Steed cleans house
Emma faces her ghosts
“Tinker?” the voice emanating from the trench-coated shadow rumbled with menace.
Robert McCall scowled, not at the man in the dark beneath the dripping iron fire escape, but at the way the hair at the back of his own neck prickled. The passing summer thunderstorm had left the air charged with electricity, but he knew that wasn’t the cause.
“Do you know the silver shop on the Via Cusani?” he offered the recognition phrase, keeping his eyes on the entrance to the fetid Milan alley he had selected for their meeting.
“Yes. They are very good at repairing ladles,” the man replied.
“Tailor.” McCall said, acknowledging the man’s correct response.
“You said you had something for me,” the Italian was tainted with a Sicilian accent, but McCall knew it was contrived to cover the remaining Slavic hints.
“A message,” McCall’s own Italian was prep-school perfect with a slight English accent. He let his eyes slide toward the man for an instant, but he could not make him out in the darkness. More importantly, he could not tell whether the man held anything threatening in his hands, which were tucked into his coat pockets.
“Si?” The word was drawn out into several syllables. McCall’s skin crawled again and he clenched his jaw.
“From Colonel Kronskie.”
The man did not react to the name, but McCall had not really expected him to. He had hoped, but he had not expected. None of the previous ones had.
“I am not acquainted with any such person.”
The headlights of a car turning into the street reflected in Taylor’s eyes for an instant. He hunched his shoulders up around his ears and took a step toward the street, lightly shoving McCall with his shoulder as he passed.
“Prepare for the juggernaut,” McCall said a little too quickly. He clamped his mouth shut, praying silently that this time the recognition protocol would generate a response. The identities had been correct so far, but he had yet to get a clear reaction to the juggernaut.
Taylor stopped, head downcast beneath his fedora. McCall’s gaze was riveted on the profile of Roman nose, his whole body tense, ready to respond to whatever the man did next.
Which is why he didn’t see the gloved hand swing up in a lightening fast backhand, knocking into his jaw so hard he reeled back a few steps before regaining his balance.
“Blast it!” he growled as he rubbed at his mouth and checked his hand for blood. That gave Tailor the chance to wrap his big gloved hand around McCall’s throat and carry him gagging three steps to slam him into the filthy brick wall beneath the fire escape. McCall wrapped both hands around the supple black leather, trying to pry the hand away as he felt his windpipe begin to collapse. Too late he remembered his training and reached with one hand for his assailant’s throat.
“Who are you?” Tailor asked, the sharp aroma of basil and anise on his breath.
McCall couldn’t speak. He coughed out the bit of air that could escape through his constricted windpipe, suddenly annoyed that his last breath might very well be tainted with Tailor’s stinking dinner. Emboldened by his anger he clawed at the bigger man’s collar, jabbing his thumb first against a pulsing jugular and then a hard knob of Adam’s apple.
Tailor pulled away, his grip loosening a little. McCall took advantage and knocked at his wrist with one hand while tightening his grip on Tailor’s throat with the other. Another car turning into the street illuminated them both for an instant: Tailor a hulking dark shadow with his back to the street, McCall’s features clearly lit above the hand on his throat.
Tailor pulled back and glanced over his shoulder at the car as it paused, the driver surprised at the tableau in his auto’s twin spotlights. McCall swatted at his wrist again and Tailor let go, wheeling away from the car to take off at a run down the alley.
McCall sagged back against the wall, hands on his damaged throat. He glanced up into the blinding headlights at the sound of the car door opening.
“Are you all right?” a woman asked. “Do you need a doctor?”
“No,” McCall replied, his voice ragged. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
“Are you sure?” she stepped to the side just enough that he could see her – blonde hair curling over her shoulders, a woolen coat belted around a slender waist. She looked genuinely concerned.
“Yes,” he replied, thinking of Tara’s big blue eyes. Thinking of the ministry clinic secreted in the back of a hospital not far away. Thinking of how he could explain his injuries if he went there. “No,” he said. “I guess I could use some help. Just a ride to the hospital.”
She nodded, took a step closer and paused as if uncertain whether he was really the victim. He pushed himself away from the wall and raised both hands to show her that they were empty. That seemed to assuage her concern and she reached out to take his arm and guide him to the passenger side of her car. If her grip on his arm was tighter than seemed necessary he chalked it up to the tension of the moment.
He massaged his throat with one hand as he slumped onto the seat and watched her walk around the front of the car. She paused, staring down the alley where Tailor had taken off. She raised one hand as if to shade her eyes, but stopped it part way in a sort of a wave before dropping it and continuing on around the car to get in.
She said nothing as she put the car back in gear and started down the narrow street. McCall rubbed at his throat, breathing shallowly to ease the pain. The car accelerated, the tires squealing a little as she turned onto a broader avenue.
“Thank you. But the hospital is –.” McCall started to point back in the opposite direction.
“Mr. McCall, you are either very foolish, or very smart. Our sources tell us the former,” the woman said, her Italian near-perfect, but with oddly clipped vowels that could not be the sound of a native speaker. Her hands crossed back and forth over one another repeatedly as she turned another corner. A well-trained driver. “If you wish to prove that they are wrong and it is the latter, then you will shut up.”
McCall cringed inwardly. Tailor had a backup. Of course he didn’t come alone. He watched the woman’s expression, which now looked very harsh in the yellow glow of the car instruments and even sharper in the recurring flashes from overhead streetlights. She hit the accelerator and weaved between slower-moving vehicles on the wide avenue. McCall kept his eyes on her as he felt with his right hand for the door handle. He half expected it to have been removed, but he found it and as the avenue made a turn to the left he yanked on it.
The door swung open and McCall rolled out, protecting his head with his forearms so that his elbows slammed hard against the pavement. He kept rolling until his body lost momentum and stopped in a puddle at the curb. His ears were filled with the sound of squealing brakes just down the road. And then there was a resounding crash – steel on steel, shattering glass. He lifted his head from where he’d come to rest in the gutter and saw the woman’s car wedged halfway under the rear bumper of a delivery lorry. The passenger side door was hanging open, the hinges damaged, but the driver’s side was shut tight. He could see movement inside the car – she was trapped in the driver’s seat. The rear window had popped out and the woman turned her head to look out at McCall as he climbed painfully to his feet. His whole body hurt, but he did not think anything was broken. Their eyes met, his clouded with pain and fear, hers suffused with rage. Even at this distance he could see it.
And then people and other vehicles closed in around her car and blocked his view. He stepped up onto the curb and joined the stream of pedestrians on the sidewalk. He hugged his raincoat around his battered body and tried to walk normally, succeeding only in achieving a stiff-legged shuffle as his knees began to ache. He gently pressed through the growing crowd to get to the clearer passage near the storefronts, hurrying past the car and lorry and making it around the next corner just as the pulsing wail of the ambulance was audible in the distance.
“Steed here,” John Steed held the receiver to his ear with one hand and pushed an HO scale model locomotive across the red leather of his desk top with his other index finger.
“Hello Steed, it’s Lee Stetson,” the American’s voice sounded very far away – which it was.
“Lee!” Steed sat up straight and reached for his pen and a pad of ruled paper. “This is a pleasant surprise.”
“You may not say that when you hear why I’m calling.”
“Oh?” Steed moved the locomotive aside and uncapped the pen, enjoying the weight and feel of the gold barrel in his hand.
“There’s some information circulating over in your territory that Washington wants. Badly.”
“Is it information that we wouldn’t want to share with an ally?” Steed asked, a slight frown creasing his brow. Even between friendly nations there were secrets to be withheld. But if this were that sensitive they would not have set Lee to contact him. The politicians and would be negotiating, and taking credit.
“Maybe, but I don’t see why. It’s a list of sleepers.”
“Theirs, I take it? Not ours?”
“You have sleepers?”
“Of course not.”
He could picture Lee’s wide grin as the other man chuckled.
“This is a list of their sleepers. From what we’ve heard it’s a particularly long list.”
“Do tell,” Steed scratched at his chin, imagining the usefulness of such a list.
“Do I really need to, Steed? Our sources say someone in your organization has it.”
“Well, Lee, I can look into it. See if I can lay my hands on it . . .”
“Come on Steed, it’s not like you to be obtuse. What do you want for it – to share it with us?”
“No need to get hot about it, Lee. I’ll see what I can do! If someone in the ministry does have it, I’ll have to use some favors to try to get it,” Steed felt his own temper rise in response to Lee’s.
“Steed, what we’ve heard is that someone in your organization has it. Not the ministry in general – one of your people.”
Steed set down the pen and picked up the model train, nestling the phone against his shoulder so he could spin one wheel with his finger. McCall.
“Forgive me Lee. I misunderstood. I appreciate your bringing this to my attention.”
“You’ll want to get a hold of that list, Steed. It’s not safe for anyone out in the field to have it.”
“Yes. I agree. I’ll call you back Lee.”
Steed’s suspicion of his former partner’s husband was not completely unfounded. Robert McCall had a history of unorthodox behavior that had gotten him into hot water on more than one past occasion. And the psychological profile in his file placed him rather close to the line in terms of potential for dangerously chaotic behavior. But since his marriage to Tara King he’d seemed to be playing it straight, minding his manners and accomplishing what he was set to do. Since Steed had become his handler he’d been watching him as closely as he could from across the English Channel. Steed believed that rebels — independent thinkers – made much better agents than the by-the-book sorts who inhabited the ministry’s halls. The challenge was identifying those who would go too far and stopping them before they did it. Now he suspected that McCall was trending over the line despite his recent good behavior. He was going to have to rein him in.
But there was another factor: Tara. Steed felt responsible for his former partner’s success, due in part to lingering guilt over the way he’d treated her in the past. He had never loved her, but he had known that she loved him – no worshiped him as a personal hero — and he’d allowed their relationship to become physically intimate just the same. That he had still been deeply hurt over Emma’s departure at the time was no excuse for using Tara so cruelly. And when Emma had returned he’d not taken the time to explain – let alone apologize — to Tara before moving Emma right back into his life and his work. He could not have acted differently with regard to Emma, but that did not excuse his neglect of Tara. And so for Tara’s sake since she had eloped with McCall last year he had been dangerously tolerant of her husband’s weaknesses.
The one thing Steed could tolerate less than making mistakes himself was being placed in a compromised position by someone else’s mistakes. If McCall actually had a list of enemy sleepers and hadn’t notified his superiors then it was time to pull the plug.
Emma set her hairbrush on the table and opened the lid of her jewelry box, smiling automatically at the glistening gems and coils of precious metal chain inside. She lifted up a delicate gold chain, its tiny links unfolding until a golden horseshoe charm mounted with five small white diamonds dangled before her eyes. It had been a present from a suitor a long time ago. The memory of the evening when she’d received it rushed back unbidden.
Emma twisted the end of a lock of hair with her left hand as she sorted through a stack of files and reports with her right. She was trying to decide which ones she would need, fearful that if she guessed wrong she would blow several deals all in one trip. She hadn’t missed Mrs. Emerson’s concerned look as she set the fat portfolio of airline tickets and daily itineraries on the edge of Emma’s desk. Over the next three weeks she would literally circle the world, calling upon customers, suppliers, and potential business partners. It was the sort of expedition her father had undertaken several times a year, and she had gone along with him many times. That’s why she’d been confident, even casual about it, during the planning stages. But now, as the minutes ticked down to her departure, the enormous difference between tagging along and successfully negotiating million-pound deals that could make or break parts of Knight Industries’ business had hit home.
She peripherally noticed her office door swing open on silent hinges and a figure step in.
“Where are the Bronson figures, Mrs. Emerson?” she asked, rifling through an inch thick stack of computer printouts.
“Shall I go ask her?” a male voice replied. Her head jerked up to see Peter Peel crossing the floor to her desk.
“Hello darling. I came to wish you bon voyage,” he said, setting a small rectangular gift box topped with a diminutive golden bow on the edge of her desk.
“I’m so frantic, Peter – I can’t afford a moment,” she’d nearly snapped. She was already searching again for the Bronson figures, so she missed his wince, his shoulders rising in a brief, protective gesture. He watched her for a moment, then regained his composure and turned toward the drinks tray she kept on a counter just as her father had.
“Not to worry darling. I’m just here to be supportive. Carry on.”
He poured himself a scotch, neat, and stood sipping it, watching her as she called her secretary to inquire about the missing information.
Mrs. Emerson came in and located the papers, nodding at Peter as she left again. Emma tucked the papers into her case and returned to examining the files on her desk.
“I ordered that suit we both so liked on me,” he said. She didn’t look up, but nodded and made a noise that sounded like acknowledgement. So he went on, offering her pleasant small talk as she seemingly ignored him.
Gradually the pile of files on her desk disappeared – some into her case, some into her “out” box for refilling. Peter’s soothing voice lulled her and, remarkably, helped her to focus on the task at hand.
But it seemed to Peter that he was forgotten, his voice unheard, until Emma abruptly snapped her case shut and moved out from behind the desk. She inhaled a deep breath and beckoned to him, hitching one hip on the edge of her desk. He set his half-empty glass down and went to her.
“Thank you, Peter,” she said, her smiling brown eyes peering into his sparkling blue ones. She placed her hands on his lapels and his own landed on her waist. “I hate to admit it, but I’m a little nervous about this trip.”
“I know it can’t be the travel,” he said. “Nor the foreign cities that are intimidating you.”
She shook her head slightly, the edges of her mouth curling.
“So it must be the business.”
She shrugged one shoulder slightly, ashamed to have to admit to such weakness. He pulled her closer and placed a kiss on her forehead.
“You’ll be brilliant, love.”
She chuckled and his eyes widened in surprise. “I’m serious, darling. How can you do otherwise?”
“Oh Peter,” She shook her head, pressing on his chest lightly with both hands. He held her tighter, as if suddenly needing to cling to her. They had met just after her father’s death when she was still trying to comprehend her new role at Knight. She had been leery of taking time for herself, but Peter was persistent. He had been courting her on her terms and in her time – meeting her at the office and taking her to dinner, sometimes turning up early with breakfast, always respectful of her corporate commitments. He was kind, attentive, and desperately charming. He obligingly distracted her from her grief and the burdens of her work with tales of his airborne adventures.
He’d made it easy to fall in love with him. His slowly growing pressure to take her to bed was not out of line and she knew it. And yet the specter of her long-gone mother who had taught her to be a “good girl” hovered between them. Emma was entertaining a long-term relationship with Peter Peel, and she could stave off the growing desire to know him entirely until he had made such a commitment to her. But she hoped with every kiss that it would happen soon.
“I mean it,” he insisted. “You are brilliant, and there isn’t a competitor who doesn’t know it, let alone your allies. I predict that great things will come of this trip.”
His confidence was contagious and Emma allowed herself to succumb to it. She slipped her arms up around his neck and hugged him, her lips seeking his for a long, romantic kiss.
“And for that,” he whispered when it ended, “you get a reward.”
He let go of her to reach across the desk and retrieve the gift, which she had forgotten all about.
Their relationship had progressed beyond polite refusals. Touched by his thoughtfulness, she shot him a winsome smile and slipped a finger under the edge of the wrapping paper. She let her eyes hold his gaze as she opened the black, hinged box.
“It’s full of good luck,” he said with a grin, looking down into the box so that Emma would too.
“It’s charming Peter,” she said, removing the diamond-studded horseshoe from the box. He took it from her and clasped it around her neck, his fingers tickling the hairs at the back of her neck. She turned to face him, touching the necklace with one hand and caressing his clean-shaven, square jaw with the other. “I won’t take it off for the duration,” she added, her voice thick with controlled emotion.
He leaned into her touch, then turned his face to kiss her palm sending tingles up her arm to her fluttering heart.
“I’ll miss you so much,” she sighed.
“You’ll telephone me. Knight can afford it,” he replied matter-of-factly, lifting her chin with two fingers in order to kiss her.
Emma touched her lips with one finger at the memory. But it was nothing more than that – the memory of a moment long gone. And the man was so changed now that the very thought of him caused a much different emotional response.
A movement in the mirror caught her eye. Her husband was crossing the bedroom, straightening his tie as he walked. Emma dropped the horseshoe back into the corner of her jewelry box and smiled into the mirror at his reflection as he approached. She removed a simply set amethyst on a gold chain and reached to the back of her neck to clasp it. Steed’s warm hands enveloped hers, taking the fine chain from her. She pulled her hair aside and he fastened the necklace, then bent to feather three little kisses beneath her exposed ear.
“Tell me about the little horseshoe,” he murmured.
Her heart skipped a beat. How can he have seen? But as her eyes met his in the mirror his sly smile reassured her.
“It was a present,” she replied coyly, knowing that it sounded wrong. The flash of disappointment in his eyes pierced her to her core, even though he masked it quickly. He deserved a real answer. “A month before he proposed. I was leaving on a business trip – my first one without my father to all the overseas suppliers and customers. He knew I was nervous, and he gave it to me for luck.” Steed rested his hands on her shoulders, watching her in the mirror. “Does it bother you, my keeping it all this time?”
He drew a stray strand of her hair back from her face with gentle fingers. “No.”
“I did care for him, then,” she went on, wondering if she should just stop talking. “He was the first love of my adult life. I can’t change that, no matter how much he, and I, have changed since then.”
“And what were you doing going through my jewelry box?”
“Emma,” Steed drew her to her feet with both hands on her upper arms, turning her to face him. “A wise man knows the contents of his wife’s jewelry box as well as he knows her heart.”
His warm grey eyes glowed with a familiar mix of irresistible passion and smug pride that drew Emma into his arms.
“Are you ready to do this?” he asked, holding her tightly against himself.
“Yes. I’m ready I just have one question, though.”
“What is it?”
“Why do I always have to be pregnant on the witness stand?”
They both chuckled as Steed extended his arms in order to look at her figure in the oatmeal tweed suit she was wearing.
“You’re hardly showing,” he assured her. “Come on. Let’s kiss John good-bye.”
“Steed residence,” Siobhan bent her head to hold the kitchen telephone receiver against her ear with her shoulder as she opened the door of the big refrigerator.
“Hello, this is Sally Howard. Is Emma in?” Siobhan recognized the young woman’s voice although they had never met in person.
“I’m sorry Miss Howard, she’s not. Can I take a message?”
“Darn it. I wanted to catch her before she left for the trial. How was she?” Sally half turned in her desk chair to look out across the courtyard at the windows of the British embassy’s residence wing. She knew she was asking the Steed’s nanny to commit an indiscretion. But Siobhan knew who she was.
“Fine. I suppose,” Siobhan found John’s lidded cup and shut the refrigerator door. “She seemed tense.” Siobhan knew that Miss Howard worked for Mr. Steed and was a friend of Mrs. Steed’s. Her question seemed sincere and harmless.
“The last time was hard for her. This one will be much worse. I had wanted to give her a little encouragement. How was Steed?”
“Mr. Steed was – I think of it as his professional persona. You know? When he’s very pleasant and jovial, but right underneath he’s like steel?” She crouched and put the cup into John’s hands where he sat on the kitchen floor surrounded by a collection of blocks and big toy soldiers. Steed had been showing him how to use buildings for cover while Emma dressed.
“I know it well,” Sally replied. She watched a shadow moving around in a room over there, while she pondered Siobhan’s observation and wondered if the nanny spent much time observing her employers.
“Miss Howard, can I ask you something?”
“Do you know Mr. Peel? I mean, did you know Mrs. Steed when she was Mrs. Peel?”
“No. I met her just after he was arrested. I guess she was still Mrs. Peel then, but she had filed for divorce.”
“So you never saw them interact with one another.”
“No. I’ve only ever seen him once – the day he escaped and Emma was shot.”
“That must have been terrifying,” Siobhan dropped to her knees and began stacking blocks. Sipping his juice John watched her carefully with a proprietary expression.
“Seeing Mr. Birch shoot Emma was horrible,” Sally agreed, the memory of that afternoon flashing through her mind as it hadn’t done in many months. “Everything happened at once: I thought sure Emma had the jump on Birch, but he fired at the same time that Steed came in. Steed knocked him out, but Emma was laying on the floor bleeding –.”
“I’m sorry Miss Howard, I didn’t mean to stir such an awful memory,” Siobhan interrupted her.
“It’s all right. I’ve been over it so many times in my mind it’s lost some of the impact. For a long time I wondered if there was anything I could have done differently to prevent it. But during Mr. Birch’s trial the prosecutor had a diagram of the office with where everyone was standing. And I realized that there was nothing else I could have done. I helped her – I helped stop the bleeding, and that was the best thing for me to do.
“Sir Peter – Mr. Peel – picked the lock on his handcuffs and ran,” Sally chuckled, remembering how annoyed Emma had been with herself later when she had recovered and heard what had happened. “Emma had taught him how.”
“No!” Siobhan caught Sally’s mirth and chuckled too. “Why would she have done that?”
Sally sighed, trying to decide whether it was time to draw the line and end the conversation. It wasn’t really her place to tell the nanny about Emma’s history. But the facts were a matter of public record; the emotions — the motivations — were what intrigued Siobhan.
“Emma told me that when Sir Peter came back she had been thinking for a while of breaking off with Steed –.”
“Really?” Siobhan was taken completely by surprise.
“She loved him, but he was a confirmed bachelor. She loved working with him, but she was beginning to want more from her partner. She knew that he wouldn’t change for her so she wouldn’t ask. Ending it and looking for someone who wanted a family was the only solution she could come up with.”
“And what about Mr. Steed?” the nanny asked, stroking John’s downy soft hair as he knocked over her wall of blocks with a giggle.
“I have never discussed it with him,” Sally replied. Siobhan didn’t respond. Sally recognized the trick and decided to let herself fall for it by filling the silence with more information. “But he wouldn’t have changed for her. He didn’t realize how much he had to lose until Sir Peter came and took Emma back.”
“He didn’t try to stop her?”
“He couldn’t ask her to leave her husband to keep working with him.”
“And Sir Peter coming back was her way out without having to actually break off with Mr. Steed,” Siobhan said.
“Yes. The impossible decision was made for her. She has told me since then that she was a coward about it, but I believe that she was determined to make her marriage work, even though she had been unhappy with Sir Peter before he was lost in the Amazon. She really believed that it was a second chance.”
“So she taught him to pick handcuffs?” Siobhan asked.
“She was trying to make him understand who she had become. Steed appreciates her brains and she could not believe that Sir Peter couldn’t do the same if she just showed him.”
“But he didn’t.”
“Apparently not. He tried to involve Emma in his criminal activities. She guessed what he was doing and refused, and eventually left him.”
“He got involved with the criminals while he was lost in the jungle, right?”
“Maybe. I think Emma has always wondered whether he was involved with them before he was lost – that he wasn’t actually lost at all.”
“I suppose that will come out in the trial.”
“Maybe. It depends on who knows what, and who’s called to testify. The prosecutors are more interested in his activities since his return to England. He nearly bankrupted Knight Industries.”
“Lord, no wonder Mrs. Steed is nervous about testifying,” the nanny stopped John’s hand just before he toppled her new tower of blocks. The baby stared up at her through wide, curious eyes, patiently waiting to find out why she was restraining him.
“Fortunately, he was found guilty on all counts in the states, so this trial will probably go the same way. Then he’ll have to serve out the jail terms in both countries. He’ll be locked up for a very long time.”
“Is he dangerous? Is Mrs. Steed afraid, do you think?”
“He’s not accused of murdering anyone. I have no idea whether he ever has. But he slapped Emma at least once. So she might be afraid that if he got free he might try to get revenge by hurting her or her family. Are you regretting getting involved with the Steeds?” Sally spoke lightly, but it was a serious question.
Siobhan took it that way. “Sometimes I do Miss. But they need someone to care for John, and I’m quite fond of the little chap.”
“That’s certainly true. Much as they love him, they’re both a bit too self-involved to be doting parents. It’s just fortunate that they know it.”
“Oh no, Miss. They’re as doting as they come. But doting doesn’t keep him in clean nappies. Left to himself, Mr. Steed would spoil his son rotten and Mrs. Steed would smother him in love — until their offices called, or it was time for a social event. They adore him, but they also adore their lives and each other. There’s no shame in that, so long as John has me.”
Steed checked his wristwatch and looked again at the International Herald Tribune he’d been reading for the last forty-five minutes. A small piece about an accident in Milan involving an important official in the Italian government had caught his eye. Signora Estella Gioverdi was officially involved in economic development, but Steed knew her as Colonnello Estella Gioverdi of Italian military intelligence.
The evening before last she’d driven her car under the rear bumper of a lorry and been seriously injured. While she claimed to have lost control of the vehicle, she could not explain why the passenger side door had been open. Steed could not either, but he suspected that it wasn’t because the door latch had broken on impact as accident investigators suggested. He was sure that, had he been to the ministry this morning, he would have found something in the morning briefs about the accident.
The door to the witness room opened and Emma entered. Steed rose and crossed the room to her, noting with alarm how drained she looked. He took both her hands in his and glanced past her at the officer who’d escorted her. The man nodded and shut the door, leaving them alone.
“Was it difficult?” Steed asked. “You were testifying for a long time.”
“Peter glared at me every single moment,” she replied. Her grip was painfully strong. He gently removed his hands from hers and put an arm around her to guide her to a chair.
“Are they through questioning you?” he asked, choosing to ignore her mention of her former husband.
“I think they’ll call me back,” she replied. “They dwelt on the period after he came back and on my arresting him, but barely touched on the shooting and his escape.”
“Just as well you have a break, darling. I know you don’t want to have to go in again, but a marathon would be worse.”
“I suppose. In any case, they’re in a short recess and they said I could go for today. But I think they’ll call you.”
Steed frowned. He hated to let her go alone, but if he couldn’t leave he wouldn’t ask her to stay here in the uncomfortable waiting room.
“Don’t worry darling, I’ll call for my car and go to the office,” she said as if she’d read his mind.
“You’re sure you’re all right?”
“I’m tired, but its nothing that a little paperwork won’t fix,” she joked.
“I’ll telephone you when I’m done, then.”
“Do you mind terribly if we have dinner in? Is there anything to eat at the apartment?”
“It’s in a desperate state since I’ve been packing up,” he admitted. “But we could order in.”
“That would be even better – no work at all,” she agreed, sounding more cheerful already. “I’m sorry darling, but I’m afraid I need to hurry to the loo – that’s the real drawback to such a long testimony.” She winced in mild embarrassment at her physical weakness. Steed smiled fondly and placed a kiss on her forehead.
“Go on then. I’ll see you later.”
Bored with his newspaper Steed went to the window and peered out at the people crossing the courtyard below. It was a warm late summer day and most of those outdoors had shed outer layers to enjoy the sun. It was nearly lunchtime and he wondered if the judge in Peter Peel’s trial was going to break, or work on through. Judge Lovejoy was known for imposing his own disciplined work ethic on his court, so he wouldn’t stop if the proceedings were moving along. But if he called a break there was a lovely little restaurant just around the corner where Steed knew he could get a plate of lamb chops with a good cabernet. He could offer his testimony just after lunch, and then go put in an appearance at the ministry and even use the gymnasium in an unusual daytime visit in order to work up an appetite for dinner with Emma.
He was contemplating this plan and the rewards of a quiet dinner away from young John and his nanny when the door to the witness room opened once more. He turned toward the sound, fully expecting the bailiff come to tell him he could go to lunch. He could almost taste the cabernet.
Dr. Catherine Gale stepped into the room, followed by a tall man who gave the impression of hovering protectively behind her. The bailiff who’d brought them shut the door behind them. Dr. Gale surveyed the room, missing Steed in her first pass so that her eyes darted back to him and widened. He was pleased to see that she appeared to be as astonished as he was.
“Steed!” she said, glancing over her shoulder at her companion before crossing the room toward Steed.
“Hello Mrs. Gale,” Steed put a bit of emphasis on the Mrs., just to make up for being surprised. It was a weak, nasty jab directed at her friend in case he was a beau, and they both knew it. He saw the annoyance in her eyes – an old, familiar look. It almost made him smile with glee at getting to her so easily. But such petty behavior was what had driven her from him in the first place, and he’d laid it aside, for the most part, when he met Emma. Old habits die hard, but you really need to squelch that one old man. Once you find out what in heaven’s name she’s doing here.
“This is a surprise,” he added, shaking her hand. “I had not expected to see you until tomorrow evening.” Something in her eyes, or perhaps it was the twitch of her fingers, set off an alarm in his head. He’d been wrong – she wasn’t astonished to see him. It was something more like wariness, like she was forced to do something she’d been trying to avoid.
“Yes it is. I’m looking forward to your bridge party, Steed. You remember Dr. Bill Russell?” Mrs. Gale half turned to bring her companion into the conversation.
“From the Museum. Yes of course,” Steed extended his hand to shake Dr. Russell’s. “You’re here for a trial?” He looked from Dr. Russell back to Mrs. Gale.
“Yes,” she replied with a slight drawl that lengthened the word. Steed got the distinct impression that she was delaying, giving herself time to think.
“Well I must speak to the bailiff. I thought this room was reserved for witnesses on the Peel trial,” Steed said, hoping for agreement, for surprise, for anything other than what he got from his old partner.
“I think it is,” she said with an uneasy smile. She glanced again at Dr. Russell, her eyes darting around the room and then, as if she’d reached a decision, settling on Steed. “That’s why I’m here.”
Steed’s expression flickered from curious to angry and then to his familiar implacable mask so quickly Mrs. Gale only saw the transitions because she was looking for them.
“For Peter Peel’s trial? Extraordinary!” he declared – far too jovial to be believed. Dr. Russell frowned as Steed went on: “What on earth could you contribute to the proceedings?”
“Well you know I was there in the village in the Amazon he was brought to when he was found,” she said as if it were the most ordinary circumstance in the world.
“As were dozens – probably thousands – of other people.”
“Well, a few hundred in any case,” Mrs. Gale nodded. “There were the members of my expedition, and the people who brought Sir Peter out. And the villagers –.”
“Mrs. Gale,” Steed interrupted her, his expression darkening at her attempt to distract him. “Are you here as a witness for the prosecution, or the defense?” he asked, his voice tightening.
“The prosecution! Good heavens Steed, you don’t think I have any connection to his criminal activity –.”
“No. But I want to know what connection you have to the case against him. Because I am completely unaware of it. And given my role in the investigation I find that extremely disconcerting.”
“Steed please calm down –.”
This time Mrs. Gale was interrupted by the door being opened. All three of them turned toward it to see the Bailiff standing there.
“Mr. Steed? The court has called for you.”
Steed eyed Mrs. Gale for a moment, impressed that she did not flinch under his stare and infuriated that he had not gotten any answers from her.
He nodded curtly to her and to Dr. Russell and headed for the door, vowing to find out exactly how she was involved and knowing who to ask for – no, demand — answers.
Steed struggled to conceal his impatience as he answered the prosecutor’s questions about the arrest and investigation of Peter Peel. The defendant sat stony faced beside his own attorney, his composure unflinching throughout Steed’s testimony. He must have used up all his fury on Emma, Steed reflected as he openly studied the man he’d once considered his rival. Peel’s naturally light complexion was disturbingly pale, his blond hair salted with grey at the temples. He looked worn out, emptied of the vitality that had driven him across Europe and the US with Steed in hot pursuit two years ago. Captivity was not good for Peter Peel.
Steed was relieved when the prosecutor dismissed him an hour after noon. Judge Lovejoy called a lunch break and Steed was told he could go and would be contacted if he was wanted again.
Hunger had long since begun gnawing at his belly, but another yearning was stronger. Lamb chops forgotten he went directly to the ministry, flashing his identification to the guards without breaking stride on his way to Mother’s office.
“Good morning Watkin. Is he in?” he asked, falling back on good manners to smooth his path through his superior’s outer office. The secretary cum guard rose from behind his desk to intercept Steed but the agent grinned slyly and dodged past him. He slipped into Mother’s office and shut the door in the other man’s face.
Mother’s desk was covered with a jumble of electronics parts. Rhonda, his ever-present assistant, looked up from sorting through a collection of small vacuum tubes with multi-prong plugs on their ends.
“Mother. Rhonda,” Steed held his bowler in front of his chest and his umbrella vertically in the other hand. Realizing how tense he was he lowered it to the floor and leaned on the handle. One of Mother’s expressive brows arched and he pushed back from the desk. Rhonda took her cue and moved into place behind him, guiding his chair around the desk to position him in front of Steed. There were no other chairs in the office, but Steed did not mind standing in Mother’s presence. It evened out Mother’s natural advantage as his superior.
“You were in court this morning,” Mother observed. Steed nodded, then stepped around Mother and walked to his desk. Hooking his umbrella over his left forearm he picked up a printed circuit board with his right hand.
“Yes I was. And do you know who else was there?” he asked, turning around. Rhonda had rotated Mother so that he was facing Steed.
“The judge? Peter Peel? Your wife?” Mother shrugged and glanced up at Rhonda.
“Doctor Catherine Gale,” Steed said in a tone of pure amazement, appearing to examine the green plastic circuit board. In fact he was watching Mother very closely as he said the name. Mother’s reaction was so brief, so quickly veiled by a look of false puzzlement, Steed nearly missed it just the same.
“You remember Dr. Gale, Mother? She retired from her role as my partner and went to the States?” Steed dropped the circuit board on the desk and took a couple steps toward Mother. The older man bent his head back to look at up at him.
“And then she went to the Amazon, didn’t she Mother? Did you know she was going? Or did you send her?”
“There is nothing in this matter that concerns you Steed,” Mother growled. “It is entirely classified.”
Steed spun his bowler between his index fingers and stopped it after several revolutions with the interior pointed at Mother. His red omnibus security clearance card was tucked inside. Of course showing it to Mother was pure effrontery since he had authorized its issuance.
“On the contrary Mother. It concerns me very much. It would have concerned me even more if I’d been aware of it six years ago. But you knew that, didn’t you? You knew he was back long before you informed her or me. You knew that if either of us had any time to prepare, to think it through, that she might not have gone back to him. But you wanted her to, didn’t you. Why Mother?”
“I’m confused, Steed. What does this have to do with Dr. Gale?” Mother asked.
“You sent Dr. Gale to debrief him, didn’t you? You used her to gather far more information than he knew he was providing. Because Mrs. Gale is exceptionally perceptive and persuasive. It was brilliant, really – my compliments to you. So she provided you with a very useful report, and then you shipped him back here to return him to Mrs. Peel. Was she supposed to finish the job? Why didn’t you tell her, Mother?”
“You’re dreaming, Steed. You’re under stress and fabricating wild accusations. I’ve half a mind to put you on leave.”
“I’ll just ask Mrs. Gale instead, Mother. And don’t think she won’t tell me – after all, she’s testifying right now.”
Mother’s eyes narrowed and he glanced up at Rhonda. She turned and left the room. Mother returned his gaze to Steed, who was smiling ever so slightly, a victorious glint in his eyes. He took a few steps back and leaned against the desk, crossing his legs at the ankles.
“Go on,” he said. Mother wheeled himself in a circle giving every impression of pacing. Steed waited.
“We didn’t have anyone else in the area. Technically we didn’t have Dr. Gale, but I wired her anyway on the off chance that she’d come back into the fold just for this one favor. She agreed.”
“What did you threaten her with?”
“I resent that.”
“Only because it’s true. She made it clear to me when she left that she was through, she would not have just done you a favor. Nevermind. Go on.”
“She debriefed him and sent us her report.”
“I want to read it.”
“Because it was withheld from me all the time that I managed the investigation of him and arrested him. I was not supplied with complete background. I want it now. I want to know whether you suspected him from the start. Did you send Emma back to him knowing that he was a criminal?”
Mother’s face reddened, whether with anger or some other emotion Steed could not be sure. Nor was he at all sure of his theory, although he defended it rigorously. But if Emma had been deceived – if he had been deceived – six years ago he wanted to know about it now.
Mother rolled around behind his desk and picked up a telephone receiver that was laying amid the electronic rubble. The curly cord disappeared amid the rubble but did not appear to be connected to a telephone body.
“Watkin, get the Peel recovery file for Steed. Yes, now.” He dropped the receiver onto the desk and rapped a few times with the fingers of his other hand on the arm of his chair, staring off into space to Steed’s right. Steed waited.
“Read the report. This meeting is over,” Mother said at last making eye contact with Steed. Recognizing a victory – if only of a battle and not the war – Steed nodded and retreated.
“Here you are young man,” Siobhan snapped the highchair tray into place and handed John his rubber-coated spoon. He gripped it awkwardly and plunged it into the bowl of mashed yams on the tray. He was exceptionally dexterous for his age, maneuvering a heaping spoonful of orange mush from the bowl into his mouth. Siobhan attributed it to genetics.
A rap at the mudroom door startled her. With the security system on visitors were always stopped at the gate. She moved between John and the door as she looked toward it, then smiled with relief when she saw the familiar face of Hal the groom outside.
She crossed the kitchen and unlatched the door. Hal stood turning his wool cap in his hands. He smelled, as always of sweet hay and horse.
“Good afternoon to you miss Siobhan,” Hal said. “Is the master in?”
“I’m sorry, Hal, he’s not. The Steeds have gone up to London.”
“Oh, well. I’ll telephone him later this evening then I suppose.”
“Is everything all right in the stable?”
“Certainly miss. I have a business matter to discuss with Mr. Steed.”
“They aren’t due back this evening I’m afraid, Hal. Would you,” Siobhan glanced over her shoulder at John, who was tapping his spoon on the tray. “I have to see to him – will you come in for some tea?”
“Well miss, I –.”
“Please come in – I was about to make some for myself,” Siobhan’s conversation with Sally had left her feeling lonely for more adult interaction.
Hal shrugged and ducked his head as he stepped into the kitchen. Siobhan gestured toward the breakfast table and he sat down, setting his cap on the bench beside him. Siobhan lifted the kettle to check if it had water and then plugged it in. John had stopped banging the spoon and resumed eating his yams. Siobhan spooned pureed roast beef from a pan on the stove into a bowl and brought it to him. He gurgled happily at the sight of one of his favorites.
“E’s a lively one, in’t he?” Hal asked.
“He’s a handful,” Siobhan agreed, taking a teapot out of a cabinet and examining the row of canisters on the counter trying to recall which one contained the loose tea.
“You have a business matter to discuss with Mr. Steed?” she asked, hoping he wouldn’t think she was prying.
“An opportunity,” Hal explained. “A race horse syndicate looking for another investor.”
“You think Mr. Steed would want to buy in?”
Hal nodded. “He might. It’s a game horse. Could be profitable.”
The kettle began to steam and Siobhan went about making the tea, pausing a couple times to help John’s aim with his spoon.
“It’s Earl Grey – I hope that’s all right,” she said, stacking teacups, cream and sugar, and the steeping teapot on a tray to bring it to the table.
“Sure Miss – I’m always fond of the Earl,” Hal said. Siobhan smiled at him as she moved the cups and teapot from the tray to the table. It was not the first time she’d admired his narrow-lipped mouth and head of shaggy, russet curls. She liked his quiet demeanor and the way he handled the horses when they were temperamental. She would like to get to know him better, and a friendly cup of tea seemed like a great way to do it.
“So do you get something from it if Mr. Steed invests?” she asked as she poured the tea.
“You mean a commission? Nah.”
“Well, yes. Why would you get involved otherwise?”
“For the business, Miss. I introduce Mr. Steed to the rest of the syndicate, he invests, and I’ll have more work from them.”
Siobhan stirred sugar into her tea, glancing over at John, who was contentedly eating his pureed beef.
“So you don’t mind always being the employee? Never getting a piece of the deal?”
Hal added milk to his tea and stirred it for a moment. “I reckon’ I’m like you, Miss,” he said. “I’m good with horses. I like them and they like me. I don’t need the other trappings they got around here. Sure, the cars and the house and the fine things are nice, but the price they pay for them is high – don’t you think? Don’t you think they’d rather be here with the little one today ‘stead of up in London at a trial?” Hal nodded across the kitchen at John still concentrating on his supper.
Siobhan looked too and thought about Hal’s observation. And contemplated the fact that he’d known where the Steeds were.
“I’m not so sure, Hal. I think the Steeds have arranged their life very much the way they want it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s right for all of us. You’re right – I would not want to pay the price that they pay.”
“I’m glad to hear it, Miss,” Hal’s thin lips curled in a smile and Siobhan realized that she was being flirted with. “Glad to hear that there’s a steady, reliable influence in the young master’s life. Not that I’m suggestin’ that his parents are a bad influence –.”
“I understand what you mean Hal. I’m here for John and you’re here for Dancer and Commander. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in our work.”
“No Miss. That’s just what I was sayin’.”
“Steed?” Emma shut the door to three Stable Mews and stepped in under the arch to survey the sitting room. It looked sadly sparse without any of the familiar knick-knacks. Instead there were stacks of sealed boxes in the corners and piled on the porter’s chair next to the door.
