The echo of Metcalfe’s words has not yet fade away that the sound of raging machine gun makes itself heard. The six men try to disperse… That’s not quite easy, considering there is no much place to run. Svenson and Blackburn are the only ones able to reach the relative safety of the warehouse. A hail of bullets cuts the way to Holden and Donaghue, forcing them to retreat to the car, behind which they take cover.
Fraser and Metcalfe are still very dangerously in the open. Bullets fly around them, forcing them to hit the ground, so they would not provide too much of a target. Fraser slightly raises his head to address Metcalfe, shouting over the thundering sound:
“We’ll be cut in half if we stay here!”
“I doubt it!” Metcalfe shouts back. A hail of bullets rains at only three feet to his side. “They don’t want to kill us!”
“How do you know that?”
“We would already be dead!” Another rain of bullets interrupts Metcalfe. “They only want to immobilize us!”
Fraser looks around. It seems to him that Metcalfe is right. None of the others has been hit by a single bullet. Of course, none of them were as exposed to danger as himself and the WAAF colonel were.
“Well, if that’s the case, then I’ll take my chance!”
For what? Thinks Metcalfe. He doesn’t really have time to ask Fraser: he sees him gets to his feet and make a run for the more neighbouring building… at about two hundreds yards from there.
“Don’t try it, man!” He calls to him. “You will never make it!”
Fraser doesn’t seem to hear him and continues to run. One of the helicopters, seemingly from nowhere, comes down in front of him, cutting off his path. Two men, dressed in black, hooded and armed with automatics weapons, jump out of the machine. Fraser tries to go back. One of the men pushes him hard to the ground.
Metcalfe, who still has Fraser’s gun in hand, starts to get to his feet, wanting to help the detective. A hooded man suddenly appears before him, coming from the sky. Using a rope, he has lower himself from one of the other helijets, before finally jumping in front of the colonel. The later does not have time to react: the hooded man hits him squarely under the chin with his foot, sending him on his back, half stunned. In the fall, Metcalfe loose Fraser’s gun.
Through a haze, he sees the helijet standing still over him, as others men slide from ropes to get to the ground. The first man takes the gun that Metcalfe has lost, and then raises his head toward the helijet. With a large movement, he orders to the pilot to land his aircraft on an empty spot, near the warehouse. Then he lowers the barrel of the gun right in Metcalfe’s face.
“Don’t be a fool, soldier, and stay quiet!”
Metcalfe doest make a move; the man then forces him to his feet, keeping the gun on hum. Beyond him, Metcalfe sees that Fraser too has been put on his feet and that he is now dragged toward the warehouse. The WAAF colonel also notices that two of the helijet have now landed, while the third was presently making its approach to do so. Twelve men, all hooded and dressed in black, with heavy artilleries, had taken over the place.
They probably all dropped out of the sky, thinks Metcalfe.
Aside from the one that was presently taken aim at him and the two others that had captured Fraser, the masked men now all have taken positions: flat on the ground, or on one knee, all weapons aimed at the opened garage door and toward the car, behind which Donaghue and Holden were still hidden. They were all ready and waiting an order to attack.
Like well-trained professional commandos.
Now the man who had taken Metcalfe down is waving his gun under the colonel’s nose, showing the warehouse. He cocks the hammer.
“Walk.” He says with a gloomy threatening voice. “And don’t try anything.”
Metcalfe twitches. He recognizes the voice. This is one of the two men who had ambushed him this very morning.
“So, you’re back, he?” Metcalfe tells him coldly.
“You were right, colonel. We hadn’t finished yet.” The man says very quietly. Then he takes a stern commanding voice: “Now, move it!”
He pushes Metcalfe toward the warehouse, at the same time that Fraser and his two aggressors come to their level. The police detective and the WAAF colonel exchange glance, as the three others stay behind them, seeming to use them as shields and keeping aim on their backs.
“Who are those men, anyway?” Fraser asks, bending a little toward Metcalfe.
“Your guest is as good as mine.” The WAAF colonel answers.
“Friends of Donaghue, perhaps.” Fraser muses.
The leader, who was following just behind him, gives Fraser a violent shove:
“Gee! A congenial personality!” Fraser mockingly says. “Keep your shirt on, pal!”
“Shuddup, smart guy!” The leader replies, obviously annoyed.
He pushes Fraser again. Metcalfe could see the detective was really tempted to swirl around and jump at him. But Fraser, if courageous, is obviously not the suicidal kind and keeps his anger in check.
They were at only a few feet of the garage door and the car. The leader and his two acolytes stop Metcalfe and Fraser.
“All right, now. Get on your knees.” The leader orders them.
Fraser turns a little to face him. “You’re not serious, right?”
The leader cocks anew the hammer of his gun. “Deadly serious.”
“That’s my gun you’re holding, you know.” Fraser notes impassible.
“And I will give it back to you bullet after bullet if you don’t obey me!” The leader threatens him.
“And it’s me you called a ‘smart guy’?” Fraser replies.
“I said: on your knees!”
The leader impatiently pushes Fraser to the ground where he lands on his hands and knees. One of the others men forces Metcalfe to kneel at his side.
