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Up Popped the Devil

Being the First in the Barbara Williams/Robert McCall Series

Chapter One

Barbara crouched on the top of the hill, her rifle resting on the boulder in front of her. For the last three days she had watched, waited, and planned, and she decided this was the optimal location. For miles around, there were no buildings, only barren landscape made up of hills and valleys, with scrub trees and almost no green. Nothing like her home in Oregon, she thought for a second.

Right now, only three people inhabited this world, Barbara and the two men.

Through her scope, she followed the riders below. Colonel – actually ex-Colonel -- Vicente was mounted on a beautiful black stallion, and the other was on an equally exquisite brown mare. She was determined to do nothing to injure either animal. The irony was not lost on her. Many, many people had suffered because of this animal in human form, but his horses would be spared.

Not for the first time Barbara wondered about Vicente's foolishness in riding at the same time and in the same place every day. It was in the report she had been given by the locals, but she had not believed it until she had seen him. Why would this man, the head of the secret police under Astise, expose himself so openly to attack? Through bribery or blackmail, he had escaped prosecution for crimes against humanity during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's investigations following Astiste's fall. But why push his luck? He must know he had many, many enemies. Most likely pure arrogance, she suspected, but it wouldn't matter after today. Today, she would see to it that the Commission's oversight was rectified.

In the valley, the two men had stopped to drink from the canteens they carried on their saddles. It was time. She planned to kill Vicente with a head shot, then kill the other, or at least wound him, with her next shot. The other was unimportant, but he could complicate her escape, so she had to do him, too. As she watched, she felt the excitement she always experienced just before the kill.

Sit still, Vicente. Good. Now. She pulled the trigger and felt the recoil of the rifle against her shoulder. Without watching where Vicente fell, she aimed at the other and pulled again. Raising the binoculars to her eyes, she could see that Vicente was bleeding from a head wound. The other was hit in the chest as he had twisted toward her after hearing the first shot. Vicente was dead, she knew that. The other, perhaps not yet. But by the time anyone found the two out here, he would be.

After picking up the shell casings with her gloved hands, she turned and walked down the other side of the hill to her car. She put the rifle in the hidden compartment in the trunk, got in, and drove back to the highway, where she turned north. Once in the car, she allowed herself to be pleased; it was a good hit.

Half way to the northern border, she turned off the highway, and eventually reached the dirt road. After ten kilometers on that road, she stopped and retrieved the rifle from the trunk. She checked again that the weapon, the remaining shells, and the casings showed no sign that she had ever touched them. About five hundred meters east of the road, she found the hole she was looking for. She placed the rifle, shells, and casings in the ground and covered them with dirt and brush. Later, one of the others would collect the rifle. Perhaps they would destroy it, perhaps they would use it again. That did not interest her.

Her missions for the Red Line were very different from the jobs she had undertaken before resigning, burned out and bitter, from the Agency. In her profession, risk was always part of the equation, but working for the Red Line, the risk increased exponentially. She never knew the locals in the countries she was sent to. They provided the weapons, they provided reports on the subjects, and, she had to acknowledge, they could betray her at any time. The way she saw it, every mission for the Red Line was a leap of faith. But thankfully, she HAD faith again, the faith she had lost somewhere in her twenty-five years at the Agency. She believed in this cause. The risk was worth taking.

Returning to the car, Barbara drove back to the highway. When she reached the border, the police were out in force, apparently checking every car with greater than usual vigilance. Certainly Vicente and the second man had been found by now, and the search for the killer was in high gear.

When she got to the front of the line of cars waiting to cross the border, the guards examined her passport, which listed her as Amanda Perkins, a retired high school Spanish teacher taking the vacation of her life in South America. She looked the part, a little mousy, unfashionably dressed, and uncertain in her actions. It was an excellent disguise, for she did not look like a killer. From experience it was evident to Barbara that the border police didn't suspect her; they were only going through the motions with her. After a couple of minutes, they waved her through.

Soon, she was on her way northward again. When an opportunity arose, she would call and report her results. Then it was time to go home.

Chapter Two

When she drove into her garage in Portland's beautiful West Hills neighborhood on Friday evening, Barbara breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a long trip home from the operation, with too much sitting in airplanes and cars. Her back was giving her fits, with little stabs of pain zapping up and down her spine. She hadn't been able to take a Vicodin because she'd been driving, but now, she'd pop two and take a long soak in the tub. Heaven.

After first retrieving her small bag from the trunk, Barbara almost opened the door into the kitchen when she sensed something was wrong. The hair on the back of her neck was standing on end. Scanning the last few minutes in her mind, she understood: she had heard a noise that was out of place. Maybe it was only the creak of her old hardwood floors settling. Or maybe it wasn't.

Going back to the car, she took her gun out of the glove box. Whoever was inside – if there was anybody there -- was ready for her, because he had heard her drive into the garage. He could be standing right in front of the door. Did he know that she knew? It was a game she had played before, but usually she was the cat, not the mouse. She didn't like it one damn bit.

Oh, shit, I'm too tired, let's just get this over with, she resolved. Standing to the side, gun at the ready, she threw open the door. Bullets tore through the opening, hitting her car and the other side of the garage. She rolled inside the door, firing as she went. One shot hit him in the abdomen, another in the leg, but she could tell he wasn't dead, not yet. She managed to get behind the island in the middle of her kitchen. He lay on one side of the island, and she crouched on the other. She could hear him struggle for breath.

Creeping around the island, she came up behind him. The gun had fallen from his hand. Now, he WAS dead.

Kneeling beside him, she took his gun and put it on the island. Then she put her gun down beside it. Going back to the garage, she picked up her purse, took out her wallet, fished out her permit to carry, a perq from the Agency, even if she didn't work for them anymore, and put it next to her gun on the island.

That taken care of, she walked around the body into the living room and lowered herself slowly to the sofa. Spasms moved up her back, and her heart was beating fast. Damn, this is bad, she thought. She knew the dead man. Unless he'd changed employers recently, Jeff Peters worked, had worked, for the Company.

Chapter Three

About five minutes had passed since Peters died. She should call the police, Barbara knew full well. What she wanted to do was get the body out and clean up the floor. How would she ever get the blood stain out of her beautiful hardwood floors? Probably they'd have to be sanded down. At the same time she wondered if she'd ever live in her house again.

Just as she was about to lift the receiver to call the police, she heard sirens. They were already close, so she decided to wait. They'd be here soon enough.

Outside Officer Joe Barker and his partner, Tim Green, were approaching in their squad car, sirens screaming. Two neighbors had called 911, reporting shots in this quiet, established area of Portland. Shots were very unusual here, and people wanted to keep it that way. When they reached the street, one neighbor came out into his yard and walked up to the cruiser. He told Barker that the shots had come from the gray house with the red door. A woman lived there alone. She had moved in about eight months ago. He thought her name was Barbara Williams, but she hadn't had much contact with anyone.

Drawing their weapons, Barker and Green approached the door.

"Portland Police Bureau, open the door!" Barker shouted. Through the living room window he could see a woman stand up, move to the door, and open it. She said nothing.

"We had reports of shots fired in this house," Barker told her.

"Yes. Come in." Barbara kept her voice completely neutral. She had experience in dealing with police, all kinds of police.

Walking through the door, Barker and Green surveyed the scene. From their vantage point they could see through the living room into the kitchen, where a man lay surrounded by blood. It looked like he was dead, but Green approached him cautiously, gun ready, while the woman and Barker watched. Feeling for a pulse, Green looked at Barker and shook his head. The man had been shot once in the abdomen and once in the leg. He was bleeding out on the floor. Green hadn't seen many bodies in his time with the Portland Police, and he felt nauseous.

"Should I call it in?" Green asked, wanting to go outside for some air.

"Yes."

Barker turned to the woman and asked: "Mrs. Williams, can you tell me what happened?"

Barbara looked calmly at the officer, hiding the fact that the spasms in her back were still bothering her, and that she felt totally drained. First she said: "It's actually Dr. Williams, officer," then continued: "I came home from a trip about twenty minutes ago. Something didn't feel right, so I got my gun from the car before I came in. When I opened the door, that man shot at me. I returned fire."

Barker stared at this middle-aged woman who had just shot a man to death in her home. He had never before questioned a middle-aged woman who had shot a man to death in her home, but this was certainly not how he expected one to react. Not upset, not scared. More like impatient.

Green came back from the squad car and said: "They're sending two homicide detectives."

Good, thought Barker. He didn't think he wanted to be involved with this one.

"How long will that take?" the woman asked.

"I'm sorry, I don't know. Maybe half an hour?" Green responded.

With a sigh, Barbara sat down on the sofa. She still couldn't take her Vicodin, she thought unhappily. Well, the wait would give her time to think about the attempted hit. Because she was sure that's what it was. The Company had sanctioned her. Why? Maybe the better question was, why now? Was it because of the Red Line? Or because of something she had done in the past? Or what they expected she might do in the future? Oh, shit, she thought again. She simply wanted to take her bath, her Vicodin, and go to bed.

Barker went into the kitchen. On the island there were two powerful pistols. Turning back to Williams, he asked: "What are these guns doing here?"

Still sitting on the sofa, Barbara told him: "The one on this side is his gun. The one on the other is mine, the one I used. I put my carry permit next to it."

Barker picked up the card. He'd never seen anything like this before. It was some kind of special federal permit to carry a firearm. Glancing at the woman sitting on the sofa, he wondered if she was a federal agent. She didn't look like a federal agent.

Just as Barker was looking at the woman, the front door opened, and Joel Peterson and Maggie Moore, both homicide detectives, walked into the living room. Gesturing that the detectives should come into the kitchen, Barker and Green conferred with them, telling them what they had learned. When Moore saw the carry permit, she frowned and passed it to her partner. They both looked at the woman. Moore told Peterson that she would call it in, and Peterson went to talk with Barbara.

"Hello, Mrs. Williams…."

"It's Dr. Williams."

"Dr. Williams, my name is Detective Peterson, and my partner outside is Detective Moore. I have to ask you some questions. Do you know who the man is?"

"I've never seen him before, Detective Moore," Barbara said in an even tone. This was not the truth.

"Do you know how he got in? Does anyone else have a key?"

"No, Detective, I don't know how he got in, and no, nobody else has a key," Barbara responded.

"Not even a neighbor?"

"No." Barbara was careful not to say any more than necessary. It's how she dealt with police.

"How long have you lived here?"

"About eight months."

"Have you ever had problems with break-ins?"

"No."

"What do you do for a living, Dr. Williams?"

"I am a retired civil servant, Detective Peterson."

"Retired from what branch of the civil service?"

"From the State Department."

"What did you do with the State Department?"

"My last posting was as cultural attaché to the US embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus."

Peterson reflected that although she was answering his questions, unlike many people in a stressful situation, she was not adding any extra information. He also thought that most cultural attachés almost certainly didn't have carry permits like hers.

"Please tell me exactly what happened."

She repeated her story almost word for word. No more, no less.

"What made you think there was someone in the house, if there was no broken window or forced door?"

She shrugged. "Just a feeling, Detective Peterson."

Peterson sounded skeptical when he replied: "Do you usually draw your gun on a feeling, Dr. Williams?"

"Sometimes."

"Why do you carry a gun?"

"You have my permit."

"That's not what I asked. I asked why you carry a gun."

She didn't answer.

"Why don't you want to tell me?"

She said nothing.

Now she wasn't answering, Peterson thought. Before he could continue, Moore came back and took him aside.

"We ran into a wall. The permit seems real, but we can't access her file. It's blocked."

"What is going on here?" Peterson said as much to himself as his partner.

Returning to where the woman sat, he asked: "Dr. Williams, why do you think this man broke into your house and tried to kill you?"

Barbara answered with a perfectly level voice: "I have no idea, Detective Peterson." This was a lie.

The Portland detectives looked at each other. Right. This was probably useless; she was not going to say anything. Officer Green approached the detectives and asked them to follow him into the garage.

"The evidence backs up her story. Look, you can see where he shot through the open door. The bullets hit the car over here and the wall back there."

Detective Peterson thought to himself that this was probably exactly what had happened. The bullets from the dead man's gun would match the bullets in the garage, just like the bullets from her gun would match the ones in the dead man. There wasn't much question that he had tried to kill her. The real question was why. He doubted that they'd ever find out. Outside the Medical Examiner's van arrived. While they all watched, the crew picked up the body and put it in the van to be transported to the morgue. Then all that was left was the blood.

Peterson went back to the woman and told her: "We're going to have to take your gun with us. We'd like you to come downtown tomorrow and make a statement."

"I am leaving town again tomorrow morning. Is there a problem? The man attacked me, and I defended myself."

"This is a homicide."

"You doubt it was self-defense?"

She had him in a corner. "No, but you still have to make a statement, and we still have to do ballistics tests on the guns."

"Can I make the statement tonight?" Barbara needed to get this done. She didn't have much time.

"You want to do it tonight?" In Peterson's experience, people involved in shooting incidents did not want to rush in to make a statement.

"I told you, I have to leave early tomorrow. I cannot postpone the trip. Let's do it now." Her voice was firm.

"Ok, if that's the way you want to do it. But we'll have to keep your gun. The ballistics tests take time."

"Fine." The gun didn't matter. She could replace it. What was important was that she leave this house and this town, as soon as she could contact the man she hoped would help her. If she stayed, there would be another assassin soon.

A few minutes later she locked up the house and followed them to police headquarters. In her statement, she said exactly what she had told them before, no more and no less. Afterwards, Detective Peterson asked her to give them a number where she could be reached on her trip, in case they had more questions. She gave him a fictitious number she used in these situations. It was 2:00 AM when she left.

Peterson and Moore watched her leave.

"What do you think that is all about, Maggie?"

"Pretty clear that he was some kind of a hit man. Pretty clear she knows how to handle a gun. Other than that, who knows?"

"Think we'll ever see her again?" he asked.

"Nope."

Chapter Four

After she left the Police Bureau, Barbara drove a short way, then pulled into a convenience store where she knew they sold the New York Times. Thankfully they had one left. Looking in the classifieds, she found the number she needed.

After that, she called the airport to find out when the next flight to New York was leaving. There was a non-stop on Delta departing at 6:30 AM, arriving at 2:45. Using one of her credit cards with a false name, she booked a one-way fight. She didn't know when, or if, she'd be coming back. Now it was 2:30 AM Pacific time, 5:30 Eastern time. Very early. But it couldn't be helped. She punched in the number and got the answering machine.

After the message finished, she spoke: "Hello, this is Barbara Williams. You know who I am. I need your help, your professional help. If you're there, please pick up." Drama was not her way, but she added: "It's a matter of life and death." She waited. He was probably still asleep and hadn't even heard the machine. She would have to call later.

Just as she was about to hang up, he answered. "This is Robert McCall."

It was clear that he was annoyed. For once she found she was at a loss for words. What DID she want to tell him, she asked herself?

"Oh, I…I didn't expect you to pick up."

"Do you know what time it is? It's gone on half past five in the morning!" he growled into the phone.

He was making her nervous. She didn't usually get nervous. What was that about, she wondered?

"Yes, it's very early. I had to speak to you immediately."

"I know, I know, it's a matter of life and death, that's what you said." Sarcasm crept into his voice.

"Well, yes, yes it is." Did she sound defensive? That was something she wasn't used to, either. His tone softened.

"Alright, go on. You said you needed my help?"

How much was she going to tell him, she asked herself? She had planned the call, but she hadn't quite planned what she was going to say once she was talking to him.

"I can't tell you anything on the phone. I need to see you. Can we meet?"

With a sigh he said: "Where and when?"

"I'm in Portland, Oregon now. I booked a flight that gets me into JFK at about 3:00 this afternoon."

"You're WHERE? In Portland?" He wasn't quite sure where Portland was. Somewhere near California. This was getting stranger and stranger, he thought.

"Yes, Portland. It's where I've been living since I resigned from the Company." She realized her voice was getting tight, and she almost felt like crying.

"Fine, fine. When you get to New York, take a taxi to my apartment." He gave her the address and added: "You can't tell me anything more?"

"No."

"Then I'll see you this afternoon."

"Yes. Thank you."

"You're welcome." When he hung up, Robert McCall sat back in his chair and considered their conversation. He was curious, but also suspicious. He DID know Barbara Williams, by reputation at least, and he was aware that she could be very dangerous. Just what did she want from him?

Chapter Five

McCall tried to go back to sleep after speaking to Williams, but it was futile. He got up, went to the kitchen, and made tea. While he drank his Earl Grey, he strung together the bits and pieces of information he knew about Barbara Williams. After working for the Company almost as long as he had, she resigned, what was it, a year ago? Two years ago? Something like that. She had a reputation as an excellent operative, one of the best.

Strange that their paths hadn't crossed in all the years they'd been in the Company. Wasn't she a Central Europe specialist, East Germany? There was something else he wanted to remember, but he couldn't quite find it in the back of his mind. Why she had quit he didn't know. He decided to get dressed and go out for some fresh bagels. Just as he was leaving, the phone rang.

"Robert, pick up," came Control's voice.

Oh, for heaven's sake, what does HE want, McCall thought, irritated. Still, he went to the phone and answered before the machine clicked in.

"Control, what do you want?"

"Robert, I have to see you right away."

"Control, with you, everything has to be right away. I was just about to go out and get my breakfast. You'll have to wait."

"Sorry, Robert, this can't wait. It's important."

McCall sighed. Of course, it was always important. The future of the free world as we know it is at stake. Next he was going to say that it was top secret.

In a voice dripping with sarcasm, McCall said: "Oh, yes, I am quite sure that it is important to someone. But not to me."

"Colonel Vicente was murdered two days ago."

McCall froze when he heard the name. Memories he would just as soon forget crowded into his mind.

"Now do you understand?" Control demanded. "Meet me at 8:00. Outside my office."

"I'll be there." With that, McCall hung up.

Before their meeting, McCall refused to think about Vicente, or about the time when he had been forced to work with the man, or anything else about that sordid time in his life. He walked down to the deli, bought two bagels, went back to his apartment, brewed a fresh cup of tea, ate a toasted bagel and read the morning paper. At 8:00 he was standing on the street outside Control's office. Control was holding a file folder.

"Did you get your breakfast?" Control asked.

"Yes," McCall answered in a clipped tone. "Now tell me about Vicente."

Control gestured to his friend and said: "Let's walk."

Presently Control asked: "Robert, did you have anything to do with Vicente's murder?"

McCall stopped and looked at Control in surprise. He had not expected that question.

"Me? With Vicente's murder? Don't be absurd. I don't even know where he is," McCall said incredulously.

"You know why I asked." Control stared at McCall. McCall glared back.

"No, I do not know why you asked, for God's sake. Do you actually think I would go to where ever the hell Vicente is and murder him?" McCall had raised his voice.

Control lifted his hand and said: "Calm down, Robert, calm down." Then he posed new question. "What do you know about the Red Line?"

If McCall had known anything about baseball, he would have thought that Control had thrown him a curve. The Red Line? He wasn't sure he knew anything about the Red Line.

"The Red Line? Next to nothing. I've heard rumors that it's made up of current and former agents who have taken it upon themselves to assassinate targets of their choosing?"

Control looked at him, eyebrows lifted.

McCall recognized the unspoken question: "What, you think I'm involved with the Red Line?"

"Well?"

"No, Control, I have never had anything to do with that organization. I do not play God." McCall's voice had turned to ice. Control recognized that he had pushed his old friend as far as he could.

McCall asked: "You think someone from the Red Line murdered Vicente?"

"Yes. The operation follows their pattern. Plus we don't have intelligence on anyone else who might have done it."

"You don't have any other evidence? Not much in the way of proof, is it?"

Control looked at McCall again, then opened the file and handed five photos to his old friend. "Do you recognize any of these people?"

McCall put on his glasses and studied the pictures. Four men and a woman. He had never seen any of them before. He thrust the pictures back at Control.

"No." He was getting impatient.

"We think all of them are part of the Red Line."

"And?"

"And, there are some people in the Agency who want to stop the Red Line. Immediately."

With a start, McCall understood why Control had wanted to see him this early in the day.

"Is there by any chance a sixth picture in the folder?" he asked.

Control gazed at his old friend, talking with his eyes. "No," he answered. He had to know if McCall was involved; if so, steps needed to be taken to protect him. Control still wasn't completely sure McCall was telling the truth, but he was relieved nonetheless.

"Ah, well, that IS good, isn't it?" McCall started walking again and directed the conversation away from the uncomfortable moment. "Tell me about these others."

One by one, Control went through the pictures. Each had worked for the Company at one time but were currently either independent contractors or had supposedly left the business. When they got to the woman, Control identified her as Barbara Williams. McCall did not allow himself to show he recognized the name in any way.

"You know, Williams used to be one of our very best operatives. I'm surprised you never met. She worked undercover in East Germany til the mid-eighties, then in Central America and Afghanistan. Her last assignment was station chief in Cyprus. About a year ago she asked to resign. In Afghanistan she was injured, and it never really healed, she said. It impaired her ability to do her job, she said. I decided to let her go." There was a lot more to his relationship with Williams, but he left that out.

"What else could you have done?" McCall asked, keeping his face completely blank.

"Ah, old son, there is always another solution." A solution that was final.

"What is going to happen now? With the Red Line, I mean? Is the Agency going to…?"

"As far as I'm concerned, nothing should happen. The Red Line has its uses. But others in the Agency…."

There was really only one "other," and they both knew it.

"What exactly does Jason want done, if there is no proof that any of these people are involved? While they were with the Agency, they all did good work. You can't just kill them!" This was hitting very close to home for McCall.

