Marsha Billings nervously glanced toward the little door behind which she knew was the prisoner. The boy was keeping quiet. He hadn’t made a sound since the evening before, and the young woman was worried. She closed her eyes, and shivered. She couldn’t escape all those awful memories of Will striking the Svenson kid so brutally.
It had gone on for a seemingly endless time, until the moaning sounds had weakened to the point where she could hardly hear them anymore. Will had then come out of the small, dark room, and Marsha, narrowing her eyes to see inside, didn’t get a chance to glimpse the boy she just knew had been left in there in a sorry state. Then a grim-looking Grover had pulled the bolt home to make sure the boy wouldn’t try to get away, had had a late dinner, and went to bed, without giving another thought to the boy. As for Marsha, the sounds of the beating, and the painful cries of the child, muffled by the closed door, had been haunting her sleep.
Around midday, when Will Grover had left their little rented house, he had specifically forbidden Marsha to unlock and open the door to Adam’s prison. Even though she argued that he might need water. He had explained that the kid was a ‘sly one’ and that he would probably take advantage of the moment to try and escape, which was something Grover didn’t want to risk. Marsha, however, couldn’t help but wonder if this was really his reason for not wanting her to go in there. He probably didn’t want for her to see what he had done to the boy, and that frightened her.
It was near evening and Will Grover was long gone. Marsha couldn’t find in herself the strength and courage to go open that door. She kept staring at it for long hours, not knowing what to do, almost hoping to hear just one sound from behind it. Could the boy be dead? she wondered, worriedly. Maybe he needed some medical attention. And he had not had anything to eat for a long time… Despite Will’s interdiction, she had to go and see for herself, she finally reasoned. She had to see if the young Svenson boy was all right.
She poured a small quantity of chicken soup that was simmering on the stove into a bowl, went into the medicine cabinet in the bathroom to get a first aid kit and, drawing in a deep breath to finally find the nerve to stand up to Grover and go against his instructions, went to the door and pulled back the bolt.
The door creaked open in front of her, and the light entered, if just a little. Marsha narrowed her eyes, searching into the dark corners of the small room.
“Adam?” she called in an unsure voice. “Can you hear me?”
Not a sound, at first. Only a deadly silence. The only thing that the worried Marsha could hear was her heart, beating wildly. Then she heard a soft moan, coming from the mattress they had put in there to serve as a bed for the kidnapped boy. Her eyes scanned in that direction. She had been so nervous, that she had not seen Adam there at first, but now she could see him, sprawled on the thin mattress, not moving, and whimpering faintly.
“Adam?” she whispered, entering the dark room. The boy didn’t seem a threat to her, and certainly, he didn’t appear in any shape to try to make a run for it. If anything, moving with effort, he tried to back away, hearing her voice, like an injured small animal would. He didn’t get that far, as the wall behind him stopped his progress. He stayed there, half slouched, curled up, hiding his face from her sight with his bound hands, shivering.
“Don’t worry, Adam,” she said with a reassuring, soft voice, approaching him, “My name… My name is Marsha. I won’t hurt you.” She bit her lip. Now why did she have to tell him her name? She couldn’t really tell. Maybe she just wanted to reassure him. She presented him with the steaming bowl. “See, I just brought you some soup. You must be hungry...”
“Leave me alone,” the boy sobbed with effort, not moving one inch from his position.
“Now, please, you must eat something,” Marsha tried again, her voice ever so soft. “Please, Adam, let me come close… I swear, I won’t hurt you, in any way.”
She moved in the child’s direction. He didn’t draw back, but didn’t move either. When she reached him, she looked closely at him, but didn’t get to see past his hands in the semi-darkness of the room. She could see however how damaged they were, from his earlier attempts to free them. She winced slightly, feeling a pang of guilt in her heart. She put down her bowl.
"Adam, don't be afraid," she told the child, reaching to him. "Let me get a look at you. I brought something for your hands, and..."
She stopped and gasped, seeing the young, swollen face, covered with bruises and cuts, as Adam finally lowered his hands. His clothes were bloody and torn from the vicious treatment inflicted on him by Grover. He looked as if he was in terrible pain.
"Oh, Adam,'' she murmured, her voice shaky. "I'm so sorry..."
"You're sorry?" he tiredly repeated, blinking his eyes, as if either he didn't understand or didn't believe her.
"I never imagined it would go that far. I... Don't worry, I'll clean those nasty bruises."
She drew closer, and opened her first aid kit, under the boy's watchful and concerned gaze. When she reached again to him, with a pad soaked with disinfectant in her hand, he backed away, wincing as he did, and let out a faint moan.
"What is it?" Marsha asked with a concerned frown. "Are you in pain?"
"Hurts a little... when I breathe."
Marsha shivered, hearing those words. She was already convinced that Will had been far too brutal with the boy; now, seeing him like this, and knowing that he more than probably had a broken, or at the very least a cracked, rib, she was feeling really uncomfortable. She tried to discard the thought from her mind, difficult though that proved, and gently pressed the pad onto the cut the boy had on his bruised cheek, just under his right eye. Adam moved nervously, and grimaced again, letting out a grunt.
“Don’t move,” she said in a hushed tone. “I know it stinks, but it’s for your own good… You’ll feel better after.”
Adam had stopped struggling to get away. Whether he stopped because he couldn’t find the strength to escape her, or because he was beginning to trust her, Marsha couldn’t really tell. He obstinately kept looking away, as if he was ignoring her presence. He was still obviously nervous, but he calmed down gradually, letting her do as she pleased, probably realizing that she really wanted to take care of him.
After a couple of minutes, with his eyes still looking down, he finally addressed her in a tentative, hesitant voice: “Why are you helping me? I thought you were with him.”
Marsha hesitated, not really certain how to answer that. “Stay quiet,” she replied, keeping her voice gentle. “You must not tire yourself.”
“He’s gonna kill me.”
She frowned. “Now, stop talking nonsense,” she admonished the boy.
“I know he’s going to,” Adam murmured with a shiver. “He practically told me so.”
“Adam… You’ll be back home soon.”
“No, I won’t. Even if my Dad pays up. Mister Grover’s gonna kill me. He can’t let me go. Not after this. I know who he is. I’m too dangerous a witness…”
Marsha could hear the fear in Adam’s voice. There was a fatalism in his insistence. He had a very clear view of his situation, and had no illusions about what his fate would be. In fact, she realized bitterly, he was much more lucid that she had been herself.
