Robert walked back to OíPhelanís to consult with Pete. "Theyíre going to be tearing the city apart for those documents," he mused over hot tea at the bar.
"Could they have been in the restaurant?" Pete asked as she wiped glasses.
"Possibly. But the fire was definitely arson, and I canít imagine anyone torching the place without being sure what they wanted wasnít inside."
"Or being sure they were inside being destroyed," Pete added. "At which point there would be no more need for the hunt. Are they real paper or microfilm?"
"Paper. They were just snitched from the files as opportunity presented and hustled out of China." He sighed worriedly. "Theyíll be after Ann and Suzy. May I have the phone?"
But Suzy had claimed a sick day and hadnít gone into the office. Robert tried her apartment and left a veiled message on the answering machine to call him and be careful. At Annís office, Marsha the secretary was cheery as usual.
"Gosh, Mr. M, you just missed her. She took a walk down to the lobby to get a paper. Sheís a mess, isnít she? She told us not to expect much work out of her today. You ought to come get her and take her home."
"I think I will, Marsha, and thank you for caring."
"Oh, pish. Iíve had many worse bosses than her, Iíd like to keep her in good shape. Shall I tell her youíre coming?"
"No, I might have to make a few stops first. Iíll be there soon."
Robert hung up pensively. Pete poured herself a bourbon and perched on a stool across from him. "Whatís wrong?"
"Do I tell Control or not? Harvey was right about the bargaining value of him and his merry band. Those documents could have influence in all sorts of directions."
"Sounds to me like you should find them first, let the Chinese know theyíre in U.S. custodyówhich will get Ann and Suzy off the hookóthen find out if you should turn them over."
"That oath we took says we need to keep our superiors informed," he said mildly.
"I didnít think anyone was superior to you," Pete laughed. "As if we havenít all trampled merrily all over that oath." She knocked back her drink. "Besides, you will tell himóeventually."
Robert made one more phone call. Scott picked up the phone at the brownstone. "McCall residence."
"Hello, Scotty, howís everything going?"
"Hi, Dad. Iím glad you called. Did you order Plexiglas panels to go over all the windows? Thereís a guy here putting them in."
"Oh, good. Yes, I did. Plexiglas is as close to bullet proof as makes no difference."
"Isnít that kind of like locking the door after the horse is gone?"
"Not if you have more than one horse. Scott, the situation is getting stranger. I think you ought to go pay your mother a visit."
"That bad? Whatís going on?"
"I know whatís at stake now, and itís worth causing people harm over."
Scott was silent for a few moments. "They might come back here?"
"They might. Scotty, there wasnít anything delivered to the house while we were gone that you didnít tell us about, was there? Something you may have put by and forgotten?"
"No, everything was in that basket. What are you looking for?"
"Documents Chao Tsu gave to her friends for safe keeping."
"What kind of documents?"
Robert smiled. "Youíre a very curious young man."
"Meaning itís none of my business. Dad, I canít help if I donít know whatís going on."
"I donít want you to help, I want you to go to your motherís."
"Where itís safe," Scott said sarcastically.
"Yes. Where itís safe. Iím going to be sending Ann out of town, too"
"She wonít go. I wonít go."
Robert rubbed the nascent headache behind his eyes. "Please, Scott. IóI donít want anything to happen to you."
Scott paused. His father always gave orders that he expected to be obeyed, he didnít give explanations. Or he didnít use to. Scott tried to force down the feeling of being shooed off like a kid in the way. "I donít want to go. I want to help."
It was on Robertís lips to say there wasnít anything he could do, but an ear refined by marriage heard not so much rebellion as worry. "I know, Scotty. But the most help you can be is by not being a target. These are professionals. Theyíve tried to grab Ann and Suzy already."
"Geez. All right," he said reluctantly.
"Thank you, Scotty."
"But I donít have any way up there."
"Get a plane or a train ticket."
"Dad, tickets cost money, and I donít have that much. Iím trying to save for an apartment."
Robert chuckled, though he wasnít sure why. "In my middle desk drawer, way in the back, is an envelope. Take what you need."
"Wow, the parental piggy bank."
"Joking, Iím joking. Iíll leave you a receipt and Iíll keep good records." The laughing tone faded. "Be careful, Dad."
"Iím always careful, I said so the other night."
"Yeah. Well, if I hurry I can catch a commuter run up to Darien. I love you, Dad."
"I love you, tooó"
Scott hung up, and Robert wasnít sure heíd been heard. Sneaking in affection, afraid of the rebuffs. Please God, thereíd be enough time for that fear to fade away.
Pete looked up from the paper as Robert hung up. "Allís well?"
"Well enough. Heís going to his motherís, which gets him off the line. Now for Ann."
"She wonít be as reasonable."
"Her I can bodily move."
"Oh, yeah, good luck." Pete waved him off.
Street parking was difficult in the business section, but Robert felt no compunction out of cutting off a limousine for the last spot within a block of Annís building. He bought the evening paper in the lobby and read it in the elevator up to the 52nd floor. What with the exodus home beginning, traffic was heavy as people dashed onto the elevator then dashed off again when they realized it was going up, not down.
"The population of a small town in this building," muttered the well-dressed matron at Robertís elbow, "and they all want to go home at once." Robert nodded and gave her half his paper.
He got to the doors of Cyber Solutions with a sense of accomplishment. Inside, Marsha was writing email on her computer. She looked up in surprise.
"Mr. M., what are you doing here?"
