It was ever so quietly that John Svenson pushed the door leading to the hospital room and entered, holding his breath. He was welcomed by the consistent bleeping sounds coming from the medical monitor on the wall, just above the bed where he could see the still motionless body. No other sound at all, but the smooth swishing of the respirator, going in synchronization with the monitors. How strange, Svenson reflected sadly, for his son to be so utterly quiet – he who was usually so loud and active at home. So much so that his father had often found the need to try to put a stop to it, so he wouldn’t turn the entire house upside down with his brother, who was always too eager to follow in his footsteps. What lively pursuits the two of them often engaged in, John reflected with a faint smile. Now, he would give anything just to see Adam running around freely in this hospital, and driving the nurses and doctors crazy.
He tentatively approached the bed and looked down at the sleeping boy, hooked up to oxygen by a tube in his nose.
He felt his legs wavering underneath him and found the need to sit down, on the chair next to the bed - a chair he had occupied for so many hours since Adam had been brought to this hospital nearly a week ago. Adam had been lucky that the well he had been thrown into was so damaged that it had been obstructed halfway down by debris. That's probably what had saved his life, but the fall was still terrible. He had suffered a massive trauma to the head, the doctor had said. Not to mention multiple fractures to several parts of his body, and a punctured lung, which had called for him to breathe through that tube in his nose. Lucky indeed to be alive. But he was still unconscious, plunged into a deep coma, and had not regained his senses once since he had been found. Svenson was so worried; he wanted so much to be reassured on his son's fate. He wanted to tell his wife that Adam was all right, and would be back home soon – but he couldn’t even do that. All he could do was wait until Adam opened his eyes; then he would know for certain that the boy was recovering.
He looked down with concern on the young face, half hidden under the bandage around the upper half of his head; even the eyes were covered. The bruises he had seen on Adam's face the first time he had come to visit him had mostly faded now, and the skin was regaining a rosy appearance, if still a little pale.
If only he would wake up, John Svenson was telling himself for the nth time, in near desperation. He covered with his own the bandaged hand of his son. It seemed so frail at the moment, so small in comparison to his own. No match for the strong hands of the man who had so brutally mistreated him. A wave of disgust and hate came over Svenson, thinking about the way Wilson Grover had beaten his son. The first moment he had seen what Grover had done to Adam, John had flown into a tearing rage – wanting nothing more than to put his hands around Grover’s neck. He would probably have killed him, he mused grimly. Mike Ellis had reasoned with him, and had successfully calmed him down. Now he hoped justice would be done. And if not, he vowed, he would see to it that the man paid for what he had done.
A strident beeping sound made itself heard from the monitors his son was hooked to. He raised his head in alarm, wondering what it could be, but couldn't find anything remotely worrying on the screens. A nurse came into the room almost at the moment he was about to call to her. He didn't have time to tell her anything, as she walked toward the monitors to check on them. Svenson realised that the machine must have been connected to her station, just outside of Adam's room, and so she had been notified of the change.
She turned towards him, with a gentle and reassuring smile upon her face. "Don't worry," she said upon seeing the father's worried expression. "Your son will be regaining consciousness soon." She glanced in Adam's direction and turned toward the door. "I'm going to call the doctor. He will want to examine him when he wakes up. You can stay in the meantime."
John Svenson had every intention of doing just that. There was no way in Hell they were going to be able to take him away from Adam now. He barely noticed as the nurse quietly left the room, his attention fully focused on his sleeping son.
The first thing Adam truly became aware of was a chill upon his skin. Then a foul, salty taste in his mouth. His mind was still fuzzy, so he had no idea of his surroundings. He couldn't move. Or rather, didn't have the strength to. All he wanted to do was sleep, but there was a beeping sound, very nagging, that was stopping him from doing just that. Strangely, he found himself focusing on this sound, even though he didn't know where it was coming from. Stranger still, it was even reassuring. The bed he was lying in was comfortable enough, with a nice clean feel to it. The rotten, humid smell he had known in that awful place that had served as his prison wasn't present anymore. Instead, he was sensing other, very different odours, which he wasn't able to put a name to, but which reminded him of the stuff his mom rubbed him with when he had the flu and was feeling sick. That, too, was reassuring.
When he tried to open his eyes and found out he couldn't, panic suddenly took hold of him. There was still something covering his face; and he could feel that something was wrapped around his wrists and hands. He thought the nightmare wasn't finished, that Grover, instead of killing him, had decided to keep him alive after all and to go on torturing him.
He wanted so much to escape that he started to struggle, oblivious to the beeping sound that had suddenly gone wild. He tried to tug on the thing that he could feel was stuck in his nose, but a firm hand stopped him, and he heard a soothing male voice call to him:
"Adam, calm down, son... It's okay, you're safe."
Adam stopped his thrashing. The voice had successfully reached his tormented mind, and he thought he had recognized it. But he wasn't quite sure... He could smell a new odour, over the smell of medicine that kept haunting him. A very distinctive aftershave he knew well. His father's.
"Dad?" he croaked. That was all he could say. His throat was sore, and his voice so very slurred. He wasn't so sure he had actually said the word, until he heard the voice again, and felt a hand reaching for his and squeezing it warmly.
"I'm here... Adam... Don't worry, I'm here. You're in a hospital now... They're taking good care of you. You're going to be all right."
"Mom?" Adam whispered with a desperate note of hope in his voice.
"I'm sorry, she's not here." John Svenson looked down at his son with a mix of pity and despair, and horror for what had been done to him. "But she'll come to see you as soon as she can," he quickly added, seeing that Adam suddenly seemed upset by his mother's absence. "You see, we had to bring her to the hospital too, a couple of days ago, for her to give birth to the baby. You have a beautiful baby sister," he finally said with a faint, awkward smile.
Truth to tell, he felt so relieved and at the same time, so nervous, he couldn't help babbling or keep his voice from shaking. He was concerned that Adam would notice.
"I can't see," Adam moaned. "Why...?"
"Easy," his father told him, reaching to put a soothing hand on the boy's chest. "You've been hurt... You took a bad fall, and..."
"The well..." Adam murmured. He started shaking violently. "Grover, he..."
"It's finished, he won't hurt you any more," John assured him. "The police arrested him. Your uncle Mike, he was the one who found out where you were and..."
"Dad..." Adam's voice choked into a sob. John Svenson was himself so very near to tears that he felt the need to take his son's hand between his own, wanting to reassure himself as much as the boy that this whole terrible ordeal was finished and that everything would be all right now.
"I'm here, I won't leave you..."
"I'm sorry I was such a bad boy..."
The child's voice was little more than a shaken whisper, and suddenly, John felt the tears flow into his eyes. He tried to stifle a sob, but found he couldn't. He leaned over his son, wanting to hold him tight, but remembering that he was suffering from broken ribs, he contented himself with squeezing his shoulder, and put a comforting hand to his heart. He then let go of all the anguish he had felt these past days.
"You were not a bad boy, Adam... You were not. You're my son... and I love you. And I will see to it that nobody hurts you any more. Ever..."
* * *
"Things were never the same between us after that, were they?"
Nearly dropping from the heat, Captain Blue was thoughtfully examining his wounded hands, now free of their bonds, and was exercising his numb and sore fingers, when the voice of his father made its way through his brain. He looked past his hands toward his father, seated against the other wall of the van compartment.
"You really think our problems originate from that incident?"
John sighed, hearing the doubtful tone in his son's voice. "I don't know. I guess... I thought maybe, unconsciously, deep down inside... you were holding me responsible for what had happened?"
Blue grunted, and shook his head. "I never held you responsible, you should know that."
"Yes, now you would say that... but when you were younger, when you were still a child..."
"Father." Blue looked intently in his father's direction. "I told you: I never held you responsible." He kept staring at him for a moment, then added with a frown, "but maybe you hold yourself responsible. You shouldn't. What happened wasn't your fault."
"Wasn’t it?" John replied in a deep voice. "I keep turning all this over in my mind, Adam. Maybe there were things that I should have done - others that I shouldn't have asked of you. It's because I insisted you treat Grover right that he was able to get his hands on you. And if I had not grounded you that day, you would never have run away to go to that ball game..."
"Stop it." There was a tired tone to Blue’s voice as he murmured those words. His head still felt heavy, and he rested it against the wall behind him, closing his eyes. He sighed again. "It won’t do us any good, tormenting ourselves with what might have happened if we had acted differently all those years ago. You or me. I doubt it would have changed anything, given the circumstances. Grover would have made his move anyway, just differently. He could have gone after Peter."
“Peter would never have survived all you endured,” John murmured, looking down. “He’s not as strong as you are. He never was.” He nodded thoughtfully, raising his eyes back to his son. "How're you feeling?" he asked in concern.
