A SMKVirtual6 Episode
Lee re-read the intelligence report that Francine had brought up. Nothing. Not a damn thing. Sighing, he pulled the folder containing the pictures of the men from the video. Nothing to distinguish them. Not even a traffic ticket as youths. Clean.
Well, almost clean. Hirokichi Sakamoto was a man with stature in Okinawa. A businessman seated at the head of a vast empire. Charitable, a man of the arts, educated. A man with a finger in politics.
Frowning, Lee thumbed through the profile of Sakamoto's political leanings. Conservative, a protectionist. But what really jumped out were the many reports of the speeches given against the American military presence in Japan.
Looking up from her computer, Amanda was surprised by the look on Lee's face. "What has you frowning so, Lee?"
"Ah, I don't really know. These guys are squeaky clean. It's just that this Sakamoto bothers me."
Dragging his hand through his hair, Lee pushed his chair back. "Politics. Not so much that he's involved in them, but that he's anti-American. He started out calling for the expulsion of American bases and troops from Japan. When that didn't work, he became more vocal, calling for the removal of the American presence at any cost. Including violence."
"Many Japanese want to see the US close their military bases. That doesn't mean that he's here to cause any trouble."
"Well, why is he here? Why's he here at a festival that promotes the unity and peace between the US and Japan?"
"You said he's a business man. Mrs. York said he has a booth at the festival. He's probably here promoting a product. What type of business does he own?"
"A biosynthetic research company."
"Really?" Amanda frowned. "That's odd. What product would he be promoting at the Cherry Blossom Festival?"
"Good question." Lee picked up the telephone and dialed. "Francine, listen. I need a couple of favors. See what you can find out about Sakamoto's political connections. Also, can you do a number on Mrs. York?... Yeah. Look, she knows Amanda and me, maybe you can get information out of her... Well, a listing of all the exhibits, the companies exhibiting, anything they might be handing out or selling... Amanda and me? We have to hit the Library of Congress... Thanks." Hanging up the phone, Lee stood up and grabbed his jacket. "Up for a ride?"
Lee held her jacket as Amanda slipped into it. "I really wish he was still working from the ice cream factory. They had the best butter pecan."
"You and your ice cream. We'll stop on the way back and get you some, how's that?"
Library of Congress
"There he is, come on." Lee took Amanda's elbow and guided her through the Main Reading Room in the Thomas Jefferson building of the Library of Congress.
Seated at a research table, T. Percival Aquinas, TP to his friends, was nearly hidden by a stack of books.
"How do you rate the book stack, TP?" Lee asked as he sat next to the octogenarian wiz kid. Amanda slipped into the chair next to TP and looked over the titles in the stack, shaking her head.
"Ah, Lee my boy, and Mrs. Stetson! You're looking lovely as ever! What brings the two of you to my neck of the woods, so to speak?"
"What can you tell us about the anti-American movement in Japan? Okinawa specifically."
"How long do you have, Lee? That's a complicated subject."
"How complicated?" Amanda asked.
"As with anything concerning the Japanese, nothing is as it seems. The simple answer would be to tell you it's a matter of national pride. But that would only be the tip of the iceberg. Mrs. Stetson? Would you like some pistachios? I sneak them in with me, only be careful not to drop them on the floor, they make a terrible noise when stepped on."
Amanda shook her hand and waved away the offered nuts. "No thank you, TP. What would the rest of the iceberg look like?"
"Ah, the million dollar question! Now...."
"TP? Can we cut to the chase? Amanda's mother may have stumbled onto something involving these men." Handing TP several photos, Lee raised his eyes to Amanda's, and gave her a reassuring smile.
"Amanda's mother? Now I understand your rush. Let me see...." Pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, TP quickly looked over the photos. Handing all but one of the photographs back to Lee, TP leaned back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, the remaining picture flipping in his fingertips. "Now this fellow, he's an interesting character."
Amanda moved her head to catch a glimpse of the photo. "Sakamoto?"
"Very good, Mrs. Stetson. Yes, Hirokichi Sakamoto. A brilliant scientist; he lead the team that discovered a geosynthetic dynamic as it pertains to soil waste and the reclamation and rehabilitation of unusable soil fields."
Lee shook his head at the explanation given. "What? Come on, TP, toss me a bone here, will ya?" Amanda nodded her head in sympathetic agreement.
"Well, Lee, it all boils down to oxygen. Soil, or dirt," with a wry look at Lee, "also contains oxygen, nitrogen, so on and so forth. All of this aids in the growth of plant life. Sakamoto was the head of a team at his laboratories that found a way to enhance the oxygen in formerly dead soils. It was a real breakthrough. It was such a revolutionary advancement, he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize."
"TP? Do you know anything about his political leanings?"
"Oh my yes, yes. He's an ardent nationalist, very anti-American, he deplores the US presence in Japan. Sakamoto has even called for violence to push the US Government to leave."
