Robert McCall paused on the landing to ease the ache in his left hip. He silently, and vehemently, cursed both the fortunes of old age and the KGB bullet that had been the source of his hip injury so many years ago. Although the wound had healed, the damage had been done and as the years passed, arthritis had set in. It was now difficult to climb up to his apartment without a pause. Maybe I should think about moving. But as soon as the thought occurred, he rejected it. This had been his home for a long time. In fact he had never lived in one place for a longer period in his entire life. He liked his home. He was comfortable here. Moving was just not an option. "Face it McCall," he said out loud, "Youíre getting old and set in your ways." Indeed he was.
While his body was betraying him, his mind was still as sharp as ever. He kept mentally active by doing a lot of private research, mostly about military tactics and intelligence. He had even learned to like computers and had several in his study to aid in his research. Jonah had spent weeks with him acquainting him with the world of computers. Once comfortable, he continued the education on his own and was now a bit of an expert in his own right.
He was also working frequently with Control on matters of strategy. Interesting that, after working so hard to win his freedom from the Company and stay free, he should end up working for them again. Admittedly, it was on his own terms and then only when he wanted to. Still he found an odd sense of irony in that he was enjoying the association. He told himself it was because of the challenge. With terrorism the mainstay these days the problems were different and more complex that those he faced when battling the KGB. But he also had to admit that he enjoyed working with Control again. When they had been young, the two made a team that was hard to beat. Once again, that association was proving to be a major asset to the Company.
Additionally, he kept busy helping people who answered his ĎEqualizerí ad that still ran daily in the paper. The problem with this activity, though, was that he was not capable of doing as much of the leg work as those jobs often required. He relied more and more on Mickey Kostmayer for the physical side of those jobs. And Mickey was not in town on a regular basis. His experience and abilities put him in great demand with the Company. Control kept him quite busy. When he did get a break, Robert felt a little guilty asking Mickey to work for him. He was well aware that Kostmayer too, was aging. While he was still quite active and able, he needed more down time these days than he had as a young man. Time was, Mickey could go forever, it seemed, without a break, but not any more. More than once, McCall considered dropping the whole ĎEqualizerí business. But then his phone would ring and another desperate person would look to him as their last hope. And he would put all thought of retirement out of his mind.
Mickey Kostmayer was fuming. He and his team had been hard at work for three weeks tracking down a group of terrorists who had been reported to be operating in and around Beirut. Their mission was to find those responsible for the bombing of the American ambassadorís vehicle a few weeks back and make an example of them. Fortunately the Ambassador had not been in the car when it was destroyed, but it was an incident that the US government did not want to go unanswered. Kostmayerís team had tracked down the responsible group, traced their movements and were just about to attack when word came from Headquarters that the mission had been scrubbed. It seemed that there had been some behind-the-scenes political manipulations and it was no longer desirable to take revenge for the incident. The team had been ordered home without completing the assignment.
Kostmayer sat on the plane with a beer in his hand and planned exactly how he was going to take Control apart for this one. It wasnít so much the fact that the team had been recalled. It was the fact that this sort of thing had become common. Out of the last five missions he had been sent on, only two had been allowed to go to completion. The others had been aborted, usually just before he was ready to swoop down on the target and finish the task. Damn it! It wasnít right. He just couldnít keep this up. He didnít mind the work but he needed some satisfaction to go along with it. Without that, why bother.
It seemed like, more and more, his work with McCall provided much more satisfaction than what he did for the Company. And to think he started working for the ĎEqualizerí on a lark. He never thought it would become half as important to him as it had. He looked forward to the calls from McCall. The work may not always be as stimulating or the locations as exotic as what the Company offered, but McCall expected, no demanded, results. And the sooner they were arrived at, the better. He had never been recalled by McCall because someone had a politically expedient change of heart that made a job obsolete.
But lately he had been worried about Robert. He sensed a reluctance in the older man to involve him in his cases. At first he had been worried that he had screwed up somehow and that his help was no longer wanted. But some careful questioning of his friend had revealed that it was concern for Mickeyís well-being, not anything he had done wrong, that was at the root of the reluctance. He tried to reassure Robert that he was fine and more than willing to help, but he wasnít sure he had convinced the older man. What is more, he was beginning to suspect that Robert was considering rolling up the Equalizer operation and, to Kostmayerís way of thinking, that was out of the question! He had toyed with the idea of quitting the Company and going to work for McCall full time, but he wasnít quite ready for that yet. The last thing he wanted was for Robert to quit, although he could understand it if he did. Robert was not as spry as he used to be and a life of less than gentle living was finally catching up with him. Soon, Robert, soon. Mickey thought. Just hang in there. Iíll be ready to join you soon.
He stormed down the hall and into his office, slamming the door behind him. He had just come from a meeting with his superiors that was far from satisfactory. They had been very polite, very respectful but also very definite. Without coming right out and saying it, they had implied that he was too old to do his job any more. What did they know? A couple of them were just children when he was a working field agent. He had given the Company the best years of his life. Who was he trying to kid? He gave the Company his entire adult life!
