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All Things Must Change

A SMKVirtual6 Episode

 

Scarecrow and Mrs. King are owned by Warner Brothers and Shoot The Moon. All SMK characters remain their property. The story premise and characters created for this story are the property of the author. The author and SMK Virtual 6 have not profited from this story.

Story premise by: SMK720-Laura
Written by: SMK720-Laura
Editors: Di, Diane, Kelley and Jo
Season 6 Creator: Blue Angel
Executive Producers: SMKTIFF and SMK720-Laura

IN A LIFE OF DREAMS
THINGS AREN'T ALL THEY SEEM
EVERY PRISON'S NOT A CAGE
AND I'VE LEARNED ONE THING FOR SURE
ALL THINGS MUST CHANGE
by Snider/Pitrelli

All things must change to something new. . .
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This is my last episode for SMK Virtual 6. It’s been fun to spend virtual time with the Scarecrow and Mrs. King characters that have brought so much enjoyment into so many lives. Frankly, it’s been an honor to give a voice to them past their air life; one that has been read and appreciated by our readers.

In each episode I have thanked the Fab 4 of beta-dom. Thank you, and a thousand times, thank you. It’s still not enough. Di, you are my fashion, comma, apostrophe’ and grammar guru; you’re simply the best! Diane, the story isn’t a story until you’ve read it and done your magic with it. Kelley, if it were only for the comments you write, your help would be worth its weight in gold. I’m glad for the grammar instruction that goes in one ear and out the other, but mostly your devilishly delightful, slightly off-color point of view that I share and impatiently wait for with each episode. I’m gonna miss them big time. And to Jo, thanks for reading them and your insightful comments. ;-) If it gets by you, it’s passable.

To the men in my life. Hank, my wonderful, wonderful husband, a true paragon of all sorts of stuff! And for Sean and TJ, our sons. Love you. Thanks, guys.

And lastly, this one is for Joseph, whose talents I greatly admire. Thanks for bringing Beaman to life; a unique and truly captivating character. And many thanks for being so tolerant and kind to a fan!

This episode is set in the time period leading up to the student revolt in Tiananmen Square, Beijing China, the end of May and early June, 1989. For this story, I’ve moved the US Embassy. I bet the US Government wishes it was this easy!

Prologue
Embassy of the United States of America
Beijing, China
Day One

The evening had been a success.

It was amazing how many people were willing to tell him what they thought about their government when he visited with them. They were also willing to tell him what they thought about his government; especially since he was an American.

With a smile, he let the scenario play in his mind. They all started with the party line: how good things were in China, how progressive and modern. All he had to do is sit there and wait, maybe mention the good education their child received in the States, and ask them what exactly they said they did at the Peoples Institute of Nuclear Development? And eventually, they gave him what he wanted.

Information. That’s what he wanted, information. . . .

“Doctor Bremen, I am sorry. There seems to have been an accident of some sort in front of your embassy. Shall we wait?”

Efraim Beaman leaned forward to get a better view through the dirty windshield. Several large, Chinese military transport trucks had jumped the curb; one leaning precariously close to toppling. More troops being sent into Tiananmen, he thought.

I wonder what unit they are? Sighing, he looked at his watch; 1:20 am. He thought he could ask a few of the soldiers milling around what unit they were with and what their orders were. They looked pretty bored.

Why was he hesitating? The embassy was just a few hundred yards away. United States Marines were at the gates, some were even out of the compound helping to stabilize the one truck. He could get out of the car, ask a few questions and be in bed in half an hour. Or he could sit in this car all damn night long.

Mentally shaking himself, he grabbed the door handle. “I think I’ll walk to the embassy, Shang. We could be here all night.”

“Yes, I agree. Goodnight, Doctor Bremen.”

After two months, he was finally becoming accustomed to hearing his cover name. That instantaneous thread of fear that he would forget that Bremen was him was nearly gone. Beaman hopped out of the car, tossed off a wave, and watched as his state provided escort, actually his government keeper, drove back the way they had come to avoid the snarl ahead.

The faint sounds of singing from the groups of students heading to Tiananmen Square could be heard over the noise the army unit before him was making. Beaman knew this unit was headed to Tiananmen; what their orders were once they reached the square were something else all together. If his hunch was right--and they had been right on target lately--based on his information this would be the People’s Liberation Army, the 27th Division.

That meant the hardliners in the government were getting serious. And things were about to go from bad to worse.

Observing the proceedings in the street, Beaman walked up to a Chinese soldier who was leaning against the side of one of the transport trucks. He stood beside the young man for several minutes before the soldier noticed he was there.

Startled, the young soldier swung the rifle in his hands around on Beaman, the soldier ordering him to raise his hands.

Beaman lifted his hands, reassuring the obviously nervous youth. “I’m with the US Embassy here. I’m a teacher. What happened? Is anyone hurt?”

The soldier’s eyes widened when Beaman addressed him in Mandarin, the official language of China . “No one is hurt. I do not know what happened. I was told to stay here and keep guard. You should not be out in the streets; it’s not safe.”

Nodding, Beaman carefully lowered his hands, stuffing them into his pockets. Thanking the young man for the advise, Beaman turned and took a step toward the Embassy gates. The clatter of metal and a thud behind him had him instinctively springing to action as he spun on his heel. He watched as the young soldier hit the ground, his gun skittering under the truck they were standing beside.

Grabbed from behind, he stepped back into the body of the person holding him, using the weight of his unknown assailant to unbalance and toss the attacker. Beaman quickly turned to face the attack when pain exploded in his head, and he felt himself falling.

