Lost Futures Remembered

(Volume 9 of the Tales of Ann & Robert)

"What are you doing here?" Robert asked curiously as he opened the brownstone's front door for Mickey.

"Don't let this get around," Mickey said, slouching into the house, "but I've been drafted into shopping. Your lady insisted I go with her."

"You?"

Mickey shrugged and grinned. "When you're going shopping for presents, you don't take the person the present's for. Something about a year since you met and all that. I thought only people in high school did stuff like that."

Robert managed to look both insulted and smug. "Far be it from me to discourage my wife from sentimental urges. Where is she going?" he asked as he led the way back upstairs.

"I'm just driving, I don't know where to. You want me to keep her away from anything?"

"I think I'll trust her taste this once. Good Lord," he said, pausing in the atrium.

"What? Hello, Ankh, you slut." Mickey crouched down to rub the belly of the female Siamese.

"In two weeks it will be a year since I met her." Robert had gotten used to chaos in his life, but the changes he'd gone through in the last year approached the apocalyptic.

Mickey studied his friend and smiled to himself. The look on Robert's face was slightly stunned, but happily so. Marriage suited the man--at least, marriage to the right woman, and Mickey figured Ann was a candidate for sainthood for being the right woman for Robert McCall. They were still working out the bugs of any two people trying to turn independent lives into one life together, but Mickey was feeling ever more confident that this was going to work out.

"Robert, you're supposed to be resting that ankle," Ann scolded as she came down the spiral staircase from the next floor up.

"Don't nag," he said mildly, and she was instantly contrite.

"Sorry. But you are," she added.

"I know." He hugged her as she kissed him. "As soon as you go off present shopping with Mickey, I'll go back to my chair and my book."

Ann gasped and glared at Mickey, who shrugged helplessly. She laughed sheepishly. "I might have known you'd find out. Well, let me get my bag, then you can go back to your restful day."

"Days are more restful with you around," he told her softly, and she grinned and kissed him again.

Mickey paid Ankh closer attention till Ann had bounced off to the kitchen, then straightened, muffling a chuckle. "So how is the ankle?" Robert had sprained it chasing down an unpleasant woman with the nasty habit of trying to off her lovers with poisoned cocaine.

"Just a little sore, it'll be fine in a couple of days. Ann worries."

"Too much?"

"Only over little things. She bites her tongue on big things, so I figure she's just getting it out of her system." Considering he'd dodged more than one bullet in bringing Mary O'Shea to justice, Robert imagined Ann was entitled to a little fussing.

Robert told Ann not to be too extravagant on his present, but she only smiled mysteriously. "I won't overpay," was all she said, then she and Mickey headed out.

"Where are we going?" Mickey asked as he held his van's passenger door open for her.

"Mr. Wu's bookshop on 42nd. He has a couple of 17th century Japanese hand-printed books I think Robert might like."

"You only think?" Mickey shook his head as he got behind the wheel. "By the way, rich lady, something like a hundred shopping days to Christmas."

"Iíll keep that in mind."

As they pulled out and headed down the street, they didn't notice the young man in the brown sedan who pulled out to follow them.

Robert had settled down in the wingback chair in the library with a big glass of iced tea, Ankh on his lap, and a reprint of a rare book of letters written by a woman who had spied for North and South in the Civil War, when the phone rang. He muttered and closed the book, his thumb marking his spot at the section where the woman was trying to convince the Union Department of War that the rumors of her work for the South were only the reflection of how good a job she was doing. For a few selfish moments, he wondered why anyone would want to get into trouble on a hot August afternoon, then he realized it wasn't his private line, but the house line. He decided to let the answering machine in the kitchen get it and went back to his book.

He was chuckling over the lady spy's almost word-for-word letter to the Southern Department of War re: her work for the North when the phone rang again. Sighing, he pushed Ankh off his lap and went to get the cordless extension off Ann's desk at the end of the room.

"Robert McCall," he said into the phone.

"Oh, thank God," sobbed Ann's mother.

"Sylvia? What's wrong?"

"Where's Ann? I must speak to her!"

"She's gone shopping. Calm down, Sylvia, tell me what's happened." He had a dreadful vision of some fatal accident involving someone in the family.

"Oh, Robert--" Tears choked Sylvia's voice.

"Has something happened to Nate or Becky? Is it Anastasia?"

"No, no, nothing like that."

"Are you all right? Sylvia, take a deep breath and calm down. We can't deal with whatever is wrong unless you can tell me what's happened."

Sylvia took several breaths, but her voice still caught unevenly. "Iím fine, but you must find Ann."

"Why?" Robert asked when she paused.

She took a deep breath and plunged into it. "Randy Taylor's escaped from the hospital he was in. His mother thinks he's coming for Ann."

Sobs broke her voice, but Robert let her cry while he dealt with his own shock. "Are you at home?"

"Yes..."

"I'm coming over. Be ready to tell me what's going on."

"But Ann--!"

"Is with Mickey. He'll look after her until we can track her down."

He rang off quickly, dropped the book into the chair without a thought, then went to get his car keys.

There was no answer when Robert called Mickey's car phone. They must have reached whatever shop Ann had chosen. Robert kept telling himself that Mickey wouldn't let anything happen to her, thanking God that she wasn't out by herself.

Sylvia herself answered the door of her Brooklyn apartment. Her age was showing, and she twisted a handkerchief in her hands. Robert gave her a brief hug.

"Now, tell me everything. When did Taylor get out and how?"

"Yesterday morning--"

"Yesterday!"

"Robert, please, I called you as soon as I knew." His dismay threatened the fragile calm she'd acquired.

"Yes, I'm sorry." Robert took several deep breaths. "Go on with what you were saying."

"They're not quite certain how he did it, but a head count yesterday morning showed he was gone. Someone thought they spotted him hitching a ride on a road leaving Albany."

"Have they notified the police?"

"Oh, yes, but I don't know if the New York City police know any more than that there's an escapee from the state hospital in Albany." She wiped her eyes. "I didn't know that's where he was. Why on earth would he be in a hospital like that? He was such a nice boy."

Robert held his tongue. "How did you find out?"

"Tricia Taylor called me just before I called you. She was so frightened." Sylvia began pacing from one end of her professionally decorated living room to the other. "Tricia knew yesterday, but she couldn't believe that there was any reason to worry. She expected him to try to reach her. But she started to wonder if perhaps she wasn't the cause of Randy doing this now."

"What did she do?" Robert asked when she paused to wipe her eyes again.

Sylvia stiffened her shoulders, thinking of what she herself would do if one of her children were locked up in such an awful place. "Tricia has gone to see him every month, trying to reconnect him to the real world. Apparently, every time, he's asked when he can see Ann. She told me he doesn't know they're divorced. His doctors have told her that it might not be wise to tell him that Ann's remarried. But Tricia lost her patience on her last visit. When he asked to see Ann, Tricia told him that he couldn't, because she was married to someone else now. He went very quiet and wouldn't say anything else for her entire visit. The doctors weren't at all pleased."

Robert, thinking of all the twists of psychosis he'd seen in his life, felt a chill in his stomach. He went to Sylvia's phone and dialed Mickey's car phone again. "How long ago was this visit?" He grimaced as the phone rang on unanswered.

"Last week. Surely there's no real danger. He can't know where she lives now."

"He wrote her a letter last fall. His doctor managed to find her address. He may have found it in a file somewhere."

Sylvia had always comforted herself with the thought that Randy Taylor had just lost his temper a little too far one very bad day. He wasn't a bad man, just someone who needed a little more help and understanding than most. But he'd been in the state mental hospital, in the section for those who had gone dangerously mad. Perhaps Ann had been right, perhaps Randy was a threat. Perhaps he really had tried to kill Sylvia's daughter. The look on Robert's face as he dialed numbers and didn't get answers brought fear to a mother's heart.

"The police, though," she said faintly. "Surely an escaped mental patient is a high priority."

"If they think to look here in New York. They may still be combing around Albany."

Robert pulled out his address book and looked up the numbers of his friends on the police force. Time to pull in some favors and trade unreasonably on friendships. A different thought occurred to him. "Did his mother tell him anything about me?"

"Just your name, I think. Tricia doesn't know that much. We barely talk anymore," Sylvia added sadly.

Robert made a note to watch his own back. "Yes," he said into the phone. "Lieutenant Jefferson Burnett, please, this is Robert McCall. Yes, it's very important, it's about the escaped mental patient from Albany yesterday." He waited impatiently, all the time hoping Mickey was still in the habit of carrying a gun wherever he went. "Jefferson? Thank God."

"Robert? The desk said you had something on the loony who got out of Albany. I just found out about that myself this morning. How are you on it so fast?"

Robert forced himself to be calm and clear. "Because the escapee is my wife's first husband, he tried to kill her five years ago, and I think he's going to try again."

"Dear God. Get over here."

"Right." He hung up, tried Mickey's phone another time, then bade farewell to Sylvia and left. Sylvia sat on her couch and cried.

Mr. Wu actually came out from behind his counter and bowed when Ann had walked into his store. "Miss Marshall, how good to see you again. So many books have come through my store that you would have wanted, but you haven't been here in so long."

"I've been very busy, Mr. Wu." She returned his bow. "But now I'm back. I have a present to buy for my husband, and you were the first one I thought of."

