She Spies1

Originally published in Compadres #26, from Neon RainBow Press

Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters, I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. That's it, typing practice. I'll return them to their actual owners (relatively) undamaged. This is an amateur work of fiction; no profit beyond pleasure was derived from the writing.

The Fogelberg Mission

by Susan Macdonald

Quentin Cross, director of the LA branch office of the State Department's International Security Department, was surrounded by three beautiful, demanding women.

"I broke my heel on this mission. Will ISD pay for a new pair of shoes?" Shane Phillips demanded.

"Could we get a bigger clothing allowance?" D. D. Cummings asked. "This job is awfully hard on clothes."

"This job is hard on us. How about a few days off?" Cassie McBain added.

"You shouldn't wear high heels on duty," Mr. Cross told Shane. He turned to D.D. "Not a chance." He looked at Cassie. "If no major international crises develop, possibly." He picked up a manila folder. "I want your reports on my desk by the time you go home tonight. Dismissed."

Suppressing the urge to cuss in the most unladylike manner (or to childishly stick out their tongues), the three agents filed out of Mr. Cross' office.

"Cassie, wait a moment please," he said as she reached the threshold.

The blonde stopped and looked back.

"How do you feel about Dan Fogelberg?" Mr. Cross asked her.

The question took Cassie by surprise. She'd expected him to complain about their expense account, or ask her about the Peruvian arms dealer they'd just caught. She hadn't expected him to ask about a singer/songwriter. "I had some of his records when I was younger. I've never bothered updating any of his albums to CDs."

"I just heard from an old contact. He says he won't deal with anyone but me. He wants us to meet during the Dan Fogelberg concert Thursday."

"And you want me to come as back-up?"

"As cover," Mr. Cross explained. "Fogelberg has a reputation as a women's singer. A man by himself in the audience might be conspicuous. But if I'm accompanying a wife or girlfriend. . . ."

"Then you're just some poor slob who got dragged along to the musical equivalent of a chick-flick."

He nodded. "The concert starts at eight. I'll pick you up at seven."

"What, no dinner first?"

"This is a mission, not a date," he told her sternly.

"Yes, sir," the former con artist muttered.

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Mr. Cross was at the door of the beach house at seven sharp. The beachfront home shared by the three criminals-turned-spies was nicer by far than his own home. And he had to pay his own rent; ISD provided the lodgings to the trio as part of their benefits. On the other hand, he was a voluntary employee of the ISD. The three ladies (whom some idiotic Washington bureaucrat had saddled with the code name "She Spies") were criminals blackmailed into government service.

"Hi," Shane said uncomfortably. The African-American ex-thief wasn't used to their boss showing up at their home. "C'mon in. Hey, Cassie, you have a gentleman caller," she called up the stairs teasingly.

"I want to watch Sense and Sensibility." D. D., a petite blonde, held the DVD in her left hand.

"But TNT is doing a Renegade marathon," Shane went back to the argument they'd been having before Mr. Cross arrived.

"Hello, D. D.," Mr. Cross greeted her politely.

"Hi." The hacker smiled at him, then turned back to her teammate. "Sense and Sensibility is a beautiful movie."

"Four words," Shane said. "Lorenzo Lamas. Branscombe Richmond."

D. D. thought quickly. "We can watch the movie anytime."

Cassie came down the stairs. The statuesque blonde wore black slacks and a red, black and white striped sweater. "I'm ready."

Brown eyes looked up at her, captivated. "You look great. That is, I'm glad you dressed sensibly. It's an outdoor theater."

Cassie's blue-gray eyes roved over her escort: brown slacks, a cream-colored Aran sweater, dark hair going prematurely gray, a body that was still as fit as it had been when he was a field agent, before he'd been forced into administration. The view gave her no complaints.

"Shall we go?" He escorted Cassie to his car, trying to ignore her partners' teasing comments.

"Make sure she's home by midnight," D. D. cautioned.

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Shane teased.

"Is there anything you wouldn't do?" D.D. asked innocently.

"Shut up and give me that remote," ordered Shane.

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"What do you want me to do?" Cassie asked as they drove.

"Just provide cover so I don't look conspicuous," Mr. Cross replied.

"You always scold us if we don't wait for back-up," she pointed out.

"When they play 'Run for the Roses,' I'm to meet my contact in the men's room. You won't be able to go with me," he explained.

"Oh."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

After he parked the car in the college parking lot, Mr. Cross fetched two cushions and a plaid blanket from the trunk. He and Cassie walked to the open air theater, found their seats, and made themselves comfortable.

They chatted about inconsequentials for ten minutes: TV shows, the plans for Duncan's birthday party, whether London was better than Hawaii for vacations. Cassie glanced at the audience and noted that Mr. Cross had been correct. Although there were some couples, and some families with kids, two-thirds of the audience was female. Most seemed to be groups of girlfriends, but she saw quite a few mother and daughter pairings. Then the warm-up band started, and they quieted down.

The warm-up band was Ken & Phee, a husband-and-wife duo. He played the guitar, she the hammered dulcimer. Their play list was eclectic but pleasing, going from Robert Burns to sea shanties to Irish ballads.

Ken & Phee left the stage. Two minutes later, a voice came over the loud speaker. "Ladies and gentlemen, Santa Ynez Community College is pleased to present: Dan Fogelberg!"

"I have these moments all steady and strong

I'm feeling so holy and humble.

The next thing I know I'm all worried and weak,

And I feel myself starting to crumble," Fogelberg sang.

The crowd roared so loudly that for a few minutes Cassie couldn't hear the song. They settled down after a moment, and she was surprised to see Mr. Cross singing along softly with the chorus.

"Love when you can, cry when you have to,

Be who you must, that's a part of the plan."

After the first song, Dan Fogelberg introduced himself and the musicians in his band. Then he started singing again, jumping from "The Power of Gold" to "Dancing Shoes" to "Lonely in Love" to "High Country Snows." He bounced through his musical repertoire, switching from rock to bluegrass to ballads with no apparent pattern.

"Too many hearts have been broken,

Failing to trust what they feel,

Trust isn't something that's spoken,

And love's never wrong when it's real."

Mr. Cross put his arm around Cassie. She knew it was just because of their cover, but it felt good, nonetheless. She snuggled under the blanket, nestling herself comfortably against his shoulder. After all, she had to keep up her cover.

"Born in a valley, and raised in the trees

Of western Kentucky on wobbly knees. . ." Dan Fogelberg sang.

"Excuse me," Mr. Cross murmured. He stood and headed up the aisle to the men's restroom. Once there, he used the plumbing for its intended purpose, and washed his hands. It was a shame he had to miss "Run for the Roses," it was one of his favorite Fogelberg songs. However, he'd be damned if he missed the chance to listen to "Longer" or "Believe in Me" while holding Cassie's hand.

As he headed back to his seat, he wondered which would be more dangerous: if The Chairman found out he'd fraternized with a subordinate, or if Cassie found out this "mission" was an excuse to spend an evening with her. But he'd face that risk if he had to. A night out with Cassie McBain was worth the risk.

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Author's Note: there is a sequel to this story, entitled "Hostage Heart."

1 Author's Note: All song lyrics quoted herein are by Dan Fogelberg. To the best of my knowledge, Ken & Phee Graydon have never performed as a warm-up act for Mr. Fogelberg, but their style would complement his beautifully, so I put them in the story.

3