As he hit the ground, Beaman struggled to stay conscious by focusing on the thin, yellowish stream of light from the street lamp. A face stepped into his narrowing line of sight; a man was talking to him. He tried to concentrate on what was being said to him, but darkness was edging closer. The sharp pain made him long to slip into the abyss that beckoned him.

Beaman knew he had been hit hard when his last conscious thought as oblivion claimed him was of Francine Desmond.

Act One
The Agency
Counterintelligence Department Staff Briefing
Day Four

With a nod to the agent running the slide show to turn on the lights, Billy Melrose rubbed his eyes. They had been burning with fatigue lately, something he shared with all of the assembled agents in the room. “The White House and State Department are going crazy over all of this activity in China. Shake the trees, try to pick up anything that may give us an idea who the key players are. Since we’ve lost the State Department source in Beijing, we’re getting further behind the 8-ball. Any questions, people?”

A murmur went through the agents in the room, all of them shaking their heads. Billy waved them off as a courier came in with a classified report. Sighing, he pulled his agency badge out of his pocket for the courier to compare against the name on the envelope. Satisfied at last that he was indeed delivering the envelope to one William Melrose, the courier handed over the dispatch and left.

Billy sat back in the chair as he ripped open the envelope and pulled the out contents. More State Department dispatches from Beijing, he noted. Quickly glancing over the report, he stopped and re-read the name that jumped out at him from the page.

“Lee and Amanda, Francine, could I see you for a moment?” Billy said before they were able to leave the room.

Francine quietly returned to the seat she had just vacated. A look passed between Lee and Amanda as they did the same.

“What’s up Billy? Something wrong?” Spinning the discarded envelope, Lee shrugged. “Is State looking to take more of our agents?”

“You know we’ve been double timing our sources since the State Department asset went missing in Beijing earlier this week. They’ve just released the name of the asset.” Billy kept his head down, his eyes glued to the name on the paper, hoping it would change in front of him.

Amanda decided that the missing person must be a friend of Billy’s. “The family must have been notified. Have they found the agent?”

Billy shook his head before forging on. “No, they haven’t found the agent, or a body. But the missing agent is one of ours.” Three heads snapped up in unison at his pronouncement. He took a deep breath as he looked them each in the eye. “It’s Beaman. The missing agent is Beaman. He’s been the State Department agent sending the dispatches on the situation in Beijing.”

Billy watched as shock registered in Lee and Amanda’s faces. A mask slipped over Francine’s. The cool, confident agent in control just became cooler, more composed and intensely distant. “They were able to talk to his Chinese-supplied driver when he came to pick up Beaman for a scheduled meeting. The driver said there had been a traffic jam of military trucks outside the US Embassy. Beaman got out to walk the final fifty feet to the Embassy gates. The marines say he never made it.”

“Is the driver a Chinese agent assigned to him?” Lee asked.

“Yeah, they talked to him once. It seems he’s since disappeared.” Billy stood up and left the conference room without a word, taking the report with him.

Lee and Amanda looked at each other. Amanda glanced at Francine who was silent and unmoving at the large table. “Francine? Are you alright?”

Francine turned unblinking eyes on Amanda. “I’m fine. I need to get those reports on Iran up to the old man.” She rose from the table and carefully pushed in the chair before she walked out the door.

“I thought she’d be upset. Or at least have something to say about all of this,” Lee shook his head as he pulled out Amanda’s chair.

“I don’t know, Lee. She seems pretty tense to me. Let’s go see if Billy has any other information. The State Department has to have something more than what’s in that report.” Amanda preceded Lee into the bullpen and stopped as several agents left Billy’s office. From the looks on their faces, Billy had obviously told them what had happened to Beaman.

Lee walked into the office and took his customary corner on Billy’s desk while Amanda sat in the chair. “Is that all the information that was in that dispatch? Has State talked to anyone? What exactly was Beaman doin’ in China?”

“He’s fluent, isn’t he, sir?” Amanda pivoted several of the discarded pages from the dispatch around so she could read them.

“Yeah, he is. Beaman did his doctoral thesis on the manner in which government agencies collect intelligence. His theory was that cultural differences had to be taken into consideration when approaching subjects for intelligence. He did a comparative study of the major powers. It was pretty impressive.” Billy lifted the coffee cup that sat on his desk and took a sip, grimacing as he swallowed the cold, bitter brew. “Basically he wrote that the Chinese are so steeped in tradition, a tradition which demands a polite return for kindness given, they are prime candidates from which to collect information. So he’s in China using the techniques the Chinese use to gather intelligence. And you’ve seen the results of his work in those reports.”

“The intelligence has been top notch in those reports,” Amanda chimed in. “With that information, we’ve been able to move assets into place as well as give the White House some back alley maneuvering room.”

“Damn. Beaman’s a spy.”

The door to Billy’s office swung open on Lee’s comment, Francine slamming it shut as she came in. “Are you just figuring that out, Lee? Billy, what are we doing about this?”

Billy’s door flew open on a puff of smoke followed quickly by Dr. Smyth. “Nothing Desmond, Beaman’s not our problem. He belongs to State.” Smyth looked over the agents before him, biting on his cigarette holder as he stared at each one in turn, gauging their reactions.

“Dr. Smyth, Efraim Beaman is still an agent employed by the Agency, he’s only on loan to State.” Billy reminded him, voicing his displeasure of the near jovial pronouncement from the Director.

“Well, Melrose, finders keepers, losers weepers. But there seem to be dry eyes aplenty here. And by the way, any links to him? I want them shut down, and shut down tight. If the Chinese break him, I don’t want a peeping Xiaoping peering into my windows. . .so to speak.”

