Epilogue

Somewhere Near Verhojansk, Cherski Mountains, Eastern Siberia

Control sat back in his seat and tried to ignore the vibrations of the Russian helicopter as it slowly settled to the ground. He waited until the crew had secured the craft, then pulled the headphones off and climbed out. A few words in Russian to the pilot told him he wasn’t going to be long and to keep the helicopter warmed up. The pilot nodded.

Control wrapped the long, wool, coat tighter around him, borrowed from a Russian Officer no doubt. Control wouldn’t have been able to get this far into the country if he hadn’t been able to pass himself off as military. A tug on the scarf completely hid his lower face and the thick Russian hat did much to make him unrecognizable. He was tired, and his head ached ferociously. Now he had flown from Juneau, to a US battleship which had allowed a Russian Chopper to land on its deck to pick up both himself and a special cargo, then they flew to their present location. Somewhere high in the frigid Soviet Siberian Ranges. The cold knifed through him as he stepped out of the helicopter.

Some incredible moving and shaking had occurred to bring the man to his present location. He was only too aware that he was in an incredibly dangerous place and if one word got out of his presence…

As he set foot on the ground he looked right, to where two Russian guards were hauling a stumbling man out of the cargo hold. They had provided the man with American clothing, gloves, hat, and a thick Parka. Almost immediately the man’s voice was cutting through the air like fingernails down a blackboard.

"I want to know what you’re doing! There are laws against this, you know. Violations against the Geneva Convention. And how do I know you’re really Russian? This could be some enormous trick of Control’s to make me think you’ve hauled me to Russia or something…"

Control’s hard blue eyes almost rolled in disgust as he jerked his head towards a pair of men standing at the far edge of the thick trees. The two Guards practically picked up their prisoner and hauled him towards the trees. Another man materialized alongside Control, carrying a metal briefcase.

"This is highly unusual sir," the man said to him in English. Control smiled thinly under the scarf and nodded.

"But quite necessary," he replied in Russian.

"Your position here is very dangerous," the other reminded.

"I have faith in your attention to detail, Sergei. You will be handsomely rewarded for the effort you’ve taken to arrange this gathering. Rest assured, you will not be left uncompensated." Control replied.

The other man nodded, knowing he would indeed be paid handsomely for what was about to happen. For several minutes, nobody said anything, just fighting to stay warm in the subfreezing cold of Siberia in Winter. The snow was thick and frozen.

As they entered the trees, Sergei shook his head and glanced at Control. The prisoner had never ceased his talking, telling his captors they’d be sorry for messing with someone with the connections that he had.

"Does this Yankee ever shut up?"

"He will shortly," Control replied.

A few minutes later the party came to a halt and the prisoner was released, being shoved forward by his two guards. He stumbled towards a very small, ill-kept shack. He looked up as the two guards faded towards the trees. They blended in, as several more men appeared in the gloom, many holding AK-47’s. The prisoner looked around and laughed.

"Oh how very theatrical! I suppose you think this is going to frighten me? It smack’s of Control plotting revenge, how very gratuitous of him. Whatever he’s paid you? I can double. I have connections, clear into the White House," he shivered against the cold, hugging his arms to himself as Control and Sergei appeared amongst the men.

"This has to be the most blatant of clichés.

Control sat back in his seat and tried to ignore the vibrations of the Russian helicopter as it slowly settled to the ground. He waited until the crew had secured the craft, then pulled the headphones off and climbed out. A few words in Russian to the pilot told him he wasn’t going to be long and to keep the helicopter warmed up. The pilot nodded.

Control wrapped the long, wool, coat tighter around him, borrowed from a Russian Officer no doubt. Control wouldn’t have been able to get this far into the country if he hadn’t been able to pass himself off as military. A tug on the scarf completely hid his lower face and the thick Russian hat did much to make him unrecognizable. He was tired, and his head ached ferociously. Now he had flown from Juneau, to a US battleship which had allowed a Russian Chopper to land on its deck to pick up both himself and a special cargo, then they flew to their present location. Somewhere high in the frigid Soviet Siberian Ranges. The cold knifed through him as he stepped out of the helicopter.

Some incredible moving and shaking had occurred to bring the man to his present location. He was only too aware that he was in an incredibly dangerous place and if one word got out of his presence…

As he set foot on the ground he looked right, to where two Russian guards were hauling a stumbling man out of the cargo hold. They had provided the man with American clothing, gloves, hat, and a thick Parka. Almost immediately the man’s voice was cutting through the air like fingernails down a blackboard.

"I want to know what you’re doing! There are laws against this, you know. Violations against the Geneva Convention. And how do I know you’re really Russian? This could be some enormous trick of Control’s to make me think you’ve hauled me to Russia or something…"

Control’s hard blue eyes almost rolled in disgust as he jerked his head towards a pair of men standing at the far edge of the thick trees. The two Guards practically picked up their prisoner and hauled him towards the trees. Another man materialized alongside Control, carrying a metal briefcase.

