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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.

This story is dedicated to all men and women whose goal is peace.

Credits

Story Premise By: SMK720-Laura
Written By: SMK720-Laura
Editors: Di, Diane, Kelley, Jo
SMK VS6 Season Creator: BlueAngel
SMK VS6 Executive Producers: SMKTiff, SMK720-Laura

- It's become harder to write this part of the episode than the episode itself. How do you tell a wonderful group of beta's how great they are yet one more time? But they are great, and I couldn't do this without the help, humor, and grammar styling of Di, Diane, Kelley and Jo. Thanks. A special nod and wink to Di and Kelley, who actually thought it took me a while to bring Beaman into the picture in this one! Like I would leave him out, right?
- Thanks go, as always to my husband and sons who encourage, listen to me ramble, and occasionally ask me how the story is coming along. Special thanks to my son, Sean, for his help with all things Japanese. You were right, Sean. You taking Japanese in college did someday come in handy.
-
And thank you to the readers of SMK Virtual 6. Hope you enjoy this episode.

PROLOGUE

Soft breezes whispered through the budding cherry trees bringing with them the specter of shadows that languished upon the path.

As the ritual tones of Shi-Shi-Odoshi faded, a bamboo tube that rhythmically hit a rock to chase away evil spirits, the men walked deeper into the garden. The tranquil flow of water over hand polished, black granite was illuminated in its serenity by the Oribe-doro, the stone lanterns lighting the pathways of the garden.

Traditional Shoji doors made of paper, noiselessly opened as the men approached the temple that was nestled within the center of the garden. Before passing through the shoji, the five men humbled themselves by kneeling to wash their hands in the low earthenware bowl, the Tsukubai.

Seating themselves upon the low pillows on the floor, the men were served tea. It was only after the tea had been consumed did the host, the Teishu, speak.

His tone was soft; those seated with him leaning in to heed his words. But behind the hush of his voice, there was strength. The strength of commitment tinged by zeal, tainted by the insanity of obsession.

"Far too many years we have endured the presence of the American upon our sacred and ancient soil. Our people have readily embraced the ways of the West, foregoing the traditions of Nihon. Many have now awakened from the slumber of gluttony and excess to find the ways of our ancestors all but forgotten."

He met the eyes of each one seated at the low table. Each man bowed his head in accord with the words that had been spoken. They had been chosen to embody the five cardinal virtues of humanity, justice, politeness, wisdom and fidelity. And he knew that each would sacrifice self to achieve the goal they shared.

"This marks that which will be the beginning. We face a giant that has become complacent and unaware of its vulnerability. We must be ever cautious not to nudge the sleeping one into awareness until our goal is achieved. All self must be surrendered if we are to save the time-honored ways and return our people to their true path, to bend the young tree to form."

Rising from the floor, the men stood, bowing to one another. Their paths were now drawn; they would not turn from the end they desired.

The man allowed his gaze to settle one last time on each of the chosen ones. The wisdom of the ancient proverb came to him, the attainment of perfection for his final words. "Rakkwa éda ni kaerazu."

The fallen blossom never returns to the branch.

ACT I
The National Cherry Blossom Festival Volunteer Headquarters
Washington, D.C.
March 29, 1989

"Are there any final questions before we leave for the evening?"

"Ah, yes. Yes." A single hand flew up among the sea of volunteers. Several rolled their eyes; others were numb from the shoulders up and ignored yet another question from the pert grandmother in the front row.

The volunteer coordinator sighed. "Mrs. West, how can I answer your question, yet again?"

Dotty West looked at her handwritten notes, her glasses perched upon her nose. "Now, are we to head directly to our booths or are we to meet here Saturday?"

"Once again, please arrive here at the volunteer offices on Saturday, no later than
7am. This will allow us to take a head count of all volunteers who actually show up, as well as to make final decisions upon your locations. I think that covers just about everything...."

Dotty's hand flew up yet again.

"...and we will go over any additional questions the morning of the festival. Good night and thank you for the time you have given to the festival. I'll see everyone bright and early Saturday morning." With that, the volunteer coordinator hurried from the room to avoid being captured by any other enthusiastic volunteers.

Dotty closed her notebook, and sighed with decided force. Her tablemate patted her gently on the shoulder.

"Don't worry so, Dotty. I know you want to make a good impression, but everything will be fine. You'll see."

Nodding her head in agreement, Dotty sighed. "Oh, I'm sure everything will be just wonderful. But it's just that I want to have it all straight in my mind, like a beautiful Japanese floral arrangement, before the event begins. I want to visualize the day, Gladys."

Gladys laughed, folding her own notebook and dropping it in her handbag. "Oh Dotty! Only you would throw yourself with such zest into a volunteer assignment. You don't need to subscribe to Ikabana or Zen-Buddhism to help at the Cherry Blossom Festival!"

"Oh, I know. But it's such an interesting culture, don't you agree?" Both women gathered their belongings and walked from the room. Stopping at the elevators, Dotty pushed the call button. "Gladys, I have one more question that is just too important to let wait. I'm going to go back and see Mrs. York one last time. You go on without me, and I'll see you this weekend."

