And Thou Wilt Be Left Alone
an Equalizer FanFicby Linda O.
In a Nutshell: McCall meets Control's mistress -- who's also a Company agent.
Note: The verse is from "The Star and the Water-Lily" by Oliver Wendell Holmes; the entire poem is at the end of the story.
Prologue - Communist Europe
The woman wandering the train station was clearly a tourist. She dressed like a tourist — American casual, a backpack slung over one shoulder, a small duffle bag on the other — and her head swivelled to look at everything. Locals trudged past her, completely uninterested in their surroundings. She read the signs carefully, comparing them to her tickets, checking the clock. She dropped coins into one of the pay lockers and stuffed the duffle bag into it. Taking the key with her, she moseyed to the newsstand.
Hans Bartok had seen them come and go in his time, but he never tired of watching this one. She smiled brightly as she approached the counter. She paused there, browsing the titles over his shoulder.
"I was starting to worry about you," he said quietly.
"The damn rail service in this country," she answered, just as softly. "You've been well?"
"Quite well, yes."
"Anything you need?"
"No, dear. Thank you."
The woman pointed at a magazine. Hans reached for it, knocked it to the floor, and while he was picking it up, swept an envelope from under the counter between the pages. He held it while she rummaged for change; they swapped smoothly. The locker key came with her money. Much later, when the place was empty, Hans would pick up his payment, six pair of new Levi's jeans.
"Take care of yourself," the woman said warmly.
"Godspeed, Lily," he answered. He watched her stroll to her train, still the consummate tourist, and went back to his paper.
Station Twelve had always been run-down. Lately, it was also a pigsty. Lily Romanov had no urge to clean up, save to clear a place on the couch big enough for her to sit. The men hovered around her like bees. She brought them documents, assignments, information — but she also brought them the small luxuries that were impossible to get here: aspirin, razor blades, cash. This time, she'd also brought Matuzak pictures from his son's high school graduation.
"I wish I could have been there," the agent said wistfully.
"Your ex was there," Shin reminded him. "I thought you said she'd shoot you on site."
"A thing like this," Matuzak rattled the pictures, "maybe we could have made a new start."
Shin snorted. "Give me the stuff, Lily, I'll go make copies before I puke."
"You have no romance in your soul."
Moore glanced at the pictures but remained, as usual, silent.
Matuzak appealed to the young woman. "You still believe, don't you? You're still a romantic."
"I was never a romantic," she answered. "I'm a nihilist. Take it where you can get it, 'cause it won't last."
"Now there's a sensible girl!" Shin shouted over the din of the ancient copier.
Bill Reznick, the head of the office, came in. Lily could smell the bourbon on his breath from across the room. His eyes were gently glassy, his stride a little rolling. He wasn't drunk, exactly, but he wasn't sober either. "About time you got here," he barked.
Lily shrugged. "Train was late. Talk to you a minute, Bill?"
"Sure," he answered. "Come on in." He led her into a tiny, gloomy office at the back of the room. "Have a drink with me." He had a bottle in his desk, of course. "One for the road."
She closed the door and leaned on it. "No, thanks. Look, Bill, we're pretty good friends, right?"
"You've got to quit drinking, Bill."
"The boys put you up to this?" He took a long drink. "Or Control?"
"Just me, Bill. I'm worried about you."
Reznick shook his head. "Honey, you are years too late to start worrying about me. I am a fully confirmed lush. Why do you think they stuck me way out here? Station Twelve, the end of the line. A nice safe place where I can't cause any trouble."
"That's not why . . . "
"Ask Control, next time you see him. He'll tell you I'm a has-been. Lost my edge. And the sooner I drink myself to death, the happier he'll be."
"Damn it, Bill . . . "
Reznick finished his drink. His tone changed. "Oh, lighten up, honey. You take things way too seriously. I'll be fine. Look, if you're really worried, I'll cut back. Really. I promise."
She didn't believe him. "Thanks."
"For you, babe, anything. Come on, I'll drive you to the station."
They went back to the outer office. She retrieved her envelope from Shin, gave him a look and a shrug — 'I tried, didn't help'. He shrugged back. Nothing more to be done.
When they'd gone, Matuzak took her empty spot on the couch and studied the photos again. "She can't still be mad at me," he said, mostly to himself. "I'm sure she's forgotten by now."
"A woman," Moore offered, breaking his laconic silence, "never forgets a thing like that."
The outer door opened. The men, complacent from location and expecting no trouble, looked that way but didn't reach for weapons. "Who are you?" Shin asked. "What do you want?"
The gun fired, and Shin fell. Two more shots, and Moore was down. Matuzak managed to return fire before he dropped to the floor. He died last; he had time to see dark pants and shoes, to hear the drawers opening, to hear the shredder begin to run.
Station Twelve, a nothing post with very few secrets, had been neutralized.
New York City
Robert McCall stood beside his shiny-clean Jaguar and eyed the empty warehouse with distaste. He shook his head. God, but he was coming to hate these oh-so-secret meetings with Control. Why couldn't they ever meet in a nice restaurant somewhere? Have a civilized conversation over a decent cup of tea?
He knew why, of course. Knowing why didn't help. Grudgingly, in bad humor, he went inside.
Control had been pacing. "You took your time getting here."
"Yes, I did," Robert answered archly. "What is it this time?"
"We have a problem," Control began. He saw McCall's expression and amended his opening. "I have a problem, and I need your help. Do you remember Station Twelve?"
"No," Robert answered shortly. "Wait. That little tiny outpost on the Hungarian border."
Control nodded. "Someone got in there late yesterday. Killed three agents and took or destroyed everything."
"Why, for God's sake?" Robert demanded. "There's nothing at Station Twelve."
"There are two survivors," Control continued. "Two agents who weren't in the office when it happened. One is Bill Reznick."
"I didn't know he was still with the Company."
"He was the office chief."
"Very generous of you," Robert commented dryly.
"What would you have done with him?" Control retorted.
Robert considered for a moment. "You said two survivors."
Control nobly ignored the change of subject. "The other was a courier. She'd just made a pick-up from Bartok, and was passing through the station on her return route. Her name is Lily Romanov. I don't think you've met her."
"No. And I don't see what any of this has to do with me."
Control rubbed his eyes. "I've had Reznick picked up, he's on his way back here. But I've got no way to contact Romanov before she gets to the States."
"I still don't see . . . "
"Station Twelve was secure, Robert," Control barked. "Whoever found it knew exactly where to look."
"You think there's a leak in the agency," Robert sighed.
"I'm sure of it. But I don't know where it starts, how far it goes — I don't know what they were after or whether they got it. I can't send one of my own people after her, and I can't go myself."
"So you want me to go."
Control nodded. "She'll be at the old Smith cabin until midnight. If she's not contacted, she'll go on to D.C. There's no way to protect her if she gets to Washington."
Robert pursed his lips, nodding his understanding. "And now the rest of it, Control. The part you aren't willing to tell me. Why is this courier so important to you? What is she carrying?"
The other man was all innocence. "It shouldn't be anything but routine correspondence, reports . . . you don't believe me." Control sighed. "Look, Robert, she's a good agent in a lot of danger. Isn't that enough?"
He could feel himself being manipulated, and he hated it, but McCall finally shrugged his agreement. "If I agree to go, what do I do with her once I've got her?"
"Bring her to New York. I'll have a safe house arranged by the time you get here."
"And how will she know you've sent me?"
"Ask her how her frostbite is."
Robert scowled. "Not much of a code."
"She'll know," Control assured him.
"I will find out, you know," McCall said. "Whatever it is that you're not telling me, I will find out."
Control nodded solemnly. "I know you will, old son. I know you will."
McCall climbed out of his car and stretched. It had taken him two hours to drive out of the city to the remote cabin. He supposed he should be glad it wasn't another empty warehouse. He crossed the bare wood porch and knocked on the door. There was no answer.
A motion to his left drew his eye. The young woman was standing at the end of the porch, calmly aiming her gun at the center of his chest. "Who are you," she asked clearly, "and what do you want?"
Robert kept his hands away from his body. "My name is Robert McCall. Control sent me."
She arched one eyebrow, the question unasked.
"He said I should ask how your frostbite is."
It surprised her, but she accepted it and lowered the gun. "Is he dead, then?"
"Control? He's fine. It's you who's in danger."
She took a deep breath and joined him on the porch. "Come inside."
It had been years since Robert had been to the cabin. There had been changes. The furniture was more comfortable, more personalized, as if someone actually lived there now. "Sorry about the reception," Romanov was saying. "I'm usually a lot friendlier."
"That's quite all right," Robert assured her. "I'm glad to see that you're careful."
She picked up an empty coffee cup and carrier it to the sink, tidying up, closing up. "What's happened? Why are you here?"
"Station Twelve has been destroyed. The agents there were killed."
She stopped to face him, astonished. "By who? Why?"
"We were hoping you'd know. I'm to take you back to New York. Control's arranging a safe house there."
She considered for a long moment. Then she nodded slowly. "Give me two minutes." She went into the bedroom.
Robert waited, his hands in his pockets, looking around. Beside a chair that hadn't been here before, there was a book. A very old, fragile, tan book; a familiar book. Frowning, he picked it up and opened it to the bookmark.
"But what if the stormy cloud should come,
and ruffle the silver sea?
Would he turn his eye from the distant sky,
to smile on a thing like thee?
O no, fair Lily, he would not send
One ray from his far-off throne;
The winds shall blow and the waves shall flow,
And thou wilt be left alone."
Robert slammed the book shut. Damn him, he thought viciously. Damn Control! In a white fury he knew exactly why this courier was so important to his old 'friend', and it had nothing to do with the materials she was carrying. And Control had put Robert right in the middle of it. Old friend! Damn his eyes!