Control headed for the bottom desk drawer and the bottle of scotch he kept there. After quickly downing a rather generous drink, he began to calm down, a little. He sat back in his chair and slowly sipped at a second drink while he gave the situation some serious thought. OK, so he wasnít a kid anymore. Hell, he wasnít even middle aged anymore. But he could still think circles around most of the men who were trying to tell him he was finished. McCall sarcastically referred to this breed of Company men as the ĎPrinceton Boysí and had no use for them. Control had often bristled at that attitude, but he was beginning to agree with his old friend.
Experience and ability should count more than age. After all, he and McCall had been doing an outstanding job of planning some of the most successful missions the Company had run in years. It was because of the sloppy planning and poor execution of the younger set that he had convinced Robert to come back and work with him. He had put up with a lot of flack from his friend for a while too. But lately he got the impression that McCall was beginning to enjoy the challenge. He had to admit that he was too. Between the two of them they had revamped the briefing and preparation procedures that the Company had been using, mixing many of the old and proven techniques they had used through most of their careers with new technology to strengthen the whole process. Adding their considerable abilities in strategy and tactics had made the whole thing come together.
I guess now they think they can just get rid of us and carry on, he thought. Just let them try! Theyíll find out itís not that easy.
Nobody had actually said they thought he should retire. Not yet at least. But he could see the writing on the wall. Today it was concern for his age and his workload. Pretty soon they would start taking responsibilities away from him and turning them over to a suitable candidate Ďto relieve some of the stressí. Before long he would find himself in a token position with little responsibility and less power where he could rot away till he gave up and melted into the woodwork.
"I wonít let them do it!" He threw his glass across the room where it shattered against the wall. "Iíll quit first!"
He grabbed his coat and left, ignoring the curious look his secretary gave him.
Almost without conscious thought, Control found himself at OíPhelanís. Jeremy nodded to him as he came in and had a scotch ready for him, from Robert McCallís private stock, by the time he had hung up his coat. "Mr. McCall is not here yet," he told Control who nodded his thanks.
He took his drink and headed for Robertís usual table. He had no idea if McCall was going to show or not, but, he suspected he would have company before long. Robert still could cook the finest gourmet meal when he put his mind to it, but when he was alone, he didnít fuss so much any more and tended to take most of his meals out.
Staring at the flames in the fireplace, Control was lost in thought. He was still fuming over his meeting and the implications of the discussion. That naturally led to a review of the highpoints in his long career. Strange, he hadnít realized just how many of them were connected with McCall. With a start he suddenly realized that Robert was sitting in the chair across from him.
"When did you get here? I didnít notice you come in." Control was rather embarrassed. Time was when such a lapse could have meant his life. It still could, he reminded himself. Even in so comfortable a surrounding as OíPhelanís.
A small smile played across McCallís face. He sat back in his chair, drink in hand, studying his friend. "I know. You were a million miles away. Care to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?" Damn McCall. He could sometimes jump to some startlingly accurate conclusions. "Canít a man get lost in thought anymore without there being some problem that needs to be discussed?" He realized he sounded a little too defensive. To hell with it, he thought.
"Yes, of course he can. But that isnít you, especially not in public. And most especially not with that look on your face. I know that look well Old Friend, and it usually means trouble. So I ask again, Care to talk about it?"
"Yes...and no." Control sat back and took another sip from his glass. It was almost empty. He looked at it sadly. "I want to talk about it but not until Iím good and drunk." McCall shook his head and signaled Jeremy to bring the bottle over. He sadly realized that he was most unlikely to get dinner tonight.
Mickey ran down the dark alley, dragging the kid with him. Not for the first time, he wondered just what it was they taught in basic training these days. And also, not for the first time, he concluded that it wasnít much. The green agents he had worked with over the past few years were pretty bad. This kid was no exception. He may have known what to do, but at the first sign of trouble, he had panicked and had seemingly forgotten everything.
Instead of waiting for Kostmayerís signal, he had jumped the gun and opened fire on the group of rebels before they were in range of the teamís fully effective firepower. The error had cost Jackson his life. Brooks and Davis had broken off to the left with half of the rebel band on their tails while he had grabbed the kid and taken off to the right.
They had been pursued actively for the past hour, alternately running and pausing to fight. Mickey thought he had gotten all but one or two of their pursuers. He was very good with a weapon and had made each shot count. The kid, on the other hand, had wasted quite a bit of ammunition without much effect. Mickey only had three rounds left, two in the clip and one in the chamber. He was sure the kid was completely out.
He paused so they could catch their breath and get their bearings. They were not too far from the teamís home base now. He had been heading in that direction for the last twenty minutes. There were no sounds of pursuit. Mickey thought, maybe, they had finally shaken the last of the rebels. But he didnít want to take any chances. Telling the kid to stay put and do nothing, he edged out to the head of the alley and cautiously looked around. There was no sign of anyone on the street. None of the shadows moved either. All was quiet. He signaled the kid to join him and together they made their way out into the street. Turning towards the abandoned store they were using as home base they slowly and quietly made the last leg of the journey.
Something wasnít right. Mickey couldnít say exactly what the problem was, everything looked peaceful, but every instinct he had told him that there was great danger in the area right around the base. He turned to warn the kid to stay low but he wasnít there. Then he saw him walking down the middle of the street towards the store. At the same time, three rebels, who had been hiding in the shadows of various doorways, also saw the kid and turned their weapons on him.
