Living in a Shoe

by Ermintrude

Late Monday morning

Dr. Smyth’s elegant paneled office was dim and quiet, but not unoccupied. A thin thread of smoke arose from behind the big leather chair which was turned away from the desk, facing the wall behind. There was a quiet air of expectance about the place.

The muffled ring of a hidden telephone broke the silence. The chair turned to reveal Austin Smyth-the head of the Agency. He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a telephone receiver.

“Yes sir,” he answered in a respectful tone. He listened in silence for a few minutes. “I see, sir. Kagemusha. No-we have nothing concrete on the man-but rumors have surfaced from time to time for almost a decade now.” He listened attentively for a while more. “I understand, sir. I’ll put my best team on it.” He paused briefly. “No sir, she still has a few weeks left yet.” He paused again. “Very well-I’ll keep you informed.”

Dr. Smyth replaced the receiver and closed the drawer. From below the desk, he raised his other hand and waved a stick of incense around. He frowned at it, and crushed it out in the ashtray. “Not the same. Not the same at all.”

Act One

Monday afternoon, just after lunch

In the Q Bureau, Lee and Amanda were going over the plans of an embassy, making notations about security upgrades.

Amanda was trying to lean closer but her belly kept bumping against the edge of Lee’s desk. Finally, she shuffled in her chair, sat sideways, and leaned that way so she could gain a better vantage point over the blueprints.

“Boy, I’ll sure be glad when the baby comes. I feel like a whale!” Amanda placed her hands over her swollen middle.

“You’re beautiful, Amanda. You positively glow!” Lee said sincerely, with pride at his wife and partner-and soon-to-be mother of their child.

“You call it glowing-I call it huge!”

“You’re fine. The baby’s fine. We only have a few weeks to go.”

“I know, Lee. But in every pregnancy there comes the point when you just want it to be over. I feel like my ankles are never going to be normal again…”

“A-man-da! Your ankles are fine-they look fine to me.” He bent and took one of her feet in his hand. “They feel fine-you want a foot rub?” He offered in the hope of distracting her from her advanced pregnancy as his strong fingers gently massaged her ankle.

“Maybe later, sweetheart. Right now we’ve gotta finish these security upgrade recommendations…”

There was a brief knock on the door, and Lee let go of Amanda’s foot. The door opened to reveal their boss, Billy Melrose.

“Good afternoon, you two,” he greeted them pleasantly.

“Good afternoon, sir.”

“Hi Billy, what’s up?”

He gestured to the plans spread out on the desk, “Is that the security upgrade you’re working on?”

“Yes, sir.”

Billy nodded. “Gather it all together with your notes. I’ll take it down to the bullpen. You’ve been reassigned as of now.”

“Reassigned? What’s up, Billy?” Lee asked as he exchanged a look with his wife.

“This is need-to-know, but Smyth says this is top priority-and you two get it.” He paused for effect. “It seems Kagemusha may be coming to DC.”

“Kagemusha? Aw Billy-nobody knows anything about the guy. He drifts in and out and nobody ever sees him.” Lee leaned back with a disgruntled look on his face.

“Well now it’s your mission-do whatever you need to do-beat the bushes-rattle cages-we need concrete information about this guy. He’s a high-level player-works for whoever can afford him-supposedly he always completes his assignment. If he’s coming to DC, I want to know when, how and where he’s staying. Oh, and also what he’s up to. This is your only case, as of now. Report to me twice daily-with whatever you’ve got.”

“Or not-c’mon Billy! All this will be is hours of phone calls and legwork-a rookie could do it.” Lee was trying to be persuasive, and not succeeding.

“But Smyth doesn’t want a rookie on it-he wants his best team. That way we’ll have a chance of finding something out.”

“We appreciate Dr. Smyth’s confidence in us. We’ll do our best on this, sir.” Amanda replied positively.

Billy smiled at her. “Thank you Amanda. I can always count on your cooperation. See if you can’t whip your partner into shape on this. It won’t be easy, but if anyone can do it, it’s you two.”

“Thank you sir!” Amanda said with a smile.

“See ya, Billy, thanks a lot,” Lee replied with a disgruntled tone.

Billy gathered up the papers Amanda had been arranging as they spoke and he left with them.

She turned to her partner. “OK, Lee-so who is Kagemusha?”

Lee sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “We don’t know. The guy is a phantom. He slips in and out of town-he does his job-nobody ever sees him-just the results of his work.”

“Is there a file I can read?”