The lease on the apartment was up at the end of the month, and Steed had decided not to renew it. Instead they were taking over the executive penthouse on the top floor of the John Knight building as their London base. Emma had informed her executive team and the board and received only a few grumbles from board members who occasionally used the place when they brought their wives up to London for the theatre. All VIP visitors would be put up in a nearby luxury hotel. The only member of the executive team who used the apartment was Harry Hill, Steed’s brother-in-law and Knight’s investment advisor. He usually worked from his home up north, so when he came to London for a few days each month he used the penthouse. Since he was family Emma assured him that he was welcome to continue to do so.
While the change was very convenient for Emma – she was having a secure elevator programmed to go directly from the garage to the penthouse during non-business hours, and she had a private stair to the penthouse from her office – she was still sorry to lose the Mews. But Steed had assured her that their happy memories of the place were still theirs no matter that the apartment was not. Then he’d suggested that they set up a suite of guest rooms at the house to look like the Mews and they could lock themselves away there whenever they wanted. She’d told him he was being silly, but deep down the idea had appealed to her.
Steed was standing by the windows. She thought he’d been watching the street for her but as he turned his head she saw that he was far away, his expression pensive, not welcoming as she had expected.
“Steed?” she repeated, a question this time as she habitually scanned the room for inconvenient dead bodies. There were none visible. “Is something wrong? Is it John?”
She stepped further into the sitting room, dropping her handbag and attaché case on the red leather chair near the door. He came to meet her in front of the sofa.
“Are we needed?” she asked , studying his face. His lips curled in a little smile and she relaxed. It couldn’t be John, then. He took both her hands in his and looked down at them for a moment, his thumbs stroking their backs gently. She smiled at the comforting intimacy of the small gesture, and at the way it made her pulse flutter. Whatever was on his mind must be deeply personal – that explained his mysterious look as well as his reticence.
“When Peter Peel returned did you ever have a private meeting with anyone from the ministry?”
Emma frowned, fighting the impulse to snatch her hands away from him. The delicious little rush of warmth his touch had brought turned chilly in an instant as her mind cast back to that day. She was peripherally aware of Steed settling with her on the sofa still holding her hands.
“They called me that morning, right after we’d finished the case with the memory drug. I was still feeling a little out of sorts from it. I was planning on calling you and insisting that you take me somewhere pleasant for a restorative meal.”
Steed’s eyes were on her hands again, holding on now for dear life. They had never discussed that day before although it had been hanging there between them for six years. The why’s and when’s of Peel’s return and her departure from Steed’s life were so achingly painful that they had settled for forgiveness and moving on rather than dissecting the actual events.
“I don’t remember exactly. Some RAF functionary, I suppose. No, he had rank. It was probably Peter’s Group Captain, now that I think about it. Yes, it must have been,” Emma chuckled, a bitter sound. “I was so shocked I didn’t pay any attention. That’s not like me at all.”
“No it isn’t. What did he say?”
“He told me Peter had been found, and they were sending a car around for me within the hour. I told them I needed some time to prepare – I asked when Peter would be back in England. He assured me that I’d get all the answers I needed at the meeting. So I dressed and the car was there.”
“That was all he told you?” Steed was more astonished at how vague the message had been than he was disappointed that Mother hadn’t had the decency to contact her himself. But maybe Mother didn’t have control of the situation after all.
“Yes. The car came and they brought me to Whitehall – I expected to go to an RAF base, but it was a government building.”
“Not the ministry?”
“No, one of the anonymous buildings on the other side of Horseguards. You know how the departments move around in those buildings. I have no idea whose offices we were in.”
“I know,” he assured her.
“They brought me into an office and he was there.”
“Yes. I remember that I was so angry – at them for not giving me any more warning and at him for suddenly turning up,” Emma paused, catching the side of her lower lip between her teeth as she looked into Steed’s cool, soothing eyes. For a moment she’d feared to find her memory of anger reflected in them, but they were full of compassion. “He had been in a hospital in Brazil for a few weeks, but it was all so secret they had not been able to inform even me – that’s what they said. They had intended to contact me and give me a day or two to get ready, then bring us together, and after a few more days make a public announcement. But the story had been leaked.”
“The newspaper,” Steed nodded. He’d read about it himself that morning and felt the same sort of shock as Emma. For a moment he’d wondered if she’d known and not told him. He’d squelched the notion immediately, but now, hearing her side of the story, he realized that he’d never completely forgotten that first reaction. All this time he’d harbored the idea that she had known even while they were working on that last case. It was a startling realization, especially since he had thought that he’d put all of the emotional turmoil of those days far behind him.
“Yes. So they wanted to act quickly – they were sending Peter and I off on a two-week holiday together whilst they made the public announcement. We would do interviews and make public appearances after we got back. It all seemed terribly contrived to me, but I felt it was my duty to play along. Given more time I might have come to feel differently. Maybe Peter knew that. Maybe the others did too, so they pushed me.”
“It’s not like you to be pushed, darling. You must have seen some truth in their plan.”
“Don’t Steed. Don’t make excuses for me. I should have put my foot down and refused to adhere to their ridiculous timetable. But I was so accustomed to dropping everything whenever you called, I couldn’t honestly argue that I wasn’t able to pick up and go.”
“Don’t blame me!” Steed retorted with a surprised laugh and a squeeze of her hands. She stared at him incredulously for a moment. And then she thought about it and she laughed too, and just like that he’d dispelled the growing ache in her heart fed by these difficult memories. If he could find humor in them, she could too.
“I did insist that I needed a couple hours to take care of some things. I told Peter to pick me up here and I left.”
“That’s more like you,” Steed said. “And he followed your orders, meeting you here just in time to take you away.”
“Steed please,” Emma sighed. He realized how hurt he’d sounded and released one of her hands to reach up and stroke her cheek.
“I’m sorry. That was unfair. So you did not speak with anyone from the RAF or the ministry?”
“Not without Peter there. After we came back there were interviews and social events – as I’m sure you’re aware,” she smiled wryly at the knowledge that he’d avoided her after that, observing her and Peter’s public reunion from a brooding distance. She did not want him to dwell on those times now, so she moved on quickly. “What are you after Steed? What’s going on?”
Steed shook his head slowly, letting his eyes drift to the empty mantle behind her. It took him a moment to decide where to start.
“The truth is I’m not sure,” he said, rising to walk around the sofa to the table by the windows. He picked up a file and brought it back to hand it to her. “That is the report from the first debriefing of your husband, immediately after he came out of the jungle.”
“You’re my husband Steed,” Emma replied almost automatically as she opened the file and pulled out the sheaf of typed pages inside. Steed’s mouth curved in a fond little smile. He had absolutely no doubt that she had put her personal relationship with Peter Peel behind her the day she left his house. And he thanked his own good luck that her next step had been to seek him out. But Peel was still a specter in their lives, no matter how vehemently she denied it.
He watched her read the report, noted the way she nodded slightly at sections, and once or twice went back to reread parts. Dr. Gale’s prose was concise, but her phrasing had a certain elegance that Steed was sure Emma appreciated. It was clear she was absorbed in the report, so after a few minutes Steed went to the kitchen to examine the wine selection. The dozen or so really good bottles in his cellar here had already been carried by hand to the penthouse. He selected a hearty little merlot from those that remained and poured two glasses.
Emma took hers and sipped while she read, pausing to smile up at him in silent thanks. He raised his glass to her and then sipped it, nodding toward the report to let her know she should go on reading.
A few minutes later she flipped to the front page and studied the information at the top – the date, Peel’s name and rank, and the name of the interviewer. Steed saw her stiffen and reached out to catch her wineglass, should she forget she was holding it. But she glanced up at his movement while maintaining her grip.
“Mrs. Gale was at the trial this morning after you left,” he said. “I don’t know why I didn’t put two and two together when we first learned that she’d been in the Amazon at the same time that Peel turned up there.”
“Was she?” Emma’s eyes widened a little, then she looked down at the report in her lap. “Of course she must have been. But I didn’t know.”
“No? Perhaps she mentioned to me when you weren’t there. I don’t exactly recall. Funny she’s never mentioned it to you, though. In any case, I ran into her at court and she refused to tell me anything so I went to the next best source.”
“Mother,” Steed nodded. “It was rather like squeezing blood from a stone, to be rather trite, but I got that out of him,” he tapped an index finger on the report, a pleased little smile gracing his lips at the memory of his victory over his superior.
“Cathy concludes with some certainty that Peter’s story – of crashing and being helped by natives, going through the jungle collecting specimens and making notes – is partially or entirely fabricated,” Emma said, one hand flat on the file as if swearing an oath. “She suspected him of something. And –.” Emma turned to a page in the middle of the report, “ – this anthropologist she mentions – was he ever questioned?”
Steed shrugged, remembering the reference Emma was reading. Mrs. Gale had said that the field notes Peel claimed to have made during his journey were uncannily similar to the type of notes always made by a prominent anthropologist who had been in the jungle at the time.
“I don’t know. Today is the first time I’ve seen this report. If Mother suspected six years ago that Peter Peel was engaged in some sort of criminal activity, why didn’t he tell us?”
“Why indeed,” Emma nodded, watching Steed carefully. She could see that he was angry at being left out of the matter at the time, and she knew that he would never agree that it was probably for the best. She could not imagine how the situation could have been improved by him — or both of them — knowing that Peter was under some sort of suspicion.
“That’s why I wondered if you’d been contacted privately. Did they intend for you to spy on him once you were back with him? And if so, why didn’t they go through with it?”
“That’s very presumptuous,” Emma pursed her lips, searching her memory for anything that might hint at what Steed suggested. “Perhaps they realized that there was no chance that I would agree to it.”
Steed’s eyes flashed with dark emotion but it passed quickly, or was quickly concealed.
Concerned, but unsure how to address his turmoil, Emma went on. “I might have refused to return to him. I probably would have refused if they had shared Cathy’s suspicions. But I would never agree to spy on my own husband.”
Her eyes locked with his, the significance of her statement, and that it was in the present tense, reaching Steed. He smoothed a lock of hair off of her face, his fingers tracing her temple delicately. Trust was at the very foundation of their relationship, and it never hurt to remind one another of that bond.
“But no one ever mentioned any of this to me. And from the day I walked out of here until the day I found you in that inn in the West Country I did not knowingly speak to any member of the intelligence community,” she said. “In fact, I’m not sure that I spoke to too many members of the intelligent community, either.”
She smirked at her own joke, leaning her face into his hand. He cupped her cheek, grinning back at her.
“But Steed, what does it matter now? Why are you so concerned about it?”
Steed moved closer to her on the sofa, slipping his hand behind her neck to draw her to him. She came willingly, tucking her head onto his shoulder and inhaling rich citrus aftershave and his own subtle, male scent. They had the usual calming, arousing effect.
“I was deceived by my superiors over a matter very close to my heart. I am beginning to believe that they wanted us separated and used Peter Peel to achieve their end – otherwise why not tell us of their suspicions? Who’s to say they won’t try it again?”
“I don’t have any other dead husbands to resurrect.”
“Nor I any missing wives,” Steed stroked her back, recognizing that he was being just a bit paranoid. But paranoia, to varying degrees, had kept him alive for a very long time.
“And you’re more important to them now. And less in the field. I’m not such a liability.”
“You were never a liability.”
“They discovered that we were lovers. They thought that it put both of us at risk.”
“It never has. Not once.”
Emma straightened a little and looked into his face. Despite the intensity of his statements his eyes were half shut, his smile contented as he continued to stroke her back.
She had been going to ask if he really could choose between family and duty, should it come down to it, but the stray lock of hair had fallen over his brow, and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes gave him an adorable, impish look. Although he was still the consummate spy, he had made the choice some time in the days after she sought him out in that inn in the West Country. He’d told her then that he would give it up for her, but she refused to let him. Now they walked a tightrope together once again, balancing the demands of family with the secrecy of his business and the visibility of her position at Knight. It was exhausting, fulfilling, and above all else it was exactly what they both wanted.
Emma reached up and brushed the recalcitrant curl off of his brow, running her fingers over his temples where a few strands of grey were twined in among the dark brown. His eyes opened wider beckoning to her, and she succumbed easily, pressing her mouth to his in a long, sensuous kiss.
“How could they have known we were lovers?” he whispered when they paused a moment later.
Emma snorted a laugh. “They spied on us – how else?”
“You really think so?”
Emma rolled her eyes at him to express her impatience with his feigned naivety, then pressed another kiss to his lips.
“We are strong together, Steed. Your ministry can’t separate us. And as for all of this, what does it matter if they knew about Peter? If you’d discovered this at the time it would have been different. But it’s all over now – ancient history. We have one another, and John, and this one,” she drew his hand across her tummy knowing the caress would fan the little flame deep inside of her. It did, and she heard herself make an involuntary little sigh.
“You want me to let it go?” he murmured, his lips dropping to her neck as he let his fingers wander into her lap and down her thigh over her skirt.
“I don’t want you to stop,” she whispered, head laid against the back of the sofa. He didn’t. His fingers slipped under the hem of her skirt and on up the outside of her thigh. She licked her lips and opened her eyes just enough to see him and raise her hand to his face. She drew him to her, suddenly hungry for his hard, sensuous mouth.
When did we last make love? A few days ago? No, it’s more than a week. Marriage can have its drawbacks. We’re too convenient to one another. We get complacent.
But Steed was anything but complacent. He set aside all thought of ordering supper as Emma’s sigh became a throaty moan against his lips. In his anger over the revelations in the report, which had slipped to the sofa beside them, he had forgotten his earlier plan for the day and evening. Most of it was ruined, but the best is still to come. He let his hands wander over her, brushing across her breasts to tease erect nipples and illicit little gasps. He stroked her thigh again, this time on the inside, fingers delving into the warmth high up beneath her skirt. She had shifted on the sofa, was half reclining on top of the report. He hovered over her, supporting himself on one hand shoved deep into the cushions. As her hand slipped over his belly and stroked his manhood he paused, forced to concentrate on holding himself up. She fingered his zipper, watching his expression go distant and smiling with satisfaction at the effect she had on him.
“One last time on the sofa, for old times’ sake?” she asked as she unbuttoned his trousers. He lowered his head and pressed his mouth to her throat, his kisses leaving a trail of fire down her neck. As he nibbled the top button of her blouse his breath warmed the sensitive skin of her breasts. Taking his delicious attentions as agreement, she used both hands to lower his briefs and trousers then stroked his bare ass. The feel of smooth skin over muscle warmed her further and she shifted beneath him, bending her knees so that her skirt rode up to bare her intimate places to his.
Still kissing and nibbling her neck and face, he stroked his fingertips up her thigh, moaning in pleasure as his fingers found the top of her stockings held up by garters. The way she wore provocative lingerie beneath a business suit never failed to excite him. Now he knew without a doubt that when she dressed this morning she’d prepared her outward appearance for the court, but had selected her lingerie for him. Had it been to remind herself of him while she was on the witness stand? Or had she been anticipating their evening together at the apartment just as he had?
Either way, the silky hose and supporting garters inflamed him beyond all reason. He was barely aware of moaning her name as he joined his flesh with hers. Encumbering garments pulled aside, awkwardness of balance and space on the sofa forgotten. They moved together in blazing union, fingers caressing through rumpled clothes and bare flesh, lips driving the fire with kisses to small patches of hypersensitive exposed skin. Their breath mingled as the rhythm increased and they instinctively sought each other’s mouths in deep, grasping kisses.
She climaxed with a long wail, grasping hard at his upper arms to steady herself as she rode out the wave of bliss. He held still deep within her, watched for the moment that it ended, and then slowly withdrew, giving her a moment to come back to him. He accepted a flutter of light kisses on his cheeks and lips.
“Thank you Steed,” she sighed, fingers twining in the hair at the back of his neck.
“My pleasure,” he smiled, gently pressing his pelvis to hers making her eyes widen in mock surprise. He wasn’t done, and before he was she would moan his name – his intimate, rarely used, first name.
“So I see,” she smiled, contracting her abdomen a bit to shift the angle of their union. Surprised, he gasped at the sensation and then drove into her as she’d known he would.
Their renewed passion carried her to climax once again, Steed watching, waiting, and reigniting her with practiced ease. And then she was saying his name over and over, a long moan of, “John John JohnJohnJohnjjjooooohhnnnn,” that filled his mind as his body filled hers.
And then there was the peace of emptiness, of complete fulfillment. Only ingrown habit kept his elbows rigid so that he did not collapse on top of her. Her complete trust in him allowed her to relax with her eyes shut until her heart stopped racing and her breathing returned to normal.
When at last she looked up at him hovering over her – only a few moments, although it seemed to have stretched on for hours – he was blinking to bring the usual clarity back to his warm, grey eyes. And smiling his most sincere, intimate smile reserved for these moments when his many barriers were temporarily banished.
“How I adore you, John,” she whispered up at him, wrapping her entire being in the inadequate words. His smile widened even as his expression grew deeper, more intense.
“Emma,” he muttered, pressing his face into the warm hollow of her neck. He had no words to express the devotion that he felt for her – glib, clever Steed was part of the façade. The man beneath, who lay blissfully exposed to her now, was quiet and thoughtful and not well practiced at expressing his innermost needs and feelings. That she met his needs and helped him know his feelings was the ultimate truth that he could not express in words.
And yet, as he raised his head again and met her gaze he saw that she knew. She knew him even at his shadowed, concealed core. Even when his psychic armor was secure and his façade was in place she knew him. It was at once uplifting and terrifying to know, after so many years alone in the field, that another being knew him so well that she was nearly a part of him. But knowing that she could deconstruct him with a glance, could predict his actions before he knew he would take them, knew his heart almost better than him, made him vulnerable.
And although he’d been sincere in his denial earlier, now he realized she’d been right. Except for one certainty that negated the danger: She would not be broken. He knew without a doubt that no villain could make her betray him. She’d been put to the test often enough in the past and had looked death in the face without uttering a word of the secrets she knew. And that was before, when the true depth of their relationship was unspoken. The words of love they exchanged now were powerful ties that made their unity unbreakable.
Steed knew that there were ways – drugs, tricks, horrors he could not bear imagining Emma subjected to. But he believed she would resist even these, should the need ever arise. He had to believe so.
This train of thought roused him to greater wakefulness and he realized just how tired his arms were growing. With a little sigh of regret for the end of their intimacy he moved off of her, rising to adjust his clothing, although he didn’t bother to tuck in his shirt or fasten the waistcoat buttons Emma had undone. She rose as well. Her skirt fell into place and when she fastened the buttons on her blouse that he’d undone she looked completely presentable. Steed ran his fingers through his tousled hair and eyed her enviously. She smirked back at him, reading his mind.
“You usually leave me a rumpled mess,” she observed with amusement.
“I’d rather you were just completely undressed,” he countered, looking her up and down lasciviously. Even so soon after a wracking orgasm he felt a little buzz of desire at the sight of her delicious curves. To his surprise she did not counter with a humorous jape. Instead she sauntered toward the stairs and paused, turning back toward him at the steps by the bookcase.
“I’m going to take a shower,” she said. “Will you order in dinner?”
“What do you feel like?” he asked, masking his disappointment at her lack of riposte to his lunge.
“More of you. But I also have a craving for Chinese dumplings. Something salty and crunchy that we can eat off of each other.”
She winked, then turned back toward the stairs while he stood dumbfounded by the sofa.
“And Steed,” she called from half way up the stairs, “don’t forget the Chinese mustard.”
“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor,” Tara’s voice sounded thinly from across the darkened sitting room. Robert McCall shut the door and dropped his valise on the floor, his eyes searching the many shadows in the cluttered room for his wife. He found her seated on a chair, legs crossed tightly at the knee, arms folded. The sense of relief he’d been feeling as he climbed slowly up the stairs evaporated. He still hurt all over, more so after the long train ride back to Paris. He had gotten through it by imagining Tara’s warm, soft curves and the spark in her eye when he held her. But the look in her eye now, visible even in the dark room, was anything but pleased. There was a slip of paper on the table beside her. She reached up and tugged the brass chain on the table lamp so that a circle of yellow light fell on the paper and her right shoulder. “Where have you been, Robbie?”
McCall reached to his throat and began to undo his tie, then thought better of it and left it loosely knotted around his neck so that it concealed the bruises there. He shrugged off his jacket, inadvertently wincing as sore muscles complained, and tossed it over the arm of the sofa. He took another look at his wife. Her face had become an expressionless mask.
“Milan,” he replied, resisting the urge to go to her. Did I leave that list out? I can’t have!
He crossed to the kitchen and flicked on the light. Music echoed in the airshaft outside the open kitchen window. I hate Jacques Brell. The apartment was stiflingly hot. All the windows were open and the tired little fan was rattling away on the counter.
“Steed called for you,” Tara said from the other room.
“Oh?” Robbie took the bottle of whiskey out of the cabinet and a tumbler off the dish drainer.
“He was surprised that you were out of town.”
McCall returned to the kitchen doorway holding the glass of whiskey.
“Does Steed monitor your every move?” he asked, then answered himself. “No. So why should he know every detail of every trip I make?”
Tara sighed, picking up the list of code names she’d found on the kitchen table the previous morning. She’d been annoyed at Robbie’s sloppiness then, but she’d become worried about him when Steed called looking for him yesterday afternoon. And the moment he said he’d been in Milan the item in the daily brief about Colonnello Estella Gioverdi being in a car accident flashed through her mind. Italian intelligence was calling it an attempted assassination and screaming at the likely suspects, including British intelligence. If Robbie had been involved Steed would be livid. And no amount of fondness for her would prevent him from hanging her husband out to dry. At moments like this she was inclined to help him do it
“No, he needn’t know every detail. But you’re working on something that he knows nothing about, aren’t you? You agreed weeks ago to tell him about it, and you never did. You lied to me Robbie.”
“I didn’t lie, love. I just thought better of it after we spoke. If it’s valid information then it’s huge, Tara. I don’t want to escalate it until I’m sure.”
Tara’s eyes narrowed as she turned her face toward him and he knew she didn’t see it his way. Her professional loyalty to Steed was unwavering. She simply refused to see that eventually Steed’s era would be over and his allies would fade with him.
“You are not authorized to run a double agent, Robbie. That is what this is about, isn’t it?” Tara stood up and turned toward him, raising the paper so he could see it.
“It’s much bigger than that darling,” Robbie stepped over to her and took the list.
Tara’s eyes narrowed. “Then it’s even more dangerous for one agent to fly it solo. Screw this up, Robbie, and if Steed doesn’t just cut you loose entirely he’ll put you on so short a leash you’ll be living in one of his guest rooms. And I like Paris, Robbie, a lot better than London.”
Staring at his face she saw that he understood. But he made no offer to reform. He was not, she could see, going to budge. So this is it. I’m less important to him than his career, and he’s determined to do what he wants to do. He’s going to go down and I can’t save him. I love him, but I’m not going with him. Even as she thought this she saw a shadow on the side of his face and her heart ached. He’s hurt. She put her hands on his upper arms and turned him so that the kitchen light illuminated his face. She lightly touched the bruise on his left cheek. “What happened in Milan?”
Her voice had softened with concern for him. Relieved, Robbie made a small, painful shrug.
“Nothing important. I’m fine.”
Tara pursed her lips and released him, going into the kitchen to bundle cracked ice from the freezer into a clean dishcloth. She returned and put the bundle in his hand, then pressed it to the side of his face.
“It’s not going to help, love, the bruise is too old,” he said, reaching for her with his other hand. But she evaded him, striding in her purposeful way across the sitting room to the bedroom. He looked down at the cloth in his hand, then pressed it to his cheek and followed her.
He stopped in the bedroom doorway, so shocked he gasped and then coughed painfully. Tara had taken her red suitcase from the closet and laid it open on the bed. She was at the dresser removing panties from a drawer. She glanced up at him as he tried to control the painful coughing spasm, but she did not stop packing.
“What are you doing?” he finally managed to croak.
She shot him a frustrated look and placed three folded blouses in the case.
“Tara, darling, where are you going?”
“Don’t be obtuse, Robbie,” she said, her tone surprisingly kind. It was as if, having made the decision to separate herself from him she could forgive him his indiscretions, even feel pity for him. She layered trousers and a couple skirts into the bag, then headed for the bathroom.
“We’re such a great team, Tara,” he said, standing in the bedroom staring at her suitcase. “Don’t go.”
That broke her composure. She snorted a loud, disgusted laugh as she took her travel kit from the cabinet under the sink. Her husband would never understand partnership the way she did. He would never see her as his equal as an agent. He had to be the super agent. She picked up the new lotion she’d just bought and carried both items back into the bedroom.
“Team?” she chortled as she dropped them into the case and shut it. “I’m not sure we’ve ever been partners, Robbie. It was all just a dream that we never managed to live.”
“Because of Steed!” he half shouted, then pressed the cold, damp dishcloth to his ragged throat. “He has never let us work together.”
Tara picked up the bag and left him standing in the bedroom. Pierre watched her, tail wagging madly, from the end of the sofa as she crossed to the front door.
“Don’t forget to feed the dog, Robbie.”
“Tell me what you’re thinking about,” Emma whispered, one hand tracing the pattern of hair and old scars on Steed’s chest, the other holding up her head. They had found their way back to bed after eating the chow mien, sweet and sour pork, egg rolls and fried wontons Steed had ordered in. It hadn’t taken much to convince Emma that the greasy wontons did not belong in the bed: she had settled for the flirtation of feeding and being fed with chopsticks at the dining table downstairs. And that, combined with bare-footed caresses beneath the table had been more than enough to send them twisting up the stairs shedding dressing gowns as they went. They’d played at eating off of one another, slurping imagined treats in between licking and nipping at tender flesh. Eventually this lighthearted foreplay had metamorphosed into passion much more intense than they’d known on the sofa. Through powerful control and skill they’d drawn it out, bringing one another to the edge and back over and over until they’d joined in a single, blazing climax, soared together to near unconsciousness, and collapsed in a boneless heap of limbs and sheets.
Steed didn’t quite recall how they’d ended up positioned normally in the bed, but he did know that his enigmatic smile had sparked her request. He didn’t mind.
“The first time we made love after you left him,” he replied honestly
Emma smiled, lightly stroking one of Steed’s sore nipples. He put his hand over hers to make her stop. She withdrew her hand and laid her head on his shoulder, recalling the evening he was referring to. She had left Peter – in her mind it had been permanent, although unofficial. She had been certain that he was engaged in criminal activities, but more importantly he was seeing other women and treating her like a possession.
She had not specifically intended to go back to Steed when she left Peter, but she would not deny that she had hoped for the possibility. She had wanted, if nothing else, to rekindle their friendship. For although she’d missed him desperately as her lover, the greater loss during those years back with Peter had been of her best friend. She had thought that even if Steed had moved on to another women he could still be her friend, and that would help her to rebuild her life without Peter.
Of course when she’d made contact with Steed – somewhat unexpectedly during a Bentley rally in the West Country – she’d realized the folly of her plan. Despite the years apart she still loved him desperately. Friendship without the frission of physical intimacy would be harder than the complete separation she’d been enduring. But she had soon learned that there was no other woman for Steed – none, at least, who had replaced her.
“You were hesitant – you said I was still married to Peter,” she said, watching him from beneath hooded eyelids.
“I have the utmost respect for the sanctity of marriage,” he replied.
He’s sincere, she realized, then smiled at herself. Of course he is – now he’s married. She had had no doubt then, and still had none now, that he’d engaged in his share of affairs with married women. Just not while he’d been her lover and husband.
“We’d been lovers for years. The sin, if one cares to dwell on it, had been committed long before.”
“Ah, but not knowingly,” he raised one finger to emphasize his innocence.
“It’s all the same in the eyes of the lord, I believe, darling.”
“So we were damned if we did, and damned if we didn’t,” he speculated.
“And I prefer to believe that true lovers are blessed,” she said. “We always were the truest of lovers, Steed.”
“Oh well, that’s an easy out for us sinners,” he smiled, clearly willing to accept both the excuse and her assertion of the depth of their love.
“But is that what you were thinking about, really?”
“I was remembering how I felt that night. You turned up to give me an undeserved second chance. I wasn’t going to let you get away again.”
“So you allowed me to seduce you, to keep me there,” she chuckled, knowing he’d like this interpretation even better.
“Precisely,” he grinned. “It was a personal sacrifice for the good of our future.”
“I was a wreck,” she sighed, rolling on to her back to stare at the ceiling. “He hadn’t touched me in months. I didn’t know how badly I needed you, for any number of reasons, until you put your arms around me that evening.”
“And not a moment too soon, I think,” Steed rolled onto his side to look at her. “Has this trial really disturbed you so much?”
Her eyes locked with his and she finally understood. He had guided her to this so deftly she hadn’t suspected for a moment. The edges of her mouth curled in an appreciative smile. She despised being manipulated, but she could not be angry when he did it so well and for her own good. Staring into his compassionate gaze she contemplated his question.
“He’s like a specter, lingering out there just beyond my sphere of awareness. I suppose I’m depending on this trial to banish him for me.”
“You know it can’t love. It’s not the man who’s haunting you, its something else – something inside of you.”
“Are you psychoanalyzing me, Steed?” she asked with amused wonderment. He pursed his lips at her flippancy and watched her expression turn more serious.
“I know you Emma. I know what sort of demons can haunt you and what can’t. You – no we – put the man in that courtroom behind us two years ago. But you have not yet finished healing the part of yourself that he hurt. I see it in your eyes sometimes: it’s a little flicker of self-doubt when you’re considering a course of action. He undermined your confidence with his infiltration of your business.”
“How could I not have seen it, Steed?” she replied, readily accepting his assessment. He was right – Peter had deceived her in a way she thought no one could. She’d been wrong about her own powers of perception. What else am I wrong about?
Steed lifted himself on one arm and used the other hand to caress her cheek.
“You were not involved with Knight when he infiltrated it. You had no reason to suspect it when you stepped back in. He had no official ties to the company.”
She shut her eyes and enjoyed his gentle touch. He was more concerned than he wanted her to know, she could tell. He’s afraid this will come between us somehow, eventually. That I’ll lose faith in so much of myself that I’ll also lose it in him.
Emma could not deny the possibility. If the self-doubt kept gnawing at her it would most certainly grow to a point where she would not be able to trust him either.
“Much as I appreciate your analysis, darling, I think I should speak to a professional,” she said, forcing the words out despite her reluctance to utter them. His fingers stopped caressing, his hand moved down to rest on her shoulder. She opened her eyes to see surprise in his expression. He maintained a healthy dislike for mental health professionals. He had not been consciously urging her to seek their advice. She had to grin up at him, wondering if he felt like his plan had backfired.
“You mean it,” he finally said.
“Yes. I mean it.”
“You aren’t going to ask me to go along, are you?” he added, leaning ever so slightly way from her. That made her laugh, and she raised herself up to match his half-sitting position and wrapped one arm around his waist to draw them close together.
“Are you claiming that every screw inside that extremely complex brain of your is perfectly tight?” she whispered, half chuckling.
“Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far,” he chuckled back. “But nearly enough.”
Emma placed a kiss on his noble nose and then rolled away from him, scooting to the far edge of the bed and planting her feet on the floor. She glanced back at him as she headed for the bathroom. He had also sat up and was reaching for the telephone.
Robert McCall looked from the closed door to the sofa where his eyes met Pierre’s. The dog wore a quizzical look, his tail straight up, his head slightly cocked to one side. They both listened to Tara’s footsteps fading as she strode away down the corridor in her hard shoes.
Pierre jumped to the floor, glancing over his shoulder at McCall as he trotted into the kitchen. McCall followed him, but ignored the meaningful looks the dog was giving his dish. He dropped the sodden dishtowel in the sink and poured himself another shot of whiskey. Wandering out into the sitting room he picked up the note Tara had left on the table. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor. Prepare for Juggernaut.
“Damn it!” he growled, crumpling the paper. He hurled it across the room so forcefully it bounced against the far wall and landed in the middle of the rug. Pierre dashed across the room and pounced on it. “Stupid dog,” McCall grumbled, smiling in spite of himself as the dog batted the ball of paper under the sofa.
Juggernaut is meaningless. None of them have reacted to it. Ivan. I’m going to throttle him.
McCall finished off his whiskey and left the glass on the table as he yanked off his necktie. He went to the bedroom to change into a worn jumper and stained twill trousers. He shrugged on a dry, cracked leather jacket and headed for the door, then paused and looked down at Pierre, who was wearing his concerned look again.
“Come on,” he said, taking Pierre’s leash from its hook on the back of the door. The dog yipped joyfully and reared up on his hind legs, his delicate front paws landing on McCall’s thigh. McCall clipped the leash on the dog’s collar and pushed him back to the floor. “You are now officially part of my cover,” he said, opening the door. Pierre dashed out tugging on the leash. McCall shut and locked the door and set off down the corridor behind the little dog. Behind them, unheard through the door and McCall’s angry thoughts, the telephone rang several times and then went silent.
Pierre waited patiently while McCall made a call from a pay telephone, then trotted excitedly beside his master along the dark Parisian streets. They ventured into neighborhoods that the little dog had never seen before, and the scents and sounds were nearly overwhelming. But Pierre trusted his master to keep him safe.
When they stepped through the door of a stuffy bar Pierre sneezed at the dense collection of odors, then perked up his ears at all of the new sights and smells. There was a cat somewhere in there, and spilled wine and beer had permeated the floorboards with a yeasty musk. There were no other dogs, though, so Pierre relaxed and began to take it all in.
McCall stopped at the bar and ordered a whiskey that he took to a table in the back corner. Neither the bar’s other patrons nor the bartender noticed Pierre’s toenails clattering across the scarred wooden floor.
He sat down beneath the table, planting his haunch on the toe of his master’s shoe and licking his lips as he surveyed the room from this new vantage point. Above him McCall sipped his whiskey and surveyed the room as well. A man hunched over a glass at the bar tried to look at him without being noticed and failed. McCall shot him a blatant glare and he returned his gaze to his glass.
A long-haired white cat poked its head around the end of the bar and eyed Pierre suspiciously. Pierre stared back, the left side of his upper lip caught on his teeth. Their staring contest went on as the cat slinked out from behind the bar and crouched amid the chair legs under a table.
The door opened to admit a husky man in a leather jacket and tweed cap. He gestured with his chin at the bartender and the man set a cloudy glass of pastis and water on the bar. He took it as he passed, making for the rear table where McCall sat watching.
“Ran into it in Milan, didn’t you,” he said as he sat down against the other wall so that he, too, could watch the room.
Pierre’s ears perked and he glanced up at his master as he felt him grow tense. When he looked back at the other table the cat had vanished. The dog’s nostrils flared as he tried to detect the other animal’s new hiding place.
“Juggernaut is meaningless, isn’t it Ivan?” McCall said. “You played me.”
“Careful McCall,” Ivan’s eyes narrowed over the top of his glass as he sipped it.
“I am careful. It’s you who should mind his manners. I’ve mentioned Juggernaut to four of them so far. The first three did not react at all. And then there was Milan.”
“And the lovely Colonnello Gioverdi,” Ivan nodded, his expression enigmatic.
“You knew she’d be there.”
“Not at all. But obviously Tailor was suspicious. I thought it was a brilliant move, placing her in the equation.”
“It exposed me, Ivan. My superiors are asking questions.”
Ivan set his glass on the table and studied McCall for a moment.
“They’re going to move in, Ivan. Is that what you want?”
“Who knows about me, McCall?” Ivan asked, eyes ranging around the room. They rested on the man at the bar for a moment, then moved on toward a couple at another table who were wholly engrossed in one another.
McCall’s skin tingled with sudden, chilling fear. Is Ivan alone? Did he send in an advance man? He watched the drunken man at the bar for a moment. No. Not him.
“My partner has all my case notes, Ivan,” he bluffed.
Ivan took a gulp of pastis and grinned wolfishly.
“As you say, McCall. So what is your next move?”
“Give me something better than Juggernaut and I’ll tell you.”
Ivan drummed his fingers on the table in several quick tattoos. Beneath them Pierre got to his feet, glancing up at the underside of the table, then scanning the room again. There. Rubbing itself on the woman’s calves. The cat shot him a smug look.
“Give me two days,” Ivan said. “Here. Eleven o’clock.” He stood up, then downed the last of his pastis and peered down at McCall.
“Fine. Eleven. Day after tomorrow,” McCall replied curtly, staring across the bar where his eyes met the bartender’s who was idly polishing a glass with a white bar towel. They stayed that way, eyes locked, as Ivan’s heavy steps carried him through the room between the tables. The flicker of reflected light on a tossed coin broke their gaze. The barman collected the coin from where it had landed on the polished wood as the front door shut behind the double agent.
The cat abruptly left off flirting with the woman, who was too involved with her male companion to have noticed it, and scurried back around behind the bar. Pierre stood-open mouthed, barely resisting the urge to bark at it until McCall stood up, nudging him aside with his feet.
“Come on,” McCall muttered to him, dragging him roughly toward the door, completely ignoring his attempts to follow the cat into its lair.
“Here you are, lad. Don’t eat it too quickly,” McCall set a dish of dog food next to the bowl of water on the plastic placemat below the kitchen window. The grimy panes were tinted with the grey of early morning light. Pierre plunged his muzzle into the bowl, then looked up at his master while he chewed and swallowed. McCall reached down to scratch him behind the ears. “Don’t worry, Tara will come take you out. I’ll call her at the office,” he said more for his own benefit than the dog’s. It helped him to suppress the tinge of guilt at leaving the animal cooped up in the apartment.
He glanced at the clock near the kitchen door and realized that he was in danger of missing his train. He went to his safe – a concealed hiding place where he kept all manner of valuables — and pulled out a thick manila envelope. He fingered through the contents and pulled out a creased paper. Then he reached further into the envelope and took out several bundles of cash. He sorted them, and pulled bills from the bundles of French and Swiss Francs before dropping them along with the Deutschmarks, Lira, and Dollars back in. Thus supplied he returned the envelope to his safe and secured it. He retrieved a small satchel from the armchair in the sitting room and tossed his raincoat over his arm, then left the apartment, locking the door behind him.
The train to Geneva was idling beside the platform when he stepped aboard and heaved his satchel up onto the overhead rack. It might be madness to try to contact “Doctor” this afternoon and get back in time to meet Ivan tomorrow. But he could not sit idly by, not with the wheels already in motion. News of the incident in Milan would have already gotten back to the ministry, and to Steed. Robbie did not for a moment suppose that his supervisor wouldn’t come to Paris to track him down.
Ivan was a double agent, and as such must be treated with extreme caution at all times. But up until last night McCall had felt confident that they had an understanding. Ivan wanted a western life, and he had provided McCall with the Juggernaut list to prove his loyalty. McCall would verify the list, and then vouch for Ivan with his superiors. They would see to it that he was able to remain in the west, even if his original masters tried to recall him. Optimally he would continue to function as a double agent, but if necessary he would be allowed to “disappear” and provided with a new identity in a western nation.
But last night’s encounter had left McCall very unsure. Ivan had asked him how much he’d told his superiors. McCall had lied because if Ivan knew the truth — that he was operating on his own, off of the ministry grid — then his life would be worthless. But he’d told Ivan that his partner knew everything. And now he was giving Ivan two days to either get him more details about Juggernaut, or to plan two assassinations – both his and Tara’s.
Tara, McCall slouched in his seat and rubbed his face with both hands. She was the light of his life. He adored her vivacity and her wit, and he knew she was wiser than him when it came to ministry politics – because she was trained by Steed. But sometimes she just refused to understand her husband’s methods. The train lurched and people walking along the platform began to jog toward the open doors. McCall watched as a woman with short dark hair picked up a small dog and tucked it under her arm in order to run for the train.
“Tara!” he jerked upright in his seat. The other inhabitants of his cabin – two businessmen and a professionally dressed woman – all stared at him curiously. Just then the bell rang and the train’s doors hissed shut. McCall collapsed back in his seat with a grimace. He’d forgotten to call Tara and ask her to walk Pierre.
“Qui, yes. The flower clock at three o’clock,” McCall replaced the pay phone receiver. He adjusted the strap of his satchel on his shoulder as he looked around the station. A wall of lockers caught his eye and he crossed to it and inserted the appropriate coins into a slot to open one and store his bag. He had three hours to get something to eat and have a little stroll around the city. He loved Geneva, particularly in the summer when the ski crowd was gone and the locals were relaxed – at least as relaxed as Swiss bankers ever were.
