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TAKE THE DEAL
Cristolides was only a boy who had the misfortune of being in the right place at the right time. All of 25, he'd been making his own way in the world since he was 13, by keeping his eyes open and his mouth shut, by making opportunities here and there, by picking up the unattended bag or briefcase for whatever goldmine it might hold. It was a lousy way to live. The pickings were usually only enough to get by on, but he was used to it and it kept food in his belly and a warm coat on his back in the wintertime. He was pretty slick at it, too, and hadn't been caught more than once or twice, and he didn't do any more than time served for those. He prided himself on that and on his ability to see the droppings that no one else noticed.
That was why he saw the briefcase. The man carrying it looked oddly foreign, gray-haired with spooky pale eyes and skin like white ash. He sat down on one of the benches just inside the entrance to the park Cristolides was casing, put the briefcase down on the ground between the bench and a big green bush, and lit up a cigarette. He smoked it down about half way, then got up and walked away, leaving the briefcase behind.
Cristolides didn't know if the guy forgot it or if someone else was supposed to pick it up, but knew he had to move fast if he was going to get it. Barely breaking stride, he moved in, grabbed it and hustled back out of the park to lose himself in the traffic on the streets.
He never even saw the other grey-haired man in the trenchcoat who tried to be unobtrusive about catching up to him. But Cristolides was too fast for the older man, and by the time Robert McCall got across the street, the thief who had gotten to the briefcase he was supposed to pick up had disappeared.
"Damn," McCall swore, and a woman with a child passing by gave him a bastard of a look.
McCall ignored it. He had a lot of other things to worry about now.
Cristolides had a hole he crawled into, a tiny drainage alley between two buildings, where he could examine his pickings and sort the wheat from the chaff. He hunkered down there within a few minutes of grabbing the briefcase and pried it open with a screwdriver. Immediately, he was disappointed. Only papers, with a lot of foreign writing all over them. Couple of photographs, men who looked a lot like the guy who had left the briefcase. Damn.
He sat and thought about it. He might be able to get a dollar or two for the briefcase. Or –
He looked at the papers again. Funny writing – could it be Russian? Maybe these papers were really worth something to somebody. He thought about it and considered the risks. Not really many if he set things up in public and didn't ask for anything outrageous. Maybe $100? He closed the case and decided to take it back to the bench where he'd found it – but what if whoever wanted it just strongarmed him for it? He had to have the case so it would be recognized, but he decided to remove all the papers but one. He rolled the rest up and tucked them into a hole in the wall, a hiding place he'd used before and that had never been found by anybody else.
Then he took a deep breath and carried the briefcase back to the park. Maybe $200…
Control shook his head. "Well, it's a risk we take when we set up a drop like that. I wish you could have kept him in sight, though."
Beside him on a different bench deeper within the same park, McCall said, "So do I, but he was fast and slick. He's certainly done it before."
"You need to go look at some mug shots, then."
"I'm on my way now, but we need to do something in the meantime."
"I'll get in touch with our man in Moscow."
That made McCall remember something else, something that angered him even more than this fiasco did. "When does Harley Gage's trial start?"
That was something Control wanted to discuss, but he hadn't expected it to come until later in the conversation. He and McCall had butted heads over this and butted them hard. McCall had brought Gage into the company quite a few years ago. Gage wasn't the best of soldiers, but he had found his niche heading up the Moscow office. He'd been at it for several years, convincing the KGB that he was a double agent, but a few weeks ago, while Gage was in New York with a KGB official – a woman that he'd been bedding and feeding bad information to - a renegade company agent with a grudge against Russians had decided to kill her, and Gage had killed him instead. No big deal under usual circumstances, but it had happened in front of civilian witnesses and the police had been called. Gage had ended up in jail and the police commissioner had a political friend and secrets threatened to be exposed if somebody didn't take the fall for a public killing. Southern Control – Richard Dyson, a man with a lot of pull and a lot of files with damaging information on a lot of people – had pushed for Gage to take some prison time for it, so the commissioner and the politicos could point to someone in jail. McCall was against it vehemently, but Control backed Dyson. McCall lost the argument, and Gage had been sitting in a federal lockup ever since.
Control pondered McCall's question about Gage's trial before he said, "It starts today."
McCall glared at him. "Why wasn't I told before now?"
"You know why," Control said. "You made no bones about your opposition to it."
"And you thought I'd muck it up for you."