“Look him up in the computer. He’s still considered active so it should all be in there. I’ll warn you, though-you’ll read a lot of rumors, supposition and guesswork. There’s little concrete about the guy.” He sighed. “I’ll get on the horn and see who might know anything.”

Just as Lee reached for the phone, it rang. “Stetson, here.”

“Hi Lee.” It was Dotty. “The carpenters are working steadily-but the plumbers can’t install the bathroom fixtures until they arrive tomorrow.”

Lee nodded. “What else needs to get done, Dotty?”

“The bathroom and kitchen floors were installed last week. They do look good, Lee.”

“I’m glad-it sure took long enough for them to be delivered.”

Dotty agreed, “I know-factory delays. At least the kitchen is all finished.”

“Yes, and the windows have been delivered. The carpenters will install them after they finish the sheet rock and the doors as well.”

“But the carpeting is still on back-order.” Dotty sounded worried.

Lee tried to sound optimistic. “We can do that last-even after the painting.”

“It’s all so complicated-we’re almost a month behind schedule.”

“But remember, the architect said that sort of thing might happen. A few glitches here and there. As long as it’s done before the baby arrives, it will be OK, Dotty.”

“You’ve been so good to me, Lee. You found the architect, he had the plans finished in a flash, and he had a contractor ready and available.”

“That’s the advantage of building in the off-season.”

“Yes, well I guess it’s a good thing-but it cost more, too.”

“Dotty, I want my family to be happy-and building the apartment for you is the perfect solution to our overcrowding problem in the house. We’re using the insurance money from the fire, and I’ve had money set aside for a while. I used to redecorate my apartment every time I moved-and I haven’t done that for almost three years now.”

“Lee, you moved in just over two years ago now…”

“Yes, but I didn’t spend anything on redecorating. I just moved in. Before I’d give a guy $10 grand and go skiing for a month and it would be all done when I came back.”

“Ten-thousand-dollars?!? To decorate an apartment?!? Lee, that’s just-well it’s unbelievable.”

“And I was moving about every year… so you see it’s no big deal, really.”

“I guess it’s not as big an imposition on you as I thought it was…”

Lee cut her off. “Dotty, it isn’t an imposition-you are not an imposition-you helped Amanda all those years-I watched you help with the boys…”

“Yes, Amanda mentioned you’d spy on us from the backyard. Now I know why she spent so much time out there-she was probably talking to you.”

Lee chuckled, “Sometimes she was, yes.”

“I should be angry at you for all that spying-but now I know you were just watching out for Amanda.”

“I was watching out for all of you. Anyhow, it sounds like we’re back on track to get the apartment finished before the baby comes.”

“Just so there aren’t any more delays…”

“It’ll be fine, Dotty. Nothing else can go wrong, now.”

“I hope so, Lee.”

“Just call if you need anything. We’ll handle it together.”

“Thank you, son. You have a good day at work.”

“Good bye, Dotty, you too.”

Lee hung up the phone and looked over at Amanda who was reading through the files on Kagemusha in the computer. She looked up at him. “Sounds like everything is going well at the building site.”

“Yeah. Now as long as it stays that way, I’ll be happy.”

Amanda gestured to the computer. “You were right about Kagemusha-there’s nothing definite.”

“I’ve been on the fringes of chasing him down before-nothing but frustration and lots of rumors.”

“Shall we get started collecting a few more?” Amanda pulled her purse out of her desk drawer.

“Yeah, let’s get some gas first-then ice cream.”

“Sounds like a plan, Stetson.”

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They pulled the Wagoneer up to the gas pump and Rhonda cheerfully greeted them.

“Looking to fill up today?” she asked as she unscrewed the gas cap.

“Yeah, thanks.” Lee nodded as he came around to help Amanda out of the car. “You heard anything, Rhonda?” he asked the pump jockey in a low tone.

Rhonda replied as she filled the car. “This morning two KGB guys were talking about some free-lance agent-Kagemusha?” Lee nodded, and she continued. “He’s supposed to be coming into DC soon-some time this week.”

“Did they say anything else? Like exactly when or who he was working for?” Amanda added.

Rhonda nodded. “They were speculating about that-so I’d guess he wasn’t hired by the Russians.” She finished filling the car and hung up the gas nozzle.

Lee handed her his credit card. “Anything you hear about this guy-anything-call it in pronto. High priority.”

Rhonda nodded as she passed the credit slip back to Lee for his signature. “I’ll keep my ears open, Lee.”

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At the ice cream parlor, Lee and Amanda watched TP Aquinas savor a sundae.

“Kagemusha is certainly an elusive man. You’ve asked me about him before and we’ve gotten nowhere.” TP took a large spoonful of ice cream and closed his eyes in enjoyment.

