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Small Conscience

Robert McCall slammed and locked the door of the Jag and rushed up the steps to his brownstone. It was already eleven o'clock; he had wanted to be in bed at least two hours earlier.

There was an inquiry being held in Washington to delve into the ongoing problems in Cyprus and because of his expertise on the subject, he had been persuaded by Control to testify to the fact-finding committee. Kostmayer had also been roped into appearing and all three men were supposed to meet at six the next morning, ready to fly to DC for the early meeting.

He entered the front door of his building and his senses went on alert. There was a shadow in the far corner near the staircase and his gun was out and at the ready in a split second.

A thin, frightened voice came from the darkness. "Mr. McCall? Robert?"

He peered into the dimly lit corner. "Who is it? Keep your hands where I can see them!"

The figure moved forward and it took a moment before he could recognize her.

"It's me, Robert. Teresa. Remember from about a year ago? We met..."

She looked more worn and tired then the last time he had seen her, and that had been after she had been through a sleepless night when he had recovered the microdot that she had stolen from him.

Teresa was a woman who had been swept into a case of industrial espionage a year before. She had been pressed into helping him solve a case by taking him to her friend's apartment. When they discovered her friend had been killed, Robert had taken Teresa under his wing and into his home until he had solved the case. But before he could wrap everything up securely, Teresa had purloined the valuable microdot from Robert and attempted extortion on its original owner.

At the time Robert had felt sorry for her. She was a needy, lonely soul and he knew that the prospect of making so much money had pushed Teresa to act rashly. He had recovered the microdot from her, and then had let her go.

And now out of the blue, here she was on his doorstep.

"Don't you remember me Robert?" Teresa asked in a sad, almost heartbroken voice.

Robert pocketed his gun and brought forth a half smile for her. "Of course I remember you, Teresa. I was simply surprised to see you here so late, in such an unexpected place."

She tried to smile but had to sniff back tears, "I'm sorry to barge on you but... I need help and I thought that you could..." In the weak light of the hallway, Robert could see that mascara and tears were making their way down her cheeks, "I thought that maybe you would help me. I need someone to tell me what to do." She started to cry softly.

Robert stepped toward her and tentatively put his arms out to her, to see if she wanted to be hugged. "Tell me how I can help, Teresa."

With a look of vast relief, she fell sobbing against his chest. "Oh Robert, I don't know what to do. I don't..." her voice was muffled by his coat.

"There Teresa," he crooned. "Let's go up to my apartment shall we? I will do my best to help you."

