“Will you be bringing many things from home?” Lee asked, eyeing it skeptically.
“I told my mother I was working at a rummage sale.”
Lee sighed and tried not to laugh. Amanda’s reluctance to lie led her into far more convoluted stories than simple deceit. Why not just tell her mother she was helping a friend move?
The Agency had found Amanda and Lee a nice Cape Cod two doors down from the Bodeens. The sellers had been pleasantly surprised at the quick, extremely generous, no-inspection-required offer.
“This is all very nice,” Amanda said, waving a hand at the movers. “But is someone telling them where everything should go?” and off she went to direct the movers, leaving Lee with the buffalo head.
As a suburban husband, Lee was already out of his depth.
Amanda did more than direct: she unpacked the boxes, washed the glasses, and papered the new house's shelves.
“Why do I look so messy, and you look so good?” she complained, marching into the sitting room.
Lee laughed. Amanda did look a bit disheveled, dark hair fanning her face, a dish cloth over one shoulder, but it certainly didn’t make her look less appealing.
She put her hands on her hips. “Have you done anything?”
Lee pointed to the buffalo head which he had nailed up—by himself. Amanda didn’t roll her eyes—barely, then studied the room’s furniture.
“I’m not sure about this chair. Who picked this stuff?”
“It’s government issue suburban setting,” Lee said, crossing to the drinks cabinet. “We do this kind of thing a lot, you know. Stuff's been used before.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Amanda said, peering at the bullet hole on the flip side of a sofa cushion.
To distract her, Lee said, “Our next step is to find a way to get to know these people.”
Amanda gave him a pitying look—this one didn’t make him feel like a naughty boy with paint on his hands: more like a boy standing outside a broken window with a baseball mitt.
“Boy, you don’t know the suburbs, do you?” she said pityingly.
The doorbell rang before Lee could reply that he didn’t really want to.
At the door was the neighborhood welcome wagon: nine people, four couples plus Mr. Bodeen without his wife. Lee was sent off to the kitchen to make daiquiris while Amanda learned everyone’s names. It was just as well: he might have been tempted to start interrogating people, to say, for example, “Why the hell would decent neighbors make moving day more stressful by showing up and expecting a party?” and “Where were all you people when the moving van was here?” and “Which of you is Harriet Rosemont?”
“I hate this assignment,” he told Amanda when she came in for more daiquiris. “I want a divorce.”
“Huh,” Amanda said. “Hey, when you are through with this would you start the barbecue?”
Lee poked savagely at the blender buttons.
“You’re really doing very well,” Amanda said soothingly.
He glared at her departing back. He supposed, if he had to be fair, he’d rather be making daiquiris than participating in endless small-talk. If he’d wanted to do small-talk for a living, he’d have become a lobbyist.
The party’s value increased substantially when a policeman came to tell Frank Bodeen that his wife had been found dead.
Lee contacted Billy as soon as the neighbors—subdued and frightened by Frank's news—drifted out. Betty Bodeen had been found in an alley within sight of the Washington Monument. Her body had been thrown into a dumpster as if she’d been mugged. But like any staged crime, her "mugging" looked staged.
Lee was sorry for the Bodeens and all, but at least something was happening. He was beginning to think he’d be barbequing and mixing drinks for the next six months.
The party had a double dividend—Amanda had unintentionally landed the perfect gig for an investigator: a Connie Beth Cosmetics saleswoman.
“Going to door to door is perfect,” Lee explained. “You’ll get inside every house in this area.”
“And have the blisters to prove it. Look, if we’re going to search the Bodeens' house, we should go now. I can’t call my mother again and tell her the rummage sale is running late.”
“No,” Lee said, unbuttoning his shirt. “I’m going to bed. We can’t go over there until three or four o’clock in the morning.”
“Frank’s not in the house. He’s at the Rosemonts.”
He said disingenuously, “You coming?”
“No! I can’t sleep here. I would feel like I was lying and sneaking.”
“You are lying and sneaking,” Lee pointed out. “You’re working for the government.”
“No! I would feel guilty like I was having . . . a thing.”
