Old Wounds

After using the peephole of his front door, Robert opened it to Control Ė who had not called in advance to announce a visit. Robert noted that the man's eyes were smoldering but turned and walked away before anything was said. No matter what was going on, he wanted to let Control know that he was bothered by an out of the blue call.

"Coffee?" he asked over his shoulder, making certain his words were clipped.

"Yes." Controlís voice was a deep rumble, the tone papery and subdued.

Robert sensed his associate follow him into the small kitchen and heard him lower his weight onto a stool. He kept his back to his old friend and finished pouring the brews. The first sip braced him enough to turn round and he placed a cup in front of his guest.

"What is the reason for this unexpected visit?"

Control stared at his coffee mug, his eyes downcast. "Old business."

Thatís when Robert noticed his friendís hand. "I see youíre wearing your wedding ring again, you've been to see Susan?"

Control glanced at his finger and nodded. "Her mother, Beatrice, has died."

Sour sentiment washed over Robert. "I'm sorry for your loss. But she was how old? Eighty something?"

Control took in a deep breath. "Yes something like that. She never told me the exact number and I didnít ask."

"So, the ring is on. You've been to see your wife Ė" the word tasted bitter, "Ė to tell her?"

Control stood up and slid his heavy overcoat off and flung it onto the chair in the living room near the kitchen. He turned to Robert and stretched, tugging on his tie to open it, then he seemed to wilt as he exhaled. He picked up his cup and moved to the couch. Robert followed.

"I went to see Susan, I donít know why. It seems fitting to tell her that her mother passed." He collapsed on the couch. "I checked with her doctors and they told me not to do it. If Susan can understand anything of what I'm saying, then the news would bring on some distress and it's not warranted."

Robert kept his lips pressed together. It wasnít his place to voice an opinion. Control didn't need to hear his position on any of this. He knew it well enough already.

"I need your help, Robert."

Placing his cup on the coffee table, Robert sat down opposite Control in one of the lounge chairs.

"Go on," he said, not venturing his own guess as to why Control needed help, nor why he'd come to him for it. Control knew that, in Robertís heart, there was no love for Susan or any of her family who so easily used their wiles to manipulate the one emotional weakness his old friend possessed.

"It's the Wall coming down, you see." Control shook his head. "It went up in '61 and heralded the end of one part of my life and now itís coming down. And with it, more of my life is destined to follow."

Robert remained silent. He was well aware what the building of the Berlin Wall meant to his friend. They were both there during that debacle when they could do nothing to stop the partition from being erected. Control had taken time off after that disappointment to call for Susan to join him in Pamplona in order to salve his ego and make a try at a new start.

It hadn't worked, Control was called back to Berlin and Susan took off, never to speak to him again. And now twenty-eight years later, the wall was being dismantled and Susanís mother has died. He could understand that it might symbolize a change, but to think it a bad turn?

"What has happened?" Robert kept his voice low.

"With the wall coming down, people in East Berlin are being permitted to travel, to talk, to call." Control sat back on the couch and stared at Robert. "Last month Erich Kaltenbach contacted Beatrice, looking for Susan Ė looking for money, more precisely."

Kaltenbach! An unhappy name from their past. The East German operative who worked so closely with the Spetsnaz Soviet Special Forces in charge of everything in East Berlin.

"And?" Robert asked.

Control sighed. "She told him about Susanís unhappy situation, how sheís had to live for these years and that's when Kaltenbach let Beatrice know that he wanted to be recompensed for his relationship with her daughter. He said that their public affiliation ruined his life behind the Iron Curtain. Beatrice kept his visit to herself and tried to handle it on her own. Tried to protect Susan Ė and Libby."

Robert knew that the news must be bad, however this piecemeal drip feeding of information was wearing away his patience. As there was no love lost between Robert and the other characters in this play, he had trouble holding his tongue. "And?" The word came out harshly.

"It seems Erich Kaltenbach unearthed all the details of the outcome his old mission. He found out about what happened after he dumped Susan and the baby, and he uncovered what Beatrice did, what I did." He looked at Robert, his eyes deep pools of black despair Ė and unfathomable anger. "He wants cash. With a new life ahead of him as a free citizen in the West and an opportunity to get out of Berlin for good, for a price, he promised to leave Beatrice in peace."

"And?" Robert ventured.

Control shook his head. "Blackmail plain and simple."

A snort of derision escaped Robertís lips.

Control focused his eyes on him. "I know you have no use for any one of them Ė but I do."

"And that I never understood, man!" Robert felt the damn burst. "Susan left you to run off and flaunt her adultery with Kaltenbach, an East Berlin Agent. She made her debauchery public. She spat on you from a distance."

"She was hurt, Robert, people act that way when they're hurt." Controlís voice was raised.

"I know that as well as any man. I can understand making oneís own life hell, drinking to oblivion, digging yourself into debauchery. I can even understand her misplaced anger at you. I've had that kind of fury directed at me often enough by family. But she was intent on spreading that to others. She went out of her way to harm her parents, her country, and even her unborn child! And that I can not excuse."

"Easy for you to talk," Control stared at him, "you've never been alone and pregnant after finding out that yet another man has lied to you."

Robertís temper spilled over. "Bollocks! She flung herself into that affair with Erich Kaltenbach. It was her choice. He let her know who he was working for the whole time and she never asked herself if he was sincere towards her, all she did was to accept him as her lover and then she did her best to embarrass you and the US government. She lived as the poster girl for the spoiled, decadent, capitalist bourgeoisie, making sure her exploits were splashed in any cheap rag newspaper that would print her story."

He glared at Control and, suddenly, as though a flash of clarity went off in his head, Robert finally really saw his friend. The man was hurting. The sight of pain on Controlís face was so foreign that Robert had missed it completely.

Shame overtook him. Control had come to him for help and he was rehashing their oldest fight.

He took a deep breath. "I apologize. What do you need from me? I'm at your service, as you've been at mine more often than I care to admit."

The other man visibly armored himself as he took in a deep breath. "Now that Beatrice is dead, Kaltenbach intends go to Libby to try to get money. Susan's covered by an endowment, no one can get to the funds taking care of her in the hospital, but he thinks Libby's going to inherit all of it."

"Sheís not?"

Control twisted his lips to smile at Robert. The effort looked painful.

"Lovely and loving Beatrice didn't trust Libby's young husband, didn't approve of him, so she made sure that the funds would be doled out to Libby over time. Unless all the lawyers agree that itís an emergency, her grand-daughter canít withdraw a large sum of money."

Robert shifted in his seat. That whole family was one long line of poisonous vipers. "Then Libby is safe, Kaltenbach can't get anything out of her if he tried."

Control shook his head. "Libbyís not safe at all. She doesn't know he's her father."

