Part 2

In an office in an unremarkable building downtown, Control and Robert perused the latest reports from Chinatown and the Far East, looking for a reason why an expert Chinese agent would appear just now. Control had not been pleased to discover Han Lin had gotten into the country without his knowledge.

Control threw the last file onto his desk. "Iím not seeing it. Our Chinatown sources have been silent. She didnít say anything else?"

Robert took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Iíve told you four times everything she said. Something in Chinatown, since she wanted to know why I was there."

"Did she believe you?"

"I think so. She didnít push the point." He reached for the files again. "We just go over it all one more time."

"Oh, god." Control looked at his phone gratefully when it rang. "Yes?" Shock came into his face. "Right, thanks. Come on," he told Robert as he got up and grabbed his jacket.

"What is it?" Robert pulled himself together to follow, old habits kicking into gear.

Control talked as he headed down the hall. "That was the girl who monitors the police frequencies. A flag came up on the address where a unit is responding to a house alarm." At the elevator he stopped and looked at Robert. "Chelsea. Your house. The follow-up dispatch reports shots fired."

Robert gasped, then pushed the elevator button a few more times.

Some traffic laws were bent on the trip. 23rd Street was cordoned off a block from the house. The bored cop was not impressed with Controlís demand for passage.

"Itís a crime scene," he explained in a monotone. "Weíve had a shootingó"

"Yes," Robert snapped past Control, "at my bloody house!"

"Prove it."

Robert dug out his driverís license and showed it. The cop nodded and lifted the tape for the car to go under.

"Oh, God," Control muttered. Three police cars and an ambulance were clustered in front of the house. Half the cops were staring up at the roofs of the brownstone across the street. Control double-parked as close as he could get.

Robert had to make two tries to get the car door open. He stared in horror at the front of the house. Heíd thought Ďshots firedí meant one or two. But the library windows were gone, and the brick was chewed up.

Control joined him. "High powered," he commented, and he turned to scan the other side of the street. "Probably rooftop, but I see theyíre checking the houses."

Robert shook himself and started for the house.

Another cop got in the way. "You canít come in here ó"

"This is his house," Control said firmly in his donít-mess-with-me voice.

The detective in charge looked over. "McCall?"

Robert relaxed fractionally. "Isadore."

Isadore Small was an old friend. "When I heard the address I came over. Shoot outs in Chelsea are a bad idea, McCall. Too many well-heeled folk with lines to city councilmen."

"Shoot out? There was fire returned?"

"No, not apparently. Come on, youíll want to get inside."

Robertís voice shook as they passed the ambulance. "My wife and son . . . "

"Inside. Theyíre all right."

"Oh, thank God."

Control pushed Robert inside and scanned the scene carefully one more time. He didnít believe in coincidences.

Robert barely saw the knot of police in the foyer who tried to stop him. A sergeant guiltily put down the pool cue heíd been sighting against the pool table in the back of the house.

"The people in the house," Robert snapped. "Where are they?"

"Upstairs ó"

Robert ran up the stairs. "Ann! Scotty!"

"Dad!" Scott pelted out of the living room and into his fatherís fierce hug.

"Thank God, thank God," Robert whispered, holding the tall form of his son close. He pushed Scott away. "Whereís Ann?"

With the arrival of his competent father, who was much better equipped to deal with random shootings than he was, Scott let himself feel scared and shaky. "Sheís upstairs, changing her shirt. Sheís OK."

"Why is she changing?" Robert demanded. "Something more appropriate for police?"

Scot shrugged. "There was glass all over the place, and . . . "

Robert saw bandages on Scottís hands. "Whatóyou said you were OK."

"I am, Dad. Itís just all that glass upstairs. The EMTs cleaned me up."

Robert looked him over carefully, brushed a sliver of glass off his shoulder with a hand that wouldnít stay still, then turned and headed for the stairs.

"Ann!" he yelled halfway up, brushing aside a policeman who was saying something about an incident scene.

"Robert!" She ran out of the bedroom and met him at the top of the stairs. "Oh, god," she whispered against his chest.

"Iím here, now, Iím here." He cradled her close and made awful promises against whoever had frightened his woman so.

"Where were you?" she whispered after a moment.

"Iím sorry, I should have called. I was talking to Control about something."

She pulled back to look at him, the question close to her lips as to if he was involved in something that would result in an attack on the house. But she didnít ask: such questions were against the unspoken agreements that founded their marriage.

Robert had been thinking the same, though. He didnít believe in coincidences either. "I donít know, love," he said, answering her obvious thought. "If this is related, then things will be getting very messy."

"Will be? You havenít seen the library yet, have you." She hugged him tight, remembering the terror and violence that had ripped through the safest heart of her home.

"No, I havenít. But I want to now."

Control had come straight up to the actual scene. He prowled carefully around the room, Isadore Small staying out of his way but keeping an eye out all the same. Isadore knew that mysterious men in McCallís wake were best left undisturbed.

The policemen, finally having been informed that the angry Englishman had a reason to be in his own house, stepped aside to let Robert and Ann into the library.

"Oh, my god," Robert breathed, staring at the damage.

Ann started to cry. The carpet, with bullet holes ripped in it, had been an old Bokhara of rare size and condition. The antique library tables had foot-long gouges in them. She couldnít bear to look too closely at which books had been shredded, but she also couldnít bear not knowing if any irreplaceable volumes had been damaged.

Robert tightened his arm around her. "Better a thousand lovely things than a hair of your head, my love."

Isadore picked his way over through the glass and the detectives digging out bullets and figuring trajectories. "You up to a statement yet, Mrs. McCall?"

Ann hugged Robertís hand and nodded. "Let me look at something first."

"OK. Mind the evidence."

"Your Ďevidenceí, Detective Small, is my library," she snapped. "I shall mind what I please." She headed for the shelves.

Robert kept his smile to the merest twitch. "She gets more and more like her grandmother every day," he said to Control, who had drifted to him.

"I donít blame her, this is a lovely room. I wouldnít mind spending several hours here myself."

"Iíll invite you over under better circumstances. What have you found?"

Control pointed to the various holes. "The shooter was on the roof directly across the street. Iíll send someone over there in the morning to look for anything the cops missed. Iíll get a copy of their report, too." He glared out the broken windows. "I wish I knew what they were trying to prove by this."

"The Chinese?" Robert asked softly.

Control grimaced and didnít reply.

