With his commanding officer driven by a desire for revenge as much as for justice, Teunis ‘Dutch’ Vandermark felt it was his duty to keep the department’s actions on the right side of the law. That was why he’d chosen to stay on duty for the entire three days the interrogation had lasted – so far – and was prepared to stay on until the end.
He stretched his broad frame and rubbed a hand over his chin. He was glad he’d taken a couple of hours that morning to go back to his quarters, shower and shave, and pleased – if mildly surprised – that he’d convinced his commanding officer – Adam Svenson, the World Aeronautical Society’s Head of Global Security – to do the same.
The break did us both good, Vandermark thought, as he picked up his coffee, unfortunately, it hasn’t made getting to the truth any easier and the deadline’s getting closer.
They needed more time to complete their interrogation of Warren Allen, but unless they got some admission of guilt, they’d have no authority beyond today. Failure in such a high profile case would undoubtedly lead to recriminations and questions concerning the wisdom of appointing the young and inexperienced Svenson to such an important post. There had been complaints enough when he was appointed in the first place, and, Vandermark reminded himself ruefully, until he’d got to know his boss, he’d been amongst the doubters who’d postulated that no twenty-two-year-old had the capability to run such a department.
He was no longer in any doubt that Svenson was the right man for the job but others remained sceptical, and some of them were powerful men, so there was no certainty that his commander would keep his job, and, if Svenson fell, it was possible the Director General who’d appointed him in the face of such opposition would come under threat too. Without Peter Galvin at the helm the WAS would be vulnerable to the machinations of the military chiefs-of-staff who were forever chipping away at the authority the civilian-run organisation had over military aircraft and use of the crowded airspace.
Vandermark caught the muffled sounds coming from reception, where representatives of the other security services were waiting impatiently for their turn at interrogation. He’d been fending off their demands for access to the putative boss of ‘The Nebula’ spy ring ever since the news had broken that the WAS Security department had made an arrest – and Vandermark would’ve given a great deal to know who’d let that particular cat out of the bag.
He finished his coffee and glanced at the clock. The regulations said Allen was entitled to regular periods of rest – something Svenson was prone to disregard in his determination to break the spirit of his former colleague – but Dutch knew that if the interrogation itself could be proven to be at fault, Allen might get off on a technicality. His boss knew it too, of course – he just didn’t care.
Vandermark shook his head, poured the dregs of the coffee pot into a polystyrene cup, and headed for the interrogation room. He marched in without knocking, to discover Adam Svenson leaning across the table, his face mere inches from Allen’s.
“Coffee time, Chief,” he said imperturbably.
Ignoring the expletive from Svenson, Vandermark glanced at the silent guard over by the wall and jerked his head towards the door, indicating the man should leave. Interrogating a suspect was still a two-man job, despite the state-of-the-art recording devices around the room, and Vandermark was glad; there was bad blood between these men, going back over several years.
He plonked the cup in front of Allen and reported for the recording device: “Interrogation of Warren Allen; refreshment break taken at 15.20 hours; prisoner served with a hot drink. Assistant Commander Teunis Vandermark in the room, with the Head of Global Security, Senior Commander Svenson. Officer Smith has left.”
He looked at his commanding officer for the first time. Svenson was looking tired. “You want coffee, A.J.?” he asked.
“No; all I want is for this bastard to tell me the truth,” Svenson snarled.
Concerned at the dispirited tone of his commander’s voice, Vandermark studied both men covertly.
Warren Allen was widely recognised to have been the greatest test pilot of his generation, although he was now a little past his prime, but no one had ever described him as a clever man. It was his lack of acumen that had prevented him from rising through the ranks, although he had always stated publicly that he had no ambition to quit flying for a desk job. The problem was that as he reached the end of his flying career there was no clear career progression still open to him. Vandermark sensed how much this rankled with a man used to being acknowledged as the best amongst his peers.
Svenson, on the other hand, was an acknowledged intellectual, with a string of qualifications and an almost encyclopaedic general knowledge. For him the problem had been one of proving that he had the skills to make a good test pilot. This he had done in a remarkably short space of time, earning the respect of his peers and their knowledgeable ground crews. So much so, that he was quietly spoken of as ‘the next Allen’.
Faced with the fact that his superior officer was probably going to outstrip him as a pilot, Allen had grudgingly accepted the young American into his circle of friends, but there remained an air of condescension in his attitude towards Svenson that was – to Vandermark’s eyes – both unjustified and insulting.
However, he acknowledged that both Svenson and himself had underestimated Allen’s capability to withstand interrogation and as the wearisome interviews got nowhere, their prisoner’s confidence had grown until now the two men were evenly matched.
Vandermark noted the heavy rings under Allen’s eyes, no doubt exaggerated by the harsh overhead light, which was making them all look like pale wraiths, so that even Svenson’s golden-brown tan looked washed out and his fair hair was bleached to a silver-white in the fierce fluorescent glare.
With luck, Allen’s starting to flag, he thought hopefully.
Allen gulped the stewed beverage Vandermark had given him and grimaced. “Don’t blame you, Donnie,” he said conversationally, adding with a reproving glance at Vandermark, “This tastes foul.”
“Be grateful I decided not to piss in it too,” Vandermark retorted.
Allen put the cup down hastily.
“You missed an opportunity there, Dutch,” Svenson chuckled.
Allen stared at his inquisitor with a patronising expression. “When are you going to give up and let me go, Donnie?”
“Don’t call me that! I’ve told you before, Allen.”
“Why ever not? I’ve called you that for years. Did you know, Vandermark, that my wife gave him that nickname? She said it was short for Adonis, because she considered him the prettiest boy on the base.” Allen gave a mirthless chuckle. “And you were little more than a boy, Svenson, when I taught you all you know about flying!”
“You taught me nothing! In fact – from day one – you resented the fact that I was a better pilot than you.”
“Don’t talk crap! You just can’t admit there was a time when you were only too happy to be seen with me and bask in the reflected glory of being my friend.”
“Whatever friendship there was between us, Warren, was blown to smithereens by the filthy coward who planted the car-bomb that killed Soraya. Don’t try appealing to whatever you imagine I might regret about our past association – I’m finicky about who I call my friends, and I don’t include murdering traitors amongst them.”
Allen sat back in his chair and shook his head. “Such a shame that he feels the need to resort to name calling; a definite sign of immaturity, don’t you think, Vandermark? It was a sad day when they chose a boy to do a man’s job.” He sat forward and added emphatically, “Look, Donnie, I’ve said it before, but I will say it once more for your benefit – I’m sorry about Soraya. She was a wonderful woman. Happy now?” He pushed the polystyrene cup away, before turning his attention to Vandermark. “Did you ever meet her? She was a red hot little momma, right enough.”
“Don’t talk about her like that! You‘re the man who’s responsible for her death and I’m going to make you admit it!”
“Now that’s just stupid, Donnie. I’ve told you I haven’t done anything wrong. So I can’t confess to it, can I?”
“Your language has become much coarser since you left WET Base3.”
“I’ve been dealing with scum – some of it rubs off.”
“Hear that, Vandermark? He called you ‘scum’…”
Dutch got between Allen and Svenson before his commander could reach the prisoner. He thrust Allen against the back of his chair.
“I do not do this for your sake, Allen,” he hissed, “but for the sake of my friend. I know he will gain greater satisfaction from exposing you to the world for the lying, cheating filth you are; otherwise, I would let him rip your head off for a remark like that.”
Breathing heavily, Svenson had turned away and was prowling around the room. With a warning glare at Allen, Vandermark turned away and in a couple of strides, was confronting his boss.
“You need to cool it, A.J.,” he whispered urgently, well aware that Allen was listening keenly to their conversation. “He’s within a hair’s breadth of getting out of this and we know he’s guilty as hell. Put one foot wrong and he’s won.” He gaze met the tormented eyes of the younger man and he placed a sympathetic hand on his arm. “For Soraya’s sake – for justice for her – you must remain calm and in control of this. Don’t let Allen wind you up – he’s not such a fool that he can’t use your own emotions against you.”
Svenson’s gaze dropped and he bit his lower lip. Vandermark patted his arm. “Go out of here – send Smith in. Take a leak, walk round the car park – go punch something, if you have to – but calm down before you come back.”
The American gave a brusque nod and strode out of the room without another word.
Vandermark saw Allen give a sly, triumphant smile and felt his own temper stirring. He moved to stand opposite the table where Allen was sitting, and folded his arms across his chest, fixing his gaze on the prisoner. He didn’t even react when Officer Smith came and took up his place across from the door.
Over the four years that he’d known Adam Svenson well, Vandermark had come to admire and respect the younger man’s intelligence, esteem his dedication to his job and sympathise with the tragedy that had blighted his friend’s life. He’d only met the late Soraya Carmichael once, and that briefly, but he knew without doubt that his commander had been very much in love with the woman. Her death in a booby-trapped car, only months after her lover had been confirmed in the post as Head of Global Security, had been a thoroughly traumatic event. Once Svenson had recovered from the shock, Vandermark had become aware of a cold, ruthless streak in him that he’d never realised existed before. It was this desire for revenge that had driven Svenson as he’d striven to root out the criminal elements in the WAS. Following his example, the men he’d recruited to help him had become equally single-minded.
It had taken them four years to winnow the truth from the copious lies that surrounded the loose-knit, apparently all-pervasive, criminal organisation known as The Nebula, and, as the net closed on the ringleaders, they’d realised that the trail was leading inexorably back towards the very base at which Svenson had started his WAS career. Vandermark also realised that, although his commander had reached conclusion some time ago, the revelation that the leader of this criminal organisation was the well-respected and much-admired Warren Allen had hit the American hard.
Steeling himself to see the mission through, Svenson had led the raid on the Allens’ comfortable home and taken Warren into custody himself. Since then he’d borne the brunt of the interrogation – and done a good job of it – but it wasn’t surprising he was starting to lose patience with the smart-alec Englishman, as his frustration over his inability to crack Allen’s defences grew.
Maybe it is a sign of his youth, Vandermark thought, his gaze never leaving Allen, but he has the strength of character – and the determination – to rise above that. We have come too far to fail at this last hurdle. We’ll find a chink in Allen’s armour and then watch his defiance crumble.
He blinked away the thought of failure and started a methodical mental reassessment of the possible ways of achieving their goal. It gave him some satisfaction to note that his silent, baleful stare and Smith’s rigid surveillance were beginning to make Allen nervous. Neither of them had responded to his opening gambits of conversation and, when he made an attempt to stand and walk about, Smith ordered him back to his chair with a gesture. Now he was sitting and drumming his fingers on the table as they all waited for Svenson’s return.
When he did come back into the room, Vandermark recognised, with some relief, the renewed purpose in his friend’s steely blue eyes, and when their gazes met Svenson gave a brief, grateful twitch of a smile, before he threw his jacket over the back of the empty chair opposite Allen, and studied the older man for a long moment.
Allen squirmed and was about to protest at this silent treatment when Vandermark spoke, for the first time in about thirty minutes.
“Sorry, Chief, I meant to tell you that Fiona Allen came in around lunchtime,” he reported casually, as he strolled over to stand at Allen’s side.
“My wife’s here?” Allen demanded, looking at Vandermark for confirmation. “Then I want to see her – I have my rights – you can’t keep her from me!”
“This is the first time she’d put in an appearance,” Vandermark continued, ignoring Allen’s demands. “She wants to see him, but I told her to join the queue. I hope that was right of me?”
Svenson had been watching Allen during this exchange and now he nodded.
“Sure, Dutch; we can’t have her interrupting things. If we let her see Warren they might well get together and invent delightful stories to cover their iniquity. And I can’t be arsed with sorting the truth from such fairy tales – there isn’t the time. Where is she?”
“I put her in one of the holding cells, didn’t think she’d want to wait with the press of the military interrogation teams. Do you want to talk to her, sir?”
Slowly, Svenson nodded. “It might be an idea, now she’s here.” He turned to Allen.
“I don’t think we can allow you to see her at the moment, Warren. There might well be some questions we’ll want to ask her – and we can’t have you two colluding on a cover story, now can we?”
“She’s got nothing to do with this!” Allen exclaimed. There was a decided note of alarm in his voice.
Svenson ignored him. “Mind you,” he remarked to Vandermark, “I suppose she’ll say this has all come as a terrible shock to her. My guess is that her cover story will be that she never knew what her husband was doing. Did she know, Warren?”
He swung round to fire the question at Allen.
“Fiona knew nothing about it,” Allen confirmed. “Not that there is anything to know about,” he added perfunctorily, moments later.
“Nothing?” Vandermark said sceptically, picking up on his commander’s lead. “Seems like a wife would know what her husband was up to – I hear that she certainly liked to spend the money, anyway. Am I right, A.J.?”
Svenson nodded. “Oh, Fiona spent money like it was going out of fashion. I suppose that’d be why you got involved in espionage, Warren? Can’t have been easy to meet her levels of expenditure on your salary.”
“Fiona has money of her own. She knew nothing – she knows nothing. Let me speak to her!”
“No, I don’t think so. Fiona can wait until I’ve finished with you, Warren. Although, maybe I should cross-examine her now, while she’s here? Just to confirm what she did and did not know-”
“She knows nothing; she’s innocent!”
“Hardly; she’s been living on the proceeds of crime and that’s a punishable offence in itself,” Svenson said thoughtfully. He glanced at Vandermark. “She is still here, Dutch?” Vandermark nodded. “Then it can’t hurt to have a word with her…”
“Leave her alone!” Allen exclaimed, half-rising from his chair. Vandermark’s heavy hands on his shoulders forced him down again.
Svenson shook his fair head. “I wish I could, Warren; but you heard Dutch – there are people waiting to speak to you and I’m running out of time. It may not be the most chivalrous way to proceed, but if I can put some pressure on Fiona, she might give me the lead I need – something to go on. Then you and I can go over all the details again and you can try to explain to me just how none of it could be your fault, and then, just maybe, we could arrange for you to see her; before you’re handed over to the World Police, that is.”
“You have no proof-” Allen said wearily.
“We have enough proof of your illegal activities to put you away for years – decades, even. Largely circumstantial proof, I grant you, but still enough – how else do you imagine I got an arrest warrant for the Great Warren Allen? It’ll be a shame for Fiona, and I doubt she will enjoy sullying her Lemaire outfits with visits to grubby prisons. She’d like it even less if she had to exchange that chic wardrobe for prison overalls.”
“You bastard, Svenson. Leave my wife alone!”
“Your wife – sure, she’s that; but how easy has it been for her to forget it over the years, Warren? You know, I was always kinda disappointed in her; I expected better from a compatriot of mine. After all, isn’t her motto ‘stand by your man’? That’s what she advised Soraya to do, when she asked her advice about going to America with me. I suppose that was a stroke of luck for you and The Nebula? Having your wife’s best friend engaged to the man out to hunt you down, I mean. Mind you, maybe we should give Fiona the benefit of the doubt, Dutch?”
Vandermark gave a doubtful growl.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Allen muttered. “Fiona knew nothing about all this, and knows nothing now – except that you’ve arrested an innocent man who happens to be her husband!”
“Give it up, Allen,” Vandermark advised him. “No one here believes you.” He glanced at Svenson. “How do you mean, Chief?” he asked.
Svenson perched across the table from Allen and started to explain: “Well, it wasn’t widely known why I was leaving England, and Soraya couldn’t have said much at first – I hadn’t even told her why I was moving. So, we’ll be generous and say that – for once – Fiona acted without self-interest, shall we? Or it’s possible that she was beginning to see Soraya as a threat to her position as the social trendsetter on the base? You can never tell what women consider important.”
“You talk such crap, Donnie,” Allen snarled.
“Whatever Fiona was up to, there’s no denying that she fled from your side in your darkest hour, Warren. She high-tailed it out of the house as soon as she could, according to my agents left on duty there and that doesn’t look too promising as an indicator of her future devotion, does it?”
“Ah, go to hell, Svenson!” Allen growled. “She was probably going to the solicitor’s – making sure you were within your rights to throw your weight about. Then she’ll have been trying to keep things together. With your goons swarming all over the house she wouldn’t risk leaving because they’d probably nick our stuff, given half the chance. Fiona’s totally devoted to me. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You reckon? Well, but maybe I do. Despite what you think, Warren, Fiona’s never been totally impervious to a little flirting on the side and my guess is, she wouldn’t take kindly to enforced celibacy.”
Allen’s face was red with anger and he struggled to keep his temper. “I think she just felt sorry for you,” he snarled, breathing heavily.
“Oh, not with me,” Svenson said derisively, opening his pale-blue eyes wide in a parody of innocence, “but, according to Soraya, she was seeing one of the other pilots – who was it now?” He frowned thoughtfully.
“Tcha! You’re wasting your time trying to rake up the old chestnut about Vince Gambino; I knew all about that. There wasn’t anything in it.”
“Vincent Gambino – I might have guessed that’s who it was. Vince couldn’t keep his pants on for two days together – anymore than he could test-fly a plane to save his life. I often wondered why you tolerated him on your team, to be honest, but I guess if he was keeping Fiona satisfied it was one less thing for you to worry about.”
“Shut your fucking mouth, Svenson! I’m warning you!”
“Now who’s talking dirty?” Vandermark growled.
Svenson gave a dry smile and continued; “Now I know why Soraya was always reluctant to tell me who Fiona was seeing on the side. She must’ve been ashamed to admit her friend had such poor taste in men, so she was coy about who Fiona’s fancy man was. How did it make you feel, having to put up with him, Warren?” He grinned at the older man, delighted to see the anger suffusing his face. “What was the arrangement, Warren? You got to sleep with Fiona when Vince was away on one of his trips?”
“Go to Hell, Svenson!”
“You know, it occurs to me, Dutch, that maybe Gambino wasn’t just useful between the sheets. All those trips back home to the States to see ‘the family’, and those dubious foreign holidays to the Far East. Everyone on the base thought he was just a sleazy sex tourist, but what if he was more than that? He could have indulged his peculiar tastes and do a job for his team leader at the same time. Even Gambino had to be smart enough to act as a courier. Does that sound familiar, Warren? After all, the data on technological advances that somehow vanished from our records frequently turned up in Bereznik. No one from WET Base 3 ever went anywhere near Bereznik. But it occurs to me that the Bereznians run a large diplomatic staff in the U.A.R.; what could be handier for transferring the information than a casual meeting in a whorehouse or a bar?”
