A strange bed and no cats did not contribute to a restful nightís sleep. When the alarm on the clock radio went off, neither Robert nor Ann greeted the morning cheerfully.
Ann felt her muscles protest as she sat up. "Does this place have hot water?"
"Gallons. Go enjoy yourself."
Robert waited till he heard the shower start, then he picked up the phone to check his answering machine. As expected, a veiled message that sounded like a wrong number told him that Control was anxious to chat.
He had no trouble getting through. Control was not disposed to small talk. "Robert, where are you?"
"Where Chinese assault teams canít find me or my wife. I intend to pull Suzy Johnson off the street as well very soon."
"I need you and Ann to come in now."
"The police picked up two Chinese men at your house last night when they set off the alarm. They pulled diplomatic immunity and walked."
Robert tsked. "And after I warned them, too. How far did they get?"
"They went through the garage, but the double-key deadbolt on the inside door slowed them down. Very sneaky, I want one. But the State Department has filed a formal complaint about housebreakers in the Chinese consulate. Trade being what it is, though, nothing will come of it."
"It will at least get Wu and Ko off the street."
"God, you know their names."
"Was one of them limping?"
"Come in and Iíll show you the police report."
"Not just yet. I have to find those documents."
Control sighed, and Robert heard a voice in the background. "Maybe heíll listen to you," Control said, handing the phone over.
"McCall, itís Mickey. Itís getting weird, man, youíve got to get off the street."
"Getting weird? Mickey, itís been weird for days."
"Not this weird. I talked to Xan Lo last night. Sheís still got her connections to the consulate. She says theyíve activated their protocols for smuggling out a person in the diplomatic pouch. McCall, I think theyíre after you."
Robert blinked for several seconds. Splashing from the bathroom reassured him that Ann was still occupied. "They shipped out the man who shot up the house in a shipping crate. That might be what they were doing."
"Uh uh. The chemical debriefing team is on stand by, too. You know that means a total download of someone uncooperative."
"Whoís in charge?"
Mickey sighed. "Annieís dinner host, General Chin. He knows who you are, McCall. I donít know why he didnít try something last night, but there it is."
"Oh, dammit, I know why. Because Ann was there."
"Why does he care?"
Robert sighed. "Because Ann was Chao Tsuís best friend, and Chao Tsu was his daughter."
There was a click on the line. "Excuse me?" Control said. "She was his what?"
"Oh, hello, Control, were you on the line as well? Eavesdropping is rude."
"Iíll make my penance to Miss Manners. Chao Tsu was his daughter? I thought his wife and baby died in childbirth."
"Thatís what we were meant to think. The child was given to foster parents. They were the ones who were arrested."
"So whatís this got to do with Chin not grabbing you?" Mickey demanded.
"He seemed quite moved by Annís grief. He was anxious to know how Chao Tsu had gotten along here, if she was happy. He seemed grateful that sheíd had friends." He put aside his dangerous sympathy for a grieving father. "Possibly grateful enough not to see harm come to someone who had loved his daughter by kidnapping her husband right in front of her."
"That doesnít sound like Chin," Mickey said knowingly.
"I wouldnít have thought so," Robert agreed. "But you say heís maneuvering a snatch on me, and he let Ann and me walk away last night. There has to be some explanation."
"What about those two guys who broke into your house last night?" Control asked. "That was pretty careless of the safety of his daughterís best friend."
"They may have been running cowboy, without orders. They seem the stupid sort."
"Be that as it may," Control said firmly, "I want you off the street."
"I am off the street."
"But are you going to stay there? You know thereís danger, donít you?"
"Yes," Robert said reluctantly. He may be long retired, but his brain was still full of useful bits of knowledge. His memories of Hong Kong alone would be worth snatching him for.
Control pushed the advantage. "And Chin may be willing to cut Ann a break, but would someone looking to discredit Chin be as considerate? Sheís a very obvious target, Robert."
"I know that, damn you," Robert said quietly. "I have her safe."
"But is she guarded? This isnít some street-level trouble, this is the biggest of the big leagues."
"Youíre not saying anything I donít know. Sheís here and safe. I just need to get Suzy, and all will be well on that front." An unpleasant thought came to him. "Why do you so badly want Ann within reach?"
"I need to know what she knows, Robert," Control said wearily. "Sheís the key to how Chao Tsu thought. It might come down to debriefing Suzy Johnson as well."
"I know. God. Wu and Ko tore apart her place last night. Suzy wasnít there, thank God, or Iíd never have pulled Ann off of Ko."
"Get her off the street for her own sake, McCall," Mickey said quietly. "I know I donít want to know what else sheís capable of."
"No, youíre right." He considered. "All right, Iíll bring her inóbut Iím not staying, I have to get Suzy. Will you be there, Mickey?"
"Sure, at least long enough to help convince her to stay."
"Ye gods," Robert muttered in dread. "Iíll be there soon." He hung up and looked around, fully expecting to see Ann listening nearby. Instead he found her in the bedroom partially through the exercises for her shoulder. Seeing that made him realize just how fragile she was. Heíd tell her about the change in plans when it was too late to argue.
