Triennial

Author: Sue

++++++

Agency Bullpen

Thursday, 9:30 AM

“Don’t worry. I have everything under control. ‘Operation AnniPar’ is right on schedule.” Francine’s smile slipped a bit as she listened to her partner in crime.

“Yes, I took care of that.” She paused. “That, too . . . Not yet, I’m tackling that this afternoon . . . I’m checking on that tonight on my way home from work. Don’t worry. I’ll be in touch. Bye.”

Hanging up the phone, she shook her head in frustration. For the umpteenth time, she wondered how she’d let herself be roped into this. If it didn’t concern the two people she counted among her closest friends, she certainly wouldn’t have gotten this involved. It would all be over by tomorrow night, and then her life could get back to some semblance of normality.

She clipped her earring back on her lobe, stood, and tugged down the jacket on her Chanel suit. Her long stride ate up ground as she hurried out of the Bullpen toward the elevator that would take her up to the Georgetown Foyer.
She ducked under the camouflage coats and emerged just in time to see the objects of her quest collect their identification badges from Mrs. Marston.

Amanda looked exhausted as she stood next to Lee, his right hand supporting her lower back, his left hand resting protectively on her distended stomach. Dark circles marred her usually flawless peaches and cream completion. Francine imagined sleeping had to be difficult, and carrying all the extra baby weight around couldn’t be easy. No wonder the perky agent had slowed down a bit.

“Good morning, you two. I’m glad I caught you. Saves me a trip upstairs.”

“Good morning, Francine,” Lee and Amanda chorused together.

“Lee, a message came in for you down in the Bullpen. One of your snitches . . .” She pulled the pink paper from her pocket and glanced at it. “Augie Swan. He said he had something you would be interested in and it was urgent he speak with you. He wouldn’t give me any more information than that.” She handed him the paper. “Could you make sure he has your office number, please? I’m not your secretary.”

“I’m sorry, Francine. I’ll make sure he calls my number in the future.”

“Thank you.”

Lee laced his fingers with Amanda’s. “Come on, let’s go up and see what Washington’s worst antiquities dealer has to say.”

Francine turned and pushed the elevator button. The doors slid open, but Amanda’s voice stopped her from slipping back under the coats.

“Go on up and make that call. I need to speak to Francine for a minute.”

An army of frogs chased butterflies around in Francine’s stomach, and she placed her hand there to try to still them. Somehow, Amanda must have found out about “Operation AnniPar.”

Flipping through her mental Rolodex, she tried to find something, anything to satisfy Amanda’s curiosity. Then, like a flash of lightning, the phrase “need to know” popped into her head. She could honestly tell Amanda “AnniPar” was need to know, and, at this moment, Amanda didn’t have a need to know.

Taking a calming breath, she prepared to face the music. “So, Amanda, what did you want to speak to me about?”

“Do you have plans for lunch?”

The simple question surprised Francine, and she fumbled over the answer. “Lunch?”

“Yes, lunch.”

“I have no plans for lunch, why?”

“Well, I have a favor to ask you. Will you drive me to the mall? I have to pick up an anniversary present for Lee, and since Doctor Adams forbade me to drive, Lee will not leave me alone long enough to shop for one. It shouldn’t take long. I know exactly what I want to get for him. When we’re through, we can grab something to eat-my treat. So will you do it?”

“Sure. I’d love to join you, as long as nothing vital happens between now and then. Around twelve-thirtyish.” She slipped into the closet elevator, and once the doors closed, heaved a sigh of relief. “Operation AnniPar” was still top secret.

She looked forward to her lunch date with Amanda. It should be fun, as long as Amanda didn’t drag her into one baby store after the other. She didn’t think she could coo over baby clothes all afternoon.

>>>SMK<<<

Q-Bureau

Thursday, 9:50 AM

Lee dropped the phone back into the cradle. The door creaked open, and he looked up into the smiling face of his wife. “Hi.” He smiled back at her.

“Hi yourself.”

