A fence guarded the drop to the harbor at the shoreward end of the woods. A bare patch of ground and many cigarette butts showed where people were in the habit of hiding here for their own purposes. Chao Tsu swore when she and Harvey came out into the tiny clearing.
"You werenít thinking of swimming for it, were you?" Harvey asked.
"No, but I was hoping for better than this. If it was thicker we could have hidden here, or there might have been the entrance to something."
She shook herself and pulled her pistol out again. Harvey watched worriedly as she checked the clip. She caught him looking and kissed him. "I wonít let them hurt you," she whispered.
They heard shouting from the direction of the helicopter, shouting in their native language.
"Theyíre after us," Harvey said, frightened. "I thought General Chin was on our side."
"Yes," Chao Tsu said quietly. "There are many questions Iíd like to ask him."
"McCall said to hide."
"I donít take orders from him."
Robert was forced to break a window to get into the house. He half hoped he triggered an alarm somewhere, but on an island with the caretaker gone there was no one to keep watch.
The first floor of the house was offices, with the kitchen in the back. Robert moved past a childís tricycle in the dark hallway and again blessed Chao Tsu for getting the superintendent and his family out of the way.
In the main office, he found a telephone to the mainland and radio. He decided not to risk the phone. If communications are tied to one slender cable, it was childís play to sever that cable. Broadcast, though monitorable, would not be blocked without cumbersome jamming equipment. He tested the phone in passing and was unsurprised to find it dead.
A list of frequencies was conveniently pasted above the radio. Top of the list was an emergency contact number on Governorís Island. Robert switched on the radio and set the dial. When he had the hiss of an open carrier wave, he pushed the transmit button on the microphone.
"Governorís Island, this is Liberty Island, please come in." He clicked off to wait. Even as late as it was, the Coast Guard would have someone on duty in the radio room. But they were taking an unconscionable long time about it. "Governorís Island Coast Guard Station, come in. This is Liberty Island."
"This is Governorís Island Coast Guard Station, this is an official frequency. Identify yourself properly."
Robert lowered his voice as he saw movement outside the window. "Thereís no time for that. Please send a boat or a helicopter to Liberty Island. There is serious trouble going on. This is an emergency."
"Where is Superintendent Sayers? Who is this?"
"Iím a mad bomber, whoís going to decapitate the Statue of Liberty if you donít get over here and stop me!"
"Use of the airwaves to make bomb threats is a federal offense."
"Then come arrest me!"
Whatever reply Governorís Island made was cut off as, with a muted cough, a bullet from a silenced pistol smashed the radio to bits. Robert ducked the flying fragments but caught a bit of shrapnel in the cheekbone.
General Chin flicked on the light switch by the doorway. "My apologies, but it is simpler than climbing on the roof and tearing down the antenna."
"I imagine so." Robert pulled out his handkerchief to stop the blood running down his face, thinking briefly that Ann would have a fit when she saw him.
They considered each other for several moments. Chin never moved his pistol from aiming at Robertís heart, and the two commandos who rushed in to back up the General prevented Robert from doing anything rash. One grabbed Robertís Uzi from the desk where heíd put it.
Chin gestured with the pistol for Robert to move out. "Your foolishness has placed us under a time constraint. After you, Mr. McCall."
Robert obeyed slowly, keeping both hands in view. As he passed Chin, the General twitched Robertís jacket aside to pluck his pistol from its holster.
"What about the others?" Robert asked as he led the procession down the hallway to the front door.
"The others?" Chin replied blandly.
Robert glared at him. "My wife, Ms. Johnson. Chao Tsu."
Chin gave him a hard look.
Just outside the door waited another commando, who brought his weapon up as Robert came through the doorway, forestalling any move to raise trouble. Robert glanced around but saw no sign of anyone of his group. Just as well. He expected insane risks from Mickey, that was the manís job. But Ann lacked Mickeyís sense of when to cut and run.
Chin called a halt in the clearing around the house. He sent off all but one of his commandos with a curt Chinese order, and the remaining soldier was sent down the walk towards the Statue, out of earshot but well in view.
"How did you find out about Chao Tsu?" Chin demanded.
"How did you?" Robert countered.
"Weh Hong told me. He was persuaded that I meant her no harm, and he orchestrated the events tonight."
"For which you paid him back with a bullet," Robert said coldly.
The General frowned. "The fewer tongues to tell of my weakness the better. And his body could hardly be cold by now. How close have you been following me?"
"Not you, Chao Tsu. She called my wife from that warehouse. I found Weh Hong as he was dying. He led me here." He took a step closer to the General, ignoring the wary attention of the guard. "Was it your idea to lure my wife and her sister here? Were they to be bait in a trap for me, to be disposed of later, as tongues which could speak of your weakness?"
Chin met his eyes easily. "It was not my idea, but I recognized the possibilities. No harm will come to them, provided you are reasonable."
"Cooperative in interrogation, you mean."
The General shrugged.
Robert though quickly. If he could be certain Ann and the others would be safe, heíd go with Chin in a heartbeat, despite Annís threats of reprisals. All his life heíd been willing to pay his life to save others. But he knew the information still locked in his head was madly dangerous, even as old as it was.
"Iíve been out of the game for a long time," he countered. "Surely what I know is too old to be of any use."
The Chinese Intelligence Chief smiled knowingly. "Iím not interested in plans and troop movements and codes. Those change too often. But you were a strategist, you helped form policy. Those donít change. Iím interested in agendas, tactics of subversion. And the people. You know whoís a danger to me and my country. I imagine you could give me names that would rock my government."
Robert took a deep, calming breath. Heíd known Chin was no idiot, but he could hope that the man wouldnít have such a fine appreciation of a retireeís value. Robert wished briefly that he hadnít kept such close ties to the Company, he knew far too much to risk being interrogated.
"And the papers which instigated this?" he asked, thinking more of how to orchestrate his own death-while-escaping and being very firm with himself in ignoring the aspect of creating a widow.
