The Art of War

By Miranda

The military is a Tao of deception -

Thus when able, manifest inability.

When active, manifest inactivity.

When near, manifest far.

When far, manifest near.

Thus when he seeks advantage, lure him.

When he is in chaos, take him.

When he is substantial, prepare against him.

When he is strong, avoid him.

When he is wrathful, harass him.

Attack where he is unprepared.

Emerge where he does not expect it.

– Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Prologue

The sun shone brightly as Anna Snyder studied the brick and ivy building in Georgetown where The Agency was housed.  From her perch above the street on the corner building she could see each and every vehicle as they left the parking area underneath.

There was only one man and one vehicle that she was concerned with however.  That man was who had killed her brother and caused her to spend nine years behind bars.

Lee Stetson.

Anna was labeled a traitor by Scarecrow and in the battle before her arrest her teenage brother had been shot and killed.  She knew her brother’s death was incidental, much like the deaths of the three agents she had shot in defense, but she wasn’t a traitor and spent nine years in prison on a false charge.  Stetson would pay for that error with his life.

She may have been found innocent now, but she was anything but after her time behind bars.

She longed for revenge.  Revenge for her brother’s life.  Revenge for her prison time.  Revenge for ruining her life.

Finally, the silver Corvette she had been waiting for exited the underground garage.  The glass top was on, despite the sunshine and warmth of the day, but she could still see Stetson’s brown hair as pulled out onto the street.

Wait, wait.

Slowly the car made a path down the street, when the car came to a stop at the corner, Anna pushed the red button on the remote detonator and ducked down next to the bricks to protect her.

The screaming sounds of chaos were a symphony behind her as she quickly fled the scene.  Her revenge had begun.


Act 1

Invincibility lies in oneself.

Vincibility lies in the enemy.

- Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Wednesday

The Agency

Q-Bureau

Billy Melrose had spent a great deal of his life protecting others.  First his family as a young man, later his wife, but the people he had spent the most time trying to protect were his employees.  In his career at the Agency he had seen far too many good men and women die and because of it, he worked very hard to make sure the numbers of fatalities on his watch were few and far between.

There was nothing worse than telling a stranger that their loved one had passed on.

So when the world gave him the opportunity to relax and enjoy a baby girl with adorable brown curls and wide dark brown eyes he snatched it up and held it tight, which in this case was a good thing. Emily Stetson wiggled endlessly as he held her in his lap and giggled at his attempts at a silly face.

“You are a bright little girl aren’t you?  Just like your mother.”

Emily let out a delighted squeal and giggled as he tickled the bottoms of her stocking clad feet.

“Finally, I found you. So, was that a good scream or a bad one?”  Francine strode into the room with a stack of papers in her arms.  “I can never tell with children.  Typically the louder they get the farther away I run.”  She set her papers onto the edge of the desk and looked over to where Emily was sitting on Billy’s lap. “She is a cute little kid, but doesn’t she have parents who should be doing that?”

“I have a meeting with them both.” He glanced at the clock on the wall behind her. “Five minutes from now. They are downstairs in HR.”

Francine raised her eyebrows in question.  “Why would they be in HR? Amanda not getting her maternity leave checks?”

“No, nothing like that.  They are filling out a bunch of paperwork to add this little one to their insurance.” Billy bounced the baby lightly on his knee and she rewarded him with a dimpled grin.

“That’s even worse.” She motioned to the stack of papers as she sat down in the chair behind Amanda’s desk.  “Those are assignment allocations, they need to be signed.”  Francine picked up a baby toy off the desk. “So when is Amanda coming back to work? It’s not that I dislike Lee or anything, but he’s a bear to work with when she’s not around.”

“I love you too, Francine.”  Lee sauntered in the door with a smile on his face and his eyes on his daughter.  “She looks like she enjoys her Uncle Billy.”

Billy smiled. “She and I have bonded.  You see, we both have to deal with her father on a daily basis.  So we have some sympathy for one another.”

“Ha. Ha.”  Lee sat down and turned to Francine, “so you’re ready for a different partner again huh?”

“You, Scarecrow, are handled best by your wife.  I have no delusions of being able to control you like she does.”

They all three turned at a knock on the doorframe.  A young man looked hesitantly through the door.