"This is highly unusual sir," the man said to him in English. Control smiled thinly under the scarf and nodded.

"But quite necessary," he replied in Russian.

"Your position here is very dangerous," the other reminded.

"I have faith in your attention to detail, Sergei. You will be handsomely rewarded for the effort you’ve taken to arrange this gathering. Rest assured, you will not be left uncompensated." Control replied.

The other man nodded, knowing he would indeed be paid handsomely for what was about to happen. For several minutes, nobody said anything, just fighting to stay warm in the subfreezing cold of Siberia in Winter. The snow was thick and frozen.

As they entered the trees, Sergei shook his head and glanced at Control. The prisoner had never ceased his talking, telling his captors they’d be sorry for messing with someone with the connections that he had.

"Does this Yankee ever shut up?"

"He will shortly," Control replied.

A few minutes later the party came to a halt and the prisoner was released, being shoved forward by his two guards. He stumbled towards a very small, ill-kept shack. He looked up as the two guards faded towards the trees. They blended in, as several more men appeared in the gloom, many holding AK-47’s. The prisoner looked around and laughed.

"Oh how very theatrical! I suppose you think this is going to frighten me? It smack’s of Control plotting revenge, how very gratuitous of him. Whatever he’s paid you? I can double. I have connections, clear into the White House," he shivered against the cold, hugging his arms to himself as Control and Sergei appeared amongst the men.

"This has to be the most blatant of clichés. So very old-fashioned of him. Where are we, the backwoods of Kentucky? With his hirelings acting like Russians? I know he has the power to pull off that kind of deception."

Sergei looked at Control and raised an eyebrow. Control merely shrugged and nodded at the metal case. Sergei lifted it and snapped open the locks. Inside, lay a Government issue .45 and a letter. Control pulled his gloves off slowly while the prisoner looked around him, still spouting off his mouth. He picked up the gun, jacked the slide back to check and see if a single bullet was in the chamber. Satisfied he then picked up the letter and walked forward.

"He doesn’t even have the guts to come out here and do the job himself," the prisoner chuckled, then saw the man approaching. He laughed at him. "Who are you supposed to be? The executioner?"

Control heaved a quiet sigh, slipped the letter into the hand that held the gun and reached up to pull down the scarf from his face.

Jason Masur stared at Control for a fraction of a second, then began to giggle.

"You are too rich! You are so funny! You think this is frightening me? This is just your idea of revenge! Do you think for a minute that I am going to fall down on my knees and be afraid of you? I’m made of sterner stuff than that, Old Man."

"Jason," Control said, close enough now to Masur to where only they could hear each other. "Shut up."

Masur only giggled, shivering at the cold.

"You’ve really stooped. When my connections find out what you’re doing, you are history. There’s no way you are getting away with this…"

"Oh yes, I am getting away with this," Control replied easily. He handed the letter to Jason.

"What’s this? Something that’s supposed to make me shake in fear of you? Try another stoolie… I’m not that scared. I’m too amused at your comic opera execution squad." Jason jerked his chin at the surrounding ring of silent, armed watchers.

"They aren’t the execution squad," Control replied. "As for that," he nodded at the letter he held out to Jason. "This is from my superiors, it’s for you. They wanted me to deliver it."

Jason stared at the envelope. He began to laugh again.

"You? A delivery boy? Now that is funny! The great head of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, delivering messages from the Company Chiefs?" He snatched the letter from Control’s fingers and tore it open. "I’ve lived to see the day when they start taking you down a notch or two…" His eyes began to scan the letter.

Impassively, Control only watched as Masur slowly stopped, his face suddenly going pale as realization settled in..

"You see…" Control said calmly, lifting the gun and snapping the slide back in place with a resounding metallic clack. "I have to follow orders too," he smiled coldly as Jason looked at him, his face blank with shock.

"You have messed with Yellow coded agents once too often. Your designation has been changed to Red. Reva was wearing a recorder when you admitted to destroying the evidence of stealing a Global Positioning Device later found in her truck."

Jason laughed again. "So this is a Keystone Cop execution squad! And you expect me to be scared of you?! I’m laughing in your face old man!"

"They aren’t the execution squad," Control replied patiently. Jason sniggered.

"Then it’s got to be you! How apropos…"

"I’m not either," Control replied, as a small cold smile settled on his lips. Jason only giggled.

"We’re in the Soviet Siberian Ranges, Jason. They’re expecting a blizzard here in the next six hours. The cold up here is brutal and slow. A man can take several days to die…" Control replied conversationally.

"I am just shaking in my shoes," Jason contemptuously replied.

