A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” story
By Chris Bishop
“The colonel sent me just today,” Lieutenant Green said. His smile broadened into a large, satisfied grin, as he was explaining the reason for his presence in Stourford. The weather growing dark and the rain threatening, he had invited Symphony into one of the little town’s cafés. They had settled down at a remote table, and were now drinking coffee. “Captain Magenta just got back from his furlough. So with him back, I thought the colonel would send one of the captains to join you in your mission. But he decided he’d better keep all of them on standby on Cloudbase. It seemed he thought he couldn’t do without his senior captains around.”
Symphony raised a brow. “Really, now? But… what are you doing here, Lieutenant?”
“Seymour, please. Call me Seymour,” Green said, offering a bashful smile. “We’re under cover, remember? Well I think it’s fairly evident what I’m doing here. The colonel sent me instead…”
Symphony kept herself from grumbling. Does the colonel think we women are unable to do the job? was the thought that instantly came into her mind.
“He put Magenta in charge of communications and here I am.” Green drove his fists into the pockets of his pants, making some kind of an amused face. “I figure the colonel thought I would be more than enough as your ‘back up’. ‘Those girls know their job, after all’, he said,” he added, with a good enough imitation of their commander, which made Symphony smile – he certainly sounded better than she did. “ ‘I don’t think your presence will be that necessary, but it’ll be easier for surveillance shifts if there are three of you’.” Green chuckled. “I don’t mind his wanting to keep the captains around, and sending me instead, I’m just glad I was able to leave my seat on Cloudbase – if only for a little while. And even if it’s only for a tailing assignment.” He stopped, and looked squarely at a grinning Symphony. He felt the heat coming to his ears. “I’m babbling, aren’t I?”
“That’s all right, Lieutenant – Seymour,” Symphony said, fighting hard not to openly laugh at him. “Whatever the reason for the colonel to send you, I’m glad he did. And he’s right, it’ll be easier to perform our surveillance if there are three of us.” She gave him an amused look. “But next time you follow me like you did, announce yourself, please. I could have hurt you before recognising you!”
“Yeah, I realised that when I saw you spinning around, ready to hit me! Sorry. But I was about to speak your name when you turned around… I guess I took some kind of a risk, didn’t I?”
“You certainly did,” Symphony replied with a nod.
Green took a sip of his coffee. “So where’s Rhapsody?” he asked. “I suppose that it’s her turn to keep her eye on Captain Scarlet at the moment?”
“Yes, he left town a few hours ago. So we decided to separate to continue our investigation. While Rhapsody was following his trail, I was to remain here and check his room at the inn – and go to investigate a few places he went to visit. We… wanted to know a little more about what’s going on and what he could be up to.”
Green nodded in turn, approving of the strategy. “Easier that way to anticipate the captain’s next move, then,” he remarked.
“What do you know about this assignment exactly?” Symphony asked, not really expecting that Green would know more about the situation than she did herself.
“What the colonel was willing to tell me,” Green admitted. “We have to tail Captain Scarlet, and take note of what he’s doing, who he’s talking to, etc…”
“Have you wondered WHY we’re doing that, exactly?”
Green hesitated. “Symphony, I’m not sure if I should…”
“Karen.” She looked him squarely in the eyes. “Please, Seymour. Surely, there is something you know that you can tell me – I’m not asking you to betray the colonel’s confidence in you, you know that. But we’re really groping in the dark. It might help us in our assignment.”
Green gave a sigh. He shook his head. “There’s something really fishy about this, Symphony – Karen. What I know is… Captain Scarlet was angry with the colonel before leaving Cloudbase. I mean really angry. They exchanged heated words – I don’t know what exactly, but it seemed to have upset the colonel.”
“To the point that he might be concerned about what Scarlet might do during this furlough of his?”
Green scratched his ear, looking doubtful. “I think it’s more complicated. Why not simply forbid Captain Scarlet to come down here instead, then? The colonel could have done it, of course, but… he chose not to. I can’t figure out why.”
Symphony nodded slowly. “You’re right, Lieutenant. This situation is complicated. I wish the colonel would have told us more about this mission – we’d know what it is that Scarlet is looking for exactly – or what to expect he might find out. Or do.”
“Maybe the colonel doesn’t know himself?” Green offered.
“Or maybe he has a suspicion of some kind,” Symphony mused. “And if so, he’s not willing to share it with us. Well, I’m starting to get my own…”
“You said Captain Scarlet has left town,” Green noted. “Do you know where he went?”
“He’s been travelling around the places where there’ve been sightings of Captain Black.”
Green gave a low growl. “I knew it had something to do with Captain Black,” he muttered. “Or at least with Spectrum’s latest operation here.”
“Why else would Scarlet be around these parts, if not?” Symphony agreed. “At the moment, I don’t know where he is, but Rhapsody should be calling to report shortly. She’s a little late as it is, and…”
A muffled, beeping sound came from her handbag, cutting her off as she spoke. She swiftly reached for her communicator inside it. “Speak of the devil…” A brief glance at the communicator made her frown. Strange… That WASN’T Rhapsody’s number… It was an unknown number to her. Apparently a civilian one. But who else would contact her, using a Spectrum communication channel?
“Hello?” she said, non-committally.
“Our FRIEND ditched me,” came a very recognisable, female English voice which was substantially nuanced with anger and coldness.
“He what?” Symphony replied, opening wide eyes. “You lost him?!”
“Lost is a big word. I was literally the victim of a deceitful ambush. The bottom line is – he left me with no means of transport on the side of a deserted road, while he was driving away into the sunset… Well, in a manner of speaking.”
“When did that happen?”
“Nearly two hours ago.”
“Why didn’t you call me to fetch you?”
“I couldn’t ask you to leave Stourford. Plus, I had the car, remember? And anyway, I had no way to contact you. An… accident… disabled my communicator.”
“Don’t tell me it was Scarlet again!”
“No. That was nothing to do with him. But I’m considering him responsible anyway.”
“Where are you now?”
“In a transport lorry whose driver was kind enough to pick me up – after I walked for more than an hour. He was also kind enough to lend me the use of his onboard radio communicator, so I would be able to call you.”
That explains the civilian channel, Symphony mused. “Where are you heading now?”
“To Stone Point Village. According to the latest data from the bug I planted on… our quarry’s car before I was forced to leave mine… he was going back there. I expect he’ll still be, and that I’ll be able to find him. And when I do, I’ll give him a piece of my mind.”
“Stone Point Village?” Symphony replied, getting to her feet. “Fine, we’ll meet there.”
“How are you going to do that, are you going to hire a car?”
Symphony looked across the table toward Green, who was also standing up and was searching his pocket for money to pay for the coffee. “You have wheels?”
“I have a car, yes,” Green answered. He looked a bit confused by how fast things were now going.
“We have a car,” Symphony continued into the communicator. “When you find Scarlet, keep with him – we’ll find you.”
“WE? Who are ‘we’?”
“I have Lieutenant Green with me.”
“What is HE doing there?”
“I’ll explain all when we meet up, Dianne. Please… Don’t make a scene when you find Scarlet? Come to think of it – maybe it’s better if you don’t make any contact with him, okay? JUST keep watch over him until we arrive.”
“What, are you concerned about what he might do next?” a doubtful Rhapsody asked.
“After what you told me – I’m concerned about what YOU might do to him,” Symphony admitted, a little reluctantly. She didn’t hear an argument from her fellow Angel pilot. Which confirmed to her that she might be right. She permitted herself a smile. “Symphony out.”