She couldn’t explain to herself why she had agreed to participate in Will’s plans. Sure, she had done a lot of bad things in her life, even ended up in prison for a short period of time, but never had she ever done anything as serious as this. Kidnapping a child, to ransom him to his family. That had appeared so wrong, to begin with, when Will had started talking about it. At first she had thought he was only joking, but gradually, she had understood that he was serious. Serious enough to use the knowledge he had learned from his gardener father to win himself a job in the Svenson’s household, one of the richest and most respected families in Boston. He had finally convinced her that it would be easy, that afterwards, they would live the high life, even if it meant leaving the country, and that they would never be short of anything ever again. Marsha had finally let herself be tempted by his promises, and she had given in, agreeing to be his accomplice, to eventually keep the child captive in this house until his parents paid up.
She had never thought, for one second, that Will Grover would want to get rid of the child. Even knowing his violent behaviour. She had always assumed that he would give Adam back to his parents. But maybe she was just blinding herself to the obvious. Adam was right. Grover would probably not let him go free. Not with the boy’s present state, serving as a reminder of her boyfriend’s contempt and even hate for him. He was so jealous of him, held him in such contempt that he would not hesitate one instant to kill him.
Marsha was finally realizing how wrong all of this was, how stupid she had been to believe Will Grover. She should never have listened to him.
Her conscience was telling her that she would probably have to pay the price for it. One way or the other. She reflected that she wouldn’t let it be the same price as Grover’s. She would not lose her soul.
“I won’t let him hurt you anymore, Adam,” she declared to the young boy.
“Yeah?” he whispered, in a doubtful and shaky voice. “What you gonna do about it?”
Marsha swallowed hard. The last doubt she might have had faded away, and she put down the pad, sighing heavily.
“I’m going to take you back to your parents,” she murmured finally.
Adam thought he had misheard. He looked at her, blinking. “What?” he whispered. He watched in disbelief as she started working on his bonds, frenetically. It wasn’t long before they fell to the floor, leaving his hands free.
“I can’t let Will hurt you more than he already has,” she answered, getting shakily to her feet. She was shivering at the very idea that she was now putting herself in danger for the sake of the child. Surely, Will would never forgive her. She helped Adam to his feet. The boy couldn’t believe it; it was beyond all his hopes.
“You’re going to help me?” he asked timidly. As he stood upright, a wave of nausea caught him. He steadied himself against the wall; his body was hurting all over from the beating Grover had given him. He had trouble finding his balance. Marsha leaned toward him, concerned.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m gonna be,” Adam responded with some assurance coming into his still faint voice. “You’re really going to take me back to my parents, Miss Marsha?”
“That’s what I said, right?” she assured him with the shadow of a smile. “Now we’d better get moving. Will has been gone for a long time, and I don’t know when he’s going to be back… We got to get away from here before he does.”
Adam shivered; just the idea of facing Will Grover again was making his skin crawl. That was enough to give him some strength. He nodded briefly. With the help of Marsha, he stepped toward the opened door, grunting.
“You’re going to be okay?” Marsha asked again. “Can you walk?”
“I’ll CRAWL away from here if I have to!” Adam responded, biting his lip against the throbbing pain in all his muscles. “I don’t want to stay here a minute longer!”
“You’re a very courageous and strong boy,” Marsha reflected. “Don’t worry. I’ll see that nothing bad happens to you. You’ll soon be back home, safe.”
Adam nodded his approval. That was what he wanted more than anything else in the world right now. To be safely back home. Away from the dangerous intentions of Will Grover. And to be able to make his peace with his father after the way he had talked to him the last time he had seen him.
He was finally stepping out of the dark room in which he had been kept a prisoner for what seemed to him like an eternity, Marsha close to him, blinking at the light in the kitchen. He froze when he heard a loud rumbling. Marsha reassured him quickly.
“That’s only a thunderstorm, breaking out,” she explained. “The weather forecasts have been announcing it all day.”
Adam shook his head nervously. He wasn’t really afraid of thunderstorms. It was just that this one was adding to the dreadfulness of the situation. He couldn’t shake off that uncomfortably creepy feeling.
A flash of lightning suddenly lit the room more, and then was quickly followed by a thunderous sound. The lights went out, and they were plunged into darkness. Adam shivered almost despite himself. He had been in the dark for far too long; it was making him nervous.
“It’s all right,” Marsha comforted him. “The lights’ll be back in a minute. Come on, I’ll guide you to the door.”
She took the boy by the arm and together they tottered out of the kitchen, and then into a small, dark hall. They couldn’t see much. A sudden rush of cool wind suddenly hit them in the face, and they heard a sudden crash. It wasn’t only the thunder, but another sound also. Seeming to come from nearby. Adam couldn’t stop himself from feeling afraid.
“I can’t wait to be back home,” he murmured thankfully to Marsha.
There was another flash, lighting the hall through a nearby window… and from the open door, right in front of them. A powerful silhouette was suddenly framed in the doorway, and both Adam and Marsha let out a cry of surprise and panic.
Then, the lights came back, and Adam and Marsha blinked, as Will Grover, his face set, stared at them mercilessly.
“Is that so, boy?” he asked in response to Adam’s last statement, stressing cruelly on the last word, his eyes flashing with an anger that matched the bad weather. Adam’s face quickly drained of what little colour it had left, as Grover, walking further into the house, stared fixedly at him. Then the big man looked up at Marsha. The young woman was shivering, and her features were as pale as Adam’s. She swallowed hard.
“Let him go, Will,” she pleaded with him.
“Are you crazy, Marsha?” he asked her bluntly.
“Please, you’ve got to let him go back to his parents. You can’t…”
“We’re going to have the money soon. TONIGHT. I come back to tell you that good news and what do I find? You, trying to help that little twerp to escape! You’re really out of your mind!"
Marsha swallowed hard. Adam was standing a little behind her, hoping, without really believing it, that she would be able to protect him.
"You'll have the money," she noted with as firm a voice she was able to muster. "So you can let him go..."
Grover snorted derisively, and nodded towards the frightened boy. "Be realistic, Marsha! What do you think he's gonna do when he's back with his parents?" he said between his teeth. "He knows who we are. He can identify us, and the cops will be after us before you know it!"