Lee shot Smyth a hard look. “Cut your losses? Isn’t that a little cold, even for you, Dr. Smyth?”

“Stow it Stetson. If I remember correctly, you and Beaman haven’t exactly been bosom buddies in the years he’s been here. Look on this as a fortuitous happenstance.” Smyth told him, blowing smoke in Lee’s face.

Billy rose from his chair, obviously angry and not concerned with who knew it. Amanda gasped, her face flushing and eyes snapping. Lee folded his arms across his chest and gave Smyth the patented Stetson scowl.

“If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” Francine pushed her way past Dr. Smyth, ignoring the raised eyebrow and the lift of his cigarette holder as she elbowed her way out the door.

“See? Desmond has the right idea. Look on our job as a dance, kiddies: Beaman’s dance card is full. There’s always another partner ready for a reel around the room.” Smyth turned to leave, stopping to deliver one last parting shot. “I meant what I said, children. Cut the apron strings.”

With a raised eyebrow, Smyth left the office. Lee threw the door shut as Smyth left. “It wouldn’t take much to...”

“Lee,” Amanda warned.

“It’s okay, Amanda. I’m sure we all feel that way right now.” Billy sat back down in his chair, grabbing the report from State as he did so.

“Isn’t there anything we can do, sir? I can’t believe that we are just going to leave him there!”

“It’s the way things are done, Amanda. We don’t deal for captured agents.”

Amanda shook her head vigorously. “No sir!” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “When Francine was captured in Afghanistan, we made a trade for her. When I was taken in Lee’s place, we traded Rostov for me.”

“Uh, Amanda. Don’t forget I had to go into hiding for that.” Lee reminded his wife.

“Well, still. We can’t just sit here and do nothing!”

“Amanda, we don’t have anyone to trade, and if we did, we would be admitting that Beaman is one of ours. You read the report. The State Department is keeping to the cover that he is a teacher on a good will visit to China’s universities.” Billy raised his hand to stop Amanda from breaking in on him. “If we claimed him, we would never be able to get another agent or teacher in China again. To say nothing of the fact that Beaman wouldn’t be much use as an agent. It needs to be said. There has been no word of Beaman. We don’t even know if he is alive at this time.”

Casting both men a disgusted look, Amanda rose from her chair. “I think I’ll help Francine with whatever she needs to work on. We seem to be one agent short around here.”

Wincing as the door slammed behind Amanda, Lee let out the breath he had been holding. “Damn Billy, it’s only 10 o’clock. I hate it when a day starts out like this.”

Nodding his agreement, Billy leaned on his desk. “Lee, you have contacts at State. Get a hold of them. See if you can find some details to go with this report. And make sure you keep it quiet, I don’t want to have to fight Smyth every step of the way with this.”

Lee laughed and raised an eyebrow at his boss. “You want me to spook the spy master himself? With pleasure!”

“No trails, Stetson. I want information on this. I’m serious about keeping it below the horizon; no twisting Smyth’s tail.”

“Understood. I’ll let you know what I find.”

Billy gave a quick nod as Lee left his office. Lifting his phone, he punched in the number of a contact at the CIA. “Melrose here, I need some information on Beijing. Yeah, I know a blanket’s been thrown over it. I need to know what’s under the damn blanket, man.”

The Agency
Counterintelligence Bullpen

Amanda watched Francine working at her desk. She was compiling reports, and sending out enough warning clouds to notify the entire District of stormy weather ahead. Considering best how to approach Francine, Amanda shrugged and walked over to her desk. “I’m sorry, Francine.”

Francine didn’t bother to look up, but continued with her paperwork. “About what, Amanda?”

“About Beaman.” Amanda sat on the edge of Francine’s desk, hoping to find a way to through the minefield of Francine’s protective barriers. “Can I help you with anything? Do you want me to see what I can find out through the NSA?”

Carefully setting the report aside, Francine turned eyes filled with anger on Amanda. “You heard Smyth. No contacts, no investigation. No Efraim. Move on.”

“Yes, but, Francine. . . .”

Standing abruptly and overturning her chair, Francine held both hands in the air. “I have work to do, Amanda. I can’t sit here and chat about something I can’t do anything about. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to take an early lunch.” With that, she stormed out of the bullpen, heading straight to the elevator.

“Would you like company?” Amanda asked as she hurried along behind Francine.

With great control, Francine took a deep breath as she pushed the call button on the elevator. She crossed her arms, and leveled eyes with Amanda and answered in measured tones. “No. I don’t want company. I’m just fine. I have a lot of work to do and if I take my lunch now, that means I’ll be able to work in peace while everyone else is out. So, if you’ll excuse me, Amanda, I’m going to lunch. Alone. Thank you.” The elevator doors closed between them.

Amanda sighed. She bumped into her husband as she turned from the elevator. “Oh, Lee. I didn’t see you.”

“She looked pretty upset.”

Nodding her agreement, Amanda took Lee’s arm, pulling him toward the Georgetown elevator. “I’m really worried about her. She’s angry and very upset about Beaman. She’s taking this harder than she’s letting on.”

“We’ll keep an eye on her, try to cheer her up.”

“Lee, how can you ‘cheer’ someone up when they may have lost their partner? You’ve heard her complain about Duffy. The things she says he lacks are the things she always complained that Beaman did. She may work fine with Duffy, but she misses Efraim. They were a good team together. And more than that; they’re friends.”

