Boy Wonder...Meet Batman
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: I retain the rights to the plot and not the characters...well... except the ones I created. (grins)
Billy Melrose closed the door and turned to face his two favorite agents. A manager wasn't supposed to have favorites, but he couldn't deny that he had great respect for the man and woman now sitting in his office.
He walked around his desk and sat down in his comfortably worn chair. He leaned back a bit, as he was inclined to do, and crossed his hands together under his chin. "I received a call today from the director of the NSA."
"The NSA?" Lee perched forward in his chair. "Why would they call us? Why not contact the FBI or the CIA?"
"I don't know. Last week one of their top developers went missing. He finished his shift on Friday night, but didn't show up to work on Monday morning. For some people this wouldn't be an unusual occurrence, however, for this particular developer it was." Billy handed Amanda a picture across his desk. "This is Marcus Ryan, the missing developer, a 1984 MIT grad."
"He's so young," Amanda murmured. ""Should we assume his friends and family have been questioned, sir?"
"NSA contacted everyone they know of that would have a relationship with Ryan, none of them had heard from him. The list of people to contact wasn't long. Two family members, a mother and a grandfather and only one friend, one of the girls he works with."
"This kid disappears for five days and the NSA is calling for help?" Lee arched his brow in disbelief. "Who exactly is this guy?"
Billy grimaced. "I was told, and I quote, ‘who he is and what he does is confidential and extraneous information.' In other words, you're flying blind on this one. In that file is the list of names contacted, and the places they looked for Ryan. The list is short. The NSA doesn't do field espionage, but they seldom come to the Agency for help."
Lee looked up from the picture in Amanda's hands to Billy. "That really makes me wonder why they asked us instead of the CIA. Obviously, they've come to the conclusion that he was kidnapped."
"There is something else you should know." Billy turned to meet Lee's eyes. "They asked for the two of you specifically."
Amanda's gaze shot up from the file to meet his
eyes. "How could they know to ask for me?"
"Yes, Scarecrow, from what I can tell they pulled everyone in this department's file. Including mine."
Amanda looked first at Billy and then to Lee. "What does that mean?"
"It means they have high security clearance, very high security clearance." Lee stared at Billy. "Which in turn tells us this is no ordinary developer, or kidnapping."
"Right." Billy stood up from the desk and walked over to his briefcase on the floor and pulled out another folder. "I figured since they pulled our files, it was only fair to pull Ryan's NSA file."
Billy handed the folder to Lee. "There is mainly low profile work in there. Things Crypto could handle here. However, there is one project I can't access."
Amanda looked at the file over Lee's shoulder. "Project 147? Do we have any idea what it is?"
Billy shook his head. "No. And unfortunately that is all the details I have to give you. I know this is a lot of vague information. I get the feeling they want to find the kid badly, but are afraid to let too many people know their business. There is only one thing worse than the secrecy surrounding the NSA and that is their lack of cooperation with the rest of the government agencies."
Lee nodded in understanding. "I'll put out some feelers. Hopefully, we can get some more information on P-147 to help us start."
"I'll try and put some pressure on the directors." Billy rested his hand on the edge of his desk. "See if we can't get more to go on. I thought about going to Smyth to see what he could do, but for now I want to keep this strictly in our office. What he doesn't know he can't report. I would start with the relatives. The fact that they had no idea he was missing is a bit strange."
"Smyth could buy us some information. You know how he hates to be left out of the loop. And this is one big loop, Billy." Lee stood up and led Amanda to the door.
Billy followed them to the door. "Let's keep it below Smyth's radar for the time being. They didn't call him in for a reason. Let's see if we can't keep it that way."
"My thoughts exactly." Lee placed a hand at Amanda's back and led her from the office.
"Francine!" Billy shouted out of his office.
A few moments later she appeared. "You rang," she said sarcastically.
"Oh, knock it off. I need your help with acquiring some information and the sources are right up your alley."
Francine's eyes lit up. "Oh really? Just what do I need to do?"
"Lee and Amanda are working on a case for the NSA."
"For the NSA?"
"Yes, Francine. The bigwigs are blackballing us and won't give us information that I think is vital to the case. I need you to work on your contacts inside the CIA and FBI to find out about Project 147. Its classified so high I can't even access it."
"I'll make some phone calls; see what I can find out."
"Thanks. And Francine? Be careful, the endgame in all this is still a mystery."
She winked. "I always am Billy."
He watched as Francine walked to her desk in the bullpen, then closed his door. He had a few more phone calls to make.