Allen looked away, colour fading from his face. Vandermark glanced at Svenson, relieved to see the triumph flaring in his blue eyes – they had the final piece of the jigsaw that nailed Allen to The Nebula’s known operations.
“That was why you tolerated him sniffing around Fiona,” Svenson concluded. “Gambino had the contacts to pass on the information. And that also explains why he got out of the country so fast when we arrested you, Warren.”
Allen gave a surprised start.
“Oh, didn’t you know he’d gone? Well, he has. Skipped to the continent the very day we picked you up.”
Allen sat in stony-faced silence, but Vandermark could see the throbbing pulse at his temple. For the first time that day his self-assurance looked shaky. We’ve got him on the ropes, he thought triumphantly.
Svenson continued: “Someone must’ve tipped him off – not you, Warren, you were too busy talking to us – but it could have been Fiona. Maybe it wasn’t her solicitor she went rushing to see, after all? Surely, if Vince was nothing but her bit of rough, he had nothing to fear; but, if he was The Nebula’s courier it would explain why he high-tailed it out the country to lead us a merry dance across Europe.”
“A report came in from Tirana late last night, saying that Gambino has been killed in a car crash. A sad loss for us all, I’m sure,” Vandermark chipped in.
Allen was sweating and asked for some water. Vandermark slammed the plastic cup down on the table top, so that the water splashed across the surface and dripped onto the prisoner’s legs.
They watched him gulp at the liquid and wipe a hand across his face.
“Maybe Vince got lucky after all,” said Svenson. “Would you find a quick death preferable to spending the rest of your days in a small cell, Warren? I know how you dislike confined spaces – I’m not that fond of them myself, as it happens.”
Allen glared at him, but said nothing.
“So – we now have the conundrum of who warned Vince Gambino, assuming Fiona is innocent? You’re adamant she knows nothing and I want to believe you, Warren; I want her to be the one thing that isn’t rank with deceit in this stinking set-up. But, if you don’t start telling me who is involved with you in The Nebula, I’m going to have to talk to Fiona – very seriously.”
“Shall I have them move her to a secure Interview Room, Chief?” Vandermark asked nonchalantly.
“Fiona isn’t involved,” Allen reiterated quickly, although with less vehemence than his previous assertions. In an effort to distract his adversaries from this line of questioning, he sniped, “You want names? Are you really so stupid you didn’t see what was going on around you, Donnie? It was a shame about Soraya – that’s the truth – but you should’ve guessed that everyone at WET Base 3 was in on it – from Commander Burley down to the office cleaners! Even Soraya took her cut, you know? She did her bit for The Nebula. Jeez, I had to beg her to keep you occupied – you don’t think she actually wanted to be with you, do you?”
Vandermark saw Svenson tense at this remark but was relieved to see his commander repress his obvious urge to retaliate and reply calmly enough:
“I think you’re desperate – because you know I’m on to you and your coterie of treacherous slime-balls. I’ll see the lot of them – especially Fiona and you – roasting in Hell for what you did to her.”
“Aaaw, you always were love’s young dream, weren’t you? I used to hear them talking, Vandermark.” He turned to try and shake Dutch’s respect for his commander. “Fiona always told me everything Soraya told her – and she told Fiona everything.” Allen shook his head, taunting Svenson. “My, my, you were an eager beaver at times, weren’t you, Donnie? It’s a wonder the poor woman ever got any sleep –”
This time Svenson’s fist slammed onto the table, with such speed and force that Vandermark was taken by surprise and Allen jumped, intimidated despite himself.
The tall American leant forward and snarled viciously, “Listen to me, Warren – and listen good, because I’m only gonna say this once. You and the other bastards in The Nebula made your big mistake when you took me on. I don’t frighten and I don’t give up. You’ve hurt me and mine and I won’t rest until every one of you has paid. I can make a good enough case to get Fiona locked up – right now, without breaking into a sweat! You can spend the rest of your days in ‘his-and-hers’ cells. Never mind though, maybe they’ll let Fiona screw you on conjugal visiting days-”
“Why you motherfucking bastard! Leave her alone!” Allen started to struggle to his feet.
Svenson pushed him down again. “You’d really like to hit me, wouldn’t you? You’ve wanted to do that ever since I had you arrested, but you don’t have the guts…”
“I’ll kill you, so help me!”
“Don’t kid yourself, Warren. I could beat you to a pulp before Vandermark could stop me – and those men out there won’t come to your defence.”
“You know nothing,” Allen gasped again, but he was shaken. “We were always one step ahead of you… thanks to the information we got from your little chichi whore-”
Once more Vandermark was quick enough to keep them apart. He pushed his commander away, acting as a human shield for the slighter man, and calming the American’s rage as Svenson seethed at the insult to his dead fiancée.
When Vandermark glanced back at Allen, he saw that the prisoner was looking shaken, but more defiant than he had for some time. He tried to catch his commander’s eye, but Svenson was pacing the cell again, fury radiating off him like heat. He intercepted him on one turn and hissed:
“You’ve got him – you heard what he said – forget Soraya for one moment – you have his confession!”
It took a moment for Svenson to focus once more and Dutch recognised the effort it took. He gave a grim smile in response to Svenson’s nod and realised they were back on course.
“So you used Soraya as you used everyone else?” Svenson said sharply. “I take my hat off to you, Warren; I never thought you were capable of such devious chicanery. I admit, I underestimated you.”
Allen gave a cynical laugh. “You know nothing and you can prove nothing. I’m not even going to dignify your inane gibberish by denying it. Remember – you’re playing with the big boys now; there is more to The Nebula than you’ll ever discover. You’ve barely scratched the surface and you won’t live long enough to last the course. Listen, you got lucky once – but don’t think it is anything you did that caught us out – it won’t happen again. We’ve got the better of everyone for years…”
With perfect reasonableness, Svenson said, “And now it’s over, Warren. You fought a good fight, but it’s over. Tell me what I want to know. I can’t be any more straightforward: even you should be able to understand that information from you means we don’t have to question Fiona.”
A heavy silence settled on the room.
Vandermark felt a surge of triumphant relief at the realisation that they had Allen’s unequivocal confession on tape. Nevertheless, if they made the wrong move now there was still a chance that the whole interrogation would be ruled illegal and they’d have failed. He looked anxiously towards the youngest man in the room; Svenson was standing stock still, barely daring to breathe in case it destroyed the possibility that Allen would talk.
Allen sat and studied his hands. Finally, he looked up. “What assurance can you give me that Fiona won’t be involved in any interrogation or prosecution, if I talk to you? She is innocent of any wrongdoing.”
“You have my word,” Svenson replied.
Vandermark thought it was ironic that Warren Allen retained enough respect for his captor to find that simple pledge enough.
“Okay,” Allen said, with a sigh. “What do you want to know?”
There was a visible lifting of tension as Svenson and Vandermark both released their breath.
“Okay, let’s start at the beginning, shall we?” Svenson said, perching himself on the edge of the table facing Allen. “Tell me who was involved and exactly what happened, from the creation of The Nebula…”
“Can I help you?” Captain Grey asked. He’d been pointedly ignoring Captain Scarlet’s fidgeting for some time but at the second melodramatically loud sigh, he gave up and looked up from his newspaper.
Captain Scarlet was perched on the edge of the bench that ran the length of the Officers’ Lounge. He looked across at his companion, pushed his cap back on his head and scratched his forehead in a good imitation of bewilderment.
“I’m waiting for Blue; after this morning’s briefing he said he’d meet me here, after lunch.”
Grey shook his dark head. “He hasn’t been in while I’ve been here.”
“How long have you been here, Brad?”
Grey glanced at the clock. “About 40 minutes. Actually, it’s been remarkably peaceful around here all day, with Ochre still away and Magenta on radar duty and you – and Blue – busy elsewhere.”
Scarlet heaved another sigh and curled his lip. “I was half-expecting to see him in the canteen, but he wasn’t there,” he explained, beginning to sound rather peevish. “Now, I know that’s not exactly unusual, he quite often manages – quite by chance, of course – to take his lunch whenever Symphony happens to take hers, but she’s on duty until 1600 hrs today – so I assumed that, under the circumstances, he’d rather eat with me than starve.”
“Perhaps he’s pining?” Grey suggested, with a wry twitch of his lips.
Scarlet gave a silent chuckle. “Yeah, could be. They do seem to be going through a peaceful patch at the moment.”
“Thankfully, they do indeed. That last bust-up they had was a doozie, and we’ve been busy enough without having their tiffs to contend with as well.”
Scarlet grinned. “You have no romance in your soul, Bradley Holden, d’you know that? And, by the way, I’ll have you know that every single one of those are full blown conflicts, not mere ‘tiffs’; take it from someone who frequently gets caught in the cross-fire.”
“They’re a pain in the butt, that’s what they are. You can’t get two words out of Blue for the duration and if that weren’t bad enough, Symphony flounces around like….” He tried to think of a suitable metaphor and eventually gave up. “Like I don’t know what,” he concluded lamely.
“Ah, the roller coaster ride that is young love,” Scarlet said lugubriously even as his grin expanded into a chuckle.
Grey folded his newspaper and asked, “Why the need to find him in such a hurry, anyway? He can’t have gone far, after all.”
Scarlet’s expression changed to a grimace. “There’s a little matter of the colonel’s overdue monthly report…” he confessed.
“And you don’t want to do it…”
“Well, he’s better at them than me.” Scarlet‘s expression became one of pure innocence.
“You know that’s probably why he’s hiding?” said Grey pertinently.
Scarlet grimaced again. “Yeah, I know,” he muttered to himself.
“You want some help with a search?” Grey offered, beginning to get out of his chair. “I should get on with some work anyway.”
“Nah, it’s okay, Brad. Thanks. I could go and find him, I suppose… After all, there are only a few hundred places he might be.”
Grey shook his head in amusement as Scarlet sauntered out of the lounge in the hope of finding his partner somewhere else.
Captain Scarlet eventually found Captain Blue sitting on the wall of the Promenade Deck’s flower garden. His partner was staring out at the grey runways and the empty, endless blue sky beyond Cloudbase in a decidedly distracted way, so that he seemed unaware of his surroundings, the time, or even the people passing along the walkway behind him.
In the hand that lay across his thigh was a single sheet of paper.
Scarlet stepped across the low boundary wall and stood waiting for his partner to acknowledge his presence. When his patience ran out, he called across, making Blue start in surprise.
“Crikey, you do have it bad, Blue-boy. Why’re you sitting gazing at Angel One? Just because she’s in there? And what’re you doing here anyway – have you forgotten that report’s overdue? Oh, I know what it is: you’re trying to find a rhyme for ‘Karen’ so you can pen a sonnet to her beautiful eyes.”
He moved to stand beside his friend, adding in a less jocular tone, “I’ve been looking for you…” He paused, seeing the bleak expression on his friend’s face for the first time when the American turned to acknowledge the newcomer. “Dammit, Adam, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Blue quickly turned his face away from the scrutiny of his partner’s perceptive gaze.
Scarlet raised one sceptical eyebrow. “You’re such an atrocious liar I frequently wonder how you ever managed to survive as a security agent. Nothing’s wrong at home, I hope?”
Captain Blue shook his fair head and mumbled, “No, everyone’s fine. It’s nothing.”
“I know you better than that, Adam. What’s up – don’t you trust me?”
Embarrassed, Blue gave a snort of insincere laughter. “Of course I do, Paul. Really, it’s nothing. I’m sorry I’m late, I forgot the time…”
He started to get to his feet and the paper he was holding fluttered to the ground. Scarlet made a swooping grab to prevent it floating over the ledge.
Seeking to cheer his friend – and maybe punish him, just a little, for keeping secrets – Scarlet said, “Let’s see this ode, then.”
Ignoring Blue’s inarticulate gasp of protest, he turned his back so that his partner couldn’t snatch the paper back, and scanned it. “Oh.” He felt a rush of embarrassment. “Oh, I’m sorry, Adam. I didn’t mean to intrude,” he apologised as he handed it back, with a sheepish smile. “You know me – I rush in where even your Angel would fear to tread.”
“Yes,” Blue snapped, taking possession of his document once more. “Yes, you do!”
Scarlet grimaced at the anger in the words. “This guy – he was a good friend of yours?”
Scarlet could have kicked himself. “Then, please – accept my condolences. How did he die, do you know?”
“No, not yet. I’m going to ask the colonel’s permission to attend the funeral – I’ve got some furlough owing me – and then I’m going to call his wife. As you saw, the email’s not very informative.”
“If there’s anything I can do-” Scarlet began.
“Just leave me alone, okay?” Blue snapped, and strode away without a backward glance.
“You got it,” Scarlet mumbled thoughtfully, watching his friend disappear through the doors. He sighed and rubbed his chin; he had always assumed that Blue’s first career as a test pilot had inured him to living with the perpetual possibility of injury or death. It was this phlegmatic approach that allowed him – or seemed to allow him – to cope, with little apparent trauma, with the frequent injuries and deaths suffered by his field partner since the Mysterons started their war of nerves over a year ago.
However, Scarlet realised, that acceptance obviously did not extend to the shock and grief at the death of others – especially old friends.
An unexpected death always hurts the survivors most. This guy must’ve been a good friend… He curled his lip. I’ve made certain he won’t be coming to me for sympathy, anyway. The automatic door swished open as he approached it. Not that Adam usually comes to me for sympathy in such circumstances; it’s almost like he knows how guilty I feel when anyone else dies, especially if they have a family and he said this guy had a wife.
He saw Blue disappearing round the bend in the corridor and hesitated over whether to follow him.
I’ve definitely blotted my copybook this time. I better ask Symphony if she’s heard of… Teunis Vandermark, because I don’t want to put my foot in it again. Sometimes I wish I could remember to engage my brain before opening my big mouth. In the meantime, I’d better get that report done before we both get a rocket from the Old Man. It’s the least I can do, under the circumstances.
He turned and headed in the opposite direction to his partner.
In the Control Room, Colonel White closed the call that had occupied him for the past twenty minutes and looked across his desk towards the duty officer’s station. Lieutenant Green’s sliding chair was at the far end of the bank of computer screens, but the young Caribbean officer wasn’t working at one of the terminals; instead he’d inclined his chair away from the console to create the angle necessary for him to look up into the face of the tall Captain Blue, who was resting against the work station.
The pair were having an involved conversation about something, and he saw Green reach out to place a hand on his companion’s sleeve, in a sympathetic gesture.
Colonel White reflected that his lieutenant had an impressive flair for knowing what was going on around the base – an invaluable talent, as far as the C-in-C was concerned, for it allowed him to keep a finger on the pulse of his command. Green was astute enough to know when to share what he knew, and the fact that no one ever seemed to mind when the lieutenant relayed these confidences to their commander, told the colonel that his Executive Administrator had become an accepted ‘off the record’ line of communication between his officers and himself; one that both sides made use of, on occasion.
After a moment, as neither man had noticed he was waiting, White called across the room, “Did you want to see me, Captain Blue?”
Blue looked up and saluted. “Yes, sir, I did; if it’s convenient.”
“Most convenient, Captain. In fact, I was about to ask Lieutenant Green to send for you. I have an urgent assignment I’d like you to undertake.”
To his surprise Captain Blue’s reaction was one of reluctance. As it wasn’t like Blue to shirk any mission, White wondered what was wrong. When the American arrived in front of the circular control panels that formed the colonel’s desk and perched on the circular stool that rose from the floor, he was still looking hesitant.
“Well, Captain,” White began, “perhaps we’d better discuss what you wanted to see me about first?”
It had been a condition of their employment in Spectrum that all colour-code officers had to distance themselves from their past lives and acquaintances, and there remained a residual uncertainty concerning the colonel’s tolerance towards echoes from the past resurfacing. So it was with some uncertainty, especially now he knew the colonel had an important mission for him, that Blue explained about his friend’s death and his wish to attend the funeral.
He calculated that his chances of getting furlough were minimal, but even so, he was surprised when he noticed the colonel frowning. He waited patiently, wondering what had unsettled his commander so much.
White leant forward, resting his elbows on the edge of his desk. When he spoke his voice was unusually indecisive. “I didn’t know you were so well acquainted with Commander Vandermark, although I can’t say it surprises me.”
“We worked together in the WAS Security Department, sir. Dutch was my second in command. He saved my ass countless times.”
White sat up straight and replied in his usual decisive tone, “I’ll be honest with you, Captain. I have just had a call from Peter Galvin.” Blue’s fair brows rose in surprise. “It concerned the exact same subject, although there is more to it than you know.”
Captain Blue shifted on his perch; if Galvin had been in touch, then something was definitely wrong and if the colonel was prepared to discuss it – then it was seriously wrong.
White continued in a low voice, “Vandermark had been working with Captain Ochre, and Ochre has now completely disappeared. He hasn’t reported in for his routine check-ins, and there’s been no response from him on any Spectrum waveband. When he missed his second check-in, I ordered Spectrum’s local ground officers to track him down. By following the route we know they were taking from Ochre’s last report, they found Vandermark’s dead body. On my orders, they informed Mr Galvin, and he informed the police. There was no sign of Captain Ochre, however.”
“Ochre was working with the WAS?” Blue’s surprised tone carried a hint of peevishness. “And now he’s missing?”
White’s reply was partly designed to assuage his officer’s hurt pride. “I felt it was better not to involve you, Captain, although Mr Galvin did initially request your help.” His voice dropped to a confidential whisper as he explained, “The mission was one of utmost secrecy, undertaken at the behest of the World President himself.”
“You think Ochre had something to do with Dutch’s death?” As always, Blue asked the unthinkable without flinching.
“It’s unlikely, but not, I suppose, impossible. Mr Galvin tells me the police concluded that Vandermark committed suicide – and for now that is the official line.”
Blue shook his head, protesting with vehemence:
“You didn’t know Dutch Vandermark, sir – he would never have committed suicide. He was a good Catholic, for a start, and he has a wife and two young kids. I won’t be the only person who knew Dutch and who won’t believe that, sir.”
“No, I didn’t expect you to, and neither does Mr Galvin. But the only other conclusion that can be drawn from the incident and Ochre’s subsequent disappearance is that the captain was responsible for Vandermark’s death. And I won’t believe that, Captain Blue.”
