The ‘special guest’ Captain Scarlet and Destiny Angel had picked up at the airport didn’t want to impose on them. Claiming the long flight had exhausted her, she took a nap in her hotel room while the two went out to see a show. Since they expected Blue and Symphony to arrive around eight o’clock, the two Spectrum agents came back to the hotel fairly early. They let their guest continue her nap, ordered a meal to be delivered to one of their rooms and, after dining, proceeded to pass the remainder of the time by playing some hands of poker, using one of the twin beds as a card table.
After a time, Scarlet became very annoyed at the game. Destiny proved herself to be a real card shark, winning almost all the hands herself. That was a side of her he had known about, when he was going out with her a few years ago; he had completely forgotten about it over time. He soon remembered, as the young Frenchwoman’s gains of peanuts grew rapidly in front of her.
They were somewhere around their tenth hand when Destiny, with a very satisfied grin upon her face, placed her cards face-up on the mattress.
“Three kings,” she announced.
Scarlet glanced at her cards murderously. He checked over the two aces in his hand and folded the cards, before throwing them down.
“I’m all out of peanuts,” he sighed. “You wiped me out.”
“Too bad we weren’t playing for real,” Destiny replied coyly. “I could have made a fortune. I wonder how much a captain of the Spectrum senior staff makes in a month…”
“Good for me gambling is against Spectrum’s regulations,” Scarlet stated gloomily.
“That’s just an excuse for you!” Destiny noted in turn, proceeding to eat her winnings.
“I was so sure you bluffed with that last hand,” Scarlet added, without deigning to respond to her mocking remark. “Where did you learn to play poker like that?”
“It’s a natural gift,” Destiny responded, nibbling a peanut. “Et les leçons de Sœur Hélène…”
“At the convent where I was educated, Soeur Hélène was a repenting gambler. Never quite been able to shake off her ‘bad habits’, as Mère Supérieure used to say.”
“Are you telling me a NUN taught you how to play poker?” an astounded Scarlet asked, frowning.
Destiny nodded. She took the deck in her hands and played distractedly with the cards, without really looking at them. Scarlet stared as the cards danced in her expert hands. “Poker, blackjack… you name it,” the Angel pilot said. “She was a marvellous card player. And I was her star pupil.” Grinning, she produced the Ace of Spades, put it back in the deck, cut the deck in two, and spread the cards on the bed, before taking one apparently at random. She handed it to Scarlet.
It was the Ace of Spades.
“And I suppose she taught you how to cheat,” Scarlet noted, looking suspiciously at Destiny.
“Captain!” the French woman protested. “She was a nun! A saintly woman!”
“That didn’t stop her leading you down the road of sin!” Scarlet smiled mockingly.
“Vraiment! I don’t need to cheat to win, I can assure you!”
“A bit overconfident, aren’t we now? The French are so full of themselves!”
“Oh, and the English are not?” Destiny replied sarcastically in French.
They heard knocking at the door; Scarlet looked at his watch. Almost eight thirty. He stood up.
“That’s bound to be Adam and Karen,” he said, moving toward the door. “It’s about time they showed up, I tell you! I was beginning to take root…”
“Maybe we’ll be able to catch that illusionist’s show,” Destiny said. “I know Karen loves magicians…”
“To be perfectly honest with you, Juliette,” Scarlet replied with a broad smirk, “I’m quite positive that magicians will be the LAST thing on her mind tonight!”
He turned the door handle, preparing to greet his two friends. He opened the door wide and stopped dead.
It wasn’t Captain Blue and Symphony who had just knocked at the door, but somebody else entirely, somebody completely unexpected.
Scarlet nearly jumped out of his skin on seeing who it was. Dumbfounded, he stood there like a statue, almost unable to think. From the bed where she was still sitting, Destiny glanced at him with an intrigued look. She didn’t have a good view of the person standing on the other side of the open door.
She jumped to her feet when she heard the very distinctive voice that was now addressing Scarlet: “Hello! I suppose it is indeed a surprise to see me here.”
