She Spies/Scarecrow and Mrs. King

Originally published in Compadres #28, from Neon RainBowPress.

Hostage Heart

(a sequel to "The Fogelberg Mission")

Susan M. M.

If I could ever say it right, and reach your hostage heart despite

The doubts you harbor, then you might come to believe in me.

Dan Fogelberg, Believe in Me

Despite a late night the evening before, Quentin Cross was in his office early on Friday morning. Humming Dan Fogelberg's "Longer" softly to himself, he turned on his computer and began reviewing changes in the global geopolitical crises since he'd gone off-duty at 5:00 the night before. He'd barely gotten settled at his desk, when his computer beeped that he had an incoming message coming over a secure line.

Cross pushed the necessary buttons, and seconds later he had a video-teleconference call with The Chairman. "Mr. Chairman," he greeted the head of ISD respectfully. "What can I do for you this morning?"

The Chairman, a middle-aged man whose brown hair was beginning to go gray, wasn't smiling. "Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

Cross resisted the temptation to pretend he didn't know what his superior was talking about. "No, sir."

"Which of you do I call behind the woodshed?" The Chairman demanded. "You or Agent McBain? Or both of you."

"Just me, sir."

"Are you sure of that? Cassie McBain is a second-generation con artist. She could manipulate you subtly, make you think it was your own idea," The Chairman suggested. "She might be trying to adjust your attitude toward her, to make you go easy on her and her teammates."

"She was under the impression that last night was a mission, sir."

The Chairman raised an eyebrow. "A concert and coffee was a mission?"

"I told her that I was meeting a contact at the concert, sir. She thought she was there just to provide cover, so I'd look inconspicuous," Cross confessed.

"And the visit to Starbuck's afterwards?"

"That was to thank her for her time when she was officially off-duty," Cross said.

"An agent is never off-duty," the Chairman reminded him. "There are reasons for the rules against fraternization with subordinates. The last thing the department needs is a sexual harassment lawsuit."

"Sir, there was no harassment – " Cross began. They'd hadn't done anything more than snuggle together under a blanket at an outdoor concert, and that was as much for warmth as any thing.

"You're director of the west coast branch of the ISD. You can't afford even the appearance of impropriety," The Chairman informed him coldly. "Cassie isn't just your subordinate. She's a felon paroled to the department in return for services rendered. I don't need a Senate oversight committee asking just what sort of 'services' she and her teammates supposed to be rendering to the ISD."

Cross opened his mouth to protest, then shut it again. The Chairman was right.

"Tell me it won't happen again," The Chairman said in a conciliatory tone, "and no written reprimand will go in your personnel file."

Cross didn't say anything.

"Tell me it won't happen again," he repeated, his tone not quite so friendly as before.

"You married Amanda."

"Amanda wasn't a convicted felon," pointed out the spymaster who'd once borne the code-name Scarecrow. After a moment, he asked, "Is it that serious?"

"It could be," Cross admitted. "It could get that way very easily, very quickly."

"She's not worth risking your career over," The Chairman told him. "Either you nip this affaire du coeur in the bud, or I transfer you to Washington, or I end the 'She Spies' program."

"Sir, those three ladies are some of the best agents we've ever had," protested Cross.

"And their team goes overbudget more often than any three other programs combined," retaliated The Chairman. "The most practical course of action would be just to send them back to prison."

Cross knew all too well that certain Washington penpushers – the desk jockeys in three-piece suits who put expediency before ethics – would consider it more practical to terminate his three ladies 'with extreme prejudice' rather than sending them back to prison. Dead women tell no tales. "You could arrange for them to be pardoned."

"They still have years to go on their original sentences."

"They've also saved countless lives since joining the ISD," countered Cross. "They've earned a full pardon. Or," he hesitated, "I could go back to field duty."

"Your doctor would laugh in my face if I suggested returning you to field duty," The Chairman pointed out.

"I'm fine. I'm fully recovered," Cross lied.

"Fine isn't good enough. A field agent has to be in prime condition. Even if you hadn't been shot, your age would make me consider transferring you from field duty to a desk," his superior told him. Then, more gently, he added, "We're, neither one of us, getting any younger. The reflexes aren't what they were; the stamina is shot. You can't go back to field duty." And neither can I, The Chairman thought. Probably Billy Melrose had felt the same way when he'd been forced first from field duty into administration, and then into retirement.

An awkward silence enveloped the two spies.

"Promise me that it won't happen again."

"Lee, I can't make that promise."

"Why not?" demanded The Chairman, ignoring (for the moment) his subordinate's use of his first name without permission.

"Because I think I love her."

"Love and espionage don't mix."

"I know."

"I should suspend you for a week without pay," The Chairman said.

Cross said nothing. He knew his superior was right. He also knew how he felt about Cassie, and what a breach of professional ethics it was.

"You look a little green around the gills," The Chairman observed. "I think you're coming down with something. Or is your knee bothering you?"

Cross raised one eyebrow.

"You should go home, take a few days sick leave," The Chairman advised him.

Cross hadn't gotten his job by being slow on the uptake. "Yes, sir. I was thinking of making a donation to the Salvation Army. They get lots at Christmas, but they're almost ignored this time of year."

The Chairman nodded. "I'm sure they'd be very grateful if you donated a week's pay."

"Let me clean my desk and brief my deputy. I'll head for home in half an hour," promised Cross.

"Quentin."

"Sir?"

"This discussion never happen. But if I catch you again, I won't have any choice. It'll have to go on your record."

"Yes, sir." Cross was grateful. He was getting off lightly and he knew it.

"Be careful."

"Yes, sir."