“Mr. Melrose, Leatherneck sent me here to get Mr. Stetson’s car.  He has some, what he called “special new toys” to put in it.”

Lee looked at Billy incredulously. “Does that motor head actually think I’ll let a green recruit drive my Corvette?”

“Jeff, how did Leatherneck even know Scarecrow was here?”  Billy put the baby into her little car seat on the floor.  “I didn’t even plan this meeting until about an hour and a half ago.”

Jeff Lester looked back and forth between his boss and a very irritated looking Scarecrow.  Finally Billy watched him swallow the lump in his throat and started to speak, “Well he said that…”

“I told him.” Amanda patted the young man on the shoulder. “It’s okay.  His bark is worse than his bite.  Hello Francine.”  She circled around the desks to pick up Emily in her car seat. “Did you enjoy your time with Mr. Melrose, Emily?”

Billy smiled. “I’m not sure if she did, but I did.  I take it you had a conversation with Leatherneck this morning?”

“Yes, I told him that Lee and I were going to be driving in today separately, but leaving together.  I had a few things I wanted him to add to the Vette.”

Lee looked up at his wife as she motioned him to scoot over, leaving enough room for her and the car seat on the sofa.  He let out a grunt and shifted over. “Exactly what do you want him to add to the car?”

“I wanted him to put in one of those new phone thingies.  You know the ones that you don’t actually have to be holding in order to speak into. That way when I’m talking to you in the car and you’re driving I don’t have to worry about you crashing into something or someone else while you are trying to do more than one thing at a time. And, I may have mentioned I was worried about Emily’s car seat in that back seat.  The seat belts aren’t exactly made for babies.  He’s going to fix that too.  So hand your keys over to the young man there and let him take it to be worked on.”

Lee muttered and held out his keys.  Jeff walked quickly over to take them, but Lee held tight until the boy looked up at him. “Jeff is it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“If so much as a scratch is found on this car when you bring it back to me, I will hold you personally responsible.  Do you understand?”

Jeff’s Adam’s apple visibly bounced as he swallowed hard and he spoke quietly, “Yes, sir.”

Lee let go.  “Tell Leatherneck I expect it back at our house tonight.”

The boy nodded and nearly ran out the door.

Francine burst into laughter.  “See what I mean, she can handle you.  No one else can.”

Lee looked at Amanda who was pulling a diaper out of the diaper bag.  “That’s because I can’t ignore her once the job is complete. She lives with me.”  He reached out for the diaper and knelt down on the floor. “Here let me do it.”

Amanda handed him the diaper and pad, then picked up Emily and handed her down.  “I mainly wanted to come in today and tell you that I should be ready to come back to work fairly soon.  My mother is going to watch Emily when I’m working, as soon as I have used up all my leave time.”

Billy glanced at the stack of papers Francine had placed on his desk.  “Well, we could certainly use you back in action.  There is a ton of open cases now and with you back I can give Francine someone she can manage and get more work done.”

Francine scoffed, “Very funny.”

“If you want I can come up with some transcription tapes or something else you can do at home for a while if you need some extra time to get things settled with little Emily. I…”

Billy was interrupted by the sound of an explosion.  The framed pictures on the wall crashed to the floor and the book case began to sway next to the sofa. Lee threw his body over the top of Emily while Amanda and Francine ducked down from the small pieces of the ceiling fell around them.

As the alarms sounded around them Lee turned to his wife and asked. “What in the hell was that?”

~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~

Francine stared blankly at the destruction around her.  The car Lee had loved was now a fire charred shell and the blast had taken out a few cars parked near where it had been at the time of detonation.

Thankfully, it seemed that no one other than the boy, Jeff, had been seriously hurt in the blast.  Two people walking by had been thrown down by the force of the explosion.  One had a broken arm and the other had hit his head pretty hard, but the EMT assured the man and Francine that he would be fine.  Jeff Lester, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky.

“Such a waste,” Billy said coming up behind her.  “What’s the status?”

Francine proceeded to give him the updates she had gotten from everyone from the emergency crews and fire department. The Agency’s own emergency teams were checking the structure and damage to the underground facility.  The evacuation had been swift after the alarms had sounded.  Lee and Amanda had taken the baby home as soon as their car had been cleared.