She closed the channel, and put the communicator back into her bag. Green was waiting for her. She started walking toward the exit and he followed.
“I only caught a little bit of what has been going on,” he said.
“I’ll explain the rest once we hit the road.”
“Good. You’ll also tell me what you were looking for in that hospital I saw you leave earlier?”
“Of course, I’ll tell you everything. You’ve been following me, then?”
“Well…” a bashful Green started.
Symphony did all but physically push him through the open door so he would step out in front of her. “Now we’d better go. I sense we’ll be needed soon.”
“Rhapsody will need us?”
“No. The one who might need us would be Captain Scarlet. If Rhapsody’s as angry as she sounds right now because of him – Heaven help him when she finds him!”
* * *
Thoughtfully, Rhapsody Angel folded the communication device. Karen knows me too well, she was reflecting. Her friend certainly was very well aware of her fiery character – and how she would probably react if she found Captain Scarlet soon. Goes with the red-head territory, I imagine, she added grimly. That side of her came from her mother. Lady Julia Susan Simms was always someone to speak her mind and never accepted being treated as any less than what she truly was – a strong, broad-minded, intelligent woman who knew where she was going in her life, what she wanted and how to get to it. She had the temper and the strength to go with it – a dangerous mix of Italian and Irish blood – which her husband, Lord Robert Simms, always considered was even deadlier than nitro-glycerine.
Dianne had inherited all that – along with strong moral values that her mother and father had instilled in her. Lord Robert was a diplomat – a very tactful ambassador of the British Government, whose work often sent him to various parts of the world to negotiate various peace treaties and arrangements – be they social, political or economical – for Britain and sometimes even the World Government. He helped to end the conflict between Britain and Iceland. He had been involved with the negotiations for the release of the British Embassy officials that had been taken hostage in Panama – that was many years ago, when he was still a young man, but his deeds had gained him worldwide respect.
Dianne imagined that it probably wasn’t that easy for her father to keep up with two red-haired women’s changing moods. Especially coming from his wife. Maybe that was what pushed them apart, in the end, Rhapsody reflected with a regretful sigh. After a few years of following her husband around, Lady Julia had insisted that the family would finally settle down somewhere – anywhere would do, as long as it would be a proper place to raise a growing child. Lord Robert had objected that travelling around the world and being instructed by private tutors was probably the best way to raise their only daughter. To which Lady Julia would not agree at all. A child, she thought, needed stability in her life. Not to find herself one day in Cairo and the next in Canberra.
That difference of opinion concerning their daughter wasn’t in any way the only problem in the couple’s life – and so they eventually split. Dianne would live with her mother; Lady Julia returned to Britain, and settled in one of the family estates near London, where she would be able to give her daughter the stability she claimed the child would need. Dianne would go to a proper school, meet with children her own age and be a part of society. Of course she would also receive the instruction of personal tutors at home, thus allowing her to learn at a much faster rate than her companions at regular school. It was a good thing that Dianne was an exceptionally gifted student. Any other child’s mind would have exploded under the nearly constant pressure. Such wasn’t the case with Dianne. She had a nearly insatiable thirst to learn.
Although most of the year, she would be with her mother, Dianne would also have the opportunity, during the summer and holidays, to follow her father during his assignments around the world. The best of both worlds, she had often reflected. Travelling had opened her ever-inquiring mind to all kinds of knowledge and experiences that she truly was sure few children had lived in their life. That also permitted her to develop a rather unusual yearning to seek out any option for an adventurous life that had marked her ever since. She would probably never have become the woman she was today if not for those early years of her life. They had made her what she now was.
And what was she at the moment? Soaked, freezing, dirty and cramped in the back of a lorry! All that because an infuriating man – a so-called friend – had decided he was quite able to take care of his own problems all by himself and would not accept any gracious offer from anyone to help him with whatever he had set himself up to do.
Sighing with irritation, she pushed aside the thick, heavy curtain separating her from the driver’s cabin, where she could hear the quiet music coming from the radio. The man seated behind the wheel – who had introduced himself to her as Roland when he had picked her up earlier – was, by his own admittance, an elderly man of nearly eighty – although he didn’t look it one bit. He was a strong man, with callused hands and white hair and beard, and piercing eyes that had addressed the drenched girl an appalled look of pity, when she had climbed in next to him. When he saw her reappearing from behind and handing him the hand-set communicator, he smiled at her. One gold tooth shone in the middle of his craggy-faced smile.
“Did you get hold of your friend?” he asked in a deep Welsh accented voice.
“Yes, we will meet at Stone Point Village,” Rhapsody told him with a faint nod. “It’s so kind of you to agree to take me there, Mr Roland…” When he had picked her up earlier, and he had looked so surprised to see her in such a state, she had told him her story – how her car had broken down and the first passing lorry had not stopped to help her, but on the contrary had deliberately rolled into a water-filled hole to splash her. Roland had been revolted that some drivers would behave in such a way towards a fellow driver in distress – especially if it was a woman.
“Please. Call me Roland. And don’t mention it. It won’t take me long to leave you there. When I saw you back there, alone on that road, I felt so sorry for you. You poor thing – I thought that if something like that happened to my granddaughter, I would like very much for someone to help her.” He snapped the hand-set into its place on the dashboard, not taking his eyes off the road. It had started raining, and the windshield was regularly hit by droplets, which were whisked away by the regular motion of the wipers. With one brief gesture, he pointed to the back, as Rhapsody was moving to climb back next to him, on the passenger seat. “You know, there’s a spare set of clothes in a drawer under the bunk behind. Okay, men’s clothes – and they probably won’t fit – but you’re welcome to them if you want.”
Rhapsody addressed him an inquiring look. “Roland, I can’t possibly accept…”
“See now, you’re going to catch cold in those clothes you’re wearing,” Roland protested. “I wouldn’t want that. And neither would you. Take the clothes. They’re yours.”
Rhapsody gave the older man a hesitant look. She heard him chuckle loudly.
“What’s the matter, are you afraid I will climb back there while you change? Or take a peek? I’m far too busy driving, see. And that wouldn’t be too gentlemanly of me, would it?” He waved with his free hand. “Just pull the curtain closed, that’s all. You won’t have to worry about me.”
“You’re really too kind, Roland.” Rhapsody said with a grateful smile, reaching for the curtain. She addressed him a warning look. “No PEEKING, right?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, young lady,” Roland smiled, keeping his eyes on the road as Rhapsody pulled the curtain across.
* * *
Paul Metcalfe felt bad for having left Rhapsody Angel stranded by the side of the road, the way he had done it. In fact, he was almost ashamed. Almost. He still felt rather angry that she had accepted this mission to follow him around, to spy on him like she did. Oh yes, she had her orders, of course. But she could always have said no to the mission, couldn’t she? It couldn’t possibly be considered such a significant assignment, after all. Probably voluntary, at that…. Colonel White would not have dared order two of his so-valuable pilots to tail him like that. How would he justify this mission, especially when all the Angels were so needed on Cloudbase?
Right. Rhapsody’s loyalty to the old man is such that when he says ‘jump’ she just asks ‘how high’, Scarlet thought with some bitterness. And Symphony had about the same feeling for the colonel. He couldn’t really blame them, truth to tell. If not for what he had learned himself about the Scarab Project, he would still share the same loyalty – the same trust he had before all this crazy affair began.