"I'm ready," the woman announced behind him.
Robert smoothly pocketed the book before he turned. She was waiting beside a suitcase and a backpack, pulling her long brown hair loose from the collar of her coat. She was a lovely thing, of course she was lovely, and not much older than Scott — plenty young enough to be his daughter — or Control's. But she wasn't, was she? For a moment his rage surged, but he put a lid on it. It wasn't her fault. She was a victim of this, of Control, whether she knew it or not. Forcing calm, he walked over and picked up the suitcase, which was pleasantly light. "Why did you ask before if Control were dead?" he asked, in a voice he hoped was normal. "Surely you weren't expecting him to debrief you personally, on a routine pick-up like this."
She shrugged. "Control works in mysterious ways," she answered simply. They went to the car without further conversation.
Control's people had been over the safe house top to bottom. He sent them away and walked through it himself. Nothing special, an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood that wouldn't attract any attention. A nice house, comfortable. It should be safe.
He glanced at his watch again. Robert should be with her by now; they should be on their way back.
He was not at all sure he should have sent McCall. His friend's final words echoed in his head: I will find out, you know. And he was sure McCall would. Maybe Control would tell him himself, once Lily was safe and on her way. Secrecy was the key to everything, but in a deep part of his mind he wanted Robert to know. He had carried this secret alone for too long. He wanted to share it.
But sending McCall now may have been a mistake. Because if his oh-so-proper British friend figured it out before Control could tell him . . . he would not take it well, to say the least. Lily required a little explaining.
No, Lily required a lot of explaining.
Explaining, or rationalizing? He already knew Robert wouldn't approve. And he had come to rely on his friend's conscience as his own. If McCall disapproved of something, Control usually took another hard look at the situation. But knowing that Robert would never approve of Lily, Control had diligently avoided reexamining the circumstances. Self-deception was an ugly trait, one that he very rarely allowed himself.
So — the truth. The bottom line was that he could have sent any number of his own people. He was sure the Station Twelve incident was local, not some widespread conspiracy. But in a moment of panic that he had sworn he would never allow himself, he had reacted. Lily was in danger, and he had sent her the help he trusted most in all the world. He'd sent her McCall.
It was done now. Let the chips fall where they may.
Control made one more check of the house.
Robert noticed that he was stepping a little too heavily on the accelerator — again. He was furious, and though he tried to conceal it, it kept translating into higher speed. He glanced at the woman beside him. She was staring out the window, her backpack resting in her lap, silent and thoughtful. She hadn't noticed.
"Romanov, is it?" Robert ventured. "Are you related to the Czars?"
Lily nodded. "Vaguely. Not close enough to claim any of the money. My family came over in 1902." She shifted, restless. "I don't get it. There was nothing at Station Twelve."
"Did anything unusual happen while you were there?" Robert prompted. "Or anywhere else along your route?"
"That's what I've been trying to think. The only thing unusual was that it went so smoothly this time. I didn't have any trouble anywhere. I've made this run fifteen times, and there's always been something . . . Look out!"
Robert's eyes shot back to the road. A car was parked there, blocking both lanes, empty. He slammed on the brakes, clutching with his other foot while the car spun, throwing the Jag into reverse — too late. The minute the car paused, a man was standing at the front bumper, aiming a gun at McCall's head. He came to the side, gesturing for him to roll down the window. Robert did so, slowly, keeping his other hand visible — and both feet on the pedals.
The man was wearing dark clothes and a ski mask — but no gloves. "Don't move," he barked, bringing the gun through the window and pressing it against McCall's temple. His other hand rested on the side of the car, over the window frame. "Give me the pack or I waste him."
"No," Robert ordered, too late. Lily pushed the pack across Robert's lap without hesitation.
The masked man reached past McCall to switch off the ignition, took the key and hurled it into the brush. Laughing, he went back to his own car and drove away.
Robert fired at him through the open window, but the man was already out of range. He dropped the gun and reached under the dash, to a small custom compartment which held the spare key. The woman, he noted, hadn't moved at all. "Why did you give it to him?" he demanded harshly.
"Because he was an amateur," Lily answered, "and I didn't want him to panic and shoot you."
McCall scowled. "When I was with the Company, a courier never surrendered the packet under any circumstances."
"Spare me the lecture and drive, McCall."
"I don't believe you understand, Miss Romanov," he answered furiously. "Whatever was in that packet got three good men killed and we must . . . "
The woman took his hand and firmly laid it on her thigh. Shocked, Robert tried to pull away — and then realized that he wasn't feeling skin under her skirt. A fat envelope, by the feel of it, safely strapped to her leg. "It won't take them long to figure it out," she said quietly. "Please drive now."
McCall drove, this time not caring about the speed limit. But after a time, he slowed. "No pursuit," he observed.
"They didn't open the backpack," Lily answered.
"What was in it?"
"A paperback, a toothbrush, my brand new French silk undies. You notice anything strange about that little encounter?"
"Almost everything," Robert agreed. "Starting with, he left witnesses alive."
"I don't think he worked for the KGB."
"No. I would say not."
They finished the trip uninterrupted and in silence.
Control returned to the safe house half an hour after he knew that Robert had arrived. He parked in the fenced yard behind the house. McCall was waiting for him.
"She's inside, quite safe," Robert assured him. "There was an attempted hold-up, but the packet is secure."
"Good, good." Control started past him into the house.
Robert took the book out of his pocket. "I brought this from the cabin. It's quite valuable, you know. A first edition. The one I gave you last year." At last he gave full vent to his rage. "You might have told me that the woman you sent me to fetch was your mistress."
Control took the book from him carefully, quietly. "Would it have made any difference?"
"It would, Control," McCall snapped. "This is without a doubt the most unethical situation you've ever involved yourself in, that you've ever involved me in. My God, of all the ways you have misused your authority, to sexually exploit one of your own agents — you couldn't resist it, could you? The final prerogative of power."
"Robert . . . "
"And just exactly what is Miss Romanov getting out of this sordid little arrangement?"
"I would give her anything she asked," Control answered with perfect honesty. "She asks for nothing."
"Oh, come now. You're not really going to tell me that you actually care for this woman, are you?"
Control looked away and did not answer.
"I cannot understand how even you could get involved with something like this," Robert railed on. "You of all people should know better . . . "
"I do know better," Control snapped. He hesitated, gained a little composure. "I never meant for it to go beyond that first night . . . "
"But it did, didn't it?" Robert snapped back. "For how long, Control? How long have you been using her?"
Control doubted that an explanation would help, but he couldn't stop himself from trying. "Do you know how I lived before Lily, Robert? I was Control, nothing else. Nothing but the job, for years on end. I slept in my office because I had no reason to go home. Do you remember how cold it is alone, Robert?"
"You chose to be alone when you accepted your position."
"I don't choose it any more. Lily gives me — she gives me someone I don't have to lie to, about who I am, about what I do. About why."
"And what do you give her, Control? Can you live with her, marry her? Give her children, give her anything like a normal life? Can you give her anything but illicit weekends at the cabin? Because the moment anyone finds out . . . "
"We've been discreet," Control protested.
Robert scowled. "You can't keep it a secret forever, you know that. Sooner or later, one of your many, many enemies will find out, and they'll use her against you. They'll hurt her or they'll kill her, because of you. If you truly care about this woman — which I very much doubt — then for her own safety you must let her go."
"Do you think I haven't tried? I know the danger as well as you do. I've offered her posts in Paris, in Geneva — I offered to get her out of the Company altogether. She won't go."
"You have the authority. Just send her somewhere. Somewhere away from you."
Control's shoulders sagged. "Would you, Robert?" he asked, almost plaintively. "If you loved a woman for the first time in a decade, would you send her away?"
"I would," McCall answered decisively. "I would before I let her become a living target for my enemies. And before I turned her into my personal whore."
Control slugged him in the mouth.
Robert staggered back, wiping his mouth, then tottered forward again, his hands up, making peace. When he was close enough, he threw the hardest right hook he had. Then he closed on Control as he fell, dragged him up by the collar. Control's hands closed on his coat, and they shook each other, staggering in a bad circle, neither able to let go to throw another punch, neither willing to make the head butt that would break the clinch.
The back door opened and closed.
Slowly, the men stopped struggling and looked that way. Lily Romanov was standing on the back stoop, a wet towel in each hand, waiting patiently. Sheepishly, and not quickly, Robert and Control released their grip on each other.
"Done?" the woman asked quietly. "Sure?" She came down the steps and handed them each a towel. "If I'd known I was going to cause this much trouble, I'd have stayed in Europe."
Hungary, a year ago
It was snowing like hell by the time Control reached Budapest. With the airport closed, he did what every experienced field agent would do: he got himself across the river into Buda and tried to get himself a room at a five-star hotel. They were all sold out. So he called his office. "Find me a decent room," he snapped. "And see if you can get the latest Bloc files to me."
Nothing like asking the impossible. But five minutes later his secretary called back. She had the address of a very nice inn, where a room was waiting for him, and the files would be there by nightfall if at all possible. Gratified, and cold, Control went to the inn.
It was very nice indeed, a tiny twenty-room inn with a wonderful oak-trimmed bar, a roaring fire on the hearth. He paused there, warming his hands, letting the snow melt off his coat. After a minute he turned and went to the front counter. "I am Henri," the stubby, friendly man there said. "You must be Lily's friend."
"Ah . . . yes."
Control reached for the register, but Henri waved him off. "No need, no need," he said warmly, and it seemed to Control that he winked. "Is that all your luggage? Come, the boy is gone home, I will show you to your room."
