Disclaimer: The Equalizer and all its characters are property of Universal and are used here without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.  


Havana was a lovely oasis in the decade after the Second World Warís moralistic world, and the Tropicana Night Club was the amalgam of the best and the worst Cuba had to offer.

She sipped at her drink, a Starlight Daiquiri, usually only served at the Starlight Terrace at the Hotel Nacional, but as she had become a regular at the Tropicana, the maître d' was forever making it a point to ply her with special treats.

She put her drink down and found herself smiling. That the young maître d' was attracted to her and was forever flirting with her Ė seriously flirting Ė was the reason he made such a point of doing extra to gain her favor.

She supposed she should be flattered, after all most women of her age (she shuddered to think of the number Ė forty-something) would be pleased that a man as young and good-looking as the maître d' would try so fervently to get her into bed. But then, it was Havana, and the city had more passion than any other location.

Everyone agreed that it was sexiest city in the world. But sex here was not cheap and tawdry, like in so many of the other places in the world where she had lived.  In most of Cuba, sex was part of life. It could be felt in the tropical scent of the air, in the beat of the music that is heard on every street.

She was sitting in the top tier of the crystal arch looking over the main ballroom and floor of Tropicana Night Club, with a fine view of all of it: the dance floor, the large band and the floor show. The room was filled with many people she recognized. Nodding acquaintances all. If you spent as much time in the plush gaming rooms of the Tropicana as she did, you would meet practically every important public servant and notorious personality in Cuba. 

A woman alone still received interested looks from passers-by, but she was used to it. The regulars at the club knew that Madame Linette was never alone for the whole night, sooner or later she would be joined by either a young man or an older, distinguished one.

She sensed a presence behind her and didnít flinch when she felt a breath on her neck and a light kiss behind her ear.

"Richard," she said and looked up to smile at the tall and ruggedly handsome man standing next to her.

"I could never sneak up on you, no matter how hard I try." He grinned and pulled the chair from the table and sat opposite her.

He was as good-looking as she remembered. Not yet forty, barrel-chested and built for strength, but with deep intelligent eyes and a baritone voice that could break the moral will of a woman without his even trying.

"Well, chéri," she said, "Iíve had enough practice, knowing what is going on behind my back. It is the thing, I think, that has kept this old woman alive."

He grimaced. "Donít old woman me, Linette. Youíre only five years older than I am, at the height of your prowess and your attractiveness."

She smiled, and tried not to let her memories show on her face. "Well, I suppose since the war took my youth and killed that first flush of beauty, I am entitled to some benefits in my dotage."

"Dotage? Whatís wrong, love?" He stared at her, a deep furrow of concern creasing his brow.

She made herself feel light and smiled. "I suppose, I am grieving for my past. It might be the recent recruit you and our bosses sent me."

His hand had moved over the table to take hold of her fingers. "Is he that bad?"

His hand was warm and as large and strong, as she remembered it. "No, heís that good. I havenít met such a one as him since the OSS sent me a young man named Dyson years ago."

Richard chuckled, his laugh starting deep in his chest. "I would hope heís better than I was."

Her eyes caught his and held them. "Heís as good as you were and has that same spark, with good looks and intelligence."

Richard nodded. "I have hopes that the new agency will come under this recruitís control one day."

That hit her as a surprise. "But Richard, I thought you were heading for that station yourself?"

"Oh, Iíll be in a top position, but heís younger and I get the impression that he has talents that go beyond those I have."

"No, I know all about you," she lifted an eyebrow, "from every angle. Heís good but not at your speed Ė yet."

"His temperament is better suited to all of the machinations that are needed in the position than mine. He enjoys the balancing act that has to be done." Richard chuckled. "I can do it, but Iíd rather be in the field than behind a desk."

Linette nodded. "Yes, his psychological tests show that he enjoys the mental challenges."

Richard nodded as the waiter suddenly appeared at his side. "Glenlivet, neat."