He hoped he hadn’t harmed his friendship with Rhapsody. He hoped he would be able to talk to her eventually, to explain why he needed to be left alone, to continue this quest he had set himself – without any interference from anyone, especially not from well-intentioned friends, who, in his opinion, would only hinder his efforts along the way.
Not to mention possibly endangering all of them.
I’m kidding myself, Scarlet reflected. She would not even listen to my explanation. He had a better chance of saving what was left of their friendship by asking for her forgiveness on his knees, and trying to make amends, somehow.
If I don’t get her knee in the mouth, I’ll be lucky, Scarlet thought grimly, remembering the fiery temper of his compatriot. Well, maybe I would deserve it, after what I’ve done. She would have every right to be angry with me.
And he was sure as Hell that she was furious with him.
For the moment, however, he had to put all those thoughts aside. It was time to get to work.
It was the second time that day that Paul Metcalfe entered the same pub in Stone Point Village. There were far more drinkers this time around, and there seemed to be even more smoke than previously, so his arrival was barely noticed. Yet, the barman saw him, over the heads of the customers lining along the bar in front of him; and by the look on his face, he had recognised him.
Busy polishing a glass, the barman gestured almost imperceptibly to the newcomer, who quietly made his way toward him. Scarlet took a place at the end of the counter, just in front of him.
"He's here?" he asked in a casual tone.
The barman nodded briefly. "He arrived about an hour ago."
Scarlet refrained from blowing a sigh of relief. Finally, something was paying off. Since he had learned of that man's existence, from the report made by Spectrum agents following the death of Erik Dalton, he had been looking all over Stone Point Village, hoping to find him. Having learned that the local bar was his usual hanging out place, and that he would have the most chance of finding him there, he had interrogated the barman earlier that day, even given him some money for his information. The barman had told him to come back a little later, when Scarlet’s quarry would most likely be in the pub for his ‘usual nip in’ – which, it was Scarlet’s understanding, usually lasted most of the evening.
“Where?” the Spectrum officer asked.
The barman nodded toward a corner of the pub. Scarlet turned slightly and saw a man seated all by himself at a lonely table, with a pint glass in front of him. “He’s already had three pints so far,” the barman said. “And I reckon he already had a few before coming here. So if you want to talk to him, now’s the time. He’s drunk enough to tell you anything you want, and not too drunk for you not to understand what he’ll be saying.”
“Thanks. I’ll have a pint of the same, if you will.” Scarlet put money on the counter, in front of the barman, more than was necessary to pay for the beer he had just ordered. “Thanks for the help.”
“Pleasure doing business with you, sir. Now be careful with him – when he’s drunk, he’s half-crazy. He might tell you stuff that doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
The barman having given him his beer, Scarlet made his way through the room toward the man seated all alone, whom he found contemplating his half-filled pint with an expression of drunken contentment on his face. Scarlet put down his own pint glass on the table, attracting the man’s attention.
“Giles Hansen?” Scarlet asked as the man raised his eyes to him.
“Who wants to know?” the drunk slurred, squinting his eyes to look up at the tall man towering above him.
“I understand we had a mutual… friend, Mr Hansen.” Scarlet gave a brief nod. “Erik Dalton? The owner of the Delta garage in this village?”
“Erik Dalton is dead,” Hansen muttered, lowering his gaze.
“Yes, I know. I heard about that. Mind if I sit down?”
“It’s a free country…”
Scarlet took the chair opposite Hansen, who took a large gulp of his beer. To put the man at ease, Scarlet did the same, before starting in. “I was wondering if you could tell me a little about Erik Dalton’s death…”
“What makes you think I’ve got anything to tell you? That I know anything about it?”
“I’m not accusing you, Mr Hansen,” Scarlet replied with a reassuring smile. “But… I heard say you were… witness to… what happened back there at the garage?”
“Where did you hear that?” Hansen inquired.
“A lot of people have been talking about it in town,” Scarlet answered.
“What is it to you?”
“I’m just curious… I want to know what happened to Erik, that’s all.”
Hansen narrowed his eyes, looking closely at the man seated in front of him. “You look familiar… Have we met before?”
The realisation came to Scarlet’s mind that maybe Hansen had indeed seen him before – when he had come a few days ago, dressed in his Spectrum uniform, with Captain Blue. After all, Hansen had been interrogated by Spectrum, as a possible witness of what had happened at the Delta Garage. Did he see the two Spectrum officers when they came? The report didn’t say. Scarlet shook his head to the negative, not waiting to frighten the man away.
“Maybe I have that kind of face?” he suggested to Hansen with a large grin.
The latter shrugged indifferently. “You said you were friends with Erik?”
“We went back a long way. We… worked in the same trade.”
“You don’t LOOK like a mechanic…”
“Erik’s not always been a mechanic,” Scarlet replied in a non-committal tone. Seeing that Hansen was finishing his beer, he did the same with his own, if only to gain more of the man’s trust. It wasn’t too bad. Maybe a little stale, perhaps. When he put the glass down, it was to see Hansen looking at him approvingly.
“So you want to hear my story, Mr…?”
“Metcalfe. Yes, I’d very much like to know what you can tell me of Erik’s death.” Scarlet leaned toward the man seated opposite him. “I do not believe the truth has been entirely told to me.”
Hansen scoffed. “You might be right at that,” he grumbled. “You know about those Spectrum people who’ve been crawling around the place since that time? Why would Spectrum be interested in Erik’s death, I ask you… They’re hiding something.”
“You don’t say,” Scarlet muttered almost to himself.
“And that’s not even COUNTING what that lot at that Atomic Centre may be up to either… You know their own security have been all over the place too? Looking around, taking samples from the ground, talking with people… Doing their own investigation, they said. Well, I think they’re in league with Spectrum – whatever they may be up to. There’s nothing good that can come from those nuclear manipulations, I tell you… Not natural.”
Scarlet refrained from blowing a sigh. Hansen was not only a drunk, but seemed to also suffer from paranoid delusion. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to seek him out after all – perhaps he didn’t have such interesting information to offer… “Mr Hansen, about Erik Dalton…”
“Oh yes, you want to talk about Erik. Sure. Why don’t I tell you all about it over a couple of beers?” he asked. He grinned. “Of course, since I’ll tell the tale, you’ll be paying…”
Scarlet nearly gave the man an annoyed look; he didn’t want to take the risk of leaving without hearing his story. He might, indeed, tell him something interesting. He took some banknotes from his pocket, sighing. “Okay, Mr Hansen. We’ll do it your way, then.” Scarlet indicated Hansen’s empty glass. “Same again?”
“You’ll join me, of course?” Hansen said.
“Of course,” Scarlet replied with a faint smile, before going up to the bar for two fresh pints. Putting them down on the table, he watched as Hansen took his first mouthful. “Now, Mr Hansen… What is it you have to tell me exactly?”
* * *
“The rain is getting worse. It’s getting difficult to see clearly.”
Symphony, at the wheel of Green’s car, was carefully watching the road ahead, through the windshield awash with hard falling rain. The night had fallen earlier than usual, because of the heavy clouds’ low ceiling, and even the car’s powerful lights were barely enough to get through the dark and water. Symphony had insisted on driving, while Green, seated in the passenger seat, was busy consulting the onboard computer, making enquiries based on the information that the American pilot had given him earlier, concerning what she had learned from Dr. Willard at Culver Hospital. Green had entered the main computer of Spectrum London HQ, and was now checking the various reports that had been filed following the failed mission in the area, a couple of days ago.
