The Paint Gun
  by Mona Morstein

Author's warning: Mona Morstein adamantly states that any reader MUST be over 18 years old to read her stories and if someone DOES read her story they are agreeing to that point and ARE over 18. If you ARE over 18, ENJOY; if you are NOT, then
other authors have stories you can read and enjoy.

 

Meanwhile, Emma and Purdey arrived at Knight Industries. The drive to London had been silent, as Emma's mind continued whirling with the illuminating thoughts that her brilliant mind had tangentially conceptualized the day before and had formed into a remarkable theory.

It had all happened after Steed had pinned her arm. Running from him she had secluded herself in her study, first too distraught to think of anything but how her life was imploding around her. Then, she sat down and once more began wondering who was the man causing such havoc to them? Why was the Ministry so unable to find him?

It was then that her brain cells, so adept at radical breakthroughs, electrically burst out a stupefying proposition.
What if the man wasn't Steed's enemy, but hers?

Her mind had begun toying with that idea, teasing it out, delving into it. If he had been Steed's enemy, the Ministry would have had, by now, a clue as to who he was --they detailed enormous monies to keeping track of the dangerous criminals their agents had arrested. They had been unable to find anyone who find the profile of the man and who was not accounted for in Steed's file of enemies --a file over six inches thick. It only made sense, then, that it wasn't someone aligned to Steed's past. That meant, that it had to be connected to Emma's. After all, anyone who knew her, and wanted to destroy her, would know that having her accidentally kill her dear, cherished husband, the man that meant everything in the world to her, would be the most diabolical way to seek revenge against her.

It had to be. The Ministry was so fixated upon the man being related to Steed, they hadn't investigated the premise that he could instead be related to Emma.
And Emma wasn't going to give that concept to them; she was going to investigate the man herself.
She was going to kill him.
She was going to end this nightmare and earn her husband's trust back.

Emma reviewed all the possible ways she had made enemies in her short life.
Emma had been in business for twenty years, in the upper echelons of a competitive field. At first, taking over Knight Industries, she had to fight against middle age men to maintain her position and who constantly demanded she prove her worth. She had made enemies then, men who had wanted to rule her shipping company. She had made enemies when she had bought an electronics company, to expand their holdings. She had made enemies when her company had outbid another, when she had gained a contract over another business, when they had come out with a new product first, or made an established product better. She had made enemies working with Steed, but all those enemies were his, too. She had made enemies when Steed had chosen her for his wife. She had made enemies recently when she had had to make redundant so many Targill, Inc. employees--. Emma felt a tingle go through her as she remembered what she had heard in the female employees bathroom. She almost yelled out "Eureka!" That had to be it! The timing was too close to be coincidental. Just when employees are made redundant the attacks began.

Emma had never been surer of anything in her life. All the other potential people who could have hated her she knew: female rivals of Steed's affections, CEOs of other companies. But, who she wouldn't recognize were the people she had never met but had indirectly fired. Sure, some CEO could have hired a person to hand her a gun, but these attacks seemed so personal, that Emma was sure the man who loathed her was the same one who had given her the gun, and who had dressed like an old lady and poisoned the dates.
She was sure she could find that man.

She had called Madge last night, and told her efficient secretary that first thing in the morning she wanted Madge to give her a list of all the Targill, Inc. employees who had been made redundant in the merger. Madge, using the same old stiff, monotonous voice, had not asked Emma why, for the first time in fifteen years since she had worked for Emma, Emma had called Madge at home. Madge simply answered, "As you wish, Mrs. Steed."

Arriving at Madge's desk, Purdey behind her, Madge had opened her mouth to speak. Emma curtly shook her head back and forth, and said, "Madge, please bring paper and pen in to my office. I should like to dictate a letter."
"Of course, Mrs. Steed," Madge said, gathering up said articles, plus a folder and following her boss into her office. Purdey took position outside the office door.

Emma sat down behind her desk. "Pull up a chair, please. I need to talk to you."
Madge did as directed, crossing her legs perfectly. She waited for Emma to speak more.
"You know that I was responsible for shooting my husband. Well, almost a week ago, I poisoned him. The same man who caused me to shoot him, set it up so I poisoned him as well."
"I take it Mr. Steed has made a full recovery, Mrs. Steed?"
"Well, he survived the poisoning, just barely. But, he's now very weak and it will take some time and a great deal of effort for him to regain his strength and vitality. In the meantime, unfortunately, he has lost a bit of trust with me."

Emma had never confided in Madge like this. They had had the perfect employer/employee relationship, and both had been quite satisfied with that arrangement. Yet, for Emma to succeed in her goal of capturing the man, she would need Madge's help, silence and confidence, and so figured that telling Madge everything from the start was her best policy. She needed an ally and Madge Hawkins appeared to her to be the best aide she could wish for.

"I see," Madge said, narrowing her eyes in her attempt to understand what this was about and where it was leading.
"You may be aware that my husband works for the government. They think one of his enemies is behind the attacks. I did, too, at first. But, now I'm sure that actually someone who has a grudge against me is instigating all this. That's why the government people can't track him down; they are looking in the wrong places, following the wrong path of thought."
"But, what enemies do you have, Mrs. Steed?"
"Well, here and there I've no doubt picked up a few. But, consider the timing of all this trouble --it began right when I made a number of Targill, Inc employees redundant. I've heard, by chance, that some of those ex-employees are rather bothered by their losing their jobs. I'm sure that one of them is seeking revenge against me."
"Indeed. I see. Hmmm…" Madge went off into thought herself for a few moments. "I must say that I agree completely with your views, Mrs. Steed. And that is why you wanted a list of all the employees who the merger made redundant."
"Right. Did you get it?"

Madge pulled some papers out of the folder on her lap. "Yes, from Beatrice Furman, the Head of Personnel at Targill. She was very helpful and assured me that she wouldn't tell anyone what I had asked for. She had a messenger service bring them over just minutes before you arrived."
"Lovely," Emma said, getting up and walking around her desk. She pulled a chair over to sit beside Madge. "Let's have a look at them, shall we?"

They studied the list --there were twenty-eight employees on it, eight woman and twenty men. Also listed were their addresses. But, there was nothing mentioning what they looked like physically and that was to be a key for Emma.
"Madge, I need you to call up Beatrice Furman. Tell her that you have a favor to ask her; if she does it you can guarantee that her salary will go up 5,000 pounds yearly from now on. But, she must not share this task with anyone."
"You wish her to get a physical description and personality traits of each male employee who has been let go."
Emma smiled. "Perhaps you should have gone into government work yourself, instead of becoming a secretary."
"Mr. Hawkins is an Inspector with Scotland Yard. And I favor reading mystery novels. As such, with such influences in one's life, one might be able to put together the pieces of a mystery such as this."

Emma was beginning to see the person under the reserved, perfectionist of her secretary, and she was finding out she liked her.
"Yes, exactly. That will help me narrow down the people to more specifically investigate. Now, listen, it's very important that you keep mum about this yourself, and not let Purdey or anyone else know what we are about. I told you the whole plan as your help will be so vital, but no one else can find out what I am doing, do you understand."
"I would be plainly insulted if I did not understand your need to ensure absolute privacy in this matter."
Emma felt a little contrite. "Oh, sorry."
"I assume you wish this new information to be uncovered as soon as possible?"
"Yes. Tell Beatrice to stop all other jobs and concentrate on this task alone. She can ask co-workers of the ex-employers what they were like; perhaps under the auspices of more effectively closing their files yet being prepared for any litigious action they might endorse. I think that would suffice."
"I will relay all this to Beatrice promptly. Is there anything else?"

Emma touched her arm. "Just, thank you for helping me."
"Mrs. Steed, I have only met your husband a few times, when he came to see you here. However, even in those brief interludes, I can say with certainty that your relationship with him is superb, perhaps magical, and deserves to live out its natural life without some disgruntled scoundrel tragically and prematurely ending it. Besides there is a Secretary's Law that one pledges oneself to and that is --what is done to the boss is done to the secretary. And please forgive me for my blunt language, but count me in for avenging yourself against this ruddy bloke."
It was the longest speech Emma had ever heard tight-lipped Madge say in fifteen years. She loved every word of it. She smiled at Madge, who sat with an unemotional look upon her narrow face.
"Goodness, I'm glad you're on my side!"
"Undeniably so. Now, If you'll excuse me? I'd like to use the phone on your desk, to avoid having Purdey hear me talk to Beatrice."
"Of course, go right ahead."

Madge rang up the Head of Personnel at Targill, Inc., within days to formally be changed to Knight Industries. Madge explained the entire situation to Beatrice, repeating several times to a startled Beatrice the pay raise she would receive if she went along. Beatrice agreed immediately and hung up assuring Madge she would devote all her energies to obtaining that information. She estimated it would take two days to find out about all thirty-eight employees.

"Two days," Madge told Emma, after hanging up the phone.
"Two days," Emma moped. Waiting was always the hardest part of anything for her.
"In the meantime," Madge said, pulling out other papers from her folder, "There is some Knight Industry business to attend to. I believe you need to go over these figures and okay them, then I think you should respond to your Manchester plant manager's delivery of parts complaints…"

Emma sighed. There was no-nonsense efficiency and then there was no-nonsense efficiency, and then there was Madge Hawkins.

Emma returned home to a napping husband, Ministry employees packing up briefcases and leaving, children rushing to greet her and the smell of roasted chicken scenting the atmosphere of her home. She and Elly did some yoga before supper, which was successful in relaxing her, while Eddie played with toy cars by his father's resting side in the drawing room.

Nanny Drysdale informed Emma dinner was ready and she changed into slacks and a top and woke up Steed, with a small peck on his forehead and a gentle shaking. Steed woke up smiling at his wife; one part of Emma wanted to dive into his arms crushing him with kisses and hugs, but another, more bitter part knew that until that man was taken care of, she couldn't lose herself in her husband's touch as usual. She wouldn't be able to stop thinking about his pinning her arm on the counter; about his not trusting her; about his wondering, deep inside, if she would try to kill him again. If she couldn't be with him fully, wholly, sincerely, then for another couple of days it was best to create a slight space between them. It wouldn't have been so bad to move away from Steed if she didn't see his confusion and slight hurt in his eyes as his reaching for her strangely failed to bring her closer.

Dinner was soon over and Elly spent time afterwards reading a story to the rest of her family, Eddie, sitting on Steed's lap, interrupting now and then to repeat a line she had just spoken. Then it was their bed-times and yawning, neither complained about having to call it a day. Both parents put both children to bed, in their own bed. That was fine with Elly, after a story was read to her. Then it was Eddie's turn.

