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The First Misgiving
A SMKVirtual6 Episode

This episode is dedicated to all of the actors who portrayed our much loved Scarecrow and Mrs. King characters. Thanks for 20 years of danger, excitement, and intrigue...

Credits

Story Premise By: SMK720-Laura
Written By: SMK720-Laura
Editors: smkukfan, Just Browsing, Not Exactly and moosemonger
SMK VS6 Season Creator: BlueAngel
SMK VS6 Executive Producers: SMKTiff, SMK720-Laura

My personal thanks to Di, Diane, Kelley and Jo for their efforts at turning my rambling's into something resembling a story. Without a doubt, these are the best beta's, editors, and grammar type persons, bar none. (grin) They have the keenest senses of humor and are without a doubt the finest of friends that anyone could hope to have. They keep me on the straight and narrow, keep me from straying into obsessional writing, my spirits lifted, join me in the trenches and are great to go shopping with! I "L" word you all to pieces.

A hundred thousand thank you's to my husband and sons who so patiently humor me when I'm writing and on a research kick. You just gotta love a hubby and son who go with you to the beach at midnight with mylar balloons filled with helium just so you can try to blow them up with firecrackers to see the effect. Life is so good! (LJS, December 1, 2003)

Act One
November 24, 1988
Thanksgiving Day 6:30 a.m.
New York City, Upper West Side of Manhattan

"Amanda! Darling! This was a wonderful idea! Coming to see the balloons before the parade was a stroke of genius! I'm so glad you made the suggestion to Mrs. Dennis! Pure genius! Wasn't it, Lee?"

Lee raised his eyebrow and lifted the rapidly cooling cup of coffee to his lips. "Wonderful idea," he replied with less than acceptable enthusiasm.

"Yes Mother, this sure is fun! Don't you agree, fellas?" Amanda declared as she tried to bridge the enthusiasm gap between her mother and husband.

"Gee Mom, I don't know why I had to come. I coulda seen dufus here on television," Phillip whined as he swatted his brother on the back of the head.

Jamie smoothed his hair. "You mean you would have been on the phone to your true love playing kissy face," blowing air kisses to drive his point home.

"Okay guys, that's enough. Phillip, we're here to see your brother ride the National Science Fair float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is a great honor and his family should be here to see him and support him. Right?" Amanda stared at her family standing before her; her Mother nodding her enthusiastic accord, Phillip sulking, a near perfect replica of her husband, and Jamie giving her a disgusted look over his glasses.

"Look! I know it was an early ride up here, but it was so nice of Mrs. Dennis to arrange the bus to New York for Jamie's class' friends and families to support him today! And your Dad said that he and Carrie would look for us in the V.I.P. seating in front of Macy's."

"I hope something doesn't come up that makes Dad miss the parade."

Phillip nodded his agreement with his brother's statement. "Like usual."

"He could have come up with us on the bus," Jamie pouted.

"Come on guys, this is Thanksgiving. Let's get into the spirit with your Mother and Grandmother. Jamie? Any idea how much helium it takes to fill one of this babies?" Lee nodded at Amanda's grateful smile.

The King- Stetson-West family stopped and looked at the gigantic Big Bird floating overhead in the rapidly brightening sky, his vibrant orange and fluorescent pink legs swinging in the frigid morning wind.

Jamie flipped through the pamphlet that had been given to parade participants. "It says here that this is the first year for Big Bird to make an appearance in the Parade. Big Bird is 63 feet long, 28 feet wide, stands 46 feet tall and weighs 468 pounds. Big Bird's beak extends 13 feet! Jeez! It will take 12,000 cubic feet of helium and 54 handlers to get the balloon through the parade!"

"I'm glad I'm not cooking that bird today," Dotty said in an aside to Amanda, who nodded in agreement.

Amanda turned to Lee who was watching the balloon wranglers as they untangled the handling lines on a large balloon. "Look! A Marvelous Marvin's Choco Blocko Shake Balloon!"

"Leave it to you to find a weapon at hand," Lee whispered out the side of his mouth. Amanda turned on her toes away from Lee, but not before he saw the grin on her face.

"Amanda! Darling, a Mr. Marshmallow balloon! Now I'll bet it takes a big fire to roast that marshmallow!" Taking Amanda's arm, Dotty pulled her up the avenue towards the Mr. Marshmallow balloon.

"Keep up fellas! We don't want to get separated in this crowd, do we?" Amanda called over her shoulder as her mother marched her to the Mr. Marshmallow balloon. Dotty was beginning to get nostalgic, remembering her involvement with Andrei Zernov, and Amanda was afraid where all that reminiscing would lead.

"No, we wouldn't want that to happen, would we fellas?" Lee asked the boys. All three sighed and hurried their pace to keep up.

"You see the look on Mom's face? She looks worried or somethin'." Jamie told Phillip and Lee.

"She gets that look sometimes guys. It's nothing to worry about." Lee told them as he put his hands on both of the boys' backs to push them along. "Yet." Amanda looked like she was going to make a reply to Lee's comment, but bit her tongue when her mother launched into the Mr. Marshmallow case.

"I wish I could tell you boys a story about Mr. Marshmallow and your mother, but I can't. I can tell that you would have been so proud of her. She was so cool under fi--"

"Mo-ther!" Amanda said, her voice cracking as she tried to remind her mother that she wasn't allowed to discuss the Mr. Marshmallow case, as Dotty called it.

Waving a hand in the air, Dotty continued. "Don't worry, Amanda. I know! It's just that I was so proud of you that day. I've always said you had a good head on your shoulders, especially in a crisis."

Amanda turned to look at Lee, shrugging as she did so. Lee just shook his head, and winked, Amanda smiled back.

"We should probably think about getting Jamie to the float. They're going to want to fit you to the float stand and show you how to wave."

"Awww Mom! I know how to wave! Sheesh!"