"You’re being given several choices. You can either hide in that shack there with no food, water, or fuel and try to survive as long as possible. The temperatures will plunge into the minus figures with wind-chill factors even lower then that. The blizzards are world famous for their ability to freeze a man in a matter of hours. Just look at what they can do to a woolly mammoth… You’ll die of hypothermia, raving like a mad man before you go," Control continued on, slow and hypnotic, quickly getting the desired effect from Masur. The man stopped mocking him and began to listen to his words…

"Or you can try to hike out of this place and make for the nearest city. That would be Verhojansk, 250 miles north west of here. There you’ll face arrest as an American spy in Soviet Russia, alone in a remote section of the mountains with no friends, no contacts, and no connections to lean on. You’ll be caught, sentenced, and left to die in a Russian Gulag. The American consulates have been told you no longer exist and are to act accordingly. I needn’t remind you what a death is like in a Gulag, do I?" He looked inquisitively at him.

"Or…" Control continued. "You can die like a man," he lifted the gun. "This has one bullet and all it will take is one quick, clean, shot." Control reversed the weapon and held it out butt first to Jason. His smile became colder and even more sinister as his eyes drilled into the other man’s.

"So you see… They aren’t going to be your executioners and I am not going to have the pleasure of wiping you off the face of the earth," He reached out and grabbed Jason’s hand and forced him to take the gun.

"You are going to be your executioner. It’s going to be your choice."

Control abruptly turned away, his eyes locking with Sergei’s as he began purposefully striding away from Masur.

Masur stood there, rendered speechless, and stared at the gun like a calf looking at a new gate. For a long pause he stared at it then lifted his eyes towards the retreating figure of Control. With a snarl, Jason hefted the gun, aimed and pulled the trigger…

Gunshots sounded out from the group of Russians standing amidst the trees and Jason’s right leg suddenly blew out from under him sending him crashing to the permafrost with a look of shocked surprise on his face. Still not quite registering pain, he looked down at his leg and blinked at the sodden red mass that should have been his knee. He looked to his left where the gun had spun out of his hands, seeing the smoke curling away from the end of the barrel. Another look and he watched Control walking away into the gloom as the Russians around him began to fade one by one into the trees…

Realizing his shot had missed its target, Jason began to feel the pain seep through his shocked senses.

"They’re under orders not to kill you, Jason," Control’s voice floated back to him.

"Wait," he croaked. "You can’t just leave me here…" An unnatural shaking seized him. "You can’t just leave me like this!"

"Coward…" One of the Russians said as they disappeared like wraiths.

Control walked past Sergei, who slipped his own pistol away into his coat pocket. Sergei looked at the strange man who was calmly pulling his gloves back on. Behind them Jason began to laugh, a strange hysterical sound followed by a scream of rage.

"You knew he was going to fire at you, didn’t you?" Sergei asked. Control only nodded.

"I did give him a choice…" he responded softly. Behind them they could hear the sounds of Masur yelling and screaming in helpless fury. Control glanced at Sergei.

"And he chose..." he replied.

 

New York City, four days later.

Near midnight, Robert parked his Jaguar in front of Pete O’Phelan’s restaurant, climbed out, habitually looked around and gently shut the door.

He found that Control had got in ahead of him and sat at their favorite spot near the back, by the great fireplace. He appeared to be half way through a bottle that sat on the table with two glasses. He was stretched out, leaning back in the chair, tie loosened, and looked up at Robert as he approached.

"Control…" Robert greeted, studying him a moment.

"Robert."

"Decided to start without me? Have you eaten, as well?" Robert asked, pulling his overcoat off and neatly folding it before draping it across a convenient chair. Control only nodded slightly in amusement as Robert shook his head at him.

"I just got here a few minutes ahead of you," Control replied easily. Robert pulled out a chair and raised an eyebrow at the half-empty bottle. "And no, I haven’t ordered dinner yet."

"So I see…" Robert replied dryly, sitting down. He set his arms on the table, clasped his fingers together and looked at the agency head. Control gazed balefully back at him.

"What would you like to know first Robert?" Control asked, opening up the conversation. Robert raised an eyebrow and looked thoughtful a moment.

"All of it. I want to hear all of it. I want to know who the girl is, why you created a fake family for her, why her medical records are gone and why you are so keen to keep Kostmayer away from her." Robert looked steadily at him. "…and I want the truth." he added.

For a very long time Control didn’t reply then he sighed gently and glanced at Robert.

"She’s my niece," he muttered softly. "My little sister’s only child."

Robert felt understandably thunderstruck at first, he had been expecting something along this line but for Control to actually admit to him that he had family… then he paused to consider the night on the dock when Control had told him photographic memories ran in the family.

"Your niece?" he asked gently. Control looked at him through his thick brow, his face inscrutable, eyes a dark, stormy blue.

"My little sister and her husband were killed in a car accident when Reva was three weeks old. That part of her life is true," Control replied and knocked back the liquid in his drink. He looked at Robert again. "I was her only relation."

"You are her only relation," Robert corrected. Control heaved a sigh, reached up to rub his eyes, and nodded.

"Yes, I am," he responded. He gathered his thoughts together. "Understandably, there was no way I could raise a baby, so I arranged for Thornton Cheney and his wife to take her in. Cheney was a good friend, he and his wife were childless, and I needed to get Reva as far away from me and my poisonous life as possible," he smiled slightly at Robert. "So I waved my magic wand and created a family for her. I could never allow myself to get close to her, Robert. Not like you can with Scott and Yvette. It’s far too dangerous…"

"So why did you allow her to enter into Company circles?" Robert asked back, a thin line of disapproval settling in on his lips. Control smirked, his head bobbing slightly in amusement.