Lee closed the door of the Q-Bureau. "What time do we have to pick up Phillip?"
"Seven." Amanda sat down at her desk and opened the file.
Lee perched on the edge of her desk. "Are you nervous about telling him?"
"Not at all." Amanda shook her head. "Well, a little bit…" She sighed and looked up at Lee. "Yes, I shouldn't be, but I am."
"Phillip will understand Amanda." He placed his hand on her cheek and smiled.
She touched her hand to his. "I hope so. In some ways he's so much more difficult to handle than Jamie."
"It will be fine. After he knows, things will be much easier to handle."
"I know. It's just the build up is sometimes worse than the actual event. And Joe won't be back until Sunday night, so I don't know how Phillip will handle it."
"Let's not worry about it now. We can't do anything until we get home." Lee picked up the second file off of her desk and headed to his own. "Let's see if we can find anything useful in these." He sat down and opened the Agency dossier. "Not very large files, are they?"
"He's so young Lee." She scanned the pages. "He graduated from high school at 14, MIT at 17." Her eyes shot up to Lee. "He's only 22 years old."
"No wonder Billy kept referring to him as a kid." Lee shook his head, "He must have been only 18 years old when they recruited him."
"Can they do that?"
Lee sighed. "Apparently they did. Now I'm especially curious as to why the NSA reported him missing and not his mother. She should have called his apartment and realized something was wrong." He grabbed the folder. "What do you say we go for a ride?"
Amanda grabbed her jacket off the back of the chair. "I think that is a very good idea."
* * * * *
"How long is it going to take you to finish the prototype?" The fat man's breath permeated the air in front of him. Marcus guessed the man had some sort of onion and garlic combination with his dinner.
"Honestly, can't tell you." Marcus feigned calm. He lifted his fingers from the keys and turned from the computer. "I thought it was almost finished… but I'm having trouble with the recognition sequence. This could take me five minutes or five years to fix."
A fleshy paw slammed onto the table next to him. "It had best not take five years. Your days are numbered to a lot less than that. Finish it." He paused for effect. "Soon!"
"Jenks! Wake up!" The fat man stomped across the room and shoved his associate out of his slumber.
"What Frank?" The skinny man, Jenks, sat up and rubbed his eyes. "I'm awake."
"Stay that way. Make sure the kid keeps working." Frank then left the room with a slam of the door behind him.
Marcus turned from the closed door his hands shaking slightly. "Your friend has no idea what I'm talking about when I tell him what I still have to do. Does he?"
Jenks stared at him in confusion. "Huh?"
Marcus shook his head in disgust. "Never mind." He cracked his knuckles to calm himself. The habit helped him relax and he settled down to adjust the recognition sequencing on his project.
It was a shame that all his hard work was going to go to waste in another country. Marcus had been secretly working on the Echelon enhancements since the NSA hired him. The original satellite dish was able to pick up voices and conversations, but it wasn't able to pinpoint a specific location or recognize the voices of important people.
At the NSA Marcus had been improving what had been started in the 50's. Echelon was a program that could detect conversations and pinpoint important keywords from a satellite launched into space. The satellite and corresponding software that he was enhancing now was not yet in orbit. Instead it was housed in a warehouse in Florida. He was able to listen to a conversation in Hong Kong the day he was kidnapped and brought to this hellhole they were calling an office.
Marcus had better digs in college.
He lifted his head to see Jenks falling asleep again in the corner. An infomercial played in the background on the TV "Skinny" kept constantly on. Looking around the room he searched for a weapon, yet again. He'd looked hundreds of times; maybe this time would be different. As he scanned the room, he realized that Fat Frank hadn't locked the door or dropped the bar outside when he left. He would be able to simply walk out the door, as long as he didn't run into anything or anyone on the outside.
Marcus took a deep breath and gathered the courage to sneak out the door. The soft sound of voices reverberated in the hallway. Marcus moved from the worktable and closer to the door to more clearly hear what was being said.
Frank's voice reached his ears first. "He's moving too slow. I think he's doing it on purpose."
"I told you he needed more time before you took him." The voice that responded seemed so familiar to him, but Marcus couldn't pinpoint how he knew it. It was a female voice, soft but commanding. "Plus, I don't pay you to think. You just keep him healthy and working until he's finished. I'm guessing with his talent he will be finished in couple days. Let's go into my office. I have someone I want you to follow tomorrow. Two agents have been assigned to find our young Mr. Einstein in there. I want you to follow them and find out what they know."
A door opened and the two voices faded.
