“Who’s that guy?”
Hiding in the darkness of the alley, just outside the door they had used to leave the ‘First Base Casino’, Wilson Grover and Sam Dawson were watching with suspicion the man standing at the corner of the building, not that far away from them. He was apparently doing nothing but chewing gum and wasting his time. It was so obvious he was on surveillance.
“I saw him five minutes ago when I went to get the van,” Sam explained in a hushed tone. “At first he didn’t look suspicious, but since he’s still here… Maybe he’s one of Gardenia’s goons?”
Grover shook his head. “Don’t think so. Looks more like a cop.”
Sam felt suddenly uncomfortable. “Could he be here for Svenson?”
“That’s possible. But Gardenia may be under surveillance too. Remember the cops have been after him for a long time.” Grover looked toward the dark blue van, parked only ten feet from them, the rear facing the door. He was aware that they had a good chance of being spotted by this man if they were to try to reach it. He looked around, searching for a solution. He then discovered an almost empty bottle of whisky lying on the ground, nearly at his feet. That gave him an idea; he narrowed his eyes at the stranger. “I’ll take care of him,” he announced. “Go get Svenson. When you get the chance, you and Wesley bring him into the back of the van.”
“What’re you gonna do?” Sam asked.
“Don’t worry ‘bout that,” Grover cackled, taking the bottle. “I know a few tricks the cops and even Gardenia’s men don’t. Now go. We can’t afford to lose time.”
Sam nodded and disappeared behind the door. Grover stepped into the alley, bottle in hand, and started walking toward the man standing in the corner, exaggerating his limp and moving so unsteadily that he looked as if he were drunk…
* * *
For John Svenson, it was probably one of the worst days he had ever experienced. Ever since Grover had called him with those terrible demands and shown him what he had already done to Adam, things had gone from bad to worse. Svenson was famous in the financial world for having nerves of steel, but those nerves had gradually eroded during those long hours, almost to breaking point. Waiting in the van, while Spectrum was working to try to get his son out of danger, had been excruciatingly difficult for him; and he was very aware that he had not been very accommodating to anybody.
Then Spectrum’s operation had shown some very encouraging results, and Svenson had cooled down and started to breathe again.
All was going so well, with Colonel White having been able to extract from Gardenia the promise of letting Adam go free – and with the added bonus that Gardenia would eventually ‘take care’ of Grover, an unexpected surprise Svenson had to admit he would have been particularly satisfied with. As far as he was concerned, after all, Grover was nothing but scum. And if another scum were to dispose of him, he had no problem with that whatsoever.
But now, things seemed to suddenly go haywire. There was so much confusion on Destiny Angel’s two monitors, that John Svenson’s head spun. All they could see, from two different points of view, was people running down a dark corridor, and quickly descending a staircase, before arriving at what looked like a badly-lit cellar, with row after row of bottles. Destiny had been trying to reach both Colonel White and Captain Scarlet to learn what was going on, only to receive the hurried answer to stand by. Apparently, both men were too busy at the moment, and neither seemed to have a clear understanding of what was going on.
“What’s happening in there?” growled an impatient Svenson. “What is it? Why don’t they answer?”
He kept his eyes riveted on the screen, wanting to know more, but at the same time dreading it. One of the cameras – the first one to enter the cellar, and worn by Scarlet – was now showing Gardenia’s three men surrounding another one who lay on the floor, moaning in pain. There was some more confusion in the picture as Scarlet obviously pushed aside the standing men to kneel near the wounded.
Having found Emilio lying in his own blood, but alive and groaning with pain, Gardenia’s men were too stunned to react to the presence of the tall dark-haired stranger who had followed them down into the cellar. Neither did they react when he shouldered them roughly aside to lean over Emilio, and check him over. They found they could do nothing but help him get their friend into a sitting position against the wall. Emilio gave a brief cry.
“What happened?” Scarlet demanded, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder to force him to look him in the eyes. “Who did this to you?”
Emilio blinked. He didn’t know the man, but accepted his presence without comment. He was feeling too bad to ask himself where the stranger had come from. “Grover…” he said between clenched teeth. “…surprised me… He stabbed me…”
“Grover?” Scarlet went pale. “What about the prisoner?” Emilio’s head tilted forward. He was about to lose consciousness. Not wanting any of that, Scarlet shook him insistently. “Svenson? Where’s Svenson?”
“Hey, can’t you see he’s been hurt?” Guido protested.
“Tell me where Svenson is!” Scarlet shouted at Emilio, not taking any notice of the other’s intervention.
The wounded man grunted. “I was on my way to get him… Must still be in the bunker…”
A worried Scarlet turned toward the other men. “Where’s that bunker?”
“Who the Hell do you think you…”
Guido didn’t get to finish his sentence. In a flash, Scarlet was up, and had grabbed him by his collar to push him violently against the wall. Guido blinked in surprise when he saw the muzzle of a gun under his nose. The two others didn’t even have time to react, so swiftly had Scarlet jumped at their companion.
“WHERE IS IT?” Scarlet barked into Guido’s face.
Scarlet’s eyes were flashing with anger. He was wasting time. For all he knew, it was a question of seconds before his friend would be killed.