She looked up at him, her tear-streaked face worn but hopeful. "Thank you. I'm so lost, so lost." She dissolved in tears again.

~~~~~~~~~~~

He was making tea for them when Teresa came out from the bathroom. She had asked permission to use it the moment they had walked into the apartment and after he had taken her coat she had hurried in. Now he was pleased to see that she had washed her face and reapplied her makeup. She looked more in control of herself.

"I hope I look decent now, I probably frightened you before." She waved her hand in front of her embarrassed smile. "I looked a mess. Sorry."

Robert poured the tea. "Don't be silly," he said, "you're a lovely young woman, and you're obviously very upset about something."

"I don't feel that lovely or young lately," she said, barely hiding her bitter tone.

He raised one eyebrow at her harsh voice. "Let's sit shall we?" Robert picked the teacups and led the way to the couch where Teresa sat down and immediately shivered.

"Are you cold? I can get you a sweater." He noticed that Teresa was looking at the fireplace longingly.

"Would it be too much trouble to have a fire?" She managed a wistful smile, her eyes filing with tears once more. "I remember there was a fire that night while we were talking."

"I remember also." Robert said softly, as he started the fireplace going.

Last year, when she and his client stayed at his apartment, she had told him about her loneliness, and how she frequented bars, hoping to meet someone, anyone, who could keep her feelings of loneliness away. When he hadn't responded by falling into bed with her she had gone into the other bedroom and spent the night with his client.

"Sometimes I wish that I had never met you," she whispered, her voice thick with emotion, "I'd never done anything illegal before then. When you said that the little dot was worth millions of dollars, it seemed like all my problems would be solved if I had that little dot. All my dreams just a little dot away." Her voice was hollow, empty of all hope.

Robert sat down next to her. "Teresa, I'm so sorry."

"No, no!" she shook her head, "It was all my own greed, my fault." She sat up and wiped her face with her hands. "I'm the one who misused your hospitality. I did it and I've paid for it, but still..." her eyes were bloodshot and red from crying as she shyly looked at him.

"...I wouldn't have traded meeting you for anything in the world, Robert. You were so wonderful to me that night. You listened to my fears, and when you found out I had taken the dot, you still forgave me. God! You gave me hope that there were still wonderful, caring men around. Not that I've seen much evidence that you aren't the last great guy on earth." She laughed harshly and took a breath pulling herself together." That's why I'm here I suppose. I haven't met any guys as great as you since."

Robert took his handkerchief out of his pocket, leaned over and gently touched the linen to her cheek, blotting up some of the tears that were still on her face. Teresa responded to the touch the same way that flowers face the sun. She turned towards him and looked as if she was drinking him in. Robert returned her long gaze, but he suddenly remembered that she had come to him for help and moved back away from her, breaking the spell.

He offered the handkerchief to her and she clutched it in her hand. "Now," he said softly, "why don't you tell me what I can do for you?"

Teresa chuckled and shook her head. "Why don't I tell you about my problem, instead?

Robert frowned. "I don't understand. "

Teresa must have seen his look of puzzlement. "I'm sorry. It just that I thought of something else you could do for me and it has nothing to do with why I came here." She shook her head again and blushed, "Sorry,"

Robert peered at her, "I'm sorry. I still don't understand..."

"See?" she laughed, "That's exactly what I mean. You wouldn't know a come-on if it hit you in the face." Her eyes started to fill up again. "That's what I meant by a great guy." She sniffed and blew her nose.

Robert waited until she had settled down once again. "Are you ready to tell me what is troubling you?"

Teresa took a moment. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I don't know what else to do," she started. "You remember that I went to my boss and tried to get him to pay me for the dot? Well, you smoothed it out, and he didn't press any charges against me with the police. And I was really grateful for that, but he did report me to the temporary work agency that hired me out. As soon as he told them that I had stolen from him they refused to find me jobs and they told every other temp agency in the city. I didn't work for months.

"I kept trying though, because I didn't want to leave Manhattan. There's no other place that has the same ring to it." Her voice choked off. "It's not like I would have been able to get work in a place just as glamorous, like Paris or London." She shook her head sadly. "The only thing that I had any pride in was that I lived and worked in New York. If that went, I wouldn't have any reason to live."

She shivered again and picked up the teacup, putting her hands around it for warmth. "So, in order to stay in New York, I decided to upgrade my skills and I went to a school to learn computers."

