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This story came about in an unusual fashion since it began not with a plot but with a name. China Berry. It was an unusual name so seemed to require an unusual person. As the character became clearer it did seem she was unique, but I was not certain where to put her. She didn't fit in Kung Fu or Sentinel, the shows I had written fan fiction for in the past. Then I heard that Equalizer was going to be shown again and I was reminded of one of my favorite Robert Lansing characters, Control. Somehow the two seemed to fit one another and I found myself venturing into another fandom. So here is my first Equalizer story.
The usual disclaimers apply. Except for China, I own none of the main characters in this story. Control and all things Equalizer come from Universal studios and Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III appears courtesy of Airwolf a Universal studio`s show. Please don't sue me as no money has exchanged hands and all you would get from me is two 12 year old lap cats. I do, however, accept feedback, so let me know what you think.
All foreign phrases and words are translated at the bottom of the page.
Late September 1970
"Darling, I'm so very glad you could join us this evening!" the hostess gushed. Her carefully bleached hair was styled to fit the latest fashion. Her perfectly tanned skin matched the exacting cut and fit of the dress that was specially made for her. A society wife hostessing a party of select guests, all chosen for their place in the halls of power and wealth.
She was not an unattractive woman, far from it. She was, in fact, considered the toast of high society. And by all of society's standards she was perfect. Her husband was an assemblyman who, according to rumors, was being considered for higher positions, and her house was a mansion off the Pacific Ocean. She was seen serving on all of the right charities and supporting the right causes. She had it all.
The tall, elegantly dressed man she was gushing over knew the rest of the story as well. She was a discontented shrew. She used her looks to attracted men who could get her what she wanted; she had succeeded with most of the men at this party. They were all friends of her and her husband; people she simply wouldn't dream of not inviting to a party. The guest she was currently greeting, however, was different. She had never met him; he was here solely on her husband's invitation.
John Smith, as he was calling himself this evening, didn't mind society parties; it was the plastic people that who inhabited them that irritated him. People like the hostess fawning over him. Plastic people were almost impossible to predict, because they would simply change and remold themselves to fit whatever was currently being called for. And as a man who made his very good living at predicting and, if necessary, manipulating others, he found that very annoying.
Parties, he had found, were an excellent way to see and be seen, depending on which he was needed at the moment. A lot of potential troublemakers would stay out of trouble if they knew they were being watched, and a party was an excellent way to let them know that. Mingling about making inane conversation while pretending to drink your Champagne, or whatever the drink of the night was, and giving a slight nod when you caught the eye of the potential maker of mischief. You could also hear the latest news on who and what was being done in the hallowed halls of democracy. Equally telling was who was being chatted up and who was being ignored. Oh yes, parties were very useful indeed.
He smiled to himself for a moment as he thought about who would be on the list if he were to actually throw a party himself. The list would be a veritable who's who of the spy community. Very few of his agents would he actually call friends, and even fewer did he trust. And even if he only invited the agents he worked with, and not his other various and assorted contacts, the chances of a blood bath before the party ended would be very high. No, far better that he merely attend parties than he try and ever give one; even if he was willing to let his true name and address be known, which to be certain, he was not.
Unfortunately he had already been seen by the people he needed to be seen by, and had no way out of here. Unless something happened, he would be spending a very boring evening listening to small talk among people that weren't all that interested in him, and avoiding a hostess who was all too interested in him.
He found a corner and began doing what he did best. He watched, and listened, and remembered for future reference. He stiffened a bit as he did his observing. This was certainly not an equal opportunity party, all of the guests were white and wealthy, and the serving women, in their old fashion maid's uniforms, were all black. Interesting, considering that equal rights were one of the assemblyman's campaign issues. Something told him that the man did not hold the majority vote in this house.
He could only imagine how demeaning the women who were serving must have found it to be wearing uniforms that so clearly marked them as hired help and therefore unworthy of notice. Not to mention that they were all in stiletto heels, which after an hour of walking about must have been killing their ankles. He never had understood what would posses any woman to wear those things. As lovely as they might look, he could only think that walking in them must be a type of self-inflicted masochistic torture.
Smiling slightly, he caught sight of one of the women who was serving. She was gorgeous. She had lighter skin than the others, so was very likely mulatto. It gave her an exotic air. Her long muscular legs were made to appear even longer by the high heels she was wearing. There was a certain something that always told a man when he was dealing with a lady, and not merely a woman. His hostess was a woman to be certain, but this waitress was undoubtedly a lady. She had the air and presence of a queen or ambassador. Besides, he was not the only one to have been noticing her, every man here had been, and many of the women as well. Their hostess had also noticed and evidently did not appreciate the competition. Something in the young woman's eyes spoke of intelligence, as well. Ah, if he were only ten years younger. But no, she was obviously not the type of woman one had one night stands with, and that was about all he could give to any woman. Anything more could have dangerous results.
His musing on the differences between women and ladies was cut short by a calling to the table. Good, the sooner he ate, the sooner he could make his excuses and go.
The women in the heels and uniforms appeared again, this time with serving trays. He hoped they were getting paid well, they were definitely earning it tonight. The model-like young woman was serving his side. How very lucky, she might be too young for him to develop an interest in, but that didn't mean he couldn't appreciate her beauty.
Not for the first time in his life, was he thankful for the reflexes and speed honed to a razor edge. The owner of the fine legs, good ankles, and exotic looks, headed his way. She gave him a smile, which he was returning, as her ankle gave out. The tray flipped up, she fell back and the soup hit his lap. In the Olympics of mess making, it was a perfect ten, and since it took only seconds, there was no time penalty. This was definitely a soup course to remember. Mortified, the young woman reached over to help him mop up the hot soup. He jumped back as her elbow hit his wineglass, bathing the front of his tux.
Well, if he had been looking for a reason to leave, he certainly had one now. Between the soup and the wine, he was thoroughly bathed.
"Mr. Smith, I'm so very sorry," Gwen Martinson, his hostess, rushed to his side.
"I'm fine really, just an accident, nothing that can't be fixed," he assured her.
"Right this way, and we can get you cleaned up, John," she purred, reaching for his arm.
"Get back to the kitchen," she hissed softly at the rather lost and uncertain serving woman as they passed.
Seeing the bathroom she was leading him towards, he fairly leaped in so as to prevent her offering to personally see to his cleaning. She had been preening and batting her eyes at him all night. While he enjoyed romantic pursuits as much has the next man, he far preferred being the pursuer to being the pursued. He was not, and never had been, interested in married women. And even if he were, this harpy was trouble waiting to happen.
Hearing her move off, he began dabbing at his previously white shirt and decided that red wine simply glued itself to white surfaces. The stuff was not coming out. His pants were at least black so the soup was not as noticeable. Well, he had emergency clothes in the car, so he would change once he left this place.
Stepping into the hallway, he was grateful it was early fall, he hadn't needed to bring a coat so he could simply see himself out. He would call Sam tomorrow and apologize for not saying his goodbyes. The senator was a good man, so could be forgiven his wife.
"You stupid bitch!" Speaking of the wife of the house, he could hear her screaming at the poor girl who had tripped. She had felt bad enough, no reason to go ripping her apart like that. Following the voice that was screaming like a banshee at the young lady and calling her names his mother would have strapped him for even thinking of using about a woman, he found the kitchen.
"Your pay won't reimburse the cost of getting that rug cleaned, but it'll have to do. Now get out!" the older woman was berating the serving girl with a look that would have done Medusa proud.
"I rode in with a friend; may I wait in the hall, or somewhere out of the way until she's done?" the younger woman asked, deep dark eyes meeting cold blue ones straight on.
"I want you out of here now!" the frosted blond screeched.
Mr. Smith was impressed. The regal hireling was not giving an inch. She wasn't yelling, screaming, or anything. She was also not dithering, slinking, or cowering. She was in complete command of herself.
With a silent nod the young woman turned to leave, hissing as her ankle collapsed under her for the second time that night.
Gaining control of himself, lest he upbraid the harpy for her harshness with a child who could not be more than twenty, the once pristine gentleman stepped forward catching the woman before she actually fell.
"I would be happy to see you home, miss," he offered, extending his hand to the young woman, who was now leaning to one side but standing upright.
"Thank you. Mr. Smith, wasn't it?" she asked, smiling slightly at him.
"John Smith," he replied giving her an elaborate bow, while kissing her hand.
"Really, John, must you leave so soon? I assure you arrangements will be made to get her home," Gwen asked, almost but not quite pleading.
The younger woman and the well mannered gentleman both stared at his stained shirt and damp tux and burst into laughter, the young lady's, admittedly, a bit hysterical.
"No, I really don't think I could stay, considering the condition of my clothing," John assured his hostess.
The primped up woman blushed to a shade matching a cooked lobster.
"Um, yes. Well, I certainly hope you'll be able, to, uh, join us again in our home?" she dithered.
"I would like nothing more, but I'm afraid that I must be retuning to the east coast very soon, and won't be likely to be out this way for quite some time," he smiled.
Offering his arm to the young woman at his side, he moved for the door. A sharp hiss after two hobbling steps informed him that she was not going to be walking far.
"Here, allow me," he offered, picking her up and carrying her.
The older woman's jaw almost hit the floor as she stared in disbelief and horror as her serving girl was carried out of the kitchen, down the hall, and out of the house by a guest she had been after all evening. Snorting in disbelief, she sauntered back to her other guests.
Outside, the temperature was dropping now that the sun had gone down.
Arriving at his car, he gently placed his burden on her feet, where she could lean against the Cadillac. Opening the door, he helped her into the passenger seat.
"Here, let me take a look at your ankle," he offered, gently taking the swollen appendage in his hand.
He poked a little and prodded a little, and did a few slow, careful turns. When she would hiss or flinch in pain he would stop.
"I don't think you did anything more dangerous than giving it a bad turn, Miss...," he raised an eyebrow, leaving his statement open for her to finish, as he had not been given her name.
"Berry, China Berry," she supplied, in a James Bond type inflection.
Mr. Smith chuckled his appreciation of her humor as he got her settled and, after grabbing his duffle bag from the trunk, went around to the driver's seat.
"Did you get to eat Miss Berry?" He asked, looking over at her as he started the car.
"No, I didn't, and call me China, please," she answered succinctly, but softly.
"All right, would you like to get something to eat before I take you home, China? It's the least I can do in return for your saving me from that man eating barracuda," he asked casually, so she would not think he was looking for a date, which he was not. She merely looked far too thin and deserved a good meal after the way she had been serving at that party.
"Where did you have in mind?" she raised an eyebrow at him. Their attire was hardly appropriate for going out.
"What would you like?" he asked, ever the gentleman.
"Anything but American," she smiled hopefully.
"Krizova's?" he offered
She gaped at him. One of the poshest restaurants in LA was where he wanted to go, with her looking like an escapee from a costume party and his clothes looking like he was the loser in a food fight.
"Sure, we can go there. I just hope we don't embarrass all of the other diners since we are totally overdressed for that place," she replied after a few moments.
"I'll ask for a private dinning room to save their dignity," he laughed. It was the first time in he could not remember how long that he laughed merely because something struck him as funny. It felt good.
"Working your way through college?' he asked, as he started toward their destination.
"Something like that, tonight was my last job though, and I must admit I certainly made a memorable exit."
"What are you going to do now, if you are leaving this job?" he inquired. If she didn't have anything planned, he could maybe help her out a bit. Mirek was always looking for good servers, and this young lady had done an excellent job until those shoes had done her in. Only an utter ass would ask a woman who was serving to wear stilettos!
"I've got a job working for an international company, in fact I start on Monday morning," She smiled. "What do you do?"
"I work for my Uncle Sam," he lied easily. Well, not really a lie, but certainly a far cry from the whole truth.
"I always thought working for Uncle Sam would be interesting, but my uncle Michael would have a fit if I did," China chuckled.
"Oh? Sounds like your uncle may be a government employee himself," he commented.
"You might say that," she smiled pleasantly.
The rest of the ride was silent, but for once John didn't mind. Instead of the uneasy and strained silence he usually found with a woman, it was a relaxed and comfortable quietness. Someone had taught this dear girl to be comfortable with silence.
"Shall we?" he asked, offering her his hand once they had arrived at the restaurant.
She gave a laugh that reminded her escort of wind chimes on a Pennsylvania farm. Taking his arm and hobbling along in a hopping-skipping gait they entered the building.
