let Billy see him cry. Later, when he was alone, he'd allow himself the luxury of grief.
Billy had sat silently through Lee's explanation of the past few days. 'How could Smyth have even thought of sending the two agents into that situation? The Army or Navy should have been used. They have Special Forces for that sort of thing. Of course, it was all supposed to be hush-hush. The incident will officially never have happened. No record anywhere. It will be a sad epitaph for Amanda's file: Agent lost, cause - left blank.'
Wearily, the older man stood and walked slowly towards the bed where his best agent lay. He saw the almost imperceptible tremble of Lee's chin and knew the man was barely holding it together. Billy laid a comforting hand briefly on Lee's shoulder, avoiding eye contact. "I'll phone Smyth with the report. You get some rest."
Billy left the room and the door swung shut behind him. He stood quietly outside the room, staring at the floor, mentally preparing himself for the call he was about to make. Behind him, in the room he had just left, he could hear the sound of muffled sobs as the man inside began to grieve the loss of a partner and a friend.
Lee stirred restlessly in the bed. In his dreams he was in a helicopter trying to get to Amanda but they wouldn't let him out. Instead the chopper was hovering over the field while the army swarmed the clearing. Lee watched in horror as the rebels encircled Amanda, beating her and kicking her. One of the soldiers was laughing and dropped to his knees beside her, his intent obvious. The others held her pinned to the ground. Lee fought and struggled against the hands that held him back...
"No!" he yelled, sitting up in bed. He was shaking and drenched in sweat, the covers twisted around his body so that he could barely move. Lee wiped his wet cheeks with his hands, and looked around the room, forcing himself to take deep calming breathes.
Slowly he stood and made his way to the window. It was light out, maybe mid-morning. After Billy had left yesterday, he had allowed himself to grieve for his lost love and when he had run out of tears, he had taken the pills that the doctor had left, hoping sleep would help him hide from the pain in his heart. Instead, sleep was the enemy. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Amanda looking up at him with her trusting eyes. 'I'll come back for you,' he had said and she'd replied, "I know you will."
'Well that was the world's biggest lie,' he told himself with condemnation. 'I didn't go back. I left her behind at the mercy of the Fighters and mercy is a word that they don't know.' He shuddered again, thinking of the fate she had probably suffered.
Suddenly, he couldn't bear to be alone in the room. Looking around, he found the standard hospital issue robe and pulled it on. He opened the door and walked into the hallway for the first time. Left or right? It didn't really matter, he just had to do something. He chose to go left.
Walking down the hallway, other patients and staff barely glanced his way. His was just another anonymous face in the busy medical facility. Another hallway, right this time, then a left. Lee kept walking with no destination, just the need to keep moving.
Unexpectedly he found himself outside the door that said Paediatrics. Hesitating momentarily, Lee entered, wondering if the two children were there. This time as he walked, he took note of his surroundings. The walls were decorated with cartoon figures. The doors were bright primary colours and the staff wore uniforms made of cheerful printed fabrics.
Slowly he moved down the corridor, noting children in robes sitting with their parents. Some were reading books, others were playing games. A few were just being rocked while words of comfort were whispered in their ears.
Near the end of the hallway was an open area, perhaps a playroom? Lee wasn't familiar with how the children's wing of a hospital was set up, but it seemed a logical conclusion. The area was quiet and empty except for two children who were sitting silently, staring down at the carpet. A TV was playing in the background and several toys were around them but they didn't seem to notice.
Lee paused just out of eyesight. It was Olivia and Paul Jr., looking considerably cleaner than last time he had seen them. He swallowed hard. At least they were okay. Amanda hadn't given her life for nothing.
"Come to check on your little friends?" Billy's voice sounded in Lee's ear, startling him.
"Oh, yeah, I guess," Lee answered. "I was just getting some exercise and ended up in Paediatrics so I thought I'd see if they were still here - check on how they're doing."
"I've just been talking to the nurses. Arrangements have been made for them to fly back to the states tomorrow. They'd been given some sort of a drug but it's out of their system and no permanent physical damage seems to have been sustained. Psychologically, the picture isn't as clear. They haven't communicated with anyone yet. It's like they're in a world of their own."
"Billy, they saw their parents murdered. They've been handed off from stranger to stranger - a new face every day. What do you expect?" Lee's voice rose in anger, his own childhood coming back to haunt him. He stared up at the ceiling and clenched his fists in the pockets of his robe.
"I know Scarecrow. They've had a rough go of it and ..." Billy didn't finish his statement.
Lee looked at his boss, wondering why he had stopped. He saw that the man was staring into the play room and followed the direction of his gaze.
The two children were holding hands and walking towards him. They stopped beside Lee and wrapped their arms around his lower leg.
Startled, Lee froze momentarily before hesitantly reaching out and gently rubbing his hand over their heads. Carefully he squatted so that he was at eye level and then spoke softly to them.
"Hey. It's good to see you guys again. You're all cleaned up now and..." he searched desperately for something else to say, "You've got some great looking toys to play with here." Lee paused and stared at the large eyes solemnly regarding him. "I'm glad you're all right and tomorrow, I hear that you get to take a plane ride and go see your Grandma and Grandpa. It will be good to go back home and see them, won't it?"
Paul Jr. had silently stood through Lee's monologue, a thumb tucked in his mouth. Olivia had watched his face intently, a small frown on her brow. She blinked her big brown eyes and looked behind Lee before quietly speaking three words, "Back? Lady back?"
Lee stifled a gasp and felt moisture gather in his eyes. He looked down at the ground for a moment before raising his head and meeting the girl's inquiring gaze. "No, the lady didn't come back. But she's glad you and your brother are okay. She...she really wanted you to be safe."
Olivia seemed to think this over and then nodded. She took little Paul's hand and led him back to the playroom where they sat together and continued to stare at the carpet.
Billy had watched this exchange in amazement. He'd never seen the Scarecrow around little children, let alone imagined the man down on his knees talking to them. Given the fact that Lee's experience with youngsters was nil, Billy thought the agent had done a fine job in dealing with them.
Lee stood and addressed his boss while still looking at the children, "They must have heard my voice and it struck a chord in them - poor little kids." He shook his head. "Do you think this hospital has a gift shop? Maybe I'll buy them a teddy bear or something to take with them when they leave tomorrow. You know, something that they can hold onto. It will pretty scary for them, being handed off to another set of strangers..." Lee fell silent, momentarily lost in his own memories.
Billy jumped in. "That's a good idea. Why don't we make our way to the gift shop and you can pick something out. Then we'll head back to your room and I'll go over your travel arrangements to DC."
A bear and a bunny were finally selected and Lee delivered them to the children. He didn't know how much they understood but didn't want them to feel that yet another adult had abandoned them. Olivia had again asked him if the lady was back and he had again explained that no, she wasn't there. The children, possible sensing his distress had hugged him. The feel of their warm arms around his neck had made his throat tighten. Lee had caressed their cheeks one last time before leaving.
As he walked back to his room, Lee briefly wondered if he'd ever see them again but knew it would be unlikely. The life of an agent was filled with passing encounters. Most of the time, you never knew what eventually happened to the people you met and then left behind. Sometimes, it was better that way.
Billy was staring out of the window of Lee's hospital room. Even though it was located on the Santa Marietta Naval base, the little hospital still had a spectacular view. The sky was bright blue, palm trees swayed in the gentle breeze and tropical flowers bloomed abundantly in the gardens surrounding the hospital. If only he had been here for another reason, he might have actually enjoyed the scenery in front of him.
The Section Chief had let Scarecrow take the presents to the children by himself. They had formed a connection during their brief time together and Billy didn't want to intrude. However, Lee would be returning to his room any moment and Billy was still unsure of what to say to the man when he entered.
