Sheriff McNamara had been convinced to let Paul Metcalfe go free. Scarlet didn’t know how Colonel White managed to do that, without telling the constable about Spectrum, but the results were there. Deputy Harvey Ringward soon came to get him out of his cell and bring him to the sheriff’s office, where his release would only be a formality. Scarlet recognised the deputy; it was the man he remembered seeing holding a stun baton just before he lost his senses in that alley. Apparently, the deputy recognised him too, judging by the arrogant way he was looking at Scarlet.
The sheriff was in his office, along with Colonel White; the latter, standing behind the seated sheriff, was looking through a window, his back turned toward the door, when Scarlet walked in; he didn’t even turn around or say a single word to acknowledge his officer’s presence. Scarlet could see he was still very angry, and certainly very annoyed by this whole situation; the atmosphere was heavy enough.
Ringward having left them, Scarlet signed the receipt the sheriff presented to him, to get his belongings back, while his commander obstinately kept silent and ignored him. McNamara had certainly noticed the uneasiness between the two men, and he glanced curiously at them both. At first, it seemed that he wouldn’t say anything.
Until the moment Scarlet was putting his wallet back in his pocket.
“So, Mister Metcalfe… I think you owe a great deal to Mister Gray at the moment.”
The sheriff’s tone was nothing less than mocking and insolent; so was his look. Scarlet addressed an icy stare at him. One glance toward White told him that his commander didn’t even react to that remark. The captain furrowed his brow.
“What are you going to do about Adam Svenson, Sheriff?” he asked rather abruptly.
McNamara raised his eyebrows. “What would you have me do?”
“He’s disappeared. You should search for him.”
“That’s your opinion!” the sheriff scoffed loudly and with obvious contempt. “I don’t see any reason why I should search for him.”
“Sheriff, I am absolutely certain that my friend was attacked in that alley, in front of the bar, last night, soon after he’d been released from this jail,” Scarlet replied in a harsh tone.
That caught the colonel’s attention, Scarlet noticed, as he saw the older man pricking his ears at it. But still, White didn’t turn to face him.
McNamara, on the other hand, was adamant.
“Oh, you’re certain, are you? And how did you come to that conclusion?”
“I found traces of a fight, on the ground. And those guys, the Dawson brothers… They…”
“Right, the Dawsons.” McNamara waved his hand. “The men who pressed charges of assault against you, right?”
“THEY were the ones who attacked ME! I didn’t provoke them.”
“That’s not their version.”
“Right. I heard they’re the local bad boys. Doesn’t that make you a little SUSPICIOUS about their version of events?” Scarlet frowned deeply. “They were involved in that fight with Adam last night. It WASN’T even a fight. They beat him up. One of them told me so himself.”
“The one you were tormenting when my deputy intervened?” Scarlet didn’t answer. The sheriff rose from his seat and stared him in the eyes. By this point, White had finally turned around to watch the scene. But the captain was too preoccupied even to notice this.
“Did Dawson tell you why they would have beat up your friend?” McNamara asked.
“He said they wanted to teach him a lesson.”
“Because of what happened with Will Grover, right? And after that… your friend disappeared?”
“Sheriff, I know Grover is behind Adam Svenson’s disappearance. You’ve got to question him, to find Adam. He MUST know where he is.”
“Oh, right…” McNamara mocked him. “And how did you come to that conclusion? You tortured it out of that Dawson boy?”
“You’ve got a strange way of upholding the law in this county!” Scarlet snapped suddenly. “Protecting the guilty and not helping honest people…”
“Honest people?!” McNamara laughed it off, scoffing again. “As far I’m concerned, your friend is a creep. And don’t you come telling me how to do my duty! You’re a stranger here. I decide what to do. And searching for your friend is the least of my priorities!”
Scarlet bristled, hearing these words. “Adam is not a creep!” he protested between his teeth. “Will you listen to me, and DO something? Or are you such an incompetent f…”
The voice of Colonel White rang loud enough to stop Scarlet right in the middle of his imprecation. The captain raised his head, to see his commander looking straight at him. The tone of his voice had been even, but the cold stare of his eyes betrayed the anger still boiling inside him. Scarlet was angry too, not at the colonel, of course, but his eyes were also reflecting this.
“Mister Metcalfe,” White said calmly, with a formality in his tone that was disturbingly unsettling for Scarlet, “would you mind leaving the sheriff and me alone for a few minutes? Wait for me outside.”
“NOW, if you please.”
White would not accept a refusal. Scarlet straightened up, still furious; he gave a annoyed look toward his commander, then a murderous one to the sheriff. He gave a frustrated sigh and turned around, to go out the door…
…Slamming it behind him.
Sheriff McNamara cleared his throat and sat back on his chair, making himself comfortable. Slowly, White left his position at the window to walk toward him.
“Quite an agitated young fellow,” grumbled the sheriff. “But it seems you have your way with him, Mister Gray. You said you’re his boss?”
“And Mister Svenson too. And the young woman you saw with them.”
“Oh yes… That hysterical broad.”
White’s brow furrowed, hearing the sheriff’s last remark. Yet, he kept silent, as he stopped near him.
“Mister Metcalfe and Miss Wainwright are only concerned for their friend’s welfare at the moment,” White replied quietly. “Which I can understand.”
“Yes, well… Their worries are a waste of time. Svenson is nothing but a spoiled rich troublemaker, who thinks he can get away with ANYTHING he wants. Why, I’m sure he has simply left town, without even bothering to give his friends a call.”
White gave a deep sigh. “Miss Wainwright is his fiancée,” he noted gloomily. “They were on their way to Las Vegas to get married. Don’t you think he would at least call HER?”
“So, maybe that’s the answer then: at the last minute, he could have got cold feet, changed his mind and ran away from her…”
White shook his head. How could this man be so thick-headed? “I know Adam Svenson. He would never behave like that. And I’m not so sure his friends are worrying about nothing.”
