The Equalizer, also known as Robert McCall, was just sitting down when the doorbell sounded again. "Scott," he called to his son who was dressing in the bedroom, "can't you get the door this time? I shall be run ragged before we even get to the charity dinner tonight."
Scott walked out of the bedroom as the doorbell sounded again. The six foot tall young man was wearing a red satin shirt, horns and a pair of red bikini briefs. "I'd like to Dad. But I don't think it'd be a good idea," Scott smiled as he waved the trousers of his devil costume. "I can't figure out how to get my tail on."
"Lord," Robert muttered as he lifted himself off the chair to answer the now insistent door bell. "Coming, coming," he called out, as he picked up the bowl containing the individually wrapped confectionery that was part and parcel of the way Halloween was celebrated in his adopted country.
He flung the door open and presented the bowl at the proper height for children.
"Hey, McCall, watch where you shove that bowl!" Mickey Kostmayer, his young friend and associate laughed as he grabbed a fist full of candy.
Robert looked at his protégé wearing his usual jeans and a pair of motorcycle-boots. "Mickey, where is your costume?"
"I got it on." Mickey shrugged, "I just put my jeans over it. I am not wearing that skin tight stretch thing on the street. I said I was going as a skeleton, but I have no intention of being killed and skinned before I get to the restaurant. I'll take my jeans off here. We're going in the limo with Clarence - right?" he frowned. "And, I'm not wearing those ballet slippers that came with the costume. Skeletons can wear boots, can't they?"
"I suppose," Robert sighed, pondering the absurdity of the question. "As long as the ladies don't object and say you are out of costume."
Mickey snapped his fingers. "Biker skeleton! Back me up if anyone asks, okay, McCall?" Mickey opened a couple of packages of candy and stuffed them in his mouth. "And I'll back you up in your costume." He looked Robert up and down. "Whatever the hell it is." He said around a mouth full of nougat.
"Mickey? That you?" Scott called out from the bedroom, "I'm having trouble with the tail part of the costume. Can you please try and help?"
Mickey grinned at Robert before he ambled to the bedroom, "I can't say as I ever had any trouble dealing with tai..."
"Hey!" Scott yelled, loud enough for Robert to hear as Mickey entered the bedroom. "How'd you get candy? He wouldn't let me have any!"
"It's for the children!" Robert shouted out as the bell rang again. "It's for the blasted, annoying, greedy children," he muttered to himself. He opened the door and pushed forward the now almost empty bowl.
Control stood there, in formal black overcoat and gloves. He looked down at the bowl in surprise. "Where are the Snickers bars? I prefer Snickers over Mars Bars."
Robert slumped against the doorjamb. "I am bloody exhausted, tending to Trick or Treaters. I've been up and down, up and down, the whole night."
Control slid his overcoat off to reveal a debonair tuxedo. Robert remembered with a smile that Control could look quite dashing when he had a mind to. He also noted that Control had been to the barber and his six foot frame had been dabbed in one of the most expensive colognes on the market. It would seem that the high echelon Company man, was still not beyond trying to impress his new lady friend.
Control shot his cuffs and lifted one eyebrow. "Do you really think we can get away with formal dress? I do not want any trouble from the women."
"I worked it all out my friend." Robert presented Control with a linen dinner napkin. "The finishing touch." Control held the cloth and shook his head with admiration. Robert continued, "We agreed that we are both too old to go to a fancy dress ball and look the fool."
"It is true," Control sighed.
Robert raised his eyebrows, "We've still time for a drink," he said as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation, "take off your jacket and state your pleasure."
"Not a difficult question, I want your best, and don't be stingy. Tonight has the potential to become very a pleasant evening." Control folded his jacket and put it to the side, next to Robert's own jacket.
"Did I hear you mention drinks, McCall?" Mickey walked in from the bedroom. He was now in full costume, a tight, black body suit with glowing bones sewed onto it. He still had the boots on.
"Boots?" Control questioned.
"Biker skeleton," Robert prompted. "We back up his story, he'll back up ours. Tit for tat." He handed his ally a generous drink.
Control nodded once, "Got it."
Scott entered the room then. He was walking in a circle, trying to catch his tail which always seemed just out of reach. "It's still not right, Mickey, " he moaned, then he saw his father's other friend. "Hi, Control," he said embarrassed. "I'm having a lot of trouble getting my hands on this tail."
"Oldest complaint in the book," Control joked. He sat down on the couch, while the other men looked at each other in surprise.
"A joke?" Mickey said softly to the air. "Control made a joke?"
The doorbell rang again, "Blast! I have to fill the bowl," Robert muttered. "One moment," he called to the door.
He filled the bowl to the brim and offered it to the gaggle of giggling children at his entryway.
Finished with the children, he turned back into the living room, lowered himself onto the overstuffed chair and took a sip of his drink.
"I do not know where all these children come from. I have must have given 'Trick or Treat' candy to hordes of greedy hands tonight. It must ebb soon."
Scott, who was now fully attired in his devil costume, red cloak and all, laughed heartily.
