Blurb: The secret is out, and big decisions and mixed feelings accompany the Stetsons as they plot out their future together. But will it end before it begins with one lousy case of mistaken identity?
Timeline: October, 1987.
Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King belongs to Shoot the Moon Productions and Warner Bros. Television. This story is for entertainment purposes only and not for profit. I retain the rights to the story and the original characters. Please do not reproduce, repost, or otherwise meddle with the story or my characters without my permission.
Author's Note: In Nightcrawler, Billy counseled Lee to get married, to leave the Agency, and apply for a more lucrative position in administration at the State Department. Pondering that advice and what might make Lee think it was a good idea is what prompted the writing of this story. This is my first large work of fan fiction. I began it on my birthday and ended it six months later on my anniversary. It is 15 chapters, which I intend to post approximately one per day, with a possible break with Christmas coming and all. Hope you find it an enjoyable read.
Lee Stetson crossed his living room toward an elaborate, iron-framed mirror on the wall, noting his reflection with some satisfaction as he approached. No denying he looked the part of the competent professional, from his gray cashmere suit and blue pinstripe tie to his meticulously styled brown hair and closely-shaved jaw. His nerves were raw, but as usual, that bit of discomfort was inscrutable in the steely gaze of his hazel eyes.
He placed one hand on either side of the oblong frame, hoisted upward and lifted the mirror off its anchors with a grunt. Gingerly, he placed the piece into a well-padded box on the floor. It was the last item to go in this one, and a good thing. The box was filled to capacity. His leather-clad set of literary classics occupied most of it. He hadn't read any of them, and never really believed he would, but they had made such an elegant appearance on the shelf of his chiffonier. Perhaps their next owner would put them to better use than aesthetic charm.
He smiled to himself, or rather, in spite of himself. One more sweeping glance about the room confirmed the packing was essentially done. The relatively few personally significant items, the keepers, were safely tucked away in the bedroom. Most of the large pieces had been moved to new homes since the sale. Every box slated for removal had been sealed, labeled, and lined against the entryway wall. Every box except this last one, holding the mirror, the books, and a Tibetan ram's horn, another relic of his checkered past.
Experience had soon taught him not to make himself too helpful with the sealing of the boxes. His wife had a way of packing things that eluded Lee. 'Bet she'll fix this one for me too,' he thought wryly as he dragged the weighty load to the wall.
Petty grumbling aside, his satisfaction only deepened at the thought of Amanda. His wife. His partner in all things. He stood and brushed off his hands on his suit, wagging his head at the enormity of the recent changes. It had been a long time coming, and even a year ago he would have thought it impossible. In just three more days he was closing his last lease. In three days he was finally coming home. And all that stood between him and his glorious homecoming were a couple dozen boxes of former possessions, a renewal of vows ceremony courtesy of Reverend Mills, the skeptical faces of two adolescent stepsons, and this morning's dubious appointment.
As he moved toward the kitchen, the aroma of brewed coffee was strong even before he crossed the threshold. He made a beeline for the carafe and filled his steel travel mug. The coffee was oil black, dark Brazilian roast, a personal favorite. He took a quaff off the top and turned to the built-in cutting board. A loaf of homemade cinnamon raisin bread wrapped neatly in plastic beckoned him. He peeled off the wrap and cut off a generous slab, a nod toward his loving wife's concern for his health. Prior to knowing Amanda, he considered fine black coffee a meal unto itself.
As if summoned by his thoughts, he heard her approach, the near-silent rustle of linen on lace, even before she spoke. He smiled inwardly and waited for her greeting. Then the familiar voice laced with good humor rasped from behind him, "How is it possible you're up before me?"
Lee turned on his heel and flashed his most killer grin at the umber-haired beauty framed in the doorway, bedecked in her long, lace-trimmed damask robe and the telltale glitter of diamond and gold from her left hand. Waking up to the sight of her was a treasure to him, made especially so by the infrequency she was able to stay the night since they had secretly wed eight months ago. Three more days, and that would all change as well. "Well…There's so much to do today, I thought I'd get an early start," he said rather lamely. Truth be told, he hadn't slept a wink in the past three hours. But Amanda didn't need to worry about that.
Her dark, almond eyes fairly danced at him. She stepped closer and nodded at the slice of bread in his hand. "And breakfast? Now that really is new."
He hooked his arm around her back, pulling her in for a tender kiss. "What can I say?" he breathed, closing in on her ear to give it a little nip. "It must be your good influence."
"I'm flattered," she murmured against his cheek, moved back to his mouth, and kissed him again. Then she pulled back and smiled up at him, searched his face, and leveled her conclusion. "You're nervous, Stetson."
A protest formed reflexively on his lips, but he checked it and let out a weary breath instead. Amanda knew Lee better than Lee knew himself. She was right, and no words of his were needed to confirm it. Leaving the bread forgotten on the countertop, he entered into her waiting arms, gratefully pressing her slender form closer still. He was nervous. He was putting their future on the line today, and if he failed, it wasn't just his loss anymore. Those days were gone.