"Iím doing what you told me, Iíve come to take Ann home."
"Oh, butósheís gone."
Marcia cringed a little. "Right after you called. She came back up, got her stuff and left."
More than an hour ago. "Did she say anything?"
"Nóno, just that she was leaving. She looked worried about something, but she didnít slow down long enough for me to ask her."
Robert stared around the office in frustration. If sheíd been under some sort of coercion, surely sheíd have said something, especially if she was alone. By all evidence sheíd left willingly. To the best of his knowledge, she didnít have her gun with her, having figured the worst danger was past. Dear God, was she foolish enough to go investigating something on her own, without telling him?
The short answer: yes.
Marsha watched her bossí husband with concern. It was a popular pastime in the office, when Ann was out of earshot, to speculate on Robertís background. But for all his mystery, Marsha had never really believed the extravagant speculations. "Um, there is one thing, but I donít know if itís important."
"What, already?" Robert snapped. "Iím sorry, Marsha," he added at the dismay in the secretaryís eyes, "please, go on."
"Um, there was a man in the hall outside. A Chinese man. I think he was waiting for her."
"Hell. Thank you, Marsha." He left before awkward questions would have to be avoided.
Waiting for the elevator took forever, and another eternity passed while the car crawled down the tower. Robert kept from screaming only by shredding the paper in his hands. Why had she gone willingly? Had she been threatened? There had surely been time to leave a message, however cryptic, with Marsha.
At the lobby, he shoved past the people in his way, headed for the doors. Halfway there, a man fell into step with him. "Mr. McCall?"
Robert turned and froze. A Chinese man, with an earring in one ear. He started to reach under his jacket.
The man put up his hands, one empty, one holding a cellular phone. "Really, there is no need. Someone would like to talk to you." He offered the phone.
Robert put one hand on his gun all the same. He took the phone, staring at the other man. "Hello?"
"Sweetheart, itís me."
"Oh, god, Ann, are you all right?"
"Iím fine, really. Iím sorry to worry you. Are you OK?"
"Me? Iím fine. Where are you?"
The phone was taken away and another voice spoke. "Mr. McCall? This is General Chin."
Cold swept Robert from head to toe. "Chin Wu-tse."
"Ah, you know me, good. That makes things simpler."
"If you hurt heró"
"Thereís no need for that, Mr. McCall. I have too much respect for your abilities to do something so foolish as to harm your family. Such things are unforgivable," he added grimly.
"What do you want?"
"A conversation, nothing more."
"I have nothing to say to kidnappers."
"Mr. McCall, this was no kidnapping. Your lady came without coercion. Rather, this is a rather unconventional invitation to dinner."
Robert eased the fingers holding the phone so tightly. "I wonít talk to you until you let my wife go and I know sheís safe."
"Iím afraid the conversation must include you both. Madame, would you speak to him? Heís being stubborn."
Ann sounded like she had her mouth full. "Heís like that. Sweetheart?"
"Darling, where are you? Are you being guarded?"
"I donít think Iím allowed to tell you, but itís a perfectly normal restaurant. I think heís legit, sweetheart. When he talked to me at the office, all he asked was if I wanted to know more about Chao Tsu. There wasnít any kind of threat."
Robert hated being outmaneuvered. "You are a very foolish woman, Sylvia Anastasia McCall."
"Oh, dear, all the names. Iím sorry," she said meekly. "He seems trustworthy."
"Ted Bundy was trustworthy, too. Well, I donít think I have a choice. Iíll be there soonóI hope."
"If youíre not, Iíll know the reason why."
The phone was taken away again. "Mr. McCall? Sydney will bring you. I hope you donít mind driving."
"Not at all. Having him in my own car gives him hostage value."
"There wonít be any need. Until I see you."
Robert glared at the silent phone, then tossed it to Sydney. "Come on, then."
In the car, Sydney gave directions instead of an address. Robert obeyed, silently fuming. The route took them into Little Italy and an alley behind a row of storefronts.
Robert parked where indicated, near the back door of a restaurant, but he paused before getting out.
"Is something wrong?" Sydney asked.
Robert studied him carefully. "Going into alleys with enemies makes me suspicious. And I get short-tempered when Iím suspicious. Please keep that in mind."
Sydney led the way through the door and into a storeroom next to the kitchen. The cooks never looked up and Sydney didnít pause. He held open a curtain at the far side of the storeroom and gestured for Robert to go through. All Robert saw was the dining room, but he put his hand near his gun all the same as he went through.
At the booth just to the left of the doorway, the older Chinese man from the burned-out lot glanced up from a plate of tortellini. "Ah, Mr. McCall."
Ann, seated across from him, looked up from her own plate. "Sweetheart!" She slid out of the booth rapidly and hugged him. "Iím sorry I was dumb," she whispered.
"Itís all right. Did they hurt you?" He moved her away so he could study her.
"No, Iím fine. Though Iím in danger of overeating," she added sheepishly. "The tortellini here is very good."
Robert wanted to shake her for being so calm when heíd been so worried, but he settled for hugging her instead. "Silly woman," he whispered.
General Chin smiled. "Forgive us for starting without you, Mr. McCall, but Mrs. McCall said she was hungry."
Robert gave her an exasperated look as he reseated her at her place. He pulled a chair from a nearby table to join them. Sydney sat at another table where he could watch the room.
"Iím not hungry," Robert said as the General raised a hand to summon a waiter.