Lee and Amanda exchanged a glance at the man’s culinary tastes. Amanda spoke up, “I know, TP-but the rumor mill has it that he’s coming back into DC-and we have to find out the particulars.”

TP sighed and came back to the here-and-now. “I’ll try and dig up something new, but I wouldn’t hold out any hope. I don’t envy you two. You’re going to end up running all over town chasing these rumors.”

“Don’t I know it,” Lee said wearily. “Thanks, TP. Let us know if you get anything-any time. This is top priority.”

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After a long day of checking sources and chasing rumors, Lee and Amanda sat in Billy’s office.

Amanda consulted her notes. “Nothing concrete, sir. We think he may be coming in this week. We did learn that the Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, French and Saudis are all looking for information about this guy.”

Lee continued her thought. “So we figure none of them have hired him.”

“Anything other than that?” Billy asked hopefully.

Lee and Amanda looked at each other and had one of their silent conversations.

“Nothing, sir,” Amanda replied.

Billy sighed and thought a moment. “Keep on it tomorrow at the least. I trust you’ve told your sources to keep an ear out.”

Lee grumbled, “Yeah, and it’s costing a bundle. I haven’t given out this much ‘incentive’ in a long time.”

Amanda apologized to Billy, “Well, we usually don’t need to contact everyone, Lee.”

Lee nodded tiredly.

Billy saw there was little more to be accomplished at present. “Go home, you two, and get some rest. You can get back at it tomorrow morning.”

The two agents rose to leave. “Goodnight, sir.” “See ya tomorrow, Billy.”

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At home, life was chaotic and the quarters were crowded. Dotty had moved into the living room so her old room could be painted and readied for the baby. The living room furniture was piled and covered along one wall, and Dotty’s bed, dresser, and other furniture were crowded in the space left. The dining room was piled with more furniture and the table held most of Dotty’s clothes from her closet. The family was eating exclusively in the kitchen these days.

The yard and driveway were full of tools, materials, and equipment needed to rebuild the garage and apartment above.

Lee and Amanda parked the Wagoneer on the street behind the ‘Vette. The driveway was blocked by a workman’s vehicle.

“Welcome home!” Dotty greeted her daughter and son-in-law at the door with a hug and kiss for each of them.

“How’s it going, Dotty?” Lee asked.

“Outside-fine. Inside-Amanda, you need to talk to that painter of yours. He hasn’t gotten a thing done that I can tell.”

Amanda sighed, “OK mother. Thanks for the warning.”

Amanda made her way upstairs. It wasn’t as easy as before-but soon the baby would arrive and she’d be back to her normal weight and brisk manner. She poked her head in the baby’s room. A man who looked to be around thirty with an unkempt shock of black hair wearing painter’s coveralls was inside, and he was standing, lost in thought.

“Hello, Aristede!” Amanda cheerfully greeted the painter, who was holding several paint chips up to the bare walls.

“Hi.” He turned briefly around to greet her, then turned back to once again regard the paint chips with an expression of deep thought.

Amanda looked around. Drop cloths were laid out, and the window, doors, and molding were neatly taped, awaiting paint for the walls and ceiling. But there were no paint cans in evidence.

“Ah, Aristede,” Amanda began hesitantly. “Where is the paint you were going to be getting this morning?”

He replied without turning around. “I had second thoughts.”

“Second thoughts?” Amanda sounded incredulous.

“That color you chose-mint green?” She nodded though he didn’t see her. He continued, “It’s nice, but I read an article in one of my professional journals that said cool colors can repress emotion. You don’t want your kid to grow up emotionally repressed.”

Amanda buried her head in her hands. “But yesterday you said yellow makes children hyper. And before that you said that pink and blue reinforce negative gender stereotypes-and lime green promoted sexual precociousness.”

“Yes, all of that’s true. Menninger did a study about it.”

“Um, Aristede-I know you’re working your way through college doing painting…”

“Yep. I’ll be getting my Masters in social psychology any year now.”

“Any year?” Amanda asked weakly.

He turned to face her. “Yeah-I had three years to complete my thesis-but since I’ve changed my major once and my topic twice after that-I’ve gotten an extension. Plus I had to do a lot of additional research.”

“That’s interesting, but we really need to get this room painted. Then you can start on mother’s apartment.”

“Of course, Mrs. Stetson.” He nodded in agreement.

“We need it to be painted soon. This week. Can you do that?”