Marsha felt her heart miss a beat. She now had confirmation of what she suspected. As for Adam, she could almost hear his breathing suddenly increase with his mounting fear.
"Will, I know what you're implying... But you can’t seriously plan to..."
"What do you think I was planning all along?" Grover growled, interrupting her suddenly. "I... WE can't let him go like that. He's too dangerous." He produced a switchblade from his pocket, and released the blade. That made Marsha jump in surprise, while Adam’s face drained of colour, as he stared at the knife with dread. Grover addressed him a faint but evil smile. "I'm real sorry, kid. S'nothing personal, you must understand that. Only business..."
Realising that time was quickly running out for the fearful youth by her side, Marsha then took a very quick and sudden decision. She didn't hesitate one instant, and jumped Grover with all the courage and determination she could call upon. He didn't expect such a fierce attack coming from her and stumbled backwards.
Adam didn’t hesitate. Taking advantage of the time Marsha was buying him, and despair making him regain his strength, he darted toward the open door, passing within inches of Grover. The big man attempted to catch him, but the boy was too fast, and Marsha was literally all over him, obstructing his efforts. Adam disappeared into the thick of the darkness outside, into the raging rain. Grover swore forcefully; he could see the boy would escape him if he didn’t quickly get rid of Marsha’s hindrance. He turned to her.
What Marsha Billings next saw was the big hand of Will Grover balling into a fist and raising high in the air. Then it came right at her and caught her on the temple. She literally saw stars. The pain made her let go of Grover, and he pushed her away from him, so brutally that it sent her crashing to the floor. Her head hit something…
The last image her blackening mind registered was that of Will Grover running out of the house, in pursuit of his escaping prey…
* * *
Seated in the small office where she had been brought, waiting for her host to finish her phone call, Symphony Angel looked thoughtfully down at the picture she was holding in her hand. Slowly, she traced the contours of the face of the blond man on it, seemingly smiling at her. She missed Adam, and she was so worried for him.
Marsha Billings had told her all about Wilson Grover. What he had done years ago to Adam, when he was a boy. The kidnapping, the ransom, the savage beating, the plans he had to kill the boy to protect himself from a potentially dangerous witness, instead of giving him back to his parents. How Marsha herself had been at the receiving end of Grover’s fury when she had finally decided to help the endangered child. All that had sent a shiver down Symphony’s spine and turned her stomach. Now she understood the hatred Adam had for that despicable man, and his fear for her, if she were to face him all alone. And she understood why he wasn’t so eager to tell her much about that horrible experience he had had as a child. It was probably something he would rather forget than talk about.
Symphony’s concern for her missing fiancé had increased considerably since she had learned the full story. Now that Marsha had confirmed to her that Grover was, indeed, responsible for Adam’s disappearance, that he was holding him, she feared what the man might do to him. She was growing ever more desperate to find him. She would have given anything, done anything, just to have him back and make sure he was safe and sound. She felt sure she would be ready to make a deal with the devil himself.
On the other side of the desk, Marsha put down the phone, casting a thoughtful glance at the younger woman. Seeing her so lost in thought, and apparently unaware that she had finished with her call, Marsha manoeuvred her chair around the desk and approached the girl. She looked down at the picture Symphony was staring at.
“He’s become a very handsome man,” she reflected quietly.
Symphony raised her eyes, seemingly seeing her for the first time at her side. Marsha shook her head. “Sorry about the delay. That client couldn’t afford to wait.”
“What kind of business do you run here exactly?” Symphony asked. She pocketed the picture and then looked around the office in curiosity. There were some posters hanging from the walls, announcing shows and sporting names in various Las Vegas casinos and clubs. Marsha nodded and gestured toward them.
“I’m an agent,” she explained. “I make bookings for artistes here in Las Vegas and in other towns in Nevada. Singers, dancers, stand-up comedians, musicians, any kind of act you can find in casinos, cabarets, clubs and restaurants… Individuals or troupes, depending on what the business calls for. Small shows, mind you. And nothing too fancy. I even got a couple of magicians under contract.” She shrugged, thoughtfully. “I was a singer in a troupe in Atlantic City, years ago. Before I encountered Will Grover. I… did something stupid back then, and I ended up in prison for a short period of time. Since then, it’s gone from bad to worse. The worst being Grover himself.” She moved her chair and stopped in front of Symphony, to address her face to face. She gave a deep, regretful sigh. “After the… ‘Svenson affair’, as the newspapers called it, I served a full ten years, without parole. Because of my co-operation with the police and the fact that I tried to… help Adam, ending up in this chair for it. When I got out, I had to learn to live again. I couldn’t get back to my old life as a singer; for me, that time was finished. But I could at least use the contacts and the knowledge I had acquired back then, to start a new business.”
“And you moved to Las Vegas?” Symphony asked, her brow furrowing. “That’s some kind of an odd coincidence, don’t you think, considering Grover came to these parts in turn, years later?”
“Coincidence has NOTHING to do with it,” Marsha responded, shaking her head again. “Will Grover and I used to mix with the same crowds. That’s how we met actually, much to my misfortune. We have many common… friends. Or at least acquaintances. And in reality, I started my business in Atlantic City. That’s where I learned from one such acquaintance that Grover had been released, about five years ago, and that he was hanging around here, doing odds jobs and calling in old favours, to make a living.” Her glance became thoughtful. “He did twenty years for the kidnapping and attempted murder of Adam Svenson. Not counting what he tried to do – and did – to me. I couldn’t believe that the law could have considered that he had paid his debt to the society in full. I knew him. I knew he wouldn’t stay straight. He would eventually go back to his old tricks. I was sure of it. And I wanted to be there, to catch him in the act, and have him sent to prison again. So I left Atlantic City, and moved my business here, to Las Vegas.”
“To keep an eye on him.”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
Symphony wondered about the older woman’s motives. “Why didn’t you do something against him before today?”
“Because… Will Grover’s kept pretty quiet, these last five years. If anything, the small things he did weren’t enough for him to get in deep trouble, and I didn’t have enough against him to hold up in a court of law. Will is well-protected, by somebody with big influence in the community. I needed something big, to nail him good. And now, with his kidnapping of Adam again – I have that something.”
“So this is all about revenge,” Symphony murmured, nodding.
“Call it what you want. Wouldn’t you want the same if you ended up in a chair because of a punk like him?”
Symphony narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know that many punks, to begin with,” she replied, rather coldly.