“An affair.” Lee had honestly completely forgotten about Amanda’s boyfriend, the limp Dean—unless Amanda was simply objecting to the idea of housewife as inamorata.
“Well, you’re not,” Lee pointed out. “So, would you like a window open?”
“Lee, I have to consider Dean.”
“How does he feel about open windows?”
“You don’t understand.”
“All I understand is that we are on a job. Now, this is purely business, is that not correct?”
Amanda agreed with unflattering promptness.
“Then one of us gets the bed, one of us the couch. I don’t care which. But the important thing is that we get some sleep. You tend to get killed less often that way.”
His start up the stairs was halted by Amanda’s call: “Who gets the bed?”
He shouldn’t have said one of us—he really shouldn’t have. He should have known Amanda would immediately catch that slip.
He stalled: “The senior agent always gets the bed.”
He heard her eyes roll and grinned to himself.
“Get your mind out the gutter, would you?” he called down the stairs and jogged the rest of the way to the second floor and the master bedroom.
Coming down at two o'clock, he was impressed that Amanda had actually slept. She was half-curled on her side on the couch, and he brushed a strand of hair from her face before he touched her shoulder. She woke instantly. Mother’s instinct, Lee supposed.
He pulled on his shoes while he motioned to Amanda to wear her dark windbreaker. Outside, the neighborhood was as quiet as the aftermath of a tornado. The Betsy Ross Estates were certainly not a magnet for Washington night-life.
“We’re looking for letters, diaries, phone numbers, anything unusual,” Lee told Amanda as they entered the Bodeen household. “I’ll check upstairs.”
“Where should I check?”
“Anywhere. Just check.”
He should have known better than to leave her alone—the first thing Amanda did after investigating the bathroom, where she discovered a shorted-out hair dyer, was to encounter a dying Mr. Bodeen. He'd returned to the house, only to to be attacked by home-breakers: the violent kind.
He heard Amanda scream, “Lee, they’re getting away” and rushed down the stairs and out the front door. A van barreled through the closed garage door, and Lee jumped clear of its path. Rolling over, he looked up into a ski-mask and twisted desperately before his attacker slammed a stake where his chest had been. Lee managed to grab the stake, noting—with the part of his mind not occupied with staying alive—that it ended with a plastic flamingo, the kind that sticks upright in people’s lawns.
His assailant had snagged another one and they went at each other, parrying with stakes and fists and pink birds. Lee felled the man, but the guy managed to get to the van which drove off in a flurry of screeching brakes and red tail lights.
Lee ran inside where Amanda was holding Mr. Bodeen in the kitchen.
“Hair dryer,” he croaked and died.
Amanda was composed when Lee made her lay down Mr. Bodeen and step aside. She sat silently on the living room couch as the (agency-trained) paramedics worked over the body and took it away. Lee had to call Billy to update him, and Amanda was still sitting quietly, face white and strained, when he finished.
“You should go home,” he said gently.
“Yes,” she said. “Why did he—?”
“Really, Amanda. Go home. It’s okay.”
“I’m so sorry for Mr. Bodeen.”
“I wish he hadn’t come back here tonight,” Lee said grimly. He had never considered putting a watch on the man. He should have; he certainly wouldn’t be sending Amanda home unchaperoned.
He put an arm around her tense shoulders and shook her gently.
She said, "You couldn't know. You thought he was staying with the Rosements."
She was protecting Lee--or his conscience--as usual.
She continued, "He said, 'Hair dryer.' The hair dryer in the bathroom has a scorch mark."
"Sounds like it shorted out."
"Did he think that killed Betty?"
"I don't know." Lee didn't tell her that people didn't always make sense when they died. Maybe she already knew because she shivered.
“Go on,” he said, shaking her again. “It’s okay.”
She was to the door when she said, “I’ll be here tomorrow. Remember: I’m a Connie Beth girl now.”
He truly didn’t know anyone braver.
Worn Avon, perhaps?
According to Amanda, Golden Circle Girls like Betty and Harriet delivered shipments, including appliances, to International clients.
“Like hair dyers,” Amanda said.
She and Lee sat in their kitchen. Or rather, Lee sat while Amanda fiddled around, nailing up a picture.