It was a beautiful room on the third floor, full of antiques, with wide windows looking out on the street. It had old water radiators, knocking and hissing softly, but they filled the room with warmth. Henri went overboard trying to make his guest comfortable; Control wondered again who the hell Lily was and why she rated such treatment. When the innkeeper finally left, Control stripped down to his trousers and shirt sleeves, hung his wet clothes in the bathroom, and settled on the comfortable love seat.
The snow continued to fall, sometimes in blankets and sometimes in wind-driven sheets. The street disappeared. Traffic stopped entirely. By mid-afternoon, the city had grown unnaturally still. Control worked steadily for a time, then sat back, looking out the window at the empty street, daydreaming.
Footsteps in the hall did not alarm him, until they stopped outside his door. He drew his gun, moving toward the door even before knock. Carefully, he opened the door half an inch. Frowning, he opened it a little further. It was impossible to tell if the person that stood in the hall was friend or foe. It was impossible to tell if it was even a person. It looked to be a rather narrow snowman, completely covered in white.
"Yes?" Control said carefully.
A woman's voice emerged from the snow. "I have the files you wanted."
Amazed, Control stepped back and let her in. She pulled off one glove, reached through the snow that covered her chest, and drew out a thick, plastic-wrapped package, which she handed to him. Bemused, Control opened it, while she ungloved her other hand, unwrapped her face. He glanced up at her. She looked like a drowned rat that someone had thrown in the freezer. "I didn't think anyone could get through this storm."
She smiled mischievously. "Yeah, that's what they told me."
She looked familiar. Control was sure he'd met her somewhere, and that she was one of his agents, but he couldn't remember her name. He flipped through the papers, finding the details he most wanted to see. After a minute or two, he became aware that the woman had stopped unwrapping and was just standing there, dripping snow, waiting. "Yes?"
"Will there be a reply?" she asked quietly.
"You can't possibly get back out in this weather."
"Yes, I can."
Control considered, pleased by her attitude. "Maybe you could, at that. But no, no reply. Not tonight, anyhow. Do they have another room?"
She nodded. "I'll be at the end of the hall."
Control took a chance. "Lily, right? Should I call you that here?"
"Thank you for coming, Lily."
Control was content for a time. He had lots of work to do now, with these files. He made a few carefully worded telephone calls, before the lines went dead. He read the information, made notes, drafted memos, planned. It was peaceful, with no phones, no interruptions.
Eventually, as the sky got dark, he realized he was hungry. He stood and stretched, rolled down his sleeves, reached for his tie. No footsteps warned him this time; there was simply a knock on the door. Before his hand got to his gun, a voice called, "It's Romanov."
Romanov, Lily Romanov. Of course. He'd met her at a Christmas party in West Berlin last year. And her name had come up at a meeting just last week, along with half a dozen other couriers. Russian ancestry; her family had been in the States for several generations. She'd been four years with the Company. She was gaining a reputation for managing the impossible, for getting into places no one thought she could go. Her being in this hotel tonight certainly supported that reputation.
She was wearing dark pants and a simple white shirt, and socks, no shoes — hence, no footsteps in the thickly carpeted hallway. She was fresh-scrubbed, her brown hair still a little damp, her face still pale. She had not entirely recovered from her trek through the snow. But she smiled gamely. "Can I do anything useful?"
Control finished with his tie. "Come here. Let me see your hands."
Frowning, she joined him by the window. He took her left hand between his and examined it closely. Her fingers were cool, but not cold, and the tips were pink, with no trace of frostbite. He examined her right hand the same way. He checked her ears, and the tip of her nose. She endured it patiently. "Do I pass?"
"What about your toes?"
Half a second of hesitation. "They're okay."
"Sit," Control ordered. She started to protest; he stopped it with a gesture. "Sit."
She sat on the love seat. Control sat beside her, and lifted her feet into his lap. He stripped off both socks and checked her toes. There was an odd level of intimacy to this activity, as professional as his touch was, but it didn't concern him. What did concern him was that three toes on her left foot and two on her right were still cold and white.
"It'll be okay," the woman assured him.
Control frowned, then carefully pulled her socks back on. Dressing her feet was somehow more intimate than stripping them had been. "I want you to get them checked as soon as you get West."
"When this storm breaks, I want you on the first train over the border. I'll have a package for Stevenson. You know how to find him?"
Lily nodded, swinging her feet to the floor. "Yes."
"Until then," Control continued, "I want you to rest up. You damn near froze to death getting here, didn't you?"
"It wasn't so bad."
He studied her for a long moment. She was a pretty little thing, a good deal more composed than he would have expected from someone her age. And she was clearly resourceful . . .
Well, then, that was one less decision he had to think about it. "Have you had dinner?"
"Good." He stood up, put on his jacket, and headed for the door, expecting her to follow. She did. "What's good here?"
The answer to that question turned out to be "everything." The food was excellent. The wine was local, but very nice. The conversation was surprisingly interesting. Lily told him the speckled history of the inn, which Control gathered she had learned from Henri on one of her previous visits. She had a way with words, a sly little wit that made him chuckle, and she filled the time that would have required small talk — which he abhorred — or shop talk — which would have kept him on his guard. Henri waited on them himself, quietly, with minimal chatter.
At the end of the meal, the innkeeper offered dessert. "It is a wonderful torte, chocolate, Lily's favorite. Would you like some now, or maybe in your room?"
"Here," Control answered. "And coffee." He wondered about the man. He clearly adored Lily, but something about the way he treated Control, officious, conspiritorial . . .
"He thinks we're lovers," Lily told him.
Henri came back, with deep chocolate dessert and deep black coffee. "Anything else you need, you just let me know," he said, scampering away.
Lily shrugged, a little shyly. "I called ahead and told them to give you my room. Then I fought through this blizzard to meet you here. Plus, I won't go out with his son."
"Ah," Control answered. "And we have two rooms because . . . ?"
"Because you're married, obviously. We feel the need for some discretion about these things."
"And how long have you been sneaking into town to meet with me, my dear?"
"About six months." She took a bite of the torte and chewed thoughtfully. "You don't mind, do you?"
Control shook his head. "No. It's a good cover. Very good." He sat back, sipping his coffee. After a moment he chuckled. No wonder Henri was so officious, so admiring of him. In the States, a man like Control with a woman half his age might have caused a scandal. Here on the Continent, it was not only acceptable but admirable. And why not? She was lovely. Here by the fire, gold and red dancing on her hair, her eyes glittering . . .
Control sat up straight, pushed the thoughts aside. She was half his age, and she was his agent, his employee. The blizzard, the cozy inn, the food and the firelight, all gave the day a sense of false intimacy. He barely knew this woman; she knew nothing at all about him.
And even if she did . . .
They finished their dessert quietly. Control tucked her arm through his as they made their way to the old brass-trimmed elevator. Her fingers were still cool to the touch. On the third floor, she didn't paused at his door. Control unlocked his door and pushed it open, watching her down to her room. But flickering light within his own room drew his attention. He let the door drift open, looked around, chuckled. "Lily?" She turned. "It appears that we're to have a nightcap."
Curious, she drifted back up the hall and peeked through his doorway.
The lights were off, but a dozen candles bathed the room in a soft glow. On the coffee table was a silver tray, a brandy decanter, two snifters. "Henri," she said quietly.
"He's quite the romantic," Control commented.
"I guess it is a good cover. Sorry." Lily turned to go.
"Stay," Control said softly. "Have a drink with me."
She stayed, and Control wondered if he'd made it sound like an order. He hadn't meant to. Lily carried her drink to the window and stood looking down at the street, at the city. "It's still snowing," she said quietly.
Control joined her at the window. "Three days, I'd say, maybe more." Everything was covered in deep white. The snow fell now in fat white flakes. The street lights had melted off their snow covers, and the light reflected off the snow and the low clouds; it was nearly as bright as daylight in the street. In the buildings across the street, warm lights shown in the windows, bodies moved as shadows behind them. But nothing disturbed the white. "I'm glad I've got you for company."
If she'd been looking at him, she would have seen how his own comment surprised him. But she was gazing at the snow, and she didn't seem surprised at all. "I don't think there's anywhere I'd rather be snowbound," she answered.
This city? This inn? Nothing in her manner said, with this man. Stupid, Control thought. You are being completely stupid. You know better. Let her finish her drink and get her out of here.
She half-turned toward him. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," he said quickly, gulping his drink. "Just . . . " Stop, he told his mouth, stop before you say one more word. His mouth ignored him. "I didn't realize you were so beautiful."
Which should have sent her running out into the night. Instead, she chuckled softly. "That would be more of a compliment if you didn't sound so surprised."
"I'm sorry." She waited. "It's just — you're competent, and smart, and you can hold a conversation — I hadn't noticed you were beautiful, too." Damn, Control thought, what the hell am I doing? "I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "That was completely out of line."
"I don't mind," she answered gently. She put her hand on his forearm, squeezed lightly. "I should go."
Control nodded. He touched her shoulder, felt the lingering chill beneath her shirt. She should go, yes. She slid easily into his arms and they held each other closely, gently. She wasn't very tall, Control realized; her head rested just over his heart. Her body was trim and cool against him. He pulled her closer, trying to warm her. A moment passed, and suddenly it was awkward; Control had no idea how to end the embrace smoothly . . .
Lily drew away from him. "You are wonderfully warm," she said gently, "but I'm going now."
"I'm sure that's best," he answered numbly. And he kissed her.
Maybe he'd meant it to be a goodnight kiss. It was only a little kiss, soft, tentative; his arms remained loose around her, not wanting her to feel trapped or pressured. Wanting her to be free to go — if she wanted to go —
She didn't go. Her mouth stayed light against his. She didn't deepen the kiss; her arms didn't get any tighter. But she didn't pull away, either. She was, Control realized, making sure that he was free to go. The thought made something twist in his chest. It had been such a long time . . .