"A husband! Very good." He looked curiously at Mickey.

"No, this is a friend of mine. You do read Japanese, don't you?" she asked Mickey.

"Well, yes, enough to manage street signs and newspapers. Is that the real reason you drug me along?" Mickey asked suspiciously.

"Uh huh. Mr. Wu, I saw in your last catalog that you have a pair of 17th century hand-printed books from Japan, but you didn't list the titles. Do you still have them?"

"Yes, I do." A smidgen of Mr. Wu's pleasure faded from his face as he went to a locked case behind his counter.

"He doesn't know Japanese?" Mickey asked softly.

"He does, but he refuses to admit it," Ann told him. "His nephew told me he was in Shanghai when the Japanese invaded. It's best not to ask."

Mr. Wu placed two books on the counter and gestured Ann and Mickey over. "They have been rebound, but the interiors are original." He carefully opened the cover of one, revealing exquisite Japanese calligraphy and a beautiful water color painting on handmade paper.

"What's it say?" Ann asked Mickey.

"Jeez, Annie, the language has changed, you know."

"I know, I just want the gist of it."

Mickey peered at the elegant lettering, trying to kick his brain over into the Oriental twists necessary to see squiggles as writing. "Uh, Bureaucrats'--no, Courtier's Diary, something something, Emperor--I can't get the name."

"Lovely," Ann smiled.

"He might have it already."

"Original calligraphy and handpainted plates, on handmade paper from the 17th century? I doubt it. Let's see the other one."

The inside plate showed a sweeping battle of samurai in a valley, while peasants cowered on the sides. "If it's about Japanese warfare, he'll like it," Mickey said confidently. "He'll probably make an article out of it."

Ann paged through carefully and smiled at the plate of a samurai putting on the various pieces of his armor. "Mr. Wu, now we get to the hard part."

"Of course, Miss Marshall." Mr. Wu refrained from rubbing his hands as he settled down for bargaining.

Mickey slipped off to the shelves, not sure he could deal with the size of the numbers Ann and Mr. Wu were trading.

Jefferson Burnett had been watching the doors, and when Robert strode into the detective section, he got up to meet him. "I've got all the information I could on this guy," he said without preamble. "But here, have some coffee, you don't look good."

"I'm not good and thank you." For station house coffee, it wasn't bad, and Robert was glad to submerge some of his anxiety in the peaceful procedures of drinking.

Jefferson led the way back to his desk. "I've alerted the street units. They're still looking for him up in Albany, though some units have kept an eye on his mother's house. No one thought to make a citywide announcement."

"I suppose there was no reason to," Robert said fairly. "I only found out because his mother told Ann's mother, who immediately called me."

"Giving this guy a full day to do what he wants." Jefferson flipped through the file on his desk. "You really think he's a threat?"

"Don't you?" Robert recognized one paper in the file, a copy of Ann's statement of five years ago. He tugged it out. "Have you read this? An unprovoked, vicious attack--" He realized how strident he was getting and got a grip. "He's been fixated on her for years, he wants desperately to come back to her. Now he knows he can't. At the very least, he's violent and needs to be taken off the streets."

Jefferson studied Robert, filtering out the protective anger of a dangerous man to find the bits of fact. "They are looking for him, Robert," he said soothingly.

"I know, I know." Robert rubbed his forehead, where a headache was trying to start. "How did he get out? What happened up there?"

"He's been a model patient since he got there, they've let him work with the art therapy for the other patients. Apparently he was an artist."

Robert nodded impatiently.

"Anyway," Jefferson went on, scanning papers, "he turned his sculpting talents and some clay working tools to the purpose of lock picking and got out through a window in the art room where the screen was loose."

"Alarms?"

"The art room is in an old section that never got alarms put in. It's only used during the day when there's supervision by staff. Taylor knows his way around there very well by now."

"Surely the residents in the area know to report people wandering around in hospital clothes."

"Sure. That's why they figure he was the one responsible for the break-ins in the staff locker room."

"How the hell did he get in there? Never mind, I don't want to know." The headache was getting worse.

"This guy's smart, Robert. No one knew he was gone till the morning head count. You can take my word for it that there's some mighty big security shakeups going on up there."

"So a good guess is he's had a day and a half free operating time. He could have been in the city by dawn yesterday. Do you have a picture?"

"You don't know what he looks like?" Jefferson asked, surprised, as he flipped to the front of the file.

"I haven't seen those parts of the family photo albums." Robert stared at the pair of photographs Jefferson handing him, wondering how much of that knot in his stomach came from seeing the face of the man Ann might have spent the rest of her life with instead of him.

The first picture was of a handsome young man with dark brown hair, blue eyes, and an easy smile. He looked like someone you'd find in a Ralph Lauren ad posing in expensive sports clothes next to a sailboat. It came as something of a shock to realize he was wearing a uniform from the New York State Correctional System. In street clothes, this Randy Taylor would never attract a second glance. He looked a lot saner than Robert felt on some days.

Mr. Hyde appeared in the next picture. A mug shot of a glaring, hunted-looking man, his hair shaggy and sloppy, his eyes feral with distrust and anger.

Robert put the photo carefully on the desktop next to the other and rested his chin on his hands as he studied them. Which face had Ann seen as she turned around that fateful afternoon? Had she known what lurked behind the Ivy League facade?

"Nice looking kid," Jefferson commented.

"Yes," Robert said grimly.

Jefferson wondered if that was jealousy he heard, but then he remembered that Ted Bundy and such had also been nice looking kids. No one would report Randy Taylor if he was dressed in normal clothes and acting as sane as anyone else on the street.

Robert made himself memorize the face and refused to make comparisons between himself and this handsome young man. Robert picked up the mug shot and held it next to the other photo, impressing on his reactions that these two faces really belonged to the same man. The man who was probably out hunting the city for Robert's wife. "She's with Mickey," he finally said. "Could you tell the patrol cars to keep an eye out for his van? They went shopping somewhere, and I can't get hold of them."

"Right, good idea." Jefferson jotted down Mickey's license number and signaled for a runner. "What do you want to do?"

Robert forced himself to stay in his chair. Running out blindly to scour the city would not help. "May I see his file? I need to find out how his mind works, if I can."

"Do you really want to get inside the head of a madman?" Jefferson paused at the look Robert gave him, the look of banked fury backed with the promise of hideous vengeance if Taylor got anywhere near the current Mrs. Robert McCall. Jefferson had always wondered just how far Robert himself was from a strict clinical definition of mad. He handed over the file.

"You about done yet?" Mickey asked, bored with books.

"Yep," Ann grinned, "we came to a mutually agreeable level of highway robbery, and he's gone off to wrap the books." She looked pensive. "Do you really think he'll like them?"

"Don't ask me, Annie. The last present I got him was a spare clip for his Kalishnikov."

She blinked at him for a moment. "Did he like it?"

"Well, he didn't return it."

Mr. Wu poked his head out of the curtain behind the counter. "Please forgive me, Miss Marshall, but it will take a few minutes longer. I am having difficulty finding paper in the right size."

"Oh, that's all right." She grinned at the bookshelves. "It's been a while since I've looked at your stock, I'm sure there's other things I want to get." Mickey groaned.

He followed her into the etiquette section and started chuckling with her over the titles of the old books. "'Gentlemen Aren't Wimps,'" he read. "Well, that's good to know." He pulled one down to glance through as Ann wandered around the corner to the other side.

Neither looked up as the little bell over the door chimed with the entrance of a young man who had been pacing up and down outside for the past while. The brown sedan he'd been driving was parked behind Mickey's van, so close that the van would have trouble being moved.

The dark-haired young man stared at the oblivious Mickey for several moments, whispering to himself, then he moved slowly toward the other side of the book shelves.

Ann half-noticed the new customer joining her in the narrow bay of books. She moved closer to the shelf to let him pass, engrossed in the social standards of Edwardian New York.

A gentle touch on her arm made her look up.

"Hello, Sylvie-Ann," Randy said with a bashful smile. "Still shopping Mr. Wu's."

The book dropped from her hands as she stared at him, breath and thought forgotten. He caught it before it hit the floor.

"Sorry I startled you," Randy apologized. He set the book on the shelf, then turned back to her. "Oh, you're still beautiful. I've missed you so much." He shook his head in disbelief as he raised a hand to touch her face.

"Here we go," Mickey grinned. "'No Nice Girl Swears.' Just the book for you. Annie?" He glanced around. "What did you find?" he asked as he went around the end of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf.

He saw Ann standing in front of a strange man, raw terror and shock on her face. The man was speaking softly to her and running his fingers along her cheekbone.

"Hey!" Mickey snapped. "Leave her alone!" He grabbed the man's arm.

Randy yanked free and turned. "You," he snarled. "You can't have her. She's mine." He reached under his jacket.

Mickey knew the gesture and went for his own gun even as he wondered what the hell was going down. But Randy was faster, and he fired as soon as the muzzle was clear.

"Mickey!" Ann shrieked.

Mr. Wu, just stepping through the curtain, looked in horror as the gunshot flung Mickey back against a wall of books, his midsection blossoming red.

Randy lined up another shot. Ann grabbed his arm. "Randy, no!"

Mr. Wu debated his duty to his customers, ducked down behind the counter and hit the silent alarm, then crawled back to the backrooms and the door to the alley.