He fingered the envelope in his pocket. It held Lee's travel documents and would take him back to DC. Another piece of paper was in the same pocket. On it was written a tip - a very improbable tip. A tip that Billy should ignore, given the unreliability of the source.
He rocked back on his heels, wondering which he should give to Lee. Either way he was in trouble. Did he want to be chewed out by Smyth or face the eventual wrath of Scarecrow if it was ever discovered that he had withheld the information?
The door opened behind him and Lee entered the room. One look at the devastated agent's face told Billy what he had to do.
"Thanks for letting me do that on my own, Billy." Lee dropped onto the bed and held his head in his hands. "The little girl asked about Amanda again." He paused to gain control of himself. "She has the biggest brown eyes, just like Amanda's. She keeps asking, 'Lady back?' and it makes me think of how I promised Amanda I'd put the children in the chopper and then come back for her..." Lee's voice broke again.
"Lee, your mission was to save the Duffy family. Amanda knew that and she wanted those children to be safe."
"I know, I know." Lee stood and started to pace, "But every time I close my eyes, I see that clearing filled with rebels and I know that I left Amanda behind to face them by herself. I know what probably happened to her...and I don't think I can live with it." He turned tortured eyes to his friend. "What am I going to do, Billy? What will I say to her family? There isn't even a body to bury!"
"Well, you have two choices." Billy drew the envelope out of his pocket. "This contains your travel documents. You can take it, go back to DC, have the standard 2 weeks off, a few sessions with Pfaff and start to rebuild your life. Smyth even indicated there might be a plum job waiting for you - thanks to former Senator Duffy for your efforts on his behalf."
Lee snorted in derision at the idea that a job could ever compensate him for the loss of Amanda.
"Or," Billy continued, "You can follow up this very unreliable tip that I have. If you do, Smyth will have your ass, and mine too for that matter for giving it to you."
His interest was piqued at the thought of something that would tick off Dr. Smyth. "What's the tip?"
"Remember, it's very unreliable but...there's a rumour coming out of Cantala that an American woman was found..."
"Amanda! Billy, it has to be her. I've got to go get her!"
"Hold it Lee. Don't get your hopes up until you hear me out. There are quite a few problems. First of all, this is third, or maybe even fourth or fifth hand information. We don't know if the woman was found alive or dead and..." Billy glared at Lee was trying to interrupt, "Even if she was alive when the information was gathered, she might not be now. You said she'd been bleeding. With no medical aid, the chances that she survived are slim."
"It doesn't matter. If there's even the slightest chance she's alive, I'm going to look for her. If she didn't make it, at least I can bring her body back home."
"Smyth has expressly forbidden you or anyone else for that matter to go back to Cantala. He says it's too unstable and you're too valuable an agent to waste on a mission with such a slim chance of a payback. His words - not mine. "
"Well, you can tell Smyth to..."
Billy listened to Lee rant for a few minutes. Lee's phrasing could be quite colourful when he was upset and some of his suggestions as to what Smyth could do...well, they were both unnatural and anatomically impossible.
Finally, Lee calmed down and Billy continued.
"I'm under orders to keep this information from you and I'm supposed to escort you to the airport myself. But, if you should happen to leave the hospital while I'm busy with your release papers..." Billy paused suggestively.
Lee smiled at the section chief. "Thanks Billy. Now what else can you tell me?"
The two men formulated a plan that had Lee entering Cantala the next evening. Their local man, Sam Jacobs, would take Lee to Cantala by boat once the sun had set. He'd leave him at the same inlet that Lee and Amanda had originally used. Lee felt that the boat from the first trip had been sufficiently well hidden and was likely still there. He would use it for his escape with Amanda.
Once inside Cantala, Lee would set out through the jungle. Billy wasn't keen on this idea and favoured him "acquiring" transportation but Lee felt that stealing a vehicle might draw unnecessary attention. Also, travelling through the jungle was more covert. The country was in political turmoil and neither side could be trusted at this point. Avoiding the roads would be best. Billy knew Lee's experience in 'Nam meant that he was more than capable of handling the terrain and so conceded the point.
The information about where the American woman had been found, and where she might presently be, was sketchy at best - a small village about half way between the clearing where she was last seen and the coast where Lee would be landing. Thankfully, Cantala was a small country. If all went well, he could cover the distance before nightfall. The trip back might take longer given the fact that Amanda was wounded. That was when Lee planned on "finding" motorized transportation. With any luck, the mission should only take three or four days.
Sam Jacobs managed to procure needed supplies: water and purifying tablets, a basic medical kit with extra antibiotics, rations, clips of ammunition... Lee finished inspecting the pack and hefted it into the boat. He was almost ready to leave. He turned and looked at Billy one last time.
"Thanks, Billy." Lee grabbed the man's hand and shook it firmly. "You're putting your neck on the chopping block for me again. I hope Smyth doesn't give you too hard of a time when he finds out where I've gone."
"Smyth was an idiot to send you two over there in the first place and I won't mind telling him so. As for sticking my neck out...Amanda wasn't just one of my agents, Lee. She was a friend too. If there's a chance she's still alive, I'll do everything in my power to help her." Billy paused, weighing his words carefully. "I hope she's found alive and you bring her back but...if she didn't make it...well, Amanda wouldn't want you to risk your life looking for revenge."
"Billy, if Amanda is gone, I don't have a life."
The stark look on the agent's face, gave Billy a chill. It had been over 72 hours since Amanda was last seen alive. If she was dead - if the Freedom Fighters had murdered her or she had died from her wounds - he knew that Lee wouldn't rest until he'd hunted down the men responsible. He would carry out a vendetta until the last man was gone or he was killed himself.
Before Amanda had joined the Agency, Scarecrow had been on a path to self-destruction: too sure of himself, taking too many risks, not caring if he lived or died. Without his partner, Billy worried that Lee would resume that life-style. The only thing he didn't know was where it would occur. Would it be in DC, where Lee would once again take inordinate risks on cases until one day, the gamble didn't pay off and he was gunned down by KGB? Or would he die in a jungle in Cantala, outnumbered by rebel forces but so filled with vengeance that he wouldn't even consider retreat?
Not for the first time did Billy question the wisdom of telling Lee about that tip. He could have found another agent to check out the information. Maybe he should have just sent Scarecrow back to DC but somehow, he knew that wouldn't have worked. Lee would eventually have found out and all hell would have broken loose.
Whether back in DC or heading to Cantala, either way, Lee's future without Amanda was tenuous. She was the only stabilizing influence in the man's life. Billy supposed Lee had the right to determine the course of his future. Giving a sigh, he wished his best agent luck and watched as Jacobs took the boat out to sea.
'Sometimes it's hard being the one left behind,' the Section Chief thought. 'Agents go on missions and you never know if they'll return or if it's the last time you'll ever see them alive."
Damn! Lee was really starting to hate this country. Jacobs had successfully delivered him to the shores of Cantala. He'd trekked through the jungle for hours, been subjected to the usual heat, humidity and insect bites, successfully hidden from soldiers who belonged to the official government army as well as the rebel factions...But how the hell had he gotten himself into this present mess?
'Because I was careless." Lee answered his own question with self disgust. He still wasn't fully recovered from the slight concussion he'd received a few days ago but that was no excuse. He should have been paying closer attention to his surroundings.
Instead, he'd been thinking that he must be getting close to the village where Amanda was supposed to be. A combination of excitement and dread had filled him at the thought. Soon he'd see his beloved partner again but...the possibility that she might be dead had reared its ugly head. The negative thought had consumed him and he'd been too busy dwelling on a bleak future to notice that he'd walked right into a trap.
Lee stood as still as possible, not wanting to give the group of men surrounding him any reason to fire. His eyes shifted over them. There were just four men, peasant farmers from the look of their attire but their faces weren't welcoming.
