"Dad, Iím asking you this as a favor. Please stay in the city for the New Year."

Robert noted the pain in his son, Scottís voice, but that didnít change his mind. He intended to go off next week and that was it. Nothing could dissuade him. Sitting around as a retired old man was making him morose.

"Scott Ė," he started.

"No, Dad, Iím asking you not to go and I want you to agree," Scott yelled.

The boy should know better than to raise his voice to his father. And unfortunately it was too early in the afternoon to take a drink to soothe his frayed nerves. Blast! "Scott, Iím sorry, Iíve made arrangements and I will be on my way very soon."

The look that met him was filled with reproach and bitterness, but then he saw tears fill his sonís eyes. Regret struck. "Scott, you really donít need me here, do you." He said it more as a statement than a question. "Youíre doing well, the company is prospering and you have a happy family. Sherry and the children are more than enough to keep you busy this year."

"I want you to be with us. Damn it, Dad. Iím your son, you should be here with me this New Yearís Eve," Scott looked away, swiped at his eyes and coughed to cover a sob that rose out of his throat. "If not for me then for your grandchildren. If you donít think you owe me anything, think of them. You care about them too much to abandon them Ė Iíd like to think that anyway."

Robert sighed. When is Scott going to give up his old "Iím an abandoned child" routine? The same old guilt-inspiring diatribe that he used whenever Robert didnít agree with him.

"Iím not abandoning anyone, Scott. We all just had a lovely Christmas together," Robert was exasperated. "Thereís nothing to say, Iíve made plans to visit with Control and Iíll be back soonó"

"Will you?" The look on Scottís face was intense. It was a mixture of anger and deep upset.

"I donít understand," Robert said, "Of course Iíll be back to the city. Itís my home. Iím not moving anywhere andó"

"What if you donít make it back Ė this time?"

His heart began to beat harder, but he covered it by speaking in a nonchalant manner. "I donít follow your meaning."

Scott moved to the window of the apartment keeping his back to Robert. He stood there for a while and Robert sat in his chair, willing to let the boy take his time to have his say. All the while his suspicion was growing that Scott had more of an idea about his usual trips than he had imagined.

The silence soon grew oppressive. He saw his son straighten up to stand up to his full six feet one inches, adjust his expensive suit jacket and turn to face him. "Iím not a fool, Dad, I know that when you and Control get together, you two combine your forces to do impossible jobs for Sandstar."

"Scott, Ió"

"Donít deny it, Dad. I know it to be true. Under the guise of being old retired men, you two have been making things happen for that organization."

Words failed Robert. He didnít really expect his son to have any idea about what he did when on his jaunts with Control. He thought he had kept everything secret. He opened his mouth to speak, but could think of nothing to say. He closed his mouth and took a breath, willing his muscles to relax and his poor heart to calm its erratic rhythm.

Scott moved to the couch and sat in the chair opposite. In a moment of clarity, Robert noticed that his son had indeed grown into a solid, almost middle aged, competent man. His face was fuller, blond hair a bit darker and short, but the exquisitely cut suit only highlighted that Scott had kept his body fit. Fitter than Robert had ever molded his body. That Scott had made a wonderful choice in getting his Private Investigatorís license, working with him as The Equalizer for a while and then opening a private firm, using Robert's connections to help him in his cases, was still an amazement to Robert. That his pouting son was now a man to contend with, was something that rather pleased him too.

"Dad," Scottís voice was gentle, "I know how affected you were by 9/11, how you Ė and Control Ė were racked by guilt that you both had left the espionage scene too many years before, to have helped avert that disaster."

Robert kept still. The memory of that morning three years ago, the feelings of frustration and helplessness, the anger that he could do nothing to help anyone, to stop any of it, still scorched its acid regret into his body.

When Control had contacted him afterwards and invited him on a sojourn to bring the weight of justice to land upon some hidden players in the worldís woes, he had not only rejoiced that his old friend had come out of retirement, but that he had included Robert in a plan that had very positive and personally rewarding results. Those missions had breathed new life into him.

Robert looked at his son. "Then you have some idea of how much my work with Control means to me."

Scott colored deep red and leaned closer to him. "Look, Dad, I know these missions, or whatever they are, are important to you, but Dad." Scott's eyed bored into him. "And I donít mean this as a cutting thing, but, youíre not as young as you used to be."

Anger washed over him. "Scott Ė"

Scott held his hand up. "Please let me say this. The reality is that youíve had a heart attack and youíre over seventy years old. Itís not a putdown," Scott clasped his hands together as if trying to control his emotions, "But it scares the hell out of me every time you go, because I know that one day," his voice cracked, "one day youíre not going to come back."

A long moment stretched into a minute as Scott got himself under control again. "Youíve been escaping the odds for over forty years in the espionage business, itís too much to think that you can get away with doing what you do forever."

Robert studied his son. It looked as if Scott was adamant about his work with Control. He couldnít blame him for worrying. If the lad had any idea how dangerous the times he spent with Control really were Scott would have locked him up in a home.

But in this New Year trip, he actually wasnít going anywhere with Control. He simply wanted to get away from everything: The holidays, the constant prodding to be of good cheer, the friends coming round and the parties Scott kept throwing. Robert had had a belly full of it and he wasnít up to continuing the holiday cheer charade for another week.

Oh he admitted he felt a great deal of love for his son, his daughter-in-law and his grandchildren, but Lord, there's only so much one can do with a nine month old infant and a rambunctious three year old boy before even the hardiest man gave out. Christmas Eve and Day had logged him more time than he could bear. And what with his semi-retirement as the titular head of The Equalizer Inc, AKA EQ Inc., reading and roaming the streets of the city, even New York City, can only entertain one for only so long.

He needed to leave and be out and about on his own soon or else heíd go mad.

Scott continued, "And for you to leave at this time of year! Iíve gone to a lot of trouble to plan a few surprises for you."

Oh Lord, surprises. He hated surprises. "Oh," he tried to force a pleasant expression on his face, but he really hadnít the energy to try.

Scott smiled, "I spoke to Jacob Stock Ė,"

Robert snapped, "Scott you must remember to use his title, that's his name now since Control placed him in that position!"

Scott sighed, "Okay, Okay NA Control Ė Let me get to the news Ė heís arranged to get Mickey back to NY for New Years!"

"What?" Amazement filled him, "How the Hell did you arrange that?"

Scott grinned. "Using ex-Company agents as employees comes in handy. I heard that there was an Ďinformalí special international conference on the European view of the USís stand on Iraq. I knew that Mickeyís presence as the Company liaison to Homeland Security would be a necessity, so I went to NA Control and asked him to tell Mickey I wanted to speak to him. After a bunch of red tape and weeks of cell phone-tag, Mickey contacted me at the EQ main office. I told him to get his butt here with us on New Year's Eve." He flushed with victory. "Not bad for a lowly PI huh?"

