Boy Wonder...Meet Batman
A SMKVirtual6 Episode
Francine threw a stack of papers on his desk and lowered herself into the chair in front of him. "There is someone in town I thought you might be interested in."
"Really?" Billy asked picking up the papers.
"Yes. I talked to Rick Berlanger over at the CIA. He said that last week there were rumors that Jager was in town."
Billy opened the file to see a picture of Christof Jager sitting at the Lincoln memorial and a picture of him meeting a woman in front of the Virginian Hotel.
"When were these taken?"
"Two days ago. The woman hasn't been identified. I have someone watching the Virginian just in case it's a regular meeting place for them."
"Good, good." Billy looked up from the pictures to meet Francine's gaze. "Is there any rumor about why he's here?"
"Rick said it must be something big. Jager had been sending coded messages out of Prague for weeks, to contacts both here in the US and in the USSR. If this Project 147 was so highly classified, and now it's exposed, seems like there is a good chance that is what he has connections to."
"Good work, Francine. The next step is to find out exactly what he has to sell. This may be something we can use. Keep an eye on Jager once you find him. I have a hunch that he may know where our kidnapped developer is."
Francine nodded and closed the door behind her.
shut the door to her office and moved to close the blinds. There were
just too many people here on a Saturday. Normally, she wouldn't
have made this call from the office, just in case the walls had ears,
but with the Agency involved now she had to use a secure phone.
She quickly dialed the contact number she had been given by Cristof Jager.
"Jager." His rough voice made her twinge in disgust.
"It's Shipman," Laurie told him. "It may be a few more days before the program is ready. The satellite is finished and waiting for you to pick it up."
"That will be a bit difficult Ms. Shipman, when I don't have the location yet."
"You will get that when I get the first half of my money."
The loud booming of his laughter made her quickly pull the phone from her ear.
"As I see it Ms. Shipman, you have given me nothing. But I am to trust you and give you fifty million dollars before I am given the information. You must think me a stupid man."
"Not at all. If I did I wouldn't have involved you in the first place. The location of the satellite will be in a locker at Dulles Airport. Locker 2747 in the United Terminal. A key is at the front desk of your hotel. Take the location information and leave the money."
"This is an acceptable plan. When will this take place?"
"Tonight at 10:30." She smiled. She had just the person to do it too, just as soon as he agreed to get involved in the spy business.
4247 Maplewood Drive
"What possessed you to follow Mom and Lee?" Jamie asked as he threw the ball back to his brother.
"I don't know. My head was full of secret meetings and saving someone in trouble. I didn't really think about the consequences." He dribbled and shot. There was something about the repetition of it that calmed him.
Jamie grabbed the rebound and turned back to him. "Did you see anything cool?"
"Not really. They met some old guy at the park. The case they're working on sounds interesting. I think someone was kidnapped."
Jamie took a shot of his own, after rimming out it bounced toward him. Phillip picked it up. His brother sat down on the edge of the grass to watch him shoot. They were both silent for a few minutes, deep in their own thoughts. The rhythmic bounce of the ball on the pavement was the only sound.
"What exactly did mom say?" Jamie asked breaking the silence.
"She was scared. Really scared. She kept saying how she'd kept this from us for so long and now that we knew she thought it would all be easier. She told me how upset she was that I was deceitful and lied about where I was going this afternoon. Then it was the ‘You just wait till your father gets home tomorrow night from Estocia.'"
Jamie smiled knowingly. "I bet she did it in one breath too."
Phillip grinned despite the terrible mood he was in. "Yeah, actually she did. I was afraid she was going to run out of oxygen ‘cause she was practically yelling the whole time."
Jamie looked over to where the Zepyhr was parked back next to the garage. "So, you finally took your car out for a drive. How did you like it?"
"Well, it isn't going to get me any cool points from the kids at school, but I figure I can live with the ribbing." Phillip grinned and turned to face his little brother. "Besides, I've decided that at least with wheels I can ask a girl out and not have her parents drive us."
Jamie chuckled. "You've given up on borrowing the ‘Vette then I guess."
"Let's just say I still have hope, but it's only a slight glimmer."
Jamie stood up and dusted off the back of his jeans. "Well, I'm sure that Veronica Geotz will be glad to hear that you are now a driver instead of a passenger."
Phillip scoffed. "Veronica is old news, Squirt. I have my sights set on Pamela Thorne." The talk about girls pushed his thoughts back to the woman at the park. In all honesty, Laurie Shipman had been on his mind all afternoon. He knew that working for the government could be dangerous. But she had told him that he wouldn't be in any danger.
Jamie's eyes rose to his in wonder. "The senior?" He glanced back at the yellow monstrosity. "With that car?"
Phillip shrugged refocusing on his brother. "A guy has to have goals." When his brother rolled his eyes and headed into the house Phillip couldn't help but laugh.
It was true. A guy did have to have a goal. If his mother could be a spy, surely he could work for one. If things got to be too much he could always quit.
The only thing that bothered him was the fact that he had to lie to his mother, again. She hadn't reacted well to the lie he had told her today.
He heard Jamie turn on the TV in the den through the kitchen window. The Baywatch theme song drifted out to him. He hummed along as he missed a shot and it bounced back to him. It crossed his mind that if he could help just one person by working for Laurie and the NSA it would be worth the lie to his mother. He may not be hero material, but he could at least help as much as possible.