"Think of it Robert, she forged her way, literally, into my car. At first I didn’t realize who she was until I began noticing the mistakes she was making. I was preoccupied, doing business, but when I did notice I got a good look at her and I realized my niece was driving me around town. It was such an astonishing thing that I simply let her go while I worked out what I was going to do about it. That’s when I discovered she carried the family talent."

A long pause settled between them, then Robert asked softly, "How could you involve her, Control?"

Control sighed.

"I wanted to get to know her, Robert. I had the chance and opportunity to see her up close without her having any idea of who I am. She’s smart, Robert, pretty, so full of life. Cheney and his wife did wonders with her. She was dead set on getting on with the publishing house to illustrate children’s books. I sort of helped push that along as I nudged that talent of ours into a few, useful directions. She was eager to learn more, she didn’t even realize everything that can be done, so I helped her along." Control’s voice slowly faded as he looked back at Robert’s critical eyes.

"It was the most hideous mistake I have ever made…"

Robert lips curled slightly in disgust as he studied Control, but he bit back his comment, seeing the memories drift across the man’s face.

"The night she was attacked… Jason managed to slip Robbins into the security detail. I had kept my eye on him, and I knew of his previous encounters with Reeve. He wanted somehow to disgrace her. The security was there to make sure that nothing happened to her. I was there myself to make absolute certain. However, Robbins conveniently vanished when Reva emerged from the lounge. I had no idea she had gone in there to draw Ismail’s face. By then it was too late. The wife had alerted his agents and they began separating her from the crowd. I realized they were culling her out and began to make my way towards her."

Control paused again, frozen a moment as he relived the night in question.

"The woman broke the carafe’ and had just swung at her when I came in behind Reva, my men moved in as I grabbed for Reva’s throat. The glass had nicked the jugular vein. I had to pinch the nick closed, but she was losing blood so fast and I knew that Reeve and I shared the same blood type," he looked up at Robert.

"I had them do a direct transfusion while we rushed for the Agency hospital. I couldn’t take my hand from her throat until they could get a hemostat in to keep the jugular intact. She was losing a lot of blood, she began to choke, they had to do a tracheotomy…" his voice trailed off. "By that time I was the only thing keeping her alive."

A strange calm settled over Control like a mantle.

"She nearly died that night. The damage to her throat, her neck, her voice, losing so much blood…" he shook his head. "It was terrible." He grew silent. "I sat with her for two days… she was oblivious to anyone’s presence. By the time she began to come around I had already planned what I had to do to get her out of my life and away from me. I arranged the therapy, the purchase of the house in Wiscasett, the contacts in the publishing company, the disappearance of her medical records, everything. Then I got myself as far away from her as I could."

"That still doesn’t answer the question of why, Control." Robert said quietly. "Why did you allow her to get near you in the first place?"

Control looked at Robert and didn’t reply for a long time, when he did, he softly responded,

"I envied you, old son. I envied you. You had the guts and the courage to make a relationship work with your children, even when they were grown adults. Even knowing how hideously dangerous it is to have personal family ties in the business we’re in… I’ve watched you, watched Scott and Yvette. Hell, Yvette I even treated like she was my own. I had completely removed Reva from my life and when she suddenly came across my path, Robert, I had to know… I had to try… She’s my only flesh and blood. For a full year I got the chance to know her and in one split second and with my own personal selfishness, I lost it all."

Control sat forward, poured himself another snifter full, then rested his forearms across the table. He looked at Robert and said quietly. "I had to try, Robert."

McCall only looked back at him with distaste mingled with a sympathetic understanding.

"So for four years, she’s been living the life of a recluse in Maine. Alone, frightened and knowing someone is constantly watching her house. Knowing you had set it all up for her. What kind of a life is that? No one to talk to, no friends, nothing, " Robert pointed out.

"She’s become very successful…" Control murmured. "She won the Caldecott Award two years ago, a very prestigious award, Robert. She’s gained a good reputation in her company and has the choice of what commissions she takes on. I just learned the other night that her ‘ Flying Dutchman’ has already sold out it’s first printing and they’re scheduling a 2nd and a 3rd. There’s talk she’ll be nominated for a Caldecott again."

"Winning awards is worthless, Control, when stacked up against a life of loneliness and despair. That kind of thing eats away at the heart, the soul, and the mind. You’ve given her a padded, well supplied, prison and she’s also grown to hate you for it." Robert pointed out.

"I know that…" Control replied.

For a long time, Robert simply stared at him and mulled over what he had learned. Control said nothing more.

"And what about Kostmayer?" Robert asked.

Control rolled his eyes slightly, closed them and sighed. He took a swallow of his drink, his shoulders slumping. "What about Kostmayer?"

"He’s still among the missing, I assume, as no word has reached me otherwise."