“Luigi, Fabio.” Gardenia had entered the cellar, closely followed by both Colonel White and Symphony Angel. He had heard Scarlet’s demand, and was now addressing his men who were obviously wondering if they should move in to jump the Spectrum officer. Gardenia’s call stopped them in their tracks. He nodded toward a spot on the cellar wall, which was shrouded in shadow. “Show him the way to the bunker.”
The two nodded. “Follow me, sir,” Luigi then said to Scarlet. The latter let go of Guido and quickly followed the man, while Fabio brought up the rear. Luigi pushed a portion of the bottle-covered wall and an opening appeared, revealing a flight of stairs. Swiftly, the three men headed downwards. Symphony moved in to go with them, but White stopped her before she could take more than a couple of steps.
“You’re staying with me,” he told her sternly.
“That’s an order.”
He didn’t know what might be found in that bunker, whether Blue was alive or dead. He was perfectly aware that Symphony was a tough girl, able to cope with any situation, but if the worst should have happened, and knowing what he knew about her relationship with Blue, he didn’t want for her to experience such a shock, if he could prevent it. He had gone through the same thing himself in the past, with his wife, and he knew far too well how devastating a situation like that was. He could see that the young woman was beside herself with worry, and so very disappointed that he had forbidden her to go. It was with reluctance that she nodded her acknowledgement.
White and Gardenia then turned back to the injured Emilio. Guido knelt beside him again.
“How is he?” Gardenia asked.
“He needs medical care, boss,” Guido explained. “Looks like he was cut badly with a knife.” He looked up at Gardenia. “Said it’s Grover who did it.”
“Can he tell us anything else?” White asked, frowning.
“Look here, Gray,” Gardenia protested, “he’s been hurt…”
“Gardenia,” White cut in sharply, “you’d better understand that if SVENSON has been hurt, all deals are off!”
That shut Gardenia up completely. He hadn’t gone through all those negotiations to keep Spectrum’s nose out of his business to see it all go bad now. He certainly didn’t need that, nor did he want it. He instructed Guido to call for medical assistance immediately, and then crouched beside his downed man. “Emilio, can you tell us HOW it happened? Where is Grover? And where’s Svenson?”
* * *
In the van, John Svenson was growing increasingly impatient. And more worried as the seconds passed by. He was restlessly pacing behind Destiny’s seat, checking the twin screens nervously. What he was seeing on them wasn’t helping him calm his fears. On the contrary. Not knowing what was really going on, what could have happened to his son, if he was still alive…
“I knew it,” he mumbled under his breath. “I knew it was a mistake to let you Spectrum people in on this…”
Destiny was very annoyed. How could Svenson blame Spectrum for what was happening right now? A moment ago, everything was going according to plan. It would have been only a matter of minutes, before Blue would be released. Wasn’t his father aware of that? It was only due to an unexpected turn of events that things were now going wrong.
“WHAT’S going on?” Svenson growled again, stopping his pacing right behind Destiny. “What’s happening to my son?”
“Mister Svenson,” Destiny tried, turning to him. “Please, do calm down. We have no indications that your son…”
“You have no indications?!” Svenson barked with hostility. “You’re right about that! For all we know he could already be dead!”
“Mister Svenson, sir…”
Svenson couldn’t take any more of this. “I’m going there,” he decided suddenly.
Destiny twisted her head swiftly in his direction. “Mister Svenson, I don’t think it’s wise…”
“I don’t care what you say!” he snapped at her. “My son needs me! I’m going!”
He walked purposefully toward the back doors of the van and grabbed the handle. Destiny gestured toward Palladino, who swiftly jumped to his feet to cross the distance separating him from Svenson. The latter had already opened the doors and stepped outside. He felt Palladino’s hand on his shoulder and turned furiously to face him.
“You should stay in the van, sir,” the Spectrum agent advised him. “It’s not safe for you outside…”
“Let go of me,” Svenson retorted. “I’ve got to go help my son!”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I have to insist…”
Perhaps Palladino was too sure of himself; and perhaps he didn’t count on Svenson totally losing what little was left of his patience. Svenson himself didn’t consciously plan his following actions. He vigorously shrugged Palladino off him, removing his hand from his shoulder with one swift movement. At the same time, he had seized the outside handle of one of the doors to slam it shut, as Palladino was about to step down from the van. The Spectrum man received the metal door straight on his forehead, violently enough to knock him down. Destiny, who was following the scene, winced when she saw the man falling backward, nearly at her feet. She automatically knelt by his side.
“Palladino?” The man groaned and only gave her one very stunned glance before passing out on her. Destiny raised her eyes just in time to see Svenson closing the second door. She rushed to it and grabbed the handle at the same time as Svenson was locking it from the outside.
“Mister Svenson!” She thumped on the door, but heard nothing but the hurried footsteps of Svenson as he left the scene. She gave a frustrated sigh. “Oh, great! We didn’t need this!” She hurriedly left the back doors, quickly checked one last time on Palladino, making sure he was only stunned, then, taking her purse, she moved on to the front of the van. Squeezing herself in the narrow space between the computerized instruments, she reached the driving cabin. Settling herself in the driver’s seat, she looked around, into the darkness of the night, in search of Svenson, the blinking lights of the city doing little to help her. It didn’t take her long, however, to see him weaving through the cars in the parking lot, making his way towards the casino. Damned fool! she thought with irritation. Isn’t he aware of the risk he’s taking? He’ll ruin everything! She searched for the key in the ignition and discovered it wasn’t there. Palladino must have it on him, she realized instantly. She could have kicked herself for having forgotten to search him. She stepped out of the van and took her communicator from her purse.