Chin shrugged again. "Useful but minor. I was more interested in who would be shaken loose in their pursuit than in any actual danger from those letters. Theyíre only confirmation of involvement that has been long suspected, thereís no great scandal in them." He glanced at his watch. "And now, no more delays in waiting for your Coast Guard. This way, please."
The guard moved in to back up the order. They headed for the path through the dark woods towards the helicopter. The other two commandos of Chinís unit took up position to either side. Robert grimaced at the unlikelihood that they would shoot to kill if he attacked Chin. Heíd just be clubbed into submission and be too injured and too well guarded to attempt anything more final.
"Sheís not really your daughter, is she," he said to cover his thoughts and reconnaissance.
"Actually, she is," Chin said after a long moment. "Everything I told you about her is true. I do regret having to take you from your wife and having to cause grief to someone who loves my daughter, but no one will care about one deep-cover listening post once I arrive with a senior analyst and coordinator of the CIA. You would do the same for your son."
"Yes," Robert said softly. "I would."
Only two men remained to guard the helicopter, a commando and a suited man who had arrived with Chin and was chatting with the pilot, who sat at his control. The other soldiers had spread out to comb the island. The area around the landing site was deemed secure.
Ann and Suzy crept very cautiously from tree to tree, paralleling the edge of the grove of trees. Ann had decided that all roads would lead back to means of transportation. Action, when it occurred, would happen there. She had a feeling her husband was going to attempt something foolishly noble, and she wanted to be there to foil it.
The trees became thick shrubs next to some small buildings that looked out over the harbor. Ann led the way in cautiously crawling to a point opposite the lone commando and with the bulk of the helicopter between the pilot and the women. They pulled up in a particularly shadowy spot to compare notes.
"The one with the rifleís got a headset on," Suzy observed.
"Theyíre checking in with each other," Ann replied. "I donít think theyíve found anybody, they donít seem to be in a hurry. Whups."
They ducked down as the man in the suit walked away from the chopper and lit a cigarette.
"Hello," Suzy said. "Donít we know him?"
"Yes, we do," Ann said with an evil grin. "Our old friend Ko. At least heís walking straight." She looked towards the pilot of the helicopter. He was busy with his instrument panel. "Come on, him I know I can take."
"Why do we want to?" Suzy countered. "We were told to lay low."
"I want to know what the plan is, especially for getting a prisoner out." She looked at her sister gravely. "Stay here if you want, itís going to get messier before weíre done."
Suzy thought for a moment. "Iím with you."
Ko stood looking at the Statue of Liberty as he puffed on his cigarette. He tilted his head thoughtfully, studying the seams where her copper sheets joined.
The commando General Chin had left to guard the helicopter hurried up. He frowned at Ko and jerked his head back at the chopper, then went on to the steps that led down to the wharf.
Ko grimaced and sent a global hand gesture after the soldier, but he took a deep, final drag on the cigarette preparatory to going back to his duties.
"Um, excuse me," said a soft female voice behind him.
Ko turned and found a black woman standing there. He stared in disbelief.
Mickey had been tracking the search of the island as well as he could from his vantage point atop the visitorís center. Heíd watched anxiously as Ann and Suzy had crept around the helicopter, and heíd been ready to drop anyone who raised a hand against them.
Something was beginning to happen. The last commando by the chopper put a hand to his ear to listen to something over his headset, then he nodded briskly as he answered. As he passed the chopper on his way to the water stairs he gestured to the pilot, who started flicking switches purposefully.
Mickey grinned in grim amusement at Koís exchange, but then he saw Suzy creep quietly out of the bushes.
Ko stared briefly, then went scrambling after the gun under his jacket. Mickey swore and reached for the trigger.
Then Ann rose up behind Ko and punched him in the kidneys. Suzy jumped forward and covered Koís mouth so his gasp of pain wouldnít be heard. Ann disarmed him before he hit the found, then knelt on his back with his arm up behind his back.
"Oh, lord," Mickey moaned. Heíd hoped Suzy was too sane to be part of Annís vendettas.
But then he saw movement in the woods, and all pretense of amusement fled. Robert, under heavy guard, was just coming into view.
The helicopterís engine coughed into life. Suzy looked over and saw, underneath the tail of the chopper, the people on the path. Her gasp of horror made Ann look up from her struggling captive.
"No," she whispered.
Robert, his face grim and blood streaked, walked slowly out of the woods with three rifles and General Chinís pistol pointed at him. Ann saw the remoteness in her husbandís face and realized in an instant what he was thinking. He probably didnít remember, but once when thereíd been too much wine over dinner, heíd talked about how he still knew enough to be a hazard if captured. He hadnít said what heíd do if such ever happened, but the seriousness of his voice as heíd spoken of it, and the fierceness with which heíd taken her to bed had told its own tale.
Cold, implacable refusal to accept the situation took her. "Get under cover," she told Suzy curtly.
"Butó" Suzy started, then she saw Annís face. No argument, no plea would work. Fighting tears, she scrambled toward the bushes.
Ann got off Ko, who swore and started to his feet. She kicked him cleanly in the chin, knocking him flat. She then turned towards the chopper, pulling her MAC-10 around and clicking the selector switch to full auto.
The rotors were just starting to turn as Ann reached the cockpit. The pilot gaped at her.
"Iíd leave if I were you," she said calmly, and she leveled the gun.
The pilot, no soldier, swore and dove out the far side of the chopper.
Robert, still trying to figure out how to solve this mess, hesitated. Chin swore in surprise.
Suzy, hiding in the bushes, covered her ears as Ann opened fire.
Three seconds emptied the clip. The bullets tore into the controls, smashing gauges and circuits. Fat sparks flew out and landed on the upholstery to smoulder. Electrical fires started in the control board, and the rotors ground to a halt.
Ann nodded in satisfaction. She switched clips as she walked around the front of the chopper, chambering a round as she came into view of her enemies. "I donít think youíre going anywhere in that," she told Chin calmly.
The commandos, recovering from their surprise, brought their rifles around. Robert tensed to jump, when Chin snapped an order in Chinese and the soldiers eased back.