He took a shot and swished it. "Nothing but net," he said softly.
Excited about the prospect of doing his part for national security he hurried in the house to call Ms. Shipman.
"Lee do you want to be good cop or bad cop?"
Lee grinned at his wife. "Amanda, I don't quite think you can pull off bad cop. We will just question them about Echelon. One of them is bound to reveal something."
"I think as upset as I am right now I could play bad cop no problem," she muttered.
"I doubt that. It shouldn't be necessary. Actually, I'll be surprised if very many of them are there today." Lee said glanced down at his watch. "It's the middle of a nice Saturday afternoon."
Amanda sighed. "I don't think these poor people have much more of a life than Marcus, Lee. They all seem to live the job."
"Well that's good for us then. We'll be able to question more of them today."
They pulled into the garage and flashed their badges at the security gate.
As they walked toward the entrance to the elevators Lee noticed the nameplates on the spots closest to the elevator assigning them to different people. "Amanda what was the name of the one friend listed in Marcus' file?"
"Christina Fleming," she replied. "Why?"
"Seems our out-of-town friend is here today." He pointed toward a small Nissan parked in her spot.
"Good. I want to know why she didn't report him missing." Amanda's voice was still slightly strained. With anger at Phillip or indignation on Marcus' behalf he didn't know which. Both seemed likely.
"Let's see what she has to say." Lee placed a hand at her back and guided her into the elevator.
Amanda and Lee found a young woman sitting at Marcus' desk staring into space with a perplexed look upon her face.
"Are you Christina Fleming?" Lee asked pulling a chair out for Amanda. He grabbed another from across the room and sat next to her.
The woman blinked and seemed to focus on them. "Yes, I am." She looked from one other. "Do I know you?"
"No, we were looking for you though. We wanted to ask you about Marcus."
She shook her head vehemently and answered the unspoken question. "I haven't seen him in over a month. But something is wrong."
Amanda glanced at Lee, who raised his eyebrows in a silent shrug. "Why haven't you seen him in a month? And how do you know something is wrong?"
Christina peered behind them into the hallway, as if she was looking for someone, and then turned back to the two of them. "Marcus works on the program from here and I work on the satellite part of the project. The satellite was working perfectly last week. Marcus left me a message last Friday night that he was taking the weekend off and that he would be back on Monday. We really only had a few things to fine tune on my end, so a weekend off sounded great. Marcus and I have been working on this project all day, every day, for nearly a year. The idea of a break was more than exciting, it was practically necessary." She pushed her wire-rimmed glasses back up on her nose. "So I took off to Destin Beach for a couple days. It's just a short drive from where the satellite is housed."
"Where is the satellite?" Lee asked.
Christina seemed startled at his question. "Um, who exactly are you guys? How did you get in here?"
Amanda instinctively touched the girl's hand in a gesture of comfort. "You don't have to worry. You haven't told us anything you shouldn't have. My name is Amanda King and this is Lee Stetson. We work for the Agency."
"There is something is wrong with Marcus, isn't there?"
"Yes." Amanda nodded, "He disappeared last Friday and hasn't been seen since. We were hoping you might be able to help us."
"Oh my goodness!" Christina turned to the computer on Marcus's worktable. "It's turned off." She gestured to the two-drawer filing cabinet beneath the table. "And the files are gone."
"Is that how you knew something was wrong?" Amanda asked.
"Oh no, I knew that long before I looked at the files. That is why I'm here. He remotely turned off the satellite. I tried rebooting the system from the downlink, but I couldn't. I called his apartment and here at the lab, but of course I got no answer." She sighed. "Now I guess I know why." Her eyes widened, as if something must have just occurred to her. She turned to Amanda. "He isn't in danger is he?"
"We don't know. In fact up until our conversation with you, no one would tell us about the project you were working on. Nor did they have any information about Marcus."
"1-4-7 is highly classified. I had to be upgraded just to work on it. Marcus had basically been brought in at a high level. He joked that he had no life before the NSA so there were no skeletons in his closet to keep him from a high-level security clearance."
"Christina," Lee interjected, "is there anything here that Marcus would need to continue the project?"
She glanced around the room. "Not that I can think of. He would need a computer with a modem, sound equipment, and the codes to connect to the satellite. Really, we were so close to being finished that he shouldn't need too much. Just time."
Amanda noticed Christina looking out the door into the hallway again. "Are you expecting someone?"
Christina said. "I'm just watching for Ms. Shipman. She's
our immediate supervisor."
"She's a real stickler for the rules. Technically, I shouldn't be telling you anything about 1-4-7, but if it will help you find Marcus…" Her voice trailed off.
"I understand." Amanda soothed.
"Where is the satellite now?" Lee asked. "I suppose you drew up the specifications here and built it in Florida somewhere."
"Yes." They all turned as they heard the click of shoes in the hall. "We will have to talk somewhere else."
Amanda felt a business card being slipped into her jacket pocket. Christina stood and quickly slipped through the door to the adjoining office. No sooner had the door silently closed Laurie Shipman entered the room.
"I see that you're back. Have you gotten any leads on Marcus' whereabouts?" Her voice held a note of accusation.
"Not yet," Lee replied as he stood.
Amanda followed suit and stood as well, fingering the small card in her pocket. "We just came to double check that we haven't missed anything." Amanda told her.
