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

High Time

He opened the door into the dark living room. Although he had lived in these rooms for years, Control could only identify where the windows were now. The room had been redone and redecorated to within an inch of its life.

In the low light that glowed from the small kitchen, he made his way to a couch, which lay in complete darkness facing the doorway to the bedroom. He removed his coat and slouched down into a comfortable position and prepared to wait.

Thirty-seven minutes later, after he had heard muffled laughter and other sounds of pleasure, a figure made its way out of the bedroom.

"Really," the figure said, as it walked towards the kitchen, "I swear, however did you get to be in such a high position in the company and not know the correct way to open a bottle of good wine?" The figure stopped short and Control thought he had been spotted. Then the man laughed and called over his shoulder into the bedroom, "Oh right, you're where you are because I placed you there." He laughed and yelled a bit louder, "And donít you forget that fact!"

As the figure opened the kitchen door it became fully illuminated. It was Jason Masur; his slightly chunky figure was draped only in a towel wrapped around his spreading waist.

The bulb from the kitchen cast enough light into the living room so that any halfway competent agent would have detected another person sitting there. But Jason was by no means even a halfway decent agent, so Control had to switch on a lamp before he was noticed.

Jason turned and gasped in surprise, but when he recognized the man on the couch, his face set into a sneer.

"What are you doing here, Control? Didn't anyone tell you that you no longer live in the Company digs?"

Control wasnít smiling when he cast his gaze upon the younger man. "I know full well that I was pushed out of this apartment and I know by whom."

Jason shrugged and hitched his towel up higher. "It had to happen you know," he smiled a self-satisfied smile, "Out with the old in with the new. Like I told your friend McCall, I'm on the way up and you're, wellÖ over, finished. But that still doesnít explain why youíre here, sitting in the dark on my new Salotti imported Italian leather couch. Are you senile old man? Lost your way to the home? Oh sorry, I meant to your new home?"

Control set his elbow on the arm of the couch, leaned his head on his hand and continued to stare at Jason, a hint of a smile on his face. "Did you think that it was that easy? That you could just walk into the company, with your dubious contacts and your business MBA, and claw your way to the top?"

Jason smiled as smugly as any man could. "D-Hh, old man. Iíve already done it."

"Not to the top you havenít, not yet. There are still some sharp men in-between you and the Directorís chair."

Jason put the bottle of wine down, faced Control and clasped his hands in front of his stomach. "Look Control Ė and Iím sure that name wonít be yours for much longer Ė I donít know why youíre here, whether you broke in to my new digs or if youíre just too decrepit and confused to know where you are, and frankly I donít care. I want you gone from this apartment. Now."

Control shifted in the deep leather cushion of the couch. "I wanted to give you a chance to apologize. I found the bug you planted in my office."

He waited for a reaction from Jason, for some sort of embarrassment or regret. Nothing. "Spying on your fellow agents within the company offices is something that just isnít done, Jason. Iím giving you a chance to redeem yourself."

"I donít need to Ė"

"Sir, whatís taking you so long?" Control recognized Frank Jeffers as he walked out of the bedroom. His tall and well-muscled young frame was topped with a thick head of prematurely gray hair. He was wearing only the smallest of bikini briefs. Jeffers had been assigned to Jason as his assistant months ago and soon became Jasonís personal assistant. Obviously not seeing Control, he walked to Jason, "Sir? Do you need help?"

Suddenly, Jeffers noticed Control. His complexion colored in embarrassment and he tried to cover his semi-nakedness with his hands.

"Calm down Frankie," Jason laughed as he watched Jeffersí discomfort, "donít mind Control here Ė for a few reasons." He turned to Control. "First, he wasnít invited. Second, your personal life is none of his business Ė anyway there are rumors that Control has a few unique habits of his own. Third, you donít report to him anymore, you answer to me and fourth Ė well, Control is on his way to being a nonentity. Yeah itís about time he went someplace warm Ė to just fade."

"Jason," Control interrupted, "I came here as a courtesy to you. IĎll give you time to remove any more bugs you might have planted in the office before I let on that youíve done it."

"Really? Why would I want to do that? Are you afraid that Iíll find out what you do in that small office of yours all day long? Are you hiding something?"

Control sighed, keeping calm. "No, I want you to remove them because it would hurt moral for the others to know we have a rat in our midst. People donít like having their own side spy on them."

Jason laughed.