"Get down!" Mickey yelled a second before the rebels opened fire. The kid went down, but Mickey was sure it was because he was hit, not because of anything he had said. Kostmayer took careful aim and fired. One of the rebels dropped. Then Brooks and Davis appeared from the side of the store and began firing on the remaining rebels. Once attention was diverted from him, Mickey ran out to the kid and started to drag him to safety. He had almost gotten the kid behind some cover when he felt a blinding stab of pain in his side. One of the rebels had noticed his activity and fired on him. A second later, the man was dead, courtesy of Davis. But Mickey knew nothing of that. The world had gone gray and he was having a great deal of trouble breathing. He started sinking to the ground and was unconscious before he hit.
Mickey gradually became aware of his surroundings. He lay in bed in a darkened room. He could hear voices coming from the next room. And he was in pain! His right side felt like there was a hot poker sticking in it. And his back ached. He wasnít sure where he was but he was glad to be clean and warm, even if he was in pain. The room had all the characteristics of a hospital. I guess we managed to survive that one after all. He wondered about the rest of the team, especially the kid. But right at that moment he was just too tired to try to find out. He closed his eyes and was quickly sound asleep.
When he next awoke, he found Robert McCall sitting beside his bed. "Hey, McCall. Whatíre you doing here...where ever here is."
"Mickey, my friend. Good to see you awake, finally. I was beginning to get concerned." McCall smiled warmly at his friend. There were traces of relief in his expression. He reached out and placed a hand on Mickeyís arm in an uncharacteristic show of affection. "Youíve had yourself quite a long rest. You slept through the entire transportation process. Although I imagine the doctors gave you a little chemical help there. Youíre at the Company medical facility in New York now. Welcome home!"
"I donít remember a thing after I was hit. What happened to the rest of the team? What happened to the kid?"
"Brooks and Davis are fine. Jackson was killed outright, as Iím sure you are aware. Iím sorry, Palermo...the kid?...didnít make it either. He died last night."
"Damn kid! Why the hell didnít he listen?" He tried to sit up but a stab of pain forced him back down. "Tell me, McCall, what makes these kids think they know everything? What makes them think they canít be killed?" Mickey was quite upset. It shouldnít have gone down that way. That kid should still be alive. Mickey should have had the opportunity to chew him out. Let him know what he had done wrong. Help him learn so he wouldnít make the same mistake again. Well, he would never make that mistake again, but heíd never have the chance to either. Not the kind of result Kostmayer found desirable. Well hereís another mission thatís a complete bust. He suddenly realized that Robert was speaking.
"...canít blame yourself. Let it go Mickey, just let it go." McCall was concerned about his friend. This wasnít the first time he lost men under his command. But this time it seemed to matter a lot more. He could certainly empathize with his friend. It was situations just like this that had begun his downward spiral and resulted in his leaving the Company. Could Mickey be starting down that same road? He wondered about the advisability of giving Mickey the doctorsí news right now. But he knew Mickey would want the truth as soon as possible. Robert dreaded being the bearer of the bad news but Mickey was like family and he wouldnít leave it to somebody else. Taking a deep breath he started in.
"Mickey, thereís something we need to discuss."
Mickey was not in the mood for a discussion about anything at the moment and started to say so when he took a good look at Robertís face. He saw concern there and something else. Could it be fear? He wasnít sure but knew he had better sit up and listen. Well maybe just listen. Heíd learned his lesson the last time he tried to sit up and didnít want to try again.
"Shoot McCall. Whatís wrong?"
"Mickey, the doctors are very concerned. Your injury is quite serious. The bullet entered your side from the front, hit the ribs on its way out and bounced back in, lodging very close to your spine. There is considerable swelling around the spinal cord. They arenít sure yet if there has been any permanent damage. Iím sorry. I...I know thatís probably the last thing you want to hear." Robert had maintained his contact with Mickeyís arm and now gently squeezed it in comfort.
Mickey closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He tried to control his voice. He didnít want Robert to know just how shaken he was by the news. "So what are you trying to tell me Robert? That Iím not gonna walk out of here? Is that what youíre trying to say?" Even though he tried not to show it, a note a panic had crept into his voice. He grabbed McCallís hand and held on.
"They donít know that for sure yet. They wonít know till the swelling goes down and they see how you can manage. I wish I could tell you for sure that everything is fine, but we just donít know. I hate to be the one to tell you. But you needed to know and I didnít want you to hear it from some stranger."
Mickey realized that he had been gripping Robertís hand too hard and released it with an apologetic shrug. Well now is not the time to fall apart Kostmayer. Pull yourself together. What will be, will be. Shit! Mickeyís attempt at giving himself a pep talk wasnít very successful. But he didnít want to worry Robert any more than he already did. He took a steadying breath and managed a shaky smile "Yeah. Thanks Robert. I appreciate it."
"Listen, why donít you just get some rest. You need that more than anything else right now."
"No, what I need now is some decent food. Not that hospital garbage but a nice, thick, juicy steak, smothered with mushrooms and a big fluffy baked potato with sour cream and chives. And a cold beer. Maybe two."
"Sorry my friend, but right now about all you can look forward to some clear broth and jello."
"Swell. Youíve made my day. The idea of a nap is looking more attractive all the time."
"Get some rest Mickey. Iíll be back to see you later." With that, McCall left. But it was quite some time before Mickey slept. He lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to imagine what life would be like as a paraplegic.