"Do you feel like you can sleep alone, tonight, Eddie?" Steed asked, sitting beside him on the bed. Emma stood by Steed.
"I'd rather sleep with you."
"Why? You've always been happy being in your own bed."
"I don't know why."
"Are you afraid I won't be here in the morning?"

Eddie paused before answering. "I think so."
"You think so? Is there something else you're afraid of?"
"I'm afraid you won't be here at all."
"But, I sometimes go away when I work, for a week or two. That hasn't upset you before."
"You told us then you were going away. Daddy, I don't like surprises."
Steed exhaled deeply. "Try to sleep here tonight. There won't be anymore surprises."
"Promise?"

Over his life, Steed had lied to more people than he could ever begin to count. But, he didn't want to lie to his son. "I can't promise, but, have faith. At least tonight. When you wake up in the morning you can run into our bedroom and see that I am there. It's like getting back up on a horse after you've fallen off; even though it's a little scary, once you do it, it's not scary at all. Will you try to sleep here tonight?"
"Okay, daddy, I'll try."

Steed and Emma kissed him and then turned off his light, leaving on the little nightlight plugged into his wall.
The nanny asleep, Steed and Emma had the whole house to their selves. They went back to the drawing room, collecting toys and books into a small pile on a chair. Emma then opened up a book herself whilst Steed sat in a sofa.
"Come here and have a sit," he said, patting the sofa next to him.
"I'm fine here," she smiled.

Steed frowned. "How was your day at work? The merger all complete?"
Emma spoke whilst still reading. "Just about. How about you? Busy Ministry day?"
"Actually yes, but I still was able to fit in a bit of training. The ribs are less sore, and those slippery elm capsules are soothing my ulcerated innards. If I could only get a bit of energy back, I'd feel thirty years old again."
"You need to gain back about five pounds."
"Oh, don't you like my new trim form?"
"You weren't fat before. And, no, I don't."

Steed stood up and pulled a chair next to Emma. "You know, I think I could, er, have enough strength and energy to rip your clothes off and have my way with you." He felt the tensile strength of the fabric of Emma's expensive slacks. "On second thought, maybe I shouldn't plan on ripping your clothes apart. I'll just stick with the having my way with you part, after I undress you normally."

Steed began caressing Emma's leg and pushed her hair back off her head. Emma put her book down and gave her husband a kind look that lacked, nevertheless, encouragement.
"Steed," she said. "Not tonight."
That had an immediate, sulky affect on Steed. "Why not tonight?" he asked, leaning back in his chair.
She touched his side. "I just don't feel like it, yet. I just… can't, yet."
Steed turned to her. "But, why not?"

Emma didn't answer. She rubbed her hand over her forehead.
"Because of the incident in the kitchen?"
"Look, I don't want to foment an argument. Please don't think I don't want to make love to you, but it's just not right, yet."
"What is this 'yet' you keep mentioning? When will it be 'yet'?"
"When that man is out of our lives."
"He's not here now. It's just you and me, here, now."
"No, he's still here. Sitting like an axe over our heads."
"So, until this man is found, you think it's a helpful idea for us to be… just good friends?"

That was a reverse tease related to their past, when they had been colleagues and lovers but had attempted to act as if they were just good friends in public. Now they would be married and not having sex, becoming essentially only good friends.
"It should only be for another couple of days."
"How can you be so sure of that? There still aren't any leads on who that man is--" Steed stopped that train of thought, and his face spread open in enlightenment. "You know who he is. How? Who is he? Have you told Gambit?"
"I don't know who he is." Yet.

Steed studied her face, a slight tingle tickling his neck. "You're… not telling me the truth," he said. Then further enquiries regretfully poured out of his mouth before he could stop them. "How do you know who he is? Have you known all along?"
Emma was shocked at the implication of those questions and they hurt her very deeply. She slammed her book down and stood up, her eyes watering a little. Sarcasm defensively fell out of her mouth. "Yes, I've known him all along. I've been in on the plan to murder you from the beginning."

Steed stood up, grabbing hold of Emma's arm. "Emma, stop, you know that's not what I meant."
She yanked her arm from his hand. "Although I know you don't, I'm asking you to trust me."

If Steed had been a cursing man, he would have rolled out a veritable vituperative sentence, but he wasn't, so he expressed his frustration otherwise. "This is about that kitchen incident!"
"We don't have to fight," Emma said. "Just leave me alone and soon it will all be over."
"You were the one who begged me in the hospital not to pull away from you, from us, not to let that man tear us apart, killing us as effectively as a bullet, or poison. Look what you are doing to us right now, yourself!"

She could have told Steed what she was doing, but she didn't want the Ministry involved. She didn't want the man arrested, put in jail, which is what Steed would do to him. She wanted him dead and fully out of their lives; then she could show Steed she was trustworthy. She would seek revenge as the wife of the husband she had almost killed twice. She would eradicate that menace from their lives and protect her husband's life, and would do anything to see him safe. She was too obstinate to budge from that need, and too self-righteous to doubt her reasoning. It was that grand, inflated ego of her, that thrived on her brilliance, on her confidence, her competence. To have been duped not once, but twice, both times used as a potential murderer was too much for Emma Steed's sense of self. She had to beat the man now; prove to him just who she was and what she was capable of. Perhaps she was just generally more protective since she had become a mother; perhaps inside she was really a tigress in human form. When she had been Steed's colleague, a few times he had off-handed commented on her tendency to be excessively violent with criminals --she had explained her actions by saying that evil earns its own retribution. She still believed that. And, once it was all over, once the man was dead and no longer a threat to her or her family, then she and Steed could make love, repeated endlessly. Then they could pick up where they had left off before Steed had first tumbled over the balcony wall.

"Steed, you will just have to let me be and do what I need to," she reaffirmed.
Steed turned away from her angrily, rubbing his hand over his stomach. "I need some slippery elm," he said and left the room, pain gnawing at his stomach lining.
There wasn't a child in their bed that night, keeping them from touching each other, there was a very thick invisible wall, that neither could see, but both could palpably feel.

Steed and Emma both slept poorly: Emma because of the fight she'd had with Steed, the secret she felt compelled to keep from him, her staving off their being physical, the anxiousness of finding out who the Targill man was, and the anticipation of confronting him; and Steed because of the fight he'd had with Emma and his worrying fear that he wasn't so sure he could trust his wife after all. He had been an agent long enough to know when someone wasn't being forthright with him and was being vague and dodging around stating explicit answers. Steed was sure she had more than an inkling as to who the guilty man was. But, how could Emma know which enemy of his was plotting his death, when the entire Ministry didn't? Should he start investigating his wife? Why didn't she want to tell him exactly what was going on with her? What was going on with her? Why didn't she want to make love? What did she have to wait for until they demonstrate their love and lust for each other again? What was that 'yet' about?

Those questions riled both his mind and his stomach.
He was forced, in the middle of the night, to take one of the prescription antacid pills for the first time since he had been home. Emma, who had fed him the poison that had eaten away his stomach lining, bit her lower lip seeing her husband return to their bedroom with a glass of milk to swallow a tablet of the medicine in their bathroom. They resumed their distance when he came back to bed, but love is love, and during the night, once they both eventually fell asleep and their anxious minds shut off, their bodies gravitated as usual to each other. When they woke early in the morning, they were ensconced in each other's arms. Emma kissed and hugged Steed before any thoughts otherwise preoccupied her, and she felt his hardened penis against her hip. It was then, torn between her love for her husband and her hate for that unknown man that her sore wrist, the one pinned to the countertop, settled the issue of whether she should wait or allow sex. Whispering "Soon, soon" to Steed, she slid from his protesting arms out of bed, leaving him, for the first time in years, with an uncomfortable and hungry erection that took a long time to lose its tumescence.

Emma rushed about in her need to get to her office as early as possible, and as soon as Purdey drove up the driveway at 7:00 a.m., Emma was pushing her into her Lotus so they could leave for Knight Industries. Purdey didn't even get a chance to say "Good morning" to Gambit. Steed watched Emma go from his bedroom window, her brief morning kiss still pleasantly tingling his lips.

"Daddy?" said a small voice behind him.
Steed turned to see Eddie standing in the bedroom. "Yes?"
"I slept by myself and you're still here. I'm not so afraid anymore."
Steed walked over to his son, smiling down at him. "I'm proud of you, Eddie."
"It's much better not being afraid."

Steed looked out the window, unable to see his wife or her car anymore, as she zipped down the country roads to London proper, some unknown agenda obsessing her, keeping them apart. "Yes, it's much better not being afraid."

Desmond Kipner, after searching through numerous papers everyday since he put the false hellebore in the bag of dates, finally found exactly what The Ministry wanted him to find. Simon Damery, with the approval of Steed, had written a short paragraph of information on John Steed that was printed in the 'The Guardian," hoping it would flush the man out into the open once more, when they would be on full alert, ready for anything. It was a little article in the society page, mentioning that after a brief bout of rather severe food poisoning, Mr. John Steed was recovering steadily from his unfortunate shooting accident of three weeks ago, and had plans next month to vacation with his CEO wife Emma and their two children in the south of France, a favorite area of the Continent of theirs, where they kept a second home.

Desmond stared at the article in amazement. The man had lived through the poisoning. But how? Darlene had told him that the poison would be fatal in twenty minutes without medical aid, and the Steeds lived more than that from the nearest hospital in northern London. He was sure the poison would have worked. It was evident Steed had eaten them --he had had "rather severe food poisoning," the paper reported. Bloody hell! Where was John Steed from --Krypton? Desmond threw the paper to the floor, then kicked it further away from him.
John Steed was still alive. Now what did he do? Now how could he arrange for Emma Steed to kill him? Obviously no one had come looking for him; no one had a clue Desmond was the man responsible for Steed's nearly being killed twice. They were the perfect crimes, organized perfectly. If only the victim would die as planned, everything would have been fine.

But, the man just refused to die.
Desmond almost yanked his hair out with frustration.
What now? How could Mrs. Steed kill him now? Guns and poison were out. Mrs. Steed wouldn't fall for the same trick twice. Desmond grit his teeth. Just like the bloody upper classes to rub his nose in his brilliant plans; just like Steed to survive when by all means he should have been dead and buried by now.

