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.
Disclaimer: The plot, the settings, and some of the dialogue are borrowed from the screenplay for "The Man Who Knew Too Much," written by John Michael Hayes and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
By: Miriam and Julie
Many thanks to Cheryl, Elaine, Jean, JL, The Kris, Lisa, Mary, Nancy, Rita, Ruth, Sandy, and Suzanne for their helpful suggestions and encouragement. Thanks to Emma for developing the promotional advertisement.
Apologies to the residents of London, for making a few blocks of skyscrapers fictively disappear during part of the story. To make up for it, we put in a man in a kilt for Jean.
An adventure, that's what it was. An honest-to-goodness adventure. Jamie squinted through the dust-coated rear window of the jolting bus. If only he could see better . . .
Golden sand rippled under an aquamarine sky, and blue-gray mountains hovered on the horizon. The washboard road between Casablanca and Marrakesh stretched a hundred miles north of the Sahara, and a million miles from boring Arlington.
He'd finally have something interesting to say when old Mrs. Ryerson made his English class write the usual "How I Spent My Spring Vacation" essay. Going to Africa sure beat Phillip's stupid class trip to San Francisco. And who wanted to be on the basketball team, if practice meant you couldn't spend a week visiting Dad in Estoccia?
To his left, Mom perched on the edge of the lumpy seat and flipped through her guidebook, while humming that cool "Marrakesh Express" song. Lee slumped back, his eyes closed and his legs thrust into the aisle.
When the bus pulled into an inhabited area, shadows from the squat, flat-roofed buildings blotted out the blazing sun. The vehicle nearly scraped the white plaster walls lining the narrow street. The driver blared his horn to hurry along a donkey cart and a man riding a camel.
"Is this Marrakesh?" He unsnapped the cover of his camera case and checked his supply of film.
Lee glanced out the window. "Not yet, Sport. This is Ourika, just a village. We're pretty close, though."
Ourika, Tangier, Marrakesh. Even the names sounded spicy and exotic. Mar-ra-kesh: it started like a song and ended in a whisper.
"Marrakesh." He rolled the word across his tongue. "Sounds like a drink."
Lee winked at him. "You bet it does."
Mom jogged Lee with her elbow. "I've got some bottled water, if anyone's thirsty." Her face became serious. "We need to be careful to not get dehydrated in this heat."
"I wish I could use it to wash the window," Jamie said. "I can hardly see anything." He craned his neck. "There's an empty seat near the driver, and I think the windshield's pretty clean. Can I sit up there?"
Mom tensed, but Lee rose to his feet, clearing the way. Thank goodness Lee didn't treat you like a baby who couldn't do anything. After all, what could go wrong?
He scuttled out of his seat and inched up the aisle. As the bus swayed and thumped from one pothole to the next, he barely managed to stay upright. When he had almost reached the empty seat, the brakes squealed, and the bus jerked to a stop in an open square. Thrown off balance and dazzled by the light, he grabbed for something to hold onto.
Then everyone went nuts.
Beside him, a woman shrieked and covered her face with her hands. A burly man in a long robe and a turban jabbed a finger into his chest and shouted something. The man's breath was hot against his face, his smell--sweat mixed with oranges--almost overwhelming. People sitting nearby called out and hissed.
"I don't understand." He edged back toward Mom and Lee, but the crush of people boarding and getting off the bus blocked his path. The man yelled and waved his hands.
He tried to call Lee, but his voice caught in his throat. Maybe the man would pull out one of those curved swords--scimitars, that's the word, he'd read about them in history class--and attack. With the people in the way, probably Mom and Lee couldn't even see him.
A gentle hand grasped his shoulder, and a man standing behind him said something that calmed the furious stranger. His rescuer pried something from his clenched fist--something he didn't know he was holding--and handed it to the woman.
Her veil. The woman whipped the triangle of dark fabric in front of her face. He must have pulled it off when he grabbed for the seat.
"I'm sorry," he gasped to her, but she turned away.
The crowd had thinned enough for him to turn around. His rescuer had pale skin and wore Western clothes. "It was an accident," Jamie said.
"Yes, I understand." The man's accent reminded him of those he'd heard during the skiing trip in Quebec.
Lee was striding up the aisle. Oh, boy. He was in for it now.
"I don't know how to thank you," Amanda said. "Goodness knows what would have happened if you hadn't stepped in."
Lee scowled, and she guessed his thought: *I would have taken care of it*. Well, the charming Monsieur Bernard couldn't have known that her husband spoke fluent French and passable Arabic. And they had every reason to be grateful to the man who had come to Jamie's rescue and who now dangled his arm over the seat in front of them.