“You’re not starting with that, too?” McNamara grumbled in annoyance.
“I’m concerned too, you know,” White replied. “When one of my people disappears, and there’s no clue to his whereabouts, and two others claim there’s something wrong, I find it very suspicious. What do you make of this story Metcalfe just told you, about the Dawson brothers having attacked Svenson?”
“Svenson is nothing but a trouble-maker,” the sheriff answered back. “He broke the law, yesterday, several times over, and beat up on a cripple. If the Dawson brothers ganged up on him to teach him a lesson, I’d say he had it coming.”
“So the Dawsons are friends of Mister Grover?”
“Friends, no… I would say they’re… acquaintances.”
“Enough ‘acquaintances’ to motivate them to attack Svenson?”
“Now, Mister Gray, this is becoming quite annoying…”
“Did you take the trouble to check what kind of history there was between Adam Svenson and Wilson Grover, Sheriff?” White cut in, eyeing McNamara conspicuously.
The latter bristled. “I told your friend, and I’ll tell you too: don’t try to tell me how to do my duty!”
“It seems somebody has to, Sheriff. Because you’re doing a very bad job of it.”
McNamara’s face became totally red with anger, upon hearing those quiet but acerbic words. “I thought you were some kind of a gentleman, sir! Now you’re showing yourself as insolent as those people working for you! How dare you insult me like that?”
“Did you know that Wilson Grover kidnapped Adam Svenson as a child, twenty-five years ago?” White replied, not deigning to answer the sheriff’s question. “That he had tried to ransom him back to his family, and to kill him?”
“And how do YOU know that?” McNamara replied, frowning deeply.
“I have my sources in certain areas… So, you know that, do you?”
“Yes, I know that. Contrary to what you presumed, I DID check on them, to see what could have set Svenson up against Grover. But it was twenty-five years ago, Mister Gray.”
“Did you interrogate Mister Grover concerning Svenson’s disappearance, Sheriff?”
McNamara’s brow furrowed. “I don’t see any reason for me to do so.”
“First of all, Wilson Grover is a hard man to pin down. I don’t know where to find him, most of the time. I don’t think anybody has seen him since a couple of hours after that incident with Svenson, yesterday. Second, I don’t want to bother him with it. Grover paid his debt to society, and spent twenty years of his life in prison. That should count for something, don’t you think? Svenson had no reason to come beating on him like that…”
“I would tend to disagree with you, as I see PLENTY of reasons for him to have lost his temper as he did. But that’s not the question, right now… The question is: if you know about this history between them, why then aren’t you taking any notice of the report of Adam Svenson’s disappearance, and why aren’t you investigating it?” White leaned on the desk to look McNamara squarely in the eyes. “Don’t you find it highly suspicious?”
“If you’ll pardon me for being blunt, Mister Gray,” the sheriff replied very coldly. “I find Mister Svenson to be a very unpleasant fellow…”
“And you find the man who kidnapped him as a child, sympathetic,” White said between his teeth. “Somehow, that’s what I would have expected from you.”
“Now I’m finding YOU unpleasant, as well,” McNamara continued. “You won’t get me wasting my time on that Svenson creep, under the pretence that you, along with that hothead compatriot of yours and that hysterical blonde bimbo…”
“DON’T EVER call her a bimbo,” White suddenly interrupted the sheriff, with a very ominous tone, pointing a warning finger at him. “Neither is she hysterical. NONE of my girls are to be referred to in such an insulting manner. I would advise you NEVER to speak of her that way.”
McNamara paled, seeing the nasty glow in the Englishman’s blue eyes. The tone of his voice was very unsettling. He suddenly appeared to be a man it wouldn’t be wise to cross. McNamara swallowed hard, but tried to keep a strong façade.
“Are you threatening me?” he asked, softly.
“Damned right I am. You will refrain from using such offensive language, Sheriff. Adam Svenson IS NOT the creep you describe him to be. He’s a good man, better than you could ever aspire to be. Miss Wainwright is a very special, compassionate young lady. She is worried because her fiancé, the man she was going to marry, has vanished. In this town, where YOU are supposed to uphold the law. And you sit there, doing nothing but uttering nonsense. I have heard enough of this. I am strongly considering the very likely explanation that you know more about this disappearance than you let on.”
“I’m WARNING you…”
“It’s ME who’s warning YOU, Sheriff!” White leaned toward McNamara, forcing him to lean back in his seat, the anger in the Spectrum commander’s features growing by the second. “I don’t know what your involvement in this affair is, but I can promise you this: if anything happens to Svenson, whether you’re involved in it or not, I will hold you responsible. And you’ll hear about me.”
McNamara stared at White in total confusion. He couldn’t understand how that man could even DARE talk to him that way, even threatening him in such a fashion. He didn’t seem impressed at all by the authority conferred on him by this badge upon his chest and the uniform he was wearing. It was as if he couldn’t care less about his authority, and wasn’t afraid of it. McNamara wasn’t used to that, and that was very unnerving.
“DON’T cross swords with me, sheriff,” White went on. “You will not come out of it unscathed!”
The sheriff’s face was deathly pale, as he could see the Englishman meant it. White stood up, gave the sheriff a last look full of contempt and then turned toward the door. He had opened it when McNamara, coming out of his surprise, and regaining some of his self-esteem, was sitting up straight, now looking White with a renewed anger.
“Who do you think you are, to speak to me that way?” he lashed out, his face very red, looking as if he was about to pop a nerve.
White stopped in his tracks; he turned around to stare at him with an Olympian calm that contrasted with the sheriff’s edginess. “Probably your worst nightmare, Sheriff”, he answered evenly. He gave just a ghost of a smile, before exiting the office, closing the door behind him.