Phillip was waving in his brother's face, tormenting him. "What's the matter laser brain? Are you science winners so geeky that you have to be taught how to wave?" Phillip laughed at the insult and the look his brother gave him.

"Come on Chief, give your brother a break," Lee said as they began to follow Amanda along Central Park West toward the float staging area.

"Lee? Lee Stetson? Is that you?" An ultra-feminine voice floated out from under the Mr. Marshmallow balloon. Lee turned when he heard his name being called by a voice out of the past.

Amanda stopped dead in her tracks, turning towards the rope line. She watched as a tall, thin blonde wearing a handler's costume ran to the rope line, waving at Lee. Amanda didn't mind when they ran into one of Lee's ex-paramours. She enjoyed teasing her husband about the life he led before he married her.

Lee tried to push past Phillip and Jamie, both glued to the spot as they watched the woman jump up and down trying to gain Lee's attention. "Come on guys, let's move along." Lee told them, trying to get their attention off the buxom blonde as he tried to reach the rope line.

"Lee! It is you! What are you doing here? It's been such a long time!" The blonde threw her arms around Lee's neck and gave him a loud, theatrical kiss on each cheek. Stepping back, she gave him an admiring look then focused on Amanda, Dotty and the boys as they closed rank behind Lee.

"Ah, it's a surprise to see you again, Crystal. This is my wife, Amanda, and her mother, Dorothy West. This is Phillip," who hastily stuck his hand out to Crystal, "and Jamie, Amanda's sons. This is Crystal, Crystal Vanderholt." Lee made quick introductions, then made the mistake of looking Amanda in the eye.

Amanda held her jacket out, mouthing the name 'Crystal' as she ran her finger across the chest of the jacket, reminding Lee that she had found Crystal's robe in his closet. Lee cleared his throat and nodded. At the look Dotty was giving him, her arms crossed over her chest and her head cocked, Lee quickly turned back to Crystal, who continued to talk excitedly to Lee.

"I heard you had gotten married. Congratulations! You must tell me your secret Amanda. It couldn't have been an easy feat getting this one to the altar!"

Amanda laughed, giving Lee 'that look' as she shook Crystal's hand. "You have no idea!"

"So, what are you doing here handling balloon lines, Miss Vanderholt?" Dotty asked, her stance letting everyone know she was very interested in this meeting.

"I'm the head lingerie buyer for Macy's and most of the employees volunteer to man the ropes on Thanksgiving. It's a tradition."

Dotty heard only three words and zeroed in on them. "Head lingerie buyer...how interesting. Just what does that involve? Samples? Discounts?"

"Mother, why don't you take Phillip and Jamie and start looking for that float. We'll catch up with you in a moment or two as soon as we say good-bye."

Dotty sighed and gave Amanda a disgruntled look. "Come on boys, let's go find Jamie's float. It's a pleasure to meet you Miss Vanderholt. It is 'Miss', isn't it?"

Amanda shot her mother an exasperated stare.

"Alright, Darling, we're going. See you at the float."

Amanda watched her mother and boys hurry along the sidewalk. She turned her attention to Crystal and Lee.

"I'm really glad I ran into you, Lee. I overheard a couple of men dressed in balloon wrangler costumes talking about hijacking one of the balloons in the parade." Crystal told them, leaning over the rope to whisper to Lee.

"Ah...Amanda, Crystal is a member of the 'family'."

Amanda nodded at this information. "Why would you tell Lee and not parade security?"

"I tried to, the police ignored me. And they were speaking Russian," Crystal supplied, delivering that bit of information with a vigorous nod of her head. "They mentioned something about some system."

"System? What kind of system?" Amanda asked.

"They didn't say. I just heard something about a balloon and taking the system. Lee, I called the number you had given me to use if I ever heard anything interesting, but some woman acted like it was a prank call."

Amanda watched as Lee shook his head and asked another question. "Look, Crystal. Would you recognize these men again?"

Crystal shrugged and wrinkled her brow. "I don't know, Lee. They looked Russian to me. Dark hair, average height, you know, Russian! If I heard them speak, maybe, but I was trying not to show too much interest in them when they were talking. I really didn't get a good look at them. I'm not even sure it's important. Maybe it's just a couple of guys from the Soviet mission helping out." Crystal shook her head. "No, it was the way they were behaving. I don't know. They just seemed to be acting...well...strange to me." Her tone was apologetic.

"They didn't say which balloon?" Amanda asked.

"No, I'm sorry. I didn't hear them say anything else. But if they're after a balloon, that's gonna be difficult. Those balloons are heavily guarded, especially when they release the helium. And I don't know what 'system' they could be taking in conjunction with these balloons." Crystal sighed as she heard her name called by the head balloon wrangler. "Look, I'm really glad I saw you and was able to tell you what I heard, especially after the message I tried to leave earlier. I just didn't like the way they were talking. I have to get back to the ropes now. You'll look into this?" Her eyes darted between Amanda and Lee.

"Yeah, thanks Crystal. We'll check into it. Look, keep your eyes and ears open and be careful, alright?"

"I will. Good to see you again, Lee. And it's a very big pleasure to meet the woman who got Lee Stetson to the altar! Bye." With a little wave of her fingers, Crystal bounced back to her head balloon wrangler.

Amanda tried to stifle a smile. "Well, that was interesting."

"And unwelcome."

"That too. What are you going to do?"

Shrugging, Lee took Amanda's arm as they started to catch up to Dotty and the boys. "I'll call the Agency. Someone is there on the duty desk today. Maybe something came over the lines. I'll ask them to send us some help from the local office if it's necessary."

"Should we look around the balloons?" Amanda looked over her shoulder trying to survey the balloons that reached beyond her line of sight up Central Park West.