Robert felt his eyes grow wide as his blood pressure rose. "Blast! Libby was never told what really happened, that her mother left you two years before she was born? You permitted Beatrice to use you to the end?"

"That's the word Robert, permitted. I permitted it. I took it on upon me. No reason for anyone else to bear the weight of it. No reason for a young girl to hear all the unpleasant news of her motherís life, especially when Susan canít tell her side of it."

"And what would she say to defend herself? That you made her leave you and publicly take up with another man and become pregnant by him? That itís your fault she tried to abort her child in a back alley and that's why sheís been lying in a coma in a hospital bed for all these years?"

"Robert, stop!"

"Damn it man, so you took Libbyís hatred upon on yourself with no thought to the real guilty parties? You took the hellish outcome upon your shoulders?"

Control stared at him. "I have had years of practice taking the regretful outcome of ruined scenarios on myself. Might as well take on another one. And as for guilt Ė my hands arenít clean. Not by a long shot." His eyes looked almost black, so darkened were the normal blue lights in them.

"It is not fair, you were blameless in this situation."

"Not all blameless," Control muttered.

Silence filled the room. Robert lifted himself off the chair and walked to the kitchen to dump his coffee. His face felt overly hot and his heart raced. He felt too much empathy for Control, whose family calamity touched him like the black crepe that had been pinned to his heart when his own marriage crashed and burned.

Stop being an emotional dunce man, he chided himself. Itís time to help your friend, not work out your own past.

Once more he sat on the chair opposite Control. "What can I do. What is needed?"

"Kaltenbach was at Beatriceís funeral. He approached me, introduced himself Ė as if I needed to be reminded who he was Ė and told me the strategy for his future." Control pulled at his loosened collar as if it choked him. "The old lady never told me anything about his contacting her for money. I had to hear about it at her funeral from the bastard himself. Idiot thought Iíd be willing to help him. Seems heís done his research and says he knows what happened. He was sure Iíd want to exact my pound of flesh from what was left of Susanís family."

Nodding, Robert said, "Because thatís what heíd do."

"Yes. He saw that Libby wouldnít go near me at the service. Kaltenbach took it for granted that the enemy of his enemy is his friend."

"The man doesnít care to know his daughter?" Robertís sympathy for the girl, whose very existence and actions hurt his friend so, surprised him. But his growing anger at the former East German agent was growing exponentially.

"Sheís worthless to him other than to get money," Control continued. "He wants to take legal action against Susanís estate by saying that he was married to her and is therefore entitled to some of her fortune."

Robert winced. "But they werenít married. She was still your wife when they went off together."

"Heís saying he didnít know that. His story is that Susan lied and used him without his knowledge, married him knowing it was not legal. In his possesion is a Berlin issued marriage certificate as proof."

"That canít get him any money? Can it?"

"Heís hoping that it will get him some of the Morgan fortune. Even a small percentage would be a windfall for him." Control grimaced. "He went to Beatrice to get rich by threatening blackmail Ė that instead of him going public with the shame of her familyís sordid past, heíd rather take a nice parcel of money to go away. As you know, family image was important to Beatrice, but even so, she put him off trying to find a way to shut him up with the least payment. Since sheís passed and Susan is beyond caring about bad publicity, he came to me hoping Iíd let him in on the best way to approach Libby to make the same deal."

Robert swallowed hard. Disgust slid through his insides. "Like to like, Control. Why do you want to get involved with this? Surely nothing he can say would harm you? Let him get what he can from his spawnĖ"

"Sheís my daughter. Donít say anything against her!"

"Jesus wept! Sheís your daughter in name only. Sheís afforded you no affection, no thanks for your interest in her, nor ever shown kindness to you. Sheís made herself into your enemy. Beatrice made sure of that."

"Sheís legally mine, I was married to her mother when she was born. Iím still married to her mother."

"And that Iíll never understand. Susanís been in a coma for all these years and you could have had a divorce with the evidence of the way she acted before that happened. I still canít fathom why youíve stayed tied to her, slipping that wretched wedding band on and off your fingerĖ"

Control shot up off the couch. "I came to you for help, damn it, not to rehash your opinion about the way Iíve lived my life." Control set his hawkís furious eyes on him. "Let me remind you that youíre not one to give morality lessons!"

Robert felt as if he had been slapped out of a comfort zone.

All true. Who the blazes was he to heap hard feelings upon anyone? One day he would learn to overcome his habit of righteous indignation towards other peopleís choices. Without another momentís hesitation he said, "I apologize. I was pontificating again, a bad habit I have. You donít need my judgment on your life. Forgive me."

Control appeared to deflate. His shoulders slumped and his energy evaporated as he again sat down. "Libby held me responsible for her motherís state and for all of the unhappiness in her life. I was hoping that as she grew up sheíd realize that Iím not completely to blame Ė for all of it."

"Oh," Robert said, "You were hoping that now, with Beatrice gone and no longer able to feed Libbyís anger toward you, the girl might be able to see to some of the truth of what occurred?"

Control leaned against the arm of the couch. "It wonít happen if Kaltenbach inserts himself in her mind as her real father. Heíll just increase all of her angst about her life and she might hate me more for lying to her for all these years. I donít want that to happen."

A wisp of a smile formed. "Sheís happy in her marriage, Robert. Her husband, Ted is turning out to be a good man. Theyíve gotten all of the wildness out of their system and have settled down."

"Youíve been keeping an eye out?" Robert shouldnít have been surprised. No detail was too unimportant for Controlís concern.

"Theyíve taken over his familyís grocery store. His motherís ill and Libbyís been taking care of her and helping out in the store when itís busy."

His eyes looked as if they were misting!

"Iím proud of her. All the drug use and mad self-destructive living is gone. Ted has been good for her. I was afraid he might become another wrong turn Ė he was a biker when they met Ė but all is well." He set his jaw. "And I wonít permit Kaltenbach to upset her equilibrium by opening up the old wounds Ė and starting more."

"So, what do you plan on doing? Paying him off with your own funds?" Robert could think of another way he might go, but as Control has permitted Kaltenbach to survive this long, then it seemed that deadly force had been ruled out.

"I want to open negotiations, let Kaltenbach know that I will give him something for his silence. I also want to make clear to him what additional, harsher payment he would receive from me if he ever tried a double cross."

Robert considered Controlís statement. "What would he expect? A small token of your extreme displeasure Ė or worse?"

Control didnít hesitate. "Kaltenbach knows a lot about me from his former position with the Soviets. Hopefully, when he understands that I do not approve of his plans to wring funds from his daughter, he will back off. And if I pay him his price Ė once Ė then, if all goes well, he will cease to be a problem."