Robert nodded his head, "Admirable, Teresa, a wonderful idea."

She shook her head, "It didn't help. Once I put the name of my old agency on any job applications, to show my work history, they found out about the complaint against me and there was always some excuse for not hiring me.

"After a while, I finally got myself a job at a small startup computer company. It was just a two-guy operation and because I didn't ask much salary, they were both willing to give me a chance. I was thrilled to be working anywhere."

She had been looking at the floor, but then she lifted her eyes to look at his face. "I always remembered how decent you were to me Robert, and I always thought that it would all have been so different if we had been together that night."

She suddenly blushed, "Sorry. But I haven't forgotten how kind you were and that the next day you said that you had also thought about us, you know, being together? Well all during this year, I kept that in my mind, trying to think of how I could be a better person, someone that you would have wanted..."

"Teresa, don't." He put out his hand to touch her, but thought that she might be too fragile just then, so he set his hand down.

"Anyway," she continued, while looking into the fireplace. "Last week, Larry, one of the men I work for, asked me to go with him on a business trip. He's always flirting and I've been hoping that it's nothing, but with this invitation, I have a feeling that it might not be all business."

She looked at him, her eyes glinting from the flames. "I don't want to lose this job. I can't," she whispered earnestly, "and Robert, I haven't been with anyone since that night here with Mitch in your spare bedroom. I tried to make myself be more self-reliant, and not sleep with anyone just because they wanted me."

"Larry is an okay guy and I wouldn't mind dating him but.." she hesitated, "He's married and I remember what happened to Vikki when she dated her boss. When the affair was over, so was her job, and then so was her life."

She dabbed at her eyes, but the tears were flowing freely. "I still remember what she looked like when we found her in her apartment. I still can't forget how she was just killed. Killed, and gone. And that It could just as easily have been me."

She turned to him, "I don't know what to do Robert. I came here because I want you to tell me. Ever since we met my life has been horrible." She was crying hard, and her voice was strangled with tears, "No, I don't mean it that way. All you did was ask me to take you to Vikki's house. It's just that... if only you had just asked for the address, then none of the terrible things that happened would have happened to me. I know it's not your fault, but everything bad happened after I met you."

She was sitting there shoulders slumped in defeat, crying her heart out. Robert felt moved and saddened and guilty. It was true. If he hadn't talked her into helping him and if he hadn't put that million-dollar microdot in front of her, she might have never given in to the temptation to steal. Her whole life had been changed because he asked her to show him an address. He knew he couldn't take the responsibility for what she did, but it seemed to him that he was the one who had brought her to temptation.

He was filled with despair. Why did he always to hurt people? Why did other people always seem to pay for his actions?

He moved closer to Teresa and put his arm out to comfort her. At the first touch, she held herself stiff and away from him for a moment, but then she dissolved into his arms.

He could feel her trembling and held her tighter. He enfolded himself around her, willing his body to absorb her hurt. She looked up at him, and her face was so sad, so hopeless, her eyes filled with such terrible need, that he could do nothing less than kiss her.

Teresa returned the kiss tenfold. He could feel her body melting against him and he was filled with tenderness toward her, and he also felt the need to assuage his guilt at what meeting him had done to her life.

Their breath and lips merged together and Teresa kept making small whimpering sounds deep in her throat. Robert tried to gently pull away; he didn't want to take advantage of a woman so filled with despair. But Teresa sought his lips with hers. Her body pressed against him insistently.

"Please," she murmured, "Please, Robert don't leave me. Don't stop. Please, please, please. I couldn't take it if you stopped," she was murmuring over and over breathlessly, "please, please, please," until her lips and breath combined with his and, from that moment, his feelings and her needs were one and the same.

They continued moving together, their bodies responding to each other. He was able to see that she was very experienced in the ways of lovemaking even within the depths of her despair. Somewhere in his mind he remembered that she was one of the horizontally mobile generation where sex was more easily entered into than friendship.

They made love on the couch that first time. It was filled with tenderness and kindness on his part and with need and loneliness on hers.

