Symphony Angel consulted her watch for the tenth time in the last half hour. Only two minutes left, she reflected.
“Not getting cold feet, are you?”
Symphony looked to her side, where a big bulky Black man was standing. Rodney was Butch’s older brother. He looked like Butch. Same build, same features, except he was bald and had a gold earring, and lots of rings on his fingers. Same obnoxious disposition, but with an easy, assured smile. He was also dressed in a much more elegant, almost fancy way, befitting the place he was working in. To his question, Symphony shook her head. “No, I’m not. But I must admit I am a little nervous.”
“You’re rusty? Haven’t done this for a while?”
Symphony frowned. A VERY long time indeed, she mused. And NOT professionally. And in front of the kind of crowd that was awaiting her?! Not at all. But she kept that to herself. Instead, she checked herself out. The red sequinned gown she was wearing was MUCH too revealing for her taste. No shoulder straps; a low, plunging neckline; and although the dress reached down to her ankles, it was slit nearly up to her hip on the left side, showing the whole of her left leg. The shoes were a real torture. At least three inches high, and so narrow, she could barely feel her toes. Obviously, the woman who had worn them before her had much smaller feet.
“Just uncomfortable, I guess,” she muttered. “It’s these high heels, more than anything. I haven’t worn anything like them for a LONG time!”
“You’ll do fine. Let me check that make-up.” Symphony looked up at him. He was tall, but with her heels, she was nearly as tall as he was.
“Not too much?” she asked timidly. She felt absurdly like a circus freak, with all the glittering make-up that Esmeralda, the house make-up artist, had put on her face.
Rodney shook his head. “Naaa, you look great. Just what’s needed for the show… And don’t forget,” he added in an undertone, “you don’t want Grover to recognize you if he’s in the house tonight.”
Symphony nodded. When Marsha had helped her to enter the ‘First Base Casino’, by taking the place of one of the regular performers in the Guests Lounge, she had hoped she would have the time and the opportunity to search for Adam right away. But it had not been possible. Not even with the help of Rodney who, Symphony had learned, was Marsha’s inside informer. There was simply not enough time left, after Marsha had made all the arrangements to get her in, and convinced the person in charge that she was ‘reliable’. And then there had been Marsha’s instructions to Symphony, how to act like a professional performer, and the preparations for tonight’s show. Symphony was deeply disappointed. If only she could have been able to free herself to go in search of Blue… She would have freed him and got him out of here, and then she wouldn’t have had to perform at all.
Now, she simply couldn’t avoid it. She was backstage, minutes from the show, all ready to go.
She hoped the cover would work. And she was starting to get a severe case of stage fright.
But that wasn’t what was really worrying her the most. Not the way she was dressed, and not the fact she would have to go on stage. Not by a long shot.
She had not checked in with either Paul or Colonel White yet. Now that she knew that Captain Scarlet was out of jail – although not really out of peril, considering WHO had got him out – she wasn’t as worried about him as before. She knew, however, that HE would worry about HER. But with all that was going on, she didn’t have the time to call him. At least, she was desperately trying to CONVINCE herself that she didn’t have the time. She knew she was lying to herself. The truth was that she didn’t WANT to call in at all. She wasn’t in any hurry to face Colonel White just yet. He would be so very angry at her, she just knew it. The fact that she had not checked in, for so many hours, despite the urgency of the situation AND Spectrum’s regulations, didn’t help matters. Pushing the deadline forward would only be worse, she was aware of that, but she felt as if she had no other choice. She just knew that her commander would forbid her to put herself in danger so blatantly, as she was doing right now. And it was a sure bet Paul would add his concerned voice to their commander’s.
Well, she wouldn’t have it. She had to do everything in her power to find Adam. Especially now that she felt she was so close to him.
She was ready to face court martial if need be.
Rodney had moved to push aside the curtain, to check on the stage and beyond it into the lounge. Then he turned to the young woman, who was fidgeting with her radio mic. “The place is full. Gardenia’s in there, playing cards.”
Symphony nodded. Up until now, she hadn’t had to meet Pietro Gardenia. The man, it seemed, had other, more important preoccupations about the casino than hiring performers. He left that task to a Mister Martinelli. It was Martinelli that Marsha and her right-hand man, Halloway, had contacted, explaining that the lounge performer was sick and unable to appear, and then proposing a replacement. Although Martinelli had shown some reluctance in accepting Symphony, he had quickly had to give in, seeing as he had no other choice if he wanted to have a show tonight.
All in all, the substitution had gone rather smoothly.
“I don’t see Grover anywhere,” Rodney continued, turning around to face Symphony. “I know he was in the house today, but… I wasn’t able to find out what ‘business’ he had here. Except for what I already told Marsha.” He blew out a sigh. “Wish I was able to find your boyfriend for you, honey. But it’s just not possible. There’s places where employees like me are not allowed.”
“You think he may be in that bunker Marsha told me about?”
“It’s possible.” Rodney shrugged. “It’s common knowledge that Gardenia keeps… ‘things’, there. Illegal stuff. If your friend is here, that’s where they would put him. But I’ve never been able to get in there, though. I’m an honest employee, you know?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll find a way to check that out myself.”
Rodney scowled. “You’re courting danger, lady.”
More than you can ever know, Rodney, Symphony reflected inwardly. I’m in big trouble next time I face Colonel White.
“I can take care of myself.”
“Yeah, so I’ve heard. But if you have any problems...”
“Are you afraid I’d blow your cover, Rodney?” Symphony murmured.
“It’s not that… Well, not that much.”
“What is it? Did Marsha ask you to keep your eye on me?”
“No. My brother.”
“That’s so kind of him.”
Rodney’s face cracked with a broad grin, revealing a gold glitter in the middle of two rows of very white teeth. “It’s not that. He says you’re trouble with a capital T, and quite a handful. Seeing the state of his face when he told me that, I figured he was worried for me, rather than for you.”
Symphony chuckled. “Well, you have nothing to fear from me, Rodney. I won’t be as rough with you as I was with your brother. Because at least I KNOW you’re on my side.”
“I appreciate that very much, little lady.” He checked one last time beyond the curtain. “Okay, prepare yourself. You’ll be going on in a minute.”
“Oh, can’t wait,” Symphony grumbled, not even a hint of enthusiasm in her tone.
* * *
“You’re a real card shark, you know that, Mister Montagu?”
Behind the high piles of chips he had amassed, Colonel White raised an eyebrow upon hearing Orson Craig’s remark.
Folding the cards he had in his hands, the man put them down on the table, and rose from his seat, blowing a deep sigh. There was but a single blue chip in front of him, that he picked up solemnly. “I’m out,” he announced grumpily. “That’s all I have left.” With a casual gesture, he put the chip onto the plate of the young waitress who passed near him, and took the glass of brandy that was standing on it. “My Mom always told me to treat the girls like they were all ladies,” he said, winking at the girl. He then raised his glass, and swallowed the contents in one gulp, before putting it down the table. He took his vest from where it hung on the back of his chair, and nodded to White. “A pleasure to have played with you, sir.”
White nodded in turn and Craig turned to leave.
“Now, it’s just between you and me, Mister Montagu.”
White looked up at Gardenia seated on the other side of the table. An hour ago, Mario Morelli had left the table, having lost all of his previous winnings during the poker game. The man was now seated at the bar, drinking jovially, as if he hadn’t just lost a small fortune. Now Orson Craig had left in turn, leaving Pietro Gardenia and ‘John Montagu’ to face off, each with a great quantity of chips in front of them. Gardenia’s stacks, however were just a little higher than White’s.
