Control mopped his brow again. It was humid as hell in Nigeria, even if it was January. He settled behind his desk to continue sorting out papers that contained Major Gowonís promises to the countries that had backed him up in the just finished Civil War. The letters in the Majorís own hand would go into the diplomatic pouch and get to the Companyís headquarters by the end of the following day.
The Company had been brought in to help protect the interests of both the US and British governments in Nigeriaís vast oil fields when the Nigerians kept announcing deadlines for victory over the rebels and kept failing to keep them. They had also covertly backed the Nigerian government in the most brutal phase of the civil war, when starvation had been used against the Biafran rebels. Now that the Nigerians had declared victory, it was time for the US and Britian to collect.
As he worked, Control heard someone pounding on the outside door to his suite. After a moment, raised angry voices sounded just outside his office.
His secretary, Merek, sweating and unhappy, opened his door, "Sir, Iím sorry but Ė,"
Robert McCall shoved Merek aside. "I need to speak to you." McCall was seething with rage, his brown hair disheveled and the sweat stains on his clothing made the fact that he had spent long hours traveling, very apparent.
Merek, looking miserable, waited for orders, "Shall I call security?"
McCall speared the man with a glance so sharp that Control could see his secretary deflate in fear. Merek had tussled with McCall before and knew what might happen to him.
Control sighed, "Itís okay, get the rest of the documents together. Iíll be with you in a moment."
Merek didnít hesitate; he turned and slid out the door, closing it with a loud slam.
Control watched calmly as the angry agent then turned his fearsome expression to him. He knew that McCall would respond this way when he sent out his new orders. McCall had gotten himself romantically involved with one of the doctors at the camp and wasnít about to leave Nigeria quietly. Control also knew that he was the only one who could make sure that McCall obeyed those orders.
"What the bloody hell do you mean by sending me home now?" McCallís voice matched the anger on his face.
Control knew the fact that he outranked his old friend was the only thing that was saving him from a physical attack. "Standard Operating Procedure. Once the war ended it was time for reassignment. Youíre no longer of use here." He kept his voice calm, even though he knew that he had just added a spray of gasoline to McCallís fire.
"Of no use?" McCallís voice was acid, "Now is the time when we can finally help the people here. The war is over and the Red Cross will soon return. Hundreds of aid workers will be needed to get relief to these people."
Control took a deep breath. "Relief is Dr. Demeterís job, not yours."
McCall stepped very close to Control. His hands were in fists and Control could see that the manís temper was now at the explosive point.
"Itís the job of any human being with a soul to pitch in and help now, and you know it. The Nigerian government won this civil war by using starvation to break the people. Now finally, aid can be given to try and lessen the suffering. How can you say that Iím not needed?"
Control pushed his chair back and stood up. His height didnít give him much leverage over McCall, but sitting didnít give him the sensation of authority to do the job he planned.
"The Company sent you to that camp to be in a position to get information on any movements the Biafran army might be planning. By working to help Dr. Demeterís cause, trying to keep people alive, you went against Major Gowonís orders."
"I might have helped people, Iím not ashamed of it, but I fulfilled my mission for the Company. You know that."
"But you made Dr. Demeterís cause your own too. That went against her governmentís wishes and against the Companyís guidelines. Britain and the US were on the side of the Nigerians, remember?"
"It was a medical camp. Lauren was only doing what she had to do to try to save lives, no matter if they were Nigerian or Biafran!"
"And you," Control did his best to pin McCall down with an angry stare of his own, "you backed her up."
McCall shouted, "You got all of the information you needed. The government of Biafra fell didnít it?"
"And it was with your help. I realize that." He nodded at McCall, "But your assignment is over. In reality it finished on January 12, when the Chief of Staff formally announced the capitulation of Biafra. Youíve been here an extra week. Itís time to go home."
"Lauren needs me here. Once the Red Cross comes back sheíll be busier than ever."
"Dr. Demeter will be busy Robert. There nothing left for you to do here. Iím ordering you stateside. Right now."
McCall sneered. "I see, itís as clear as the nose on your face. You want Lauren and I to break up, so thereís nothing untidy about the Companyís involvement. So far, Iím still thought of as a British subject, but when the Nigerians come in, they might soon find out otherwise."
Control tried not to show his lack of patience, "Has your involvement with the good doctor made you naïve, man? Gowon knew exactly who you were, thatís the only reason he permitted you to purloin Nigerian supplies to give to Dr. Demeter with no retribution. Gowon knew that you were helping tend to the people in the camp just so youíd get the information we needed."
McCall glared, "Then why pull me out now that the fighting is over?"
"Gowon let you get away with aiding the Biafrans because we were using them, but he still wasnít happy that anyone disobeyed his orders. Heís fighting bad international press now so heíll permit a dedicated doctor to continue to relieve the suffering. It looks good in print. But permitting the man who helped her steal supplies from his own men to do it, wonít be forgiven. He Ė and the Company and the British Ė wants you out."
McCall started to pace the room, "Maybe Lauren can leave with me for awhile, until things cool down and then we can both return."
"Dr. Demeter wonít leave. She received a shipment of supplies an hour ago and sheís occupied working to distribute them. Sheís busier than ever in the camp."
"The Red Cross got through already?" McCall stopped pacing, a look of surprise on his face.
Control made himself smile. "No, I managed to divert some supplies to her camp, to help."
