Part 3

Several hours later, after many tears and a stiff shot of scotch, Robert left her to confront Control, who took the meeting outside when he saw Robert in his office doorway. He kept them moving down the street, fobbing off demands for information until they reached a sufficiently busy plaza that had vantage points to commandeer.

"All right," he said, seizing the initiative, "letís talk. Try not to yell."

Robert caught his breath. The swift walk had taken most of the immediate fire out of his challenge, as he knew had been intended. "Ming Chao Tsu."

"Yes," Control sighed. "Weíll be a while untangling that. Stock told me he saw you last night. My condolences to Ann, by the way, for what theyíre worth. Has she talked of revenge yet?"

"She doesnít know who to aim it at. The Chinese government is a bit too large a target for even my wife."

"The Chinese government? Why would she go after them?"

Robert frowned. "Theyíd been pressuring Chao Tsu, probably for information. I know she was working with the dissidents." He broke off at the look Control was giving him.

"Robert," Control said slowly, "Chao Tsu was a deep cover agent of the Chinese working to infiltrate the dissident cells in the Northeast and to discover what American support those cells were getting."

Robert leaned back against a convenient wall and stared.

Control took up a more comfortable perch on the edge of a garbage can. "I got this information from the Eastern office yesterday. I was trying to get hold of you but kept missing."

"Are they sure?" Robert finally asked.

Control nodded. "They had her tracked back to the Chinese intelligence finishing school in Suchow, where she graduated eight months before going to Harvard. She was groomed from childhood."

"No!" Robert protested. "Sheís been in my house, Iíve been in hers, Iíve gotten drunk with her. Hell, Iíve even sat in a hot tub with her. I know how to spot agents, and she never once set off alarms."

"You know what deep cover is like. You forget who you are. And when she was visiting with Ann and you, she was probably putting all the rest behind her. Nowhere does it look like she knew who you are. And besides," he added wryly, "were you looking for an enemy agent? Or were you just seeing an old friend of your wifeís?"

Robert nodded grimly. "Why wasnít I told? I had dozens of visits from a known Chinese agent, and no one told me?"

"Robert, I didnít know. And the people who knew about her werenít keeping that close an eye on her. Your name is on the list of known contacts, but apparently nobody in the Eastern office made the connection. Which, knowing them, is just as well."

"Yes, those people see conspiracies in the traffic lights."

"One well-timed red light could change the course of history."

"Oh, donít start. My god," Robert said softly, contemplating ramifications. "So she was lying to Ann all along."

"Live with a story long enough, and it becomes the truth."

He nodded. "She was being pressured by government goons, though. And Han Lin is working on something important. Why would they want to kill Chao Tsuís best friend in this country if sheís working for them?"

"Youíve got that confirmed?" Control asked. "That it was a kill order?"

"Yes." Robert began to pace. "Han Lin ordered the hit cancelled, but they went ahead anyway. She found me to personally apologize and assure me that Ann and Scott are safe."

"Why?"

"Because they are my family, and Han Lin does not want me looking for revenge in Chinatown. She wants to keep me out of there very badly."

Control paced a bit himself. "If Ann didnít have the luck to be married to you ó"

"Iíve been there once, I donít want to go there again."

"Sorry. Chao Tsu was being stubborn, then, about something they wanted. I wonder when the pressure started? The Eastern office is as baffled as we are about what could be causing all this."

"Maybe she was starting to go over," Robert offered. "Forgetting her allegiances. Ann made a joke once about corrupting her with blues clubs and pizza and Cambridge cafes."

"It wouldnít be the first time." Control was silent for several moments. "Whenís the funeral?"

"Tomorrow. Weh Hong, her maitre dí, claimed the body. He left a message on Annís machine a couple of hours ago."

"You canít go to that funeral, Robert."

"Excuse me? And what am I supposed to tell my wife? ĎIím sorry, darling, but I canít go with you to your friendís funeral because my old boss wonít let me?í"

"The Chinese will have observers there, Robert. Theyíll be looking for her contacts. Do you want them to find you?"

"I donít want them to find Ann, either."

"Iím sorry to remind you, but they already know where she is." Control saw Robertís reluctant agreement. "You should tell her about Chao Tsu anyway. In a few days Iíd like to talk to her about anything Chao Tsu may have let slip."

"You know she doesnít like you."

Control snickered. "Oh, yes, I know. Was it that trip to Pakistan?"

"I was rather a mess when I got back."

"I didnít have fleas." His amusement faded. "She doesnít have to like me so long as sheíll work with me. What about the funeral?"

"Youíre right, dammit. If it was our play, Iíd send someone to watch." He stopped, then studied Control closely. "It wasnít, was it? Our play?"

Control met his eyes. "I did not order her killed or her restaurant torched."

"As if you werenít capable of lying to my face."

Control shrugged.

"Do you know who did?"

