In his previous career, Rick Fraser had been a cop, and always had an excellent memory for names, faces and the like. But here he was a few years older, possibly wiser, frowning slightly as he tried to recall my name.
“You’re not gonna believe this,” I’d said, by way of an introduction. Far as I can recall he was the right side of forty and he should’ve recognised me.
“Fae,” he said, hesitantly. “Fae Donaghue?”
I nodded and smiled, relieved that he remembered me; we’d only really met a few times, when he’d come to stay for a weekend with Pat. I’d always liked him, he’s a fun guy, and bought me a drink even though I’m not going to be twenty one until next fall.
I sat down and tried not to feel awkward as he looked over the scratches on my exposed limbs; if it wasn’t for those I’d probably look like any other girl in the resort.
“Jesus Christ, what happened to you?”
“I, uh, had a run in with a… prickly plant of some kind. Climbing down one of the trellises,” I explained.
“Ah, the plot thickens,” he replied. “You gonna explain why?”
I didn’t need to strain to remember what had happened before I’d climbed down from the rooms.
“Shut up!” The guy in the balaclava – although actually they were all wearing those, but this one was obviously the leader – marched past, toward the bed.
I held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t notice me. Scolding myself for being so selfish, I decided my only possible atonement would be to seek help.
“What’s going on?” a male voice, the New England drawl more pronounced with his drowsiness, came from the direction of the adjoining room.
“Who are you?”
“Michael Svenson,” he said, unused to using his given name. Stepping into the room and taking in the scene, he added, “Look, this is absurd. Just let my Mom go, please. Take me if you insist, but let her go.”
I bit my lip, watching as my best friend – Michael Svenson to the world, but ‘Cal’ to his family and to me – offered himself for such a sacrifice without any hesitation.
Cal might not have been a child genius, or as handsome or as charming, and as able to garner friends and lovers as effortlessly as his eldest brother, but in that moment there was no doubting he was as courageous and capable.
“We’re taking both of you,” the leader stated, giving no room for any discussion. “Now you can either go willing, or we’ll have to be… persuasive.”
‘Just do it, please, keep quiet, do whatever they want. Then you won’t get hurt, right? That’s what they said in that survival book thingy Uncle Pat sent me. He figured it was for a laugh, we all did. But who’s laughing now?’ I bit my lip again, only just preventing the words from being spoken.
“That was pretty much the last time I saw them,” I concluded, gratefully sipping the iced soda water Rick’s friend had brought over for me. She seemed nice, this friend; a petite Asian-type chick. I didn’t know her name, didn’t really know anyone from Uncle Pat’s work; except Rick, because they’re best friends as well as working partners. Oh, and Adam, of course, but he’s Cal’s brother so that’s a kind of coincidence really.
“And they did not see you?” she asked, once we'd made our introductions. Apparently her name in Chan, which is a pretty name.
I shook my head. “Well, I don’t think so, I was in the bathroom at the time. Guess if they had, well…” I shuddered at the thought.
She nodded, and rested her hand on my shoulder as a comfort. I was grateful for that, but didn’t want to show it too much. They had enough to do without me coming over all ‘damsel in distress’.
“So there’s just the two of them, as hostages,” Rick clarified, “and three kidnappers.”
I nodded in response to both statements.
“You’ve no idea where they went?”
He sighed when I said no. Obviously they could be anywhere: in the resort, on the island… hell, they could be long gone from both by now.
I tried a show of optimism. The task might seem to be daunting, but these were professionals. Part of an elite team, and if Uncle Pat could trust them and their efficiency, then I would too.
About one of the first things you learn in this job is, if in doubt, just make like it happens all the time. I swear, we’ve been at it nearly three years now and I honestly couldn’t tell you what had come from the training manuals, or what we’d figured out in the field. You like to think that with our collective pool of experience from our jobs before Spectrum that we’d get it right; but you can’t anticipate everything.
Things like, oh, I don’t know, getting ambushed by your best friend’s niece telling you that her friend and his mother have been taken hostage. Which obviously only ever happens to me, while I’m happily sunning myself on a Mexican beach thinking about how great it is to finally get a break from work. I mean, is it really too unreasonable to have an uneventful vacation?
They looked to me, both of them - Chan and Fae - under some strange illusions that I’d know what to do, seeing as I was the one who had most experience in something vaguely related to this kind of thing. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that all the police psychology books in the world meant nothing in the face of a real life crisis. What good would that do to admit it, anyway?
We’d gone to the Svensons’ room by then. There’s no point in risking upsetting the other guests – although they didn't seem interested in eavesdropping, all of them too wrapped up in their ultimately trivial pleasures. Which must be real nice for them; hopefully, I’ll get to join them sometime.
Jesus Christ, I’ve lived in apartments smaller than this place! Damn sight less fancy too. You’re almost scared to breathe in case it messes up all the glass and chrome fittings. The décor is in a kind of hyper modern style with neutral colours; I've never quite seen the appeal of that. Too cold and impersonal, like you’re permanently living in a style magazine; but hey, what do I know about interior decorating?
The kidnappers trashed the place good, which seems a bit pointless in practical terms, but I guess they gotta look like they mean business. Forced entry through the main door, somebody must have seen something. Well, hopefully, if they weren't all round the pool.
“Think we should go talk to the neighbours; find out if they know anything,” I suggested.
Chan half-nodded, as she rifled through the papers on the table.
“They had booked to water-ski today,” she said absently, then smiled at me. “I am sure this will be grounds to get the deposit back.”
“I think you’re right, Harmony.” I laughed a little. She was one of those people that you just have to get to know; shy or something, though I don’t really think there’s anything shy about her really… Grey is kinda like that too.
It was going to be one of those days.
I could sense it from the minute I walked into the control room that morning. Colonel White had only been gone a day of his leave; according to him it was strictly business, with perhaps some sightseeing. But judging by the way he was whistling as he boarded the passenger jet to London, it wouldn’t have taken Ochre’s detective skills to figure out there was some pleasure on his itinerary too. We didn’t bother asking because he’d never answer. All he did say was not to disturb him unless the Mysterons came calling, or any equivalent international emergency.
So I strolled on in, sipping a coffee from the officers’ mess – the organisation would probably grind to halt without caffeine - just as Captain Magenta was in the middle of taking a call through the video communications system. From his tone, I knew it was business.
He flashed me a huge grin of relief, and announced into the speaker,
“Yes, sir, he has just arrived. Certainly, sir. I will just put you through.” Magenta flicked a switch. “Mr Bjorn Svenson, of Boston, Massachusetts, wishes to speak to you, as you’re our acting commander, about a very urgent matter.”
Blue’s father… calling us.
I nodded to Magenta as I sat down at the control desk, bracing myself a little as I turned to face the screen.
“This is Captain Grey,” I began, in as authoritive official tone as could be mustered considering my confusion. “How can we …”
“Well it’s about time! I thought you were running a military base not a health spa,” Svenson grumbled.
I couldn’t help but smile; that sounded so like White.
“Yes, sir… how may we be of service?”
“It’s about my wife and son… they’ve been kidnapped.”
“Have you notified the police?”
“Yes, for all the good that will do. So now I am notifying you.”
“Well, with all due respect, sir, this is police business. Spectrum is an anti-terrorist organisation, we’re not really set up for these kind of incidents.”
“I see.” He took a deep breath, and exhaled with care as a vent to his rapidly rising temper, glaring at me the whole time. “So sorry to have troubled you. I had just imagined that Spectrum would take care of its own, or perhaps be interetested in a potential terrorist plot. But obviously...”
“Wait, that isn’t what I meant at all,” I quickly put in, realising we were going to have to see this through. “Spectrum will do its best to assist you… So, what happened?”
“I was contacted, by these kidnappers,” Mr Svenson explained, as if I were a simpleton, “to be told they have my wife and youngest son. I was allowed to speak to them. They seem so… helpless.”
For a moment his bravado seemed to fall away, and beneath it, I could see the anxious desperate husband and father that he was.
“I was supposed to fly out there this afternoon, to join them,” he continued. “I just had to tie up some business at work, you know how it is.”
“Where were they staying?”
“Golden Palms, it’s a hotel resort, on Cozumel.”
“I’m on it,” Magenta muttered to me, tapping away at the computer. “Scarlet's still out of it, but do you want me to get Blue?”
I nodded, then turned back to Mr Svenson.
“Sir, I understand you are very ‘high-ranking’ in the financial world, other than what you’ve told me, could there be reasons why someone would do this? Have you received any threats? Can you think of a rival with a big enough grudge, a disgruntled high-power client? Or anyone else with a particular motive?”
“I deal with so many contracts, most of the competitors could, I suppose, have the means and motivation… but I honestly cannot think of anything. Which is why I had imagined terrorists may be involved, that they may use this to get to Adam.”
“I see. I’ll send our best men out to Cozumel right away to invesigate… We’ll do all we can.”
“Yes, I’m sure you will,” Svenson said with utmost sincerity. “Is there anything I can do?”
“The best thing would be to stay put, for now at least. We will keep you informed via Spectrum Headquarters, Boston.”
“Thank you, Captain,” he said, with palpable relief. “Oh, there’s something else. My son, Michael, was travelling with a friend of his, but I don’t know what’s happened to her.”
“We’ll look into that too. What’s her name?”
I watched as Captain Ochre stalked around the room, looking for any sort of clue. It did not seem to be progressing very well, but I could not say that. He would probably not have listened; captains get very single-minded on missions.
“Is it OK if I go change?” Fae asked, probably just wanting to do something. “I must look a sight; won’t be long.”
“Yeah, sure, just don’t destroy any evidence,” Ochre answered.
“I won’t, don’t worry.”
I was getting to like Fae a lot; she is much like Captain Magenta, in looks and character. She is only young but I can see she was trying to be brave and capable.
Just then, the maid came in; she seemed very shaken up by what had happened and how the room now looked. Then she started to try and clean up.
“No,” Ochre demanded.
“The evidence cannot be disturbed,” he explained slowly, the way Americans do with people foreign to them. They think we must not understand at all, even though we may learn English for a long time. “No tampering with the evidence, understand?”
She stared in utter incomprehension, uttering only ‘que?’
Then Fae stepped forward, giving a moment’s thought then uttering something in Spanish. The maid nodded, now understanding.
“Ask her if she saw anything,” Ochre instructed. I could tell he was not happy; frustrated at not being able to communicate himself, but relieved someone else could. I think he may have learnt some Spanish in school, but that was many years ago and he has enough trouble with English sometimes.
Fae obliged, and listened carefully to the answers.
“She says, there were three men, with a lady and boy…”
“We know that already,” Ochre grumbled.
“She was cleaning the corridor, hid in a room, but could see a little. They went in the elevator, up… If they had moved she would know, having been here all the time.” Fae thought for a moment. “It must be in one of the penthouse suites, that’s the only thing above here, and that elevator is the only way up.”
“That’s great.” Ochre grinned. “Gracia, señorita,” he said to the maid, and thus probably exhausted his entire non-food related Spanish vocabulary.
“We should call base,” I said, once Fae had gone off to freshen up.
Ochre concurred. “If they don’t know about this then they need to, and if they do, then we’ll need to receive instructions.”
“What are we to do about Fae?” I asked.
“Let her tag along with us. She’s shaken but, if I was in her position, I’d want to be doing something productive.”
“But she is civilian, and only young. It would not be right.”
“You just heard her with the maid. We could use that kinda help, until the others get here, anyway. At least if she sticks around we can keep an eye on her, not risk her going alone and pulling any amateur heroics. That and she’s a witness; they might go after her. Especially if this is a plot against Spectrum by attacking their families. Pat would kill me if anything happened to her.”
I agreed, but was still reluctant.
“Told you I wouldn’t be long.”
She wore a plain fitted T-shirt, cropped jeans and tennis shoes. It was still a tourist outfit but rather more practical than a dress. She is a bright girl.
“So, what now?” Fae asked. “Oh, and just for the record, I’m in this for the long haul. Cal is my best friend, I can’t bail on him. Besides, this is sort of fun, sure beats sunbathing at least.”
I couldn’t help but smile.
“Said like a true Spectrum agent,” Ochre noted. “In that case, do you promise to act with honour, commitment, teamwork, courage and integrity? Thus upholding the ethos of Spectrum?”
”And just so you’re clear,” Ochre added, “no heroics, you stay close, keep quiet, and go to the safehouse as soon as we get back up. OK?”
She was not too impressed by that, but agreed to it.
It’s quite ironic, don’t you think? That my father can spend so long hating and virtually disowning me for taking a job with Spectrum, and then, the minute he gets in a situation he can’t handle, we’re the first ones he calls.
I get to the control room and Magenta gives me a sympathetic look; he knows what’s going on, can understand a bit of how I feel. But now wasn’t the time for pity. We had a job to do.
We sat around the colonel’s desk for a briefing - of sorts. Magenta and I, with Green at the comm. desk, doing his shift.
“Should we call Colonel White?” Green asked.
“I don’t think so,” Grey answered. “He’s meeting with the World President, then going on vacation. So he said not to disturb him unless it was the Mysterons or something really big, which at this stage it isn’t. So I don’t see that we can’t handle this situation ourselves. Anyway, we don’t even know where he is right now, so by the time he gets back, it might be over.”
We all agreed on that.
“Have Research come up with any leads?” Magenta asked.
“Not yet,” Green answered. “We’ll have to give them some more time, sir.”
“Aren’t Ochre and Harmony vacationing in Cozumel?” I asked, remembering Ochre mentioning the fact at least a couple of dozen times. I had thought he made a curious travelling companion for her, and vice versa, but it’s not my business to pry.
“They’d better be; if they lied on the leave application ...” Grey was interrupted by an insistent bleeping from his desk. “Go ahead, Captain Ochre.”
“We have a hostage situation to report,” he declared, via the videophone.
“Don’t tell me,” Grey replied. “Mrs Bjorn Svenson and her youngest son have been kidnapped from their hotel room at the Golden Palms Resort, Cozumel. Around 10:30 AM local time. Suspects and motives so far unknown.”
“Wow … Are you psychic or something?”
“No, it’s just that Mr Svenson has been telling that to everyone in Spectrum who’ll listen,” Magenta answered. “Oh, and you missed your standard check in, again. So go on, wow me with an excuse.”
“I got all distracted by the situation at hand.”
“And a pretty girl, no doubt.”
“Oh, yeah, that too… It was actually in a professional capacity though, she’s our main witness right now. Gentlemen, allow me to introduce Ms Donaghue, who will be liaising with us during this assignment.” Ochre ushered her forward. “Fae, come say hi.”
At the sight of his niece alive and well, Magenta’s relief was palpable. Then he glanced at me and sobered, presumably feeling guilty that my family were still in danger.
“Umm, hi,” Fae said. “I guess we’re awaiting further instruction, please advise.”
To his credit, Grey didn’t even blink. He did however give Ochre a pointed glare whilst addressing him.
“The local SHQ should be sending someone to you…”
“Captain Morado,” Lieutenant Green chipped in.
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Yes, Morado should be with you shortly. He’s been briefed, so you’ll be pretty much ready to go. Until then, I guess, you’ll have to sit tight.”
Ochre nodded. “Spectrum is Green.”
There is an unofficial mantra in Spectrum; that as diverse a group of people as we are, no matter what happens, somebody will have shared your experiences.
For Grey and Ochre, they've both lived in Chicago, and like comparing notes on delis there.
For me and Blue, well, in a weird way, we go way back.
We had been born a literal ocean apart, and metaphorically, that distance has always remained. He's the dashing son of parents so wealthy that they can cater to almost any feasible whim, raised in a nice neighbourhood - or five - a model law-abiding citizen... whilst I – well, er... I wasn't. Yet somehow our lives did overlap for a time, before Spectrum obviously.
Once upon a time, my family was quite normal; mother (Mam), father (Pappy), son (me, obviously), daughter (my sister Caitlin). It's fair to say we lived in a pretty rough neighbourhood; but we got by, kept our heads down, did well in school. Of course, when things are going so well, something has to come like a wrecking ball to ruin it; and suprisingly, for once it wasn't actually my doing.
As my great-grandparents would say: Caitlin 'got herself into trouble', assisted in this endeavour by a rather obnoxious, acne-ridden specimen named Aidan. Father-to-be naturally high-tailed it when the responsiblity started to loom large, leaving my, at the time, teenage sister in the lurch. As a solution, my mother proposed that she and Pa should adopt the baby. It was win-win all around; Cait could see her child grow without the burden of single motherhood weighing on her ambitions, and Ma could, in a round about way, have the third child she had always wanted. Pa and I just went along with it, desperate for the anguish to lift.
The baby made her way into the world on a crisp late November morning. My sister had chosen a name, but quickly decided it wouldn't suit the baby, and as acknowledgement of my support over those last months, allowed me the honour. So I named her Fae Roisin, for the tiny, otherworldly creatures she so vividly reminded me of, and a nod to our Gaelic heritage.
From the outset, Fae showed a marked preference for me, so I was naturally chosen to be her Godfather. Not sure how good a job I made of raising her to be a Catholic, but I have taught her to be skilled with computers (she's almost as good as me). We always seemed to be happy and come out of life's trials unscathed; as if we were each other's talisman.
The Svensons came on the scene around the time when Fae was thirteen and had won a scholarship to 'genius school' (her term for it, always punctuated with an eye roll). I had offered to pay for her to go myself, but for some reason my parents had a problem with the whole 'sending grandkid to school on mob money' aspect of that suggestion. Fae, however, took a certain perverse delight in that fact, and, probably in the interest of trying to keep up with all the other Mafia kids, allowed a certain degree of embellishment regarding my actual contribution.