It grated on Desmond to no end. He would have to think up one final way; it was an unavoidable challenge now, it was like the Steeds had hit his face with their glove, daring him to a duel at dawn.
Well, he would rise to the challenge. He would think of some other way.

Desmond rose and got several beers out of his refrigerator, popping the lid off each bottle and returning to his chair in his living room, putting them all down on the table in front of him. He lifted the first one to his mouth and took a long swig of alcohol --it was time for some serious inspiration to befall him again.

Emma fairly ran into her office arriving a little after 8 a.m. on Thursday. Madge was already there and when Emma appeared she stood up with a folder in her hand and followed her boss into her office, leaving Purdey once more guarding the doorway.
"Well?" Emma asked, standing by her desk, her hand out to receive the folder. "What has she found out so far?"
"She spent all of yesterday interviewing the coworkers of eighteen of the redundant employees. She wrote up the reports at her home and had them brought over to you first thing this morning. She will finish up with the other ten today."
"Lovely. Let's take a look."

Of the eighteen completed descriptions and personality analyses, six were of women and Emma put those aside. She was fairly certain that it was a male ex-employee himself, not the boyfriend or husband of a fired worker. It was a feeling she had, but she felt strong enough about it to go with her intuition.

Twelve men were discussed: first Emma ruled out those too tall and those too short, or those too fat, or those too young or those too old. A million times she had visualized to herself what the man looked like in her house, pulling details out of her drunken memories. She felt confident she had enough of a mental portrait to begin narrowing down suspects. There were three men so far left after her first cuts based on looks; one other man was cut due to his gentle and religious nature, who was always volunteering after work for some charity or another. Emma frowned--she felt a little guilty for letting go such an upstanding citizen. Maybe she should have studied a report like this before merely making redundant those people who jobs were indeed truly redundant due to the merger. She put the file on him aside to consider later; maybe there was another position the man could transfer over to. Then with a sharp head shake, Emma pulled herself back to the focus of this investigation.

There were two men left out of the eighteen that were possible murderers: Arnold Cathwright, accountant, age 42, brown hair, medium height and build, wore a goatee, and described as fairly amiable but with a tendency to angry outbursts over trivial matters, lived with wife and one child in a townhouse in Enfield, hobby was bicycling and reading about history; and Winston Barr, age 37, dark brown hair, medium height and build, mustache, rather a bit of a loner, divorced for three years, unsuccessfully tried to date various women at Targill, competent though not outstanding manager, lived alone in an apartment in South West London, avid theatre-goer.

For some reason, Emma was not very impressed with either of these candidates. The person who had implanted a real gun in a paint gun and who had actually seemed to be an old woman was someone who needed more apparent brains, initiative, being adroit at such dubious skills as tinkering with mechanical items and creating disguises.

Madge spoke first. "If you will forgive me for having done so, I read the reports myself before you arrived. It doesn't seem likely to me that any of those men is the guilty party."
Emma threw the reports onto her desk. "I agree. None of them have the ingenuity nor innovation to do what this man has done."
"Exactly. Neither is a tinkerer, neither is renowned for their imagination. I think we shall find our man among the next eight; the two women we can no doubt ignore."

Emma smiled at Madge. It was obvious that Madge had been thinking a good deal about Emma's idea and believed Emma was on the right track to find the man. Emma was pleased to have her in agreement, and as an ally.
"When shall Beatrice have the next ten ready? By later today?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Then," Emma said, "let's see if we can concentrate on getting our work done until that new information appears."

Madge immediately opened up a second folder she had been carrying. "Right, Mrs. Steed. First, you have the final signing of the Tragill merger today at 9:15 a.m.. At 10:00 you have a meeting with your Chief Financial Officer to discuss the third quarter earnings. At 1:00 p.m. you have a phone conference with the head of the Knight Industries factory in Manchester, Mr. Stephen Riley…"

Emma sighed as Madge continued her itinerary for the day. All she could think about were the remaining eight men. One of those, one of those, she was sure, would feel her wrath soon. She remembered a case long ago she had worked on with Steed; Soviets agents had been killing their own agents to frame English spies. Their motto had been "Seek. Hate. Kill." and she and Steed had been recognized as targets. Emma had felt their signature phrase to be a bit ludicrous and juvenile, but now, ten years later, she could very clearly relate to the ominous dictates of those three words.

Emma and Madge received the second report at the end of the work day, around 5:30 p.m. They immediately went over the list of people, putting aside the women. Again, first they removed all the men that were physically so unlike the man that Emma could recall--that got rid of another six. There were only two men again, to seriously consider. Desmond Kipner, age 47, brown hair, mustache, medium height and build, divorced, research assistant at Targill, highly competent at following the blueprints of the real inventors, and assembling various components, not very likeable although for no particular reason people could explain, rather boring personality, the kind of person who did his job well but left no other mark in his department, lived at 524 Oakdale, Weybridge ; and Bill Wiggins, age 40, brown though balding hair, married with three children, office joker and punster, salesman, only been with Targill for 2 years, close to his siblings and parents, handled being made redundant with a shrug and a smile, quite delighted with the generous redundancy pay he received, nice little home at 3312 Carew St, Mitcham.

Emma and Madge looked at each other. It was as clear as glass.
"Desmond Kipner is the man," Emma said, somewhat shocked that her theory had indeed played out correctly. It had to be this man! She knew who was behind the attacks. Although her confidence in her ratiocination had been its usual high, to actually learn who the unknown man was took her breath away.

"I agree. He's perfect. He spends his life putting things together, and those sorts of people who are hard to fathom, hard to get to know, oftentimes can have all sorts of nasty little ideas enter their heads that they suddenly act upon," Madge said.
Emma stared at her. Madge grinned; was it the first grin Emma had ever seen adorn her face? It made her look five years younger.
"If one believes that real life can occasionally imitate the art of detective novels, that is," Madge explained. Her grin faded as she tapped the paragraph describing Desmond. "And, sometimes, unhappily enough, it does."
Silence fell between the two of them.

Madge spoke first. "You aren't going to tell the police about him, are you?"
Was Emma that readable? Were her motives that transparent? Was Madge more astute than she had given her credit for? Emma stared at her secretary's thin, emotionless face."
"No," she answered truthfully, risking sharing her own murderous intent.
"You're going after him yourself. You're going to kill him." They weren't questions.

Emma nodded. "How did you know?"
Madge shrugged. "I've worked for you for enough years I believe I understand you, and know who you intrinsically are. Besides, if someone had used me to try to kill Mr. Hawkins, I would strive to kill them in return, myself." It was said as off-hand as if she was sharing a bread recipe. "Why do you think we have gotten along so well all these years, Mrs. Steed? We may be more alike than either of us have known, until up to now."
"I haven't really known you," Emma stated. "You're very hard to pinpoint. You're very private and reserved." She pointed to the papers describing the ex-employees. "That's what I'd have to say about you."

Madge collected all the papers into the folders, utterly at ease with what Emma had just said. "Do you know, Mr. Hawkins complains of that very thing himself, now and then. However, we've muddled through our marriage somehow, without much trouble. Always preferred doing, not talking, myself. Must be due to my father, Major in the army, and all."

Mr. Hawkins. She addressed her husband so formally. Her father an army major --that certainly gave new insight into her personality.
"Madge, I want you to hire Mr. Gerry Clemson, a private investigator with whom I have made an acquaintance. He should be listed in the London Phone Book. Give him that information on Mr. Kipner and have him investigate the man, trying to figure out how he would have gotten hold of a gun, and poison." If she was planning on killer someone she damn well wanted to make 100% sure she had the right man in sight.
"I'll track him down tonight, before I leave. I stress the urgency of the matter."
"And the confidentiality of it. He speaks to no one but you or me."
"Of course." Emma saw her packing up all the papers. "Leave that sheet on Thomas Jones, the religiously oriented man. I should like to figure out how to rehire him. Perhaps some good can come from all this."

Madge left with a sentence that hung in the air after Emma was alone, "Ridding the world of Mr. Kipner will be good, too."
Emma was very glad Madge Hawkins was on her side.

Chapter 14

After another tense evening at home, Emma returned to her office on Friday, hard-pressed to focus on all the endless work that crosses the desk of the CEO of a major corporation. Numerous times she was tempted to press the phone button to Madge and find out if Mr. Clemson had uncovered the final incriminating evidence she needed to fully commit to her plan of revenge, but she knew her secretary would bleep her as soon as the investigator rang in. Which would be much less involved than what Mr. Kipner had arranged for her as murderer of her husband. Mr. Kipner would simply be the recipient himself of a bullet in his sick, crippled heart.

Emma didn't do much better in the two meetings she sat through that day, needing important information repeated to her several times, and unable to hide her fidgeting and disinterest in what was being explained. It was a blessing to have the meetings end so she could rush back to her office, and sit in seclusion, her nerves jangling in anticipation. Everything relied on Clemson's report --if it wasn't Kipner as villain, then she was at a complete loss and her life with Steed was destined to be one of constant fear for his life combined with his underlying aura of distrust of her. Awful. An awful life.

She needed Clemson's report more than anything she had needed in her whole life.
He didn't call in. How long does it take to get a little information on a typical person?

Allowing herself a little drink at 5:00 p.m., closing time, she literally leapt to the phone when the phone bleeded and Madge coolly said, "A Mr. Smith on the line for you, Mrs. Steed." Since Purdey stayed outside her office, she and Madge had decided to call Mr. Clemson "Smith" ensuring that Purdey wouldn't have any way to discern who Emma was really calling. Emma was certain that The Ministry was not tapping her phone lines; they wouldn't dare risk such an illegal activity without being certain Emma was guilty, and they weren't.

"Yes? Mr. Clemson? What have you found out?" she asked, skipping all the polite social niceties.
"Well, just a little, but by tomorrow morning I think I should have all you need to know. I've just got back from Norfolk and now tonight am off to Cornwall. I wonder if I might have your home phone number; that way I shall be able to report in tomorrow with a full report."

Twelve more hours. She could wait twelve more hours. She would probably develop as many ulcers as her husband had, but that would only be fair. She gave Clemson her private line at home and asked him to call stating he was Collin Burd, a Knight Industries foreman at their shipping dock if he was asked to identify himself. He agreed without apparently blinking an eye.

Emma hung up the phone, adjusted her hair, smoothed out wrinkles on her skirt and top, and went out the door, happily greeting Purdey, who closed her magazine and stood up ready to protect Emma on the ride home.
Emma would have to get rid of Purdey, her dear friend, tomorrow on her way to Kipner's house.

