An SMKVirtual6 Episode
Amanda rushed into the room and over to Lee’s desk, ignoring the fact that Augie was slouched on the couch. "Lee! The same person who bought DKL bought the other businesses! When we got to DKL, no one was there – no employees, no owner – it was abandoned just like the electronics store. So we called the previous owner to meet us there and look at the picture, and he’s positive that it’s the same guy. Then we asked him to check the site to see if anything had changed. He said that all the explosives that they used when excavating were gone!"
"So, if it is the Scarab, he now has everything he needs to make his threat a reality." Lee scowled, then stood up and began pacing around the room. "But it doesn’t make sense. Why would the Scarab buy three trash trucks? Maybe it’s not the Scarab at all but just some guy who wants some tax write-offs." He ran a hand through his hair in frustration.
"Lee." Amanda’s voice was soft, but filled with enough tension to stop Lee in his tracks.
He spun around toward her. "Amanda?"
"Lee, what if he only bought those three trucks because he isn’t really interested in trash collection? Anyone who truly wanted to operate that business would have wanted to buy all of Augie’s assets – the trucks, the drivers, the garage too. No one would only offer to buy part of it unless they wanted to use the trucks for something else, right? And how would that help if he was only interested in a tax credit?"
Augie shook his head. "I hate to say it, but I think you’re barking up the wrong tree here. What else could they be used for? They’re too dirty to be used for much of anything, and even if you cleaned them up, everyone would still know what kind of trucks they were. I think the guy was a poor businessman, end of story."
Lee gazed intently at his wife. "No, Augie, I think Amanda may have something here. I know better than to ignore one of her theories – she’s right more often than not. What are you thinking, Amanda?"
"I’m not really sure yet, Lee. It’s just that it seems so odd – it doesn’t fit, you know? What if…" her voice trailed off.
"What if what, Amanda?"
"Lee? Would it be possible for a trash truck to carry a bomb? Or even be a bomb?"
Amanda kept talking as though Lee hadn’t said anything. "Just think about it! What would raise less suspicion than a trash truck? They just sort of blend into the background, and if you do happen to notice one, you accept that it belongs where it is. You could drive a trash truck just about anywhere and no one would question it at all. And, suppose the truck is wired with explosives? You could stop next to your target, walk away, and probably no one would even remember that you’d been there. Who looks at the trash man? And you could use a remote control to blow it up from a safe distance."
Lee spun around and addressed Augie. "You said that this guy wanted to buy the contract for the routes you serviced as well as the trucks themselves?"
Augie nodded. "Yep, he wanted the daily schedules for each of the three trucks – where they go and when. He said he was going to make sure that the service wasn’t interrupted."
Lee’s eyes narrowed. "Do you remember those schedules?"
"What kind of businessman do you think I am?" Augie asked huffily. "No, never mind, don’t answer that. I don’t have them on me, but I do happen to have a copy of the schedules posted in the office at the warehouse. I think I can remember some of it, though. You see, I had a little personnel problem, and sometimes had to drive the trucks myself. I had to cover those routes lots of times."
"Great!" Lee headed for the door. "You stay here and give that information to Amanda, and I’ll go get the written schedule to make sure we don’t overlook anything."
"But, Lee, don’t you need me to…" Augie broke off as Lee closed the door behind him. He turned and looked at Amanda beseechingly.
She pointed at the chair next to her desk. "Sit."
He meekly sat down.
"Okay, let’s start with what you can remember about Monday’s routes."
Augie slumped miserably on the couch in the Q Bureau while Amanda stood studying the DC wall map. A few seconds later, the door opened and Lee strode into the room.
Amanda traced a path on the map with her finger, inserted a red tack, and turned to greet her husband. "Did you get the schedules? Augie remembered a lot of it, but I want to fill in the gaps."
"Here they are." Lee handed her a folded piece of paper. He nodded in Augie’s direction. "Did he give you any trouble while I was gone?"
Amanda glanced at Augie, who pointedly avoided her gaze. "No, Lee, he’s been very cooperative and quiet." She winked at Lee. "Why don’t you find something for us to eat while I plot out the rest of this information? I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast and I’m hungry."
At the mention of food, Augie perked up. "Hey, great idea! I am a little hungry, now that you mention it."
