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A SMKVirtual6 Episode

ACT THREE

Sunday, December 18, 1988
After midnight - Occoquan Park
Fairfax County, VA

Amanda waited with baited breath as Lee crept through the shadows alongside the buildings in the camp. He disappeared inside the one they'd marked as the main meeting place. She kept her eyes on the entrance he'd used and watched for him to exit. Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned and saw a lone figure approach the same building Lee had just entered. The man entered the combination code in the keypad and the door opened.

Several minutes passed, and there was no sign of Lee. Amanda held her breath and scanned the entire area around the building, watching for a hint of any movement like a cat waiting for a mouse to come out of his hole. A gunshot echoed through the trees, and she jumped. She couldn't figure out where it had originated. Dread settled into the pit of her stomach. Seconds felt like minutes.

The man came back out and looked around. She didn't know if he was the one who had fired the gun or if he was trying to determine who had. Minor activity ensued near one of the back buildings. The man took off in that direction and disappeared around the corner in a hurry.

Lee appeared around the opposite side of the building a moment later. Amanda expelled her breath and freed her heart from her throat where it had lodged the moment she heard the gunshot. When Lee finally ducked through the bush and joined her once more, Amanda ran her hands all over her husband's body in a brusque manner, checking for her own peace of mind that he was all right.

"Well, that was a close—" He paused and watched her actions. "Amanda. Amanda!" Lee tried to still her movements with a loud whisper. When she didn't cease, he raised his voice a bit, frustration evident in his tone. "Amanda, what are you doing?"

She continued her exploration, dusting off the debris from his coat. "Always taking chances, aren't you? Just can't let it go until you get done what you set out to do." She pressed her fingers to his ribs then slid her hands down to check for any wounds he might be trying to hide from her. "One of these days, Stetson, you're going to get yourself in over your head, and then where will you be?" She skimmed down his legs, avoiding too much time spent there lest she lose her focus, and moved back up to his chest and arms. "I know you've gotten yourself out of a number of scrapes. Fact is, I've been involved in most of them lately. But, you're not invincible. Are you sure you don't want to go back and give them a clean target? I could always use a few more gray hairs. I mean, the boys make life interesting enough, but you! You take the cake!"

Lee raised one eyebrow halfway through her ramble, but she didn't care. When she finally took a breath, he reached for her hands and grinned.

"Your concern is appreciated." A twinkle lit up his eyes, and his grin turned mischievous. "And as much as I'd love to sit back and let you continue your manual examination..."

Her irritation with him faded. She pulled one hand free and gave him a playful swat, returning his grin. "That'll have to wait for later, Big Fella."

"We have to figure out where we're going to sleep." Lee nodded through the bushes. "Looks like whoever shot off that gun has been found and things have quieted down again." He lifted the receiver and flipped on the switch. The quiet hum gave evidence it was in working order. "I got two bugs planted and managed to snap a few pictures of some papers on one of the tables." He looked at his watch. "I give them a few hours before they'll be up with the sun and getting started on the next phase of their mission."

Amanda nodded. "And we'd better get some sleep if we're going to be able to keep up with them." She smiled. "We tend to get killed less often that way."

Lee gave her a look and shook his head at her use of the line he gave her very early in their relationship. "All right. Let's figure this out, huh?"

In just a few minutes, they had a small area cleared free of twigs and sticks and both laid down. When they bumped into each other in their attempts to find a comfortable spot, Lee groaned.

"Amanda!"

She shifted onto her side and gave him a rueful grin. "You'd think after almost two years, we'd have this worked out by now."

Lee rolled onto his back and extended his left arm toward her. "Come on. We're not going to get any sleep with you over there and me here. And we're going to freeze to death tonight if we don't share our body heat. Let's just hope it doesn't snow."

Amanda snuggled against him and tucked her head beneath his chin. "Mmm, a late night ramble in the woods with you, hiding out from a band of domestic extremists and sharing our warmth. Something about this seems vaguely familiar."

"Except we're not shackled together and I don't have worry about someone taking pot shots at us."