"No. And when you find out, I want to know."

Robert smiled faintly. Control sometimes greatly appreciated having an independent resource not bound by the same rules he was. "Then why was Stock there?"

"He was watching the place. She was a focus of activity, we could have learned a lot."

"True. All right, I suppose I believe you. This time."

"So kind as always." Control checked his watch. "Iíve got to go. Jason is due for another scolding. Want to come watch?"

"As much as Iíd enjoy it, Iíd best get home. I left Ann tranked up, and sheís probably awake by now."

"If sheíll believe it of me, tell her Iíd have stopped it if I could."

"I will."

***

White is the color of mourning in China. Ann found a white dress in the back of her closet that she wouldnít mind never wearing again after today. She got an early start for the four oíclock service, anticipating the numbness of sadness that slowed her down.

She was half-dressed when she realized Robert wasnít getting ready.

"Iím afraid I canít go with you, darling," he told her.

"What? Why not?"

He pulled down to sit on the bed next to him. He hadnít told her Controlís revelations yet, and he thought doing it in stages would be simplest. "Control asked me not to. Heís afraid whoeverís responsible will have observers there to look for Chao Tsuís contacts."

She blinked, confused. "Is he afraid theyíll come after you?"

"It depends on if someone were to recognize me. Iím an obvious suspect." He hugged her when he saw the beginnings of fear in her eyes. "You have every reason to be there, so donít worry about that. And no one will see me to be suspicious."

"What do you mean?"

"Iím going to disobey orders a bit and be near. Iím curious myself about who might show up."

He specifically meant Han Lin, who he intended to interrogate on the matter. But Ann was too pleased to know that heíd be near to wonder.

"Will I see you?" she asked.

"I hope not. Donít bother looking for me." He kissed her briefly. "Think about yourself and Suzy and poor Chao Tsu."

She leaned against him for comfort for quite a while, then she finished dressing.

With Robert bowing out, Ann took her own Jaguar, identical to Robertís except that hers was gunmetal gray instead of black. Sheíd spent a full month shopping for a replacement for her beloved VW van, Frieda. Sheíd vacillated between a dully practical Volvo and a respectable Mercedes, then Robert and Mickey kidnapped her for a bit of sports car shopping to remind her that she was too young and rich to settle for the kinds of cars her older relatives drove. Mickey happily test drove a Lamborghini Testarossa on her behalf, and Robert tried to talk her into believing that a Ferrari wouldnít be bad for a novice businesswomanís image. Then theyíd driven to the Jaguar dealer, ostensibly so Robert could have his suspension looked at. Ann saw the gray Jag in the far corner, walked silently over and stared. Robert and Mickey smiled in peaceful triumph.

"Isnít it a little boring?" Suzy had asked. "Sure, itís classy as all hell, but still . . . "

"The police in Scotland drive them because theyíre tough, dependable, and fast," Ann had answered. "My mother approves, and I can outrun just about any cop on the road."

She and Suzy and Chao Tsu had christened the car Lady Catherine of Coventry, after her birthplace (Mickey cheerfully suggested the name Lady Godiva, which got a pillow thrown at him), then they went on a weekend road trip "to get the kinks out," as they told Robert. Two speeding tickets later, Robert took her to an offensive driving school in Watkins Glen and taught her how to really drive.

But Ann was thinking now of Chao Tsu sitting in the back seat and laughing about capitalist tools of the bourgeoisie as they drove happily through little New England towns looking for antique stores. She sat a moment in front of Suzyís building in Greenwich Village to regain her composure before going up to tell Suzy she was here.

Suzy was wiping her eyes when she opened the door to her apartment. She blinked at Ann for a moment. "You hate that dress," she observed.

"Just as well. For that matter, you always said white dresses made you feel like a little girl in Sunday school." She nodded at the obviously new dress Suzy was wearing.

"True enough." They hugged and wept a little. "Come on," Suzy said, "we donít want to be late. Is Robert in the car?"

"No, heísóhe canít make it."

Suzy gave her an outraged look. "Too busy, huh?"

"Noówell, yes." Ann hated lying to Suzy. Robert had told her specifically not to tell Suzy what was going on. "Something came up at the last minute, and heís very sorry."

Suzy remembered Robertís job. "Somebody read that ad in the paper, huh? Heíd put them off if you asked, wouldnít he?"

"Yes. But I donít ask." She led the way to the car to forestall questions.

There was a Buddhist temple near the river, its drab facade belying the crimson interior with its chimes and incense. Chao Tsuís service was in a small side chamber. The only people present were Weh Hong and some of the staff from the restaurant. They studied Suzy and Ann from the corners of their eyes.

"There should be more people," Suzy whispered.

"I know," Ann answered. She wondered if people were afraid to be here. She recognized everyone in the congregation, and she wondered where the observers Robert mentioned were.