Robert looked desperately at his wife. "Ann Ö"
"Donít," she said quietly. "Donít argue with me. And donít make me go back to that place you found me in."
He remembered other women who had come whistling serenely out of nowhere to join him on the path to hell ó and not for a cause, but for him. Heíd always been terrified by that kind of loyalty. Now he saw it wasnít duty but selfishness, a completely self-centered, practical decision not to continue on without him, despite the danger or Robertís feelings. He finally realized there was nothing he could to do stop her, except ask.
"I would really rather you didnít get hurt," he managed to say calmly.
Ann smiled. "I would rather we just all go home." Her smile became slightly larger as another section of the helicopterís controls exploded.
Chin stepped up to Robertís shoulder. "Mrs. McCall, this serves no purpose." His eyes flickered over the terrain, checking the alternatives.
"You are not leaving with my husband," Ann stated. "Not while I stand."
"What a pity," Chin sighed.
Robert saw the shadowy movement in that instant. "Ann, get down!" Heíd have run to her, but Chin cut his legs out from under him.
Ann hit the ground and rolled as two gunshots cracked the air. She came up on her knees with the MAC-10 leveled.
The commando who had gone to check the boats twitched a bit more, then lay still on the ground, his head half missing. Ann debated throwing up, then wondered what had happened.
Chin pointed his gun at Robert. "Whoís out there!"
Robert smiled proudly out at the confusion of light and darkness and places to hide, hoping Mickey could see him. "You donít think I came without back-up, do you?" Chin glanced at Ann. "You may have noticed that I cannot tell my wife to do anything. Nor would I ask her to be a sniper."
The soldiers, recovering from their duck as their comradeís bullet had gone over them, swept the view with eager rifles. The ones who had been searching the island began reappearing, weapons ready.
"Oh, Christ," Ann muttered, seeing fate rushing her towards a decision sheíd prayed to avoid.
Chin and Robert stared at each other. "Let it stand at one man dead," Robert said urgently. "It can only get messier. Please, call it off."
The General growled a curse. "I cannot go back empty-handed. You know whatís at stake."
Robert sighed and reached under his jacket. Several rifles snapped up to aim at his head, and Ann swiveled to counter. Robert glared at all of them, pulling out a thick envelope.
"The reason youíre here, General. Havenít they cost enough?"
Slowly Chin took the envelope. "They werenít my primary objective, you know."
"Itíll have to do." Robert narrowed his eyes threateningly. "You know damned well I wonít allow you to get anything from me." He heard Annís murmur of dismay, but he didnít look at her. With all his heart, he was praying for the arrival of someone from the Coast Guard. At the very least, someone should be coming to investigate the lack of communication.
Chin glanced at Ann assessingly, but Robert wasnít sure if he was debating her effectiveness as a threat or her value as a prisoner. It wasnít illogical to assume that the wife of a senior government agent would be in possession of more information than was good for her.
"Itís not worth it, Chin."
The General sighed with all evidence of regret. "I am sorry, Mr. McCalló"
"Not as sorry as you will be," said a new voice.
Chao Tsu stepped out of the shadows, her gun leveled. "Youíre not touching my sister," she said firmly.
Robert and Chin made identical frustrated noises. Idiocy, to walk out to be a target of a dozen commandos willing to shoot you. But Robert knew that if he looked at his wife, heíd see a proud, touched smile and the readiness to back Chao Tsu up.
Heíd seen this kind of madness in women before. Men saw the way the world should be and fought wars, passed laws, initiated crusades, and killed people in the name of policy. But women looked at the world with clear eyes, compared it to their desires, and made unemotional, cold-blooded decisions about what was necessary. Only socialization and individual squeamishness prevented the world from being a bloodbath of guiltless women going about their work. With the exception of fanatics and brain twisted individuals, Robert had never met more ruthless, untroubled killers than the women heíd worked with.
But Chin still fondly believed he was in control of the situation. A dozen guns did make a powerful argument in his favor. He snapped a phrase in Chinese at Chao Tsu, which Robert recognized as an order to stand down.
"I will when you do," she answered in English. "You have the letters, now get in your boats and go."
Faintly through the noise, Robert heard the sound of a helicopter approaching.
Chin focused on the woman in front of him. He lost some of his tense edge. The air of command became more intimate. "You donít know whatís at stake."
Chao Tsu twitched uncomfortably. "Yes, I do. I heard you talking to Robert. I donít believe you. Youíre not my father, my father was a kind and gentle intellectual. He wouldnít kill people just because the state said so. He believed in honesty of the mind, and Iím sorry I ever betrayed his memory by working for you."
Chin only smiled faintly. "My wifeís cousin. A good man, but innocent. He never liked me, but he respected my reasons for not wanting my baby girl to come to harm. His wife had lost her baby and couldnít have more. It was simple to confuse the paperwork on who had lived and who had died." Grief flickered in his face as he relieved those days of loss.
Chao Tsu firmed her jaw. "Even if it is true, it doesnít matter."
Chin was still distracted by memory. "You are so like your mother. Logic had no bearing on her life."
"Stop talking like that!"
One of the commandos turned to look offshore, then he snapped a curt statement to Chin. The helicopter that had been approaching was coming around the island, low over the water.
Robert and Chin glared at each other suspiciously.
"Your Coast Guard?" Chin asked, raising his pistol.
"Their choppers are white." Robert craned for a look between the trees. "Thatís black. None of mine. No one youíre expecting?"
The General didnít answer, and the chopper coming in overhead cut off all chances to talk.
The downwash pummeled the ground, throwing up dirt and making everyone duck as the chopper hovered over the still sparking wreck of the Chinese transport. A searchlight stabbed down.
Ann scrambled for cover. She came up against Chao Tsu near the trees.
"Whereís Suzy!" Chao Tsu yelled.
"Other side! She better be hugging the bushes!"
Robert shielded his eyes, trying to see. He swore when a voice came through a bullhorn.
"So, McCall, are you still going to say youíre not working a deal with the enemy?"
