The search for the Dawson brothers proved inconclusive when Captain Scarlet and Colonel White investigated Los Lobos’ only bar. So, following Rosa’s information, they took the car and drove all the way to the Bull’s Horn Bar, some hundred miles away. Scarlet had recalled that it was from there that Adam had called him, the preceding day, to let him know that he and Symphony would be arriving late at Las Vegas.
Even before entering the bar, both men realized that it was exactly as Rosa had described it. There were at least thirty bikes parked in front of the door, beautiful, well maintained machines, gleaming in the sun, contrasting with the neglected façade of the bar. Paint was coming off the wall, roughly scoured away by the windborne desert sand. The sign over the door was damaged, riddled with holes, with the name of the place half-erased. From the interior, sounds of country music, loud laughter and animated conversation could be heard.
It was a dump, in every sense of the word. Yet the two men didn’t hesitate to enter. The inside was just a little better than the outside. Very dark atmosphere, with tobacco smoke floating in the air, its smell pervading the place along with the smell of cheap alcohol, sweat and dust. There were men all dressed in black leather and jeans everywhere, most of them wearing on their back a big badge sporting the name “Road Rovers”, and the logo of a very nasty-looking dog, a dagger clenched in its sharp teeth. Others looked like misplaced cowboys from another time, and there were only a handful of women, whose morality, judging by the way they were dressed and how they were acting around the men, was questionable. All of them seemed like tough people, some of the men clearly to be avoided. There were a few of them who gave just one glance toward Scarlet and White as they walked in the direction of the bar, but no-one paid any real attention to them.
“You said Adam made a stop here yesterday?” White grumbled as they stopped at the counter, waiting for the bartender to come to them.
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, to tell me he was going to be late.” He looked around, wrinkling his nose at the smell. “According to Karen, this is where he first ran into Grover.”
“I HOPE he didn’t let the young lady come in here,” White muttered. Scarlet gave the faintest of smiles, remembering that he had had the same reaction himself the day before. He wasn’t really surprised by the colonel’s comment. He knew he was rather fond of his Angel pilots.
They found an empty space at the counter, just large enough for the two of them to stand. They waited until the bartender, a tall, bulky, overweight man with a big black moustache, came over, and glared at them with impatient and intolerant eyes.
“Excuse me, my good man,” Colonel White started, “but we’re looking for the Dawson brothers and…”
“You gonna order something?” the bartender suddenly cut in. Seeing the puzzled gaze White gave him, he grumbled and shook his head. “You can’t stay at the bar if you ain’t ordering…”
“Oh!” White checked the man standing at his right, and saw the big glass of beer he had in front of him. “Same as this gentleman, then,” he finally answered. “For my friend too.”
The bartender nodded. It took mere seconds for the two beer glasses to appear on the counter. Meanwhile, White had searched his wallet; he put three bills next to the glass, keeping them half-covered, as the bartender reached to take them. Scarlet had seen the sum of money the colonel was offering the man – and the latter saw it too; a flicker passed through his eyes as he raised them to meet the white-haired man’s.
“You can keep the change,” White declared matter-of-factly.
He removed his hand and the bartender took the money, quietly, and put it into his shirt pocket. He nodded to White. “You said you were looking for the Dawson brothers?” he said. White answered with a nod of his head. The bartender pointed to a table, in a far corner of his establishment. Both Scarlet and White turned around to see a young man sitting there, playing solitaire with a deck of cards, a cigarette dangling from his lips, a small glass of some alcoholic beverage in front of him. “Billy’s over there. Don’t know where his brothers are.”
“Billy will do perfectly,” White declared. “Thank you for your co-operation, sir.” That said, he left the counter, with Scarlet, leaving the two beer glasses where they were, without even touching them. Scarlet glanced around. It didn’t take two seconds before somebody took them as their own.
“That was three hundred dollars you passed to the barman,” the perplexed Spectrum captain noted to his commander.
“That’s a lot of money for so little information.”
“Do you want to find your friend, or not?” White remarked, as they walked toward the table occupied by Billy Dawson. “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have given as much for the same information!”
“Yes, of course, but…”
“Oh, sorry. I forgot. Beating up informers is more your style.”
Scarlet scowled. He realized he had lost his temper earlier, when he had interrogated the Dawsons. White was aware of that, as he also knew of his junior officer’s hot temper. Scarlet had a feeling his commander would not allow him to forget that soon.
They had reached the table where young Billy Dawson sat smoking and playing cards. They stopped in front of him; it took Billy a little while to notice them and finally lift his eyes to look at them. As soon as he saw Scarlet’s stern face staring straight at him, he went suddenly pale; the cards in his hand fell on the table.
“Remember me, Billy?” Scarlet noted, keeping a straight, accusing tone.
Billy nervously tried to stand up. White put a hand on his shoulder, drawing the man’s attention to him. “We would like a word with you, Mister Dawson,” he said, in a level, almost excessively polite tone.
Billy shook his head, staring at the older man’s impassive features. “Ain’t got nothing to tell you,” he answered nervously.
“Oh, but I’m sure you have.” White took the man by the arm, squeezing the muscles and forcing him to stand, without any apparent effort, or having to insist. By the look on his face, it was obvious that Billy was too afraid to resist. Somehow, he had the feeling he was in deep trouble. The older man didn’t look like a broadminded fellow. “Now, if you would follow us, please?”
“This way.” Scarlet had discovered the men’s bathroom, just next to where they were standing. Checking inside, it appeared that it was empty. White nodded his consent and pushed Billy that way. The young man nearly stumbled inside the dirty, moderately large room when the Spectrum commander finally released his arm and pushed him in. He turned around furiously, to see that the two grim-looking men had stepped inside too, and that the door had closed behind them. Scarlet was checking around to see if any of the cubicles were occupied.