Gambit had returned to London already that night, though he had gone back to the Ministry where he was still active in the investigation of identifying Steed's enemy. Four other security agents were at all times surrounding Steed's home and lawn, armed and ready to protect him, clearing all visitors who arrived. Steed was still too weak to drive to his office everyday and work, so, due to the vital nature of his importance to the government, The Ministry everyday had come to him. High level Ministry employees had come with briefcases that were searched first by the security men, even though none of them set off Steed's sense of danger. However, such an esoteric ability as being able to perceive something beyond the normal five senses flew in the regimental faces of the security people and with courtesy and respect, they nonetheless would not be stopped from looking through all parcels entering "Sir John's" home. By the time the last employees had left, and Steed had gone for a walk with his children, and then done his breathing exercises, and lifted a few free weights, his afternoon nap seemed like it had never occurred and he was tired and hungry. Emma had phoned around 5:30 p.m. alerting her family she and Purdey would be arriving home late. Steed collapsed slouching on the sofa, after guzzling a glass of milk and swallowing the slippery elm capsules. Eddie rested against his right side, Elly rested against his left. They had all decided to wait for Emma to arrive before they ate, so they would be together as a family, but they were all impatient for dinner, and a bit cranky. Eddie kept kicking his feet into the sofa and Elly was too bored to even read her book.

"When's mummy coming home?" Eddie asked, giving the expensive sofa another nice, solid blow with his shoes. "I wanna eat."
"Want to," Steed corrected, enunciating clearly. "Little gentlemen do not slur their words together."
"Want to," Eddie said, dispassionately.
"I want to eat, too. Mummy is taking so long to get home," Elly said. "Nanny Drysdale made halibut with an orange-sesame sauce."
"Orange-sezme sauce," Eddie repeated.

"Well, I wanna eat, too," Steed said. "I've been lifting weights. That makes a person hungry." He bent his clothed arm as if to demonstrate his biceps muscle. Both his children looked up at him shocked as he pressed his lips together to not smile. He supposed it was his duty as father to liven up the atmosphere, even though it would use up the last bit of energy he had before dinner.

Eddie pointed at him. "You said 'wanna'!"
Steed looked aghast at the outrageous insult to his character. "I did not!"
Elly, mouth open, recovered enough to say, "You did so. I heard you! And now you're lying about it!"
"I am not."
Both his children yelled "You are, too! You're lying!"
"I'm gonna get mad if you say I'm lying again."

Both children grew terribly animated beside him, their ennui disappearing in a flash. "You just said 'gonna'!" Elly said. "You've told us before we couldn't say that, either!"
"I don't remember doing so," Steed answered, shaking his head back and forth. "Nope, I'm sorry, but you just can't prove that."
"But, daddy, you're slurping your words!" Eddie said.
"And you're lying!" Elly declared.
"You're lying!" Eddie said.

Steed looked down at the little boy next to him, wide-eyed and innocent, and the little girl on his other side, whose beloved book had fallen to the floor and she wasn't even aware of it. How he had ever been lucky enough to become a father, he had no idea. It was like winning the lottery of life. They kept him young, they kept him hopeful and optimistic, and in his line of work where betrayal and crime constantly surrounded him, trying to darken his mind and his heart, that was truly a blessing.

Steed's voice became gruff. "You dare call me a liar? Me, your father? The ruler of this household? The lord of this mansion? Me, who is a knight of the realm?" Steed rose up off the sofa and his children were mesmerized by him standing tall above them, a combination of fear, awe, and incomprehension filling their small faces. "For that your punishment must be harsh! For that you must suffer the dreaded…" and here he leaned over his paralyzed children, adding in deep tones of finality, "…tickling!"

With that he scooped his children together with his last bit of vigor and embarked on mercilessly tickling them --Eddie under his chin and on his tummy, and Elly on her flanks-- as they screeched and flailed about in their supreme enjoyment of that fun. The three of them tumbled about on the sofa, the children trying to escape their father's fingers, but not that energetically. This went on for several minutes until Eddie did squirm free of his father's arm and, shimmying away from his grasp accidentally rolled right off the sofa, landing flat on his back with a thud on the carpeted floor.

Steed and Elly --still locked in his left arm-- looked down at the supine Eddie. "You alright, son?" Steed asked.
Luckily his son seemed to be as durable as he was. Eddie responded by giggling, "Yup, daddy, I'm alright."
"Little gentlemen do not say 'Yup,'" Steed corrected, grabbing his son's shirt front to pull him up to a standing position, "but, 'yes.' Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand," Eddie said, smiling, as Steed straightened out his clothes and tried to put his fine hair back into some semblance of order on his head. Steed turned his attention to Elly next and got her into more presentable shape, too.
"I suppose that's enough for now. I hope you've learned never to call me a liar, or you will have to undergo that punishment again," Steed gravely warned.
Suddenly they heard a welcomed female voice on the first floor yelling out "Steed! Elly! Eddie!"
"Is that mummy?" Elly excitedly asked.
"Yup," Steed said, standing up. "Yup, it sure seems to be."

Emma came into the drawing room to see a general raucous loudly occurring between her children and her husband, with a great deal of tumbling about the sofa and tickling going on. She came up to the couch and asked, "What is going on?"
"Call daddy a liar, mummy," Elly said, thinking she was explaining the situation, but that really wasn't too clarifying to Emma. However, after the nerve-wracking day she had had at the office, and the nerve-wracking night she knew she was in for, Emma decided to take a break from contemplating murder and join in the fun.
"Steed, you're a liar," she said.

Steed stopped tickling his children and looked up at his wife. "What did you say?" Eddie and Elly, anticipating the greatest show they'd ever seen in their lives, scurried off to the ends of the long sofa still laughing, avidly watching what would happen next.
Emma shrugged. "I said, 'You're a liar.'"
Steed stood up off the sofa, facing his wife. "You dare call me that? Me, your husband? The father of your children? The lord of this mansion? The ruler of this household? The, uh,…"
"Me, who is a knight of the rell!" Eddie called out from his side.

Steed glanced at his son, raising one eyebrow at the peculiar repetitive flair the boy had regarding spoken words. "Right. Thank you." He turned back to Emma. "Me, who is a knight of the realm?"
Emma was already stuck on his previous words. She placed her hands firmly on her hips. "Ruler of this household? Lord of this mansion? What? No 'Master of the castle'?"

Steed waved away her dissension on that point. "Yes, Ruler and Lord, but, er, that's not important. What's important is that you" he touched her lips with two of his fingers, "have called me," he touched his own, "a liar."
"Right. You're a liar."

Steed leaned in closer to her. "Watch out, mummy!" Elly said.
"For that," Steed decried, "you must suffer through a dreadful punishment. A horrible punishment. An appalling punishment!"
"Oh, Ruler Lord, what's that?"
"This," Steed said, and then moving quickly, he encircled his arms around his wife and kissed her deeply. Emma's arms, programmed after 10,000 kisses, automatically wrapped around his back before her mind could re-route them from doing so. To the clapping of their children, Steed twirled her around and then tilted her over backwards, leaning her more and more until she felt her balance go and down she went onto the sofa, a little peep of surprise coming out of her. She wound up awkwardly lying half on and half off the couch.

"And this," Steed added, winking and nodding at his children, indicating they should join in, and who as a result dove forward to begin tickling her. Emma allowed it to go on for a minute or so until she sat up more fully, and grabbed Eddie and Elly, hugging them to her side.

"And let that be a lesson to you all," Steed said, wiping his hands together, as he felt a wave of light-headedness sweep over him, and he planted his legs firmly to keep himself straight up. He had to get some food in him. "Now, shall we descend to the dining room?" he asked as his children whispered in Emma's ears.
"Yup!" the three of them replied. "We wanna eat dinner!"
"I try and I try, but no one learns anything around here," Steed mumbled, grinning, as the four of them walked, or skipped and hopped and scampered, downstairs to a delicious meal.

Emma's agitation manifested itself after the children were asleep, when the pleasant mood of the household also seemed to enter a slumber. Steed watched her pacing around the house, unable to do her crossword puzzle, unable to write her deadline-nearing article on bridge, unable to sit and talk with him, unable --or unwilling-- to do anything else more physical. Yet, she never strayed too far from a phone. What phone call was she expecting? From whom? Finally, his own interest in his book and his Ministry reports waning, his vitality lowering towards the need for sleep, Steed left his study and found Emma pouring a glass of red wine in their living room.

"You don't usually drink so late," he said. "What's wrong? What's bothering you? You're like a bee buzzing back and forth throughout the house."
She sipped the alcohol. "Just a little tense from the merger. It takes effect on Monday."

Steed nodded, not believing that was the cause of her restlessness. He decided to call her bluff. "I don't believe you. There's something else going on. Are you expecting a phone call? Why don't you tell me?"

Because then you would have mercy on him, Emma thought, and would arrest Kipner, keeping me from killing him. Because you didn't try to kill me. Because you didn't sit by my side for a week, praying for me to live. Because you weren't turned into a fool, almost removing me from the lives of our children forever. Because you don't trust me, anymore. Because you don't feel the limitless hate I do for that man. Because you are a more benevolent, noble human being than I am. Because I need you to be innocent of my actions, so you will be in a better position to keep me from prison if I am found out, which I know you have the power to do.

"Steed, please, just leave me alone to my nerves tonight."
"Tonight? What about tomorrow night? And the night after that? What are you nervous about?"
"Let's not argue."
"Argue? How can we argue? I can't even get a straight answer out of you!" He paused, deflated. "Emma, I am not a stupid man. I don't believe you are working with this man to try to kill me again, therefore all clues point to the fact that you must be working to capture this man. I want to capture him as well. I am the head of the most extensive intelligence organization in Great Britain; I could be of some help, you know, if you'd only cue me in. What I don't understand is how you figured out who this man is, who my enemy is, when no one else could. How you could know him, identify him, when apparently no one else in The Ministry can? That's the… suspicious part."

Because he is not your enemy, he is mine. Because, "suspicious" intimates lack of trust, and I will earn back your trust in me by ridding us of that man.

Emma finished the glass of wine, sighing heavily and shaking her head back and forth. "You know I am smarter than most people, even the employees of the Ministry, except perhaps for Dr. Silver. I may or may not be involved in something; I just cannot tell you right now. However, in another couple of days things should be back to normal."
"You said that a couple of days ago," Steed grumbled, sinking down in a chair heavily, like his body was filled with rocks. "Ever since what happened in the kitchen, you've pulled away from me."
"It was you first not trusting me that started all this."
"I've told you a hundred times I do trust you."
"Shall I wave a knife in front of you again as another test of that sentiment? I have one more wrist you can sprain."

