"Phillip! Jamie! Come down here and eat your breakfast! You're going to be late!" Amanda turned from the stairs to grab a coffee cup on her way to the breakfast nook. Sitting, she poured herself a cup, taking a sip and sighing. There was something to be said for a nice, hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning.
Not that she would ever tell her husband that.
"Well, Amanda! I never thought I'd live to see the day that you didn't eat breakfast. That man you married has seduced you!" Dotty set a glass of orange juice on the table in front of Amanda, and hurried back into the kitchen, her entreaty on the benefits of breakfast falling on deaf ears.
Amanda smiled; she did agree with her mother that Lee had seduced her. Nicely so, she thought.
"...you'll never make it through the day on a cup of coffee alone. It may be liquid, but it is not the fuel your body needs. Here. Eat this. This will warm you up and stay with you! I don't know why Lee won't at least try it! It's not as though he hasn't eaten breakfast before." Dotty deposited a bowl of hot oatmeal in front of Amanda, and several pieces of toast at Lee's place at the table.
Amanda picked up her spoon, and sprinkled brown sugar on the oatmeal, all the while shaking her head over the toast. The Battle For Breakfast, as she and the boys had dubbed it, would continue today, as it did everyday.
"Boys! Breakfast is on the table! That goes for you too, Lee!"
The sound of pounding feet on the stairs echoed through the house. Amanda closed her eyes and ears to the early morning banter between her two sons. The opening and closing of the front door told her that Lee had grabbed the newspaper and would be in the kitchen where the day's battle would begin.
"Who do you think will win today, Mom?" Phillip took a seat next to her, stirring his oatmeal while giving a nod at the toast sitting at Lee's spot.
"It's anybody's guess."
Phillip nodded his agreement, took a swig of orange juice and began on his oatmeal. Jamie flopped into his seat across from Phillip.
"Good morning, Mom."
"Good morning, sweetheart."
"Grandma's gonna win today. She told me she has a plan."
"Really? What kind of plan? Lee always out thinks her, Jamie. You know that.'‘ Phillip reached for the maple syrup, only to have his mother pick it up and hand it to him.
"Yeah, but the way Grandma was smiling today, I think she finally came up with a good one. Wanna bet?"
"Nah, last time I ended up doing your chores for a week. I'll just watch the fallout."
"Good idea, fellas. Morning, Amanda." Lee bent over and gave his wife a kiss, pulled out his chair and sat down.
Ignoring the looks of his two stepsons and wife, Lee poured himself a cup of coffee and unfolded the newspaper to read the front page, never touching the toast or acknowledging its presence.
Dotty came to take her seat at the table, a bowl of oatmeal and glass of orange juice in her hands. Silence reigned at the table as the bystanders eyed the combatants warily, waiting for the first volley in the Battle For Breakfast.
"The oatmeal is good today, Grandma." Jamie said, trying to give his grandmother the opening she needed to make the first attack.
"Thank you, dear. Amanda, how is your oatmeal?"
"Oh, Mother, my oatmeal is just fine." Amanda made a quick glance out of the corner of her eye at her husband sitting quietly and reading the newspaper. "In fact, I think I'd like a piece of toast to go with my coffee, and maybe some jam, too!"
Amanda reached over to take a piece of toast, only to be stopped by her mother's hand and her husband's. Both boys put their spoons down, stopping all pretense of eating while more interesting events were taking place at the table.
"I made that toast for Lee, Amanda. He needs to keep up his strength."
All heads swung in Lee's direction, waiting for the return fire.
"I have no problem keeping up my strength on a cup of coffee in the morning, Dotty. I have for years."
"Well, maybe you're slipping, just like you did on that bunny slope when your twisted your ankle."
The silence at the table became a living, breathing entity. Three pairs of eyes glanced at the two combatants, waiting, expectant. They watched, afraid to look away for fear of missing the next volley.
folded the newspaper had been reading, and laid it by his cup of coffee.
Lee looked his mother-in-law in the eye. Serious hazel eyes met sparkling
Both boys and Amanda looked at the lone bite out of the piece of toast, then looked at Dotty, happily eating her oatmeal. With a look at each other, both boys silently got up from the table, grabbed their lunches, and left for school. The minute the door closed behind them, their laughter and retelling of the breakfast battle could be heard as they walked down the driveway.
Amanda looked at her mother and husband. Shaking her head, she poured more coffee and sat back, amused and touched by the real affection between them. Lost in her own musings, Amanda was startled when Lee jumped up from the table and ran out the back door calling the boys' names. The newspaper fell on the floor. Amanda reached down to pick it up so she wouldn't slip on it as she went to follow her husband.
Amanda felt her heart hammer in her chest. Her blood roared in her ears, and she felt dizzy. She knew her mother was asking her what was wrong, but her eyes were focused on the picture taped to the third page of their morning paper. She grabbed the chair to keep from dropping to her knees.
Connie Barnhill was duct taped across the mouth. His hair was disheveled, and his suit dirty and ripped. His left eye was bruised and swollen shut. Fear radiated from the picture. A bomb taped to your chest could do that to you, Amanda thought to herself.