“Don’t be condescending, young lady,” Marsha warned her. “Remember that I want to help you. If not for my having sent Butch to fetch you, Grover would probably have succeeded in getting his dirty hands on you.”
“You can’t know THAT for sure,” Symphony retorted. “I can take care of myself.”
Marsha gave the faintest of smiles. “Yes, I saw that. Poor Butch’ll be nursing his wounds for days!”
“I hope he doesn’t hold it against me,” Symphony said. “But he should have told me, in the first place, rather than ‘kidnapping’ me the way he did!”
“And you would have followed without any protests?”
“Of course, I would have protested!” Symphony scoffed. “For all I know, Adam is still in Los Lobos. And I have a friend locked up in a prison cell there! I feel as if I’ve abandoned both of them!”
Marsha slowly shook her head. “Well, for starters, Adam is not in Los Lobos, anymore. Of that, I’m sure. And… your other friend was released from jail, a few hours ago.”
“Somebody came into town and paid his bail. So he was allowed to leave.”
“Wait, that sounds suspiciously like what happened to Adam!”
“It’s nothing like what happened to Adam,” Marsha reassured her. “No, from what I know, your friend left with the man who paid the bail… His boss, or something like that.”
“Boss?” Symphony murmured, suddenly becoming pale. “A… silver-haired English gentleman?”
“I don’t know about the description, really… But it was an Englishman, yes.”
Lord, we’re in trouble, Symphony thought with a feeling of doomed certainty. If Colonel White had travelled to Los Lobos to have Captain Scarlet released from jail, then it was almost certain he had learned what had happened and what was going on – or at least part of it. To what extent, she couldn’t imagine. Whether he knew now of the wedding plans or not… But it was certain that he must be angry. And an angry Colonel White wasn’t something she was ready to face in a hurry.
But she’d have to worry about that later on. Now, she knew that Paul was out of jail – not out of trouble, certainly – but free, anyway. And she still had Adam to concern herself about. She had to find him. And obviously, Marsha Billings would really be able to help her do just that. That woman knew a lot about this whole affair. Suspiciously so, in fact. Symphony felt that she had to act cautiously, in any case.
“How come you’re so well-informed?” the Angel asked the older woman. “Do you have an informant in Los Lobos?”
“Yes, somebody’s been keeping tabs for me about what’s going on in that town. Not that it’s difficult. Everybody knows everything going on there…”
“And that’s how you found out about what was happening with Adam? And what Grover could be planning?”
Marsha sighed. “I told you. I have many contacts in common with Grover. Not all of them are good people, you can imagine. I had to keep in touch with those people to know what Grover was about. One of those people is called Pietro Gardenia..."
Symphony suddenly cut in, her brow furrowed: "He used to be a baseball player, right?"
"With the Boston Red Sox, yes," Marsha confirmed. "He and Will Grover used to play in the Minor Leagues, long ago. After retiring from the game – a rich man – Gardenia opened a couple of clubs and a casino here in Las Vegas. He's a crook, mixed up in a lot of shady business, especially illegal gambling. Word is that he's in league with the Vegas mob, but the police haven’t been able to prove anything against him so far. I don't know the exact story between them, but it seems Gardenia owes a lot to Grover. Or the other way round, for that matter. The fact is, however, that Gardenia has a lot of influence around here. And at the moment, he's using it to help Grover.”
"I know that guy paid the damages to that cantina in Los Lobos," Symphony reflected. "And that he most probably paid the bail to get Adam out of prison there."
“So it would be easier for Grover to get his hands on him,” Marsha confirmed with a nod.
“I already figured that out, yes. But you still didn’t tell me how you found out. No matter how many contacts you have, you can’t have received that information by chance. Gardenia wouldn’t let word get around that easily.”
“The fact is that I’m in business with Gardenia. I provide him with artistes for his lounge acts. And I have some other ‘friends’ working there that give me information they think might be useful to me. And since I pay well…”
“How reliable is the information?” Symphony asked suspiciously.
“Reliable enough to have learned that Grover contacted Gardenia recently, and proposed they should be partners in a ‘business’ that’s going to pay big bucks.” When Symphony stared back at her blankly, Marsha shook her head. "My... 'inside man' then learned about Adam Svenson's abduction in Los Lobos and told me about it. Knowing Grover like I do, it wasn't difficult for me to figure out what it was he and Gardenia were up to. They’re keeping Adam somewhere, as a prisoner. They want to use him again, to get money."
Symphony frowned deeply, doubtfully. “To get money? Adam isn't a rich man, Miss Billings. How did Grover think he could..."
"You didn't let me finish, Miss Wainwright. I told you I knew Grover. Much better than I would really care to admit. He’s a creature of habit. And a very stubborn one at that. If something didn’t succeed once, he’d try it again another time. Twenty-five years ago, he wanted to ransom young Adam to his father. I would bet anything that he’ll try it again this time. Plus… he wants revenge. That whole affair had him ending in prison. He hated the Svensons so much back then. You can easily imagine how much he hates them NOW…”
“When I met with Grover, I told him it was obvious there was some kind of unfinished business between him and Adam,” Symphony reminded herself. “My Lord… He already was planning to get his revenge…” She looked straight at Marsha. “Where is he holding Adam?”
“I don’t know that yet,” Marsha answered with a sigh. “That’s something I still need to find out.”
“Well, your inside man had better work quicker!” Symphony spat with impatience. “Because it’s obvious time’s running out for Adam!”
“You think it’s an easy task?” Marsha answered bitterly. “This isn’t a professional spy we’re talking about! If my informer is discovered, he’ll be killed. And do you think we’ll be able to help Adam, after that?”
“You must have an idea where Adam might be,” Symphony insisted. “You already told me he wasn’t in Los Lobos anymore…”
Marsha hesitated a moment. “Perhaps…” she started carefully, “perhaps there is a possibility. He may be at Gardenia’s casino. The First Base. The basement is some kind of a bunker. Way underneath the casino, with concrete walls, a foot thick… Gardenia keeps stolen goods there. And… it may be a good place to keep a prisoner.”
“Can’t your inside man check that out?”
“Not without putting his life in danger, no.”
Symphony let out a disgruntled sigh. She sat up straight in her chair. “Then I guess I’ll have to do it myself,” she declared.
“Are you crazy?” Marsha protested, frowning. “How do you plan to do that?”