Robert considered this for a moment. But it didnít add up. "Why bother, man? At most he might garner a little publicity about his past Ė and Susanís. You were never implicated in any of the scandal so your identity is still safe. The gossip of the world means nothing to Susan from that hospital bed, and from what I know about Libby Ė a little gossip wonít bother her either. Likewise, paying some of the Morgan millions to Kaltenbach wonít trouble her that much."

"I donít want Libby to know about Kaltenbach and his part in her paternity." Control leaned against the back of the couch, his chin raised, eyes searching the ceiling as if for help. "Sheís finally coming into herself, acting in her best interest. Sheís got a good marriage and a quiet life. If Kaltenbach opens old wounds, she might go into a spin and crash and burn this time. I donít want that to happen."

"Why?" The question came out before he could think. "Sheís never accepted you as her father because of the poison with which Beatrice filled her head. The old woman taught her to blame you for Susanís plight. She made her mother into a poor discarded women rather than let her granddaughter learn the truth."

"The truth isnít all itís cracked up to be Ė as we both well know." Control shot back. "Beatrice is dead and Susan is beyond hope. Why make the last woman in my life suffer because of what happened? Sheís the only real innocent amongst everyone in this story."

"What about your innocence?"

Control blanched and looked away, an angry, disgusted look on his face.

"Look," Robert said, trying to keep all emotions in the room calm, "I realize that you donít think of your part in this as guiltless. I still feel responsible for my own marriage falling apart Ė but we were doing our duty Control. You Ė and I Ė didnít go off into battles on a whim, we were doing a damned hard job. The women we loved just didnít understand how grueling the task was and they resented our being away. Lord, to this day Kay wonít let me forget that I wasnít around when she needed me. Although I may feel a certain amount of culpability for the death of our marriage, I canít honestly take on all the responsibility for its demise. And in your case, Susan had a lot to do with your relationship ending. She was the one who walked out on you, not the other way round."

"Will you just help me, Robert, and not pass judgment?" Controlís face had a pained look. "Just once will you back me up without making me aware that I am not handling a situation the way you would?"

Sorrow radiated off his friend and again, Robert was stopped short. He walked toward Control and pattted his arm with the palm of his hand. "Your own fault, my friend, for choosing your comrades with little regard for comforting shoulders."

After a moment Control seemed to regain his composure and then he nodded. "Kaltenbach is in Boston now, casing Libby, raring to get his hands on her money. Iíve convinced him to wait a day, to give me time to get an idea on the best line of attack for him to approach her."

Robert again sat across from his friend. "And I am to do what?"

Control kept his eyes averted. "Back me up, in whatever I need to do."

"You arenít necessarily paying him off?"

Control inhaled sharply. "I intend to give the devil his due."

Robert scanned his friendís face. Nothing could be read in it.

Lovely.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Robert reveled in the comfort and luxury of the fine leather couch in one of the best suites in Bostonís Fairmont Hotel. Control was way back in the bedroom portion of the large L shaped room, talking on the phone to someone. Robert was just about to look inside the barís small refrigerator when he heard Controlís muffled footsteps approaching.

"Everything set?" Robert asked.

Control collapsed next to him. "Kaltenbach will be here in an hour or two."

Looking around at the luxurious surroundings, Robert couldnít help but comment. "Why did you pick one of the best rooms in this hotel? What, the Presidential Suite not available?"

"Itís taken with a diplomat from Costa Rico." Control said, sans emotion.

"Why the swank, then? Is letting the man think that you are richer than Midas a good idea?"

"Iím letting him see that I have some influence and power, and he has none."

Robert chuckled. "Then I am here to stand behind you, reeking of intimidation?"

Control glanced at him, a look of cool disinterest, then he looked at his watch. "Thereís some time before Kaltenbach will show, Iím going to hit the head." He pulled himself up off the couch and ambled down the room into the bathroom.

No sooner had Robert heard the sound of the bathroom close, than a harsh knock issued from the door of the room.

Their invited guest wasnít due for hours yet, but Robert knew that there might be a possibility Kaltenbach was trying for the element of surprise.

He sighed, stepped to the door and looked through the peephole. He expected to see Kaltenbach, or an older version of the man he remembered, who had been slight and blonde, a ringer for Peter OíToole in his young and pretty days. He had been as far opposite a physical type from Control as Susan could have picked.

But the person standing there was not Kaltenbach. Robert opened the door and faced a young man wearing the same surprised expression he imagined was on his own face. This individual was about six feet two, in his early thirties and powerfully built, barrel chest, muscular arms and slim hips. He was dressed casually in jeans with a short leather jacket and his blonde hair was shoulder length.

"Whereís the old man?" he asked, the voice was gravely from alcohol and an excess of hormones.

Robert stood his ground in front of the door. Best to let the man speak a bit more before he asked his own questions.

The young man's eyes seemed to harden as he tried to stare Robert down. Than his expression shifted to something like recognition, then anger.

"Damn it, I saidÖ" The young man reached behind his back.

Robert reacted. He grabbed the manís wrist and spun him into the room, letting centrifugal force smash him into the wall. Shoving the manís feet almost out from under him, Robert let the lack of balance pin the blond immobile. Robert mashed his opponentís face against the wall as he patted him down for weapons.

"Owww," the blond managed to say.

"It might be better to act like gentleman and introduce yourself when meeting strangers." Robert was feeling down the manís legs when he came across a knife hidden in his boot. As he lifted the blade free, Robert was aware of Controlís presence in the room behind him.

"I see youíve met," Control closed the front door and was now at his elbow.

Robert passed the knife to his colleague. "Not formally," he said, "This gentleman just dropped in." Robert pulled a wallet out from the manís back pocket and also handed that to Control. "Were we expecting him?"

"Robert," Control said, "Let him go. Heís my son-in-law, Ted."

Robert looked over his shoulder, the feeling of surprise flowing freely. Control had an amused expression on his face, but his hand was over his mouth trying to hide it.

"Might have been nice if you had told me to be alert to a visit," Robert muttered.

"Didnít know he was going to show."

"Can youÖ" the young manís face was still mashed on the wall so the words came out muffled. "Let me go."

I beg your pardon." Robert released the younger man and helped him to stand.

He stepped to the side as Control moved in front of his son-in-law. The young man adjusted his jacket, trying to restore some dignity.

"Ted, what are you doing here?" Control asked, his voice registering some irritation and he made a show of handing the knife and wallet back.

After replacing his possessions, Ted stood up straight and when he took a step to face Control, Robert noted that they young man had a slight limp. He was about the same height as Control and he had a dangerous expression on his face.

Robert was impressed. Not many men would try to stare down his colleague.

"What the hell did you expect me to do," Ted boomed, "when you sent a goon to warn me to look out for a man who says heís Libbyís real father."