Lee came back in the house. "I watched them get on the bus, and sent a car to follow them." He went to take his wife in his arms when he noticed a small card on the floor next to his chair.
Leaning over, he picked it up the card. He knew what it was even before he turned it over. Handing the card to Amanda, he sat back down and leaned his head against the wall, his mind swimming with questions..
"Well, this answers our question about where he is and what he's going to do next."
Lee simply nodded.
"Amanda? Is this one of those times where I should ask you and Lee for information?"
Lee slowly sat up in the chair, took his wife's hand, then turned to look at his mother-in-law. "Yeah, this is one of those times. And you need to listen carefully to all that I'm going to tell you."
"Did the lab find any fingerprints?" Taking a sip of cold coffee from the cup on his desk, Billy closed his eyes and hoped that the pain would leave his head.
"No. Nothing. But Lee told you there wouldn't be any. Now, I pulled what files we have on The Mongoose; and a very nasty character he is. Did you know he once shot his gardener for missing the edging around the garden path."
"Francine, I can do without the color commentary. Just tell me what we know."
Tossing the file on the desk, Francine took a seat across from her boss. "When you put it that way, not much. It seems that it was very busy in the suburbs this morning. Deliveries, kids coming and going to school, people leaving for work. No one saw anything. Including the newspaper delivery man."
"Wonderful. I thought there were supposed to be neighborhood watches keeping an eye on things? Where are the nosey neighbors? The Agency babysitters?"
"Having affairs with the post man?" At Billy's less than appreciative look, Francine quickly continued. "Sorry, Billy. It's frustrating not to find anything in such a high traffic area." Looking over her shoulder for Lee, Francine sighed and leaned closer to the desk as she lowered her voice. "Beaman went out to the airport to check around. He thought it wouldn't hurt since the time window is so narrow at this point."
"Good idea. Where are Lee and Amanda?" Billy reached for his ever present antacid tablets. Today they were scattered over the top of his desk. Tossing back a few, he rubbed his eyes and let his gaze settle on his assistant.
"Well, Lee is prowling the halls barking out orders and questions to everyone who passes by. Amanda is in the Q-Bureau working the computer, trying to match the background in the picture to anything that might be on file."
"How is Mrs. West?"
"I checked with the babysitters before I came in. Mrs. West is fine. She did ask if we were going to paint the walls gray again?" Shrugging, Francine continued. "We have the neighborhood heavily covered. If The Mongoose shows up again, we'll get him."
Both agents stopped their conversation as a low-level courier brought in a express envelope. Billy took the envelope and opened it, pulling out the papers that were clipped together.
Francine watched as her boss's brows furrowed; storm clouds gathering in his eyes. "What is it, Billy? Billy?"
Handing the contents to Francine, Billy stood up and
straightened his vest. He stabbed his finger on the intercom on his
phone. "Get me Stetson, now."
"Well, color photos for the family album. How considerate."
"Can it, Francine."
Francine stood up and shouldered her way past her boss, taking one of the photo's with her.
"Where are you going, Desmond?"
Francine continued to walk through the bullpen, ignoring her boss.
Stopping, Francine turned on her heel and looked at Billy. "I'm going to go see Ernie. And I'm dropping one of these," she waved one of the photographs in the air, "off in the lab. These are fresh; we should be able to track the paper or the chemicals that were used back to the supplier."
Lee grabbed Francine by the arms as they both collided in the doorway to the bullpen. Taking the photograph from her hand, Lee studied the picture of himself outside his home that morning. He felt the nerve in his jaw twitch as he handed the photo back to Francine.
Francine took the photo without a word and headed toward the lab. Lee walked into Billy's office.
"Have a seat, Lee."
"When did these get here?" Lee picked up the rest of the photographs, dropping them on the desk after looking at each one.
"Just a few minutes ago. Lee, we need to discuss moving Mrs. West and the boys to a safer location."
Lee read the card attached to the photographs out loud. "Lovely family. Touching concern. . . ."
"He's trying to get you steamed, Scarecrow."
Lee stopped as Amanda ran into the office, breathless and carrying a ream of computer printouts with her.
"Lee! Sir! I'm sorry to interrupt, but, I think I've found where the picture of Conrad was taken."
"That's great, Amanda. Where?" Lee took the computer printouts from his wife, covering the pictures of the boys and him with the paper.
"The subway system here in DC! Look. See this pipe in this picture? I asked Leatherneck to tell me the size of the pipe in relation to the photograph. I thought the pipe was very small for a sewer pipe. Well, it's not a sewer pipe! It houses electronics and wires used to carry radio frequencies to the subway cars!"
Billy sat down in his chair, leaning his elbows on his desk as he searched for and found another antacid. Wiping it off on his jacket, he popped it in his mouth and chewed. "We don't need to hear that The Mongoose is in the Metro System with a bomb. It's the 18th today. The 20th is the inauguration of the President of the United States."
"What is it? Open season on the President of the United States? The Secret Service lost that agent at Christmas, now this?" Lee shook his head and sighed, at a loss of what to think and say.
"We can't know for sure that this is what The Mongoose has planned, Lee."
Both Billy and Lee shot incredulous looks at Amanda.
"I'm sorry, I guess that's a silly thing to say."