“Nobody in here,” he declared, after a brief moment. “We won’t be disturbed.”
“Thank you, Mister Metcalfe,” White declared, keeping stern and gleaming eyes on Billy. “Now, Mister Dawson… We would very much like you to talk to us.”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Dawson exploded, his face livid. “I got friends the other side of this door! In a minute, they’ll come here and take care of you two!”
“You’ve got friends,” Scarlet repeated, with disdain. “Is that why you were sitting all alone at that table, playing solitaire?”
“I’m warning you, pal…” Billy growled. “You’d better let me go, before I call some reinforcements!”
“You hear that, Mister Dawson?” White thumbed toward the closed door, through which sounds of laughter were almost drowned by loud country music. “I doubt very much that anybody would hear your calls.”
“Or your screams,” Scarlet deadpanned, cracking his knuckles.
White nearly rolled his eyes, over the melodramatics displayed by the captain. He knew he was playing the tough guy, presenting a falsely brutal appearance just to impress the young Dawson enough to make him talk. White wasn’t fooled, as he knew Scarlet and doubted that he would go that far, even considering his earlier performance. And maybe it was a cynical answer to his commander’s crack, some minutes ago. Nonetheless, seeing Billy’s face, now as white as a sheet, it was working, and the young man believed his safety was in jeopardy. White decided to go along with it. He had not played ‘good cop, bad cop’ for a long time.
“Mister Dawson,” he said, eyeing Billy with attention, “I believe you may be able to help us. Mister Metcalfe and I are looking for a friend of ours – Adam Svenson. Mister Metcalfe is convinced you know where we can find him.”
“I don’t know nothing!” Billy snapped with anger, defiantly glaring daggers, despite his evident fear.
“Now, Mister Dawson,” White replied casually. “I’d advise you to answer the question.” He nodded toward Scarlet. “My friend here doesn’t have much patience.”
“You wouldn’t DARE hurt me in here!”
“How’s your brother’s arm, Billy?” Scarlet reminded him, his eyes turning very cold. “I’m sure it’s still sore. I went easy on him. Much easier than I’ll be on you, if you don’t tell us what we want to know. Especially now that our friend Karen Wainwright has also disappeared!”
“I know nothing about where the lady’s gone!” Billy protested.
“But you know about Adam Svenson, don’t you?” White asked.
Billy nervously shifted on his feet; his hand reached for his pocket, and a knife suddenly appeared in it, aimed toward the two men. White addressed an annoyed look at Billy and shook his head, as Scarlet tensed and stepped forward.
“That ISN’T a very bright move, Mister Dawson.”
“Keep away from me!” Billy lashed out savagely. “I swear, if you come any closer, I’ll kill you!”
“You’ll just have ONE chance, mate,” Scarlet growled, his eyes fixed on the younger man. “And that won’t do you any good. So you’d better drop that knife, right now!”
“I’m getting outta here. I’m warning you… You try to stop me and I won’t hesitate!”
Billy edged toward the door, carefully keeping the two men at bay. He was more wary of Scarlet, having already seen what he was capable of. He wasn’t expecting any trouble from the older, more poised man, casually standing there. He should have suspected he could be as dangerous, just by the gleam in his eyes, but Billy didn’t notice. He was too busy keeping his eyes on Scarlet; so when the dark-haired Englishman took an ominous step in his direction, Billy flashed his knife at him; White, however, surprised him by swiftly taking hold of his arm. It was simple child’s play for the two Spectrum men to disarm the young ruffian. Panicking, Billy tried to punch Scarlet in the face, but the latter sidestepped and the fist never landed. Colonel White’s however, connected, and sent Billy sprawling on the floor, stunned.
Scarlet turned to his commander, a look of disapproval on his face. “You should have left me to handle it.”
“And let you have all the fun?” White replied, scowling.
“Sir… he had a knife. He could have hurt you.”
“Drop it, Metcalfe. I’m not helpless, and you should know very well that I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”
Scarlet frowned, not having anticipated that bitter reply. Obviously, his commander was still annoyed with him. The captain couldn’t blame him, considering all that had happened. He couldn’t see any reason, however, for the colonel to take unnecessary risks, other than the fact that he probably had to let off some steam.
Better Dawson than me, then.
Billy was trying to get back on his feet, groaning in pain following the punch that had hit him squarely in the mouth. Scarlet took him by his collar, and hauled him up, before pushing him against the nearest wall. Billy’s back collided roughly with it; feeling a bitter taste in his mouth, Billy spat out some blood onto the floor. He looked down at it with incredulity, then reached for his bloody mouth.
"You crazy old man," he moaned, "I think you broke one of my teeth..."
He suddenly felt two hands grabbing him by the front of his shirt, pushing him further against the wall. He blinked and looked up, staring right into two angry faces leaning close to him. The older Englishman seemed now as angry as his compatriot, who was holding him so tightly. His eyes were simply cold and ruthless.
Truth to tell, Colonel White had now had enough. He wanted some answers to his questions, and if resorting to intimidation was the only way to extract information from Billy Dawson, that’s what he was ready to do.
“Now, Mister Dawson,” he said, with an ominous tone to his voice, “I have even LESS patience than Mister Metcalfe. You shouldn’t have tried it. Because when I lose my temper, BAD things can happen.”
Scarlet winced. Okay, the old man has really got into character, he mused. Billy noticed his reaction and took it as a bad sign. He blinked again, staring into the older man's eyes with a mix of incredulity and fear.
“You’re not serious, right?”
White shook his head. “Do you want me to ask my friend to break anything more useful to you than a tooth?”
Billy blanched. It became painfully plain to him that the man wasn't kidding at all. He was deadly serious. He became increasingly worried when he saw White putting a hand on Scarlet’s shoulder.
