A SMKVirtual6 Episode
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.
An important plot twist (and the story's title) are borrowed from 1013 Productions and FOX.
Many thanks to Miriam for her copious amounts of red ink, or at least red pixels. Beta reading thanks also go to Laura and Tiff for making this story Season-Six-ready. And thanks to the rest of the Season Six crew for pulling this off and giving me a reason to finally finish this story!
"You're still mad at me, aren't you?" Lee shut the door behind him, rattling it on its hinges.
"I'm not mad, just frustrated." Amanda opened the mini-fridge and placed two brown paper bags inside. "I don't appreciate being yelled at by my son, especially not first thing on a Monday morning." And I don't like arguing with you this early in the morning, either, she mentally added.
"Amanda, I didn't mean to override you. I had no idea you'd told Phillip he couldn't go on that overnight trip when I said it was a great idea. I'm sorry."
She hung up her coat and automatically reached for his, keeping her eyes averted. "It's not just an overnight trip. It's a co-ed retreat, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, on a couple of school nights." After hanging his jacket over hers, she turned and found him blocking her way. "Come on, we have work to do," she said, giving him a little push.
Instead, he placed his hands on top of hers and held them to his chest. "I really am sorry."
"Oh, Lee, I know you didn't do anything on purpose." She finally lifted her eyes to his, registering the sincerity in his expression. "It's just this miscommunication that bugs me. I thought we were getting pretty good at understanding each other when it came to the boys."
"You mean you thought I was good at understanding you." When she looked away again, he squeezed her hands. "Listen, Phillip and Jamie should know by now that you rule the roost in the King-Stetson household. I certainly do."
"And don't you forget it," she said, poking his chest. She could read the relief in his eyes when he realized she had forgiven him, but she kept her face stern. Until he bent down to capture her lips. She stayed unmoving for a minute, but she never could resist Lee's determined kisses. As she slid her hands up to the back of his neck, she felt him smile against her lips.
When she pulled back, he said, "Look, I'll tell him we didn't talk about it ahead of time, and then I'll find a way make it up to him."
"All right." She leaned up to give him another kiss, just as footsteps echoed in the hallway. They had to settle for a quick peck before pulling apart at the knock on the door.
"Come in!" she called. Billy Melrose entered and shut the door behind him. "Hello, sir. How was your weekend?"
"Fine. Just fine, until I got in this morning and read this." Billy waved a manila folder at them.
"What is it?" She exchanged a quick glance with Lee.
"We'll be having a meeting on this in half an hour, but I thought you'd want a little advance warning." He placed the folder in her outstretched hand. Before she could open it, he went on, "Redding escaped from custody last night."
"What!" Lee grabbed the folder out of her hand.
She looked at their superior in disbelief. "Gordon Redding?" Billy gave a grim nod.
"What is it with these Keystone Kops down at Loudon?" Lee asked as he rifled through the papers. "How many times now has someone we've put away managed to escape?"
"Believe me, Scarecrow, I'm not happy about it either, and they *will* be hearing about it. But all we can do now is close the barn door behind the horse."
"Sir? Is there any--do we know what he might be up to?"
"I think we can assume," their boss said, "that it'll have something to do with both of you."
She swallowed. After the Mongoose last month, she was hoping they'd had enough of old enemies coming back to haunt them. "Should we think about moving to a safehouse for a little while?"
"I don't think that's the best idea," Billy said. When both agents stared at him, he held up his hands. "The man just escaped yesterday. It's going to take him some time to reestablish his contacts and put something into play. We'll have people combing the streets for him, and more people covering you and your family. It doesn't make sense to disrupt your lives for an indefinite period."
"Sir, I understand that, but Phillip and Jamie might be in danger."
"I know that," Billy said kindly. "And we'll take care of it. Look, we'll come up with a strategy, and he'll be back in jail before he can do anything."
She nodded. "All right, we'll see you downstairs. Thanks for letting us know."
"Yeah, thanks, Billy," Lee echoed.
Their boss gave them a nod of acknowledgment before heading for the door. "Don't forget, I'm expecting reports on Krajik and his 'comrades' from the two of you by the end of the day. Top priority."
"We'll have them in." She closed the door after him, then turned the lock and leaned her forehead against the wooden frame.
"You okay?" came Lee's voice from behind her.
"Yeah, I'm okay." But she didn't move.
His footsteps sounded on the wooden floor, followed by the soft thunk of the file folder landing on her desk, and then his arms wrapped around her. "Hey, it'll be okay," he murmured.
"I know." She leaned back into him. "It's just of all the people to escape from prison . . . Do you remember that awful snake?" She shuddered. "It was probably a good thing that gas knocked me out so I never saw more than a glimpse of it."
He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her around. "Yeah, I remember it," he said quietly, staring into her eyes. At her quizzical look, he gave her a small smile. "You know, we actually have a lot to thank that snake for," he said, raising an eyebrow.
