Timeframe: Post season four - Halloween to Christmas Day, 1988
Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King is the property of Warner Brothers and Shoot-the-Moon Productions. I make no money from my story.
Episodes: References are made to the following SMK episodes: The First Time, ACM Kid, A Long Christmas Eve, The Artful Dodger, Playing Possum, We're Off to See the Wizard, Wrong Number, Stemwinder, Unfinished Business, Santa's Got a Brand New Bag, The Man Who Died Twice, and Mission of Gold.
Song, Poem and Movie References:
"Itsy, Bitsy Spider" - English rhyme. Author unknown.
"Here is the Church" - English Children's rhyme - author unknown.
"Away in a Manger" - English song - author of lyrics unknown
"O Holy Night" - Composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the a French poem, "Minuit, chretiens" by Placide Cappeau. John Sullivan Dwight created the English version based on Cappeau's poem in 1855.
"Silent Night" - the original lyrics of the song Stille Nacht were written in German by the Austrian priest, Father Joseph Mohr around 1816.
The words of the title, "Every Mother's Child is Going to Spy," appear in "The Christmas Song," written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells in 1944.
"It's a Wonderful Life" - The 1946 movie was directed by Frank Capra and starred James Stewart and Donna Reed.
Author's notes: Many thanks to my west coast SMK friend (Lookoutwife,) and east coast SMK friend (wishes to remain anonymous) who read several drafts and offered their valuable insights and expertise.
The story has 14 chapters. I plan to post them individually over the next several weeks.
Chapter 1: October 31, 1988
The hum of medical jargon and the smell of antiseptics assaulted Lee's senses, undermining his ability to cope with the hospital drama. Pacing a little, he fought to regain his usual steely self-control. There was no time to struggle with his personal fears now. Amanda needed him to be calm and supportive in yet another critical juncture of their lives.
A nurse placed a hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right, Mr. Stetson? "You should sit down and settle your nerves."
"I'm fine." Lee shook off her concern, willing himself to tough it out. He hated hospitals with a vengeance - the squeak of rubber-soled shoes on linoleum, the robotic efficiency of the medical staff, the unrelenting beep of monitors, the faceless loudspeaker calling out "Code Blue, Code Blue". The sights and sounds and smells evoked the haunting memories he'd fought to hold at bay over the course of his lifetime.
Shocking images from the past assailed him like a spray of enemy bullets. In his mind's eye, he saw himself at five years of age, fitfully dozing on the generous lap of his grandmotherly babysitter. Called to a Washington D.C. hospital, they waited for news of his injured parents.
In the flashback, he heard the swish of double doors, the approach of long footsteps, and the deep timbre of the doctor's voice. "I'm sorry; there was nothing we could do. They're both gone. Matthew and Jennifer Stetson died shortly after they arrived by ambulance."
Little Lee Stetson didn't comprehend death, but he understood "gone." The monumental moment shattered his childhood and defined forever his perception of hospitals as places of misery, pain and loss.
More ghosts from the past tormented his fragile state of mind. Against his will, he was forced to remember the countless hospital vigils for friends and colleagues, mortally wounded in the line of duty. Even top-notch doctors with fancy degrees couldn't save them.
Dead was dead. No amount of remorse and anguish could bring back the best in the business - not sweet Dorothy of the Oz Network, nor the loyal Agency partner who loaned him socks, laughed at his jokes, and took a bullet through the head to save him from certain death.
Now, like then, time honored medical explanations sounded woefully inadequate. "I'm sorry; she was dead on arrival. Unfortunately he never regained consciousness. We did everything we could, but he died in surgery."
Lee pressed both hands against his temples, trying to thwart the worst of his demons, but the rush of memories came flooding back. Once more he heard the report of gunfire exploding through the car windshield. Then he saw blood pooling on Amanda's white sweater as she slumped in the seat. In a flash, he was back in a California hospital, praying that his beloved wife of only two days would survive a bullet wound to her chest. The hellish memory was enough to drive him to the brink of insanity.
"Sweetheart, are you okay?" Amanda's quivering voice pulled his attention back to their present struggle. Despite her pain and exhaustion, she reached out a hand to ease his fears.