“Show this young man how serious we are, Paul.”
The smile crossing Scarlet’s face was like the snarl of a tiger. He roughly pushed Billy around, twisting one of his arms behind his back and directing him toward the nearest cubicle.
“Hey!” Billy protested, struggling in vain in Scarlet’s clutches. “What do you think you’re doing, man?”
“You’re a bright boy, try to work it out!”
Scarlet pushed opened the door of the cubicle; eyes wide with horror, Billy stared down at the dirtiest, most unsanitary and disgusting toilet he had ever seen.
“Can you swim, Billy?” Scarlet said icily to the horrified man.
“Hey, no!” Billy struggled even more when Scarlet tried to shove him inside the cubicle, now knowing far too well what the Spectrum agent had in mind for him. Surprisingly, he found that he was unable to break Scarlet’s grip even a little.
“You’re crazy! You don’t really intend to…”
“Take a deep breath, Billy.”
Even though he was thrashing about wildly, it was evident to Billy that the man holding him was stronger than he was and would eventually succeed in forcing him into the cubicle. He was already one step inside. “No, please, don’t do that!”
Dawson was suddenly out of the cubicle with his back against the sink on the opposing wall. He winced, feeling the sink pressing between his ribs, sending a wave of pain up his spine. Scarlet had taken him by the collar again, leaning over him, his eyes flashing with sinister intent.
“If you want me to leave you alone, you’d better tell us where we can find Adam Svenson!” Scarlet barked furiously at him. “Because if you don’t, I promise you, you’ll get a dip in the crapper!”
“I don’t know where he is!” Billy yelled in panic.
“But Grover has him, right?” White asked calmly from behind Scarlet.
“Yes! Yes, he has him!”
White drew a deep breath. “He’s alive, then.”
“Yes, he’s alive! At least, the last I heard of him, he was…”
“What does Grover want from him?”
“I don’t know…”
“Dawson,” Scarlet growled, “my patience is reaching its limits!”
Billy swallowed hard, looking into the Brit’s icy blue eyes. One look over at White told him that he couldn’t count on any intervention from him. He shivered. He was still very afraid to open his mouth, Scarlet realized, wondering what kind of influence was being held over the man. At the present moment, however, Billy was even more worried about what would happen to him.
“Will said… he said that he wanted to cash in big with Svenson,” Billy finally conceded, nervously. “He said that he owed him a lot, and that he intended to get every last penny of that debt.” His eyes moved from White to the hard features of Scarlet, and then back. “He said that if we helped him get his hands on Svenson, we would have our share of the deal.”
Billy nervously shook his head. “My brothers and me… and the other guys. I swear, that’s all I know…”
“What about Karen Wainwright?” White asked again.
"I told you, I don't know where the lady’s gone. I admit my me and my brothers went after her," he added quickly. "But I don't know how, she disappeared suddenly...”
“She escaped, then?" White remarked.
Billy nodded. "And we haven't been able to find her since then..."
"Why were you after her to begin with?" Scarlet asked. Billy didn’t answer; he simply averted his eyes. It was that obvious he was still reluctant to give a response because he was afraid. Scarlet’s face hardened even more. “What did Grover want from her?”
“I don’t know… I – I think he wanted to put some pressure on Svenson, somehow… But I don’t know where she is, I promise!”
He’s too frightened to lie, Scarlet mused grimly. At least, Karen isn’t in the hands of that Grover scum… Now WHERE she could be, that was another question…
“A last question, Mister Dawson,” White then said quietly. “We would like to know what the relationship between Wilson Grover and Pietro Gardenia is.”
Billy’s eyes trembled suddenly, before opening wide. He stared incredulously at the two Englishmen; apparently, he didn’t expect them to ever mention that name.
“Please,” he pleaded in a whisper, wincing. “Let me go… My back is hurting me. I’ll tell you anything you want after.”
Scarlet hesitated. He glanced at White who briefly nodded an order, then he released Dawson. Drawing a deep breath, Billy straightened up, trying to relax.
“Now, Dawson,” White demanded, “about Mister Gardenia…”
No sooner had the name escaped the Colonel’s lips that Billy suddenly rammed into Scarlet, sending him backward, colliding right into his commander. Then Billy took advantage of the moment and swiftly took off toward the door and then out of the bathroom. Getting over their surprise, both Scarlet and White rushed to the now closing door. By the time they had opened it, Billy was running through the tables and perplexed clients of the Bull’s Horn Bar, toward the exit. He didn’t even look over his shoulder as he ran. Scarlet went after him, crossing the room swiftly, pushing people out of his way, vaguely hearing grumbled protests in his wake, and aware that White was following close behind.
Reaching the door, Scarlet stepped outside; from the doorway, he scanned the area for Dawson. From where he was standing, he couldn’t see him. He was about to step into the street, when White, putting a hand on his shoulder, stopped him.
“Let him go, for now. I think we got everything we could out of him, anyway.”
Scarlet slapped the doorframe with his open hand in frustration. “I’m such a fool! I’m sorry, sir, I should have suspected that he would try something like that.”
“It’s as much my fault as yours. I didn’t realize how afraid Dawson was. Now, whether it’s of Grover or Gardenia, is another question.”
“You think he’ll go to Grover and tell him what happened?”
“I doubt our young Mister Dawson would confess to him what he told us,” White said in a low tone. “It’s still a possibility, though.”
“In the meantime,” Scarlet added grumpily. “We still haven’t found either Adam or Karen.”
“At least we know two things: Symphony escaped those ruffians. We just don’t know where she is now.”
“And Adam is alive.”
White nodded. “Of course, provided that Dawson didn’t lie to us. I don’t think he would have dared, though.” He paused a second. "What do you make of all this? About Grover wanting to 'cash in big' on Adam?"