"No, that won't help us. I'm gonna call the Agency and see if there are any alerts. You know, it might not even be anything important. It could be a prank by some kids. Crystal is right about one thing though. It's not going to be easy to get one of those balloons off of this parade route. Let's go find your Mother and the guys."

Amanda sighed, and taking Lee's hand they followed the route Dotty and the boys had taken a few minutes before.

Act Two
November 24, 1988
Thanksgiving Day 7:30 a.m.
New York City, Upper West Side of Manhattan

Amanda and Lee caught up with the rest of the family in front of the National Science Fair float. It was parked outside of the grand facade of the American Museum of Natural History. Jamie was on the float standing next to a large re-creation of his winning science fair project. A parade worker checked the harness that would keep him from falling off of the float. The float designer and a representative from the sponsor were talking with the young men and women that had won the national contest.

"Amanda? I'm going to go make that telephone call. I'll catch up with everyone at the grandstands, alright?"

Amanda grimaced, wanting to go with Lee to see that he didn't get into any trouble. Luckily, the float-sponsored chaperones made an announcement inviting the group of parents to make their way up to the grandstands and that a bus would take them directly if they would all climb aboard.

With a wave to Jamie, Amanda placed her arms around her Mother and Phillip. "Let's head up to the grandstands!"

As Phillip climbed the steps of the bus, Amanda stopped Dotty with a hand on her shoulder. "Mother, I'm going to go find Lee. You'll be all right, won't you?"

"Amanda. Don't you think for one day...."

Amanda held up her hands to stem the words she knew would be coming next. "Mother, Lee just has to call the office about something. It's nothing important."

"Uh-huh. Alright Amanda, but this sounds like another clam story."

"Mo-ther!" Exasperated, Amanda turned to hurry after her husband, thankful to see his tall head above those of the onlookers beginning to line the parade route.

Amanda caught up to him just as he was entering a small deli. Warmth and the smell of freshly brewed coffee greeted them as they walked in. Amanda sighed as she looked longingly at the bagels tossed haphazardly in their bins. It had been a while since breakfast. Lee went straight to the back wall where a pay phone was mounted.

"Why don't you get us some coffee and a couple of bagels while I make this call, Amanda? It's probably nothing, but it never hurts to check something like this out."

"I will, but I want to hear what's going on first."

Lee shrugged as he picked up the receiver and placed the call to the Duty Officer's desk in D.C. "Stetson here. The word is McNuggets. I need the duty officer. Thanks." To Amanda he said, "They're transferring me now."

Amanda nodded her head, wanting to know whose warped sense of humor would choose 'McNuggets' as the word of the day on Thanksgiving.

"Scarecrow here. ... Beaman, you have the duty desk today? ... You traded with Francine? ... Does she know what she's let herself in for? ... Okay, okay, listen, do me a favor, will ya? Are there any alerts posted for a missing 'system'? ... Nothing? Will you check the computer again? ... Thanks." Lee suddenly held the receiver away from his ear as Beaman's raised voice spilled out of the ear piece. "Calm down Beaman, what's the matter? ... Damn! Read them off, will ya?"

Amanda caught only a word here and there, but Beaman's voice was loud, and he was annoyed about something. She raised her shoulders in question to Lee who nodded and held his hand up.

"Okay, you're telling me that the BSY-2 Submarine Combat System has been compromised? ... Taken? ... When? ... Early this morning? ... Why wasn't an alert sent? ... Well, that's great, Beaman! Look, can you alert the local office and have them send some extra eyes out to help us? ... Good. We're on the corner of 77th and Central Park West." Lee looked at Amanda and sighed, shrugging. "What? It's not the plans alone? It's the actual unit? ... Give me dimensions and a description." He nodded his head at Amanda as she kept mouthing 'balloon' to him. "Could it be put in a large balloon? ... No, I'm not pulling your leg. I have a lead that two Russians are looking to take 'the system' and they're dressed as balloon handlers. ... How much of an explosive charge? ... Thanks for the graphic description. Get this moving, will ya? ... Thanks Beaman. I'll be in touch." Lee hung up the phone and sighed. "The night desk clerk piled files against the alert printer, switching it off. The alert of the theft of the BSY-2 from Groton was never issued." Lee shook his head in disgust. "Must be the same person who blew off Crystal when she called the Agency."

"I remember reading about the BSY-2. It controls the entire ballistic and tactical platform on the new Seawolf-class submarine. It just went to trials after approval last March."

Lee took Amanda's arm and led her to the deli counter. Two balloon handlers walked through the door speaking Russian to one another. Lee took one look at the men, and reached for his gun. His hand came away empty. Swearing when he realized he had left it at home that morning, he reached for the closest man. "Hey! I want to talk to you two!"

The man lunged at Lee. Amanda pushed her husband out of the way. The man stumbled past them, falling over several tables in the deli. Chairs crashed to the floor. Napkin holders clattered in their wake. Salt and pepper shakers spilled their contents everywhere. Customers jumped out of the way, backed up to the walls out of harms way, their eyes on the disruption to the otherwise quiet morning. Lee didn't see the second man until the Russian landed a punch to Lee's midsection. Doubled over, Lee gasped for breath.

The deli owner yelled at the commotion. Cooks rushed from the kitchen to eagerly watch the early morning melee, waving spatulas, taking bets and shouting. Someone called for the police as Amanda grabbed a plastic bottle of ketchup and squeezed with all her might. Ketchup squirted out and hit the face of the man who had punched Lee, trickling down the front of his bright yellow handler's jumpsuit.

Amanda aimed her weapon at the first man, squirting the condiment up and down and getting them both in the back as they ran out the door, slipping on the ketchup that had dripped onto the floor. Dropping the bottle and shaking ketchup from her fingertips, Amanda gingerly stepped over the mess to Lee and helped him to a chair.

"Lee? Oh my gosh! Are you all right?"

