Scarecrow and Mrs. King are the property of Warner Brothers, Inc. and Shoot The Moon, Inc. No infringement of copyright is intended. The author and SMK Virtual Season 6 have not profited from this story. The characters belong to WB and Shoot The Moon, the story is the property of the author.
This episode is dedicated to those who are away from their homes and loved ones at this time of year.
By: smkukfan and SMK720-Laura
Where would I be without my fab team of betas? To Di, my diehard co-planner: I've tried to stay true to our original vision, but sometimes things just happen. Please don't sharpen the chainsaw. Thanks to Kelley, Diane, and Jo for their suggestions, laughs, punctuation skills, and support. Much love and thanks go always to my husband and sons for their support and theories regarding uncooked dinners and fan fiction writing.
The flight from Amsterdam arrived twenty minutes late. The passengers disembarked and were herded through US Customs.
Tired Customs' agents randomly pulled aside even more travel weary passengers to inspect and welcome to the United States. The low din of questions and answers played out among the inspection of luggage.
The young Customs officer had been on the job for three weeks and had already racked up an impressive file filled with complaints. That warranted the supervisor that stood along side the young woman. The supervisor yawned; the early morning hours were obviously something to which she wasn't accustomed. It wasn't that the agent was rude or inefficient; just the opposite was true. The agent was zealous in the commission of her duties with the unfortunate knack of choosing the wives of senators and congressmen to question.
The tall, thin man walked calmly into the Customs area. With casual indifference he looked over the agents, his eyes falling on the young agent and supervisor. Schooling himself not to smile, he moved to the line that would bring him to the young woman.
With long practiced ease, he watched the interactions between the two women. The supervisor overruled every decision the junior agent made. The man allowed himself a momentary daydream, to place himself in the position of firing the supervisor for failure to perform her duties. The young woman would be an excellent agent, an asset to the Customs department if she was allowed to complete her duties unimpeded.
Getting past her would be a challenge; something to awaken his instincts that for too long lay fallow.
"Welcome to the United States. May I have your passport please?" He met the unflinching gaze of the young woman with a friendly smile of his own, his passport open and ready for her to inspect.
"I see this is not your first time to the US."
"That is correct; I have visited your country before. I'm happy to be returning."
"Stamp his passport and move him along, Agent Jerome."
"Yes, ma'am. May I see your luggage please, sir? Do you have anything to declare?"
"My undying affection?"
The young agent smiled, but her eyes revealed another story. She was suspicious. He gave her points for the sharp instincts she was displaying. He watched as the supervisor made notes in a folder, the strike of the pencil telling him that the check mark she had just made would not bode well for the young agent.
Lifting his two suitcases, he waited while she wiped a treated cloth around the closures. Turning the cases toward him, she asked him to please open the locks, if he would be so kind. Complying with her request, he found himself enjoying this game he had initiated. Oh, the agent would not find anything. What he needed was in his head and other than that, could be obtained on the streets of DC.
"I notice that there is quite a span of time between this visit and your last. You were a frequent traveler to the United States five years ago. You've been absent from our shores for some time."
He noted her technique of casual observations while waiting for an explanation. She was good. "Yes, it's been sometime since I've been to the States. You might say I was a prisoner to my job." And he smiled at the young woman.
"And you are returning to your business prospects during this visit?"
"I believe this is more a pleasure trip. I am hoping to have the opportunity to spend quality time with some former colleagues. But, business is never far from my mind. I do believe you would call this a working vacation."
The supervisor finally lost her patience and expressed her displeasure. "I'm sorry we've taken your time. This agent is brand new and very anxious to impress her supervisors, unfortunately, she holds up the Customs process."
"Please! No apologies are necessary. This young woman is delightful, and quite skilled." He watched as the older woman stamped his passport, handing it back to him with a disdainful look at the younger agent. Pocketing his passport, he pulled out a small leather business card case and extracted a cream colored card. "Thank you for a most enjoyable experience, Agent Jerome. If you find yourself in London or Amsterdam, please, look me up."
Jerome took the card, only to have it pulled out her hand by her supervisor.
"No fraternizing with the passengers, Jerome." Flinging the card, it landed on the scuffed linoleum floor, face up.