“I guess so,” Lee pushed open the door to the Q-Bureau, locking it behind him. Amanda raised her eyebrow, and he gave her a sheepish grin. “Ah, Billy wants me to make a few phone calls to State, see if I can find out anything.”

“Over Dr. Smyth’s direct orders not to?”

Lee grinned. “The best orders to ignore are Dr. Smyth’s.”

With a shrug, Amanda sat at her desk and lifted her phone. “In that case, let me see what I can find out from the NSA.” It was Lee’s turn to raise an eyebrow at his wife. Amanda winked at him, surprising him. “I mean, as long as we’re ignoring orders, we might as well all ignore them.”

“Good thinking, Amanda.” Lee sat at his own desk and smiled at his wife as he lifted the phone.

“Lee?”

Lee looked over at Amanda who had her hand over the receiver.

“What are we going to do with this information once we get it? We’re going to a lot of trouble to find out something that we can’t act on.”

Lee nodded and shrugged. “Let’s worry about that bridge when we get to it. Right now, lets see if we can find out if he’s even alive.”

“And if he is?”

“I don’t know, Amanda. I just don’t know.”

Act Two
Beijing, China
PLA 27th Headquarters
Day Five

The light was back.

It floated above him. Out of the light came a voice calling his name. He tried to move away from the light, but he couldn’t turn his head. The pain came again. And the cry that caused such fear. He tried to close his mind to the noise, to the cries of pain, to the fear and terror that gripped him.

Only then did he see her. He tried to call out to her, to warn her, but no sound came from his parched throat. Reaching for her was impossible, his hands couldn’t move. Frustration rose as he struggled even harder against the restraints that held him; against the pain that threatened to overtake his mind.

She called his name. He stopped struggling as he tried to focus on what she was saying to him. Her face faded with the light. As the pain increased, he gave himself over to the darkness.

“Take him back to his cell. See to it his cuts are treated.”

“Colonel, why do you insist that this teacher is an American spy? He has not had any contact with any known American agents.”

“You fool! He is in the American Embassy! He does not have to have outside contacts.”

“There have been no contacts of any kind, Colonel. He visits the universities and talks with the students. There has not been any variance from the allowed topics. He does not answer the students’ questions about the student revolt, democracy or America. I think we have the wrong man.”

“Someone is sending reports about the growing student unrest. Someone is collecting intelligence straight from the council of the chairman. The Americans receive their briefings sooner than many on Xiaoping’s staff. Someone is arranging contacts for the student resistance leaders to leave the country. We are a laughing stock in the eyes of the world.”

“There are many others that are far more skillful. This one? His actions are all transparent.”

“Do not allow the quiet manners of one to blind you to their abilities. There is more to this man than meets the eye. I want you to talk again with those he has met with.”

“Yes Colonel.”

“Go now. Warn the doctor that he will have a patient shortly.”

The Colonel watched his assistant leave. Shaking his head, he looked at the man in the chair again. “What is it that keeps you from telling me what I want to know? Who is it that you see that keeps you silent?” Pushing the man’s head up, Colonel Jiang sighed as it slumped against his chest. Nodding to the guards standing silently in the shadows, he stepped back as they came and released the restraints that held the man in the chair.

Each guard grabbed an arm and lifted the man out of the chair. The Colonel opened the door to the cell, and the guards dragged the man down the hallway. The man mumbled, still incoherent, but he was talking.

“Stop!” The Colonel hurried to the guards. “Tell me, what did you say?” He lifted the man’s head to hear the mumbling.

“. . .kins. . . away here. . . .” The mumbling stopped.

“Who is it, Dr. Bremen? Who is that locks your mind away from what I want to know?” Letting Beaman’s head go, Jiang watched as it once again fell. With a curt nod to the guards, the Colonel stood aside as they dragged the man to the medical room, sighing as the doors closed behind the guards. With a glance at his watch, he straightened his uniform and returned to the room where he did the majority of his work.

As Jiang walked back into the chamber, he saw that his next appointment was waiting for him. He nodded as the guards tightened the restraints. With a flick of the light, he went back to work.

Washington DC
The Agency Bullpen
Day Five 8:30 am

Lee Stetson nodded to the military guards who held the doors to the bullpen for him. A quick glance of the room showed agents busily starting their mornings by reading over the night’s action reports.

Pausing for a moment, Lee walked over to Francine’s desk. She still hadn’t come in. In fact, the mercurial agent hadn’t come back from lunch yesterday, and it had taken all of Lee’s influence to keep Amanda from running out after their missing friend. This morning the empty desk was a foreboding signal. With a quick shake of his head, he turned and walked over to Billy’s office.

The door was open and Lee walked in. “Morning Billy. Any news?”

“Have a seat. Where’s Amanda?”

“She’s on her way down. What’s wrong?”

Billy tossed several photos to Lee. Picking them up from the desk, Lee turned them around and looked at the grainy black and white surveillance photographs. Lee knew he was looking at Francine, but checking the date showed him that these were taken late yesterday.

“Tell me this isn’t what I think it is?”

“I wish I could. That is international departures, taken yesterday afternoon. And that is Francine Desmond taking a flight to Beijing.”

“Damn.”

“Exactly. Dr. Smyth is going to hit the roof when he sees these.”

“Anyway we can keep them from him?”

Billy gave his agent a look that spoke volumes.

“I guess not. What does she know that we don’t? Have there been any reports from Beaman? What does she think she’s going to do over there? Great! Now we’re missing two agents!”

“What two agents?” Amanda asked as she walked into Billy’s office. Lee handed her the photos from JFK, and watched as comprehension washed over her features. “I take it this is Francine leaving for China?” She swatted Lee on the arm and sat down in the chair across Billy.