“With respect, sir – not the only conclusion.”
“You’re referring to the classic ‘murder by person, or persons, unknown’?” Blue nodded and White continued, “There is that possibility, certainly; but no proof exists that Vandermark was with anybody when he died – so effectively has Ochre disappeared.”
“Why was he there at all, sir?”
Colonel White drew a sharp breath and decided the time had come to explain why the officer who had first-hand experience of the WAS was unaware of the mission. “Captain Ochre was there to ascertain the extent of a security breach in the WAS, following the theft of some important documents. The WAS are concerned about the possibility of the reappearance of an industrial espionage ring-”
“Yes. That’s what Mr Galvin called them.”
Blue looked away; as he seemed to be experiencing some internal conflict, the colonel waited. His patience was rewarded when his officer confided:
“Not long ago Dutch Vandermark asked me if I had heard anything about the likelihood of The Nebula becoming active again. I said no – and that I didn’t think they could re-form. Dutch and I had done a pretty thorough job of dismantling the whole rotten edifice back in the early 60s.”
Colonel White nodded. “I know,” he reminded his officer.
But Blue wasn’t paying much attention as he followed his own train of thought. “I should have known he wouldn’t have come to me if he wasn’t a hundred percent sure he was right. I let him down.”
“He knew you were in Spectrum?” the colonel asked sharply.
Even as he nodded, Blue knew he was in the wrong. To pre-empt the potential reprimand, he explained, “I never told him, sir. I swear. Once Spectrum became public knowledge, I think he had a suspicion that was where I’d gone, but he never asked me directly, so I couldn’t deny it. Then, when I went to Futura – after the Car-Vu incident – I met him there. He was collecting a service medal at the same time I was getting that gong from the President. I could hardly deny I was in Spectrum when he saw me in dress uniform.”
Despite the serious nature of this breach in regulations, White had to hide his amusement. He knew that Captain Blue was acutely embarrassed to have been awarded the Valour Star – the World Government’s highest award for bravery – following the opening move of the Mysterons’ war against the Earth. But, as he had explained to him at the time, ‘you saved the President’s life – what did you expect? Besides, this is positive publicity for Spectrum in the aftermath of some stinging criticism about our failure to protect Younger adequately to begin with and therefore I forbid you to refuse to accept it, Captain.’
Blue’s reluctance had had nothing to do with false modesty and rather more to do with the way he had saved the World President – by shooting Captain Scarlet. So, whenever he had to refer to his award he invariably called it ‘that gong’ – an irreverent expression he’d picked up from Scarlet, also the holder of several distinguished medals for courage under fire.
“Chance meetings are something we can’t avoid, Captain Blue. I take it you had no concern that Vandermark’s knowledge might pose a security threat?”
“No, sir; or I’d have reported it to Spectrum Intelligence. Dutch was as honest as the day’s long.” Blue paused. “If it wasn’t suicide – and I’d bet my life on that being a lie – how and why was he killed?”
“I don’t know why; but he’d been shot through the mouth, Captain; death would have been instantaneous.”
White waited for the younger man to regain his composure, before he continued: “I sympathise with your loss, Captain, but our primary concern has to be Captain Ochre’s whereabouts. If someone murdered Vandermark, his assassins may be holding Ochre prisoner. I don’t need to tell you, Captain Blue, that Ochre is in a similar position to Captain Magenta – and yourself, of course, to some extent – his true identity is something we must prevent becoming general knowledge. The consequences, if the fact that Assistant World Police Commissioner, Richard Fraser, did not die in the ‘assassination’ in Chicago became known outside of Spectrum, do not bear thinking about. Aside from that, he has information concerning ‘Operation Fortify’ – you all do – which could prove valuable to more of Spectrum’s enemies than just the Mysterons.”
‘Operation Fortify’ was Spectrum’s flagship scheme to reinforce key and strategic points in an effort to make them safer from Mysteron attack. Details of the new security regimes and systems would prove valuable information for industrial spies as well as terrorists.
A new possibility occurred to Captain Blue. “Do you think it’s possible that Ochre’s being held by The Nebula, Colonel?”
“I don’t know – that’s what I want you to find out, Captain Blue. I know this spy ring’s ruthless reputation – your success in closing down their operation was much admired, even in the Universal Secret Service-” Blue gave his customary modest smile in response to this compliment. “Along with the WAS, Spectrum and the other security services would justifiably view their resurgence with concern. That’s why I want you to go to California – attend your friend’s funeral, by all means, but keep your eyes and ears open. Our primary concern is finding Ochre, but I am concerned that if there is such a serious problem in the WAS it could have wide-reaching repercussions.”
White hesitated a moment, suspecting that what he had to tell would perturb and distress his officer; Captain Blue was conscientious to a fault and his loyalty did not cease when his responsibilities did.
“I’m sure I don’t need to explain that if we can root them out, we’ll save ourselves the work of reinforcing the organisation’s security to no purpose. I should warn you that Mr Galvin suspects someone in a position of trust within the WAS may well be involved in this fresh outbreak of theft. Given the need for absolute discretion in this investigation, Captain Blue, I chose to send Captain Ochre to investigate; he’s had experience of dealing with sensitive political matters as well as his police training. Although you have a superior knowledge of the WAS, I deemed it too great a risk to send you. Now I have no choice, but my doubts about the wisdom of doing so remain. ”
“I won’t let you down, sir.”
“I know I can rely on you, Captain.”
The Chapel of Rest was filled with ornate flower displays, and brilliant sunlight streamed in through ornate stained-glass windows, making kaleidoscopic patterns on the carefully chosen, neutral-coloured, carpet. This up-market, sanitised version of death was something Adam Svenson still found hard to deal with. The last time he’d been in a place like this had been for his grandfather’s funeral, and that wasn’t a memory he liked to dwell on.
The coffin was resting before the altar as he walked up the aisle to pay his respects. He was relieved to see the lid was closed. He stood for a moment, his hand resting on the smooth, highly-polished, wooden casket as he remembered his old friend and colleague.
Teunis Vandermark had been the first person he’d selected to work with him in the security department. As the head of service’s right-hand man, ‘Big Dutch’ Vandermark – and he’d been even taller than his commander, standing an impressive six feet six inches in his socks – had been a vital component in the success of the department and for the best part of eight years, he’d watched over his youthful commanding officer like an older brother.
They’d shared a lot together in those years.
Svenson’s head bowed as he remembered how Dutch had worked by his side in the long quest to bring the murdering criminals of The Nebula to justice. When evidence had pointed to Warren Allen it had been Dutch who’d helped him put things in perspective.
They’d worked as a team and shared so much that even when he’d moved to Spectrum he’d found unofficial ways to keep in touch with the family – after all, he’d told himself, I’m godfather to Dutch’s daughter and there’re responsibilities that go with that which I’m not prepared to shirk – even for Spectrum. He couldn’t imagine life without knowing that Dutch – with his friendly grin and methodical mind – was out there somewhere.
He walked over to the stand where a dozen or so candles burned before a statue of the Virgin and stuffed a handful of banknotes into the box before lighting one of the small candles, fixing it onto a spike with care. He was ignorant of the formula for the apposite prayers in Teunis’s faith, yet implicitly believing that the expression of his heart-felt grief, however ineptly phrased, could not offend the compassionate Father of all Mankind, he murmured his own form of words.
When he turned to leave the chapel, he saw Wyneke Vandermark watching him from the aisle. Momentarily he felt guilty for being there; for having left Dutch with the responsibility he hadn’t really wanted; for not having somehow prevented this. He felt the blood flooding into his face as he approached her. She gave a tremulous smile and reached out to him. He covered the distance between them in a few long strides and swept her into his arms.
“I knew you’d come – bedankt, gezien Adam. It’s so good to see you,” she murmured against his broad chest, as she hugged him.
“I don’t know what to say, Wyn. I still can’t believe it – I never knew anyone so full of life as Dutch.”
She smiled and broke away from him. Turning to pick up another wreath from where she’d placed it as he’d approached her she went to lay it on the table beside the casket.
“I can hardly believe it myself, A.J..”
“How’re the kids?” he asked gently.
“Oh, Max’s trying to be the little man – he’s hardly old enough to understand what’s happened, of course. And Richenel’s being brave but – so far – she hasn’t really accepted what’s happened either.”
He came to stand beside her and asked quietly, “What exactly did happen, Wyn?”
Her large, brown eyes filled with tears and one glistened in the sunlight as it quivered on her eyelash, before tipping down her careworn face. She brushed it aside with an impatient hand. “They found him in one of the WAS safe houses; there was a bullet in his brain. Now they’re saying Teunis committed suicide.”
Seeing the pain and sympathy that surged into Svenson’s face, Wyn laid a hand on his arm as he stammered:
“I – I don’t believe that. He’s the last person I’d ever imagine would do that, Wyn. I mean – why would he want to? What the hell’s been going on here?”
She looked towards the door. “Come back to our place and we’ll talk – can’t do it here.”
“No – you’re right. I’m sorry, Wyn, I shouldn’t be making you talk about this.”
“Adam, it’ll be a blessing to talk about it. Everyone’s been creeping about, so carefully not mentioning it. I need to straighten some things out for myself.”
He nodded in understanding. “Right – let’s go.”
The Vandermark family home was nothing special: it was crammed with the usual junk families accumulate but it was well-tended, comfortable and above all familiar. They sat around a kitchen table and Wyn made fresh coffee, and then – as she always did – produced a plate of home-made cookies and cakes.
The family cat was purring hopefully as it rubbed itself against Svenson’s trouser leg. He bent to give it some cake crumbs, waiting patiently until Wyn felt ready to speak. They were on their second cup before she began:
“I don’t know what you’ve heard about how things are in the department now? Teunis did his best, but, unlike you, A.J., he couldn’t handle Maudsley. You were right to contest the Board’s decision to make him responsible for the security department – he hasn’t the gift for the job and even Teunis lost patience with him.”
“My exact point at the time,” Svenson remarked sourly. Even now the way his advice had been ignored irritated him. “But they said the service was costing too much and I was ‘too preoccupied with field work to balance the budget’. That was crap, of course; I can balance a budget in my sleep, thanks to my father’s training. Things didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. When I resigned, they were able to say – rightly enough, I guess – that as I was walking out on them, they’d no obligation to listen to me pleading with them to give control of the budget back to Teunis.”
Wyn, who never had an unkind thing to say about anyone to his knowledge, almost snarled in reply: “All Maudsley cares about are finances; budgets have been cut and cut again, everywhere. Even if they had given the budget to Teunis, what could he have done? There wasn’t enough money to run an adequate service. He tried to argue for better funding, but he was no match for Maudsley and the board wouldn’t listen – they didn’t want to listen. So, things just kept getting worse and he was struggling to keep on top of events. When he wanted to investigate something, Maudsley simply said ‘there is no money’.”
Svenson growled in disgust. “Just because we’d routed The Nebula it didn’t mean the WAS was a hundred percent secure. I spent my last months here trying to make Maudsley see that, but you can’t talk to the man. I know a lot of accountants and financiers, and there are not many as short-sighted as Maudsley. He persistently blocked my access to Galvin and the board. I don’t need to tell you that his presence in the department was a major factor in my leaving. The opportunity came at just the right time for me – I would’ve gone for him if I’d been around for much longer.”
Wyn smiled and patted his hand sympathetically.
“The majority of the board members have no idea what it’s like in the field, Wyn: they naively expect people to risk their lives without proper backup or resources. I’d like to see them cope without their business-account lunches, their personal assistants and their company jets – the frigging pen-pushers!”
He flushed and raised the coffee mug to his lips.
She smiled at his vehemence; for such a pragmatic man there had always been an endearing streak of idealism in his character and it was nice to see that it hadn’t left him.
“They still want to cut back,” she explained, “Teunis had a tough time arguing his corner.” Her voice trailed away and she lowered her eyes to stare into her coffee cup, hiding her tears.
To lighten the mood, he asked, “Did you know I saw Dutch some months ago?”
She nodded, implying her husband had mentioned the encounter. “I should’ve congratulated you on receiving the Valour Star, my dear Adam. I was not surprised to hear it from him; you were always a brave man.”
“I was in the right place at the right time, what I did was nothing compared to the selfless dedication of others. Save a VIP and you get a medal, save the world and you barely get thanked…”
“You are too modest,” Wyn said, placing her hand on his arm again.
He shook his head at her comment. “So was Teunis, so are so many people who’re unsung heroes. Anyway, after the presentation we were able to talk together, away from the dignitaries and the pomp. It wasn’t a long meeting – just time for a chat really.”
He shifted uneasily in his chair as his memory reviewed the conversation from that day. “He told me then that there were ‘rumblings’ in the department, and the word was a new spy-ring was in operation; one with important connections, it seemed. He asked me if I’d heard anything about it in my …uh – official capacity – and I said I hadn’t. When I questioned him, he said, the rumours were probably just caused by Maudsley getting on everyone’s nerves, counting the dollars and griping about costs – as if he’s ever done anything else. With hindsight I can see that he was harassed, but… I missed it at the time.”
“Even the ‘STARs’ aren’t united, any more,” she said soberly. “Well, not as they once were.”
Svenson frowned at the implications of this news.
The group of men who were the ‘Senior Tactical Agents for the Regions’ – the STARs – consisted of his handpicked agents. Put in post when he’d set up the department, they had considerable autonomy, but reported to the Head of Service. Across the globe, these officers had, in their turn, recruited and trained their own teams of lower-ranking agents and informers, so dissention in their ranks held implications for the service as a whole. Outside of the World Government’s integrated military units, the WAS was the single biggest branch of the global administration. The nature of its responsibilities meant that every member state of the World Government had a local division. However, despite its basically civilian nature, the WAS, under the inspired leadership of Peter Galvin, had become involved in developing new technology for military as well as commercial planes, and that function had grown exponentially over the years, despite protests from the World Army Air Force.
It was this that made it an attractive target for industrial spies.
“You’re not suggesting one of the STARs might have had something to do with Teunis’s death?” Svenson asked Wyn, sharply. Although he’d never believed Ochre was a suspect, it was almost as hard to imagine any of his hand-picked colleagues could have turned traitor. “And I include myself in that question…” he added.
Wyn stared at him with some surprise. “No, you’re not a suspect, A.J.; if anyone was involved in this tragedy, it had to be someone still in the WAS.”
“So, you suspect there was an agent involved?”
She shook her head sadly. “I’ve worked for the WAS all my adult life; that’s too many years for me not to recognise the signs. I know Teunis was worried about something – something he hated the thought of so much he couldn’t even tell me about it. But, I also know my husband wasn’t about to kill himself.”
As her face went pale save for two hectic spots of red in her cheeks, Svenson reached for her hand and gently raised it to his lips, pressing a kiss on the soft flesh. Wyneke smiled at him; the memory of a similar day, many years ago when they were new friends, came sharply to mind and she could almost imagine her proud husband was sitting beside her, laughing jovially at his chivalrous comrade-in-arms.
She explained, her voice tinged with joy and sadness combined, “We’d found out, only a day or so before he died, that I’m expecting another baby. Teunis was so happy…”
Her tears flowed and she struggled to control her grief. Despite his unease when dealing with weeping females, Svenson went to her side, stooping to put his arms around her shoulders. She spun round and threw herself into his embrace, desperate for the comfort of adult contact.
“Please, A.J.,” she sobbed. “Please help me prove he didn’t kill himself and bring the guilty man to justice? There is no one else I can ask and the police are going to close their files…”
Reacting to this appeal to an older loyalty and a valued friendship, he replied in less than a heartbeat. “Of course I will. But you’re going to have to tell me everything you know, Wyn.”
She nodded and drew a deep breath to steady her nerves. When she was ready, he pulled his chair closer to her, and keeping a grip of her hand, listened with growing dismay as she described the slow disintegration of the department he’d created.
There was the usual period of uncertainty following the change in senior management, especially as under the new regime money was tight; it took longer to get permission for pro-active missions and, inevitably, morale suffered.
Then the leaks started; minor, inconsequential topics and reports at first; the sort of thing that can be put down to an unguarded word between friends in a bar.
Following an investigation, some officers were reprimanded and one was dismissed the service. Dutch had tried to lock the system down, insisting on spot-check security reviews of all departments, but he was already fighting a losing battle. The leaks grew more substantial and more sensitive. There was an assessment report for a new WAAF fighter plane that went missing for several days. Months later, reports started to come in that the Bereznians were testing a very similar proto-type – but nothing could be proven.
Morale in the department plummeted as military confidence in the organisation waned once more. The unease and wariness grew.
Svenson realised that was why Dutch been so forthcoming at their meeting in Futura: he was desperate to run his concerns past someone who couldn’t be involved in the present troubles. And all I did – like the arrogant fool I am – was tell him not to be so paranoid… My God, I should listen to myself sometimes…
Finally, Wyn told him about the rumours that claimed the source of the leaks was the security department itself – and that the finger of blame pointed at Dutch Vandermark.
“For all too many, his ‘suicide’ is the confirmation of the truth in that,” she concluded. There was a heavy silence before she added, her voice breaking up into sobs, “But it isn’t true – not my Teunis – he never would…” and the tears came again, shaking her body with their violence.
He held her for some time, unthinkingly making the inarticulate noises that have soothed human distress throughout evolution.
It was only the prospect of her children’s return that made Wyn take a firm grip on herself once more. Smiling his approval for her courageous return to even such a fragile calm, Svenson felt as if he was, in some obscure way, a traitor to Dutch’s memory when he asked her if she’d any information about the whereabouts of Captain Ochre.
Wyn sniffed and studied the damp tissue she’d woven between her fingers. “I did not meet the captain, A.J., although Teunis told me Spectrum were sending an agent to help him. We kinda hoped it would be you.”
“I wasn’t even considered for the mission, Wyn. In fact, I only knew Ochre had been sent to investigate the WAS when my commander told me he’d not reported in for almost 24 hours, and that was after I’d heard about Teunis’s death. I’ve been ordered to look for him while I’m here.” He shrugged apologetically. “Spectrum starts to control every aspect of your life after a time.”
“It’s to be expected, Adam. This man, he is a comrade in arms?”
“A friend,” Svenson admitted.
“Then of course you must find him. If your friend is alive, you must find him before this mess claims another victim.”