"Better than earlier, thank you." Blue opened his eyes to look again at his father. The right side of his vision was still a little blurry, but that didn't surprise him very much, as his eye was nearly closed. He took in his surroundings for the nth time, searching for a way to get out. Hours had passed since the van had stopped moving, but nobody had come to let them out. It's a prison like any other, I guess, he mused inwardly. Grover must think they wouldn't be able to escape, when they had finally reached their destination. And of course, he was right.
“If it wasn’t so hot in here, I would probably feel even better,” Blue murmured.
His father could only concur. He too, was feeling the heat badly; having previously removed his jacket had done little to help him.
"What are they waiting for now?" Blue added, with a deep frown. He looked at his father. "What time is it?"
"Eight in the morning," John announced, after consulting his watch. "I guess that, after that long drive, they wanted to settle in for the night."
Blue nodded. "Any idea where we could be?"
"Sorry," John replied with a rueful smile. "But as you remember, I was only taken for the ride. Nobody confided in me about our destination." He paused a second. "We drove for nearly three hours. My guess is we left Las Vegas."
"Well, that much I could gather," Blue murmured. "There's no sound outside, like a big city’s normal traffic. Or much of anything else for that matter. They left us here, on our own, confident that we won't be able to escape or call for help. We must be far away from civilisation." He thought about it a second. "Or inside a parking garage," he added. "But that would be surprising."
"You're a much better detective than I am," John replied quietly. "So I'll take your word for it."
"Being a... 'detective' is part of my job, Father," Blue noted.
John caught the flash in his eyes. "I know," he murmured, lowering his gaze. "You can say it: ‘that job I don’t approve of...’"
"I didn't say it."
"But you were thinking it. Adam, I know you consider I haven’t been fair to you concerning your choice of career..."
"Make that 'choices'. Plural."
John conceded that with a nod. "Right. Choices. But you’ve got to understand how hurt I felt when you chose, over and over again, not to join the family firm. Not to come… working with me."
"And how do you think I felt when you didn't support me in my decisions?" Blue replied rather coldly. "And when you didn't come to the commissioning ceremony, when I joined Spectrum? Don't you think that hurt ME?" He saw the look of pain in his father's face and cooled down instantly. "I'm sorry, this isn't really the place and time to discuss that."
"And when WILL it be the time? Let's face it, Adam, what chance do you give us to get out of this alive?"
"I'm not dead, yet," Blue replied defiantly.
"I know you're not the kind to give up hope," John murmured.
"Neither do you, normally," Blue noted, narrowing his eyes. "Mom always says that I get that from you."
John chuckled faintly. "Could that be our problem, then? We're too much alike?"
Blue didn’t answer that. He looked down again at his hands, thoughtfully. John thought he didn’t want to elaborate on the question. He looked down himself, and cleared his throat. “Your mother said… that you looked so handsome and dashing in that uniform.” Blue stared up at him. John nodded. “At your Spectrum commissioning, three years ago? I didn’t want to go, and I didn’t want her to go either. But there was nothing I could do or say that would have prevented her from being there. She had said that at least one of us had to be there.” He looked away. “I was so angry when she came back and couldn’t stop saying how proud she was of you, of the man you had become. You probably didn’t know it, but we had a fight about it. I’m not proud to say it, but I… don’t remember that I have ever yelled that angrily at your mother before or since that day. Nor her yelling back at me in the same way.”
“I had a feeling that would have caused problems between the two of you,” Blue declared gloomily.
“She left the house for a couple of weeks after that.”
“I didn’t know it would be that bad either.”
John sighed. “Well, things quieted down, and she came back. We never talked about it again, at least openly. I was too damned stubborn, you know…“ He paused a second, pondering. Then he cleared his throat. “I should have gone to that ceremony with her.”
“And why would you have done that?” Blue grumbled. “To make believe you were supporting me?” He shook his head. “I know you could never do that, Father. It’s just not your style.”
“I should have been there, by your mother’s side. By YOUR side. Adam, no matter my opinion on your choices, you’re still my son. That new career you were taking up was important to you – even if it didn’t mean anything to me at the time.”
“Has your opinion changed, then?”
John hesitated a moment, before providing his answer. “I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t prefer for you to come work with me,” he murmured.
“Where you think I belong,” Blue stated, less coldly that he would have previously said it. He smiled briefly. “One thing we can say for sure about you, Father, is that you say exactly what’s on your mind. Nobody can accuse you of duplicity.” He shook his head again. He didn’t like the direction this conversation was going. It sounded too much as if they were trying to make up, to settle things between the two of them, while waiting to die. That didn’t please him at all. “We’re wasting time, here. Surely there’s something I could do…”
Blue supported himself against the wall to get up; but he was still unsteady, and so he stumbled once on his feet. John quickly got up and went to his son to help him keep his balance. Blue thanked him with a murmur.
“You should stay down, son,” John remarked with a deep, concerned frown. “You’re overexerting yourself.”
“I won’t stay idle and wait until Grover comes to kill us,” Blue responded with a growl. “We’ve got to find a way out of here.”
“You’re exhausted, Adam. And the beating you took…”
“I’m tougher than you may think, Father,” Blue replied with a faint scoff. “I’m a Spectrum officer. I was trained hard to face these kinds of situations.” Trying to find his footing and breath, he looked at his father. “You told me you met some of my colleagues from Spectrum…”
“While they were trying to get you out of Grover’s clutches, yes,” John admitted. “Things really didn’t go as well as they thought they would. And I’m afraid I didn’t make it easy on them either. Why, getting myself captured in turn by Grover, I really messed up!”
Blue preferred not to go into that. “They’ll find us,” he murmured instead.
“They are resourceful people, Father. The best Spectrum has to offer. If there is only one chance to find and free us, they’ll use it.”
John offered a faint smile. “They seem resourceful, all right,” he conceded. “But I’m still wondering how you can put up with that obnoxious Englishman you work with… It’s true I’ve been difficult with him, though.”
Blue looked at him with curiosity. He thought he meant that he had clashed with Scarlet. Which was plausible enough, considering the British captain’s fiery temper. He didn’t know about Colonel White being there. His father had not gone into too much detail about his encounter with the Spectrum agents in Las Vegas; he didn’t have the time and Blue had been too groggy to listen carefully to his explanation.
Blue meant to ask what exactly had happened when they heard a sound coming from the door. Instantly, they turned toward it, and saw it open wide. Sam and Wesley Dawson appeared in the opening, the latter waving a pistol in their direction.
“Step back, the two of you,” Wesley warned with a threatening tone.
The Svensons backed away, and the two men climbed carefully into the back of the van. Blue’s eyes glittered dangerously. He was looking for an opportunity to jump into action. At the moment, neither of the Dawsons seemed willing to give him that.
Sam threw a length of rope to John, who caught it awkwardly. “Here you go, pops. Tie up your son’s hands nicely behind his back.”
John gave him a nasty glare. “I will certainly not!” he protested with a scoff.
“You’ll do as you’re told!” Wesley growled, turning his gun toward Blue. “Or do you prefer he loses the use of his hands PERMANENTLY?”
John paled upon hearing the threat. He didn’t doubt for one minute that those miserable men would shoot Adam right in front of his very eyes. He turned an apologetic look to his son, turning the rope into his hands. “Adam, I…”
“You don’t have any choice, Father,” Blue replied with a gloomy tone, shaking his head, and turning around to present his back and his hands behind it. “You’d better do as he says.”
“And make sure you secure them ropes nice and tight,” Wesley Dawson instructed. “We’ll be checking them afterwards. Then, you step back from sonny… so my brother’ll be able to tie you up too.”
“I’m so sorry about this, Adam,” John murmured while starting to encircle his son’s hands with the rope.
“Don’t worry,” Blue mumbled between his teeth, as he could feel the bite of the rope against the already abraded flesh of his wrists. “I know who I have to thank for this.” And I do intend to make him pay, he added inwardly. At the next available opportunity…
* * *
Seated on a wooden box serving him as stool, with a mug of coffee on an old table in front of him, Wilson Grover, a portable phone to his ear, was listening with interest to the report given to him.
“You’re sure there’s no suspect car on the road that seems to have followed us from Vegas?” he grunted into the receiver. He sounded doubtful, and his contact wasn’t very happy, hearing his implication.
“Give me a break, willya? This is a main road. There’s been some vehicles travelling on it this morning, and a lot could’ve come from the big city. But as far as I can tell, nothing seems to be following your trail.” There was a short pause, before Grover’s interlocutor continued: “There was a couple of vans that could have been suspicious, but they passed the exit without a glance in your direction. Oh, and don’t be surprised to see some Road Rovers riding around in the desert.”
Grover snorted. “What’s the deal with those bums?”