"No? A pity. The chicken parmigiana," he told the waiter who materialized at his side. "I do love America," he went on when the waiter was gone. "So many delightful restaurants. I can eat duck the way my grandmother prepared it or I can have perfectly executed trout almondine. As well as exquisite tortellini." He speared another and ate it with relish. Ann tried to sneak bites when Robert wasnít looking.
"What do you want, General?" Robert asked coldly.
"I am not your enemy, Mr. McCallóat least not at the moment. I want to know what happened to Ming Chao Tsu as badly as you. More so."
"Why? I would think, rather, that you ordered her death."
Ann stopped eating in surprise. "What?"
"General Chin," Robert explained, "is in charge of western intelligence for the Chinese."
"You were after her, then," Ann said, glaring at Chin.
The General studied his hands. "Ostensibly, yes. But I would never have allowed harm to befall her."
"Why?" Robert asked again.
Chin paused a long time. "Ming Chao Tsu, as you knew her, was my daughter."
Ann stared in shock. "But thatís impossible. Her father died when she was little."
"Thatís what she was told. The people who died were foster parents I gave her to when she was born. I could not afford such an obvious hostage to fortune. My wife died giving birth. Perhaps Iíd have decided differently if Lin Ming had lived." He shook his head. "I guided her career, but she never knew who I was."
"Guided her career?" Ann asked.
Chin studied her, then looked at Robert. "Perhaps you should tell her."
"Tell me what?"
Robert took her hand. "Darling, Chao Tsu was playing a very dangerous double game. She really worked for the Chinese government. She was a graduate of their intelligence academy."
Chin looked displeased. "Iíd ask you how you knew that, but you wouldnít tell me."
Ann mutely shook her head. "No. Itís impossible. All those years. It was all a lie?"
"No," Chin said before Robert could. "One cannot persuade people of something one does not believe inóat least, most people cannot. If you thought her your friend, then she was."
Ann glanced at Robert, who nodded. "One forgets the truth, until the new story is the truth. I imagine the times she was quiet and withdrawn were the times she was remembering."
"And the times we laughed?" Ann asked softly, trying to imagine the fear and stress her next best friend had lived under.
Chin stared at the lamp on the table. "Those were the times my daughter was happy." He paused a moment, blinking. "Did she laugh often?"
"Yes." Ann picked up a napkin to cry into, trying to be discreet.
Robert gave them several moments to recover themselves. He hated to ask the question but knew he had to. "Why was she killed?"
Chin glared at him. "Iím not sure. Han Lin went to speak to her. I suspect an argument broke out and Han Lin set the fire to cover her tracks after she searched the place."
"Where is Han Lin?"
"I wish I knew. There are many things Iíd like to discuss with her. I suspect sheís fled back to China to find support to protect her against me. My instructions were very clear."
"And what were they?" Robert asked coldly. "Who gave the order to assault my house?"
Chin studied both Ann and Robert. "I did. But I said very clearly that the attempt was to frighten, not kill. The sniper made his own decision as to targets."
"Where is this sniper?"
Chin smiled unpleasantly. "I do not tolerate insubordination, especially on that scale. No one will find himóat least not till Iím ready." The chicken parmigiana arrived, and he started on it with gusto. "Are you sure you wouldnít like something, Mr. McCall?"
"Iím sure. If weíre finished, my wife and I will be leaving."
"Not just yet, if you please. There is still the matter of the items in question."
"The what?" Ann asked.
"A bundle of documents, in Chinese. The pursuit of them has brought all this to pass. Chao Tsu was to collect them from certain people. The possibility exists that they may come into your possession, Mrs. McCall, as Chao Tsuís friend."
"Weh Hong has already promised to turn them over?" Robert asked innocently.
Chin didnít answer.
Ann felt very confused. "What do you expect me to do about it?"
"Return stolen properly to its rightful owners, of course," Chin answered reasonably.
Robert pointed a finger at the General. "Whatever manipulations you and I and our ilk have perpetrated in the past, you will not involve my wife in one of your sordid schemes." He realized heíd made the same speech to Control not long before.
"You are willing to act as her agent in this?"
"I act as her agent in all things."
Ann raised an eyebrow but kept her mouth shut.
"What I am not willing to do," Robert continued, "is act as your agent in anything. The best you can hope for is that I will stay out of your way. Stay away from my family. They have nothing to do with this."
Chin listened calmly, then turned to Ann. "And what do you have to say on the matter?"
"On which matter, that of one of my best friends being revealed as a spy or that of these unknown papers you want?" She speared the last tortellini and ate it. "All I can think to say is: thank you for dinner."
Robert stood and gave a hand to her as she got out of the booth. Chin watched thoughtfully and waved Sydney back into his seat.
"That was very weird," Ann said in the alley.
"You donít know the half of it," Robert said grimly.
As he reached for the passengersí car door handle, a figure detached itself from the shadows. "Keep your hand where I can see them, McCall."
Robert froze and Ann turned.
An Asian man stepped into the light with a silenced gun in his hand. There was a nasty smile on his thin face. "What will they say when they hear about you having such convivial meetings with enemy intelligence chiefs? Could it be that youíve finally stepped over the line?"
Ann glanced at Robert. "What in the ó"
"Shut up," the man snapped.
Her eyes narrowed, and she shifted her balance.
Robert looked at her worriedly. "Put the gun away, Lee, thereís no need for it."
"When Iím staring at a rogue agent whoís obviously working for the enemy? Be glad all Iíve done is point it at you."