I have to call the Colonel, she reflected gloomily. He certainly won’t be happy to know that Svenson is on the run!
* * *
With Luigi and Fabio, Captain Scarlet had reached ‘the bunker’ situated below the casino. If he noticed a large amount of crates and boxes in some of the rooms he passed by, he wasn’t really interested in them. He just figured that Gardenia kept goods in this place he didn’t want the authorities to find out existed. He couldn’t care less. Gardenia didn’t have a history of weapons traffic, or terrorism, so, in principle, that put him out of Spectrum’s jurisdiction. Whatever was in the crates was for the police to check out. For now, the only thing that interested Scarlet in this place was Blue. And whether he was alive or not.
Luigi guided him to a thick wooden door sporting a heavy lock that, Scarlet noticed instantly, was half-opened, which made the man stop in confusion and hesitate to enter. Obviously, he wasn’t counting on finding the door that way. Probably, judging by the lock, it was Adam’s prison. Scarlet didn’t hesitate; drawing his gun, he pushed the door to enter.
He took a few steps into the dark room, before stopping and looking around. The place wasn’t much different from what he had seen so far of the rest of the bunker: thick concrete walls and floor, robust door, little lighting… Except there was a bunk alongside one of the walls, with a thin, worn mattress on it. Scarlet noticed some rope tied to the metal frame of this bunk. It wasn’t difficult for him to figure out the reason it was there.
Right in the middle of the room, a length of rope was hanging from one of the ceiling rafters. Scarlet approached to examine it more closely. There were stains of blood on it; his jaw tightened upon remembering the recording from John Svenson's portable. On the floor, there were also bloodstains. Fortunately, Scarlet noted grimly, not enough to indicate that the prisoner could have killed in this place. Still it didn't prove anything.
Adam wasn’t there, and that was worrying enough.
“Where is he?” Scarlet asked, turning to the two men behind him.
“I don’t know,” Fabio replied. “He should be here…”
Grunting, Scarlet turned back toward the door to leave this sickening place that had been his friend’s prison, and headed toward the stairs he had previously taken. He was unconcerned that only one of the men was following him, while the other, for some reason, had decided to stay behind. He tapped on the side of his glasses. “Scarlet to White.”
“Yes, Captain?” came the voice of White in his ear.
"He's not here, sir," Scarlet reported, starting to climb the stairs. "Did the injured man tell you anything else?”
"Not much before losing consciousness," White replied. "Just that he was aware that Grover had left with some of the Dawson brothers.”
"They must have taken Adam with them," Scarlet realised, running toward the stairs leading up to the cellar.
Using his personal communicator instead of the concealed device in his glasses, White nodded thoughtfully, hearing Scarlet's reflection. He turned toward Gardenia. “Which way would Grover and the Dawsons have gone?”
Gardenia pointed toward a door they could see at the other end of the room. “There’s a corridor behind this door. It leads to a side door in an alley, which is used for deliveries. That’s the shortest way from here.”
“Damn,” White grumbled. He changed the channel on his communicator, to contact the man they had left in surveillance of the back door. “Agent Winslow, do you copy?” There was no reply. He frowned deeply. Now, that wasn’t normal. He didn’t have the time to try again, as a new beeping sound made itself heard from his communicator, giving the emergency signal. He took the communication.
“This is Destiny Angel…”
“Go ahead, Destiny.”
“Sir, we have a problem.”
“What, again?” White muttered. Destiny didn’t have the time to tell him, as he heard the sound of rushing movements to his right. He turned his head in time to see Symphony relieving Guido of his gun, which was hanging from his belt, before the man could even make a move. In a fraction of a second, the young woman was on her way to the exit door previously indicated by Gardenia. “Symphony, wait!”
White was pretty sure she had heard him, but she feigned not to and disappeared behind the door. Naturally, thought the Spectrum commander with annoyance. Blasted impetuous young fool… He prepared himself to follow in turn, at the same exact moment Scarlet appeared from the concealed entrance he had taken earlier, removing his glasses.
The Spectrum commander moved toward the door. “This way!” Both men left the cellar without another look behind. They were only followed by Gardenia’s half-assured statement that he had kept his part of the bargain and that he was hoping that Spectrum would keep its part. In all honesty, neither of the two officers could care less about him.
“Call Winslow!” White instructed Scarlet. “Tell him Grover and the others are probably coming his way!” Leaving Scarlet to contact their man, the colonel came back to his own, previous communication. “State your problem, Destiny!”
* * *
Destiny was moving around the cars, running toward Svenson, whom she could see was nearing the casino. In brief sentences, she explained the situation to her commander. She almost heard him curse out loud; by the sound of it, he had bitten it back at the last possible second.
“Doesn’t Svenson realize the trouble he could get into?” White barked furiously. “Get him back as quickly as possible!”
Destiny rolled her eyes. She had been afraid she would hear that.
“S.I.G., sir,” she answered decidedly.