“I don’t think it’s anything. But I saw a couple of ‘em leaving the road and heading for the desert. No doubt to have some fun with their machines.”
“Well, they’d better not come this way,” Grover mumbled. “We have some business to attend to, and I don’t want witnesses around. Or else, they’ll regret it.”
“I’ll make sure you’re not disturbed.”
“Yeah, do that. And call only if you really have to.” Grover hung up without waiting for an answer and turned around, as Billy Dawson was entering the small shack. He approached and handed him a portable computer.
"That's the best I could find, at such a short notice."
“Where did you steal it?” Grover asked, lifting the lid to check the machine.
Billy shrugged. “Does it really matter?” He frowned. "I hope it'll do, because I don't think I..."
"Don't worry," Grover cut him off abruptly, closing the lid. "It will do perfectly." He put the portable on the table and looked back at Billy. "Did your brothers let the Svensons out of the van?"
"They were going to do it," Billy answered, nodding his head. "They must be waiting outside."
Grover got to his feet, finishing his coffee with one big gulp. "Well, then... Let's not keep them waiting."
"What are you planning to do, Will?"
"Don't worry, Billy." Grover took a plastic bottle filled with water and a length of leather cord from the old wooden table. He put the cord into his pocket, and opened up the bottle, to take a sip. "I have it all figured it out," he added, looking at Billy with an evil smile.
He left the small shack, followed by the younger man, and stepped outside.
Wesley and Sam Dawson were forcing both Adam and John Svenson out of the blue van they had taken to flee Las Vegas. Blue nearly missed his step to fall on the dry ground. Dazzled by the sudden light, both prisoners blinked and looked at their surroundings with some confusion. They were right in the middle of a junkyard, with piles and piles of old rusted automobile parts lying everywhere around them. Odd place to bring us, Blue reflected. But admittedly, a perfect place to eventually get rid of embarrassing witnesses.
Grover had just stepped out of a small dilapidated wooden shack, not ten metres from there, marked with the sign ‘Dawson Auto Parts and Scrap’ over the door. He was waiting, looking their way with some glitter of satisfaction in his eyes. They were roughly pushed towards him. Again, Blue missed a step but managed to keep his footing, as best he could. The smile on Grover’s face widened, and he slowly drank water from the plastic bottle in his hand. John Svenson felt his anger rising a degree. In his mind, there was no doubt that this gesture was deliberate, and meant as further torture for his son. Adam looked almost dehydrated. He was obviously in dire need of water – and probably food too. What wasn’t helping the matter was the fact that it was so terribly hot. It was probably one of the warmest days of the year. John looked up at the sky. Although the sun still wasn’t at its zenith, it was hitting hard. It would surely be unbearable at midday.
They stopped a mere three feet in front of Grover, the Dawsons standing behind them. John tested the strength of his bonds. There was no hope of getting his hands free, he knew that, as he felt the rope biting his flesh. He’d wished he could have been able to put his hands around Grover’s throat. One look at Adam’s fiery glance told him that he was thinking exactly the same thing.
Grover looked them over, one after the other, with the same look of contempt Blue remembered of him, twenty-five years ago. “So here we are, the three of us together again,” Grover noted quietly. “Don’t you feel like celebrating? Johnny, it’s so good to see you amongst us…”
“It’s not like you left me with any choice,” John replied dryly.
“No, I didn’t, did I? And did you follow my instructions to the letter?” Grover could see the hesitation in the older Svenson, and smiled wickedly. “You didn’t…”
“I didn’t warn the police, if that’s what you want to know,” John cut in swiftly.
“Should I believe you?” Grover scoffed. “What I want to know is… How come you were at the casino last evening? How did you trail us back there?”
John maintained an uncomfortable silence. To be truthful, he would have had difficulty in answering. He didn’t know how Spectrum had managed that, in fact. That was their investigation. But he couldn’t tell that to Grover.
“What’s the matter?” Grover asked in a syrupy tone. “Forgot how that happened? Or the cat got your tongue?”
“Why don’t you just shut up?” Blue suddenly lashed out.
He felt a violent nudge between his ribs and fell to his knees, grunting. John looked down at him in distress, then turned furious eyes in Wesley Dawson’s direction. The man was rubbing his right fist with a smirk of satisfaction.
“Be careful with your language, kid,” Grover quietly told Blue. “Didn’t your old man teach you any manners?” He motioned Wesley to help the downed man to his feet. Which he did, rather roughly. Blue did his best to stand as tall as he could, defying Grover with a piercing, furious gaze.
“Still the arrogant brat you used to be, aren’t you, my boy?” Grover cackled evilly. “You must get that from your old man, I guess.” He turned to John. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions that you will eventually respond to, Svenson. It doesn’t matter if you went to the police or not…”
“I didn’t go to the police,” John repeated insistently.
“We’ll see about that later. For the moment, you must realize something: there’s nobody around to help you now. I’ve got you both in my power. I can do anything I want with the pair of you.”
“Cut the crap, Grover,” Blue cut in sharply. “Stop beating around the bush and get down to business!”
“Eager to have this finished with, aren’t you, kid?”
“I won’t have you torturing my father with your taunting. It’s money you want, isn’t it? You, and your… friends?” Blue knew very well that it wasn’t Grover’s ultimate aim. He was well aware that the man had vengeance foremost in his mind. But it certainly wasn’t the case for the others. The Dawsons certainly wanted more than just that. Maybe his and his father’s survival could reside in the fact that the Dawsons wouldn’t be so eager to kill them – at least not before having been paid for their trouble.
“He’s right, Will,” Sam Dawson then said in echo. “Let’s get on with business. After that, you’ll have all the time you want to settle your personal feud with these two.”
Grover looked around at his accomplices, a dangerous glitter in his eyes. After a short moment, he nodded slowly.
“Okay, then. Let’s do business.” He turned again towards John. “I noticed you didn’t bring your portable with you.”
“It’s in my hotel room,” John replied gloomily. “If you need it, you’ll have to let me go get it, or send someone there for it.”
“And run into whoever might be waiting for us there?” Grover scoffed loudly. “Think again, Johnny!” He nodded towards Billy who disappeared inside the shack, to come back seconds later with the portable he had brought in earlier. “I took the liberty of finding one for you,” Grover continued addressing John. “Okay, it’s not specifically yours, but I’m sure you’ll be able to use it to easily transfer funds from your personal accounts to a number of different Swiss accounts I opened ready for this operation.”
“And how much are we talking about?” John asked with a sigh.
“About fifty million dollars.”
John became pale. “Are you insane?” he lashed out. “I don’t have instant access to that kind of capital!”
“I’m sure you will have when you sell stock holdings, shares, businesses, and real estate you might have around the country,” Grover replied implacably. “And maybe well over it, by the end of the day.”
“You want me to sell everything I have… most probably at a fraction of their value… and all this in one day?” John Svenson was stunned by the demands. Granted, he had imagined that Grover was envisioning something big, but he never thought it would prove as big as this. He shook his head. “It’s impossible.”
“You’ll never know if you don’t try it,” Grover retorted.
“It is impossible,” John insisted. “And certainly not without drawing any attention.”
Grover shrugged. “So, we’ll attract attention. What do I care? Before someone reacts and freezes your accounts, the deal will be complete.”
“I refuse to see you go through this, Father,” Blue protested loudly. “Don’t give in to his blackmail!”
“Then you’re ready to die to stop your father giving me any money?” Grover growled at him.
“I don’t want for you to receive ANY reward for all the awful things you have done in your life!” Blue spat at him. “If my father does as you ask of him, he’ll be ruined not only personally but professionally. HIS company will go under, and thousands of people all over the world will suffer!”
“So? You really think I should care?” Grover’s expression hardened. “And if your father doesn’t pay up, YOU will lose your life.”
“You’re really the most despicable scum I have ever encountered in all my life, Grover!” Blue turned to his father. “Don’t give him one penny, Father,” he urged him.
“Your kid is really an obstinate man, Johnny,” Grover cackled. “Why, he doesn’t seem to care about his life at all… And apparently, he seems to forget that YOURS is also at risk.”
“Why, you dirty…”
Blue made a threatening step towards Grover, but evidently, he couldn’t expect to be able to do anything against him, with his hands tied behind his back as they were. Nevertheless, advancing one step himself, Grover hit him in the stomach, and sent him sprawling at his feet, groaning. Then he kicked him brutally, keeping him down. John made a move forward too, but felt the hands of Sam Dawson holding him in place. “Stop it!” he shouted. “You’re going to kill him!”