McNamara looked at the closed door, his jaw dropped, gasping in complete outrage. The red of his face had become crimson. For a moment, he did nothing but stare, in complete silence. Then he stood up; his hand fumbled for the phone, and he snatched it from the hook in a furious gesture, nervously pressing down a button.
“Harvey!” he barked into the receiver. “Get your butt in here right now! And call Hill and Calhoun; tell them to report to the station! Yes, I need the three of you! Right away!”
He slammed down the phone and looked toward the door, where Colonel White had disappeared. The murderous glow in the sheriff’s eyes didn’t presage anything good as he made a promise of his own, matching that of the Englishman:
“We’ll see who gets the last laugh, friend. I don’t take kindly to folks threatening me. I’ll show you… ONE false move from you… and you’ll be in deep trouble!”
* * *
“What happened in there?”
The second Colonel White had stepped out of the sheriff’s station, he started walking down the stairs to the street, with a very quick and assured pace. Captain Scarlet, leaning against the wall while waiting for him, left his position and followed. His commander’s face was still very hard, completely set. He was unable to read anything on it.
“I just had a talk with the sheriff,” White muttered.
“What did you talk about?” This was unnerving. White was walking very quickly, toward the cantina, and Scarlet had to run to keep up with him. The colonel didn’t even bother to answer his last question. No doubt, he was still fuming. Scarlet gave a sigh. “You didn’t tell him about Spectrum, did y…”
“DON’T.” White turned suddenly on his heel; Scarlet nearly bumped into him, and received a warning finger poking hard at his chest, at the same time he was staring straight into the blazing eyes of his commander. “Don’t TRY to tell me what I should, or should not do!” White warned him. “You’re in NO position to do that at this moment.” He shook his head, in an almost disgusted way. “I don’t know what’s stopping me sending you STRAIGHT back to Cloudbase, where I could deal with you appropriately!”
“You’re not going to?” a surprised Captain Scarlet responded. He saw the scowl on White’s features.
“Don’t get smart with me, Metcalfe, I’m in no mood for that!” The colonel sighed with irritation. “I didn’t tell the sheriff about Spectrum,” he finally said, in a harsh tone. “You may be right about him. He may be involved with your friend’s disappearance.”
Your friend. The deliberate stressing of those words sounded unpleasant enough at that precise moment. Somehow, White was discounting himself as some kind of a friend for Blue. That was a good indication that he was feeling hurt. Scarlet chose to keep as cool as possible, and to try not to further arouse his commander’s anger. It would not be good, as he was furious enough as it was.
“Thank you for arranging my release, sir,” he simply said, nodding.
“Don’t mention it!” White grumbled between his teeth. He turned around and continued walking in the street, toward the cantina. “Now I suggest we find Captain Blue as soon as possible, and put all this nonsense behind us!”
“What, do you want to get rid of me AGAIN?”
“Er… No, sir.”
“Good. Because I wouldn’t take kindly to you sneaking out on me a second time. Now, we’d better regroup. Where can we find Symphony?”
Hearing Scarlet’s perplexed tone, White stopped and turned around again… And again, Scarlet nearly bumped into him. “Yes, Symphony,” he said, very impatiently. “Why do you sound so surprised? She’s somewhere in this God-awful town, isn’t she?”
“Sorry, sir, it’s just that… I thought you’d already met up with her.” There was concern in Scarlet’s voice now, even as he spoke. He eyed his commander squarely. “You mean… you didn’t? As you knew I was in jail…”
“I found out you were in jail because, can you imagine, it’s currently the talk of the town!” White suddenly lashed out. “You think it’s pleasant for me to find out from a barman that one of my most valued agents had been thrown into prison because he was involved in a brawl with a gang of local ruffians?”
“Actually, that’s not exactly how things went, sir…”
“Spare me! I’m not sure I want to hear your explanation, right now! Just tell me where we can find Symphony.”
Scarlet was rather hesitant to answer. His commander was still very upset with him. He CERTAINLY didn’t want to anger him further. But he couldn’t see how that would be possible. “Well, sir… Actually, she could be anywhere… She didn’t come to see me in jail, and…”
“She didn’t come?”
“Most likely, if she did come, the sheriff would have refused to let her see me.”
“Marvellous,” grumbled White again. “The man is even more of an incompetent fool than I thought!”
Scarlet didn’t say a thing. So, he thought, it seemed that the Colonel’s ‘talk’ with the sheriff wasn’t such a nice one. He saw White eyeing him conspicuously, even suspiciously.
“Are you SURE you’re not keeping anything from me, at the moment?”
That was a curious question, and Scarlet shot White a perplexed glance. No, mused the Spectrum commander, he isn’t. He wouldn’t go this far to keep me busy, so Blue and Symphony can quietly pursue their wedding plans. He shook his head, grumbling once more. “Never mind that, we’d better go in search of her now.”
Scarlet carefully weighed what he was about to say next.
“I’m worried, sir,” he confided, in little more than a murmur. “And not just about Adam. Those Dawson boys ATTACKED me, earlier, while I was searching for him. What if Karen continued the investigation by herself? I hate to think that she might stumble on those guys and have trouble with them!”
White nodded, his anger calming down a little, but he was still fairly upset by the whole situation. But for the moment, he had other considerations. “I think you may be right to be worried,” he said, turning around, and starting to walk again.
Again, Scarlet followed suit, puzzled by his commander’s last comment.
“Is there something you know that I don’t, sir?”
White nodded again, this time very slowly. “Plenty, I’m afraid.”
* * *
Symphony couldn’t believe she had been so stupid.
She could have kicked herself, to have fallen, like an idiot amateur, into a trap like that. Obviously, that Butch character was working with those guys who had chased her. They acted as beaters, and had driven her to him, so he could capture her. And that happened so easily! She never suspected a thing!
