Part 4

Ann waited till they were out of Mark's neighborhood and headed to the ferry before asking more questions. "Where are we going?"

"ATF," Robert replied, keeping half his attention for his mirrors and possible pursuit. Despite his jaunty dismissal of dangers, police involvement just now would be very inconvenient.

The car phone rang.

"McCall."

"It's me," Mickey's sleepy voice said. "The place is clean."

"Did you check the roof? That was the preferred target."

"Basement to roof. This is a big house. Were we safe in assuming that it would be in plain sight in an out of the way corner? We left the books on the shelves."

"Yes, according to his plans, he was going to put an incendiary on the roof or through the skylight."

"Nothing up there, but I did see some scuff marks that were pretty recent. Was anybody up there at Halloween?"

"No, we locked the trap door. Damn him," Robert muttered. He glanced reassuringly at Ann, who was listening intently.

"Damn who, McCall?"

"Mark Schaeffer, an executive at Schaeffer & Marshall, an embezzler and the Broadcast Bomber."

"All one guy?"

"He's the talented sort. Special Forces in 'Nam."

"Which unit?"

"The 9th."

Mickey swore. "The Crazy Angels. They'd do things nobody else even thought of."

Robert nodded. "I thought they sounded familiar. Mickey, we don't know where he is. Stay there, keep an eye out. Ann is the only planned out target he hasn't hit yet. Who's with you?"

"Jimmy. Tell Ann I'll pay for the coffee pot."

Robert hesitated for half a moment. "All right. Put someone on the roof, but if he hasn't done anything yet it should be all right. He'll have to be at work soon." He saw the ferry dock ahead. The metropolis was beginning to waken: at a quarter to five, a line of cars was waiting to board. Robert knew he was in no shape to drive but there was a little way to go yet.

"McCall, you still there?"

"Yes, I'm here. It's been a long night."

"You going to pack it in soon?"

Robert smiled at the note of concern. "I hope so. Weren't you going to be on vacation?"

"I'm leaving in a couple days. Debriefing. Good thing for you I was here."

"I'd have found someone."

"I'm just the first you think of when there's dirty work to do."

"As a matter of fact, yes. I'll call you later."

"Yeah. Good night."

"Good night."

As Robert hung up the phone, Ann looked to the east. Out across the Narrows and the harbor, a faint wash of pinkish-grey defined the horizon. When was the last time she'd stayed up to see the dawn?

When they were secure on the ferry, she got out of the car and went to the rail. Manhattan was an unreal forest of concrete in the slowly fading dark. Ann thought on the tales of creatures out and about on their evil work who ran screeching for shelter at the approach of dawn. But it would be dark for hours yet in the city canyons, and in some corners the sunlight would never hit the ground. Only the tops of the towers would see the gilding daylight.

"It's not right," she said as Robert joined her at the rail.

"What isn't?" The dawn was always a little unreal to Robert, too, and he heard a thoughtful tone in his lover's voice that was at odds with the events of the night.

"It shouldn't be only the people who can afford the heights who get to see the sun."

"Not all those heights are worth paying for. And there's always the parks. Central Park will always be there so everyone can see the sun."

"True. Bless the people who knew we'd always need somewhere green."

Robert put his arms around her, and they stood at the rail to watch the city in the slowly gathering light.

They both gathered breath for the last stage as they drove off the ferry at the Manhattan dock. Robert had called ahead to ATF, and Bryson had been summoned from his home to meet them. He arrived at his office just ahead of Robert and Ann.

Bryson stared blearily across his desk at Robert. "The one night I go home, and you haul me in." He slurped his coffee. "My wife knows who to blame."

"My apologies to your wife." Robert sipped his coffee.

"Have you been to bed at all tonight? You look wrecked."

"I feel wrecked."

"Where's the lady?"

Robert smiled wearily. "She made the mistake of sitting down on your reception area sofa and relaxing. She's asleep."

"Lucky. So whadda you got? Did you find Ferlazzo?"

The newest revelations were so large in Robert's mind that he'd almost forgotten the small fry. "Ferlazzo is old news, Timothy."

Bryson looked at him narrowly. "Don't be making deals I can't back up. You said you could deliver Ferlazzo."

"You don't want him. Wouldn't you rather have the Broadcast Bomber?"

"Of course, but--" Bryson stared at him. "You know who it is? Can you prove it?" He shook himself. "Tell me everything."

Robert laid out everything they'd found, glossing over a few incidental points like why Ferlazzo was willing to talk and how they'd gotten into Mark Schaeffer's computer.

Bryson listened raptly, eyes blinking every now and then like a frog's. "I can't arrest him on that, you know," he said when Robert was finished.

"But you have enough information to get a warrant to search his house and computer. Say one of your informants brought you the news, say Ann gave you the lead from the embezzlement case."

"Look, the embezzlement angle goes to the FBI. They do money, I do bang-bangs." He rubbed his eyes. "God, I'm tired. Please note that I am not asking how you know what's on his home computer. Continue to not volunteer that information. I don't want to have to arrest you and Ms. Marshall." He thought a while. "Yeah, I can get an exploratory warrant and can invite him in for questioning. We'll go from the angle of the Special Forces background and him having the best access for the money games. Did you see any explosives?"