Ann finished her grim inventory with a sense of relief. "They didnít hit the Shakespeare, thank heavens. And the only Holmes and Tolkien that got hit are easily replaceable." She glanced over at her safe and saw that the concealing row of book spines was untouched.

Isadore looked at his watch. "Mrs. McCall . . . "

"Fine, fine." She walked carefully to the ruin of her desk. "Bastards," she muttered. "That was a three-thousand-dollar monitor."

"Is the computer ruined?" Robert asked, coming closer.

"No, the towerís fine. I didnít lose anything important." She sighed. "OK, what happened. Scott and I were talking. I was sitting at the desk, he was over there. Ankh, one of my cats, woke up and reached up to pat me on the head. I turned around, a red light flashed in my eyes, and I grabbed the cat and hit the floor."

"Why?" Isadore asked.

"Why?"

"Why hit the floor?"

She blinked. "I donít really know."

"A good thing you did, though," Control commented. "Obviously a laser sight. Cats love to chase lasers."

Ann stared at him in horror. "You mean, I was just sitting there and someone was taking aim on my ó" She looked out the window and moved away.

Isadore looked over his notes. "That jibes with Mr. McCallís story."

Scott spoke up from where he was hovering in the doorway. "Except that in grabbing the cat she knocked me down too. Thanks, by the way."

Ann shrugged nervously. "Donít thank me, something just told me to hit the floor."

Isadore made a few more notes. "Mrs. McCall, do you know of anyone who might want to do this?"

"Not anyone whoís alive," she muttered. She looked helplessly at Robert.

Isadore saw the look. "Oh, yes, an embarrassment of riches. Robert? Any names come to mind?"

Robert was having difficulty thinking straight after hearing how close it had been. He had thought the shots to be random, not aimed. "No names come to mind at the moment."

The policeman muttered under his breath. "Robert, if you know of someone with a tendency to shoot up wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods with a silenced, high-powered rifle, I want in on it."

"Silenced?" Control repeated.

"None of the neighbors heard anything but breaking glass. Iím encouraging the rumor that it was somebody with a pistol on a shooting spree. Your neighbors will be looking at each other suspiciously for the next few days." Isadore looked at his uncommunicative audience and sighed angrily. "If you wonít tell me who, will you tell me if I can expect a replay?"

"I wouldnít think so," Robert allowed, glaring out the broken windows at the roof opposite. "These types donít like to repeat themselves."

"Oh, joy," Isadore said sarcastically. He handed his pen and notebook to Ann. "Mrs. McCall, if youíd initial my notes, Iíll call that good on an official statement." He snorted cynically. "Mr. McCall, Iíve got your initials, so Iíll call that good, too."

Ann noticed absently that her hand had stopped shaking. "Can I get started cleaning up in here, Detective?"

It was on Isadoreís lips to tell her no, but unofficial standard operating procedure with rich people was to inconvenience them as little as possible. "Sure, Mrs. McCall. The crucial scene is on your neighborís roof." He looked around at all the people whose thoughts he could not demonstrate a need to know, shook his head, and left.

Scott watched the police till they were out of range. "Now what?"

Ann walked slowly to the windows and closed the shutters. When she turned back, the others saw tears on her cheeks. She took a long look at her desk, the smashed monitor, the shards of wood and glass, and she put a hand over her face.

"Oh, beloved," Robert said, going to her and wrapping his arms around her. "Weíll fix it all, everything will be all right."

"Except they broke my tower," she whimpered, so low only he could hear. "Thereís a hole in my safe place. How do we fix that?"

He kissed her forehead in promise. "I stand in that hole and find out what happened." He hugged her tightly, then shook her gently. "Go to bed, now."

"Oh, right."

"Then go get yourself a drink. Go soothe the cats."

"Iíll go with you," Scott piped up. "Especially for the first part," he added with a shaky smile.

Robert pushed Ann after Scott, then all geniality left his face. Control followed him out of the room and to the top floor, where Robert checked the lock on the trapdoor and the integrity of the skylight.

"Whoís in town that I can borrow?" he asked.

"For basic guard duty? Jimmyís here, and Sterno. Eric and Stock should be available in a few days. Where do you want them?"

"Give me Sterno. Jimmyís allergic to cats and Ann knows Sterno. I just want someone keeping an eye on the approaches." He headed back downstairs.

The garage door got a good looking-over, as did the front door. Robert glanced out the spy hole and saw a small crowd on the other side of the street staring at the house. He scanned the crowd but saw no one he hadnít seen in the neighborhood before.

"God," he muttered, heading to the back of the house. "What in heavenís name were they thinking to prove? They were aiming at Ann specifically. Why?"

"A warning to you to stay out of things?" Control offered.

Robert gave him a look. "Theyíre not that stupid."

"One would think not. It would rather have the opposite effect."

"Han Lin didnít make any threats." Robert mulled it over as he checked the back door in the utility room and the alley beyond. He stood in the dark, narrow alley, studying the backs of the houses to either side and any lines of fire from the houses opposite. "Tell Sterno to keep an eye out back here. The police will be making more patrols on the street."

"All right." Control, lounging in the doorway, fidgeted slightly. "If theyíre not after Ann because of you, could someone be after her for herself? Any other surprises in her background?"

Robert sighed, muffling his anger. It was an obvious question. "After her ex reappeared, she made a point of telling me rather more about her past than I had a reason to know. Her remaining peccadilloes are garden variety."

"Even the computer ones?" Control inquired blandly.

Robert didnít look at him. "No targets who settle things by violence. There is currently no one unpleasant lurking in her past."

"Thatís always nice to know." Control settled against the door frame and stuck his hands in his pockets. "So what we have is an attempted professional hit on your wife. Not very many hours before, a highly decorated veteran field operative breaks cover to talk to you after twenty-five years and tells you to stay out of Chinatown. No offense, but I donít think sheís been nursing a tormented passion for you all these years."

Robert laughed silently and didnít deny it. "Whatís going on in Chinatown?" he mused. "There was trouble at Chao Tsuís restaurant last night. I wonder if thatís related."

"Whoís this Chao Tsu?"

"Ming Chao Tsu, owns the Jade Pagoda in Chinatown. She and Ann were roommates in college. Chao Tsu graduated from Harvard the same year Ann graduated from MIT, and the Marshalls sponsored Chao Tsuís residency."

"Iíll see what I can dig up on her," Control said. "If nothing else, sheís a link to Chinatown."

"Youíre going to?" Robert said in surprise.

Control shrugged. "Itís been a slow week."