Control turned to face his friend. "When did loyalty ever mean anything to Jason? He's sanctioned all of them."

Now McCall knew what Barbara Williams wanted to talk to him about.

"Are you going to do anything about it, Jason's sanction, I mean?" McCall asked.

Control studied his old friend's face. He didn't answer, but turned around and headed back to the door where his office was. McCall stayed where he was, watching Control disappear into the building.

Chapter Six

After talking to McCall, Barbara drove back to her house. In the garage she stopped before opening the door. Was she paying enough attention? Would this be a good time to try another hit? No, they hadn't had time to set something up…unless there was a backup she had not discovered yet. On the other hand, the police had been here most of the night, and the neighbors were probably watching, too.

She retrieved the gun stored in the garage. Again she opened the garage door from the side, gun ready. Nothing. She went through the whole house. Nothing. Thank goodness. When she walked through the kitchen on the way upstairs, the blood stain on the floor was drying. She stopped and looked around. During her years with the Agency, she had never really had a home. Still, through the years she had bought a few works of art and some furniture, and usually she had one or two of them in whatever apartment she was living in. At fifty-something, she now had her first home, and she had all her things in one place. It was very hard to think that she might never see this home again. But she had to save the mourning for later.

By now it was already 3:30, and she had to hurry. After a quick shower, she stood in front of her closet, trying to decide what to wear and what to take. New York, what was the weather like there? January, cold. Not like summer in South America two days ago. At least she could dress like Barbara Williams, not the middle aged, repressed school teacher, Amanda Perkins. Barbara glanced at herself in the mirror. Don't be so smug, she reproached herself.

A few minutes later she was dressed in perfectly fitting jeans, a cashmere sweater, and a dark blue camels' hair blazer, with medium-heeled boots; she preferred high heels, but they were too impractical. Another look in the mirror told her two things. First, she was satisfied with her clothes. Second, she was very tired. She looked old. Shit, I have to get some rest, she told herself. On the plane?

She only had a few minutes to pack if she was going to make the plane on time. Right now the most important thing was to replenish her Vicodin tablets. She found the extra vial and put it in her purse. Maybe if she took one in the plane, she could sleep for a couple of hours? She completed her packing and headed for the door, stopping at the coat closet for her Loden coat, the one she had bought in Vienna many years ago. She still loved it.

Barbara had debated carrying a gun, but decided against it; it was too complicated getting a weapon through security. The police had left her the permit, but still…. Even though she was flying under a different name, what if the police had sent out a photo alert she didn't know about? What if they'd decided they wanted to talk to her again? She simply could not be delayed. She also put a gun in the glove box, in case something happened on the way to the airport. From the airport to McCall's place…well, there was nothing to be done about it. Once she was there, she trusted that McCall would have a gun for her.

There were no problems at the airport, and shortly after 6:30 AM she was settled into her first class seat on the Delta flight. Since she hadn't eaten for a very long time, she consumed every bit of her breakfast, then took a pill and tried to sleep. She wasn't very successful. She had been sitting far too long in the last few days, and her back let her know by zapping her every time she started to doze off. Usually she brought a book, but in her hurry she had forgotten this time. With nothing else to occupy her mind, she kept coming back to the next few days.

What exactly did she think McCall could do for her? She had been sanctioned. By whom? She had stopped caring about the internal politics of the Agency when Control had exiled her to Cyprus three years ago, so now she was clueless about who was sticking a knife in whose back. She had no idea who was out to get her.

Well, there was one possibility. Was Control behind it? Barbara and Control were enemies. He had exiled her to Cyprus to get her out of his direct line of sight. Or maybe to get himself out of her direct line of sight. Still, despite their personal animosity, she didn't really believe he would have her killed now, especially when he could have done it long ago. There was another possibility, that he had changed his mind because of her work with the Red Line. Hum…she turned that question around and around in her mind. That brought her back to Robert McCall. McCall and Control were friends. Could he read Control better than the rest of them, or did Control actually confide in him? She certainly hoped so, because it might be her only way to stay alive. After about three hours of internal debate, she did drop off for about an hour. When she woke, the flight attendants were bringing lunch. Soon they would be at JFK.

They landed about a half hour late, making it 4:00 Eastern time. By now she could hardly figure out what time it was; in the last three days, she had had so little sleep, and so much had happened, that she felt a little woozy. When she was younger, she never felt like this. Not good. She had to pay attention in case someone was waiting for her in the airport. Not that she could do much about it, but….

Nothing happened. She got a taxi and gave the driver McCall's address.

Chapter Seven

The doorbell rang at 5:30. Finally, McCall thought. He had been waiting for quite some time, and when he opened the door, his face showed his aggravation.

"Hello, I'm Barbara Williams. I'm sorry I'm late. The plane was delayed, and that got us into the middle of traffic…" She didn't know why she was apologizing but he looked angry, and it flustered her for some reason. When she saw him again after, what was it, eleven years, she was reminded immediately that she liked the way he dressed. Today it was a beautifully-tailored, black, pin-striped suit with a red tie and matching handkerchief.

"Well, come in, come in," he said, a little rudely. Immediately he regretted it. The delay wasn't her fault. As she walked into his apartment, he compared the person he saw to the picture Control had showed him earlier. She was older, and she looked very tired. Still, there was something about her. It surprised him, given what he knew about her, but he found her extremely attractive.

"You can leave your bag there. Let me take your coat." As he hung it up, he saw that it was a Loden like his. He loved his coat. He'd got it in Vienna a long time ago. Gesturing toward the living room, he said: "Please, have a seat."

When he took the coat, their hands touched for a moment. Barbara felt a zap, and it wasn't coming from her back. My God, she thought, when was the last time she'd felt that? She didn't even know she COULD feel it anymore, but she was pretty sure she didn't want to. Maybe it's only that I'm so tired, she hoped.

She walked into the living room and sat on the sofa. A fire was burning on the hearth. It was a very pleasant room. Comfortable. Tasteful. She liked it.

"Can I get you something? Tea? Something stronger?"

She normally didn't drink alcohol, especially when she was taking the Vicodin, but she really wanted a drink. This man was making her nervous. Maybe the drink would calm her down.

"Yes, ah, Scotch with a little water, oh, and ice, please." She heard herself stumbling and was embarrassed. She wasn't used to feeling embarrassed.

McCall noticed her unease and was surprised again. She didn't seem to be the kind of woman who got flustered easily. Perhaps she was frightened because of the attack in her house? That didn't fit either. But her unease made her all the more attractive to him. Perhaps because it made her difficult to figure out, he asked himself?

After pouring them both drinks, he handed one to her and sat on the chair opposite her. As she sipped her Scotch, he found himself studying her. She was dressed all in shades of blue, which suited her green eyes and fair skin. He could see that the light blue cashmere sweater under her blazer was silky soft and complimented her figure. He imagined what it was like to run his hand down the silk of the sweater and then…. Now it was his turn to be embarrassed, because he realized she was watching him look at her. Her look puzzled him. Did she want him to look at her that way?

"So, Miss Williams…," he began.

"Doctor. It's Dr. Williams." She hated Ms and Miss. Doctor made it easier. She was a Ph.D. after all. "But please, call me Barbara." Why had she said that? She didn't want to get close to this man…did she?

Registering her request, McCall paused for a split second before getting down to business: "Barbara, you said on the phone you needed my help, my professional help. That it was a matter of life or death. Perhaps you should explain."

"Well, Robert," she called him Robert without thinking. You're not paying attention, she reprimanded herself. Taking control again, she recounted the story: "Last night when I got home there was a man in my house. It was an Agency assassin named Jeff Peters. He tried to kill me. I killed him."

Now McCall saw the woman he had expected, matter-of-factly telling him she had killed a man in her house. He noted that she had not told him the whole truth, for she neglected to mention that she had just returned from the operation in South America.

"Why?"

"Why what?" she responded.

"Don't be disingenuous, Barbara. Why was the man in your house? Why would the Agency send an assassin after you? You don't work for them any more." McCall was probing. How long before she told him the truth he already knew?

She regretting having even the small amount of Scotch she'd drunk, for it put her at a disadvantage in sparring with McCall. Why the hell was she sparring with him? OK, let's get serious, she told herself.

She asked: "Do you know what the Red Line is?"

How much did he want to reveal, McCall asked himself?

"I talked to Control this morning after you called, and he asked me the same question. He wanted to know if I had killed Vicente. I told him no, that the question was absurd, that I didn't go around murdering people. Then he showed me your picture."

Oh, Barbara thought, so that's how it is. She asked: "When I came, what were you planning to do, if you already knew everything?"

"I don't know everything, yet. I was planning to listen to your story. But I am not going to help you go on murdering people in the name of this Red Line organization," he said sternly.

Looking across to the fire, she said nothing, but his description of her work with the Red Line did not please her.

"Did you do it? Kill Vicente, I mean?" McCall knew the answer, but he wanted her to own up to it. He wanted her to squirm.

Eyes on the flames, she answered: "Yes."

McCall got up and walked to the window. What did he really think? Was she a cold-blooded killer? What else could you call what she did to Vicente?

Turning back to her, he said harshly: "It was murder."

"No, it was an assassination," Barbara insisted.

McCall pursed his lips and cocked his head slightly. "There's a difference?"

"Of course there's a difference. There was a clear reason why he should be killed. Vicente was responsible for the rape, torture and murder of hundreds, if not thousands of people during Astise's regime." She added grimly: "As you well know."

She had scored a hit. McCall did know. He had orchestrated the coup that brought Astise, and his henchmen, to power. He had regretted it ever since. Thank goodness, Astise was gone, but Vicente had not been charged with any crimes after the regime ended. In truth, he was happy the man was dead. But there had to be rules to any game, and the Red Line had not played by the rules. Hell, they refused to recognize that the rules existed.

Glowering, he asked: "Exactly who decided that this man should be 'assassinated'? You and your friends at the Red Line? You decided to play God?"

Getting up and walking into his space, she demanded: "Why is it any different than when the Agency told me to assassinate the 'cultural attaché' at the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki? Or when the Agency assigned me to assassinate the head of the Greek secret police?" She stopped, but "or when they assigned me to kill you eleven years ago," slashed through her mind. Pushing it away, she went on, voice raised: "What reasons did the damned Agency have? Half the time there wasn't a reason, at least not one they deigned to tell me. I was a good soldier; I did what I was assigned to do." She was starting to tremble. "Who knows, maybe the cultural attaché at the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki was having an affair with the wife of the American cultural attaché in Helsinki, and the American wanted the Russian out of his way. Damn it, at least with Vicente I KNEW why I was killing him."

Now she was shouting with pent-up anger, shaking at the idea that she had come within a few hours of killing HIM. "If we're taking about God here, he'll send me to hell for the cultural attaché in Helsinki long before he'll send me there for Vicente!" Then she had to look away because she added very quietly: "Or for the man who was with Vicente, the other one I killed."

McCall recoiled. "My God, there was another one? Who was he?"

"I don't know. If I hadn't killed him, the operation would have failed. The Agency would call it collateral damage, wouldn't they?" She had closed herself off from her emotions for so long that she hadn't known until this moment that she cared about the other man. Tears welled in her eyes.

Unexpectedly, McCall felt old and tired. In the years he had worked for the Agency, this had been his reality, as it had been hers. Words like collateral damage…. Was it surprising that another person had died when she killed Vicente? Anything for the mission. How many times had other people died in his missions? Who was he to judge her, he thought, as his anger drained away.

What he wanted was to tell her it was alright, help her forget, maybe help himself forget. Yet he did nothing but look over her head at the pictures of Scott on the mantel. Because it wasn't alright, and she would never forget any of it. She wouldn't forget killing Vicente, she wouldn't forget killing the other man, and he wouldn't forget giving Vicente the power to commit his crimes. He said nothing because there was nothing to say.

She knew why he wasn't saying anything. Ignoring her tears, Barbara walked past him to the window, gazed at her reflection, and said: "The Agency sent someone out to assassinate me. They taught me how. Now they want to kill me. What exquisite irony."

As she said it, she perceived with a shock that she was making herself a perfect target if there was an assassin out there in the night. Spinning around, she saw that he had the same thought. As he grasped her hand and pulled her back, the power of the electricity between them scared her. This time she was certain that he had felt it too.

Right then her back gave her another warning. She straightened suddenly as a flash of pain crossed her face. Damn. She didn't like showing vulnerability.

Barbara's expression alarmed McCall. "Are you alright? Can I get you something?" Suddenly he wanted to touch her again, to put his arms around her, to….

She widened the space between them slightly. "No, no, I'm OK. I've been sitting in planes and cars too much recently. It's hard on my back. I shouldn't have drunk any Scotch. Now I can't take a Vicodin. It's about the only thing that helps, and if I take it after the alcohol, it will knock me out completely." When she looked at him, she was afraid he was going to touch her. Please don't, she implored him silently. At the same time, a place in her body wanted nothing more than his touch.

As he had waited for her after the meeting with Control, McCall had planned his strategy for their encounter. He would work the story of the Red Line out of her, get her to admit that she had killed Vicente. He would tell her she could figure her own way out of the Company sanction, since she had chosen to work with the shadow organization. He had planned to send her on her way.

But now he didn't want her to go on her way. He wanted her to stay, no, he needed her to stay. He decided to take a risk, and gently put his hand on her arm, again feeling the pleasure of touching her. Unfortunately her response was not what he had anticipated. Instead of welcoming the contact, she glanced up at him, then down at his hand. A look of, what, fear? crossed her face, she pulled back and turned away.

True, it had been some time since his last romantic involvement, but McCall couldn't believe that he had completely lost his feel for what women wanted. What in the world is going on with her? Her look of fear especially stunned him. Had he read her completely wrong? He was at a loss for words.

There was an uncomfortable silence.

Barbara didn't know what to do or say. It had been such a long time. She wasn't interested in intimacy with a man, at least that's what she'd told herself ever since…. In the few seconds that his hand rested on her arm, it had felt very good. Oh, God, what am I going to do? She did not like losing control.

McCall tried to fix his apparent misstep. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"

"No," Barbara heard herself saying to him. "I…." Still not knowing what to say, she walked over to the fireplace. Staring into the fire, it came to her that she had to make a decision. One or the other. For many years she had been content with her solitary life. She believed there was much to be said for contentment. This was the life she had made for herself, the life she knew. If she chose the other, what would happen? It was a life she didn't know, not anymore.

McCall was thinking about his life, too. He was sixty years old, and yesterday he would have said that his "love life" was probably behind him. Well, up popped the devil, he thought, mocking himself. I should leave this alone, logic told him. I just met her an hour ago. Yet, instead of backing off, he stood watching this enigmatic, fifty-something woman standing by the fire, wondering what was going through her mind, and hoping like some teenager that she had not actually rejected him. Bloody hell, I'm not going to give up that fast, he resolved, and walked up behind her just as she turned.

There he was, standing in front of her. She didn't understand how it could have happened, but when she looked at him, she knew that she had made her decision when he had opened the door to her an hour ago. Maybe some part of her had made the decision eleven years ago, strange as that thought was. Was that the real reason she had called him yesterday? Unsure what else to do, she simply took his hand and said: "Robert, I'm sorry. I didn't mean…."

If she were like most of the women he had known, he would have taken her into his arms and kissed her. But she clearly wasn't like other women he had known, and he wasn't quite sure what to do next. Damn, he didn't like feeling like a teenager. He decided to lead her to the sofa, and take the easy way out by changing the subject. Back to the reason she had come, he thought.

Still holding her hand, he asked: "Barbara, why did you call me?"

Barbara decided she would tell him the truth. Always.

Looking him straight in the eye, she said softly: "Because you are a good man. I can trust you." That's not what she had thought yesterday when she called. It was what she felt at this instant. Was it what she had known eleven years ago, she wondered?

Once more, the woman had confounded him. That was NOT what he had expected her to say. So much for changing the subject, he laughed at himself. Her words made him uncomfortable. He didn't know if he was a good man, but if she believed it, he would have to live up to the trust she placed in him.

Putting his hand to her face and stroking her cheek gently, he said: "Yes, you can trust me."

Laying her hand over his, she closed her eyes and relaxed into his caress, breathing slowly in and out. For a moment she felt safe.

At the same time she knew she was not safe. The Agency wanted her dead, and they had to figure out how to keep that from happening. So, although it was the last thing she wanted to do, she had to break the moment. With a sigh, she opened her eyes, took her hand away from his and said: "Robert, we have to talk about this…this…mess I'm in. What we're going to do about it."

With an inward sigh of his own, McCall nodded. He was already thinking of them as "we".

Chapter Eight

As they were facing each other before the fire, another back spasm shocked its way up Barbara's spine. Seeing the pain on her face again, McCall took her elbow and said: "Come on, why don't you lie down on the sofa so your back can rest. Then we can talk about it.

Barbara lay still and told her back to relax. Sometimes it actually worked. Maybe now that the alcohol had worn off a bit, she could take the Vicodin. Did she want to? No, she thought. She'd rather be here than there. Here was nice. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to decide where to start talking about her problem. But instead, she realized that she was very hungry. How long had to been since she had eaten?

"Robert," she started, "I'm really hungry. Can we wait to talk until we get something to eat? What do you have?"

McCall had to laugh. "Ah, well, not much. I don't cook very often. We could order in. What would you like? Chinese? Italian?"

"Do you have a good Chinese?"

"Yes, I like it. What do you want?"

"You know what's good. Order what's good. Not too spicy, please. Oh, and no bell peppers. No green bell peppers, red or yellow are ok, but no green. And can you ask if they have brown rice instead of white? Please."

He lifted an eyebrow, smiled and asked: "You're sure that's all?"

Matching his smile, she said: "'I'm sure." Then she lay back and was asleep almost immediately. McCall covered her with a blanket and went to the phone to call in their order. While he waited for the delivery, he poured himself another drink, sat next to the sofa, and watched her sleep. She'd arrived at 5:30 and it was 8:30. In those three hours his life had changed. How could that happen? All he knew was that it was good.

An hour later the food had arrived and take-out boxes were arrayed on the table. They were talking business between bites of Hunan chicken in black bean sauce, Beijing duck, egg rolls, stir fried vegetables (no green peppers) and brown rice.

"Barbara," he had begun, "didn't you imagine that this COULD happen when you joined the Red Line? Shouldn't you have expected this mess? For that matter, how did you join? When? Who recruited you?"

"Slow down, please," she responded. She ate for a while, considering what she should say. It wasn't easy to explain.

"OK, first, I joined in my last year in Cyprus, two years ago."

"You were carrying out missions for the Red Line while you were still in the Agency?" That was crazy, he thought.

"No, I joined then, but I wasn't, um, active until after I resigned. I helped choose targets before that. As for who recruited me, I can't tell you, Robert. It's not that I don't trust you, but I can't say whether the person who recruited me would feel the same. I don't think I can speak for others," she said, hoping he would understand.

"Fair enough," he replied.

"So, about whether I thought this would happen when I joined…." She paused, took a few more bites, and went on: "It's complicated. I joined because I believed they were doing the right thing." Looking over at him, this time certain that he would understand, she said: "Robert, it had been too long since I believed in what I was doing. I carried out the Agency's orders, but…I had no faith that what I did was helping make the world better. That's why I joined the Agency in the first place, and it was gone. You do understand, don't you? Isn't that the reason you got out?"

Instead of answering her questions directly, McCall asked another: "I wonder sometimes if anyone who survives as long as we have in this job keeps their faith?" Very few operatives who worked on the type of missions they had carried out lived as long as they had. "Even Control." Control had been in the Agency longer than either of them.

If she had not known that McCall and Control were friends, she would have said that she didn't believe that Control had ever had the faith. She thought he was a cynical bastard who never told the truth. She hated him. She kept that to herself.

"Well, anyway, I decided when I joined the Red Line that I would have to accept the risks involved if I wanted to do something I believed in. But in truth, there has never been much of a risk to the Red Line from the Agency."

"What? No risk? What do you mean?" McCall was startled.

"Since the beginning, the Red Line has been, let's say, protected by the Agency."

This was all news to McCall. Protected? How?

Seeing the surprise in his face, she said: "Robert, think about it. Who is in the Red Line? It's mainly ex-Company people, right? What kind of missions are they carrying out? Is it ever something that the Agency would adamantly oppose? What would most people in the Agency think about Vicente's death, for example?"

"Barbara, are you saying that the Red Line is attached to the Agency? Or doing jobs that are too sensitive for the Agency?"

"No…, I don't think I'd take it that far. It's more likely that SOME people in the Company approve of what the Red Line is doing and have protected its members – until now. Obviously, something has changed. Now, back to your other question, whether I thought this could happen when I joined. No, I did not expect to find an Agency assassin in my house on a Friday night in 1993 when I joined in 1991. Or to put it in your terms, I did not get myself into the mess. The mess came looking for me."

When he did not respond, Barbara continued: "I'm surprised that you don't know all of this. Control suspected that you were in the Red Line, didn't he?"

"Yes."

"Did anyone ever try to recruit you, after you resigned, I mean? You'd seem to be perfect, at least perfect to try to recruit."

"No, never."

"Maybe you were too high profile, after your rather, what should I say, public resignation."

"Perhaps." He was having a hard time coming to terms with all of this. How could he, McCall, not have known about it?

The fire on the hearth had burned down. McCall got up from the table and said: "I'm going to get the fire going again. Let's sit out there."

Barbara carried the empty boxes and napkins and chopsticks into the kitchen. God, she thought wryly, what a sweet domestic scene. Sheesh.