Lee took several deep breaths, his hand holding his stomach. "Yeah, I'm fine." He shook his head. "Couldn't you have used a spatula or something, Amanda? Now we've lost them!"

"I'm sorry. The ketchup was the first thing I saw. At least we have a better chance of spotting them in the crowds."

Lee chuckled. "Yeah, there is that." He looked up and Amanda followed his gaze as three New York City Police Officers came through the deli door, careful to avoid the ketchup on the floor. "Just what we need."

"What's goin' on here?" the big officer with a heavy Brooklyn accent asked, looking around the deli.

The owner came out speaking heavily accented English as he recounted the incident. Pointing at Lee and Amanda, he reenacted the melee as he had seen it and finished by picking up the plastic bottle of ketchup and giving it a squeeze, sending a fountain of ketchup into the air. Amanda stepped back as the ketchup hit the floor and the deli man slammed the squeeze bottle back on the counter top.

The Brooklyn officer turned to Amanda and Lee with one eyebrow raised and a look of disbelief on his face. "Okay, do you mind giving us your version?"

Lee reached into his jacket for his identification. "I want to show you my ID. I'm unarmed," Lee told the officers as all three reached for their service revolvers. Pulling his Federal identification wallet out, he carefully handed it to the officer standing in front of him.

Flipping it open, the police officer studied the picture and Lee carefully. "Okay Agent Stetson, what is this all about?"

"We were given information regarding the theft of a top-secret classified project. The description of the men were two Russians dressed as balloon handlers. In fact, the two men that were here fit the description. Perfectly."

The smaller police officer standing by the door folded his arms across his chest, reminding Amanda of her mother when she was about to launch a 20 questions marathon. "Let me get this straight. You're a Federal officer, and you tried to capture two Russians that you suspect of stealing a top secret government project with a squeeze bottle of ketchup in a deli? On Thanksgiving? Get outta here!"

"Actually, sir, I squirted the ketchup."

"Who are you?"

"I'm Amanda Stetson. If you'll let me, I'll give you my identification." Pulling it from the back pocket of her jeans, Amanda handed over her Federal ID to the police officer.

Trying to keep the smirk from his face, the first officer handed the ID back to Amanda. "Okay, we got two feds chasing two Russians dressed as balloon handlers."

"Two Russian balloon handlers covered in ketchup, Sarge."

"Yeah, two red Russian balloon handlers covered in ketchup."

"Not exactly covered in ketchup, officer. Kind of haphazardly streaked." Amanda shrugged, feeling rather silly as the officers laughed outright at them.

Sighing, Lee stood up and put his ID away. "Look, I know we're providing some early morning entertainment. But right now, keeping us here only makes it harder for my partner and I to find these men and get back what they've taken. So if you don't mind?"

Amanda could see Lee's patience quickly coming to an end. "Officer, here's my card. If there are any damages, please have the owner contact me at this number. And we're looking for two men, one's about 5 feet 10 inches and the other is maybe 6 feet tall, both dark hair and in their early 30's. Both are wearing yellow balloon handler uniforms."

"Mrs. Stetson, these guys have probably dumped those costumes. They were full of ketchup. Remember?"

"No, they won't change. The information we have is that they might try and get the information out in one of the balloons. To do that, they have to blend in."

"Agent Stetson, far be it from me, a humble police officer from Brooklyn to tell a federal agent anything, but there ain't no way anyone is gonna get a balloon outta this parade unless it floats away. Russians or no Russians."

Amanda grabbed Lee's arm. "Lee! That's how they're going to do it, just let it float away!"

The officers laughed, the one closest to the door using the frame to lean on. "Right! They're gonna get 40 to 50 people to just let go of the ropes all at the same time!"

"Uh, Sarge? They do that at the end, around the corner on 7th and 34th. They tether the balloon, and the head balloon wrangler lets the helium out."

"There ya go, Agent Stetson. Just watch the area on 7th and 34th, and you'll get your Russians." The Sergeant pocketed the card Amanda had given him and turned to leave. "If we see anyone in ketchup stained jumpsuits, who do you want us to call?"

"Call the number on the card." Lee and Amanda followed the police officers out of the deli, as did the deli owner, yelling and waving his arms after the officers, Lee and Amanda. He returned to the deli, slamming the heavy glass door behind him. Lee and Amanda watched the three officers walk down the street, laughing and joking with each other. Amanda heard their voices float back to them.

"That was a good one Sarge, asking them who they want us to call. I was hopin' they was gonna say Ghost Busters!" They slapped each other on the back and turned at the next block.

Lee and Amanda stood watching the officers until they turned the corner. "Amanda? I think we're focusing on the wrong thing. It just doesn't seem right for us to put all our energy into looking for a balloon. Beaman just laughed at me when I asked him if they could get the BSY-2 in one."

"Yeah, I've been thinking about that. What if the balloon is a diversion?"

"A runaway balloon would grab everyone's attention." Lee pointed out the short, balding man in a tan trench coat crossing to their side of the street. "Look, that's Mac Wheeler from the New York office. We'll get some help now."

Act Three
November 24, 1988
Thanksgiving Day 8:45 a.m.
New York City, Midtown on Broadway

"This way! We need to turn here." Amanda led Lee through the maze of parade watchers lining the streets of Manhattan. "I'm glad Wheeler was able to get some of his people out looking for those two men."

"Yeah, that'll help. I want to call Beaman back and see if he has anything else. Trying to hear on a pay phone isn't going to be easy."

"Lee, stop for a minute." Amanda pulled Lee around the corner of a large building out of the wind and away from the converging crowds. "Why did they even bring the BSY-2 to Manhattan? It doesn't make sense, does it?"

"I've been thinking the same thing. You're right, it doesn't add up."

"What if the Russians are receiving it? What if there's a middle man?"

"Come on, let's find a phone and call Beaman. Let's get him to use those magic fingers of his on the computer to dig up some information."