He drew her closer, kissed her harder, still ready to release her the instant he felt any resistance. But no resistance came. She matched his intensity. Her mouth grew warm and eager against his, her little body tight to his chest . . .
Control was not a man without self-control. He lifted his head, opened his arms. She stepped back without hesitation, breathing deeply, and waited for his next move. It was a dance, Control realized, and she was letting him lead. What else could she do?
He nodded his head toward the door. She moved that way at once. He caught her fingertips as they passed his, and she stopped at their tiny pressure, looked back at him again. "Stay," he whispered, willing her to understand that it was a request, a question. "Please, will you stay?"
She came back into his arms, and this time there was no reservation in her. Her lips were on his, demanding, hungry, her arms greedily pulling his body to her. His invitation had been enthusiastically accepted.
When his head cleared, his first conscious thought was, 'Idiot.'
She lay at his side, her head cradled on his chest again. His hand felt rough as it traced across her back. Her skin was soft and absolutely smooth; not so much as a freckle or a blemish, much less a scar — or a wrinkle. He could tell by her breathing that she was very nearly asleep. He wanted her to sleep. He wanted to wake up to her.
How many times had he seen exactly this? How many executives and diplomats had he known who had thrown away promising careers for women half their age? He knew better. He, of all people, knew better. This had been a mistake. A stupid, stupid mistake. And it would get worse if he let her stay.
The mistake could be corrected, but it had to be now.
He pushed himself up against the headboard, found a cigar on the bedside table, and lit it with great deliberation. At the same time, he casually confirmed that his gun was where he thought it was: Closer to him than to her. "All right," he said, in his best casual tone, "now's the time to ask."
Lily peered up at him sleepily. "Ask what?"
"Ask for whatever you want. Whatever you're after. My defenses are down. I'm inclined to be indulgent. So what is it? A raise? A transfer? A favor?"
It was a question calculated to get one of two responses: an angry denial, hence the weapon check, or a truthful request. But Lily didn't offer either. She stared at him for a moment, her face completely unreadable. Then she sat up and reached for her clothes. "I'd like the Kessel run."
This was not the response Control had expected. The Kessel run — as the couriers had taken to calling it, after the notorious trade route in 'Star Wars' — was the most difficult route the Company ran. It involved thirteen stops, nine of them on the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain. They usually ran five separate couriers along the same route, with staggered start times. In twenty-four months, they had lost six. The most recently deceased had not yet been replaced. He had decided, before dinner, to give her the assignment.
The standard tour on the Kessel run was twelve months or the rest of the courier's life, whichever came first. Control knew of at least three of the current couriers that would sleep with him to get off the run— and one of those was a happily-married father of three. "You didn't have to sleep with me to get that."
"I know," she answered, pulling on her shirt. "I slept with you because I was trying to get warm." Control flinched. He had reduced their very recent lovemaking to something sordid; she had reduced it further to merely biological. "So, can I have it?" she asked, standing to button her pants.
"Thanks." Her eyes finally met his, and they told him nothing. No anger, no hurt, no embarrassment. Nothing. "Good night," she said blithely, and headed for the door.
"Lily." She turned and waited while he took a long pull on the cigar, stalling for time, trying to think. He'd gotten what he wanted, hadn't he? She was leaving. So why had he called her back? "Stay."
"Can't," she answered easily. There was an expression in her eyes finally — and Control didn't at all like what he thought it was. "I'm freezing my ass off in here."
She went out, closing the door quietly behind her. He heard her room door open and close. He took another long drag on the cigar and held the smoke in his lungs until it burned. She had taken being booted from his bed very well. Very well. And she'd accepted the Kessel assignment. Hell, she'd requested it. He'd had a lovely evening with a beautiful girl, and it was over and everything was fine. She wasn't angry. She wasn't hurt, or spiteful, or even very upset. Everything was just as it should be.
So why had he asked her to stay? And why was he so touched, and so stung, by the expression in her eyes as she left? And why couldn't he shake the certainty that her expression had been one of pity?
He slept little and woke early. Shortly after the cloud-shrouded dawn, he got up and dressed slowly. It was warmer outside; the snow had gone from fluffy clumps to hard, stingy ice pellets that clattered against his window and put a fine glaze over the deep snow. Nothing was moving in Budapest for another day, at least.
Lily filled his mind. The ghost of her presence had stayed with him through his long waking hours, through his sleep. Knowing that she was a mere thirty feet down the hall was torture of the sweetest, sharpest kind. But he had ended it. Definitively. She might as well be on the other side of the world.
It was over, but they were still trapped under the same roof. He needed to reach some peace with her. He went down to her room and knocked. There was no answer. With a glance over his shoulder, Control deftly picked the lock.
The room was smaller than his, with a view of the alley instead of the street, but well-kept. The bed had been stripped to the bottom sheet, and for a wild moment Control was sure that Lily had tied the blankets together and escaped out her window. But the couch had also been moved, pushed over to the radiator, and the blankets and pillows were there in a heap. A new guilt sliced through him: Lily had spent the night huddled there, shivering under a pile of blankets, when she might have been warm by his side . . .
He closed his eyes, and could feel her touch.
Footsteps in the hall. She would already have seen him; there was no point in hiding. She didn't seem at all surprised to find him there. "Something you need?" she asked calmly.
"Where have you been?" Control demanded. She was wearing her coat and hat and boots, carrying her gloves, and she was covered with melting droplets of the driving ice-snow.
"Henri needed some things for breakfast." She proceeded to strip off her outer clothes.
"Five toes frostbitten wasn't enough? You're trying for the matched set?"
"It's not that cold today," she answered simply, "and I didn't go very far."
Control shook his head, furious. "You are not to leave this hotel again except on my explicit instruction. Do you understand?"
Lily raised one eyebrow, bemused by his anger. "Okay," she answered reassuringly.
Which didn't satisfy him at all. At all. "What does it take to get an argument out of you?"
She actually smiled in the face of his rage. "There's nothing to argue about, Control. I'm going down to breakfast. Will you join me?"
"No," he spluttered, "no." He stormed back to his room, slamming the door behind him.
And ten minutes later he emerged and stalked down to the dining room.
She had coffee already, a whole pot, and a second cup for him. She was reading a day-old newspaper. Control sat down next to her. "I'm sorry," he said, wondering how many times he had said that in the last twenty-four hours. He who never apologized.
"It's okay," she answered simply. She poured him some coffee.
"And last night . . . "
"It's over. Let it go." There wasn't a trace of snap in her voice. Just common breakfast-table conversation. "Try the omelettes. They're really good."
"There's a big dose of cynicism that comes with this job."
"I'm sure there is."
So easy, she was so easy to be with, even now. Lily's hand rested on the edge of the table, and Control covered it with his own. Her eyes came up, startled, but she didn't pull away. "I feel as if I've made a terrible mess of all this."
She turned her hand over and squeezed his. "It's all right," she said soothingly. "Everything's fine. Let it be."
"You're really going to make it this easy for me, aren't you?"
"Yes," she answered simply. She gave his hand one more squeeze, then released it and reached for her coffee. "Have you seen this? There's an editorial claiming that the Wall will come down within the next two years."
"It's possible," Control admitted. "We've seen more cracks than ever."
Lily considered this a moment. "The whole Soviet Bloc?"
"It's possible. Communism doesn't work."
"What a strange world it would be."
"Strange and wonderful."
"Would we be out of work?" she mused.
Control shook his head. "Not for a long time, I'm afraid."
Henri brought them breakfast. They ate, and they chatted, and it was easy and relaxed and warm. Control was amazed. She should have been furious with him, and instead she was — wonderful. Their mini-affair was over, but everything was fine.
So why was he still so unhappy?
He was a man who had dealt in deception his whole adult life. He knew better than to deceive himself. And he knew why he was so unhappy. He mulled it over through the omelette. It didn't go unnoticed that the woman at his side was as comfortable in his silence as she had been in his bed. And knowing full well that he shouldn't speak, he said, "I don't want it to be over."
Lily glanced up from the newspaper. "The Cold War?"
Control laughed out loud. "No, Lily. Us. I don't want us to be over."
"Us," she repeated slowly. She let the paper rest on the table and sat back in her chair. Swallowed once. Took a deep breath. "Um."
"I'm sorry," Control said quickly — trying not to be gratified that he had finally managed to catch her off-balance. "I didn't mean . . . If you don't want . . . "
She held her hand up. "Stop that. Just . . . let me think a minute."
He waited, in agony. There were so many things he wanted to say, so many ways to persuade her. But his silence was the first thing she'd asked from him, really. He waited.
After a brief eternity, she said, "Just us. Nothing to do with the job."
"Agreed," Control answered instantly, knowing that he lied, knowing that she knew he lied.
"And I still get the Kessel assignment."
She considered another long moment. "If you ever talk to me again the way you did last night, I will shoot you in your sleep."
He felt a smile play across his lips, though he knew she wasn't kidding. "Understood."
"Are you done with your coffee?"
"I ... yes."
They strolled to the elevator, arm in arm, casual. As soon as the doors closed, he drew her into his arms and kissed her.
The blizzard closed the city for six more days.
New York City
Control flipped through the packet slowly. "You haven't seen any of this?" he asked the woman.
"Only in passing," Lily answered.
He split the stack in half and gave her a portion. "Look for anything out of the ordinary. Anything provocative."
There was a knock at the back door. "That'll be Kostmayer," Control said, before Robert had quite cleared his gun.