“I want to see your hands!” The leader continues. “Put them on your head, the both of you!”
Metcalfe complies; after straightening up, Fraser does the same. The colonel gives him a quick stare as one of the men behind aims his automatic weapon on the detective’s neck.
“You take too much chance, Fraser.” The colonel says to his companion, in a low voice.
“You were the one who said they didn’t want to kill us.” Fraser answers back, between his teeth.
A gloomy Metcalfe feels the barrel of a weapon pressing on his back.
“Now I’m not so sure. It looks pretty bad for the both of us.”
The leader gets to Metcalfe’s side and looks directly at the car and the garage door. He seems sure of himself, thinks Metcalfe, standing there in the open. He must know that there could be at least one gun somewhere, aimed at him, but he doesn’t look afraid one bit.
“All right now!” The leader shouts with a strong voice. “I know that they’re some of you in the warehouse, and some others behind that car. I can send in my men in there to take you… and I can order one of them to blow that car with a grenade. But I’ll be generous with you and give you one chance of coming out of this alive, without any bloodshed. If you have any weapon, throw it away in the open. Then come out, with both hands in view. Do that, and your two friends here live. If you do not comply within a reasonable delay, they die.”
All of Metcalfe revolts when he hears that ultimatum. Being used as a victim in a hostage situation is really not of his liking. That goes against everything he had trained for all of his life. He shouts desperately:
“Don’t do this, any of you! That’s not worth it!”
The leader turns to him and slaps him furiously in the face with the back of his hand, forcing him to shut up. He then puts the barrel of his gun to the WAAF colonel’s temple.
“Don’t try to be a hero, hot shot.” He coldly warns him. “THAT is not worth it.”
Metcalfe stands his stare with his own, a glints of fury dancing in his blue eyes. The man has hit him very hard; he can feel blood in his mouth, coming from the corner of his already swelling lips.
“Are you not afraid of dying, colonel?” The leader asks him, even more coldly than before.
“As much as you, surely.” Metcalfe answers carefully. “But I know where my duty is.”
The leader laughs softly. “Spoken like a true soldier.” He raises his voice, so the others can hear him:
“Now listen to me carefully. That fool has no order to give you! I gave you one minute to give yourselves up…» He presses his gun to Metcalfe’s throat. “…Or he’s the first to die!”
The seconds come by. Then a gun flies from behind the car and hits the ground at the leader’s feet.
“That’s the only weapon we got.” Holden says from behind the car. “Believe us.”
The leader sighs heavily. “I believe you. Now get out of there.” He turns toward the warehouse. “What will it be for you in there?”
“We’re coming out.” The voice of Svenson comes from out of the darkness.
Metcalfe lets out a sigh. Well, he gets to live, anyway… But he can’t shake this nagging feeling that the leader of those men had no intention what so ever of killing him.
Svenson and Blackburn get out of the warehouse, while Holden, with a hesitating Donaghue step out from behind the car. The leader gestures toward some of his men. They get on their feet and go quickly to the four men surrounding to them.
When two of the commandos reach Holden and Donaghue, the later reacts when no one has expected him to. He jumps swiftly at them, literally shoving Holden aside. Then he grabs the first man, turning the barrel of his weapon down, and hits him in the stomach. The commando steps back and tumbles, right into the arms of the second one.
Taking care to keep the two men between himself and the other commandos so they can shield him, Donaghue reaches the door of his can, opens it, and jumps inside, closing behind him. The engine roars and Donaghue steps on the accelerator before anybody has time to reach the door. He puts into reverse and his car pulls back, knocking down two other men who have quickly approach to try to stop him.
The leader swears under his breath. To make sure his other prisoners won’t be tempted to take advantage of the confusion, he gestures toward his men to keep them well in check. He personally puts his gun on Metcalfe chest, while Svenson, Holden, and Blackburn see themselves narrowly encircled by several commandos cocking their weapons.
Donaghue engaged the clutch into drive and presses hard on the pedal. The car literally jumps forward in a loud screeching of tires. Men wanting to stop it can do nothing more than get out of its way, while it speeds straight past them and moves away as far as possible.
One of the men keeping Fraser and Metcalfe in check raises his weapon and aims at the rapidly distancing car. If he is a good shot, thinks Metcalfe, he will probably hit it. But then, inexplicably, the leader of the pack puts his hand on the barrel and pushes it down.
“I can do it, sir.”
“No doubt about that.” The leader tries a little humour: “But it will be a shame to damage such a pretty machine.”
The commando insists. “Maybe we can send in one of the helijets to…”
The leader cuts him abruptly. “No. Just let him go.” He sniffles derisively. “If he is able to let down the others like that, he’s not worth it.”
“My sentiment exactly.” Fraser muses to Metcalfe. That no good…”
“Now’s not the moment, Fraser.” Metcalfe mutters back.
The commando who had wanted to shoot the fleeing car was still arguing that it was not a good idea to let Donaghue go.
“But sir, aren’t you afraid that he would go get the police or…”
“With his records, mister Donaghue won’t certainly go ask for the police’s help, nor for anybody else. Forget him.” The leader says, exasperatly. He looks straight at the man who was still hesitant and takes a very stern voice. “Are you discussing my orders, lieutenant?”