She asked: "Do you want more tea? This pot is almost gone, but I can put the water on. Or I could make coffee, but only if you have cream. I can't drink coffee without cream."

Looking at her in the kitchen with the teapot in her hand, almost exactly the same thought passed through his mind, about the domestic scene. But there was a little more to his vision: her in an apron and nothing else. The fact that it was funny didn't make it any less arousing.

After a second he remembered that he had not answered her question. "Yes, please, do put on the water for tea. I don't have any cream."

Once the tea was brewed, and the fire was burning nicely, she lay on the sofa, and bent her knees up so he could sit next to her. He leaned slightly against her and felt the attraction again immediately. At the same time, Barbara was experiencing the pleasant tingle when their bodies touched. It was very nice. Too bad their topic of conversation was working out how to keep her from being killed.

"How's your back?" McCall asked.

"It's better when I'm lying down, that's for sure."

"How did you hurt it?" McCall asked, curious whether it had happened on a mission.

Not wanting to talk about it, Barbara offered the standard reply: "An old injury. Like I said before, it acts up when I sit too much. If I get enough exercise and do my stretches, it doesn't hurt much at all. Just haven't had a chance in the last few days."

To deflect more questions, she returned to the Red Line and her more pressing problem by asking: "You know much more about what's going on in Agency politics than I do. What do you think is behind the changed attitude toward the Red Line? Is it something you've noticed?"

Yes, he'd noticed it far too much, McCall thought. "Yes. There is a power struggle going on between Control and Jason Masur."

Barbara looked at him incredulously. "Wait, wait, Jason Masur? No, you're kidding. When I was still in the Agency, he was, well, he was nobody. He's a twit. You can't be talking about THAT Jason Masur?"

"Yes, that's the one. He made his way to the top in record time, and he and Control have been doing this dance ever since. Sometimes Control can keep him in line, sometimes Jason gets the upper hand."

"You think that Jason's the one who has sanctioned the people from the Red Line?"

"When I met with Control this morning, he practically told me as much, but it didn't make sense until now, after you told me about the Agency's protecting the Red Line."

"If that's true, the key is Masur. We have to…ah…persuade him to recall the sanction," she said.

"Yes, you're right. The key is Jason."

"I suppose he isn't a person you can talk out of something like this? Do you have any idea WHY he's doing this?"

"No, he'd never even talk to me, let alone let me talk him out of something. Speaking of having faith, I don't think Jason was born with the faith gene. All he cares about is Jason. He is without a doubt one of the vilest people I have ever met. The feeling is mutual."

"So the direct approach won't work," she said with a smile.

"You could say that."

"What about Control? Can he do anything?" Not that she wanted to ask Control to help, but there might be no other way.

"I have a suspicion that Jason isn't doing this is because he's really opposed to the Red Line. I think he wants to up the stakes in his war with Control. This could be a major offensive."

Staring at him, she said: "So you think that Control is the one who has been protecting us all along? Why? I mean why would Control do that? What is in it for him?" After Afghanistan, she would never believe that Control did anything without an ulterior motive.

McCall registered her emotional response, but he knew nothing about her mission in Afghanistan, other than Control's oblique reference to it this morning. "Barbara, I don't know why Control was protecting the Red Line. Maybe he needs something to help him keep what little faith he has left."

Barbara's hatred for Control was so deep seated that she could not believe that Control had ever had faith in anything.

"Well, right now it isn't important why Control protected the Red Line in the past. What's important now is how to get Jason to rescind the sanction."

McCall thought the way to Jason WAS through Control, but given her apparent mind set about him, he didn't say it. However they did it, they had to get to Jason. McCall had never turned his sights on Jason, mainly because he didn't want Control to be caught in the cross fire. But now he would aim directly at the, what had she called him, twit?

"Yes. I'll start on it tomorrow."

She sat up a bit. "You'll start tomorrow? Shouldn't it be we, we'll start tomorrow?" She wasn't used to having other people take charge of her life, even Robert McCall.

"Barbara, I don't want you out on the streets, not yet. I have to find some weapon to threaten Jason with. Something we can negotiate with. Otherwise, they could kill you at any time."

Damn, he was right, she had to admit. As much as she hated the idea of hiding out, of his telling her what to do, she hated the idea of being shot even more.

"I guess you're right. I suppose my back could use a little R&R. Do you at least have some good books?"

As soon as she said it, she recognized that she had assumed she was staying here at his apartment. But he hadn't asked. She felt stupid.

"Yes, I have a very good library. You're welcome to any of them." It was his invitation, and she knew it.

He reached out his hand. "I guess that's all we can do for tonight. Let's go to bed." After her comment about the library, he was certain this is what she wanted. He knew he did.

This time when they touched, she felt it through her whole body. In a daze she got up and walked with him into the bedroom. For all she wanted him, she found herself getting more and more anxious as they went. In the bedroom, Robert slipped her blazer off, put his arms around her, and ran his hands down her back until they reached the bottom of her cashmere sweater. He slid it off over her head.

"Robert, wait," Barbara heard herself saying.

Will she ever stop surprising me, McCall asked himself?

"Yes?" he said, hoping it wouldn't take too long. He really wanted her. Now.

"I…I have to tell you something. Please, let me tell you. Sit down next to me, please." She could hardly get the words out, it was so hard.

McCall was getting worried. What in heaven's name was she going to tell him? All sorts of strange things were going through his mind. Did she have AIDS? What else could it be?

Not having much choice, he sat next to her on the bed, put his arm around her, and said: "Barbara, what is it?"

She took several deep breaths. She didn't know how to tell him. She had never talked to anyone about this before. Twisting on the bed to face him, she tried to start, but nothing came out. Don't be such a coward, Barbara Williams, you can do it, she ordered herself.

"OK." For some reason she thought of Star Wars. In a galaxy far, far away…. "Robert did you ever see Star Wars?"

He wondered what the hell she was talking about. "No, I'm sorry. I don't understand, what does…."

"Nothing, it has nothing to do with it." She took another deep breath and started.

"From 1983 to 1985, I worked undercover in Leipzig. My cover was as an English teacher at the language school in Leipzig. There were these reciprocal agreements between language schools in the US and Leipzig…. I'm sorry, I'm getting off the subject." Her stomach was churning so hard she thought she would be sick. "So, anyway, what I was doing for the Company was funneling money to anti-Communist dissidents, among other things. I was working with one group that met in the Leipzig cathedral. Later the group played a large role in the end of the GDR. They got bigger and bigger, and the night of the demonstration in Leipzig in 1989…," She kept drifting off topic. He must be getting impatient. "Only the pastor was supposed to know about the money."

That was the easy part. It only got harder.

As she told the story, McCall thought she might pass out, she was so pale. Suddenly he remembered what had been hiding at the back of his mind about Barbara Williams. East Germany. Oh, God….

"One day, the Stasi came. There was nothing I could do. Someone in the group must have been an IM, you know, an IM, I think it's called unofficial collaborator in English, but whatever, it's really a mole. But I don't know how the IM could have…. It couldn't have been the pastor." She was wandering again, she knew. Come on, Barbara, you're almost finished. All but the bad part.

She was talking so softly he could barely hear her, and he could tell she was on the edge. She wasn't really talking to him anymore.

"Barbara, you don't have to do this," he told her, but she ignored him. She couldn't stop now.

"First they took me to the jail in Leipzig. Nothing much happened there. I found out later that the word got back to the Agency fast, but there wasn't anything they could do. At the time I had no idea if I'd ever get out."

"After a few days, they transported me to Bautzen."

When she said that, he tried to draw her closer, but she was so tense that it was impossible. He knew what happened in Bautzen. Before it was closed with the end of the GDR, it had been known as the Stasi prison. Only the feared secret police had say over what happened there. They could do whatever they wanted. There was absolutely no outside control.

"I spent three months, two weeks, three days and two hours in Bautzen before I was exchanged for a Czech spy." Her voice caught. She didn't think she could go on. Just keep going, she told herself. Keep going.

"They put me in this tiny cell. There was a wooden plank for a bed, no window, a bucket in the corner. It was filthy, and it was freezing. You couldn't tell if it was day or night, so I don't know when they came for me, but at some point on the first day they took me to another room. There were three Stasi officers. I don't know what their names were, but I'll never forget their faces. The one in charge told me to take off my clothes. At first I just stood there. Then he hit me so hard I fell. There was nothing I could do, do you understand? Nothing! I had to do what they said." Suppressing a sob, she stopped, composed herself, and went on.

"There I was, naked in front of these men, knowing what was coming next. What I tried to do was not to give them what they wanted. That was how I resisted. I tried not to show how afraid I was, or how much it hurt. I tried to convince myself that the things they wanted me to feel didn't exist. If they didn't exist, I couldn't feel them, you know what I mean? That's what I told myself the entire time I was there. Humiliation, pain, I learned to let go of them; they didn't exist. It's how I survived." The blood was surging in her body, so hard she thought she might faint. "The first day, they each raped me twice. From then on, I'd be in my cell, and any time, they could come for me. I never really slept because I never knew when they'd come. Sometimes it was one officer, sometimes a guard, sometimes more than one. They'd take me to that room. It was always rape, one way or the other. Sometimes there was more. Toward the end, it got worse. I think they knew I was getting out, and they wanted to make sure I was punished the way they thought I should be." She stopped, then spit out: "Bastards."

McCall could hardly bear to listen. He wanted her to stop. If it was this painful to him, what must it be for her? "Barbara, you don't have to go on. Please, you don't have to."

"There's one more part I have to tell you. It's about after. After the Agency got me out."

"When I got out, I was…injured. The doctors could tell what had been done to me. They sewed everything up and pronounced me healed." Her voice was getting tighter and tighter. "But no one, not one of the doctors or anyone else I talked to, ever mentioned it. Not one word. Maybe they didn't know how, they were all men after all, I don't know. They put something in their reports about what they sewed up and closed the file. Stupid me, I kept expecting someone to say something. But all that came was a new assignment. Damn them, no one ever told me how I was supposed to go on with my life." She was shouting. For all these years, Barbara had suppressed her anger, and now it was exploding out of her.

"Wasn't there someone else you could talk to? There must have been someone? A friend?" McCall asked, trying to think of something to say, not to be like those other men.

"I didn't have any friends, for God's sake!" she cried. "I had been working for almost two years undercover in Leipzig. The people there were my friends, most of them anyway. Should I have called one of the women and told her what happened? Not likely." She added sarcastically: "Oh, maybe I should have gone to the Company rape victims' support group?"

She had pulled away from him. This is not going to work, she thought. He is a man. I am still too angry.

"But you did get on with your life. How?" Robert asked softly. He really wanted to know. "How did you do it?"

Surprised, she looked back at him. It was the right question. She relaxed a little.

"I…I don't really know. Day by day, I guess. After figuring out that nobody was going to help me, I just got on with it."

He pulled her gently back to him, held both her hands, and said: "But it's not gone, not yet, is it?"

"No," Barbara said softly, "It's not gone. I don't think it will ever be gone. It's like I locked it up somewhere in my head, but it's still there, inside the locked box." She stopped, thinking about how it had been. "It wasn't as if I decided to shut myself off from…men…, but I suppose it was easier, safer to stay…. God, I don't know."

That was it, she was spent, and she slumped against him.

McCall considered carefully what he should say. How could he make it better for her? Did he want to get involved in this? Did he care enough for her?

"Barbara, I am so very sorry all of this happened to you. I wish I could undo it. But the truth is that you survived. You found a way to live with it." He turned and looked her full in the face. "Now you have to decide whether that way is what you want. Or if you want something else. I can't guarantee everything will go right between us. I want to try. But my stake is different than yours. YOU have to decide."

She wanted to shake him because she felt like he wasn't understanding. "Robert, I DO want to try. I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't. But I don't know what will happen, don't you see? I don't know how I will feel when you make love to me. I don't know if I can forget their hands, their bodies, their mouths." She shuddered. "I don't know if I can touch you without remembering what they made me do. What if I…can't do it? I don't want to hurt YOU."

He couldn't lie to her. He didn't know any more than she did.

He shook his head slightly. "I don't know, Barbara. All we can do is try. I hope we can work it out. But you have to want it."

She sat for a long time, drifting, not thinking anymore, just leaning against his shoulder, holding his hands. It felt good.

Then she shivered. Still half dressed, sitting there in her bra, she was getting cold. It suddenly struck her as funny, like something from high school. She had to laugh. Maybe she was hysterical. Freud would have thought so. Good old Dr. Freud, friend of women everywhere. That made her laugh again.

What the hell is she laughing about, McCall thought? She'd surprised him again.

Letting go of his hands and reaching behind her back, she unhooked her bra, turned and said:

"Make love to me, Robert McCall."

Chapter Nine

Sometime in the middle of the night Barbara awoke when her back acted up again. She couldn't remember where she was, and she started to sit up when she felt Robert next to her. Ah, yes, now it came back to her. How odd the last few days had been. So much had happened, and it had only been, oh, she didn't even know how long it had been.

For a few minutes she listened to him breathing. Laughing inwardly, she was glad that he didn't snore. Uh, maybe I've started to snore in my old age, she thought with another smile. I guess I'll find out.

Another spasm. Darn, I've got to get up and take a Vicodin; the back is not going to let me rest. She slipped out of the bed and looked around for something to put on. His shirt. That brought back a memory from, my goodness, how many years ago? One of the first men she had slept with, more like the first boy she had slept with. She couldn't remember his name. Afterwards, she had been so happy to wear his shirt. She could still remember, it was a t-shirt, and it was kind of grungy, but she had loved wearing that shirt. Once again laughing to herself, she recognized that McCall's shirt was nothing like the boy's t-shirt. It was probably Supima cotton, and most likely it had cost as much as one hundred of that boy's t-shirts.

Barbara slipped it on, savoring its soft feel and Robert's smell against her body. As good as that boy's thirty years ago? Oh, much better, she thought, MUCH better, wrapping it tighter around her. That boy had known squat about making love. Robert McCall knew a lot about making love. Little by little her fears had retreated as he had slowly explored her body, finding the special places that had not been touched by a man in so long. She shivered, not from the cold. She suspected that he had sacrificed his pleasure for hers, but hers had been so intense that she didn't know. She would repay him.

With a sigh she walked into the living room where she had left her bag yesterday when she arrived. She ferreted around until she found the pills. How many did she have left? Damn, how was she going to get more? Her prescription was in the drug store in Portland. Raising her head, she realized what she was thinking. She wasn't going back to Portland, not because of the Agency, but because she was staying here with Robert, if he wanted her, that is.

Opening the bottle, she took out one tablet. Oh, what the hell, I'm not doing anything in the morning, why not two, she reasoned? On the other hand, if they decided to make love again, she didn't want to be knocked out. OK, then just one. But I'll take some ibuprofen, too, she decided. Both together sometimes worked well. She swallowed the pills, put the glass in the sink, used the bathroom, and went back to the bedroom.

After shedding Robert's shirt, she slid back into bed. A few minutes later she felt the drugs beginning to work, and she relaxed into it. Letting her mind wander, her thoughts came to rest on Vienna in 1982, when she had first seen him. Strange, that she knew so much more about him than he knew about her. For five days she had stalked him. Even now she was proud in a twisted way that he had never made her. The hit was planned for 3:00 that afternoon, and the stand down came at 1:00. That had been some of the best news she had ever had. She had hated the idea of carrying out that assignment. She never knew why the sanction had been put on McCall, one of the Company's best agents. In fact, she didn't know if she would have pulled the trigger. But there was always a backup, so it wouldn't have mattered. When would she tell Robert about that time in Vienna? Did she have to tell him, she wondered?

She thought he was still sleeping soundly. It was already 4:30, not much time for love making, unless she woke him up. She didn't think she could do that, so she just lay there, listening again to his breathing. It was peculiar, sharing a bed. Even before the prison, she hadn't shared a bed very often. Love affairs didn't fit into her profession.

OK, OK, I'm going to take another, Barbara told herself. She got out of bed, went to the kitchen to retrieve the pills and took another. This time she brought them with her to the bedroom, just in case.

When she was climbing back into bed, she realized that Robert was awake and had been watching her. This time she had not put on his shirt, and she was embarrassed.

"I'm sorry I woke you up," she said to cover her discomfort. "I was just getting a pill from the kitchen."

"Hum," Robert mumbled, lifting his arm to indicate she should move close to him so he could put his arm around her. She did. A few minutes later they were both asleep again.

Chapter Ten

The next morning, McCall got up early. He had calls to make. The first was to Control.

"Yes?" came Control's voice, a little impatient as always. McCall knew he had been up for hours.

"I need to see you. Now. This morning."

It was a repeat of their conversation yesterday, but with the tables turned.

"I can't do that, Robert. I've got a meeting with the Slovenian ambassador before he talks at the UN, and then…." Control began, even though he was actually happy about McCall's call. Maybe he could get him for this new mission.

McCall broke in. "Control, I need to see you NOW." McCall didn't raise his voice, but his low, menacing tone had intimated people for years. Control knew that voice. Something had happened between yesterday and today.

"Robert, I cannot get away this morning. It is out of the question." Control wanted to hear McCall's reaction.

"You will get away. Meet me at the pier at 8:00."

Control had found out what he wanted to know; this was indeed very important to McCall. Perhaps he could negotiate with him. Control said: "Make it 8:30."

"Thank you." McCall hung up.

Next, McCall phoned Mickey Kostmayer. It was a little early, well, more than a little early for Kostmayer, and McCall's friend grabbed the phone on his side table while he was still half asleep.

"Mickey, I need you to come over right away," McCall ordered.

"McCall? Man, what time is it?" Kostmayer looked at the clock. "Shit, 6:30?" Kostmayer protested. "Hey, can't it wait? I just got back from Serbia, don't you remember?"

"Mickey, I don't care if you just got back from the moon, I need you here, now." There was that steely resolve in McCall's voice.

Like Control, Kostmayer had heard that tone before. It was something important. "OK, OK, Robert, I'll be there in twenty."

"Bring some cream."

"What?"

"Cream. Bring some cream."

"OK. I'll bring some cream."

"Thank you, Mickey."

As he waited for Kostmayer to arrive, McCall showered, dressed, brewed some tea, and sat down to plan his strategy. He had to find out what Control had on Jason. Control had something on everyone. It was how he stayed Control. In jockeying for position with Jason, he had so far not used that information; McCall was convinced that his friend was waiting until precisely the right moment in the Agency's internecine war. He would be loath to turn it over to McCall. They would have to bargain.

What was McCall willing to do in order to get the information they needed? There was one thing, but he hoped it wouldn't be necessary.

When Kostmayer rang the bell, it was 7:15. McCall opened the door.

"Hello, Mickey. How was Serbia?" McCall asked.

"Cold." Handing McCall a brown paper bag, he said: "Here's the cream."

"Thank you." McCall went into the kitchen and put the cream in the refrigerator. Kostmayer took off his jacket, put it on the sofa, and watched McCall from the living room.

"So, McCall, what's up?" Kostmayer asked.

McCall turned back toward his friend. "Mickey I need you to stay here today, maybe tomorrow, maybe longer, I don't know."

"You mean all day?" Kostmayer couldn't figure out what was going on.

"Until whenever I get home. Let nobody in. Not Jimmy, not Stock, not Alex, nobody. Do you understand?"

"Yeah, sure. But why?"

McCall knew this would be awkward. "There's a woman in the bedroom who is in danger. I don't want anyone coming near her."

Raising one eyebrow, Kostmayer asked: "Which bedroom?"

"Mine." McCall said.

Kostmayer thought it over. How long had it been there had been a woman in McCall's bed? Of course it was none of his business, but….

"OK. So, ah, do I know her? Who's out to get her?" If he was going to be spending time with this mysterious woman, he had to know who she was. Maybe she was one of the "clients" of the Equalizer. But then why would McCall not want Agency people in on it, Kostmayer asked himself?

"It's Barbara Williams. So yes, you might know her." McCall suspected Kostmayer had met her in Cyprus.

Surprised, Kostmayer whistled tunelessly. He did know Barbara Williams from a mission on Cyprus a few years ago. But she had resigned, moved away, was gone. There were rumors about her and the Red Line, but as far as he knew, they were only rumors. Thinking back, he tried to figure out if she was McCall's type.

When Kostmayer didn't say anything, McCall continued: "As for your second question, the Agency is out to get her. She's been sanctioned."

Holy shit, Kostmayer thought. No wonder he didn't want Stock or Alex or the others to know. "Does anyone know she's here?" That was important.

"I don't think so. But either way, I need someone I can trust to protect her." He turned to look directly at Kostmayer. "You're the only one I am sure I can trust, Mickey."

In truth, Kostmayer wasn't convinced that Barbara Williams needed anyone to protect her, but if McCall wanted it, he'd stay. "No problem, McCall. Where will you be?"

"Out." He trusted Mickey, but there was no reason to tell him everything. Mickey could figure out what was going on by himself, anyway. "Just stay here until you hear from me, alright?"

"Does she know I'm going to be…ah…protecting her?" He didn't want her coming down on him for this. He knew how she could be. A lot like McCall, now that he thought about it.

"We've talked about it. No, she doesn't want protecting. But she's accepted it, at least I think she has. She's very tired, and her back is giving her fits, so she said she'd look at it as a little R&R. Sleep, read books…." McCall smiled. We'll see, he thought.

Kostmayer was thinking along the same lines. He wondered how long that would last. Maybe a few hours? Guess it depended on how tired and hurt she was, he supposed.

