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...
To my beta team of Laura and Brandy, who came through in a pinch, despite
the last-minute rush job and demands on their time to get this episode
in shape before airing.
And now, on with the show!
"Faster, Ilya. You must hurry or risk being late for work. We cannot miss any important information. The time is close. I can feel it."
The woman turned from the oval mirror where she had just tucked the last strand of blonde hair into the chestnut wig. She patted her hair in place and delivered a smile to the impatient man standing in the doorway.
"I will not be late, Yuri. You worry too much." She walked over to him and placed one hand one his shoulder. "And remember, my name is Serena. You must not mistake and call me by my real name. We cannot have any of the neighbors suspect us."
Yuri nodded. "You are right." He turned toward the stairs. "I will have Ivan start the car for you."
Ilya finished preparations then met Yuri downstairs a few minutes later. She opened the door and groaned. "This heat is almost unbearable. I do not know how these Americans can live here every year. I step outside and feel like I am near the equator." She pulled her cotton paisley top away from her body and wrinkled her nose in distaste. "And these clothes. It is a wonder they have survived this long with preferences like this."
Yuri gave her a patronizing smile. "Not much longer...Serena. We will have our information and be back home before you know it." He waved her toward the front door. "Now, be gone! Your scientist might reveal something important today."
Ilya rolled her eyes, but grabbed her purse and left the house. Oh, how she hoped this assignment would end. The sooner she could get away from Yuri and Ivan the better.
"Hey, Mom!" Phillip burst in through the front door and ran into the kitchen.
Amanda turned from the sink where she was washing the dishes from a late breakfast. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold your horses, there, Phillip. We don't run inside this house."
Her son lowered his head and kicked the toe of his shoe against the carpet. "Sorry."
Amanda dried her hands on a towel then crossed her arms and leaned back against the counter. "Now, what's the big emergency?"
"Oh, nothing. Just wondering if Lee's home."
"No, he had an early appointment at work. He won't be back until this afternoon."
Phillip laughed. "Bet he didn't like that one. It ain't no secret that Lee's not a morning person."
"Now, give Lee a break. He is if he has to be." Amanda saw Phillip raise one eyebrow. "Well, all right. So, mornings aren't his best time. At least he's committed to his job." She gave him a pointed look. "Which is more than I can say for you at the moment." She glanced at the clock on the wall. "Aren't you supposed to be somewhere right now?"
Phillip followed her gaze. "Oh, shoot!" He slapped his hand against the doorjamb. "I can't believe it! I'm going to be late if I don't leave right now!"
Amanda grabbed the bag lunch from the counter. "Phillip!"
He popped his head back around the corner. "Yeah?"
"Forgetting something?" She held up the bag.
"Oh. Thanks, Mom." He stepped back down into the living room and grabbed the bag from her. "Probably would've gone hungry without this."
"Are you kidding? You'll be complaining about food an hour after you step out that door."
"I'm a growing boy. What do you expect?" Phillip flashed her a grin and disappeared again.
"Yeah?" His voice echoed from the front door.
"Why did you want to see Lee?"
"Wanted to ask him if he'd throw the ball around a bit with me. Gotta get ready for football season next month."
"Well, when you can get back from work, if he's not here, I'll throw a few."
Silence answered her for a few moments, then Phillip's reply came.
"Uh, sure, Mom. See ya!"
Amanda shook her head as the front door slammed. Growing boy was right. Phillip turned sixteen earlier that year, had his license and already had his first summer job. One that paid good money.
"When did my boys grow into young men on me?"
"Probably about the time you got caught up in your spy work for the government."
Amanda whirled around at her mother's voice as Dotty came in from the back yard.
"Mother!" She placed a hand on her chest. "You nearly made me jump out of my skin. You really shouldn't sneak up on people like that."
Dotty placed the remains of the plant container on the counter in the washroom, dusted off her hands and entered the kitchen. "So, I guess only you and Lee are allowed to do it?"
"That's beside the point."