"Yeah, spoil's all the fun, doesn't it?"

Lee's chuckle rumbled beneath her ear. His right hand clasped her chin and angled it up so he could peer down into her face. "Except one thing's different."

"Oh?" Anticipation flowed through her at the smoldering look in his eyes. "What's that?"

His warm breath fanned across her lips as he drew closer. "This time, I don't intend to miss."


Sunday, December 18, 1988
6:00 a.m. - Occoquan Park
Fairfax County, VA

The squawk of the receiver startled Lee and Amanda awake the next morning. They both jumped to full alert and set about tuning in the transmission. Garbled words soon turned to clear conversation, and they leaned in close to listen.

"Isabella shipment is reported on time. Once the goods are popped, Columbus will arrive to get the supplies for his voyage."

Another voice joined the first. "We'd better make sure those goods make it all the way here, or we'll be shadowboxing with the devil himself."

The first voice returned. "We haven't lost a shipment yet. You just tell those friends of ours to steer clear of the Eagle, or the only popping they'll hear is the weasel."

The voices faded amidst the shuffling of papers and the slam of a door. Lee sat back with a pensive look on his face. Amanda stared at the receiver, lost in thought.

"Well, that didn't give us much. If I didn't know they were talking in code, I'd say this was a lesson in elementary school nursery rhymes." He jotted down a few notes. "I'll wire this back to crypto and see what they can get out of it." Lee gave Amanda a nudge. "You want something to eat?" When she didn't answer, he tried again.

Amanda started from her reverie. "What?"

"You looked like you were a million miles away."

"I'm sorry. I was thinking about that conversation."

Lee waved it off. "Don't worry about it. The guys in Crypto will translate for us, and we'll have an answer back by lunch. Now, do you want something to eat?"

She nodded. "Sure."


Sunday, December 18, 1988
10:30 a.m. - Occoquan Park
Fairfax County, VA

Around midmorning, activity at the camp hadn't produced much worthy of monitoring, so Lee and Amanda spent time going over the details of the case.

A branch snapped behind them. Lee withdrew his gun and pivoted from his crouched position, weapon aimed at the intruder.

"Relax. It's just me." Francine appeared from around a tree. "I wanted to alert you to my presence so you wouldn't," she gestured at Lee's gun still pointed at her, "shoot me."

Lee holstered his gun and sighed. "What brings you out here?"

The blonde agent kneeled next to them. "Phase Two."

"Phase two?" Amanda echoed.

Francine nodded. "Billy called me in early this morning. We've got our man on the inside, and he's set up a meet for me to come and look over the merchandise this afternoon. There've been some rumors about the sale on the black market of some stinger missiles. One of our sources has confirmed an inquiry involving a sizeable sum. I came early to brief Amanda and hear what you two found out." She glanced at the rumbled blanket near the tree where they had slept and smirked. "Unless your time here has been spent in extracurricular activities. Good thing I didn't come by earlier."

Amanda stood and walked over to retrieve the blanket and fold it for storage. She glanced over her shoulder. "We had to keep warm somehow."

Lee nearly choked on his laughter. Francine had no problem recovering. "I'm sure you thought of something."

"We managed."

"Do tell!"

Lee interrupted before Amanda had a chance to reply. "Well, you remember what I said about housewives, Francine..."

"Yes, well," she sputtered. "Let's get down to business, shall we?"

Lee made short order of getting Francine up to speed on what they had learned during their vigil outside the camp. When he relayed the primary conversation they overheard, she gave him a peculiar look.

"Isabella and Columbus? Weasels and popping? The next thing you know, we'll be going around the mulberry bush or sailing for the New World." She let out disdainful sigh. "Have the boys in Crypto come back with anything on that yet?"

"Not a thing. I called it in almost two hours ago and we're still waiting to hear. At this rate, we'll—"

"Lee! I think I've figured it out!" Amanda interrupted.

"Figured out what, Amanda?"

"The code. I think I've figured out what they meant by the code. And it gives us the proof that they're involved in the jewel thefts as well as selling them for cash."