Lowly PI. Robert had said that phrase Ė once Ė when Scott had told him his plans for a professional corporation that would take his mission as The Equalizer to the next level. They would do the hard jobs that even governments needed, and still strive to help the underdog, the people who had the odds against them. Robert had called that idea as being a lowly PI, mainly out of anger that the truth was that he could no longer handle the workload himself.

That had been fourteen years ago, and though he had time and time again told Scott he was proud of the job he was doing, the boy never let him forget that he had derided the idea in the first place.

He made himself smile back at his son. "Well, what else can one expect?"

Scott nodded, "You had me trained by the best, and that the pick of the lot joined EQ, Inc as they were retired by the Company after the Wall fell, made it a great investigative organization right from the start."

"You do good work, work to be proud of Ė Iíve told you that time and time again Scott." He let his gaze stay on his sons face. "I am proud of you, boy."

The room remained quiet for a few minutes more and Robert saw that Scott had accepted that compliment and had taken it to heart Ė finally.

"Then youíll stick around for the party?"

"Well, if Mickey is taking the time out to visit, the very least I can do is be here within the loving bosom of my family Ė to greet him."

Scott clapped his hands together once and rubbed his palms together. "Great, then itís all set. Cancel your trip and youíll be here this Friday." He glanced at his watch. "Oh no, I have to go. Got a meeting with a client." He scooted up and put his coat on. "Sorry, Dad, I wish I had more time to stay. Iíll have Sherry call you with the details about the schedule for the business party and the family get-together." He ran back to Robert and squeezed his shoulder once before heading to the door. "See you later, Dad." He stopped for a moment, "Thank you for staying. Youíve made me Ė and the family Ė very happy. Later." Then he was gone with a blast of cold air as the door slammed behind him.

Robert shook his head in regret. He had planned on spending the New Year in Alaska, far from his life in New York City, in a quiet cabin where he could once again ski with abandon and try his hand at ice fishing.

Fine, so it is. Maybe he could get the cabin for another time.

The phone rang. He began to rise, then sat back down. To Hades with it. He wasnít in the mood to answer. The message machine picked up.

"Mr. McCall?" the womanís voice on the phoneís speaker said. There was something familiar about the British pronunciation.

"This is Vanessa Daniels."

Robert jumped up from the couch to get the phone as the machine continued. "I donít know if you remember me? You helped me find my son when he was kidnapped just after he was born, andó"

Robert picked up the receiver, "Vanessa? Robert McCall here."

"Oh, Mr. McCall! Iím so glad that your numberís the same as I remembered."

"Vanessa, itís a delight toó"

"I need your help, my Tommy, my son has been taken from me again. I donít know what to do."

Did he hear right? Over her voice he heard a lot of noise, people and announcements.

Robert felt his face pull together in a great frown. "Vanessa, what do you mean?"

"Please you must help me."

The emotions behind her clipped words were palpable, but something was not making sense. "Vanessa please calm down. Where are you? Iíll come get you."

"No, Iím at Kennedy airport," There were more announcements in the background, "I just got off my flight from London. It would be easier if I get a cab and meet you in the city."

"Have you made arrangements for a hotel? I can meet you there."

"I called to reserve a room at the Hudson Hotel at West 58th but Iíll just stop there to leave my bags. Can we meet at the Hudson Library Bar? Itís attached to the hotel and itís supposed to be quiet."

"Thatís fine, but wouldnít you like to tell me a bit of whatís bothering you now?"

Vanessa Daniels voice seemed calmer. "Oh yes, I do, but Iíd rather see you in person to do that. Iíll get a cab, I should get there in an hour or so Ė I hope. Is that all right? Can you make it by then, Mr. McCall?"

"Of course, Iíll be there Ė and Vanessa, call me Robert."

There was a hesitation in her voice as the sounds of the airport seemed to swell behind her. "Oh Robert, thank you. Iíll see you in a while. Thank you, thank you." The phone went dead.

Robert looked at the receiver a moment then hung up. What in the world could be going on? He had last seen Vanessa Daniels and her son Tommy about ten years ago, when she had gotten a job back in London. Tommy had been about Ė he did some mental arithmetic Ė about eight years old then. Heíd be almost eighteen now. How could someone steal him away?

He went for his coat, checked for his wallet, money, and slipped his gun into the inside pocket that had been fashioned there for just that use. He left his home to get to his car. Beneath the excitement he felt that old rewarding feeling.

It was good to don the mantle of The Equalizer once again.

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

Robert sat at his table in the Library Bar, drinking a second cup of tea, thinking that more than enough time had passed for Vanessa to have come into the city, left her bags at hotel and have met him. He checked his watch and decided that rush hour in NYC could account for any delay she might have met. He would give her a few more minutes.

As he watched the front door for his old client, he took in the décor of the bar, tastefully decorated for Christmas with thick green swags adorned with burgundy bows. Robert approved. In fact, he liked most Christmas decorations, and had helped Pete decorate OíPhelanís bar. After all, as co partner with her in the original bar, and now with Jeremy, their former bartender opening a second OíPhelanís for them, he had come to appreciate how restaurants and bars reflected the seasons.

Midtown Manhattan was by far his favorite place this time of year. The tree at Rockefeller Center, the smaller tree at Lincoln Center and the hours of affable window-shopping with their amazing holiday themes always delighted him. He supposed it was a level of delight in direct relationship to the hardships of his childhood during the Second World War and then the complete banning of any cheer after his mother had died that made his response to the season hopeful.

He roused himself from his daydreaming. Vanessa was very late. He wondered what in the world could be wrong in the ladyís life. As he recalled, after he got her infant back from the people who tried to kidnap him for Hector Kouros, with a bit of help from the FBI and Controlís influence at the Company, things looked good for Vanessa. Following his advice she sued the hospital and won a nice settlement. Soon afterwards, her lawyer got a line on a job with a company that had childcare on premises. As he remembered, even better times followed for Vanessa and her son as the boy got a scholarship to one of the better schools in the City. When he last saw Vanessa, she and her son were off homeward to London where she was helping to open the overseas office of her company. The boy was thrilled to go on the adventure. That was the last time he had seen or heard from her.

He checked his watch again. Waiting was beginning to bother him. At least, he should call the hotel to see if she had checked in. Maybe she had gone to her room and thought sheíd rest for a minute and fallen asleep. She had, after all just come off a transatlantic flight.

He looked around and saw that there were phones in the bar directly connected to the hotel. He motioned to a waiter to bring one.

"Front Desk, Hudson. Arthur speaking. How may I help you?"