Gladys chuckled softly as the elevator doors closed.

With a shrug of her shoulders, Dotty turned on her heel and returned down the hallway toward Mrs. York's office. Turning the corner, she came to a stop outside the door, her hand raised to knock on the door before entering the office.

Voices raised in anger froze Dotty in her tracks. Leaning her ear against the door to understand the words being shouted, she shook her head. Japanese! Dotty didn't understood the words, but she understood the tone. And she could hear the fear in Mrs. York's voice as she answered the questions that were fired at her.

The explosion of a gun stopped Dotty as she was about to enter the office to come to Mrs. York's defense. Her eyes grew large as she backed away from the door, hitting the wall behind her. Turning, she ran to the elevators, pushing the call buttons: first one, then the others. Leaning against the doors, her breathing coming in short gasps, the lights above the doors finally flashed, signaling that a car had arrived.

As the doors opened, the sound of men's voices and the pounding of swiftly moving feet reached her as she was about to enter the car. Leaning in, she hit several floor buttons, turned and ran down the hall reaching the corner and another hallway as the men made the corner.

The wall was cool against the heat of her face. Looking for an escape route, Dotty saw the fire door at the end of the hallway. Making her way as quietly as possible, she carefully turned the handle on the door.

Opening it only wide enough to slip through, Dotty carefully held the door handle until the door was closed. Sighing, she silently moved down the stairs, carefully approaching each floor landing, before rushing past on her way to the first floor.

Stopping halfway between the 5th and 6th floors, Dotty shoved her notebook into her purse. Pulling herself together, she walked to the fire door, and holding her breath, she pulled the door open.

The hallway outside of the fire door was empty. Taking a deep breath, Dotty walked down the hall and around the corner to the bank of elevators, happy to see other office workers waiting to leave the building. Hoping to blend in, she walked up to the side of the group and tried to look interested in what was being said.

The elevator doors opened and the group surged in. As Dotty walked in, she saw several Japanese men in the back of the elevator. Turning to the front of the car, and trying to appear nonchalant, Dotty watched as the indicator passed each remaining floor on the descent to the main lobby. As the doors opened and the people poured out, the men spoke in Japanese, the angry tones gone, but familiar just the same.

Dotty froze momentarily and schooled herself not to turn and look at the men. Quickly, she left with the crowd and hurried out the doors to H Street. Looking for the Wagoneer, she spotted it turning the corner. Relief flooded throughout her as Amanda pulled to the curb. She released the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding, rushing to open the passenger door, Dotty climbed in.

"How was your meeting, Mother? All ready for the big event?" Amanda put her blinker on before pulling away from the curb, her attention on the passing traffic.

Dotty risked looking out her window. The five men were standing just outside the entrance to the building, watching the people as they went their various ways into the evening. When their eyes settled on her, Dotty quickly turned her head, afraid to be seen by them. She wrapped her arms around herself and leaned back in the seat. "Oh, Amanda! I've never been so frightened in my life!"

Seeing the paleness of her mother's face, Amanda was alarmed. "Mother? Are you all right? What happened?"

"Yes, no. I'm not all right. I am all right, but I'm not. They killed Mrs. York. I heard them arguing in Japanese, and then I heard them shoot her. It sounded like an explosion. I have never heard anything like that before, Amanda! I'm so glad you're here!"

Amanda hit the brakes, causing several cars behind her to skid to a halt as their horns blared. "They killed Mrs. York? Who killed Mrs. York? Mother, what happened? Did you see them? Did they see you?"

"I don't know, Amanda. I don't know if they saw me. I mean, they saw me, but I don't think they know that I know that they killed Mrs. York. When I got on the elevator on the 5th floor they were there. They saw me get on with the other people from that floor. Oh, Amanda! What am I going to do?"

"I'm going to call Lee and have him meet us at the Metro Police Department. Now don't worry, we're going to get to the bottom of this."

"Poor Mrs. York. If she had only stayed to answer my last question, she'd still be alive."

Amanda nodded her head as she lifted the car phone from its cradle. Dialing the Q-Bureau, she sighed, and in a nearly silent whisper, urged Lee to answer the phone.

When the call transferred to the duty desk, Amanda quickly explained and asked that they page Lee and have him meet her at the Metro Police Department. Amanda pushed down on the accelerator.

"Aren't we going a little fast, Amanda? I don't mind, but I don't want to end up in an accident before we can get those men who shot poor Mrs. York!"

"We're fine, Mother." Casting a concerned glance at her mother, she asked, "Did you see Mrs. York?"

"Of course I saw her, Amanda, I spent the past two hours with her!"

Amanda sighed. "No, Mother, did you see her, well, after?"

"After?"

"After she had been shot."

Dotty turned fear-widened eyes upon her daughter. "Amanda, I turned and ran as quickly and as quietly as I could. I didn't want to be next." Dotty involuntarily shivered at the thought of seeing Mrs. York after she had been shot.