Mon Dieu! Destiny thought, almost panicky over that fact. Ce n’est pas possible! She quickly went to Scarlet‘s side… then gasped in surprise upon seeing who was standing in front of them.
“Colonel White!” she exclaimed, absolutely astounded, not believing she was really seeing their superior here, in this Las Vegas hotel, wearing casual clothes and playing with a grey hat he was turning around in his fingers.
“Why, Destiny,” he said mockingly. “I do believe I’ve surprised you too!”
He had something of an amused grin upon his face, which seemed rather unusual for him, and it added to the confusion of his two agents. Scarlet was still trying to find something to say.
“Well, sir, I must say… er…”
“It is indeed a surprise to see you here, Colonel,” Destiny said, coming to the rescue of her stammering friend, and smiling as widely as she could. “May I ask… WHY you’re here, actually?”
Scarlet managed to come out of his shock. “Have we been recalled to duty?”
“Eh? Oh, no, no.” White was still turning his hat in his hands. Something’s on his mind, Scarlet thought worriedly. The question was… what exactly?
“Things were still awfully quiet up on Cloudbase,” White finally said. “So I thought I could take some time off myself.”
Scarlet gave him a puzzled look. Now, that was strange… He remembered vividly that, before his departure for L.A., some days ago, his commander had made it pretty clear he wanted to use the quiet time to settle some overdue business. But now, he was here, and there was little Scarlet could do NOT to notice the small suitcase standing on the floor, right next to his feet.
“What about your unfinished reports, sir?” Scarlet asked bluntly. He wasn’t a man to beat around the bush, Colonel White knew that and Destiny too, but that didn’t stop the young French pilot looking at him with surprise, anger and worry in her eyes.
“Oh, the more important ones are done,” White replied airily, as if he hadn’t noticed the cold tone in Scarlet’s voice. “Lieutenant Green is quite able to look after the rest by himself.”
“Don’t mind him, sir,” Destiny said, nodding to a still visibly incredulous Scarlet. “He had a bad experience with cards, recently.”
“Cards?” White repeated, frowning.
“Why yes! I was winning,” Destiny explained, smiling. Obviously, White still couldn’t understand her and was casting her an enquiring look. She shrugged and stepped slightly away from the door. “Please, do come in…”
White entered, suitcase in hand, and Scarlet closed the door, almost like a robot. He narrowed his eyes at his commanding officer, who was standing there, obviously relishing how his presence had struck the pair. He looked exactly like a cat that had swallowed a big fat mouse.
That was, in effect, a bit unnerving.
“So you have decided to give yourself a holiday,” Scarlet noted thoughtfully.
“Yes. My presence wasn’t really required on Cloudbase,” White answered, putting the suitcase down next to one of the beds and turning to Scarlet. “And since my last furlough wasn’t exactly filled with peace and quiet…”
Scarlet nodded his understanding. Indeed, Colonel White hadn’t had any proper time off in a long time. His last London leave had been a terrible ordeal for him. Kidnapped and drugged by Captain Black, while visiting his late wife’s grave, he was led to believe that Military despotism was still ruling over Britain, and that he had continued to fight it since his younger days. He would probably have struck a fatal blow in the name of the Mysterons, if Captains Scarlet and Blue hadn’t believed enough in him to risk their careers in trying to snap him out of his drug-induced paranoia and bring him back to his normal self.
“Are you feeling all right now, sir?” Scarlet asked his commander.
“It has been some weeks now, Captain. I’ve never felt better in my life.”
Yes, obviously, seeing how he was looking, but Scarlet was still intrigued by White’s presence. Why was he in Vegas, anyway? There was something afoot, here…
“You haven’t come here just to tell us you’ve decided to take a holiday, have you, sir?” he asked White.
“Oh! I’m sorry. I haven’t told you yet, have I?” the older man replied innocently.
“Told us what?” Destiny asked, really curious.
“When I found out that you were here in Las Vegas, with Blue and Symphony -”
“Blue and Symphony?” Scarlet interrupted nervously, without thinking.