“Hey! What was that for?” Lee rubbed his arm, shooting a disgruntled look at his wife.

“I told you I should have gone with her yesterday. We should have known that she would do something like this. You should have known she would do this!” She said, an accusatory finger pointed at Lee.

“How could I have known that she would skip the country and go after Beaman?”

“Because you would have done the same thing if it was your partner!”

“People! Enough already. Close the door, Lee.” Billy waited while Lee finished the task. “What did you find out from State?”

“It’s clamped down over there tight. No one is talking about anything. But Amanda had some success with the NSA.”

“Yes, there have been several student dissidents that have left China just before their arrest warrants could be served. I did some cross checking, and all of these flights out occurred several days after Beaman had been a guest speaker at the university. He’s using the name Bremen.”

“Are you telling me he’s arranging the exodus of these dissidents?”

“I’m not sure. The NSA agent I spoke with said that there are several layers in place and information is nearly impossible to come by. I’m thinking that maybe Efraim is making the recommendations for which students leave, but I can’t be sure.”

“Damn!” Lee shook his head, causing Amanda and Billy to look at him. “I can’t believe I forgot this! Beaman and I were talking some time ago about why intelligence operations fail. He said they went as far south as they did because it was a straight line from the operative to the goal. I remember him talking about stationing agents in place who were specialists in certain areas, and keeping the specialists apart from each other. Basically a number of rings within one operation. I thought it was redundant and would take too much manpower.” With a shrug, Lee went on. “In theory, it sounds good, I just don’t know how it would work in a practical application.”

“I think the tactical information we’ve been receiving from China has shown that something he was doing was working.” Billy reminded them.

“Yeah, right up until he disappeared.”

“You know Lee, you’re right about that theory,” Amanda broke in. “Beaman was consumed with this organizational structure; he talked about it non-stop. He said that the front person was the only one in any real danger of being fingered, and that was the beauty of his plan. Beaman thought the rest of the operatives would be able to continue without the front man. And that the continuing operation was the best way to insure the release of the front man. He drove Francine crazy going over his theories.”

The three looked at one another. “I hate to be the one to bring this up,” Lee finally broke the silence. “But what are we going to do about this? Not only is Beaman missing, now Francine is on her way to China.”

“What does she think she’s going to do over there? When I get her back here, I’m going to fire her!”

Amanda stood up and put her hands on her hips. “I can’t believe you two! She’s going to get her partner. Now what can we do to back her up?”

Billy leaned back in his chair. “When did I lose control? I have the most intractable agents working for me. I suppose if I were to order you not to go to China, you’d disobey me too.”

“No, not us, Billy. It would be too dangerous right now for the Agency to show up and start poking around. Think of the confusion it would cause.”

Amanda’s jaw dropped. “Billy! Lee, you can’t be thinking that we’re going to. . . .”

“Of course not. I wouldn’t suggest that at all. Neither would Billy, since he just ordered us not to leave the country.”

“I’m going to call Mother. She’s not going to understand this at all.” Amanda opened the door to Billy’s office to find Dr. Smyth standing there. Backing up as Smyth blocked the entrance, Amanda returned to her seat.

“My, my. What have we here? Don’t let the spider frighten you away, Mrs. Muffet. Do sit on the proverbial tuffet, pass the curds and whey, and let’s dish, shall we?” Smyth smiled thinly as he placed his cigarette holder between his teeth and leaned against the closed door. “I thought I was clear yesterday when I told you to shut down ties to Beaman? What part of that discussion did you not understand?”

“What are you talking about, Dr. Smyth?”

“Stetson, even if State hadn’t mentioned in passing on the 19th hole this morning that you were nosing around yesterday, I would have suspected something from you. You’re losing your touch. There was a time when the great Scarecrow wouldn’t leave any stray straw lying about. Getting old and careless, are we? Now, let me say this. Again. Put Beaman from your minds, cut your losses and move on. If I hear anything about this Agency making inquiries about him, I will clean house. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal.” Lee said, disgust thick in his tone.

Pulling open the door, Smyth grinned back. “Good.” About to leave, he pushed the door open again. “Have a good day, and try to play nice, kiddies.”

The door closed behind him and the three exhaled their relief.

“Well?” Billy asked, looking at Lee and Amanda. “What now?”

Lee stood up and held his hand out to Amanda. “I feel like Peking Duck for dinner tonight. Do you feel like Chinese take-out, Amanda?”

Amanda grimaced as she took Lee’s hand. “I hope you have a back up plan, because we are all going to be out of jobs when we get done with this.”

“Bring me a fortune cookie. Maybe it’ll tell me where a middle aged spy can find a new job.”

“Speak for yourself, Billy,” Lee called out as he and Amanda left the room.

“I was,” Billy said to the empty room.

John F. Kennedy International Airport
International Departures
New York
Day Five

“Mother, I told you. There wasn’t time for us to come home!”

“Well, I don’t understand how you can fly off to China without even a change of socks, Amanda.”

“We’ve told you before, we keep emergency luggage at the Agency in case we need to take a last minute trip. I’m sorry that this upsets your plans, Mother, but this can’t be helped.”

“I’d still like to know why you’re going to China. You told me that your job was counterintelligence. Going to China doesn’t sound like it falls into the category.”

Amanda leaned her head on the cool metal of the phone booth as she listened to her mother ramble on. She jerked up when she felt the phone taken out of her hand by Lee.