Robert heard a lot of noise in the background. Voices of course, but he also heard the distinctive sound of police radios.

"Has Vanessa Daniels checked in yet?" he asked, a bad feeling overcoming him.

"You want Vanessa Daniels?" The hotel clerk said her name very loudly.

Then he heard the sounds of the phone changing hands. "This is Captain Isadore Smalls of the New York Police Department. Who is this?" A gruff but familiar voice said.

"Isadore?" Robert asked, the bad feeling bearing fruit. "This is Robert McCall."

"Jesus, Robert, whatís your connection to Vanessa Daniels?"

"Whatís happened?" Robert said as he motioned to the waiter to bring his check, pulled out his wallet and threw some bills on the table.

"Is she one of your high paying EQ clients?" Isadore sounded angry.

"Iím right next door in the Library Bar, Iíll come to you. Tell your men to let me through."

He heard a sigh, "OK, I guess it would be too much to hope that youíd leave this to the NYPD."

Robert set the phone down and rushed out and around the corner to the main entrance of the Hudson Hotel. There were quite a few police cars parked haphazardly by the front and lines of uniformed officers were checking peopleís IDs at the door. Robert noted happily that there was no ambulance there Ė or had it left already?

He walked faster and saw Officer Williams, a young man he had dealings with before and went straight to him.

"Williams, Captain Smalls is expecting me."

Williams gave him a hard stare, then nodded and accompanied him into the hotel lobby.

More tasteful Christmas decorations greeted him, but juxtaposed next to the boys in blue, uniformed policemen doing their jobs, it jarred him far from the spirit of the season.

Isadore was, as usual, at the hub of the excitement. As tall and powerful looking as ever, skin a deep mocha color, the gray on his receding hairline seemed to be the only thing that hinted his old friend was getting old.

"Isadore?" he said as he got close to the Captain.

Isadore scanned the room and took Robertís arm to lead him to a quiet corner where he gazed down at Robert from his imperial height. "Whatís the connection between you and Vanessa Daniels?"

Isadoreís physical and mental aggressiveness might daunt other men, but not Robert. "Tell me what has happened and I will share all I know. But information first."

Isadore glared at him but gave in. The man knew better than to bluster. "She had just checked in and was loading her luggage when a house phone call came in for her. She went to take it on the courtesy phone," he pointed to the left of the hotel lobby at a small private corner, " and thatís where she was snatched by two," he read from his notebook, "two dark, Arab looking men."

Robert checked the distance from the phone to the door. "She was pulled all that way out and no one helped her? In these times?" After 9/11 he found that New Yorkers tended to get involved a bit more quickly, especially when the perpetrators looked Middle Eastern.

"These guys were professionals. They got her almost to the door before she began to holler and make a fussó," He had a half smile on "Must be her Brit, stiff upper lip way."

"How did you know she was British?" Robert asked.

"Iím an NYPD cop," Isadore said, "A professional investigator." He shrugged, "The desk clerk told me, and she just got in from London. Now you tell me Ė whatís your connection? One of your clients from EQ headquarters, a rich heiress, an international player, drug lord Ė what?"

"An old friend, I do assure you Isadore. Sheís been having some kind of trouble with her son and we made an appointment to talk about it today."

"Just when she got off her plane? What kind of trouble?" Isadore frowned.

"Thatís just it, she didnít tell me, but she felt it was urgent," Robert said as he scratched his eyebrow. "Sheís just a simple woman who called me because of some trouble with her son. I canít think Vanessa has anything to do with Middle Eastern thugs."

Isadore wrote something on his pad, but was biting his lower lip.

"Tell me Isadore, what happened when they got her to the street? Was there a car waiting? Anyone get the license?"

"Whoíd she work for?" Isadoreís voice was hard, much harder than Robert thought was warranted. "Tell me that before I give you any information."

Damnation, he knew that the police had no incentive to share information, other than good will and favors, so he did his best to bring his annoyance down and answer his old friendís question. Robert had to focus for a minute. Though he had thought about her since she called, he couldnít bring up the name of her employer that easily. "Half a moment." He concentrated. It reminded him of Dickens. "Got it! Haversham Enterprises. Itís an American Company that manufactures paper goods and they opened offices in London ten year ago. Thatís why it caught in my memory. Almost an opposite of what youíd imagine of a Haversham."

"Oh fine. Thanks for the heads-up, McCall," Isadore was sputtering in anger. "Donít try and play me and think you can cut me out of one of your fancy clientís business," he said with sharp sarcasm in his voice. "Right, youíre telling me sheís a regular nice lady who just happens to work for an international shipping company and just happens to be kidnapped by Middle Eastern types in midtown Manhattan? Christ, McCall, try and sell me something else that wonít fly. Iím not that gullible. If terrorists or Columbians snatched her Iím going to find out, no matter how much you try to hide it. Call me if you think of anything else." He made to turn away.

Robert was incredulous. Isadore thought he was covering something up! Well, the whole country was looking for terrorists hiding in every corner, why not here too? He called to Smalls. "Hang about, Isadore, what happened when they got her to the street and who called Vanessa on the phone?"

Isadoreís shoulders slumped. "The NYPD doesnít have to share any information with anyone, even the great McCall."

Robert walked in front of the Captain and stared him down. "I do understand that, and I do also hope you realize that I would not cover for any client who did anything wrong." Isadore glared so hard that the white all around his deep brown eyes was visible. Robert saw he had made his mind up that terrorists were involved and that he wasnít in the mood for any other explanation right now. That meant that Robert had to find Vanessa on his own, the police were going to be too busy looking elsewhere until they learned otherwise.

Blast!

"Isadore, you realize I can find that information easily enough, but it would be a great show of mutual respect if you shared it with me, saved me the trouble."

Isadore stood closer to Robert and whispered. "Mutual respect huh, when youíre trying to get me to swallow your cock and bull story that sheís just a good citizen who happened to get off an international flight only to be kidnapped by terrorists? Right. I donít need you on this case. Weíll handle it."

"I do assure you that I wonít get in the police department's way, nor will I keep any information from you. Now tell meó" he tried to smile to soften the hardness his tone had taken. "Please, sheís a friend, that is the truth and I am worried about her."

Looking down at his notes, Isadore seemed to weigh the value of his information, then he said, "They got her into a limo right outside. When people started calling for the cops, eyewitnesses on the street didnít think the fancy limo was involved at first, so we only got partial plates Ė and they are all different. And the call she got was from a pay phone on west 42nd, right in the middle of the busiest intersection in the city. That help?"

"No," Robert sighed, "But thank you for the information." He knew a few bits of facts that Isadore should know, but it was evident that the good Captain wasnít receptive to the truth right now. Robert nodded and turned to walk away.

