“But, Dad… You promised!”
Dressed in his baseball uniform, young Adam Svenson was looking in dismay at his father, standing in the middle of his office at home. The child was ready to go to the single most important game for his team, with his father, when the latter had called him into his office to have a talk with him. Adam was almost certain of what he was about to hear BEFORE actually entering the room. His suspicions had confirmed themselves a few seconds ago, when his dad announced that he couldn’t go to the game with him.
“Two weeks ago, you said you’d come!” the youngster continued in a hurt tone. “Last week, you said it again! Why change plans now?”
“It can’t be helped, Adam.” John Svenson was feeling rather uneasy. He didn’t like the accusing look he was seeing in his son’s eyes. “Something came up at the office.”
“We’ve been planning this for a long time. Couldn’t you just tell them you were busy?”
“Now, Adam… You know it doesn’t work that way.”
“No, I don’t. You’re supposed to be the boss!”
“Yes, and that’s why I’ve got to take care of my business.” There was an annoyed edge in Svenson’s voice. Standing a few feet away, not far from the door, Sarah Svenson was silently witnessing the altercation between her husband and her son. This wasn’t the first time they had collided, on exactly the same volatile subject; but this time, she realised, it was somehow different. Looking at the hurt expression in Adam’s eyes, she could see it could take proportions it never did before. She was growing increasingly uneasy at the way things were going.
“It’s not fair, Dad,” Adam said to his father, with a croak in his voice.
“Life isn’t always fair,” John Svenson replied sharply enough. It didn’t occur to him he was talking to a nine year old kid who couldn’t care less about that kind of remark. He shook his head. “Adam, I think you can understand…”
“No, I can’t understand!”
Adam had never dared to interrupt his father in the past. But months of built-up frustration were now too much for him to handle. He felt he couldn’t take any more of this kind of treason. This was the last straw. He was deeply disappointed and he had every intention of telling his father.
“It’s always like this, Dad. We plan things together, and at the last possible minute, you cancel everything. You cancel what we’re going to do and go to meet someone for your business, and leave for the office in town -”
“You stop this!” Svenson urged him. “You know my work is important. Adam, I’ve got a family to think about!”
“You DON’T think about us!” The outburst surprised Adam almost as much as his father and mother.
“Adam,” the woman called to him from behind, with a soothing voice. “Now, you’re not being fair to your father…”
“It’s HIM who isn’t fair!” Adam replied, much more sharply than he really meant to. “Why does he have to do this? Why can’t he come to the game? I was counting on him… I wanted so much to see you there, Dad!”
“It’s enough, young man!” Even John Svenson’s stern voice was not nearly enough to calm down the fuming boy who was still staring defiantly at him. “You’ve talked enough nonsense for one day! You’ve got to cool off and be a reasonable boy about this!”
“I don’t wanna be a ‘reasonable boy’!” Adam replied. “You always ask that of me… I’m tired of it! I…”
“Stop being so selfish!” Svenson suddenly cut him off. He threw his arms into the air. “I can’t BELIEVE you would react this way about such a thing! It’s only a game, for Heaven’s sake! A stupid, foolish game!”
“That game is important to ME, Dad! And I wanted to share it with YOU!”
“Damn it… Right now, I’ve got far more important things to concern myself with than the trivialities of a nine year old boy… I can’t let myself get distracted from my job because a selfish kid thinks HIS business is more important than mine…”
Adam stepped back, his eyes widening; his father suddenly realized that he had just hurt the young boy’s feelings. He gave a quick glance towards his wife and saw the disapproving look upon her face. That was directed at him.
“Adam, I’m sorry. I should explain…”
“Your job is more important than me, Dad?” the child asked with a catch in his voice.
“I didn’t MEAN it to sound that way, son -”
“But you SAID it! That’s just what you said!”
The look of accusation and hurt in his son’s eyes was almost too much for John Svenson to bear. To his credit, he tried to make amends.
It only made things worse, as he couldn’t envision that he could be unable to simply buy his way into the child’s heart.
“Come on, Adam. Forget about today. I’m sorry I can’t go with you. But we still have that Sox-Blue Jays match we’re planning to see together -”
“It’ll be the same,” Adam replied dryly.
“I beg your pardon?”
“It’ll be the same, Dad. It’s ALWAYS the same. It’s not the game. It’s got nothing to do with it. You’re NEVER there when I need you to be there.”
“NOW what’s the matter with you?” Svenson asked, frowning.
“You always tell me I should keep my promises, Dad. And I do. Always. But YOU never keep YOURS...”