"May I help you?" the maitre' d asked, looking down on the pair.
"A private dinning room would be nice," John requested politely.
"I am afraid there is not one available," the man sneered while giving China a leering look.
"I would like to see Mr. Krizova right now," Mr. Smith growled in a low rumble. No one treated a lady that way, and certainly not one he was escorting.
"The owner is a busy man and is not avail..." the man began condescendingly.
"Halo! nazdar! Mr. Krizova could tebe nechrnen jeden dokzat komnata do Mr. Kovr a J , my mnel jsem kus neurc. clen dopadajc I'm v obavch," China called out to the man behind the officious man.
John Smith raised an eyebrow in surprise upon hearing the woman speak fluent Czechoslovakian.
"Jarda, I will talk to you when I have seen to these fine customers," the scarecrow-like man glared at his subordinate.
The tall lean man beamed at the young woman. "An incident? I could tell you of incidents young lady! Right this way to your table," he ushered his two customers along a hallway.
"Bt zavzn tebe, dvn druh , J apreciate tebe pomoci," the dark haired man smiled at his host.
China whipped her head around to stare her escort. "You speak Czech?"
"As do you, evidently," he smiled.
"I speak it because I'm a linguist, how did you come by it?" She inquired.
"Just something I picked up somewhere," he answered in a tone that ended that line of conversation.
"Here you are, your drinks will be in directly," the restaurateur said, motioning them into the room.
Mr. Smith nodded his head towards the restroom. China, nodding, limped after their friend.
"You got hurt in that, ah, mishap you mentioned earlier?" Mirek inquired, raising an eyebrow.
"Not badly, just twisted my ankle serving at a party in stilettos," she reassured him while he gently guided her to a chair.
"Inhuman! Only a barbarian would ask someone who is serving to wear those horrid devices. I'll bring you an ice pack," he snorted, propping her leg up.
China smiled her thanks as the man scuttled out, swearing under his breath about making waitresses wear heels.
"I see that our mutual friend has you well taken care of," John commented a few moments later, upon returning from the men's room in a jogging suit and putting his duffle bag discreetly out of the way.
"I didn't know an entire suit could fit in one of those things," she gawked.
"As long as you don't care about the condition it re-emerges in they can," he answered, blue eyes twinkling with humor.
A man came into the room carrying a plastic bag and an ice pack. The bag was handed to John with the message that it would keep the stains moist and so the suit might be saved. The ice pack was placed on a chair with China's ankle atop it.
"Miss Berry and Mr. Smith are both friends of mine! They are never to be denied a room to eat if they request one. If there is not a room open come and get me and I will arrange something for them. And I am NEVER to hear you treating another patron so disrespectfully again! Any woman coming in this establishment is to be treated like the princess she is," the lean owner snarled in hushed tones at his employee.
"Mr. Briggs, how wonderful to see you tonight, will you be joining your niece and her gentleman?" Mr. Krizova greeted the immaculately dressed man who had entered.
The man in the pristine white suit stopped dead in his tracks. His expression turned hard. China had said she was working tonight. It wasn't like her to lie to him. She had done that once and the results had been regrettable for her. She had not done it since. As strong willed and stubborn as that girl could be, she did not lie to him. She would argue, complain, plead, debate, and even compromise: but never lie.
"Yes, I will be joining them, thank you," he smiled, following one of his favorite waiters. To the best of his knowledge, China wasn't seeing anyone at the moment. However, since she had the same exotic beauty and grace that had been her mother's, China never had a shortage of men coming to call on her. As she was only twenty, Michael still made it a habit to meet the men who came to see his niece. While she was very mature and sensible in most regards, China happened to be at an age where she was in love with being in love. She had only fought him about one boy and that was back when she was in high school. He had forbidden her to see him and she had stopped, but had been angry, since he was good steady material according to her friends. The disreputable fellow had been picked up for possession of drugs with intent to sell the following week. She had not argued with him about a boy since.
There was laughter in the room he was led to. Raising an eyebrow he entered the dinning room.
"So my horse, Rocket, decided he was not going to do any more jumping that day...." China chuckled, her back to her uncle.
"And I about went into cardiac arrest as my niece careened at that fence at 24 miles an hour on a twelve hundred-pound horse," Michael interrupted as he approached his niece and a man his own age. He liked this man and respected him, but he was not about to allow there to be anything more than friendship between them. She was nowhere near mature enough to handle a relationship with a 35-year-old man!
"China, who is your friend?" he glared daggers in the man as he addressed her.
"This is John Smith. We met at the party where I was serving. He was one of the guests and I, sort of did a number on his suit. He was kind enough to be giving me a ride home, and since neither of us had eaten he offered to feed me," she explained nervously. "John, this is my uncle, Michael Briggs."
"It sounds like you had an interesting evening, John," Michael smiled at the man. It would seem he had done her a service.
"Yes, it was, Michael," John agreed. He had no idea that uncle Michael was THIS Michael! "I was invited to a dinner party and this lovely young lady rescued me from a female hyena. The suit incident was in no way her fault. The harridan had a group of young ladies, one of whom was China, serving drinks and then dinner in Stiletto heels. After nearly an hour on them, China's ankle gave out finally as she was serving soup and that was what caused the accident."
The well-dressed man glanced under the table to see his niece's ankle being iced, and relaxed a bit. She was being cared for so nothing needed to be done on that front. Not that he would expect less of this particular employee of the firm. "That certainly explains your attire."
"Would you care to join us?" John offered. The last thing he wanted or needed was for this one of his bosses to start thinking this was a planned date.
"Thank you, I shall," he smiled pulling up a chair, being careful not to jostle China's injured ankle.
Noting the dark carbonated beverage in front of the dark haired young woman, he smiled his approval.
"Did you really think I would risk getting in trouble over that twice?" she chuckled, pretending to be hurt.
John looked confused.
"I'm underage to be drinking. I've always looked older than I am, however, and once I used that to get myself a glass of wine, since my date was drinking some. I was caught and when asked, proceeded to lie about it. The results were unfortunate. I was supposed to ride in two shows but missed both due to being grounded for the next three months. Two weeks for drinking and the rest for not telling the truth," she confessed.
"Ouch, sounds like a painful lesson, but one well learned," John sympathized.
"It was; I haven't done anything like that since. I would have done well in those shows," she sighed mightily.
"Then your one disastrous show didn't scare you off the show circuit" Mr. Smith asked, admiringly.
"No. I actually did all right in the end on that day," China smiled.
"She's being modest. Her first class A show and she took first in junior hunter and third in open hunter, got dumped in novice jumping but came back and won first in open jumping," Michael beamed.
"I probably would have gotten dumped in the open jumping as well if you hadn't told me to go take my poor ring soured horse and my ill temper and go trail ride for a bit to get us both back on track," she chuckled at the memory of that day.
"And I was proven right when you both returned better for the break and gave a performance that would have done a Grand Prix rider proud," Michael teased, obviously proud of what she had done.
"So do you live in California, John?" she asked.
"No, I'm only here for a few days on business. In fact I leave first thing tomorrow."
"Your last night and you had to go to a party and be chased about by Mrs. Martinson," she laughed.
"Your harpy was Gwen Martinson? The only way to deal with that female is with a fast horse, a fast car, or fast feet," Michael commented.
"I agree. Her husband, Sam, is an associate of mine, however, so I was really required to attend the party. At least with me on the other coast I should be safe," John grimaced.
"I grew up on the east coast. Where about in the east do you live?" China asked, curious.
"New York," her escort answered.
"Really? I grew up in the Hamptons," China marveled at this connection.
The arrival of their food saved John from having to give out any more personal information.
"Well, this is certainly a feast that makes me glad I missed out on the Martinson's dinner," Mr. Smith praised, looking at the delicious food.
"You may be very happy you missed out on that food," China chuckled.
"Really?" Both men asked her in chorus.
"Well, she actually had it catered and it arrived before we got there at four, and it was sitting out on the counters. The refrigerators were too full with the Champagne, so the food was left on the counter and then reheated for dinner," China explained.
The men stared at her wide-eyed. (It was the same expression a lot of people would be wearing the next morning when the papers announced the Ptomaine poisoning that resulted from the catered dinner.)
"In that case, I'm even more grateful for your spilling the soup," John chuckled.
Michael merely shuddered and made a mental note not to ever attend a party they gave, no matter how badly he wanted the information found there.
Good food and good company made an enjoyable evening of laughter and fun for the trio. All too soon Michael was settling the bill and escorting his niece back home, while Mr. John Smith returned to his hotel to see what other international fires he needed to extinguish.
"Control," he answered, picking up the instrument on his desk.
"Oh, dear. Having to answer your own phone now, old friend?" came a crisp British accent.
"Yes, Robert, I am still out a secretary if you're looking for work." he teased, while scanning through a list of available assistants. Maybe one of them would leap off the page and take over the job of running his office.
"You could not pay me enough to entice me to accept that position," Robert mock growled.
"I'll call you back," Control disconnected his phone call.
Closing his eyes and leaning back, he took a deep breath. Maybe this was all a nightmare, or some kind of cruel practical joke. Perhaps he had read that name wrong and there was nothing to worry about.
Eyes opened once more, he glanced at the list of secretaries. Her name was still on it and she was still designated for Marc Lewis. This was not good.
Picking up the phone he dialed a number.
"Yes, this is Control, I would like to have Miss Berry assigned as my personal secretary. I understand that she has been requested by Mr. Lewis, but I have seniority and I am requesting her as well. Well then, Marc will merely have to find himself another secretary who fits his needs, I want Miss Berry!" He hung up on the dithering clerk. Marc would be upset but he would just have to deal with it. There was no way that manipulative and degenerate creature was getting China.
Dialing one more number, Control, scourge and terror of the New York office, cringed. There was a certain deputy director in California who would not be pleased by this.
"Research and development, Mr. Briggs office, may I help you?"
"This is Northern Control I need to speak to him immediately."
"One moment," the cool, professional voice responded.
"What seems to be the difficulty, Control?" Archangel asked, not bothering with small talk.
"Well, I have a new secretary. Her name is China Berry. I thought you might be interested, since she is listed as a new employee," Control began, bracing himself.
"YOU RECRUITED MY NIECE AS YOUR SECRETARY?" Michael roared.
"I did not recruit her. I was looking over the list of secretaries to be placed and saw her name. She was requested and reserved for Marc Lewis. I bumped his request by requesting her myself. You don't want her under Marc, trust me. He is the one person in this office who goes through secretaries even faster than I do," the New Yorker explained.
"He's that bad?"
"Boris Petrov, our favorite KGB interrogator, is easier on his victims than that man is on his secretaries," Control grumbled.
"Is it possible that this Mr. Lewis recruited her?" Michael seethed.
"Very possible, I'm looking into that," Control assured him.
"When does she start for you?" Archangel, asked after a moment of silence.
"Monday morning," came the hesitant reply.
"I want to be there to greet her and find out exactly how this happened," Michael growled.
"We can meet in my office," Control offered. He supposed this was a family affair, but he wanted to be there to reassure Archangel and back up China.
"Monday morning then, and she is not to be told I'll be there."
"Of course not," Control assured him as the two men disconnected.
The young woman exiting the apartment building groaned. With traffic this bad, it would not pay to drive herself, and yet there was not a taxi to be had. Arriving late on her first day at her new job would not be a good thing. Originally she was supposed to be a translator, but since they had too many that spoke the same Asian and European languages that she did, she had been transferred over to administrative support and was going to be a secretary. She had never been a secretary but it couldn't possibly be worse than her last job, or at least it couldn't be more boring. Tonight she would have to call Uncle Michael. She really should have before now, but after her first day she would at least have something to tell him when he finished ranting and raving about her working for the firm.
"The Limo, Miss Berry, please get in," came a voice from behind that she had heard before.
"John Smith? What on earth are you doing here? And why should I get into the limo with you?" she asked in surprise.
"What I'm doing is going to work, and the reason you should get in with me is that all of the taxis are taken and I hate for my secretary to be late," he smiled, opening the door for her.
"Your secretary? I was told that I was to report to a Marc Lewis. I never supposed that John Smith was your real name, but you don't look like a Marc Lewis either," she answered, standing there.
"Thank you for the compliment. I'm not Mr. Lewis. There has been a change of plans and you were reassigned to me. Now, get in the car before we are both late for work, even Henry can only drive so fast," Control carefully enunciated his instructions. China hesitantly got into the vehicle.