Taking the picture from TP, Lee studied the man in the picture. "Why would he be here in DC? And what benefits to his company would he gain by being involved in the Cherry Blossom Festival?"
Cracking several pistachios and tossing them in his mouth, TP chewed on them as well as the question for a few moments. "I doubt he would be representing his company; he's fought the Japanese government tooth and nail to keep his breakthroughs for the exclusive use of Japan. Wish I could give you an answer as to why he's here in Washington. It does seem out of character for him. Sorry, Lee. I really don't have anything else to give you."
"Ah, that's okay, TP, we're just trying to get all the pieces to the puzzle right now. Something just doesn't feel right to me, that's all."
Amanda chewed on her bottom lip as she looked at her husband. "The bonsai plant. The dirt, remember? Sakamoto's company? Could they be connected?"
"Amanda, TP said his discovery was oxygenating the soil. That plant was almost dead."
"What dirt?" TP asked again.
With a shake of her head, Amanda emphasized each word. "If he can add oxygen, he could have created something to add that causes the soil to break down like it did."
"Lee? What dirt?"
"It was sludge; almost tar, Amanda. What could you possibly add that would do that, and overnight at that?"
"What dirt!" TP bellowed. Sound ceased in the library as all heads turned in their direction.
A small man hurried over to the area where the threesome were seated. "Shh! Mr. Aquinas, I tolerate many of your peculiar habits here, but I insist you must converse quietly!" With a stern look at each of them, the librarian returned to his desk.
"Sorry, TP. Amanda's mother brought in a bonsai that she said was flourishing until a meeting with Sakamoto. The cherry tree was dead, the dirt smelled worse than anything I've smelt before, and it was like tar. Thick, slow running, black sludge."
"Is it possible to cause something like that to happen, Mr. Aquinas?"
"I imagine you're having this plant tested at the Agency?"
"Yeah, it should be completed sometime today, I hope." With a look at Amanda, Lee stood up and held out his hand to his wife. "We should probably get back and check on their progress."
TP looked over the picture of Sakamoto one last time before handing it back to Lee. "I'd be interested in the results of those tests."
"Yeah. I think we will be too. Thanks TP, we'll let you know what the results are when we get them."
TP gave them a nod and a salute and went back to his pistachios and reading. Leading Amanda out of the reading room, Lee headed for the exit. Stepping into the late afternoon sun, they hurried to the ‘Vette and turned toward Georgetown.
"Lee? Would you mind a drive by the Tidal Basin?"
"Any particular reason?"
"I don't know, I just want to see the trees. I just have a feeling the trees are involved."
Chuckling, Lee checked the rear view and hit the turn signal before turning back toward the Jefferson Memorial. "You sharing that psychic connection with Mom?"
"I guess so." Amanda shrugged.
"As long as we don't have to pay the long distance fees, the two of you can connect anywhere you want!"
"Anytime." With a wink, Lee reached over and gave Amanda's hand a gentle squeeze. "Don't worry, we'll figure this out."
"Faster than that would be better."
"I'm working on it, Amanda. I'm working on it."
Francine caught up with Lee and Amanda as they walked toward the bullpen. "It's about time the two of you got back here! Your mother has been calling all afternoon asking for updates. Billy is hiding, and Duffy and I are taking turns putting her off. Where have you been?"
"We had to check some things out at the Library of Congress."
"TP Aquinas, huh? If I had known that, I could have saved myself the trouble of dealing with the State Department to get a stats file on our men."
"Francine, you know you love to deal with the State Department."
"Knock it off, Stetson. What did TP give you?" Francine sat at her desk, pulling several files from a stack and opening them to reveal photos of the men from the surveillance tape.
"He only had background on Sakamoto."
"Francine? Has anything come back from the lab on the bonsai?"
Stabbing her pencil over her shoulder in the direction Beaman's desk, Francine pulled Sakamoto's file to the top.
"That's really mean, Francine. Making Beaman deal with that plant the last week he's here." It was very clear to anyone watching Amanda that she was trying hard to keep her smile subdued.
"Whatever, Amanda. He's up in the lab if you want to ask him anything. I'd wear a mask, they're having a field day up there."
"Thanks for the warning."
"Steston! My office. Now!" Billy's door slammed only to open again. "You too, Amanda. Move it!"
"Good luck." Francine said as Lee and Amanda
hurried to their boss's door.
"What's the matter, sir?" Amanda sat in the chair across from Billy, Lee sat on the corner of his desk.
"I have been fielding calls from your mother all day. No, don't interrupt me Amanda." Billy waived a hand as Amanda tried to interrupt. "Someone," with a pointed look at Amanda, "has to tell her that this agency is not at her personal beck and call. I applaud her commitment to this project, and I even understand her distress, but, the United States Government cannot stop its daily business to follow up on her concerns!"