“It should only take a couple of days, and that includes the closet and trim. Once you choose a suitable color. This peach is really nice.” He held out a chip for her to inspect. “It’s warm so it encourages emotional openness but it’s not so bright that it would make a child hyper.”

“But I really liked that mint green…” Amanda trailed off.

Aristede fixed her with a reproving look. “Cool colors are emotionally repressive.”

“But there will be lots of other colors in the room…”

“Mrs. Stetson, the first years of a child’s life are formative and you have to be extra careful about what you expose them to in their home environment.”

“We’ll be careful-I just don’t think the color of the baby’s room is the most important thing.”

“You don’t understand-everything matters!” He waved his arms and paced back and forth as he spoke. “All factors contribute to a child’s personality and character. Have you considered underwater birthing? It has been shown to minimize the birth trauma and the resultant possible subconscious fear that leads to repression and it promotes openness to change and curiosity about new environments.”

Amanda’s patience was wearing thin. “Aristede, I just want to get the room painted this week. Mint green. Can you do that?”

He resumed his pacing. “As a future social psychologist, I have ethical standards I have to uphold. I can’t in good conscience contribute to the possible emotional repression of an innocent child.”

Amanda stood tall and rammed her fists on her hips. She spoke in her most stern “mom” voice and overrode the younger man. “Aristede-just paint the room. Mint green. It isn’t an ethical dilemma-it’s a room that needs painting. This week. Do you understand?”

Aristede sighed and shook his head ruefully. “You don’t know the potential damage you’re setting your baby up for with that color.”

“My two boys are just fine, Artistede. Please, just paint the room mint green. OK?”

“From what I’ve observed your boys are far from normal-each exhibits traits that vary from-”

Amanda cut him off, “Aristede! I don’t want to hear it. Just paint the room. Got it?”

“You sure are stressed out, Mrs. Stetson. Maybe we need to discuss calming modalities so the final weeks of your pregnancy are stress-free as possible. There was a study-”

“Just paint the room, OK?” Amanda spoke a little more calmly, but no less determinedly. “Until you’ve been pregnant and had children of your own you aren’t qualified to counsel a pregnant woman.”

Lee poked his head in to the room. “Everything OK in here? How’s the painting going?”

Amanda fixed Lee with a determined look. “Aristede is going to paint the room mint green. Tomorrow, first thing.” She turned to the painter. “Right?” The tone Amanda used signaled to Lee that the answer had better be yes or Aristede was in big trouble.

The painter turned to Lee with an appealing look. “Mr. Stetson, you want your child to grow up and be healthy and emotionally well-adjusted, don’t you?”

Amanda’s determined manner had made KGB agents think twice. She fixed her husband with a ‘follow my lead’ look. “Lee-don’t answer that. Just agree with me that mint green is fine and that Aristede will paint this room mint green tomorrow.”

Lee knew when he was out of his element. “Aristede, please paint the room mint green tomorrow.” He smiled at the painter and put his arm around his pregnant wife who seemed to be a bit stressed out.

Aristede tried one more appeal. “But Mr. Stetson, there are larger ethical considerations at work here…”

Lee smiled brightly. “Mint green. Tomorrow. Paint the room. OK?”

The painter shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s your decision and your child. I’m only offering the best advice I can.” As both Lee and Amanda opened their mouths to speak, Aristede held up his hands. “I’ll do it. But you should still sleep on it and you can change your minds come tomorrow morning. Good night.” He hung his head, shuffled down the stairs, and left for home.

Lee nuzzled Amanda’s neck. “Do I want to know what all that was about?”

“No sweetheart. Let’s go eat dinner.”

He continued to kiss her neck. “Mmmm-and maybe later-some dessert?”

She turned and kissed her husband passionately. “Maybe Stetson. You never know.”

End Act One

Act Two

Tuesday Morning

The next morning, Lee and Amanda left before Aristede arrived. They hadn’t changed their minds about the color and left the painter a note to paint the room mint green. Dotty got the boys fed and off to school, and went to supervise the workmen outside.

Lee and Amanda spent their morning in the Q Bureau, working the phones, checking up on overnight rumors and arranged to meet Augie at his Antique store after lunch, when he was open.

The late-morning meeting with Billy was non-productive.

Lee paced around his supervisor’s office. “Billy, we’ve gotten nothing new this morning. Everyone is running around town looking for information about Kagemusha and nobody has anything concrete. It’s becoming a feeding frenzy-everyone is tailing everyone else around town to see what they can find out.”

Billy shook his head. “Keep at it-maybe you’ll get something concrete this afternoon. Report back at the end of the day-sooner if you get anything useful.”