That was the other thing he loved about Geneva – the money. It practically oozed from the city’s pores. Walking along the Rue du Mont-Blanc he tried to imagine how much each of the other pedestrians had in their numbered account. The gentleman with the long white mustache most certainly had ten million francs on deposit, while that fellow in the Austin Martin with his shirt half open probably had nothing but the car. The woman with the poodle? So rich she’d lost count and relied on the bankers to do it for her. He hardly realized that he was grinning to himself over his little fantasies until a pretty young woman coming the other direction smiled flirtatiously back at him. His grin widened at the sudden sense of freedom. He was an agent of her majesty’s secret service in a fascinating city on a mission tracking down enemies of his nation. And pretty girls smiled at him.
He stopped in a café for a light lunch – anything more elaborate would have exceeded his per diem – and continued his walk toward the Jardin Anglais. The flower clock was exactly that – a giant working clock decorated with flowers. It was planted between the base of the Mont-Blanc Bridge and the park. McCall was sure that Doctor had named it as their meeting place because it was very public. They could talk out in the open, each able to see anyone coming. That was fine with him. He was done with dark alleys.
Standing at the edge of the path nearest the base of the floral clock he habitually checked his watch. Both timepieces read three minutes to three. He did a slow rotation, a visitor taking in the scenery. Out in Lake Geneva the water jet blurred into fine mist a hundred feet in the air. Behind it alpine peaks beckoned, patches of perpetual snow and ice sparkling in the sunshine. The air was crystal clear and so thin McCall could feel his heart beating faster than normal.
McCall spun back around to find a portly man with ruddy cheeks peeking out above neatly trimmed whiskers surrounding thin lips. His close-set eyes and large nose might have looked unattractive, but combined with the facial hair gave him a distinguished look. His dark grey homberg and three-piece pinstripe suit enhanced that impression.
“Ja. I am Herr Doktor.” His accent was very thick. McCall was glad he spoke English, since he could hardly understand the Swiss version of German. “You said you have a message for me.”
McCall smiled wanly. Direct and to the point: a true Swiss. But that wasn’t what he had in mind. Not this time. He half turned to look at the flower clock again. Three oh two.
“Geneva is such a fascinating city,” he said. “Are you a native?”
“Herr Tinker –.”
McCall raised one hand to interrupt him. “No, never mind. Silly question.”
Herr Doktor’s face had gone dark with irritation.
“I’m here to discuss the Juggernaut,” McCall said.
“What of it?”
“Colonel Kronskie told me very little. Only that we must prepare. Do you know the timetable, Herr Doktor?”
Herr Doktor’s eyes narrowed as he looked from McCall to the flower clock and back. “Ja, of course. We are to prepare?”
“Yes. You know what to do?”
“Of course,” Herr Doktor fished a large gold pocket watch out of his waistcoat pocket and opened it. “Is that all, Herr Tinker?” he asked, holding the open watch in his hand. McCall glanced down at it and smiled.
“That’s lovely. It looks very old. My uncle had one just like it.”
“Ja, it is a family piece. Is that all?”
“Oh. Ja. Prepare for Juggernaut, Herr Doktor.”
“Good day then, Herr Tinker.”
Herr Doktor turned on his heel and strode away from McCall, crossing the Rue du Mont-Blanc and quickly disappearing into the pedestrians strolling along the other side.
McCall counted to ten, then set out at a quick pace back toward the train station.
He easily got back to the station ahead of Herr Doktor. He hadn’t known when he made contact what “Doctor’s” position was – he had supposed that he was with one of the myriad Geneva banks. But the big gold pocket watch that the sleeper had checked was a railroad conductor’s timepiece. So McCall was playing a hunch that Herr Doktor was affiliated with the railway – and not as a mere conductor. He found a concealed spot outside of the entrance and waited for the portly figure to come striding up the steps.
The wait was shorter than he expected. Herr Doktor appeared accompanied by a younger man dressed in mechanic’s coveralls. His head was down and slightly inclined toward the shorter mechanic as he listened to whatever the other man was saying. When the two men entered the station engrossed in conversation McCall followed at a respectful distance.
They walked through the entry hall past the ticket windows and on through the waiting room. There they parted company, the mechanic heading for an arched opening leading to the platforms, Herr Doktor going to the right toward an unmarked staircase.
McCall followed Herr Doktor up to a mezzanine where café tables were occupied by a scattering of passengers enjoying a pre-trip snack. Herr Doktor weaved through the tables and on through an unornamented door marked “private.”
Satisfied that Herr Docktor was indeed in a position of authority with the railroad, McCall returned to the platforms to have a look around for the mechanic. Beyond the arched opening from the waiting area a pair of staircases led down to the two platforms on either side of the tracks. McCall paused at the top of the nearer steps and looked down at a train that had arrived a moment earlier. Amid the debarking passengers two men in the same coveralls were walking along beside the train looking at each set of wheels as they went. Neither was his man. He walked over to the top of the other staircase for a view of the other platform.
There. Far along the platform near where it narrowed to a mere walkway, his man was carrying a small toolbox toward a dispatcher’s observation tower. The platform was otherwise empty, and for the moment it was out of view of the other platform because of the train sitting in the station. McCall trotted down the stairs and walked quickly along the platform keeping his focus on the distant mechanic.
Thick columns down the center of the platform and spaced every twenty feet soared upward to support the roof two stories above. McCall tried to keep them between himself and the mechanic as he followed him. Fortunately the columns continued along the narrower walkway giving McCall the cover to continue along it without being very noticeable to his quarry. As the mechanic reached the tower at the end of the walkway McCall stopped behind one of the columns to watch.
The tower had all-around windows fifteen feet above the level of the platforms and walkway. Inside a man – presumably a dispatcher – was peering along the tracks through binoculars. The mechanic unlocked a door at the base of the tower and went inside. McCall watched the dispatcher lower his glasses and look at something below the windows, then move to another window to look toward the main station as he picked up a telephone receiver.
The mechanic appeared behind him and he turned with the telephone still to his ear. McCall didn’t need to hear them to know what was being said. The dispatcher challenged the mechanic and the mechanic pointed at something below window level – he had been sent to repair it. The dispatcher hung up the telephone and focused his full attention on the mechanic – he disagreed with the repair order.
The mechanic took a half step toward the dispatcher and the dispatcher retreated an equal distance still shaking his head. A gun appeared in the mechanic’s hand so quickly McCall knew the man was more than just a grease monkey. The dispatcher’s hands came up, palms forward as he took another half step back. The mechanic struck his head with the gun so fast and hard he crumpled. McCall concealed himself as best he could as the mechanic looked out the window toward the main station. When McCall risked another look he saw that the mechanic had lifted a dark panel that seemed to be hinged at the base of the window. He spent a few minutes working on something beneath it, then lowered it and used a screwdriver to secure it. He glanced out the window again as he tightened the screws and McCall realized that he had to get off of the walkway or be discovered when the mechanic was ready to leave. Which was immediately.
The mechanic disappeared from the watchtower and appeared in the doorway a moment later. Forty yards away McCall froze behind his column. The walkway was barely two feet wide on either side of the column. If he stayed there the mechanic would pass by him with only inches to spare. If he jumped off the walkway down onto the rail bed he’d be completely visible to the other man. During the two second he spent considering his options the situation grew more complicated – two uniformed men had descended the stairs from the station and were coming along the platform. McCall made his choice and started walking toward them once again keeping to the other side of the row of columns to limit his visibility to them. Glancing over his shoulder he saw the mechanic thirty yards behind him moving quickly toward him, the gun he’d used in the tower in his hand. They were both out of line of sight of the guards, but McCall felt a modicum of reassurance that the mechanic would not fire his weapon with them approaching. He picked up his pace and tried to decide what he would do when he got to the platform.
As he stepped onto the wider space next to a column the guards appeared just ahead of him, having seen him moving toward them despite his attempt at concealment.
“Halt!” one of them shouted as he jogged toward them. He glanced back over his shoulder. There was no sign of the mechanic. Suddenly chilled – not sure where the other man could have gone – he took a good look at his new adversaries as he broke into a run toward them. They did not appear to be armed, so he did not break his stride.
“Halt! Stop!” they both yelled, extending their arms, palms forward just as the dispatcher had. But their gesture was much more aggressive. McCall kept running, dodging to the right just as one of them lunged forward to tackle him. He shouldered the other one, spinning him around toward the far side of the platform, stumbled a few steps, and then kept running.
He heard the crackle of a two-way radio behind him as one of the guards called for assistance. He was so focused on the guards the roar and screech of an arriving train on the second track startled him. But it also saved him, for the moment the doors opened passengers began to step off and he quickly found concealment in their numbers. The guards waded through the crowd behind him, pleading with them to make way. One was employing a whistle to jar them into movement. McCall slipped in front of a tall man and woman just starting to climb the stairs to the station. He pounded up the steps with his shoulders hunched, hoping that they people behind him concealed him.
Behind him the guards’ desperate attempts to pursue him were flouted by a group of school kids talking and laughing and oblivious to their commands. McCall walked quickly into the waiting area looking like all of the other arriving passengers looking around for a welcoming party. But he was watching for guards, the mechanic, or Herr Doktor, any of whom might offer an extremely unpleasant greeting.
Blue coveralls caught his eye emerging from an unmarked door. The mechanic had taken a different route back to the station. McCall veered the other way, intent now on concealing himself until his train departed in several hours. He would have liked to change into his other shirt, but the lockers where his satchel was stored were entirely exposed in the waiting area. Instead he moved on through the station and exited onto the street.
He would have loved to have returned to the dispatcher’s tower to see what the mechanic had done, but he knew that any moment someone would discover the unconscious man and the tower would not be left unattended after that. Perhaps they would discover the sabotage – if that’s what the mechanic did. But just as likely, if Herr Doktor were senior enough, it would remain concealed.
With hours left before he could board a train back to France, he crossed the street and found a café with a good view of the station doors. He ordered a coffee and felt the caffeine replace the adrenalin in his system as he sipped it. Eventually he was able to formulate a new plan, and he ordered another coffee to help his patience.
Just after five Herr Doktor appeared at the station entrance. McCall tossed some coins on his table and took up the chase. The sleeper led him across town on foot to a small restaurant where he enjoyed supper while McCall loitered up the street. By seven Herr Doktor was at home in his townhouse, ensconced in an easy chair in a richly appointed library just visible through sheer curtains. McCall noted the address and the pleasant neighborhood, then returned to the station. He stopped at a touristy shop just down the street and bought a cheap cap and a pullover jersey that he put on. It was a thin disguise, but it made him feel a little safer. He saw no sign of the mechanic, and the guards he saw paid no attention to him. Nonetheless, he quickly retrieved his satchel and went into the mens’ room, staying there in the end stall until his train was called.
“Well look at you, you little urchin,” Steed murmured, one hand hovering over his son’s protruding bottom. At eleven months he was in the process of transitioning from baby to toddler, but at the moment he was definitely trying to be an infant. He lay on his stomach with his arms and legs curled beneath himself. His diapered behind was sticking up in the air.
“Is he sleeping?” Emma asked, crossing the nursery to stand beside him in front of the crib. “Oh – that can’t be comfortable!” she stifled a giggle, immediately feeling guilty for laughing at her son.
“I’ve slept in that position a few times in my life, but never by choice,” Steed said. Emma shot him a distressed look, then turned to see Siobhan coming from her room.
“Is he curled in a ball again?” the nanny asked.
“He’s done this before?” Emma asked.
Siobhan glanced into the crib and grinned. “For the last couple weeks,” she nodded. “When he’s walking he’ll grow out of it.”
“Too bad. I envy him being that flexible,” Steed said.
“Come on,” Emma rolled her eyes as she hooked her arm through his and pulled him out of the nursery. She had spent a good part of the day testifying again at Peter Peel’s trial, only escaping in time to come home and put the finishing touches on their party preparations. Thirty minutes of yoga and a bubbly bath had sweated and washed the tension out of her system. Emma had also made a few calls regarding the matter she and Steed had discussed the previous evening, and made an appointment with a psychiatrist recommended by her regular doctor.
Fortunately Steed had not been called back to court – probably because the attorneys had his written reports. So he’d been home early enough to arrange the furniture and get out the china, silver, and linens.
They walked arm-in-arm along the upstairs hall to the gallery overlooking the entry, then started down the stairs.
“Did you check the drinks trays in both rooms?” she asked.
“Yes I did, although I think encouraging our guests to drink while they play gives you an unfair advantage,” he replied, stopping short half way down the stairs. “That sounds like a car.”
Emma cocked her head and listened to the rattle of tires on gravel outside.
“The only guest who knows the gate code is Gambit,” he added, trotting on down the steps to peek out at the edge of the sheer curtain on the narrow window to the right of the front door. Emma followed him down more sedately, reassured when he stepped to the front door and swung it open. It creaked on its hinges, a comfortingly familiar sound that had come to mean “home” to them. Every few months Steed put a few drops of oil on the hinge, but in no time the squeak would be back as if it were part of the physical structure of the house.
“Good evening Gambit,” Steed greeted their first guest. Gambit stepped inside favoring them both with a warm smile.
“Steed,” he said, then turned to Emma.
“Emma, you look radiant.”
“You told him,” Emma said to Steed, leaning in to place a kiss on Gambit’s cheek. “Hello Mike.”
“It might have slipped out,” Steed admitted, his face splitting in a proud grin.
“Congratulations to you both,” Gambit said, returning Emma’s kiss with a twinkle-eyed smile.
“Thank you Mike. We’re both very excited to give John a sibling. Steed, why don’t you introduce Mike to a drink while I check on supper.”
Emma had prepared some dishes in advance and ordered others to create a sumptuous buffet for their bridge party. Siobhan had accepted delivery of the catered food that afternoon while Emma was testifying. But Emma had gotten home early enough to put the finishing touches on everything before dressing for her guests. While she checked that the warm dishes were not drying out in the ovens Steed guided Gambit into the game room and made him a drink. In no time more guests were buzzing at the gate. Emma checked the small black and white monitor in the security room off of the kitchen and opened the gate, leaving Steed to greet them at the front door.
“I’ll get it,” Siobhan said, entering the kitchen from the back stairs. “You go greet your guests.”
“Thank you Siobhan. The list is by the monitor,” Emma picked up a big bowl of tossed salad and headed for the dining room.
Fourteen guests were due to play at the four card tables set in the formal parlor and the game room. Steed and Emma had enjoyed compiling the guest list from among their friends, realizing that this was the first large party – other than their very large engagement, wedding, and anniversary parties – that they had planned together. Even so, Emma wasn’t surprised at how easy it had been. Steed had prepared and mailed the invitations once the guest list was made, and he’d handled the replies, adding new guests to fill out the tables when original guests declined. Emma planned and executed the menu. She had considered hiring a waiter to help, but decided that she could manage fourteen guests. If Steed disagreed he didn’t mention it, which was probably wise since Emma was in the moody phase of pregnancy and did not take well to challenges to her decisions. Steed was also probably right about her having an unfair advantage if their guests drank: her bridge game was in top form. One of the software programmers at Knight had been experimenting with decision-making algorithms by programming a computer to play bridge. Emma had been playing with it, and usually beating it, almost every day for two months.
“Here she is,” Steed said as Emma stepped into the foyer, closing the dining room doors behind her. She crossed the marble floor to greet Edmond and June Stanton. Edmond was her right hand at Knight Industries, a deal maker and negotiator renowned throughout England and beyond. He had also been her father’s right hand, and before that they had served together in the war in military intelligence. But his connection with Steed’s business had never been terminated, and he had continued to gather information and transport secrets on behalf of the Secret Service throughout his career working for Knight. Steed had uncovered this recently and forced Stanton to tell Emma the truth. She knew that Stanton had feared that it would destroy their friendship, but she had borne him no grudge. Secrets were secrets, and his activities had not adversely affected his work for Knight. There were other aspects of his secretiveness that left questions in her mind, but she had set them aside for the time being.
“Welcome Edmond, June,” she greeted them each with a friendly peck on the cheek. “Ready for a challenge?”
“Always, Emma,” Edmond replied with a grin.
“How about a drink first?” Steed asked, gesturing toward the game room where Gambit was racking up a game of billiards.
“Lord Frederick Leighton,” Freddy pronounced his full name almost awkwardly into the microphone at the gate, then turned his face toward his companion. “And guest.”
Lady Miranda Holcombe smiled at him, then looked ahead through the windscreen as the big, iron gate swung inward. Freddy shifted his sleek Jaguar into gear and started up the winding drive.
“You’re nervous,” he said, glancing at her as he spoke. “You shouldn’t be. Emma – and Steed,” he added almost as an afterthought, “are honest, genuine people.”
“Not like most of your friends?” she teased.
He grinned, looking at her, then back at the drive to negotiate the next turn.
“Emma is a special friend,” he glanced at her.
“So I have gathered,” she replied, looking up at the cheerfully lit windows of the house through the trees. Freddy focused on driving the last bit and parked beside a big, black Mercedes sedan in the wide, gravel-covered circle in front of the house. He shut off the engine and headlights and half turned toward her, making no move to get out of the car.
“That’s a torch that’s long extinguished,” he said softly, raising one hand to trace the side of her face with two fingers.
“She married someone else,” Miranda pointed out, watching him carefully. But she saw no sign of regret, only the impish little smile she was so fond of.
“And I am in love with you,” he said, pressing a light kiss to her lips – enough to send a tingle shooting through them both, but not enough to ruin her makeup. “Come on.”
He got out of the car and went around to her side, taking her arm to guide her across the gravel and up the front steps to the door.
“Freddy!” Emma exclaimed as she opened the door. “How wonderful to see you.”
“Good evening Emma. Please allow me to introduce Lady Miranda Holcombe. My Lady, this is Emma Steed. And this,” Freddy half turned to greet Steed who had come from the game room. “is John Steed.”
While Emma gave Freddy a friendly kiss, Steed took Miranda’s hand and placed a gallant kiss on the back.
“Welcome to our home, My Lady,” he said, his eyes rising to meet hers as he spoke.
“Thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet Freddy’s friends.”
“Yes it is,” Emma said, shaking Miranda’s hand and shooting Steed an amused little look for his courtly gesture.
“Miranda is more than just my friend, Emma,” Freddy said. “She is my fiancée.”
Emma gasped, a mix of pleasure and surprise. “Congratulations! What wonderful news,” she said, squeezing Miranda’s hand again before releasing it. “Edmond!” she called out, catching the other man’s eye through the open game room door just as he leaned over the billiards table to take a shot. “Did you hear? Freddy is engaged!”
Stanton straightened and set his stick down before coming with June back into the foyer to greet Freddy and Miranda. Emma noticed that Steed’s expression was particularly jubilant. She moved to his side and snaked her arms through his.
“You look remarkably pleased,” she whispered near his ear. “You do recall that he never had a chance with me?”
Steed’s eyes widened as he smiled at her. “It’s not that,” he whispered back. “She’s deaf. Your friend Freddy has seen past physical characteristics and fallen in love with a woman for her other qualities.”
Emma frowned ever so slightly, her gaze focused on Lady Miranda even while her head remained tilted toward Steed’s. She watched the woman’s eyes focus on each speaker as Freddy introduced her to Edmond and June. She was reading lips with speed and accuracy bred of long practice. Her own speech was articulate, lacking in the rounded sounds typical of the hearing impaired. Emma was, as usual, impressed at Steed’s powers of observation. She was tempted to point out to Steed that Lady Miranda was also quite attractive, but she kept the thought to herself.
More guests interrupted the party in the foyer and Freddy and Miranda went with the Stantons back into the game room. Emma and Steed greeted Willy MacHugh, an elderly friend and bridge partner of Emma’s. Steed had made sure that he would be present to challenge Emma at the card table – few others at the party would be able to best her. MacHugh had originally declined the invitation so Steed had telephoned him and learned that he was free that evening but had no transportation since he had stopped driving himself and the trip would be quite costly in a hired car. He had not said as much, of course, but Steed had inferred. So he arranged for a car and driver, broaching no argument from the distinguished mathematician.
Now Emma saw her old friend to a seat in the formal parlor and returned to the foyer where Steed was standing in the open doorway awaiting the next guest, who was parking his car.
“Why is there an agent lurking around the cars, Steed?” she asked, watching MacHugh’s black-suited driver stroll along behind the parked vehicles.
“MacHugh needed a ride. I was happy to arrange it for him.”
“With a ministry driver.”
Steed shrugged dismissively. “With so many guests coming and going, an little extra security seemed prudent.” He looked at her quizzically and she nodded.
“Good idea,” she admitted.
Cathy Gale sat astride her dependable old Triumph looking through the bars of the Steeds’ iron gate. Lights in the distant house appeared to flicker as the leaves on the intervening trees and shrubs moved in the light evening breeze. After meeting Steed yesterday she had seriously considered not coming tonight, and she was reconsidering now. She had hoped to avoid seeing Steed or Emma at the trial. In fact she had hoped, perhaps foolishly, to give her testimony and slip away, one of several witnesses too insignificant for the courthouse press to concern themselves with. She’d been wrong on both counts – she’d run smack dab into Steed, and she’d been corralled after testifying by a bevy of reporters and photographers lingering outside the building after having been there to see Emma’s testimony. Thank goodness for Bill – he’d shielded her from most of them as he ushered her away from the court. She’d felt a shred of relief this morning when she didn’t find any coverage of the trial in the newspapers. Until Bill had observed that they were probably working on big stories for the Sunday editions.
She was certain that Steed would repeat his questions this evening given a moment of privacy, which was why she was sitting outside the gate having second – no, third – thoughts. You did nothing wrong. You acted as an agent of her majesty’s secret service, as requested. It was top secret, and you had no right to mention it to Steed. So you didn’t. End of discussion.
But lecturing herself wouldn’t stop Steed’s inquiries, and if he’d told Emma, she would ask as well. And now that Cathy had testified, she couldn’t very well claim it was a secret. Her attorney had advised her to admit to having debriefed Peel and she’d been relieved to get it out in the open, particularly since it aided the case against him.
“Bloody hell,” she sighed, revving her bike to move closer to the control panel mounted on a post beside the gate. Removing her helmet so that she was visible to the discretely mounted camera, she pressed the call button.
The next guest had climbed out of his car and was approaching, his long-limbed gait carrying him quickly up the front steps.
“Welcome Kevin,” Steed extended his hand to his old friend Kevin Wycoff.
“Steed, Emma,” Kevin said, shaking Steed’s hand then Emma’s. “You look wonderful,” he added to Emma.
“Does everyone know?” Emma asked, understanding his meaning and directing her question to Steed. Steed looked genuinely innocent.
“Of course you mentioned it to me, Steed,” Kevin said, to Steed’s apparent surprise. Emma didn’t believe him anyway, and she wondered what he was concealing. But she doubted that it was anything treacherous, and she didn’t have time to ponder it further just then in any case. The buzz of a small engine could be heard out on the drive. Steed guided Kevin in to the game room and the Stantons, who he knew, while Emma stayed to greet the newcomer.
The slender figure dressed in black parked the motorcycle in an open space near the front steps and dismounted. Emma watched curiously through the narrow window beside the front door, trying to imagine which of their guests would arrive via such a conveyance. And then the helmet came off and golden blonde hair settled around her shoulders. Cathy Gale. Do I mention the trial?
Emma glanced around the entry hall to see if Steed was returning, but she was momentarily alone. Settling a welcoming expression on her face she opened the front door and watched Dr. Gale striding up the front steps. She unzipped her heavy leather jacket as she walked, then shrugged it off and threw it over one shoulder. Beneath it she wore an ivory knit top trimmed with black. The cutaway armholes revealed sculpted shoulders and a narrow waist over pencil slim black stretch trousers. Emma squelched a flicker of envy at her lithe figure, her hand dropping onto her own bulging tummy.
“Cathy, it’s lovely to see you,” she said, extending a hand to her guest.
Emma’s warm greeting eased Cathy’s apprehensions. She took Emma’s hand, then succumbed to the urge for informality and leaned closer for a social kiss on the cheek.
Cathy’s friendly greeting broadened Emma’s smile and helped her disregard the urge to bring up the Amazon, at least not right away.
“It’s warm for leather,” she observed, taking her guest’s jacket.
“Not at fifty miles an hour,” Cathy replied.
“This jacket is very nice,” Emma stroked the soft black hide. “I might have to look into motorcycle leathers in future.”
Cathy chuckled. “Give me a call when you’re ready – I’ll show you my favorite sources,” she said.
“I’ll just hang this up. So Steed told me he ran in to you yesterday,” Emma met Cathy’s eyes, holding her gaze for a long moment, and then turned away toward the closet concealed in the wall opposite the entry fireplace.
“Yes. It was a bit of a surprise.”
“Really?” Emma retrieved a hangar and inserted it into the jacket.
“Um, yes. I hadn’t – oh look, Emma, perhaps we should talk in private,” Cathy glanced pointedly into the formal parlor.
“Yes, we should. But this isn’t the time. Forgive me for bringing it up – I did try not to.”
“No, no, I can’t blame you. There are things I couldn’t tell you. Things I did for the ministry a few years ago. At the time I had no idea that there was any connection to Steed. If I had, I probably would have refused.”
Emma hung the jacket and shut the closet door, buying a few seconds before she had to meet Cathy’s gaze again.
“And if I had known what was in your report back then, I probably would have done some refusing of my own,” she said. “But it’s over and done with. I don’t blame you, Cathy. But I would like to have a talk some time soon.”
“Thank you for understanding. Does Steed?”
“We’ll work on him.”
Eventually all the guests were present and supplied with drinks and nibbles. Steed and Emma had collaborated on the seating assignments at the card tables in order to pair the competitors fairly. They had both enjoyed the exercise, spending an entire afternoon discussing the guests and fitting them into foursomes. Steed openly enjoyed manipulating people, even in such a benign way. He wondered whether his wife admitted to herself that she enjoyed it equally.
In any event they had read their guests well enough that play at each table was competitive and evenly balanced, with personalities meshing as well as playing skill. Because this was as much a social evening as a card game, they limited play to one rubber. As she had expected, Emma’s table, with Willy and two other of the more competitive players, finished first. She excused herself and went to the kitchen to move the food out to the dining room while the others moved around the rooms to watch the conclusion of the rest of the games.
“Supper is served,” Emma stood in the doorway of the game room to make her announcement, then crossed the foyer to repeat it to the small group seated in the formal parlor. Emma’s good friend Nancy Belmont rose immediately and linked arms with Emma to walk with her back to the dining room.
“I wish I could have given you a hand with the food, Emma. But we just finished our rubber,” she said.
“Did you win?” Emma asked pointedly.
“We did. Kevin is a very good player.”
“I’m glad to hear it. I had to argue with Steed to partner you two. I thought you might enjoy it.”
“Definitely. He’s such a nice man.”
“We’ve become good friends,” Nancy replied with a ready smile, separating from Emma to survey the buffet. “This looks delicious. Is this hummus?”
“Yes. There’s toasted flat bread to dip into it,” Emma replied, watching her friend curiously. She had no doubt that Nancy had just overtly changed the subject. What made her curious was why she didn’t want to talk about Kevin. She had made an effort to put them together at a social dinner a couple months earlier and she’d thought she’d seen a spark. It seemed to her that if something had gone wrong between them Nancy would not describe him as nice or appreciate being paired with him at cards.
The rest of the guests drifted in before Emma could formulate the best way to pursue the discussion with her friend, so she decided to stick to quiet observation instead. At the same time she and Steed worked hard to visit with each of their guests, making sure they had tried every dish that appealed to them and had drinks on hand. Emma had just brought out dessert – trays of honey soaked, nutty pastries, a dense rum-drenched cake, and a silver bowl full of vanilla ice cream – when Siobhan slipped into the dining room to quietly tell her that there was a car at the gate – someone not on the guest list.
Rather than discuss it, Emma followed Siobhan to the security room discretely gesturing to Steed to leave it to her.
“He said his name is Lee Stetson. I remember him, but I’m not sure I know him well enough to recognize him on the little television,” Siobhan explained.
Emma looked at the familiar face of the driver in the car at the gate and pressed the button to admit him.
“That’s Lee all right,” she said to Siobhan.
Returning to the foyer she caught Steed’s eye through the open dining room doors. He excused himself and came out, shutting the doors just as Emma opened the front door.
“Who is it?” he asked, squinting out into the darkness at the nondescript sedan that was creeping up the drive. The agent outside glanced from the car to the open house door to see Steed nod.
“You’ll see,” Emma said as the car found a clear spot and the lights and engine went off. She felt Steed tense beside her as he recognized the tall man who climbed out of the driver’s seat. Lee shut the car door and strode toward them. As he moved into the circle of light near the door they could see that his expression was tense. Emma had suspected, but now she knew with certainty that this was not a transatlantic social call.
“Lee, this is a pleasant surprise,” Steed said to the American agent.
“Good evening Steed, Emma. I’m sorry if it’s a bad time – it looks like you have guests.”
“We do. But no matter,” Steed replied as he shut the door. Lee gave Emma a warm hug and turned to shake Steed’s hand. The greeting was nowhere near as friendly as it should have been from the man who’d stood up with Steed at the altar.
“Would you like something to eat Lee?” she asked, trying to read him.
“We’ll be in the study,” Steed replied pointedly, his eyes sliding from Lee to Emma. I’m sorry darling. This is business.
“I’ll hold down the fort,” she worked hard to conceal the rush of disappointment his unspoken message caused. She stepped toward the dining room. “Shall I send Mike?
“No. But don’t let him leave. Lee?”
Steed’s gaze lingered on Emma a moment longer, entreating her to be understanding. She managed a small smile and a nod, then returned to the dining room.
“I have a man in Paris who I have not been able to contact,” Steed said as directed Stetson to the pair of club chairs in his office. He went to a tray of decanters and glasses, pausing for a moment with his hand over the crystal bottles, then selected the brandy.
“What can I pour you Lee?” he asked over his shoulder.
Steed turned toward him. “Lee, it’s me, not an adversary. I know how you feel after a flight across the Atlantic. Please enjoy the hospitality of my home.”
Stetson’s eyes met Steed’s and tense blue was soon warmed by calm grey.
“Is that Brandy?” he asked, nodding at the glass in Steed’s hand.
“I also have scotch and if I recall correctly this one,” Steed removed the stopper from a decanter and bent to sniff the bottle, “is port.”
“Whiskey please,” Stetson said, his broad, all-American smile finally making an appearance. Steed concealed his satisfaction at easing his friend’s tension, pouring the drink and bringing it to him.
“There you are. Chin chin!” he clinked Stetson’s glass and sat down in the chair opposite. Stetson took a sip, shut his eyes for a moment, then took another sip and settled back in his chair.
“So what about this man in Paris?” he asked.
“As I said, I have not been able to reach him. I should have liked to go over yesterday, but both Emma and I have been testifying at Peter Peel’s trial – we couldn’t leave Britain.”
“Peel’s trial? I didn’t realize, I’m sorry to have laid this at your feet.”
“Not at all. Business is business. And I’m grateful to you for bringing this matter to my attention. I feel certain that McCall’s silence is related to the list you’re after. And I’m free now to go look for him.”
“Why do you think he’s connected?”
“A hunch, mostly. He’s a rebel, a rule bender.”
“So are you. Most good agents are. There must be something else.”
“Yes. I suspected that he was hiding something when I saw him last month. And he’s not like me, or you. He’s not that good.”
Stetson’s smile faded as he realized that Steed was completely serious. Steed got up and went to his desk while Stetson considered what he’d said.
“McCall – related to Tara McCall?”
“Her husband,” Steed nodded. He picked up the telephone receiver and dialed an international number.
“Of course. Robert McCall. Do you think he’s in trouble, or is it worse?”
One of Steed’s brows arched as he looked over at Stetson, the telephone receiver pressed to his ear.
“Sally, it’s Steed.”
“Steed.” At the other end of the line Sally Howard sat up straighter on the sofa, leaving the comfortable warmth of her lover’s arms. James ducked under the telephone cord and stood up, crossing the small sitting room to the alcove kitchen.
“I’m having the devil of a time contacting McCall. Can you enlighten me?”
“Well, not precisely,” Sally grimaced. She knew when she told Steed what she knew of Tara and Robbie’s situation he’d want to know why she hadn’t contacted him sooner. She couldn’t win now no matter what she said. But with Steed she had learned that honesty, even late, would put her back in good stead.
“Imprecisely then,” Steed prompted. He must be very annoyed to be this impatient.
“Imprecisely. Tara left him last night. She’s in a hotel. She tried to reach him several times today but he didn’t come to the embassy. She finally went home and walked the dog, but I think she went back to the hotel afterwards.”
Steed’s blood had gone cold after the young agent’s first sentence. Tara was a solid, stable woman. She would not have left her husband for frivolous reasons.
“Did she say why she left him?” he asked, his voice so low Stetson, watching him, frowned.
“She wouldn’t, no. I asked, in a round-about way.”
“Listen to me Sally, I want you to go to her hotel – you do know where she is?”
“Good. Go to her hotel now and call me from her room. I must speak to her, and I don’t want her to be alone.”
Sally took a moment to respond, but finally agreed. Steed concluded the call before she could ask any questions. He knew she’d do as he asked, inconvenient as it was.
“We should hear from her shortly. And I think we’ll be going to Paris in the morning,” Steed said to Stetson. “In the mean time why don’t you come into the dining room and have some supper.”
Sally replaced the receiver and looked up at James, who’d returned with two glasses of iced tea.
“He wants me to go see Tara,” she said. “He’s looking for McCall.”
“I’m not surprised. McCall will have a hard time talking his way out of a twenty-four hour absence – it’s about that now, right?”
“Yes, about,” Sally nodded, taking her glass as she stood up. “I wish I didn’t have to be involved,” she went on, gulping some tea and then looking around the sitting room for her shoes. “Tara was so crazy about him when they first got married. It was such a mad, whirlwind romance. I want it to work.”
“Sally, you’re not really a hopeless romantic,” James caught her free hand and pulled her into an embrace.
“Aren’t I?” she asked, peering up into his eyes. As his playful expression turned more serious she placed a light kiss on his lips. “Aren’t I really?”
He opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut it, shrugging slightly as he released her as if to say, I don’t know.
Sally smiled to herself as she bent to ease her shoe on over her heel. Keep him guessing. If he thinks he knows it all he’ll get bored.
“Everything all right?” Gambit had followed Emma into the foyer as she said goodnight to the Stantons, and then maneuvered himself close enough to speak quietly into her ear. She nodded cordially at Edmond and June as they waved before getting into their car, then shut the front door and looked at Gambit.
“I’m not sure,” she replied with a small shrug, glancing toward the corridor that led to Steed’s study. “But he told me not to let you leave.”
Gambit grinned wolfishly, “Ah well, duty calls,” he said. “There is more of that excellent port, isn’t there?”
Emma shook her head in amusement and guided him back into the dining room.
About half of the guests had said goodnight when Steed reappeared with Stetson. The two agents entered the dining room engaged in light conversation contrived to deflect any questions. Emma excused herself from Freddie and Miranda and joined them at the buffet to help serve Stetson.
“I hope you’re staying,” she said, putting the last of the honey-soaked baklava on his plate.
“Of course he is,” Steed assured them both before Stetson could express any hesitancy. “We’re waiting for a call, and then we’ll have a strategy meeting,” he added sotto voice. “When the guests have gone.”
“And Mike? I told him he wasn’t to leave.”
Steed glanced around the room and spotted Gambit in conversation with Nancy he absently noted that Kevin was hovering nearby.
“Good. I’ll need him here.”
“And where will you be?”
Steed’s enigmatic smile was the only response she got, but his clear inclusion of her in his proposed strategy meeting helped stave off her curiosity.
The telephone began to ring just as Steed shut the door behind the last of the guests. Emma moved toward the extension on a table in the hall, but Steed moved faster, placing his hand over hers just as she touched the receiver.
She looked up at him curiously, then slipped her hand out from under his at the sight of his determined expression. He raised the receiver to his ear and glanced back toward the dining room door where Gambit and Stetson were still sitting sipping port. Emma nodded and went to join them as he spoke into the receiver.
“Steed? I’m here with Tara,” Sally sounded a bit strained.
Steed had had second thoughts about rousting her out to go to Tara’s hotel, but he squelched his remorse. The situation with McCall had explosive potential. Inconveniencing Sally was well within the appropriate range of actions.
“Thank you Sally. Please put Tara on.”
“Okay. She’s right here.”
“Hello, Steed,” if Sally sounded strained, Tara sounded overwrought. Steed was sure he had never known her to be so close to breaking down. He regretted that what he had to do would push her the rest of the way.
“Tara, do you know where McCall is?”
“No, Steed. If I did I would go after him, I think. Maybe not. I don’t know — he wouldn’t listen to me. He wouldn’t listen to reason, so I decided to disassociate myself from him.”
“Tara, your husband’s behavior is going to affect all of us if I don’t put a stop to it,” Steed replied with detached certainty. His choice of pronouns was very conscious – Tara could not simply walk away from her husband and be absolved of involvement. But the job of finding and stopping McCall was Steed’s, and he was taking control.
Even distraught Tara was perceptive: she understood all of his meanings. “He cuts me out Steed – it’s like I’m not a trained agent at all. I have asked him about this more than once and he just won’t tell –.”
“—me anything. He came home the other night with bruises on his throat. He still wouldn’t explain. He won’t –.”
“—let me help him. He won’t,” Tara’s voice, which had been climbing in volume and key finally broke. Her next phrase came in a choked whisper: “So I left.”
“Tara,” Steed’s own tone softened from determined interruptions to sympathy. “Please put Sally back on Tara.”
There was a rustling and a loud, moist sniff, and then Sally came back on the line.
“I’m here Steed,” she said, sounding drained herself. Steed could imagine her moving away from Tara, physically distancing herself from the emotional turmoil.
“Listen to me, Sally. This is important. In a moment you’re going to put Tara back on and I’m going to tell her that she is relieved of duty until McCall is found.” Steed paused to give the young woman a chance to respond, but she was silent so he went on. “I’m going to rely on you to keep the operation going. You know what to do, don’t you?”
“At the embassy?” she whispered. He imagined her turning further away from Tara and covering the mouthpiece with her hand so that her supervisor would not guess what they were discussing.
“Day to day operations – reviewing the reports, passing along the important data. You know the job, don’t you Sally?”
“Yes, of course I do.”
“Fine. And I know I can count on you. Now, put Tara back on.”
After a pause Tara spoke again, her voice moist and nasal.
“Tara, I’m relieving you of your post until the situation with your husband is sorted out. I fear that he is in grave danger, or worse. Having you managing the Paris operation compromises us. Sally will take over until this is sorted out.”
“No! Steed no! You can’t mean it. You know where my loyalty lies Steed – That’s why I left him! Please, Steed –.”
“Tara,” Steed raised his voice to overcome her growing hysterics, but there was a thump at the other end of the line and her weeping rant grew distant. Sally’s calmer tones could be heard as well.
“Steed, it’s Bond,” a male voice came on. Steed smiled to himself, not at all surprised that James was in Paris and had accompanied Sally. Ministry gossip said he spent most of his free time with her there to the consternation of the female intelligence population in London.
“Is she as bad as she sounds?” Steed asked.
“I have always thought that she was prone to theatrics,” came Bond’s reply, making Steed smile in agreement. “It seems to me you have only one solid agent in Paris, Steed.”
“Then I must ask you not to lure her away from me.”
“I can’t make any promises, Steed. To be honest, we have discussed it.”
“You mean you’ve asked her to join Six.”
“Yes. She hasn’t given me her answer. But I will promise you this – if she brings it up I’ll urge her to stick with you until this is settled.”
“I appreciate that, James.”
“And Steed, I hear that this is much larger than McCall can handle.”
“Is that why you’re there?”
“I’ll be there in the morning. Perhaps we can compare notes then. I think it might be beneficial for all of our interests. Will you tell Tara and Sally that I’m coming? I don’t think it will help for me to speak to Tara again.”
“What is it darling?” Emma asked as Steed walked into the kitchen where she was loading the dishwasher. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Made one, perhaps,” he said, locating a bottle of Perrier water in the refrigerator.
“What?” Emma shut the dishwasher and turned to stare at him. He concentrated on removing the cap from his bottle before looking up at her. When he did he was surprised at her concerned expression.
“Not literally,” he added guiltily. “I just removed Tara from duty.”
“Oh Steed!” Emma moved to him and placed a hand on one forearm. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”
He nodded, taking a gulp of his water. “Let’s go talk with Lee and Gambit.”
“I’m flying to Paris in the morning – Lee, I assume you’ll come too,” Steed concluded his summary of his conversations with Tara and Sally with a questioning look at Stetson. The American nodded.
“If that’s where the list is, I’m there,” he replied.
Steed turned to Emma. “Will you come, Mrs. Peel? I think we could use your unique touch.”
“To Paris?” she asked coyly. Steed returned her smile, a private, nonspecific message promising pleasure and adventure to come.
