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PINE BRUSH VARIANT
A SMKVirtual6 Episode

This episode is dedicated to all of the actors who portrayed our much loved Scarecrow and Mrs. King characters. Thanks for 20 years of danger, excitement, and intrigue...

Disclaimer: Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions own the characters. Decorating ideas were drawan from the summaries of "Trading Spaces" episodes at the Television Without Pity web site. This story is written for entertainment purposes, not for profit.

Rating: PG-13 for implied partial nudity and a few swear words.

Credits
Story Premise By: Miriam
Written By: Miriam
Editors: SMK720, SMKTiff
SMK VS6 Season Creator: BlueAngel
SMK VS6 Executive Producers: SMKTiff, SMK720

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Chris, eman, Julie, Kim, Lindsey, Maria, Shelly, and Vikki for their comments, suggestions, and corrections on a much earlier version of this story set in Season 4. Thanks to Chanda, Cheryl, Elaine, Gail, Jean, JL, Lisa, Lynda, The Kris, Rita, Suzanne, TJ, and Oreo Kitten for their ideas, improvements, and encouragement in turning this into a virtual season 6 story.

 

ACT I
June 1989
4247 Maplewood Drive

"Amanda! I won, I actually won!"

Amanda brushed dirt from her hands and watched in amazement while her mother performed what looked like a victory dance next to the tulip bed. "That's wonderful, Mother, but what are you talking about?"

"The Cleano Queen for a Week contest!" Mother scooped her into a hug. "They just called me."

"Queen for a Week? Isn't that the TV show you used to watch when I was little, where whatever woman had the most pathetic life won a washing machine?"

"That was Queen for a Day. This is Queen for a Week!" Her mother pried the trowel from her hands and tossed it into the yard. "You don't need this any more. We'll leave this spring's planting up to a professional."

"A professional? You won a gardener?"

"That's right! A gardener and a maid and a cook and a personal trainer and a carpenter and an interior decorator and a style consultant! For a whole week!" Mother fanned herself with an oven mitt. "You know, except for that time you got the trip to Munich, no one in this family has ever won anything. Except for that Boston cream pie Phillip won in the cakewalk that gave us all food poisoning. Finally, my ship has come in!"

"When does this all happen?"

"Next week! Come on," she pulled Amanda toward the door, "let's plan how to make good use of my prize. Dear, it wouldn't hurt for you to have a chat with the style consultant. Do you think you could get time off work for a nice long shopping trip?"

It was going to be a very long week.

DAY 1
4247 Maplewood Drive

Would this week ever end? God, six days to go. Lee scowled at the sound of Marta the decorator moving the living room furniture again. He had her to thank for his sprained ankle; only an idiot would put an ottoman in a doorway. The bam-bam of Bob the carpenter's hammer and the buzz of Lyle the gardener's hedge-clipper added to the general din.

"Okay if I vacuum in your bedroom?" Sylvia the maid trundled in a canister vacuum cleaner that looked like it was designed for cleaning up toxic waste dumps.

Oh, terrific. He'd get more work done in a carnival funhouse.

"No." Lee tossed his pen on the desk. "Can't you work someplace else?"

She pointed to his untouched Eggs Benedict, hash browns, fruit cup, and blueberry muffin. "Aren't you going to eat that? Henri hates anyone who isn't a member of the clean plate club."

"I don't eat breakfast."

"Well, you should probably hide that bathrobe you're wearing before Pamela gets here. She says brown isn't your color."

Enough! "Look, this room is off limits as long as I'm in it. Got it?"

Sylvia shrugged. "Whatever. If you're not going to eat that, can I? Henri thinks it's too good for the help, and I'm starving."

"Be my guest." He was starting to feel nostalgic for breakfast wars over toast, waged with Amanda's mother. Who the hell ate four-course breakfasts?

She picked up the plate, stared at the papers spread on the desk, and jabbed a photograph with her finger. "Hey! I know that guy!"

How would the maid from Joyous Rejuvenators know someone from Dr. Smyth's most wanted list? "From where? What's his name?"

"He visited my old boss a few times. I remember him because he was worse than Todwell about chasing me around. Imagine an octopus crossed with a pincher crab. We weren't introduced, but I think Jeff called him Kirisov or something like that."