Yes sir,” Amanda said before Lee could start another rant. “We’ll be seeing Augie after lunch-he usually has something.”

Amanda bustled Lee out as Billy waved his dismissal. Then he picked up the phone to report “no progress” to Dr. Smyth. Again. Yesterday hadn’t been a good day, and today wasn’t shaping up any better.

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After their lunch, Lee and Amanda arrived at Augie’s Antiques and Collectibles. As they entered, they saw Augie was on the phone.

“Look, I’m not an answering service for-” the snitch spotted Lee. “Hold on!” Augie put his hand over the mouthpiece and held the phone out to Lee. “Lee, my man-this call is for you. Could you tell the lady to calm down-she’s practically hysterical!”

Lee and Amanda exchanged a glance as he took the phone. “Thanks, Augie, I’ll deal with this.” He spoke into the phone, “Hello, Stetson here.”

It was Dotty. “Oh Lee-thank heavens! It’s a catastrophe! There was an accident-the truck is destroyed-the fixtures are smashed-the plumbers say they have to install them in the next two days-then they’re moving on to the next job and they won’t be back for two weeks! Two weeks-the baby is due-”

“Dotty, calm down.” Lee understood where Amanda had acquired her ability to ramble.

“OK, go slowly. What happened-is anyone hurt?”

“No, nobody is hurt but the street is blocked-the police are here-Lee, the bathroom fixtures were on that truck-they’re smashed-smashed! And the plumbers are threatening to walk out!”

“OK, OK, I got it.” Lee took a calming breath and hoped it could be transmitted to Dotty. “Tell the plumbers we are getting new fixtures-they’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? Where will you get replacement fixtures by tomorrow?”

“I have my ways, Dotty,” Lee bluffed. Whatever it took to placate his mother-in-law. “Just calm down-we’ll get it all done in time.”

“Oh Lee, you’re wonderful! What would we do without you? We’re so lucky you married my daughter.”

“I feel lucky about that, too. Let the plumbers go for today but tell them to be back first thing in the morning.”

“OK. Thank you, Lee. Wait, I forgot to tell you-there’s two good things that happened today!”

“What’s that?”

“The carpenters are all finished, and Aristede actually got the paint and started painting the baby’s room. I thought you wanted the mint green, but that peach really looks very good. I think it’s a better choice.”

“Peach-just great. At least it’s getting painted.” Right now Lee didn’t care if it turned out plaid-just so it got painted by the end of the week. “Thanks for the good news, Dotty.”

“You and Amanda have a good day. I love you, goodbye!”

“I love you too, Dotty. Goodbye.” Lee hung up the phone and ran his fingers through his hair. Where was he going to get a set of bathroom fixtures by tomorrow morning?

“Lee?” Amanda put her hand on his arm, “Is everything all right at home?”

“Oh Amanda, the bathroom fixtures for the apartment were destroyed in an accident. Nobody was hurt-but now we have no bathtub, toilet or sink to install.”

The snitch hesitantly cleared his throat. “Ah, if I could be of service?”

Lee rounded on the hapless man. “You?!? Are you into hot plumbing fixtures now?”

“Hey!” Augie sounded aggrieved. “I’m not a common fence! I’m an … information broker … and an antique dealer … a businessman.” He straightened and tried for a dignified look. It didn’t work. “Being in the antique business I come across all sorts of … stuff.”

“Like bathroom fixtures?” Amanda asked incredulously.

“Oh yeah. When old houses are torn down or remodeled us antique dealers often go in beforehand and strip the place … aahhhh, reclaim the fixtures and whatever else we can pry loose …aahhhh salvage and then flog off … aahhhh resell to discerning clients.” He shuffled around in a self-conscious manner. “It’s all part of the antique business. Really. Perfectly legit … or so I’m told…”

“And this includes bathrooms?” Lee asked. He was feeling somewhat hopeful that Augie could solve his most recent building problem. He realized he must be very desperate to be relying on Augie Swann’s help.

“Oh yeah. Pedestal sinks are really hot these days. But right now there’s this old mansion that’s being redecorated and I have a matching tub, toilet and sink-really great condition. Mint. Like new.” Augie was more confident he had made the sale.

“Can you get it to our house by tomorrow morning?” Lee asked eagerly.

Augie brightened-then looked wary. “Maybe. Of course, I’ll need to hire a truck-and guys to move them-then there’s the matter of short notice…”

Lee knew he was over a barrel. “All right, Augie. You got me this time. How much?”

“$1200.” The snitch replied confidently.

“$1200!?!” Lee was aghast.

“That’s for the fixtures-the truck and delivery are extra of course.” Augie was smug.