He got in after her and signaled Henry, the driver, to go. "I didn't know you had moved back to New York."
"I moved here about six months ago. I was engaged and the man I was going to marry got transferred to New York so I got a transfer here as well," she explained.
"Past tense, you didn't get married I take it?" he raised a bushy eyebrow.
"No, I didn't. He decided he liked the maid of honor more; or at least preferred sleeping with her, so no, the wedding never happened."
"Stupid man," Control muttered.
"Yes and no. He was wise enough to know how ill-suited we were for one another. He was just stupid in how he handled that information."
"And you moved to New York even though the wedding fell through?" he asked.
"I had already made all of the arrangements, so yes, I moved, just not to the address I had planned on. I've been subletting from a friend, but found my own place recently," she answered.
"Really?" he asked.
"Yes, a friend's grandmother was living in it and passed away so I arranged to take it over," she smiled, obviously happy at having her own place.
"I was wondering something. On your file it says you're a linguist, but exactly what languages do you speak?" he inquired. He remembered her speaking fluent Czech, but he was curious as to what other languages she spoke.
"You know those people you hear about in the news or magazines sometimes that can play multiple games of chess in their heads at one time?" she asked, thoughtfully after a moment.
"Well, I'm kind of freakish like that with languages. I can learn almost any language I'm exposed to and learn it quickly. Basically, words make sense to me," she said with a shrug. She couldn't explain this, so was not going to try.
"I see, that still doesn't answer my question, however," he informed her.
"I speak all the major European languages as well as the main Asian ones. I speak Farsi and Russian as well," she rattled off the list by rote as she had for more than one person.
"And they gave you a secretarial position?" Control asked, amazed. It made no sense for a woman like this to be anywhere but in the translations department.
"They said that the languages I speak were filled so that I was best used in other areas," the young woman shrugged again. Her demeanor saying hers was not to question why....
He sat beside her, scowling, in deep thought. Something was awry, if she spoke one or two or even three of those languages, then yes that reasoning might follow that there were enough people who spoke that language, but no way would the languages department give up someone who could speak so many. It was definitely time to find out who had had her assigned to administrative support.
They pulled into the building and made their way to his office.
His office turned out to be an outer room where she would be presiding and an inner room that was his. China looked around and began to relax a bit. She could see herself feeling at home here. It was large, but everything was near enough to be accessible and convenient.
"Go ahead into the office and we'll discuss your duties in more detail. I'll be there as soon as I check on something," he told her.
Nodding, she made her way to his inner office. It was exactly what she had expected. The desk was neat but not paperless. Obviously someone actually worked in this room. There was a tall backed, black leather chair facing the window. Swallowing hard she made her way to one of the other chairs and sat.
"And what exactly, young lady, do you think you are doing here?" came an all-to-familiar voice as the leather chair spun around.
"This is not happening to me," she groaned. "I'm starting my job as a secretary."
"I see, was there something wrong with your old job?" he asked, patiently.
"Other than the fact that I was bored to death sitting in an office translating business documents all day, nothing at all," she snorted.
"Well boredom will certainly not be an issue with this job," he pointed out. "And when were you planning on telling me you had been recruited into the firm?"
"Tonight. I was going to call you, by then I would have had some information for you," she explained.
"You didn't think the mere fact you were taking a job in the intelligence field would interest me?" he asked, his voice going up a bit.
"I thought you would react about the same way you are, if not worse. Besides, I was recruited as a translator, how dangerous could that be?" she asked with a set jaw.
"Sir, she's right, it's not as if she is being given field agent status. She's not going to be in any danger here," Control broke in as he entered the room. From the looks of this it would be best to try and defuse it now.
"How dare you pre-empt my requested secretary!" a tall, dark blond man with gray eyes shouted, as he barged into the room.
"Miss Berry, could you excuse us for a moment? Maybe get some coffee?" Control asked her, never taking his eyes off the intruder.
China got up and headed for the door.
"Sir, this is Marc Lewis, head of internal security" Control gestured at the man who had interrupted them.
"I take it Control took the secretary you had requested?" Michael asked, pretending ignorance.
"Yes," he growled
"As Control has seniority, I fail to see what you can do about it," Michael smiled enigmatically.
"Come," Control barked in response to the polite knock on the door.
China entered with a carafe of coffee and three mugs. Quickly and quietly she set mugs in front of the men and began pouring.
"Well, I guess you get to keep the colored serving girl for now. Of course, as fast as you go through secretaries, I'll get her before long, anyway," Marc smiled, leering at the young woman.
Michael had to fight to not laugh as he saw China loosen the lid after pouring for him.
The bronze ken doll howled as he leapt up. The lap of his perfectly tailored light gray slacks was dark with the hot liquid.
"I'm so sorry, walang tinik bulilit, I really am a hazard with hot liquids," China gushed.
"What did you call me?" Marc roared.
"Walang tinik bulilit, it means big boss man, roughly translated," China answered, biting her lip to stop from smirking.
"Mr. Lewis, you are never to speak to my secretary or anyone else in that manner, in my presence, is that understood?" Control glared, coldly, biting off each word.
Still swearing under his breath, Marc stormed from the room as violently as he had entered.
"I'll leave you to your business," China chuckled as she left the two snickering men.
"I have business to get to in Washington now that I know you're safe, China," Michael admitted, getting up.
"Okay, I'll see you later, then," China smiled, getting a hug from the immaculate man.
"I expect you to keep her safe and sound, Control," Michael admonished the other man.
"I'll do my best," Control promised, shaking the other man's hand.
"China, I'm going to be in meetings for the next few hours, please hold all calls. When a man named Robert McCall comes in, please send him straight in," Control requested a few moments later as they were settling into their places for the day.
"No need, I have arrived. I am, however, dying to know who has Mr. Lewis looking as though he has wet himself," A smartly dressed Briton remarked as he entered.
China blushed as she smirked. "That would be me, I'm afraid."
"Robert this is my new secretary, Miss Berry. She and Marc had a bit of an accident this morning," Control chuckled.
"One day and you are already on Marc's list, I'm quite impressed," the visitor purred at her.
"Robert," Control growled.
"Yes, well, very nice to have met you, Miss Berry," Robert smiled before entering the office his boss was motioning him into.
"Just for the record, what did you call Marc and what language was that?" Control asked, eyes twinkling.
"It was Tagalog, and I was calling him a spineless runt," she scowled.
"Right, thank you. Please hold all calls," he smiled at her. He liked this girl. She could still make him laugh. Now, if there was just some way to protect that unusual talent in this world of his she'd just stepped into.
The tall man was almost whistling as he came upon his front door. A day off visiting with his parents had been exactly what he needed, not to mention the fun of flying himself there and back.
He stopped as he heard a familiar voice swearing in multiple languages. This, however, was not where she belonged. Curiosity had killed the cat according to his mother, but that same trait had kept her son alive numerous times. He just couldn't help himself; he knocked on the door.
"Coming!" a voice bellowed over barking dogs and what he was certain were parrots. Why did it not surprise him that she was an animal lover?
"Kon-nichiwa," answered China, with walnut colored skin, and a voice that still reminded him of wind chimes.
He raised an eyebrow while smiling.
"Japanese for good afternoon," she grinned. "What are you doing here?"
"I live across the hall," he answered, fairly certain that she was giving him an honest translation. His always immaculately dressed secretary was wearing worn and frayed clothes, and dripping with sweat. She was also limping and one foot appeared to be swollen. Evidently she lived here, since as the building owner he was to be informed of all changes in tenants, he would definitely need to be talking to some people. "Why are you limping?"
"Well, I was steaming the wallpaper off the smaller bedroom and dropped the blasted machine on my foot," she sighed.
"It looks swollen. Have you gone to the doctor?" he asked.
"I just did it," she confessed.
"Come on and I'll drive you," he offered.
"I really appreciate that, thank you," she responded, her decision made, while collecting her jacket and purse.
The ride to the hospital was quiet, save for the occasional sharp intakes of breath that told him she was in pain. It fit, somehow, that no matter the pain she was in she wasn't crying, or making a scene.
Luckily it was a quiet evening and she was hustled right in.
Control settled in to wait. Almost an hour later a tallish man with a mustache approached him with smoldering fury.
"Mister, ah, Smith, wasn't it?" the man asked, uncertainly, but hostile.
"Yes, John Smith, can I help you in some way?" he asked, uncertain. Why was this man angry?
"I'm Doctor Haag, Could we talk alone for a moment about the woman you brought in?"
"Certainly, China's not hurt seriously is she?" Control asked, blue eyes dark with worry. She had only been in his office a week, but was already indispensable. She always arrived right on time. Her coffee was strong enough to raise the dead, and so was exactly what he required. She also, he discovered, could take dictation and wrote a kind of shorthand that he was not even going to try and decipher but he was fairly certain it was not in English. In short she was exactly what he needed.
"Well, no she only broke her foot this time," the doctor began hesitantly.
"This time?" he inquired.
"Well it seems that she is a bit ... accident prone. At least that is what she says. She was laughing about the fact that every year she ends up in a cast of some kind and she was about due. In Seventy-one she broke her arm hang-gliding when she came down wrong. Then in seventy-two she broke her leg parachuting; it would seem she forgot to roll when she landed. Seventy-three saw her break her wrist rappelling down a mountain. She hit it against the face of the rock. And in Seventy-four she broke two ribs, three-day event riding on her horse. I'm wondering just how many injuries your wife can claim are accidents," the doctor almost roared.
Both men sat in silence.
"She is not my wife, she is my secretary and I have no doubt that her injuries came about in exactly the way she is saying that they did. She is evidently an adrenaline junkie and those people do tend to get hurt more than others. As for MY ever hurting her or any other woman, I would never lay a hand on any woman in a less than loving manner! I suggest that if you want to make any accusations that you make certain to have all of the facts before hand," Control responded in a quiet even voice.
"He's my boss, and he was kind enough to drive me here. I would never allow him or any other man to abuse me," China snarled, bursting into the room, almost red with fury.
"Miss Berry, a good many women say that and yet domestic abuse is on the rise, I was merely following a logical course of action," the doctor said, doing everything short of patting the irate woman's head.
"By making baseless accusations to a man who has done nothing wrong?" she asked, not calming in the least.
"Nurse Swenson, could you take Miss Berry back to finish getting her foot tended to?" The doctor asked a haggard nurse who had entered.
"I'm not going anywhere until I know that this has been resolved!" China almost howled.
"You'll feel better once you take the pain killers," the nurse soothed as though she were dealing with a frightened child.
"I am not taking the pain killer!"
"Other than getting the painkillers in her, is there anything else that needs to be done?" Control asked, remaining calm; somebody had to.
"No, that's the only thing left," the nurse glared at her troublesome patient.
"I suggest, then, that Miss Berry and I be on our way and if necessary we can pick up some aspirin on the way home," the blue-eyed man glared at the medical professionals.
He and China left quickly with their blessings.
"Why won't you take painkillers?" Blue eyes met brown in the car.
"I don't react well to them; it's kind of a family trait, I think," she explained, leaning back into the car's leather seats.
"Understandable then, I don't like them much myself," he responded, looking over to see his passenger almost asleep in the car.
"I can't believe they thought we were married," she laughed.
"I'm flattered they would think a young woman like you would have an old goat like me," he chuckled.
"You don't seem that old to me." She smiled tiredly.
"That would get you a raise if I could pull it off." He laughed, and smiled at his now sleeping passenger.
He couldn't help glancing over repeatedly at her as he drove home. She looked too young and innocent just then to be involved in his world of lies and deceit. But heaven help him, he would miss her if she went away, and she hadn't even started yet.
He opened the door and she hobbled in on her crutches after him. Instantly the barking and squawking began.
She groaned from the couch and arose.
"Where do you think you're going? You were told to come home and get off that foot," Control growled in a tone that he hoped was sufficiently menacing.
"Well, I either have to walk my dogs or get a very, very large littler box," she smiled sarcastically.
"I'll be happy to walk your dogs. Plural, so you have more than one?" he asked, trying to guide her onto the couch once more.
"Two, an ancient Australian cattle dog named Jojo who's losing his hearing and sight both, and Oso, a large hairy mutt that is afraid of everything, so tends to be a terror to walk," she sighed, remaining upright.