Fear, distrust, hatred - he could see it in their eyes. No doubt, they and their families had been victims of the various warring factions and, dressed as he was in camouflage, carrying a gun and a field pack, Lee knew they mistook him as a member of one of the rebel forces or maybe a mercenary working for whoever would pay his price.
Should he try to talk or just make a run for it? He was outnumbered but they were probably not trained in combat like he was. Two of them had guns and one had a large knife - the odds were not totally in his favour.
Lee shifted slightly, and the sound of triggers being cocked instantly filled the air. 'Definitely time to talk,' Lee told himself, drawing on his rudimentary Spanish to form the needed phrases.
"I am looking for a woman," he began only to be met with rude laughter. He flashed an angry look at the men but grimly continued on, "An American woman. She was injured near here about three days ago. I need to find her and take her home."
Two of the men spoke quietly to each other and Lee strained to hear their conversation. The local dialect was quite different from standard Spanish and he couldn't interpret what was said. The men came to some form of agreement and the older man, who was obviously the leader, jerked his head at the others indicating they should follow him.
A gun poked Lee in the back and he began to head along the path, one man in front of him and three behind. It was in the opposite direction to where Lee wanted to go, taking him farther from the place where he was supposed to look for Amanda. He swore under his breath in frustration.
After almost half an hour, the men stopped at a fork in the path. More words were exchanged and two set off towards the right while Lee and his captors went left. Excitement flared in Lee's eyes as he realized there was only one gun and one knife between him and his chance to continue his search for Amanda.
Acting quickly, he spun on his heel and kicked the gun out of the hand of the man behind him. Another swift blow and the man fell to the ground. The older gentleman in the lead turned at the sound and drew his knife, running towards Lee. Agilely, Lee leapt to the side while knocking the man off balance.
Lee turned to run but the first man managed to grab his ankle, sending the agent to the ground. Rolling as he fell, Lee was on his feet again, facing the gunman who was struggling to his knees and attempting to aim his weapon. A well placed kick sent the gun spinning into the underbrush and once again, Lee attempted to flee.
This time, however, the older man grabbed his arm and spun him around. Lee aimed a blow at his stomach but, as he made contact, he felt a searing pain in his side. The older man's knife had also found a target.
Lee gasped and jerked away in pain. Staggering backwards, he clenched his hand to his ribs, a dark red stain rapidly drenching his shirt. He took one step backwards, then another and then his knees buckled and everything went black.
The blood that had initially poured from the wound in his side was finally subsiding. Gingerly, Lee shifted into a half sitting position and surveyed his surroundings. The small room was made of adobe brick. A wooden door blocked his path to freedom and a window, too high and too small, was the only source of light.
He should hate his captors, yet knew that the years of civil war had made them wary. How could they know that he wasn't there to cause more suffering? They saw him as just another soldier. Betrayed by one group and then another, each promising freedom yet only bringing more oppression. Instinctively, they had reacted against the danger that he might bring.
Would he get a chance to explain? It seemed unlikely, and Lee resigned himself to his fate - a slow lingering death from blood loss and infection. His only regret was that his love, the keeper of his heart, would never know that he had come back for her. He had tried to keep his promise, even if it was just to bring her body back home.
The silence in the cell was only broken by his harsh breathing and the buzzing of a fly. In a half dozing state he watched the little particles of dust dance in the shaft of light that cut across the small room. The bright beam slowly advanced across the walls, marking the passage of time.
At some point, he must have fallen asleep. Suddenly, he was startled awake by rough hands grabbing his arms and pulling him into the late afternoon sun. Lee blinked at the brightness but was given no time to adjust as his captors quickly dragged him across the compound. He weakly stumbled along, wondering what his destination might be. Interrogation? A firing squad? If he was to be executed, he hoped it would quick and merciful.
The two men who were holding him, pushed him inside a small building and onto a plain wooden chair. He tried his best to sit upright, determined to meet his fate with dignity. The room was stark and he could make out faint blood stains on the floor.
A door behind him opened and slow steady footsteps could be heard crossing the room. He refused to turn and acknowledge this presence, instead staring straight ahead. A dark clad body moved into his line of vision. He raised his eyes to look into the face of his new tormentor. A small gasp of surprise escaped his parched lips.
"Welcome to our medical clinic, Senor. I am Sister Bernita of the Sisters of Santa Merici"
"Sister." Lee could barely get the acknowledgement out as he studied the figure in front of him. The tiny woman was of an indeterminate age. She could be 50 or 70. Her lively blue eyes were sharp and bright, staring at him from a face weathered and lined from years of hard living and exposure to the elements. Her wiry hair, liberally streaked with grey, was drawn back in a bun and topped her tiny frame. She was probably only 5'2 and maybe weighed 100 pounds but somehow Lee instinctively knew that her inner strength and personality would make her a force with which to reckon.
"And you would be...?" She enquired in English with only a slight trace of an accent.
"I am Lee - Lee Steadman." He instinctively used one of his cover names.
"I am sorry that the villagers have treated you so poorly. Please understand that they are good people, just scared after so many years of fighting."
Lee nodded, "I know. I mean them no harm. I only came to find a friend. An American woman who was injured around here about three days ago."
"Yes," the little nun nodded, "It was mentioned that you look for the woman." She paused, deep in thought and then continued. "First, let our nurses and I deal with your wound and then we will talk about the woman."
Not wanting to wait but aware of the two men standing on either side of him, Lee decided he had better comply. He was too weak - refusing medical treatment would be sheer stupidity and he needed to be healthy if he was to help Amanda.
Sister Bernita offered her arm and helped him to a large ward inside the clinic. It was a white washed room, with sunshine streaming in, brightening what would otherwise be a depressing space. Screens, some intact and some torn with age, covered the windows in a futile attempt to keep the ever present insect life out. The walls showed definite cracks as did the plain cement floor. Old iron beds lined the walls and ragged curtains provided only minimal privacy between each patient.
Despite the worn and shabby appearance, the room was clean. A young girl was scrubbing a table in the far corner while another made up a fresh bed. A few nurses were evident, helping patients of all ages. Lee's eyes scanned the beds' occupants: Young children with runny eyes and horrible coughs, a mother and newborn, young men with bandaged limbs, elderly people who were so wizened that one wondered how they could still be alive.
Sister watched Lee take in the sight before him. "It is not as fancy as you are used to back in the States but for these people, this is all that they have." She indicated a bed near the entry way and gestured for Lee to lie down. "We had hoped that the latest government would be able to withstand the rebel forces. There was talk of aid from your country but now, we are back to nothing."
"I know my government was anxious to help your country. We had diplomats over here..," Lee began only to be hushed.
"Ah yes, I had heard of that...But we will talk politics later. First your wound." The nun deftly unbuttoned Lee's shirt, briefly examined the area while a nurse pulled out various medical supplies. "This needs to be cleaned and stitched. I'm afraid we don't have all of your modern drugs but I have some penicillin..."
"No - I'm allergic." Lee explained.
"Ahh...that is a problem then." She pursed her lips in thought.
"I brought antibiotics with me in my field pack but," Lee looked at the two men who were standing in the door way, "I don't know where it might be."
"Juan?" Sister Bernita inquired of the man at the door. "Do you know where Senor Steadman's possessions are? If you do, please bring them here."
Juan nodded and left.
"Good. That is taken care of. I will clean and stitch your wound - I'm sorry, it will be painful." She apologized as she worked. By time she was finished, Lee's face was pale and beaded with sweat. She rifled through the bag that Juan had retrieved, extracted the antibiotics and read the label. "I will give you two tablets now to help ward off infection. You will stay here and rest."
She turned to go.
"Sister," Lee called out, stopping her from leaving, "What about my friend? The American lady."