"That was good thinking, Mother. Do you think you could describe the men you saw and what they said?"

"They were arguing. In Japanese."

Amanda turned the Wagoneer into the parking lot of the Metropolitan Police Department. "Come on, let's get inside and find someone to talk to. I'm sure that Lee will be here in just a few moments." Amanda jumped out of the vehicle and ran around to open the car door for her mother.

"I'm so glad you were there, darling. I don't think I've ever been so frightened in my life." Dotty hugged her daughter. "Thank you for not doubting me."

"Oh, Mother. Now I don't want you to worry, we'll get to the bottom of this, you'll see."

Amanda linked her arm with her mother's and they walked to the main entrance of the police department. Climbing the steps to the doors of the precinct, the blare of a horn stopped them in their tracks. Turning, they watched as Lee whipped into the parking lot and quickly swung the Corvette in the space next to Amanda's Jeep.

"He certainly didn't waste any time getting here," Dotty observed.

"I'm glad to see him. Lee will make sure they handle everything the right way."

Lee climbed the steps two at a time and put an arm around his wife and mother-in-law. "What happened? I got a stat message to meet you here; are you both alright?"

"Mother witnessed a murder."

Lee looked from mother to daughter and back again.

"Well, I didn't witness the murder, I heard it."

"She heard it."

"I heard her, Amanda." Lee sighed. "Okay, who was murdered?"

"Mrs. York, the volunteer coordinator for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Right in her own office, the poor woman." Dotty was beginning to tremble from shock. Amanda hugged her and Lee pressed on.

"When? What time? Do you remember?"

Dotty nodded her head, "Right after the volunteer meeting let out at 6:00. I had another question that I wanted to ask, so I went back to her office and I heard men arguing with her. In Japanese. Then I heard this explosion, I'm sure it was a gunshot. So I ran and tried to get into the elevator, but the cars didn't come, and when one did, the men were coming, I could hear them. I pressed as many buttons as I could on the board in the elevator, and then I ran around the corner and down the fire stairs."

Lee ushered them away from the door with its constant flow of people in and out of the precinct before continuing his questioning. "Did you see them?"

"Yes, I joined a group of people on the 5th floor, and rode down with them. The men I heard were in the back of the elevator."

"Did they see you?"

Dotty inhaled a shaky breath. Nodding, she answered. "Yes, when I got on the elevator, and I looked back after I got in the car with Amanda, they saw me then."

"Think you can describe them?" Lee held open the door and ushered both Amanda and Dotty inside the precinct.

"I'll try. Probably not well. I was trying not to be interested in them."

Lee nodded. "Probably a good idea. Now, wait here while I go get Lieutenant Tuggy. I called on my way over and they transferred me to him.

"Tuggy?" Amanda sighed, remembering their last encounter with Detective Tuggy.

Lee gave Amanda a sympathetic glance. Yeah, well, he's gonna help us take care of this."

Dotty sat on one of the wooden chairs that lined the wall. A sentinel on duty she said to herself, as Amanda paced the tiles in front of her. At the sound of footsteps, Dotty looked up again as Amanda stopped in front of her, arms folded across her chest.

Lee and a large set man who was chewing on the butt of a cigar. Dotty raised her eyebrows at the stereotypical image of a tough police detective walking down the hall toward them.

Stopping in front of Amanda, the officer looked at her and removed the cigar from his mouth, ashes falling and landing on the tip of Amanda's black leather boots. "Hi ya, Mrs. King. It's been a long time. How ya doin'?"

Stifling a cough caused by the cigar smoke, Amanda quickly took a step back. "Hello, Detective Tuggy, it's Mrs. Stetson now."

"And it's lieutenant for me. Both of us making moves in our lives since we last had business. So, who's dead now?"

"Ah, Tuggy, this is my mother-in-law, Dorothy West. Dotty, Lieutenant Tuggy."

Dotty stood up, arms crossed, head tilted as she surveyed Tuggy. Suddenly, she put her hand out to shake his. "Lieutenant Tuggy, it is a pleasure to meet you. Shall we find someplace comfortable to talk? I'm sure a man of your importance doesn't get much chance to sit on the job." Linking her arm with his, Dotty let Tuggy lead her to the office that housed the homicide bureau, leaving Lee and Amanda to follow behind.

Reaching his desk, Tuggy moved a mountain of fishing and gardening magazines from a chair, pulled an oily rag from a drawer and wiped the seat off. Taking Dotty's hand, he helped her to sit, then dropped himself down into his own chair.

"Okay, tell me what happened. This was today, right?"

"Yes, about six o'clock."

"You call the police?"

"No. Amanda picked me up and brought me right here."

"Gimme the address where this happened, and I'll get a unit out there, and we'll follow right behind, okay?" Tuggy lifted his phone and relayed the information that Dotty gave him. "Okay, I'd rather take you back to the scene and you can describe what happened and go over what you did, alright? We'll talk on the way over. What da ya say?"