Ann growled faintly; Robert debated and discarded options. "Darling?" She looked at him, and he nodded briefly. Bloodthirsty delight flashed in her eyes.
"Excuse me," she said, trying not to smile as she took a step closer to the stranger.
The gun tracked to her. "Hold it right there."
"Oh, Lee," Robert sighed.
Ann kicked the gun wrist; Lee dropped the gun but dodged the follow-up hand strike. Ann feinted at his head and kicked him in the stomach, elbow jabbing the back of the neck for cord shock for good measure as he went down. Robert yanked her back before she could deliver a heel stomp to the kidneys.
"Enough!" he snapped. "Heís down."
"He pointed a gun at you! Let me teach him a lesson."
"Heís learned it. Come on, we have to get out of here." He retrieved the gun before getting in the car.
"Who the hell was that?"
"He works for Eastern Control."
"Easternó" Ann stared in horror. "Good Christ, you had me take down a Fed?"
"Iíd have done it if Iíd been close enough and he hadnít been expecting it. They donít like me over there."
"A Fed," Ann repeated.
Robert smiled faintly. "Donít worry, you didnít know who was threatening you. If nothing else, it will teach him to identify himself in the future."
"What is going on!"
"In a moment, love. Letís get somewhere safe first."
She saw they were headed into a warehouse district. "Weíre not going home."
"Good God, no. Thank God I told Scott to get out."
Ann stared at him in shock but saved the questions.
Robert drove into an empty warehouse, up a ramp on the other side and stopped on the upper level in front of padlocked double doors. He gestured for Ann to stay put and got out of the car to study the area. Finally he waved Ann to join him.
She stared around intently. "How many of these bolt holes do you have?"
"About half a dozen." Robert sorted his keys. "I keep meaning to show them to you, but I always get distracted. Remind me to get you a copy of this key."
He unhooked the padlock and chain and slid the doors open.
"Pretty," Ann said, walking into the living room of the apartment beyond. "Is this where your old furniture went?"
The large room beyond was furnished comfortably. Nice pictures hung on the wall and various artworks perched on shelves and mantles.
Ann toured the place as Robert locked the doors, peeking in the one bedroom and looking in the cabinets in the kitchenette. "You know, you could do pretty well as a landlord."
"I do do pretty well as a landlord, and my tenants donít bother me." He smiled at her confusion. "You wouldnít recognize the name on the deed, but I own this building."
She laughed. "Mom would be so proud."
He heard the faint wash of hysteria in her voice and went to hug her. "We can talk now."
"Oh, thank god." She leaned against him for several moments, then straightened. "All right, whatís going on?"
He led her to the couch, where he could hold her as they talked. He started with his visit to Chinatown and Weh Hongís fear. When he got to Harvey Chung, though, Ann pulled away in disbelief, stared at him, then got up to pace.
"She never breathed a word of this. Engaged?" She stood in the middle of the room, shaking her head. "Lies," she whispered. "It was all lies."
"No, Ann, it wasnít. There were just things she couldnít tell you."
"She was one of my bridesmaids, Robert! She caught the bloody bouquet! My family sponsored her residency. I blackmailed my own father into signing the papers." She glared at him. "Is that what they teach in those intelligence academies, how to manipulate trusting idiots into providing cover?"
"Yes," he sighed. "And maybe at the beginning thatís all it was. But, darling, I saw all of you together. She loved you and Suzy. When I saw her last, amid all her troubles she was worried about you. She was trapped, Ann. I think she wanted to tell you, but she never got the chance."
Ann studied the carpet. "Do you think thatís why she was killed? To stop her telling?"
"Iím sure it was one reason. It may even have been a fair fight."
"Thatís no comfort."
"I know, Iím sorry."
She stood still for several moments, then went back to Robertís side and leaned on him. "Poor, scared Chao Tsu. Poor, scared me." She lost herself to Robertís embrace for several minutes, then straightened reluctantly. "And now the rest of it. General Chin, this man named Lee, and why your former compatriots so badly want to point guns at you."
"The people of Eastern Control," Robert said, pulling her back against his side, "blame me for the deaths of several of their operatives in Southeast Asia." He grimaced. "The fact that itís true has little bearing on the matter, they were looking for a scapegoat. Their finding the right one was pure luck. But then Iíd never been subtle in my disapproval of the heroin triangle so many of our people were profiting from. And when I discovered they didnít even have the honor to be loyal in their corruption . . . "
He looked at his wife and bit off further explanations. None of her business, and she didnít need to know the depths heíd stoop to. The look on her face was upsetting enough.
"But thatís neither here nor there," he said uncomfortably. "They couldnít directly move against me, not with the evidence I had, but it was ruled that I should leave the East as soon as possible." He studied a painted cloth hanging on the far wall thoughtfully, playing with Annís hair. "They must have been watching General Chin. Typical that they wouldnít let anyone know he was in town."
"Why would they tell you anyway?" Ann regretted the question as soon s it was asked. "Never mind."
Robert grimaced. "None of what I was should have come anywhere near you. I hate that youíve been pulled into this world."
She lay her head on his shoulder. "Beloved, itís not because of you that itís happened."
He kissed her forehead. "And thatís what I hate most." He considered his distasteful options. "I need to get hold of Control, find out what he knows of Eastern Controlís actions. Maybe he can pull them off."
"If he wants to," she muttered.
"Heís on our side in this, love. Donít make those kinds of noises."
She made it again. "I do not like it, Sam I Am. But I donít get a choice, do I."