"But doesnít the gentleman want to try the favorite drink of Havana?" the slick-haired Cuban waiter flashed a smile. "We are known world wide for ouró"

Linette saw the slight shifting of Richardís eyes, the small turn of his head that changed his look to that of a dangerous man. With an ease that was astonishing, he went from a caring friend to a man with whom no living soul dare disagree.

"I donít want a daiquiri. Iím not a tourist. Glenlivet, neat."

Face pale white, the waiter slapped his mouth shut, nodded and rushed away to get the drink.

Richard turned back to her, his expression again compassionate. "Sorry love, Iím sick to death of fawning people. I just wasted a few hours with Van Ellma. Heís as weak a willed, ass kissó"

Laughter bubbled up within her. "ó accommodating man as you have ever met."

Richard took a deep breath as he visually controlled his temper. "Accommodating yes. And his stupidity might accommodate the United States into an international mess that will have repercussions into the next damn century."

She shrugged. "That's why weíre here, mon cher, testing my latest protégé with that problem. Weíll get to see how well his training is progressing."

"With you as his teacher, our boy canít help but do well. Heíll only fail if weíve all misread him and he turns out not to have the right personality for this work."

Unbidden pride rose in her chest. "No, he has what it takes."

Now Richardís eyebrow rose, his strong mouth gently bowed in a teasing smile. "Youíre talking about his physical ability?"

Linette tried to hide her smile with her raised daiquiri glass.

"Youíre not blushing!" Richard boomed a laugh then. "He must be something spectacular for you to blush!"

She was shaking with laughter. "Donít be ridiculous, bien sûr. I never blush Ė not anymore. Heís got the espionage vocation in his blood. He would find his way into this business, or something like it, on his own. But yes, mon cher, heís quite naturally gifted. He was a bit untutored in his technique, but the natural talent, it is all there. "

She stopped laughing as she looked down over the club and saw her student walk through the Tropicana's front door. "There he is." She pointed to the entrance with a tiny movement of her chin.

Richard turned casually to look.

Today his name was Arthur Mason, a successful artist from the Midwest. Linette was pleased to see what kind of figure he cut walking into the club. His natural masculine grace served him well. Rugged, dark good looks and a solid, strong body were heightened by the handmade tuxedo she had procured for him.

She scanned the room. Many of the women seated at tables had their eyes on him as he moved to the bar.

"Heís got the female vote," Richard mumbled as he turned back to face her. The waiter scurried up and deposited the whisky in front of Richard and was about to run off, when a few folded bills appeared in Richardís hand and were slipped onto the waiter's serving tray. The boy gasped, smiled and bowed as Richard waved him away.

"Itís good to keep the waiters happy," he said.

"Very true." She nodded.

"You taught me that, Linette." He had his eyes on her again as he sipped from the glass.

"Yes, I did . And Iím happy that youíve remembered some of my tutorage." She picked up her own glass to taste the cool concoction of lemon, sugar and rum.

"I remember everything about you."

A long moment passed as he stared at her.

A vibration was emanating off him that she could hardly believe. His dark eyes were made darker by his expanding pupils. His skin had a slight flush to it. And oh yes, his breathing had changed.

Could the attraction be true?

"Flattery doesnít work with me, Richard, You know that."

He set his drink down. "I know that, and you should also remember that I donít flatter. I donít play games."

Surprised, she studied him. His gaze, intent on her, brought out a warmth that spread down from her neck to wash over her chest and then pooled between her legs.

Was he always this good?

She tried to remember. Not many men could push her buttons. Especially as she had made a career learning how all the erotic knobs worked, and teaching others how to control the opposite sex with those switches.

At that moment down on the dance floor, she saw Arthur sit down at the table with his mission target.

"Ah, our young recruit has made contact already," she told Richard and both returned their concentration to the job at hand.

"He seems to be getting along with her well." She saw Arthur light a cigarette for Mrs. Ellma, the wife of the accommodating intelligence officer.

"Is she taking the bait?" Richard muttered as he sipped at his drink.