Lee held up his hands to stem her verbal flow. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. Slow down. How in the world could you have cracked a code Crypto can't even decipher?"

Amanda came to stand between him and Francine, her hands moving in an agitated manner as she spoke. "It's actually quite easy. I just remembered what you said about the nursery rhyme. That triggered a memory from when Phillip had to do a report on the origin of one in middle school a couple years ago. Then, the mention of Queen Isabella and Columbus fell in line."

Francine shook her head. "You're going to have to explain more than that."

"Look. The conversation made reference to an Isabella shipment right?"

Lee nodded. "Yes."

"Well, Queen Isabella is known for having sold the Crown Jewels in order to fund Columbus' voyages across the ocean. She pawned them to get the funds. The word ‘pop' is slang for pawning something."

Francine snapped her fingers as she caught on. "So, that means this Isabella shipment is definitely jewels and the money from the sale of them will go right into Geissler's pockets for his purchase of the SAM's."

"Right."

Lee marveled at his wife's uncanny ability. She never ceased to amaze him with what she could assemble in her mind from what was usually seen as a jumbled up mess of unrelated facts. "But, what about the weasel reference?"

Amanda turned to face him. "Well, that can be any number of things. My guess is it refers to a trap of some sort, like the traps hunters set to catch their prey. If these men aren't careful, they could get caught."

"Well, it looks like we have enough to move in."

Francine pulled out her walkie talkie and called in the update. Lee got on the horn to Billy for the approval to proceed. He draped an arm around Amanda's shoulders and pulled her to him in a loving hug. How had he ever convinced himself he was meant to be a lone wolf?


Sunday, December 18, 1988
1:00 p.m. - Occoquan Park
Fairfax County, VA

"Sparkler One calling for sound check." Francine turned her head and spoke into the wire in her collar.

Amanda did the same. "Sparkler Two checking in."

"You're both coming in loud and clear," Lee confirmed. "Go on ahead."

They approached the camp and were met by the guard. He gave them a nod to communicate who he was. Amanda realized this must be their man on the inside. At least they'd have present backup if something happened. She placed her hand in the pocket of her coat and clasped the notepad she would use when posing as Francine's secretary, hoping they could pull this off. It wasn't the first time they'd gone in as a team, and Amanda felt confident they could play off each other quite well. She forced herself to remain alert for Francine's cues.

Another guard joined them about halfway to the main building. A part of her wanted to look over her shoulder to where she knew Lee had his binoculars trained on them, but she wasn't about to give away anything about their plan. When they reached the main door, Monroe halted them and handed his rifle to the other guard. He spoke a few words too low for Amanda to hear. The second guard gave her and Francine the once-over, a lecherous grin curling his lips. Lee was probably beside himself with suppressed rage at the man's blatant leer.

The Agency man leaned forward, lowered his voice more and let loose with a few hand gestures. The guard reluctantly nodded. Monroe stepped forward to pat them down, making it look like he was doing a thorough job. When he gave his signal that they were clean, the second guard gestured for them to follow him. Monroe brought up the rear.

The guard led Amanda and Francine inside the cavernous body of the building. The slam of the large, metal door made Amanda momentarily tense. Francine inclined her head in encouragement as she headed toward the large tables under the only light fixtures in the room. Amanda followed.

"Welcome, ladies. I see that Mr. Drummond has exceptional standards not only in gems but in his employees as well."

Francine arched her eyebrow as she looked over at the man speaking to them. "And our boss does not pay us to stand about chatting with his suppliers. May I see the 'items' you wish to sell?"

"Ah, a woman who knows the value of time well spent." With a nod to the guards, they opened the jeweler's cases.

The light hit the stones lying in the protective black velvet trays, sending arcs of rainbows about the circle of light. Francine laid the case she was carrying on the table, opening it to show the tools used by gemologists the world over. Amanda pulled a pad and pen from her bag and noted the page as tray one.

Nodding to the guard, Francine placed the jeweler's eyeglass over her head, positioning it over her eye. The guard pulled the first tray from the case, placing it on an expanse of black velvet that was laid over the table.