“Good,” he said. Stetson and Gambit exchanged a puzzled look – to them Emma had seemed not to answer the question. “I’ll call operations and have them make the arrangements. Gambit, I’m depending on you here. I’m not sure if McCall has gone rogue or is in trouble, but I want to know that I’ve got a friend at Whitehall.”
“Don’t want to be tarred with McCall’s brush?” Gambit asked.
“Something like that. Sorry to leave you out of the action.”
“No worries, Steed. I can find plenty of action at home in London.”
Stetson crowed a laugh while Emma swatted at the junior agent with a cloth napkin she had just folded.
“Pardon me, Emma,” he put in, his salacious grin belying his words.
McCall held the door lever down impatiently as the metro train shuttered to a stop. The door jumped open and he stepped out, shouldering through the people standing on the platform waiting to get on.
Five hours on the train from Geneva had not been enough time for him to figure out what was going on. But he was beginning to form a rather disturbing theory.
The notion that kept turning around in the back of his head, and that he kept suppressed there so as not to face it out right, was that he had already contacted several of the sleepers. He’d already told them the phrase that Ivan had said was simply a recognition code. But he was sure now that it wasn’t. He had unwittingly set Juggernaut – whatever it was — in motion.
Herr Doktor was a railroad official. Tailor in Milan was a transportation official for the Italian government. The others that he’d met with had been in similar positions, except for Lawyer. She was a communications engineer right here in Paris.
What, he pondered for the thousandth time as he ambled toward his apartment, could Juggernaut be? What would the other side want to do with Europe’s railroad’s? And it wasn’t just Europe – there were American sleepers on the list, too.
As he stepped off the curb on the corner down the block from home a passing teenager on a Vespa beeped urgently at him, driving him back up on to the sidewalk. He glanced around and noticed a man standing across the street from his building holding a folded newspaper. The hairs on the back of his neck tingled. As the traffic light changed he stepped back off the curb and crossed the street, but kept on going rather than turning toward his building.
He circled the block, coming up from the other side a few minutes later to see the man still standing there smoking a cigarette. Thanking whoever watched over sloppy agents for sending the kid on the Vespa, he turned away from home to find another refuge.
“Steed, I know that Tara has checked in to this hotel, but must we?” Emma asked, lowering her sunglasses to look at the façade of the modest Paris hotel. The windows were narrow and needed washing. The door around the latch was filthy from hundreds of hands. A drab curtain on the second floor fluttered limply out of an open window. But Emma’s objection was not related to any of this: The hotel was in the seventeenth arrondissement, far from the dynamic center of the city.
“I’m afraid so, darling. At least for now,” Steed said regretfully, although she did not believe for a moment that he felt guilty about it. He was in full investigative mode and had been since they had kissed John goodbye early that morning.
He pulled open the door for her and she entered with a put-upon sigh.
Steed registered them into two rooms on the same floor as Tara, then carried Emma’s and his bags up the stairs with Emma and Stetson trailing behind him.
They left their luggage in their rooms and went right to Tara’s.
Standing with his ear cocked toward the door Steed rapped on it with his knuckles and exchanged a look with Stetson.
“Who is it?” Tara sounded drained.
“It’s Steed. And friends. Open the door Tara.”
“Or you’ll open it for me,” he barely heard her grumble just before the deadbolt clicked and the door opened. Stetson heard it too, his brows rising in surprise at her apparent anger. “Good morning,” she said more clearly, and then “Oh!” as she took in the sight of Stetson and Emma along with Steed.
“Good morning Tara,” Steed said, blithely maneuvering past her into her room. She was dressed in grey and white striped flared trousers and a grey sweatshirt. Her feet were bare and her hair looked uncombed. Steed could not recall her ever looking less presentable. Stetson followed Steed in and Tara moved aside, peering up at Emma through wide eyes.
“Good morning Tara. I’m sorry that we’re all dropping in on you like this,” Emma said.
“I expected Steed, but you are a surprise Emma.”
Emma shrugged apologetically, inclining her head toward her husband. “I was recruited,” she said.
“Tara, have you heard from McCall?” Steed asked, pointedly bringing them to the matter at hand.
“No. I telephoned the apartment several times during the night, but he wasn’t there. If you weren’t coming this morning I would have gone over,” Tara took a breath and sat down on the bed, her big, blue eyes peering up at Steed. “I’m starting to get really worried.”
Seeing that Steed intended to maintain his professional distance, Emma sat down beside Tara and offered her a comforting smile. Stetson stood near the door looking more like an observer than a participant.
“Tell us everything you know,” Steed said bluntly.
Tara shook her head, her eyes dropping to her hands in her lap. “I already have, Steed. He’s been running a double agent for at least two months. He has a list of contacts that he’s been meeting with. The last one was in Milan.”
“Yes,” Steed nodded. “So I assumed.”
“You saw the report about Colonnello Gioverdi,” she said bitterly. “That was the final straw. I confronted him about it and when he refused again to contact you I left.”
“This list of contacts,” Stetson said as he moved closer to the bed. “You saw it?”
“No,” she replied very quickly — so quickly that Emma felt a twinge of doubt. She studied Tara’s profile as she went on. “I knew he had it, but he wouldn’t show it to me. I saw a shorter list that he had written out – sort of a cheat sheet. The real list has more than just contact names on it.”
“What else?” Steed asked, ignoring her assertion that she had never seen it.
Emma saw the skin at Tara’s temples tighten as she pursed her lips. “I’m not sure. There would have to be telephone numbers to contact them. And there were a few sentences typed at the top. Maybe recognition codes.”
“That would make sense,” Stetson nodded.
Steed bent and placed both hands on Tara’s shoulders. She lifted her face, her eyes narrowing as they locked with his. Emma recognized his expression and felt sympathy with the younger woman for having to endure it, even if she was holding something back.
“Tara, what are you not telling me?” Steed asked.
“Nothing Steed. I have told you everything I know about Robbie.”
Steed straightened, releasing her shoulders, and took a step back. “I certainly hope not, my dear,” he said with such primness Emma struggled to suppress a grin. “But if there is anything else you know about this list, or the recognition codes …” Steed hesitated, thinking fast to temper his natural instinct to threaten the witness. “I’m sure you’ll tell us. Won’t you Tara?”
“Of course I will Steed. If I think of anything else. I promise.”
Steed frowned down at her for an instant and Emma knew that he, too, was not satisfied.
“Lee and I are going to your apartment,” Steed said, glancing at Stetson to see him nod agreement. Tara stood up and crossed to the dresser against the wall.
“Here are the keys,” she said, pulling a hefty key ring from her handbag. Steed took them from her.
“Mrs. Peel, can you get into the Embassy without raising eyebrows, or alarms?”
“I’d like you to check on Sally, help her out. Ministry operations must not suffer because of McCall.”
Tara’s face fell – Emma saw it – at the disappointment in his voice.
James Bond walked briskly across the broad avenue toward Le Canon des Gobelins, a café known for its superb espresso and discrete service. Several of the outdoor tables were occupied by Parisians and tourists taking their morning repasts in the pleasant sunshine. James strode on past them and entered the establishment, his eyes immediately settling on the object of his visit.
After Steed’s call to Tara last night she’d confided in Sally and Bond: McCall had a list of names and he was contacting them, one by one, for some reason that he would not reveal. He was working with a double agent – most certainly the source of the list. There were only so many double agents around. After all, it was a very dangerous professional choice. James could think of just one man who might know of a double agent working in Paris, working a list of names.
Kenneth Howe saw Bond at the same moment that Bond saw him. The recognition on his face did not include a smile.
“Good morning Kenneth,” Bond said, pulling out a chair at Howe’s table without being invited.
Howe picked up a cigarette from an ashtray on the table and took a drag, studying Bond through a cloud of bluish smoke.
A decade and a half ago, Kenneth Howe had been the hottest investigative reporter on the Times of London staff. Then he exposed an MI5 agent in the course of a series of articles on illegal arms dealing. He’d gone before a judge who demanded to know his source – believed to be a government official with a grudge against the service. He’d protected his source and gone to jail for it. A few months later an aid to an MP who consistently voted against legislation that supported the secret service committed suicide in his home. No official connection was ever made between him and Howe. After he was released Howe moved to Paris and immersed himself in the eclectic outskirts of the literati there. But he was a habitual investigator and information seemed to find its way to him unasked for.
“I don’t know him,” he said, his voice stained with nicotine and strong coffee.
“Now Kenneth, you don’t even know why I’m here,” Bond replied genially. He caught a waiter’s eye and inclined his head toward the small espresso cup on the table in front of Howe, holding up two fingers.
“Yes I do. You’re looking for someone. I don’t know him.”
“You don’t do yourself justice, Kenneth. You know everybody. He’s one of theirs who’s been doing business with one ours. There’s a list.”
Howe took another drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray as he exhaled the last of the smoke.
“What do you need?” Bond added, leaning back in his chair as he eyed the man speculatively. “Money?”
“Everyone needs money,” Howe replied acidly, his gaze pointedly taking in Bond’s perfectly tailored suit and exquisite silk tie. The waiter swept past their table depositing two more espressos without so much as a clatter of china.
“Five thousand. Pounds.”
Bond picked up the small square of chocolate from his saucer and studied it.
“This is very rich,” he observed, his eyes moving from the chocolate to Howe.
“He’s not a double agent.”
“He’s much worse than that. Six thousand.”
“Come now, Kenneth, that’s not the way bargaining works.”
“Take it or leave it, James.”
Bond set the chocolate down and sipped his coffee. He wondered how much cash Sally had in her office. He felt no compunction about spending Steed’s operational budget. But if he had to he could lay his hands on a stash of pounds of his own here in Paris.
“Four p.m.,” he said, downing his coffee in a second gulp and scooting back his chair.
Howe peered up at him as he rose.
“Just like that?”
“You have the information. I’ll get the cash,” Bond leaned over the table to stare into Howe’s eyes. “Or do you have someplace else to be, Kenneth?”
Howe’s lips curled in a grimace but he did not reply.
“See you later,” Bond nodded, straightening. He dug a few coins out of his pocket and tossed them on the table to pay for the espresso, then turned on his heel and strode out of the café.
Smiling to herself, Emma crossed the street and strode down half a block to a taxi stand. Moral support indeed. Is it really for Sally, or am I here for him? She gave the driver an address in the first arrondisement and leaned back in the seat to watch the buildings and people of this beloved city go by. She did not mind at all that Steed had asked her to come along – whether for his stated reason, to help Sally hold things together without Tara and McCall, or whether because he needed his wife, not to mention his best partner, by his side. Either way she was glad to be included, and glad to be in Paris. Very soon she was paying the driver and getting out in front of one of Hauseman’s great stone office buildings near the Bourse.
The old, metal-caged lift carried her up four stories where the liveried operator – doubtless original to the lift – opened the door with a flourish.
“Merci,” she thanked him as she set off along the corridor toward double doors at the end. She paused just outside to read the name lettered in gold on an elegant wooden sign mounted on the wall. Knight Industries and below that in slightly smaller type, London.
“Bonjour Madame, how can I help you?” the receptionist’s sing-song voice did not convey the first impression she wanted for Knight’s Paris office. She made a mental note to speak to Mr. Berger in personnel about it.
“Bonjour. Is Monsieur Neville in?”
“Do you have an appointment Madame?”
Out of the corner of her eye Emma saw a familiar face poke out of an office door in a side corridor. Louise Hendricks, a client manager who had been sent over from London a few months ago, was waving frantically trying to get the receptionist’s attention. Emma suppressed an amused smile.
“No. But he’ll see me,” she said pleasantly.
“Mr. Neville has a rather full calendar, Madame. May I have your name?” The gestures from the side corridor grew even more frantic, but the young woman at the reception desk was oblivious.
“Certainly. Mrs. Steed.”
“Very well Mrs. Steed. If you’ll have a seat I will inquire as to Mr. Neville’s availability.”
The young woman gestured at a suite of chairs and a sofa as she rose holding an appointment book. Emma half turned toward the seating area as Louse Hendricks hurried out to intercept the receptionist. Emma took a few steps away and studied a painting on the wall over the sofa in order to let the drama play out.
“Don’t you know who that is?” she heard Louise whisper.
“It’s a Mrs. Steed,” the receptionist replied in a hushed voice.
“Mrs. Emma. Knight. Steed,” Louse said, enunciating each word. There was a muffled gasp followed by scuffling footsteps. “Miss Knight?” Louise asked in a normal voice.
Smiling, Emma turned back around.
“Good morning Miss Hendricks.”
“I hope you’ll forgive Tabby. She’s gone to get Mr. Neville now.”
“She had no way of knowing who I am,” Emma agreed, but Louise shook her head.
“Of course she had – we see your photograph often enough. But she hardly expected to see you here. To what do we owe the honor?”
“I had sudden business in Paris so I thought I would drop by.”
“Miss Knight! How delightful,” Frank Neville came striding from a rear office extending his hand to her as he walked. Emma nodded at Louise, then focused her attention of the manager of the Paris office. She noted that the receptionist had not returned.
“Come in, come in – can you stay long?”
Emma followed Neville to his office, admiring the way he solicited information while seeming to flatter. She knew him well enough to know that the receptionist had not been lying about him having a full calendar. He was trying to determine whether he needed to cancel any appointments to accommodate her. That was the last thing she wanted.
“No, I’m not here to impose. Except in one small way: I need to use your car.”
“My – car?” he moved around behind his desk when she was seated in a guest chair.
“Yes. And I would like you to telephone the cultural attaché at the British embassy and tell him I’m dropping by.”
“Arnold Rice?” Neville reached for a personal address book on his desk.
“Yes, that’s him. He has been begging us to sponsor a series of musical performances. I thought I would take the opportunity to speak with him about it. But the appointment should come from this office.”
“When would you like to see him?” Neville asked, turning pages in his book until he found what he was looking for.
“Immediately, if he’s in.”
Neville paused and looked at her. She adopted an innocent expression. His eyes widened ever so slightly, but he refrained from any further response. Instead he picked up the telephone on his desk and dialed the number that he’d found in his book.
A call on behalf of Emma Knight was given priority at the embassy and in short order she was ensconced in the company car. Before ordering it brought around Neville had had the temerity to point out that the Embassy was only a few blocks away, doubtless considering the expense of such an extravagance. But Emma had shook her head and observed that she would not arrive on foot and tiptoe through the gate under the scrutiny of the guards. Neville had immediately ordered the vehicle to meet her in front of the building. Then he’d escorted her out, clearly relieved to have her out of his hair. She suspected that there’d be a drastic drop in productivity in the office for the rest of the day as the staff discussed her visit. Steed would most certainly hear about that. She spent the short trip contemplating what sort of repayment she might demand, and arrived at the embassy gate wearing a secretive smile that was far more alluring to most men than she realized. The guard checked his list and immediately waved her car through.
“I’m not sure how long I’ll be,” she told the driver as he stopped in the circular drive at the base of the wide steps leading to the embassy offices. “You can go. I’ll make a less dramatic exit.”
As she finished speaking her door was opened by an embassy employee. Emma looked out to see Mr. Rice descending the steps to meet her. She extended her legs out of the car and her hand was taken by that gentleman. He assisted her to her feet, smiling and uttering a friendly welcome.
Miss Knight’s surprise visit could not have been timelier. Mr. Rice had been on the verge of canceling the concert series for lack of proper funding. Two dozen young English musicians would have been told that their working holiday in France was off had Emma not arrived at his doorstep today.
For her part, Emma had known that the music program was in danger through her own contacts. She did not mind using it to gain legitimate entry to the embassy: Knight’s board liked the company to be associated with cultural programs, particular to the benefit of British youth. And as for the cost, she was looking forward to handing Steed her invoice for services rendered, both personal and corporate. While she intended to collect in a very personal way for her help, it would be bad business not to at least pressure the ministry to reimburse the concert funding. She almost hoped they refused – having something to hold over Mother should Knight find itself at odds with the government in the future was worth far more than the few thousand pounds of the concert sponsorship.
An hour later Mr. Rice escorted Emma to his office door. She turned to shake his hand.
“I look forward to coming to the first concert, Mr. Rice. And in the mean time I’ll have our publicity department send you reproduction flats of our logo and the releases,” she said.
“Excellent, Miss Knight. Thank you again. Allow me to show you to the front door – the building can be confusing.”
“There’s no need, Mr. Rice, I can find my way – but is there a toilet I can use?”
“Oh. Yes, of course.” As she had hoped he was a bit flustered by the personal nature of her request. “Just down the corridor – do you see the second door?”
“Yes. Thank you,” Emma did see it, and she also saw Sally Howard standing further down the corridor pretending to study a file that she was holding. Emma made for the toilet door, wondering if her friend would meet her inside.
“It’s fortunate you happened to be in the corridor back there,” Emma said leadingly once she and Sally were settled in Sally’s office.
“There was no happenstance about it,” Sally replied.
“You knew I was in with Mr. Rice?”
“It’s my job to know everyone’s business,” Sally replied with an enigmatic smile that made Emma grin. “You are going to support his concert series.”
Emma’s brows rose with respect for the speed of Sally’s intelligence gathering.
“But Steed sent you here, didn’t he?”
“What? You know everything else, but not that?” Emma teased.
“I think you’re the only person who knows everything that Steed is thinking, Emma.”
From anyone else such a pandering comment would offend Emma, but Sally had been her assistant and her friend through the difficult days leading up to and after Peter Peel’s escape. She had provided quiet moral support while observing Emma’s emotional turmoil as she worked to save Knight Industries and her relationship with Steed. That combined with her position as an agent supervised by Steed made Sally a rare friend in whom Emma could confide.
“Well, I think he’s concerned about you today,” she replied, taking a moment to look around at her surroundings. The embassy boasted classic architectural details that were emphasized by the décor in the more public spaces. But here modern office needs had superseded aesthetics. Filing cabinets obscured the rich wainscoting, and the shadow of colorful floral wallpaper was visible through the drab beige paint above it. Sally’s desk was utilitarian, and the light fixture suspended over it looked like a military base transplant.
“Of course he expects me to be concerned about Tara and Robbie,” Sally said.
“Not in the way he may think. He’s sent you here to help me keep this little corner of the ministry running, right?”
“I think that’s the idea, yes.”
Sally shook her head, but her smile was more amused than concerned. “I’m upset about what’s happened between Tara and Robbie – on a personal level. And I’m concerned about whatever it is that Robbie has gotten himself into – and the impact it may have on the rest of us. The one thing that does not worry me is my ability to handle this office.”
Emma felt a flush of pride in the young woman who she tended to think of as a protégé. Even as an untrained country girl Sally had exhibited an intelligence and strength of character that both Emma and Steed had helped her to develop. From the moment Steed had mentioned needing her to help Sally she had suspected that it wasn’t necessary at all.
“Well then, perhaps we can just go shopping?” she replied with a laugh. Sally smirked at her, planting her open palm on a stack of papers on her desk.
“Sorry Emma, but I didn’t mean I have nothing to do here,” she said.
“All right,” Emma sighed. “Let’s pitch in then. Give me an assignment.”
“Now that’s a switch!” Sally grinned.
Vasiliki Ivanov Gubin, known as Ivan to all but his parents, ordered another coffee from the stoic bartender and watched the second hand on his watch for a few ticks.
McCall was late.
The bar’s pre-lunch clientele consisted a couple night watchmen who’d come off shift and were drinking their way toward bed, a near derelict who’d scraped together enough coins to buy himself a couple shots, and a young woman who sat in a corner with a cup of coffee on the table in front of her and a notebook in which she was scribbling rapidly. Another would-be great writer looking for inspiration in Paris’s underbelly. Ivan might have suspected her of being an accomplice of Robbie’s, but she was too out of place. McCall might have sent a man in to this bar to pretend to write, but not a woman.
By the time Ivan had finished his third coffee he had decided that McCall was not coming. It was an annoying development for Ivan, but it would doubtless prove fatal for the Englishman.
Ivan gave a last glance up and down the street as he stepped from the bar. No sign of McCall running to their meeting – and he hadn’t expected it. It was nearly noon. McCall would not be that late.
Ten minutes later, at the stroke of twelve, Ivan was shown into a meticulously decorated formal Russian parlor in a house that from the exterior gave the impression of complete abandonment.
Ioann Micha Spevsipp was known as the most cautious boss in the Russian mob. Only his superiors and his most trusted aides knew the location of his home, and only his aides were ever admitted inside. Ivan regarded it as a dubious honor to be numbered among their ranks. As usual, he found himself drawing comparisons between Spevsipp’s opulent home and his own grimy flat.
“Ivanov my friend!” Micha’s deep voice filled the parlor as he strode in. Ivan faced him and accepted three kisses on alternating cheeks. “You are just in time to join me for lunch.”
“I did not mean to intrude Micha,” Ivan said. He had hoped to be too early for such an invitation. Mixed loyalties aside, he found it distasteful to break bread with the mobster. At least his KGB masters were serving a higher master. Spevsipp sought only his own enrichment.
“Nonsense. Come, we eat.”
Micha hooked Ivan’s arm and guided him through a double doorway, across a hall, and into a dining room where the table was set for two. Almost as if Ivan had been expected. He felt another little wave of discomfort. The mobster sometimes knew too much, almost as if he were in contact with the KGB.
Shortly they were seated with bowls of a delicate, saffron scented vichyssoise before them and the sounds and sights of Micha’s late summer garden entertaining them through several open windows.
“Did you deliver the morsel to Robert McCall? Micha asked between spoonfuls of soup.
Ivan took a sip of the light white wine that had been poured from a sweating ceramic pitcher wrapped with a white linen cloth.
“McCall did not come.”
Micha set his spoon on his plate and peered at Ivan from beneath his dark, bushy eyebrows.
“How tiresome these new Englishmen are. How unreliable. Not like their predecessors.”
Ivan pursed his lips but refrained from commenting. Micha claimed to have enjoyed a long career playing cat and mouse with the best of the western agents. But Ivan was skeptical: Micha fancied himself a sort of non-governmental intelligence agent, but Ivan knew from personal experience that he was not nearly good enough for the real KGB. What Micha had that Ivan’s other bosses lacked was funding. Limitless, untraceable funding.
“I fear that McCall has gone back inside. He told me that his superiors were asking questions.”
Micha nodded sagely. “John Steed arrived in Paris this morning.”
Now Ivan understood why his boss had invoked the reputation of more senior British agents.
“He met with McCall’s wife. But he did not go to the Ministry offices in the Embassy.”
“McCall has not been there in several days. Steed would set up his own headquarters somewhere.”
Micha studied Ivan for a moment and then went on. “Steed’s partner went to the embassy. She has been there all morning.”
The return of Mrs. Peel to Steed’s side had caused a ripple of consternation across the various intelligence agencies. Steed was a brilliant adversary. Steed and Mrs. Peel were a deadly combination. Their subsequent marriage had been a pleasant surprise. Not because it revealed the true nature of their relationship at last — that had been assumed by all — but because it suggested that Steed might retire. But to their chagrin he had only increased his authority, not relinquished any. And yet none of his adversaries had dared to try to use his wife or child against him. Mrs. Steed was generally accepted as far too dangerous to put to use as a pawn. And an unspoken code of honor had so far prohibited anyone from resorting to using their child. Ivan supposed that Steed knew that, but that his son was well guarded nonetheless. The world was full of diabolical masterminds who would not play by the rules of espionage. Spevsipp was one of them.
“It is only a matter of time before Steed and Mrs. Peel have the list and act on it,” Ivan said with mixed emotions. His compensation for the successful triggering of Juggernaut was enough to retire to the Costa del Sol on. But things were getting messy, and if it was going to backfire he wanted to get out. “The sleepers will be eliminated before Juggernaut –.”
“How many has McCall contacted?”
“Four. I do not know what he did yesterday. He may have contacted another one although he told me he would not until I gave him more information.”
“McCall is reckless and impulsive. I am afraid that we are out of time for our scheme to play out to its completion with him. With Steed on the scene the English will not take the blame for Juggernaut.”
“What do you want me to do? Rescind the orders?”
“No. Recover McCall and remove him from the equation. We will complete the contact ourselves. I have already made arrangements for the ones in the US and Canada.”
“Very well,” Ivan muttered, swallowing down a spoonful of soup to conceal his discomfort. His other masters might not agree with Micha’s orders. As was always the case with men who elected to betray, he had a choice to make that would have dire consequences no matter what the outcome.
Because he kept his eyes on his bowl he did not notice Micha’s speculative expression as he gazed at Ivan.
“Whew, what is that smell?” Stetson peered through the open door of the McCall apartment, nose wrinkled at a sharp odor emanating from inside. Steed leaned in past him, sniffing noisily.
“Urine,” he replied just as Pierre the dog appeared in the bedroom doorway, tail tucked between his legs, head lowered submissively. “Hello!” Steed added, crouching to extend a hand to the animal. Pierre took one tentative step, glancing up at Stetson, then back down at Steed. “No need to be afraid. We’re friends.”
“I hardly think we need to worry if he doesn’t believe you,” Stetson said, stepping into the apartment and shutting the door. “He’s not exactly a Doberman.”
“He may be small, but that’s no reason to be disrespectful,” Steed said as Pierre inched forward and sniffed his hand. “I suspect that the little fellow has had an accident. That means McCall hasn’t been here for quite some time.”
“Or the dog’s not very well trained,” Stetson muttered, looking into the kitchen. “Here’s the scene of the crime,” he added. Steed glanced up sharply, then realized that Stetson meant the dog’s accident in the kitchen.
“He’s probably doing his best not to make a bigger mess now,” he said. Rising, he glanced around and spotted the leash hanging on the back of the door. As he reached for it Stetson lifted the corner of a framed print on the wall and peered behind it. “We’ll be back presently.”
“What?” Stetson dropped the frame back against the wall and watched Steed clipping the leash to Pierre’s collar.
“See if you can find McCall’s safe, will you?”
Still ashamed at having urinated in the kitchen, Pierre tugged the big man holding his leash down the stairs and reared up to push his front paws on the front door of the apartment building. It was opened from the outside by a middle-aged woman carrying a grocery sack. Pierre darted out past her and came up short at the end of his leash. Behind him Steed had paused to tip his hat to the woman while he allowed her to enter.
Coming through the door he tsked several times at the dog.
“A gentleman always remembers his manners, even when in physical distress,” he said. But Pierre was already across the sidewalk lifting his leg to the slender trunk of a tree in a sidewalk planter. Steed looked discretely away from the dog until he had finished. Pierre sniffed at the planter to assure himself that no strangers had been there. He detected only the usual scents of Fifi the terrier and Tintin the whippet. Satisfied, he glanced up at the man, then set off down the sidewalk, half expecting the leash to go taut again.
It didn’t, and soon man and dog were strolling down the sidewalk on the usual route. Just as they entered the small park two blocks down Pierre felt a more urgent call of nature. He made for his favorite spot, a small, shady glade just off of the path, and squatted.
Once again Steed looked discreetly away while the dog relieved himself in a patch of grass that was obviously used by several local dogs for the purpose. Pierre finished and took a moment to scrape at the grass with his rear paws, then set off along the path again. Steed let the dog guide him.
The park was densely planted with big, old trees and thick, healthy lavender shrubs. The path curved up a slight rise and then turned sharply before plunging across a grassy lawn. Steed saw the figure emerging from among the trees in his peripheral vision just soon enough to get a hand up to protect his head. He belatedly let go of Pierre’s leash as a wire garrote sliced into the forearm of his suit sleeve. He threw his other elbow back into his attacker’s chest, then brought his hand back up on the rebound to grab a fistful of hair. He bent his knees and heaved forward, ignoring the sting of the wire digging into his forearm as he threw the man to the ground.
Pierre launched into a frenzy of barking when the man fell on the ground. The dog understood loyalty, and any human who brought him out on a walk deserved his.
The attacker dropped the garrote and rolled to his feet, coming up swinging. He smashed a fist into Steed’s left eye so hard it snapped his head around. Emitting a breathless grunt Steed returned the blow, then missed with a left jab. He ducked another punch, his head still whirling from the impact of the first and drove his shoulder to his attacker’s gut. The man went down with Steed sprawled across his legs. He wriggled away and took off in a staggering run that had evened out by the time he got across the clearing.
Pierre sprinted after him, his leash trailing behind like an extra long tail.
“Pierre!” Steed climbed to his feet watching man and dog disappear into the trees. Picking up the dropped garrote and resettling his hat on his head, he took off after them at a quick jog. He had just reached the far side of the clearing when the sound of squealing brakes and an ominous crunch reached him through the muffling trees. He picked up his pace, sprinting along the path that led back to the street. Tara will kill me, he thought as he imagined the little dog injured, or worse.
The scene he found upon stepping out onto the sidewalk was not what he’d expected. Pierre stood just off the curb straining at his leash, which was caught on a bit of low iron fence around a tree planter. Just beyond his reach a white sedan was stopped in the street and Steed’s attacker lay in a heap on the pavement just in front of the driver’s side front wheel.
Already the sound of an approaching siren echoed off the surrounding buildings. The car’s driver was standing by his door lighting a cigarette with shaking hands while a few pedestrians had paused on the sidewalk, none of them apparently willing to approach the victim.
Steed crossed the sidewalk and bent to grab the end of Pierre’s leash. The dog spun around, obviously as agitated as the driver.
“Good boy,” Steed said, rubbing behind Pierre’s ears. “Very good boy.” Then he picked up the dog and stepped between the onlookers. He crouched next to his attacker and set Pierre on his feet. The dog sniffed at the man while Steed reached out to touch his finger to his throat. Feeling a weak, steady pulse, he lifted one eyelid and found the eye rolled upward. The man was out cold. Not feeling particularly sympathetic, Steed patted the man’s pockets and withdrew a billfold and a small black notebook. Glancing up as a police car and ambulance braked to a halt in the street he slipped the items into his own pocket and rose, picking Pierre back up. By the time the first officer reached them he had prepared his story.
Steed opened the apartment door and crouched to remove Pierre’s leash. The dog bounded inside and up onto a chair to peer out the window at the street below. Steed paused for a moment to listen to the sounds of searching coming from the bedroom.
“Lee, have you checked the refrigerator?” he called out.
“No,” came the muffled reply, sounding a bit puzzled. Steed went into the kitchen and bent to examine the refrigerator’s sparse contents. “Why?” Stetson’s voice was clearer as he’d come to the bedroom door.
“I’m in need of a filet,” Steed replied, shutting the vegetable crisper with a thump and turning his attention to the small freezer compartment.
Certain that Steed had a better explanation than simple hunger for his carnivorous craving, Stetson crossed the sitting room to look in at the kitchen door. Steed was holding a veal-chop shaped frozen object wrapped in clear plastic. He looked up at Stetson in consternation, then back at the chop. Then he shrugged resignedly, wrapped it up a dishcloth, and pressed it to his swelling eye as he moved from the kitchen to the sitting room. Stetson stood aside as he passed, then stepped into the kitchen.
Steed flopped down on a loveseat, his legs hanging off the end, and leaned his head back against the cushions.
“What happened out there?” Stetson asked from the kitchen.
“Pierre led me into the park, and someone jumped me.”
“You were mugged?”
“I should think not,” Steed reached into his suit coat pocket and withdrew the garrote, holding it out over the coffee table with his free hand. Stetson emerged from the kitchen in time to see it drop onto the table. “He used that. Standard issue for top class assassins from at least six eastern block countries – maybe seven,” Steed added.
Stetson came to the loveseat and removed the frozen chop from Steed’s eye, replacing it with the cold compress he’d found in the freezer.
“What?” Steed lifted the new object from his face to look at it, then smiled fondly, “Dear Tara – she’s graduated from steaks to genuine first aid,” he said, replacing it on his eye. Stetson grinned and carried the meat back to the kitchen.
“He also had this,” Steed dug the spiral bound notebook from his breast pocket and tossed it on the table with the garrote.
Stetson came back and picked it up.
“Numbers, names – or code names. Tailor, Soldier, Thief.”
“Nursery rhymes,” Steed muttered.
“Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man –.”
“Poor man, beggar man thief,” Stetson picked up the cadence with a nod. “They’re all in here. Rather like the list Tara says McCall wrote out.”
“But nothing to tell us who they are.”
“Right. Not obviously anyway. But these numbers could be dates or telephone numbers or both. We should get this to our experts.”
“Fine. Your experts. But let me spend some time with it first.”
“Deal. You look at it while you watch the apartment this afternoon. We’ll put it in the pouch to London tomorrow.”
“While I what?” Stetson’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the other agent.
“Whoever put the man in the park had him watching for McCall. We need to watch the watchers.”
“Assuming he wasn’t a solo operator.”
“A solo operator would have made a better effort to identify McCall correctly.”
“Good point. All right, what kind of stakeout set-up can we get?”
The arrangements for monitoring the McCall apartment took Steed all of twenty minutes, a telephone call, and two hundred Pounds. He left Stetson loitering on the corner while he rendezvoused with a contact who handed him the keys to his taxi in exchange for a roll of bills. Steed drove back to the apartment and parked half way down the block. Stetson met him at the driver’s side door and he placed the taxi owner’s grimy cap on the American’s head.
“Look like your napping,” he instructed, ignoring Stetson’s grimace at the dirty cap on his immaculately groomed head.
“I’ll have a hard time not getting into the role,” he replied, folding himself into the driver’s seat.
“You have the notebook for entertainment,” Steed pointed out.
“And how will you be entertaining yourself?”
Steed shut the car door and leaned on the door with both hands. “I am going to locate Bond. I suspect he has some insights about the situation. I’ll be back around nine to take over.”
Lee stifled a sigh and pulled the notebook out of his pocket as Steed strode away.
“Good afternoon James,” Steed settled onto a vacant metal chair next to the MI6 agent. Bond folded his newspaper and set it on his lap, his keen blue eyes scanning the area around the Medici fountain. There was an old man across the reflecting pool from them and a couple sitting closer to the main fountain. Bushy plantings shielded their backs from the main path behind them.
“Steed,” he replied, finally glancing at the other man. “Busy morning?”
Steed winced, knowing that his eye must be showing the results of his attacker’s punch despite the cold compress.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” he replied stoically. James grinned and surveyed the area again.
“I have a line on your man’s contact.”
“You have a name?”
“Not yet. I’ll get it this afternoon.”
“A contact. I’m sure you know him. Kenneth Howe.”
Steed’s eyes flashed as he stared at Bond, an angry look quickly covered by milder consternation.
“I won’t deal with that man.”
“He’s an excellent source.”
“He betrayed an agent.”
Bond nodded slowly, scanning the area again, but this time to give himself time to think. Howe’s past sins were unrelated to his usefulness today. Good agents could not afford sentimentality. Steed’s reaction had to run deeper than simple loyalty to a fallen comrade.
Steed stood up and stepped to the edge of the reflecting pool, staring down into the greenish water at his personal ghosts. Fifteen years ago Bruce Babcock had been working under cover in an arms dealing organization. Reporter Howe had learned of his identity from a source inside the government. In his expose in the Times he’d provided enough details for the arms dealers to recognize Babcock and they’d executed him. His investigation had fallen apart and it had taken three years to re-infiltrate their organization.
The government had taken Howe to court to make him reveal his source but he’d refused. The trial had been very visible: a cause celeb among with civil rights and freedom of speech activists. Each day of the trial there were increasingly larger protests outside the courthouse with crowds of reporters covering these events as well as what went on in the courtroom.
Meanwhile the ministry, in its role in the grey area in between MI5 and MI6, had been assigned the task of finding and eliminating the source. The colonel who had been Mother’s predecessor had assigned his most coldly efficient, professional man to do the job. Steed had still been a bit of an outsider then, recently returned from Europe after his post-war freelance period. He’d been hard and rough around the edges, with a dark, hunted look in eyes that tended to terrify those who he considered enemies. He’d used less than above-board methods to learn the source’s identity, and he’d performed the assassination without remorse. The death had been made to look like a suicide. And Howe had gone to jail just the same.
An amber leaf dropped from the tree canopy to the water and spun on the surface breaking Steed’s stare. He half turned and looked at the ornate fountain, Catherine de Medici’s personal folly. The memory of the man hanging by his own belt from a beam surfaced unbidden. Ancient history. He looked down at Bond. The other agent was watching him with a speculative expression on his face.
“Fifteen years is a long time,” he said mildly. Steed inhaled a long breath and looked back at the fountain. A long time. And I’m a different man now. “The leak was plugged. That was important to all of us,” Bond went on.
“Nonetheless, Howe exposed one of ours,” Steed said, squaring his shoulders, then returning to his chair. “I won’t use him.”
“Steed, his information isn’t dirty. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot just for spite.”
“Cut off my nose to spite my face,” Steed muttered.
“That’s the expression you were going for – don’t cut of my nose to spite my face. Point taken.” Steed rested his elbows on his knees and twisted his fingers together. Bond watched him. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen the classically composed Steed like this before.
“Something like that, yes,” Bond drawled.
Steed sat up and stared across the reflecting pool. Bond was right. Business is business.
“I won’t meet with him. Get what he has and we’ll meet later.”
Bond watched him stride away and smiled faintly at being given orders like he was one of Steed’s men. The man was definitely easing into leadership. As he got up and started walking himself Bond wondered how many more years Mother had.
Sally heaved a relieved sigh as Emma shut the door behind herself. Within an hour of Emma’s offer to assist her she’d understood just how detached from the bureaucracy of an intelligence agency the CEO of Knight Industries was. Emma had a strong work ethic and she put it to great use in her role at Knight. And she was a brilliant investigator working with Steed in the field. But when it came to decoding and summarizing reports and compiling files, her attention span deteriorated rapidly. Most of the intelligence gathered by the ministry’s agents in France was bits and pieces – sightings of people on the watch list, unusual events that might be part of a pattern or might not, messages from contacts – that could only be assembled by the analysts at headquarters.
Sally had learned to use instinct and her growing knowledge of the business to prioritize and summarize these reports. But until she watched Emma blow her hair out of her eyes in frustration as she sorted through a pile of papers trying to figure out what was important she had not realized just how much she knew. As the offices around them had quieted just after noon Emma had shoved away the files and shot Sally an appealing look through her big, brown eyes.
“You’ve been great help Emma. But it’s lunch time and if you want to go –.”
“I was thinking you would come with me. A nice composed salad? A glass of chardonnay?”
“A look in the shops?” Sally grinned at her friend.
Emma shrugged innocently.
“Actually, I brought something for lunch. I think that with what you’ve done I can complete these reports and get them into the pouch this afternoon. That will definitely put me in good stead with headquarters, and Steed. Why don’t you just go enjoy yourself?”
“I’ll feel like a deserter.”
“But you’ve done so much! I don’t think you can be of any more help – I have to do the final reports myself.”
Whether Emma understood Sally’s true motivation in sending her home or not, she accepted the dismissal graciously, exiting her office at a quarter to one with a friendly wave.
Sally swiveled in her chair and switched on a transistor radio on top of the file cabinets behind her desk, then spun back around and pulled her lunch out of a bottom drawer. She was chewing the last of her slice of quiche and bobbing her head to a pop song when her office door cracked open. Her first thought was that Emma had returned, and she was ashamed of the annoyance the notion caused. But the head that poked around the doorframe was not auburn but dark, the eyes not brown, but brilliant azure blue.
“Hello love. Are you busy?”
“Just finishing a bite. I have to complete some reports for the pouch.”
James stepped into the room and shut the door, nodding understanding. She was busy, but not so much so that she wanted him to go away.
“I’ve made some progress on the McCall situation,” he said, taking the chair that Emma had vacated.
“Really? Did you see Steed?”
“Yes. We just met.”
“Emma was here all morning. Is Steed sending you on some errand too?”
Bond smiled, tempted to say yes. “I have a contact who I believe can direct us to McCall’s double agent. In fact, he claims to know more than I expected.”
“That’s great. But why didn’t he tell you what he knows?”
The corners of James’s mouth curled in an impish smile that made Sally very uneasy.
“He wants a payoff,” she said.
“You’re sure he’ll deliver?”
“He’s the most reliable man in Europe.”
Sally turned away from him and switched off the radio, then stood up. “Tara keeps the cash in her safe,” she said.
“But you know the combination?”
“Of course,” she shot him a winsome smile as she headed for the office door. She paused with her hand on the knob. “Um, James, just how much does your contact want?”
Two hands covered Steed’s eyes from behind and pain flared on the left side of his face.
“Guess who?” Emma’s voice purred near his ear.
“Mrs. Peel,” he said, reaching up to gently remove her hands before she unknowingly inflicted more pain. He let her hands go as she straightened and rounded the table, her face going from pleased smile to sharp concern as she looked at him.