"Dad! You have to get into the festivities and the feel of Halloween night." Scott stood up tall and did a Bela Lugosi imitation, wrapping his red cape across his face. "It is the night of ghouls and goblins and things that go bump in the night."
"Foolishness!" Robert retorted with an overabundance of annoyance. "We had nothing like this when I was growing up in England. Utter poppycock, witches and..."
"Vampires?" Control suggested. He smiled, arching one eyebrow, as he straightened his formal bow-tie.
"Yes," Robert said sullenly, "and vampires."
"I'll tell you what's really scary," Mickey changed the subject. "That we four all have dates on the same night. I bet that never happened before."
"Yeah," Scott laughed, "very scary, and they all like each other and are working with Pete on this formal charity shindig tonight. Now that is scary."
"It is rather frightening to think of - now that you mention it." Robert permitted a slight smile to play upon his lips.
"End of the world sort of thing," Mickey agreed. "McCall, tell me again, what are you two going to this Halloween charity ball dressed as?"
Robert pointed to his tuxedo jacket, with the white music baton sitting near it. "I am going as an orchestral conductor." He pointed to Control's tuxedo jacket and white linen dinner napkin lying on top. "And he is going as a maitre d' in a five star restaurant."
Control rubbed his chin and smiled, "I thought it quite clever, myself."
"As did I." Robert toasted Control with a tip of his glass.
Scott grinned, "Brave men. My date Sarah is going as a witch and, if she ever thought I was getting away with something, she'd conjure up a spell and whammo!"
"Well Scott, I don't suppose either of us needs to be afraid of any entity from 'The Darkside' when we are in the company of these two," Control proclaimed.
"Control!" Robert blurted out, "Do not bring that story up."
"What story?" Scott asked earnestly.
"It's nothing," Mickey said. His look pointing daggers at Control before he lowered his gaze and allowed his lashes to hide his eyes.
Robert noted that Control had been in an unusually jovial mood since he had gotten to the apartment for the pre-affair drink. If he had known that Control would respond so well to having a good woman in his life, he might have tried to set him up sooner.
Control rubbed his chin, grinning, "Robert, didn't you tell the boy yet? What are you waiting for? For him to reach the age of thirty?" Control laughed out loud - a sound sufficiently unknown to all - and Scott became visibly and more avidly interested.
"I would like to hear this story." Scott added as he sat down next to the older man.
"Then I shall tell it!" Control peeked over at Robert, "I don't think it will hurt the boy any."
Robert gave out a deep sigh and looked into his glass. "Might as well, Control, now that you've let the cat out of the bag, Scott won't let me rest until I've told him about it. So go ahead."
"Why, thank you, old son. I will." Control re-crossed his legs and let his head lean on the back of the couch. "Now let me see. It was 1979 - Kostmayer was just about your age, Scott..."
"No," Mickey interjected sourly. "I was twenty-six. A few years older chronologically, but psychologically light years older than Scott."
The look on Mickey's face was the only thing that stopped Scott from voicing a protest. Scott saw his father's expression then and the smile slipped off his face completely. "What happened?" he asked somberly.
Control searched his memory, "Let's see. Your father and Kostmayer had only been working together for just over a year when I sent them after a rogue KGB agent, one Alex Borza. He was from Romania. From all reports, he had descended into madness after surviving a mission that had gone particularly badly. And, since he had been born in Transylvania, he fell into the lore of his childhood - the vampire. Because his madness was directed against Company agents, the KGB permitted him to run free."
Scott shook his head and Robert saw that he looked unhappy. Maybe he finally is growing up, Robert thought. Maybe he finally understands that what I did for all those years was a deadly serious business and not a lark.
Control was comfortably slumped on the couch now. He leaned his elbow on the armrest and cradled his head against his hand.
"They had just missed Borza in Brazil - where he had killed two agents by exsanguination." Control looked at Scott to make sure he got the whole picture. "I got the reports and pictures of the clean up. Terribly gruesome. Borza had sexually molested the female agent before he killed her." Control was silent for a moment. "Cynthia Arnold - a good operative," he said in a subdued voice. "The man was someone that I didn't know. The Southern Control at the time, had hand picked him for the job. Kostmayer and your father reported that they found his body partially burned."
Mickey and Robert exchanged glances and Robert remembered their vow. No one would ever know what they had found - the real condition of the male agent - or what had been left of him.
"They discovered that Borza was en-route to Stanstead Airport, England in a private plane. He had fled to one of the old estates up on the Essex coast that the KGB had acquired for one of their operations years before. It had been abandoned but we had information that Borza was headed there. They followed him...
As Control continued to relate the official version of the story, Mickey took a seat by the window. He looked out at the street below and remembered what had really happened on that awful night.
It was already dark when they arrived in England and, using diplomatic papers, they had cleared customs and immigration without breaking step. A staffer from the London desk had been waiting for them just beyond the arrivals gate. She handed them keys to a car and maps of the area as she walked them to the vehicle.
Weapons and ammunition were in the trunk of the car. The latest intelligence had Borza arriving three hours earlier and as far as could be established, he had made his way directly to the house. The best and quickest route was marked on the map.
"Is there anything else you need?" she inquired.