"Tray one, case one. Diamonds. Cut and polished. No roughs, no cobbs. Round, faceted, unset. Color grades," Francine lifted stone after stone, inspecting each through the eyeglass, depositing the inspected stones on the velvet clothed table. "I was informed that these stones had never been set?"

"They haven't. They are all new acquisitions."

Francine frowned and shook her head. "This stone was previously set. I would say it was set in platinum and that an unskilled jeweler tried to reattach a broken prong by soldiering. Platinum has a very high melting point; thus this diamond shows signs of scorching. It will have to be repolished, thus loosing some carat weight."

The man narrowed his eyes, snapping his fingers for his own jeweler's glass. He took the stone from Francine and inspected it for himself. Removing the glass, he looked at Francine, speculation and admiration in his eyes. "Excellent work, Ms. Deston. It takes a very keen eye and a highly qualified gemologist to spot that."

"It's what I get paid for. Ms. Keane? You have been recording this?"

Amanda remained professional, her back straight and her pen poised over the pad she held. "Yes."

"Excellent. This first tray is uniformly round faceted diamonds, color grades E through I. The specific gravity, or general carat weight of the stones are between 1 and 1.5 carats each. Color and inclusions are within acceptable norms for this grade of stone."

"And the scorched stone?" Amanda asked, nodding at the stone the man still held.

"A note of it is sufficient." She gestured for the next tray to be presented. "If you would be so kind?"

The guard put the tray back in the case and pulled the next. Francine and Amanda continued to inspect and record information regarding the diamonds. Several of the outdoor guards filed into the room, interested in the two women and the rumors of diamonds.

Several beeps sounded on one of the guard's walkie-talkies, causing a momentary feedback on Francine's wire. Amanda's pen froze on the page. One of the guards looked up, and Amanda coughed to cover the noise. She didn't dare look up, but she quickly began to write again, hoping the sound would be put down to electronic feedback from the guards' devices.

When Francine's voice stopped in mid sentence, Amanda glanced up. The man held a gun level with Francine's temple. The guards each had their guns out as well. "Uh, sir? I don't have to write it down about the burned stone; there's no reason to shoot us for finding it." Amanda hoped Lee was able to hear her message. Placing her pad and pen down on the table and raising her hands at the direction of the gun the guard held on her, Amanda took a step closer to Francine. "You just had to show off."

The man leaned across the table and pulled on Francine's collar. The small wire she wore ripped clean. Holding the electronic equipment in front of Francine, the man scowled. "And what is this, Ms. Deston?"

Francine eyed the wire and shrugged. "And to think that this is Italian. It's shoddy workmanship, that's what it is."

Less than pleased with Francine's answer, the man slammed his hand down on the table, the wire underneath it. "We will start again, and you will tell me what I want to know, starting now."


ACT FOUR

Sunday, December 18, 1988
1:45 p.m. - Occoquan Park
Fairfax County, VA

Geissler approached the two women, a menacing scowl making the scar on his cheek more pronounced. He slowly reached up and withdrew the second wire from Amanda's collar. With a snap of his wrist, he broke off the last communication they had with Lee.

"So, you two ladies have not been honest with me." He trailed a finger down Amanda's cheek, and she had to fight to keep from turning away in repulsion. "We will deal with your deception momentarily. But first, I have another question that needs to be answered." Geissler searched for someone and stopped when his gaze landed on Monroe. "You! You searched these two before they entered, did you not?"

"Yes, and they were clean."

Geissler held up the two wires. "How is it that you missed these?"

"They wouldn't have been detected by the standard search for weapons and bugs. Wires like that are normally attached to the buttons and looped through the holes. I looked there."

Geissler nodded to a man behind Monroe. The guard brought down the butt end of the gun against Monroe's head, and the agent crumbled to the ground. At least he didn't meet with the same fate as the other man, Amanda thought, turning her attention back to the man in charge.

He leaned back against the table and folded his arms across his chest. "Now, we wait for whoever was on the other end of these communication devices."