Steed didn't answer her, retreating into silence, mortified that he had ever hurt her as he had. Emma noiselessly crossed over and kissed the top of his head, her mouth lingering in his hair for a few seconds. He closed his eyes at that gesture of softness and love. When he opened them, she had left the room. But, she had left behind one idea, and that was… the inimitable Dr. Silver.

Chapter Fifteen

Saturday morning, usually a wake up slowly, make love slowly morning for Steed and Emma, was neither for Emma, Steed realized, when he finally pried his eyes open to a beautiful sunny day. It was only 7:30 a.m., but his wife was already up and presumably dressed and ready to go… somewhere, and do… something. Well, Steed had his plans for that day, as well. But, there was a little more time to close his eyes and procrastinate for a few minutes before his nerves kicked in regarding his wife's unwarranted subterfuge. He lay on his back relaxing…

Two screaming children suddenly burst into his bedroom and leapt up onto his bed. Steed, like parents had forever before him, attempted to fake that he was asleep so they would go away and leave him to his rest.
"We saw you're awake, daddy! Time to get up!" Elly said, launching the first attack by yanking the bedclothes off his long pajama-clad body.
"Time to get up!" Eddie said, sitting on his father's stomach, gently lifting the lid of one eye up, so it stared at him.
"Do you mind?" Steed asked, and Eddie let go of the lid. It closed and Steed rolled over onto his side, throwing his squealing son onto the bed. Steed then began a process of snoring very loudly.
"Come on, daddy, let's walk a horse around," Elly said. "Mummy is in her study and is too busy, but she said you would love to go for an early morning jaunt."

How very considerate of mummy, Steed thought, but with a humourous shade to his musings. He'd remember this; mummy would regret saying that. If she thought the children tickling her was bad, just wait… His thoughts then grew a tad negative. Of course that was also a very good way to get the three of them out of the house, so if the phone rang, she'd be alone to talk. There was one in her study. Steed was very tempted to make a quick call and get the lines to his home tapped, but resigned himself to not doing so. Although it was getting harder to do, he would continue to trust his wife.

"Why don't you take nanny Drysdale for a stroll?"
"We want to go with you!" a chorus responded.
It was a hopeless task to attempt to stay in bed any longer, with his children poking and prodding and pleading. He wanted to contact Dr. Silver anyway, and have the psychiatrist come over for a chat. With a loud growl, Steed sat up.
"Right, then, get out of here so I can get ready." He pointed to Elly. "You, tell nanny Drysdale to have my breakfast ready in a half hour." He pointed at Eddie. "You, don't even think I'm letting you shave me today."
"Ay-ay, Captain," they agreed, saluting him, and running out of the room.

Steed reached for the phone on his nightstand and rang up Dr. Silver.
"Well, well, Steed, what a coincidence," Dr. Silver greeted Steed. "I was planning to drop in on you today for a bit of a gab."
"Yes, well, I do have a few things I'd like to discuss with you," Steed admitted.
"And I with you. I've waited almost a week to speak to you about some important concerns I have, to allow you to settle in at home again and gain some strength back. But, if you're ready, I think we need to deliberate upon a few issues. Would noon suffice?"
The children would be eating lunch. "Yes, that would be fine."
"Lovely, then. I'll see you at noon."

The stroll was refreshing in the warm summer morning air. The children sat together on the horse as it was paraded around the lawn, their father walking by the mare's side. After that, the morning deteriorated drastically for Steed. He and Emma muttered polite words to each other but had no real contact as she stayed in her study, chewing on her lower lip, supposedly working on her bridge article, but never writing a word.

A friend of Elly's was dropped off by some neighbor's so Eddie and the nanny were left to their own devices.

The morning crept by for Steed. Then at 11:30 a.m., he heard the phone ring; Emma's private line in her study. Hating himself for it, Steed stood in the hallway, listening in to his wife's conversation.

Emma picked up the phone, her hand slightly shaking. "Hello?" she asked.
"Hello. Mrs. Steed? This is Mr… Burd, calling from a public phone."
"Ah, I've been expecting your call."

The man's no-nonsense nature showed itself. "I have that information your requested on Desmond Kipner. He doesn't have parents, and his only brother was killed in a car accident years ago. He's divorced and he has no contact with his ex-wife. He has numerous cousins; I contacted them all. One, Darlene Kincaid in Norfolk, had just seen him a week and a half a ago. I visited her at her herbal shop, which, by the way, contains various poisons in it." He read off a list of all the poisons that were in Darlene's shop; false hellebore was one of them. "I don't think Darlene is guilty of anything. She's completely guileless and remembered that Kipner went to her specifically seeking information on poisons for a mystery novel he was beginning to write. She mentioned that he was left alone with the poisons for a couple of minutes. I think that takes care of the poison connection, don't you?
"Yes. Please go on," Emma said, softly.

"I wound up visiting his Uncle Theodore in Boscastle, Cornwall, who was a gem importer, and so I figured probably the likeliest person in Kipner's family who would have access to a gun. His uncle is old and doddering, and keeps a gun in a box in his garage. Only, when we went to check on it, it was gone. The old duffer thinks he just mislaid it somewhere, but I saw signs that someone had broken into the door leading into the garage. Asked Uncle Theodore if his cousin Desmond knew he had a gun. Old man thought so, but Desmond had never shown any interest in it. I think Kipner stole the gun, knowing his uncle would never notice it was gone, and so never report it to the police. Which is exactly what happened."
"I see," Emma said, frustrating Steed's eaves-dropping ears. She wasn't giving him any indication what the phone call was about.
"You can be sure that Kipner is your man, Mrs. Steed."

Emma let her thoughts pour out, sensing that Mr. Clemson was fully on her side. "Yes. But, he's failed twice and now it's up to me. I'll take care of him now. He won't have a chance of surviving."

Steed blinked his eyes several times on hearing that, and his heart skipped a beat. What had Emma just said? "He's failed twice and now it's up to me."? What did that mean? What was up to her to do? It couldn't mean what it sounded like it meant… that since the other man had failed twice in his plans, she was going to kill… him? That was farcical, ridiculous, yet, how else could she be directing that line?

"Good luck. Lousy shite. Deserves whatever you have in mind. You sure you can kill him? Because I've got the afternoon free myself," Clemson said.
Ah, her intuition about him had been correct. "No, don't worry, it won't be easy, and I never imagined my life would come to this, but… I can kill him."
Steed had forgotten how to breathe.
"Right, then. Have at it. Should I send my fee directly to your home?"
"No! Send it to my office, marked personal to me."
Send what? Money? Blackmail evidence?
"Right." Clemson hung up.

Slowly, Emma did, too. Steed peeked through the crack of the open door and watched his wife blankly staring out across the room lost in thought. Then, biting her lower lip, he saw her take out of a desk drawer the automatic gun he had given her to protect herself with --as the wife of a man with many enemies-- and put the clip of bullets into it, setting it ready to shoot. She placed it on the desk for a moment and then lifted her handbag up off the floor and hid the gun in its depths. Then she added in a pair of handcuffs she also removed from the drawer.
Steed's thoughts were pure chaos. Trust me, Emma had said over and over, while not allowing them to be intimate. It will all be over in a couple of days. What would be over --his enemy's life…. or his own?

Steed back-tracked down the hallway and went downstairs, sitting down and picking up the paper to finish reading it. Emma came down a few minutes later, walking as stiffly as a cypernaut, and Steed appeared to be calm and cool although his heart was racing.

"Heard the phone ring on your private line. Anything important?" he asked.
"No. Just a little problem at the Manchester plant; all taken care of. I'm going to London to do a little clothes shopping; should be gone a few hours."
He could do many things. Confront her with what he had heard. Pull the gun out of her handbag. Have the phone company trace the phone number. Call in security perched outside. Warn Purdey about her doing anything bizarre once they were in town.

He wondered where she was really going and what she was really planning on doing.
"Are you meeting anyone?"
"No, just need to be by myself."
"I could go with you, if you can wait another hour or so."
What a funny look passed over her face for a second. "No, thanks, but today I'd it feels good to be alone. Well, as alone as I can be, with Purdey hanging off my shoulder."

She was lying; his neck tingle told him so. Every ounce of his agent blood screamed for him to confront her, get the gun, protect himself, to not let her try to kill him later in the day, perhaps when the children weren't around to see the blood spilling from his body. Perhaps she was leaving to set up some situation whereby she could kill him and make it seem like someone else had done it, that unknown man, and that she was innocent of the crime.

Steed admonished himself for such idiotic thoughts. No, this was Emma Steed, his wife. Who he loved and trusted. And who was worth his love and trust. Who would never hurt him. Who would never shoot him, by her own accord. Who would never poison him, by her own accord. Who wanted him to live a long life by her side, raising their children, bringing endless joy to each other's lives. She wasn't going to kill him, she was going to kill… someone else. He'd seen her kill before, when they were colleagues; she did it very well. Very coolly. Perhaps better, in fact, than he did. But, he had also seen her struggle with the emotional after-effects for weeks. He had seen her wake from nightmares.

Trust and distrust played tug-of-war inside Steed, immobilizing him; him, the most sure and confident man of action British Intelligence had ever employed. He was still rattled to his core by those conflicting emotions when Emma's Lotus drove off, and right on the dot of noon, Dr. Silver's black Mercedes arrived.

Chapter Sixteen

Dr. Melvin Silver amiably put up with the check for weapons the security guard put his clothes and his briefcase through on the driveway. They even searched his cane for some hidden compartment. The doctor imagined that due to their extreme loyalty to Steed, the guards would have patted down the Queen Mother to ensure if she wasn't concealing a gun in her dress, if she came for a visit.

He went inside the house and found Steed sitting in a chair, resting his forehead on his hand. The Head of The Ministry hadn't gained back the five pounds he needed to and looked, at the moment, like a defeated man, something Dr. Silver had never associated with John Steed.

"Headache?" he asked, limping towards Steed.
Steed looked up at the physician. Over the years Steed had been forced a number of times, by some unfavorable event or another to develop a relationship with Dr. Silver, to talk to him about cases, or harrowing occurrences. Steed used to kick and fight when required to do that, but he was older and more settled now. He valued the psychiatrist not just as a friend, but for his work in keeping Steed strong in the past and all the agents that worked under Steed now. Steed no longer felt threatened by Dr. Silver and no longer saw needing to talk to him as a weakness.