He walked to her desk, scooped up some files, and leaned back against it. “Did you have a nice chat with Francine?”

“Oh, sure, just girl talk. I hope you don’t mind, but Francine and I are having lunch together this afternoon.”

“More girl talk? I swear you two are trying to make up for lost time. I don’t mind at all. In fact, I’m relieved. I told Augie I’d meet him at his store this afternoon, and knowing you’re with Francine, that’s one less thing I’ll have to worry about.”

“You don’t need to worry about me at all. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”

“I know, but I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She gave him a quick peck on the lips. “Besides, I have a whole bunch of wiretaps Billy asked me to transcribe for him. That should keep me occupied most of the day.”

“Then I’d better let you get started.” He bent and kissed her. Taking the stack of files with him, he headed into the vault to put them where they belonged.

The rat-a-tat-tat of the keyboard echoed into the vault, and he could picture Amanda sitting at her desk, headset in place, fingers flying across the keys, her face a mask of concentration as she listened for all the subtle nuances associated with each individual speaker.

He found himself opening and closing file drawers in tandem with Amanda’s keystrokes. She usually took care of the filing, but, lately, it had become harder for her to do. All the bending up and down wreaked havoc on her back. He’d stepped up to the plate and temporarily assumed the loathsome chore.

Lee absolutely hated to file. He always ended up singing that stupid alphabet song, and it stuck in his head for days. That was why his desk looked like a war zone when Amanda wasn’t around to pick up after him.

It took most of the morning, but he finally stuffed the last folder into its proper place and slipped back into the office. Amanda had just finished loading a fresh cassette into the player. She had placed the finished pages, together with their corresponding audiocassette, into an evidence bag and sealed them inside.

Before she started on another tape, he tapped her shoulder to gain her attention. She slid the headphones off her ears, resting them around her neck like a huge necklace. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to meet Francine?”

She checked her wristwatch. “You’re right. Thanks for reminding me.” She ejected the tape and put it back in its case.

“I’ll walk you down. I have to meet Augie.” He slipped on his suit jacket while she secured the untranscribed tapes in a locked drawer.

His hand rested at the small of her back, steadying her while she walked down the short flight of stairs to the Georgetown foyer. He pressed a quick kiss to her cheek.

Amanda, an armload of evidence bags in hand, stepped into the closet elevator.

He tossed his badge to Mrs. Marston and headed out to meet his snitch.

>>>SMK<<<

Bullpen

Thursday, 12:30 PM

“Oh, Amanda, I was just coming up to meet you.”

“Great. Just let me drop these off with Billy and I’ll be ready to go.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you by the elevators.” The phone on her desk shrilled, and Francine grabbed her purse and headed out of the Bullpen.

She knew better than to sit at her desk. It seemed that whenever she made plans, five minutes before she had to leave something always came up and ruined them. If she wasn’t sitting at her desk, then she wouldn’t know about it until she got back from wherever she needed to go.

Once she spotted Amanda heading out of the Bullpen’s glass doors, she rang for the elevator. Instead of turning right toward the elevators, Amanda turned left. When she realized Amanda was bound for the ladies room, Francine chuckled.

She had spent so much time in there lately that maintenance should just move her desk into the lavatory until she gave birth.

The elevator dinged its arrival, and Francine held the doors open, waiting for Amanda to join her. Slowly, Amanda waddled down the corridor and slipped under the coat rack.

“So, where are we headed?”

“Tysons Corner. But first, do you think we could stop at the bakery?” Amanda rubbed small circles over her stomach. “The baby wants some pastry.”

Francine nodded. “A chocolate éclair sounds wonderful right about now.”

After a quick stop at the bakery, they drove to McLean in relative silence, the quiet broken only by their moans of ecstasy as they devoured the creamed-filled cakes.

* * * *

Cars jammed the parking lot from end to end. It looked as if they would have to park all the way at the other end of the lot. As Francine turned down one section, they got lucky. Someone vacated a space right in front of the mall entrance.