"We thought there wouldn't be a trial. Gage got offered a pretty good plea bargain – fifteen years, possibility for parole in three. He wouldn't take it."
Not surprising to McCall. Gage always did have a way of shooting himself in the foot. And the last time he saw Gage – in jail – Gage was boiling over mad, ready to rip throats out. Harley Gage was a very, very dangerous man when he was angry. He usually blasted right through ballistic and straight into nuclear. "What time does the trial start?"
"They're picking a jury this morning. Which is another reason this foul-up here is so irritating."
"What does one have to do with the other?"
"I want you to see Gage, to try to talk him into taking the plea bargain again."
McCall chuckled. "No, thank you, Control. This little play is your production, yours and Dyson's. I want no part of it."
"Well…" Control scratched his throat. "Gage actually thinks this whole thing was your idea."
McCall nearly burst out of his skin. "What?"
"He got it in his head, after you went to see him, that you were behind this idea, and we've let him go on thinking that."
McCall was livid. "Why? So you and Dyson could be in the clear on it?"
"Not exactly. We were playing good cop-bad cop with him, and since you were already the bad cop in his mind, we played good cop, to try to get him to take the deal. So far it just hasn't worked."
"And you think I can threaten him into it, is that it?"
"No, but since he thinks you're the one behind it, he thinks you're the one with the authority, and if you tell him to take the deal, he might actually believe it's worth it."
"No, thank you, Control."
"Robert, this is not a request."
They glared at each other. Finally, McCall asked, "What is more important – getting the papers away from that little street urchin, or getting Harley Gage to take a plea bargain?"
"You're going to have to do both."
McCall nearly laughed out loud.
"McCall, I said it was not a request," Control said. "You go check mug shots and then you go talk to Gage. You find out who your little thief is, and then you get your hard-headed friend to accept a deal that's for his own damned good. Or I guarantee you, Gage will be in jail for the rest of his life."
"I know," McCall said with a resigned sigh and got up. "I'll be in touch."
He started walking back toward the park entrance, putting Gage out of his mind because if he didn't, he might just keep on walking and never look back. Instead, he thought about how to best find the boy who took the briefcase. He knew who to go to for the mug shots, because he had a contact in the police precinct here. It was just that looking at mug shots took time, and time was sacred now. He had to find that kid before the boy started to figure out what he had. Control was right. Those papers would expose the Moscow operation. Those Russians who were working for the company would be killed.
"Damn," McCall muttered to himself again and began to scan the faces and the bodies in the park. Maybe, if the gods were with him, that kid would be back for another score already.
And he was.
McCall stopped, astonished to see the kid sitting on the bench where the briefcase had been left. The boy even had the briefcase in his lap! Caution cleared McCall's head. He looked around, trying to spot a set-up, but how could this street rat be setting him up? Not likely, and but it was the unlikely that made for a very good reason to be extra cautious.
McCall circled for a few minutes, keeping the boy in sight while he kept watching for anything suspicious anywhere around. The kid did not move, just sat there, looking around, a bit nervously to McCall's thinking. This was beginning to look like exactly what it was, a solo opportunist at work. McCall decided to risk contact and sat down on the bench beside the boy.
The kid looked over at him. McCall gave him a fatherly smile and a nod. The boy looked away again, apparently thinking this was just a harmless old man.
McCall said, "I believe you have something that belongs to me," and when the kid looked over at him, McCall smiled, glanced down at the briefcase, and then up again at the boy.
Cristolides was stunned for a moment but recovered himself. "How bad do you want it?"
McCall could see it had been opened. He looked straight ahead, still watching for any compatriots the boy might have in this. "Son," he said, "you have no idea what you've gotten yourself into."
Cristolides smiled a little. "So, you want it pretty bad, huh? I'll sell it back to you, no questions asked."
"You don't understand," McCall said and decided then and there to run a bluff. "Look around you."
The kid did it.
McCall nodded slightly toward a totally innocent man in a business suit standing at the park entrance. "That gentleman there, and the one to your left on the bench – "
The boy looked over toward a younger man on a bench not very far away who was drinking a soda, another innocent who looked not so innocent to the nervous kid.
McCall said, "You will not be leaving this park without men following you, and if you do not give me the briefcase right now, they will come and escort you and take the briefcase. And I must tell you, we are not the police." McCall finished by looking over at Cristolides and smiling.