“It’s a casino. It means I can get in without difficulty, right?”
“Well, you can get into the casino without trouble, that’s for sure, but you won’t be able to run around the house freely! Much less visit the basement and find the bunker! Even people working there can’t go that far.”
That got Symphony thinking. “But if I was an employee, rather than a client, I’d have more freedom of the place, wouldn’t I?”
Marsha gave her a disbelieving stare. “Miss Wainwright… Karen… I’m almost afraid to follow your line of thought…”
“I don’t have much choice, Marsha,” Symphony replied with assurance. “I have to go there and find Adam. I need your help to get inside that casino.” She narrowed her eyes at the still doubtful woman, and put on the most persuasive voice she could muster: “You already helped me a great deal with all that information you gave me. See this through, please. Get me inside that casino… and you’ll see Will Grover back in prison for his crimes before long.”
That was enough for Marsha Billings to finally take her decision. She slowly nodded her consent, and turned her chair around to grab the phone on her desk. “Linda, give me Halloway, please. I need him right away in my office. Without delay.” She hung up the phone, and turned again to face Symphony. “Now, Karen… Do you have any particular talent that may be of use?”
* * *
For Juliette Pontoin, today was most probably one of the worst days she had ever had. Probably including that disastrous day when she and WAAF Captain Paul Metcalfe had split up, some years ago.
So far she’d had to lie to her commander, keep him occupied so he would not discover what was going on behind his back, had to act silly and innocent – which was definitely not in her nature – but all to no avail. He had seen through her, was infuriated by her behaviour, and yelled at her. What was making it worse was that it seemed so useless. After that moment of fury, Colonel White had calmed down considerably, and even went to the extent of offering to help in Captain Blue’s predicament. That was before they all learned the rest of what had happened, actually. Blue’s disappearance, and apparent kidnapping, Scarlet ending up in jail, AND Symphony disappearing in turn. And all the while, Colonel White had been behaving himself admirably, involving himself directly in the search operation, keeping his fiery temper in check, despite the fact that he would have good reason to be furious with all of them. That was making her feel ashamed… and uncomfortable.
And he didn’t even seem to know the whole truth, just yet. She felt for certain that, along with all the others, she could end up in front of a firing squad, if ever THAT was to happen. Or, at the very least, a court martial.
Now for the worst part. Following their investigation in Los Lobos, where they had discovered what had happened to Blue, and what that man Will Grover seemed to be up to, neither Colonel White nor Captain Scarlet were able to get back to Las Vegas in time to meet John Svenson at MacCarran Airport. They had been delayed – for what reason, Destiny didn’t know exactly. Colonel White hadn’t given her many details when he’d called. The colonel’s instructions to her were to fetch Blue’s father from the airport, to make sure he was safe, and to bring him back to the St-Maurice Hotel, where they would all meet later. Under no circumstances was she to let John Svenson out of her sight. Given what was happening, there was no telling in what danger he could find himself, if he were to be left to handle this alone.
All in all, that wouldn’t be such a bad mission, if John Svenson had not been so disagreeable to begin with. After all these years of hearing about the man, Destiny finally understood why Adam couldn’t get on with his father. All the way from the airport to the hotel, Svenson kept protesting that Spectrum would spoil everything, that they would endanger his son’s life by their mere presence, because the abductors had specifically demanded that the authorities did not get involved. Destiny tried to argue that Spectrum was more than capable of facing this kind of situation. Svenson wouldn’t listen. There was so much bitterness in him, it was almost palpable. According to him, Spectrum was nothing but trouble, to begin with. It had already taken Adam away from him, the family, the business. And now that organization would more than likely cause his death. That was enough to make Destiny’s head spin. She had to call on all her strength and patience not to deck the man to finally keep him quiet.
He stopped complaining when Destiny finally made it clear that, whether he liked it or not, Spectrum would get involved. And if Svenson had anything to say against it, he would have to discuss it with the Spectrum commander himself, when they met.
It was impossible to find a free room for Svenson at the Saint-Maurice Hotel. They were all taken, and in any case, suspecting that Adam’s father might take any opportunity to slip away from her, Destiny wanted to have him close by, to keep her eyes on him. So she took him directly to her room, pretending that they’d get him his own as soon as possible. Apparently, Svenson couldn’t care less. All he was thinking about at the moment was his son’s safety, so his personal comfort was a poor second in his mind. That was all to his credit, Destiny reflected. Despite all the grievances between them, she realized that John Svenson still loved his son very much, and would probably do anything to have him back safe and sound.
Svenson was polite enough to acknowledge Amanda Wainwright’s presence in the room, but that was it. The two never had met before. Not even during the Spectrum commissioning ceremony, some years ago, to which family members of the Spectrum senior staff had been invited. If Amanda and her husband, proud parents of their Karen, had attended this important moment for their daughter, that had not been the case for John Svenson. He had totally disapproved of his son’s choice of career and had not come. Only Adam’s mother did, probably against her husband’s wishes. Adam had been so very pleased to see his mother, but not greatly surprised by his father’s absence. He had acted as if he didn’t care, but it had been apparent to those who knew him that he had been hurt.
Svenson obviously wasn’t aware of his son’s recent wedding plans. No, evidently, there was no reason for Blue to even mention it to him. He didn’t even question why Amanda Wainwright was there to begin with. Probably the thought never crossed his mind, so concerned he was for his son. And he also felt drained, with the flight from the East Coast and then the encounter with the thieves at the airport. He needed to freshen up a little, and wanted a hot shower. That way, he reflected with some dry irony, he would be suitably presentable to meet with the Spectrum high commander himself – whenever he arrived.
The shower was running in the bathroom, with a grim-looking Destiny staring at the closed door, when Amanda Wainwright finally voiced the question she was asking herself:
“When will they arrive, anyway? I would have thought that they’d be here by the time you came back with Mister Svenson.”
Destiny checked her watch. It had been a little less than three hours since Colonel White had called to give her his instructions. She was beginning to worry. “They shouldn’t be long, now,” she told Amanda, trying to hide her concern. I hope they will arrive soon, she added inwardly to herself. She didn’t want to stay alone with Svenson that much longer. She didn’t feel that she would be able to stand up to him, without having to resort to physical violence if he would not behave himself.
“Well, I’m hungry,” Amanda declared, leaving her chair and getting to her feet. “I’m going down to get something to eat.”