“By any means necessary, Destiny! He must not enter that casino!”
A faint smile crossed the French woman’s lips. By any means necessary… well that could prove satisfying, come to think of it…
John Svenson was only a couple of metres away from ‘The First Base’s main entrance when he suddenly stopped, in the middle of people coming in and out of the house. The two minutes it had taken him to leave the van and finally get to the entrance had been enough for him to cool down from his sudden outburst of temper. He hadn’t really intended to knock Palladino down, it was only an accident, but he didn’t really regret it. He was so angry, and worried at the same time, that all he wanted was to see what was happening to his son, to come to his aid if he could. Now that he was so close to the place where Adam was detained, his good sense came back to him enough to realize the danger he could be facing if he went in by the main entrance. It would be like presenting himself to the kidnappers, with a nametag on his vest.
He looked over his shoulder in the direction of the van he had just left and could see that Destiny was coming his way. He frowned deeply; he hadn’t come so near to his objective to have Spectrum interfering again. He had had quite enough of those people and their crazy plans that would probably end with his son’s death.
There must be a back door to this place, he mused, looking at the main entrance. He checked to the left and right, and then saw a dark alley, apparently going round the building. He left the main entrance in a hurry, using the crowd surrounding him as a cover, and went that way, hoping to find there a new way to enter.
* * *
“Agent Winslow, this is Scarlet. Do you read me? Come in, Winslow!”
Wilson Grover looked down in curiosity at the odd, stylus-like communication device protruding from the jacket pocket of the man stretched out at his feet, the remains of the bottle Grover had used to knock him out lying all around him. The guy had only suspected at the last possible second that the drunk coming his way, singing a rather saucy song, could be a threat; but already it was too late. Grover had violently broken the bottle on his head before he could even reach for the weapon that hung from his belt.
But now, that thing in his pocket was flashing a red light and a voice was coming out of it. Faint, but loud enough for Grover to hear the words clearly. He crouched to check the communicator and quietly took it between his index finger and thumb, raising it to his eyes to examine it more closely. “Agent Winslow, do you copy? This is Scarlet calling…”
“Well, hello, there…” he murmured thoughtfully. It was nothing like any police communicator he had ever seen. He wondered who those guys could be, who were using such sophisticated equipment.
He put the communicator in his own pocket, with the intention of finding out more about it later. Then he relieved the man of his gun, tucking it into his belt, took the man under the arms and hauled him behind a large pile of garbage, near the corner of the alley. Getting to his feet, he checked in the direction of the blue van, where he could see that his two accomplices were now bringing Adam Svenson through the back door to drag him toward the rear of the vehicle. Grover grunted, a faint smile of satisfaction playing on his lips. Whoever these people were, he reflected, they would not be in time to stop them from making good their escape.
While his brother Wesley was keeping Blue upright, preventing him from collapsing to the ground, Sam Dawson was hurriedly opening the back doors of the van. He then helped to shove the still-dazed captive inside, sending him sprawling on the hard floor.
Barely a sound escaped the gag, as Blue stayed motionless, lying on his back, his mind in a nearly total fog. He was scarcely aware that they had brought him outside, to throw him in the back of a large vehicle. Even if his hands had been free, he would have not been able to defend himself. He didn’t even react when the doors were slammed shut on him and he was left alone. All he really wanted, and desperately needed, was to lie there, rest and gather his strength.
Grover watched as both Wesley and Sam closed the doors and swiftly walked toward the van driver’s cabin. He just had to wait for the vehicle to come and pick him up. The sound of rushing feet behind him made him turn around, and, in the semi-darkness of the evening, lit only by the flickering lights of the casino, he saw the figure of a tall man hurriedly coming toward the alley, frequently looking over his shoulder. Grover opened his eyes wide with disbelief, wondering if he wasn’t dreaming. That man coming in his direction couldn’t possibly be…
Yes, he realized almost instantly. It was him. Quickly, Grover faded into the shadows, at the same moment as the Dawsons were climbing into the driver’s cabin.
* * *
“No answer from Winslow,” Captain Scarlet declared ominously, pocketing his communicator, as he was rushing down the corridor with his commander, only a short distance behind Symphony Angel, whose red sequinned dress they could see glittering in front of them in the dark. “I don’t like this.”
“Neither do I,” White replied dryly. “This is NOT turning out at all well!” If only Symphony would wait for us! he added inwardly. He didn’t dare call out after her, not knowing how close they might be to their quarry, and not wanting to betray their presence. That would put all of them in a dangerous position.
I really hope she doesn’t do anything stupid!
Symphony could see a red sign announcing the exit door, straight ahead of her. There. It was surely through there that Grover and his accomplices had taken Adam. And if they had brought him all the way through here, he was surely still alive and they still had plans for him. Her heart was beating fast, in the hope that she had a chance to reach them before they escaped with him. Her mind was racing at the thought of what Grover might have done to her fiancé; she was sure that they must have molested him badly for them to be able to take him like that, with no resistance. Worry and rage boiled inside her, and her hand squeezed the handle of the pistol she had taken from Guido. God help her, if they had hurt Adam, she wasn’t sure what she would do.
