Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot The Moon Enterprises Ltd.
Time Frame: For historical accuracy, has to be after "Three Little Spies"Lee stared at his reflection in the mirror, rubbing the stubble on his chin instead of preparing to shave it off. He had spent too long in the shower and now, instead of continuing his familiar morning routine, he was standing there, remembering his dreams. He had been dreaming about Amanda—again. It was ridiculous. She was a divorced mother of two young boys, an ex-Little League manager! Hardly the stuff of which dreams are made. He needed to get out more. ‘Definitely need to get out more,’ he thought. On the other hand, that little kiss he had stolen.... it was a few weeks ago, at the end of the Sallee case, had affected him more than he expected, more than he cared to admit. But, 'this is Amanda - get a grip Stetson.'
Sighing heavily, he finished shaving, dressed and grabbed a cup of coffee. He’d have to stop and pick up a few donuts on his way to meet Auggie, who had left a message that he wanted to see Lee as soon as possible. Something big was in the works, something he was sure Lee would want to know about.
Auggie had hired some more mechanics and his auto repair shop was doing rather well. It was a good cover for a man in Auggie’s line of work, an "Information Broker" or plain ‘snitch’ depending on your point of view.
"OK Auggie, what have you got that’s so important?"
"And good morning to you too, Lee."
"Morning. Now, what is it?" Lee was getting a little irritated. Auggie affected him that way.
"Well," Auggie began in a conspiratorial tone, "two of my sources, guys who don’t know each other, have told me pretty much the same story. There is a ‘hit’ in the works, somebody big, somebody way up in the U.S. government."
"Like I don’t know," Auggie replied. "But somebody really important—maybe the President or the vice president or maybe a Cabinet member. Figuring out who— that’s your job."
"Do we know when this is going to happen? Come on Auggie, I need a little more than this."
"All I know is, it must be soon or the word wouldn’t be gettin' around. People don’t start talkin’ about things this big until they’re pretty sure it’s gonna happen. You know, they get excited and can’t keep it to themselves. They’ve gotta brag."
"Thanks Auggie. I'll do some checking and if your hear any more—anything at all, you get in touch with me." Lee peeled a few bills from a small wad of cash which he kept for this kind of occasion and handed them to Auggie, who smiled broadly.
"Yeah, I will and Lee—there was a name connected to this—Borgia."
"Borgia? As in Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia?"
"Who?" Auggie was not up on his Renaissance Italian History.
"Never mind. Thanks Auggie, I’ll be in touch."
"Borgia?" Billy repeated. "Does that mean we are dealing with the Mafia or the Red Brigade or some as yet unknown Italian terrorist organization?"
"I don’t know, Billy. I've checked with the White House and neither the President nor the vice president nor any of the top Cabinet members are scheduled for a trip to Italy or anywhere in Europe, for that matter. At least not in the next two months. And, whatever is going to happen, it’s going to be sooner than that, bet on it."
"All right," Billy said, "I want you and Amanda to get on this immediately. Drop anything else and make this your top priority."
"You got it," Lee said as he headed for the door. If Amanda wasn’t here yet, he would call her at home. ‘I can get her in here and we can get to work right away.’
He started to think that he would be able to see her that much sooner, but caught himself and dismissed that idea immediately! ‘We just need to get to work on this—that’s all.’
Lee scanned the Bullpen. No Amanda. Just as he started towards the door, planning to head for the Q-bureau and a telephone, she walked in.
With a bright smile and cheery ‘good mornings’ for her coworkers, Amanda headed toward Lee.
"Good morning, Lee. Are you early or am I late?"
"Well, actually you are a little late," Lee answered. "Come on, we’ve got work to do." He grasped her elbow, whirled her around and headed her toward the Bullpen door.
"Hey, what’s up, what’s the hurry." Amanda was a little taken aback by the sense of urgency in Lee’s manner and actions but on the other hand she thought, ‘this might be interesting.’
"I’ll explain in the car. We—I need to talk to some of my ‘family’ members," Lee responded.
As they drove along a busy Washington street, Lee filled Amanda in on the few facts he had so far. He hoped some of his ‘family’ might have heard something. He planned to look up Rhonda first, since she was the most accessible, working, as she did, in a gas station.
As he pulled in by the pumps, Rhonda approached with a big smile. "Fill her up sir?" she inquired.