"Honey, please," Randy said reasonably, prying Ann's hand off his gun arm. "This will only take a moment."

Mickey wrestled with shock and pain, trying to get his gun trained on the struggling pair. Some nutcase, after Ann--nutcase-- "Randy?" he whispered, fighting for focus. "Oh, god..."

"Please, no, you'll kill him," Ann begged.

She wanted to whimper as the expression left her first husband's face. "You care so much about him?" asked the cold, remote voice. "Like you cared about me? All I wanted was to see you. Why wouldn't you come see me?"

Mickey found desperate strength and steadied his aim. "Move, Ann," he gasped.

Randy pushed Ann away and leveled his pistol. "I told you--" he snarled. His arm jumped as he pulled the trigger, the sound of a nearing siren catching his attention. Mickey's shot went wild when the second bullet plowed through his arm and into the spine of a first edition "Nicholas Nickleby." Ann screamed again and dropped to the floor as Mickey's bullet hit the bookcase next to her, throwing splinters.

Randy stared at the bloody man, then looked wildly toward the street, where the siren was coming even closer. He had to avoid sirens, had to get away with his wife. He grabbed Ann's arm and pulled her up. "Come on, honey, we've got to go."

She tried to fight, tried to remember how to fight. She'd thought she'd be ready for this moment, but she wasn't. All she could do was hang back as Randy drug her toward the front door, try to reach for Mickey as she was pulled past. He was on the floor, not moving. His gun was near his hand, near her feet if she just reached down for it. But Randy tugged hard on her arm just as she stooped down, pulling her against him.

Randy held her tight, staring at the police car that skidded to a halt in front of the shop. He stared around, saw the curtained doorway, started toward it.

The first policeman out of the car saw the armed man with the struggling woman in the doorway. "Halt! This is the police!"

Panicking, Randy turned and fired toward the policeman.

The cop dove out of the way just as his partner stepped out of the car. "Hold your fire!" he yelled. "He's got a hostage! Get back-up!"

At the law firm of Wilcox, Jones & Monroe, Suzy Johnson threw another balled up piece of paper at the wastebasket. This was what high-priced lawyers were reduced to on boring Friday afternoons in August. The rest of the staff had already disappeared for their weekends on the shore, those who weren't long gone on month-long holidays. Suzy would have left herself, except that Mrs. Nussbaum was due in two hours for her regular meeting to disinherit and reinherit relatives, though it was even odds if she'd actually show up. It would serve her right for Suzy to cancel on her. Suzy searched her desk for a coin to flip on staying versus leaving. Her phone rang, and her hopes rose. Perhaps Mrs. Nussbaum was actually calling to cancel. "This is Susan Johnson. May I help you?"

"Suzy, this is Robert. I need your help."

Suzy forgot Cape Cod. The clipped tone of Robert's voice set off all the danger signals in her mind. "What with?"

"Randy Taylor has escaped from the state hospital, and we're afraid he's in town. I need to know where he might go. Suzy?"

She forced her fingers to work again and tightened her hold on the phone. "Does Annie know?"

"Not yet," Robert said grimly. "She's off shopping with Mickey and I can't get hold of her. If you have any ideas on where she might go to look for a present for me, that would help as well."

"Oh, sweet Jesus." She tried to think. "I know she talked about it, but I just can't get my thoughts straight. How long has he been out?"

"Since yesterday morning. Suzy, get hold of yourself, I need help. Can you come to the 23rd Precinct and talk to me?"

"Yes, I'll be there as soon as I can."

Leaving all thoughts of Mrs. Nussbaum behind, Suzy gathered her things and left her office at a run, barely remembering to tell the receptionist that she was leaving.

She was still running when she got to the 23rd Precinct. She barely noticed the sleaze and trauma that had decided her to avoid criminal law like the plague. The desk sergeant directed her to Lt. Burnett's desk.

"Robert!" she called when she was still half a room away.

Robert stood to catch her hug, then he pushed her away. "What do you have that can help?"

"Annie was going to look at a set of books at a shop she likes on 42nd. It's an Oriental name, Wong or Li or something like that, I can't remember. They do old and used books."

Jefferson finished jotting notes and signaled for another runner. "I'll get it run down. Ms. Johnson, what about Taylor's associates?"

Robert performed rapid introductions, and Suzy sat across from Jefferson. "He didn't have many friends other than the ones he'd made with Annie: me, Jordan, a couple of kids from high school who are long gone out of here. All Randy liked to do was paint and draw and sculpt." She shivered briefly at where his taste for sculpture had led him.

"We've already checked the condo in Brooklyn where they lived," Robert said. "It was sold to an older couple who still live there, and they haven't heard or seen a thing." He licked his lips. "Suzy, aside from what he did, is he the violent sort?"

Suzy focused on the paperweight on Jefferson's desk and took deep breaths. "If a picture wasn't working out, he'd throw his brush across the room. He threw things a lot when he was mad. He said it was better than hitting someone." She glanced at Robert and wished she hadn't. He was very tense, and beneath the fright in his eyes was a gleam that Suzy remembered seeing in Randy's eyes a few times. Did Ann have a taste for unstable men that no one had ever noticed before?

Jefferson's runner came back in a hurry. "Lieutenant, there's a Wu's Books on 42nd--"

"That's the place," Suzy said in relief. "She was going there."

The runner looked grim. "We got a report of shots fired, and the unit on the scene says there's a guy in there holding a woman hostage."

Suzy grabbed Robert's hand and didn't notice the strength of his grip on hers.

"Mr. Wu the owner got out the back," the runner continued. "He said the woman's an old customer of his shopping for a present--"

Robert bit his lip and tasted blood.

"--And the guy with the gun shot the man she was with a couple of times."

Suzy gasped when Robert clamped down.

"Right." Jefferson checked his gun in his holster, then stood and grabbed his jacket. "Come on, you two."

"You're letting us come?" Robert said cynically, dragging Suzy with him.

"You'd go anyway, I want you where I can see you."

With cop cars screaming up outside and the store being surrounded, Randy was close to panicking. He let go of Ann, but he stayed between her and the doors. "Why are they doing this?" he asked the air. "I just want to leave with my wife."

Ann was frozen until she heard a moan from Mickey. "No, Randy!" she said quickly when he started to turn, gun in his hand. "Please, leave him alone."

Randy hesitated, and she ran to Mickey's side. "Don't move, Mickey," she said, kneeling beside him.

"Annie..." Mickey tried to move his head so he could see her.

"Shush. Don't talk. I'm OK." Though not by much. Ann stared at the bloody wound in his chest and tried not to remember the dreadful, knowing snicker he'd given once at the joke "A sucking chest wound is nature's way of telling you to slow down." Hysteria wanted to come out and play, but she focused on the few first aid lessons she'd had. A pressure bandage, that seemed the best idea.

"Don't waste your time, Sylvy-Ann," said the cold voice of the Mr. Hyde that lived in the man she'd first married. "It'd be best to put him out of his misery."

"Don't you dare!" she snapped, glaring at him. The chill in his eyes threatened her stability. She'd seen it before, as he'd swung at her--she turned back to Mickey and kept assembling bits of cloth for a bandage.

"You in the store!" came the amplified voice of a policeman outside. "Come out with your hands up!"

Randy ignored it and took a step toward Ann. His foot nudged Mickey's gun where it still lay on the floor. Ann swore for not having reached for it when she'd come to Mickey's side. Randy glanced down curiously, then knelt down to pick up the gun. He tucked it in his belt as he studied his wife.

"He's not going to keep you," he said rationally. "I won't let him. You're my wife, and I'm home now." He smiled as he looked at her. "You've left your hair long, I'm glad."

Ann momentarily wished for scissors to hack her hair off with, but she distracted herself with pressing the bandage into place. Mickey groaned. "I'm sorry, Mickey," she said, trying not to cry as blood soaked the pad.

"Not your fault..."

"Stop talking, dammit!"

Mickey cracked open an eyelid. He tried to suppress a cough, but it got away from him. Ann whimpered at the blood on his lips. He painfully got a hand up to pat hers on his chest, then his look slid to Randy, who stood over Ann staring down at the man on the floor.

"Bastard," he whispered.

"Shut up," Ann said desperately. "Randy, please, tell the police he's hurt, let him get to the hospital."

"No," Randy said easily, and he walked away.

Jefferson hopped the curb to get around the barricade in front of Mr. Wu's. Three marked police cars blocked off the street, and the officers clustered behind an unmarked supervisor's vehicle. Jefferson slammed to a halt next to that car. He grabbed Robert's arm before they got out.

"You're going to stay with me," he ordered. "Don't make things worse by charging in the front door."

Robert glared at him. "I was thinking the back door, actually."

"No. Dammit, I will put a guard on you if you don't start thinking!"

A crack appeared in Robert's voice. "My wife and my best friend are in there, Jefferson."

"I know, Robert, I know." Jefferson looked into the back seat. "Ms. Johnson, you are going to stay low and stay close, understand?"

Suzy nodded, not trusting her voice.

A plainclothes cop nodded at Jefferson. "We got your word," he said. "This the husband?"

"Yes, I'm the husband," Robert snapped. "What are you doing to get my wife out?"

"Robert--" Jefferson started.