“Mom? We’re not supposed to be going to China. If our boss finds out, we’re going to lose our jobs. But two friends of ours are in trouble in Beijing, and we’re going there to find them and bring them home. If anyone from the Agency asks for us, or anyone period, tell them we’ve gone to Cobb’s Corner.”

“Is this a matter of life and death?” Dotty's voice came across the line loud and clear causing Amanda to shake her head.

“It could be, but it’s important that we go and try to find them. Will you help us?” Amanda smiled at Lee’s grin, she knew that he had gotten her aid.

“Alright. I’ll tell the boys, and if anyone checks, you’re at Cobb’s Corner. You will be careful?”

“Absolutely.”

“Kiss Amanda for me, and come home safely.”

“We will. Thanks Mom. They’re calling our plane now. Bye.” Hanging up the phone, he put his arm out for Amanda. “I’m sorry, Amanda.”

“For what?” Amanda looked at Lee, curious at his apology.

“All those years you had to deal with your family, and I never once offered to help. Now I know how hard it was on you. I’m sorry, ah, well, for putting you in such an awkward situation.”

“Lee, I made those decisions on my own.” Amanda held up her hand when Lee started to interrupt her. “No, you may think you twisted my arm, and that you forced me into helping you, and well, maybe sometimes it seemed that way to me too. But I knew I could always have told you no, and you would have left me alone. I knew what I was doing.” Standing on tiptoe, she kissed her husband quickly. “I want you to know, I wanted to be with you. But thank you for understanding that it was difficult at times.”

Lee chuckled and pulled her close. “I’m not sure I’m ever going to understand you. But I’d like the next 50 or 60 years to try. Come on. Let’s go retrieve the children and bring them home.”

“How will we find them?” Amanda asked as they handed over their tickets and boarded the plane. Moving through the cabin to their seats, Lee stowed their carry on luggage and Amanda moved into their row.

“Francine won’t be hard to find. She’s going to the Embassy in Beijing. She’ll back track Beaman’s last few days, trying to piece together what he did and who he had contact with. And let’s be honest, Francine is a woman that will stand out in Beijing. Someone will have seen her.”

Amanda scrunched around in her seat, trying to get comfortable. Finally finding a satisfactory spot, Amanda fastened her seatbelt and waited for take off. “What about Efraim?”

Lee shrugged and fastened his own seatbelt. “I’m still thinking on that. But we’re going to have to be careful, or we could find ourselves in whatever circumstances Beaman fell into.”

Amanda nodded as the plane took off. Reaching over, she took Lee’s hand and held on tightly. “I’ll watch your back, like I always do.”

“Stay a step ahead of me, will ya? I like the view.”

Amanda smiled as she rested her head on Lee’s shoulder. “I’ll remember that.”

Beijing, China
The American Embassy
Day Seven

Paul Stipanick thought he saw Francine Desmond walk past the open door of his office. Shaking his head, he stood up and walked out of the office, turning toward the Ambassador’s official suite. His eyes hadn’t deceived him; that was Francine Desmond at the secretary’s desk.

Hurrying over, he linked his arm with hers. “Well, hello there! Long time no see. Before you see the Ambassador, come visit with me for a few minutes. Paige? Do you mind if I steal this lovely woman for a short while? We’ll come back to see the Ambassador later.” Stipanick walked Francine back toward his office as the Ambassador’s secretary nodded. Closing the door behind them, he looked at the woman beside him. “Are you crazy, Francine? You’re here because of Beaman, aren’t you? You will end up getting us all expelled, or worse.”

“And hello to you too, Paul. So nice of you to be concerned. You move up after Cooper?”

“Don’t prevaricate, Francine. You’re playing with fire, and you know it.”

“He’s my partner.”

“And if you care about your partner, you’ll get back on the first plane out of Beijing and go home. You’ll pull down everything he’s worked to put in place.”

“Tell me what it is? What has he been doing? I can help.”

Stipanick leaned back in his chair and looked at the woman across the desk from him. Right out of DC, and trailing a reputation for being hard-headed, quick-witted, and onerous to get along with. He’d worked with Francine several times in DC. They’d had a few drinks and some laughs, strictly hands off. Frankly, he didn’t see Desmond and Beaman as partners, but what did he know? “What do you know about his theories on gathering intelligence in foreign countries and the theory of his operational structures?”

“I’ve heard them. I’ve read his thesis. We’ve debated his operational theories. Are you telling me State has him here running an operation based on his thesis?”

“You didn’t hear that from me. But what he’s here doing, he’s been doing a damn good job of it. Or he was doing a good job.” He rested his elbow on the desk and looked Francine directly in the eye. “You know, I got the orders in the dispatch to cut ties to Beaman. Smyth was succinct.”

“Well, I’m not here on Agency time.”

Stipanick lounged against the back of his chair and laughed. “Desmond, are you telling me you bailed? Listen, the Ambassador isn’t going to help you, except to give you the party line and then pack you off home to Smyth.”

“What is the party line these days?” Time was short and Francine hoped Stipanick would give her something to go on.

“Jeez, Desmond, I’m gonna end up in Dubuque for giving you this.”

Laughing, Francine nodded. “You’ll like Iowa. It’s green. There are cows, corn, artery- clogging food. What’s not to like?”

“Gee, thanks. Come on. Let’s go for a walk, if you don’t mind.

“Thanks, Paul. I appreciate it.”

“I might as well go out in a big ball of fire, ‘cause that’s what this is going to be when Smyth gets wind of it.” Stipanick led Francine out of the embassy. The streets were busy; the business of the day getting underway. Leaving the embassy compound, they walked to the end of the Embassy fence and stopped. “This is where the driver said he left Beaman.”