"Itís never a slow week. What do you know that youíre not telling me?"

"Rather, what am I not telling you that you can figure out for yourself? A very talented Chinese agent appears in New York and seeks out one of my retired people. That same day a hit man rakes the house of said retired person. For all I know someoneís after you and Han Linís trying to protect you for old timeís sake." Control became serious. "Watch yourself, Robert. Donít get so protective of Ann and Scott that you forget to watch your own back. Speaking of which, what are you going to do about Ann and Scott?"

Robert kicked a loose cobblestone. "My gut says to put them in a safe house. Logically thereís no reason. The house will be guarded and I donít think theyíll try the blow direct again."

"Besides," said a new voice, "I wonít go."

Both men spun and saw Ann straightening from leaning against the inside utility room door.

"How long were you there?" Control demanded.

Ann raised an eyebrow at him. "I donít answer to anyone in my own house. But I heard enough to know that Robert is easily in as much danger as I am. I was a target of opportunity." She twitched as she said it. "I donít go into hiding unless you do," she said directly to Robert.

"It may not be safe," Robert told her, trying to be calm and reasonable.

Ann was uncomfortably aware of Control silently listening. "If I run they win. Where does one draw the line when one is driven from their home by fear?"

Robert swore under his breath. "A fine thing when your wife throws you own words back at you. But you do know thereís a risk."

"Yes, I do," she conceded. "But this is my home." A glint appeared in her eyes. "I can defend it if I have to."

He knew that, heíd been trying to avoid thinking about it. "Did you hear me asking for Sterno to keep an eye out?"

"No, I didnít." To his relief, she nodded in agreement. "Back up is good. But Iíd best order in groceries while Iím calling the decorators and repairmen."

"Well, thatís her," Control said. "What about Scott?"

"What about me?" Scott asked as he entered the utility room. "And why is everybody standing in the alley? Secret war conference?"

"That was the idea," Control muttered.

"Just trying to decide what to do, Scotty," Robert said. "You might want to go to a hotel after all."

Scott looked around at the others. "What are you guys doing?"

"Staying," Ann said briefly. "I will not be run out of my own home."

He nodded. "Then Iím staying, too."

"Scott," Robert started, "itís not your fight ó"

"Dad, for all I know they were aiming at me too. Iím still picking glass out of myself. Itís kind of pissed me off. Iíd like to help if I can."

Robert shrugged. "Weíll stay home, then." But he felt proud of his familyís courage. He looked around the alley one more time, then herded everyone inside.

In the morning, Sterno arrived conveniently with breakfast, and he ate two helpings of pancakes as he listened to Robertís orders. Ann worked the phone, first calling the grocer for a refrigerator restock, then she began leaving messages for her decorator and the window repair people.

She eventually looked at the clock and sighed. "I should go to the office. Or shouldnít I?" she asked Robert.

If heíd had his druthers, Ann wouldnít go anywhere without a ring of armed guards and a helicopter escort. "Iíll take you, and you wonít move from there without me, all right?"

Her sense of independence twitched, but when the weird shit hit the fan, she knew better than to question him. "All right. Iíll tell Scott to keep an eye out for the repair people."

Sterno, still cleaning his plate, looked up. "I can do that, Miz McCall, no problem."

Ann shrugged and went to get her coat. Robert stopped her with a hand on her shoulder, but when she looked at him, he couldnít meet her eyes for a few seconds.

"Take your gun," he finally said reluctantly.

"What?" she gasped.

He nodded, and he hated himself for the start of fear in her eyes. But she took a deep breath and went upstairs to the library.

Scott was sweeping glass carefully into a big scoop. "Hi, Ann," he said, glad for a break. "I pulled the damaged books."

She grimaced at the pile of books on the table, then she went to her desk. She pulled a small plastic case out of the lower left hand drawer and took it down to an undamaged chair at the far end of the library table. With a resigned sigh, she popped the latches.

Scott paused then stared in surprise as Ann pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and a clip. She checked the load of the clip, then slid it into the pistol. She confirmed the safety was set and took a small holster out of the case.

"But I thought you hated guns," Scott blinked.

Ann stared at the weapon in her hands with distaste. "I hate getting shot more." She placed the pistol on the table and went to put away the case.

Scott felt queasy looking at the gun. There were things about his fatherís new marriage he didnít think he wanted to know.

Robert, Sterno at his heels, came into the library. Sterno looked around the room and shook his head. "Sloppy."

"Yeah, it did make a mess," Scott agreed.

"Not just that. Once the shooter saw that he missed, he shouldíve cut and run. Spraying the room makes no sense."

"Unless he was just trying to make a point," Robert said thoughtfully. "Darling, are you ready?"

"Just about." Ann pulled her briefcase from under the desk, shook the glass from it, and went to the table to put her pistol in it.

"Sig Saur 9 mil," Sterno observed, finishing off a muffin. "Nice gun."

Ann smiled cynically. "It doesnít hurt my hands to shoot it. Itís good enough. Sweetheart, ready when you are."

"All right. Scott, Sterno, you remember each other? If you go out, Scott, tell Sterno where youíre going and call when you get there."

"Am I going to get a curfew, too?" Scott asked sarcastically.

Sterno didnít notice Robert starting to snap an angry answer. "They may decide to take a swing at you next," he observed, peering out through the cracks of the shutters. "Sure would help if we knew what they were after."

Scott blinked, then he glanced apologetically at his father. Robert smiled faintly back, accepting the silent apology.

Halfway to her office in a midtown tower, Ann took her nerve in hand. "Did I hear Control say something last night about Han Lin talking to you?"

Robert sighed. Ann had been in no condition for questions last night, and he had to admit that heíd been hoping to avoid a potentially sensitive discussion on the subject. "Yes, you did. I saw her in the park yesterday. She told me to stay out of Chinatown."

"Whatís going on in Chinatown?"

"I donít know. Thatís the problem." He sighed again. "Control thinks itís connected. So do I, for that matter."

Ann sat in silent thought, disliking herself for the twinge of jealousy in her heart. It wasnít any of her business what had gone on between Robert and an old enemy/lover. She knew him better than to think anything more than suspicion and, perhaps, some memories had been on her husbandís mind. But she wondered.

Robert managed to find a parking space on the street. He avoided underground garages on general principle. Especially on days when enemies could be anywhere, he wanted more avenues of escape available.

He got out of the car, scanned the busy street thoroughly, then went to open Annís door.