She was always a grade ahead for her age. My parents had decided that starting school aged six, instead of five, was an oversight of the American education system and they set to personally rectify it - with a doctored birth certificate.
“How was school?”
"It was OK, I met a boy today," Fae told me, from inside my refrigerator, a pistachio-green hunk, handsome as it was absurd. I’m not that different from ‘real people’; I lust after these luxury items too. The only difference is, while they had to make do with the paltry white things, I paid cash for the top of the range model and made a mini-party piece out of having an Aladdin’s cave of chilled beverages in my apartment.
For a moment I didn’t know what to say. Not because Fae didn’t confide in me; she did frequently and at length, even about things like ‘feminine hygiene products’ which surely she must have realised I’d know even less about than her. It was more the realisation she was truly growing up; and for all my ability with computers and crime syndicates, I was woefully unprepared to deal with that.
“He’s just a friend though,” she insisted and I was so grateful for that reprieve; for her to be a girl just a while longer.
“It’s OK, I believe you.”
She turned around, pot of hummus in hand. Smiling because, yet again, I’d said the right thing.
“He’s called Cal, it’s short for Michael.” The fridge door shut with a rubbery clap as she sat down at the table opposite me. “You’d like him, Pat,” she said with the certainty only teenagers possess, as she dunked breadsticks into the hummus.
As it happened, I did like this kid. He ended up a regular visitor to my apartment, invited along by Fae. They’d mostly sit and watch movies together.
I’ve never really bought the whole ‘soul mates’ jig; but they did make me wonder, fitting together so effortlessly. It was as if they really were made as a pair, unlikely though the aesthetics were. He never talked about his family; I think ours was a respite from his. I only realised his father was the head of Svencorp when he let slip his dad was pissed about how the company had been stung for $2,000,000… by me, as it happened - a very small fraction of which had gone towards the very couch he was sitting on.
When Fae was small, we used to sit together during thunderstorms, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder, feeling like we were something greater, untouchable. Maybe I was, running the city's largest crime syndicate and to all intents and purposes getting away with it. Things seemed so much simpler back then; easier, clearer, an adventure, yet there was also a sense of safety. I seriously believed the law could never touch us.
See, I never regret having all that; my only regret is trading it in for the mess we have now.
When we arrived at the resort, one of the ground-crew showed us to the hotel suite. We didn’t get the chance to go inside the Svensons’ rooms; they were being combed through by the Spectrum forensics team. Instead, we were lead to the side room Captain Morado had commandeered as an office.
I’d read up a little on Morado whilst on the plane. Dakota Garcia, born in Guatemala but adopted at five months and raised by American parents. Throughout his life, he’d maintained links with his heritage, so after a spell in the FBI, he was selected to liaise between Spectrum units in the Americas.
“Captains Blue and Magenta reporting,” Blue stated, his tension and distress apparent in his voice.
“Ah, yes, of course, good to meet you. It’s certainly something for us to see so much action and garner the attentions of Cloudbase.”
Morado was dressed identically to us, aside from his uniform being aubergine-hued in all the relevant places. As quickly as he established I was fluent in Spanish, I realised that, when speaking English, he had a Michigan accent. It was a subtle thing most people overlooked, but I’d come to be quite familiar with the nuances of that particular dialect. For a very specific reason – an often infuriating and usually ochre-clad reason.
“Nice of you guys to finally show up,” Ochre declared, making his entrance and tramping toward us. “Where’s Scarlet?”
“Out of it,” I replied, deliberately vague, seeing as we aren’t allowed to discuss the intricacies of retrometabolism with anyone except senior staff.
“Yeah, of course.” Then he turned to Morado, to provide an explanation. “Captain Scarlet is usually our field commander, he also moonlights as Blue's field partner. Just like Magenta does for me. I guess he’ll be here too, at some point. He’s just, uh, busy with a prior engagement.”
“You must have been very bad in a previous life,” Morado muttered to me in Spanish.
“Oh, you have no idea.”
I do often wonder if being stuck with Ochre is some form of divine punishment; he does serve the purpose rather well, though he has been slacking off this past year or so.
After an appraising look, Ochre noted, “You’re not exactly dressed for the climate.”
“Someone has to keep the standards up,” I bristled.
Obviously he had been off duty, and allowed to wear what he likes, but I really don’t see that anyone who apparently hadn’t realised his shorts and shirt clashed was in a position to give us fashion tips.
“Well, I was gonna get changed, but things have been kinda busy.”
Blue shot a warning look to the pair of us. Whatever petty squabbles we wanted to indulge in could wait. For now we all had to pull together for the sake of the mission.
I honestly hadn’t realised Morado was gone until he approached us with Fae.
It was almost a reflex, me pulling her into a tight embrace; I just needed to know beyond any doubt she was here and safe.
“He's my uncle,” Fae stated, for Morado's benefit.
“Let’s get you home, baby,” I said, full of concern.
She pulled away, eyes blazing, and I knew for once I’d got it horribly wrong.
For a moment, it seemed things stopped, I felt the world rattle to a halt, as it must have done for Blue during the Cloudbase briefing. Then she composed herself.
“No way. I’m seeing this one through,” she stated.
“It’s too dangerous,” I insisted.
“They need me here. I can help.”
“No, you need to be safe.”
“Safe?” she demanded, composure cracking a little. “Oh sure, like there’s no chance I could get mugged on the subway, or hit by a truck, or a million other disasters. Shit happens, Pat, and you can’t save me from every little thing.”
She turned to Ochre; we both did. Both expecting his support despite our utterly opposing views. I was relying on some ingrained instinct to win through, so that surely he’d understand my duty to protect and care for Fae, that by extension it was his duty too as a Spectrum officer. I don’t know quite what she was expecting.
Ochre sighed, realising the importance of his verdict: in a few words he could tear a family apart.
“Magenta, why don’t you and Blue go get started tracing that call?” he suggested.
We’d been briefed that the kidnappers had made contact with Mr Svenson to make their ransom demands.
“Harmony, would you please take Ms. Donague home," Blue said.
"You've been a great help, seriously," Ochre began, pacifying Fae, "but Pat's right, things are going to be getting complicated and dangerous from now on. There isn't really much you can do. So it would be best if you went."
"I could probably help trace the call, Pat's taught me stuff like that. Couldn't you use an extra hand?"
Ochre turned to me, asked for verification with just a look.
"It's true, about the computers," I grudgingly admitted, "but obviously she doesn’t have the clearance, so that’ll be my job."
"You don’t need an assistant?" I realised Ochre was trying to soften the blow for Fae, for her to see there was nothing she could do.
"No, I’ll manage."
Blue had found the nearest Spectrum safehouse, written down the address, and handed that over. I knew that he had always quite liked Fae, and found her enthusiasm to plunge into the task, which must surely be out of her depth, something admirable. Maybe one day she’ll join Spectrum too, she’d be more than capable. Though I doubt Mam will be best pleased; she’s generally a very nice lady, but when it comes to the potential endangerment of her ‘babies’, she is an adversary almost as terrifying as the Mysterons. It really wouldn’t be fair to take that risk with Fae at this time, for either of their sakes.
Fae sighed, realising it was pointless to argue. She gathered together her things and left with Chan.
Having seen her off, I turned to Ochre. "I can’t remember the last time you were field commander.”
He nodded. “Yeah, it has been a while. Especially since the Brit got his super-powers and snagged all the good assignments.”
“Would you really want to trade?”
“He can keep the getting killed. But you have to admit, this is better than the glorified babysitting we normally get stuck with.”
Rick did have a point. With his previous experience in the police corps, he’d made a niche for himself, specialising in personal protection. And as his field partner, I more often than not got roped into it too.
“It’ll look good on your resume, shows you can play well with others or something.”
He grinned. "You’re probably right... anyway I’m going to go slip into something uncomfortable, and leave you to go do your geek thing. So, come on, let's get to work. Hostages don't usually free themselves."
I read this thing once, about how ‘birth order’ shapes your life, and figured maybe they have a point.
Take me: I’m the youngest, my brothers and sister are 14, 12 and 8 years older than me, respectively. Which meant that by the time I was born, Dad had already got his ‘heir and a spare’ and Mom had got a daughter to - I dunno - go shopping with, or whatever they do all day - which left me to be, and do, pretty much whatever I wanted, ‘cause they’d already used up most of their ‘giving-a-damn’ quota on my siblings.
For the record: I don’t have a problem with that. It actually makes life pretty damn sweet, most of the time. OK, Dad wasn’t exactly ecstatic about me taking journalism in college, but he’s got over it - unlike Ad’s career choice. There are downsides, though; like they’ve seen it all before, so it’s harder to outsmart them, or even for them to be all that interested in what I do - and you’re years behind on the family secrets.
You see, you need to know that Adam got kidnapped when he was eight. It’s high on the list of ‘that which we do not speak of’, which is almost of encyclopaedia length. Anyway, it made the whole family totally paranoid about safety, which is a total bummer when you’re a kid. They made up all these rules that seemed way too much, so I yelled and fought over it. I used to spend most of my time hanging out with Fae; we practically had squatters’ rights at her uncle’s apartment. Mom used to go to pieces over that, worrying and all (about me being in another state, that is – back then they didn't know Pat was a mobster, but I guess that wouldn’t have helped). I might have only been fourteen at the time, but I wasn’t a totally callous moron; if they’d actually have explained, then I’d have got it; but nobody tells you anything in this fucking family.
To be honest, most of the kids in our school carried the burden of a family closet full of skeletons. We’d all had the necessity of presenting a front, that we were all part of some perfect family, so deeply ingrained it was almost part of our DNA. Keep up appearances, never cause trouble, don’t attract attention, and never ever go there - when it comes to ‘that which we do not speak of’.
So, perhaps, what ultimately drew me to Fae was that, in a sea of kids bumbling along as clueless as each other about how to live with a backdrop of murky shadows, she already knew. She did it by compartmentalising, not seeing it as ‘her problem’, by seeing a loving relative where others could only see a criminal. In that respect, she was everything I desperately wanted to be.
We were honest with each other, compared notes, in a way. By rights, I should have been shocked at the stuff she said and did. Stuff like helping out with her uncle’s accounts, which was actually money laundering. That she knew how to cover her tracks in everything, so much so, that most of the time she didn’t even realise she was doing it - like when she casually moved a rug to cover a stain on the carpet, she once told me that she had seen it forming as Pat beat a man almost to death (his principles of non-violence apparently don’t extend to those who threaten his family).
It wasn’t long before I became an accomplice too; picking out names in case we needed to go into witness protection, not wondering which faceless corporation that casually given $20 bill had come from (indeed I started to feel it was OK, because they wouldn’t miss it). Pat did his best to steer us onto the right track, to keep us safe and for us not to turn out like him. He wasn’t a bad example though, not the way he imagined. He’s always been a decent guy, honest about the bad and good of the job whenever we asked. And really, we weren’t about to get into the same situation, because our lives were so different.
Yeah, that constituted a welcome break from my family.
It’s easy to make assumptions that everything is just peachy in my family; because the Svensons are law-abiding folk, active in the Lutheran community (I think Dad pretty much funded the restoration project of our local church out of his own pocket), such generally well-mannered, decent people. But I don’t walk into our house and feel like it’s ‘home’, even though it obviously is. It’s too easy to slip up, the repercussions too great. So I went to the Donaghues’ instead. Everyone needs a place where they can just be themselves, and there should be no need for apologies.
I looked over at Mom, wondering what she was thinking about to keep this whole charade from getting to her. This was probably the first time in years I’d seen her without make-up on passed breakfast time. She almost didn’t look like my mother, with all that gloss and poise stripped away.
She didn’t hear me at first; then glanced round, eyes brimming.
“Oh, babes, I’m so sorry,” she said.
“For what?” ‘Cause, hey, how should I know? It could be a million things.
“This.” She gestured round the room we were being held in; Spartan décor, windowless and lit only by a naked bulb. At least they’d left us alone and quit shouting at us to be quiet.
“It’s not your fault,” I said automatically. Just as she always does to me during a family crisis. Is this what it’s like to truly be an adult, taking on the duties always preformed by others for you, to have the security of that stripped away? “We’re gonna be all right, Mom. Dad knows what’s going on, he’ll do whatever needs doing and we’ll get home. Then everything’ll be just fine.”
“Yeah,” she said wearily, “until next time.”
She didn’t have to elaborate; I knew what that meant.
“If you don’t quit it, you’ll walk a hole through the floor.” Ochre gave a genial shrug. “Or don’t, whatever. It’s a semi-free world.”
At that I did stop pacing. For the most part, Ochre and I get along really well; we have our little fights, just like friends always do, but he’s OK. Neither of us are the easiest people to get to know or figure quite how to take, maybe that’s why we stick together? Along with the whole obsession over planes thing, of course. Pat and Brad don’t know enough to keep up. Paul’s a pilot too, but flying isn’t such an all consuming thing for him, so he doesn’t quite understand. I don’t get it either, this obession with being a pilot, let alone what compelled me to join Spectrum to that end, fighting the good fight and all those cliches.
I could have been a good financier, like my father wanted to me to be. How much of that is down to inherent skill and what comes from having been pretty much groomed for it since birth, is irrelevant. Now it’s true that I do quite enjoy it, at times; there’s something deeply satisfying about the almost balletic pattern of numbers – about having everything fall into place – and, for once, there being clear-cut right and wrong answers - but there is still a general theme of me having to be coerced into the task. Whereas nobody ever has to ask me twice when it comes to flying planes.
I’ve wanted to do that ever since I can remember. Mom was the one who encouraged me. She tries not to let on, but I have a feeling that I’m her favourite, although not to the degree Peter thinks he’s the least loved; chronic case of middle-child syndrome there. His middle name is Bjorn, after our father; it would have been mine, can’t remember why they decided otherwise. Anyway, I ended up with Kristian, which nobody ever spells right. Pete’s ended up doing everything I should have done, but the poor geek can’t do it well enough to please our father, and some of that might be just because Pete’s not me, and, hard as it is to believe at times, Dad still sees me as the golden boy. I sometimes think Cal got the best deal; nobody bugs him about that kind of crap.
We’ve always got on well, Cal and I. He was a great asset in getting dates, as caring for a kid makes you look all ‘in touch with your feelings’ or whatever else girls dig, and of course, I could always send him back to Mom, so he didn’t actually cramp my style. In return, I rather generously spared Cal from having to get the man-to-man talk from Dad, and vice-versa, I guess. A teenager who thinks he knows everything, and a kid who never quits asking questions is a pretty interesting combination. Most of the time, it just didn’t occur to me that he shouldn’t have known those things; at least, not in quite such detail. In the years since then, I’ve done my best to rectify it and he seems to have survived.
Ochre got restless and ambled over to the computer.
“Have you got anything?” he demanded.
“Nope; but I have won seven out of two hundred forty-five games of solitaire,” Magenta retorted with good-natured aplomb, then added more sympathetically, “when I do, you’ll be the first to know.”
Needless to say, I had a companion during my next two circuits of the room.
“I’ve got something!”
We both darted back over.
Magenta rattled off an explanation, which, with my knowledge of computer control, I was able to get the gist of. Ochre, however, really floundered.
“Again - in English, if you could,” he pleaded.
“I’ve managed to trace the call between the ring leader and Mr Svenson.”
At this point, Ochre perked up considerably. He was happiest charging around following clues like a puppy with ADHD. Not an unfamiliar concept, for me, from working with Scarlet, but he’s generally less exuberant about it. I suppose that’s why Ochre got partnered with Magenta, though sometimes you have to question the wisdom, as both favour a more liberal interpretation of regulations.
“Well, tell us then, where did it come from?” I asked, also desperate to be pro-active, albeit for different reasons.
Magenta sat back in his seat, a smile tugging at his lips, as if waiting to deliver a punch line. He raised his index finger ceiling-wards.
“Directly above us, give or take a floor or two.”
“You’re kidding!” Ochre exclaimed. “They must know we’re here. Probably listening in to everything we’re saying.”
Magenta reached out and gripped Ochre’s wrist, sparing us another session of the latter near tearing everything apart. “If they were, you’d have found the bugs by now,” Magenta reasoned gently.
Not having seen them work together like this before, I was surprised that he acted as the ‘voice of reason’. Then again, it was the recurring theme of everyone underestimating Magenta.
Ochre wasn’t going to drop it, though.
“Well, if they’re right here, then why aren’t we, y’know, doing something about it?”
“They could have moved on,” I noted, apparently being incapable of just accepting good news.
“No, we’ve got guards at every possible exit point. All of them reported nothing. So I guess that’s out,” Morado insisted.
“Goddamn it, why are we all just sitting here?” Ochre grumbled, gulping down the last of the coffee Chan had made for us before she had left to take Fae to the safehouse.
My epaulettes flashed red, so I answered the call.
“Hi, Scarlet, good to have you back with us.”
“Hmm, quite. I sensed there was something rather important going on for you not to be around when I woke up.”
“Yeah, sorry about that, Paul.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, Adam, you’ve enough to worry about without thinking you’ve hurt my feelings. Which, for the record, you haven’t.”
I managed to smile.
“Anyway,” Scarlet continued, “during the last three hours of me being sat on my arse because somebody here won’t take a hint that I’ve fully recovered, we have managed to accumulate some rather useful information.”
“That’s great, go on.”
