Head in the Clouds
Since Billy had insisted (for reasons beyond Lee's understanding) that he continue working with Amanda King, a woman whose help he had enlisted on what he thought would be a very brief assignment, Lee had made it a point to follow up on Amanda's security check himself. She had done a good job answering all of the questions they had put to her. Still, Lee wanted to look further into her friends and acquaintances.
Most of them were pretty straight-forward. As he'd suspected, most of the people Amanda associated with were PTA members or parents of kids from her sons' scout troop or little league. There were also some people that Amanda knew from various volunteer projects that she worked on. Lee was surprised at just how many of them there were. He even shadowed Amanda secretly on a few of them.
It amazed Lee how hard Amanda worked even on jobs she wasn't being paid for. Her energy seemed almost endless. In one day, Lee watched her delivering supplies to her sons' school for a class party, working at the hospital as a Bedside Bluebell (something that Lee had already seen her do once before, although it wasn't one of his favorite memories), and meeting with neighborhood parents to discuss public safety issues and plan the annual neighborhood picnic. Even when she started to tire, she didn't complain or get cranky and irritable with people. It made a nice change from listening to Francine in one of her moods. Francine had probably never done any volunteer work in her life. Lee certainly couldn't imagine her reading stories to children or sweeping floors like he had seen Amanda doing. After doing further checking, Lee concluded that Amanda's volunteer activities and the people associated with them were fine, but there was still something in Amanda's life that he thought deserved further investigation.
Lee's one area of concern was Amanda's boyfriend, Dean. There was nothing dodgy about the guy in the official records. As far as they were concerned, he was just a weather man for one of the local stations. He'd never been in trouble with the police, and his employment records were good. Still, there was something about him that set Lee's teeth on edge.
When Amanda told him one day that she was going out with Dean that evening, Lee decided that perhaps a little light surveillance work might be in order. He knew that it wasn't likely that Amanda's boyfriend would be an enemy agent or anything truly dangerous, but Lee didn't like that edgy feeling he had about the guy. Amanda would have been angry and embarrassed at the idea of Lee following them on their date, but Lee told himself that it was both for her good and the Agency's. If there was something wrong with the guy, the sooner Lee found out about it, the better.
That evening, Lee watched from his car down the street as Amanda and Dean walked out of her house. As they got into Dean's car, they seemed happy, laughing and talking. Lee followed the car at a discreet distance.
The restaurant they went to for dinner was a typical family-style restaurant. Nothing fancy or very romantic about it, Lee thought.
"Big spender, huh?" Lee muttered to himself.
Lee asked the seating hostess to give him a booth near Amanda's. Fortunately, the booths there had high walls, so Amanda wouldn't be able to see him and he could still hear Amanda and Dean talking. Lee ordered a cup of coffee and a piece of pie and settled in to listen.
"It was really nice of you, taking me and the boys to see the dinosaurs at the museum, Dean," Amanda was saying.
"I had a good time," he said. "I used to like dinosaurs when I was a kid. I still do."
"Charming," Lee thought sarcastically, sipping his coffee.
"I think my favorite part was the Brontosaurus," Dean said.
"You mean Apatosaurus," said Amanda. "Remember how the exhibit said that the Brontosaurus was really an Apatosaurus because the man who discovered the skeleton he called a 'Brontosaurus' found a more complete skeleton than the first Apatosaurus skeleton discovered, and he didn't recognize it as being the same dinosaur? So, he didn't really discover a Brontosaurus at all but just another Apatosaurus, and he gave it a new name thinking it was a new dinosaur even though it was really a dinosaur that already had a name of its own—"
"No, you're thinking of the Brachiosaurus," Dean said.
"No, I'm pretty sure it was—" Amanda said.
"You're wrong," Dean said. "It was the Brachiosaurus."
Amanda fell silent.