The commando answers with little more than a murmur. “No, Captain.”
Metcalfe’s attention arises. “Lieutenant”, the leader has said. And he was called back “Captain”. So, like he had thought all along, they really were militaries.
Good, well-trained military commandos. Perhaps some mercenaries…
And another thing was absolutely certain. That “Captain” knows exactly who his prisoners are. From the first to the last. He knew about himself, when he had ambushed him the first time, and he knows about Donaghue’s criminal record… which was probably one of the most covered information of all, due to the particular circumstances of Donaghue’s selection.
Considering the subject of Donaghue’s escape closed, the “Captain” them gives new instructions to his lieutenant, not seeming to take into account that his prisoners are hearing every words he says:
“Take six men with you and go to the warehouse basement. You’ll find there the SPV and the crates. Begin to take the crates upstairs. I’ll take care myself of the SPV in a little while. I have some errands to do here before.”
“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant answers.
He goes and gestures toward six other commandos, who disappear with him inside the warehouse. The Captain then orders that Svenson, Holden, and Blackburn are brought to him. The three men, pushed and dragged, join Metcalfe and Fraser in the same predicament, on their knees, hands on their heads. Svenson finds himself next to Metcalfe. They exchange glances.
“Do you think we’re at the end of the line, now?” Svenson asks in a whisper.
“Don’t give up hope.” Metcalfe answers in the same tone. “They still want something out of us.”
“I shudder to think what it could be.”
“When the five remaining prisoners are aligned in front of the one that was called “Captain”, the later looks at them quietly. He goes to one end of the line and begins walking slowly in front of the captives, naming each one of them as he passes before them:
“Commander detective Richard Fraser, from the World Government Police Forces… Colonel Paul Metcalfe, from the WAAF Special Forces… Mister Adam Svenson, from the World Aeronautic Society… Captain Steve Blackburn, also from the WAS… and lieutenant commander Bradley Holden, from the World Aquanaut Security Patrol… You miss a button, commander.”
Holden glares furiously at the Captain. He succeeds in keeping his anger in check and gives only a quiet response:
“My apologies. It’s all this running and dodging bullets…”
“All of you, gentlemen, from so many organisations… Military or otherwise.” The Captain continues. “Do you know why you’re all here?”
None of the prisoners responds. The Captain keeps silence a moment, before pursuing.
“Don’t tell me you don’t have any idea why you were summoned here! Along with mister Patrick Donaghue, who has left us in such an ill-mannered way…”
“Fraser grumbles under his breath. The Captain turns toward him.
“Commander Fraser!” He says with a friendly tone. “Would you care to share your opinion with us all?”
Fraser looks straight at him.
“I don’t even know who you are, but I am almost certain that you’re as bad a seed as that crook Donaghue.”
The Captain stops in front of Fraser.
“Wrong, mister Fraser. I can be worst.”
He hits Fraser in the stomach; the captive lets out a muffled sound and falls flat on the ground; the Captain turns his back at him and continues to walk quietly. The others captives look with concern while Fraser tries to regain his breath.
“Commander detective Fraser, you always wanted to be in the WAAF, isn’t it? Would have done anything for that… except that you hated school so badly that you didn’t get the necessary grades to join in. So what did you do? You became a cop. And a damn good one at that. If nothing else, police works had trained you well and exercises your detective skills.” The Captain pauses, looking thoughtfully at Fraser, who was starting to get on his hands. “Why did you refuse the promotion to Supreme Commander of the WGPC, commander?”
Fraser, still trying to catch his breath, stares at him in disbelief.
“How do you learn that? Nobody is supposed to know, except the higher authorities of the Police Forces…”
“I know a great many things, mister Fraser.” The Captain replies quietly. “But I would like to know why you said no to such an enviable promotion. Is it because something else, much more interesting, was offered to you?”
Fraser does not respond at the question. The Captain seems to take that as a positive answer. He nods thoughtfully then turns his attention to another.
“Lieutenant Commander Holden…» The WASP officer raises his head, when the Captain approaches him. “Coming back to Australia must stir up a lot of memories, isn’t it? You were quite the hero around here when you were in command of a World Navy submarine… How many enemy ships did you sink in that time, Commander?”
“I would rather recall the lives I save.” Holden mutters.
“If you will.” The Captain stops and crouches in front of Holden. “But then, when you were assigned chief of security of the WASP, you saved other lives, commander. What was the name of that last one, two years ago? You badly hurt your back trying to save him from drowning in that Stringray prototype, when it was sank by pirates…”
Holden looks at him and frowns in surprise.
“You were forced to a desk job after that last escapade, commander.” The Captain continues, all the while standing up. “What has taken you out of your office, now? I must admit, you seems to be pretty much back into shape. But then again…”
Suddenly, he viciously kicks Holden in the small of the back. The others prisoners jump out, as the commander cries out in pain and falls forward. He stays on the dirt, moaning, seemingly unable to move. Blackburn turns an enraged stare at the Captain:
“Why you, dirty…”
“Captain Blackburn, how nice of you to volunteer.” The Captain crouches in front of Blackburn.