Scarlet scowled. "In view of what you told me of their relationship, I think that should be obvious. Grover is up to the same thing as twenty-five years ago."
"You mean he’s going to ransom him."
"It looks that way, yes."
"Right. That's what I suspect, too.” White looked over his shoulder, making sure there wasn't anybody around listening to their conversation. "Of course, we still can't be sure of anything. We only have the word of a two-time ruffian to back that theory."
"We can easily check. If Grover’s made contact with the Svenson family..."
"Already? Well, it’s possible... I'll contact Green, and ask him to make a call to Boston to..."
Scarlet stopped his commander suddenly, drawing his attention to a car that was presently pulling out of the highway and coming toward the gas pumps. It was a police vehicle, and the outlines of at least three passengers, including the driver, were apparent through the windows.
"Why do I have the feeling that this car may be here for us?" Scarlet noted grimly.
"You may be right," White agreed. "We'd better get back inside. We haven't been spotted yet."
They went back into the bar, and Scarlet gave a puzzled stare at his commander. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid to face the sheriff or one of his deputies, sir,” he noted quietly. “That wouldn’t be like you at all.”
“Afraid? No. I just think that we might want to avoid them for the moment. Just in case, and until we find out their role in this affair.” He conspicuously eyed his junior officer. “And seeing your disposition of late, I don’t think it would be in your best interests to face the local law. You had me worried for a while, in there.”
“Come on, you didn’t really think I was going to seriously hurt Dawson?”
“Seriously hurt him, no. Push his head down that nauseating toilet, maybe.” White gave the faintest of smiles. “Not that he wouldn’t have deserved it.” He looked around, checking on their surroundings. “Now I’ll try to find a quiet place to make that call to Green. In the meantime, try to keep a low profile.”
“Are you worried that I might get into trouble, sir?”
White narrowed his eyes, asking himself if Scarlet was somehow mocking him. “Constantly. Especially in a place like this.” He nodded slowly. “I won’t be long. Wait for me.”
He left the younger man where he was standing and went towards the bathroom he had left some minutes ago. Scarlet watched him disappear through the door, wondering if it was such a good idea for them to separate like this, even for a short time. Seeing as how everybody kept disappearing, every time they were left alone… Shrugging the concern aside, he went to the nearest window to look outside. Through the dirty panes, he had a good view of his rented car. The police vehicle had stopped right next to it, and he could see one of the uniformed officers checking it thoroughly. Two other policemen were standing nearby. Damn, Scarlet thought, scowling with discontent, they’re really here to check on us… What is it this time?
“Still having trouble with the authorities, are you, Paul?”
Scarlet turned around, hearing the mocking voice that had boomed out behind him. In the smoky environment of the bar, he narrowed his eyes, scanning the area. He saw a big man, with dark sunglasses, casually seated at a table, some ten feet from him, and looking in his direction with a bemused smile. The man raised an arm, covered with tattoos, and saluted the Spectrum officer with a half-filled beer glass.
Scarlet’s eyes widened. “Jake?”
The man’s smile broadened, and he nodded with satisfaction, as Scarlet approached. “Nice to see you again, buddy!”
“You’re out of jail?” Scarlet asked with puzzlement, stopping in front of the man. He eyed the sleeveless vest he was wearing, with the Road Rovers logo on the back.
“Yeah, I was just s’posed to be there for the night,” Jake answered quietly. “I left about an hour after you, actually. So I came here, to join up with my buddies. We’re s’posed to hit the road shortly.” He pulled up a chair. “Sit down a little, make yourself comfortable, and have a beer with me.”
“I don’t know if I’ll have the time for a beer, but…”
“What’s pressing you? Ain’t like you can go anywhere at the moment!” Jake thumbed through the window next to which he was seated, and outdoors, where Scarlet could still see his car and the interested policemen around it. “I think the sheriff’s deputies are keeping their eyes on you and your pal.”
“I don’t see any reason why,” Scarlet noted, finally accepting Jake’s offer of a seat, and looking out.
“I don’t think that creep McNamara needs any reason. You should have heard him screaming at his boys at the station! Oh, he was furious, all right! I think he will be looking for any reason to put you back in the joint, along with your friend.”
Why, I wonder… Scarlet was becoming more and more convinced that McNamara had something to do with Blue’s kidnapping – maybe even had a direct hand in it – and that he was trying to stop him or Colonel White interfering.
“I’d advise you to keep your head down,” Jake pursued. “Avoid McNamara and his boys. Especially that scum Ringward. That one is a nasty back-stabbing heel.”
“Thanks,” Scarlet grumbled, remembering how the man had crept up on him to hit him from behind the first time. “I’d already noticed that.”
“I saw that wimp Billy Dawson coming out of the bathroom, running like a scared rabbit,” Jake continued. “He looked like he had a real bad time in there. Then I saw you coming out of there as well, with that white-haired guy that got you out of jail. So I figured out what could have frightened Dawson that way.” He chuckled. “You were trying to get information out of him?”
Scarlet simply nodded, not wanting to debate the subject fully with Jake; after all, he didn’t know where the man stood in this whole affair. Jake didn’t seem to notice the suspicion in the Spectrum agent’s eyes.
“So, you still haven’t found your friend Svenson?”
“No, not yet.”
Jake grunted. “Ah, that’s bad… That’s really bad. Listen… You need help, any kind of it… You just ask, y’hear?”
A perplexed Scarlet furrowed his brow. Now that was a curious offer… “Tell me, Jake… Why would you want to help me? I fail to see your motive.”
“My motive?” Jake laughed out loud. He leaned forward in his chair, toward the Spectrum officer, and removed his glasses, to show the black eye he was sporting. There was no resentment in his expression, only a kind of amusement. “Anybody able to do this to me deserves my respect, buddy. Furthermore, anything that would bug the police, especially that bastard of a sheriff, McNamara, would be an intense pleasure, for me and my buds…”
“I have a feeling it’s not only because he threw you in jail for the night.”