Marcus still couldn't place the voice, but at least he knew someone was looking for him now. It had been a week since his kidnapping, if he had to, he figured he could stall for at least another week.
Marcus sat back down at the worktable and pulled himself close to the computer. Then he began leaving breadcrumbs. He may have a boring life outside of the NSA, but it was still life. At the age of 22, he wasn't ready to leave it behind. His fingers flying over the keyboard, he began a code to continually contact the satellite in hopes that someone would notice it.
Amanda caught herself playing with her necklace, running it quickly back and forth along its chain. She forced her hands down into her lap. Her frustration wasn't going to disappear with mindless fidgeting.
She and Lee had attempted to interview Marcus Ryan's mother. They had arrived at the house the first time in early after noon. When no one answered their knock, they had grabbed a bite to eat. The second trip, an hour later had yielded no better results, so it was a wasted drive to the Baltimore suburbs.
The trip to Marcus' apartment in D.C. was pretty much a waste of time as well. It was sparsely decorated, with everything placed in a specific location. Magazines labeled in boxes, the pantry organized by alphabetized cans, Marcus lived by the rule everything has a place and everything in its place. The two of them searched for anything that might give them a clue as to what Marcus' life was like. The only things they found in the apartment of any interest to them were several computers in his second bedroom. They grabbed the few personal letters left in the desk drawer and Lee contacted the Agency. At Lee's request, Billy sent a sweep team to collect the computers for analysis.
Since they still had no leads, Lee suggested next trying the NSA lab where Marcus worked. They had spent the last three hours interviewing his co-workers, none of whom knew much about Marcus or what he was working on.
They were no closer to finding the boy than they had been this morning.
Now they were heading to the high school to pick up Phillip. She just hoped this encounter went better than the rest of the day.
The High School
Lee and his mother were a few minutes late picking him up. Phillip didn't mind though because was so glad to see them. He was no world traveler. He liked Arlington and was excited to be home. Not that he would admit it to anyone, but he figured he was a bit of a homebody. Plus he hadn't seen a whole lot of his mom and Lee lately. Everyone was finally going to be a home for a while.
His mother hugged him tight. Phillip could tell she was upset about something, so he didn't give her a hard time about the fact that he was too old for hugs in public. She always held him a little tighter when she was worried or concerned and to be perfectly honest, he didn't even mind the hug that much today. A glance around assured him none of the other guys had seen it though.
"So tell us about the tournament. Did you play well?" Lee asked, as he herded Phillip and his mother toward the car.
"We did okay. Lost in the semi's to a team
of giants. I swear, they only had one kid who was under 6'0".
Of course we only have Chris Stein over 6' so they pounded us
on the boards."
Phillip eyed his mother. She had been unusually silent. "It was. So Mom, did ya miss me?"
She turned to him, her eyes wide. "Of course I did sweetheart! I have a special dinner planned for you. Your favorite, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, though your Grandma won't be there. She went up to Aunt Lillian's for the weekend. I think Aunt Lillian is having some sort of emotional breakdown. Why that woman doesn't just take a break for a while I have no idea. I mean really." Phillip watched Lee's hand slide down his mothers back as they walked. It seemed to calm her a bit and she took a deep breath. "Jamie should be home though. He had a debate team meeting after school today."
Phillip smirked. "I guess he wasn't happy to go to school while I was still off."
"Try not to rub it in too much, sweetheart. He's been working really hard since we got back. So he's had a rough week." Amanda told him.
"I won't Mom. I hate to admit it but I missed the little booger."
"Phillip! Don't call your brother names."
"It was an affectionate term, wasn't it Lee?"
Lee raised his hands in mock surrender. "You aren't dragging me into this."
Phillip wrinkled his nose. Didn't Lee know he was supposed to just agree with another guy, not plead "no comment." Ugh, sometimes it sucked having a stepfather. He silently followed the two of them down to the car.
With a little prompting from his mother, he filled the ride home with tales from his trip. He couldn't shake the feeling that something was going to happen. Phillip just couldn't figure out what it was.
4247 Maplewood Drive
Dinner was strangely quiet. Jamie had told him a little about the project he had done in class the past week. Phillip had restrained himself from rubbing it in that he had gotten out of three days of class. But, other than that stilted conversation, the family was silent.
"Jamie," his mother said as they stood from the table. "Can you please clean up? Lee and I want to speak to Phillip."
Jamie nodded and began clearing the table.
"What did I do?" Phillip looked to his mother in surprise.
"You didn't do anything, sweetheart. There is something that Lee and I need to explain."