“Right. Word from our informants is that these kidnappers are hired mercenaries, and the research department has found some talk on the street of a plot against the Svensons. Which would tie up with the theory that this is ultimately the work of a SvenCorp client with a grudge, and a carefully planned op. We’ve run that CCTV footage Morado sent us and have been able to identify the ring leader as one Jean Dupont, which is probably an alias. Either way, he is wanted for… well, for pretty much everything… So upon capture, he’s to be extradited to France.”
“They’re probably sharpening their guillotine as we speak,” Ochre quipped.
“… As per directive of the World President,” Scarlet continued, which was enough to declare the matter non-negotiable. It had taken a lot for the World President to join Scarlet’s fan club, owing to the small detail of Paul trying to kill him under Mysteron influence, so Scarlet was understandably keen not to blow it. “Oh - this detail I particularly liked,” Scarlet said with a sense of amusement. “It seems they have a website. In English, no less.”
Though Scarlet gave the URL, Ochre took it upon himself to offer suggested names: ‘we’llkidnapsomeone4u.com’, ‘mercenaries-r-us’ and such like. I was tempted to snap at him for trivialising the issue, but let it go, as that was probably a coping strategy, or something.
“Now, would you like the good news or bad news first?” Scarlet inquired.
“Bad news,” Magenta replied, “then we can end on a high.”
“Fair enough. Green has tried to hack the site, but naturally it’s completely encrypted - even beyond what he’s capable of getting into.”
“So, umm, what’s the good news?”
I could tell Scarlet was grinning as he answered. “Well, it must indeed be a very small world, because the encryption programs were created by ‘the Syndicate’ of New York.”
Magenta sighed. “All right, I’m on it.”
“You leave ‘em alone for two years and they frigging sell out on you,” Ochre tutted.
“Something like that; though I’ve no idea how they got involved with the French.”
“Well, you have,” Ochre noted. “Working with Destiny and all. Though somehow I doubt they’ve branched out into ‘horizontal international relations’.”
“That is mere unfounded speculation,” Magenta insisted, glaring at Ochre but otherwise refusing to comment.
“Speaking of Destiny, although not in that context,” I said to Scarlet,“is Grey recalling her from her shopping expedition?”
“Unfortunately for the rest of us, yes,” he answered. “You know how upset she gets if her shopping is curtailed, but needs must. Melody has been trying to translate, but her French really isn’t up to par, and no other French speakers here have the necessary level of clearance. So looks like we will need Destiny’s bilingual services after all… Well, that’s about it for now. Shall keep you informed of any new developments, and be with you as soon as Fawn lets me go.”
“SIG. Blue out.”
“Bilingual services, eh?” Ochre smirked. “Well, that puts an interesting slant on ‘taking one for the team’.”
“That is not what he meant and you know it,” Magenta snapped. “So get you mind out of the gutter and onto the task at hand.”
“SIG.” Ochre rolled his eyes like a petulant teen.
When Pat got into one of those moods it was best not to argue.
After a few minutes, Green radioed through some leads for us to follow up. So for a while we fell into peaceful and productive silence, waiting for Scarlet to arrive, so we could finally get some action.
I have to level with you, and admit that, before this assignment, I had no idea what being a ‘wealthy financier’ entailed, beyond the glaringly obvious. Honestly though, does the average person have that much of a clue?
So really, it’s amazing what you can learn on the job; because I now know more about Mr Bjorn Stefan Svenson’s business activities that he’d probably be willing to admit to his shareholders. Or at least, to his wife, but then, if my husband was head of SvenCorp, I probably wouldn’t listen beyond the briefest answers to ‘how was work, dear?’ Not that I’m an authority on Mr and Mrs ‘head of SvenCorp’, but I do know their eldest son is a damn good kisser.
That’s not why I’m up to my eyeballs in SvenCorp, of course.
This assignment brings back memories of when I was in the Universal Secret Service, specialising in industrial espionage. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved that job, though I’m also starting to remember why I gave it up. Paperwork is fine in small doses; I can tuck myself into a corner and play music through headphones, to make the time go faster, but I’d much rather fly a plane than be stuck at a desk. Guess Adam and I have that in common.
“How’s it going, Symphony?”
I smiled at Brad, my knight in grey tunic bearing fresh coffee and lunch.
“Either SvenCorp is some last bastion of totally ethical business conduct, or…”
I stopped, but Grey’s smirk compelled me to finish.
“Or Svenson is lying somewhere along the line.” I sighed. “I don’t know how the other guys are doing, but there’s nothing here. I‘ve been going over this stuff for hours and just can’t find a single clue as to why this is happening.”
He nodded. “Seems you’re not the only one hitting dead ends.”
“Great, that’s really comforting.”
For a moment I didn’t say any more; I couldn’t anyway, while eating the sandwiches Brad had brought. He didn’t eat fish himself, claiming to have given it up for Lent years ago and forgot to take it back up; but he knew I couldn’t get enough of the tuna mayo sandwiches our galley made.
“We’ve got a real lousy deal, haven’t we?” I said. “Seriously, being stuck in this place, while the other guys are swanning around in some fancy as heck resort. That totally sucks.”
“Oh, I doubt they’ll be having too great a time.” Brad smirked. “Especially Ochre, being field commander and having to boss Scarlet around for once.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he’s real cut up about that.”
“I know, but then Ochre was first on the scene and has some expertise in this situation. They’ll sort it out between them.”
Grey pulled up a chair and sat down beside to my desk. “You get the feeling we’re missing something huge here?”
“Like the motive?”
“Exactly, and I figure two heads are better than one; so would you be up for some brainstorming?”
“Sure.” I dug through the pile of music discs on my desk. “Would country be OK?”
“You know I’d rather rip out my own eardrums than listen to that kind of music,” he teased.
The guys rib me so much over that, but I don’t care. I grew up listening to the classics and early 21st Century stuff (Mom’s a fan too), so it serves as a nice reminder of home. They don’t mind it that much really, just exaggerate to make a point, like they do with how bad Adam’s singing is.
“Well, too bad, I don’t have anything else.” So I got the music going, setting the volume to a suitable ‘background’ level.
Apparently, we needed to go round in circles for awhile first. About ready to quit with the frustrations of getting nowhere, I glanced up the news channel which was on constantly; as the latest bulletin gave way to a commercial break, the SvenCorp name and logo attracted my attention. What’d yah know, they do personal loans, now.
It’s a stupid commercial; I just couldn’t believe that they would spout all this bull about being a ‘family company’, as if everything was just peachy. Oh sure, maybe it is - if you tow the line, but decide not to take up the family trade and it’s a whole other story.
I get far more riled about it than Adam does himself these days, which is true about most other things, I guess. He’s probably gotten used to it, worn down by the futility of fighting; but you can see he’s got his daddy’s stubborn streak. He’s not gonna go backing down, if he figures it’s worth the fight.
“Have you looked at the clients who are in debt to SvenCorp?” Grey asked, looking like he’d had a spark of inspiration. “If they’ve a grudge against the company for putting them in the red, they might be resorting to these drastic measures, having tried to get the company to cut them some slack, but not got anywhere.”
I gave it some thought. “That’d sure make sense,” I agreed. “Being stubborn and a stickler for protocol does seem a reoccurring trait in said company’s family.”
“Surely, you aren’t referring to Blue?” Grey teased.
“Yeah, especially him.” I started taping in commands to enable a search. “How much was the ransom for?”
“34.6 million dollars.”
My jaw nearly dropped clean to the floor.
“Apparently, Mr Svenson really could afford to pay that,” Grey said simply. “It might take a fair chunk out of the holiday fund, but they’d get by.”
“Wow… just wow. And to think I, a humble li’l country girl, am gonna be marrying into such high society. It’s kinda like that old movie, y’know, the one with Audrey Hepburn.”
“’My Fair Lady’,” he answered. “And, hmm, no, I’m not really seeing it.”
“Whatever… OK, well, that’s a pretty random number, and probably is close to the debit Mr X has mounted up. So I’ll search through the clients who owe SvenCorp, allowing a margin of ten million either way.”
“What makes you think it’s a Mr X?”
“All these CEOs are guys. There are women, but they’ve paid their bills on time… and I’ll leave it at that.”
“Fair enough, I’m going to get some coffee. Shout if you find something suspicious.”
It didn’t take long.
“Grey, I’ve got it.”
He’d been across the room but came over soon as I yelled.
“There’s this textile company in France; they owe SvenCorp 29.4 million. So all together, the ransom would pay off the debit, fees for the mercenaries, and there would be a bit left over for their own holiday fund.”
“Yes, but they aren’t the only company owing sums like that,” Grey noted sceptically.
“True, but the thing is this company has been in financial trouble before.” I skimmed the page trying to find the relevant information. “They went to SvenCorp ten years ago and were given a loan by Stefan Svenson, which helped to keep them afloat. Then Nice Mr Svenson died and Adam’s dad took over SvenCorp. Anyway, the company struggled again, but Mean Mr Svenson wasn’t prepared to renegotiate the contract to cut the repayments or up the timeframe.”
“Which proved difficult for said textile people.”
“Yup. That nearly put them under three years ago,” I read off the screen. “Until things perked up a bit when the French fashion industry also got it back together. But now the French textile industry is struggling to compete with the cheaper prices offered by companies overseas… See, I do pay attention when Ads makes comments about the state of the foreign market. Well, sometimes.”
“So, you think this latest downturn in the market is proving just enough to push them over the edge,” Grey said, still not exactly convinced.
“Exactly.” I was practically bouncing in the seat, knowing in my gut this was ‘the one’.
“Good work. Who’s the CEO?”
I gave the answer casually, while tapping it into the Spectrum database.
You know all those conspiracy theorists who claim the government is watching everyone, monitoring all forms of communication, and has every person’s details on some super-computer network, meaning they’re able to swoop in at a moment’s notice? Well, for Spectrum, it’s not too far from true.
“That can’t be …” Grey noted uncomfortably. “Please, tell me it’s a coincidence.”
“I’d like to,” I replied, “but, sorry… she must be his daughter.”
They’d never outright said anything on the matter, but I’d known all along that there was ‘something’ going on between Grey and the lady in question. He gave it away more than she did. The guys like to think they are so subtle, but they forget most of us girls are trained in special intelligence too; and, for someone ordinarily reserved, Grey is a totally hopeless romantic and couldn’t be any more blatant about it, short of a tattoo across his forehead.
It’s not that I didn’t feel terrible too; she is one of my best friends. I know the family wasn’t exactly close, but it would be so heartless to expect her to put aside those emotions and bring him in.
“I know you don’t want to,” Grey said, as if he knew what I was thinking, “but there’s no one else who could do it. Short of totally involving the local Spectrum HQ, and that’d be more trouble than it’s worth… Karen, don’t look at me like that. Nobody here is under any illusions about the sacrifices this job can entail. We wouldn’t be here if we couldn’t put aside our personal feelings to achieve the goal.”
I stared at him. “You’re asking her to rip her own family apart.”
He softened a little. “Whilst it’s true on occasion we have to set aside our attachments, equally we sometimes have to act on them. As a unit, I don’t believe we could function if we didn’t have the loyalty we do, that anyone of us would be prepared to take a bullet for any colleague. Metaphorically or otherwise. So no, Symphony, I’m not going to ask her to do this. I’m asking you.”
It wasn’t even really a request; the Commander of Cloudbase tells us to jump and we damn well ask ‘how high’.
“Yes, I’ll do it,” I said, but a doubt crept it. “I don’t speak French though, what if he isn’t fluent in English?”
“I would have said take Ochre, but he’s busy …”
“As in Rick - the guy so multilingual that when Harmony greets him in Japanese he responds with ‘bless you’?”
Grey allowed a slight smile in response.
“Yes, him… actually, it’s more Ochre’s police experience than linguistic abilities that are a factor here,” he pointed out. “But of course that’s all theoretical. So I guess you’ll have to take along someone from Spectrum Paris.”
I waited while Grey made the relevant call to the Paris headquarters.
“I’m sure you’ll manage just fine, but Captain Auburn will accompany you. Now hurry up. He’ll be waiting for you at Orly Airport.”
I took down the address, sighed and stood up. Then I declared: “This is a great job.”
“Well, I like to think so,” Grey replied cheerfully.
“Actually, I’m just reminding myself.”
The summer of ’69 has thus far been a very long hot one. And so, if the guests at the Golden Palms are anything to go by, sunbathing is seemingly still a very popular pastime. I have never understood why people feel a compulsion to lie out in the sun slowly roasting themselves, particularly when they often end up overcooked. But still, now was not the time for such thoughts; we had a job to do.
The local Spectrum personnel, apparently giddy with their new found importance, made a very thorough job of making sure I was indeed who I said I was. They had probably considered getting out the Mysteron detector too, but, for now, they were keeping out of it, and Ochre was able to intervene; which was a relief, because the inevitable result would have caused all hell to break loose.
“Ah, Scarlet, nice of you to show up,” he told me. “Does this mean I have to hand over the mantle of command to your good self?”
“Why? By all accounts you’re doing a good job.”
“Nice of you to say so.”
As we walked to our impromptu command post he brought me up to speed on the latest developments.
“Grey told me they’ve traced the guy who hired these goons, to just outside Paris,” Ochre elaborated. “So Symphony is headed there to bring him in.”
“That’s great to be making such progress; hopefully, things will be as productive our end.”
Once Morado and I had made our introductions, we went through the plan of action, with a large blueprint of the building spread out on the table.
“My men will cover you from the adjacent buildings and other exits,” Morado stated, pointing out such vantage points on a hastily drawn diagram. “Are you going to want a sniper team?”
“Yes,” I answered. “It would serve as a good back up.”
Then I stopped remembering that, not being field commander, it wasn’t my place to make that decision.
“Scarlet’s right,” Ochre agreed. “How soon can you have the teams in place?”
Morado made the call, organising the team, then returned to us.
“Then we’ll go in, as soon as possible for the element of surprise,” Blue stated. “It’s mostly storage and such up there, so we won’t have to worry about any guests getting in the way.”
“So, have you been talking to them?” I asked.
“No,” Magenta said. “But they have been in contact with Mr Svenson to arrange payment of the ransom. He should be arriving within the hour with the money… These guys are definitely pros, and probably have their fees and reputation riding on delivering exactly what their sponsor demands. They’ve nothing to lose, and that makes them all the more deadly. But as far as we can tell, they don’t know Spectrum is onto them, or that their location is known. So we have that advantage.”
“Right, well in that case,” I began, “Magenta and Morado you take the two windows, coming in at a diagonal. With flash bangs for distraction, take cover, then shoot to kill.”
“Obviously,” Morado said, “we can’t take risks. You can count on us, Captain.”
In these kind of situations, you require absolute trust in your colleagues, and obviously that doesn’t come easily. I was tempted to keep Morado out of this, but we couldn’t afford to lose such man power. Perhaps I was just being unfair doubting him, because I hadn’t worked with him before. After all, his credentials were good.
“Is that even wise?” Ochre said. “Considering the hostages could easily get caught in the crossfire or used as shields. It should be our first priority to ensure their safety. It’d make more sense to gas the room first.”
“Well obviously, what I was going to say is shoot if faced with resistance. We’re all professional enough to manage that.”
“Either way we’re going to need to get someone to go in first,” Blue said, “before the rest of the crew, to draw their attention, and ensure the hostages safety.”
“Through the skylight then,” I answered, poring over the plans. “They’ll have to be dropped from a helicopter.” I looked up sharply. “Which obviously will be my job.”
“That’s good of you to volunteer,” Ochre said casually. I don’t think he was very impressed that I was taking charge out of habit.
“Do I have a choice?”
It is so frustrating at times being ‘the one’. I’d only just recovered from my last run-in with the Reaper and wasn’t all that keen on having two in as many days. Sometimes, I just wanted a break from my own indestructible skin; for someone else to shoulder the burden.
“Ah yes, you’re the Captain Scarlet,” Morado declared. “You are quite a legend in Spectrum. They say you cannot be killed.”
“Of course I can,” I retorted, which was entirely true. “I’m just… luckier than most.”
“I’d say we’re the lucky ones for having you around,” Blue put in, effortlessly diffusing the tension. “So, you gonna do it, Paul?”
On hearing my first name, so casually used, I instantly scolded myself for being so selfish. Of course, I hadn’t chosen to have these abilities, no one in their right mind would, but I was bloody well stuck with them; and if it meant having to take a bullet so that a colleague would not need to die, then I’ll gladly step up and take it. And of course, this is Blue’s family we’re talking about; I didn’t know them all that well but they had been very good to me, and I know Adam would do the same if our roles were reversed.
“Only if you’re flying, Blue-Boy.”
He grinned. “Sure. I couldn’t let you have all the fun.”
I looked round then, Ochre was still looking over the plans; his brow etched with concentration.
“What are these skylights made of, then?” he asked no one in particular. “Just regular see-through glass?”
Nobody seemed to have a definitive answer.
“We’ll need to devise a Plan B then, in case things aren’t exactly what we expect.”
“Of course,” I said. And stepped closer so that we could discuss the matter.
Being to all intents and purposes stranded at an outpost, it was unsurprising that, in addition to being deprived of the action, it seemed Cozumel was also woefully under-equipped. It was a good thing their only SPV has jetpacks, and Morado did manage to acquire respirators with anti-flare lens, and aforementioned flash bangs. I had no idea how, and didn’t think to ask, I was just grateful he did. Unfortunately, our transport problem wasn’t so easy to resolve.