"Yes, please," Lee responded with an equally big smile. "Rhonda, this is my friend and partner, Amanda King."
Amanda blushed with pleasure at that introduction.
"Hello, Mrs. King, very glad to meet you."
"Rhonda, please, call me Amanda—and it’s a pleasure to meet you. Lee's told me about the many times you've helped him with a case."
Rhonda beamed at the compliment. "I guess you’re here to see if I’ve got anything new, right?"
"Yes" Lee’s expression became serious. "Anything from your KGB friends about an assassination?"
"How’d you know? Two of them were in late last evening. One was bragging about his lady friend who is connected to the Intelligence department of what he called ‘our friends in North Africa’. He said there was something really big in the works, something that involves somebody high up in our government."
"Friends in North Africa? That must mean the Libyans." Lee ran his fingers through his hair, as he so often did when he was upset. "The word I have is that the target may be the President or the vice president—" Seeing the looks on both their faces he added, "Yes ladies, the President of the United States!"
Another car pulled in behind the ‘Vette. "If you hear anything else, you know how to reach me." Lee started the car and he and Amanda smiled and waved good-bye to Rhonda as they drove away.
"Well, now what have we got," Lee asked rhetorically. "Two assassinations, one by some Italian terrorists or mobsters and another by some Libyans or are we talking about just one plot, codename Borgia but run by Qaddafi’s people?"
"Why do think there may be "Italian terrorists" involved?" Amanda asked. "Just because of the name ‘Borgia’?"
"Yeah," Lee answered a bit patronizingly, "you know who the Borgias were, don’t you?"
"Yes," Amanda responded calmly, "actually, they were a Spanish family. I don’t remember why I know that; I just know that."
"Spanish," Lee said somewhat incredulously.
"Yep. Look it up if you don’t believe me. You know, maybe we should be focusing not on where the Borgia’s came from but what they did. You know, what they are famous, or infamous, for doing to their enemies."
"Poisoning their enemies…"
Amanda nodded. "Either the food or the wine."
"Amanda, you never cease to amaze me. We better get back to the Agency and start checking on the President’s meal plans!" Lee flashed one of his dazzling smiles, the kind that made Amanda’s heart skip a beat.
"Oh boy, Borgia’s..... poisoned food…..are you two serious?" Billy looked from Lee to Amanda and back to Lee. ‘They are serious.’ "OK, so we know that there are two State Dinners planned. One tomorrow night and another two nights after that. But the First family doesn’t eat just at State dinner parties. They probably eat two or three meals a day just like the rest of us except they don’t have to fix the food themselves. So what about all the other meals they are consuming? Should we be on guard for arsenic in their bologna sandwiches?"
"Oh, come on Billy, it’s the most logical explanation. It fits what few facts we have." Lee had to admit that, the way Billy put it, the scenario sounded a little farfetched. Well, maybe more than a little farfetched.
"I suppose we can’t afford to take any chances, but I’m going to feel pretty silly calling the Secret Service and asking if there are any Libyans working in the White House kitchen."
"Do you have to involve the Secret Service?" Lee asked, knowing the answer already.
"Of course," Billy responded with a trace of annoyance. "They're the ones charged with the safety of, not just the President but all the top officials. If there is a chance that there is a ‘ringer’ on the White House staff, they have to know about it. No matter how…..far out it sounds."
After making some phone calls, Lee and Amanda left the Agency and drove to the first of several meetings with members of Lee’s ‘family.' Lee had arranged for them to meet first with Lana, who told them that the Bulgarian ambassador had not mentioned anything about a 'Borgia.' Neither had he even hinted at any sort of assassination attempt being planned.
Sally had heard nothing, nor had any of the other family members whom Lee had been able to reach. They seemed to be left with what Auggie had told Lee and Rhonda had, to some degree at least, confirmed.
Billy had spent his time on the telephone with Agent Mike Jacobsen, head of the President’s White House security detail. Mike had been somewhat dubious about the information. The idea that a Libyan assassin could penetrate the White House kitchen staff and poison the President was—well, just a bit off the wall. However, he agreed that they could not afford to take chances, and that he would go over the personnel records of all food handlers, waiters, etc. Also, he would inform Jack Mitchell, who was the FBI agent in charge of background checks on all White House staff members, new and old. Between the two of them and their respective staffs, anyone with any access to the food consumed by the First Family or the vice president would be checked and rechecked.