"I'm fine," he said, gazing into her earnest brown eyes and gently squeezing her fingers. "I'm just a little anxious."
"A little?" she asked with a quirk of her brow. "Don't worry, Lee. We'll get through this together."
"You bet." Smiling for her benefit, he continued to do battle with his emotions. Good grief, little more than twenty months had passed since she nearly lost her life, yet here they were again, gripped by another hospital drama - waiting, waiting, waiting. God, how he hated the waiting.
The hands of the wall clock crawled toward the midnight hour, a tangible reminder of the long grueling day. Overhead, the glare of florescent lights mocked their bone aching weariness. All they could do now was persevere and hope for deliverance.
Lee wiped the beads of perspiration from Amanda's forehead and reminded her to take a cleansing breath. "Hang on," he pleaded, firmly bracing his hands behind the slender shoulders of his wife. "You're doing great."
"I'm trying," Amanda said, the raspy words barely making it beyond parched lips. She smiled weakly as her body shook from the ordeal.
Lee leaned closer, willing his energy to merge with Amanda's thin frame. God, it was unbearable watching her suffer. Looking up, his eyes searched the doctor's face for telltale signs of concern. The medical team hovered closer, waiting expectantly to play their roles.
"Give us another valiant push, Mrs. Stetson," the obstetrician said, in a reassuring tone. "Push - push hard. Keep pushing."
With eyes shut tight, Amanda bore down with every ounce of her being. Sounds of travail filled the room as she labored to bring the baby into the world. Amazingly, a small head emerged, covered with matted swirls of dark hair.
"Hold it; take a little break," the doctor said, efficiently guiding the drama.
A rush of warmth enveloped the expectant father as he caught sight of the sweet face. Boy or girl? The gender didn't matter one bit. The tiny infant was flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone - the only offspring of Lee and Amanda Stetson.
Carefully the doctor repositioned the baby. "Now get ready for the final act."
Amanda nodded, her face contorted as she pushed with the next contraction. Digging deep, she struggled to tap whatever reserves of strength she had left to give.
Gripped by a mixture of anticipation and trepidation, Lee braced for the finale. Then in a rush a tiny trunk appeared, followed quickly by flailing arms and legs.
"It's a girl," the doctor announced, holding her up for all to see. The delivery room players erupted with cheers.
Lee cut loose with a loud whoop, and Amanda beamed with happiness.
The new arrival entered the world with a hearty cry, loudly voicing her displeasure as she was wiped clean by the nurses. Then wrapped in a blanket, she stared through veiled eyes while her exuberant father snapped a picture.
"She's beautiful," Lee said with unbridled paternal pride. Overwhelmed with joy, he blinked back tears.
Amanda squeezed his hand. "Thank you, sweetheart," she whispered against his ear. "I can't believe we have a daughter."
"She's the ultimate prize. I'm glad I could give you the little girl you've always wanted." He tucked wisps of hair behind her ear and leaned in for a kiss. Despite sixteen hours of exhausting labor, Amanda's radiant smile reached straight to his soul.
The nurse came closer with the baby in her arms. "Here you go, Daddy. I understand you've never held a newborn. Your wife said you get first dibs."
Lee nodded, unable to swallow the lump in his throat. Awestruck, he received the feather-light bundle and merely gazed at his daughter with childlike wonder. "Hi, sweetie," he finally managed to whisper. Then hesitantly, he touched the delicate skin of the baby's face. When one tiny fist closed around his finger, he felt his heart leap with instantaneous love.
Jennifer Grace was finally here - safe, healthy and lovely like her mother. Lee shook his head in disbelief. Surely he would wake up and find it all a dream. Miracles of such magnitude shouldn't happen to a guy who'd spent most of his life running from commitment, but here, nestled against his chest, was the living proof of redemption.
Call it luck, fate, or a Godsend; some higher power had led him to Amanda King, and she in turn had guided him down the road to love and family. With her unique blend of caring and stubbornness, she'd banished the phantom loneliness that stalked him most of his life. And now, when she'd already given him two wonderful stepsons, Amanda gifted him with a beautiful baby daughter. Never before had he felt so inadequate or so determined to succeed. "So help me God, I'll never let you down," he said to the precious infant in his arms.