"Well, let’s see." Lee walked over and opened the door of the refrigerator. "Hmmm, there’s one slice of pizza in here, and an apple. Which one would you like, Amanda?"
"Hey, what about me?" Augie complained.
Lee turned and glowered at him. "What about you? Seems I’m a little short on cash right now thanks to you."
"Ah, Lee, cut me some slack, would you? I told you I’d give you your money back. Here, take it!" He held out some wadded bills. "Hey, just to show there’s no hard feelings about the way you treated me, I’ll even spring for dinner!"
Lee took the money from Augie’s outstretched hand. "Now, Augie, that’s a deal I’m happy to make with you. We’ll order something to be delivered, and you can pay for all three meals and the tip too." He picked up the phone. "What’ll it be? Chinese? Mexican? Burgers?"
Amanda ignored the conversation between Lee and Augie. She placed a yellow tack on the map, referred to the schedule in her hands, then stood back to study the results. She was so engrossed that she jumped when Lee came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Oh, my gosh, Lee! You startled me!"
"It’s been a while since I’ve been able to surprise you like that. Did you come up with something?"
Amanda sighed. "Yes, but nothing definite." She paused as the door opened.
Billy walked in. "Scarecrow, Amanda, have you made any progress yet? Smyth is hanging over my neck like a fire-breathing dragon."
"I think we may be on the right track, thanks to Amanda." Lee smiled at his wife who blushed and lowered her eyes. "We’ve had several business owners who’ve sold their companies to the same man – one electronics store and a construction company that carried explosives. Augie just sold three trash trucks and their routes to the same guy, and Amanda thought it might be possible that this mysterious buyer could be the Scarab. We think he could use the trucks either to deliver bombs or as bombs themselves."
"Yes, Sir, and I just finished plotting out the trash pick-up routes. We were going to see what targets might be along them."
Billy shook his head and looked puzzled. "But even if you’re right and these trucks were purchased by the Scarab, and he does intend to use them as bombs, why would he stick to the routes they normally cover? He could go anywhere in DC."
"No, I don’t think so, Sir." Amanda shook her head. "If the trucks started driving along routes normally serviced by a different company, a competing trash company would be bound to notice. No, I’m sure that he bought the trucks and these routes for a particular reason."
"What makes you so sure that we’re even looking at the right man?" Billy walked over to look at the map.
"Well, Sir, I’m not positive of course, but the evidence certainly seems to point to this man. He’s collected all the things the Scarab would need."
Lee nodded his head in agreement. "Besides, Billy, it’s the only lead we’ve got right now."
"Well, keep at it, people. I don’t have to tell you how important this is and how little time we have." Billy walked to the door and opened it. "You’ve had good instincts in the past, Amanda. I hope they pay off this time."
"So do I." Amanda and Lee answered simultaneously as the door closed behind their Section Chief.
"Lee, before we go any further, don’t you think we should get Francine up here? She could help us identify potential targets."
"Good idea, Amanda." Lee picked up the phone and dialed an extension.
A few minutes later, Francine entered the Q Bureau, followed by Beaman who was carrying several bags with the Marvelous Marvin’s logo. Augie jumped eagerly off the couch. "All right! Grub’s finally here!"
Ignoring Lee’s glare at him, Beaman handed the bag to Francine just as Augie reached for it. "I paid the delivery guy. You owe me $18.42, Stetson. That includes the tip I gave him."
Lee turned to Augie and silently looked at him.
"Yeah, yeah, Lee, I know." Augie reached into the pocket of his overalls and pulled out a wad of bills. Peeling off a $20 bill, he handed it to Beaman. "Keep the change, man." He took the bag that Francine handed him, and quickly passed out the food while Lee brought Francine and Beaman up to date.
Amanda pointed to the map. "I’ve just plotted out the routes the trucks would take, so we can identify the possible targets. See these tacks? The different colors stand for the different days, and I’ve numbered them 1, 2, and 3 for the three different trucks. Blue is today, and all of the pick-ups are in residential areas of Congress Heights. Orange is Thursday and they’re all residential too, no international targets along the way. I’m pretty sure we can eliminate both of those days." She reached up and pulled out all the blue and orange tacks and handed them to Lee. "Now, these yellow ones are for tomorrow, the green ones for Wednesday, and the red ones are Friday’s. Here’s where it gets complicated. All three trucks are in the same parts of the city on both Wednesday and Thursday, but tomorrow they’re in three different areas."
