Almost Home

Chapter 15

It had been a mere seven days since Lee had last graced the bullpen with his presence, but it felt as though it had been months. He stepped off the elevator and began to trek down the corridor toward the Marine-guarded entrance of the work zone, stepping gingerly to avoid stirring up the discomfort of wounds that were still raw and a shoulder that should have been supported by a sling.

He had to forego it. Couldn't drive the Corvette with a sling on his right arm, and he had no illusions about Amanda's willingness to bring him along with her when she had left for the Q Bureau in her Wagoneer that morning. He cocked a smile and a nod at well-wishers as they passed by, thankful that none asked anything that required more than a pat answer. "Oh yes, I'm feeling just fine. Much better, thank you. Close call? You bet!"

He didn't have a chance to sneak up on Billy. His section chief saw him coming before he reached ten feet of the office and he jumped to his feet and threw open his door. "Scarecrow!" he scolded in his best paternal snarl. "You have strict orders to stay on medical leave for at least the next two weeks. Will you follow that instruction of your own volition or do I need to suspend your security clearance?"

There was a momentary hush in the bullpen, as employees curiously assessed the situation for its degree of gravity. They all resumed what they were doing without fanfare when Lee flashed a dimpled grin at Billy, wholly unperturbed. "You know I could sweet-talk Marston into letting me in, or get Amanda to create a diversion with her cookies."

"Not if I give Mrs. Marston a shoot-on-sight order."

If anything, the grin only widened. "And I've missed you too, Billy. Can I come in?"

Billy held the reproving scowl for only another beat before he turned and ushered his rogue agent into his office, taking care to keep his pleasure at the sight of him hidden from view. It might further tempt the man to keep violating his leave if Billy expressed any tacit approval. "I didn't expect to see you back here so soon. So what brings you here? And don't you dare tell me you want back on the duty roster or we really will have words." He dropped into his leather chair and leaned back.

Lee shrugged, briefly appraised the seating options around the room, and ultimately chose to remain standing. "I get stir crazy, just sitting around home, not doing anything, looking for something to pass the time…"

"Mother-in-law tell you to take a hike?"

A guilty smirk followed. "Maybe something like that." After a hesitation, Lee strode to the cushioned sofa and slowly eased his rump onto it with a grimace that made Billy clear his throat and glance away.

"Well, I guess it's just as well you stopped by, Lee. I wasn't going to give this to you until you came back, but you might as well know about it now." Billy hunted in a stack of papers on one side of his desk for one particular envelope and passed it to Lee. "Mr. Culpepper at the State Department called and wanted you to know they have an offer waiting for you, if you're still willing. This came with the mail this morning…" He trailed off and studied his agent's face. Lee looked down at the envelope in his hands. He didn't open it and he said nothing. After a long moment, he tucked it inside his jacket and smiled enigmatically at Billy.

"I'll need to think about it."

Billy reflected his smile and simply nodded. As much as he had urged Lee to move on in the past, somehow he had a feeling the Agency wouldn't soon say farewell to the legendary Scarecrow. The temptation was there for Billy to give more counsel out of his own experience, but he pushed it aside for now. A decision would have to be made soon enough, but it belonged to Lee and Amanda.

Choosing to change the subject, Billy put on his business face and said, "I assume you'd like to know about the cryptology report on the contents of Pratt's drop." Lee nodded in eager agreement and Billy continued. "Well, the documents were high level stuff, much as we suspected. What was surprising was they weren't all from the disarmament program. Several were from an Eastern Bloc intelligence network that would have been blown wide open. A number of lives were saved." He smiled. "The tapes were a series of telephone conversations between Pratt and Albertson, as well as between Albertson and a number of other people. Some of them are known KGB. Two of them are State Department. There's enough evidence on those tapes to bring charges against the two and plug every last leak Albertson left behind." Billy met Lee's gaze and he paused for a moment, both men considering in sober amazement the significance of the findings.

"And finally," Billy continued, drawing in a long breath, "we have the encrypted chronology of the entire Albertson affair. Galen Pratt was quite meticulous in providing reliable evidence that he knew Albertson was crooked from approximately six months ago. He was dropping anonymous tips to the INR since then, and purposely letting Albertson make use of him to work himself into a better position to put a stop to it. The kid's a self-appointed triple agent at the age of twenty-four. And he was never granted even junior agent status on the record."