“It’s crooked,” Lee said helpfully. “What is it?”
Lee was annoyed—this was not Dean and Amanda’s house; this was his and Amanda’s house. Not their real house, of course. It was all pretend. Still.
Granted, the picture could be of any man—it could be of Lee—since it showed a big fish in front of a man’s head. Still, Lee didn’t see why he should have to share his house with another man’s fish.
“You and what’s-his-name do a lot of fishing?”
“Yes, we do. Could we get on with the other conversation?”
Lee turned his back on the picture, pulled out his notebook, and noticed—
“Why’d you hang new curtains?”
“The old ones didn’t go with the rug that I got for the breakfast nook, and I like my kitchen to be cheery.”
“But Amanda, this isn’t your kitchen. This isn’t real.”
Lee knew he was being unfair. He couldn’t object to a picture for not being real and then object to curtains because they were too real. But his annoyance had to go somewhere.
“Yeah, I know, but people will come in here, and our kitchen reflects the kind of people we are. This is how you do a kitchen.”
Lee fought his sudden urge to pounce on that “we” and point out that Dean’s picture certainly didn’t belong in “their” kitchen. What did he care anyway?
“The way you do a kitchen,” he said airily, “is hire a guy with a French name, tell him how much you want to spend, then go skiing till it’s all over.”
“You know, that’s your problem. You’re out of touch with the way normal people do things.”
“I’m normal,” Lee grumbled.
“Oh, sure. You think sunbathing in Borneo is normal. You know most people just want to get through the day with healthy kids, friends they can count on, a regular job, and a roof over their heads.”
All while singing about mom and apple-pie, Lee wanted to sneer, except he knew what she meant and, “Fine. That normal I’m not,” he admitted.
“I don’t know how you expect to get to know the people here,” Amanda continued kindly while she spread butter onto bread. “You never go outside and say, ‘That’s a great-looking lawn’ or ‘Who’s your tile man?’ or ‘Where’d your kid get her braces?’”
Lee knew she was right—he’d never been good at suburban undercover—but her sudden expertise rankled. She knew enough to change the curtains. She knew enough to bring that damn picture that wasn’t of Lee into the house.
“Fine,” he snapped. “If you’re so damn normal, you solve the case.”
“Okay, I will. Betty Bodeen’s hair-dryer short-circuited—you told me that—so think about it: she’s standing there with wet hair. She’s desperate. If she doesn’t do something, it’s going to frizz out. But out in the garage, she’s got dozens and dozens of Connie Beth hair dryers. So what does she do? I’ll tell you what she does. She goes out there and opens one of those boxes. That’s what Harriet tells the company, and that’s what gets Betty in trouble, and that’s what gets her killed.”
Very neatly reasoned.
“Did you just think of that?” Lee said.
“No. Good. Betty Bodeen was one of those people with special clients?”
“Yeah. A Golden Circle Girl.”
“Makes you wonder about those special clients, doesn’t it?”
“It sure does. Judy Wainwright’s making deliveries to special clients today.”
“Then I’ll keep my eye on Judy.” Lee fetched his coat, ready to get focused on an actual lead. “You want me to pick up some groceries?”
“No, that’s alright. I have a Connie Beth sales meeting tonight.”
The utter normalcy of the exchange suddenly struck Lee, and he laughed, his good-humor restored. “Do you know what just happened?” he said to Amanda.
“We just had our first fight. As man and wife, that is.” He had been a complete grouch when this conversation began.
Amanda blushed. “Right here in our cheery kitchen.”
“Well, I guess I’ll see you later.” Lee was also suddenly aware of how most married fights were supposed to end, and he and Amanda were undercover—though not strictly undercover since they were currently alone.
They were alone.
Amanda’s blush deepened and she held out her hand for Lee to shake.
He chuckled and shook it vigorously.
But he owed her more than just a friendly handshake.
“You know something,” he said, gesturing to the curtains. “I like blue a lot better.”
“Good, I’m glad,” Amanda said, and Lee went out to the driveway like any ordinary suburban husband, feeling—for that moment at least—that the suburban life wasn’t so bad.