"What do you do with them during the day? Do you have a person come in and walk them?" he asked.
She nodded. "Kari takes Jojo out but Oso waits until I get home since he panics if she tries to take him. He's never fear bitten anyone, yet, but I do not want to give him ideas."
"I'll take Jojo out and then maybe we can see how Oso feels about me," he offered.
She pointed at a door and he went and opened it. A Blue Australian cattle dog trotted out, his eyes almost white. A large tawny colored, long-haired dog sat in the far corner looking at him, shaking.
"Hey Oso, how you doing big boy? Control asked, crouching down and talking to the animal in a soft soothing rumble of a voice.
Slowly, cautiously, the large mix got up and headed towards the stranger. The man held out a hand, palm up. Warily, Oso sniffed at it and walked past him into the living room.
"I'm impressed, he usually won't come out if there's visitors around."
"I grew up around dogs, dad taught me a few things about handling the skittish ones," he smiled.
"Well, I'm still not certain he'll go out without me, so how about you take the dogs out and I go with YOU, so they feel safe?" she asked.
Every soldier knows when to give up and take what you can get, so the dark haired, blue eyed man agreed.
Somehow, the quartet made it around the building. China hobbling along, obviously in pain again. Control holding the leashes While Jojo stopped every foot to add his column to the canine newspaper and Oso shivering and quaking the entire time. Thankfully the hour was late so the dogs finished quickly.
Half-dragging and half leading his pale secretary up to her apartment, he got her once more ensconced on the couch. This time she didn't protest.
"Okay, before I go across the hall, is there anything else you need help with today?" he asked, patiently.
"No, I'm just going to feed the critters and go to bed," she informed him from behind closed eyes.
"Bowls?" he asked.
She pointed to a corner that held two smaller bowls and one large one with water in it.
"Food?" he inquired after gathering the bowls.
She pointed to the pantry.
The bowls were filled and the water refreshed.
"Did I hear birds earlier?" he asked, not certain if they would be fed daily as well. He had never dealt with birds outside of his mothers chickens.
"Yes, three parrots, but I filled their dishes this morning," she sighed, having finally had to speak.
"Here, take these aspirin and call me if you need anything," he instructed, handing her the pills and a glass of water.
Getting up, China swallowed the offered aspirins and saw him to the door.
"Thanks again for your help today. I'm really sorry about that whole thing at the doctor's. I couldn't believe it when I overheard the doctor asking you about me like that."
"Yes, about that, when you're feeling better, we really should discuss your definition of fun," he said, smiling.
"I'll be by again in the morning," he informed her and left.
Locking the door, China stumbled into her bedroom and fell asleep.
There was a pounding on her door. Looking over at the clock, she saw that it was morning. The pounding came again.
Moaning, she rolled over and got the crutches that were leaning against the chair by the bed. She bellowed that she was coming when the pounding began again. It had to be Control, he was the only one she could think of who would be getting her up at this hour, he must have heard her because he stopped knocking.
"Ohayou gozaimasu," she mumbled, opening the door.
"Have I been insulted?" he asked, grinning as he leaned against the doorframe.
"No, just greeted," she responded, moving aside so he could enter.
"Why don't I take the dogs out while you get cleaned up, and then we can get breakfast, okay?" he offered.
She watched skeptically as both dogs were leashed and trotted out willingly, if uncertainly, with him. Not knowing how long they would be she didn't dawdle in showering and dressing.
His knocking twenty minutes later didn't get a response. The din of a hairdryer told him why his knock wasn't answered; and the avian squawks told him he would not be waiting long. The dryer died, and a click was heard as the door opened. Three parrots swooped at him. The dogs were released and fed while the birds looked on, uncertain but curious.
"Is there a reason they're looking at me like that?" he asked China as she re-entered, after putting the finishing touches on her hair and makeup.
"Because they're hungry," China informed him.
"What do they eat?"
"Fruits and nuts, or the parrot food in the bag in the panty, next to the dog food," she answered.
When all the animals were finally fed and settled, the humans headed out.
"Oh, can we take the steamer and return it to the rental place?" China asked as they were leaving.
"No," he told her firmly.
"Okay, I can return it later today," she responded, confused.
"You aren't driving anywhere with that cast on! I'll take it back later today after I finish steaming the wallpaper in that room for you. I assume you still want that done this weekend?" he asked, leading her out.
"You don't need to do that, as much as I would like to get it done this weekend it isn't a necessity," she smiled at him. Obviously touched by his offer.
"You already have it rented and the job started, so we may as well get it done and finished now," he reasoned.
The scathing look he gave her when she asked to at least be allowed to pay him was all the answer she needed. He was not taking money or anything else in exchange for this.
He wouldn't even let her pay her half of their morning meal. She was beginning to think she might be dealing with an old fashioned gentleman.
With the enjoyable meal done, they returned home and in a few minutes she was opening her door to a sight she didn't think existed, her boss in jeans and a t-shirt. The man actually had play clothes.
"Good night! What on earth did the people do to this?" he asked on seeing the mess he had to get through.
"Well, there seems to be four layers of wallpaper, and then another layer of paper that got painted or primed over. I don't know how many layers are under that because I was just about to get it off in the corner I was testing on when I dropped it," she chuckled at his expression of disbelief. She had had the same one when she had found out what she was dealing with.
Half an hour later the future guest room was a sauna and Control was covered in sweat. She had offered to follow along with a scrapper, but he had insisted that for that day she was on the injured list and to stay seated. That made for slow going since it meant he had to steam an area and then hurriedly scrape it, and then steam some more and scrape that little piece.
"Are you certain there is nothing I can do to help?" China asked, peeking her head in yet again.
"Pull up a chair," he answered.
She gave him a puzzled look.
"Supervise, I would hate to do this wrong," he gave her a broad, engaging smile.
"Okay, I'll stupidvise," she laughed, pulling up a chair and sitting in the doorway.
"How did you find out that you could learn languages so easily?" he asked, intrigued by this woman.
"I don't know really. I've just always spoken multiple languages," she answered, after thinking a moment.
"You could always speak foreign languages?" he asked, amazed.
"They weren't foreign to me," she explained.
He looked at her inquiringly.
"My mother was of Peloponnesian and Malaysian ancestry and living on the Solomon Islands when she met my dad. As a result, my mother spoke Tagalog, Solomon Pidgin, Malaysian, and English by the time I was born. Mom considered them part of my heritage so I learned to speak them while I was learning English."
"Your mother had the same ability you do?" Control almost stammered.
"Yes, I guess she did. I never thought about it, really," China shrugged.
"Did your dad speak other languages as well?" he asked, wondering how much of a family trait this was.
"He obviously spoke English, and I remember him speaking Tagalog with mom. I would imagine he spoke other languages since he was in the same business as you and Uncle Michael," she answered.
"Your father was a spy as well?" he asked, surprised. He also noted that both of her parents were spoken of in the past tense. That would fit with her living with Michael.
"I think he was, he would disappear suddenly and for long periods of time. Sometimes not for so long, but always suddenly and with no explanations or warning given. The last one he just didn't come home from," she answered quietly after a moment's thought.
"Certainly sounds like he was one," Control agreed. Maybe he could look into her father for her? Better ask Michael about that one, first.
"Do you think in English and then translate or do you think in another language and translate it to English?" he asked.
There was silence for a moment as she thought. "I never thought about thinking in one language or another, but I guess it would be English."
Control had to almost bite himself not to cheer as a large strip of paper came off. He was finally getting somewhere.
"Ever notice that when we have these getting to know you times, you find out lots about me, and I find out nothing about you?" she asked, playfully pouting.
"Nature of the beast," he replied, giving her one of his enigmatic smiles.
She scowled. "It's not fair. I told you stuff, so you should reciprocate. Where are you from? Are you married? Do you have any kids?"
"I'm a farm boy, anything more will have to wait until your NATO and TS clearance comes through, besides it's need to know and there is no reason for you to know..." he chided her firmly but gently.
"Right, need to know," she saluted.
"So, is Michael from the east coast, or did your parents migrate? I assume your father is his brother since your mother was a Solomon islander?" he asked her.
"You might have the proper clearance, I would need to ask Uncle Michael, but, I know for a fact that you do NOT need to know that," she smirked.
He beamed at her. It seemed she did understand the idea of need to know. As talkative as she had been with him, he hadn't been certain.
A phone rang, resulting in a cacophony of noise.
Using the crutches easily, she hobbled over to the phone. "Hi, Uncle Michael! No, the new job is going great," she gushed, plopping down on the couch to chat.
Hearing a heavy sigh, Control turned to see Oso in the doorway watching him. Evidently the large dog had decided that this new person was safe.
China was happily chattering away, so Control went back to his task. This was hot and miserable work, and he wanted to get it finished today.
A few minutes later, he had sweat in his eyes again. Hearing her on the phone still, Control put down the steamer and pulled his shirt off to wipe his face.
China stood in the door. Okay, she knew it wasn't right to be standing here looking at a half dressed man she happened to work for and who was probably her uncle's age. She couldn't help but admire the tall, lean, muscular frame in front of her.
He turned and she saw what she guessed to be gunshot wounds on his back. She couldn't help gasping, they were right over his heart.
Hearing a gasp, Control looked over at the door and saw her. Blushing, he replaced his shirt. He hadn't heard her return or he would have covered himself sooner.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to stare, really," she blushed furiously. She really hadn't meant to stare.
"At my age, it's flattering," he teased.
"China?" he asked, softly, after a few moment of uncomfortable silence.
"How on earth did you survive? Those shots must have been in your heart almost," she gasped.
"They were, I survived because I didn't like the alternative," he answered truthfully. He still couldn't remember a lot about the incident. It was in Belgrade and McCall had gotten him out alive. He did remember the agony while he was recovering.
"China? It was a long time ago and the wounds healed well. Let it go," he told her after a few moments of silence.
"Here, I brought these for you," she handed him a towel and a cold glass of lemonade and nodding her agreement to let it drop.
He smiled his thanks as he took them. The cold liquid felt good, and tasted better.
"This is fresh squeezed!" he gasped.
"It's the only way I like it, really. I had some lemons and you looked like you could use something cool and refreshing.
"It's prefect," he beamed. The taste reminded him of the dairy farm and sitting in his mother's kitchen.
They didn't talk much the rest of the afternoon, but it was a comfortable silence. There weren't many women he had known who were comfortable just being with someone. Most seemed to feel the need to fill every moment spent together with sound. Yet, she was just fine being quiet. Another rare talent in a woman he was finding was full of remarkable abilities.
He worked while she read or dozed in the chair in the doorway. Sometimes they would talk a bit, but mostly they were just enjoying being in each other's presence.
His ear was still ringing from Courtney's slamming down the phone. Control hung up his own instrument. This was not good. The dinner tonight was a must attend function, certainly; but with the right company it would be quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, she had cancelled on him and he needed a date if he didn't want to stick out like Casanova in a nunnery.
He hadn't like standing her up, but there had been a very hot fire in Gdansk, part of the solidarity movement. By the time he had been assured that his people were safe and the world could sleep for another night, it was far too late to go out. He had called to apologize the next day and had been properly bawled out, but she had agreed to go to this dinner. And now, here it was two in the afternoon and he had to find another date in time for dinner at six.
He reached to turn on the intercom box that would summon his secretary, then remembered that she was still injured. Standing, he walked to the door and stood, leaning against the open doorway. "China?"
"Did I forget something again?" she asked, looking thoughtful as she mentally went through the things she had done that morning. She was still learning some aspects of the job, but was settling in nicely.
"No, nothing like that. There's a dinner function I'm attending tonight, and I was wondering if you were free for dinner?" He inquired.
"I take it your other date cancelled on you?" she asked, teasing.
"Let's just say she declined my invitation," Control admitted.
"Oh, dear. Immune to your charms, was she?" China asked with mock sympathy.
"I never even had a chance to try charming. I barely got out of apology mode," he sighed mightily.
"Well, I suppose I can go with you then and succor your poor wounded ego," she laughed.
Control laughed. She really did have a delightful sense of humor.
"Ready for lunch, hop-a-long?" A woman in her late twenties stuck her head in the office.
"Do you need anything else right now?" China asked, looking towards her boss.
"I can manage for an hour, go ahead and eat," he said with a wave and a smile before returning to his desk and the pile of papers sitting on it. It would seem China was making friends among the other women.