Lee still didn’t even know that the Vette and its young driver had been the victims of the explosion. Or that he was a possible target.

“We have to go tell Lee about this as soon as possible.  Someone wanted him dead. I can’t believe that this was random. He was the target.”

Billy nodded. “I agree.”  He surveyed the scene and turned to her.  “You head over to their house and see what you can get from Scarecrow.  We’re going to have to backtrack all his moves from today and possibly yesterday too.  I know you both finished the Tricurso case yesterday morning.  Find out what he’s done since then and where that car could have been compromised.”

“You’ve got it boss.”

Francine headed to where her car, a brand new jet black LaBaron convertible, was parked in the garage.  Agency security had swept the garage for more explosives, but she wasn’t taking any chances that they had missed something.  She quickly checked the car, inside and out, and then headed to the one place she dreaded more than any other.

The suburbs.

Act 2

Foreknowledge cannot be grasped from ghosts

and spirits,

Cannot be inferred from events,

Cannot be projected from calculation.

It must be grasped from people’s knowledge.

- Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”


Wednesday Afternoon

4247 Maplewood Drive

“Amanda! Where are the new bottle liners?” Lee shouted from downstairs.  After rescheduling Emily’s doctor appointment they had missed in the chaos of getting away from the Agency, Amanda had given control of Emily to her husband.  She had a ton of laundry that was waiting to be finished and since he was currently stuck with her without his car with nothing to do, she was going to take advantage.

“They’re in the right hand side of the cabinet next to the refrigerator, there’s a whole box of them,” she shouted back.  Men!  She had shown him where everything was ten times at least.

If she wasn’t repeating herself ten times to the boys, she was doing it to Lee.  It was like having four children in the house instead of three sometimes.

“Amanda!” He shouted again. “What about more of this mix? The can is empty.”

Amanda gave up wrestling with the basket of Jamie’s clothes she was trying to carry and set it on the edge of the stairs and gave it a push.  The clothes stayed mostly in the basket and she followed them down the stairs, picking up the stragglers and throwing them into the basket at the bottom.

“Amanda?” Lee shouted again.

I’m going to change my name, she thought, if he shouts it one more time.

She picked up the basket from the floor and walked into the kitchen, where Emily was in her seat crying and Lee had his back turned from her searching through every cabinet. Every cabinet that is, except the one containing the baby’s formula apparently.

She dropped the basket and picked up the squalling baby.  “It’s okay Em, Daddy just doesn’t have a memory for domestic things.”  She put her daughter on her shoulder, shoved Lee to one side, opened the cabinet that had Emily’s bottle making accessories in it and grabbed a new can of formula from the back.

She handed it to Lee. “Here Daddy, make your daughter a bottle while I kick this basket into the laundry room.”

~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~

Lee watched as she carried their daughter into the laundry room, kicking the basket a few feet at a time.  How she seemed to handle everything with ease was a mystery of his wife that he would likely never solve.

The door opened behind him and Jamie entered. “Hey Jamie, want to help me make your sister a bottle.”

Jamie smiled slightly and shook his head.  “I think I’ll let you handle that. I’ll be upstairs.”

He started to walk past him, when they heard the front door bell. “I’ll get it, you just get that bottle.” Jamie said.

Lee listened as Jamie opened the front door.

“Hi Francine.”

“Hi Jamie, are Lee and your mom back?”

“Yeah, Lee’s in the kitchen, go on back.”

Lee heard him shut the front and he fumbled with the bottle in his hands.  He wondered why Francine was here rather than handling the situation at the Agency.  He opened the cabinet again, searching for a nipple to put on the bottle.

Daddy work was hard work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Francine smiled in thanks to the teenager and started toward the back of the house.  Something had her stop and look back at Amanda’s younger son.  There was something different about him.  He looked thinner or something.  Maybe he was just getting taller.  Or maybe it was she looked at Jamie King and was reminded of that young man Jeff who had died in Lee’s place this morning.

I’m getting soft, she thought, getting maudlin and soft.  It was all Amanda’s fault.  She wasn’t like this before Mrs. King showed up.

Francine sighed and continued back to talk to Lee.

~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~

There was something therapeutic about exorcising one’s demons with the blast of an explosion.  Not only did it give her closure, but it also seemed to put a great big exclamation point on it.

