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...
To my beta team of Laura, Brandy and Megan, who came through in a pinch,
despite the last-minute rush job and demands on their time to get this
episode in shape before airing.
And now, on with the show!
December 12, 1988
"Make sure those goods remain untouched. They can't have any fingerprints on them or have anything happen to cause a loss in luster."
The leader of the group stood in the shadows and watched the concealed figures of his men successfully complete another silent heist, adding to the already substantial amount of jewels he had in his collection. The quality of these gems almost equaled the ones his men found deep within his diamond mines in South Africa.
His company had been providing the jewelers in the major cities of the United States for years. With his involvement on both ends of the deal, he had access to information and schedules not many others would know. And he knew how to recognize good gems. These establishments in the capital city certainly made his job a pleasure.
"Come on, come on. Let's get moving. We don't want to set off an alarm or alert anyone to our presence."
"Ah, just cool your horses, all right? We won't get in no trouble. Remember, I been doing this type of stuff for years. I ain't about to get caught now."
"See it stays that way. Besides, the boss man inspects each piece of merchandise for top quality."
Yes, I do, he thought to himself. And those gems will go a long way toward getting him the funds he needed to complete the second stage of his plan. When that happened, this nation would have to stand up and take notice of him.
"Amanda, for the last time. I don't want to discuss it. Especially not here." Lee grabbed a stack of folders from the desk near Billy's office and headed for the hallway.
The exasperation and impatience in his voice might have caused someone else to back away, but it did little to deter Amanda. She'd been dealing with him for over five years and knew how far she could push before the volcano erupted.
Amanda followed Lee toward the double doors. She raised her voice to be heard above the whirring of computer printers and the standard activity in the bullpen. "Fine. Then, I'll keep asking until you will."
Amanda watched his back stiffen and took note of the seconds that passed before he turned around to face her. She noticed the stares from their coworkers but didn't acknowledge them. Instead, she kept her eyes glued on the actions of her partner. With painstaking slowness, he pivoted on his heel and leveled a glare at her that could wilt the sturdiest blossom.
His eyes darted to the left and right, no doubt noting the attention they were garnering. His gaze returned to her face. The characteristic muscle ticked in his cheek. "Q-Bureau. Now."
Lee spun around and left without another word. But, the look on his face said it all. The wink he gave her just before he turned, however, threw her for a loop. With a sheepish half-grin at the nearest Agency employees, Amanda exited the bullpen. A blend of anticipation and curiosity settled in her stomach over what she'd encounter upon following Lee's orders.
"Well, well. What's this? Trying to change your habits again, Scarecrow?" Francine's appearance in their path prevented Lee and Amanda's escape. She cast a look between them and snapped her fingers, her eyes flashing with a spark. "Wait. I got it. The two of you carpooled, and Amanda forced you to be on time this morning." She smirked. "Looks like this matrimony thing is finally starting to rub off on you."
Amanda caught the tick in Lee's jaw from the corner of her eye. With clenched teeth, he responded to the perceived wittiness of their blonde coworker. "Can it, Francine, will ya? I'm not in the mood."
"Oh! Lover's spat?" She clucked her tongue and shook her head as she darted her gaze between the two of them. "My, my. Will wonders never cease?"
"Unless you want the details of your last rendezvous with that senator spread throughout the Agency grapevine, I'd suggest you find something else to occupy your mind."
A retort formed on Francine's lips, but the seasoned agent thought twice about it and kept her mouth shut. Amanda fought back a smile at how well Lee could still put Francine in her place when he chose to do so. Despite the sometimes cordial offerings that had trickled out since Jonathan's death several months ago, the cool exterior still remained. She and Amanda had even managed to find some common ground and form a tenuous friendship, but it seemed to be more of a grudging respect on Francine's part.
In a huff, she entered the bullpen and headed for Mr. Melrose's office. Amanda watched until the door closed behind her coworker then turned and saw Lee halfway down the hall. She stepped up her pace in Lee's wake, but not in time to catch the elevator before it closed. She waited for it to return then took it to the floor above the Georgetown Foyer and turned the knob of the office she and Lee shared.
As soon as she stepped inside, the door closed and locked behind her, and two strong arms enveloped her as a familiar mouth descended upon hers, stealing her breath. Several heart-racing moments later, Lee pulled his lips from hers and leaned his forehead against hers.
"Mmm, now that's a much better way to start a morning at work."