Myrna Ellma, the beautiful thirty-two year old wife of the head intelligence consultant stationed at the US Navel base at Guantanamo Bay was now laughing, throwing her head back, and giving her rapt attention to the young and handsome Arthur Mason.

"He looks as if he has landed her, hook line and sinker," Linette answered.

"With all the men and families stationed at Guantanamo, why the hell is she traipsing around seeking out men in every club and bar on the island?" Richard asked, but not in the tone of voice that indicated he needed an answer.

"She thinks she is too educated and artistic for the dowdy American woman and men on the base Ė or so the report on her says."

Richard growled. "God save us from these unfulfilled woman. They rush to marry a man, thinking that he will complete their life and make it interesting while they float along on a cloud of luxury. When they find out the man is just a human being unable to make them into princesses, they balk and turn to another man. Idiots."

Tendrils of annoyance found their way into Linetteís voice. "Itís not just men Richard. Remember Colonel Vanson? He started playing with that fireball of a young woman, he was trying to become young again. He ruined his marriage and threw his career away on the hope of spending the rest of his life with the wrong kind of lover. His ending was rather ignoble Ė as we both well know."

Vanson was found dead in a bed not his own.

Richard shrugged. "I forgot about him."

"Well you shouldnít. We worked for too many months solving his predicament without fuss or questions. And Van Ellmaís psychological report mentions that he is an unrealized homosexual. He married the woman hoping to fit into society, both of them married on a delusion. As I taught you, keep to reality. Rely on your skills and know your heart. Fantasy is fine as a means to an end, but donít ever try to live a pipe dream. It will end in disaster."

She noted that Arthur and Mrs. Ellma were on the dance floor now, moving to a sensual Latin beat, bodies bonded together, hips moving as one.

"You still havenít forgiven Jacques, have you?" Richardís voice was quiet.

Dismay filled her Ė she didnít like that anyone could read her that well. Trying to calm her emotions, she motioned to the waiter to refill her glass and he almost ran over himself to do her bidding.

Such were the perks to being a regular in the club, and a favorite of the maître d'.

"Jacques was a fantasy from the top of his thick, black curly head of hair, to the boots on his beautiful feet." She took her eyes away from Arthur and his dancing partner to glance at Richard. "Itís not often that any man has beautiful feet, but Jacques did. Did you know that?" She felt a bit heady. "Our marriage was a fantasy from the start. He was the leader of the local resistance cell, I was a young widow, filled with hatred for the Nazis who had killed my husband and infant and took over my country. I fell for his charm and the righteousness of his cause. I fell in love with the hero I dreamed of, not the poor flawed man he was in reality. Believe me when I tell you not to live any dream. I know that of which I speak." A flash of the time she was tortured by the Nazis exploded in front of her brain. She pushed it back into the shadows.

The rum was getting to her. No more alcohol for her that night.

Just as she made that vow, the waiter delivered her drink to the table. Fortunately, the Tropicana served American food, plain and filling. "Bring my dinner please, the usual," she said. She was a regular and her usual order was an American style chicken salad. Her food would be there in moments.

"Same for me, " Richard said.

The waiter bowed and headed off to get their orders.

The music had stopped and the young couple on the dance floor were now back at the table. They were sitting close together and she noted that Mrs. Ellma had one hand busy underneath the table. Good for Arthur, he wasnít affected by it. He was talking calmly.

"I do believe Mrs. Ellma is being a forward slut with our boy," she murmured to Richard. "She is comfortable acting this way to strange men. Not a good note for her file."

"No," Richard answered, "but then she really isnít the main focus of this exercise, is she?"

"Arthur is doing very well. You can take a peek if you wish, Mrs. Ellma is too preoccupied to care if anyone is viewing her behavior."

"Iíll head for the menís room and walk past them. If heís going to take her to The Shanghai, heíll nod at me, correct?"

The waiter brought their food and Linette smiled as the plates were set down and the waiter left. Richard waited impatiently for her answer. "Yes, he will nod a hello to you if sheís the type to want the burlesque and live stag stage show." Her eyes wandered to the couple again, "But from what I can see, Mrs. Ellma already has her mind set on the simple eroticism of our boy."