A waiter materialized just as she was poised over the chair opposite him, scooting it in as she sat. Steed noted that she had assumed the chair would be pushed in beneath her and moved accordingly without seeming to notice the waiter. Her attention was wholly focused on Steed’s face. These behaviors – her grace and comfort in any setting, and her unabashed devotion to him – were two of the thousands of reasons that he loved her. The little flutter of excitement they brought him put a pleased smile on his face, but she continued to look concerned.
“I hope the other guy looks worse,” she observed, finally acknowledging the waiter with a quick smile as he set her napkin on her lap.
“Much. He’s in hospital,” Steed replied.
Emma arched her left eyebrow pointedly.
“He was hit by a car.”
Emma’s brow dropped and her expressing returned to the slightly amused look that he knew so well. It wasn’t that she found another man’s pain amusing, he knew. This was her guarded look. She was waiting for more information, but in the mean time she wanted to look pleasant, to be always socially acceptable.
“Before you could hit him back?” she asked.
“He was running away, in fact,” he added, suddenly needing to tell her that he’d won the fight.
Her response was a slight curling at the corner of her mouth and a narrowing of her eyes. Her “don’t be such a little boy” expression. He realized that he adored that one too, even though she was mocking him. It’s Tara, he realized. Seeing her marriage to McCall falling apart is making me realize how lucky I am. Having identified the cause of his romantic obsessing over Emma’s every gesture and word, he managed to suppress the internal monologue. After all, it was dangerously distracting outside of the safety of their home. But, he realized as an afterthought, Emma in this environment, with danger all around, not to mention Paris, was ten fold more attractive than in the mundane setting of their kitchen. Not that she was not infinitely desirable in even the least interesting setting. Stop it!
She was watching him, probably wondering if the blow to his face had jarred his brain.
“Are you going to explain?” she finally asked.
Steed opened his mouth to do so, but closed it as the waiter appeared with the bottle of wine he’d ordered. He smiled wickedly at Emma, who was starting to look impatient, and then nodded to the waiter to approve the wine and vintage. They watched as the waiter cut off the foil and extracted the cork with practiced efficiency. He set the cork on the tablecloth and Steed picked it up to examine it while the waiter poured a small amount into his glass.
“Excellent,” Steed told the waiter after tasting it. The waiter filled Emma’s glass, then Steed’s, and disappeared leaving the bottle on the table.
“Cheers darling,” Steed raised his glass to Emma. She took hers and sipped it along with him.
“Well?” she asked when he’d set his glass back on the table.
“I was walking Pierre – McCall’s dog. He guided me into a park where I was jumped from behind.”
“By the man who’s now in hospital.”
“The very man.”
“You’re sure he wasn’t just a mugger?”
Steed grinned and took another sip of wine. “Lee asked the same thing. He attacked me with a garrote.”
“So I thought. And hardly the weapon of a mugger.”
Emma nodded. “Where is Lee?”
“Watching the McCall apartment.”
“Do you really think he’ll come home?”
“No. But apparently someone does. They mistook me for him.”
“Because of the dog.”
“I think so.”
“Your attacker must not have had a very good description of McCall. You don’t look anything alike.”
“True. But perhaps Pierre is the only dog in their building. He saw a man come out with a dog and assumed it must be McCall.”
Emma was still a little skeptical, but she couldn’t think of a better explanation. She picked up the one-page menu that had been placed in front of her.
“Were you able to speak to him, or is he unconscious?” she asked.
“I was hoping you would have a go at him,” Steed replied nonchalantly. Her eyes shot up and he grinned. “I have to relieve Lee. You could go to the hospital for evening visiting hours and talk with him. I’m sure you can come up with an appropriate reason.”
“Social worker, perhaps?” she suggested. She was long past arguing with his tendency to assign her tasks like she worked for him. After all, once upon a time she had.
“Angel of mercy, more likely,” he replied, his smile confirming that his overt flattery was quite intentional. She chuckled to herself and focused on deciding what to have for dinner.
“This is pleasant,” Steed said, taking a seat at the small table in front of an equally small restaurant in the Marais where James and Sally were already sitting.
“It’s one of my favorites,” Sally replied. She and James had finished their dinner and ordered digestifs. The waiter brought them, took Steed’s order for a brandy, then vanished in the way of the best Parisian service.
“You met with him?” Steed asked Bond.
Sally looked from her supervisor to her lover expectantly. Bond had told her about Steed’s reaction to his use of Howe. She was desperately curious about what had incited such a strong negative opinion from Steed, but now was not the time to ask.
“He gave me a name and some background.”
“Do I know the name?”
“You’ve heard of him, I’m certain. I took the liberty of asking Sally to request your ministry’s file on him.”
“It will be here tomorrow. But I took a lot of information over the phone,” she put in. Relieved to see that Steed looked pleased. She had doubted he could react otherwise, but one never knew. Steed checked his wristwatch as the waiter returned with his brandy.
“I have to go relieve Stetson. He’s watching the McCall apartment. Who’s the source?”
“Vasiliki Ivanov Gubin.”
Steed smiled and took a sip of brandy. “Ivan. I haven’t heard much about him in a long while.”
“Howe says he’s run afoul of some conflicting masters.”
“Didn’t Tara say that McCall’s contact is a double agent?”
“Yes she did.”
“Well, he’s that if you consider his work with McCall to be to our benefit. But he has a third priority that’s probably his first.”
“Let me guess,” Steed took another sip and smiled at Sally, who was watching him expectantly. Obviously James had already laid it all out for her. She was waiting to see how quickly he would put it together. He would not disappoint her – he already had. “He’s working for the Russian mob.”
“Spevsipp, to be precise.”
“Now there’s a nasty piece of work,” Steed pursed his lips disapprovingly.
“You know him?” Sally asked.
“Unfortunately, yes. Does he still live in that abandoned house in the thirteenth?”
“Yes,” Sally replied before Bond could. It was one of the pieces of information she’d taken over the telephone. Bond smiled at her, but Steed did not react. He seemed to be lost in thought. Sally and Bond waited, sipping their drinks.
“Bond, will you see if you can track down Ivan?” Steed asked at last. “I don’t want to tangle with Spevsipp just yet. Not until we determine the original source of the list. Did Ivan get it from the KGB and share it with the mob, or is it a mob project?”
“I should think it’s KGB, but you’re right. I’ll see what I can do to lay my hands on him without drawing Spevsipp’s attention.”
“What about me?” Sally asked. Steed studied her for a moment, his expression surprisingly paternal.
“I’d like you to continue to fill the same roll as Gambit – hold down the fort in the office.”
“Oh Steed,” she groaned. He shot her a warning glance, downed the last of his brandy, and stood up.
“Your time will come, Sally. Be patient,” he added before walking away. Bond reached over and took her hand. She looked at him appealingly.
“Follow orders Sally. You know he trusts you, but he doesn’t want to put you in over your head too quickly.”
“You know I can do more,” she half whispered as if Steed might hear her from half way down the block. “I’ve been thinking about your suggestion – to move to Six.”
“Steed knows you can do more too. But trust his judgment for the moment. He’s been in the field for a very long time, and if his gut tells him to keep you out of it, follow his lead.”
Sally sighed, knowing that these two men who she respected and even loved were both right, but chafing at the limitations they put on her.
“Have you rescinded your offer?” she asked, suddenly feeling very insecure.
“No, but I did promise Steed to ask you to stay with him through this – he needs you in place right now, Sally, even if you don’t see it.”
Sally was truly surprised – both that Bond and Steed had discussed her future, and that Steed had made Bond promise not to hire her away.
“Promise me this,” she said after a moment. James nodded, looking at her expectantly. “You’ll introduce me to Kenneth Howe. When this is over. He sounds like a contact I need to have.”
“Done.” James agreed, giving her hand a squeeze.
“He is sleeping,” the white starched nurse peered through her bifocals down at the clipboard she was holding, then up at Emma.
“Oh,” Emma managed a sob, covering her mouth with a handkerchief edged with prim yellow daisies. The nurse made an odd little moue.
“You may sit with him if you do not wake him,” she relented. “Until visiting hours are over.”
“Thank you,” Emma said, “Thank you so much. Oh my poor darling.”
Forcing another sob for good measure she moved aside the curtain around the bed where Steed’s attacker lay. Janko Broz’s face and exposed arms were discolored by bruises and Emma had to remind herself that they were not Steed’s handiwork – mostly – but rather the result of being hit by a car. She repositioned the curtain and adjusted a chair so that she could watch the patient.
“What do you want?” he spoke very softly without opening his eyes. Emma smiled knowingly. She had suspected he was awake.
“To know why you attacked Robert McCall.”
His eyes opened and he studied her for a long moment without revealing any reaction.
“Who are you?”
“An interested party. Who hired you?”
Steed had told her what he had learned of Janko Broz from a call to the ministry. He was a Croatian born thug most recently in the employ of the Russian mob. Steed suspected that his presence in France meant that he had changed companies. The most they could expect to learn was who had set him on McCall, but for Steed that would be enough.
Broz turned his face away from her, working his jaw as if trying but unable to speak. Emma frowned and rose to her feet, leaning over his torso.
He snapped his teeth shut with an audible clack, then faced her once more. A beatific smile suffused his face as his eyes met hers.
“Mr. Broz?” she repeated as she watched his eyes flutter shut. His lips parted slightly and she leaned nearer.
“Screw you,” he whispered. And then he coughed. She pulled back instinctively, both from the cough and his malevolent tone. She pursed her lips in annoyance.
“Come now Mr. Broz,” she said, then paused to watch his still face. She reached up and searched his neck for a pulse, but found none. Then she pulled his jaw open to look into his mouth.
A molar – or rather a false, hollow one — lay on his tongue. She gingerly removed it with two fingers and pressed his jaw shut, then sat back down while she tucked it into her handbag. She got out her handkerchief, pressed it to her face, and left the ward past the hard-mouthed nurse.
McCall drew up his sleeve to check his wristwatch for the third time in thirty minutes. Eleven thirty. It was not like Ivan to be late. He took another gulp of coffee and let the cup clatter in the saucer when he set it down. I’ve had too much caffeine. He checked his watch once more and when he realized that the minute hand had not moved he stood up and headed for the back of the bar.
The pay telephone was mounted on the wall above a scarred wooden shelf bearing an overflowing ashtray. McCall tried to ignore the smell of stale tobacco and picked up the receiver. He dialed Ivan’s number and waited while the line clicked and then rang.
“Qui?” the soviet’s voice sounded hushed.
“It’s McCall, Ivan. What’s going on?”
“Robbie,” Ivan sounded oddly wistful. McCall stepped closer to the telephone as a man passed behind him heading toward the toilet.
“I’ve been waiting since eleven.”
“No, Robbie. Twenty-three, not eleven.”
“Eleven was this morning. It’s too late now. You are too late.”
“Eleven in the mor–.” The blow to McCall’s skull was so hard his knees buckled beneath him and he was unconscious before he hit the floor. A thick-fingered hand replaced the receiver on the telephone.
The sight of Emma looking fresh and rested at a café table in the hotel breakfast room brought a smile to Steed’s tired face. It was eight o’clock in the morning and he had just left Stetson sitting behind the wheel of the off-duty taxi parked across the street from the McCalls’ apartment building. It had been a long, dark, dull night and Steed felt stiff all over. But his wife’s glowing complexion and bright eyes as she sipped coffee from a white china cup was enough to warm more than just his tired muscles.
She smiled up at him as he pulled out the other chair at her table and flopped down on it with his legs stretched out in the aisle between tables. He eyed her as he ran a hand through his tousled hair, noting the way her pink leather jacket enhanced the red in her hair.
“That’s not helping,” she observed wryly, her own eyes on his hair.
He smirked at her, then smiled up at the hostess who had appeared at his side. “Café crème, si vous plais.”
The hostess nodded and turned away.
“Are you planning on trying to sleep?” Emma asked, thinking of the strong hotel coffee.
His eyes widened and he jumped to his feet. He caught the hostess at the kitchen door and changed his order to tea, with apologies, then returned and flopped back down.
“How did you make out with Janko Broz?” he asked.
Emma finished spreading butter on a piece of baguette and set her knife down.
“Not well,” she said, then took a bite of bread and watched Steed while she chewed.
His brows rose in surprise and a hint of impatience.
She swallowed. “He’s dead.”
Steed straightened on his chair, pulling his legs in under the table as he peered at her. She took another bite of bread.
“From the car?” he asked, a flicker of concern on his bruised face. Emma realized that he hoped that his blows had not caused the man’s death. Steed was capable of killing in the line of duty, but when lesser measures were adequate he always tried to use them.
“From the poison he had under a false tooth. He killed himself when I asked him who hired him.”
“That’s astounding. He wasn’t a known operative.”
Emma frowned at a frightening new idea.
“Steed, you don’t have a –?”
The quick shake of his head silenced her. “No. Much too risky. Our chaps have secret compartments in our heels.”
Emma pursed her lips as she tried to decide whether to believe him. The hostess delivered his tea and basket of bread. She watched him check the color of the tea inside the ceramic pot, then tear off a chunk of baguette and spread strawberry preserves on it.
“I’m going to pick up the autopsy results later. How did your night go?”
He chewed the crusty French bread as he shook his head.
“Nothing,” he finally said after swallowing. He lifted the lid on the teapot again and smiled at the aromatic steam that came out. “A derelict took up residence in the doorway around one. At five the concierge came and shooed him off with her broom.”
“No sign of McCall?”
“Not a shadow,” Steed agreed, pouring tea into his cup. “Nor of anyone else watching for him.” He added milk and sugar to his tea and stirred it thoughtfully.
“What’s your next move?” Emma asked, then finished off her baguette and picked up her croissant. She could tell that he was ready to give up on the stakeout and pursue McCall more actively.
“Lee deciphered some interesting items in the notebook I took from Janko Broz. He gave me his notes this morning,” Steed tore off another piece of baguette and studied it for a moment, then dropped it back into the basket.
“It’s not very good, is it?” Emma observed, referring to the bread. “What sort of items?”
“Dates, times, telephone numbers, addresses, along with the codenames of the contacts – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor…” Steed gulped some tea. “It’s not bad, I’m just more in the mood for steak frits,” he added, referring to the bread.
“Your internal clock is all turned around. Why don’t you give me the notes? I’ll see what I can do while you sleep. Sally doesn’t need me hanging around her office.”
“Promise to keep our daughter out of danger,” he replied, extending one leg to reach into his trouser pocket. He dropped the notebook and a sheaf of folded paper on the table.
“I promise. Perhaps I’ll track down the addresses and dial the telephone numbers,” Emma picked up the notebook.
“Then I shall try to get my clock turned back around,” Steed gulped down the rest of his tea. “I don’t suppose you collected the poison tooth?”
Emma smiled enigmatically and picked up her handbag from the floor. She reached in and withdrew the tooth wrapped in a white tissue. Steed stood up and leaned over the table to place a kiss on her upraised cheek and take the tooth. He started for the door, shoving the wad of tissue into his pocket and tossing a flirtatious wink back at her over his shoulder.
Emma smiled wistfully after him for a moment, slightly tempted to follow him and crawl back into bed. At four months her pregnancy was taking its toll, and much of the time she fought an impulse to nap – even first thing in the morning.
Her other impulse was hunger. Unlike her first pregnancy, this baby was really requiring her to eat for two. She glanced around the dining room – the other guests currently having breakfast were engrossed in their tourist guides and newspapers – then reached across the table and took Steed’s abandoned croissant.
“How awful do I look?”
Emma looked up sharply, caught spreading preserves on the stolen pastry by Tara McCall.
Tara lifted large dark glasses off of her nose to reveal bright blue bloodshot eyes above swashes of shiny, yellowish grey skin. Emma’s involuntary wince was answer enough. She set the glasses back on her nose and sat down in the chair Steed had vacated.
“More importantly, how do you feel?” Emma asked.
Tara shook her head slowly, her eyes taking in the debris of Steed’s breakfast.
“You’ve just missed Steed,” Emma added.
“I didn’t, I saw him and avoided him,” Tara pushed the dregs of Steed’s cup of tea aside to make room for her forearms on the edge of the table. The hostess came to the table and moved the cup and basket of mutilated baguette to a tray.
“Café madame?” she asked Tara.
“Chocolat chaud,” Tara countered. The hostess nodded with a smile and retreated. Tara caught Emma’s raised eyebrow and shrugged. “I need it.”
“It will stay with you.”
Grimacing, Tara removed her glasses to study Emma more carefully. “Is that the voice of experience?” she asked, her eyes settling on Emma’s bulging tummy.
Emma was surprised at the cattiness in her tone. She thought that they had developed a mutual respect and guarded friendship. Her expression must have said as much, for Tara dropped her eyes back to the table and added, “I’m sorry. That was out of line. Married life suits you.”
“Married life has other side effects,” Emma pointedly patted her stomach.
“Oh!” The hostess reappeared and set Tara’s hot chocolate and bread on the table. “I’m sorry Emma, I didn’t know. You do mean that you’re –.”
“Yes, that’s what I mean. We haven’t announced it yet.”
“Congratulations. Steed must be thrilled. Who would have thought he’d turn out to be such a good father?”
“I thought, actually,” Emma felt her hackles begin to rise and consciously suppressed the annoyance. Tara’s marriage was in jeopardy; it was in her nature to lash out. It didn’t excuse her rudeness, but Emma could take the high road and overlook it.
Tara studiously sliced her baguette in half, pretending their last exchange had not occurred. Emma decided to play along.
“You haven’t heard from Robbie, have you?” she asked, certain she knew the answer but using the question to change the subject.
“He doesn’t know where I’m staying,” Tara replied without looking up at Emma. “Steed looked tired.”
“He had the overnight shift. He and Lee are watching your apartment.”
“A man jumped Steed yesterday. It seems he thought Steed was Robbie. So they’re hoping to identify someone watching for your husband.”
“Have they been inside? How is Pierre?”
“Steed was walking him when he was attacked.”
“So he fed him this morning?”
“He didn’t say.”
Tara frowned. “You can’t count on a man, can you?” she asked absently, taking a sip of her chocolate. Then her eyes shot up to Emma’s face and she winced.
“I think it’s safe to guess that you can’t rely on Steed or Lee to have thought about feeding Pierre,” Emma agreed gently. Tara set her cup down with a clack and started to rise. Emma shot her a questioning look.
“I’m going over there. I need a few things, and Pierre needs me.”
“Tara, I don’t think Steed –.”
“I don’t care whether Steed would object. I have to get my dog.” Tara drew herself up to her full height and clutched her handbag in both hands in front of her. Emma looked up at her for a moment, then set her own cup down and stood up too.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“Good. Thanks,” Tara managed a little smile.
The pounding in McCall’s head was what woke him up, but the pain in his wrists and ankles quickly asserted itself as the dominant sensation in his aching body. He heard himself groan as a sharp pain accompanied the rolling of his head. Someone hit me. In the bar.
“Who are your associates?”
The speaker was a Russian man, located somewhere behind where McCall lay tied spread-eagle on a hard surface. The room was so dim he couldn’t see much, but the dank feel of the air and the moldy smell suggested a cellar. The only light came from behind him near the speaker.
“My associates?” he replied, frowning, and then wincing when his head seemed to explode with renewed pain.
“Your associates. Please. And their contacts – any that you know.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I am an Englishman. I work for a box company. How dare you hold me!”
His head throbbed again as he raised his voice in feigned consternation. It was the first line of defense against interrogation – bald-faced denial. It would anger his questioner, probably encouraging him to reveal himself and his true intent. And it gave McCall a moment to think. Such a broad question suggested that they didn’t believe he had anything more important to tell them. Which meant he was of little value to them. As soon as he answered their questions they’d have no more use for him.
“You are an agent of the British government. Tell me the names of your associates.”
“I’m a tourist. My associates sell boxes.”
He had to think of something that would make him more valuable to them.
“You are not very convincing Robbie,” Ivan’s voice came from somewhere beyond McCall’s feet. He raised his head, ignoring the shooting pain, and saw the Russian walking toward him.
“Ivan, what’s going on?” he asked, dropping the pretense of innocence.
“My dear Robbie, please forgive our lack of hospitality,” Ivan replied, coming to stand beside the table that McCall was tied to. “You were instrumental in launching Juggernaut, so you deserve better accommodations. But I’m afraid this is the best that we can do.” The Russian shrugged, spreading his arms to include the entire basement.
“If I’ve been so helpful then you should enlighten me.”
Lee Stetson stifled a bored yawn and turned the page of the French newspaper he had spread on the steering wheel. He had already read all of the interesting articles and was now forcing himself to read the society pages, rationalizing that it was good practice for his rusty French.
At mid-morning the urban residential street was relatively quiet. A movement at the corner caught his eye – a dark-haired woman with a short-legged gait was crossing the street toward the apartment building. At the same moment the taxi rocked slightly and the back door opened.
“Off duty,” Stetson growled, pointing at the un-lit meter mounted on the dashboard. The back door shut just as he looked into the rearview mirror.
Emma’s impish smile looked back at him.
He looked from her reflection back to the figure crossing the street and recognized Tara McCall.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Did either of you think to feed and walk the dog this morning?” Emma asked. Stetson frowned, then remember the wiry little dog that he and Steed had left locked in the McCall apartment yesterday.
“Ah,” he dissembled.
“Right. Tara’s going to get him.”
“I don’t mind Tara going in to her apartment,” Stetson said, his eyes on the street. “It’s the man following her that worries me.” He was already reaching for the door handle. Emma bolted out the back of the taxi, glanced up and down the street, then sprinted a half block to a pay telephone at the corner.
As she dialed she watched Stetson charge across the street, planting one hand on the hood of a car that came screeching to a stop within inches of his thigh.
Pierre honored Tara with an enthusiastic greeting, barking and leaping, then running into the kitchen to stare pointedly at his empty dish.
“All right, all right. Give me a second,” she chattered as she followed him. She mixed up his favorite combination of kibble and canned dog food and set it on the floor, scratching behind his ears as he plunged his muzzle into the dish. Her first priority taken care of she started toward the bedroom to pack some more clothes. Half way across the sitting room she diverted to the ringing telephone on the table near the windows, wondering if it could possibly be Robbie.
“Tara, a man followed you in,” Emma’s spoke so quickly it took Tara more time than it should have to grasp what the other woman had said. Understanding was punctuated by a jarring slam. The man was dressed in a trench coat – far heavier than was necessary in the French autumn – and aiming a gun at Tara’s belly.
“Hang up,” he said.
Tara set the receiver on the telephone without taking her eyes off of the gun. Her blood was running cold, the familiar chill of fear suppressed by training and experience quickening her pulse and heightening her awareness.
“Good. Now tell me where McCall keeps his safe.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if he has one.”
The man crossed the sitting room so quickly Tara barely had time to edge to her left into a more open space.
“Of course you know,” he said, raising the gun to her temple. Tara swallowed hard, her wide blue eyes taking in his pocked skin and bushy eyebrows. “Where is it?”
“No,” she shook her head slightly, ignoring the pressure of the gun barrel on her face.
“Where?” he repeated. Her eyes darted from his face to his chest, then to the left toward a writing desk against the wall. He followed her gaze.
He grinned malevolently and switched his gun to his left hand before grabbing the back of the wooden chair at the desk. He pulled it out and swung it around.
“Sit down,” he ordered, gesturing at the seat of the chair with the gun. Tara swung her open hand at his wrist in a badly aimed karate chop. As fast as lightening he wrapped a big, strong hand around her shoulder and forced her down onto the chair, the gun jammed painfully against the side of her neck. He produced a length of cord from a pocket and quickly tied her wrists behind the back of the chair.
Tara cringed as he slammed open the desk’s writing surface and reached for one of the small interior drawers. He dumped its contents and reached for the next one.
Pierre appeared in the kitchen doorway, his body tense, his teeth barred. At the sight of his mistress sitting awkwardly in the chair the little dog erupted in a frenzy of barking. The intruder paused in his ransack of the desk to glance at the dog, then picked up the gun that he’d set on the desk and aimed at it.
“No!” Tara screamed and hurled herself sideways at the man.
The gun went flying across the sitting room as Tara crashed into the man and he crashed down onto the delicate desk. Thinking it was a game after all Pierre went after the gun, pouncing on it with both front paws and bending his head to sniff the unfamiliar object.
“Everybody freeze!” Stetson stepped through the open doorway with his own gun aimed at Tara still tied to the chair, the man, and the shattered desk. The man started to rise and Tara tipped her head sideways and smashed it back against the back of his head. He collapsed beneath her.
She grinned up at Stetson as he crossed the room and rolled the man over onto his back.
“All right?” he asked her as he produced shiny stainless steel handcuffs.
“Only my ego is bruised,” she replied wryly. She glanced across the room at another movement in the doorway.
Emma had stopped herself from a dead run with both hands wrapped around the doorframe. She peered into the room, reaching up with one hand to drag her hair away from her face.
“Need a hand?” she asked, pushing away from the door to cross the room to them. She untied Tara while Stetson finished dragging the man’s hands behind his back to put on the handcuffs.
“Is there someone we can contact to take care of him?” he asked.
Emma helped Tara to her feet, then picked up the telephone receiver and dialed Sally’s number at the embassy.
“The police will be here to collect him shortly,” she said after hanging up a moment later. “Sally will arrange for special handling.”
Stetson was trying to stand the desk back up on its broken legs, but it was too badly damaged. He looked regretfully at Tara.
“What did he want?” Emma asked, eying the intruder, who was semi-conscious and rolling his head from side to side on the floor.
“Robbie’s safe – his secret hiding place.”
“And it’s in the desk?” Stetson asked, looking at it with renewed interest. He’d been through that piece of furniture yesterday and found nothing.
“No, no. All he was going to find there was letters from my mum. I don’t think Robbie has one – a safe I mean. I know he has a mum.”
Emma’s brows creased in a tiny frown. Steed had told her about field agents’ safes. They all had them – most had more than one – with cash and important documents hidden away for a rainy day. Emma could not believe that Robbie McCall did not have a safe somewhere close to home.
“Every agent has a safe,” Stetson said with a skeptical shake of his head. Emma’s lips curled and she nodded in agreement.
“Then I don’t know where it is,” Tara shook her head firmly.
“Take a guess,” Stetson suggested firmly.
“I think,” Tara paused, glancing from Stetson to Emma. “I think it would be in the kitchen – there are so many more places in there. Behind the drawers, you know?”
Emma watched the agent fidget as she spoke and her trust in the other woman drained. She’s lying.
Stetson took her at her word and stepped over the intruder toward the kitchen, although he had searched there yesterday too. Pierre yipped at him as he approached, but Tara shushed him. Emma followed them, pausing to lean in the doorway while Stetson began pulling out drawers, looking for a short one that had room for a compartment behind it.
When they were both engrossed in the hunt Emma moved back into the sitting room and crouched down to study the broken desk. She believed Tara on that count – the petite desk was too small to conceal much behind its little drawers. But something that Tara had said or done had made the intruder begin to search it. A look, perhaps – a glance at the actual hiding place. Emma looked at the wall behind the desk, her eyes traveling down the light blue paint to the high, white baseboard. There were two hairline vertical cracks about two feet apart.
Emma reached out and pried at the top of the baseboard.
“What are you doing?” Tara asked from the kitchen doorway.
The strip of baseboard came away in Emma’s hands. She looked down at the space in the wall she had revealed and then up at Tara. The agent’s expression was one of complete innocence and Emma gave her full point for learning one of Steed’s best techniques.
“Is that it?” Tara asked with equal innocence.
“So it would seem,” Emma replied, setting the strip of baseboard down to pull a manila envelope out of the compartment. Stetson came from the kitchen to look down at Emma’s find.
“Were you going to pack some things?” Emma asked Tara pointedly, still holding the envelope. Tara nodded, eyes widening in understanding of the dismissal, then she turned and went to the bedroom.
Emma stood up and unclasped the envelope, then glanced down at the intruder still lying on the floor. Looking up at Stetson she inclined her head toward the other side of the room. He followed her.
Standing with their backs to the intruder she pulled out a sheaf of papers and handed Stetson the envelope. While she flipped through the papers he reached into the envelope and pulled out a wad of cash in various currencies.
“Do you think she knew it was there?” he asked quietly.
“If he’s running, he’s probably going to need this,” he shook the wad of bills.
“You’re thinking of a lure?”
“Money is always excellent bait.”
“Whether he’s running or not we’re going to need to find him. There is nothing in here that looks like a list,” Emma fanned the papers, which included several official ministry documents and less formal papers.
Ivan entered his compact, nearly windowless flat and passed through the efficiency kitchen without switching on a light. He dropped his mail on the counter as he passed and then stopped in the archway that led to the sitting room. The dusky scent of good cigar permeated the room, and he hadn’t had a good smoke in months. Then a warm red dot of fire drew his eye to the corner. Someone was sitting in his armchair.
“Welcome home Ivan,” the voice was British, the French perfectly articulated. “You moved.”
“I did not realize that I was expected to report my address to the British Secret Service,” Ivan replied, reaching out to a switch on the wall. The low-wattage overhead light seemed to flood the room with light. Ivan paced into the sitting room, eyes on Bond. He had no doubt that the Brit was armed, but he was trying to guess whether he was dangerous.
“What do you want — Bond, isn’t it?” he asked.
Bond took another drag on his cigar and held it up to examine the quarter inch of ash that had formed on the end.
“Juggernaut,” he replied.
“What is that?”
“That’s my question.”
Bond took another puff on his cigar, then flicked the ash into a glass ashtray that he’d placed on the arm of the chair. His movements were deliberate and patient. He held the cigar and looked expectantly at Ivan.
Ivan sat down on a stiff chair across the room from his uninvited guest. They peered at one another for another minute. And then Bond exhaled a sharp chuckle and smiled. He took another puff, wreathing his head in a bluish cloud of smoke.
“We’ll negotiate then,” he said. “You tell me about Juggernaut – what it is and when it’s going to happen – and I will arrange for you to be relocated. That was your deal with McCall, wasn’t it?”
Ivan’s eyes narrowed at Bond’s use of the past tense. Surely McCall has not been missed yet!
“I can look into it,” he said carefully. “Check with my contacts. It will take some time.” If Bond knew about my connection to Spevsipp he would not be willing to bargain.
Bond shook his head slowly, pursing his lips in annoyance. “Either you know or you don’t, Ivan.” He stood up and crossed the room, cigar held delicately with his index finger and thumb. Ivan’s head tipped back as he looked up anxiously. “Which is it?”
“Tonight,” he said, his voice not revealing his fear.
“Juggernaut starts tonight?” Bond asked, holding the cigar close to Ivan’s face. Ivan coughed and moved his hand to wave away the smoke. Bond snatched his wrist in midair and held it, bending it back to just the edge of pain.
“I will get the information – the plan and the list – and deliver it to you tonight. Tell me where.” Ivan gritted his teeth against the pain, his eyes riveted on the tip of the cigar hovering near his left cheek.
Bond stared at him for a moment, the heat of his cigar singing Ivan’s eyelashes. “Here,” he finally said, stepping back and releasing Ivan’s wrist. “You have it here for me. And pack your bags.”
Bond tossed the cigar in the kitchen wastebasket as he left. Ivan sat stiffly for several minutes, his mind racing to form a plan until the acrid smell of burning plastic rousted him from his chair. But by the time he had poured water from the kettle on the smoldering plastic wastebasket and dumped the whole mess into the sink he still had not made a decision.
Tara dragged clothes at random from her side of the closet and threw them into the last small suitcase left in the apartment. She’d noticed when she pulled it out of the closet that Robbie’s small satchel that he used for overnight trips was missing. Out in the sitting room Emma and Stetson were speaking to a police officer sent to collect the man who’d attacked her. He would be delivered to the embassy and put in a holding cell to which only Sally had a key. It was a standing arrangement Tara herself had made.
She felt betrayed, and she felt like a traitor, and as she stuffed a fistful of underpants into the bag tears began to spill on top of them. She dropped down on the bed and covered her face with her hands. The tears stopped as quickly as they’d come, snuffed by the bitter despair that was beginning to feel like her normal emotional state. She sniffed loudly and turned her head to look out the window at the apartment building across the street. It wasn’t much of a view, but she was going to miss it. She had no illusions that she’d be staying in Paris now, not, in any case, as an agent. She wasn’t quite sure, but she thought it quite likely that her career was over. Her loyalty had been put to the test and she had failed. She wasn’t even sure why she hadn’t just told Steed where Robbie’s safe was yesterday morning. Emma had seen right through her claims of ignorance, and now Steed would know too because Emma, unlike Tara, knew where her loyalties lay.
If only he’d called, she sighed, turning to look at the cluttered dresser top. If Robbie had called her yesterday she would have told him that she was on board – that she had his back and would help him get back into Steed’s good graces. But he hadn’t called, and now she was the one left out in the cold for having protected him. No, we both are. Steed can’t trust either of us ever again. I’ve given up my career for love, and I don’t have that either.
A door shut in the other room. Tara stood up and shut the suitcase, leaning hard on it to make the catches close.
“Tara?” Emma called from the other room, then appeared in the doorway.
“Yes. Ready,” Tara replied, her voice thick with emotion. Emma stepped into the bedroom.
“Are you all right?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you’re going through a tough time and you’ve made some difficult choices.”
“Yes, bad ones,” Tara snorted, picking up her case and turning to face Emma.
Emma shrugged non-commitally. “Maybe so. But nothing that you can’t recover from.”
“No? Do you really think Steed will give me my posting back?”
Emma pursed her lips, unwilling to lie to the other woman.
Tara nodded bitterly, carrying her suitcase past Emma into the living room.
Ivan pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his nose. The dust in the antique shop that his KGB handler Zabav Petravich used as his front always made him sneeze. He absently wondered if that was what had driven him to Spevsipp.
Petravich had rung him to demand an audience just after he’d extinguished the smoldering wastebasket. He’d still been pondering what to do. Bond’s offer appeared to be a chance at escape from the dangerous tangle he was in. He knew that the British could do what Bond promised: remove him from the KGB’s sphere of influence and supply him with financial support. But Bond’s offer did not take into account Spevsipp, whose reach extended much farther than the KGB’s. So either Bond did not know of his connection with the mob, or he did and he knew that his offer was meaningless. If that was the case, Ivan could expect Bond’s next visit to be far less pleasant: they would treat him the same way he was treating McCall.
A beaded curtain rattled as Petravich drew it aside and strode into the showroom. Ivan stifled another sneeze and shoved his handkerchief into his pocket.
“Comrade Gubin – Ivan — I have heard a most disturbing rumor about Robert McCall,” Petravich sat down in an old desk chair, set his elbows on the arms, and templed his fingertips. The chair groaned wearily as he leaned back and looked up at Ivan. The agent wondered idly whether his handler ever actually sold any antiques. Then his mind focused on what he’d been asked.
“What is that, comrade?” his knees stiffened. He hoped his handler could not see his concern.
Petravich crooked his finger at Ivan, requesting that he lean closer.
“I want him released, unharmed, immediately,” he growled. Then he slapped Ivan across the cheek. “It is not acceptable to hold a British agent on French soil.”
“Da comrade,” Ivan straightened, still a bit stunned from the slap.
“See to it. Immediately. And then return here. You will explain your actions to my satisfaction, or you will return to the motherland.”
“Da comrade, as you wish,” Ivan backed away. Petravich gave the impression of a grandfatherly gentleman, but Ivan knew better. He wanted to be out of range if the man stood up. “I will see to it immediately.”
He felt Petravich’s eyes on him as he hurried out of the shop. He had to find a telephone. If McCall had caved Anatoli might have finished his job already. Ivan had a choice: he could have McCall released, or he could call Bond and tell him he accepted his offer but not to wait until tonight. After all, it was Spevsipp who was holding McCall, not the KGB – he could talk himself out of responsibility for the agent’s death. There was a telephone at the back of the café. Ivan dug in his pockets for some coins as he considered which number to dial.
“I’ve got that Tara,” Stetson said, lifting her bulging suitcase from the boot of the taxi. He followed Tara, Pierre, and Emma into the hotel and up the stairs to their floor.
Emma stopped at the door to her room. “I’ll check on Steed.”
Tara went on down the corridor to her room and Stetson followed, bypassing his own room to deliver her bag.
Emma shut the door as quietly as she could, her eyes on the still form stretched out under the covers. She set the envelope from McCall’s safe on the dresser and crossed to the bed, leaning over Steed to watch him for a moment in the dim room. Reassured that he was breathing, she went into the bathroom and shut the door.
When she emerged a few minutes later she noticed the change in the room immediately: The bed was empty. Frowning, she glanced around the shadowy room.
“Steed?” she inquired quietly. The heavy curtains that had been drawn across the window shivered and Steed stepped out.
“It’s you,” he observed. Emma smiled, both at his caution and his bare torso over his pajama bottoms.
“I thought you were asleep.”
Steed smiled slyly and sat down on the bed, scrubbing his face with his hands then unsuccessfully stifling a yawn.
“What time is it?”
“Just after noon,” Emma retrieved the envelope from the dresser and brought it to him.
“From Robbie’s safe.”
“You have been busy,” he said appreciatively. He reached out and switched on the bedside lamp. Emma went around the bed and stretched out, one arm crooked under her head, the other hand on her tummy.
“Very,” she agreed. “You did not feed and walk Pierre this morning, did you?”
Steed swiveled on the bed and leaned back against the headboard with a groan.
“Tara expected that you wouldn’t, so she went to the apartment. I went with her.”
“And she remembered where her husband kept his secrets?” Steed asked somewhat bitterly.
“No, she was followed inside by a rather large, imposing fellow. By the time Lee got there he had her tied to a chair. He was demolishing her writing desk.”
“That’s where this was?” Steed had removed the papers from the envelope and was looking through them. “We went through it yesterday. Didn’t smash it up, though.”
“No. Robbie’s safe was behind a strip of baseboard behind the desk.”
“Clever,” Steed nodded absently. He had stopped at one of the pieces of paper and was studying it carefully. He reached out for the telephone on the bedside table, tucking the receiver against his ear as he dialed.
“Sally? Do you have a microdot enlarger lying about?” he asked a moment later.
Emma reached out and took the paper from him. It was a certificate of authenticity for an Egyptian artifact.
“Good. We’ll be there in a half hour.” Steed hung up the telephone and took the paper back from Emma.
“Microdot?” she asked. Steed nodded, pointing at a strip of celotape across the bottom of the document. It was covering a tiny black dot.
“When I came back from Egypt a few weeks ago I made that stop in Paris to deliver the doors from our tomb – remember?”
“I don’t think I mentioned that McCall was there at the airport to receive the doors. I scolded him for getting involved with the ambassador’s pet project.”
“Now you think he was there to receive this?” Emma asked.
“No, the microdot wasn’t on the doors – remember they were a late addition to the exhibit. This form is for a sarcophagus. The dot was probably on that, but in order for McCall to intercept it he had to take responsibility for the entire exhibit.”
“And the dot,” Emma said, settling back on her pillow, “Is the Juggernaut list.”
“I certainly hope so,” Steed replied, slipping the paper back into the envelope and getting up off the bed.
“I’m going to take a shower, then we’ll go to the Embassy to use McCall’s enlarger.”
“Lee and Tara are in their rooms,” Emma pointed out, shutting her eyes.
“We’ll collect them on the way,” he said on his way to the bathroom.
Emma allowed herself to drift off pondering whether he was taking Tara because he wanted her input or to keep an eye on her.
“You’re wife is an agent, isn’t she?” Tara asked Stetson. He set her bag on the floor and studied her for a moment.
“Yes she is.”
“And she’s your partner. You usually work with her, as a team.”
“Yes. That came first. In fact, when we became romantically involved we kept it a secret for quite a while. It’s not easy, Tara. Every time we’re in a dangerous situation I worry about Amanda, and she worries about me. But it keeps us sharp.”
“What if you had to choose between saving her and protecting your country’s security?”
Stetson sucked in a breath and exhaled it slowly. “You want the required answer? I’ve sworn to protect my nation’s secrets. But it’s never that simple, Tara. Amanda and I have found ourselves in that sort of situation countless times, and each time we’ve managed to protect each other and complete our mission. The truth is I’m not sure what I would do if I were truly put to that test,” he shook his head. “Amanda believes in me – believes that I’ll always save her. I don’t know if I could let her down.”
“Robbie and I should have followed Steed’s example, and yours. We should have kept our relationship a secret.”
“I don’t want to interfere in your personal life, Tara, but it seems to me that your relationship being known is not the problem.”
“We could have concentrated on working together, keeping the outward professional appearance,” Tara explained. “Robbie would have had to treat me as his peer.”
Stetson nodded. “And would that have helped you decide what to do now?” he asked.
Tara’s head snapped up and she stared at him, her eyes full of sadness. “It would have cemented our relationship. He would have taken my advice and we would never have come to this.”