"First I must see to some of my other patients. You rest and then we will talk." She scurried away before Lee could protest.
His head fell back on the pillow and he stared at the ceiling. She obviously knew something but was stalling. Why? This wasn't the village where Amanda was supposed to be. Had word of his partner gotten this far? His mind shied away from one obvious answer but he forced himself to examine it. Amanda was dead and the little nun didn't want to tell him. With bleak thoughts running through his mind, he fell into a light sleep.
It was two hours later when Lee awakened to find himself being carefully observed by a young lady dressed in nursing garb. She smiled at him and hurried off, quickly returning with a bowl containing a mixture of rice, vegetables and a little meat. Lee thanked her and ate hungrily.
He had just finished when Sister Bernita appeared. She inquired as to how he was feeling, checked his wound and pronounced that he was as good as could be expected.
"Now, we will talk," she sat beside him and stared at the floor for a moment before continuing. "This American woman, she was your friend?"
Lee nodded, not liking the word "was".
"I see...I'm sorry to have to tell you this but she's -"
"Dead." Lee finished flatly as the faint light of hope died in his eyes.
"You already suspected?"
"I hoped I was wrong." Lee stared at the ceiling and then covered his face with his hands. "I prayed I was wrong but, when I last saw her, she was surrounded...she didn't have a chance." His voice broke as sobs wracked his body.
Sister Bernita stood and sat on the edge of the bed. She pulled Lee to her and cradled him against her shoulder while he grieved for his lost love. His friend was in a better place now but it was hard on those left behind.
When the storm finally calmed, Sister Bernita helped Lee sit up. She took his hands in hers and asked gently, "She was more than a friend wasn't she?"
Lee stared down at the weathered hands that clasped his. "She was my heart and my soul. She gave my life purpose and meaning...When everyone else gave up on me, she was there. When I was acting like an idiot and too full of myself, she'd knock me down and set me straight. She would watched my back and risk her own life to save mine. She was brave and resilient. Her smile could light up a room..." His voice trailed off lost in thought.
After a moment, Sister Bernita spoke, "It sounds like she was a very special lady."
"She was," Lee sighed and looked the woman in the eye. "I don't suppose you know..." He hesitated to ask the questions that burned in his mind.
Somehow knowing what he was thinking, she explained, "This will be painful for you to hear..."
"Please tell me, I want to know."
"About a half a day's journey from here, a local farmer found a woman's body dumped beside the road. Her throat had been slit and she had been dead for at least a day. He brought her body here to the mission. We quickly had a small service and buried her. In a tropical climate like this, you understand...?"
Lee swallowed and nodded. The thought of his beautiful Amanda dead - her body left to decay in the hot sun. He pushed the thought away, too horrible to contemplate.
"Can I see where she's buried?"
"Of course. We could go now. It's just a small walk to the edge of the village where we have our cemetery."
Together the tall agent and the tiny old nun walked slowly down the dusty road that led to the cemetery. It was almost dusk but the temperature was still warm. The scent of tropical flowers lay heavy in the air as they opened to entice the night insects to pollinate them. Birds were chirping their final songs for the day and the setting sun was starting to cast a golden tinge on all it touched.
Even in his grief, Lee could appreciate the sights around him. 'Amanda would have loved this,' he thought to himself. He'd dreamed of taking her on a vacation - somewhere tropical like this. She always worked so hard, scrimping and saving, making do so the boys could have a new baseball glove or afford to go on a school trip. She'd always given so much of herself...
"We're here," Sister's voice broke into his reverie. She pointed out a fresh grave marked by a simple wooden cross.
Lee stood silently for a moment before stepping forward. His hand stretched out to touch the rough wood, gently tracing the date crudely carved on it. He slowly dropped to his knees and put his hand on the mound of earth, trying to feel her one more time, even though the layers of soil separated them.
Sister left him alone for a few moments and then returned with a simple bouquet of flowers she had picked. She silently offered them to him and he briefly admired their beauty and scent before gently laying them down. They were lovely, just as his Amanda had been.
He sniffed and wiped his eyes before turning to the nun, "Do you mind if I stay here awhile?"
"Stay as long as you wish. You can find your way back to the clinic?" He nodded. "In the morning, we will have one of the men carve her name and birth date on the cross." She lightly touched his shoulder before leaving him to mourn in solitude.
Lee stayed at the grave until nearly midnight, reliving the moment he had met Amanda and the cases they had worked together. He laughed to himself over some of the scrapes she had gotten into and smiled as he recalled her "black belt confuser" rambles.
They'd been friends for years and had only recently moved their relationship on to something deeper. He remembered the feel of her lips on his, the scent that was uniquely hers. Eyes of such a deep brown you could drown in them, a sexy husky voice and a beautiful smile. The way her hair curled around her face. So many little things - but all gone now.
Stiffly he rose from the grave and gave it one long last look. "I said I'd come back for you," Lee whispered. "I tried. I really tried. I'm sorry I can't take you back to your family. Maybe one day..." His eyes welled with tears again as he turned to slowly walk back down the dark lonely road.
He slept poorly that night, waking from vivid dreams in which Amanda was still alive, holding his hand, smiling up at him. Other times, he was plagued by nightmares of her body left rotting by the roadside while soldiers held him back, laughing as he struggled to reach her and provide a proper burial.
He was glad when morning came and the bustling routine of the small clinic prevented him from dwelling on his loss. A simple breakfast was served. Sister checked his wound. He was shown a small wash station where he could clean himself up a bit. Fresh clothing was given to him, while his own was taken to be washed. The man who stabbed him yesterday came and gruffly apologized and Lee asked forgiveness for attacking him and his friend.
By time noon arrived, Lee was tired from a combination of lack of sleep, grief and his wound. He was just thinking of laying down to rest when Sister Bernita stopped by his bed.
"How are you feeling now?" she enquired pleasantly.
"Not too bad, thank you, Sister."
"I have something here - I'm not sure if I should give it to you or not. " She fingered a piece of paper in her hand.
"What is it?"
The little nun hesitated before explaining, "When your friend's body was brought here, we didn't know who she was. This happens on occasion and since we can't leave the bodies unburied too long, we like to keep some kind of record - in case anyone comes looking for a loved one, you understand? I have a little Polaroid camera that I use to take a picture of the deceased - so if anyone ever asks, they can be identified."
Lee nodded in understanding.
"I have a picture of your friend. We...well, we cleaned her up as best as we could but it is still not a nice sight. I don't know if you would want to see it or not? Sometimes it is better to remember our loved ones as they were in life." The nun paused once more, looking at Lee to determine how he was taking this.
Never expecting this, Lee hesitated. He wanted to see Amanda one more time, but did he want to see her like this? He warred with himself for a few moments before meeting the eyes of the kindly woman beside him.
"Yeah, I think I want to see it."
The photo was offered to him, face down and he slowly stretched out his trembling hand to take it. Lee held it for a few moments before turning it over, steeling himself to look dispassionately at the image. He'd seen his fair share of dead bodies in his life. A few had been acquaintances, even close friends. Some he had thought he loved but this - this was Amanda. He took a deep breath and looked at the picture, a gasp escaping from his lips.
The dead woman's face was pale. Bruises could be seen on her cheeks and her lip had obviously been split. The mark where her throat had been cut was obvious. She had been a young beautiful woman before her life had been cut short but...
Lee looked up at the nun in shock, "Sister, this isn't my Amanda!"
"It isn't? Then who...? Surprise was evident on the nun's face and in her voice.
"This is Lisa Duffy, the wife of an American diplomat." Lee explained what had happened to the Duffy's and the mission that he and Amanda had been on.
"The rebels must have dumped Lisa's body somewhere away from the camp. Her husband's body is probably out there too." Lee finished.