“Why, yes. I know they’re going to join you here.” White smiled. “Captain Blue told Lieutenant Green this morning.”
“Oh, he did, did he?” replied Scarlet dryly.
“Anyway, as I was saying, seeing that you would all be here… I thought I could… I don’t know… join you?”
Oh no! Scarlet thought. Of all the rotten things to happen just now…
“Is something the matter, Captain?” Colonel White asked him.
“Er… nothing, sir,” Scarlet answered, apologizing. “I was just wondering… what could have motivated you to join us?” He gave a weak smile. Destiny shot him an angry look. Where on Earth did he learn diplomacy, anyway?
“Well, I simply thought I would follow up on your invitation.”
“MY invitation, sir?”
“Yes. You know, after that whole affair in London…”
Scarlet cast a dumbfounded look at his superior, trying to recall what the hell he could have said to him on that occasion. White glanced at his top agent.
“You remember, don’t you, Paul?”
“Er… Yes, I seem to recall…” a confused Scarlet answered, lying as he did.
“Obviously, I would understand if you’d prefer that I didn’t hang around with you during your leave. Young people like yourselves certainly don’t want an old fogey like me spoiling your fun…”
Colonel White was smiling quite innocently. There is a trap somewhere, Scarlet thought quickly. It wouldn’t be wise to let the old man believe he was unwanted… which was actually the case. Obviously, Destiny was thinking exactly the same thing.
“Who would ever say you’re old!” she replied with her most gracious smile, taking her commander by the arm. “No, we’d love to spend some time with you… Isn’t that true, mon cher?”
She was casting toward Scarlet a glance that was desperately spelling “Please, help me a little here.” Scarlet did all he could not to scowl.
“Yes. Love it. Definitely.”
His tone was anything but convincing, and Destiny’s glance became a murderous one. White was not fooled. Unbeknown to his agents, he was having tremendous fun witnessing them so uneasy. He pretended not to see anything odd, and addressed a big smile to Destiny.
“Thank you. I’m planning to have a good time in the next few days, you know.”
“Oh, charming!” Scarlet mumbled behind his back.
White heard him quite well. A furtive and devilish grin passed upon his features as he turned away, pretending to look around the room. Good. Let them stew a little. He’d go in for the kill later. He suddenly turned back toward Scarlet and Destiny.
“By the way… where ARE Blue and Symphony?”
“They… haven’t arrived yet,” Destiny answered uneasily.
“Oh!” White thought about it a moment, then frowned. “Strange… I would have thought they would be here by now.”
“They took a wrong turn on the road,” Scarlet explained.
“The road?” White repeated.
Scarlet just had time to hold back a curse. Oh, really good, Paul. Put your head in the noose, while you’re at it. How could he have been so stupid, giving THAT information to the old man? White was now sitting on the foot of one of the beds, musing over the notion.
“What a peculiar idea,” White noted innocently. “Now, why would they take the road when they could charter a plane? Do you know what could have motivated a decision like that?”
Scarlet drove his fists into his pockets and sighed. “Beats me, sir.”
“Mmm… I’ll have to ask them that question,” White continued. “When do you expect them?”
“Any time soon,” was Destiny’s response. Scarlet cast her a murderous look. She just made a face at him, behind White’s back. Now why should she hold her tongue if HE talked, anyway?
“Where are you staying, Colonel?” Scarlet asked his commander, turning away from the Angel pilot.
“Ah… I haven’t got a room yet… But I thought I could stay at the St-Maurice too. Lieutenant Green told me you were all staying here.”
Scarlet scowled. He had to remember to wring the kid’s neck when he got back to Cloudbase.
Provided he got the chance to do so. Between White, who could be very close to finding out what was really going on, and Blue, who would surely want to kill him for supposedly having invited their commander to join them at some point, there was little doubt in Scarlet’s mind he wouldn’t survive this holiday…
Thank Heavens he was indestructible.
“What’s this?” White had just discovered the cards lying on the bed, next to a pile of peanuts. He took the deck. Destiny cleared her throat.