Sergei Kirinov, the Russians' number one man in arranging the import of classified military technology, a.k.a. the Raven.

"So, Sylvia," Lee handed her the orange juice, "why don't you sit down and tell me more about Mr. Todwell."

Amanda had made a bet with him that at least two good things would come out of this nightmarish "Queen for a Week" prize. If they nabbed the Raven, based on the maid's information, that would be one good thing. He was pretty sure he'd still win the bet.

DAY 2
Billy's Office
The Agency

"Todwell's business is in trouble. He hasn't snagged a new defense contract in over a year." Lee stood up to pace. The throbbing ache in his ankle made him resume his seat in front of Billy's desk. "But he and his wife are spending money like it's going out of style."

"You can't arrest a man for that," Billy said. "But if his former maid places him with Kirinov, then it's worth pursuing. What else do you know?"

"Todwell Industries makes components for several weapons systems," Amanda said. "His company doesn't ship out of the country—not officially, anyway. But he could be smuggling the parts or selling the design specifications."

"Any ideas about how to find out?" Billy took a bite of his morning doughnut.

Lee exchanged glances with Amanda. "It's not going to be easy. According to Sylvia, the guy's a security nut. He's got a personal bodyguard who's always checking for bugs and wiretaps. Listening in isn't going to do it. If we could get inside and crack his safe, maybe we'd find something, like a way into the money trail."

"More than Todwell's at stake here." Billy pointed his half-eaten doughnut in their direction. "He might cut a deal and help us nab Kirinov. And the Raven is number two on Smyth's most wanted list. You know what that means."

Damn. "We answer to Smyth?"

Billy nodded. "So you'd better find out everything you can about Todwell's household, figure out a plan, and go in with all your ducks lined up."

Day 2
4247 Maplewood Drive

"Mother, did you tell Lyle to put a sandbox in our yard? Mother?" Surprised at the quiet of the household, Amanda picked her way through Bob's collection of drill bits and screwdrivers. The Queen for a Week entourage must be taking a lunch break.

"I'm here, darling. On the couch." Mother's voice was weak, and Amanda ran to see what was the matter.

"Are you all right?" An overwhelming smell of liniment filled the room.

"As long as I don't move." Wincing, Mother lifted the wet washcloth from her forehead and eased into sitting position. "I think your work could use Hans the trainer. By the time he let me off the stair-stepper, I was ready to sign over my child and both my grandchildren. Nothing personal, I just couldn't go on. He could get anyone to confess to anything."

Amanda dragged an armchair away from its new position—directly facing the bookshelves—and sat down. "Maybe a hot bath would help."

"The bathtub is upstairs, and, as God as my witness, I will never climb the stairs again. At least not until I've rested. What were you saying about Lyle?"

"Why did he put a sandbox in the yard?"

"Dear, that's not a sandbox, that's a Japanese sand garden." Mother shifted the washcloth to the back of her neck. "You're supposed to draw patterns in the sand and meditate. Very zen."

"Apparently we have a lot of zen cats in the neighborhood. But they're not using the box to meditate."

Mother struggled to her feet. "Maybe I will take that bath, after all."

"Can I help you?"

"No, I can manage." She limped forward, stopping to lean against each oddly placed piece of furniture in her path. "I wish you'd talk to Henri. He's been fuming ever since Phillip said tongue in aspic for dinner sounded like a total gross-out."

Amanda suppressed the urge to stick out her own tongue in disgust. "Where is Henri?"

"I think he's in the dining room helping Marta with her wall treatment. Don't worry, dear. She said it'll have country charm to match the rest of the house, and it's just one accent wall. She is a professional."

Amanda raced to the dining room and pushed open the door.

Oh. My. Gosh. Was that a giant bale of hay on the floor? Worse yet, had this madwoman actually glued a good deal of it on the wall?

The wizened little decorator, whose appearance was oddly reminiscent of Curious George, flashed a toothy grin. "Don't you love it?"

Actually, she'd liked it a lot better painted dark gray, with a portrait of Lenin.