"Good." Richard stood up, "I lost my taste for The Shanghaiís live sex show long ago." He sauntered down to the dance floor.

Linette watched Richard walk and was happy to note that he was as impressive a creature as ever. Such great natural masculine grace was rare. His self knowledge of body showed itself in his every move.

Watching him walk brought up that unbidden sensual warmth again.

Gracious! This version of daiquiri must have a heavier dosage of rum. Or, more bothersome to contemplate, perhaps she was getting soft in her old age.

The food on the table took up her attention for the next few moments.

With a rush of air, Richard sat down opposite her and began eating.

Her fork placed by her dish, Linette stared at Richard until he swallowed his first bite.


"Heís taking her back to the hotel right away. As I passed them, our boy's demeanor was calm, but Mrs. Ellma looked flushed and was smiling from ear to ear. He didnít nod to me, didnít act as if he noticed me at all."

"Très bon." She picked at her food. "I was thinking, Richard, Arthur is naturally talented and intelligent and has had the correct training for a field agent, butó" Her throat was dry, she sipped at her water, "Tonight heís supposed to be an artist. Thank heavens Mrs. Ellma is a dilettante, she obviously is not asking about Arthurís art work or medium and theories."

"He was educated in a good college stateside and in the field flying during Korea." Richard said as he ate his meal, "He knows how to lead his men into battle, thatíll come in handy when heís dealing with the intricacies of the job."

"You need to send him to the Sorbonne for a while. Round out his education. Heíll blossom even more."

Richard frowned Ė which Linette noticed, made all of the lines just forming in his face more pronounced, and gave her a preview of how handsome he would look in a decade or so.

After a moment of thought, he nodded. "I can recommend that."


Looking down at the main floor of the club, she saw Arthur and Mrs. Ellma make their way out of the Tropicana.

"Theyíve left."

His napkin was placed on the table. "Heís a fast worker. Shall we follow?"

She leaned back in her chair. "No need to rush. Arthur will take his own good time to do what he has to do. We can finish our meal first."

"What if he finishes quickly?"

Linette smiled with pride. "None of my students finish rapidly, and he still needs to get all the information the woman will reveal. We have time yet."

They both concentrated on their food and let the orchestra fill the silence at the table.

"Dessert?" Richard asked after a while.

"No, Iíd rather a light repast during a job. One can never predict what might occur."

Richard was once again staring at her. He let his hand wander across the table to touch hers.

It was most pleasurable Ė and disconcerting.

"Let us go now," she murmured, "I want to check the other agentís position."

Richard rose and helped her from her chair.

Her smitten maître d', Oswardo, was there right away, setting her evening wrap around her shoulders.

"You are leaving us so soon?" He pouted and his exquisite long lashes and dark eyes held her attention. Then she noticed that Oswardo was making a point of not looking in Richardís direction. She sighed, "Yes, but I shall return again soon, I promise," and patted his smooth young cheek.

He grabbed her hand and kissed her palm. Sparks went off in her body.

Goodness, tonight was certainly a special night. It had been a while since she felt like this.

"Weíre late my love," Richard intoned in his deepest masculine voice and moved close to her as if to stake his claim.

Linette nearly laughed at the silliness of the male show of plumage going on about her. Without looking back, she made her way to the staircase and down to the main level. In moments she felt Richardís hand on her elbow and together they walked to the exit.

On the street, an ordinary looking cab pulled up in front of them and they slid in.

The night was warm and Linette leaned back in the seat to try and catch the breeze coming through the window. Richardís comforting mass leaned closer to her. "You can do the debriefing tonight. Iíll take care of the target." His voice was quiet.

"Whatever you like," she said, really neither caring one way or the other. She knew that Arthur was one of her best students. There would be only one outcome to tonightís task.

"Want to go straight to the front of the hotel or do you want the back private entrance?" the driver of the taxi asked in perfect English.