"I thought you said you couldn't trust your own people," McCall snapped. He went and opened the door.
Mickey came in, followed by Bill Reznick. At a glance, Robert could tell that Reznick had been drinking, both today, and for several years. "Hello, McCall," the agent said heartily. "I thought you were out of the game."
"I am, Bill. Just running errands."
Reznick grinned. "I do a lot of that myself."
Control eyed him, then turned his attention away. "Kostmayer. There should be fingerprints on the side of McCall's car. See if you can get an ID."
"I'll show you," Lily volunteered quickly, grabbing her coat.
Reznick looked around as they left. "Nice place. Got anything to drink?"
"You've had enough already," Control answered coldly.
"Nothing else to do on the plane. Christ, what a thing, huh?"
"Do you have any idea what they were after in the office?" Robert asked.
Reznick shrugged. "I don't have a damn clue. We weren't running any new operations, nothing unusual happened . . . only thing I can think is that they were after Romanov, whatever she was carrying. Twelve was the easiest stop on her run, it would have been the best place to nail her."
Robert nodded slowly. "They could have followed her to the office."
"I doubt that," Control said harshly.
"He's right," Reznick offered. "She's a good kid, careful. You think it's KGB?"
Control ignored his question. "Why did you take her to the station? That's not SOP."
"It was raining. I didn't figure it mattered. Christ, if I hadn't taken her, I would have been in the office, too, I'd be dead now. But maybe you'd be happier that way."
"If I wanted you dead," Control informed him flatly, "I'd kill you."
"But I'm not really worth killing, am I? Not when you can just stick me in some backwater office and forget about me. Out of sight, out of mind, right, Control?"
Control took a long, slow breath. "We'll start the morning of the shooting. I want to know what you did, who you saw, what was said, everything."
Lily slipped back into the house quietly. She could hear Reznick yelling; Control answering in that low voice that sent chills up her spine, even now. As she stood in the doorway, Reznick practically screamed, "I was not drunk. I am not a complete incompetent, Control. I know what's going on in my own office." He saw Lily, and his fit broke into a sick giggle. "Which, currently, is not one damn thing."
Ignoring him, Control grabbed the woman by the arm and swept her back into the kitchen. "How long has the drinking been going on?" he demanded in the same dangerous low voice.
"Since I've been going in there," she answered honestly. "Probably longer."
"Why wasn't I told?"
Lily hesitated. There were times when telling the truth was just throwing kerosene on the house fire. "The office was functioning," she hedged. "We didn't see the need to bring it to you."
"We didn't see the need," he snarled. "You mean you didn't see the need."
Kerosene away, she thought. "You already knew."
It wasn't an accusation, just a statement of fact. A fact that Control could not argue. He glared at her, furious, but he couldn't argue.
In the living room, Reznick had turned his appeal to McCall. "I didn't get those people killed, Robert. It wasn't my fault. It wasn't."
"I believe you, Bill."
"He's out to get me. He always has been, ever since . . . " Reznick paused. "He wants me dead. I know he does. You think I'm crazy, don't you? Listen, McCall. Before this is over, I'll be dead and he'll be behind it. You wait and see. God, I need a drink."
"I would say you need to sober up some," McCall ventured.
"Oh, God, no," Reznick answered. "It hurts too much to be sober."
One of the few joys of working directly for Control, Robert reflected, was that one could get nearly immediate access to information. In less than an hour, he and Mickey were on their way to find the owner of the fingers that had smudged his Jaguar.
"This doesn't make sense," Mickey said as they drove through the steadily declining neighborhood. "This Richer's nothing but a small-time punk. Hood for hire. What's he doing holding up a Company courier?"
"Perhaps Mr. Richer will be willing to enlighten us on that point," Robert answered dryly.
"Perhaps," Mickey answered, not quite mimicking. "What did Reznick have to say?"
"He knows nothing. He should have been retired years ago." Robert turned right, and the neighborhood got markedly worse. "And the woman noticed nothing out of the ordinary. There is something very, very wrong here, Mickey." He slowed the car. "What do you know about Miss Romanov?"
"You mean besides the fact that she's sleeping with Control?"
McCall stared at him, astonished. "How long have you known about it?" he demanded.
Kostmayer glanced casually at his watch. "Oh, about . . . ten seconds now." Robert scowled fiercely. "Any time you and Control get to whaling on each other, there's a woman involved. And she's the only one on the scope right now. You've never met her, so it had to be Control. Simple."
"Simple," McCall practically spat. "They think they've been discreet."
"This is the first I've heard about it."
"You know, Mickey, you almost sound as if you approve of this relationship."
Mickey shrugged. "It's none of my business, McCall."
"She's your colleague, your co-worker. Surely it must have some impact."
Kostmayer answered slowly, after a pause. "Couple years back, a bunch of us got caught up in the mountains in Cambodia. Got pinned down in this firefight by a bunch of Commie . . . never mind. After the first couple days we got pretty low on ammo. Lily Romanov came up the valley — right under the guns — with these three old pack mules. Two carried ammunition, the third one carried beer."
"And your point is?"
"My point is, I don't care if she's doing the Pope on the side. She's still the best courier I know."
Robert sighed. "And you have no opinion on Control's ethics in this matter?"
"I try not to think about Control's ethics."
McCall shook his head. Clearly his young friend was not going to share in his moral outrage. And, reluctantly, he could see Mickey's point. But he muttered to himself, "It's impossible. It's just impossible."
"That's probably the attraction," Kostmayer offered.
"Romanov has this thing. You tell her something's impossible, she won't let go until she's done it." He shrugged. "The harder it is, the better she likes it." And then, realizing how that sounded in this context, he shrugged again. "Sorry, McCall."
McCall shot him a look, not sure how to respond. Besides, they had reached the last known address of the man who had pointed a gun at his head.
As they got out, Mickey stared up at the building. "McCall, you always take me to the nicest places."
The hallways were filthy, and the elevator was, predictably, out of order. They climbed to the fourth floor. The heat was ferocious, the electric baseboards working overtime. Most of the apartment doors stood open, and cold breezes of outdoor air swirled through the rising heat. Robert hesitated at an open door where he could hear a baby crying, but he also heard the valiant cooing of a mother trying to comfort it. He moved to the next door, Richer's apartment. The door was shut tightly. There was no answer to the knock.
"Well," Robert said slowly. "Perhaps he's stepped out for dinner. I suppose we could wait for him to return. Or . . . "
"I vote for 'or'," Mickey volunteered. While Robert kept watch, he moved in with a lock pick. But the door drifted open at his touch. With a glance at McCall, he drew his gun and stepped inside.
The apartment was as squalid inside as out; there was rubbish everywhere. Sprawled in the middle of it, on the floor, was Richer. He had a large, bloody wound in the center of his chest. Robert checked quickly, confirming what he already knew. "He's dead. Very recently."
Kostmayer moved to the open window. He saw a jean-clad man stepping off the bottom of the fire escape, looking around nervously, looking up at the window. "Be right back," Mickey said quickly as he stepped out.
Hearing the clatter above him, the other man sprinted away. Mickey swung down the rusty stairs a flight at a time and hit the ground running. His quarry was already out of the alley by then; he followed, flying around the corner and finding himself on a much busier street. He climbed up onto the porch of the first building, and was able to spot the man trying to run through the crowd to the north. He pushed himself through the crowd after him, but the next time Mickey saw the man, he was getting into a cab.
Kostmayer swore softly and walked back toward the apartment.
McCall, meanwhile, had stepped over the new corpse and looked through the apartment. In the bedroom he found a television, a stereo, and a VCR, all new in boxes, plus two leather jackets and a fistful of gold chains. Cast aside in a corner was Lily's pack — unopened. McCall took it with him and went out into the hall.
After a moment's thought, he went to the door where the baby still cried and knocked on the doorframe. "Hello?" he called. "Hello?"
A very young woman came out, carrying a squalling infant. "What do you want?" she asked tiredly.
"My name is Robert McCall. The man across the hall was shot a few minutes ago."
"I noticed that your door was open. I was hoping you'd heard something, or saw someone go in, perhaps?"
She looked him up and down critically. "You a cop? I don't talk to cops."
"Nothing like that," Robert assured her.
"You look like a cop. I don't know anything."
"But you must have heard the shot," he pressed.
"The baby was crying," she said defensively. "He always cries. Can't afford him no pacifier. I didn't hear anything."
Robert knew enough about people to know he wasn't going to get any further with her. He reached into his breast pocket — slowly, as she flinched back — and drew out a business card. "If you think of anything, if you change your mind, will you call me? Please? It's quite important."
She took the card warily. "Yeah. Maybe." She pushed the door shut in his face.
Frowning, McCall turned and found Mickey at his shoulder. "I lost him."
Robert shook his head, gesturing toward Richer's door. "It wasn't forced — although it may have been standing open like the rest. Mr. Richer has come into some money rather recently. And he had this." He indicated the backpack. Sighing, he added, "I suppose we'd better call the police."
Control sat with his feet up on the dining room table, his tie off, reading a report that was basically meaningless. Lily came down the stairs, crossed behind him, and rubbed his neck firmly, expertly. He closed his eyes, his tension dissolving into her familiar hands. "Where's Reznick?"
"Asleep or passed out?"
Lily considered. "Yes. What did I say that tipped McCall off?"
Control shook his head. "Nothing." He gestured to the old book on the table. "I left that at the cabin. He made the jump from there." Then, after a pause, "I trust he was at least polite to you."
"Yes. Chilly, but polite. Although he did drive like a maniac." Her hands paused, then resumed. "He scared me."
Control twisted around to look up at her. "McCall scared you?"
"I thought he was there to tell me you were dead."