Maybe Lee was jealous. With his white silk suit, wavy hair, and dark eyes, Louis Bernard looked suave but rakish, like a debonair gypsy. And he had impeccable manners, including a graceful bow and a continental way of kissing her hand.
"Ah, it was nothing. I am sure your husband could have handled the matter." Bernard turned to Lee. "Your French is perfect, and your Arabic is very good. Perhaps you have spent considerable time abroad?"
"Lee's been all over the world," Jamie said. "He makes documentaries. So does my mom." He held up his camera. "I want to be a photographer for National Geographic, so I can travel a lot. I've only been to Quebec and Munich."
"And now, Morocco. Will you stay long enough to take many photographs?"
"Just a couple of days. Then I'm going to Estoccia, to see my dad."
"That must be difficult, having a father who lives so far away."
Jamie shook his head. "Phillip--he's my brother--and I see Dad all the time, back in Washington. Dad's on a special assignment for the Emergency Aid Organization."
Amanda smiled at the pride in Jamie's voice and slipped her arm around him.
Bernard smiled back at her. "I thought everyone who lived in Washington worked for your government. Perhaps some of your films are made for them, is it not so?"
"Some of them."
She jumped when Lee jabbed her ribs. Why was he so edgy? "But I'm afraid you wouldn't find movies about crop rotation very interesting."
Lee cleared his throat. "This is a family vacation, Mr. Bernard, not a business trip. What brings you to Morocco?"
Mr. Bernard appeared not to have heard the question over the background chatter in French and Arabic. "I would love to hear more about your travels. And about your work."
"Do you live in Marrakesh?" Lee asked.
"From time to time." Bernard leaned forward. "I could give you a tour and take you to dinner. I know a delightful place, where the food is superb and the atmosphere authentic. Like something from Galland's 'Les Mille et Une Nuits.'"
"It sounds lovely, but we're the ones who owe you dinner." She heard Lee swear under his breath. Really, she had only touched Bernard's hand.
"You are too kind. I am free tonight, and I insist on taking you. But if you would like to buy me a drink . . ." Bernard paused. "You are staying at Hotel Kenzi Semiramis, I would imagine."
"What makes you think that?"
Embarrassed by the sharpness of Lee's tone, she said, "Why don't you have a drink with us there, before dinner? You must be a mind-reader."
"It is the logical choice for sophisticated travelers who appreciate a beautiful atmosphere. The gardens are superb, a true paradise. May your entire stay be equally delightful."
Lee shifted on the wooden seat of the fiacre, but didn't elude the luggage jabbing his back. With every clop of the horses' hooves, Amanda's suitcase pounded his spine. So much for letting Jamie pick the means of transport to the hotel. Well, judging from Jamie's profile, as he perched beside the driver, one member of their party was happy.
Make that two members. Amanda was humming that damn "Marrakesh Express" song again, which he'd never get out of his head. When she snuggled against him, he remembered the line, "I smell the garden in your hair," and softened. In this case, the scent combined Prell shampoo with the fragrance uniquely Amanda's. But he'd never been in a garden that could match the latter.
"Are you having a good time, sweetheart?"
He winced as the carriage wheels hit a pothole and the sharp corner of the suitcase hurtled against his back. "Except for that Bernard character. We might as well have given him our passports." He lowered his voice. "I know we can't expect Jamie to be discreet, but you ought to know better."
She frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"The man knows where we live, what we do for a living, and the names of our kids. He knows where Joe is and who he works for, how long we'll be here, and where we're staying. And what do we know about him?" He slashed the air. "Zip."
"Oh, come on. We know his name is Louis Bernard, and that he's French, and, um . . ."
"See? Absolutely zip." He elbowed the suitcase back. It slid forward and thudded against his kidneys. "Didn't you notice how he tap-danced around my questions?"
"He was being polite, by acting interested in us. After all, he's French."
"Your typical French conversation doesn't involve a Class C interrogation. And whatever he didn't learn on the bus, he'll pick up over drinks and dinner. Why the hell did you invite him?"
Her brow puckered, and for a moment he thought he'd gone too far. Great, Stetson. You didn't come to Morocco to fight with your wife.
Then she gave him a rueful smile. "I think you really need this vacation."
"Oh, yeah? A couple of minutes after we got off the bus, I saw Bernard chatting with that Arab guy who blew up at Jamie. They looked like old friends."
"He was probably apologizing for what Jamie did. You said that's taken pretty seriously in an Islamic country."