"Don't be nervous, sweetheart. You'll do great," she soothed, tracing her fingers along his hairline. "Billy said they're excited to meet you. He's excited for you. No one is expecting anything but to meet Lee Stetson, and that man is pretty terrific, I think. So just be yourself."
"Only not too much," he quipped, lips curling into a soft smile.
"There's never too much." She smiled back, biting her lower lip and running her hands leisurely up his chest under his suit coat. His breathing quickened at her movements and he felt himself growing pleasantly distracted from his worries and a bit too warm for that coat. As her fingers neared his shoulders, they halted abruptly and she drew herself upright, head cocked to the side, the seductive dance forgotten. "Your holster? Really, Lee, isn't it bad form to wear a gun to an interview?"
His smile faded as quickly as the mood. He knew where this was going. "I am an intelligence agent. I always wear a gun."
"Always?" she asked, with a delicate lift of the brow and a suggestive smirk.
His eyes flickered heavenward. "Amanda," he moaned. "You know what I mean. It gets dangerous out there, even when it shouldn't, and I don't want to go unprepared—"
"Just what are you preparing for? An ambush? I think you might be confusing dangerous with nervous, Lee."
"I am not!" He heard the rising pitch of his voice and made a valiant effort to contain it. More gruffly, he continued, "Anyway, I'll still be working today. I'm meeting you at IFF afterward, right? So it makes sense to—"
"Stop there first and leave it at IFF," she counseled. "You have plenty of time. You're ready to go right now if you need to, and besides, I really doubt security at the State Department will let you in with that thing—"
"Amanda, I'm not—"
"And it would make a poor first impression to get detained at the door by security—"
"Yes, I know you wear it most places, and you feel better when you have it, but your only other option is leaving it in the car, and the way you like to leave your keys in the ignition—"
"All right!" he cried. "You're right." Long ago he learned that the best and perhaps only way to cut off Amanda in full throttle argument mode was to agree with her, or at least appear to agree with her. He gathered her hands in his and looked at her from under heavily lidded eyes. "I won't wear it to the interview."
He was rewarded with a dazzling smile. "You mean it?"
The interview was slated for 8:30, and Lee left the apartment plenty early to get there on time, even accounting for a conciliatory stop at the Agency to deposit his firearm. He pressed his way through the morning rush, exasperatingly stop-and-go, in a vehicle built for unfettered speed. He still couldn't quite wrap his mind around what it was he was pursuing today. An administrative position with the Bureau of Intelligence and Research was a lucrative shop, and one that wouldn't have elicited even a spark of interest a few years ago. He was a field agent, a man of action. While the position for which Billy had nominated him wasn't quite pushing papers, Lee was certain it had that element to it. This could only be a mixed blessing, a safer way to earn a living…and, oh yes, certainly a safer way to earn a living.
He grimaced at his unsettling thoughts as much as at the aggravating traffic pattern. He down-shifted the Corvette again and lifted his coffee for another hearty swig. Still, there was Amanda to consider. From now on, he was a family man. His obligation to Amanda and the family ran deeper than any professional alliance. Much deeper. He couldn't go uprooting the entire household every year as had been his custom with his many apartments over the years. He couldn't go placing himself on the active duty roster for overseas assignments whenever the fancy struck. He couldn't pack a pistol to Phillip's high school basketball games or Jamie's science fairs. Or his job interview. Words he himself had spoken echoed in his mind, a warning approaching a taunt: maybe we've been trying too hard to have it both ways. Did he really say that?
He glanced at his left hand gripping the wheel, relinquishing his misgivings and marveling instead at the glint of gold on his own finger. That small item represented a much greater adventure than he had seen thus far in his thirty-seven years. Amanda-his unflinching trust in Amanda, his overwhelming love for Amanda, his merging worlds with Amanda-was taking him places he never dreamed he would go. These were places he hadn't known since they were ripped from him in early childhood. Now he was banking on a future hinged on his own willingness to close the door on some things only so he could open it to others. By his own estimation, the trade-off was both advantageous and inevitable.
The Georgetown exit neared and Lee revved the engine impatiently and moved to the shoulder just to swing off the freeway more quickly. He smiled to himself over his minor impetuousness. He hadn't lost all of that just yet. Minutes later, he was pulling up to the two story, federal-style, red brick façade of IFF. He entered the carport, and descended to the underground parking dock. Noting the time, 7:25, he took the elevator to the street level entrance, bypassing the bullpen. He was in no mood to risk getting last minute work from Billy Melrose. He passed the street entrance sentinel, Mrs. Marston, seated behind her desk in the Georgetown Foyer, with hardly an acknowledging nod as he fled up the stairs to the Q Bureau. So it was with some bemusement that he heard the phone ringing behind the Film Library door before he even got the key out of the lock. Billy must be able to smell him coming.