It was four weeks later that Kostmayer was allowed to leave the hospital. Fortunately, the doctorsí concerns had been proven wrong. There had been no permanent damage to Mickeyís spine. However, it would be some time before he was able go back to work full time. All things considered, Mickey was willing to take the time off. To his mind, this was the ideal opportunity to catch up on all that fishing he had been meaning to do. That was his idea of taking it easy.
After three weeks Kostmayer had to admit to himself that there really was such a thing as too much fishing. The first week had been great. He had spent it fishing two of his favorite spots. The second week he had spent traveling to some of the other fishing holes he had always wanted to try. By the end of the third week, he had run out of good spots to try and the patience to sit still long enough to fish anyway. The inactivity was really beginning to wear him down.
He found himself one morning outside the Company headquarters building. He had decided the night before that he would go see Control and try to get an assignment. Maybe he wasnít ready for a big job but there were all sorts of smaller jobs that needed doing. They usually didnít require much physical activity. It was just the sort of thing he was ready for. And he really needed something to do. Taking a deep breath he entered the building and headed up to Controlís office. He waved at Controlís secretary as he passed her desk. The fact that she didnít try to stop Mickey was a sure indication that he had no one in the office and that he wasnít on the phone. Mickey knocked twice on the door, then opened it and stuck his head in. "Busy?"
Control looked up from the ubiquitous stack of reports that covered his desk when he was there (they always magically disappeared before he left each day) and smiled. "Come on in Mickey. How are you feeling?"
"Right as rain and ready to go!" Mickey entered the office, closing the door behind him, and slouched into one of the office chairs in front of the desk. "In fact, I thought Iíd take pity on you and offer to pick up some of the scut work for you." He flashed one of his lopsided grins.
Control studied the agent for a minute before he replied. "Thatís very kind of you Mickey. Whatís the matter, the fish not biting?"
"Naw, just getting a little tired of doing nothing. First a month in the hospital then three weeks home, Iím ready for some action, Control. What do you have?"
"Mickey, Iím sorry. Before you can come back to work, you need to be certified by the medical department."
"Since when? Last time I was injured, you were pestering me to get back to work almost as soon as I was out of the hospital. I didnít need any special clearances then. Why now?"
Control sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Mickey thought he looked more tired than he remembered him ever looking before. "Things have changed, Mickey. The Company has instituted new rules. One of them is full medical clearance before you can return to active duty after an injury. You get that clearance and Iíve got more than enough work for you. To be honest, I could really use you." Control shifted the files around on his desk. "As you can see, there is plenty going on. Sorry I canít be more help."
"Yeah, sure. Who do I have to see? Might as well get this over with so I can get down to work."
Control gave him the names and locations of the appropriate people. Mickey was surprised to see that they were all out at Langley. He got the appropriate travel vouchers from the secretary and was on his way.
Two days later a discouraged and disgusted Mickey Kostmayer knocked at the door to Robert McCallís apartment. McCall opened the door and Mickey brushed past him into the room. "Hey McCall," he muttered as he made his way to the side bar. He poured himself a healthy drink and flopped down onto the sofa.
"Hello to you Mickey. Wonít you come in? Would you like a drink?" McCall studied his friend carefully. Despite the sarcasm, he was concerned about this unusual behavior. Obviously the younger man was quite upset. Robert sat down beside him on the sofa. "Want to talk about it?"
"Damn it McCall. It just doesnít make sense. I went to Control looking to get an assignment. You know, to relieve the boredom. Control tells me he could really use my help. Then he tells me I need medical clearance through the Company before I can return to work."
"What?" McCall interrupted. That was certainly news to him. "Since when? I can recall being sent back out several times right from the hospital."
Yeah, me too. New Company policy, Iím told. I spent the last two days at Langley being poked, prodded, x-rayed and similarly humiliated for nothing." Kostmayer took a long drink before he continued. "After all that, they concluded that I was not fit for work at this time. I feel fine! OK, maybe I need to build back a little, but Iím functioning just as well as I have on lots of assignments." Mickey paused for another drink. This one emptied the glass. "They said that in a week or two I could start back to a desk assignment. And maybe, if Iím a really good boy, I could get back into the field in a few months. A few months McCall! I just donít get it!"
"No Mickey, thereís got to be some mistake. Have you talked to Control? Surely he canít be going along with this." McCall rose, refilled Mickeyís glass and poured himself a drink as well.
"I havenít talked to him yet. I was too mad to go see him this afternoon. Donít want to say the wrong thing. Heís been a little touchy of late."
"As it happens, Iím having dinner with him in about an hour. Why donít you come along and talk to him then. That way I can keep you from sticking your foot in your mouth."
"Nice, McCall, really nice. OK, Iíll go with you. I guess I could use the back-up." With that he drained his glass. McCall just shook his head and disappeared into the bedroom to freshen up before dinner.
The usual dinner crowd filled OíPhelanís but Robertís table had been kept open for him. He and Mickey arrived before Control and took their seats after collecting a bottle and glasses from Jeremy. They were only half way through their first drink when Control joined them.
"Good evening, Control," Robert greeted his old friend.
"Evening Robert, Mickey. Back from Langley I see. Whatís the verdict? When are you coming back? I can sure use you."
Robert put a warning hand on Mickeyís arm. "Not now, Mickey. Control, have a drink." Robert poured a scotch and placed it in front of him.