"I'm really sorry, sir. I'll call her right away." Amanda got up and quickly left the office.
Lee watched his wife leave, and sighed. He didn't envy her that conversation with her mother. "Ah, I'm sorry Billy. It's just that when Dotty gets this way, not much can sway her from her path."
"Like her daughter. That's the only reason I'm not tossing this whole file in the circular file. I know how Amanda's hunches turn out. If her mother is like her daughter, there is bound to be something at the bottom of all of this."
"It's the ride to get to the facts that can be trying."
Billy laughed. "If we had wanted an easy ride, we would have been doctors or accountants. Maybe we could bring Mrs. West in, give her a tour, explain how we work...."
"No! Absolutely not! If you think it's bad now, think how much worse it could be with my mother-in-law and shadow shock! No way!"
"You're probably right." Billy laughed.
Both men looked up at the sharp knock on the door. Swinging it open, Beaman came into the office, a respirator mask hanging around his neck. Billy and Lee both moved back as Beaman entered, the smell of the plant Dotty West had brought in clinging to his clothes.
"We have the initial analysis on the plant. You're not gonna like this, considering what we're dealing with." Beaman tossed the report on Billy's desk and grinned.
Billy picked up the report and tried to read it, his eyes blinking as he waved a hand in front of his nose. Lee wasn't as polite.
"What the hell is that stench, Beaman?"
"Your plant, Stetson. I've been in the lab all day with that plant compiling the data from the lab rats."
"Why didn't you stay there?"
"Just trying to share the wealth, Stetson. You should thank me, I told the lab to crate the plant and mark it for evidence; they were going to send it home with you."
"Thanks. Evidence? What did they find?"
Beaman pointed to the report and waited for Billy to comment.
"Is this conclusive?" Billy waved the report at Beaman.
"Yeah. And that's just the initial. May I?" Beaman asked with a nod at Lee.
"That plant suffocated to death. Essentially, all the oxygen was removed from the soil by a genetically altered microbe that was introduced, which basically accelerated the decomposition of the soil. That's why it looks like tar; it's well on its way to becoming that."
"How could anything do that overnight?"
"The lab said the speed of decomposition was directly related to the size of the plant and the amount of the agent that was introduced. This isn't like anything we've seen before. Bryant is running some computer analysis on the microbe structure, possible outcomes, all the usual threat analysis."
"Is this a threat?" Billy asked, his words muffled as he spoke from behind his hands.
"Imagine the trees in the National Arboretum if this was added to the soil in amounts that would cause decomposition on a large scale."
"Or the cherry trees?" Lee's words fell into silence in the office. All three men looked at one another and nodded their heads.
"I'm heading back to the lab to get them to work on something that could arrest or neutralize that microbe." Beaman turned and left the room, barely avoiding Amanda and Francine as they entered the office.
"Good grief, Efraim! What in the world?" Francine tried to dodge Efraim, but found herself steadied by his hands on her shoulders.
"Back to the lab, Franny. No time to chat now. Later. Dinner."
With a toss of her head, Francine turned to find everyone staring at her. She sat down and glared at them. "We have to go over some of his cases, and we're running out of time now that we're traipsing after Mrs. West's phantoms."
"I think those phantoms just got some substance, Francine. Here's the initial report from the lab. Amanda, I don't know how you and your mother do it, but she's stumbled onto something. We just don't know what. Okay, so what do we know? Let's lay it all out on the table and see if we can't put this puzzle together."
The agents all nodded their agreement at their boss's suggestion. "Okay, Amanda and I went to see TP Aquinas. He gave us some background on Sakamoto. Besides being vocally anti-American, he also owns and runs a biotech company. His big success was a compound that could be added to dead soil to help re-oxygenate it."
"Seems somebody found a way to de-oxygenate it too. Beaman said the lab found a genetically altered microbe that speeds up decomposition by removing the oxygen." Billy passed the report from the lab to Francine.
"Can we tie it to Sakamoto?"
Everyone shrugged at Francine's question.
"My hunch is it's him. But we're gonna have to find proof." Lee told her. "Did you manage to get an interview with Mrs. York?"
"Yeah, Duffy and I went over to see her. Sakamoto isn't on the vendors list."
"Damn! Did you find out anything else?"
"She's terribly nervous about something. The poor woman nearly jumped out of her chair when Duffy dropped his tri-pod. As for Sakamoto's political ties, he's ultra-conservative, and he's put some pretty heavy pressure on the Japanese Prime Minister to kick the US off Japanese soil. He's made some headway; the Prime Minister has been sharply critical of the US military presence, pointing to the recent incidents involving US servicemen. It's widely known in Tokyo that Sakamoto was the wordsmith behind the Prime Minister's last speech. Sakamoto uses his money and his family influence, and he's gaining converts to his cause at each turn."