“Tara, it’s time to choose. You’ve lied to Steed – don’t deny it, you knew where your husband’s safe was and you said you didn’t. Steed has no choice but to remove you from duty. There will be an investigation. If you can repair your reputation before then it will go better.”
Tara pursed her lips and looked around the room as if trying to find anything to focus on other than the American agent. Her eyes fell on the suitcase and she went to it. She picked it up and put it on the bed, clicking the latches so that it popped open, a wad of parti-colored panties springing out. Embarrassed, she grabbed them in both hands and spun around to store them in the dresser. She clawed at a drawer handle, dropping several silky underthings in the process.
Stetson moved away from her, equally embarrassed.
“I’ll be in my room,” he said gently, reaching for the door handle. Tara nodded without looking up at him, and he took it as a sign of dismissal.
Steed called the taxi’s owner to come collect it and he arrived just in time to drive them to the British Embassy. Steed had been avoiding visiting the embassy and had asked Emma to get in quietly yesterday because he knew that the moment he arrived at the gates every foreign intelligence agency that did not already know his whereabouts would find out. He had decided that the drawbacks no longer outweighed the benefits of working near the office’s files and resources.
Steed and Tara’s credentials opened the embassy gates for their companions, although the guard, who had been there the previous morning, gave Emma a curious look as she signed the visitor’s log. She shot him a flirtatious smile and turned to follow Steed.
Sally met them in the corridor, a pair of keys and a slim file in her hands. She greeted Tara with two kisses on her cheeks and shook Stetson’s hand.
“I have the key to Robbie’s office,” she said, “and the holding cell downstairs.”
“You had him brought here?” Stetson asked, guessing who was in the cell.
“Standard procedure,” Tara said coolly. Sally cringed, certain that Tara was feeling unappreciated for her years managing the Paris office and creating such procedures.
Steed handed Emma the envelope from McCall’s safe. “I’m going to meet your intruder. You have a look at the microdot. Join me Stetson?”
Steed took one of the keys and the file from Sally and set off down the corridor, clearly well aware of his destination. Lee tilted his head and shot the ladies an amused grin at Steed’s commanding tone, then followed.
“This way,” Sally said to Emma, glancing awkwardly at Tara as she led them to McCall’s office.
“Robbie has more room, so he has the enlarger and portable developing lab,” she said, chattering to fill the awkward moments as they walked. When she glanced surreptitiously at Tara she thought the woman looked distant. Emma on the other hand listened attentively to Sally’s monologue while nodding at the embassy workers who they passed as they walked.
Despite Emma’s attempt to cover for Tara’s depression Sally was relieved when they reached McCall’s office. She went straight to the closet that served as a compact photography studio. Tara stood back while Sally readied the equipment and took the sheet of paper from Emma. Emma pointed out the tiny dot under the tape and Sally pulled up a chair to sit down while she carefully extracted it with a razor-sharp utility knife and placed it on a slide.
“Here we go,” she said, mounting the slide and switching on the enlarger. It was set up to project the enlarged dot onto a white panel. Emma leaned close to peer at the image, holding her hair back to prevent it from swinging in front of the lens.
“Juggernaut,” Emma smiled victoriously.
“There are a lot of contacts,” Sally observed, reading the nursery rhyme list. And lots of recognition protocols.”
“But these notes at the top seem to apply to all of them,” Emma added and then read, “Prepare for Juggernaut.”
In the main office Tara had taken a seat behind her husband’s desk. “I’m sure he’s met with at least three of them,” she said.
Emma and Sally both straightened and turned to look out at her.
“There’s one in Amsterdam, one in Milan, and one in Hanover, right?”
Sally turned back to the list. For each contact there was a phone number and city in addition to the recognition protocols. “Yes there are,” she said.
“He’s traveled to each of those cities in the last two weeks,” Tara explained. “If there’s a Paris contact we can assume he met him too.”
“Indian Chief,” Sally said.
“Pardon?” Emma looked curiously at the younger woman.
“That’s the Paris contact,” Sally explained, pointing to the name.
“So at least four of these sleepers have been told to ‘prepare for Juggernaut,’” Emma said thoughtfully. “That’s about a third of the list. I wonder if Juggernaut can be successful with only that many of them prepared?”
“We really need to know what it is,” Sally sighed, turning to look again at Tara.
“Don’t look at me!” the other woman declared. “Honestly, I have no idea. I’m not sure Robbie knows either.”
“Who do you work for?” Steed placed his hands on the arms of the chair to which the man was handcuffed and leaned over him threateningly. Tara’s attacker flinched, pressing himself back into the chair. Gratified, Steed straightened and stepped away, glancing at Stetson.
“You might as well tell him,” Stetson said. He was leaning against the far wall with his arms folded across his chest. “He’ll get it out of you one way or another. If you tell him now you’ll leave with your teeth in your mouth.”
Steed walked around behind the man and stopped out of his line of vision. He could see the man stiffen, anticipating a blow.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, looking up at Stetson. “He stinks of KGB.”
Stetson pushed away from the wall and shrugged, studying the man. “He could be Russian mob,” he said. “Or one of the other vodka soaked services. They’re all the same bumbling, clueless buffoons.”
Steed smirked at Stetson above the man’s head, amused by his attempt at baiting. His expression turned serious as he stepped around the man’s chair and glared down at him again.
“Which is it, Pavel? Which nasty little agency pays for your borscht? Or is my friend here right – are you a legitimate criminal? A mob henchman?”
Pavel Feduleyev had carried identification and a small notebook much like the one Steed had taken from his attacker in the park. The file Sally had given Steed contained a one-page report she’d taken over the telephone from London. So Steed and Stetson already knew that he was a low-grade KGB henchman. Making him admit it was just a part of the interrogation process.
After another fifteen minutes of verbal abuse Steed finally succumbed to his baser nature. Looming over the obstinately silent Feduleyev, Steed raised his hand and slapped him. On the other side of the room Stetson dropped his arms to his sides and pushed away from the wall. Steed gripped the arms of Feduleyev’s chair and watched him recover from the blow, then slapped him again.
“Who is your supervisor?” he asked through a tightly clenched jaw.
“Steed,” Stetson said quietly from behind him. Steed released the chair arms and straightened, glancing back at Stetson.
“Have they ever held you, Lee?” he asked. “Have you ever been in that chair with one of theirs asking the questions?”
“Yes,” Stetson acknowledged.
“So you know that Pavel here expects much worse than a slap.”
Stetson moved to Steed’s side and joined him looking down at their prisoner.
“I suppose you’re right,” he said, nodding slowly. “What about it, Pavel?” his punch to the Russian’s jaw came so quickly neither Steed nor Pavel saw it coming.
“Water once an hour. No food. And keep the lights on,” Steed instructed the British soldier guarding the holding cell. He flexed his hand repeatedly as he and Stetson walked down the corridor toward the lifts. As the door hissed open and they stepped in he glanced at his companion.
“Stetson, would you mind not mentioning the details of our technique in front of Mrs. Peel?”
Stetson arched one eyebrow curiously, then nodded as understanding dawned.
“It’s just that I have always avoided exposing her to this side of the business. A fight is one thing, but interrogation is quite another, and I don’t relish it.”
“Men who do don’t make good field agents,” Stetson said. “But do you really think she doesn’t know you have to do it sometimes?”
Steed shrugged, then smiled. “We’re British. If we don’t talk about it, we don’t have to acknowledge it.”
Emma and Tara were comparing the information from Janko Broz’s notebook with notes copied from the Juggernaut list when Steed and Stetson entered McCall’s office.
“We’re finding some connections here,” Emma said, glancing up at them. She was standing behind the desk leaning over Tara, who was still seated in her husband’s chair. “Some of the phone numbers in Broz’s notebook are also on the Juggernaut list.”
Steed strode on across the office toward the closet darkroom, “Do you have the microdot enlarged?” he asked.
“Wait Steed,” moving quickly Emma slipped in between Steed and the closet door and placed her hand over his on the handle. “Sally is developing it.”
She looked pointedly at a small red light above the doorframe, then she glanced down at their joined hands, noting how warm his was. As he removed it from the knob and her grasp she saw that the knuckles were swollen.
“Did you get anything out of him?” she asked pointedly.
Across the room Stetson coughed.
“No,” Steed replied pointedly ignoring her gaze. “We’ll try him again in a few hours.”
Emma had no delusions about Steed’s interrogation techniques. And she also knew that openly admitting them to her would be contrary to his gentlemanly façade. Likewise they never discussed her occasional use of physical force to extract information from a suspect. It was simply understood, and definitely not to be dwelt on. Suffice it to acknowledge that Steed had taught her some of his most effective techniques, most of which involved tight holds, and she had shared her knowledge of pressure points with him.
The closet door opened to reveal Sally holding a dripping eight by ten enlargement.
“Oh, Steed,” she said, startled to find him and Emma standing right outside the door. “You’re back.”
“Hello Sally. Is that the list?” he asked, taking the wet photograph from her and turning away.
“Yes,” she said, looking to Emma for an indication of her superior’s mood. Emma shot her an encouraging smile and turned to watch Steed, who had gone to sit on the edge of McCall’s desk. He picked up the telephone and began to dial a number, reading from the list.
“Sally,” he said as he dialed, “get McCall’s telephone records and compare his calls with the numbers on this list.”
As he focused his attention on the receiver Sally glanced from Emma to Tara, who looked uncomfortably up at Steed. Emma thought back to the first time that Steed had watched her in her role as a business executive. He’d commented on her commanding tone and no-nonsense demeanor when dealing with Sally, who was then her assistant. She was a very different Emma from the smart, playful woman that he knew. It was rare that she saw Steed in the same position – the manager dealing with a difficult situation. For so many years he’d been the independent operator, taking scant orders from his superiors and managing only her – which was hardly managing at all. It was a surprise to see him as the dispassionate commander. Perversely, Emma found him all the more desirable in this mode. It was as if a layer was peeled back to reveal his iron core, the essence that made him so easy to believe in and follow. His concise instructions to Sally to check up on McCall had hit Tara like a bomb, but he had delivered them like a casual request. Emma understood why. He couldn’t risk emotional involvement in Tara’s situation. Even sympathy for her would soften his approach, and he couldn’t afford it. McCall was both in danger and a threat to Steed and all of them. Steed could not cater to Tara’s despair if he was to salvage the situation.
And, Emma realized as she glanced at Stetson, it was much bigger than just Steed’s organization or even the ministry. Bond was out there somewhere, linking MI6 to the situation, and Stetson had come from the states to track down McCall as well. A lot of reputations and careers rode on Steed’s shoulders just now. Realizing that, Emma’s own sympathy for Tara’s personal dilemma trickled away too.
Steed hung up the telephone and Emma realized that she’d been lost in thought and hadn’t listened to his conversation. He handed Stetson the Juggernaut list and turned to Emma, his face softening as he looked at her.
“Fancy a walk in the park, Mrs. Peel?” he asked.
“All right,” she said, her brows rising in inquiry. But he turned toward Sally without acknowledging it.
“Sally, compare the two notebooks from our soviet friends. And try to track down Bond, he must have found Ivan by now.”
“I need to call home,” Stetson said, eyes on the list. Steed nodded and glanced at Tara as if trying to come up with something for her to do.
“I’m going to my office to check my messages. Maybe Robbie has called,” she announced. Steed glanced at Sally and inclined his head ever so slightly toward Tara. Sally nodded understanding – she was to keep an eye on her.
“Very good,” Steed said, reaching for Emma’s hand. “Mrs. Peel?”
“Monsieur! Monsieur, can you hear me?” something patted McCall’s face then poked him in the chest. He answered with a groan. The voice moved away, speaking to someone else, he thought. He tried to open his eyes, but the lids were stuck together. He reached up to touch his own face and realized that three of his fingers on one hand and two on the other were in agony.
“No Monsieur, do not move,” the voice was back. His arms were restrained, and suddenly something inside him snapped. He roared, bucking in his captor’s grip. He would not be restrained any longer.
There was scuffling around him and greater weight was placed on him. More hands held him and voices spoke, but he had lost the ability to comprehend their language. The excruciating pain all over his body drove him to struggle. But he was too weak, and before he knew it he was rolled onto his face, his wrists cuffed behind his back. Still squirming and kicking out at his attackers he was lifted and the shadows of the interior of a vehicle surrounded him.
“Five broken fingers, a fracture in his right forearm, and two broken ribs. The bruising over most of his body indicates a beating. Some of them are a few days older than others. He has no identification and no money.”
“He was beaten and robbed then.”
“No,” McCall tried to interject but he could tell that his voice was weak. At least, he realized as cold light blinded him, he could open his eyes now.
“Most likely. He’s probably a derelict – there are more and more of them on the streets. We see two or three a week.”
“No,” he tried again, and realized that he understood them now. With the panic subsided he had regained his knowledge of French.
“Treat him doctor, then call us. Someone will come for him. Paris does not tolerate these derelicts on our streets.”
The doctor and the policeman moved away from McCall’s bedside, unaware the he had awakened. He tried to swallow and it hurt, although he couldn’t remember why. But he was sure he had not just been beaten up. He was sure there had been more to it. The panic he’d felt when they’d restrained him told him that he’d been held by the other side for some reason.
With luck, by the time the doctor returned he’d remember, and regain his voice. I have to call Tara. She’ll know what’s going on.
“I hope you’ll forgive me Steed, I was distracted while you were on the phone. Where are we going?” Emma asked quietly once they were seated in the back of a taxi.
“Distracted?” he asked in surprise. “That’s not like you, Mrs. Peel. It must be the pregnancy.” His proprietary smile warmed her heart – for all his commanding presence back in McCall’s office, he was always aware of her condition and their unborn child.
“Actually, I was distracted by your take-charge attitude. It’s very – stirring,” she replied with a coy smile.
“Really?” he purred, leaning closer, quickly picking up on her layers of meaning. “Perhaps I should exercise it some more, later, when we’re alone.”
Emma raised one eyebrow slightly, a warning look that he understood as easily as her verbal communications.
“Within appropriate bounds, of course,” he added, leaning back toward his window again. Emma chuckled at his apparent discomfiture and reached out to take his hand.
“So why are we going to the Tuileries?” she asked, having heard him tell the driver where to take them.
“To meet an Indian Chief,” he replied with a delighted smile.
“That’s it Billy – four names, all in cities east of the Mississippi and as far north as Montreal. We don’t think McCall made contact with any of them,” Stetson concluded dictating the American contact information from the Juggernaut list. He heard his supervisor’s chair creak at the other end of the line. Billy must have stood up.
“All right Scarecrow, I’m going to put Francine to work on the list – see what the recognition protocols get her.”
“If these sleepers don’t know they’re compromised, Billy, they could be valuable assets,” Stetson observed.
“How likely is it that the other side hasn’t found out that you got the list?” Billy asked. Stetson grimaced – working solo, without Amanda, distracted him.
“You’re right Billy,” he replied, “their only option now is to trigger Juggernaut, whatever it is, or their investment in all these sleepers is wasted.”
“You have to let me know the moment you have some idea of what Juggernaut is, Lee. We have no idea what to prepare for.”
“Count on it Billy. We’re working a couple leads now. Listen, is Amanda in our office?”
“Yes,” he could hear the smile in Billy’s voice. “I’ll transfer you.”
A moment later Amanda’s silken voice with its mid-Atlantic drawl came on the line.
“Lee? How’s London?” she asked.
“Hello Amanda. I’m not actually in London,” he felt a pang of guilt for not finding time to call and tell her that they were going to France. “We had to follow the case to Paris.”
“You and Steed?”
“Emma came with us.” His guilt deepened. He knew how much Amanda would like to be in Paris with them. But this was business, not a pleasure trip – she could understand that.
“Did you give Emma the gift?”
“Yes Amanda – when I got to their house. She said she would call you when we got through with this.”
“How is she? Is she showing?”
“You know how she’s built, so yes, she’s showing,” Stetson tried to sound as if he had never noticed Emma’s figure, but he knew Amanda saw right through him. “How is Grace?” he added to distract her.
“Adorable, of course. She misses you. And Philip got an A on his first quiz in calculus. He’s very proud.”
“I’m proud of him – I never aced anything in calculus.”
“You’re brilliant in other ways,” Amanda assured him with a chuckle. “But it is a good sign, and you have been a big influence on him. I’ll be showing you my appreciation when you get back.”
The longing he’d been ignoring since reaching London reasserted itself. The combination of watching Steed with Emma and seeing Tara’s misery were taking a toll on him.
“Maybe you can do that sooner Amanda,” he said impulsively. “I have an idea.”
Sally leaned over the two notebooks with one finger on each to mark her place as she compared the entries. It seemed like a nearly hopeless task to do by hand, and she wondered for the hundredth time if she could convince Steed to get her a computer. Not that she knew how to use one, but she had seen them put to excellent use when she worked at Knight Industries, and at ministry headquarters.
If Bond came through with information from Ivan the double agent then she could shove these notebooks into the pouch and make some analysts in London take over. She’d spoken with him as soon as she returned to her office, just before arranging to get McCall’s telephone records. She’d told him that they had the list, but they desperately needed to know what Juggernaut is. He’d promised to go back to Ivan and force it out of him.
Wishing she could be the one out there tracking down Ivan, she shut her eyes and straightened in her chair to stretch her upper back. Behind her the radio on the cabinets under the windows suddenly changed from pop music to static.
“Ugh,” she groaned, and swiveled around to tap the device. It was dying, and she hated to have to buy a replacement. Until now tapping it had always worked, but this time it resisted. She fiddled the dial but couldn’t find the signal, so she turned it further to look for a different station. There were none. Up and down the dial all she got was static.
Emma and Steed got out of the taxi, exchanged a conspiratorial nod, and set off in opposite directions. Emma strode along the Rue des Pyramids between the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries, pausing to smile at one of three large, reclining nudes arranged there. Steed went west along the broad sidewalk of the Rue de Rivoli to enter the park further along.
Emma crossed the street, which was closed to traffic, and strolled along the gravel path toward the fountain. The park was alive with locals and tourists strolling, sunning, or sipping an afternoon espresso. Children leaned over the edge of the great round fountain sending colorful toy sailboats out to sea. Their cheerful hulls and bright red sails looked like party confetti scattered on the waters. Emma allowed herself to image young John – a couple years from now – there among the children commanding his own rented boat. Steed would be with him, as captivated by the simple toys as his son. Her brief fantasy was soon interrupted by the sight of an ice cream vendor. His small cart under a bright yellow umbrella was also surrounded by youngsters, but Emma managed to wade through them to purchase a cone with a scoop of chocolate and one of strawberry balanced on top. She excitedly licked the lower edge of the chocolate scoop to stop it from dripping down the cone, then set out along the central garden path toward the row of artists sketching the scenery and people in pastel and charcoal.
Steed entered the park near the Place de la Concorde and adopted a leisurely pace as he walked past the row of artists at their easels. He studied their work, mostly unimpressed with the images of the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame. He was, he realized, getting used to Emma’s more modern painting style. A few artists enticed the tourists to sit for portraits. He paused at one who was drawing a pen and ink caricature of a blonde woman seated on a stool.
“I just saw a rowing team on the river,” Steed said to her. She looked up at him, flipping her hair back with a practiced motion.
“Were they rowing east?” she asked. The artist glanced up at Steed too, shooting him an annoyed look. He was a young man with shiny jet-black hair secured in a ponytail with a length of brown twine. The selection of drawings that he had set out as advertisement of his work had a childish charm very different from the other earnest portraits.
“No, west,” Steed replied to the woman.
She removed a small bill from her handbag and passed it to the artist in exchange for her completed picture. She stood up, looking at the image of herself as a Tour de France cyclist, her head enormous on a tiny body hunched over a bicycle. Her hair was flared back in winged layers that exaggerated her real style.
“Let’s walk,” she said, rolling the picture into a tube.
Steed fell in beside her, glancing around at the other park visitors. He caught sight of Emma strolling along toward them licking an ice cream cone. As her tongue slid over the melting treat he knew exactly how it felt. His pulse quickened as his body reacted to the imagined sensation. Emma slurped at the top of the strawberry scoop and he forced himself to look away, to refocus his attention on the Indian Chief at his side.
Emma picked up her pace just a little to pass Steed and his contact, then she slowed down, looking at the artists, and let them go on by. When they were thirty yards along she turned to follow.
“You have prepared for Juggernaut?” Steed asked.
She shot him a sidelong glance. “That is what this is about?”
“Just checking up,” he replied. “We are to be sure that everything is going according to plan.”
He steered her to turn to the left along a path that would take them past the end of the Orangerie.
“The new timetable is tight,” she replied, “but we were able to accelerate our tasks.”
Steed nodded sagely, wishing he knew what she was talking about.
“That’s very good,” he said.
He nodded to a passing couple and took the opportunity to glance back over his shoulder. Emma was strolling along a ways back still licking her ice cream. His partner’s reassuring presence put his mind in high gear.
“When will your first task be complete?”
“You are trying to trap me,” the woman replied curtly.
“Not at all, just asking for details that my superiors will want to know about.”
“I daresay your superiors already know.”
As they came along side the Orangerie Steed reached a decision. While he disliked being forceful with a male prisoner, he hated manhandling a woman. But Indian Chief was a particularly tough suspect. He glanced around for witnesses and saw only Emma, then placed one hand on his companion’s shoulder and pushed her off the path, between the tall shrubs planted near the building. As they moved she turned her head to him and opened her mouth to protest. He covered it with his other hand, shoving her against the wall and holding her there.
“Tell me what you’ve set in motion and when it will happen,” he growled, skewering her with iron grey eyes. “Tell me your part in Juggernaut.” Her eyes flashed wide and then narrowed, and she nodded her head against his hand. He moved it off of her mouth so that she could respond.
“Who are you?” she hissed.
“I don’t’ think you understand. I’m asking the questions. Tell me about Juggernaut. Tell me how to stop it.”
“It’s too late to stop it,” her gaze darted past him over his shoulder, then back to his face. “The first steps have been taken, and it will play out across Europe over the next few hours.”
She sounded on the verge of glee; Steed wondered what she stood to gain from Juggernaut.
“What have you done?” he asked again, easing his grip on her shoulder. Something told him he wasn’t going to get anything more from her, and the longer he held her the greater the chance that he’d be discovered, although he was sure Emma was watching his back.
He watched her eyes focus somewhere behind him again and for a moment he thought that she was looking at someone. But she just shook her head as she looked back at him. “You cannot stop it now,” she said, once again sounding pleased. And then she pushed him away and slipped past him through the bushes.
Emma spun around as the blonde emerged from the bushes and kept turning as she watched the woman trot quickly up the path the way they had come. She had seen Steed take her in against the building and had lingered on the path prepared to warn him if someone came along. She’d heard every word of their conversation, and could make no more of it than Steed had.
“That was not very productive,” Steed said as he pushed back out through the bushes.
“She was terribly uncooperative,” Emma replied, giving Steed a sympathetic look. “Back to the list?”
Steed’s eyes drifted over her shoulder to focus on something in the distance.
“What is it?” she asked, turning to look at what was drawing his attention.
“When she mentioned that Juggernaut has started she looked at the Eiffel Tower,” he replied, nodding at the distant landmark just visible over the buildings across the river.
“It seems to be intact,” she said.
“I should hope so. I don’t believe that Juggernaut is the destruction of national treasures.”
“No. But you know what’s on top of the Eiffel tower?” Emma turned to face him, catching his eye and smiling slyly.
A little shake of his head urged her to go on.
“Antennas. Transmitters. Receivers. Communications equipment.”
“Sabotage them, and you shut down radio and television?”
“And secure communications systems – there are military repeaters, police bands…” she paused, then took a step out onto the path.
Steed reached out and grabbed her hand. “Where are you going?”
“To the tower,” she replied, half turning to look at him expectantly.
“Not yet. We need to contact Sally and Stetson. Bond might have had better luck with Ivan.” He led her back into the park and steered her toward a pair of public telephones. He picked up the receiver on one and put it to his ear while he dug into his trouser pocket for coins. Then he replaced the receiver and moved to the other phone.
“Out of order,” he explained as he picked up the second receiver. He put it to his ear, then replaced it.
“Mrs. Peel, are there telephone transmitters on the top of the Eiffel Tower?” he asked.
Emma shrugged, pursing her lips in a little moue. “Both phones are dead?”
“As coffin nails,” he nodded. “Come on, we have to get back to the Embassy.” He took her arm and guided her toward the street and a taxi stand.
“I’m disappointed Ivan, you never called me back.” The sharp edge in Bond’s silky voice made Ivan straighten abruptly and turn toward the bedroom door still holding two pairs of folded trousers over his open suitcase. The Brit was standing just inside and to one side of the door, hands hanging loosely at his sides, eyes taking in the room.
“James, how lovely to see you,” Ivan replied insincerely, seeing no point in challenging the Brit for entering his apartment uninvited. “But you may have noticed that the telephone service seems to be out.”
Bond frowned and stepped over to the bedside table to pick up the telephone receiver and put it to his ear.
“Aren’t you packing prematurely Ivan? We don’t have a deal yet.” He said as he pulled the receiver away from his ear and looked at it, then unscrewed the cap on the mouthpiece. Finding nothing he lifted the body of the phone and look at the underside. Ivan set his trousers in his suitcase, watching him.
“It’s not a tap,” he said, making a sudden decision. “It’s Juggernaut.”
James set the telephone down and faced Ivan across the corner of the bed. “Do we have a deal?”
“But of course we do, James. I am packing because I trust you to follow through on your part,” Ivan replied. Spevsipp would not tolerate his having McCall freed. He had planned to go to ground in Morocco where he had a stash of money and other liquid assets. But with Juggernaut launched there was little damage in his telling Bond what he knew, and then his ticket out of Spevsipp’s immediate range of influence would be at the expense of the British.
“Then let’s hear yours,” Bond replied, sitting on the bed, then lifting his legs to recline against the headboard, arms behind his head.
Sally hit the radio harder on the principle that since it was spewing static she couldn’t make it worse. A short ring of the telephone provided welcome distraction. She switched the radio off and swiveled around as the telephone emitted another oddly truncated ring.
“Sally Howard,” she spoke into the phone, already suspicious as she completed her name. The connection was terrible. Through a haze of static she heard a few garbled words that she thought were in English, and thought might have been in James’s familiar voice.
“I’m sorry I can’t understand you,” she said. “We have a bad connection. Please call back.”
She listened for a few more seconds then reluctantly hung up the telephone. If it had been James he would call back. In fact, any of her contacts would call back, unless they were in dire trouble.
Swallowing down her concern she returned her attention to the two notebooks on her desk just as someone shouted in anger out in the hallway.
The taxi driver pounded on the dashboard with his right fist while steering with his left. Steed and Emma had both noticed that his dispatch radio was issuing static when they got into his cab. He spoke into the microphone and listened to the static, then muttered some colorful French before pounding on the dashboard again.
In heavy mid-day traffic the taxi rolled slowly past a shop with a display of televisions in the front window. Emma nudged Steed to look – each of the TVs displayed a haze of grainy white static. Other than that there was no evidence of the communications breakdown. Pedestrians strolled the sidewalk, diners relaxed at the cafes. A bicycle messenger, his panniers bulging, dodged between the taxi and a parked car, startling Emma.
“Well, that form of communication still works,” she muttered, watching the young man risk life and bicycle as he shot through the intersection just ahead of them.
“He’ll probably win the Tour de France next year,” Steed said.
Fortunately the radio was not critical to the success of their trip back to the embassy. They exited the taxi in front of the elaborate gates and entered on the authority of Steed’s identification past a guard slightly distracted by his non-functional radio.
“It’s the railroads,” Bond said, striding into Sally’s office where the others were gathered. The small space was crowded, but it had the feel of a safe haven amid the chaos out in the halls.
“Pardon?” Steed asked, peering at him curiously.
“Juggernaut,” Bond said. “It’s a plot to cripple the railroads.”
“James, all communications are down,” Sally said. “Juggernaut has to do with cutting off communications.”
“That’s just to keep us from coordinating a solution until it’s too late,” James explained. The lack of communications had put governmental Paris into a panic, and the British Embassy was no exception. James had found the complex locked down when he arrived at the gates, and had had to use his most persuasive charm on top of his already influential identification just to get in.
Steed and Emma had come in during the initial frustration, before security had sent a runner out to the front gates with orders that nobody was to go in or out. Once it had become clear that all communications were cut many of the clerical, secretarial, and administrative staff had tried to leave. But security had headed them off, insisting that if the city was under some sort of attack they were safest right here. This ill-composed message had caused panic among some of the staff who had families in the city. Several – both men and women – had made a run for the gates in order to go out and take their chances. They had been sent back to their desks by the guards, one woman weeping uncontrollably, another very angry and threatening legal action if her child was injured because they would not let her go to his school. The agents had watched the scene from Sally’s window, Emma with a certain amount of sympathy for the man who was worried about his child, Steed with detached concern for the impact on the lock-down on his planning. Embassy security was not going to prevent him and his team from coming and going as they pleased.
“Ivan talked?” he asked. Bond nodded with a smug smile. “I had to promise him a new life. And drop him in a safe house.”
“So each of these contacts has sabotaged the railroad in his or her city?” Sally asked, looking at the enlargement of the Juggernaut list.
“Or communications,” James nodded. “Ivan said that each of the sleepers on the list was to arrange for others to perform the necessary sabotage.”
“What I don’t understand is the timing,” Emma said. “Didn’t Robbie start contacting these people weeks ago? The list doesn’t have a schedule, or even a start date.”
“They all know the list of possible start dates,” Bond explained what he’d learned from Ivan. “Once they are contacted they are to prepare their part and set it off on the next activation date.”
“Which happens to be today,” Stetson said.
“That’s right,” Bond nodded.
“So they’ve sabotaged communications, and they’ve also sabotaged the railroads?” Emma asked. “There could be train wrecks going on out there right now, but nobody knows it,” Emma said.
“Robbie didn’t contact all of the sleepers on the list,” Sally pointed out. “Tara says he only reached three or four.”
“So that’s good,” Emma said.
“Unfortunately not,” Steed replied.
“That’s right,” Sally said. “James’s contact told him that Ivan was tangled up with –.”
“Ioann Micha Spevsipp,” Steed interrupted her. She struggled not to scowl at his stealing her conclusion.
“Russian mob?” Stetson asked, although he knew the name.
Bond nodded, exchanging a knowing glance with Steed.
“Ivan was packing when I got to him, like he was about to run. I’ll lay you odds that when they realized McCall would fail to contact all of the sleepers in time they got the list from Ivan. They have probably taken care of it.”
“But why would he be running from them?” Emma asked.
Steed and Bond both shook their heads. “I’m sure he was hiding something from me,” Bond said, glancing at Tara. “He claimed not to know where McCall is, but I didn’t believe him. If he’s done something contrary to Spevsipp’s orders, he may think that he’s getting a ride to safety courtesy of MI6.”
“Isn’t he?” Sally asked. Bond grinned at her cagily.
“It’s not clear what we’re going to do with him. After all, it’s not as if he gave us useful information – the details of a soviet plot after it’s set in motion will only carry him so far.”
“But you gave him your word?” Sally tried not to sound surprised, but it came out that way nonetheless.
Bond stared at her just long enough for her to recall something he’d said to her recently – that it was foolish to take a spy at his word. Her face flushed and she looked down at her desk, certain that the others – even Emma — were all staring at her as if she were a foolish child.
“So we have no idea just how widespread Juggernaut is,” she said, her eyes falling on the list.
“An hour ago my people started trying to set up meetings with the ones in the US and Canada,” Stetson said. Sally felt a wave relief as he ran with her change of subject. She looked up at him gratefully. “But if Juggernaut is on the same timetable there, they were probably not able to get to them before the lines were cut.”
“All right,” Steed said, stepping into the space in front of Sally’s desk as if to take command of the room. Bond crossed his arms and watched him curiously. Stetson, who was used to Steed’s air of command, smiled ruefully. “We have to assume that the governments of the countries that are affected know that their communications are either damaged or being jammed. They do not know about the railroads,” he said, pacing in the small space in front of the desk. “Mrs. Peel, do you recall the plot to blow up the prime minister’s train, years ago?” he asked, skewering her with an expectant gaze.
Emma shot him a curious look, then nodded. “The mastermind had placed a bomb under the prime minister’s seat,” she said, sorting through her memories of their cases to remember the details of that one.
“Right. But I was thinking about how the criminal conductor communicated with his minions on the train.”
Emma smiled, remembering the retired railroad man who had translated the shorthand Morse code for her to help her locate the missing Steed. He had been one of the more delightful eccentrics that she’d encountered on their cases. And fortunately he had survived the experience. Briefly she wondered if he were still alive and living in his former railroad station. But Steed roused her back to the present.
“The railroads all use radios now,” he said. “But they may still have the old telegraph equipment.”
“If they have telegraph lines running along their tracks, we ought to be able to get messages out all across Europe,” Sally said excitedly.
“Theoretically,” Bond agreed.
“Meanwhile,” Steed went on, acknowledging their contribution with a curt nod, “there is another means of communication, at least within the city of Paris. Sally, does the embassy keep a staff of messengers on hand?”
“Yes,” the young agent said thoughtfully. “There are always a couple hanging around the mail room.”
One of James’s brows arched at her tone, which suggested that she was particularly familiar with the messengers.
“That’s a start,” Steed said, drawing the guest chair up to Sally’s desk. “Hand me some letterhead,” he requested, reaching into his jacket pocket for his pen.
“Embassy or Ministry?” Sally asked, “Or some other institution?”
Steed thought for a moment. “Ministry. The French are libel to think that it’s a hoax coming from the embassy. Sally, go and get those messengers – as many as you can find. We have some very important messages to deliver.”
Sally handed Steed several sheets of ministry letterhead and then moved toward the door. James followed her, smiling smugly at her curious look as they exited the office.
Steed scribbled a quick note in his scrupulous handwriting and addressed it to his opposite number in French intelligence. Then he wrote several copies of a note to railroad managers and addressed them to Paris’s various train stations.
“I trust Jean Claude to take action,” he explained as he folded the notes and slipped them into official envelopes. “The dispatchers at the train stations might not accept my authority, but at least the note will confirm what they probably already know. If they have telegraph equipment they can try to use it.”
“Why don’t we deliver those notes?” Stetson asked. He was growing anxious to take some sort of action.
“In fact,” Steed said with a smile at Emma, “That’s what I was thinking. Emma and I are going to go find out what we can about the telegraph lines at le Gare de la Nord. The sooner we can stop rail traffic the better.” He stood up and extended an envelope to Stetson. “You go to Gare d’Austerlitz. Tara,” he extended an envelope to her, “You go to Montparnasse.”
“Yes Steed,” she said sounding more alive than she had in days.
“And don’t let the embassy guards give you any trouble,” Steed added as the two agents headed for the door.
“I’ll leave a note for Sally with the rest of these and the one for Jean Claude. She can dispatch the messengers,” Steed told Emma as he turned back to the desk.
“Lets walk from here,” Steed said, extracting several Francs from his billfold and passing them over the seat to the driver. The traffic had been much worse when they’d exited the embassy – as if every Parisian driver had decided to try to make an escape from the city when the communications lines went down. And the closer they got to the station the worse it got until the taxi was at a standstill in a lane of traffic waiting to turn into the departures area. The moment Steed and Emma were out of his cab the driver yanked the wheel to the left, pulling out into the next lane, which was moving just a little. The driver of the car he’d cut off slammed on his brakes with an earsplitting squeal, narrowly missing the taxi. The driver leaned out the window and screamed, but the taxi driver ignored him. Steed and Emma hurried onto the sidewalk and away from the scene.
“It looks as if everyone has decided to go to the country for the duration,” Emma observed as they threaded their way through throngs of people carrying small valises, pets, and children toward the station.
“But I’ll bet the train services is not up to its usual standard,” Steed replied, lifting his hat to an elderly woman dragging a wheeled shopping basket who they had just dodged around.
The station was in a state of controlled chaos when they got there. Lines of hopeful passengers snaked from each of the ticket counters around the waiting area and back out onto the sidewalk. The snack bar had its own line, and every available table and bench was occupied.
“This can’t all be because people are trying to get out of town all of a sudden,” Steed said and he and Emma shouldered through one of the lines to get to the other side.
“I’ll check the departures lists and see if trains have been cancelled,” Emma offered.
“I’ll go speak to the station manager about the telegraph. Meet you back here in fifteen minutes?”
“See you then. And Steed?”
“The station manager might be one of them.”
“I’ll be careful.”
Emma shot him a crooked smile and he winked back, and they each headed off on their appointed errand.
“Steed!” Emma stepped up on the end of a bench that was occupied by a family of four blonde children seated like stair steps. As one they peered up at her through wide blue eyes. Emma waved at her husband’s bowler that was awash in the increasing flood of travelers a few yards away.
It tipped back as he looked up toward her over the heads of the crowd. The handle of his umbrella waggled up near his hat in acknowledgement and he plunged into the crowd toward her. She stepped down, offering a smile to the children and regretting the shadow of fear on the youngest ones’ face.
Steed met her a few feet away, doing a double take at the four bright faces still watching her, then guiding her by the elbow into the stream of people heading for the train platforms.
“Five departing trains are officially delayed, and they cancelled three departures while I was watching the boards,” Emma told him.
“None of the scheduled trains have arrived in the last hour,” Steed said. “With no communications, station management is a bit flustered.”
“I can imagine,” Emma’s tone and smile were both quite dry. “What did they say about the telegraph?”
“They’re sending technicians to the dispatch towers to have a look. They may have to dust off some old keys and re-attach them,” he said, referring to the old telegraph transmitters. “Have a look at this,” he handed her a roughly folded paper and guided her to the side of the passage.
“A map of the rails,” Emma said, her interest evident as she studied it.
He began counting to himself: one…two…th –
“The tracks go through a very narrow stretch here. A derailment would block two-thirds of the traffic to the station,” she said, pointing to the critical location in the northern suburbs of Paris. Steed shot her a proud smile – it had taken him a full five seconds to spot the weakness.
“If there’s a derailed train, there could be hundreds of injured people, and who knows what’s happening to the trains that are blocked by it?” she went on.
“We have to get out there.”
“Yes. And quickly.”
Steed shot her a sly grin. “I have a plan.”
“Of course you do.”
Lee Stetson looked from the departures board at the Gare d’Austerlitz, which showed a dozen delayed trains, to the crowds of disappointed, frustrated, and confused travelers milled around him.
“This isn’t good,” he said to nobody in particular.
During the taxi ride from the embassy he’d only been able to think of one thing – what if Amanda had gotten on a flight before communications went out? What if she was in an airplane that had no communications with the ground? He knew it was impossible – they had spoken less than an hour ago. Amanda would have made excuses to Billy and gone home to pack and tell her mother and the boys. That’s where she was now – at home packing.
Feeling foolish he squelched his unease and headed for the station manager’s office.
Did Robbie have any idea what he was unleashing? Tara wondered as she stood amid the swirling crowds at the Gare Montparnasse.
Did he think he was just contacting them, or did he realize that he was telling them to start all this?
With growing hysteria she pressed through the crowd toward a wall and found a miraculously empty bench to collapse onto. She had been relieved when Steed handed her the message to deliver. She had held onto her composure all the way to the station master’s office where she’d delivered Steed’s note along with her own explanation. Her identification had helped convince the station manager that he should follow Steed’s advice and resurrect the station’s old telegraph equipment. Tara had left him issuing orders, feeling useless and suddenly at a loss for what to do next. The exhilaration of being trusted by Steed had worn off.
It’s even worse to believe that Robbie did not intentionally trigger this, she thought. That would mean that he delivered the message to all those sleepers without even realizing he was doing it. How could he be so inept?
“I’m through, Alan. I will not make excuses for you again!” a buxom woman dressed in a nubby oatmeal cardigan and drab beige polyester trousers had moved out of the swirl of the crowd dragging a man – Alan – with her. He had a faraway look in his eyes – as if, although he was looking in her direction, he was seeing something entirely different. “What were you thinking? Nadine told us she would not be in Paris until the day after tomorrow. Did you expect her to just materialize here early to suit you?”
Alan’s eyes hardened slightly and he seemed to gather himself to form a response, but before he could the woman went on.
“I will not make it better this time, Alan. When they get the phones working again you just pick one up and telephone Monsieur Cheny yourself. You explain why you have inconvenienced him and reschedule – if he’s willing. I am not responsible for this.”
I’m not responsible either. Tara thought as she watched the American couple drift back into the crowd. I tried so hard and he just wouldn’t listen. He’s an agent, and he is responsible for his own behavior.