"We can go get Suzy as soon as youíre ready," he told her.
She yanked the towel off her head and flung it into the bathroom as she reached for her clothes. "Iíll be ready before you are."
But when they were in the car and Robert turned towards the Battery instead of the Brooklyn Bridge, Ann gave her husband a suspicious look. "Where are we going? Suzyís in Brooklyn."
"Weíre going by the Agency first. Control wants to talk to you about Chao Tsu."
"After we get Suzy," Ann said firmly.
"Darling, I will go get her, I swear. But I want you somewhere safe."
She studied him for several moments. "I was safe back at that warehouse, wasnít I? Iím safe with you. Make Control come out of his spiderís web. What arenít you telling me?"
Robert grimaced. He couldnít lie to her, but omission wasnít lying. Having been called on it, though ...
"Ko and his friend hit the house last night," he finally admitted. "They set off the alarm and were arrested before they got in. The consulate got them out on diplomatic immunity."
Ann stared in disbelief for several seconds. "You mean ... even after we caught them, they went after our house? Thatís crazy."
"Theyíre desperate, Ann. Thatís why I want to get you under closer guard."
"That general last night didnít seem much of a threat."
Robert pulled over into an alley and turned to face her. "General Chin is not the only one involved. You said yourself that his connection to Chao Tsu made him vulnerable. If someone wanted to discredit him and find out on their own what Chao Tsu was up to, they only have to look to you. And they wonít believe you donít know anything."
She remembered questions and disbelief and the lengths disinterested people would go to for the sake of gaining information. "Then why not leave me back at the warehouse?" She didnít like the quiver in her voice, but she couldnít help it.
Robert took her hand. "Iíd stay and guard you if I could, but I have to find those papers. Control will see you safe, and he does need to talk to you about Chao Tsu. I swear to you Iíll go get Suzy."
Ann fought down the old memories and their implications on her new fears. She couldnít speak but waved her hand in helpless acquiescence. Robert squeezed her hand, but the unease didnít leave her as they continued downtown.
The building the Agency used downtown was nondescript in every way. There was a dentist on the third floor, an advertising agency on the floor two above Controlís office, and, ironically, a publisher who specialized in political exposes four floors below. The CIA had floors nine through thirteen, but nothing of the sort appeared on the sign board in the lobby. A few innocuous names were listed with offices on those floors, and no one apparently suspected that one of the nerve centers of American intelligence gathering was in their midst.
Unless, Ann thought cynically as she crossed the lobby with Robert, everything was a front and the entire building was a conspiracy. When dealing with the spook factory, no scheme was too far fetched ...
"Hang on a second, sweetheart," she said to Robert. "Iíve just got to duck in here." She nodded at the womenís restroom they were passing.
"All right, Iíll be over there." Robert indicated a news stand on the far side of the lobby.
"OK." She pulled open the swinging door, stepped in, then caught the door just before it closed. She watched Robert scan the lobby carefully, then walk to the news stand. As soon as he glanced down at the headlines of the Times, she slipped out of the restroom, across the lobby and out the doors, fully expecting an outraged voice or a hand clamping on her arm.
But she made it to the curb unchallenged. Shaking from the sense of betrayal, she flagged down a cab.
"70 West 23rd, please, in Chelsea," she told the cabbie before she could think this out all the way. The address was several doors from the house, just in case. She closed the door and settled in the seat, not looking at the buildingís door.
"Right, lady." The cabbie flipped over the meter and pulled out into traffic.
Robert became suspicious when a businesswoman reached around him to buy the paper he was reading. How many minutes had he been scanning headlines? Suspecting the worst, he ran across the lobby, just in time to see a custodian prop open the door with a "temporarily out of service" sign. He shoved past the mop and bucket into the room.
The janitor looked up from the sink. "Menís room around the corner, sir."
"Was there anyone in here?" Robert snapped.
"Did you see anyone leave?"
He ran for the curb, but there was no sign of her on the street. He wondered if sheíd been grabbed, but dismissed that thought instantly. Heíd been listening for trouble, even the slight amount Ann would have been able to raise if sheíd been taken completely by surprise. What he hadnít been watching for was mischief perpetrated by a woman who obviously knew him and his ways far too well.
Sheíd gone to get Suzy. She had lost all patience with careful planning and cautious maneuvering and gone to her sister who was in danger. He couldnít be angry with herómuchófor going to her loved oneís aid regardless of personal risk. But she was going to get a scolding like nothing sheíd ever heard before when he caught up with her.
He was reaching for the handle of his car door when he realized he didnít know where Suzyís mother lived, beyond Brooklyn. He thought furiously for several seconds, trying to dredge up any clues from his memory, but nothing came. Swearing horribly under his breath, he headed for Controlís office and the shady computer links that might be able to tell him what he needed got know.
Ann studied the street in front of her house very carefully when the cab dropped her off. Chelsea was quiet at this hour, with the inhabitants off to jobs, school, and social engagements. She studied each car individually for a block in each direction before she stepped up to her front door.