Shipman shook her blond curls in disapproval. "I should think that you wouldn't need to come back a second time if you had searched the office thoroughly the first time."
"We were just leaving." Lee's hand on her back gently moved her forward.
"I hope you find Marcus soon," Laurie said to their retreating backs.
Phillip and Jamie sat silently on the sofa, eating their grilled cheese and chips, also known as dinner. Mom had called to say that she and Lee were heading to the office to work and that they wouldn't be back to make them anything.
Hence the only thing Phillip could cook with any consistency, grilled cheese, became dinner by default.
"Do you think now that Mom and Lee have told us what they do that we will see even less of them?"
Phillip hadn't thought about it. Mom had been on the go for years. That was nothing new. Now she had no reason to make excuses or hurry home since they were old enough to fend for themselves. He guessed knowing what was keeping her away from them was supposed to make it better.
"I don't know Jamie," he said honestly. "I doubt it though. Mom has always found a way to make time for us before. That shouldn't change now that we know what she does for a living."
"I guess."' The shrill ring of the telephone forced him to move from the couch. "I'll get it." Phillip told his brother. "Hello?"
"Yeah, this is him."
"It's Laurie Shipman. I have your first assignment for you. Can you meet me at the park where we first met in say a half hour?"
He looked over to where Jamie sat staring at the television. "Yeah, I can be there. Do I need to bring anything?"
"Can you bring your car?"
Phillip flinched. Amanda had grounded him from the car with good reason just this morning. After a quick moment of rationalizing that it was for the good of the country, he agreed and ended the conversation.
"Who was that?"
"Just a girl I know." He took the last bite of his sandwich. "I need to go over to her house though. Can you handle being here by yourself for a while?"
Jamie nodded absently as the show returned from commercials.
Phillip grabbed his jacket off a kitchen chair and grabbed his keys off the hook. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
When Jamie didn't turn back from the television Phillip headed out the door to meet his hot handler.
Too bad she made him so nervous, he thought, the guys at school would be totally impressed with Laurie Shipman. He sighed. Of course it didn't really matter how attractive she was. No one could ever see them together anyway.
As soon as they returned to the Agency Lee suggested that Amanda call Christina Fleming back.
"Why do you think she was so afraid to talk to us in front of Shipman?" Amanda hung her jacket on the back of her chair and sat down.
"I don't know." Lee sat on the edge of her desk. "There is definitely something fishy about the woman. She seemed to be on edge the whole time we were there today, but yesterday she practically slithered up to flirt with me."
Amanda smiled at him with mock consolation. "I'm sure it was nothing you did dear."
"I'm going to start looking through the files. See if anyone had any interest in the Echelon project in the past."
As Amanda picked up the phone to dial, there was a knock on the door. Lee opened it to find Billy standing there.
"Scarecrow." Billy acknowledged him with a nod. "I have some information that might be helpful to you."
"Good!" Lee gestured for him to enter. "We can use all the help we can get."
Lee closed the door and turned to Amanda who was hanging up the phone. "Christina is going to meet us at Marcus's apartment in an hour. She was still at the lab. She was checking her files to see if any of the information was missing. So far nothing."
"Good, did she say anything about Shipman?"
"No, not a thing. Hello, sir."
"Hello, Amanda. I was just telling Scarecrow that Francine found out that Christof Jager is in town."
"Jager?" Lee asked perplexed. "I thought he was exiled in Poland or something."
"Prague. And he wasn't exiled; he was in a so-called retirement. But apparently someone has offered him something to sell. We think its big from the contacts he was making before entering the states."
"You think Echelon is what Jager is here to sell?" Amanda asked Billy.
"It's a hunch. Francine has surveillance photos of him with a woman. Unfortunately, she has her back to the photographer, so we have been unable to identify her." Billy handed the pictures to Lee.
Lee shook his head. "She looks familiar, but I can't quite place her."
He looked to Amanda, who shook her head. "I don't know who she is, either. Really, that is an awful picture of her. Why didn't they get more shots?"
"Rookie." Billy shook his head. "And not a very promising one."
"I guess someone is following Christof?" Lee asked.
"Yes, Francine is staking out the hotel in that picture. She plans to follow him wherever he goes. He hasn't made a move all day though."
"Thanks, Billy. Maybe we will get lucky and Yager will lead Francine straight to our kidnapped prodigy."
"That would be nice and convenient. We shall see. She has a check in an hour. She should have information by then."
Phillip parked his car a bit down the road from the park and cautiously approached the picnic tables near the basketball courts. The park was practically deserted. He had seen only three or four people walking through the park as he made his way. Phillip glanced down at his watch to see that it was already a bit after nine o'clock. He had a few minutes before Laurie Shipman would arrive, so he sat down on the top of the picnic table, resting his feet on the bench.
He felt a little conspicuous sitting there, which was silly because it was one of his favorite thinking spots. A glanced around again showed there was no sign of anyone to make him feel uncomfortable.
Laurie Shipman appeared from behind a couple of trees. "Thanks
"Well, I have a simple job for you. I need you to take this folder to Dulles and leave it in a locker. Then I want you to hang out there until 10:30 and pick up the case that will be left in the locker."
"Yes. But don't stay close to the lockers. Find something to do until its time to pick up the case."
"Okay, I can do that." It didn't sound too difficult.