* * *
John Svenson had hoped he would be able to escape Destiny Angel’s pursuit. For now, she had stopped in front of the casino, about the same place he had paused himself a few minutes before, and was looking around in concern, obviously searching for him. The incessant coming and going of the casino’s clients was hindering her investigation and that seemed to make her frustration grow. By now, there were no crowds surrounding Svenson, but he was hoping the semi-darkness would help him avoid the young woman’s attention.
He had slowed down considerably, so as not to look too suspicious, but he was still walking more quickly than normal pace. He had now reached the alley he had previously noticed, and stopped at the corner, looking into it. He could see a dark van, parked near a closed door; he breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he would be able to get into the casino through there.
That’s when he noticed, on the ground, a pair of feet sticking out from behind a pile of garbage bags. He frowned in perplexity. Out of morbid curiosity, he slowly moved toward it. He saw the legs attached to those feet, and then the rest of the body. At first, he thought that it might be a drunk, having found a place to sleep it off, but now, with a start, he recognised the face of the unconscious man. It was Winslow, the other Spectrum agent who had come with Palladino to assist in the operation to rescue Adam.
Svenson had no idea what he was doing there, but something bad had obviously happened to him. He started to wonder if it had been a good idea for him to leave the security of the Spectrum van. Nervously, he started to back away from the alley. He had taken no more than a few steps when he collided with something – or rather someone, as he felt a hand roughly grabbing him by the arm, just above the elbow, and holding him tight.
He turned around, and found himself face to face with a grim-looking Wilson Grover.
“Hello, Johnny-Boy. Fancy finding you here tonight…”
Svenson’s heart missed a beat, and he blanched instantly upon seeing the evil expression and satisfied smile spread across the man’s scarred face. He looked down as he felt something pressed against his torso, and saw a blade in Grover’s hand. It wouldn’t take much for it to be thrust inside him, he knew. He swallowed hard, before looking straight at Grover again. He couldn’t believe his bad luck to have stumbled upon him like that.
“Grover,” he said, in little more than a whisper.
“Don’t call out,” Grover told him ominously. “I don’t want to kill you… yet.”
* * *
Looking around for John Svenson, whom she had not seen enter the casino by the main entrance, Destiny Angel noticed to her right that a tall, light-blond man was walking rather quickly along the side of the building, toward a dark section where an alley could be half-seen. Naturally, she thought with a grunt. Svenson would try to use another entrance. He was presently looking for just that. Giving a sigh of frustration, she darted in his direction, just as he got to the corner.
He had reached the alley and was entering it, when she saw him back away slowly, and then, at almost the same moment, she saw a big man, as tall as Svenson himself, coming out of the darkness to accost him from behind. Destiny couldn’t see clearly from where she was, but she nevertheless got a glimpse of a silvery gleam in the newcomer’s hand. The man was armed, she realized. With what, she really couldn’t say, but it was obvious he was threatening Svenson with it.
It was only when the man took his victim by the arm and pushed him into the alley that a flicker from the upper side of the casino briefly lighted his face, and Destiny recognized Wilson Grover, from the photos she had seen of him.
“Oh, damn!” she muttered under her breath, running harder than before. “We REALLY didn’t need this!”
* * *
Upon Grover’s beckoning, the dark van had pulled out from its parking place and approached, while Grover hurriedly pushed Svenson toward it, keeping his knife pressed against him. Wesley Dawson jumped out of the cabin to take the captive by the other arm. There was no way Svenson could escape now, as he was roughly dragged by both men toward the rear of the van.
“You’re coming with us, bud,” Grover told him with a ominous tone to his voice. Upon reaching the rear of the van, he brutally shoved Svenson against one of the doors, and pressed the point of his knife against his throat, gazing deep into the fearful eyes, a flash of anger burning in his own. “I expect you’ll have a lot of explaining to do…”
Svenson felt his throat tightening. “Tell me what you’ve done to my son,” he said, half pleading, half demanding.
“You want to see your precious Adam?” Grover said between his teeth. “Well, you gonna have your wish!”
Wesley opened the door wide and Grover took John Svenson by his collar, pulling him away from the van and dragging him in front of the opened door. For a short second, Svenson made an effort to resist, as both Grover and Wesley started forcing him to climb into the back of the vehicle. He then glanced inside, and saw the bound body slumped in the middle of the floor, motionless. His eyes went wide with shock.
A last effort from Grover and Wesley was enough to shove him inside, sprawling on his hands and knees next to the still body. Grover slammed the door close and locked it. “Happy reunion!” he cackled evilly as he quickly limped toward the driver’s cabin with Wesley, and climbed into it after him.
* * *
Symphony Angel violently pushed the exit door upon reaching it, oblivious to the danger she could be facing if her fiancé’s kidnappers were waiting for her on the other side. She was just in time to see a dark blue van, a short distance away, with a man about to close the door of the passenger side. It was dark, but Symphony was able to recognize the profile of that man, with his greyish beard, and rugged features.
The door closed noisily and the van suddenly moved off, its tyres screeching loudly on the dry asphalted surface, at exactly the same moment Symphony was raising her borrowed gun.
“No!” she yelled in frustration, seeing her prey escape her.
The door beside her slammed open and both Captain Scarlet and Colonel White stepped out, in time to see the van speeding toward the alley exit. They saw a petite figure appear right in the middle of the speeding vehicle’s path, holding a weapon aimed at it. The same feeling of impending doom fell upon the three Spectrum agents.