I gritted my teeth and vented a sigh of frustration. Of course the Spectrum Passenger Jets and helicopters we had arrived on were in perfect working order. But in this situation, they would draw too much attention, and show from the outset that Spectrum was involved; which was the last thing we wanted. We would have to requisition civilian craft; but we had looked into that and found there weren’t any suitable ready ones this side of Cancun.
“Actually, Mr Svenson will be here soon, we could probably use his chopper,” Magenta said, as if it was the simplest thing in the world.
“This is the man who hates Spectrum because we stole his precious baby,” Ochre pointed out. “I somehow doubt he’ll just hand it over with a full tank.”
It was then that he glanced up, just as I noticed the low, whirring noise approaching us from behind. It wasn’t long before I recognised the vibrant blue paintwork, accented with canary yellow. Definitely not a colour scheme I’d have chosen, but I understood why they went for it: they were the colours of the Svensons’ ancestors’ fatherland’s flag.
“Well, we don’t have any other options if we want to move fast,” I said. “And he’s understandably desperate to ensure his family’s safety, perhaps that will inspire him to look more kindly on us than usual.”
The SvenCorp helicopter came down with an unceremonious bump - at which Blue visibly winced, as he hated to see anyone fly badly - revealing that the pilot was Mr SvenCorp himself. Yes, I really did think of Bjorn Svenson in those terms; somehow they seemed more fitting than just his name, and certainly more than ‘Adam’s Dad’.
“Who’s in charge here?” he demanded, alighting from the aircraft.
Ochre stepped forward, intent on making suitable introductions; but by then, Mr Svenson had noticed Blue and headed straight for his son.
“Real family affair this, isn’t it?” Ochre muttered.
If Mr Svenson has one apparent redeeming quality, it is an impeccable sense of decorum. I knew full well how he despised his eldest son’s career choice, and here it was literally staring him in the face, yet he didn’t even blink.
“Hello Dad. Have you spoken to Mom and Michael? How are they?” Blue asked. “And you?” he added, almost as an afterthought.
Until then, I honestly hadn’t known the name of Blue’s youngest brother; well, I knew he was called Cal, but suspected that wasn’t what was on his birth certificate.
“I spoke to them about an hour ago, while arrangements were made. They’re shaken, obviously, but otherwise seem to be holding up well. The kidnappers assure us they are unharmed.”
“And you believe them?” Blue added something on the end, which I took to be something rather unflattering, in Swedish.
“We don’t have a choice.” Mr Svenson checked his watch. “Now, if you don’t mind, we need to get on and resolve this situation. It is only an hour until I am to make the drop.”
“We are aware of that. Captain Magenta has been monitoring communications,” I explained. “It’s a straightforward drop; just got to this place.” I showed him on the map of the hotel gardens. “Leave the case under the bench, then get out of there. Dupont, the man who gave you the instructions, will collect it after you leave. Are you ready?” I added, as an afterthought.
“As I could ever be,” Mr Svenson pulled a large, black-leather briefcase from under the passenger seat. “I have the money right here.”
He must have noticed my reaction, and looked me in the eye. “Captain, I might have the reputation of a ruthless financier. In fact, I’m aware that I deserve that reputation. But money is just money – a tool to me. It can be won or lost at the turn of fate; it is replaceable. But my family, my wife and children, they are much more precious to me. I will not risk their lives for money, and will not let anything stand in the way of their well-being.”
I couldn’t help glancing at Adam, wondering how he would react to that statement, seeing how he had become estranged from his father for not considering money, or at least a career in finance, to be vital. He made no comment, and if anything, seemed to have a glimmer of new found respect for his father.
“We’ll need to borrow the helicopter.” Blue approached the aircraft. “Is it juiced up and ready to go?”
“Yes. Yes, the tank is at least three quarters full.”
“OK.” Ochre turned to address the other captains. “Magenta, Morado, have your men in position. Blue, drop Scarlet as soon as you get the word… good luck.”
With them gone, he turned to address me.
“Scarlet, having looked over the plan, I doubt a roof landing will be possible. So you’ll need the jet pack from the SPV and be ready to go in, as soon as Magenta signals.”
I collected the standard issue jet pack from the SPV; and returned to find Mr Svenson in the co-pilot’s seat of the helicopter. I was to be seated in the back, and by ‘seated’ - I mean squished into a corner amongst what appeared to be holdalls and sporting paraphernalia; it seemed these aircraft were indeed meant for two.
“Will you be all right in there?” Svenson asked, to be polite more than anything.
“Well, you could say that I’ve survived worse.”
Yes, I’m sure you do all the time … You’re Paul, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered, “but when I’m in uniform, it’s Captain Scarlet, if you please, sir.”
“Of course,” he smiled. “I have heard a lot about you; you’ll have to come to dinner at our home, sometime, so that we may have a proper introduction.”
“Likewise, sir.” Perhaps then we would both be able to look beyond each other’s respective images built from anecdote and reputation. I had been to their home, once, but Mr Svenson had been away on business. It’s a very impressive place. I’m sure Brad would stowaway with us if he found out the Svenson’s had a heated Olympic-sized swimming pool.
By then, Blue had changed out of his uniform into casual clothing, then made his pre-flight checks and clambered into the pilot’s seat beside me.
“Once I drop you off, I’ll swing back round so Dad can hand over the ransom,” Blue explained, with a hint of distaste for the thought. “Just holler if you need anything… Ready to get this party started?”
Mr Svenson and I gave our agreement, and with that, we lifted off, watching the resort seemingly shrink to the size of a dolls house before we gracefully swooped towards our destination.
For all this talk of my heroism, of being able to survive and be stronger for adversity, I only have to look at Blue to feel humbled. He is the real hero of the two of us, for doing all this without the safety net of retrometabolism, not to mention putting up with me.
I knew this day would come when, once and for all, I would have to confront this choice of Adam’s; though I had not expected it to be under such circumstances.
It is my sincere belief that God holds a purpose for all of us; we are born into this world assigned a fate, a destiny, if you will. For some people, it is apparent from a young age; such was the case for me. The Svenson financial dynasty stretches back centuries, and seemingly looked secure as far into the future. My father had been rather liberal, letting us decide our own path, but I knew in my heart that it was my duty to play my part in our dynasty. So I toiled for years with no let up, to prove my worth and advance through the company by my own merit alone. Of course, Papa was proud of me, even more so when I fathered his first grandson, who, as tradition dictated, would inherit his assets and secure the company’s future. We were both so proud of Adam. He had been such a good baby, amiable, handsome, and hitting his milestones ahead of his peers. Then as a child, he discovered his own will, became fascinated by flight, and never looked back. Things were never so good after that.
Fortunately, my wife and I had another boy: Peter Bjorn. It was as if God had given me another chance, a way to ensure the company’s future. Perhaps it was, but, like a stubborn fool, I failed to fully realise that Peter was a person in his own right – and not just a rerun of his older brother – and that lead to further complications. Michael, on the other hand – well, the irony is, I could well believe him to be a rerun of Adam; they are so alike in many ways. They have different talents, of course, but their characters are so similar. By now, I had learned my lesson; I don’t try to shape his path. And, though they may not see it, in the end, we did the right thing by our boys.
The elder two needed direction – a little opposition to his strong will taught Adam how to fight, and Peter’s longing for approval gave him a purpose in life and he found a niche where he can succeed, adequately. Michael – he was left to find his own way, and he has done so – even if I despair of him sometimes, such as when he insists on using that childish nickname. I can’t even remember who started calling him that – or why – but I refuse to.
We really should have had four girls; Rebecca has been nowhere near as much trouble. Seems to me girls usually aren’t, though; the only challenge is to make money faster than they can spend it. She’s rather a good catch, if I say so myself, finding a worthy husband to love and care for her shouldn’t prove too difficult.
Of course, I watch the news and know as much about Spectrum’s activities as any citizen is entitled to. It all seems rather exciting and glamorous; at times, I almost wish I was seeing the world and saving the day, rather than be stuck in an office. I’d be utterly useless though, and the uniforms would do my middle-age spread no favours. I must say, Adam looks rather dashing in his; it compliments his colouring perfectly.
“Ready?” he asked Scarlet, as we hovered over the roof.
“As I’ll ever be.”
“Right, go then, we don’t have much time.”
“Good luck,” I called.
Scarlet gave us both a thumbs up, then went to open the hatch at the side of the chopper. It held fast, as I suddenly remembered it was meant to. When my children were young, I had understandably been concerned for their safety and ensured the doors could not be opened in the air. So it was necessary for Adam to land, and then open the door for his colleague.
I put my head out of the door to wish him good luck; I rather like this headstrong competent friend of Adam’s. It didn’t go down very well, they must think me a reckless old fool for literally risking my neck. Maybe I am.
“Do you normally work together?” I asked Adam, once we were on our way again.
“Yeah, pretty much all the time. We’re field partners and all,” he said, and I cursed myself for not taking the trouble to know something so integral to my son’s life.
Ever since I’d heard of the terrible fate that had befallen my wife and youngest son, I had been plagued with paranoia that this was somehow my fault. They had said it wasn’t, when Adam was taken as a child, but it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t argued with him, hadn’t made it possible for him to run away, hadn’t let him think – even for a moment - that I didn’t care. Because of course I do, he is my son. Which is why it hurt so much when he turned his back on us - his family – and decided what his forefathers had carved out wasn’t worthy of him. Well, that’s how I thought of it at the time. I might have expected Rebecca or Michael to behave in such a flighty way – I knew they’d come to their senses soon enough – but Adam? He was always the most serious and committed of them all – I just never realised he wasn’t committed to this family’s particular path; which perhaps made it harder to bear: I knew he was gone forever. Only he hadn’t really turned his back on us, of course; he never had, despite my foolish efforts to push him away.
It seemed the only thing I could do now was to pray, try to haggle with God. If Sarah and Michael are brought safely home, then I shall be able to forgive Adam. Of course, I should be able to forgive him regardless, but these things are not always so simple.
We touched down as close as possible to where the meeting had been agreed.
“Thank you,” I told him.
“Everything,” I replied.
“Yeah, well, we’re not done yet.” Adam looked around, assessing the surroundings, finding the best way to put Spectrum’s plan into action. “I still don’t think paying the ransom is a good idea,” he said. “Once they’ve got what they want, what’s to stop them… We do not negotiate with terrorists, and that includes paying ransoms.”
“And you wouldn’t, to save your mother’s life?”
He hesitated, for a moment.
“How many hostage situations have you dealt with?” he asked.
One, I wanted to say, but I knew that wouldn’t count in his eyes.
“None,” I answered.
“So we follow the plan, that’s what will guarantee the best outcome... You can trust us. Between us we’ve done this enough to be prepared.”
“I know, I’m not going to be stupid and ruin their chances.”
“Sure,” he said softly. And perhaps, if we were closer, he may have offered some comfort. Instead he runs through again what I am to do; then seems to melt into the trees, to observe.
It was not a very long wait until the man I was to meet with – whom, I was told, was named Dupont – appeared. He looked younger than I expected, but maybe that is just me getting old. He was scruffy too, but in that artful way so fashionable with youngsters.
“That’s him,” Adam told me via the earpiece they had we wear. “Go out there and hand over the case.”
I did not offer any resistance to that. It was easier to do than I had anticipated. I concentrated on thinking of Adam as a Spectrum officer doing his job, rather than my own connection to him.
My task was so simple; to deposit the briefcase of money under a bench. Just put the case down, and walk back the way I came. It seemed so easy, but I was almost overcome with nerves. Having deposited the case, I then found I just couldn’t leave.
Dupont didn’t seem to mind my presence. He casually came over, took the case, opened it and inspected the contents.
“It’s real money,” he confirmed. “A pity, almost. I was rather hoping to have the satisfaction of killing them. Your boy first, to stamp out the vermin before they grow.”
I didn’t doubt for a moment that he was serious; maintaining my composure was the hardest thing, but I felt compelled to keep him talking.
“So what now, are you going to let them go?” I demanded. “After all, you have the money.”
“Maybe yes, maybe non,” he answered casually. “I am just following instructions from the man who hired me; and he was not so particular about them… He did, however, make it clear what should be done with you - should you be stupid enough to get into this exact situation.”
They say when you are about to die your life flashes before you. To be honest, I do not know if that is true. When Dupont pulled the gun on me, everything seemed to happen in a sickening slow-motion, like an underwater ballet. Whatever thoughts I’d had were lost in that oblivion. Not even when I heard the gun crack with fire, and in an instant felt the slug tearing into my flesh. With the shock and adrenaline, I didn’t feel any pain for a moment, then it hit like a wall. I don’t know how I remained on my feet. I heard shouting, another shot fired, a heavy thud to the ground as Dupont toppled like a fallen tree. Then everything went sickeningly silent as Adam slowly approached, his gun drawn and still smoking.
“What happened, is he dead?” I asked, looking down, strangely fascinated by the spreading crimson stain across Dupont’s back, emanating from two expertly placed burgundy pockmarks, as he lay, face down on the grass.
Adam blew a sigh, re-holstering the gun.
“Yes, Dad, he’s dead.”
I was horrified, to have witnessed a man, my own son, kill another. I turned to him, intent on saying something, to make sense of this situation. He killed a man… for me, to save his family.
“Dad, you’re hurt,” Adam began. “Here, let me help you.”
At the moment, I dared to look down to acknowledge the source of my pain, and my legs buckled as I realised blood was pouring from my shoulder.
So I allowed him to help me toward the bench, and he tried his best to tend the wound, once I was seated, too absorbed in my own thoughts to resist.
It seemed an age before the others turned up, during which time Adam and I did not exchange a word. We just didn’t have the words to speak; how could anyone, after that?
A Spectrum officer I hadn’t met before led the small group; a medic, two officers and himself. He was talking through his cap microphone, and sounded generally rather upbeat. I got the sense that his part in the mission had gone well. Then as he surveyed our situation, his mood soured instantly.
“Don’t bother,” Adam told the medic, as she crouched beside Dupont. “He’s dead.”
The officer, I think his name was Teal, nodded. So, of course, the medic came over to me.
“It’s just a flesh wound,” she reassured me, as she made a proper job of patching me up.
I couldn’t hear much of what was said between the officers, but I did watch as this man consoled Adam.
“You did the right thing,” he said, in answer to a statement I didn’t catch. “Completely reasonable, anyone of us would have done the same.”
I had not expected that, I’d assumed that in their world, where there are ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’; it would be simple to kill in cold blood. Then I hated myself for believing they could possibly lack such humanity.
“Yeah, I know,” Adam responded. “Doesn’t make it any easier to live with, though, does it?”
The officer gave a rueful sigh.
I looked up and realised Adam was standing before me. The last atom of surprise I had not already expended, made itself apparent as I realised his face was not of a composed officer, but that he was weighed down with concern.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “I’m going to call Ochre, check in with them about what the situation is there. To make sure Mom and Cal are OK.”
“He’s destroyed so many families,” Adam began. “I just… I couldn’t let him do that to us… I hope that you understand that. And don’t think badly of me for what happened today.”
I nodded, the burden of the years quietly dissipating.
“Of course, I understand, son.”
We drew up at the house – scratch that, it’s a mansion.
Captain Auburn, who was accompanying me, looked suitably awed by it all, but I was surprised to find myself a bit jaded. Sure, it was a huge, fancy place, but the Svensons’ was bigger, nicer-looking too. They’d tried to recreate that whole château thing, but it was a bit much.
Auburn had picked me up from the airport in a Spectrum saloon, then drove the rest of the way. It wasn’t an especially long drive, but he’d manage to cram in the highlights of his life story, and not so subtly hitting on me. I could call him Noah, if I wanted to, as that was his first name (I didn’t share mine). He had cut his teeth in the World Government Police Corps, and recently been headhunted to join Spectrum from the European sector thereof. And though unfortunately he’d never got to meet the guy, he considered Detective Richard Fraser a role model. This prompted him to spend a lot of time expounding on conspiracy theories about said Detective Fraser’s assassination. I paid attention to that part; for some reason, Ochre has a morbid fascination with the details of his assumed demise. Particularly speculation which, as obviously they disappeared around the same time, cast Patrick Donaghue in mob boss capacity as being in on the conspiracy too. I think it’s the sheer improbability which amuses him.
Anyway, Auburn mercifully quit talking as the car came to a stop on the long, circular driveway, between the marble fountain and pristine black painted front door.
He got out first, strode over, and rapped on the front door. Having followed, I stood by his side.
An elegantly-dressed woman of about fifty-five answered. I could sense exactly who she was, recognising that innate sense of style, poise and those almond eyes.
“Bonjour, Madame Pontoin, I’m Captain Auburn,” was all Auburn could say before the woman interrupted.
“You are from Spectrum, are you not?”
He nodded, and she near went to pieces.
“Oh, mon Dieu, my poor bébé! Oh, there has been something terrible happening. I just know it …”
“Non, non Madame, Juliette is perfectly fine,” I reassured her. “You don’t need to worry about her. Actually we are here to speak with your husband. Is he home?”
“Not at this moment.” She composed herself. “Would you come in, to wait inside for him?”
Auburn nodded, and I followed him into the house.
“You have a lovely home, Madame,” I commented, glancing around the living room. It was decorated in a luxurious but unpretentious style, with neutral colours, floral details and antique furnishings.
“Merci,” she replied. “Oh, but please, my name is Amélie.”
“That is such a pretty name.” I held out my hand. “I’m Symphony Angel.”
“That too is rather beautiful.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Auburn casing the joint. He was devoting particular attention to the photographs.