"Um, Jefe, how dressed up do I want get for this function?" China asked from the doorway an hour later.
"I'll be in a dinner jacket. Does that give you an idea?" he asked, looking up at her.
"Yep, time to get out the little gold dress," she grinned.
"Sounds enchanting," he smiled leaning back in his chair.
She grinned and batted her eyes as she returned to the outer office.
The day raced past. Luckily, no bonfires erupted to keep them late, just a few small flames that were quickly handled.
He escorted her to her door after they arrived home. Since she was still on crutches for another two weeks, he took the dogs out. After a moment's hesitation, she handed him her keys so he could get back in, then she disappeared into the bedroom to begin preparations. She would undoubtedly take longer to get ready than he would, but would also look far better.
Half an hour later, feeding the canines and releasing them into the apartment, he called out he was leaving. Standing in the hallway for a moment he heard the lock click and returned to his own abode.
A yowl greeted him from atop the refrigerator. Looking up he saw his coal black cat perched there. He had found her in Cairo while hiding in a back alley. Alley cats were evidently great alarm systems so he was not the one killed that day. In exchange for her help he had scooped the barely grown cat up and brought her home with him. Isis now ruled his condo with a firm paw.
Sighing as she gave him the cold shoulder when he tried to get her down, he let her be. There was nothing like a sulking cat. When she was ready to forgive him, or considered him sufficiently punished, she would come down on her own.
Fifteen minutes later he was dressed in his dinner jacket and ready to go. Muttering to himself about spoiled pets and their owners, he got her a plate of canned cat food.
Purring her thanks, the feline lightly landed on the floor and began on her treat.
"You're welcome. Just don't tell the KGB, or the firm, what a soft touch I really am. It'll ruin my image," he mock growled at the animal.
He had barely knocked on the door across from his own when it was opened. Another point in her favor, she evidently did not believe in keeping her dates waiting.
Then he saw her. The light gold, almost white satin dress setting off the tone of her dark tan skin. The dress was sleeveless with a wide but shallow v, showing very little cleavage, but a fair amount of clavicle. It was fitted through the bodice and hanging in soft folds to just below her knee. It was perfect, not revealing, but very, very appealing.
Her normally loose long hair, was up in a chignon. This new style was definitely becoming on her. He had never noticed how long and slender her neck was, before. He had always thought her beautiful, but dressed like this she was ravishing.
"I'm sorry, you look absolutely wonderful," he beamed, kissing her on the hand.
"Thank you," she blushed slightly as she took the offered arm.
"What should I be calling you tonight? John Smith again?" she asked as they neared the restaurant.
"By all means, since that's my name," he smiled.
She looked at him in disbelief. "Right, John."
She had never been in the Four Seasons and was thrilled when they arrived, as well as enraptured with the elegance of it. John had been attentive almost to the point of hovering, and for once she didn't mind.
They were meeting and greeting and mingling with the other guests. Her foot was hurting a little, but Control stayed close and she was making good use of him for leaning purposes. It had been interesting to watch her boss in action. So far he hadn't indicated if he wanted it known who she was or what she was capable of, so she had spoken only English and had kept politely quiet a good share of the time. A piece of jewelry on Control's arm that just happened to be a walking, talking translator. He had asked and received translations a few times, but for the most part seemed to be following the conversations and keeping track of the who's who guest list.
Then she saw the handsome man with curly dark hair staring at them, or more appropriately, at her. She almost went white.
"Is everything all right?" Control asked her solicitously when she had stiffened suddenly.
"Yeah, sure, everything is fine," she answered softly, swallowing hard.
Control looked at her a moment, she always used very precise English. Yeah, was not a word she ever used.
Turning slightly he saw a man with dark eyes smiling condescendingly at China. It would seem they knew one another and were not on good terms.
Tuning back to his date, he suddenly found himself being very thoroughly kissed. Surprised by this, he was about to disengage himself when the piece fell in place. This must be the groom from the wedding that had never happened. This was probably not the best way for her to handle this, but not wanting to embarrass her, Control kissed her back.
The kiss had evidently had the desired effect in that the young man was no longer looking at China with a sneering expression. Rather he was wearing a look of shocked amazement.
"Okay, that was a very immature way to handle that and I apologize," China mumbled, barely looking at her boss.
"It's all right, I have a few ladies in my past that I would be tempted to do the same thing if I saw them tonight," he assured her, giving her a quick hug. "Besides, at my age, I'm flattered!"
She laughed as they all headed to the tables to eat.
"China, it's good to see you again," the woman gushed at her as she and Control found their seats.
'This is not happening to me' China groaned to herself as she and her boss were taken to seats next to her former fiance and maid of honor.
Glaring at the female that his secretary for some reason wished to avoid, John Smith sat himself down between the two women. It was the only protection he could offer her, but now, the woman would have to talk over him to socialize with China.
"Another one of your accidents? I always told you to be more careful, honey," a voice came from behind the dark skinned woman.
"It's the first one she's had in a while, maybe she'll have fewer with you gone?" Control asked, searing him with blue lasers.
"John, this is Adrian Sabinus, Adrian this is John Smith," China introduced the two glaring men. Both nodded acknowledgement, but neither offered a hand. For some reason, China was having flashbacks to a nature series that had shown an alpha male facing off a young challenger.
"John Smith, what a very interesting name," the woman next to him who had been speaking earlier, commented flirtatiously.
China smirked into her napkin. Control looked at the other woman in disbelief. "I always thought it was very plain and ordinary, myself," he commented.
"Mr. Smith, this is my wife, Cynthia. Cindy, this is John Smith," the man growled the introductions while frowning at his wife.
"Hi," Cindy purred.
"Hello," he acknowledged the greeting and turned to China, ignoring his flirtatious neighbor and her seething husband.
The first course of dinner helped some, as the woman had to give up her vain attempts to get Control's attention. Adrian was ignoring his wife to chat up the woman on his other side. Obviously a very loving and happy marriage.
"I wonder if he brought her to fill the minority quota, or because she's easy?" Cindy whispered just loud enough to be heard.
China looked sick.
Control gritted his teeth and then, turning to his other side, managed to knock the bowl of soup in front of him into Cindy's lap. Moving to grab his napkin and assist her, John managed to knock her glass of wine all over the shrieking, outraged woman.
Biting her lip, China excused herself and hobbled as fast as possible to the ladies' room. Once she was safely inside, she burst out laughing. The look on Cindy's face was priceless.
"I can't believe he did that!" Cindy howled like a banshee as she entered the ladies' room to clean up.
"Maybe he didn't appreciate the comment you made about me, he tends to not like people who make racist statements," China chuckled as she left her former friend to clean up.
Rejoining her escort at the table, China was still smirking. Control winked and grinned as he settled her into her seat.
"Miss Berry, I am sorry, we have been carrying on forgetting neither of you understand this language, it was inexcusably rude," the man on her other side apologized.
"China? Not understand a language? You must be kidding!" Adrian gawked.
"China? How do you say thanks for the information in Italian?" Control softly whispered to her.
"Ringraziamenti per le informazioni," she whispered back.
Smiling Control repeated the comment to the gentleman on his lady's other side. The Italian banker paled.
"I can't believe this evening! Terrible service, none of my food cooked right, and now this happens to my dress!" Cindy complained loudly as she rejoined Adrian.
"Could I see the manager and the chef please?" China asked their waiter. Sighing, the man nodded and went for his superior.
"It's nice to see some people have the guts to complain about bad food and service," the shrewish woman whispered loud enough for people to hear, looking at her husband in a belittling way.
"You wished to see me, madam?" a short stout man asked, approaching her chair with another man in a white chef's uniform.
"Yes, I wanted to let you know what a wonderful job Matthew has done tonight. He has given excellent service, without hovering. I also wanted to thank the chef for an excellent meal," China beamed up at both men.
Both men beamed with pleasure at the praise and thanked her before returning to their duties.
"If you will excuse us, this has been a long evening for Miss Berry, who has not recovered completely," Control said. Lending China his arm, Control led her out. Adrian looked longingly at the retreating woman as his wife in her sharp shrill voice continued complaining about everything.
China settled into the seat of the Cadillac with a sigh. As he got in himself, Control noticed she was still sitting with her head tilted back and her eyes shut. He had not been lying about it being a long evening for her. "China, are you all right?"
"Yes, thank you, just suddenly very tired. What you did to Cindy wasn't nice, but thank you for avenging my reputation," she said, turning and giving a radiant smile in his direction.
"You're most welcome, I'll always be ready to defend your honor and reputation my good lady," he responded trying to sound cavalier.
They both laughed and silently reveled in the presence of each other the rest of the way home.
Control looked at her briefly as he stood at her door. This was a very different China. Not the young child he had met in California, and not the secretary in her professional suits and sensible shoes. This was a woman, and a beautiful one at that. Lifting her chin up, he leaned over and lightly kissed her. "Good night China."
"Good night, Oyabun," She smiled, and turning, retired for the night.
Don't go there old son, he told himself watching her leave. She is your employee, leave her there, it's far safer for both of you.
Closing and locking the door China hobbled to her bedroom, feeling like she was soaring on the clouds. He had kissed her! It was just a kiss goodnight after a memorable evening, but it was a kiss! Quickly changing into comfortable clothes, she sat back on her bed and phones(PHONED) one of her close friends.
"Hey, girlfriend," China greeted the other woman.
"Hey, China, I heard you work for the Firm now?" the other woman answered.
"Personal Secretary for Northern Control. He is wonderful!" China gushed.
"You sound a bit twitterpated, "Marella chuckled at her boss's sensible niece, sounding like a teenager in love.
"He's so unbelievably perfect, Marella. He took me to a business dinner tonight..." China began relating the evening to her uncle's personal assistant, who was also a good friend of hers.
"Uh, China, oyabun is Japanese for boss() right?" Marella asked, hesitantly.
"Yes it is, why?" China answered uncertainly
"Well, it sounds like he kissed you good night, implying you were more than an employee to him, and you basically told him goodnight boss. That's not exactly encouraging him to ask you out again," Marella pointed out.
"I totally did not mean it like that!" China groaned.
"Okay, then on Monday, bring him coffee just the way he likes it and talk to him about this. Tell him you didn't mean to rebuff him like that, and can you have a second chance. Most importantly, talk about this," the woman in California advised over the phone.
"Right, talk to him. Thanks, Marella, I'm going to get the dogs out and then figure out how to apologize," China informed her before they both said good night and hung up.
"I'm stupid. I should have figured that one out," China chided herself as she got the dogs ready and headed out. She stared a moment at Control's door and debated, since she was on crutches she really could use the second set of hands, but after insulting him like that she was not about to ask his help, so went on alone.
"Of all the confounded ..." Control muttered under his breath as he saw the woman he was beginning to know, and who evidently didn't care for him past the role of employer hopping out of the building on her crutches, one leash in each hand and trying to keep her balance. "She's going to get herself killed yet!"
Grabbing his coat he followed after her at a run. Maybe she didn't want him as a suitor, but he was not going to be out a secretary because she was killed in some stupid and very preventable accident.
"CHINA!" Control yelled as he exited the building and grabbed the leash of the bolting tawny dog, while yanking the teetering woman into himself. He grunted, China made an oofing sound as she landed in his lap on the steps, Oso stood at the end of his lead cringing and shaking, while Jojo whined. None of them moved for a few moments.
"Are you all right, China?" he asked, getting air back in his lungs.
"Yes, fine, thank you so much. It was stupid of me to try and walk them on my own," she sighed.
"Here, I'll give you a hand," he offered, helping her up and keeping Oso's leash. "What happened?"
"I had just gotten out here and a car pulled out from in front of the building cutting someone off and another car honked at him and the horn scared Oso so he bolted. On the crutches I couldn't keep my balance and was about to either fall on the stairs or into traffic," China answered, shaken.
"I really am sorry about up there I didn't mean to hurt you. I meant oyabun as a compliment. There are very few people that I would call boss with affection," she explained, hoping he would understand.
"Thank you for the compliment China, I'll try to be worthy of it," he smiled to her, in a kind but very professional manner.
They were silent the rest of the walk, but it was uneasy and neither one were sorry to have it end.
The weekend was long and drawn out. Control had a number of hot spots turn into solar flares on him unexpectedly. Most of his time was spent at the office trying to live up to his name. One rookie agent had learned the effects of giving Control bad data and almost wet himself as he scurried out of his superior's presence. The head spook had tried calling China to smooth things over but either she was not home or she was not answering her phone.
