"Hidden Agenda" Part IX April, 1995 Emmitsburg, MD Sam wandered into "his" office and sifted through the items on Gina's desk, searching for a clue of what he was supposed to be doing. He'd only just started to make himself at home when a young woman entered. She was dressed much more conservatively than Sam in a dark skirt and plain white blouse. Her long black hair was pulled up into a twist and her jewelry and makeup were understated and tasteful. "You got another!" she cried, grinning, and sat down in the chair on the other side of the desk. Before Sam could ask what he got, she held out a card between her index and middle fingers. Sam took it, puzzled, and laid it on his desk. "Thanks..." "Aren't you going to read it?" He picked it up uncertainly. "Oh, yeah...right." "Here." She handed him a letter opener and he took it, smiling slightly. She was definitely eager for whatever it was. He tore the envelope and pulled out a plain card with a watercolor of a bouquet of lilacs on the outside. He opened it to see, written in black ink: `I've got my eye on you, and I like what I see.' Sam read it twice to himself before handing it to the woman. "Ooh," she squealed, taking it from him and Sam grinned again. She was so bright-eyed. "You're so lucky - I never had a secret admirer." He raised an eyebrow. If this was her idea of a compliment...it sounded more freaky than endearing to him. How could anyone _like_ this kind of thing? "Yeah, well, it's not all its cracked up to be." She reread the card and laid it on the desk. "Sorry. Have you figured out who it is?" "Not yet," Sam answered honestly, "but I intend to." "Well, it must be someone in the office," she stated matter-of-factly. "Why do you say that?" he asked, thinking Gina's friend may have a little more information than Ziggy could dig up through the records. "Well, it doesn't go through the Post Office - it's always a blank envelope, and it just ends up in your box every few days," she reasoned, feeding Sam information Gina would already have had. "Unless he's giving it to someone who works here," Sam mused, "or maybe he's just walking in the building every day to-" "Not without a badge," she pointed out. "No-one gets in without a badge." "Sam," Verbena said suddenly from behind him and he jumped. "You okay?" the woman asked and Sam nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I've just got to get back to work..." "Natalie," the psychiatrist supplied. "Natalie Burke - she's your secretary." "Natalie." "Okay," she answered amiably. "We still gonna do lunch together?" He smiled. "Yeah, sure." She got up and left and Sam turned to Verbena. "What's up?" "We found out why you're here," she replied, looking a little sadly towards the door. Immediately, Sam feared the worst. "Natalie. Something's going to happen to Natalie," he stated with startling certainty. Verbena looked surprised. "No, not Natalie. Gina, Sam. Gina was found dead in three days. She calls in sick tomorrow and her body is found in the mountains of Virginia on Thursday." "Do they know what happened to her?" "Murder. Ziggy's still pulling the autopsy reports - at least, that's what she tells me - and so we should know more then." "I assume no-one was ever arrested," Sam muttered pessimistically. "No. They never found out who did it, but the suspects ranged from random killings to Natalie to-" "Natalie?" Sam asked in amazement. "No way..." She shrugged. "I tend to side with you on that one, but you never know..." "Well, keep on it, okay?" Sam glanced at the card on his desk and lifted it, holding it open for Verbena. "What do you make of this?" She read it, her eyes flicking over the neat handwriting. "I'd watch my step," she stated and he took some comfort in the fact that she found it as disturbing as he did. So...who'd sent it? ~~~~~~ November, 2000 Arma, KS Despite ambitions, Al and Celia did stop for the night. Al's head was still throbbing and Celia had been left to do most of the driving. They checked into a motel which (unfortunately, Al found out, while Celia remained in the car) only had one room available. First he was going to be a day later in New Mexico where, he'd learned, Sam's life was in danger, and now this. He was too tired to care, but when they walked in and saw the queen-sized bed, Al knew that, exhausted or no, Celia was going to have a few things to say about this. Much to his dismay, he wasn't disappointed. "Oh, this is great," she groaned, walking in and tossing her bags by the door. "I suppose you think this is funny." "Hilarious," he muttered. "Can we just get some sleep, please?" "That's a good idea," she snapped. "Why should..." She trailed off