"He’s thumbing his nose at me," Control growled. "He’s still alive, Robert. He was very careful to pack his duffel before he vanished. I suspect he’s somewhere in Mexico by now and heading home. He just left that jeep in Golfito to make us think he’d gone into Panama."

"It’s no wonder he’d go and do something like that!" Robert replied bitterly. "Any chance he might have had at finding some measure of happiness in his dreary life has been ruined, no thanks to you. Not that the chances were good in the first place. You and I both know that relationships and Company work don’t mix."

"I needed to do something to keep him in line."

"And what about Reva?" Robert snapped. "I don’t think that girl has spoken more then a dozen words since this rotten business concluded. She’s about to crack behind those self-imposed walls. She looked like a ghost when I told her Mickey was missing."

"She’ll be all right…" Control murmured. "And so will Kostmayer, when he resurfaces."

Robert heaved a sigh. "He likes the girl, Control. I have warned him, repeatedly, about not getting involved with anyone. I am, however, talking myself blue in the face. He’s adamant about seeing her again, despite what I say. And to be involved with someone in Company circles…" Robert shook his head.

Control glanced up at Robert and hid the slight smile on his lips by taking another sip from his snifter.

"The last thing I want to see is either one of them getting hurt. Reva’s been hurt enough as it is, but Kostmayer’s involvement is just going to make things worse, especially knowing they won’t be allowed to stay together. No matter what I say to him to get him to see reason, I’m afraid it’s going to have the opposite effect. He will find her again… no matter what you and I do to try and stop them." Robert continued rambling.

To Robert’s surprise, Control very softly began to chuckle. He slowly sat back in his chair, holding the snifter, swirling the dark liquid around in it. The self-satisfied smile on his face caused Robert to look at him and frown. Control saw it and gently began to laugh in earnest.

"You are absolutely perfect, old son…" Control murmured to him, beginning to smile in delight.

"What?!" Robert barked.

"You’ve added the icing to the cake, Robert. Rather well, I might add," Control sipped from his glass again, his blue eyes twinkling in mischief.

"What are you talking about?" Robert demanded.

Control continued to chuckle. "Simple reverse psychology, Robert. Even you ought to know how that works," he smiled outright at the look on Robert’s face, his entire face brightened from its normal coldness.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Robert snapped.

"If I told you, you could no longer see Yvette? What would you do?"

"I’d tell you to go to hell and see her anyway!" Robert instantly responded. Control nodded, smiling like a self-satisfied cat.

"You’ve told Kostmayer not to see Reva and what do you think he’s going to do?"

"He’ll see her again," Robert growled, shooting a glare at Control. The other man nodded, looking into his glass.

"I’ve told him exactly the same thing, several times, and I know what he’s going to do," he replied and glanced up at Robert, his eyes full of mischief. Robert glared back.

"You mean to tell me…" McCall began to speak. Control only laughed.

"Who do you think suggested he go fishing in Wiscasett in the first place, Robert?"

Aside from the rattling in the kitchen, a pin could have dropped in the dining room and been heard as Robert glared at Control.

"You’ve planned this entire fiasco all along?!" Robert erupted. "That girl has been assaulted twice, and has had to kill someone at your…" Robert began to erupt. Control raised a hand to stop him.

"Oh I had my hand in it, I just didn’t expect Masur to get himself involved like he did, then Kostmayer taking her from the hospital wasn’t exactly part of the script but that turned out to my advantage, as well. The more you tell Kostmayer ‘no’ the more he’s likely to do it anyway… kind of like someone else I know. I couldn’t bear the idea of Reeve staying in that house by herself any longer," he drained his glass again and winked at Robert.

"Reeve is about the only single girl left in town, I just played my cards right and hoped like hell Kostmayer would run into her… It worked." Control shrugged, smiling in satisfaction.

"Are you out of your mind!?" Robert demanded.

"It’s perfect, Robert… Reeve has someone she’s interested in and Kostmayer’s one of my best, if most unpredictable, field agents. Who better to look out after her? I’ll still have my hand in her safety, and Kostmayer won’t rot away in that uh… cave he calls a home. They’re well suited, both like the outdoors and both are lonely. It’s perfect."

"It absolutely insane!" Robert bit back. His reaction only spurred Control to laugh some more.

"So long as I keep telling Kostmayer to stay away, I know Reva will be well looked after. I just have to jerk on Kostmayer’s chain every now and again…" He smiled at Robert.

"One of these days he’s going to bite you back!" Robert snapped.

"Oh I’ve handled worse than Kostmayer in my lifetime, just look at yourself, old son."

"I beg your pardon?"

Control continued his mirth. "Come down off your mountain, Robert. Do you think I’m so heartless that I would abandon Reva completely? I know I’m responsible for her present condition, but that doesn’t mean I stopped caring for the girl. I just can’t be involved in it like you can with Scott and Yvette. Having Kostmayer involved gives me a little more security in knowing the girl is safe, and with Laskar there to keep an eye on things…" Control smiled, satisfied. "I can keep the lid on two problems at the same time…"

"It’s bloody well reprehensible…" Robert started in, Control only continued to laugh. Robert’s lips pursed in disgust. " And what do you intend on telling them? Do you plan on telling Reva you are her only relation? And what if Mickey finds out?"