“As it was meant to be, isn’t it, Mister Gardenia?” White reflected quietly.
Gardenia shook his head. “Orson is right. You’re a real card shark,” he said between his teeth. “Where did you learn to play like that?”
“I have an angel looking over my shoulder,” White answered evenly.
“Is that the way the English say they have luck on their side?” White didn’t answer; Gardenia discreetly checked around and leaned over to him, offering a faint smile. “Or is it the expression they use to say they cheat?”
Scarlet had left his position at the bar to take a table not far from the stage, distractedly playing solitaire, with a glass of beer in front of him. From there, he had a perfect view of the table where Colonel White had been playing poker for the last hour or so, in company of Gardenia and the two other mobsters. Up until now, everything had gone according to plan. Thanks to Destiny’s ‘helpful advice’, the colonel had been able to drive each of the other players from the table, leaving the Spectrum commander to face only Gardenia. As it was intended to be. But now, hearing Gardenia’s words, Scarlet had a feeling that things could very well go haywire. He tensed, and touched the frame of his glasses.
“Destiny?” he murmured.
“I heard it too,” the voice of Destiny answered. “Be ready to interfere if need be, Captain.”
“S.I.G.,” Scarlet replied in an undertone. He had his eyes closely set on the table where the two men were confronting each other. He waited.
White didn’t even react to the accusation; which rather sounded like a remark than anything else. “Are you saying I’m a cheat, Mister Gardenia?”
“Come on, we both know you are,” Gardenia answered, with a confident smile on his face. “Of course, you were cheating at the blackjack table too… How did you do it, anyway? I’m curious to know.”
“If you feel so sure I was cheating,” White replied rather coldly, “why not say so in front of the others?”
“Because it wouldn’t have served my purpose.” Gardenia sat back; his expression had turned to one of satisfaction. “You won a great deal at this table tonight, Mister Montagu. And I enjoyed seeing you cleaning out Craig and Morelli. Now, it’s only a little matter of you… losing it all to me.”
White raised an eyebrow. “So that’s what you have in mind,” he noted. “You ‘win’ all my gains, most of it the money I took from those two gentlemen, and they will never know that you actually robbed them of it. You’re nothing but a common thief, then.”
“So strange to hear the word ‘thief’ coming from the mouth of a cheat. You’d better watch your language, mister.”
“And if I refuse to lose to you?”
“Then I’ll reveal you for the cheat you are. Believe me, cheats and conmen are not welcome in this city. Especially if they cheat two notorious members of the mob.”
"Which your two... 'friends' are," White noted.
"So, you know that, do you?"
"Yes, I know. As I know about your... contacts with the local mob, Mister Gardenia. You are a very influential man in that circle."
"You better believe it." Gardenia took a sip from his glass. "Like you better believe that I won't hesitate one second to use that influence to throw you to the wolves, if need be." He smiled lightly. “And don’t bother to defend yourself by saying that I knew all about it. You think they will believe you? They’ll believe me instead.”
“I don’t doubt it.” There was a cold edge to White’s tone. He tilted his head to the side. “You’ve done this sort of thing many times, Mister Gardenia?”
“What makes you say that, Mister Montagu?”
“Experience, really. I know a crook when I see a crook. And a weasel, when I see a weasel.”
Gardenia bristled at the insult. “I told you to watch your mouth, Montagu. I don’t like being insulted.”
White nodded quietly. He leaned over the table, his fingers intertwined in front of him. Gardenia was surprised to see that a man in his apparently difficult position could still appear so calm. “I have a proposition for you, Mister Gardenia.”
Gardenia scoffed loudly. “And what kind of proposition could you possibly be able to offer me?”
"You have... something, that I want very much."
"Really? And what’s in it for me? Frankly, sir, that doesn't sound that interesting."
“But you WILL find it interesting, I’m sure. And it’ll be in your best interests to accept.”
"That sounds like some kind of threat," Gardenia remarked ominously. "Surely, you must realise I'm not a man to react kindly to threats, Mister Montagu."
"Why don't you stop the pretence, Mister Gardenia? You must know my name isn't Montagu."
"Really? I had my doubts, but..."
"Come on, you really don't have any idea of who I am?" White shook his head. "I would have thought that that sheriff of yours would have talked to you about me."
"The sheriff of Los Lobos. A certain McNamara. I was in his town today. And if I'm not mistaken, he wanted so very much for me to stay there a little longer than I had planned."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
White narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing the man in front of him. "You don't fool me, Gardenia. You must surely be aware of two Englishmen who were in Los Lobos today, asking too many indiscreet questions. One of them, I'm sure, fitting my description."
Gardenia scoffed. "You're not the ONLY Englishman ever to come into my casino, Mister Montagu. Or whoever you are. I don’t have the slightest idea what you're talking about."
“Haven’t you?” White’s voice became very icy. “I’m talking about Adam Svenson.”
“Sorry?” Gardenia gave White a somehow innocent and perplexed look. That didn’t fool the colonel at all. “Who is this… Adam Svenson?”
“The man Wilson Grover kidnapped, with your complicity.” White raised his hand swiftly, seeing that Gardenia was about to protest. “And don’t bother to tell me you don’t know Mister Grover. I know perfectly well that you two were… buddies, of some sort, when you were in the baseball minor leagues.”
“I don’t deny I know Wilson Grover, no. It was a long time ago… Nearly thirty years.”
“And he made contact with you again some years ago.”
“That may be true,” Gardenia admitted carefully. “But that doesn’t mean that this accusation of yours is also true.” He took a very cold tone. “You like to live dangerously, Mister Montagu. I suggest you moderate your tone, before I have one of my men do it for you. You have no right coming waltzing in here and accusing me like that, without any proof.” With a satisfied smirk he casually picked up his cigar, which had gone out, from the ashtray on the table and fished in his pocket for his gold-plated lighter.
“I don’t need proof to know you’re in this right up to your neck,” White replied between his teeth. “Furthermore, I’ve got proof enough of my own, of a different sort, to put you behind bars for the rest of your life, before we even mention the subject of kidnapping. You see, I know all about your… extra-curricular activities. I managed to build up quite an interesting file on you, with some VERY interesting names. A Mister Fisher from New York, for example? I heard you owe him a great deal of money… ” The lighter stopped just short of the cigar. White narrowed his eyes at him. "I think you’re a very lucky man, Mister Gardenia, that Mister Fisher is still trying to sort out his Swiss bank account, after that nasty business with one of his rivals. He’s too busy to come after you for his money.”
Gardenia sat up straight, hearing that. That information had never leaked to the press. “How did you…?”
“I have very reliable contacts, Mister Gardenia.”
“You’ve got some nerve…” Gardenia choked on the rest and kept silent a moment, staring with a murderous look at the set-faced Englishman seated in front on him. An evil smile slowly spread on his lips. “And what make you think you’ll be able to leave this place, with all that information you say you have on me?”
White’s brief grin was anything but amused. “Quite easily, I imagine.”
“You’re nuts. Where’s your evidence? What can you show me, right here, right now?”
“Surely you don’t think I’d have any incriminating evidence with me?” Gardenia scowled deeply, apparently annoyed to hear that answer. “Now hear my proposition, Mister Gardenia,” White continued, with the same even tone. “You give me back Adam Svenson, in good health. And I’ll forget everything that I know.”
Gardenia chuckled. He sat back quietly, eyeing the Spectrum commander. “You really think you can get out of here like that, unharmed, after all that you just said to me?”