Three alarmed voices shouted the name as Destiny Angel, at the last possible second, jumped out of the van’s way, and into the large piles of garbage bags stacked at the corner of the alley. It looked as if the vehicle could have hit her, as it collided violently with a number of those bags, literally eviscerating them, and sending pieces of garbage flying all over the place.
Captain Scarlet, Colonel White and Symphony Angel broke into a run as the van screeched into a turn at the end of the alley. They reached the position where they had seen Destiny vanish from their view and looked for her in concern. She appeared, staggering on her feet, covered with pieces of banana peel, processed food and other kinds of disgusting – and smelly – trash. She was wildly kicking her left foot to free it from the remains of a bag which had become entangled around it. Seeing that she seemed unharmed, both Scarlet and Symphony continued to race out of the alley, and watched in dismay as the van was speeding away, out of their reach. Scarlet lifted his gun and aimed it at the fleeing vehicle, but he realized almost right away the futility of his gesture, and lowered it.
“Damn it!” he growled with frustrated fury. “We were so close!”
“Yes,” murmured a despairing Symphony at his side, “we were.”
“Go and get the van!” Colonel White called behind them. “Maybe we can still catch up with them!”
Scarlet, closely followed by Symphony, darted from the scene to run toward the parking lot where the Honeybell’s Florist van was waiting. Meanwhile, Destiny Angel, looking absolutely dejected, climbed out of the mess she was in, Colonel White offering her a hand which she gladly accepted.
“Are you all right, Destiny?” the colonel asked as the young woman staggered at his side, free from the pile of trash.
“I’m… all right, sir,” she stammered. There was a note of embarrassment in her tone, as she looked down at herself, making a revolted face at her present situation and appearance. “My dignity’s been hurt more than anything else.” She removed with obvious disgust a handful of spaghetti from her shoulder. She shuddered, and turned a discomfited look toward Colonel White. “They have taken John Svenson with them,” she announced, slightly hesitantly. “I’m sorry, sir. He ran right into Grover, while trying to find a way to enter the casino. I didn’t arrive in time to intervene.”
“You nearly arrived in time to be run down,” White stated dully. “Do you realise what a scare you gave me?”
Destiny offered an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I… I was as scared as you to see that van coming at me like that.”
White blew out a deep sigh of relief. He put a comforting hand on the young woman’s shoulder. “Next time, try to be more careful.”
“S.I.G., sir,” she answered.
“I hope we’ll be able to catch that van before it gets too far.”
“Well, even if we lose visual contact with it, sir, we’ll be able to find it.”
White gave Destiny an inquiring glance. It took him only a second to realize what she was saying. “Of course,” he murmured. “You put the bug on Svenson, as instructed?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered. “Now all we have to do is get the surveillance van and follow the beacon.”
White nodded approvingly. So, maybe these kidnappers had taken off with Captain Blue, and in addition had taken John Svenson with them, but they hadn’t entirely escaped yet. There still was a good chance that they’d be captured. And with any luck, the hostages would come to no harm in the meantime. “Good work, Destiny.”
A faint moan made them look down into the pile of garbage, where they saw movement. A sprawled figure of a man lay there, half-covered by the trash, and moving to free himself. They cleared some of it off, and Destiny crouched beside him, with White looking down.
“Winslow,” the Colonel noted gloomily. “Whatever happened to him?”
“Looks like he was knocked out,” Destiny offered, delicately turning the injured man’s head to show the bleeding wound in his scalp. He let out a louder moan, and she winced. “Sorry, Agent Winslow…”
The man groaned, and opened his eyes to look up at her, apparently still bewildered by his ordeal.
A sudden sound behind them made White turn around suddenly, with Destiny raising her weapon in an instinctive movement. One of Gardenia’s men, Luigi, gun in hand, had loudly exited through the side door, making it slam violently against the wall. He froze instantly upon seeing the grim-looking young woman crouched down with a pistol aimed at him, and seemed to hesitate whether or not he should use his own. It wasn’t long before Gardenia himself appeared behind him, with Guido. He put a calming hand upon the barrel of Luigi’s raised weapon, motioning it down. “Put that away, Luigi, before you make a mess of things.”
He approached White, and an apparently still very edgy Destiny, who hadn’t lowered her pistol yet, and was slowly getting to her feet. He looked down at the young woman, unimpressed by the weapon she was handling, before looking up at the colonel.
“I take it Grover has escaped you, Mister Gray,” he noted evenly.
“He has, but not for long.”
Screeching tyres made White look over his shoulder toward the entrance to the alley. He saw the white van coming to a halt, with Scarlet at the wheel, and Symphony seated by his side. He motioned Destiny to join the vehicle and turned one last time toward Gardenia.
“We’re going after him,” he said. “He won’t escape us.”
Gardenia nodded. “What happened wasn’t my fault, Gray. I hope you’ll keep your part of the bargain.”
White was moving toward the van, as Destiny was opening the back door to climb inside. “See that our man receives medical attention,” he said, pointing to Winslow, “and I’ll consider the deal fulfilled.”
Without another word, he climbed into the van and closed the door, just as Scarlet pressed down the accelerator.