"So, why is he here, people? And who are the men with him?"
Francine shrugged and tossed the lab report back on Billy's desk. Lee shook his head and looked at Amanda, who was chewing her bottom lip.
"Sir? What if he's here to attack us on our own ground? The fact that he's trying to get the US military off of Japanese soil, his research, the bonsai plant, all of it can't be coincidence. It has to be tied together. Especially that the plant was a cherry tree, in the office of the volunteer coordinator for the National Cherry Blossom Festival three days before the festival begins. I don't think it's a stretch to connect all of this."
"I think you're right, Amanda. I'm going to regret it, but your mother is right. Alright. Do we know where Sakamoto is staying? What do we know about the men with him? Lee? Bring the volunteer coordinator in for questioning."
"Are we upgrading this?" he asked, reaching for the doorknob.
"Yeah. Move on it. Francine? Take someone with you, and go find Sakamoto and question him. Better take Duffy, I guess."
"I'll grab Patterson, too."
"Fine, take them all, but find him and question him. I doubt you'll get anything on him to bring him in."
"We probably don't want to do that anyway unless we can bring in all five of the men together."
"You're right. Get going. Amanda, call your mother, tell her to sit tight, that we're on this. None of us want to find her in the middle of this. No more Christmas Eve adventures for her."
"I understand sir. I'll do my best."
"Here's something to back up your best, Amanda. She either stays put or we bring her in and put her in a holding cell until this is over. I don't need your mother in the midst of another Agency operation."
"My mother doesn't take threats lightly, sir."
"Amanda, I'm not threatening her."
"Yes sir! I'll tell her that, sir." Amanda hurried from the office and headed to the nearest telephone. Dialing the house, the phone continued to ring until the answering machine came on.
"Oh mother, now where have you gone?"
Lee and Agent Mark Daniels stepped from the elevator on the floor that housed the National Cherry Blossom Festival Headquarters. Walking to Mrs. York's office, Lee nodded to Daniels as he knocked on the office door.
"The receptionist said she thought Mrs. York had been in all day, Stetson. Give the door a try."
Lee turned the handle and slowly pushed the door open. Both men cautiously moved into the office. It was empty; Daniels replaced his weapon in his shoulder holster while Lee looked around the room.
"Under the chair, Stetson. What's that?" Daniels pointed with his foot at one of the visitor chairs in the room.
Lee leaned over and pulled up a purse, his stomach hitting rock bottom. "That is a purse. My mother-in-law's purse to be exact. Damn. This is all we need."
"Just one big, happy spy family, huh, Stetson?" Daniels asked, buttoning his jacket.
"Yeah, something like that. Billy isn't gonna like this."
Both men jumped as the door to the office swung open. Amanda looked at the purse Lee held in his hand, and shook her head. "Please tell me my mother is attached to that and only in the ladies room."
Lee shook his head at his wife, handing her the purse. "Wish I could, Amanda, I wish I could."
"We have to find her, Lee. If she's with York, she could be in a lot of trouble. If she isn't, Billy is going to throw her in a holding cell."
"Might not be a bad place for her," her husband mumbled. At Amanda's sharp look, Lee held up his hands. "Okay, okay! I'm sorry, but you have to admit, it has its appeal."
"Yeah, that's what bothers me so much about it. Maybe we should join Francine and Duffy. They're going to talk to Sakamoto. What are you doing?"
Lee sat down at Mrs. York's desk and started opening the drawers. Turning the computer terminal towards Amanda, he pulled his lock picks from his jacket pocket and went to work on the large credenza file cabinet behind the desk. Daniels looked over the room, taking the time to re-lock the office door.
"What are we looking for, Lee? No, I know, don't tell me. I'll know when I see it."
Lee grinned at his wife, chuckling at her distaste for prying into peoples personal and private things. He continued to look in the files that pertained to the festival.
"I'm surprised that so many people donate their time and assets to this festival. I have a list of donors here." Amanda hit the print button, sending the document to the printer for a hard copy.
"Is our boy on it?" Lee asked, still thumbing through files.
"Looking...." Amanda scrolled through the page. "Yes! Here he is! On the third page. He's listed as donating maintenance. What could he possibly maintain?"
"Not physical maintenance," Lee said as he pulled a file from the credenza. "He's donating a clean up crew to clean up tonight, after the festivities tomorrow night as well as after the parade."
"A clean up crew?"
"Think about it, Amanda. Who would bother a group of men cleaning up the area after the day's activities?"
"No one would look twice at them. It's a good cover."
"Did Beaman say how they added that microbe to the plant?"
"No, but we better find out, fast. And we better find Mother. And Mrs. York."
Lee stood up, still reading the file. "I think I know where Sakamoto is going to be tonight. The crew he's assembled is to clean the area tonight."
Daniels opened the door and checked the hallway. "We're clear, Stetson. I take it we had better move."