"You're kidding, right?"
He stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. "I think that was the first time I realized I was a little bit in love with you."
"Really? That long ago?"
"It was just--you know, you'd gotten into trouble on my account before, but this time you were attacked in your own home. And if I'd been a minute later . . . " He briefly closed his eyes, still caressing her cheek. "I just remember carrying you to the couch and feeling like I would do anything to protect you." He shook his head. "I should have never left you alone at the hospital."
"Oh, you know he would have kept on trying." She forced herself to smile. "And all's well that ends well, right?"
His expression darkened, and he dropped his hand. "Except it hasn't ended."
"Right." She sighed. "Lee, what are we going to do?"
He took her hands in his. "We're going to do what Billy told us to do. We're going to go downstairs to that briefing, find out who'll be protecting us and our family, and get busy nabbing Redding. Okay?"
"Okay." She leaned forward to give him a kiss. As they broke apart, she asked, "Do you think we should come up with some kind of code word, so if you ever doubt that I'm me, you can ask me for it? Something like 'the man in the red hat'?"
"Yeah, that's a great idea. But we know that he did a lot of research last time, and he's probably done more. We need something that's not work-related, something about you that no one but me knows." The corner of his mouth quirked up. "And something that we can say in public if we have to."
She met his impudent grin with a mock glare. "Okay, what's something about me that no one else knows? Something that would give away somebody imitating me . . . " Then something from their previous encounter with Redding came back to her. "No one knows where I hide--"
"--the marshmallows," Lee finished. "Of course!" He put his arms around her again. "Our code word is 'marshmallows'."
"Not exactly easy to work into casual conversation, is it?"
"Well, no, but that's the point. Besides," he nuzzled her neck, "I think I know you a little better than I did four years ago."
"Oh you do, do you?" She tilted her head to the side.
"Mm-hmm. If I have any doubts, I could always ask you about . . . " His voice grew quieter as he suggested some details of their recent weekend together, and a blush heated her face.
Yes, they certainly knew each other better than they did four years ago. There was no way an imposter could fool Lee this time.
February 23, 1989
"Hey, Mom, thanks! You're the best!"
Amanda opened her arms just in time, as Phillip came barreling toward her, arms extended for a hug. "Whoa, there! It's nice to see you too, fella! Now what did I do to deserve such a welcome?"
"Your phone call. The retreat's going to be awesome! Thanks so much for letting me go!"
"What phone call?" Amanda pulled back. "When was this?"
"This afternoon. Mrs. Williams told me after school that you'd called just in time. They had to give the conference center a final tally 'cause it's less than a week away."
Amanda looked blankly at Lee. He cleared his throat. "Chief, you didn't talk to your mother when she called?"
"No, it was during class, but the office secretary took the message and passed it on to Mrs. Williams." He looked back and forth between them. "Is this some kind of bad joke? You really did call school, right?"
And then she knew. She saw the same expression on Lee's face that she felt on hers: thinly veiled fear. "Phillip, I need to talk to Lee for a minute." She put her hands on his shoulders. "Why don't you go on upstairs and get a head start on your homework?"
Phillip's expression was wary. "What's wrong? Can I still go?"
"We'll let you know at dinner, sweetheart."
"Ah, Chief, your mother and I didn't get a chance to discuss this, and we'd just like to make sure we understand each other. Okay?"
He shrugged one shoulder. "All right, I guess." He slouched out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
They looked at each other without speaking until Phillip's tread on the steps had died away. Then Lee ran a hand through his hair and expelled a breath. "I didn't think it would start so soon," he said in a low tone.
"Neither did I," she replied just as quietly. "Lee, he can't go. It's too dangerous."
He shook his head. "No, it's perfect." He lifted a hand to quell her protest. "Listen, this is way too obvious to be what it seems. Redding's not stupid. We know he's the one who made that phone call, and he knows that. He's just toying with us. He'd be an idiot to try something at this camp. Besides, we can insert a couple of men to keep an eye on Phillip, and he'll be as safe there as he would be here. Maybe safer."
She folded her arms across her chest. "You really think that."
"Yeah, I do."
"Maybe we should tell Phillip and let him make up his own mind."
"You really think that?"
"Well, maybe we should."
They regarded each other across the kitchen table. Then Amanda sighed and lowered her head. "No, we shouldn't. When we do tell them, it's going to be at a time of our own choosing, not because someone forced it on us."
"Yeah, you're right." There was a pause. "So what do we do about next week?"
She looked up at him. "You really think he'll be safer there?"
"We've got a couple of freshman agents who can pass for high-school seniors, and we can put some people on the conference center staff. He'll be fine."
"You know, if this keeps up we're going to have to tell them. I don't want them going off with someone they think is me."