It was almost time for McCall to leave for his meeting with Control. "Make yourself at home, Mickey. There's food for breakfast in the kitchen. The cream is for coffee. Barbara drinks coffee with cream," McCall told Kostmayer.

Inwardly shrugging, Kostmayer walked past McCall into the kitchen and laid out a filter and coffee. If he wants to tell me more, he will, Kostmayer reckoned. While he busied himself with the coffee, McCall tried to find the right words to explain. After all, Mickey was probably his best friend, despite the difference in their ages.

"Mickey, this is important. She is important to me. I care for her. Thank you for helping." He couldn't think of anything better.

"Yeah, well, sure, Robert." To change the subject, he asked: "How strong does she like her coffee?"

The answer to that McCall didn't know. He'd have to find out.

"I don't know. I'm going to tell her you're here, and I'll ask." McCall turned and walked down the hall to the bedroom.

Barbara had heard the doorbell and was lying in bed considering who McCall might be talking to. She wasn't sure she liked the idea of his telling anyone anything about her or what was going on. He opened the door, walked to the bed, and sat down beside her.

"Good morning, how are you feeling?" he said, laying his hand on her leg.

"Um, sleepy." She stretched her arms. Her back didn't hurt. That was good. But after all, she was pretty pumped full of Vicodin. "My back doesn't hurt." Before he could say anything, she went on: "You got up early. Who've you been talking to?"

"Mickey Kostmayer. I asked him to come over and stay with you while I'm gone."

"Kostmayer? Why him?" She'd always thought of Kostmayer as a good agent, a very good agent, for that matter, but why McCall had called him, she didn't know.

"Mickey's a good friend. I trust him to keep you safe." As he said it, he moved his hand from her leg to her cheek. He wanted her to believe this was a good idea. Barbara leaned her head into his hand. She still didn't like the idea of needing a man to protect her, but she had told Robert it was OK, so she couldn't complain now.

"I didn't know you and Kostmayer were such good friends. I'm glad he's here." She actually did like Kostmayer.

"You do know him?" McCall asked.

"Didn't he tell you?"

"Not in so many words, but I assumed that you'd met on Cyprus."

"Yes, I think it was two years ago?" There had been some damned fool thing between the Turks and the Greeks on the island. It was always some damned fool thing between the Turks and the Greeks, that's what she thought.

"Alright then, I've told him not to let anyone in, not any of our other friends from the Company, nobody. He's to stay until I get back."

"Where are you going?" She didn't like not knowing what was happening.

"First I'm meeting with Control. I'm sure he has something on Jason that we can use. I have to figure out how to get it out of him."

Barbara looked away, thinking, watch out, Robert, just watch out. She didn't like Control having any say over her life, and she certainly didn't like Robert putting himself in harm's way because of her. She didn't trust Control, not one bit.

"You're not going to tell him…."

"No, I'm not going to tell him anything. I'm just going to get something on Jason from him." McCall sounded very determined indeed.

She smiled. That was a scene she would like to see. McCall and Control facing off, each with their own agenda, each trying to outmaneuver the other. The only problem was that McCall wasn't as devious as Control, or at least she didn't think so. Well, there was also the little problem that they would be sparring over her life.

"Why are you smiling?" McCall asked.

"I was thinking of you and Control, each trying to get the better of the other."

"Yes, I suppose we've both had a lot of practice."

"Please, just see to it that you win." She was serious now.

"I will." It was a promise, and he would not break it.

He kissed her lightly and got up to leave, but she called him back.

"Robert, I forgot to tell you. I don't have a gun. I didn't want to try to get one through airport security. Do you have one I can use?" Neither of them wanted to think about the reason she might need one here in his apartment, but it was necessary.

"I'll ask Mickey to show you where they are. Oh, if you're getting up, Mickey is making coffee and wanted to know how strong you like it?"

"The stronger the better. But do you have cream? I don't like coffee without cream."

"I asked Mickey to pick some up on his way here."

Barbara felt something when he said that. She wasn't sure, but just maybe it was happiness.

"Thank you, Robert."

"You're welcome."

With that he went back to the kitchen, told Mickey about the coffee, and left.

Chapter 11

After McCall left, Barbara decided to get up, at least for a while. The aroma from the coffee was fabulous, and she was hungry. Robert had left a robe for her to wear on the end of the bed, so she put it on, checked how she looked in the mirror – disheveled – and ran her hands through her hair. Oh, well, it's only Mickey, she thought, then laughed. Only Mickey, that wasn't very nice.

OK, you'd better make yourself more presentable, Barbara decided. She went into the bathroom, washed her face and combed her hair. The pull of the coffee made her abandon any more grooming, and she walked out into the kitchen.

"Hey, Mickey."

"Hey, Barbara. How're you doing?" She looked tired and older, Kostmayer thought. Otherwise still a pretty good looking woman.

"Fine. Is the coffee ready? It smells wonderful." She hoped it tasted as good as it smelled. Having lived in the Pacific Northwest for the last year or so, she had gotten spoiled when it came to coffee. He poured her a cup and handed her the cream. After she doctored it just right, she took a sip. It was almost as strong as she liked it. Pretty good for a guy from the Northeast.

"Good coffee, Mickey. Thanks."

"Do you want something to eat?" Mickey asked. "I was thinking of making up some bacon and eggs, toast...."

"Well, Mickey, I'm impressed. I didn't know you could cook." She was teasing him.

"Hell yes, I cook. That sounded like a sexist remark to me." Her tone had surprised him. He had never seen this side of her. So he had teased her back.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Kostmayer. Yes, I would love some bacon, and two eggs, over easy, and toast, but only if it's whole wheat."

"Sorry, McCall only has white."

Something she'd have to talk him out of, Barbara thought.

"OK, skip the toast. Does he maybe have English muffins or bagels?" She opened the refrigerator and the cabinets. Not much there. Hum, maybe she could make dinner tonight. She was a great cook, and it would give her something to do.

"Mickey, could you go out later and get some groceries?" she asked as he started on the bacon.

"No. McCall doesn't want me to go anywhere." Kostmayer wondered if they going to have an argument about him protecting her five minutes after she got up?

Barbara frowned. Yes, yes, she had said that she would do as Robert asked, but for heaven's sake, she could certainly take care of herself for half an hour while Kostmayer went to the store. She was just about to say as much when she stopped herself. A dinner wasn't worth her life.

"Yeah, I suppose you're right. Maybe I can find enough in the kitchen to make a good dinner." She leaned her elbows on the counter top opposite Kostmayer and sipped coffee from her mug.

Kostmayer was astonished. She actually said I am right, he thought. He couldn't ever remember Barbara telling him he was right before. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all.

After finishing with the bacon and putting it on paper towels to drain, he broke four eggs into the pan with the bacon grease. Perfect. He liked his over easy, too, so all the eggs would be done at the same time. He put two slices of white bread in the toaster for himself. As he looked over at her, he saw that she had been watching him over the top of her coffee mug, a small smile on her face. He also noticed that McCall's robe was falling open in the front, and he saw more than he expected. He turned away, a blush starting up his face.

Damn, she thought, why didn't I put something on under the robe. She straightened up and tightened the belt. Mickey brought their breakfast. They ate for a few minutes without talking. Neither of them knew what to say. Finally, she thought of something safe.

"Mickey, Robert said you would show me where he keeps his guns. I need one."

This was easier, Mickey thought. "Sure, after we eat."

"Good. Thanks."

After Kostmayer had cleared away the dishes and put them in the sink, he took her down the hall to the small room where McCall kept his photographic equipment and other tools of the trade. On one side, what seemed like a wall opened up to reveal an assortment of weapons. Barbara took her pick, and he closed the wall again.

"Thank you. I think I'm going to lie down again. If you need me for anything, just let me know." With that she went back to the bedroom. The weapons made her feel safer.

Just as she was about to take another pill and lie down, she exclaimed loudly: "Oh, shit!"

Kostmayer dropped a plate in the sink, ran down the hall and knocked on the door. "What? What's wrong?"

Looking up from her place sitting on the bed, she called: "Mickey, come on in." After he was in the bedroom, she apologized: "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that so loud. I just realized I forgot to do something important. Is there any way to get in touch with McCall?"

"We could try the car phone." Kostmayer wasn't sure McCall would like them calling on the car phone, but if it was so important?

She considered her options. Why did she have to talk to McCall first? After all, he wasn't her keeper. She'd just do it herself.

"Mickey, is there a pay phone anywhere around here?" She knew how he would react, but it didn't matter.

"Outside, on the street. But you're not going out there, no way." Kostmayer knew Barbara was brave, but this was plain foolish. Why would she even think about going out there?

"I have to, Mickey. No other choice." Barbara was still kicking herself for having waited so long. She hoped that no one had died because she had forgotten. Stupid.

"McCall will kill me if I let you leave this apartment." Oh, boy, would he, Kostmayer thought.

"No, he won't. I'll tell him. It's completely my decision."

Yeah, and then someone out there will kill you, Kostmayer thought grimly.

"Barbara, are you crazy? There could be someone watching this place right now. They could hit you before you get down the stairs."

Barbara was fully aware of the risk. "Is there a back entrance? Is there a phone booth anywhere near the back entrance?"

"Well, yes, there is a back entrance. There's a pay phone about a block away. Listen, could I make the call instead of you?" Why not, Kostmayer thought?

"No, Mickey, it has to be me."

Kostmayer gave up. He recognized that the issue was no longer up for debate.

She got up. "Mickey, if you'll excuse me, I have to put some clothes on." He left the bedroom and went back to the kitchen, trying to figure some way to keep her from leaving the apartment. He couldn't. Damn it, McCall, where did you find this woman?

A few moments later she was in the kitchen with a hand full of change in one hand and McCall's pistol in the other. The change went into one pocket and the pistol into the other. Not that the pistol would help if someone was sniping from the roof, but it did afford some comfort.

"Look, Barbara, this is suicide. What could be important enough to risk it?" He tried one more time. Where was something he could tie her up with?

"I can't tell you Mickey. Sorry."

"Well, at least I'm going with you."

"Do what you have to do, Mickey. Now, show me where the back door is."

Remembering to take a key, Kostmayer led her through the apartment to the back entrance. He had his gun at the ready as they left. Quickly making their way down the back stairs, they reached the service entrance to the building. Kostmayer went first, surveying the street, the cars, the rooftops…it was probably pointless, he knew. He simply couldn't see everything.

"Come on, this way."

Barbara took a few steps outside the door. It was risky, she knew, but she had to make the call. Kostmayer walked quickly up the sidewalk and around the corner, then gestured toward the phone booth. While he kept watch, she went to the phone, deposited her coins and punched in the number. When she finished her message, she hung up. So far so good.

Suddenly a car roared around the corner from the direction they had come, tires squealing. Both of them went to their knees, guns at the ready. The car zoomed past them and on down the street. Barbara looked at Kostmayer. She felt like her heart had stopped and started again in the last five seconds. With a nod of the head, he indicated that they had to get back to the apartment. They made it to the door, up the stairs, and into the back door.

Once in the apartment, Barbara started breathing again, or at least that's how it felt. She put the gun on the kitchen counter, walked into the living room and sat down.

"Thank you, Mickey."

"No problem. Let's just not do it again, OK?" He still didn't know what he was going to tell McCall when he got found out.

"It's a deal." Well, at least for the moment it was a deal, she said to herself. "I'm going to lie down again." She picked up the gun and went back to the bedroom.

Watching her go, Kostmayer once more wondered about McCall and Williams. She could be big trouble.

Chapter 12

McCall drove to the pier he and Control sometimes used when they didn't want to be seen. Parking the Jag outside the fence of the empty warehouse, he walked through the gate to where Control was waiting. Control's men were standing by his car at the far end of the warehouse. As McCall approached, he motioned to them to stay where they were.

"What the hell is so important that it couldn't wait?" Control had had to tell the Slovenian ambassador some cock and bull story about…well, it hadn't made much sense. But he knew this was important to his old friend.

McCall moved very close to Control, riveted his eyes on him and said: "I need what you have on Jason."

"Robert, what makes you think I have anything on Jason?"

Through clenched teeth McCall exclaimed: "Control, I don't have time to play games. I know you have a file on Jason. I need it, now."

The Red Line was only the latest and most apparent symbol of the rift between Jason Masur and Control. Ever since he had made his way up the Agency ladder, Jason had been a real threat to Control. The intelligence he had on Masur, the file McCall was demanding, was the ultimate weapon for the final battle between the two. McCall knew all of that. What McCall didn't know was that the final battle had begun. Control believed that Jason was ripe to be taken down, now. He was ready, and the information in the file was vital to his attack.

Yesterday McCall had not been especially interested Jason, Control thought. Today, here he was, demanding his intelligence on Jason. McCall had clearly set his sights on the man. Did it have something to do with the Red Line? Actually, Control didn't really care if it did or not. All he thought was that the turn of events was very convenient for him and very unfortunate for Jason.

Turning aside slightly, Control raised a palm and said: "Alright, alright, calm down." Control paused and continued: "Look, Robert, you know I need that file. Jason is getting too close. I can't give it to you. Why do you want it now, anyway? You've never wanted to take action against Jason before."

McCall said nothing. McCall knew Control would figure it out sooner or later. Should he just tell him? Would it matter? Could he trust Control? They'd been friends all these years, and he still wasn't sure he could trust him.

McCall believed there was one way to get Control to give him what he wanted, and he decided it was time to make the offer. "Control, if you give me your information on Jason, I will remove him as a threat to you." McCall had kept this move until the end.

This was good, Control thought. It was good to have McCall as an active ally in his war against Jason. Despite the fact that this was true, Control still could not work out why Robert was obsessed with Jason Masur. Could McCall's obsession interfere with the cold precision that had made him a superior agent, and thus interfere with Control's battle plans? Control had to think it through, and he didn't have time right now. He would use McCall in his battle against Jason, but not give him everything, in case there was something involved that he didn't know about.

Control searched his friend's face. "Just what do you mean 'remove as a threat,' Robert?"

McCall did not answer, but simply continued to watch Control. He wasn't planning to kill Jason. He would rather remove him as a threat by other means. But he was willing to kill him if necessary.

When McCall didn't answer, Control walked a few feet away, then turned back on his heel, and said: "OK, Robert, listen to me. I can't give you the file. I'll give you a name. That's the best I can do."

Damn it, McCall thought, a name wasn't enough. He didn't have time. But, he told himself, it was better than nothing. He'd take it.

"Who?"

"Jose Maria Cabrera."

McCall was shocked; he recognized the name immediately. Staring at Control, he asked: "What…?"

"That's all I can give you." Ignoring McCall's glower, Control walked back to his car, got in, and drove off.

McCall stood there for a few minutes, puzzled at the turn this was taking. How was Cabrera's name going to help? He had no idea, but it was a start, McCall thought. It was more than he had an hour ago.

Chapter 13

Back in his car, McCall thought about Jose Maria Cabrera. He had known the human rights lawyer when he worked in Colombia, over ten years ago. But he had to have more information and quickly. He needed Jonah. A few years ago he had relied on Jonah for many jobs, but the man had left the Company to open his own computer consulting firm. Since he was outside the loop, he might not even know about the Red Line and Barbara. That was good. McCall hoped that Jonah still had the same number. He punched the number in on the car phone. McCall was relieved to hear Jonah's voice on the line.

"Jonah, this is Robert McCall."

"McCall, what do you want?" Jonah was wary. He was happy with his new company and didn't want to get involved with the old one again.

"Nice to talk to you, too, Jonah."

"Yeah, yeah. Now tell me what you want."

"I need everything you can find out about a person named Jose Maria Cabrera."

"You're joking, aren't you McCall?" Jonah asked.

"Do I sound like I'm joking, Jonah?" McCall growled into the phone.

No, he didn't sound like he was joking, Jonah thought. He didn't like that tone.

"McCall, Cabrera was killed last night outside a hotel here in New York."

"What?" McCall shouted into the phone. How could he have missed that? But he hadn't read the paper or heard any news since yesterday afternoon. He could easily have missed it. Control had given him Cabrera's name when he'd asked about Jason. Jason was involved in his murder?

"OK, Jonah, now I need some different information."

"No, McCall. I have enough business to keep me busy for months. I don't need another job."

"Jonah, I need this information immediately."

"I told you, McCall. No." He almost hung up.

"Jonah," it was McCall's very persuasive voice, the one people knew to be afraid of.

"Oh, McCall, please, I don't want to do Company business anymore."

"I can assure you, Jonah, this is not Company business," McCall said grimly. It was the truth, just not all of it. "I will pay you double what you're making from your other clients. Just put them off for one day and work on this."

Despite himself, Jonah waivered. The money sounded very good.

"Tell me exactly what you need so I can write it down." Jonah was giving in.

McCall gave him the specifics.

"OK, McCall, I get it. How long?"

"Yesterday."

"Where do you want me to call you?"

McCall gave him the number at his apartment.

"I'll call as soon as I have something."

"Jonah, call in two hours and tell me what you have, unless you find out something sooner."

McCall is really hot about this, Jonah thought.

"OK, in two hours or sooner."

"Thank you."

My God, McCall thought as he got back in his car. Jason has really made a move, hasn't he? Control was right to be worried.

When McCall walked in the apartment, he could smell breakfast, which reminded him that he hadn't eaten this morning. Kostmayer was lying on the sofa, eyes closed.

"Hey, McCall."

"Hello, Mickey. Everything OK?"

"Ah, yeah, sure, fine." Mickey stood up and stretched.

McCall's antennae went up. "Mickey, what does that mean?"

"That everything's fine," Kostmayer thought it was probably fruitless to try to hide it from McCall, but that didn't stop him from trying.

"Where's Barbara?" McCall asked.

"In the bedroom. She said she wanted to lie down again after breakfast." All of which is true, Kostmayer thought.

McCall went into the kitchen to see if there was anything to eat. Everything was clean and put away. There wasn't even any coffee left.

Behind him, Kostmayer said: "You want me to make you some eggs or something, McCall? There isn't any more bacon, but there's enough bread for toast. By the way, you'd better buy some whole wheat bread."

McCall turned around to his friend: "Whole wheat bread?"

Kostmayer nodded toward the bedroom. "She only eats whole wheat," he said with a small grin.

"Oh," McCall looked toward the bedroom, too. "About breakfast, some toast would be good. Thank you."

"At your service." Kostmayer was still nervous. When would McCall find out he had let Barbara make the call? Well, he hadn't LET her make the call, but McCall might not see the difference.

In the bedroom, Barbara had heard McCall return. She had to talk to him about making the call. So much for resting today, she thought. Getting up and slipping into the robe again, she went to the door and stuck her head out.

"Robert, can I talk to you for a minute?"

Kostmayer thought, uh oh, here it comes. He was just about to put the toast in, and he stopped. "Want me to wait, McCall?"

"Yes. Thanks." With that McCall went to the bedroom. Barbara was sitting on a chair in his robe. It was clear there was nothing under the robe, and abruptly McCall found himself wanting her again. Ah, well, later.

Truth be told, Barbara had dressed that way on purpose. She thought of it as a diversionary tactic. She wasn't sure how she was going to tell him what had happened, and he might not be quite as angry if….

"How did the meeting with Control go?"

McCall sat down on the chair opposite her and said: "He wouldn't give me the file. But he did give me a name. Jose Maria Cabrera."

She thought for a moment, then said: "The lawyer from Colombia?"

"Yes. I knew him when I worked in Colombia, around ten years ago." He took off his glasses and looked over at her. "He was killed last night here in New York."

She sat up. "Oh, my God, Robert. This is the name Control gave you? What does he have to do with Jason Masur? How was he killed?" This did not sound good.

"Yes, this is the name Control gave me, I don't know what he has to do with Jason, and I don't know how he was killed, alright?" McCall was exasperated.

"Sorry. I just…." Barbara apologized.

"I know. I know. We have to find out. There's a computer expert I used in the past named Jonah. I've asked him to find out everything he can."

"Who is this Jonah?" Alarm bells were ringing in Barbara's head. "How much did you tell him? What does he have to do with the Company?"

McCall had expected her reaction.

"Don't worry, Barbara." McCall said, using his most soothing voice. "He was with the Agency, but he quit, and he's private now. No interest in Agency politics. Plus, we need him."

Although she still didn't like it, he was right. Without the computer, it would take far too long to find the information. She knew her way around a computer, but McCall didn't have one in the apartment, so she couldn't do the research herself.

"I guess you're right," she agreed.

"It might be a while before we hear from him. We probably have a little time.…" He started to get up, but Barbara gestured to him to sit down again.

"Just a minute, Robert." Pulling her chair closer to his, she sat on the edge and put her hand on his knee. He looked at her expectantly.

"So…, Robert, the Red Line has procedures, like every organization. If things go wrong, we're supposed to call a number and leave a message, you know how it works." He did. "This morning, after you left, I realized that I should have made the call as soon as you told me about the pictures Control has. I didn't."

She settled back in the chair. "Someone could be killed because I didn't make that call." She closed her eyes. "Damn, I don't know how I could have been so stupid. I was so caught up in my own problems that I…." She shook her head and sat up straight again. "Anyway, I had to let them know, and I didn't think I should call from your phone, so I used the pay phone…."

McCall stood up abruptly and hissed: "You did what?"

"I went out the delivery entrance and used the phone booth around the corner."

He stood over her. "For God's sake, Barbara, are you crazy? What the hell was Kostmayer doing…?"

"Robert, it was NOT Kostmayer's fault. He tried to stop me. The only way he could have done it was by tying me down."

"He should have tied you down!" He took her by the arms and pulled her up from the chair. "How could you do something like that?"