He was relieved that she showed no sign of considering the unknown Spectrum officer as a potential murderer. Some of what she’d told him did make it more plausible that Dutch had committed suicide, and he could see why the official line – promulgated by strangers – sounded credible to any one who hadn’t known Vandermark. But his instincts still lead him to believe it had been murder and that Ochre’s disappearance was abduction. What he wasn’t clear about was if the two were connected or merely coincidental.
Wyn’s final snippet of useful information was that Peter Galvin, David Maudsley and several members of the Board would be attending the funeral, as well as Ron Bracey, the Senior Tactical Agent for North America. This would give him an unexpected opportunity to assess – as best he could – the likelihood of their being involved with this tragedy, as well as asking them for any information about Ochre’s disappearance.
When the children finally returned, dropped off by a friendly neighbour, Richenel ran in to Adam’s arms.
“Hallo beste Oom Adam. Ik ben zo blij u hier bent,” she exclaimed, snuggling against him, as if his presence could block out the horror of her present situation.
He hugged her, responding in his basic Dutch, “Hallo liefje. Hoe u bent?”
Wyn stepped forward and untangled her daughter from Adam’s arms, exchanging a grateful smile over her daughter’s head with her friend. Since her father’s death, Richenel had been speaking Dutch all the time, and it was nice of him not to react.
Max held back a little, less familiar with this tall stranger than his older sister. Adam treated him with due formality, accepting the child’s right to be uncertain. He shook the small hand gently and smiled, giving the boy a conspiratorial wink about the exuberant welcome of his sister. As he’d expected, the effulgent Svenson smile worked its magic and before long, Max was chattering away, tugging at Adam’s sleeve to get his attention.
It gave him some comfort to think that he was helping Dutch’s children – and he swore the family would never want for anything; it was the least he could do for the man who had been his best friend through so many difficult years.
He was dozing when the car stopped; lulled by the motion of the vehicle and exhausted by the rough manhandling he’d been subjected to in the past few days. Not that he had any real idea of time any more; kept blindfolded, or in pitch darkness, the seconds had stretched into minutes and all he knew was it had seemed like an eternity since he’d walked into the ‘safe house’ with Teunis Vandermark.
Now rough hands yanked him from the foetal position he’d been forced into by the confines of the trunk of the car and he stretched his legs, reaching for the ground. When he was upright, his captors forced him into motion, and he stumbled, muscles screaming with protest at this sudden movement. Blind and nauseous, his head one dull ache, he was half-dragged for some distance, across what felt, to his bare feet, like rough tarmac, and then found himself on a staircase, knees banging on the treads as he struggled to get in step with the pace and gauge the distances between rising levels. He counted fifteen steps and then he sensed he was entering a confined space, and the curses from the muffled voices of the men holding him, took on a slight echo.
He was thrown down into a seat.
I’m on a plane, he thought, anxiety seeping into his psyche. I’m on a frigging plane.
The American voices he’d caught the occasional word from were now joined by others. He couldn’t catch the sense of what was being said.
He heard the door slam shut and people moving around him. Someone, smelling of an eye-watering after-shave, leant over and clipped a seatbelt on him.
The plane started to move, took off, veered to the left and straightened up, climbing all the time.
His ears popped.
After an indeterminate length of time, someone approached him again, and grabbed his hair, forcing his head back against the upright seat. He winced; tears smarting in his eyes, as the tape across his mouth was yanked off, pulling the days-old stubble with it. Water was splashed against his lips and he drank thirstily.
They don’t want me dead, yet, he realised, gaining some comfort from the thought. But they’re not exactly friendly, either. Where are they taking me, who the hell are they, and how’s anyone ever going to find me?
As the flight dragged on, and he was left blindfolded and handcuffed, strapped in his seat, he found himself wondering if, on the whole, instant death wouldn’t have been the easier option.
Svenson finally left the Vandermark house as they prepared for their meal, and he was driving back towards his motel, mulling over the information he had, when he became aware that a large, black car was tailing him. Doubling back several times, he finally pulled into a parking lot adjacent to some warehouses and waited, fingering the gun he’d taken from the glove compartment and slipped into his jacket pocket.
His concerns were only slightly assuaged when the occupant of the car got out. It was a young black woman, dressed in the dark royal-blue and green uniform of a WAS officer. She was remarkable: taller than average and slender, with large, dark, doe-like eyes, set in a bronze-brown skin. Her lips were full and her nose slender, her black hair was curled into a knot resting on the nape of her slender neck. As he watched her approach, he realised that he’d rarely seen a more strikingly beautiful woman. She walked over to his car with a graceful self-assurance that suggested she could divine the thoughts that must be going through his mind, and that they were the same as went through the mind of every male she approached.
With a slight, diffident smile, she leant over to speak to him through the partially open window.
“Commander Svenson? The Director General’s sent me to fetch you, sir.” Her voice was low-pitched, and she spoke with an impeccable English accent that wouldn’t have been out of place in a conversation between Rhapsody Angel and her aristocratic relatives. He was intrigued.
“And what does Peter Galvin want with me?” he asked, but not unkindly.
“A moment of your time, sir.”
“That could be difficult. Where is he?”
Galvin’s office was on the East Coast in the sprawling administrative complex, which he rarely left these days.
“He’s here for the Vandermark funeral, sir.”
“How decent of him,” Svenson remarked. “Why does he want to see me?”
The young woman kept her expression neutral. “I couldn’t say, sir. My orders are simply to ask you to accompany me.”
“And if I refuse?”
She frowned slightly. “It was never considered that you would refuse, sir,” she admitted, and glanced wide-eyed at him. “Are you going to?”
Svenson gave an amused shake of his head. “No.”
He pressed the control to close the window and she stepped away from the car door so that he could open it. Snapping the automatic locks, he smiled down at her; she was no more than a couple of inches shorter than himself.
“Take me to your leader,” he said dryly.
The merest smile quivering at the corner of her mouth showed that she appreciated the witticism. “This way, please…”
He followed her to her car and climbed into the front passenger seat. If she’d expected him to ride in the back, she gave no indication.
“What’s your name, Officer?” he asked, as she drove back to the road.
“Deringham.” She glanced at him and added, “Layla Deringham.”
“Over here as part of the WAS fast-track recruitment?”
“I guess you’ve also sworn to reveal nothing to anyone, on pain of death?”
Her lips twitched again, revealing a dimple in her cheek. “I’ve answered all your questions, so far. Sir,” she protested demurely.
“So you have, Layla – may I call you Layla? Thank you; and you can drop the ‘sir’, I’m no longer a WAS officer,” he reminded her.
He glanced out of the window, keeping an eye on their progress. Rather than going towards the official downtown offices, they were heading towards a residential zone.
“Mr Galvin has a safe house,” he deduced aloud.
Deringham nodded. “The Director General wanted the meeting to be… low-key. Sir.”
“I love the way you Brits use under-statement – I know a guy who does it all the time. What you mean is, ‘Galvin doesn’t want to be seen with me’. Right?”
“Possibly; I couldn’t say, sir.” She turned her head towards him and rolled her eyes towards the glove compartment.
He smiled at her, giving her the merest flicker of a wink. It was more than probable that the car was bugged and Peter Galvin was hearing every word they said. “You’ll go far, Layla.”
“Thank you, sir.”
He sat out the rest of the journey in silence, memorising the route they took – although he realised that someone with Officer Deringham’s obvious counter-espionage skills would be taking the most indirect route possible.
Heaven knows, it took Galvin enough effort to get the Board to accept that they had to train our operatives properly, he thought. He ought to be flattered they’re still doing it in these lean, mean, financially restrictive days…
He had to reminded himself that even Peter Galvin was under suspicion at present, but then his mind wandered and he speculated idly if Deringham would attempt to frisk him for weapons before he met the DG – and whether he’d let her… if only for the kick of feeling her hands moving over his body.
If I co-operate, she can hardly refuse to let me frisk her in return… God, Karen would kill me if she could read my thoughts right now…but this is one helluva woman…
They pulled onto the tree-shrouded drive of a large, suburban house, and Officer Deringham led him to the front-door, activating the complex electronic lock with a swipe card. She stepped aside to allow him to enter first, making no attempt to check his pockets. He felt decidedly disappointed.
Svenson strolled into the open-plan lounge, which, in accordance with some unwritten law appertaining to these institutional ‘safe houses’, appeared to have been decorated by a colour-blind interior designer. Once his eyes had recovered from the shock of the décor, he noticed Galvin waiting for him. They had not met for almost three years, but on first sight the Director General of the WAS did not appear to have changed much. It was only later that Svenson became aware of the lines etched onto the handsome face by tiredness and stress and the flacks of grey in the luxuriant head of dark hair.
The older man sprang to his feet and advanced, his hand outstretched, and every appearance of genuine pleasure on his face.
“Adam, good to see you.”
“Likewise,” Svenson replied, shaking the proffered hand.
“Would you like a drink? Something to eat?”
“A coffee would be nice.”
Galvin turned. “Deringham, two coffees, please, and then wait outside.”
She acknowledged the order and left the room. They heard muffled sounds of movement in the kitchen.
“Your personal assistant’s got a lot prettier since we last met,” Svenson commented to break the ice.
“Contrary to popular belief, she’s not there purely for decoration; there’s a lot more to Layla Deringham than just a pretty face. But I failed to see why I shouldn’t give myself the odd perk in my job,” Galvin responded, with a smile.
“Some perk. Is that how you explained it to Rosemary?”
Galvin chuckled. “My wife knows me well enough to trust me, Adam – even with Layla Deringham.”
“What happened to Simon Hurst?”
“He’s in command of the civilian licensing facility, in Dunedin.”
Svenson gave a nod of acknowledgement and took a seat. Then, pointedly turning his back on the fuchsia-coloured wall, he settled down to wait until Deringham brought the drinks. Once she’d left them, he spoke again.
“I gather you wanted to see me, Peter, but was it necessary to go to these lengths?”
“I had to make sure this meeting was totally deniable. You wouldn’t believe the in-fighting amongst the board members at the moment-”
“Oh, I’m sure I would.”
Galvin acknowledged the justice in that remark with raised eyebrows. “Maybe you would at that. I tend to forget you grew up in the cut-throat world of finance. However, to the world in general, this meeting never happened. Deringham won’t back you up if you ever mention it – she won’t say a word.”
“I know; she’s very good at it. I’d have been after her for the security team.”
“You’d have been chasing her tail, you horny tom-cat,” Galvin corrected. “You always had a taste for the exotic, and I don’t suppose you’ve changed any.”
Svenson smiled non-committally, as he felt a tell-tale blush warm his face. To cover his embarrassment, he sipped the coffee. There had been a period in his life when that statement would have been the truth, although, since he’d met Symphony Angel he’d felt no desire to chase other women – much. At least he admitted to himself that she was the most important woman in his life, right now.
After a moment’s silence he said, “Ah, a little personal abuse – it’s so nice to be back amongst friends, Peter.”
Galvin laughed and continued, “I felt sure Spectrum would send you when they heard what’d happened to Dutch, and because they can’t contact Captain Ochre, of course. His disappearance has to be linked to Dutch’s death; it’s impossible to think otherwise.”
“Are you suggesting Ochre was involved in that?” Svenson asked angrily, “Because, if you are-”
Galvin shook his head. “Don’t get het up, Adam. I wasn’t suggesting any such thing. I’m sure Spectrum is – almost certainly – whiter than white, shall we say?”
Hearing scepticism in his companion’s voice, Svenson replied, “We’re there to uphold the rule of law.” He added to himself: and to try to save the Human Race – although sometimes, looking at what we do to each other, I wonder why…
“Yes, we’ve all read the Press releases. What I meant was: whoever killed Dutch took Ochre – for some reason.”
“You don’t believe Dutch’s death was suicide either?”
“You’ve spoken with Wyneke Vandermark,” Galvin responded.
Svenson confirmed it with a nod, even though it wasn’t a question. He wasn’t surprised to learn that Galvin was having him watched – or more likely, having Wyn watched.
“Then you must know what happened. You also know Wyn doesn’t believe the official explanations about her husband’s death; well, now you know neither do I.”
“I know Dutch died from a bullet in his brain – I don’t know where or why.”
“They’d gone to a safe house – or what was supposed to be a safe house – where Dutch had assembled what evidence he had. At least that’s what we suspect he’d done. Most of his personal files are missing and there was a pile of paper ashes in the house. Evidently, a great deal of paper had been burnt.”
“That doesn’t necessarily mean the papers belonged to Dutch,” Svenson remarked. “Anything to suggest Ochre was with him?”
Galvin shook his head. “Nothing – except that a local resident out walking her dog saw two men entering the house. One matched Dutch’s description; the other was rather memorably described as: tall, dark-haired, good looking ‘if you like hawkish’, and wearing ‘a gold-coloured jacket and boots’. Sound familiar?”
Galvin studied Svenson’s face as he shifted in his chair. “Yes,” the younger man said eventually. “That could be Ochre.”
“My guess is the police suspected it was a Spectrum uniform – there aren’t that many outfits that would match that description – so, rather than get embroiled in some security case, they declared Dutch’s death was suicide and closed the investigation.”
“Was that your doing?”
Galvin shook his head. “Not this time. I did wonder if your colonel might’ve…?”
“If he did, he never mentioned it.” Svenson shrugged and tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the arm of his chair. “Even the Californian police don’t close a suicide case that easily, unless they get told to.”
“Cynic,” Galvin retorted.
A flash of anger sparked in the depths of Svenson’s pale-blue eyes. “If I am, I’ve had cause to be over the years.”
“Sorry, Adam; but this has got me worried. Everywhere I turn I meet dead ends.”
There was a silence, broken only when Svenson asked, “Tell me what you expect me to turn up, Peter.”
“How should I know?”
“Look, I’ve had one side of the story from Spectrum, one side from Wyneke, and now I want yours. The real story, Peter.”
Galvin pursed his lips and after a slight hesitation began:
“I initially asked Spectrum to send you – and I can’t help thinking we wouldn’t be in this mess if Colonel White had listened to me-”
“Don’t bank on it. The colonel’s one of the sharpest knives in the drawer – if he sent Ochre, he had good reasons to.”
Galvin remained unconvinced. “I’m sure you have orders concerning the disappearance of your colleague, and I’m prepared to help all I can. But, I’m also asking you to help us investigate how and why these breaches in our security have occurred. That was what Captain Ochre was here for, after all. Very few people were aware of that, by the way, so it narrows the field of suspects down, at least.”
Svenson begged leave to differ. “Anyone after Dutch – for whatever the reason – would have to deal with Ochre. No Spectrum officer is going to stand by and watch murder committed. The fact that you didn’t find Ochre’s body alongside Dutch’s is simply because the presence of a second body tends to make a nonsense of a verdict of suicide, which is obviously what the killers were hoping for; maybe, what they were even prepared to pay for?”
“A contract killing?”
Svenson nodded gravely. He continued, “Unhappily, the absence of his body doesn’t mean that Ochre isn’t already dead, but my assignment is to find my colleague – alive, if at all possible – and quickly.”
Galvin’s expression showed he thought this was being unrealistically optimistic. “And if your colleague is dead, will you look for his murderers?”
There was something chilling about Svenson’s uncharacteristically menacing answer. “Spectrum is a world-wide organisation – there’d be nowhere for them to run.”
“You know who is likely to be responsible for the death and the disappearance, don’t you, Adam?”
Svenson gave a nod and Galvin shifted tack slightly, adding, “To be frank, you’re the only man I feel I can trust to deal with this. You see, Dutch and I had a meeting some days before his death and he told me –”
“The Nebula’s active again.”
Galvin’s eyes widened in surprise. “How do you know that?”
“Dutch spoke to me as well, before he spoke to you, it seems. I’m afraid I was rather dismissive; I couldn’t see how – even if they were active – they could be the force they had been.”
“They’re not – not yet – but there’re signs that they’re becoming increasingly ambitious and ruthless with their schemes. There’ve been incidents, around the globe – obvious signs that they’re back. I suppose White told you what I suspected?” Svenson nodded. “You must see the connections, Adam? I’m positive this murder and therefore the supposed abduction, is the work of The Nebula. Even you’d have to admit it’s their style?”
Svenson nodded again.
Galvin continued at a rush, “And there’s been a theft of some important plans for a stealth device for planes – I want you to get them back for us. Càmpora’s working on it at the moment,” he added, as if challenging Svenson to respond.
The younger man’s expression didn’t change, although he believed he had finally drawn out exactly what was making Galvin so jumpy. The Director General cared about his agents, but he cared about the WAS more. He’d have only gone cap-in-hand to the World President if he thought a security breach was putting his organisation at risk, and Colonel White had said the World President wanted Spectrum to investigate and protect the organisation.
Still unwilling to commit himself to anything, Svenson responded, “I don’t understand why you’re asking me to get involved with what is, after all, an internal WAS security matter, Peter. One that Jorge Càmpora’s more than capable of dealing with.” After a moment’s silence, he repeated, “My job is to find Captain Ochre.”
Galvin’s scepticism was evident in his explosive reply: “Oh, come on, Adam, you’re not fooling me! You’re itching to get involved. Listen: Dutch suspected that someone in authority here deliberately allocated very important plans to a base not known for its expertise in dealing with sensitive research projects. Of course, after Dutch was found dead, rumour wasted no time claiming it was suicide because of his guilty conscience.”
Svenson frowned at this accusation.
“I know that’s rubbish,” Galvin said quickly, to appease him. “But the paper trail’s incomplete and what remains certainly suggests that it was Teunis who allocated the task to Montevideo.”
“Montevideo?” Svenson interrupted, incredulity getting the better of him. “I don’t understand how anyone could’ve assigned work of such importance there without alarm bells ringing all over the WAS; I mean, since when could they deal with that level of sensitive material?”
“Things’ve changed since you left, Adam. After Dr Kaufman’s untimely death-”
Galvin saw the shock on Svenson’s face. “You didn’t know? It happened about four or five months ago. No one even knew she was that ill – she suddenly lost a lot of weight and we told her to go to the doctor. Three weeks later...” He snapped his fingers.
Svenson covered his face with a hand, drawing a deep breath. He’d worked closely with Dr Kaufman and become fond of her; in return she’d mothered ‘her boys’ in the Security Department and he remembered her kindness in the immediate aftermath of Soraya’s death.