"Explain?" Phillip plopped down onto the sofa in the den. "But I'm not in trouble right?"
"No, you aren't in trouble." She sat on the arm of the chair next to Lee and began telling her tale.
Phillip's eyes moved back and forth between Lee and Amanda as they told the story of how they had met some six years ago. He had known long ago that there were some secrets involved in their jobs, but he couldn't believe this.
Apparently, they were now coming clean, they were federal agents. Spies. It was too unreal for words.
"So you see, at that time we really couldn't tell you what was going on." Amanda moved across the room and sat down next to Phillip on the sofa. She placed her hand gently his shoulder.
"Well, we're agents for the U.S. Government," Lee informed him. "Saying spies is sort of a derogatory term."
Phillip looked over to where his younger brother was now sitting calmly on the step to the hallway. The expression on his face was one of understanding. "How long have you known about this?"
Jamie shrugged, "I've had my suspicions for a while. I practically told you before you left, but you just blew me off. When I figured it out and made it clear that I knew, Mom told me the whole story."
"Why are you telling us now? If it was so dangerous to tell us when you first started at the Agency, why is it okay for us to know now?" He looked to Lee. "Does Grandma know?"
"Phillip, honey, you are older now. You can see the danger. At ten, you would have only seen it as an adventure. We needed to give you time to grow up."
Phillip's eyebrows crinkled in thought. He looked at his mother. "Have you ever killed anyone?"
"Phillip, we are not cops." Lee said from his chair. "Yes, sometimes there is gunfire exchanged, but we don't shoot or kill people as a rule."
Phillip raised an eyebrow at him and turned back to his mother. "So have ya?"
"No." Phillip could tell she was insulted at the question by the tone of her voice. "I haven't."
The phone rang in the kitchen and Lee left the room to answer it. Phillip watched him leave and took a moment to think. This was so insane. His mother was no James Bond. She was his mom for crying out loud. It just didn't fit together in his mind.
"So if you don't shoot people and you don't kill people as a rule. What exactly do you do? Take pictures, like some private eye?"
"It's a little more complicated than that, Butthead," Jamie said sarcastically. "Don't you ever read? Spies spy on other people to protect us."
"Jamie, don't call your brother Butthead. Phillip, we investigate different situations and do our best to resolve them." She turned as Lee moved back into the room.
"Uh, that was the office. We need to head into work."
They both turned to Phillip with nearly identical expressions of regret on their faces. "Look sweetheart, I know this isn't the best time for us to leave this conversation, but we have to go. A person's life is at stake. Maybe Jamie can help you out a bit. He learned a lot this past week doing his school project."
Phillip wrinkled his nose slightly at the thought of
asking his little brother for an explanation.
Jamie followed them to the back door in order to lock up. Phillip vaguely heard his mom shout a goodbye as they left. His mind was too wrapped up in what they could possibly do that his mom would be good at. Lee he could see as a sort of Batman-like spy guy, tooling around in his silver ‘Vette, fighting the bad guys with special tools. However, his mom in a Wagoneer just didn't fit that same mold.
Phillip tried to put it out of his mind and headed to his room. It had been a long day and suddenly he felt absolutely exhausted.
"That woman was impossible. Her young son has been kidnapped and all she wants to know is when she can collect the insurance money! UGH!" Amanda all but stomped to the corvette.
"I know. Calm down. We will find him. Even if she doesn't care, he has us." Lee stated. He was also irritated with the woman.
The little that they had discovered at the trailer where Marcus had grown up was about his relationship with his family. He glanced back at the trailer one last time before getting into the car. Lydia Ryan was a nasty piece of work. She was small and wiry with blonde hair that looked as though it hadn't been combed in twenty years. She had greeted them with a lit cigarette hanging out of her mouth and a surly "Whadda ya want."
The rest of the conversation was a struggle to keep from strangling the woman. Amanda had heard enough when the mother asked about his insurance policy. She had jumped up off the ratty sofa that they had been led to earlier and gave Lydia Ryan a piece of her mind. Lee smiled slightly. He loved it when someone infuriated his wife. Her speeches were filled with comeuppance. He only hoped that Lydia had felt some guilt listening to her.
"That poor boy." Amanda finally calmed down after a few minutes on the road. "How he survived to make it out of there is beyond me." Out of the corner of his eye he watched her rub gently at the moisture in her eye. "And the grandfather! Passed out at 11:30 in the morning! Marcus must have been miserable here."