suddenly, her eyes wide as the full implications of the situation hit home. "Oh...oh, no. You are not sleeping in the same bed as me." He rounded on her. "Look, it's been a long day, my whole body aches, and I want to get some sleep. Normally, I'd be chivalrous and take the floor, but the bed's big enough and I _don't_ want to spend half the night arguing this one." "Yeah, until something happens." She folded her arms and stared at him. "So you sleep on the floor," he returned sourly. She started to retort to his unfeeling comments, but he raised one hand, palm towards her. "Look, lady, let me make one thing clear: I _don't_ want to sleep with you - I just want to _sleep_ with you! Got it? Good." He dragged his bag into the bathroom and slammed the door to change. She was dressed in a sweatshirt and sweat pants by the time he came back out and he rolled his eyes. "I'm going to bed," he announced. Her only response was to march past him and go into the bathroom. He sighed in the stillness. What was it with them that they couldn't even go one day without arguing? She emerged quickly and climbed under the covers as far away from him as possible, back towards him, then clicked off the light. They lay in silence and then he heard her shift uneasily. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. He opened his eyes, more surprised than anything else. "It's okay." "And I'm sorry it's taking you so long to get back to Sam." He didn't want to have this conversation, but at the same time, he didn't want to discount her efforts. "I've got a good staff - I'm sure they're handling things." "Oh." She took a deep breath. "Can I ask you a question?" He turned his head even though she was facing away from him. In the not-so-dim lighting, thanks to the city outside, he could just make out what he was beginning to suspect he'd find, but he didn't comment on it. Instead he just said, "Sure." "Who's Beth?" He sat up in surprise and suffocating memory and reached for the light, clicking it on and moving to sit on the edge of the bed, facing the far wall away from her. "How do you know about her?" he asked sharply. "I...I don't. It's just...while you were asleep in the car, you whispered her name and... I was just wondering." "She was my wife," he replied, hoping the tightness in his voice and his use of past tense would deter any further questions. It did. "Oh." She sat up and looked at him and another thing about her struck him. "I'm sorry." "Now it's my turn to ask you a question," he said softly. "Fair enough." "Why did you lie to me?" he asked. She paled and got out of the bed, standing up. "About what?" He got up and went into the bathroom, emerging with a damp washcloth which she eyed suspiciously. "You didn't see anyone murdered, did you?" She backed away several steps as he advanced. "Yes, I did! Al, she was my friend - I wouldn't lie about that!" "Then why'd you lie about how it happened?" "I didn't," she cried desperately. "Yes, you did. You told me when he beat her, you turned away. Then you told me when you got home and looked down, you saw blood on your dress. How could there be blood on the front of your dress if you weren't even facing her?" "It - it must have been the back. It was a full skirt and the folds-" Al shook his head. "You said you had an overcoat on. You said someone grabbed the hem and that's when you ran." He held up the washcloth and she backed up another step. "What are you doing?" she asked, fear tinting her voice. "I'm trying to figure out how everything connects," he stated, lowering his arm. "Al, don't-" "I trusted you, Celia, and you lied to me! I put myself out on a limb for you!" She shook her head, backed up against the wall. "No, you didn't. You did it for Sam." "I still am doing this for Sam," Al replied. "Now why did you lie to me?" She shivered, staring at him, as if she didn't know how to reply. "Celia," he prompted, taking a step towards her. She gasped as if she'd been struck and now he was certain. "Al - stop!" "Where is it?" he asked. "Where is - what?" "The bruise that makeup is always hiding. Where is it?" he asked patiently. Her hands convulsed against the rough wallpaper. "I don't know what you're talking about." "The one to match those on the back of your neck," he continued, pressing harder. "Who is he, Celia?" "He's...my husband." That visibly startled him. "I thought you were divorced. We pulled your files and-" "I had the record changed. I told you - friends in high places." He nodded. "I'm sorry, I... I'm sorry, Al." He stepped directly in front of her and her trembling eased, then came back with renewed vigor. "Where?" he whispered. She pointed to her left