"Timothy, what would I have been doing in his house to have noticed such a thing?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry."

"But my best guess would be that he has a storage facility or warehouse somewhere he's using for the actual fabrication." Robert shook his head to try and clear his thoughts. He hadn't pulled such an active all-nighter like this in years. "I'm not sure where to find him. You can't just go bashing into his house."

"Don't you watch the news? We do it all the time. Don't make those kinds of faces at me." Bryson stood. "Robert, you've done a hero's work, you and the lady both. Go home, you deserve your rest."

They both paused at the office door. Out in the reception area, Ann was stretched out on the sofa. Bryson chuckled at the image of the hard-edged night creature snatching rest while she could, wrapped in leather and chains, boots on the arm of the sofa, looking more like someone sleeping off a bender than anything else.

He glanced at Robert to share his amusement, but hesitated at the look of grim love and desperate protectiveness on the man's face.

Robert only saw how exhausted Ann was, the lines of tension and fear that were still etched on her face. But before he could be consumed with worry and guilt for the danger she found at his side, he remembered how proud he'd been of her competent support through the long night. It was only when the action stopped that the paralyzing worry hit. Otherwise he gave her instructions and knew he didn't have to be concerned about whether they'd be carried out. But he was glad he could finally take her home.

Bryson cleared his throat. "Under the rose, Robert, what else do you know?"

"Under the rose? He has a gun with him currently, and I believe he was setting Ferlazzo up to take the fall for Nate Marshall and the Broadcast Bomber. I've told Ferlazzo to lay low and I'll be keeping an eye on him."

"He did set that bomb at the bank."

"Yes, but his contact swore to him that no one would be there. I'm trying to give Schaeffer the benefit of the doubt and believe that he was just trying to cover his embezzlement tracks and that he wasn't waiting for Ann to go in there."

"You know I'm going to need better evidence to make this stick."

"His home computer is very incriminating. Would you like the password to get in?"

"How did you get into a passworded computer?"

"I didn't, she did." Robert walked to the sofa and reached down to brush a hair off Ann's face.

"Is she going to be OK at home?"

"Oh, yes. I have two of my people there now making sure everything's all right." He shook her arm gently, where she'd tucked her hands inside her jacket sleeves. "Wake up, Ann."

She muttered something that was probably obscene.

"Come on, now, love, your bed and your cats are waiting."

Ann pried an eyelid open and glared at him. "Why did you let me sleep?"

"Because you're very, very tired. Come on, get up."

She bitched and complained when her hands got stuck in her sleeves and stumbled after Robert to the elevator.

"I'll let you know what happens, Robert," Bryson said. "Good night, Ms. Marshall, and thank you."

"Yeah," she muttered, and walked into the elevator when the door opened.

"You are unpleasant when you haven't slept," Robert commented, amused.

"Warned you." She leaned against him and muttered sleepily. He put his arms around her and promised himself several hours' oblivion in the very near future.

The morning rush hour had begun, and the streets were full of sleepy people dragging their way to work. A pushy cab clipped the left front bumper of the Jaguar, and Robert actually thought for half a second of how pleasant it would be to put a bullet in the cab's radiator.

In Chelsea, Mickey's van was grotesquely out of place. People walking past it on their way to the subway station gave it suspicious looks. One powerbroker actually stopped and stared as Robert pulled up in front of Ann's garage and she got out with a faint jingle of chains.

"Good morning, Mr. Snyder," she said wearily as she headed for the door.

Mr. Snyder moved on quickly.

Mickey met them halfway down the first floor hallway. "Good god, what does the guy who lost look like?"

"Blissfully unaware that BATF is at this moment arranging a thorough search of his house." Robert helped the grumpily sleepy Ann off with her jacket. "Where's Jimmy?"

"On the roof, till further orders." He looked apologetic. "Annie, I hate to say it, but a message that sounded important came over your machine ten minutes ago. Something about a steering committee meeting at the bank."

"Bugger it and them sideways," she snapped, and stomped to the stairs.

Mickey waited till she was gone to grin. "She reminds me of the way someone else I know acts when they haven't slept."

"Just remember that." Robert felt scruffy, thumped on, and cranky. He reminded himself not to take it out on anybody. "I'd like to send you and Jimmy home, but I'm not up to guard duty and Schaeffer is still unaccounted for. Bryson can't pull him in just on my say-so. But are you all right?"

A more familiar glint of happy madness was beginning to come back into Mickey's eyes. "Pretty much. I got lots of sleep. Which is what you need now." He followed Robert up the stairs to the atrium.

Robert glanced at the skylight. No sign of Jimmy up there, but then there wouldn't be. He hoped Jimmy was keeping warm up there. The growing brightness of the sky beyond emphasized Robert's weariness.

Ann came stomping out of the kitchen. "A meeting has been called for eight o'clock of the steering committee," she snapped. "Uncle Andrew says I should be there because, first, I can speak for Nate and myself, and, second, Cousin Mark reminded him that I'm good with computers and we need to talk about computer security. Uncle Andrew is very pleased that Cousin Mark is taking such an interest in the running of the bank."