"It's okay, Amanda. None of us want to think about those contingencies. But in this business, we have to. I'll go see Smyth and have him call the Secret Service. They aren't going to be very happy with this. Lee, about what we were discussing. . . ."
Lee nodded as Billy's words trailed off. "Yeah, I agree. I'll take care of it. Amanda, let's head back to the Q-Bureau; we have to talk."
Francine hurried into the office, closing the door behind her. "Okay, I dropped the photograph off at the lab and stopped to see Ernie. He's going to look for anyone matching the description of The Mongoose on the arrival tapes."
"One of the photographs sent . . . ."
Lee jumped into the conversation. "Ah, Amanda. That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Up in the Q-Bureau." He pushed Amanda toward the door, shooting a nasty look at Francine who rolled her eyes in response.
"What photographs, Lee?"
"Amanda. . . ."
"Stop it. I want to see them. Now."
Sighing, Lee moved the computer printouts and pulled the stack of photographs from under them, handing them to Amanda. He watched as her eyes narrowed.
"These were taken this morning? He was sitting outside of our home waiting and watching?"
"Now Amanda. . . ."
"Don't ‘now Amanda' me, Stetson. What are we doing to catch The Mongoose? It seems to me that we're sitting on our hands here. We need to get out there and look for him. Not to mention find Conrad, who's probably cold and frightened to death."
"Now, Amanda, sit down and listen." Billy waited for his agent to comply. Francine closed the door at his look and took a seat as well. "Until we know anything or have something to follow up, there is no reason for us to be out wasting time on the streets. Beaman is at the airport; Francine took a description to Ernie to see what he could come up with. Also, we're tracking the paper and chemicals used in the photos. We'll get a break somewhere. In the meantime, good work on the subway information. Can Leatherneck pin it to any particular section?"
"He said he'd need the blueprints and layouts."
"Then get them for him. Let's see if we can't nail down a location. Lee? Amanda? What about a safe house for your family?"
Amanda's head jerked up, her eyes flying to Lee's.
Lee coughed as he adjusted his tie. "Ah, Billy, let us talk about it, okay?"
"Yeah, sure, let me know. Now people, if you don't mind? I'm off to talk to Dr. Smyth."
Francine followed Billy out the door with a final glance over her shoulder. She gave a nod to Amanda and a shake of her head to Lee.
With the closing of the door Lee looked at Amanda, a look of confusion on his face. "What was that look about?"
"Francine knows I don't like to be the last to know what is going on, especially when it concerns our family."
"I just saw the pictures, Amanda. Billy just mentioned moving Dotty and the boys to the safe house."
"Yes, but you tried to hide the pictures from
me and you wanted to find a soft way to suggest moving Mother and the
boys. And to my way of thinking, Stetson, that wastes time that could
be used doing something else. So in the future, just tell me. Alright?"
"Where are you going?"
"To see if we can't find the section of the Metro that the photograph of Conrad was taken in." Amanda walked through the bullpen, aware that Lee was right behind her. Stopping at the Georgetown elevator, Amanda elbowed the call button before Lee could reach for it.
"Amanda, what do we want to do about Mom and the boys?"
"Well, if you're not doing anything else other than roaming around down here and making a nuisance of yourself, come to the Q-Bureau and help me track this tunnel down and we can discuss it. And not a word about the coats in this elevator: I'm not in the mood for it."
Without a word, Lee gave a curt nod as they waited for the elevator. The doors opened, and Beaman and a young woman wearing a US Customs' uniform stepped out.
"Amanda, Stetson." Beaman acknowledged their presence and ushered the woman toward the bullpen.
Amanda turned and followed Beaman back into the bullpen. Lee sighed and followed.
Beaman sat the woman at his desk and lifted the phone to page Francine. Seeing Amanda, he nodded for her to sit down while he made the page. "Amanda, this is Agent Jerome of the United States Customs Department. She believes she interviewed your boy. Ms. Jerome, this is Agent Amanda Stetson, and that is Agent Lee Stetson."
With introductions done, they waited for Francine, who
quickly walked through the bullpen doors. Sizing up the situation, she
walked to Billy's office and opened the door. "Perhaps we
would be more comfortable in the office?" Francine put her hand
out to stop Lee and Amanda from following them into the office. "No.
You'll only intimidate her, Lee. I'll call you when we're
done." With that, she closed the door on the Stetsons.
Lee continued to look over the blueprints of the DC Metro System. "Amanda, what's this box here?" Lee pointed to a blank box that was marked every 100 yards on the blueprints.
Looking over his shoulder, Amanda shrugged. "I'm not sure. I thought they were marking distances."
"No, look at this," he pointed out the distance grids. "It has a double mark here, indicating a door. Could these be maintenance rooms?" He looked up to find Amanda back at her desk hitting the computer keys.
Francine and Beaman walked through the door. Francine tossed a photograph on Amanda's desk. "Beaman's customs' agent ID'd this guy as The Mongoose. He came through Dulles early on the morning of the 15th. He's had a few days to dig in and put plans in action."
"Great, that's just great." Lee's signature sign of annoyance, a hand through his hair, showed his agitation. "How did he get through?"