“Like I said, sir, we were playing cards, when you just arrived…”
“With peanuts?” a perplexed White asked. “That doesn’t seem very exciting…”
Scarlet shrugged, walking toward the window. “Regulations prevent us from playing for money… sir,” he reminded his superior. He looked out at the city lights through the window, before turning to White, grinning. “Anyway, you know I’m not a gambling man.”
“Yes, I know, but…” The Spectrum commander was still looking at Scarlet with an intrigued expression. “I don’t get it. You two are in the most entertaining city in America, with plenty of good shows and entertainments to chose from, and you stay in a hotel room, playing cards… with peanuts for winnings?”
Scarlet looked squarely at him. “What did you expect us to do, stay in a hotel room all by ourselves?”
White smiled wryly. “I’m not implying anything, captain. I know the two of you are not involved… Well, not anymore. Unless… there’s something I don’t know about?”
“No, there isn’t,” Scarlet answered quickly.
White’s grin broadened. Of course, he knew that. Because he also knew, and Scarlet wasn’t aware of this, that the captain was involved with Rhapsody Angel now, and that it was a very serious relationship. He wasn’t the kind of man to fool around. Not only because he would run the risk of ruining everything with Rhapsody, but simply because it wasn’t his style.
Scarlet gave a very brief glance toward the door, not far behind his commander, that led into the next room. Don’t open it, he thought, almost willing the person on the other side to hear him think. Please, don’t open that door, or we’re all going to be in BIG trouble… He smiled at his commander, very eager to distract him.
“Now, what do you want us to do, sir?” he asked him. “Unless you’re suggesting we take Destiny somewhere where they play illegal poker games…”
Destiny scowled. “Vraiment! Who do you think I am? Soeur Hélène would turn in her grave if she could hear you!”
“Who’s Soeur Hélène?” White asked, puzzled.
“The nun who taught Destiny to play cards,” Scarlet answered.
White frowned deeply, and turned a very perplexed look toward a reddening Destiny. Now that was an interesting concept…”A NUN taught you to play cards?” he asked her.
“And to cheat, no doubt,” Scarlet added quickly.
“She wasn’t a cheat,” Destiny replied dryly.
“Well, she was a card shark… and so are you, chérie.”
Destiny answered with a shy smile. Scarlet would have smiled too, with a certain amusement, if he weren’t so concerned about wondering about the real reason behind Colonel White’s presence. He wasn’t really buying that stuff about his superior ‘wanting to pass some time with them’. Scarlet couldn’t shake the feeling White knew something was about to happen behind his back and that he had come especially from Cloudbase, pretending a few days’ leave, in order to prevent it.
But what could he know EXACTLY, and how the hell would he have found out?
The awful thought that his commander could actually know everything about Blue and Symphony’s wedding plans came to Scarlet’s mind. What would they all do if it were the case?
And HOW in Heaven’s name could he have learned about it?
No, that couldn’t be possible!
Surely there was a way to trick the old man, so Adam and Karen could go and get married without him ever being aware of it…
“You’re not very talkative, Paul,” White remarked, looking at the younger man.
Scarlet almost snorted. Right now, being called “Paul” by his commander was making him feel really uncomfortable. The friendly tone in White’s voice didn’t sound RIGHT, somehow…
“Sorry, sir.” Scarlet took a look at his watch. “It’s way past eight. I was just thinking that Adam and Karen are late, that’s all.”
“Not worried, are you?”
“Me? Why should I worry?”
There is plenty of reason, Colonel White thought wickedly. And he was pretty sure Blue and Symphony’s lateness wasn’t really what was preoccupying Scarlet. If White knew him – and he knew him well – he was almost certain his young compatriot was looking for a smart way to get rid of him, so his best friend and partner could move on with his project. The colonel was really curious to see what Scarlet would come up with. Go and plan along all you want, my young fellow, thought White. You’ll see who has the last laugh over this one.