"Hello?" Control picked up his phone, hoping that it would be China, he really did need to talk to her about that kiss. Their being at odds with one another would not be good for their working relationship. It was stupid of him to have kissed her like that but he had, and now they would need to sort out the effects of that.
"Hello, old friend."
Control sighed, and settled comfortably in his chair, it was Robert McCall and he was evidently not in a good place. The background sounds of a bar confirmed that. He had just gotten back from a mission that was a study in Murphy's Law, and his friend had mentioned that he and Kay had decided to start their divorce proceedings. He was guessing the papers had been served that day.
"Robert, tell me where you are," the dark haired man instructed, getting a name and address from his British friend. The place was not exactly on his way home, but what were friends for if not for times like this? Robert had been there for him in need, and he would be there for his friend.
Twenty minutes later he was pouring his friend into the Cadillac. Best to take him back to the condo for the night instead of taking him home and leaving him alone in this condition. He was not going to feel well tomorrow, that was for sure and certain.
China watched from her window as Control half carried the agent upstairs. Getting her crutches she hobbled to the door and met her boss and their friend in the hallway. He was going to need help, they could sort out the misunderstanding later.
Smiling his thanks, he handed her his keys and she opened the door. He indicated a chair with a nod of his head as he assisted Robert into the spare room and got him settled.
"Will Robert be all right?" she asked when Control reappeared, having gotten his guest into bed for the night.
"He'll be fine, he just had a very hard day," Control assured her. He knew the two were friends and that she would be worried.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked, as Control sat in a chair opposite her.
"Save his dignity by not mentioning that you saw him like this if he doesn't remember," he suggested.
"Of course, that would be common courtesy," China answered, sounding a bit miffed that her boss thought she would have to be told not to tease her friend.
"I didn't mean to imply that..." he stopped for a minute, and sighed. "I guess we've both said things that were interpreted wrongly this weekend."
"Yes. What do you say that we pretend that you didn't suggest I would tease a hurting friend, and that I made a more appropriate response to your kissing me goodnight after a very enjoyable evening?" she suggested.
"That sounds like a very good idea," he agreed. "Um, can I get you coffee or something?"
"No thanks, it's a little late for coffee for me. Besides, I really should be turning in for the night."
"I'll walk you back," he offered, getting up and offering her an arm.
"I appreciated your offer of help," he told her as they stood outside her door.
"You're welcome, let me know if there is anything I can do," she offered, opening her door. "Oh, one more thing."
He raised an eyebrow, "The dogs need an outing?" he asked, thinking it would be late for that, but possible.
"No, they're fine for the night, but I could use help in the morning. I was thinking more like this," she informed him, reaching up and returning his kiss from two days previously. "That was the response I meant to give you."
He smiled as she waved before closing the door behind her.
Several weeks later, sighing, Control leaned back in his chair and removed his reading glasses. Why was it that no matter how much paperwork he got done, the pile never got any smaller?
Reaching over, he turned on the radio. With all the problems he was having, at least the problems on the news would not be his to deal with. It would be nice to know he was not the only one with hot spots flaring.
He sat straight up. China's bank was being robbed, and she was going there over lunch! "Please let her have left already!" but no, she hadn't left that long ago, she would still be in the bank.
Groaning, he dashed out the door. China had not been out of the cast for her broken foot more than a few weeks, and here she was right back in trouble again.
"Robert, there's a young woman taken hostage at a bank, let's go!" Control shouted, sticking his head into one of the small, shared offices that Robert McCall occupied with other agents when he was in the office.
"That is indeed unfortunate, but does that not fall under the jurisdiction of our local police?" Robert asked, looking up, but following his boss quickly nonetheless.
"Think of us as unofficial backup. The robbers have hostages and we should help," Control answered in a clipped tone. Robert had never heard it and never wanted to again.
"Oh, to be sure we should. I've just never known you to do anything without there being a larger reason behind it, and I am wondering what it is this time," McCall responded, as the two men dashed for the first available car.
Tires squealed as the two men peeled out of the garage. Robert took a white-knuckle grip on the dashboard as he saw his life flashing before his eyes. Control said nothing but gritted his teeth and broke every traffic law created.
Miraculously, they arrived at the local branch of New York First National Bank alive and in one piece. They got out, Robert pale and ready to kiss the ground. Control however, had gone into a type of predator mode.
"Oh wonderful, Stoner's here, that almost guarantees a bloodbath," Robert growled.
Covering his hand, Control looked up and spotted a scoped rifle. It would seem that the snipers were already in place. "McCall, you try and keep that maniac in hand as long as possible, I'm going to go and see if I can get a view inside from up there," Control instructed, pointing to the roof.
Robert nodded and trotted off to stand by Captain Stoner. Evidently his part in this plan was to buy Control time. Hopefully, Control had a plan.
"Cap, sir, I can't get a shot off," a voice crackled over the radio.
"There will be a man joining him up there shortly, I suggest that he let him try and make the shot," McCall suggested.
"Now, just why would I want to do something like that, Mr. McCall?"
"Because any shot he cannot make cannot be made," Robert enunciated carefully.
"Not with one of my people's guns he won't be," Stoner growled.
"At least give him time to try and get the hostages out in one piece," McCall implored.
"This is my city and my jurisdiction, I'll handle it however I think best!" The man roared at the Brit.
"Then those innocent hostages are doomed. All I am asking, is that you give my associate some time," Robert repeated his request.
"Unless your friend is a miracle worker, there is nothing he can do that I can't," the captain snapped.
"Miracle worker, no, but he does think remarkably well on his feet and rarely if ever fails in his objectives," Robert informed the captain.
"And just what might his objective here, be?" the captain sneered as the radio informed him that there was a stranger joining one of his men and what should be done with this guy who was refusing to leave.
"One never knows exactly what his objectives are, but he is going to get those hostages out alive or make someone pay a very high price for their deaths," McCall explained distinctly and clearly.
The man gave McCall a dirty look. "Oh, really?"
"Yes, really, and if he is up there, then I suggest you and your men be ready for anything at any moment."
Looking down, Control saw his friend and agent talking to the captain. Good, that would get him time to do something. Now if he could just think of what to do. A way of saving the hostages, of saving China. NO, don't think of China, just think of the hostages. Keep everything general, it's just some people in need of help, not her, not dear, sweet, beautiful China. Not the woman who knows how makes him laugh, who understands and appreciates silence, who thanks him for what he gives her and never asks of him what he can't deliver. Not the woman who in six all too short months had blown into his perfectly neat and organized world like a tornado and thrown it into chaos. Not his exasperating, enchanting, life-giving China.
"Sir, you aren't supposed to be up here, this is a police site at the moment," the youngster in the SWAT cap told him.
"Those people have taken my secretary hostage and I'm getting her back!" Control informed him in a low menacing growl.
"I have a civilian up here who is refusing to leave," the kid reported into his radio.
While junior talked to his boss, Control went to the side and looked down into the bank. He wasn't crazy about heights so if possible avoided edges, but no way was something like a fear of heights going to stop him from rescuing his lady. His lady, when exactly had she become his lady? His China, his beloved China.
He could see the hostages sitting, huddled together. Six hostages, and the report said there were three robbers. One of the robbers was moving. Control hissed as he saw the man leering at China. "Please, please, please don't pick now to get mouthy," he muttered.
The robber hauled the dark skinned woman up, and brushed her face with his hand.
"Looks like one of the hostages is being threatened but I can't get a clear shot from this angle," the kid was on the radio again.
The dark-haired blue eyed man glared with fury as he watched China suddenly go totally limp, only instead of dropping her as one usually did, the man flung her towards a wall, almost dashing her against it.
Taking his gun out, Control aimed. This was not the best, or even a good gun for this, but it would have to suffice, the creature as not going to get a chance to follow up his attack. The senior spook pulled the trigger. There was a loud crack. The kid jumped back, the bank window exploded, and the robber was on the floor clutching his now useless arm. Below was pandemonium.
Stoner and his men charged into the bank, guns blazing. Robert was not a half step behind. One of the robbers was on the floor clutching his arm, another one was dead, the third was sitting with his hands in front of him palms on the floor with China standing over him holding a gun, looking like a paper in front of a fan.
The SWAT guns pointed at her, China merely stood pointing the gun and shaking.
"She's one of the hostages!" Robert yelled. China evidently didn't like and was not accustomed to using guns, and until he knew he would not startle or scare her into doing something dangerous and deadly he was content to keep himself and everyone else away from her. The girl was positively gray.
A familiar form shoved past the police and Robert. Control was looking almost as harried as the girl was.
"China, it's all right, you can relax now," he whispered, approaching her. "Here, let me put the safety on, honey," he told her, gently taking the weapon from her and sliding the safety on. Robert took the gun from his boss, as the young lady fell into her employer's arms.
"We'll need her statement, sir," came a voice from behind.
Control nodded. "Robert, take her car back to the office will you? I'm staying here with her until they're done."
It seemed like hours, but finally they were finished with China and Control both. He had growled and snarled most of his answers while hovering over his secretary. She had sat shaking and staring blankly ahead, giving one word answers.
Control was guiding her to his car; she needed to be seen by a doctor. Obviously she was in shock, not to mention she might have hit her head when she hit the floor; he couldn't leave her alone while she was like this.
"Miss Berry, although it was something else once I believe, yes, that's right, it was Briggs. Chinaberry Briggs. I thought you left our neck of the woods after killing your mother?" Stoner sneered at the young woman.
Control spun around, glaring narrowed-eyed at the man. China put a hand on his arm stopping him from advancing on the man. Then, calmly, with no emotion, she walked up and slapped the SWAT team captain. The ring from the contact echoed on the street as the man fell on his rump. Leaving everyone speechless, she turned and headed back towards the car Control was leading her to.
Settling his nearly catatonic passenger in her seat, he went around to the driver's side and drove them to the nearest hospital. How ironic that it was the same one he had taken her to once before.
China meekly and quietly followed him into the hospital. She had not uttered a word since leaving the bank, and even there she had said only what she had to and had spoken in a dead, monotone voice. The only sign of life she had shown since her rescue had been her assaulting the captain, who had certainly asked for it.
"Bringing your secretary in to us again, Mr. Smith?" Dr. Haag asked, entering the waiting room to see China sitting quietly.
"She was held hostage at the bank robbery. She doesn't seem to have come to any harm physically, except perhaps banging her head, but I wanted to be certain she was all right," Control explained between gritted teeth.
"I'll take her in back and we'll have a look at her," the doctor said, motioning China to follow him.
Obediently, China quietly got up and followed the doctor. Control would have remained with her if the door had not been very pointedly shut in his face. China didn't protest or complain, so he returned to his chair to wait.
There had to be something wrong for China to be this lifeless. She was many things but compliant and blindly obedient were not among them.
"Since you are sitting out here calmly and the robbers are still alive, I take it that China is not injured in any way?" a polite, British voice asked him.
"She's getting checked over right now, but seems to be fine, physically at least," Control answered with a sigh,
"Right, now for the question of the hour; why did you not tell me that China was the hostage?" Robert almost shouted.
"Would it have made a difference?" Control snapped back.
"Of course not," Robert snarled,
"Then what reason was there to tell you?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe the fact that I was prepared to go in there and risk injury or death and I have a right to know who and what I am risking that for," Robert replied harshly, throwing his arms up in frustration.
"I'm sorry, old son, but your going ballistic was not going to help her. My going ballistic was bad enough," Control answered wearily as he dropped into the chair he had vacated when Robert entered.
Robert snorted, "You, old friend, would not go ballistic if someone paid you!"
"I would for her, Robert. If someone hurt China, so help me..." Control left the threat open, as he could not think of anything vile or nasty enough to do to such a person.
"I do believe that you just might, at that," Robert replied after a long moment. He had known his boss was fond of the secretary, but not that his affection ran so deeply.
"I think I might actually be in love," Control answered.
"In love?" Robert parroted, shocked.
"Yes, in love. This is not funny Robert," Control growled at the chuckling man.
"I do apologize, the idea of you being in love just struck me a bit funny, old friend," Robert replied, getting himself under control.
"Yeah, well I almost lost her today. I don't know what I would do without her any more, Robert," Control sighed, sounding like a lovesick schoolboy afraid to talk to the girl he sat next to.