The sketch of a mongoose and cobra was quite clear. The text simply stated: ‘The Mongoose'.
Lee Stetson swore he could hear Billy bellow his name through the closed doors of the Georgetown elevator. Pushing aside the coats that hung there as the door opened, he stepped out into the hallway, right into Francine Desmond.
"Billy wants you."
"Yeah, I heard. Francine? Why in the world are there coats in that elevator? Why don't they fabricate a false front? Why do we have to deal with that mess every time we use the Georgetown entrance?"
Francine looked at her friend as though he had lost all grasp on reality. "It's tradition; that's why there are coats in an elevator."
"But we're the . . . oh never mind. What does Billy want? It's a little early for him to be on the warpath." The two agents walked into the bullpen together, heading straight for Billy Melrose's office.
"It's about time you got here, Stetson. Where's Amanda?"
"In the Q-Bureau."
"Well, get her down here. She needs to hear this too." Billy picked up the folder he had been reading, and looked over the top of it at the agents sitting across from him. "Move people; I don't have all day!"
Rolling her eyes, Francine got up and walked out into the bullpen. With a toss of her head, she lifted the first telephone she came to and dialed the extension for the Q-Bureau.
"What has you wound tighter than a cheap watch, Billy?"
"I had a call from London today."
Lee smiled; he knew he was going to have to drag the information out of his boss and friend word by word until Amanda got there. "Usually a call from London doesn't have you yelling so loud I can hear you while still in the Georgetown elevator."
"It's probably nothing."
"Nothing has you pretty upset then."
"I don't know, Lee; I don't like the feel of this."
Lee ran his hand through his hair, a sure sign of his frustration. "Billy. What exactly are we talking about here?"
Billy gave a nod toward his door. Lee turned as Amanda came into the bullpen.
"Here's Amanda now," Billy said, and to Amanda he called out. "Good morning, Amanda. Please join us in here."
Amanda walked into Billy's office, a smile on her face for her boss. Her only acknowledgment of her husband was a light touch to his shoulder as she sat in the chair beside him. Francine came back into the office, closing the door behind her.
Billy began by pushing aside several piles of files on his desk. Finding the remote for his wall display, he clicked it on. "I had a call from Scotland Yard today, a Chief Inspector Keaton. Name ring any bells?"
Francine shrugged and looked at Lee and Amanda. Lee raised his eyebrows and nodded, but Amanda's eyes lit with pleasure as she recognized the name.
"Ah, Inspector Keaton, Lee, remember? I flew to London to identify Conrad Barnhill? I got the wrong luggage, you took me shopping, then you almost were strangled by the Mongoose and you thought the Mongoose was Connie, but I knew the Mongoose couldn't be Connie and I broke him at Scotland Yard." Amanda smiled at the memories while Francine quickly put her face down so no one would see her grin.
"You did not ‘break' him, Amanda," Lee said, remembering the incident differently.
"Oh yes I did! Inspector Keaton said I was ‘good'."
"People, we obviously remember who Inspector Keaton is. If I may continue?"
Amanda blushed and quickly nodded while Lee sighed. Broke him indeed!
"Then there was that ‘thing' at Bromfield Hall. . . ." Amanda whispered to Lee who sighed and leaned back in the chair.
"People. . . ." Billy warned. "Chief Inspector Keaton called this morning to inform me that The Mongoose escaped while being transferred to the Isle of Wight. He said he is certain there is nothing to worry about. He did want us to be aware that The Mongoose was on the streets again. They were able to track him to Amsterdam when they lost his trail.
"Why call if there's nothing for us to worry about?" Francine asked.
"Well, Francine, the inspector added that The Mongoose made it very clear should he ever reach the streets again, he was going to settle business with those that put him away in the first place."
"That's just jailhouse talk, Billy. You know that."
"Normally I would agree with you, Lee. But the Mongoose never traded on idle chatter. It doesn't hurt to be aware that he's on the streets again. I doubt if he'll come here, but keep your eyes and ears open."
Amanda chewed on her bottom lip. "Maybe I should call Conrad Barnhill and let him know."