"Good. The rest of your instructions and directions to get there ares in your car. I'll see you at our meet at midnight."
She gave him a brilliant smile and walked away.
Phillip didn't ask how the directions got into his car. He wondered if she could teach him how to jimmy the lock on a car. It could be a handy talent to have.
He walked back to his car and picked up the directions off the passenger seat. His first assignment. It was scary, but he was excited. He pulled out and headed to the highway.
Francine threw a disgusted look at the empty box that was once filled with assorted chocolates.
She had been sitting in front of Jager's hotel for going on nine hours, without so much as a peep from the man. She had tried earlier to get into his room, but apparently he had paid the staff very well to take care of him. Francine couldn't even bribe the room service delivery guy at dinner to let her take in the food. Thus she didn't have a bug in the room.
Now that her chocolates were gone, she certainly hoped something happened soon. It was incredibly boring staking out a man who stayed in his hotel all day.
Francine sighed and picked up her bottle of Diet Coke. After a warm gulp, she grimaced and opened the car door slightly to pour the rest out. As she closed the door again, she noticed a car pulling up to the lobby doors.
As soon as she pinpointed Jager coming out of the hotel, she picked up her phone and called the Agency.
"Billy, Jager is on the move. I'm heading out."
"Okay, Francine. Let us know if you need back up. I don't want you trying to be a hero, understand?"
Francine hung up and quickly followed the black limousine that had picked up him. They made their way out of downtown and onto the highway. After a few minutes, Francine decided that they must be headed to Dulles.
The Limousine pulled up to the United Airline gate and Jager exited the vehicle. He carried a black case with him but no luggage.
She pulled into the lot closest to the terminals and hurried to catch up with him. At the gate she flashed her badge and hustled through the doors until she could see him walking swiftly through the crowds. He began to slow down ahead of her, so she switched her pace to a more casual one. When he stopped in front of a bevy of lockers she slowly walked by and took a seat in a small coffee shop across from him. She glanced around to see if she had been made by anyone else. When she was confident that she hadn't been spotted she watched Jager open a locker and grab a thin folder. After he opened the folder and inspected its contents, he picked the briefcase up off the floor and slid it into the same locker.
After a cursory glance around him, he stuck the folder under his arm and began walking back through the terminal. As Francine stood to follow him, something in the corner of her eye caught her attention. A teenager peered around the corner of the restroom entrance to her left. He looked down the terminal to where Jager was striding away. When he came out into the light, Francine could barely control her gasp of surprise.
Phillip King, Amanda's son, walked up to the locker, unlocked it with another copy of the key and took the briefcase. Then he momentarily looked back and forth down the terminal, as if he was checking for someone following him. After a moment's hesitation he headed toward the entrance.
Francine hurried behind him, careful to make sure that he didn't see her. A million thoughts crossed her mind. Were Lee and Amanda involved in this? Why would they use her son to pick up information? Should she confront the boy or wait to talk to Billy about it?
information to go on, she decided not to catch Phillip and call him
out. Instead when she reached her car she called for backup. Someone
had to follow him and find out what he was doing taking money--if that
is what was in the case--from a known criminal.
"I'm sorry about this afternoon," Christina said as she opened the door for them. "I just didn't feel comfortable talking to you in the lab."
"I'm just glad you decided to talk to us at all." Amanda and Lee entered the apartment.
"I'll do just about anything to help you find Marcus. He's practically the only friend I have." She pushed her glasses up on her nose. "I wanted to explain to you what I suspect is going on."
Amanda sat down on the sofa, gesturing for Christina to follow. "We will all be more comfortable if we sit down."
"Speak for yourself," Lee muttered. Amanda had noticed his growing agitation all evening. Once they had found out Jager had something to sell, they had pretty much figured that he was part of the kidnapping plot. As they scrutinized his files for information, it became clear that Jager wasn't a hands-on sort of criminal. He hired people to do his dirty work when necessary, but didn't dirty his own hands.
This meant there was another player in the game. It was obviously someone who had inside information; otherwise they wouldn't have known that Marcus and Christina were nearly finished with their improvements to Echelon. Lee had been scouring the NSA files trying to come up with a likely candidate, but with his limited information, and the road block the NSA was putting up on them he hadn't been successful. He had been in a bad mood ever since.
"Well, when Marcus and I were assigned to Echelon we were basically told that we had to cut off communications with everyone else in our lives. We had an important job to do and nothing could distract us from it. So Marcus and I became very close." She paused nervously and pushed her slipping glasses back up onto her nose again.
Amanda smiled gently at the woman. She hadn't really paid much attention to Christina's looks, but Amanda realized she was a cute girl behind her wire-rimmed glasses and her tight little bun held together with a dark cloth scrunchy. Amanda guessed her age to be about twenty-eight or twenty-nine. Nowhere near as young as Marcus, but still young enough to blush at the thought of being friendly with a member of the opposite sex.
Lee, pacing in front of the sofa asked. "You were dating?"
Amanda shot her husband a look of displeasure and placed her hand on the girl's shoulder comfortingly. "I understand. When you are working so close to someone it's hard not to feel that way." She glanced at Lee again and heard him sigh even though his back was turned to them.
"I'm sorry, Christina," he said as he turned around. "That was insensitive of me."
"That's okay, Mr. Stetson." She smiled timidly up at him.