ĎWhy do I get the feeling that Iím missing something? Mickey, if looks could kill, Iíd be dead. And Robert, quit trying to change the subject. What happened, Mickey?"
"Donít get mad at Robert. Heís only trying to save me from punching your lights out! I am not real happy at what happened and I would probably have done just that if I had gone to see you this afternoon. As it is, right now Iíve had too much to drink to care what happens. Langley was a bust. I can resume work, at a desk, in a week or two. But I canít go out in the field for a few months. So much for your needs, huh?"
"What?! Thatís completely absurd!" Control was obviously as surprised as the others had been. "Look Mickey, Iím sorry. I donít know whatís going on but I promise you, I will look into it first thing in the morning."
The conversation was interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone. Each of the three reached for their phones. After a second ring it was clear that the call was for McCall.
"Excuse me," he said as answered it.
After a brief , mostly one-sided, conversation, Robert folded his phone and put it back in his inner jacket pocket. His expression was one of repressed anger tinged with regret. "Iím sorry, but I will have to leave. Do carry on."
"Problem Robert?" Control knew that look. It usually meant trouble for someone.
"Need some help?" Mickey chimed in hopefully. He also recognized the expression on his mentorís face.
"That was Samantha Bridger. Remember her Mickey?"
Kostmayer stared into the distance for a few seconds. "Yeah, young, tall, good-looking, long brown hair, boyfriend was dominating her. I thought we took care of that bastard for good."
"So did I. It seems Mr. Harrison is back in town intending to pick up where he left off." McCall turned to Control. "The lady in question is a computer programmer for one of the large financial institutions on Wall Street. A few years back, she met Mr. Harrison and they got very friendly. So much so that they moved in together. He gradually started taking over her life. By the time she called me, he had almost totally succeeded. She was terrified of him and had almost given up on herself. Calling me was her last gesture of individuality."
"Yeah, she was scared of her own shadow. Sheíd almost stopped thinking for herself." Kostmayer had been very concerned for the young woman. Harrison had turned her into his personal slave. He shook his head. He just couldnít understand how anyone could allow that to happen to them.
"The important thing is that she did call me. And she let me help her; or let us, I should say." He nodded towards Mickey. "We ran Harrison out of town and got Samantha into counseling. I last saw her about four months ago and she was doing fine."
"My god, Robert. Do you keep track of all of your clients?" Control was amazed. He knew his friend helped hundreds of people each year. He had no idea he kept track of them all.
"Well, no," McCall replied. "I donít keep track of all of them, just the ones I think need some watching. Once I think they are doing fine again, I usually let them go about their lives without further interference. I have to admit, though, there a few that are special and I never seem to quite let go of them."
"Then you must have a large circle of friends by now." Control was impressed and, he had to admit, a little envious. He had been the moving force behind a lot of things over the years but he had done most of it behind the scenes. That meant that he rarely dealt with anyone but the agents he sent out on assignment and he readily acknowledged that they were not exactly agitating to start a fan club for him. Being popular was not a part of his job description. He actually had very few people he could relax with and be himself. In fact, over the years his small circle of friends had dwindled to almost none. Aside from McCall, and Kostmayer he realized, there was almost no one.
"In any event gentlemen, I must meet with Samantha in thirty minutes. You are both welcome to come if you wish. Kostmayer, I wonít require a doctorís note for you to participate."
"Iím with you Robert." Mickey grinned. Leave it to McCall to come up with something to save his sanity.
"I believe Iíll come too, old son. Sounds like an interesting way to spend the evening."
Samantha Bridger sat across from McCall and Control. Her arms were crossed and she hugged herself tightly. She nervously rocked back and forth
"Iím sorry to bother you again Mr. McCall but I didnít know where else to turn. Greg showed up last week and tried to pick up where he left off three years ago. Last night, when I made it clear I wasnít going to let him take over again, he began to threaten me."
Mickey had been pacing back and forth in front of the windows overlooking the street, both listening to Samanthaís story and keeping an eye on the street.
"I knew we should have taken care of that bastard permanently when we had the chance, McCall." His eyes were hooded and he was obviously displeased with current events.
"That will do, Mickey." McCall felt the same way, but he had to keep his feelings under control while he heard and assessed the latest facts in the case.
"How did he threaten you?" Control asked. "What does he want?"
"I work for a large financial house on Wall Street. We have developed a program that is used by our brokers to decide what stocks to buy and sell based on a whole host of indicators and trends. Its predictions have proven to be quite accurate and have made our clients a lot of money and the business a great reputation. The firm has become one of the leading trend setters on the street. Greg wants to use me and the program to manipulate the market. If I donít do what he wants, he says heíll kill me."
"Well now, we canít let that happen, can we?" McCall reached over and took her hand, doing his best to calm the young woman down. But secretly he was worried. Greg Harrison had finally shown his hand. McCall had never been satisfied that they had uncovered the reason for Harrisonís actions three years ago. Mickey was absolutely correct. They should have taken care of him when they had the chance but instead they let him go. McCall always regretted the decision. That was one of the reasons he had kept in touch with the woman. That, and a genuine concern for her recovery.
