The desk attendant also knew Judy, and Lee reflected how handy it would be for a group of international gunrunners to have a friendly, middle-aged Connie Beth girl charming guards and airport officials left and right (“Oh, that’s Judy. She could never do anything inappropriate.”).
Judy’s packages were going to Central America.
Lee left the freight office and nabbed a Connie Beth box from Judy’s open car.
When he got to his car, he discovered that the very friendly security guard had given Lee a parking ticket.
Back at the agency, it took Lee less than fifteen minutes to dismantle the hairdryers in Judy’s package and reorganize the components into a very real, very lethal gun.
As he worked, Francine started to tease him about his “married life.”
“You know,” Lee told her as he slid the last component into place. “I’ve gained a real appreciation for the generosity and stamina of the American housewife.”
She grimaced at him, and he laughed while he waved Billy over and demonstrated the connection between hair dryer and gun.
“That’s why LeMarque had Harriet Rosement’s name on him,” Lee said. “She was supplying him: his very own Connie Beth girl.”
“And it floated right by customs because we’re looking for whole weapons, not bits and pieces. And these housewives are the key to the whole thing.”
“With generosity and stamina,” Francine said dryly.
“But how could Connie Beth smuggle out enough to make it pay?”
“Billy, are you kidding?” Francine said. “In every PTA and car-pool in America, there are half a dozen Connie Beth girls. It’s a National network. Like the Masons."
“They only use the women they can really trust,” Lee said. Organizations like Connie Beth would have a huge turnover of temporary saleswomen, but the ones who stuck it out—“Golden Circle Girls who personally ship the orders without knowing it.”
“Thousands of little packages going out every day through thousands of different freight offices.”
“Very tough to trace.”
“We gotta get someone inside Connie Beth, and see exactly who’s involved. Oh, and pull the King woman out of this.”
But Amanda was exactly in the middle of all of it. In fact, as her “husband” knew, she was on her way to a Connie Beth meeting at that moment.
Lee raced from the room.
Lee arrived at the Connie Beth meeting just a very disgruntled Harriet Rosement was leaving.
“Your wife’s inside with Bobby Bushard,” she snapped at Lee’s query. “Do you know they made her a Golden Circle girl?”
I’m sure she’d rather be anything else but, Lee would have said but getting to Amanda took priority over snapping at Harriet Rosement.
He was stopped by two goons outside Bushard’s office; he didn’t resist. The quickest way to get to Amanda was to have someone take him to her.
She did not look pleased when the goons thrust him inside Bushard’s office.
“Oh, no, what are you going here?”
“Rescuing you,” he told her, feeling somewhat offended that Amanda wasn’t looking more relieved. He was a professional. Didn’t she trust him?
Bobby Bushard was a square-built man a few inches shorter than Lee—not exactly the sort of person Lee would have associated with cosmetics; he’d imagined someone thin and elegant with a sweeping mustache: a slightly more flamboyant Vincent Price.
But then Lee caught sight of the office’s huge portrait of a reclining Southern belle. So, Bobby Bushard was a Mama’s boy—that is, a Mama’s boy who dealt in guns. That made a kind of sense.
“Okay, kids,” Bobby said to Amanda and Lee in an avuncular manner. “Let’s take it from the top. Tell me about yourself and don’t skip a beat. Once I get nasty, not even Connie Beth’s top of the line can make those faces adorable again.”
Lee glanced about the room, assessing risks and potential exits. One goon had stayed; he stood are one side of the room while Bobby Bushard lounged against the desk on the other: a straight-forward physical confrontation was out of the question.
Lee turned to Amanda.
“Well,” he said in his best put-upon-husband voice, “I hope this makes you happy.”
She looked confused and affronted, which was perfect.
“Okay,” he said, swiveling to Bobby. “You caught us. It’s true. We were spying. And you —” to Amanda “—you were the one who said spying for the competition was so easy.”
“I never said that,” Amanda said, still affronted.
Lee glowered at her.
And she instantly went on the attack. “He’s the one who wanted to do it,” she told Bobby, flapping her hand at Lee. “He’s the one who said that there was money in it.”
Lee wanted to cheer: She’d caught on. If only all agents were this quick on the uptake.
“I’m not a Connie Beth girl,” Amanda continued. “I’m a Lovely Lady lady.”
Lee nearly burst out laughing.
“Oh, the whole thing was your damn idea,” he said instead. “‘We need more money, more this, more that.'”
“My idea!” Amanda was on her feet now. “I was perfectly happy where we were. I was working in lipsticks. I was moving my way up to tweezers. You said I needed diamonds.”
“I should have known better than to trust you,” Lee cried, stepping back to let Amanda move around him. Bobby Bushard was staring at them both in bewilderment. “She masterminded the whole thing,” he told Bobby while Amanda turned to the office’s sideboard and picked up a can of hairspray.
“I don’t even like this stuff,” she cried and sprayed the bottle in Bobby’s face.
Perfect timing. Lee took out the goon with a kick and grabbed Amanda’s hand. They rushed from the room and down the stairs.
“Hairspray—not bad,” Lee said as they ran.
“Mace training,” Amanda gasped.
Unfortunately, they had to head for the roof. Spy Training 101: Never go to the roof! But there wasn’t much choice. More goons had joined the first, and both they and Bobby were on the stairs below.
Under gunfire, Lee and Amanda got to the roof and barred the stairwell door. Racing to the edge of the roof, Lee spotted a crane lifting materials from the ground to the opposite roof. As the empty hook swept over their roof, Lee sprang for it and gestured to Amanda.
She did a Jane to his Tarzan and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Oh my gosh,” she screamed as the hook cleared the roof.
They reached the ground just as every police car in the district pulled in front of Connie Beth’s headquarters. Billy had released the cavalry.
“Boy,” Lee said to Amanda. “I thought these guys would never get here.”
She stared at him and the hook and the ground and shook her head, for once totally speechless.
Lee grinned. “Come on.”
“Are you alright?” he said once they’d reached the next block, out of sight of soon-to-be arrested goons and gun smugglers.
“Yes. Yes. I’m alright. So tell me—what were in those hairdryers anyway?”
“Those terrorist guns we were after. Look, you want to get a drink?” Lee said, feeling expansive; he’d forgotten how satisfying it could be to work with a partner. “I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Ah, no, I can’t. Maybe some other time, okay?”
After all, Amanda wasn’t really a spy. She had her boys and her mother and her "normal" life.
Lee gave her a crooked smile which widened as she tugged unsuccessfully at her “wedding” ring.
“Here—guess I won’t be needing it anymore.”
“Yeah.” Lee laughed. “I guess the honeymoon is over. You know what the whole problem with our marriage was?”
“Just wasn’t very exciting,” Lee said and got Amanda to chuckle.
He thought about that chuckle as he drove to his next assignment that evening. And he thought about the cozy kitchen in the Betsy Ross Estates with its blue curtains. And Amanda putting him to work on daiquiris for the neighbors. He turned Amanda’s wedding ring over in his fingers and slid it into his breast pocket.
For the first time in a very, very long time, he was beginning to feel like his life had something in it worth going home to—it was a nice feeling.