She checked the alarm system for malfunctions, then reset it and headed upstairs.
The cats met her in the foyer, mewling in hunger. "All right, all right," she muttered. "Just donít get fussy."
She rubbed their ears briefly as she fed them, promising them several hours undivided attention in the near future. With them taken care of, she continued with her plans.
She changed clothes quickly, picking things she could move in. Then, with a sense of resignation, she went to the library. The mess from the contractors made her tsk, but she had no time to examine their work. She pulled her gun case from her desk, opened it, and stared distastefully at the pistol inside.
She didnít want to take it, but she knew she needed it. The weirdness was all over the fan, and she knew Robert hadnít told her everything. She was going to have to stand up for herself and her own, and the enemy had already shown itself ruthless. She could be no less.
With the efficiency Robert had taught her, she made sure the clip in the pistol was full, then put it in its holster inside the waist of her jeans. After several moments thought, she took the two spare clips, filled them from the box of ammunition also in the case and tucked them in her jacket pocket. She thought of her mother as she worked and tried not to feel like a traitor to her upbringing. After one final bout of indecision, she put the box of rounds into her pocket as well. Her jacket was heavy, but she found it comforting.
"Watch the house, kids," she called to the cats as she headed down the stairs. The cats never looked up from the baths they were taking in the sunbeams in the atrium.
She started to open the door of her car down in the garage, then she remembered the break-in last night. Feeling foolish, she ran her hands along the Lady Catherineís wheel wells and undercarriage. She stopped feeling foolish when she discovered not one, but two small electronic devices, in the left rear wheel well and under the front bumper. She placed them, after some thought, neatly on the workbench against the back wall of the garage.
She settled behind the wheel and checked the positioning of her pistol, just in case. Weapon, cellular phone, fast caróall she needed now was a good explanation for when she finally returned to Robert.
"Sufficient unto the day," she told herself, and clicked the garage door opener.
She watched the mirrors more than the road ahead as she drove to Brooklyn. At least Suzy and her brothers and sisters had gotten their mother out of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Mrs. Johnson now had a lovely little house near Brooklyn Heights. Suzyís father, a fairly successful insurance broker, had put all his money into his childrenís educations rather than a fancy house, but it had paid off well. The one considered the least successful in the bunch was the brother who had chosen to be a career officer in the Navy. Three lawyers, a doctor, a likely candidate for ship command, and a Wall Street broker who had limousine service from his company gathered around Iris Johnson with their families for yearly pictures. Matthew Johnson had gone to his reward years before, content in the knowledge that heíd served his family well.
Ann circled the block suspiciously before pulling into Mrs. Johnsonís driveway. Suzyís Lexus was in the garage next to her motherís Civic.
A little boy opened the front door. "Hi, Annie!"
"Hi, Bobby, is your Aunt Suzy here?"
"Uh huh." He ran to the back of the house. "Aunt Suzy!"
Ann stayed on the porch and studied the neighbourhood. Everything seemed quiet and normal.
"Annie McCall, what are you doing standing on my front porch instead of in my house?" Suzyís mother came up to the screen door and glared.
"Iím sorry, Mama Iris," Ann laughed as she opened the screen door. "Bobby forgot to ask me in."
"And since when do you need an invitation to come in?" Iris hugged her, then stepped back to look her over. The genial smile faded. "Thereís grief on you, child. Whatís wrong?"
Ann had learned not to prevaricate to Suzyís mother, but the weirdness had to stay far away from Irisí safe world. "Things you canít help with, Mama Iris, no matter how much you want to."
"If it involves my daughter ..."
"Not if I can help it."
They studied each other for several moments, then Iris nodded gravely. "Be careful, child. Youíre my daughter, too."
Ann nodded in answer.
Suzy came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands. "Thatís the breakfast dishes, Mama. And I called the dishwasher repairman for you."
"Thank you, child. Hereís Annie for you." She hugged Ann hard, gave her a reassuring look, then left.
Suzy watched her go curiously. "What did you tell her?"
"Nothing. Your mother never needs to be told."
"You going to tell me?"
"Yes, but not here." She waved to Bobbyís little sister Daisy, who was peeking through the banister columns on the stairs. Daisy waved back, then stuck her fingers in her mouth uncertainly. "You ready to go?"
"Yeah, let me get my stuff." Suzy headed upstairs, tickling Daisy into delighted giggles as she passed.
Ann stood at the front door, staring out at the street and neighborhood, looking for potential trouble and trying not to remember a quiet street in Queens two Februaries ago. Sheíd left a body in the street then but had saved the lives of two innocent people. But she hadnít owned a set of nun-chuks since.
Suzy came down the stairs with her bag. She paused when she saw Ann at the door. She was massaging her right hand, where a nasty scar had appeared after an incident before the wedding. Ann had never given much of an answer for what had caused it, and Suzy, newly suspicious of a lot of things, wondered if she really wanted to know.
"What are you looking at?" she asked, coming down to join Ann.
"Hm? Oh, Iím just keeping an eye out."
