Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King is owned by WB and Shoot the Moon, excerpts from Vigilante Mothers written by Rudolph Borchert. This story belongs to me. The tongs belong to Amanda. I have merely borrowed the characters (and the tongs) to flesh out their story. I will return them, just as Lee returned the tongs, hopefully not too much worse for the wear.
Author's note: This little plot bunny has been floating around in my brain since reading a thread on the Scarecrow and Mrs. King Yuku forum. So here is my version of the burning question, "What was Lee doing with those tongs?"
Thanks to the members of the SMK Yuku forum for many fun discussions and to Lynda, Cheryl, and Anne for laughing with me and not at me.
Vigilance in Suburbia
A hand snaked out from under the covers and groped futilely for the alarm until the clock went crashing to the floor.
Lee winced as he cracked one eye open against the light peeking through the window. He sank back against the pillow and tried to take in his surroundings. Where was he? He was disoriented and groggy, but this didn't feel like a hangover. No, this was definitely not his room, and even dead drunk, he could make it back home. The windows were draped with frilly lace curtains, a tattered chintz chair sat in the corner of the room, and the walls were covered with a profusion of pink flowers. It reminded him of the World War II era movies the Colonel occasionally watched; the scenes where they showed the pining wife at home, not the ghastly prisoner of war scenes that used to give him nightmares as a small boy.
Prisoner. Wait – prisoner? Oh damn, he was a hostage.
Why couldn't he remember being taken, though? No, he couldn't be captive; this place was too pleasant and homey. It wasn't exactly his style, or anyone who lived in the last half of the century, but in reasonably good repair. And who sets alarm clocks for hostages? Argh! He couldn't think with that buzzer blaring. Lee dragged his hand across his eyes and struggled to come to a sitting position. After finally silencing the alarm, the cobwebs started clearing. Not a hostage . . . suburbia.
Lee slowly made his way downstairs, his mind still foggy, thoughts tumbling like the balls in a lotto machine, every few seconds another random one popping out. Billy owes me big for this. Stupid bureaucrats scheduling meetings at the crack of dawn. No idea what it is like to be a field agent. Sprinklers in the middle of the night . . . again.
He pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen only to have it come back to whack him on the behind as he made his way too slowly into the room.
"I hate that door. I hate this whole house, and I especially hate living in the suburbs." He reached back to rub his throbbing backside. "This assignment is ridiculous, and now I'm talking to myself."
He started pouring coffee grounds into the filter, inhaling deeply to jumpstart his senses. He moved slowly through the routine of starting the coffee drip and pushed the start button. Nothing. He pushed it again. Still nothing. Lee rolled his eyes as he noticed the plug lying on the counter next to the sink.
As he reached for the outlet, the frayed cord sparked. Zzzsst! Lee dropped the plug and cursed. What the hell? He shook his hand to remove the sting of 120 volts coursing through his nerves. Stupid, stupid. Grabbing a towel, he got the coffee started and made his way back upstairs. He needed to shake off the dark cloud that had been following him all morning and get moving.
Lee stepped into a steaming shower only to yelp when the water turned ice cold a minute later. This place has the stupidest plumbing in history. No wonder it's been sitting vacant for so long.
Even after his wake up call in the shower, Lee was still weaving like a drunken sailor as he dried off and started to dress. It took three tries to get his sock on his foot correctly. Latent electricity and sleeplessness coursed through his body making it difficult to function. Why do meetings need to be scheduled for 7:30 in the morning? Ridiculous.
Finally dressed, Lee poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down to finish going over the brief for the interrogation he was going to have to endure. Dr. Smyth was going to give him a first rate dressing down and he detested having his judgment as an agent questioned, especially in rhyme. Apparently, the agency director wasn't very impressed that they had almost been tricked into doing the bidding of a murderer, compromising both President Nabuti's security and their own. Lee had spent every free minute from his current case working on a defense of the Agency's actions last week. He hated to think how things might have ended up if not for Amanda. He was beginning to realize how indispensable to him she was becoming.