Day 2
4247 Maplewood Drive

Dining room


Thank heavens she'd come home in time to stop Marta from stapling thousands of artificial flowers to the bathroom walls, Amanda thought. And de-haying the dining room with Sylvia was a good opportunity to collect information on the Todwells.

"Misty doesn't lift a finger except to heft a martini." Sylvia dipped her scrub brush into the bucket of soapy water. "She just lies around and ogles whatever hunky guy she's hired—until Jeff fires him. Of course, Jeff's just as bad. I spent more time running from that old letch than I did cleaning, until Misty fired me. They ought to put a revolving door in the servants' entrance and advertise it as a temp job."

Hmm, that sounded like a way inside the Todwell estate. "So Mrs. Todwell isn't very involved in her husband's business?"

"She hasn't got the brains. Total trophy wife." Sylvia brushed her brown curls out of her eyes with her forearm. "But I'll bet she knows everything about Jeff's money."

Okay, maybe Mrs. Todwell could point them to the money trail from Kirinov. "What did she do before they got married?"

"Act-ress." Sylvia mimed posing for a close-up and wiggled her hips. "In horror flicks. If you ask me, she was in X-rated movies too. That's why Jeff made her sign that pre-nup."

"What do you mean?" Amanda scraped more pieces of damp hay from the wall. Great, the whole room was beginning to smell of mildew. Maybe they should just re-plaster the wall. Unless Marta and Bob decided to knock it down while she was at work.

"He gets a divorce, and she gets zip, if she cheats on him. If he can prove it." Sylvia shrugged. "Andre, he's the cook, told me Misty plays around, but she hasn't gotten caught yet."

"Lee said you recognized a picture of one of Mr. Todwell's business associates. Was he a good friend of theirs?"

"Search me." Sylvia sounded bored. "They had lots of people over. But their parties were nothing compared to some people's. There was this one musician . . ."

Darn. Now how was she going to reroute the conversation?

Sylvia brushed soggy hay from her hands. "This is going to take forever. I hope nobody in your family has hay fever."

Uh-oh. She made a mental note to pick up antihistamines for Jamie.

 

ACT II
Day 2
4247 Maplewood Drive
Lee & Amanda's bedroom

Oh, no. Not Pamela. And why were half his clothes on the floor? After a day of telephoning his contacts and running every possible computer check on the Todwells, Lee was not in the mood for this ditzy "style consultant."

"Hello, sweetheart." Amanda looked apologetic. "I didn't hear you come in."

"That's no surprise." He raised his voice to carry over the sound of Bob's drill. For God's sake, this was like living in a dentist's office.

"Oh, Lee!" Today the skinny blonde was clad in an orange and purple paisley dress with a zigzag hem and what looked like carpet fringe trim. Not even Francine wore stuff as weird as this woman. Pamela pointed a purple manicured nail at him. "Now that you're home, we can discuss your wardrobe. Over here..." She gestured to the small mountain on the floor. "...is what I'm calling the 'discard pile.' And over there..." She fluttered her hand at the bed. "...is what I'd like you to try on." She smirked, and he was uncomfortably aware that she was mentally undressing him. "Since you said you didn't have time to shop, I brought the clothes to you. On approval, of course. Fashion shows are such fun!"

He opened his mouth to protest, but Amanda hissed, "Please, for Mother's sake."

Okay, he wouldn't throw this flake out, but he was not going to model for her. "Sorry, no can do." He flourished his ice pack and exaggerated his limp en route to the bed. "Hans just gave me the lecture about icing and elevating my ankle." He plopped onto his side and leaned forward while Amanda helped him get situated.

"Oh." Pamela looked crestfallen and then relapsed into perkiness. "Well, let's pretend we're window shopping."

"Goody." Amanda stopped arranging pillows under his ankle and swatted him.

"I've been chatting with Dotty—such a lovely woman, so open-minded . . .not like some people." Pamela glanced at Amanda and shook her head. "Anyway, I've learned enough about you to develop a fashion profile. I'm thinking rugged and athletic. Like a cowboy or a woodsman. Plaid flannel shirts and bolo ties. Combining those with a business suit would be a really "edgy" look."

He suppressed a groan.