It was Lee from Eastern Control.
"Not yours, you said," Chin said coldly.
"Trust me, General, if they start shooting, one of their first bullets will be for me."
"I have more guns." Chin smiled cruelly. "Perhaps if you threw yourself on my protection Ö"
Robert didnít answer. Perhaps Eastern Control would solve his dilemma for him. He looked around for Ann and found her in consultation with Chao Tsu several feet away. The two women were holding their weapons at the ready, and they kept glancing from the commandos to the helicopter. Robert wanted to yell at both of them to hide and stay out of this, but he knew their blood was up.
Over on the roof of the visitorís center, Mickey wrestled with his moral crisis. If the shit hit, who should he aim at? The commando drawing bead on the back of Annís head had been an easy decision. Eastern Control, however, were supposed to be on his side, despite methods and agendas. Mickey was fully aware of how those people felt about Robert, and his conflicting loyalties made his head hurt.
Suzy hid in the bushes, crying. When the soldier had aimed at Annie, sheíd started forward with nothing but her nerve and a rock. Then his head had blown up. Sheíd never seen anyone killed, never seen anyone die, and sheíd never seen a body before the morticians had made it presentable. She thought she kept seeing the man twitch, though she knew no one could survive with his brain sprayed over the grass. So she hid, her arms wrapped around her head, cursing her cowardice but blessing the color of her skin that let her be just another shadow.
A door on the side of the helicopter slid back, and a man with a rifle shifted around to aim below.
"General Chin," Lee said, "tell your men to stand down. You donít want the grief a firefight on American soil will bring you."
Chin glared at Robert. "They followed you."
Robert actually managed to laugh. "They knew you were here before I did."
"Donít look at him, Chin," Lee said through the bullhorn. "McCall, I am officially placing you under arrest. I may just save on the paperwork, though, and take you out now."
"That offer of protection still stands," Chin said, glancing at his men.
But Robert was looking at Ann, who was smiling faintly as she stared up at the chopper, obviously pleased to find a well-defined target. He started towards her, but Chin grabbed his arm.
He saw the moment heíd been waiting for: all he had to do was punch Chin, and all hell would break loose. And Lee would finish it.
But Ann stopped him, the thought of her grief and her rage and where they would take her. In all his life and all his loves, heíd always been willing to die for someone else. This was possibly the first time heíd thought heíd better live for someone else.
Above it all, the rifleman in the chopper was waiting for Lee to signal. Lee raised his hand.
One of Chinís commandos fired first. The rifleman grabbed his arm and slumped while his rifle tumbled out of his hands. Lee grabbed it and returned fire.
Chao Tsu grabbed Ann and threw her behind a tree. "Now wait a minute!" Ann protested, getting a grip on Chao Tsu.
"Stay down!" Chao Tsu ordered. She spun around at crashing in the bushes behind them. Harvey broke through, painting anxiously and his eyes huge with fear. "I told you to stay put!"
"Are you alló"
A stray bullet ripped through the leaves, making them all hit the dirt. Chao Tsu crawled to Harvey. Ann headed for Robert.
Robert and Chin had shoved each other into cover. Up above, another rifleman appeared to join Lee and the commandos returned fire. This chopper was a military model, though, and threw off the impacts.
Chin surveyed the battlefield, wincing as one of his men went down. "Where is she?" he said anxiously.
Robert, recognizing only one "she" to be worried about, scrambled for a view. He ducked as the tree trunk above him splintered with a bullet impact, then he started hunting for a gun. His pistol was stuck in Chinís belt; he grabbed it out and chambered a round.
Ann came around a bush in time to see Robert rearm himself. And she saw that his view of Lee was blocked by the tree, keeping him from seeing that the man in the helicopter was drawing a bead on the back of his head. All that crossed her mind was that the MAC-10 was an area effect weapon, as Robert had patiently taught her. She shoved her jacket back and snatched her pistol out, smoothly thumbing the safety off.
Robert saw the movement, his brain automatically registering the motion of someone drawing a weapon. He turned, pistol in hand, then froze at sight of his wife quick-drawing, taking swift aim above his head, and calmly squeezing off two shots. For precision work, he was absently pleased to see, sheíd chosen her hand weapon. Sheíd proven to be a good student, once she got over her squeamishness.
Curses above him reminded him that those shots had gone somewhere. He whirled to look at the chopper.
Lee was holding his right arm, blood running from the wound in his forearm. He shouted something over his shoulder, and the searchlight swiveled in the direction the shots had come from.
"Ann, get down!" Robert shouted. He didnít have to look up to know that Lee was telling his gunman to take out the person who had hit him.
Ann started to obey, but she saw the rifleman point at Robert and Lee grin. The rifleman was guarding his body better; a head shot was the only way to stop him. In self-defense, she quibbled about killing. In defense of Robert, she only hoped she was a good enough shot.
Two fingers tightened on triggers at the same time. But the riflemanís shot went wildly off into the trees and Annís bullet ricocheted off the hull as the chopper pilot heeled over to avoid the two white helicopters that came charging past Lady Liberty, searchlights drenching the scene.
"This is the United States Coast Guard!" boomed over the loudspeakers on the new arrivals. "Put your weapons down. You in the helicopter: land that craft immediately!"
The pilot of Leeís helicopter hesitated. The Coast Guard ships moved to flank him, and those choppers had riflemen too. He headed down to a tricky landing next to the crippled helicopter on the ground but avoiding the corpse on the grass.
Before Chin could react, Robert scrambled to Ann. He grabbed her as she stared, amazed, at the cavalry in the sky. He wanted to shake her silly, but he hugged her as tight as he could instead.
She shoved away first and glared at him. "What were you thinking!"
Robert blinked. These shouting occasions normally went the other way. "Excuse me?"
She held onto his arms tightly, uncertain if she was trying to make sure he was all right or to make sure he didnít get away. "I know what you were planning with Chin. You were making a deal for our safety that you didnít plan to keep. I know how you think."