“Right in view of the embassy.” Shaking her head, Francine looked over the area trying to picture in her mind how her partner could have been taken right outside the American Embassy.

“Yeah, and there were marines all over the place that night. A convoy of PLA trucks and troop carriers came down the avenue; one nearly toppled.”

“Troops for Tiananmen?”

“Probably. The driver said he dropped the Doc off around one-twenty, the marines said the vehicles pulled out at one-forty-five.”

“That bother you? Does it feel staged to you?”

“Yeah, it bugs me. From what the marines said, it was a mess. Trucks and troops were everywhere. Then all of a sudden, it all came together, and boom! They were gone.”

Francine wrapped her arms around her waist and studied the area. Spying an alley not far from where they were standing, she walked toward it. Stipanick followed along.

“Does the embassy have a camera sweeping this alley?”

“Not specifically, but you can see it from the east wall camera.”

Francine walked into the alley. Nothing jumped out at her, nothing was grabbing her attention. Coming back to Stipanick at the mouth of the alley, she shrugged. They started to walk back to the embassy when Francine stopped and turned back. Staring at the asphalt, almost in a daze, she suddenly smiled.

“What?” Paul asked her, walking into the alley. “What is it?”

Pointing to an area by a down spout, Francine crouched and pointed. Stipanick squatted down and chuckled.

“Well, Desmond. Seems someone was smoking up a storm here. But, it doesn’t tell us when they were left here.”

“They’re dry. I’m not up on Beijing meteorology. Has it rained since Efraim disappeared?” Sniffing the spent match, she nodded as the scent of sulfur tickled her nose.

“No, no it hasn’t. But it rained the night before he disappeared.”

“So, it looks like the same person or people were standing here for awhile. Let’s go pull those tapes and see if we can get a glimpse of someone smoking.”

“Good idea. You know, you can tell the two of you are partners. You work the same way.”

“Watch your mouth, Stipanick.” Even though her response had been automatic, it felt good to her jangled nerves to have her partnership with Beaman referred to in the present tense.

Stipanick laughed. “A pile of used matches is the best news I’ve had since Beaman went missing. And it took you to fly in the face of the old man’s anger to find them!” He gave her a hand up. “Yeah, I’ll remember that. I’ll watch my mouth when Smyth has you pulled up before a board of inquiry.”

“Thanks.”

“Let me tell you what he was doing here before we go back in. You know what the student situation is here, right? Confrontations have been escalating for years, and the powers that be assume that this is gonna lead to a situation similar to the Opium Wars.” When Francine nodded, Paul continued. “Well, now there’s a growing faction inside the PLR that wants to go back to some of the old ways; they’re intimidated by modernization and this two system form of government coming down the pike with the looming reunification with Hong Kong.”

“That’s been watched carefully. You’re telling me that Beaman is here getting Intel on both sides? He’s in the middle of this tug of war?”

Stipanick nodded. “Oh yeah. He’s been getting some of the best Intel we’ve had in years. That along with facilitating the removal of student dissident leaders before they disappear permanently.”

“Damn him.”

“Listen Francine, he’s been doing a hell of a good job. And he’s like a ghost, not calling any attention to himself. He plays a great game.”

“Somebody was watching him.”

“Security has really tightened lately, but I’m telling you, if the PLA pulled in Beaman, it was pure luck. I mean, he’s covering as a university professor discussing differences between the US and Chinese educational systems. He’s good.”

“I know he’s good. How are his organizational theories working?”

Grinning, Stipanick ushered Francine back toward the embassy compound. “It’s funny. We’ve gotten three student leaders out since he’s been gone. One more goes tomorrow. If they’re trying to break him about these students, they’ll come up with nothing but air.”

“What about the reports coming out? I’ve read them. They’ve been right on target. The president is relying on them to gauge the official US response to all of this.”

“Even I didn’t know for sure that the source of those reports was Beaman until the communiqué came out from State. That’s how tight he has this operation running.”

The two walked back into the embassy and Paul led Francine back to his office. Sitting behind the closed doors in the Agency Station Chiefs’ office, Francine watched as Paul switched on his white noise machine.

He shrugged at Francine. “Just in case, it really creates havoc with listening devices.”

“Why Beaman?”

“Did you hear from the home office that your partner was here running ops?” Paul watched as Francine shook her head. “Or anyone for that matter? This has been a nailed down operation. There haven’t been any leaks.”

“Could it just be a lucky lift? I mean, could they just be going through the embassy staff?”

“So far, he’s the first. Beaman is the only new addition to the embassy in several months. They could just be fishing.”

“Do you have any contacts on their side?” Francine watched Stipanick closely. She knew a spy never wanted to give up a source, and Paul wouldn’t if he could help it. “Come on, Paul, I’m not asking for a name and personal introduction. Is there someone you can ask? Someone you trust?”

“I have, but so far nothing. State is still screaming about their missing teacher, so there hasn’t been a change in that game plan. Look, where are you staying? Let’s look at the surveillance tapes then let me get you a ride back to your hotel, and I’ll see what I can find out. Listen, don’t talk to the ambassador yet, he’ll just wrap you up with a big bow and deliver you to Smyth.”

“I expect Smyth to show up here himself. He doesn’t like it when we cross him. And the old man still likes to get out and play in the sandbox.”

“Great. Just what we need. By the way, what’s your cover while you’re here?”

“Concerned friend.”

“That’s not gonna open doors, you know.”

“Then whatever will open the doors. Help me find my partner, Paul.”