Lee sat absorbed in his work until a tapping at the door jolted him out of his concentration. He jumped and hit his knee on the table, knocking over his coffee. His head jerked up to see a large tabby scraping her paw on the kitchen door's glass. Unbelievable. A hardened federal agent startled by a cat. This place was really getting under his skin.
He looked down to see dark liquid start seeping into the stack of paper. Grabbing at the papers before the coffee soaked them through, Lee only managed to get several in his hand while the rest scattered to the floor.
He watched, paralyzed, as one paper fluttered smoothly and disappeared under the stove. Dammit. He got down on his hands and knees to peer under the appliance. Ugh, disgusting. Dust and food particles from antebellum times surely, but he could see nothing else.
Flashlight. Where would they keep a stupid flashlight? He started opening drawer after drawer, slamming each successive one harder as his frustration mounted. Of course, in the last one. Lee grabbed the light and flattened himself in front of the stove.
The beam of light caught the fluorescence of the white paper in the dark underbelly of the stove. But when Lee reached in he could only brush the edge of the paper with his fingertips. He jammed his hand against the bottom of the stove until it started to pulse angrily from the pressure. Still he could only just touch the edge of the paper.
Fine! There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Cats. Stupid animals.
He stood and started jimmying the stove out of its place between the cabinets on either side. After grunting and pulling for several minutes, he had only gotten it out enough to butt up against the counter across the way. Not to be deterred, Lee hoisted himself on top of the stove, clawing with his feet to get purchase while he leaned over as far as he could. He brought the flashlight up to look into the dark behind the stove. Nothing.
He felt a twinge on his leg. The fabric of his pants started to hiss as he instinctively leapt back, scrambling to avoid the hot burner he clearly turned on as he climbed on the stove.
He muttered curses under his breath as shook his leg and contemplated climbing into the sink. No time. He paced back and forth in frustration and pain. All right, Stetson. Think. Time for brains and not brawn. I need something thin or – or smaller fingers. His mouth lifted in half a smile and he snapped his fingers.
"Come on, come on. Amanda, where are you?" Lee grumbled as he simultaneously kept one eye on his watch and the other observing Dotty flit around the kitchen. He hadn't seen or heard any signs from the boys, so Amanda was probably upstairs rousing them out of bed. He cursed himself for not calling first, although he supposed that would be pretty suspicious at this hour of the morning. Lee was looking around for a way to create a disturbance when Amanda breezed through the door. She had obviously not started getting herself ready for the day. Lee smiled as he watched her move to the sink, unaffected and natural, her pale pink cotton nightgown trailing behind her. When he popped up to try to catch her attention, she grabbed at her chest and gasped, then sighed, and held up a finger.
A few seconds later, she quietly opened the back door and walked over to the window, where Lee stood just out of sight.
"Lee, what are you doing here at seven in the morning?"
Ignoring her look of surprise and barely decent attire, Lee quickly began. "Do you have any tongs? I need something flat that can grab or pinch, you know."
"Look, just come with me, I don't have time to explain."
"I'm not even dressed. I can't go out like this." Amanda gestured to her thin nightgown.
"Really?" Lee raised his eyebrows. It wasn't a problem for what's his name. "Come on, Amanda, it will just take a second and no one will even see. We can cut through the backyard."
"Fine," she sighed. "Tongs, right? Let me look in the utensil drawer."
"Yeah, okay. Just hurry. I'm supposed to meet Billy in ten minutes to go over this report before we have to listen to Dr. Smyth sharpen his claws on us."
He was sure it was more than a little ridiculous that they were both kneeling on the floor, heads bent together, awkwardly trying to get into a position to see under the stove.
"Lee, if you want me to try and grab the paper, you have to move so I can get in there." Amanda said as she tried to shove her hand under the appliance.
"I'm just trying to hold the flashlight for you. I've already been here, so I know how this works." Sarcasm barely concealed in his voice.