"So he's a straight arrow. He never was a sell-out." Lee grimaced and lowered his eyes. "What's going to happen to him, Billy?"

"No one in the industry ever likes a rogue, you know that. They're less upset about the situation than they would have been, but they're not brimming with gratitude over it either." Billy shrugged. "I think it's an unspoken agreement, no one's going after him anymore. They'll leave well enough alone. Anyway, Galen's gone underground at this point. It would take a whole lot of manpower to unearth him now, and for what? Like you said, he's no threat to the West." He met Lee's gaze with grave solemnity. "But something tells me this won't be our last encounter with Galen Pratt."

"To be honest, I'd be disappointed if it was." After a moment of mutual reflection, Lee blew out a breath and pushed back up to his feet with another telltale grunt. "Thanks, Billy, for everything. Now I'm going to do you the courtesy of following orders and getting out of here before Amanda ventures down here and gives me a piece of her mind." He grinned. "I'm supposed to be 'resting.'"

Billy chuckled his appreciation. "I won't stop you. Oh, but Lee, I have one more thing to give you." He stood up and this time handed Lee a manila file folder. "I was going to give this to Amanda so she could integrate it with our new active file on Galen Pratt, but I just got to thinking, I'll let you give it to her. I think you'll find it enlightening."

"Who is it?" Lee asked, opening the front cover.

"Do you remember a CIA agent by the name of Roger Pratt? We're going back about fifteen years or so. He was lead agent on a counterintelligence team that did a lot of damage to the Soviet communication codes all along the eastern seaboard back in the 60's to early 70's."

"I remember the name from operative training. He was a model for a lot of techniques still in use. He was quite a bit ahead of his time, if I remember." Lee paused, shuffled through the file briefly. "So this goes in the Galen Pratt file." He looked up and tilted his head at Billy. "Don't tell me."

"You got it. Galen and Carolyn are his children. They spent the first half of their childhood being raised by one of the U.S.'s best. They spent the latter half under the guardianship of a turncoat."

Lee nodded thoughtfully and stood at Billy's door. "So what ended up killing Roger Pratt? Did it happen in the line of duty?"

"That's the irony," Billy answered. "He left field section after his wife died so he could be more present for the kids. Ended up behind a desk, heading a section of the CIA as an under-secretary. He had an agent under his command with a bad case of burn out and put the guy on a medical suspension pending treatment. A few days later, the guy approached him getting out of his car and shot him point blank."

Lee leaned on the door frame for a frozen moment, his eyes drawn toward the file folder he now gripped more tightly in his hands. Then, at once, he stood erect and cast a significant smile at his section chief. "See you in a couple of weeks, Billy." And with a somber tip of his head, he turned to leave.

"So here's three cars-worth of our agents making a blockade between the Soviet embassy and the two goons with the envelope, ducked behind the cars, guns drawn. Good old Boris with the envelope gets out of the Soviet car and starts screaming, 'Immunity! I have diplomatic immunity! You cannot touch me!' But you can bet the guy's sweating bullets, betting his life on that little fact. And one of our guys calls back, 'Maybe you have immunity, but that package in your hands doesn't. Now drop it right there and we'll be on our way.' It's crazy. We're poised to make an international incident over this, and then…the mobile phone rings, and it's the commander telling our guys to cease and desist, and let the package go.

"So you can imagine the shock our guys are getting over this. And the one leading the group can't stop herself. She says to the commander, mad as blazes, 'You want us to stop now? Just walk away now?' She thinks he's lost his mind, you know. But the commander just says to her, 'Listen, let them have the package and you guys get on back here, because the most valuable thing they're getting away with is a tape of the band…uh…'"

"Tears for Fears," Jamie inserted helpfully.

Lee smiled. "Right. Thanks. Anyway, that broke up the party. The Soviets had to be scratching their heads when all of a sudden the Americans went from being ready to rip them to shreds for the package to just walking away and driving off without it."

With a dubious scowl, Phillip demanded, "Is that really what happened? And Jamie's responsible for it?"

