Part 4

Ann thought of making a break for it at the elevator, but the family attending a new mother and her baby held the door for them. Dushenko pulled her to the back of the car.

"So when did you find out what was in there?" Dushenko asked.

"Last night."

He looked at her in surprise. "If you didn't know what was in there, why did you go in?"

"I wanted to know why I was being shot at. If you hadn't sicced watchdogs on me this would never have happened. I was perfectly willing to let you have whatever was in there."

He shrugged. "Oh, well, spilled milk. So who are you working for?"

"No one."

"The copy, Ann. We know you got one. Where did it go?" He took her arm again as the elevator slowed for the lobby. "Who helped you last night?"

"And if I don't tell you?"

"Oh, Ann. Must we be blatant about it?"

Ann held her breath as the door opened. A quick scan of the lobby chilled her heart. Robert wasn't there. Maybe he was watching from somewhere...

Dushenko led the way to the main entrance, this time at Ann's left elbow. The barest nudge of her arm as they approached the guard told her everything she needed to know about what could happen to her.

Cochran sat at the wheel of a car near the door. He smiled predatorially when he saw Ann. She looked around, praying. Dushenko opened the rear door. Ann reluctantly slid in behind Cochran. She desperately scanned the street again. No black Jaguar. What could have happened? Oh, lord, what could not have happened? Traffic jams, car wrecks-- For the first time, Ann felt sick, hopeless despair.

"Has she talked yet?" Cochran asked as he drove away.

"Not yet."

"We'll have time on the plane."

"True enough." Dushenko gave Ann his management seminar smile. "It would be so much easier if you'd just tell us what we want to know now."

"Why would I want to make it easier on you?"

"I was thinking of you, actually."

"Don't bother," Cochran said. "I work better when I can take my time." He gave Ann an evil smile in the rearview mirror. A cab cut him off as he started to leave. As he turned to shout at the driver, Ann saw, half a block away, the nose of a familiar black car slide out of an alley. She held her breath. There must be hundreds of black Jaguars in New York. Cochran crawled with the midday traffic past the alley. Ann closed her eyes and turned away when she saw Robert McCall behind the wheel, with Mickey beside him.

"So where are we going?" she managed to ask, proud of what nonchalance she could muster.

"La Guardia," Cochran answered readily. "Adam and I have an appointment in Belize."

"Can we step on it a little, Sam?" Dushenko complained. "Someone will miss her eventually."

"And how many places will they have to look?"

Dushenko glared at Ann. "Somebody's helping her. I'd feel better if you could remember where you'd seen that man on the bus."

"So would I," Cochran muttered.

It slowly dawned on Ann that Dushenko didn't know Cochran's connections. He'd never called him anything but Brewster, so what else didn't he know? She couldn't decide if that was an advantage or not. She longed to look out the back window but didn't dare.

Dushenko gnawed on a thumbnail as they traveled in silence. Was he worried about what was going to happen or only about the logistics of dealing with an extraneous witness? At a red light, Ann considered the handle of her door. Better to risk the traffic then what these two had planned for her. But as she started to slide her hand to the handle, Dushenko glanced at her.

"Don't be stupid," he said, annoyed. "You'd never get out of here before I grabbed you."

"What's she doing?" Cochran asked.

"I think she's considering jumping ship in mid-stream."

"Put a bullet through her foot if she tries anything," Cochran advised casually. Ann swallowed and subsided.

Traffic was heavy on the main road into La Guardia, but it thinned considerably as Cochran turned onto the access for the general aviation area.

He looked into the rearview mirror for several seconds. "Dog," he finally muttered with an unpleasant smile.

"Excuse me?" Dushenko said.

"We have a tail. A large black car that I'd bet good money is the same as the one that helped our Miss Marshall escape last night."

Ann turned with Dushenko to look out the back window. One car back was the Jaguar.

"Who is that?" Dushenko demanded of her.

"I can almost remember," Cochran murmured. He gasped and stared at Ann in the rearview mirror. "You're working for the Company!"