* * *
A puzzled Marsha Billings had seen the dark blue van speeding out of the alley and hurriedly taking the street. Seated in the passenger seat of her estate car, parked close to the casino, she had recognized Grover, through the open window of the driver’s cabin, as the van passed by her. He was looking back, with what seemed like concern, in the direction of the alley he had just left. Marsha was wondering what could have happened. What could have motivated Grover to leave the casino in such a hurry? And with two of the Dawson brothers with him, all three of them crowded into the driver’s cabin.
“What now?” Butch asked her. He had driven her there, to the front of the casino, and they had been waiting a good part of the evening. Marsha had told him it was just in case Karen needed help if her attempt to locate Adam turned out badly and she was discovered. But Butch wasn’t a fool. He knew perfectly well that Marsha wanted to be there for her own reasons too.
“Follow them,” murmured the woman. “At a safe distance.”
The estate car pulled out from its parking place and Butch drove it to the street. Marsha could still see the dark van, still going at a good speed. She narrowed her eyes, pondering. Whatever the reasons that pushed him into fleeing the casino, it seemed Grover was in a hurry to put as much distance between him and the casino as possible.
Knowing Grover as she did, Marsha was sure he had taken off with his prisoner. His thirst for vengeance would never have allowed him to leave him behind. It was a sure bet that Adam Svenson was in the back of that van. Maybe that was why he was running away like that. He had his own agenda for Svenson. An agenda that had nothing to do with what Gardenia wanted.
She then noticed the direction the van was taking, and she nodded thoughtfully.
She thought she knew where he was going.
* * *
“I have a positive signal.”
Colonel White looked over Destiny’s shoulder at the radar screen she was watching. A green dot was blinking on an electronic map of the city. Behind them, a still slightly stunned Palladino was trying to get his bearings, slouched on one of the seats, an ice-pack on his forehead.
“They’re not that far away,” White nodded thoughtfully at Destiny’s remark.
“I can’t see him yet,” Scarlet called from the driver’s seat.
“Continue in this direction,” Destiny instructed him. “Looks like they’re going to take the highway.”
Palladino risked an eye on the map, and took note of the route followed by the green dot. “It looks like they want to leave the city,” he declared.
White looked down at him. “Are you sure?”
“Looks like it, sir.” The man shook his head. “I’ve lived in Las Vegas all my life, and I was a cop here for seven years before being recruited by Spectrum. I was stationed here because of my knowledge of the city.” He pointed to the electronic map. “Seeing the road they’re taking, those guys want to leave the city. I’ll bet my life on it.”
“I have to concur with Agent Palladino, Colonel,” Destiny declared, after scrutinizing the map herself.
White grunted. “That’s not good. Once out of the city, on the open road, they’ll be able to spot us easily. There’s no way of knowing what they’ll do to their captives if they realise they’re being followed.”
Scarlet had to agree with his commander’s statement. “The same could be said for a SPV, if we were to take one,” he added.
“Yes, a SPV isn’t actually inconspicuous,” White murmured. “In the circumstances, it would be a mistake to use one.” He frowned, thinking hard of what they should do, looking down at the map displayed on the screen, noting the direction both the fugitives and they were taking. Something seemed to leap to his attention. He pointed toward a spot on the screen. “If I read this correctly, we’ll be passing by the St-Maurice in a few minutes, right?”
“Yes, sir,” Destiny agreed. “In about five minutes from now.”
“Mmm…” White rubbed his chin thoughtfully, a plan quickly forming in his mind. He turned toward the driver’s cabin. “We’ll make a stop at the hotel, Captain.”
“Sir?” a perplexed Scarlet replied, frowning.
The order seemed to surprise Symphony as well. And revolt her. They couldn’t afford to lose precious time by making such a pointless stop. She all but jumped from her seat, and turned around, looking at White through the instruments. “Colonel, if I may, we’ll lose Grover and his gang, and there’s no telling what they’re planning to do to…”
“Don’t be too impatient to throw yourself in the fray like that,” White replied, frowning with disapproval.
“Do you or do you not want Captain Blue to be recovered safe and sound?” Colonel White had turned a very annoyed look at Symphony. His tone of voice and the warning gleam in his eyes told her beyond any doubt that he would not tolerate any questioning or infringement of his orders. Not from anyone, and especially not from her. Symphony shut up instantly, but it was so obvious she was dying to reply, and that she was fighting herself not to. White gave a low grunt. “We have to be very careful, if we want to get him back, along with his father, ” he continued. “But we will have to act together. I don’t want any mistakes now, and I certainly won’t permit a loose cannon to hinder the operation. So from now on, if you want to be part of this, you’ll do exactly what I tell you. Is that clear, Symphony?”
“Yes, sir,” she murmured reluctantly, lowering her gaze.
White gave a deep sigh, and shook his head. “I don’t want to see him dead either, Symphony,” he added, his tone slightly less edgy.
She shot him a sideways look, but didn’t say another word; Scarlet had seen the glow in her eyes, and wasn’t quite sure she wouldn’t suddenly explode and let the colonel know exactly what she was thinking right now. It wouldn’t be a good idea at all to come down too hard on the old man. Especially in his current state of mind.