Tara sniffed back the all too familiar encroaching tears and nearly gagged on a disgusting odor that she realized had been wafting around her since she sat down.
“What is that awful smell?”
She bent over and looked under the bench at a vile puddle – the source of a sickeningly sour smell that was the reason the bench had been unoccupied. Her stomach lurched and she slapped a hand to her mouth and swallowed hard as she rose and moved away.
The crowds pushed her one way and another until she found herself at the front of the station. A moment later she stood on the sidewalk outside the station, a small impediment jostled on all sides by the press of travelers that parted to go around her. She watched as a big bus stopped at the curb and three men in generic dark blue uniforms got out. One of them raised a megaphone to his lips and announced:
“This bus to Nicé. Nicé. This bus to Nicé.”
His two companions barked orders at the travelers who swarmed around them, directing them into a ragged line with threatening looks and gestures. And then one of them opened the door to the bus and began admitting the people, collecting cash from each one. His companion seized their bags if they had any and shoved them into the bus’s baggage compartment. The passengers willingly subjected themselves to this callous treatment, streaming onto the vehicle one by one while the man with the megaphone continued to announce the bus’s destination and the price of the trip, which was the same is train fare.
Something about the sight gave Tara a chill. Who were these men? And where had they gotten these unmarked busses? Nothing in the world would have convinced her to climb aboard one of them, and yet the desperate travelers were paying for the privilege. “This has to have been planned. I’d better get back.”
“We could probably have taken a taxi,” Emma shouted, dragging her hair out of her eyes.
“This is much more direct,” Steed replied with a jovial grin and a nod toward the track stretched out ahead of them. They were sitting on tool chests on the bed of a work car pulled by a small diesel powered engine. The engine was being driven by an engineer who Steed had recruited back at the station.
They had started on a maintenance sidetrack, and the engineer had stopped their little train to get off and manually operate the switch that put them onto the main lines. Along here four sets of tracks ran along beside one another but according to the map they would be joined by another four in the next quarter mile. All eight lines crowded together through the suburbs before splitting off, one by one, to head out all across France.
“Look there!” Emma pointed ahead. In the middle distance something was moving along the left side of the tracks.
“Not a train,” Steed said, although it was stating the obvious.
Emma shaded her eyes against the bright autumn sunshine. “It’s people,” she finally said. “Walking beside the tracks.”
“Please keep walking in a line as you were,” Steed shouted to the frightened looking people. A few had crossed the two tracks to come closer to Steed and Emma’s train, but most stood on the verge looking nervously up and down the tracks.
One of the men who had approached had appointed himself spokesman. He had told them what they had already guessed – their train had been leaving the station, accelerating rapidly, when it had derailed.
“There are many back there who were too injured to walk,” he told them. “They need assistance. But the conductor was not able to use the radio.”
“The radios are out of service,” Steed explained. “Please keep walking and report the situation to the authorities when you get to the station. You are the best hope for those people.”
“You could take us there!” someone cried out.
“I am sorry,” Steed said to the crowd in general while Emma nodded to their engineer to move on. “We must get to the train.”
“I’ll call you as soon as the lines are back up, love,” James said, stroking Sally’s jaw with one finger as he leaned close to kiss her.
“I could go with you,” she replied hopefully, although she knew he’d say no. He had business of his own – MI6 business – to take care of, made more urgent by Juggernaut. And she had her own assignments, dull as they might be. He didn’t bother to deny her.
“Your team will all be calling in as soon as the phones are back. You, my dear, are to be the brain of the operation.”
“You’re just trying to flatter me,” she smiled.
“The control center, then,” he amended, still stroking her jaw. His touch was comforting even if his impending departure was not.
“Are you leaving Paris?”
“When I can,” he nodded, his expression regretful. “Perhaps after this situation is resolved Steed will give you a few days off.”
“Perhaps I’ll be taking on Tara’s work for the foreseeable future,” she replied with no hint of resentment.
“The pitfall of being a good agent.” He kissed her again and then released her, stepping away as if the small distance made it easier to go.
Sally sank down into her chair and watched him pause in the doorway to blow her a kiss. She reached up and caught it as he disappeared, then looked down at her desk. Steed’s letters had been dispatched with the bicycle messengers. The two notebooks from the hired thugs still lay open with the enlarged print of the Juggernaut list on top of them. She realized with a bit of relief that with Juggernaut launched and the prime culprits identified there was little point in her continuing to decipher them. They could go to the ministry in the next diplomatic pouch where the experts would make quick work of them.
Instead she got up and went into Tara’s office where there was a large map of Paris on the wall. She took a box of flag pins out of a drawer and began marking the stations where the other agents had gone and the letters had been sent. Studying the map she soon realized that they had missed a whole segment of railroads – the freight transfer yards on the outskirts of the city. And Juggernaut grew all that much larger in her imagination as she contemplated the implications.
“Mrs. Peel, come see this,” Steed shouted to Emma. She tightened the knot on a makeshift sling around a man’s arm and shoulder and glanced down the track toward the source of Steed’s voice.
“Keep it as still as you can,” she told the man, whose face was caked with dried blood from a shallow gash on his temple.
Upon reaching the scene of the derailment she and Steed and their driver had immediately rendered first aid to the worst of the injured passengers who had been left behind by the others. Working in the shadow of the derailed train had been disturbing at first, but they’d soon come to appreciate the shade it provided. The great locomotive lay on its side across three rail beds still sputtering and hissing as the engine gradually cooled. Behind it the next three cars were a tangle of crumpled metal, one completely overturned with its wheels pointing skyward. The remaining cars were less damaged, most remaining upright and the last two still on the rails. As Steed and Emma had predicted, the derailed train effectively blocked all of the tracks.
There were at least a hundred injured people scattered among the giant rail cars. They told Steed and Emma that before leaving the unhurt passengers had searched through the wreck for trapped people and freed three. The man and two women lay bundled in blankets, their injuries too severe for amateurs to do much for them. Three uninjured men were moving among the others using whatever supplies they could find to help treat the wounded. Emma had assumed that they were passengers too, but one of them shook his head when she asked and pointed to a big, shabby apartment block that sat up on the embankment next to the rail line. Emma had grabbed Steed’s arm and pointed to the dozens of faces in the windows looking out on the wreck.
“Witnesses,” was all she’d said. He’d nodded, filing it away for later stages of the investigation.
Their engine driver had had the foresight to toss several first aid kits onto the work car, but bandages, antiseptic, and splints were quickly used up. They had soon resorted to using supplies at hand like the three locals. Emma had just used the last strip of bed sheet recovered from the sleeping car for the injured man’s sling.
“Start loading them aboard the work car,” she instructed the driver. Be very careful moving those three,” she pointed at the severest cases. “Take them all back to the station.”
“What about you and Monsieur?” the driver asked her. Emma glanced along the track toward where Steed was just visible examining the underside of one of the toppled cars.
“We’ll find our own way back,” she assured the driver. “Please take care of these people.”
Emma made her way quickly along the rails. Beside her the most damaged cars emanated heat and smelled of burnt rubber and hot motor oil. She supposed that they were fortunate there had been no fire. She averted her eyes as she passed by the distorted windows of the overturned car, certain that there were casualties inside. She was not up to looking at mangled bodies just now. For a brief instant she thought about blame for the death of these innocent people, and one name popped to mind. She forced the thought away as inappropriate. What mattered now was controlling the damage, if they could.
“There you are,” Steed’s voice seemed unsuitably composed, but Emma knew it was his way of coping with the situation. All in a day’s work, he would say if anyone asked how upsetting the train wreck had been. Later – tonight, or in a few days – he would allow himself to feel the horror. “Have a look at this, Mrs. Peel.” He pointed with the tip of his umbrella at gap in the rail.
Emma crouched to examine it, forearms on knees. Although it was hardly very large she felt as if her belly hung between her thighs.
“It looks like it was cut in two places about two feet apart,” she said, ignoring her physical discomfort. “So that a piece of the rail was removed.” She held her hand close to the sharp edge of the cut rail. Feeling no heat, she went ahead and touched it.
“Blown, not cut,” he replied from where he was crouching nearby. He heaved up a foot-long length of rail with both hands. “Wrap a thin piece of plastic explosive around the rail in two places, detonate it, and boom –.” He dropped the heavy length of rail.
“You’ve snipped out a piece of solid steel about the same length as the diameter of the train wheels.”
“The next train along looses its footing,” he looked around at the end of the huge locomotive. Deeply grooved tracks in the gravel rail bed showed how its right wheels had come off the track when they came to the gap, one by one pulling the enormous machine over to the right. It had turned, its left wheels also jumping the track, and roared across the next three tracks before crashing over on its side.
Emma bent over the gap to look for evidence of a detonator while Steed disappeared around the end of the locomotive. Now she saw that the explosion had scooped out the stony rail bed beneath the missing section of track. She widened her search area, combing through the displaced chunks of shale. Gradually she grew aware of a humming – not a sound but a sensation coming up through the soles of her shoes. By the time it registered in her consciousness it was accompanied by an audible if distant grumbling sound. She looked around and up, thinking that it sounded like a helicopter, but saw only a bird circling far up in the clear blue sky. The grumbling grew louder and she looked toward the station, but the small engine they’d come out on still sat on the tracks, the injured still being loaded onto the work car.
“Steed?” she called out, looking up at the fallen locomotive. There was no sign of him. The grumbling turned into a low roar.
Steed tapped his umbrella on the huge axel of the first pair of locomotive wheels and crouched to look at the right one – the first one to come off the tracks at the gap. The steel was gashed all around its rim where it had struck the other tracks during its final plunge across them. At the sound of a crunching footstep on the shale rail bed he glanced up toward Emma. And then he threw his hands up, umbrella held between them to fend off the blow delivered not by his partner but by a strange man. The man’s punch bounced off of Steed’s brolly and Steed pushed himself upward with his legs to drive the handle into his attacker.
The move would have been effective if the man had been alone. But his cohort came up behind Steed and threw his arms around him, restraining him while the first man threw a punch into Steed’s solar plexus. Steed’s umbrella went flying. He kicked out and missed and the man punched him again. Gasping from the impact on his diaphragm, Steed threw his head back and made contact with his captor’s nose. But the man held on and his friend slammed his fist into Steed’s jaw, dazing him. Steed’s vision went blurry and he kicked out wildly on the theory that any attempt was better than giving up. His leg flailed wildly and another blow to his head, this one painfully close to his already injured eye socket, sent him into darkness.
Emma came around the end of the fallen locomotive and saw the new train at the same moment that Steed’s attackers did. It was rounding a bend in the middle distance, the engine already on the straightaway moving toward them, the long string of passenger cars arcing around behind it. The front end of the fallen locomotive lay across its path.
Her gaze was diverted from the train to a movement near the front of the locomotive – the two men had dropped Steed and taken off toward the embankment at the side of the tracks.
“Steed!” Emma screamed, her voice competing with the growing rumble of the approaching engine. She sprinted across the intervening tracks, careful to place her feet on the solid ties and step over the rails. Steed lay in a vulnerable heap between the two engines – one moving, one immobile.
Even as she shoved her arms under his solid shoulders and hooked her hands into his armpits to drag him she knew that she could not possibly move him far enough away from the impending crash. But as with so many of her undertakings, failure was beyond consideration. Desperation and determination boosted her own considerable strength as she lifted his shoulders and leaned backward. The loose shale provided poor footing, but when she heaved with all of her weight and strength she was able to drag him a few feet. Then she glanced to her left at the distant train and slipped, falling backward with Steed’s heavy torso on her legs. His feet were still on the tracks. Three hundred yards away the engineer had seen the obstruction on the tracks ahead and applied the breaks. Emma listened to the telltale squeal as she heaved Steed’s shoulders up again and got her feet under herself.
“Come on love,” she groaned, digging her hands back into his armpits.
The oncoming engine’s wheels locked as the desperate engineer held the breaks. The angry scream of steel on steel built to an almost unbearable pitch. Emma moved Steed several feet before her heel caught on the rail of the next set of tracks and she went down again. Steed was clear of the other track – his feet would not be amputated, but they would hardly be safe when the moving train hit the fallen one.
He groaned as Emma shoved him off herself for the second time and got to her feet. The roar of the oncoming train was deafening now, drowning out Steed’s muttered words. She saw his lips moving and took it as a good sign as she dragged him roughly over the rail that had tripped her.
“Not — now — darling,” she gasped, surprised at just how hard it was to shift him. She knew that he was all muscle, but until now she hadn’t realized how heavy he was.
The roaring, hissing engine was just a few yards away now, a steel giant bearing inexorably down on them. High up in the locomotive’s window Emma glimpsed the frightened engineer, his face ashen and eyes wide as he stared at the inert engine blocking his train’s path. Then the screaming, roaring machine filled Emma’s vision, its frozen wheels shooting sparks as it slid slowly toward disaster. She gasped at the heat and acrid odor of diesel fuel as Steed’s buttocks bounced against the next track. She heaved harder and dragged him a few more inches, sweat blinding her left eye, as the giant came to a stop a few feet away. Its front bumper was just touching the underside of the overturned locomotive, its front wheels resting on the tracks exactly where Steed had lain.
Emma felt her panic evaporate as quickly as it had come and she fell, landing on the head of a protruding spike that would leave a bruise on her behind. Lying once again on her legs, Steed reached up and touched her arm with one hand, the other touching the bruised side of his own head.
“Mrs. Peel,” Steed muttered.
“What were you saying a moment ago Steed? I couldn’t hear you.”
“I told you to run for it, Mrs. Peel.”
Emma’s brows rose in surprise. “And leave you there? Not a chance, darling,” she replied. “Besides, I could see that the train would stop in time.”
“Madame!” their driver came pelting around the fallen locomotive and stopped abruptly, his eyes riveted on the stopped train. The engineer had opened the door on his locomotive and was climbing down. “Mon dieu,” the driver said, finally dropping his gaze from the train to Emma and Steed.
“Monsieur, will you help us?” Emma asked. “We will ride back with you after all.”
“Just how did you know that the train would stop in time, Mrs. Peel?” Steed asked a while later. He was sitting beside her on the work car among the injured passengers from the derailed train. The driver was maneuvering the little train backwards toward the station, leaning out the window of the engine to look back along the track beyond the attached work car. Steed took his handkerchief away from the bleeding gash on his temple and refolded it to expose an unbloodied side.
“Simple, Steed. I estimated the train’s speed at between forty-five and sixty miles per hour based on its proximity to the station and the fact that it was rounding a curve. I factored in the weight of the engine and cars and the drag of the locked wheels on the tracks to estimate stopping distance and –.”
“You had no idea, did you?”
Emma pursed her lips at him, but his challenging smile was irresistible.
“I was fairly certain.”
He looked around the open car at the other passengers and listened for a moment to the clack-clack, clack-clack of the wheels on the rails.
“Who were the men who attacked you?” Emma had been holding off on the question while they were on the crowded car, but curiosity had finally won out over discretion.
“I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect they were responsible for tampering with the switches,” he replied quietly. “Probably just low level operatives on someone’s payroll.”
“The contacts on the list must all have hired people like that,” Emma speculated. Steed nodded.
“We’re not going to be able to stop Juggernaut. McCall saw to that. Now we have to concentrate on repairing the damage and identifying who stands to benefit.”
“You really think McCall went over?” Emma asked, surprised.
Steed sighed, a familiar expression of frustration. “I don’t know. I suppose he really could have been this, this –.”
“I was looking for something less derogatory.”
“I think that’s mild,” Emma said, looking pointedly at one of the badly injured passengers.
“He’ll have a lot to answer for if we find him.”
Steed sighed again and shifted his position to straighten his legs.
“If he allowed himself to become a pawn in their game, they could be done with him now.”
“And will you go after them?” Emma looked into her husband’s eyes for the familiar gleam of vengeance in the offing. McCall may be a fool, but he was Steed’s fool, and Steed took responsibility very seriously. The prospect of a hunt to avenge all these innocent victims held great allure for Emma – the same allure that had drawn her to Steed in the first place. She watched him look at their injured companions and saw his expression harden
“Without a doubt,” he said simply.
The telephone jingled cheerfully and Sally jumped half way out of her chair. She stared at the instrument suspiciously until it rang again. Then she reached across the desk and picked up the receiver.
“Sally? It’s Tara. I can’t believe I got through!”
“But you did. The phones are back,” Sally replied feeling stupid for stating the obvious. “Did you reach the station manager?” she added, although she didn’t know which station Tara had gone to.
“Yes. They’re checking their telegraph equipment. But maybe it doesn’t matter, if the phones are back.”
“They’ll need radios to reach the trains,” Sally pointed out, then winced – she hadn’t meant to blatantly correct her supervisor. On the other end of the line she heard Tara sigh, and when she spoke again she sounded deflated.
“Right. Of course.”
“So are you still at the station?” Sally asked.
“Yes. I’m out front and there’s something amazing going on.”
“The busses, yes. They were at Austerlitz too,” Stetson nodded across the office at Tara. The phone service, while back, was still unreliable. Steed and Emma had also returned to the embassy to find out how the others had fared. No one had made a fuss over the worsening bruise on Steed’s temple, and Emma suspected that he was a little annoyed at their apparent lack of concern.
“Big, anonymous busses to all the same destinations as the trains?” she asked. She had noticed them loading passengers outside of the Gare de la Nord when she and Steed hailed a taxi.
“What if,” Sally sounded tentative. The others all looked at her expectantly so she plunged on. “What if the point of Juggernaut was to replace the railroads with road traffic?”
“An evil transportation magnate planned and executed Juggernaut?” Stetson asked with a chuckle.
“I was thinking more along the lines of moving products, not people,” Sally replied. “Passenger rail is only twenty-five percent of the rail traffic in Europe, on average. But a huge percentage of raw materials and manufactured goods are moved by rail.” She smiled sweetly, concealing her pride at having looked up the statistics while they were all away. Stetson looked chagrined and was about to congratulate her on her analysis when the telephone on her desk rang.
She answered it and then pressed the hold button and looked toward Steed. “It’s your contact in French intelligence,” she told him. He pushed away from the row of file cabinets he’d been leaning on and took it from her.
“Lee probably does not realize what we call a big lorry in England, Sally,” Emma said.
“No I don’t,” Stetson confirmed, looking curiously at Emma.
“Sally’s right – and the rest of us should have seen it sooner,” Emma replied. “A very large lorry is a juggernaut.”
“Jean Claude said that they have found six signal jamming devices in Paris so far, and reports are coming in from all over Europe as each city gets its telephone system back up,” Steed reported when he finished his telephone call. “Apparently the sabotage to the phones was easier to locate and repair than the frequency jammers.”
“And the railroad sabotage?” Emma asked.
“They’re working on that too. But unfortunately it’s too late for the eighteen trains that derailed or collided.”
This news was greeted with a chorus of gasps and groans from the others.
“Eighteen!” Sally repeated with a grimace.
“How many casualties?” Tara asked coolly.
“Unknown,” Steed replied somewhat curtly. He knew what she was thinking – that her husband was responsible. He tended to agree, but he did not want to encourage a discussion, or to let her dwell on it.
“Tara, I want you to go to Jean Claude’s office and act as a liaison between us and French intelligence,” he said. “Sally – where’s James?”
“He had his own business,” she replied. “He said he’d call when the phones were back.”
“He’d better hold on to Ivan. When he calls, tell him I want access to him. Stetson, I suspect you want to contact your people.” Stetson nodded so Steed went on, turning his attention to Emma. “Will you join me on a shopping trip, Mrs. Peel?”
“For the mantel in the entry?” Emma asked, holding up an alabaster statue of a female figure draped revealingly in an alabaster cloak. One of Steed’s brows arched and Emma smiled with amusement as she put the statue down.
“We’re not here for the antiques, Mrs. Peel,” he whispered.
“No? I’m sure you said it was a shopping trip.”
“Not that kind of shopping,” he shot her a sly smile.
Emma wandered along the aisle of the cluttered antique shop. She picked up a silver coffee server and turned it over to examine the hallmark. Steed followed her looking every bit like the dutiful husband.
Emma turned to him to show him the bottom of the server. “Then what are we doing?”
“Zabav Petravich, the Paris KBG chief, uses an antique shop as his front.”
Emma set the server back on the silver tray where she’d found it and glanced at the elderly woman who was surreptitiously watching them from her chair behind a roll top desk.
“Is Zabev Petravich a little old woman?” she asked, examining the silver creamer. “It’s plate,” she added with disdain, setting it back down.
“No. His shop is next door.”
“Then why are we in this one? Her prices are outrageous!” Emma held up a small framed still life in oil to show him the hand-written price on a sticker on the back. He glanced at it and his eyes widened in agreement.
“To give Patravich’s men time to spot us.”
Emma set the painting down and faced Steed, her baffled expression making him smile.
“It’s protocol,” he explained. “We loiter here for a few minutes to give them time to prepare.”
“Prepare for what? To trap us?”
“To receive us,” Steed gestured for her to precede him toward the shop door. “If we walked right in on Petravich’s turf he’d be within his rights to shoot first and ask questions later.”
“My dear Steed,” Zabev Petravich greeted him with welcomingly open arms a moment later. “And the delectable Mrs. Peel,” he added with a curt bow to Emma. She nodded coolly. She was used to Soviet agents’ courtly behavior and knew that it usually masked deceit. Steed loved to play along, and derived great pleasure from turning serious when they least expected it. But she was never comfortable glad-handing these men and preferred to maintain a cordial distance. Funny, she reflected, the women are never so superficially nice.
“Oh, but it’s Mrs. Steed now, isn’t it?” Petravich went on, returning his gaze to Steed, “You sly old fox.”
Steed deftly avoided the question and comment, moving past Petravich toward an antique sideboard set with a tray and crystal decanters. Emma followed him, shooting Petravich another cool smile as she passed him. It took a great deal of will power to resist treading on his arch with her booted foot.
“Scotch, Mrs. Peel?” Steed asked.
“No thank you Steed,” She replied, one hand on her stomach. He caught the gesture and nodded imperceptibly in silent understanding.
“What about you Zabev?” he asked, holding up a faceted crystal glass.
“No. But help yourself Steed.”
“Nonsense, Zabev, you’re the host. You can’t let me drink alone.”
Petravich sighed, eying Emma curiously. “Very well. Vodka.”
Steed spritzed soda into a glass for Emma, then he poured shots of vodka for himself and Petravich.
They all downed their drinks in a gulp, Steed watching Petravich carefully for a cue. When the Russian set his glass firmly on the sideboard Steed followed suit rather than hurling it into the ornate iron fireplace nestled into the corner.
“Eighteenth century Irish crystal,” Petravich said as Emma set her glass with the others. “One does have expenses to consider. What can I do for you Steed?” Petravich asked. His comment made Steed take in the threadbare condition of the cuffs of his tweed jacket and the collar of his shirt.
“Introduce me to the Juggernaut,” Steed replied.
Petravich’s face twisted into a broad grin and then he laughed. Steed joined in, although Emma could tell that he was not at all amused.
“Introduce you?” Petravich laughed, tilting his head slightly to look at the gash on Steed’s temple. “It appears that you have already had a run-in with someone.”
“One of yours,” Steed said pleasantly. “You should teach them some manners.”
“Oh dear, I do apologize. These young men can be so excitable. And unreliable, eh?”
Steed visibly bristled at the Soviet’s clumsy reference to McCall. Standing half behind him Emma placed a hand lightly on his lower back. He responded to her touch instantly, the tension dissipating as if she had drawn it away.
“Juggernaut, Zabev. We know that the phones and radios were window dressing. Who is behind the plan to replace the railroads?”
“You presume a great deal my friend,” Petravich tsked several times as he eyed Steed from beneath his thick salt-and-pepper brows. Then he shuffled over to a chair and sat down, his movements those of a tired old man.
He exhaled a deep sigh as he sat. “Nyet.”
“Nyet?” Steed sounded genuinely surprised, although Emma was sure he wasn’t.
“I have no reason to give you Juggernaut.”
“I have your man.”
Petravich dropped his eyes from Steed’s and stared across the room, his expression bitter.
“Gubin is not my man – I think you know that.”
“He’s enough yours to be quite valuable to us, Petravich. His conflicted loyalties will make him that much easier to crack. Who stands to gain from Juggernaut?”
Petravich shook his head slowly, his gaze returning to Steed’s unreadable face. “Keep him.” His voice was as hard as granite. Steed’s eyes locked with his for several long seconds, the tension between them palpable. And then Steed turned on his heel and gestured for Emma to precede him out of the shop.
Half way down the next block he hailed a taxi and held the door while she slid in. She watched him settle into the seat beside her after giving the driver the address of the embassy. His shoulders were so stiff he looked like he had left a coat hanger inside his jacket. One of her delicate brows arched curiously.
“I expected him to stop us,” he explained with a stiff shrug. Her eyes widened and he took her hand from her lap and squeezed it. “I should not have brought you. And I misread him. I expected Ivan to be enough.”
“We could have handled him, and the men he probably had hiding behind that beaded curtain,” she assured him, confident in her ability to protect herself and her baby. “He said Ivan isn’t his man.”
“He knew Ivan was working with McCall.”
“I think he knew Ivan was working for Spevsipp too.”
Steed considered this for a moment and then nodded, his eyes darting to the driver’s rear-view mirror to assure himself that the man was not paying attention to them.
“McCall got the list via Egypt. Maybe Ivan arranged for delivery without Petravich’s knowledge. Petravich may be as uninformed as we are.”
“As we were,” Emma corrected. “We know a great deal now, never mind that it was learned too late to prevent the rail accidents. Now we have to get the diabolical mastermind behind the scheme.”
Steed nodded. “I must stop whoever it is from benefiting. And ‘it’ is probably the soviet state. After all, they had to have placed the sleepers. It couldn’t have been the work of private enterprise.”
“And there is no private enterprise in the east,” Emma agreed.
“We can stop their vehicles at the borders,” Steed said thoughtfully. “Tie them up in red tape. Insurance, registration, business licenses,” he sighed. “It will have to do until we can get to the bottom of it.”
Emma studied his profile for a moment, knowing that he was already making long-term plans. He was thinking about placing operatives to identify and infiltrate various soviet organizations and track down and eliminate whatever official had planned Juggernaut. Perhaps, Emma thought, he even had sleepers over there that he could activate. Steed was exceedingly patient in planning these things, and willing to wait months or years for the opportunity to get revenge on behalf of those who had been injured.
Emma was relieved that the immediate case was over – until her thoughts drifted to Robbie McCall. He was one loose end that could not be left for later. She hated to think the worst, but she suspected that he had outlived his usefulness to almost everyone. Maybe even Tara, Emma thought bitterly.
“Thank you for helping me Lee,” Tara set the duffle bag she was carrying on the floor inside her apartment and unclipped Pierre’s leash from his collar. Stetson bumped into the doorjamb and then the door as he maneuvered inside with her other five suitcases.
“Don’t mention it Tara. This would have taken you four trips,” he said struggling to conceal his annoyance. He thought instead of Amanda and reminded himself how fortunate he was that she was as considerate, down to earth, and capable as she was. Tara, he reflected as he accepted a glass of water from her for his pains, was a lot of work.
“You’re sure you’ll be all right here alone?” he asked.
She had spent the afternoon and early evening hours working with Jean Claude of French intelligence, frequently phoning Sally to give her updates. These had been communicated to London and Washington. Stetson had also learned of the effect of Juggernaut at home, where two rail accidents had resulted in five fatalities, and communications in several cities had been out for ninety minutes before the frequency jammers were found and disabled. The phone service had also been sabotaged and was still under repair. With air travel an unacceptable risk the president had been tucked away in the secret bunker beneath the White House, and all of the intelligences services had scrambled. Just as in Europe, generic busses and trucks had turned up to take passengers and cargo from the disabled trains. The authorities had already cracked down on them, but many were already loaded and on the road by the time the plot had become known. Billy had estimated that the unknown transport company had collected more than a million dollars in fares and transportation fees already.
“I’m half dead,” Tara replied. “Once my head hits the pillow I won’t even know I’m alone – and I won’t be,” she nodded at Pierre, who had taken up his usual post on the end of the sofa. She reached out to scratch the dog behind the ears. “Pierre is here.”
“All right, then I’ll let you get settled. Unless there’s anything else I can do?”
“No. I’ll be fine. Thank you for your help Lee.”
“Monsieur Canning,” Sally held up a standard-issue ministry file stamped Top Secret, “Monsieur Rosseau,” she held up another, “and Madame Rowley all report being strong-armed by lorry drivers yesterday into signing agreements to use them to carry their cargo. They all handle produce or live animals that had to be removed from the trains right away.”
It was late morning, the day after Juggernaut had done its damage throughout Europe and parts of the United States and Canada. Sally had started her day very early at one of the rail freight transfer yards outside of the city.
“The drivers would not handle their products now if they didn’t agree to sign six-month contracts.”
“Interesting duration,” Steed said, glancing at Emma. “Check every official calendar – find out what’s happening in six months.”
“I already did,” the young woman replied. “There’s a European transportation conference. Tariffs will be renegotiated. They’ll be based on road and rail usage. There is also an OPEC conference a couple weeks before that.”
“Very good. So there’s more to this than just piracy,” Steed sat back in the guest chair in Sally’s office. Emma shot Sally a smile and she returned it, finally allowing herself a flicker of pride in her morning’s work.
Steed leaned forward and took the three files from Sally’s desk, opening the first to look through it.
“Has Lee checked in this morning?” Emma asked Sally.
“He’s checking with one of his contacts.”
“And James?” Emma’s knowing smile gave the question a very different tone. Sally felt herself flush and immediately felt silly for being so sensitive about her relationship. She knew that she needed to develop some armor in that regard.
“He called last night. He stayed in the safe house with Ivan. He gave me the address to give to you, Steed.”
Steed raised his head from the file, “Hum?”
“Bond gave me the address of the safe house where he’s holding Ivan. He said to go by any time.”
“Thank you Sally, I think I will,” Steed took the note Sally held out to him.
“James said to memorize it and then burn it,” Sally added with a grin. Steed studied the note, and then looked around Sally’s office for the means to follow her instructions.
“Here,” she said, holding out her hand. “Tara has an ashtray and lighter in her office.”
“Does she?” Emma said, one brow arching over a wry smile. “I thought she had quit smoking.”
“She’s tried,” Sally nodded, heading for the door with the note. “But lately she seems to have been having a relapse.”
When Sally had gone Steed set the files back on her desk and turned to Emma, resting his elbows on his knees to lean close to her. She got the distinct impression he had contrived to get Sally out of earshot.
“I’d rather you don’t come to the safe house,” he said.
“Top hush MI-6,” she replied. “I understand.”
Steed stared at her for a moment, and then seemed to reach a decision – choosing to let that be the reason. “Tara is with Jean Claude again today. I suspect that you could be of help to them.”
“I’ll telephone her – if I can get through.”
“Thank you darling,” Steed leaned still closer to kiss her lightly on the lips, then stood up. “I’ll leave a message for you at the hotel if we don’t connect here later.”
“All right,” Emma relaxed into her chair and looked up at him. “Good luck darling.”
The previous evening they had shared a quiet supper with Stetson in a small brasserie and then snuggled into their hotel room bed, both too exhausted for anything more than a kiss goodnight. At least, Emma had reflected upon waking, the exhaustion had also prevented Steed from brooding all night. Unfortunately, it had not done much for his head injury, which was now a dark, angry bruise surrounding a small white bandage. She had forced him to sit still long enough to have the gash cleaned at the train station. The medic had assured her that good bandaging would suffice and stitches were not necessary. She knew Steed would rip off the bandage soon enough – but not before the gash had healed a bit and was less gruesome looking.
Emma pulled her thin cashmere wrap around her shoulders against the refreshing evening breeze and looked straight up. She was standing in the exact center of the square formed by the legs of the Eiffel Tower. The network of steel beams were a lattice above her head highlighted in golden light from thousands of amber-tinted spotlights. It was slightly dizzying – or maybe it was just the hormones of her pregnancy – so she looked back down quickly and scanned the crowds of tourists with her under the tower. It looked like hundreds were queued up at the ticket office at the base of one leg waiting to purchase their fare for the elevators to the top.
She was looking for a man who was out of place, and she found one. But it wasn’t Steed in his bowler, but rather another tall man in a tuxedo who was approaching her.
“Mrs. Steed?” he asked when he was near enough to be heard.
“Yes,” she replied with a guarded half smile.
“Mr. Steed asked me to escort you to dinner.”
“And will Mr. Steed be joining me?” Emma asked moving to walk with him, but scanning her surroundings for signs of a trap.
“Mr. Steed is already seated,” he replied. Emma decided that he was legitimate and that the prickle of apprehension at the back of her neck was just the breeze. He guided her to a private elevator in the leg opposite the one with the ticket office. A discrete blue sign identified it as belonging to the Restaurant Jules Verne.
They rode up in the angled lift to the second floor of the tower and stepped out into an enclosed area that protected restaurant guests from the gusting wind. Emma glanced at the crowd of tourists who, having made it up the first elevator, were waiting to board the second one that would take them to the top.
“Enjoy your dinner, Mrs. Steed,” her escort said as another tuxedoed man opened the restaurant door for her. She mounted three steps to the dining room and was met by yet another man in formal attire who guided her to an intimate table with a view to of the Ecole Militaire to the south. Steed arose from his chair as the host seated her, and then sank down and reached across the table to take her hand.
“You got my note,” he said, his eyes flashing with delight.
“Meet you under the glistening tower,” she smiled. His note at the hotel had been disarmingly romantic after a stressful few days.
“I promised you a romantic evening when I asked you to come with us,” he went on. “I know you want to get back to John tomorrow, so it had to be tonight.”
“You aren’t coming back with me, are you.”
He shook his head, a curt little motion. “Not until McCall –.”
“I understand,” she added with a squeeze of his hand. “John and I will manage without you for a few days. Now, have you pre-ordered or do we have choices to make for dinner?”
Steed had preordered dishes that they both loved from the prix fixe menu and wines to go with each course. Independent as Emma was, she adored it when Steed took care of everything. His willingness to risk disappointing or, worse, annoying her should he make a wrong choice only emphasized the fact that he knew her as well as he knew himself. From her perspective each of his choices was perfect, and if she might have wanted to taste the endive salad instead of the radicchio she could overlook the loss because she loved him too much to mention such trivialities.
They savored the excellent food, feeding their bodies as well as their minds and hearts as they discussed first their day’s activities and then moved on to everything but the case. Emma had employed her language skills to receive and translate information from all across Europe. Aside from satisfying her curiosity about the affect of Juggernaut outside of Paris, Emma had found it dull work. Steed described his unsatisfying interview with Ivan, but elected not to mention his second visit with Stetson to the basement holding cell at the Embassy.
As they exhausted the serious topics they began to indulge in an ongoing, subtle flirtation. It was one of the pleasures of marriage, the ability to flirt openly rather than conceal their love from the world and even from one another. Smiling into Steed’s eyes over a plate of exquisite cheeses Emma caught herself wondering if, in fact, their behavior together was all that different to the outside observer from what it had been years ago.
They occasionally kissed in public now, but never more than a light peck – hardly more than what she might do with Freddy Leighton or even Mike Gambit. They had always engaged in other flirtations – occasional clasped hands, playful teasing – were these things notably different now from back in their “just good friends” days? They had thought they were discrete back then. But perhaps they had been fooling themselves, thinking that their verbal assertion of platonic friendship was believed despite evidence to the contrary in every move they made together. Emma believed that Mother had come to suspect and even set his spies to confirm their physical intimacy. She shuddered at the thought of being observed in bed, but accepted it as a consequence of loving a spy. But had everyone else known as well and been too polite to contradict their denials?
When the meal ended they descended to the ground and strolled across the plaza toward the river. The city was alive with pedestrians: tourists moving in groups with their tote bags and walking shoes, Parisians walking quickly in couples and singly. They always gave the impression of important business ahead, although at this hour it must be either a late supper or bed. But then, Emma reflected as she squeezed Steed’s hand and watched a dinner boat cruise up the river, supper and bed are important business.
“Let’s take the Metro back to the hotel,” she suggested, leaning her head on Steed’s shoulder. He slipped one hand around her waist and she felt him sigh.
“Not a taxi?” he asked suggestively.
“There’s a Metro station right there,” she nodded toward the lighted sign. “It’s even the right line.”
McCall watched from across the street as the attendant shut the iron door under the discrete sign identifying it as the entrance to the Paris Catacombs. He counted to five as the man trudged away and then he the left the cover of the metro station and crossed the street.
The note that he’d found tucked in between his palm and the cast on his hand when he’d awakened an hour ago had said that the door would be open. He glanced around as he reached awkwardly for the handle. There were pedestrians on the sidewalk and cars buzzing by on the street. None paid any attention to him as he awkwardly opened the door with his swaddled fingers and slipped inside. The note had come with a metro ticket that he’d used to get here. It had said that he had a chance to stop Juggernaut if he followed the instructions, and he must not contact anyone. Not that I could without fingers to dial a phone.
It was dark except for the yellowish glow of a household nightlight plugged into an outlet down near the floor. But that was enough to keep him from tripping on the first step downward. After that it was easy to keep a hand on the wall for balance as he descended in the dark. His chest hurt as he took deeper breaths and his cracked ribs protested, but mostly, he realized, getting up and moving was good for him.
The note had assured him that once he was at the bottom, once he got into the tunnels, there would be light. This is madness. I should have taken the metro to the embassy.
As promised the darkness began lightening as he neared the bottom of the ancient stone spiral stairs. At the bottom he entered a long, straight corridor lit by dusty bulbs every few yards.
He had visited these tunnels when he was a student, he and his buddies racing through the passages and making jokes about the countless dead entombed here. Looking back now he regretted his disrespectful behavior. But he ignored the regrets and focused on remembering the tunnels. The first several were unimpressive – long, dim passages under the streets and cellars with a few informative plaques mounted along the way to keep the tourists interested. He trudged along, the sense of depth – of the tons of earth and buildings, traffic and living people overhead – beginning to make him anxious. He gulped a hard swallow and realized that he was sweating. It was not all that warm, but his shirt was drenched. He wished he had stolen a bottle of water at the hospital, although carrying it would have been difficult with his broken hands.
The tunnel turned and turned again, and all of a sudden he was staring at a wall of skulls. The once white bone was an earthy brown. The rows of empty eye sockets stared out at him with surprising serenity. You’re beyond caring, aren’t you? He thought as he moved on past their watchful gaze. A sign set into the wall of bones identified these skeletons as the former inhabitants of a cemetery from the Isle de la Cite, moved here in the seventeenth century.
McCall knew the history: Paris had been running out of land within the city’s walls, so they’d had their priests consecrate the miles of former quarry tunnels beneath their streets and homes. Then they relocated their dead from the cemeteries to the catacombs. The men who had done the work had not regarded the remains as inviolate as modern gravediggers would. Instead they had concentrated on creating an aesthetically pleasing display of the bones of their ancestors. The skeletons were stacked like stones in a wall at the fronts of niches and bays where stone had been harvested. The rest of the bones were tossed over the wall into the space beyond, piled all the way to the five- or six-foot ceiling. In other places they had collected femurs and stacked them like logs to create the outer walls, then filled the space behind.
The catacombs had been closed for more than a hundred years. There were no scraps of flesh left anywhere, no odor of rot, no scraps of clothing or jewelry or other funeral goods among the bones. The plaques that identified the source of the bones in each section were ornately lettered and accompanied by bible verses.
The French, McCall reflected as he came around a bend into a grotto with a bench and a slimy wall oozing with groundwater, were very strange people.
He stopped, disoriented for a moment by the echoing sound of the voice. But then Ivan emerged from a tunnel on the other side of the grotto. The Russian looked agitated, as he slowly approached.
“Ivan,” McCall said, stepping slowly into the grotto to meet him. Ivan stopped at the bench, his eyes narrowing.
“I did not expect to meet you here,” he said slowly. “Bond sent you?”
McCall frowned. “No. Can you stop Juggernaut?”
Ivan’s eyes widened as he shook his head.
Emma tucked her hand into the crook of Steed’s arm as they strolled along the sidewalk from the Metro station. There was something intensely romantic about the Metro. Emma loved the deco tiled corridors that twisted and turned, drawing Parisians up surprise staircases leading to mysterious neighborhoods, or opening up suddenly to reveal a vast tunnel and platforms, a humming train on the tracks waiting anxiously to be off. Steed approached all public transportation with the same veiled suspicion. She supposed it was inevitable from a lifetime of using those same passages as hiding places, or escape routes, or shelter. But he had indulged her whim to descend into the tunnels and find the right train to get back to the hotel. They’d stood in the nearly empty car facing one another on either side of a vertical support pole. Not quite touching, but not quite out of contact either. Her hand gradually slid down the pole until it was pressed against his. His eyes flicked from hers to their hands and back, his lips curling in a deliciously sensuous smile. But he did not move to touch her any further. Her heart had begun to race, her mouth water with newfound appetite. He’d held her with his serene grey eyes until she’d thought sure he could hear the desire flowing through her veins.