When he had arrived in Las Vegas some few hours earlier, the Spectrum commander had gone directly to the St-Maurice Hotel. Upon discovering that his agents weren’t there, he first thought he had arrived too late. But then, the receptionist had informed him that “Mister Svenson and Miss Wainwright had not arrived yet, and that the hotel administration had been notified by Mister Metcalfe that they would arrive by eight, at the latest”.
Good, a relieved Colonel White had thought. There was still time after all. He could still stop this nonsense.
And a good lesson was in order. A lesson he fully intended to give all the members of this little gang of conspirators. He had every intention of making sure not one of them would forget it anytime soon. Discipline must prevail, after all, and they had all taken their commander for a fool. In addition, there was the fact that White was feeling rather disappointed about all of this. He had the distasteful impression he had been betrayed, or something very much like it.
He hadn’t noticed yet how Scarlet was casting quick and worried glances toward the adjoining door, still praying it would not open to reveal the special guest he and Destiny had met at the airport, some hours earlier.
Calm down, Paul. What could be the odds against that door opening while Colonel White’s in this room, anyway?
To Scarlet’s and Destiny’s dismay, it did open.
A woman in her late forties, strikingly beautiful, with fair hair and eyes the colour of honey entered with a quick pace right to the centre of the room; she was all dressed for the night, draped in a gorgeous white satin robe.
Scarlet almost groaned, and Destiny looked up to the sky, taking the Saints as witnesses of their misfortunes.
White looked at the woman in total surprise and confusion.
“Excuse me, children,” the woman said without even noticing the effect her presence had caused in the room, “I hate to come barging in like this, but I was wondering when you were expecting -”
She suddenly stopped short, upon seeing the white-haired man seated at the foot of the bed, staring squarely at her. White’s expression of surprise turned into a broad smile as he stood up quickly and went to her. “Mrs. Wainwright!” he said in a joyful voice. “What a MARVELLOUS surprise!”
Scarlet looked down and hid his face in his hands. Well if he didn’t know about Karen and Adam’s plans before, he thought gloomily, he certainly has a good indication now!
The presence of Amanda Wainwright at the ceremony was meant as a surprise for Symphony. The woman knew of the relationship between her only daughter and the “good-looking and so polite Captain Blue” she had been introduced to, a couple of years ago. Adam had thought that Karen would be so pleased to see her mother, and that Amanda, in all fairness, couldn’t be kept away from that wonderful moment. So he had arranged for her to take a plane from her ranch in Iowa to come to Las Vegas just for the occasion, without telling Karen about it.
Now the mere fact that SHE was there was enough to bring everything down.
“Colonel White…” Amanda said in a poised yet dumbfounded tone to the tall man who stopped in front of her. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here…”
She knew about Karen’s intention to keep her marriage to Adam a secret from the Spectrum commander. Although Amanda Wainwright thought the idea was very risky – not to mention childish – she had agreed to respect her daughter’s decision in that matter and even to support it if needed be.
That was the reason why she was so surprised to see Colonel White there.
“I can assure you, madam,” White answered, taking the woman’s hand, “that the surprise is also mine.”
Scarlet looked on, hoping that, for once, those damned Mysterons would now pronounce one of their ominous threats… However, there was no loudspeaker in this room so they could be heard, to begin with. The British captain noticed the presence of Destiny, suddenly by his side; she had cautiously approached him, and was staring at the older couple talking to each other at the centre of the room, with the same distraught look.
“How do you say ‘We’re done for?’ in French?” Scarlet whispered to the young woman.
“On est cuit,” she replied in the same tone, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Yeah, that’s right,” mumbled Scarlet. “We’re cooked. Toasted. Whatever. Please, take a gun and shoot me.”
“That wouldn’t be fair. For me.”
They watched in concern, wondering when the hammer would fall on their heads. But curiously, the discussion they were witnessing, between Colonel White and Amanda Wainwright was taking a strange, unexpected course.
“You look as ravishing as I remember,” White was saying to the woman. “You haven’t changed a bit, since last we met.” He took her hand gallantly to kiss the back of it. Amanda laughed.