"You know, Mr. Melrose," Mike began, "there may be something to this now that I think about it. The dinner on the 15th—guess who the guest of honor is." Not waiting for Billy to answer, Mike continued, "it’s Sheik Yamani, Saudi Oil Minister, head of OPEC and personal representative of King Fahd. The dinner will have a ‘Mid-East’ ambiance and some authentic Middle Eastern fare will be served—no sheep’s eyes, but a few exotic dishes. If there is anything that will require some specialty chefs to be brought in for the occasion, they will get a really thorough going-over!"
"How many guests do they invite to this kind of shindig anyway," Billy wanted to know.
"Oh," Mike checked his list and then answered, "There will be about a hundred at this one. Now most of them will be American oilmen but there will be enough Saudi and other Arab nationals so that your Libyan friend might be able to sneak in as a guest. Of course, he may try for a job as a temporary waiter or kitchen helper. They don’t keep enough regular staff for a party of this size, budget constraints you know, so they will need extra help. And all of them get background checks."
"Well, this doesn’t sound quite a weird as it did when I first heard it. One more thing, Mike," Billy hesitated, then went ahead. "Since we developed this intelligence, I would like some of my people to be involved here. Actually, I’d like them to go undercover and be on hand at the next two State Dinners."
"Fine," Mike agreed. "Who will you be sending?"
"Lee Stetson and his partner, Mrs. Amanda King. They've worked together for some time now and they make an excellent team."
"OK, Billy. Have your people check with me later today or first thing in the morning. We can discuss the arrangements for a suitable cover for them."
"I’ll have Lee contact you as soon as he comes back into the office. Thanks, Mike. Good-bye."
After telling Billy that his other family members had no knowledge of any assassination attempt, Lee listened as Billy recounted his conversation with Agent Jacobsen. Billy handed Lee a piece of paper with Mike Jacobsen’s telephone number written on it and suggested that Lee contact him as soon as possible.
Lee and Amanda went up to the Q-bureau to make the call and, after a brief conversation, it was decided that the three of them would meet for lunch in an out of the way D.C. restaurant.
Agent Jacobsen sat at the bar, sipping a cocktail and watching the door. He knew what Lee and Amanda were wearing, so it was easy to spot them coming in. Leaving his drink, he crossed the short distance to the foyer of the restaurant and greeted his colleagues.
"Hi, I’m Mike Jacobsen, Lee Stetson I presume?"
"Right," Lee responded. "And this is my partner, Amanda King."
"Mrs. King," Mike said, taking her hand and looking into her eyes. "Partner, you say? I wonder if it’s too late to transfer to The Agency."
Lee was annoyed. Who did this guy think he was anyway. Agent Jacobsen was in his early fifties, a bit of gray at the temples, some people might consider him nice looking, ‘but he’s not Amanda’s type!’
"Shall we take our table and get down to business?" Lee asked rather brusquely.
"OK,’ Mike said, reluctantly letting go of Amanda’s hand.
Amanda blushed at this exchange between the two men, but said nothing.
Lee took Amanda’s arm and put his hand on the small of her back as he guided her to their table. She was… ‘too trusting,’ Lee thought. Someone had to protect her from predators like this Jacobsen character and, as her friend and partner, Lee felt that was his job…..something he would do for any friend or partner. ‘Just try something, anything, mister and…..’
After being seated and ordering lunch, the three agents went over the facts as they knew them to that point and discussed the best covers for Lee and Amanda to use at the two dinners. It was decided that Lee would act as a waiter while Amanda would work in the kitchen, doing food prep.
Luncheon being finished and the business of the meeting being completed, Mike said he would arrange for the necessary credentials to be delivered to The Agency by tomorrow morning. He would see Lee and Amanda at the White House tomorrow night and, wishing them good luck with their mission, he left the restaurant.
‘He stuck me with the tab!’ Lee thought. "Let’s go Amanda. I’ll pay the bill and then we’ll get back to the Agency. So, how do you think you’ll like peeling potatoes for the President?" Lee chuckled.
"Just fine," Amanda smiled. "What did you think of Mike?" she asked innocently.