"Amanda, it's not the first time I've caught you talking to yourself, and I'm sure it won't be the last." Dotty walked over to the table in the living room and grabbed her glasses then found a comfortable spot on the sofa. She reached for the book that was laying face down on the coffee table, tucked her feet underneath her and opened to the marked page. "Besides, you learn the most interesting things when you eavesdrop."
"Well, it's the truth."
Amanda could hear the smile in her mother's voice. She shook her head, then returned to her task of washing dishes.
"Mother, did you know about that house on the corner finding some new residents?"
"What house, dear?"
"The one across the street. The little two-story with the brown shutters and pale yellow siding."
"Oh, you mean the one your husband rented a while back?"
Amanda sighed at the sarcasm in her mother's voice. "Yes, Mother. The same one."
Dotty turned on the couch and placed her glasses on top of her head. "You know, they've had an awful time trying to keep that house occupied since he stayed there. What do you think he did to it?"
"Mother! Lee didn't do anything to that house. He was only there for two weeks."
"A lot can happen in two weeks. Look at how your relationship with Lee progressed during that time."
Amanda turned around and caught the grin on Dotty's lips. She opened her mouth to reply then thought better of it. "And that's a moot point anyway. I asked if you knew anything about the people who are living there now."
Dotty lowered her glasses back to the ridge of her nose and opened her book again. "No, dear, I don't. They must have just moved in. I do recall seeing a truck or two just the other day." She tilted her head and stared toward the front door. "Come to think of it. There wasn't much that I saw moved into that house." She shrugged. "Maybe their furniture hasn't arrived yet."
"I think I'll wait until Lee gets home then go over there and welcome them to the neighborhood."
"That would be the neighborly thing to do."
"Would you like to come with us?"
"No, dear. I'll stay here and finish my novel." She waved her hand loosely in the air. "I'll meet them later. They'll no doubt be here a little while at least."
She didn't know why, but something in her gut told Amanda that this new ‘family' might not be who they appeared to be. Two trucks and no furniture was more than a bit suspicious. Now, she just had to figure out a way to learn more without prying.
Billy turned to face Lee and Francine after shutting the door. "All right. Now that the staff briefing is out of the way, I wanted to give you both some more information." He walked over to his desk and reached for a manila folder. "This was delivered to my desk this morning."
Lee gestured for Francine to proceed him to the two chairs facing the desk. Choosing to assume his customary stance by the window, he folded his arms across his chest and glanced at the empty chair. It felt weird not having Amanda there too. But, she'd complained of not feeling well this morning and he told her to take the day off to rest. Of course, to Amanda, rest was not in her vocabulary. He made a mental note to call home after this meeting.
"What do you think, Lee?"
"Come on, Scarecrow. I need your full attention, here. This is vital information."
"Mind back in your nice home in the suburbs, Lee? Missing your partner this morning, are we?"
Lee raised one eyebrow at the blonde agent. "And I thought you and Amanda were getting along better, Francine." He shifted his gaze to his boss. "Guess I was wrong."
"Getting along with her has nothing to do with it. I can't be nice all the time."
Lee caught the smirk on her face and winked.
"Are you two done with these Romper Room antics? Can we get back to business, here?"
"Sorry, Billy." "Sure thing."
Lee and Francine answered together.
"All right." Billy picked up the papers again and handed a folder to Lee and another to Francine. "Now, back to what I was saying. We just got word about a top secret mission happening with NASA and part of the project is taking place right here in Georgetown. The Air Force has asked us to step up security and add to the military protection they've got around the clock on this thing. They want a few of our men keeping their eyes and ears open to anything that might jeopardize their work."
Lee flipped through the pages. "So, why all the hush-hush?"
"I don't know. The only thing I was told was it involved a top scientist here at Georgetown and had something to do with NASA. You know as well as I do how quiet they keep things from everyone."
"Even their own men," Francine quipped.