"May my daughter and her husband come with us?"

"Sure, sure. They're used to this kinda stuff anyway." He led them out to the parking lot, stopping on the top step. "What cha drivin' these day, Mrs. Stetson? Big enough for all of us?"

"That Jeep Wagoneer over there, next to the silver ‘Vette."

"Good, you drive." Tuggy sauntered over to the Wagoneer. Rapping on the handle several times, he opened the door and climbed in the passenger seat.

Amanda's jaw dropped when she realized that the police inspector had broken into her locked car. She looked at Lee, who was grinning.

"How did he do that? Do you think he'd show me how to do that so when I lock my keys
in the car I can get back in?" Dotty hurried after Tuggy, calling out her request. Amanda and Lee followed behind, both shaking their heads.

Headquarters, National Cherry Blossom Festival Committee
H Street
Washington, D.C.

"Don't look like nobody died here tonight." Tuggy pronounced in his gravely voice, as he flicked the ash from his cigar into his jacket pocket.

"But I heard a gunshot! I was right outside the door! Right out that door!" Dotty flung her hand in the direction of the door, a young police officer ducking just in time to avoid being hit. "And I may not have your experience with firing a gun, Lieutenant Tuggy, but I do know what a gun sounds like when it is being fired! I watch Miami Vice! You can't tell me that I didn't hear a gun fire in this office!" Dotty slammed her hand down on the desk, her brown eyes flashing.

"Mother, no one said that you didn't hear a gunshot, just that no one is dead."

Dotty looked at her daughter and son-in-law. "Well. They had to have cleaned it up. That's the only answer. They cleaned it up!" She looked at the people around her, expecting them to agree with her.

"Now, Mrs. West," Tuggy said, trying to smooth Dotty's ruffled feathers. "It takes a lot of time and chemicals to clean up after a murder. No one's had that amount of time and I don't smell no chemicals. Are you sure it's this office?"

"Of course I'm sure! I've been coming to this office for the past two months preparing for the Cherry Blossom Festival! I know where the office is, I know what I heard! I heard someone shoot poor Mrs. York!"

An officer walked up to Tuggy and said something in the Lieutenant's ear. Tuggy looked at Dotty, then raised an eyebrow at the officer and nodded his head. "A Mrs. York, you say?"

"Yes. I've told you several times! Mrs. York is, well she was, the volunteer coordinator for the Cherry Blossom Festival! And I've told you, that poor woman was shot in this very office tonight!"

"Dotty?"

Dotty gasped as she clasped Amanda's arm. Lee hurriedly put a protective arm around his mother-in-law's shoulders. They turned in the direction of the voice.

"Dotty? What is the meaning of this? Why in the world would you report that I was dead?"

"Oh my goodness! Mrs. York! Well, thank goodness you're alive! You were dead! Well, I heard you get shot by those men, there were five Japanese men who shot you, well, not all of them shot you, there was only one gunshot, but you were shot. Oh! Amanda! I know what's happened! This isn't Mrs. York! This is just like that, well, like what happened a few months ago." Leaning in close to Amanda and Lee, unaware that Tuggy and another detective also leaned closer to listen, Dotty whispered her theory. "It's a body double! Everyone must be doing it! Just like in that new movie that Kevin Costner is making? The ‘Tablet' said he used a behind double."

Amanda's eyes grew wide. "A what? Mo-ther! You can't possibly believe anything you read in a supermarket tabloid!"

"Amanda, after what happened to you and Lee last month, and now this, I'd believe just about anything. This can't be Mrs. York. Mrs. York was shot, in this very room. Tonight!"

"I'd like to know what is going on! I was picked up at my home by a police officer in a police cruiser and brought to my office to find that a volunteer believes I was shot by five men earlier in the evening! This is preposterous! Mrs. West, I can't believe that you would go to these lengths. I'm very distressed by your behavior."

Lee saw the look on his wife's and mother-in-law's faces and decided to intervene. "Mrs. York, Inspector Tuggy is having the surveillance tapes pulled, we'll be able to see the men Mrs. West believes were in your office." At the paling of Mrs. York's cheeks, Lee pushed his advantage. "Now, it's obvious that you weren't shot, but did something happen in your office this evening? Were you threatened in any manner? Perhaps by the five men Mrs. West saw and heard?"

Mrs. York wrapped her arms around her body, pulling into herself. Sighing, she shook her head. "It was simply a misunderstanding."

"What kind of misunderstanding?" Tuggy asked on a puff of cigar smoke.

"Booth placement. The gentlemen were questioning the placement of their booth for the festival."

Looks were exchanged by everyone. Tuggy stepped in, wanting to take control of his investigation. "Now Mrs. York, booth placement usually doesn't result in raised voices and gunfire."

"Inspector, am I being charged with anything? I really don't want to answer any further questions without counsel; don't I have rights?"

Tuggy sighed as he puffed on his cigar. Smoke wreathed his head as he watched Mrs. York. Finally he shook his head. "You're not. Being charged with anything, that is. If you feel you need an attorney present, I'd be mighty interested in hearing what you've got to say."

