Title: In A Jam
Timeline- first season
Genre – humour
Rating - general
The sun beat down warmly, soaking through Lee's T-shirt and into his tense muscles. If he hadn't been on an assignment, he might have appreciated the feeling. Instead he blocked it from his mind. A butterfly suddenly flit by in front of his nose and he jerked back in surprise before resuming his firm stance. There was no expression on his face. He had a job to do. Distractions weren't allowed.
Behind his mirrored sun glasses, he surveyed the surrounding area. It appeared calm... He narrowed his eyes. A laughing family group walked by and he clenched his fists ready to react. They looked innocent enough, but terrorists hid everywhere. He eyed the light blue diaper bag slung on the mother's shoulder then shifted his gaze to the father who was carrying a curly headed little boy on his shoulders. The child's face and hands were stained with some red substance, no doubt sticky. Hmm... Probably not that group after all.
A breeze wafted by, lifting his hair, causing it to drop gently onto his forehead. Irritated he brushed it back and folded his arms again.
A tug on the leg of his shorts had him looking down. Amanda crouched by his feet. Her hair was pulled back in a pony tail, ensuring it didn't blur her vision.
"What?" His lips barely moved as he asked the question, turning slightly to survey the area to his left.
"Lee, you look too conspicuous up there."
He glanced at her in surprise then looked at his clothing. Francine had researched the situation and assured him this was perfect attire for the scenario. Grey t-shirt, cut off denim shorts, sneakers... "What's wrong with the way I look?" There was a trace of annoyance in his voice. He really detested this type of assignment and having his 'partner'—who was not even a qualified agent—pick apart his appearance... Well, it was irritating.
"You look fine. It's how you're standing."
"How I'm standing?"
"Really, Lee. I mean it. No one stands ramrod straight in the middle of a strawberry patch with their arms folded. You need to blend in. Bend down, pick a few berries and look like you're having fun."
Lee firmed his mouth but checked out his fellow berry pickers. Just as Amanda had said, no one was standing around staring. They were all crawling along the ground, busily gathering the red fruit.
Slowly he sank to the ground, took off his sunglasses and watched Amanda's fingers nimbly plucking berries. It looked pretty easy. Reluctantly, he reached out and grabbed one, giving it a firm yank. The plant pulled from the ground and the berry squished between his fingers. He examined the crushed fruit and the juice that dripped from it.
A snicker came from Amanda's direction, but when he stared at her, her face was blank, her eyes firmly fixed on her task.
Reaching into his pocket, he wiped his hand on a Kleenex and sighed. "So...how do you do this?"
"It's really quite simple, you just gently hold the fruit in your hand and pinch the stem off using your thumb and finger." She demonstrated the technique and he tried to mimic her actions under her careful scrutiny. "That's pretty good, Lee. Now remember to only pick the ripe berries; they're the red ones—"
He rolled his eyes at her. "Amanda, I HAVE eaten strawberries before. I know what colour they should be."
"Sorry. Umm...don't pick any that are over-ripe or have bad spots. Oh, and leave the little green cap or hull on the berry too. They'll last longer that way."
Lee grunted in acknowledgement and proceeded to pick berries while scanning the area around him for signs of trouble. His basket was half full, when he noticed Amanda placing an already full container in the flat and reaching for another empty box. He marvelled at how fast she managed to work. "How many of these do we need to pick?"
"Enough to make two batches of freezer jam. One for me and one for the Italian Embassy." She glanced at the woman three rows over who was busily filling her basket. The woman looked up and smiled at Amanda before continuing with her task. Amanda leaned closer to Lee and spoke quietly. "Can you believe it, she's never picked berries or made jam?""
"Imagine that. The Italian Ambassador's wife, a wealthy, highly educated woman, living in the middle of one of the most cultured cities in the world, and she's never squatted in a field, picking berries. I'm shocked."
Amanda smacked him lightly. "Be nice. Anyway, when Billy asked me what I was doing today and I told him I was picking berries for jam, he said she'd be delighted to join in the experience. Once we're done here, we're going back to the Italian Embassy and making some jam together."
"You know," he sat back on his haunches, resting his forearms on his knees, "you can buy jam already made at the store."
Amanda rolled her eyes at him. "Of course you can, but it doesn't taste as good, it's full of chemicals and besides, this is fun."
"Fun, eh?" He swatted at a mosquito that landed on his leg.
"Yes. Fun." She lowered her brows slightly and gave him a stern look.
"Right. Fun." Lee sighed and picked a few more berries. The air seemed warmer here, crouched down close to the ground. A bead of sweat trickled down his chest and he wished he had a drink of water, or better yet, a cold beer. Looking around, he saw no sign of a concession stand. Just miles and miles of berries. It figured.