“I did escape your sheriff, earlier.”
Gardenia narrowed his eyes. “Okay, maybe you’ll be able to leave this room. You may even be able to walk through the casino and reach the door. And then, take your car and go back to your hotel. But I can guarantee you, sir: you would never leave this town alive.”
“I take it you don’t accept my arrangement,” White replied, still very calmly.
“There can be no arrangement between us,” Gardenia growled with anger.
“I’m not so sure about that.” Quietly, with measured moves, White reached into his jacket pocket to fish out a thin card-holder. For a moment, Gardenia seemed distressed, but the Spectrum commander was careful enough to show him the interior of his vest, thus demonstrating that he wasn’t carrying any weapon. “Do you think me careless enough to come in here armed, Mister Gardenia?”
From his place at his table, not so far from there, Scarlet was waiting, ready to swiftly intervene, his hand reaching behind him for his pistol. He felt as nervous as a cat. Should Gardenia misinterpret White’s gesture…
But nothing happened, and he saw the man relax as White produced the inoffensive card-holder, and then threw it on top of the pile of chips in the middle of the table. Scarlet relaxed, but still kept on the ready.
“Here. I think you’ll find this new stake quite interesting. And enough to convince you that it would be better for you to accept my proposition.”
“What are you, a cop?” Gardenia grumbled, reaching for the card-holder. He stopped in mid-movement, and his eyes went wide, as they fell on the rounded symbol stamped on the leather. It was staring him right in the face, with its rainbow of colours and the bright stylised ‘S’ dead in the centre.
He quickly put his open hand onto the card-holder, covering the symbol entirely, and looked around nervously to make sure nobody had noticed it. When he was satisfied that it wasn’t the case, he turned his attention back to the still set-faced White. “Spectrum?” he murmured. There wasn’t any reaction from his interlocutor. Gardenia licked his lips. “Where did you get that?”
White raised an eyebrow. “Why, it’s mine, of course. What do you think?” He could see Gardenia suddenly becoming livid. He pressed on. “If you care to look inside, you’ll see my picture and ID card…” He reached out his hand with the apparent intention of taking the card-holder to prove what he had said, but Gardenia’s sudden protests stopped him as he was near his goal.
“Will you leave that alone? I don’t want anybody to see it!” He was still talking low, very quickly this time, but he had the impression he had still talked too loudly. He checked around. He didn’t dare open the card-holder himself, in fear somebody would catch a glimpse. He then scrutinized White’s face attentively. The man was icy calm, and waiting patiently.
There was no doubt in Gardenia’s mind that he was facing the real deal.
He took the card-holder, taking great care to hide the Spectrum emblem within his palm, and drew a deep breath. “What is it you want?”
“I thought I’d already told you,” White replied. “I want Adam Svenson back.”
Gardenia paused, and carefully weighed his answer. “This is not a good place to talk,” he finally said in a low tone. “Too many ears. We would be better to continue this… discussion… in my office.”
White stared at him, with a doubtful expression. Gardenia quickly shook his head. “I know what you’re thinking. But have no fear. I give you my word I’m not leading you into a trap. I certainly don’t want any trouble with Spectrum.”
White nodded carefully. Obviously, the man was impressed enough by the mere thought that he was presently facing a Spectrum agent that he was now completely sincere. “You and me alone, then.”
“Of course,” Gardenia quickly accepted.
“All right, then. I agree.” White gestured negligently towards the chips on the table. “Won’t people be suspicious if you leave all that there and take off?”
Gardenia nodded in turn. “You’re right. I’ll have someone pick them up. Excuse me a minute.” He rose from his seat and went to Guido, who was standing next to the stage talking to a bald and bulky Black man wearing a gold earring.
In his ear, Colonel White suddenly heard the voice of Captain Scarlet; the younger officer’s tone sounded urgent, and certainly worried. Destiny must have put him through, thought the Spectrum commander.
“Sir, this is too risky,” Scarlet was saying. “You’ll be without protection if you go with that man alone.”
“And what do you suggest?” White grumbled under his breath, negligently playing with the deck of cards left in front of him.
“I’ll follow you.”
“No, you’re staying right where you are. You’ll be able the monitor my situation with the camera and speakers.”
“I said no, Captain. That’s an order.” White looked toward Gardenia, who was now coming back to him in the company of Guido, and then stood up. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
From his table, Captain Scarlet was wondering how in Heaven’s name he would not worry, as he watched Gardenia inviting his commander to follow him. The two went in the direction of a door near the bar, while Guido was busy getting the chips from the table and putting them into a sack. Scarlet didn’t take his eyes off White until he disappeared behind the door, which closed on him. He didn’t like it. For all of White’s assurance, there was no guarantee that Gardenia would keep true to his word and would not cause any trouble. Scarlet had half a mind to follow, despite the orders given to him. He had begun to rise from his chair.
“Don’t worry, Captain,” the voice of Destiny told him at that moment, bringing him back to order. “The colonel usually knows what he’s doing.”
“Does he?” Scarlet grumbled under his breath.
“I’ll keep close watch, don’t worry. And the channel will still be open, so you’ll hear everything that goes on in there.”
Scarlet sat back, drawing a deep sigh and took back the cards he had left on the table. “S.I.G.,” he finally murmured reluctantly. It wasn’t as if he had any choice. He knew that the colonel was only following the plan, and that they had to trust that it would succeed, in order to get Blue back.
* * *
After following a corridor, Colonel White and Pietro Gardenia arrived at the latter’s office; it was a big spacious room, with very classy decor, and a large oak desk set to the far side opposite the door. The minute they entered in, White walked right into the middle of the room, while Gardenia was closing the door behind. All sounds coming from the lounge were instantly cut off, as White realized Gardenia must have had his office soundproofed for more privacy.
“I should have realized,” the casino owner said, White turning to face him. “Gray. That’s a colour-coded name from Spectrum, then?” He approached the Spectrum commander.
“So you do know who I am,” White noted, not correcting Gardenia’s mistake. “Thank you, I was wondering if McNamara had really contacted you about me.”
“Is that a forged identity, or is there a real Gray somewhere, not aware that you’re using his name?” White didn’t care to respond. Obviously, Gardenia mused, he didn’t want to beat around the bush and wanted this situation settled as quickly as possible. He sighed. “Yes, McNamara did contact me,” he admitted. “He told me about you snooping around his town, searching for that friend of yours and for Wilson Grover. He told me how excruciatingly annoying you have been, making the same accusations that you’re making now, right here in my face. Trying to incriminate me with kidnapping…”
“If you WEREN’T involved, Mister Gardenia… why would Sheriff McNamara inform you of my whereabouts? It seems obvious to me that you’re very interested in knowing who’s looking for Adam Svenson and Wilson Grover. And you were also very anxious that this person - me, or anybody else - didn’t ask too many questions or eventually find these two men. So, in view of what I told you earlier, what do you think is the obvious conclusion about your involvement in this affair?”
Gardenia had stopped in front of White to stare at him for a moment. He seemed to ponder the remark. Then, quietly, he handed him his card-holder. He had not even opened it. He felt that he didn’t need to. White accepted it and pocketed it.
“What is it you want from me, sir?” Gardenia asked quietly.
“How many times do I have to tell you? I want Adam Svenson.”
“Since when does Spectrum take interest in…” Gardenia lifted an eyebrow, “…that kind of business?”
“Call it a personal favour,” White replied coldly. “One I’m doing for a friend.”
“And you’re using Spectrum’s influence for a personal favour? That seems… odd.”