Jake snorted derisively. “I was caught off guard. I was drunk brainless, and couldn’t put a foot in front of the other. I got into a scrap with somebody for a reason I don’t even remember… And I was alone in town. You can be sure that if some of my buddies had been with me, McNamara would never even DARE arrest me!”
A faint smile crossed Scarlet’s face. Somehow, he had no doubt about that…
“So you’re a tough guy, eh, Jake?”
“Of course I am!” Jake almost snorted. “I’m a Road Rover! Ain’t nobody tougher than us guys this side of the States!”
Scarlet nodded again. He didn’t have the heart to tell Jake that he had no idea what the Road Rovers were, and that Jake’s obvious pride in the name didn’t mean anything to him. He leaned over the table toward the man, and Jake, feeling that he had something to tell him in confidence, did the same in his direction.
“So if you’re so tough,” Scarlet murmured quietly, “maybe you can give me the information I need that might help me locate my friend.”
“What is it you want to know?” Jake asked in the same tone.
“I’d like to have further information on Pietro Gardenia.”
Jake grumbled, and sat back in his seat. “You don’t know what you’re asking, bud,” he growled.
“I thought you were a tough guy,” Scarlet replied.
“That’s a very touchy subject, Paul.”
“Right, maybe I was wrong, then.” Scarlet let out a frustrated sigh and straightened up, staring coldly at Jake. “You’re not as tough as I thought you were. If you’re that frightened of this Gardenia chap, than I guess you’re no better than that wimp Dawson.”
“Hey!” Jake warned him, pointing a finger at him. “Watch it! Comparing me to Dawson, you’re insulting me!”
“What am I to think, then?” Scarlet continued without changing his tone.
“I ain’t afraid of nobody, bud. I ain’t no stoolie, that’s all. You imagine the kind of trouble I’d be in if word got out?”
“I don’t want you to give me confidential information,” Scarlet protested. “You told me a good deal already in prison. Now I only need one last detail out of you. And it wouldn’t cost you much.”
“What detail?” Jake mumbled.
“I’d like to know where I can get in touch with Pietro Gardenia.”
Jake shot him a perplexed stare. Then he laughed and took a swig from his glass. “Why didn’t you say so before? Yeah, that wouldn’t cost me that much, you’re right. It’s common knowledge, in fact. Gardenia has a lot of businesses in Las Vegas. But most of the time, you can find him at his casino, the First Base, it’s called. Apparently, a good, honest gambling establishment, where you can play roulette, blackjack and such. But also the front for some illegal operations. You want a good big time poker game, you go there.”
“Thank you, Jake. That’s all I wanted to know.”
“You plan on going there to threaten Gardenia?” Jake shook his head. “Didn’t I tell you he was in league with the Vegas mob? You know what you’ll be getting yourself into?”
“I would risk anything to get my friend back, Jake,” Scarlet replied with blazing eyes.
Jake shrugged. “Your funeral, bud. I must admit, either you don’t understand the danger, or you’ve got even more guts than I first thought!”
Colonel White had come out of the bathroom, and was searching the bar with his eyes, obviously looking for his officer, and finally spotted him. Seeing him come his way, Scarlet excused himself to Jake and got up to approach his commanding officer. The latter pointed toward the still seated Jake.
“Isn’t that your friend from jail?” he asked with a frown.
“Yes, that’s him,” Scarlet concurred. “He gave me some more information about that Gardenia character I already told you about. Of course, I don’t know how reliable the information is, and we’ll have to check it, but I don’t think we’ll have any trouble confirming it. I don’t think Jake has any reason to lie to me.”
“You think Gardenia is mixed up in this affair?”
“It’s possible, considering what we’ve found out about his involvement so far.”
White nodded slowly. Scarlet looked at him closely. He could see, by the hard expression on his face, that something was afoot.
"What is it?" Scarlet asked. "Did you contact Cloudbase?"
"Yes, I did.” White swiftly checked around, and took his junior officer into a corner, to talk to him in confidence, without risking any prying ear hearing their conversation. "Green called Boston. He reached the Svenson estate, and the company offices owned by the family. He talked to Adam’s sister, Katherine. Well, for starters, it doesn’t seem as if anybody out there is aware of what’s happened just yet. Everything seems normal enough, except…”
“It seems John Svenson left the city today, soon after lunch, following an important phone call. He's gone to the West Coast."
"The West Coast?" Scarlet murmured with suspicion. "Nothing more specific?"
“Apparently, he didn’t say that much to his secretary. Just that he had some important business to attend to there, and that he'd be gone for a couple of days. Green did the necessary research, though. It was rather easy to find out, as Svenson didn't take the Company jet and booked an airline ticket for the next available commercial flight... For Las Vegas.”
"Vegas.” Scarlet nodded, his suspicion taking form. "So Grover might have already contacted him."
"That's quite possible. Svenson left in a hurry. He didn't even tell his wife he was going, which makes his leaving Boston like that even more curious.”
“Could be he was instructed not to say anything to anyone.”
White nodded slowly. “Kidnappers usually operate under the same modus operandi – they instruct their victim’s relatives not to talk to anybody, especially the police, and then order them to go to a meeting point for them to either be contacted again, or deliver the ransom. If Grover has contacted Svenson, it’s probable that he was given the same kind of instructions.” White grumbled with annoyance. “I’d wish Svenson had contacted Spectrum. Surely, he must be aware that we’re more than capable of handling these situations. I can’t believe he agreed to any kind of demand from Grover, and go to face him alone.”
"If John Svenson took the first plane after lunch," Scarlet mused, "it's quite possible he hasn’t reached Vegas yet?"