Billy nodded. "Exactly." He placed his hands on the surface of his desk. "Now, I want you two to talk to your contacts. Find your snitches. See what you can find out about anyone out there trying to sabotage this project. We're in a critical place right now with the Russians and I'd bet they'll be out there."
"I'll check with Beaman to see if he can find anything in the computer systems."
"Yeah, your little computer boyfriend might find a spy dressed as an everyday housewife."
"As I recall, he's saved your butt more than once." Francine lowered her voice. "And he's not my boyfriend."
Lee smirked at the attempt at denial Francine offered, but it was clear to everyone there was some sort of a relationship between those two. Beaman sure would like it to happen. He'd made that known at every Christmas party for the past several years. Now, if only Francine would admit it.
"Okay, people. You're not moving fast enough. And I need my office back. Some people actually have jobs around here."
Lee stood straight and headed for the door. Francine stood but continued to face Billy.
"You know, sometimes it's so obvious when it's time to bring an old, washed-up spy in from the field."
"You going to let her talk to you like that, Billy?"
Billy chuckled. "I believe she was talking about you, Scarecrow."
Francine joined Lee, and he held the door open for her. Before she stepped into the bullpen, she stuck out her tongue then scurried toward the double doors before he could respond. He shook his head and grinned, then turned around to find the expression on Billy's face matched his own.
"She'll admit it one of these days."
Lee pulled the door closed. "I wouldn't count on it!"
"Serena, could you bring me the beaker of acid, please?"
The research assistant walked over to the counter near the window and grabbed the beaker the head scientist requested. She couldn't believe they were still doing basic experiments today. They'd been at this for the past two weeks. When were they going to get to the good stuff?
He didn't look up. "Hm?"
"Don't you get tired of these mundane basics day in and day out?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you're the head scientist at the university. Why don't you let one of your assistants do the acid washing of those semi-conductors. That's entry-level work. Surely you have more important projects to that need your attention."
Professor Clark stopped what he was doing and looked at her. "Well, sometimes you have to endure the mundane. But, at the moment, I'm waiting to hear further instruction on a special project. When that happens, I'll be occupied for the better part of several weeks."
He nodded. "It is that. During that time, you'll need to supervise these tests to be certain they receive the right combination of chemicals and treatment or we'll have to start all over from scratch."
"You mean you won't need assistance on the project?" The assistant forced an innocent expression on her face.
Dr. Clark hesitated before answering, peering up into her eyes as if gauging any ulterior motive behind her words. She shifted from one foot to the other but otherwise held her ground. It wouldn't do any good to appear nervous or give away any hints that she was anything other than his assistant.
"Serena," she corrected.
"Serena. Unfortunately, the project requires only myself and one other engineer. Details about it are not to be disclosed. I'm sorry."
The scientist actually looked apologetic, and Serena nearly gloated at how she'd managed to wrap this man around her finger. She had a feeling this project was just what she was waiting for. Once he began working on it, she was certain she'd have no trouble extracting the necessary information to take back to her partners. She just had to bide her time.
Forcing a congenial smile on her lips, she nodded. "I understand, Dr. Clark. I wouldn't want you to compromise any research or instructions from whoever is in charge of the project." She pushed away from the table and stood straight. "Is there anything else I can do while you're working on that combination?"
"Not at the moment, no. But, I am a bit hungry." He reached into the pocked of his white lab coat and pulled out a bill. "Why don't you go to the cafeteria and get us both something to eat? I'll be ready for a break by the time you return."
Serena sighed. Once again, he was dismissing her from the lab. Although she knew what to expect as a research assistant, she hoped working with Dr. Clark would be different. She should have suggested Ivan take this job instead of her. Not even her smile could coax anything other than the most basic information from the professor. She'd need to work harder on that.
"Are you going to rest at all today, or are you going to keep finding things to occupy yourself?"
Amanda looked over her shoulder from organizing the books on the shelves in the living room. Dotty had assumed her position again, book open in her hands and feet tucked underneath.
"I have rested, Mother."
"I sat down to watch the Colonial Cookery show with you this morning."