“There he is,” the young lieutenant beamed triumphantly. “Giles Hansen… A local drifter of the area, with a tendency toward the bottle… Does odd jobs around these parts – Erik Dalton even hired him a few times at the Delta Garage, where he would change cars’ oil, fluids, tyres, that sort of easy work. He indeed was interrogated as a possible witness to Erik Dalton’s murder. The night before, after leaving the pub at about midnight, he had fallen asleep in an alley behind the garage. He had been awakened by loud music and strange screeching sounds.” Green turned to Symphony. “He saw Captain Black.”
“When Hansen went to check what was going on inside, he said he saw a dark-haired, pale man in dark clothes stepping out of the garage and walking into the alley he had just left.”
“That fits Captain Black’s description all right,” Symphony muttered.
“Hansen said he went into a small adjoining building behind the garage that Dalton normally always kept locked. Thinking he might be a robber, Hansen wanted to follow, but then he said he bumped into Dalton.”
“Wait a minute – where was that SPV stolen by Black originally stored?”
“According to the Delta garage record – that said adjoining building. Hansen doesn’t seem to have seen the SPV leave – he didn’t mention it.”
“Wanna bet that ‘Dalton’ he met wasn’t the real Dalton at all but the duplicate?”
“Yeah. Dalton was probably already dead, killed by Black. The duplicate must have kept Hansen busy while Black stole the SPV and left the place. Hansen just told the investigators that Dalton refused to let him inside the garage and chased him away, because ‘he was too drunk and would hurt himself around the tools’.”
“Hansen was LUCKY to get out of this alive,” Symphony mused.
“The official report from the police doesn’t mention Black,” Green continued with a frown. “I wonder why… Did he tell them about him? Maybe he was still too drunk to remember clearly. He did tell Spectrum about the ‘pale-as-death-itself’ man he had seen.”
“Still everything comes back to Black,” Symphony noted.
“It would seem so, yes. Maybe Captain Scarlet is searching for that Hansen fellow?”
“Oh, he probably would, if he thinks Hansen can tell him anything about Captain Black. He’s looking for him. Now I’m certain of it.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” remarked Green. “Surely, Black isn’t – couldn’t be in the area anymore. Is he?” He gave a doubtful glance at Symphony who shrugged a helpless answer. “What could possess Captain Scarlet to think he might still be around?”
“I don’t know – but Scarlet seems to be clutching at every straw in the hope of finding out everything he can. He even wanted to see Erik Dalton’s body at the hospital – I don’t know what good it would have been.”
“Did he see it?” Green asked.
Symphony shook her head. “No, Dr. Willard told me it had been sent back to London recently.”
Green frowned. “It wasn’t in the report…”
“Must have happened very recently,” Symphony pursued. “After the report had been written.”
“Could be…” Green quickly typed a few keys on the portable, accessing new data from London HQ. He grumbled and shook his head. “Still nothing… Symphony, it doesn’t appear as if the body has reached London yet – or that it had even been sent there.”
“Willard lied to me?” Symphony said with a deep frown. “Why?”
“He may have made a mistake.”
“He was pretty categorical, Lieutenant. How can you make a mistake with that kind of information?”
“Maybe he mistook the body’s destination?” Green offered. He was starting to doubt. And he could see it was the same with Symphony. Grimly, he took out his personal communicator, and opened a direct channel to Spectrum HQ London. “Only one way to find out with certitude what happened to that body,” he mumbled.
“Seymour,” Symphony said, with a concerned glint passing in her eyes, “I’m starting to get a bad feeling about it…”
“Yeah. Me too,” Green answered dourly. And then, into his communicator, “this is Lieutenant Green. Give me Lieutenant Damask, please. Yeah, I think it’s rather important. I need some information…”
* * *
Roland left Rhapsody Angel in front of the small restaurant in Stone Point Village where Scarlet had taken a meal the day before. It was raining hard and Rhapsody took the time to thank the older man before stepping out of the vehicle. She tried to get him to give her his address, so she would be able to send him back his clothes, but he didn’t want to hear about it, and urged her to get inside the restaurant as fast as possible, before the rain soaked her again. The last thing Rhapsody saw of Roland was his broad and sympathetic smile, and his gold tooth, as she thanked him again gracefully, before closing the passenger door and hurrying to the restaurant’s doorstep.
Under the safety of the porch roof, Rhapsody watched as Roland’s lorry pulled away and took the road again, leaving her behind. She watched its departure until it took the next turn and disappeared. Then she evaluated what to do next. The best, she thought at first, would be to follow Roland’s advice and to step inside the café to wait for Symphony and Lieutenant Green’s arrival. Of course, she would have to find out about Scarlet’s whereabouts, but this rain wouldn’t help her search, and considering Symphony’s last instructions – and how she felt at the moment – she doubted it would be a very wise move.
She looked at herself, grumbling. Roland’s clothes were a little crumpled and way too large for her. She was literally losing herself in them. She had to pierce a new hole way down the belt in order to fasten it more comfortably, and fold the bottoms of the trousers many times. Still, they were dry and clean, which made them far more comfortable than her soaked clothes which she was holding in a plastic bag tucked under her arm. She felt sure she would attract attention, when she entered the café, dressed like this, with her hair still wet and tied into a very loose, untidy ponytail. She gave a low grunt. Well, she couldn’t very well stay on the porch like this and wait eternally, anyway…
She was about to enter the café when her eye, wandering about one last time, caught a glimpse of the lighted front of Stone Point Village’s lone pub, just the other side of the dark road. There were a number of cars, trucks and lorries parked in front of it, and one of them attracted Rhapsody’s attention. She narrowed her eyes attentively.
It was Captain Scarlet’s car.
All of a sudden, Rhapsody felt her anger coming back. All of her resolution to wait for the others to arrive left her in a flash. She had to go, and confront that rude, discourteous, self-righteous, arrogant oaf and give him a piece of her mind.
She quickly strode across the street, not taking much notice of the rain falling onto her, passed right next to the car and put her plastic bag of wet clothes onto the hood. She glanced only once at a red transport lorry parked a few metres away from her, and that she also recognised. She gave only one frown. One louse at a time, she reasoned to herself.
She walked purposefully toward the entrance of the bar.
* * *
"And that's the story, Mr Metcalfe. Now you know even more than the police themselves."
Captain Scarlet leaned back in his chair, his eyes narrowed, scrutinising Hansen with attention. Between the two men, there was almost a mountain of beer glasses - each of them had drunk their fair share, but while Scarlet remained totally unaffected by the alcohol, Hansen had became more and more uninhibited with it - and the more he drank, the more talkative he became.
Hansen had told Scarlet about his relationship with Erik Dalton - how the man had taken a liking to him and had become his friend, and had often employed him at the garage, to do a few easy jobs on cars. Dalton didn't have a regular employee - he couldn't afford to make use of one anyway, in fear of seeing his cover blown. So Hansen was quite willing to fill in whenever there was need of an extra pair of hands. Dalton had not even considered telling 'his friend' about the fact that he was an undercover agent for Spectrum. Which was a very wise move, really, as Hansen would probably have blown the whistle on him. He wasn't, as Scarlet was discovering, the most discreet of persons. A few beers, drunk in the company of any generous enough provider, and he would open up and tell everything that would be asked of him.