Delight swept through her. "Is that you Gary?" she said and leaned forward to examine the man in the driverís seat.

"None other!" the driver said, taking his eyes off the road for a moment to face her. "Nice to be working with you again."

"Yes, it is nice," Linette agreed, happy to see the blonde soldier again. "Are you back stationed at the base?"

"Home sweet home, Guantanamo Bay." Gary laughed. "I have my whole family with me now. The kids are in the school and my wifeís here too."

"Major Jance," Richard interrupted, "Would you mind if we left your life story for now and concentrated on the job?"

"Sir, yes sir," Gary barked and Linette felt the need to touch Richardís hand. He seemed a bit out of sorts.

She entwined herself around Richardís solid arm and pulled him towards her. The feel of the material of his tuxedo against her skin and his weight leaning hard on her was lovely. "What is going on? You are jumpy and it is not like you, cheri," she spoke softly into his ear.

"Awww," he growled, "I want our boy to do as well as I hope he will. Iíve got my eye on him and a premonition that he's the future of the Company."

A weighty moment passed. "Ahh," she whispered, "so that is the name of the new agency?"

Interesting that Richard let that drop.

"I want you there too, Linette. We will be very covert, very secretive. We need someone with your skills." He aimed all of his attention at her. "I need you there."

Très intéressant.

"Letís stop at the back entrance Gary," she said to the driver. "Thatís where our target will be emerging so you might as well park there too."

"A ĖOK," Gary said, and in a moment the car turned into a dark back street, drove a small distance, and stopped.

They were at the back of the hotel. It was a small private place run by a highly respected Cuban man Ė who also ran three of the most successful bordellos in Havana. Because of his ties to the underworld, the owner was always amiable to a few extra American dollars being passed his way. For a price, he would cast a blind eye to any shenanigans going on within the walls of his hotel.

Richard was the first out of the taxi. He glanced up and immediately slid back into the cab.

"Damn it!" he growled. "What the hell is going up in that room?"

Fear swept through her. "What did you see?"

"Mrs. Ellma is leaning half way out the window, naked as a jaybird and our boy is pulling at her to get back in."

"But it is quiet! Is she hysterical or looking as if she will jump?" She couldnít believe Arthur was as incompetent as that.

"No," Richard said shifting in the seat to try and look up out of the cabís window. "They were talking quietly and she looked calm. I donít know whatís going on."

Gary said. "All clear." He had swiveled his side mirror to get a look at the window in question, "Sheís in the room again, but first the woman sucked the guyís face hard."

Tremors filled her stomach. "Letís get inside the hotel, we will find out more there."

It took less than three minutes for them to go through the back entrance, up the steps and into her hotel room. Richard went straight to the doorway that connected them to Arthurís room and stood there listening as she locked the outer door.

He shrugged, "Usual bedroom noises: urgent whispers, bed creaking and the occasional moan." He went to a chair. "False alarm, I suppose."

Linette went to the door and even before she got there she heard the sounds of fervent lovemaking. Sighing with relief she took her wrap off and collapsed onto the couch. They sat in companionable silence for several minutes.

"Drink?" she asked after noticing that Richard was becoming restless.

"No, not right now." He glare at her. "You realize why Iím staying on this chair and not joining you on the couch." He was aiming that deep and dangerous stare at her again. His glance was far too solemn for her to laugh off.

"Youíre serious about me joining the Company, arenít you?"

"We need your expertise in undercover work, yes. You can help form the basis of the new organization. But youíve dodged my question."

Time to change the subject. "You know, Richard, you really do need a hobby."

"What?" He looked at her in confusion.

"A man such as yourself requires a hobby that needs a sense of mechanical and artistic and monetary skills." A thought appeared to her. "Have you ever thought of collecting classic cars?"

Before he could answer, clicks from the door leading to Arthurís room sounded. It opened and the tall, dark and handsome Arthur emerged, looking deliciously disheveled in the black silk robe Linette had given to him for the mission.