"Things aren't going very well," he admitted.
"Oh?" Dr. Silver asked, not sitting down. "Why don't we go upstairs and talk about it."
"Why upstairs?"
Dr. Silver smiled. "A whim, no more."

Steed dragged himself out of his chair and led the doctor upstairs to the drawing room. Dr. Silver walked passed it and instead entered the larger room down the hall that they held parties in, which contained the glass doors opening onto the balcony Steed had fallen over. Steed was obligated to follow him.

"How about in here?" Dr. Silver asked, pointing into the room with his cane.
Steed frowned. "Must we always make things so meaningful?"
"Freud would say so, yes. Come on, it'll do you good." The doctor entered and sat down in one of a pair of fine, Georgian chairs, leaning his cane against the wall behind him, and dropping his hat to the floor by his feet. Steed, having specifically avoided this room since his being shot, muttered a word or two, and then sat down next to his guest.
"Happy?" Steed asked, forced to look at the balcony across the room from him.

Dr. Silver took out a pad of paper and a pen, setting his briefcase on the floor. "Undeniably so. And you?"

As if his mouth had been transformed into a gushing spigot, words spilled unbidden out of Steed. "No, I'm not happy. I'm sick and tired of there being constant trouble in my life. It's bad enough that I'm shot and beaten and drugged and tortured in the past when I was an active agent, and expected it, and was young enough to sneer at it. Now I retire and I'm still shot and poisoned. And, I'm older, and it's harder to recover, and I'm tired of having to recuperate. It's no longer an adrenaline rush; it's no longer something that feeds my ego when I survive. Now, it's just pain. What is it? Karma? Destiny? Am I never to enjoy some peace and quiet?" It was childish, his whiny ranting, like a boy complaining that he was never chosen first for the rugby field. It was also extraordinarily out of character for Seed. Amazingly so. But, the words were spoken from Steed's heart and both of them knew it.

"Do you know, Steed, I think it is destiny."
Dr. Silver's answer took Steed by surprise. "What? You happen to know that someone up there" --he pointed to the heavens-- "has a bone to pick with me?"
"No, I don't think that's the situation. I rather think in that celestial way you must have the most dedicated and committed guardian angels ever to float around on pearly white wings."
"So what do you mean by destiny, then?"
"I mean that legendary figures have legendary lives, full of toil, strife and pain." The doctor stared straight at Steed. "And you are a legendary figure."
"Legendary. Right," Steed scoffed.

"Yes, right. Steed, don't be naïve. You are indeed a legend in your own time. Your previous cases are taught at the intelligence schools as prime examples of the exact way criminals and spies should be investigated and caught. Networks you set up twenty years ago are still used. You've dealt with more cases, successfully, than our best three or four other agents combined. You were awarded how many medals in the War? You've been captured, injured, tortured, and still always recovered, and never broke, and sometimes even escaped. And the people you go against! You don't come up against the typical malefactors; you come up against diabolical masterminds. You don't have some enemy simply try to kill you himself; no, he has to figure out ways to have your wife kill you. All the intelligence organizations hold you in the highest respect, as does Scotland Yard, and the upper officials of the government. Your loyalty is unblemished, your trustworthiness absolute. You are simply the best secret agent, and one of the best men, that Britain has ever produced. And what a life you've lived! You've sunken down to illegal smuggler, flourished as brutal cold war spy, and then slowly evolved into the dignified, wise Head of the Ministry. After a lifetime of loveless promiscuity, you finally marry your true love and even are blessed late in life with children, with whom you excel as a father. Your life is truly the life of a legend." He added, after a pause. "It would make a great epic movie."

Steed did one of his two-second smiles. "Aren't legends supposed to, at some point, end with 'and they lived happily ever after?'"
Dr. Silver shook his head back and forth. "Actually, I think many if not most legends end in grief and tragedy. Usually due to the legend making one or several poor choices."
Steed went back to holding his forehead. "Lovely."
"And the problem is, Steed, that lately you have made some terrible choices. The worst of your life, I think."

That statement got Steed's interest and he looked at the psychiatrist. "Oh, really? Do tell."
"Don't you know what they are, yourself?"
Letting Emma walk out the door with a gun in her purse? Steed wanted to discuss that, but was intrigued with the focus of conversation Dr. Silver was presently engaging in and didn't want to change the subject, yet.

"Please do enlighten me." It was said a little sarcastically, but even so, both men knew that Steed was paying full attention to everything Dr. Silver was saying.
"Well, tell me, how do you feel about Emma shooting and then poisoning you?"
Steed had always despised these "How do you feel" questions. He was an English gentleman; they weren't renown for being in touch with their feelings. He knew fear, he knew love, he knew anger --all the other ones jumbled together at times like clothes in a dryer, almost impossible to specifically identify. Steed answered as he usually did, leaving the emotions out of his response.

"If I had my druthers, I'd wish she hadn't done either."
"Do you blame her for those attacks?"
Did Steed blame her? "I don't know," he said honestly, "maybe I do." He told Dr. Silver about how rationally he didn't but then about the damning incident in their kitchen.

"Ah, the subtleties of the subconscious mind! What a shock when they explode into our consciousness, eh?" Dr. Silver remarked, jotting down some notes on his pad. "I think we can safely say that in actuality, you do hold it against your lovely wife for attempting to kill you twice."
"Well…" Steed really didn't like the sound of that.
"And mind you, that is very understandable! I should be quite surprised if you didn't. And I do understand that your distrust arises from the deepest level of your being, where all the ghouls and ghosts haunt you."
"Now look here--" Steed began, sitting up straighter.

Dr. Silver was not about to stop. He had learned long ago that the best way to work with Steed was to throw him off balance a little, keeping him a few steps behind, making him strive to keep up; otherwise he was too quick and cunning and guarded to allow the doctor to probe into his thoughts.
"However, the point is not that indeed you do distrust Emma now, the point is who is responsible for that lack of trust? Hmm?"
"What? What do you mean who is responsible for that?"
"I mean, who is responsible for you not trusting Emma?"

It was the height of understatement to say that Steed was infrequently confused. He was rarely if ever confused. His mind could unravel a problem, flash on ten options at once, analyze each of them simultaneously, and then select the path that would be invariably successful.

Though, now, he didn't understand what Dr. Silver was talking about at all. "Is this a trick question? Isn't Emma responsible for me not trusting her?"
"Nope. Guess again."
"Oh, a game. How delightful. Can we play pick-up sticks next?" Steed drawled. He raised his hand in the air. "Well, then, I suppose that the unknown man is responsible."
"No. Wrong again. Try once more."

Steed wasn't wrong once very often. To be wrong twice was inconceivable! He felt his blood pressure rise a little and his stomach get a little sore.
"The security guards at the party."
"As the Americans say, 'Strike three.'"
"Right. Fine. I give up. Who is responsible for me not trusting Emma?"
"Well, who is responsible for you being shot and poisoned? And it's not Emma, the unknown man, or the security guards."

Steed stared at Dr. Silver. There was no witticism, no biting remark he could think of to say. He settled for the plain, blunt truth. "I don't know."
"Isn't it obvious? You are."
Steed blinked several times, and then smiled warily, speaking in a tone of disbelief. "I am."
"Yes, you are. If you hadn't made poor choices, you never would have been injured, and you wouldn't be distrusting Emma, and you might have been living happily ever after."

Steed grew slightly defensive in his irritation at his complete inability to understand his psychiatrist's point. "I didn't shoot myself! I didn't poison myself!"
"Well, in a way you did. Let me take a moment to explain before you charge out of the chair, your hands aiming for my throat, hmm?"
"Very good idea," Steed muttered.
"I thought so. Even a psychiatrist that has never been out in the field can sense when he is upsetting someone who could easily maim or kill him. However, you have a much more refined sense of danger than that, don't you, Steed? Another aspect of your legendary status; that paranormal ability to sense danger around you. It's uncanny, and yet, like a perfumer who has developed the sense of smell to a level equal to a bloodhound's, you, having spent thirty years in dangerous situations, somehow developed your ability to perceive and interpret danger into the remarkable neck tingle it is for you today. That tingle is designed to save your life, and yet, how do you choose to employ it? --poorly."
"Poorly? It's saved my life a number of times!"
"Yes, but not lately, not when the danger sense was associated with Emma."
"I sensed the gun was real, when she aimed it at my back--"
"But then, didn't you think it was a mistake? Didn't you trust Emma instead of that sense? You trusted her to not aim a gun at you although that sense was yelling as loudly as it could that the paint gun was a real gun. I imagine you've judged Emma as being ignorant and guilty of not wondering about some unknown man who had brought a paint gun to your party. Is that right?"

"Perhaps…"
"But, Emma hasn't been working as an agent for thirty years! You, you've been the active agent. You're the one who should have taken control of the situation, who should have figured --my God, after all you've seen in your life!-- that the danger could be real, even though Emma was holding onto the gun."
Steed was listening to Dr. Silver more intently than he had ever listened to anyone or anything in his life. "But, right before she shot off the gun, I did yell for her not to."
"Too late. You should have taken command of the situation to begin with. You should have been forceful about her putting the gun down, or hiding behind the balcony doors out of the way until she was convinced. You should have protected you."

It was like Steed burst out of a dark tunnel into the light at the full realization of Dr. Silver's words. "And with the poison…"
"The same thing. You sensed danger when Emma drove up in her car. And yet, you couldn't believe she would be the danger. You choose to believe that it was someone who had followed her home, not her, even after she had already shot you, and even though your tingle increased touching the dates. You should have stop and thought, "What is the real danger here?" The danger came with Emma, and you chose to ignore that. You should have made better use of that gift of sensing danger that you have. The way you did it, it was almost an act of suicide to eat the dates as you blithely did."

Steed sat still, feeling small, like he was a little boy who had just been righteously lectured by his father for bad behavior. Dr. Silver was right. He was to blame for his injuries. He should have paid more attention to the danger sense and step by step, in a clear-headed way, figured out the actual threat to him. But, instead, due to his innate trust of Emma, innocent Emma, he had allowed her to injure him, and then, he had blamed her for doing so. It was that innate trust connected to his wife that his enemy had used to structure the attacks against him. He was the experienced agent; he knew anything peculiar can occur in life, including real guns showing up at parties and food winding up poisoned. But no, he had blamed Emma and, as a result, she had pulled back from him, and started her own agenda, whatever it was.