Suzy put a hand on her arm and made her look at her. "For what?"
Ann licked her lips. "For trouble."
"Robertís kind of trouble?"
Ann nodded. "You ready?"
"Let me tell Mama bye." She hurried to the kitchen to hug and kiss her mother good-bye, then came back. Ann was already by her car. "You want to move this so I can get my car out?"
"No, stay with me." She was staring down the street tensely. "Get in."
"Girl, donít you think youíre being a little melodramatic?" Suzy turned to look. Coming down the street were a pair of Chinese men who were watching the women with equal intensity. One of the pair limped. "Iíve seen those guys somewhere."
"Chao Tsuís funeral, will you get in the god-damned car!"
Suzy stared at her and saw, with horror, that Ann had shoved back her jacket and had her hand on something at her belt.
`"Oh, my god," she gasped, and she dove into the Jaguar.
Ann jumped behind the wheel as Wu and Ko broke into a run. She hit the door locks and looked at Suzyís seat belt as she shoved the key in and started the engine. Wu outdistanced his partner and grabbed at Annís door. She calmly checked the street, threw the gear into reverse, and punched it. Wu was dragged for a few feet then fell off at the curb.
"Annie!" Suzy yelled, gaping out the window at the man collapsed on her motherís yard.
"Not now! Damn." A car had pulled out and was picking up Wu and Ko. She reached over and tugged on Suzyís belt to make sure it was snug.
"Whatís going on!" Suzy demanded. "What do those guys want?"
"You and me." Ann blew through a stop sign as she saw the enemy car turn the corner behind them. "Whatís the fastest way to the Williamsburg Bridge?"
"The Parkway, butóAnnie!"
Ann threw it into neutral and stomped on the brakes, flinging Lady Catharine around in a bootleggerís turn. As they passed the other car, she saw Wu, in the back seat, level a pistol.
"Christ, Suzy, get down!"
The driverís window exploded, and the bullet tore through Annís hair and into the headrest of Suzy seat.
"Bloody fucking hell," Ann snapped. "Stay down!"
Suzy, hunched down as far as the seatbelt would let her, stared at her best friend in disbelief. Ann drove like a confident maniac, sliding around the corner neatly and weaving around traffic with brief warning taps of the horn. Suzy had never seen her look like this, grim, remote and dangerous.
Ann wished she had time to throw up and made a promise to have hysterics later. As she whipped the car around another corner, she saw her pursuit come around the last one behind her. Had she missed a tracking beacon on the car? She couldnít take people willing to shoot onto the Parkway, she had to lose them before then.
Too many people on this street. Through a gap between buildings Ann saw what looked like an old factory. She took the corner at forty, just as her pursuit began closing the distance.
"Can I get up now?" Suzy asked carefully.
"Sorry, no. Ah, perfect.":
The street ended in a loading dock area and parking lot. Ann headed to the right, hoping for a way around, but came up on a blank wall. Swearing, she backed the car through a three-point turn aroundójust in time for the other car to slide around the corner. It skidded to a stop when they saw the Lady Catherine was trapped.
"Hell," Ann said calmly.
Suzy peeked above the dashboard. "What are you going to do?" she asked in a scared voice.
"If you love me, sis, get as far down as you can." Ann pushed the button to lower Suzyís window. Then, with a deep, shaky breath, she pulled her gun from its holster and flipped the safety off.
"Ann," Suzy whispered, "you hate guns."
"I hate getting shot more."
For herself, Ann would have just tried to drive past and dared the bullets. But they were trying to hurt the sister of her soul, as theyíd already killed Chao Tsu. She reminded herself firmly that now was the time for escape, not the hunt.
The other car revved threateningly. A big Buick, Ann noted absently.
"Fine, then." She eased off the brake, let the Jag roll a little at idle, then floored the accelerator.
Wu and Ko leaned out of the passenger window, both with pistols. They were aiming for the tires and the engine. Ann swerved as they opened fire. The right headlight exploded and shots ricocheted off the hood, but Ann had a clear shot out the open window. She checked the way ahead for a split second, then aimed at the Buick and opened fire.
Suzy screamed at the gunshots right overhead. The Buickís windshield exploded, and Ko ducked down. Wu got off another shot that ripped past Annís head and impacted into the B pillar between the driverís windows. She snarled and focused her aim, squeezing the trigger of her semi-automatic continuously and tracking on the Buick as the cars passed each other. Bullets impacted on the passenger door. Tight-lipped, Ann blew out her own rear passenger window to continue firing at Wu. He fell back just as Annís gun clicked empty.
She dropped it between the seats and put both hands on the wheel. She was almost out of loading dock; the Jaguar fishtailed around the corner, sideswiping a pile of old pallets, then caught traction towards the exit on the other side of the lot.
Two block shy of the Williamsburg Bridge, Ann ducked into a parking garage and headed for the top level. She stopped the car and turned off the engine.
Suzy finally uncurled from her crouch. "Oh, sweet Jesus," she whispered. She looked down between the seats, where that gun still rested. A gun. Sheíd never even seen a handgun before except on TV and the movies. And Ann, who had written letters to her college paper against the things, owned one. And shot one, at people. Dear God, what had that man she married done to her?