Lee walked over to Amanda’s desk and put the tacks down in the center of the blotter. He walked back over to look at the map. "Okay, so let’s figure out if there are any potential targets in those places. Maybe we can narrow it down a bit. Let’s start with the days when the trucks are all together."
Amanda reached up and traced a path with her finger. "Here’s where the trucks will be Wednesday. They go right here up Connecticut Avenue, then around Dupont Circle and the streets surrounding it: P and Q, Massachusetts, New Hampshire. That’s Embassy Row, so I guess that could be a possibility."
Francine nodded. "A strong possibility."
"What about Thursday, Amanda?" Beaman shifted to get a better vantage point.
"Thursday, all three trucks have pick-ups in this area here – the streets surrounding Union Station."
"Well, the two most likely targets in that area are the Red Cross headquarters or..." Francine shuffled the papers in her hand, "Omega Enterprises. They’re both located in that area, and Omega has ties to just about every country in Europe as well as some in the Middle East and Asia."
"Union Station itself could also be a target. It’s a big transportation center, linking DC with nearby cities." Beaman adjusted his glasses.
"What about tomorrow’s routes? Didn’t you say that the trucks go to three different locations?" Francine directed her question to Amanda.
"Yes, two go to residential areas: Anacostia and Lincoln Heights, and the third to Georgetown."
Lee rested his hands on Amanda’s shoulders. "Which part of Georgetown?"
"Right around Georgetown University and the hospital. That’s why I kept tomorrow’s scheduled stops on the map. With all the students coming to school here from all over the world, and a hospital full of people, I thought it would be a perfect target for the Scarab."
"You’re right about that, Amanda." Lee’s eyes scanned the map. "We need to make sure we blanket that area tomorrow. Francine, can you think of any other possible sites that we missed in those areas?"
"No, I think if this is the Scarab, and he strikes tomorrow, that it will be either the University or the hospital or both. They are ideal for his purposes."
Lee strode purposefully to the door. "Let’s take this information down to the ATAC Center – we’ll get some teams together and choose positions for them that will cover the suspected targets thoroughly."
Amanda, Francine, and Beaman all headed toward the door. Catching up to Lee in the hallway, Amanda pulled him aside. "Lee, what about Augie?"
"Augie! I forgot about him! Let’s have Beaman take him wherever he wants to go – it’s a perfect task for him."
"Lee-e-e! Can’t you let bygones be bygones? Beaman is a trained operative, not a shuttle service! I’m going to ask Fleming from the motor pool instead!" She turned and marched back into the Q Bureau.
Lee shook his head and hurried down the stairs.
"I don’t like this – I don’t like this one little bit," Lee grumbled. "The truck should have been here by now. We’ve been here for hours."
"Maybe they’re just running behind since they have a new driver who’s not familiar with the route." Amanda put her hand on her husband’s arm.
He pushed the button on the walkie-talkie in his hand. "Francine, any sign of the truck where you are?"
"No, nothing yet, Lee."
"No, nothing. A few people out walking dogs, a couple of joggers, and lots of cars passing by. All normal stuff."
Lee sighed. "Okay, I’ll check with you again in another fifteen minutes."
"Do you want any more coffee?" Amanda held up the thermos.
"No, I just wish I could figure out what’s wrong with this whole set-up. Something’s off, but I can’t quite put my finger on it."
"Okay, let’s go through it again. We think the Scarab bought Augie’s trucks to use as bombs, right?" Lee nodded. "The only probable targets on today’s schedule are the University and the Hospital. Do you think we overlooked one?"
Lee shook his head. "No, Francine went over this area thoroughly. The rest of the route runs through residential neighborhoods like the one we drove through on the way over here. I guess it’s possible that he won’t strike today, and that the trucks really are just running late. The new workers might not know the area as well as they should."
Amanda was staring straight ahead. "Lee?" She turned and clutched his coat. "Lee! I know what’s wrong! Nobody has any trash out at the curb! Out of all those houses we passed on our way here, not one had anything waiting to be taken away!"
"Damn it, why didn’t I notice that?" He spoke into the walkie-talkie. "Francine, does anyone on the street you’re watching have their trash out?"