Anna climbed the three flights of stairs to her new apartment.  It was a nice one, not far from the Treasury Department.  She had walked away from the explosion and straight home.

Lee Stetson was dead.  She had finally rid the world of the demon that had been haunting her for so long.  He had paid the ultimate price for his mistakes.

It wasn’t that she expected people to be infallible, but when a man destroys everything you held dear because he can’t do his job, that was when someone should have stepped in.

But oh no, not Scarecrow.  Scarecrow got his brains from the great and powerful OZ, there was no way that he could possibly be wrong.  At least that’s how the Agency had treated him so long ago.  She wondered if he was still treated like the golden boy.

Anna took off the jacket, jeans and black t-shirt that she had worn to the bombing.  She stripped down and placed everything, shirt, shoes, under things and all into a brown paper bag.  Her body bare, she lit a fire in the corner fireplace of her apartment.

There were benefits to being wrongly accused of treason.  Money was one of them and it afforded her an apartment with luxuries, like the fireplace.

The small fire began to burn bright and she tossed the bag into the flames.  Cross-legged she sat in front of it, so close that her eyes began to water from the heat.

Attempting to exorcise the demons of the things she had done to survive and the man that had caused her to do them she stoked the fire.

“Burn in hell, Stetson.”

The poker dropped to the floor next to her as tears fell down her cheeks to land on her naked chest, but Anna felt nothing except the burn of the heat against her body.

~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~

Francine stepped into the kitchen and watched Lee trying to mix some sort of concoction into a small baby bottle.  Baby paraphernalia around him, he looked completely out of his element.

“Wouldn’t it be easier just to give the kid some Vitamin D? I could have picked some up on my way here.”

“Very funny, Francine.” Lee motioned, spoon in hand, to the seat next to the island.  “Sit, I’m almost finished.”

Francine could hear Amanda in the next room talking to Emily.  At least she hoped it was Emily since the woman was cooing and clicking like a ninny.  If it were one of the boys she might have to report Amanda unstable for work.

Better get down to it, she thought. “Lee, that explosion today wasn’t inside the building.”

“Well, I knew that Francine.  We saw the fire trucks and ambulances down the street from the Agency when we left. I’m guessing you came here to talk, so talk.”

Francine winced and said, “It was your Corvette that exploded.”

Lee spun around with a wet spoon in hand, flinging some sort of formula at her as he shook it at her. “What do you mean it was my Corvette? What did that kid do? Is he okay?”

“No, he’s dead.”

Amanda walked through the door with Emily’s head on her should. “What do you mean he’s dead? Who’s dead?”  She turned to Lee with fear in her eyes.

Francine shook her head, that woman wore every emotion in her expression. “It was that boy Jeff who took Lee’s car, Amanda.  He started down the street and there was some sort of remote detonation device on it.  Our explosive experts were working on figuring out exactly what it was when I left.  I thought it best to come here personally and let you all know what’s going on.  Someone wants you dead, Scarecrow.”

Lee and Amanda shared one of those silent communication looks that drove her batty.  What kind of weird connection let you talk to someone without saying a word? It was creepy.

“We need to go over where you’ve been since yesterday morning Lee.  To see if we can figure out when your car was compromised.”

Lee nodded and handed the bottle he had started to make over to Amanda.  “Let’s go into the den and get started.”

~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~

Amanda stood in the kitchen dumbstruck for a moment.  Lee was a target.  That boy Jeff who had taken his car was dead.  She was getting so tired of people killing other people.  The world was supposed to be a safer place because of the work they did, but it seemed as if it was just getting worse instead of better.

She started to warm the bottle for Emily and set her back into her baby bouncer. Absently she shook one of the rattles while she waited.

In the den she could hear Lee talking about his last twenty four hours.  She couldn’t make out every word, but then, she really couldn’t focus too much on it.  She just kept shaking the little rattle and staring absently at her daughter.  Thoughts of friends and foes alike that had died since she had started working at the Agency filled her mind.

“Amanda.”

She felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped.  Amanda turned to her mother and gave a half smile.  “Yes?”