Cristolides didn't know whether to buy it or not, but he decided to play his hand out. He gave McCall the briefcase. "Here, but you better open it."
McCall opened it and saw the single piece of paper in it.
Cristolides said, "There's plenty more, but they're someplace you'll never find them."
McCall took the piece of paper out, put it folded into his coat, and closed the briefcase. "Young man, this is a very dangerous game for you to be playing."
"You can have the rest back. It'll just cost you a few bucks."
McCall put the briefcase down on the ground and stood up to leave.
"All right, two hundred, but no less."
McCall looked down at him. "I don't have that kind of money on me. I can give you fifty."
Cristolides shook his head. "Two hundred, take it or leave it."
McCall looked at the two innocent men again. He wasn't sure how long he could run this bluff before one or both of them simply went away. "When and where?"
"Give me a number to call you."
"I can't do that."
"No, no, I'm not setting a meeting with you and giving you enough notice to set me up again. I'll call and we'll meet fast."
"Son, I can have backup faster than you can hang up the phone."
Cristolides swallowed. "It's still my way or no way."
McCall pulled out his wallet and gave the boy one of his cards that had only a phone number on it. "All right. If there's no answer, leave a message, just time and place. I'll meet you alone wherever you say. I'll trade you the money for the briefcase, and there will be no one to follow you thereafter or give you any concerns in the future. We'll trade and be done."
"And I just have to trust you on that, right?"
"I'm trusting you to show up with those papers. I'll prove you can trust me. Take the briefcase and go. No one will follow you now. After all, this is only two hundred dollars worth of business, not worth working up a sweat over. Just make sure you call me by the end of the day."
Cristolides shook his head. "No, I'll call you sometime in the next 24 hours. I'm not making any other promises."
McCall nodded and simply walked away, back into the park. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the kid get up with the briefcase and walk out of the park. As soon as the boy was out of sight, McCall began to circle around to another park entrance so he could go to the police precinct and see those mug shots. He still needed to know who this boy was, just in case this all went bad. And he fervently hoped it did not go bad, because if Control found out about the agreement he'd just made with this little rat, McCall knew there would be hell to pay.
Harley Gage was not a patient man. The desire to squirm, or better yet get up and pace or run right out of the room, was nearly overwhelming, but he forced himself to sit still and watch and at least half listen while his lawyer – a rookie federal public defender who looked to be about 14 years old – made virtually no strikes while his jury was seated. Gage resisted the temptation to glare at these strangers taking their places in the jury box. There wasn't a good looking woman among them to charm into thinking he was a prince. The company probably had something to do with that. Gage believed himself to be irresistible to the fairer sex, so of course, the company would make sure there were no susceptible women in the jury pool. If any woman over there was under the age of 60, Gage would have been surprised.
He was being set up. He knew he was being wrapped up in a pretty package and this trial was all a show and a farce for the sake of that lie called due process. He was beginning to wish they'd just get it over with.
Then, in a few minutes, at least the jury selection was over with. Twelve people and two alternates were sitting in that big pigpen off to the side and raising their hands to be sworn in. Then the judge spoke some words to them and sent them to lunch. Then the lawyers went through some gobbledygook Gage paid no attention to. Then everybody went to lunch while the guards took him back to his holding cell.
He was locked in and left alone in a cage among half a dozen other cages, but today he was the only one there. He paced. He swore silently and out loud. He sat down on the bench and he ate the sandwich a guard brought him.
He wondered what had become of Francesca, his KGB superior, his bedmate for the last two years. Sure, he'd been using her and lying to her all that time, and he didn't feel a bit of love for her, but now that she was out of his reach, he missed her. She was probably back in Moscow bedding some other Tom, Dick or Ivan and wasn't giving him a thought.
Gage swore again. He knew he had a lot more to worry about than never seeing Francesca again. He knew he had a lot more to worry about than never making love with any woman again. He knew he was on his way to a life in federal prison. What he didn't know, what ate at his stomach, was why?
McCall was lucky enough to get a lot of help at the police precinct. He described his briefcase thief to his contact there who quickly narrowed down the field he would have to look at, and within half an hour of beginning his search, McCall found the mug shot of George Cristolides. His contact let him look at the file. Cristolides was a petty thief, as McCall expected, 25 years old, two priors for which he got only time served.
"He's good," McCall's contact said. "Kid doesn't get caught. He moves in, he moves out, he fences what he finds or eats it or wears it."