Robert lifted one eyebrow and looked at Control in light astonishment. "Goon? Really?"

Control glanced at him. "Sterno, I sent Sterno." Then he turned to glower at the young man.

"Sterno a goon? Ridiculous." Robert didnít know which he got more pleasure from in the next moment, Controlís pronounced annoyance or Tedís look of rage directed at him.

"I told you to keep watch over Libby and Iíd handle everything," Control said.

"I know how the hell you handle things, and thereís no goddamn way Iím leaving LibbyĎs welfare up to you!" Ted was speaking through clenched teeth, his bass voice a rocky rumble.

Strangely enough, Robert felt a growing admiration for the young man. He was protecting his wife, even going so far as to stand up to a character like Control. He was defending his family.

Robert always rather liked that in a chap.

Control was now directing his most predatory expression at the young man.

Ted growled back at him, "Donít try that look, Old Man, you donít scare me. When I heard that there might be danger I sent Libby and my mom away. No way in hell am I letting anyone harm them." He glared daggers back at Control. "I made sure theyíre safe with a bunch of buddies of mine, whoíd lay down their lives for them."

"I know," Control said, "Sending them to the biker convention at Bear Lake was a good idea."

Ted smirked.

"But actually getting them to your friend Joeís cabin in Manitoba was a stroke of genius."

Ted eyes snapped on Control. "How did you know?" He started to rise a fist.

"Please dear boy," Robert said as he rushed to insert himself in-between the two raging bulls and gently guide Ted away. "Do sit. Your father-in-law has ways to peek into oneís brain, to get to the very heart of any matter. Thereís no need for anger now, as long as your wifeís safe." Robert made certain Ted sat. He turned to Control, a silent message that ordered calm passed between them.

Soon enough Ted would realize that one of his buddies was most likely another one of Controlís people. When that happened, Robert aimed to be nowhere around.

Control brought his watch up and glanced at it. "Iíd like to continue on this conversation, but Kaltenbach is due here soon."

Robert nodded, "I thought not for hours Ė ah Ė I understand, heís one to join a party early?"

"Heís not to be trusted to follow any set schedule." Control looked at Ted, "The question before us is, what to do with this unexpected guest."

A wash of red suffused Tedís face, and Robert saw he was at the end of his rope with Control, and felt more and more of a kinship with him. Control could get under his skin faster than any other individual alive Ė well after his ex-wife and his son, that was.

"We use him," Robert said, making sure his voice showed him to be unmoving on that.

"And how would you suggest?" Control turned away as if to show his lack of worry about the young man, and slumped down into a chair as far from Ted as possible.

"Kaltenbach knows of him, has seen him at the funeral and knows heís his daughterís husband. I suggest you let him think that Ted here is your backup."

"Instead of you?"

"Yes, I can just as easily be security while watching all of this from the other room."

"What other room?" Ted asked, looking around the spacious suite.

"Do work with me here," Robert said trying not to show exasperation in his voice.

"Bathroom," Control said, one eyebrow up and his lips in a small rise of amusement.

Robert sighed, "I rarely volunteer to lurk in bathroomsĖ" he glared at Control to keep what was certainly on his mind about a certain Russian ladies room circa 1979, quiet, " Ėbut this is as good a time as any. Kaltenbach will see you both and realize that this will be the best way to negotiate the most lucrative deal out of your joint concern for Libby."

He glanced at the two men. Control seemed to be thinking about it, but Ted had a stubborn look on his face.

Ted shook his head, "I canít guarantee I wonít take that bastard's head off the minute he says anything about Libby, either that he does care about her or that he doesnít."

Control nodded. "Then I suggest you become the strong and silent type. Just let me do the talking while you control your temper. "

Tedís face showed more resentment.

"We must all work together in order to do what is best for Libby," Robert caught Ted's eye and waited for a nod.  It came.

He turned his back and walked toward the bathroom. "I do hope you two behave yourselves until Kaltenbach gets here. I donít want to have to separate the both of you."

Once in the spacious bathroom, Robert checked the door, making sure to keep it infinitesimally open so he could hear into the other portion of the large suite. When Kaltenbach arrived heíd be able to pick up what was being said Ė and he needed to be on the alert to make certain Control and his son-in-law didnít murder each other before their guest showed up.

The sound of muffled voices filled with anger made its way to his ears, and Robert sighed and opened the bathroom door. He turned into the sitting area of the suite to see Control and Ted, at opposite sides of the room, each barking angry words at the other. As long as no fisticuffs were in evidence, Robert let them be.

As he walked back to the bathroom, he noticed that one closet in the bedroom area had a full length mirror. He opened the closet, and checking back and forth with a small opening in the bathroom door, he angled the mirror to reflect as much as the sitting area as possible.

Again in the bathroom, he quickly used the facilities Ė following first rule of soldiering Ė hit the head and eat whenever you get the chance. He sighed to realize that as he got older, his body had the necessity for eating less often, while he had the urge to hit the head more frequently. Part and parcel of the unkind side effect of continued life.

He was happy to hear silence from the suite and a quick glance in the mirror showed each man sitting across from each other. Ted was watching the television with the sound off, and Control was writing something in his ever present notepad.

Suddenly Robert became aware of a rustling sound coming from inside the wall. He hated to think that mice were inhabitants of the best hotel in Boston, and the sound soon represented something bigger than what would come from a few ounces of rodent. It sounded like pounds of vermin approaching the bathroom air vent.

The hotel door bell sounded and in the reflection, Robert saw Control and Ted prepare to answer it. Robert secreted himself inside the shower stall and prepared to greet whatever was coming toward the bathroom through the walls. He threaded the silencer on his gun and waited.

Voices sounded in the other room, the emotional tone varied. Robert glanced at the vent, where now he saw a shadow behind it. The screws at the corners of the screen unwound themselves and dropped soundlessly upon the carpeted floor.

A man dressed in black pushed the screen and slid out of the vent to land with no noise, on his feet. Robert held off a moment. If the man was alone he could take him, but he needed to see if this shadow had a friend. Sure enough, another pair of feet soon emerged from the hole in the wall. Both men drew their guns, but Robert waited another moment. If this were a threesome, his success of capturing the two in front of him would be at risk if another man were to come through after he had shown his hand.