Amanda watched them with tears in her eyes. "Daddy's little girl already. Are you going to share?" Eagerly she held out her arms to receive their daughter.
Settling the baby against her breast, Lee grinned as Amanda unwrapped Jenny and counted fingers and toes. Then he cataloged every detail, from the dark brown hair, to the tiny "cute" nose, to the heart shaped face. For a magical moment, the new father basked in the wonder of seeing his girls get acquainted. "She's perfect," he declared, nearly choking on the words.
The spell was broken when the nurse intruded. "It's time for the staff to get your daughter situated in the nursery and for you to share the good news with your relatives. Your family has been clamoring for the latest update."
With a lingering kiss for Amanda and another long look at the baby, Lee hurried through the double doors of the delivery room. Rushing down the corridor, he yanked off the green scrub cap and gown and tossed them in the nearest clothing receptacle. Then running nervous fingers through his hair, he prepared to greet the waiting family members.
His mother-in-law and stepsons practically bowled him over as he materialized before their eyes. "Lee," they cried in one voice.
He felt a huge smile spread across his face, but words failed him.
Dotty grabbed his arms and gave him a firm shake. "Well, are you going to tell us, or do I have to find the doctor?"
"She's gorgeous," he finally said in a voice thick with emotion. "Seven pounds, nine ounces. Amanda is tired, but very happy."
"A girl," Dotty exclaimed, clapping her hands together before she engulfed him with a fierce bear hug.
Phillip and Jamie exchanged looks of uncertainty. "A girl?" they asked as if the possibility had never crossed their minds.
"Yes, a sister." Lee laughed and placed an arm around each boy. "Wait until you see Jenny. You'll be instant believers in 'sugar and spice and everything nice'." Pointing a thumb over his shoulder, he directed them toward the nursery. "Let's go have a peek."
As they made their way along the corridor, Dotty took his arm and directed his gaze toward a display of seasonal decorations - pumpkins, friendly ghosts and, most appropriately, the scarecrows. "I should have guessed the child of Lee and Amanda Stetson would arrive on Halloween. I hope it's not an omen for Jenny's future. We have enough spooks in our family."
"Yeah, that's the truth," Lee said with a sardonic chuckle. Memories of a nervous housewife and a Halloween costume party came to mind, along with the fateful moment he revealed his secret life to the woman he never planned to see again.
Shaking his head at the irony, the new daddy couldn't stop smiling as the four of them lined up with perfect precision in front of the nursery window. He marveled how someone only minutes old could take possession of his heart so completely. "See," Lee said, motioning toward the nursery crib holding Baby Girl Stetson. "She can hardly wait to meet her grandma and big brothers."
Right on cue, Jenny opened her eyes for her beaming family.
The nurse leaned over the baby and uncovered a generous cap of dark hair - so long, in fact, that someone had already pulled back her bangs with a bright pink bow.
The excited grandmother and siblings were mesmerized by the new addition.
Jamie pressed both hands against the window. "Cute," he said with a crooked grin.
Phillip poked his stepfather with an elbow. "You do good work, Lee."
"She looks exactly like Amanda," a proud Dotty added with obvious delight.
Watching his family, Lee wanted to freeze frame the moment of unmitigated joy. Life couldn't possibly get any better. As Dotty and the boys shared their enthusiasm over Jennifer Grace, he felt his confidence grow. Maybe he was up to the task. Maybe Lee Stetson was entitled to the happiness he'd found. Maybe . . . .
Then a shadow darkened the wall beside him, and Lee turned around, catching a glimpse of a distinguished man encroaching on his personal space. Dressed in a dark, three-piece suit, the bearded gentleman quietly stepped forward and pressed a package into Lee's hand. "Congratulations to you and Amanda," he said, in words tinged with a Russian accent.
Lee glanced at the present, gaily wrapped in glossy Teddy Bear paper and tied with pink and blue ribbons. With a faint nod, he barely acknowledged the gift before turning his attention back to the giver. In silence, he studied the full measure of the man.