"Sir," said the plainclothes cop with scant patience, "I understand you're upset, but this is a delicate situation."

"You're bloody right it's delicate! He tried to kill her before, and while you're out here deciding your strategy, he may have already succeeded in his second try!"

"Mr. McCall--"

"Actually, she was OK a few minutes ago," a uniform volunteered. "I saw her through the window."

Robert shivered as the worst fear he'd been fighting dissipated. Suzy hugged his arm. "Thank you," he said. "Has Taylor made any demands?"

"Go ahead and tell him, Paulsen," Jefferson said. "He's done this kind of stuff before."

Paulsen raised a curious eyebrow. "We haven't been able to make contact with him. What view we can get of him through the door shows him talking to the woman. He's ignoring us."

Robert took a deep breath. "And the other man? The one who was shot?"

"No word. The neighbors reported several shots fired."

"God," Robert murmured. He stared at the shop across the street, analyzing avenues of attack and lines of sight, then he glanced up at the roof above him.

"Wrong angle for a sniper," Paulsen said calmly. "We thought of that."

"Damn," Robert muttered. "The alley?"

"Is a possibility." Paulsen wondered if McCall's experience was police or military but decided not to ask just yet. "Mr. Wu described the back of the shop, and it's a maze. Taylor would hear us coming. The front windows are covered in bookshelves. The only sight in is the door."

"Do you have a plan of the store itself?"

Paulsen nodded at the record store behind them. "Mr. Wu's in there, he drew us out one."

"You're not going in, Robert," Jefferson said for formality's sake. He wasn't surprised not to get an answer.

Mr. Wu sat at a table with a large piece of paper in front of him. He was explaining the layout of his store to a SWAT officer. "Miss Marshall's friend fell down in front of the English literature section, here. She was in the history/sociology section, here." He shook his head. "So much violence for such a little bookshop to hold." He looked up at the new arrivals.

Robert didn't wait for an introduction. "Mr. Wu, the lady being held is my wife. Did Taylor hurt her?"

"Ah, you're the gentleman she's buying the books for." Mr. Wu remembered the unpleasant situation. "I'm very sorry, but I left when the shooting started. I did hear her, though, and she didn't sound hurt. Just very frightened."

"And her friend?" Robert asked in an extremely controlled tone of voice.

Mr. Wu shook his head. "Very bad." He tapped his chest.

Robert put his fear aside and looked down at the plan. "Do you have any plans made yet, Paulsen?"

"Frontal assault is a last resort," the policeman said. "Maybe one man through the back rooms..."

Suzy cleared her throat. "Excuse me, but couldn't we maybe just talk to him?"

"We can't talk to him, miss, if he won't talk to us," Paulsen explained.

She glanced around the group of grim men anxiously. "Maybe I could try? He knows me."

"Briggs, get me the phone. We tried to get his mother down here," Paulsen went on, "but she's too hysterical. You could be the answer to a prayer, Miss--?"

"Johnson, Suzy Johnson." She looked at Robert nervously. "I'm Annie's best friend, I was maid of honor at their wedding, and all that."

"Good, happy memories. Let's just hope he answers the phone."

Robert didn't comment, too busy studying the plan of the store and tracing paths with his finger. X's had been placed to represent the last known position of people. Someone with more sense of drama than discretion had put a red X to mark the position of the wounded man. A bad spot, too far from the doors to make a quick snatch practical.

He looked out the store's windows and stared at the bookshop. If they couldn't see in, odds were Randy couldn't see out. God forbid this should last till dark, but if it did, one man could easily sneak up on that door and get a clean shot. A man who was a very good shot--

Suzy took her attention from the setting up of the telephone for recording and monitoring to look at Robert. She'd always been glad that Ann had someone who would protect her, but Suzy hadn't realized just what Robert might be capable of. His right forefinger was tapping thoughtfully on the red X on the plan as he stared out the windows, and his eyes had gotten very remote.

"Robert," she whispered, not certain if she wanted to catch his attention.

He glanced up and met her eyes. She tried not to wince. "I'm going to get her out of there," he promised. He turned his gaze back to the bookstore. "I've always wanted to chat with her ex."

"Miss Johnson?" Jefferson called. "We're ready."

Suzy was glad to go.

The noise of shouts and sirens was getting on Randy's nerves, so he closed the front door. He was having a hard enough time convincing his wife to be sensible.

"You're not his," he tried to explain again, watching in frustration as Ann tended Mickey.

She winced and didn't look up. Mickey was unconscious, and his breathing kept cutting out. She wanted to beg again for an ambulance, but just the mention of saving Mickey triggered that change in Randy's eyes that terrified her so.

Randy sighed in frustration, starting to pace. "You're mine. Till death do us part. You can't be married to him, you're married to me. You're my wife, not his." He paced to her side and crouched down to stare at her. "It's bigamy to be married to two people at once. Did they tell you I was dead? How could you get married again?"

Ann dared a look out of the corner of her eye. He'd always been baffled by the way her mind had worked, but he'd said he enjoyed trying to figure her out. She noticed his hair was longer than she remembered, and the light caught on the sable highlights she'd once adored watching in the sun. She was remembering too much, how she'd hoped the baby would have Randy's hair and not hers, and how they'd wondered if they'd end up with a matched set of little clones, a brown-haired boy and a red-haired girl.

Randy returned her look, smiling now that she was paying attention to him. His smile still had that infectious quirk that never failed to break her resolve--or hadn't failed before. The sound of Mickey's faint, rasping breath, with that awful whistle at the end, had forever erased any faith she'd had in her first husband.

He raised his free hand to a hanging lock of her hair. "It's still the same color. You're not dyeing it, are you?" he teased.

How could he still be so much the man she could have spent the rest of her life with, and at the same time be able to let a man die slowly on the floor? "Randy..."

The phone on the counter rang.

Randy turned and glared at it. It rang again, and he twitched. "It's not even my phone," he muttered.

"It might be for you," Ann dared. Randy had never been the kind of person who could let a phone ring unanswered.

"Who would be calling me? Hell," he growled as it kept ringing. He got to his feet and headed for the counter. "Hello?"

Suzy's hand slipped on the phone receiver. "Randy?" She tried to keep her voice steady. Not looking at Robert, sitting nearby and watching intently, helped. "It's me, Suzy Johnson."

Randy grinned and leaned against the counter. "Suzy! Hi! How are you?"

"I--I'm fine. How are you?" She bit her tongue for the stupid question. Jefferson patted her shoulder encouragingly.

"I'm OK. Gosh, it's been a long time. Are you still a lawyer?"

Suzy stared at Jefferson, who nodded. "Yes, I am. Randy? I heard there was somebody hurt in there." She fought back tears of fright at the way his voice changed.

"Yes, there is." The chill faded out. "Where are you working?"

"The same place. Randy, how badly is he hurt?"

"Pretty bad. I was aiming for the heart, but I'm not that good a shot."

Robert growled a curse and started to stand, but Jefferson grabbed his shoulder and forced him back into the chair.

Suzy turned away. She hadn't had time to be scared for Mickey. "He needs a doctor, Randy."

"No, he doesn't. Ann's looking after him." The menace in his tone was unmistakable.

"See, she's all right," Jefferson whispered to Robert.

"For now." Robert locked his hands together and glared at the speaker.

"Ann's not a doctor," Suzy said. "If he's as bad off as you say, we've got to get Mickey to the hospital."

"Mickey?" Randy blinked. "Who's Mickey?"

Jefferson nodded quickly. Suzy tried to keep her words straight and calm. "Mickey Kostmayer, the man you shot."

Randy turned and stared at the man laboring for breath on the floor. "Kostmayer?" he repeated. "His name's Kostmayer?"

"Yes, Mickey Kostmayer. He's a friend of--of mine."

"Oh, my god," Randy whispered in horror. "He's not--?"

Robert reached for the phone, but Jefferson shoved him back.

"Please, Randy, we've got an ambulance here," Suzy went on, seeing where this was going. "Let us send in a stretcher for Mickey."

"Yeah, you'd better. He's in a bad way. Sylvy-Ann, they're sending in a stretcher for him--"

"Randy, let me talk to Ann!" Suzy called as Randy's voice faded off, but the phone was hung up.

Randy crouched next Ann at Mickey's side. "Dear God," he said brokenly. "He's not that man Mom talked about."

Ann didn't know if she should pursue his sudden remorse, even though it was more like the man she'd known. Randy had always dumped bugs outside rather than step on them. "No, his name's Kostmayer, not McCall." She flinched at the glare she got when she mentioned her new married name.

The regret came back quickly. "Mr. Kostmayer, can you hear me?" Randy hesitated, chewing his fist. "I'm sorry, Mr. Kostmayer. I'm terribly sorry. I thought you were someone else."

Mickey was beyond answering, and his breathing was getting shallower.

Robert followed Jefferson out to the waiting ambulance and the team assembling their gear. "I want to go in with the stretcher."

"Robert, hostage negotiation is a delicate thing. I know you're good, but you're not thinking straight enough to talk to him."

"I don't intend to talk to him."

Jefferson stopped walking. "Robert..."

"He has already shot and possibly killed my best friend! Are we going to sit here and wait for the next gunshot? The one that kills my wife?"