“That’s not the way I want to see him die, Johnny-Boy,” Grover replied, looking down in contempt at the younger man sprawled on the ground, grunting. There was an ominous smile upon his lips that made John Svenson shiver. He saw Grover putting his hand into his pocket to produce a length of thin leather cord. “I have a way to make you decide quickly to accept my demands, you’ll see…”
Svenson narrowed his eyes, wondering what Grover may have in mind. He watched as the man poured the remaining water from his bottle onto the leather, soaking it completely. Then, throwing the bottle aside, he looked down at Blue, still prostrate at his feet, moaning in pain. “Get him to his knees.” Both Wesley and Billy Dawson obeyed the order without question. Blue gave some resistance, but he was apparently still too weak to escape them. Grover crouched in front of him; it was only when he started to tie the cord around his prisoner’s neck that John Svenson, opening eyes wide with horror, understood what he was up to, and tried to break free from Sam’s restraining hands.
“No! What are you doing to him?”
His task done in mere seconds, Grover rose to his feet, and watched as Blue, released from the Dawsons’ hands, collapsed on the ground, grunting, the leather cord tied tightly around his neck.
“That’s an old Apache torture,” Grover explained, turning to the still bewildered John Svenson. “I learned it in prison, from one of my cellmates. He was from around these parts, you see – where the Apaches used to live. You know they were one of the last tribes to resist the white invaders?” He smiled evilly, looking down at Blue. “Soaked leather. As it dries, it shrinks… and tightens around the victim’s throat, slowly suffocating him.” He looked up to the sky, towards the sun. “Young Adam here is lucky it’s not midday yet, or he’d be dead in a few minutes.”
The horror in John Svenson knew a new depth. Licking his dry lips, he looked down at his son, who was slowly trying to get his bearings back, and get to his knees. The leather was already uncomfortably tight around his neck, although apparently not yet tight enough to endanger his life. But Adam was so obviously aware of the peril he was in. He kept his head obstinately down, and didn’t dare to look up this time in the direction of his torturer. Grover had found a way to beat his indomitable spirit. It was a torment for John to see.
“You’re a monster, Grover,” John said, with a quiver in his voice. “What do you hope to accomplish by doing that to him? Release him, please!”
“Not until you start doing what I want,” Grover replied cruelly. “And only when I see some results.”
“But he will be dead before I could transfer one million!”
Grover nodded slowly. “Then I guess you’d better get on with it quickly.”
He was so busy watching with complete satisfaction the despair fairly apparent in John Svenson’s face that he didn’t count on the seemingly defeated Captain Blue to make a move. Blue had allowed both Wesley and Billy Dawson to pull him back to his feet, before suddenly lashing out at them. He rammed with all his strength and weight into Billy’s stomach, and sent him sprawling against his brother. Then, seeing a unique chance, he ran, with all the speed he was able to muster, putting as much distance away from these men as he could, heading between the many piles of rusted vehicles, and going deep into the junkyard. The rare speed with which he had acted surprised everyone, his father included, and it took some seconds before there was a reaction. Grover took a gun from his belt to fire a shot in the fugitive’s direction. The bullet rang against some junk, just as Blue disappeared from view.
“You’re useless!” Grover shouted angrily at the Dawson brothers. “You let him go!”
“How were we to know he would try to get away like that?” Wesley protested.
“The fool…” Grover muttered under his breath. “Doesn’t he realise what he’s risking? Go after him!” he barked again, addressing the Dawsons. “Find him quickly and bring him back to me!”
The three Dawsons went after the fugitive, leaving Grover with the remaining prisoner. The latter was looking in the direction they had taken – the one Adam had disappeared in. His mind was in complete turmoil. Adam’s sudden action had startled him, as much as Grover and his goons. In a way, he was glad that Adam had escaped his tormentors, but he was concerned that it was also to be a mistake that might well mean his death. He couldn’t very well see how his son would be able to get free of his bonds – and more importantly of the tightening noose around his neck.
“You’re staying with me,” he heard the voice of Grover say. Grover took him by the collar and roughly pushed him against the jagged surface of a junk pile, presenting the menacing end of the gun under his nose. John could smell the distasteful odour of the powder in his nostrils.
With his free hand, Grover took a small cellular phone in his shirt pocket. He pressed a single button before putting it to his ear. “Yeah, it’s me. You’d better come quickly, we need you here.” There was a moment of silence, as Grover’s interlocutor was obviously saying something. John saw Grover’s features grow hard with impatience. “I don’t care about those Rovers bums! Adam Svenson has escaped us and is roaming free in the junkyard, probably hiding. I need all available hands to find him as quickly as possible… He can’t be very far.” Another pause. “Yeah, that’s it,” he growled, hearing the new reply. “If you want your share, you’ll get your butt here right now. GET A MOVE ON!”
He hung up, with a frustrated gesture, put the phone back into his pocket and looked up to the silent and frightened John Svenson. “You’ve got every right to be concerned,” he told him in a very ominous tone, his blue eyes burning with pure hatred. “If my boys don’t find your son, he’ll be dead in fifteen minutes.”
John blanched at those words, and Grover gave him another malevolent smile.
“Not that I care about that, really. I would have preferred to actually see him die, but… That’ll do perfectly, I guess. At least, his attempt gives me the opportunity to stay alone with you, so we can have a little chat together.” With that, he roughly pushed his prisoner towards the shack behind them, and forced him to enter.
* * *
The Dawson brothers stopped in the middle of an empty space – what could be described as a clearing, in the middle of the rather large junkyard. Running that hard under that particularly hot sun wasn’t really easy for them, and all three were drenched and breathing hard. They looked around for traces of the fugitive – without finding any.
“Where to?” asked Billy, trying to catch his breath.
“Don’t have any idea,” Sam grumbled.
“We have to find him quick, or that noose will strangle him,” Wesley added in turn. “He’ll be good for nothing, if he’s dead.”
“Why should we care?” Sam replied.
“Use your head! You think his old man will agree to transfer all that money if his son dies now?” Wesley took a deep breath. “Right. We’d better separate, we’ll cover more ground that way. Billy, go to the left. Sam, cover the centre. I’ll take the right. He can’t be far!”
The three went their different ways. Billy headed toward the left, as suggested by his brother, looking around feverishly. So far, still no trace of Svenson. This was getting frustrating, and he was beginning to wonder if they would find the man in time to free him of his noose before he would choke to death. What a stupid move, to try to escape that way, in the situation he was in…
It occurred to him that Svenson may have tried to leave the yard to take his chances on foot in the desert. He was certainly stupid enough to attempt such a foolhardy plan. Billy made his way to the limits of the junkyard. There was no surrounding fence, just one at the front, so it would have been rather easy for anyone to leave at will. But as he reached his goal and looked out into the desert all around him, Wesley realised that Svenson had not taken this way. He would have easily spotted him.
Instead of Svenson fleeing the yard, he saw a pair of motorbikes seemingly coming his way. He grumbled with bad humour, remembering the conversation he had heard earlier in the shack. Those damned Rovers, he thought, they’re always there when you don’t want them. He hoped the two bikers would change course and go away. If they were to come into the junkyard, they could become unwanted witnesses. They would have to be disposed of. And Billy was fairly sure that neither one of his brothers would hesitate one instant to make those two disappear. After all, the Road Rovers were only bums. Nobody would miss a couple of them.
They came about ten metres from the junkyard limits before they suddenly changed course, one of them going to the right, and the second to the left. Billy watched them go, listening to the roar of their engines, and nodded approvingly, as he saw one of them disappear from his view, at one corner of the yard. Those two never knew how close they came to trouble… Billy turned around and prepared to continue his search.
That was when he noticed that the roaring behind him – instead of decreasing – was now increasing quickly. He turned around in time to see that one of the bikes had turned back and was now coming straight at him. Top speed. He stepped back, instinctively, opening eyes wide with surprise and fear.
By the time he thought of giving the alert, it was already too late. The motorcycle was almost on top of him. The biker braked at the last possible second, and the machine skidded to a halt, lifting a large cloud of dust from the dry ground. It slid to the side – and hit the shocked Billy dead centre, sending him sprawling on his back with a loud thud.
Stunned by the impact, Billy was vaguely aware of the biker killing the engine of his machine before stepping down to stand over him, looking down at him through a pair of dark glasses that hid his eyes. He saw the man touching the side of his glasses and then heard him speak, in a quiet enough, but still urgent voice. “Red Cardinal to Honeybell. I’m at the rendezvous. Proceeding as planned toward the signal’s position.”
Before losing consciousness, Billy Dawson recognized the voice of Adam Svenson’s dark-haired English friend.
* * *
Captain Blue was running through the rusted junk piles as fast as he could, under his current circumstances. His body was still hurting all over, due to his recent ordeal at the hands of Grover; he felt weak and dehydrated. Every move was little short of torture. And with his hands tied behind his back, it wasn’t really easy to keep his balance. Furthermore, he could feel the noose gradually tightening around his neck, as it slowly dried. He knew he only had minutes to remove it, before it would choke him.