She was still stuck in the back of Butch’s truck, and didn’t know where he could be taking her, now. It seemed like hours since the truck had started moving toward its mysterious destination. She was feeling so hot, in this close, narrow space, that her clothes soon became completely soaked. It had taken her some minutes to finally get adjusted to the darkness. The motion of the vehicle had made it very difficult for her to keep on her feet, and she had found that she had no other option than to sit directly on the floor, her back to the partition separating this compartment from the driver’s cabin. She still could hear Butch’s howling, and that made her cringe. His voice was simply awful. He had started singing along with his country music, and Symphony found she couldn’t escape it anymore than she could get out. Not a single note was right and it was starting to get on her nerves.
There was only one consolation in her situation: more than likely, Butch was taking her to where Captain Blue had to be. She would soon find him, and discover what all this was about. Only that made it all worthwhile.
I may be trapped, but I’m far from defenceless! Symphony thought grimly, her eyes glaring ominously toward the closed doors at the back. She was distractedly playing with a crowbar she had found lying near some of the boxes that Butch was transporting in his truck. That certainly was a lucky find, and Symphony was certainly ready to use it, the second the doors opened.
She just had to be patient… Her moment would come soon…
* * *
Captain Scarlet and Colonel White sat at a table, in a quiet corner of the town’s cantina, having coffee. Scarlet had reported to White all his recent discoveries, during the course of his investigation of Blue’s disappearance. The colonel’s temper had cooled down considerably, although it was still apparent he was holding a certain grudge against his younger compatriot, for the way he had stood him up in Las Vegas. Scarlet was pretty aware that it would probably come back later to haunt him. Now, however, the colonel’s mind was otherwise occupied. He now had little doubt that Scarlet had been right in his assumption that something very wrong had happened to Captain Blue. And to make matters worse, Symphony Angel was nowhere to be found either. The two men had searched the town thoroughly for her, without any success. The car was still where Scarlet and the young woman had left it, and nothing was missing from it. Even their personal communicators were still there. White did nothing to hide his disapproval of any of his agents leaving those behind. Here was living proof that his officers should carry their personal communicators in all circumstances, even on furloughs. He made a mental note for it to be discussed during the next staff meeting, and if necessary he’d make it an order.
This new disappearance had both Scarlet and White really worried, as they assumed it couldn’t mean anything but bad news. They had hoped that they were wrong to be concerned about Symphony, that she was probably continuing her investigation, and that she would probably join them before long at the cantina, while the two men were comparing notes. As time went by, that hope was slowly eroding.
His report finished, Scarlet had showed himself ever more curious about what Colonel White knew. His earlier statements had been intriguing enough. White handed him a computerised information pad, slightly larger than a notebook, in which was everything he knew about this whole affair, the history between Wilson Grover and Adam Svenson. Captain Scarlet checked the information, while White waited patiently, until the young man had gone through the major part of the file. He had witnessed the expression on his face changing gradually as the facts unravelled themselves to him. From the first line, Scarlet had seemed perplexed, then plainly incredulous. But after a few minutes, realising the full length of the information, and all the horror it held, that had changed. He had become extremely pale, feelings of shocked disgust reflecting in his eyes; of fear too, for his missing friend; and of complete anger.
“I can’t believe this!” he murmured. He looked up at his apparently calm commander, who had not uttered a single world while drinking his coffee. “That Grover character kidnapped Adam as a kid?!”
“So, apparently you didn’t know about this part of Adam Svenson’s life?” White noted thoughtfully.
“No, I didn’t know… Adam never told me about it. Mind you, a kidnapping must not be an experience anybody would like to reminisce about!” He scoffed loudly. “No wonder he hates that lowlife so much! How did you…?”
“I only did what you should have done yourself,” White explained dryly. “I did a background check on this Wilson Grover.” He gestured toward the pad. “It seems that, in his youth, he showed a definite talent for baseball, and was recruited by the…” White searched the name out of his memory. Scarlet nodded.
“The Trenton Thunder?” he offered.
“How do you know that?” White asked, raising an eyebrow.
“My… cellmate told me about it,” Scarlet explained carefully.
White gave him an old-fashioned look, but decided not to say anything. “Yes, well… It seems that Mister Grover could have had an outstanding career with the Red Sox, on the face of it, but there were problems that kept him from making the leap to the big leagues. His criminal record, to be specific. That’s how I found out about him, and his previous relationship with Adam.”
Scarlet was thoughtfully looking at the pad’s screen, opening the criminal records file, and first reading the description of the guy. He nodded thoughtfully. “Age 58, six foot four, powerfully built, blue eyes… greyish brown hair, distinguishing feature: a scar on his nose… and a heavy limp in the right leg, from a bad injury after a fight in jail, more than twenty years ago… Yes, that’s our man. Symphony told me about the scar and the limp.”
Pictures had appeared on the screen, apparently taken from police records too. The first set was of a young Wilson Grover, probably taken when he was in his mid-twenties. The second set was of the same man, much older, sporting a beard. Scarlet grumbled. “Doesn’t look like someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley…”
“I second that,” Colonel White agreed sombrely. “That chap has an impressive collection of misdeeds, believe me.”
Scarlet was just checking that exact information that had appeared on the pad, just below the last set of photos. He whistled, seeing the long list that presented itself to his eyes. “Looks like he started to go to the bad quite young,” he murmured. “Common theft, car thefts, armed robbery, protection rackets, death threats, blackmail, assault and battery, aggravated assault…” He shook his head in disgust. He stopped at the two last entries and looked up again at White. “Kidnapping and attempted murder…”
White nodded. “That refers to the Svenson case,” he confirmed. “That happened some years after he was kicked out of the Trenton Thunder, because of his violent behaviour…”
“No wonder Adam thought this man was bad news,” Scarlet murmured. “Look at the size of the guy… how could any child stand up to him?”