They stared at each other, Robert barely clinging to the focused calm of battlefields and Jefferson knowing how hostage situations featuring madmen frequently ended. "You go in there with guns blazing," Jefferson finally said bluntly, "and you'll trigger what you're trying to prevent. Robert, you're losing it! You've got the right and the reason, but if you can't get some control, you're not going to be a part of this. We have done this before," he added.

"You heard what he said." Robert turned his back on the bookstore. "He shot Mickey because he thought it was me."

"And you want to walk in there. I thought suicide wasn't your style."

"We've got to end this now, Jeff. He's thinking about Mickey and the mistake he's made. Once Mickey's out of there, he'll only have Ann to think about. He came with a gun, Jeff. He must have planned to use it."

"Then I'll send a negotiator in with the stretcher. Someone who will talk to him instead of shoot him on sight." Jefferson saw Robert flinch. "You've always said you didn't believe in revenge, but I think that's all you want right now."

Robert covered his eyes. How many nights had he paid to the shades of the people he'd killed? And all he wanted right now was to add another face to the gallery. His thirst for pay back sickened him. "You're right, God help me. You're right."

"It's OK, Robert. If you didn't want it, I'd wonder why." Jefferson glanced around the street. The hostage negotiator on hand was good, but madmen didn't negotiate well. Robert had dealt with these kinds of situations before. "I'll let you go--on two conditions," he added swiftly.

"What?" Robert asked suspiciously.

"You leave that cannon you've got under your coat with me."

"No!"

"Then you don't go," Jefferson said flatly.

"He's armed and wants to kill me. You'd have me go in there defenseless?"

"You want Ann in a crossfire? According to Mr. Wu, she's been there already today."

"God damn it," Robert muttered. "And the second condition?"

"You wear a vest."

"I can't move in those things."

"You won't move from this side of the street, if you don't." Jefferson quirked a smile at Robert's frustrated shrug, and he pulled him toward a police car.

When the stretcher crew was ready, a policeman with a bullhorn warned Randy in the bookstore that they were coming. Crowds at either end of the blocked-off street craned for views, and people hung out of their windows, only ducking in when the police yelled up at them to get under cover. One doesnít block off a major thoroughfare like 42nd Street without attracting attention, and reporters were hovering around trying for exclusives while the photographers and videomen angled for shots.

Ann ducked down beside Mickey. "There's a stretcher coming, Mickey, hang on." She stared at him anxiously, watching for one breath to follow another. Only when she put her ear next to his mouth did she feel the faint motion of air.

A rap on the store's door made her and Randy both jump. Randy hesitated, then reached down to yank Ann to her feet.

"Come in," he called, backing down a bay of books with Ann pulled tight against his left shoulder. Once he saw the people in paramedic jackets with their boxes of equipment and a stretcher, he turned his attention to Ann. "I am sorry about your friend," he said with sincere regret. "I thought he was someone else," he added, his voice changing again. "I wish you'd come to see me," he sighed, resting his head against Ann's hair. He took a deep breath and chuckled. "You smell good."

Ann shivered, remembering the days when she'd liked being held by Randy. But while his left hand knowingly caressed her hair and neck, his right hand held a gun with the barrel resting just behind her ear. The paramedics were snapping urgent orders to each other as they worked on Mickey, strapping an oxygen mask on his face and swearing to themselves as they examined the hole in his chest.

Robert limited himself to holding the stretcher steady while the professionals labored over his best friend and studying the madman out of the corner of his eye. Taylor was watching the medical proceedings with a look of anxious concern, but grim madness kept flickering across his face, and his fingers curled and uncurled around the butt of the pistol in his hand.

Ann was watching Mickey apprehensively, tears of fright and worry rolling down her face unnoticed. She twisted her fingers, red with her friend's blood, together nervously.

Robert wondered why she hadn't fought free before now: her fear of her ex-husband had been one of the reasons she'd kept up with the karate and tae kwon do. But he knew how these things worked: For all the preparations one made, until one faced the battle there was no knowing how the reaction would hit. Robert imagined she'd thought she was safe or that she'd have warning, not that she'd just turn around one day and he'd be there. If Robert knew his wife, part of her shock was guilt for not reacting fast enough and so giving Taylor the chance to shoot Mickey. God knew he'd felt that guilt himself.

"We're moving him!" snapped a paramedic. "Hold the stretcher."

Robert yanked his attention to the immediate work and braced himself and the stretcher as the two paramedics secured the bottles and tubes they'd stuck into Mickey and took up position at his head and feet. On three, they swung him neatly onto the stretcher.

The head of the paramedic unit, who'd reluctantly agreed to let a civilian go in with the team, gave Robert an approving nod. "We're headed out," he announced for general hearing. He met Robert's eyes briefly, remembering the plan to leave the civilian--the hostage's husband and the victim's friend--behind to deal with the shooter.

Robert nodded acknowledgment and backed up to the counter, leaving the door clear for the stretcher to leave. He sent a prayer heavenward for his battle brother's sake, then left the matter to those who could deal with it and focused his attention on the man responsible for it all.

The head paramedic shivered and was glad to be leaving. He'd thought the old man just someone with more influence than sense, and Lt. Burnett an idiot for allowing a civilian to plop himself down in the middle of the mess. But the old man's face was as chill and empty as a hundred hunters in the street, with the promise of swift, violent retribution in the experienced eyes. This was no civilian out of his depth.

The paramedics hurried out of the shop, trying not to jostle their patient too much as they got him into their ambulance and headed for the hospital.

Silence held the bookstore as the people inside listened to the sirens as they wailed into life, then faded in the distance. A long sigh escaped Randy, and Ann shivered.

"It's time, honey," he whispered, shifting his hand on his gun. Ann whimpered and closed her eyes.

Robert took a deep breath, cursed Jefferson for taking away his weapon, and stepped around the end of bookcase. "Just a moment, Mr. Taylor."

Randy started and pointed his gun. Robert jumped back out of the way, but no shot followed. He moved very cautiously back into the line of fire.

"Who are you!" Randy demanded.

Robert chose his words carefully. "A friend of Mickey's. I'd like to talk to you." Now that he could study Randy, some of the first desire for vengeance faded, but it was replaced by cold apprehension. The calm maniacs were the most dangerous ones. And he looked so damned normal--except for the gun he now replaced back against Ann's head.

Randy sighed impatiently. "Look, I said I was sorry about Mr. Kostmayer. I thought he was someone else," added the implacable voice.

"Ann's husband," Robert dared.

"I am her husband!" Randy screamed.

Outside in the street, Jefferson nodded at a couple of cops who were slinking around toward lines-of-sight into the building. One managed to glance inside as he ran across the street, and he flashed a thumbs-up toward Burnett when he hit the sidewalk on the other side.

"Everyone's still upright," Jefferson interpreted for Suzy, who was hanging like a leech at his side.

"What if Robert can't talk Randy into giving up?" she asked very quietly.

"I prefer not to think of that possibility." Suzy flinched at the sounds of shouts, and Jefferson patted her shoulder. "At least they're still talking."

"They must have talked her into it," Randy continued stubbornly, still holding tightly onto Ann. "Her grandmother, her uncles and everybody. They wanted somebody for their damned bank and made her marry somebody else. I know it's me she loves." He looked at the old man, looking for a sympathetic ear. "I never really loved anybody till I met Sylvy-Ann. I can't let her go."

Robert felt his way carefully through the emotional minefields. "How did you end up separated?"

Randy looked around, at a loss. "I--I don't know..."

"When was the last time you saw her?" The memory of what this man had brutally done to Ann made his voice rough. He tried not to give in to that sickening thirst for revenge.

"The last time--?" Randy said vaguely. Then he relaxed and smiled delightedly. "When our son was born, that was it."

Robert felt a chill like nothing he'd ever felt before. Ann had said Randy had anxiously awaited their baby's birth, and she suspected the loss of the child had been a motivator for Randy's attack on her. But if Randy had rewritten his memories to the extent of erasing the miscarriage as well as his attack on Ann, Robert didn't think any rational argument was going to get through to the man.

He slid a step closer, wondering if he could make a grab for the gun. "Where is your son?" he asked carefully.

Randy's eyes shifted. "He's waiting for us." His easy smile resettled, but his grip on Ann was tighter. "He's a beautiful boy. I don't have any pictures with me, or I'd show you. His name's Jeremiah, and when he's big enough we're going to take him to Disneyland and ride the Mad Tea Party and get his picture taken with Mickey."

A sob escaped from Ann, grief triggered by the old plans they'd shared when they'd both been young, rich, and content, and expecting nothing from the future but a healthy family and time to make happy memories.

Robert fought back his own griefs. He'd promised to take Scott to Disneyland once, and he didn't even remember why he'd had to break that promise. This was no time for memories. Ann was almost catatonic with shock and terror, and the barrel of Randy's gun was resting on her temple. She hadn't even looked up when she'd heard Robert's voice.

"Why do you need the gun?" Robert asked. Again he missed his pistol. The only way out of this that he could see was going to involve blood, and he didn't know if he could move fast enough to prevent it from being Ann's.

"Jeremiah needs his mother," Randy said reasonably. "She'll go ahead, then I'll join them. It's been a long time since we've been together." He bent his head to kiss Ann's hair. "Now if you'll excuse me, we have to go." He smiled genially at Robert as he settled the gun barrel more firmly against Ann's head. She winced, knowing what was about to happen.