“But then, you always volunteer, he? If there’s a dangerous enough mission, good old Steve Blackburn is always there, first in line, to try any aircraft there is to fly. You break as many records of broken bones as that of walking alive from spectacular crashes. It’s a wonder the WAS didn’t find you too reckless to become their head of the Flight Test Division.”
He pauses. Blackburn does not make a move when the Captain puts a friendly hand on his shoulder.
“What is it, Steve? Got bored of your life, flying around? That’s why you accepted that other proposition, isn’t it? What do you want to prove? That you are something other than a common flyboy? That there is something else out there more thrilling than to try to plough yourself into the ground with an aircraft?”
The Captain puts his gun to Blackburn’s head; the later stiffs nervously. He holds his breath, as the hooded man cocks the hammer.
“Is that thrilling enough for your, now, Steve?”
That is as much as Svenson is able to bear.
“Leave him alone!” He shouts furiously. “What are you trying to make him tell you? He doesn’t know anything!”
Metcalfe gives his neighbour a worried look.
“Adam, don’t try anything.” He tells him with a muffled voice.
The Captain raises his head to stare at Svenson. Blackburn also looks toward his friend, with a concerned look even more apparent that in Metcalfe’s eyes.
“Stay out of this, Adam!” He begs him.
The Captain gives Blackburn a shove brutal enough to send him rolling on the ground. When he sees the hooded man walking in Svenson’s direction, Blackburn makes a move to get to his feet to intervene, but the barrel of an automatic rifle pressed to his chest, forces him to stay lying on his back.
The Captain stops in front of Svenson and looks at him thoughtfully.
“Now, you, mister Svenson, do you know anything?”
Svenson stands his stare without blinking.
“Only that you’re a dirty rotten coward of a scoundrel.” He responds very coldly.
Such recklessness and arrogance seem to surprise the Captain a bit. He himself astonishes his captives by laughing quietly.
“Very brave words, mister Svenson.” He notes. “But then, you’re always been brave. You and your pal, Steve, over there, you were quite the team, back when you worked together as test pilots… There was even a rivalry between you two. Why did you quit being a test pilot?”
“I didn’t quit.” Svenson answer. “I got promoted to another job.”
“In the Security Department, yes.” The Captain nods. “You must have been really disappointed by such a decision of your superiors… I mean, you really love to fly, isn’t it? Don’t you think they had separated you from you friend Blackburn because they were afraid that your constant rivalry would one day cause a disaster?”
Svenson smiles congenially.
“If you’re trying to get me mad with that kind of words, mister, you’re very mistaking.” He quietly says. “They kept Steve Blackburn as a test pilot because he was the best. I got assigned at the Security Department because my superiors had felt that I could be more helpful there.”
The Captain leans toward Svenson. “So, it seems you would be right.” He says thoughtfully. “Is that why you were offered that other promotion, which brings you here? Because you could be even more helpful?”
“Maybe.” Svenson mutters.
“By whom, mister Svenson?” The Captain suddenly bellows. “By whom were you promoted?” “If I knew that, I would not be here talking with you!” Svenson answers back, almost with the same tone of voice. “But with THEM, telling them what I think about their security, the lack of which has left a man like you get his hands on classified information that then enable him to capture and question us!”
Silence follows. Then the Captain redresses himself and sighs.
“Very good answer, mister Svenson.”
“So? I don’t get hit, like the others?” Svenson cynically asks him.
“One thing at a time, mister Svenson.” The Captain quietly replies. “Let’s just say that you had earned yourself a respite.”
“Lucky fellow…” Fraser mumbles under his breath.
“Don’t push YOUR luck, mister Fraser.” The Captain warns him.
He then turns his attention to Metcalfe, who was staring at him, with eyes nothing short then burning with rage.
“You’ve been awfully quiet, colonel Metcalfe.”
“I was just waiting to hear what you had to say about me…” Metcalfe answers very calmly. “I don’t doubt you know a lot.”
“Oh yes… I know a lot, colonel. For instance, you had your military and commando training at West Point, where you obtained quite a success... You joined the Special Forces of the WAAF, at a low rank, because you wanted to prove yourself. You did at that. Victoria Cross at age 23… Impressive. Military, it seems, is in your family tradition. Father, grandfather, even great-grandfather. They all end up generals. But you were the first to become a colonel before the age of thirty. In fact, you actually are the youngest man to even obtain that rank in all the history of the WAAF.”
“All this is not really a secret. Can’t you do better?”
“How’s this, then? Rumours have it that you prepare to retire.”
Metcalfe frowns. “What?”
The Captain bends in front of him.
“It’s very surprising, you know, with such brilliant achievement behind you, that you’d wish to end a career that’s still very young and promising.”
Metcalfe scowls. That particular information is relatively new. Outside the Selection Committee, that has enjoined him that suggestion, only his parents knew… He was pretty sure his father had not had time already to talk to anyone about his eventual retirement, like I had said he would. And he would certainly not have talk about it to a man like that “Captain”.
Then that leaves only one explanation. And Metcalfe laughs quietly at the thought, much to the surprise of everyone, including the Captain.
“Paul, are you all right?” A worried Svenson asks him.
“Yes, quite.” Metcalfe looks straight into the Captain’s eyes. “I was just thinking that you were right about this guy, Adam.”
The Captain shows himself very curious about that remark. “He was right about me? In what way?”
“About the fact that you had access at our files. Both personal and professional. You know about all of us. Even the criminal record of Donaghue. And he was right about the fact that all of these information, you had found them at the very source, the one place where our files, of each and every one of us, are all reunited: in the Committee’s records. If you didn’t obtain these information yourself, then someone at the Committee has gave them to you. Either way, there is a bad rotten apple at the heart of the Committee.”
The Captain keeps silent. Metcalfe stares at him and smiles.
“Yes, I think that’s it.” Metcalfe gives a quick glance at Svenson. “You WERE right, Adam. About everything about that guy. And you were right to call him… How did you say it? A dirty rotten coward of a scoundrel.”
Svenson sniffles derisively. “Yeah, I thought so at the time.”
The Captain reacts instantly and hits Svenson on the face, with the back of his hand, so violently that the American bowls over with a loud groan. Metcalfe, protests vehemently:
“You really are a coward, you dirty bastard! You’re very strong when you hit men while they had guns aimed at their head, but it would be far different if any of us had a chance to strike back!”
The Captain faces him with fury. “Is that a challenge, hot shot? Come then, you can have a go at me, if you like!”
Metcalfe laughs with derision. “No, thank you. You have your men to back you up.”
“They won’t intervene in any fashion, I give you my word.” The Captain insists. “They will not need to. I can very well take care of you myself, in a fair fight, and kick your sorry butt from here to London.”
“I wonder what good your word is worth, ‘Captain’.” Metcalfe muses.
“Don’t do this, Paul!” Svenson protests, while trying to get up on his knees. “This guy won’t play fair!”
“Don’t play his hand, Metcalfe!” Holden adds.
They were all protesting loudly. Annoyed, the Captain gives a vicious kick into Svenson’s loin, who flattens himself in the dirt.
“Now, soldier!” He says to Metcalfe. “I’d really want a shot at you. And I know you want the same from me! I can see it in your eyes.”
“Don’t give in, Paul.” Svenson groans.
The Captain kicks him anew. Metcalfe stiffs.
“Let him alone!” He bellows.
“He should know when to keep his mouth shut!” The Captain shouts. “Now, what is your answer, hot shot?”
“All right! But stop hitting him… or anybody else, for that matter.”
“You really think I’d use him to impose that little challenge to you? Well, whatever you opinion about me is… I WILL give you a fair fight, colonel.”
Metcalfe nods toward his companions. “So let them get on their feet. This position is not very comfortable, you know.”
The Captain glances at him, with a suspicious twinkle in his eyes. He gives in to his demand.
“All right.” He says. “But they have to keep quiet. I won’t accept anything from them while we have our little… challenge.”
Metcalfe sighs heavily. “Agreed.”
He then gets up on his feet.
Still kept in check by the commandos, all the captives stand up. The Captain orders his men to place themselves so a circle of empty space is made, where the opponents will encounter. Blackburn assures himself that Holden is all right; the WASP commander is holding his back, as if still in pain about the kick he has received earlier. Fraser and Metcalfe help Svenson get his footing. The blond American is grabbing his aching stomach, teeth grinding.
“You’re crazy, Metcalfe!” He mutters with a furious tone. “What make you think that guy will even give you a fair chance?”
“He’s right, colonel.” Fraser adds. “That creep will have you killed before he lets you win.”
“Well, it’s too late to turn back now.” Metcalfe answer, unbuttoning his jacket. “But maybe I can make something out of this.”
“By doing what?” Svenson asks him coldly. “Trying to snap his neck?”
“That’s a thought…” Metcalfe half-jokingly says. “But perhaps if I get the upper hand, and he sees that I mean business and won’t hesitate to kill him, he will be willing to answer some questions of our own.”
“And maybe let us go?” Fraser sceptically suggests.
“Don’t kid yourself, Paul!” Svenson scoffs. “You’re running to your death, here!”
Metcalfe smiles lightly. ”None of us is immortal.” He takes of his jacket and gives it to Svenson, along with his cap. “Here, hang on to these.”
“Are you married?” Fraser asks him.
Metcalfe frowns. “No. Why that question?”
Fraser points to the jacket and the cap. “To send these to your widow, when all this is over.”
Svenson sighs with exasperation. “Oh, do shut up, Fraser! You’re not helping any!”
Not really listening to them, Metcalfe gives a look toward the Captain. He has handed both his automatic rifle and his gun to one of his men and giving his last orders, with such a low tone that the colonel was not able to hear any word. Apparently, though, the hooded man was taking this fight very seriously.
Metcalfe turns to Svenson and takes a very low voice so that nobody else would hear.
“Look, if by any chance, things would go bad… I want you to go see my parents.”
Svenson mumbles. “Provided I get out of this alive myself…» He stops and notices the grim expression on Metcalfe’s face. Maybe it’s not the time for such words of pessimism, he thinks. “We’ll get out of this mess together, the all of us.” He tells Metcalfe.