There was a long pause before McCall spoke again. "I see, Control. For the first time in your long and nasty life you decided to act as Father Christmas, eh? And interestingly enough itís on the one day that you knew Iíd be away from the camp." McCall turned toward the door. "I donít need your permission to stay. Iíll resign from the Company and go back to the camp and help Lauren on my own!"
"You know that no one resigns from the Company!" Control shouted in annoyance, "And what can you do to help?" He reigned his temper in and brought his voice down to a normal level, "Your talents are no longer needed. Food and supplies will be given to Dr. Demeter; she wonít need you to procure them for her. Sheíll need helpers, thatís right, but what are you going to do to help, McCall? Count supplies? Take inventory? Clean bedpans?"
McCall stood still and then turned. He looked stricken.
Control approached his old friend. "You know you arenít the type to be happy doing repair jobs and cleaning up the camp. Lauren is a giver, if only one person needed help, sheíd never leave the camp. Youíre a do-er; you need to use your brain and your talents to be fulfilled. You canít do that as the doctorís helpmate."
McCall sat down on a chair. Silent.
Control decided to play his ace card. "You also have other responsibilities. Thereís a four-year-old boy who just celebrated a Christmas without his father. You have a wife at home who doesnít have any idea that youíve taken a mistress. Before you were assigned here, you told me that you two were thinking of having another child. Are you willing to ruin the lives of the people who love you, just because of a wartime fling?"
"Itís not Ė it wasnít a fling Ė damn you!" McCall protested, but his voice had lost some force.
"Lauren wonít follow you back to the US and you canít stay here without harming her cause." He tried to make his voice sincere, "Robert, try and look at the situation clearly. The liaison between you has to end. The minute the war finished, the relationship was no longer viable, youíve got to see that. Itís time for you to make the final break."
McCall fell silent, and then slowly, he got up off the chair and walked to the window. Control could see that his friendís usually ramrod-straight back had slumped.
Taking great care to present his idea gently, Control asked, "Have you heard from Kay?"
Control could see that all the steam had gone out of his friend when McCall sighed and put his hand up to rub his eyes. His voice was faint, "I received a letter before Christmas. She said Scotty was terribly disappointed Ė heartbroken was the word she used Ė that I wouldnít be there for the holiday." He turned to face Control, his eyes pools of despair, "Poor little lad, he didnít understand any of this, except that he wouldnít see his daddy at Christmas."
Control nodded, "He adores you. All little boys worship their father." He put his hand on McCallís shoulder. "Your son needs you."
Robert nodded, "I know."
"And Kay, Kay doesnít deserve to be abandoned, or to live through the humiliation of her husband leaving her for another woman."
"But Lauren Ė,"
"Lauren has her work. Nothing is more important to her, and that includes any love affair."
McCall again turned away and looked out the window. "I donít want to go," he said, "Lauren is a special woman and Iíve felt so, so lucky to have been part of her life."
Control leaned against the wall, carefully choosing his next words. "She is a remarkable person, I agree with you. But part of what makes her special is her dedication. And, McCall, youíre dedicated too, but your cause isnít the same as hers. You both use very different methods to achieve goals. In order for this relationship to work, one of you would have to change and become less of who you really are. You wouldnít want that to happen."
ĎNo," he saw tears in McCallís eyes, but a moment later they were gone, replaced with a look of iron, "All right damn you, Iíll follow your bloody orders and leave, but you must continue to get provisions to Lauren until the Red Cross can take over." Control could feel the heat of his gaze, "You must swear to me that youíll continue to send in materials, goods, food and whatever supplies she requires. Swear it to me! Swear youíll continue to play Father Christmas for Lauren and her people and Iíll return home with no further fuss."
Hiding a feeling of triumph, Control answered somberly, "I will, Robert. I will." He opened a drawer and fished out some papers, "Here are your travel plans and all the documentation youíll need. Your plane will take off in about an hour."
McCall took the papers and stuffed them in his pocket. "You wonít give me time to say good-bye?"
"Iíll explain everything to her when the next convoy of supplies goes to the camp. Maybe tomorrow. Weíve got to get you out of Nigeria now, Gowon and the Brits insist."
When Robert nodded in agreement, Control finally permitted himself to relax. His plans were going smoothly.
"By the way, when you get to the airport stateside, a rather large trunk will be waiting there for you."
McCall barely registered any interest.
"Itís filled with Christmas presents for Scott and Kay. I know that you didnít get much of a chance to think of Christmas gift giving."
McCall showed a sad half-smile, "Working hard at your new Father Christmas persona, eh Control? Thank you. I know my family Ė," he hesitated. Control could tell that the word was bringing up deep emotions that Robert must have kept buried throughout his affair with the doctor. McCall cleared his throat, "My family will appreciate it." He then turned and walked out of the office.
Sitting down at his desk again, Control wondered if his old friend really understood what a huge present he was getting this year.
It wasnít every year that a man could hope to receive the gift of a second chance to keep his family together.
Control looked out of the window and caught a glimpse of McCall as he got into the waiting car. He knew he had done the right thing when he made up the story that Gowon and the Company wanted McCall gone from Nigeria. He knew that forcing Robert to end the affair with Dr. Lauren Demeter was the right thing to do, both for Robert and for the Company.
He sat back in his chair as an amusing thought occurred to him.
Maybe he really was Father Christmas?