Lee was annoyed. He could understand Dean's interruption of one of Amanda's rambling explanations. They could be pretty overwhelming. What bothered Lee was that he knew that Dean was wrong and that Amanda was right. Although Lee would never admit it, he used to have a fascination for dinosaurs when he was young, and if this guy knew anything about dinosaurs at all, he wouldn't have made that mistake. Obviously, he hadn't learned anything while he was at the museum with Amanda. What had he been looking at while Amanda and the boys were paying attention to the dinosaurs? After a moment's reflection, Lee decided that he was better off not knowing the answer to that question.
Amanda was being polite by not continuing the conversation. Lee realized that he was grinding his teeth, so he started eating his pie.
Dean and Amanda talked about boring things for awhile. Dean happily talked about things that were happening with his job, which was about as exciting as watching paint dry. Why he thought that Amanda would be interested in his station's attempt to make the weather more interesting by having people guess the coldest temperature of the year was a mystery to Lee. All the same, Amanda acted like she was interested, saying that she was sure they would get lots of guesses.
Amanda told Dean some things that her boys were doing. That wasn't terribly interesting, either, until Amanda got to the part about the boys making cloud costumes for a scout project about different types of weather. They had insisted on making their costumes themselves this time, using bunches of cotton stuffing and toilet paper. Lee smiled at the mental image of what the boys must look like. Dean didn't seem amused, though. He just lectured Amanda on various points that the boys should make about cloud formation.
"Well, she obviously doesn't date him for his sense of humor," Lee thought. "That guy really should get his head out of the clouds sometime."
When they left the restaurant, Lee left some money on his table and followed them out. The big event of the evening turned out to be watching a movie at a nearby theater. Lee also bought a ticket and followed them into the movie. In the dark, he managed to get a seat in the row right behind them.
"We'll see how observant you are, Mrs. King," Lee thought, smiling to himself as he sat down.
The theater was only about half full, and Lee could understand why. The movie was pretty stupid, although Dean laughed his head off the entire way through. Amanda laughed a little now and then, but she didn't seem to enjoy the movie nearly as much as Dean did.
"Probably a sign that she has better taste," Lee thought.
About halfway through the movie, Amanda leaned toward Dean and softly said, "It's a bit chilly in here, isn't it? I'm a little cold."
If this had been one of his dates, Lee reflected, that would have been his cue to put his arm around the woman to help her warm up. Dean, however, was either not that sharp or not that romantic. Probably both.
"You left your sweater in the car, didn't you?" Dean said. "I warned you that it might be cold."
He didn't put his arm around Amanda. He didn't say anything else, either. He just kept watching the movie.
"He could at least offer her his sport coat," Lee thought in disgust.
For awhile, Amanda continued watching the movie with Dean. Then, she leaned toward him again and asked if she could borrow the keys to the car so that she could get her sweater.
"Okay, honey," Dean said, passing her the keys. "Be careful and come right back."
"Thank you so much," Amanda said, taking the keys and getting up.
Lee turned his head and put his hand up to his face as she passed him. She might not recognize him in the dark anyway, but it would be embarrassing if he got caught.
As soon as Amanda left the theater, Lee immediately got up and followed after her. He was angry, so angry that part of him wanted to stay and jam Dean's bag of popcorn down over his head, but Amanda was more important at the moment.
Be careful! Be careful, he said! So he was concerned about her, but not so concerned that he would go and get the sweater himself or at least go with Amanda to get it. All he really cared about was watching that dumb movie while Amanda went out into the dark night all by herself.
Amanda wasn't very far ahead of Lee when he got outside.
"Leave it to Dean to park in the darkest corner of the lot," Lee fumed.
The darkness made it easier for Lee to keep Amanda from seeing him, but he was still concerned about who else might be lurking close by. While Amanda fumbled with the car keys, Lee carefully scanned the area, watching to make sure that Amanda was safe. A few cars down from where Amanda was struggling to find the keyhole in the darkness, a shadow moved.
Instantly, Lee was on the alert. His concern was justified. He couldn't tell who or what was lurking behind that car, but for Amanda's sake, he had to find out. Lee circled around the vehicle, keeping low. His new vantage point gave him a better look at the shadowy figure.