cheekbone and he wiped away the concealer with the cloth. He'd barely begun when she started to cry silently. He hesitated, touching her upper arm gingerly and she moved away from the wall as he put his arms around her, wary in case she was panicked by the action. In response, she hugged him tightly at the waist, burying her face in his neck and gasping at the release. For the first time, he felt he understood her behavior, but, at the same time, he felt sick to his stomach. Al sighed deeply, trying to dispel his anger. "Celia...I'm sorry. I didn't know," he murmured, rubbing her back slowly, trying to calm her down. "Why didn't you tell me?" "I was scared to," she breathed, her words muffled by his shirt. She tightened her hold on him as if he was her only lifeline to sanity, trying to gain control before answering. "Most of it - was true. He killed my friend and I saw it." "And the blood on the dress?" "I thought it was hers - I did burn it. I didn't - connect until just now that it couldn't have been her blood, that it was-" She tightened her hold on him and he supplied the answer for her. "Yours?" "I should've done something sooner, but I was a coward. I married him because I thought he loved me: he married me because he had important friends and he needed someone to show off at the banquets while he boosted his business. Leslie - she died because she stood up for me. She would've done anything for me and I..." "Okay, okay..." he murmured and pulled away, leading her to the bed and sitting her down. "What happened?" "It was her birthday, like I said. We got home and he was out - every Friday he went out drinking with some buddies of his. Well, we had an old refrigerator and so, when I got something for she and I, I didn't realize it hadn't shut all the way. It did it all the time. He came home early and..." She paused, fighting for control, and he put a hand on her back. "He didn't realize she was there. He hit me and she started yelling. So he..." "Okay," Al said quietly, "that's enough." She didn't listen. "You know those sets you keep by the fireplace? To move burning logs?" He tensed. "Stop," he said firmly. He didn't want to hear it and he was sure she didn't want to recount it. "What do we do now?" she asked timidly. She could tell he was furious - it was rather obvious - but she didn't realize he wasn't furious with her. "There's no need to change anything - we keep heading for New Mexico." "I didn't think you'd want me to - if Sam's in danger and I lied to you..." "You misjudged me," Al corrected. "And if there was any reason I gave you to think I would ever hurt you because I was angry, I am definitely at fault and I apologize." She dropped her gaze and he brushed her hair back from her face. She reached up and took his hand, and, before he realized it, he was kissing her. It happened so quickly he didn't have time to stop and reconsider. She laid her other hand on his shoulder, not drawing him closer or pushing him away, but her grip was tight and tense. He touched her cheek and she shuddered and he seemed to reawaken back into reality, pulling back quickly. He stood. "I'm sorry, Celia, I shouldn't have done that - not now, not here. It wasn't right." She nodded, suddenly looking very alone. "I know." They gazed at each other for an instant longer. "I should get some sleep." "I'll take the floor," he said hurriedly. "No - Al..." "It's okay," he assured her. "It's gonna be okay." "Sam's lucky," she murmured. "Kid's stuck in time," he pointed out, a little bitterly. She looked directly into his dark eyes. "I know, but he's lucky." ~~~~~~ April, 1995 Emmitsburg, MD Sam hated dating. He especially hated dating when he was a woman and, in spite of the fact that his companion had been courteous and polite, he still hated it. What he hated most of all was how short Gina's skirt was. His dinner date had, thankfully, made himself known to Sam at the office and they'd left directly from there. Now he was back at Gina's home, guided there by Verbena, who'd just departed to speed Ziggy along on things. He changed into heavenly slacks and tennis shoes as well as a polo shirt, grateful that Gina had all of the above. The tea kettle was whistling on the stove when the doorbell rang. He lifted the hot water off, poured the cup hastily, and walked to the front door with it. Sitting on the top step was a plain envelope, just like the one at the office. *Has Gina been getting these at home, too?* he wondered, bending over to pick it up. His fingers closed around the card and then there was a heavy blow on his head and the last thing he was aware of was boiling water splashing over his face and hands.