"I would imagine that is why he left it all behind." He turned slightly to her. "We will find him, Amanda." He reached over to touch her hand. "He will be all right." Lee knew she was thinking of her boys. Though Phillip was only sixteen, he was close enough to Marcus's age for it to affect her personally. Especially with the recent revelations they were dealing with, Lee knew her emotions were close to the surface.
"I know we will. But it seems like everything is a dead end in this case. The NSA gave us virtually nothing last night. Just telling us that they know we are the right ones for the job. No one even knows what Marcus was working on at the NSA lab. His apartment is practically barren, no clothes, no effects. The one friend we have listed is out of town. It's like banging our heads against wall after wall."
"I know. Let's head home for a while. There isn't anything to do at the Agency and we need to regroup."
"That sounds good. Maybe one of your contacts will come up with something."
Lee nodded and pointed the ‘Vette towards Arlington. "Let's hope so."
4247 Maplewood Drive
Phillip was shooting hoops in the driveway when Lee and his mother pulled up. He placed the ball under his arm and checked his watch. Last night they hadn't returned until almost one in the morning. He knew because he had woken up when heard them come in. Then this morning they had told him and Jamie that they had an important case to work on and would be gone most of the day. Now here they were at only 1:30 in the afternoon walking toward the house.
"Hey Phillip. How's it going?" Lee asked as they walked up the driveway.
"Honey, Lee and I are going to work in the den for a while. If you need anything just let us know."
"Okay mom. Jamie went up to his room. I think he's playing a video game."
She nodded and led Lee into the house.
Hmmph. Agents indeed. Phillip threw the ball into the backyard and slowly moved toward the house.
He peeked through the partially open kitchen window. Lee was sitting down on the sofa and pulled a bunch of papers out of the case he had been carrying. His mother was making lemonade in the kitchen. Yeah, real secret agent action there, making lemonade. It was then that he had an idea.
He stuck his head in the door. "Mom?"
"Yes." Amanda looked up from the pitcher.
"I'm going to head down to the courts. I'll be back in a while."
"Sure, honey. Have fun."
He walked back down the driveway to the side of the house. There he could stand and listen through the den window to Lee and his mom. Even though the window was open, he could stand to the side of it and hear perfectly without them seeing him. He could believe Lee had some connection to the government, but his mother. Not likely. He leaned against the wall mere inches from the window frame.
Phillip heard his mother move to the sofa a few moments later. The rustling of papers told him that she had moved to sit on the sofa next to Lee.
"There is a good chance that whatever Marcus was working on, Project 147, is part of this," Lee said. "I can't think of any other reason he would be kidnapped."
"Well, it obviously wasn't ransom. His mother wouldn't pay to get him back if she had the money."
"What about more friends?" Lee asked. "Is there anything in the few papers we found at his apartment? Phone numbers, anything?"
"I think he's a lonely person Lee. Seems like the only thing he's interested in is working for the NSA."
"What we need is some more information from the NSA. They know something that for some reason they aren't willing to share with the FBI or the CIA, or even us. Which brings me right back to why did they choose us to look for this developer? Why not someone else?" Phillip heard the slap of Lee's hand onto his leg. "It's crazy that they won't give us the information. Almost like they don't want the kid found."
This wasn't spy stuff, this was boring political
stuff. Though he wondered how they were going to find this missing kid,
Marcus. Sounded like a bunch of paper pushing at the moment.
"Let me go get that." He heard his mother move across the room towards the kitchen. "Hello?"
Phillip moved back toward the kitchen window in order
to hear her better. He felt a slight twinge of guilt listening in to
his mother's phone conversation. But if they were real agents,
which from their conversation, it sounded like they were, he wanted
to see some action.
Phillip heard his mother tell Lee that someone named TP had called the Agency looking for them. He apparently had information pertaining to the case.
"Jamie!" Phillip heard her yell up the stairs. "Phillip went to the park and Lee and I are leaving, okay?"
The sound of Jamie's reply was muffled as he moved from the window and turned to eyeball the monstrosity of a car that was parked to the side of the garage. Three months ago his mother had purchased, on his behalf, a 1979 Mercury Zepyhr. Most definitely not a cool car. He was too embarrassed to drive to school or to basketball games. The kids would all make fun of its yellow beige color and brown fabric seats. The only thing cool about the car was the CB radio inside. But he hadn't actually driven the thing since he had gotten his license. It was too humiliating.
Phillip realized he had two choices. He could drive the ugly car and follow Lee and his mom to their meeting. Or he could grab the ball out of the backyard and head to the park. Not a tough decision to make.