"But thatís not all, Mr. McCall." Samantha looked absolutely miserable and on the verge of a panic attack. "From what he said last night, I believe he was stealing information from me all the time we were together before. He was using information I had, stuff I brought home while I was working on the program for testing, to do insider trading. If this ever gets out, he could go to jail and he said he would make sure that I would go with him! He said I would be convicted as an accomplice. I never wanted this to happen!" A note of true hysteria crept into her voice.
"Now, now my dear, just relax." McCall got up and sat on the sofa next to the frightened woman. He put an arm around her shoulder and gave her a hug. "He stole information from you without your knowledge. The authorities will never prosecute you. But Mr. Harrison... thatís another matter." He thought for a few moments and came to a quick decision.
ĎSamantha, I want you to pack a bag. Take enough for at least a few days. We are moving you to a safe house until we can put Mr. Harrison in his place once and for all."
"What about my job Mr. McCall? If I go to work, heíll just find me there. But I just canít not show up. Iíll lose my job!"
"Right now, Iím more concerned with your life than your job. Let us take care of Mr. Harrison first. Then, if necessary, weíll take care of your job."
"I have a lot of friends on the Street," Control offered. "If need be, Iím sure they could be persuaded to help you with any difficulties that might arise."
"There now, you see? You need not worry about your job." McCall rose and helped her up from her seat. Placing his hand on her back he guided her towards the bedroom. "Now pack a bag and weíll be on our way."
While Samantha was packing, Mickey was carefully watching the street below. He observed a car circle the block several times slowly and then take a spot across the street that had been vacant the entire time. This behavior was suspicious enough to draw his undivided attention. From his vantage point, just to the side of one of the front windows of the apartment, so he wouldnít be spotted from the street, he watched a man get out of the car and stare at Samanthaís building. He couldnít be sure, but he thought the man was studying Samanthaís apartment, the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end. Finally the man crossed the street, heading directly for the building. As he passed under a streetlight, Mickey could clearly see his face. No doubt about it. The man was Greg Harrison.
"Heads up, McCall. The boyfriend is on his way up."
McCall and Control had their heads together, planning their strategy for the woman and looked up with interest. Samantha also heard him and came flying out of her bedroom.
"Oh my God, oh my God! What do I do?"
Much to McCallís surprise, Control took the young woman in hand.
"I have an idea that might just dissuade the gentleman from bothering you once and for all. But I need your help in this. Hereís what I want you to do." Control had put his arm around Samanthaís shoulder and guided her over to a chair as he talked quietly to her.
After a few moments he stopped whispering. "Do you think youíre up it this?"
She looked up at him with an expression of wonder. "Can you really do that?"
"I can. And I will. Can you play your part?"
For the first time that evening, the ghost of a smile crossed her face. "Yes, I think I can. No, I know I can. If it will mean getting rid of him once and for all, Iím sure I can."
"Very good." Control smiled with approval. Just then the buzzer for the main door sounded in the apartment.
"Thatís him." Samantha still sounded a little frightened, but she also looked determined to do her part. Rising, she crossed to the intercom unit. She pushed the button, took a deep breath and spoke into the microphone.
"Who is it?" She was amazed to find that her voice didnít reflect the fear and nervousness she felt. She trusted these men, even the one she had just met. He said he could take care of Greg once and for all and she believed him.
"Itís Greg. Come on, Samantha, open up. Itís cold out here."
"Go away! I donít want to see you." She was playing the part as Control had outlined it.
"Samantha, you can let me in now, or Iíll break the door down and come up there anyway. Now open up." It was clear Harrison meant business. Samantha pressed the button that unlocked the main door.
McCall raised an eyebrow and went over to Control. "What are you up to?"
"I intend to scare the life out of the bastard. I just need you and Kostmayer to play along." There was a mischievous glint in his eye.
ĎIf I didnít know any better, old friend, I think you were enjoying yourself." McCall was secretly pleased to see his friend taking an interest in the case. He had been worried about him for the past few weeks.
"Not yet, Iím not. But hopefully soon. Please, have a seat here," He replied indicating a chair. "Mickey, I need you to stay over by the window. Just follow my lead." Kostmayer flashed his boss a lopsided grin and offered a one-finger salute.
The doorbell sounded and Samantha went to answer it. As she opened the door, Greg Harrison barged through. He was about thirty five years old with sandy blond hair, blue eyes and a very innocent face. It was easy to see how a young woman could be taken in by him.
"OK Samantha, what are you trying to pull? You canít get rid of me. The sooner you realize that, the easier things will be for you."
"And just why is it that the lady canít escape you?" Control stepped up and put a protective hand on Samanthaís back. "Your name is Harrison, I assume."
"What business is it of yours?. Who the hell are you? Who is this guy Sam? Donít tell me you hired muscle again to try to get rid of me."
Samantha looked uncomfortable, Greg still scared the life out of her. But having Control standing by her side gave her the courage to follow the plan. She turned to Control.
"Yes. This is Greg Harrison."
"I suspected as much." He regarded Harrison for a few moments and then pulled his wallet out of his pocket. "My name is Brady," Control stated as he opened his wallet and handed the man a card. "Securities and Exchange Commission."
"The SEC? Whatís your business here? Sam, this is a joke, isnít it? This is a friend of yours from work." The look on Gregís face showed that he was worried about this new development.
"You better listen to him, Greg. This is no joke. I told you I was through with you and I meant it. Since you wouldnít leave me alone, I had to take action on my own." Harrison started to look uncertain.