“According to Green’s research, his plane hasn’t landed in Las Vegas, yet,” White agreed. “We may still be able to intercept him, and stop him from walking right into the lion’s den.”
“What do you suggest we do, sir?”
White was about to answer, when his eyes caught Jake who, rising from his chair, was making large movements in their direction, beckoning them to join him. “I think your friend wants to tell us something.”
Scarlet noticed Jake’s gestures in turn; the biker was looking out the dirty window next to which he was standing. Curious to know what he wanted from them, both Spectrum officers went over to him. He motioned them to keep clear of the window.
“What is it, Jake? Is there some kind of trouble?” Scarlet asked.
“Don’t know exactly,” Jake grumbled. “You tell me. I thought you should SEE this.”
Scarlet and White looked through the window. A few feet in front of the bar, where they had left their car, they could see the three deputy sheriffs, as if they were standing guard next to it. One of them was listening with attention to Billy Dawson, who seemed to be explaining something to him with great agitation, and large gestures. He was showing his damaged and bruised face, and was pointing toward the bar. Scarlet recognized the policeman listening to Dawson’s declaration as Harvey Ringward. His face was set enough, but he was taking lengthy notes in a small notebook.
“Told you I wasn’t a stoolie, Paul,” Jake noted with a tone of disgust in his voice. “But as you can see, Billy Dawson doesn’t have the same kind of scruples!”
“He’s probably complaining about what’s been done to him,” White replied dryly.
“You can be sure those deputies will take advantage of this to arrest both of you,” Jake agreed.
“It’s probably the sheriff’s instructions, too,” Scarlet added with a grim enough tone. “Or he wouldn’t have assigned three deputies to follow us around. He certainly want us out of circulation.” He sighed in frustration. “I suppose that’s partly my fault.”
“Not entirely,” White replied. “I think I may have some responsibility for that too. I came down rather harshly on McNamara.”
“How harshly?” Scarlet asked with curiosity.
“I don’t think it’s important for now. We must find a way to avoid arrest.”
Scarlet nodded. Evidently, under the circumstances, telling the local authorities about Spectrum was out of the question. Colonel White wasn’t even considering it, not knowing where the sheriff and the rest of his men stood. He didn’t want to take that risk. And neither did Scarlet. There was no telling what impact it might have for Blue.
"Well, as long as you stay in here, you've got nothing to fear,” Jake then said with a broad grin of satisfaction, sitting down quietly again. "They won't come in here to take you."
"And why's that?" Scarlet asked, puzzled.
"Why?" Jake scowled loudly. "Because they're too yellow to come into a place full of Road Rovers!" He took his glass and raised it high in the air. "Isn't that right, boys?" he called loudly. "You think the police will come to bother us on our own turf?"
Cheers of joy and derisive snorts made themselves heard all around the barroom, along with whistles, laughter and applause. Both Captain Scarlet and Colonel White looked around with some perplexity – and certainly amusement, as glasses and bottles were raised in answer to Jake's invective. Jake sat back comfortably, waving casually through the window.
"Consider yourselves under our protection, gentlemen," he added, in an assured voice.
White nodded. "Well, that's all very kind of you, Mister... er..."
"Just call me Jake."
"But we can't stay in here forever," White continue.
"Well, the minute you show your nose outside, those deputies out there will fall on you."
"All the same, we must go back to Las Vegas," White insisted. "As soon as possible. As corny as it may sound... it could be a matter of life or death."
“Matter of life or death, eh?” Jake stroked his chin, apparently pondering something. After a few seconds, a thought seemed to cross his mind, and he looked up at the two Englishmen standing in front of him. “Maybe I can help you out, guys…”
“We’re not asking you to risk confronting the police, Jake,” White responded. “You or any of your friends.”
The biker scoffed loudly. “You’re kidding, right? Any Road Rover would jump at the chance to screw those guys up!”
“We appreciate it, Jake… I think.”
“Okay, then. I’ll get you out of this place. Getting to Las Vegas will be up to you after that.”
White nodded. “Whatever you have in mind, I’ll just ask you for a few minutes. I need to make a call.” He looked at Scarlet, who had turned an interrogative stare at him. “There is someone I want to contact in Las Vegas,” he explained, more for the benefit of his officer than for Jake. “Concerning meeting with… a friend, if we happen not to be there to do it ourselves.”
Scarlet nodded his understanding. As for Jake, he simply shrugged.
“Of course. Go make your call. That’ll give me time to make preparations.”
“Preparations for what exactly?” Scarlet asked, frowning in puzzlement.
“Oh, yeah. Got to tell you that, haven’t I?” Jake chuckled softly, as if he had made some kind of a joke only he could understand. “Either of you know how to ride a bike?”
Scarlet and White exchanged puzzled, interrogative stares.
“Why do you ask?” Scarlet asked with a frown, addressing Jake.
Without answering, the biker raised his head. “Rios, Sharkey!” he called loudly. “Come over here a minute!”
Both Scarlet and White turned around as two other bikers approached them from behind. The men were tall, impressive fellows, dressed in jeans and leather jackets festooned in badges and chains. One of them wore a bandana on his head. Neither Scarlet nor White were really sure if these men were not some kind of threat to them. They were intimidating enough, staring at them, with their eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, making it impossible to read their intentions. For all they knew, all of the Road Rovers could gang up on them at any moment.
Their concerns disappeared when Jake spoke next, waving toward the two other men, a faint smile crossing his lips.
“Meet my buddies, gentlemen. Fellow Road Rovers. It will be a pleasure for them to help you.” His smile broadened. “They’re your tickets out of this dump!”