"You act as though you have never been in love before," Robert commented.
"Of course I've been in love before, but never like this. Never with a woman I could not walk away from."
"In that case I suggest you take a chance and love her," Robert suggested with understanding.
Blue eyes met blue eyes in disbelief.
"Robert, you must be joking! Do you know how few of the relationships I get into ever worked?" Control almost shouted.
"How many of those did you take a chance on and try to make work?" Robert asked,
Control glared at his subordinate.
"Talk to her, old friend, the worst that can happen is that she will say she's not interested," Robert encouraged.
"And if she says yes and it doesn't work out?" Control raised an eyebrow.
"Then you will have both tried and given it your best attempt," Robert explained.
"Like you and Kay did?" Control snorted.
There was a stifling silence between the two men.
"I'm sorry Robert, I should not have said that," Control broke the silence with one of the few apologies he would ever give one of his agents, to probably the only one he would ever grace with one.
"China is NOT Kay. Kay did not understand and could not accept the world in which we both live. China understands that world, and to a certain degree is even a part of it. Give her a chance, Control," Robert encouraged him.
"Mr. Smith, Miss Berry's ready to go home, now," a nurse called out, leading the tall beauty into the waiting room.
"Well, it would seem you have other tasks," Robert commented, getting up, and with a nod to his employer and China, left.
Control listened as the nurse explained how and when each of the prescriptions was to be taken and that it was very important that they be taken. There was a sedative to help her over panic attacks, and sleeping pills to help her sleep, as well as an anti-depressant to take as needed.
Thanking the nurse, he led China out of the hospital. All of those drugs seemed a bit excessive to him. Hmmm, maybe what she needed was a dose of his drug of choice when things got a bit crazy?
"China? Do you have a pet sitter of some kind for when you go out of town?" He asked.
She gave him a name, staring straight ahead, as she had been since he got her in the car.
"Can I have her number?" he asked, concerned that this creature had taken over his China. There was only one cure he knew of for this ailment and it was not to be found in any pill bottle.
China gave him the requested number in her flat monotone voice.
He called the young woman as soon as they got to his apartment and miraculously she was free to stay with the animals. That left only a few more arrangements that had to be made. Seating her in the living room, he dashed into his room and threw a few days' worth of clothes and a traveling kit into a duffle bag and was ready. Leaving food and water down for the cat, he escorted China across the hall to her apartment. Mindlessly obedient, she went to pack what she would need for a few days away. While she was gone, he called the police and gave them the number of his answering service in case they should require him or China to answer any more questions.
Hearing her still rummaging around in her room, he made one more call.
"Hello?" one of his favorite voices answered. It was a strong, earthy kind of voice. Not the cultured, refined and proper ways of speaking, but a rough, natural voice. It was the voice that had sung him lullabies once, it had explained the mysteries of life, and a few times had even been raised in anger against him. It was a voice that always offered love and reassurance.
"Hi, mom, it's John," he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, releasing some of the stress he was feeling.
"Hello, sweetheart, is something wrong?" she asked, her mother radar picking up that everything was not right with her son.
"I'm fine, I was just wondering if I could come by for a few days with a friend of mine. Her name's China, she ... she needs quiet for a few days," John answered, not certain how to explain who China was and what she meant to him.
"Of course, you and your friend are welcome to come out for a visit. I can't remember the last time you brought a friend home," she chuckled.
"She's a special friend mom, and well, she had a bit of an incident at a bank and needs a little space," he tried to explained without going into all of the details.
"Well, that's just fine, I'll be expecting you both for dinner then," his mother assured him.
Exchanging love and goodbyes he disconnected the call. Everything was set. A few days on the farm under his mother's care would set China right far faster than the bottles of pills would.
He glanced over at his passenger as he pulled into the long driveway of the farm. She hadn't said a word the entire trip. Most of the way she had appeared to be sleeping, if so, she wasn't looking any the better for her rest. "We're here."
Soundlessly China extricated herself from the car.
A door banged a bit as a small, round woman came out to greet the visitors. "Dinner's almost ready, you go get your father, and I'll take this poor child inside, dear." She instructed the man as she smiled reassuringly at the young woman he had brought home with him.
"China, this is my mother Rebecca Smith, Mom, this is my assistant and friend, China Berry," Control said, introducing the two women in his life to one another.
China smiled uncertainly at her hostess, and the older woman softly smiled back.
"Folks around here mostly just call me Becca, you just come on inside and we'll get you settled, honey," the gray haired farmwife led the lost girl inside.
Seeing that they were getting along, as he was certain they would, Control headed towards the milking barn
"Well, your mother mentioned you were coming in for a visit. I didn't hear Jenny so you must have driven," his father commented.
"I brought a friend with me and she wasn't up to flying," he explained.
Thomas Smith raised an eyebrow, as he exited the barn for the night after giving one final pat to a bovine rump.
"Her Name's China Berry, she's my secretary. Around noon today, she was taken hostage in a bank robbery. Physically she's fine, but she not herself. I thought a few days on the farm would help set her right," the younger man explained.
"If your mother's love and good cooking can't put her right, nothing can, John," his father assured him as the two men headed to the house and some of that good cooking.
The fried Chicken had just joined the mashed potatoes, green beans, and cranberries as the men joined their ladies.
"John, could you bring the rolls in?" the matriarch asked.
Her son stepped into the kitchen and returned quickly with the homemade rolls.
China didn't say anything during the meal, but was following the other three's conversation with her eyes, which were beginning to show some of their usual life.
Control found himself relegated to kitchen duty following the delicious meal. China was sent upstairs to soak in a hot bath, while Thomas sat at a large desk and began tending to the business side of his dairy farm.
How many, many evenings had he spent like this in his life, Control wondered; his father sitting at the large desk tending to the bookkeeping or herd diaries or any one of the other ten thousand tasks that were part of modern farming, while he and Paul cleaned up the kitchen and his mother sat sewing, or doing some other household chore. Often the radio would be playing softly or one family member would be reading aloud. He didn't remember it as a bad time of his life, more than once he had wanted to go back to those far simpler days.
"What happened to that girl?" his mother asked, breaking him out of his reverie, joining him once she was certain that the two spare rooms were in order.
"She went to open an account at a bank closer to the office today over lunch and the place was robbed," he sighed, "She was used as a hostage."
"Poor thing, she seemed a bit overwhelmed and being a hostage would certainly do that to a person. Was she hurt at all?" his mother asked, taking up the drying cloth and wiping the dishes he was washing.
"No, she wasn't hurt. But it didn't exactly have a peaceful resolution for the bad guys," he explained.
The old woman nodded her head, she didn't like the violence of her son's world, but she accepted it. John had always had a desire to help others and a very strong sense of right and wrong. Her son hadn't stood for bullying in the schoolyard when he was a child, and these days he seemed to have simply expanded his schoolyard to include the entire world.
"She'll be fine," she assured him, seeing the wrinkled brow he got when he was worried. This young lady was far more than a secretary, that much was obvious. John had never brought a woman home with him from New York. Obviously she was important if he was willing to bring her here.
"Thanks," he smiled and hugged her. He didn't believe for a moment that she didn't know how important China was to him. When he was a young child, she had convinced him that mothers knew everything, and while he no longer believed that, he did believe that she knew almost everything.
All of them turned in early that night. China went to bed right after her bath. His parents, having a farm to run from sunup to sundown, retired early as well.
Not tired, but not really able to focus on anything, he settled in to watch the news. The bank robbery didn't even make the news out here. Hurricane Michele it would seem, however, was wreaking havoc on Florida.
Michael! Control groaned, if he didn't let the man know what had happened to his niece, Michael would be hurricaning him! Looking at his watch he sighed, there was every chance the man was still at his office.
"This is Northern Control, I need to speak to Archangel," he requested before the receptionist could even say who's office it was.
"John is China alright?" he asked in a concerned voice.
"She's going to be fine," he assured the Californian.
"What happened to her?" came the clearly enunciated voice that was Archangel`s.
"She was opening an account in a bank that was more convenient for the office and her condo. She took an early lunch so that she would be finished by the time it got really busy. While she was in there, the bank was robbed and she was taken hostage. I heard it announced on the radio and raced there with Robert, one of my senior agents," Control stopped to get control of himself as he relived the events from earlier that day.
"Did they hurt her at all?" Michael asked in cold fury.
"One of them, he was, he touched her, on the face, I, I shot him from the rooftop across the street. All I had was my handgun, but I made it," Control rushed, the adrenaline catching up with him.
"And then the police rushed in and saved the hostages?" Michael finished for him.
"Things happen fast in those situations, as you know. China and the other hostages were sitting together on the floor of the lobby. One of the robbers stood watch on the front door, another was standing over the hostages and a third was watching the back. A fourth one was in back grabbing the loot. Evidently these guys were amateurs. The guy grabbing the loot was unarmed and the kid watching the back was so young and scared he may as well have been unarmed."
"John! Get to the point here, what happened to China?" Michael asked, impatiently.
"The man guarding the hostages had been talking suggestively to her the entire time. He picked her up and brushed her face with his hand. She was scared he was going to start touching her, so she played dead, hoping he would drop her. Evidently he was offended by her rejections since he practically threw her against a wall. I had seen him doing that and shot, hitting him in the arm, from the roof across the street. When I shot him he screamed and dropped his gun. China, thinking he might hurt someone, grabbed the gun, which had fallen by her. Hearing his friend screaming, the man by the front door came in back to see what was going on. China saw him moving as if he was gong to grab one of the kids and use him for a hostage. Not knowing what else to do, she shot him. The third guy, hearing the shot up from the back and seeing her with a gun pointed at him, dropped his and gave up. That was the point where the police came storming in to rescue them. The guy getting the loot didn't even know what had happened while he was downstairs," John Smith finished the report to his boss.
"China had to shoot someone? Is he dead?" the Californian asked. He was well aware of his niece's dislike of guns and violence. For all of her spirit and sassiness, she was at heart a gentle soul and would not like to hurt, much less kill, anyone.
"He's dead, killed instantly," Control confirmed.
"How is she taking it? Was she hurt in any other way?" he asked the leading question on his mind.
"Yes, she was badly frightened but nothing else. The doctors gave her a bunch of drugs to take, but she doesn't like drugs. She's been so quiet and lifeless I didn't want to risk leaving her alone, so I took her with me out to my parent's farm. I thought the rest and fresh air out here would do more good for than the drugs would."
"Good call, have her phone me when she's up to it, would you?" Michael asked.
"Of course" Control readily agreed, having heard the relief in his boss's voice at the news that China was safe and on the road to recovery.
"John, what exactly are your intentions towards China?" Michael asked, after a pause. Over the last six months he had heard enough about her intelligent, thoughtful, kind, mature, and just generally perfect boss to know how China felt about the senior spook, the question at this point was if the feelings were returned. From the worry in his voice, Michael was willing to bet his subordinate had fallen head over heels for his much younger assistant.
"At this point, I was merely contemplating perhaps asking her to dinner or a concert, some time," Control answered. "If I do decide to ask her, would I have your blessing?" He felt a little funny asking the permission of a man his own age to date an adult woman, but he respected and admired Michael and knew the uncle had taken a fatherly interest in his niece.
There was silence for a moment as both men contemplated the ramifications of it if the senior spy did take a chance on asking his secretary out.
"I would suggest a baseball game or polo match if you really want her to say yes. Just go slowly and remember that for all of her sophistication and maturity, she is only twenty five," Michael warned; his blessing if those rules were followed evident in the calm, relaxed tone of his voice.
The two men wished one another good night and Control went upstairs. As he passed her door, he couldn't help himself; he looked in to make certain she was all right.
She was curled up in a ball, whimpering; evidently she was having a nightmare of some kind. Gasping, she woke, dark brown eyes almost black in panic.
"Are you all right?" he asked quietly, not moving from the doorway.
"Just a little disoriented," she responded, relaxing as she remembered where she was and saw that the intruder in the doorway was Control.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked, entering the room now that she was herself again.
"Well, if you don't mind, maybe stay with me until I fall back to sleep?"
"I would be happy to. Do you like poetry?" he inquired.
"Some I do, it depends on the writer," she answered.
"Robert Frost or Robert Service?"
"Robert Frost is one of my favorites, I don't think I've ever heard of Robert Service," she commented, showing interest in something for the first time, really, since being a hostage.