Lee jabbed the suitcase with his elbow. "I already apologized. In French and Arabic. So what'd they have to talk about?"
"Maybe the weather. There's no reason to be suspicious of that nice man." When he didn't answer, she continued, "Anyway, we're just on vacation. We have nothing to hide."
"Yeah, well, something tells me that Louis Bernard does."
Lee knotted his tie and shook his head at the sound of Amanda belting out a song in the shower. Number six on the list of quirks he'd made two years ago. Honestly, how could someone who almost always sang the same song complain about his humming when he dried his hair?
Maybe he should be glad she'd abandoned "The Marrakesh Express" for Old Faithful.
"Que *sera*, sera, whatever will
He could foresee tonight's events, all right. A quick drink with Louis Bernard in their room and dinner at a restaurant. Then he'd never have to see the guy again.
With a sigh, he stepped onto the balcony. The fierce heat of the day had given way to a cool blue dusk, and a rose-scented breeze brushed his face.
No wonder Islamic texts portrayed paradise as a garden. After the desert, the gardens that surrounded the pink stucco hotel and filled its courtyard seemed a minor miracle. Date palms tossed shaggy heads above the tiled roof opposite him. Far in the distance, the snowcapped Atlas Mountains loomed, their contours as irregular as crumpled paper. Directly below, the vivid scarlets and burnished oranges of flowering plants--roses, lilies, birds of paradise--softened in the luminous fading light.
Squawks from the parrots and peacocks drowned out the
splash of the lighted fountain. Jamie crouched in front of the caged
monkeys, which peered through their bars like tiny wizened men begging
for alms. On the other side of the garden, the tame gazelle grazed.
Earlier that afternoon, the creature had nibbled a leaf from Jamie's
If he believed in reincarnation, Lee thought he'd believe that Amanda would come back as a gazelle. Graceful, delicate, and shy and brave at the same time.
"Hey, big fella." Amanda strolled onto the balcony and slipped her arm through his. "It really is a paradise, isn't it?"
He leaned forward to kiss her. "As long as I'm with you."
Someone rapped at the door. "That must be Mr. Bernard."
"Yeah. Time for drinks with the stranger in paradise."
Amanda set down her wineglass and shot a warning glance at Lee. Fortunately, Jamie was busy cleaning his camera lens; otherwise, he might wonder why Lee was so out of sorts.
"What do you mean, you do 'this and that'?" Lee paced their suite, rattling the ice cubes in his tumbler of Scotch. "That's not much of a job description."
Mr. Bernard sipped his Pernod. "This is not a job interview. If you must know, I am in the import-export business."
Lee cocked an eyebrow, and she gave a slight nod. Yes, the term served as a codeword and a cover for espionage. But honest men also conducted innocent business under that rubric.
"What do you buy and sell?" she asked. "We haven't done any shopping yet. I need to bring something back for Phillip and my mother."
"You will find much to choose from in the bazaar. The silk embroideries, the Berber weavings, and the wood carvings are of very high quality. Attar of roses makes an exquisite perfume. And the nomads specialize in silver and amber jewelry." He turned his head toward Lee. "As a special gift for your wife, perhaps an emerald ring? Or an inlaid dagger for yourself?"
"What's the name of your company?" Lee asked.
"I work for several firms. Let us talk of something more interesting. Your son said you traveled a great deal. Where have you have visited recently? London, perhaps? Or Paris?"
Good thing they hadn't picked up one of those inlaid daggers. Judging from how his jaw muscle twitched, Lee would be tempted to hold the knife to Louis Bernard's throat. She could almost hear the standard Agency instructions: *Turn the questioning back on your opponent.*
"Does your business operate between here and Paris?"
Yup. Just what she'd expected.
"I was born in Paris," Bernard said. "I prefer Morocco."
There was a knock at the door, and Amanda got to her feet. "That must be the maid with the towels."
Instead, a thin, sallow man, with slicked back hair like patent leather and hollow cheeks, stared at her. "Excusez-moi," he said, in a voice that reminded her of Peter Lorre. "Je cherche pour la chambre de Monsieur Montgomery."
"I'm sorry, I don't--" She turned to call Lee, but he was already there, with Jamie right behind him.
"Il n'est pas ici, Monsieur. Vous etes perdu."
The man rose on tiptoe and peered around them. Then he murmured, "Pardonnez-moi," and glided down the corridor, his footfalls almost soundless on the tiled floor.
She cast a questioning glance at Lee, and he shrugged before locking the door.