“You don’t have to know all the details behind this… ‘operation’, Mister Gardenia. Just so you’re aware: I WILL use all the influence and power that I have, without any hesitation, to see Adam Svenson free.” He tilted his head. “Believe me, you don’t want to see me using the heavy artillery.”
“You’re serious about this,” Gardenia murmured, frowning.
“I’m always serious, Gardenia,” White replied. “That’s why I intend to keep my end of the bargain.”
White nodded toward the closed door. “How much did we leave on that table? Thirty, thirty-five thousand? That’s yours.”
Gardenia scoffed loudly. “You’re kidding! In a ‘business’ like you’re implying – and I’m not saying I’m involved! – that would hardly pay off the hired hands!”
“It’s also the price of your freedom.” White’s icy tone got Gardenia’s total attention. He stared squarely at him. “You don’t have any choice but to accept the offer, Mister Gardenia. I know the police are disappointed that they’ve not been able to pin anything on you so far, no grounds for arrest. But Spectrum is another matter. We have means other law authorities can only dream of. I will have you investigated, and tracked down around the world if need be. Believe me, I can do it. And I will.”
“So you’re telling me… if I do not agree to your demands… I will be spending the rest of my life running away from Spectrum?”
“Oh, I don’t think you’d be running for long. I'm sure Mister Fisher would find you rather quickly. From what I hear, you’d better pray that Spectrum DOES find you first...” There was an assurance in White’s tone that was enough to convince Gardenia that he meant every word he said.
“And what… if I wasn’t to let you get out of here?” Gardenia asked ominously.
There was a low chuckle from White. He had been waiting for this threat. “If I accepted this proposition of yours to come alone to this office to discuss our ‘business’, it’s because I took out some insurance, Mister Gardenia. Every move, and every word we exchange is being monitored. Everything from the moment I set foot in this casino. Which, by the way, is currently under surveillance by Spectrum agents. There are many of them, outside and inside the house. The SECOND they think I may be in life-threatening danger, they’ll be on you like a ton of bricks.”
Gardenia frowned. He still had some doubts, but he had heard of Spectrum’s effectiveness. And White’s assurance, while standing there in front of him, gave him no reason to believe he wasn’t hearing the truth. “I don’t want any problem with Spectrum. It would not be good for my business.”
“Especially concerning your relationship with the mob, eh?”
“I heard rumours of the trouble those families in New York AND Philadelphia had with your organization recently. I don’t want the same.”
“I’m not interested in your business with the mob, nor any of your other businesses, Mister Gardenia.” White paused a second, seeing that Gardenia was still hesitating. “There is ONE more thing I can offer you,” he added carefully. "Let’s say I… can see to it that Mister Fisher has other things on his plate besides collecting your debt...”
“And how do you intend to do that?”
“Believe me, Mister Gardenia, I can as easily go after him as you. But YOU have something that I want: Adam Svenson. And I want him safe and sound. And I want Wilson Grover too, for good measure.” Gardenia seemed thoughtful about that last demand. White took his silence for hesitation. “Don’t tell me you have scruples about…”
“I don’t care about Grover,” Gardenia cut in. “He cares about nothing, except his revenge on the Svensons, whom he considers responsible for his imprisonment, all those years ago. He only called upon me because he needed my help. He doesn’t have any loyalty to me. So why should I have any to him?” He shook his head. “But Grover could be dangerous for my business, if he is incarcerated. It seems this fool plan of his got me in enough trouble as it is. I’d prefer it if you let me handle him.”
“I can’t condone murder, Gardenia.”
“All you have to know is that he won’t cause trouble to anybody anymore. Least of all, to your… friend.”
White pondered that; he wouldn’t certainly let Gardenia kill Grover, despite the fact that the latter certainly would deserve such a fate. He had read the report of what had happened twenty-five years earlier. He knew how badly Grover had then mistreated the boy he had kidnapped from his family. How he had nearly killed him, having no intention of giving him back, despite the ransom he was to receive. That young Adam had escaped that fate was pure dumb luck. White had also seen the recording John Svenson had made when Grover had contacted him earlier. The way he had already beaten Captain Blue, it was not only to intimidate his father into paying a new ransom. It wasn’t even about money. It was obvious Grover had nothing else in mind but revenge. He wanted blood.
John Svenson had understood that, White knew, and he could himself comprehend the man’s anguish for his eldest son. He could also understand his concern at seeing Spectrum getting involved, and his anger at being pushed aside, during this operation to save Adam. If he had had a son, and a brutal criminal had threatened his life in order to get to him, as was presently the case for the Svensons, White wasn’t so sure he would have acted any differently. As he wasn’t so sure the kidnapper would have survived an encounter with him.
As much as it would be fitting for Grover to meet his end by the hand of Gardenia, Colonel White couldn’t bring himself to give his agreement to this. It would be in opposition to all he believed in, and everything that he and his organization stood for. Yet, he sensed that a refusal might make Gardenia back off. As afraid as Gardena was of Spectrum’s involvement in this affair – and it was so very obvious he didn’t like that at all – he was also very concerned that Grover would prove too hazardous a loose end if left alive. The best thing for now, the colonel decided, was to let Gardenia think he had got his way. There would be time later to improvise.
“I just want Adam Svenson, Mister Gardenia,” White said, his voice as even as before, “before that maniac can do him more harm than he has already done. I know that he has hurt him already. And I have no intention of letting him continue this game for long.”
Gardenia nodded at these words. He then moved toward his desk, and picked up the phone, pressing a button.
“Emilio,” he called, “Would you go to the bunker, and bring back our guest, please?” He looked over to White and saw him relax a little, upon hearing the request. “And don’t hurt him,” he continued. “Yes, just bring him to me. And try to see if Grover is around too. I want a word with him.” Without anything else to add, Gardenia hung up, and then turned to face White. “Satisfied now, Mister Gray?”
“Mister Gardenia,” White replied still very evenly, “I won’t be fully satisfied until I see Adam Svenson in front of me. Safe and sound.”
* * *
Through the radio relay provided by Destiny to the speakers in his glasses, Captain Scarlet had been able to follow the conversation in Gardenia’s office. Now, along with the Angel, and John Svenson who he knew was listening closely to what was going on, the captain knew that, in theory, Adam would soon be released from his tormentor and back to safety. He wasn’t ready to cry victory, yet. He knew that there could still be some hitches to the operation. Like the colonel, he wouldn’t be satisfied until he actually saw Adam. He knew that Destiny shared the same concern, but neither voiced the thought; Destiny had reported that, since he had heard Gardenia’s last words, John Svenson had relaxed considerably. Keeping Svenson as calm as possible, and under control, considering the situation, was foremost in the Spectrum agents’ minds.
Now it seemed assured, however, that Colonel White wasn’t in any danger, so Scarlet relaxed his surveillance a little, leaving Destiny to maintain a close watch on things. However, if any kind of trouble should arise, the captain would be ready to intervene instantly. In any case, he would probably be called upon soon, if just to take delivery of Captain Blue. After having seen that awful recording of his captivity, Scarlet didn’t doubt that his friend would need assistance to walk out of this place. He would be there to help. In the meantime, since he could do nothing but wait, and so he wouldn’t attract too much attention, he began a new game of solitaire, his mind not really on it.
That’s when he noticed a presence near him.
He looked up; a woman was standing in front of him, offering her most angelic smile. Scarlet raised an eyebrow when he recognized one of the girls who had flocked around Colonel White at the blackjack table. One of those to whom White had given some chips.