"Do you think youíll have to leave the office?" he asked as they walked towards the building.

"Iíve got nothing scheduled and I think I can put off anything new. Robert, what are you going to do?"

He didnít like telling her, partly from a habitual dislike of explaining his actions and partly from knowing that she would worry. "Iím going into Chinatown."

Ann stopped dead in the middle of the lobby, uncaring that the crowds of office workers and couriers had to break around them. "She told you to stay out of there."

"Which is precisely why Iím going in. The answer is there. Would Chao Tsu know anything?"

"About spies? I doubt it."

"She was worried the other night. If nothing else, she might be willing to share gossip."

Ann glanced around the lobby indecisively. "Theyíll see you," she said softly.

He squeezed her shoulder. "Thatís why Sternoís watching the house. I wouldnít be surprised if Control sent a few people by once or twice."

The worry twisted her stomach. "But what about you? Theyíve got no reason to come after me again, but youíre going to dare them to come after you."

"Better me than you, darling."

"I disagree," she glared.

He studied her for several moments. Sheíd never asked him to not take a case, and he wondered at the source of her concern. It might be shock, but it could be something else.

"I hope youíre not asking me to ignore this," he finally said.

She smiled wryly. "I know better. But ó I donít want you so upset over me that you donít watch yourself."

He hugged her. "Darling, Iím always careful, you know that."

"I know." But Ann felt the hard lump that was Robertís pistol on his belt. "What if she told you to stay away just to make sure youíd be curious about whatís going on down there? If you go into Chinatown, you may not get out."

"I was going to check there even before what happened last night." He studied her averted face. He couldnít tell her not to worry, because the danger was real. And because there was the faint chance that her fears could be realized, he didnít want to leave her with any doubts. "Darling, are you afraid of the danger I could run intoóor the person I might run into?"

"Hell," she muttered. Jealously was childish, especially with so many real problems to deal with.

Robertís exasperation was a little amused. "You said you didnít worry about people I could run into."

"That was when it was all theoretical." She glanced at him shamefully. "And my head knows Iím being ridiculous."

"My thanks to your head. Why wonít your heart believe me?" He was surprised to see her embarrassment turn to anger.

"My heart doesnít doubt you. Itís her that makes me wonder. Why here, why now? She thought fondly of you once, enough to warn you. Sheís up to something, it involves you, and I donít know what might be lurking in her inscrutable brain."

Robert blinked at her, more than a little startled. It was a form of jealousy, but not a helpless sort. Ann didnít fear the usual form of womanís warfare, but physical danger that could threaten to take her husband away roused her defensiveness.

Ann glanced up from her concern when she realized Robert hadnít reacted. He was looking as uneasy as she felt and as baffled. She smiled briefly. "Youíre not saying ĎI can take care of myself.í Thank you for knowing I know that."

"One gets tired of repeating oneself." He played with her hair absently. "You do know, though, that all your worry wonít stop me, donít you?"

"Iíve always known that," she sighed. "Which is why I try not to let you know just how much I do worry. Because I know that you do care." She chuckled briefly. "I think weíre trying to out-noble each other again."

"It sounds like it. Let me see you up to your office." He was surprised when she resisted his hand at her elbow.

"Youíre in a hurry to get answers," she said. "Nothing will happen to me here, itís far too crowded." A glint appeared in her eyes. "Because I know you know I can look after myself almost as well as you."

Robert grimaced. "And I know you know I worry anyway."

She laughed fondly. "And now that weíve reestablished the parameters . . . "

He nodded and hugged her. "I used to be uncomfortable with someone knowing me so well. Itís a good thing I got over it." He kissed her and let her go. "Call me when you want to leaveóand I mean it," he added at the flicker of disagreement in her eyes.

"If youíre busy, you wonít want to drop everything to come get me."

"No, what I wonít want is you wandering around with no one to look after you. Donít make that face at me, it wonít help."

Ann muttered under her breath and finally shrugged. "All right, all right. Besides, youíre right," she added grudgingly.

Robert stared at her, a bit surprised at her agreement. But he no more wanted to dwell on the reasons to worry than she did. "Iíll have my beeper. Have a good day, and try . . . " He didnít finish; she was going to worry no matter what.

She nodded and kissed him. She didnít tell him to be careful, he was always careful. They smiled at the unspoken admonitions, then Ann headed for the elevators. He watched her until she was safely aboard a car to the 52nd flooróand heíd carefully watched everyone who got on with heróthen he left.

He parked his car in a public lot near the Jade Pagoda. As he walked down Mott Street, he watched everyone and everything. For all that the neighborhood was within walking distance of his own house, Chinatown was its own world. The rules of Asia applied here, as did the rules of field work. Robert had done work here before, and he knew the kinds of filth that lurked below the tourist facade.

He paused at a noodle sellerís cart and blandly accepted the badly cooked portion routinely sold to visitors. He let the Cantonese insults flow past him as he paid. Feigning a touristís awkwardness with the chopsticks, he took his bowl to the wall of a nearby store, where Chinese newspapers were plastered. As he scanned the headlines, he listened to the gossip around him.

The noodle seller laughed with a few cronies about the stupid Westerner, then they returned to their earlier topic, which had attracted Robertís attention. An elderly man weighed down by a bundle of counterfeit Ralph Lauren suits asked the noodle seller if heíd been harassed by the young punks from the tongs.

"Theyíre not triad hoodlums," the noodle seller insisted. "They donít want money, and they donít care about opium. They only want to know about the new immigrants."

Robert turned from the wall and blinked benignly at the exotic parade.

A young man sporting some of the trappings of a Buddhist monk with his T-shirt and blue jeans glanced at Robert. "Has anyone seen him before?"

The noodle seller coughed and spit, apparently accidentally, near Robertís feet. "Who, dog face over there? Look at him, heís a tourist."

"Nice suit, though," the old man with the clothes said professionally.

Robert carefully reacted only to the spitting and fought back his chuckle. He pulled out a map of Chinatown and ostentatiously studied it.

"Looking for a brothel, I bet," the old man with the clothes snickered.

"Should we tell him about your sisterís place?" the noodle vendor asked.

The conversation degenerated into insults and cackles. Robert strolled down the street and managed to get out of range before the laugh got away from him.

His humor died as he scanned the street. He didnít remember any interesting names in the lists of immigrants Control had, but people the CIA missed got in all the time. Who had come to New York that the Chinese government was interested in, and, more importantly, why was it worth shooting at Ann?