Amanda tried to gain her attention again by directing the conversation back on track. "You and Marcus created some way of communicating through the satellite."
The girl turned to her in surprise. "Yes!" She smiled. "It was through Morse code. Marcus had taught it to himself in high school while playing with an old transmitter he fixed up from a junk-yard. He taught me the codes when we were away from the lab. Eventually, I was nearly as good as he was at giving and receiving messages. It was our little secret."
Lee sat down on the edge of a side chair. "So, when did Marcus send you the signal that he was in trouble?"
"Well, after I returned to the lab earlier this week I knew something was up. Things weren't running correctly. Every test I ran came out normal, but there was something interfering with my communications. Thursday he remotely turned it off, like I told you earlier. Then yesterday the satellite suddenly turned back on and the Morse code started." She took a deep breath and turned to them. "It said SOS… need help… in a warehouse… be careful… then it would start all over again."
"In a warehouse. That's all he gave you? Can you contact him back?"
Amanda could hear the excitement mounting in Lee's voice. Finally, they at least had a place to start.
"I can contact him. But depending on how he's contacting me it may come out in audio. I was afraid to send a message back, so I took the first flight I could find home. If you hadn't come into the lab today I don't know what I would have done. I haven't felt so alone in all my life."
"Well, we are here now. You aren't alone anymore. And now we at least have a description of where Marcus is. Not that it's a very detailed description but every little bit helps."
manda gave her a grin as Lee hurried into the kitchen to use Marcus' phone.
"Who is he calling?" Christina asked.
"The Agency. They will know if there are any suspicious activities around the known deserted warehouses in town. Other than that I'm sure he wants to call in to see if there is any new information from our colleagues."
"There is more than just the two of you working on Marcus' case?"
"Yes, though we were supposed to do it on our own, for some reason the NSA is afraid to tell anyone that Echelon is being worked on."
"When we started they said that it was strictly ‘need to know' because of outside interest. They didn't want any other countries to find out that we could hear their conversations from thousands of miles away. But Marcus said it's because the NSA wanted all the credit when the project was finished."
Amanda nodded in understanding. "Christina? Why didn't you want to talk in front of Ms. Shipman today?"
Laurie looked around uncomfortably, "She and I don't get along for one thing. Ms. Shipman doesn't work well with women. Men are her specialty. I mean look at her."
"Yes, I noticed," Amanda agreed. "She does seem to deal better with males, at least when she has her sugar coating on."
Christina couldn't stifle the chuckle at her comment. "I guess she was the same way with Mr. Stetson as she was with Marcus. Not that he paid any attention to her. She was practically invisible to him."
"I'm sure that was flattering to you."
"I know Marcus cares for my brain not my looks. But it was nice to know I can affect him more with logarithms than she could with her long legs."
Amanda grinned at her and turned to see Lee entering the room again. The frown on his face told her that something was seriously wrong.
"Billy wants us to come in immediately. He said that there is something we need to talk about."
"What is it?" Worry made her throat constrict. "Is Marcus okay?"
"As far as we know. Billy said it was something he wanted to talk about face to face." Lee turned to Christina. "Would you mind coming down to the Agency with us? Our computer gurus want to see if they can send Marcus a message back, but they need you to let them know how the satellite works and how to connect to it."
"Of course," Christina replied without hesitation.
They quickly gathered up their belongings and headed out the door.
Amanda felt a horrible sense of foreboding closing in on them as Lee quickly drove them back to the Agency.
DC Wharehouse District
Phillip looked down at the address on the paper again and glanced at the darkened warehouse in front of him. Now this was like a scene out of Batman for sure. A dark alley, no one in sight, a man stands in front of the warehouse with a black briefcase and an overcoat. He grinned to himself at his imagination and pushed open the heavy metal door.
He entered a large open space where two cars and a truck sat next to each other. Phillip looked around eventually finding the garage door where they had entered the room. He headed toward the metal staircase across the room. It winded several floors up to where it seemed there were a row of offices.
"Ms. Shipman?" he called quietly, walking down the small hallway. To his left were three doors, one to the right, and at the end of the hall a doorway locked with a large metal beam across it. "Ms. Shipman?" he asked a little louder.
A very large, dirty, balding man came out of one of the rooms to the left, a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other. "Your boy is here." The man banged on the door to the right.
"Frank, if you don't stop banging on my door I'm going to use your head as a battering ram. Do you understand me?" Laurie Shipman's eyes were mere slits as she confronted the man. When she turned to Phillip her expression had changed completely.
"Phillip, dear! I see you had no problems with the exchange."
Phillip glanced from Shipman to the balding man, Frank, and realized he was in over his head. This was not normal. Surely his mother and stepfather didn't work with people like dirty Frank. They worked with nice friendly people like the man TP they had met this morning. Phillip forced himself to be calm.
When in doubt, don't let them see you sweat. He was sure he had gotten that bit of advice from a commercial, but he couldn't remember which one.
Laurie Shipman's head tipped in question. "Phillip?"
He realized then that he hadn't answered her question. "No problems at all." He gave her a quick smile.
"Good." She gave him a brilliant grin. Now he realized that the grin never reached her eyes. She had cold eyes. Her smiles were all teeth, no emotion.
Phillip followed when she gestured him to come into the office. It was sparse, very little but a desk and a chair. She reached for the briefcase and he held it out to her.