The two men in the room had already drawn their weapons, 9 mm PM Makarov pistols, the old-fashioned but still used Russian standby weapon of choice. They were both standing with their backs to him and to the vent. From that, Robert supposed that they werenít expecting a third colleague.

~~~~~~~

Ted sat, his head down. Then he mopped his brow and stuck his bandanna into his pocket.

Control was just toweling off his hands and Robert was feeling strange twinges rifle through his back. He made a note to go to the gym more often. He wasnít thrilled that a few instances of fast movement and heavy lifting would bother his back so much.

"Iím not sure how to live with this," Ted said, "Itís not exactly something Libby wonít hold against me."

Robert leaned forward and let his lower back stretch. The pain lessened. "You did what had to be done. It was Kaltenbachís choice to try a double cross. If he had just been happy with the money he could have gotten from your wifeís family through blackmail, then this wouldnít have happened. That would have been more than sufficient funds to have started him on the road to the good life in the West."

"But how do I break it to her?" Tedís expression was bleak.

"Why tell her?" Robert suggested. "As she doesnít know who Kaltenbach is, then she neednít discover that she found and lost her biological father in one fell swoop."

"But I canít keep this from her."

"Why not?" Control's voice sounded from the shadows of the room.

Tedís face took on a disgusted veneer. "Because I wonít lie to her."

"Really?" Control said. Robert noted that his voice had a rather strange note to it.

The young manís eyes took on a hard angry shine. "I wonít do anything to hurt her Ė ever."

"Then we agree," Control said.

Ted shot up off his seat and grimaced visually when he took a step. "I canít keep this secret. Itís too close to her, too important a fact to not let her know about it. " He stood looking out of a window and lifted a hand to shove his hair back. "Then itíll be up to her whether to stay with me or not."

"Damn it!" Control, shouted. He strode closer to Ted, their degree of anger almost identical.

Robert tightened his muscles, ready to get between them Ė if need be.

He was happy when Control, with great effort, got his temper under wraps. The older man turned away and glanced at Robert.

"Damn it," he said, "Then Ted, be sure to tell her the whole truth."

"What do you mean, the whole truth?" Tedís tanned skin took on a paler hue. "Do you mean to blackmail me about something?"

"No," Control was calm now. Robert thought he looked defeated, if possible. "If you insist on telling her that Iím not her father and that Kaltenbach is, then be sure to tell her all of it."

"Look," Ted said, "I know everybody has concealed the type of person her mother really was from her. Well the old ladyís dead, and her Momís the same as usual. And now this Ė I canít hide all of it from her anymore. I hope she can take the truth without it breaking her."

"Why take that chance?" Control said, "The truth isnít as beneficial as itís advertised to be."

"You would say that." Ted sneered turned away. "I have to tell Libby what Iíve done."

Robert wondered if there were any aspirins around to be had. Fighting Soviet agents wasnít as easy as it used to be. The sooner he medicated his back, the sooner it would quiet down.

"Will you let her know that her biological father cared so little for his daughter that he intended to blackmail her?" Robert asked. "And in addition kidnap the man she thought was her father to deliver him to the Soviets Ė all for money?" Robertís back ached louder. Damn, it was so like their luck, not only did they have to deal with a blackmailer, but they had to fight off kidnappers intent on bringing the head of the Company back to the Soviet motherland for the large reward.

Robert sighed. "Very nice tale it would be to tell to a young woman who has just lost her grandmother and whoís mother is in a coma in the hospital." He glanced at Ted, "To me, sharing that kind of information with a woman I care about does not sound like a loving act." He let the words sink in. "Iíd rather take the knowledge of the whole nasty situation upon my shoulders and endure it myself rather than let her suffer with it."

Ted sat down again and leaned forward. His elbows rested on his knees, his head in his hands. "But Iím a grocer, not a Secret Service agent, how can I not tell my wife that I killed her father?"

Why did Ted mention the Secret Service?

Control seethed, "Then tell her that you killed the man who tried to murder her."

"Murder?" Robert asked, "Kaltenbach attempted to harm Libby?"

At the stares of the other men Control set his chin. "I only wish it wasnít true." And he took a deep breath.

Ted sat up straight. "Why the hell didnít you tell me that he made a threat to her life? I would haveó. When did he try to kill her?"

"You did what was needed today," Control said, "Kaltenbach tried to murder Libby, letís leave it at that."

"No! You controlling bastard," Ted shouted from the couch, almost rising, murder in his eyes.

Robert got himself ready to help peel the young man off Control. For the sake of his back, he hoped that it wouldnít be necessary.

"You should have told me when he tried to kill her. God! Was it near my home, was my mom in danger too?"

"No," Control said, "it was twenty-eight years ago. He tried to kill Libby then."

"What?" Tedís mouth was open in confusion, which reminded Robert to close his own.

"When Libby was still in the womb?" Robert said. "Does that mean that he had something to do with Susanís attempt at aborting her child?"

Control nodded. Then he stared at the floor and walked to look out a window, "When Susan left me, I didnít give up and let her go, as I let you think. I had her shadowed."

Robert wasnít surprised. When Control had suffered with Susan's desertion, he had backed up his friend, not questioning his decisions. When Control said he gave up on her, he let it lay. It wasnít his place to question another manís actions dealing with his wife.

"I knew what she was doing, and who she was doing it with." He turned. "I knew Susan was pregnant before she did." He had a sad smile on. "I had Connie following her. Remember Connie?"

Robert nodded. Connie had been active as an agent in the OSS during the Second World War and had joined the Company later on. A wonderful woman.

"By the sixties, she already had three grown children of her own and could recognize the symptoms in Susan before she had even thought of going to a doctor."

Ted was shaking his head as if something was running through his brain that he disagreed with. He had his eyes closed and Robert took a moment to note that the young man was sitting in a relaxed way. And not for the first time that afternoon, he thought that it wasnít at all the way he might expect a man to act, if he had committed his first kill.

"When her condition became official, I got a message to Susan and told her that I would take her back, to give her child the care it needed. She let loose a stream of curses as her message back to me. Telling me where to go." His eyebrow went up. "I had Connie keep watch over her." Control turned away and his voice faded, "Connie understood. She went out of her way to look after my wandering wife."

Suddenly Robert felt the need for a bit of liquid courage. "Drink anyone?" he asked.

"Beer if you got it," Ted said.

"Good idea," Control nodded, "Two fingers of anything with a bite to it."

Robert went to the barís refrigerator to see if beers were to be had Ė they were Ė and he found the decanter of Scotch and grabbed some glasses. He thought about getting ice for Control but decided that neat was the way to go. After Housekeeping showed and finished taking care of the three bodies in the bathtub, theyíd think about eating.

"What did Kaltenbach do?" Ted asked.