Not today, he decided. He let the call go to voicemail while he shrugged out of his suit coat and unstrapped his leather holster. With a sigh of regret, he deposited his gun in the top left drawer of his desk and locked it in. The holster he draped unceremoniously over his chair. He left the office and trotted back down the stairs, hurrying past Mrs. Marston to the elevator.
"Mr. Stetson," she said pointedly. He turned with a frozen smile on his face, hand still clenched on the doorknob. Both of them stared at the phone in her hands. She held it out without another word.
She nodded and smiled at him thinly.
Releasing the doorknob with a rueful pout, he stepped up and took the receiver. "Yeah?"
"Scarecrow, I need you in the bullpen."
Raking a hand through his hair, he replied with thinly restrained exasperation, "Billy, I'm not even officially here. Don't you remember the 8:30 interview? You set it up."
Undeterred, his superior growled, "8:00. You've been bumped up. So you'd better get down here quick." He hung up.
Trust Billy to know how to tighten the screws. Lee felt his gut turn spirals. Terrific. Now he had more to do and less time in which to accomplish it. He stepped into the faux closet, ducked under the clothes hangers, and jabbed crossly at the elevator button. Somewhere in the midst of the semi-panic he could still hear Amanda's encouraging words and feel her arms around him, buoying him. It was enough, together with a long visceral breath, to settle his nerves…somewhat.
Down in the underground bullpen, it was Francine, not Billy, who greeted Lee as he came off the elevator. Some days Billy's posh, blond assistant could be gratingly snide, and on a good day she was playfully sardonic, but today she was neither, just business. Her luminous blue eyes were wide and serious. "Hurry up, Lee. Billy needs to brief you before you go." She led the way to Billy's office, stiletto-heeled pumps clicking a staccato cadence on the polished floor.
Billy rose to his feet as soon as Francine and Lee entered the office. "We have trouble," he muttered, crossing in front of the desk. "Francine, come in and close the door. Scarecrow, I know you're in a hurry, but I need you to make a drop before your meeting with Culpepper." He leaned back against the edge of the desk and sat on it.
"A drop? Now?"
With an understanding nod, Billy continued, "I know it's short notice, but last night I received a communique from our surveillance post in the Ural Mountains. A bundle of high level intelligence is due to board a plane for Moscow sometime in the next forty-eight hours, likely from an inside source at the State Department."
Lee and Francine exchanged troubled glances. "Isn't the INR on that?" Lee asked.
"Of course," Francine interjected. "It has to be courtesy of one of their own. They know there's a mole feeding the Soviets classified disarmament information, but they don't know exactly who it is. This message indicates the mole is getting nervous and is calling for a bailout. That means a possible hemorrhage of top secret information from the State, if the mole makes a run for it and goes for broke. It could be devastating to national security." She cast an anxious glance at Billy. "The new problem is that since last night, the INR has asked us not to communicate anything further about the matter over the phone lines. They're afraid the mole is too wired in and will anticipate their next move."
That's where you come in, Lee." Billy picked up a manila, business-size envelope from his desk and handed it to Lee, who quickly inspected its contents. Two thirds of it was encoded gibberish. "While the INR has been probing this leak for months," Billy continued, "and they're close to throwing a net over their mole, so far, they haven't positively identified who it is, or who else may be helping him from the inside. There's a good chance the encrypted information in this feed will expose all of them. The assistant secretary of the INR wants this information passed to their man right away, but I am told he doesn't want to alert the mole at this stage in the game. That's why I'm sending you to make the drop."
Lee closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and nodded. "And since I'm headed to the Bureau anyway…"
"Yes and no," Billy continued. "Your interview is still on with Mr. Culpepper at the Rosslyn office. He just asked that you come to him straight from the drop. Your drop is at an office building across the street, the Farland Building. The INR has a list of four possible suspects, and the assistant secretary wants access to this information kept under tight control until his cryptology specialist reads it. Not even Culpepper can get close to it. This crypto agent is your 8:00 contact. You will be met by a man calling himself 'Alexander.' You're on your way over there anyway, so it won't raise any red flags to scare off their target. Just make the drop and get on with your plans."
"That simple, huh?" Lee replied skeptically, drawing a breath. He tucked the envelope in the inside pocket of his suit coat.
"That simple. Oh, and Scarecrow?" Billy added, with a smile playing under his moustache. "Good luck with your interview. Report back here at eleven hundred hours with your better half and I'll buy the four of us lunch. Now get on out of here."
Lee flashed an appreciative grin over his shoulder at Billy and Francine before he dashed out the door toward the waiting elevator. The time was 7:45. The race was on.
He was crossing the Potomac into Arlington before he remembered he no longer had his gun. Groaning a curse, he dealt the steering wheel an undeserved blow with the heel of his hand. He had less than ten minutes to get to an interview that had morphed into a drop. And he was armed with nothing stronger than his résumé and a cup of Brazilian roast.