"There, in the lobby, see it? A pay phone." Amanda pushed Lee toward the large bank of revolving doors that led to the lobby of the building. Once inside the lobby, Lee picked up the receiver and dialed the D.C. office.

"Yeah, this is Stetson, let me talk to Beaman, will ya? Thanks." Lee leaned against the smoothly polished granite that lined the walls of the lobby. "At least it's warm in here."

"Yeah, and quiet. I wish I had gotten that coffee earlier." Amanda shrugged, knowing they really had no time to stop and nosh.

"Beaman, Stetson. Listen, we're thinking that the balloon is a ruse to cover moving the BSY-2. Amanda and I were wondering why would they bring it to Manhattan at all? They could have taken it and done the transfer out on the water. We think there's a broker involved. ... Yeah, we agree. I want you to check out any of the sponsors for the parade, see if something clicks. We don't have anything right now but cold hands and feet. ... He did? ... Yeah, me too. Thanks Beaman, we'll be in touch."

Lee gave a hand to Amanda to pull her up from her seat on the floor by the phones. "Beaman called Billy, who said to call him when we get this one stuffed and trussed." He grinned as Amanda laughed.

"Well, we've disrupted his dinner plans, Stetson."

"Yeah, I know. Beaman agrees with the broker theory. He's was already checking the computer for backgrounds to see if he can't dig something up."

"Lee? We'd better go to the grandstands, Mother is going to be awfully worried."

"I know. We can at least walk the route. Maybe something will jump out at us."

"Darn, and me without a squeeze bottle of ketchup at hand!"

"I'd say the day is looking up! Come on. You all right?"

"Yeah, a little tired and cold."

Lee pulled Amanda into his arms. "I'll warm you up."

Resting her head on his chest, she sighed. "We don't have time for this, Big Fella." She smiled as he chuckled.

"Well how about later? After dinner, a nice fire, some pillows, you, me and a little conversation?"

"Sounds wonderful, but your conversations always get one of us into trouble. Last time, it was me!" Amanda shook her head as he grinned at her and winked. The man was trouble, no two ways about it!

Making their way up Broadway, Lee stopped at one of the sidewalk vendors selling cheap plastic binoculars. He shrugged at Amanda's questioning look. The crowds were getting thicker the closer to parade time and the nearer they got to Macy's. Lee spotted several agents from the New York office checking the crowds and walking the route, pointing them out to Amanda.

Showing their tickets, the were given entrance to the grandstands. Amanda saw her mother who stood and waved.

"A-man-da! Here we are! Joe and Carrie are here! Yoo-hoo! Darling! Up here!"

Amanda and Lee made their way to the section where Dotty, Phillip, Joe and Carrie were sitting. Joe stood and kissed Amanda on the cheek before shaking hands with Lee. "Nice view of the parade route from here."

"And warm! They have space heaters underneath the stands, Amanda. We're all fine. Look at you darling! You look positively frozen. Sit, warm up." Dotty fussed over Amanda, chattering about the parade and the decorations that perked up the Manhattan street scene. Smiling at Carrie, Amanda raised her eyes at Dotty's mothering.

Sitting beside Amanda, Lee draped his arm around her shoulders, hugging her to his side. "Great view."

"The parade is on the street, buster! Open your eyes!"

"I'm just warming up." Lee snuggled Amanda closer to him, the heat of his body delicious in the cold morning air.

"That's what I'm worried about!"

The parade passed below them, Dotty prattling the entire time, her commentary in competition with the official parade feed. The crowd from Arlington was animated and excited, waiting with barely concealed patience for the National Science Fair float and Jamie to pass by them.

With each balloon that passed, Amanda watched as Lee scanned the handlers looking for the two Russians. He would sigh and shake his head, Amanda patting his arm in sympathy. "I know you'd rather be down there looking yourself, but thank you for sitting here It means a lot to all of us."

"Amanda, I'm part of this family now, and my family comes first. Wheeler is capable of looking and if Beaman finds anything, he'll get that information to Wheeler."

Amanda kissed Lee on the cheek, winking at him, to his surprise.

"Oh look! Lee, isn't that your friend Crystal? The lingerie buyer? Amanda, that's her, isn't it?" Dotty stood and waved as she called out to Crystal. "Hello, Crystal!" The Mr. Marshmallow balloon passed by, but Dotty was oblivious to the stares of the other parade watchers as she continued to call Crystal's name and wave.

Lee hung his head at the curious gapes that came his way. "Why me?"

"Don't worry, sweetheart. I think your stock with some of the dads has risen considerably!"

"Thanks."

"Mom! Look! Jamie's float is at the corner! See? Just behind that band and the turkey balloon!" Phillip lost all of his disinterest in the parade and pointed down 34th Street toward Herald Square where the float Jamie rode waited to make the turn onto 34th and wend its way past the grandstands.

The band was performing on the street in front of the grandstands, bringing the parade to a stop for the moment. Clowns ran in and out of the crowds, waving and doing cartwheels to the delight of everyone watching. The band continued on after the members had completed their number and routine, the drums pounding in everyone's chest.

The turkey balloon made its way along 34th Avenue, coming to a stop on the huge yellow star adorning the street. The crowd cheered as the handlers pulled on the ropes, making the turkey bob and weave to 'Turkey In The Straw'.

Amanda saw Lee lift the binoculars to watch the handlers. She scanned the sea of yellow uniforms, her eyes coming to rest on a red splotch on the front of one. "Lee, I see the ketchup man!" Pointing toward the center of the balloon wranglers, both Amanda and Lee looked for the other.

"I have him Amanda, on the other side, opposite the first one."

"I see him too. What is he doing?"

Lee held the glasses to his eyes again. "Damn! It looks like he's lighting a fuse!"