“They said it was cancer. Someone should’ve told you. I can’t believe a letter didn’t go out,” Galvin said.
“It might’ve done,” Svenson replied. “I expect it’s at Boston.” He realised that four months ago Scarlet and he had been dealing with a Mysteron threat that had kept them on the go for the best part of a fortnight. As a consequence it wasn’t surprising that things had been overlooked. Nevertheless, despite his shock, he made a mental note to ask Lieutenant Green to check out the facts as far as he was able: sudden deaths always brought with them the possibility of Mysteronisation and Spectrum couldn’t risk not checking this one.
“What happened after she died?” he asked Galvin.
“We started an ongoing corporate initiative to disperse her workforce of skilled operatives around the globe. A scientist with the particular skills to evaluate the stealth device was sent to Montevideo.”
Svenson shook his head in despair. “Whose bright idea was that? You’re playing right into the hands of organisations like The Nebula, because I bet not every base had its security upgraded accordingly.”
“Selected bases had to be deemed security-capable,” Galvin said defensively.
“Bullshit! Don’t try to blind me with ‘management-speak’, Peter. I was reading between the lines of statements like that before I left kindergarten. Surely you realised that your initiative was bound to make the WAS harder to police?”
“It’s cheaper, Adam,” came the inevitable reply. “With all the work coming to a central engineering and research facility Maria’s department occupied a large and expensive site. We were able to downsize and sell some prime real estate…”
The two men stared antagonistically at each other for a few moments and then Galvin continued, “There’s no crying over it now, I have to live with what I’ve got, but I have to know if all of my senior officers are trustworthy, or if someone has sold out to industrial spies – be it The Nebula or some other organisation. I also need those plans back and quickly! Find the plans, Adam, and you’ll discover what happened to Captain Ochre and to Dutch – I’m certain of it!”
Svenson looked away, shaking his head.
“You know more about this scum than anyone – even Dutch – and you have an alibi – a very sound alibi. Ergo – you’re the best man for this job and the only man I dare trust,” Galvin urged.
Again, Svenson shook his head. “Please try and understand, Peter; whatever my personal involvement was or my wishes are, I don’t have the authority to go against my orders, or exceed their scope to any degree. Spectrum is concerned with anti-terrorism, not industrial espionage. You should speak to the Universal Secret Service.”
“I don’t want the USS – I want you! You’re the only man who knows how these bastards think. I want them stopped before they destroy the WAS. Don’t shake your damned head me again! Look, I’ll put all my cards on the table: the WAAF pays us serious money to develop and test their equipment. The Chiefs of Staff feel they could get a better and cheaper service in-house. I’ve worked hard to convince the World President that they’re wrong and he’s ready to order them to keep using us. Then, these stealth plans go missing, and everyone’s pointing the finger at us. So we’re in danger of losing almost 43% of our commercial revenues if the WAAF manage to change the President’s mind. Now, I am prepared to go to President Younger and ask him to order Colonel White to order you to work with me. I’d rather not, but I am prepared to go to those lengths.”
Svenson gave a silent snort of laughter. “That’d make no difference. The colonel’s the match for the World President any day; believe me.”
“I dare say, but even he has to obey a direct order from him.”
There was a tense silence, with neither man wishing to show any weakness.
Finally, Svenson said, “The colonel wouldn’t have let Ochre – or me – come here, no matter how much you pestered him, unless it suited his purposes. Besides, there is always the possibility that Ochre was the target and Dutch the innocent bystander – did you think of that, Peter?”
“It isn’t very likely though, is it?” Galvin’s response was dismissive enough to irritate his companion.
“Ochre’s disappearance may be unconnected with what’s going on in the WAS, because a Spectrum agent is always a potential target. Why else do you imagine we use code-names, and guard our identities so fiercely? It isn’t for the glamour of it; take it from me.”
“I did wonder,” Galvin said dryly. “I mean, those uniforms stand out like a sore thumb, so it’s not like Spectrum officers are inconspicuous.”
Svenson rolled his eyes; this question was asked repeatedly when they were on missions. He trotted out the official answer: “Spectrum Officers are the visible sign of the World Government’s determination to face up to and eradicate world terrorism. We’re meant to be seen.”
“Just out of interest, which colour are you?” Galvin asked glibly.
Svenson ignored the question and continued, “Captain Ochre would be a valuable bargaining tool in any move against Spectrum, that’s why I have to find him, Peter, and that’s why his safety is Spectrum’s number one priority. One man could jeopardise the success of one of our forthcoming initiatives. When I’ve done that, maybe I’ll be allowed to help you with the rest of it.”
Galvin leaned forward and said urgently, “But you are here, for whatever reason – so you could help us now. All I can do is say ‘please’. Adam, I’m being honest with you, we need your help – dammit – I need your help. Don’t you owe me something?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Svenson replied brusquely.
Galvin frowned; he’d always assumed that the young man he saw as his protégé saw himself in the same light. “How can you say that?” he gasped.
“Look, Peter: my mission is to find Ochre and ascertain if WAS security is up to scratch before we come to improve it – nothing more, nothing less. Of course, my search for Ochre may well identify Dutch’s murderer and the security check reveal who – if anyone – is in the pay of The Nebula. I can’t promise to even attempt to do any more that that.”
Galvin began to protest but Svenson ignored him and continued:
“However, if during the course of my legitimate investigations, I am able to locate the whereabouts of the missing plans, you’ll be the first person I call. That’s my offer – take it or leave it.”
“What choice do I have?” Galvin muttered. “You know I need a trusted outsider.”
“And I need to follow my orders,” Svenson reminded him. “We’re encouraged to ‘use our initiative’ but not to the extent where we indulge in personal crusades. The preparations for Operation Fortify will allow me some scope, but if I promised I would devote time to looking for your plans, I’d be lying. I don’t have time to start a major search and retrieval operation.” He could see Galvin’s irritation and he added, reassuringly, “Jorge Càmpora is a good man, he won’t let you down.”
“Unless he’s the traitor.” Galvin was remorseless in his needling.
Exhausted resignation showed in Svenson’s face as he confessed, “It has taken me years to move on from what The Nebula did to me; but I have moved on and I have no wish to go back.”
Galvin regarded his companion shrewdly. He admired and respected Adam Svenson, well aware of the personal sacrifices that had fuelled his determined crusade against the enemies of the WAS. But he could not afford to be sentimental, and he was desperate to enlist the help of the one person he was convinced could solve the problems that beset the organisation he’d dedicated his life to.
He turned away, almost as if he accepted defeat, and remarked, “I know you’ll do what you can, Adam, you always do. But what if the people who took the plans, who killed Dutch and who have Captain Ochre, are the same people who were responsible for the bomb that killed Soraya? I don’t think you could live with yourself if you walked away from the possibility of bringing them to justice?”
Svenson’s handsome features hardened and the expressive blue eyes turned icy-cold. “I don’t need you – or any other man – to remind me of that,” he snarled.
Galvin made an apologetic gesture; he sensed he’d touched a nerve in the younger man’s armour with his comment and he wondered if he’d gone too far. He was relieved when Svenson spoke in his customary calm manner once more, and at that moment he knew his gamble had paid off.
“Look, in order for me to this, I need you to dampen down any official difficulties I might encounter. I can’t go in openly as a Spectrum officer, there’re too many people who’d remember me; but I’ll need to speak to everyone who might have knowledge of what Dutch knew, or said he knew, about The Nebula.”
Galvin struggled to hide his feeling of triumph but he replied soberly enough, “I understand. The Board had been apprised that Spectrum were planning a counter-terrorism operation; I let it ride that Ochre was here with regard to that.”
“You told the Board about ‘Operation Fortify’? Are you out of your mind, Galvin?”
“I have responsibilities and commitments to the WAS in the same way as you say you do to Spectrum, Svenson! Or have you forgotten that I’m accountable for what happens in this organisation – the buck for the missing plans, the disappearing Spectrum officer and Dutch’s death, stops with me! And don’t you ever forget it.”
There was a tense moment as the two strong-willed men faced each other down across the room. Finally, the younger man averted his gaze and said, “My apologies, I spoke out of turn.”
“Yes, you did,” Galvin snapped. The tension was getting to both of them and he sought to defuse it by adding, “But I understand why you did, Adam. Let’s forget it.”
Galvin drew a huge breath and ran a hand over his face before he said, “Obviously, I can’t authorise open access for you, without revealing my involvement, but I can give you Deringham as a facilitator; she’ll provide back-up and any authorisation you think necessary. I can also guarantee you immunity from prosecution by the WAS, over any repercussions resulting from whatever you have to do. As long as the action is justified, of course.”
“Of course,” Svenson acknowledged with a wry grimace, as he considered that nothing Galvin could do would protect him from Colonel White if he loused up on this mission.
“In addition, I can also guarantee you’ll receive no direct hindrance from any official WAS source. In the circumstances, I’ve already given orders for all security reports to come directly to me, until another Security Chief’s appointed.”
“And not to Maudsley?” Svenson’s surprise was evident. “Won’t it attract attention? Making changes now could alert the traitor.”
“Maudsley’s the perfect man if you want every paper-clip counting, but he’s not a security agent. To be honest, I thought I’d done the best I could by appointing him; the board were insistent that someone other than a security representative had to control the budget. I thought Maudsley would leave you alone to get on with it and I was as surprised as you when he starting vetting projects and allocating funds. The Board were behind him, of course, both the military appointees and the Government reps. Although I suspected the military were out to do anything they could to undermine us, I had no choice but to appoint him, in the face of the Board’s concerns at the spiralling costs of the department. You didn’t come cheap,” Galvin said, with a wry smile.
“The best never does, and time was when you wanted the best. It’s high time the WAS learned that you get what you pay for.”
Galvin raised an eyebrow and said reflectively, “You’ve changed since you joined Spectrum.”
“Not really, but I’ve seen things that would make your hair curl and I’ve had to do a lot of growing up in a very short time; so I guess I’m a lot less idealistic and far more distrustful, Peter, that’s all.”
“Spectrum does a great job and an even more dangerous one than that they were intended to do when it was launched. At least, that’s how it seems to me, reading between the lines of the press reports and the documents that reach me from the WG security departments.”
Although he was familiar with Galvin’s oblique ways of asking for information, Svenson realised there was nothing he could say to satisfy his companion’s curiosity without breaching Spectrum regulations. Galvin was undoubtedly trusted by the World President and almost certainly knew more than he was admitting, but with the colonel’s recent admonition echoing in his memory, he had to play by the rules. “Thank you, on behalf of Spectrum,” he replied blandly.
Galvin’s glance acknowledged that his opening gambit had been dismissed and he said soberly, “One thing you might be surprised to find: there isn’t a great deal of liking for your organisation. Not in the WAS, anyway. I know that whatever Spectrum is engaged in is considered vital work, but keeping it under wraps the way they do means that most people have no idea what’s going on. They take as jaundiced a view of Spectrum as you do of life outside of it.”
Svenson sighed; he was beginning to realise what a dangerous and lonely mission Spectrum had. “We can’t afford to take risks, Peter, we have to win every time. The consequences of dropping our guard are too horrific to contemplate.”
“If you say so.”
“I do say so.” There was nothing more he could say to explain. Instead he changed the subject. “I’ll do what I can to help; for Wyn and the kids and for Dutch, because I didn’t listen when I should’ve.”
But not for me – I get it, Galvin thought, still slightly put out by Svenson’s refusal to accept he had any obligations to his former employer. Deciding he had to take what he could get, he replied, “Thank you, Adam.”
There was a silence as both men relaxed; the sparring and negotiation was over – a deal had been struck and each trusted the other enough to know it would be adhered to without the need for additional formality.
Galvin glanced at the clock, alarmed to see how long they’d been talking. “I’ll get Deringham to drop you at your car. I’ll be attending the funeral – but I won’t have seen you before I get there, of course.”
“Understood. When I need to contact you, what do I do?”
Galvin smiled and handed him a miniature cell-phone in the guise of a chunky ballpoint pen. Svenson was familiar with them, having used them in the line of duty. “Programmed with one number only – as usual. Deringham will keep the line open permanently,” he added as he handed over a slim-line wallet of ID documents.
“Great; maybe I can ask her for a date?” Svenson joked, as he slipped it into his inside jacket pocket.
Officer Deringham drove him back to the parking lot and, after checking their communicators worked and agreeing a series of codewords and security clearance levels to be implemented, she shook his hand and bade him a serene farewell.
He watched her drive away and then walked back to his rental car. Habit, experience and instinct made him check it for any signs of tampering. Even so, there was the familiar jolt of fear-generated adrenalin when he started the engine. He found a franchised restaurant with large plate-glass windows that gave a clear view of the street and ate a bland, non-descript meal while watching for any sign of surveillance. Satisfied that he was not being followed, he drove to a shopping mall and bought the electronic equipment he was going to need to implement the embryonic plan he had in mind.
Then he drove straight to the nearest WAS airfield base, where he requested permission to see the base commander. This late in the day, no one was very welcoming, but when he produced the personal ID Galvin had supplied, he was rather amused to see how suddenly their attitude changed. The commander was now only too willing to speak to the celebrated former pilot.
As he was taken across to the offices, Svenson reflected whatever diktats Galvin had issued about him had, obviously, either been done immediately he left the safe house or well in advance of their meeting, so sure had he been of achieving full compliance with his wishes. Either way, they had left no room for any doubt.
The Base Commander was a short, solidly-built man, several years older than his visitor, and rather easily flustered, if the sweat on his upper lip was anything to go by. Nevertheless, he was politeness itself as he introduced himself.
“Commander Svenson? I understand you want to see me? My name is Ford, I’m in command here. How can I help you?”
He ushered the unexpected guest into his office, while issuing his P.A. with instructions to provide their guest with coffee.
Svenson took a seat at the commander’s desk, and undid the buttons on his jacket. He gave every appearance of being unperturbed and relaxed about the situation, looking around the office with obvious interest. After accepting the coffee from the assistant and waiting until he’d left the room, he explained, “I’m in California for the funeral of my good friend, Commander Teunis Vandermark – you may have heard of him, Commander Ford?”
Ford acknowledged that he had.
“His widow has asked me to make the funeral oration, and I was wondering – hoping, actually – that you’d permit me access to the official databases, so that I might verify a few facts. I don’t like to bother Mrs Vandermark, under the circumstances.”
“Well, I’d like to help, Commander Svenson, but I don’t have access to any databases, except the local one for the base.”
“But I do, Commander,” Svenson replied. He could see the doubt on Ford’s face, and sought to reassure him. “If you want to check that I have permission, I’ll wait while you get the necessary clearance from Mr Galvin’s office. I can give you a contact name and number, if you need it.”
He proffered one of the ID cards Galvin had provided.
Ford studied it and went to a small security screen to swipe the card through it. It bleeped and after a few moments he turned to his visitor and said, “This seems to be all in order, Commander Svenson. I’m sure you’ll understand why I had to check?”
Svenson nodded gravely.
“But, as this is kosher, well, I mean… there’s no problem with you… accessing what you need to. The authorisation is quite specific that… I shouldn’t… well; I mean, please be my guest.”
Svenson thanked him solemnly, and watched him leave.
No doubt the check on his security clearance had coincidentally informed the Director General where his ‘trouble-shooter’ was, but for now that wasn’t a problem. He knew Galvin would’ve expected him to come to the local base, and he’d undoubtedly given Ford orders to comply with whatever requests his visitor made, and to give him privacy. However, there were going to be aspects of this investigation that he wouldn’t want Galvin to know about; but then, there’d always been such instances and covering his tracks had never proved too difficult in the past.
When the familiar logo of the WASnet prompted him to enter an access code, he used the one Deringham had supplied and was, accordingly, given access to the entire International database.
He went to the personnel records; but when the system demanded a password, he used the over-ride procedure Captain Magenta had devised in order to generate a new password, rather than use that provided by Deringham. This ensured he’d see every file on the system, rather than just those Galvin – or any of the other suspects – wanted him to see. He couldn’t afford to take anyone on trust – even Peter Galvin.
Following the incident at Base Concord, where Captain Scarlet and he had almost been blown to smithereens as they desperately tried to find the password to a Variable Geometry Rocket that the Mysterons had aimed at the base, Colonel White had insisted that every field officer become proficient in the procedure Magenta had devised, originally to test Spectrum’s security firewalls.
Spectrum’s internal security had got tougher and tougher as Green devised ever more fiendish security walls, and Magenta continually found ways to undermine them. The technique had already proved useful on several missions and now, as he expected, the security barriers of the WASnet came tumbling down like the walls of Jericho, on the first assault of Magenta’s sophisticated program.
First, he went into Dutch’s personal files and downloaded information about his recent casework onto the portable memory device he’d bought earlier. Then he went through the names of the other suspect core agents, doing the same. Finally, he searched for any references to Spectrum, Captain Ochre, ‘Operation Fortify’ and related terms, downloading the sparse results for each search.
Once he had all he needed, he covered his tracks, before openly using Deringham’s codeword to access and print out a sheet of innocuous information on Dutch.
Bidding farewell to the secretary and leaving fulsome thanks for her still-absent boss, he left the base immediately and drove back to the city by a circuitous route. Stopping at a local all-night deli to pick up something to eat, he kept a wary look out for any sign that he was being followed and only went back to his motel once he was sure he was alone. He went straight to his chalet, closed the blinds and locked the door.
He fired up his new travel computer, installed the encryption package he’d bought and changed into shorts and a tee-shirt while it loaded and ran a check. Then he downloaded the information from the WAS computers. Sitting at the flimsy table, with his BLT, cinnamon doughnut and carton of orange juice beside him, he resigned himself to a long night and opened the only file on the desktop.
Laid out for his inspection were the personal and caseload files of Vandermark and the other STARs. These men controlled all of the WAS’s security agents, although, apart from Maudsley, Dutch would have been the only man to know the identities of all the agents on their payroll. He scrolled down the lists of names and began his evaluation.
The eastern horizon was already starting to brighten before he switched off the computer and reached for his Spectrum communicator. Lieutenant Claret answered, and promptly put the call through to the colonel, in accordance with his duty orders.
White took the call in his private quarters, where he was enjoying a few hours off-duty.