He paused at other likely lurking spots, but the conversations were about the mah jongg betting halls, the outrageous prices shopkeepers charged, whose first cousinís oldest daughter had had a baby by whose brotherís daughterís husband, and other homey street chatter. Robert felt a rush of affection for his adopted country, where one could find these wonderful exotic enclaves and still be within walking distance of mostly reliable public transportation.

His meander brought him to the front door of the Jade Pagoda restaurant, where the doors were just opening for lunch. He strolled in, following a group of Chinese businessmen speaking in Cantonese about import/export law.

The maitre dí glanced up from his desk and recognized Robert. "So soon you return, Mr. McCall. You honor our establishment."

"This is one of the best restaurants in the city, Weh Hong. Is Miss Ming in?"

"Let me check." The maitre dí picked up the phone, dialed an internal extension, then spoke in a rapid dialect.

Robert glanced around the dining room, noting the number of Asians sitting at the tables. At the same time Robert applauded the evidence that the food must be authentic enough to attract the locals, he was thinking suspiciously that heíd walked into a potential meeting place of enemy operatives.

"Mr. McCall?" Weh Hong said, still holding the phone, "would you like Miss Ming to come down or would you like to go to her office?"

"Iíll go up there, thank you."

The second floor of the restaurant consisted of a few private dining rooms, Chao Tsuís office and her apartment. The ownership of the building was one of those tangled Chinatown mysteries, but Robert suspected Annís motherís family and the extensive, slightly shady Nolan real estate holdings, as well as one of those exclusive Schaeffer and Marshall mortgages. Ann had absolutely no qualms about using her connections for the benefit of her friends.

Chao Tsu met Robert in the hallway outside her office. Her greeting was friendly enough, but Robert thought he saw tension in the way she moved. He accepted her offer of tea and assembled his thoughts as she served him.

"So what brings you down to Chinatown?" she asked, settling across the table from him.

"An old acquaintance showed up yesterday," he answered easily. "I think she might be staying in Chinatown."

"Does Ann know youíre looking up oldófriends?" Chao Tsu asked archly.

"Han Lin isnít a friend. Have you heard of any recent arrivals from Hong Kong?"

"There are new arrivals every week, especially with the transfer of possession."

"How many?"

She shrugged. "Anywhere from a dozen to a hundred to a thousandóand those are just the legals."

Robert nodded. The Oriental communities had an enlightened view of immigration ordinances. "Do you know of any nationals wandering around asking questions?"

Chao Tsuís eyes went opaque. "No more than usual."

"That wasnít what I asked."

Robert considered what he knew of Annís old roommate. Chao Tsu had been to the house any number of times. She was a dangerous chess player, but she enjoyed silly American games too. There was a picture in Annís photo album of college-age Chao Tsu giggling breathlessly in the middle of a Twister board. Dinners out for Robert and Ann were split evenly between OíPhelanís, Salvatoreís, and the Jade Pagoda, where Chao Tsu always made sure they were treated especially well. She never talked about herself, but Ann counted her as second only to Suzy as a friend.

But sheíd never been as reticent as she was being now. Robert, knowing the currents moving in Chinatown, had his suspicions.

"Whoís after you, Chao Tsu?" he asked softly. "Who were the men Mickey saw yelling at you the other night?"

Fear flickered through her eyes. "That has nothing to do with you."

"My wifeís friends are my friends. I take care of my friends."

She stared at him, then looked down at the tea cup in her hands. Robert thought she was debating with herself until he saw a teardrop fall into the tea cup, sending little rings radiating out. He started to go to her, but her quickly upraised hand stopped him. Her lips quivered, but she maintained control.

"I can help," he said persuasively.

"Can you?" she whispered in a bitter voice.

"Yes. Iíve dealt with many strange things in my life. Just tell me whatís wrong."

Chao Tsu gazed at him, her dark eyes wells of sad experience. "For friendshipís sake?" she asked cynically.

"Yes, for friendshipís sake. Nothing more."

She ducked her head, but not before Robert saw new tears. Her hands twisted on the tea cup. She shook her head slowly.

"Thereís nothing for you here in Chinatown, Robert. If friendship is all thatís at stake, stay away. And keep Ann away. IóIím being watched."

Robert gasped. "Are you the reason Ann was . . ."

"Was what?" Chao Tsu demanded. "What happened?"

They stared at each other, uncertainty binding confidences.

"Is she all right?" Chao Tsu asked uneasily.

"Yes. But if you can help me keep her that way . . . "

She stood and went to the other side of the room. "The best way to do that is to keep her away from me." She was silent a while. "You should go. Donít come back till I tell you itís safe. And be careful, youíll be followed."

Robert hesitated, then put his tea cup carefully on the tray and stood. He studied the frightened woman a moment. "I can help you," he repeated.

She was silent, and he left.

He paused at the maitre dís desk, but Weh Hong discovered business in the kitchen at Robertís approach. Robert accepted the dismissal and left.

He stayed alert for tailsóand for the scent of familiar perfume. He wandered over to the market and priced the still squirming fish and the piglets in their pens. He bought a packet of rock candy and watched the two young men whoíd followed him from the Jade Pagoda pretend to show interest in a display of herbs.

About two oíclock he reached the end of the vegetable section and an old woman guarding a selection of roots. She was too busy tying up a bundle of turnips to see Robertís approach, and when she did see him he was too close for her to bolt. It didnít stop her from looking around furtively before sighing in resignation.

"Hello, Mai Cho," Robert said genially, examining some sweet potatoes.

She muttered something in her own dialect, of which Robert remembered enough to catch "of a poxy Hakka whore and a blind Portuguese leper."

"Now, elder sister," he said in Cantonese, "is that any way to be? Iím just here for a visit."

"That, on your Ďvisit,í" she snapped, spitting. "It was just a Ďvisití in Shanghai, wasnít it?"

"I got you out of there, didnít I?" Robert countered, feeling an old twinge of guilt. "And the American police donít use bamboo shoots."

She spat again. "The American police donít come here. Who worries about them?"

He watched her closely. "Who are you worried about?"

Mai Cho glanced towards the two young men, then glared at Robert. "And you bring them to my stall and talk to me like I could help you."

"Who are they?"

She looked suspicious. "Secret police of the PRC. As if you didnít know."

Robert spared a momentís worry that Control didnít know the Peopleís Republic was running an operation in New York. But then, there were always PRC operatives in the American Chinese enclaves, and Control never volunteered information.