He caught one of her hands and brought it to his lips, frowning. "I'm sorry." It had never occurred to him that McCall's appearance at the cabin might lead her to think that — although it made sense. God, the things he put her through without meaning to . . .
Lily smiled softly, caressed his jaw lightly over the deepening bruise. "Is there anything to eat?"
And that, Control thought gratefully, is as much as I will hear on that subject. "Kitchen's stocked." She freed her hands and went.
Control tried to return to the report, but he found himself looking the way she had gone, listening to her comfortable rummaging. A little over a year now, since Budapest, and she had been the perfect mistress. She gave him no worries, no grief. She wrote no incriminating letters, made no demands, never sought his company. When he arrived she was glad to see him. When he left she sent him off warmly. She demanded no explanations, no justifications. She was, he knew, very deliberately convenient for him. So much so, in fact, that for a time he'd suspected she was a double agent. But she had no interest in his paperwork, beyond what he asked her to help with. She never went through his case while he was showering. She had no unexplained absences, no secretive phone calls. Her bank accounts never fluctuated unaccountably, though she eagerly employed his investment advice. He knew. He'd watched it all. If she was a mole, she was a damn good one. He was still watchful, from time to time, still wary. Lily knew it. She didn't object.
She was also one of his best couriers. Between her Kessel run assignments through the East, she consistently sought out other work. While the other runners took their time off to relax, she was flying to places like Laos and Bogota — and, when Control could manage it, places like Bimini and Paris. Her tolerance for relaxation was about three days long, four or five if she was with him, and then she was restless and bored. She was a danger junkie, Control realized, like all the rest, and of course that played into her relationship with him. But she was careful and she was clever. She developed half a dozen new routes into the Soviet Bloc, and generated new contacts there. She began paying her lower-level informants in Levis jeans rather than cash, which was both safer and more profitable for everyone involved: confessed black marketeers could usually buy their way out of trouble with a portion of the proceeds, while suspected spies could not.
She had made the forbidden direct call to Control only once, from Pristina, to tell him that the son of a prominent US Senator had been arrested for drug smuggling. With Control's blessing and his resources, she got the boy out of jail and over the border for a third what Control expected to pay — and in the process, got him the evidence that put the Senator firmly in Control's pocket. Her year on the Kessel run had ended; she had asked to stay on it. She was one of the few agents Control had who actually enjoyed her work.
In a few years, Control mused, when she lost that ken for danger, he'd bring her in, polish her up, expose her to the finer details of the Game . . . she had tremendous potential. If he didn't destroy any future she might have . . .
Unbidden, McCall's words came back. 'If you truly care about this woman — which I very much doubt — then for her own safety you must let her go.' His friend was right, and Control knew it, in his head and in his bones.
But God, McCall didn't know what the girl meant to him.
She came back to the dining room with a heap of fresh orange slices in a bowl and sat down next to him. "Have you found anything?"
"Nothing worth your plane fare, so far. Lily . . . " She stuffed an orange slice into his mouth. He chewed quickly. "Thank you. Lily . . . "
The phone rang, and Control rolled his eyes as he snagged it. "Yes." He listened for a minute, still chewing. "I understand. Thank you." He put the phone down. "McCall found your backpack. And Richer. Dead."
Romanov's eyes grew dark. She shuffled the papers, found the police report they'd pulled on the man. "This doesn't make any sense. This whole thing is so amateur."
Control nodded. "We'll see what else he turns up."
She took another orange slice and ate it slowly. "Can we talk about Reznick?"
"What about him?"
"Whatever it is with you two, it's not helping the situation."
Control frowned at her. "You think we should kiss and make up?"
"Let me take him and go to ground."
"No. We don't even know who's after you."
"I disappear for a living, remember? We've both told you everything we know. It would get him out of your way. It would get me out of your way."
"You're not in my way." She just stared at him, steadily, until he took his feet down and stood up. "I don't care what McCall thinks, Lily."
"He's been your friend for a long time. "
Control nodded. "He's my friend. But he's wrong about us. Give him time. He'll come around." It sounded hollow to his own ears.
"Maybe so," Lily answered. "But until then my being here just aggravates the situation."
"I won't send you away just because Robert McCall says I should."
"Good. Then send me because my being here interferes with the job. I'm distracting you. I'm distracting him. This isn't about us, it's about work."
"It sounds like you can't wait to get away from me."
The woman stood up, took Control's face very deliberately between her hands, and kissed him deeply. "I do not want to be away from you. But I will go if it will make your life easier."
Control caught her wrists. "And if I tell you never to come back?" he asked coldly.
Pain flashed through her eyes and vanished into her practiced non-expression. "Then I'll go and not come back," she answered smoothly.
"Why?" he demanded harshly, still holding her wrists tightly. She was tensing, trying not to pull away from him. "You're a strong woman, an intelligent woman. And yet you let me summon you and send you away like some . . . " he barely stopped himself from using McCall's word " . . . like some puppet. Why?"
"Because it's the only way I can keep you," she answered simply. And added, "Please let go."
Control opened his grip, and she backed away. "What?"
Lily took a deep breath. "I make it easy for you to leave so that it will be easy for you to come back," she explained quietly. "It's the only way I can think of to keep you at all." Her voice rose, just a little. "And if you think it doesn't take strength to walk away from you . . . " Her voice cracked then, and she stopped, composing herself. "But I am pretty much tapped out right now, so if you want me to go for good, let's get it over with."
Control had never seen her so close to tears, but she was too stubborn to let them fall. He took a step toward her. She took a step back. "Lily . . . " he began, and her chin came up, defiant. God, but he loved that defiance best of all — and to hell with what McCall said. He raised both hands, indicating no threat as he stepped nearer again. "Lily, please stay."
She hesitated, not retreating as Control took another step. He moved swiftly then, caught her in his arms, crushed his mouth against hers, tasted the tears that she never let him see. "I'm sorry," he murmured against her hair. "I won't send you away, not like that. Not forever. I don't know how to live without you any more."
It was the first that he had ever spoken his feeling to her, in all their time together. And for the first time, the woman who had brought him so much joy, the woman that he had brought so much grief, wept in his arms.
"There's a young woman in Richer's building who may have seen something," Robert told them, "but she's not talking. The police are there now. I expect to hear from them shortly."
"They won't find anything new," Mickey added sardonically.
"And the man you saw?" Control asked.
Kostmayer shrugged. "Just a guy in jeans. I'd know him if I saw him again."
"When was the last time you saw KGB hail a cab?"
Control nodded slowly. New York cab service being what it was, any professional would have had a car waiting. "This has been sloppy from top to bottom."
"There is something you haven't considered," Robert offered. "What if this isn't a political thing at all? What if it's personal?" He glanced briefly at the woman; she looked right back, not defensive.
"Then why take out the Station?" Mickey countered.
Lily stirred. "What kind of enemies does Reznick have?"
"Generally, or in this room?" Control asked.
"She's right," Robert conceded. "Reznick and Miss Romanov are the only two common factors. And Richer had his chance at her at the cabin. It has to be Reznick. Destroy his Station, discredit his work . . . "
Control frowned. Then, to Lily, "Wake him up."
"I'll try." She stood up.
Breaking glass, the sound reaching them an instant before the sound of the gunshot. The window to her left shattered. The four of them crouched in one motion, the men reaching for their weapons, the woman sweeping the scattered papers into a pile.
Outside, the young man slung the rifle over his shoulder and ran. He glanced back, then ran faster, pumping his arms, moving as fast as he could. He hadn't expected them to chase him. Two older guys and a skinny younger one. The skinny one was damn fast.
"I want him alive," one of the older ones called.
"Of course you do," the younger one called over his shoulder, sarcastic. The shooter sprinted away, straight down the street. If he could just make the corner. A car swerved around him and stopped, in the skinny guy's way. The shooter slowed, brought the rifle around, and fired it practically over his shoulder, without aiming. Dropping it, he ran hard for the corner, for the crowd and the traffic.
Footsteps behind him, maybe ten yards, closing. He looked back, caught a toe on the curb, flailed wildly, recovered and ran —
The front tire of the cab broke his neck; he was dead before the back tire crushed his spine.
They stood over him, the all three of them, not an expression among the three of them.
"Damn," one finally said, with feeling.
As Lily reached the stairs, Reznick staggered down. "Hey, what's all the ruckus? I thought I heard gunfire."
Robert McCall liked to consider himself, above all else, a gentleman. So he felt obliged to speak to her before she left. She was in one of the bedrooms, putting a last few things in the sparsely-packed suitcase. "Miss Romanov?"
He closed the door behind him. "I wanted to . . . to apologize. Whatever you may have heard before . . . "
"I'm very proficient at not overhearing the wrong conversations. And you're apologizing to the wrong person." She considered, locking the suitcase. "Do you know why he sent you to the cabin, instead of Mickey?"
"He wanted us to meet."
Lily nodded. "I think he thought you might actually be happy for him."
"I would be, if I weren't so frightened for you. Do you have any idea how much danger this relationship puts you in?"
The woman gazed at him steadily for a moment, then shrugged. "I really should just expect men your age to be sexist, shouldn't I?"
"I am not sexist," McCall protested hotly.
"Aren't you? You would defend to the death my right to say 'no' to him, wouldn't you?"
"Certainly I would . . . "
"But you can't accept that I have the right to say 'yes'. That it's my decision. I make my living running in and out of Soviet countries, smuggling out their best secrets. But you still think I'm some delicate little thing that needs looking after."
"I did not say . . . "
"You don't even know me, McCall. You don't know anything about me. Where I've been, what kind of life I had before him . . . but you're certain somehow that I'm a helpless pawn."