“I’m afraid it isn’t going to be possible to complete the mission as quickly as you hoped, Colonel.” Blue explained. “Captain Ochre seems to have vanished – and, although I know Galvin’s main concern is the recovery of the stealth plans, he could be right about one thing: if we find those plans, we’ll find Ochre. I’m almost certain that his disappearance is linked to their theft and Vandermark’s death. At least I can say that I can’t find any indication of Mysteron activity here, sir, and believe me, I’ve looked everywhere.”
“Well, that is something; good work, Captain. My concern remains for Captain Ochre’s safety, particularly because I’m aware the start of ‘Operation Fortify’ is imminent. You’re fully cognisant of the time and effort that went into planning this operation and the negotiations that went into getting approval for Spectrum to have access to the sites. We cannot afford to let those permits lapse.”
“Yes, indeed, sir.”
“This is the first opportunity we’ve had to enhance global security, with a view to proactively countering Mysteron threats and if Spectrum fail to carry it through, the repercussions could be dangerous. The operation’s already a logistical nightmare; we’d have been hard pushed to keep to our timetable with every officer involved in the mission – so I can’t afford to be two senior officers down. Besides, I thought I’d made it clear to you not to take on any investigation for Mr. Galvin. Therefore, I must reiterate that you have permission to attend the funeral and you must take whatever opportunity arises to interview the people you’ve identified as possibly helpful witnesses while they are there. I can only spare you for a further forty-eight hours. If you have news of Captain Ochre before then, contact the local ground forces and co-ordinate action with them. But if Ochre is still missing, you must return on the deadline. I appreciate Mr Galvin’s dilemma but this is not a problem Spectrum should be embroiled in, Captain.”
“Yes, Colonel, I understand that – only…”
“Captain Blue, my decision is non-negotiable. You’ll return to Cloudbase no later than forty-eight hours after you have attended Vandermark’s funeral.”
The colonel relaxed a little on his compliance; he did not expect Blue to question his orders. In order to take the edge off his severity a little he continued, “Until then you are free to act as you think fit and I expect you to report in according to the schedule, but you have my permission to act as you think fit, without checking back. That is as far as I am prepared to go in this matter. If you should resolve the issues that concern Mr Galvin, all well and good – but you know what your priority must be, Captain Blue, and I am confident I can trust your judgement in that respect. If you do not find Captain Ochre the search can and will be continued by ground forces and co-ordinated by Spectrum Intelligence. I am beginning to think I should have handed it to them anyway, but I feared their presence might disrupt our preparations. Dealing with any ‘problems’ you identify in the course of conducting your enquiries is the responsibility of the WAS – not Spectrum. That is an order – understand?”
“S.I.G, Colonel,” Captain Blue replied wearily, but as he broke the connection he continued to himself:
“I’ll be as quick as I can, but I’m not going back until I’m good and ready. I know how ruthless The Nebula can be and if they have Ochre, which I suspect they do, he won’t be enjoying a quiet rest. However efficient SI and the ground forces think they are, they won’t stand a chance against a resurgent Nebula. As melodramatic as it sounds, I’m probably the best chance Ochre has of coming out of this alive.” He stared into the middle distance, frowning as he added, “Assuming he isn’t already dead by now.”
Captain Scarlet’s scanty supply of patience was exhausted. Since Captain Blue had left Cloudbase with only a terse farewell, he’d heard nothing. A quick check with Lieutenant Green confirmed that Blue’s last routine check-in was now ninety minutes overdue, although the colonel hadn’t seemed too concerned when he’d reported it, given that his officer was attending a funeral. Scarlet, on the other hand, was concerned. He knew from long experience that it took a great deal to make Blue skip making his reports – routine or not.
There was only one other person who might have heard some news through non-official channels, so he was marching purposefully through the familiar corridors on his way to find out.
Symphony opened the door to her quarters after the third ring of the doorbell and let Captain Scarlet in.
“What’s wrong?” she asked unenthusiastically.
She’d obviously got out of bed and was wearing rather homey grey and blue striped pyjamas with a cutesy, cartoon-like motif, and Scarlet’s thoughts were momentarily diverted by the irrelevant question of whether Adam ever got to see this decidedly ‘passion-killer’ category of nightwear.
Still struggling to wake up, Symphony perched on the arms of her armchair and closed her eyes as she waited for his answer.
He smiled benignly at the Angel Pilot, remembering that all of the girls were actively involved in preparations for ‘Operation Fortify’ and, suddenly realising what the time was and that Symphony had been on the night shift, he pulled himself together to ask, “Have you heard from Adam?”
She shook her tousled head.
“Nor have I,” he told her. She didn’t appear unduly bothered by this news, so he pressed on, “I’m worried about him, Karen. He was pretty downcast when he left.”
“He was going to a funeral, Paul. What did you expect from him? A merry quip and a quick jig? That’s not Adam’s style at all, even when he’s not feeling miserable.”
She smothered a yawn.
He noticed that she’d been just as aware of her lover’s gloomy, preoccupied mood as he had. “True; but did you know that the funeral was of a WAS man Rick had made contact with before he disappeared? And I know Adam was going to a funeral, but that wouldn’t stop him making his routine check-ins; you know that, Karen. Well, according to Lieutenant Green, he’s missed two of them – isn’t that enough to ring alarm bells in your mind? It does in mine.”
“Have you been pulling rank on Seymour again?” she asked doubtfully, glancing up at him. “It’s not fair, Paul, he’s only a lieutenant.”
“Only a lieutenant? Green’s the colonel’s right-hand man; he probably knows more secrets than we do! Besides, I didn’t have to pull rank – this time – he volunteered the information. Now doesn’t that suggest he’s worried as well? He thinks there’s something going on, something Ochre and now Blue have got tangled up in. If there isn’t, why wasn’t SI been called in to find Ochre? Answer me that, if you can. ”
Symphony sighed and tried to kick-start her brain. Captain Scarlet was well known to need the very minimum amount of sleep, but she’d had a busy duty period and she was shattered.
“So, let me get this straight, Paul: Ochre’s missing, Blue’s gone unexpectedly quiet, and Lieutenant Green is divulging sensitive information without being asked?”
Scarlet nodded and she rubbed the end of her nose with the back of her hand as she reflected on the situation. “You could be right, but Greenie often ‘lets slip’ stuff the colonel doesn’t want us to know – officially – and, while I admit I never like not knowing where Adam is and what he’s doing, if the colonel was worried, surely he’d be ordering searches and so forth? He doesn’t always tell us what he’s got planned, does he? Remember when he apparently had you thrown out for gambling? Adam was the one antsy with worry then, but the colonel never let slip it was all a big con.”
“Yes, I know, but if you remember the colonel expected Adam to come after me – it was part of his plan.”
“You mean he’s expecting us to go looking for them now?”
Scarlet hesitated to tell a blatant lie and settled on, “All I’m saying is ‘it wouldn’t be the first time’ – would it?”
Symphony sighed, finally accepting that the prospect of going back to her bed had receded beyond practicality. I wouldn’t sleep anyway, she reasoned ruefully, I’m gonna be worrying about Adam now…
She looked at Scarlet, still looking at her with expectation. He was unconsciously shifting from foot to foot as he waited, itching for action, as usual.
She grimaced and said, “What d’you expect me to do about it? I assume you’ve tried his personal cell-phone? If he won’t talk to you, it’s odds on he won’t talk to me either.”
“Not definitely,” Scarlet confessed, with a grimace. “I upset him just before he left – quite unintentionally – so I don’t think he’s very happy with me, at the moment.”
“Welcome to my world…” she muttered and stretched.
“Karen, do you know where this Vandermark guy lives?”
“He won’t be there, Paul. It’s his funeral Adam’s gone to – remember?”
“Sure, but we need to check that Adam’s okay – just for our own peace of mind, right? – and Vandermark’s people ought to know where he is and maybe – just possibly – where Ochre is too.”
“You think they might be collecting Spectrum officers until they have a full set?”
“Ha-ha. If we can’t get Adam’s whereabouts from them, I’m going to ask Colonel White to let me go down there and find them both. Do you know who Teunis Vandermark was?”
She sniffed thoughtfully. “Yeah-” she said, after a moment’s pause, “I know the name from somewhere. I think he’s the same guy Adam calls ‘Dutch’: Dutch Vandermark definitely rings a bell. He lived in California; I think… errr…” She bit her lip. “Got it! He’s the guy who took over the WAS Security Division when Adam left. They used to be good buddies.”
She smiled at the recollection of a rare occasion when she’d managed to get Adam to tell her about his past life and friends. Captain Blue generally preferred to keep such details private; it was the one Spectrum regulation he had no trouble in obeying.
“Can you trace him?” Scarlet asked sharply.
She shrugged. “Well, I know where we can find contact details… assuming Adam has any.”
“Good – well, let’s get them then, Karen.”
“What? Right now? Oh, very well, but you’ll have to wait a minute. I’d better get some clothes on; we’ll get into trouble if we’re caught wandering about the base with me in my PJ’s.”
Scarlet grinned sheepishly at her.
She made a circular movement with her finger. “Turn around, Paul, like a good little captain.”
He turned his back and heard her moving about behind him. Finding it hard to resist the temptation of sneaking a surreptitious peek in the mirror by the door at what was going on behind him, he stood staring fixedly at the carpet and distracted himself by considering how the décor in Symphony’s quarters was subtly starting to reflect Blue’s personality, as much as hers.
It’d been some time since he was last here, and then the place had looked like a storm had hit it. Now, the eclectic jumble of knick-knacks and posters had vanished, to be replaced by a somewhat minimalist décor. He remembered Adam mentioning ‘they’d’ been ‘decorating’ Karen’s quarters a few months ago and simplicity such as this didn’t come cheap…
To distract himself further, he asked, “Where are we going?”
“Adam’s quarters,” she answered, zipping up her uniform top. “I know where he keeps his ‘little black book’.”
“Blimey, he likes to live dangerously, doesn’t he? I mean, how can he be sure you aren’t slowly wiping out his past girlfriends?”
She playfully boxed his ear as she came to stand beside him. “Oh, not that little black book. That was the first thing to go; it got buried with full military honours…”
“I bet it did. Still, I expect a good many respectable Boston beauties can sleep safer in their beds now…”
“Hah! You’re so cute.”
She led the way out of her room, with Scarlet chuckling to himself as he followed.
Gaining entry to Captain Blue’s quarters was easy – they both knew the pass code for the door. Symphony went to the immaculately tidy desk and rummaged in a drawer. The ‘little black book’ in question was actually a substantial address book, bound in green leather, with ornate gold scrolling on the cover.
“His grandmother gave it to him,” she explained, as Scarlet’s eyebrows rose with the surprise of seeing such an ostentatious item in Adam’s possession.
“Svenson?” he asked doubtfully.
She shook her head. “Ellis.”
He nodded in understanding. Adam had never had as comfortable a relationship with his mother’s parents as he’d had with his father’s and obviously they did not know him as well as they might’ve.
“Dutch?” Symphony mused, sliding her finger down the alphabetised index. “No. So let’s try Teunis. Damn, it’s not there.” She moved her finger further down and flicked open a page. Then she grinned and an affectionate softness flooded into her eyes. “I should have known where to look: Vandermark – comma – Teunis and Wyneke. There’s an address in Holland – crossed out – and one in California. Should we call it?”
Scarlet took the book from her and flicked through the pages to ‘Metcalfe, General Sir Charles and Mrs Mary’ followed by, ‘Metcalfe, Colonel Paul’ and his own contact details. He grinned and put the book back into Symphony’s outstretched hand.
“That could be difficult. How do we get the information without making ourselves and our relationship to Adam, known?”
Symphony twirled a strand of her hair around her finger and gave a girlish pout. “I guess a personal call from a concerned girlfriend might be the best option,” she suggested.
“Karen, you could get into major trouble.”
“So, why’re we here if you propose we do nothing? While we stand here debating whether we have the necessary permission, in triplicate, of course, to track him down, Adam could be in danger – not to mention Rick.”
“We have to do something, that’s for certain,” he agreed. “Adam’s pretty close to the cut-off point for an automatic referral to SI as ‘missing: presumed having an illicit good time’ and once they’re involved everything gets far more complicated. Of course, they’re probably gearing up to grill everyone over Ochre’s disappearance as it is. They’ll have a field day if there are two MIAs. In fact, I’m surprised they aren’t scuttling around Cloudbase now with their clipboards and their scowls.”
Symphony shuddered slightly. No one on Cloudbase liked having to deal with the bureaucratic arm of Spectrum, who generally seemed more concerned with minor breaches in protocol than the overall success of any mission. Captain Ochre’s somewhat maverick approach to getting the job done had landed him in Spectrum Intelligence’s bad books several times, and even the normally conformist Captain Blue had trespassed against their arcane rules on occasion, whilst Captain Scarlet’s record already had so many technical breaches of regulations on it that it probably ran to several volumes.
She went to the wardrobe and opened it. Then, to Scarlet’s consternation she turned her back on him and started to remove her uniform top.
“Karen, what’re you doing?”
She lifted a pale-lemon coloured tee-shirt from the hanger and slipped it on over her head. “Going undercover,” she said, with a smile as she went to brush her hair in front of the plain wall mirror.
Scarlet shook his head, wondering why the fact that she had a complete change of clothes and her own personal items in Blue’s quarters surprised him when he should have recognised that if Blue hadn’t been serious about their relationship, she’d never have known the pass code. Because he was, she automatically had the run of the place.
However odd a couple they make, they’re undoubtedly a couple.
Symphony sat in front of the video-phone and dialled the number from the book. There were several tense minutes before the call was accepted by a fair-haired woman, her face deathly pale, except for smudges of grey beneath her red-rimmed eyes.
“May I speak to Adam, please?” Symphony said briskly. She could sense Scarlet standing behind her, out of the range of the video-phone camera, scrutinising the woman’s face.
A fleeting look of concern swept over the woman’s face. “There is no one here with that name,” she replied.
“Adam Svenson,” Symphony insisted. “Forgive me, but you must be Mrs Vandermark? We haven’t met before, but I’m Karen Wainwright, his… his girlfriend.”
“I don’t know you,” Wyn said firmly.
“Adam told me he was coming to see you and attend his friend’s funeral – your husband, Mrs Vandermark.”
“I can’t speak of that.”
“Of course,” Symphony said compassionately. “Oh, please accept my condolences, Mrs Vandermark, and I’m sorry to bother you at a time like this, but it’s important I find Adam; I have reasons to believe he might be in danger. You see, a friend of ours has disappeared.”
“I won’t speak of it. Not like this.”
“Then, will you meet me, Mrs Vandermark?”
“I can’t. I have my children.”
“I’ll come to you. Please, Mrs Vandermark? I don’t want to intrude at such a sad time, but I have to find Adam – quickly.”
Wyn Vandermark was an experienced judge of character; she looked now at the face of the young woman on her screen and saw nothing but a genuine concern.
“Come then. I will speak with you – but only with you and no other.” She closed the call abruptly.
Symphony thumbed the end of her nose thoughtfully. “Great. Now I have to find a way to get down there as soon as I can,” she said.
“She was very pale,” Scarlet mused aloud, as he turned his back for her to change into her uniform top once more. “You can’t help wondering about the Mysterons…”
“Good grief! She’s just lost her husband, Paul! What do you expect her to look like – the merry widow? Sometimes you take everything too seriously.”
“No, men – men take everything so seriously. I think it’s something to do with having no aptitude for empathising. It’s a serious flaw in masculine logic: Mysteron agents have pale faces; therefore a pale-faced person is a Mysteron – fact. Sometimes, you have to look at the broader picture.”
“Like you always do, Karen?”
“Don’t get clever with me, Paul Metcalfe.”
She came and stood before him, in uniform once more, and he caught the teasing sparkle in her eyes. “I know more about you than you’d imagine.”
“Now don’t expect me to believe Adam’s been breaking confidences,” he retorted.
“I didn’t say it was from Adam,” she replied, with a conspiratorial wink, and chuckling, walked out of the door, leaving him blushing.
He locked the door to Blue’s quarters and sprinted after her.
“What if Colonel White won’t let you go?” he asked, as they stepped onto the escalators to the Control Room.
“Magenta is due to make a computer system security inspection at Spectrum: Los Angeles any day now in readiness for ‘Fortify’ – he was telling me about it earlier when we were having lunch and hoping if he’d get time to look for Ochre while he’s there doing that. It’d be no problem convincing him to go sooner rather than later and I’ll hitch a lift with him. That way I’ll at least avoid the charge of ‘misappropriating Spectrum equipment’. ”
Taken by surprise, Scarlet asked, “What makes you think Magenta would be party to your disobeying orders?”
“Pat? Oh, he’d do anything for me,” she said with a confidence that left Scarlet speechless. “Besides,” she added, “he’s just as worried about Rick as you – as we – are about Adam.”
After a moment’s pause, Scarlet replied, “Look, I’m sure the colonel will let me go. After all, there’s a case to be made with Blue and Ochre both missing.”
“But he might not, because that’ll only leave two captains on the base and you know he’d have a fit if you vanished. But I could go; after all, there’s five Angels, but only one Captain Scarlet. So, he might rant and rave at me for a while and then…” she smiled, “he’d calm down and mutter about the folly of allowing personal relationships between your staff – again.”
“That would only be on a very good day. You realise he could cashier you – and Magenta – both,” Scarlet warned her. “Is it fair to ask him to risk threat?”
“And lose another two senior officers? I can’t see Colonel White finding much to recommend that option. Anyway, Pat can always turn me down if he’s worried.” She glanced archly at her companion and said confidently, “But I bet you he won’t.”
“Perhaps the colonel wouldn’t dismiss you both, not right now anyway; but he’s setting great store on ‘Operation Fortify’, so he’s not going to look kindly on senior staff that are only noticeable by their unsanctioned absence. I think it makes better sense for me to go, whatever the Old Man says – after all, Blue is my field partner and, besides, when it comes to it, the Old Man is far less likely to throw me out of Spectrum than you and Magenta.”
Symphony stopped walking and stared in outrage at what she considered to be the conceited egotism of that last statement. Scarlet realised what he’d said and had the grace to blush slightly, but any intention of retracting it was cut short by her snapped response.
“He’s my lover, Paul, which trumps any possible reason you can have.”
She faced him squarely, almost daring him to argue and, under the circumstances, he had the sense to give way.
