"Ahhh," Robert sighed with pleasure as the bouquet of the obscenely expensive single malt scotch invaded his senses. Since he was allowed only one alcoholic drink a day, he made sure to savor it. Three years since his mild MI, outwardly his life hadn't changed much. He still took on clients and enjoyed helping people. But personally, some things had changed. He shook his head and smiled ruefully. "What have I come to?" he muttered aloud. "A strict diet and, by God, a personal trainer." Billy Bump was making a large fortune as a personal trainer to the wealthy and unfit. He had whipped Robert, his old friend and colleague, into a robust, strong, and healthy man of 60 something years.
Robert looked forward to the weekend. Tonight, dinner with Mickey. Mickey had been gone for two weeks and Robert looked forward to a night of interesting conversation. As for the weekend, well, something would come up. Mickey was due to arrive at any moment. Sipping the scotch, Robert pressed the remote control button and the tail-end of the news blared at him. "Still no suspects in last week's car bomb killing of five UN representatives in Koper, Slovenia. And yesterday, about ten miles away in Trieste, Italy, in a seemingly unrelated story, the unidentified body of a man was found on a park bench sitting next to a car bumper. And our lead story for the day - 'Royalty in the Lockup'. Princess Stephanie of Monaco arrested for assault in Paderborn, Germany."
"Hell in a hand basket." Robert shook his head and switched off the news. His doorbell rang. Robert checked the peekhole and instantly recognized Mickey's profile. Swinging open the door, he smiled and said "Mick, lad, where have you been?" Mickey turned, face forward to Robert. He was dressed in Armani, his hair expensively cut and styled, a white cashmere scarf draped his neck. Mickey held up a wine bottle, "Cheers, McCall" he said. He flashed a wry half smile at Robert as he walked in and put the bottle down in the kitchen. "My my", Robert said. His eyebrows lifted in surprise as he put on his glasses and fingered Mickey's lapel. "Mickey in Armani! We seem to have gotten up in the world, my lad. Very nice. Very nice, indeed."
Robert's cheer faded as he looked at Mickey's face. "I've left The Company. For good," Mickey growled. Before Robert could decide on how to react, Mickey went on. "You know how things have changed recently. All the younger agents are either computer techno freaks or human robots who just follow orders. There's no room for inventive, quick thinkers. And with Control phasing himself out, well, I can't work with Glazier." He looked at Robert. "That's his replacement."
"Glazier!", Robert spat, "that megalomaniac!"
"He gets results," Mickey said as he re-wrapped his cashmere scarf around his neck. "I'm sorry about dinner. I've got to go. I just thought you'd enjoy the wine. The last time we had it -- well, good memories."
As Robert turned and picked up the bottle, Mickey walked toward the door and opened it. "My new job pays very well", he said. The bitterness in his voice cracked the air with electricity. "You know what they say about the wages of sin, McCall." He quickly walked through the door.
Puzzled, Robert looked at the empty doorway and then at the bottle in his hand. Robert recognized it as a homemade brew made by a mutual friend of theirs in Slovenia. His brow furrowed. "The wages of sin", he whispered. His head snapped up. "Death!"
"Bloody hell", he said. A look of iron determination set itself upon Robert as he got his coat, checked his weapon, and followed his friend's shadow out the door.
When Robert arrived outside, Mickey was already fifty yards away. He was walking briskly and, from his purposeful stride, Robert deduced he had a definite destination in mind.
Thirty minutes later and they were entering a less salubrious part of the city. Robert thanked his lucky stars that he had taken his exercise regime so seriously. He was pleased that he was still breathing normally despite his exertion. What was more worrying though, was the fact that Mickey hadn't once looked back to check that he wasn't being followed. A good field agent stayed alive by being careful and Mickey had been one of the best. Something just didn't ring true about this whole business.
As Mickey headed further downtown, Robert closed the distance between them. Though it was getting late, there were still lots of people on the street and he didn't want to risk losing Mickey now. Then just as he had feared, Robert took his eyes off Kostmayer for a few seconds to cross the street and when he looked back his quarry had vanished.
Standing where he had last seen the younger man, Robert looked carefully around him. There were no doorways or club entrances that Mickey could have taken, the only possibility was a dark alleyway between two closed stores. With the utmost caution, Robert entered the alley. He deliberately reached for the gun in his overcoat pocket, he didn't like this one little bit, it smelt strongly of a set-up.
Robert edged forward carefully, waiting until his eyes adjusted to the dim light. Then he stopped suddenly; he had seen Mickey waiting in the gloom. He had actually spotted the white scarf first and then he made out the rest of the man leaning casually against the wall. Ducking into a doorway, Robert continued his surveillance. Mickey had been his friend for too many years for Robert to abandon him now, if Mickey had begun working as a contract assassin, Robert wanted to know why.
Barely five minutes later another man appeared, he stopped beside Mickey and they exchanged several words and a bulky envelope changed hands. A few yards away from the men there was a pile of packaging, Robert had dismissed it as being of no importance, but he was as startled as Mickey and his contact when a man erupted from underneath the cardboard. Disoriented and probably drunk, the man stood swaying slightly, seemingly trying to get his bearings.
Robert quickly realized that the man had been sleeping rough and Mickey's conversation had disturbed him. Robert looked back to Mickey and saw him wave his contact away; the drunken man had seen the movement and now focused his attention on Mickey. Robert watched in alarm as the man, still swaying and not aware of the danger he could be in, grasped Mickey's jacket. As always, Mickey's reactions were lightening fast and, before the man could react, in any way, he was face down on the ground with Mickey's automatic pressed into the back of his head. Robert was torn with indecision, he couldn't let the man be killed but equally he didn't want Mickey to know he had been following him.