Amanda took several breaths and tried to calm the storm of emotions raging inside. Her hands rested against Lee's chest, where they landed when he whipped her into his arms. She played with the lapels of his dark gray suit jacket and avoided his gaze. When she did look up, the twinkle of merriment in those hazel depths almost mesmerized her. But, memory of what brought them upstairs in the first place fought for dominance, and a spark of indignation formed.
With a blend of humor and forced ire, Amanda wrenched away from the hold Lee had around her waist. She straightened her own jacket and gave it a tug, then faced him squarely, her chin raised just an inch.
"While under normal circumstances, I might be inclined to agree with you, that doesn't excuse the way you're avoiding my question."
"I wasn't avoiding it." Lee shrugged. "I just refused to answer." He stepped around her and headed for his desk that sat perpendicular to her own. Shuffling through a few folders on the surface, he dropped into his chair and leaned back, the wood and leather creaking under his weight. Lee laced his fingers and placed his hands behind his head as he watched her with measured nonchalance.
Exasperated with his behavior, Amanda stormed over to his desk and leaned forward, her palms supporting her weight. She pinned him with a glare. "Why won't you talk about it?"
"I already told you."
"Well, humor me."
He sighed. "Look, I've already made up my mind, and there's no use telling you because you'll only try to change it. Why don't you just trust me?"
She placed her hands on her hips. "Well, I think I have a right to know, considering it involves me and my boys."
"Our boys," he corrected.
"Our boys." She nodded.
"And don't forget your mother."
"Is she in on this too?"
Lee leaned back further and propped his legs on the edge of his desk, crossing one ankle over the other. "Not so much in on it as also involved."
Amanda groaned deep in her throat, but Lee just grinned. Finding out that her mother knew about his plans really tweaked her. Of all the things to reveal, that was the worst one he could choose. His cavalier attitude grated on her nerves. If he kept up this act, he might find himself alone at Christmas instead of with her and the family doing whatever he had planned.
"Come on, Amanda. Do you really want me to spoil the surprise? You of all people have been drilling me for years about the magic and spirit of Christmas. Now, I'm finally into it, and you won't let me have any fun."
She braced her arms on the desk again. "It has nothing to do with ruining a surprise or your fun. It has to do with making plans, and I can't do that without knowing what yours are. I—"
The shrill of the phone interrupted her sentence.
Lee held up a finger in her direction. "Hold that thought." He picked up the receiver and placed it to his ear. "Stetson here."
Amanda straightened once more and folded her arms across her chest, the bottom of her heeled shoe tapping out an impatient rhythm against the linoleum floor.
"Augie? ... Yeah ... Wait, wait. Slow down." With a thump, Lee dropped his legs to the floor and sat on the end of his chair. He rested his right arm against the edge of his desk. "Now, tell me everything from the beginning."
Amanda watched her husband's body language and facial expressions as he listened to the voice on the other end of the line. If his reaction was any indication, the news Lee was receiving wasn't good.
"Are you sure? ... No, I don't doubt you, but before I make a move, I need proof. ... Yes, I know you wouldn't call unless you were sure you had something, but— ... Yes, I've gone on less before, I know. ... All right, all right. Where? ... Half an hour? ... Good. We'll be there."
Lee hung up the phone and sat in silence for several moments, his eyes fixed on the phone.
Amanda took a tentative step closer. "Lee?"
He looked up. "Augie's got word that some shipments of jewels are being fenced. It's all very hush, hush. He wants us to meet him out on Wilson Boulevard."
Amanda nodded. "Let me grab my purse."
Lee helped Amanda with her coat and placed his hands on her shoulders once she turned back around to face him. He caught her gaze and lowered his voice. "You know, we never did finish our conversation. The one before the phone rang?"
"Yeah, I know. I haven't forgotten." She walked the fingers of her right hand up his tie. "And I intend to get the information out of you one way or another."
He winked. "Mmm, maybe we can engage in some diversionary interrogation."
Amanda grinned and headed for the door. "I'm looking forward to it," she called over her shoulder and left him standing in the Q-Bureau.
Lee joined her in the hall and gave her an inquisitive look. She shrugged and he shook his head, then placed a hand at the small of her back and guided her toward the stairs to the foyer. "Come on."
"Anyone here? Augie?" Lee looked around as Amanda wound her way through the Christmas trees of varying shapes and sizes. Her husband's voice echoed in the cold air. "Yo, Augie."