It had been so hard for him to leave his father behind, still in Grover’s hands, and to take off the way he did. But considering the situation, he felt that he didn’t really have a choice. He had to flee, to escape the fate Grover had prepared for him, and then come back to free his father, before it was too late.
The first thing to do, if he wanted to actually accomplish anything, was to free his hands. He stopped for a short instant, and glanced about, searching for something that may help him with that. A jagged edge from one of those piles of junk, a broken car window, anything… Hearing hurried footsteps behind, he quickly started running again and, turning a corner, carefully hid himself behind an old van, deprived of its tyres, and whose original colour must have been a deep red in its time. He looked over the side of the vehicle to see who might be coming, and waited for a possible chance to present itself to him.
* * *
Wesley Dawson came into a halt at about the same spot Blue himself had stopped a second earlier. The man looked around for any possible clue of where the fugitive might have gone. So far, he couldn’t see anything. And the ground was so dried up and compacted that there wasn’t any chance of finding footprints. He looked at his watch. It had been ten minutes since Svenson had taken off. Surely, the noose around his neck must be dangerously tight now – and maybe it was even too late. He could possibly be dead.
In that case, Grover would want to see the body – and so Wesley and his brothers had to find it. Not really something he was looking forward to doing.
Wesley started to move on to continue his search when he heard something behind him. He turned around; he didn’t have the time to see a streak of white and blue coming towards him at full speed and ramming into him with the impact of a cannon shell. Wesley was driven backward, against the ragged surface of a large pile of rusted and crushed vehicles behind him. He felt the pain in his lower back as it connected roughly. He slid to the ground, moaning in pain, his hand searching for his knife in his pocket. He just had the time to produce it before a foot cruelly stepped onto his hand, forcing a gasp from his lips. Rising his head, he saw the furious face of Svenson, his blazing blue eyes set on him – and then the foot coming into his line of vision, to kick him under the chin. Wesley fell unconscious at his victor’s feet.
Gasping for air, Captain Blue looked down at the man he had just knocked unconscious. He had just made a tremendous physical effort, and had strained a few muscles. He desperately needed some rest, but he knew he couldn't afford to stop. Time was running out for him at the rate of the noose tightening around his neck, slowly compressing his throat. At his feet was the knife that Wesley had taken from his pocket. A jackknife, its open blade glittering in the sun. Blue couldn't believe his luck. That was exactly what he needed.
He fell on his knees, turning his back on the knife lying in the dust, and leaned back as low as he could, his bound hands scrabbling in the dust for the precious tool. His arms and shoulders were almost screaming under the strain he was putting on them. When he finally reached the knife, he closed his fist around it, and positioned the blade to cut through the ropes binding his hands. His luck held: the blade was well sharpened, as he felt it inflict a deep cut to his forearm. It didn't really matter to him, as he feverishly continued to slice through his bonds. His breathing was coming very hard, now, his vision nearly a blur, so it was with tremendous satisfaction and relief when he finally felt the last rope holding his hands fall. He quickly shook off the remains of the ropes and brought his hands forward. Now, to get rid of this noose before it's too late...
He was aware that it wouldn't be easy, and that he risked slitting his own throat, but it wasn't as if he really had a choice.
Blue heard a faint sound coming from his right; from the corner of his good eye, he saw the tall figure of a man standing there, wearing jeans and leathers, festooned with chains. It was pure survival instinct that made Blue jump to his feet, on the defensive, keeping his balance against the surface of a junk pile, and flashing the knife in the direction of the man who was nearly on him. He was about certain that this man was part of Grover's gang, and consequently, even though he had trouble focusing, and more and more difficulty breathing, he was ready to dearly defend his life.
The newcomer made a swift step back to put himself out of reach of the threatening blade.
"Put that knife down, Blue!"
The commanding voice froze Blue instantly. He blinked with uncertainty, staring at the man, with a puzzled expression. He thought he had recognized the voice but, it seemed so impossible… Surely he was dreaming.
The man swiftly removed the red bandanna on his head and the pair of dark glasses hiding his eyes, and Blue opened wide eyes of absolute disbelief when he recognized the hard features of Colonel White staring right at him. “Put the knife down, Captain!” White repeated with more insistence.
Seeing his commander standing there – and wearing those strange garments – was such an unbelievable situation for Blue that he didn’t know what to make of it. He instinctively obeyed the order and lowered the knife. He had now so much trouble breathing, taking in rare breaths of air in long gasps; his mind was starting to fill with a deepening fog, making it so difficult to think straight.
Seeing that the knife was no longer a danger, White took a step towards Blue - at the same instant the younger man’s knees buckled under him and he fell forward. The colonel caught him before he hit the ground. He could hear the rasping sound of his breathing, but couldn’t figure out what could be wrong with him. Carefully, thinking he might be hurt, he laid him on the ground – and then saw how red his face was and the leather noose tightening around his neck, compressing his throat. He let out a loud, indignant curse – probably one of the worst Blue had ever heard him utter.
White took the knife from his officer’s clenched fist. “Don’t move, Blue. I’ll have you free in a minute.” Seeing the way Blue was gasping for much needed air, it was obvious he had to act quickly. Cutting the now extremely tight noose, without slitting the young man’s throat was nearly impossible, so there wasn’t much choice in how to free him. White sliced right through the knot, with one swift but careful movement. The noose loosened instantly, and Blue took in a deep gulp of precious air. The colonel removed the remains of the cord and threw it on the ground, in a disgusted gesture. He then helped Blue to a sitting position, and looked down at him in concern. The younger man was panting and coughing, still breathing heavily and trying to find a normal rate.
“Take it easy, now. Try to calm down… You should be all right in a moment.”
Blue nodded to the advice. His throat was sore, still a little tight after the way it had been compressed, but he could breathe again, even if somewhat painfully. He still couldn’t understand how Colonel White could be there, dressed like that, tending to him. The last time he had seen him was days ago, on Cloudbase, before he left for his furlough – and intended secret wedding – with Symphony.
“Colonel White… What…” Blue’s voice was so raspy he barely could recognize it himself. He coughed again, and White thumped his back, comfortingly.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah… I’m better now, thanks… But…” Blue cleared his throat, trying to find his composure, and stared at his commander with perplexed and unbelieving eyes. “What… What are you doing here?” He eyed him from bottom to top. “And… dressed like that?”
White nodded slowly. The ghost of a smile appeared ever so briefly on his lips. “Well, it’s a long story, but…”
A detonation interrupted him suddenly, and a bullet whizzed by, impacting against the surface of the junk pile Blue was leaning on. A fraction of a second later, White was pushing the surprised young man to the ground, behind a small heap of metal, and threw himself down next to him. Other gunshots made themselves heard, and bullets flew overhead.
White took his pistol and tried to get a clear view of who might be shooting at them. He could see a figure hiding some distance from them, behind a large tyreless station-wagon. “It appears that we are not out of the woods with your friends, yet,” the colonel declared in a deadpan tone, addressing Blue.
“My father,” Blue replied instead. There was a flash in his eyes as a realisation suddenly came back to his mind. “Grover’s still got him. I’ve got to help him.”
White was about to reply that they first had to help themselves when Blue got to his feet and suddenly shot out of hiding to run right into the open, in the direction of another pile of junk. He had acted so quickly that the Spectrum commander didn’t have time to object. Bullets flew around Blue, hitting the ground at his feet, but none of them connected and he successfully passed through and continued his race without even slowing down. The person who had selected him as a target had carelessly stepped out of cover, so White used that to his advantage, and shot him down with one single bullet. He saw Sam Dawson falling down with a yelp of pain, letting go of his weapon.
White quickly got to his feet to rush to the wounded man's side, to find him moaning pitifully, holding his bleeding thigh. This one won't be going anywhere, he reflected with some satisfaction. He picked up the abandoned weapon and started making his way in the direction Blue had taken; he could see him running at some distance, and was hoping he would reach him without too much difficulty. He actually made only a few metres, when another figure suddenly appeared in front of him. The newcomer, wearing a police uniform, his back turned on him, obviously had not seen him; he was presently aiming his pistol in the direction of the running Blue. White nearly slid to a stop to avoid colliding with him, and swiftly put his own weapon to the man's head.
"If I were you, Sheriff, I wouldn't do that."
Angus McNamara froze instantly in the same position, not daring to make a single move.
"Drop it," White ordered with a cold tone.
The sheriff instinctively obeyed, and the gun clattered to the ground. "You're making a big mistake, Gray," he informed White. He was trying to render his voice official, but somehow, he had trouble concealing the undertone of fear in it.
"Am I really? I wasn't the one who were preparing to shoot an unarmed man in the back."