Without being invited, she sat down on the empty chair beside him; and got very close. “What’s a guy like you doing all by your lonesome?” She took his glass and drank a large gulp of it, before a perplexed Scarlet could react. “Want to buy me a drink?”
“I’m sorry,” Scarlet replied with a bashful smile. “But… I’ve been washed out at the tables.”
“Oh, really?” She closed in on him; she was so near that her cheap perfume became really overwhelming. “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have anything left, hon. They don’t allow people without cash in the Guests Lounge. Did you sneak in, perhaps? Tito, the bouncer guarding the door… He’s very strict about it. If he finds out you’re out of money, he’ll have you thrown out.”
“You’d tell him?” Scarlet asked, unsure.
Her smiled went wider. “Naaa… I wouldn’t do that to a hunk like ya... who has such an adorable accent. I have a thing for guys with an accent.”
So I noticed, Scarlet thought to himself, remembering how she’d been all over White. He nearly chuckled over the thought but then, the thought quickly disappeared, as she started playing with HIS jacket. Now she had settled her sights on HIM. Scarlet felt a bit embarrassed.
“Come on, just one drink,” she insisted. “And a little company? You’ll draw attention if you stay on your own like this!”
“She has a point, Captain.” That was Destiny’s voice in Scarlet’s ears. He could hear the annoying snigger behind it. She was apparently enjoying herself. Tremendously. “You’d better keep her around. Just to be around.” There was a small hesitation, then she continued, in a mocking voice. “Of course, you’d better behave yourself… Or nothing will stop me telling Dianne…” Scarlet scowled. Of course, he knew she was only teasing him, but it didn’t make the situation less discomfiting. On the contrary.
That’s when the lights suddenly went off in the room, to be replaced by a softer, more ambient light. Scarlet was wondering what was going on, until he saw the bald Black man who had been with Guido earlier stepping onto the stage, into a bright spotlight. He figured out there was some kind of show about to begin. The woman with him was settling herself comfortably on her newly acquired chair; still so very close to him, it was making his skin prickle. He saw her wave to the barman and him nodding in answer. Obviously, she had asked for a drink, and the barman knew perfectly well what she would like.
And Scarlet had a pretty good idea WHO was going to pay for it.
“I’ll stick with you, handsome,” she declared. “We can watch the show together, do you mind? I’m sure you’ll love it.”
“I’ll take your word for it, er…”
“You can call me Dolly, honey.” She pointed to the stage, where the Black man was adjusting the mic. “You know, I performed on that stage, not so long ago?”
“Why did you stop?”
She shrugged. “I got involved with a client. Performers aren’t allowed to do that, house rules. So they put me on another job…”
“But… that incident brought me close to a fantastic guy. He became my boyfriend.”
“The client in question?” She nodded. Scarlet seemed puzzled. “And he doesn’t mind that you… do this new kind of job now?”
“Oh, not at all! I’m not with him anymore.”
Scarlet nodded at the innocent way the young woman had stated that fact, apparently so natural to her. He was looking at her with even more perplexity. Well, we do meet INTERESTING people in this business, he mused.
“Ladies and gentlemen…” That was from the man standing on the stage. Distractedly, Scarlet turned toward him. “I know a lot of you regulars are waiting for our Lady Marlena to make her performance tonight, but, I’m sorry to announce that, due to sickness, she won’t be here tonight…” Protests started to make themselves heard from all corners of the lounge. Scarlet was barely taking any notice; wanting to keep track of what was going on in the room where Gardenia had taken the colonel, he was busy adjusting the volume of his speakers, manipulating the frame of his glasses as inconspicuously as he could, the semi-darkness helping him.
“Now I know you’re all disappointed, especially you, gents…” There were some laughs, and the Black man smiled a little. “… But have no fear, ‘cause the management of the ‘First Base Casino’ has found a replacement for your favourite lounge singer…” A waitress had come to Scarlet’s table and put two glasses on it; she then stood beside him, waiting. The Brit quickly left the adjustment of his speakers to take his wallet from his pocket, in order to pay her. “So now,” the man on stage continued, his voice taking a stronger tone, “it is our pleasure tonight, to introduce you to the house’s newest sensation. Ladies and gentlemen, bid a warm welcome to the talented, delightful and very beautiful… SYMPHONY!”
The money Scarlet was about to give the waitress literally dropped from his hand to hers. He nearly jumped on his seat upon hearing the name and turned around quickly, eyes wide open with astonishment, hoping he hadn’t heard what he thought he had heard.
The spotlight had left the man and a new one was now illuminating another, slender figure, standing right in the middle of the stage, wearing a long ruby red dress that revealed a large portion of bare back, which was turned to the audience. The musicians, barely noticeable in the background, had started their first notes, and Scarlet kept on staring, his frown now very deep, as the singer began her song, in a low, and very slow note:
* * *
Wilson Grover and Wesley Dawson had dragged a half-conscious Adam Svenson through the dark corridor leading out of the bunker situated under the First Base Casino. Still stunned by his last punishment and the blow to his head, the Spectrum captain was hardly able to put one foot in front of the other. He was simply hauled along, unable to resist, his arms secured tightly against his torso. He couldn’t see a thing, as they had left the obnoxious tape on his eyes, and neither could he call out for help. In fear that he would alert Gardenia’s men, they had gagged him. Dejà vu, Blue thought, dazedly. It really felt as if he was reliving the events of twenty-five years ago.
It was in total silence that they progressed along the corridor, and climbed some steps, forcing their captive along with them. As they arrived at the top, they pushed open a door. Then, they stopped to take a breather, and listened; Blue could hear some music. Not very clearly, almost drowned out by his two captors’ heavy breathing.
“We’re almost there,” growled Grover. The door they had pushed was a concealed panel, that lead into a cold room plunged in semi-darkness, filled with rack upon rack of bottles. It was the casino’s special cellar, where Gardenia kept his best bottles; these were reserved for the Guests Lounge, right over their heads. Grover nodded to their left, where they could see a door. “What’s Sam doing?” he grumbled. “We can’t wait here long!” Sam Dawson had been sent up front to check if the coast was clear, before the two others moved out with the captive. Grover took it as a bad omen that he hadn’t shown his face yet.
A creaking sound made itself heard, and then footsteps coming down the stairs. Grover looked into the direction of the door leading up to the casino. “Somebody’s coming!” With Wesley, he rushed Blue behind the shelves, into a dark section of the room. The prisoner was pushed against the wall, and forcibly kept there. A moan barely escaped the gag, as Blue’s still throbbing head roughly connected with the surface. He heard a click, then something cold and sharp grazed his throat. “Not a sound, Svenson!” he heard the murmured warning of Grover. “Or you’re a dead man!”
Blue couldn’t see the knife that was held against his throat, but he had little doubt that Grover would gladly kill him. In any case, he wasn’t in any shape to offer much resistance; it was all he could do to stay conscious.
Grover and Dawson watched in total silence as the door opened and a man walked into the cellar. The music coming from upstairs came a little more clearly to their ears, as the man, holding the door open, had stopped to light a cigarette. In the feeble light, Grover recognized Emilio, one of Gardenia’s most trusted aides, a man he knew was thoroughly loyal to his boss.
Through the thick haze that still clouded his mind, Blue heard the music as if from far away. And yet, he knew it wasn’t that far. He wondered where it could be coming from, and where he might be to hear it. He had recognized the melody; it was an old song still heard in some old-fashioned cabarets.
So let me get right to the point,
I don't pop my cork for every guy I see!