Act Four
November 24, 1988
Thanksgiving Day 9:45 a.m.
Manhattan, Macy's 34th Street VIP Grandstands

The crowd took a collective gasp as sparks began to climb up several of the ropes to the turkey. The ketchup men ran from under the balloon, yelling and waving their arms. People pressed away from the street as the wranglers dropped their lines and ran from the balloon.

The turkey balloon slowly climbed above 34th Street, the crowd following its ascent. Gloved fingers were pointing up. Hand-held camera operators ran to the street to get a view of the runaway balloon. The parade commentators were tongue-tied without their scripts.

Amanda dragged her attention away from the balloon to look down towards Jamie's float just as it made a left turn the opposite way on 34th. "Lee! Jamie's float just turned off of the parade route!"

Turning the binoculars in that direction, Lee shook his head. "Damn! Those two men are running after it on foot. I think we've found the BSY-2!"

Amanda pushed Lee to move so she could get down. The crowd gave a collective gasp causing Lee and Amanda to stop and stare along with everyone at the balloon.

At they watched, the huge turkey began to collapse in on itself as the lines continued to burn. All of a sudden, the balloon exploded and for a brief, stunned moment the crowd was silent. Then someone screamed and the crowd surged away from the street as the turkey balloon debris rained down upon them.

Bits and pieces of the polyurethane balloon fell on everyone, like flakes of brown and orange snow. Amanda watched as her mother held out her hand, collecting the pieces as they fell.

"Amanda, this reminds me, I really should call your Aunt Lillian and remind her to turn the oven down on that turkey or we'll be eating ash for dinner!"

"I'll do it, Mother. I'll go right now!" Lee had Amanda's hand as they pushed against the crowd, trying to get down from the grandstand. "We'll be back Mother, as soon as we make that phone call, stay here!"

Joe started to follow them only to be stopped by Amanda. "Joe, please, stay here with Mother and Phillip."

"That's my son too, Amanda."

"I know, but let us handle this. We need you to help keep them calm. Please?"

Joe reluctantly nodded his agreement. Amanda sighed in relief as she climbed down the crowded bleachers. Making it to the street, Amanda and Lee saw Wheeler. With her arm in Lee's grasp, they made their way to the agent.

"Looks like something went down here. They lose the BSY-2?"

"No, it's on the Science Fair float. It turned the other way on 34th and is headed that way!" Amanda ran after the float, Lee quickly catching up to her. Surprisingly, Wheeler was right beside them on his two-way radio calling for assistance and agents to converge on East 34th Street.

Several police officers ran into the street in front of the agents on foot, one grabbing Amanda to stop her. Lee pulled his badge out of his pocket and showed it to the officers.

"We're federal agents. This is a matter of national security. Do you have a squad car nearby?"

"Yeah, around the corner, why?"

"We need it." Lee took Amanda's hand and ran to the corner of Herald Square and 34th, the officer and Wheeler right behind them. Spotting the squad car, Amanda ran to the passenger seat. Lee took the driver's side, and the officer and Wheeler climbed in the back.

Amanda looked over her shoulder. Both the police officer and Wheeler were talking into their radios, the officer asking for assistance. "We need to stop the National Science Fair float. It was headed down 34th. There are children and teenagers on the float."

Amanda looked at Lee who was concentrating on the crowds in front of him. Looking at the switches, Amanda flipped several, causing the siren to wail and the light bar to flash.

People moved out of the way of the speeding police cruiser. Lee came to a stop at the intersection of 34th and Park, looking each way for the float. The police radio squawked to life with a report that the float was making its way up 2nd Avenue toward the United Nations.

"The Soviet Consulate is nearby that location, Stetson. They're probably heading there," Wheeler reminded him as he answered the beeping on his two-way radio.
"Wheeler, this is Melrose ... are my agents there?" The radio crackled, Billy's voice echoing in the squad car.

"Yeah, they're here, go ahead."

"Lee, Amanda? Beaman dug up the background on the float designer for the Science Fair float. His name is Dubrinski. He has questionable ties to the Soviets and Chinese, usually brokering deals in military information."

"Tell him we figured that out." Lee stepped on the gas, flying through red lights on the Avenue.

Wheeler informed Billy of their situation. "We're in pursuit now. They've taken the entire float, kids and all."

"Jamie King is on that float!" Billy bellowed.

"I think that's why we're in such a hurry." Wheeler commented. "Have my office pick up Dubrinski if they can find him. One of my agents already has one of Mrs. Stetson's Russians in custody. He picked him up as he was running after the float."

"Have Stetson contact me as soon as this is over."

"Will do, Melrose. Wheeler out. Well, you heard the man."

"We were right about the balloon being a distraction, Lee."

"I wish Beaman had been a little faster on digging up that information on the float designer." Hitting the horn, Lee flung the blue and white around the corner of Park and 42nd Street.

Amanda hung onto the strap on the passenger side of the car to keep from sliding across the seat and into Lee in spite of the seatbelt. "You can't blame Beaman. Research takes time. You know that! And he did tell you that it wasn't in one of the balloons, Lee."

"I like blaming Beaman. I feel better when I blame Beaman. This is all Beaman's fault! Look, there's the float!"

As Lee skidded onto 2nd Avenue in front of the float, everyone turned to look. The kids were still hanging on. Jamie had removed his harness and had three smaller children standing where he had been strapped to the float. The other teenager had done the same thing, and both she and Jamie were holding onto the float and the younger children.

"Lee! We're going to have to stop that float slowly, or those kids are going to fly off and get hurt!"

"I see them, Amanda. Officer, can you get another squad car to meet us at the Russian Consulate? They probably have those wide double gates open. I'll bet they plan to drive the entire thing onto the Consulate grounds."

"Done!"

A New York City Police cruiser pulled onto 2nd and fell in beside Lee and Amanda, the radio coming to life again as the other squad car told them to begin slowing down. Lee took his foot off of the gas, both cars beginning to slow, forcing the float to slow as well. Amanda's heart pounded in her throat as she turned in the seat to watch the float, her eyes riveted to Jamie as he held the other children.