"Damn it," Robert muttered wearily. "And he's had most of a night's sleep. Beg off, Ann. Timothy will have enough information soon to grab him, and he's in a very convenient place. Our work is done."

Ann was very, very tempted. A shower, a bed, not to be moving anymore . . . "I have to go. He's family. I can't turn him in without letting the family know." She rubbed her eyes. "Besides, if he's calling this meeting, odds are he's got something unpleasant planned."

"True enough," Robert added. "Follow-through and tying loose ends."

"I'd make us some coffee, but the pot's gone from the coffee maker."

"Oh, yeah," Mickey said. "Don't worry, I'll get you a new one."

Ann started to ask for an explanation, then shook her head. "I've got a bottle of Vivarin somewhere. OK, what's the plan?"

"Who will be there?" Robert asked.

"Uncle Andrew, Great-Uncle Isaac, Cousin Samuel, Cousin Bob, Mona van der Heffen--"

"What, she's not related?" Mickey asked.

"Huh?"

"Never mind," Robert said. "You have time for a shower, Ann."

"I'll do better with food, but you're welcome to one."

"I need to call Timothy and talk to Mickey and Jimmy."

Ann nodded, and they went off.

Mickey, after a serious look at Robert, declared he was driving. Robert agreed. Mickey blinked at the easy acquiescence.

Ann hadn't bothered to change. She knew that once she went upstairs for fresh clothes, the bed would waylay her. Three Vivarins had given her enough artificial energy to focus on what Robert was telling her in the car.

"Timothy will have people at the bank just in case. They'll be waiting for us. Will I be able to get into the meeting with you?"

"No, these meetings are usually members only. Mark will be there as special consultant." Her mind was working again. "Do you think he'll try anything?"

"I don't know. Be careful, he may still be armed." Robert glared out the car windows. "I wish I knew if he knows he's been blown. This is either a trail-covering maneuver or an attempt at violent coercion. He's been very smart so far."

"Did he really blow up those other banks to cover his butt?" Mickey asked.

"It appears so."

"Cool," Mickey commented.

"You're a sick puppy, Mickey," Ann said.

"I'm not the one going into a board meeting in leather and chains. I knew I liked her, McCall."

Robert, so far gone into tiredness that he was beginning to feel good, only chuckled.

Mickey found a parking spot half a block away from the bank. As Robert and Mickey fell in behind her, Ann let herself smirk. Uncle Isaac had his entourage, she had hers. So this was the heady taste of power.

The guard at the front desk was the same one from the night of Ferlazzo's bomb. He blinked a little as Ann cruised past the checkpoint, but when he saw the competent way Mickey and Robert scanned the lobby he kept his opinions to himself.

Robert tapped Ann's arm and nodded to a pair of men in suits standing near the newsstand on the far side of the lobby. He led the way over.

"Murdoch and Sutro," said the older of the pair. "Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms."

They started to reach for their ID's, but Robert stopped them. "No need, I'd recognize the regulation haircut anywhere."

Murdoch scowled faintly, but Sutro fought down a grin. Mickey made a note to look up Agent Sutro for an intermural bitch session.

"Mr. Bryson sent us," Murdoch continued. "He told us to do what you told us." He was obviously displeased by those instructions.

"Excellent. The lady is about to go into a committee meeting wherein one of the participants is the prime suspect for being the Broadcast Bomber. I assume you have some means of communications with Bryson?"

"He gave us beepers," Sutro volunteered. "When they go off we're to move on the suspect."

Murdoch glared at him. "Will you be able to give us a positive ID?"

Ann smiled. "That'll be my job, I imagine."

"And you are?" Murdoch asked, clearly unimpressed the battered look of a woman in black leather who had been up all night.

She began to understand why Robert enjoyed messing with the heads of federal representatives. "I'm a member of the board of directors of this bank." She glanced at her watch. "And I have ten minutes to get up there. Uncle Andrew prizes promptness."

"Right," Robert said. "You two stay with me. Mickey, keep an eye out down here, I'll call you if he makes a break for it. Ann, after you."

She'd been to any number of meetings in the fifth-floor conference room, but never had she felt this sense of strength. She knew she should be worried about Mark, but with this kind of back-up she felt she could deal with anything.

"Excuse me," said the receptionist on the fifth floor as Ann and her entourage started across the reception area. "May I help you?"

"I have a meeting in three minutes, Patricia," Ann said briskly. "These men are with me."

"Miss--Miss Marshall?"

"Where's the conference room?" Robert asked, letting Patricia deal with her own problems.

"Just around the corner. There are chairs nearby. Uncle Andrew, hello."

Andrew Marshall turned, then stared. "What is the meaning of this?"

With her brother in the hospital and a bomber in the boardroom, Ann's priorities had shifted. "I've had a very long night, Uncle Andrew. Be glad I'm here at all. Is there any news on Nate?"

"He's stable and out of ICU."

Robert squeezed Ann's shoulder as she breathed a prayer of thanks. "Uncle Andrew, you're going to have to trust me for a little bit. Is Mark Schaeffer inside yet?"