Beaman crossed his arms and leaned against the door. "He almost didn't. Agent Jerome was suspicious of him and was going to ask for a run on his prints when the supervisor observing her over-ruled her and allowed him in. Get this; he even gave her his calling card. The supervisor tossed it, but luckily this Jerome saw the picture and name. She put it together while I was out there asking questions."
"Damn federal bureaucracy. Figures." Lee tossed the pencil he broke in the trash. "So we have a current picture of him, right?"
"Yeah. I asked the lab to clean it up and get it out for us as soon as possible. I think we should hit the streets as soon as we get a break on the photo processing used on the pictures The Mongoose sent."
"I'll give you a hand, Francine," Beaman offered as he opened the door to leave.
"Good. I'll be happy to have your help if it won't interfere with your date with Agent Jerome," Francine shot back, only to have Beaman smile and wink at her as he started to let himself out the door.
"Efraim? Do you know what these markings are on these blueprints?" Amanda pointed to the boxes on the prints as Beaman nodded.
"Yeah. Those are maintenance rooms. They all have closed circuit cameras inside and covering the doors. Why?"
Lee handed the photograph of Conrad Barnhill to Beaman. "Amanda was able to find that these pipes hold wiring for the DC Metro."
Beaman studied the photograph before handing it back to Lee. "If he's in the Metro tunnels, one of the camera's should have picked him up. And if he's disabled several of the camera's, you should be able locate them and narrow the search. I believe they're on rotating circuits. When the Secret Service hears this, they're gonna freak out. I don't really want to contemplate the uproar that picture of Barnhill, with a bomb strapped to him in the subway system is going to cause."
"Just what we need. Thanks, Beaman."
"Not a problem, Stetson. Come on, Francine. Let's go check on that photograph and hit the streets."
Francine walked through the Q-Bureau door that Beaman held open for her. They could hear her clearly as she gave Beaman a hard time about asking the customs agent out to dinner. Lee shook his head as he got up from his desk to watch over Amanda's shoulder as she accessed the Metro's security network.
"I think I'm going to go hit the streets with Francine and Beaman. I can't sit in here while The Mongoose is out there."
"He's probably looking for you."
"I don't think so. He's too busy planning and setting up whatever he's going to do. Besides, he knows we'll be looking for him, he's waiting until it's opportune for him to make his move."
"Stay here, Amanda. Don't go out unless I'm with you, alright?" Taking the nod of her head as her agreement, Lee grabbed his overcoat and went in search of Francine and Beaman.
Peering in the window of Billy's office, Amanda gently knocked on the door. Seeing Billy wave to her, she opened the door and sat down while waiting for Billy to finish his telephone call.
"Amanda. What can I do for you?"
"Sir? Have you heard from Lee, or Francine and Beaman? They were going to do some footwork on the chemicals used in processing the photographs."
"Francine checked in about half an hour ago; they've had positive identification on the photo of the Mongoose in the Arlington area. Beaman wanted to check the Metro stops to see if the cameras had caught him on tape."
"I think I've found several cameras that have been disconnected from the main Metro surveillance system."
"Get it out to Francine."
"Amanda?" Billy looked up at the woman who was more daughter than agent to him. "We'll get him. In the meantime, I've sent extra security to your house. I believe your mother mentioned the shutters needed to be repainted and rehung."
"I'm sorry, sir. My mother is just, well anything to do with the Agency. . . . I don't really know what to say." Shaking her head, Amanda leaned against the office door trying to draw strength as she continued.
"She's just exacting her pound of flesh, Amanda. Don't worry about it."
"I thought it was stressful before, before Lee and I married, before he moved in. But now we have to watch every word, every move. Mother lets it be known what she thinks about our jobs and the fact that the boys don't know the truth. And I think they're beginning to suspect that something isn't right. And now I have a house full of agents painting the walls and the shutters and fixing the roof. How can I explain all of this away?"
"Amanda, try not to dwell on it right now. You'll find a way to tell your sons when the time is right. They have to be old enough to understand what it is you and Lee have chosen to do with your lives and why. But if you look at all of the men and women in this building that are married and have children, you'll realize that you can do this job and have a home life as well. They may clash, as you know, but there are advantages to your family knowing."
"Thank you, sir."
"Get that information out to Francine and Beaman. Let's try and put out this fire first."
Amanda headed to the Communications Office to get a message to Lee, Francine, and Beaman. "Hello, Mrs. James. I need to get a priority message out to Scarecrow, Desmond. and Beaman."
"Have a seat, Amanda. They've been in and out of the Metro this afternoon, their communications have been breaking up with the interference from the tunnels."
"Thank you." Amanda sat and listened as Mrs. James tried to reach Lee. Francine's voice finally came through, but they were receiving only a few words here and there, broken by intermittent static.
"Go ahead, Amanda," Mrs. James told her as she handed her the microphone. "This is as good as it's going to get."
"Francine? I found broken video links on the blue line between the Capital Center and The Federal Triangle. That passes under Pennsylvania Avenue in several locations. We need to look there."
"...da, Lee...go there. We'll check and meet...there...hear me?"
"Not well, Lee. The communication is breaking up."
"...there! We'll...you...hear me?"