“He seems ready, Paul.” Fraser then says.
Metcalfe looks at the Captain who’s now waiting patiently in the middle of the circle. He seems pretty sure of himself. Metcalfe sighs heavily and steps decidedly toward him. He sees the worried looks of his companions. He doesn’t talk to them. He concentrates on the figure, which is standing face to him, motionless.
There isn’t a sound around, only deadly silence, when Metcalfe stops at only a few feet of his adversary. They begin to walk around each other, each assessing his opponent, without letting their eyes out for even a second.
At first, it seems that neither one of them is willing to attempt a first blow. Metcalfe gets his fists up, preparing for any attack, but continue to walk around the Captain, without making a single step toward him. The Captain nods an approval and raises his fists too. He approaches his adversary.
He tries a swift hook toward Metcalfe. Lightning-like reflexes have the better of him and he received a direct right on the nose. The Captain makes a step back, with a muffled groan. He hesitates.
Good, thinks Metcalfe. I surprised him.
The Captain comes in for another try and swings three tentatively blows at Metcalfe’s face. The WAAF colonel evades every one of them and gives as much, each one connecting: a left in the stomach staggers his adversary. A quick one-two to the face with the right makes him step back anew.
The other captives watch in worry. Fraser has a faint grim on his face.
“Well, at least he knows how to boxe…” Fraser mutters. “Maybe he has a chance.”
“I’m afraid he will gain too much confidence and that the creep will use that against him.” Blackburn replies gloomily.
Presently, though, Metcalfe isn’t doing to bad for himself. An enraged Captain tries to run him through with a series of blows that find nothing but thin air, as Metcalfe evades them again, seemingly dancing around his opponent. But he is too much on the defensive now, and the Captain comes charging at him like a bull. He grabs him by the torso and throws the two of them violently on the ground.
The impact of the fall, combined with the weight of his adversary stuns Metcalfe momentarily. Then he suffers his first blow. Keeping him pined under him, the Captain hits him ferociously on the side. Metcalfe tries desperately to free himself. His arms are trapped so closely to him that he cannot throw a single blow at the Captain. But one of his hands is loose enough to grab his opponent by the belt. He then finds enough traction to push him aside and uses his legs to get on top of him.
Metcalfe frees his hands, hits the Captain hard on the right shoulder to make him let go, and gets them both on their feet. He tries an uppercut. The Captain intercepts it and responds with a quick hook to the face that makes Metcalfe stagger.
For a moment there, the two men exchange blows after blows, each seeming to take the advantage on the other. It seems evident that they are evenly matched. The fight could go on for a long time if the two of them wasn’t so determined to end it as soon as possible.
Grabbing his opponent by the shoulders, the Captain raises violently his kneecap to hit him in the groin. Metcalfe let out a muffled groan, but gritting his teeth, hold on firmly to the Captain. He lets himself fall on his back… and succeeds in doing a flop over that sends out his adversary completely head over heels. He falls brutally flat on his back, with a cry of pain.
Now’s the chance, while he’s stunned, thinks Metcalfe.
He practically crawls toward his opponent, as quickly as he can, while the later tries with difficulty to shake his feeling back and get up. Metcalfe catches the Captain at the exact moment he gets on his knees. Swiftly, the WAAF colonel holds him by the neck and shoulders and looks his harms tightly around them.
Understanding suddenly that he is trapped, the Captain tries some desperate attempts to get free. But Metcalfe has a perfect advantage, now. He’s quite well positioned, kneeled behind his opponent, who can’t find his balance and whose right arm in stuck inside the lock. Metcalfe tights the hold, and presses his hands hard on the nape of the neck, with no intention of letting go. The Captain lets out a gasping sound.
“Now, my dear Captain”, Metcalfe says between clenched teeth, “tell me who has the advantage on the other…”
Svenson grinned slightly. The lock Metcalfe is using right now is different from the one he has exercise on himself the same day, earlier. It seems quite as effective… The American feels a bit sorry for the Captain.
Well, only a bit.
“Now, I have you”, Metcalfe adds, panting a little, due to the effort. “And I won’t let you go.”
“Really, colonel”, the Captain groans, “would you really kill an unarmed man like that, when he’s perfectly unable to defend himself?”
“Call it preservation.” Metcalfe snaps. “Yes, I can kill you. You know that as much as I do. Now the question is: will I do it?”
“What is it you want?” The Captain gasps.
“Take a wild guess!”
The Captain snickers softly. His laugh gets caught in his throat when Metcalfe tightens his grip.
“Tell me who you are and what you want from us!” He shouts.
“I can’t do that… not now.”
“I’ve got my orders, colonel. You know what it is, don’t you?”
“You would die following your orders?” Metcalfe growls.
The Captain clenches his teeth. “As you would, following yours…”
“I know you’re a soldier, damn it!” Metcalfe replies. “ You’re not your typical mercenary who would do about anything for a price! Now you will not be able to serve your superiors so well when you die! It’s my turn to ask questions, but me, I don’t know the answers, and I want some!”
He tightens his grip, while a rumour spread all around them; there is some movement within the ranks of the commandos. The captives are also on edge, concerned as to know what’s going to happen.