There was a sense of familiarity in that, the loving, careful documentation of an only daughter, just as my parents had done for me. The photographs spanned roughly twenty-five years from inside their eclectic selection of silver frames. My particular favourite was Juliette in her confirmation dress, pride and contentment flooding from her doe eyes. It seemed rather ironic really; as I know that when it comes to cussing, fornicating, and all manner of ‘un-Christian’ activities, our Bijou can keep up with the best of us. There was another photograph next to it, taken at a ballet recital. I never knew Jules did ballet; that’d explain why she’s so – uhh - flexible. So I hear.
At the sound of a car approaching, Auburn near flew out the door, instinctively reaching down to check if his gun was holstered, while I followed with Mrs Pontoin.
Jacques Pontoin did not look at all how I’d expected him to; just under average height, thinning brown hair and a face that reminded me of a rampaging bulldog. Surely, I must have met him at our Commissioning ceremony, but I couldn’t recall it.
At the sight of us, Mr Pontoin really kicked off.
“I knew this day would come,” he declared. “This has brought such shame to our family.”
Though his rage was not for the reasons we’d anticipated.
“We have no daughter!” he barked at his wife.
“I … don’t understand,” I admitted, truthfully. Far as I knew, it was him dragging their name through the mud.
“You thought he was such a charming man,” Mr Pontoin continued to rage at his, I should think, long-suffering, spouse. “You even said he would be a good match for her, to marry, and I agreed! Oh, what fools we were.”
Auburn shot me what must have been his best ‘what-the-hell’ look, imploring me to make some sense of this; but Mr Pontoin did that for us.
“That so charming man, with whom she would be so besotted, this Monsieur Donaghue, is a criminal!”
I put a hand on Madame Pontoin’s shoulder, as she began to tremble with unshed tears; but all I could think was ‘Pat? Our Pat?’ After all the years he’d been in Spectrum and had a crush on me, I’d almost forgotten that Magenta wasn’t always the noble professional and kind, easy-going friend we generally knew him as.
“Sir, you have it all wrong…” I tried to interrupted, but Mr Pontoin wasn’t quite done.
“It is all over the Internet, I see it with my own eyes, all the things he did. The biggest syndicate in New York. They have made idiots of us. We have raised our daughter to be bedfellow of a criminal!”
Madame Pontoin looked to me, her expression begging me for honesty, so that she would know for sure if these accusations were true. I had no answer. What could I say? We have been so careful to conceal our current lives, because there was so much about our pasts in the public domain. There was no way I could deny the crimes of Patrick Donaghue; but about Captain Magenta they had it all so painfully, ironically, wrong.
“Bedfellow of criminal,” Auburn repeated. He wasn’t incredulous like me, or filled with righteous anger, because he didn’t know Magenta or Destiny. He was pretty confused though. “Sir, with all due respect, we’re not here about that. We’re here to see you.”
“I do not know your meaning!” Mr Pontoin drew himself to his full height, but he was still a good five inches shorter than Auburn.
“I’ll explain it to you then,” I butted in. “Shall we start or finish with ‘hypocrite’? Yes, that’s why we’re here. We know all about your ‘fund raising activities’. That you hired mercenaries to kidnap two members of the Svenson family, hoping to get a ransom for them which would pay off your company’s debit.”
“This cannot be true!” Madame Pontoin insisted. “You must have the wrong man... Jacques, tell them, tell them the truth.”
Pontoin blanched, which was answer enough.
“Which means, sir, that you are under arrest,” Auburn stated, brandishing handcuffs.
Mr Pontoin had the good sense not to argue as Auburn spoke to him in French – reading him his rights, I guess – but then, hell, if I’d know for sure.
We were all set to load Pontoin into the car and be done with it, but I allowed him a brief moment to talk to his wife.
“I did not mean for things to be this way,” he said, solemnly. “I just wanted it to be right, to get the company back as it should be. It was for us.”
She slapped him, a full belt across the face so hard he staggered into Auburn. Can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same in her shoes. I saw her try to speak, but every time, she seemed overwhelmed by emotion and unable to formulate the words. So instead, she just turned her back on him. He pleaded with her; protesting his innocence and begging for forgiveness, but watching her, it was like he wasn’t there.
Madame Pontoin came to stand at my side. “What shall happen now, to us?” she asked.
“Because the mercenaries he hired have links to terrorism, your husband will be remanded in the custody of Spectrum Paris,” I began in answer to Madame Pontoin’s plea. “Then, in due course, he will be put on trial. I cannot be certain of anything at this stage. But perhaps, if he cooperates fully, then they’ll be lenient with him.”
Another car drew up, and we waited with a sense of foreboding, the Pontoins and I certain who had arrived but needing confirmation before we could breathe again.
Destiny stepped out of the car, a poised woman scorned. She was wearing the uniform we had recently been issued to the Angels, for us to wear when working on the ground at other bases. Not our flight suit, but something between that and the standard female Spectrum uniform. It looked almost wrong in this setting; like she had stepped from another world into this one.
Initially, she made a point of giving her father the cold shoulder, approaching her mother and speaking quietly to her in French. It seemed to comfort them both, steeling Destiny for the inevitable confrontation which would follow.
Then with emotions in check, she stepped towards her father.
“Papa, I know what you did. For these last hours, I have been translating the correspondence between you and Dupont.”
“See, I knew you would betray your family!”
Destiny gave an incredulous laugh, momentarily surprised that he would go on the offensive and put her in the wrong. She tried not to let her hurt show as she spoke again:
“I was doing my job, upholding the oath we have all taken as Spectrum officers. So - I showed you for what you are? Well, pardon, but even you cannot be too stupid to see that this was your doing? It is impossible to translate what is not written in any language.”
Pontoin seemed surprised at the venom in her voice, but not to the extent he had when his wife lashed out. I got a sense this wasn’t the first intense father-daughter confrontation they’d had. After giving it some thought, he nodded his understanding.
“Will you forgive me?” he implored.
Well, he’d sure changed his tune. Half an hour ago he was about ready to disown her, over Pat. Not that it was any of my business to say that. By looking at her, I could see that Madame Pontoin remembered too, but didn’t say anything either. I got a sense she was the peace maker.
“How should I know!” Destiny retorted. “You do something so terrible, and then just expect that nothing will come of it? That I will still be your adoring little girl? But no, this is too much. All you ever care about is your image and your stupid company. The man you take the money from, I work with his son. It’s his mother and brother you had kidnapped! How I am supposed to face him again, after what you have done? Let alone if his family is harmed! You are such a selfish man.”
“I am selfish!” Mr Pontoin roared back. “This was all for you! So that you would have the company to inherit, that in the meantime we could live in this house and buy you such nice things!”
“If this is what it takes for you to keep me in that life, then I don’t even want it. Besides, you may have noticed I have my own home and income now, amongst true friends who know better than to think money can mend everything.” Destiny gave a burst of mocking applause. “So well done, Monsieur Pontoin, for your efforts. But they are not appreciated, as you will soon discover in Di Witts.”
Madame Pontoin looked to me, horrified. “You did not say it would come to that!”
Not many people knew what Di Witts, the now infamous network of maximum security prisons, was really like; and it’s not like I’d visited one of them or anything either. But the name had been built up in the public conscious as some kind of hell on earth; that it was populated by the most nefarious hardened criminals, and that once someone was sent there, they had no chance of appeal or escape. A modern day Alcatraz, maybe. It had sounded extreme in the papers, but Ochre and Magenta had separately verified it wasn’t so far removed from the truth. So I was inclined to believe them; after all, they’d know better than anyone else I could have asked.
I could see why Amélie would be so concerned for her husband.
“Yes, I know, but honestly it probably won’t come to that,” I consoled her. “Nobody’s saying your husband didn’t do anything wrong, but there’s still a chance of leniency if he cooperates with the authorities.”
“See,” Mr Pontoin had to butt in, glaring at his daughter. “You should not make accusations and say things which cannot be upheld. Now apologise to your mother, for making her so distressed.”
“It is hardly appropriate for you to lecture me on morals, and I should imagine Maman was already distressed by what you had done.” Destiny retorted frostily, turning her back and rolling her eyes over her father. But she did apologise to her mother. Strong as Juliette inherently was with her personality and military training, she still needed emotional support from someone who could best understand her situation. And on the flipside, her mother would need her more than ever when the charges and judicial action really kicked in. I could understand that bond so well, from visiting home, cloaked in the fresh grief of my father dying.
“Good, good,” Madame Pontoin said to me, resuming our conversation. “It is most reassuring to know there will be understanding from the authorities. I know that Jacques understands his crimes and will do his best to cooperate. Then all will be forgiven and things can be right between us all, yes, Juliette?”
Still guarded, Destiny shrugged. “Yes, if that is so. There would be no need for a grudge, should Papa have repented and been granted suitable absolution. Until then, I reserve judgement.”
Amélie seemed content with that, for now. And Pontoin gave a sigh, as if resigning himself to his fate; then he got into the car, aided by Auburn.
“Are you going to stay here?” I asked Destiny.
“Yes,” she replied. “I am still technically on leave after all, and Maman needs me. Not all our duties are to Spectrum.”
“How is the mission going?” Destiny asked. “I feel so out of it, being on the ground. This is not our natural habitat any more.”
“No, I guess you’re right… Anyway, yeah, the mission is going pretty OK, last I’d checked in.” I didn’t really know much about it myself beyond what we had been doing on Cloudbase. “And Sarah and Cal, the ones they kidnapped, they’re hanging in there, and I’m sure they’re going to be fine, when all this is finished.”
“That is good, I suppose. The best that it can be.” She nodded, seeming a little distracted, and I could sense why.
“None of this is your fault, Jules. Adam knows that and won’t hold it against you.”
“Maybe so, but you heard what my father said. That he did these things ultimately for me. It is my family name that will be dragged through the press. I cannot help feeling responsible in some part.”
“Well, you’re not. Your dad’s been caught and he’s lashing out, it doesn’t mean …”
“Symphony,” Auburn called from the car. “We need to get going.”
I looked between them, conflicted. Obviously, my first duty was to Spectrum, but there was no way I was comfortable just walking away when Juliette needed a friend.
“Go,” she said, waving me away with as much of a smile as she could muster. “Maman and I have each other, and there will be plenty of distraction here. Other friends even. Amazingly, I do still have a life outside of our tin can home. So don’t worry over me. I will see you later.”
“Uh, OK, see ‘yah.”
I was going to say more to her, but I didn’t have the chance, as she walked into the house without a backward glance. Her mother did though, and the expression on Amélie Pontoin’s face at that moment will haunt me for a long time. She looked as if the world had been whipped out from under her.
There is no such thing as a textbook hostage situation. You can learn and prepare for contingencies and various scenarios, but ultimately, it’s all in the lap of the gods. Assuming that you believe in that sort of thing, which frankly I never have, or at least not since the Mysterons first reared their ugly invisible heads. So being a cynic, I will just say that there are many variables in the specifics of the situation. Not to mention in the human nature of those involved, which is even harder to predict.
It was peculiar to watch the resort shrink away beneath us as we took off in the commandeered SvenCorp helicopter. For a little while, I seemed to forget the gravity of the situation. It was as if Adam and I were wealthy playboys, off to have a little ride in his executive toy before joining his family for cocktails by the pool or some such leisure activity which would be fitting of their station in life. It seems rather a nice life, on the face of it. But I suspect that there must be some flaw, for Adam to have rejected it, as he has such impeccable judgement to weigh up the pros and cons.
I wonder sometimes if he misses it, considers the road not travelled. I know the others do. Pat will complain good-naturedly about military life and pine for the comforts his gangster life afforded. Brad jokily threatens to run away to sea again. And for a moment, when Rick’s prankster façade slips, he seems weighed down with unbearable guilt and regret, of which we will probably never truly know the source.
But Adam, I don’t know. I’m closer to him than any of the captains, almost anyone I know frankly, and vice versa. Yet overall, I know so little about his life before we met. I mean, we traded the standard set of basic factual titbits years ago. But the emotional content – his heartbreaks, childish accomplishments, those sorts of things – not so much.
Though it must be said that, as military-minded blokes, we tend to have better things to do than sit around, comparing notes on who we took to our respective senior school proms.
Then I started to get cramp in my leg, and that snapped me back into why I was really there. I peered through a grubby little glass panel of the helicopter’s door, rather than in the front, fully taking in the panoramic view, like a self-respecting millionaire playboy would. Obviously, that’s not my calling in life either, and it’s probably a good thing, really. I get bored enough on long holidays as it is, so what seems to be an unremitting holiday from ‘real life’ with no inherent productivity makes me shudder. Terrible as this job can be sometimes, with the associated suffering and failures, it’s very fulfilling when we do succeed. God, I sound like a recruitment drive.
Mr Svenson was the one in the co-pilot seat. He was unprepared for this situation and incredibly nervous, of course; who wouldn’t be in his place? Last thing you expect as you embark on a pleasant luxury beachside holiday is to be press-ganged into audience participation on a Spectrum mission, complete with free ride in a requisitioned chopper. I could hear him talking to Blue, the ebb and flow of voices as he asked questions, because the silence was unbearable. Blue was, as usual, perfectly patient and answered back, seamlessly omitting anything classified.
It would, I admit, have bothered me though. At that moment, before we ‘go over the top’ as it were, I greatly prefer for it to be quiet, so that I can collect my thoughts and run over the plan of attack. Personal feelings should never interfere with a mission; I knew that from years of training, but it was impossible not to feel it in this particular case, as we had Mr Svenson there with us as a constant reminder of how much was riding on it. Ordinarily, the people we save are strangers to us. So we don’t have such a degree of personal empathy or investment in their wellbeing that could cloud our judgement, or just make it harder to move on after the assignment is over, whatever the circumstances of that may be. I prefer it that way.
Though I suppose this way, when it’s over, and I’ve no doubt we will accomplish our objectives, that it will be significantly more gratifying.
My epaulettes then flashed yellow. “Base to Scarlet; are you in position, over?”
“We’re still a few yards from it,” I answered. “I think.”
“My visibility isn’t very good,” I clarified. Not that it would have made a fat lot of difference even if I could see for miles. I could recall the blueprints of the resort complex, but getting tossed around in the back of the helicopter had momentarily disoriented me.
“All the ground teams are in position,” Ochre said. “So we’re just waiting on your signal.”
“We’re about to over fly the building,” Blue called out to me.
“Blue says we’ve almost reached the building,” I added into the communicator. “Will give the signal when we are in position.”
“SIG. Good luck. Ochre out.”
For some reason as I readied myself for the drop, I felt a flutter of nerves. Which I instantly made efforts to quash; these feelings aren’t of any use in these situations. We didn’t have that luxury when lives were at stake. So instead, I double-checked my jetpack and other equipment; there couldn’t be any mistakes or equipment failures.
Satisfied that everything was in order, I shouted to Blue to hold her steady, then edged forward back toward the hatch to open it.
It wouldn’t open.
Blue swore. “I should have remembered, but it just never occurred to me: the hatch doesn’t open from the inside, at least not while in flight.”
“That makes sense as a safety feature, like the child-safe locks in car doors.”
“Yeah, brilliant idea that was,” Blue grumbled. “Pretty ironic that as far as I can remember, this is the only time anyone has even tried to open that thing while airborne, and it’s to save the lives of people who use it.”
“You’ll have to land it then, on a roof close by, and I’ll go across with the jetpack.”
“Yeah, hopefully that wouldn’t attract too much attention. Or there goes our element of surprise.” Blue swore again for good measure, almost like he was trying the word out. Then he apologised to his father, for using such language; it seemed to me Mr Svenson wasn’t remotely perturbed by it, but didn’t press the point.
Blue radioed this new development in our strategy to Ochre; they conferred a little, then came to the same conclusion I did, as to the only course of action.
As it came into view, I could see the roof of the hotel suite, in which the hostages were being held. We landed on the roof of an adjacent building. It didn’t have a helicopter pad, as many of the other larger buildings on the resort did; though at least, thankfully, it was fairly flat. Landing wouldn’t be textbook easy, but Blue was the best pilot that I knew (best male pilot, I should say), so I trusted that he would be able to pull it off.
“You ready to roll?” he asked me.
“As I’ll ever be.”
“Good.” He made a sweep over the roof. Searching for the optimum landing spot – not that we had many options. Then I felt the chopper lose altitude.
“You ought to invest in a helicopter with a greater seating capacity,” I said through gritted teeth, as Blue banked to the left and I had to cling for dear life or slid towards the door along with what seemed like a tonne of luggage coming up the rear.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Mr Svenson said mildly.
The landing was far more tolerable than I had braced myself for, though we came down with quite a clonk on the terracotta roofing tiles. Good thing the roof could hold the weight of the helicopter. I’m lucky they don’t charge me with all those destructions occurring during assignments, or that would be added to it.
“You had better be wearing Kevlar,” I called to Blue, as he unbuckled the seatbelt I had by then become rather envious of. Between his recklessness and habit of telling me to be careful, I think he often forgets which one of us is indestructible.
Blue got out of the helicopter, walked round to the hatch, and I could see he was at least wearing a flight helmet.
“Course I am.” He opened the door. I shouldn’t really have doubted it; Blue probably runs the safety protocol through his head at five hundreds words per second as he brushes his teeth in the morning. I believe at one point the theory behind partnering us together was so I would live to see thirty four. “Remember Morado said there are deliveries by helicopter made up here on occasions. So we shouldn’t instantly attract suspicion.”
“Do you think the kidnappers know about that arrangement?”