Dotty shook her head and set the grocery bag she was carrying onto the counter.  “Woolgathering, were you? I must have said your name three times.  I’ve brought you some things from the store, I was there and I figured…”

She trailed off and Amanda looked up at her.

“What’s the matter dear?” Dotty asked.

“I’m not sure yet.” She motioned further into the house. “Francine and Lee are trying to figure out what is wrong.”

Dotty started taking things out of her bag again. “What do you mean figure it out?  Did something happen?”

“Yes, a young man was killed today driving Lee’s car.  Francine thinks that Lee was the target, that it wasn’t random.”

Carton of eggs in hand, Dotty turned back around.  “That’s horrible!”

“Don’t drop the eggs Mother.”  Amanda shook the cobwebs out of her head and stood up.  The bottle was probably too hot, she took it out of the water and placed it on the counter to cool a bit and began helping Dotty unpack the bag. “I’m not sure what they want to do.”

“Well then.” She took hold of Amanda’s arm and turned her toward the den.  “You go in there and find out what’s going on.  I have Emily and I can feed her just as soon as I finish unpacking these things.”

Amanda started out of the kitchen when Dotty stopped her, “Amanda?”  She turned her head back to her mother.

“Lee will be able to take care of himself, you figure out how to take care of this little one and the boys.”

She nodded and headed into the den.  It was time to go back to work, if only to protect her family rather than the free world.

~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~

“Look Francine, since yesterday I haven’t been anywhere.”  Lee ran a hand through his hair in frustration.  They were getting no where.  ”Amanda brought me a change of clothes this morning and that’s it. The last time I drove the car was yesterday morning from home to the Agency.  We took that Vic for the meet.”

“So we have only about 24 hours to account for,” Amanda said from behind him.  He looked over his shoulder and nodded in agreement.  “Plus we know it most likely happened within the Agency garage.”

Lee needed action, all this talking wasn’t getting them anywhere. “Get security started on collecting the video of the garage for the 36 hours before the detonation,” he told Francine. “I’ll call Aimee and see if she can pull the list of all my recent cases.  I honestly have no idea who…”

“Lee,” Amanda interrupted and he turned to her. “How could someone have gotten into the Agency to plant the bomb on your car?  Most people don’t even know it’s there… even those who do know what the Agency is, of those that do, almost no one knows where it’s located.”

He looked at Francine who had stopped dialing. “It’s an inside job?” She asked incredulously.

The idea was foreign to him as well.  The Agency was a family of sorts. It was a dysfunctional family, but one none the less. “I doubt it.” Lee picked up the phone, “but I guess I have two lists of people for Aimee to track down.”

Act 3

If I do not wish to do battle, I mark a line on the

earth to defend it, and the enemy cannot do

battle with me.

I misdirect him.

- Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Amanda opened the front door before Billy could even knock.  He glanced about the room.  It had now become a headquarters of sorts for Lee’s search to discover who had targeted him.  This was becoming a trend.

A bunch of his agents invading Amanda’s home.

Aimee Dozier, in a black “What would Spock do?” t-shirt and cargo pants, sat on the sofa with her feet propped on the coffee table.  Laptop on her legs, she was typing away while occasionally looking at a list lying next to her.

Francine was working her phone.  Sitting, in on the edge of an easy chair, she had paper and notes spread out on the coffee table around Aimee’s feet.  Arguing furiously with whomever she was speaking to, she tapped the click end of her pen incessantly on her leg.

Beaman too had been recruited.  He, and Leatherneck, who had been alternately angry and sorrowful at the death of his young assistant, had hooked up to Amanda’s television and were searching the security tapes for any sign of who had infiltrated the Agency’s garage access.

Billy turned to Amanda who was closing the door behind him.  “Contrary to popular believe we do have an office all these people could be working in.”

Amanda smiled. “They all showed up here.”  She motioned over to where Lee was searching through the stacks of files Beaman had brought from his more recent cases. “I didn’t want Lee to leave the house, since you have protection for us outside now and when we started making calls…” She shrugged. “They all decided to come here and help.”

“It’s not your fault.”  Billy patted her shoulder and followed her towards Lee, “How is your search coming?  Any ideas?”

“None at all in this stack.”  Lee tossed them into a box at his feet.  “There just isn’t anyone that I could see hating me enough to try and kill me.”