Amanda and Lee followed Daniels out into the hallway.
"Yeah, I'm afraid we're running out of time."
The Tidal Basin
Lee parked the ‘Vette and climbed out, walking over to open Amanda's door. Taking Lee's hand, Amanda stepped out and handed Lee the keys to the car. He sighed and pocketed them.
Daniels pulled up behind them, and hopped out of his vehicle. "See Beaman and Desmond yet?"
Lee looked around the parking lot and shook his head. "No, not yet, they might be driving around the Basin first."
Giving Lee a nod, Daniels studied the area around him, before pointing towards a thick stand of trees. Lee watched as Amanda headed to the few facility tents that were set up in the area. "Amanda, they aren't going to be sitting in a tent. The park service has several permanent buildings around the Basin, let's wait for Francine and Beaman, and we'll spread out."
"At least Billy has people out looking for Mother and Mrs. York."
"I'm sorry, Lee. It just seems that now that Mother knows what we do for a living, she is turning up in the middle of our cases more often than not."
"Now you know how I felt. Every time I turned around, there you were! My prime witness, my only avenue into a closed event...."
"Thank you so very much."
"...my saving grace. Come on, we'll find her. Or if Sakamoto has her, he'll let her go."
"Out of self defense?" Amanda asked with the first smile she had given her husband in hours.
"Something like that. There's Francine and Beaman, come on."
"Find anything?" Francine asked as she climbed out of the car, her hair in wild tangles.
"What happened to you?" Lee pointed to Francine's hair.
With a toss of her head in Beaman's direction, Francine stalked off toward Amanda.
"Uh, I didn't get a chance to change my clothes before Billy sent me out into the field. I've been in the lab most of the day. Francine rode with the window down." Beaman told Lee as he tried to stay down wind of the group of agents before him.
Lee shook his head. "What a way to go out, Beaman. Okay, here's what we have: Mrs. West and Mrs. York are missing. We think they're together. We found that Sakamoto is donating maintenance crews to the festival. Beaman? Any opinions on how they can dispense that microbe?"
"The lab said they could easily spray it, seed it, or just add it to water and distribute it."
"Great. Any headway on how to reverse it?"
"They were working on it. My best guess would be not to let it get out in the first place. Ah, Stetson? Your wife and my partner have disappeared."
"Damn, she still doesn't stay put."
"Beaman, you have no idea."
Both men headed in the direction of the Jefferson Memorial, only to stop when a car pulled into the parking lot. Duffy and Patterson climbed out and jogged over to Lee and Beaman.
"Billy sent us over; we haven't been able to locate Mrs. West or Mrs. York."
"Yeah, we have a feeling they're with Sakamoto." Lee told them. "Right now, Amanda and Francine are searching the ground. Daniels too."
"You looking for Amanda and Desmond?" Patterson asked, well aware of Amanda's habit of slipping off.
"Yeah. Beaman, fill them in, will ya? I'm gonna check the memorial and the grounds around there; Amanda and I drove by earlier and we saw a grounds keeper building in that grove. See it?"
"I'll catch up to you."
Beaman turned back to the two agents as Lee jogged over to the Jefferson Memorial. Memories flooded back as he took the steps two at a time. Shaking his head, he focused on the problem at hand.
Finding the memorial empty, he headed toward the grounds building. Keeping to the tree line, Lee slipped silently through the shadows, moonlight seeping through the cherry blossoms. The scent of the blooms filled his head as petals gently drifted to the ground as he brushed passed by them.
Light flickered then disappeared from the doorway of the maintenance building. From his viewpoint, it had silhouetted the forms of Amanda and Francine a hundred yards in front of him. He watched as Amanda turned while he silently approached them, smiling at the connection he had with his wife.
"What do we have?" Whispering into Amanda's ear as he reached them, he noticed that Francine had her gun pulled. He automatically went for his own.
"One man, I think I recognize him from the surveillance video as one of Mrs. York's visitors the other night, is in the building. He's wearing a National Park employees uniform.
"Any sign of your mother or Mrs. York?"
"No. Any ideas how we can get close?"
The breeze shifted, bringing with it the unmistakable odor of the dead cherry bonsai. "Oh jeeze, Beaman," Francine hissed. "Couldn't you have taken a shower?"
"You offering to give me one?" At her deadly look, he turned to Amanda. "Do we have people in the building? Your mother?"
"One man, we don't know about Mother or Mrs. York, Efraim." Concerned that they had hit a roadblock, Amanda wrapped her arms around her and tapped her foot, a habit when she was nervous.
Beaman pulled his glasses off and stuck them inside his suit jacket. "Come on, you said I needed a shower, let's see that I get one, Francine. Watch for your opportunity, Stetson." Taking Francine by the elbow, Beaman led her toward the shed.