"Yes, he was the first in. We're just waiting on you and Isaac." He glanced at Robert and the two strangers as they glanced at each other. "Ann, what--"

"Forgive my tardiness," Isaac Schaeffer said as he creaked down the hallway in the company of his two silent bodyguards. The ATF men sized them up immediately and were categorized in return. Isaac looked at Robert curiously. "To what do we owe the pleasure of your company this morning, Mr. McCall?"

"The matter we spoke of, Mr. Schaeffer."

"Ah. Does it near resolution? Will you want to address the meeting?"

Andrew looked perplexed and annoyed at being left out. "What matter, Isaac?"

Isaac waved him off.

"I believe Ann can tell you everything you'll need to know, Mr. Schaeffer," Robert said with a faint, relieved smile at dealing with a man who knew the procedures.

Isaac looked at Ann and paused a few seconds. Ann braced herself: She could ignore Andrew's condemnation, but Isaac had a nasty vocabulary when he wanted. She hated it when he sighed and muttered in Yiddish.

"Women's fashions change so quickly," was all he said. "Andrew, would you get the door? We're late. Young Anastasia, your arm, please, I'm feeling frail this morning."

"Of course, Great-Uncle Isaac." She didn't believe him for a second, but she appreciated the escort in. She glanced at Robert, who nodded encouragingly.

Robert sighed as the boardroom doors closed behind the directors. "Now we wait."

Murdoch nodded briefly. "Sutro, you're on duty," he said tersely when he saw his partner chatting with the bodyguard wearing the yarmulke.

"Later, Yigal," Sutro grinned, and he went to sit next to his partner.

Even with Isaac's demonstrated approval, Ann saw a raft of disapproving looks when she entered the boardroom. Isaac gestured her into Nate's usual chair at the left hand of the head of the table, where he gingerly sat down.

Mona van der Heffen, the only non-family member of the committee and fully cognizant of what that meant, was at Ann's left hand. She leaned closer as everyone got settled. "Really, Ann," she whispered, "just because you're family--"

"Save it, Mona, I don't have time for that this morning." Ann ignored Mona's look of shock and scanned the table. Mark Schaeffer, looking as mild-mannered as ever, occupied a seat near the end of the table. He looked back at her, his displeased look the same as everyone else's. Ann doubted herself for a few seconds, then she remembered what she'd seen in his computer.

Isaac cleared his throat. "Andrew, you requested this meeting, you may begin."

"Thank you, Isaac. Well, we all know what's been going on around here. It's apparent our security procedures are in dire need of review. Mark Schaeffer, our IS chief, asked me to call this meeting to discuss some changes he'd like to make to the computers to enhance security. Yes, Bob?"

Bob Sinclair, related through a daughter of Isaac's, cleared his throat. "What's the word on Nate?"

"He's stable and out of ICU," Andrew answered.

"But what happened?" Bob asked through the relieved mutters.

"We're not certain yet--"

"A letter-bomb was delivered to his house," Ann interrupted quietly. "I talked to an ATF man at the hospital last night." She watched Mark out of the corner of her eye. His hand had clenched slightly at her mention of talking to ATF.

"A letter-bomb?" Mona gasped. "Good God, there's a madman after us."

"Oh, I don't think he's mad. I think he has a very specific agenda."

Bob was persistent. "Is this connected to that bomb you found the other night?"

An eon ago, it seemed. "Yes and no. It's part of the same plot, but the man who set that bomb here didn't send the letter-bomb."

"How do you know?" Andrew asked.

"I talked to that guy last night after the hospital. He was hired to set the bomb in the server room by a man who wanted him to make bombs for Nate and me." In the midst of the hubbub of disbelief, Ann saw Mark calmly pull out his laptop computer and slide over to the phone jack in the wall. "I wouldn't bother, Mark, ATF is at your house by now, and I told them to seize your computer."

Silence fell in the boardroom.

Mark stared at her and attempted a smile. "What are you talking about? I'm just going to log into the network."

"Uh huh. And modem over to your house and wipe those files you have on the security system here and at those other banks. Not to mention your plans of Nate's and my house."

"You couldn't possibly know what's on my computer--"

"Password Raquel, and where did you get that appalling screen saver?"

"Damn you," he whispered. He got slowly to his feet, and Ann rose too.

"Mark, what is she talking about?" Isaac demanded of his grandson. "Anastasia, what are you insinuating?"

"What I'm saying, clearly and unequivocally," Ann stated calmly, never taking her eyes from Mark, "is that Mark Schaeffer hired the bomber who was here the night before last, and he sent last night's letter-bomb to Nate. I also suspect he's the Broadcast Bomber who's been blowing up banks to cover his embezzlements."

Isaac had seen many betrayals, but never one from within his own family. And he didn't know which relative to believe. "Mark, is she right?"

"Shut up, old man." The .45 Robert had wondered about appeared in Mark's hand.

"Dammit," Ann muttered. The rest of the committee was too flabbergasted at this invasion of the mean streets into their sanctuary to notice.

"Now see here--" Andrew blustered, starting to his feet.

The gun started towards him.

"Uncle Andrew, sit down!" Ann snapped. "He's already tried to kill Nate, he won't hesitate to shoot."

"You're right," Mark said. He started backing towards the door, then hesitated. "Who's out there? McCall?"