"You know, I like that show so much more now that they've replaced the first woman. What was her name?"
Dotty snapped her fingers. "Right. Welsh. Anyway, Mrs. Compton is so much better with her recipes. Did you ever try some of those dishes Mrs. Welsh suggested? That Pilgrim's Peach Puff was awful, and I made sure I followed her instructions to the letter." She expelled her breath and rolled her eyes. "Should've known something wasn't right when all those bake times were set for exactly one hour."
"Oh, I don't know, Mother. I thought the Pilgrim's Peach Puff was very good." Amanda grinned at the thought of her own little treat who was supposed to be home in about an hour.
"Well, your tastes always were a little bit different, dear."
The back door opening and closing interrupted anything else that would've been said.
"Hi, Mom. Hi, Grandma. Is Lee home yet?"
Amanda took in her son's smudged jeans and grease-stained hands. "Not yet, Sweetheart. He called about a few minutes ago and said he'd make it in time for supper."
Phillip's shoulders slumped and he dropped his keys on the kitchen counter. "Oh." He went to the refrigerator and poured himself a glass of ice water and downed it in almost one gulp.
Dotty turned to watch Phillip. "Busy day at work, dear?"
"Yeah, Grandma, it was. Mr. Sanderson kept me busy running tires back and forth from the storage racks to the cars and then to the customers to double-check their orders. I can't wait until I can actually get under the hood of some of these babies myself."
"Just as long as you don't try to get under the hood of ‘Vette again, I think you'll be fine. I'll even let you try out the Wagoneer for practice once in a while."
"After you've worked on a few with Mr. Sanderson."
Phillip grimaced. "Yeah, all right." He drained his glass and put it in the sink. "Well, I'm gonna go find Jamie. See if he wants to toss the ball around a bit."
Amanda stepped away from the bookshelf and leaned against the partition between the living room and kitchen. "Jamie's down the street with Ashley, working on a project for school."
"Only my dork brother could manage to get all those good grades and still have to go to school in the summer."
"It's for a competition." Amanda leveled a light punch at her son's chest. "But, I promised you'd I'd throw a few with you if Lee wasn't home."
Phillip hesitated, but nodded. "All right. I'll grab the ball."
Amanda knew she wasn't the same as Lee, but she also didn't want Phillip missing out. And before Lee came into their lives, she could throw a pretty good spiral. She might not be all-pro, but she could hold her own.
"You better make sure you're back inside before Lee gets home. You don't want him to find out you haven't rested."
"I'm fine, Mother."
"Well, the next time you complain of an upset stomach and have a dizzy spell pulling clothes out of the dryer, don't say I didn't warn you."
Amanda stepped onto the landing at the foot of the stairs. "Lee won't know anything unless I tell him, will he, Mother?" She gave her mother a pointed glance.
Dotty sighed and returned to reading. "No, dear. He won't hear anything from me."
"Thank you!" she called and headed out front to join her son.
After several tosses back and forth, Amanda decided to try that spiral. Placing her fingers on the laces the way she'd been taught, she grasped the pigskin between her hands and raised her arm to throw. With a quick prayer that it would work, she propelled her arm forward and released the ball. The smooth spinning as it sailed across the yard to Phillip made elation bubble up in side.
Phillip caught the ball against his chest and smiled. "All right, Mom! What a throw!"
Amanda beamed. "Didn't know I could still do that."
"Yeah, not bad for a girl."
She placed her hands on her hips. "I'll have you know, young man, that when you were younger, I was the only game in town when you wanted to toss the ball around. I was good enough for you then and I still am."
"In a pinch." Phillip laughed when she opened her mouth at his retort. "Just kidding, Mom. You're really good. Lee's better, but this is great."
"Well, I'm happy to help, sweetheart. I..." She stopped when she saw a woman outside the house on the corner. The brunette shifted the load in her arms and reached for the door. A piece of paper fell unnoticed to the ground. The woman got into the car and drove off.