"No. And if youíre starting to quote the gospel according to Seuss, you need to get some sleep."
"What are you going to do?"
"Besides work the phone? Probably go out once I reach Control. He prefers to trade information in dark corners rather than over the phone." He correctly interpreted the look on her face. "And donít worry, Iíll be taking you with me. As weird as itís getting, I donít want you far from me."
"Thank you, I didnít want to ask."
He chuckled and hugged her. "No, youíd just have plopped yourself into the car."
It took a couple of hours to reach Control, and then the only time he was free was a couple of hours after that. Ann and Robert spent the time easing their nerves together, making Ann far less testy when she and Robert drove across Manhattan to an East River dock.
"You take me to the nicest places," she observed.
Robert was less jovial. "Not by choice."
He drove the long way around with the headlights off. Ann wanted to ask what kind of trouble to be on the lookout for, but sheíd learned to keep quiet on capers. Finally they arrived at the river side of a row of warehouses. A car waited near the water; Robert pulled to a stop a few dozen feet away.
Ann reached for the door handle. "Wait," Robert said briefly.
The driverís door on the other car opened and Control stepped out.
"Now we can go."
Control leaned against his fender and glared at the McCalls. "He says you sicced her on him," he observed to Robert.
"Only because I couldnít get to him and only because he wasnít in the mood to be reasonable."
"He shouldnít have threatened my husband," Ann added. "It makes me testy."
"I was told there was no threat."
"He accused me," Robert said, "of having an overly friendly meeting with General Chin."
"Oh, yes, General Chin. Please tell me you didnít know he was in town before that little tete a tete?"
"I knew maybe a couple of hours beforehand."
"Were you going to tell me?"
"I was just gathering information on Ďwhyí before I did."
Control looked unconvinced, but he turned his attention to Ann. "And how did you find yourself sharing a cozy plate of tortellini with the head of Chinese intelligence?"
"How did you know it was tortellini?"
She glanced uneasily at Robert. "I was in the lobby of my building, two Chinese men came up to me, showed me the barest glimpse of guns, and persuaded me that it was in my best interest to listen to what they had to say about Chao Tsu."
"No one said anything about guns!" Robert snapped.
"Thatís because I knew how youíd react, sweetheart. It was only to get my attention, I never felt in any danger."
"Thatís what I was presented with," Robert said to Control. "A kidnapped wife and a man with no reason to mean me good."
Control nodded in sympathy. "So what did he want?"
Ann deferred to Robert, both from discretion and an unwillingness to volunteer anything to Control. Robert studied his friend for a moment. "Does Eastern Control know why Chin is in town?"
"Some sort of pursuit, theyíre not sure what, specifically." Control raised an eyebrow. "Do you know?"
"What if I did?"
Ann sighed at the dickering.
"Robert, I have no current score to settle with them, but you can trust me to put the information to good use. If nothing else, it will annoy them that you knew and they didnít. So will you please just tell me?"
"Briefly, Chin is in pursuit of a set of letters detailing precisely who deserves the credit for what in Tienamin."
"Oh, my. Are you going to tell me how you found that out?"
"Chao Tsuís fiancé is the head of the resistance group here in New York."
Control actually stared. "Did he know about her?"
"Yes. Heís the main reason she was going over. It gets better."
"The documents were delivered to Chao Tsu, who sent them to her friends for safe keeping. The fiancé didnít know which friends."
Control glanced at Ann, who shrugged. "Does Chin know?"
"I donít think so. Chin just hinted to Ann that certain items belonging to him might come into her possession. He asked that they be returned if such happened."
Control blinked for a few seconds. "Youíre keeping a scorecard of all the people involved in this, arenít you? I may need a copy." He looked at Ann. "You donít know anything about this, do you?"
"Nope. Nothing arrived while we were gone and Chao Tsu never said anything. Suzy doesnít seem to know anything either." Ann bit her lip in concern. "I called her at lunch. Chao Tsuís lawyer called this morning and seemed very eager to have possession of the land and the furniture at the shops transferred. She could be in danger, and she doesnít know anything."
"Weíll make sure nothing happens to her," Robert said.
"She deserves to know."
"Darling, when the time is right, weíll tell her, I promise." He didnít see Annís impatience and blooming rebellion as he turned back to Control. "Iím going to track the papers and try to find where she stashed them. Chin will stay out of my way, but Han Linís men may be difficult. Theyíve tried a grab once already." He glanced at his wife out of the corner of his eye. "Which is why Iím taking Ann to a safe house."
She glared at him. "Excuse me? This is the first Iíve heard of this."
"You certainly donít imagine itís safe to go home, do you?"
"No," she conceded. "But by safe house, do you mean some purdah where Iím isolated from everything?"
"A safe house isnít safe unless youíre in it," he said reasonably. "The next kidnappers may not be so polite."
To her credit, Ann knew it was the only reasonable choice. "Not without Suzy."
Robert grimaced indecisively. "No oneís tried to hurt her."
"The hell they havenít! They were after her too at the funeral. Sheís as much a part of this as I am." She saw him consult silently with Control. "God damn it, Robert, theyíve already killed one of my sisters, will you let them kill another?"
Robert whirled on her, and Control actually gasped.
Ann didnít back down. There was one relationship almost as important to her as her marriage, and that was Suzy. Her outcry wasnít an accusation, but a plea to the one man in all this mess she thought could make it better.
When he bit back the first rush of fury, he saw the fear in her eyes. "Oh, love," he whispered, and he pulled her into his arms.