Ann swore to herself. She'd been hoping he'd quietly back into the waiting trap. "Yes. And two ATF agents waiting for the signal to arrest you. It's too late." The gun centered on her chest, and she wondered in passing if having guns pointed at you ever got easier.

"It's never too late. I guess I need a hostage. Come here."

"Oh, like hell! After the plans I saw of how you planned to blow up my house?"

The muzzle of the gun lowered fractionally. "I always hit what I aim for. I'm currently aiming at your liver. Gut-shot is a slow way to go. Now come here."

He knew she was a brown belt, Ann thought. Once she was in his hands, he'd be expecting trouble from her and her life expectancy would drop drastically. "No way," she said, concentrating on his trigger finger. "Marshalls can afford good doctors."

"Marshalls can--" He raised the gun to head level and pulled the trigger.

Ann was already diving out of the way, but across the table, not back. The bullet slammed through the thin interior wall, shattering the framed print on the other side and going on to bury itself in the wall above the just-vacated desk of a secretary who'd gone after her morning doughnut. The screams started a micro-second later.

Robert snapped out of the half-doze forced inactivity had tripped him into. He was moving towards the boardroom door before the realization of a gunshot filtered down through all his brain.

Mark tried to get a second aim on Ann as she hit the floor next to Andrew, but she rolled too quickly for him to track. Special Forces instincts spurred him away from the door just as they were kicked open by Robert, with the ATF and Isaac's bodyguards right behind. All five men had guns out and were scanning for a target.

Mark sprinted to the head of the table, where he yanked Isaac back against his chair and held the gun to his head.

"All right, let's all just power down, here," he ordered.

"Ann, where are you?" Robert demanded.

"Yeah, get out here where I can see you, bitch," Mark growled.

"Mark!" Isaac gasped.

"Shut up!"

Ann crawled slowly from under the table, her balance gathered and all her attention on Mark. Robert looked her over carefully, but didn't relax. Yigal and his partner were statues with their pistols trained on Mark's forehead.

Mark looked around the room and smiled briefly. "Andrew, you and the other look positively poleaxed. Is it starting to dawn on you that all your money can't stop a bullet aimed at your heart?"

"Or a bomb sent by a jealous bastard?" Ann growled.

"Ann," Robert breathed disapprovingly. He took a deep breath. "You can't get away." Did anyone ever believe it? "These are federal agents," he went on.

Murdoch took a half-step forward. "Mark Schaeffer, I am Agent Murdoch of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right--"

"You have the right to scrape my grandfather's brains off that wall if you don't get out of my way."

"Shooting me won't do you any good," Isaac said calmly. "Pull that trigger, and Yigal and Moshe will drop you where you stand." He smiled reassuringly at his bodyguards, then he caught Ann's startled look. "Oh, it's all right, my dear. I've had guns pointed at me before--thought it has been fifty years."

Mark was losing patience. He got an armlock around Isaac's throat. "Old bones snap easy, old man," he growled, tracking the pistol around the room. He settled on Ann as a target. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but to get into my house you had to break in."

"File a complaint from Riker's Island. I'll get a suspended sentence."

"I really do dislike you," Mark snarled. "Walking into whatever you want, expecting the world to roll on its back, sitting in this room as if you'd ever done anything to deserve it, and all because a rich man was your daddy."

"How do you think you got in here, competence?" Ann took a step forward. "Your father had just as much money as mine. If your name weren't Schaeffer you'd be peddling encyclopedias door to door."

"Ann," Robert said desperately, "don't argue with men pointing guns at you."

She got a grip on herself. "Mark, the Feds have everything: the links to that Swiss bank, the notes on the security systems, the accounts--if you did make it out of here you've got nowhere to go. Everything you've set up is gone. Dude, you're screwed."

"And you'll just stroll smugly home. I don't think so."

Ann reminded herself that behind her this time was a wall of windows. He'd tried to kill her brother: her hands would take him down.

"Don't!" Robert yelled. He was watching Mark's hands and eyes as closely as she was, and he saw the way Ann gathered herself.

But Mark had already decided that nothing would make him happier in prison than contemplating his overly-privileged cousin's corpse. She moved just as he pulled the trigger. She dodged to the left and spared an instant to thank God the Magnum wasn't on automatic. The sound of exploding glass came from behind her, and she got her hand on his wrist before he could fire again. She shoved the gun towards the floor, then took great satisfaction in dislocating his wrist.

Special Forces, however, trains its men to fight on even with awful injuries. Mark grabbed a handful of leather and threw Ann into the wall. He abandoned Isaac to hold on and follow his target. He hadn't expected a fair fight, but he was ready.

He avoided Ann's hooking foot and drove his fist towards her kidneys. She twisted away from most of it, but not all. Before the pain could distract her she chopped back with her left elbow into his stomach and grabbed for his genitals.

He jumped out of the way of the crooked fingers that jabbed hard into his thigh and inwards--straight into Robert, who had finally cleared the traffic to get into the fight. Robert's pistol barrel jammed against the back of his neck.

"I'm tired of you," Robert growled. He grabbed Mark's dislocated wrist and squeezed persuasively. Mark choked and went limp. "Ann, are you all right?"