"Whereíd everybody go?" an emaciated, sleepy-eyed brunette woman walked out of the bedroom. She was completely unclothed and, Control noted, completely shaved. When she saw everyone in the room she smiled brightly.

"More company? Party! Are we going to have enough Jason?"

She made her way to the kitchen table where a small wooden box was sitting. Jeffers looked at Jason with alarm evident on his face and started to pull the package away from the woman.

She grabbed it back. "What are you doing Frankie-wankie?"

"Not in front of him!" Jeffers looked toward Control.

Empty of interest, the woman held onto the box and glanced his way for a second.

Jason opened the bottle of wine and poured a glassful. "Frank, I told you not to make any notice of olí grampa here. Here, Snow, give me that darliní." He reached for the box.

"But sir," Jeffersís voice was high pitched with anxiety, "he can make trouble for you if he Ė"

Jason slammed the glass down. "Iím not afraid of Control. Iím not afraid of anyone." He accepted the wooden box from the woman and opened it. He picked up a small silver spoon and scooped out some white powder.

"Cocaine?" Control shook his head, "Stupid choice, but somehow Iím not surprised."

"Face it old man. Youíre so far out of step youíre just ludicrous. Everyone does cocaine today." Jason walked toward Control and offered the small spoon of powder to him. "Want to try some? It just might be the thing to loosen you up, you tight-assed prig."

"Jason!" Jeffers whispered, "Please be careful."

Jason spun around on his heels. "I told you Frank, Iím the one in charge Ė in this room and at the Company."

The young woman yawned. "Who cares? Letís party. You promised that if I watched you both go at each other, we can do a line and then itíd be my turn to get you both off."

Jeffers turned away from Control and hung his head.

Jason giggled. "And since you kept your part of the bargain, Snow my dear, so will I." He went back to the kitchen counter and took a mirror from the drawer. He emptied the cocaine from the spoon onto it and took out a card and started to chop and divide the powder into lines.

"Donít Jason." Control said, "This is bad business, and itís dangerous for someone in your position at The Company."

Jason hitched the towel up higher around his waist. "Go away, old man. You havenít the slightest idea about what goes on nowadays. Youíre still stuck in the old cold war."

"Damn it, weíre supposed to uphold the laws of the land. What kind of ridiculous joke would it be if you were arrested for buying drugs off the street?" Control climbed up from the couch and folded his coat over his arm, preparing to leave.

"Nothing would happen, idiot." Jason shrugged, "Itís all worked out between departments. They wash my dirty laundry, "he winked at Control, "and I wash theirs. I happen to have gotten into this habit as a way to make your old foe Tammerat toe the line."

"Youíre doing deals with Jimmy Tammerat?" Control shook his head in disgust.

"He supplies me with primo stuff and I make a big show of permitting him to trade in very specific parts of this city." Jason chuckled, "What he doesnít know is that I want him to sell his wares to certain people so that I can fill my own files with their dirty doings."

He pointed to the young woman who had her eyes glued to the white powder on the mirror. "Tammerat delivers the drugs to the doors of the rich and powerful using a young, fun-loving plaything, like Snow here. I find out where and when the party will take place and I get videos and still pictures of everything." He lifted a bushy eyebrow at Control. "Youíd be surprised whoís nose I found buried in this stuff, and then buried somewhere else."

"The Company isnít in the business of blackmail, its business is the security and welfare of this country." Control was feeling sick. He wanted out of the room, but he tried his pitch once again. "Jason," he said, his voice neutral, "Clean yourself up, both with this cocaine idiocy and with your lust for getting the dirt on everyone. Itís all bad business."

Jason grinned and pointed to the door. "Good-bye old timer. I donít want or need your opinion. Very soon, I wonít be bothered with you anymore." He glared at Control, "Get out." He turned to Jeffers, "Help the old guy to the door."

"Please, sir," Jeffers cringed, "I donít think that I can Ė"

Control interrupted. "Iím going, Jason, but I warn you, none of what happened tonight will be kept a secret."

"Old man, no one gives a flying shit about using cocaine." Jason sneered at him.

"Some might, but most wonít take kindly to having their offices bugged."

"I make the rules at the Company now. Itís time you realized that." Jason pointed to door again. "Vamoose. Now."

"You do better to realize that youíre not at the top of the food chain, little man." Control muttered as he left the three people standing at the table, all staring at the box of cocaine.

Control walked to the window in the small hallway. It was next to the elevator and opposite the door to Jasonís new apartment. He opened the window, leaned against the sill, took out a cigar and unwrapped it. He smelled the aroma of the fine tobacco but didnít light it. Leaning against the wall, he put the cigar into his mouth.