An unmistakable shudder quaked through Mrs. York's body. "I just don't understand why I'm being questioned as a common criminal. I've told you what happened: a simple argument over booth placement."

"And the commotion Mrs. West heard?" Lee pressed.

With a tightening of her lips, Mrs. York answered. "My bonsai was accidentally knocked off of my desk. It was quite an elaborate landscape; the container was a very heavy porcelain, and it shattered. Perhaps that is what Mrs. West heard."

Inspector Tuggy puffed away on his cigar. Raising an eyebrow at Lee, he nodded his head. "Well, it looks like the mystery is solved. I'm homicide; I don't get involved with herbicide. I'm sorry we dragged you down here, Mrs. York, but I'm sure you can understand the concern for your well being."

"All I understand is my dinner is now cold, and I'm terribly distraught several days before such an important event. Many people depend upon me to orchestrate this festival."

"And I'm sure you'll do a wonderful job. Mother has told all of us what a superb coordinator you are, how you have your finger on the pulse of the festival. I know that this festival will be one that everyone will remember. You can understand the concern my mother had when she heard such a commotion in your office." Amanda watched as her words had the effect of calming Mrs. York.

"Of course. We need not speak of this again. I am allowed to leave, am I not, Inspector?"

Tuggy nodded and blew cigar smoke in Mrs. York's general vicinity. "Yeah, sure, you're alive, nothin' I can do about that."

Dotty started to say something; her hand coming up to emphasize her point. Lee placed a hand on her shoulder and Amanda linked her arm with her mother's. "I think we should all leave, and try to enjoy the evening. This week is going to be a busy for everyone," Lee said with a look to Amanda.

Tuggy nodded to the police officer who had brought Mrs. York to her office. Without a glance at the assembly in her office, Mrs. York left with the young officer. Tuggy sighed, and shook his head. "Well, it's always something. Guess we should all be glad it was nothin' tonight. Mind dropping me off at the precinct? I'm late for my dinner break."

Placing her hands on her hips, Dotty stomped her foot in anger. "Look, something happened here tonight! I heard it. Mrs. York alluded to it; she's obviously too frightened to say anything. Are we just going to walk away from this?"

"Mrs. West, what would you like us to do? Arrest these men for having an argument over the placement of their booth in the Cherry Blossom Festival? No crime took place here, and whatever did is not a police matter. Call me when you have a body, no disrespect intended."

"But..." Dotty started, only to be interrupted by Amanda.

"Mother, there really is nothing we can do here tonight. If Mrs. York chooses not to say what happened, there is nothing for us to do. She is alive and safe, if upset and shaken. Why don't we go home and try to calm down? Alright?"

"Amanda's right, Mom. We'll get the tapes tomorrow and if it will make you feel any better, we'll have a look and see if we can find anything out about the men you saw, alright?"

"Thank you, Lee." Sighing, Dotty walked to the door. "It's such a shame about her bonsai plant; it was a beautiful miniature cherry tree which was just blooming." With one last shake of her head, Dotty stepped into the hall and waited for Amanda and Lee to follow.

Linking her arm with her mother's, Amanda walked to the elevators, Lee and Tuggy following behind, quietly talking with each other.

"Lee? What are you talking about? Amanda, can you hear them? What are they saying?"

"Just telling Stetson here to bring ya down to the precinct in the morning to look over the security tapes, Mrs. West. Nothin' to worry about."

"Amanda, can't you and Lee just take over this investigation?"

"Mo-ther!" Amanda said with a shake of her head. "There is no investigation to take over. And this is not a matter of national security, it's not even a police matter. You'll identify the men, and Inspector Tuggy will see if these men have police records or if there are any outstanding warrants. If there are, he'll look into it. If not, there is nothing to do but take Mrs. York's word that there isn't a problem. Now, let's go home, eat dinner and relax. Alright?"

Dotty watched as Lee and Tuggy both nodded their heads in agreement with Amanda. With a grimace and slight shrug of her shoulders, she agreed. "Alright. But I still say something is going on."

"I know, Mother."

The elevator doors closed on the group, and the car began the descent to the lobby. Not willing to let Amanda have the last word, Dotty eyed her daughter, son-in-law and the police inspector. "Well, I certainly hope that the three of you know what you're doing." Turning her back on them, she watched the light indicator as the elevator passed each floor. Biting her lip, she watched Lee and Tuggy in the highly polished door panels as they rolled their eyes and shrugged at each other.

We'll just see about that! Dotty thought to herself. We'll just see.

 

ACT II
Main Precinct, Metropolitan Police Department
Washington, DC
March 30, 1989 9:00am

"There has to be something in that computer about those men! Have you checked with the FBI? I'm sure they have something in their files. I know that Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. never had this problem!"

Exasperated, Tuggy ground his cigar out in the overflowing ashtray on his desk. "Mrs. West, that was a television show! Our computers are linked with every law enforcement agency in the United States. There ain't nothin' on these men in any computer. Look. I know you want everything explained, but maybe Mrs. York was just upset at being pulled out of her home by a cop at dinner time. I see it all the time."