"Is the float slowing down, Amanda?"

"Yes, but we need to slow it down some more. The kids are having a hard time holding on. If we take another turn, they may fall!"

Hitting the brakes, Lee slowed the cruiser even more. Looking over her shoulder, Amanda watched as the speedometer hit 20, then 15, slowing to 10 and finally 5 miles per hour. The squad car beside them matched their speed as well, forcing the float to a crawl. Amanda was able to see the children's faces, many were crying, some had their eyes tightly closed.

"Look!" the officer in the car shouted. "They have the consulate blocked and we have cruisers behind the float, they're trapped!"

Lee slowly stopped the cruiser, the other cruiser coming to a halt as well beside them. "Amanda, stay here."

"I will not stay here. That is my son -- our son -- on that float!" Wrenching open the passenger door, Amanda was out before Lee pulled the emergency break. Amanda heard Wheeler behind her as she reached the float, jumping on board and rushing to Jamie where he was laying on the floor of the float, his legs locked around the stand.

"Jamie! Sweetheart! Are you all right?" Amanda dropped to her knees, seeing the young girl wrapped in Jamie's arms. "It's okay, the float has stopped. Is everyone okay?" Amanda looked over her son, checking to see that he was alright, although his eyes were tightly closed.

"Mom? I think the driver was frightened when the balloon blew up. Jessie over there has some kids too, we did our best to keep everyone on the float. Did we do it, Mom? Is everyone okay?"

"Everyone is fine, Jamie. You and Jessie did a good job. I'm so proud of you!" Amanda thought she would cry with relief, so relieved she was that everyone was safe.

"How did you get here, Mom? Was Lee driving the police car? How did you get a police car?"

Amanda felt Lee's hand on her shoulder. "Hey Sport, out cruisin' Manhattan this morning?"

Jamie gave a shaky laugh. "Yeah Lee, almost as cool as riding in your ‘Vette!"

Amanda saw Wheeler pull the driver of the float out of the access door. It was the float designer. Wheeler took him around the back of the float, out of the view of most of the kids who had been helped off the float by police officers.

Several of the chaperones came to the front of the float to help with the children there. Amanda and Lee were helping to release the tethers that Jamie had tied to help keep everyone on the speeding float.

"Amanda?"

Amanda looked to her husband, her eyes questioning.

"Ah, what's this knot?" Lee pointed to the tethers in his hand.

Leaning over to get a closer look, she felt laughter bubble up inside of her. "Oh Jamie! The Killick Hitch!"

"It's the only one I can tie that won't come loose, Mom."

Giving her son a hug, Amanda watched as Lee pulled a pocket knife out and cut the lines rather than deal with the knot. A police van arrived and officers were helping the children and teenagers onto the van.

"It's too bad we didn't get a chance to ride up 34th Street, Mom. I was really looking forward to that. So was everyone else."

Brushing Jamie's hair with her fingertips, she rested her chin on his head, just holding herself back from giving him another kiss and hug, but she realized she had probably had her quota for the day. "I know sweetheart, but there's nothing we can do about that right now."

"It's okay. I feel bad for the younger kids though."

"I know you do." Amanda walked with Jamie to the police van where the other kids had already gotten on, watching as Jamie climbed in and took a seat by the younger children. Her heart swelled as some of the younger children climbed in the seat with Jamie and hugged him.

Lee was talking with several police officers and parade officials, pointing back at the kids and the float. Amanda observed as the parade officials nodded their heads in agreement to whatever Lee was saying to them. She watched as Lee walked back toward her and the van.

"Are all the kids on board the van?" he asked, putting an arm around Amanda's shoulders. "You okay?"

"I think so. What are you up to, Lee Stetson?"

Amanda smiled as her husband grinned at her. He pulled her away from the passenger door as several police officers and parade officials climbed in the van. She shot Lee a curious look, shaking her head at him.

"What have you done?"

"They're going to have their ride on 34th Street. Only they're going to put them on Santa's sleigh and announce their names."

Amanda and Lee smiled as a loud cheer went up on the van as the chaperones explained what the kids would be doing. Jamie waved as the van pulled away from the float.

"Is that what you were talking to the police and parade officials about?"

"Yeah."

Amanda flung her arms around Lee's neck and give him a quick kiss. "Thank you, Lee!"

"Mmm, I like this thank you stuff, Mrs. Stetson. Look, we better get back to the grandstands so we can watch Jamie come by. The officer over there will take us in his squad car, alright?"

Amanda nodded as Lee took her elbow and guided her through the police cars that blockaded the Soviet Consulate. Diplomats were yelling at each other. Soviet diplomats were yelling at the police. The police were holding the one ketchup man and the driver of the float in the back of a squad car. Wheeler was leaning against the police car where the suspects were seated. He stuck out his hand to Lee as they walked up to him.

"Stetson, it's always fun when you come to town. I've always said following you was like watching a parade. I had no idea how right I was!"

"Thanks for all of your help today, and for taking the paperwork out of our jurisdiction."

"Not a problem. My wife overcooks the turkey anyway. This way I'll be home in time for pie. Amanda, it has been a great pleasure to meet you and I hope we see each other again under more pleasant circumstances."

"Thank you, Mac. Next time, I promise, no cross-town foot races." Amanda gave her hand a quick shake behind her back to get some feeling to it after Wheeler's gregarious clasp.

"Don't promise what you can't deliver, Mrs. Stetson!" With a wave, Wheeler walked back to the float to oversee the return of the BSY-2 System, his thunderous voice issuing orders, bringing a smile to Amanda's lips as she followed Lee to the squad car that would take them back to the V.I.P. Grandstands at Macy's.