“Even the Spectrum computer had trouble accessing the FBI file concerning that affair,” White noted grimly. “It was classified under a high protection code, used to conceal identities of young child victims of brutal crimes.” White rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Although the crime was twenty-five years ago, it had been kept away from prying eyes. Looking further into it, I discovered that the man responsible for Grover’s arrest at the time was a certain Michael Ellis, of the Boston police. After being transferred to the WGPC, about four years after that, he pulled some strings so the case would be kept under indefinite embargo. My bet is, his brother-in-law also pulled some very important strings to that effect.”
“Sorry, I don’t follow. His brother-in-law…?”
“Boston financier John Svenson.”
Scarlet raised a curious pair of eyes toward his commander who nodded. “Adam’s father,” Scarlet said, thoughtful.
“At the time of the kidnapping, the case became front page news in all the national newspapers in the United States. The son of a wealthy financier from Boston, who had been abducted by the family’s gardener, and then ransomed… It seems both the kidnapping and the trial stirred up the interest of the public on the East Coast. Sort of the ‘Lindbergh case’ of the twenty-first century… Now, being from Britain, I suppose I didn’t hear much about it at the time, or at least didn’t take much interest in it. Still, there is something familiar about this story… Svenson probably thought it’d had enough exposure, for his son’s sake. He probably didn’t want the file on his son’s kidnapping to end up on anybody’s desk, to become the object of some young policeman’s studies.” White scratched his ear. “Mind you, I don’t blame him.”
“Hence the cover-up operation,” Scarlet nodded in turn, understanding that himself.
He was reading anew the full report of the ‘Svenson case’, as it appeared in the file. In there was the full description on how the kidnappers had proceeded with their dark plans. There was also a description of the mistreatment inflicted on the kidnapped boy. Along with police pictures that must have been produced as evidence during the subsequent trial. Reading the report and viewing those photos was making Scarlet’s skin crawl uncomfortably. He shook his head in complete disgust. “That man is a maniac,” he murmured. “What he did to a nine year old boy…”
“I read that, yes,” White noted gloomily. “The experience must have been very traumatic.”
“Must’ve been. That’s probably why he didn’t want to tell Karen about it, even after all these years, after he’d seen the man,” Scarlet murmured. “It’s no wonder he was afraid for her, too. He knew exactly what that man was capable of.” He raised his eyes again to his commander. “Imagine… there’s no limit to what he could do NOW that Adam’s an adult.”
“Are you still convinced that Grover has him now?” White asked him.
“He was attacked last night in that alley by a gang composed of the Dawson brothers and some others. I have no proof of this, but it looks as if Grover hired those guys to beat him up… And after seeing THAT…” Scarlet tapped the computerized pad, “I’m now quite POSITIVE he’s behind it, and that he has Adam.”
“There could be a couple of other possibilities, you know,” White suggested carefully. “For example… what if Adam went after Grover, after that beating he took?”
Scarlet gave his commander an odd look, and the latter shook his head. “Try to put yourself in his place: Grover is probably the man he hates most in the world. He had kidnapped him as a boy, and nearly killed him. He encounters him here in the Nevada Desert, quite by chance, and old painful memories come back to haunt him. It‘s possible that he wanted to settle things with him once and for all.”
Scarlet brow’s furrowed. “What?” he murmured. “You’re suggesting he could have… gone after Grover to kill him?”
“That would be an explanation for his disappearance, don’t you think?”
“No,” Scarlet protested, shaking his head in negation. “Adam would NEVER do a thing like that. I’m surprised you’re even considering that, sir. You know the kind of man he is.”
Yes, I know, White thought grimly. Adam Svenson was probably one of the best men he had ever encountered, one of the finest officers to work under his command. It was not easy envisioning him going after a man like Grover, driven by a sense of vengeance, to settle scores with him. That wouldn’t be something the man he knew as Captain Blue would do, but considering what he had read in this report, all the things that despicable Grover character had done to him, Adam Svenson had a considerable grudge against the man. Plus, there was Symphony to consider. Blue knew full well that Grover was as dangerous as could be, and he didn’t want to see her anywhere near that man. So afraid was he for her that he had sent her away from Los Lobos, dreading that Grover would do her some harm.
To protect the woman he loved, could Blue consider taking drastic measures? Especially considering the beating he had apparently taken, because of that man?
“I’m just evaluating the situation,” White explained to Scarlet, shaking his head. “I’m as much in the dark about this as you are. No, I must say, I don’t think he would act that way. Let’s just pray that Sheriff McNamara has the same thought.”
Scarlet scoffed derisively. “That would be a lonely thought, then!”
“Don’t judge the man too quickly. And don’t take this too lightly, either: he told me earlier that Grover hasn’t been seen since yesterday. Since the fight, most probably.” White eyed Scarlet conspicuously. “And if HE thinks that way, there’s only one conclusion to draw.”
“Grover is missing too?” Scarlet said, frowning.
“Nobody’s seen him since a couple of hours after the fight,” White confirmed.
“Well, I can guarantee that there is somebody who saw him after that!”
“You’re thinking of the Dawson brothers?”
“They didn’t decide to come after me on their own, I’m sure. They’re much too thick to have that much initiative!” Scarlet leaned toward White. “Grover’s gone missing. I find that very suspicious. I’m convinced he has Adam.”
“To what purpose?” White asked. “And… I don’t want to sound pessimistic or anything, but… how can you be so sure that Adam is still alive, to begin with?”
Scarlet didn’t want to consider this eventuality, although he was aware that it could be possible. White looked around, making sure nobody was listening to their conversation, then continued grimly: “We’re in the middle of the desert. There’s plenty of places around here to get rid of… a body.”
“According to that Dawson boy I… er… interrogated, Adam was still alive when they finished with him.”
“Yes, maybe, but after that? I know you don’t like the idea, neither do I, but you have to consider that it’s also a possibility.”
“I can’t see why Grover would have paid Adam’s bail, just to kill him like that,” Scarlet said morosely. “There has to be something else.”