"McCall," Isadore bellowed, "be sure to call me if you find out anything."

"Of course Captain," Robert nodded and strode out of the crowded lobby into the darkened, and now bitterly cold, street.

~~~~~~~~~~

It was almost five oíclock and Robert was betting that Haversham Enterprises had some staff who regularly stayed late, especially around the holidays. He had Googled the address of the main office from his cell phone and walked into the lobby only a few minutes after he had left the Hudson Hotel and Captain Smalls.

During the walk there he remembered the name of a woman, Marcy Feiganbaum, who had been friends with Vanessa when she had still worked at the New York Office. Luckily he and Ms Feiganbaum had also gone out a few times years ago, and Robert was hopeful that the lady still worked there and had kept her friendship up with Vanessa. If so, sheíd be a wealth of information.

At the front desk was a sullen looking guard. Robert put on his most congenial smile. "Iím here to meet Ms Feiganbaum in the Haversham office, but Iím afraid Iím late. Is she still here?"

The guard grimaced. "I donít know Pops. Iím not a receptionist."

Robert swallowed his anger at the manís presumption and then decided to use it. Why not slip on the charade that he was an old man Ė when necessary? "Well then I shall go up to see?" A slight wavering of his voice made him into a weak elderly man. He still beamed up at the guard.

"OK, go ahead, pops." He chuckled, "You donít seem like the dangerous type." He pointed to the bank of elevators. "Fourteenth floor."

"Thank you my good fellow." Robert said with what he hoped was a benevolent smile. By the time he entered the empty elevator he was seething. Not only had that man permitted his prejudice of older people to think Robert benign, he didnít take his name or even bother to call upstairs to say he was coming. Not the dangerous type? Indeed! So-called Guards like him kept the city open to great mischief from anyone, terrorist or no.

As he exited the elevator he remembered the office. He had met both Marcy and Vanessa there on different occasions. The receptionist was different now, a young Asian woman, severely dressed, hair in a sharp bob. She looked up at him and a smile, as if bathed in bright sunlight broke over her face. He found himself smiling in return.

"Iím Robert McCall here to meet with Marcy Feiganbaum."

The young woman scrunched her face. "I donít think there is a Feiganbaum here, but there is a Marcy. Marcy Cohen. Could that be her?"

Ten years might have easily brought about a name change for Marcy. In fact that was the main reason theyíd parted, she had wanted something permanent, and he, well not so much.

"Itís very probably the same woman. Might I speak to her?" He smiled and hoped he still looked harmless.

Nodding, the young woman picked up a phone and punched a button or two, "Marcy, a Mr. McCall is here for you. Do you know him?" She listened for a moment, looked Robert up and down, grinned, turned away and spoke quietly into the phone, "Just yummy, you lucky thing." She hung up the phone and turned back to Robert, all business once again. "Ms Cohen will be here in a moment. Please take a seat." and she pointed to a few incredibly uncomfortable looking chairs.

Just about to let gravity have its way with him as he released his joints to drop into the chair, he heard a familiar voice. "So where is he?" He rose to greet it.

Coming through the glass door was an older, but no less flamboyant Marcy Feiganbaum. Her diminutive stature and generous curves were topped by salt and pepper hair, sprayed and teased into a fashionable helmet and her makeup was, as usual, perfect. She wore her fifty something years with verve and style. A wall of Channel No. 5 hit him a few moments before she got close.

"So look who the cat dragged in!" she roared. "Robert you naughty boy, where have you been all these years?" She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him, hard. "I got married since we dated. Look at this rock!" A finger wearing a diamond the size of a goose egg shook in front of his eyes. He was about to speak when she laughed a full bossy chuckle, "Cubic Zirconium! My Sol more than makes up for his lack of moola."

She kissed him again, "So sweetie, it takes Nessa coming in to New York for you to visit me? Why havenít you come around before?" She squinted around the room, "She isnít here with you? Is she gonna meet us?" Finally taking a breath, she looked at Robert, and his expression must have sobered her. The smile that she wore now fell into a worried tight line. "Whatís wrong? Oh my God, has something happened to Tommy since I IMíd with Nessa?" She had grabbed him, and her half inch red nails pressed into his arm like a vice.

"Can we speak in a more private place?" he asked.

"Oy, please donít tell me something happened! Come, come into my office." Her eyes were already misted. Stepping quickly in her high heels, she led him through a maze of hallways all decorated in a subdued gray with Christmas decorations bright and twinkley against it and finally turned him into a glass doored room. It was overdone in primary happy colors, overstuffed chairs and pictures done by young hands. He remembered that Marcy had children of marrying age when they dated and they must have given her grandchildren since they last spoke.

By the time he had sat on the comfortable couch Marcy was already inside a side cabinet, taking out bottles of water and packages of cookies to set in front of him. "Take off your coat, you'll get overheated sitting here in that. And have a little something to settle yourself Ė a cookie, some water?"

Robert shook off his coat and refused food with the same gesture.

"Okay," she said as she finally settled next to him. "Whatís wrong?"

Leaning towards her he took her hand. "We donít know if there is anything wrong. Something strange happened just as I was supposed to meet Vanessa by her hotel."

"We donít know? Guttenu, whoís we?"

"The police"

"Oh my GOD, no!" She grabbed at her head, her hand covering her mouth.

" Ė Marcy," Robert took and patted her hand, "I need you to remain calm,"

"Iím a rock, Robert, a rock in emergency situations," she shouted and then glared her big brown eyes at him. "Tell me, what do you need to know?"

He saw that, though loud, the lady was once again completely under control. "I havenít kept in touch with Vanessa since she left for London, I take it you have."

Marcy nodded. "We email each other and IM a few times a week. We also talk on the phone at least once a month. What happened?"

"Vanessa called me and said she had landed in the city and needed me to help her with a problem she was having with Tommy."

"Yeah, Tommy has been really busy with something lately, and heís kept Vanessa at arms length about it. When they moved back to England he got another scholarship to a good school there Ė we both think that our boss, Mr. Haversham had something to do with it Ė and that was the start of all of it."

"Start of what?"

Marcy looked away. "I feel a little funny gossiping about a friendís kid."

"If the situation werenít dire, I wouldnít ask."

Her eyes glued themselves to his. "Dire? What happened? Please tell me."