"Thank you." She didn't even look at him. "Did anyone see you at the airport?"
"No, I don't think so. It was all over so fast. First I took the folder to the locker, locked it, then a big scary looking guy came and unlocked it with another key and put the briefcase in after he took the folder. In a matter of minutes it was over." Phillip took a deep breath and realized that he had picked something up from his mother. Babbling when nervous. Gee thanks Mom.
didn't seem to notice. She opened the briefcase, peeked inside
and shut it quickly. Phillip couldn't get a glance at what was
inside because she had opened it facing her.
Phillip tried to sound nonchalant when he spoke again. "Well, is that all you need for me to do tonight?"
"Yes." She smiled that fake smile again. "Thank you so much for your help Phillip. I'll call you again when we need you."
He nodded and backed out of the room. That was when he heard the arguing coming from the door at the end of the hall.
"Don't tell me you can't do anymore kid. I have it from a very reliable source that you have every damn thing you need in this room." A slap sounded and Phillip hurried down the hall. He thought the voice was that of the balding fat man Frank.
He was scared to find out what was going on, but he knew he couldn't leave if someone was in trouble. He walked down the stairs and headed toward the metal door.
"You mean to tell me my son picked up a briefcase at the airport left by the not so retired criminal from Prague?" Amanda face was filled with disbelief.
Lee couldn't blame her. It was hard to believe that Phillip could have gotten involved in anything nefarious. He couldn't even follow the two of them without getting caught.
"Francine is following Phillip? He could be in trouble."
"Of course she is, Lee," Billy assured him.
"What are we going to do?" Amanda had gone from denial to acceptance pretty fast. Lee gave her a reassuring smile, which she attempted to return. She failed miserably, but he understood that this was not easy for her to swallow.
The phone on the desk rang. Four hands jumped at it to answer. Billy won and pulled it to his ear. "Melrose." Lee watched him expectantly as Billy grunted and mumbled in response to the caller. Finally, he said, "We'll be there in ten minutes. Are you sure the kid is inside?"
After a moment of listening he told the person on the other end that there was to be no shooting until they knew who was inside the building. Then he looked up to them. "Francine followed Phillip to a warehouse on the other side of town. He went in a little over ten minutes ago. As of right now he hasn't emerged. Let's go people."
DC Warehouse District
Phillip's eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and he studied his surroundings. Apparently, he was hiding in some sort of storage closet. There were shelves of supplies on both sides of him. Bags of flour, canned goods and rolls of toilet paper all lined the shelves.
He could hear the argument take place above him. One voice belonged to Frank, the hot dog man. Another, who had just entered the room, was Laurie Shipman. There was another voice, a high pitched one that he didn't recognize. Finally, there was the voice of a nervous young man, Marcus.
Phillip remembered the name from listening to his mom and Lee. They were looking for him. Phillip looked around again, hoping somehow that there would be a weapon he had overlooked at first glance. He eye caught two bags next to the flour. He began to make a plan.
The Mean Streets of D.C.
"He will be all right."
"Yeah he will be all right." Lee turned a corner nearly on two wheels.
Amanda closed her eyes. "Rescuing my boys from trouble is getting to be a horrible trend."
"Well, I would imagine that Phillip will have learned his lesson after this one. If your ex-husband doesn't chew him out, I will."
"Neither one of you will have to do that. As long as he's safe he isn't going anywhere again till he's twenty-five."
"There is an agent there, Amanda. He won't let anything happen to Phillip."
"Ms. Shipman?" Phillip said loudly. "Ms. Shipman?"
Phillip had heard the bar being raised from downstairs in the storage room underneath it. The door was closed, but it opened slowly when he started to call for her again.
Laurie Shipman came out of the room and quickly closed it behind her. "Is there something I can do for you Phillip?"
"Yeah." Despite his shaking nerves his voice remained steady. "My car won't start. I was wondering if you could contact my parents. My grandma's out of town or I would call her. I figured you might know a way to get them here without finding out what I was doing."
She gave him a half smile and turned into her office. "Why don't I see if I can help? No sense disturbing your parents if it's not necessary," she offered and turned her back to him.
He closed his eyes and with both hands hit her as hard as he could with the can of green beans he had found in the closet. She fell forward further into the room. Phillip quickly pulled the door shut and turned to the door at the end of the hall. He figured she wouldn't be out for long.
open the door to see the fat man leaning over whom he assumed to be
"I'm here to pick up the kid." He said confidently. Inside he was shaking like a leaf, but at least sports had taught him how to bluff. Always make the opponent think you are tougher than you are.
Obviously, Frank didn't believe a word of it and he came at Phillip like a bull on the charge. Phillip ducked quickly under his arm and around him. When the fat man turned around Phillip put everything he had into a punch aimed at the man's stomach.
His hand practically bounced off the man and he stood there frozen with half fear and half shock. It was all the opportunity that Frank needed to grab his arms so that he couldn't move them.
"You can't hurt me kid." He chuckled. "What do you think you are some sort of superhero?"
Phillip swallowed and said softly, "No, sir."
"What'd you say kid?" The man leaned closer.
"I said no, sir!" He shouted and lifted his knee right up into the man's groin. The man doubled over moaning in pain. Phillip grabbed the back of his shirt and flung him into the desk that Marcus had vacated.