"Are you out of your mind?" Francine hissed at him, trying to break his hold. "You smell to high heaven!" Her voice had risen several octaves, carrying across the grounds in the still of the evening.
"Aww, Franny-baby! It wasn't my fault I fell in the tidal basin! I was tryin' to catch those falling cherry petals for you, sweetness."
With a glare that spelled retribution, Francine muttered, "I'll get you for this, Beaman," then louder so her voice carried in the night air, "Don't try to soften me up, Efraim Beaman! You're a mess. An absolute mess!"
Reaching the building, Francine and Beaman did a quick perimeter check. Not finding a way into the building except by the main door, Beaman picked up the hose, handed it to Francine and turned on the water. "Hose me down then, honey-bun." He spluttered when Francine hit him full in the face with the water spray from the hose. "Hey, baby, watch it!"
"I'll baby you, you arrogant...." Francine stopped short as the door swung open and a man stepped out into the darkness.
"Hey! Give me a hand here, will ya?" Beaman slipped in the mud that the water was creating, nearly landing on the man. "Franny baby, see if there's a towel or something in there. This poor man is full of mud. I'm so sorry! Here, let me help you up."
Beaman got up, keeping a hand on the man's shoulder. Francine came out of the building with a shake of her head. Beaman sighed, and stepped away from the man.
Bowing to the man, Beaman began to give him an apology in Japanese only to be cut short by the man.
"I speak English."
"This is Miss Desmond, I'm Efraim Beaman from the Agency." Both showed their credentials. We are looking for Mrs. York and Mrs. West."
Lee and Amanda came up behind them, carefully avoiding the mud. "Yes, and Sakamoto. We know what Sakamoto has planned. The women are innocent in all of this," Lee said, tossing the small packet of tissues that Amanda gave him to Beaman.
"Will you tell us where we can find my mother and Mrs. York?"
"The women are safe. They are guests of Sakamoto-san at the Hotel Monaco. They will be released when we have completed our task."
Duffy, who had followed Lee and Amanda, left when he heard where Dotty and Mrs. York were being held by Sakamoto.
"We have discovered the microbe and the damage it can inflict. We are also working on a method to reverse it if it is released. You will fail." Beaman told him as he wiped his glasses off and put them on.
"That we have been discovered is a failure."
Lights flashed in the parking lot as Agency vehicles and police cars poured in. Lights and sirens wailed all around the Tidal Basin, creating shadows of flashing light and fog through the cherry blossoms. Out of the racket walked Billy Melrose, his stride unhurried as he made his way to his team.
"Scarecrow, Amanda. We've rounded up the other men around the area, but no Sakamoto." He looked at Beaman, a grin breaking out. "What the hell happened to you, Beaman? Did you fall in?"
"Francine, Billy. I owe it all to Francine."
Billy laughed as he looked at Francine, spattered with mud. Turning, he asked, "Where's your mother, Amanda?"
"With Sakamoto at his hotel, sir."
"Well, let's go get her then."
Amanda, Lee and Billy turned to the parking lot as other agents moved in to take the man into custody. Francine tried to move out of the way, but her heels had sunk into the mud. She shrieked as she lost her balance and tottered just before she fell into the muck.
Beaman moved to help her, slipping and falling with her. "Get away from me, you oaf!" Francine screamed as she tried to find a way to get up out of the mud.
"Stop squirming, Francine! You're making this harder than it has to be!" Beaman got up and pulled Francine to her feet.
"Look at me! Look at me! I'm covered in mud! My shoes! Oh no! My brand new shoes!"
Billy wiped away the tears from his eyes as he laughed at his two agents. Amanda tried to control her laughter, Lee didn't bother. "Hose her off, Beaman. We're not done yet!" Lee yelled over Francine's stream of threats and complaints.
Hurrying to their cars, Billy stopped before he climbed in. "Jeez, I'm gonna miss sending those two out in the field."
The elevators opened on the penthouse floor. Agent Duffy stood up straight as Lee, Billy and Amanda stepped out.
"It's been quiet here, Mr. Melrose. Dinner was delivered for three people about 10 minutes ago."
"Anything out of the usual?"
"Shall we, people?" Billy led the way to the double doors of the penthouse suite. Knocking, he stepped back, as did his agents; a precaution that was ingrained in their behavior.
The doors were opened by a small, elderly Japanese man. He appeared to be the butler and after bowing, he waited patiently for Billy to announce himself.
Billy bowed and pulled his government identification from his raincoat. "I'm William Melrose with the Agency. We're here for Mr. Sakamoto."
"This way, please gentleman, madam." The butler led them into the dining room where Dotty and Mrs. York were seated eating dinner.
"Mother! Oh, Mother! Are you all right? Mrs. York? Are you all right, too?" Amanda hugged her mother. "Why didn't you stay put? I've been worried about you all afternoon."