Control only smiled mysteriously. "They aren’t going to find out, old son, least of all, from me. For Reva’s sake it’s the safest course possible that she know absolutely nothing about me. As for Kostmayer, it gives me a measure of control over the boy, he’s getting a little too unorthodox. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when he uses it against me…" He raised an eyebrow at Robert and smirked.

"That is the most despicable…" Robert continued. Control sat forward, chuckling still.

"Enough Robert!" he protested. "Let’s order dinner and I’ll tell you more, by the time I’m done, you’ll be seeing things like I do… you always do in the end you know," he winked again.

All Robert could do was glare back at him in disgust, knowing eventually that Control would be right…

 

 

Wiscasett, Maine, Early December.

(Three weeks after the incidents in Wash. DC.)

 

Dr. Richard Laskar shrugged his way into his heavy jacket and sighed. A glance out the window leading to the alleyway behind the vet’s office revealed that it had started snowing again. They were in for a rough winter as this had been the third snowfall since…

Laskar paused. Since Reva Cheney had been found unconscious by her truck in late October. He shuddered. To this day he regretted his involvement in the Company. He had totally dropped out as a young man and decided on vet school. Yet even now, they never let him forget that he had been an employee at one time. Never to retire. Laskar sighed, shutting out the last of the lights and heading for the back door. He had worked late, was tired and anticipating a nice warm home.

It was pitch dark outside by 7 o’clock in the evening. Laskar braced himself against the cold as he let himself out and turned to the door, locking it. His breath could be seen in the chill air and he glanced towards the only street light, illuminating the parking lot and the street sign. His was the only vehicle left in the lot. Snow lazily whirled down in tiny flakes, adding itself to the minute layers. He shivered.

Not exactly a native to Wiscasett, Laskar often wondered about the street sign marking the little road behind the vet’s office.

"Shin Bone Aly," he muttered under his breath as he made his way towards his truck. "Can’t even spell it right." He glanced down as he walked and flipped through his key ring for the truck key. He never saw the low, fast movement of a large figure from the shadows on his left. He suddenly found himself stumbling right, as a hefty weight slammed into him, propelling him into the wall of the building opposite.

Things went black as he felt an arm snake around his chest while fingers grabbed a handful of hair, jerking his head back. With his face in the bricks, Laskar felt his feet get kicked out from under him, forcing his balance into the wall, then the man shifted and forced his hip into the small of Laskar’s back.

Whatever had happened to his Company training?

"I don’t have anything!" he managed to shout out in fear as his assailant let go of his hair and forced his left arm up hard behind his back. Laskar was suddenly aware that the arm across his chest had a hand holding a knife in it. He gasped in alarm as the blade snicked out, flashing in the dim light of the deserted street, almost in front of his eyes.

"Good thing…" A man’s low, husky voice growled, right next to his ear. Laskar’s eyes squeezed shut a moment as he realized he was no match for the person pinning him to the wall.

"I’ve got no money on me, nothing!"

"I’m not after your money," the voice growled.

Laskar, panting in fright, frowned in confusion and opened his eyes. He sucked in a shuddering breath as he felt the blade of the knife slowly begin stroking the exposed jugular vein on his neck. The man behind him smiled coldly.

"Remember me?" he whispered in Laskar’s ear.

"No!" Laskar nearly shouted. The sinister laugh that followed sent a chill of utter terror through Laskar.

"You will now…" the voice replied.

Laskar suddenly found himself being spun around and slammed back into the wall. He held up both arms, showing he had nothing as his assailant kicked his feet out from the wall. A black gloved hand grabbed his throat while the other began to stroke the knife blade along his jaw line.

Eyes squeezed shut, Laskar shook in fright.

"What do you want?" he nearly screamed in panic.

"Silence," the voice responded. Laskar could feel the man’s breath on his face and he flinched away.

"Look at me…" the man purred, running the blade along his cheek. Shaking now in absolute terror, Laskar reluctantly forced his eyes open.

He looked at a man wearing a dark stocking cap, a green army jacket, white muffler and jeans. His face was inches away from his own, gripping his throat so tight Laskar felt the need to gag. The eyes were hooded, cold, unblinking and dark; wholly threatening in the dim street light. The blade continued its slow, mesmerizing, stokes.

"The name’s Kostmayer…" the man whispered. "Mickey Kostmayer and don’t you ever forget it!"

Already scared out of his wits, Laskar’s eyes grew wider in horror.

"If you say one word about me being in Wiscasett, I’m going to use this knife to skin you alive…" Mickey hissed. The blade slipped.

Laskar almost screamed as he gasped in air, feeling the knife cut along his jaw line and stop. He stared at Mickey, utterly shaking in fright. Too scared to feel any pain. Yet.