A priest entered soon after Ann and Suzy sat down and bowed to the shrine at the head of the room. A gold Buddha smiled from the shrine with his hand raised in benediction. Scrolls hung on the walls; candles and braziers flickered among burning incense sticks. A metal urn sat in front of the shrine. Ann and Suzy realized what it was at the same time, and they held hands as they cried.

Two young Chinese men entered and stood at the back of the room, but they didnít bow their heads as the priest began chanting.

The funeral service was short. The Chinese chanting and the tolling of the small bell brought a measure of peace to the two women saying farewell to their friend. When the priest finished, Weh Hong stood and went to the shrine. He bowed to the urn, then dropped several bills of Chinese currency into the brazier. He lit a number of incense sticks from the brazier and propped them up in a porcelain jar. He bowed again, then turned and walked from the room.

As the others got in line to pay similar respects, Ann scolded herself for not bringing anything. She noticed Suzy pulling a photograph from her purse.

"Whatís that?" she asked quietly.

Suzy showed her, and Ann fought back more tears. When theyíd all been young and foolish, theyíd taken Chao Tsu to Coney Island to experience roller coasters and cotton candy and other essentials of Western culture. Theyíd stopped in one of those photo parlors that provided costumes to pose in, and theyíd decided to be dance hall girls. The proprietor had kept a copy for his wall, and the three girls had each gotten copies. Annís copy hung in her pool room, garnering compliments and, at least from Mickey, thoughtful comments that the women hadnít changed much since those days and two out of the three were still available.

Suzy paused in front of the urn when it was her turn. "I miss you, Chao Tsu," she said through tears. "You were a sister to me." She couldnít say more. Ann hugged her as she placed the photograph in the brazier. They watched in silence as the faces blackened and curled then fell to ash. Ann let the photo serve as her offering as well, unable to think of anything more appropriate.

"Good-bye," she whispered to her departed friend. "Iíll find them, the ones who did this."

They paused a moment longer, then turned to leave.

They were the last in the room, aside from the two young men by the door. The men straightened from leaning against the wall and moved to intercept the women. Suzy looked at them curiously, wondering if they were friends of Chao Tsuís, but Ann found herself grateful that she was wearing shoes that she could move and, if necessary, fight in.

"Excuse us," Ann said, trying to be firm yet polite.

"We just wish a moment of your time," the taller one said.

Suzy paused, and Ann couldnít think of any way to budge her without being suspicious.

The shorter one glanced at the door and sidled closer to Ann as his partner moved closer to Suzy. Ann sighed silently and put her purse more firmly on her shoulder as she analyzed the two menís stances for take-down.

The shorter one was just reaching for Annís elbow ó and Ann was tensing to throw him into the wall ó when Weh Hong appeared in the doorway.

"Mrs. McCall, I was waiting for you," he said breathlessly. "I need to talk to you."

"Of course, Weh Hong." Ann nudged Suzy in the back. Suzy obediently headed for the door, but not without a faintly puzzled look at Ann. The two strangers fell back to the other side of the room, where they conferred quietly.

"What is it?" Ann asked when she and Suzy joined Weh Hong in the lobby. Several people moved about; a wedding was taking place in the large chapel.

Weh Hong glanced at the doorway. "Itís good that you have Miss Johnson with you. Itís about Miss Mingís will."

Suzyís attention sharpened. Wills were her business. "Is there a problem?"

"No, not really. She named me executor, and I know whatís in it. She kept it in her safe deposit box at her bank, and they opened it yesterday." He looked sad. "Thereís not much, after the fire. She left her money to a charitable foundation, but all her physical property was to go to you, Mrs. McCall, and you, Miss Johnson, to be shared as you saw fit."

Suzy sighed. "Everything she owned was at the Jade Pagoda. How sad that there could be so little left of a life."

Ann wiped away tears. "We share the rights to an empty lot in Chinatown."

"She did own that, then? I thought Chinese landowners never gave up their freeholds."

"There arenít that many Chinese landlords down there. Most of the real estate belongs to the same families and companies that first leased to the Chinese."

"And how many of those families and companies are you related to?" Suzy asked knowingly.

"Too many," Ann replied darkly, remembering tales of exorbitant rent and outright fraud of the not too distant past.

Weh Hong cleared his throat. "There may be more than just the land. I believe Miss Ming sent out several pieces of furniture to be refurbished. If those pieces are still in the shops, they belong to you, now."

"Oh, wouldnít that be wonderful?" Suzy said. "Something of hers would survive after all."

"Yes," Weh Hong said very clearly, his eyes on the doorway behind the two women, "Miss Ming was always careful to make sure her valuables were in good hands. I have a list of the shops here." He handed Suzy a folded piece of paper.

Ann took it and opened it, just to make sure it was just a list of shops. "Reputable antiques dealers, one and all. Thatís good." The melancholy distracted her from plots. "Thank you, Weh Hong. Suzy, are you ready to go?"