"As you can see, Mrs. West and Mrs. York are both fine. Please, be seated." At the cultured voice that spoke, everyone turned as Hirokichi Sakamoto entered the room. "I am Hirokichi Sakamoto, and you are William Melrose of the Agency. You will wish to discuss my intent. I must assume that my men have been detained?"
"Yes, they have been. They have been taken to the Agency for questioning. We would prefer to speak with you there as well."
"As much as I would like to fulfill your request, Mr. Melrose, I find that I am unable to comply. You see, I have a diplomatic passport, as you will find my men do. I am exempt from your laws."
"Why you. . . ." Lee took a step toward Sakamoto only to stop by the touch of Amanda's hand on his arm.
"It is the way of the world, Mr. Stetson. I will come with you to assure the release of my employees. Ladies, I thank you for your delightful company. Mrs. West, our time has been most enjoyable this evening. I have enjoyed your passionate rationales in the defense of your country."
Dotty stood up, the butler having pulled her chair out for her. She bowed to Sakamoto. "I am glad we were able to stop you from destroying the trees. There are other ways to make a point, Mr. Sakamoto."
"For your sake, I am glad as well. Ladies? Gentlemen, shall we finish our business this evening?"
Lee helped Mrs. York from her chair as Amanda linked her arm with her mother's. "Mother, I've been so worried about you. I'm glad you're alright, and Mrs. York too."
"I knew you would find me, Amanda. I left my purse in Mrs. York's office."
"Oh, Mother, you took such a big chance!"
"Yes, you did Mom, and we're going to have a very long talk about this."
Dotty frowned at Lee, and leaned closer to Amanda. "Is he just saying that?"
"No, he's not. We are going to talk about this. It's about time things get straightened out."
"This I have to see."
Me too! Lee thought to himself. Me too.
The promenade walk around the Tidal Basin was filled with people reveling in the warm early spring sunshine. The sounds of laughter lingered in the air, mixing with the scent of the cherry blossoms.
"There she is! Lee, careful! You're going to hit that tree if you're not careful!" Amanda closed her eyes and gripped the handlebars of the bicycle built for two that Lee had insisted they rent.
Narrowly missing the tree that Amanda had pointed out, he managed to run into one of the many trash receptacles lining the walk. The heavy metal mesh container was solidly attached by post to the ground causing Lee to take a tumble off the bike and onto the ground.
Amanda managed to jump free of the falling bike, her hand over her mouth as she tried to stem her laughter.
"It's not funny! I could have been killed!"
"Oh, Lee! I told you it was harder than it looked. Are you okay?"
"It's about time you asked. Yeah, I'm fine. My ego is bruised." He took Amanda's offered hand and jumped up, dusting himself off.
Amanda leaned up and kissed his cheek, brushing his hair off of his forehead. "A little something for your ego."
"Thanks." Righting the bike, he pointed toward the visitor information booth. "Shall we go see how your mother is doing?"
"Yeah. You know, I'm pretty proud of her for the way she handled things yesterday. She obviously kept Mrs. York from panicking. She left a clue for us to find, and she..."
"And she's damn lucky that Sakamoto has diplomatic immunity, or both she and Mrs. York could very well not be with us today."
"I don't want to think about that."
"Sorry, Amanda. We have to think about that. She can't keep this up. We might not be there one day."
"Will Sakamoto and the others be deported? And poor Mrs. York; I think this is her last Cherry Blossom Festival."
"Mrs. York should have called the authorities as soon as she was threatened. We'll get to the bottom of that and why she acted the way she did. As for Sakamoto and his men? That's all we can do with them. But, they've been shamed; I don't know what they'll do. They live by a strange code of ethics that date back millenniums. And stop changing the subject. The next time, things might not go so well for her."
"Don't say that. At least not today. Today is too beautiful to spoil with those thoughts. Can't we just enjoy the fact that things turned out well for us?"
Hugging Amanda to his side, Lee nodded. Stopping, they both watched as Dotty handed out maps and informational pamphlets, pointing and cheerfully chatting with people asking questions.
"She's in her element. Mother is really very good with people."
"She sure is. Like her daughter."
"Aww. Trying to butter me up, Stetson?"
"Yeah, I want you to steer the bike on the way back."
Amanda laughed, planting a finger on Lee's chest. "No way, buster! You wanted the tandem, you're steering the bike!"
"I think you're shirking your duties in the back. I don't think you're pedaling!"
Her hand flew to her chest in mock horror. Amanda's eyes sparkled as she tried to answer without laughing. "How can you say that? I never shirk my duties!"
"Yeah, right. Come on, let's go talk to Mom." Holding the bike steady, both Lee and Amanda climbed on. About to pedal off, Lee stopped and pointed in the direction of the previous evenings encounter. "Hey, isn't that Beaman over there?"