She helped Amanda exit the compact car. They entered the mall, giggling like a couple of schoolgirls. A cacophony of sound assaulted their ears as they walked through the main doors and into the mall. Lunchtime shoppers crowded around the food court. The noise faded into the background the further away from the food vendors they walked.

“So which way are we heading?” Francine looked in both directions.

“That way.” Amanda pointed to her right. “I’m going into Brooks Brothers.”

“Please, don’t tell me you are buying Lee a suit for your anniversary. That’s not very romantic.”

Amanda laughed. “No. I’m not getting him a suit. Leather is the traditional gift for the third anniversary. I thought I’d buy him a new leather jacket.”

“A leather jacket, Amanda? Come on, you can do better than that. How about a sexy pair of leather pants? Or better yet, leather chaps and no pants?”

She smiled as she watched heat crawl up Amanda’s face. She loved teasing her. Letting her eyes fall on Amanda’s midsection, she quipped, “Well, obviously you’ve already gone the no pants route.”

“Frannn-cinnne, will you behave?”

“I’m sorry. I just couldn’t resist. Come on, let’s go pick out a jacket for that husband of yours.”

A distinguished-looking man with gray hair, and wearing a pinstriped suit greeted them as they entered the store. “Good afternoon, ladies. My name is Nigel. May I help you find something?”

“Yes,” Amanda answered. “I’m looking for a jacket for my husband.”

“A sport coat, blazer, or outerwear?”

“Outerwear.”

“Very good. Right this way, please.”

They dutifully followed the sales clerk as he led them through racks of suits, aisles of shirts, and around row after row of trousers to the back of the store.

“Here is our selection of outerwear.” He held up a three-quarter, cashmere jacket.

“It’s lovely, but I’m looking for something a little more casual.”

“Very well, this way, please.”

They trailed behind him. Amanda rubbed her back as she walked.

“Here is our selection of fine leather and suede outerwear.” He offered up a sheepskin jacket.

“It’s beautiful, but not what I had in mind.”

Next, the gentleman presented them with a black leather jacket. “This is one of our top sellers. High quality, made of exceptionally lightweight lambskin leather. One hundred percent Bemberg diamond-quilted lining.”

“It’s nice,” Amanda commented.

“I don’t see Lee in that. The pockets on the side are too . . . too there.”

“You’re right, Francine. It’s not Lee,” Amanda agreed. “Do you have a different style of leather jacket?”

“Certainly. Here we have the more traditional bomber style jacket. It, too, is made of exceptionally lightweight lambskin leather, with Bemberg diamond-quilted lining and genuine Corozo buttons. We carry it in British tan and cocoa brown, as well as black.”

“It’s perfect. I’ll take it in the brown.”

“An excellent choice. What size would you need?”

“Forty-four long.”

“The jackets are sized as small, medium, large, and extra large,” Nigel tersely informed them. He pulled out a jacket sized large and handed it to Amanda.

Amanda held the jacket up against her chest and extended the sleeve to measure its length. “What do you think, Francine, large or extra-large?”

She thought about it for a moment. Large would fit Lee, but if he carried his weapon, the jacket would be too snug to conceal it. “I think you should get the extra-large. It’s better a little bigger than too small.” She hoped Amanda understood her meaning.

“I think you’re right.” Amanda turned to the sales clerk. “I’ll take it in an extra-large, please.”

“Very well, madam.” He selected the proper jacket from the clothes rack and handed it to Amanda.

“Oh, would you hold that up front for me? I’d like to look around some. See if something else catches my eye.”

“Of course, madam. I’ll be close by, if you need anything else.” He turned and disappeared to the front of the store, carrying the jacket as if it were made of gold.

“Come on, Francine. Let’s go check out the pants.”

“Okay, but I don’t think you’ll find any chaps here.”

“Too bad, Lee looks great in them, especially without any pants.” Amanda winked and picked up a pair of black trousers, a pair of chinos, and a pair of jeans.

“Buying Lee a new wardrobe?” Francine asked, as they walked to the checkout counter.