"Iím sorry," she gasped, trying not to cry, "but they killed Chao Tsu, they tried to kill me, theyíre going to go after Suzy next, please, donít let them Ö"
"Sh, love, sh, I wonít." He glanced at Control, who had already found much to interest him in the nighttime river. He turned his attention back to Ann. "Donít cry, darling, I wonít let them hurt you. Youíre right, she needs to be somewhere safe." He sighed and kissed her hair. "Itís just that sheís going to have so many questions."
"Iíll think of something." She tried to get hold of herself, hating the weakness that had given in to the stress. But Robert tightened his hold on her, apparently having his own fears to banish by the feel of her safe in his arms. She held onto him eagerly and let herself, this once, feel weak.
Control reluctantly cleared his throat. "I canít stay much longer," he said apologetically. "What do you need from me?"
Robert dragged his mind back to the battlefields. "Get Eastern Control off my back. I canít function with them jumping out of alleys at me. Is there anyone over there I can talk to? I need to trace the person who brought the papers in."
"After Lee thereís no one who will help you. What about Kostmayer?"
Robert looked surprised. "He was expecting to pull more out-of-town time."
"The out of town job is less important than Chin Wu-tse in my city. Brief him and let him go chat with his friends in Eastern."
"Yes," Robert nodded, "heís always been thick as thieves with them. I wonder if Chao Tsuís lawyer has sent out the copies of the will."
"Suzy would know," Ann said wearily.
"Yes. Weíd best go talk to her now."
"Robert, watch your back," Control said gravely. "It doesnít sound like General Chin is in as much control as heíd like you to think. His people have ignored his orders fairly freely. I wouldnít be surprised if theyíre getting backing from elsewhere in the government, especially with him going soft on Chao Tsu and Han Lin taking the hard line."
"Iíll be careful."
Control nodded and got in his car to drive away.
Ann watched the taillights disappear. "You didnít tell him about Chao Tsu being Chinís daughter."
"I bet Chinís government would find it pretty relevant, especially with whom she wanted to marry."
"Youíre getting good at this. But itís irrelevant to Control at this time."
She followed him to the car. "How often do you hold things back from him?"
"Not as often as he withholds things from me."
Despite the late hour, they headed into Soho and Suzyís building. When Ann called ahead, though, all she got was the answering machine. She pondered a moment, then called the machine at home to see if there were any messages.
"I donít like this," she said as they pulled up a short distance away from Suzyís place.
"Nor do I," Robert agreed.
They checked the street for watchers, then Ann used her copy of Suzyís keys to open the buildingís front door. Robert made sure it latched behind them.
They took the back stairs up to the third floor loft. The rest of the building was home to business folk and moderately successful artists, all who led relatively quiet lives. Robert took the lead up to the landing at the top of the stairs. The back door led to the kitchen, and light shone under the door. They paused to listen; as they did, something fragile hit the floor and shattered.
Ann jumped forward, but Robert grabbed her arm. He glared at her until she subsided.
"Stay with me," he whispered, his eyes promising her that retribution would not be delayed if it was needed.
She nodded grimly, fear subsumed by the rage that always took her when her family was threatened.
Robert tried the door carefully; it was still locked, and he reached back for the keys.
For the first time, Ann wished for her gun. Robert, she saw, had his ready to hand as he delicately fitted the key into the lock. Footsteps in the apartment covered the click of the lock going over. Muffled voices spoke in Chinese.
Robert glanced in warning at Ann, then leaned closer. "Theyíre dangerous," he whispered. "Donít be a heroóunless sheís in there." He nodded at the look on her face. "Iíll go left, you go right."
She nodded. Her head was starting to hurt from her fury.
He shoved the door open and jumped inside. The kitchen was large, with an island in the middle. As the two men from the funeral, standing in the middle of the dining room, turned, Ann jumped across the room to a position behind the counter, and Robert ran to the doorway.
"Donít move!" he shouted in Cantonese.
The men pulled silenced weapons and opened fire. Robert ducked behind cover as bullets ripped into the kitchen wall. One of the pair nudged the other and nodded towards the front door.
"I said, donít move!" Robert yelled again, peeking around to look for a shot. As he ducked his head back into cover, he caught Annís eye and signaled her to get ready.
The men got off a couple of more shots, then ran for the front door. Robert followed, giving Ann the signal to move.
She knew this apartment almost as well as her own home. She jumped over the kitchen counter and took a right into the library. A side door let onto Suzyís bedroom. She saw the uncharacteristic mess in passing as she dashed into the master bathroom and the workout room beyond. This room opened onto the foyer by the front door. She slid to a stop next to the open doorway.
She heard the muted cough of the silent weapons again and the smack of a bullet hitting a wall. Donít think about it, she reminded herself. Just take one down and let Robert have the other one.
Through the doorway she saw one of the men reach the front door and fumble with the latch. The other man urged him on as he kept an eye out towards the dining room and Robert. His back was to the open doorway.
She didnít think it out. She put all her strength into a flat side kick into the manís kidneys, knocking him screaming into the man at the door.
Robert yelled something in Chinese, but the man at the door shoved his partner into Ann, snapped off another shot at Robert, then wrestled the door open and ran. Robert hurdled the people on the floor to follow.