They generally got on well together, but that didn’t mean they always saw eye to eye and he had, unintentionally, rather shot himself in the foot. He rolled his eyes in exasperation as he followed her along the corridor. He forgot sometimes that Blue was just about the only person who’d come to terms with the reality of his partner’s ‘privileged position’ in Spectrum; mostly because he was the one who’d first expounded it to the newly-retrometabolic and confused Paul Metcalfe. In fact, Blue had done it so well that he’d had to give up arguing when his partner commandeered the dangerous jobs.
Well, mostly give up arguing, Scarlet corrected himself, there’s generally at least one occasion on every mission when the protest – Captain Scarlet, you’ll get yourself killed! – gets uttered, followed by me ruefully shaking my head at his stupidity. Still, I guess it’s nice that he still thinks it matters…
He was grinning as he followed Symphony into the Control Room, where he could already hear her imperiously demanding the colonel’s attention. He straightened his face and quickened his pace, determined to keep her reasonable – if it were humanly possible.
Their meeting with Colonel White took some time. Spectrum’s Commander-in-Chief was reluctant to openly admit that two of his elite officers were missing in action – even to other officers – and he was determined not to allow any more of the squad to become embroiled in the WAS mission. But with Ochre missing and Blue so deep undercover that he wouldn’t contact base unless it was an emergency, he had to admit – privately at least – that he was worried.
He was not worried enough to listen indefinitely to Symphony’s continued protests, however. When she offered to take leave, and go searching for the men before SI got involved, White was adamant that wasn’t a wise idea.
He waved a hand to silence her and said, “Rest assured, Symphony Angel, I’m not about to involve Spectrum Intelligence in this yet; although, if I were, there’d be nothing you could do to prevent me. They’re not already involved for the simple reason that I asked Captain Blue to investigate the disappearance of Captain Ochre, rather than turning it straight over to SI. There are aspects of Ochre’s mission that are highly confidential.”
“But with Blue missing as well,” Scarlet protested, “I can just imagine SI itching to be given the right to grill everyone. You know how they set everyone on edge, sir; it’d be a disaster to let them loose on Cloudbase just before ‘Fortify’ starts.”
Captain Scarlet was pacing back and forth, like a caged lion, against the backdrop of the vivid red and yellow screens that shielded the colonel’s desk and White rather wished he wouldn’t as the play of his red tunic against the striped wall was starting to give him a headache.
He knew Scarlet well enough to realise he was getting frustrated at what he considered his commander’s wilful refusal to allow him to intervene in a mission he believed was in danger of failing and his answer was, therefore rather more defensive than he’d intended.
“Technically, Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue has not ‘gone missing’. He is working undercover, and communication between him and Cloudbase is necessarily kept to a minimum. As for SI, they won’t be given the right to question anyone – not until we have exhausted every alternative strategy. You may rest assured that I won’t risk them interfering with ‘Operation Fortify’.”
Both officers began to protest again.
White silenced them with a gesture and continued, “On the other hand, I do need this WAS mission wound up with as much speed as possible for the same reason.”
“Then let me go, sir!” Symphony pleaded. “Mrs Vandermark said she’d only speak to me-”
“You’ve spoken to Wyneke Vandermark?” White’s dark eyebrows sank over his blue eyes in a stern frown. “Symphony Angel, when will you learn not to meddle with matters that do not concern you?”
“But it does concern me, sir! Blue’s my-”
“It does not! Captain Blue is your fellow officer and a field commander on a mission. That is all he is. Do I make myself clear, Symphony Angel?” Reluctantly, she nodded. “Good, because if you can’t accept that simple fact, you’ll play no further part in this.”
She bit back a retort and looked down at the floor, nodding meekly. She’d got the message that she could be involved… if she played by the rules.
With some asperity, Colonel White ordered Scarlet to sit down, and sent for Captain Magenta. When Magenta arrived, the colonel gave a mission briefing on what had happened, based on the official line that Ochre was checking the WAS in reconnaissance for Operation Fortify and that Blue was now looking for him. He wanted his missing agents found, but he couldn’t alert more people than necessary about the sensitive nature of Ochre’s original mission, nor invite discussion of the World President’s concerns about the growing power of the WAAF.
Besides, he reasoned, Scarlet is an ex-WAAF man, he might not recognise it as a problem…
He concluded, “Whatever the reason for Ochre’s disappearance, and Blue’s prolonged silence, my concern is that the knowledge they have of Spectrum’s plans for ‘Operation Fortify’ could seep into the hands of the Mysterons, initiating a devastating campaign against us – one we are not currently in a position to withstand. Of course, it may be that Captain Ochre was simply in the way of an assassination linked to industrial espionage; in which case, the possibility that he may already be dead has to be considered.”
He looked at his officers, seeing the bleak expressions on their faces at his words. These men – and women – had grown into a tightly-knit band over the months and whatever the regulations said, they all cared deeply about each other’s safety.
He continued, “However, in his last report, Captain Blue was of the opinion that if the criminal network known as The Nebula did abduct Ochre, they would see him as a commodity to be bargained to the highest bidder. He believed Ochre was still alive.”
Magenta gave a sigh of relief. “I think we should go with Blue’s instinct on that one, Colonel.”
“Yes indeed. I hope and trust we can rely on the captain’s expertise as far as that goes. However, I’m inclined to suspect that Blue has become deeply embroiled in the WAS’s problems – in direct contradiction of his orders.”
Symphony leapt to her lover’s defence. “Those people are his friends. He wouldn’t walk away from them, any more than he’d desert a Spectrum colleague.”
“It’s not the fact that he’s got involved so much as the timing; am I right, Colonel?” Scarlet interjected to divert any angry response from Symphony.
Colonel White hesitated. He valued the bonds of loyalty that existed between his elite officers and realised that at least two of them would take offence if he criticised Blue too strongly. “Captain Blue had his orders. He has exceeded them. Whenever that happens – and to whomever – I have to be concerned.”
Symphony shifted position and looked ready to argue further, so Scarlet replied, “Of course, Colonel; we quite understand your point of view. All of us.” He gave the Angel a significant glance and she grimaced, but held her peace.
Satisfied that he had their reluctant compliance, Colonel White gave his permission for Symphony and Magenta to investigate the disappearances of their colleagues, but warned them against getting involved with the WAS’s problems.
“You have ten hours, not a minute more; that coincides with the deadline I gave Captain Blue for his investigation. Thereafter, any information you have discovered will be handed over to Spectrum Intelligence and the World Police, for them to continue the search. I want you – and if it is humanly possible, Ochre and Blue – back on Cloudbase in plenty of time for the start of Operation Fortify.”
“Yes, sir,” the couple replied.
“What about me, Colonel?” Scarlet asked.
“You can finalise the details of the programme roll-out with Spectrum: London. You’ll leave immediately to make sure they’re ready to begin.”
“Colonel –” Scarlet began to protest.
“That’s an order, Captain Scarlet. It’s starting to look like the Bermuda Triangle down there; I will not risk anyone else going. Understand?”
“Good,” White said, with a sigh. “Dismiss.”
Suspiciously, Captain Magenta eyed the bulging, over-sized holdall the sweetly-smiling Symphony handed him. He pulled a face at the weight of it.
“When I put in a request to go down there, once I heard Ochre was missing, I got a firm ‘no-way’. Of course, I didn’t know Blue was already there,” he admitted.
“I think the colonel’s more anxious than he’s prepared to admit. Ochre might not think twice about missing the odd check-in, but not Blue. I think they’re in trouble, Pat – so does Scarlet – so we have to find them before they get into even more trouble.”
Magenta ignored the disparaging comment about his partner’s professionalism, although he disputed it. Symphony and Ochre weren’t always the best of friends; Magenta didn’t doubt Ochre was fond of their capricious compatriot, but she was far too easy to wind up and Rick Fraser was not the man to resist an easy target when the devil was in him. However, it wasn’t worth arguing with her about it, so instead he reflected:
“You could be right; I must admit to having a nasty feeling about this, but even so, I bet you neither of them’s going to appreciate our help. We’ll have to be a little tactful about this, Symphony, and work together. No dashing off without making sure everyone knows where and what you’re doing, okay? I don’t want to be the one who has to explain what happened if you get into trouble. To anyone.”
“You’re worse than Scarlet! I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself, you know. I’m not some ditzy blonde with an IQ smaller than her bra size! I worked in the Universal Secret Service, remember? I know how to do this.”
Magenta nodded circumspectly; he could easily recall at least two occasions when she’d struck out on her own during a mission, causing consternation amongst her friends, and had to be rescued by Captain Scarlet and the ever-protective Captain Blue.
“Of course you do. I’m being straight with you here, Karen – why do you need this much luggage for a ten hour mission?”
She tossed her head and said, “I’m going to stay until I find them both, of course, whatever you guys say. If ten hours isn’t long enough I’ll have the gear I need to stay on. You don’t have to help me, if you don’t want to, Pat. I can fly myself there and you can return in your plane before it turns into a pumpkin on the stroke of ten.”
She reached out her hand to take back her holdall, an expression of fiery determination on her face.
Magenta heaved a resigned sigh. “Oh, get on board; I know there’s no point trying to talk you out of it…”
Symphony’s expression changed to a beaming smile and she blew him a kiss as she skipped up into the plane.
“After all, there’s no one else I’d rather get cashiered for,” he added to himself, as he carried her bag aboard the SPJ.
Adam Svenson shuffled forward in the queue for the flight gate and handed over his fake ID to the airline official. The woman glanced at the passport, looked up and smiled into the pale-blue eyes of the handsome man standing patiently beside her desk.
“Welcome aboard, Mr Scott,” she purred. “First class passengers are boarding from the front of the plane.”
“Thank you,” he replied, pocketing the ID and taking his boarding pass.
However much he was trying to cloak his movements, nothing would make him willingly subject his six-foot-three frame to the indignity of economy class travel on a commercial airline. He’d long since given up arguing with Spectrum’s accounts department about it, and merely indented for economy travel, paying the rest himself. It was also one of the reasons he’d chosen to use the ID of Alex Scott for this mission.
It had been Symphony who, based on her past experiences as an undercover agent, had proposed to the colonel that Spectrum developed a gallery of aliases to cover most eventualities, all with fully accredited background checks that were updated regularly and purged of anything even remotely dubious. It hadn’t taken much to convince the colonel, himself an ex-USS agent, it was a valid exercise, so now it was possible for any of the elite Spectrum officers to log onto any Spectrum computer and – using one of Captain Magenta’s fiendishly complex logons – requisition and produce genuine fake ID documents for any one of the aliases. Symphony and he’d been on the working party that had created the numerous ready-made personalities. In fact, it had been her private joke that the ‘richest man’ amongst the aliases shared his initials.
There was a chance someone on Cloudbase would pick up the transaction, which would be logged with the Cloudbase computers, but, unless he was very unlucky, he’d be out of the country by then.
Besides, he told himself as he strode down the tunnel to the plane, I was given carte-blanche to do whatever I thought necessary without asking permission, and nothing was said about not leaving the country in pursuit of Captain Ochre… and if doing so technically takes me over the deadline, I can’t be blamed, can I?
Once seated in the first class compartment, he gave some thought to the events of the past twenty-four hours or so, which had led to him being aboard the earliest commercial flight he’d been able to book.
As they’d previously arranged, Wyn Vandermark called him on his personal cell phone when Ronald Bracey, Dutch’s second in command, had dropped by the house to pay his respects in advance of the funeral. He’d wiped the computer files, putting the memory device in his jacket pocket, then locked the motel room carefully and driven over to the Vandermark house as quickly as he could.
Bracey was alone in the kitchen when he’d arrived; Wyn had taken her children out so the two of them could talk without the fear of being overheard.
Bracey was one of the twenty hand-picked agents appointed as Senior Tactical Agents for the Regions, when he created the Security Division for Peter Galvin, and the pair had always had a good working relationship. If Bracey harboured any resentment at the fact that Vandermark had been the preferred choice of his line manager for Global Head of Service, he’d never shown it.
Always a snappy dresser even when wearing sombre clothes suitable for a funeral, Bracey looked surprisingly cool and elegant. As they greeted each other, shaking hands, Svenson noticed a small, crescent-shaped scar on Bracey’s chin that was so recent it was still pale against his coffee-coloured skin.
They helped themselves to a cold beer from the fridge.
Bracey swigged his beer and wiped his mouth. “Right, so Wyn thinks Dutch was murdered and so do you?” he said, cutting straight to business. Svenson nodded. “It would be some crumb of comfort to her, I guess – it can’t be nice to know the person you loved was in such a state as to top themselves like that. But, Adam, what evidence is there? The police would’ve been over the crime scene like locusts. They’d have latched onto any possibility of a murder like… leeches.”
“You’d have thought so,” Svenson agreed, “but it seems there are inconsistencies, that need to be explained.”
Bracey looked him squarely in the eye and asked, “If this had happened on your watch, and these ‘inconsistencies’ came to light – would you throw every resource you had at it?”
“That depends,” Svenson replied with candour. “I’d like to think I would. Besides, no one’s asking anyone to ‘throw every resource they have’ at it, Ron. What’s going to happen is that I’m going to throw myself at it. A meagre thing, but mine own,” he quipped.
Bracey smiled. “Ah, well, I guess that’s different. Must be nice to be a rich dilettante with time to play at being a P.I... I’m sure the Board will be delighted to let someone rake through the ashes if it isn’t going to cost them anything; they warned me off wasting a dime on anything to do with the affair.”
“Did they? Galvin never mentioned that.”
“He must’ve known; I doubt Maudsley would’ve done it without his say-so. I swear he won’t even pee without permission these days.”
Svenson gave a doubtful shake of his head. “I got the impression that Galvin doesn’t always know what Maudsley’s up to. Like this project to decentralise research and development. Apart from telling me ‘it’s cheaper’, which I doubt, he couldn’t justify it.”
“When was this?” Bracey asked.
“You’ve spoken to Galvin?”
Svenson gave a brief nod. “We spoke; you’re covered.”
Bracey grinned, his amusement tinged with relief. “I don’t have the luxury of risking losing this job, A.J.. Besides, these days you have to crawl on bended knee to speak to Galvin. Maudsley’s got him surrounded by more red tape than…” he paused.
“Than something surrounded by a lot of red tape?” Svenson suggested, all too familiar with Ron’s disastrous attempts at effective metaphors.
“You got it.”
Svenson chuckled. “Now, did Maudsley say why you weren’t to investigate Dutch’s death?”
Bracey closed his eyes, dredging up the words of the official memo from his memory. “Words to the effect of: Dutch was involved with corruption that’s why he committed suicide. We don’t want to make things worse. Keep away.”
He opened his eyes and met Svenson’s concerned gaze.
“Bullshit, of course; but I have a mortgage to pay every month, so I toe the line. Now they’ve given you the nod, have they told you what they want proving? Are you going to confirm it was suicide, Adam? To please the Board?”
“Dutch Vandermark was my friend, Wyn still is. Get this into your thick head: I’m doing what I can to set her – and my own – mind at rest. To do that efficiently, and to get to the truth of what happened to Dutch, I had to get permission. Yes, even me, Ronnie. I can’t just walk into the WAS without the agreement of the Executive. So I asked for, and got, permission to check out what’s making me edgy about all this, because, try as I might, I can’t see Dutch killing himself and Wyn has even more reason to think it unlikely.”
His companion looked at him in bewilderment.
“She’s pregnant,” Svenson explained.
“Sweet Jesus.” Bracey stopped in the middle of opening another beer and put the bottle down. His face went pale. “What do you want me to do?”
“I need to talk to the others so somewhere with a secure video conference link would be ideal. Do you have one?”
“I have a safe house so new that Maudsley hasn’t even had the bill for it yet, and, what’s more, the decorators haven’t touched it…”
“Hallelujah for that!”
They shared a laugh.
“Why don’t you check out of your motel and bunk down there too? Then we can fix up a video conference with whoever you want, whenever the time is right?”
“Sounds ideal, Ron. Let’s go.”
The safe house turned out to be in an anonymous block of hundreds of identical apartments. The apartment they’d chosen was a corner one and had large windows that gave excellent views along the two approach routes. Rented by a dummy corporation, the neighbours had been told it was for the use of visiting executives and not to be concerned at the comings and goings of the strangers that might use the place. It would have taken a man of Captain Magenta’s ingenuity to trace it back to the WAS.
The whole apartment was furnished in the style of a hotel room, with functional but uninspired furniture and bland walls; unfortunately, unlike a hotel, there was no room service and the cupboards were virtually empty and there was no fresh food in the refrigerator. Once they’d unpacked their stuff, Svenson ordered a delivery over the phone, and they sat down to eat a Chinese meal while they plotted the best times to call the necessary people.
Their plans were derailed by a call from Officer Deringham. Svenson laid down his chopsticks and answered the communicator with a sigh. “Layla? Nice to speak to you.”
“Hello, sir. I have the results of the searches you wanted.”
He was impressed with her efficiency; it wasn’t that long since he’d asked her to do some digging about the individuals who’d been involved with The Nebula before Warren Allen’s downfall and were currently still registered on security databases.
“Go on, I’m all ears. I hope you don’t mind if I finish my food while you’re talking…”
“Of course not, sir.”
She started reading out a list of names, filling in the details of the people’s whereabouts and activities. None of them sounded very hopeful as a likely supremo for the reformed spy ring.
Finally, Deringham said, “Our records show that Vincent Gambino was killed in a car crash outside Tirana, several years ago, but, when I ran the name through our link to the World Police Corps files they disagreed with ours, reporting that, although he was supposed to have died, a known alias of his subsequently surfaced in Macau.” She ignored the expletive he muttered under his breath.
“Now that’s very interesting. Macau is one of the few places in the United Asian Republic that’s open to citizens from World Government States. Which known alias is Gambino using?”
“Francis – Frank – Lombardo. His known associates make interesting reading too,” she rattled off a list of names, adding, “According to the World Police, these men are all involved in money laundering through a network of crooked casinos.”
“Layla, I think I love you. Tell me; amongst that list of associates is there a woman’s name?”
“One, sir. Mrs Lucille Haswell. There’s no link to any records against her name, sir.”
Svenson nodded – things were starting to follow a familiar pattern. “That’s great, Layla. Now, if Fortune is really favouring us, there’ll be a recent picture of Lombardo and – if I’ve earned enough merit previously in my life – one of this Lucille Haswell? If there is, I just might have to marry you…”
He could hear her chuckling as she searched. “You must have been a very well-behaved child, sir, because your luck is in. There is a picture – not that good, but I can send it through to a screen, if you have access to one.”