"Is he still as nervous as he was the last time we saw him?" Hazel eyes met sherry brown. Amanda blinked first.
"Ah, yes. But really, Lee, it was an accident. And Connie apologized."
"Yeah, every Christmas card we get from him starts with an apology."
"There's only been two cards, Lee. I don't know what you're so upset about; it grew back."
Lee rolled his eyes, catching the look on Billy's face as he did so. "Ah, sorry Billy, just something that happened at dinner one night with Barnhill. So we just keep our eyes and ears open. Do we have a recent picture?"
Billy clicked the button on the remote, bringing the large screen on his wall to life. "I had research request files from London, and I should have them here." Billy clicked another button, still nothing. Going through a series of clicks, Billy dropped the remote and looked at Francine. "Get me B . . . ."
"Don't say his name, Billy. I mean it. Don't say it."
Francine grinned at Lee. "Are you still holding a grudge? Lee, all he did was . . . ."
Holding up his hands, Lee was adamant. "Not one more word about him, I mean it."
"People, can we focus on work for just a moment? This was working this morning; obviously, the files have been tampered with."
"I remember Lee telling me that was a particular quirk of the Mongoose. He removed and replaced his photographs in files. He even did it to Conrad's passport photo, remember?"
Lee nodded his head as he looked at his wife. Turning to Billy, "Yeah, that was always a little game of his. If he's done that to files that you requested, we may be a step ahead of him."
"How do you figure that?" Shaking her head, Francine tossed a file she had been reading on the desk. "I mean, if he's already tampered with his photographs, he could change his looks and we'd not recognize him if he sat down to dinner with us!"
Billy nodded his head in agreement. "She's right, Lee. You, Amanda, and Conrad have seen him. None of the rest of us have."
"His looks aren't important right now. If these files have been tampered with, we can expect that The Mongoose will soon be up to his old tricks."
"Well, I want to know who tampered with files that were just sent this morning. And I want to know how they did it! Now!"
"I'll go warn . . ." and with a look thrown at Lee, "what's his name to get that program warmed up." Francine stood up and left the room.
"What's all that about?" Billy asked, obviously confused by Lee's behavior.
"Well, on our vacation . . . ." Amanda began at the same time.
"Oh alright! But, Lee? Francine is right. It wasn't his fault. He was a big help. You can't blame him."
Billy shook his head at the couple in front of him. "This is my office, not Pfaff's. Why don't you continue this in his office or in the Q-Bureau? And I want an update as soon as you get anything." Pulling out his lower left drawer, Billy found his antacids and pulled out a few. Sitting back up, he popped the tablets in his mouth. "Go people! Now!"
Lee quickly stood up, running into Amanda as they tried to hurry out the door. Billy's chuckle followed them into the bullpen.
Lee's hand gravitated to the familiar location on Amanda's lower back as he ushered her out of Billy's office and into the hall. Stopping in front of the Georgetown elevator, he folded his arms across his chest and stared at the silver doors, waiting for them to open.
"Lee? You really have to get over this silliness with, well, with you know who."
Shooting his wife a look out of the corner of his eye, he sighed. He knew she was right, but he liked having a target for his anger, and Be . . . , well, he made a good target.
"I was just thinking," he said as the doors opened to reveal the coats in the Georgetown elevator. Sighing loudly, he shoved them aside allowing Amanda to step in. "The Mongoose is up and running. And he has something planned, even if we don't know what and where. I don't like it."
"Sounds logical. Do you think he'd come here?"
"I don't know." The elevator came to a stop in the Georgetown foyer.
"He's not been very nice to people who've crossed him before," Amanda carefully straightened the coats, and with a nod to Mrs. Marston, climbed the stairs to the Q-Bureau.
"That's true. Are you concerned he's coming here?"
"It's crossed my mind."
"Yeah. Mine too." Taking Amanda in his arms, he hugged her. "Look. Give Conrad a call and tell him to keep an eye out. He really knows The Mongoose better than the rest of us."
"Well, except for me. I spent that entire day in a car with him, and heard him switch accents and languages without missing a beat."
"I'm tryin' not to think about that. How about I send some babysitters to the house, just to keep an eye on things?"