White nodded his agreement. That certainly was something to be considered. “Yes, who else but Grover could benefit from Adam’s release? Although what that benefit might be, is another question.”
“There’s also the damages paid to this restaurant to consider,” Scarlet continued. “The last I saw of Symphony, she was on her way to find out about that last detail.”
White was about to voice his concern about her being absent as well, when a little boy, with black hair, bright eyes and a tanned complexion, suddenly appeared beside the table, flashing a broad grin at Scarlet.
“Hi, señor Paul!” he said happily.
“Oh, hi, Pablo,” Scarlet replied, returning the boy’s smile.
“I’m sure glad to see you out of jail!” the boy continued. “The lady got you out, then?”
He had a big plastic toy tucked under his left arm, and was steadying it carefully with his other hand. Almost despite himself, White was staring at the half-seen toy. It looked like a vehicle, painted in cheap metallic blue, with three pairs of tyres, and a black and white shark-line muzzle of a definitely unique and familiar design… He wasn’t so distracted by the toy, though, that he failed to notice Scarlet’s sudden embarrassment at the child’s question.
“Er… No, Pablo. Actually, I didn’t get to see her at all.”
Pablo conspicuously eyed the older man sitting at the same table, across from Scarlet. “So I guess your father got you out?”
The remark caused both Scarlet and White to scowl. “I’m not his father,” White replied. “I’m… a friend.” He stared at Scarlet. “Sort of,” he added, rather sourly. He pointed toward the object tucked under the boy’s arm. “That’s a very fine toy you have there, lad.”
“Oh! I just bought it!” Pablo beamed. He put it down on the table between the two men. It was a replica in plastic of an SPV. The two men stared at it in perplexity. “It’s a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle. It’s exactly like the real thing!” Pablo continued, obviously bursting with pride over his new toy. “Down to the last detail!”
White took it, and carefully examined it more closely. “I didn’t know these were on the market,” he mused.
“YOU didn’t know?” Scarlet said, eyeing the toy with suspicion. “How detailed is it, actually?”
White was curious to know exactly that. Of course, he knew that there were some toys distributed around the world, bearing the Spectrum insignia; Spectrum had given its approval for that. But due to the top-secret nature of some real-life vehicles and craft, there was little chance that the toys would be very accurate. For example, from what he had seen of the ‘Angel interceptor’, the toy had little to do with the real thing. The toy makers had probably worked from photos and television footage, with indifferent success. He opened the door to look inside, and shook his head. For starters, the seat wasn’t fixed to the door, and the interior was nothing but an empty shell, with two seats, a steering column, and a drawing of a computer. “Not THAT detailed,” he answered in a murmur. “There’s something inside…” He dug out a small figurine, sporting a black and red uniform. Scarlet groaned.
“Don’t tell me…”
“It came with the vehicle,” Pablo explained, making a face. “Too bad, I wanted the blue one… But all that was left was that one… Captain Red.”
Scarlet gave the boy an odd look, then, apparently offended, stared back at the figurine that Colonel White was holding. He could see that his commander was having tremendous fun seeing him so embarrassed, and was trying very hard not to openly laugh at him. White put the figurine back into the vehicle and gave it back to its owner, with a large grin of satisfaction upon his face. “It’s very nice, Pablo. I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun with that SPV and… Captain Red.” Scarlet scowled at that. Through it all, White was keeping a straight face. “Did you say you’d just bought it?”
Pablo nodded vigorously. “Thanks to señor Paul,” he explained. “And to his lady friend.”
“Karen?” Scarlet asked, frowning.
“Yeah, you gave me money for that old broken watch… The lady gave me some too, when I showed her the alley, where I found the watch.”
“You took Karen there?” Scarlet asked. “When?”
“Just after she tried to go see you in prison, Mister. She told me the sheriff didn’t want to let her see you… He’s bad, that sheriff.”
“Pablo!” Coming from behind the young boy, the owner of the cantina had suddenly appeared, obviously annoyed at him. Pablo almost jumped, hearing her voice, and swiftly turned around to face her. “How many times do I have to tell you not to bother the customers?!”
“Oh, he’s not bothering us, madam,” Scarlet replied in defence of the boy.
“Nevertheless, he shouldn’t be here,” the woman answered dryly. She shot a mean look toward Scarlet. She was obviously thinking ‘jailbird’. Naturally. The colonel DID tell me I was the talk of the town, following my arrest… Probably that woman didn’t want her boy to be near such a man…
“Come on, shoo!” she said, waving Pablo to go on his way. “Go play outside with your toys and stop pestering people!”
She didn’t have to repeat herself, and Pablo ran away, without another glance at Scarlet or White. Muttering, the woman was about to leave too, in order to continue her work, when Scarlet stopped her.
“Pardon me, madam, but we’re currently looking for our friend, Karen Wainwright… You must remember, that young blonde woman who was with me this morning?”
“…And who was with that big blond man yesterday when he and Mister Grover started that fight in my cantina,” the woman answered grumpily. “Yes, I remember her, señor.”
“Do you have any idea where we can find her?” Scarlet insisted, hearing the full resentment behind the woman’s tone.
“How should I know that?” she answered, shrugging indifferently. “The last I saw of her, she was asking me all kind of questions concerning Mister Grover, before Pablo came running in here, telling her YOU got yourself arrested.”
“I’m afraid my friend has been the victim of a misunderstanding,” White then suddenly said, before Scarlet could answer. “We’re a little concerned for the young lady, you see, and we don’t seem to be able to find her anywhere. We were hoping YOU could provide us with some information, señora…” He hesitated, obviously waiting for the woman to introduce herself. He was directing his most boyish smile at her. That was some kind of an odd picture for Scarlet to witness his commander make a show of his charm that way. Even odder, it seemed to be working, as he saw the woman suddenly relaxing and answering with a smile of her own.
“Rosa,” she finally introduced herself. “Just call me Rosa.”