He pulled his keys out of his pocket, unlocked the
car, and hid while he waited for his mom and Lee to leave the house.
After sitting in the driver's seat hunched to the side long enough
to get a cramp in his side, he finally heard the engine on the ‘Vette
heat up and pull away.
"Here goes nothing," Phillip muttered to himself as he pulled out onto the street.
Neither he nor Lee noticed the large gray Buick start to follow them both from down the street.
* * * * *
Amanda was silent as they drove to meet TP. She couldn't shake the feeling that this case was about more than just a kidnapped developer. Lee had begun calling all his contacts in and around the NSA since they had gotten the case file from Billy. Though his resources were varied and many, Lee had struck out as far as finding out what Marcus was really working on.
Perhaps they were finally going to get a bit of a lead from TP. Amanda smiled as she thought of TP Aquinas. An off color character, TP always seemed to have his ear to the ground, finding them information to help them in the most important cases they had. He had called trying to find Lee earlier this afternoon. Francine explained that Billy had given her a bit of info on the case and she had tracked Lee down as quickly as possible. She knew that it was an abduction case, which meant time constraints. You never knew how long a kidnapper was willing to hold onto a live witness.
"You are worried about him." Lee's hand snuck across the gearshift to caress her knee. "I can tell by that sigh."
Amanda put her hand over his. "I'm hoping that TP has something that will give us a hint of where to go from here. I hate this feeling of uselessness."
Lee simply nodded in understanding. They drove a bit in silence, until Amanda noticed Lee starting to regularly look in the rearview mirror.
She quickly glanced behind her and turned back. "Are we being followed?"
Lee frowned. "I can't see anyone yet, but I have the nagging feeling that someone is watching us."
"Do you think we should wait to meet TP?" She was fond of TP and didn't want to make him a target by meeting him with a hostile tail.
"No," Lee said with another glance in the mirror. "I think that we should be okay. It may just be paranoia and I don't want to take the chance on missing out on important information. We‘ll just keep our eyes open."
The rest of the ride Amanda began to get the same feeling of paranoia that Lee admitted to. Whether it was because he had made the comment or not, Amanda suddenly felt like she was being followed.
She hoped it was just their imaginations run amuck. Somehow she doubted it.
"There's a kid following them."
Laurie Shipman was having a bad day. "What do
you mean there's a kid following them?"
Laurie flipped through Amanda King's Agency file. Phillip King. 16 years old. Athlete. Hmm.
"Don't worry about the kid. I'll take care of him. You just follow Scarecrow and Mrs. King. I want to know everywhere they go."
"Yes ma'am, Ms. Shipman."
"And stop calling me ma'am."
She sighed in disgust. "Just call me when you get more information."
She pulled a picture out of the file and studied it. Maybe Phillip King could be helpful to a woman in need. Laurie smiled and grabbed her car keys.
It was time to add a new recruit to the payroll.
* * * * *
Phillip was having a difficult time following his stepfather. He had noticed Lee glancing back in the rearview mirror more than once. So he had fallen back farther into the afternoon traffic surrounding the car. Since he had to move back away from Lee and his mother, he was having trouble seeing when they were making a turn. Twice he had nearly missed what direction they had turned.
Thankfully, he hadn't seen anyone he knew when he was driving through Arlington. He would have hated to explain the ugly car he was driving to any of the guys. He had turned the CB radio on for a few minutes, but when it became obvious that following his parents was going to be more difficult, he had turned it off in order to concentrate.
After trailing them for about forty-five minutes, he finally saw them turn into the parking lot of a small park outside of downtown DC. Phillip had been a little nervous driving through downtown. He had never driven outside of the suburbs and in comparison DC was a little different.
He parked the car across the street from the entrance to the park. He locked it up and slowly followed his mother and Lee into the park.
They sat down across from an older man with an ice cream cone. He wore a brown trench coat and an old hat. Phillip moved behind a tree closer to them so that he could hear what they were saying. Not for the first time since he began this little adventure he wondered just exactly what he was doing.
"How are you TP?"
"I'm doing well, Amanda. I see the two of you are having a little problem with your latest case."
His mom nodded. "Yes, we can't find anything to lead us to why he was kidnapped, much less who took him."
"What have you found out for us TP?"
"Well, I may have the reason your boy was taken. Seems Echelon is alive and well."
"Echelon? I thought that was a myth." His mother turned to Lee.
"The last I heard the program was scrapped. They started the Echelon program in the early fifties. As of ten years ago it was scrapped as unnecessary."