“You mentioned the idea that it might be someone that was connected to the Agency.  Any ideas on that?” Billy asked.

Lee shook his head. “No, I was hoping you might.  The more I think about it, the more I wonder why they would go after me.  Unfortunately a lot of people now know the best way to get to me is through my family. If someone hated me enough to want me dead, wouldn’t they want me to suffer?”

“Lee,” Amanda sighed. “We aren’t the ones who are in danger you are.”

“No, he has a point Amanda.”  Billy motioned to the box. “Most all of those people don’t know about Lee or you.  If the person is knowledgeable about the Agency they would know about you and the boys and Emily.”

“If we go under the assumption that this person knows the Agency and they know me, why wouldn’t they go after Amanda and our kids first?”

“What if they were Agency before Mom got there?”  Jamie asked.  Billy hadn’t seen the boy sitting on the steps by the front door, but he turned and smiled.  Here was another bright kid, just like his mother.

Lee slapped his knee. “Jamie, you’re a genius. Aimee, I need you to start checking the current information on anyone who was Agency eight years ago or more that would have worked for or with me.  We need an ex-agent with a grudge that has lasted nearly a decade.”

The girl looked up and popped her gum, “Whatever you say, Strawman.  Thy will be done.” She saluted with some sort of hand signal and started typing vigorously again.

Billy shook his head and turned to Francine, who was off the phone and looking at them expectantly.  “Francine, have someone pull the files on all Agents who have left the Agency from when Lee started until Amanda was involved in his first case.  We are looking for someone who knew Lee, but didn’t know Amanda. Beaman, Leatherneck?”

They stopped the tape.  “Yes, sir?” Beaman asked.

“I need you both to take that video back to the Agency and run some recognition software on the people coming in and out of the garage.  If they are ex-agency their face is on file. I appreciate that you want to help, but you can work better from the office.  It’s been cleared for us to go back in.”

Billy then turned back to Lee and Amanda. “As for you two, I think it’s time we find a safer place for you to be.  I would say a safe house, but if they are Agency, a safe house might not be our best bet.  They may not have known about you before Amanda, but whoever has targeted Lee might know you now.”

“Yes, sir.” Billy watched her eyes move to Jamie, who was still sitting on the step. “Jamie, could you go start packing up some clothes and things to take with you?”

The boy’s face looked pale, but he nodded and started up the stairs.

“So we need a safe place to stay where someone wouldn’t look for us,”  Lee said.

“What about with Carrie?”  Amanda asked. “If she will have us.  She has that whole big house to herself.”  The baby monitor on the coffee table crackled and little Emily stuttered into a full out cry.

“I’ll get her,” Lee said and started up the stairs.

“Carrie would be a good idea, Amanda.”  Billy turned to Francine.  “Get on the phone and make arrangements for a 24 hour watch on Carrie King’s home.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Once everyone is in a safe place, we can smoke this person out.  I can’t stand the thought of an Agent turning on one of their own.”

~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~

Nedlinger’s Bar

Late Wednesday Afternoon

Anna physically had changed a great deal in the nine years she had been incarcerated.  Her hair was now a shade of dark brown as opposed to the blonde of her youth.  Her body was no longer pleasantly rounded, but a svelte, “don’t mess with me” mass of toned muscle.  That’s all before even mentioning that her face now sported a jagged scar along one cheek bone from a particularly nasty cafeteria fight her first year in prison. So, it was no a surprise that no one in Nedlinger’s, a favorite Agency hangout, no longer recognized her.

At one time, she had been a regular at the bar.  It had been a great place for her to meet and mingle with the movers and shakers in the D.C. world of espionage.

She walked in with her head down, just in case.  At least that’s what she told herself.  The scar on her cheek was a visible reminder of what she had endured, but even through its symbolism she was ashamed of it.

A place where she was once regaled as a regular she was now forced to hide in shame.  Not only because of the change in her appearance but also because of the false charges that had indirectly caused them.

That was just one more thing to blame on Lee Stetson.

She shook her head as she sat down at a corner booth where she could sit against the wall.  She refused to have her back exposed, another life lesson from the happy confines of jail.

A bar maid approached the table. “What can I get you ma’am?”

She ordered a drink, sat back and attempted to relax.