Blue froze. He thought he had recognized the voice singing the song. But… it was impossible. Surely, he was dreaming.
Hey! Big Spender!
Spend a little time with me!
No, he wasn’t dreaming. It WAS Symphony singing. The voice was unmistakable. She had a beautiful, rich voice when she was singing. He had often joked about the fact that her singing voice was SO much better than his own, which sounded like someone strangling a cat. He couldn’t NOT recognize her now.
Blue began to agitate himself, but the pressure of the knife on his throat became more insistent. He felt the blade nicking his skin, drawing blood. He instantly stopped his struggles. Symphony… She was so near to him. And yet, so desperately far. And she couldn’t be possibly alone. Scarlet must certainly be with her. They had surely traced him to this place – wherever it was. But he couldn’t even let them know he was here.
Throwing down his cigarette, Emilio closed the door, and walked past the three hidden men towards the concealed entrance to the bunker. Both Grover and Dawson watched his progress with attention. As soon as he disappeared through the door, they would be able to leave with the captive. This was becoming too close for comfort.
But at that moment, something went wrong, as new, hurried footsteps made themselves heard and Sam Dawson appeared, coming from the bunker, running. He stopped the second he found himself face to face with Emilio, and became suddenly pale, under the other man’s hard and curious gaze.
“Hey, Emilio,” Sam said with a tentative smile. “How you doin’, paisan?”
“What are you doing here, Dawson?” Emilio retorted rather roughly. “Aren’t you supposed to be in Los Lobos, with those bum brothers of yours?”
“Hey, cool, man,” Sam replied. “They’re no bums, and neither am I.”
“You’re trouble, that’s what you are,” grumbled Emilio. “Like that Grover scum, who hangs around with you. Why Pietro keeps you around is beyond me. Did you see Grover?”
“N-no. Why do you ask?” Sam answered, becoming even paler.
“The boss wants to see him, right away.” Emilio narrowed his eyes at the man. “What is it? You don’t look so good. Like you’ve seen a ghost or something…” A doubt insinuated itself in his mind and Emilio approached Sam closely. “Are you hiding something?”
“What do you mean?”
“Dawson, I swear to you, if you’ve been helping yourself to the boss’s booze…”
“Hey! I ain’t stealin’ nothin’!”
“So what’s wrong with you? You look really suspicious!”
Grover cursed the fool Dawson brother for not being able to hide his feelings better. Now Emilio wouldn’t leave before finding out what was going on. If he found out the truth, it would be disastrous. Feeling that things weren’t going according to plan, Grover left his hiding place, leaving Wesley to keep Blue in check, and silently sneaked around behind Emilio.
Sam Dawson was drawing back, away from the bigger man’s approach. Clearly, something was going on, Emilio decided. He didn’t like it one bit. “What is it, Dawson? I can smell something fishy going on here…”
“You’re imagining things, buddy,” Sam stammered.
“Could it have something to do with Grover? Tell me where he is.”
“Right here, man.” The ominous voice behind him startled Emilio and he spun around on his heel. Just in time to receive Grover’s knife right in the abdomen. Grunting in pain, gasping with surprise, Emilio doubled over and fell on his knees, opening wide eyes at his attacker. Grover finished him off with a violent fist to the jaw. Emilio sprawled on the floor, where he didn’t move.
“My God, Will!” Sam gasped. “You killed him!”
“I didn’t have any choice!” Grover replied roughly. “If you hadn’t been so incompetent dealing with him…” He looked around, as Wesley brought Blue out of hiding. He mumbled the rest of his invective and turned again toward Sam. “I hope the coast’s clear?”
Sam nodded. “Nobody’s in the parking lot and I brought the van as close as the door as I could get it,” he answered nervously.
“All right, then,” Grover snapped urgently. “Let’s get out of here before somebody else comes around.”
“But… what about Emilio?”
“Forget about him! You want to be around when Gardenia finds out what happened here? Move out, Sam! Don’t you see that you have no choice left, now?”
Sam nodded nervously, finally giving in. The three men rushed toward the exit, pushing and dragging a stumbling Captain Blue with them. They didn’t look back, so they didn’t see that Emilio was stirring from his position on the floor, and reaching for his portable phone…
* * *
Captain Scarlet was waiting impatiently for the song to finish. He wasn’t very happy. In fact, he was literally fuming, to see Symphony making a spectacle of herself like that. He realized why she was doing it, but he didn’t like it one bit. And to put herself in such a hot spot, drawing attention to herself like that... Didn’t she realize the danger?
“Be easy on her, Captain.” That was Destiny’s soft voice in his ears. Knowing him as she did, the French woman knew perfectly well what was on his mind. And Scarlet was pretty sure that she was feeling approximately the same way. But as always, Destiny was playing her role as the over-protective leader of the Angels pack. One of her girls was in trouble, so she felt that she had to step in. She was almost a surrogate ‘mother’ to them all, although she wasn’t that much older than they were.
Scarlet wasn’t in the mood to listen.
“Keep out of this, Destiny,” he mumbled between his teeth.
“Who are you talking to, hon?” Scarlet didn’t care to answer Dolly’s intrigued question. He promptly stood up from his seat, totally ignoring the woman, and walked with long strides toward the side of the stage closer to him. Dolly sprang to her feet, to follow suit. The handsome Englishman was a potential client, and she didn’t want to let him slip away. Plus, by the looks of it, he was after trouble. He was trying to reach the stage wings.
“Hey, what are you thinking? You can’t go there! You’re gonna be thrown out!”
I’d like to see someone try! an irate Scarlet was thinking. He would welcome it. He needed to let off some steam.
* * *
Hey! Big Spender!
spend a little time with me!
Those were the last lines of the last refrain. As the music finished, Symphony heard the crowd’s wild applause. Offering her most gracious smile, she bowed her thanks. Well, that didn’t go too badly, she thought with some satisfaction, slowly backing away toward the opposite side of the stage, still facing the audience. At least, my cover seems assured. Nobody would be suspicious of me.
The thought had not even left her mind when she felt a strong hand grabbing hold of her wrist and literally dragging her into the wings, out of the public view, and holding her tight. Automatically, she whirled around, ready to strike out with her free hand, but the person grabbed that one as well, turning her to face him.
She froze upon seeing the livid face of Captain Scarlet, his blue eyes staring angrily right at her, from behind a pair of glasses.
She blinked in surprise. “Paul! What are you doing here?”
“What I am doing here? What are YOU doing here?” he snapped back in annoyance, releasing her roughly. “And dressed… like THAT?”
He inspected her from top to bottom, and then back again, his angry eyes set once again on her face, disapproval so very plain in them. Symphony felt herself flushing. She was grateful that the thick makeup she was wearing would conceal that from him. It would look SO unprofessional if he should see her go red.
“Honey, are you all right?” Rodney had just appeared from backstage. He looked concerned, glaring daggers at Scarlet. The latter tensed instantly, and the two men faced each other with the same intimidating stare. No doubt, the Angel reflected, Rodney had meant what he had said earlier. He would try to keep her out of trouble. But against Scarlet’s anger, and extensive training in combat, he wouldn’t stand a chance. She didn’t want for him to get needlessly hurt.
“It’s okay, Rodney, he’s a friend,” she explained. “You don’t have to worry about it.”
“I don’t know about that,” Scarlet said between his teeth.
Rodney seemed even more wary of him and took a step forward. But Symphony stopped him with a reassuring gesture. “Don’t worry, it’s okay. Would you leave us to discuss things, please?”