"Randy, wait!" Robert said quickly, taking another step forward. "You wanted to talk to me."

Randy paused, confused but still polite. "I did?"

Ann's head came up, and she finally looked at Robert. "No," she whispered. "Oh, Randy, no..."

"Just a minute, honey. Not much longer and we'll go." Randy looked back at Robert. "I'm afraid we haven't been introduced."

"No, we haven't." Robert licked his lips and met Ann's terrified eyes. "I'm Robert McCall."

There was not a hint of warning. Randy pulled the gun away from Ann's head, aimed, and fired.

Jefferson swore wickedly at the sound of the gunshot from the store. He grabbed Suzy as she tried to push past him to run, sobbing, across the street. Jefferson held his breath, then realized he was waiting for another shot, the one that meant Taylor had either turned the gun on himself or one of the other people in the store with him.

But Randy wasn't getting another shot. Her terror for herself had kept Ann paralyzed, and seeing Mickey go down had only deepened the grip. Then Robert had come in, and Randy had found the target he wanted.

"No!" Ann shrieked as Robert fell. "Damn you, no!" She'd had a perfect view down Randy's arm and along the gun as he'd fired. She'd always known in her heart that someday Robert would take a fatal bullet. She hadn't thought she'd have to watch it happen. Be damned if she'd let the person responsible for taking her man down get away with it.

Randy tried to hold on to her, but she ripped herself free of his grip. She spun and clawed at him, fighting him as she'd never thought of fighting for herself.

He tried to hold her off, but he had to backpedal to keep her claws from his face. Fury transformed the face he thought he knew, and he didn't recognize the fierce woman who had emerged from the quiet girl he held in his memory.

She remembered to fight rather than rage. She slammed the hand with the gun against a shelf, and the gun dropped to the floor. Kneeing him hard in the gut, she knocked him against the back wall, then stooped swiftly down for the pistol. She settled into the position Robert had patiently taught her, two hands around the butt, both eyes locked on the target--right between Randy's eyes.

"Sylvy-Ann..." he gasped.

"Shut up." Slowly it dawned on her: this was the man she'd spent five years living in fear of. This was the man who merely had to write her a letter and she went into a hysterical fugue. He only had to speak her name, and she froze, losing every whit of self-preservation. Slowly she thumbed back the hammer of the revolver, savoring each click until the gun was fully cocked.

Robert groaned and slowly began to pull himself together. Body armor only kept bullets from penetrating, it did nothing to reduce the impact. Ribs were broken, he could feel it. The sound of a cocking gun kicked his adrenalin into overdrive.

"Ann..." he gasped, taking in the tableau in an instant. "Don't."

The cold determination drained away. "Robert?" she said, daring a glance over her shoulder. "Dear God, you're not--how--"

"Kevlar. Jefferson insisted. Back away from him, Ann. It's over." Robert looked at Randy. He was backed against a bookshelf, staring at Ann with utter shock.

She didn't want to look at Randy, but she wasn't sure she could risk not keeping him covered. She stepped back to Robert's side as he got painfully to his feet. Wincing, he took the gun away from her.

Ann stared at his chest. His shirt and jacket were shredded, and underneath a heavy grey vest had a big gouge in it. She started to reach toward the hole with a shaking hand, but Robert took that hand and kissed it firmly.

"Don't. Later." He wanted to hold her tightly himself, but they weren't clear yet. A certified madman who may yet be a murderer was still uncontained. He stared at Randy, fighting down the urge to end this with a shot of his own. Mickey hadn't been breathing on his own when he'd been loaded into that ambulance. Ann could well have been dead by now. Randy was mad, pathetically so, but that didn't lessen his danger.

"We're leaving now," Robert said, both to Ann and Randy. "The police will be here when I signal." He began backing toward the front door, gun still on the young man. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a policeman peek inside, then breathe a huge sigh of relief when he saw Ann and Robert still upright.

Jefferson slumped in gratitude at the high sign his man across the street sent over. "They're all right," he told Suzy. "They're all right." He patted her shoulder as she started to cry.

Randy stepped forward. "No," he sobbed. "Don't leave me."

Ann fought tears at the tone of his voice. "Randy..." She looked at him and finally felt pity. "It's over. I'm sorry. I'm not your wife anymore. We should have told you," she went on as he started sobbing at hearing it baldly. "There's so much that should have been done differently."

"But--Jeremiah..."

"Jeremiah is dead." Ann strangled her own tears. She'd never said it flat out. Robert's arm squeezed her shoulders. "We should have admitted it to each other, Randy, instead of being so damned strong and brave. Maybe we could have helped each other and all of this wouldn't have happened." She glanced up at Robert, then toward the street. "It's over, Randy. Please, try to get well. I will come see you." She turned toward the door.

Randy only saw that his wife was walking away with another man. "Don't leave me!" he cried in despair, pulling Mickey's gun from his waistband.

Robert swore. He'd let his aim slip, and he knew Randy was fast. Then he saw the barrel of the pistol move past the line of aim on Ann and on toward Randy's head. "No, Randy!" he yelled even as he yanked Ann's face into his shoulder.

"Shit!" Jefferson yelled when the third shot he'd dreaded finally rang out. "Move in, move in!" he ordered to the police units that had started to relax. He was in the midst of the charge through the front door.

He heaved a sigh of relief when he saw Robert standing just inside, Ann clutched tightly to his chest. But that shot had gone somewhere--he saw the legs sticking out from the bay of bookshelves and saw the edge of the mess on the spines of the books and on the floor. "Dear God..."

Ann stirred against Robert's hard grip. "Randy?"

"No," Robert said firmly. "Don't look." He clamped down on her head as she struggled, even though she was against his bashed ribs. "Ann, stop it. I'm not going to let you look." He finally looked away himself, from the poor, sad man who'd seen everything he'd ever lived for be taken away. "Jefferson, where can we--"

"Out the alley, there's a unit there. Is she hurt?"

"No, but I am."

"Hell." He scanned Robert's chest. "And you didn't want to wear the vest."

"I've been wrong before. Thank you for insisting."

Jefferson finally noticed the gun in his hand. "Oh, god, Robert..."

Robert saw where his eyes had gone. "He had a second gun, Jeff. I didn't do it."

"Oh, shit... Get out of here."

Careful to make sure Ann never had a chance to look toward where Randy lay, Robert led her to the curtained doorway and on out into the alley. Two police cars waited there, with an ambulance. The paramedics swung the doors open when they saw the stumbling pair emerge from the bookstore's back door.

"Annie!" shouted Suzy as she ran down the alley. She skidded to a halt barely short of Ann and Robert and tried to hug them both at once. Robert slipped free and let the two women cry on each other, hurting too much both physically and mentally.

He hadn't wanted Randy dead, not once everything was done. Randy could have been cured, could have found his way back to the world. But he'd preferred death to life without Ann. Robert stared at his wife as she wept on her best friend, fearing the possessive need in his own heart. Did he love her too much himself?

She glanced up from Suzy and met Robert's eyes. "Why did you tell him who you were? If you hadn't been wearing that vest--" Her voice choked off with her own fears.

Robert forgot to be afraid when he saw that she needed him just as much herself. He gently touched a stray lock of hair, trying not to completely lose control. "I thought he'd at least take the time to be angry with me." He pulled her back into his arms as she cried.

"Where is he?" Suzy asked, looking around with a grim expression that said she wanted to get her own licks in. The silence that answered her chilled her heart. "Robert--?"

"He did it himself," he said quietly. His warning glance at Ann told Suzy to save her questions for later. The movement made the broken ends of his ribs grate against each other, and he couldn't bite back his gasp of pain.

Ann pulled away immediately. "You're hurt." Her imperious glance at the paramedics brought them to Robert's side.

Jefferson strode down the alley toward them. "Dammit," he snapped, "I thought you people were out of here already. We've got reporters swarming out front, and they're going to find you back here. Get in that ambulance and go."

"I don't have my purse--" Ann said, turning to go back into the store.

"No!" Robert said, reaching for her.

"I'll get it," Suzy said, "you go."

"You aren't going in there either," Jefferson said firmly, taking hold of Suzy's shoulder and turning her away from the backdoor. "I'll send an officer to the hospital with your bag," he told Ann as Suzy sputtered. "You two go. Ms. Johnson, you ought to go with them."

Suzy waved Ann into the ambulance after Robert. "Lieutenant Burnett, if the situation is under control, there's no need for you to be ordering me around anymore, is there?"

Ann climbed into the back of the ambulance and let the paramedics close the door behind her. Once Suzy got into a legal argument, no one would move her.

The paramedic in the back was helping Robert out of the Kevlar vest. Ann, distracted from events by the sight of her husband in pain, chewed her fingers and tried not to fuss. But she couldn't help gasping at the massive bruise revealed over Robert's ribs.

"That'll need x-rays," the paramedic concluded, making notes on a chart.

Robert nodded wearily and looked at Ann. "Relax, darling, it's only ribs. I'll be strapped up for a while, but I'll be fine. Are you all right?"

"Me?" She had to think. "I guess so." She started to think again. "What will they do with Randy?"

Robert looked at her in surprise, wondering what Ann thought they'd do with a corpse. Then he realized she didn't understand what had happened. "Darling, he's..."