"Yes, Lee. I'll meet you."
Static poured from the speakers. Mrs. James took the microphone, shaking her head. "You'd think this town would be wired better. But, I guess politicians like back rooms, smoke, and mirrors better."
Amanda stopped as she reached the door, turning back to Mrs. James. "What did you say? About back rooms?"
"Politicians and back rooms, smoke and mirrors? Always a magic show!"
"Mrs. James, you're a genius! Thank you!" Amanda hurried to the Q-Bureau, only vaguely hearing Mrs. James' retort of ‘glad someone realizes that!' as she turned the corner.
Reaching the Q-Bureau and her computer, Amanda pulled up the video feed from the DC Metro line she had been watching. Starting at the Capital Center, she followed the line, paying close attention to the video feed as it updated.
"Oh my gosh!" Amanda watched the feed again as it passed the Federal Center station. The lighting wasn't right, and something else had caught her eye. Leaning in toward her screen, she waited for the next train to pass. The few minutes seemed to take forever when she saw the light inside the tunnel shift and the train pass. She smiled to herself, That's it!
Grabbing her coat, she ran to the garage and took the ‘Vette, heading to the Federal Center Metro Station.
"Amanda? Amanda?" Lee checked the film vault to see if Amanda was in there. Walking back into the office, he noted that Beaman was looking at Amanda's computer, Francine leaning on his shoulder as she watched the terminal as well.
"She's not here. Her coat is gone. I told her to stay here."
"The signal was bad, she must not have understood you. Beaman? What are we looking at?"
"Amanda had this running on her computer. Something's not right about it."
All three agents peered at the computer screen, waiting for something to happen. The train passed again, Beaman leaned back, arms folded across his chest.
"What is it? What did you see?" Francine asked as she glanced from the screen to Beaman.
"Wait for it to come again. Did you notice that piece of paper that flew by after the train?"
"Yeah, so? We need something more concrete than trash moving in the tubes, Beaman?"
"Shh, Lee, and wait."
Lee shook his head and watched. He didn't need Francine backing Beaman up on his inklings. He needed to find his wife and the Mongoose, preferably not together.
Beaman pointed to the screen. "Here it comes, watch."
The train passed the camera and a piece of paper trailed along behind. Francine stood up straight, her mind working the problem. She looked at Lee, then met Beaman's eyes and smiled.
"Right. Lets find out where this station is."
"What do you mean it's ‘looped'?" Lee shook his head, not sure he was following along. Francine pulled on her coat again and picked up the phone.
"Someone has rigged the camera to show the same footage. We're seeing a tape, not the actual tunnel."
"Exactly. It's the Federal Center station, Francine." Standing up from the computer, Beaman put his coat on. Francine told dispatch where they were going and asked for back-up.
"Let's go, Desmond. Amanda is going to that station, and I'm afraid she's going to find the Mongoose."
Lee was out the door. "That doesn't bother me as much as the Mongoose finding Amanda."
Federal Center Metro Station
Amanda watched as the train left the platform. Checking her watch, she was surprised to look up and see the two Transit officers standing in front of her.
"Sorry to startle you, ma'am, but you've been sitting here awhile. Can we help you?"
Amanda gave a nervous laugh as she shook her head. "I'm waiting for my husband and business associates. They must have taken a later train. Is it alright if I sit here?"
"No problem, ma'am. We're just taking an interest in everyone hanging around the station; what with the inauguration tomorrow."
"I understand, thank you. I shouldn't be here much longer." Amanda watched as the officers walked down the platform, finally climbing the stairs that led to the streets above. Sighing, she leaned back against the wall of the tunnel, waiting.
At the sound of squeaking wheels, Amanda looked up,
only to see the maintenance man wave at the officers who must have been
standing on the landing of the steps. The man continued along the platform,
emptying the ash trays and sweeping up the bits and pieces of paper
that littered the deck.
"It seems as though I'm two times charmed with your delightful company, Mrs. King. Forgive me, Mrs. Stetson. I'm so sorry I missed the wedding, but then I wasn't invited, was I?"
Amanda looked up into the ice-swept, cold blue eyes of The Mongoose. Fear laced through her veins and her mouth went dry. The gun he was pointing at her didn't help either. Swallowing hard, she shook her head no.
"Ah, Mrs. Stetson. No greeting for an old friend? Shall we take a walk? I know you will be happy to see our mutual friend, Mr. Barnhill. If he's still in one piece."
Amanda shivered at menace The Mongoose did not try to hide. Standing up, she pushed her purse under the bench, hoping that Lee would see it when he got to the station.
Squeezing the maintenance cart into a small alcove, The Mongoose pushed Amanda to the edge of the platform. "My dear, this is where we hoof it. I'm sorry for the lack of direct transport, but one must improvise in situations such as we find ourselves. And do be careful of the tracks, Mrs. Stetson, they are electric and I wouldn't want you to fizzle out on me!" He laughed, causing chills to race up Amanda's spine.
The Mongoose jumped to the tracks and put his hand up for Amanda, the gun still trained on her. She leaned over and took the offered hand, slipping her glove from her free hand and giving it a slight toss back on the platform as she landed below. Quickly, backing into the darkness of the tunnel, Amanda hoped that The Mongoose would follow her. He did, and she gave a silent sigh of relief that her glove would not be found by her captor.