Robert walked back, handed the drinks round and sat himself gingerly on a chair. He wished he had run across some painkillers. "I agree that it would be beneficial for you to tell us the whole story now, Control, so you two can decide on the best course of action with regard to Libby."

Ted opened the cap on his beer, and leaned to the side to fish in his jeans pocket. He took out a small white plastic bottle, shook a few blue capsules out. threw them in his mouth and swallowed it down with a gulp of beer.

Ted then noticed that both older men were watching him. "Over the counter pain killers." He looked at Robert, "I had a motorcycle accident a while back, smashed the shit out of my hip. Itís legal."

"All well and good," Robert muttered, "Might I pinch a few off you, my back is bothering me and I havenít seen any aspirins around."

Tedís face lightened. "Sure," he handed the bottle to Robert. It was indeed a legal, over the counter, pain killer. Robert took two and was about to hand it back to Ted, when he let his hand veer off and pitched the bottle to Control. Catching it with no wasted movement, Control nodded and took a few also. Then the bottle was handed back to the young man.

Robert and Control took the pills and a few moments of camaraderie ensued. Then Control broke the calmness of the room.

"By the time Susan was nine months gone, she wanted the baby,"

"What?" Ted gasped, "But you told meó"

"She took care of herself the minute she heard she had a baby on the way. No drinking or drug use. Kaltenbachís masters in the Spetsnaz Soviet Special Forces let the pregnancy go on, not sure how to handle it. Which would be better, an American woman with a bastard child, thumbing her nose at her home Ė or a disgraced fallen woman, a product of the decadent capitalist system who descends into the gutter, showing how the US system breeds weak and hopeless citizens."

Control finished his drink and poured a splash more into his glass.

"They finally decided for the latter. Iíd guess at Kaltenbachís suggestion. Otherwise he would have had to have gone on as Susanís "husband" and I had reports that he had already found another more exciting paramour to take his pregnant, straight, nondrinking, non drug taking girlfriendís place."

This began to sound ominous, above what Control was already telling them of the situation. Something about the way he was speaking made Robertís gut twist.

Control rubbed his eyes with his hand, "It all happened rather quickly. Connie called me to say she found Susan in the hotel room she shared with Kaltenbach and she was bleeding profusely." He looked up, and that was when Robert saw tears in his eyes. "Kaltenbach had tied Susan down and used a large knitting needle to stab at the baby in the womb. He had pierced Susanís uterus. Connie had seen Kaltenbach run from the room and then she heard a baby crying. She broke in to see the new born just out of the birth canal and Susan bleeding out."

"Thatís what happened?" Robert whispered. "Susan didnít try and perform the abortion on herself?"

"No. All indications were that Kaltenbach had drugged her and did it to her."

"Oh God," Ted shivered. "Then why did you let on that it was Susan that tried to abort her baby? You told the old lady that, and thatís what you told me!" Suddenly Tedís voice boomed out, "You bastard! Youíd lie about anything!"

Robert watched Controlís reaction. He knew that the man had some reason for this lie, though he couldnít guess as to its reason.

"If I told Beatrice that her beloved daughter, the one whose smile lit up the sun was almost murdered, poked with a knitting needle and left to bleed to death and her newborn granddaughter left to die by her side by a foreign agent, what would you expect that old bastion of money and power to do? Huh?"

He turned and glared at Ted. "She would have moved heaven and earth to find the man who did that to her daughter. And in the end, after publicity and money and angry battles, nothing would have happened. The Soviets and the East German would have denied it and made certain that the evidence showed Susan to be a drug fiend and pervert. They would have never handed Kaltenbach over for prosecution. And the fact was, the US government didnít need that kind of trouble then. We had our hands full with the damn wall up and the worldís balance of power teetering."

"So you let that lie stand?" Ted sneered.

"I let that lie stand in order to get Susan and the baby back to the west. The less fuss, the more of a chance I had to smuggle them home with no problem."

Control finished his drink. "I thought that getting Susan the care sheíd need and the baby to her family here in the US was more important than the political crap that would be thrown around if I let the truth out."

The young man sat, visibly wilted, then he sucked deeply at the beer. He took a deep breath. "But why did you let the lies stand all these years?"

"I used agents who were deep undercover to smuggle Susan and the baby back through the wall." Control said, his eyes not focused on anything in the room, but on the past. "If I had ever let out what really happened, Bernice would have blown all of their covers to hell by insisting on publicly getting Kaltenbach. How Susan had been gotten through the wall would have been put under a microscope and the people we had Ė and still have Ė undercover might be reveled. Their lives would have been in peril and the one remaining way we had to smuggle people out of East Berlin might have been blown. The truth wasnít worth the lives of so many others and the potential lives of people we could help escape in the future." Robert caught his eye as he looked around. "I made that decision and Iíll live with it."

The room became very quiet. Robert nursed his drink.

Ted finished his beer. "I understand, I think." He stood up, flinched as he took a step and limped to the bar, opened the small refrigerator and took another beer. Then he walked back and sat down, his expression deep in thought.

"I think I would have done the same thing." Ted said. "After all Libby doesnít know the details about what happened, the truth or the lie. Bernice told her there were complications with her birth because her mom was so troubled. Her mother had a stroke, to learn that someone had done it to her wouldnít help Libby feel any better."

Control hadnít moved or made a sound, but Robert felt something in the air change.

Ted had a sad smile on. "And so, that it was my knife that took the life of the man who tried to take her and her motherís lives, doesnít need to come out. Itíll open up a can of worms that will eat their way into her soul." He looked at Robert. "It just feels too simple Ė like Iím getting off easy and using Libbyís well-being as an excuse."

"Welcome to the world in which we live." Robert suddenly got a hunch. "What branch of the service were you in?"

Ted started, then glanced at Control and back to face Robert. "I wasnít in the army, I never served."

Robert made as if he were concentrating on his Scotch. "When men have been through what we have today Ė shared blood on their hands Ė Iíd think that the bond formed might push away falsehoods." He gave Ted his most stony glare. "Special forces Ė right?" Robert thought a moment, comparing Tedís knife style on Kaltenbach to the training techniques of the branches of clandestine organizations he had knowledge of. "Not Company, I would have known you."

He heard Control settled deep into a chair.

Robert studied Ted. "Not FBI, you were too smooth for that." He smiled and caught Ted's eyes. "Ah!" he said as the idea hit him, "Special Services. My old friend, the instructor of the black martial arts. Youíre a Leslie Mothbury boy, I think."

Tedís complexion deepened again. "You told him?" This was targeted to Control.

"No," the older man answered. "McCall has more knowledge in his head of such things than any data base in the world. Thatís the reason I made sure you two never met before this. The secret would have been reveled."

Robert accepted the compliment. "Shall I guess as to what the secret is, or will you take pity on an old war dog, whose back is paining him, and just fill in the blanks for me?"