He remembered his mission. "What is their interest in Ming Chao Tsu at the Jade Pagoda?"

Mai Cho raised a prurient eyebrow. "And what is your interest in the Celestial Princess, eh? You said you didnít do this work any more."

Robert picked up a sweet potato and handed it to her, along with a palmed hundred. "Just tell me."

"I donít know," she said, pocketing the money. "Iím not in their confidence." She tossed the sweet potato into a paper sack and held the sack open, pointedly.

"Why might they be interested?" He handed her four more sweet potatoes, among them was a fifty. "And your potatoes are too expensive."

The old woman laughed. "The best from Long Island. A little Jew grows them for me."

"Mai Cho . . . "

She shrugged and dumped the potatoes in the bag. "Ming Chao Tsu keeps dangerous company. Itís said that in her storerooms is a place where they talk of Tienamin."

"Protesters? They meet at the Jade Pagoda?"

Mai Choís glance was hard. "I donít know where they meet. I wouldnít know even if you gave me to the secret police again."

Robert knew he didnít have time to try and explain again. Not that she would believe him. "Are there people who escaped from Tienamin in New York?" The old woman just glared at him. "Mai Cho, who falsified the documents that got that group of intellectuals across the border to Macao?"

"Aye," she muttered. "That was you. Youíre no friend of the old men in Beijing. For all your unfriendliness to others."

"I am not the friend of anarchy. Nor of people who run down children with tanks. Are there protesters in town?"

"I wonít tell you who."

"I donít want to know. I just want to know why Chao Tsuís being threatened."

Mai Cho glanced at the two young men, who were almost in ear shot. "Now you know. Your potatoes."

Robert accepted the bag. "If they give you trouble . . . "

The old woman looked a little surprised. "They wonít. Not in New York. And I have no one at home they can threaten." Sheíd lived in America for fifteen years, but China was still home. "But thank you," she added grudgingly before turning to a young woman who was poking disapprovingly at the cabbages.

Robert turned and walked past the two men following him, memorizing their faces.

As a calculated risk, he took an alley shortcut back towards his car. No one appeared out of narrow doorways and his tails didnít follow him into the alley. Robert started scanning windows for snipers.

It wasnít the perfume that warned him this time, but the smell of the French cigarettes she preferred. Han Lin stood in the shadow of a pile of crates just inside the mouth of the alley that opened onto the busy street. There were too many potential witnesses going by for anyone to try an ambush.

"I told you to stay away from here," she said, her blue eyes gazing at Robert through the rising haze of cigarette smoke. "Was your vegetable shopping that crucial?"

"You knew when you told me that, that I would come down here."

She smiled faintly. "Yes, telling you not to do something is like waving a red flag at a bull." She flicked her ash off and looked at him levelly. "I had nothing to do with the attack on your house. I advised against it, and I reprimanded those who went ahead anyway. There will be no more attacks."

Tension Robert hadnít been aware of fell away from him. "Why was Ann targeted?"

"Irrelevant. Sheís safe, and youíre safe, if youíll just stay out of this."

"And my son?" he snapped.

Han Lin blinked. "Your son?"

"Yes. He was in the house as well. Is he a target?"

"No, heís not, I swear it. Your family is safe. Please go home and forget everything you learned today. I will make sure this remains a Chinatown problem. Stay away and it wonít come near you."

Robert thought of Chao Tsuís tears and said nothing about how near it would come. "Your sniper was aiming to kill," he told her coldly. "Only the grace of God saved her. What is going on thatís worth my wifeís life?"

"There is nothing going on thatís worth the revenge you would take on anyone who harmed your family. Thatís why I overruled the attack."

Robert caught the fine point of logic. "If Ann werenít my wife, you wouldnít have stopped anything?"

Han Lin was silent. She took one last drag on her elegant cigarette, tossed it into a pile of rotting trash, and walked away.

Robert hurried to his car, watching for pursuit. Once locked inside, he pulled out a notebook to try to make sense of the Byzantine plot.

Chao Tsu was connected to the student protestors who had met the usual fate of those who challenged entrenched, monolithic power. The Chinese government was bringing pressure to bear on her, apparently knowing about the connection as well. PRC operatives were searching for a new arrival. They must be assuming that Chao Tsu had a lead to their quarry, hence the strong arm tactics in her own kitchen. And when she proved stubborn, pressure points had been sought, leading to her closest friend in America, Ann.

Robert grimaced, appreciating the effectiveness of the tactic while at the same time deploring its use. It was the dirtiest of fighting, as well as the most effective. He knew, heíd used it himself.

And except for the unpredictable angle of human feelings on the careful chess game of manipulations, it would have worked. Because Han Lin remembered Robert with enough fondness not to see him hurt, Ann was, hopefully, safe. But he wondered who had had sufficient brass to be willing to disobey Han Lin, who had once sent to an enemy the head of one of her own people in a cedar box to atone for a misjudgment.

With a chill, Robert remembered Han Linís other words, that her stated reason was to prevent the revenge of an agent with a reputation of his own. He didnít like using fear as a weapon, but he would if it worked.

He laid his plans. Chao Tsu had to be made to see that he could help her. As a last resort, Robert would pull in Controlís aid. Going to the Agency on this would bring in the people in the Eastern Office, though, who had their own reasons for not cooperating with Robert.

His beeper went off. Ann was ready to go home. He saw with surprise that heíd spent most of the day on his pursuit of knowledge. He chuckled as he started the car, imagining the exasperated look on his wifeís face as sheíd obediently called for a ride home. As he drove to midtown Manhattan, he kept an eye out for tails.

Ann was sitting on her secretaryís desk reading memos when Robert got to the office.

"Hi, sweetheart," she said absently. "Marsha, make sure Bernie sees this one about Seagrams. Oh, and call Metz at Chase about their bid quota. I donít want to get shoved into the preferential status paperwork."

"Right," Marsha said, taking notes. "Did you get the numbers for Coltraneís upgrade?"

"Yeah, theyíre still in my machine, Iíll go transfer it to your directory."

Robert smiled approvingly at his wifeís competence and followed her into her office behind Marshaís desk.

"Hi, sweetheart," Ann said again, sitting at her monstrous work computer and its multi-part ergonomic keyboard. "How was your day?"

"Enlightening." Robert didnít explain further, having learned that telling Ann anything that wasnít work related when she was like this was wasted effort.

"Good. Marsha, itís there," she called out the office door. "Did Krupowitz get back to you yet on their six-month evaluation?"