Amanda climbed in the back of the car, resting her head along the seat. Lee closed the passenger door and the engine sprung to life. The officer was the same young man that Lee had taken with them from 34th Street. She smiled as she listened to his enthusiastic rendering of the morning's events.

"I have to tell you, Agent Stetson, this is my first Thanksgiving parade as a police officer, and I don't think I'll ever forget it! I'm gonna miss my mom's turkey though, but she'll save me a huge plate!"

"Your first parade duty, huh? I'm sorry you'll miss your dinner."

"That's okay. This is going to be something to talk about for some time to come. Hey, what was in that float anyway?"

"I really can't tell you, but it was vital to our national security."

"Wow! I don't suppose I can tell anyone about that, can I?"

"Nope, you're gonna have to keep that one under your hat. You'll be briefed by Agency personnel. They'll tell you everything you need to know."

"Wow! Do you think I'll get a security clearance!"

Lee chuckled at the enthusiasm of the young police officer. "You never know! Are you okay back there, Amanda?"

"Just listening. And thinking. Jamie started to ask some questions about how we got there."

"The first misgiving, huh?"

"I guess that's an appropriate way to phrase it."

"Well, it won't be the last one. We'll deal with them as they come up." Lee put his arm over the seat of the cruiser, his fingers outstretched to Amanda. He squeezed her fingertips and winked at her. "It'll be good to get home this afternoon and have our own Thanksgiving dinner."

Amanda sat bolt upright in the seat. "Oh no! Lee? I didn't call Aunt Lillian! The turkey! Dinner!"

"I...I'm sorry Amanda, I completely forgot about that."

"You need a phone? I'll drop you around the corner at Madison Square Gardens. You can make a call from there."

"Thank you, officer."

"No problem!"

TAG
November 24, 1988
Thanksgiving Evening 10:45 pm
4247 Maplewood Drive, Arlington Virginia

"Ooh! What a day this has been! This is one Thanksgiving that I won't, well that no one will forget in a hurry!" Dotty declared as she sat in the chair in the family room. "I cannot believe the driver of that float panicked like that when that balloon exploded! Those children must have been terrified. You and Lee, oh Amanda, the way the two of you dashed after them, and even flagged down the police to help! And Lee, convincing the parade officials to allow the children to finish the parade route, in Santa's sleigh no less! I'm so proud of both of you!"

Amanda lifted her head from the crook of her husband's arm to smile at her mother. Lee had a small smile playing about his lips. Amanda knew that her mother's rambles and musings entertained him.

"Thank you, Mother. We just reacted, didn't we sweetheart?"

"Mmm-hmm."

"Well, I'm going to go upstairs and take a hot bath before your Aunt Lillian gets in there and uses up all the hot water. Goodnight darling, Lee." Dotty kissed Amanda and patted Lee's cheek before placing a kiss on it.

"Goodnight, Mother!"

"Night, Mom."

As Dotty's footsteps faded, Amanda snuggled into Lee's arms, smiling as he chuckled. "What's so funny?"

"She's right you know. What a day this has been. A bus ride to Manhattan that left at 3:30 in the morning. Running into Crystal..."

"I want to talk to you about Crystal. Do you make all of your old girlfriends part of the Barnstorm Network?"

"She speaks fluent Russian, Amanda."

"Well, I hope that's all she 'speaks'.

"Jealous?"

"Who me? No! Never!"

Amanda sighed as Lee pulled her closer, wrapping his arms about her. "To continue, unless you have more to say about Crystal, we had a food fight, which is apparently your weapon of choice."

Pushing on his chest to sit up, Amanda was indignant. "I use what's available. And I'll have you know that Beaman gave me an A+ in Operational Tactics."

"Beaman likes you."

"Beaman likes Francine. And Roxanne. And Patty."

"Will you let me finish?"

"Certainly."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome!" Amanda giggled as Lee tickled her for her interruption.

"Once again, you figured out that the balloon was being used as a distraction."

"And don't forget that you arranged for those kids to have the ride of their lives on the Santa float. That was good thinking, Stetson. You're going to be a wonderful father. You are a wonderful father."

"I'm glad you approve."

"Mmm, I certainly do." Amanda leaned up, gently touching her lips to Lee's, releasing a sigh when he pulled her up against him and kissed her with the passion she had come to desire from her husband.

"Shall we?" she asked, her eyes sparkling in the low lights of the family room.

"Shall we what?"

"Finish our talk. You know, that talk."

Amanda laughed as her husband flashed her the grin she loved dearly. "I thought we had finished that talk, Amanda."

"Let's discuss it again."

Lee stood up and put his hand out for Amanda. Amanda smiled as she placed her hand in his and stood up beside him. "Okay, we can talk about it again, Amanda, but let's talk over some more pumpkin pie!"

"Lee!"

Amanda closed her eyes as Lee picked her up in his arms and headed for the stairs. As he whispered in her ear she laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck as he made the familiar climb to their bedroom.

"I like the way you think, Stetson!"

Turkey In The Straw by Phil Rosenthal

Author Notes:

The 1988 Macy's Thanksgiving Parade marked in actuality the first flight of the updated Big Bird Balloon. All statistics given are for the balloon that launched in the 1988 parade. Big Bird is a trademarked symbol of the Children's Television Workshop.

The BSY-2 Combat Weapons System was/is the actual ballistic and tactical platform on the Seawolf Attack class submarine. The BSY-2 went to trials in March of 1988. The first Seawolf began construction in October of 1989, in Groton, Connecticut. It launched in June of 1995 and was commissioned 'Seawolf' in August of 1996. Her sister ship, 'Connecticut' was commissioned in August 1988. The shipyards are across from New London, Connecticut, on the Thames River which empties into the Long Island Sound with open access to the Atlantic Ocean. More information on the BSY-2 can be found at this Internet web link:
http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/weaps/an-bsy-2.htm