Dotty vigorously shook her head. "No! There is more to this than Mrs. York being intimidated by a police officer. I know it. Now, how...."

"Mom, how about if Amanda and I take the tapes to work with us and see if we can find anything out." Raising a hand to stop Dotty before she got on a ramble, Lee quickly continued. "I doubt we'll find anything, but, we'll look. Alright?"

"I don't suppose I have much choice. Can I come with you?"

Smiling, Amanda shook her head. "No, Mother. The last thing we need is you looking over our shoulders at work. You're too interested in what goes on there as it is."

"That nice Miss Desmond thinks I'd make a perfect addition, as does Mr. Melrose."

"I know, Mother."

"Oh, alright. I'll go home. It's always ‘go home, Mother!'! Well, I'm tired of being relegated to the house. I think I could help, but I'll go home. Thank you for your help, Inspector Tuggy, and for teaching me how to hot wire the car."

"Now Mrs. West, I didn't teach you how to hot wire a car. I just showed you how to break and enter."

"Maybe next time you can teach me how to hot wire a car. I've always wanted to know."

Pulling his hand across his face, Lee sighed. "The sooner we check out those tapes, the sooner this will be over. I'll give you a call if we come up with anything, Tuggy."

"Don't expect to hear from you then, Stetson. Have that Desmond broad bring the tapes back; that one has a way with words." Tuggy finished on a wink. "Now, don't you worry, Mrs. West. Nothin' is goin' on here in D.C. This town is as safe as they come! Go home, take up gardening; it soothes the nerves."

"Hmph!" Dotty stomped out of the homicide office, heading directly to the parking lot. As she approached the glass doors, she was able to see Amanda and Lee hurrying along after her. Reaching the Jeep, she climbed into the driver's seat and rolled down the window. "I'm going home. To garden. You had better stay out of my flower beds, Mr. Stetson!"

With the last word, she watched the surprised faces of her daughter and son-in-law, and backed the Wagoneer from the space. Go home! Take up gardening.

With calculated defiance, Dotty eyed the speedometer just as it grazed the inside of the speed limit. With a wicked grin, she checked her rearview mirror to see that Lee and Amanda were right behind her as she headed for the Key Bridge. Watching, Dotty saw the blinker come on the ‘Vette, and glide around the corner as Amanda and Lee headed to Georgetown.

Dotty flicked the turn indicator and turned left, away from the Key Bridge and home. Turning onto H Street, Dotty smiled. Take up gardening, indeed! We'll just see about that!

The Agency
Staff Meeting, Conference Room
March 30, 1989 11:00am

"And one other thing before we finish. We'll be short an agent as of Monday when one of our operatives is temporarily assigned to the State Department."

"We're short handed around here as it is, Billy. How does Smyth expect us to do our work when he's playing checkers with our assets?" Lee crossed his arms over his chest, unhappy at the thought of being short another field agent.

"I guess that means no more games, Lee. You'll have to get the bad guys before Beaman and I have to come and bail you out." Francine shot from across the table.

"Very funny, Desmond."

"Ah, Francine...." Beaman tried to interrupt, only to be quieted by Billy's raised hand.

"Can we get back on track? Today? Beaman is the agent going to State. They specifically requested him and he'll be assigned there indefinitely. This means we'll be moving the duty roster around. Francine, you'll team with Duffy. Beaman, if there's anything on your desk, or floating around in your mind, tell us before you leave. Got it?"

"You got it." At Francine's accusatory stare, Beaman leaned over to talk to her, only to stop as she turned away.

"Alright people, let's get to work. Amanda, if I could have those reports you were working on, I'd like to look them over before they go to the NSA."

"Yes, sir. I'll bring them right down."

Francine jumped up from her seat and headed for the door at a brisk clip, Beaman right behind her. His voice drifted back into the conference room as he tried to explain why he hadn't told her he was leaving.

Lee rolled his eyes and shook his head. "I don't know why she's wound up about this! This is great news!"

"They're partners, Lee. Of course she'd be upset."

"They're not partners, Amanda. Francine doesn't work with a partner, especially not Beaman."

Amanda sighed and stood up. "I don't know where you get your ideas, Lee. But you're wrong about Francine, and you're wrong about Efraim. I'll get that report for you now, Billy." Amanda left the office without a glance back at her husband.

At Billy's look, Lee tossed his arms out. "What? What did I say?"

"I've been partnering Francine and Beaman for several months. They work well together. You're the only one who doesn't get along with people around here, Stetson."

"Hey! I get along with everybody! Don't give me that look, Billy."

"Lee, you have something to say about everyone around here. You're still too much of a loner upstairs in the Q-Bureau. Maybe I should move you down here."

"No way. No way, Billy, I'm not giving up the Q-Bureau. No." Lee stood up and backed out the door of the conference room. "You wouldn't do that to me, would you?"