“Of all the ungrateful -” Svenson became livid with anger. He walked to his son, a glimmer of anger in his eyes. The boy never lowered his. “All right! We’ll do it your way, then! If you’re going to take that distasteful attitude toward me, young man, you’ll be dealt with accordingly. You’re grounded!”
“You can’t do that!” Adam replied forcefully.
“I can, and I will!” his father snapped furiously. “And don’t you shout at me! You’re grounded. You won’t go to that baseball game of yours!”
“The others are counting on me! I’m part of the team!”
“I don’t care! They’ll have to do without you!”
“How can you do this to me, on top of everything else?”
“I’m your father, that’s how!”
“Keep your voice down! Adam, I hate doing this… We’ll have to see about that Sox game. If you don’t change your attitude -”
“Sure, keep beating on a guy when he’s down.” Adam’s voice was full of sarcasm and resentment. His father’s features became absolutely white with fury.
“Stop being so insolent!” he snapped loudly. “What’s gotten into you, Adam? I swear, I -” He stopped, looking absolutely distraught. “I’m deeply disappointed in you, son.”
“You always say that!” Adam shouted back with anger. “No matter what I do, or what I say! I’m always a disappointment to you! But you know what, Dad? That makes two of us!”
“Adam…” the boy heard his mother call behind him.
“I’m disappointed in you too!” Adam continued, looking furiously at his father, without listening to his mother’s voice. “Why can’t you be the father I want so much? Why can’t you be like EVERYBODY ELSE’s father?”
He didn’t give his father time to answer. He spun round and ran out of the office, flinging the door wide. He heard his father angrily calling him back. He did not even turn back to look at him.
“I hate you, Dad!” he shouted over his shoulder.
The words were harsh, he knew, but he couldn’t keep himself from uttering them. And he would not go back to his father right now; that would have only served to show him the tears of rage and disappointment that were filling his eyes.
He went directly to the front door and threw it wide open; not even bothering to close it behind him, he ran out of the house and almost bumped into a tall, bulky man, dressed in working clothes, who caught hold of him, before he ran straight into him. Adam stared into the glimmering eyes of Wilson Grover, the gardener he had told his father he hated… The man’s expression was one of curiosity, and the boy wondered if, by any chance, he could have heard something of what had happened in the office.
He brushed the man aside and ran all the way to the other side of the garden…
* * *
Captain Blue suddenly opened his eyes; he was lying in the cell bunk, staring blindly at the ceiling. He couldn’t sleep at all. It wasn’t the constant snoring of his neighbours in the other cells that kept him awake; recurring thoughts about the events of the past day had brought up ancient, painful memories that he hadn’t thought about for some time… They were now haunting him. That, and the fact that he couldn’t forget the anguished face of his beautiful Symphony Angel whom he had forced to leave, for her own safety.
The night was still young, Blue mused gloomily. He had no idea what time it could be. Ten, eleven… maybe later. He had had to leave his watch at the police counter, with all the rest of his things. He had the feeling this would be a very long night, until the morning came and he would be allowed to leave this jail to see the judge.
He heard a door open, but did not move; the sheriff or one of his deputies – assuming he had more than one – was probably coming to check on the prisoners, he thought. No need to concern himself with that.
He heard the steps coming down the corridor in front of the cells, until they stopped in front of his.
“I’m guessing you’re not sleeping, Svenson,” Blue heard the sheriff’s voice say to him.
“Leave me alone,” Blue mumbled. “Aren’t your prisoners entitled to any peace and quiet around here?”
“On your feet, mister,” the sheriff replied. “You’re out of here.”
Blue frowned. “Out? As in ‘out of jail’?”
“Yeah, exactly. You’re one lucky fellow, I can tell you.”
Blue heard a key being turned in the lock and jumped to his feet. He watched in puzzlement as Sheriff McNamara pulled open the cell door.
“I don’t understand. I thought you had decided to keep me here until tomorrow.”
“Well, let’s just say circumstances force me to act otherwise. Follow me.”
Blue didn’t need to be told twice; the sheriff took him to his office where he found his things spread on the desk. The deputy was there too, his arms folded on his chest; he was staring at Blue with blazing eyes. Must still be angry with me about accidentally hitting him, thought the Spectrum officer.
“If you care to take a look at your possessions,” Sheriff McNamara told him, clearing his throat and taking his seat behind the desk. “See if it’s all there.”
Blue glanced down quickly, took his watch and put it back on his left wrist. Then he glared at McNamara.