There was no better way to get her cooperation than using the truth, "Vanessa was pulled from the lobby of the Hudson Hotel by two men and taken away in a limousine. No one has heard from her since."

Marcy gasped then paled under her make-up. Her eyes filled with tears, but at once she shook her head and pulled herself together. "What do the police say?"

"Reports from eyewitnesses say the men looked Middle Eastern, and so the police are filled with ideas ofĖ"

"Terrorists?" Marcyís face showed the utmost confusion. "Nessa hasnít got anything to do with terrorists! Sheís having troubles with Tommy and his new boss at the publishing house."

Now it was Robertís turn to be confused. "What boss? Start from the beginning and tell me all you know."

Shrugging her shoulders, Marcy visually concentrated. "Tommyís good at writing and his fancy schmancy school hooked him up with a small new wave magazine as an apprentice. He was working there and Nessa thought things were great, though she wasnít happy Tommy was never home anymore. But she was proud of him. Untiló" Here she bit her bottom lip and stopped talking.

"Until what?" Robert prodded.

"I hate to gossip, and this was all in conversations between Nessa and me. You know, when youíre separated by an ocean, itís easier to talk to a friend about all sorts of personal things." She colored slightly. "Iíd hate to think of Nessa sharing some of what I told her about Sol." Here she shuddered.

"Itís not simple gossip," Robert said, "Vanessa has been kidnapped. If you know anything, no matter how it doesnít seem to relate, you need to let me know." He smiled at her, he hoped reassuringly. "And I should never misuse anything you told me." He took her hand again. "Tell me what problems sheís been having with Tommy."

Marcy took a deep breath, nodded and cleared her throat. "Tommy, all of a sudden, had a lot of money to spend. Nessa and I couldnít believe he got it as a salary as an apprentice at a small new magazine and well, you know the world today." She colored again, "I told Nessa to check him for drugs, maybe he was selling. Nessa went straight to his room, checked everything, it was clean. Then she talked to Tommy."

"And?"

"He denied any drug use, in fact he got angry at Nessa and accused her of not trusting him."

So far it sounded like a young man involved with drugs to him. "Where did he say the money was coming from?" Robert asked.

She raised her eyebrows. "He said it was his salary and Nessa asked for proof. He gave her his paycheck and it was actually for a lot of money."

Robert couldnít see how any apprenticeship might pay a seventeen year old a good salary. This sounded like a major lead.

"What magazine is it?"

Marcy jumped up. I have a copy of it here. Nessa sent it to me when Tommy had his first byline." She went to the filing cabinets near her enormous desk and opened the second drawer from the top. She thumbed some files and then lifted a small magazine out. "Here."

The front picture was of some sort of entertainer, but Robert wasnít knowledgeable about the woman, who had next to nothing on except a scowling face and purple-gelled hair. Robert read the name of the publication, "New Names", but it meant nothing to him. Then he scanned to the article under Tommyís name. It was a story on the cover star, so Robert left the article to be read later. "Iíll just take this for a time, but I promise Iíll return it." Marcy nodded as he pocketed it.

Sitting next to him, Marcy said. "Anything else?"

"I want to get in touch with Tommy before the police find him, Iíd rather he hear about his mother from a friend, even if I am an old one. Do you have his number in Britain?"

Marcy Ďs brow creased, "Didnít Nessa tell you? Tommyís here in New York. The publisher of the magazine offered him a job in New York and Tommy took it, even though Nessa forbade it."

In turn, Robert felt his own brow crease in confusion. "Ah that is why Vanessa came to me. Tommyís here in New York City without her permission; Heís been taken under the wing of someone who is overpaying an underage boy to travel to another continent away from his mother?" Too many scenarios occurred to him, and none of them good. "Was Vanessa afraid that the publisher was taking advantage of Tommy Ė sexually perhaps?"

Marcy shook her head. "Well, at first when he kept inviting Tommy to all these concerts and parties, she was worried Ė a lot Ė and called her lawyer to look into the publisher."

"The names of the lawyer and the publisher?" Robert asked, getting ready to memorize it.

Marcy shook her head, "She once told me her lawyerís name, but I canít remember it. Sorry. As for the publisher, Tommy only called him ĎThe Bossí and said that thatís all he was called. Nessa and I both thought it was strange. Anyway she got the name of the company and the lawyer looked into it. Seems the company, Ipale Publications was really on the up and up, and it has a good track record for a new, small publishing house. The lawyer said that he looked into the owner and that there was no criminal past, and no rumors about him either. And he was well known as a benefactor to Tommyís school, thatís how the kid got the job in the first place. Nessa went and talked with the headmaster about it and he backed the publisher 100 %, said heíd put his own children in his hands, he likes him so."

"If you can remember the publisherís name, it would help a bit." Robert had the corporate name from the publication and all he need do was ask Jonah for a full background check and every detail about the owner would be on his desk by the morning Ė or before, if he pushed his computer genius friend.

Marcy sat forward. "Everything came to a head the other day, when Tommy said he was skipping college for a year to work in New York with ĎThe Bossí. Nessa insisted that she meet with the man before sheíd allow it. Tommy said he tried to get her in, but the boss refused. So Nessa said Tommy couldnít go."

"Tommy left for New York anyway?" Robert could now see why Vanessa was worried. "But Tommy isnít of age yet. Did she inform the police?"

"That's why sheís here. The cops in London said that what with Tommyís eighteenth birthday coming up next week, he'd be legal too soon and then Tommy would have every right to take a job away from his mother." Marcy shook her head, "Made Nessa so mad, they treated her like she was a controlling mother who wouldnít let her son go."

Robert got up. "Iím going to get to the bottom of it all immediately. Iíve a hunch that this is all tied together."

"If anyone can get to Nessa, itís you." She blushed, got up and walked him to the door. "Wait," she took her business card from her desk and scribbled on it, "Hereís my personal cell phone number," she put it in his hand, "Call me if I can do anything at any time. And can I have your cell number if I think of anything?"

Robert handed her his new business card that Scott insisted he carry. "This has a number with people who can reach me anywhere in the world at any time, day or night. If you call, youíll be put in touch with me immediately."

She walked him to the elevator. "Let me know whatís happening please Robert. Nessaís my oldest friend and Iím getting a bad feeling about all this." She hugged him and he got on the elevator enveloped in a cloud of Channel No. 5 and a feeling of trepidation.