But the moment had ended at their station and the temptation to goad him into public intimacy faded as he took her hand and guided her from the train. At street level the fresh air, although it was warm and a bit humid for September, had calmed her a little. Enough, anyway, for her to be happy to stroll and hold his arm, anticipating what was to come but not driving so quickly toward it.
“There’s Lee,” Steed said, leaning his head toward hers in an unconsciously intimate gesture. She followed his gaze to see the long-legged American seated in a café a few doors down from their hotel. They moved toward him, each of them considering whether it would be possible to say hello and move on, or if a longer visit was required.
“Good evening Lee,” Emma said first, stopping Steed with a slight squeeze on his bicep.
“Emma, Steed – good to see you. How was dinner?” Stetson straightened in his chair, then thought better of it and stood up to greet them.
“No, don’t get up,” Emma said, “It was lovely.” She turned her affectionate gaze on Steed offering silent thanks for arranging it.
“Yes. Sorry you couldn’t enjoy something similar, Lee,” Steed said, referring to the absence of Stetson’s partner. But as Steed spoke Stetson’s smile turned sly. Emma grew instantly suspicious. If Steed noticed he didn’t let on.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Stetson said. “Why don’t you join me for a drink?” He gestured to the tiny table where he’d been seated.
“Perhaps we’ll take our own,” Steed suggested, guiding Emma to a chair at the next table over. The tables were so small and so close together they might as well have been one.
Stetson settled back down, still smiling like he had a secret. The waiter appeared quite rapidly, owing perhaps to the late hour and the unpopularity of the neighborhood: the café was not at all crowded. Steed ordered two brandies although Emma did not plan on drinking much of hers. She added a request for water before the waiter could get away.
“You see,” Stetson said, “I actually am having a very lovely evening after all.”
“That’s very flattering Lee, but –,” Steed stopped as Emma nudged him and nodded toward a woman approaching from the direction of their hotel. She was tall and slender, a brunette with aquiline features, wide brown eyes, and an alluring, self-possessed gait.
Amanda Stetson wore a radiant, slightly bemused smile as she joined them. Steed and Stetson both rose again, but she leaned down to Emma to kiss her once on each cheek before greeting them.
“Don’t you dare get up too,” she said firmly. Emma gratefully obliged – she had been ignoring her swollen feet, but they did ache.
“Amanda agreed that I couldn’t get along here without her,” Stetson said lightly, although they all knew he was not joking.
“I wish you’d come sooner,” Emma replied with equal sincerity. “But at least you’re here now and I’m delighted to see you.”
When the waiter returned he eyed their new addition wearily and took her order for a glass of white wine, clearly wanting to ask if they expected anyone else, but refraining.
Amanda took the seat in between Emma and Stetson, twining her fingers with her husband’s as she leaned close to her friend for a quiet chat. Now Emma was torn between visiting with one of her best female friends and listening to the thrum of desire for Steed deep in her body.
Stetson leaned forward to exchange a look with Steed, who shrugged indulgently while continuing to press his thigh against his wife’s even while she spoke to Amanda. The women soon realized that they were excluding their spouses and made an effort to draw them in, so that soon the four intelligence agents were engrossed in an animated discussion of their respective children.
Steed found himself listening and participating, but also observing with a sense of mild wonder. How many times have I watched other parents dote and been glad that I was spared? How could I be so blind for all those years? His hand drifted under the table and over to rest on Emma’s thigh. Her eyes flicked to his, a secretive little smile on her lips, and then she looked back toward Stetson who was talking about how much he enjoyed coaching Amanda’s sons’ soccer team. Emma’s hand rested on Steed’s, drawing it further into her lap. He glanced at the table. Their drinks were empty, the slip of white paper that was their tab was sandwiched between two clear ashtrays on their table. Emma followed his gaze and squeezed his hand pointedly.
“I think perhaps it’s time for us to turn in,” Steed interjected when Stetson finished his story.
“I wouldn’t mind that either,” Amanda replied, glancing at Stetson. “Jet lag, you know?”
Stetson nodded and reached for the tab, but Steed beat him to it with a gleeful grin. A few minutes later they entered the hotel, Steed and Stetson going to the desk for the room keys while the woman strolled toward the stairs. Steed was handed a folded note with his key that he opened as he walked. He stopped at the foot of the stairs, eyes riveted on the note.
“Steed?” Emma looked down at him from a few steps up. “What is it?”
Steed glanced up at her and then around the hotel lobby. His roving gaze stopped on a pay telephone on the wall in a nook at the back of the staircase.
“I have to make a call,” he said, heading for the instrument. The others followed a few paces behind, Emma in the lead. Steed fed a few coins into the telephone as he held the receiver, then dialed a number that he read from the note.
“Je m’appelle John Steed,” he said a moment later, explaining that he had a message to call. His expression, which had been an unreadable mask, turned dark as he listened. “Yes that’s probably him. Yes.”
Emma moved closer, sensing the tension radiating from his body. He turned toward the telephone, excluding her, his head lowered as he listened.
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” he finally said, glancing up to replace the receiver and then dropping his head again. Determined not to let him go anywhere without her – especially looking so upset — Emma inserted herself in between him and the telephone.
“What is it?” she asked quietly, taking in Lee and Amanda’s concerned expression in her peripheral vision. The emptiness in Steed’s eyes when he raised them shocked her. She had rarely seen him look so lost. “Steed?” She repeated, inclining her head toward him.
“They’ve found him,” he nearly whispered. Emma wrapped her fine hands around both of his, squeezing them tight in hope of lending him some of her own emotional strength. “I’ve never lost a man.” His voice was choked.
“You lost several agents when we worked together, Steed,” she pointed out as soothingly as such a statement could be made.
He shook his head slightly. “Not under my command. McCall was my man.”
Emma immediately understood the distinction. Steed took responsibility very seriously, and those under his command were his personal force. She was sure that he had coordinated operations in the past – during the war, maybe after. But if he said he’d never lost a man she believed him.
She watched him take a deep breath and swallow hard. Then his demeanor changed, the anguish and uncertainty banished behind the calm facade that was his best working mask. He clasped her hand and turned with her toward the Stetsons.
“I have to go out,” he said. “Will you come with me Stetson?”
“Steed,” Emma squeezed his hand, drawing his gaze pointedly.
“No, please Emma – I don’t want our baby going to the morgue,” he said. Amanda’s sharp intake – nearly a gasp, interrupted whatever response Emma had been forming.
“McCall?” Stetson asked dourly.
Steed nodded. “And another man. I suspect it’s Ivan.”
“Ivan was in Bond’s protective custody. How did they — ?” Emma asked, determined to know the story if she was not to go with him. Speaking of it would deflate some of the tension Steed was carrying. His body, standing so near hers, was so stiff she could practically feel his heartbeat vibrating through it.
“Ivan must have been taken – I’ll have to check with James. They were shot in the head. Both of them,” Steed replied, glancing at her then returning his gaze to Stetson.
“Execution?” Stetson asked, knowing the answer.
Steed nodded again. “It sounds like it. I have to go identify them.”
“It might not be Robbie,” Emma suggested, “If –.”
But Steed shook his head, pursing his lips regretfully. “They made the identification based on the missing persons description we circulated. And the description of Ivan is accurate. I don’t think there’s any doubt, but I have to go.” He disengaged his hand from Emma’s and forced himself to take a few steps away from her. As he did Amanda moved to her.
“Should we tell Tara?”
Steed paused. “No. Not tonight. I’ll see to this first. We’ll let her get one more decent night’s sleep.” At that he strode across the lobby with Stetson following.
Amanda and Emma exchanged a glance.
“He can’t imagine that she’s been sleeping well with her husband missing, can he?” Amanda asked.
Emma shrugged. “I don’t think he’s thinking too much about Tara at all right now,” she replied. “Come on, my feet are killing me, and if I’m to be put out to pasture I’m going to do it in comfort.”
“Oh Emma, you don’t really feel that way about what he said, do you?” Amanda trailed her toward the stairs.
“No,” Emma sighed, “I’m just feeling particularly weighty all of a sudden. Come on, let me tell you all about my pregnancy.”
Amanda dutifully followed her up the stairs.
Emma awakened from light sleep to the sensation of warmth all along her back and realized that Steed had joined her in bed. His arm slid around her from behind and he pressed a single kiss to the base of her neck. She opened her eyes only long enough to see the dimly illuminated bedside clock: three-thirty. She sighed and her body relaxed against his as she slipped into a deeper, untroubled sleep.
The second time she awakened to his kisses the hotel room was grey with dawn and his warm breath was raising the hairs at the back of her neck. The feel of his body pressed against hers rekindled the thrum of desire of the previous evening. She dimly realized that they had slept spooned together, something they almost never did. Neither of them had ever thrown off their habits as solitary sleepers, so even if they fell asleep tangled together they would eventually shift apart to sleep in comfortable proximity. She dreamily reflected that Steed must have been deeply disturbed by his visit to the morgue to need to hold her for the rest of the night.
His hand roaming over her satiny nightgown drew the thrumming to a higher pitch and she turned her head to find his face beside hers. Their lips brushed and she raised her arm to encircle his head, shoulders arching back against his chest. His next kiss was hungry, lips and tongue caressing as an animal moan welled up from deep within him. She heard herself moan too as his fingers drew up the hem of her nightgown and caressed the moist curls guarding her most intimate places. She was still half dreaming as he stirred her to greater desire. She lay back against him as if in the grip of an anonymous lover, open to him but inaccessible. She dreamily considered rolling over to face him, to press her tender breasts to his flesh and openly offer herself to him. But his slow gentle strokes grew deeper and faster and she forgot herself in a surge of orgasm. Her fingers tangled in his hair and he nuzzled her neck as she drifted on the wave of bliss. She had wrapped her upper leg back around his thigh, laying herself open to his hand and pressing her ass against his belly. She relaxed against him, loosening her grip on his hair. She felt contained in him and filled by him all at the same time. And then he was filling her, his undeniable manhood thrusting into her, his hand cupping her, guiding it, and pressing her so that the sensation filled her consciousness.
It was so much so quickly, so soon after his gently induced orgasm, she felt herself slip too quickly over the edge from increasing need to quiescence. So rarely was she out of synch with Steed the sensation was more interesting than upsetting, and just a bit disappointing. She felt like a detached observer as he worked behind her, his pelvis thrusting against her ass as his breathing increased and his heart raced. For a moment she imagined how they must look from above, but it was an embarrassing image so she focused instead on following his progress. She consciously used her deep muscles to stimulate him in ways that were usually automatic. He made a short, loud groan that she recognized. And then he made another, a little longer, and another accompanied by a deep thrust. She felt him spasm within her and hurried to react as he expected, gently squeezing him without pressing him out. Why am I trying to deceive him?
He collapsed on his back, his head on the pillows. Emma disentangled her leg from his and rolled over, laying her head on his shoulder with one arm across his chest. He pulled her close, resting his other arm on top of hers across his torso.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered after a few minutes, his hand stroking her arm. She raised her head to plant her chin on his shoulder and look at his face.
“Just now, you weren’t – in the mood.”
He could tell. Men are not supposed to be able to tell. I have to practice. What am I thinking! I’m lucky not to have to be any good at it!
She raised herself up to look down at him, allowing her amusement at herself to show. His eyes widened as he looked up at her, obviously curious about her reaction.
“I didn’t fake that orgasm,” she said, touching his fingers pointedly.
“Not that one,” he nodded. “But I was selfish. I wanted you so I kept going when you weren’t ready.”
“I was ready,” she said. “I just – maybe that isn’t the best position for me. Or maybe the baby wasn’t in the mood. You weren’t selfish, darling, I wanted you to keep going.”
“I am positive. That’s what a spouse does – gives what her – or his — partner needs.” She stroked his face, then stretched her neck to place a kiss on his lips.
He kissed her, and then slipped his fingers through her hair and pulled her head back down to snuggle against him. She felt contained once more, protected and loved, known and trusted. Half of a whole.
“I’ve only been a spouse for about a year and a half,” he said after a few minutes. She smiled, running her fingers through the familiar strands of hair on his chest. A few were grey now, like his temples and other places on his body. They had all been lustrously dark when they’d first become lovers, and that was much longer ago than a year and a half. But he was right, a lover was not a spouse.
“We’re practically newlyweds,” she chuckled at the absurdity of being characterized that way. He chuckled too, and she realized that their early morning tryst had had the desired effect – he was not dwelling quite so much on the loss of McCall.
For a moment she struggled to find a way to maintain the lighter mood. Soon enough he would have to go tell Tara that she was a widow.
“So how could you tell?” she asked.
“How could you tell that I wasn’t – that I didn’t –.”
He barked a laugh and heaved up to shift onto his side facing her. He wrapped his arms around her and smiled adoringly into her eyes.
“Well?” she asked, growing a little annoyed at his lack of an answer.
He pursed his lips in thought and then said, “You weren’t there. You’re always there with me, but this time you weren’t. You didn’t make the sounds you make. You didn’t push back.”
“And you never experienced that with a woman before?” Emma couldn’t believe he’d never had a lover who faked it. But he just shrugged.
“Probably. But not since you. And I only care about you.”
“Oh John,” she stifled an unexpected sob and tucked her face against his neck. It’s the hormones, I’m not really that romantic.
“Shhhh,” he hissed against her ear. “I don’t know whether other women I had sex with were faking or not, and it doesn’t matter. But when the woman I love is not enjoying my attentions I can tell and it bothers me. So I’m not going to tell you how to do better at it.”
She heard the amusement in his whisper and it made her smile.
“God how I love you John,” she whispered, raising her face to press her lips to the delicate skin of his neck. It was stubbly with his overnight beard and she was glad – she loved him, and she adored the little imperfections that made him fallible.
Steed squared his shoulders and tapped three times with the handle of his umbrella on the door to the McCall apartment. There was a string of muffled barks from inside, and then footsteps coming toward the door.
“Tara? It’s Steed.”
The door opened and Tara looked out at him. She appeared to be a little better rested than she had the day before, a fact that justified Steed’s decision not to tell her about her husband last night.
“I would have telephoned, but they’re still untangling the lines,” he explained as she stepped aside to admit him. He walked directly to the end of the sofa where Pierre was standing with his front paws on the armrest staring alertly at the intruder. Steed extended his hand so the dog could sniff it. Pierre’s delicate nose twitched and his tail began to sway slowly back and forth. Steed smiled and scratched behind his ears and his tail wagged happily. “There’s a good fellow,” Steed murmured. For a moment he wondered how Gilbert the old basset hound and Sullivan the younger terrier were doing at home. With the thought came the realization that he missed his dogs and horses. He missed his son more, but it was still rather amusing to realize he’d become so domestic that the household pets had an emotional hold on him. Remembering his errand he turned to Tara, who was watching him curiously.
“Tara, I have some news – perhaps we should sit down.”
Her eyes widened and she inhaled a sharp breath. She shook her head rapidly a few times, more a nervous tick than a denial, and then stepped over to an armchair and plopped down onto it. She perched on the edge, her elbows on her knees, her hands twisted together.
“It’s bad isn’t it?” she asked. Steed moved in front of the sofa and sat down, Pierre turning around to watch him, but lacking the temerity to climb into his lap uninvited. “Is Robbie dead?”
All Steed could do was nod. Repeating the news when she’d already said it was pointless. He was desperately relieved not to have had to say it, and guilty for his cowardice in the face of this despairing young woman.
But Tara did not appear to be despairing. She sat back in her chair and turned her head to stare out the window for a moment.
“He had been hospitalized with injuries from a beating. He had no identification, so they did not have his name registered. We would have found him there eventually. But someone must have delivered a note to him. It told him to go to the Catacombs if he wanted to stop Juggernaut. They even gave him a Metro ticket.”
“And he used it,” Tara sighed, her tone disappointed. “That’s where you found him? Underground?”
“In the catacombs,” Steed nodded. “He and Ivan were both executed.”
“Don’t coddle me Steed. How did my husband die?”
“One shot through the head. Very fast.”
“After the beating – or was it torture? – that left him in the hospital. He could have ignored the note. Or he could have used the Metro ticket to come home. But instead he went to the Catacombs,” she shook her head slowly as if trying comprehend a particularly foolish act.
Steed sighed, unsure what else to say. He had expected weeping or hysterics, two emotional states that Tara had been specializing in lately. But watching Tara now he had to describe her reaction as bitter and disappointed. She stopped loving him somewhere along the line, he realized. She’s been pretending that it isn’t true because she so desperately wants to be in love.
He let her sit quietly for a few minutes while he got up and fetched a glass of water from the kitchen. He set it on the table next to her chair, then returned to the sofa. Pierre had followed him through the process, and now jumped back on the sofa beside him.
“You should come back to England,” he said gently.
Tara’s lips curled in a cold smile as she looked around the apartment. “There’s nothing for me here?” she asked pointedly. He knew she didn’t mean the apartment, or the city, but her job.
“It’s procedure. Leave of absence, psych evaluation, reassignment,” Steed listed the steps as if reading from the rulebook, recognizing the irony. He had spent his career finding ways around rules and now he was hiding behind them. But Tara saw right through them.
“And you want me closer to home.”
Steed did not understand why her smile grew warmer. She was thinking of what she’d said to her husband only a few nights ago about Steed making him come back to London and live in one of his guest rooms. It seemed that she’d been right all along, but she’d had the wrong agent. Except she planned to turn the tables – soon she would no longer be an agent.
“It’s best for all concerned,” Steed said matter-of-factly, as if concluding a business deal.
“What about Pierre?” Tara asked, nodding at the dog sitting beside Steed like he was participating in the discussion. Steed looked down at him. “He’s going to miss Robbie – he was Robbie’s dog, you know. He’ll have to go into quarantine if I take him, but I won’t leave him here if I’m not coming back. There’s no one to take care of him, really – I wouldn’t ask Sally.” Tara stopped and shut her mouth, realizing that she was dangerously close to losing her self-control.
“Get his traveling papers in order and I’ll see what I can do about the quarantine,” he replied, certain that a waiver could be granted for one small, healthy dog.
Tara watched Steed stand up, clearly intending to go. She had, she realized, pulled off her distant, unemotional act, and suddenly she was frightened to be alone. She stood up quickly and stepped toward him. He extended his hands to her, thinking her off balance, and caught her in his arms. She laid her head on his strong shoulder, her face turned from his, and felt herself shudder, knowing she couldn’t contain the pain much longer and wondering whether to give in to it.
His hands on her back were like a memory, big, strong, holding her to him protectively. She was terribly grateful that he didn’t hold her away out of some sense of propriety.
“Let it out Tara. You must let yourself grieve,” he whispered.
“I know,” she replied, still in control.
“I’ll send Sally over to help you pack.”
“You shouldn’t be alone.”
“Send Emma. She understands.”
“I can’t, she’s gone back to England this morning.” Her request surprised him until he thought about it. Emma had lost her husband at a time when her marriage was not going well. She probably was the best person to understand Tara. “I’m sorry,” he added.
They stood there together for a few minutes, Steed gently stroking her back, Tara controlling her breathing, fighting emotional collapse.
“I need some time,” she finally said. “I can’t think about moving back right now. I have to take him home to his family and see him buried.”
Steed nodded. “Yes of course you’re right. We can see to this place later. Just pack what you’ll need for that and you can come back to England with me in a day or two.”
“And Pierre,” she added, pulling away from him at last. She directed her big, blue eyes at him and he couldn’t deny her that small request – to help get her husband’s dog admitted into Britain.
“Steed, I have a message for you from London,” Sally sorted through a small pile of paper slips. Her desk was covered with files, reports, and message slips, but her attitude as she located the one she wanted gave the impression of absolute organization. “Colonnello Estella Gioverdi,” Sallly read carefully. She was still working on her Italian pronunciation.
“Indeed?” Steed’s brows rose as he took the message slip from her. He had just come from Tara’s apartment, looking into arrangements for McCall and Pierre were his next priorities.
“She has been trying to contact you for two days. Her number is there.”
“Steed, where have you been in all of this?” the Colonnello asked as soon as he identified himself.
“Unfortunately not close enough to the center, Senora,” he replied. “And you? Am I correct in guessing that your recent accident was connected?”
“I’m sure you already know the role that your man played in all this, Steed,” she replied.
“He was in the car with you. Would you care to explain that?” Steed did not believe that the Colonnello was the sleeper on the Juggernaut list who McCall had gone to meet in Milan. McCall must have met with someone else and for some reason ended up in the Colonnello’s car. But it never paid to let a foreign agent know that he did not suspect them.
“I had intended to have a brief discussion with him. The man he contacted was already under suspicion.”
“So you picked up McCall and let his contact go?”
“As I said, I already suspected our man. Your man’s presence required me to determine his involvement.”
“And what did you decide?” Steed was working to remain detached and not let her know that McCall was dead.
“He leapt out of my car. Very suspicious behavior, Steed. That is why I contacted you – as a courtesy. After what has happened we regard your man as an enemy. We have not yet concluded whether he acted on your orders.”
“I assure you that he did not, Colonnello,” a sense of dread darkened Steed’s tone. He could not allow McCall’s actions to cause an international rift between the intelligence services. “He acted alone, and has paid the ultimate price for his behavior.”
“Yes. Robert McCall was assassinated last night.”
“You are a harsh master, Steed. My respect for you has increased.”
Steed’s eyes widened and he inhaled a sharp breath. But he quickly rethought the impact of her assumption and suppressed his instinct to deny it. Better that she thought him ruthless enough to eliminate his own man.
“I’m glad to hear it, Colonnello. When I am next in Milan perhaps we can meet for an espresso.”
“I will look forward to it. Ciao Steed.”
Steed replaced the receiver and looked up into Sally’s wide eyes.
“Robbie’s dead?” she asked.
Steed nodded, regretting not phoning Sally with the news first thing in the morning. “Last night. Both he and Ivan were shot.” He watched the young woman closely. Her ability to control her emotional reaction and concentrate on the impact on their work would dictate her future assignments. If she could not absorb the news and move on, deferring mourning until later, he would not be able to trust her in the field. Of course, agents’ reactions to the death of a peer could never be completely predicted – even if she handled McCall’s death well she might break over some other incident in the future. But it would still be a good indicator. She swallowed hard and pursed her lips, looking down at the papers all over her desk. Then she looked up at him.
“Who did it? KGB or Russian Mob? Or someone else?” she asked. Steed felt a rush of pride in himself for recruiting her, in her for performing so well, and even in Emma for initially discovering the young woman’s steely core. He felt no regret that his business had trained her to ignore her natural emotional response to the death of a friend.
“That, my dear, is your job,” he replied, still watching her closely. She nodded, glancing across her desk again.
“Good. Is there a police report?”
“Moo says the cow. Moo, moo, moo. See the cow, love? Yes, that’s the cow that goes moo,” Emma removed John’s hand from the book so that she could turn the page, glancing over at a movement near the hearth: Gilbert the hound’s big paws were churning as he chased a dream rabbit across the lawn. Emma had laid a small fire in the hearth and Gilbert had immediately moved into his favorite nap spot stretched out on his side with his long back to the warm flames. Sullivan the terrier was curled in a circle on the floor below the settee where Emma was lounging with John, positioned just so that if she put her feet down she’d step on him. Fortunately, she knew he was there.
“Quack, quack, quack,” she read. “The duck says quack. Yes, that’s a duck. You’ve seen ducks haven’t you darling?”
Steed smiled fondly at his family from the doorway to the informal family room where he’d been watching since the last “moo.” As Emma turned the page to read about geese he strode into the room.
“Honk, honk, honk,” Emma pronounced with enthusiasm as she looked up to watch him approach.
“Not exactly particle physics, Mrs. Peel,” he chuckled, reaching out to take the book from her. She let him take it, looking up at him through wide, amused eyes. John followed his movements too as he turned the page and studied the next illustrations as if they were fine art.
“The dog says woof,” he read, “woof, woof, woof. Can’t we find something a little more intellectually stimulating for him?”
“He does have a limited range his interests,” Emma replied. “And he’s not quite ready for George Orwell.”
Steed chuckled again and shut the book, crouching in front of the settee beside Sullivan to put his head at the same level as Emma’s. The dog, who had been asleep, jumped to his feet and barked once, then shoved his muzzle against Steed’s leg. Steed stroked his head with one hand while reaching up with the other to stroke Emma’s cheek with the back of his fingers. She leaned into his hand as it slipped around to the back of her neck. The dog was forgotten as he leaned in over John to kiss her.
Emma shivered at his touch and felt more than heard herself moan. His mouth was demanding and sensuously soft, his kiss like a force drawing her into him. It was as it had always been between them: the touch like lightening igniting fire deep inside.
“Welcome home,” she murmured when they paused, her breath caressing his cheeks.
“I’m glad to be here,” he replied. “And I have a surprise.” He added in a louder voice, reluctantly releasing her to stand up and look toward the door. Emma followed his gaze.
“Amanda!” she cried, holding John to her as she swung her feet to the floor and stood up, Sullivan darting away as she did. Steed took the baby from her so that she could greet their guests, first hugging Amanda and then Lee.
“You’re staying a few days I hope,” she said.
“Flights are still a bit confused so I’m afraid we need to,” Stetson answered.
“We hope you don’t mind,” Amanda added.
“Mind?” Emma snorted. “I’m delighted. Did Steed get you settled? I’m not sure what state the guest rooms are in,” she glanced at Steed and found him engrossed in a one sided conversation with their son.
“No, we were waiting for his signal to surprise you,” Amanda said. “But don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll be very comfortable.”
“Come on,” Emma guided them back toward the hall, “I’ll take you up.”
After settling their guests in the largest guest room Emma went to the kitchen to plan an impromptu dinner. She found Siobhan feeding John and no sign of Steed. She seasoned a chicken and put it in the oven with some potatoes. The memory of Steed’s kiss still lingered on her lips and with guests and dinner taken care of she went in search of her husband.
The hiss of the shower through the slightly open bathroom door told Emma where her missing husband must be. She began unbuttoning her blouse as she stepped into the large closet – formerly a small adjacent bedroom that she had had converted. She undressed quickly, hanging her clothes in their places and slipping her shoes onto the shelf near the floor. As she dragged on her silky green dressing gown a new shoebox on Steed’s side of the closet caught her eye.
Cinching the belt of her gown she crossed to it and tapped one finger on its lid, which was printed with the name of a distinguished gentleman’s haberdashery. With an innocent shrug she opened the box and lifted the sheet of white tissue paper protecting the shoes – no boots – inside. They were black Chelsea boots in a style Steed had always favored – trust him to be loyal to a classic. The delicate glove leather felt softer than the skin of her fingers as she lifted one of them out. Idly wondering how long they would last in the field, she turned the boot over to examine the heel.
There wasn’t a mark on them – no evidence of a latch or switch to open a secret compartment. She picked up the other boot and studied it with the same result. Smirking at herself, she set them back in the box.
“Here let me,” Steed said from right behind her. Belatedly she realized that the sound of running water had stopped a few minutes ago.
Steed took out the first boot and flicked the heel sideways to reveal a diminutive folding knife tucked into a compartment.
“Clever,’ Emma said as she lifted it out. “But you’ll be setting off metal detectors at every airport.”
Steed set down the boot and took the knife, unfolding it to reveal a shining white blade.
“Not at all. The blade is ceramic.”
“Oooh – that’s new,” Emma tested the blade gently with her fingertip. “Who makes them for you?”
Steed shot her a proprietary smile as he took the knife and folded the blade away, then replaced it in its compartment in the heel. He picked up the other boot and opened the heel the same way to reveal a coil of plastic explosive around a miniaturized detonator.
“Very useful,” Emma smiled, at the same time hoping he would never have occasion to use it. “But I thought you said that you kept cyanide tablets –.”
Steed snapped the heel shut and dropped the boot onto the box, placing his hands on her upper arms in a powerful embrace.
“No,” he shook his head, his eyes locked with hers. “Not me. Not when I have so much to live for.”
Emma swallowed down her startled reaction as she stared into his sincere grey eyes. “Steed, I never meant to snoop.”
“Of course you did,” his mouth curled at the corners. “I expected nothing less.”
“You left them out,” she gently accused.
He chuckled, slipping his arms around her to draw her close. “I stopped carrying an escape pill the day you left Peter Peel. Just knowing that you’re mine is enough to keep me from breaking.”
“Well, I’m not so sure about that,” Emma chuckled, caressing his lips with hers. He kissed her back with considerably more intensity.
“I am,” he murmured against her ear. She drew in a long breath that transitioned to a moan as he nuzzled beneath her ear, his breath making her skin tingle. Since returning from Paris her appetites had shifted from the constant cravings for food to cravings of an entirely different nature. She attributed it to the hormones of pregnancy but did admit that it could be an emotional reaction to the tragic events that had occurred there. Steed could never become more important to her than he already was, but Tara’s loss had heightened her awareness of her good fortune, and her husband’s desirability.
“What are your plans for the next forty minutes?” she asked, suddenly very aware that he was naked except for a bath towel wrapped around his waist. She let her hands slide down from his shoulders to his chest, caressing warm pectorals that tensed beneath her touch. He inhaled a sharp breath as she stroked one nipple and then the other, her head bent to watch them harden. Lifting her chin he cupped her jaw and pressed her mouth against his. His kiss was aggressive, harshly demanding and accompanied by the nudge of his solid member against her belly. As always his need overwhelmed her. She wrapped her arms around him and molded herself to him as best she could around the bulge in her middle, sliding one hand down his back and under the towel to squeeze his ass.
“This suits me,” he breathed when the kiss ended, tugging at the silky belt of her dressing gown to untie it. He slipped both arms inside and drew her back to himself, bare flesh to bare flesh. He kissed her again, softer this time, but with such passion she eagerly lost herself in it. They kissed and kissed, hands caressing, towel falling away, gown dropped in a soft puddle around feet. Impulsively Steed lowered her to the floor atop their discarded garments, covering her in kisses from mouth to breasts and then on down the mound that was their infant, and along her thighs. First one, and then the other were tickled and caressed, his lips leaving trails of fire that ended at the fringe of curls between her legs. She stretched her arms above her head and arched her pelvis toward him eagerly with a long, contented sigh. He parted her with gentle fingers, stroking her gently and watching her face go from contented to rapt, wholly focused on his ministrations. And then he resumed his kisses – sucking and licking, his tongue and fingers drawing the heat from deep within so that she writhed beneath him, loins surging with the elixir of her passion. He drank of her and held her in his mouth as she erupted against him in a series of blazing orgasms that left her gasping and half delirious.
He kissed his way back over her precious belly and paused, holding himself above her, watching her drift from total release back to consciousness. She licked her lips and peered up at him through her eyelashes.
“More?” he asked playfully, knowing the answer. He bent his head to kiss her, careful not to place his weight on her.
He tasted of her juices – she knew it well enough after so many such intimate encounters. She kissed his mouth and cheeks and nose, inciting a new flame in both their loins.
“Why only forty minutes?” he asked, pulling away from her to get to his feet and offer her a hand.
“Dinner is on, and we have guests,” she reminded him as she took it and let him guide her into the bedroom. He did not take her to the bed, but rather to the rug in front of the fireplace. She waited, sitting with one knee bent in front and the other curled under it, while he ignited the kindling laid beneath a pair of seasoned logs on the hearth. He had, she realized, planned this.
“Not precisely,” he replied, and she realized she had spoken aloud. When the kindling caught he tossed the long match into the flames and moved back to sit with her. “I had imagined you joining me in the shower – after all, dinner is on and we have guests.”
Emma grinned, slipping an arm around him and extending one leg to twine it with his. “My curiosity took precedence for just a moment,” she apologized. Steed stretched out, bringing her to the floor with him. They lay facing one another, legs tangled together, caressing and kissing freely. The heat between them smoldered with the fire, building slowly, warming them from hearts to loins to the tips of their fingers and toes.
“It’s all worked out rather well though, hasn’t it?” he observed after a while, running his fingers through her hair while he stroked her calf with his foot.
“Purrrfectly,” she crooned, ending in a giggle as she pressed him onto his back and rose above him. He smiled up at her expectantly as she straddled his pelvis. She drew her hair back with both hands, habitually smoothing the curl at the ends. His hands slid up her hips and torso to caress her breasts, thumbs passing over the deep red nipples. Emma hissed and tossed her head back, breasts pressing into his hands as if begging for more. He obliged, stroking the prickly flesh of her aureoles and pinching gently. Using her fingers to guide him she slowly lowered herself down onto him, inhaling a long, slow breath as his thick, solid penis filled her. Still holding her breasts he thrust upward, his entire body tensing to lift her, driving himself deeper.
“Oh yes,” she sighed, covering one of his hands with hers over her breast. He moved his other hand down to hold her hip, fingers splayed over one side of her ass. She began to move on him, forward and back, and then twisting a bit. He gasped as her motion inflamed him, thrusting upward again and then again. He grunted with each thrust, shutting his eyes tight as his fingers squeezed her soft flesh and he lost focus on everything but his driving, throbbing core.
“Emma,” he heard himself groan her name as she ground down on him and he bucked, his member a plunging, mad creature seeking to permanently bury itself within her. For a moment he imagined that: permanent joining, a constant fulfillment beyond any possible for an individual human. But even as he reached utter bliss, even as his orgasm erupted within her and she shuddered around him with a wail of pleasure, he realized that it could not be sustained. It was too perfect, that state of grace when they were one. And besides, he reflected dazedly as he felt her lean over him, her hands on his shoulders, the steps to get there were too much fun to give up. His eyes flickered open and he looked into sparkling brown depths. She bent her head and kissed him gently, then lifted up to watch him, still wearing her sensuous smile.
“More?” she asked. The corners of his mouth curled knowingly.
“We’re nearly out of time,” he replied. She assumed an amused pout and slipped off of him, stretching her hands toward the fire and then reaching for the ceiling as she arched her back. Steed put one hand behind his head and watched toned muscles ripple over the bones of her upper back and shoulders. She was teasing him with what he couldn’t have. “For now,” he added. She lowered her arms and looked back over her shoulder at him, her pout replaced by a sly smile. Then she half turned, sitting with one knee bent up, one forearm resting on it. With the other she stroked his abdomen absently. Her expression had shifted once more.
“How is Tara?” she asked.
“Soldiering on, stiff upper lip. You know,” he shrugged. “I never told you, she asked for you that first morning. She didn’t want Sally to come help her pack or close up the apartment. She said you would understand what she’s going through.”
Emma nodded slowly, her gaze drifting over to the flames in the hearth. “You should have called me. I would have gone to her.”
“You had already left for the airport.”
“I shall have to apologize to her. If I had thought about it I would have realized that she would want to talk to me.”
“Because you know what it’s like to be a widow.”
“Because I know what it’s like to fall out of love with a man you thought was forever.”
Steed watched her for a moment as she continued to look into the fire. He wanted to reach out to her, but her hand on his stomach lay still as if she had forgotten she was touching him. He felt the distance between them, so slight only moments ago, lengthen into miles and ages.
“Forever is impossible to know,” he said gently. “But Emma, I am yours for as long as we both can imagine, and I will work as hard as I must to keep what we have.”
She looked at him again, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. Her hand slid across his stomach, stroking him once more. “I know. We are two halves of a whole, Steed. But we each have a past, and just now mine gives me particular knowledge that Tara could use. I’ll call her. Offer to talk.”
“Only if it does not hurt you, Emma. Ultimately she’ll need to find her own way to grieve and heal. I won’t have you dwelling on things that disturb you.”
Emma pursed her lips at him again and he realized that he might well have gone too far. She did not take orders easily.
“In any case she came back with us, with his body, and with Pierre. She went to her mother’s tonight. Tomorrow they’ll move the casket to Scotland. Apparently there’s a family plot.”
“So we’ll be going to Scotland for the funeral, then,” Emma said thoughtfully, his directive apparently ignored. “I suppose we shouldn’t bring John. He has a cold.”
“He does?” Steed frowned. He hadn’t noticed any sign of illness before he handed the baby over to his nanny earlier. Then he reconsidered the rest of her statement. “You don’t have to go. It’s business.”
“Of course I do. How would it look you going alone?”
Steed frowned as he contemplated her meaning, then understanding dawned. Emma might feel secure in her position as his wife, but outwardly she felt a need to remind his associates of her presence – particularly at the funeral of a former lover’s – or was it that she was a former partner? – husband’s funeral. How would it look if I went alone and offered Tara comfort?
“We’ll make it a quick trip – one night, there and back,” he said, hating the notion of leaving John again so soon.
“Amen,” the final murmured word of the final prayer rippled through the mourners gathered graveside. A wicked little breeze lifted the wide brim of Emma’s black felt hat and she put one gloved hand on it. The other was clasped with Steed’s. As Robert McCall’s family and friends began to move away from the flag-draped casket next to the grave a single figure remained. Tara stood with her hands clasped in front of herself and her head bent.
“She told me her mum drove her mad in just one evening,” Emma murmured to Steed, her eyes on the lone mourner. “She can’t stay with her.”
“And she has no place else to go in London,” Steed added, knowing what his wife was about to suggest.
“Just for a few days – maybe a week or two. If you’re going to keep her in Britain she’ll need time to find a place of her own.”
“I’ll meet you at the car,” he said, giving her hand a squeeze before leaving her to go to Tara’s side. He was of mixed feelings about having Tara stay with them. There would always be that modicum of awkwardness between them in such an intimate setting.
He stood quietly just behind and to one side of Tara for a few minutes, content to let her finish mourning. There was the distant sound of car doors shutting, engines starting. Conversations carried on the chilly breeze. The funeral party would move to the McCall family home now – a largish old stone house that had obviously once been sited on a lot of land, but now stood cheek by jowl with smaller, newer structures. Steed had avoided much interaction with McCall’s parents, hiding behind the appropriate pleasantries to avoid conveying his utter disappointment in their son.
“Is it time to go Steed?” Tara asked without looking at him.
“How did you know I was here?”
“I’m not the only man who uses it,” he frowned, annoyed at himself for pursuing the inappropriate topic. Tara turned and shot him a wry smile.
“The only man at this funeral,” she countered. “If you’re here to offer me graveside advice please just don’t.”
Steed’s hand rose automatically to hold her upper arms as he studied the pain in her eyes. He recognized her tone – defensive to hide the more difficult emotions.
“We’d like you to come stay with us for a while. As you said back in Paris, Emma is in a better position than most to understand your situation. You’ll have all the privacy you want. And we’ll sort out what you want to do next.”
“Yes, we should do that. Or at least I should,” Tara nodded, blinking against the wind as she looked into his comforting eyes. That he was holding her – albeit at arms’ length – made it harder to say what she had to say. His slightly puzzled expression urged her onward. “I’m resigning, Steed. I’m getting out.”
“Let’s not make any rash decisions, Tara. I know that you’re –.”
“It’s not rash, Steed. I decided days and days ago.”
“Tara, you’re not –,” Steed paused, angling his head in silent inquiry.
A multitude of possible conclusions to his sentence raced through her mind, but she settled on the most obvious – the question that a man in his position would have to ask first.
“Defecting? Going freelance? No. Certainly not the former, and probably not the latter. I don’t think I have the constitution to go it alone. I just want out, Steed. I know that’s nearly impossible for you to understand.”
“Well then, all the more reason to come for a visit until you make some plans,” he replied so quickly she was taken aback. “Or was I supposed to argue a little harder?” he added with a warm smile.
“No. I’m not playing a game with you. I appreciate you respecting my wishes.”
“So you’ll come?”
“Emma will be very disappointed if you refuse – especially now.”
“We can’t disappoint Emma, can we?” Tara asked, her tone ever so slightly arch. Steed raised one eyebrow and she winced and shook her head. “Sorry. The psychologists told me I’d experience anger and resentment. You know I’m not very good at holding my tongue. Yes, I accept your offer. It’s certainly much nicer to look forward to than weeks staying with mum.”
“You said you wanted to talk about your ex-husband. His name has been in the paper lately, so I took the liberty of researching. There was a great deal to find.”
Emma felt herself tense defensively as Doctor Morgan spoke. But she did not even realize that she was eying him warily until he observed it.
“You are very troubled by him, although as far as I can tell you have successfully severed all connection with him, and he has just been convicted – he’ll be in jail for decades here and in the United States.”
Emma nodded although she was still trying to absorb the news of the verdict that had been reached a few days after the Stetsons left.
“Perhaps we should start at the beginning.”
“Are you sure? It’s a long story.”
“All the important ones are, Mrs. Steed.”