“Probably not.” Blue shrugged. “There are a couple of snipers trained on the roof though, in case they do rear their ugly heads.”
“Well, that’s all very comforting.” I can’t help rolling my eyes. But Blue wasn’t looking at me.
“Dad, you’re going to get yourself killed. I told you to stay in the chopper.”
Mr Svenson looked at him with that puzzled, vaguely amused, expression I’ve seen on his son. After all, he hasn’t actually stepped out of the cockpit; just opened the door and stuck his upper body out. My father would probably have done the same.
“I just wanted to wish you boys good luck,” he said innocently.
“Thank you, sir, we won’t let you down.” I shook his hand.
“Very touching, Dad. Now get back in, we have to go.”
As I made my way across to the roof of the building where the hostages were held, I allowed myself one last trivial thought: that I really hope one day Adam has a son, who will no doubt be just as exasperated by his stubborn yet surprisingly endearing father.
In these situations, it is necessary to think on your feet, and what separates the truly skilled from competent is naturally the ability to make the right decisions.
The skylights, as I had come to suspect, had tinted one-way glass; possibly as an effort to evade the paparazzi, as the resort was popular with celebrities. So as we didn’t know in which of the suites the hostages were being held, it would be utterly foolish to just burst through any random skylight and hope for the best. In the worst case scenario, I would drop straight into where they were being held, and watch them be killed in front of my eyes before the rescue was even underway. Or more likely, I would drop into where the hostage takers were hiding and be killed by them instantly. Then ultimately, the worst case scenario would come to fruition anyway.
I made a brief scout of the roof, considering the positions of all the various skylights and the doorway leading up to the roof; then I found myself a suitable spot where I could be relatively undetected should anyone appear, whilst I radioed through my new plan of attack.
“That seems an expected development,” Ochre said, in his crisp official tone. I did rather have a habit of spontaneously making amendments to the strategy, and going ahead to that end without the consultation or the seeking permission of anyone else. It gave the sense that I was overly impetuous, but I obviously wouldn’t have got where I am today without being able to apply it. It’s more a case that I work well under pressure; to analyse the situation on the spot, use my initiative accordingly, then follow it through. My superiors have come to expect it of me, and my colleagues appreciate it. They aren’t entirely immune to such spontaneity themselves either.
It was then I heard the door opening.
I quickly concluded the conversation, in a hushed voice: “everything else proceeds as planned, await my signal, Scarlet out.”
In contrast to the constant hum of noise of the resort below us, from all the holiday makers and general activity, it was quiet on the roof; under other circumstances, perhaps one would call it peaceful. I could hear a few bursts of muted noise from the ground; what I took to be native birds, squabbling over scraps of something edible on the roof of a building to my right. But overall, the roof was an oddly peaceful place.
The door had opened with the kind of laboured metallic crunch and shrieking of protest that sets teeth on edge. Clearly, this entranceway wasn’t much in use, and perhaps that was to our advantage. It banged shut behind whoever had stepped out through it. He cursed it afterwards; at least I imagined from his tone that it was laden with obscenity. For someone who was supposed to belong to a skilled hired mercenaries group, this guy didn’t seem very competent; he was doing nothing to disguise his presence on the roof, as his footsteps clattered the tiling as he went. Perhaps he was just arrogant, truly oblivious, or genuinely incapable of not making such a bloody racket. Neither of which are positive attributes in his line of work. Or mine, but I’m better at this.
As it was no longer required, I had stowed my jetpack out of sight. It was at this stage doubtful I would come back later to retrieve it, but it was Spectrum equipment, so I’d rather not have just allowed it to be casually discarded and destroyed.
The mercenary didn’t manage to find the jetpack or me. They had probably heard the helicopter and just sent him up there to investigate as a half-hearted security measure. Fortunately, by the time he did arrive at a vantage point where he could have spotted it, the chopper was far enough away that any identifiable markings couldn’t be seen at a glance, so it just blended in with any of the other air traffic around the resort. He stopped in his ambling around, and I held my breath as he was fairly close to where I was waiting, behind a skylight. I really hoped he’d move on soon, because lying prone on terracotta tiling is absurdly uncomfortable, to put it mildly.
He seemed to get the hint, and clattered back towards the doorway. It was then that I was able to make my move; whilst alone up there, I had experimented a little and found the optimum way to move with relative silence. Alas, that was crawling on my belly. I was going to be horrendously scratched and bruised until the retrometabolism took care of it, but that didn’t matter, my mind was entirely on the job.
The mercenary – I could see at this point that he was of Hispanic colouring, though that didn’t necessarily mean he was local to this area –was having some trouble with the door. It was a fire door, so opening from the outside presumably hadn’t been a priority when it was designed. So he was alternating between cursing, thumping at the metal, and calling to his cohorts inside to let him back in. With that as a distraction, I was able to get close to him; a few yards or so, well within firing range. But I waited a little longer, to see if the door would finally be opened. He then pulled the chain of keys he had hanging from his neck from under his shirt and flicked through them in order to locate the one he required. And at that point, I dared to get optimistic, cocky even, about the chances of our eventual success.
This was going to be almost disappointingly easy.
Once he selected the correct key, he triumphantly jammed it into the lock and started twiddling. I was starting to think we’d be there all night, or my position would be given away by someone radioing me to demand what the hold up was. At this point, he was completely in my sights, so I ran forward and was able to take him by surprise once he had reported that the roof was clear. We struggled a little but ultimately he was no match for me and I was able to silence him and break his neck. Then I lowered him to the tiles, gently, so not to attract any attention.
It was as I looked up from disarming him that I noticed the chain of keys he had removed from around his neck was now still dangling from the door by the key he’d put into in the lock. It seemed a little too good to be true, so I tried it. No dice. The key fitted but wouldn’t turn. Back to square one then.
Well, almost. It seemed someone had heard the commotion, and the gun firing and was now climbing the metal staircase up to the roof to investigate why their colleague had been up there so long. Stepping around the fallen mercenary, I positioned myself, so that I would be concealed behind the door as it would open, waiting as the footfalls grew in volume and proximity; a male voice called out to Miguel. The man lying at my feet, I assumed.
The door opened from the inside, and a man stepped out onto the roof. At that point, a cloud was no longer partially obscuring the sun, so the light outside, particularly glinting off the skylight’s metal fixtures, was suddenly brighter. He lifted a hand to shield his eyes, and I could smell that evidentially neither of these hostage takers had been meticulous with their personal hygiene.
He was distracted, so I knew it was the moment to strike; I brought down the barrel of my gun on the back of his head. He crumpled down to the roof.
A bullet whistled past where I was standing. I ducked away from it, almost winding myself in the process of hitting the deck, but I hadn’t quite moved quickly enough as I had been distracted. I felt pain bloom in my arm; it was enough to make me drop my gun and swear. But I quickly regained my focus, disarming the second now unconscious mercenary and taking a grim satisfaction that the body had fallen at the optimum angle to prop the door open without causing an obstruction which would ultimately hinder my progress.
“What the hell did you do that for?” I heard Ochre bellow through my earpiece. “I did not give the order to shoot. And hello, you’re supposed to take out the terrorists, not kill my men!”
At that point I looked up, seeing the sniper teams in place on the roofs of the buildings facing my position; and based on the bullet’s trajectory, I knew which had fired.
It made me smile for him to say that. If anything, in reality, we were Colonel White’s men, as he was the ultimate authority of Spectrum and who we all answered to. But I understood what Ochre meant, and why he’d said it. Once you had earned the privilege, according to his stringent criteria, Ochre was fiercely loyal and protective of his friends both in the field and off duty. If I had to describe it, I’d say he considered us as a motley selection of siblings. It makes him a valued part of our team, but at times like that, I am very grateful not to be a subordinate under his command.
I checked my arm; the bullet had just grazed it. So there was no point mentioning it really, as the retrometabolism would take care of it quickly, the way it already had of my earlier abrasions. “I’m all right, Ochre,” I quietly told him into my microphone. “You know me and my charmed hide.”
“That’s lucky then.” Ochre’s indignation had mellowed to grumbling. “But it could have been worse, and we can’t afford any more mistakes, people.”
Easier said than done, of course. But I think it was enough to shake some sense into the more trigger-happy contingent of the local ground agents.
To regain our focus on the mission, I updated him of the latest developments from my end. “Ochre, I’m going in through the roof access door. Where does that lead to?”
On the other end of the line, Ochre pored over the building’s plans. I shouldn’t have been surprised how naturally he had taken to fulfilling this role. The majority of the time, I was field commander, and for his part, Ochre effortlessly slots into the role of team player, though of course, in his previous career in the Police Corps, he must have dealt with many situations like this. Indeed, that was why he had been appointed field commander in the first place for this specific assignment.
“I’m in the east corner,” I added into the radio silence.
“We know, because you’re still in our sniper sights… Anyway, that door leads down to the service corridor running parallel to the penthouse suites. The suite the hostages are in is kitty corner to your position.”
I knew what he meant before he corrected himself. I may not use such terminology as a habit, but after years of working with them I was still fairly fluent in ‘American’. “And there are two WGPC agents on the floor below you, waiting for the signal to move in, so they’ll be dispatched and meet you in position.”
“SIG, I’m going in.”
I took the stairs two at a time, expecting to meet resistance on the way down, but there wasn’t any. At that time, it wasn’t clear whether they didn’t yet suspect anything as their cohorts hadn’t raised the alarm, or they simply didn’t have the manpower to cover all points of attack.
The corridor was decorated in the bland style I had become familiar with from frequent stays in hotels around the world; off white paintwork, brown trim, faux oak laminated flooring, and strip lighting overhead. I turned a corner and saw another person in the corridor; I must be getting old because to me he looked too young to be a cop, decked out in riot gear with WGPC insignia. With Cozumel being comparatively remote and this situation not being a matter of international emergency, it had been necessary to involve some local law enforcement from other agencies, rather than wait for other Spectrum agents to arrive. Spectrum always does it utmost never to be undermanned. And since Spectrum is under World Presidential authority, other organisations collaborate and follow our orders when necessary. By some weird struck of coincidental luck, the WGPC agents I was to liaise with had been in the hotel for a conference, and had been recalled to duty. Their protective gear had been delivered to the hotel in secret, ready for when we moved in on the hostage takers. At least that was how Ochre had explained it.
“Captain Ochre instructed us to wait here for you,” the man answered, in response to my question. “To make sure you didn’t get lost.”
Yes, I’m sure he did.
“Captain Scarlet, Spectrum,” I introduced myself.
“Captain Archer, WGPC,” he replied, shaking my hand as we walked to the entrance of the room. “And this is Torres.”
I nodded to the other man, would have shaken his hand too if we’d had time and he hadn’t already been holding a makeshift battering ram, in the form of as hefty metal sculpture of what I imagined to be a Native God.
“Captain Ochre, we are in position,” I said through the radio. “All units stand by.”
There was a general consensus as each of the unit leaders stated that they were ready to go. Morado was working with some of his men from the local base, and Magenta with other Spectrum personnel drafted in to assist us, from the surrounding greater area.
“Ready?” I asked my new companions.
They nodded, Torres readying himself to swing the battering ram.
“All units, go.”
With the logistic issues which had come to light by not being able to access the roof through the skylight, as we had initially planned, it was also necessary to change what my role within the rescue operation would be. Instead of going in as the first attack against the mercenaries, I was to follow the already discussed ‘plan B’: to wait behind for a minute, and lead a second wave of attack with my backups.
This meant that the focus of my activities, once I had entered after the first burst of resistance was quelled, would be to locate and free the hostages.
If I hadn’t arrived in advance, I would have had no trouble locating the suite once the rescue was underway. Just as the word of attack was given, there suddenly was so much noise just through the door, I was grateful to be wearing ear protection. Gunfire, shouting, flash bangs and smoke bombs exploding in various corners. Not to mention the curls of smoke coming from under the door.
Though of course these floors
had been evacuated, there were still some foolish nosy people in the hotel who
would be attracted to the action. Archer later mentioned that a couple, about
my parents’ age and with a chubby-spoiled demeanour, who it later transpired
were occupying the suite below us, had been trying to get up the stairs ready
to complain about all the noise and these people showing up. Thankfully we had
someone assigned to drive these people away before they would be accidentally
As we rammed the door open and stepped inside the suite, it was all we could do not to become utterly disoriented and thus paralysed into inaction. It was far more intense that we could have anticipated from the outside. Every sense was assaulted by the details of the situation: the noon sun and sparks of light from the flash bangs, the acrid smell of smoke bombs, the hazy smoke screen they created, how it burned down to your lungs to breathe even after you’d put on a respirator; the utter cacophony of noise from gunfire and people shouting in more than one language; the weight of the riot gear against your body.
At that point, we were still away from the main action in what I remembered was the living room. We were just about able to hear ourselves think over the chaos.
“I’m going to the right, to check these bedrooms are clear,” I told Torres.
I kept low and headed down the back wall; I hadn’t asked the cops to cover me but they did anyway, deciding it was a sensible move on their part as I seemed to know what I was doing. And while I generally prefer to work alone, I appreciated the support.
We got to a room, and as the smoke cleared, I was able to identify it as a study. Magenta was crouched by the door, firing into the room; and judging by the returned fire, someone had dug himself in behind the desk.
“You missed the best part. I kicked in a window,” Magenta told me, before returning another hail of bullets. “Give it up, you stupid bastard. Carry on like this and you’ll all get yourselves killed.”
“He probably doesn’t want to be taken alive,” I commented mildly, as I joined him in shooting into the room and managing to shatter a wall light. “And wants to take someone out with him.”
“Well, it isn’t going to be me.”
By then I had been able to judge the angle and position of the desk, and prepared to make my move.
“I’ll try and get in behind him,” I told Magenta. “Cover for me.”
I really didn’t leave him with an option, as I slid on my belly under the streaming bullets. Magenta is the weaker marksman of the captains; compared to the rest of us, he lacks field experience and for personal reasons, he’s uncomfortable about shooting anyone and putting in more than the required amount of training with firearms, but he was more than holding his own here. It was enough distraction for our adversary.
He noticed me, as I got closer, catching a glimpse of me through the smoke screen. It didn’t matter much though. I was close enough by then to get a reasonable shot. It wasn’t perfect by any standard but did the trick; and in the field that’s what count.
“Clear,” I called out, having checked the rest of the room for any other people or booby traps. Magenta, Archer and Torres crawled in; they would cover me from there as I went ahead to continue looking for the Svensons.
I used my microphone to make a quick report to Ochre. “Go ahead, Scarlet.”
“I’m with Magenta, we’ve secured the study.”
“Good job.” Ochre sounded a little out of breath, and not quite his usual composed self.
“What’s the situation
right now?” I asked him, as I made my way along the wall towards the next room.
“How many of the enemy are there?”
“Half a dozen, maybe.”
“Initial reports said there were only three men.”
“So apparently, more of them stayed in the suite, while the only three we knew about went in to kidnap the Svensons. We’re not outnumbered at least, far as we can tell at this stage.”
“Well, that’s something. Are any other rooms secured?”
“A couple of the bedrooms, along the south facing wall. And Magenta’s men are dug in around the kitchen. There are eight other rooms in this suite. Morado is taking the north side, liaising with him. We need to keep working quickly. If we don’t find the Svensons soon… I don’t need to spell out what that means.”
I checked the room I had just reached; it was a small cloak room by the looks of it. It was empty, so I proceeded further into the suite.
Across the suite, I saw one of the local agents, who had been assigned to assist Magenta, slumped beside the refrigerator. He was cradling his arm, blood rhythmically seeping through the fabric on his shirt sleeve and dripping onto the marble kitchen floor tiles. He was alive, enough to be cursing under his breath as his partner tended to his injury. It was impossible to predict how long this standoff would continue for, how long it would be until we could get him out of here to receive medical help. And that deeply bothered me, increasing my determination to do my part to end this. As a soldier, I knew that the life of one individual couldn’t be put above the greater good of the unit and the mission itself. The man was being cared for, competently as anyone could give him aid under these circumstances. All we could do was our part to resolve the situation and, as far as possible, prevent any further injury to our men.
As I edged along the wall, getting between two of the bedroom doors, I heard footsteps behind me; I swung around ready to fire.
“Hey, chill, it’s me,” Magenta said.
I had managed to crouch behind a dresser, which was providing me with a semi-cover. It was filled with a sophisticated, probably antique dinner service. A bullet whizzed past us, imbedding itself into the wall inches above our heads; I manoeuvred out enough for us to swap places, ensuring Magenta had better cover, as he needed it more; for once he didn’t argue that point.
He raised an eyebrow; “I thought you were told to take the cops.”
“I thought you were staying to cover the study.”
“It wasn’t a direct order,” Magenta couldn’t help smirking a little. “He’s gonna be less mad at me than you.”
“It doesn’t matter, we’re both here now.” I noted pointedly. “Because you ordered the cops to stay behind.”
“Well, somebody has to keep the room clear, no need for us all to be running about playing GI Joe.” Magenta still had a couple of grenade-like smoke bombs left over, clipped to his Kevlar vest, so he unclipped one and handed it to me. “Which way are we heading then?”
“Ten o clock,” I decided. “If this next bedroom along is cleared, then we’ll search the big cupboard to the right.”
He gave me a shove. “Let me get out of here first, I don’t want a faceful of that stuff; respirator and high spec goggles only do so much.”
I readied myself to toss the bomb towards the direction of the firing, when Magenta grabbed my elbow, stilling me. He then gestured towards a pair of mercenaries who had been firing on us, but were now apparently retreating – away from any visible exits, which didn’t make sense.