“How much extra?” Lee asked through clenched teeth.

“Another $150.”

Lee opened his mouth to protest as Amanda put her hand on his arm. “Lee?” she questioned softly. He shut his mouth. She turned her attention to the snitch. “Augie, could you excuse us for a minute, please?”

“Oh sure, Mrs. S. Here.” He held out a chair. “Why don’t you sit here and I’ll just go into the back room and do a few things in there.” He smiled solicitously and after Amanda sat down, he went into the back room.

Amanda turned to her husband. “Lee-tell me the whole story.”

Lee sighed and tried to gather his wits. Those West women could tie him into knots faster than anyone else. “Your mother said there was an accident and the truck carrying the bathroom fixtures was badly damaged. The plumbers are scheduled to install the fixtures in the next two days and won’t be able to come back for two weeks if we don’t have the fixtures there tomorrow morning.”

“Oh dear, and I know how difficult it was to schedule the plumbers.”

“Tell me about it.” Lee groaned.

“So we’re stuck-unless you know another place to get fixtures?”

“Matching fixtures,” Lee replied in a hopeless tone.

Amanda nodded. “Matching fixtures by tomorrow morning.”

“And considering how long it took your mother to find just what she wanted-and then get it ordered and delivered…” Lee ran his hand through his hair again.

“We’ve gotta take Augie up on his offer, “Amanda said matter-of-factly.

“Highway robbery is more like it…” he said darkly.

“Yeah,” Amanda agreed reluctantly. Then she brightened. “Maybe we can get our information in the deal?”

Lee nodded hopefully. “Yeah-that would help a lot…” He thought a moment, then turned to the back of the shop. “OK Augie, we’re done talking, c’mon back in.”

Augie immediately popped out of the back room and hurried back to the agents. “Hey guys, you make up your minds? ‘Cause I gotta arrange a truck if you want the stuff…”

Amanda looked at Lee and signaled she’d take the lead. “Oh Augie-we’re so grateful for your help here-we’re building an apartment over the garage for mother-it’s a big two-car garage with a really nice apartment above it-and mother will live there-the old garage burned down at Thanksgiving-and we need the extra room because of the baby and mother has been really wonderful helping out all these years with Phillip and Jamie and she’s just thrilled about her newest grandchild,” Amanda patted her belly to illustrate her point, “and Lee has taken the lead in getting this big project done-but really all the delays aren’t his fault-not anyone’s fault really-these things just happen-and it’s so great you can help us out with this-oh Lee, maybe you could give Augie a down payment-say $500?” Lee nodded and silently counted out $500 into Augie’s outstretched hand while Amanda continued. “See Augie, we don’t have that much cash here with us now but we’ll get the rest to you-you know we’re good for it, right?”

Augie was looking dazed and nodded at Amanda, his eyes glassy and darting between Amanda and the cash Lee was doling out.

Amanda continued, “You’re so nice, Augie-we’ll have the rest tomorrow-and do you know anything about Kagemusha?”

“Kagemusha,” Augie repeated in a dull tone. “Everyone’s talking about the guy … but nobody knows anything definite …”

“Oh Augie, you know all the rumors, “Amanda said sweetly. ” Don’t you know anything else? An important information broker like yourself always has just one more thing to say…”

“I’ll keep my ears open, Mrs. S … but I don’t even know if the guy is in DC or not. He’s supposedly due to arrive in a day or two maybe…” Augie’s gaze was riveted on the cash in his hand.

“I see,” Amanda replied. “Well Augie, you’re really a lifesaver with these fixtures-really we’re very grateful and we’ll remember how you helped us in our hour of need…” She smiled warmly at the snitch who was still looking dazed as he pocketed the cash Lee had given him.

“Yeah.” Augie then seemed to recover a bit and remember himself. “Hey! Maybe you’d like a nice stained-glass window. I’ve got a few back here… ”

“Oh Augie, mother has already chosen her windows.” Amanda smiled her apology.

“Well maybe she needs some furniture?” The snitch offered hopefully.

“Augie, all that is mother’s decision.”

Lee decided to get a word in. “You’ll make sure it’s all delivered first thing tomorrow morning?”

“Oh yeah.” The snitch nodded confidently. “I got a couple guys I use when I need muscle.” Amanda’s eyes widened. “… aahhhh to carry heavy stuff, y’know?”

“Right Augie,” Lee looked wary. “Just make sure it’s nobody I’ll have to arrest on sight.”

“Hey! I’m legitimate!” Lee gave Augie a look. “With the antique stuff, now that I’m getting the hang of it….”