"I think so," she gasped. She saw Mark was contained, and another view of Nate in the hospital flashed across her memory. She hit him across the face as hard as she could.

"Stop it!" Robert ordered. He didn't blame her, but he was disconcerted to find this capacity for sheer revenge. "Murdoch!"

The Feds took custody of the prisoner, who was swearing in between nursing his wrist and broken nose. Murdoch continued reading him his rights and they escorted him out of the conference room and into the buzzingly curious outer office.

Andrew finally remembered to breathe, and he hurried to Isaac, who hadn't stirred from his chair. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, yes," the old man said querulously. Yigal and Moshe were hovering very close.

Andrew looked around the room. The board members were still in their chairs, still frozen in shock and disbelief. All the board members but one, that is. Ann leaned on one fist braced on the table while her other hand probed gingerly at her back. Robert, having smoothly returned his pistol to concealment under his jacket, hovered over her. She nodded tiredly, then straightened slowly. The chains on her leather jacket jingled as she flexed her shoulders and winced. Andrew glanced at the gouges on the mahogany conference table where Ann has rolled out of the way of Mark's bullet. And he remembered how she'd charged Mark as he'd held a gun on her, and how hard she'd hit the wall when he'd thrown her.

At age nineteen, she'd been the star of the debutante ball, perfectly poised and gracious. Andrew wondered if this fighter had even then hidden under the expected demure Marshall exterior. He made a note to himself to pay more attention to his daughters and try to find what lurked behind their well-behaved exteriors.

Bob Sinclair cleared throat, breaking Andrew's train of thought. "Well, now what the hell do we do?" He looked at Robert. "You seem to know what's going on, you and Ann."

Ann laughed wryly. "Well, I think we can consider our security problem taken care of. I don't know if ATF will let you have his computer, and the FBI will probably want to see those international connections. Turn the accountants loose on his computer here."

"If we can get in," Bob muttered. "The entire computer section is probably corrupt. Ann, can't you get into it for us?"

Robert saw her consider the question. "No. You've been up all night. And you're hurting."

"It's not that bad--"

"No, Ann. The police and the feds are going to be all over us soon enough. You're going home." He glanced around the table, meeting all the avidly curious stares and admitting nothing. He wondered briefly what the fallout of this would be on his and Ann's relationship. "Do what damage control that you need to, but Ann is going home."

Andrew started to protest the usurpation of authority of a non-member, but he was overruled. "Very well," Isaac said, wearing that slight smile that always said he knew more than everyone else about what was going on. "But we'll need to talk to you, Anastasia."

"I know." Ann leant wearily on both fists. "I'll call you when I'm functional."

"Very good. Mr. McCall, please make sure that she's taken care of."

"I will." Robert took Ann's arm and smoothly escorted her out of the boardroom. The office staff was still huddled around, whispering. Sutro of the ATF glanced up from his phone conversation, but Robert waved him back and kept moving. An elevator was waiting, and he grabbed it.

When they were finally alone, he grabbed Ann's shoulders and glared at her. "You charged his bloody gun! What were you thinking?"

She could have gone without the reminder. "That no one else in that room was in any position to take him down. You were too far away."

"Dear God. That first shot. Was that you?"

She sighed. "I was making sure he kept his anger aimed at someone who could deal with it rather than at one of those paper warriors up there."

"You goaded him into shooting." Robert tried to stay calm.

"Robert, except for Uncle Andrew getting all blustery, when they saw that gun they all froze like rabbits. When I saw it, all I thought was 'Dammit, now I have to get past that, too.'" She shook her head as she thought of the looks she'd gotten. "I wonder if any of them have even ever seen a gun used in anger before."

The elevator dinged and slowed for the lobby. Robert took a firm grip on her arm. "Isaac Schaeffer, apparently."

"Yes, I'm going to have to get to know Great-Uncle Isaac better."

 

 

The next ten hours, once Mickey drove them back to Ann's house, were spent comatose, and then the sorting of hysterical demands for information began. Bryson was willing to meet Ann and Robert at O'Phelan's to listen to their statements between bites of a huge dinner. The Securities and Exchange Commission, on the other hand, wanted Ann in their office first thing in the morning, despite Schaeffer & Marshall's demand that she help them untangle Mark's computer first. The Feds won that round by declaring the computer to be evidence and denying access until they'd sorted out the felony tracks for themselves.

Robert bowed out of the federal adventures and spent his efforts with his friend Nathan, setting Joey Ferlazzo up in his chance at a new life.

On Sunday morning, the phone rang at Ann's house, interrupting the peaceful celebration that the Feds had too much data to play with to bother two tired people.

"It's under there somewhere," Ann said, digging through the tangled Sunday New York Times and blankets and cats on the bed.

"It's louder over here." Robert pushed past a shoal of want ads and come up with the cordless receiver. He handed it to Ann. "Forgive me for not answering your phone, it could be your mother."

"Eek." She braced herself and pushed Talk. "Hello?"

"Good morning, young Anastasia."

"Great-Uncle Isaac! Uh, good morning." She stared at Robert.

"I won't take up your time too long, I imagine you have other plans for this lovely morning. Would you and Mr. McCall be available to come to tea with me this afternoon? There are things we need to discuss."