“What’s going on, sheriff?” he asked him blankly. “Why let me go now? I’m quite sure it’s not out of the goodness of your heart.”
The sheriff sighed. “Charges have been dropped.”
“That’s what I said. Somebody paid the damages to the restaurant, so the owner won’t press charges.”
Blue looked at the sheriff suspiciously. “Who paid?” he asked him.
“Don’t know. But he – or she – also provided for your bail.”
“But you didn’t want to hear about bail before.”
“Paid double the amount normally asked for your kind of offence. The ticket for reckless driving and speeding’s been paid too.”
“What about Grover?”
McNamara tilted his head to the side. “What about him?”
“Wasn’t he considering pressing charges against me?” Blue clarified with a frown.
“He won’t do it,” the sheriff answered. “Said you obviously were angry because you thought he was after your girl… So he decided to let go of the charges. He’s really a nice guy.”
“My heart is bleeding, sheriff,” Blue retorted dryly.
“Will you let the guy alone?” McNamara grumbled. “I hope you won’t go after him after all the trouble you already had?”
“I’m not looking for trouble, sheriff. And you know what? The further I am from Will Grover, the happier I’ll be.”
“I hope you mean it.” The sheriff tapped a piece of paper on the desk in front of Blue. “Now, if all your things are there, will you be kind enough to sign this receipt?”
Blue checked the contents of his wallet, then put it into his pocket, along with his keys and cash. Then, he turned a cool stare back at the sheriff and deputy.
“Something the matter?” McNamara asked him.
“Yes, plenty,” Blue said coldly. “For example, you were so keen to keep me behind bars until tomorrow… I can’t figure out WHY you’d let me go, now.”
“I must admit, I was really tempted to let you rot in your cell, Svenson. I don’t really care for bullies who’d attack a crippled man. But seeing as how things were all settled for the better…”
“About the bail and the rest? That’s the other thing that puzzles me. Why not tell me who paid for this?”
“What makes you think I know who it is?”
“You say you don’t? I have a hard time believing that!”
“Look, why are you looking a gift horse in the mouth? You’re free. So you’d better get the hell out of here before I change my mind and throw you back in the joint.”
“Was it my fiancée?” Blue insisted.
He suspected that Symphony might not have left as he had asked her, but could have stayed instead, and that she might have found some way to persuade this stubborn constable to let him go. Maybe she had even called Paul, like she had said earlier. But McNamara shook his head.
“She left town just after visiting you,” he replied. “I don’t think she’s come back yet…” A cynical smile crossed his face. “…if she ever comes back.”
“Why do you say that?” asked a frowning Blue.
“Well, didn’t you have a quarrel, back there, just before she went away? I was told you and her had a very tumultuous… discussion.”
Blue did not deign to respond. He could see that the deputy sheriff had the same grin on his face as his superior. What they thought wasn’t true, and it wasn’t any of their business whether or not he and Symphony had had a fight. Blue was just satisfied that, apparently, his fiancée had followed his advice and gone away.
But that didn’t answer the question about WHO had paid his bail…
“May I make a call?” Blue asked, pointing to the phone.
The sheriff nodded and Blue picked up the receiver. On putting it to his ear, he frowned. There was no dialtone.
“It’s out of order,” he said to the sheriff.
McNamara tilted his head to one side and took the receiver Blue was holding out to him. He listened for a second and shook his head, before putting it back on its hook.
“Must be a local breakdown,” he told Blue. “We had a couple of these the last few months. Were you trying to call your girl?”
“She’s supposed to be in Vegas,” Blue said, more to himself than in response to the sheriff’s inquiry. “I have to call her to tell her I’m free…”
“Well, that can’t be helped,” McNamara muttered. “These breakdowns affect all the phones in the town. Why don’t you go tell her in person?”
“How? She took the car.”
“You could take the bus,” the deputy suggested curtly. It was the first time he had spoken since Blue had walked in the office. The Spectrum agent glared daggers at him.
“I can’t go off on my own to Las Vegas without telling her!” he replied. “She’s supposed to come back tomorrow morning.”
“It would be a real shame if you should pass one another on the road,” McNamara laughed slightly.
“Oh, you’re a big help, sheriff!” Blue said dryly.
“I’m not here to help you,” the sheriff replied. “And frankly, I don’t much care about your problems. We have a hotel here. Rent a room there ‘til morning if you must, but I want you OUT of this town at that time… Girlfriend or no girlfriend.”