Amanda held out a cut-glass goblet. “You’ve still got a way to go-this is Waterford-not Depression Glass.”

“Heh heh! Thanks, Mrs. S. The books aren’t always clear…” He sounded embarrassed. “Why don’t you take this as a gift for your mother?” He wrapped the goblet in newspaper and handed it to Amanda.

“Thank you, Augie. I’m sure mother will appreciate it.” She smiled at the man as they left his shop.

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Lee and Amanda made a few more stops, but got no new information. Twice Lee had to shake tails as other agents tried to follow them to see if they could find any information on Kagemusha.

After losing the second tail, Lee was ready to go home. “Amanda, we’re getting nowhere. Why don’t you use the car phone and let Billy know we don’t have anything new? If we go back to the Agency to report, it’ll take twice as long to get home.”

“Sure sweetheart. Dr. Smyth won’t be happy, but we can’t manufacture information when there’s none out there. I see what you mean about this Kagemusha guy. Hopefully we won’t have to chase after him for much longer.”

He remembered the ‘good news’ Dotty had relayed. “Oh, your mother said Aristede did start painting the baby’s room-peach. She says it really looks good, better then the mint green would have.” He tried to put the best spin on the news.

“Yeah. Peach. Right now, all I care about is that it’s getting painted.” Amanda shook her head tiredly. “Head for home, Scarecrow. I’ll call Mr. Melrose and give him our latest non-report.”

“Yes ma’am.” Lee turned the Wagoneer toward Arlington, and home.

QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ

Early Wednesday morning

Lee was having a nightmare-plumbers were packing up and leaving-carpenters were installing sheet rock over open doorways-Aristede was holding Amanda down in a tub of water coaching the birth-Augie Swann drove up in a truck-the engine roared and backfired-suddenly Lee was awake. Was that a gunshot? He focused on the sound of a truck with a bad muffler, seemingly under his bedroom window. He glanced at the clock, it was 4:15am. Amanda was still asleep. He looked out the bedroom window and saw the top of a panel truck. He grabbed his robe and slippers and crept downstairs. He met Dotty at the back door.

She looked worried. “Lee, what’s going on?”

“I think this is the delivery of your new bathroom fixtures…”

Lee opened the back door and stepped outside to the cold back yard. Dotty followed him after putting on her winter coat.

Augie and two large rough-looking goons were man-handling several large crates out of the truck.

“Hey Lee!” The snitch was cheerful. “And you must be Mrs. S’s sister, right?” He smiled and took Dotty’s hand.

“Augie!” Lee growled.

“Oh-I’m Amanda’s mother-Dotty West.”

Augie bowed and kissed Dotty’s hand. “August Reilly Swann at your service, ma’am.”

“Well, thank you.” Dotty was impressed.

“I’m always glad to help your beautiful daughter and her hubby. When I heard of your plumbing emergency, I rushed into action and acquired this fine vintage fixture set-in mint condition, I’ll have you know-they came from an old mansion that was being remodeled. They graced a back guest suite that was hardly used. You’ll love them and get years and years of use-”

Lee cut him off. “Augie, can the sales pitch.”

Dotty put her hand on Lee’s arm. “Lee, the man is just bring helpful-I’m really grateful to you Mr. Swann-if we didn’t have these in time the project would be delayed another two weeks-and with the baby coming…”

“Hey, I understand totally, Mrs. W.”

“Please, call me Dotty.”

“Of course, Dotty. You can call me Augie-everyone does. And as you’re getting a whole new living space, I wondered if you might be interested in a fine stained-glass window to brighten up your new abode?”

“Stained-glass? I had no idea…”

Augie pulled Dotty toward the truck. “Please, come up into the truck. I have a few possibilities here…”

He stepped into the back of the truck and handed Dotty up. There was a light inside and in racks, half-a-dozen large stained glass windows that had been recovered from older homes.

Dotty admired each window and Augie kept up a constant patter. The crates had been moved to the base of the stairs up to Dotty’s apartment, and the two goons stood sullenly, waiting for Augie to finish. Lee eyed the pair warily and wondered if he should have worn his gun.

“This is just beautiful!” Dotty exclaimed. She was looking at a large Tiffany-style window scene of a pond with lily pads, fish, flowers and foliage. It was about five feet wide with a curved top-about two feet high in the middle and a foot high at each end.

“And these go with it!” Augie unveiled two more rectangular panels, four feet high by a foot wide. The side panels consisted of more foliage and flowers. “They’re designed to go around your front door.”