"Unnecessary, may have been what they termed it ten years ago, but unofficially research never stopped," TP told them.
"Wait isn't Echelon a satellite based program?" Phillip could tell his mother was trying to make sense of this new information.
"Yes," Lee told her. "After the end of world war one US intelligence community realized the need for an improved surveillance system to keep a better eye on our enemies. They made a team of intelligence agents from different areas of the spy community and in the mid 1950's began developing a way to intercept communications by satellite. After about twenty-five years the group was dissolved and Echelon became a mere myth."
"What does that have to do with Marcus?" his mother asked.
"The program was originally headed by the CIA. If Marcus was the resurrection of the project, it could be why the NSA doesn't want them involved in retrieving him."
"The rumor I heard was that Marcus has nearly finished Echelon. Apparently last week, before he disappeared, he was able to get conversations from Hong Kong. That was without the new satellite even being in orbit. He was using the old satellite that was launched in the sixties. The new satellite is about fifty times as powerful."
"TP did you get any information on who might be trying to get the satellite." Lee's voice was edged with concern.
"No, but if the satellite and program are as good as rumor has it is, I would imagine everyone would like to buy it." TP took a bite of the ice cream cone. After a moment of chewing he said, "My guess at this point the Russians could use it the most. Not only would they need it for international information gathering, but also within their own country."
"That is what I was thinking." Lee nodded. "Let's head out Amanda, maybe we can try interviewing those people in the NSA lab now that we have a little information to shake them up with."
As Phillip hurried toward the car he heard his mother thanking TP. He unlocked the door and jumped inside. Before he put the key in the ignition he glanced back across the street to see Lee opening the door for his mother in the parking lot. He quickly slumped down into the car, hoping that Lee wouldn't see him.
After a few moments he heard the car start. Sighing with relief he put the key in the ignition waiting for the car to pass before starting it up. After a waiting a few minutes and the car still not passing he moved back up in his seat and turned to look out the window.
Lee stared down at him.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" Lee couldn't believe that Phillip had followed them. He'd noticed the ugly yellow car when they pulled into the park. Amanda had thought it was such a bargain. Lee just thought it was repulsive.
"Well, I was at the park, playing ball, when I realized I needed to go to the National Archive for some research for school. I hurried back to the house and got the car and headed for DC, but since I didn't really knowing how to get there I, uh, decided to follow you into town and then figured I could make my way to the archives from there."
It didn't take a trained agent to recognize a cover-up. Lee shook his head. "Phillip, that is about the worst bit of lying I have ever seen. And believe me; your mother is pretty bad." He sighed in frustration. "Did you think that last night's conversation was an invitation for you to get involved with our cases? Because it wasn't."
"I know. I just—"
"What if we were going to a hostile meet and someone started shooting? You could've been hurt. I know this may seem like some fun adventure to you but it isn't. This is serious work and in all honesty we don't have time to fool around making sure you're safe."
"I wasn't going to get involved, I was just—"
"You were just following your mother and me. To meet a person who could have been dangerous. You were totally unprepared for whatever happened. That is why it was dangerous." Lee turned when he heard Amanda turn off the Corvette.
"I only wanted to see what you were doing," Phillip muttered.
"Well, next time ask. If we can tell you we will. Don't sneak around trying to get involved or follow us. It can only lead to trouble."
Phillip rolled his eyes. "I wasn't going to get involved." He turned as Amanda approached then looked back at Lee. "I'm really going to get it aren't I?"
Lee grinned and also turned around to watch Amanda's anger mount as she realized who was in the car behind him. Of course, she hadn't stayed in the car like he had told her. "Yeah sport. You're going to get an earful. I think I'll just leave the two of you alone."
"Don't leave me. You can calm her down." Phillip grabbed for his arm, but Lee deftly pulled it out of reach.
"I don't want her to calm down. You deserve this one buddy. Take it like a man."
Lee moved away from Phillip and walked toward Amanda. As she passed he gave her a sympathetic smile. Motherhood was Amanda's calling, but Lee didn't think he could handle kids of his own. If Amanda's children could be as nosy and adventurous as they were proving to be, he had no doubt his children would have been much worse. He glanced back when he heard Amanda voice raise as she gave Phillip the full name treatment. It might be fun having a child with Amanda's logic and his taste for adventure. Nerve-wracking no doubt, but fun.
He smiled to himself and headed back to the Corvette.