"You are a pawn, whether you know it or not, " McCall insisted, finally managing to get a whole sentence in. "Whatever he has told you, whatever you think he feels for you, you are a pawn, and that is all you will ever be to him. He will use you, Miss Romanov, the way he uses everyone else. You will be in danger every minute you are with him, and when you cease to be a convenient diversion he will . . . he will . . . "
"I know." No anger, no heat. Just recognition of fact.
Her calm answer took the wind out of Robert's righteous anger. "Then why do you stay with him?" he wondered aloud. "How can you love a man like that?"
"How can you, Robert?"
"I do not . . . "
"If you didn't love him, you'd have killed him years ago."
"Believe me, " Robert snarled, "it has crossed my mind."
"Mine, too," Lily admitted. She sat on the edge of the bed. "Look, Mr. . . . Robert?" He nodded his permission. "Robert, despite all appearances I am not stupid. I know it's dangerous, and I know it can't last. But I'm happy when I'm with him. Can't you understand that?"
"But for how long? You said yourself, it can't last."
"Nobody gets to be happy forever." She shrugged. "Sometimes I let myself think I might get lucky, that I might have ten years with him. And other times I know I'll be lucky to have ten more minutes. It doesn't matter. Whatever time there is, I want it. And when it's over, then it's over — and I will regret nothing."
Robert considered her for a long moment. Her argument was persuasive, unexpectedly well-considered. And yet, and yet. "I hadn't realized you were so determined about this relationship."
"I am." She stood up, adding gently, "so don't screw it up for me." And then, changing the subject while she was ahead, she added, "Can I ask you something? What happened between Control and Reznick?"
Robert snorted. "A number of years ago, there was a woman . . . "
"I might have guessed."
"Her name was Louisa. She and Bill lived together, quite happily, until Control learned that she was a double agent. We confronted her, she shot at us, and Control shot back."
"Yes. Reznick had a complete breakdown. He recovered, he seemed to come to terms with the situation — but he never got his edge back."
"And Control's carried him ever since."
"Interesting." She got her suitcase and carried it to the door. "Are we done, Robert?"
McCall shook his head wearily. "I suppose we are. You've given me . . . quite a lot to think about."
Control was waiting in the dining room, a stack of cash in one hand, car keys in the other. He eyed them curiously. McCall wouldn't give him the satisfaction of a responsive look; with Kostmayer there, there was no discussion. He handed the cash to Lily. "This should hold you a few days."
"At least." She tucked the money away.
"Can you handle Reznick?"
"Sure. I'll make our first stop a liquor store."
"I'm supposed to be the cynic here," Control reminded her. "Call me in forty-eight hours. We should know something by then." He handed her the keys. "I don't like this, but I don't see any other way."
"I'll be fine."
"You better be, or you're fired."
Reznick came down with his bag. "We ready? Give me the keys, I'll drive."
He grabbed her hand. She bent his pinky finger back until his knees buckled. "I'll drive. It's what I get paid for."
"Sure, honey." He turned to Control, slapped him on the back. "Don't worry about a thing. I'll take good care of her."
Sighing philosophically, Lily led him out of the house. The three men stood for a moment in uneasy silence.
"This woman in Richer's building," Control finally said. "Can you make her talk?"
Robert considered, then nodded. "I may have an idea."
The heat was completely off now, it seemed. Robert watched the gentle mist rise from his breath as he waited at the woman's door.
The young woman opened the door and stared at him. At the shopping bag full of baby things he held, and the jumbo package of diapers at his feet. The infant squalled in her arms. "All that for me?"
"I didn't see anything."
The woman looked up and down the hall. They were alone. "Come on in."
In five minutes, Robert had the baby settled on his lap, gnawing contentedly on the new pacifier.
"I try, I work hard," the woman — Nita — was saying. "But there's just never much money, not for him and me both."
Robert nodded his understanding. "It must be very difficult." Then, calmly, "The man across the hall, Joe Richer. Do you have any idea who might have shot him?"
Nita hesitated. "I seen him before. All the time, he hangs out here. Dart, his name is. He does drugs. Makes him mean. I try to stay out of his way."
"And you're certain that he's the one who shot Richer?"
"I saw him go in. Before the shot."
"Do you have any idea why?"
She shrugged. "Money, I guess. They all had a bunch of money this week. Dart and Joey and Hayes."
"Jimmy Hayes?" McCall asked sharply.
"Yeah," she answered, startled. "Why? What did he do?"
"Nothing," McCall assured her, soothing. Nothing but end up dead under the wheels of a cab; Nita didn't need to hear it from him.
"The three of them were real tight. Always into something, running some scam, you know? And then all the sudden they had money. I know they were into something bad."
"Can you tell me where to find Dart?"
"Might be a couple places. He drifts around." She nodded to the child. "It sure is nice to have him quiet. You're a nice guy, you know that? Even if you do dress like a cop."
"Thank you," Robert answered, "I think."
Mickey waited for them in the lobby of the Ritz. He stood as McCall and Control came in. "Lots better than the last place," he told Robert.
"You're sure he's up there?"
Mickey nodded. "He's up there. With a woman."
Dart and the woman knelt beside the glass-topped coffee table, snorting fat lines of cocaine, not caring about the scattered leftovers. Dart had taken his shirt off; the woman had stripped to her underwear.
There was a polite knock on the door. "Munchies are here," Dart said gleefully as he scrambled to his feet. He opened the door.
Kostmayer grabbed him by the throat and drove him back until he was pinned against the wall. "You Dart?"
"Ah, man," Dart squeaked, "this a bust?"
The woman squealed.
"Kostmayer," Control observed mildly, "we may need him to be able to speak." He turned to the woman. "You. Go in there, shut the door, and don't come out."
She squealed again and fled. Kostmayer deposited the man on the couch.
"You aren't cops," Dart observed sullenly.
"You are Tony Dart, are you not?" Robert asked.
"I'm Dart. You lookin' to buy, is that it?"
"Did you kill Joe Richer?" Robert asked.
"Ah, who squealed? Come on, who told you?" The man rubbed his nose. "I didn't do it. I mean, I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't kill him. Is he dead? Damn, I'm real sorry to hear that . . . "
"Why did you kill him?" Control asked calmly.
Dart looked at him nervously. "The guy paid me to."
"What guy?" Robert insisted. "What was his name?"
"I don't know. He called himself Romeo. He said he'd give me another grand to kill Richer."
Dart rubbed his nose again; this time his hand came away bloody. "I don't know. Something about some fingerprints on a car or something. He didn't want Richer to talk. See, Richer saw, saw the Romeo guy. Me and Hayes just talked to him on the phone."
"So you don't know what Romeo looks like."
"Nuh-uh. So, what? Can we make a deal here or what?"
"What," Mickey asked shortly.
"You gonna call the cops?"
The man glanced around. He liked Mickey least of all, he decided. He appealed to McCall. "At least let me hide the stash, huh? This is deal weight here, that's serious time."
"So is murder, Mr. Dart. What else can you tell us about the man who hired you?"
"I don't know anything else," Dart insisted. "He just called us on the phone, that's it."
Control had circled behind him. "Who was Hayes supposed to shoot in the house?"
Dart laughed. "Nobody. He just said to shoot at the house. He didn't want him to hit nobody. He didn't want anyone hurt. See, he . . . " In spite of himself, Dart began to giggle. " . . . he said he was going to be in the house, and he didn't want to get shot by mistake. It was like a joke, see? Funny, like. Scare his friends."
"Reznick," Control pronounced, as a curse.
"Oh, my God," Robert agreed.
"Damn it. Reznick."
The two of them stormed out of the room. Kostmayer followed, but paused at the door long enough to point his gun at Dart. "Flush your stash, and don't leave this room until the cops get here. Got it?"
"Sure," Dart answered eagerly. "Anything you say."
The phone in McCall's car was ringing. Robert looked over the Jag's top at Control as he hurried to unlock the door. They both knew who it would be.
It was. "Let me talk to Control," Reznick demanded.
Control took a long, slow breath before he took the phone. "What's this about, Reznick?" he asked brusquely.
"It's about Louisa, Control," Reznick answered.
"She's here. She's quite safe — for now. Why don't you come and get her?"
"Enchanted Valley. The sky lift. Bring McCall. I'd like him to watch, like he did the last time. Come now, Control."
There was a scuffle in the background. "What the hell are you . . . " Reznick's voice said, but he wasn't talking to Control. And then Lily's voice, shouting. "Frostbite! Don't come!" And Reznick, "Damn you, stop . . . "
And then two gunshots. And a long, long silence.
And Reznick's voice. "You better come soon. She doesn't look so good."
McCall had been leaning over the phone, listening in. He took the receiver out of Control's frozen fingers. "How do we know she's still alive, Reznick?" he demanded.
Reznick laughed. "You don't. But you'll come anyhow."
They walked through the empty amusement park shoulder to shoulder, into the fire together, as they had so many times before.
Robert glanced at his friend, tempted to offer some word of comfort, some word of caution. But Control had gone still, deep inside himself, and McCall did not interfere. Not yet.
The sky lift cables bridged the length of the park, suspended over a slender, man-made canal that served as a reflecting pool. The cars were stopped, swinging gently in the night breeze, but the motor that drove them was running. They were controlled from a booth perched on a raised platform. As they approached the booth, Robert could see a figure standing inside. Reznick. Waiting for them.
He stopped and touched Control's arm to stop him. "Control. Listen to me. Reznick knows. Somehow he knows. He will use the girl to make you lose your temper, to make you lose your edge."
Control stared back at him as if from the bottom of some hellish pit.
"You cannot help her if you're dead," Robert continued.
Nodding slowly, Control said, "Let's go."
They walked, shoulder to shoulder, into Reznick's sites.