The sounds of the conversations floated around her.  She focused on the sound of her breathing, attempting to reach a state of Zen.

Anna had accomplished the one goal she had set for herself.  Now it was time to move on and begin again.

“Here’s your drink ma’am.”  The drink was placed in front of her and she looked up to offer the server a smile.

“Thank you.” Anna ignored the girl’s reaction to her face.  She could do that, Anna told herself, because it didn’t matter anymore what people thought of her.  There was no one who could damage her calm.

She picked up the drink and took a sip.  Wondering what tidbits she could pick up from the patrons of Nedlinger’s that might help her make her new start.  There were always secrets to be bought or sold around D.C., she could use her skills from the past to help her start anew.

The conversations swirled around her until one whispered one caught her attention.

“That’s right, the kid was taking it to the shop.  He was so young, only 23-years-old.”

“Stetson had no idea he was a target? Man talk about a guy getting lucky.”

“Yeah, Stetson was lucky neither he nor his family were hurt.  Can you imagine if Amanda and their baby were in the car instead? It’s lucky for them, but not Jeff Lester.”

“Poor kid.  I guess we all know what we are getting into when we sign up.  Even for the motor pool.”

Anna’s hand tightened on the glass.

Scarecrow hadn’t been in the Corvette.  He was still alive.  He was alive and while she was suffering in prison he had started a family.

The glass shattered and the shards pierced her skin.  Anna’s breathing labored and she watched the blood seep down the back of her hands.

She had a new goal now.  Lee’s Amanda.

~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~SMK~~

“Thank goodness you’re finally home.  We have to get packed up quickly.”  Amanda smiled at Phillip as he shuffled through the backdoor and threw his backpack and gym bag on the floor.

“Packed up for what?”  Phillip asked as he opened the refrigerator door.  He stared inside and Amanda bit her tongue on telling him to close the door if he was just going to stare inside it.

“There was an incident today.  Someone tried to kill Lee.  They blew up his Corvette and we want to make sure everyone stays safe.  So we’re going into hiding for a while until the person is found.”

“What do you mean, we’re going into hiding?”  He finally closed the refrigerator and turned to her.  “If Lee is the one in danger, why isn’t he going into hiding?  What does it have to do with me?”

“Lee is part of this family.  If someone wants to hurt him, it’s likely they will track us down as well.  That’s just the way it is now.  I know it’s not ideal but…”

“Of course it’s not ideal,” he said sarcastically. “It’s not anywhere close to ideal.  Lee can take care of us; there’s no need to go into hiding. It’s not the first time someone was after one of you.  I have things going on with school and my life. I don’t want to go into hiding. Especially if you have no idea how long a while is.”

Amanda went and picked up his two bags and handed them to him. “I know you have things going on, but we can’t protect all of you if you aren’t with us.  Just take those upstairs and fill them with what you will need for a few days.  If you have to miss some school events, you’ll just have to get over it.”

“Get over it?  Mom you have no idea.  Friday is Prom. Two days until Prom and you think I’m going to just up and leave you’re sadly mistaken.”  Phillip threw the bags back down on the floor where he had left them.

“Phillip, I understand you’re upset.” Amanda placed her hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off.

“Being part of this family sucks! I hate it. I hate you.  You have your new husband, your new baby and protecting them is all that matters.  Dad is dead and you don’t even care.  Jamie is depressed but you don’t even notice.  He has nightmares almost every night, but you don’t care.  All you care about is Lee and Emily.  Now you are even ruining my life.  I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here and you can blow it out your ear if you think I am going to miss prom.  My life is anything but normal thanks to you and Lee.  It’ll be a cold day in hell before I change my plans for you people again.”

He marched through the front door and slammed it shut.

Amanda stood frozen.  Shell-shocked she stared at the door where he had left.  How do you cope with your first born son saying that he hates you and your family?  She felt physically sick.

A chair, she needed a chair to sit down.

Dazed she walked into the den to find the sofa and sat down on the edge.

She could faintly hear the giggles of her daughter on the baby monitor on the coffee table, but she couldn’t see it.  The tears were filling her eyes.

Phillip thought she didn’t care that Joe was gone.  He thought that she didn’t care that she had flipped their life upside down.  He thought…

“Mom?”