"Service is kind of a poetic Jack London," Control explained.
"They both sound good," she smiled.
Control left the room and returned in minutes with two books of poetry. One was Robert Front and the other Robert W. Service.
Taking the chair next to he bed, and seeing that she was nestled into the bed, he put on his reading glasses, and read to her from the well worn books.
With in a half an hour, she was sleeping peacefully in the bed, no hint of the earlier nightmare. Control looked down on her and smiled as he rose to leave the room. She looked even younger and more childlike while sleeping than she was when awake. He shuddered again at the thought of how close he had been to losing her today. "Goodnight, sweetheart," he whispered leaning over and kissing her lightly on the forehead.
"Good morning dear, you do look much better, if I may say so," Becca commented, on seeing her guest emerge the next morning.
"Thank you, I'm definitely feeling better," China replied, smiling.
"The men are getting the animals tended, but should be in before too long," the matronly woman answered the question China had been about to ask.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" the younger woman asked.
"You could collect the eggs for me," the older woman answered after a moment's thought.
"I'd be glad to, is there anything special I need to know about it or do I just search the pen?" China asked, hoping her question wasn't too stupid.
"Just collect the ones in the nesting boxes," Rebecca instructed as she pointed to where the chicken coop could be seen.
China headed out to gather the eggs as Rebecca began the preparations for the coffee. When the men came in from morning chores, the meal would be ready.
Ten minutes later, the men were sitting with their coffee while Becca was getting the table set. The parents were bringing their son up to date on the latest news of family and friends, and the dairy prospects for the coming year. The conversation was ended by a loud squawk and a curse in some unknown language from the vicinity of the chickens.
Three stunned faces followed as China entered the kitchen carrying a dead rooster in one hand. Her clothes were disheveled and ripped, one eye was black, and she had scratches on her arms.
Wordlessly, she handed Control the chicken and continued on her way to the stairs and the bedrooms upstairs.
The three people stared after her, and then stared at the dead speckled rooster in Control's hand, and then back at the young woman who was now upstairs getting cleaned up and changing clothes.
"Son, I had a woman hand me a rooster like that once. Take my advice and find a way to marry that woman," the older man chuckled.
"She has got spirit I'll give her that. And I won't be sorry to lose that rooster, either; he has always been a mean thing," Becca commented, taking the bird from her son. "I'll be hanged, looks like she just reached out and throttled this bird."
"I imagine that is exactly what happened," Control laughed. His China was back.
A few moments later his lady was back with clean clothes and a few bandages.
"Here let me get an ice pack for that shiner," the gray haired woman offered, still laughing. Here, finally, was a woman who was able to handle her son. And if the suffering she had seen in his eyes when he had brought her here was any indication, he was well aware of it.
"What exactly happened?" Control asked, concerned.
"I was reaching down to collect the eggs from one of the boxes and that chicken attacked me. After being a hostage, I refuse to be intimidated by a bird. So when it came in for a second strike I reached out and grabbed it turned it into a propeller," China explained, holding the ice bag over her discolored eye.
"There is one other thing I'm curious about, where on earth did you learn to speak Solomon Pidgin?" the senior Mr. Smith asked.
China turned red, while Control covered his smirking grin behind a napkin.
"I do apologize for my language. I didn't realize there was anyone here who would understand what I was saying," China grimaced.
"No offense taken since you weren't speaking to me, I was just curious as to where you learned that language?" the older man smiled.
"My mother, she was a Solomon islander of mixed heritage. As a result I grew up hearing her speaking a number of the pacific and oriental languages," China explained.
"Where abouts was your mother from in the Solomon's? I spent some time there myself in World War Two."
"Guadalcanal area," China answered.
"Really? That's exactly the area I was in!" The graying man answered, beaming at this odd connection.
Control smiled with joy as he watched China captivating his parents while the meal was eaten. She and his father chatted away about places they both had been in and remembered. It seemed that she had traveled a great deal in the islands and so had visited some of the places his father had been to on leave His mother was fascinated by all of the languages China spoke as well as the different cultures she had experienced. By the end of the meal she would have been welcomed in that home even if she were not with their son.
Tom finally had to excuse himself to get back to the chores. It was suggested that John might take China out on a tour of the farm, and the two younger people headed out together. Rebecca declined to join them as she had some speckled rooster and dumplings to make and the house chores to be done.
"I didn't know you had pigs, I thought this was strictly a dairy farm?" China commented, smiling as she watched the large animals.
"That's Laurel and Hardy. Each spring we buy two weaners, and then in the fall we butcher them. We keep the meat from one and the other is distributed among needy families," Control explained.
"How can you eat an animal that you had a name for?" China asked, looking a bit green.
"Clover was quite tasty, as was ham hock from what we hear. We can eat them after naming them because we never think of them as pets," he informed her.
He gently led her past the sty, hoping she had not just become a vegetarian. A cream-colored draft mare greeted them as they left the pigs.
"This is Nell, Dad used to use her to pull all the stumps and move stones and things, these days she pulls the manure cart but that's about it. She's mostly retired, but she was quite a worker in her day," Control praised, patting the animal's neck affectionately.
As he had hoped, the equine put China back in a happy frame of mind as she pet and stroked the friendly horse. There was no comparing the worker with the sleek athletic horses that China and her uncle had always ridden, but it was obvious that the mare was a loved family member in honorable semi-retirement.
Bovine faces looked at them inquisitively as they walked along the fences. China was informed that they were Milking Shorthorns, a combination beef and dairy type. They were all nice and docile animals; perfectly amiable to getting a pat and a scratch, but not demanding the attention either.
"Isn't that one cow hurting the other by standing on her like that?" China asked nodding towards a corner of the pasture where one animal was standing on another.
He could not help himself, Control doubled over laughing.
China stood smiling and waiting for her escort to regain his composure enough to share the humor.
"First of all, the one on top is not a cow, that's a bull named Ferdinand, and he's not standing on that cow, or at least that's not all he's doing to her," Control explained, wiping away the tears of laughter from his face.
"Got it," China blushed, but was also laughing at her error. "I didn't realize bulls were allowed to pasture with the cows. Aren't they much harder to handle?"
"They are a lot harder to handle, but Ferdinand was an orphan, so was hand raised on a bottle. He's a big overgrown baby mostly, but he's also dad's pride and joy," Control explained, thinking about how much his dad loved that animal.
"Those bulls seem pretty easy going," China offered point towards a group of obviously not cows.
"Yes, well, those aren't bulls any more, they're steers. They were altered almost as soon as they were born." Control grinned.
"Okay, now that I have made a complete fool of myself, can you show me the bulls?" China said, laughing at her own mistakes.
"That show-off over there doing the muscle poses is Prince, the other senior sire. The two standing down from him are Pacos and Hombre," Control said pointing to each in turn in the next pasture over.
Sounds of bleating welcomed them at the last pens. One of the brown bodies stood on her hind legs, climbing the pen wall and licking at China's fingers. In the pen was a herd of goats. The two stood against the fence watching the antics of the goats.
"I'll be back in a few moments," he assured her, as he went back towards the barn.
China nodded her acceptance and continued petting the goats, and laughing at the antics of the kids.
Hearing a horse's hooves she turned to see Control driving up in a buggy being pulled by the mare they had seen earlier.
"You know how to drive a horse?" she asked, scrambling up to sit next to him.
"Driving the manure wagon was one of the chores us kids helped with," he explained, clicking to the mare to get her going.
"Did the nightmare come back last night or did you get some sleep?" he asked hesitantly after a few moments' silence.
"No, the nightmare didn't come back," she responded, only giving him the information he was asking for, not what he wanted.
"China, I want to help, I know something about nightmares that won't leave."
Silence prevailed for several more moments as the horse trotted happily along the path, seeming to thoroughly enjoy the outing.
"Did it have something to do with Captain Stoner's parting comment?" Control asked, carefully feeling his way about lest he trigger an emotional landmine.
"No it's not tied in with my nightmare at all, but I do suppose you deserve an explanation of what that was all about," China snorted.
"Only if you want to give me one," he answered. "I just thought it was a nice day for a drive in the country and that the old girl could use some exercise.
"My parents fought a lot. Mom would get mad that Dad had left her home alone with Trevor and me for weeks on end, and when he came home she would yell and scream and carry on until he would leave again for even longer than he had before. Finally, after their last fight I just couldn't take it any more and ran away from home," China related.
"Where did you go?" he asked, trying not to envision all of the bad things that could have happened to a woman with China's looks living on the streets.
"I took all of the money I had and bought a plane ticket to California. Once I got there I went to Uncle Michael's, but he was out, so I camped out on his doorstep and he almost tripped over me when he got home that night." she chuckled a bit at the memory of her surprised and not very happy relative.
"I bet he was surprised," Control smiled, imagining the man's expression on coming home to find his niece had run away to live with him.
"To put it mildly, but it did mean I had an air-tight alibi for my mother's murder. I was in California at the time and Michael as well as number of his friends saw me and could verify that I was with him when she was killed," she elaborated, finishing the tale.
"Then, what was Stoner's problem?" Control growled.
"He was the investigating officer at the time, and felt that I was guilty but bought out of trouble since I was a rich girl from Hampton," China shook her head and gave him a slight smile. "There isn't really much I can do about him, but luckily we don't cross each other that often."
Control nodded his understanding while making a mental note to talk to the chief of police about the Captain's harassment of a citizen in good standing.
"Do you have any idea who might have killed her?" Control asked, ready to add another name or two on to his mental list of people to check into.
"Everyone thinks it was my father because of that huge fight they had, but I have a hard time believing he would do that. My mother was the one with the temper, dad would just walk away until he calmed down. He disappeared though, so no one can ask him where he was," China sighed.
Control once more debated the wisdom of looking into her missing father. It sounded suspicious, but Michael might resent it. He would ask the man about it sometime in the near future.
"Does your missing father tie in with your nightmare last night and why I startled you so badly?" he asked, quietly.
"Kind of, maybe, I'm not certain," she answered softly, fascinated suddenly by some yearling calves they were passing.
He moved closer to her, and reaching out touched her chin with his fingers. He tilted her face up, forcing her to see his very real concern.
"Were you hurt as a child?" he asked, hopping against hope the answer was no. Nothing angered him like people who hurt children, especially their own children.
"I have these vague nightmares that I really can't remember, about a big man pinning me to the bed and touching me when I was little. My father is the only one that it could have been, but I can't imagine it was him. He was, if anything, overly doting because he was gone so often and for so long. And he would not have threatened to take mom away if I said anything. I just can't think of who else it might have been, and the truth is I can barely remember it. It just comes back in nightmares when I've felt threatened or helpless."
"Like when you are taken hostage and then have a window explode and a man shot in front of you?" he supplied, feeling guilty for the part he played in that, necessary as it had been.
"Yes, that is certainly a situation that will result in my nightmare appearing again," she answered.
"China," he said wrapping his arms around her and once more forcing her to look at him. "I don't care what happened to you in the past. I want to be here for you and help you in the present."
"You already are helping me, and have been here for me from the day I started working for you. I'm glad that you aren't worried about my past, though," she smiled up at him.
"Did you ever manage to get that tux clean?" she suddenly asked as they were heading back to the house, hand in hand, the ride having done it's job in helping them reconnect.
"No, as a matter of fact I didn't. You owe me for that," he told her.
"Really? Do you have a receipt?" she teased, playing along.
"No, but if you let me take you out to a ballgame or the theater sometime we'll call it even, okay?" he grinned at her.
"I would like that," she smiled back.
Control beamed as he pulled her in for a hug and left one arm around her as they headed in for a meal of speckled rooster and dumplings.
Halo!nazdar! Mr. Krizova could tebe nechrnen jeden dokzat komnata do Mr. Kovr a J , my mnel jsem kus neurc. clen dopadajc I'm v obavch = Hello Mr. Krizova, could you open a private room for Mr. Smith and I, we had a bit of an incident I'm afraid <Czechoslovakian>
Bt zavzn tebe , dvn druh , J apreciate tebe pomoci = Thank you, old friend, I appreciate your help. <Czechoslovakian>
wang tinik bulilit = spineless runt <Tagalog>
Kon-nichiwa = good afternoon <japanese>
Ohayou gozaimasu = good morning. <Japanese>
jefe = boss <Spanish>
oyabun = boss <Japanese>
Ringraziamenti per le informazioni = Thanks for the information <Italian>
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