Her own breath came out in white clouds, and she rubbed her gloved hands together to ward off the chill. Considering Christmas was just two weeks away, Amanda was surprised more people weren't here getting their trees. The place almost looked deserted. Of course, the chain-link fence and the junkyard next store full of cars that would better serve as scrap metal might be a deterrent. And it could use a little work in the decorations department, but it had a wide selection of pines. She reached out and touched one of the branches of a tree in front of her and the needles almost crumbled in her palm. Then again…
"Good grief. Can't he ever be where he says he's going to be? This runaround gets old after a while." Lee stopped and looked around the tree lot, his brow furrowed. "I don't even know why he had us meet here. It's not exactly … oh no."
"What?" Amanda turned to look over her shoulder to see what had caught Lee's attention.
"Can I interest you in one of our finest pines? They're low maintenance and only scratch a little when decorating."
Lee and Amanda both pivoted at the familiar voice. Standing with his hand clasped around the trunk of the nearest tree stood the snitch they were here to meet, dressed far different than normal for his new occupation. Considering the myriad of job titles he'd assumed, different was quite a feat. But, his festive attire gave new meaning to the phrase, hand-me-downs. The combination of clothes looked like castoffs from a rummage sale of Halloween costumes – or at the very least the results of someone's Christmas prank – no two articles matching.
With one raised eyebrow, Lee took in Augie's appearance and sighed. He gestured over his shoulder with his head toward the sign that graced the front of the lot. "Is this a new business?"
Augie shifted from one foot to the other and looked anywhere but at Lee's face. "Well, you know. I never pass up an opportunity to make some extra bucks. It bein' Christmas and all. I thought I'd see if my green thumb still had the magic touch."
"All right, can the small talk. Tell me what you know."
"Always one to get right to the point, weren't you?"
"Remember that auditor friend of mine I mentioned a few years ago? He's still got that itchy calculator finger. And you've added to your distinguished list of business ventures since then."
"All right, all right. No need to get hostile. I'll spill."
As one of Lee's regular informants, Augie always had his ear to the ground, especially when it came to illegal movement of weapons systems, hardware and other contraband being imported or exported. Usually, he was involved in some capacity, but he always gave Lee a chance to nab the subversives if it was ever a matter of national security.
"No reason to wear a hole in your gloves clenching your fist." He glanced around them to make sure no one would overhear, then steered them further into the trees. "I heard some scuttlebutt about this group of nasty people who are involved in a string of heists at several jewelry stores in the area."
Lee nodded. "I've read the news on those thefts. But, that's police work. What's this got to do with the Agency?"
"Well, I heard they're looking to fence the jewels in return for the cash to make a purchase of some pretty important hardware."
"Working as middle men for a buyer?"
"Yeah. I think it might be Geissler."
Amanda jerked up her head at the name. "Johann Geissler?"
Lee and Augie turned to face her, eyebrows drawn at her interruption, almost as if they had forgotten she was standing there. Amanda brushed off her slight annoyance and continued. "I read a report at the Agency about that man. Something about a history with exporting goods from the US to foreign countries and investments in some diamond mines in South Africa, but he's never been caught."
Augie nodded. "Yeah. That's him all right. Word has it he's in the market for some big missiles. The guy just came up from underground, and he don't usually make an appearance unless it's real important. Know what I mean?"
"Yeah." Lee narrowed his eyes. "You sure you aren't getting a piece of this somewhere? I mean, you usually have your hand in the cookie jar somewhere. Especially with jewels."
"Ahh, come on, Lee. You know me better than that. Goes against my ethics to be dealing in stuff like what these guys are doing. I don't take to getting involved with terrorists. Those people scare me."
"Well, thanks for the info. Amanda and I will get back to the Agency and get right on it." Lee extended his arm toward Amanda and made to leave, when Augie cleared his throat. They paused.
"Uh, Lee. Isn't there some sort of return on my risk?" Augie gave him a sheepish grin, one hand in the pocket of his elf costume and the other partially extended. "Thought you might want to, you know, spread some Christmas cheer if I told ya this."
Lee inhaled and exhaled slowly, then reached into his pocket to retrieve a few bills.
Augie pocketed the money. "You know, Lee, you should stop being so serious all the time. Get into the Christmas spirit a bit more."
Lee leaned forward, his face mere inches from Augie's, his expression one that meant he wasn't in the mood. "Yeah?"