"I'm not sure I can deal with anymore babysitters ending up dead on our doorstep, Lee."
Giving his wife a disgusted look, he lifted the phone on his desk and called down to Billy. "Billy?. . . Yeah, listen. Can we send over a team of babysitters to the house? Just to keep an eye on things?. . . Yeah, run them in tandem. . . . Thanks. . . . Okay, I will." Hanging up the phone, he sat in his chair and watched Amanda as she tidied up her desk. "My office at home could use the same attention."
"You don't like me to move anything in the office at home."
"Well, maybe it's time to move things around, shake them up some."
Amanda raised her eyes in mock horror to her husband. "Shake things up? You? Are you feeling alright? Do you know what you're saying?"
Chuckling at her reaction, which is what he had hoped to get from her, Lee patted the corner of his desk. Amanda obliged his request, sitting on the edge of his desk, leg swinging. "Look, call Conrad Barnhill and ask him over for dinner. We'll catch up with him and give him a heads up, alright? Billy is going to send out teams to overlap the house. Let's get the tapes from the airports and start looking at them to see if we can spot our boy in the crowds."
"That could take months."
"Yeah, well I know that, Amanda. Let me give Keaton a call and see if The Mongoose has been up to any trouble since he escaped. You know it always pays to retrace the steps of an opponent."
"Yeah, I know."
"If he comes here, we'll get him. Again."
"Oh I know that, Lee. I just worry at the cost."
"Yeah, well, we'll make sure it's very low. You call Barnhill, I'm gonna go see if I can't get those coats out of that elevator; they're driving me nuts."
Pulling out her chair, Amanda sat down with a soft laugh and shake of her head. "Just make sure that none of those coats belong to Dr. Smyth. I heard a rumor that the current head of the Agency donates a coat to hang in there with all the former Agency chiefs. The story is that if a the coat of the sitting head is removed, so will the director."
"Amanda, you don't believe that scuttlebutt, do you?"
"Not me! But you never know about Dr. Smyth!" With that, she lifted her telephone and began to dial.
Lee closed the door, a grin on his face. Maybe he could figure out which coat was Smyth's and do everyone a favor.
Nah, he wouldn't do that.
Yeah, in a heartbeat!
Dotty ran down the steps as the front doorbell continued to ring. "I'm coming, I'm coming!" Reaching the door, she took a deep breath to steady herself and flung it open.
"Conrad Walter Barnhill! Oh my goodness! How are you? Come in, come in. Amanda called and said you were coming over for dinner."
"Hello, Mrs. West, how are you? You're looking lovely as ever."
"Oh, Conrad, you always were such a sweet boy. No one's home yet, but come into the kitchen and I'll make you some nice, hot cocoa, or would you prefer something else? You see, I ran out and did a quick shopping after Amanda called and said you were coming to dinner and . . . Are you alright, Conrad?"
"I'm fine; just looking at the pictures of the family. Everyone looks so happy. This one is recent, isn't it?" Holding up a framed photograph of the family all on skis, Conrad handed it to Dotty.
Chuckling, she took the photo and looked at it. "Yes,
just this Christmas. Lee took us all to Quebec to ski. We had a very
interesting time, I can tell you that! This picture was taken just before
Lee . . .I really shouldn't say, he's so touchy about it.
We all had a wonderful time though. But how are you, Conrad? I was so
surprised when Amanda called and said you would be coming over! Happily
surprised, but surprised."
"It's alright Conrad. I know. The boys don't, but I do. I just can't believe that my Amanda..." Dotty leaned very close to Conrad and continued in a whisper, "...is a spy!"
"It does take some getting used to."
"How did you get mixed up with all of this?"
"It's actually a long story, Mrs. West."
"Call me Dotty, and long stories are my favorite. Come on into the kitchen, I have some cookies I made this morning. We'll have some cookies, cocoa, and a nice chat."
Leading Conrad into the kitchen, she offered him a seat in the breakfast nook. Keeping up a steady stream of conversation, Dotty brought all they'd need, finally setting a large platter of chocolate chip cookies on the table and taking a seat across from Conrad.
"Have a few," Dotty offered. "I just baked them this morning. Phillip has a dance at school this weekend and I wanted to try out a new recipe. What do you think?" Dotty watched Conrad chew, an expectant smile on her face as she waited for his pronouncement.