Billy laughed. "I seem to remember you saying the opposite when I stuck you up there."

"Yeah, well, that was then. Things changed."

"As do people, Stetson."

"Alright. You're right. I'll...try to get along with Beaman. He's just annoying."

"He works differently from you, and the two of you like to twist each other."

"I'll work on it while he's gone." Lee turned to leave and ran into Francine.

"Well, I have wonderful news. Mrs. West is here demanding to see you, Billy."

Lee's eyebrows shot up. "My mother-in-law is here? And she wants to see Billy? You're kidding me, right?"

"No, I'm not. Mrs. Dorothy West is at the Georgetown entrance demanding to see Billy Melrose. Now."

Billy, Lee and Francine stepped to the surveillance cameras and switched to the Georgetown foyer. Standing at Mrs. Marston's desk with a large black bag cradled in her arms was Dotty. They watched as Amanda came into view. Getting a visitor's badge, she clipped it onto Dotty's jacket, and pushed her mother toward the steps leading to the Q-Bureau. They watched as Mrs. Marston lifted the phone on her desk. Almost at once, the phone in the conference room rang.

"Yes, Mrs. Marston. We saw. We're on our way up now. Thank you." Placing the handset back in the cradle, Billy gestured toward the door. "After you."

Francine and Billy trailed behind a grumbling Lee. Spying Beaman as they passed by his desk, Francine gave him a nod to follow along. Seeing the retinue following along with him, Lee frowned and stayed silent. The raised eyebrows between Francine and Beaman almost pushed him to the edge, but one glance at Billy's amused smirk kept him mute.

Pushing the door to the Q-Bureau, Lee stopped only to be pushed in by Billy.

"Francine told us that you came to visit, Dotty. What brings you here?" Lee looked at Amanda, and could tell from the look on her face he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear.

"Well, Inspector Tuggy told me to garden...hello Mr. Melrose, so nice to see you again, you too, Miss Desmond, Mr. Beaman. Where was I? Oh, yes! Gardening. I thought I would go back to the Festival Headquarters and find Mrs. York's poor bonsai. It was such a lovely plant, and to lose it...so I thought I would have it repotted."

"Let me see if I understand you, you went and dug in the trash? That office building houses government projects. The trash area is supposed to be secure!" Lee said, sitting on the edge of his desk.

"Oh, it is! I had to show them my badge."

"Your badge?"

"Mother! You don't have a badge!"

"Yes, I do! It's my official Cherry Blossom Festival identification." Pulling a slender, blue case from her purse, Dotty flipped it open to show Lee and Amanda her identification.

Amanda bit her lip to keep from laughing. The look on Lee's face was a mixture of bewilderment and disbelief as he tossed the case to Billy.

Billy handed the case back to Francine and Beaman. "It certainly could fool someone not paying attention, Lee. Mrs. West, can I ask...."

"No!" Both Amanda and Lee cut Billy off before he could ask Dotty for the entire story.

"I'm sorry sir, it's just that we're pretty busy, and you need that report for the NSA, and Beaman has to pack. There really isn't anything more to say."

"Amanda Stetson! That just isn't true, and you know it. Mr. Melrose, there is something sinister afoot, and no one will listen to me."

"Mrs. West, why don't you tell us why you're here. That's as good as any place to start." Billy settled himself in a chair while Francine perched on Amanda's desk, with Beaman leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest.

"I wanted to repot Mrs. York's bonsai plant. Mrs. York is the volunteer coordinator for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. After we left Inspector Tuggy's office this morning, I decided I would go back to the office and find this plant and repot it."

Glancing at Lee, who was subtlety shaking his head, Billy skipped the obvious question of why they were at Tuggy's office and stayed with the plant. "Okay, so you found the plant. Why did you come here with it?"

"There is something wrong with this tree, something terribly wrong." Unwrapping the black trash bag, Dotty opened the top and let the plastic fall to the sides of the plant inside.

Everyone stepped back and away from the remains of the plant before them. Fetid odors crept into every crevice of the room. Amanda and Francine covered their noses, as Dotty held a tissue against hers. Billy motioned for Dotty to cover the plant up again.

"What was that? Mother? Are you trying to tell us that is Mrs. York's bonsai cherry tree?"

"That's exactly what I'm telling you, Amanda."

"But, you told us it was a beautiful plant, in bloom." Lee said as he moved away from the smell still radiating from the black mass on the floor in front of him.

"It was. Yesterday evening. Before those men were in the office."

Billy held up a hand. "Okay, people. There is obviously more to this than a simple repotting of a plant. Why did you bring the plant here?"

"That plant was a beautiful, vigorous tree in bloom yesterday afternoon. You see it now. Simply breaking the pot would not cause that...that terrible decay to take place overnight."

"Maybe there were chemicals dumped on it from the cleaning crew." Francine offered, still waving her hand in front of her nose.

"It was in this bag inside Mrs. York's trash can. Something must have happened to this plant."