Sunday, December 18, 1988
1:45 p.m. - Occoquan Park; outskirts of encampment
Fairfax County, VA

Lee wasted no time once the communication lines went dead. He immediately got on the horn to Billy. Flipping a couple switches and tuning the dial, he patched through to the Agency.

"Billy! Scarecrow. The wires have been debugged and I'm going in. Get backup in here to clean house."

Static crackled over the line. "You got it. The team is stationed just off Hampton and Henderson Roads. They'll be in your backyard in a few minutes."

"Good. Here's the exact location." He relayed the coordinates then waited for the confirmation.

"Got it, Scarecrow. They'll be approaching from the north."

"Scarecrow out."

Lee dropped the receiver, grabbed his gun then circled around to wait for the backup. As he checked the clip on his weapon, he scanned the area for a direct path to the building where Francine and Amanda had been taken. Holstering his gun, he grated out, "If one hair on their heads is touched, you're going to wish you'd never met me."

An Agency man flanked him on his left side. Lee turned to find Barrett leading the backup team. With no time to waste, he filled in the agent on the details.

"Geissler and about three guards have Amanda and Francine inside that far building on the edge of camp." He pointed beyond that structure to a cluster of other metal frameworks. "The main hub of activity is there, and there's about twenty or so men walking the perimeter."

Barrett nodded. "We've got you covered, Scarecrow." Barrett raised his hand to signal his men, and the team started their forward advancement.

Once the signal was given, Lee burst into the open area of the encampment and headed straight for the building where he had seen the men take Francine and Amanda. As expected, a guard intercepted him and aimed his rifle at Lee's chest.

Lee raised his hands and hurried to explain his presence. "I work for Drummond. I'm here with Ms. Deston and Ms. Keane who are with Geissler taking a look at the goods inside."

The guard nodded and escorted him to the door. He wrapped once, followed by two quick knocks and a solid fourth. The door opened and the guard shoved Lee inside.

It took a moment for him to adjust to the darkness, but once he did, his trained eyes took in the scene and field experience helped him formulate a plan. He tried not to look at Amanda, but his gaze found hers of its own free will. Geissler eyed him with a mixture of disdain and mistrust.

"And who might you be?"

Lee approached with confidence and faced the well-known dealer. "Lee Steadman. I work for Drummond."

Geissler nodded. "Ahh, and I presume you are somehow connected to the electronic equipment these two lovely ladies packed in their clothing?"

He shrugged. "Maybe."

"I see you are not too anxious to provide support for your accomplices. Well, we have ways of convincing you otherwise. For now, we will see what we can get from the beautiful brunette." He snapped his fingers, and the guard behind Amanda produced a knife from his sleeve.

Lee watched him place the tip of the blade against the hollow of her throat. The man yanked off her coat then returned the gun to her temple. Next, he moved the knife lower and popped off first one button then another. Lee started to intervene, but the guard standing over Monroe intercepted him and pinned his arms behind him in a vice grip. Lee recognized him as the guard who led his wife and Francine into the building, the same one who had leered at Amanda. Oh, the man would pay for that incident.

The next button on Amanda's blouse popped and drew Lee's attention back to his wife.

Geissler nodded in satisfaction, a menacing gleam in his eyes. "Maybe we will make you watch. Perhaps that will loosen your tongue."

Lee gave a silent look to both Amanda and Francine. An imperceptible nod from both women, despite their obvious fear, encouraged him to proceed. "All right. I'll talk."

"A very wise choice."

"You want to tell your goon here to let loose with the iron hold a bit?"

Geissler nodded at the man who relaxed his grip. Lee flexed the muscles in his lower arms to restore blood to his fingers.

"Now talk."

"All right." Lee adjusted his jacket and tossed a nasty look in the direction of the creep who had held him. "Drummond sent me in here to check up on these two." He nodded at Francine and Amanda. "They had no idea the wires were there." The dealer narrowed his eyes, obviously not believing Lee's answer. So, Lee continued. "Drummond's had some trouble with these two. He wanted me to make sure they weren't making plans to hightail it out of here once they had the goods." Lee leaned forward and lowered his voice. "See, they've tried before to claim a bit for themselves before making their delivery. So, I came in to make sure the goods made it back with no missing parts."