"Well, I'll have to check with him, but I think we could be there. What time?"

"Four o'clock would be lovely. I hope to see you then. Good day, Anastasia."

"Good day."

Robert took the phone from her and hid it in the night stand. "What does Reb Isaac want with us?"

"Tea at four. Will you be available?"

He tugged her back down against his side. "I imagine so. They say one should take rest breaks occasionally."

"Oh, why?" she sighed.

They were much more content with the world when they drove across the Brooklyn Bridge that afternoon. Ann has assumed a more conservative costume for this encounter with a member of her family. Robert couldn't help chuckling.

"What's so funny?" she asked, not minding this symptom of his good spirits. He was so often grim and intense that she would be the butt of any number of amusements if she could see him smile.

"I was just wondering if any of your family would fall again for this meek, respectable facade you put up."

"I hope so. I don't want to spend the holidays having people making signs against the evil eye when they see me."

They drove around Bedford-Sty and on into the Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn. Isaac Schaeffer lived on the fringes of the Orthodox communities, close enough to attend regular services but far enough out to avoid the traffic and bustle. His house was a grey stone Queen Anne mansion that looked like the kind of house a banker would own.

"It's times like these I'm glad I travel with a man with a cool car," Ann said nervously as Robert drove into the long driveway. "Grandma thinks my van is amusing, but Great-Uncle Isaac finds it annoying."

"What does your grandmother think of Cynthia?"

"She's never seen Cynthia. Speaking of which, the shop says she'll be ready in a couple of days."

"At which point you'll park her for the winter, correct?" He sighed when she didn't answer.

Moshe opened the door for them. "Good afternoon, Ms. Marshall, Mr. McCall. Mr. Schaeffer is in the sunroom."

"Good lord, you talk," Ann said before she could stop herself. She blushed as Robert bravely fought back his chuckle.

"Yes, miss, I do," Moshe smiled.

He led them through an interior at odds with the somber exterior. Sunny yellows and greens were the predominant color scheme, livened with splashes of rich jewel tones in the upholstery and paintings. Robert paused in a cross hallway. He could have sworn a Japanese consortium had bought Van Gogh's "Irises."

The sunroom was perfectly placed to catch what few stray beams might poke through a cloudy November afternoon. Isaac sat in a wicker chair among potted trees and ferns. He was humming to a fat tabby in his lap as he combed out its tail.

"Good afternoon, Anastasia, Mr. McCall. Forgive me for not rising, but Matilda here dislikes moving." He gestured to seats near him.

Ann stared at the cat. "That's--isn't that Mark's cat?"

"Yes, it is." Isaac scratched behind Matilda's left ear, triggering a rumbling purr. "Your phone call to Esther did not fall on deaf ears."

"Esther's as cat mad as I am," Ann explained to Robert. "I couldn't help worrying about that poor kitty all alone in a house with a broken window and no one to come home and feed her." She ducked her head and leaned over to rub under Matilda's chin.

"Which explains why the person I talked to at Animal Control said the cat had disappeared," Robert smiled.

"You talked to--"

"I didn't want to say anything because I thought the lazy creature had gotten enough gumption to run away, especially with Feds tromping through the house." He chuckled at Ann's look of touched surprise. "I knew you'd worry."

"And all ends well," Isaac said, lifting the cat down. Matilda stretched, then went to strop Ann's leg and look up longingly. "Don't pick her up, Anastasia, the indolent beast hasn't taken more than a dozen steps since she got her. Yes, you," he added when the cat gave him an offended look. "Go think about chasing mice."

Matilda flipped her tail up over her back and strolled imperiously out, passing a houseman on his way in with the tea tray.

"You checked up on the cat," Ann whispered in delight to Robert.

"I try to take care of loose ends. Thank you, Reb Isaac," he said, accepting a cup and saucer.

Isaac raised a thin eyebrow at the term of address. "Have you been checking up on me, Mr. McCall?"

"It seems only fair."

Ann's dismay faded under her great-uncle's chuckle. "True enough," the old man said. "Don't look so worried, Anastasia," he added as he handed her a cup. "Mr. McCall and I understand each other very well. Which, I imagine, is more than can be said for the rest of the family."

"You imagine correctly," she sighed. "I was getting any number of veiled inquiries before this trouble. God knows what questions are going to come out of the woodwork now."

"What answers are you going to give them?" Isaac asked.

Ann glanced at Robert, who was studying Isaac carefully. "I'm used to dealing with questions," Robert said noncommittally.

"I imagine you are." Isaac glanced at Ann, then back at Robert.

"I have no objection to your mentioning anything you've found in front of Ann," Robert went on. "I hope she's better informed than you are."

Ann felt absurdly pleased.

"Very well." Isaac set down his tea cup. "You are not an insurance analyst, but risk management describes your past very well. And according to my sources, while you've officially retired, you still maintain contact with your former associates."

"How did you find this out?" Robert asked. "And how much have you told others?"

"I let them manage their own information gathering. Edges are hard enough to come by. As for how I found out, I am not the sort to accept any story at face value. Most of the others politely assume that not being able to find any reference to you isn't a matter of great importance. You set off no alarms financially, so they assume you have little relevance to their lives."