“Why, Colonel, still charming as ever, I see!” she said. “Now I know why my daughter is so fond of you…”
“Oh, is she really?” White smiled. “I didn’t know she felt that way about me… Now may I ask to what I owe the pleasure of making your acquaintance again?”
“Well, I…” Amanda saw Scarlet briefly shaking his head at her, and mouthing the words ‘He doesn’t know’ behind Colonel White’s back. Obviously, the Spectrum commander’s presence was not expected – nor wanted – for the ceremony. She smiled broadly. “…I was invited to spend a few days with my daughter. It has been a long time since we’ve seen each other, you know.”
“Oh? Why not go home, then?” White asked innocently. “I seem to recall her saying that you are the owner of a big, beautiful ranch in Utah -”
“Iowa. Yes, it’s a beautiful spot, even if I say so myself. And this time of year, it’s pretty lovely…”
“I have to remember to go and see it for myself, one day.”
“Please, do visit! It will always be a pleasure to receive you… Business is pretty quiet and dull, now and then -”
“The ranch is mostly used for tourists, for some years now. I receive vacationers from all over the States. They want to do some horse riding, cattle-driving, camping and whatever else you can think may be happening on a ranch…” Amanda laughed softly. “Ten years ago, Harry even bought a mechanical bull for some clients who wanted to do some rodeo riding! I still have it.”
Still from a distance, Scarlet and Destiny were watching the scene. Destiny seemed pretty annoyed; Scarlet, on the other hand, was beginning to find this interesting, and a curious thought was forming itself in his mind.
“Will they go on like that endlessly?” Destiny murmured in French, trying not to let her temper get the better of her. “The waiting is excruciating!”
“No, watch closely,” Scarlet whispered back. “They seem to be hitting it off pretty well…”
“Paul, it’s only a matter of time!” Destiny replied dryly. “He KNOWS something is going on… Seeing Symphony’s mother here, he CANNOT NOT KNOW!”
“Well, Amanda seems to be able to distract him,” Scarlet noted, still looking at them. “There must be a way to use that to our advantage…”
“What do you mean, ‘use that to our advantage’?” a very annoyed Destiny repeated.
“I don’t know yet.”
“Paul Metcalfe, you’re worrying me. Me, I say we’re courting disaster! What will happen when Karen and Adam arrive, and when Karen reacts to her mother’s presence, WHEN SHE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW SHE’S SUPPOSED TO BE HERE?”
The telephone buzzed at that instant. All the people assembled in the room looked toward the instrument. Nearest to it, Colonel White had just to extend his hand to answer it. That was just what he did, much to Scarlet’s frustration.
“Hello, Room 53…” He listened for a moment, then frowned deeply. “Hello?” he repeated. A pause, then a frustrated “What?” White sighed and said in French, "Could you repeat that, please?” He held his hand over the mouthpiece and waved the phone at Scarlet and Destiny. “It's one of the hotel staff. The lady's speaking with a very thick French accent and I can’t make out half of what she's saying. Can one of you take this call?”
Scarlet took the receiver as White turned his attention back to Amanda Wainwright.
“Paul Metcalfe here -”
“What’s HE doing here?”
The sound of Symphony’s furious voice nearly took Scarlet aback. He didn’t have time to answer before she continued: “Never mind that, now… I need you right now. Come to see me, in the lobby. We have to talk.”
“Is there… something the matter?” Scarlet couldn’t help but notice the urgency in Symphony’s tone. He heard her sigh.
“Aside from the Colonel being here? Yeah, you can say there is something the matter… Come quick, Paul.”
She hung up; a thoughtful Scarlet put the receiver down, wondering what was happening now. Something was bothering him. Why had Symphony said “Come to see me” and not “Come to see us”?
He turned to White. How the hell would he be able to go down without having White asking what was going on?
* * *
“You don’t know how glad I am to see you!”