* * * * *
Marcus sat back in his chair. He had done all that he was going to for the "bad" guys. He wasn't going to let them sell his baby to the highest bidder. Frank and Jenks had left him alone for the past couple of hours, but as soon as Marcus had moved his chair, Skinny Jenks had burst into the room. He couldn't be staying too far away from the room if he could hear the chair slide on the concrete floor.
He looked around, trying to think of some way to escape. There were no windows in the room. The furniture had mostly been taken out, with the exception of the table where he worked, a couple of chairs and a black and white television remained.
He didn't even know that they still made black and white televisions.
"Hey! You stopped." Skinny walked in the door and closed it securely behind him.
"Yes. I have."
"What for? You got a death wish kid?"
"No. I simply need more materials."
"Like what? I thought you was a computer kid."
Marcus rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I am. But I need more voice analysis information. In order to get that, I need a few things."
Skinny considered this for a moment then shrugged. "Make your list. I don't know if you're telling the truth or stalling. But I can take your list to someone who will. You better not be messing with me kid."
"I'm not." Skinny left the room and came back with a pad and a pen. Marcus took the items and began writing his list. After a few minutes of trying to think of the most difficult things to find he handed the paper back to Skinny.
"I'll check this out and get back to you." Skinny closed the door behind him, and Marcus heard the bar come across it with a thud.
A park in Arlington
Phillip sat at a picnic table at the park and watched the kids on the court playing two on two. He could have asked them to play half court so he could use the basket at one end. But he didn't have the heart.
He had made enough people unhappy today.
"You look so sad sitting there. Surely it isn't that bad."
Phillip turned toward the voice to see a long legged blonde standing mere feet from the table. He quickly glanced around. Nope, there wasn't anyone else sitting near here. This femme fatale was actually talking to him.
He gave her a half smile. "Well, the day just improved. That's for sure."
She laughed lightly and took a seat next to him on the bench. Phillip couldn't help but ogle her shapely legs as she crossed them neatly beneath her knee length skirt and placed one hand on her bare knee. Her blouse was cut in a v-neck shape and her chest had no problem filling out the front to its full advantage. Phillip closed his eyes and took a deep breath. ‘Cool it King, just relax,' he told himself.
"My name is Laurie. I heard you had a little trouble with your mother and stepfather earlier today."
Phillip looked at her in shock. "You know my mom and Lee."
"Let's just say we both work for the same boss."
"You work for the Agency?"
"Not exactly. But I do work for the government."
"That is actually why I came here. You impressed people within the ranks when you followed Scarecrow without getting caught."
"That is your stepfather's code name." She grinned. Phillip's eyes instinctively fell to her mouth and when her tongue slipped out slightly to moisten her lips he nearly fell over. "I guess they didn't tell you that, huh?"
Phillip shook his head, afraid to speak in case he might say something stupid.
She reached into her bag and pulled out a card. "When we heard that you were able to follow Lee for nearly an hour without getting caught we decided that you would be good to do a few jobs for us."
"Jobs?" he asked as he took the card.
"Yes. Run errands, drop papers off, things like that." She placed her hand on his knee. "Nothing dangerous just courier type stuff."
He swallowed and attempted to ignore the warm hand burning through his jeans. "But I'm only sixteen. Can I do that?"
"Of course you can. There is one catch. My agency, the NSA, and your parents' agency at times have some difficulty getting along. You wouldn't be able to tell them about your work right away. Everything we do is on a need to know basis. And as long as you're safe they don't need to know." She smiled and moved her hand slightly up his leg.
Phillip jumped up. Now she was making him a little uncomfortable.
"I'll, uh, think about it." He looked down at the card. Laurie Shipman NSA Executive Project Engineer. "I don't know if I can do something like this."
The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. "No rush. It's just another option. I think you'll want to help us and it could be the beginning of something that you would be perfect for. I think you would make a great agent someday, but you aren't required to do anything now if you don't want to." She stood as well and gestured to the card in his hand. "I'll get any messages you leave at that number right away. Take your time and decide. This isn't something to be taken lightly; as I'm sure your mother has told you."
"That's for sure," he muttered. He met her gaze. "Okay. I'm not making any promises, but I'll think about it."
She gave him a brilliant smile. "I hope you will. You'll be working directly with me, and I promise to take care of you."
Phillip nodded. "I'll let you know soon."
"I look forward to it. Have a good day Phillip."
He watched her walk away, the sway of her hips moving the skirt just slightly from side to side. Phillip let out the breath he didn't know he had been holding. High school girls had nothing on that sexy spy who had just left him.
He sighed and headed back to the house. He had a lot to think about.