"He seems very well organized, for a man his age," Lee answered nonchalantly.
The rest of the afternoon dragged by unproductively. Lee managed to contact a few more members of his family but they had no information. Several other agents had talked to their snitches but with no better luck. A whole day and nothing new to go on. Only Auggie’s two sources and the conversation, which Rhonda overheard, between the two KGB operatives.
That evening Lee was bored and restless. He had glanced through one of his little "black books" and had started to reach for the phone. He ..’needed to get out more’, as he had told himself that morning. He decided to go for a ride, just a little joy ride around D.C. with no destination in mind. After a short while, he found the car had taken him to Maplewood Drive. Maybe he could stop by for a few minutes. Stop by and say what? ‘Gosh, it’s been an hour and a half since I last saw you and I miss you…..yeah, right,’ he thought. ‘Not in this lifetime.’ Besides, it was early and Dotty and the boys would still be up and about. He’d probably get caught, even if he had a legitimate reason for being in Amanda’s back yard—again.
The next day was longer and even more boring. Amanda had taken the day off. Lee did a lot of filing and finishing up of paperwork that should have been completed some days, or weeks, ago. The credentials promised by Mike Jacobsen arrived by messenger. There was nothing to do now except wait until it was time to meet Amanda and drive to the White House.
The dinner went off without incident. Some of the staff members were a little concerned about what they perceived as extra security. They also wondered about their two new coworkers. Coincidentally, two of the regular staff were missing. One, they were told, was on vacation and the other had a medical emergency in the family.
"Nothing, Billy," Lee reported. "The dinner went just fine. All the guests had a great time, the food smelled wonderful and nobody got sick."
"Well, now we wait for the 15th. That’s the big one. If there is anything to this ‘plot’ that’ll be the night. Good night, Lee, good night, Amanda. See you both tomorrow."
"Good night, Billy."
"Good night, Sir. See you in the morning."
The next two days were spent trying, unsuccessfully to develop further information on the assassination plot. It seemed as though nothing could be done except wait for the evening of the dinner and hope for the best. Everyone concerned was ready, alert, and anxious. Not that the two days had been a total waste, at least from Lee’s point of view. He and Amanda had been together for almost the entire time, ‘brainstorming’ the case, lunching together, and basically enjoying each other’s company. Lee was acutely aware of the fact that he increasingly looked forward to and very much enjoyed being in Amanda’s company. Conversely, the time away from her was long, boring, and unproductive.
Usamma Al Awadi, Sammy to his friends, twisted the ring he wore on his right ring finger, contemplating the intricate design. He had been told it was a replica of the Borgia’s seal. He didn’t really believe that but still, it was a very handsome ring.
Sammy, on the other hand, was not particularly handsome. He was short, slightly built, the sort of man who was easily overlooked in a crowd. He was, however, intelligent and well educated. He came from a well-to-do Libyan family and had attended Oxford and the American University at Rome. He was an avid student of the early Italian Renaissance and he particularly admired the Borgias. He had read Machiavelli’s The Prince twice. Sammy had often thought that the Borgias, Cesare in particular, knew what they wanted—power, and how to get it—be as ruthless as necessary to attain one’s goal.
Sammy knew what he wanted—revenge—against America and the American people, for the unwarranted air attacks against his country and his people. He knew they were unwarranted because his government had told him so. And he believed what the leaders of his country told him. And what better target for revenge than the President, the man who was the symbol of the nation and of her people. Sammy was prepared to be as ruthless as necessary to achieve his goals too. This was a ‘jihad’ and he was willing to die if he had to, in order to carry out his mission.
The evening of the 15th finally arrived. Lee and Amanda, along with a myriad of other staff members were busy with the preparatory work involved in such an enterprise—a little sit down dinner for a hundred or so of one’s closest friends.
Amanda had never seen so much food in her life. This was not at all like the PTA potluck dinners she was used to! The main course was Couscous, a traditional Arab dish. Besides that, there were numerous kinds of soups and salads, cheeses and breads. The prep people, including Amanda, worked diligently. Besides working with the food, Amanda was busy watching for anything that looked the least bit suspicious. In fact, one individual had caught her attention. He had been standing near the doorway, watching rather than working. He seemed somewhat aloof from the activity that swirled about him. And something else…
Amanda watched until Lee appeared and seemed to be looking in her direction. She managed get his attention and motioned for him to join her.