Despite all the running and shouting behind him, Robert kissed her. "Youíre right," he said soberly. "That is what I was planning. And it almost worked, but I couldnít do it. I knew what it would do to you, and I couldnít do that, not consciously." He hugged her fiercely. "Damn it, woman, you have wrecked every bit of self-sacrifice I have."
She hugged him back just as hard. "Good. But I donít believe you." The warrior abruptly drained from her mind, and everything sheíd done replayed. "Oh, God, Robert, I shot somebody Ö"
He held onto her as the shakes took her. It was her first stand-up, fair fight, with even odds of giving and receiving harm. Indifferent bullets flying about were almost worse than incoming shots from someone who disliked you: at least that gave your mind something to relate to. And she had deliberately inflicted potentially mortal damage to another person. She had always had the heart of a warrior, but most modern people never had to discover what it was like to face open battle.
He whispered reassurances to her until the shivers stopped. She wasnít the first soldier heíd seen who found the truths inside them hard to bear.
"What am I, Robert?" she finally whispered, still holding onto him desperately. "How can I just stand there and aim a lethal weapon at someone and not care?"
"Youíre a soldier, my love." He tipped her face up so she would look at him. "Warriors in the heat of battle donít think. They do what they must to do the job." He smiled faintly. "I have the honor of being the job youíve chosen."
She saw his pride and love. "It scares me to get that way. IóI think I like hurting people who get in my way."
Robert laughed at himself. "Youíd hardly be the first, my own. But now is not the best time to go into all that." Outraged shouting from the clearing behind them punctuated the thought.
A voice rose above the others. "And where the hell are the McCalls!"
"Control?" Robert gasped.
"I love being lumped in with you," Ann grinned, letting unreality play with her brain.
They walked out of the shadows under the trees. On the lawn, the Chinese commandos were clustered around Chin, with the Coast Guardsmen watching them carefully. All guns were slung or holstered, but hands lurked near weapons. A blanket had been thrown over the dead commando. The lawn was crowded with helicopters.
"Thereís going to be hell to pay with the groundskeepers," Robert commented. He holstered his pistol; Ann did the same and slung the MAC-10 farther back out of reach.
Control stood in the middle of it all, alternately yelling at Lee, who stood under unobtrusive guard, and glaring at Chin, who was doing his best to look reasonable and harmless, despite the crowd of personal soldiers around him. The mob shifted, revealing Mickey, with Suzy at his side.
"Oh, thank God," Ann said.
Control turned. "There you are! Get over here!"
Robert put a hand on his wifeís back to counter her stubbornness. "Control, how the hell did you find out about this?"
Control gaped at him. "Are you scolding me? A major assault on a national monument, and you donít think to tell me? If Eastern Control hadnít called me to say Lee was running without sanctions, we wouldnít be here. I got to Governorís Island just in time to see the results of you threatening mayhem on the statue."
"And a very nice deus ex machina you make, too." Robert knew he should be chagrined, but he was too relieved to learn that Lee didnít have official approval to kill him.
"Donít get clever with me, McCall! You and that maniac of a wifeó" He looked around for Ann and found her sneaking towards Suzy. "You get back here, Ann McCall!"
"In a minute!" Ann ran the rest of the way to Suzy, who threw her arms around her sister to cry. "Suzy, are you OK?"
"Yeah, yeah, Iím fine. Oh, Annie, I canít believe all this."
"I know, love. I wish I didnít." Ann looked at Mickey. "Are you OK?"
"Me? Hell, nothing came near me."
"Where were you?"
He nodded over his shoulder. "Top of the visitorís center. Nice job on the chopper, Calamity Jane."
Ann shrugged uneasily. "Yeah, well, it made sense at the time."
"Yeah. She looked at the visitorís center, then glanced at the blanket covered figure on the grass. "Was that you?"
Mickey shifted the marksmanís rifle on his shoulder to a more comfortable position. "It made sense at the time." He looked towards where Robert and Control were still yelling at each other. "You ought to go distract them."
"I supposeówait a minute, whereís Chao Tsu and Harvey?"
Suzy and Ann looked around anxiously, but the two lovers were nowhere to be seen. Ann started towards the patch of woods where she left them, but Mickey put a hand on her shoulder.
"I wouldnít worry about them," he said pointedly. "Go distract Control."
Ann glanced at Suzy with confused speculation, and Suzy shrugged. Suspiciously, Ann went back to the scene of the main argument.
Control focused his attention on her. He looked like he wanted to yell but couldnít think of a place to start.
"Sternoís not going to get in trouble, is he?" she asked, feeling real chagrin over that part of the eveningís activities.
"No," Control answered. "But heís very disappointed in you. He thought you were a nice, respectable lady who did what she was told."
"Since when?" she asked, puzzled.
Robert barely muffled his snicker.
Control glared at both of them. "Iím going to want a complete debriefing from all of you."
"Right now?" Ann protested.
"Control," Robert added, "the ladies are exhausted and, hopefully, quite confused by all this. Why donít you let them go to the superintendentís house where itís quiet while we get some of this straightened out?"
Control shrugged. "Do you know where itís at?" he asked Ann.
"Through those trees. It would be very nice to sit down."
"All right, take you sister, and go wait for us there."
"Thank you. Suzy, come on!"
The two women were grateful for the quiet of the empty house. They took up residence in the front office and sat close together in weary silence.
"This sounds utterly mundane," Suzy finally said, "but I have to go to the restroom."
Ann chuckled. "It proves all the systems still work.
Suzy got up to look for the facilities. Ann finally deduced the pain in her shoulder to be the drag of the MAC-10.
She went to a table and disarmed, lightening the load tremendously. She was midway through reloading the clip of her pistol when the shakes hit her again. She buried her face in her hands and tried to get the sound of gunfire out of her ears.
"Here," a quiet voice said.
She looked up, startled, and found Control standing next to her, his handkerchief held out to her. He was alone. Slowly she took the offered cloth and wiped her eyes.
Control sat down. "Been a hell of a day for you."
"Iíve had worse," she said thoughtfully.
He nodded. "Is Ms. Johnson all right?