The man Ann had hit got painfully to his feet. As he fumbled for his gun, Ann punched for his stomach. He dodged and kicked her feet out from under her. She rolled, but came up hard against Suzyís StairMaster and got tangled up in the equipment. The man got his gun out, grinning horribly. Ann froze, knowing she couldnít dodge. Robert appeared in the doorway behind the gunman and smacked the butt of his pistol against the base of his skull.
He confirmed the man was down for the count, then hurried to Ann. "Darling, are you all right?"
"Yeah, I thinkóow, shit."
She had just discovered her tangle had put the wrong pulls on her right shoulder, which was within a hair of coming dislocated. "My shoulder ..."
"Hell," Robert muttered. He carefully supported her as she got herself free and sitting upright. He forgot the current foes for the moment as he considered appropriate curses on two men who were already burning in hell. It had been over a year since the computer terrorists had tortured their old enemy Ann, but her shoulder had never come back to the condition it had been before. Sheíd kept up the exercises and generally had no trouble, even in karate class, but every now and then forces and angles combined just right to threaten her. The doctors said surgery might do the job, but she kept putting them off.
She sat on the floor, cradling her right arm and fighting down the nausea and memories. Finally she looked up at her husband and nodded reassuringly.
He stroked her hair for a moment, then sighed and turned to their prisoner, who was starting to stir.
Ann snarled and started for him. "Donít," Robert told her. "Letís try talking first."
"Fine." Still sitting on the floor, she shoved the man with her foot. "Wake up, you."
The man lifted his head groggily. Robert casually pointed his gun at him. The man stared and said something in his own language.
"He says we have no right," Robert explained to Ann. "He also says heís just a stranger here who doesnít speak the language."
"He sure spoke it well enough at the funeral," she sneered. "And that doesnít explain why heís in this apartment with a gun. Where is she, asshole?" she asked directly. "What have you done with my sister?"
The man shook his head and repeated his earlier statement.
"She doesnít believe you," Robert said. "I donít believe you, either. I suggest you answer the lady before she loses her temper. Sheís not in the best of moods at the moment, and youíve involved her sister in this matter. Sheís not inclined to be reasonable."
"No, Iím not," Ann growled. She flexed her shoulder. "He doesnít need his fingers, does he, Robert?"
"Restrain yourself, Ann." He gave her a worried look. He knew her temper and bloodthirstiness, but heíd hoped sheíd lost some of it after her own run-in with torture.
The man studied the pair, then slumped slightly. "I am affiliated with the Chinese consulate," he said with a slight Oxford accent. "I have diplomatic immunity."
Robert smiled faintly. "Would General Chin back you up, I wonder?" The man looked stricken. "Yes, Iíve had words with General Chin." He worked the slide of his pistol to make sure a round was under the pin. "The woman who lives here. What have you done with her?"
"I donít know wható" He broke off with a shriek as Ann kicked him in the crotch.
"Stop that!" Robert snapped. "Dammit, I thought you would know better."
"It works," Ann snarled.
"Go sit over there, Iíll deal with him." He knelt down by the curled-up man and helped him to sit up. "My friend, I suggest you cooperate. I have many questions for you, and it would be much simpler if you just answered them."
The man caught his breath and nodded. "The womanówasnít hereówhen we got here. Donít know whereó" He bent over, cursing in Cantonese.
Robert looked at Ann, who frowned. "Did you do this to the apartment?" she asked.
The man nodded. "We were searching. We were to try your house next," he finished uneasily, keeping an eye on both his captors.
"How were you planning on getting past the alarm?" Robert asked. He hadnít put his gun away, but he was doing his best to go with the good cop role Annís temper had left him with. He just wished her seizure of the role of bad cop was an act.
"Wu is good with alarms."
"Wu is the one who abandoned you?"
The man glared. "Heís gone to report. General Chin will not let this slide."
"No, he wonít," Robert agreed. "He told me heís not been impressed by the incompetence you men have shown." He settled onto his heels next to his prisoner. "Were you the one who aimed the rifle at the back of my wifeís head?"
"No," the man said quickly. "That was Cho. He shot at your house. He was trying to impress Han Lin and gain favor with Chin."
"Where is Cho?"
Robertís mild tone held nothing of reassurance. "Heís been sent home in disgrace."
"General Chin insinuated he was dead."
"He may be, by now." The man shivered faintly. "He was not healthy when they put him in the shipping crate."
"A shipping crate?" Ann repeated in disbelief.
Robert waved her silent. "What is your name?"
"I am Ko."
"I doubt that, but it will do. Now, Ko, the woman who lives here. What were your orders concerning her?"
Ann shifted ominously. Ko couldnít decide who to watch more closely. "We were toóask her where the item Ming Chao Tsu gave her is. When we found she wasnít here, we searched."
"And what was the asking to entail?" Ann asked slowly, getting to her feet.
Ko looked desperately at Robert, who didnít move. "We were just toófind out where .."
"You sent her off with someone, didnít you. This is just a delaying tactic."
"She wasnít here! I donít know where she is."
"I believe him," Robert said, observing the manís sweaty anxiety.
"I donít," Ann said coldly.
"Heís no use to us screaming."
Ann threw a burning look at him, then turned away, muttering to herself.
Robert grimaced, wondering what memory heíd triggered. But heíd apologize later, there was no time now. "Ko, none of us has those documents. We donít know where Chao Tsu put them."
"Documents?" Ko repeated in surprise.
Robert managed a smile. "Yes, we know whatís going on. Tell General Chin that we donít have what heís looking for and that continued attention of this sort will not be looked on kindly."
Ann whirled. "Youíre letting him go?"