"Lee, did you notice that man standing by the door, the short, dark haired young man, don’t turn and look right away, but I think you should check him out."
Lee smiled and leaned forward, placing a hand on the wall on either side of Amanda, trying to make this look like a social contact, well, like a little harmless flirting. He thought that was the best cover, under the circumstances.
‘I’ll bet she has another one of her hunches,’ he thought. "So, why should I check him out?"
"I’m not sure, it’s just a hunch, I know...." Amanda put her hand up to stop Lee before he could even open his mouth. "But I get hunches and you'll have to admit that they've paid off on one or two occasions."
Lee had to admit that Amanda’s hunches had been right on the money on more than one or two occasions.
"There’s just something about him, about the way he looks at everybody, as though he’s angry with everybody," Amanda continued.
"Well," Lee offered, "maybe somebody cut him off on the drive over here, you know, a little ‘road-rage’...."
"Lee, please humor me, watch this guy."
"I will, Amanda, I will."
The setting up for the dinner continued. The Sheik’s entourage would not, of course, drink any wine but there were several varieties of mineral and flavored water available. The President, on the other hand, would have his choice from at least two of his favorite California wines—a very nice BV Cabernet Sauvignon or an excellent Robert Mondavi White Zinfandel.
As he contemplated the wine, Lee realized that Amanda’s "suspect" was hanging around the bottles as they sat chilling on a sideboard which was, of course, near where the President would be seated.
Amanda had been thinking about the man. ‘A man in a waiter’s suit,’ she thought, ‘but nothing like my man in the waiter’s outfit, at the train station that morning.' She smiled at the memory. 'Oops, "my man"? Better rephrase that one Amanda.’
There was something else that bothered her about this waiter, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on—her finger on! The ring!
Amanda dropped what she was doing and walked as rapidly as possible to where Lee was standing, busily, and unsuccessfully, trying to look busy.
"Lee, it’s his ring!"
"Amanda, what are you talking about?"
"It’s his ring. Look at it. It’s as big as that 'friendship ring' Alan Squires gave me. It’s plenty big enough to be loaded with some kind of poison!"
Lee watched as Sammy opened the bottles of wine. It appeared as though he was simply preparing to decant the wine. But then, with a subtle motion noticeable only to someone who was observing him closely, he flipped open the top of the ornate ring and quickly sprinkled a white powdery substance into the decanters. That was all Lee needed to see. Closing the distance between them in three steps, he grabbed Sammy by the shoulders, whirled him around and raised his fist. Before Lee could land a punch, Sammy had twisted out of his grasp and landed a karate chop of his own on Lee's neck. Lee lurched against the sideboard but was able to keep his balance. This time he clasped his hands together and used both fists to hit Sammy in the back of the neck. The would-be assassin collapsed in a heap. By this time several members of the other federal agencies attending the dinner, had run into the room, ready to assist, but Lee was already putting the cuffs on the suspect.Agent Jacobsen was there, congratulating Lee on a job well done.
"Better get what's left of the wine and the contents of that fancy ring he's wearing, and send it to your lab boys for analysis," Lee advised.
"Right," Jacobsen responded.
The decanters of California wine were broken during the fight, the contents spilling on the thick carpeting of the State Dining Room.
‘Oh well,' Lee thought. 'I guess the President will have to make do with maybe an old Moutan Cadet, Rothshield tonight.'
"Great job you two." Billy was beaming at his two favorite agents. "The guys from the F.B.I. and The Secret Service are just a bit jealous."
"Thank you, Sir."
"Yeah, thanks, Billy. We did our best."
As they left Billy’s office, Lee suggested that perhaps they could go out for dinner, a sort of celebration of a job well done.
"How about some Italian food, in honor of the Borgias, some lasagna or frittatas."
"Maybe," Amanda responded, "Or maybe some Spanish food."
"You mean tacos and enchiladas?"
"No, I mean gazpacho and paella. Or maybe steak and some fresh tomatoes. I had friends who toured Spain and that’s what they had for dinner. It was kinda like home."
Lee took her arm, looked into her lovely, warm brown eyes and smiled one of his dimpled smiles. "Hey, we’ll eat wherever you say, whatever you say, and whenever you say."
Amanda just blushed.