Quickly chewing so he could answer, Conrad swallowed and began to choke on the cookie. He hurriedly took a sip of hot cocoa, only to scald his tongue. "Delicious! Best cookie I've ever had."
"Oh good! Now. Tell me how you got all mixed up in this spy business of Amanda's."
"Well, I had gone to Europe in the a few years ago looking for a change. I met up with this rich industrialist who hired me to be his assistant. I was living the high life in Europe's most exciting cities, eating at the finest restaurants, wearing the best suits and shoes. Then I found out the man that I was working for was one of the most wanted criminals in Europe."
Dotty was so enthralled with Conrad's retelling that she didn't hear the boys come in the back door. Phillip and Jamie came in and set their books down. Phillip started to head to the nook when Jamie grabbed his arm. With a warning finger to his lips, Jamie inched as close to the edge of the kitchen counter as possible without being seen.
"...and then Amanda was there to identify me. I thought she was a government agent, and she kept telling me she was just there to ID me, but, I couldn't be sure. Of course it went all wrong and Amanda and...."
"What are you boys doing sneaking around and listening in on your grandmother's conversation?" Amanda watched as both of her sons jumped, guilty looks on both of their faces.
"Gee, Mom! You scared us! You shouldn't sneak up on people; it's not polite!"
Folding her arms across her chest, and with a raised eyebrow, Amanda tossed the question back. "Well, Jamie, speaking of not polite; what would you call eavesdropping?"
Both boys hung their heads, Phillip giving Jamie a shove. "I'm sorry, Mom. It's just that I heard Mr. Barnhill call you a government agent, and I wanted to hear what they were talking about."
Dotty and Conrad were standing behind the boys. Dotty mirroring her daughter, Conrad looking like the frightened white rabbit that Lee often accused him of being.
"I'm surprised at you two young men! Haven't your mother and I told you that eavesdroppers never hear the entire story?"
Having an interesting tidbit of information, Jamie wasn't about to leave it alone until he had an explanation. "Yes, Grandma, you have. But . . . ."
Feeling responsible, Conrad jumped in and interrupted Jamie. "I was in trouble, Jamie, and very afraid of the man that was my boss. I was suspicious of everyone, especially your mom who I knew was there to point me out to the police. I was afraid of being thrown in jail, and afraid of being killed by this man. I made a mistake when I took that job with that man, and I made a mistake when I misjudged your mother. I jumped to the wrong conclusion; just like you were going to do, because I didn't have the right information."
"I'm sorry, Mom."
"You should be giving that apology to your grandmother and Mr. Barnhill, Jamie."
With a jerk of his shoulders, Jamie worked up an apology. "I'm sorry."
"Phillip?" Amanda reminded as her eldest son tried to slink off.
"Yeah, me too, Grandma. Sorry, Mr. Barnhill."
"Now, get upstairs and start your homework. Go
Conrad looked at Amanda, his face white, his eyes wide with concern. "I'm really sorry, Amanda. I didn't hear them come in. I never would have said anything. I'm sorry, really I am."
"It's okay, Connie. Mother?" With narrowed eyes, Amanda waited for her mother to explain.
"I'm sorry, darling. It's just that I really know so little about what you do, and what has happened to you in the past. I just can't help myself."
"Perhaps it would be better if you came to me with your questions?"
Dotty sighed, trying to look repentant, but feeling none of it. "You always downplay everything, Amanda. How am I to know what keeps you in this business when you make it seem so boring and dull?"
"It is, boring and dull. Most of the time. And at others, well, I don't want you to worry." Sighing, Amanda hugged her mother. "Just come to me or Lee in the future. We'll tell you what you want to know." Dotty began to interrupt, her hand up and her lips posing a question. "Within reasonable limits, Mother. I promise. Alright?"
"I guess it will have to be." With a flip of her head, her short hair bouncing, Dotty threw her hands up in the air, and headed into the kitchen. "Well, I'll get started on dinner and leave you and Conrad to catch up."