"Hey, guys." Jamie walked into the yard. "What are you staring at, Mom?"
Amanda shook her head at her sons' voices and focused her attention on them both. "I'm sorry. Hello, Jamie. The project all done?"
"For tonight, anyway. Ashley and I still have more work to do before we submit it to the science contest. You know, it's really cool that I found a girl who's into photography."
Phillip tousled Jamie's hair and rubbed his knuckles into his head. "Yeah, cause it sure ain't your good looks she likes."
Jamie ducked out of the way. "Hey!"
Amanda was so distracted by her curiosity over the paper the woman dropped she didn't even think to deliver her usual reprimand when the boys engage in their sibling rivalry. They must have noticed too because they stopped what they were doing and stared at her.
She looked at them both. "What?"
"Just what is it that's got you so interested in what's happening across the street?"
Amanda didn't want to involve them, so she waved her hand in the air and shook her head. "It's nothing. I thought I saw the Ferguson's dog in the yard over there. It wasn't." She clapped her hands. "Anyway, it's almost time for supper. You boys go get washed up, and I'll be inside in a few minutes."
"All right," Phillip and Jamie answered simultaneously then headed at a run for the front door.
"Walk!" she called out to them and smiled when they immediately slowed their pace. They still slammed the front door, but she couldn't have everything.
Suppressing a yawn, Amanda double-checked to make sure no one else was watching then crossed the street and headed for the front yard. She took hesitant steps and watched the house for any signs of movement inside. Everything was dark, and the one car that had been parked outside was now gone. After several glances in every direction, Amanda stepped into the driveway and made her way to where the piece of paper had fallen. Upon closer inspection, it was actually a couple pieces paper-clipped together.
"Must be why the wind didn't blow them away." Amanda reached down and picked up the pages. Another dizzy spell hit her as soon as she straightened, so she closed her eyes and took deep, even breaths, waiting until it passed. "I really need to make an appointment to get this checked out. I'll call first thing tomorrow."
With another glance around at the other houses that lined the street and checking the house in front of her, she left and made her way back to her front yard. When she reached the front step, she glanced down at the writing on the paper.
"STS-28," she read aloud. "Now, what could that mean?" The numbers and letters looked familiar, but she couldn't place them. The rest of the writing was all in an almost illegible scrawl. She had to strain to make anything out of it. After several attempts, she gave up. The first signs of a headache were beginning to manifest, and she didn't want to put a damper on the evening after being away from Lee all day.
Almost as if the thought of him made him appear, the ‘Vette pulled into the driveway and behind Phillip's car. She waved and smiled when she caught his eye. He parked the car and came to greet her.
"Well, hello stranger."
Amanda returned his kiss with a smile. "That's too close to the truth to be funny. Wasn't the same not being at work today. I miss it."
Lee wrapped his arms around her and dropped a kiss on her forehead. "And I miss you. Somehow, Francine just doesn't do the trick."
"Well, I should hope not!"
"Her skills are good enough, but I think you've got her beat in the hidden talents department." He grinned. "Then again, with a little practice..."
Amanda swatted him with the papers in her hand.
Lee laughed then nodded at the pages. "What are those?"
"Oh, just something I found on the ground. Not important." She turned up one corner of her mouth. "Now, tell me more about these hidden talents I have..."
"Mmm, maybe later tonight. Out here in our front yard isn't the place to discuss them." Lee peered down into her face and concern masked the teasing glint in his eyes. "Unless you're too tired. You did say you weren't feeling well this morning."
"No, I'm fine." She smiled and leaned forward to place a kiss on his lips. "I'm all yours tonight." Amanda sobered. "After dinner, of course."
Lee tightened his hold. "Sounds like I got my dessert already planned for me."
She ran the tip of her tongue across her top teeth and gave him a teasing grin, then stepped away and onto the front porch. Amanda reached for the handle and opened the door. "Well, you'll just have to wait."
Lee swatted her rear as he followed her inside. "Gladly!"