"You tipped Control off last summer that I was in Wiscasett. I know all about it. You ever do that to me again and you will wish you were dead," Mickey breathed into his face. "You have my word on it."

Laskar suddenly found himself falling onto his knees as Mickey released him. His heart pounded wildly in his chest as he struggled for composure. Reaching up he put a hand to his face and looked at it. Blood stood out in a thin dark line across his hand. He looked up in time to see Kostmayer, swinging a duffel bag up onto one shoulder as he began walking down Shin Bone Aly. He never once looked back at Laskar.

All Laskar knew for sure was that Kostmayer would keep his word…

 

 

Reva sat at her dining room table, pencil in hand, staring at a large piece of drawing paper. Her other hand held her head up, pulling her hair back, hard. The fire and a single lamp near the couch provided the only light, leaving much of the house in darkness. The pencil was doing a strange, macabre dance across the paper like it had a mind of its own. All over the table were scattered other drawings. Scenes of Gavin Maxwell and his otters Mijbil and Edal had come to life under her pencil. The wild West Hebrides Coast of Scotland coming vividly alive as she attacked her illustrating assignment.

Hidden amongst the drawings were several books on Scotland, several others on otters, all her previous sketches of the otter from the summer and other needed research. In the midst lay Toby, lazily flicking his tail as his half-shut eyes reflected the light of the fire in the hearth. He stretched nearly the width of the table.

Reva herself looked terrible. Dark circles marred her eyes from lack of sleep, along with a pale gauntness from lack of eating. Her face was emotionless as she let the pencil waltz over the paper. She watched it like a distant spectator. Gone now were both sets of her stitches and she again wore her turtlenecks to hide her scars. The bruises from Masur’s manhandling had all but faded away.

The house was silent, save for the crackling of the fireplace and hum of appliances. Reva sketched on, until Toby brought his head up sharply and looked towards the front door. She frowned, lifted the pencil carefully and looked at him. The big Main Coon let out a little chirp, climbing to his feet and stretching luxuriantly. Reva watched him a moment as he opened his mouth wide in a yawn, then jumped down from the table.

Smirking at him, Reva set the pencil down and rose. Only in a turtleneck, jeans and thick wooly, socks, Reva padded past the kitchen and down the short hall. Toby sauntered as he led the way and lazily flicked the tip of his thick, bushy tail back and forth in a comical question mark.

Reva opened the door, allowing the porch light to come on as Toby meowed and darted out into the snow. The light flickered once and died. Scowling at it, Reva hung part way out the door and thumped the wall with her fist under the light. It let out a dim glow then died. She sighed, hitting the wall again with no luck. Shaking her head, she looked out at the road, towards a nearby street light and saw that it was snowing again. The world lay hushed and quiet under its winter blanket. Glancing towards the direction of the cat, she saw he had darted off into the nearby gardens. With a shrug she glared at the light and shut the door.

She had just sat back down at the table, picking up her pencil, when her ears caught a muffled thump. Her head came up sharply, listening. A familiar jolt of fear coursed through her body. Frozen, she waited, then jumped when she heard the very distinctive sound of someone hitting the wall under her porch light.

Like a shot she was off the chair, turning towards the computer desk in her living room. She nearly pulled the drawer out onto the floor as she reached in and grabbed for her pistol. Disengaging the safety, she gripped it two handed and cautiously began to edge her way down the hall towards the door.

The glass on her door being frosted and the porch darkened, revealed only a large shape. Reva set her jaw, fingering the grip on her pistol as she pointed the weapon down. Cautiously she came up beside the door. Releasing her left hand she reached up and grasped the knob, barely hearing a muffled voice beyond the door. Taking in a deep breath, Reva jerked the door open and brought the gun up…

Standing in the darkened doorway stood a bundled up figure, one arm holding her cat, the other reaching up to hit the wall under her light again. Just as it flickered and came on, a man’s voice asked,

"Guess what the cat dragged in?"

Several things occurred at once…

Reva stared at the man as she held her pistol on him. Jeans, army jacket, a thick white scarf, stocking hat. He was looking at her with a spark of mad mischief in his eyes until he realized she was holding a gun on him.

Instantly the cat got dropped and a pair of black gloved hands flew up, waving briefly…

"Whoa!" The man protested as the cat dashed inside the house.

Reva stared at him as he reached up and pulled down his scarf. Her world suddenly began to grow dark and spin.

 

Mickey stared at her, startled, as Reva looked at him in shock. The last thing he expected was to be greeted at the door with a .9mm. Worse was seeing her eyes roll back into her head as she began to pitch forward.

He neatly caught her gun hand as she began to fall past him. "Reeve…" He started as she made a small attempt at stopping her fall. Mickey moved. Catching her, he turned her around, carefully guiding her down the hall and somehow managed to get the door shut behind him. Her legs gave out as they reached the living room and he lowered her quickly to the floor in front of the fireplace.

He hurriedly set the gun on the table, jerking his hat, gloves and scarf off. Wadding them in a ball, he dropped to the floor next to her. With care, he worked them under her head, then looked at the couch, reaching over to grab a pillow.