Then, after they rested a while and she had finally stopped whispering her thank yous, they went into the bedroom, where Teresa treated Robert to a night filled with the most grateful and ardent ministrations that any woman had ever bestowed upon him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At five in the morning, his internal alarm clock woke him up. Exhausted, he turned over and kissed Teresa awake. She opened her eyes and graced him with a lovely warm smile. When he started to get out of bed, Teresa wound her arms and legs around him and pulled him toward her. They kissed again and he knew that if he didn't get going he would be immersed inside her within a moment. He untangled himself and moved away.

"Where are you going?" She grabbed for him again, "Are you afraid that we might get too close? Is that it? Do you want me to get out?" Her voice was tinged with hysteria "I thought you were different, I thought..."

He took her into his arms again. She fought him for a second, but then threw herself at him, hugging him tightly. "Please don't throw me out like I don't mean a thing to you," she whispered, her voice filled with desperation.

"Teresa, I have an early appointment with two colleagues. I don't want to go, but I have..."

"No I get it." She pushed him away, "You made up a story to get rid of me. I can see that."

He glared at her sternly, "No Teresa. I certainly did not make up a story. Two of my colleagues are due to meet me here in one hour. You shall meet them then, if you like. I am not in the habit of lying nor breaking my promises; you should know that about me. Damn it, if I were the type of man to break promises, I would break my promise to help them and tell them that I was too happily busy with you."

Her face brightened. "Really? You really have an appointment? No lie?" She seemed overjoyed that he wasn't discarding her. She moved the comforter over her and burrowed closer to him, nestling her head at his chest.

He smiled down at her. "I never lie."

Teresa grinned sadly and lifted her head so that their lips met. She ran her hand down his back and continued on to the front of his body, brushing her fingers downward.

"Teresa," he chided, "We can't now. You don't want me to be rude and leave them out on the doorstep while we dally together, do you?"

"Please Robert, I know our being together won't last forever," suddenly she was crying again, "but any time you can give me will be fine. I don't expect much, really. Just a little kindness. Please."

And then she started to use her fingers, darting one way and inserting them in other places until he was breathless. He all but forgot that he had to leave the bed.

"Teresa Stop!" he groaned. "I have to get up. I have to." And he threw himself away from her, out of the bed and into the bathroom.

When he re entered the bedroom, he was surprised to see Teresa still in bed, sitting naked with the comforter pushed down to her knees. She was very fit, he saw. Her small breasts were firm and her stomach muscles were clearly defined.

"I still don't know what to do about Larry," she said, while she raised her arms over her head and made a show of a luxuriant stretch. She shook her head, fluffing her hair, and then she stretched again, arching her back, aiming her erect, pink nipples at him. "Should I go with him? Do you think?"

He felt himself stir again, but suddenly he realized that she was exhibiting herself in front of him, trying to make him demand that she not go with the other man. Stupidly, he had permitted her to use his guilt and her body to get him to decide her next move for her.

He had painted himself into a corner. After spending the night together, he couldn't very well give her permission to go with another man; and if he told her not to go, and she lost her job, he would be tied to her by guilt.

She was now out of bed and slowly moving toward him, with a satisfied smile on her face.

Oh McCall, you old fool, he derided himself as she embraced him, now what are you going to do?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He was in the kitchen fully dressed when the doorbell rang at exactly six am. He called out to Teresa to inform her that his colleagues had arrived.

He opened the door and Control brushed passed him into the apartment and slumped onto the couch. "Frederickson called, he's going to be a half hour late. We've got time for coffee, old son. Be a prince and make a pot."

Following Control, Mickey dragged in the door. He fell into a chair and closed his eyes. "Black. Make the coffee black." His voice was a deep, sleepy croak.

Robert glared at the two men draped over his furniture, "I am not in the habit of taking orders for breakfast!"

Suddenly the slamming of a door was heard from the other room. Both men looked up, suddenly alert and wide eyed.

"Stand down," Robert said with exasperation, "I have a guest who'll be leaving soon."

Mickey looked up at Robert and grinned evilly, "A Guest? You DOG!"

Robert winced, "What in the world are you talking about?"

"Yo McCall, you dropped me off at my place at eleven o'clock last night and you managed to get yourself a woman that late? Christ, I'm impressed."

Robert glared again. "I'll have you know, Mister Kostmayer," he pointed towards the bedroom, "I'll have you know, that the LADY in there, is an acquaintance of mine from..."

"An old friend? Do I know her?" Control interrupted him.

"No, not a friend..." Robert hesitated.