"This address – is it valid?" McCall asked.
"No, he moves around, sometimes he's in the street. He's scratching out a living, but security deposits for an apartment? Forget it."
"Raised by a grandmother who died when he was 13. If he has any other family, they didn't want him. I suspect he was already into his thieving ways by then."
McCall shook his head. The city was full of this human refuse, people who were thrown away before they ever had a chance. For a moment he thought again about Harley Gage, the same sort of human refuse when McCall first met him, but he had a basic decent streak that McCall was able to channel – at least somewhat and for a while. McCall refocused on Cristolides.
"You want us to pick him up?" his contact asked.
McCall shook his head. "No. Not for me. I'll settle things with him myself."
Maybe talk to him, McCall thought. Maybe somewhere in there, Cristolides had a decent streak, too.
McCall thanked his contact and went on to his next chore of the day, talking to Harley Gage in jail. He didn't relish doing this at all. He was still so angry about what he believed was abuse of an agent, that in the back of his mind he wondered if this wasn't the straw that was going to break the camel's back. Lately he'd been feeling that this line of work had run out for him. It had cost him his wife and his son, and he missed them, especially Scott. Scott was a young man now, moving into his adulthood, and McCall didn't even know him. He'd wanted to change that for a long time now, and with each passing day the desire grew stronger.
As he walked into the federal courthouse, McCall was about one-quarter sure that his days with the company were coming to an end. What he wasn't sure about was how he was going to manage to resign from a company that no one resigned from.
McCall went through the security check by showing his ID and wasn't fifty feet further along before he saw Richard Dyson waiting for him. His stomach growled. He planned to walk right by him.
But Dyson fell in walking beside him. "Hello, Robert."
"What do you want, Dyson?" McCall asked without looking at him or stopping.
"Just to talk, before you see Gage."
"What is there to talk about?"
"I just want to make sure you know what's going on."
"No, you wanted to make sure I actually showed up," McCall said, stopped and looked straight at Dyson.
Dyson was older than McCall by a good ten years but he was just as sharply dressed and confident in demeanor. He and McCall had known each other for years, shared many a hard drink in a dismal bar, and saved each other's asses more than once. There could be honest communication between them, they both knew that. Dyson looked straight back at McCall. "That was part of it," he admitted. "I hear you lost a drop today."
"I'll get it back, probably by tomorrow morning," McCall said. "Control knows all about it."
"I know. I talked to him. What makes you so sure that boy hasn't copied those papers he's going to give back to you?"
"Well, I can't be completely sure, can I? But I made sure I didn't put the idea into his head by mentioning it, and I tried to make sure my threats made him want out of this as soon as possible. Besides, his history doesn't indicate that he thinks that far ahead. Now, what do you really want to talk about?"
"Gage, of course."
"I know the set-up. Control told me I was nominated to be the heavy in this."
"You should stay the heavy, Robert. He might listen to you if he thinks you're the one with the authority."
"Yes, yes, Control gave me the same speech."
"But there's more to it than that."
Dyson motioned McCall over to a quiet corner, and McCall went along with him. Once they were out of the way of the stream of people going by, Dyson turned in a way that no one could see his face.
"Robert," he said quietly, "we're not doing this just because somebody has to take a fall to keep the politicians happy. There's a lot more to it than that."
"So you've said," McCall said.
"If somebody doesn't go to jail, right away, for this, there will be a further investigation by the local police, and they're likely to uncover some things that are better left uncovered."
"Like the fact that the company is happily operating in this country when it is not supposed to be."
"That's part of it, yes."
"Dyson, anyone in this nation with a brain already knows that."
"But it's not on the record anywhere, Robert. We can't run the risk of it getting on the record."
McCall gave Dyson a sarcastic sideways look and started away.
Dyson took hold of his arm and stopped him. "Robert, we've known each other a long time. Hear me out on this."
McCall sighed, but stayed.
"I don't like fingering Gage," Dyson said. "He's done a great job in Moscow. Hell, I actually like the schlub. But he screwed up a lot in the past, and he's got half a dozen western agencies out to kill him. To kill him, Robert."
The earnestness in Dyson's voice did give McCall pause. "So just make sure he stays in Moscow."
Dyson shook his head. "That worked for a while, but his KGB superior keeps wanting to drag him over here, and on top of that, we have intelligence that a couple of the organizations out to get him have gotten people into the Soviet Union, maybe even into the KGB. Gage isn't safe anymore, Robert. It's only a matter of time, maybe only weeks before somebody gets to him."