"Let me go!" She was mad at him now. He was completely overreacting. "You have no right to tell me what to do. I had to make that call. What if someone else died because I was hiding in your apartment?" She pulled her arms back, walked away, then spun around to confront him. "Damn it, don't tell me you wouldn't have done the same, Robert McCall!"

In the kitchen, Kostmayer could hear them shouting. "Way to go, Barbara." He kind of liked that she was giving it to him as well as he was giving it to her. Maybe McCall had met his match. Plus, she was totally right. If it had been McCall, no way he would have waited around the apartment and not made the call.

They were toe to toe, now. The robe was in disarray, but neither was thinking of that. Who was going to give in first?

Suddenly, Kostmayer heard a noise at the door. He grabbed his gun and yelled, "McCall, door."

In the bedroom, McCall ordered: "Barbara, stay here!" and ran down the hall.

"The hell I will!" Barbara picked up the gun from the nightstand and followed.

Kostmayer stepped to the side of the door, while McCall and Barbara went through to the kitchen, ready for the threat.

The door opened, and Scott McCall walked in.

At first he was a little stunned, but then he said: "Wow, what a reception," putting his hands in the air. "I give up. Hey, Mickey. Hi, Dad." Then he saw Barbara in his father's robe, which had fallen open again, a big gun in her hand. Now THAT was a surprise. He walked behind his father up to Barbara.

"Ah, hello, I'm Scott, Scott McCall," he said as he put out his hand.

Barbara looked at McCall, then at Scott before she realized she was a tad uncovered. She put down the gun, grabbed the sides of the robe, and retied the belt around her. This was his son. Damn. What a way to meet his son.

Oh, well, what could she do, she thought? She took Scott's hand and said: "Hello, I'm Barbara Williams."

McCall finally found his voice. "Scott, what are you doing here?"

"Nice to see you too, Dad."

"Scott, I didn't mean…. I thought you were out of town?"

"I'm back. I got a gig at the Lion's Head. What's going on, anyway?" Scott looked from his father to Barbara and back.

Just then the phone rang. All of them turned to look at it as if it were a strange animal. Before McCall could answer, the machine picked up.

"McCall, it's Jonah."

McCall looked quickly at his watch. It was only about an hour since he had talked to Jonah. "That was fast," he said to no one in particular. He grabbed the phone.

"Jonah, what do you have?" As he listened he took notes on the pad that was always by the phone. Barbara watched in silence, still hugging the robe around her, and Scott opened the refrigerator to see if there was anything to eat.

"Right, thank you. Keep digging." McCall hung up.

They hadn't told Kostmayer anything about what going on, and McCall wanted to keep it that way for the moment. He certainly didn't want Scott involved, either.

"Mickey, would you excuse us, please? Why don't you and Scott go in the living room and, ah, talk about, ah, baseball or something?" Scott and Mickey looked at McCall. Barbara looked at him, too. Baseball? It was January. What the heck, Scott thought, and followed Mickey into the living room.

McCall took Barbara's arm and led her into the den on the other side of the kitchen. As they were walking, she said: "Baseball?"

He gave her a look.

Moving on, she asked: "What did Jonah say?" She sat down on the sofa, and McCall remained standing, restlessly moving around the room. It was clear to Barbara that he was upset by this.

McCall began. "Jose Maria Cabrera was killed yesterday around 9:00 PM when he was returning to his hotel from a meeting of human rights advocates. He was shot in a drive-by, and two bystanders were also killed. They have no suspects."

Barbara whistled tonelessly. Not good, she thought. "You know what this sounds like?"

McCall knew, and he wished he didn't. "Yes. A death squad hit. Plus, somehow Jason's involved."

"Yes. Sounds like Jason has taken a step up the world…or down, depending on how you look at it. Has his own Colombian death squad." She looked at him. "Do you have any idea who did the hit?"

"Jonah told me that three men from Colombia are up here 'training'. They're being 'escorted' by an Agency operative named Anderson, Alan Anderson. What do you think? Who's running Mr. Anderson?"

"Might it be Jason Masur?" After McCall nodded, she continued. "Did Jonah get the names of the Colombians?"

"Not yet. He's still working on it." McCall felt tired and old. When would this ever end? He had been assigned to Colombia ten years ago, and nothing had changed. Except that the hit was here in New York, and not in Bogota. Yes, he supposed, maybe it has changed. It has escalated.

Barbara waited. It was clear that McCall was visiting his past. As she well knew, that was not always pleasant. Eventually she got up and walked over to him. Putting her hand on his arm, she asked: "How did you know Cabrera?"

After a few minutes, McCall stood up and walked over to the window. "In 1983," he looked back to Barbara, "when you were in Leipzig, I was in Bogota. I was supposed to be helping the army plan a strategy to fight the FARC. More of those 'counter-insurgents', you know, like Vicente." He paused, before continuing as if there were a bad taste in his mouth. "If we'd given those 'counter-insurgents' big enough weapons, they would have wiped the FARC and most of the rest of population of Colombia off the face of the earth. Then they could have sold all the drugs themselves. Of course, everything I was doing was sheer nonsense. Hell, they're still fighting the FARC," he said bitterly.

He went on: "I knew who Cabrera was. He was trying to help people who had gotten caught in the middle between the FARC and the army. He was a very public man. One day he was supposed to speak at a meeting outside Bogota, and I decided I'd go."

Barbara raised her eyebrows. This was not standard operating procedure.

"I know, I know. But I wanted to hear the other side, or perhaps I should call it the third side, and I thought, what the hell, why not?" She nodded. "There was trouble at the meeting. The FARC showed up. Cabrera ended up right next to me, and I managed to get him out safely."

Barbara thought there was probably more to the story, but if he didn't want to tell, she wasn't going to ask.

"Afterward, we got to know each other." He paused. "When I worked down there, I was not the kind of man a human rights lawyer would want to know. We didn't exactly get to be friends, but, well, he was a very good man." He paused. "Now they've killed him. Bloody hell." He rubbed his fingers across his forehead. "Bloody hell."

He was standing at the window, not seeing what was outside, but what was inside himself. It was her turn to comfort him. She put her arms around his waist and laid her head on his back.

"Maybe we can get justice for Cabrera?" she said softly. And, she thought, keep me from getting killed.

"Justice? Perhaps." After a minute, he turned back to her: "But we are going to keep you alive." He kissed her gently, then they leaned against each other, gathering strength for the battle to come.

While they were talking, Scott McCall was watching his father and this Barbara from the living room. McCall had divorced his mother long ago. All the time he was growing up, his father had been a very distant presence in his life. Since McCall had quit the Agency, though, they had gotten to know each other better, and now they had a fairly good relationship. Still, he had not seen his father from this perspective before. He and this woman were clearly sleeping together, and he didn't know anything about her. How was he supposed to react?

He turned to Kostmayer. "Who is she, Mickey?"

Kostmayer shrugged. "You'll have to ask him, Scott."

Scott wasn't willing to leave it at that.

"Why were you all waiting to shoot me when I came in?"

"OK, Scott, I can tell you this much. It's about all I know, anyway. She's in trouble, and your father is protecting her."

Maybe she was one of his "Equalizer" clients, Scott thought, seeing her put her arms around his father. But no. His father's clients didn't carry guns, especially guns like the one he saw her with. He looked back at the couple in the other room, then turned back to Kostmayer with a question in his eyes.

Kostmayer just shrugged. "You have to ask him."

Chapter Fourteen

Barbara and McCall needed to plan strategy. They sat on the sofa in the den and McCall started: "I think Anderson might be our way in. When I knew him, he was a good operative. If I read him correctly, he does not like what he's mixed up in. We might be able to find out what we need know from him, if he thinks he's going to be protected from Jason."

"Hum…" Barbara mused. "It's worth a try. Can you get in touch with him quickly?"

"Jonah can probably tell me where he and the Colombians are staying. I will pay Anderson a visit."

"Good," she replied. She stood up. "I'm going to get some clothes on." She motioned with her head to the living room where Scott and Mickey were talking. "You might want to…ah…talk to Scott?"

McCall looked over at his son and his friend. "Yes."

She left him and went to the bedroom to change.

McCall went into the living room. He knew Scott had been watching him and Barbara, and he was deliberating what he should say. They had never talked about women in McCall's life, other than Scott's mother, of course, and he didn't really know how to begin.

Kostmayer had been thinking that he should absent himself from this little family scene, so he said: "I'll make some fresh coffee."

McCall stood next to his son. He thought of all those years he had been working somewhere else, all those years he had let Scott grow up without him, all those years that the job seemed more important than his love for his son; when he thought back now, he could hardly believe he had sacrificed being with Scott for the damned Agency.

"Scott," he began, "about Barbara."

"Hey, Dad, you don't have to explain. It's cool." Scott didn't know if he wanted to hear what his father had to say.

"No, Scott, please, just listen." He sat down on chair next to the sofa, took off his glasses, and thought about what to say. As much as he did not want Scott involved in the dangerous side of his life, he thought that he had to tell him something.

"Barbara is here because an Agency assassin tried to kill her two nights ago. She asked me for help. She used to work for the Agency, too, but resigned a year ago. We're trying to figure out what's going on. While we're working on it, she's staying here. We don't think anyone knows she's here, but Mickey is making sure she's OK when I'm gone." As was his wont, he was telling the truth, just not all of it.

"That's why the welcoming committee when I unlocked the door. I'm sorry I didn't let you know I was coming, but…."

"There was no way you could have known. I'm just glad nothing happened to you." McCall stopped, not sure how much of his feelings he could reveal to his son. "Scott, I care for this woman. She is important to me." That is as far as he could go.

"Dad, I'm…. She seems nice. At least she knows you don't play baseball in January," he added with a grin. After a pause, Scott said: "Do you want me to stay away for a while? I mean, I don't want you to worry if I come again."

"Scott, that probably would be best."

"Sure, Dad, just give me a call when the coast is clear." Again he paused. "Is she in real danger? I mean…, if she's in danger, then… you're in danger."

"I'll call you. Thank you." Scott noticed that his father didn't answer the other questions.

"OK, that sounds good. Say goodbye to Barbara for me." Glancing into the kitchen, he told Kostmayer: "Later, Mickey."

"Later, Scott."

With that, he left.

As much as McCall loved Scott, he was eminently relieved when his son left. He had tried his whole life to keep Scott, and his mother, for that matter, out of his job. Now he could get back to figuring out what the hell Jason Masur was mixed up with, and how he could catch him in the act.

In the bedroom, Barbara was contemplating what she wanted next. She'd been hiding in McCall's apartment for almost twenty-four hours, although it seemed much longer. Her one foray out had been nerve-wracking. Still, she didn't know if she wanted this arrangement to continue. Especially since her time in the prison, where she was so totally at the mercy of the Stasi, she wanted to be in control of her life. Did she want to hand that control over to Robert McCall, as much as she cared for him?

Putting those thoughts aside, she laid out her clothes on the bed, and headed for the bathroom to shower. When she started to turn on the faucet, she remembered how much she had wanted to soak in the bath when she got home from South America, how ever many days ago that was. What the heck, I'm going to take a bath. It was something she seldom did because it took too long. It was pure luxury.

She turned the faucet until she got just the right temperature and let the water run. Wonder if McCall has any…no probably not. Unless it's left from another woman. She hadn't thought of him with another woman. Hum, she didn't think she liked that idea. And she certainly didn't want to use what another woman had left.

Ah, of course, shampoo. From her cosmetic bag on the counter she took her small bottle of shampoo and let a little run into the bath water. Voila, a bubble bath. Sweet. The bathroom filled with fragrant steam. The shampoo reminded her that she'd have to wash her hair after the bath, but what the heck, she had all the time in the world – if she let McCall take care of everything. How long had it been since she had let someone else take care of everything? Had she ever voluntarily done that? Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all.

The bath was filling. She tested the temperature. Not hot enough, so she added more hot water until it was just right. When there was enough water, she climbed in, and relaxed into the warmth surrounding her. Heaven.

After Scott left, McCall got himself a cup of the coffee Kostmayer had made and went to the phone. First he had to call Jonah to locate Anderson and the Colombians. Then, he'd have to visit Jason's man and try to bring him over to their side. Would he do it because he hated what he was involved in? Or did McCall need extra incentive? He made a note to ask Jonah to find some dirt on Anderson. Finally, he had to get Control to promise protection for him if he agreed to help them.

McCall picked up the phone and punched in Jonah's number.

"McCall, it's only been half an hour. I don't have…"

"Jonah, I need different information. The other questions can wait." McCall pushed Jonah. "I need to find out where Alan Anderson and three Colombians, probably army or retired army, are staying. Then, find out if Anderson has any skeletons in his closet, anything I can use against him. I need it in the next hour."

Jonah was used to McCall's demands, but this was a lot, even from him.

"McCall, I can probably find out where Anderson is staying pretty quickly. But about his past…that could take a long time."

"We don't have time, Jonah. I'll double my price."

"McCall, it isn't about the money. I just don't think I can do it."

"Jonah, think of it as a challenge. I will call you in one hour." McCall hung up.

On the other end of the line, Jonah remembered why it had always been difficult working for McCall. But in the back of his mind, he was wondering: CAN I do it in under an hour? Let's see…. He turned back to his computer and started tapping in code.

Kostmayer had been listening to McCall's conversation with Jonah from the living room. He had not gotten involved in this because McCall hadn't wanted him involved. But he had some information.

"McCall, I know Anderson. He's a good guy, but he's, well, you can push him around pretty easily. He was one of Control's Princeton boys."

McCall walked into the living room where Kostmayer was sitting. He was surprised about Anderson's relationship with Control. "He was one of Control's operatives? Mickey, he's on Jason's team, now."

"Yeah, I know. Don't know how it happened, though. I heard what you said about him and the Colombians in New York. I think he's been on Jason's team in Colombia since we started pouring assets into the country early last year. He's been Jason's point man for around a year."

"Thanks for the information." He decided to run a hunch by Kostmayer. "Mickey, something else. Have you ever heard anything about Jason and drug money?" McCall had been deliberating for a while what Jason might be getting out of the Colombian connection. In that country, the answer was most often drugs.

Kostmayer considered McCall's question. "No…, not directly. But, McCall, it would make sense. Jason always seems to have a lot of toys, cars, a boat. Not so much that you'd catch on unless you were looking, though."

Kostmayer had one more thing to add: "There's something else. I heard a rumor that Anderson had a woman down there, a Colombian."

McCall thought this extra tidbit over. "Yes, yes, that could be very valuable. Thanks."

McCall walked to the mantel and sipped his coffee. It was almost cold now, but he didn't notice. He was on to something, he was sure. Now all he had to do was get the evidence. Leaving his mug on the counter in the kitchen, McCall walked to the bedroom to tell Barbara.

When he entered the bedroom, he saw Barbara's clothes laid out on the bed. Somehow looking at her things in the room gave him a jolt. The last time they had stood in this room, they had been shouting at each other. What was it about? It didn't matter.

The room was warm and the fragrance of the "bubble bath" was drifting from the bathroom. He knocked, then opened the door. She was lying in the tub – his tub – obviously enjoying her bath. Her breasts and her toes were showing above the bubbles. Aren't I too old for this, he thought? God, how does she do it to me?

Barbara had turned her head when he knocked. She said. "This is wonderful. I haven't had a bath like this for…for I don't know how long."

It was warm in the bathroom. McCall was getting very warm, so he took off his jacket and tie, and hung them on the back of the closed door. When he turned, Barbara had stepped out of the tub and was standing in front of him. Once again, she had surprised him. She was giving her full trust to him, allowing him to see her body, wanting him to see her body. He touched her face, then slid his fingers down to the scar on her right breast, one of the parting gifts of the Stasi. He found the next scar, and she watched as he kissed it gently. She moved closer; he put an arm around her and took her into the bedroom.

Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. Kostmayer considered telling McCall but he decided against it.

Chapter 15

Jason Masur sat in his office with his feet on the desk reflecting on how well his strategy was succeeding. He had decided to launch his offensive against Control from all sides, so that his enemy would have to divide his forces to defend different fronts.

One tactic had been to move against the Red Line, Control's pet project. Oh, Jason had known for some time that Control protected the Red Line. Now that he had accumulated enough fire power, Jason had sanctioned the Red Line, and Control could do nothing about it. So far, Jason's people had killed two of the group. Somehow they had missed the woman, Williams. He took out her picture. How could this middle-aged relic of the Cold War have managed to take out her assassin? After the failed hit, they had traced her to New York but lost her after the airport. Why she had come to New York was a mystery to him. It didn't matter, not really. They would get her and the others soon enough.

Then there was Colombia. That was falling into place nicely. Jason and Control had been sponsoring different groups of operatives in Colombia for the last year. Jason's operatives were instructed to do everything they could to support Colombian right wing counter-insurgency networks. If this meant helping paramilitaries with the drug trade, so much the better. Control's operatives were instructed to do everything they could to interdict the drug trade and bring down the paramilitaries, especially those working with Escobar. The irony was that Control's people could be trying to seize the very drugs that Jason's people were helping to export. Jason wanted this to end.

In his offensive against Control, Jason judged that he had one great advantage. As tough as he seemed, Control had a major vulnerability: he thought too much about morality and justice. That was all nonsense to Jason. Jason cared about nothing but Jason. He was making a very nice pile of money from his share of the drug money; if he eliminated Control, and the man's people in country were gone, Jason would make even more. Control gone and more money: those were Jason's goals.

There was a knock at his door.

"Come in," Jason called.

It was Anderson.

"Alan, how are things going? Rodriguez and his boys happy?"

Anderson responded: "After the hit last night they partied until almost dawn. So, yes, I'd say they were happy. Well, maybe not this morning. They probably have pretty big hangovers."

Anderson had been holding hands with this bunch of cowboys for almost a year, and he was fed up. Before they came north, he had just about reached his limit; the murder of Cabrera was the last straw. Before the hit, Jason and the Colombians had kept him in the dark about their plans for Cabrera. Well, he wanted to turn the tables on Jason. He had the evidence. It was going to help him get out of this job, if he had the guts to use it. He knew he had to do it now, before he was supposed to return to Colombia tomorrow. But how, that he hadn't yet figured out.

"Good. Any sign of the police?" Jason asked. To keep the locals off their track, Jason had spread some money around the NYPD, so he was pretty sure what the answer was, but he wanted confirmation.

"No, not so far. Everything seems to be going fine," Anderson answered.

"OK, you go back to the hotel. Make sure they don't do anything stupid. They are staying one more day. Then you can take them back south."

"Right." Anderson wondered how he could make sure that stupid people didn't do anything stupid. Maybe he hoped they would do something stupid and make it easier for him.

After his operative left, Jason leaned back in his chair and smirked. One more day, and the Colombian part of his plan would be over. Then he would focus again on the Red Line. How hard could that be?

Chapter 16

Back at the apartment, Barbara stayed in the bedroom to rest, and McCall returned to the living room, where Kostmayer was lying on the sofa, eyes closed. He was used to waiting. He told McCall about the message Jonah had left while he and Barbara were, well, otherwise occupied. Anderson and the Colombians were staying at the Hotel Tudor, the agent in Room 306 and the Colombians in Suite 1032. He had not been able to find any dirt on Anderson.

McCall took a seat and posed a question, as much to himself as to Mickey: "I wonder if there is no dirt, or if Jonah just hasn't found it yet?"

"Well, there just might not be any. He was a pretty straight-arrow kind of guy when I knew him," Kostmayer answered.

"Let's hope we're right. Maybe I can convince him. Mickey, would you tell Barbara that I've gone to the hotel? After that I'm going to get in touch with Control, so it might be a while before I get back."

"Right. Are you going to call in?"

"Let's see, it's, what, 12:00? I'll call at about 3:00."

Mickey gave him a little salute, and McCall left.

As he was driving to the hotel, McCall thought about what he was going to say to Anderson. Maybe it wouldn't be so hard. He didn't know if he had met any of these Colombian army men personally, but he had known any number of men like them when he worked down there. He had grown to despise almost all of them. They seemed to care only about money, and power, and status. Being around such people, he had craved contact with a man like Cabrera, a man with a conscience. That was why he had attended the man's speech that night. And now they had killed him, the bastards.

He parked the Jag around the corner from the Hotel Tudor. He hoped that he would not come in contact with any of the Colombians, because it was possible that he would know them. If he did see any he knew, he would just have to act like they were his old and dear friends. He didn't want them to tumble to the fact that he was there to talk to Anderson.

McCall had taken the chance of missing Anderson by not calling in advance, but he hadn't wanted to warn him off. He was in luck. When he knocked on the door of Room 306, Anderson answered, clearly expecting someone else, probably one of his charges. At first he seemed relieved that McCall wasn't one of them. A moment later, he seemed less certain that this visit was a good thing.

"Hello, Alan." McCall began, stepping immediately into the room. "It's been a long time." McCall closed the door behind him before the other man could react.

"Robert," Anderson stumbled, "ah, yes, it certainly has been a long time." What in the hell was Robert McCall doing here, he wondered? Alan was frantically scanning his mind, trying to remember what McCall was up to now, after his very public resignation from the Agency. "What can I do for you?"

McCall walked calmly across the room and sat on one of the chairs at the small table in the corner, noting that Anderson got this small, cramped room, while the Colombians got a suite on the 10th floor. Made his task easier, he thought.

"Alan, I want to talk to you about the murder." McCall wanted to see Anderson's reaction when he put him on the spot without warning.

"Murder? What murder?" Anderson had started to sweat. What the hell did McCall want? What did he have to do with any of this?