"That would make sense - they wouldn't want to be associated with the murder. If the fate of that couple ever comes to light, the Freedom Fighters will blame it on locals trying to rob the family. The rebels try to pretend that they are here to liberate us and lead us to freedom but in truth that group is only out for power. They have no moral standards and do not care about anyone but themselves." Sister spoke with bitterness.
Lee agreed with her while staring once more at the picture of the dead woman. If Lisa was in that grave, then where was Amanda? She could still be dead. She probably was dead but once again hope had sprung in his heart.
Lee sat puzzling over the situation. Billy had received a tip that an American woman had been found. Lisa Duffy was an American woman but was she the same one mentioned in the tip? What were the chances of two American women being found in this God forsaken country?
The Santa Merici medical clinic, was farther South and closer to the coast. The village in the tip was more to the North and a bit deeper inside the country. The local villagers here weren't keen on strangers and, according to Sister, rarely left the immediate area. How could a tip have come out of Santa Merici and made its way to the island of Santa Marietta? If the tip didn't come from here, then was it really from the first village or was there yet another little settlement along the way that could lead to Amanda?
Sister Bernita was making some inquiries for him, asking the locals if they had told anyone outside the village about finding the American woman's body. If no one had spoken about it, then the tip probably really was about Amanda and he'd then make his way to his original destination.
Truth be told, he'd go there no matter what Sister found out. If there was even a remote chance that Amanda was out there, he had to follow it through. He would search for Amanda until he found her, dead or alive. And then, only then, would he be able to contemplate the future.
He wearily rubbed his hand over his face. His emotions had run the gamut from hope to despair so many times over the past few days - if the people at the Agency only knew! He smiled wryly to himself. For many of his coworkers, the Scarecrow had no feelings - he was the consummate professional. Detached and ruthless in his work, he lived and breathed being an agent. His personal life, what there was of it, was just a string of meaningless affairs.
At one time, it had been the truth. But since Amanda had come into his life, he had changed. His feelings were no longer shut behind an impenetrable wall. When people offered their friendship, he no longer immediately shut them out. Oh, he was still wary but he was willing to take a chance. He knew there was life beyond being an agent and he hoped to explore that life with Amanda at his side.
God, he hoped he could find her and she'd be alive. Without her, he didn't know what he would do. Could he remain on at the Agency? It was the only life he knew but without Amanda at his side, would he still be an effective agent? He'd come to rely on her so much...
Oh, this speculating was useless. He stood and carefully stretched, mindful of the stitches in his side. He stepped out of the clinic, the bright sun causing him to blink. It was probably about 2 in the afternoon and the heat and humidity were at their highest. His shirt stuck to him and he could feel a little trickle of sweat drip down his back between his shoulder blades.
Flies buzzed around him and he impatiently swatted at them. One of the nurses went by with an armload of soiled bedding. The flies abandoned him and followed the dirty bedding around the corner. He thankfully bid the annoying creatures farewell.
Lee leaned against the doorframe and watched the villagers go about their life. Women carrying baskets of food and jugs of water. Old men sitting and smoking in the shade of a small house. Children playing with a makeshift ball, while the occasional chicken pecked in the dirt for insects or bits of grain. A few of the men were working with pieces of wood and some basic tools, trying to fix the side of one of the small buildings.
One of the village dogs started to bark, disturbing the daily routine. The beast raced to the far end of the settlement and was soon joined by several others, all barking and yelping. Lee straightened and peered down the street wondering what had set them off. The local inhabitants had also reacted. The women and children disappearing inside while the men gathered shoulder to shoulder almost forming a line of defence. A few discreetly hid weapons behind their backs.
Sister Bernita came hurrying towards him, "Quickly, Mr. Steadman. You must hide. Soldiers are coming. If they find you..." She shook her head and pushed him into the clinic. "Grab your bag and follow me."
She led him to the back of the clinic and pulled one of the beds aside, lifting a small trap door to reveal a tiny dark hole in the ground. "In here, you will be safe"
Lee shook his head. He hated the dark, especially underground dark - it all stemmed from a mission years ago..."Isn't there anywhere else?"
"No, there isn't time. If they find you here, they will kill you and us for helping you." She shoved him towards the opening and Lee reluctantly entered. Sister was putting the trap door down on top of his head before he was even fully inside. "Be very quiet. I will let you out as soon as it is safe."
Lee could hear the bed being pushed back over the trap door and then all was silent except for the sound of his panicked breathing. 'Steady' he told himself. 'Breathe. Use your mantra. You can handle this.' His pep talk helped a bit but he stayed as close to the trap door as possible, with not even the slightest inclination to explore the rest of the little room.
He had no idea how long he was down there. It seemed like hours. The air was damp and musty, the room relatively cool but with his adrenaline pumping through his system, it seemed hot, stuffy, confining. Lee fought the waves of panic, his fists tightly clenched. He strained to hear sounds from above that would indicate his impending release.
Finally, he could hear the bed being pulled back. Just in case, Lee pulled his gun out of his pack and held it ready at his side. The trap door eased back. Fresh air and light flooded in and he breathed a sigh of relief.
"Senor, it is safe to come out. The soldiers have gone and - I have news!" Sister was obviously excited.
Lee clambered out and helped her replace the door and bed. She led him to her little office and related what had happened.
The rebels had come through the village looking for an American woman. Sister had told them about the dead woman but this one, the soldiers had insisted was alive. A rumour was spreading that an injured American woman was in the area and that those who had found her might be bringing her to the clinic for medical aid.
"This is good news for you but also dangerous news." Sister explained. "If indeed, your friend is being brought here, she will be in grave danger. The soldiers want her for 'crimes against our people' - a ridiculous claim as we all know. It is the soldiers themselves who commit the crimes. However, they will be watching so we must intercept your friend before she reaches us."
"What direction do you think she might be coming from, Sister?" Lee's voice was full of hope and anxiety. He hadn't come this close to finding his Amanda just to lose her again to the rebels.
"I believe that, if she was indeed found by some local people and they are bringing her here, it must be from some place southwest of here, given the information that you have provided as well. I am sending some of the men out, supposedly on a hunting trip to see if they can locate your friend before the army. If they do find her, they will keep her hidden and then send word back to me."
"It's a good idea, Sister Bernita. What can I do?" Lee was a man of action and found the idea of waiting, while others did the work, difficult to handle.
"Stay out of sight and be ready to hide should the soldiers return. Otherwise, rest and get your strength back. Once we find your friend, we will sneak you out of the village and take you to her. Then it will be up to you to get her out of the country."
The little nun went on her way. Lee leaned back in the chair and put his hands behind his head and let out a long slow breath. Amanda was alive. Granted she was injured and needing medical attention but at least she was alive. Now all they had to do was find her and get her out of the country before she succumbed to her wounds or they were captured and executed.
He let his hands drop to his side. There was nothing he could do right now except work on recuperating. He felt too keyed up to actually sleep but forced himself to at least lie on the bed and rest. Closing his eyes he began to work through possible scenarios of how he would get them through the jungle and to the boat hiding on the beach. The wound in his side would slow him down so he'd need...
"Senor, Senor Steadman, wake up" Sister Bernita was shaking him awake.
Lee was surprised to find that he had drifted off to sleep. He glanced at his watch. It was around 6:00. Sitting up, he took note of Sister's face - she had news!
"We have found your friend. A farmer had been hiding her in his home for the past few days but now she has become ill from an infection so he has been trying to bring her here. Our men have them hidden in the jungle. You and I will go to her now. I will do what I can to help her but we dare not bring her to the village."
Lee agreed, grabbed his bag and then followed the nun out of the clinic and into the jungle. His excitement built with every step and he had to force himself to walk. After about 20 minutes, they came to a small cave. One of the villagers was sitting in the entrance way, gun ready.