"Well, I need a couple more inches to maneuver, okay."
"Yeah, yeah." Lee tried to crawl backward slowly, but in the small space between the stove and the cabinets, there was hardly any room to move. He turned around to see where he was going, and started shuffling back again.
"Um Lee, uh, you're on my hand."
He looked down and saw Amanda's small hand covered completely by his own. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end in warning. Slowly, he lifted his head to look up at Amanda, but otherwise he couldn't seem to move. She swallowed thickly and blinked several times in quick succession. The air in the room seemed to have suddenly disappeared. Finally, after what could only have been a second, but felt like minutes, he cleared his throat.
"Sorry," he intoned quietly as he slid his hand off hers. He moved so slowly, he felt Amanda twitch as the pads of his fingertips crossed her nails.
She lowered her gaze, and spoke in a whisper. "Here, let me try the tongs."
Her voice finally knocked Lee out of his stupor and he reached to his side to hand her the tongs.
"Hurry, will ya? Billy is going to have my hide." His voice gruff with repressed emotion. It was beginning to become difficult to conceal the confusing swirl of feelings that bubbled to the surface when he was near Amanda.
"I'm trying. I can't be late for my meeting, either. If I'm not there, we won't know where the Mothers for a Safe Environment are going to picket today."
Lee deflated and watched Amanda try haplessly to get the tongs into position.
"Lee, I just don't think they are long enough to reach the paper. Why don't you try lifting the front of the stove to give me more room?"
"Yeah, okay. Take the flashlight."
Lee canted his body toward her just as Amanda looked up to grab the light. Their heads collided with a sickening thud.
"Oh my gosh." Amanda cried out, gripping the oven handle to stay steady. Lee sat back on his heels cradling his head.
"Sorry. I'm sorry. But I don't see how that could possibly have been my fault."
Lee growled in answer. When he was finally able to rise, he pushed on the front of the appliance, but it was so far back against the wall that it only bought them another inch.
"Lee, I can't see anything cause your legs are right in the way." Amanda glanced up taking in his incredibly tall form, then quickly averted her eyes.
Lee widened his stance and watched Amanda poke her head between his legs and then try to snake her left hand holding the flashlight around his leg, while trying valiantly not to touch him. She started moving her right arm around his other leg, but soon realized that wasn't going to give her enough reach, so she pulled it back close to her body trying to wedge in between his legs.
Amanda wiggled around for a minute trying to get in position. Lee looked up and rolled his eyes. This morning was testing the last ounce of patience he possessed. Amanda was still for a moment and then he felt her start to shake. What in the world – was she crying? Lee looked down and saw Amanda stifling fits of laughter.
"Amanda, I don't really have time for this right now."
"I'm sorry, Lee." She raised her head and wiped her eye with the back of her hand. "Have you ever played Twister? I was just remembering this party at Mrs. McDragon's boarding house, where Joe, uh, my ex-husband lived. Anyway, Joe's friend had gotten the game Twister, you know, for Christmas."
Lee felt his eyes start to pop out of his head, as Amanda started down memory lane.
"Amanda," he snarled.
"Uh, right, another time."
She renewed her efforts to get a grip on the paper with the tongs.
"I actually think that I could do better with my hand. Maybe if you scoot the stove out a couple of inches, then you could lift it up higher in the front."
Lee nodded on a long sigh and began moving the stove again. Amanda set the tongs down and flattened herself on the floor.
"Oh, I can feel it this time."
"Good, can you grab it?"
"Yeah, I almost got . . ."
Her voice was drown out by banging on the front door. "Mr. Sampson. Yoohoo, Mr. Sampson."
The pair froze as the incessant knocking continued.
"Oh my gosh. That's Edna Gilstrap. I have to get out of here. She can't find me like this."
"No! The paper. You have to get it."
"Mr. Sampson. I know you're in there." The singsong voice rang out. "Do you realize that your sprinklers were on all last night?"
They heard the knocking cease and Mrs. Gilstrap clunking back down the front porch stairs.