Now McCall thought Dyson was exaggerating, but only on his timetable. McCall did believe Gage was on several hit lists. Knowing Gage, it made perfect sense. Still, "And your solution is to lock him up? What makes you think no one will get to him in jail, Richard?"
"You're right. I can't be sure. But I have taken precautions. He'll be safer in prison than he will be out on any street."
McCall gave him that sarcastic sideways look again. "So now I'm supposed to believe this is all for Harley's good, am I?"
"No," Dyson said, earnest again. "That's only part of it. Damn it, Robert, it eats my gut out doing this, too. You know me. You know we think alike, you and I. I'm not the kind of man who uses the company machinery to grind men up. But this has to be. It's the only solution for a lot of problems."
For a moment, McCall understood that line of thinking, but he still found himself shaking his head. "There's no good reason to throw a decent man to the wolves, Dyson. I'll take the heat. I'll let Gage believe I'm behind this, but only because it might get him to take the plea bargain and get him out of prison sooner. I'm totally against this, totally and irrevocably against it."
McCall walked away then, and Dyson let him go with a big sigh.
The guard came back, earlier than Gage expected. Surely judges and lawyers took more than 45 minutes for lunch. Before he could ask, the guard said, "Somebody to see you in the consultation room," and opened the cell door.
Gage came out and walked ahead of him, wondering who the visitor was. If it was his lawyer, the guard would have just brought him back to the cell. It had to be somebody from the company, Control or Dyson even, come to make another try at him to play ball with the company's plan for his future. Well, not a chance. They were just continuing to waste their time.
But it was McCall waiting in the consultation room. The guard ushered Gage in, then left and closed and locked the door behind him.
McCall looked at Gage and summoned a shadow of a smile. "Hello, Harley."
Gage closed his mouth, then laughed, not happily. "McCall. What they hell are you doing here?"
McCall shook his head. "I don't like any of this, Harley."
"Then stop it," Gage snarled quickly.
McCall shook his head again. "I wish it were that easy."
Gage laughed sardonically. "The same old company line. I thought you were different, McCall. I thought you actually still had some of your humanity, some of your sense of justice. Is this your idea of justice, selling me out?"
McCall didn't even want to look at him, but he knew he had to summon the will to do it, and he did. "Take the plea bargain you've been offered, Harley. It's your best chance to get out fast and put this behind you."
"Behind me?! You think I'm every going to put any of this behind me?! Now, I thought you knew me better than that."
"I thought I did, too," McCall said. "I thought I knew a man who would put his life on the line for his comrades and his country."
It was Gage's turn to give McCall the sarcastic sideways look. "Don't give me that, McCall. You know I would, if the point was worth my life. But I don't play along with bullshit. I don't play along with a lie, especially one that's chewing me up and spitting me out. Why don't you get out of here?"
McCall decided to give it one more try, and then he would be through with all of this. "Take the deal, Harley, or I guarantee you, you will go to prison for the rest of your life."
Gage's sarcasm turned to a quizzical glare. "Why? What is so important about putting me in prison? It was a righteous kill. Why should I take a fall for it?"
Then, suddenly, McCall watched the realization spread over Gage's face. His mouth came open, his jaw tightened, and his eyes went completely cold.
"Oh, now – now I get it," Gage said, moving closer, the menace in his expression almost making McCall believe he was going to attack him. But Gage stopped. "The witnesses. A little political pressure. A company agent gets killed in this country, the company has to find a way to make it look like just another murder. I'm a renegade. The company doesn't know what I was up to. I killed this guy because he was about to kill my lover. The company has 'witnesses' that put it that way, and the company doesn't have to admit it had a real renegade. That way the company doesn't have it on the record anywhere that it's been operating in this country. I get it all now. I get it all now, McCall. I'm taking the fall for the company's illegal activities. Well, hell, no! I'm not taking any fall. I'll trash that damned federal public defender and get a – "
McCall spoke quickly, calmly. "The only lawyer you will ever have is that federal public defender, and that federal public defender has instructions. You will go to prison for the rest of your life. Is that what you want? Does that get back at the company? You're cutting your own throat."
Gage stared hard at him. "Then let me bleed."
"Harley, take the deal."
"No," Gage said with absolute finality. "I'm not playing along with the game, McCall. You know me better than that. At least, I thought you knew me better than that. But I thought a lot of things."