They walked along the track in silence, The Mongoose pushing her into one of the small alcoves along the tracks as a train passed them. Seeing a light ahead that flooded a small platform, Amanda tripped, dropping her other glove. Placing her foot on the glove she brushed her hands, believing the gesture would reassure the man at her side.
He pushed her up the narrow steps to the platform, opening the door with a card he pulled from his pocket. Shoving Amanda inside, her eyes quickly adjusted to the dim, reddish glow from the exit sign above the door.
"Conrad! Oh Connie! Are you alright?" Amanda ran to Conrad as he sat on a small table, tied tightly to a pipe. The Mongoose grabbed her arm before she was able to reach Conrad, though.
"However touching a warm embrace would be between two old friends, I'm afraid that will have to wait. Mrs. Stetson, please have a seat."
Sitting next to Conrad, The Mongoose quickly placed a piece of duct tape over her mouth. Turning his back on her, Amanda watched as The Mongoose pulled up a box similar to the one tied to Conrad's chest. Her eyes grew large as she heard Lee calling for her.
"Ah! I see I'll have my chance to meet with Mr. Stetson again. I don't intend to get wet behind the ears this time. Shall I pass on any final words, my dear?" He chuckled as he used the card to once again open the door.
As soon as The Mongoose was out the door, Amanda jumped up to try and catch the door before it closed. The door slammed shut and Amanda spun around; angry she had missed it. Grabbing the duct tape, she peeled it off of her mouth, rubbing the sting from her lips.
She rushed over to Conrad, who was mumbling fiercely and shaking his head at her. As gently as she could, Amanda removed the tape from across his mouth.
"Don't touch the box, Amanda. He has it set with a mercury detonator. I don't know which way the vial is positioned. He also has it rigged to blow if the door is opened with anything other than his key card."
"Don't worry, Conrad, Lee is out there, and he'll think of something. Just don't move!"
" I haven't moved much in two days, Amanda. I don't think I remember how to anymore."
Amanda carefully gave him a hug, careful not to move him. She heard voices outside the door, jumping when someone landed against it with a heavy thud.
"Lee! Be careful of the door! It detonates a bomb inside! LEE!!"
"Amanda, I've been so scared. This is worse than it was in London. The Mongoose was waiting for me when I got in my car that night at your house. I drove home and looked in my rear view mirror as I stopped at a light, and there he was, sitting in my back seat! I almost had a heart attack!"
"I'm so sorry, Connie, that we weren't able to stop this from happening. But Lee will figure a way out of here."
Amanda jumped when she heard pounding on the door. Rushing over, she gently leaned against the metal door. "Lee?"
"Amanda! It's locked, can you open the door?"
"Francine! It's wired to blow if it isn't opened with the key card that The Mongoose is carrying. You have to get that card!"
"Alright, stay put."
Amanda rolled her eyes as she put her ear upon the door, trying to hear what was going on outside. She could hear the low growl of Lee's voice, angry and menacing in its tone and pitch.
"Amanda, the tape on the card is bent. I want you to get under a table as close to Conrad as possible. Do you understand me?"
"Amanda, just do what he's telling you to do, alright?" Lee yelled.
"Be careful, please!" Climbing under the table that Conrad was sitting on, she turned to the wall and called out that she was ready.
She heard the door open, and braced herself for the explosion that didn't come. Scrambling out from under the table, she was pulled into Lee's arms.
"I told you not to leave the office without me!" Lee hugged her again.
Kissing her husband, Amanda scolded him right back. "You told me to meet you!"
Francine gave an exasperated sigh. "Can we save that for later?"
All three turned to watch Beaman as he examined the bomb on the table to the one strapped to Conrad's chest. "Okay, tell me what you know." Beaman demanded, all business.
"It's got a mercury detonator. I don't know which way the vial is pitched. The Mongoose made a big joke of it, laughing that even he didn't remember. I haven't moved in almost two days. He only took it off a couple of times. He said it was rigged to blow if the door wasn't opened right. And it's rigged to blow if the wires aren't removed in the right sequence."
"Do you remember how he took removed it?"
"No! I closed my eyes."
Beaman just nodded and studied the bomb and the wires. "Did he say anything else? Anything that didn't make sense to you when he said it? Something out of context?"
"No. I just remember that he always turned toward the door when he was holding it."
"Good, that helps."
Amanda was confused. "How does that help?"
"The mercury is probably pitched to the left in the vial. Even the slightest shift could cause the circuit to complete, so if The Mongoose always turned a certain way while holding it, it's safe to say it was for a reason."
Amanda nodded at Lee's explanation. "Where's The Mongoose?"
"Outside where? He can't get loose, can he?" Real fear of that possibility tinged Amanda's voice.
"No. I cuffed him to the rails."
Amanda's jaw dropped as she stared at her husband. "YOU WHAT?" she yelled at him, shocked at what she had heard.
"Shhhh!" Francine hissed back at her, watching Beaman check the wires on the bomb.
"Lee Stetson! I can't believe you did that!"