~~~~~~~~~~~

It took Jonah, now retired, like so many older agents who worked in EQ Inc., less than a half hour to break the case.

All he had to do was trace the owner of the magazine where Tommy worked. The name of the owner was hidden behind multiple false company names and to anyone else it might have been a royal problem to trace, but not for Jonah. When Robert heard the name of the infamous Moroccan businessman Hector Kouros it all sadly fell into place.

Robert was now leading a group to the NY headquarters of Ipale Publications with three of his most trusted employees: Sterno, who could be relied on to think three steps ahead of a problem if any came up, Brockie, retired, but still a wily competitor and physically strong in case muscle were needed and an up and coming PI, Brown, young, powerful, and an ex-policemen with brains and brawn enough to make him a trusted man.

They made their way into the smart lobby and up the back freight elevator to the twenty-second floor of the fifth avenue building and entered the business office of Ipale Publishing without any problem. Sterno was in the limo downstairs monitoring everything. If they had trouble he was to contact Isadore with all the pertinent information, enough to get the NYPD there within minutes. Strange that no one challenged them. Not only had they entered the offices, they were almost at the publisherís office door. Bad vibes began to grow heavier and he saw Brown and Brockie put their hands on their weapons and swivel their heads more often as they scanned the room.

"Stop here," Robert said as he reached for the doorknob of the owner's office. He opened the door and was disgusted to see Jacob Stock sitting behind the ornate desk.

"Somehow I knew Iíd see you here, Jacob." Robert was going to permit the man to speak for a moment, before he tore into him.

Stock smiled and leaned back into the high backed, black leather chair. "Youíre not surprised to see me?"

"When I saw the name of the owner I was afraid that I might see the Companyís hand in this somewhere. Kouros was once highly placed, and Control took him down a peg last I heard, but I also knew that the Company Ė or an agency like it would call upon someone like Hector Kouros when the need arose. And the world is in a sorry enough state that a thug like Kouros would be called upon to obtain information of his old friends in the underbelly of the terrorist world. And that there was no security in this office today to stop me and my men from visiting Ė I knew Iíd see you or one of your lackeys."

Stock remained seated. Robert could see that the recent increased responsibilities had tempered and hardened the young man he had once known and made him into another creature all together. He hoped that this new NA Control still had a conscience Ė like the recently retired Control.

"Kouros has been clean for years, McCall. He came to us and has been voluntarily helping the US with inside information he has from his dealings with these people in the past. Heís been a great help to us. "

Disdain rose in him. "Iíve no doubt Kouros has been a rich source of information Ė and that youíre paying him dearly."

"Not that itís your business, but Kouros has only been gathering good will from The Company, no money at all. But at any rate, if you knew whom you were dealing with and that the information we can get from him can be priceless, why didnít you stand down? The man is our friend and is helping our cause." Stock folded his hands together on the desk as if that were the finish of the conversation.

"You know me well enough to understand that I would and could not dismiss the kidnapping of an innocent woman," Robert said, " Ė "especially one who is a friend of mine."

Stockís pale skin became red. "She wasnít kidnapped, she was Ė entreated to meet with Hector Kouros. Perhaps a bit more aggressively than was needed Ė"

"She was abducted from her hotel!" White rage filled Robert. "And by the man who, eighteen years ago paid $100,000 to have this same womanís newborn child kidnapped and delivered to him. I cannot imagine that you would actually think I would abandon her and her son to this same madman! I didnít when Control warned me away from Kouros eighteen years ago and I certainly wouldnít now!"

Stock had risen from the chair and stood looking down at his feet until Robert had his say. Good thing he did, Robert was too angry to have forgiven the man any expression.

Jacob spoke, "Vanessa Daniels is fine. Sheís speaking with Kouros now and this new misunderstanding is being all cleared up."

"Misunderstanding?" Robertís rage brought him close to blows. "You dare call this a misunderstanding? The woman was kidnapped, her son is being used by the man for some vile purpose Ė"

"You donít know that!" Stock said, matching Robertís emotion.

"Then what else can there be to capture the boyís attention after trying to kidnap him as a baby?"

Stock had no answer and Robert saw he was going to change the subject in some way. "Leave now, McCall and weíll forget that you did anything against the desires of the US government. You know, the new laws are very strict and Ė"

Robert saw red. "Oh no you donít my boy-o, donít you dare call upon the Patriot Act to cover this up!" He let his eyes bore into Jacobís face. "I demand to see Vanessa Daniels this second!"

"You demand?" Stock shook his head and chuckled. "As arrogant as ever, arenít you? Kouros is needed for the security of the US government. I wonít permit you to interfere with that."

Approaching Stock, Robert got close to him and tried to speak in a calm fashion. "What happened to you Jacob? There once was a time that youíd bristle at working with such a man as Kouros, and now youíre covering up for him in a matter that we both know has nothing whatsoever to do with National Security. Heís trying to steal a child that he was stopped from kidnapping as an infant. "