"But the really exciting part is that you've traveled a lot. So I'm thinking sophisticated meets ethnic." She scrabbled through the garments and held up a trench coat with a red plaid lining. "How about this? Like something James Bond would wear."

Amanda chuckled. "I think that's really you, big fella."

"Wait, wait, it gets better!" Pamela dropped the coat and held up—

No, it couldn't be. But it was. A kilt.

Pamela beamed. "Now this will really show off your assets."

Day 2
4247 Maplewood Drive
Living room

Misty certainly could scream. She couldn't act, but her role in "Sorority Horror" didn't call for more than wearing tank tops and screaming. Renting this video had seemed like a good idea, but now Amanda didn't see how it would help with the case. Still, watching it kept Phillip and Jamie from complaining about having strangers "all over the house."

The doorbell rang, and she got to her feet. "That must be the pizza."

"About time. I'm starving." Phillip flopped back against the couch and rubbed his stomach.

"Yeah, me too." Though his sneezing fits had died down, Jamie still sounded congested. No matter how much Henri pouted, she'd better keep him out of the dining room. He wouldn't eat whatever Henri cooked, anyway. Maybe the cat convention out by the zen sandbox would finish up the barely-touched tongue in aspic.

When she opened the door, Misty screamed in the background. "Sorry, that's a movie."

"Whatever, lady," the pimply delivery boy said.

Amanda took the three extra large pizza boxes from him and opened her billfold. Five dollars wasn't going to cover it. "Lee, do you have cash?"

"Yeah, just a minute!" Lee shouted over Misty's trademark shriek.

When he'd paid the bill, she started to bring the food inside, but he grabbed her arm. "Amanda, did you notice what the gardener planted here?"

"I know. The Bonsai trees aren't practical. Mother hates pruning."

"No, the other stuff." He lowered his voice. "That's pot. I should have known he'd do something like this when he kept calling me 'dude.'"

"Oh my gosh." Amanda thrust the pizza boxes into Lee's arms, knelt on the ground, and began to pull up the leafy green plants. "I thought Lyle always seemed relaxed. I guess it was more than being in touch with nature."

DAY 3
Outside Smyth's office
The Agency

The following afternoon, as he walked with Amanda toward Dr. Smyth's private office, Lee whispered, "I think the door to hell looks like that." She stifled a laugh, and he imagined that she too was envisioning the Agency Director with cloven hooves and a tail, brandishing a pitchfork instead of a cigarette holder.

Smyth motioned for them to take a set in the two remarkably uncomfortable chairs facing him and leafed through the report they'd dropped off at noon. He'd no doubt read it already; making them wait was just a game. "This looks very complete, Stetson."

Lee stiffened; Smyth never made things that easy. They had been thorough, of course. They'd bribed the maid and the gardener to quit. They'd convinced the employment agency to send them in by threatening an IRS audit. And they'd outlined how they'd search the house and question the staff.

"Except for one thing." Smyth bared his yellow teeth in a thin-lipped smile.

Of course.

"If Todwell's a security fanatic, he won't leave evidence lying around." Smyth blew smoke into their faces, and Amanda coughed. "You'll have to make your own luck, Georgie Porgie."

"What do you mean?" He didn't bother with the "sir."

Smyth flicked his gold cigarette lighter. "Light a little fire with Todwell's wife, Scarecrow." His eyes traveled to Amanda. "And you, my pretty, will help out. Peacock dancing, Pine Brush Variant. If Goldilocks breaks her prenup and you threaten to tell hubby, she'll tell us if Todwell's in bed with the Soviet bears."

"But, sir . . ." Amanda sounded as taken aback as he felt.

Lee sprang to his feet. "You can't force a married agent to do that. It's against regulations."

"It's also against regulations for a married couple to work as partners. Chaper 11, subsection 9, paragraph 12." Smyth ground out his cigarette in a blue ashtray bearing the presidential seal. "I could start enforcing that rule."

Damn. Lee's mouth went dry. He'd been dreading this sort of threat ever since they went public with their marriage. "Why don't you send in someone else?"

"Because you used to be the best peacock dancer in field section, and I want to clip the Raven's wings. I want him quoting 'Nevermore' and spilling everything he knows."