"Not yet. Iíll harass them tomorrow. Go home, already."

"Yes, Mom." Ann flipped through spread sheets and calendars, and finally sighed and relaxed. She looked at Robert curiously. "Didnít I say hello to you already?"

"Yes, you did." Now that he had her attention, he went to kiss her. "Busy day?"

"Weíve been tying up loose ends and getting back to people weíve been ignoring." She looked perturbed. "Beloved, am I a dilettante?"

"Excuse me?"

"Bernie called me a dilettante this morning when I came in late. He thinks Iím making everyone else carry me while I lounge around."

Robert tried to care, but it was difficult with what heíd been investigating. "If he doesnít have the sense to understand that this is your company, then get rid of him."

"But he knows more about Macs than I do."

"Then ignore him. We have bigger things to worry about." He went over and closed the office door. "Iíve found out why you were shot at."

As Ann stared at him in shock, he summarized his findings of the day.

"Chao Tsu called me this morning," she said, slow with confusion. "She didnít say anything about what was going on."

"How did she sound?"

"Fine. A little tense." Her eyes sharpened with calculation. "She told me she was closing the restaurant for remodeling and she expected to be incredibly busy for a couple of weeks."

"Keeping you out of Chinatown."

Ann looked at him closely. "So Han Linís only concern is to keep you out of this."

His glance at her was impatient. "Iíve already had those words with her. She knows my opinion."

Ann blushed uncomfortably. "So now what?"

"I have to make Chao Tsu accept my help."

"Help for what?"

"For convincing the Chinese to leave her and, by extension, you alone."

She got up to pace. On one wall was a Chinese print of an old monk shuffling through mountain mists. She stared at it for several moments. "If she really is cooperating with dissidents, itís going to take more than your resources to save her. How deep into the Agency are you going to go?"

"Not that far."

Ann gave him a disbelieving look. "Another debt. Another link."

Robert frowned. "Youíre not asking me not to use all my resources, are you?"

"No, " she sighed. "But I hate what those people cost you."

"For your safety? For the safety of a friend? Itís worth it. And let me tell you something. These kinds of operations are carefully balanced. These are professionals with no personal stake."

Ann looked at him but refrained from mentioning the name Han Lin.

He read it in her eyes, grimaced, but went on. "If I can make this too expensive, harass them and inconvenience them, theyíll pull out rather than pursue an overly costly course. No one will get hurt. Theyíll write if off as easily as sacrificing a piece on a chess board."

"It was worth shooting at me over."

Robert frowned. "True. But they saw you as a pawn." He kissed her. "They didnít know you were the queen who would checkmate them."

They went home and found Scott still obediently in the house, tidying up the library after the dayís onslaught of contractors and workmen. He seemed impressed with the speed Annís money had inspired.

"The rug man said he can reweave the holes and wants to know if you want him to do it here or have him take it out," Scott said, reading off the last of a long list of notes. "If he does it here, he says weíll be tripping over him for a couple of days. If he takes it out, heíll have to roll it up and either negotiate it out the windows or down the stairs."

Ann stared around her library. New windows were half installed, and the desk and tables had the bullet holes sanded smooth. "Oh, hell, have him do it here. And thank you, Scott, for supervising."

"Just paying my rent. Is Sterno still here?"

"Robertís debriefing him in the kitchen."

"The kitchen? Sterno?"

"Debriefing and payoff. Come on, Iím hungry."

"So did Dad find out anything?" Scott as he followed Ann down the stairs.

She sighed. "It appears one of my best friends is involved with Chinese dissidents. I was shot at as a means of bringing pressure to bear."

"What do they want her to do?"

They were entering the kitchen, and Robert looked up from updating Sterno.

"Theyíre after a new arrival," he said, including Ann and Scott in the debriefing. "Itís probably someone with connections back to the dissidents still in China. They want to crack down, but they know they donít dare risk another Tienamin."

"Not without getting rid of CNN first," Sterno said. He looked longingly at the stove. "That smells delicious."

Robert chuckled and went to stir the linguini sauce. "Itís almost ready, patience."

"But what can they do in New York?" Scott asked.

"Assassinate people in their own homes," Ann said before Robert could speak. "Pull somebody off the street before anyone even knows theyíre around. You can do anything if you walk quietly."

"And no one puts up a fuss in Chinatown," Robert added. "I was told that efforts would be made to keep any trouble confined to Chinatown."

"So weíre safe," Scott concluded.

Ann gave him a disappointed look. "I have a friend in Chinatown. And theyíre after her."

"Iíll go back in the morning," Robert said, dishing up linguini. "Ann, I think thereís a good Merlot in the wine cabinet that will go very nicely with this." She didnít answer, and he looked at her.

She was leaning against the counter, a grim look on her face. Sheíd looked that way when pursuing the murderers of her old partner in cyber piracy, a pursuit that had nearly killed her.

"Darling," he said, and she looked up. They stared at each other for a few moments, then Ann straightened.

"A Merlot, you said?" she asked.

"Yes. The Ď85." He stared after her as she headed down the hall to the wine cabinet.

Dinner was a conscious effort to discuss more pleasant things. Scott told tales of the contractors trying to work around supervisory Siamese and how the window repairmen kept sneaking peeks at the books in the library.

They were finishing the last of the wine at the table by the kitchen windows when the phone rang. Ann, still chuckling over the description of the window man who kept being scolded for reading when he should have been hauling glass, went to answer it.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Ann," Chao Tsu said, a little breathlessly.

"Chao Tsu?" Ann turned to look at Robert, who came to her side. "Whatís wrong?"

"Why would anything be wrong?"

Ann scowled at the phone. "Chao Tsu, donít bother."

A faint sob came from the phone. "You know, then. He told you."

"Yes, he told me."

"I am so sorry they went after you."

"Hush, love, itís all right. Just let us help."

There was a brief silence. "Let me talk to him."

"This is Robert. Whatís happened?"

Chao Tsu took a shaky breath. "They want to know why you were here. I donít think I can handle them any longer. Can you come down here? IímóIím scared."

"Would you prefer somewhere away from the restaurant? It might not be safe there." He gestured for Ann, standing next to him and looking outraged, to be quiet.

"I donít think theyíll let me leave," Chao Tsu said faintly. "Please . . . "

"All right. Iím heading down."

"Thank you, thank you. Good-bye."

Robert hung up and headed for the hallway, followed by the others. "I donít know when Iíll be back. I may have to take her to a safe house. Sterno, can you stay?"