Robert held his breath, every second he waited increasing the tension. Just when he was on the point of taking some action, he saw a car turn into the narrow alleyway and begin heading slowly towards him. Before the cars headlamps reached him Mickey moved, without haste he got up and headed deeper into the darkness, disappearing from Robert's sight almost immediately. Robert huddled deeper into the doorway and the car and its occupants passed him by without a second glance.
Heading back to the street Robert considered his next move. He needed information and the only person that would have access to the data he needed was his oldest friend. Control might be semi-retired, but he would still have his fingers on the pulse of the organization he had spent so much of his life helping to set up. Seeing a taxi approaching, Robert raised his hand. After giving the driver the address he settled back into the uncomfortable seat. Whatever Mickey had gotten himself into this time, Robert was uncomfortably aware that is was entirely possible that he and Control were the only ones that could get him out of it. Always supposing that Mickey wanted out.
Paying off the cab driver four blocks short of Control's home, Robert walked the rest of the way keeping alert for any sign of trouble. By the time he reached his destination he had noticed nothing out of the ordinary. He stepped up onto the porch and over to one side, in the shadow cast by the porch lamp. He thumbed the doorbell and waited motionless for a response.
After a moment he heard footsteps coming towards the door. He waited until the bolts were drawn and the door was opened before he walked through the pool of light and into the house.
Familiar with the layout of the small building, Robert made his way into the kitchen. He opened a cupboard and produced two glasses and a bottle of scotch. He lifted the bottle to Control enquiringly.
"You want a splash? I'm having a small one." Control nodded, and Robert handed him a glass and poured out a stiff shot. Robert poured one for himself and downed the contents in a gulp. "I have had my quota for the day," he breathed deeply, " but I needed this."
"What's wrong?" Control looked at Robert closely , "You wouldn't talk on the phone and it's a bit late for a social call, even for you."
"You know bloody well it isn't a social call. I'm worried about Mickey."
Control leaned against the kitchen counter. He sighed and sipped his scotch. "What's the matter with Kostmayer?"
"I'm not sure. He turned up at my apartment tonight as expected but he wasn't himself. He was dressed in an expensive suit for one thing." Robert waited for Control to react to that bit of information. Kostmayer never wore a suit. Ever. Control just stared into his glass. Robert continued. "He gave me a bottle of wine, made a comment about the wages of sin and told me he had quit the Company. Then he left."
For the first time Robert could remember in a number of years, Control looked shocked. "Kostmayer has quit?"
"That's what he said."
Control shook his head, "That's news to me, and it shouldn't be. I recommended him for a promotion only two months ago. I wanted him to take over running Special Operations."
Robert smiled narrowly, "Mickey in my old job. Who would have thought it?"
"Well, it looks like he either didn't get the job or turned it down. Something's off." Control set the glass down and walked into the living room.
"You knew nothing of this?" Robert asked quietly, following behind him. "Are you really phasing yourself out of the Company?"
"It's all new. New directors. New technologies. New enemies." Control shrugged, "I can read the writing on the wall, old son. I am trying to place good men in positions of authority, so that when I leave, to do other things," he looked pointedly at Robert, "the Company would be left in good hands. That's why I wanted Kostmayer as Special Ops Head. I should have been informed," he said becoming angry, " I'm not out yet, damn it! I need to look into this."
"I was hoping you would say that. I have to find out what Mickey has got himself into."
"Leave this to me," Control said, rubbing his hand on his mouth. Robert recognized the signs, Control was planning something. "Go home and get some sleep, Robert. I'll make a couple of calls now and see what I can turn up at headquarters tomorrow. I'll contact you then."
"One more thing." Robert started to button his overcoat, and arrange his scarf round his neck, "Mickey mentioned Glazier. What is he doing these days?"
"Glazier?" Control sneered. At the tone in his voice Robert looked up sharply, "Glazier is doing what he does best, getting the attention of the boys - and I do mean boys - upstairs." He smiled bitterly, "He's doing everything to get their attention and their trust, all the while playing God with the older agents who have been doing their jobs well for years." He lifted one eyebrow in thought, " Glazier might have tried to do something to Kostmayer. Mickey would quit before he'd let Glazier use him, and he would never come to me for help." He rubbed his mouth in frustration, "I'll check tomorrow. Or maybe tonight." He murmured.
When the knock on the door sounded, Robert was just watching the last of the morning news bulletin. He turned the volume low and went to answer the door. As Robert had expected, it was Control, and from his grim expression he wasn't a happy man.
As they entered the room, there was an announcement of a News Flash and the scene shifted to pictures of a fire in a private house. Turning up the volume both men heard the name Patrick Olsen. It was a name they were both very familiar with and they listened closely to the rest of the report.
Olsen had been killed in a fire at his home that morning. The reporter gave Olsen's occupation as government employee but both Robert and Control knew him well. He was a senior board member of the Company, working from the Headquarters building in Washington.
"That makes three." Control intoned.
"What makes three?" Robert sat down on the couch and looked at Control questioningly.
"Three incidents of Company people killed in the last couple of weeks." He flopped down on Robert's couch. "I was checking on our young friend, Kostmayer's recent activities." He crossed his arms over his chest, "He was sent to Paris four weeks ago, in what turned out to be his last assignment. I can't find any indication of what that assignment was about."
"What?" Robert reacted with surprise. "You mean there is something you can't find out about?"
"It must have been a directive straight from Glazier. I wasn't made aware of it at all." He looked at Robert.
"Very strange, indeed." Robert mused.
"And it gets stranger still." Control sat forward on the couch, his speech becoming more and more animated, " Mickey was AWOL for three days. I wasn't told of it, in fact no one was. I just found it out because I know the desk officer in Paris ... You remember Marty Fisk..."
"Oh yes... Drinking problem... Earned him the job in Paris, did it?"
"Yes. Anyway, he thought that he would do Mickey a favor and not mention the missing days. He took it for granted that Kostmayer had been tomcatting around in Paris."
"Three days? And nary an inquiry about it from those in charge?" Robert raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"Nothing. And nothing on file and nothing mentioned to me."
"Curiouser and curiouser." Robert said.
"Then Mickey quit the Company. An agent of his experience and history and not one peep out of anyone."
"Doesn't make sense."
Control stared at his hands, "And now these deaths. Including Olsen, there have been three assassinations of undercover Company agents on assignment for the UN." Control's voice became hard, " Kostmayer's known to have been in all three places when the hits took place."
"What are you implying, Control?" Robert snapped, "That Mickey has gone rogue on us?" He snorted sarcastically. "Not bloody likely." He looked at Control, "I trained him myself, I know what's in his heart," he said tapping his chest. "I am worried about him, that's true, but I know that he would never be a party to the assassination of good company men, colleagues that he has worked with in the past." He set his jaw. "I do not believe it. It is just not possible."
"Give me another explanation, old son." Control leaned back with a sigh, "I agree, putting the blame on Kostmayer is too easy. And there are too many unanswered questions about the goings on at the Company." He shook his head ruefully, "I must be getting old. How could I have missed all this information?"
"The information must have been meticulously withheld from you. You have too many contacts Control. No, this smells as though Mickey is being set up for something," Robert got up and paced the floor. "And I need to find out what it is."
"Need help?" Control queried.
Robert smiled a tight small smile, "Oh yes. I'll need help. But I dare not send a professional to find information on Mickey. Mickey would spot him in an instant. I have another idea."
Robert opened the door to Mickey's small apartment. He had helped to install the security, so he was able to get in without any problem. He quickly slipped through the door and was greeted by the smell of a stale, closed, unused apartment. He switched on the living room light and looked over the room. It was in a shambles. Clothing, books and newspapers were thrown everywhere. All of the drawers were opened, not one closet remained closed. It looked as if a tornado had blown through the room.
Everything as usual, Robert breathed a sigh of relief. He walked into Mickey's bedroom. It was neat as a pin. Mickey's Navy training still stuck with him in some ways.
Robert opened Mickey's hidden safe. He removed all of Mickey's documents and papers and looked through them quickly. Nothing missing, nothing new. He locked the safe, and checked the rest of the room. Then he did a thorough search of the rest of the apartment. The putrid contents of the refrigerator proved that Mickey had not used the apartment for weeks.
Robert pushed some debris aside and sat down on the couch. He sighed, feeling tired, checked the time and pulled out his cell phone. When Robert heard the boy's voice say hello, he answered, "Hello Jorge, Robert McCall here. Both you and your brother meet me at my apartment in thirty minutes and... gracias."
Ninety minutes later, Robert waited nervously in his apartment. Control had called to report in earlier. Mickey had shown up at his office, as he had been instructed. When Control had tried to question him as to why he had resigned, Mickey had turned his back on Control and left muttering curses. Everything was going as planned.
Robert was a just a little worried. He had given Jorge and Ismael plain instructions. Follow Mickey from Company Headquarters, but do not do anything risky. He was sure that they could follow undetected. After all, Mickey would never think that two teenagers on skateboards were tailing him. He told Letty's boys that in case Mickey did detect them, they were to tell him the truth. They were to tell Mickey who they were and that they were working for Mr. McCall. Although he had never met the boys, Mickey did know Letty. Robert was completely positive that Mickey would not hurt Letty's children. Almost completely positive...
Robert heard them down below on the street as they skated up to his building. The boys were howling with laughter and shouting victory cheers at each other. Robert looked out the window, relieved. He buzzed the front door so the boys could open it, and waited at the staircase landing on his floor.
"Mr. McCall, Mr. McCall" the boys shouted running up the steps three at a time. "We did it!" Jorge, the oldest, cheered. Robert pointed to his apartment door and herded the two teenagers through it.
"Mr. McCall," Ismael, the younger boy's face was shining with happiness, " we were like the best detectives ever." He whooped and high-fived his brother.
"Man, you shudda seen us! We was the coolest thing on wheels!" Jorge was beaming.
"I do hope you boys were quieter than this while working," Robert frowned at them, "Sit down, both of you, and tell me what happened." Robert remembered he was dealing with teenagers, "I'll get you sodas and something to eat. Just simmer down and then tell me - slowly - what went on."
Both of the teenagers were too full of excitement to sit, and they followed Robert into the kitchen. Horsing around, they washed their hands at the sink, spraying soap and water all over Robert's pristine countertop. Then they emptied his refrigerator in moments and proceeded to stuff the food into their mouths.
Afraid that they might choke on the food mixed with the excitement, Robert shouted, "Boys, boys. Sit down at the table. NOW!"
Both teens were used to Robert and his ways. They quickly filled their arms with food and drinks and sat at the table, chewing happily.
"All right." Robert said, sitting opposite them at the table, "Tell me what happened."
Ismael swallowed first, "We was perfect. We was Ninjas, Mr. McCall. We did like you told us. We kept back a-ways and just made like we was foolin' around, skateboarding."
"Yeah," Jorge said, finishing a big gulp from his glass, "That guy, Mickey, he never even saw us. He took the subway uptown and we followed him all the way to this building - easy as pie." He searched in his pocket and withdrew a crumpled piece of paper, "See, I wrote it down, like you told us." He smiled a satisfied and proud grin at Robert.
Robert smiled back at Jorge and his brother and took a moment to study them both. "Good work boys," Robert said warmly to the dark haired brothers, "or shall I say, a job well done - men." The two teenagers almost split their faces with grins that clearly showed pride and their affection for Robert. Then they continued eating.
Robert shook his head with amusement and put his glasses on. He looked at the address. He scowled in concentration. "Is this an apartment building or a Brownstone?" Robert asked.
Ismael wiped his mouth with a fistful of napkins, "Six stories. Each floor has two apartments - real expensive."
"How in the world did you find that all out?" Robert said amazed.
"We helped the super across the street with the trashcans," Jorge said around a mouthful of food.
"Ah, yes. The old 'assist the super' investigative technique." Robert said seriously and nodded at the boys. "You've both been a great help."
Robert drew a hand across his face; he was tired. He had been sitting in a fully equipped company surveillance van, outside Katja Weiss' building since he had planted the bugs, in the apartment she was sharing with Mickey, four hours ago. It was now after eleven and Mickey still hadn't shown up.
It had been a long while since he had spent time on a stake out. Even before his heart attack, Mickey had done most of the legwork for his cases. Mickey - the reason he was here. Robert had tried again and again to work out what had happened in the three days Mickey had been missing in Paris, but he had found out nothing. Control had turned up some information about Mickey's return. According to the official reports, he had a meeting with Glazier, his temporary controller, and had handed in his resignation.
Robert glanced at the sheet of information he had on Weiss. The data was sketchy but it had come from Company files. Born in Germany, she was twenty-five and a postgraduate student, working on a doctorate in Art History. According to immigration records she had re-entered the country the same day that Mickey had returned from Paris. Her parents were wealthy, running their own business in Bonn. The file photograph showed her to be an attractive, blue eyed blonde.
Robert suddenly became alert. He recognized the familiar walk of the man coming towards him, if not the attire. Mickey's clothes were casual but looked very expensive. The leather jacket alone must have cost a fortune. The girl's money? Robert wondered. Unconsciously holding his breath, Robert waited until Mickey had entered the apartment building before letting out a sigh of relief. It had occurred to him that Mickey might notice the familiar Company van and realize that he was being watched
Robert checked the recording equipment, everything was working perfectly. Katja had been home for several hours, and in that time she had received no phone calls. From the sounds in the apartment, he guessed that she had prepared a meal and had spent the remainder of the evening on her coursework. She had gone into the bathroom about fifteen minutes ago and had taken a shower.
The microphones were very sensitive and Robert could just make out the rasp of a key in the lock and then the sound of the door opening and closing.
Katja walked out of the bathroom just as Mickey closed the front door. She rubbed at her hair with the towel in her hands. "Hi," she said, her voice muffled by the towel. He didn't reply, just looked at her, his hunger clear in his eyes.
"I made some food, are you hungry?"
"No. I ate already." He paced backwards and forwards across the room, reminding her of a leopard stalking its dinner. The faint smell of whiskey clung to him.
"Do you want anything else? Another drink maybe?"
His voice was mocking, "You know what I want."
Katja smiled, "Anytime, lover. You know that." Her words hid her misgivings. In the four weeks since Mickey had moved into her apartment, his moods had become darker. She had seen the violent, animalistic side of his nature before, but now that side was in the ascendant and she wasn't sure that he could control it for much longer. She could tell he had been drinking and alcohol made him even more uncontrollable
In the van outside, Robert listened to the brief conversation. The woman's German accent was slight but noticeable. Mickey's hadn't sounded his normal self; his voice was slightly slurred and there was something else. He and Mickey had spent too much time together for Robert not to be aware of Mickey's attractiveness to women. But usually, it was his innocent looks and boyish charm that won them over. This predatory side of his character, at least in a romantic setting, was alien to Robert. He frowned and his hand hovered over the switch to the recording equipment. He hated spying on Mickey at all and he certainly didn't want to sink into voyeurism. Even now, Robert felt no better than a peeping tom.
Mickey slipped out of his leather jacket and threw it on a chair. He walked towards Katja, unbuttoning his shirt, his eyes glued on her. He pulled her roughly into his arms and she put her hands around his neck, lifting her face to his. He kissed her deeply, his tongue thrusting into her mouth.
She felt herself becoming aroused by him and swore inwardly. He was too damn good at this, It was difficult for her to concentrate on her mission. Her instructions had said that she had to have him ready to work tonight, and she didn't have much time to prepare him.
Pushing her against the wall, he pulled loose the belt holding her robe closed. "No, not here," she murmured, " let's go into the bedroom."
"What's wrong with here?" He growled, skimming his teeth along the side of her neck, "You liked it here before."
"The bedroom is better tonight. Come on. I'll show you."
Taking his hand she led him into the bedroom, her unfastened robe flapping around her legs. They had barely made it to the bed before he was on her again, pinning her down with his body as he eased the robe off her shoulders. His tongue teased her and she was tempted to give in, forget her purpose and let herself respond to him. But duty won and she eased away from him.
"Umm..." He murmured, his mouth against her ear.
"I have something for you."
"For me? What is it?"
"It's a surprise." She laughed softly, "Close your eyes and I'll get it."
"Don't be long." He muttered hoarsely, his voice husky with desire and whisky.
"It's right here, just close your eyes." She touched his eyelids gently with her fingers and he closed his eyes without further complaint. She retrieved what looked like a bottle of perfume from her nightstand and, covering her nose and mouth with a tissue, quickly sprayed him with the contents.
He reacted to the cold on his face as the liquid touched his skin but by then it was too late; the drug had been absorbed into his system. His feeble struggles died away and he lay calmly with his eyes open waiting for her.
Taking an envelope from under her pillow, she pulled out the sheet of paper and smoothed it out. As she had been taught, she started with questions. "What is your name?"
"Who do you work for, Mikhail?"
"For the KGB."
"How long have you worked for the KGB?"
"Since they recruited me in Viet Nam. I have been under deep cover since then."
"What is your mission, Mikhail?"
"To destroy the enemies of my country."
"Have you completed your mission?"
"Now, listen very carefully. There has been a change of plan. You must complete your mission immediately. You will kill Control tonight." Katja was concerned when he didn't reply at once. She repeated her prompt. "You will kill Control tonight. Do you understand?"
"No...Can't..." She saw he was struggling against the drug and the programming he had undergone.
"Listen to me, Mikhail!" She snapped, making her voice harsh. "You will do as you are told. You remember what happens if you disobey, don't you?"
"No, I can't." He tossed his head from side to side, as though he were trying to escape the insistent voice.
With a genuine sigh of reluctance, Katja pulled a small box, no bigger than a cigarette packet from her nightstand. It had two small metal contacts at one end and a button and a light on the front. She depressed the button until the light glowed red, and placed the two electrical contacts on his chest.
"I will ask you once more, Mikhail. What happens if you disobey?"
"I will be punished," Mickey whispered.
"Do you want me to punish you?"
"So will you obey me?"
"I can't," he moaned, the internal conflict tearing him apart.
With a grimace she pushed the button on the small box. His bellow of pain shocked her. It was the first time she had had to use the device and she hadn't realized it would hurt him so. She waited until he was breathing normally again and asked, "Will you do it? Will you kill Control?"
"Go to hell, " he ground out.
She touched the button again and this time he arched up off the bed as another shout of pain was torn from him.
Unnerved, Katja prayed he would agree this time; she had become fond of him, and didn't want to have to shock him again. "Mickey, please say yes. Don't make me hurt you again." She realized belatedly that she had made a mistake and called him Mickey instead of Mikhail. She cursed softly as she discovered just how far under her skin he had gotten.
She breathed a sigh of relief when he nodded. "Yes," he said through gritted teeth, "I'll do it."
Robert sat up straighter when the woman began to ask questions. What was going on? What was she doing to Mickey?
He listened in horror as the questions continued. Mickey a double agent since Viet Nam? He couldn't believe that, not Mickey. When she ordered Mickey to kill Control, Robert at last began to understand what was going on. It all fell into place now. Mickey had been taken in Paris and somehow programmed to kill. Glazier must be involved. He had been the last member of the Company to have been in contact with Mickey. Only Glazier was in a position to keep everything from Control and Katja must be working for him. After all, he had the most to gain from destabilizing the Company.
When Mickey had cried out it had taken all Robert's resolve not to rush across to the apartment and free him. His brain had kicked in then and he remembered that he needed evidence of Glazier's duplicity. He would have to sit and bear Mickey's suffering for a while longer.
"Good. Now you will sleep and when you wake you will not remember this conversation. You know what you are supposed to do."
Obediently, he turned over and went to sleep. Katja bent and placed a last kiss on his cheek. He was really very handsome and it was a shame that he had to die, Katja thought sadly. But once he had completed his final task he had been programmed to commit suicide. She brushed a hand over his bare chest; she would miss him. The physical side of this assignment had been very enjoyable, but Glazier had ordered Allenwaite to make sure that Kostmayer killed himself after his final mission. For as long as she had known Glazier, he had always believed in covering his tracks.
She thought back then, to the first time she had seen Mickey. It had been in Paris and she had been in Allenwaite's lab learning about her role. She had done jobs for Glazier before; working for him meant a large payday. She had been a mercenary since she was twenty so she usually had no second thoughts about any big money jobs. Glazier was a master of deception. He had even inserted a dossier on her with a phony history in to the Company's computer.
Glazier was doing everything he could to become the new Control. He had heard about Allenwaite's earlier experiments and had schemed to release him, to permit him to continue his research. Allenwaite had jumped at the opportunity and promised that his work would also get rid of a number of troublesome members of the Company for Glazier.
Allenwaite still wanted to prove his theories were correct and was overjoyed to be given his last subject, Mickey Kostmayer to continue his work on. Allenwaite had explained to Katja that the sensation of pain was an important part of his technique. While last time, Kostmayer had been subjected to a systematic and brutal beating, this time, because he had to appear untouched, drugs that attacked his central nervous system were being used to inflict pain.
After watching Mickey suffer unending torment for the greater part of a day, she had felt reservations about the assignment. And later, after Allenwaite had explained about his theory of the splintering technique, and had shown her Mickey floating naked in a sensory deprivation tank, she was no longer sure she could maintain any objectivity. Seeing anyone so helpless had affected her greatly. But a job was a job. In eight years she had never refused a profitable mission.
Mickey had fought against the programming more fiercely than before, finding the inner strength to resist the mind tampering drugs. It had taken three days but in the end, as Allenwaite knew he would, he had succumbed. Katja remembered that Glazier had been furious that it had taken so long.
She picked up the telephone that was beside the bed and dialed a number. A man's voice answered, "Allenwaite"
"He is ready to proceed."
"Is he asleep now?"
"Wake him in an hour and send him out. Then pack up there, that place has to be cleared by noon tomorrow."
"I'll be ready."
Robert was dumbfounded when he heard the man's voice. Allenwaite! That explained so much. He was using Mickey for his wicked schemes again. First he had to warn Control, and then he had to stop Mickey, somehow.
Robert watched Control fit the bulletproof vest over his torso. He noted that Control looked quite jovial. "Control, you do realize that Mickey is a damn good shot? I mean, he usually hits his mark. We can't be one hundred percent sure he will go for a body shot, and not the head."
Control smiled a jaunty smile, "Yes Robert I am aware of all of that, but the prospect of getting Glazier brought up on charges of treason in front of the idiotic pip-squeaks who have been backing him so unconditionally, pleases me to no end." Robert shook his head. Control double-checked the placement of the tails of the extra long vest. He buckled his trousers over it.
"Besides you trained him. You know the procedure. Two shots to the chest and then the follow up to the head if necessary. This is the only way, old son. We can prove that Glazier set Allenwaite free to continue his mind controlling experiments on one of our own people. We also need to do this to prove that Mickey is an innocent pawn here and not the assassin that he appears to be. You said so yourself." He buttoned his jacket, "One swift, decisive move and all will be made right." He checked his bow tie, "Do you really think I should be so fully dressed? After all, I am at home, and it's very late. I should be dressed more casually."
"Mickey doesn't know how you dress during your down time. And however would we hide the vest under your usual tube top and cutoffs?" Robert chuckled.
Control threw a half grin at Robert. "Very funny. Very funny." He pointed to the two six-foot long mirrors. "Check their placements one final time, and then get out."
Robert used his expert eye to set everything into place. "The bullets should completely miss you. Just drop at the sound of the shots," he instructed, "and stay down! No bloody heroics, no posturing. It will all be on tape. I shall take it from there."
"Yes grandma, I have done this before you know." Control sat down on the painstakingly placed, wooden, straight-backed chair.
"Centuries ago, Control."
"Carter administration. 1977. The Panama Canal Treaty." Control said, remembering it without emotion.
"The shooter was someone we knew that time also." Robert checked his weapon once again, "Humm, doesn't it give you pause to think that both assassination attempts that have been made on your life were committed by an assumed friend?"
Control didn't take the bait. "Never crossed my mind," he said. Robert watched as Control shifted in the chair until he found a comfortable position. He would stay like that for as long as was necessary.
"Good luck," Robert whispered to his old friend as he exited the door and slipped into the shadows, becoming invisible.
Mickey's mind was in a whirl as he walked swiftly along the dimly lit street. It was late and he had seen no one since he parked the car a block away. The weight of the gun pressed reassuringly against his back. He knew the target's house well, having been here on a number of occasions. He studied the windows at the front of the house; there were no lights showing. He made his way along the side of the house, to the back of the property. There was light glowing from the den window.
Mickey got close enough to look through the window. His target was sitting in a straight-backed chair. He looked at the man and suddenly, all his doubt resurfaced. Confusion claimed him. It was Control. Why did he have to kill Control? He looked at the gun in his hand. What was he doing here? If only he could remember what was going on. He let his hand fall but her voice was there again in his mind, telling him that he had to pull the trigger. He had to kill Control. He must destroy the enemies of his country. He would be punished if he didn't.
Mickey remembered the other times, when he had done the things she had wanted. She had been generous then, making him feel good, taking away his fears and indecision. If he killed Control perhaps she would be happy with him and make him feel good once more. He smiled in anticipation; he wanted to please her but most of all he wanted the voices in his head to stop. He lifted the gun and pointed it at the man in the chair, firing immediately and without hesitation.
Robert moved closer toward Mickey's location as the young agent took aim through the window. Robert expected that it would take some time for Mickey to get a good sight on his target, but there was no hesitation. The gun was set up and fired almost without aiming.
Control fell to the floor in a perfect deadman drop. Mickey stood still for a moment. He shook his head as though he was confused, then he held the gun up in front of him and stared at it. Mickey's face was softly lit by the glow of the lights through the shattered window and Robert could just make out his expression. It was a mixture of confusion and sorrow. Mickey looked in the window at Control's unmoving body on the floor. Then Mickey closed his eyes and pressed the gun against his eye-socket.
Robert knew that he was following Company guidelines for suicide. In the eye, the best pathway through the skull to the brain. Softly, he spoke up from the shadows. "Mickey, Mickey lad. It's Robert, your friend. Mickey, it's Robert." Mickey turned his head slightly toward his voice. "Put the gun down, son." Robert said as he moved quietly to a place directly behind Mickey.
Mickey kept the gun pressed against his eye. He had his head down and was swaying slightly. "I have to," he moaned softly.
"No, no Mickey. You must not fire. You must not fire your weapon." Robert was within touching distance of his young friend, but he dared not jar him in any way. "I am your friend Mickey, you know that. I am your oldest friend. Let go of your gun. Put it down. Put it away."
Mickey bent lower, his elbows almost touching his knees. "Kill Control. Kill Control," he whimpered, "kill Control, then kill myself."
"No, Mickey," Robert crooned softly, trying to calm Mickey with his voice, "No lad, don't do it. Put the gun down,"
"Kill Control," His voice changed, became resolved, stronger, "then myself. Yes, then myself," he straightened up.
Robert's mind went racing. This wasn't going to work; the conditioning was much stronger than before. "Stop," he ordered, his voice loud and angry, "You didn't kill Control. You missed."
"Kill Control?" Mickey pulled the gun away from his eye. He looked as if he were trying to refocus his thoughts. "Missed?"
"Not dead," Robert barked. "Try again, shoot him again!"
Mickey looked into the window, he brought the barrel of the gun around and set the sight on Control's body.
Without a moment of hesitation, Robert threw himself upon the younger man. He ripped the gun away and managed to catch Mickey in a powerful choke-hold. In less than a minute Mickey was out cold, the blood supply to his brain cut off.
Dropping the younger man gently on the ground, Robert shouted through the window, "Control, get out here. I need your help."
Control immediately got up and joined Robert in the yard. "Help me to get him inside, " Robert said.
They carried Mickey into the house and set him on the couch. Control looked at Robert," Will you do the honors or shall I?"
"You do it. I feel bad enough about the choke-hold."
"It was necessary." Control called as he walked to the kitchen, dodging around the large mirrors. He returned holding a length of heavy plastic cord. Within moments, Mickey was secured. His arms and legs bound to the sturdy legs of the couch.
"I'll get lost." Control said, "Call me when he's prepared to see me." He patted Robert on the shoulder, "I'll phone this in, get the roundup started."
"No, not yet. It's Mickey's call." He looked over at Control, "It will be difficult enough for him to live with what he has done. Give him the chance to clean this up his way. He will need that, you know, if he is ever to continue with his life. Either within the Company..." He saw that Mickey was stirring, "...or elsewhere."