Ann looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to finish the sentence. Then the look on his face finally sunk in, the look he always wore when someone died and he'd been involved. "But--there was only one shot, and you didn't fire--oh, my God..."

Ignoring the agony in his ribs, Robert reached for her to pull her close. "Go ahead, darling," he whispered into her ear. "Cry."

At the hospital, a case of bashed ribs from a gunshot got to go ahead of the anonymous coughs and ailments of most of the people waiting at the emergency room, but Robert was shunted to the line for the x-ray room to make way for the usual trauma victims of a hot day in the city. Ann hovered close to him, ignoring the attempts of harried nurses to make an apparently unharmed woman sit in the waiting room like everyone else. The shock in her eyes made them back down.

Jefferson eventually arrived, with Suzy and a female officer in tow. "They haven't seen you yet?" Jefferson said when he tracked down the McCalls.

"Knifing on the subway," Robert said carefully. He'd been given a shot of painkillers, but it didn't help. "Ann, go with Suzy, go sit down."

"No," she said briefly.

"I'll be all right."

"No."

He shifted painfully. "Darling, go. This is the hospital where they brought Mickey. We don't know how he is."

The reminder brought new tears to Ann's eyes and a wash of guilt that she could have forgotten. Suzy glared at Robert for the effective way of getting Ann off the line and put her arms around her sister to take her away. The female officer went with them.

Jefferson crouched next to the wheelchair Robert occupied. "Sergeant Monroe will get her statement. She's got a lot of experience with trauma victims, she'll be easy. Are you up to giving one?"

"I'm drugged up, no, not really. Find out about Mickey for me, please. I don't know if she'll be functioning enough to relay the news." He stared down where Ann had gone with very worried eyes.

Suzy guided Ann into a chair in a consulting room a couple of corners away from emergency. The nurses had become universal in their cooperation when the shell-shocked woman had reappeared in the tow of a police officer and another woman who snapped "Lawyer" when presented with difficulties.

Sergeant Monroe studied her subject. "Mrs. McCall, can you hear me?"

Ann pulled her knees up to her chest and stared at her shoelaces.

"Oh, god, no," Suzy whispered, going to her sister's side. Ann had spent three weeks in a catatonia of shock after Randy's assault. "Sweetheart, you've got to talk to the Sergeant. Look at me, Annie." She shook her head. Ann's eyes looked in her direction, but there was no focus in them.

"She's gone, isn't she," Monroe said fatalistically as she put away her pad and pen. "Damn. Ms. Johnson, I need a statement, Lt. Burnett was quite clear on that. I guess I wait for the other man to get out of surgery."

"If he does," Suzy muttered to herself, but not quite softly enough.

With an almost audible snap, Ann's head came up and life flashed back into her eyes. "Mickey." She jumped to her feet, knocking Suzy back. "Sorry, Suze," Ann said distractedly as she ran for the door.

"Mrs. McCall!" Monroe yelled.

"Annie!"

Ann snaked through the hallways toward the emergency room desk, dodging patients and other hurrying people. She slammed to a halt in front of a nurse sitting behind the desk.

"The gunshot wound to the chest from the incident on 42nd Street," she snapped, "I want his status, now."

The nurse blinked for half a second, but the tone told her that this person must be someone who had the right to know. She started typing into her computer.

Suzy and Sgt. Monroe ran in and pulled up next to Ann. "Mrs. McCall, you shouldn't be in here--" the officer began.

"Who are you?" the nurse asked in belated suspicion.

Ann growled a curse and slapped the monitor around to look. "Which one is he?"

"You're not supposed--"

Ann leaned across the desk to within less than a foot of the nurse. "Which?" she asked quietly.

The nurse blinked and swallowed, then glanced at Monroe for some sort of official support. Monroe just nodded. "Number four, here." She pointed to the screen.

"Translate," Ann snapped, studying the medical jargon. "I want his condition."

"Critical. They had to resuscitate on the way in."

"Fuck," Ann muttered. "Prognosis?"

"I'm not the doctor, I'm sure they're doing their best for--"

She leaned closer again. "Extrapolate, then."

Monroe stepped in. "Mrs. McCall, they'll tell us when they know. Right now I need to talk to you."

Ann glared but acquiesced and turned to go.

"Who are you?" the nurse demanded.

Ann only smiled and left, trailing the policewoman. Suzy shook her head as she followed: she'd seen that smile on Robert's face when presented with irrelevant demands for information.

"I need to tell Robert," Ann was saying to Monroe.

"No," the officer said, "you need to sit down in that office and tell me what happened."

"No, I--"

Monroe stopped and put her hands on Ann shoulders. She was a good four inches taller than the other woman, but she didn't use her extra mass. "Sister, your men are being taken care of," said the woman who'd spent a few years in military security. "There's nothing more to do. And running from it won't change it from having happened. Deal with it, tell me about it, get it behind you."

Ann glanced at Suzy, trying to fight back the hysteria. "I ran from it before."

"It didn't help then either, sis," Suzy replied.

"No, it didn't."

"Before?" Monroe frowned.

"It's a long story. God. Do you think a hospital would have anything in the way of medicinal booze around?"

"I think we can scrounge some."

Ann managed to give a statement, but sheíd retreated to a fetal position in the chair again before she was done.

"He was really going to kill me, Suze," she whispered. "He had that gun against my head and would have pulled the trigger if Robert hadnít stopped him. And he was smiling..."

"Are you still seeing that shrink you got after all that?" Suzy asked.

"No, I stopped when I met Robert. And before you say it, I know none of it is my fault." She looked into the bottom of the paper cup she held, hoping to see a drop of bourbon that had gotten missed. "But I am a part of the reason," she added. "He couldnít deal with Jeremiah being dead, and he wanted us all to be together. I guess thatís one way of love--"

"That is not love," Monroe snapped from where she sat at the desk taking relevant notes. "Itís madness, and it sounds like a good thing he was locked up. Iíve seen too many incidents where someone killed the person they said they loved, then killed themselves. Itís sick selfishness."

Ann digested that for a while. "I should have gone to see him. I could have told him then and made him understand." She broke off and covered her eyes with a shaking hand.

Suzy slid closer. "What?" she asked softly, stroking Annís hair.

"He mentioned Disneyland. I remember when we planned that. We were laying in bed, and I was just starting to show, and he was talking to the baby and me both, talking about Disneyland and Little League and kindergarten and swearing never to make the younger kids wear hand-me-downs. It didnít have to end with Jeremiah, there are lots of ways, surgery, in vitro--oh, God, Suzy, we could have been so happy..."

Suzy wrapped her arms around Ann and rocked her as she sobbed. Ann had never mourned the ending of her marriage and all the hopes theyíd had. Suzy wiped away tears of her own, finally remembering Randy Taylor as the man whoíd always known the worst puns and would sit quietly and draw portraits while the others were having a loud, good time. Everyone Suzy knew had at least one Randy sketch from some evening together. But that talent was gone, and it was time someone finally mourned that sad, confused man.

Monroe got up to answer a quiet tap at the door. Jefferson stood in the hallway, and he peeked in at Ann. "She OK?"

"Relatively. I got as much of a statement as I think sheís up to right now" Monroe didnít volunteer the information that she was not being quite as objective as a cop on duty should be. "Whereís her husband?"

"Intensive care."

"Good God--"

"No, not him, his friendís out of surgery. Robert wants to be there when he wakes up." Jefferson didnít mention that he knew better than to be nearby when Robert called Kostmayerís bosses to tell them one of their agents was out of action. "Mrs. McCall?"

Suzy had already commandeered the box of tissues and now handed it to Ann. "Címon, love. Put on a happy face." She ignored the muttered obscenity. "Yes, Lieutenant?"

Jefferson couldnít help smiling slightly at Suzyís air of command. "Mickey Kostmayerís out of surgery, the doctors look hopeful. Robertís down in intensive care waiting for him to wake up. If youíre up to it, Mrs. McCall, heíd like you down there. I think he wants you where he can keep an eye on you."

Ann blew her nose and tried not to think of how she looked. "Mickeyís OK?"

"As OK as a man can be whose had a bullet taken out of his chest. You up to going over there?"

She nodded, though she wasnít sure. "Robert?"

"Him? Heís fine, he critiqued the bandaging the doctor did. What he is, is worried about you and Mickey." He put a hand up as Ann came toward the door. "There are reporters wandering around out there. I think weíve got them all penned up, but I did have to make a statement."

"Reporters?" she repeated in horror.

"One doesnít block off 42nd Street with SWAT teams without attracting attention. I told them an escaped mental patient had been holding hostages. I should warn you, though, that somebody will dig up your name."

"Reporters?" Ann repeated. "What business is it of theirs?"

Jefferson shrugged. "Itís called freedom of the press. Come on, thereís a back way to Intensive Care."

Robert had seen the reporters as well, but being a private citizen he was better able to avoid the nose of the news hounds. A reporter from the Daily News had the bright idea of interviewing emergency room patients, but Robert had only blinked at her in confusion and asked her in Russian why she was bothering him. Security guards had shooed her out, allowing Robert to make his way to Intensive Care.