Shielding her eyes from the bright sunlight, Amanda nodded. "Sure looks like him. Wanna go see what he's doing?"
They managed to ride the bike to the walk beside the small maintenance building. Beaman was hunched over, inspecting sections of the ground, torn up from the water and feet the night before.
"Morning, Beaman. What are you doing?"
"Looking for something, Stetson. Good morning, Amanda."
"Good morning, Efraim. What are you looking for? Can we help?" Amanda climbed off of the bike and stood along the edge of the pathway, looking intently at the ground.
"Francine lost an earring last night when she fell. She's pretty upset about it. I thought I'd look and see if I could find it. It's a large, hoop attached to a big button thing on the ear." He said, trying to describe to Amanda what the earring looked like.
"You must be pretty worried about some retribution for the mud bath last night if you're out here today looking for an earring." Lee remained on the bike, watching his wife and Beaman hunt the ground.
"I've already gotten an earful from her, believe me. Duffy begged me to switch assignments with him last night. He'd rather go to State."
Laughing, Lee agreed. "That's the general consensus. You seem to be the only one able to work with her."
"Yeah, something like that, Stetson." Beaman stopped, both hands out to keep anyone from moving. "Look, under that bush there!" Carefully moving the greening limbs of the small bush, Beaman picked up the missing earring. Smiling to himself, he pulled some tissues out of his jeans pocket and wiped it off.
Handing the earring to Amanda, Beaman tossed the tissues in a trash can. "Give that to Francine on Monday, will ya, Amanda?"
"Efraim? Don't you want to give it to her yourself?" Amanda tried to hand the earring back.
"Nah, I already said goodbye to her. Besides, I have briefings at State before my assignment and won't be able to get to the Agency to see her."
"What will you be doing at State, Beaman?" Lee asked, surprised that Beaman turned down an opportunity to see Francine.
"I really can't say. Sorry."
Lee nodded; he did understand. "Well, whatever you're doing, good luck. We'll see you then." Lee put his hand out to shake Beaman's.
Amanda gave him a quick hug. "Be careful. I'll see that Francine gets her earring."
Beaman nodded, smiled and walked away. Amanda watched him leave then climbed on the bike. "It's going to be quiet with him gone. He really gets Francine riled up."
"Yeah, I know. Duffy will have his hands full, that's for sure. Okay, you ready? Lets ride this thing over to your mom then get something to eat. I'm starved." Pushing off, they made a rather unsteady start then gradually picked up speed as they moved along the walk.
A young couple walking along the pathway with their small children darting around them made it impossible to find a clear path to steer. Lee tried to stop, but Amanda had her head down and continued to pedal. Lee swerved and yelled as he tried to stop the bike before they hit the edge of the Tidal Basin.
Resurfacing, both Lee and Amanda sputtered and pushed wet hair out of their eyes.
"Oh my gosh! Lee! Are you all right? What happened?"
Ducking down in the water, Lee pulled the bike up and struggled to get it on the walkway, nodding when Amanda gave him a hand. Giving Amanda a shove up, Lee pulled himself up on the walk, waving away the concerned crowd offering help.
"I didn't want to hit the little kids running, and you were pedaling, the only thing I could do was swerve. Unfortunately, I swerved the wrong way."
Amanda began to laugh, and laughed harder at the look her husband shot her. Lee joined in, pulling Amanda into his arms.
"The two of you are making a spectacle of yourselves, I hope you know that! What in the world...."
"Lee can't steer, Mother!" Amanda climbed to her feet, wringing out her jacket.
Trying to kick water out of his shoes, Lee gave Amanda a disgusted look. "Amanda doesn't take direction well!"
"Well, here's some direction for the two of you. Go home! And try to stay out of trouble on the way there. Please?"
Giving each other an amused look, they nodded at Dotty. "Sounds like a wonderful idea, Mother. We'll go home."
"And we'll stay out of trouble. We promise," Lee said, looking like trouble was the first thing he intended to find.
"Hmph. We'll see. Well go on, don't stand here dripping. Go home!"
Feeling Dotty's watchful eyes upon them, Lee and Amanda pushed the bike toward the rental area. Both of their shoes squished, and droplets of water dripped from them. They made short work of returning the bike and headed toward the car.
Amanda looked up at her husband, his face in the scowl she knew so well. Grinning, she gave him a shove. "First one to the car gets the shower first!" And with that challenge, she got a head start.
Laughing, she was about to touch the Wagoneer when she felt herself lifted off of her feet. "Hey, no fair! Interference at the finish line!"
Taking Amanda's hand in his, he reached out and they both touched the car. "Looks like it's a tie. Guess we'll have to share first place."
Laying her palm gently on Lee's chest right over his heart, Amanda smiled, her eyes glowing. "You're right. As long as I'm first here."
"You always have been, Amanda. You always have been."
the official website of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org
Japanese words not translated: