Outside earlier that morning, jogging his daily five miles, Bobby Cole thought the air smelled really fresh. That usually made him feel pretty good…despite New York City’s pollution. Not this time, though. Right now, he was headed for a phone booth two blocks away. The gravel-voiced stranger who called him at home a few minutes ago, said, “Be there at ten o’clock sharp, if you want to see Arnold Tomkins alive again!” Then the guy hung right up --before Bobby could squeeze a word in.

Bobby anxiously dialed Tomkin’s numbers in succession, getting recorded messages on all three --business, home and cell phone. Odd for Tomkins not to answer any of them, Bobby rushed out the door, mumbling. “Maybe that call was for real.”

At the booth five minutes later, finding a businessman using the public phone, Bobby impatiently waited -hopping from foot to foot, hoping the guy would finish soon. Two, three, four long minutes crept by before the man finally hung up.

Just then, the telephone rang. The man instinctively reached for the receiver. But, before the man got the phone off the hook, Bobby grabbed him by the collar and yanked him out of the way. Gasping “Sorry sir, but, that call’s for me,” Bobby stepped into the booth, slammed the door closed behind him and stretched for the receiver himself.

The outraged man was about to pull the door back open -to give Bobby a dressing down…maybe worse. But, quickly considering Bobby’s size and state of agitation, he decided to brush himself off and head for his next appointment instead.

Bobby snatched the receiver, rasping. “It’s me. Bobby Cole.”

A male voice responded -without doubt, the same one Bobby had heard at home- “Smart move, taking this call.”

Bobby angrily snapped. “Where’s Arnold Tomkins?”

The caller replied, “Hold on, cowboy. One step at a time,” then went on. “Now, listen carefully. There’s a diner in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Right on the other side of the bridge on Route 4…Riverlook Roadstop. Can’t miss it. Be there at nine-thirty tonight. Sit at the counter. We’ll find you.”

The caller disconnected before Bobby could reply.

Bobby hung up the phone, distraught and confused, wondering who on Earth would do such a thing. And, if they really had kidnapped Arnold, what could the reason possibly be?

True, Bobby had taken quite a few bad guys down. But, none seemed the type to retaliate this way. And, as for Tomkins himself, an insurance expert most of his life, he only handled the bookings and paperwork for crying out loud, never really involved in any of the rough stuff. That meant somebody out there knew how close Arnold and he had become, and that Bobby would do whatever it took to get him back unharmed.

Nothing more to do at the moment, no inkling what that would be anyway, Bobby headed back home. He walked along slowly, thinking through recent events, searching for some shred of connection as a possible cause for Arnold’s kidnapping.

Not only unable to come up with a clue, he became even more confused. After all, Bobby’d spent the past three months recovering from a gunshot wound, doing very little work. That meant it was probably someone, somewhere, from the more distant past that wanted something from him. Because, almost certainly, this hadn’t been caused by anything happening since he’d returned to work full time. He remembered that time-frame clearly. The first day back on the job, he’d gone over to Harry’s Place, to meet a guy who’d called him at home.

As Bobby came in through the doorway that morning, Tommy Lester, Harry’s new bartender, looked up and smiled. “Hey, Bobby. How you feeling today?”

“Better than ever, Tommy. Yourself?”

“Not bad. Not bad at all. Getting the hang of the place,” Tommy replied. Then he pointed a thumb over his shoulder, and said “There’s a guy back there in the dining room. Says he’s waiting for you. Nobody else is in there. Can’t miss him.”

“Thanks, Tommy. Talk to you later.”

Bobby entered the dining room and stopped cold, doing a double take. “How could this be?” he wondered. Uri Petrov was supposed to be locked up in jail. The cops said he’d likely be there for most of the rest of his life. Yet, here he was. A few pounds heavier, perhaps. Hair an inch, or so, longer. But, there was no mistake about it.

Bobby quickly considered his options. Throw his hands up in surrender? Try to turn over a table and duck behind it? Reach for the Walther holstered under his left arm? How much time did he have? Maybe, shouting to Tommy behind the bar might frighten or confuse Petrov long enough for Bobby to protect himself –try to take the guy out first.

Petrov noticed Bobby’s alarm, and sensed his wariness. He solved Bobby’s problem for him, saying calmly, “Hello, Bobby. I’m Ivan Petrov, Uri’s brother. I’m not here to harm you.”

The resemblance was uncanny, right down to the voice and slight accent.

Bobby sighed cautiously in relief, as he approached Petrov’s table. He tentatively shook the outstretched hand Petrov offered in greeting, then slid onto a chair across.

Petrov said, “Don’t worry, Bobby, I’m not here for revenge. Nothing like that at all. The fact of the matter is, I think I might need your help.”

Bobby relaxed somewhat more, and asked. “What’s the problem, Mr. Petrov?”

“It’s a rather long tale, Bobby, that I’ll try to boil down. But, by now, I’m sure you know quite a bit about my brother.”

Bobby leaned forward, interrupting politely. “If it will save you some time, Mr. Petrov, Uri told me himself about how you both came here from Europe. And, pretty much explained how his operation worked. So, if that’s what you mean, I guess I already do know.”

Petrov smiled and replied. “Yes, Bobby. Thank you. That will save us both some time, indeed. But, now, let me go on from there. I think you’ll see quite soon, why I think I need your assistance.”

Petrov paused momentarily, then continued. “When Uri and I first arrived here we went into the jewelry trade, doing quite well much sooner than I ever dreamed. I was more than pleased with my success as a diamond cutter. My brother, though, was another man, and another story. Always ambitious, aggressive in nature, we weren’t moving ahead fast enough to suit him. So, rather than waiting for raises in earnings, he began pilfering from the kindly old man who employed us. Then, when the small thefts occurred more often, that was the end of the line. The old man soon suspected Uri, and fired him without hesitation. But, for some unknown reason, did not call the police. As for me…knowing nothing at all about the thefts and most certainly not involved…to my amazement, the old man fired me, too! Simply because I was Uri’s brother. I was shocked, of course. And, quite frightened too. Not only for myself, but I had a family to support. What was I to do now? Where to look for a job? Making things worse, the diamond community is a small one. Everyone knows one another. When word quickly spread about what Uri had done, I, an innocent victim, was stained in the bargain.”

Petrov slowly shook his head again; then went on. “No matter he’d done himself in, Uri was enraged about losing his job. He wanted revenge. Not only against our employer, but the other merchants too, vowing to make them all pay for his own misdeeds. He already knew where quite a few diamond merchant’s businesses were located and even where some of them lived. He soon convinced a couple of others to join him; then a rash of jewelry robberies occurred. And, though I never heard Uri named as responsible, I did know he seemed to have quite a bit of money he’d not had before. He even lent some to me.

“In time, Uri’s theft ring grew larger, but he somehow evaded suspicion himself. There wasn’t even a hint of curiosity about him in the diamond market, the neighborhood, or from the police. As for myself, though? I was having a horrid time of it. It was impossible to find diamond-cutting work, and I knew no other trade. Without my brother’s financial assistance, I don’t know what I would have done. Then, one day he came to me -with some stones he’d come by that required recutting and resetting- offering to pay me for my time. He never told me where the stones came from, and frankly, Bobby, I never asked. With one thing leading to another, before long I was employed by my brother’s company, Starlight Trading, full time. Though I still cut and set diamonds, I soon became manufacturing manager of a growing, completely legitimate business. And, while I must admit knowing that Uri obtained stones from other activities he was somehow involved in, I can also honestly say…that was not my department. I had nothing at all to do with purchasing, selling or the books.