"What do you suggest?"
"I suggest we call the cops!"
"And tell them what?"
"Breaking and entering, assault and batteryó"
"I donít think it would be a good idea to bring up assault and battery. Besides, Chin would have him out on diplomatic immunity before the paperwork was done. What would be the point?"
She glared at Ko and muttered something extremely vulgar in French. Ko blinked in shock.
Robert straightened and stepped away from the man on the floor. "You know, of course, that if my wifeís sister has been harmed that your life is forfeit."
Ko didnít answer as he got painfully to his feet. It was several moments before he straightened completely. Ann watched impassively. He stared back at her for several seconds, studied Robert for as long, then eased towards the door. When no one moved to stop him, he took to his heels.
Ann sighed heavily and went to the bedroom. Robert locked the front door, secured the back door, and checked the windows to make sure all was clear outside. When he joined Ann, he found her trying to make sense of the smashed mess of Suzyís dressing table.
"Can you tell if anythingís missing?" he asked.
"Ann, they do not have her. If they did, they would have used her as a bargaining chip. Theyíre as at sea as weó" He broke off when he saw her hands clench on a smashed porcelain figurine and saw the tears. Silently he put his arms around her. "Sheís all right, love," he whispered after a moment. "All we have to do is find her."
"Iím scared, Robert. Iím frightened of what I might do."
"Good," he said tartly. "You frighten me when you get like this." But now was not the time for a lecture. He hugged her tightly then let her go. "Is anything missing? Are the right number of shoes here or is there a coat here that sheíd have taken if sheíd gone willingly?"
With logical action to be taken, Ann was able to focus past the fear and anger. She and Robert quartered the apartment, neatening what they could as they searched.
"I donít see any signs of a struggle," Robert told her after several minutes. "Other than ours," he added, fingering a bullet hole in a wall.
"I found the mail she picked up today, itís been read. And her duffle bagís gone, along with what looks like a change of clothes for work."
"A hotel perhaps," he mused. "But why?"
Ann slapped the wall. "I wonder if her carís here."
She paused on her way to the door. "How do you know?"
"I looked when we got here, didnít you?"
"No. Did you see a cell phone?"
"No." He watched her head for the phone and dial.
She listened to several rings with rising anxiety. "Come on, Suzy ... Suzy, is that you?"
"Wha ..." said the groggy voice on the other end. "Annie? Girl, do you know what time it is?"
Ann checked her watch. "One AM. Where are you?"
"Momís, I wanted people around me after the funeral. Annie, whatís going on?"
"Hang on a sec, love." She looked at Robert. "Sheís ató"
"Donít," he said quickly. "Donít tell me here. This place needs fumigated."
Carefully, she went on. "She wants to know whatís going on." She couldnít keep the partial accusation out of her voice.
He looked around the trashed apartment and thought of all the things Suzy deserved to know. "We canít tell her, not right now."
"Tomorrow. Tell her not to go to work and weíll pick her up tomorrow and fill her in. She should be safe tonight."
Ann wanted to object but didnít have a good reason. "Sweetheart," she said into the phone, "youíre going to have to trust me on this for a few hours. Donít go to work tomorrow, Iíll come get you and explain everything." She had her eye on Robert as she said it and hoped he could see the sincerity on her face.
"Not go to work? Annieó"
"Please, love, just go with it. I promise itíll make sense. OK?"
There was an impatient sigh. "All right. But youíre going to explain this, arenít you?"
"OK. Iíll see you tomorrow, then."
"OK. Good night."
"Good night. Wacko white woman."
Ann hung up and breathed deeply for several moments, internalizing the fact of Suzyís safety.
"Iím sorry," Robert said softly. "But we canít explain it over the phone, not from here."
"Is that what you meant by fumigation? Bugs?"
"Yes. They had plenty of time. How specific was she over the phone?"
"Not at all."
"Good. Weíll get her first thing in the morning. But we should go, the building is probably under surveillance."
She nodded and followed him to the back door, but she paused to take a last look. "Damn them."
"Yes. Remind me to call the police and the alarm company to keep an eye on the house. Theyíll probably not try anything now that we know, but you canít tell." He took the keys from her to lock the door.
They took the very long way back to the safe house, stopping at an all night diner in Queens for coffee. Ann was not in the mood to talk, and Robert didnít push the point. He didnít want to think about the lengths Ann was willing go to in what she thought was a good cause. He wasnít sure if it was the normal bloodthirstiness of women defending their own or if some particular vein of violence was in his wife. He had to admit, though, that if Suzy had been in danger, he wouldnít have stopped Ann from exacting vengeance. It was possible that she would never have gotten the opportunity. But once she knew that Suzy was not involved, the eagerness to inflict harm came perilously close to sadism.
He studied her out of the corner of his eye. She was staring into the depths of her coffee with a worried look on her face. Good. She was right to be worried. He wondered when the last time was that sheíd talked to Dr. Castle, the Agency psychiatrist who had helped her get her mind straight after the troubles with the Black Riders. Those conversations had gone on for longer than heíd expected them to, but if they did good he didnít mind.
As he watched her, she rested her head on her clasped hands and sighed. He didnít want to nag or pry, but she was his wife and she was troubled. He reached over, brushed her hair out of his way, and began to gently rub her neck. She sighed again, but this time with a smile to him.
"Letís go get some sleep," he told her quietly. "Weíre both exhausted."
"Yeah," she agreed. "And tomorrow we do it all again."
"Oh, I hope not."