"I've made a terrible mistake," Steed whispered, burying a hand in his thick hair, as he held his head in dismay.
"But not a fatal mistake, Steed. You can talk to Emma and tell her all this. You can admit your culpability to her. I've never seen two people have a stronger, healthier relationship than the two of you do. That living happily ever after ending is still distinctly probably your futures. By the way, where is Emma?"
"Er, we have a slight problem in that regard. Actually, a huge problem."
"Oh? What's going on?"

Taking a deep breath Steed told Dr. Silver all that had been going on between him and Emma, even though being so open about his personal troubles was as easy for Steed as stabbing his own foot with a pitchfork. However, so immense was his respect for the physician that he related all that he had heard Emma say during her phone call this morning, and the concerns that existed for him as a result.
Dr. Silver heard everything and then spent a few minutes allowing it all to sink in as he applied his genius level brain to deciphering the specious clues she had left them. Before long he had applied tangential thinking to Emma's actions and words and had made an interpretation he was sure was correct.

"Steed, Emma has found out who the man is, and is going to kill him."
"I've thought of that. But, how would she know who he is? No one at the Ministry does."
"Steed, think it through. If he is your enemy and no one at the Ministry knows who he is, and they know your enemies much better than Emma does, then how could she have uncovered your enemy before them?"
Steed shook his head back and forth. "She couldn't."
"Right, she couldn't. Therefore…"

Dr. Silver let the thought go undeclared, having faith in Steed's own cerebral aptitude. For a few long moments Steed sat scowling at the question, and then suddenly his face brightened. "Then it's not my enemy she found!"
"Right again. But, it's still someone who wants to make her kill her beloved and adored husband, causing untold grief and despair to her. If it's not your enemy doing that, then--"
"It's her enemy! Someone from her business work! What a dunce I've been!" He pounded the arm of his chair with his fist.

"Yes, I'm sure that what's she's figured out. And, don't be too hard on yourself; you've gone through a great deal lately both mentally and physically. No one would expect you to be at your top deducing form. Now, hasn't Knight Industries merged with Targill, Inc. recently?"
'Yes."
"Which is right about the time the attacks on you started. Since we can assume that the upper management of both companies are pro-merger, who would be against it?"

Two intelligent men brainstorming can quickly solve a puzzle. "The people who are made redundant from the merger."
"Correct. I believe that Emma has uncovered a disgruntled ex-employee who has sought revenge against his dismissal by attempting to emotionally devastate the cause of his redundancy, Mrs. Emma Steed."
"Yes, a redundant employee. And… Emma's going to kill him! To earn my trust back."
"Yes, either planning to do it in a way that will not accuse her, or else, relying on your position in the government to keep her from jail if she is caught red-handed."
"She's going to murder him… and it's all because of me!"
"Steed, don't be too hard on yourself. You really aren't to blame. It's not your fault you love your wife so much that love reigns supreme in your thoughts and feelings, no matter what danger signals you might receive. If I was a romantic, I'd say it's actually quite beautiful. And very, legendary."

That meant a lot to Steed, hearing it from Dr. Silver, but the time was over for talking. Emma was going to commit cold-blooded murder to earn Steed's trust back. The man was guilty of attempted homicide, true, but Steed had learned long ago that it did a person no good to sink to the level of the criminal in one's attempt to deal with him. It merely blackened one's own soul to unflinchingly destroy a soul already dark. He had to save Emma from a terrible mistake. He owed it to her.
"She must have plans to get rid of Purdey," Steed said. "I've got to find out who the man is and--" He snapped his fingers sharply. "Madge Hawkins! Emma's secretary for aeons. Emma called her late the night I pinned her arm to the countertop. I bet Mrs. Hawkins knows who the man is. I've got to make a call on her. But…" Steed drifted off into thought, then turned to Dr. Silver and smiled a wily smile at him.

"My dear Dr. Silver, I wonder if I might borrow your car."
Before Dr. Silver could respond, Gambit came into the room.
"Steed, Dr. Silver, bad news. Emma seems to have given Purdey the slip. Crawled out a bathroom window and disappeared. I've brought in ten agents to scour the area and look for her. What do you think she's doing, Steed?"
"Emma's done that? I have no idea why," Steed answered, evenly. "Probably just needs some solo time. Don't think her escape, per se, is too important. But, keep me informed with hourly reports."
"Right. Will do. We don't want her running into that unknown fellow and… well, bringing home to you anymore risks."
"No, we don't want that," Steed said. "Report back in one hour."
"Got it," Gambit confirmed. He exited the room.
"My God, Steed, you're a smooth and cunning liar," Dr. Silver said.
"Thank you. Now, about your car."

Dr. Silver was used to parking his car as close as possible to his point of entry. It wasn't easy being sixty years old and moving about on a withered left leg, always locked in a brace. It was, therefore, not that difficult for Steed, changed into the same color suit as Dr. Silver wore, and wearing his hat, to appear shorter by bending over, whilst he leaned on a cane, a brace around his leg, and struggled to the car, sitting only twenty feet from the front of his house. Carrying the physician's briefcase lent the final touch to his disguise. He waved to the security guard fifty feet away, opened the car door and drove away within a minute of leaving his house. Gambit wouldn't discover Steed's disappearance for an hour, since Steed had emphasized that increment of time guiding Gambit to return to the balcony room (discovering Dr. Silver there, not him). That would give Steed plenty of time to get into the city anonymously. And, by that time, Dr. Silver's wife would arrive with another cane and brace for her otherwise non-ambulatory husband, who had happily played along with Steed's plan, it being the closest the psychiatrist had ever got to actually ever being on a spy case himself. That and Steed's firm handshake and sincere "Thank you" before he had left made the psychiatrist feel extraordinarily well pleased with himself.

Emma first took the underground randomly about London to make it difficult for her to be found. Coming up to the street near Regent's Park, she caught a taxi. It had taken her longer than she had thought to break from Purdey, who certainly knew how to keep a close eye on Emma, protecting her from whatever might be a threat. She gave the taxi an address that would land her a few blocks from Desmond Kipner's home. Emma knew Purdey would report her disappearance immediately, and the Ministry would probably begin a search and start checking on taxi fares in the area of the department store. She was nowhere near the store now, but it didn't make sense to give her exact destination away.
She did not want to be found.

She paid the cab driver and then strode down the street to Desmond's home. Going around the back of it she found a window partially up; she lifted it up fully and entered Kipner's home, closing the window back down to where it had been.
She took the gun out of her purse, and moved throughout the house; it was warm in it and quiet. Very middle class and tastefully though not extravagantly furnished. She heard the ticking of a clock on the mantlepiece. Emma studied the things lying on the coffee table. There was a large stack of books, all seemingly related to spying and their tools of the trade. There was, oddly enough, the letter that she had hand-written to all the redundant employees, to lend a certain kindness and cordiality to their terminations. Kipner had pages and pages of words copied out in increasingly perfect imitations of her script. And there, on a package almost ready to be mailed, was Steed's name and address copied out just as if it had been penned by her. Emma examined the still open package; inside, wires abounded, and a small square item… an explosive.

Desmond was sending Steed a package bomb in her hand-writing. He had taken her out of the picture personally, but still was using some aspect of her to try to kill Steed.
"You bastard!" she screamed out into the empty house, all her muscles tensing with loathing.

Emma sat down in a chair in the living room, her handbag with the handcuffs by her side, the gun held firmly. She was fully prepared to wait. She was fully prepared to kill Desmond Kipner.

Desmond Kipner had a simple routine on Saturdays. He enjoyed the all-you-can eat luncheon special at a buffet twelve blocks from his home. It was economical, good food, and afforded him a little exercise. And it was nice to get out of his stuffy home.

He was in a good mood, as he dug into his plate piled high with food. Desmond had not been able to think of another way to actually use Emma herself. But, he had figured out another way to kill Steed using a part of his wife. It was amazing what information one could garner from the books at the British Library and a few specialty bookstores that stocked up on spy books, including books that described the tradecraft wares of spies. Like letter bombs. Not that difficult to make. Sure, it had taken a concerted search about the city for the building requirements, but he had found everything he needed. Putting it together had been a cinch for him, and a couple of days of practicing Emma Steed's hand-writing had paid off, too. Desmond would eat a good lunch and then seal up the package and either mail it later that day or wait until Monday.
Then, a day later, it would blow up John Steed.

Steed had found Madge Hawkin's address in Emma's rolodex on her study desk. Zipping up to her house in Dr. Silver's Mercedes, he slammed on the brakes and, his leg braceless again, dashed up to the door of her house. He rang the doorbell repeatedly.

The door opened to a tall, thin man wearing thick black glasses, but intelligent eyes behind them.
"I say," he began. "What's all this racket?"
"I'm terribly sorry but I wonder if I might have a word with Mrs. Hawkins."
"And what is this about?"
"My name is John Steed, and my wife is Emma Steed, Mrs. Hawkin's boss. I have a question to ask her, if I might."
"John Steed, is it? Don't happen to have any identification on you, do you? Can't let any old stranger into the house, you know. Against Scotland Yard recommendations. It's just asking for trouble."

Steed controlled his impulse to punch the man in the nose illustrating to him indeed what trouble was. Instead, he took out his wallet and showed him his driver's license. "Now may I meet Mrs. Hawkins?"
"Mr. Hawkins, what is occurring at the door?" a female voice asked from behind her husband.

Never one to pass up an opportunity, Steed used his broad shoulders to push himself into their house, moving Mr. Hawkins to the side so he could see his wife at the back of the room.
"Mrs. Hawkins, I'm John Steed."
"I know that, sir. We've met a number of times at Mrs. Steed's office."
"Well, yes. I wonder if I might have a private word with you."
"Mrs. Hawkins, just what is this about?" her husband asked.
"Nothing to fret about, Mr. Hawkins," she answered. "Mr. Steed, I don't believe we have anything to discuss."

Steed sighed. "Well, then, I suppose it's off to the police station. I thought I would first try to find out your personal involvement in what's going on, but the inspector himself, I'm sure--"
"--Ah, perhaps I was a bit mistaken, Mr. Steed," Madge said, her arm swinging open to her side. "Let us retire into my sewing room, shall we?"
"Now what is all this about the police, Mrs. Hawkins?" her husband asked. "I say, that is right up my alley, as you know."
"Go back to your stamps, dear. This shan't but take a moment. I shall fill you in later, during tea."

She led Steed down the corridor into a small room with electric sewing machine on a table in it, closing the door after them once they were both inside. She turned to him and although she was trying to be brave, Steed could read fear in her eyes. For good reason. She was an accomplice to plotting murder.