"Not an old client!" Mickey grimaced, "I thought that you swore off involvement with women who came to you for help."

"Stop!" Robert slammed his fist down. "It was a year ago. She was not my client. She was..." He shrugged, "well..."

Both Mickey and Control stared at him. He gave in. "She showed up here, late last night. She had been fired from her job because of her involvement with me and..."

"Why fired?" Control got up and walked into the small kitchen. He hitched a hip on the counter and folded his arms across his chest, an amused smile playing on his lips.

Robert glared Control down and said, trying to keep his voice steady. "She stole a microdot."

"Espionage? Exactly which side was she on?" Mickey joined them in the kitchen.

"Industrial espionage, Mickey."

Mickey smirked, "I get the picture now! After time in the joint, surrounded by tough, brawny women, she came back here to sniff around you!"

"That's quite enough young Kostmayer! That's quite enough!" Robert went to him and hissed, "Quiet! She didn't spend any time in prison."

"Okay," Control shrugged, "I see, she's a pillar of society."

Robert turned his back on them both and took a calming breath. He needed to steer the conversation towards his goal. He took coffee mugs from the cupboard. "Oh by the way, Control," he asked, trying to sound casual, "does the company still have all those bogus offices set up around the world?"

Control had his head inside the refrigerator by then. He picked up a package of cheese, took a piece from it and chewed. "Yes, we do." Then he stopped and looked suspicious. "Why?"

"Well, Teresa - my friend in the bedroom - has need of a job."

"You want me to hire an ex-con?" Control asked in amazement.

"She's not an ex -con," Robert huffed in exasperation, "She's never done anything afoul of the law before that one instance. Actually, one couldn't blame her for..." Robert sighed and gave up trying to sugar coat the situation. "Damn it, Control, she needs a job. You know I wouldn't normally ask you."

"Wait!" Mickey snapped his fingers, "She stole a microdot? Hey, I remember. You told her all about the dot and then, when you wouldn't screw her, she went to get laid by the guy in your spare bedroom."

Robert made a show of placing the package of coffee away. "I don't remember putting it quite that way, Michael."

"You want me to hire a thief to work in a government office?" Control shook his head, "Very droll. Robert. We're supposed to weed thieves out, not bring them in."

"Control, she is not a thief. She was just a poor girl who, because of my insistence, became embroiled in the theft of a microdot."

"She stole it from her boss. Right?" Mickey asked.

"No!" Robert said, "She certainly did not. Her friend did." His voice became quieter, "She stole the microdot from... well, me."

"Let me get this straight," Control said in exasperation, "She stole a microdot from you, she doesn't have a job, she showed up here uninvited in the middle of the night, asked you for help and you spent the night with her?"

"You slept with someone who was that screwed up?" Mickey said with a hard edge to his voice, "Hey McCall, when did you change the newspaper ad?"

"I didn't change the ad Mickey," Robert said annoyed, "what the hell are you talking about?"

"You must have changed it to: Odds Against You? Need Help? Pity Fucks A Specialty."

Robert's eyes widened in anger. "That's it, Kostmayer!" He lunged at Mickey but Control stood between them.

"What's wrong, McCall?" Mickey growled, keeping his voice low. "You chewed me a new asshole when I slept with someone who came to you for help, even though she was someone I cared for, but nobody had better think that it's crap that you spent the night humping a sad sack loser?"

Robert felt himself seething with anger. The truth of Mickey's crude words infuriated him. He did do an idiotic thing and he had no excuse for it and no way out of it. Except perhaps he could...?

"That's enough!" Control pushed them to the opposite sides of the kitchen and looked at Robert. "Stop this nonsense and tell me what kind of legitimate work she can do."

He tried to speak calmly. "She's an excellent secretary with the benefit of an added certificate in computer programs."

"Maybe I can find something for her here in the New York Offices. Okay? Just explain to me why I'm doing this for you again?"

First, Robert glared at Mickey who glared back. Then he turned to Control. "Because I am doing you a favor by going to Washington to tell that committee that you need more money in the Company coffers to wage the war against the enemies of Democracy." He smiled at his friend. "You'll owe me."

"Right." Control conceded, his voice flat.

"And one other thing, Control."

"Yes Robert, old son?" Control said dramatically, "What else can I do for you?"

Robert had his answer. "London old friend, get her a job in London. I'll pay for her ticket and her moving expenses. Just make sure it's in London and not in New York City, nor anywhere in this country for that matter."

Mickey snickered. "London far enough away McCall?"

Robert sighed and then he smiled at Teresa as she walked from the bedroom and into the living room.

"I bloody well hope so," he said.

 

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