He stubbornly refused to acknowledge the nurses who tried to shoo him away from the window that looked into Mickeyís cubicle. Tubes, wires, fluids dripping, machines whirring and beeping, a frail body at the center of the technological maze. How many times had Robert been in hospitals, both as patient and watch keeper? Hospitals at the cutting edge of technology and hospitals hacked out of the African bush by prayer and stubbornness. All of them had the same smell, the same still waiting, the same hushed breath as a life was wooed back from the brink. Robert knew how close Mickey had come: heíd learned medical jargon in self defense.

He blinked and rubbed his forehead, blaming the memories on painkillers and stress. He had been the one on the table in Angola, while Mickey had stood by in anxious vigil. But here Robert at least could watch the steady lights of the monitors that said his friend was resting easily and had as good a chance at recovery as anyone else. Robert would have the chance to thank Mickey for protecting Ann as much as heíd been able.

A hand touched his arm. "Iím supposed to make sure you leave," Ann said softly.

"Darling..." Robert couldnít move his left arm very well, so he let his right hand run worried fingers over the new lines on her face. "How are you?"

"Numb. I want to go home." She bit her lip and looked in at Mickey. "Is he really going to be all right?"

"Yes," Robert said firmly. "Yes, he will. Heís supposed to wake in about half an hour. Heíll want to know youíre all right. Do you mind if we stay?"

"No, not at all. There are reporters downstairs," she added in dismay.

"Theyíre not allowed up here." Robert saw the head nurse giving him a disapproving look. "Is Jefferson around?"

"Heís outside telling Suzy that thereís no reason for her to stand on attorney privilege when Iím not in trouble." She saw him wince. "Youíre not all right."

"Very sore, very groggy. Ready to go sit down and give Jefferson a statement." He put a careful arm around Annís shoulders. "Yes, nurse, Iím leaving. Would you please tell us when he wakes up?"

The nurse looked unwilling, but sheíd been told to grant this man special privileges. "If itís agreed to by the doctor," she temporized.

"Thank you," Robert answered. "I know heís in good hands."

The nurse came out forty-five minutes later. Her pursed lips showed her disapproval of this overriding of standard ICU procedure. "Mr. McCall? The doctor says you can see him."

"Thank God," Robert murmured. He helped Ann from her chair, ignoring the disapproving look she gave him when she saw his wince.

The nurse almost put her foot down on the one-visitor-per-patient rule, but she decided to save her spleen for the doctor. "Please be quiet going to his room."

"Of course. How long do we have?"

"Ten minutes."

Robert mentally revised that up to fifteen what with delaying tactics and led the way in.

The doctor was just leaving Mickeyís cubicle, and she gave Robert and Ann a reassuring smile. "Heíll be all right, barring any complications," she said quietly. "Heís still very groggy, so be patient." She went off to her next stop.

Robert eased aside the curtain. "Mickey?"

Mickeyís eyes were open, but they were slowly tracking independently of each other. When Robert sat next to his head, he managed to get both eyes focused. "Mc--Call..." he managed past the oxygen tube.

"Easy, donít talk."

"Ann..."

"Right here," she said, going around the bed to take his relatively free hand. His right arm was bound up where the bullet had gone, and the left arm had IV tubes strapped to it. "Iím right here. Iím OK."

Mickey smiled faintly and managed a faint nod. "Wha ... hap--?"

"Sh," Robert said, "Iíll tell you. First off, youíre going to be all right, so long as you donít get sick and die on us. You can flirt with your doctor if youíre good." He smiled at Mickeyís amused gurgle. Then Mickeyís eyes went serious, and he glanced pointedly at Ann then back. Robert nodded. "He didnít make it. He ..."

"He shot himself," Ann said flatly. "He was horrified when he realized you werenít Robert and heíd shot the wrong man. And when Robert came in to get me out and--and he saw I was leaving him for real ..." She fought back the lump in her throat. Mickey squeezed her hand weakly. She returned the squeeze. "Thank you for trying to help," she added softly. "I'm sorry I froze like that, if I--"

"Darling, no," Robert said firmly, seeing Mickey's distress at Ann's guilt. "He had that gun for a reason--" He moved wrong and only barely muffled the grunt of pain.

Mickey looked at him and just now noticed the bandaging. "Wha..." he started, grimacing at his inability to communicate.

"Nothing that won't heal, rest easy."

Mickey's eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"Tell him or I will," Ann said firmly.

Robert glared at her. "We're not supposed to upset him."

She nodded and looked at Mickey. "Randy--" She had to pause, then forced the words out. "Randy shot him, but Jefferson Burnett had made him put a Kevlar vest on." She correctly interpreted his puzzled look. "Robert told Randy who he was, and Randy--" She couldn't say it again.

Mickey looked back at Robert and grunted disapprovingly. "Argue with me over it when you're out of Intensive Care," Robert replied. He couldn't be angry, he was too gut-level grateful that no one he loved was irrevocably harmed. "By the way, I called the Company and told them you'd be unavailable for a while and that you'd be needing those insurance benefits."

Ann thought of asking what was so amusing when Mickey managed a snicker, but the snicker turned into a cough that was over soon but sounded awful. "I think we ought to go."

"I think so, too. Time to go home."

Ann sighed tiredly. "I don't want to talk to my family."

"Then don't. Let me talk to them. Your mother was hysterical when I saw her last."

"Mom?"

"She told me what was going on. Iíll tell you when we get home. Mickey, I'll see you later, rest easy."

Mickey nodded slightly and squeezed Ann's hand again, then she and Robert left.

They were slightly startled to find a priest lurking outside Mickey's cubicle, then they recognized Father Nick Kostmayer, Mickey's brother.

"How is he?" Nick asked anxiously.

"Mostly conscious," Robert assured him, "and resting mostly comfortably. Forgive me, I should have called you. How did you find out?"

Nick grimaced. "I got a phone call from a man who only identified himself as Mickey's boss. I guess I'm down in some file as next of kin."

Robert nodded, pleased that Control still had a good grasp of personnel relations.

"What happened?" Nick went on. He noticed Robert's bandages. "You're hurt, too."

"It's a very long story, and I need to get Ann home."

"Oh, I'm sorry." He studied Ann briefly and saw the shock lurking in her eyes. "A very bad day?"

"Oh, yes, Father Nick," she replied. "A very bad day."

The priest nodded, then smiled farewell and slipped through the curtain.

"Home," Robert said firmly.

"Home," Ann agreed.

Two days later, in a private, non-publicized service, Randall Taylor was laid to rest in his family's plot. Only his immediate family was in attendance, his mother weeping at the wreck and tragic end of her son's life, and his sisters and one brother still in shock. Muted words were traded about Randy's wife and what role, if any, she'd played in his madness. In reasonable moments, they admitted that Ann was as much a victim of Randy's illness as Randy himself, but the funerals of the tragically dead are rarely reasonable moments.

In their grief as they gathered around the grave, they didn't notice the grey Jaguar parked behind some leafy camouflaging trees up a slope some distance away, and the woman who leaned on the roof of the car as she watched. Nor did they see the black Jaguar that coasted silently to a stop in the shadows behind the first car.

Ann didn't take her eyes away from the family below as Robert slowly walked to her side. He leaned on the roof of her car next to her and joined her silent vigil. Only when the mourners filed to their cars and began to leave did he speak.

"Why didn't you tell me you were coming to this?" he asked, not looking at her.

She smiled faintly. "It didn't seem in the best of taste to tell a current husband that his wife wanted to attend something involving the first husband."

"You thought I'd be upset?"

She sighed wearily. "No. But I didn't want to talk about it. I just wanted to do it."

He nodded in understanding, and they watched quietly till the last mourners left.

"That's Tricia, his mother," Ann said, nodding at the woman stumbling back to the mortuary limousine. "I never did call her Mom."

The cars drove away, leaving the casket on its frame above the open grave in silent peace. Several yards away, a pair of workmen who had been staying discreetly out of the way finished their cigarettes and got to their feet.

"Let's go," Robert told Ann. The filling of graves was not a spectator sport.

"I have something I need to do down there first."

He started to protest, but she was already getting into her car. He went to his car to follow her.

The workmen looked up in concern at the arrival of two more cars, but Ann only waved to them. They drew back to give her some privacy. Robert pulled up behind her, but he stayed in the car, watching.

From her trunk, she pulled out a small wreath, and she carried it slowly to the casket. She crouched at the head and bowed her head for a moment.

"I don't blame you," she said finally. "I can't blame you. Mistakes were made all over the place, and no one helped you the way you needed. But we were a family once, and then we weren't. And it was nobody's fault." She laid a hand on the cold steel of the casket. "Good-bye, Randy. Rest in the peace you didn't have in life." The tears took her.

Robert debated for several moments, then got out of his car and quietly went to her. He didn't say anything, just rested a hand on her shoulder. In a moment she caught her breath and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. A final pat, then she got to her feet.

She picked up the wreath and laid it on top of the casket. Loving Father, it said.

Robert nodded to himself. The man had been that. "Are you done?"

"Yes." Ann snagged some tissues out of her pocket and blew her nose. "I want to go to O'Phelan's. Pete knows not to make a fuss unless asked."

"That sounds like a very good idea. We'll drop your car off at home and you can have more to drink than is good for you."

She nodded in agreement, studied the container for the mortal remains of her only child's father a moment longer, then turned her back and went to her car. Robert followed, and the workmen came back, looking around for any other surprise arrivals. Randy Taylor went to his rest.

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