"Oh jeez, Amanda! I had them close the tunnel. There aren't going to be any trains coming through. But The Mongoose doesn't know that."
"Are up sure he can't get loose?"
All eyes turned back to Beaman who appeared deep in thought. Lee sighed and moved to intercede, but Amanda put her hand out to stop him.
"He has lines that connect to this pipe. Just like Mr. Barnhill was told, if the device isn't removed correctly, all of this," Beaman waved his hand at the walls and ceiling. "will blow."
"Can you disarm it?" Francine asked, real concern in her voice as her eyes looked over the room, spotting explosives that had been planted.
"I'd need too much time, and from what I can see here, there's a timer that's ticking. Obviously, we interrupted him before he could reset it."
"You mean I'm gonna blow up? Amanda? I don't want to blow up!"
"I know, Conrad, none of us do, but please be quiet so Efraim can think."
Beaman straightened up and looked at Lee. "The
triple point of mercury is what?
"...we can remove it. Good idea. How?" Lee asked.
"Dry ice. What's the temperature? -78 or so degrees Celsius? If we use it aerosolized, we can have him out in no time. Francine? You and Amanda get a call into the DC Bomb Squad. Tell them what I need."
"Got it. Let's go, Amanda."
Nodding, Amanda followed Francine outside the maintenance room. The Mongoose was indeed handcuffed to the tracks, hands and ankles. Amanda took a wide path around him, not wanting to get too close to him.
"I can't believe Lee did that, Francine."
"I don't see a problem with it. I want to make sure we get a picture of him that way. You okay?"
"Yeah, still a little shaken, but alright."
Reaching the platform, Amanda and Francine were pulled up by the transit police. Member of the bomb squad from the Metropolitan Police Department were on the platform waiting for instructions. Francine passed along what Beaman needed and the team was off and running down the track.
Several Secret Service agents pulled Amanda and Francine aside and began asking questions. Francine's patience was much less than Amanda's, and Amanda could hear her across the platform as the agents argued, their voices raised in anger. Amanda closed her eyes and willed the bomb squad to hurry, bracing herself for an explosion.
Sitting on the bench where she had met The Mongoose, Amanda reached underneath and pulled up her purse. Shaking her head, a slight smile on her lips, she looked up when she heard Lee's voice at the platform.
Lee and Beaman were lugging a reluctant Mongoose between them. She watched as Beaman boosted himself up on the platform, Lee turning the Mongoose so his back was against the wall.
The low timbre of Lee's voice reached Amanda, but not his words. But she knew from the look on his face and his tone that he was antagonizing The Mongoose. A vicious howl leapt from The Mongoose's throat as he charged Lee, both men falling to the tracks.
"Lee!" Amanda ran to the edge of the platform as both men rolled on the tracks below. "Efraim, aren't you going to help Lee?"
"No. He doesn't need or want my help. Lee will take care of it when he's had enough."
Amanda shook her head, glancing up as Francine and several Secret Service agents joined the audience. Several of the police officers who were helping Conrad walk stopped to watch the altercation before them.
Yelling, Conrad pulled free of the hands helping him, falling on top of Lee and The Mongoose.
Amanda's hands flew to her mouth, her eyes growing large at the sight of the circus performing before her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Francine give Beaman a shove. Beaman sighed and hopped off the platform, pulling Conrad to his feet and handing him back to the DC police.
"Lee, finish this. Your wife and my par. . . Francine are getting anxious." He waited while the police handed Conrad up and Lee gave one final pummel.
"Damn, that felt good." Lee looked up at Amanda who stood frowning down on him. "Aww, give me a break, Amanda! It's not like I could throw him in the Thames, or even the Potomac from here." Both Lee and Beaman vaulted up on the deck, the police officers handing an unconscious Mongoose up.
Secret Service and FBI agents rushed the platform reaching out to grab The Mongoose. DC police brass began arguing over who had the jurisdictional rights to take The Mongoose into custody. Francine put her nose into the argument, actually getting several police officers and three of the newer Secret Service agents to back off. Beaman took The Mongoose by the arm and walked him around the crowd to where Billy and several Agency agents waited patiently. Taking custody of The Mongoose, Billy shook his head at the raucous noise on the platform. With a nod of his head in Beaman's direction, he turned and followed his agents and captive out of the subway station.
Beaman worked his way to the center of yelling Federal agents, took Francine's arm and walked her to the steps. Francine refused to give up her argument, only stopping when Beaman finally pushed her up the stairs.
Lee and Amanda followed behind, Amanda reaching out to take Lee's hand. Arriving on the street level, they stopped next to Beaman and Francine. Francine was now yelling at Beaman, who looked amused by the entire altercation.
Shaking his head, Beaman turned from Francine and let out a piercing whistle. Billy stopped and turned, nodding to Beaman. Beaman walked to Billy's car and climbed in the passenger seat as it was pulling away from the curb.
Francine stood with Lee and Amanda as all three watched Billy's car disappear down Pennsylvania Avenue.
"He left me!"
"You were giving him a pretty hard time, Francine. You know Efraim; he's not going to listen to it." Amanda tried to keep the amusement out of her voice, but failed; which earned her a scathing look from Francine.
"But he left me!"