Dotty was excited. “Oh, but we could put them around the living room window. See-the window could go under the top curved piece, and these could go on either side. They would look so elegant and charming…”

Lee’s head swam. Dotty was back to re-designing her apartment again… “Ah, Dotty-the plans are set-look.” He gestured to the apartment. “The window is already finished…”

“Yes, but we still have time to change it-it would only take a little change-widen here-elevate the top…” She gazed at Lee with a look of longing.

He realized where Amanda got her big eyes, too. He never could resist it when she gave him that look and now her mother seemed to have discovered that particular weakness of his as well. “Why not?” He relented good-naturedly. “Only the best for the grandmother of our unborn child.”

“Thank you so much, Lee. I’ll call the contractor first thing in the morning.”

“Oh hey, Dotty, I know a guy who can help with that.” Augie chimed in.

“Augie, I don’t think…” Lee began.

“He’s helped me with a few remodeling jobs in my bar-well-before…” Augie trailed off in embarrassment.

“You owned a bar?” Dotty asked in amazement.

“Yeah-before-now I have an antique store. Lots more classy and genteel.” The snitch preened before Dotty’s admiration.

“Can I trust this guy you’re sending here?” Lee asked as he jerked his thumb at the two goons to illustrate Augie’s choice of ‘suitable’ employees.

Augie hastened to explain. “He’s totally legit-I promise. He’s a carpenter who specializes in quick remodeling-he was great and really got stuff fixed up fast when the place was trashed…” Augie trailed off. “Yeah. Well, that’s one of the reasons I got out of the bar business. Overhead was killing me…” He gestured to the two goons. “OK guys, these go here, too.” They promptly unloaded the stained glass panels and carefully placed them inside the garage area.

Dotty ran up the stairs to her new apartment and began planning how the windows would fit in her new living room.

“So Lee, my man. Those windows are a fine choice. Your charming mother-in-law has great taste-those are genuine Frank Lloyd Wright.”

Lee shook his head, “Augie! Even I know those are Tiffany style-how can you sell this stuff and have no clue about what it is?”

“Hey! I just sell the stuff. Most of my customers know more about it than I ever will. I’ll just bill you for the windows, shall I?” He held out his hand.

“Augie-I haven’t got any cash with me right now!” He turned out the pockets of his bathrobe in emphasis.

Augie looked hurt. “Lee-I have to pay my workers here-they need their wages for this emergency job…” he gestured to the two goons who glowered and looked menacing.

“OK, OK. I’ll get something together.” Lee went into the house and got the remaining $850 that he owed Augie for the bathroom fixtures and delivery. He counted the bills out to the snitch. “Here it is, $850. Now, how much will those windows set me back?”

“They’re a steal-only $750 the set.”

“$750!?!”

“I can take them back if it’s too much.” He gestured to the two goons who started toward the garage.

“No, no.” Lee knew when he was defeated. “I’ll have the cash later today. OK?”

“Sure Lee, I trust you.” Augie waved the goons off. They got into the truck. “We’ll just be going, then. See you around. See you Dotty!” Augie waved up to Dotty who was leaning out of her door.

“Good bye, Augie! Thank you so much!” She waved cheerfully as the truck drove noisily off.

Lee and Dotty returned to the house.

As Lee turned to go back up the stairs, Dotty stopped him with a soft hand on his arm. “Lee, thank you for going to all the trouble and expense to get this done on time. I know it’s been an imposition and frustrating-and I just wanted you to know we all appreciate your efforts here.”

“Thanks, Dotty. I’ll admit it’s a whole lot bigger than I had anticipated, but when it’s done, I expect we’ll be able to laugh about it.”

“That’s the spirit! And once the baby’s here, you’ll forget everything else-I promise.”

“Yeah. Even now-when the baby’s kicking Amanda puts my hand on her tummy-it’s just amazing, y’know?” He got a dreamy goofy look on his face.

“Oh Lee, you have nothing to worry about. You’ll be the best father ever.”

“Really? I’m still pretty nervous about it all.”

“Take it from a veteran-all you need is lots of love-and you have that and more besides.” She kissed his cheek and went into her temporary bedroom in the living room.

Lee smiled and made his way upstairs. ‘Another crisis managed,’ he thought. ‘All it cost was a whole bucket of cold hard cash.’ He settled back into bed and Amanda snuggled against him. He kissed her tenderly. “I love you, Mrs. Stetson,” he whispered.

“…love you too, Lee,” Amanda mumbled in her sleep.

End Act Two

Continued

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Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King and its characters belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Enterprises. No infringement is intended. This is written for entertainment purposes only.