* * *
Upon arriving at the Las Vegas MacCarran International Airport, John Svenson nervously checked his watch for the nth time. The trip had seemed to last an eternity for him; an endless time of worry that he knew could only be far worse for Adam. He was just certain that Grover, now having Adam in his clutches, would be able to do anything he wanted with him. That wasn’t a very reassuring thought. During those long hours in the plane, for all Svenson knew, Grover could have been slowly killing his son.
Svenson felt physically and morally drained, and it was showing, to the point that a clerk at the information booth asked him if he was all right. Svenson simply shrugged it off, saying the trip had been very tiring, and only asked where he could find a good hotel. The clerk instructed him to go to the hotel check-in counters, south of the baggage claim area, where somebody would take his reservation for a room in ‘one of the best hotels in Las Vegas’.
Frankly, John Svenson couldn’t care less if the hotel was that good. He just wanted to keep a low profile, and he was rather doubtful that the hotel check-in counters would be able to find him a place that would give him just that. He picked up his portable computer, hoisted his travel bag on his shoulder and directed his steps there anyway, hoping they could help him.
After having made a reservation for an hotel room at the Las Vegas Hilton, Svenson reflected on how to get to his hotel. Limo or cab… He had one last stop to make on the way – one that would need the discretion a limo wouldn’t be able to provide. So he settled his choice on a taxi.
Walking out of the building, Svenson looked around for the first available cab. He had to wait ten minutes, before finally losing the first one to a young woman who seemed in a hurry. She apologized profusely, explaining quickly that ‘she was to be the maid of honour at a wedding, that she was late, that the ceremony would not start without her and that her best friend would probably be mad at her for the rest of her days if she was to ruin this beautiful day.’ Svenson stayed standing on the sidewalk, looking aghast as the cab sped away, for a good few seconds before realizing he had been lied to.
“You seem lost, Mister. Want any help?”
Svenson turned around to see a very young man behind him, casually leaning on a wall. He couldn’t be more than seventeen. Seeing the way he was dressed, and the insolence clearly evident in his eyes, Svenson decided that he wasn’t of much interest to him, so he paid no further attention to him and turned back, looking for his taxi.
“Sorry,” the young man snorted. “Didn’t mean to bother you. I just thought I might be of help to you.”
“If you’re a cab driver, then yes, you can help me,” Svenson answered rather bluntly. He knew he wasn’t being very civil, but he didn’t care. He had too much on his mind to bother showing any courtesy to someone who wouldn’t mind his own business.
“No, I don’t own a cab,” the young man answered, chuckling, leaving the wall and approaching beside Svenson. “But maybe I can call you one.”
“No, thank you.” Svenson took some steps away from the youth. Years of doing business with different kinds of people had sharpened his judgement of character. He didn’t know why, but he felt that he shouldn’t trust this one.
“Oh, come on, I’m good at it.”
Svenson felt the young man approaching again and grabbing his arm. He turned in anger to face him and to tell him to get his hands off him, when he heard an ominous click, and felt a nudge against his side. Lowering his gaze, he saw a very small, but deadly pistol in the hand of the other man. So small was the weapon that it was almost entirely hidden by the folds of Svenson’s vest. He stared in incredulity at the young man.
“You’re a cab,” the youth deadpanned, with an evil smile. He then nodded, taking a very cold tone. “Walk with me and be careful. This thing can go off on its own!”
Svenson nodded nervously. The young man dragged him along the sidewalk, driving him away from the taxi area. Svenson had no choice but to follow him docilely; he was feeling for certain at the moment that Grover was now making his move, before he would be allowed to find a way to stop him from hurting his son or the rest of his family.
The youth pulled him into a dark corner, where another young man was apparently waiting. This new one took Svenson by his collar and threw him against the wall. Svenson’s shoulders connected roughly, driving the air out of his lungs. His portable computer and bag were jerked out of his hands, and at the same time, he stared right into the barrel of the small gun.
“Okay, pops! Time to give us your wallet!”
Svenson blinked in surprise. “W-what?”
“Your wallet,” the youth with the gun repeated insistently, while his companion briefly checked around for any witnesses. “Give it to us quickly. Don’t force us to be rough!”
Svenson’s frown furrowed. “You’re not sent by Grover?” he murmured.
The second youth came closer; he drew a knife and Svenson stiffened nervously. “Who’s this Grover?” he growled, his eyes flashing. “Come on, don’t waste our time! Give us your wallet, your watch, that ring on your finger, and anything else you’ve got on you. Then we’ll go and leave you alone.”
Svenson swallowed hard. So these guys were only petty thieves. They weren’t accomplices to Will Grover, as he had first thought. “Listen, boys, I don’t have time for this. I’ll give you anything you want, but you’ve got to leave me my portable. I need it.”
The knife flashed dangerously close to his face. “Who do you take us for, pops?” he said between his teeth. “You’re giving us everything, and I suggest you cooperate! You’re in no position to make ANY demands!”
Svenson felt his heart sink, seeing how badly things were turning out for him. If he was left without his computer, and all the precious data he needed within in, how would he be able to buy back Adam’s freedom? Without any money left, how would he be able to even buy a new one? And how would Grover be able to contact him, if he didn’t have his cell phone with him? He wouldn’t even be able to report the robbery to the police, without going against Grover’s instructions and seeing his son die!
“Please,” he whispered. “It’s a question of life and death. I can give you much more money than…”
“You’re wasting our time!” the youth with the knife interrupted him suddenly, without hearing him out. He was obviously nervous that somebody might finally see what was going on in that dark corner. “Now GIVE us your wallet, man! Or I’ll swear I’ll slit your throat from ear to ear!”
“You will do no such thing.”
That was an ominous tone if ever the two youths had ever heard one, coming from behind them. They turned around, to see a strikingly beautiful blonde woman, not very tall, staring at them with a hard and cold glare. They frowned in disbelief, and Svenson, who did not know who the small person coming to his rescue could be, did too.