He waited.

Only ten minutes later, Jeffers, now fully dressed, rushed out, leaving the door opened behind him.

"Sir," he addressed Control, "Itís over," his face was contorted in disgust. "As soon as he took the first snort, he reacted." Jeffers shuddered. "It was awful, he went all rigid and the look of surprise in his face, itÖ it was awful."

Control knew that Jeffers had never been a field agent, so the death of a man in front of him was a shock. He kept his voice stern but soothing. "Take a deep breath Jeffers, we knew this was coming. When I found out Tammerat was going to kill Jason, we did our best to get Jason to change his way. You heard tonight, he refused to clean himself up." He patted Jeffers on the shoulder, "We did what we could, but Jason was bound and determined not to take any advice on anything. There was nothing else we could have done."

Jeffers had now gone to a shade of green. "But Iíve never seen anyone die that way. He went all rigid, his mouth is pulled back, and heís baring his teeth, like an animal!"

"Tammerat must have added something to the powder, strychnine it sounds like." Control made his voice commanding, "What did you do to Tammeratís girl?"

"I knocked her out before she could react, just as you ordered. Whatís going to happen to her?" Control could sense that, underneath his dismay at seeing Jason die, Jeffers was interested in what was planned for the girl. No, it was more than that. Control could detect a buzz of excitement in Jeffers that the girl might have to be killed. He could tell by the look in his eyes that the other man wanted in on that act.

Control looked away from Jeffers and toward the open door of the apartment. "Since Tammerat made sure that his people didnít take any blow away from his clients, that they had to be invited to partake of the product, Iíd suspect that Tammerat either expected the girl to use the cocaine with Jason or to report back to him after Jason died. Tammerat wouldnít want a witness to this assassination. Either way, sheís a dead woman."

Jeffers, panting a little in excitement, looked Control in the eyes. "Shall I take care of her, Sir?" He licked his lips, "Iíll do my best."

Control rubbed his chin as if thinking about it, but he was doing his best not to smile. Jeffers and his ilk were all so predictable. "No, Thatís why I told you to just knock her out. I want to question her before she disappears. Since we donít want anyone to know that we had prior knowledge of Tammeratís plan, Iíll take care of her myself, Iíll need a couple of minutes."

Control pressed the button for the elevator. "Get to your car and call my home phone number, just as you would do in an emergency. The machine will pick up. Then sit tight. In twenty minutes, start the standard procedure and call the Company. Remember, you called me right at this minute and I got here in ten, looked around and then, ten minutes later, I ordered you to your secured car phone to start the calls. Got it?"

Jeffers nodded, "I start the calls in twenty minutes. Do you want me to report back here after I inform the Company that Jasonís dead?"

Control glanced at him, getting slightly annoyed that he had to go over the plans once again. "That is standard operational procedure, Jeffers. Youíll join me here in twenty minutes, after you report what happened. Remember, you were with Jason and a girl at dinner. He took out cocaine and you refused. Jason snorted some of the drug and went into convulsions. While you tried to help him, the girl disappeared. Then you called me. SOP." The doors opened and Jeffers started toward the elevator. "Jeffers," Control said, "you donít have any drugs in your system, from other times, do you?"

"Oh no, Sir. I was very careful. I told Jason I was allergic, he thought it was hilarious but he liked that he had more for himself." Jeffers looked at the floor, as if ashamed, "He liked that I did everything he ordered me to do while not on drugs. It wasnít pleasant for me, I can tell you."

Control patted his shoulder again. "I realize that. Youíll be tested for drugs by the Company as part of the investigation. With your record clean, and with my support, youíll be able to write your own next assignment. Have you thought about it?"

Jeffers walked into the waiting elevator, and held the door open. "I was thinking Iíd like to be attached to your office Sir, but," Jeffers shrugged, "Iím not well liked because of my ties with Jason, and since itíll never come out that I helped with his downfall, wellÖ" He cleared his throat, "It might be better if I was assigned to the D.C. office."

"Yes, " Control knew that D.C. was where a social climber like Jeffers would want to go. "Good idea. Iíll make sure thatís your next assignment. Keep up the good work." The elevator doors started to close. "See you in twenty."

Heíd give Jeffers a grand sounding title, a pay hike, and bury him behind a desk inside the Pentagon. If he was as weak as Control suspected, heíd get involved in the party circuit in D.C., screw up and get booted all on his own within two years.