Finding a suitable excuse to get out of the room wasn’t easy, but Scarlet had pretended that he had been called down to see the manager because of some problem concerning his luggage. He considered himself lucky that White was too involved into a conversation with Amanda Wainwright to notice he was actually lying. Destiny was not so easily fooled. The way she looked at him was explicit enough of her feelings toward him at that moment.
She was feeling like she actually could kill him for leaving her alone with the colonel.
The problem would have to be dealt with later, anyway. Symphony’s situation seemed more urgent. She greeted him in the lobby and then took him aside for a little privacy. Scarlet took the time to give her a welcoming kiss, before looking straight at her with a broad smile.
“Well, it’s about time you arrived!” he remarked. “You’re quite late, you know that?”
“I know,” Symphony answered, hesitating. “I’m sorry, Paul, we…”
“I’m the one who should be sorry,” Scarlet retorted. “About the colonel…”
“How come he’s here, Paul?” a worried Symphony asked. “Does he know anything about Adam and me or...”
“I frankly don’t know,” Scarlet sighed. “He arrived a few minutes ago… He said he had decided to take some time off and that he wanted to join us…”
“You believe that?”
“As I said, I don’t know… But I’m keeping my eyes open for whatever he may have in store for us. Anyway, for the moment, he seems quite occupied with your mother…”
Symphony opened her eyes wide in bewilderment. “What’s my mother doing here?” she exclaimed.
Scarlet sighed again. So much for the surprise. Anyway, it was better that way, considering the situation. “It was Adam’s idea. He thought her presence at the ceremony would please you. So he arranged for her to come here and wanted to surprise you with it.”
“Adam did that?” Symphony said in a timid voice. “What a thoughtful thing to do…”
“Karen, I don’t know what to say… I’ll sort something out concerning the colonel, but -”
“Paul, excuse me, but right now, the colonel is not the biggest thing I’m worried about.”
At that moment, Scarlet saw that she was not kidding; the concern on her features was too obvious. He understood that there was something really big troubling her.
“What’s wrong, Karen?” he asked softly. “Did you run into some kind of trouble with Adam?”
“You can say that again!”
“What is it?” Scarlet asked her, frowning. “Isn’t Adam with you?”
“No, he…” Symphony hesitated. “I had to leave him behind, in some little town.”
“What?” an astounded Scarlet exclaimed.
“I had no choice,” Symphony explained quickly. “He insisted that I leave. I didn’t want to, but -”
“What are you talking about?” Scarlet interrupted her. “I had him on the phone a few hours ago. He seemed perfectly happy and couldn’t wait to be here! What happened? Did you… have a fight or something?”
“Oh no!” Symphony protested loudly. “That’s not it at all!” She looked at Scarlet’s face. He looked confused, and certainly as worried as she did. For her as well as for his best friend. He could feel the young woman’s anguish.
“What’s the matter, little sister?” he asked her softly.
She smiled faintly. She always had felt close to Paul; it was nothing like the feelings she shared with Adam, of course, but a different relationship altogether. He had always shown some kind of brotherly feeling toward her, almost since the beginning of Spectrum, but he had really begun calling her “little sister” about two years ago, some months after his Mysteronisation and not long after her father’s untimely death. It was as if each of them, after losing something important in their life, needed that special link to be stronger between them. They were so much alike. Like him, she was an only child, who had so wanted to grow up with some brothers or sisters. They also had in common that same recklessness that worried their friends and colleagues so much.
“It’s Adam, Paul,” Symphony finally said. “I’m afraid he’s the one in trouble.”
Scarlet sighed. “Yes, I guessed as much. But what is it exactly?”
“You won’t believe it,” a gloomy Symphony continued. “He’s in jail.”
“Say that again?” Scarlet exclaimed, not sure he did believe his ears.
“He’s in jail… and I had to leave him behind. And I am so ashamed that I did!”
Scarlet shook his head in disbelief. How did Adam end up in prison? he mused with concern. And why did Karen leave him there alone?
“We’d better go to the bar,” he muttered. “Then you can tell me what happened out there… And then we’ll see what we can do about it… I think I’d better get you a drink.”
“I certainly feel like I could use one,” Symphony mumbled.