Destiny stared at the older woman with something akin to a glitter of admiration in her eyes. When she had learned that her daughter was missing, some hours earlier, Amanda had showed some concern for her safety. Of course she was worried about Karen’s disappearance, even when Destiny had assured her that it was more than certain, from all the appearances, that she had not been abducted by the same men who presently had Adam. Knowing Symphony as she did, Destiny was sure that she had gone in search of Adam all by herself. Colonel White seemed to have come to that same conclusion, although probably not for the same reasons as Destiny. He couldn’t know about the two of them being so close. Could he?
In any case, Amanda had showed herself confident in her daughter. She knew her much better than anyone else, with her impetuous temper, her strong-willed character, and her dedication. She had worried enough about her when she was in the Secret Service, and then later on as a fighter pilot for Spectrum, to know she could take very good care of herself. And that she had the habit of throwing herself completely into a mission, becoming totally oblivious to anything else surrounding her, until she saw it through.
Since her current mission was to find out where her fiancé could be, Amanda knew very well that Karen wouldn’t stop until she had found him. She could understand that, and that wouldn’t stop her worrying. But she would worry in silence. Destiny couldn’t help but be impressed by her attitude. How different she was from that obnoxious John Svenson.
“Want me to bring you something, honey?” Amanda asked the French girl. She then nodded towards the bathroom door. “And for him too?”
“Raw fish would do for Mister Svenson, I’m sure,” Destiny mumbled in a low tone.
“You mean sushi.”
“Whatever. I hate that, but I’m sure he loves it. He looks like the kind of man who’d eat raw meals.”
“You’re mean, Juliette,” Amanda noted with a faint, but amused smile.
“Not as mean as he is, Amanda,” Destiny sighed. “How such a disagreeable man could be the father of somebody as sweet and kind as Adam is beyond me!”
“I’ll bring back something delicious for you,” Amanda promised, laughing. “I think you’ve earned it. It’s been a long day for you.”
“And it isn’t finished yet,” Destiny remarked. She addressed a smile of her own to the older woman. “Thank you, Amanda. You’re very kind.”
Amanda walked toward the door and opened it to exit the room. But she suddenly stopped right in the doorway when her eyes caught two figures standing in front of the door leading to the next room – the one that was originally shared by Captain Scarlet and Colonel White. Carefully, she closed the door, leaving it open just a crack to get a glimpse at what was going on in the corridor.
“Juliette!” she called in a whisper over her shoulder. “There’s two strange fellas in front of the men’s door!”
Her senses suddenly alert, Destiny got to her feet and joined Amanda; she gently pushed the older woman aside, and peered through the crack. She just had the time to see two tall men, dressed in big boots, leather, jeans and wearing chains all over, finally opening the next door and entering the room. A very ominous logo sporting a mean-looking dog and the words Road Rovers were the last things she saw on the back of one of the men. She closed her door.
“They’re inside,” she informed Amanda.
The latter grew pale. “Who are those guys?” she whispered, as if afraid they would hear her through the wall and adjoining door.
“I don’t know, but they certainly mean trouble,” Destiny replied. “And seeing as neither Colonel White and Captain Scarlet are here at the moment…”
“Could these guys be in league with the ones that kidnapped Adam?” Amanda asked.
“It’s possible.” Destiny narrowed her eyes at the adjoining door. She went to it, picking up her purse from the bed, and taking her pistol from it. “Why not ask them that?”
“Are you crazy?” Amanda protested, still in a hushed voice. “We’d better call the police!”
“And put Adam in danger?” Destiny replied. “No, Amanda. Let me handle it. I’m trained for this, you know?”
“Oh, I know!” Amanda examined the young woman with her eyes. She knew, all right, and she could imagine that more than likely, Juliette had received training comparable to Karen’s. But she had trouble envisioning the French girl being able to hold her own against two tall and apparently strong, tough guys. She was so petite, in comparison to the tall, athletic Karen.
Amanda watched in concern as Destiny carefully opened the adjoining door, only a small crack, to peek inside the next room. The Angel pilot immediately saw one of the men standing there, his back turned to her, and going through the stuff in the top drawer of the dresser on the other side of the second bed. No sign of the other man. Destiny nodded towards Amanda. “Wait here!” she whispered.
The older woman nodded her consent. This was way out of her league. She had no intention of hindering Destiny’s work by imposing her presence on her. Without a sound, Destiny entered the room, closing the door behind her.
The man had still his back turned to her and didn’t hear anything. He seemed to grow frustrated with his search. Destiny looked around. A light under the bathroom door told her where the second man was. Destiny caught sight of the lamp standing next to the first bed and, tucking her pistol into the loose belt of her dress, lifted it with great care. She tiptoed her way toward the man standing there, still unsuspecting of her presence. He just had slammed the drawer closed, when she finally reached him, standing only a foot or so behind him. Then he started to turn around. She didn’t hesitate another second.
The lamp came crashing down on the man’s skull before Destiny had even had a chance to glimpse his face. He fell down heavily on the floor, groaning in pain, bits of the porcelain lamp lying all around him. The French girl quickly drew her weapon to cover him.
“Don’t move or I’ll blow your brains out!”
Not only a moan from the man lying at her feet answered her. But the sudden shout coming from behind her, as the door of the bathroom flung open, nearly made her jump out of her skin.
“Destiny, what do you think you’re doing?”
It was pure instinct that made Destiny turn around, gun at the ready. But she had already recognized the voice, and lowered the gun almost instantly. She opened her eyes wide with surprise, however, and stared in disbelief at her commander standing there in the open doorway. She barely recognized him, dressed in leather and jeans, with a red bandana on his head; he quickly removed it, revealing the white hair it concealed, and walked briskly over to her.
“What are you doing with that gun?”
“Sir,” she sputtered uneasily, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was you, at first. I…”
A loud groan made her lower her eyes. She saw the man lying at her feet turning over onto his back, and then trying to sit up. Her already wide eyes opened up wider still, and she crouched by the man, helping him to straighten up. “Oh, mon Dieu! Paul, it’s you! Oh, I’m so sorry…”
“Juliette,” he grumbled painfully, holding his throbbing head and trying to get his bearings, “I realize you were angry at me, but I would never have thought you’d try to break my skull open!”
“I didn’t recognize you!” Destiny defended herself. “I thought you were a thief, or maybe someone connected with Captain Blue’s kidnappers!”