Suzy squeezed her arm. "Yeah, sis, letís go."

They walked down the street towards the car, arm in arm and silent. They didnít notice they were followed by the two Chinese men, but Robert, sitting half a block away in Mickeyís van, did.

"When do we intercept?" Mickey asked, checking his gun.

"We donít, if those two beauties stay back. I donít want the girls in any kind of crossfire. Theyíre the pair from the fire."

"Nobody I know," Mickey commented.

They watched as Ann and Suzy got in the Lady Catherine and drove away. The two men stood a moment in consultation, then headed for their own vehicle.

"Do we follow?" Mickey asked.

"Yes," Robert said grimly. "Theyíve been constants through this; I imagine one of them took the shot at Ann."

Mickey smiled. "Do we grab them and ask?"

"Donít tempt me." Robert pulled his own pistol thoughtfully and checked the load. "Revenge is a dish best served cold."

"Klingons have all the best lines." Mickey chuckled at Robertís look of confusion.

They followed the target vehicle, as expected, into Chinatown. But they didnít stop in that warren of streets, driving through a couple of turnings and out the other side of the neighborhood.

"I think weíre made," Mickey said.

"I think youíre right. Drop back, then head for the Jade Pagoda."

Mickey grimaced but obeyed.

The site of the fire was still cordoned off. A gang of children was poking around as the van pulled up, and they ran in the face of possible grown-up retribution.

Mickey leaned on the steering wheel and stared out the windshield at the ruin. "Damn," he muttered. "Controlís the reason I was able to make it back so soon. He thought youíd want me handy."

"Thatís amazingly decent of him." Robert brooded out the window for several moments. "I should have pushed the point when I saw her. I should have taken her to a safe house."

"You didnít know theyíd go this far."

"Yes, I did! They shot up the house as a pressure tactic. After Han Lin pulled them off Ann, they had no choice but to go after Chao Tsu directly."

Mickey thought about his own clues. "Those two guys werenít the ones in the kitchen that night."

Robert turned in surprise. "They werenít? Are you sure?"

"Pretty sure. One of the pair in the kitchen had an earring."

"Really? The Chinese are mellowing." He drummed his fingers unhappily on the dashboard. "Now who else is involved? Were the pair in the kitchen Han Linís or not? And where is she?"

"Why do you think sheíd be of any use anymore?" Mickey asked carefully. In his opinion, enemies who appeared from the past never boded well. "She either got what she wanted or itís too late now. Sheís probably long gone."

"True." Robert rubbed his forehead. "I donít have the Chinatown contacts to persuade the protestors to confide in me. I canít avenge her until I know why she was killed."

"Think Weh Hong or any of the waiters know anything?"

"Maybe. Itíll be difficult getting them to talk after what happened to their boss."

"Yeah." Mickey stiffened and nodded out the window.

A car pulled up on the other side of the rubble-strewn lot. A Chinese man got out with a small arrangement of flowers.

Mickey yanked down his sun visor; a tiny pair of binoculars dropped into his hand. A quick look confirmed his suspicion. "Itís one of the guys from the kitchen." They consulted silently and opened the van doors.

The man laid the flowers on the spot where the body had been found, and he bowed his head. He didnít look up as Robert and Mickey approached over the treacherous rubble.

Robert paused a moment, hoping to be acknowledged. But the silence drug on. Finally he cleared his throat.

The man didnít raise his head. "I suppose you talk in theaters, too." He gave Robert a contemptuous look, then turned and headed back for the car.

"Wait," Robert said, taking a step after.

The man whirled, a hand going under his coat. At the car, the driverís door opened, and a younger man stepped out.

"I mean no trouble," Robert added quickly. Beside him, Mickey was frozen with his hand on his own gun. "Stand down, Mickey."

"You sure?"

"Yes."

Reluctantly, Mickey removed his hand, but he watched everything carefully.

The man before Robert looked thoughtful, then he waved his driver back. The driver didnít go, but the threat level went down.

Robert studied the man. He looked Robertís age, the black hair liberally spattered with gray. His clothes were London-cut, and his shoes were Italian. The pin in the center of his dark silk tie was a bronze dragon curled around a one-carat ruby.

"The woman who died here obviously meant something to you," Robert finally said.

The stranger finished his own perusal before answering. "Perhaps itís just my day to leave memorials for the recently departed."

"And perhaps itís my day to look for clues to help me avenge this womanís death."

The manís gaze sharpened. "And why would you do that?"

"She was my friend, and a sister to my wife. She asked for my help."

"With what?"

Robert smiled faintly. "A certain matter."

The man was silent and grim. "You didnít give her much help, did you."

Robert glanced away. "No," he said bitterly. "Which is why I want to do what I can now."