For a moment Gage looked conflicted, even disappointed. McCall felt a stab of guilt and came dangerously close to telling Gage everything.
But Gage straightened and came at him again. "And if I ever do get out, I know exactly who to blame for this. I know exactly who to come for."
Gage's eyes were murderous.
This is all so goddamned wrong, McCall thought. I can't do this. I can't do this. He nearly marched out to tell Dyson and Control both to go to hell.
But Gage turned abruptly, strode to the door and banged on it hard. "We're done in here! Come on!"
The guard opened the door and took Gage away. Gage never looked back.
McCall went home by way of a bar he'd never been to before, where he was sure he would not run into anyone he knew. He bought the cheapest liquor in the place, because he didn't deserve any better. He couldn't stand the sight of himself because of his complicity in this tragic farce, this tyrannical plot that came down on the head of a man he called his friend. All he deserved was to get blind drunk, wander out into the street and get run over by a truck.
He didn't know how long he'd been there – some hours, he suspected – when someone slipped into the seat beside him. McCall got only a glimpse, but he looked again, and almost threw his drink into the man's face.
Control told the bartender, "Scotch, neat."
"What are you doing? Following me around the city? Afraid I'll kill somebody?" McCall asked.
"I'm afraid you might kill yourself," Control said.
McCall looked straight at him. "I ought to kill you, you and Dyson, for hatching this – despicable scheme."
"Robert, you know we had to do something."
"Not this. Not this." McCall took another drink of however many this was. "What happened with Gage?"
Control said, "He didn't take the plea bargain. Trial took two hours, jury was out ten minutes. They gave him life."
"Goddamn it – " McCall fumed.
"Look, what we've done is going to save not only our own asses. It's going to save Gage's, too. Do you know how many enemies he's made through the years? Do you know how many western organizations have hits out on him? We put him in Russia to get him out of everybody's way, and it worked. He's still alive. But not forever. As soon as he left Moscow, he'd have them running into each other trying to get to him."
"And what makes you think they won't get to him in prison? What makes you think he's so safe there?"
"Dyson's made arrangements."
"Dyson…." McCall once thought of that man as a friend, too, but now there wasn't one friendship left. Not Gage, not Dyson, not Control. "Admit it, Control. Gage's safety means nothing to any of you. You needed a scapegoat to keep the company clean. That's all this is about. Gage is in prison to save the company's neck and for no other reason, and if he's killed in there, well, that's all the better. In fact, I'll bet you arrange it."
"Robert – "
"And you'll be happy to let me take the blame for that, too."
Control stared at McCall. McCall didn't look at him, but he could feel his eyes. He didn't care anymore. He was already composing his letter of resignation in his head.
Control looked away. "We were sure he'd take the deal if you put it to him, Robert. It backfired."
"Didn't it, now? This whole little charade is backfiring, Control, and an innocent man is going to pay the price for the rest of his life."
"He'll be eligible for parole in about 15 years."
"Fifteen years," McCall laughed at it. "And you think that will wipe the slate clean for him? You think he'll just tell himself, 'Well, I took one for the team,' and everything will be fine again? It doesn't matter what you do or where Gage goes in the future. Whether he's in prison or whether he's out, his life is destroyed, thanks to you and – thanks to me."
Control was out of things to say. His drink arrived and he paid for it, but he didn't drink it. He said, "Robert, don't do anything hasty. Think all this over for a few days."
"Oh, I intend to," McCall said and glared at him.
Control got up slowly – and then dropped the bomb. "By the way, Dyson just resigned."
McCall looked up at him, genuinely startled.
Control just left the bar.
McCall stared at the ceiling of his bedroom for most of the night. He hadn't gotten drunk enough to put himself out. He might have dozed now and then, but not enough that it really registered. Think it over, Control said. He couldn't not think it over. How could he throw away a career he'd spent decades building? But how could he not throw it away? How many people had he seen killed, ruined? He'd swallowed them all over the years. Why couldn't he just swallow this one? Because Gage had trusted him, and Gage believed McCall had betrayed him. McCall knew he hadn't – or had he? Could he have argued harder? Could he have threatened to walk out and not even gone to Gage about the plea bargain? Sure he could have. Why didn't he?
The phone rang. McCall glanced at the clock. It was only 5:30 in the morning. He picked up the receiver by the bed. "McCall."