"Annie, what the helló?"
She broke off on seeing Annís face. Her eyes were tightly shut, and she was pale. Her fingers clutched the wheel so hard the knuckles were white.
Suzy put a hand on her arm. "Annie, are you OK?"
Ann took a deep breath, then shoved her door open and stumbled out. Suzy followed her to the wall at the edge of the garage, where Ann bent over and tried very hard not to be sick. Suzy hugged her, both to comfort and for comfort. Finally Ann put her arms around her in return.
"Are you okay?" she asked faintly. "Please tell me youíre okay."
"Iím okay. What about you?"
She nodded and straightened, then sat down on the wall. "Iím so sorry, love."
Suzy took a long look at the Lady Catherine. The paint was chipped where the bullets had hit. Broken glass haloed the right headlight, and fringes of shattered safety glass hung from the driverís window and the rear passenger window.
"Sweet Jesus, I was in a shoot out." She whirled on Ann. "What the hell is going on! Who were those guys? Where the hell did you get a gun?" She caught her breath. "What has Robert done to you, Ann?"
Ann looked at her in dismay. "Itís not his fault, Suzy. Where do you want me to start?"
Suzy sat down next to her. "Why were those men shooting at us?"
"Youíre not going to believe it, but ... Chao Tsu was a Chinese spy. She had information that the Chinese government is willing to kill for, and they think we know what it is."
"Youíve seen too many movies, girlfriend. Who told you, Chao Tsu?"
"No, Robert told me."
"Oh, Annie ..." Suzy turned to face her. "Sweetheart, I know you love him, but really, Chao Tsu a spy?"
"Why do you think they were shooting at us?" Ann asked gravely.
"I donít know. Maybe itís some tong thing, the gangs are awful down there."
"Yes, they are, but they know better than to come out of Chinatown. Oh, god, Suzy, thereís so much I havenít been allowed to tell you."
"Not allowed? What do you mean?"
Ann stared at her shot-up car for several seconds, then she faced Suzy squarely. "Have I ever lied to you?"
"I donít know anymore."
"Oh, lord. Suzy, this is the tale of life in the big city that Iíve been trying to tell you for almost two years now. I told Robert I wouldnít tell you without his prior permission, but heíll forgive me and you need to know. You remember when I met him?"
"Oh, yes. That industrial espionage your old bosses were into. I remember when you told me how you got shot going through their computers."
Ann actually smiled as she thought back to the cloistered person she used to be. "Why do you think Iíve never told you what he did before he started putting ads in the paper?"
"Apparently itís none of my business," Suzy said, looking away. "I thought it was one of those exclusionary married things."
"Oh, sis. No." She paused for several moments as she dealt with the guilt of betraying Robertís secret. "He used to work for the CIA. He was a field agent, a very good one, Iím told. He spent nearly forty years of his life skulking around the world indulging in adventurism, subversion, and covert operations." She paused for reaction.
"I donít believe this," Suzy said, getting up to pace.
"Because things like this do not happen to people I know! This isnít some damned movie."
"No, itís not! People bleed and die and hurt and have nightmares because of this stuff. All that stuff you see in the movies, the stuff they talk about in those Senate investigations? Itís real. Real people do themóplus stuff no one knows about. The successful operations never get talked about out in the world."
Ann blinked in dismay. "Did I really say that? Itís a phrase Mickey uses, it means, I guess, the real world of civilians and trusting souls."
"Yep. But heís active." Ann went to Suzy and put her hands on her shoulders. "You canít let anyone know this. They live in such a delicate world ..."
"I thought you said Robert doesnít do this anymore."
"Not officially," she sighed. "But he has debts. And his old boss keeps asking favors and bringing up unfinished businessó"
"Yeah. God, how I hate that man! I never know if heís lying or what, and heís so damned subtle, and he knows Robert so well. He knows all of Robertís buttons, and he doesnít mind pushing them."
Suzy grabbed Annís arm. "Ann, look at me. Do you swear that all of this is the simple, honest, God above truth? You havenít bought into some extravagant tale heís told you to romanticize his past?"
She met her sisterís eyes. "I swear, by the blood sisterhood we swore when we were eight, that everything Iíve told you is true."
"Oh, my god," Suzy whispered. "Dear Lord, Annie, why did you marry him? Didnít you know before it was too late?"
"I knew before he ever kissed me. And he would not have married me if I didnít know. Heís an honorable man."
"Honorable? And he worked for them?"
Ann closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Yes. And thatís why he quit. He wasnít supposed to, but he couldnít stand it any longer."
"What do you mean, not supposed to? Thereís lots of old CIA people around."
"Not that just walk out with a head full of knowledge and people all over the world who only talk to him."
Suzy started to feel a knot in her stomach. "Truth?"
"But ó arenít there people on the other side who want to know this stuff?"
Ann swallowed. "Now you know why I worry when he comes home late. Yes, he has enemies. And his friends are frequently no prizes either."