"Chinatown takes care of its own." He started at Robert and Mickey, memorizing their faces, then he turned and left.

Robert didnít interfere. Mickey hesitated, then knelt to examine the flowers. The driver of the strangerís car hesitated, but he got back in the car when he saw Mickey wasnít disturbing the memorial.

"That didnít come from a florist shop," Mickey said, straightening. "It looks like someone cut some flowers out of their own garden."

Robert nodded as he watched the car depart. "He looked so damned familiar."

"Did he? The guy at the car is the one with the earring."

Robert abruptly sighed and threw up his hands. "Itís getting more complicated. Annís waiting for us at OíPhelanís."

"Good, I want a drink."

Mickey paused when he saw McCall wasnít headed back. Instead he pulled a small bundle out of an inside pocket. He unwrapped the red cloth to reveal several incense sticks bound with a scarlet cord. He knelt and wedged the bundle in the rubble beside the flowers, then began to search his pockets.

"Here," Mickey said in a tight voice, handing down a lighter.

"Thank you," Robert answered, not looking up. He blinked rapidly as he lit the sticks, then he stood.

They watched the fragrant smoke rise up to heaven until the sticks burned away and fell over. Silently they went back to the van.

Just around the corner, the man whoíd laid the flowers wiped his eyes as he watched the van depart.

***

Pete OíPhelan looked up from her bar as the door swung open and her silent partnerís wife walked in. "Hello, Ann, Suzy."

"Hi, Pete," Ann said listlessly. Suzy waved half-heartedly.

Pete revised her assessment of the white dresses. "You havenít been anywhere pleasant."

Suzy pulled out her handkerchief. "We said good-bye to our sister."

"Oh, god, thatís right. Come on, the back tableís open."

Pete led the way through the crowded bar to the most private table in the place. Robert preferred it for all sorts of purposes. The two women sank into chairs gratefully.

"What can I get you two?" Pete asked sympathetically. "Itís on the house."

Ann chuckled. "Yeah, right."

"My half of the house."

Ann leaned back a moment and studied the ceiling. "Is there any Dom Perignon left?"

"Iíll get you a bottle."

"Make it two."

"Yeah," Suzy muttered.

Pete hesitated. "Give me your keys."

Muttering under her breath, Ann dug out her keys, took off the one for the car and dropped it in Peteís hand. "Now can I get blind?"

"Sure. Iíll send some food over in case you decide to spare yourselves."

They sat there and reminisced, drank toasts to old friends, cried some but laughed more. On the whole, they healed.

A prowling stock broker at the bar summoned Pete. "Iíd like to buy a drink for the lovely ladies up in the corner. They look like they need some cheering up."

Pete blinked. "I think theyíve had enough."

The stock broker frowned. "Itís not your job to tell me I canít. Itís your job to sell booze."

Pete leaned across the bar and glared. "Thatís the ownerís wife and her sister, both personal friends of mine. Theyíre not interested in sharks."

He sneered. "I think Iíll go see what they have to say on the matter." He headed towards the corner.

The businesswoman in Pete warned against brawls and broken customers. The former field agent chuckled in anticipation.

Suzy pushed the baked potato skins towards Ann. "Here, youíre not keeping up. If you eat you can drink more."

"I used to be able to hold my booze better." Ann picked up a potato skin, then put it back down. "Iím getting old."

"No, youíre just out of practice. And sloshed. Letís wait a little, I want to get my taste buds back. Itís a shame to waste good champagne on me at the moment." She blinked as a strange man appeared at the table. "Who are you?"

"James Panotti, ladies, at your service." He invited himself to a chair. "I couldnít help notice you two seem terribly broken up. How can I help cheer you up? You look like youíve been to a funeral."

Ann stared at the grinning man for several seconds, then swiveled her head on her supporting elbow to look at Suzy. "Whatís my legal exposure on this?"

Suzy picked jalapenos out of the shredded cheese on her potato skin. "Assault, probably. Disturbing the peace. Drunk and disorderly."

"What about not being in my right mind? I can claim temporary incapacity of normal reasoning functions."

"Youíre consulting with legal counsel beforehand. That makes it premeditated and puts me in collusion. Conspiracy to commit a felony is also a felony."

"Shit," Ann said sincerely.

Pete, watching with anxious enthusiasm, saw Robert and Mickey come through the door. "Oh, good, youíre here."

"Hello, Pete," Robert said somberly. "Are they here?"

"Yeah, at your table. I took Annís keys when she asked for two bottles of Dom. Youíre just in time, one of the local Lotharios is hitting on Ďem."

"You giving odds?" Mickey asked.

"Mickey," Robert scolded. He headed for the table.

The stock broker was following the conversation with difficulty and growing alarm. But the displayed wealth of two bottles of vintage champagne and the two womenís jewelry convinced him to continue the pursuit.