"Probably having a lovely cry in the bathroom, but, praise be to God, nothing touched her."
"Good. And you?"
His concern always worried Ann; she didnít know if it was legitimate or the counterfeit of a man who knew concern was expected. "Iíll be OK."
Control studied her. "You did good."
She looked at him in surprise. "I thought you were pissed."
"Thatís Robertís job. I would much rather youíd told someone what you were going to do, but you didnít. I stopped wasting time on spilled milk a long time ago." He picked up her ammo clip and went on with the reloading. "You didnít tell Robert because you didnít want me to know, am I right?"
"Basically. I didnít know what youíd do to Chao Tsu if you caught her."
He smiled faintly. "What I would have done is ask her a great many questions, and then I would have offered her and her boyfriend a job."
Ann stared in complete shock. "What?"
"Where do you think we get our foreign-born agents? Itís what happened with Robertógranted, he wasnít caught spying for the Queen. But he was offered a job. He accepted. Chao Tsu might have done the same."
"Might have?" she snapped. "Whatís happened to her?"
Controlís smile broadened. "While I was instructing the Coast Guard to do a thorough search of the other parts of the Island and while Robert was acquainting Chin with some aspects of realpolitik, Mickey escorted Chao Tsu and her boyfriend down to Chinís boats and waved them off. I assume theyíre headed for Jersey, but they could land almost anywhere."
Ann could only blink. The story had to be true, it was too easy to confirm with Mickey and Robert. "You let them go? Why?"
"Because they know little worth holding them for. Because Robert asked me to. Because I thought it might make you think me less of an ogre."
He was serious, and that was almost more disorienting than thwarting Chinese spies. "Why on earth do you care what I think of you?"
He gave her a disappointed look. "Who do you think Robert listens to more, me or you? The boss heís fought with as often as agreed with or his wife? I am not your enemy, Ann. I want the same things you do."
"Oh, like what?"
"Most obviously, I donít want Robert to get his head blown off. Or if he does, that it happen for a good cause." He saw her bite off her protest. "Iíve chosen a path, and it leads to a good end: keeping this country safe from her enemies, foreign and domestic. And for that end I will use any means, no matter how personally painful." He looked away, distracted. "It has to be done."
"Even if itís illegal, immoral, and wrong?"
Control looked irritated with her. "Yes, even if. We know itís wrong. We do it anyway. Youíre too young to remember how it was. You were a baby when we found out there might be missiles in Cuba pointed at us. We had an enemy who, as far as we knew, was willing to turn New York into Hiroshima and risk Moscow becoming Nagasaki just to say ĎI told you so.í Yes, it was childish and petty. Weíd still have ended up dead. There were so many things like Cuba. All you know is that it all turned out right in the end. I canít help thinking that it turned out right because so many of us were willing to sell our souls to make it right."
Ann could only sit, amazed and a little ashamed. Sheíd heard this same speech from Robert, but she knew he was an infinitely honorable man. He had reached a point where his honor could no longer bend. Control, though, had apparently decided his job was more important than his honor, and Ann couldnít decide who was the braver of the two men.
"Youíve never thought of leaving?" she asked faintly.
"Of course I have. Every time I send someone off into a situation I know will likely get them killed and then get to tell their family that weíve lost contact. Every time I let a sadist get away with murder because heís marginally more acceptable than his likely replacement. Every time I authorize a payoff to the scum of the earth because I need his information and his influence."
The disgust in his voice was real and heavy. "Then why keep doing it?"
He stared at her. "If Chin had gotten away with Robert, what would you have done?"
She shivered, then considered it seriously. "Iíd have tried to get Chao Tsu to tell me how to get in touch with Chin. Iíd have coerced Mickey into helping, except that would pull you in, and youíd have your own agenda. Given time, Iíd have found every one of Robertís Chinese contacts. Hell, Iíd even try their embassy. Bribe someone, hack into the computersó" She paused, debating with herself. "And if all else failed and theyíd gotten him out of the country, Iíd go to China."
Control nodded gravely. "You know why I ask, donít you?"
"Because you would go to as great of lengths for what you believe in." Ann sighed. "I just pray that what you believe in is right."
"So do I. Every day."
He handed her back her pistol, reloaded. She smiled faintly and returned it to its holster.
"I never saw myself," she said, "as the kind of wife who tells her husband who he can associate with. But I am the kind of wife who cares very much about keeping people from manipulating and exploiting her husband. And I know you want Robert back."
Control nodded. "Heís one of the best whoís ever played the game. Yes, I want him back in the company. But he wonít while youíre around."
Ann went still. "Yes," she said coldly, "the same thought occurred to me."
Control looked at her, puzzled, then his eyes widened at the corollary: if she werenít around, Robert might go back. "Do you really believe Iíd do that to him?"
"Havenít you just been telling me that no despicable act is too much for the cause?"
"He was my best man," he said angrily, "and I was his daughterís godfather. When Kay left him, I got him drunk, and he did the same for me when my wife left me. And when we found out where the Black Riders were holding you, I had the rescue team standing by. And you dare to suggest ..." He broke off in fury.
Ann looked at her hands, shaking. No apology could make up for such a monumental misjudgment. It was no wonder Robert was so disturbed by her unthinking condemnation. "I didnít know," she whispered. "All I saw was that you wanted to pull my man back into a world that would kill him, and that I was in the way."
Control took a shaky breath, already regretting his outburst and its revelations. "I understand. Youíre as single-minded as I am, just with a narrower focus." He smiled wryly. "Yes, youíre an obstacle to his return, but I had a different idea for getting around that."
"Oh?" she asked cautiously.
"I was going to offer you a job." He sat back to enjoy her reaction.
She stared at him for a good twenty seconds. "Are you mad?" she gasped.
"Not diagnosably. True, the pay is nothing like what youíre used to, and youíre too high profile to disappear into the field for months on end, but you could work in the occasional excursion." He shrugged. "Think of it as a way to use all your talents. In fact, I have a situation right now where someone with a musical background and a passing knowledge of computers would come in very handy." He paused hopefully.