McNamara slowly turned around to face him.
"I could have you arrested for drawing this weapon on me," he said arrogantly.
"Somehow that would surprise me," White replied, his tone still icy calm. "Considering that you’re an accomplice to a kidnapping... Make that double kidnapping, and extortion."
"You’re crazy! I don't know what you're talking about!"
“Would you care to explain your presence here, then?”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
White sighed. “Quite right. But eventually, you’ll have to explain yourself to others.” He paused a second. “Maybe even to your friend in Las Vegas, Mister Gardenia,” he added quietly.
“Who?” McNamara replied, obviously on the defensive.
“Obviously, you haven’t talked to him recently,” White continued without seeming to note his interruption. He approached quietly, and took the handcuffs hanging from the sheriff’s belt. “Otherwise, it’s more than likely you wouldn’t be here right now… So, I take it you decided to act on your own, following Mister Grover’s lead.”
He snapped one end of the handcuffs around the sheriff’s wrist, and the other end to the handle of an old sports Chevrolet. The man protested vehemently. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”
“Putting you out of commission for a while,” White answered. He took the set of keys from the sheriff’s pocket, and then crouched to pick up the gun lying on the ground. “There’s still some cleaning up to do around here, and I certainly don’t want you running free.” He pocketed the gun, while McNamara glared angrily at him. “I’m sure it will be easy enough to prove your part in all this,” the colonel added quietly. “In the meantime, I suggest you wait patiently here.”
“I’ll have your hide for this, Gray!” McNamara snapped furiously at him.
“Not before I have yours,” White replied coolly. With that, he quickly went on his way, leaving the man standing there, pulling angrily against the cuffs holding him.
White took his glasses and, putting them on, tapped on the side to activate the radio communication and report his situation. “White Dove to Honeybell. Am moving in to the signal’s position. Proceed with caution to the entrance and await further instructions.”
* * *
Captain Scarlet arrived in view of the shack serving as the ‘office’ for the junkyard, about five minutes after disposing of Billy Dawson. He looked with some perplexity at the police car he could see parked in front of the shack. That was obviously the car that had previously been blocking the way to the secondary road leading to the junkyard. He had seen it earlier, when he had passed it on the motorcycle, with the colonel, before they both took a large detour through the desert, to head toward the point designated by the bug’s signal. Scarlet had recognized Sheriff McNamara at the wheel, and that he should be there didn’t surprise him very much – as he was already sure the sheriff was involved in Blue’s kidnapping. So it was somehow to be expected that McNamara would continue to check things over, making sure, ‘on the side’, that everything was still working well. What was rather unexpected was that he would be so careless as to get himself involved so directly, after taking good care to hide his tracks.
So far, there was nobody in view. Not the sheriff, none of the other Dawson brothers. Neither was Wilson Grover, nor Blue or his father. Destiny had informed Scarlet that he was still moving toward the signal coming from the bug John Svenson was unknowingly wearing on his person. It would mean the centre of the junkyard – the shack in front of him.
Scarlet moved toward it, ever so carefully, all his senses at the ready.
He became aware the presence behind him before he could actually see it.
He moved around swiftly, in time to catch the hand of the man trying to hit him with a club. He wasn't surprised to recognize Harvey Ringward, rolling furious eyes at him.
"You ARE a sneaky snake, aren't you?" Scarlet muttered between his teeth.
Ringward tried to land a left, but Scarlet avoided it and pushed him away.
"You're good at attacking a man from behind," the Spectrum captain noted. "How good are you up front?"
Ringward let out a huge roar and launched himself forward, blindly, like a raging bull, holding up his club, ready to strike. Scarlet simply stepped aside... and the man collided violently with the pile of junk metal the captain was standing in front of, stunning himself. Scarlet took him by his collar and needed only one good punch to finish him off. Ringward crumpled to the ground, with a muffled moan, and lay there, on his back, arms outstretched.
“Not that good, eh?” Scarlet murmured. “Especially without your stun baton…” He swiftly handcuffed the man and relieved him of his weapons, throwing them out of reach. “And not that clever, either,” he added with a mocking smile, patting the man’s cheek. “Get some rest, mate. We’ll come back to take care of you later.”
He then carefully continued his progress toward the shack.
* * *
Wilson Grover took a last look at his watch, before staring over at the desperate-looking man standing only a few feet away from him.
“It’s been twenty minutes, now. And not a word yet from my boys.” He shook his head. “I guess we can presume that your son is now dead.”
The words sank deep into John Svenson's mind and heart. He lowered his head, not willing to look Grover straight in the eye. Not willing to give him the satisfaction of seeing how grieved he was. "You can't be sure of that yet." He wanted so much to sound courageous, but somehow there was no conviction behind his words. Grover laughed at him derisively.
"Have it your way, then. If you prefer to live an illusion, instead of facing the facts."
"If anything happens to my son, you won't get a penny from me!" John challenged with a dangerous glow in his trembling eyes.
"Oh yeah? Think again, Johnny-Boy. As I already mentioned to you, you are in my power... and you still have a rather large family, so..."
"You keep away from them!" John lashed out, his heart missing a beat. "You keep away from them, or else..."
"Or else what? You're in no position to make any kind of demand, pal! Let alone threats. I'm still wondering how I’ll punish you for having contacted the police..."
"I keep telling you, I haven't contacted the police!"
"Oh yeah! Like I believe ya!" Grover fished out an object from his pocket and, approaching John, shoved it under his nose. "Tell me what this is, then."
John gave but one glance at the stylus-like, black, shiny object. He shook his head. "How should I know what it is?"
Grover huffed his disdain loudly. "That, smart guy, is a communication device. Kind of a radio - albeit a very sophisticated one. I took it from a man who was standing guard in front of the casino’s back door. Minutes before you fell into my lap, as a matter of fact." He paused a moment, staring intently at his captive, obviously in search of a reaction. But years of facing adversaries in the financial world had taught John Svenson to not show any of his emotions and thoughts. He kept a blank, unreadable expression on his face. Grover slowly shook his head. "Yeah, pretty sophisticated equipment," he continued, looking down at the communication device. "Very nice. Certainly not standard police equipment. Again: what do you know about it?"
"What makes you think I know anything?" John grumbled.
"Don't take me for a fool! That guy I took it from was watching the casino. And then you appeared there. Inexplicably, since I don't see how the hell you could have known that your precious kid was held there."
"I didn't know that," Svenson declared. It wasn't a lie, as far as he was concerned.
Grover brutally took him by the throat, squeezing tight, and shoved him against the back wall. Svenson's head hit hard and he blinked, looking straight into the furious eyes. He could see murder in them, as the hand held him like a vice. "I told you not to take me for a fool!" growled Grover. "I've got the feeling you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about! Who was that guy? And that girl we nearly ran over when we left the casino?"
"What girl?" John gasped, not sure he knew who Grover was talking about.
"A blonde girl who appeared out of nowhere and who, I would bet, was looking for you! Now I'm pretty sure you're a faithful husband to your wife, Johnny-Boy, so I guess you're not seeing pretty girls on the side when you’re away from Boston. So who is she?"
From Grover's description, John was now almost certain he was talking about Destiny. He managed to keep a straight face. That infuriated Grover who slapped him furiously before throwing him violently to the floor. The pain reverberating through John's back made him flinch.
"Don't try my patience, Svenson! Your boy Adam tried that with me! See where it got him!" Grover gave a vicious kick to his victim's stomach, making him moan. "I'll break you, just like I broke him!"
John blinked, hearing those words. "Don't kid yourself!" he yelled suddenly. "You did your worst, but you didn't break him, and you know it! It would take BETTER than you to break him!"
Grover forced him to his feet; holding him by his collar, he looked furiously into his face. "What does it matter?" he growled. "He's dead now!"
"You won't benefit from his death," John replied, keeping a brave façade.
Grover chuckled wickedly. “You must have noticed by now, it’s not money I want from you. I don't give a damn about your money. Oh sure, if I was able to get some… I’m all for it.”
“It’s what put you in this mess to begin with,” John replied. “You landed in prison the first time, because of it…”
“Shut up!” Grover yelled, slapping Svenson into silence. “I’ll kill you, Svenson. And I’m gonna take pleasure in it… I’ll take my time. Too bad your kid died before I’d finished with him.”
John paled, hearing those dreadful words. "You'll pay for that!” he forced himself to retort.
"And who's gonna make me?" Grover swung a brutal uppercut that sent his victim sprawling on the floor again. He cackled evilly. "You?! You can't even save yourself!”
John spat out some blood, following Grover’s last punch. “I won’t have to do anything…” Again he received a kick in the stomach, although not as hard as the first one. He grunted, and then coughed. “But I’m willing to bet you’re already a dead man.”