“You’re sure?” Rodney insisted.
“Rodney… I tell you, he’s a friend of mine. We’re here for the same thing.”
“All right,” Rodney grumbled, still staring at Scarlet. “But if you need help…”
“I won’t, believe me. You can leave me alone without any problem. Please?”
Rodney shrugged. “Okay. I have some errands to run backstage, for the new show, so I’ll leave you alone for now.” He gave Scarlet a warning glare. “I’ll be back later, then.”
Rodney went away quietly, without asking any more questions. Scarlet watched him go, before turning his attention to Symphony. “New friend of yours? Now, what are you doing here, Karen?”
“I’m… undercover,” she explained uneasily.
“I HARDLY think so!” was the sharp comeback. “You look like… like…”
“Hey, hon, what’s going on?”
Dolly had just appeared beside Scarlet. Symphony opened her eyes wide with surprise, seeing her and the way SHE was dressed, and even wider eyes still when Dolly took Scarlet by the arm. Symphony looked at the Englishman who now appeared slightly embarrassed.
“You mean like HER?” she offered to Scarlet, gesturing towards Dolly.
“That’s beside the point, Karen!” he answered roughly. “We were worried about you! You had disappeared. And I find you here in this dump, singing your heart out to a bunch of drooling men!”
“Oh, like you didn’t do some drooling of your own with this… lady, here!”
“Hey!” Dolly protested loudly, “Who do you think you are, blondie? I was first!” She was clinging to Scarlet’s arm as if she would never let him go. Now he looked as if he wanted the floor to open up and swallow him. Symphony instantly saw red.
“Back off, sister!” she said right in Dolly’s face. “He’s already taken!”
The ominous glow of total anger she saw in the blond woman’s eyes convinced Dolly that she was a dangerous adversary to face. Most certainly, she wouldn’t come off unscathed from an encounter with her. She quickly let go of Scarlet’s arm.
“Okay, okay. Since you’re taking it that way,” she mumbled. “I don’t want any trouble. Gee, you didn’t have to get on your high horse!”
She turned her back and hurriedly left the stage wings, going back to where she would most surely find less difficult clients.
“Bravo!” a voice said in Scarlet’s ear, with a satisfied tone that was more than obvious.
“I told you to keep out of this, Destiny!” he growled.
“Destiny is here as well?” Symphony asked, looking around. “Where…?”
Scarlet had to admit he was grateful that Symphony had succeeded in driving Dolly off, but he wasn’t about to let his anger cool down. “Forget Destiny for the moment! You have a lot of explaining to do!”
“Paul,” she said with a sigh. “Lower your voice, please. You’ll attract attention!”
“What are you doing here?” he growled. “And using your Spectrum code-name, for crying out loud!”
“I could HARDLY use my own name!” Symphony protested. “And you got to admit that ‘Symphony’ is a perfect name for a singer.”
“Nobody would think of linking it to Spectrum, you know! Look, I was following a lead to find Adam… And obviously, it was a good one, since you are here too!”
“WHY didn’t you contact us?!”
“Paul, please. You don’t know what a horrible day I’ve had!”
“You want to talk about a horrible day?” Scarlet lashed out. “What about MY day? I was electrocuted, put behind bars, where, of all the humiliations, I had to be bailed out by none other than Colonel White! On top of that, I had to put on a biker’s reeking leathers, to escape a filthy dump surrounded by policemen! So DON’T tell me about how horrible your day was!”
“You’re really angry at me?”
“I’m angry because you don’t seem to realize the danger you could have been in if that Grover maniac had come in and recognized you! Karen, what were you thinking?”
“Oh, lay off, please! Why do you think I put on so much make-up, in this hot weather? So he WOULDN’T recognize me…”
“I recognized you!”
“Well, he doesn’t know me like you do!”
“It’s not much of a disguise!”
“Oh, and those glasses are?!”
“What’s going on here?”
Upon hearing the voice coming from behind him, Scarlet turned around; he moaned, seeing the big bouncer who had tried to stop him from entering the lounge earlier. What did Dolly call him earlier? Oh yes… Tito.
By the big frown that was now creasing his face, it was obvious he had also recognized Scarlet as he was walking toward him. “What are YOU doing here? I thought I told you that only the guests could enter the lounge!” He narrowed his eyes at Symphony. “And NOBODY is allowed to disturb the performers!”
“It’s… all right,” Symphony tried to interfere. “You see, this man is my…”
She managed to stammer ‘boyfriend’, but at the exact same time, she distinctly heard Scarlet say ‘brother’. She rolled her eyes. Why do things always have to be so difficult?
“Well, WHAT is he?” Tito asked with impatience.
“He told you,” she sighed, catching a glance of Scarlet’s eyes still glowing with anger. “He’s my brother.”
“Your brother. He’s got an accent.”
“I was adopted.” This time, BOTH Scarlet and Symphony had said the same line. Tito opened eyes wide with exasperation. He was feeling like they were leading him on.
“Now, WHO’S been adopted?” he demanded forcefully.
“Would you leave us alone?” an annoyed Scarlet asked of the man. “We have… ‘family’ business to attend to.” He didn’t wait for Tito’s answer before turning again toward Symphony. “Speaking of which… you realize you’re SO lucky that you-know-who hasn’t seen you up on that stage right now?”
She frowned slightly. “Paul… You don’t mean… who I think you mean?”
“I think that’s EXACTLY who he means.”
The new voice behind her made Symphony shiver. Oh no! Don’t tell me… This was unexpected. Of all the people she would have expected to meet in this place, HE would have been at the very bottom of the list. It was very uneasily that she turned around to face the man she knew would be standing there.
Wearing glasses similar to Scarlet’s, Colonel White was looking at her with that same rigid stare she had often seen in him. His face was completely set, and it didn’t show any of the feelings that might be brewing inside his mind. Except for his eyes. There was a strange glare in his blue eyes that betrayed his irritation. “Nice dress, Symphony,” he commented in a very even tone.
“Er… Sir, I didn’t know you were here,” Symphony stammered, not really sure how to address him.
“Obviously,” he noted, moving around to stand beside Scarlet. “And I certainly didn’t know you would be here either.”
“I can explain myself,” the young woman started. She didn’t know where to begin, in fact. White raised an eyebrow.
“I expect it to be good.”
“That’s enough!” Tito then shouted, making everybody turn to face him. He was now standing only a foot away from both White and Scarlet and had taken the latter’s arm rather roughly. “You think I would buy this ‘family business’ of yours?” the big man raged, looking furiously at Scarlet, then at Symphony, White and finally back to Scarlet. “Adopted, my ass! You’re gonna tell me this guy is your old man, while you’re at it?” He gestured toward White. The latter was a little at a loss as to what the man was saying. It didn’t make any sense to him.
“My good man, I know you’re probably only doing your job here, but we would greatly appreciate if you would leave us alone to settle things between us,” he politely asked of Tito.
“I’ve had quite enough of this!” growled the man. “You can’t tell me what I have to do, pops!” He turned to Scarlet. “And neither do you! I know troublemakers when I see them. And that’s what you are, the three of you!”
“I’d advise you to let me go,” Scarlet warned him.
“So you think you’re the brawn in this little gang of yours?” Tito chuckled wickedly. “Well, I’m throwing you out. You, the pimp and the hook…”
He never got the chance to finish his sentence. At the same time, two fists had hit him squarely in the face, with the same deadly accuracy. The blow drove him to the floor, at Symphony’s feet. Dazed as he was, he was still figuring out how the two men could have punched him so quickly, when Symphony took a pitcher filled with water, left on a nearby table for the benefit of dry-throated performers, and crashed it over his head. He collapsed on the floor, in the middle of a small pool of water, grunting loudly.