Lee glanced at Amanda. "We need time to talk about this."

"Get back to me by the end of the day. Either dust off your dancing shoes and be prepared to do the horizontal tango, Scarecrow, or expect to be working with a new partner." With that, Smyth waved them out of his lair.

Day 3
Q-Bureau
The Agency

Lee put his arms around Amanda. "What'll we do? Tell him to go to hell and quit if he splits us up?"

She leaned back and looked into his eyes. "Do you think he really means it?"

"Smyth doesn't make idle threats." Unfortunately, that was the man's only good quality.

"Look." She ran her hands down his back. "You'd only have to peacock dance if we couldn't solve the case some other way, right?"

"Yeah."

"Then let's find another way." She placed her palm on his cheek. "The evidence is probably sitting right in Mr. Todwell's safe, or maybe in his office."

"You're right." As she moved her hand down to his shoulder, the tightness in his chest began to ease. "And there's other ways to put the screws on Misty. Find her love letters or track down an old lover. Or maybe Todwell's security guy hates his guts and wouldn't mind overlooking a wire tap."

"So, I'm sure you won't be dancing with anyone but me." She swirled her finger through the hair at the nape of his neck. "Just as a hypothetical question, what's the Pine Brush variant?"

"It's a con. A badger game."

"I don't suppose you mean when the University of Wisconsin team tries for a touchdown?"

Lee grimaced. "I wish. The mark's lured into a compromising situation, surprised, and blackmailed." He cleared his throat. "For example, I'd, um, make contact with Mrs. Todwell, you'd get it on film, and she'd supply us with the information we want in exchange for the incriminating film. Not that it'll come to that."

"And it would just have to look like you'd seduced her, right? You wouldn’t actually have to do it . . . would you?" A worried line appeared in her forehead.

"No, thank God. It would have to look and sound convincing, though." That, unfortunately, might not be easy to pull off, without doing something he really didn't want to do—or didn't want to do with anyone but Amanda.

"Why do they call it the Pine Brush Variant?"

He rolled his eyes. "Look, I know this sounds ridiculous, but I read the original case file when I was in training. A field agent got himself into the house of a man selling secrets by pretending to be a door-to-door salesman . . . remember the Pine Brush Man? Anyway, he got the wife into a compromising position, another agent took pictures, and, well, the rest is history."

"And history isn't going to repeat itself now." She gave him a reassuring smile. "We'll find another way. I'm sure of it."

He wished he were equally certain.

Day 3
4247 Maplewood Drive

"Oh, sorry, Lee."

Apparently Pamela had been styling his stepsons. Those bright red frames on Jamie’s face were definitely new. So were Phillip's parachute pants and mesh shirt. But he probably couldn't blame Pamela for whatever Phillip had mashed against him when they collided at the door.

"What is that?" Lee brushed something cold, raw, and disgusting from his pinstriped suit jacket.

"Frogs' legs. Mark doesn't believe we're having them for dinner, so we're bringing some to his house."

Amanda put her hand on her hip. "Take those right back to Henri. Sweetheart," she turned to Lee, "you'd better go change. That'll have to go to the cleaners."

A breathless Dotty in legwarmers and a baggy over-the-shoulder sweatshirt waved to him as he passed through the den. Hans barked out directions for aerobics, and the pounding beat of "Call Me" followed him up the stairs. Terrific. The theme from "American Gigolo" wasn't what he wanted to hear.

Oh, Amanda was going to love this. Their bed looked like a grave under a spread made of artificial flowers, and peacock feathers covered one wall of their room. He sniffed the smell of fresh paint, mingled with the glue fumes that emanated from the wall. What the hell?

Oh, crap. A huge portrait of Marta's face, which seemed to have been executed in day-glo paint by a palsied Andy Warhol on a bad acid trip, now covered their bedroom ceiling. Maybe he could get out of this madhouse by fitting in a run before dinner. He opened the door to his closet and froze. Who lived here, Don Johnson?

The clothes were arranged by color, rainbow style. With lots of orange and purple. Pamela had probably moved his stuff to the garage.

Too bad the Todwells didn't use live-in servants.

Go to Act III