“You talk big, for someone in your position, pal!” Grover noted, taking him by his collar again, and half lifting him from the floor. “What’ll you do? Hire some guys like you did twenty-five years ago, when I was sent to the joint, to kill me?!”
“I told you, it will not come from me!” John answered, looking up with anger at the threatening man. “You made a mistake, Grover, a DEADLY mistake. You should have left my son alone! Now his friends will come after you and there’s nowhere in the world you’ll be safe from them! I can assure you of that!”
“What are you talking about?” grumbled Grover. “So I should be scared?” He scoffed derisively.
“More than you think, yes,” Svenson confirmed, his eyes flashing.
Grover hit him, before shoving him roughly to the floor; he then stepped back, taking his gun from his belt. He lowered it, taking aim at his panting victim.
“Tell me why I should be scared,” he ordered with an ominous tone.
John coughed out blood and lifted his head to look at him. “Ever heard of Spectrum, Grover?”
“Spectrum?!” That made Grover laugh loudly. He cocked the hammer of his gun. “Spectrum has enough to deal with, with terrorists and Mysterons – whatever they are. I’ve had enough of this. I give you exactly ten seconds to tell me why Spectrum should want to go after me. They don’t give a damn about guys like me!”
“Except when guys like you go after one of our own.”
The stern voice coming from his left and the clicking of another weapon froze Grover where he stood. He slowly turned his head to see a tall dark-haired young man standing in the open doorway, his gun aimed at him, a severe expression on his face. Grover didn’t seem to register the words the newcomer had said, but it was obvious what his intentions were.
“Drop the gun,” Captain Scarlet said slowly. “Don’t force me to shoot you.”
A glitter of hope appeared in John’s eyes at the appearance of the British captain. He figured he still had a chance to get out of this dreadful situation alive – maybe find Adam and yet have the chance to save him. He wasn’t as sure as Grover that his son would be dead – the despicable bastard was just trying to torture him with horrible thoughts of Adam’s death. But there was still a fair amount of doubt in him; he knew time could be running out for Adam.
John was surprised and dismayed to see the shadow of a smile upon Grover’s lips, despite the gun trained on him. He hadn’t moved an inch.
“Will you be quick enough, boy?” Grover asked, taunting the English captain. “I have my sight set on Svenson here. And this trigger is really, really sensitive.”
“You’d be a fool to try,” Scarlet said, slowly moving around toward John, his gun and eyes not leaving Grover for one second. He succeeded in concealing his concern. He knew he would be able to shoot Grover swiftly enough – but he wasn’t so sure that he would be able to stop him pulling the trigger. It was even possible that the shot would instinctively force Grover’s finger to squeeze the trigger. His chance was now to taunt the man into giving up, in order to save Svenson’s life. “Give it up now, it’s finished.”
“Finished, really?” Grover mocked him. “Not by a long shot!”
“Grover, I’ll fire if you force me too.”
“Go ahead, then. The way I see it, I have nothing to lose,” Grover replied stoically. Again, the smile appeared and briefly, a spark in his eye. “As long as I have vengeance!”
It was a split-second decision, as Scarlet sensed that there was no more time for debate. He had come close to Svenson. He dived in front of the intended victim, at the same instant as Grover’s gun spat. He felt the impact of the bullet as his own finger squeezed the trigger. But his position didn’t permit him to have a good enough aim at Grover; his bullet missed, although narrowly, and as he hit the floor, he continued to fire, making it impossible for Grover to try another shot at both John Svenson and himself. Grover didn’t wait around to serve as a target; under the hail of bullets, he quickly retreated through the door and disappeared outside.
Not having moved from the spot on the floor where Grover had thrown him, John Svenson had watched, distraught, as the action had so quickly unfolded before his eyes. He couldn’t believe he was alive; he couldn’t believe that the young British Spectrum officer had so recklessly put his own life on the line to save his. Such dedication seemed impossible for him to conceive.
Scarlet gave a muffled groan, as he rolled on his side, apparently with great effort. John could see the young man’s face creased with pain. “Are you all right?” he murmured in concern.
Scarlet checked his side, where the bullet had hit him. He could see a red stain forming on his T-shirt; he grimaced and quickly hid the wound under the leather vest. “Yes, I’m all right,” he grunted, getting to his knees to approach John, who was struggling into a sitting position. “It’s just a flesh wound.”
“You took a bullet for me,” John murmured, still hardly believing it, as Scarlet released him from the bonds holding his hands. “Why…?”
“It’s my job, Mister Svenson.” Scarlet offered a brief smile. “And you are Adam’s father… And Adam’s my friend.”
“Adam!” John cried. “He’s in deadly danger! We must find him quickly!”
“We’ll find him, Mister Svenson,” Scarlet answered sombrely. “Don’t worry: we won’t let him down.”
* * *
As soon as he was out of the shack, Wilson Grover checked around, making sure nobody was waiting to take shots at him outside. The dark-haired Englishman couldn’t be alone, he reflected, and so there should be others around backing him up. As it was, there was nobody in sight – except Harvey Ringward, lying in the dust, handcuffed and apparently unconscious. Grover groaned with annoyance, thinking he really wasn’t lucky in finding associates able to do a good job. Things weren’t going well, he was now aware of that, and so all he could do now was to put some distance between himself and this place.
The Hell with the Svensons now… At least, he thought with satisfaction, the son was dead. There was no way the fool could have escaped the choking death he had brought upon himself. There would be time to deal with the father another day… And, who knew, maybe even the possibility of getting to him through the rest of his family.
Grover ran toward the police car parked not far from there and hopped aboard. He turned the key at the same instant he saw the young Englishman stepping out of the shack, followed by John Svenson. What a shame that he should be standing behind, Grover thought ominously. The thought of trying another shot at both of them came to his mind, but he dismissed it as quickly as it came. Survival instinct demanded that he go without any further delay. Or risk his chance to escape.
He savagely pressed down the accelerator and the car jumped forward, taking the main path leading toward the junkyard’s main entrance. Beyond it was the dusty secondary road, edged with ditches; there was hardly ever another vehicle on it, and it led straight to the main road.
On that secondary road, Grover noticed a white van coming, in a cloud of dust, and pulling out to take the path...
… toward the entrance to the junkyard.
* * *
“That’s a police car!” Destiny announced, with urgency in her tone, seeing the car on the same path, coming at them. She was on the passenger seat, next to Symphony, who was driving the Honeybell’s Florist van. The American Angel nodded gloomily.
“I know,” she said between her teeth.
“That’s probably the car we saw earlier, with that Sheriff McNabb onboard.”
“McNamara,” Symphony corrected. “Yeah, that’s the car.” She pressed down the accelerator. Destiny looked at the approaching car with concern. It was trying to reach the entrance before them.
“It’s coming at us,” she reflected.
“I know,” Symphony replied, gritting her teeth.
“Don’t you think you should pull over?” Destiny urged her.
“That’s not the sheriff at the wheel,” Symphony growled. “It’s Grover!”
“I really think you should pull over,” Destiny insisted.
“No way, José!“
With that, Symphony pushed the accelerator to the floor. The van jumped forward.
It screeched to a halt as it arrived at the junkyard’s entrance, blocking any way to escape. The police car didn’t have time to stop. It violently collided with the side of the van, with a loud squealing sound of twisting metal. The jolt violently shook Destiny and Symphony in the driver’s cabin. Both women gasped under the shock, the air suddenly driven from their lungs. They were more surprised than really hurt, although that didn’t stop Destiny from giving her American colleague a withering look.
“You’re crazy!” she shouted at her.
“What’s the matter?” Symphony answered, panting for air. “Didn’t you know this van has reinforced panels?”
Destiny looked positively annoyed at the factual remark. She gave a concerned look to the back. “Are you okay, Palladino?”
“Next time, I’d appreciate a warning!” came the shaky but angry reply from afar.
“Yes, me too,” grumbled Destiny in an undertone.
* * *
In his hurry to escape, Wilson Grover had not thought of buckling his seatbelt. His head had slammed right into the windshield, as the police car ploughed into the side of the van, stunning him instantly. He didn’t know how he succeeded in staying conscious. All he knew was that his head and back hurt like Hell. But miraculously, considering the violence of the impact, he had survived.
He pushed the door open to step outside. He was so shaken by the accident that he fell forward in the dust, gasping for air. He could feel a trickle of blood running down the side of his head and had trouble seeing straight. Blindly, he crawled away from the accident scene as quickly as he could, and behind the safety of an old, rusted, windowless and tyreless Ford pickup truck. He sat down in the dust, coughing, his back against the vehicle, taking his head between his hands, and trying to get his bearings.
He saw a pair of feet entering his line of vision, and stopping right in front of him.