“There you are!”
The very recognizable English voice boomed behind them before they could actually make a move toward the bar. Scarlet scowled. What is he doing, anyway, following me around? He turned around; Colonel White was approaching them, with a big grin upon his face. A perplexed Symphony was looking at him, not really sure what to do.
“So the problem with your luggage is resolved?” the colonel asked Scarlet with his most innocent tone.
“Yes… There wasn’t any problem, after all,” an uneasy Scarlet answered. “It was a mistake.”
“Good.” White looked down at Symphony. The girl didn’t dare say a word. That’s a guilty look if ever I saw one, the colonel mused, most amused by the situation. “I see you have found one of your missing friends… Hello, Symphony.”
“Co—uh, Mister Gray…” the young woman answered, awkwardly.
“She just arrived,” Scarlet said. “We met in the lobby.”
“Of course you did.” White’s eyes didn’t leave Symphony’s obviously concerned and worried features. “I’m glad to see you, Symphony.”
“Paul had just told me you were here, sir,” Symphony said hesitantly.
“Yes, I suppose he would tell you now, wouldn’t he?” White replied softly, musing. Symphony didn’t answer, just cast a look of appeal at Scarlet.
The colonel took her silence as a sign of embarrassed annoyance. “So you know I’m not here on official business. I’m on holiday.”
White scowled. Symphony had that same look of perplexity as all the others about that sole simple fact. He was beginning to find it very annoying. Of course, they’re all concerned about what happened to me in London, a few weeks ago, he reflected. He looked around. “Where’s Adam?” he asked, matter-of-factly, as if wanting to change the subject. “Wasn’t he supposed to be with you?”
Symphony stared at him blankly, unable to answer. It was bad enough that White was here, but his referring to Captain Blue by his real name only made her feel worse.
It was Captain Scarlet who provided the response. “Symphony just told me, he… ah… ran into a friend from his days with the WAS. They decided to take a tour of the town together.”
“Really?” Colonel White was apparently perplexed by the concept. He frowned, looking at Symphony with an inquiring glitter in his eyes. “And he left you on your own? I thought the man was more of a gentleman…”
She gave him something of a sad smile. “Well, I suppose that one never can know enough about a friend now, can you, Colonel?”
White had the distinct impression he had just been lied to. It seemed obvious. TOO obvious. Although he couldn’t guess WHY Captain Blue would not be there, and certainly for what reason he would have left his fiancée alone, so close to their impending wedding. Maybe there’s trouble in Paradise, he mused. Anyway, the way Scarlet and Symphony were keeping this to themselves was a confirmation in itself that something was going on.
He didn’t let on about his suspicion. “So when do you expect him?” he asked.
“Don’t quite know, sir,” Symphony said, shrugging, trying to sound indifferent. She did a bad job of it.
“Why, all the worse for him,” White replied, still smiling. “At least you’ll have ME and Paul to take care of you while he’s away…”
“I… don’t know what to say, sir. I’m flattered that you should concern yourself with me.”
“It’s only natural, young lady.” White stared at her. “Maybe you’re hungry, after such a long trip through the desert… Why don’t I invite you to dinner?”
“I don’t feel like going out right now.”
“Then we’ll have something brought up to our rooms, what do you think? Come on up… I know someone’s waiting there for you, anyway.”
“Lead the way, sir,” Scarlet invited their commander.
White directed his pace toward the elevator, and Scarlet took Symphony by the arm to follow. She turned a concerned look to him. “Paul…”
“I know, I know,” he muttered. “I’ll find a way to get rid of him, so you can explain to me what happened with Adam…”
“We have to get him out of his jam!” she insisted.
“We’ll do that, too, don’t worry…” Scarlet looked at his commander’s back. “Maybe we could use Juliette’s help… and your mother as well.”
Symphony stared at him curiously. “What’s my Ma have to do with the colonel, anyway?” she whispered.
“Never mind that, now. Just let me plan along… I’ll find something.”
“I sure hope so!” a doubtful Symphony sighed.