“Are you all right, Scarlet?” White asked, looking down at his officer.
“I will be,” Scarlet muttered, shooting an angry look at Destiny. “Fortunately, I have a thick skull.”
Destiny helped him to his feet. She scrutinized him from head to toes, taking in all the bizarre details of his attire, than stared again at her commander, dressed in the same fashion. “If you’ll pardon my asking, sir… Why are you dressed like that?”
“It was the only way to escape the sheriff,” Scarlet mumbled, gingerly rubbing the back of his head, where the lamp had hit him.
“Pardon?” Destiny said, rolling confused eyes. “Escape the sheriff?”
“The sheriff of Los Lobos,” Scarlet explained with a mocking smile. “You see, chérie, the Colonel and I are now outlaws in that State…”
“Oh, stop talking nonsense!” the young woman admonished him. “What REALLY happened?”
“It’s a long story, Destiny,” White replied. “One we’ll gladly tell you when we’ll have more time. For now, we have more pressing business. Did you get John Svenson at the Airport?”
“Of course, sir,” Destiny answered quickly, reverting to a more official tone. “He’s in the other room, taking a shower.”
“Did you have a talk with him about what’s going on?”
“More or less, sir. The… talk we had confirmed what you were suspecting: Captain Blue has indeed been kidnapped, and the abductors have contacted his father for a ransom.”
“Mister Svenson didn’t say more about it, I take it.”
“No, sir. He’s rather upset that Spectrum would intervene.”
Scarlet scoffed. “Upset? Whatever for?”
“He seems to think we’ll be putting his son in danger.”
“Is that so?” White grumbled with bad humour. “Perhaps I should have a talk with Mister Svenson.”
He started towards the adjoining door. Destiny called to him just as he put his hand on the handle. “Sir, I’ve got to warn you: he’s in a bad mood.”
“That’s perfect, then,” White replied over his shoulder. “So am I.”
He opened the door and entered the other room.
“We’d better follow, Juliette,” Scarlet then told Destiny, tapping on her shoulder to get her attention. “He really IS in a bad mood. Poor Svenson will have the devil to deal with, if he pushes the old man too hard.”
Destiny nodded quietly, but permitted herself a faint smile; maybe there’ll be justice after all, she mused, thinking that Svenson would probably get to meet his match. She and Scarlet followed White into the room.
* * *
Since Destiny had disappeared in the other room, to deal with the two men they had seen entering, Amanda Wainwright had been waiting impatiently, wondering what would happen and how she could help. She had heard the commotion, and the shouts coming from the other side of the door and was now growing increasingly worried about not hearing anything else for the past few minutes. She was pondering whether or not she should phone for help, when the door finally opened wide; she jumped to her feet when one of the men she had seen in the corridor briskly walked in. She gasped in surprise upon recognizing him.
“Colonel White! What…” She conspicuously examined him as he stopped only a few feet from her, searching for the right words. “…What strange garments you’re wearing,” she finally reflected, finding nothing more to say.
Destiny stepped in, in turn, closely followed by Scarlet. Amanda eyed the younger man, and the clothes he was wearing, very similar to those of his commander, with the Road Rover patch and all. She rolled her eyes. “What, Paul, you too? So it was you two I saw earlier in the corridor? You gave me a scare. What’s the story with those clothes?”
“The new fashion for undercover agents, Mrs. Wainwright,” Scarlet replied, with a faint smile. That seemed to cause a twinge of pain in the back of his head. He reached for the aching spot and gave a murderous look toward Destiny, who only answered with a bashful smile.
“Very classy, don’t you think?” White added in turn, addressing Amanda.
“It’s not you at all,” the woman answered, looking at him thoughtfully. “All that is missing is the bike…”
“There’s two of them parked outside,” Scarlet came back, grinning mischievously. “You should have seen the colonel. You would have thought he’s been riding motorbikes all his life. I had trouble keeping up with him.”
“Just because I never talk about something I’ve done, doesn’t mean I’ve never done it, Captain,” Colonel White replied coldly. “It was a long time ago, but there are things you don’t forget.”
“Come to think of it,” Amanda suddenly said, her eyes still set on the colonel with the same amused curiosity, “that style’s growing on you. You’re planning to join that club, the Road Rovers?”
“Who knows?” Scarlet chuckled. “Maybe recruiting some of them for Spectrum might be a good idea.”
“Why not?” White deadpanned, his eyes flashing. “I may be giving one of them your job…”
The door of the bathroom opened at that moment, and John Svenson came out, fully dressed in the same clothes he had been wearing when he had arrived, minus the jacket and necktie, apparently refreshed but, to Destiny and Amanda, looking as grim as he did before. Seeing both White and Scarlet standing there, in their biker clothes, he stopped dead, unsure of who they could be. Realising that their garments were distressing him, Colonel White took a step towards him, his hand held out. “Mister Svenson, I presume? I’m Colonel White.”
“Colonel White,” Svenson repeated, still uncertain. He looked at the hand for a short instant, then took it to exchange a handshake, not taking his eyes off the man standing in front of him, scrutinizing him circumspectly. “That’s your organization’s new uniform, I take it?”
“It’s a long story, Mister Svenson,” White replied. “One that has to do with your son, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, my son.” Svenson let go of White’s hand. He searched around for his shoes and found them near the bathroom door. Taking them in his hands, he went to sit down at the end of one of the beds to put them on. Everybody was staring at him, especially Colonel White, who came to stand in front of him. Destiny, Scarlet and Amanda stayed in the background, waiting. They knew it was better to let the colonel handle this on his own, and so, with a common and silent agreement, they would not interfere. Unless it became necessary to do so.
“Will Grover has your son, Mister Svenson,” Colonel White started. “We know that as a certainty.”
“So do I,” Svenson replied coldly, tying his first shoe. “That’s the reason why I’m here in the first place. To get Adam out of this mess he’s in.”
“By paying the ransom Grover demanded?”
“By any means necessary.” Svenson put on his second shoe, then looked up at White. “How did this happen? How did Adam find himself in the clutches of that maniac, to begin with? Was it because of one of his damned missions for your organization?”
“No, Mister Svenson, absolutely not. Believe it or not, your son was on vacation when he stumbled on Wilson Grover. Quite by chance, actually.”
“Talk about chance!” Svenson had finished tying his second shoe. He sighed deeply. “You Spectrum people will ruin everything. Grover specifically said no police, or Adam will be killed.”