Augie recognized the nonverbal cue and backed off, his hands raised in surrender. "Hey, just figured you might want to … you know … enjoy it more. It bein' Christmas and all."
Amanda stepped forward to intervene, knowing that Lee was about to either slug the guy or issue a threat that would intimidate even Augie's ancestors. She placed her hand on his arm. "Augie, you know as well as I do that Lee is impossible to get into the mood this time of year, especially when there's a case to solve."
Augie raised one eyebrow in Lee's direction. The look on his face showed his mind had ventured elsewhere at that remark. From the corner of her eye, she saw Lee glare at Augie, a silent command that warned the snitch to keep his mouth shut. Then, Lee released an exasperated sigh and briefly closed his eyes. Amanda knew she'd chosen the wrong words, but there was no taking them back now. So, she continued as if nothing was amiss.
"So, why don't you keep in touch and let us know if anything develops with this extremist group. All right?"
Augie nodded. "You know, I still think you're quite a looker. If you need a little extra money for Christmas, I got a great spot open for a Mrs. Elf." He cast an appreciative glance from head to toe and smiled. "You'd look real good in one of them costumes."
Lee wrapped a possessive arm around Amanda's waist, pointing her toward the parking lot. "Can it, Augie. She's unavailable."
"Can't blame a man for trying."
With a grin, Lee reached out and flicked the floppy end of Augie's elf cap. "With a get-up like that, I'll just bet you have women lining up for miles!" He turned to leave.
"Well, I hope that information helps put you in the Christmassy mood."
Lee froze, and the tick in his cheek moved in double-time. Without a word, he strolled away. Amanda grinned and matched her stride to Lee's.
"You know, he's not going to let me forget that line back there. He's going to hold it over my head." He sighed and ran his free hand through his hair, making several strands stand on end. "Thanks a lot, Amanda."
She shrugged. "Well, I can fix it in return for the right information from you."
Lee narrowed his eyes and peered down at her as they walked.
"Say, what you have planned for Christmas?"
He released a mix between a sigh and a groan. "We'll discuss payment for blackmail later. In the meantime, we have a case to crack."
Amanda made a mental chalk mark in her favor at the outcome of the conversation then changed tactics. "So, what do we do now?"
"Now, we go back to the Agency, enter this information into the computer and see if we can't find a match between the jewel heists and some known extremist groups in the area." Lee inserted his key into the lock and opened the passenger side door for Amanda. "After that, I don't know."
She stopped beside the ‘Vette, her arm resting on the top of the door. "Lee? What if there really is a connection, like Augie said?"
Lee sighed, a grim expression on his face. "Then, it looks like we're off to investigate."
December 17, 1988
Lee posted a series of photos on the corkboard in the conference room and started his briefing to the agents gathered for the emergency morning session.
"We've had encounters with this man before. Some of you might know him as Johann Geissler, the South African owner of a few substantial diamond mines, but he has a string of aliases a mile long: ‘The Karat Cruncher,' ‘The Sparkler,' ‘The Diamond King.' Take your pick." Lee glanced around the room and caught Amanda's eye. She nodded her encouragement. He pointed to one of the photos in the middle of the board. "The last time, we almost had him, but he outsmarted us with a decoy heist while he completed his operation across town."
Francine let out a sigh of disgust. "I remember that incident. Wore my best dress in an attempt to entice the man we were led to believe was the leader of the bunch only to find out it wasn't him. Ruined a good pair of Italian heels on that run too." Her voice held a touch of resentment.
Lee brushed off Francine's typical flare for dramatics and continued. "Yeah, well, we already know how this guy works. His trump card is usually his ability to second-guess our plan of attack before we can even initiate it. So, we have to make damn sure we cover our tracks and keep everything under wraps until absolutely necessary."
"If this guy manages to slip through our fingers, how do we know we'll be able to get him this time?"
Lee gave Francine an imperceptible nod at her initiation of the devil's advocate role, making sure the holes in the investigation were plugged before they began. "He always works with a team and funnels whatever jewels they manage to pilfer on his own. That's his Achilles heel. He always touches the goods."
"So, are we sure he's really involved?" The blonde agent was playing her part to a "T."
Billy stepped forward from the side where he stood observing the briefing. "We've received word across the wires that the recent jewel thefts at local jewelers in D.C. have been a part of a larger ring of thefts meant to supply Geissler with the funds he needs to invest in the Arms shipment. Lee checked out the story with the Agency reports then cross-referenced it with the local hot list for any terrorist ties."