“The police investigating after Uri’s arrest questioned me at length, but I was of very little help. I certainly couldn’t tell them anything about things I knew absolutely nothing about. And, they must have believed me, because they’ve left me alone since then.”

Petrov paused briefly, then went on. “But Uri’s associates? They’re an entirely different matter. They don’t believe me at all. Despite that Uri wasn’t directly involved with any organizations, working more or less on his own, he must have had some sort of arrangement with them. And now, they expect me, Ivan Petrov, to carry on in his place -simply because I’m Uri’s brother. People have been sent to talk to me. Threats have been made. Yet I cannot help them even if I wished to, as I’m in the dark about Uri’s other business dealings. And, that’s why I wanted to meet you. I think they might try to harm my family, as incentive to get help I’m unable to give them. Who knows? Perhaps they’re angry enough to kill us all.”

Bobby was familiar enough with Uri Petrov’s operation to believe Ivan’s story…for right now anyway. He said, “From what little I know about Uri’s connections, Mr. Petrov, you really might be in serious trouble. Those people play by their own rules. But, how do you think I can help? I can’t take on the Russian mob for you. Those guys are way over my head.”

“I know that, Bobby, and don’t expect you to walk in and shoot them. What I do need, though, is protection, for my family and myself. That’s what you do, isn’t it? Protect people?”

“Yes, Mr. Petrov, that’s exactly what I do. I’m a bodyguard. And if that’s what you want, I guess I can try to help you. But, I’ll tell you right up front, you can’t do this half way and stay safe. You need full time protection for yourself, and everyone else in your family. How many of you are there?”

“My wife, myself, and two teen-aged girls.”

Bobby sat back silently, assessing the situation; then finally said, “Look, Mr. Petrov, I think I know what you’re going through, and, certainly what you’re up against, better than most. But I honestly don’t think I’m what you need. Sure, I can have people cover you, round the clock…yourself, your wife, and your kids. But, that will have to go on for a long, long, time to come. Aside from the cost, that’s no way to live your life. In some ways, your brother will have more freedom in jail then you do on the outside. Because, as far as the mob is concerned, I think they’ll just wait you out. Some day, some place, some time, they’ll get their chance to pick you off. If they really want revenge, they’ll get it for sure. But, there might be a better way.”

Obviously dejected, Petrov asked. “What do you have in mind?”

Bobby replied. “Right now, I really don’t want to go into it all. Until I make a few phone calls, there’s nothing I can tell you anyway. But, I can promise to get back to you by tomorrow afternoon, the latest -if that’s okay with you. If not, I’m sorry, but I’m just not sure bodyguards are the right thing to do here. And, believe me, Mr. Petrov; I’m not turning you down because I don’t want to work for you. The job would be good for my business. I just don’t think it will work out for either of us in the long run, that’s all.”

Still seeming disappointed, Petrov said, “I came to you because you’re the expert in these matters. After all, you were able to thwart my brother, no easy task by any means. I suppose the wisest thing for me to do, then, is to wait for your call. So, I’ll leave you for now, Bobby.”

As he rose from his chair, Petrov slid a slip of paper across the table, and said, “You can reach me here at any time. It’s my cell phone number.”

“Are you going back home now?” Bobby asked.

Petrov smiled wistfully, and replied. “Home, Bobby? I wish that were so. But, for now, we have no home. I’ve taken rooms in a hotel, under another name. And, I suspect, you may be right. Uri truly might have more freedom in jail than we do. At least, they let him walk outside a few hours a day. So, please, call me as soon as you can.”

Commiserating with Petrov’s anguish, Bobby asked again. “If you think the situation is that serious, Mr. Petrov, do you want me to come with you? See you back to your room?” Petrov replied. “No, that won’t be necessary, Bobby. Thank you. My brother and I did learn some things about self-protection in Europe, when we were younger. So, I’m not so worried about myself. It’s my family that concerns me. I’ll wait for your call.”

With that, Ivan Petrov quickly departed. .