“We’re not the police, Mister Svenson.”
“No, you’re not,” Svenson replied, coming to his feet to face Colonel White with a defiant stance. “From my point of view, your presence is far more dangerous for my son’s safety! If Grover discovers that Spectrum is in on this, that my son is part of your organization, what do you think he will do to him?”
“What he would do anyway, Mister Svenson,” White replied, forcing himself to remain calm. “You can’t believe that Grover will let your son go free, once you pay the ransom. I don’t believe it. Not after learning about the history there is between you, your son and that man.”
Svenson sat down on the bed, sighing. “So, you know about all of it, do you? Adam told you about it?”
“He’s never said anything to anybody about that childhood incident.”
“’Childhood incident’?!” Svenson scoffed derisively. “You have a strange way of putting it, Colonel. My son was the victim of a brutal crime. That madman nearly killed him, back then. That was a complete nightmare for me and my wife. Not to mention for Adam.” He looked up at White again. “And now it’s starting again. Twenty-five years later, Adam is back in the hands of Wilson Grover. And I have all the reasons in the world to believe that this scum will kill him, unless I follow his instructions to the letter. Your intervention will only get my son killed. Let me deal with Grover my own way.”
“I don’t think you’ve heard a single word I said, Mister Svenson,” White replied bitterly. “You can’t hope to ‘deal with it your own way’, without endangering yourself and your son. This is Spectrum business. We will take care of it.”
“I thought Spectrum dealt with terrorism and Mysterons,” Svenson grumbled. “Since when does it also deal with kidnapping?”
“Since it involves a Spectrum officer. That’s what your son is.”
“Don’t remind me,” Svenson growled, his impatience increasing by the second. “Well, you’d better not get involved in this, Colonel. You or anyone in your organization. Adam is MY son. He’s MY responsibility.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, sir. Your son isn’t your responsibility. He’s mine.”
Svenson bristled at the remark. “YOURS?”
“Ever since he signed up with Spectrum, Mister Svenson,” White explained. “I’m his commanding officer. That makes me responsible for him. He’s one of the best men I have ever had under my command, and I don’t intend to let a common criminal slit his throat simply for money. Or because his father obstinately refused to let Spectrum do its job properly in order to get him back, safe and sound.”
Svenson blanched, hearing the meaning of those words. He jumped to his feet a second time, to stare levelly at Colonel White. The latter didn’t back away when the man took a step in his direction. Scarlet was watching closely, ready to step in if Svenson posed a threat towards his commander. So far, the businessman had contented himself with verbal abuse.
“You have no right to insinuate that I would foolishly put Adam’s life in danger because of my stubbornness!” Svenson bellowed. “I’m still his father, and he’s still my son!”
“Really, now?” White shot back with a very cold tone. “It doesn’t seem to me that you’ve shown much paternal regard over the last few years. You didn’t support your son in the decisions he took about what to do with his life.”
“That’s between my son and me! You have no business in our personal lives!”
“I have, if Captain Blue’s life is in danger!” White answered in a tone matching Svenson’s.
“His name is Adam!” Svenson raged on. “That’s the name we gave him when he was born, my wife and I! That’s the name he grew up with. He’s not some colour-code named agent to me! He’s my son! My first born!”
“Your son is more than a ‘colour-code named agent’, Mister Svenson,” White replied, his voice calming down a little. “Far more than that.”
“Oh, that’s right!” Svenson replied bitterly. “One of the best officers you’ve had. I’m not into this pseudo-military life you seem so proud of, Colonel. If you really want to feel responsible for somebody, let it be for your own family.”
White twitched, hearing these words. “I don’t have any family, Mister Svenson. Not anymore. The only child my wife was to give me died with her, before it even had a chance to be born.”
That seemed to suddenly throw a cold shower on John Svenson. He calmed down instantly, and just stood there, staring at the Spectrum commander, measuring him with his eyes. He could see that what he had just been told wasn’t some kind of a trick in order to get his attention. It was the truth.
“I’m sorry, Colonel. I couldn’t know. I shouldn’t have said that. I have a tendency to let my temper speak my mind for me.”
“Yes, you have, haven’t you?" White grumbled.
Svenson averted his eyes, under the intense look White was resting on him. It was rather easy to guess what was on the colonel’s mind. He was thinking the same, actually: how many times did the same happen with Adam? How often had he had harsh words with his son, saying inconsiderate things to him, without even thinking of the consequences?
“I guess you never got to know what it is to be a father,” he murmured, turning to sit down again. “You can’t know what it is to worry about one of your children.”
“No, I never had the chance,” White replied, more harshly than he intended. “I regret to say.” He found it in himself to calm down, while looking down at the distressed man sitting there, obviously worried sick for his son. He thought it best to come back to the problem at hand. “Mister Svenson, ” he continued in a less severe tone, “you can’t hope to resolve this situation all on your own. We in Spectrum are better prepared to deal with it. We know your son is in deadly danger. We won’t let him down.”
“Because he’s one of your own, right?” Svenson closed his eyes and sighed tiredly. “You don’t know how right you are, about him being in deadly danger. That madman is killing him… When Grover contacted me, he used a visual communication… He showed me what he’s been doing to Adam. He’s been beating him.” He swallowed hard and then looked up at White, pleading with his eyes. “Something must be done, Colonel. And quickly. Or my son will die.”
“We won’t let that happen,” White assured the man. “But you have to let us do our job.”
Svenson nodded his consent, finally giving in. Behind him, Captain Scarlet, Destiny Angel and Amanda Wainwright let out a sigh of relief. White gave a thoughtful frown.
“You said Grover contacted you by visual communication?”
“Yeah,” Svenson murmured, pointing a tired finger in the direction of his portable. “On my computer. Showed me quite a distressing image of my son. I… I don’t know why, I recorded nearly the whole conversation. Image and all.”
“That could be useful,” White mused. “Can we see the recording?”
“Of course. And then… What are you going to do?”
“Well, this may surprise you, but we have a trail to follow,” White explained quietly. “It may not be a sure thing… But it’s the only one we have at the moment.” He raised his head to fix his eyes on Destiny Angel and Captain Scarlet, standing side by side, waiting patiently. He nodded slowly, and rubbed his chin, in a thoughtful gesture. “We’ll start there. And I have an idea how to proceed. We’re moving in tonight.”