"Sheís finally out cold," her newest student, AKA Arthur Mason said, fooling with the collar of his dressing gown. "It took me this long to get a dose of the knockout drops into her."

"What the hell happened?" Richard growled. "She was hanging out of the window when we pulled up."

Arthur shook his head, "We had sex and then she was going on and on about how sheís better than the rest of the fools on the base and that her outlook is special and rare, how her husband is beyond jealousy and understands that she is a free soul. Hell, she was waxing poetic about the night sky and went to stand in front of the window without a stitch on. I tried to pull her back inside but all she could say was that she wasnít ashamed of anythng she does."

"She doesnít care?" Linette started to feel something against Myrna Ellma, where before she had felt nothing.

"She insists she loves her husband," Arthur said, "but that he is too pedestrian for her. Seems he agrees, because heís okayed her looking around for other men as diversions."

"Jesus!" Richard sneered.

"And not just any men," Arthur said, "Artists, infamous gangsters, political men in power here in Cuba. She thinks that such men are beyond the usual rules of society because they're exceptional, so being with them makes her exceptional too."

She sighed. "Thatís that then." Linette was getting weary of the conversation. "Did she say anything else?"

"By the time I finally got her calmed down Ė she brought her own bag of cocaine with herĖ"

"Cocaine?" Richard raised his eyebrows and glanced at her. "I know itís everywhere here in Cuba, but I didnít know she was using it."

Arthur, looking increasingly uncomfortable, fooled with the collar of his robe, as if looking for a tie to undo. "She said itís what all the exceptional people do, taking cocaine. Seems that her opinion is that, as an artist from the Midwest, Iíd better start using some, because all the really first-rate New York artists do it." He shrugged, "I refused, but after she sniffed some, I couldnít calm her down, or get her to shut up."

Linette rose and walked to a closet. "What was said?" She pulled out a small cosmetic case, lifted the top level off and opened a secret compartment.

"Her husbandís let on that Castro wasnít killed by Batisteís forces when he and his men were found on the yacht that was loaded with arms and ammunition last month."

"Damn it!" Richard barked.

"She told me Ė letting me know that it was a big secret Ė that the US government discovered heís alive somewhere in the Sierra Maestra mountains and is trying to assassinate him before the rest of the world knows."

"Itís as bad as we thought," Richard said. She heard him get off the couch and walk towards her. "Ellmaís passing on military secrets to impress his pretentious wife. And she has no second thoughts about sharing it with anybody she wants to." Richard was standing beside her. She took a hypodermic from its resting place and passed it to him. He sauntered into Arthurís adjoining room.

After setting the case on a table, Linette looked at Arthur. He was staring into the open doorway with a troubled expression on his face.

"Whatís he doing in there?"

This will be a sensitive moment in Arthurís training. "Your friend in there is guilty of passing on secret US military information."

He nodded. "Yes."

"She passed those secrets on to you, a stranger. And as proficient and mesmerizing a lover as you are Ė you still must admit that she had no compelling reason to have shared the classified facts with you. Lord knows what other bits of high security information she has passed to heaven knows whom over the years."

Richard walked though the door and handed the now empty hypodermic to her.

Arthur saw it and turned on Richard, "What did you do in there? Execute her?"

"Look at me!" Linette said, and Arthur caught her in a powerful glare. "The drops we gave you to sedate Mrs. Ellma do not mix well with cocaine. She must have started that habit very recently. Richard gave her a drug to combat the side effects, she will be a bit ill when she wakes, but not more than a bad hangover. "

Arthur shook his head. "This isnít what I thought Iíd be doing when I agreed to work for intelligence. Setting stupid women up foró"

"You are doing what is needed. Mrs. Ellma is a traitor. She has made her bed, but she is lucky, the way she will pay for her crime is up to her."

Arthur stared at her. "Meaning?"

"Go in to her and help her get dressed," Richard interrupted, his voice was stern. "She should be waking up soon. Place her in the cab waiting by the rear exit." He sat back down on the couch. "Thatís the end of your involvement in this case."

"What happens to her then?" Arthur asked.