“Such a beautiful name,” White noted smoothly.
Scarlet had to make an effort not to roll his eyes. He’s pushing it a little too far… It was probable that Rosa felt the same, seeing how she waved a finger at him, but still, there was that smile upon her face, as if she wasn’t entirely hating this.
“You naughty man… You’re trying to get sweet on me, aren’t you?”
“I wouldn’t dare, dear lady,” White replied gently.
“All right, then. What is it you want to know?”
“Rosa, you said Miss Wainwright was asking you questions about Mister Grover the last time you saw her?”
“I don’t want any trouble, Mister,” Rosa replied, apparently still hesitant.
“We don’t want to cause you any,” White answered reassuringly. “We’re just looking for some information.”
“Like who paid for the damage to your cantina yesterday?” Scarlet asked, suddenly feeling he was being left out and that he had to say something. “Was it Wilson Grover?”
Rosa gave him a mean look. She checked around, as if making sure nobody was listening to them.
“Don’t speak so loud, señor,” she whispered. “Walls have ears in this town.” She gave another look around, before addressing the two men again. “I already gave that information to the lady earlier.”
“As we told you,” White noted, still very patiently, “we haven’t seen her since… my friend’s incident…”
“With the sheriff, I know,” Rosa murmured. She hesitated again. “You must be very careful, señores… There are people – very influential people – out to protect Mister Grover. And he has the sheriff in his pocket.”
“Pietro Gardenia, right?” Scarlet asked, narrowing his eyes.
She nodded; apparently, she didn’t ask herself how Scarlet had come up with the information. But White was very curious to learn that and he made a mental note to ask him a little later. “Señor Gardenia was the one who paid for the damage to my cantina,” she said in an even lower tone.
“I was beginning to work that out,” Scarlet mused.
“Yes. Mister Grover didn’t have the kind of money for that. But the señor Gardenia, he has plenty.”
“That’s what you said to Miss Wainwright, Rosa?” White asked politely.
She nodded again. “That was the last time I saw her, yes.”
And then Pablo took her to that alley where he found Adam’s watch, Scarlet was thinking. Could she have run into trouble there as I did?
“The Dawson brothers… are they related to Mister Gardenia?” he asked, frowning.
“The Dawsons are but petty thugs around this place,” Rosa said scoffing. “You give them enough money, and they’ll do whatever you want. The sheriff has put them in jail often, because they get drunk in public, or start some ruckus… They always find themselves in trouble.”
“The sheriff didn’t arrest them this time, though,” White noted.
“No, he arrested me instead,” Scarlet declared bitterly, “and kept me behind bars after those louts pressed charges against me for assault and battery.”
What the sheriff’s angle might have been for doing that, Scarlet could only guess. And he could see by the look on his commander’s face that the same thought had crossed his mind. McNamara had obviously worked in the interests of somebody else…
“My son was right, señores. Sheriff McNamara is bad… But not as bad as señor Gardenia… He’s in league with the Vegas mob… Nobody wants to mess with him.”
“Where can we find the Dawson brothers, Rosa?” White asked.
“The best place to look would be at the town bar,” she scoffed again. “Or at the Bull’s Horn. That’s another bar, with a gas station, one hundred miles from here, in the desert, by the highway. That’s where all kinds of thugs, tough guys and bikers hang out… A real dump. Not a nice place for honest people, I tell you.”
White nodded. His face was now very serious. “Thank you very much, Rosa. You’ve been very helpful.”
“De nada. Take heed of my advice, señores: be very careful. Find your friends, and get away from this town. As soon as you can.”
“We’ll do just that, my good lady,” White reassured her. “As soon as we find our friends.”
Rosa gave him a very faint smile, then, excusing herself, she went back to her chores. Both Spectrum officers watched her go, and waited until she was at a safe distance.
“Are you still angry with me for being arrested, sir?” Scarlet asked matter-of-factly.
White let out a deep sigh. “It’s obvious that if you were arrested, it was to stop you from discovering too much,” he said dryly. “But,” he added quickly, “I’ve plenty of other reasons to stay angry with you. So don’t push your luck.” He narrowed his eyes. “Do you think this Gardenia paid Captain Blue’s bail last night, just like he paid for the damage done to this cantina?”
“I think it’s a sure bet, yes.”
“And that would have permitted Grover to go after him.”
“Using the Dawson brothers to do the dirty work, yes.”
“And if we are to follow your line of thought, Blue is still alive and Grover has him.” White frowned. “Again: why?”
“That could be a question we’ll have to ask Mister Grover.”
“…Who has gone missing too. As has Symphony Angel, obviously.”
“I’m really worried, sir. If she stumbled on those Dawson bullies…”
Scarlet didn’t have to say more; Colonel White had understood very clearly what he meant. Slowly, he rose to his feet.
“I think it’s about time we found those Dawsons,” he said quietly, “to see if they know anything about Symphony’s absence… and if they can give us more information on Mister Grover, and his friend, Gardenia.” He eyed Scarlet. “Incidentally, you’ll have to tell me how you know about that man. How did you…?”
“Let’s just say,” Scarlet answered with a reticent smile, while standing up, “that I… made some ‘contacts’ in jail.”
Colonel White lifted an eyebrow. He was curious to know, that was obvious. “I’m sure that makes a VERY interesting story,” he said, trying to lose the edge in his voice. He looked at his watch. “I’ll call Lieutenant Green. See what more information he can dig out of the computers on all these shady characters.”
“Are you making this official Spectrum business, sir?”
“Not just yet.” White’s features became very hard. “We’ll make discreet use of Spectrum resources. We’re dealing with a large part of Capt… of Adam’s personal life here. It seems he wanted to keep this episode of his life to himself. He didn’t tell even you.” Or his fiancée, either, he added inwardly. “I can understand that, and I think the least we can do is keep it that way. That is, until we have to do otherwise.”