"Stop there," Reznick called when they were ten paces from the platform.
"Where's Lily?" Control called.
Reznick chuckled. "Car Thirteen. There," he pointed to a bench, where a pair of binoculars sat, "look."
Slowly, Robert retrieved the binoculars and gave them to Control. Control looked. "How do I know it's her?"
"You want a guarantee for everything? All right, I'll bring her a little closer."
He threw a lever, and the cars lurched into motion. While he was distracted, Robert took two steps closer to the platform. Reznick rounded on him with his pistol. "Not yet, McCall. I haven't explained the rules of the game yet."
"What do you want?" Robert asked.
"Do you really not know? I want revenge. For Louisa. You remember Louisa, Control? The woman I loved? The woman you killed?"
"She was a double agent," McCall answered, when it became clear that Control would not.
"He didn't have to kill her."
"She was shooting at us, Bill."
"You could have captured her." Reznick's voice took a high hysterical edge. "But you didn't even try. You just killed her. And I watched you do it. Do you know how long I've waited for this, Control?"
Away from the lights, behind Reznick, Kostmayer jumped a low fence and moved toward the control booth.
"You've got me, Reznick," Control answered dully. "Let her go."
Reznick jerked the lever and the cars stopped. "Look again. Are you sure it's her now?"
"Yes," Control answered, without raising the binoculars. "Let her go."
Reznick moved to the edge of the platform, looking down at them. "She was perfect for you, wasn't she, Control? I waited all those years for you to love someone, but you never did. You never cared about anyone but yourself. Until Lily. I introduced you, remember? At the Christmas party? And then I took her aside and told her she'd never get close to you. You know her, Control. Once I told her it was impossible, she had to do it. She couldn't turn down the challenge. She got you. Oh, she got you. "
Control stood perfectly still, glaring up at him.
"And what do you propose to do now?" Robert inquired.
"Now? Oh, I'll die, I suppose," Reznick answered calmly. "But not before I'm done here." He started the cars again, then jammed a crow bar into the panel, shorting it out in a rain of sparks. "Take another look, Control. Look at the top of the car. Those blocks are contact explosives. A whole big pile of them. And as you'll notice, when the cars come into the station here, they strike that bumper pad rather firmly." He paused, chuckling. "Which will make one hell of a mess out of your love life, won't it?"
Kostmayer was close enough to hear all of this. He changed directions and grabbed the side of an outbound car. The car swung wildly, but Reznick was too involved in his taunting to notice.
"It's me you want, Reznick, not her," Control argued.
"By killing her, I do worse than kill you. Because you'll always be responsible for her death, and you'll have to live with it."
"I will kill you for this, you know."
Reznick laughed. "I've been dead for years, Control. Dead and waiting for you to finish it."
Quietly, Robert said, "We've got to get to the controls."
"No time for subtlety."
"Agreed," Control said. They moved as one again, drawing weapons, firing at the booth. Reznick ducked out of sight and they ran up the stairs short stairs of the platform, into the booth before he could come back up.
Mickey climbed the cable car and hung on the other side, waiting impatiently as Thirteen came even with his. Then he swung heavily and jumped the gap. His hand slipped on the cold metal and for a moment he hung by one arm. He pulled himself back up and flipped into the car.
Lily Romanov was propped in the corner. Her hands and feet were taped, her eyes closed, her skin dead white. She had two distinct bullet wounds, one just below her heart, the other lower, to the right. The floor of the car was slick with her blood. Mickey touched her shoulder, shook her very gently. "Hey, Romanov, you still with us?"
Her eyes fluttered open. "Uh-huh."
"Good girl. Stay here."
She managed a reply that sounded remarkable like, "Duh." Mickey slid out through the window and looked across to the top of the car. The explosives were there, all right, about three pounds, all tightly wrapped and secured to the cable. He looked around quickly. Maybe thirty seconds before they hit the platform. Not nearly enough time. He ducked back into the car.
Control fired again as Reznick stood up, three shots, all square. The man was dead when he hit the floor. Control stepped over the body to the ruined panel, frantically pushing buttons, pulling the remaining lever. Nothing stopped the approaching cars.
"This whole place will blow," Robert warned.
"Then get out," Control snarled.
In the car, Mickey pulled the girl upright. "Think you can swim?"
"Oh hell no."
"That's the spirit." He opened the door, slung the girl over his shoulder, and jumped.
Robert grabbed Control by the collar of his coat and hurled him out of the control booth. As they hit the ground, Car Thirteen hit the station and exploded, blowing most of the tower away with it, raining fire and debris on both of them.
"No!" Control shouted. He pushed Robert away, pushed himself to his feet. "No, damn it!"
Robert staggered up beside him. "Control, I . . . "
"Why, Robert? I could have saved her. In one more second . . . "
"In one more second you would have been dead, too" McCall shouted back.
For the second time in two days, Control swung at him. Robert ducked it, catching him — and they both heard the splashing.
Mickey waded to the edge of the canal, still carrying the woman over his shoulder.
"Oh my God," Control breathed. He ran to take her in his own arms. Carried her to the pavement, put her down carefully. Cradled her against him, instinctively rocking her, stroking her face, her hair.
"I'll call an ambulance," Kostmayer said, and sloshed away.
"Lily?" Control begged. "Lily?"
Her eyes fluttered again. "Cold . . . " she whispered.
Robert took off his coat and wrapped it around her, over Control's arms.
"It's not that bad," Control lied desperately. "You might get a week or two of sick leave out of it . . . "
She laughed, stopped when it hurt. "Liar," she said distinctly. "Where's Robert?"
"I'm right here."
She rolled her head to meet his eyes. "Tell him . . . later, tell him . . . what I said . . . ten minutes, no regrets . . . "
"I'll tell him," Robert promised. And then, calculating, he added, "Of course, you could tell him yourself, if you live through this, but I don't think you will."
"Robert!" Control bellowed.
"It's simply impossible, to survive wounds like that," Robert continued. "It just can't be done."
"Robert, shut up."
But the woman in his arms chuckled again, even as her eyes drifted shut. "You're on," she murmured. Her body relaxed. Her breathing, shallow and bubbly, continued.
McCall parked the Jag behind Control's car and got out. A deserted dirt road at the back of the airport. At least it wasn't a warehouse.
Control was leaning on his car, watching the planes without interest. He glanced at Robert, then returned to his contemplation without greeting.
"So," McCall began, "you've sent her away. No doubt kicking and screaming."
"Heavily sedated." Control almost smiled. "There's a private hospital south of Paris. Good food, clean air, tight security. It's the best place for her now."
"And did Miss Romanov have anything to say about this decision?"
"Quite a bit, actually." Control shook his head ruefully. "I had no idea her vocabulary was that extensive." He turned and walked up the road, with Robert at his side. "I told her not to come back. It's over between us."
"I don't love her any more. Maybe I never did. Just a delusion. A sign of my age. You were right, Robert. The final prerogative of power. It never should have happened."
Robert nodded. "Tell me, Control, was Miss Romanov as unconvinced by that little speech as I am?"
Control snorted. "I think I'm losing my touch."
"You can't lie to yourself, my friend."
"It's for the best, Robert," Control insisted. "Reznick was just one of many. The least of many. I could never guarantee her safety, never . . . anyhow, she claims she'll be back, but I don't think so."
"It'll be six months before she can travel. That's time to come to her senses, to meet some nice young doctor or . . . "
"Control, you're wrong," Robert repeated. "God alone knows why, but that woman actually loves you. And you can't change that, no matter how many hapless French doctors you throw in her path. She will be back, if she has to swim back."
Control looked at him, wanting to believe. Finally he shrugged. "We'll see. I thought you were dead set against this, old son. What changed your mind?"
"Oh, Lily did," Robert admitted. "When she called me a sexist."
McCall nodded. "It made me realize that if anyone was ever going to domesticate you, it was probably her."
Control turned to watch the planes again.
Robert waited, then put a hand on his shoulder. "Come on, my friend. You look like a man who could use a drink."
The EndThe Star and the Water-Lily
by Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Sun stepped down from his golden throne,
And lay in the silent sea,
And the Lily had folded her satin leaves,For a sleepy thing was she;
What is the Lily dreaming of?
Why crisp the water blue?See, see, she is lifting her varnished lid!
Her white leaves are glistening through!
The Rose is cooling his burning cheek
In the lap of the breathless tide: —
The Lily hath sisters fresh and fair,
That would lie by the Rose's side;
He would love her better than all the rest,
And he would be fond and true; —
But the Lily unfolded her weary lids,
And looked at the sky so blue.
Remember, remember, thou silly one,
How fast will thy summer glide,
And wilt thou wither a virgin pale,
Or flourish a blooming bride?
"O the rose is old, and thorny, and cold,
And he lives in the earth," said she;
"But the Star is fair and he lives in the air,
And he shall my bridegroom be."
But what if the stormy cloud should come,
and ruffle the silver sea?
Would he turn his eye from the distant sky,
to smile on a thing like thee?
O no, fair Lily, he would not send
One ray from his far-off throne;
The winds shall blow and the waves shall flow,
And thou wilt be left alone.
There is not a leaf on the mountain-top
Nor a drop of evening dew,
Nor a golden sand on the sparkling shore,
Now a pearl in the waters blue,
That he has not cheered with his fickle smile,
And warmed with his faithless beam, —
And will he be true to a pallid flower,
That floats on the quiet stream?
Alas for the Lily! she would not heed,
But turned to the skies afar,
And bared her breast to the trembling ray
That shot from the rising star;
The cloud came over the darkened sky,
And over the waters wide:
She looked in vain through the beating rain,
And sank in the stormy tide.