"Hola Pedro! It is I, Sister Bernita," the woman called out in greeting.
Pedro lowered his gun and stepped aside so they could enter the cave. Bending low, the two entered the shelter. A man of about 30 and teenager were sitting beside an obviously ill woman.
"Amanda!" Lee could barely get the word out. He swallowed the lump in his throat and slowly crept nearer, reverently kneeling beside his beloved. When last he'd seen her, she'd been staring up at him with eyes full of love and pain, watching him run towards safety.
Now those same eyes were closed with dark circles under them. Her skin, hot and dry to the touch, was stretched over the bone structure of her face. She lay so still that if it wasn't for the faint rise and fall of her chest, Lee would have thought she was dead.
Lee brushed the curls from her forehead and pressed his lips to hers, murmuring words of love. He glanced at Sister who had been examining the bullet wound in Amanda's leg.
"She has a serious infection. The bullet is still lodged in her leg. I need to drain the wound but..." She looked around at the cave. "This is not the ideal place."
"What if you don't? Will she be able to hang on until I get her back to Santa Marietta?" Lee caressed Amanda's head while looking anxiously at the nun.
"I don't know - maybe not."
"Then we treat her here." Lee wasn't willing to take a chance on Amanda becoming even more ill.
Sister nodded. "I'll have to go back to the clinic and get some supplies. You stay here with Amanda. Pedro will stand guard. Our friends here," she nodded at the farmers who had brought Amanda this far, "Can come with me and I will find them a place to stay tonight at the mission."
As they stood to leave, Lee reached out and grabbed the older man's hand, "Thank you for all you have done," he said in gratitude. The man nodded, understanding the sentiment, if not the words while the teenager smiled and then followed the Sister out.
Lee sat in the semi-darkness of the cave and held Amanda's hand. Even though she was unconscious, he felt the need to confess to her. "I'm so sorry for leaving you behind. I didn't want to - I tried to come right back - I hope you know that, but they wouldn't let me. Then, for a while I thought you were dead but Billy got this tip and he helped me get back here. Smyth was being an ass and didn't want us to follow up the lead but Billy - he's a good friend and he was as worried as I was. So here I am. I came back for you, just like I promised. It took longer than I planned but at least I found you."
He reached up and stroked her face, brushing his thumb across her lips. "I know you feel really bad right now but Sister Bernita's going to do her best fix you up so we can start to head home. You'll be all right. You have to be all right." He pressed a kiss to her hand and leaned against the side of the cave, waiting for Sister's return, while keeping up a quiet stream of inconsequential conversation with his unconscious partner.
It was almost an hour later, when Sister Bernita made her way back, bringing one of the nurses to assist. It was getting dark and she'd brought a small flashlight so she could see to work. Holding the light would be Lee's job. Pedro was to build a small fire for heating the water that had been brought.
Lee had seen a lot of wounds in his day but the sight of someone working on Amanda's leg almost made him ill. He was glad that Amanda was still unconscious.
As she worked, Sister shared tidbits of medical knowledge,
"Did you know," she said in a conversational tone, "That immediate removal of a bullet isn't always necessary? The hot bullet is actually self-sterilizing. The infection usually comes from bacteria on bits of debris, such as the victim's clothing, that might have been carried into the wound. Stopping the bleeding and immediate treatment with antibiotics is always the best course of action for a bullet wound... Yes, Amanda is lucky to be alive ...lots of infected matter to be cleaned out here...The bullet will have to be removed as soon as you are in a proper hospital but given my limited resources this is the best we can for now." Sister calmly chattered away while working.
Lee's respect for the little nun climbed and he would tell her so when he wasn't feeling quite so nauseous.
Finally the deed was done. Sister bandaged the area and gave Amanda a shot of penicillin. The young nurse, Luisa, began to gather the supplies and then joined Pedro by the fire at the mouth of the cave.
"I will stay awhile and see how she does." The little nun settled herself on the ground beside Lee who was cradling Amanda's hand. "So, to pass the time I will tell you about your friend's adventures since you last saw her."
"Please do. As I told you before, when I last saw her, there were Freedom Fighters all around and she was nearly unconscious. I still can't believe she survived."
"According to Jorge, the farmer, he found her under a bush some distance from the clearing of which you spoke. It had been his family's farm before the fighting began. When he heard the helicopter and gunfire, he went to see what had happened. He saw a trail of blood on the ground and followed it to where she was hiding."
"She never regained consciousness but he knew she must be in danger so he carried her to his home. His wife tried to care for her but infection had set in and they knew medical help was needed. Neighbours said to bring her to the Santa Merici clinic and so Jorge and his son made a stretcher and began to carry her to us."
"Unfortunately, the soldiers also heard of the plan and began to look for her as well. Jorge and his son had to take many detours to get here. We are lucky that my villagers found them rather than the soldiers."
Lee sat silently absorbing the information, thankful that the farmer had found Amanda and risked so much to help her. Now, if he could only get her out of the country. He needed to find a vehicle of some sort. There was no way Amanda would be fit enough to walk and he couldn't carry her any distance, given the wound in his side.
"Sister, do you know of a car or a jeep anywhere in the area that I could use to get Amanda to the coast?"
"We own a small jeep that we use once a month to get supplies and to take items to the market to sell. Possibly we could hide the two of you under some of the blankets and baskets that the local women make."
"That might just work," Lee's eyes sparked at the idea. If he could get Amanda to the town then they'd just have to make their way to the boat. With any luck they could be back on Santa Marietta by tomorrow night. But, would this be dangerous for the local people? They had done so much; he didn't want to make their lives more difficult. He expressed his concerns.
The nun thought for a moment. "It has only been three weeks since our last trip so the rebels might be suspicious but, I can tell a little story - God will forgive me! The children have a bad virus - this is the truth - and I can say that I am going to get more medicine and we are selling our baskets and blankets to pay for it." She smiled, pleased with her idea.
Lee looked at the older woman beside him out of the corner of his eye. She seemed to be enjoying the idea of out witting the Freedom Fighters. Sister Bernita was spunky and not about to let anyone stop her from doing what she felt was right. In fact, she reminded Lee a lot of someone else, he thought as he looked down at the sleeping woman at his side
Sister Bernita rose to check on her patient again and was pleased that at least the fever hadn't worsened and she seemed to be stable.
"Luisa and I will go back to Santa Merici now and make plans for tomorrow. Just before sunrise I will return and we will sneak both of you into the back of the jeep."
Lee noticed how dark it was and felt concerned about them making the trek back to the village alone. What if the soldiers were about? "Take Pedro with you" Lee said. "You ladies shouldn't be walking in the dark. I have a gun with me. Amanda and I will be fine."
Sister paused and looked at Lee, then smiled briefly. She knew he was worried about his friend but also concerned about any danger he might have brought to the villagers. He was a good man.
"All right. We will see you again in the morning. Rest as much as you can." Sister, Luisa and Pedro quietly left. Silence filled the cave broken only by the night sounds of the jungle. The small fire cast shadows on the rough rock walls and the faint smell of smoke was in the air.
Lee sighed. He was more tired than he believed possible but it didn't matter. He had Amanda back and in a few more hours their ordeal would be over. Lee lay down beside his sleeping partner and drew a blanket over them. It felt so good to have her at his side. He carefully placed his arm around her and listened to the sound of her breathing. The soothing rhythm filled him with a sense of peace he hadn't felt in many days. They were still in danger but for now he would just enjoy the gift he'd been given - to be able to spend one more night with Amanda by his side.
The birds were just beginning to sing when Lee heard the sound of someone approaching. He pulled out his gun and crept closer to the mouth of the cave. He crouched ready to act, watching the foliage sway as arms moved it to the side. A head was visible, and then two - Lee relaxed and put his weapon away. It was Sister and Pedro.