There wasn’t time to stand around and evaluate any plan of offence. I simply ran first, yelling for the others to hold their fire as I came through, with Magenta following me.
I realised then what they were about to do. They had gone to all this effort to take Sarah and Michael Svenson, needed them alive so the ransom demands would be met, and had their reputations riding on not messing it up. They couldn’t leave without, at least, trying to take the hostages along too; they might even want to use them as a bargaining chip to get out if needs be.
We couldn’t let that happen.
With any luck, they were leading us straight to their hostages.
In all the chaos, it was rather difficult to keep sight of our targets. When we caught up with them they were hemmed in down the end of a short corridor, which ran with the master bedroom and en-suite to the right of us, and a wall of floor to ceiling windows to the left. Part of this wall was in fact a set of double doors out to the wide covered balcony running the length of the suite. Several were already broken. That had been the point of entry for Magenta’s team into the suite, after they had climbed up the fire escape ladder which ran to ground level. They had no time for unlocking it either.
One of the hostage takers, who had already been hiding out in one of the rooms, had been tackled and restrained, and left lying on the floor. He had no intention of going quietly, quite literally, shouting the odds about his ‘brutal’ treatment. The sooner we got him out of there the better.
Now it appeared we were just down to these two; once they were captured or killed, and the hostages freed, it would all be over.
They had to be stopped before reaching the corner; I stopped, Magenta did the same, and we took aim.
“Put down your weapons!” I shouted. “Hands behind your head!”
They stopped running; and then, they obeyed, with some reluctance. But what alternative was there with several guns trained on them?
With hindsight, I should have anticipated their next move; it did all seem too simple.
As Magenta approached and bent to collect the weapon of the closest mercenary, the latter sensed the moment of opportunity and charged. Knocking Magenta aside, he headed the only way he still had left: out on to the balcony.
I would have gone to assist my colleague, but the other hostage taker took advantage of the confusion and also made a break for it. I caught glance of Magenta as he went after the first kidnapper through the window, as I myself gave pursuit to the second one.
The kidnapper was fast, a
wiry man in his late twenties with adrenaline pushing him on. Still, I was able
to catch up with him, and pulled him down to the floor. We both landed with a
painful thump. My gun slipped from my
hand under the impact; it didn’t really matter. I am quite proficient in
unarmed combat, so I wasn’t that worried.
The kidnapper, however, seemed to also know some martial arts, and seeing me unarmed fired him up to lash out. He was punching, kicking, twisting away under my grasp. He was better than I had expected, and I wasn’t quite able to counter all the blows he rained on me. But I still kept my guard up, and it was enough for me to keep the upper hand. I had no intention of giving up, but this man was desperate, and I could look him in the eye and see he had no remorse or empathy. It made me more determined to arrest him; not simply because of the treatment my best friend’s family had to suffer at this man and his accomplices’ hands. This man was a despicable criminal who obviously had little regard for human life. He needed to be stopped.
I levelled a punch to his jaw, which stunned him temporarily; he seemed surprised by the venom with which I was fighting.
“Where are the hostages?” I yelled into his face.
We tussled and landed on what must have been a shard of broken window. I felt the glass dig into my arm. But I was so focused I didn’t acknowledge any of the pain which followed; instead, I pushed him into more of the broken glass. I felt a grim satisfaction as it sliced into his flesh. “I’ll only ask you once more, where are the hostages?”
Once again, he refused to
answer. During our fighting, he cursed me several times. It was in a language I
didn’t know – but I could certainly understand its meaning.
The fight ended, so I thought, with me finally bringing a heavy object down on to his temple. Initially as I raised it, he seemed surprised by this turn of events – that I wouldn’t fight fairly. Then after impact, he slumped back, his eyes closing. I hadn’t wanted it to come to that, but as he wasn’t forthcoming with the location of the hostages, it was necessary to eliminate him as a threat to them.
It was then I realised that Magenta had disappeared; just a moment ago, he had been right behind me, until he went after that other kidnapper, who had fled onto the balcony. I had been so busy with the fight, I had no ideas where he had gone to or what had happened to him. But Magenta was capable of taking care of himself, and we would regroup later.
Looking down at myself, I realised that I was in far worse shape than I had anticipated. Satisfied I could manage it, I stood and walked down a few steps towards the room I suspected the hostages were held.
It was then I heard Morado just behind me, shouting at someone to drop their weapon. I turned around and saw another kidnapper emerge from a side room. I thought we had cleared the place, but there he was, standing in the doorway, arrogance incarnate, holding a gun. It was then I realised that I still didn’t retrieve mine. It was a sloppy mistake, and it was giving him the advantage over me.
Our eyes met, and I knew it would happen before it did, but there was still no way to fully prepare myself for it; the colour-coded body armour I was wearing protected my chest, but I was wearing only the minimum, and the kidnapper had obviously noticed that my legs were entirely uncovered and vulnerable. It was a detail he exploited, as he aimed for my right leg; he pulled the trigger, hitting the artery several times.
I went straight down, with a force that surprised me. I’m fairly sure that I struck my head on the edge of something as I did. My vision blurred and the pain was intense, but I attempted to crawl away. For a moment I could see the killer approaching, with a look of satisfaction. He probably expected that I would bleed out before the required degree of medical assistance could arrive.
There were several shots in response to those which had injured me. They seemed to be miles away as I drifted at the edge of consciousness. I heard Morado shouting that they had got him. The kidnapper, I assumed.
By then it was all I could do to call Ochre. I have no recollection of what I said exactly. But his response, his concerned tone as he kept talking to me, and running footfalls, were the last thing I heard before passing out.
He fought damn hard that mercenary. It wasn’t quite enough though, and so, realising there was no way out, he attempted to flee down the fire escape. It had been so easy, a reflex almost, to leap over the railing of the balcony after him and cling to the fire escape ladder. I fought with my adversary until the moment he lost his footing and had to let go, inevitably plunging to his death. I was completely unable to look down, but it didn’t matter. I knew the memories of those sounds, his last utterance, and of the moment his neck must surely have snapped, would stay with me for a long time.
Exhausted by my fight, I
hanged there, winded. Once I had recovered my composure, and decided it was
time to brace myself to rejoin the fray, I realised it would be almost
impossible for me to climb onto the balcony the way I had come down without a
helping hand. Obviously I’d managed it earlier with the jet pack, but not now.
I was too drained from everything that had happened since and the resultant
toll of my muscles meant they ached like hell.
It was Ochre who came to my aid. Good old Rick; he can always been relied on to help me out of a bind. The fact that he would then more often than not tease me mercilessly about it for weeks afterwards was a small price to pay. It wasn’t like I couldn’t hold my own. I heard him first, the sound of his approaching voice drifting outside as he received sitreps and gave orders.
From my position, I saw him a moment later, as he suddenly arrived on the balcony, planting his feet firmly at the edge. Much as I like Ochre the guy, I still thought it was a really ugly colour for footwear. But even then I was actually glad to see them in all their aesthetic criminality. He took a few steps and leaned over the side railing, I guess trying to identify the body he must have been able to see on the ground.
“Pat,” he said, quite gently, as if not really expecting me to respond.
“I’m down here,” I answered right back.
He leant his upper body over the railings, holding back slightly until he was sure it really was me, then gave a huge grin of relief.
“Well, get back up here, there’s no time for hanging around.”
“Yeah, good one.”
Then he realised his unintentional pun, gave a snort, and leant closer to help me up.
By then, I managed to climb a couple of rungs; it was enough so that he held out his arms to me, and I was able to grasp his hands. Only then did I step off the ladder, and he pulled me up over the railing. Though it seems we both misjudged the distance and leverage required, and I nearly knocked him down.
“You OK?” he asked.
“Good, because y’know, for a minute back there …” He put a hand on my shoulder and guided me back into the suite. “One of Morado’s men told me you had gone over the railing to catch that guy. When I saw that body down there…” He stopped, and took a deep breath. “Try not to scare me like that again, okay?”
“I’ll do my best.”
“OK, back to work then.”
By then the gunfire and flashes of light had ceased, the smoke was dissipating, and our senses were adjusting to the default levels of stimulation. But my ears were still ringing, and with the adrenalin wearing off, I realised that I was going to be seriously sore the next day and probably into next week too. Galling as it was to admit, the simple fact was that none of us are getting any younger.
“You missed a hell of a party,” I told Ochre, seeing the suite through his eyes now that the standoff was over. He had just arrived to survey the situation and oversee the fall out. Ochre always wants to be in the thick of the action, he’s far less subtle than he likes to think.
“Yeah, looks like it.”
The place really was such a mess, and I could see some of our men had been badly injured, with EMTs fluttering around them, offering aid. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to my tedious postgraduate computer programming job, but a part of me missed the simplicity of it. Naturally, any job-related mistake is undesirable; at least there, it wouldn’t have at worst come with a body count.
Another plate crunched underfoot as I walked across the suite, towards the floor length broken window.
“That is sort of impressive really,” Morado commented mildly. He had approached from the opposite direction, after having overseen the care of one of his men, who had been shot in the kitchen.
“More luck than judgement,” I said. “... but I don’t know why they came this way. There isn’t really any access to the roof from this end, not without some gymnastics and it’d be risky while under fire. And it’s not the way down or out to the other parts of the hotel either.”
“You’re probably right, but they looked like they had a reason.”
That prompted me to have a really unsettling thought. “Maybe they had no intention of getting the hostages out at all. If things went fubar, they’d just kill them. Easier for them all round in the long run, while trying to flee.”
Morado gave a brisk nod. “We better find them soon.”
He dispatched an agent to check in one of the rooms, and then the three of us headed to the master bedroom.
“Why haven’t they been found yet?” Ochre asked me quietly. “You really think they’re still alive, I mean it’s been…”
“You can’t think that…”
We both looked around then, figuring it was one of the local ground agents and they could be trying to attract the attention of either one of us. It wasn’t exactly uncommon for someone to keep seeing our uniform colour and not know exactly what name was supposed to correspond to it. I mean, they aren’t exactly clear cut like blue or grey.
It was Ochre who approached, as he was field commander.
I followed him round. Then I noticed it: the red boot, sticking out from behind a little couch, the rest of the body obscured from our view. I got a sense they were into little couches here; a love seat, I guess they’d call them, to be fancy.
The ground agent, one of the medical team, was crouched beside Scarlet, who seemed to be unconscious, with all manner of dressing and instruments spread out around her. It was then I noticed a flicker of panic pass over Ochre. Scarlet’s retrometabolism was a close-guarded secret; if it came to light here, we’d have yet another huge problem on our hands.
“Is he dead?” I asked.
I tried not to let it show, but for some reason, I still got squeamish over dead bodies. Especially Paul’s dead body, which didn’t make a whole heap of sense, because he wasn’t even really dead, not permanently the way anyone else would be. Maybe that’s why it got to me.
“No, thankfully,” the medic answered. “But that means he’s probably still in pain. He’s been shot at least twice, you can see the exit wound near his right knee.”
Ochre took another step forward, getting between me and Scarlet. He was in charge; he was going to deal with it.
“Captain, go and check that door over there.” Ochre pointed his thumb towards it. “I’ll stay here with Scarlet.”
“SIG,” I replied, keen to continue the search for the hostages.
“Thank you,” I heard him addressed the medic, “for attending to him. A medical helicopter has been dispatched to return him to Cloudbase.”
The medic looked horrified. “Sir, I don’t think you understand. Captain Scarlet has lost a lot of blood. With his injuries, he needs to get to a civilian hospital ASAP. Or he could die.”
Actually, from Paul’s perspective, dying would be the preferred option; because that was the only way his pain would completely stop, and his body would be able to put all its efforts to healing his injuries. It seems wrong to want that for a friend.
“This isn’t a decision we make lightly,” Ochre countered. “But my colleague here has a, uh, a very rare medical condition. So it’s vital he returns to Cloudbase to ensure that he can be given the exact care he needs.”
The medic rolled her eyes. “Then tell me what’s this condition of his is – I assure you, we’re quite capable of managing…”
“No, thank you,” Ochre answered calmly. “I have my orders and I follow them. The Spectrum helicopter will be here shortly, just makes sure he’s stable for the trip.”
She didn’t like it one bit, arguing that in his condition Scarlet shouldn’t be moved anyway; but as the helicopter ride seemed inevitable, she stayed and ensured he was cared for.
“What’s through that door?” I asked no one in particular as I reached it.
Morado gave it some thought, trying to recall the floor plan we had separately looked over.
“I think it’s a dressing room,” he said. “Something fancy like that.”
“Well, I’m going to go check it out. You guys stay put.”
As a reflex, I drew my gun as I approached. The door reminded me of one of those in my sister’s house; all glossy, neutral paintwork and heavy bronze antique-looking handle. I tried the handle and couldn’t get the door open. Which wasn’t all the surprising really, as I realised this must be where the hostages were. The man who had shot Scarlet was laid prone and dead near the entrance to the bedroom. I asked Morado to search him for a key, which would open the door, but he found nothing. It must have fallen out and been lost in the chaos; there wasn’t time to hunt all over for it.
The carpets were dark in these rooms, so it made it a bit harder to figure out if there was blood on the floor. But I noticed some was trailing away from the door; the carpet pile was still sticky and slightly damp with it. Scarlet’s blood, I suspected, as the trail lead towards him. He must have been reaching for the door when he was ambushed.
I put my ear to the door, listening out carefully to determine if or how many people were on the other side, as it was quite possible that, if the hostages were indeed in there, then they might not be alone, and there could be at least one mercenary keeping guard over them. I heard a whispered conversation; there were two people in there, at least, and they were having a disagreement by the inflection of it. Eventually one of them must have reached for the door handle, because I saw it moved from my side; but he had the same end result I did.
At that point, I beckoned for Morado; when he stood near me, I counted down. Then, with our combined weight behind it, we rammed the door, which easily gave.
We came face to face with our hostages. Having expected the worst, they were prepared for fight, and two armed military guys busting in wasn’t exactly convincing them of their safety. I couldn’t see Mrs Svenson, but I heard her scream, and her son stood in front of us, wielding a pipe.
“Hey, come on,” Morado said gently. “Drop it.”
After a moment, Cal Svenson recognised me, and slightly embarrassed, he let the shorn off length of copper piping clatter to the tiled floor.
“You’re safe, now,” I reassured him. “I’m Captain Magenta, of Spectrum. Where’s your mom?”
“In the tub,” Cal said. Which was a perfectly logical place for her to be there in that kind of situation.
He sounded numbed, in shock; the emotions of the day were obviously catching up with him.
“Wait,” Cal began. “What time is it?”
Morado looked at me, shrugged, then told him.
“Twenty hours,” Cal said. “Since this all began… I was just curious.”
I briefly called to Ochre in the other room that we had found the hostages, and he gave a swift nod of acknowledgement. Then, while Morado checked Michael over, I went over the huge deep bathtub set into the floor in the centre of the room; it was all rather opulent, with the gold taps and whirl pool jets. It wouldn’t be a comfortable place to stay put, but it was fairly sensible to hide there: it was out of sight and out of the firing line.
“You’re safe now,” I told Mrs Svenson, mounting the first step and peering down at her. She was curling into herself, tucked against the edge of the bath, and looked so far beyond terrified, it was heartbreaking. I couldn’t help thinking of my own mother; the dangers I had unwittingly put her in, and still did, with my job. They were total innocents; it wasn’t right.
“Here, take my hand.” I offered it to her and she took it. Her grip was strong, though when she stood up and took a step, she faltered. Obviously, their captors hadn’t made the effort to feed them or kept the room cool.
“Can I get you anything, food, something to drink?”
“I am a bit peckish,” she said. “Just something light, some crackers maybe.”
It was a simple enough request to fill, not that it mattered. Right then, I’d have turned the resort upside down to get them exactly what they wanted. As it was, the kitchen fridge, despite the mercenaries greed, was still fairly well-stocked. So an agent, another of Morado’s men, was dispatched to get them something. I added in some fruit, cheese, and other small snacks onto my request too.
“We really ought to get going,” Mrs Svenson said, between two small bites. “I’m sure my husband will be very worried about us.”
“It’s OK; my colleague has already informed him that you’ve been found safe and well. It’s still quite crazy outside, lots of mess and people. We’re just going to do the last of the essential clean up and keep the press at bay. Then you can leave. So it’s OK to sit a while and compose yourselves if you want.”
Mrs Svenson nodded, resuming her birdlike eating. I could sense she appreciated that short time to compose herself, now that they knew they were safe. I didn’t elaborate on what the clean up would entail; there were still the last of the bodies to remove, and the changeover from Spectrum to the crime scene crew. It would be less distressing for them to wait a while and not see that. We had one of the medics come in and check them over. Aside from being scared witless, hungry and having got overheated, they were in good shape.
“Is Fae all right?” Cal asked.
“The girl who was with us,” Mrs Svenson elaborated. “She wasn’t kidnapped, though. I think she escaped.”
“Yeah, I know. She’s just fine.”
“Good.” Mrs Svenson smiled. Then she held out her hand to Cal, and he took it contentedly, for probably the first time in at least ten years. “May we go now?”
“Yeah, I think we’re ready.”
It’s all over … It’s over … over.
I can’t quite believe it.
Everything happened in such a blur; it seems impossible to be able to put it all together in my head.
We were still locked in a side room, so the first we knew of anything happening was a loud crash, our hearts leaping into our throats as the sound ebbed into the shattering of glass. Immediately, there was a melee of shouting, scuttling footfalls and cracks of gunfire, against a background of bursts of blinding light and near-deafening bangs.