Stock looked up into Robertís eyes, and Robert detected a shadow of the old Jacob Stock reflected there. "So yes, young man, I demand to see Vanessa Daniels right this instant Ė and I expect you to permit it."

~~~~~~~~~~~

After a few whispered instructions with Brockie and Brown as they remained in the outer hallway, Robert permitted himself to be led to another door that said 'Conference Room 1' by two husky men of obvious Middle Eastern extraction. He wondered if these two were the same Kouros employed, probably Moroccan by birth, who had manhandled Vanessa into the limo. He vowed to himself he should find that out soon enough.

The door was knocked upon and Robert entered a large room fitted with an enormous desk. Immediately, he saw Vanessa Daniels sitting at the side, her face streaked with tears, her whole body showing exhaustion. Along the walls of the room stood armed men. They were probably a mixture of Kourosís men and Company agents there to see that things ran smoothly

At the head of the table sat Kouros, grayer than Robert remembered, but as smug as ever and as well dressed as a man could be. Next to him sat a tintype of him, but the boy was a blonde as Kouros was dark. Yet the expensive suit was the same cut, the exquisite watches twins and the air of superiority matched.

The young man, sitting so comfortably next to Hector Kouros was indeed Tommy Daniels.

Concern for Vanessa overcame any other worry and Robert walked to her side and sat down. Vanessa took his hand as if holding on to a life preserver.

"Are you all right, Vanessa?" He asked her, he hoped she recognized the concern in his voice.

She nodded, her jaw set in the determined way that he remembered so well from eighteen years before. She was still the brave woman who had controlled her emotions to continue the search for her new born son, even though a doctor ordered her to bed rest.

Robert turned his attention to Tommy at the table. "And what have you to say for yourself young man? Do you know the type of man with whom you are allied?"

Tommy looked to Korus for approval, which he apparently got, because he shrugged his shoulders then finally looked at his mother. "I told my mother that I had a good job in New York with a kind employer. Sheís the one who decided to make herself sick about it and rush here to confront everyone and make a fuss."

Robert moved towards the young man. "Then you agreed with your employer to having his men drag your mother from her hotel lobby with no explanation as to who they were?"

Tommy was startled. He looked to Kouros. "No, that didnít happen."

Robert spoke louder, but he heard Vanessa sniffle. "They threw her into a car, with no idea of what would happen to her. Do you give your consent to have your mother terrorized like that?"

Tommy shook his head, "That's not what happened. Victor told me tható"

"And you believed him? Just look at your mother and see how upset she is," Robert pointed to Kouros, "That man is a liar. Thereís a thick file on all the top secret Agency underhanded actions that this maggot has had a hand in."

"I know heís my father!" Tommy shouted. "I figured it out a long time ago. Mum has been lying to me. She said my father died seven months before I was born and that he left us no money but we still managed to live in a great apartment and had plenty of everything. I knew then that it wasnít the truth." He looked at Robert. "She always hinted that there was a man that she feared and that it had to do with my birth but she wouldnít ever tell me more about it. When I met Hector and he told me how he considered me his son and has been helping me get ahead in life since I was little, I knew we were connected. When he warned me never to mention his name around Mum, that sheíd refuse to let me see him if she learned that we knew each other, I put it all together. I figured it out that heís my father and that my mum has been running from him my whole life." Tommy walked toward his mother. "I donít want to run from him, I donít care what happened between you two in the past. Hector has shown me that he cares and wants whatís the best for me. Sorry, mum, but Iíve made my choice to come here. You will never talk me out of being with him."

"Oh my boy," Kouros said in a low voice, "I have misled you I fear, though I never meant to."

"You let him think he was your child?" Vanessa was on her feet, her small frame vibrating with anger. Robert stood in front of her, his hand restraining her from moving toward Kouros. "You despicable man!"

She turned to Tommy. "He is certainly not your father." Tears streamed down her face. "Thomas Daniels was your father, the man I loved, them man I lost too young, too tragically." She uttered a sob of utter despair and moved away from her son. "You have turned your back on his memory! I tried so hard to shield you from what happened when you were born; maybe I made it more of a mystery than was necessary. I donít know."

"Tommy," Robert said, "it seems that all these years of half truths didnít spare you pain, as your mother had hoped it would. It simply set you up for the lies this man permitted to be planted in your mind."

"Thomas," Kouros said from behind his desk. "Iím afraid there has been a misunderstanding. Iím not your biological father, I thought you knew that."

Tommy looked as though he had been struck down. "But you said I was your son!"

Kouros stood up and walked to Tommy. "You are my son. The minute I saw you and held you in my arms I felt a Ė" Kouros held his hands up," An almost cosmic connection with you. Even when I had to give you up I still felt that tie with you. It was the thing that made me change my life. I wanted to be deserving of you."

"Deserving? He paid to have you kidnapped!" Vanessa called out, her voice thick with emotion. "He was going to fly away with you after you were stolen from me at the hospital."

Tommy kept looking back and forth from his mother to Kouros, his expression of alarm making him look younger than his years. "Kidnapped? I donít understand! What the Hell is going on here!" He shied away from Kouros and also veered away from his mother. Then he ran from the room. Vanessa made to follow but Robert got to the door first. "Let me talk to him."

"But I think IÖ " Vanessaís voice petered out. Then she nodded. "He wonít listen to me. You go Robert."

Kouros walked to the door and Robert barred his way. "You will leave that boy alone," he seethed.

"I take responsibility for my part in this," he said, "and I want to explain why I did it. I want to confess to Thomas why this all happened."

"Sit here until I ask for you," Robert said to him, "Do not come out before then, or else Ė," he looked at the men standing ready for trouble against the walls of the room, and he nodded to Jacob who had silently entered the room. "Or else I shall make these men earn their pay to keep you safe."

He turned and walked out on Kourosís stunned face.

Brockie was standing by the elevators talking to Tommy. "So you see," Robert heard him say. "I get lost in this building all the time. So itís on another floor?"

Robert nodded to Brockie to let him know he appreciated his waylaying the boy.

Brockie smiled at Tommy and went to the elevator door. "Going down?" he called out. Robert touched Tommyís sleeve and the boy turned to him. Robert saw his face crumple.

"No thank you," Robert told Brockie. He put his arm around Tommyís shoulder and aimed them both toward Kourosís office and, once inside, shut the door behind them.

Robert pointed to the couch. "Please sit, Thomas."

Once the boy sat Robert took a seat also on the couch, but as far away as possible. He didnít want the boy to feel cornered.

"Do you remember me?" he asked.

Tommy nodded. "Yes, I do. Youíre Mr. McCall, my mumís friend. We used to meet you for lunch and an afternoon out when we lived here in New York. I remember." He smiled. "You were very nice to me. For a while I hoped you were really my father." He colored red, "You know, because you were so solicitous of us and you and Mum had the same accent."

Robert smiled. So the boy has been searching for a father all his life. He supposed it wasnít such a strange thing that the boy latched on to the first man who actually called him his son.

"Thomas," Robert began.

"Call me Tommy, Mr. McCall. I rather like it."

"Then you may call me Robert, as we are now on more equal terms as adults."

Tommy straightened up a bit at that pronouncement Ė as Robert hoped he would. "Your mother called me this afternoon when she got off her plane, asking for my help. She told me you had been stolen from her Ė"

"Damn it!" Tommy exploded with a passion that swept through the room. "No one can steal me, Iím almost eighteen! How many times have I told her not to say that?"

Robert let the tension in the room calm down after the boyís outburst.

"Has she never told you what occurred during your first days of life?" He studied the boyís face for any clue as to his knowledge of the past.

Tommy took a deep breath, calmed down and shook his head. "She only would say something happened and burst into tears Ė then sheíd talk about you and how happy our lives were. She always said that my father, Thomas Daniels, was looking out for us from heaven and thatís why we were doing so well. When sheíd start to cry Iíd stop asking her about it. I didnít like to see herÖ Well, after I learned that Hector was the one who made sure mom got her job and that I got into all the good schools, I figured that he was my real dad."