Slowly recognition dawned as familiar dark eyes bore into Lee's soul. No, it couldn't be, but the truth was staring him in the face. Yuri Valov, a Soviet operative, had surfaced once again. The man appeared a little heavier and little grayer, but he was definitely the unlikely ally from an old Agency case involving "Operation Possum".
Nearly four years had passed since a high level security breach sent the entire Agency into hiding, leaving Scarecrow and Mrs. King on the outside without a clue. In a twist of fate, the Russian agent had tracked down Lee and Amanda to warn them of a dire threat, plotted by Soviet renegades. With Yuri's help, they'd found and disarmed the nuclear bomb that was about to obliterate Washington, D.C.
Pushing the haunting memory from his mind, Lee offered a restrained handshake to the man he held in high esteem. However, in the midst of a private family moment, alarm trumped respect. My God, a top Russian spy sought him out on the maternity wing of the hospital - at midnight, no less. Lee cleared his throat, testing the waters for more information. "To what do I owe the honor of your visit?"
"I'm here as a friend." Valov made a show of studying the babies in the nursery. "Your daughter is very beautiful," he said with a wistful smile. Then Yuri's high forehead furrowed with an earnest but unreadable purpose. "Take care of your family, Lee. Keep them close."
"Of course." The Stetson patience was wearing thin, but he kept his voice low and his tone even. "Is there something that I need to know?"
With his eyes flashing a silent warning, Yuri gripped Lee's hand again. Then nodding politely toward Dotty and the boys, he turned abruptly and moved swiftly toward the elevator. With a loud ding, the doors slid open, and Valov disappeared inside.
"Lee, Lee," Dotty called as she moved closer to his side. "Is anything wrong? Who was the gentleman?"
"Ah, just a former business associate," he said, forcing a smile to prevent an inquisition. Seeing the concern etched on his mother-in-law's face, he gave her elbow a squeeze. "Give me a minute while I make a call. Trust me. Everything's fine."
"Well, I certainly hope so." Dotty's wrinkled brow betrayed her doubt, but she waved him on.
Lee tucked the gift under his arm and hurried toward the public phones. Ever vigilant, he scanned the wide corridor, searching for other eyes and ears that may have witnessed the exchange with Yuri. The hallway appeared deserted, except for a lone woman walking briskly toward the staircase. Pulling open the door, she paused and glanced in his direction.
For a few seconds, she seemed to gauge his actions, so Lee slowed his pace to judge her intent. The woman had no identifiable features, aside from shapely legs expertly balanced on stiletto heels. A stylish royal blue coat concealed her figure, and a flowing head scarf obscured nearly all her chestnut hair. Even more disconcerting were the enormous sunglasses that shielded her eyes. My God, was she a spy, too?
Thoroughly in agent mode, Scarecrow felt the fine hairs of his neck stand on end. Something about the woman's confident demeanor put his defenses on high alert. When her gloved hand moved to a coat pocket, he decided against approaching her. If she was harboring a weapon, he couldn't risk placing his family in harm's way. Besides, today of all days, he was unarmed. Wordlessly, he watched her turn and disappear into the stairwell.
Lee swallowed hard, feeling all the heady joy of his daughter's birth deflate like a punctured balloon. Trouble certainly had a way of following him. Of the myriad of fears he'd enumerated about hospitals, Soviet spies appearing on the maternity ward hadn't made the list.
Finally reaching the telephones, he fumbled for change before remembering the small rectangular package still clutched in his hand. Tearing at the wrappings, he hoped the gift would clarify the maddening intrusions. "What the hell does this mean?" Lee murmured, uncovering a book entitled, "A Child's Treasury of Christmas Poetry." His long fingers flipped through the pages. Amidst the calligraphy and childish pictures, he searched for a clue that would explain the mysterious arrival of a Soviet agent. Nothing in the book seemed out of the ordinary.
While punching in the Agency number, Lee glanced at his family, still gathered around the nursery window. "Damn it," he muttered aloud. "Why, when everything seems so perfect for Amanda and me, does the universe yet again conspire to sabotage our happiness?"