“Let’s look at those tapes, and see what we can find in them.” He got up and opened his door. “We have to go to the surveillance room, but we shouldn’t have a problem.”

“Thanks Paul, I really appreciate this.” Francine followed Stipanick down the hall.

“Yeah, remind me why I did this at my sentencing.”

“Worry wart.”

“Realist.”

“No, you’re not a realist, Paul. You’re a spy.”

With a chuckle, he pushed open the door to the surveillance room. “Thanks for clearing that up for me, Francine.”

“Anytime.”

“Yeah, right. Okay, have a seat.” Looking through the pile of tapes, Paul pulled the one marked for the night Beaman disappeared. Pushing it into one of the VCR’s in the room, the two agents watched the night of Efraim’s disappearance unfold.

“There, see? Two men entering the alley. What’s the time on that?”

Paul checked the time stamp. “About 1:10 am.”

Both grinned at each other when the two men began to smoke cigarette after cigarette, dropping the matches, but carefully stubbing out the butts and putting them in their pockets.

“Yutzes.”

Paul nodded his agreement. He pointed at the screen as a small, non-descript car pulled up to the curve. “That, Francine, is the Doc. See him in the car?”

Francine nodded, leaning in closer to get her first view of her partner in two months. She watched as he climbed out of the car and walked off camera.

Paul jumped up and pulled another tape, throwing it into another VCR and moving it forward to the same time stamp.

You could just see Beaman on the edge of the tape, talking to a young soldier whom he had obviously startled. They watched as he started to walk off, saw the soldier fall and Beaman spin back to face the threat. Checking back to the first tape, their men in the alley were now gone.

“There! Do you see? The one that Efraim tossed? Our yutz from the alley. They were waiting for him. Was he consistent with his return times?”

Paul shook his head. “No, you never knew when he was coming or going. He was good about that, really followed craft.”

“No wonder the driver has disappeared then. They couldn’t afford to keep him around. Wait! Who’s that?” Francine pointed to an officer who came on the scene as the two men lifted Beaman’s unconscious body and tossed him into the back of the truck he had been standing by.

“Damn! Not good. That’s Colonel Jiang. He’s with the 27th People’s Liberation Army. Hardliners to the core, the whole damn lot of them.”

“I’ve read about him, he’s exerting pressure on Deng Xiaoping to crack down. And it won’t take much. Li Peng is ready to crush them. They’re worried about their economic reforms, or lack of them.”

“Not to mention their embarrassment during Gorbachev’s visit last month,” Stipanick pointed out.

Francine grimaced, remembering the confrontations between the Chinese Army and students in May. “I forgot about that. Do we know where Jiang hangs out when he’s not clubbing my partner on the head?”

“PLA 27th Army headquarters. You planning on waltzing in?”

“You have a better idea?”

“No.” He shook his head. “But we call the 27th the Roach Motel. . . .”

“Lovely.”

“Yeah, well, true though. Civilians go in and they don’t come out.”

“That isn’t what I want to hear.” Francine sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to calm her racing thoughts. “Why are you helping me, Paul? I mean, I know you have the disavow orders. You could lose your posting, and frankly, your job.”

Francine followed Paul’s motions as he put the tapes where they belonged. Paul finally leaned against the wall and stared hard at the woman in front of him, causing Francine to smile.

“Francine? Who was the last partner you jumped the country for?” He smiled as Francine rolled her eyes at him. “Exactly. Besides, I like the guy too.”

“And don’t forget to add that if you’re helping me, you know what I’m doing and can minimize any damage from the fallout.”

“There’s that also! So, how do we get you in there?”

Francine smiled. “The truth?”

Laughing, Stipanick sat down, rubbing his eyes. “Right, I can see it now! ‘I’m a spy looking for my spy partner!’ I predict a very short life expectancy for you, Desmond.”

“Not exactly the truth then. My cover is in place. I’m a film producer here filming a documentary, and my friend is missing. Since I investigate stories for a living, I tracked him to the 27th. . . .”

“That’s gonna go over good in this climate, Francine.”

Francine grimaced and rolled her head on her shoulders trying to relieve some of the tension she’d had since she first heard Beaman was missing. “Look, just get me into the 27th. If I can find him, I can get him out.”

“Francine, you aren’t thinking rationally about this. You have to face the possibility that he might not be alive.”

Standing quickly, Francine walked to the door. “Let’s get going. Time is critical.”

“Francine. . . .”

“No. He’s alive.” She opened the door and walked out. Francine heard Paul sigh as he followed her down the hall to his office.

“Great! Now I’ve got my hands full and it’s my own fault. I should’ve let you march into the Ambassadors office!” He opened his office door, allowing Francine to go in first. “Okay, Desmond. I’ll help you get in there. You better come up with a plan to get out.”

“Thanks, Paul. I owe you one.”

“Yeah, you do.” He sat at his desk and lifted his phone. “I’ll get some people in to help. Why don’t you go to your hotel and rest, I’ll call you when I get things in place.”

Francine nodded and smiled at Paul. “I’ll be waiting for your call.”

“I sure as hell hope it’s not the last phone call you ever answer.”

She winked and pulled the door closed behind her. Tossing the strap of her camera bag over her shoulder, she adjusted it while she walked out of the embassy. With a wave and smile to the marines, Francine hoped she projected a calm she was far from feeling. Her hand raised in the air, she flagged one of the taxis that always ran up and down the streets in the area. The embassy swiftly faded behind her as they pulled away from the curb, but Paul’s remark echoed in her ears.

“I hope it’s not my last phone call either,” she mumbled to herself. Turning, she gave directions to the driver.

Go to Part Three