They were silent as Suzy integrated the information. She shook her head several times, but Ann kept nodding sympathetically.
Now questions rose. "Did he make you get that gun?"
Ann winced. Sheíd known sheíd have to talk about her own experiences, but she wasnít sure she wanted to see the look on Suzyís face. "No, I asked him to teach me how to shoot."
"Butówhy? You always swore ..." Suzy broke off, seeing Ann rubbing her right hand again. Now that she thought back to that February before the wedding, she wondered how she could ever has accepted the blithe explanation of karate class injuries for the extent of the damage done to Ann. It had been months before Ann was fully functional again.
"What has being married to him brought you to? What has happened to you?"
Ann sighed. "None of it was his fault. Really. Suzy, if it werenít for him, youíd have buried me that February."
"Tell me," Suzy said, swallowing hard. "Tell me everything."
Ann sat on the wall and told the whole awful tale of the Black Riders and the vendetta of Red Sonja. When she got to the part about going to Queens to rescue Mrs. Gold and her son and having to fight her way to the van, Suzy put her hands over her mouth to keep the gasps of horror to herself.
"I donít remember a lot of what happened after Frieda was wrecked," Ann said distantly, staring off. "I donít want to remember. But I was captured, and ó and questioned ó and Robert got me out."
"Questioned?" Suzy whispered.
Ann looked at her bleakly. Suzy reached out and took her right hand, stared at the scar in the palm, then turned it over to look at the matching scar on the back. Someone had made a joke about stigmata once, which had caused Ann to glare and Robert to leave abruptly. The offense had been thought to be religious in nature, but now Suzy wondered if it hadnít been more straightforward.
"How could I not know all this was going on?" Suzy asked in disbelief.
"Because we deliberately misled you," Ann replied shamefully. "And because youíre too nice a person to know the kinds of things that go on."
"But you know."
She nodded. "And for that you can blame Robert. Before I knew him, I could look over there," she gestured at a building across the street, where two men were talking in front of the doors, "and just see a pair of men discussing business. Now I wonder if some assignation is being arranged, or if thereís a pay-off in that envelope." She watched the two men shake hands and part. "Itís done quietly in plain sight or secretly in little nooks and crannies all over the city. I spent last night in a secret apartment Robert has in a warehouse near the Hudson. He says he has about half a dozen others around the city. And thatís just him. Iím sure the CIA has offices in the Federal building downtown, but Iíve been in the nerve center of their covert New York headquarters, and you would never suspect it if you were just upstairs of them."
She looked at Suzy. "Little doorways off of side streets. Buildings with the wrong nameóor no name. Backrooms of legitimate stores. Five floors in a highrise that nobody pays attention to. Thatís where the shadow world is. Between and under everything we know."
"Thatís the world you married into," Suzy said.
"Thank God I did. Itís saved my life more than once. And it may well save yours, because itís got nothing to do with Robertís old cronies that there are men shooting at us. This would be happening whether Iíd ever met Robert or not."
Suzy licked her lips uneasily. "Thatís not really true, is it?"
"February. You said they were looking for you from ten years ago and they were close to finding you before you got stupid and went back to hacking. You swore you gave that up, sis."
"And I kept that oath, too, until I got suckered back into it. I try not swear oaths anymore, though, they have a way of coming undone in this weird world."
"Youíre changing the subject. Tell me flat: what they were doing to you was supposed to end in your murder, wasnít it?"
"Yes. They meant to kill me. Robert took a commando team in to get me out."
Suzy threw up her hands. "Sis, when did your life turn into an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie?"
"Love, I honestly think it was on the day I was born. Thatís why God gave me Robert."
"Lord, Lord," Suzy sighed. "I canít take in any more. Explain this about Chao Tsu and tell me what weíre going to do now."
Ann talked as she went to the car. "If itís any comfort, Iím as shocked as you are about all this. OK, the short form. Chao Tsu was sent to this country and Harvard to get in contact with resident dissidents. You and I started out as part of her cover, but we corrupted her. She was using her restaurant as a front for dissident meetings. Then she fell in love with a man who was in Tienamin Square, and they got engaged."
"I know. She told him about her job as spy and she started working for him, too. A couple of weeks ago, some kind of documents got smuggled out of China and ended up with her to be given to her fiancé. He was out of town, so she hid them. When he got back, she told him the papers were safe with her friends."
"Oh, shit," Suzy said sincerely.
"Yeah, thatís why theyíre after us." She opened the car door and sat down. "Thereís a lot more, like an old flame of Robertís from way back when, some Chinese General who says heís Chao Tsuís father, and the fact that a sniper shot up my library ó"
"ó but thatís not important now. I should call Robert, heís probably going nuts. I sneaked away from him," she explained, proud but sheepish.
She pulled out her cellular and resolutely dialed Robertís car phone. It never finished the first ring.
"McCall," Robertís voice snapped.
Ann took a deep breath. "Hi, itís me." She yanked the phone away from her ear, and Suzy could clearly hear the outraged voice. "Iím fine," Ann said in the general direction of the voice pickup. The outrage got, if anything, louder.