Control hesitated, "I'll hold off for now Robert. But make it quick." Control stopped, looked at his old comrade in arms, and glowered. "I've decided to give Mickey permission to handle it any way he wants. Any way he feels necessary, I'll back his decision. I'm not going to permit any one of those involved to escape from this horror. I don't want any of them to escape." He walked out of the room.
"Yes," Robert said wistfully, "not escape." He sighed, "I doubt Mickey will ever fully escape from this."
Mickey opened his eyes quickly. He scanned the room and tried to get up. "McCall," he gasped, fighting the cords that bound him, "Robert, is he dead? Did I kill him?" He tried to look over to the place in the room where he had last seen the unmoving body of Control. His face took on a desperate look, as he fought against the tight rope. He looked at Robert, his face full of sorrow. "I couldn't stop. I, I had to do it. I had to kill..." his voice trailed off. He opened his eyes wide, suddenly remembering everything. He howled, "Oh no! I killed Patrick! I burned him! And Jamal in Trieste." He flailed his arms against the rope. Then he lay still. "And in Koper," he said hollowly, " all of them, all of them dead." He closed his eyes. "And now Control. God! What have I done?"
Robert had taken hold of Mickey's arm. He held it tightly. "Not you Mickey," he said, "can you remember what happened? Can you remember anything?"
Mickey remained silent. His chest rose and fell in an uneven rhythm. He looked to be struggling with himself. Robert knew his young friend was able to bury all of his emotions when a mission called for him to be calm and logical. That's why Mickey was sometimes too wild when it came to his off duty time. He needed a vent to those emotions.
Mickey opened his eyes. He cleared his throat. Once more he was the picture of the professional solider. "I remember Glazier talking to me in Paris. I remember he invited me for a drink." He took a deep breath, eyes tracking back and forth, brows furrowed in concentration, "I remember...I remember...nothing after that." He looked at Robert, "What happened to me. I can't remem....." His voice broke, "Allenwaite." He gasped suddenly, "The tank! I was in that damned tank again."
"Yes, Mickey. You were."
"And Control," he said softly. " I killed him, didn't I?"
"No kid, you didn't," Control said as he walked to the couch. Mickey stared at Control, confused and then relieved. Control held a glass of orange juice out to Mickey. "I think it's safe to untie him now, Robert."
As soon as Robert freed Mickey, Control handed him the glass, "Until we find out what chemicals were used on you, I can't offer you anything stronger. Sorry."
Mickey accepted the glass and drank it down. "What's next?" he asked.
Control sat down next to Mickey. "We know where they are. It's just a matter of collecting them. As fast as possible."
"I think Glazier is nervously awaiting word of the tragedy, of an ex-agent of the Company shooting his former boss and then turning the gun on himself." Robert said, "He will want to tie up all of the loose ends as soon as the news becomes official."
"Katja," Mickey whispered.
"Yes, it seems that she was used to program you to complete Glazier's wish list. He was getting rid of everyone in the Company who might oppose him." Control leaned toward Mickey, "I'd like to get everything moving. I want Glazier in custody before he can try and wipe his fingerprints off this. I'm going to give the order to arrest him. That okay with you, Mickey?"
"Yeah, "Mickey said distractedly. "Katja," Mickey gasped, "he'll want to get rid of her. She's a link to me!" He jumped up and headed for the door.
"Mickey, where are you going?" Robert followed Mickey up.
"I don't want anything to happen to her," he answered. "I don't know why but, I don't want her to be harmed."
"I'll back you up." Robert shouted and followed Mickey out the door.
Mickey raced up the two flights of stairs, and skidded to a halt just outside the door to the apartment. It was slightly open. Mickey drew his automatic before peering through the crack. His field of view was too narrow and he couldn't see anything.
Robert arrived panting slightly a moment later, and Mickey gestured at him to indicate the open door. Many thoughts were whirring around in Mickey's head. Robert had explained how Katja had been used to reinforce Allenwaite's programming. Despite all that Katja had done to him, Mickey realized he still cared about her. She had been kind to him, sharing her body and her bed with him. He didn't believe he had just been another job to her. He was sure he remembered her begging him to agree to something, so that she wouldn't have to hurt him again. He could still see her stricken face in his mind.
Mickey indicated that he would go in low and to the left, if Robert would go high and to the right. At Robert's nod he lifted three fingers and then lowered them one by one. On the count of three they went in hard and fast. Mickey dived left, rolling before coming up into a crouch, his pistol clutched in a two handed grip. He scanned the room and seeing no immediate danger, he lowered the gun slightly. Mickey had a bad feeling about what they would find in the apartment. His instincts told him they were too late.
Robert covered him while he checked the closet. Mickey stood to one side and pulled open the door. It was empty. Next they went into the kitchen. He was about to check the pantry when a floorboard creaked in the other room. They rushed back into the living room. Allenwaite was just reaching for the door handle. He had obviously been hiding in the bedroom.
"Hold it there." Mickey shouted. Allenwaite instantly stopped and lifted his hands in the universal gesture of surrender. Mickey recognized the man at once and a shiver of fear ran down his spine. This was the face and the voice of his waking nightmare. Here, standing in front of him, was the man who had come close to destroying him.
"Ah, McCall, " Allenwaite smiled, "You would be the one to rescue Kostmayer. I warned Glazier, but he..."
"Quiet!" Robert shouted. Both he and Mickey had their guns sighted on Allenwaite. Robert started to move forward but Mickey took the lead and yelled "I want you to throw down any weapons right now!" His voice sounded strange to his own ears. Robert slowly backed up. Mickey was in charge here.
Carefully, using two fingers of his left hand, Allenwaite pulled a gun from inside his jacket, then he bent down and placed it on the floor.