Colonel White was rubbing his fist, looking down with contempt at the now-unconscious man. “I hate it when men are needlessly ill-mannered in front of a lady,” he grumbled. He turned to Scarlet, who was rubbing his fist too, while Symphony was stepping over Tito. “Nice right,” he commented.
“Impressive left,” Scarlet answered.
Wonderful! Symphony thought gloomily. Even the colonel is playing John Wayne now!
White turned his attention back to her, and examined her from head to toe. “Where did you find that dress?”
“It’s a long story, sir,” she admitted, still unsure of what to make of his reaction.
“One I’m sure I’ll find captivating.”
“How did you find out I was here, sir?” Scarlet asked suddenly.
The colonel tapped the frame of his glasses. “Destiny told me. Remember her?”
Symphony rolled her eyes. Destiny… The glasses… Of course! Those were the special glasses with the concealed communication devices. And Destiny was monitoring everything. How could she not have thought of it sooner? She could have kicked herself.
White was addressing her again. “You followed your own lead here to find Captain Blue, didn’t you, Symphony?”
“Yes sir. I’m sorry I didn’t contact you sooner, I… things got a little out of hand, at some point.”
“You’re telling me,” he mumbled. “Well, whatever your lead was, it was a right one.”
He saw the young woman’s beautiful face light up instantly. “Sir? He’s here?”
He nodded. Now wasn’t the time for a reprimand, he reflected. He would have time for that later. It seemed to him that he would have A LOT of explanations to receive, and a lot of lessons to give out. “He’s here,” he confirmed. “And it won’t be long now, before he’s back with us.”
“I don’t understand,” Symphony murmured, shaking her head. “How…?”
“Through civilized talks, that’s how,” White remarked. “I just had a conversation with Mister Gardenia concerning his release.”
“The colonel… ‘negotiated’ his freedom,” Scarlet explained.
“He did?” Symphony said in a little voice. She looked at their commander, a frown of perplexity upon her face. “You did, sir?”
“What did you expect?” White replied rather harshly. “That I would leave him to die at the hands of a homicidal maniac? You forget there’s been a lot of investment in Captain Blue since he joined Spectrum. You think I would let all that go to waste?”
“Oh! Of course, sir. You’re right.” There seemed to be some disappointment in Symphony’s tone now. The colonel looked squarely at her.
“And in you as well, don’t you know that?”
“So you should have NOT risked your life in some foolhardy plan to try to free Captain Blue on your own.”
“No, sir,” she murmured, looking down. “I’m sorry if I disappointed you.”
“You have no idea how much.” He stepped closer to her. “Next time you need help, COME to me,” he said with a gentler, but still severe enough tone. “Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” she murmured, feeling even more ashamed.
“We’ll continue this discussion later,” White stated. “When this is all behind us. For now, we’d better join Mister Gardenia.”
“We, sir?” Symphony asked with a puzzled tone.
“Now that I have found you, I have no intention of letting you out of my sight. I don’t want you to disappear again.” The colonel inspected her once again and cleared his throat. “In any case, this ‘cover’ of yours has outlived its usefulness.”
Symphony reddened violently under the make-up. She had to admit, being caught in that rather revealing dress by the colonel wasn’t something she was very happy about.
White and Scarlet were now moving down the stage, and Symphony was about to follow when she saw Rodney coming over. Gone since he had left the young woman in Scarlet’s company, he was pretty amazed to find the huge Tito lying on his back, in a pool of water. He knew of Tito’s being a simple-minded brute, always ready to hit first and ask questions later, and he also knew of the man’s stamina and strength. It would have taken someone out of the ordinary to have flattened him like this. He widened his eyes and stared at the departing trio. “What happened to him?” he asked, the surprise obvious in his tone. “Who did this?”
“The young lady here,” White deadpanned, pointing to Symphony. “The man insulted her.” Both the Angel and Scarlet stared at him with perplexity. It wasn’t that often that they had a demonstration of his rather unique brand of humour.
“YOU did that to Tito?” Rodney’s eyes couldn’t be any wider. A large smile spread across his lips and he chuckled. “If I still had any doubt that Butch was telling me the truth about you, you’ve convinced me! You’re really something, lady.”
“You’ve been a great help, Rodney,” Symphony answered with a smile of her own, extending her hand to the man.
“Hey, don’t mention it. By helping you, I was trying to help Marsha.” He gently squeezed Symphony’s hand in his own. “But I have the feeling I didn’t have to do much, you know what I mean?”
Symphony shook her head. “The important thing is my friend has been found.”
With a last thanks to Rodney, she left him to join Scarlet and White, who had been waiting for her, and they left the stage. While going down the last step leading to the main floor of the Guests Lounge, Symphony felt the urge to remove her too tight shoes. She could hardly feel her feet anymore. Still uncomfortable at seeing her dressed as she was, Scarlet started to remove his jacket, but stopped just in time, remembering the weapon it was concealing. It was Colonel White who, noticing his dilemma, removed his own jacket, to offer it to the young woman. She gladly took it, nodding her thanks. It was just then that she realized the fancy way HE was dressed, and she couldn’t help but ponder the reason why. It was no wonder Tito had thought he was a pimp.
“Sir?” Symphony asked White, a note of trepidation in her voice. “You said you had found Ad… Captain Blue? Is he all right? Grover didn’t hurt him, I hope?”
White stared silently at her for a moment. It would have been hard not to notice that the concern on her face was more than just concern for a fellow officer in danger. Much more than that. He could recognize the look of a woman deeply worried for the man she loved. Even if he hadn’t already known, he would have suspected right here and now that there was some history between the two Americans. And at the moment, Symphony seemed oblivious to the fact that her behaviour might lead her commander to the truth. She might have been too worried, or maybe she didn’t care that much anymore. All she wanted was the confirmation that Captain Blue was alive and well.
White was about to reassure her when he caught sight of Gardenia, who had just come through from his office into the lounge, a cellular phone held to his ear. He was obviously agitated, as he gesticulated wildly while talking into it. He then gestured toward Guido and two other men, standing in different parts of the room, and they moved toward him.
“Something’s going on,” White murmured, realising that instantly.
Scarlet and Symphony close behind, he hurried toward Gardenia who was now asking questions and giving brief instructions to his men. It didn’t take long for them to rush through the door behind their boss. The three Spectrum officers arrived in front of Gardenia as he was putting the phone back to his ear.
“Gardenia?” White demanded, taking the man by the arm. Everything in the casino owner’s attitude was telling him that something was terribly wrong, and, considering recent events, he was afraid it might have something to do with Captain Blue. The pale look he saw in Gardenia’s face confirmed that, before the man could even open his mouth to voice it:
“I’m sorry, Mister Gray… Emilio… Something happened in the bunker.”
“Scarlet!” White barked instantly behind him, nodding toward the opened door. “Follow them!”
“S.I.G.!” Scarlet dashed past Gardenia, without the latter trying to stop him. The captain gave pursuit to the three men he saw running along a corridor in front of him. Behind him, he could hear people following close; without being sure about it, he could only imagine it was Gardenia, White, and most likely Symphony.
Damn! He cursed inwardly, as a deep sense of catastrophe quickly replaced the expectation of finally seeing his friend safe and sound. We were so close!
He wished, beyond any hope, that nothing bad had happened to Adam.