Lee once again assumed charge of the meeting. "We've got a team trailing the thieves and monitoring the local jewelers to try to determine a pattern. Once we have that, we might be able to get one of our men on the inside."
"Do we know what type of weapons Geissler's interesting in buying?"
"We're pretty sure," Lee replied. "There are rumors of some missing shipments of Army SAM's, surface to air missiles, in play, but we don't know for a fact that they factor into Geissler's plan. Our guess is that he intends to use them on a strike at Dulles Airport. There's a flight of diplomats scheduled to arrive at the end of the week. Walker, I'll have you do some foot work so we can prove that." The agent nodded and Lee continued with the briefing. "If it gets that far, we do still have a chance. The rocket has a built-in safety mechanism. It has to be fired within a certain timeframe or it loses its targeting and shuts off. So, if necessary, we can still outsmart them at Dulles."
"Do these whackos have a name?"
"Well, none that's known. Besides, with men like this bunch, anyone who knows their name doesn't know much for long."
Francine nodded, a grim look crossing her face. "True. It's not like the name would be on a mailbox."
Lee and Billy both shook their heads. Amanda chuckled. Lee glanced at his wife, who raised a hand to her mouth to fake a cough, but not before he caught her grin. Deciding to get on with the meeting, he picked up the manila folder on the table and passed out assignment sheets to the agents down each side. "These are the details of the case. Everyone has a role to play. Read over the specs and let us know if you have any questions. I'll be leading the direct recon team on this mission, so any developments come through me." He nodded at his wife and winked with his left eye so no one else would see. "Amanda will also receive progress reports."
A courier entered the room and handed a folder to Billy. He cast a quick glance through the contents then looked around the room. "Okay, people. Let's hit it." He turned to his top agents. "Scarecrow, Amanda, Francine. Wait a moment."
An immediate flurry of activity ensued as the agents took their assignments and got to work. Lee stepped over to Amanda and placed his hands on her shoulders to initiate a brief massage. She covered his hands with her own and leaned back against his torso. Her almond eyes looked up at him with admiration and a hint of flirtation.
"Very nice job, Mr. Stetson."
Lee grinned then ran his left finger around the sensitive spot of her ear with a feather-light touch. She shivered. "Thank you for the compliment, Mrs. Stetson."
"Oh, please. Will you two lovebirds give it a rest?" Francine rolled her eyes. "You've been married for almost two years. Don't you think you can put a lid on it around the office?"
Lee almost came back with a sharp retort, but something in his coworker's eyes caused him to remain silent. Working with her for over ten years and learning a lot while on assignment together had transformed their professional relationship to one of friends in a small expanse of time. Knowledge about her string of men and how hard she took Jonathan's death earlier that year gave Lee a flash of insight beyond the cool façade she presented to the world. Francine was just a sheep in wolf's clothing, and he had no desire to intentionally hurt her feelings.
Billy interrupted before either had a chance to say anything further. "All right, I asked the three of you to stay behind because I've got a special assignment."
Lee rested his hands once again on Amanda's shoulders. "A new development in the case?"
"Yes. Word came back from the initial recon team that followed up on a lead to the location of this domestic extremist group." Billy pointed at Lee and Amanda. "I'm sending the two of you out to Occoquan Park in Fairfax County to investigate."
"Just the two of us, sir?" Amanda rested her fingers on the edge of the table in front of her. "Isn't that a bit presumptuous since we don't even know how big this group is?"
Billy nodded. "We've already thought of that, Amanda. You and Lee will have all the equipment you need to set up surveillance from just outside the encampment."
Billy retrieved a stack of photos from the recon team and handed them to Amanda. Lee looked over his wife's shoulder at the results.
"We've targeted an isolated spot that's overgrown with underbrush and well covered by an expanse of trees. You'll be able to observe from there without too much danger of being detected. I'm sure I don't have to tell you to be careful. These men don't play games." The section chief turned to Francine. "Francine, I'm getting you started on research—"
Billy held up his hand to stay her protest. "Hear me out. If all goes as planned and Lee and Amanda discover what we suspect is true about this group, you're going to run backup and pose as a potential buyer.
He turned back to face Lee and Amanda. "If there are no other questions, let's get moving." Billy paused. "Oh, and be sure to take what you need for being belly-down on the ground and crawling through some dense wooded areas.