"Good morning, Senor Steadman. How is our patient?"
"She seems to be doing better, I think," Lee answered moving aside so the two visitors could enter.
"Yes, she isn't nearly as warm." The nun carefully unwrapped Amanda's leg and checked the wounded flesh. "This looks fine too though I will be happy when a real doctor can check my work."
"I'm just happy you were able to do what you did Sister,"
She ignored his attempts to compliment her, instead telling Lee and Pedro to hurry as they must carry Amanda's stretcher back to the village before dawn broke.
In tandem, the two men picked up the stretcher and carefully proceeded towards the village. They moved quickly but silently and soon reached the Santa Merici clinic. The old jeep was already in front of the building and several hand woven blankets and baskets sat on the ground beside it.
Carefully, they took Amanda off of the stretcher and arranged her on the floor of the vehicle. Lee crawled in beside her, curling his tall frame awkwardly into the small space.
"It will not be a comfortable trip, I'm afraid," Sister apologized.
"No matter," Lee grinned at her, "We're heading home. That's all that's important!"
Baskets and blankets were arranged over top. A few chickens in crates were added for good measure and then they were off.
Sister had not been lying about the comfort level of the trip. The road was in deplorable condition and they seemed to hit every rock and hollow. Lee's head banged against the floor more than once and the wound in his side throbbed constantly. He did his best to steady Amanda who stirred once or twice as if almost regaining consciousness.
At one point in time, they were stopped by Freedom Fighters but Sister glibly told her story and they were let pass with no questions. The morning grew warmer and the air under the blankets was warm and stuffy. Lee grew thirsty and glanced at Amanda in worry. She probably needed fluids too but there was nothing he could do.
He briefly thought of crawling out from his hiding place and trying to get Sister's attention but quickly dismissed the thought. Someone else might be travelling the roadway and they could be seen. Instead he lay silent, enduring the discomfort and gently caressing Amanda's arm.
After some time, the noise of other vehicles could be heard. The jeep's pace slowed as it merged with slightly heavier traffic. Lee surmised they were entering the town. The smell of exhaust crept under the blankets adding a bit of nausea to Lee's list of complaints
'At least the road is relatively smoother and we're bouncing about less,' Lee thought, trying to look at the bright side.
Eventually the vehicle stopped. Sister got out and could be heard talking to someone. Something creaked and then she re-entered the jeep and drove it ahead a short distance before stopping again. Lee heard her footsteps walking away and then all was silent.
He waited expectantly for her to return. Wanting to push away the hot, confining blankets, Lee forced himself to be patient, unsure of what awaited him, outside his hiding place. Finally the sound of voices returned. He could feel the weight of the baskets and chicken crates being removed and then the blankets were drawn back.
The relatively cooler air washed over his face and he drew in a deep, satisfying breath. Sister Bernita's face smiled down at him as did the face of several other nuns.
"Senor Steadman, it is good to see you again. We are in the compound of our convent. Come, get up," she encouraged.
Lee struggled to sit up, wincing as his body protested its recent treatment. "Good to see you again, too, Sister." He clambered out and looked anxiously at Amanda. Her hair was wet with sweat and stuck to her face. She was still too pale.
"You can carry Amanda." Sister instructed. "We will take her inside and see how she fared the journey."
Lee lifted Amanda, carried her inside and then lay her down on the cot indicated. He noticed that she stirred slightly as the cool sheets touched her body and Lee thought she gave a slight smile and sigh. Sister Bernita checked her wound and temperature while Lee gratefully drank the water that was given to him.
"She is warm from the trip but doing better, I think." Sister pronounced. "If you will help sit her up, I will try to give her some water and one of your antibiotics."
Carefully, Lee propped Amanda up and was pleased when she drank the liquid and took the medication. He set her back down and held her hand while listening to Sister explain the next part of the journey.
"We will stay here for a few hours. The Sisters here will provide you with some lunch and you will rest. I will go to the market and sell our wares. When I return, I will take a little scenic drive to the beach with my fellow sisters. We will have you hidden in the back again. Hopefully, we can find the place where you hid your boat and then it will only be a matter of waiting until dusk before you begin the final leg of your journey."
Knowing she was leaving Lee and Amanda in good hands, Sister Bernita scurried off to the market. Lee was provided with a pitcher of water and a towel to freshen himself and then given some food. The sisters offered to care for Amanda but he politely refused.
Tenderly, he wet a cloth and wiped her face and neck. Slowly he unbuttoned her blouse and sponged off her chest before turning to her arms and hands. The simple act of cleansing her body stirred him and he brought her hand to his mouth, pressing a kiss to her palm.
"Hmm...Now that's the way to wake up," a husky voice said.
In surprise, Lee dropped the hand and the cloth he was holding and looked up to see Amanda's deep brown eyes staring at him. He tried to speak but no sound came out.
"Happy to see me, aren't you," she quipped, moving her hand slightly.
Lee realized that he had dropped her hand into his lap and her fingers were resting on the slight bulge of his crotch. He cleared his throat and a grin started to spread across his face. "Yeah, I'm happy to see you. You have no idea how happy!" He dropped to his knees beside her and kissed her tenderly.
Drawing back, Lee looked deeply into her eyes, "How are you feeling?"
"Lousy," she smiled. "But glad to see you." She reached up a hand and weakly ran her fingers through his hair before her arm dropped back to her side, depleted of strength.
"Oh Amanda," Lee cupped her face. "I've been so worried about you. I..." He stopped and shook his head, at a loss for words that would sufficiently explain his feelings.
Amanda laid a finger across his lips. "I know but -"she looked around the room, "Everything is all right now, isn't it?"
"Almost - we're close to getting you home. I'll explain everything but first, do you think you could eat or drink something? There's some water and broth?"
Amanda choose the broth and Lee spooned it into her mouth while explaining what had transpired since the day he had been forced to leave her behind. By time the soup was done, Lee had reached the end of his story and Amanda's eyes were beginning to droop.
"Wow! I missed a lot and I have quite a few people to thank," her voice was slurred as she fought off sleep.
"Get some rest and you can thank Sister Bernita when she gets back. She'll pass your message on to the people at Santa Merici." Lee noticed that even as he was speaking, Amanda's eyes closed and she fell asleep.
He pulled a light sheet up around her shoulders and stood watching her sleep for a moment before taking the bowl to the convent's kitchen. A smile was on his face and his step was lighter than it had been in days. Everything was going to be all right.
An hour later, Sister Bernita returned. She had sold some baskets and two blankets as well as the chickens, making enough money to purchase the medicine for the children.
"I didn't really need it yet but it is part of my cover story for the Freedom Fighters," she explained with a devilish smile, enjoying her role.
Lee awakened Amanda and introduced her to the nun. Sister checked Amanda's wound while brushing aside her thanks. The two women seemed to immediately take to each other and were soon chattering about the clinic, the children, Amanda's boys back home. Amanda drank a bit more broth and had another dose of antibiotics.
All too soon it was time to climb back in the jeep and hide. Lee carried Amanda outside and placed her in the back and then curled up beside her. The sisters put the unsold blankets and baskets on top as well as a picnic basket which would be the reason for the trip to the beach, should anyone ask.
The town was basically divided in half, the sisters had told Lee earlier. Freedom Fighters patrolled the area to the South of the town while members of the recently ousted government forces tended to stay more to the North. Occasionally one side would mount an assault on the other and the town, stuck in the middle, would take the brunt of the attack but, for the past week, an uneasy truce had been declared.
Sister Bernita drove the jeep out of the Convent's yard and headed for the beach. It was around 4:00 and the heat and humidity were oppressive. Lee lay in the back of the vehicle, once again enduring the stifling atmosphere under the blankets. He kept a concerned eye on Amanda. She was better but this constant jostling and being overheated couldn't be good for her. Thankfully the trip to the beach was short.