What Hansen had told Scarlet wasn't really new. Unbeknown to him, Hansen had been the witness of Dalton's murder - those screeching sounds he had heard could be nothing else but the sounds made by the car as it was crushed against the ceiling of the garage, killing Dalton who was still in it. The music had been turned louder so to cover the possible screams of the victim. And the 'Erik Dalton' Hansen met afterward was the Mysteron duplicate, there was no doubt in Scarlet's mind.
And Hansen had seen Captain Black. JUST before he had fled the garage, stealing the SPV hidden inside. Hansen had never suspected a thing. And yet... he had just revealed something to Scarlet that he had not dared say to the police.
Hansen had found the behaviour of his 'friend' Dalton rather unusual. When the Mysteron duplicate had attracted the drunken witness's attention away from the fleeing Black, and subsequently chased him away, Hansen was able to get a peek at the interior of the garage. He had seen the car crushed against the ceiling and had found it so very unusual - unusual enough to ask Dalton what had happened.
"He simply said he had trouble with the hoist," Hansen said with a shrug, draining his sixth - seventh? – glass. “Ah, I don’t know… that looked rather suspicious... even if it’s me saying so. And I was rather…”
Scarlet raised a brow, seeing that Hansen was looking for a right word to describe his state at the time. “Uninhibited?” he offered matter-of-factly.
“Yeah,” Hansen agreed. “Well, even Erik didn’t seem like his old self… He was distant.” Scarlet nodded his understanding. Of course, neither the police nor Spectrum had told Hansen about the replicate – or rather the ‘twin story’. He thought he had been talking to Dalton himself. But he knew Dalton very well, and he had noticed something strange anyway.
“Mr. Hansen,” Scarlet moved on, “that man you saw leaving the garage… Did he see you?”
Hansen gave it some thought. “Yeah, once,” he said with a nod. “Just before he disappeared from my view to go into the annex. What cold eyes he had… He simply gave a quick glance over to me but didn’t say a word.” He shrugged. “That’s when Erik came over to me and chased me away.”
You were lucky he only chased you, my friend, Scarlet thought grimly. Hansen was far from imagining how CLOSE he had come to becoming another victim of the Mysterons – just like his friend Dalton.
He was about to ask further questions when he caught sight of a female figure who was making her way across the floor, passing between seated and standing men, raising a flow of mocking or appreciative whistles and other various sounds in her wake. She appeared totally oblivious to all this, and with a determined and absolutely set expression on her face, she walked directly towards him. He groaned, and sat up straight, at her approach.
“What are you doing here?” he asked with an annoyed sigh when she stopped right next to their table.
“What am I doing here?” she replied acerbically, putting down her handbag onto the table with unnecessary roughness. “What are you doing here?”
Scarlet stared at her, examined her from top to toes, then looked at her straight in the face again. He would have to be blind not to notice her wet hair and the way she was dressed. “What happened to you?”
She scoffed derisively. “You have the gall to ask me that?”
“Who’s that?” Hansen muttered, eyeing Rhapsody from under heavy eyelids. “Your wife?”
Rhapsody literally bristled at the remark, as if it was an insult. “I am NOT his…”
“I don’t think it was a good idea for you to come here,” Scarlet suddenly interrupted. He had pushed his chair back, and stood up to take her by the arm. He looked around, meaningfully. “It’s not a place for you.”
“And I suppose it is one for you?” She wrinkled her nose and sniffed with obvious disgust. “You’re drunk!”
“I am not drunk,” he stated between his teeth.
“Of course you’re not,” Rhapsody spat. “It’s just your new aftershave…” She roughly freed herself from his grip. “…Largely flooded with alcohol. DON’T touch me, you…”
“Listen, lady,” Hansen then said in a louder tone, straightening on his chair to look up to Rhapsody a little more levelly, “this is a free country. If your husband wants to be alone and have a couple of beers, you can’t stop him.”
Rhapsody eyed him with contempt before turning to Scarlet. “New drinking buddy of yours?”
“I REALLY think you should get the hell out of here… dear,” Scarlet replied between his teeth, getting closer and offering her a forced smile. He was starting to notice the few looks that this scene was drawing to them and he didn’t need to attract attention this way.
“And I’ll thank you NOT to order me around… dear,” Rhapsody replied in the same tone.
She saw his eyes burn hotter. “The same goes for you,” he answered back icily.
Rhapsody was about to answer in kind when a loud laugh made itself heard very near to her ear and she turned around in time to see a big, jovial middle-age man standing there, and insistently presenting her with an enormous glass filled with beer. He obviously had trouble standing upright and some of the beer nearly spilled on her; she made a step back to avoid the new rain – and the man’s awfully stinking breath.
“Here, girlie,” he told her, still laughing merrily, “Can I offer you a beer? You look like you need it!”
Both Scarlet and Rhapsody eyed the newcomer who had just stepped into the conversation, uninvited. He started laughing stupidly, looking over his shoulder to exchange a wink with two of his buddies who had followed him and who obviously were having as much fun as himself. Scarlet was about to tell the man off and to mind his own business, when Rhapsody, who was staring at the man meaningfully, gave a slow nod and started talking:
“You wouldn’t, by any chance, be the driver of a bright red lorry – which is parked just in front of this door?” she asked the man with something of a syrupy tone.
“You got it, darlin’,” the man slurred, swaying on his feet, a broad, stupid smirk threatening to crack his face in two, winking again briefly at his mates behind him.
“Right. I thought I recognised your vehicle. And your laugh. Even if you were going – a little too fast for my taste, when I saw you earlier on the road.”
“What can I say, lady... I was rather in a hurry to get a delivery of booze to this place… All my friends working up a mighty thirst in here… They were relying on me. Isn’t that right, mates?” he said, turning to his chuckling friends.
Scarlet clearly was at a loss as to what the exchange could be all about. He was worried. Rhapsody looked like she was literally fuming. With the kind of cold anger that was threatening to explode.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” the man continued, “but surely, you realise that you made a pretty tempting target, lady… Just to show you there’s no hard feelings…” He forced the glass into Rhapsody’s hand, still giggling. “If I’m not mistaken, I think you would need this to warm you up a little, ain’t that right?”
Scarlet gave the man a warning look. He had obviously misunderstood what the man was really implying. “Watch it, mate…” he started, taking a step forward, but stopped his advance when Rhapsody put a firm hand against his chest. She was looking at the man very quietly, nodding, the pint in her hand.
“Actually, sir,” she replied in the most civil of tones, “I think you’re in more need of it than me… to cool yourself off.”
With that, she splashed the entire contents of the glass straight into the man’s face. He gasped loudly, and opened eyes wide with surprise. And outrage.
He wasn’t the only one surprised. Scarlet, and everyone around close enough to have witnessed the scene, were staring at an unruffled and defiant-looking Rhapsody with bewildered eyes. Scarlet couldn’t believe she had actually done that – in the middle of a dirty, smoke-filled bar, standing up to a mammoth man twice her weight. And all that, while succeeding to still look so –
It took a few seconds for the man, dripping with beer, to get over his astonishment. He stepped threateningly toward Rhapsody. “Why you, I oughta…” His two friends and a few close customers were barely enough to hold him at bay before he could reach the young woman. The man turned around to punch the first face within reach – and that had the effect of starting a chain reaction when the victim started protesting and others joined into the fray. With numerous men starting to throw punches and yelling insults, Scarlet swiftly grabbed Rhapsody’s arm as she was reaching for her handbag on the table.