Amanda stood and Lee dropped his hands from her shoulders. "I'll make sure we have the proper clothing, sir."
"Little Happy Homemaker to the rescue." Lee and Billy tried to hide their mirth, but failed miserably. Francine had the decency to look somewhat contrite. "I'm sorry, Amanda. I couldn't resist."
Amanda gave the blonde a patronizing smile. "Oh, Francine. You of all people should know what the fashion police say about being shot wearing white after Labor Day."
That did it. Billy's guffaw echoed throughout the room and Lee laughed out right. Francine raised her eyebrows but gave Amanda an appreciative smirk. "Good one."
Amanda only nodded and left the conference room, Francine staring at her back.
"Looks like you've met your match, Francine. Better start practicing or you'll get beat at your own game." Lee winked as he followed his wife into the bullpen. Billy's laughter rumbled until the door closed behind them. With pride, Lee placed his arm at Amanda's waist and escorted her toward the elevator. She had definitely earned her place here at the Agency. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Mother! Have you seen my hiking boots and my green and brown flannel shirt?" Amanda called down the stairs, pausing only long enough to hear the reply.
"Check the shelf in the hall closet where we keep some of the camping necessities." Dotty's voice traveled up to them loud and clear, even though she answered from the kitchen.
Lee shook his head as he watched his wife scurry around their bedroom, throwing this and that into the duffle bags they'd take with them. Over the years, he'd learned to keep quiet when Amanda was packing for any occasion. If it had just been him, he would've thrown any old pair of jeans, a shirt or two and a jacket. But, not Amanda. She took great care in choosing the right clothing. He knew he'd be appreciative when the situation warranted something he would have forgotten, but when he'd much rather already be on the road, it wasn't easy to wait.
"Lee, I know you're ready to hit the road, and I'm almost done."
He raised his hands slightly, palms out. "No, you just do what you have to do. I'll wait."
"Well, I can't exactly go skulking around Fairfax County in a dress."
"Amanda, I mean it. Finish. We're not exactly on a time frame." She resumed her task. He remained seated on the edge of their bed, his eyes following her every move. If truth be told, he preferred this to doing the packing himself. At least this way, he could observe his wife and think again how lucky he was to have her in his life. He'd had his encounters with a number of women, but something about Amanda touched a need inside so deep, he didn't even know it existed until he met her. Now, he knew he'd never be the same again.
On her next pass in front of him, Lee snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her to him, positioning her between his legs. His arms draped around her and rested on her hips. She placed her hands on his shoulders and peered down at him.
"Think we got time for a midmorning indiscretion?" Lee winked.
Amanda grinned and glanced at her watch, pretending to consider the idea. "I don't know. It's after nine. You tell me."
The words echoed in Lee's mind, taking him back a couple of years to another woman who'd said the same thing to him. He narrowed his eyes and looked up at his wife. The twinkle of merriment in her cocoa-brown depths gave evidence of her teasing.
"Have you and Stamps been talking about me when I wasn't there to defend myself?"
"What am I going to do with you?"
Amanda smiled then leaned forward and brought her face mere inches from his own. "I have a few ideas, but they're going to have to wait."
Lee twisted her around and pulled her down onto his lap. "Guess I'll have to settle for a little teaser, then," he replied and captured her mouth. She gave and took in the kiss, setting his blood boiling with the contact. If he didn't put a stop to this, he'd forget about the case completely.
Lee and Amanda jerked apart, and she immediately stood.
"Well, don't let me interrupt," Dotty said, giving them both a knowing grin.
Amanda smoothed her hair and ran her hands down the flannel shirt she'd donned once she located it. "Actually, Mother, we're all packed and should be on our way."
"You didn't seem to be in too much of a hurry a moment ago." She gestured toward the bed where Lee still sat.
He shared a grin with his mother-in-law then stood to join his wife. He placed an arm around Amanda's waist. "To be honest, Dotty, we're getting ready to head out into the woods and brace the cold. I wanted something to warm me up a bit before venturing out there."
"Lee!" Amanda face burned, and she gave him a mock glare from the corner of her eye.
"Oh, be sensible, Amanda. We're all adults, and the two of you are married. It's not like I'm not well aware of what happens up here."
"Mo-ther!" Amanda wrenched away from him and reached for the two bags nearest the door. "You two are hopeless." She turned and gave Lee a quick glance. "I'll meet you in the car."