"Well, it was her idea to steal the jewels in the first place."

"My idea?" Francine replied with indignation.

Amanda cast a quick glance at Geissler. "I kept telling her we needed a better plan, that we were going to get caught if we did things her way, but do you think she'd listen to me? No! She kept saying how she was the brains behind this whole charade and that I was just a lowly secretary who needed to know my place. If anything was going to get stolen, it was going to be by her. I kept telling myself I needed to find a new job, but the payout from this kind of work is quite nice, you know what I mean?"

She cast another look at Geissler. Lee stood back and watched the scene play out before him, waiting for a break. The two guards exchanged confused looks, but held their positions with the guns aimed at the women's heads. Geissler followed the interplay with narrowed eyes.

"Well, if you had paid attention to the full plan, you would have seen that you were involved, and that I had taken some of your ideas into consideration."

Amanda crossed her arms. "You certainly didn't feel the need to share that with me from the start. Or, I might have listened."

"That's because you never shut up long enough for me to tell you."

"At least I was more interested in hearing the plan than in taking charge and getting my hands on the goods myself."

"Oh! So, now you're accusing me of being greedy and controlling." Francine wagged a finger in Amanda's direction. "I'll tell you something, missy—"

"Enough!" Geissler slammed his fist down onto the table, ceasing the verbal fire between the two women. They jumped, but the two guards held fast to their arms and once again placed the business ends of their handguns to Amanda and Francine's temples. The dealer looked back and forth between them then expanded his line of vision to include Lee. He appeared to give the situation careful consideration. After several moments, his calm voice spoke, directed at Lee.

"And the reason for the electronic equipment?"

"Proof so I could hear everything in case they decided to bolt." He jerked his head in Amanda's direction. "We were careful to thread it through their collars to avoid detection."

Geissler narrowed his eyes and looked back and forth between Lee and the two women. Lee held his breath and hoped the man wouldn't call his bluff. The entire operation hinged on making Geissler believe they weren't here for anything but the jewels.

The metal door crashed open, and an armed man burst through the entrance. Everyone turned at the interruption. "Boss, we got feds crawling all over the place out there. I—"

The man was yanked back outside and the door slammed shut behind him. Lee knew the Agency team had everything handled, but the damage had been done. Amanda took advantage of the distraction by grabbing a tray of diamonds from the table and tossing it at Geissler.

Geissler and his men went on full alert. The guard behind Lee tried to grab him, but Lee sent an elbow into the man's ribs, doubling him over in pain. He brought the bottom side of his hand down on the guard's neck and knocked the man out cold.

Amanda and Francine each fended off attacks from the men who held them and managed to turn the tables on the guards. Although she had received training in hand-to-hand combat, Amanda wasn't as skilled as he or Francine. For a second, he thought about helping her, but movement from where Geissler stood had his full attention.

A flash of light against metal caught his eye just before the dealer pulled the trigger, and Lee dodged out of the way. He rolled and came up just under one of the tables, overturning it and dumping the contents in Geissler's direction. The man backed away and tried to get a clear shot again. But, Lee moved too fast and came at him from over the table.

He knocked Geissler to the ground and they rolled several times as Lee tried to wrestle the gun away from him. The sounds of the women also struggling barely penetrated his mind. He had to remain focused. One slip and it could cost him his life.

Geissler landed a blow to the side of his face, dazing him momentarily. Lee quickly recovered and returned the assault, only he added a right hook for good measure. Taking advantage of the upper hand, he regained his feet and kicked the gun from the dealer's hand. Geissler gave a swift scissor-cut with his legs, and swept Lee once again off his feet. A kick to the ribs knocked the wind out of him, but he managed to keep his wits about him enough to avoid the second blow.