Ann tried to hold onto her temper, but it had been a very bad morning. "Robert, will you just shut the hell up!" Shocked silence from the phone, and she felt far too close to tears to talk intelligently.
Suzy took the phone from her. "Robert, itís Suzy, please donít yell at me."
He sounded a bit shaky himself. "She went and got you, did she?"
"Was there trouble?"
Talking about it made her feel shaky, too. "The carís all shot up, Robert."
"Oh, god. Youíre all right, the both of you?"
"Let me talk to her."
"Um, I think sheís trying not to have hysterics at the moment. She shot at them."
There was silence again. "Where are you?"
"The Quickie Park on 9th in Brooklyn, near the Williamsburg. Weíre on top."
"Iíll be there as soon as I can."
Suzy turned off the phone. "Heís coming, sis."
Ann leaned her forehead on the steering wheel. "I yelled at him."
"He yelled at you. Itís one form of love."
"True enough." Ann let herself shake for a few seconds more, then pulled herself together. "Lord, thereís glass all over the place." She pushed her door open further and brushed the little cubes of safety glass off the dashboard and seat. Her hands didnít shake, she noted with uneasy pride. She was learning to take this stuff in stride. Then she saw the bullet casings on the floor, and the world wobbled again. She was glad sheíd had the presence of mind and the ability to deal with the situation, but she couldnít help think of her Great-Uncle Isaac, who invited her to tea and complimented her on how ladylike sheíd turned out.
She shook her head firmly. There were procedures sheíd been drilled in, and she wasnít using them.
Suzy frowned as she watched Ann retrieve the gun, then pop the clip and replace it with another from her pocket.
"You came out with extras?" she asked in surprise. "You expected to have to shoot somebody?"
"Suzy, I wasnít aiming at anybody, I just wanted them to leave us alone. I hope I didnít hit anyone." She focused on reloading the empty clip from the box of ammunition. "Iíve never shot at anything but targets before."
"Do you think you could? Shoot somebody?"
Ann had been dreading the subject. "Yes," she said flatly as she returned the pistol to its holster. "If the situation required it, as a last resort."
"But kind of situation would require it?"
"Self-defense, or the defense of someone helpless."
Suzy nodded reluctantly. "Could you kill somebody? I donít think I could."
"You canít know, not until the situation presents itself. I think anyone has it in them, if their back is against the wall." She still heard it sometimes, the sound of the chuks impacting with the head of the man whose only crime was that he worked for Angmar of the Black Riders. It hadnít saved anything, that manís death. She had still been captured and tortured. But no, sheís pulled the Riders from Mrs. Gold, a complete innocent of the crimes of the moment. So maybe it hadnít been a waste.
"How many people has Robert killed?" Suzy asked.
"Why do you want to know?"
"I donít, I guess, not really. Iíve seen him with you, and he loves you so very much, but I see a look in his eyes sometimes that scares me to death. I saw it when Randy showed up. I think Robert could have killed a dozen people that day and never blinked."
"That was a very bad day. But youíre right. He was a soldier for a very long time. He does what he feels he has to when he has to. But he does pay for it," she added, tears crawling up in her throat. "He has the most horrible nightmares. He was dead once, he says. He wonít say what he saw, but I sleep next to him, and I hear what he says in his dreams. He firmly believes heís going to hell. Iíve heard him begging forgiveness of the most wretched scum that heís sent there. I think he quit the Agency and started helping strangers as some sort of atonement. I think heís hoping if he saves enough people before his time is up that maybe God will go easy on him."
She studied her hands on the car wheel. "He wakes up weeping in terror. And I hold him until it stops. In the morning heíll apologize for bothering my sleep. I always say I donít know what heís talking about."
Suzy looked at her with new understanding. "Youíd kill for him, wouldnít you."
"In a heartbeat." Ann smiled at her faintly. "I would for you, too."
"I hope it never comes to that."
"Please, God, so do I."
Suzy reached out to stroke her hair. "I still love you, you know." Ann squeezed her hand gratefully.
They were silent in weary shock for several minutes, until the sound of an engine on the garage ramp caught their attention. Ann got out of the car and pulled her pistol. "Get behind the car, Suzy."
"Please, sis, just in case."
Suzy went, slowly. The level of anxiety required on an everyday basis to make one regard any approaching car as a threat made her head hurt.
Ann stood at the hood of the car, ready to dive over or into the driverís seat as the case required. She held her pistol down at her side, in case the approaching car was no threat, but she had no doubts about her willingness to empty another clip of twelve shots into another Chinese agentís car.
A big, black Jaguar came over the top of the ramp at speed, scraping bottom but not slowing. Ann let herself cry a little in relief, despite the scolding she knew was going to get. The sight of Mickeyís van coming after, though, told her that Robert was expecting further trouble. Despite it all, she holstered her pistol with relief.
The Jaguar skidded to a halt next to Lady Catherine. Robert jumped out of the car. "Ann, you idiotic, insane, foolishó" He broke off as she ran into his arms.