“You’d better get OUT of here!” he barked at her over the ruckus.
“Only if you come with me!” she replied in the same tone.
Scarlet turned around to see that Hansen had quickly left his seat and was making himself scarce – taking along a bottle of alcohol he had grasped from a now abandoned table. The captain grumbled with irritation; he kept a firm hold on Rhapsody’s arm and with her in tow, made his way toward the exit, trying to avoid the brawl, which was getting bigger by the second.
They somehow, miraculously, reached the door and went out, without either of them having been bothered. Only once outside and under the porch roof did Scarlet release Rhapsody’s arm to turn furiously on her. The rain was falling even harder than before, flooding the main road.
“What did you think you were doing in there, throwing that beer into that man’s face?” Scarlet asked angrily. “You should have left him to me!”
“I don’t NEED you, of all people, to act as my knight in shining armour!” Rhapsody snapped back furiously. “I can fight my own battles!”
“You’re raving, woman! That brute could have snapped you in two!”
“Don’t you DARE talk to me like that!”
Scarlet waved his hand in annoyance at her. “I don’t have to listen to this,” he said, walking toward his car. “I’m leaving.”
“NOT without me!” Rhapsody protested, following him.
She grabbed the plastic bag that she had left on the hood and reached for the passenger door. Scarlet addressed her an irate look over the rooftop. Considering what had happened in the pub, he couldn’t very well leave her where she was. He could already hear the ruckus approaching the door. What if that man was to come after her?
“Fine, get inside!” he shouted abruptly, opening his door. “And don’t you criticise my driving!”
Rhapsody opened her door and quickly got inside, eyeing Scarlet. “Maybe you shouldn’t be driving, with all that alcohol you’ve had…”
He furiously slammed his door shut and gave her a warning – and murderous – look. “I am NOT drunk!” He turned the ignition key, a grim expression on his face. “I can’t get drunk anymore…” he added in an undertone.
“Oh! I see…” Rhapsody seemed to be taken a little aback. She closed her own door, without adding another word. She didn’t need Scarlet to elaborate any further.
A second later, the car was leaving the front of the pub, just as the big lorry driver was coming out, followed by his friends.
In the safety of the car, Rhapsody looked over her shoulder and saw the three men giving chase after them – on foot. They gave up after a short distance, obviously realising the futility of racing after a speeding car. She gave a deep sigh and sat back in her seat, more comfortably. She glanced at a grim-looking Scarlet. He was staring right ahead at the road, as they were leaving Stone Point Village – and by the look of things, he was heading back to Stourford. For what it was worth, he had told the truth, and didn’t seem at all bothered by all the alcohol he had drunk earlier – although the smell of his breath was evidence enough to betray him. His driving was smooth enough, even taking into account the bad state of the road.
“Thanks for the lift,” Rhapsody said matter-of-factly.
“Keep quiet,” Scarlet replied. “I don’t want to hear a word from you or I’ll throw you OUT in the rain.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” she gasped with outrage.
“DON’T tempt me. If it could only force some sense into your THICK skull…”
“If you’re referring to what happened with that big bully back there, it was all YOUR FAULT!”
“If you had not left me on that road, that creep would never have splashed me in the first place!”
“Never mind,” Rhapsody grumbled with irritation, waving the explanation away. “I never realised how ILL-MANNERED you could be before today!”
Scarlet blew a deep sigh and rolled his eyes. Count to ten, Paul… “I asked you to leave me alone,” he said, his tone softening, but still very angry. “You didn’t listen to me. And now, you have made my investigation even more difficult than it already is.”
“What investigation?” Rhapsody asked with a deep frown, barely cooling down. “This is some fantasy of yours, and frankly, I don’t think you even know yourself what it is you’re looking for…”
“I know what I’m looking for.”
“Do you? Then let us help you with it.”
“I already told you that I don’t need your help!”
“Why, of all the thick-headed, insufferable, obnoxious…” One of the wheels ran into a hole in the road and almost made Rhapsody jump to the roof. She gave a very exasperated glance at Scarlet. “Watch it! You nearly knocked me out!”
“I asked you not to…”
A violent shock coming from behind suddenly interrupted Scarlet and both he and Rhapsody, taken by surprise, found themselves thrown forward in their seats. A second shock followed, in much the same fashion, but more brutal, that left no doubt that there was something behind, ramming them roughly. Rhapsody turned around swiftly in her seat to check and Scarlet gave a glance into the rear-view mirror. At the same instant, powerful headlights from a vehicle following very close behind were turned on, nearly blinding them. And a third shock confirmed that the driver of this vehicle intended to hurt them.
“Who could that be?” Rhapsody said with a frown.
“Two guesses?” Scarlet mumbled. “Probably, our friends from the pub don’t want to leave us before saying their proper goodbyes.” He put the car into a new gear, and pressed down the accelerator. “Hang on.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Rhapsody said, buckling herself up.
The car jumped forward, and Rhapsody caught herself on the dashboard, giving her companion a rather worried look. He didn’t look back at her; his attention was focused on the watery and muddy road ahead, only leaving it briefly to turn his eyes on the rear-view mirror toward the vehicle behind. It had accelerated too, first to match the car’s new speed, and then went even faster. The next bump the car suffered was less violent that the preceding ones, and Rhapsody turned around on her seat.
“Can you see anything?” Scarlet demanded of her hurriedly. “What vehicle it is, who’s at the wheel?”
She shook her head. “The headlights are too bright in this rain… But it doesn’t look like that red lorry…”
With alarm, she saw the sudden burst of speed in the pursuing vehicle and thought it was about to hit the rear of the car again. But instead, at what seemed the last possible second, it brusquely veered into the next lane – and drew level with the car. With a sudden swerve, it hit the rear fender – so violently that both Scarlet and Rhapsody heard the metal screeching, and the turn indicator bursting. The car nearly jumped off the road, but Scarlet manoeuvred it expertly enough to keep it on track.
By now, Rhapsody was able to get a good look at their pursuer. She shook her head. It really wasn’t the red lorry she had first expected to find. “Large pick-up, apparently grey,” she reported to Scarlet. “I don’t think I saw it in the pub’s car park. I can’t see the driver.”
Another violent bump pushed the car aside; Scarlet was fighting with the wheel to keep it straight. “Whoever that is, he’s trying to force us off the road,” he muttered. And with all that water and mud, the asphalt was so slippery it was taking all of his skills and concentration. He pressed down the accelerator even more – the car skidded dangerously, but gained some distance from the pursuing truck. Scarlet glanced at Rhapsody; she was keeping an eye on the rear, watching the pick-up. Scarlet was acutely aware that if they were to have an accident, the young woman could get seriously hurt.
“He’s coming up for another try,” she suddenly announced.
Scarlet heard the truck’s engine as it roared by his side, so very close to the car. He tried to push it away, bumping into the front fender, but the truck was heavier, more powerful than his car. It sped past the car, sending mud and water onto the windshield, momentarily blinding both driver and passenger…
Then skidded to a halt, and blocked the path straight ahead.
Scarlet’s two feet hit the brake in an instant. He heard the screeching of the tyres on the slippery surface of the road, unable to get any grip, and sending the car into an uncontrolled skid straight toward the truck. Scarlet tried his best to avoid the collision, but there was little he could do. He did succeed in turning the car enough so it wouldn’t hit the truck head-on – but the jolt was enough to send the car completely off the road. The front tyres left the ground entirely and the car literally jumped over the ditch. Scarlet held on to the wheel, and Rhapsody gave a sharp intake of breath before squeezing her eyes shut – both hoping that the landing wouldn’t be as rough as they feared it would be.