Lee put his arm around his wife and their bemused friend. "Come on, Francine. I'll hot wire Beaman's car for you and you can drive that back to the Agency."
"I'll do it myself, thank you!" Stopping, she stomped her foot, hands on her hips. "I can't believe he left me here!"
Laughing, Amanda shook her head at her friend as Lee popped the lock on the driver's door of Efraim's car. She watched as Francine climbed in, pulled a double diamond lock pick from her sleeve and jam it in the ignition. After a few jiggles, Beaman's car roared to life.
Lee climbed in the Vette and started the car. "It's almost worth coming to work just to watch those two spark off one another. He sure knows how to twist her tail!"
"He must be taking lessons from you."
"Don't push it, Amanda. You know, we're going to be stuck at work until we work out the paperwork, jurisdiction, extradition. We should have let the Secret Service take him."
"At least we can have the babysitters removed from the house."
"Leave them until they get the new gutters installed."
"What new gutters? Mother had them repainting the shutters. Lee? What do you know about all of this?" She trained her eyes on him, giving him the same look she gave Phillip and Jamie when she wanted them to tell her what was going on.
"Ah, well, they needed something to do, you just
can't have those people milling about."
Lee shrugged and laughed. "Come on, Amanda. Lighten up some!"
"Right, lighten up. This from a man who had to be carried on a stretcher off of a bunny slope because he sprained his ankle. And lighten up from the same man who wouldn't let anyone speak the name of the person who helped him on the bunny slope."
"Amanda, don't push it!"
"Oh Stetson! You should know by now, I'll always be pushing you!"
Amanda laughed at the look on her husband's face. Leaning back against the leather seat, she smiled. "I hope the new gutters match the paint on the shutters!"
"...so actually, Keaton is on his way to DC to pick up The Mongoose. He should have him back in the UK and tucked away at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight by the end of the month."
"Cheers to that!" Amanda held up her hand as she waited for Lee to give her the promised glass of wine.
Lee sat on the couch next to his wife and handed her a glass of wine. "Here's to a successful transfer of power, and a peaceful weekend."
"It's always a good weekend when nothing blows up!" She shuddered as the words of the bomb squad came back to her. They had been told that The Mongoose had wired the subways along Pennsylvania Avenue to blow. No one had needed it pointed out that the new President of The United States was the intended target.
"True! Hey, what happened last night with Beaman and his date with the customs agent?"
Amanda softly laughed. "Fell through, he had to stay and do the paperwork. Francine stuck him with it."
Swirling her wine in the bowl of the goblet, Amanda nodded. "Oh, I wouldn't put it past her. There might be some jealousy there."
"We're home, Amanda! Lee?"
"In the family room, Mother! How was the dance?"
Both boys and Dotty came into the family room. Phillip looked rather downcast.
"Sweetheart, what's the matter?"
Phillip shrugged out of his coat and headed toward the stairs. "I'm tired, Mom, I'm gonna go to bed, okay? Night. Night, Lee." He climbed the stairs, the slam of his door echoing down the steps.
"What is that all about?" Amanda asked her mother.
"Phillip has been playing fast with the girls, Mom. They all dumped him at the dance. He danced with Grandma all night long."
"Really? Oh my gosh!"
"He's quite good on his feet. But not as glib as he'd like to be."
"Or that he thinks he is," Lee added.
"True. Oh well, my feet are killing me! I'm off to bed as well. Goodnight dear, glad you're home. I'm quite impressed with the work that's been done on the house this week."
"Goodnight, Mother." Amanda kissed her mother's cheek, Lee standing to give his mother-in-law a hug and kiss and shared wink.
"Me too. I danced with Grandma a couple of times, but the girls were talking to me!" Jamie flashed a grin that caused both Lee and Amanda to laugh.
Lee draped his arm over Amanda's shoulders. Amanda clicked through the channels on the television, looking for the inaugural balls that the cable news channels had been telecasting. Finding one, they watched as reporters moved through the crowds interviewing the celebrants.
"That's Francine on that dance floor! See her, Lee?"
"Who's she dancing with? And how did she get tickets?"
"I'm sure her date had tickets."
The tone of his voice made Amanda suspicious. "What do you know about this, Stetson?" Lee gave his best hurt puppy look, but Amanda wasn't buying any of it. "So, I'm going to have to work it out of you!"
"Going to practice your interrogation techniques on me, huh?"
"If I have to."
Rising from the couch, Lee put his hands out to Amanda. Amanda stood, allowing herself to be wrapped in the circle of Lee's arms.
"I think you may have to, Mrs. Stetson. I did give my word when I changed the duty roster not to tell a soul what I was doing."
Laughter broke from Amanda. "Oh, Lee! You changed the duty roster! Francine was on. Who is she at the ball with?"
"I can't say."
"You can't say? Or won't say? Well. You'll just have to come with me so I can interrogate you in private. Maybe some candlelight and mood music will help loosen your tongue."
"I sure as hell hope so!"
Amanda headed for the steps. "Coming with me?"
"Anywhere you go, Amanda, anywhere you go."
The 'triple point' is the temperature and pressure point at which the gaseous, liquid and solid form of a substance can exist in equilibrium.