Dotty disappeared behind the opening of the refrigerator door. Amanda shook her head as she watched her mother. Really, she's just too much sometimes. She noticed that poor Conrad was wringing his hands and still looking rather white. "Come on, Connie. Let's go talk in Lee's office." Taking his hand she pulled Conrad along with her, giving him plenty of maneuvering room around the chairs and coffee table along the way so he wouldn't trip over them.
"Lee should be home in a few minutes, Connie. Have a seat." Amanda closed the door to the office, her practiced eye taking in the mess on Lee's desk. I really need to come in here and straighten up.
Conrad seemed to shrink into the cushions of the old leather couch. Amanda gave a mental grimace, she really would have to get new furniture in here as well. Sighing, she gave herself a mental shake and brought her mind back to the reason Conrad was there.
"How have you been, Connie. It's so good to see you again!"
"Well, I've been doing really good. But something tells me that isn't going to last, is it Amanda?"
With a grimace she tried to hide, Amanda sat next to Conrad on the couch, linking her arm with his. "Now, Connie, that's not a good attitude to have."
"But a correct assessment just the same."
Amanda tried to think of something to say to alleviate Conrad's concerns and was saved by the swift knock on the door as Lee came into the office.
Conrad jumped up and thrust his hand out toward Lee. "So good to see you again, Lee! How are you? Look! No brandy, no matches! You're safe!" He chuckled nervously, looking from Amanda to Lee.
Lee shook his head, the vivid memory of the fireball of brandy igniting and flying up to singe his eyebrows and hair, bringing a slight frown to his face. Catching Amanda's warning glance, he forced a smile and suffered the enthusiastic handshake.
"Don't give it another thought, Conrad. I don't," he told Conrad with a look to his wife that spoke volumes. "it's good to see you."
Lee took the chair at his desk, looking over the paperwork and empty files that littered the top of the desk; the leather blotter completely hidden from view. He watched as Amanda and Conrad sat back on the couch, Amanda giving Conrad her support by linking her arm through his.
Sighing, he raked his hand through his hair, looking for an opening to break the news. Letting his gaze rest on Conrad, he nodded, sat up and began. "Conrad, we had a call from Chief Inspector Keaton at Scotland Yard. You might . . . ."
"I remember him. How could I forget him? I take it his phone call, and your having me here is so you can tell me that something has happened to The Mongoose."
Nodding, Lee continued. "Yeah. They were moving him to Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, and he managed to escape. They were able to track him to Amsterdam, where they lost him."
"Now Connie, this doesn't mean that we think
the Mongoose is here, or that he'll even come here, isn't
that right Lee?" Amanda gave a quick look to Lee, who hurriedly
nodded his head in agreement. She continued to pat Conrad's arm.
"But, it never hurts to be careful. We just want you to keep your
eyes open, and keep in touch with us."
"Oh Connie, that's exactly the kind of attitude you shouldn't have!"
"Amanda, you spent the day with him. You know what the Mongoose is like: he's terrifying! And if he has escaped from custody, you can bet he'll be coming here to even up old debts."
"Conrad, we don't know that."
"I know that, Lee. The Mongoose was always very clear about how he handled unfaithful employees. You don't know what he's like, I do. He'll be on his way here, if he isn't here already." Conrad had bounded off the couch, walking in frantic circles around the small office.
"Connie, please sit down." Amanda and Lee continued to watch as Conrad made another circle. Sighing deeply, Amanda stood up and grabbed Conrad by the arms to make him stop. "Will you please stop, you're making me dizzy. You're right, you do know the Mongoose better than we do. But you have to realize that knowing he's out of jail gives us a slim advantage; we can prepare for him and keep our attention focused. Now, there are some things that you can do to not make yourself an easy target. I want you to sit here and listen to Lee while I go help Mother with dinner. Alright?"
Conrad nodded and sat back on the couch with a plop. Amanda raised an eyebrow at the look on her husband's face as she left the room to help with dinner.
Conrad had a point, Amanda admitted to herself. The Mongoose did like to tell how he dealt with problems, as he called the people who crossed him. And while they were telling Conrad not to worry, Amanda had remembered how she had told The Mongoose that she had two small boys and a mother at home.
How were they going to protect those two boys and mother without them knowing it?