"No, no thank you. We shall be fine." Robert's reply was offhand and he waved the girl away. It didn't take a genius, Mickey realized, to see that Robert was remembering Cynthia Arnold and her death at Borza's hands. He was risking as few lives as possible. They had already been trailing Borza for much longer than they had ever expected. The guy seemed to have the nine lives of a cat.
They threw their carry-on bags in the trunk of the car and while Mickey acquainted himself with the armaments supplied, Robert studied the map. They climbed in the car and when the map was passed to Mickey, he produced a flashlight from his pocket and looked it over. The directions seemed clear and easy to follow.
Robert took the car up to ninety on the road away from the airport and only slowed slightly when they came to the smaller country lanes that were the main roads in this part of Essex.
Mickey looked at McCall with some unease - he wasn't sure if he should ask the question burning in his mind. Tales of vampires had been part of his growing up. His father had told him and his younger brother Nick, stories that his own father had told to him, when he was growing up in Poland, before the war. Mickey's mother had put a stop to the stories in the end, when Nick had begun to suffer from nightmares.
Mickey wasn't a great believer in genetic memory, but the vampire legends occupied a place in his psyche that seemed to be overwhelming his thinking now. Mickey shifted uneasily in his seat again.
Robert glanced over at him. "What is it, Mickey?"
"You have been fidgeting around there for the last fifteen minutes, tell me what is bothering you."
"Well. Okay - here goes... Do you think there really are such things as vampires?"
To Mickey's immense relief, McCall didn't laugh his question away and he seemed to consider carefully for a moment before replying, "Do you believe in them, Mickey?"
"I don't really know. My dad told me stories and I know he thought there was truth in the legends."
Mickey saw Robert glance at him for a moment before he spoke. "I think there are poor individuals who believe for one reason or another that they are vampires. But to really believe in immortal creatures who are destroyed by sunlight and crosses, and who exist on human blood? No I don't believe that at all."
Mickey considered his colleague's reply and decided that he was happier to agree that vampires didn't exist.
They were only miles from their destination now and Robert gave his concentration back to driving. A final turn and they came to a halt outside a large and imposing set of iron gates. The rest of the property was surrounded by iron railings, all topped with razor sharp spikes to deter unwelcome visitors.
As they got out of the car, Mickey heard the sound of waves. He hadn't realized how close they had come to the coast. Mist was rolling in from the sea and it was affecting their visibility. From their vantage point, the house and grounds looked deserted. A glance between them confirmed their intentions and they began to climb.
Mickey scaled the fence without incident but Robert gashed his upper thigh on one of the spikes. "McCall - you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine it is just a scratch."
They crouched in some bushes at the front of the property and reconnoitered. Mickey was sure that Robert wasn't telling the whole truth, but knew he would have to take him at his word.
There were a number of outbuildings that Mickey could just see through the mist but his gut was telling him that they would find Borza in the main house.
He didn't like the look of the place, it was dark and foreboding. The tall lines of the house were lost in the wisps of mist that flowed around them. In the dim moonlight it took on a ghostly appearance, seeming vague and insubstantial - as though it might vanish at any time. There was a sense of loss and pain that seemed to permeate the very fabric of building.
Communicating without words, Robert gestured that they should take a few minutes to go round the property and make sure there were no surprises waiting for them.
At the back of the house there was a door that seemed to lead down into the kitchen. It was shut fast and Mickey couldn't open it for some reason. Mickey marked that down as a first - he hadn't come across a lock he couldn't pick for nearly a year now.
In a very short time they were back at the front of the house. The gravel of the driveway crunched noisily under their feet and Mickey knew instinctively that Borza was aware of their arrival and was waiting for them. The only way in looked to be a second floor window right next to an old iron drainpipe.
Despite his training and experience, Mickey was frightened; but McCall had trained him to use fear, to control it and make it work for him. When Robert pointed a gloved finger to the high window, Mickey started to climb, without a word needed between them.
Mickey had always taken on most of the physical work for the team, he figured as he was younger by nearly twenty years it made a lot of sense. The drainpipe was fixed securely and it didn't take him long to climb level with the open window. Carefully, he pulled himself onto the sill, eased the window further open and slipped inside.
The room appeared deserted, apart from some huge pieces of dark, wooden furniture. Opening the curtains to let in the uncertain moonlight, Mickey inspected the room; it was large and it was difficult to see into all the shadowed corners. He pushed his hair out of his eyes - McCall kept nagging him about getting it cut - and made a circuit of the room, gun in hand. He found nothing. Once or twice he thought he caught a glimmer of movement from the corner of his eye, but when he turned to look more closely - there was no one or nothing there.
The feeling of being watched became stronger with every passing moment, causing the area between his shoulder blades to itch. Berating himself for being stupid and superstitious, he searched the entire room thoroughly, he even looked under the damn bed. As he had expected, he found nothing - a big fat zero. He guessed Borza would be nearer to the ground, in case he needed to make a quick getaway.
Knowing McCall would be worrying, he headed for the door and stopped dead in his tracks. There was something there - he could only see a shadow - but it was between him and the door. The figure took a step forward and Mickey saw Alex Borza clearly, for the first time.
End of Part 1...