Mr. Bernard had risen from the loveseat and stood in the shadow cast by a large cedar armoire inlaid with brass. Just the spot she would choose, if she wanted a view of the door while staying out of sight.
His expression apologetic, Bernard ducked into the light. "You must excuse me, I suddenly remembered some pressing business. I am afraid I cannot join you for dinner tonight. Perhaps another time."
When the door swung shut behind him, she said, "What do you suppose that was about?"
Lee frowned. "Maybe the guy in the hall found Mr. Montgomery after all."
Jamie gave a low whistle. "Man, I wish Grandma could see this place."
This was pretty cool, sitting on cushions on the floor while you ate. The waiter dousing your hand with warm water from a silver pitcher beat washing up before meals. And he could get used to eating with his hands--or rather, his right hand. Lee said you should only use your first two fingers and thumb, and that you should keep your left hand in your lap. He'd promised to explain why later.
Eating roast chicken this way might seem like a challenge. But for a person who could eat Fruit Loops with chopsticks, no sweat.
Lee didn't seem to be having trouble, either. At least not with eating. He wasn't doing too good with sitting. This table was way too low. Moroccan men must be short.
Not just Moroccans went to this restaurant, though. Lots of pale-skinned people in Western dress sat at other tables, along with groups of Arab men. None of the women looked as pretty as Mom. And nobody else spoke English.
"I said, 'What is cous-cous made of?' That's the third time I've asked." Mom pressed her palm against Lee's forehead. "Are you feeling all right?"
Lee glanced at a corner table, for about the fifth time. "Do you see how those people are staring at us?"
"You mean the old man and the old woman over there?" Jamie asked. They didn't seem very interesting--kind of dumpy, really. The woman could have been Mrs. Ryerson's sister, and the man looked like the pharmacist at the Arlington Rite Aid.
"Maybe if you stopped staring at them, they'd stop staring at you."
"Hey," Jamie said. "They're headed this way."
Mr. and Mrs. Dumpy stopped in front of their table. Mr. Dumpy shuffled his feet. Mrs. Dumpy cleared her throat and spoke with a British accent. "You must think we're dreadfully rude. I know we've been staring at you, but, well, we saw you check in at our hotel, and heard you speak English, and sometimes we get homesick for conversation in our native language." Mr. Dumpy peered through his wire-rimmed spectacles and bobbed his head. "We were wondering if we could join you for a while. Just while we have our mint tea. You looked so friendly, and . . ." She fluttered her hands.
Obviously these people didn't know Lee. His expression wasn't exactly friendly. But Mom got to her feet and held out her hand. "Of course. I'm Amanda Stetson. This is my husband, Lee, and our son, Jamie."
Mrs. Dumpy shook her hand. "You're very kind. I'm Lucy Drayton, and this is my husband, Edward."
"Have you been in Morocco long?" Mom asked.
Oh, great. An evening of boring grown-up conversation. He tuned out most of it, keeping his eyes on the food. And on the waiters, who wore loose white robes and pattered noiselessly between the tables. They pulled off a tough job, never writing orders down, schlepping one course after another on heaped platters balanced on one hand. He bet Lee would leave a good tip.
The only interesting moment came when Mr. Dumpy mentioned his job--something to do with food supplies and United Nations relief.
"My dad arranges food shipments to Africa for the Emergency Aid Organization," Jamie said. "Do you know him? His name is Joe King. I'm going to visit him in Estoccia."
"My, that does sound exciting." Mr. Dumpy bared his yellow teeth in a thin smile. "I'm more of an agricultural advisor. My latest report was on soil erosion in Morocco." He coughed. "Unfortunately, nobody read it."
Who could blame them? Jamie turned his attention to the honey pastries that Lee called Khab El Ghzal. They tasted like the baklava that Grandma sometimes brought home from the Greek deli. The banana-shaped "gazelle horn" cakes and the halva--some kind of fudge--were pretty good, too.
"Oh my gosh, will you look at that!" Mom sounded annoyed.
Mrs. Dumpy stopped stirring her tea. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, it's really nothing." Strangely enough, Mom was blushing. "That man who just came into the restaurant invited us to dinner, cancelled, and now here he is. He looked at me like he'd never seen me before in his life."
Yeah, Mr. Bernard stood in the entrance, with a very pretty woman beside him. But she wasn't as pretty as Mom.
Lee shrugged. "He obviously made other plans."
"Speaking of plans," Mr. Dumpy said, "would you like to go to the market with us tomorrow morning? We can show you where to get the best bargains. And with all the jugglers and acrobats and magicians, I'm sure Jamie can take some very interesting pictures."