"Typical," Ann muttered.

"They think like bankers," Robert said with a faint smile, "but you think like a man used to maneuvering around suspicions."

Isaac nodded graciously.

"Well, I think like a programmer," Ann said testily, "and I think you two are getting along far too well for my comfort." She grabbed an eclair off the cake tray and glared at the two chuckling men. "When you're done admiring each other's cleverness, let me know."

"Yes, we have other business," Isaac said. "The federal authorities have released our computers, and I thank heaven we're not a publicly traded bank. We'll have the authorities all over us for months. Anastasia, would you look over the system and networks? The other banks are threatening lawsuits, and we would like to know the extent of our liability."

"I'll do my best. But I've already had the Feds reminding me that anything I find out, they want to know too."

"Of course. But I'd like to know first."

"Sure. Will the IS department cooperate? Or do I need to bring in my own people?"

"Well, that brings up an interesting point. We don't believe Mark had any accomplices, but you might want to check for other problems. You have complete autonomy when it comes to the computer system."

"Thank you, Great-Uncle," Ann blinked.

Isaac picked up his tea cup. "It seems only fair since we'd also like you to take Mark's position in the company." He glanced up at her silence. "Yes, the board has decided you're the best candidate for chief of the Information Services department. We'd also like you to take Nate's seat on the board until he recuperates, and then take a seat on the steering committee."

"Great-Uncle, I don't know . . . " She glanced at Robert.

Robert couldn't help wondering at the apparent switch in established Schaeffer & Marshall procedures. The IS job made sense, but Robert wondered if this offer wasn't partly an attempt to keep a closer eye on a member of the family who was developing odd habits and acquaintances. "It's an impressive offer," was all he said.

"Yes, it is." She'd always dreamed of walking into Schaeffer & Marshall and being able to command respect by right of deed instead of right of name. And careerwise, it was a logical step, a big job that would keep her busy for years.

"The salary and benefits package can be finalized once you get settled in," Isaac said, refilling his tea cup. "Needless to say, it will be competitive. I realize you've been setting up a consulting business, and you'll need time to resolve that. How much time do you think you'll need?"

She looked at Robert again, looking for some answer. He returned her look evenly, not volunteering anything. She saw some understanding of her quandary in his eyes. She suddenly remembered that night in the emergency room with Nate, seeing her female relatives on the far side of a bar she had crossed, with herself on the wilder side.

"Uncle Isaac, I don't want to wear a suit to work every day again," she said.

Isaac frowned slightly. "Well, in your own department there would be certain freedoms, but there is a certain standard we've always maintained . . . "

"It's not just that. I've done the corporate computer thing. Meetings all the time, conforming to a code of behavior that has no bearing on the work, hierarchies so calcified that there's only one way of doing things, right or wrong. Great-Uncle Isaac, if I took that job I'd just be a cog. I'd end up too--too---"

"Respectable?" Robert offered around his tea cup. "Civilized."

Isaac smiled faintly, thinking that what he heard was Ann's gentleman friend urging her towards those virtues.

But Ann stared at him, once again surprised and pleased that he knew her mind so well. "Yes," she said softly. "Tamed."

"And that would be a pity," he smiled.

Isaac sighed. "I suppose that means you aren't going to accept."

"No, I'm not," Ann said. Robert approved, and her world was secure. "I'll go over the computers, of course, but I can't accept the rest. I understand the magnitude of the offer, but--my life's going somewhere else."

Isaac muttered faintly in Yiddish. Robert's tsk of disapproval garnered a faint chuckle from the old man. "My apologies, Mr. McCall."

Ann put down her tea cup. "I imagine it's just about time to go, then."

"Nonsense," Isaac said, refilling her cup. "I want to compare notes on what Mark was up to, and it occurs to me, Anastasia, that I haven't really talked to you since your college graduation. Unless you have other plans?"

Robert and Ann consulted silently, then Robert held out his tea cup. "We have nothing planned, Reb Isaac. And is that a cucumber sandwich on the tray?"

"Yes, it is."

They stayed for dinner and a tour of family portraits. Ann was fascinated, having neglected the Schaeffer side of her family. Robert offered no confidences, but he didn't object to trading innocent tales of times in Europe. They both listened with interest as Isaac told the story of Martin Bormann's henchmen threatening to help the American Jew disappear.

It was late when they finally left, with invitations to return in hand.

"A true old-fashioned gentleman," Robert commented as he held Ann's door for her. "A dying breed."

"I'm glad I'm getting to know him before it's too late." Ann settled in her seat, but her sigh was pensive.

"What's wrong?"

"Checking the computer will be a huge job. And I've got half a dozen clients asking for software recommendations for their businesses. Then there's the network maintenance agreements--lord, I thought going independent was a good idea."

"You need a vacation." Snow started drifting down. "Oh, god, I need a vacation too."

"Somewhere warm and sunny," Ann sighed.

"With an ocean."

"Yes." She shook her head. "I have no time. I've ignored too many people the last few days as it is."

Robert smiled to himself. Such things could be dealt with, and there was still the rest of the evening to play with.

 

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