For a few shocking seconds, she was tempted. Then she flashed on Robertís scars and the oneís sheíd acquired while only a bit player in this manís schemes.
"Get thee behind me, Satan!" she snapped. "I will neveró"
"Donít use that word," he interrupted. "It comes back to haunt people." The faint teasing gleam in his eyes faded entirely. "Someday you and I are going to need each otherís help. We both know what kinds of odds Robert tempts. If he was on the line, youíd ask my help in a heartbeat."
Ann nodded slowly.
Control glanced around, making sure they were absolutely alone. "I have protected him far more than he realizes. No one is supposed to leave the agency without permission. He didnít have permission. He dropped a letter of resignation on my desk and went. I should have stopped him, but I didnít. There are people who think we have bad reasons of our own for his comings and goings and my allowing it. Dammit, if heíd just gone off to grow roses somewhere and write about military history, he wouldnít have most of these problems."
Ann smiled knowingly. "Instead heís determined to conduct his own damned fool idealistic crusade. Does he help you because he owes you, or do you help him because you owe him?"
"Both." Control gave her an approving look. "You do understand the nuances."
"He wouldnít get shot at nearly as often if he stayed home and away from you."
"Roughly. You need to know something, Ann. Your government considers your husband to be a significant security risk. He is watched, and there are people who occasionally sit down to consider if he should be allowed to remain on the street." He nodded in satisfaction as the she-wolf flickered in the back of her eyes. "Theyíve been content to leave him be and to let him mount his crusade. But if circumstances were to change, with his connivance or not, their opinion might change as well. Donít obsess over it, but donít forget it, either."
"Oh, I wonít," she said coolly.
Control nodded once more, more pleased than he let her see. Despite her resolve, she had just agreed to the very job heíd planned for her: twenty-four-hour bodyguard and watchdog on Robert McCall. Control couldnít watch all the time, and any plot that involved Robert would come into Annís sphere of influence eventually. Control trusted Ann to be less trusting than Robert, and he hoped sheíd learn to pass on to him any tidbits of suspicions that might come her way. And if she occasionally provided armed and intelligent backup on some little affair, the more soldiers the better.
He stood to go tend the rest of the eveningís maneuvers. "Tell your sister she did good, too, and Iím sorry she had to get dragged into the truth. If you trust her, than I do as well."
Ann blinked in surprise. "Um, thanks, I guess. Iíll tell her."
"Good. Take Robert home now and get some rest." He held out his hand. "Friends?"
She smiled wryly. "Allies," she corrected, taking his hand.
He startled her by leaning down to kiss her hand. "Allies are sometimes better. Theyíll tell you unpleasant truths, while friends frequently lie to you for your own good."
"What a sad experience of friends you must have."
A resigned bleakness entered his eyes. "Youíre right." He nodded to her and left.
Ann stared after him for several minutes, until Suzy returned. Her eyes were red, but she seemed calmer.
"Sorry to abandon you for so long, love," she apologized. "I didnít know how comforting a little ceramic room could be. Did I miss anything?"
"A very surprising conversation with Control. I hate changing my mind about people."
"That is surprising."
"Oh, Iím still not going to believe him, especially where Robert is concerned, but I may start trusting him a bit now."
Suzy nodded. "Itíll make your life a little less complicated. Can we go out there?"
"Probably. Letís find out." As they headed out the door of the superintendentís house, Ann suddenly grinned. "He offered me a job."
"Control. He offered me a job."
"Oh. Did you accept?"
"I guess not."
One of the Coast Guard choppers was just leaving as the women entered the clearing. The unfortunate commandoís body was also gone, though a dark stain remained.
A Coast Guardsman turned at the womenís approach. "Halt," he ordered, bringing his rifle around.
"Hey!" Suzy protested.
"Itís all right, soldier!" Control called from the other side of the field. "Theyíre with me."
"Great," Ann muttered.
The guard, a very young man, looked nervous. "Sorry, maíams."
"Thatís all right," Suzy smiled, "youíre just doing your job." She nodded at his salute and tugged Ann after her towards Control.
"Whereís Robert?" Ann asked.
"Heís taken Lee and his men to meet a Coast Guard cutter at the ferry docks," Control answered.
"What are you going to do with Chin?" Suzy asked.
He looked at her assessingly. "Heís being deported, along with his cronies, half of whom were plants in U.S. positions. Cleaning them out is a good nightís work."
"Chin killed Weh Hong," Ann said bleakly. "And he just goes home."
"It happens, Ann. But he wonít get off easily. His superiors will have stern words for him."
Ann looked him in the eye. "And what about Lee?"
Control sighed briefly. "Lee has been cut loose by Eastern Control. Heís been classified as a renegade. You wonít need to worry about him anymore."
"Is he a renegade because he went after Robert, or is it because he got caught? He had to have some support to be able to track us down out here and get his hands on a helicopter and crew."
Control looked at her for several seconds, then at Suzy. "I know how they feel over there. We can talk about that some other time." He looked up at the approach of another chopper. "Ah, good, my back up. Now the Coast Guard can go home."
The large, dark helicopter settled onto the grass. Suzy started giggling. "Oh, lord."
"What?" Ann demanded.
"Donít you see? Itís a UBH."
"A what?" Control asked as the women laughed.
"UBH," Ann managed. "Unmarked Black Helicopter. Staple of mysterious government activities."
Control grimaced. "Itís black for a very good reason, and it is too marked."
"Dark grey numbers on the tail."
"Oh, right, dark grey on black in the middle of the night, very useful."
"Donít give me grief, Ann McCall."
Robert heard this as he came up the slope from the ferry docks. He was worried, then saw Suzy and Ann laughing together. Control looked bemused as he watched the Agency men disembark from their helicopter.
"Robert," he said, "tell your wife and her sister to stop laughing at my helicopter."
"Certainly." Robert watched Control for a moment, then saw his friend had only slipped into the manic mood that took him when operations resolved favorably. Robert went to the women. "Ladies, my friend tells me youíre laughing at his helicopter."