"This is about the briefcase."
McCall sat up. He'd completely forgotten about Cristolides.
Cristolides said, "I'm ready to meet. I'll have the papers."
"When and where?"
"Times Square Shuttle station. Eight a.m. I'll get off the train."
"All right. I'll meet you there."
Cristolides abruptly hung up. McCall started to hang up – but he heard something in the phone, and swore. His line was tapped.
He tried to think quickly. Had to be Control who tapped it. That meant agents would be there at the subway station at eight a.m., and McCall had no way of contacting Cristolides to call this off. His only hope was to get there and try to get to Cristolides before he spotted any of the other agents, and before they spotted him.
McCall swore again. After yesterday, he was half certain he was going to find a way to leave the company. Now he was three-quarters certain.
By 7:45 McCall was in the Times Square Shuttle station. He kept himself in the shadows, though, and reconnoitered. He did not expect the company to send agents who were good at undercover work. They would send men to apprehend Cristolides, men who would stick out in any crowd with their earphones and neat short haircuts and bulges under their arms. And it didn't take long for McCall to spot one. He arrived almost as soon as McCall did, wandering around the platform, never getting onto a train. When the train Cristolides was on arrived, there would probably be at least one more on the train with him.
McCall tampered with the idea of approaching the man and getting him to leave and call off anybody else involved in this, but he quickly decided that was useless. He recognized an eager beaver type who'd want credit for the apprehension so his own stock would go up. The three-quarters desire to leave this business far behind leapt up to seven-eighths. How could he have ever put himself in the company of ghouls like this in the first place?
McCall stayed in the shadows and watched, and hoped.
At a heartbeat past eight, a train pulled in and people poured out of it. Cristolides was one of them. Two other men got off the train at other doors on either side of him, company men with big fat ear buds with wires running down under their coats. They'd had Cristolides shadowed for at least one stop.
The company weasel on the platform saw him. He looked around and saw every one of the weasels.
Damn! McCall moved carefully toward the crowd, staying in the shadows, trying not to lose his composure.
All hell suddenly broke loose as Cristolides grabbed a young girl and pulled a knife. "I'll kill her! I'll kill her!"
People screamed. Cristolides yelled. The three company weasels pulled out their weapons and yelled. One of them tried to get Cristolides to calm down, but he kept yelling he'd kill the girl, he'd kill the girl. She was screaming and crying and squirming to get away, but Cristolides held onto her hard.
McCall stepped out of the shadows, moving to within ten feet of the young man, who saw him. Now his eyes were racing back and forth between McCall on his right and the company weasels on his left.
McCall tried to stay very calm and kept his eyes calmly but firmly on Cristolides. "Let her go," he said, keeping his voice easy, his expression light.
The boy's eyes still darted back and forth, and he still kept his grip on the girl.
"Cristolides, it is all over," McCall said, making sure the boy knew that he knew his name now. "What is in that suitcase is not worth your life, or hers. So let her go."
The boy still held onto her.
"You trusted me once, remember?" McCall said. "Trust me now." And then, to the company weasels he said, "Lower the guns. Now."
The weasels finally did it.
"There, you see?" McCall said to Cristolides. "It'll be all right. You have my word. Come on, let her go."
The boy finally relented and eased his grip.
And one of the company weasels shot him.
But only wounded him. Cristolides grabbed the girl tight to him again. "I'll kill her!!"
McCall had no choice. He was the only one with a clear shot, and he took it. Cristolides went down on his back, and the girl fell, and then got up and ran.
The company weasel who had shot him came closer and looked down at the dead boy. "He's mine. I got him."
McCall began to shake with utter rage. Everything around him seemed to explode into white blankness. Without even realizing he was doing it, he raised his gun and pointed it at the company man who had claimed the kill, the man who had made him shoot a boy it wasn't necessary to shoot. This was just too damned much. For a long, awful moment, McCall almost pulled the trigger.
No. It was done. This loser of a boy who never posed a threat to anyone before two minutes ago was dead on the ground, and nothing was going to bring him back. Now the seven-eighths became eight-eighths, and McCall knew that ever single bit of this, and every single bit of his involvement with the company, was done. It didn't matter if resignation was something that was not attempted. Dyson had done it, and now McCall was going to do it, and if the company wanted to terminate him for it, well they could damn well try.
McCall turned and walked out the station. Within an hour, his resignation letter was on Control's desk and his new life was in front of him.