Robert felt a wave of surprise. "Kouros was helping you all these years?"

Tommy nodded, "I want to be a writer and started by doing some research on my own at school." He looked away. "I broke into the Headmasterís office a long time ago and saw that Hector Kouros was the one paying my full tuition. Then I found out he owned Haversham Enterprises and then, when I got the job of apprentice in the magazine I dug really deep and over months finally found out that he owned Ipale Publishing the owner of "New Names". When he introduced himself and said he felt we had a connection, and that it would be best never to mention his name to mum, I put it together Ė that they had been lovers and he did something bad to her and that made her afraid or made her hate him. So I figured he was my father Ė especially after he asked if he could call me son."

Robert saw all the emotions pass in the boyís eyes as he spoke. Robert had to admit, in a way his mistaken version of the story made perfect sense.

"Do you want the truth? Unvarnished and raw, everything that really happened?" he asked Tommy, hoping the boy would remember their good relationship and that Robert always told him that he never lied.

Tommyís strong gaze told of his deep hunger for the truth. "Yes, please. I need to understand what actually happened to me and what Hector means to my mother."

Robert sat closer to Tommy and then got comfortable. The tale was a long one, and would take a time to go through thoroughly. He intended to tell Tommy of Kourosís full activities in the shady world of international intrigue. He hoped the boy was ready to hear about his own abduction as a baby and how bravely his mother fought to get him back.

"One day, almost eighteen years ago," Robert began. "I received a phone call from a woman in severe anguish Ė"

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

Robert straightened his tie then rang the doorbell to Scottís home. Although he hadnít looked forward to this New Yearís Eve party, he found renewed excitement in the prospect when Vanessa Daniels had agreed to come too. She was staying at Marcyís home rather than at the hotel and so Robert had asked Sherry, Scottís wife, if he could invite a few extra people. As always his daughter-in-law happily agreed to his wishes and Vanessa was arriving with Marcy later in the evening.

The door opened up and there was Scott, dressed to the nines with lovely Sherry at his right arm. "Happy New Year, Dad," Scott said and Sherry pushed herself forward to kiss Robert first, then Scott did too.

"Thanks for coming," Scott whispered in his ear, and Sherry grabbed his coat, "Really good to have you here tonight, Dad!"

Robert was about to respond Ė

"Grandpa!" the voice screamed in a fit of joyous noise and Edward, his grandson raced through the room to fling himself on Robert.

Catching the ball of energy in his arms, Robert laughed at the delight that his grandson exhibited when the child encircled Robertís neck and kissed and cheered at the same time.

"Yeahh!! Grandpaís here before I gotta go to bed. Look Grandpa itís a New Yearís Eve party. Thereís cookies at the table and Mama says I can have five tonight because itís special! Come and have a cookie with me, Grandpa. Come on!"

He child wriggled out of Robertís arms and pulled him by the hand to the table. The people in the room, who had witnessed the childís elation, shared the high spirits and laughed with him in his delight.

After a few minutes of attending to his grandchild, learning that the infant was already in her crib sleeping, Edward was led off to his own bed by his mother, and Robert was finally able to pay some attention to the adults in the room.

Over by the glittering tree, stood Mickey, splendid in a well-tailored jacket. Robert headed to the bar, ordered a bottle of beer and a scotch neat from the bartender and wandered over to Mickey.

"Your favorite," he said as he offered the beer to his old friend.

Mickeyís face lit up at the sight of the beer and he set down the glass of wine he had been drinking. "Oh thanks, Robert. I feel like a dressed goose in this suit, but Sherry warned me that I if I showed up in my usual outfit, sheíd wup me upside the head." Both men chuckled for a moment and Robert luxuriated in the instant camaraderie he felt with Mickey. Since his friend had been pushed upstairs and had been given the job of liaison with Homeland Security, they hadnít seen each other for a while. It was good to spend some time with Mickey again.

The music was playing at a decent volume and the happy conversations were adding to the noise in the room, but somehow Robert heard the doorbell ring quite clearly. He was listening to Mickeyís story about some mischief that he had gotten into, but when he saw Vanessa enter the room, along with her son and Marcy and a man he guessed was her beloved new husband Sol, Robert turned to Mickey Ė who was already staring at him with a grin on his face.

"Thatís Vanessa Daniels right? I remember her." Mickey said. Robert noticed his grin get deeper and wider. "Always thought you two should get involved, and I was surprised when it didnít happen."

Vanessa, a picture of loveliness, was busy with introductions and the taking off of coats. "Excuse me Mick, Iíd like to say hello to heró"

"Iím the one who told Jacob to let you handle Kouros from here on in."

Robert looked at him, and Mickeyís eyes were sparkling with humor.

"You?"

Mickey nodded and finally had the decency to look away with discomfort. "Iíve been the one to make sure old Hector has kept his nose clean. After all, I was there when Vanessa was put through Hell by that man."

Robert put his whole attention on his friend. "Yes, I remember your close encounter with a dozen bowling balls. What do you mean youíve been checking on Kouros? Did you know about his involvement with Thomas?"

Mickey shrugged, "Hey, McCall, that would be telling State Secrets. Letís just say that if that guy even tried any of his old tricks, I would have been up his butt in a half a second, with calls to you in a heartbeat."

"Do you know of my deal with JacoóNA Control?" Robert asked.

"Yep, and itís fine with me. Youíll keep an eye on Kouros for Ms Daniels there." He looked at Vanessa and Robert did too. She was stunning, smiling and talking to people, but when their eyes met, they locked. She nodded to him, a secret smile playing on her lips.

"Iíve got to go," Robert mumbled and started towards Vanessa.

Mickey grabbed his arm. "Heís been clean and I figure heíll keep on the straight and narrow, especially now that youíre on his case. Iíll share any information I have on him with you, no problem."

Robert said, "Thank you," and turned to walk to Vanessa.

"Go for it!" Mickey whispered after him and then had the affront to laugh in a good-natured way.

Robert glared at him for a moment and then Mickeyís eyes moved to Robertís side and Robert felt someone at his elbow. He turned. It was the lady in question. "Ah Vanessa," he said, "You look marvelous."

"Thank you, sir," Vanessa made a little curtsey as Robert felt Mickey move away, leaving them alone, "And thank you for inviting us tonight. Thomas is thrilled to be here, especially now that Iíve agreed to let him remain in New York working for Ė that man."

"Itís totally legitimate, and if Tommy wants to be a writer, itís a perfect job to have."

Vanessa nodded. "He has agreed to go to college next year, but he insists it will be in New York."

"Really?" Robert felt a wave of an emotion. But what was it?

"Hi honey!" Marcy had come up to him and was now kissing him warmly. "This is so much nicer than the party we were going to go to at Solís sisterís house." She winked and smiled. Then she put her arm around Vanessa. "Has she told you? Nessaís going to move back to New York now that Tommyís going to live here."

For some reason, the news made Robert feel buoyant. "Vanessa back in New York would be a wonderful!" Now he realized he was excited and thrilled to hear the news.

"Mr. Haversham has promised her her old job here and Nessa and I am going to be working together," Marcy hugged Vanessa again. "Just like the old days! Iím so happy."

"Dance with me, Hun," Sol Cohen stood behind the ladies, his tall thin face looked down from his imposing height. His eyes glittered with adoration as he took his wifeís hand and led her to the dance floor where Scott had a new Tony Bennet ballad playing. The lush strings and lovely tones made Robert want to dance too. He put his arm out to Vanessa. "Shall we?"

"Yes, I think so." She beamed a truly happy smile, and put her small hand in his.

Dancing to beautiful music with a lovely, warm, intelligent, brave woman made the night magical. Vanessa fit perfectly in his arms, and he decided, she also fit perfectly into his life and what he wanted as his next step.

It was time for a change for The Equalizer, and as he gazed at Vanessa, who also looked to be content in his arms, he knew that there were many new and exciting chapters of his life yet to be written.

And he was of a mind to do just that, starting this New Yearís Eve.