Looking up, he saw the grim-looking face of Adam Svenson looking down at him, his lips pulled into a thin line of barely contained anger. Strangely, on Grover’s own lips, a strange, distorted smile emerged, while disbelief showed in his eyes.
“Hey, kid,” he rasped. “You’re alive…”
“No thanks to you,” Blue croaked, icily. His throat was still hurting him badly, but his eyes, fixed on the man at his feet, flashed dangerously. He bent down to take Grover by the collar and hauled him to his feet, holding him tightly. The older man winced in pain as Blue shoved him roughly against the side of the derelict van, but the Spectrum agent’s expression showed little concern for Grover’s discomfort.
“Easy now, kid,” Grover grimaced. “You wouldn’t hurt a wounded old man now, would you?”
“Wouldn’t I?” Blue spat between his teeth.
He punched the man in the face, and then in the stomach, sending him sprawling on the ground, moaning. He saw the sun glinting on the smooth metallic surface of a gun that suddenly appeared in Grover’s hand – and ruthlessly stepped on it.
“Oh no, you don’t, you bastard…” Grover yelped and let go of the weapon, which Blue quickly kicked away. He forced the man to his knees and looked down into his frightened eyes. “What have you done to my father?”
“Your father?” Grover sounded slightly bewildered. He took too long to answer, so Blue struck him again in the face, sending him back to the ground.
“My father, scum!” Blue yelled. “WHAT have you done with him?”
On his back, Grover crawled away as Blue approached him, watching with deep concern as the younger man bent down to pick up the gun. “Calm down, kid,” he tried, in a soothing voice. “Your old man – he’s all right. I didn’t do nothing to him.”
“I’m not… I swear.” Grover had reached the side of the truck and, using it as leverage, sat up, still looking up with pleading eyes at Blue who stopped just over him. “A friend of yours… he came into the shack and freed him. You’ll see, I didn’t do nothing to your father.”
“Only because you didn’t have the time,” Blue retorted. His hand was playing with the gun he was holding at his side, his finger stroking the trigger.
“Hey, kid… I know when I’m beaten,” Grover quickly added, in a defeated but silky voice. “I gotta hand it to you: you’re really a tough guy. I felt sure you were dead. But not you, right? You’re a survivor…” He could see he wasn’t even reaching the young man. “You’re with Spectrum, I heard? Boy, I bet your dad’s real proud of you…”
“Like your own dad was proud of you, I bet?” Blue growled angrily. He raised the gun to aim it at Grover. “How many people beside me know you killed him, all those years ago?”
“How d’you know that?” Grover asked, apparently surprised.
“You told me yourself, twenty-five years ago, remember? He used to beat you up – until the day you ‘settled things all right with him’. It never really occurred to me, I guess… I was too young, too scared at the time… And afterwards, I wanted so much to forget that whole episode of my life. But you forced me to realize that lately, Grover. By putting me through Hell again!” Blue’s voice cracked suddenly. This long speech had strained his throat. He cleared it, then ominously cocked the hammer of the gun, taking careful aim. “You’re a despicable human being, Grover,” he croaked. “Putting you out of your misery would be my pleasure!”
“Captain Blue, hold your fire!”
The shouted command behind him barely made Blue flinch. He had heard it, and recognized the voice, but he didn’t move, standing where he was, his weapon still trained on the apparently fearful Wilson Grover, his hand barely faltering. He wasn’t letting the man out of his sight.
Colonel White had arrived on the scene in time to see Captain Blue raising the weapon with the obvious intention of shooting the unarmed man sitting on the ground in front of him. White knew of all the abuses Blue had suffered at the hands of Wilson Grover – twenty-five years ago, as a child, and now, as a man. There was little doubt in the Spectrum commander’s mind that he would now feel the very understandable urge to avenge himself on this loathsome man, to kill him and try this way to let go of all the pain and the hurt he had endured because of him. But it wasn’t the way to settle things with him.
White heard hurried footsteps from his right and saw John Svenson arriving in turn, closely followed by Captain Scarlet, who was limping slightly. John stopped a couple of metres away from White, his eyes fixed on his son standing in front of the apparently grovelling Grover. Mixed feelings showed on the financier’s features as he realised what Adam was obviously tempted to do.
White made a step forward toward Blue, and saw him raise the gun higher, to get a better aim. He stopped in his tracks. He was only feet away from the scene.
“Don’t do it, Adam,” he told the young man with a calming, yet firm voice. “He’s not worth it.”
There was still a moment’s hesitation from Blue. Then he lowered the gun and let out a sigh, looking down in disgust at the man at his feet. “That’s right,” he muttered. “You’re not worth it.” Grover looked up with incomprehension in his eyes. Blue’s expression became even harder. “I won’t become like you, Grover.”
That said, he turned his back on Grover, who crumpled at his feet, and started sobbing, like a man defeated and definitely crushed. Blue snorted derisively and walked away from everyone. White let out a sigh of relief, as Scarlet reached his side, and John Svenson started moving in the direction of his son.
“Is it finished?” Scarlet asked softly, looking at the scene with concern.
“Yes, I believe it’s finished,” White conceded. He looked down as he noticed how Scarlet was holding his side, and saw a stain of blood, barely concealed by his hand and the leather vest. “You’ve been hurt.”
“Eh? Ah… Only a flesh wound,” Scarlet explained, not willing to say how bad the wound really was.
“Don’t give me that. I know a flesh wound when I see one, and this one isn’t.”
“I’ll be okay in no time, sir.”
“In the meantime,” White grumbled, “I want you away from any civilian that might witness your annoying miraculous healing.”
Scarlet lowered his eyes. “S.I.G., sir.”
“And I want you to sit down before you fall down,” White added less harshly.
Scarlet permitted himself a faint smile. “Yes, Colonel White, sir.”
White mumbled something not very distinct, but in which annoyance was fairly obvious.
Exhausted beyond description, Captain Blue let himself drop on the side of the ditch bordering the road, sighing heavily. He had drained the last of his resources, just going there, with his body hurting all over and yearning for everything it had been denied for so long: rest, food and water. And peace. More than anything else in the world, he wanted to be left alone, to compose himself. If only for a short time.
He looked in disgust at the gun he was still holding; his hand began trembling and he put the weapon down at his side. He had come so close to killing Wilson Grover – so close he couldn’t believe he had backed away from it. Now he was glad he had not pulled the trigger. He just knew he would have regretted it.
The soft voice coming from not so far away made him look up. He saw Symphony standing there, looking at him with concern in her golden eyes. Quickly, almost clumsily, he scrambled to his feet. He had been wrong. Peace wasn’t what he wanted most right now.
He rushed to her and stood in front of her, his eyes trembling, his features betraying the warm and loving emotions he was feeling to see her there. Yet he didn’t move, contemplating her with uneasiness, witnessing the horror more than evident in her eyes as she gazed upon his wounded features. She gently reached out to stroke the left side of his face, where his vision was still a blur.
“My God, Big Blue, what…”
The rest died on her lips as he swiftly gathered her in his arms to hold her tight against him. He still had strength enough in him to show her how he had missed her. And by the way she responded to his embrace, he had no doubt she had missed him as well.
“I’m so glad we found you…”
“Later,” Blue whispered. “We’ll talk later… Just let me hold you. Oh God, I missed you so…”
Symphony nodded and let her head rest against his shoulder.
John Svenson had almost reached his son when the young blonde woman – taller than Destiny Angel – had appeared and accosted Adam before he himself did. He witnessed how they fell into each other’s arms and held each other as if there were no tomorrow. It dawned on John that this woman was someone special to his son. It was so obvious they shared a great bond of affection. John suddenly felt uncomfortable – he didn’t want to impose his presence now, while they were experiencing this warm reunion. He would feel like an intruder. He would talk to Adam later.
He turned around to leave and saw that Wilson Grover was staggering to his feet. He put his hand behind his back, and produced a small gun that had been hidden under his vest and that nobody had seen until then. Panic took hold of John as he saw the man levelling the gun at his son.
He wasn’t the only one to see. Both Scarlet and White had witnessed Grover’s move. Guns appeared in their hands.
“Adam! Look out!”
Hearing his father’s warning, Blue swiftly turned around, instinctively pushing Symphony behind him. Despite the distance, he saw the piercing, hating eyes of Wilson Grover and the barrel of a gun fixed on him.
There was a single gunshot.
In front of Blue’s expressionless eyes, Grover staggered on his feet, the pupils of his eyes dilated, his mouth open wide in surprise, before falling forward in the dust.
It wasn’t Captain Scarlet’s or Colonel White’s gun that had fired the fatal bullet. Somebody else had beaten them to it.
They looked in confusion as not far from them, a woman, seated in a wheelchair, was holding a smoking gun in her hand, a sad but determined expression upon her face.