"I am not!" she denied, offended.

"What's Prodigal got to do with this?" Dushenko demanded.

"Not that company, dolt!" Cochran snapped. "God, Robert McCall. And that was Kostmayer on the bus. They always work together."

"What are you talking about?" Dushenko asked plaintively.

"You don't know, do you," Ann said in disbelief.

"Shut up," Cochran told her. "Adam, the database. You read it. Robert McCall. The operations coordinator."

"But he quit! Retired or something. What's he doing here?" Dushenko was halfway to hysterics.

"Odd sort of retirement," Cochran muttered. "Not if Kostmayer's still working with him. He's supposed to be in line for McCall's old job. Did you find him or did he find you?" he snapped at Ann.

"No time, we're almost there," Dushenko said. "We can ask her on the plane."

"If we get there. Adam, you tell the pilot to get ready to leave. I'll have a chat with McCall."

"What about her?"

"Leave her to me. McCall won't try anything with her in the way." Cochran sneered at Ann. "He's a gentleman."

He put on a burst of speed when they reached the hanger area and screeched to a halt next to a small jet. Dushenko jumped out and ran to the plane. Ann thought of making a break for it, but Cochran turned and pointed a gun at her.

"Out, slowly. And stay close. At this range I won't miss, and you've already messed up my average."

A hundred feet behind, Robert pulled his gun when the other car came to a halt. He pulled around and stopped in front of the jet, blocking its path to the runway.

"Go find our reinforcements," he ordered Mickey, who bailed out the passenger door and ran towards the control buildings.

As Robert jumped out, he saw Dushenko run to the plane. Robert leaned across the roof of his car and aimed his gun at Cochran, waiting for the driver's door to open. But he hesitated when the rear door opened first and Ann stepped slowly out.

"Are you all right?" he yelled to her.

She nodded and started to speak, but Cochran slipped out of the car and grabbed her, pulling her in front of him. He shoved the muzzle of his gun against her temple.

"How long she stays in good shape depends on you, McCall," he yelled.

"If you mean that, let her go."

"Move your car first. Where'd Kostmayer go?"

"We've got back-up coming in, you won't get away. Let her go."

Ann, never having been good at passivity, yelled, "They have no intention of letting me go!"

"Shut up, you," Cochran growled. He shifted his grip to her left arm and squeezed. She whimpered before she could stop herself, and her knees almost gave out. "Don't worry, it can get worse." He yanked her upright by her hair, making her yell again.

Robert bit back his fury. New blood was spreading on the bandage around Ann's arm. "You won't get far, Cochran. They know what you're up to. They'll be after you."

"So the bitch is working for you." Cochran started edging for the plane. Ann dug her heels in. "Move it, or I'll put a bullet in you again."

Ann wanted to be brave, but she couldn't help looking desperately at Robert. If she set foot on that plane, she wasn't getting off it alive.

Robert came out from behind his car. He kept listening for reinforcements, but time was running out. "Cochran, give her to me and I'll move the car. I won't stop you."

"You can't stop me anyway. And the girl will tell us what she copied for you."

"I can tell you that. They've got everything, the inventory, the active accounts, the names of everyone you were in contact with. There's nothing Ann can tell you. Let her go." He hated letting them get away, but he had to get Ann out of there. She was trying to look brave, but fear and pain were written large on her face. Sirens sounded faintly, but Robert couldn't tell if they were getting closer.

Dushenko peeked cautiously out the door, his borrowed pistol ready. "Sam, come aboard. The pilot says he can get around. And he wants paid extra for the trouble."

"Later for him. Well, McCall," Cochran grinned, backing up to the steps, "time for us to go. We'll just take the lady along anyway. Why leave witnesses?"

The sirens were getting closer, and off down the taxiway a car raced in their direction. "Hurry up, Sam!" Dushenko yelled.