Mickey was surprised to feel himself sweating. This man knew more about the inside of his head than any other person. Mickey felt violated. He clenched his jaw and swallowed. He pushed down the feelings of fear and hate that welled up in him and managed to pat Allenwaite down quickly. There were no other weapons. Seeing him that close, looking into that arrogant face, Mickey felt sure that Katja was already dead. He crouched and picked up the discarded pistol and stuffed it into his jacket pocket.
Robert looked at Allenwaite with disgust, "Do you think that we are too late, Mickey?"
"Probably. Watch him will you, while I check out the other room." He went over to the bedroom door and kicked it open.
He found her there, lying on the rumpled bed. If it hadn't been for the wound to her chest, she might have been sleeping. She was still beautiful. The single stab had been accurate, straight to the heart; she must have died instantly. The bloody blade was lying beside her where Allenwaite had dropped it.
Out of habit he checked the closet and the bathroom, finding nothing. Suddenly tired of the whole damn business, he sat on the edge of the bed, his back to Katja. At times like this he wondered just why he continued to play these sordid games. Maybe he should do the same as McCall and retire. Go where the fishing was good and the weather was warm. Maybe... Maybe... In anger he picked up a strangely shaped perfume bottle and threw it at the wall. It shattered with a satisfying noise.
Robert's voice came from outside, "Are you all right, Mickey?"
Wearily Mickey replied, "Yeah, I guess so."
Mickey looked at Katja once more; he didn't begin to understand his feelings towards her. She had been instrumental in making him murder at least seven people. He wasn't sure he could forgive her for that. But now, seeing her lying still and lifeless, he saw that she was as much a victim as he. She had been used and discarded, the way they had tried to use and discard him.
Very tired, the gun in his hand heavier than he ever remembered, Mickey left the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
In the living room, Allenwaite was sitting on the floor, with McCall standing guard over him. "The girl?" Robert asked.
"Dead. He killed her." Mickey spoke quietly. "I think you should wait for me downstairs, Robert."
"What about him?"
"Don't worry. I'll look after him while you're gone." Mickey's half smile was only fleeting and never touched his eyes.
"Don't do this, Mickey. Don't let him destroy you."
"I have to finish it. I have to stop him now. I owe it to Katja and to the others. They were all friends of mine."
Robert tried again, "Let Control handle it, Mickey. Please."
"No, I can't leave it." Mickey looked towards Robert, seeing only sympathy in his face. Robert had been here himself in the past, Mickey knew that. "It's not that simple, Robert. He scares me. Twice now he's taken me and messed with my mind. I can't take the risk that it could happen again. You know what I mean Robert, both times you've had to be there to drag me back."
Robert looked at Mickey carefully. "Are you sure about this?"
"You're not a cold blooded killer, Mickey. Can you live with yourself if you do this?"
"I couldn't live with myself if I didn't."
Ignoring his conscience for once, Robert nodded, "Right you are, I'll wait for you downstairs." Robert left the apartment then, closing the door softly behind him.
Mickey walked to Allenwaite and motioned him to his feet. He stood a few feet away, raised the barrel of his automatic and pointed it at older man's forehead. Allenwaite saw his death reflected in Mickey's eyes. He opened his mouth to beg for his life, and Mickey pulled the knife that Allenwaite used to kill Katja from his jacket pocket. Mickey let Allenwaite get a good, long look at it.
Mesmerized, Allenwaite's eyes were glued to the wicked looking knife. "Which should I use on you?" Mickey asked in a deep and seductive voice. "I was leaning toward using the gun. The idea of tunneling into your brain, just like you did to mine seemed the proper thing to do. A shot between your eyes," Mickey suddenly frowned, " but it would be a bitch to clean up."
Mickey smiled. "Then I saw the knife. Well, the knife would be more personal. It would be a more intimate act between us. After all, you took me apart, in your own way, didn't you? I could return the favor, slice parts of you away. Dissect, and examine you, like you did to my soul." Mickey whispered, "Yes, I think the knife would be much more satisfying, don't you?" Mickey murmured gently, his voice a soft, deep, velvet, "Tell me. Was it good for you, when you pushed it into Katja's heart?"
Allenwaite's eyes were open wide with terror. He was crying noiselessly, the tears pouring down his face.
"Pray you never see me again Allenwaite, because even in hell, I will be the thing that you will fear. I will make you suffer for your sins, you sick bastard." Mickey swiftly reversed the gun and hit Allenwaite with the butt end, letting him fall to the floor in a clumsy heap. Mickey breathed deeply, trying to calm himself down. He knew now he wasn't a cold blooded killer, and never would be. Almost without thinking he dragged the unconscious man into the bedroom.
Mickey left Allenwaite bound to Katja, her dead face cheek to cheek with his. Mickey knew it would take Control's men a while to get to the apartment. He hoped that Allenwaite, when he woke up in the tight embrace of his last victim, might finally, and personally, learn a thing or two about splintering.
As Mickey knew he would be, Robert was waiting for him downstairs. Mickey had it in his mind that this time, his friend and mentor wouldn't be able to help him at all. Then, in what Mickey would later recognize as his first step towards healing, he realized that Robert McCall was perhaps the only person in the world who could help him. He also knew that without Robert McCall, he might never permit himself to survive the night.
Mickey, his face impassive, got into the Jag. Robert climbed behind the wheel and they speeded sped away from the building. They didn't say a word to each other as Robert drove directly to his own home. He took Mickey by the arm and walked with him all the way, up the staircase, into his apartment. Once inside, he pointed Mickey to the guest bedroom.
Fully dressed, Mickey fell upon the bed and surrendered himself to the dark abyss. He knew horrific nightmares were waiting there for him.
Robert turned the light on in the hallway outside Mickey's bedroom and sat down in a straight backed chair. He would be there all night. And he would be there when Mickey woke in the morning