Phillip took a look around and found Marcus wrestling on the ground with the skinny man. He pulled a transmitter up off the floor and when Marcus was underneath the man he hurled it at the back of his head.
The skinny man collapsed and Marcus shimmied out from underneath him. "Thanks. Let's get out of here."
Phillip and Marcus dashed out of the room. They pulled the door closed and slammed the bar down across it. They made it to the top of the stairs before a voice stopped them cold.
"Where do you two think you are going?"
They turned around in tandem. Laurie Shipman held a gun pointed at them. She was rubbing the back of her head and gesturing to them with the gun. "Both of you come here."
Phillip and Marcus slowly walked back toward Shipman. She was waving the gun wildly as she told Phillip to grab the briefcase off the floor. "Don't try anything stupid or I'll kill Marcus. Understand?" She walked into her office and picked up the case. "Now let's go. We don't want tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum to wake up before we are gone."
"Where are we going?" Marcus asked with feigned innocence. "If you want me to finish the project I need someplace to work."
"Shut up." Her voice was sharp and cold. "I knew there was something wrong with you when you liked that little brainiac Christina more than me. You aren't very bright are you?"
"I have an IQ of 186," Marcus said smugly.
Phillip realized that Marcus was trying to distract the woman, but he had run out of ideas. They made their way toward the two cars on the first floor. Shipman gestured with her free hand for him to get in and start her car. When he turned the key it made a grinding noise and sputtered dead.
She looked confused for a moment, shrugged and pointed over to the other car. "We will take that one instead."
Phillip couldn't help but smile a bit as she followed him over to the other vehicle. He got into this one as well and turned the key. It made the same grinding noise as before and a sputter, then nothing.
"What did you do to them?" she asked him.
He shrugged, biting back a smile.
"Fine. We will take your car. I have a feeling it works just fine." As they walked toward the metal door Phillip noticed a flash of something to the right. His stepfather was standing in the shadows.
Help had arrived.
Phillip casually moved closer to Marcus who was walking on his left and as Lee sprung at Shipman from the side Phillip pushed Marcus and himself out of the way. The two young men made themselves as small as they could against the wall of the building as Lee fought for control of the gun.
"Don't make me hit you Shipman," Lee grunted. "I hate to hit women."
She responded by spitting in his face.
"Alright, that was totally uncalled for." Lee grabbed both her hands with one of his and knocked a punch into her left cheek. She released the gun and dropped to the floor like a limp noodle.
Lee still holding the gun on her looked down and wiped his cheek with his free hand. "I guess she really wanted to swap spit with me."
Phillip erupted in nervous laughter and ran toward his stepfather.
Lee grabbed him in a one-armed hug. "It's okay, Phillip. It's all over now."
"Then Phillip burst into the room like a comic book character. ‘I'm here to pick up the kid.' Like he was some big bad guy and I was the kid." Marcus chuckled. "I knew then that he was my only shot at getting out of there alive. They had been pressuring me terribly all day and, of course, I had no idea if you all were coming. So when Frank went after Phillip, I tried to tackle Jenks. The guy was wiry though and I couldn't hold him still. We wrestled around the floor like that for a few minutes until all of the sudden, I see Phillip looming over Jenks head, holding something up over his head like a trophy. The next thing I know, Jenks is unconscious next to me and Phillip and I are running out of the room." He paused to look around the room. "The kid was really cool under pressure. You're sure he isn't some sort of agent?"
Amanda sighed as she watched Phillip pace outside Billy's office. "No he's most definitely not some ‘sort of agent'."
"Well anyway, you know the rest. Laurie stopped us just as we were heading downstairs to escape. She tried to get one of the cars started but Phillip had done something to them. Then we started for his car, and that's when you jumped out, Mr. Stetson. I don't know who was more relieved to see you, me or him."
Amanda noticed Billy staring out the window of his office to watch Phillip as well. "Amanda, do you think he's sweated enough out there contemplating his sins?"
She turned to Lee. He gave her a supportive smile. "I suppose so, sir."
Hallway Outside Billy's Office
Phillip had never been so scared in his life. Okay, he was a little more scared when he had a gun to his back, but this ran a close second.
He walked back in front of the window. His mother and Lee, their boss, Marcus and a woman that worked with Marcus were talking in the room. It seemed as though Marcus was doing most of the talking.
He looked up to see Mr. Melrose, his mother's boss, motioning for him to come into the room. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
Marcus gave him a shining smile. "I was just telling them how well you did under pressure, kid."
Phillip glanced between his mother and stepfather. "Um, thanks."
Mr. Melrose cleared his throat, and everyone turned toward him. Phillip was grateful. The concentrated stares that had been focused on him since he entered the room were a little intimidating. The reprieve didn't last long.
"Phillip, why don't you sit down here next to me?" Mr. Melrose motioned toward a chair to his right. "Maybe you can tell us what happened from the beginning. Start from when you decided to follow your mom and Scarecrow."
Phillip crossed the room and sat down. It wasn't very comfortable; of course it could be that he was just completely uncomfortable in this situation and had nothing to do with the chair. He sighed and looked up to see Lee looking at him expectantly. Phillip figured they knew most of what had happened, but he started from where he heard the conversation in the den early that afternoon.