Cochran got a grip on Ann's shoulder and started pulling her up the stairs. In a final burst of desperate determination, she grabbed the railing and hung back. "They're going to Belize," she shouted. Be damned if she'd die for nothing. "Dushenko doesn't know who Cochran is, but he's read the stuff in the computer--"

"Damn bitch!" Cochran yanked hard on her injured arm. She cried out in agony and collapsed at his feet.

Robert fired, as much to drive Cochran back as in any hope of hitting him. "Ann! Get out of there!"

Don't die on your butt, she thought, and struggled to her feet.

Cochran fired at Robert, then lowered his aim to Ann's face just two feet away. "You're going first," he growled.

Ann dove for his foot as he fired, and she yanked, pulling him off balance.

Dushenko saw the new car slam to a halt beyond McCall's and men with guns pour out the doors. "Sam, come on!" he yelled, diving into the plane. The jet engines began firing up.

Robert fired again to encourage Cochran away from Ann as he ran to her. Cochran made a grab for her that she barely dodged. He abandoned his shield and jumped up the steps as bullets started flying from the new arrivals.

"Stay low," Robert ordered as he grabbed Ann's good arm and pulled her away. "Our side, I hope, is trying to miss us."

Pain and the noise spun in Ann's head, and she clung to Robert as the only thing marginally familiar. She tried to keep up with him, but her knees kept trying to give out. They finally collapsed behind a crate.

"Are you all right?" Robert demanded. Ann nodded shakily. "I'm sorry I couldn't get to you sooner." A bullet ricocheted off the top of the crate, and he pulled her close to him to shield her.

"Who are those people?" she gasped.

"Former colleagues, and any other questions are extremely inadvisable."

"Oh."

The jet's engines whined louder for a few seconds, prompting a fusillade of gunfire, then there was nothing but shouting.

"I told them not to come in like a wild west show," Robert muttered. Sirens came screaming in, causing more shouts.

"Is it over?" Ann asked weakly.

"I certainly hope so." Robert peeked cautiously around the crate. Suits and uniforms were yelling at each other.

Ann focused all her will on getting the bottle of codeine out of her jeans pocket. When she looked into the open bottle she suddenly remembered staring down the barrel of Cochran's gun and seeing his finger tightening. She slid to the ground and shook.

Robert glanced over at her and crouched beside her quickly. "You said you were all right."

"I am," she whispered. "I've never stared down a gun before." Her arm, tired of being ignored, throbbed unpleasantly. "Shit," she muttered. "I'm tired of hurting."

"I know the feeling." He took the pill bottle from her limp hand and shook out two tablets. "Here." He heard footsteps approaching. "Rest while you can, a lot of people are about to demand to know what's going on."

"Hell, they're asking me?"

Robert chuckled but hid it quickly as he stood to face whomever approached.

Control, backed by Mickey and a suit whose crewcut and shades screamed Federal agent, came to a stop near the crate. "Is she all right?" Control asked.

"As well as can be expected after being roughed up," Robert answered, not bothering to hide the displeasure in his voice. He saw the police had withdrawn to the perimeter of the taxiway and were keeping gawkers away. "What about them?" he asked, nodding at the jet.

"The pilot survived. He says Cochran shot Dushenko when Dushenko wanted to surrender, then Cochran held a gun to the pilot's head and told him to get to the runway. One of our men got on the plane and took Cochran down. So now we're left with the subsidiary players."

"Do you still think she was in on it?"

Control shrugged. "I may have misjudged the dynamics of the situation. We need to talk to her." Robert headed for the other side of the crate. "Are you all right?" Control asked.

"Me? Nothing came near me, no thanks to you."

"An overzealous lieutenant."

Ann was deep in one of Sensei Rayburn's preferred meditation techniques, isolating a sense and concentrating on the input. She was working on touch and enjoying the very real and prosaic feel of asphalt beneath her hand when Robert touched her good shoulder. It took a couple of moments to focus on him.

"So is it over?" she asked.

"I think so."

"Thank god," she sighed. "Can I go home now?" His hesitation made her look askance at the men with him.

"You're Ann Marshall?" Control asked.