"Alan, you know what murder I'm talking about. The one that you planned and helped execute two days ago." McCall riveted his eyes on the other man, and it was hard for anyone to withstand that stare. Anderson avoided his gaze.

"No, I …," Anderson stammered.

"Alan, you are Jason's point man, you brought them up here, you had to get them guns, you had to help them." McCall raised the pressure.

"Robert, I swear to you, I knew nothing about it. All I was supposed to do was bring them up here for a training session. I didn't know about the murder until they came back here, all boozed up and celebrating." Braggarts, they made him sick, he thought.

"If you had nothing to do with it, where did they get the weapons? If they brought them up in the plane, you must have known about it?" McCall was fairly sure where the guns had come from, but he wanted to push Anderson until he broke.

"They did not have the guns on the plane. I would have seen them. They had to get them up here, but it wasn't from me!" Anderson was fairly sure where the guns had come from, too.

To keep Anderson off base, McCall asked a different question: "You know who they killed, don't you?" McCall did not take his eyes off Anderson, but now he lowered his voice to a snarl. "Don't you?" McCall demanded.

"It was Cabrera," Anderson said bleakly.

"Yes, Cabrera. Did you ever meet Cabrera down there, Alan?" McCall kept up the implied threat.

"Ah...," Alan said, looking anywhere but at McCall. He had met Cabrera. Camila had introduced him to Cabrera, but he didn't want anyone to know.

"I did, Alan." McCall raised his voice slightly, upping its cold menace. "He did not deserve to die, Alan. Why did you let it happen?"

"McCall, please, I swear to you, I had no idea. I didn't want him to die." Anderson was sweating profusely now. He had begun to fear that McCall was here to kill him. McCall stood and walked toward Anderson, who back peddled as McCall advanced upon him. When McCall put his hand on his sleeve, Anderson jumped.

"Is that true, Alan? That you didn't want him to die?" McCall had changed his tone. Now he was soothing.

"Yes, Robert, really." He backed up, then stopped and stood facing McCall. "I am so sick of them, these … these … bastards. Why are we helping them? Not that the FARC are any better, but why are we helping them burn down villages the FARC has taken over? Helping them to rape and torture, to do everything we're supposed to be against? I've seen it, hell, I'm supplying them weapons they can use to kill women and children, people who don't want to do anything but live their lives. I have nightmares every night about it." Camila was one of those people. She and her family lived in fear of both sides. He wanted to get her out.

"I understand, Alan." McCall had had far too many nightmares of his own. He did indeed understand.

"Yes, yes, I guess you do." Alan knew that McCall had done basically the same job when he worked down there. Alan went on: "This man, Cabrera, he was trying to help the people in the middle between the FARC and our so-called friends, the paramilitaries, the death squads. I SWEAR to you, Robert, I had no idea they were going to kill Cabrera. If I had known, I… I…," he stopped.

"You what, Alan? Would you have done something about it?" McCall doubted that.

"I'd like to say I would have, but I don't know. I think I've discovered that I'm not a very brave man." With that, Anderson tried to turn away again.

McCall stood right in front of him, forcing Jason's man to look at him. He put his hand on Anderson's shoulder.

"Alan, would you like a chance to get justice for Cabrera?" McCall had lowered his voice, drawing Anderson into his sphere.

"What…what do you mean?" He was clearly frightened.

"We can take down the Colombians. But that's not enough. We have to get to the people at the top. If the Colombians didn't have weapons when you flew up here, who did they get the weapons from? They didn't get them on the street, did they?" He let that sink in, then added: "It was Jason Masur, wasn't it?"

"Jason…? No, you don't mean you want to get Jason?" Now he was truly frightened. Because although he had dreamed of turning the tables on Masur, when someone actually offered him the opportunity, he didn't think he could do it.

"If he had a part in the killing, then he is just as guilty as the Colombians. But it's not just that, is it? Alan, Jason has to be stopped. He orders people like you to help those bastards, but he doesn't have to watch while the death squads kill and rape and maim. He just sits up here in his office and makes money off the drugs." McCall had raised his voice, and he was punctuating his words by pointing his finger at Anderson.

"Drugs?" Anderson barely choked out the word.

"He does, doesn't he? Make money off the drugs." McCall lowered his voice again, letting Anderson think about it.

Alan knew he was at a cross roads. Yes, he knew about Jason and the drugs. In fact, he knew just about everything about Jason and the drugs. He had been collecting information for almost six months. That information was his ace in the hole, the way he had been planning to get out of the job, out of the Agency for good and in one piece. He was going to bring Camila to the US, and they were going to get married and….

Until now he'd had some vague plans about how he was going to use the information. He'd just about run out of time on this trip. McCall seemed to be giving him the way out. But could he chance it? Was he really willing to put himself in danger that way? He might also be putting Camila in danger. He looked at McCall. Anderson was sure that McCall knew what Anderson had been through; he knew what the opposition was like. Anderson made his decision: this was a man he could trust.

Walking across the room, he took his laptop out of a drawer. Once it was running, he inserted a disk, tapped some keys, and withdrew the disk. Returning to where McCall was standing, he held up the disk. Still, he hesitated. Did he really want to do this? Yes.

"McCall, on this disk are records of Jason's drug transactions, along with other indiscretions the man has committed."

McCall looked at him in amazement. "What?" He couldn't believe his luck.

"There's also information about a woman, a woman named Camila Gomez Romero. I'll give you this disk under one condition. Well, two conditions actually. First, you protect me from Jason and the Colombians. Second, you protect Camila and get her up here. Otherwise, no deal." It occurred to Anderson that he was being foolish, giving McCall the disk like this. But he trusted the man. That's all there was to it.

McCall looked at Anderson and the disk, taken by surprise that this man had taken the chance of collecting this information, and that he was offering it to McCall. He suspected that the woman had a lot to do with it. The question was, could he protect Anderson? And Camila? He had to get in touch with Control, fast.

"Alan, if you give me the disk, I'll do all I can to protect you and Camila. After I leave this room, get out of here, immediately. Go to the Hotel Winsor and check in under the name Ray Martin. Pay cash. Either Control or I will contact you in a few hours."

Anderson still had the disk in his hand. McCall said he'd do all he could. What if it wasn't enough? He took a deep breath and decided he had to take a stand.

"OK, McCall, here." He handed him the disk. "I'll do just as you say."

McCall put the disk in his pocket and shook Anderson's hand. "Thank you. It's the right thing."

As Anderson shut the door behind him, he thought, "I just hope it's not going to get me killed."

McCall took the elevator down and hurried out of the hotel. As he was rounding the corner to go back to his car, another man was getting out of a limo in front of the hotel, and he just happened to catch a glimpse of McCall. Jason Masur didn't like seeing McCall anywhere, but he especially didn't like seeing him here.

Walking into the lobby, Jason debated what he should do. It could not be a coincidence that McCall had put in an appearance. He was Control's man. Even if he was old and another relic of the Cold War, Masur knew in his heart that McCall was very dangerous. Was he here to visit Anderson? The Colombians? Entering the elevator, he pushed the button for the third floor.

While Jason was riding up, Alan Anderson was walking down the hotel stairs. He had left everything in the room. He had wanted to take the laptop but decided against it. If Jason or the others saw him, it would be easier to explain if he weren't carrying the computer. Before he left, he made another copy of the file for himself, then erased everything from the computer. His old life vanished.

Jason knocked at Anderson's door. No answer. Back to the elevator and up to the tenth floor. At his knock, Colonel Rodriquez answered. Velez and Montoya were sitting at the table, where a room service meal was spread out. Jason walked in.

"Is Anderson here?" He asked.

"No, I have not seen him since this morning." That was before Jason had spoken to Anderson earlier. He didn't like this. Anderson and McCall. Had Anderson known McCall in the past, he asked himself?

Rodriguez had sat down at the table. "Why?"

Jason went over and picked absentmindedly at some of the food.

"I just saw Robert McCall leaving the hotel."

"McCall? Ah, yes, I know Robert McCall. We met years ago when he was working in Bogota. An interesting man. I heard he had resigned from the Agency. Why do you care if he was in the hotel?"

"McCall is Control's man, that's why. Plus, our relationship has been less than friendly. I don't like it. I want to know what he was doing here."

"Come, my friend, McCall is an old man. How could he hurt us?"

Jason was pacing the room. "I don't know HOW he could hurt us, I just know that he CAN hurt us. He is a very dangerous man. I want to know why he was here, especially since Anderson seems to have disappeared. If he's gotten to Anderson…. Anderson knows everything about Cabrera, don't forget, my friend."

Rodriquez was beginning to understand. "Yes, I see your point." Velez and Montoya were listening carefully, too, especially since Rodriquez' voice had taken on an anxious tone.

Jason stopped his pacing in front of the table. "Look, Anderson could be anywhere. I know where McCall lives. We're going to pay McCall a little visit. Let's find out just what he knows."

Rodriquez nodded to his compatriots. "I agree, Jason. It is probably wise."

Chapter 17

As soon as he reached his car, McCall put in a call to Control.

"Robert…," Control answered.

"Control, listen. Alan Anderson, you know who he is, right? He's given me some very interesting information on Jason. He wanted protection for himself and a woman friend of his in Colombia. I promised. We have to bring him in NOW, and we have to get someone on the woman down there."

"Wait just a minute. How could you promise…?"

"Control, we both want Jason. With this information, we have Jason, believe me. You have to protect Anderson."

"It's that important?"

"It's that important."

"Alright. Meet me in 30 minutes." He named a location McCall knew.

McCall hung up and immediately called his apartment. Kostmayer answered.

"Everything OK, Mickey?"

"Yep, we're just hanging out."

"I'm meeting Control in thirty minutes, then I'll probably be back."

"How's it going?"

"Well, Mickey, well."

"Glad to hear it."

Barbara came on the line. "Hello, Robert. Tell me, what's happening?"

"Hello, Barbara. You'll have to wait until I get there. It's a long story."

Of course she wanted to hear more, but Barbara decided she could wait a little longer.

"OK. When will you be back?"

"Barbara, ask Mickey. I've got to get to a meeting with Control. Good bye."

Barbara stood there, looking at the phone. Be that way, she thought. Turning back to Mickey, she asked what McCall had told him, and he told her everything, little as it was. The lack of action was frustrating her again. After their romantic interlude, she had taken a shower, washed her hair, put on clean clothes, of which she didn't have many, and sat down to read a book. That had lasted about ten minutes. She was too worked up to sit and read quietly. Then she had watched a little TV. God spare us from daytime TV, she thought. She was wandering aimlessly around the apartment and driving Mickey crazy when McCall rang up.

"Mickey, I don't know how you can wait so patiently. I can't stand it."

"You've done it often enough, Barbara. I know you can sit for hours and observe a target. Don't tell me you can't do it now."

"Well, I guess it's different when I'm the target," she said with a laugh.

"Bingo," said Mickey, lying down again on the sofa.

What would she try next? Maybe another book. With that she headed for the wall of books in the den.

With a crash, the front door splintered and bullets tore through the apartment. Mickey jumped up, gun in hand and turned toward the door.

"Barbara, run!" he shouted.

Barbara had left McCall's gun in the bedroom, so she could do nothing to help Mickey. She could either run for the back exit or try to get another weapon from the secret room. Back door, she thought. As she ran, she heard another barrage of gunfire; she looked toward the front door and saw Kostmayer lying on the floor, blood running from his head. Oh, my God, Mickey!

A man she didn't recognize pushed through the door, and she saw at least one other behind him. Shit, RUN, she screamed at herself. She raced down the hall toward the back door, but one of them caught by the right arm. She pivoted around and landed a fierce blow to his groin with her left knee. He went down with a yelp of pain and let her go. Again she sprinted toward the door, but it had taken too long. The other one lunged and caught her, pulling her right arm hard, whipping her around to face him, then grasping her by both arms.

She had no idea who this one was, either. There was nothing she could do, so she gave up resistance. She'd have to wait for her opportunity. The man holding her seemed to be waiting for something. While they stood there, the first man managed to get up, came toward them and pulled her away from the other.

"Bitch!" he shouted and hit her viciously in the face with his pistol.

When Jason and Rodriquez caught up to Montoya and Velez, the American looked curiously at the woman lying unconscious on the floor with blood running from a gash that started on her forehead and extended into her hair. He had counted on McCall's being in the apartment, but they had caught a woman instead. Jason hadn't known that McCall lived with a woman. All the better, was his reaction.

Then Jason bent down and looked closer. Despite the blood, it was clear: this was the Williams woman. Here in McCall's apartment. Jason smiled and shook his head.

"Do you know her?" Rodriquez asked.

"Yes. I'll tell you later. Let's get her down the stairs and into the car before the police get here. You know someone in the building will have called them."

In Spanish, the Colonel told Velez to bring the car around to the back. Then he instructed Montoya to pick Barbara up and carry her down the stairs.

"Where are we taking her?" he asked Jason.

Jason gave him directions to an apartment he used frequently. As they drove, Jason gloated. Now he could kill two birds with one stone, literally, he chuckled to himself. Not only would he get the Williams woman, he would get McCall and the information he had on top of it all. How could things go any better?

When they got to apartment building, Jason gave Rodriquez the key, dropped them off in front, and drove away to find a parking spot. They managed to get her up to the apartment without awakening any undue interest, even though Barbara's wound was bleeding profusely.

"Put her in the bedroom," Jason ordered. "Make sure you don't get that blood on the bed."

Velez carried Barbara to the bed and tossed her down. Velez wondered what Jason thought he could do about the blood on the bed and decided the American would have to deal with it himself. Velez looked at the unconscious woman, imagining whether he'd enjoy having her. She was old, but the bitch had humiliated him earlier, he told himself. He could still feel the residue of the pain. He thought that maybe he'd have a chance. He left and returned to the living room, where Rodriquez, Montoya, and Jason were talking about their next move.

"This is what we're going to do," Jason began. "I'll call McCall and let him know we have his woman. If he hands over the information, we hand over the woman. If not, she dies. That's what I'll tell him." It wasn't what he was actually planning to do.

"What will keep him from making copies?"

"Even if I let her go, I can get to her any time. Remember my position in the Agency. He knows that. If he tries anything in the future, I'll have her killed." Of course he was bluffing. He had already tried to have Williams killed and had failed. It didn't matter to Jason because he had other plans. He'd try to kill both Williams and McCall, and get the information today. If for some reason he didn't get the information, or McCall and Williams escaped, and he didn't win his war against Control, he had a backup plan. All he needed was a little time get ready for his trip. Either way, it was good for him.

Rodriquez shrugged, knowing he and his men would be leaving the US in a few hours. It was Jason's problem, not his.

Chapter 18

McCall had to wait for Control. Damn him, just when I need him to be on time, McCall thought. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, McCall told himself to calm down. They had what was necessary to get rid of Jason, perhaps even to hurt the Colombians. The sanction against the Red Line would be rescinded, Barbara would be safe, and there might be some justice for Cabrera. Still, they had to work fast to protect Anderson and Camila. He had promised to protect them.

Control's car pulled up beside the Jag.

"It is about time, Control. I've been sitting here for ten minutes."

"Couldn't be helped, Robert. I'm here now, alright?"

McCall took the floppy disk out of his pocket and handed it to Control.

"Anderson says that he kept track of all of Jason's dealings and put it on this disk. It's all you need."

Control looked at the disk, raised his eyebrows and said: "If this is what he says it is, you're right, we do have the son of a bitch."

"You've got to pick up Anderson now, Control. He's at the Hotel Windsor under the name Martin. When you get him, he can tell you everything about Camila. She's got to be brought in, too. It could be very dangerous for her down there if anyone knows about their relationship."

"Yes, yes, Robert, I understand. I'll take care of it."

He was just about to drive away when he said: "Thank you, Robert."

McCall responded with a tight smile. "You are welcome, Control."

Starting the engine, McCall headed in the direction of his apartment. He was thinking about Barbara. What could they do this evening? Probably they should wait to leave the apartment until he had word from Control that Jason was eliminated, and the sanction had officially been lifted. They'd have to order in again. Or he could call Pete and ask her to send over a nice meal, and he had some very good wine at home.

When he turned into his street he was stunned to see police cars in front of his building. The paramedics were treating someone on a gurney. Oh, my God, McCall thought, what has happened? Double parking, he jumped out and rushed over to find Kostmayer sitting up on the gurney, a bandage on his head, arguing with the paramedics.

"Mickey, what happened? Is Barbara OK?"

Kostmayer was a little woozy when he looked at McCall. He'd been thinking about how to tell Robert about it ever since he'd regained consciousness. He just blurted it out: "Robert, they got her."

"WHAT? Who got her? Is she…?" He turned and looked up at the apartment.

"No. Well, I don't really know. They took her. Robert, I…."

"How the HELL could you let this happen, Mickey? You were supposed to protect her!" McCall was being irrational, and he knew it. He couldn't help himself.

"Robert, there were four of them, they broke down the door and came in shooting. I got off a few rounds before they hit me." He was miserable.

McCall looked at his friend, controlled himself, and put his hand on his shoulder.

"Mickey, I'm sorry. I know you tried your best. Tell me exactly what happened." McCall vowed to himself that he would get her back, no matter what it took.

"That's all I know. The police are up there now. Maybe they can tell you more. I'm sorry, Robert."

McCall squeezed Kostmayer's shoulder, then realized he hadn't even asked how his friend was.

"How bad is it, Mickey?"

"It's just a scratch."

The paramedic raised her eyebrows and said: "Right, just a scratch. He was out for thirty minutes at least. He lost a fair amount of blood. We're going to take him to the hospital for observation."

That's what they had been arguing about. "No way." Kostmayer jumped off the gurney, a little unsteadily, but ready to help McCall find Barbara.

"Like I said, it's just a scratch. Let me help you find her, Robert."

"Are you sure, Mickey?"

Kostmayer started to nod, but thought better of it. "Yes."

"Good. Thank you. Let's go find out what the police know."

When they got upstairs, McCall saw how completely his door had been destroyed. No wonder Kostmayer couldn't do anything about it; they had not prepared for a full frontal assault.

Detective Alice Shepherd was standing in the kitchen, making notes.

"Hello, Alice."

"Robert."

"What do you think happened?"

"I thought you could tell me," she said skeptically.

"All I know is that Kostmayer was shot, and Barbara is missing."

Alice looked carefully at McCall. She had known him for a good many years, and she didn't know who this Barbara was. She was also surprised at the violence of the assault. Kostmayer was very lucky to be alive.

"OK, this is what we've figured out." She led him through the kitchen to the hall. "It looks like the woman…,"

"Barbara," said McCall.

"Yes. Barbara ran down this hall, probably toward the back door, but they caught her right about here." She pointed at blood on the floor.

McCall's stomach turned. Blood. Quite a lot of blood. How badly was she injured, he wondered?

Just as he was going to reply, the phone rang. Alice, McCall and Kostmayer looked at each other, then at the phone. McCall grabbed the receiver, making sure the answering machine did not pick up. If it was them, he certainly did not want Alice hearing what they had to say.

"McCall," he said into the phone.

"Hello, McCall," Jason said in his most unctuous voice.

When McCall said nothing, he continued: "We have Williams. You have some information I want. You give me the information, we give you the woman."

McCall covered the phone and said: "Mickey, I'm going to take this in the other room." What he meant was that Kostmayer should stand guard over the phone so Alice or another police officer could not listen in.

Alice knew he was talking to the kidnappers. She was also certain that McCall would tell her exactly as much as he wanted her to know, no more, no less. She could not force him. She backed off.

Once in the bedroom, McCall picked up again.

"What do you propose?" McCall used his iciest voice.

"McCall, I thought for a moment that you had hung up. That would have been unfortunate. I propose that you bring me the information. Then I'll give you Williams. That's it." Jason knew that McCall knew that it wasn't all, but they were both playing the game.

"How can I be certain that she's alive? Let me talk to her."

"Well, that might be difficult. Let me see what I can do." Jason was making it hard on McCall and enjoying it.

McCall's heart was in this throat. Why should it be difficult? He waited, trying to stay calm. If he wasn't calm he would not be objective, and if he wasn't objective, he couldn't work effectively.

In Jason's apartment, they were trying to revive Williams. Finally she opened her eyes, closed them when the pain in her head overwhelmed her, and opened them again when Rodriquez slapped her across the face.

Jason sat on the bed and picked up the bedroom extension.

"McCall, hold on."

He put the phone to Barbara's mouth.

"Say something to your lover, Barbara," Jason said nastily.

She said nothing. Then she heard McCall on the other end.

"Barbara, it's alright, say something. I need to know you're OK."

Barbara summoned up her energy and said: "Robert, I'm…."

Jason took the phone away.

"So, McCall, now you know. This is what you're going to do. Meet me on the steps of the New York Public Library in exactly forty-five minutes. Bring the information. Come alone. You give me the information, we'll let Williams go. No info, no Williams. It's as easy as that." Jason hung up.

McCall stood in the bedroom staring at the receiver, until he forced himself to start moving. There was no time to lose. This was a bad situation. Jason could not be trusted; Barbara could be dead before the meeting. Plus, he could not give Jason the information even if he had wanted to: Control had the disk. Get it back in forty-five minutes? Impossible. He probably couldn't even meet Control in forty-five minutes.

Going to the door, he called to Kostmayer. "Mickey, I need to talk to you."

Alice was sure what was going on, but she let it be, aware that McCall and Kostmayer were more likely to get the woman fast back than the police. She didn't like it, but she accepted that it was the truth.

Walking into the bedroom and closing the door, Kostmayer listened while McCall filled him in, then asked: "What's your plan?"