“Oh, no, Lee needed new pants, and I can use them to conceal the jacket. This way, if Lee peeks in the bag, he’ll only see the slacks.” Amanda handed over the pants and her credit card, and Nigel boxed her purchases.

* * * *

Francine carried the weighty bag, and they window-shopped until they reached the restaurant. They sat at a table in the back and scanned their menus.

The waiter came over to take their order. Since she’d wolfed down two éclairs earlier, she ordered a garden salad and an iced tea. Amanda requested a tuna salad sandwich on a cinnamon raisin bagel-ugh, a strange hormonal craving if Francine had ever heard one-and a bottle of mineral water. The waiter left them to their conversation.

“I wonder how Lee’s meeting is going. I hope he hasn’t killed Augie.”

Francine laughed. “He wouldn’t do that. He’d break a few bones, but I don’t think he’d resort to murder.”

>>>SMK<<<

Augie’s Antique Emporium

Old Towne, Alexandria, Virginia

Thursday 1:00 PM

When Lee entered the store, the bell overhead jingled a merry greeting.

A disembodied voice called out, “I’ll be right with you.”

He stepped down into the hodgepodge of furniture crowding the main showroom and began to browse the merchandise. Lee had been in enough antique stores to recognize substandard pieces. Poor Augie. It looked like this venture was destined to fail, just like all the rest.

Lee ran his finger over the top of a table and could actually see the trail he’d made in the dust. Brushing his hands together, he walked to the opposite side of the shop.

“Hey, Augie, I haven’t got all day!”

Something crashed in the back, and he winced. ‘Hope he saved all the pieces.’

The door opened, and Augie emerged, dressed in a demure black suit, white shirt, and black tie. He looked like an undertaker.

“Lee, my man, glad you could make it. Where is your lovely wife?”

“She’s busy. Wha’d'ya got for me?”

“Gee, too bad she didn’t join you. I have a wonderful seventeenth-century cradle I wanted to show her. It would be perfect for the baby.”

Lee felt his anger rise. He clenched his teeth and tried to control the urge to break something. Like the man standing in front of him. He had left Amanda to come and hear what Augie had for him, and the jerk wanted to sell him furniture. If something should happen to his wife and he wasn’t there to help her, Augie would be a dead man.

He grabbed Augie by his lapels and levered him six inches off the floor. “I swear, Augie, if you brought me down here to look at furniture-”

“Lee, Lee, take it easy. Have I ever steered you wrong?”

Lee hoisted him higher.

“On purpose.”

Lee thought for a moment. Augie hadn’t always been accurate, but his information usually panned out. “No.” He lowered him back to the floor. “Okay, what’s so important you needed me to come down here?”

Augie looked both ways, even though the store was empty except for Lee. “I heard it from a guy who used to deliver liquor to the mud wrestling bar, he heard from a friend of a friend that . . .” Again, he looked around for any unwanted ears.

“Will you get on with it!”

“Okay, okay, but a guy can’t be too careful. If you know what I mean.”

“What you’re going to be is black and blue if you don’t tell me why you dragged me down here.”

“Sheesh! Didn’t anyone ever tell you you’d catch more flies with honey than vinegar?” Augie rubbed his thumb against his index finger in the universal gesture for money.

Lee extracted a few bills from his wallet and slapped them into Augie’s outstretched palm. “There, now talk.”

Carefully, Augie folded the bills and slipped them in his pants pocket. “Well, like I said, my liquor guy heard from a friend of a friend that Frankie Columbus is trading assault weapons to Central American rebels for some primo drugs. Deal’s going down tomorrow.”

“Augie, this time I think your source is mistaken. Columbus is still doing time in a triple-maximum security prison. There’s no way he could have brokered a deal like that.”

“Not the old man, Lee. Frankie junior. From what I hear, he’s even worse than his father.”

“Frankie junior? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. My guy said the deal is set for eleven in the morning at some old retired general’s home in the mountains.”

“Exactly where in the mountains? It’s a big place.”