“In the meantime,” the deputy sheriff added, “maybe the phones will be back on line and you will be able to call her, so she can come to pick you up… If she still wants you, of course.”
Blue cast the man another icy look, then glanced at the sheriff. The unsympathetic way the two men were looking at him made him feel rather uneasy. He sighed and took the pen on the desk to sign the receipt as asked by McNamara. He put down the pen loudly.
“Thanks for your hospitality, sheriff,” he said, stepping toward the exit.
He had just opened the door when McNamara called on him. “One last thing, Svenson.”
Blue looked back at the sheriff. “Stay out of trouble,” the lawman warned him. “If you get in another fight, I guarantee you, you won’t get out so easy next time around. I’ll send you back to jail and throw away the key.”
Blue didn’t answer; but he didn’t turn a hair at the sheriff’s threat. He turned his back on him and left, closing the door behind him.
He walked down the main office and went out into the night. Then he stopped on the steps of the station and sighed, contemplating what he must do.
As he had told the sheriff, he couldn’t leave without calling his friends in Las Vegas. If only to tell Karen he was all right… Poor girl, he thought, she must be worried sick about me… He regretted not having his Spectrum communicator with him. This was one occasion he would not have hesitated to use it. But since Symphony had taken the car, Blue was left without communicator, weapon or Spectrum identification. He had left it all in the glove compartment.
Well, maybe the phones would be back on line soon… In the meantime, he would take the sheriff’s advice and take a room in the town’s hotel. He really had no choice in the matter.
The hotel was down the main street, just in front of the restaurant where Blue had stopped with Symphony. He started walking that way. The night was quiet. Everything was closed, except for the bar, from which loud sounds of music and laughter were coming. Blue took a look at his watch. It was far later than he had first anticipated… No wonder almost everything was closed.
As he walked down the street, Blue had the distinct impression he was being watched. He looked around but saw nobody. Yet, he was quite sure he wasn’t mistaken. Years of training and living on the edge had attuned his senses… He could sense impending danger lurking about him.
He felt rather than saw the group behind him, and broke into a run. He heard rapid footsteps and glanced over his shoulder. Three men were in pursuit. No sense in calling, he thought. Since his misadventure of the day, he was pretty sure he wasn’t popular with anyone in this place. The sheriff would not be much help either. He would probably find a way to pin this thing on him and throw him in a cell again.
Blue tried to make it to the bar. A public place would be the perfect hideout in the circumstances. But then he saw two other men coming from the shadows right next to the door and walking quickly toward him. Blue changed direction and went down a small street.
More like a dark alley, he realized, the instant he entered it. It was obvious he had purposely been pushed that way. And with five men now hot on his heels, he didn’t have much choice but to continue running in the same direction.
He stopped suddenly. Just ahead of him was a wall. A dead-end. Naturally. It was so obvious, he should have seen it sooner.
Blue turned on his heel to face the five men who had stopped running and were now approaching slowly, taking their time, knowing full well he was trapped and couldn’t hide anywhere from them. He didn’t care who they were or what they wanted, although that last question was very obvious to him. In fact, for the present, he didn’t have the time to think it over… The only thing on his mind was that he didn’t intend go down without a fight.
“Nice to see you again, kid.”
Blue froze on the spot upon hearing those words. He turned to his left to see the shadow of a big man lurking in the dark. He didn’t need to see his face to know who it was.
So, that answered the question about the identity of the person who had prepared this ambush… Not that it was any surprise to Blue
He didn’t have the time to act upon that discovery. He didn’t see another shadow that came bolting from the other side of the street and violently rammed into his back, sending him face down on the ground. The five men who had pursued Blue to that spot then rushed up to him. Brutal hands seized him and dragged him back to his feet. He struggled and succeeded in getting free of two of them; but they were too many, and he already had been shaken by the first attack. His arms were seized and pulled tightly back, and the Spectrum officer soon found himself defenceless against a series of blows that began raining on him, catching him on all sides, dazing him.
He saw Grover coming slowly out of the shadows, limping on his bad right leg, and coming toward him. The man stopped at a safe distance and looked upon the scene. He quietly lit a cigarette and blew out some smoke with obvious satisfaction. Blue saw the evil smile crossing the older man’s face.
The scum is enjoying this tremendously…
It was about the last thing Blue was really conscious of before some kind of a rag was clamped over his mouth and nose. A distasteful odour hit him and a mist came down over his eyes. He desperately fought to stay awake, but the combined effect of the pain from the beating, and the chloroform, began to take their toll on him. He mercifully passed out just as his aggressors let him fall to the ground.