Control walked into the apartment and glanced at Jasonís body. Almost bowed backwards, he was on the floor with an expression of horror on his face. Control looked away. Heíd have enough time in the days that followed to look at that sight. The Company would take enough pictures and videotape of the crime scene to bury Tammerat. Even if the victim was as worthy for sanction as Jason, government agencies tend to frown on their people being taken out by informants.

That is, of course, unless the Company had other plans for Tammerat.

Control looked and saw the woman lying unmoving and naked on the couch. Her very thin frame made her ribs and hip bones jut out sharply. He walked to the couch and stood over her. "Janice, you canít still be unconscious. I doubt Jeffers hits that hard."

The woman opened her eyes and sat up. "Frankie-wankie throws a punch like a girl. Come to think of it, he does a lot things like a girl," she said, getting up and dashing from the room to come back with her hands filled with clothing.

She put her garments back on in a matter of seconds, Control saw, just like a pro. Sheíd been undercover as one of Tammeratís prostitutes too long.

"Jeffers downstairs?" she asked.

Control sat down on the couch. "Heís waiting for housekeeping and a few administration people out front. The shitís going to hit the fan when they find all of Jasonís hidden blackmail tapes."

Janice went to the closet and got her coat. "Iím off."

Control smiled. Thereís nothing so fine as a good agent in action. No muss no fuss. She hadnít even looked at Jason lying dead on the floor.

As she swung her coat on, Control asked, "Where are you going?"

She glanced at him. "To a place I know for R&R. You said that this was the finish of my work with Tammerat and I need to get my head back together. Two years of drugs and partying, deep undercover in his organization, is a long time."

"Yes, it is. I agree. Iím sorry you had to stay on this mission so long, but it has reaped an amazing dividend." He looked at Jason. " You were in the right place to find out that Tammerat was going to kill him. If Jason refused the drugs, he would have lived through today."

Janiceís eyes, surrounded with loads of dark makeup, just stared at him, "I donít need any rationalizations. Tammerat was getting too confident, and you needed him watched. Jason got too ambitious and was going to pull the Company down to his level to get to the directorís chair, so he was permitted enough rope to hang himself. Iíve been involved in plenty of missions that were more duplicitous. Next to Iran, this was straightforward."

She looked through her small pocketbook and brought out a scrap of paper. "This is for your eyes only, youíre the only one I can trust. Itís in code; itís the number where you can get in touch with me. Iíve been away two years so Iím going home, to let my mom complain that Iím too thin. Iím going to let her put my weight back on me. Give her a thrill."

She smiled a genuine smile for a moment, and that made Control feel better. Janice would get out of this mission intact.

He got up to take the number from her hand and nodded as he slipped the paper into his breast pocket. "I like you at your old weight."

Janice shook her head as she wrapped her coat tightly around her. "I hope Iím not going to regain it all!" she started for the door. "The back way is clear?"

"Gain the weight, Janice, maybe add twenty more. Dye your hair to its natural color, right away. And let all of it grow back." He raised his eyebrows, "Am I understood? Grow it all back."

"Get myself plump and have the drapes and rug match, Okay." She frowned, "Why?"

"I donít want any screw-ups. When you get back to your old look, no one will recognize you. Not that I expect Tammerat will be in a position to look for you, and thereís not a chance in hell that Jeffers wonít believe that I killed the girl here today. I want Snow, your alter-ego, to disappear without a snag."

Janice shrugged. "No problem. Iím gone. I know youíll be in touch." She was just closing the door when she stopped, turned and looked at Control.

He wasnít surprised; Janice was good at reading people.

"Iím supposed to be dumpy and boring? The blend-in, wallpaper type of gal?" she sighed, "You have my next assignment in mind already, donít you?"

He rubbed his chin and half smiled. "Howís your Hebrew?"

"From druggie New York hooker, to a nice Jewish girl?" She heaved a sigh and then chuckled, "Iíll be sure to eat until I plotz. See you Control. Oh, I mean Shalom." She gave a little wave, almost closed the door, but once again opened it a crack, "Sometimes I love this job," she said. And then she was gone.

Control checked the time on his watch and sat down on the couch again to wait for the Company crowd to show up.

He looked at Jason. The towel that had been around the dead manís waist had come undone, and the source of his feelings of inadequacy was exposed for all to see.

What a waste. What an ignoble end for anyone.

Control grunted.

Sometimes he loved this job too.

 

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