And he was sure White had a good reason for that stop at the hotel. He wouldn’t lose time so needlessly.
“What are we going to do, Colonel?” he asked his commander, interrupting the young woman before she had a chance to say something she might regret.
“We’ll need something to follow that van inconspicuously,” White answered. “So Grover and his men won’t suspect we’re after them. Destiny, you, Symphony and Palladino, continue to follow the van, but at a safe distance, using the beacon, so you won’t be noticed.”
“And what about me?” Scarlet inquired.
White grunted, noticing that Scarlet was yet again trying to sideline him. That was annoying, but for the moment, he really didn’t have time for a come-back. “WE, Captain, will use another method of transport,” he declared with a somewhat icy, yet determined tone. “One that will permit us to approach Grover more closely…”
* * *
As soon as the doors had been closed and he found himself in nearly total darkness, John Svenson crawled on his hands and knees to try to find his son he knew was lying so very near to him. The elder Svenson was oblivious to the fact that he was now trapped in the lion’s den, that his own safety was now also an issue. The only thought in his mind was related to what he had seen seconds ago. He bumped into the motionless body and nervously felt it with his hands. He found the bound hands on Adam’s belly, then moved up. He was relieved to feel the heart beat strongly in his son’s chest and let out a deep sigh.
He’s alive… Thank you, God, he’s alive! But John was so deeply aware that it was only a matter of time. Both he and his son were now in terrible danger. He had seen it in Grover’s eyes: the latter wanted nothing more than have his revenge on both of them. He would see them dead, and would enjoy every minute of it.
Adam was not responding to his calls, nor did he react when his father nudged him gently, trying to bring him out of his torpor. John had previously noticed the length of tape covering his son’s mouth, and his fingers were now grazing it. He needed to remove it, but he couldn’t see a thing. Calm down, John, he told himself, trying to still his rapidly beating heart. You’re in a rear compartment, closed off from the driver’s cabin. Some of these vehicles come with lighting in the back. You’ve got to find if there isn’t a switch somewhere… Reluctantly leaving his son, Svenson reached for the side of the vehicle, and despite the bumps and jolts taken on the road, rose to his feet, searching the surface of the wall with his hands. All the while he tried to remember if he had seen a roof light when he had been thrown inside. He thought he indeed had seen one, just over the back doors. He blindly made his way in that direction, hoping to find what he was looking for, as his fingers feverishly probed the ceiling.
He found something; under his fingers, he felt a small, plastic protuberance. He held his breath, searching for some kind of a switch, and hoping it would work. He found a small button and pushed it all the way. A feeble light flickered on, and John Svenson exhaled noisily. He turned around and came back to Blue; he fell to his knees as the van swerved, landing next to his son. He leaned over him.
“Adam! Can you hear me?” His calls remained unanswered, and Blue didn’t make a single move. John looked down in deep concern on his son’s bruised and bloody face, his eyes and mouth covered with two lengths of duct tape. John grunted with displeasure, as his fingers moved to remove them. The one that was over the eyes was relatively easy to remove, as blood had soaked it enough to weaken the adhesive. It came away without any effort, and Svenson wasn’t surprised to find that his son was unconscious, his eyes closed. The left eye was swollen, surrounded by an ugly bluish colour, with a deep, blood-encrusted cut just over the side.
The next tape was another matter. It seemed to have been more recently put on, and it was stuck to a one-day growth of beard that had started growing on Blue’s cheeks and chin. John carefully removed it, cringing as he did, hoping he wouldn’t cause his son too much discomfort. As it was, Adam started to stir, and then agitated himself, turning his head from one side to the other, grunting. “Easy,” his father told him in a soothing tone. “Don’t move, Adam. I’ll have this thing gone in a moment.” His son’s efforts to seemingly escape him didn’t help in the least and John found himself tearing the length of tape more roughly than he previously intended to. Blue gave a pained groan, before growing quiet. And totally still.
“Adam…” John sat down on the floor and gathered the powerful frame of his son to cradle him in his arms. It was with deep worry that he looked down into his injured and set features, trying to see in his face a single sign of consciousness. “Adam, son… Can you hear me? Please, answer me… Adam!” His voice was shaky and uncertain. His throat was so tight he felt almost unable to breathe. He gently patted his son’s cheek. “Adam! For the love of Mercy, answer me!”
He first heard a moan, then, in the feeble light bathing them, saw Blue’s eyelids flutter. They slowly opened, the left one not entirely. John saw the right eye searching the semi-obscurity, then stopping to look at his anxious face. There was a flicker of recognition in the eye that now looked straight at him, with a furrowed brow surmounting it.
“Father?” Blue croaked softly.
“Yes, son. It’s me,” John Svenson confirmed, nodding his head vigorously, so pleased that his son had identified him. He held him tightly, comfortingly. “It’s me. I’m here…”
Blue grunted again, trying to shift his position in his father’s arms. But his hands were still bound, and he found he couldn’t even move without a shooting pain lancing through his tortured body. He needed more time to collect his strength. He fell back, giving a low sigh, against his father’s chest.
“You shouldn’t have come…” he said in a slurred voice.
He didn’t stay awake long enough to hear his father’s reply. Tiredly, his eyes closed again, and he let himself be drowned by the darkness and peace of a merciful slumber.