"No. Do we have the wrong day or something?"
"No, I think the Scarab is trying to pull a fast one on us."
"Lee, if the schedule has been changed, then we’re in the wrong location!"
Lee ran to the car and grabbed the phone. "Billy, we need to send some teams out to the other locations now!"
Amanda ran over to the car and jumped in. "Lee, we need to get over to Embassy Row – Jamie’s there on a field trip today!"
"That’s right! Today’s that History trip!" Lee gunned the engine and pulled away from the curb, tires screeching.
Ten minutes later, Lee swung onto Massachusetts Avenue. "They were going to the Australian Embassy first, weren’t they?" He double-parked in front of the building and the anxious parents jumped out.
Amanda stopped and pointed up the street. "Look, Lee! There they are now – just getting back onto the bus. We need to stop them!" She sprinted up the sidewalk. Lee caught up to her, grabbed her hand, and they got to the bus just as the last students were getting on.
"Mrs. Swanson! Wait!" Amanda stopped in front of the chaperone at the end of the line.
"Mrs. Stetson? Mr. Stetson? What’s going on? Is there a family emergency?"
"Mrs. Swanson, please, just step over here with us for a moment." Lee guided her with a hand under her elbow. "I don’t really have time to explain, but you need to take these kids and go straight back to the school." She opened her mouth to protest, but Lee continued. "Listen, I’m a federal agent," he showed her his identification badge, "and there’s been a terrorist threat in this area. You need to get out of here now!"
"Please, Mrs. Swanson, don’t ask questions and don’t tell the kids anything about this." Amanda looked beseechingly at the teacher. "I promise that we’ll explain everything later. Please, just go!"
Mrs. Swanson nodded, rushed back to the bus, and moments later, the bus pulled away from the curb, then made a right turn at the first intersection.
"Gosh, I hope none of the kids saw your badge, Lee."
"If they did, we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it." He steered Amanda back to the car. "Right now we have a terrorist to stop."
As Lee started the car, the phone rang. "Scarecrow here…okay, Billy, that’s great…we’re actually right in front of the Australian Embassy…Frequency 4-4-9? Got it." He hung up and said, "The teams are in position and Billy’s ordered helicopters to search the area. We’re going to drive around and see if we can if we can spot any of the trash trucks."
As Lee pulled away from the curb, Amanda picked up the walkie-talkies and set the dial to 4-4-9. "I just hope we have time to find those trucks before the Scarab acts."
"So do I, Amanda, so do I."
Lee drove down Massachusetts Avenue, passing Dupont Circle and heading northwest. "Keep your eyes peeled for one of those trucks, Amanda."
The radio crackled to life. "Duffy here. A Swann’s Sanitation truck has just come into sight on New Hampshire Avenue, heading toward Dupont Circle."
"Don’t lose that truck, Duffy, whatever you do, and let us know where it stops." Amanda put the walkie-talkie back in her lap, only to pick it back up when Francine’s voice came over it.
"Lee? Amanda? Beaman and I are just turning onto Massachusetts. Where do you need us?"
"Cover the embassies between there and Dupont Circle. We’re heading to the other end of Embassy Row."
Amanda pointed out the window. "Lee, there’s one of the trucks – passing the Japanese Embassy!"
"Okay, let’s follow it to see where it’s going." Lee brought the Wagoneer closer, but remained several car lengths behind.
A few minutes later, the truck turned off into the alley behind the Embassy to the United Kingdom. The driver jumped out of the cab, looked around, then walked casually down the alley. Lee parked across the street. "Let’s go to the end of the block so we can cut him off if he comes out of the other end of the alley." Lee grabbed Amanda’s hand and they hurried down the street. Running quietly between the buildings, they reached the alley. Lee peeked cautiously around the corner. He whispered to Amanda, "He’s crouching behind some bushes about 100 feet from here. I’m going to work my way around behind him. Cover me."
Amanda glanced out as Lee slid into the shadows across the way. She noticed that the man they were following had pulled a small object out of his pocket. Oh, my gosh, that looks like a detonator! Looking around, she spied a bottle lying in the grass by her feet. She picked it up and hurled it as far as she could. It sailed over the driver’s hiding place and crashed into a dumpster.