He swallowed a mouthful of halva. "That sounds great! Can we go?"
Mom smiled. "I don't see why not."
Maybe meeting Mr. and Mrs. Dumpy, er, Drayton, would turn out to be a good thing after all.
Keeping up with Jamie was as tough as tailing a good KGB operative, Lee thought. The boy had woven through the stalls of the crowded bazaar at double time. He bought film from three different venders and snapped pictures of everyone--from the water sellers wearing hats with tinkling bells, to the veiled women operating treadle sewing machines. At least the Draytons helped keep an eye on him while Amanda shopped.
"Hey!" His wandering stepson raced up and pointed to a busy stall. "Mr. Drayton says that man's a doctor. He's got lizards and snakes and stuff."
Amanda tucked her latest purchase--a brass coffee pot, big enough to house several genies--into his already laden arms. "Next time you complain about going to the doctor, maybe I'll take you here," she said. "You don't know how good you've got it."
"Mr. Stetson, I've never enjoyed the market so much," Mrs. Drayton called out from a few feet away. "Jamie makes me see it with fresh eyes."
With his chin, Lee nudged the pot to the side, to clear his line of sight. "I hope he's not wearing you out."
"It's very exhilarating. Goodness, what's all the commotion?"
Commotion, indeed. Shouts and gunfire drowned out the babble of bargaining and the eerie piping of the snake charmers.
"Cool! Maybe I can get some good action shots."
He dumped the packages beside Amanda and grabbed Jamie's arm. "No, stay here with your mother."
With a sense of foreboding, he climbed an outside staircase leading to a veranda, above a café redolent of roast lamb and cinnamon. When he shaded his eyes from the noonday sun, he made out a white-robed figure running through the market and shoving aside everyone in his path.
A bicyclist in the man's way rammed into a pottery stall, bringing its wares clattering to the ground. The runner collided with an Arab workman balancing a vat on his head, and blue dye spattered onto both men and the cobbled street. Donkeys brayed and kicked when the man hurled himself through their fenced enclosure. Further back, two uniformed policemen sprinted in obvious pursuit, and three men in burnouses, with rifles slung across their backs, trotted behind them.
Another white-robed man pulled the runner aside, and the two struggled for a moment. Sunlight flashed off something metallic. Then the fugitive, his identity marked by the blue dye stains on his robe, dashed forward. One of the policemen hefted a pistol and fired a shot into the air. The runner turned right and headed toward Amanda and Jamie.
Cursing, Lee raced down the steps and stopped in front of his family, his arms spread protectively, just as the crowd parted to let the runner pass.
Except the man wasn't running anymore. Instead, he staggered, his hands groping behind him. For a moment, he looked straight at Lee. Then he stumbled forward, grabbed Lee's arms, and collapsed.
When Lee tried to break the man's fall, he felt the handle of a knife protruding from the stranger's back. Then he brushed his hand against the man's face, revealing streaks of pale flesh, as something dark and greasy clung to his fingers.
Behind him, Amanda gasped. She was clutching Jamie, pressing his face against her breast, shielding his body with hers. Her dark eyes held Lee's gaze, and she mouthed, "Bernard."
"Stetson," Bernard choked out, as he slipped to the ground. "Ecoutez."
Blood bubbled from his mouth, and his breath came in wheezing gasps. Lee knelt by his side and listened.
"Un homme d'Etat . . . sera tue' . . .`a Londres . . . Dites-leur . . . Ambrose Chappel . . ." The death rattle in his throat cut off his whisper.
With fingers slick with blood and greasepaint, Lee checked for a nonexistent pulse. Why had Bernard told him about an assassination plot in London? Who was Ambrose Chappel?
Before he could begin to guess the answers, two gendarmes dragged him to his feet.
"It's all right, sweetheart." Amanda hugged Jamie and looked into his eyes. "I know this is upsetting, but you and Lee and I are all fine."
"I don't understand." Her son's face blanched beneath his recently-acquired tan.
"Lee was just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now he has to file a police report, and I'm going with him."
"I'll go, too."
"No. You go back to the hotel with Mr. and Mrs. Drayton and wait for us there. Everything will be okay. I promise."
Mr. Drayton patted her arm. "We'll take good care of Jamie. Call if we can do anything to help. Anything at all."
"Thank you." Couldn't her family enjoy something as mundane as a vacation, without getting mixed up in some international incident?
Apparently not. Amanda squared her shoulders and jogged after Lee.