The plant he'd been picking from was now barren of fruit, so he moved ahead to the next one. The sweet smell of berries drifted up from the laden plants and mixed with the scent of warm earth and crushed straw. A bit of straw stuck to his sock, scratching his leg and he pulled it out, then examined his skin. There was only a faint red mark.
"Why is there all this straw on the ground?"
She furrowed her brow. "I don't know for sure. I suppose it keeps the weeds down. Maybe it helps trap the moisture or prevents snails and slugs from eating the fruit."
"Oh." An exceptionally large berry came into view and he picked it. The flesh was shiny, firm and red. After taking a surreptitious look around, he popped the fruit into his mouth and bit down. A smile spread over his face. Delicious. Sweet berry juice filled his mouth. He chewed twice and swallowed.
"Pick. Don't eat."
"I'm just testing the quality of the fruit. We wouldn't want the ambassador to be served a substandard product." He popped another berry in his mouth and gave her his best boyishly innocent grin.
She sighed. "Fine. Eat a few, but keep picking."
Lee shifted forward a bit to the next set of plants and soon had his basket full. Pleased with his success he turned to tell Amanda, but then paused. A tell tale stain of red graced the corner of her lips. Pick. Don't eat, she'd said. Sure.
He stared at her lips and the hint of berry that clung to them. Suddenly he found himself wondering what it would be like to lick that juice off her lips. In his mind's eye, he envisioned himself doing just that. His tongue tracing her lower lip, slipping inside her mouth, then tangling with hers while he pulled her soft warm body tightly to his...
He was jolted back to reality only to find his thumb tracing Amanda's lower lip. "You, uh, have a berry stain right here, in the corner of your mouth." He cleared his throat and shifted backwards. Unfortunately, he moved too quickly, losing his balance and falling onto a strawberry plant. There was a squishy feeling against his palm and he just knew he'd mashed at least one berry under his hand.
Amanda gave him a curious look, then licked the corner of her mouth. The action distracted him from the substance oozing between his fingers. Lee's mouth went dry as he watched her tongue slowly removing the evidence of her snack. He swallowed hard. "Um, are we done?"
Examining the number of baskets, Amanda nodded. "Yeah. I think that should be enough." She turned to talk to the ambassador's wife.
Lee examined his hand. Yep. Berry juice was dripping from his fingers. His wrist was also itchy and so were his ankles. Scratching, he noticed a few small red dots forming on his skin. The leaves of the plant were a bit prickly...damn! He was probably breaking out in a rash! Frowning, he wondered how his date tonight would react if he showed up covered in calamine lotion.
His mood grim, he stood up, straightened his shirt, donned his sunglasses and hefted the wooden flat of berries. "I'll carry these. Amanda, you follow behind with the ambassador's wife."
"What do you need now?" His voice was terser than he'd planned, but he was really starting to itch now. Balancing on one leg, his scratched his ankle with his other foot. He couldn't wait to finish this assignment, go home and wash all remnants of the berry field from his body.
Obviously, Amanda took exception to his tone for she gave him a tight lipped smile and spoke with false civility. "Never mind. It wasn't important."
He studied her critically for a moment and then shrugged. Whatever. He was here to do a job. If she couldn't handle his occasional grumpiness, too bad. With practised ease, he scanned the groups of berry pickers. Nothing suspicious. Good.
"It looks safe enough, let's go." His face was professionally impassive as he made his way through the rows of plants, ever watchful for even the slightest indication of danger.
Behind him, he could hear Amanda and the Italian ambassador's wife giggling away. He glanced over his shoulder at them and they smiled innocently, but not before he noticed they were staring at his butt. A bit of vanity flashed through him and he lifted his chin, walking a little taller. His body was trim and toned. Apparently the ladies liked how his shorts enhanced his rear view. He kept his chuckle to himself. So he provided them with a bit of eye candy. Nothing wrong with that.
The faintest hint of a smirk appeared on his lips when he noticed another set of women eying him, too. Smiles lit their faces as he passed. Quickly he classified them. Mid-thirties. Suburban housewives. No threat. He was probably making their day by being here.
Near the edge of the field was a small stand where customers paid for the berries. Waiting in line, he heard a little voice beside him.
He glanced down, saw a small child and looked away, resuming his duties. The child was probably talking to someone else.
Something tapped at his leg and he looked down again to see the same child. It was little red headed girl staring up at him solemnly. Realizing she was addressing him, he raised an eyebrow in inquiry.
"Why do you have a mashed berry stuck to your bum?"