Linette decided to tell her student the plan. "A block away, Richard will get into the cab with her and explain that the US government knows all about her after-hours activities and loose tongue. She will be given a choice."

She tried to get her disgust under control. Such a person would have been executed without second thought during the War. She herself would have gladly done it.

"A woman like Mrs. Ellma can be useful. We will place her in the position to become a party favor for our targets: diplomats, political figures, crime bosses. If she makes the grade after we train her, she will be working for us, passing the information we feed her and reporting back any tidbit she hears."

Arthur leaned against the edge of a table. "What about her husband? Heís as guilty of treason as she is."

"Two differences," Richard chimed in. "We need Ellma, heís a genius at his work, and now that weíve found the leak, we can control it Ė and we can work on monitoring him."

"And sheís expendable." Arthur said, looking deep in thought. "Ellma is part of the organization, he can be kept busy in a number of places, under wrap."

Linette smiled. Her student was using his rapier sharp mind, realizing what the fallout from such a situation is, what the repercussions were, what their options are for situation management.

Arthur continued to think out loud. "To have an American wife of less than pristine reputation, a resident of Guantanamo Bay, arrested and brought up on public trial for traitorous activities would be a political and diplomatic disaster for the United States right now."

"Yes," Richard said as he got up and checked into the other room. "Your date is stirring. Youíd better get in there, do what you need to and get her out."

"We are permitting her to be in charge of her fate," Linette said as she escorted Arthur back towards his room, "Make herself useful or pay for her crime. Itís more of a choice than she gave our agents whose lives she put into jeopardy."

Arthur nodded and stood in the open doorway. "It makes sense." He turned to Richard," Would you need any help talking to her? I think if she sees that her choice of playmates can, in reality, be a threat . . ."

A surge of pride went through Linette. He understood and was willing to see the mission through to its end. Exceptional!

"No need," Richard said. She caught a look of satisfaction on his face.

"Then Iíll get her dressed and send her on her way." Arthur stepped towards the other room but turned to Linette first. "Can I use my own name after she leaves? Itís a little disconcerting answering to another for so long."

"We shall see," Linette said, and he walked into the other room and closed the door.

Richard stood next to her again. "Wonder how heíll feel after heís answered to his Company title for so long that his own name becomes a weak memory? Eh, Amiee?"

A gasp escaped her lips as she heard the name she had been given at birth. It had been years since anyone had called her that. She had been named Linette- the little lion Ė as her Resistance cover name in the War and it had remained hers to this day. Richard must have moved heaven and earth to have found her real identity in her files.

Linette smiled, a decision had been made in her mind Ė and heart. "He will be fine, I think. More than fine. I agree he is our future Company Control." She turned to face him and put her arms around his neck. "And, mon ami, I shall be delighted to be there to see him in action."

Richardís expression reflected a deep pleasure. "You accept my invitation to join the Company?"

She looked up into his face as his arms enfolded her. "Yes, and perhaps I shall also join you in other activities too."

He squeezed her tightly and leaned towards her.

Moving her head away fro his, she said, "I know of a private car auction going on in New York next month. Would you care to join me there?" She watched as many emotions passed over his face.

"I would join you anywhere," he said, then glanced at the door to the adjoining room and let go of her. "Iíd better get to my pickup point."

She stood back against the couch and nodded. "I will remain here to go over Arthurís mission with him. Shall I see you after you handle Mrs. Ellma?"

Richard smiled as he raced to the door. "If she accepts the chance to work for us, itíll be a few hours. Iíll have to get her set up and weíll need to get a cover story to Ellma. If she refuses," he shrugged, "I should be back within the hour. Her cocaine use makes it easier." Then he was gone.

Linette felt quite flighty as she put the cosmetic case back in the closet. Things were changing. For her prize student. For the organization. And for her.

She just hoped that the changes were for the better. But whatever. At the least it would be extremely interesting.

The door to Arthur's room opened, and he walked in, dressed and ready to be debriefed.

Inwardly she rejoiced.

He had passed the test.