"I am absolutely serious," Lee said solemnly. "And yes, we have your own brother to thank for it." He winked at Phillip and reached over to tousle Jamie's hair. Then he leaned back against the couch cushion he was reclined on, yawned mightily, and stretched his long frame all the way down to the toes of his socks.

Dotty suppressed a smile at him and glanced at Amanda. They exchanged amused looks and Dotty declared, "All right, boys. I know Lee has kept you riveted, but it's still a school night and here it's past nine o'clock. Say good-night and get on up to bed. I'm so exhausted I'm going to be right behind you."

"Good-night, Mother," Amanda said, giving her a peck on the cheek.

Lee made a move to get up, but Dotty stopped him where he was with a determined hand on his chest. "Don't you trouble yourself on my account, Lee. I'll come to you." She leaned down and kissed his cheek and rubbed it with her expertly manicured fingers. "Don't be up all hours, you two." With twinkling eyes, she drank in the sight of her daughter and new son-in-law once more before ascending the stairs.

With a soft sigh, Amanda sank onto the couch at his side, and his arm wound around her as it was wont to do whenever she sat near enough. He rested his hand on her belly, palming its smoothness. Soon enough, it would grow rounder and fuller, and give further evidence of the new course he had charted for the remainder of his years. "Feel anything yet?"

She laughed. "Not this soon. Not for another couple of months, at least." Her eyes danced at him. "But I'll be showing sooner than that. We're going to have to do something about this, you know."

"I know," he acknowledged with a groan. He shook his head and sheepishly met her gaze. "We're wimps, aren't we?"

"The time never seems to be right."


"We're chicken."

He flashed his most stellar grin. "Where have I heard that before?"

She nodded, pursing her lips with determination. "Tomorrow," she vowed. "We'll tell them tomorrow, no matter what."

It was a while later, after they had retired upstairs to the room they now shared, that Lee held her flush against himself, wrapped her in his arms, and basked in a greater sensation of comfort than he had ever known. Softly, he rumbled next to her ear, "I went to see Billy today."

"I know," she murmured, her hands covering his arms in front of her, tracing circles in the hairs on the backs of them. "Shame on you."

"Culpepper still wants me on board."

Her head turned in surprise. "Another interview?"

"An offer."

"Will you take it?"

Silence followed, long enough that Amanda wondered after a while whether he was not ready to answer tonight. Or whether he was simply too tired to stay awake and talk about it any further. At last, he said, "I think the Agency is where I belong." He considered it again, and reaffirmed the thought. "I think I'll stay with the Q Bureau."

Amanda released a breath she didn't realize she was holding and smoothed the arm hairs she had mussed. Then she snuggled in a little tighter next to him, if it were possible. With as much nonchalance as she could muster, she replied, "Oh yeah? Does that mean you'll still be my partner?"

"Always," he mumbled, nibbling her earlobe for effect.

She smiled in the darkness. "You and me, together in field section? What changed your mind, Scarecrow?"

He inhaled deeply and readjusted his hold around her. "I've been doing a lot of thinking. And I think you were right."

"Can I get that on tape?"

"I'm serious, Amanda."

She giggled. "Sorry." She turned her head and shifted in his embrace to kiss him deeply. Afterward, she arched back to look in his drowsy eyes. "How was I right?"

He smiled at her, and told her the same words he had told her so many times before. "It's what I do." He kissed her once more before they both settled in to sleep. Lovemaking would have to wait for a better time, after his awkward wounds were resolved and Amanda's morning sickness was calmed and both of them wore moods that were more amorous and less exhausted. But for now, Lee could revel in the wonder of the familiar weight in his arms and the scent of her hair, of the low hum of the household furnace, and in the unseen presence of others who not only shared the building, but shared a home, a common life. And at long last, he was finding his own place in that life, his own part in that home.

The End

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to my online friends who provided me with chapter reviews, constructive criticism, and cheer-leading along the way, especially CindyDee and VesperRegina. My gratitude also goes out to those who enjoyed reading the story, which is the whole point of writing it, really. And finally, I owe a lot to my husband, the writer's widower, for giving up six months of a fulltime wife at the expense of this project. Hey, buddy, I'm baaack!