He nodded, his face grim. "Billy's got as many people as he can spare working on this. We're going to find him before anything happens to our family. I promise you, Amanda."
She quirked up one corner of her mouth. "I appreciate the thought, but don't make promises you can't keep."
Lee enfolded her in his arms. "We will get him. I promise you," he whispered.
She just held him tighter.
Amanda settled the file folders in the drawer and pushed it shut, satisfied. One more step toward clearing off Lee's desk. Maybe when Spring Cleaning rolled around this year, they could spend most of their time checking out the various groups the Agency kept an eye on, instead of being stuck inside filing. They'd sure met some strange people in those groups, but some interesting ones, too. Lee had acquired more than one family member as a result of Spring Cleaning, so she'd learned to keep her eyes open for likely contacts.
Suddenly footsteps pounded on the stairs, followed by rapid thumps as someone raced down the hall. Then Lee flung open the door. The look on his face was one of shock, and then overwhelming relief. "Amanda!" He took two long strides and wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her hair.
"What's wrong?" She pulled back from his embrace, fear rising in her stomach. "Did something happen to Mother or the boys?"
"No, no, they're fine, but--" He stopped and studied her, eyes narrowing. "What do you hide in the corner kitchen cabinet?"
"Marshmallows, and you're not supposed to know where they are."
Her attempt at levity went unnoticed. "Amanda, I got a phone call half an hour ago on my car phone. It was from you. You said that Redding had you, and he was keeping you down along the Anacostia in an old warehouse. As I was tearing over there, I called Billy for backup, and he told me you'd been in his office for the past half hour. So I raced back here to see for myself."
The fear was stronger now, but for a different reason. "Lee, what did I say on the phone?"
"Just what I said: he had you, you were in a warehouse on the Anacostia, and to hurry because you were afraid. Amanda, I--" He broke off and pulled her into his arms again. "I'm glad you're okay," he murmured into her hair.
"And I'm glad you're okay, taking off like that without backup! Lee, what if it had been a trap? What were you thinking?"
"I guess I wasn't." He let her go with a sheepish expression that slowly changed to frustration. "How can he already have someone like Karen in place? He escaped a week ago!"
"Then he obviously had this in motion for a while, unless . . . "
"What is it?" Lee was probably familiar with the look she knew she had on her face, the one that meant the gears inside were rapidly whirring.
"It's just that it's strange. . . Did you actually ask me questions, or did I--did she just tell you where she was?"
"I tried to ask you where you were, but you just kept talking. I figured you weren't in a safe situation."
"Did I ever say Redding's name?"
He thought for a moment. "Come to think of it, no. You said 'he' had you, and I didn't think that could mean anyone besides Redding."
"Hmm. Well, remember Elizabeth Sullivan, from Save the Bay?" When he nodded impatiently, she continued, "I called her from home the other day, just to catch up, and she was talking about how they've hooked up with this other environmental organization that works on the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, you know, to form a kind of network of groups interested in clean water. Anyway, she was all excited about it because they've managed to find a larger space to rent that will house both organizations and be closer to downtown and all the politicians--"
"Amanda . . . "
She pursed her lips. "The point is, this space they found is an abandoned warehouse on the Anacostia River. And I'm sure I said those words back to her in the course of our conversation, because it sounded like a strange place for the headquarters of an environmental group. And I think I said something about how they'd have to 'hurry because I was afraid'--that the deal might fall through. You know how quickly things can change around here with land developers."
"And the 'he had you'?"
She looked off into the distance, trying to remember. "I think Elizabeth was teasing me about how you and I finally got together, and I said something like, 'Yes, he's got me.'"
"So you think someone was recording that conversation and spliced those phrases into a tape?"
She nodded. "That was on, let me see, a couple of Wednesdays ago. Before he even broke out of Loudon."
"Well, that explains a few things. It also means he's been in contact with someone on the outside for a while already. Come on, we'd better tell Billy."
"And after that, figure out what we're going to tell my mother."
Lee ran his hand over his face. "I suppose we have to tell her something, since this seems to be escalating. In case you call and it's not really you, or God forbid, you come home and it's not really you."
She closed her eyes. "Maybe we should just go somewhere. We'll explain to the boys what's going on, and have it all over with."
"Hey, it's okay." He ran his hands up and down her arms. "Look, these tactics mean he hasn't had time to find someone to look like you or even sound like you. We've figured out what he's up to, which puts us a step ahead. Now let's use that to our advantage."
"So am I going to have to say 'marshmallows' every time I see you?"
"Either that, or," he caressed her back, "I'm going to have to keep a *very* close eye on you."
She couldn't help but smile. "Oh, that would be just horrible."
"Mmm," he agreed. Then he leaned forward and gave her the kind of kiss that made her forget about everything else, even Gordon Redding, for a little while.