“Umm . . . Mount Virgil or something like that.”

“You mean Mount Vernon?”

“That’s it!”

Lee shook his head. “Augie, Augie, Augie, what am I going to do with you? Mt. Vernon is George Washington’s home. You remember Washington, don’t you? The guy they named the city after. The first president of the United States.”

“Wow! I didn’t know he lived in the mountains.”

“I’ll have my people check it out. Thanks, Augie.”

“No problem, buddy. Hey, if this pans out, wha’d'ya say you bring your sweet wife in to look at the cradle?”

“I’ll mention it to her, but I think she has some family heirloom she wants to use. I’ll be in touch.” When he left the store, the bell jingled again.

Instead of getting on the expressway, Lee drove through the local neighborhoods. He’d take this opportunity to pick up Amanda’s anniversary present.

* * * *

He parked the Jeep in the lot next door and walked into the jewelry store. The twinkling gems winked at him as he strode up the aisle. Thumbing through his wallet, he located the claim check and handed it to the man behind the counter.

The salesman checked off the numbers on the receipt and headed into the back of the shop. He returned a few moments later carrying a slim, black-velvet case.

Lee picked it up off the counter. The hinge creaked as he pried the top back. His breath caught; the bracelet was even more spectacular than what he had pictured. He couldn’t wait to see how amazing it would look on Amanda.

The master craftsman had brought life to Lee’s idea of combining their birthstones. He hadn’t thought emeralds and opals complimented each other, but seeing the twin strands braided together changed his mind. The deep-green stones snuggled between the milky-white ones shot fire and highlighted the subtle hues threaded in each creamy stone.

He paid the balance owed and slipped the box into the inside pocket of his jacket. He would have to find a good hiding spot for it when he got home.

* * * *

On the ride back to the office, he thought about the logistics of preventing the drug deal from going down. Mt. Vernon was huge, and without the exact location of the buy, it would take a lot of manpower to apprehend the perpetrators.

>>>SMK<<<

Agency Bullpen

Thursday, 4:00 PM

Tucking the phone in the crook of her neck, Francine pulled a nail file out of her desk drawer and evened out a jagged nail while she waited for the caterer’s event coordinator to pick up his phone. She’d had an appointment with him this afternoon to go over the final details for tomorrow night’s surprise party but had canceled it when Amanda asked her to go to lunch. She hoped to stop in and meet with him after work this evening.

Lee, toting an armload of files, entered the Bullpen, Amanda not far behind him. He gestured for Francine to join them in Billy’s office.

She held for a few moments longer, before the party coordinator came on the line and agreed to meet with her.

Hanging up the phone, she tossed the nail file on her desk and strode across the Bullpen to Billy’s office. She gave a sharp rap on the door before entering.

“Glad you could tear yourself away from your manicure and join us, Francine,” Lee quipped.

She opened her mouth to reply, but Billy cut her off before she had the chance. Standing behind Lee and Amanda, she stuck her tongue out at the back of Lee’s head before she faced their boss.

“Are we through?” Billy scolded her. He turned back to Lee. “Okay, we’re all here. What’s going on?”

Lee passed around some of the folders before he opened his own. “I met with a sometime snitch of mine, Augie Swan, and he had some enlightening information for a change. It seems our old pal Frankie Columbus has a son-Frankie junior-and Junior isn’t as lily white as he’d like everyone to think.” He flipped some pages in the file, and everyone followed suit.

Giving the paper a quick scan, she noticed it contained a lot of information dealing with narcotics. “It says here, Junior is heavily into drug trafficking. That’s DEA’s bailiwick. Shouldn’t they handle this?”

“Normally, I’d say hand it over to them,” Billy replied. “But I think there’s more to this. Right, Lee?”

“Right. It seems Junior is getting his drugs from various Central American rebels and using some heavy firepower-assault rifles, grenade launchers, and assorted automatic weaponry as payment. All the necessary ingredients for a nice coup d’état. Now I find it hard to believe Junior has the expertise to arrange a deal like this. There has to be an intermediary somewhere. Amanda and I did a little digging, and we have reason to believe Raul Santiago brokered the deal.”