"Iíve heard about you, "Ted said. "Youíre a kind of a legend in the service. Brit who works on our side, master of the game."

"For Christís sake," Control said, "Donít swell his head even more than it is. Heíll be impossible for the rest of the day."

Robert was beginning to warm to Ted quite a bit. "I approve your choice for son-in-law, old friend."

"I wasnít his choice for son-n-law!" Ted scoffed. "I was his choice for undercover snitch, not for family."

"Really?" Robert was surprised. It seemed so cozy and simple. Control planting a man he hoped his daughter would go for. And she did.

"Tell him everything," Control said, "If you donít, Iíll have to. McCall is a bulldog and wonít let his jaws go from the matter until heís discovered everything."

Ted cleared his throat, "I was Secret Service, on a detail in 1987 protecting an official representative of the United States government performing a special mission in India. A small bomb was thrown at his car and it blew." Ted shot a wry smile at Robert. "A motorcycle flew up in the air and came down on me. So I actually did have a motorcycle accident."

"I heard about Ted from Markham and visited him in the hospital," Control added, "I offered him a straight shadow job on Libby. Not officially with the government, but close enough to it to keep him in the loop if his injury was to ever heal enough to get him back to active duty."

"And you could then recommend him if he were to become fit again?" Robert saw through Controlís game. A young man wounded as badly as Ted might grasp onto any hope of a future back in the career he had worked hard to acquire. Control offered a carrot to a desperate man, got him to follow his lead andĖ.

"I infiltrated Libbyís gang at the bar she hung out at," Ted said. "Got into what she was doing, and we hit it off. When I began to care about her, and when I saw it could become reciprocal, I quit the job." He tipped the bottle up to finish the beer. "I never dreamed that my handler, the high and mighty Control, had placed me there to check up on his daughter."

Control sighed. "Ted told me what to do with myself and how often to do it, then he quit."

Robert made a point of staring into his drink. All of this was leading up to an unsavory ending. He had a bad feeling about it.

"So, thatís it Mr. McCall." Ted grimaced. "How Iím as bad as your buddy here. Lying to the woman I love, the woman I want to start a family with." Ted shook his head. "Libbyís life is based on so many lies, so many half truths. Shit, if one falsehood ever comes out, sheís going to go down, buried under all of it. " He looked up to the ceiling, "And sheís the only one whoís innocent here. The only one who never asked to be brought into any of this."

Robert felt pressure well up in his chest. "Then itís your job to protect her from the things that can harm her. Her poisonous grandmother is gone, the man who would have destroyed her Ė both as an infant as an adult Ė is now gone. You had the last word in that."

He glanced at Ted, remembering the swift way he had pulled his knife and slit Kaltenbachís throat while pulling the gun away that had been pointed at Controlís head. The young man must have been impressive as an active agent, because he was still extraordinary.

"Itís your burden to keep the horrors of the facts from her," Robert said, "Take it upon your shoulders young man." He swallowed the dregs of his drink. The liquor burned all the way down. "Your young lady sounds as if she deserves your protection."

He meant what he said, but it wasnít easy to imagine Libby as anything but the angry, defiant young girl he had once met. And it was even less easy to wipe away the years of Controlís whiskey fueled voicing of the sorrow he had suffered at her hands.

Maybe she had turned a new leaf, as he had endeavored to do in his life. Why not hope for the possibility?

Ted nodded. "Can I go? I want to get to Libby and my mom, spend some time with them."

"Your cycleís downstairs?" Control asked.

"Yeah," Ted pushed himself unsteadily to his feet and winced as he set his weight evenly on his hips. "I figure Iíll ride home and then hop a bus to get to Joeís place."

Control eyed him. "Youíve had too much to drink and too much has happened tonight for you to drive home safely." He stared Tedís defiant look down. "And your hipís giving you pain. Weíll have something to eat, rest up and Iíll get us both to Libby." He sighed deeply, "I want to tell her how sorry I am that sheís hurting that her Gran passed."

"No way," Ted said, "Howíll I explain it if we show up together?"

"I went to your home, asked to see Libby, you told me where she was and refused to let me go to her without your accompanying me. Okay?"

Ted took a tentative step and winced again. "Okay. Man I gotta hit the head." Then he visibly remembered the three bodies in the tub, "Iíll go downstairs and see if there's a public bathroom."

"No need," Robert said. He took his roomís passkey from his pocket. "Use my room, across the hallway." He tossed the key to Ted.

"Thanks, McCall," Ted said and made to limp out, then he turned, "Nice meeting you."

"Likewise young man."

Ted went out the door just as Control picked up the phone and dialed.

"Control. Housekeeping ETA." His voice was rough. He set the phone back down and turned to Robert. "Housekeeping will be here in ten."

"Ah, then dinner?" Robertís thought never failed to turn to food after a shooting. For, perhaps the millionth time in his life, he wondered what that must mean.

"The Oak Room downstairs," Control said, "Itís the best steakhouse in Boston."

"Ah yes, just the thing to hit the spot on such an occasion. A bloody, rare slab of beef." He took a moment to consider if he should ask his next question and decided why not? "Whatís the last piece of the puzzle to Susanís situation?"

A look of consternation spread itself over Controlís continence. "Lord man, canít you leave it?"

"You want me to know, old friend or else you would have never let me in on this family linen airing. Whatís the last bit of this story thatís eating away your soul?"

Controlís eyes were dark stones as he stared at Robert. "My guilt."

Frustration welled up. "I was there," Robert said, "you did your best. You tried to patch the marriage up. Susan left you after you tried as hard as you could. You even dreamed of leaving the Company while in Pamplona, you told me so."

Control nodded, wistful. "True, we had the most miraculous five days you ever heard of. We went to see the bulls run. And, I did, I forgot who I was and almost signed up for matador school. I thought I could run away from all of it." He tipped his glass up and drained the last drop. Then he sighed, "But, Susan ran away from me and two days later I was back in Berlin chasing phantoms again."

"Jesus wept man, stop this song of guilt. What is your culpability then, what is weighing on you so?"

"They say," Control took a deep breath, "They say that there's a thin line between love and hate."

Robert chuckled. "Too conventional a saying, and too true in my experience."

"I hated Susan for giving up on me, hated her for throwing away what I had tried so hard to cultivate, even though I couldnít pull it off to her expectations."

Robert heard the raw bloodied emotion in his friendís voice.

"When Connie contacted me with the news how Susan had her baby Ė I wanted to see Susan again and make her see me hold the infant that I knew she wanted. I needed to see her face as she realized that I was taking it from her."

Robert remained silent, refusing to permit himself to form an opinion.

"I ordered Susan to be transported to the West, so she could be crushed under the weight of knowing that I was finally the victor, that her boyfriend Kaltenbach betrayed her more than I did, that I was going to take the child because it was legally mine and that the fact that she was an unfit mother was clear to the world."

"Control," Robert grasped for words, "It was a human emotion."