Lee could tell by the noise from the tires that they must be near the beach. The sand made a distinct hissing sound compared to the dull rumble of the street. The vehicle stopped and the excited voices of the sisters could be heard as they climbed out and looked at the water.
The picnic basket and all but one of the blankets were lifted off. Sister Bernita began to speak to Lee while handing items to the other nuns. "You will have to stay here for awhile under this blanket - there are soldiers about. I've parked in the shade, it will help a bit." She casually slipped a container of water out of the picnic basket and dropped it beside Lee. "The soldiers are just sitting in their vehicle at the edge of the road. I don't believe they will approach us. As soon as it is safe, I will come and get you." With that she left, calling out to the other nuns, "Sisters, wait for me..."
Time passed slowly. Lee dared not move even though his muscles were cramping. The temperature under the blanket rose and Amanda's breathing became ragged. Ever so slowly Lee moved the water towards her and finally managed to inch it up to her mouth.
"Here," he whispered. "Try to drink some of this."
She turned her head weakly and he dribbled some water onto her parched lips. She swallowed a few times before indicating it was enough. He left the water near her - he could wait for a drink, it was better to save the precious liquid for Amanda.
Finally, he heard someone approach and the blanket was drawn away.
"I'm so sorry," Sister apologised. "I thought they'd never leave. Usually no one comes here" She helped Lee sit up while glancing nervously around. "Is that where your boat is?" She gestured towards a clump of trees and bushes a few hundred yards away.
"Yeah - with any luck it's still there." Lee climbed out and stretched his stiff muscles, while drinking the water offered him. "I'll carry Amanda over there and she can rest, hidden in the shrubs while I uncover the boat. I have a small radio in it and I'll send a message so that my people will know to watch for us."
"The sisters and I will stay here for awhile and have our picnic as planned. It will provide a distraction, should anyone come by."
Lee lifted Amanda from the jeep and carried her to the tree line. He laid her down, offered her more water and then turned his attention to the boat He found it where they had left it, apparently undisturbed. He radioed a message to Sam Jacobs. The man was relieved to hear from Lee and would be watching for their arrival.
It was now almost 6:30. The nuns had stayed as long as possible and were packing up the jeep to go. Sister Bernita strolled across the sand and stood beside the clump of trees, looking out at the water. Without glancing in their direction, she spoke,
"We have to go now. There is a curfew and we must be back at the convent before dark. I wish you well and hope your journey is a safe one."
"Thank you, Sister. I won't forget you or all that you've done for us." Lee said. He glanced at Amanda who was sleeping again. "Amanda's resting but I know she's grateful to you and your people for their help."
Sister nodded and walked back to the jeep. Lee watched as she got behind the wheel and started to pull away. Just then, three vehicles pulled up and blocked the jeep's path. Lee tensed as he observed soldiers getting out. One of the men approached the nuns and began a conversation. Lee strained to hear but the crashing of the waves on the beach prevented him from making out what was being said.
After a few moments, the voices started to get louder. There was obviously a problem but Lee couldn't figure out what it might be. He drew his gun and stood hesitantly in the shadows. He hadn't a chance of helping the nuns out. There were at least a dozen armed men. Lee squinted his eyes and studied the scene before him wondering what course of action to take.
Suddenly he realized that two of the nuns were discretely making a gesture behind their backs, waving him towards the water. They wanted Lee to leave now. He briefly questioned the wisdom of doing this but the nuns must know something he didn't.
Lee quickly woke Amanda and placed her in the boat, whispering explanations to her while pulling the craft towards the water's edge. The boat was just a light dingy but the friction of the sand and Amanda's weight made it difficult to move. He dug his feet into the wet, shifting sand and moved as quickly as possible. A tearing pain in his side let him know that he had ripped his stitches. The wetness of blood trickling down his side didn't cause him to pause however.
Water splashed about his ankles and then his thighs as he dragged the craft into still deeper water. Once up to his waist, he heaved himself over the side and started the small engine. He glanced back at the shore as a shout rose up. The soldiers had noticed him. Some were running towards the water's edge while a few others were grabbing the nuns. Lee gasped as a shot rang out quickly followed by a woman's cry.
He strained to see what was happening but could only make out bodies milling around. Soldiers stood on the shore and fired shots in his direction. Lee was forced to lay low and concentrate on steering the craft all the while hoping and praying that Sister Bernita and her friends were all right.
The soldiers quit firing as Lee sailed out of range. He slowly sat up and looked back towards the shore but was now too far away to see anything. Lee glanced towards Amanda. Her face was pale and her eyes were wide.
"What happened, Lee?"
"I don't know. The sisters were leaving when soldiers arrived and stopped them. For some reason the nuns gestured that we should leave but I don't know why. Maybe someone had tipped the rebel army off..." Lee shrugged. "The sisters did a good job of distracting the soldiers. I had us in the water before we were noticed."
"And the woman's cry?" Amanda asked in trepidation.
"I heard a shot and then the cry. One of them might have been shot - I pray to God they weren't but I don't know..." Lee lapsed into silence, hoping one of nuns hadn't given her life for theirs.
The sound of the motor echoed across the open water as the two agents made their way to freedom. In the course of their jobs, they met many people. Most of the time, they never knew what eventually happened to those they met and then left behind. Sometimes, it was better that way.
(This is the official end but....
Ermintrude pointed out that this is SMK land so...
For those who want an honest to goodness HEA ...
"Now Amanda," Dotty fussed over the covers on Amanda's bed, "You just lie down and rest. I'll get you some water and you can take your pills."
Dotty hurried into the bathroom and returned with a glass full of water. Handing it to Amanda she continued, "I don't know where you get this knack for getting into trouble. It's certainly not from my side of the family! Only you could go on a working vacation to a tropical paradise like Santa Marietta and get stung by a jelly fish and then, to not have the sense to get immediate treatment. I don't know what gets into your head sometimes!"
"Well Mother, Lee and I really wanted to finish filming the various types of seaweed that grow around the island and if you don't film it at just the right time of day, the lighting is all wrong."
"Mr. Stetson should have more sense than to put his employees in danger like that..." The door bell peeled stopping her in mid-tirade. "Oh that's probably Mr. 'The-Lighting-Has-To-Be-Right.' I'm going to give him a piece of my mind!"
"Now Mother..." Amanda called out but Dotty had already hurried down the stairs. She could hear Lee getting an earful and grimaced at the tongue lashing he was receiving. A few moments later she heard him coming up the stairs.
"Hi!" Lee poked his head around the door. "Can I come in?"
Amanda held out her hand and Lee entered, sitting carefully on the edge of the bed. He leaned over and they exchanged a slow tender kiss.
"I'm sorry about Mother's little lecture'" Amanda apologized.
"It was easier than the one we got from Dr. Smyth." They both winced as they recalled the phone call from the nasty man. Not a word about how sorry he was that they had gotten hurt on the mission. Lee shook his head to banish the memory.
"How's the leg?" he asked, changing the topic.
"Not too bad. How about your side?"
"Not too bad," he echoed with a grin. "I have some good news. Sam Jacobs got word from Cantala. Sister Bernita and all of the nuns are fine. The shot we heard was just a warning and it must have scared the ladies which is why we heard the cry."
"I'm so glad," Amanda laid her head back on her pillow in relief.
Lee nodded. "Senator Duffy is so grateful that we saved his grandchildren that he wanted to do something for us so I suggested he make a large donation to the Santa Merici medical clinic through the Red Cross. What do you think?"
Amanda reached forward, grabbed Lee's tie and slowly pulled him down towards her. "I think," she said between kisses, "That you (kiss) are a very (kiss) nice (kiss) man."