“Well, look at this!” the boy with the knife laughed with contempt. “Seems like your girlfriend is coming to your rescue, pops!”
“I mean it, punks,” the young woman warned, the heavy French accent they had heard earlier now even more evident. “Let that gentleman go, or…”
“Or WHAT?” the boy with the gun snorted. He didn’t even think of raising his own weapon and simply made a threatening step toward the woman. If he had expected her to draw back, he was mistaken. She swiftly raised her arm, and put a gun – a little bit bigger than his own – right under his nose. He froze into place and went pale.
“Don’t push it, punks,” she warned again, her golden eyes flashing with righteous anger. “You’d better drop your weapons right now, before I get nasty!”
“You wouldn’t use that!” the boy holding the knife retorted insolently. He had let go of Svenson, but was keeping the knife close to him. “How about I stick your friend here?”
“You do that, and you’ll be dead at my feet the very next second,” the woman replied coldly. “And don’t think I wouldn’t do it either. I’ve had a VERY bad day, today. You have NO idea. So all I’m asking is to drop the two of you like the skunks you are!” She cocked the hammer of her gun, sending a shiver down the boys’ spines. “So go ahead, it’ll be my pleasure!”
Gun and knife fell from her opponents’ hands and dropped on the ground. The boys could see the woman was itching to shoot at them, so they didn’t dare take any chance.
Destiny Angel nodded her satisfaction. Her free hand searched the pocket of her coat, and drew out a pair of handcuffs that she tossed to Svenson. He caught them with one hand. “Monsieur, would you care to lock one end of these bracelets onto one of these gentlemen? Don’t worry, I’m keeping them in my sights. If they try anything funny, I’ll shoot.”
Svenson snapped the handcuff onto the closer punk’s wrist. Destiny motioned the three of them to come out of the corner and onto the sidewalk, closer to the side of the street. There was a taxi waiting there, with its driver reading the newspaper at the wheel. Svenson scowled with frustration. Why wasn’t there one available just five minutes ago, he reflected. That would have spared me all that anxiety!
Destiny looped the handcuff through the handle of the passenger door and snapped the other end around the other boy’s hand, squeezing it tight. The two boys protested vehemently. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m just making sure you won’t get away, boys,” she explained casually. “I’m sure the Airport authorities will have a lot of questions to ask you. This gentleman here certainly isn’t your first victim, right?”
“You’ve got no right… Let us go!”
The taxi driver, hearing the ruckus near his vehicle, stepped out of it and walked around. He saw the two young men shackled to his door and his eyes opened wide with surprise and disbelief.
“What’s going on, here?” he asked the group, especially addressing the well-dressed young woman and the older gentleman standing next to her, looking about as confused as himself.
“Monsieur,” Destiny said quietly, “I suggest you use the radio in your taxi to call the police. These two punks here will surely interest them. They tried to rob this gentleman.”
“You had to shackle them to my cab?!”
“I had to make sure they wouldn’t escape. Now, please? Would you…?” She addressed the man with her most charming of smiles and, still fairly confused, he found himself only able to nod his agreement. He returned to his seat to use his onboard radio. Meanwhile, Destiny took an uneasy John Svenson by the arm and dragged him away from the cab and the two quarrelling youths handcuffed to it. Each one of them was accusing the other of the bad idea of mugging apparently rich persons at the very doors of the airport.
Another taxi was pulling in to the kerb at that moment, and Destiny, opening the back door wide, pushed Svenson inside and climbed into it. “Drive away, quickly,” she called to the driver with urgency, before a stunned Svenson’s eyes.
The driver didn’t need to be told twice, and pushed the accelerator down hard. Destiny looked over her shoulder; she could see the other taxi’s driver getting out of his vehicle, looking even more puzzled than before and staring hopelessly, as they sped away.
“The police will be arriving soon to take care of those punks,” Destiny explained to a gaping Svenson. “But I suspect you don’t want contact with them yourself, do you, monsieur?”
“Who are you?” asked Svenson, perplexed that she should make such an assumption – and be right about it.
“A friend, don’t worry. Do you have a place to stay?”
“I… I took a room at the Hilton,” he answered, not really sure if he should confide in her.
She rolled her eyes. “That would not do. You could be too easily spotted there. I’m taking you to my hotel. It’s far more discreet.”
“Beg your pardon?” Svenson was rolling eyes of surprise now. This young woman’s behaviour was becoming more and more confusing. Not to mention suspect. He shrugged, trying to regain a little of his past confidence. “I’m sorry, young lady, but I have VERY pressing business to attend to here, and I’m not sure where you stand in all this. Now I’m very grateful that you came to my rescue, but if you don’t explain yourself properly…”
“You’re John Svenson, right?”
“Yes, I am. Now, who are you and WHERE are you taking me?”
“I’m simply following orders, monsieur Svenson.”
“Orders?” Svenson nodded slowly. Now he thought he was beginning to understand. “You’ve been sent by Wilson Grover?” he asked tentatively.
She shook her head to the negative, looking at him gravely. “Non, monsieur Svenson. I wasn’t sent by Wilson Grover. I told you, I am a friend. We all are. All we want to do is to help you, you and your son.”
“What do you know about me and my son?” Svenson asked, suddenly defensive, feeling uneasy about this and unsure whether he should trust the woman or not. “For the last time, who are you, and who sent you to help me? Who are you talking about?”
Destiny looked squarely at him, her face very calm. Then she carefully drew a cardholder from her purse, and, with a reassuring gesture gave it to him, and watched as he opened it nervously.
“You don’t have to worry about us, monsieur Svenson,” she then declared, as he looked at the card, his brow furrowed. “We only want to help you. And help your son. Spectrum takes care of its own.”