“I can order my men to kill your friends if you don’t let me go.” The Captain says with a panting voice.
“One word from you to them against the captives and I snap your miserable neck like a twig!” Metcalfe snaps with anger.
“Ah! But then you die too!” The Captain says, trying to sound matter-of-fact. “I know you’re prepared for it, but… What about them?”
He nods toward the others prisoners. The later are waiting, obviously in a lot of worry, the guns of the commandos still trailed on them.
“I don’t think you’re the kind of man to let others take the blunt of your actions, colonel.” The Captain continues. “ Why don’t we make a deal? Their lives against mine.”
Metcalfe tightens his grip again. “Why, you dirty…”
“Hold on.” The Captain quickly adds. “I’m not implying that I would have them killed if you don’t release me. I’m just prepared to let them go free.”
“That’s a trick!”
“No tricks, no lies. They go free. But there IS a catch.”
“And that is?”
“They go, but you stay.”
Metcalfe frowns as the Captain continues: “This is the price to pay if you want them to go free.”
The other captives, being too far away, have heard nothing of the Captain’s ultimatum. They have, however, observed with concern the change in Metcalfe’s face, as he is carefully pondering what is proposed to him.
“Do you have any idea what this creep is telling him?” Blackburn mutters to Svenson.
Svenson shakes his head. “I don’t know, but I bet that it is something of significance… Looks like Paul doesn’t know what to do next.”
“Should have known that scoundrel would try to talk his way out of this.” Fraser mumbles.
Meanwhile, Metcalfe hasn’t let go of his prey. As a matter of facts, he has rather increased the pressure on the Captain’s neck. The man now has quite some difficulty to breath.
“I would have thought that a decision like this would be easy to take for a man like you.” The Captain says with urgency. “You’ve already been in hostages’ situations, Metcalfe. You’ve always been the self-sacrificing kind. You wouldn’t change that today, I think?”
There is a hesitation in Metcalfe composure; the Captain can feel him relaxing his grip a little.
“I really can be much of a choice for you, isn’t it?” He adds, with a more quiet voice.
No, thinks Metcalfe, there really is not. And obviously, the Captain knew from the start how to get out of trouble if he ever was going to lose the fight.
Quite the strategist, muses Metcalfe gloomily.
Metcalfe is about to answer that he accepts the Captain’s proposition when suddenly a worried cry of caution makes him raise his head toward the other prisoners:
“Paul! Look out behind you!”
Svenson was the first to see one of the hooded commandos coming out from the ranks and running swiftly toward the two fighters. Metcalfe has just the time to see him coming from the corner of his eye, that the butt of the man’s rifle caught him just over the side of the head. The WAAF colonel lets out a painful cry, as the blow forces him to loose his grip and throws him backward on the ground, half-stunned.
Suddenly released, the Captain fall face down in the dirt, gasping for air, dazed from the strangling lock that Metcalfe has applied on him. He doesn’t understand what has pushed Metcalfe to tighten his grip so brutally, before immediately letting him go free. All he hears now is shouts of protests, violent insults and sounds of confused struggles. He shakes his head to clear it and raises himself on his elbows.
He then sees one of his men, standing over Metcalfe, heaving the butt of his riffle with obvious intentions.
The Captain forceful cry came a little too late; the blow catches Metcalfe right over the right temple and knocks him out instantly.
The Captain gets to his feet with difficulty, his legs waving under the effort.
“I said stop hitting him that instant!”
The commando stares at him with a puzzled look, still standing over Metcalfe who hasn’t move a muscle since he last fall.
The Captain takes a tentative step toward his fallen foe. Behind him, he hears the struggle of Svenson and the others. They are trying furiously to free themselves of the commandos who are now desperately trying to keep them in check. They want to go verify if their friend is all right, thinks the Captain. And they all want a piece of him, whom they consider responsible for what happened.
Perhaps with good reason.
When the Captain arrives next to the commando, he brutally shoves him aside and crouches beside Metcalfe, who still lays motionless on the ground. The Captain takes a look at the large bleeding wound over the right side of his head and checks out his pulse. He has only just touched him that the colonel lets out a stifled moan.
The Captain represses a sigh.
“He’s alive.” He raises an infuriated look at the commando over him. “You’re in luck, soldier! If you had killed him, it would have cost you dearly.”
The commando seems surprised by his outburst.
“But, Captain, he was about to kill you!”
“I had given strict orders not to intervene! You shouldn’t have move!” The Captain bellows. He stands up, still looking straight at the man. “That’s not the end of it, soldier. Be sure of this.” He points toward Metcalfe. “Keep an eye on him. But don’t you touch him again!”
The Captain lets the man standing there and goes up to the other captives who are staring at him with a murderous gaze. Svenson tries to get at him, but is restrained by two commandos.
“You’re nothing but a creep, mister!” Fraser shouts angrily at him. “You said you would fight fairly!”
“I know.” The Captain says quietly. “I’m sorry it ended up that way.”
“Yeah, sure, you’re sorry!” Svenson replies dryly. « Your man nearly killed him!”
“I’m well aware of this. I assure you, he will be punished accordingly.”