I don’t think I have ever been so terrified in my life.
“Mom, we better get behind the door,” Michael said.
So I crawled across the room, hoping that, by being behind the door when it opened, it would offer some protection, should anyone burst in firing. So we huddled together, waiting.
We’d been told by our captors that if their demands were not met, or the law intervened, then they would come in and kill us; and we had every reason to believe they would. One of them had been in, just as the chaos outside had begun, trying to make us leave. It had been Cal who had fought him off me. The man had not expected that, and he had turned tail, but not before locking us back in again. After that, we had heard footfalls, and two men talking outside the bedroom. One voice I recalled was of the kidnapper who had tried to reach us, and the other had a crisp English accent. A loud crack followed. Then nothing, the rest of the noise seemed far away.
“We’re going to die,” I said, resigning everything to Fate. At that point, I didn’t really care what the outcome of this nightmare would be, I just wanted it to end. That sense of certainty filled me with a peculiar calm.
“No, we’re not. Not today,” Michael said with as much more quiet assurance than I possessed.
I’d like to say that I told him how much I loved him, that I always had and always would. Though to be honest, my mind was such a mess, faith and fear battering me in alternating waves.
I do remember asking him if he was scared; then he turned to me and I knew for sure. Of course he was afraid, but he was doing his best not to show it. How could I have ever really doubted that? He was staying strong for my sake; for both our sakes. Then I noticed he was holding a piece of pipe. It was metal, but probably not particularly robust; it was more the sentiment, really. He was determined to go down fighting, defending me.
Just as suddenly as it had begun, an eerie silence descended. I heard an almost familiar voice on the other side of the door; but I couldn’t speak, too terrified I had guessed wrong, and this man would harm us too. By then, I had climbed into the bathtub, and brought Cal with me, thinking that it would be safe if no one could see us.
After what seemed like an hour to me, but could only have been a moment later, the door burst open. It had been locked, I knew. So they had to kick it in. Which was terrifying, as at that point we had no idea if the kidnappers had been arrested or not. We had been expecting it to be the same kidnapper as before, coming back with reinforcements, but now we were facing two men, wearing uniforms of Spectrum officers.
I saw Cal readying himself again with the pipe, just in case it was a trick.
“You’re safe now,” said the officer who had introduced himself as Captain Magenta. It took a while, but eventually, I recognised him as Fae’s uncle. I felt guilty then, not knowing what had happened to her. So I asked, and it was a relief to know she was safe.
For some reason, Michael asked the time, and we were duly told. Twenty hours, that’s how long this nightmare had been. It felt more like a lifetime.
We were given some small things to eat; the kidnappers had not been kind like that. And then, when we felt strong enough, we left. I refused to entirely believe the kidnappers weren’t going to reach out and grab us, even though the Spectrum officers hauled them away. Then we were lead through the rooms toward the exit, and something caught my eye.
Red, that was all I could see; then we stopped and it came into focus.
A man sat like an island in a sea of glass shards, furniture and other household items scattered around him, and blood, more blood than I had ever seen. He seemed to be just waking up; another man in brown was crouched, seemingly reassuring him, as they loaded him onto a stretcher.
“That is Paul, isn’t it?” Michael asked.
“Yes … Ma’am, please.” Magenta gripped my arm as I tried to run to him.
Poor Mary, I thought. Since our sons had joined Spectrum together we had become good friends, visiting each other often with our respective families in tow. And talking on the phone, sharing our maternal triumphs and concerns. So it left me feeling guilty that her only son had been hurt when I was about ready to weep with gratitude that my baby was safe.
“Is he… is he going to be all right?” I asked. I then immediately wanted to take it back for fear of what the answer may be.
“He’s gonna be fine, don’t look so worried,” Paul’s colleague, in the brown tunic, Ochre I think they called him, insisted. “It’s a nasty bump on the head, I agree, and a bad leg wound. But honestly, it’s all fairly superficial stuff overall. And our medical team is one of the best, so he’ll be his usual self before you know it. We can’t get rid of him that easy.”
I didn’t ask about the blood, it couldn’t be his then, surely, which was a relief. But beyond that, I didn’t want to know.
As it was, my legs buckled, and I felt myself go down. Strong arms scooped me, and supported by Magenta, I made my way out into the sunlight, with Michael walking by my side.
The next thing I remember was the warm, familiar sensation of Adam’s embrace.
“Momma,” he kept saying softly, as if not believing I was truly there. Tears were flowing freely down his face.
From over his shoulder, I watched as Bjorn approached, his emotions just as palpable. I was the only one not crying; the tears just would not come. I supposed it was the shock.
We held out our arms and welcomed him into our embrace; time stood still as we stood there, entangled.
“It’s just a flesh wound, Sal,” Bjorn reassured me, referring to his bandaged shoulder, and the arm supported in a sling. “No big deal.” There was a hint of pride in his voice – as if he felt he could hold his head up amongst the heroes of the hour.
It sounded like a reply, though I couldn’t recall asking any questions.
Then it seemed as if a coil of wire had wrapped around my insides and pulled tightly, as I swung around in a panic, desperately looking for Adam who had disappeared from my side. He must have said something; it wouldn’t be like him to just leave like that, but I hadn’t heard what he’s said.
After that horrific searching moment, I saw Adam, walking with Ochre to escort Paul to the medical helicopter; he was clearly hurt but alert, managing to talk a little with his colleagues. Excusing himself, Cal left me, and went to Paul’s side to speak with him briefly. I could hear snatches of what he was saying; my boy, my baby boy, was thanking this man for saving our lives. You can’t help but feel so humble and grateful to these men who do such a dangerous job all the time. If I could have found the words, I would have thanked them myself, but there would be time later. Adam came to stand between them loosely gripping Paul’s free hand as a gesture of comfort, then stepped back as the stretcher was loaded and lead Cal back to me.
“You should have seen him,” I said. I recounted the events which had occurred, and how Michael had defended me.
“He would make a fine Spectrum officer, don’t you think?”
Initially I thought Adam had uttered the sentiment, then I realised it had been Bjorn, which is certainly something I never expected to ever hear from him.
“Never thought you’d ever say that,” Adam muttered.
“Well, I was just saying,” Bjorn continued, a little hesitant, “that, from what I have seen of Spectrum officers, they seem very honourable; and this sort of work could well suit Michael. The discipline of it may do him good.”
Adam smiled. “Well, of course he’d have to train for it. It’s a hard slog, and they only pick the best. But he has potential.”
I looked over to Cal; the colour rose to his cheeks and he seemed suddenly fascinated with the ground between our feet.
“Oh, so you’ve given up plotting for him to be the next financial whiz kid at SvenCorp?” I asked Bjorn.
“I gave that up long ago. Michael has too many ‘principles’. Though he doesn’t seem to mind hacking the computer system for the hell of it.” Bjorn shook his head. “I cannot believe I’m father to a democrat.”
“Two actually,” Adam said, with quiet amusement. “I don’t know how you can live with the shame.”
Bjorn slipped an arm around him.
“I suppose you’re not so bad, really, and at least Peter turned out all right.”
I shook my head affectionately at the pair of them. It is quite possible that they’ll never stop needling each other. But after everything that had gone on, who could tell? After all, stranger things happen at sea.
Magenta approached us again, with Fae walking beside him. Michael went to her.
“You missed all the drama!” he told Fae.
“I know. They had me hiding in a safe house. I’m so disappointed, you have no idea.”
“Don’t be,” I told her. “You don’t know what it was like!”
It was such a relief to know she was safe, that we were all together again.
Magenta discretely spoke
with Adam, while Bjorn clutched Michael with his uninjured arm.
Then Magenta turned to me. “Dr Weiss, Spectrum’s top psychotherapist, has offered her services, if you’d like to take them.”
“Nah, it’d take more than this to scar me for life,” Michael quipped. “I’ve seen Grandma Ellis naked.”
Adam made a show of being horrified, and then laughed. “That’s the spirit.”
“That’s a very kind offer,” I told Magenta. “But I’m sure we’ll be able to manage.”
“Well, no pressure, of course,” he replied. “But it’s there, if ever you want it.”
“Is there anything more we need to do here?” I asked.
“You’ll need to give statements,” Magenta answered. “There’s a team here ready to interview you, it shouldn’t take long. Then if we need to contact you again, we can do that through your nearest Spectrum HQ once you get back.”
I nodded, suddenly feeling very weary. “I’d really just like to get back to Boston.”
Adam smiled. “I know, but it has to be done. Honestly, we’ll make it quick, then have a plane waiting.”
With that, Michael looked down at his red sneakers, tapped the heels together three times and proclaimed:
“Ah yes, there’s no place like home.”
Days later, Blue lay looking up at his ceiling, waiting for his breathing and heartbeat to slow, a fine sheen of sweat on his brow.
He’d known this would happen: thinking back to when his family was in danger, and of the memory of his own kidnapping, years ago, which often came back to haunt him at times like this, when he was so sure he’d moved on.
His subconscious might be unsettled, but the rest of Blue’s mind merely ended up frustrated. He knew logically that the past could not be changed, that events had worked out better than anyone could hope, that the nightmares would pass in a few more days. So why the lost sleep?
Symphony reached out an arm, cupped his chin in her hand, and laid her own chin on his chest.
“Bad dream, again?”
Blue managed to smile a little, at the utter perfection of her, the polish and poise she wore through the day stripped away so that for a moment, he could savour at her just being Karen.
“Yeah, guess so,” he answered. “but it’s OK, really. You can go back to sleep.”
“What if I don’t want to?” She raised an eyebrow suggestively.
“Well then, don’t.” He pulled her closer. “It’s a free world.”
She ended up laid on top of him, their bodies as perfectly aligned as their height difference would allow, bent elbows either side of his head propping up her chin. For his part, Blue trailed his hands up and down her back.
“Did you call your mom in the end?” she asked, out of nowhere.
He gave a positive response, and was rewarded with a tender kiss.
“Well, actually, I mostly talked to Cal,” Blue added. “He’s coping really well, all things considered. It’s just that… Mom’s not doing so great. Nightmares, anxiety brought on by loud noises.”
“Well, that seems quite understandable, after what they went through.”
“Yeah, but she hasn’t left her bedroom since they got back from Cozumel.” Blue sighed. “I’ve never seen her like this before, Kay. Everyone’s rallying round and all, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Women are tougher than men. That’s why we live longer. And I figure if she can have sons as strong as you and Cal, well then, she must have some reserves of her own.”
“Maybe you’re right, but I’m still going to call Dr Weiss, to see if she knows someone in Boston who could talk to Mom.”
“Fair enough… what time is it, anyway?”
Blue looked at his alarm clock, and gave a long suffering sigh.
“Time we get ready for work.”
“Five more minutes?” Symphony hugged him.
“I’m afraid not, honey.” Blue kissed her softly as he untangled himself and clambered out off bed. “Time and colonel await no man.”
“True enough.” Symphony unlocked the bottom drawer of Blue’s chest of drawers, where she kept a spare uniform and other essentials for when she stayed over. “Look, I have to work ‘til 16:00; but after that, I’ll stop by the lounge, and then... well, we’ll certainly have longer than five minutes.”
Blue returned the greeting as he sat down opposite his field partner in the staff canteen, having just enough time before his shift to grab some breakfast.
“What’s with the mournful face? Go on then, tell Uncle Paul all your woes.” Scarlet thought a moment. “Actually that might take too long, just the latest updates should suffice.”
“My father has invited me to the SvenCorp shareholders garden party.” Blue grimaced.
“But, that’s good, isn’t it? I mean your father wants to spend time with you. In public no less. That’s a vast improvement on the last… How long have we known each other?”
Blue shrugged. “I know, which is why I have to accept. But you don’t know what those stupid parties are like. Hours on end eating overpriced canapés, with no one to talk to but the insanely boring old guys my dad does business with, and by talk, I mean listen as they tell every excruciating detail of their latest investments.” He looked up pleadingly. “Paul, you’re my best friend, you have to help me.”
“Well I could try and get a furlough, and go along too for moral support. After all, I must owe you a lot of favours in return for everything you put up with from me…”
Realising that Blue suddenly didn’t seem to listen to him, Scarlet followed his partner’s gaze over to the self-service counter by the door, where Destiny was stood, deliberating between getting a pain au chocolat or triple berry muffin.
“I should probably go and talk to her,” Blue commented. “But, I don’t know… She’s been avoiding me.”
“Well to be fair, you have been avoiding her too.” Scarlet dumped the contents of a sachet into his coffee.
“I know, but… I figure she’ll talk when she’s ready. I don’t want to pressure her or make her feel any worse.”
“It’s understandable to be awkward, but you need to clear the air, before it gets any more difficult. After all, she’s just the same friend and colleague we know and like. And so are you. So go and talk to her.”
“Honestly, Adam. She only bites if you buy her dinner first.”
Scarlet said that last sentence a little too loud, and at the next occupied table, Green raised an eyebrow from over his computer magazine.
Scarlet managed to swallow a mouthful of coffee, but with a shudder and grimace, then set his cup down.
“I’ve only gone and put salt in it again,” he grumbled.
Blue choked on a snigger; he was pretty sure Green would be smirking as well.
“I’ll go get you a fresh drink then,” Blue said amiably. “As you clearly need it to fully wake up.”
Blue was glad to have spoken before he got too close; at the sound of his voice, she spun around so quick and startled he would have probably ended up with a tray of food down his tunic.
“Ah, yes. Hello, Captain.”
They prepared their respective hot drinks in silence from the dispenser. Then, when it felt unbearable Blue spoke: “I’m glad you’re here, so that we can talk. I know things have been a little awkward between us.”
That was a bit of an understatement really, considering that, despite living in a confined area with just under 600 other people, she had, it seemed, made a concerted effort not to see or speak to him for almost a week. Their mutual friends were starting to get concerned.
“Yes, I perhaps should not have just ignored the problem,” she said. “That is not a good way to deal with things.”
“I can understand though,” he assured her. “After everything that’s happened, I didn’t know how to approach you either, or what to say.”
She nodded. “You should not be ashamed, when it was my father who did such terrible things. I did not want you to think badly of my family.” Only then did she manage to look him in the eye. “I hope that you will forgive me.”
“There’s nothing to forgive,” Blue said simply. “I, none of my family, hold any ill feeling towards you. After all, none of us are our fathers’ keepers.”
Knowing that he was sincere, she looked as if a tonne weight had been lifted from her. “And how are they? Your family?”
“They’re doing well, all things considered.”
“Good. I will pray for them, that they find comfort.” She smiled, then stopped, embarrassed. “To be thinking of them, I mean, I know that some people are not so comfortable hearing such ways of saying things.”
“I know what you mean.” Blue nodded. It wasn’t that their colleagues were intolerant, but the majority weren’t practising members of any religion, so it was a generally alien concept to them and made for some self-conscious conversations. “But I’m Lutheran, so you don’t have to worry about offending me on that score.”
It was then Blue noticed a familiar flash of colour, and a second later, Destiny glanced in the direction and smothered an expression he knew just as well. If he’d had any doubts before then, they would have evaporated right there.
“I’ll let you get on then,” Blue said, aware he was using the phrasing Scarlet favoured when it became obvious he was an un-required extra to the ‘Adam and Karen show’. “I’ve got duty anyway, but I’ll probably see you later. It’s been good to talk.”
“Yes it has. See you then.”
By the time Blue returned and gave Scarlet his coffee, Green’s table had gone from a solitary occupant to bustling. Grey and Magenta hotly debated the previous night’s basketball game, in which the team Grey supported had defeated Magenta’s. Destiny had taken a seat between them, smiling and nodding in response to various points, even though she knew virtually nothing about American sports; as for Green, he focused most of his attention on eating, knowing he wouldn’t really get a word in edgeways.
The tableau would have been completed with Ochre, but he had worked the graveyard shift the previous night, so was spending his well earnt off-duty time sleeping in. They were regularly reminded of that by other personnel asking Magenta where he was. It seemed people really believed field partners always travelled in pairs, or perhaps they just wanted reassurance that Ochre wasn’t hidden away ready to launch another practical joke.
“I think your brother was right when he said there was no place like home,” Scarlet said, accepting the drink.
“Maybe, but I can think of a few better places to call home.”
Blue gave a shrug, conceding slightly.
“I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
This fic started life as a 3000 word story fragment, written for a creative writing unit of my university course, hence the ‘experimental’ elements of the writing style. Well the unit finished, and incidentally I got a very good mark for it, but the plot bunny still wouldn’t let me go. So I felt compelled to finish it, even through the ‘death’ (and eventual ‘rebirth’) of my hard drive.
As it stands this is one of the longest story I’ve written, and possibly the most intricate, so I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I have writing it.
Mary Metcalfe and Dr Weiss were created by Mary J. Rudy
Sarah Svenson is borrowed from Chris Bishop, Stefan Svenson is courtesy of Marion Woods, Blue is canon of course, but the other Svensons are mine.
The Donaghue’s (with the obvious exception of Magenta), Morado and Auburn are mine too.
Di Witt’s prison is the creation of Sue Stanhope.
Chris ~ services to the fandom above and beyond the call of duty. Also for serving as beta reader, and saving my story from itself.
Davis ~ for the preliminary read through, encouragement and technical expertise.
Marion ~ Beta-extraordinaire, as always, of the first draft.
Richard ~ my brother, who so graciously allowed me to use his computer to write the first draft while mine was out of commission.
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