The car tilted to one side in mid-air and landed on the driver’s side, hit the side of a tree, then flipped completely, with a deafening squeal, sending pieces of metal flying in all directions. Then it heavily fell back on its tyres, leaning on the side of the ditch, at an odd angle, its headlights still on.
Rhapsody had been stunned by the accident, but she was still conscious when everything finally stopped. Her heart pounding wildly, she tried her best to regain control, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. Then she quickly checked herself; she felt sore all over, and had a shooting pain in her right shoulder and arm, but it didn’t feel broken or anything as serious. She could feel a drop of blood running under her hair and reached with her hand to discover a glass cut. There was nothing more. It was a miracle she wasn’t more wounded. Her belt had probably saved her.
She looked to her right to check on Scarlet, he was leaning forward loosely, barely held onto his seat by his safety belt. His eyes were closed and there was blood running down the side of his head. His door was wide open, half torn from its hinges, and was hanging toward the ground below, leaning against a clump of small oak trees. Rhapsody released her belt and carefully leaned toward her companion.
“Captain?” She reached for his shoulder and gently shook him. He didn’t react. She shook a little more insistently. “Captain Scarlet, can you hear me? Paul!” He simply groaned but went quiet almost instantly. He had obviously been knocked hard. She was relieved that he was alive, though, but at the same time, felt a little concerned. They couldn’t stay in the car, that was certain. And since Scarlet was in no way able to get out by himself, she’d have to help him.
She pressed the release button of his belt and felt a certain alarm when she saw his body sliding off the seat toward the opening left by the half-wrenched door. She tried to hold on to him as best she could, so he wouldn’t fall off too roughly, but he was heavier than she first anticipated. She nevertheless succeeded in smoothing his descent, and he fell on the muddy ground with a huff. He didn’t even make a move.
Rhapsody gave a grunt. She squeezed out of her seat and extricated herself from the car, sliding beside the still body lying in the mud. She landed on her hands and knees, the rain so heavy it was washing over her like a cold shower. Even that didn’t seem enough to draw Scarlet from his unconsciousness. Right, thought an annoyed Rhapsody. Leave it to me to do all the work… She sniffed with disgust. There was a very strong odour of petrol pervading the place; the fuel tank had obviously been heavily damaged, perforated, and the petrol was probably pouring down onto the ground, mixing itself with the muddy water. They couldn’t stay here. It was far too dangerous, in case the car caught fire. She caught hold of Scarlet’s arms and started pulling.
“I wish you would wake up already, Paul,” she grunted under the effort. “You don’t have any idea how heavy you are for me…” Her plea remained unanswered and she continued to pull, dragging him away from the car inch by inch, as quickly as she could.
She had only managed a couple of feet when she became aware of running footsteps coming in her direction. She turned around, hoping help was on its way. Of course she was half-expecting it would be the driver of the grey pick-up, and that, maybe, after having witnessed the accident he had caused, he would have felt guilty enough to lend a hand, but she was rather surprised when the man who stood in front of her suddenly grabbed her by the throat and threw her roughly against the inclined side of the car. She gasped, almost as much from the shock of surprise as from the pain reverberating in her back when it hit the car so violently. The man pushed her backward, bending her over the hood, not releasing his hold on her throat. She blinked and looked up, bewildered, into the distorted face of her attacker. There was an evil smirk on his thin lips, and a coldness in his eyes that seemed totally inhuman.
She had seen that face… but she couldn’t recall where.
“You never thought you would find me in your way, did you, Earthwoman?”
Rhapsody blinked. Earthwoman…? A Mysteron…?
Then she remembered.
That face. It was the same as the one she had seen pictured in a recent report she had read.
It was Erik Dalton’s face!
The realisation of who her attacker really was, and that there was no doubt in her mind that he meant to kill her, made Rhapsody react instinctively. Her leg went up and her foot hit the man at exactly the right spot where she knew it would hurt enough for him to release her. He gave a loud moan and buckled in two, his grip relaxing. Rhapsody pushed him aside and quickly scrambled away from the car – at the same time putting some distance between her and her attacker. She tried to climb up the ditch, slipped on the mud and back down – to find herself sitting in the mud, looking up as the man walked slowly, menacingly, towards her.
“How can you be here?” she gasped, confused by his presence. “You’re dead!”
“Of course I’m dead, Earthwoman,” the Dalton replicate said with a thin smile. “Didn’t you read Spectrum’s official report?” He chuckled wickedly. “Maybe you shouldn’t believe everything you read…”
Rhapsody tried to escape him, but he was faster and caught her arm, gripping it a vice-like hold. She managed to hit him across the face, but while her hand made contact, it barely had any effect, as he viciously backhanded her, sending her sliding down wildly to the bottom of the ditch. She hit the back of her head against a protruding root, wincing under the impact. She lay still, stunned, barely aware that the Mysteron was now approaching her very slowly, taking his time as he could see she was helpless.
His advance was brusquely interrupted when a strong hand grasped his shoulder and forced him to turn around; a second later, a violent punch in the jaw sent Dalton sprawling in the mud. Scarlet was standing on his feet, although precariously, his face half-covered with blood pouring from multiple deep cuts he had sustained when the car had hit the ground and the door window had burst into fragments. He had regained his senses just seconds ago, in time to witness Rhapsody’s predicament. He had not totally recovered his strength, obviously, but that didn’t stop him intervening – or taking a threatening – if somewhat unsteady – step forward the Mysteron agent. The latter spat out some blood and quickly got to his feet, picking up from the ground a sharp piece of metal that had been torn from the car.
“The Mysterons have ordered the woman’s death, Earthman,” he spat with confidence, brandishing his improvised weapon. “And yours as well…”
Scarlet stopped his advance, keeping at a safe distance from the sharp object he was threatened with. He was breathing in deep gulps, trying to regain what he could of his senses and strength. He briefly gave a concerned look in the direction of the half-stunned Rhapsody, who was very slowly regaining her bearings, before returning his attention to Dalton. “I thought they had done just that months ago,” he muttered under his breath.
Dalton sprang forward to attack, raising his weapon, but Scarlet caught hold of his hand in mid-air, and grasped at the Mysteron’s clothes, forcing him backward, and pushing him hard against the side of the damaged car; it tilted dangerously under the violent shove, but neither combatant seemed concerned about that. Dalton stepped onto Scarlet’s toes, before elbowing him in the stomach. He was, obviously, an expert fighter, more than able to hold his own against the injured Spectrum captain whose hold relaxed just enough for Dalton to push him off to the side and then against the opening of the half-destroyed door. The lowest part of Scarlet’s back brutally hit what was left of the metallic door mirror, which had been broken into a tapered fragment. It was hard and sharp enough to drive itself deeply into his flesh, forcing a cry from his lips. The pain gave him enough desperate strength to repel his opponent’s assault with another, vigorous jab in the face, just before the later was able to hit him with his weapon. Dalton lost his footing on the slippery ground and fell on his back.
Stuck onto whatever had cut him, Scarlet pushed himself off the car, giving a violent shove as he did so. The piece of metal broke with an audible snap. Scarlet grunted; he could feel something was still inside of him, as he fell on his knees. As he tried to move, it sent a shooting pain through the side of his body. He instinctively reached for it with both hands and grimaced when he felt both metal and pouring blood under his fingers.