Control took over the conversation. "Iím here on official business, Mr. Harrison. It has come to our attention that you are involved in some, shall we say, questionable trading activities. It is my job to curtail such activities."
"And just what is it that Iím supposed to have done?" Harrison wasnít going to fold easily. He tried to brazen out the encounter.
"Weíll start with trying to use this young lady to manipulate the market."
"You have no proof of that." The response was made so quickly that he almost cut Control off. Control just smiled which made Harrison squirm.
"On the contrary. Weíve been watching you very closely. We have your conversations with Ms. Bridger on tape. And that is just the beginning of your problems. We also have evidence from three years ago when you were using Ms Bridger to gain information you then used to make illegal transactions. Itís called Ďinsider tradingí. Combine the two charges and you are looking at quite a long stretch in a Federal prison. And I can assure you, I will use all of my considerable influence to have you committed to a high security institution, not one of the white collar country clubs." Control stopped talking and stared at his victim from under his bushy eyebrows.
As Control talked, the color drained from Greg Harrisonís face. Attempting to
minimize the damage he tried to argue. "If you had anything on me three years ago you would have arrested me then." His look defied Control to deny his logic.
"Not necessarily," Control remained calm and collected with the hint of a smile on his face. "We donít always go after small fish immediately. We sometimes allow them a little rope and see if they hang themselves. Consider yourself hung, Mr. Harrison."
"Wait a minute. Canít we work something out?"
"Iím not in the habit of doing that." Control/Brady paused as if lost in thought. He then turned and addressed the back of a chair. "What do you think, Mr. McCall?"
Robert rose from the chair and joined the group. He had been seated with his back to the door so it wasnít immediately apparent that there was anyone else in the room. Harrison was startled to see one of the men who had run him off three years ago standing in Samanthaís living room now. For the first time he looked around. When he spied Kostmayer he went even paler, if that was possible. It had been Mickey who had menaced him so completely three years back.
"Iím not sure what to think." Robert took up a position on the other side of Samantha, framing her with protection. "This man assured us the last time that he would never return, and yet, here he is. He really doesnít strike me as the trustworthy type." Robert frowned at Harrison, giving him one of his most disapproving looks.
"I promise. You let me go and youíll never see me again. Iíll leave Samantha alone. Iíll leave the state. It will be like I never was." Greg Harrison was very worried. That guy Brady gave him the creeps. He believed every word he said. And what was more, he was certain the guy would take great pleasure in burying him so deeply, it would be years before he saw the light of day. McCall and Kostmayer he had experience with already and really didnít want that experience repeated, but this guy seemed even worse.
"I donít know, Mr. McCall. I almost believe him. What do you think, Mr. Kostmayer?"
"I think we should have gotten rid of him, permanently, three years ago. But, Iíll settle for permission to shoot on sight if he ever comes back." Mickey regarded Harrison as if he were a particularly noisome bit of pond scum. He drew his gun and stroked the barrel.
"I could live with that," McCall concurred. "How about you Brady."
"Iíll agree under certain conditions." Control glared at his victim with a look that he knew scared the life out of those on the receiving end.
"Anything. Iíll promise anything." Harrison was close to panic.
"First, you will leave the state and never return. Second you will never engage in a securities transaction again. And third, You will never, ever, bother Ms. Bridger again. If you violate any of these conditions, and if Mr. Kostmayer doesnít get to you first, I will see to it that you are put in jail and you will be an old man before you get out again, if ever. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes sir. Anything you say. Is that all?" Harrison was well and truly cowed. Control was just trying to see to it that he would never return.
"Are we in agreement, Mr. McCall?
"If we can be sure heíll never return, then I guess it will be OK." This was better than Robert had hoped for. He was fairly certain, given Harrisonís reactions, that he would leave Samantha alone in the future. Once again, he was amazed by his good friendís abilities. He knew how to effectively wield power. No wonder he had held such a position of authority in the company for so many years.
Control paused as if considering the situation while he glared at the man from under his bushy brows. Actually, he was just letting the man stew for a little while longer. "Iíll let you go." Harrison let out a breath he hadnít realized he had been holding as he fate was debated. "But I insist that Mr. Kostmayer escort you out of town. Just to make sure." He turned to Mickey and raised an eyebrow in question.
"It would be my pleasure. But if he takes too long at it, I canít promise I wonít lose my temper. You know what a short fuse I have." Mickey flashed an evil grin and pushed the slide on his gun back, chambering a round.
"Iíll leave tonight. And youíll never hear from me again. I promise!" Harrison was so desperate one couldnít help but believe him.
"Very well. But hear this, and hear it good." Control now turned the full measure of his considerable wrath on the unfortunate. "If I ever get even a hint of further activity on your part, I will bring the full force of my judicial power down around your ears so fast you wonít know what hit you. No more warnings. Now get out of my sight." He turned his back on the man and walked out of the room.
Kostmayer came forward and took hold of Harrisonís arm. "Letís go. And please, just give me a reason. Iím dying to rearrange that pretty face." The two left without another word. Kostmayer held his gun menacingly at the ready.
Silence reigned in the apartment for several minutes after Mickey left with his charge. Finally Samantha turned to McCall.
"I canít believe this. Is it over? Is he really gone? For good?" Samantha wasnít sure what had just happened. She had seen it all occur but really wasnít sure she trusted her conclusions.