"Now, Mrs. Hawkins," he began with a bluff, "Let me start off by stating I know you have helped my wife track down the Targill ex-employee who has been trying to kill me."
"Oh? Mr. Steed, that is a rather fantastical statement to make. What proof do you have?"

Steed sighed, committed to his bluff. "I have neither the time nor patience for this. I know for a fact you are involved. Now, listen to me closely. I didn't come here to cause you any trouble. I merely need you to tell me who is the man my wife is going to kill, and what his address is. With that, I will go, and leave you alone. Whatever happens you have my word that you shall remain nameless, and never be brought into any investigation. If, however, you do not give me that name… well, perhaps you are aware that I have certain connections in the government that might bring needless woe into your life."
He smiled, waiting.

Madge Hawkins surprised him with her words. "My loyalty lies with Mrs. Steed, Mr. Steed. I am prepared to risk going to jail to protect her."
Bingo. She was involved! However, Steed placed high worth on loyalty, and Madge Hawkins found favor with him. He decided to open up to her. He really didn't want to have her home torn apart by Ministry searchers. "I appreciate that, I do. Very much so and I must state it does you much credit to hear you say that. However, it is very important to me that my wife does not kill that man. Have you ever killed someone, Mrs. Hawkins? It is a… dreadfully disturbing memory to have to live with all one's life, however much the passion of the moment seems to justify such a drastic action. My wife decided to kill this man under duress induced, I am sad to say, by me. I am committed to seeing that she is stopped beforehand."

Madge Hawkins sat down on a chair by the sewing desk, her thin body hardly taking up space on the seat. "I don't quite know what to do."
"Tell me who the man is. That's it. I'll go and leave you alone. You'll be doing the right thing. That man will be severely punished, make no mistake about that. But, not by having Emma become what he is --a cold-blooded killer. Being loyal to someone means you want to help them, support them, stand up for them --you will be doing that best by keeping Emma from killing him, not by enabling her. By letting me, her husband, whom you know she loves dearly, talk her out of it."
Madge held her hands in her lap, as if she was trying to compress herself into disappearing. "The man's name is… Desmond Kipner. He used to work for Targill, Inc, and was made redundant with the merger."
"Yes, I know. I mean, I figured that out. Do you know his address?"
"Yes, 524 Oakdale, Weybridge."

Steed was out the door in a flash, a grateful "Thank you!" lingering in the air all that was left of him.
Madge Hawkins prayed she had done the right thing. She also wondered what on earth she would tell Mr. Hawkins about exactly what was going on; she imagined that for the first time in their twenty year marriage, she would have to lie to him.

Desmond arrived home around 2:15 p.m., and turned the key in his front door; Emma stood up and ran into the hallway, hiding around the corner from the living room. She heard him enter and throw his keys down on the coffee table, and then the there was a sound of furniture being compressed. Emma came around the corner with the gun trigger cocked back.

"Hello, Desmond," she said.
He was astounded by her presence and sat frozen, his mouth open and speechless.
She motioned the gun towards the package on the table. "Nice letter bomb. Going to blow up my husband?"
He still couldn't utter a syllable.

She pointed the gun back at his heart, scrunching her face up in disagreement. "I don't think so."
Finally Desmond's mind began working again. "How?" he asked. "How did you figure out it was me?"
Emma shrugged her shoulders. "I'm pretty intelligent. I figure out lots of things."
"Are you going to kill me?"
"Oh, yes. Definitely."
"Here? Now?"
"Well, certainly before you attempt to murder my husband again. Yes, I think here and now will suffice." Her voice changed to a staccato phrasing to emphasize her intentions. "Here. And. Now."

She raised her arm, targeting Desmond's heart, as his face drained of blood and he lifted his arms to protect his head. She hated this man, this coward, this bastard, who had used her to harm Steed twice, and who was going to try to kill Steed again and again and again until he was finally successful. Jail wasn't good enough for him; only death. Only by killing him would Steed understand that she was to be trusted, that she would take care of threats to him, and never ever be personally responsible for injuring him. She had killed people before, and lived with the emotional consequences of it, the bad dreams, the obsessing on what the person's face looked like dead by her hand… she could live with it again. If she had to, and, there was no other option. And, she had to. She had to protect Steed. She had to gain his trust back.

Emma's heart beat as rapidly as Desmond's and a bead of sweat broke out on her forehead. Taking a deep breath she committed herself to firing the gun when a voice spoke behind her.
"Emma, don't kill him," Steed said.

Emma whipped her head around to see her husband standing at the entrance to the kitchen. He had obviously snuck into the house the same, silent way she had. But, how had he found her? And, what was she supposed to do now?
"I have to, Steed. He's the bastard that gave me the paint gun and poisoned the dates. Look on the table. He was going to send you a letter bomb addressed in my hand-writing. He doesn't deserve to live."

Steed walked to the table. Desmond still cowered on the couch. He saw the proof of Desmond's third attempt to kill him. He picked up one of the spy books in the pile and leafed through it.
"I knew the author of this book," he said. "Quite a spy, quite a spy."
Steed put the book down and stood next to Emma.

Emma declared, "I'm going to shoot him. End this reign of terror he's brought to us."
Steed did not touch or interfere with his wife. "Emma," he said, "I spent time today talking with Dr. Silver. He's brought me to see that I was responsible for me being injured, not you. That I had no right to distrust you. That I should have made better use of that danger tickle I felt both times. That it was my love for you that caused me to not deal appropriately with the gun and poison situations as I should have. It was my responsibility to not get injured, not yours. I'm the secret agent and should have realized that the unusual happens; that danger can come from any source, in any way. I chose poorly and you have suffered as much as I have as a result. Emma, please, put the gun down. You need not prove anything to me. I'm so very sorry that you've felt this was your only way to have me trust you again. Please forgive me."

Tears trickled down Emma's face, and her arm holding the gun grew shaky. Desmond put his arms down as he stared disbelieving at the scene of his murder victim trying to not have him murdered.
"Steed…" was all Emma could say. She was torn as to what to do.

Steed's softly spoken voice remained rock steady. "Emma, now you have a choice. I'm asking, no begging you to love me more than you hate him."
Emma glanced at him. "Oh, Steed, I do. You know I do."
"Then please, put the gun down. This is not the way to go." And then and only then did he reach out to her outstretched arm and add pressure to hopefully lower her arm down to her side; she relented to his will allowing the gun to rest against her thigh. Then he took the gun from her hand, smiling at her, wiping the tears from her face.

Desmond took a chance and stood, racing for the front door. Emma reacted instantly and sprinted like lightning towards him. Desmond found a very irate Emma Steed between him and his exit. He made to rush her and never stood a chance. Emma ducked around his body and slammed a fist into his jaw, stopping Desmond's forward movement, as he was stunned by the force of the blow. Emma followed it with another punch to his face, a punch to his stomach, which doubled him up, and then brought her knee up into his nose. Desmond staggered back, blood streaming from his nostrils. Emma grabbed his arm and then turning about, flipped him over her shoulder. He landed in an ungainly clump on the floor, barely conscious.

"Just like old times," Steed said, putting the gun in his pocket.
She turned to Steed. "Shall I kick him, too?"
Steed shook his head. "No. That's bad form when a man is down."
"You don't always have to be a gentleman, you know."
"Yes, I do. It's who you love."

She swallowed, touched deeply by his sentence. "Then what do I have to be?"
Steed shrugged. "What you are. Perfect."
She came to him and they embraced, kissing each others' lips, faces, necks; their arms around each other's back, buttocks, necks.
"Oh, lovely lady, I need to get you home," Steed murmured, luxuriating in the scent of her hair.
"Steed, I want you so badly," she answered, caressing the back of his neck, making him moan.

Their lust was cut short by a long groan coming from Desmond. Steed gave Emma the handcuffs he took from her handbag and she went to Desmond, turning him over and handcuffing his wrists behind his back. She then lifted his head up by its hair and smacked his forehead into the wooden floorboards numerous times, one smack for each word in her admonition, "Don't you ever try to kill my husband, again!" until the man was unconscious in a little pool of blood, Emma having carefully ensured the blows weren't hard enough to kill him.
She brushed her hands off and pushed her hair back off her face. "Well, I didn't kick him."
Steed smiled. Then he went to the phone and called in The Ministry.

Epilog

Desmond Kipner was put in jail for life with no chance of parole. The security people left the Steeds' home, giving them back the privacy they cherished. As Autumn approached, Steed's stamina and strength returned to normal and he gained back those five pounds he had lost; as soon as his ribs were healed he got on a horse and leapt his giddy children over hedges all afternoon. His ulcers healed up and he said "Good riddance" to milk. Both he and Emma returned to their normal schedules of going to work in London and arriving home at the same time, greeted by their excited children, with whom they spent the rest of the night talking and playing and tickling.

Emma never again dreamed of mouths and eyes.

Madge Hawkins remained Emma's secretary, was told she had done the right thing, and was given a very substantial raise. Her husband, never expecting to be lied to, accepted Madge's prevarication at once, and Madge rendered a silent vow to never lie to him again.

Children are more resilient that they are often given credit. Both Elly and Eddie soon forgot all about their father having been injured and instead enjoyed all the fun they had with him and their mother. Elly graduated to books for children twice her age, and being too advanced in her school class was bumped ahead a year. Eddie began a growth spurt that in the next year would see him attain both normal height and weight for his age; Steed would switch to carrying him on his shoulders. After Eddie pleaded desperately to his bemused parents, they began allowing him to occasionally dress in a little finely tailored suit topped with a specially ordered bowler hat and a specially ordered bamboo handled child-sized furled umbrella. Steed and Eddie so attired, walking down a street and tipping their hats to women, made everyone they passed smile.

Purdey forgave Emma for giving her the slip; and Gambit forgave Steed for impersonating Dr. Silver and slinking off without protection.
Steed and Emma renewed their love for each other an impressive three times the night after Desmond Kipner was arrested. During one interlude, Steed told Emma the rest of what he had discussed with Dr. Silver. They both made the firm decision that the ending to their legendary lives would indeed be them living happily, ecstatically, ever after. And, that is exactly what happened.

The End

 
©  Mona Morstein 2000
No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. These stories may not be altered in any way or sold; all copyright information must appear with this work at all times. Please read disclaimers and warnings on top of each story. Feel free to send constructive comments to the author.. :o)  

 
Back to The Avengers Library