"Suzy?" Mickey called as he got out of the van.
"You okay?" He walked around the car to her.
"Uh huh." She was glad when he hugged her, needing a hug just then.
After a moment he let her go and took a long look at the car. "Wow," he muttered, studying the pattern of bullet impacts and glass breakage. He crouched down and looked at the damage to the interior. "All sorts of lead flying around, huh?" he grinned at Suzy.
She stared at him in horror. "Youíre a nutcase, arenít you?"
When Robert felt he could control his voice, he moved so he could see his wifeís face. "Why, Ann? Why did you sneak away like that?"
All she wanted was to snuggle against him in safety for a good, long time. But there was work to be done. "Because I had to make sure she was safe right then."
"I would have made sure she was all right, you know that, donít you?"
"I know. I do know." She touched his face lightly. "But Control would have delayed you or tried to stop you or come up with some very good reason why someone else should go. It needed done, and I did it."
He hugged her in exasperation. "What did you tell her?"
"Everything," she answered, her stomach clenching in dread.
He stepped back and studied her face. "What do you mean, everything?"
"I mean, just about everything, she needs to know about why her life has become a nightmare. Why Chao Tsu was killed, why I have a gun and know how to shoot, and why you would know about spies and all that."
Robert closed his eyes for several seconds. "I asked you not to tell her without asking me first."
"Look at the fucking car, Robert! And tell me I should keep lying to her!"
Suzy and Mickey looked over in concern. Robert glared at Ann, then looked at the Lady Catherine. He read the tale from the damage. He circled the car slowly, figuring the bullet trajectories. And he remembered seeing another car shot up, burning as well, with a body in the driverís seat that he was certain was his fiancée. When he saw the damage to the interior, he closed his eyes briefly, too accurately able to picture how close the shots had come to the people inside.
He glanced at Suzy, who seemed afraid to meet his eyes. "Iím sorry itís come to this," he told her softly. "I was told the trouble would be kept to Chinatown."
"By whom? Never mind, never mind," she correctly quickly. "Itís none of my business."
"Thank you. Itís not something Iím comfortable with you knowing."
Suzy took an honest look at the knowledge. "I guess all thatís important is that Annieís okay with it all."
Ann laughed sarcastically. "I donít know if the word is Ďokayí or not, but I can deal with it."
Mickey grinned at Suzy. "So I donít need to pussy foot so much around you anymore."
"No, please, pussy foot. I truly donít want to know."
"Itís just as well she knows," Mickey said to Robert, a more serious look on his face.
"Yes," Robert sighed.
"Why?" Ann asked suspiciously.
"Control wants to talk to the two of you about Chao Tsu. Ann, donít snarl like that."
"Um, Control?" Suzy asked carefully.
"The man who signs my expense account vouchers," Mickey explained.
"Oh, lord. Why do I need to have anything to do with Ö all that?"
"Because," Robert explained, "the government needs to know anything you can tell about how a foreign agent functioned in New York. We need to know who she may have worked with."
"She didnít tell us anything," Suzy protested. "I didnít even know she was engaged, what could I know?"
Robert shot a disapproving look at Ann, who glared right back. "If you donít want her to know something about Chao Tsu," she declared, "then donít tell me. Suzy was as much her friend as I was."
His disapproval faded in amusement. "You have very old-fashioned ideas about loyalty," he said dryly.
She felt giddy with relief. "Youíre a fine one to give lectures on loyalty."
"I didnít say it was bad, I just said it was old fashioned."
"I like old-fashioned things."
Mickey cleared his throat. "Excuse me, can you two do that later? Weíve got work to do."
Robert sighed and nodded. "True enough. Ladies, Iím going to take you to talk to a friend of mine."
"But Lady Catherine ó" Ann protested.
"ó and Mickey will wait here for the person Iím about to call to come take care of your car," Robert continued. "You canít take her out on the street like that, love, Iím surprised the police didnít pull you over before." He went to hug her as she looked pathetically at her car. "Sheíll be fine. Rico works on my car, heís good with holes."
"Oh, god," Ann murmured, hugging him hard at the though of him needing a mechanic who was good with bullet holes.
Mickey was looking over the damage again. "How did this rear window on the passenger side get blown out? The shot that took out the driverís window? It looks like everything else came in from the passenger side."
"Mickey, youíre a ghoul," Ann said.
"No, a professional. There may be reports on this some day, I need it straight in my head."
Suzy looked at Ann in dismay. Ann gave her a sympathetic smile. "Welcome to the Twilight Zone, sis. Itís going to get weirder before it gets better. As for the window, that was me. I remembered to roll down the front window but not the back."
Mickey glanced at the pistol on her belt and nodded. "When in doubt, empty the clip. Itís a good rule. Right, you call Rico, McCall, and Iíll catch up with you at the office."
Robert nodded, remembering the short lecture Mickey had read him about not going around without backup while the Chinese situation was still so volatile. "Ladies? Perhaps a late breakfast before I throw my old friend in the mix. I know I could use a cup of coffee."
"Can I get something stronger?" Suzy asked.