The man jumped slightly, then peered over the bushes, looking carefully for the cause of the disturbance. Just then, Lee hurled himself forward, causing both men to go crashing to the ground. The remote control flew out of the suspect’s hand and skittered across the ground, coming to rest against a clump of weeds.
Amanda pulled her gun out and ran toward her husband. She retrieved the detonator, then leveled her weapon at the fighting men, but had no clear shot.
The two continued exchanging blows. Landing a punch to Lee’s right eye, the driver freed himself from the altercation and ran down the alley, closely pursued by Lee. Amanda followed them, keeping her gun ready.
Lee caught up to and tackled the fleeing man. They crashed into the side of a dumpster, and Lee punched the truck driver in the stomach. He doubled over, running into Lee’s other fist in the process, then slowly sank down to the ground, unconscious.
"Lee! Are you all right?" Amanda kept her gun trained on the suspect as she hurried over to her husband.
"No, I’m not all right!" Lee snapped a pair of handcuffs on the man, securing his arms around the dumpster’s handle. "This jerk clocked me right in the eye." He patted him down, pulled out a knife, and pocketed it.
Amanda holstered her gun and reached up to inspect the swollen eye, snatching her hand away at Lee’s groan of pain. "You need to get some ice on that, Lee."
"No time for that right now. This guy’s not going anywhere. We need to check in with the other teams."
"Wait, Lee, I got the detonator that he dropped."
Amanda held it out for Lee to see. "Looks like he really does have a bomb."
"We’d better check out that truck." Lee jogged over to the parked trash truck, approaching it carefully. He yanked open the driver’s door, but no one was inside. He bent down to look underneath the chassis.
"Lee, look at this." Amanda’s voice was muffled.
Lee found her staring into the garbage compacting unit. He whistled. "Amanda, do you know what’s in here? This thing is packed with nerve gas. If those explosives had detonated, thousands of people would have died a horrible death. We’d better get the bomb squad over here to take care of this."
Amanda used the walkie-talkie to relay the message to Billy. They hurried back to the dumpster where their prisoner was handcuffed. As they drew near, he groaned and stirred. Lee strode over and shook him. "What’s your name? Are you the Scarab?"
The suspect blinked his eyes groggily, then looked around. "Yes, I am the Scarab." He lifted his chin proudly.
"We found your bomb." Lee held up the detonator. "Your plan has failed – you might as well tell us everything. Are there any more bombs?"
"I will tell you American pigs nothing. You can torture me, you can throw me into your jails, but I will reveal nothing. It is all for the glory of my homeland and to rid the earth of you immoral Americans."
Lee took the two-way radio from Amanda. "Francine, do you read me?"
"Loud and clear, Lee."
"We have the Scarab and confirmation of explosives in a trash truck behind the Embassy of the United Kingdom. What’s going on in your area?"
"We’re still following this truck. It’s making regular stops along the way to collect trash."
Amanda noticed a satisfied smile cross their captive’s face. Her own expression became thoughtful.
"Keep watching, Francine. If the driver parks the truck for any reason, detain him immediately and search him for a detonator. I’m also sending a bomb squad to your location."
"Got it, Scarecrow."
"Duffy, did you copy?"
"Yes, Scarecrow, we’ll do the same. Our truck is also collecting trash. Right now it’s still following its route."
"Keep us informed. Scarecrow out."
"Lee, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Amanda, if this is about my eye, I’d…" His voice trailed off as he noticed the serious look in her eyes. "What is it? What’s wrong?"
"The Scarab said ‘targets’, right?"
"Right, but he tried to throw us off the track when we were in Florida by putting false information in the warning notes, remember?"
"But what, Amanda?"
"I think this time he really meant more than one target." She continued before Lee could say anything else. "It’s actually very simple. He probably expects us to think he’s bluffing this time, so he really isn’t. This time he said exactly what he meant because he figured we wouldn’t believe it. I think he’s trying to throw us off the track again only it’s not like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, don’t you see?"
"No, I’m not following you at all, Amanda."
"Never mind; we’re running out of time. Just call Duffy and Francine and Beaman back and tell them to stop those trucks now and search them for explosives."