Billy sighed. "Mrs. West, the only way we're going to find out what happened is to test the plant." At Dotty's ardent agreement, Billy continued. "Beaman, take that to the lab and tell them to analyze it and to be quick about it."

Beaman frowned, but did as Billy told him.

"Does this have anything to do with those tapes you dropped off in IDA this morning?"

Confused, Dotty asked. "IDA?"

"Identification and Analysis, Mother. Yes, it does, Francine."

Nodding, Francine hopped off the desk. "I'll take a walk by there and see if they have anything for you."

"Thank you, Francine." Francine waved a hand over her shoulder at Amanda's thanks.

"Alright, why don't we start at the beginning." Billy settled himself with a grin on his face. "And don't leave a thing out, I have a feeling this is going to be interesting."

4247 Maplewood Drive
Arlington, Virginia
March 30, 1989 10:45pm

"I don't understand why you people aren't rounding up those men? I told you they were the men I saw, why didn't you haul them in and break them?" Exasperated, Dotty tossed her latest romance novel on the coffee table.

"Mother, we just can't haul those men in for questioning. They haven't done anything!"

"That we know of."

Lee laughed. "Mom, just because they had words with Mrs. York doesn't mean that they are planning something sinister."

"But, I just know they are! I can feel it. I've always been very sensitive that way. My family has always said that if anyone was psychic, it was me."

"That's true, Mother. No one is saying you aren't. But nothing has happened. And there aren't any indications at this time that anything will happen. If that changes, then we'll have something to work with."

"Amanda? Haven't you ever just gone on a hunch?" A choking sound emitted from Lee's direction, and Dotty glanced at him in concern. "Lee, dear, are you all right? Did your coffee go down the wrong pipe?" Dotty jumped up from the chair and gave Lee several strong pats on the back to help with his choking fit.

"I'm fine...really...thanks...you can stop now!" Lee put his coffee cup on the coffee table, and cleared his throat. At Amanda's dark look, he tried to contain his smile. "To answer your question, yes, we go with our hunches, but there has to be something to have a hunch about. Curiosity isn't the same. We should have information tomorrow; Francine had to obtain permission to access intelligence information in Japan."

"Isn't that strange? Why can't spies just spy?" Dotty shook her head, confused as to why they just couldn't take the information they needed.

"Because we work within the framework of the law, Mother. We had no information on the men in the surveillance video in any of the US intelligence files; we then have to ask permission to search. It takes only a short time, but Francine is very good at getting information, and we'll have it in the morning."

"What about the plant?"

"Doing analysis will take more time, Mom. They have to identify what everything was, and then find out what happened to it. Our labs are the best there are. They'll come through for us, if there's anything to find."

"Well, since there's nothing I can do to speed this up; I think I'll go to bed. Thank you, for at least listening to me."

"Oh, Mother. I understand how you feel, I really do. But, it's best not to let this kind of thing take over your life. It really could be nothing."

"And if it's not?"

"Then we'll find out what's happening, we promise. Don't we Lee?"

Lee shot his wife a less than appreciative look, but nodded his agreement.

"Well, I certainly hope that no one loses their life while we're waiting for the lab to come through. Goodnight, darling. Goodnight , Lee."

"Goodnight, Mother." Amanda kissed her mother's cheek and sat on the couch next to her husband. "You weren't very helpful."

"I'm still stuck on you and hunches. Now we have your mother and her psychic hotline; I'm not sure I can take much more."

"Lee...."

"Alright, alright!" Lee laughed at Amanda's warning. "I admit, the whole thing sounds strange. But, I don't want your mother going off on every hunch she has. She can't show up at the Agency demanding Billy's attention on civic volunteer matters."

"I know."

"And we're damn lucky that the old man is out of town for the week. I could see it now! Dr. Smyth walking in on all of us as we ran down your mother's hunches." Amanda shivered next to him. "Cold?"

"No, just thinking about Dr. Smyth. He always gives me the willies."

"He'll give us all the boot, is what he'll give us."

"Could be our chance for a normal life, Stetson," Amanda mentioned with a raised eyebrow.

Lee laughed, Amanda joining in. "Normal? Us? Never! Come on, we better get some sleep. I know your mother is lying in bed tapping into her psychic energy for new leads for us to track down tomorrow."

"Getting old, Stetson? Need your sleep?"

Lee hugged his wife. "Yeah. Dealing with all of this takes it out of me. How did you ever manage to juggle family, the Agency and me all those years?"

"I only had trouble with you." Amanda laughed at the look on Lee's face as she got up from the couch. "Come on, Stetson. I'll tuck you into bed."

Lee chuckled as he followed his wife up the steps to their bedroom. "What? No bedtime story?"

Stopping on the stairs, Amanda raised her eyebrows at her husband's teasing question. "I think I could come up with a story that might interest you."

"How's it start?"

Amanda laughed as she closed the bedroom door behind them before walking over and into Lee's waiting arms. "The way all good bedtime stories should; they live happily ever after."

"That's the ending, Amanda."

"Not in my stories, Stetson!"

Go to Act Three