"Sure, McCall, but couldnít you use back up?"

Robert hesitated.

"Let me come with you," Ann jumped in. "Iíll stay out of the way and let you tell me what to do, but sheís my friend and sheís in trouble."

The fact that she asked and didnít demand swayed him. "All right. Get your things and meet me in the garage." She ran off. "Sterno, if thereís trouble, call Control."

"Right."

Scott looked worried. "Are you expecting trouble?" he asked as he followed his father downstairs to the hall closet.

"Not here. But Iím still alive because Iím paranoid." He smiled thinly at his son. "Iím sure this isnít what you were expecting when you agreed to stay."

Scott shrugged and grinned nervously. "Itís certainly made my troubles look like small potatoes." He watched his father pull a jacket from the closet and a pistol with a holster from a case on the shelf above. "Dad, be careful."

"Iím always careful, son." The grimace on Scottís face made him reach over and squeeze his shoulder. "I have too much to come home to."

Scott hugged him tight, and Robert was happy to hug him back. Footsteps running down the stairs distracted them.

Ann was shoving things into her jeansí pockets as she came down the hall. "Excuse me," she said as she reached into the closet and pulled out her black leather motorcycle jacket with chains.

"Just donít rip up my upholstery with that," Robert said mildly.

Scott felt annoyed on Annís behalf, but she laughed knowingly. "Donít I always make good for whatever damages I do to your upholstery?" Robertís chuckle told Scott that some kind of private joke was involved.

Robert lost his smile when he saw Ann sliding her pistol holster onto the belt of her jeans. She caught his eyes on her and grimaced. "I was hoping you wouldnít notice."

"I always notice what youíre doing. And youíll leave that sort of thing to me, all right? Unless absolutely necessary?"

"Suits me. Better to have it and not need it than to wish for it and not have it."

Robert nodded grimly. "Scott, weíre off. Iíll call you when I know whatís going on."

"Right." Scott caught Annís shoulder as she passed him. "You be careful, too." She squeezed his hand and smiled, then followed Robert to the car.

She didnít bother Robert with extraneous chatter as they headed to Chinatown. She saw him watching the mirrors, and once he took the long way around a block to make sure they werenít being followed.

The Jade Pagoda was closed, despite the relatively early hour and the people still on the night time streets. Robert parked in an alley half a block away. He gestured Ann to stay close as he paused at the alley mouth to study the situation.

"Back or front door?" Ann whispered.

"Back door." Any watchers were too well placed to spot from here. He drew Ann with him out of concealment.

A fireball exploded out through the windows on the first floor of the restaurant. Ann and Robert were thrown against a building by the shock wave. Windows shattered, three cars parked in front of the restaurant caught fire from the flaming debris flung into them.

Robert kept Ann between himself and the building for several seconds, then he turned to look at the restaurant.

"My God," Ann whispered.

Flames came out of the windows on the alley side of the building as well as the front. Thick black smoke boiled out of crevices in the walls. The carved dragons on the roof swam through dark clouds touched with red.

The windows on the second floor blew out, giving exit to the flames. Ann started forward.

Robert pulled her back and held onto her. "No, love, we canít."

"But sheísó" She broke off at the look on his face.

"No, love," he repeated softly.

She turned back to stare at the flames, grief and horror in her eyes.

Robert searched the street, rapidly filling with gawkers. As fire sirens approached, he saw the two men who had followed him earlier. They stood half a block away, talking rapidly and scanning the crowd. They spotted Robert and nudged each other. Suspicion changed their faces, and they glared at him between anxious searching of the street.

Then Ann leaned into him, starting to cry, and Robert turned his attention back to the more immediate catastrophe.

The fire went to three alarms before they got it under control. The rapid spread smacked of careful planning to Robert, and when he drew close enough to the fire department commanders to eavesdrop, the word arson was on their lips as well. There were no reports of bodies yet, and Robert went back to Ann, who stood stubbornly at the corner, ignoring the jostling, swearing locals who were trying to elbow her out of her vantage point.

She didnít ask, the lack of news was obvious in his face. She leaned against him silently, hugging shock to her as a buffer.

Robert spent most of his attention on the crowd. The Chinese men had disappeared. Robert expected to see Han Lin in a shadow somewhere, but she remained absent. Mai Cho the vegetable dealer was by, but she left when she saw Robert.

Then he felt a chill of dread at the appearance of a nondescript Anglo in the crowd. As he stared, the man looked around and raised his eyebrows when he saw Robert.

"Iíll be right back," he told Ann, who nodded absently.

The man met him halfway. "Hi, Robert."

"Hello, Jacob." They shook hands. "Please tell me youíre not here on business."

"OK. But Iíd be lying."

"Ye gods," Robert muttered. "What is Control doing?"

Jacob Stock had joined the Agency at the same time Robert had left. He had expected the legend to have feet of clay, and Robert had been less than polite in his opinion of the fair-haired boyís skills. Theyíd both come to an appreciation of each otherís abilities, and Jacob tried to keep the hero worship to a minimum.

But Robert knew Jacob wasnít wasted on simple surveillance. "Jacob, what are you doing here? Control said you were unavailable."

Jacob sighed. "You know I canít tell you that." He glanced towards Ann. "Is that your wife?"

"Yes," Robert said, distracted by events.

"Do you think I can meet her some day?"

"What? Oh, Iím sorry, of course."

But Ann barely acknowledged the introduction. Jacob raised an eyebrow at Robert.

"The burning building belongs to a friend of hers," Robert explained in a cold voice, glaring at the flames. "We came down to meet her."

Jacob paled. "You know Ming Chao Tsu?"

"What do you know, Jacob?" Robert demanded.

"Does Control know you know her?" Jacob countered.

"Yes, he does."

Jacob shook his head, baffled. "Talk to him, Robert. I donít know what to tell you." He glanced around, gave Robert an apologetic look, then faded into the crowd. Ann didnít notice.

They stayed till almost dawn, when the coronerís van arrived and the people inside went to a screened-off section of the still smoking rubble. Robert went to his eavesdropping position again and listened to the preliminary report on the womanís corpse found among the kitchen debris. Initial examination sad sheíd been shot. Murder, then, with arson to cover it up.

He went back to Ann. "Letís go home." He put a tired arm around her. "Thereís nothing more for us here."

She started to protest, but movement at the coronerís van caught her eye. They were pulling a stretcher out. A sob escaped her. Robert led her to the car and home.

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