"Reeve?" he asked when he heard a moan as he set her feet on the pillow. He looked at her as he worked at the buttons on his jacket. A quick yank on the zipper and his coat was being added under her feet. Mickey scrambled back up to her head.

He looked at her, alarmed at the gauntness in her features. She looked terribly underweight. He stared at her as she moaned again, then he reached up and gently placed a hand on the side of her face while he propped himself up with the other.

"Reeve?" he asked, concerned as she frowned, swallowed and began to open her eyes. She let out a gasp, sinking back down into his makeshift pillow as both hands came up to brace against his chest and push. He was looking at her with anxiety as she focused on his face.

"Reva?" he barely whispered. Her hands flexed, sinking into his thick sweater as she stared at him in disbelief.

"Mickey?" she said, very distinctly. Mickey blinked in surprise.

"Y… you’re gone, y… you… you’re missing, d… dead. He sent you away, you… you’re gone," she suddenly babbled, pushing at him. Mickey looked stricken.

"Reeve…" he said, astonished to hear an actual voice coming out of her and horrified at her belief that he was dead. He pulled her to him, wrapping his arms tightly around her as he sat back.

"No, no, no, no, no…" he shushed, stroking her hair, pulling it back off her face as she continued to stammer in disbelief. "Look at me… C’mon look at me..." he coaxed, gazing into her face. She stared at him, her eyes wet with tears.

"Mickey?" she asked again. He smiled his odd, quirky smile at her.

"Who else?" he murmured. She reached up then, touching his face, her fingers lightly brushing his lips.

"Mickey!" she gasped and held on to him for dear life. Mickey buried his face in her hair, nearly crushing her to him in return.

"I have missed you so much," he breathed in her ear. She suddenly began to shake. "All I could think about was getting back here to you…" She pulled back again, looking at him, touching his face again. He smiled, holding her head in his hands, seeing the tears that threatened to spill from her grey eyes.

"That’s the last time I hitchhike through three war-zones and all of Mexico," he tipped his head slightly as she began to smile in return. A laugh suddenly began to bubble out, followed by a sob. He stared in wonder as she half-cried and half-laughed. He shook his head, marveling.

"You’re talking…" he said in awe. Reva, slipping a hand to her mouth, nodded her head, looking at him as she struggled with whether to laugh or cry.

"You hitch-hiked home?" she asked. Mickey began to chuckle.

"Wasn’t about to let Control have the satisfaction of debriefing me…" he murmured, searching her face. He suddenly twisted around, not letting her go and dug around in his jacket. Reva began to shake again, only now she began to softly laugh. She shook her head, reaching up to touch his face gently when he turned back to her. She lightly caught her lower lip with her teeth, gazing at his features.

"I’m so sorry about what happened in DC," Mickey said, stroking her hair. "That old guy’s got more tricks than Houdini. I took care of his contact here, though," he said. "Dr. Laskar won’t ever be reporting my presence to Control again."

Reva looked at him in alarm. Mickey just shook his head.

"I just warned him to back off," he murmured. "I wasn’t about to risk all this time getting back here just to get yanked out, again…" He stopped and looked at her, his expression changing. He held up the otter Beanie Baby between the two of them. The little critter, now sporting a tiny sombrero and criss-crossing bandoleers, seemed to smile as the firelight glinted off its beady black eyes. Reva blinked in surprise.

"Okee wanted to come home," Mickey said quietly, lifting his eyes to look at her. He paused a moment as she looked at the toy. "He covered my back…" he replied as he shrugged his shoulders. Reva looked back at him.

"I think I love you, Reeve," he murmured softly, looking for all the world like a shy little boy. "I wanted to come back and take some time to find out… if you’ll let me?"

Reva was speechless, she could only gaze at him in wonder.

"We’ve got a lot to talk about," he added quietly. Reva slowly nodded her head yes, never taking her eyes from his face. She slipped a hand over her mouth, her emotions still tumbling around inside of her, the tears sparkling in her eyes.

Mickey pulled her to him, gently cupping her head as he bent his, lightly brushing his lips over her hand. She slipped her fingers along the side of his head, toying with his hair as his lips met hers. That first kiss seemed to last a lifetime, until she began to pull away to laugh again. She smiled, looking at him, running a finger gently along his lower lip.

"What?" he asked, his voice low, as he played with the hair along the nape of her neck.

"You hitchhiked all the way back?"

"Better than walking. Would’ve taken me ‘til Spring. Didn’t want to wait that long…" he murmured in her ear in reply, nuzzling the soft skin along her cheek. She began to laugh again, shivering. Mickey smiled and drew her back into a longer, far more lasting, embrace.

 

Toby stretched out again on top of the dining room table, lazily twitching his tail, his eyes slowly lowering to half-mast as they reflected the light of the fire. A soft, warm, contentedness settled across him like a comfortable blanket. Nestling his head between his paws, he closed his eyes and began to purr.

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