"You’re going to explain this to me later, right, Amanda?" Lee pulled the walkie-talkie out and transmitted the message. "Now, as appropriate as it would be to leave this piece of human trash to rot next to this dumpster, I think we’d better get him to the car."
He unlocked the cuffs, yanked the man to his feet, and re-cuffed him. Prodding him with his gun, Lee directed him toward the car. Several Agency vehicles had pulled up next to the Wagoneer. Lee handed their suspect over to one agent and directed the rest to evacuate the Embassy.
A burst of static preceded a call coming over the radio. "Scarecrow, Beaman here. Good call on the truck. It was loaded with explosives and had a timing device set for 10:10 AM. The bomb squad’s working on disarming it right now."
Amanda looked at her watch and gasped. 10:06! "Lee, check in with Duffy! If the other truck is set to explode at the same time, they only have a few minutes."
"Duffy, what’s your status?"
"The truck is stopped and the bomb has been located. The bomb squad has reported that they have disarmed the timing device."
"Glad to hear it. See you back at the Agency." He put the walkie-talkie into his jacket pocket. "Okay, Amanda, let’s…" Lee broke off when he noticed Amanda hurrying toward the alley behind the British Embassy. "Amanda!" He ran after her. "Amanda, wait!" He caught up to her as she reached the abandoned trash truck. "What are you doing?"
"Lee, if the other two trucks had timing devices, I’ll bet that this one does too and we need to find it before the truck explodes." She went to the rear of the trash truck and craned her neck to examine it closely. "Ah, ha! Here it is, Lee. There’s a timer right there." She pointed. "And it only has one minute and twelve seconds before it detonates!"
"Amanda, get out of here! I don’t know if I can disarm it in time, and the bomb squad is nowhere in sight!"
"I’m not leaving you, so just forget it. I might be able to help."
"I don’t have time to argue with you, Amanda Stetson!"
"Then don’t bother, because I’m not going anywhere no matter what you say." She stepped back, dumped the contents of her purse on the ground, and began rooting through the pile. "Where is it? I know it’s here somewhere…Got it! Here, Lee, will this help?" She held out an Arlington High Mustangs pin.
"What?! That’s no good!" Lee continued to examine the bomb.
"It worked the last time, now didn’t it?"
"I know, Amanda, but that’s because it replaced the pin that was part of the bomb!"
"Don’t shout at me, Lee Stetson! If you’d just tell me what you do need, I might be able to find something to use!" She came and looked over his shoulder.
"I need something to put on this wire to absorb the spark when the detonator goes off. Something like chewing gum. Or Vaseline."
"Can’t you just disconnect the wire?"
"The chemicals are too unstable for that. If I cause even a tiny spark, it’ll blow."
The timer continued to count down: 22…21…20…
Amanda rooted frantically through her belongings. She picked something up and ran back over to Lee. "Here, try this!" She handed him a tube of lipstick.
"Lipstick? What good does that do?"
"It’s waxy and thick. Just break off the lipstick and jam it onto the wire." She bit her lip as Lee grabbed the tube. "Hurry, Lee, hurry! There’s only 13 seconds left!"
"I know, I know!" Snapping the lipstick off, Lee tossed the tube over his shoulder. "I hope this works!" he muttered as he carefully maneuvered the piece into place, pressing it firmly on the wire leading from the timer. He straightened up and wrapped his arms around Amanda. "I love you, Amanda."
"I love you, too, Lee."
They stared silently as the LCD display showed the countdown: 4…3…2…1…0.
They hugged each other tightly, smiles of relief crossing their faces.
"You did it!" Amanda lifted her head to look at Lee. "That was way too close."
"You aren’t kidding!" He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, kissed her on the forehead, and hugged her again.
"Scarecrow! Where’s the bomb?" Several men hurried toward them.
Without releasing his hold on Amanda, Lee pointed to the truck. "Right there. I managed to disarm it, but I’ll leave the clean-up to you experts."
The men walked toward the truck, carrying their equipment.
"Come on, Amanda, let’s get out of here." With their arms around each other, Lee and Amanda walked back to the car.
"I guess we stopped the Scarab this time, Lee."
"We sure did, thanks to you."
She shook her head. "It was a team effort."
Lee laughed. "I’m sure glad you’re on my team then."
"Forever, Stetson, count on it."