Dotty looked up at the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. She was taken aback for a second by the cobalt blue BMW, before she remembered that Lee's Corvette was still in the shop. Something had happened to it last week, something to do with IFF. Of course, she'd never know exactly what. She'd gotten used to seeing his sleek grey vehicle gliding past the white picket fence, incongruous a sight as it was.
She watched through the window as Lee climbed out of the driver's seat and came around to open the door for Amanda. A little smile curved her lips. Such a gentleman. She'd been right with that eleven-on-a-scale-of-ten assessment, years ago. Lee Stetson had been a wonderful addition to their family, in so many ways.
Turning away from the window, she put her hands back in the mixing bowl and resumed her kneading. Some days this was getting a little harder to do, but she maintained that working cookie dough was a better way to ward off arthritis than any medicine. Besides, the boys emptied out the cookie jar more rapidly than they used to, and someone had to keep it stocked.
The kitchen door swung open for her daughter and son-in-law. "Hi there, you two. I'm just about to put these chocolate chip cookies in the oven, so they should be ready when the boys get home."
"So they aren't here?" Amanda asked as Lee slipped past her to hang up their coats.
Dotty pushed her hair off her forehead with the back of one dough-covered hand. "No, it's Tuesday, remember? Tuesdays and Thursdays they're both late, Mondays and Wednesdays it's just Phillip." She looked more closely at her daughter, and only then noticed the worry on her face. "Something's wrong, isn't it?" When Amanda nodded, "Something with work?" At another nod, she pursed her lips. "Let me wash my hands, and then you can tell me."
A few minutes later, the three of them were seated at the kitchen table. Lee clasped Amanda's hand and began, "Dotty, you know we said we'd tell you if there was anything going on with our work that could be dangerous to our family." She gave a slow nod, and he went on with a sideways glance at Amanda, "Well, this is one of those times."
"I see." She folded her hands in front of her on the table. After that awful incident last month with poor Conrad Barnhill, apparently there was something else to worry about. "Please go on."
"Okay, the short version is--"
"Is that all you can tell me? The short version?"
Another exchange of glances. A small part of her noticed with approval the way they seemed to communicate without saying a word, but the rest of her was nervous about what they were going to say. Finally Amanda spoke. "Mother, someone that Lee and I helped put in prison has escaped." Dotty gasped, but her daughter continued, "It's a long story, but he was in prison for murder, and for trying to kill Lee, and using someone who looked just like me to do it."
She took a deep breath. "I see. So you're worried that this man is going to come after you, or us? Are we going to have to move to a safehouse or something?"
"Not exactly. See, last time he was out, he paid for this woman to get plastic surgery to look exactly like me, and trained her voice to sound just like mine, so she could trick Lee into thinking she was me and then lure him somewhere. We think he's doing the same thing again."
Lee broke in. "I received a phone call today from Amanda, only it wasn't actually her. It was a tape recording of her voice, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have something more serious planned. We thought you should know about this, so that in case you talk to or see Amanda and she doesn't seem like herself, you get yourself and the boys away from her as quickly as you can."
She sat back in her chair. "How long ago was this? This attempt on your life?"
"About four years." His voice was calm, but tension whitened his knuckles as he gripped Amanda's hand. They had obviously left out a lot more, but by the looks on their faces, she didn’t wanted to know.
A nagging thought entered her mind. "And this woman looking like you has been out there all this time?"
He looked at Amanda before replying. "No, she was killed." Amanda squeezed his hand, but his face stayed grim.
She definitely didn't want to know any details about that. "All right." She paused for a moment. "Are you *sure* we aren't better off going somewhere for a while?"
"Mother, I thought of that, but it could be weeks or months before anything happens. We're better off just doing things as we normally would and working through the Agency to capture him. There's agents watching the house, and even following Phillip to the retreat tomorrow."
"And meanwhile we're supposed to be constantly vigilant for anything out of the ordinary while acting like nothing's wrong," Dotty muttered under her breath. She shook her head and held up a hand when Lee opened his mouth. "What about the boys? Are you telling them?"
Another exchange of glances. "We've decided not to, at least for now," Amanda replied. "We don't think it would be a good introduction to us being agents to have them frightened about it from the start."
"Well, you're going to have to tell them sometime. They're smart boys, and they're going to figure it out one of these days." She'd had to think of an excuse for Phillip just the other day for why Lee was going to be late to his basketball game. It made her realize what Amanda must have felt like all those years, making up stories because she couldn’t tell the truth. She didn't like it any more than she imagined her daughter had. "Is that everything? Because I'd really like to get those cookies in the oven."
Amanda's expression softened into a smile. "Yeah, that's everything."
"If you have any questions, Dotty, we'll answer what we can."
"I know, Lee. And believe me, I do have questions." She rose from her chair and looked him in the eye. "I just can't decide if this is one of those times I'm better off not knowing."