Quieter now, but still carrying, "I'll just go around to the back. He must be in the kitchen and can't hear me."
"Amanda." Lee hissed. "You have to hurry."
"I know. I know."
She jammed her arm in as far as she could, the stove cutting off circulation, probably even bruising, in her attempt to get the goods and get out of Dodge.
"Ah, got it."
Amanda pulled out the sheet, grasped by the smallest margin between her thumb and forefinger.
"Thank you." Lee gritted out, as he pulled her up and shoved on her back to get her moving. "Out the front. If you're fast you can get behind the bushes before she comes back around."
"I'm going." Amanda grumbled.
Lee flung open the front door. She started down the steps, before stopping short at the sight of Mrs. Ferguson passing the front of the house walking her dog.
"Oh, hello." Amanda brought up her arm to affect a wave, but couldn't quite carry it out. "I was just helping Mr. Stets, uh, Mr. Sampson here because he needed smaller hands. You see it was trapped underneath the . . ." Amanda's voice grew quieter as she watched Mrs. Ferguson's jaw go slack.
"Well, I . . . you see, I have to run. Get Jamie and Philip to school."
Amanda gave an uncomfortable laugh, rushed down the path, and disappeared behind the hedge. Lee nodded to the stunned neighbor with a smile that more resembled a grimace and turned to go back inside. He grabbed the file, errant paper included, and his coffee mug and rushed back outside.
"Oh, there you are, Mr. Sampson." Mrs. Gilstrap reappeared around the corner of the house. "Do you realize that your sprinklers have been running for . . ."
"Yeah, look, I'm sorry, but I'm very late for an important meeting this morning." Lee placed his mug on the top of the car as he shoved the file into a briefcase.
Mrs. Gilstap rounded the car. "Well, I just wanted to come over to let you know that . . ."
"It won't happen again."
Lee threw the case into the passenger seat and climbed in himself to escape the woman who was now bearing down on him.
He gave her a charming smile and flipped his hand in the air. "Bye."
Lee closed the door and started the car before Mrs. Gilstrap could open her mouth again. He quickly backed down the driveway, screeched the tires as he gunned the car forward, sending the coffee mug shattering to the asphalt.
"Hi." Lee gave an easy smile as he watched Amanda move toward him.
"I just wanted to return these, and thank you for letting me borrow them." He handed Amanda back her tongs.
"Ah, you're welcome."
Lee hummed an acknowledgement with a smirk on his face, then noticed the science project gone wrong.
"Whoa." He reached out to touch the volcano. "Huh, do Mothers for a Safe Environment know about this?"
"No, and don't you tell them either. We did get a municipal hearing on the toxic waste issue, though. We're pretty proud of that. It's a start."
"Good, good. The news gets better. Our lab technicians finally found a way to neutralize those crystals."
"Oh, that is good news."
They both looked up as they heard Dotty calling from inside.
"Well, look, I better get inside and neutralize my kitchen." Amanda started stuffing the tongs into her back pocket. She picked up the volcano. "Wanna toss this for me, please."
Lee reeled back, a look of disgust on his face.
"Oh, come on, take it. It's just a volcano."
Lee exhaled roughly. "Yeah." He started to go, but stopped short and turned back around. "Look, Amanda. I wanted to thank you again for helping me out of that jam the other morning."
She smiled and ducked her head. "No problem."
Lee cleared his throat. "Uh, I hope you didn't get into any trouble with Mrs. Ferguson."
"Oh well, fortunately, she keeps to herself pretty much. I don't think she is the type to spread gossip around the neighborhood."
"Good," Lee smiled and relaxed. "I know how it looked, and I was worried about your neighbors, especially if word got around to your mother."
"Thanks, Lee. That's sweet."
Lee huffed an acknowledgement and the corner of his mouth turned up.
"Well, I better get going." They both spoke simultaneously, then chuckled.
Amanda turned away then glanced back. "I'll see you tomorrow, partner."