"Yes," she said suspiciously.

"We need to ask you some questions."

Ann glanced at Robert, who looked somewhat anxious. She licked her lips. "What if I don't want to answer any right now?"

"It would be much simpler if you would."

Her temper suddenly snapped. "Which is what Dushenko told me when he pointed a gun at me and I'm tired of being yelled at and I just want to go home." Pain and fear and confusion finally wore down her resistance, and she started to cry. "Oh, hell."

Robert glared at Control. "Can we do this later?" he said, not as a request.

Control had the grace to look abashed. "No, not really. Miss Marshall, the sooner you tell me what I need to know, the sooner you can go home." He looked her over. "And I think an ambulance would be the best place for the conversation. Morenci, go find an ambulance we can commandeer." The silent suit left.

Robert crouched down beside Ann once again. "Oh, dear," he said, looking at her arm.

"How bad is it?" Ann asked softly, ashamed at her lack of control.

"Not as bad as it was, if that's any comfort. You might need some stitches replaced."

"Damn. And all my stuff's still at the hospital, I never checked out, people are going to be wondering where the hell I am, and what am I going to tell them this time?" She shoved the knuckle of her thumb between her teeth and bore down, determined not to cry again.

"I'll take care of it," Robert told her, resting a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Morenci returned. "Boss, there's a police captain here who wants to know what's going on. He wants to talk to whomever's in charge."

Control sighed. "Robert, see she gets patched up, and don't leave."

With officialdom gone, Robert sat down beside Ann. "He's not as bad as he seems," he told her.

Ann felt three years old again. "I want to go home," she muttered.

"You will. Stand up now and we'll get your arm repatched." He stood and held his hand out. After a petulant moment she took it and let him help her up.

Mickey, looking mortified, came up. "Ms. Marshall, I'm sorry--"

"Please, don't," she said. She didn't have the energy for apologies. "God know what he would have done to get me out of there." She wobbled and grabbed at Robert to stay upright.

"Mickey, where's that ambulance?" Robert demanded.

Mickey, grateful to be of use, glanced toward the chaos around the jet. An agency morgue wagon had pulled up next to the door, and several people were backing down the stairs carrying one end of a long black bag. An ambulance was on the other side of the morgue wagon. "Let me go get it," Mickey said. "She shouldn't go wandering over there just now."

Robert looked over and nodded grimly. "You're right. Go ahead."

"It hasn't even been three days since I called you," Ann said when Mickey was gone. She was just a computer geek. All she'd done was her job, and people started shooting at her. "I'm going to go home and it'll seem like nothing has happened."

Robert recognized the signs of shell shock and put an arm around her carefully. "And you'll have to tell lies to the people who care about what happens to you and no one will understand why you're so upset."

She heard the bitterness in his voice but didn't comment. A lot of things she couldn't comment on. "So it just sits in my head in a corner and I can't do anything about it."

"I'm afraid so."

With a sigh, Ann decided to be weak for a little while and rested her head on his shoulder, not thinking about anything.

Robert watched the scene by the jet. Two body bags came out and disappeared into the wagon, which drove off quickly. Control had dismissed the police captain and was currently directing the investigation of the car the fugitives had arrived in. Mickey paused to talk to him, then they moved to the ambulance and had a brief, pointed discussion with the driver. The driver scooted over and Mickey took the wheel as Control climbed in the back.

"They're on their way," Robert said to Ann. She nodded silently.

Mickey backed the ambulance into position, and the rear doors swung open.

"This is highly irregular!" someone inside said loudly.

"Most things in life are, doctor," Control said calmly. "Right now you have a patient. Robert?"

Ann climbed in the ambulance, fighting back anxiety caused by the hospital smells. She sat on a gurney and proceeded to zone out on the world. Robert sat next to her to supervise both the treatment and the debriefing.

Control looked at him, amused. "I'm not going to eat her," he said mildly.

"No, you're not," Robert agreed pleasantly.