McCall looked away, because he didn't have a plan; he couldn't think straight, as much as he had told himself it was vital that he did. This was Barbara, and he couldn't bear the thought of losing her. Kostmayer had only seen McCall like this once before, when they had been searching for Yvette. He put his hand on McCall's shoulder and said: "Come on, Robert, let's figure out what to do."

In Jason's apartment, Barbara was awake but groggy, trying to fill in the gaps in her memory and assess the situation. She couldn't remember the blow that had put her out, but soon she recalled everything else. When she tried to sit up to look around, her head pounded so hard that she had to lie back again. She could see enough from here, anyway, she told herself with a grim smile.

The bed was placed against one wall of a smallish bedroom. A door on the left seemed to lead to a bath, while a door on the right led to another room, probably the living room. After she had spoken to Robert, they had left her and returned to that room. She thought there were four of them, Jason and three others with Spanish accents. They must be the Colombians who had killed Cabrera. Jason she could take easily; he didn't even know his way around a gun. As for the other three, she knew nothing about them, and she was groggy. Not very good odds.

In the other room, the door opened and closed. After that, it seemed as if there were only two left, and they spoke Spanish. Jason and one of the others must have left. That was good news; now there were only two. Weighing her options, she decided that if she could divide them up, she might be able to get them one by one.

Barbara knew that she had two weapons they were unaware of. One was that men always underestimated a woman, especially a middle aged woman. Her other weapon was more tangible: the knife in the sheath against her right leg. Because they did not take her seriously, even that fool Jason, who should have known better, they had not thought of checking her. The first thing she had to do before they came back was get the knife and secret it some place within reach. What came next depended on them. She had to be ready.

Struggling to change position without her head exploding, she managed to reach down, pull up her pant leg, and unsheathe the knife. Next she tucked it under the pillow next to her. Now all she had to do was get one of them in here.

As if she had willed it, the one who she'd kicked in the groin appeared at the doorway, a nasty predator's smile on his face. She had seen that smile before, too often. This time it was different, though: this time she had the knife. Her heart raced. She was ready.

He closed the door and came toward her, unzipping his pants. From experience she knew he wanted her to be afraid; it seemed to increase their pleasure, she thought with revulsion. She gave him what he wanted. As he dropped his trousers, she screamed: "No, please, no," and looked very frightened. Of course that made him want it more, and he laughed. Again, she cried: "No, no," but she just wanted him to come a little closer. Her right hand slipped under the pillow and grasped the knife. Come on, come on, you bastard.

He climbed on the bed and straddled her. She cried out and pretended to resist, but she was actually moving him to the right place. Just a little more this way, she thought. She had to kill him with one thrust, so he had to be in the exactly the right position. When he had moved just far enough up her body and was distracted tearing away her blouse, she struck, pushing the knife into his heart with all the strength adrenalin, fear, and loathing could give her.

She knew immediately that it was right. As long as she lived she would never forget the look on his face just before he died: pure astonishment. Maybe later she would be haunted by this kill, but right now she felt triumph and the sweetness of revenge from deep inside her.

She had no time to savor the emotion. The other man was still in the living room, and Jason could come back at any time. Pushing the dead man off her and onto the floor, she lowered herself to the floor, too, looking for a gun. The man had not brought a gun with him into the bedroom. Damn, she thought. With only the knife, she had no chance. She sat down next to the bed to think. Her head was still pounding, almost intolerably.

How long until the man in the other room came to see what was going on? Jason and the third man must be meeting with McCall. How long until the man in the other room got the call to, what? Kill her? Let her go? Not likely they would let her go. What was McCall planning? He certainly knew that they wouldn't just let her go.

The first thing she did was lock the door to the bedroom. It was a flimsy lock, but it might give her a few extra seconds. Then she reevaluated the room. Looking around, she saw it: the extension phone. Idiots, they'd left a phone in the room. She might be able to use the phone without the other Colombian realizing. If she contacted McCall before he met with Jason, they might be able to get out of this. There were two problems with that plan. First, she didn't know where she was, and second, she didn't know McCall's number. Should she just call the police? She didn't trust the police to take care of this. She never trusted the police, in any country.

Alright, Barbara Williams, she told herself, one step at a time. Where are you? She managed to get up and went to the window, hoping to see a street sign, anything. Yes, she could see an intersection. It looked like Prince and Sullivan. Thank God. The building was at the northeast corner of Prince and Sullivan. It was on the second floor. She was in a corner room. Faster, Barbara, faster, she implored herself.

How to reach McCall? If only she could remember the number she'd called on Friday. It was pointless to think about that. The only solution she could come up with was to call a different number. It had been more than a year since she had thought of that number, but she did remember it; she had learned it twenty-five years ago. He would know how to reach Robert.

Picking up the phone on the table next to her, she punched in the number.

"Control, it's Barbara," she whispered into the phone.

"Barbara? Barbara Williams? Why the hell are you calling me at this number? You're not in the Company anymore. You know…." Control was very angry.

"Control, shut up for once and listen to me. I have to contact Robert McCall RIGHT NOW. I need his numbers, his car number and his home number. RIGHT NOW."

"Why should I do that?" He almost hung up.

"Control, I don't have time to explain the whole thing. Just give me the God damned numbers!"

As he listened, Control was fitting together pieces of a puzzle he hadn't known existed until this moment. It was starting to make sense. But Williams and McCall? How could Robert possibly…? He gave her the numbers, not because of her, but because of McCall.

Barbara called the car phone first. McCall answered. She almost fainted in relief.

"Robert, it's Barbara. Have you met with Jason yet?"

"My God, Barbara…."

"Listen. Have you met Jason yet?

"No." This was the time for her to tell him what to do, he fully realized.

"Forget Jason. You've got to get here, to this apartment, now. I'm in the bedroom. I killed one of them, but I've only got my knife. There's another in the living room. He's going to figure out what's going on soon."

"Where are you?"

"The northeast corner of Prince and Sullivan, 2nd floor, corner apartment. That's all I can tell you."

"I'll be there as soon as I can." He hung up.

She put down the receiver. Her next step was to decide what to do when the other man came into the room. She hoped, but didn't really believe McCall would get there in time. She had heard Jason tell him the meeting would be at the Public Library. If McCall was not there as planned, Jason would call here and tell the other man to kill her. She had to be ready.

When McCall got Barbara's call, he and Kostmayer had been on their way to the library to meet Jason. He immediately pulled over and told his friend what Barbara had said. They both knew two things. First, Jason was not going to be alone at the meeting. If McCall did not do as Jason wanted, the other would be instructed to call a third man and tell him to kill Barbara. Hell, his instructions might be to kill her no matter whether Jason got the disk or not. Second, if McCall did not show, Jason or his friend would make the call, and Barbara would be dead. How could they keep Jason and his accomplice from making the call until he could get to Barbara?

"Mickey, do you think you could stall them at the library? Somehow keep Jason or his friend from calling long enough for me to get to Barbara?"

"Sure, Robert, but you know the problem with that plan."

"Yes, the man at the apartment must have instructions to kill her if he doesn't hear from Jason by a certain time."

"Right."

"Well, we have no other options that I can think of."

"Nope, me neither. But don't forget that it's Barbara. That woman is pretty damned good at taking care of herself, Robert."

McCall looked at Kostmayer gratefully. He wasn't sure he believed it, but at least there was hope. "You're right, Mickey. She'll be alright. Let's stop wasting time."

They still had twenty minutes until the meet was supposed to take place. McCall dropped Kostmayer near the library and drove toward the apartment where Barbara was being held.

Kostmayer pulled his ski cap down over his head and ears, almost covering his eyes. Head down, he climbed the library steps, went into the building, and stopped where he had a good view of the front. Jason knew what he looked like, so Kostmayer had decided to target the Colombian. He'd be the one phoning, anyway. If he could delay that call just a few minutes, McCall might be able to get to Barbara in time.

If their assessment of Jason's plan was correct, the Colombian would have to use a pay phone, so Kostmayer surveyed the area in front of the library for a booth. There it was, a few blocks up 5th Avenue on the other side of the street, near enough to the planned meeting place with McCall that Jason could give him a sign. Kostmayer walked back down the library steps and across the street. He went into an electronics shop with a window big enough to keep an eye out for both Jason and the other man. He hoped he could recognize the Colombian from the brief glimpse he had of him during the fire fight at McCall's apartment.

After fifteen minutes' waiting, he spotted Jason walking north on 5th Avenue toward the library. Searching the street, Kostmayer watched for anyone who reminded him of the men he had seen that afternoon. Great, there he was, also making his way north, but on this side of the street. Jason could not see the Colombian because he was on Jason's back side.

Slipping his gun out of its holster, but keeping it under his jacket, Kostmayer waited until the man passed, then came up behind the Colombian. Moving very quickly, he stuck the gun in the man's back, and forced him into an alley. Kostmayer was sure Jason had noticed nothing.

While Kostmayer was taking care of things at the library, McCall had reached the intersection Barbara had described. It had taken him about fifteen minutes to get there. Too long, but there was nothing to be done about it. He now had to work out which apartment it was. Looking carefully at the buildings around the intersection, he recalled exactly what she had said. It was a corner apartment on the 2nd floor. If she had been looking out the window and could see the street signs at the intersection…he studied the building, yes, he thought, it had to be that one.

The building was locked. There was an intercom system so people who lived there could buzz visitors into the building. This was all taking too long, he worried. McCall buzzed apartment after apartment, hoping someone would open. Then he had the luck he needed. A couple left the elevator and walked toward the entrance. Pretending to be talking to someone on the intercom, he turned to the door just as they were leaving. Robert McCall looked like a banker, not a burglar, and they did not hesitate at letting him in. Once inside he took the elevator to the second floor. Stepping out, he thought carefully about the relationship between the outside and the inside of the building, and decided on the apartment.

McCall stood at the locked door. He could try using his .357 to shoot out the lock, but that was iffy and very noisy; it would alert the man inside. He could try to pick the lock. There were no more options.

In the last forty-five minutes inside the apartment, Montoya had fixed himself dinner, had a few drinks, and watched some TV. They had good Spanish language TV in New York, he liked that. Velez had told him he wanted to do the woman. Montoya knew that Velez was angry at the woman for what she had done to him in the apartment; he also knew that Velez was a sadistic son of a bitch who loved to hurt women. Even so, he was taking a very long time with this woman. Montoya was surprised that she wasn't making any noise, but he didn't much care. Still, it was time to get Velez back into his pants and ready to get out of here.

Montoya walked over to the bedroom door and turned the handle. Strange, he thought, why would Velez lock the door? Now he was wary.

"Hey, Juan Carlos, what are you doing in there? It's time to get ready," he called in Spanish.

There was no answer. Something was wrong. Taking out his gun, he pushed hard on the door. At first it didn't give, but after two tries, the lock popped, and the door burst open. He saw nothing, no Velez, no woman. He moved carefully into the bedroom. When he got to the other side of the bed, he saw Velez lying on his back, blood seeping from his chest and a red circle soaking into the carpet under him.

"Shit," he yelled. "You fucking whore, you killed him! Where are you? Don't think you can hide for long. There's no place to hide. Just wait until I get you." This he shouted in English.

Despite his words, he was worried. How did she manage to kill Velez? She had to have a weapon, a knife, and she knew how to use it. But he had a gun, and there was no way she could get him with a knife, he told himself. All he had to do was find her. There were three places she could be: under the bed, in the closet, or in the bathroom. First he checked under the bed. Not there. Then he went to the closet. He stood to the side, tossed open the door, and pointed his gun into the closet. Not there. So it is the bathroom, he told himself.

Moving to the bathroom door, he turned the handle with his left hand while holding his gun in the right, ready to shoot. He pushed the door inward and stepped through, expecting her to jump at him with her knife. Instead, he felt his hand smashed with a very heavy, white, rectangular object. It stung his hand, and he dropped the gun. Both of them dove for the gun at the same time, but he was a little faster. He grasped the gun and pulled her on top of him, holding her around the neck with his arm. They struggled, but he was too strong for her. He pushed her off, jumped up, and held the gun out at her.

"Get up, you bitch." His hand hurt, and he was furious at almost having been taken in by this woman. He grabbed her by the arm and was rewarded by a yelp of pain. "Go on, into the bedroom." He pushed her in front of him, his gun in her back. When they reached Velez' body, he told her to stop.

He held the gun at her head. "You killed him, you bitch. Now you're going to die."

Barbara was thinking of an old song, she thought it was sung by Judy Collins. The lyrics she was remembering went: "So it's come to this, it's come to this, wasn't it a long way down, wasn't it a strange way down." It's come to this.

She turned her head and looked him directly in the eyes. She wasn't going to let him forget her. Then she smiled.

The shot hit Montoya directly in the back of the head as Barbara was trying to jump toward the bed to avoid the spray of blood. Montoya died instantly. He fell and landed a few feet from Velez. Barbara lay on the bed. She had not been entirely successful at avoiding the gore.

After first making sure that both men were dead, McCall turned to Barbara. There was so much blood, it was hard to tell if she was hurt.

"Barbara, where are you hurt?"

She started to reach out with her right arm, but stopped when the pain shot through her shoulder. He put his hand behind her back and helped her sit up. With her left hand, she touched the wound on her forehead.

"I think I'm OK, Robert."

"My God, Barbara, you don't look OK. Your head…." He saw that the wound was bleeding. "And what happened to your arm?"

"I got pulled around. It hurts like hell. My head hurts like hell." She gave him a little smile. "I guess I'm not OK. Maybe just alive." She wanted to lean her head against his shoulder and rest, but that hurt her arm too much.

At the library, Jason Masur had decided it was time to call Montoya and make good on his threat to kill the woman. McCall hadn't showed up. Did that mean that McCall didn't care about the woman enough, or that he had another plan, he wondered? It was upsetting that he hadn't gotten the information, but he thought he still might be able to get out of the country before Control could use it. Of course he didn't know that Control had had the disk for more than an hour and had already put his plan to eliminate Jason into effect.

Walking back down the steps, Jason looked over to the phone where Rodriquez was supposed to be waiting for his signal. He was not there, but a crowd was gathering at the entrance to an alley a block away from the phone. What is going on, Jason asked himself, hoping it had nothing to do with him. It was worth checking out, though, so he took a place in the crowd and immediately recognized what they were looking at. Colonel Rodriquez was lying in the alley, a bullet in his chest. Pivoting away with a shocked look on his face, Jason walked with dread down 5th Avenue, aware the shooter could have him in his sights at that very moment.

From a spot on the other side of the street, Kostmayer watched him go. He and McCall had not discussed doing anything with Jason. He was pretty sure that McCall, or maybe Control, had specific plans for Jason, and that it was none of this business. Kostmayer walked up 5th Avenue to the subway station. As he was walking down the stairs to take a train back to his apartment, three police cruisers pulled up to the alley. Kostmayer knew that McCall would contact him soon.

Chapter 19

McCall helped Barbara to her feet and into the other room. He found a towel in the kitchen and applied it to the gash in her head. He also felt her shoulder. He couldn't tell what was wrong, so he did nothing.

"We've got to get you to a hospital."

"Yes," she said. Barbara hated hospitals because they awakened too many memories she would just as soon forget. However, the wound could be serious, and she felt lousy, so she agreed to go. She didn't plan to stay, though.

As McCall drove to the hospital, Barbara was too tired to talk, and McCall was thinking about what he was going to do next. She held the towel to her head with her left hand and tried not to think about how much her head was pounding. Parking the Jag in the ER lot, McCall took Barbara's arm and helped her into the hospital. She left the towel behind. She had expended all her energy, and she was finding it hard to walk. When she walked into the ER, one by one, the people waiting turned to stare. She was covered with blood, hers and the two men's.

When she finally was taken in for treatment, the young black woman doctor took one look at her and asked: "How did this happen?" As she asked, she looked suspiciously at McCall. Barbara noticed, and imagined she must look like a case of domestic violence.

"No," she said firmly. "Not him."

The doctor still seemed skeptical. She had heard enough women swear up and down that they had not been touched by their abusers. When she caught a glimpse of the man's gun, she started to be scared herself.

Barbara noticed this, too.

"Doctor, really, it wasn't him. It's a very long story, but don't worry. Robert, why don't you go…go…."

He caught on. "Yes, I'll go make a call."

Once he was gone, the doctor asked her point blank: "Did he do this? You can tell me. We can get the police here fast. Even with the gun he's got, they can…."

Barbara sighed. "Doctor…," she looked at her name tag, "Farber, please, he did not do anything to me. He has a permit to carry that gun. He's probably calling the police right now. OK?"

Farber was not totally convinced, but she accepted the explanation. She was glad the man was gone for now. "Well, if it wasn't him, you certainly ran into some very unpleasant people, didn't you?"

"Yes. That is true." Glancing down at her blood covered clothes, she added: "But, it's not all my blood." The doctor stared at her with a strange look. Barbara planned to shrug, but decided it wasn't a good idea.

A few hours, twenty stitches, a severely strained shoulder, and a diagnosis of a medium grade concussion later, they sent Barbara on her way with instructions to rest and some extra-strength Tylenol for the pain. They had wanted to keep her overnight, but she would have none of it. No more hospitals for her unless she was on her deathbed.

Once they were back in the car, McCall told Barbara he had phoned Detective Alice Shepherd while she was being treated. McCall hadn't been sure he wanted to tell Alice about the two dead Colombians until he had first spoken to Control. On the other hand, someone in the apartment building would certainly call the police – maybe already had – anyway.

So he had told Alice where she could find the two bodies. The detective already knew about the dead man with the Colombian diplomatic passport in the alley across from the Public Library. When she asked McCall if that murder were related to his Colombians, he told Alice he didn't know. After telling the detective that Barbara was at the hospital, McCall had promised that they would give her a statement tomorrow.

When he told her about the conversation, Barbara looked at him in surprise. He hadn't discussed it with her first. She didn't want to talk to any police officer at any time unless it could be avoided, and she thought this could be avoided. "Robert!" she said angrily. "Why did you do that without discussing it with me first? I don't want to talk to her."

"Barbara, you'll have to do sooner or later. Why not do it on our own terms?"

"What's this 'our' terms? You can certainly talk to her when you want to, but as for me, let me decide when I'm going to do it!" Damn, she thought, she didn't like his telling her what to do. Plus she still didn't know if the Portland police were looking for her. If they were, Detective Shepherd could lead them to her.

McCall was annoyed at her. It was fine to be "we" when it suited her, but when it didn't, then she didn't want any part of it.

"Exactly when was I supposed to discuss it with you? I had to tell Alice something." McCall had turned into his street. This was their second fight about his telling her what to do, when he was just trying to protect her, to keep her safe. She certainly could be difficult, he thought.

Although Barbara didn't want to admit it to herself, she was shaken by what had happened. She had really thought the Colombian would kill her. She was taking it out on Robert, when Robert had saved her life. She didn't like it that he had to save her life, damn it. She wanted to take care of herself. As she was ranting inwardly, she stopped and rebuked herself: what nonsense is that?

"Come on, let's go upstairs," he said, voice tight with anger.

"Yeah, right, OK," she responded, still annoyed at her own weakness. She would have loved to jump out and run up the stairs, but she couldn't. Having to rely on him to help her make it up to the apartment made her even more irritated. She was in this frame of mind when McCall suddenly reached out and stopped her with his hand, taking out his gun with the other.

"What?" she asked.

"The door. The Colombians demolished it. It's been repaired."

The door opened, and McCall pointed the gun into his apartment.

"Hello, Robert," Control said, holding his hands up. "I had some of my people come over and fix the door. Otherwise you couldn't have stayed here tonight, now could you?" He looked Barbara up and down. Until he saw it for himself, Control had not quite believed that Robert had gotten himself mixed up with this woman. Now he had confirmation. To Control, she was bad news.

The last person Barbara wanted to see was Control. Summoning up her last energy reserves, she brushed past him and headed for the bedroom. Just forget him, she told herself. She wanted desperately to wash, to get rid of her own blood, but especially the others' blood on her body.

"I'm going to take a shower," she snapped.

"Barbara," McCall stopped her. "Please, wait." Turning to Control, he commanded: "Control, stay here."

Control almost laughed out loud at McCall's command to him. And at the fact that he was already having problems controlling this woman.

Taking Barbara by her good elbow, McCall guided her into the other room.

"Barbara, I know you're angry. I'm sorry I made you angry. I should have spoken to you first before talking to Alice. But please, you can't do things by yourself right now. You've got a concussion, and you could pass out or fall or…," he pleaded with her.

Of course Barbara had no doubt that he was right. Anyway, she was too tired to be angry for very long. She wanted Control to go away, so they could be quiet for a while.

Sighing, Barbara closed and opened her eyes, took a deep breath, put her left hand on his arm and said: "I'm sorry, you're right. I've been totally irrational. I'm just not used to…. I'm so tired. Can you please get him to go away?" She was looking toward Control.

"We have to discuss a few things. Then he'll leave," McCall promised.

"Fine, you discuss things with him. I have nothing to discuss with him. I'm going in the bedroom. I'll lie down until you're finished." As she was about to walk to the bedroom, Control came up behind McCall.

"Barbara, wait right there. I have to speak to you." It was an order.

She ignored him and continued to walk, albeit shakily, down the hall.

"Barbara, don't you walk away. You are going to talk to me right now." Control was not going to let her get away that easily.

She turned slowly around and looked at him with loathing.

"I do not have to talk to you, now or ever. I don't work for you anymore. Just leave me alone," she said very slowly, enunciating each word.

"That's not what you said when you called me three hours ago," he spit back.