"Is this going to be another one of your nights in the editing room, dear?"
Amanda paused in the doorway next to Dotty and offered a halfhearted smile. "Yes, Mother. Lee and I will be gone the rest of the day and tomorrow. If all goes well, we'll be home for supper tomorrow evening."
"Do be careful."
Amanda leaned forward and placed a kiss on Dotty's cheek. "We will."
Lee winked again at Dotty, then gathered the largest bag and followed his wife down the stairs.
Crouched low and concealed by the myriad of branches and evergreens, Lee and Amanda peered through their respective pairs of binoculars at the activity of the camp in front of them. Men came and went from trucks and jeeps into the crude shelters constructed of what appeared to be quite sturdy material. Not much in appearance but solid just the same. Anyone trying to get into those buildings would have to do it with the permission of the guards at the door.
If all went as planned with this recon part of the case, that's just what he and Amanda would do. If this was the group they were after, they'd have to get inside to get the proof they needed.
Lee glanced over at Amanda and saw her alternating between blowing into her cupped gloved hands and rubbing them together as she kept watch on the encampment.
She looked over at him and smiled. "Just a bit."
He extended one arm toward her. "Come here."
Amanda scooted over and nestled against him into the crook of his shoulder.
"Mmm, much. Thank you."
She gave him a crooked grin. "We'll talk about your pleasures later. Right now, we have a job to do."
Lee fought hard to control his reaction to her words. Thoughts of the case took a back burner for a few seconds, but he forced himself to focus. It never ceased to amaze him how Amanda could affect him with just a few simple words.
"Lee!" Amanda's forceful whisper broke into his thoughts.
"I think I might have something. Look over at the corner of the smallest building. There's a group of men who just arrived in a jeep. Two of them look like they're carrying jeweler's folding cases."
Lee shifted his line of focus to where Amanda had directed and trained his eye on what was taking place. Hand gestures and a lot of conversation were all he could see at the moment. "Come on, come on. Give me something I can use."
Just when it looked like they were going to get what they wanted, a canvas-covered truck pulled up and blocked their view of the group.
"Dammit!" He kept the binocular positioned in the same place. "Of all the times for a truck to appear, why now?" Anticipation of what might be happening behind that vehicle coursed through him. His muscles knotted with tension. His leg had become cramped from sitting in this position for so long. But, he wasn't about to move. Those men held the key. He could feel it.
The driver got back into the truck and put it in gear, slowly moving out of their way. Lee peered through the lenses and focused them to get a clear view. One of the men had the cases up on the back of a truck's tailgate and reached for the clasps. Another guy slammed his fist down on the top. The heated words with hand gestures began again. The first man shoved the other man away and placed his fingers on the clasps again.
"Yes! This might be the break we've been waiting for!"
Every nerve screamed with expectancy. Lee sensed Amanda's own anticipation next to him. With painstaking slowness, the clasps came unlatched and the man opened one case. Lee leaned forward and focused on the contents. He used the highest zoom available on the binoculars and pointed them on the back of truck. As his view cleared, he expelled his breath.
Only the tops of the jewels could be seen, but the light reflected off the surfaces, creating a kaleidoscope of colors in every shade of the spectrum. The next case opened to reveal a substantial amount of greenback bills. A moment later, the door to the closest building opened, and a bearded man with a rather large hat, concealing his face stepped out. The men turned, and a flash of sunlight glinted off the handgun before the shot rang out.
The guy who had opened the case fell to the ground. Lee immediately turned to his wife to see her reaction. She had lowered her own binoculars and sat with a shocked expression on her face. Torn between wanting to comfort her and see what else was happening at the camp, Lee peered through his lenses once again.
The cases were both shut and the bearded man gestured for the group to follow him inside. Two other men came to drag away the guy who'd been killed, penance for being foolish. He would no doubt find a grave somewhere deep in the woods where no one but wild animals would find him. But, his error in judgment had been the break they needed. Lee lowered the binoculars and shifted his position. Amanda leaned against him, and he tightened his hold. She shivered and once again rubbed her gloved hands together.
Lee crooked a finger under her chin and turned her head to face him. "Hey," he said softly. "You all right?"
She straightened her back. "Yes. I'm fine." A pause. "It just took me by surprise. That's all."
He offered an empathetic smile. "Part of the business we're in." Lee dropped a kiss on her forehead then pulled her close against him to share their body heat. "The good news is it looks like we've found our jewelry thieves."