Mickey glanced back from the driver's seat and assessed the situation. "Go take a walk," he told the driver, who went quickly. He'd seen enough for his taste anyway.

The EMT muttered to himself as he unwrapped Ann's arm. The words "gang war" and "intolerable" were heard. Ann's only reaction was to go paler than she already was. Robert quietly took her free hand and felt her grip it tightly.

"What happened to Dushenko and Cochran?" she suddenly asked.

"They didn't make it," Control said flatly.

Ann stared at him a moment, then closed her eyes to hide the odd grief she felt. She remembered the company picnic last month, long before all this had started. Dushenko had been working the crowd, being an obsequious jerk but doing it well. He'd even taken a turn at bat in the softball game. He'd hit a homer, of course. Ann had hung out with a couple of her engineering friends, making nasty cynical jokes about him and wondering if he'd dress up as Santa Claus for the Christmas party. Now he was dead. No more homers, no more working the crowd. He wouldn't have stopped Cochran from hurting her, but she hadn't wanted him dead.

She barely winced when the doctor gave her a shot of a local anaesthetic for her arm, and ten minutes later, when he started putting in sutures, she didn't even blink. Pain was becoming commonplace.

"She should be in a hospital," the EMT said, for form's sake.

"Yes, doctor," Control answered, also for form's sake. "Are you almost done?"

He nodded grumpily. "I'm just putting the bandages on now."

"Excellent. Then it would be a good idea for you to get some exercise."

The EMT snarled quietly and finished quickly. "Make sure a doctor checks this in a couple of days," he told Ann, who nodded slowly. He looked around at the silent people watching him, harumphed, then went out the back doors.

Mickey checked the side mirrors. "He's clear."

"Thank you, Mickey," Control said. "Miss Marshall, tell me everything you know about this."

Ann stared at him. "I'm assuming you don't need to know from the day I was hired." Control raised an eyebrow at her tone. "And when I'm done I go home." It was not a question.

"Miss Marshall--"

"Or I go home now. And if I don't reappear soon, my mother will be worried, my lawyer will be frantic, my brother will call the police, and somewhere along the line my cousin the U.S. Senator, who calls me every few weeks to bitch about bureaucrats, will hear about it." She looked at the quiet man across from her and didn't need to wonder who he was, not if he was giving Mickey orders, and demanding--and getting--explanations from Robert. She didn't particularly care anymore.

Control glanced at Robert, whose mildly amused expression was not helpful. He looked back at the girl, who still had that very calm, very serious look in her eyes. Yes, she did have a U.S. Senator for a cousin, and he was, unfortunately, on some committees that could cause problems. And Control did not put it past her to have some way of triggering trouble. Why had she called Robert, of all people? Couldn't she have found someone else to help her? And he was looking far too pleased at her attitude. Not good. Finally, Control sighed.

"Yes, Miss Marshall, when you're done you can go home. Now, if you please, will you tell me everything relevant you know regarding what Cochran and Dushenko were up to?"

Ann proceeded to do just that, sparing not a jot of technicalese. The man whose name she hadn't been told never batted an eye. Finally her voice gave out as she told about Dushenko's appearance in her hospital room.

"I think that's enough," Robert said.

Control nodded. "Did either of them say anything useful on your way here?"

Ann shook her head as she massaged her throat.

"Ah, well. I'm sure we'll get what we need from that information you got for us." He glanced at Mickey, then stood. "Robert, I'll need to chat with you later."

"All right."

"Thank you again, Miss Marshall. You've done a great service to your country." With that he left.

Mickey came back from the driver's seat as Robert heaved a sigh of relief. "Well, that's it, I guess. I'm glad you made it through OK--relatively speaking."

Ann swallowed and got most of her voice back. "I wouldn't have if not for you and Robert. Thank you."

Mickey shrugged. "You do what you can." He looked at Robert. "I've got work to do."

Robert nodded. "So do I. I'll see you later."

"Take care of yourself," Mickey said to Ann, then he followed his boss out the back door.

 

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