It was a man. He was dressed in dark colors. Lee could see his outline against the lighter color of the car he was crouching behind. From the way the man was sitting, Lee could tell that his attention was focused on Amanda. Amanda had finally gotten the car door open and was leaning over, looking for her sweater. As Lee watched, the man shifted his position slightly. One of the man's hands moved, and Lee saw a metallic glint. The man had a knife.
Quickly and quietly, Lee rushed up behind the crouching figure and tackled him. The man started to cry out, but Lee covered his mouth with his hand. A hard twist of the man's wrist sent his knife clattering off into the darkness. Keeping one hand on the man's mouth, Lee reached into his jacket and pulled out his gun.
"Don't move, or you're dead," Lee hissed at the man.
Now that Lee had a moment to really look at the man he'd tackled, he realized that the man was really more of a boy. The kid didn't look like he could be any more than 18 or 19. Still, he was a kid with a knife. A knife that he'd been planning to use on Amanda.
"You were going to rob her, weren't you?" Lee whispered.
The kid just looked back at him. There wasn't much else that he could do under the circumstances. He'd been looking for easy prey for some quick cash, and he wasn't prepared to deal with someone like Lee. Lee could see the fear in his eyes.
"You've bitten off more than you can chew," Lee said to the kid. "Unless you want trouble with the government, you're going to do exactly what I tell you. Nod if you understand."
The kid nodded.
"Then, let me tell you what you're going to do," Lee said. "You're going to get up and walk away from this place, slowly. Don't look back, just go. Leave the knife behind. I don't want to see you around here again, either. In fact, if I find out from the police that you've been hanging around here or if you're involved in any other crime, you'll be in a world of trouble. Understand?"
The kid looked confused, but with Lee's gun pointed at his throat, he wasn't in any position to argue. He nodded.
"Okay, get up and start walking," Lee said, letting the kid stand up.
The kid got up and started walking away as quickly as he could. Lee watched him go, and he didn't even look back once. At the edge of the parking lot, the kid broke into a run and disappeared into the night. Lee chuckled. He wasn't sure that this experience was enough to scare the kid straight, but it might have given him enough of a shock to keep him out of trouble for awhile.
With the kid taken care of, Lee turned his attention back to Amanda. He stuck his head up over the car and looked for her. She had found her sweater and was heading back inside the theater.
By the time Lee entered the theater and found his seat, Amanda was already sitting next to Dean.
"You missed a funny part," Dean was telling her. He started to describe what had happened while Amanda was gone.
"That's nothing compared to what you missed, buddy," Lee thought darkly.
"Want some popcorn?" Dean whispered.
"Thank you," Amanda said.
In the light from the movie screen, Lee saw Dean give Amanda's hand a squeeze. Amanda probably thought that was charming, Lee thought. Maybe even charming enough to forgive him over the sweater incident.
But Lee wasn't going to forgive him. He had satisfied himself that Dean was no security threat. The man wasn't bright enough to be much of a threat to anyone, except maybe Amanda because of his negligence. Thanks to Lee, Amanda would never know what had almost happened that night. Clueless Dean would forever remain clueless.
Toward the end of the movie, Lee slipped out of the theater, anxious to be away before the lights came on and Amanda could spot him. As he drove home, he wondered again what Amanda could possibly see in that guy. Although it wasn't really his business, Lee decided that, for her own good, he would try to discourage her from dating Dean in the future.
With the trouble that Amanda often got herself into, she needed a man who would pay enough attention to her to know when she was in danger. Someone who could protect her. Maybe if she stopped hanging around with weather boy, she'd see that there were other, more worthwhile men that she could spend time with. Not that Lee had anyone specific in mind, but he still felt that she could do better than that bozo. Lee reflected that maybe one of the good things about having Amanda work at the Agency was that she would be spending a lot less time with the weather guy who had his head firmly stuck in the clouds.