"Okay, boys, go brush your teeth, get your stuff together, and get into the car. We need to leave in five minutes or we’ll be late. Lee and I have an appointment with Mrs. Swanson."
As the boys hurtled up the stairs, Dotty put her mug down on the counter with a loud ‘thunk.’ "Amanda, Lee. I think I’ve been more than patient, but I’m ready for an explanation now. Why did Jamie see you yesterday and were you the reason his trip was cut short? And why didn’t you get home until after 1:00 this morning?"
Amanda and Lee exchanged glances, then Amanda walked over and hugged Dotty. "When Jamie saw us yesterday, we were tracking down a terrorist. We told the teacher that there was a bomb threat, so that’s why they went back to school early. As for being late, we had a lot of paperwork to fill out."
"A bomb? Again? What is it with you and bombs? Was there another nuclear bomb this time?"
Lee walked over and draped his arm across Amanda’s shoulder. "Actually, there were three bombs, not nuclear ones, and we found them all and disarmed them in time thanks to your daughter and her lipstick."
"Stop, Lee, you’re exaggerating."
"And you’re just being modest. That’s one of the reasons I love you so much." He lowered his head and kissed her gently.
"Lipstick? I guess I probably don’t want to know." Dotty shook her head in confusion, then cleared her throat. "You know, I’m not sure Jamie totally bought your story about being on Embassy Row to talk to the Ambassador about doing a film on the British Embassy."
Lee looked at Dotty. "Why do you say that, Mom?"
"You both need to give Jamie a little more credit. He’s very bright and notices things you don’t think he sees. It was a big coincidence for you to show up at the same time that his field trip was cancelled because of ‘mechanical trouble with the bus.’ Something tells me that he’s starting to question all these coincidences." She paused and shook her head. "As for that lame story about you getting a black eye when one of the cameramen unexpectedly turned and hit you with his elbow – well, let’s just say that I told better stories when I was an eight-year old trying to convince my parents that Suzanne Brocker had cut my sister Lillian’s hair. Don’t you think it’s time to tell those boys what you do for a living before they figure it out on their own?"
"Mother, that’s…" Amanda’s answer was cut short by the sound of teenage feet running down the stairs. "We’ll talk about this more later, Mother. Love you."
"Bye; be careful." The door closed behind the family as they left. Dotty picked her mug up, took a sip, and murmured to herself. "They’d better talk about this soon before it blows up in all our faces." She cringed. "Bad choice of words right now, Dotty, bad choice of words."
Amanda parked the Wagoneer in the school parking lot. Jamie and Phillip ran off to join their classmates, calling goodbyes.
Amanda linked her arm in Lee’s as they walked toward the school. They signed in at the front office and sat on the couch in the conference room to wait.
"What do you think will happen to the Scarab, Lee?"
Lee shrugged. "At the very least, they’ll lock him up for the rest of his life."
"I hope it’s someplace really secure. I’d hate to think what would happen if he ever got out." She shuddered.
Lee scooted closer to her, put his arm around her shoulders, and hugged her. "Let’s not borrow trouble. We have enough things to worry about." He paused, then continued, "You know, Amanda, your mother’s right. The boys are probably old enough to handle knowing what we do at IFF."
"I know, I know," she sighed. "It’s getting harder and harder to think of excuses. We really need to sit down and talk this out and decide what we’re going to do. But, right now, we’ve got an lot of explaining to do to Mrs. Swanson."
Lee nodded his head. "Parent-teacher conferences. This sure brings back a lot of unpleasant memories."
Amanda tilted her head and looked up at his face. "Really?"
"Yep." Lee grimaced. "My uncle had to meet countless times with many of my teachers, and I often had to scrub the floors as a punishment."
"Oh, poor Lee. I promise that your punishment this time won’t be to scrub the floors." She leaned over and kissed him.
"No? What did you have in mind instead?" He stroked her cheek softly.
Amanda looked thoughtful. "I was thinking that you might have to be sent to your room."
"Hmmm." Lee paused, then continued, "But it wasn’t all my fault, you know. Seems to me that you were involved in this incident to a certain extent." A mischievous glint came into his eyes. "I think you should be sent to your room too." He gave her a swift kiss.
Amanda laughed. "Sounds like a punishment I can live with."
"Me too, my lovely wife. I’m looking forward to it."