As he told how he had opened and shut the door then hid in the closet, he noticed his mother's expression change from one of anger to one of concern. He supposed that she was still angry underneath, but this show of sympathy certainly couldn't hurt his cause. He admitted to them how scared he was when he went into the room where Marcus was being held. And he couldn't help but grin when Lee chuckled as he told how he'd gotten away from the fat man.
When he got to the part where he shoved Marcus into the darkness so Lee could take out Laurie Shipman his mom actually smiled. This could only mean good things.
"I have never been so glad to see someone in my life," he told Lee. "When I saw you hiding in the shadows, it was like something straight of an action movie. I knew then that everything would be okay."
"Phillip you were very lucky, not only in the warehouse tonight, but also at the airport. If everything hadn't gone well, I just don't know what Jager might have done. As it happens, having Francine there to recognize you was a benefit. Someone else might not have noticed you as easily." Mr. Melrose patted Phillip on the back. "I must say though, for someone with no training, you handled yourself pretty well." He noticed the small smile pass between his mom and her boss. "Must run in the family."
His mother sighed and turned to him. "Just don't scare me like that again young man. I thought for sure..." her voice trailed off. She gave him a half smile. "Do I get to at least say I told you so?"
He grinned. "Yeah, I guess you do."
"What I want to know is how you messed up the cars so that they wouldn't run." Marcus spoke from the sofa.
Phillip looked at his mom sheepishly. He knew he was going to get teased over this one. "Well, when I was younger I messed up someone's car by putting sugar in the gas tank. I figured it might work again."
Lee and Billy burst into laughter.
"Well, I for one am very glad you remembered that," his mother said with a huge grin. "Who would have known it would have come in handy again?"
Marcus' right eyebrow rose in question, looking to Phillip for an explanation. Phillip merely shrugged. He had no idea why it was so funny.
"We really didn't like Dean all that much. I'm just glad that Jamie dared me to do it back then. If he hadn't I never would have known to do it tonight."
Amanda's grin faded and she turned to Lee. "Oh my gosh! Jamie!"
"Not to worry, Amanda. I sent Francine to watch him as soon as we knew Phillip was safe. I'm sure they're just fine." Mr. Melrose stated with little confidence.
Lee looked at Amanda and Phillip with his eyebrows raised. "I, uh, guess we should get home, huh? No telling what's happening there!"
"That sounds like an excellent idea." Amanda agreed with a look at Phillip.
4247 Maplewood Drive
"Jamie. Sit down. Everyone is just fine and I'm sure they'll be home any minute." Francine watched the boy pace in front of the window. She was trying to be nice but this was ridiculous. She was not paid enough to baby-sit a fourteen year old termagant.
"Do you think I'm still a baby?" Jamie sat down on the sofa with a plop. "My brother is involved in a kidnapping, nearly killed, and you want me to stay here. They might need my help." His gaze caught hers and when she didn't respond he stood and began pacing again.
She watched him go back and forth a couple times, until he started toward the front door. Sweet talk apparently wasn't going to cut it with this kid. "Jamie King! You get back here and sit down right now!"
Francine took a few deep breaths. She had not been trained in how to deal with a hostile teenager. This was definitely out of her field of expertise. "Jamie," she forced herself to remain calm. "Just how do you think you are going to get to your brother and mom? Fly? Take a train? What?"
The boy was silent for a moment his hand on the doorknob. Finally, he answered, "I'll take the Metro. It's not too far from here and I can take it nearly anywhere." With that he opened the door and headed outside.
Francine rolled her eyes. This was going to cost Billy big time.
She carefully uncrossed her stocking clad legs and moved swiftly across the room to the open door. Jamie had made it halfway across the yard by the time she caught up to him. Francine grabbed his arm, but he flung it off and kept walking. She caught up with him again grabbed him around the waist. Amidst Jamie's kicking and squirming she lifted him off the ground and attempted to carry him back toward the house.
"Jamie," she panted, "if you would just listen. They will… be back… as soon as they are... debriefed." Francine felt her high heels sink into the dirt and she lost her balance. Jamie fell on top of her and finally lay still.
"Are you okay Ms. Desmond?" he asked tentatively.
Francine was sure her sigh could be heard all the way back at the Agency. "I think I twisted my ankle."
Jamie stood up and held a hand out for her. "Are you sure they're all right? And that they'll be home soon?"
"Yes, I'm sure." He helped her up and they limped slowly across the yard toward the house. Jamie was babbling something about Phillip, girls and basketball, but Francine's mind was on other things. Most importantly, just exactly how Billy was going to repay her for coming to watch Amanda's son.
Maybe she would take a trip to Bora-Bora. Yes that is what she needed, a paid vacation to Bora-Bora and a raise in her expense account. She had seen a gorgeous pair of Via Spiga's that would go fabulous with her new Versace gown.
Francine smile was filled with anticipation. Yes, Billy would definitely pay for this little favor.
the road from Georgetown to Arlington
"Man, I bet Jamie is having fun with Ms. Desmond." Phillip adjusted his cramped frame in the back of the Corvette.
"Um, I hope so." Amanda shot her husband a look.
Lee chuckled. "Well what's the worst that can happen?"
"We are talking about Francine here. If anyone is worse with children than you it's her."
"Maybe you better step on it Lee. I have grown sort of fond of that brat."
"Phillip, don't call your brother names," Amanda said instinctively. She grabbed onto the edge of her bucket seat. "Lee, maybe you better go a little faster."