"Itís a long story, sweetheart," Ann said. "So when do we get to go home?"
"Soon, I imagine." He pulled her against him and just held her for several seconds. "Suzy, are you doing all right?"
Robert squeezed her shoulder. "Letís go talk to Control, see when we can leave."
Control was deploying his black-clad men to various parts of the Island and thanking the Coast Guardsmen for their help. The Guard officer, looking carefully incurious, saluted and led his people back to the white helicopter with the red stripe.
Robert waited till they were out of earshot. "Controló"
"In a moment." Control went to Chinís helicopter, which Ann had immobilized. Mickey sat inside investigating the damage. "Mickey, howís it look?"
"Ignition switch is fried, gauges are smashed, some of the control switches are gone. If you could get it started youíd be OK if you didnít want to make left turns or descend." He grinned at Ann. "Good shootiní, Tex."
"Yeah, thanks. Can we call it a night, yet?" she asked plaintively.
"Robert," Control said, "your wife wants to go home. How do you want to get off the island and where to?"
"Our vehicles are in Liberty State Park, and howeverís convenient to get there."
"The Coast Guard found a launch heading into the shipping channels, would that have been yours?"
"Probably. Blast, that means only Zodiacs are left, weíd be soaked."
"Iíll lend you my helicopter, despite itís being laughed at," he added, glaring at the women.
"Oh, good, bed," Suzy sighed. "Is Sterno still at my place?"
Robert and Mickey looked at each other. "We should call him," Mickey said sheepishly.
"I think so."
Suzy then gasped and grabbed Annís Arm. "The book."
"Annie, the notebook."
"Oh, god, yes. I want to get that off our hands."
"What notebook?" Robert asked.
"A gift to you, sweetheart, from Chao Tsu, as a gesture of goodwill. The journal of her work in Chinatown."
"Good God," Robert breathed.
Control took Annís arm. "Her journal? Youíve got her journal? Where is it?"
"Itís at the bank, where she put it two weeks ago, along with those letters."
"Screw the letters, I want to know who sheís been dealing with." Control looked at her carefully. "Are you willing to let me have it?"
She smiled. "I wouldnít have brought it up in front of you if I werenít."
"When can we get it?"
The women looked at each other, and Suzy nodded. Ann looked at Control. "How about now?"
"Excellent." Control jogged to his second in command from the helicopter.
Robert looked at his wife, puzzled. "Youíre being very cooperative with him all of a sudden. What happened?"
Ann blushed. "A talk in the ranger station. He told me some things I never considered. I still donít trust him, but at least I know a little better where heís coming from."
"Oh, thank God. Tell me later."
It was a short ride by chopper from Liberty Island to Liberty State Park. Suzy opted to ride in Mickeyís van instead of on the back of Annís motorcycle back into Manhattan. Traffic was very light in the Financial District at this hour, and they were able to pull up in front of the Schaeffer & Marshall building without trouble.
"Will there be a guard there at this hour?" Robert asked as he joined Ann at the front door.
"Most likely. But I see no reason to answer questions." She found the key to the entrance on her key ring and opened the door.
The guard, understandably a little groggy at this hour, sat up straight at the security desk and blinked. "Mrs. McCall?"
"Hello, Stanley, I just need to get some things from my office." She gestured at the people behind her. "Theyíre with me."
The guard only nodded and let them pass.
"If he worked for me," Control muttered, "heíd be fired." Robert scolded him with a look.
The journal lay in one of the drawers of the desk Ann used when she was at the bank. She hesitated only briefly before handing it to Control..
"So does that finish everything?" she asked.
He flipped through the pages, lips moving as he read. "I wonít be sure till I send this to the translators, but I think we can call this a good nightís work." He glanced around, reminding himself that there were civilians about. "For you and Ms. Johnson, yes, this finishes it."
Suzy sighed in relief. "Thank God, I want some sleep. But Sternoís in my house and my carís in Brooklyn. Dammit."
Mickey patted her shoulder. "Iíll drive you home and relieve Sterno. You can get your car tomorrow."
"That works." She went to hug Ann as hard as she could. "Can we avoid any more adventures for the next few months? I donít know what Iím going to tell my bosses."
"Now you know how I feel. Iím sorry Ió"
"Hush. Shit happens. More often to you than most people, but I can deal with it." She stepped back with a wry smile. "Let me sleep for a couple of days and maybe itíll start to make sense."
Control finished looking through the notebook. "Mickey, you can drop me off on your way to Soho."
"Uh, right." Mickey glanced at Robert. "What about you?"
Robert smiled at his wife. "I believe Cynthia sports a spare helmet?"
"What, ride behind me?" She frowned. "Or are you going to insist on driving?"
"Heaven forbid, take her away from the woman who knows her best? I trust you."
"Good, thatís settled," Control said briskly, leading the way out. "I have work to do, and the rest of you have had far too busy a day. Come on, Mickey."
Mickey sighed and bowed Suzy out the door ahead of him.
Ann hesitated, and Robert paused to give her a questioning look. "Am I ever going to see her again?" she asked.
"Who, Chao Tsu?" Ann nodded. "I donít know, love. She might send you veiled messages, get word to you through odd channels, but she and Harvey are going into hiding. It would be safest for them to leave everything behind."
"So for all practical purposes, sheís still dead."
"Iím afraid so." He saw the tears in her eyes and put his arms around her. "Itís hard, I know."
"Iím sorry about Han Lin."
He shook his head. "It doesnít matter." He saw she didnít believe him. "Iím tired, youíre tired, letís see if anything makes any more sense in the morning."
"I wonder if the news will have anything to say about what happened tonight."
"Not if I know Control. Come on, your own bed and your cats await."
"And a hot shower and my husband." She shook her head. "Hard to believe it all happened."
"Tell yourself it didnít, it makes things easier." He tucked her arm under his and they walked out of her office towards the elevator. "But donít let the woman you were tonight get too far away. She did very well tonight."
Ann looked at him pensively. "Am I going to need her?"
"God only knows."