Until, that is, he was flanked by a seedy laborer of some sort on his right and an elegantly dressed executive type on his left.

"I sincerely doubt," said the exec, "that you were invited over for a tete a tete with these ladies. I suggest you go trolling elsewhere."

"Did the bartender send you over?" the stock broker blustered. "Iím not causing any trouble and these two havenít asked me to leave."

"That true?" Mickey asked Suzy, seeing she was a tad more sober.

"In strict interpretation, yes," Suzy said owlishly. "Trouble isnít legally defined, and, in point of fact, we havenít gotten around to telling him to leave. Iíve been telling Ann the legal repercussions of beating the snot out of him."

"What if I pay the damages?" Ann asked, still leaning on her elbow.

"Flinging the barkeep a wad of cash is not a statutorily recognized means of resolving felonious assault. Pete wouldnít press charges anyway, but ape butt here just might."

Ann swiveled her head on her supporting fist to look at the stock broker. "Yeah, you probably would."

Robert bit back a chuckle. "Sir, do you really want to be here when they resolve this dilemma to their satisfaction? Actually, your wants are irrelevant. You may leave right now, or my colleague will assist in your decision."

"Hi, there," Mickey grinned, wiggling his fingers at the man.

The stock broker wanted to bluster, but he decided to slink away.

Robert watched him go, then took the chair in the corner proper, between Ann and Suzy. Mickey took the last chair, turning it so his back was to the wall. Ann slid her chair over so she could lean on her husband.

"Hello, love," he said, kissing the top of her head. "How was it?"

"Short. Small. Hardly anyone was there." There was something she needed to tell him about who had been at the funeral, but her memory was befuddled.

Mickey studied the two women. "You two are thoroughly bombed."

"Are not," Suzy said with dignity. "Weíve only had a bottle and a half."

Mickey blinked and checked the bottles on the table. One was empty and the other half gone.

"Thereís nothiní Nietzsche couldnít teach ya about the raising of the wrist," Ann sang softly.

"Socrates himself was permanently pissed," Suzy replied.

"All right," Robert smiled. "Itís time to go home, youíve gotten to the singing stage."

"Not yet," Suzy said firmly. "One more toast." She grabbed the bottle and emptied it into hers and Annís glasses.

Ann raised her glass. "To our sister."

"To our sister."

They drained the glasses, then tossed them into the fireplace. Ann reached for her soggy handkerchief. Robert handed her his.

Suzy stared at the broken glass. "I wonder if theyíll ever catch the people who did it."

Robert threw a scolding look at Ann, but she looked as surprised as he. "What people?" she asked.

Suzy looked shocked. "My god, donít you know? Robert, you must know, you know everything. Didnít you tell her?"

Ann answered first. "I didnít think you knew. I didnít want to upset you."

"Donít protect me, sis, Iím a big girl. Iíve got friends in the police department, I got her to read me a synopsis of the report."

"Oh, god."

Robert studied Suzy carefully. Ann had promised not to tell her anything without clearing it first, but Suzy was very smart and she suspected she was not being given the full truth.

"Do you have any idea who would want to hurt her?" he asked.

Suzy gave him a suspicious look, but the champagne was catching up with her. "I think you probably know more than I do." She squeezed her eyes closed and rubbed her head. "Sis, you may be right, maybe we are getting old. I canít think anymore."

"Donít wanna think anymore. Sweetheart . . . "

"Iíll get your key from Pete. Mickey, would you see Suzy home, make sure she gets there all right?" The women didnít notice the significant look that backed up the question.

"Yeah, sure. Whenever youíre ready, counselor."

"OK." Suzy paused a moment to check her equilibrium, then got to her feet. She looked at Ann levelly. "Life in the big city, huh, sis?"

Ann blinked at her for a second. "Yeah. Letís have lunch in a couple of days."

"Cool." She wobbled a little, and Mickey let her lean on him as they left.

Robert stroked Annís hair. "Are you ready to go?"

"I think so."

"Iíll go get the key, then."

Robert headed for Pete at the bar, and Ann debated the first real violation of the inherent agreements of her marriage. Suzy knew there was something going on. The phrase "life in the big city" had been their code phrase for years for subjects better not discussed in front of certain ears. Annís suggestion of lunch was a tacit promise to give her the full storyówhich Robert had specifically asked her not to do. The two imperatives had never clashed before, the trust that was the basis of her marriage and the over two decades of life with Suzy.

She retreated into boozy melancholy to escape the dilemma, and Robert was happy to provide a shoulder to lean on through the trip home and the nightís restless sleep.

She decided to lose herself in work and headed to the office. Robert drove her again, both for securityís sake and out of respect for Annís pounding head.

Once in her office and past the murmured condolences of her coworkers, Ann plopped into her chair and sighed. "And so life goes on."

"Yes," Robert said sympathetically. "Itís better than the alternative."