Amanda looked up to see Jamie standing in the doorway pale and glassy eyed as well. Maybe Phillip was right, looking at her son now she could see he had lost weight, but until today she hadn’t paid enough attention to see it.

“Yes, hun.”  She quickly wiped her eyes.

“He didn’t mean it.” A tear rolled down Jamie’s cheek.  “And the nightmares aren’t so bad. I can deal with them just fine.”

“Oh, Jamie, honey.  Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were already so worried about Emily and Lee and Carrie and everything was so messed up.”  He shrugged helplessly and swiped at his eyes.  “I didn’t want to make something else for you to worry about.”

Amanda patted the sofa next her and after he sat down she put her arm around his thin frame and pulled him close.  She felt his arm come around her back and he ducked his head onto her shoulder.

“Phillip is angry, but not at you.” He mumbled into her sweater.  “He’s angry that dad’s gone.  He’s angry that he couldn’t do anything to stop it.  He’s angry that we were captured in the first place. I think he believes the whole thing was his fault. Like he should have known and protected all of us.”

Amanda bit her lip so that she wouldn’t burst into full blown sobs in front of her son.  How could she have been so blind to what her boys were going through?  More than a month had gone by and she hadn’t known how miserable her sons were. They had acted so stoic and grown up that she chose to believe perception was the truth.

“I wish that you two would have come and talked to me or Lee for that matter.  I am never ever too busy with Emily to be here for you guys.”  She glanced up at the door where Phillip had stormed through.  “Now, Phillip is so bitter and angry. I don’t know how to fix that.”

She took her free hand and brushed back Jamie hair from his forehead.  “Do you want to tell me about the nightmares?  Maybe if we can talk through them together we can find a way to keep them from coming back.”

She felt his shoulders move in a shrug and his other arm wrapped around her middle.  “I feel like such a baby, but Mom, I was so scared.  It’s like I can’t get the thought of the man in the warehouse with the knife and then dad lying there…” Amanda felt him shaking and pulled him fully into her arms.

For the first time since his father’s death Jamie let go and sobbed in her arms.

Amanda rested her head on the top of his and cried silent tears of her own.

Continued

10 Comments

  • By Weston Housewife, May 8, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

    Good story Mate. Can’t wait till you finish it.

  • By Jennifer Cannon, May 8, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

    Lushy, I loved this–very suspenseful and the scene with Amanda and Jamie was very touching. Can’t wait to read more :)

  • By Charlie, May 8, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

    Great story – can’t wait to see how it turns out. THe bit about the boys and their reactions to Joe’s death gives the story an added twist that I wasn’t expecting.

  • By Ermintrude, May 8, 2009 @ 11:14 pm

    Yikes! That’s one seriously twisted woman! It sucks to be falsely accused, but now she’s turning into what she was accused of. What a waste! Eagerly looking forward to the conclusion.

  • By Anne, May 10, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

    Great start Miranda! Anna sure is one sick, twisted woman. I love your snarky Francine scenes. Very nice scene with Amanda and the boys and how everyone was affected by Joe’s death. A moment of silence for the beloved Vette. Looking forward to what else you dish out for us.

  • By Sue, May 11, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

    Great start, Miranda. Can’t wait to read the rest. Poor Philip and Jamie are not copeing with Joe’s death well at all. Hopefull, they will all pull together. These next two weeks are going to kill me, but I’ll try and stay strong.

  • By Loretta, May 12, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

    great story can’t wait for more

  • By calinour72, May 16, 2009 @ 8:04 am

    I love that the boys will finally deal with the death of their father, Amanda and Lee’s marriage, their jobs and the new baby–these emotions can make an amazing story if written and dealt with correctly–so far you are doing an amazing job–keep up the good work–can’t wait for the next part…..when??

  • By TS, June 3, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

    ok, this is too gosh darned funny!
    I haven’t read the whole 1st part yet – but I finally managed to get it open and now I think I know why Bessie didn’t want me to open it up earlier.
    Did I hear the sound of a very large kaboom?!?

    :)

    TS

  • By Terry Kay, August 5, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

    And the other shoe drops. Knew there had to be some fallout from Joe’s death coming. Great story, I’m on the edge of my seat.

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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.