Francine gasped. They had been after El Tigre for several years and were no closer to putting him in a steel cage.

“This could be our chance to nab The Tiger.” Lee continued, “He’s on the wanted list of at least a dozen different agencies. It’d be a nice feather in our cap if we were the ones to take him down.”

Billy leaned forward in his chair. It seemed he held his breath, waiting for Lee to continue his briefing.

“The deal is going down at Mount Vernon. Amanda pulled up some aerial photos, and our best guess is Columbus will use Forest Trail for the swap.” Lee spread the enlarged photo across Billy’s desk. His fingers tapped a spot on the upper right hand side. “It’s the most isolated spot on the plantation. There’s a lot of ground to cover. I’d like to set up several surveillance teams around the grounds so we don’t miss anything. I’ll lead a team down along the trail. Francine can coordinate from the command truck.”

Francine shook her head and waived her arms, trying to get Billy’s attention to remind him about the party. For some strange reason, she couldn’t seem to catch his eye. She hoped she wouldn’t have to resort to jumping up and down.

Finally, Billy looked up and winked. “Sorry, Lee.”

“What do you mean, sorry?” Lee exploded. “This is the perfect opportunity to catch Santiago.” He ran his fingers through his hair and began to pace. “I can’t believe you’d let this opportunity slip by us.”

“If you’ve finished ranting, I’ll explain my decision.”

Lee flopped back into his chair.

“I didn’t reject your plan, only your request for Francine. Right now she’s working on something very important, and I can’t spare her for this.”

“What could be more important than getting a bead on El Tigre?”

“That’s need-to-know, Scarecrow. Now, staking out the Forest Trail and other likely spots is necessary. Let’s see, who can we get to baby-sit? Fielder? Beamen? Dempsey?”

“I can do it, sir,” Amanda whispered.

“No! Absolutely not!” Lee steamed. “You are NOT working in the field.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea.” Billy totally ignored Lee. “You’ve navigated before, and that would free up agents for surveillance.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“A-man-da!”

Amanda placed her hand on Lee’s arm, and he visibly relaxed.

It always amazed her how just a simple touch from Amanda had the power to calm Lee. From the very first day the suburban homemaker entered the Agency, she’d held Lee in the palm of her hand. Francine hated her for that-then. Now, she marveled at the power and cheered her friend on.

“Let me help. I’m your partner, and it’s my job to watch your back. I can’t do it in the field right now. But I can do this. You know every time you go out alone I worry something will happen. At least, this time I can be there to keep an eye on you.”

“I don’t want to have to worry about you sitting in that van all alone. Suppose something goes wrong . . . like the last time.”

Francine knew Lee spoke of Birol. She’d never seen him so out of control–before or since that dreadful time. He’d almost lost Amanda on that case. They’d almost lost him.

Amanda held her palm to his cheek. “Nothing is going to happen. I can do this, Lee.”

“It’s settled then,” Billy chimed in. “Amanda, you’ll head up the command center. She won’t be alone in the van. I’ll keep her company. If we succeed in capturing Santiago, I want to be there to see him go down. Lee, notify your teams. Let me know if you run into any trouble. We’ll meet in the conference room tomorrow morning at nine sharp. That’s all, people. Great work.”

Lee held the door open, and they filed out of Billy’s office. Since there was nothing pressing waiting for her on her desk, Francine decided to leave for the day and tackle all the last minute details for the party.

* * * *

Francine joined her co-workers on the elevator ride up to the Georgetown foyer, bid them a good night, and handed her badge to Mrs. Marston.

Remaining at the front desk, she watched Amanda trudge up the stairs, Lee gallantly aiding her. Her gaze wandered over Lee. Married or not, that man still had one fine rear end.

Recalling her earlier conversation with Amanda, she grinned at the mental picture she painted. It was a shame Amanda didn’t buy him leather pants.

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.