"True. What are you going to do?"

"Iím going to talk to Weh Hong, maybe he knows the people she was seeing."

"Will he talk to you?"

He shrugged. "I wonít know until I see him." He kissed her. "Take it easy today."

Still weary with shock, Ann nodded, and he left.

In Chinatown, looters were picking over the charred remains of the Jade Pagoda. Robert thought of stopping them for the sake of Ann and Suzyís property rights, but he decided neither of them would be interested in souvenirs of the death site. If some poor person had a use for twisted mixing bowls from the gutted kitchen, more power to them.

Weh Hong lived in an apartment above an illegal sewing factory, which was above a shoe store that ran mah jongg gambling in the back and housed an opium den in the basement. As Robert walked up the narrow stairs, two little boys ran up ahead of him and disappeared through doors. Look-outs, apparently. Heíd passed another pair out in the street, whoíd paused in their ball game until they saw which way this alien from the outside world went. Robert hurried all the same: one of those boys had gone to Weh Hongís door.

He knocked loudly on the door. "Weh Hong, itís Robert McCall. May I talk to you?"

Certain rustling noises inside stopped. After a silent few moments, footsteps came to the door, which opened slightly. Weh Hong peered out. "Mr. McCall. You honor my humble home." He scanned the hallway beyond carefully.

Robert glanced over Weh Hongís head. A table lay on its side in the narrow view presented. "May I come in?"

The Chinese face went blank. "Iím sorry, this is a bad time. With Miss Ming so recently dead Ö"

A second glance showed Robert a great deal of broken glass. The lock on the door looked very recently replaced. "I was not aware that Buddhism required such isolation after the death of a personís employer," Robert said in high caste Mandarin, the sort learned in China, not in classrooms. He let Weh Hong blink in dismay a moment. "Elder Brother, if there is trouble, I can help."

Anger smoked the impassivity. "As you helped Ming Chao Tsu?"

"I cannot make amends for that if no one will let me." Weh Hong hesitated, and Robert jumped into the pause. "What do you know of a man who would leave flowers where they found her?"

Fear replaced the anger, and Weh Hong shoved the door closed. Robert pounded on the door, to no avail. He stood in the hallway and swore. Mickey had gotten the license number of the car yesterday, but it was registered to a very large Chinese bank as part of their executive fleet, which was not too carefully accounted for. Robert suspected the whole thing was a cover for low-profile transport. Only obvious people drove cars with diplomatic plates.

In a fit of recklessness, he took to his feet, walking the streets and alleys of Chinatown, looking for friendly faces and hoping for unfriendly ones. Ann had told him that morning about the encounter with the two men at Chao Tsuís funeral, and he anticipated a very enlightening conversation with that pair.

But two hoursí wandering only gave him frustration, sore feet, and indigestion from a particularly badly cooked helping of noodles from a street cart. He headed back to his car in a thoroughly bad mood.

As he passed a used clothing store, a young Chinese man stepped out and began walking with him. Robert didnít stop but studied the young man closely out of the corner of his eye. He wore a T-shirt with the Knicks logo, faded Levis, and a pair of Air Jordans. But along with this thoroughly American wardrobe, he wore a set of beads and an ancient yellow sash around his neck. He submitted to Robertís study in good grace, but there was a pinched look of fear and grief lurking in his eyes.

"If youíre done looking me over, Mr. McCall," he said in a low voice, "Iíd like to introduce myself. My name is Harvey Chung." He paused and looked Robert in the eye. "Chao Tsu was my fiancée."

Robert looked around quickly for watchers and enemies. "I didnít know Chao Tsu was seeing anyone," he said carefully.

Chung smiled sadly. "We were keeping it secret. Her masters in Beijing would never have approved of her marrying a man who orchestrated part of the protests that ended in Tienamin Square." He let Robert absorb the shock for a second. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"

They went to OíPhelanís, which was relatively quiet at this hour. Pete saw Robertís absorbed look, deduced that this meeting was private business, and glanced at the back table. Robert nodded and headed to the empty spot. Pete brought coffee without being asked and told the day help to leave the back corner alone.

Robert and Harvey Chung drank coffee for several silent minutes as they analyzed the situation and each other.

"How did you know who I was?" Robert finally asked.

"Chao Tsu told me that if anything ever happened to her, I should go to you with what we knew."

"Why?"

Harvey looked impatient. "Mr. McCall, she knew who you were. Sheíd debated since she met you whether to confide in you, but she wasnít sure if your reported retirement was legitimate."

Robert stared, aghast. "She knew? How? How could she know who I was when I had no idea about her?"