Rolling out of the way of Geissler's attack, Lee scrambled to his feet and faced the man head on. The two danced around like two boxers facing one another across a ring. Geissler swung and Lee ducked. Lee sent a left uppercut in the dealer's direction, but the man dodged it.

A crash sounded from behind him, and Geissler's attention was diverted for a brief second. That's all it took. Lee capitalized on the distraction and landed a left immediately followed by a right to the man's jaw. Dazed and caught off guard, the dealer stumbled then touched his lip where a trickle of blood began.

The click of a gun's hammer made them both freeze. Geissler tried to jump out of the way, but the shot rang out and the bullet caught him in the upper right shoulder. Lee whipped around to find Monroe standing with the smoke from the gun still visible. He rubbed the knot forming on the side of his head and offered a supportive nod to Lee. Lee returned the gesture then stepped forward to handcuff Geissler.

With that done, he immediately sought out his wife, who was obviously in no need of his assistance. She and Francine dragged the two unconscious guards over to the wall, then stood and slapped their hands together as if brushing off some dirt. Lee chuckled and approached the two women. Agents busted in from outside and took over from there.

Francine and Amanda looked up as Lee came to stand in front of them. He draped an arm around each of them and pulled them close for a quick hug. "That was a close one, ladies, and not an experience I'd like to repeat anytime soon."

Amanda looked up at him. "But, I thought you thrived on the danger, excitement and intrigue," she retorted, with just the right inflection to mimic his initial recitation.

Francine laughed and Lee lowered his arm to his wife's waist as Francine stepped away. He gave Amanda a loving squeeze and withheld a retort, letting her have that one all on her own. "So, I see you cleaned house rather well, if not tidily," he remarked, nodding at the case of diamonds strewn about the floor. "How did you manage it anyway?"

"Amanda swung one of the empty cases at one guard and knocked him off balance. He smacked his head on the edge of the table and went out cold. I'm afraid I wasn't so lucky." Francine grimaced and rubbed her wrists where red finger marks were beginning to show. "My guard had me in an arm lock until Amanda made good use of the full case of jewels by dumping them over the guy's head. It gave me the advantage and I sent him sprawling to the ground."

Amanda shrugged and smiled. "I guess diamonds really are a girl's best friend."

They all shared a laugh, and Francine bent to retrieve one of the larger stones. "Twinkle, twinkle, little karat," she remarked, rolling the gem around in her palm. "Or in this case, big karat!"

Lee shook his head at the blonde bombshell's knack for spur of the moment wisecracks. Amanda wrapped her arm around his waist, and Francine led the way from the building. Lee paused and shared a kiss with his wife, silently acknowledging the part she played in wrapping up the case. He reached around the front of her with his right arm and pulled the two sides of her blouse together.

"Wouldn't want to be giving anyone a peep show."

Amanda placed her hand over his. "No, that's for your eyes only, Stetson."

"I'll be sure to have a front row seat."

"Front row? You'll be in the show, Big Fella."

She offered a crooked smile, and he winked. Then, they followed Francine back toward their camp.


TAG

Sunday, December 18, 1988
10:00 p.m. – Amanda's house
4247 Maplewood Dr.
Arlington, VA

The credits to the movie scrolled up the screen. Phillip and Jamie leaned back against the bean bag chairs where they sat. Dotty stretched from her position in the chair next to the sofa where Amanda lay tucked against Lee's chest, his arm around her shoulders.

Dotty stood and clapped her hands. "All right boys, let's clean up and get upstairs. Time for bed."

"Aww, Grandma!" Jamie protested.

"Do we have to go now? That movie was great. Got me all revved up!" Phillip added.

"Boys, don't argue with your grandmother," Amanda called out as she shifted to a sitting position. "You still have school this week even though we're taking you out on Friday for whatever Lee has planned." She gave him a slightly annoyed look that he still hadn't shared any details with her.

"Okay," the boys answered simultaneously, disappointment marring their faces and lacing their voices. They grabbed their bowls of popcorn and other dishes then headed for the kitchen.

Phillip paused in the doorway. "Hey, Lee. You gonna tell us where we're going this weekend?