His attention diverted from it when he saw Dalton standing on his feet again and getting ready for another attack; Scarlet was, he realised instantly, totally at the mercy of that heavy object the Mysteron was lifting again. Scarlet desperately attempted to evade the blow. Dalton’s weapon hit his left shoulder brutally – driving him back onto the ground. The piece of metal in Scarlet’s side shifted, and he grunted under the renewed pain. He was fighting not to give in to it, when Dalton followed up his attack. Kneeling astride him, the Mysteron pushed Scarlet’s head down violently. Scarlet’s head hit a rock and he saw stars dancing in front of his eyes.
By now, Scarlet had barely enough consciousness left to offer any resistance to Dalton, as the latter, pinning him down on the ground, was hitting his head down with force again and again. He could only see his assailant’s features through a haze that was thickening at each blow. He thought he would soon lose his senses, when the Mysteron stopped suddenly, and holding him by the collar of his shirt with a tightened grip, looked down at him with an expression of total contempt and hate.
“Before I kill you,” Dalton growled between clenched teeth, “tell me: did Hansen have it? Did he give it to you?”
Scarlet blinked, unsure if he understood. “Wh-what… I…” His slurred answer, apparently too slow for the Mysteron’s taste, died with a moan, when Dalton smashed his head once more against the rock.
“Did he give it to you?” Dalton asked more insistently. He failed to receive an answer this time around, as Scarlet, unable to speak, and perhaps even to comprehend, groaned unintelligibly. The Mysteron agent grunted with total disdain and grabbed Scarlet’s hair. “No matter,” he spat. “We’ll find what we’re looking for. And when we do, the Mysterons will have their revenge. But this time, you won’t be there to stop us!”
He was about to smash Scarlet’s head again, when the latter, miraculously, found a last reserve of strength within him, and pushed him off, using his legs and right arm as balance. Taken by surprise, Dalton was thrown off his victim and fell clear of him. Despite his valiant effort, Scarlet was however unable to get back on his feet, and could only roll away, trying to at least raise himself to his knees. It was only a momentary reprieve. He could see that the Mysteron agent was already getting up and coming back towards him.
Unable to do more, Scarlet braced himself for the new attack, when he heard a cracking sound – a gunshot – and saw Dalton shudder under the impact of a bullet that exploded into his chest. He gave a brief cry and then fell back, before sliding down against the damaged car, where he lay still.
Scarlet looked at him in confusion, before turning his head at the sound of approaching footsteps. Rhapsody appeared next to him, a determined and severe expression on her face, and a small gun smoking in her slender hand, still trained on the motionless body lying next to the car. She briefly knelt by Scarlet’s side and helped him to get on his feet. He winced at the effort and she looked up at him in concern. “Can you stand?”
“With your help, I will manage,” he seethed between his teeth. He glanced at the damaged car and sniffed meaningfully. The distinct smell of petrol all around made him vividly aware that they were still in danger. He gave a disgusted stare toward the Mysteron lying in the mud, the blood pouring from his chest washed away by the falling rain. “Let’s get out of this ditch, quickly,” he instructed, taking a step towards the steep slope.
His whole left side was in fire, and it was torture to ask his left leg to move up the side of the ditch; he had to lean heavily on Rhapsody to actually be able to reach the top without falling. He was heavy, and he was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to hold him, but the young woman had more strength in her that he might have realised at first. And she wasn’t the kind of person to give up easily when facing a challenge. She managed to support him.
They finally stepped onto the road, gasping for breath after the effort they had just made. Standing by the side of the grey pick-up, which still had its headlights powered up, they looked down at the car lying broken on the other side of the ditch, which was only at about ten, fifteen feet away from them at the most. The powerful headlights were still illuminating the scene, producing bright diamond-like sparks against the hard falling rain. Scarlet narrowed his eyes with attention. It seemed to him that he had seen movement… Rhapsody looked down too – and then shivered.
The Mysteron duplicate of Erik Dalton was slowly getting up on staggering feet, and was now staring defiantly at the two Spectrum agents looking at him with obvious bewilderment. He had reached for a gun, tucked into the back of his pants and that for some reason he had not used until now. Probably, he had waited to do so, and was only planning to use it to finish them off. “You will not escape me, Earthmen!” he shouted this ominous promise, before raising his gun in their direction. He was obviously trying to aim at them but the falling rain, and the blinding luminosity still coming from the pick-up headlights next to which Rhapsody and Scarlet were standing seemed to make it hard for him to acquire a target. He fired, but the shot went wide, and that seemed to enrage him. He gave a frustrated cry. “I’ll find out yet what it takes to kill you!”
“Funny,” Scarlet muttered, taking the gun from Rhapsody’s hand. He took careful aim at the Mysteron. “I was telling myself the same thing…” He pulled the trigger several times, each of his bullets hitting his target which shuddered at each impact. Dalton fell back onto the car, and Scarlet continued to fire, emptying the magazine. One of the bullets caused a spark. At the sight of the first flame, the Spectrum captain pushed Rhapsody behind the pick-up truck.
The explosion that followed was of extreme violence. A huge flame billowed up into the air, and countless metal chunks flew on all sides. If they had not taken refuge behind the safety of the truck, Scarlet and Rhapsody might have been struck by the falling pieces. As it was, they were quite safe, and they waited until the rain of metal and fire stopped before risking an eye out toward the ditch.
Nothing much remained of the car. Or of the Mysteron duplicate of Erik Dalton either. What was left was presently being completely consumed by the raging fire. Scarlet’s eyes seemed unable to detach themselves from the scene; he rigidly stood there by Rhapsody’s side, apparently enthralled. Noticing that, the young woman reached for his arm to try to draw him out of his reverie. He barely reacted.
“Paul?” she called, frowning with perplexity. “Are you all right?”
She clutched his arm with more insistence and felt him quiver. He turned a somewhat lost gaze at her. It took only a second before his eyes became alive again. He raised his right hand to gently stroke her face, an expression of concern now obvious on his features.
“Are you hurt?” he asked in a murmur.
“No, I’m quite all right,” she replied with a vigorous shake of her head, a bit surprised that he should ask that, after she had been the one to help him out of the ditch. “But that was my question… How are you, Paul?”
“I’m…” he swallowed hard, blinking, swaying on his feet. “I’ll be okay…” He looked up as he saw the headlights of an upcoming car heading right their way, probably attracted by the earlier explosion. He was too dazed to concern himself with the question of who it might be, but still looked up, on the defensive. If only for Rhapsody’s sake.
When the car stopped and he saw Symphony Angel and Lieutenant Green getting out, he was still a little wary, but when he noticed their concerned expressions at their approach, he was glad to realise he had nothing to worry about.
“By God, what happened here?” Green exclaimed, looking with bafflement at the remains of the burning car and then at Scarlet and Rhapsody. “We saw that explosion ahead on the road, but we couldn’t imagine…”
Scarlet gave a faint grunt. The loss of blood and the blows he had suffered to the head were draining Scarlet of his remaining strength. At this moment, he felt he was about to faint.
Leaning against Rhapsody’s shoulder, his knees buckled under him as he slowly started to fall forward. If the young woman had not held him firmly, he would have hit the ground. She helped him to lie down as gently as she could, offering soothing and tender words of comfort, just as Green and Symphony were rushing over to help.
He let them tend to him, while he permitted himself one minute of rest.
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