Robert put his arm around her shoulder. "He is gone. Mickey will see to it. Now is the time for you to calm down and relax." He led her to the sofa and sat down next to her.
"Obviously, we canít guarantee that Mr. Harrison will never return, but I do believe we have been successful in scaring the life out of the gentleman. I really doubt that you will ever see him again. This time I mean it."
Control emerged form the kitchen, replacing his phone in his pocket. "Iíve just gotten off the phone with a friend of mine who does a lot of security work on the Street. He will keep an eye out for Harrison and let me know if he shows up here again."
"I donít know how to thank you both." Samanthaís eyes were bright with unshed tears. "What would I have done without your help?"
"Well, letís be thankful you didnít have to find out." Robert gave her hand a squeeze. "Now, what I want you to do is to try to forget what has happened. Over the last three years you have established a good life for yourself. Forget about Harrison and enjoy that life. Thatís how you can thank us." With that he rose and joined Control.
"Samantha, if you ever need any help, just call Mr. McCall. Weíll do what we can for you." Robert glanced sharply at his friend. "Take care."
"Bye for now" With that the two men left.
A short time later the friends were back at OíPhelanís sharing some brandy at Robertís usual table by the fire. They considered raiding the kitchen for something to eat, but dismissed the idea as taking too much effort. Instead they opted for the warmth of companionship and alcohol.
"You know Robert, I really enjoyed myself this evening. Itís been a long time since Iíve had to operate in the field. Itís nice to know I still can."
Robert studied Control over the top of his glass. He couldnít help but notice that his friend looked more alive that he had in weeks. Some of his natural vitality appeared to have returned. Once again he cursed the bureaucrats for their thoughtless treatment of this man who had devoted his life to the Company.
"I never doubted it for a moment. You know, I couldnít help but notice your use of the word Ďweí when telling Ms. Bridger she only needed to call me if she had a problem. Were you trying to tell me something?"
"Well, letís face it Robert, my days at the Company are numbered. Iíve outlived my usefulness to them. Iíve been put in a position that will slowly dwindle down to nothing." Control paused and took a sip from his snifter. "Robert, I do not like feeling useless. Iíve got too much self-respect to end my career that way. Iíve come to realize that what you have is exactly what I want, what I need. What Iím trying to say is that I would consider it a favor if you would let me help the Equalizer to do his job full time. Iím prepared to give up my position with the Company. They have no use for me anymore. I have a lot of talent and I think I could be an asset to you and your clients." He paused, almost afraid to continue. "What do you say?"
McCall studied his friend for a few seconds, trying to discern his sincerity. God only knew he could use the help. It just wasnít the help he anticipated. He always thought it would be Kostmayer who would join him. To have his old friend by his side was almost more than he could ask for. He and Control had been an unbeatable team in days gone by. He was certain it would be that way again.
"My dear fellow. This is more than I could have hoped for. Of course, I would love to have you join me! I always thought it would be Kostmayer, but...."
"Why not Kostmayer?" Mickey had come up on the tail end of the conversation. He was almost in a panic. What if McCall didnít need his help with Control around? He desperately needed McCall to need him right now. He had decided to quit the Company. If they didnít want him, heíd be damned if he wanted them. But, if McCall didnít want him either, he wasnít sure what he was going to do.
"Mickey, Mickey. Come join us. We were just discussing the future of ĎThe Equalizerí. "
"Yeah, I heard. So what about it, McCall. With Control here, willing to work for you, I guess you donít need me any more."
"Donít be ridiculous! Mickey, how can you even think that? Of course I need you. We need you."
"Of course we do, Mickey. If I thought for a minute that I would be displacing you, I wouldnít even think of joining Robert. I donít want to take your place, I want to join you! You and Robert have a very good thing here. I just hope there is room for me to help. If not, Iíll go about my own business and leave the two of you alone."
"Donít be ridiculous! There is more than enough work for both of you!" Robert was almost speechless. To have both of his good friends wanting to work with him was almost more than he could have hoped for. He couldnít bear the thought of either one of them leaving.
"McCall, are you sure? I know you and Control are tight. I wouldnít blame you for choosing him over me. You two have a history."
"Mickey, my friend, we have a Ďhistoryí too. There is more than enough to keep all of us as busy as we wish. If only the two of you knew how many legitimate jobs I turned down each week, simply because I couldnít handle the work load. I welcome both of you to join me."
Mickey and Control locked eyes. A slow smile spread over Kostmayerís face. Control held his unreadable expression for a few seconds more and then winked at the younger man.
"What do you say, Mickey?" Control held his breath, He and Mickey had a rocky relationship. He really respected the younger man and had come to like him quite a bit. But he realized, as his boss, that it was quite possible that Kostmayer hated him.
"Control, I think Iíd enjoy working with you instead of for you. From what Iíve heard, you were one hell of an operative. And if what I saw tonight is any example, this could be quite interesting." Mickey stuck out his hand, "Sounds like a plan to me."
Control grasped Mickeyís hand and finally realized that this is what he had wanted for quite a while.
Robert reached out and added his hand to the pile. "Gentleman, I believe we have an agreement." He signaled Jeremy to bring another glass and filled all three. He raised his in a toast and indicated the others should follow suit. They all raised their glasses.
"Gentlemen, I give you the ĎEqualizer Incorporated!í"