She came back and stood right in front of him.

"Tell you what, I promise NEVER to call you again if you leave me alone. How does that sound?"

Her anger was raising her blood pressure and making her head feel like it would explode. McCall didn't know why these two were at each other's throats, but he wanted them to stop.

"Would you both just calm down?" he growled.

Abruptly, Barbara started to feel dizzy. Reaching out her hand to steady herself, she grabbed the only thing she could, Control's arm. Her legs gave out from under her, and she would have fallen if Control had not taken her other arm and propped her up.

"Oh, for God's sake," Control blurted out harshly. "Robert, take her." He handed her off to McCall.

As he collected Barbara and led her to the sofa, McCall looked at his friend in surprise. Was the relationship between the two of them that bad? He had no time to think about it right now, he knew. He had to get Control out of here. Barbara was close to exhaustion. She sat on the sofa and put her head back, but she needed to get to bed.

"Control, can we please just get it over with?" McCall demanded.

"OK. We brought Anderson in. We've seen what he had on the disk, and Jason…well, Jason is no longer a threat. Anderson told us where to find Camila, and we're getting her out right now. You tell me, what happened to the Colombians?"

"They're dead."

"Dead? Rodriquez at the library I knew about. The others, too? How is the Company going to explain all these dead men with diplomatic passports? You know we're in a delicate position here!"

Rounding on his friend, McCall let him have it: "Control, they kidnapped Barbara. One of them tried to rape her. I have no doubt that they were planning to kill her, and God only knows what else they were going to do to her. Don't tell me about your problems 'explaining' their deaths, damn you!"

Control glared at Barbara. Of course SHE was in the middle of it, he thought. To McCall he raised a hand to calm the situation and said: "Alright, Robert, alright."

"Where is Jason?" McCall asked.

"We haven't run him to ground yet. But it's only a matter of time."

"Well, you will let me know when you do, won't you?" McCall asked sarcastically.

"Yes, Robert, I will."

"Thank you so very much. Now, Control, would you please leave?"

"One more thing." He turned to face Barbara: "Are you the Red Line operative that killed Vicente, Barbara? And the other man with him?"

McCall was taken aback by that question.

"Why? What does it matter right now?"

Control ignored McCall. Despite his "protection" of the Red Line, he felt they needed certain rules, and he thought Barbara had broken them when she had killed the second man. Or maybe he just didn't like her. He asked again: "Did you do it, Barbara?"

Barbara lifted her head and glanced at McCall for a moment. They understood each other; despite his friendship for Control, he would not betray her. To Control she said: "You'll never know."

Control stared back at her, wondering if this woman would ever stop being a thorn in his side. He picked up his coat and left.

Chapter Twenty

Still sitting on the sofa, Barbara leaned back, eyes shut, thinking she didn't want to move ever again. On the other hand, she so wanted to be clean. McCall put his hand behind her back and helped her up.

"I want to take a long shower."

"Don't you think that can wait til…," he proposed.

"NO, I want to do it now," she insisted.

McCall was catching on that there was more going on for Barbara than just washing. Convincing her that a bath would be more practical, he helped her get her clothes off while the water ran. Once all her clothes lay in a heap on the floor, she knew they were ruined. She didn't have any more clothes in her bag. It was something she'd have to deal with later.

When she was in the tub, Robert helped get the blood out of her hair, and in the end she had washed away the outward signs of this afternoon's violence. He also helped her towel off and get to bed. She fell asleep immediately.

After two hours, Barbara awoke when her right shoulder told her that she wasn't supposed to be sleeping on that side. As she moved, her head told her that she wasn't supposed to be turning. Then her back zapped a message to her as well. Damn, she thought groggily, my body is giving out on me. She really wanted to take a Vicodin, but she knew it was not wise to take a narcotic like that with a concussion. There were those Tylenol she had gotten at the hospital… as little faith as she had in those pills, she decided they would be better than nothing.

For a few minutes she lay still, trying to decide how to get up. She wondered where Robert was. 11:00. 11:00 on what day? She had returned to her house in Portland on Friday evening. She had gotten here on Saturday afternoon. It must be Sunday evening. Only two days? Trying to comprehend the mystery of time, she fell asleep again, having forgotten to take the Tylenol.

Later in a moment of partial wakefulness, she sensed vaguely that Robert was lying next to her and fell asleep once more. Then the nightmare began. It had been several years since she'd had this particular one. Twisting to the right, then left in the bed, she fought against her dream attackers, but she could never get away. One held her arms while other was on top of her, pushing down, suffocating her. Again she twisted but this time a stab of pain bulleted down her back. With a cry, she awoke.

Robert had been trying to wake her up. Every muscle taut and her right shoulder frozen with pain, she stared at him, not sure where she was or who he was. When she was truly awake, Barbara exhaled, laid her head back on the pillow and tried to control her breathing. She wanted to close her eyes, but she didn't want the dream to start again.

"Are you alright?" McCall asked. When she didn't respond, he said: "Do you want to tell me about it?"

She turned her head to face him, but she didn't know if she wanted to talk about it.

"Would you get me the Tylenol they gave me at the hospital, please?" She needed some kind of relief from the physical pain, and it would give her time to decide if she wanted to talk about the other pain.

"Of course." McCall walked out to the kitchen where he had left the bottle of Tylenol. It had been clear to him from her movements what she was dreaming about, and he wished dearly that he could help her. Retrieving the bottle, he filled a water glass and went back to the bedroom. He sat next to her on the bed and handed the glass and the bottle to her. She had put two pillows under her head so she could take the pills. The prescription called for two, but she shook four from the bottle, took them with the water, and handed everything back to McCall.

"Thank you," she said. After a pause, she went on: "You asked if I wanted to talk about the dream. I…I'm not sure." After a pause, she continued: "I used to have these dreams often, but recently, they…I…." Taking a deep breath, she went on: "They're in Bautzen. They're not what really happened, just… all I remember after they're over is that someone – a man, two men, more – is hurting me, and I can't get away. In the dreams I'm trying to get away. I never tried to get away when it was really happening because…where could I get away to? When I was there it always ended the same way, but in the dreams, sometimes I wake up before…."

She closed her eyes. "I always wonder why the dream is different from what really happened. I suppose the dream is better? I mean, at least sometimes I don't have to feel them…in me." She started to cry. She hadn't wanted to cry. She hated to cry.

He reached out and gently pulled her close to him, stroking her hair and rocking her back and forth. She cried for a long time. He wished there was something more he could do. McCall wanted to ask what she thought had brought the nightmare back, but at the same time, he didn't want to know. Was this all a bad idea? Was this "new life" good for her? Was she perhaps thinking the same thing?

In fact, Barbara was thinking nothing. She was simply being, drifting in the moment, releasing emotions held too long in check.

But, being who she was, she could not stay in the drift for long. After a while, she stopped crying, left the moment, and started thinking again, about the past and the future. The last five days had been too much. She had killed four men. Even though this had been her job for over twenty-five years, it was too much. It was time to stop. In her mind, she was stopping.

Eventually, she released herself from his embrace and lay back on the pillows, eyes closed. The pain had eased a bit, thanks to the Tylenol, although she still wished she could take a Vicodin. The other pain, the one in her heart, had eased a bit too. When she opened her eyes, she saw the look of concern in Robert's face. She scolded herself for being so self-centered. He was sitting there, worried about her, and she had said nothing. She reached out her hand and took his.

"Thank you, Robert." The words sounded inadequate to her ears.

"Are you alright?" The words sounded inadequate to his ears.

"Better, I'm better. I.… " She stopped because she didn't know how to broach the subject that lay unsaid between them. "Robert, I don't want you to think that my nightmare had anything to do with you, with anything you did. I'm sure it didn't. Please believe me."

Before he could speak, she went on: "It must have been what happened this afternoon, with the Colombian, not what we did last night or today. That was very good. Nothing bad could come from it." It had to have been the Colombian, who ever he was. "But it doesn't make sense. Why should what happened this afternoon bring the nightmare back? He didn't hurt me. I hurt HIM."

"Because nightmares don't make sense?" McCall suggested.

"Yes, you're right."

"I'm right?" He smiled into her eyes.

"Yes," she said with a laugh, "you're right. This one time. Oh, maybe it's the second time? Or is it the third?" There was more she wanted to tell him, but it would have to wait.

"I'll count them up and let you know in the morning." With that, he went around the bed and climbed in next to her. They figured out a way to lie close without hurting her back or her head or her shoulder. She slept well for the rest of the night. He slept less well, keeping watch against her nightmares.

At around 10:00 the next morning, something woke Barbara up again. When she opened her eyes, she realized it was Robert. He was standing at the bed regarding her with a strange look; at least it seemed like a strange look to Barbara. Actually, McCall was wondering who she was, and what was going to happen now, tomorrow, and from then on.

"Good morning," she said, carefully testing what parts of her body she could move without it hurting too much.

"Good morning."

"I guess I had better get up," she said with a yawn.

"You don't have to. You could just stay in bed," he suggested. McCall thought that was the best for her, but he wasn't going to attempt to tell her anything, at least not for a while.

"I seem to remember that we have some things to take care of, or did I dream that? I'm kind of foggy." She had deliberately said "we" instead of "I". She wasn't too foggy to remember their altercation yesterday evening.

"Do you want to talk to Alice?" He was continuing to be very careful, not telling her what to do.

Barbara was thinking about the Portland Police. "Robert, do you trust Alice Shepherd? Do you think she could check to see if there's any kind of warrant out for me, from Portland, I mean?"

"Why would Portland have a warrant out on you?" This was news to McCall.

"I took off without letting them know where I was going. I gave them an incorrect phone number. I mean, I didn't do anything illegal, but…." At least she didn't think she had done anything illegal.

McCall considered his answer. "I trust Alice, but she is a police officer. If there is a warrant, she'd have to inform Portland police you are here." He knew Alice well enough to know that.

"Oh, shit. Well, I've got to let Portland know sooner or later. If there's something on me, I'll let Alice tell me. I'm just too tired to play the game anymore."

"Do you want me to call her now?" he asked.

"Yes, please do."

With that he went back to the kitchen and called Alice, who told him she'd come over in two hours. She was bringing a colleague, Sergeant Collins. When McCall heard the name he groaned to himself. Collins was a royal pain.

Barbara got out of bed – very gingerly – put on Robert's robe and went into the living room. The bright light hurt her eyes, and her head was throbbing again. But she was hungry.

"Is there anything to eat, Robert? I'm really hungry."

She was standing in the kitchen now, bleary eyed and black and blue. She was a mess. But he loved having her in his kitchen, mess or not. It felt right. He went over to her and put his arms around her. She laid her head on his chest, closed her eyes and thought it was pretty nice, this having a man around. At least sometimes. But she was still hungry. Her stomach growled.

"You really are hungry, aren't you?" Robert laughed.

"I told you I was! I haven't eaten since, I don't even know, yesterday afternoon?"

While she sat at the table, McCall made breakfast, including whole wheat toast. While she was sleeping, he had gone out and bought some whole wheat bread. Barbara noticed, and it warmed her soul. It felt right, being here with him.

When they had finished and were on their second cup of coffee, Barbara thought she had better get straight what she was going to tell Alice, or more accurately what they were going to tell the detective. She got up stiffly and walked to the sofa. As she sat down, her back suddenly hurt again, and she grimaced. Thank goodness McCall hadn't seen it, she thought. She was giving him too much to worry about.

"Before we talk about what we're going to do about the police, don't you think you should call Scott? You told him you'd let him know when the coast was clear, remember?" She admonished him.

Damn, he thought, she's right. He smiled inwardly. She was right sometimes, too. He did need to call Scott. "Thank you for reminding me. I'll call him after Alice comes over."

That out of the way, Barbara moved on. "Remind me what you told Alice last night. I can't remember exactly."

He looked at her, alarmed. Was this a sign of the concussion? "Can you really not remember?"

"Don't worry, I'm just not sure, that's all. We can't tell her a different story today."

"I told her that there were two bodies in Jason's apartment." He paused. "And that you would talk to her today."

"Oh, yes. That's what we argued about, wasn't it?" She wondered why she had made such a fuss.

"Yes."

"Do I have to put on clothes? Because if I do, I had better start now. It's going to take a long time." Barbara really didn't want to get dressed. She was very comfortable in his pajamas and robe.

"Hum, she is bringing a Sergeant Collins with her. I have met him. He is a most unpleasant man. But, both of them have certainly seen a lot more shocking things than you in a robe." He smiled at her.

"OK, I am not getting dressed. Should we coordinate what we're going to say?" Barbara asked.

"Is there anything to say other than the truth? I always tell the police the truth, but not always all of it. I'd say tell them as little as possible. If they want more, let them ask."

It was, of course, how she always dealt with the police, but she wanted to make sure she and Robert were on the same page. She did have one concern: "Robert," Barbara began slowly, "do you think we should talk to them without a lawyer? Maybe we should…." She was inherently wary of the police, in any country, even her own.

"For the moment, we can simply tell them what happened. If it seems like they're implying that we did something wrong, then we'll stop and wait til we have a lawyer. How does that sound?"

"Good. OK."

The doorbell rang, and McCall showed Alice and Collins into the apartment.

Detective Alice Shepherd had been curious what this interview would bring. Darned little, if she knew anything about these people. "These people" – that was how she thought of McCall and his friends. She and McCall had worked together quite well in the past, but there was always a point beyond which they did not go. She knew he didn't tell her everything, and unless it was absolutely necessary, she let it be. The man with her today – not by her choice -- was Sergeant Ricky Collins He knew McCall, too, but unlike her, Collins didn't appreciate Robert's "special skills". He always wanted to push McCall. She did not think pushing Robert McCall was a good idea.

Alice had not seen Williams before. When she saw her sitting on the sofa, Alice thought that it was not her best hour. She must have been through a lot in the last day. The gash on her head was red, and the left side of her face had started to turn black and blue. Someone had hit her very hard. She looked tired. On top of it all, Alice was surprised that she was as old as she was. Somehow she always imagined McCall with a younger woman.

"Hello Robert. You know Sergeant Collins, don't you?"

"Yes." He gave the Sergeant the briefest of nods. "Would you like to sit down?" McCall said to Alice, consciously ignoring Collins. She sat opposite Barbara on a chair, while Collins remained standing. McCall stood to the left of the couch where Barbara was sitting, in a position where he could observe Barbara and the two police officers at the same time. "This is Barbara Williams."

"Hello, Ms. Williams," Alice said. Collins just nodded.

"Doctor. It's Dr. Williams," Barbara said.

Collins snorted, but Alice said: "Dr. Williams, please tell us what happened yesterday."

"Starting when?" She knew the answer, but she asked anyway. She was trying to control the narrative.

These people were annoying, not only to Collins, Alice thought. Well trained. "Starting when the men broke into this apartment, Dr. Williams."

"I was in the room over there," she pointed to the room on the other side of the kitchen, "when I heard the door splinter. I ran down the hall toward the back door. One man reached me first. I got away from him. Then another caught me. He must have hit me – I don't remember that." She pointed to the gash on her head. "I woke up on a bed in a different apartment."

"Who was there with you?" Collins asked.

"There were four men."

"What can you tell us about them?" Alice asked.

"Three of them spoke Spanish. One was an American." She should have asked Robert whether they were going to tell the police officers Jason's name. She stole a look at Robert, and he nodded slightly. Alice saw his nod.

"Anything else? Did you know who they were?"

"The three Spanish speakers I didn't know. The American was Jason Masur."

"Who is he?" Collins asked.

"Wait, you said his name is Masur?" Alice was looking in her notebook. "We got a report just before we came over here. A car was fished out of the Hudson with a body in it. Man name of Masur, Jason Masur."

McCall and Barbara looked at each other at the same time. He'd get a call from Control soon.

Alice was following their silent communication. "You don't by any chance know anything about that?"

Neither of them said a word.

"So, back to the apartment. There were four men."

"Yes."

"And?" Collins asked in exasperation.

Barbara turned her gaze to Collins and spoke very slowly: "When I came to, they wanted me to speak to Robert on the phone. Then they all went into the other room. A while later two of them left, Masur and one of the Spanish speakers. Some time after that, one of them came into the bedroom and shut the door. He tried to rape me. I killed him with a knife. Then…."

"Whoa, wait just a minute," Collins said. "What made you think he wanted to rape you? Where did you get the knife? How did you manage to kill this guy with just a knife?"

McCall and Alice both turned to stare at Collins, but before they could say anything, Barbara answered in a steady voice: "First, I had a knife in a sheath strapped to my leg. The fools had not bothered to check me for a weapon. Second, when a man takes down his pants, gets on top of you and tries to pull your clothes off, you usually think he's trying to rape you, at least if you're a woman. Third, I'd be very happy to show you how I did it. Would you like to play the man?" Of course she really couldn't have done it right now, but she sure felt like it.

Alice and Collins had seen the half-naked corpse in the bedroom, and unless this woman had taken off his pants after she killed him, it was fairly obvious what had happened. Collins was just being a pig. Alice had always thought that about him; now she was certain. She almost wished that Williams could use him to show how she'd done it.

"You were going to continue, Dr. Williams?" Alice prompted.

"Then I stayed in the bedroom. There was a phone on the table. I called Robert. After some time, the one from the other room got suspicious and broke down the door to the bedroom. I was in the bathroom, and he caught me. He pushed me out to the bedroom and put a gun to my head and told me he was going to kill me. Robert shot him. We went to the hospital. Then we came back here. That's it."

That's it, Alice thought. That's enough, isn't it?

"OK, Robert, your turn," she said.

"Well, Alice, it is just as Barbara told you. She called me on my car phone and told me where she was. I went there and found the man with a gun at her head. I thought she was in mortal danger, so I was forced to shoot him." It was the truth.

"What do you know about the Colombian with the diplomatic passport who was found dead across from the library?" She doubted he'd say anything about that man even if he knew, but she had to ask.

"I know nothing about his death, Alice." This was the truth, too. He did not know how the Colombian had died. He'd have to ask Kostmayer about that.

"Yeah, right," Collins protested.

Alice knew McCall had not answered her question, but she was not going to press it. If her reconstruction of the timeline was correct, he could not have killed that man himself. He very possibly had something to do with it, but she would not ask. She and her colleagues had a pretty good idea that the three Colombians had gunned down the human rights lawyer from their country. To tell the truth, she was glad someone else had taken care of them.

Collins had a question.

"Do you have a permit for that knife?"

They all looked at him.

"Yes. It's in Portland. Do you want me to send for it? I'd really like the knife back, by the way. It's my favorite," Barbara sneered. This was all a lie, but she liked lying to Collins.

"It's evidence in a crime scene. We're not going to just give it back to you," Collins snarled. He had moved toward Barbara, trying to intimidate her, but she was hard to intimidate. If he had known the kind of interrogations she had been through, he would have not wasted his time.

McCall moved to a position behind the couch where Barbara was sitting. He didn't like Collins trying to push her around, even if she didn't need protecting from the police officer.

"Is there anything else you need, Alice?" He did not allow her to answer before he said: "As I said before, Barbara is very tired and needs to rest. Thank you for coming over."

Alice smiled to herself. Interview over.

"If we have any more questions, we'll get in touch. Let's go, Collins."

It was clear that Collins did not think the interview was over, but he could do nothing. Shepherd was his superior. When they got outside, he turned to Alice and demanded: "What the hell kind of an interrogation was that? You know there's more to this than what they told us."

Alice looked at him in disgust. "Shut up, Collins," she snapped and got in the cruiser.

Chapter 21

After Shepherd and Collins had left, McCall sat on the sofa next to Barbara. She looked drained.

"I think that went well," he said.

In her mind, Barbara was long past the interview. Alice had not mentioned Portland. Would she have to go back? If she went back, what would happen? She knew that she had not broken the law, at least not any big laws; that's not what she wondered about. She was trying to guess what would happen to her and McCall. She turned her body so she could look him full in the face, searching his eyes for a sign.

When she turned to face him, McCall saw the emotion on her face, but he wasn't sure what it was about. She was perplexing him again. Had the interview upset her? That Collins was certainly hard to take, but he thought she had handled him well. So what was it?

"Barbara?"

She averted her eyes. It was a conversation she didn't want to start. So she started another one instead.

"Robert, I decided something."

Ah, what surprise was coming now, McCall asked himself?

"What, my love?" He asked. Robert hadn't realized he was going to say that until it came out of his mouth.

Barbara noticed. She almost forgot what she was planning to say. "I'm not going to do it anymore."

"Do what?"

"I'm quitting the Red Line. After the last few days…my God, Robert, I killed four men. Two of them I didn't even know."

"Two of them were trying to kill you, Barbara. Not that I want you to continue with the Red Line. I'm glad you want to stop." He was not only glad, he was very relieved.

"I know they were trying to kill me, Robert. But if I hadn't been in the Red Line, at least one of them would not have been after me." After she spoke the words, it came to her that if she hadn't been in the Red Line, she wouldn't be with him now. The same thought flashed through McCall's mind. How strange the affairs of humans could be.

Barbara went on: "Robert, Alice didn't say anything about Portland. Do you think I should call them before they call me?"

"Well, you could do. They must have questions."

"Not any I can answer." Rethinking her response, she said: "Not any I'm going to answer."

"They don't know that," he said logically.

"I guess you're right." She smiled when she realized what she'd said.

"Let's see, that makes, what, four times I've been right?" McCall pointed out.

"No, I think it's only three. Don't cheat." She moved into a more comfortable position, got closer to him, and put her head on his shoulder. He put his arm around her. They both thought it was right.