"I donít know," Harvey said, tapping his fingers. "I only met her a year ago myself." He looked off into the distance. "Six months ago she told me the truth about herself. I was terrified. Iíd confided everything to her. Weíd already become lovers. When she told me she hadnít reported anything, that sheíd told her bosses I was being stubborn, I didnít know if I should believe her." He fingered the beads around his neck. "Then she offered to introduce me to you and she told me who you were. She said it would destroy her friendship with your wife but sheíd do it if it would get me to trust her." He blinked rapidly for several seconds.

"Iíve seen you somewhere," Robert said.

Harvey chuckled. "I was in the group around a noodle seller a few days ago while you were pretending to read the newspapers on the wall and were listening to every word we said."

"Ah. Where did I go wrong?"

"No one is that clumsy with chopsticks who doesnít drop things all over themselves. And you didnít eat the pepper Chi Pak sneaked into the bowl." Harvey lost his smile. "Chao Tsu called me right after you left her, asked if she should tell you everything. I said Yes. We didnít know it was already too late."

Robert let him get his grief under control again. "If the Chinese arenít looking for you, who are they after?"

"The reason for all this. The reason they tried to kill your wife and succeeded with Chao Tsu." Harvey glanced around and slid closer. "My brotherís just arrived from Vancouver and Hong Kong. Itís taken him months to get here. He brought some documents that had been smuggled out of Beijing. Chao Tsuís bosses told her to get them and return them. Somehow they found out heíd already made contact with her and they were certain she was holding out."

"Was she?"

"Yes. Iíd told my brother about her, and when he couldnít find me, he gave them to her. She hid them until I got back from Boston, and we were debating what to do."

Robert studied him closely. "She didnít tell you where sheíd hidden them?"

"No, she didnít." Harvey drained his coffee cup with a quick toss. "She said it was safer that way. All she said was that her friends would take good care of them."

"But neither Suzy nor Ann has anything Chao Tsu might have given them in the past few days. Ann and I have been out of the country for two weeks."

Harvey shrugged helplessly. "Thatís what she said. And the information would make them pay nicely." Robert raised his eyebrows. "According to my sources, itís several letters detailing precisely who was responsible for which part of the crackdowns and reprisals for Tienamin. It was a list of politicians and soldiers who deserved rewards for it all," he added bitterly.

Robert thought back to those images in that incredible summer: the makeshift statue the Goddess of Liberty, the camps of young people, the man with his shopping staring down a line of tanks. And the government shutting down CNNís live broadcast and removing the unblinking eye of the world. Robert hadnít budged from in front of the television, unbelieving that heíd lived long enough to see his old enemies go down and fearing in his heart that the old guard would not go quietly. When heíd heard the Wall was coming down, heíd taken the first flight he could get to Berlin, and heíd stood in Potsdammer Platz and wept with everyone else.

And heíd wept over similar hopes in Tienamin Square, tears of rage and bitter resignation that the world wasnít going to come right in his lifetime after all.

"So thatís whatís at stake," he finally said.

"Yes," Harvey answered, starting at his empty cup. "The truth of what happened, with no more lies for the old men to hide behind."

Robert assigned motives and roles to the cast of characters in his head. Only one actor remained unidentified. "Who were the men in Chao Tsuís kitchen the other night, the ones yelling at her?"

Harvey looked frightened again. "General Chin Wu-tse, the head of Western Intelligence. He came to New York to recover the documents."

Robert sat upright. "Chin Wu-tse is in the United States?" His voice was louder than he intended and he saw Pete at the bar look up in alarm. He waved that all was well and leaned closer to Harvey. "Chin Wu-tse." Harvey nodded slowly.

Robert tried to remember an old briefing picture, comparing it to the man heíd seen in the burned-out lot. The faces matched, but why would the Western intelligence chief of the Chinese government be laying flowers on the death site of an agent disobeying orders?

"Would you be willing to talk to my government?" he asked.

Harvey shook his head firmly. "Theyíll want the identities of my contacts. Iím not ready to betray them. China is still a country the U.S. is willing to woo. A few dissidents might sweeten someoneís disposition towards a business deal with the U.S. Weíre a commodity, like everything else."

Robert couldnít refute it. "Youíre a bitter, cynical man, Harvey Chung."

"I was in the Square when the tanks came in. I ran while my comrades died. Not again."

Robert nodded silently, understanding all too well.

Harvey refused the offer of a safe house, saying there were too many vulnerable people in Chinatown he had to look after. The offer of a ride back was also refused for discretionís sake. Robert gave him several phone numbers in case of trouble and walked him to the subway station.

"Are you familiar with a woman called Han Lin?" he asked Harvey.

Harvey thought a moment, then shook his head. "Who is she?"

"An agent for the Chinese government. Sheís working with two men, who tried an interception of Ann and Suzy at the funeral. I think they were responsible for the attack on my house."

"Iíll keep an eye out for her."

"If you see her, call me. I have someóinfluence with her."

Harvey raised his eyebrows but said nothing. He looked around carefully, then headed down the stairs to the subway.

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