Scarlet produced a smile of gratitude. “Thank you, sir. That’s really… nice of you.”
“Nice?” White snorted. “I didn’t mean to be ‘nice’ about it, Scarlet. It just seems to me that information like that, as well as a possible situation like the present one could turn out to be, shouldn’t be spread needlessly around the Spectrum organisation. And furthermore…” he gazed at Scarlet, “…I’m repaying a debt, here.”
Scarlet nodded, understanding very well that his commander was referring to the dreadful events of some weeks earlier, when White himself had been captured by collaborators of the Mysterons – and when Scarlet and Blue had put their lives and careers on the line to help him, especially by keeping secret from all but Cloudbase senior staff the brainwashing that their commander had been subjected to.
“Nevertheless,” Scarlet replied, “I’m sure Adam will appreciate it.”
“Let’s make it clear, however,” White added quickly, “I won’t hesitate to call for back-up, if we should ever need it.”
“That’s quite all right, sir. I wouldn’t have it any other way, as a matter of fact.”
White snorted. He got some money from his pocket, and put it onto the table, to pay for the coffees he and his companion had been drinking the last hour or so. “Come on, let’s find those Dawson boys,” he said, moving toward the door. “Let’s hope they’ll be able to tell us something.”
* * *
Butch had driven his truck inside the warehouse in Las Vegas, where he knew his contact would be waiting for him. The door had automatically closed behind him, and the lights had been turned on, powered up by an electronic eye that had picked up the vehicle’s arrival. Butch stopped the engine, at the same time killing off the music from his player. He gave a deep sigh of satisfaction, before extracting himself from his seat and stepping out of his truck. He stretched his cramped muscles. That had been a long drive, he mused. But all in all, a very satisfactory one. He glanced toward the van; the girl was certainly keeping quiet. A broad smile came across Butch’s lips. It must be pretty hot in there, he thought. Enough to have quietened her down considerably. Not a bad thing, certainly. He wouldn’t want to see her in all her fury to face his contact.
Time to get her outta there, he mused, chuckling. Don’t want her to melt down entirely! He moved toward the doors at the back of his truck, humming the last song from his country music disc. Reaching the doors, he turned the key in the lock, pulled back the bolt and opened wide.
“Okay, Blondie, we’ve reached our destination. Time to get out, now. Somebody wants to meet with you.”
He fully expected to find a very quiet Symphony, possibly huddled up against one of the walls, in the darkness of the van; he couldn’t have been more wrong. He didn’t even see her at first; it was really TOO dark in there. His eyes didn’t have the time to adapt, as a metallic flash suddenly appeared. A steel bar came right at his head and barely missed it, striking him violently on the right shoulder. He gave a yelp of pain and then found himself driven back from the truck by a violent blow to his stomach. He then saw that his attacker was the blonde girl. Completely dishevelled and drenched by her long wait in the overheated compartment, her eyes blazing with righteous anger and her face sporting an implacable determination as he never had seen it before. The poised and articulate young woman he had met some hours earlier had transformed herself into a genuine fury.
Taken by surprise, Butch was unable to avoid a third blow, to his leg. His cry of pain was nearly drowned by the cry of victory coming from Symphony, as she sent him falling to the concrete floor. Now Butch was on his back, moaning, looking up, dazzled, and in complete disarray as the furious young woman, panting for breath, came toward him menacingly for another go.
“THAT, my dear Butch,” Symphony said between clenched teeth, “that was for literally putting me through hell in that overheated and uncomfortable van of yours, listening to your blasted country music for what seemed like hours! AND, of top of that, to be forced to listen to YOUR dreadful howling!”
“E-easy now, lady!” Butch called to her, crawling away as she drew closer, his fearful eyes set on the crowbar she was still holding tight. “You don’t want to do this…”
“Oh, I DO want to do this!” she almost yelled. “And I’ll do it, if you don’t tell me exactly where I can find Adam Svenson!”
“I don’t know what…”
“You’ve got ONE chance, Mister! I’m not very patient! Your Mister Grover spoiled my wedding plans, do you realise that?”
“S-sorry?” Butch was confused as he didn’t seem to understand what Symphony was telling him. The Angel pilot, on the other hand was growing more and more impatient.
“Where is that lowlife, anyway? That’s the coward he is, sending you to get me, and then not showing himself?”
“There’s been a mistake… Grover didn’t send me to get you. I’m a friend, I…”
“You’re a damned liar!” Symphony yelled, raising her improvised weapon. Her intention wasn’t really to strike Butch, but to frighten him enough for him to confess. She didn’t have to go further with her attempt, however.
“He’s telling the truth.”
The very quiet, soft voice came from deeper into the warehouse, behind Symphony. Its female timbre stopped the Angel pilot in her tracks. Keeping an eye on Butch, she checked in the direction of the voice, ready for any trick that might be waiting for her. First, she heard the sound of a very faint motor, that made her prick up her ears. Then she saw, coming from the other side of Butch’s truck, a modern, electric wheelchair. A woman of about fifty, her once-dark hair heavily streaked with grey. She stopped her chair and stared at a perplexed-looking Symphony. Her features were soft, but at the same time, very sad and, somehow, quite determined. She gave just one look at the crowbar Symphony was holding and shook her head.
“Believe me,” she said quietly, “Butch isn’t your enemy. Neither am I. It’s me who sent him to find you.”
“You…?” Symphony said, frowning, more puzzled than ever.
“I want to help you. I know that Adam is in trouble.”
“And who are you, lady, to know that?”
The woman gave a very faint, very sad smile, in which pain was fairly evident. She moved her chair closer to Symphony.
“My name is Marsha Billings,” she answered, locking eyes with the younger woman. “I used to be Wilson Grover’s girlfriend.” Her eyes suddenly blazed with disgust and contained anger. “He’s the one who put me in this chair.”