"No! Not human, and thatís what haunts me, that thereís proof Iíve lost that last sliver of humanity I had left in me Ė" He glared at Robert, the heat of his emotion glowed on Controlís face. "Connie told me the medic said that Susan needed immediate hospitalization and care, that she might not make it if we waited to get her across the wall. I ordered her to be brought home immediatley."

"You took a chance Ė," Robert couldnít finished the sentence.

"She would have been fine if I just took the baby and let them get Susan to a hospital, but I wanted to see her suffer, knowing that I had the last act of revenge on her, taking her child as my own."

"ControlÖ" Robert started, but had no idea of the way to continue.

"She went into shock while in route. Thatís when the brain damage occurred. Not at birth, not as part of the abortion. It happened because I wanted to see her suffer when I committed the final coup de grace on our marriage." Furiously, Control rubbed at his brow with his hand. "She suffered the brain damage because I wanted to punish her. So I got that tenfold. That final victory has been mine for twenty-eight years. Iíve lived with the knowledge that I put her into that living hell. Floating in a coma for all these years, not here, not dead."

"Donít do that to yourself." His throat had dried up. Robert tried for some words of comfort for his friend. But there were none to be found.

"Damndest thing is, that there are moments that, when I think of what we had, what she threw away, discarded and spat in my faceó," a pained expression cracked itself across the other manís face, "Ė that I do feel victorious."

Robert felt his insides grow cold.

The roomís bell rang and Control got up to answer it without missing a beat.

Three men and two women Robert recognized from Housekeeping silently entered and went to the bathroom.

"Letís collect Ted and go to dinner," Robert said, still reeling at what Control had told him. But even as he stood, he was packing all of what he heard into a small corner of his mind for later digestion.

How would he endure it if his order meant a life in a coma for a woman he loved? He couldnít even fathom an answer.

Control stood up and collected his and Robertís coats from a closet. His face was clear of any emotion. Robert led the way across the hotel hallway to his room. He knocked on the door and they waited.

Soon he heard Tedís voice call out, "Coming!" The door opened and they walked in.

"Letís get cracking, young man," Robert said, feeling that he should take care of the social amenities until Control had some time to settle what was storming in his conscience. "Weíre off to dinner downstairs in the Oak Room."

Ted smiled. "Somehow I doubt that theyíll let me in dressed like a biker bum."

That never occurred to him, but as he looked at the tall muscular young man, his long blonde hair, his jeans and studded jacket, he realized that he might just stand out in a restaurant with as high a standard as the Oak Room.

"No problem," Control said. "One minute." Whereupon he turned and left the room.

Robert faced Ted and felt the moment hang there. What to do?

Suddenly Ted pulled him further into the room. "I was hoping to get you alone."

Interesting.

"Iíd appreciate it if youíd accompany us to Manitoba to see Libby and my mom."

Oh Lord. "Really, Ted, I donít see it as my place to Ė"

"Look, I want to give Libbyís old man a chance with her. I think sheíll need him sometime and Ė" Ted turned abruptly away, "Goddamn it, Iím beginning to understand why heís done everything he has. Iíve spent the last years hating him for getting me involved with Libby while wrapped in a lie. I canít tell her who I really am, what I really am. Itís only because I ran away from home when I was seventeen and my family didnít know a thing about me for all those years that I was I able to let Libby meet my mom. But now, I see what made the old man do what he did."

He stood in front of Robert and took a deep breath. "Whatever else, he loves her and so do I. He might have screwed up Heaven and Hell with his lies and half truths but Ė," Tedís deep blue eyes grabbed his attention and bore deep into him. "He did what he could for Libby. I see that now. Bottom line, if he hadnít had her mother shadowed, then both of them would have died in that room in East Berlin. Her mom would have bled to death and Libby Ė" Tedís eyes began to mist. "She would have died as a baby, with no chance at life."

He turned away, grabbed for his bandana and swiped at his eyes. "If only for that," Tedís voice was thick with emotion. "I owe the man Ė big time."

Robert let Ted pull himself together. "But why do you want me along?"

Ted laughed and turned to face him, a great grin on his face. "Because if there isnít a referee as weíre making that trip, then weíre gonna fucking kill each other before we even get to Manitoba."

Robert realized the young man had a point.

Then Control opened the roomís door and walked in with a suit on a hanger. "Weíre about the same size. Here are trousers and a sports jacket of mine. Put them on and weíll get to dinner downstairs. Then weíll make plans to get to Manitoba. I can get us a plane there, weíll just need to decide on the details.

Ted took the suit and wordlessly beseeched Robert. "Okay, Be right back." He took the clothing into the bathroom.

An uncomfortable minute passed. Control scratched at his head then walked to a mirror to fool with his tie. "Look, Old Son, Iíd like toĖ"

Robert interrupted him. "I hear thereís extraordinary fishing up in Manitoba."

Control caught his eye for a moment, then smiled to himself. "Yes, and the town where Libby's staying is built for fishermen of all types, year round."

"Ahh, " Robert made a show of thinking. "As payment for this lovely afternoonís work, I think I shall demand that you take me with you to Manitoba."

Nodding Control said, "If you insist."

"I do, "Robert said. They both sat down and remained in compatible silence.

Ted walked out from the bathroom dressed in Controlís good jacket. He had slicked back his hair and taken a shave and Robert could finally see the young man as the Secret Service agent he once was.

"My apologies, young man," Robert said to Ted. "Iím afraid I will be barging in on your trip to Manitoba. I hear there's marvelous fishing there and Iím determined to try some for myself."

Tedís face lit up, "That would be great. I know a place where I can rent us a boat and get all the tackle we want for cheap."

"Iíve already reserved a boat for us, and have ordered Robertís favorite gear to meet us there." Control said.

Robert shook his head. "You really must break that bad habit of thinking five steps ahead of everyone else and anticipating a future not yet agreed upon. Itís quite annoying."

"But I learned that trait from you, Old Son." Control grinned.

"Guilty as charged." Robert acquiesced.

The three men headed for the door and Ted was the first to leave. Robert stopped Control as he was walking out.

"But Iíd suggest you not do that with your daughter. For men like usÖ" He reached for the right words, "Weíre not used to taking other peopleís mindsets into consideration. As scant success as Iíve had with my children, I can say that thatís the first rule I finally learned. Give them time to come to decisions on their own. Let them see you care and then let them take it in, donít force it. Affection canít be ordered on demand."

A hard emotion flared up in Controlís eyes, but then his continence softened again. "Good counsel, Iíll keep that in mind."

He walked out of the room as Robert shut and checked that the door was locked. As Robert went to join the two other men, he noted that each was standing on the opposite side of the elevator door, their postures ramrod straight they were staring each other down in a silent male war of dominancy.

Three Alpha males traveling together to the woods of Manitoba. This had all the makings of a very interesting trip.

If they didnít murder each other en-route.

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