“And what about Paul?” Holden asks with a concerned tone.
“He will be all right, once he comes out of it. Lucky for him he’s got a thick skull.”
A call from behind makes him turn. One of the men he had earlier sent in the warehouse was just coming out of it to go directly to him. The Captain distances himself from the captives and walks to his advance. The man stops in front of the Captain and salutes him.
“The crates are all transported to the ground floor of the warehouse, sir.” He says. “We’re now waiting for you to get the SPV.”
“Very well, lieutenant. “Any news on the transport?”
“The pilot has just called. It will be here shortly… In about fifteen minutes or so.”
The Captain muses. “Well, at least the transport is in schedule.” He goes back to the captives and addresses the men who are watching them. “Tie them up. Quickly.”
There is a movement of revolt, rapidly overcome. The guns the commandos are waving under the captives’ noses are a big argument. Svenson is the first to have his hands tied behind his back with duct tape. All the while, he gives the Captain a withering look.
“Now what?” he asks between clenched teeth. “ What do you intend to do?”
“Now I’m keeping my part of a bargain.” The Captain answers, ever so quietly.
“And what’s that suppose to mean?” Blackburn asks, while being tied up in turn.
“You’re going for a ride, gentlemen.”
At these words, Fraser worries. He gives a little more trouble when the commandos tie him up, but he is no more able to stop them than any of his companions. Duct tape is wrapped around his wrists. Then it’s Holden’s turn, who, understanding that there’s nothing to gain by resisting, quietly lets them do as they please.
“So, you have decided to make us disappear?” Fraser says. “That’s it?”
“You misunderstand, mister Fraser.” The Captain sighs. “I was just implying that you would have to take a little trip in on of our helicopters.”
“To where?” Holden asks with concern.
Svenson is astounded. “The WHAT?”
“The Australian outback.” The Captain repeats. “It’s hot, damp, with a sun that hits like a hammer. You’ll love it.”
“I sincerely doubt that.” Blackburn says gloomily. “Why are you taking us there?”
“To let you free.”
“You’re kidding, right?” A suspicious Svenson says. “After you go to all that trouble to get your hands on us? You’re now willing to let us go? There must be a catch.”
“Maybe there is. It will be for you to find out.”
Fraser nods in the direction of the still unconscious Metcalfe. “And what about the colonel? You’re shipping him with us?”
“No, he’s staying with us.”
“You’re keeping him?” Holden says with a concern frown.
“First of all, colonel Metcalfe is in no immediate condition to follow you anywhere. Least of all in the middle of the desert. Secondly… I need a hostage. Against the rest of you. Granted, he’s not the more obvious choice. But he had… volunteered himself.”
“Volunteered?” Svenson frowns, suddenly understanding the meaning of the Captain’s words. “You mean that’s the bargain you were talking about?”
“That’s what you were saying to him when he was about to screw out your head!” Fraser realizes.
“We can’t accept that!” Blackburn adds.
“Accept it or not, you have no choice in the matter.” The Captain says sternly.
Svenson is literally furious. “You’re really a bastard, you know that? Whatever the outcome of the fight would have been, you knew from the beginning there was no way you were going to lose!”
“Yeah! You had your ace up your sleeve, isn’t it?” Fraser says in turn.
“How clever of you to find me out, gentlemen.” The Captain replies, still quietly. He looks at his watch.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have important business to attend to.” He turns to one of his men. “Sergeant, take three men with you and bring these gentlemen to the intended place. Be sure they don’t see the course you take. Then go back to camp base and wait further instructions.”
“‘The intended place’!” Svenson repeats sarcastically. “So, you already had decided from advance that you were going to let us go. That’s quite a bargain you stroke with Metcalfe. The dice were already loaded.”
The Captain lets out an exasperated sigh.
“Mister Svenson, please don’t push me.” He says. “I’ve already half a mind to keep you here with colonel Metcalfe.”
“I’m quite willing to take his place!”
“Don’t tempt me. But that’s impossible. A deal’s a deal.” The Captain waves his hand, addressing his men. “Take them away. They already have taken too much of my time.”
The struggling captives are dragged toward one of the helijets. Svenson turns one last time to shout a warning to the Captain.
“We’ll meet again, mister!”
“I’m sure of it.” The Captain coldly answers. “In the meantime, remember: we have your friend. Don’t be to impatient to see him die.”
Svenson casts him a murderous look. He and the others are forced to climb inside the helicopter, which was already set up for take off. They sit directly on the floor, in front of four armed men who are trailing their weapon on them.
Svenson keeps his eyes on the Captain, until the door is slide shut. Then the helijet takes off, followed by the Captain’s thoughtful gaze.
He hears Metcalfe groans behind him and turns toward the lieutenant.
“We do have handcuffs?”
The Captain points to Metcalfe. “Put them on him. I don’t want any more trouble with that guy.”
He pauses a second before adding: “And see that nobody hits him again. I don’t want him killed.”
The lieutenant comes to attention and salutes him. “Yes, Captain.”
Knowing that his orders will be well carried out, the Captain turns his attention away from Metcalfe and enters the warehouse.
He has still a lot to do before the transporter arrives, and so little time to do it.