"Not a chance, Sport. You'll find out on Friday."

"Aww, man. That's no fun!"

Jamie nudged him with his elbow. "Why don't you just wait two days to find out?"

"Because I want to know now, Worm brain."

"Phillip!" Amanda reprimanded.

"Sorry, Mom." He gave Jamie a brotherly shove.

Dotty approached and nudged them forward with her hands on their backs. "Chop, chop, you two. You'll find out where we're going soon enough, and I know you'll enjoy it."

Amanda cast a quick glance at Lee. Guilt flashed across his face. "Mother!"

Dotty turned around. "Yes, dear?"

She narrowed her eyes. "Do you know what we're doing for Christmas?"

"Of course I do. Lee had to take someone into his confidence." She winked. "Good night, dear."

A smile at Lee, and her mother disappeared with the boys amidst pleas for her to spoil the surprise. Dotty handled it with the experience of a pro used to dealing with her grandson's requests. Their voices faded as their footsteps sounded on the stairs.

Amanda turned off the TV with the remote then slowly turned to face her husband, intent on finding out why her mother knew about this Christmas surprise and she didn't. Lee avoided her gaze and shifted positions. She pivoted and leaned into him, placing her left hand on his chest and walking her fingers up to his face.

"Lee...sweetheart. Is there something you have to tell me?"

Lee kept his eyes averted and cleared his throat. "Nothing that comes to mind."

She nodded then twirled her fingers through chestnut hair around his right ear. "Uh-huh...and I suppose the fact that my mother knows something I don't has escaped your notice."

He stretched his neck to avoid her touch, discomfort evident in his labored breathing. "Not exactly."

Amanda smiled and pressed closer. She slid her hand down his chest and to the top of his leg where she squeezed his thigh. "Perhaps I can persuade you to recall just what Mother knows so you can share it with me."

Lee turned his head, and his gaze bored into hers. "As much as I enjoy your version of diversionary tactics, you keep doing that," he nodded to where her hand sat atop his thigh, "and we won't get around to discussing anything."

She raised one eyebrow and smiled. "Then, perhaps I should go down to that tree lot on Wilson Boulevard and see if Augie still needs a Mrs. Elf." His eyes flashed at that, so she raised her hand to brush back his hair from his face. "Or...you could make good on your promise, and I'll make sure Augie forgets all about you and your moods."

Her husband hesitated as if giving her request careful consideration. He pursed his lips and tilted his head. She could almost picture him pinching the curled ends of his mustache the way his eyes glinted and he labored over his response. Finally, he spoke.

"You know, maybe you should consider Augie's offer."

Amanda couldn't contain her reaction. She inhaled a sharp breath and raised herself away from Lee to get a good look at his face. He appeared completely serious.

"I mean, I agree," he continued turning his twinkling gaze on her. "I think you'd look real cute in that elf outfit."

She couldn't tell if he was teasing or not, so she decided to play along for a bit. Amanda shrugged and turned as if to get up from the couch. "If you think it's a good idea..." She trailed off and moved to stand.

Lee reached out and grabbed her hand, then tugged her back down. She fell against him, her hands splayed across his chest. "On second thought, I think we should work on my moods. You obviously think there's a problem with them."

Amanda gave him a crooked grin. "Not exactly a problem as much as an area that could use a little improvement."

He wrapped his arms around her and slid down further onto the cushions of the couch, repositioning her with him, so their faces were inches apart. "Well, I can be a very willing pupil."

She warmed to his amorous overtones, enjoying the banter. "And I can be an excellent teacher."

Lee placed a peck on her lips, his eyes darkening with desire. "No arguments there." He tightened his hold and lowered his voice. "Now, how about that little peep show?"

Author Notes:

For more information about the origin of the popular nursery rhyme, "Pop Goes the Weasel," visit the following sites:
* Queen Isabella - http://www.ezcashofpanamacity.com/history2.html
* Hunter's trap - http://www.lloydshaw.org/Catalogue/cue%20sheets/PopGoesTheWeasel.htm