The pen-phone didn’t have any sort of screen, so he gave her the number of his personal cell phone. The machine chirped and he switched on to see a grainy, black and white image on the screen. It looked like it had been taken from a security camera, but it showed the face of the man clearly and beside him was a small-boned, dark-haired woman. It was more than he’d hoped for, and more than enough to tell him what he needed to know.
“Gotcha,” he muttered, as he handed it across to Bracey, who swore under his breath as he studied the image. “Thanks, Layla; I have the picture. Do you know who the couple are?”
“Well, one is Vincent Gambino – it’s a close enough match to his service record photograph for there to be little doubt. I don’t know the woman, I’m afraid.”
“But I do. She’s none other than Fiona Allen.”
There was a significant pause as the importance of the information was absorbed by Officer Deringham. Then she said:
“You’ll be going to Macau, sir.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes. I think it’s about time I paid good old Vince a visit. I’ll let you know my e.t.a. there, when I’m underway. Oh, and thanks for the excellent work, Officer Deringham.”
“My pleasure, sir. However, I fear I must decline your kind matrimonial offer…”
“Layla, we’re getting along so well together. I’m gutted!”
“And I’m already married…”
“…As I’m sure you already knew, sir. Unless it wasn’t you who checked my service record?”
“There’s no fooling you, is there? Guilty as charged. I just like to know who I’m trusting. I’ll call you from Macau airport. Goodbye, Officer Deringham – and thank you.”
“What made you think Gambino would be involved with all this?” Bracey asked, handing back Svenson’s cell-phone.
“I didn’t; I thought he was dead – and you need to kick ass over that slip up, Ron.” Bracey nodded. “I asked Deringham to check all the names of known associates of our old friend, Warren Allen and his wife. Fiona was the only person to walk from the debris of the bust-up in WET Base 3. She didn’t hang around for the trial and, as far as I know, has never visited her husband in prison. Allen always swore she was ignorant of anything to do with The Nebula, that she was an innocent bystander, who passed information on from the gossip she heard without realising what it would be used for. Ditching him and disappearing was taken as evidence that she was as shocked and appalled as the rest of us to learn what he was doing.”
He glanced at Bracey. “I had my doubts. Fiona wasn’t stupid and Warren was her devoted slave, there was no way he could not’ve told her where the money she was spending came from. But, with Allen’s confession, the WAS had a conviction and could boast of how it had eradicated security breaches from its research and development wing. Even Galvin thought it was a waste of effort to chase Fiona down.”
He looked at his hands and his tone grew critical. “I guess I should’ve realised I hadn’t finished the job – but it’d been a long time and the chance to relax was too appealing.”
“You did a great job,” Bracey reassured him.
“As far as it went – but did it go far enough? Did stopping when we did mean that Dutch paid the ultimate price?”
“No one can know that; don’t go there,” Bracey cautioned him. The hand-picked agents who had worked so closely with Svenson knew his tendency to blame himself for things that went wrong.
“Yeah, you’re right – enough of that. Did you know that all those years ago, the damn-near-sainted Mrs Allen was swiving Gambino on the sly?”
Svenson made a crude gesture with the middle finger of his right hand and added, “At it like rabbits… or so rumour had it.”
“Ah…” Bracey said, with a nod of understanding; he’d also got used to his former superior’s eccentric vocabulary long ago. “So, were you expecting to find them together?”
“Not really; the last thing I can remember hearing about Gambino was that he’d died and even Fiona’d draw the line at a corpse – I think. But I’ve learned death isn’t always final these days.”
“I missed that on the news reports…”
“I mean – you shouldn’t trust unsubstantiated reports of people’s deaths. I thought it was worth a try. Leads are few and far between in this case, Ron.”
Bracey laughed. “So now you play your hunches too! You’ve come a long way, A.J..”
Svenson smiled and flushed slightly. He’d always berated his agents for ‘following hunches’ and had preferred proposals based on solid reasoning when they’d submitted applications to him for his authorisation.
“Well, now we know which of the STARs we need to contact,” Bracey mused.
They shared a glance and said simultaneously:
Svenson glanced up at the smiling hostess, who was politely trying to get his attention, and accepted the drink she was offering him. He sipped the wine and went back to his examination of the situation.
The appointment of Hiroshi Nugaka had been one of the easiest decisions he’d had to make. Nugaka was a test pilot with a reputation for fearlessness, efficiency and ambition. He too was unfailingly polite, but Svenson hadn’t been fooled by that – he used a guise of good manners himself, and recognised that beneath the veneer was a ruthless and politically astute man.
Although Japanese by birth, Nugaka had left the finicky business of running that domestic arena to his subordinates, preferring to operate in the choppy waters by the UAR borders. He was an acknowledged expert on the machinations and aspirations of the regional power and, faced with the task of preventing the UAR from encroaching on the territories of the World Government’s member states, he had to be – and was – prepared to play dirty when necessary.
We’ve got to put ourselves in Nugaka’s hands. Quite apart from the emergence of Gambino and Fiona in Macau, Deringham sent me the latest reports from Nugaka which included one from an airport technician that a plane known to belong to an organised crime syndicate arrived from the US recently. There was a ‘prisoner’ on board. Handcuffed, blindfolded and heavily guarded… Maybe I am playing a hunch, but I think I can guess who that prisoner was. I just hope I’m going to be in time…
He sighed deeply and stared out of the porthole at the empty sky and the distance cloudscape below them – a familiar sight and one that he loved.
If my luck holds, Ron will have contacted Hiroshi on the secure line and warned him I’m coming. I’d bet good money Càmpora will suddenly find himself dealing with links to Macau as well. If this is the resurgent Nebula, operating from Macau makes sense. Gambino-Lombardo used to courier to there and he’s not the man to have bright new ideas.
He paused momentarily as a new idea occurred to him: Gambino is the archetypal side-kick, so who’s in charge? Shit – it has to be Fiona – running true to form and using a stupid but obedient male as a front. I should never have let her go…. if I know Hiroshi he’ll have his contacts able to confirm that and he’ll be onto it. Thank God there are still some loyal men out there.
He finished his drink, declined a refill and the food on offer, and then sat for some time staring with, unseeing eyes, out of the porthole again, while his mind examined his situation, the information he’d gleaned and every possible way he could exploit it. But however much he tried to concentrate, the memories of his past encounters with The Nebula kept resurfacing, until finally he acknowledged, his biggest regret of all:
At the time it seemed like a decent trade-off, but I can’t help thinking if we’d gone after Fiona the same time we collared Warren, Ochre wouldn’t be in this fix and Dutch might still be alive. Damn the bitch!
He glanced at his watch.
Time to get some shut-eye, I think, or I’ll be dead on my feet before I have chance to follow any of this up…
He beckoned the stewardess over and asked for a pillow.
The modern low-rise house stood back from the street behind electronically-controlled steel gates. The dense foliage along the short driveway served the dual purpose of deadening the noise from the busy thoroughfare and hiding the building from the curious gaze of passers-by. On the forecourt in front of one of the three garages, stood a top-of-the-range, black limousine. Security cameras swept the grounds and a notice in several languages warned the unexpected visitor to ‘beware of the dogs’.
The interior of the building was finely furnished with expensive imported goods, but it lacked anything that suggested it was a home – no books, no audio-visuals, no half-read magazines or discarded items. It looked like the photograph from an interior designer’s promotional brochure – except for the two people occupying the living room.
The woman, now known as Lucille Haswell, closed the phone call she’d been occupied with for some time. She stared out of the picture window in silence for a long moment at the perfect, characterless landscape of her garden, before turning away to a drinks cabinet and pouring herself a glass of wine.
Her companion, Frank Lombardo, was idly flicking through channels on the wall-mounted plasma-screen TV and he stopped his trawl of the sports programmes to ask, “Interesting news, honey?” When she nodded, he added, “About the money?”
“No, Frank.” She paused, and then asked unexpectedly, “Do you remember Donnie – Adam – Svenson?”
“How could I forget him? A jumped-up little sky-jockey. But what brings him to mind right now?”
She drained her glass before answering. “The call was from Elsdon prison. It seems that my husband’s dead; he’s been poisoned. The Governor was anxious to assure me that the British Police are looking for a man named Adam Svenson in connection with the murder. They seem to think he had a motive to poison Warren.”
“Now that’d be a bonus, Luce. Maybe they’ll lock him away for a few decades?”
“Yes, that’d be nice, Frank; but, sad to say, it’s extremely unlikely.”
“What makes them suspect Svenson anyway? I thought he’d retired to go sun himself on a beach somewhere. I kinda hoped he’d drowned on that frigging surfboard of his. Still, if he’s wanted for the murder of Warren Allen, he’ll have to go on the run, eh? What a come-down for the WAS’s blue-eyed boy that’ll be.” He chuckled and grinned up at her.
“That mother’s always had the luck of the devil. Warren tried to ‘dispose’ of him several times but Svenson always walked away with barely a scratch. But then, Warren wasn’t the sharpest blade in the drawer,” she concluded, as she paced the room.
“Why’d they think Svenson would want to kill Warren now? I know he hated him, Luce, but if he wanted Warren dead, he’d have done it before now. Well, that’s how I think,” he added as she did not respond immediately.
She turned to look at him, sprawled on the couch in front of the TV, and shook her head. “We have Nina Murcott to thank for that little red herring. I told you Warren was getting desperate, Frank, remember? On her last visit but one, he told Nina that he wanted to see me – no excuses – he even made vague threats-”
“About the money?”
“Forget the fucking money, Frank! Not everything is about the money!” She poured herself another drink. “No, Warren wanted out because he said prison was too tough for him to handle. Pah! He knew the risks before he got involved with The Nebula; he just never had the imagination to appreciate them. That’s what made him such a good test pilot – and so boring in bed, of course – no imagination.”
She drained her glass and cradled it in her hands as she continued to muse aloud, almost as if she was alone. “He had his hopes pinned on my getting him out, but there was no way I was gonna do that, of course. The WAS made sure he was never going to be eligible for parole and – let’s be honest – I’d had enough of him.”
She glanced at Lombardo to see his gaze had strayed back to the TV screen. Annoyed, she called his name across the room, so that he had to listen to her. Something – which she couldn’t believe was her conscience – craved the opportunity to explain what she’d done to another human being, to hear a voice – even one as mindlessly devoted as Vincent Gambino’s – tell her she’d done the right thing, and it was okay.
Once she had his attention again she continued, “The problem with Warren was that he knew too much. He was a threat to me – to us, Frank – and I’d grown tired of trying to keep him sweet. Things’re at a critical stage with our re-launch; I couldn’t risk Warren ruining everything. I had no choice but to act now.”
“What have you been doing, Luce? We don’t want the World Police sniffing round here.”
“Don’t worry, we’re in the clear. I sent Nina a special box of that disgusting ‘Turkish Delight’ Warren liked.” She smiled to herself. “I’d always told him that sweet tooth would be the death of him.”
“I don’t understand. Tell me again, who’s Nina?”
She sighed. “Nina Murcott’s the agent we left in England – remember? She visits Warren on my behalf – she poses as my sister. She acts as our go-between.”
“Oh, that Nina,” Lombardo said sheepishly, as Lucille Haswell took control of the TV remote and switched the screen off before throwing the handset across the room.
“I thought you weren’t telling Warren much about our plans any more?” he asked, desperate to make amends for his inattention.
“I had to tell him something every so often to keep him quiet, you know that.” Lombardo nodded sagely. “It was never anything of real importance, never enough to be a risk if he did grass on us – but with what he already knew it was enough to make it possible for a dedicated adversary to track us down. We’d always kept the Far Eastern operation secret; it was our little nest egg – Warren and mine. The fact that you stumbled across it on one of your courier runs for the Syndicate, was just… serendipity.”
She smiled at him and he grinned back.
“We make a great team, Luce.”
“Yeah; sure we do, Frank.”
“You were lucky it was me found out what you and Warren were doing; any other guy would have told the Syndicate straight off, and they might’ve thought you were keeping it from them. They don’t like that sort of thing, especially when you’re talking about dealing with the Chinese. They get touchy – know what I mean?”
“I do; but you forget, my father knew about it.”
“Oh yeah, sure he did – and Johnny Varsallona was a great man in the Syndicates – in his day.”
She flashed him a look of sheer malevolence. Her father’s recent fall from prominence in the hierarchy of the American crime syndicates was a touchy subject, but she wasn’t inclined to argue with him now. The day would come when he’d pay for every humiliation he’d put her through – in bed and out of it – Lombardo wasn’t enough of an asset for the Syndicates to miss him and without him she’d be the sole contact between the two opposing crime organisations and in a perfect situation to play them off against each other – for her own advantage.
“So, how did you manage to poison Warren?” Lombardo asked with an air of casual interest, as he went to help himself to a drink.
“I told you – Nina went to see Warren and gave him the box of ‘Turkish Delight’, as a gift from me.”
“Neat, Luce; very neat.”
She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes; it was obvious he still hadn’t understood. She explained, “The – eh – icing sugar actually contained powered arsenic. It would have been – interesting – to watch the results. I hope and expect Warren made a pitiful end.”
“Was that wise. Luce? They’ll suspect it was you, won’t they? And why do the Brits think Svenson had anything to do with it?”
“That was a neat piece of thinking on Nina’s part. She put a note in there that was supposed to come from me, saying I’d been contacted by Svenson who wanted to bury the hatchet and talk over old times. As a gesture of his sincerity he had sent me flowers and the box of candy for Warren. So, I sent it on to him, in good faith, of course. I knew Warren would see it as a gesture of remorse; he could never quite believe how much Svenson came to hate him.” She laughed. “As if Svenson is ever likely to forgive either of us! But it seems the British police have taken it as a likely lead, at least for now. Wherever Donnie Svenson is, they’re gonna want to talk to him and that means he can’t interfere with our plans.”
“Good luck for us, then! As long as it doesn’t lead to Svenson turning up here and messing about in our business again – no chance of that, is there, Luce?”
She shrugged her elegant shoulders and tossed her head in a show of indifference.
“I’ve got a feeling Svenson will show up at some point, now we’ve dealt with Vandermark. Maudsley told me that Galvin had a clandestine meeting with him, which is no real surprise; he was always Galvin’s favourite henchman, after all. I always wondered if that whole ‘resignation’ wasn’t a front, and he was really working undercover for Galvin. Wouldn’t put it past either of them to be that devious. But Vandermark’s death sure flushed him out soon enough – so he can’t have really been out of the loop, can he?”
“Nah,” Lombardo sneered dismissively. “He was always snooping about, asking about things that was none of his business, even before he got the job as head of security. I didn’t like him.”
“You were as astute as ever, Frank,” Lucille remarked, and her lover smirked proudly, oblivious to her sarcasm. Needing to think things through for herself, she continued aloud, “Maudsley’s panicking, of course; he’s convinced Svenson’s on to him. He wants me to arrange for both Galvin and Svenson to meet with ‘accidents’ – the fool! But it’s just what I’ve come to expect from Maudsley, he’s too damn anxious to get the Directorship of the WAS, and it shows.”
“Wouldn’t that be to our advantage?” Lombardo asked. He was looking rather baffled by the unfolding sequence of events. “I mean, with your brother-in-law as Director, we’d get all the WAS information we needed – right from the top.”
She glanced at him with undisguised exasperation. “Don’t be as big a fool as Maudsley, Frank. If Galvin was assassinated with the WAS under suspicion already, President Younger would have no option but to close them down. Galvin’s our guarantee that the research and development work will continue and, to some extent, he always has been.”
Lombardo shrugged – he left the thinking to her, it made life easier.
Lucille Haswell’s mind was still reliving the past. She drained her glass and said, “Give the devil his due, even Warren had to admit Donnie Svenson was a bloody good pilot – the best he’d ever seen, he said. And he was a good looking man, as well – if you go for boyish blonds – it was a shame he was brim-full of moral rectitude. He could’ve made us – and himself – a fortune, if he’d been open to suggestion. Turned out he wasn’t interested in making money – Soraya told me his family’s lousy with it.”
“I don’t think he’d come here,” Lombardo remarked, sounding as if he was trying to reassure himself. “If he was working for Galvin he’d head for Montevideo, wouldn’t he? After the missing plans?” he suggested, his face screwed in concentration. “I bet that’s what Galvin wanted to talk to him about. He’d be shitting himself to think that Vandermark had gone to the bad.” He gave her a sly grin. “I have to hand it to you, Luce, you played that beautifully.”
She inclined her head in acknowledgement of his compliment. “Vandermark was getting too close; I wasn’t prepared to let him mess things up.”
Lombardo drained his glass and asked if she wanted a refill too. She handed him her glass and went back to stare out of the window.
“Didn’t all go according to plan, of course. We hadn’t suspected a Spectrum agent would turn up with Vandermark.”
Lombardo gave her the glass and remarked, “Well, it looks like a bonus to me. There’s plenty of people who’ll pay good money to know what he can tell us. It was a good idea to have him shipped over here – the Chinese are real masters at getting information from uncooperative guys – even better at it than you, Luce – they’ll have him singing like a bird.”
He smiled at her and she acknowledged the compliment with a nod of her head. “Still, I’ll lay you odds that Galvin will’ve sent Svenson to Montevideo.”
She grimaced dismissively at the suggestion. “Although I hate to admit it, Svenson’s a clever man, and as wily as they come; it wouldn’t take much to set him thinking. Never underestimate him, Frank. Warren did, and it cost us all dearly.”
“Nah, we’re on our way back to the top now, and it’s all thanks to you, Luce. You’re one helluva woman.” He put his arm around her and bent to kiss the nape of her neck, sliding his hand down to her breast, oblivious to her irritated sigh and the way her eyes rolled heavenward in exasperation.
Nevertheless, she allowed him to turn her into his embrace, and cover her lips with his own, whisky-moistened, mouth. Vincent Gambino might have the brains of an ox, but there were compensations, and she was all too aware of her own needs to deny his.
One day, she thought, as she helped his fumbling fingers undo the buttons of her blouse, I will find a man with brains and body enough to be my equal – and then, you’ll be of no further use to me, Vincent – please God that day isn’t too far away….
Leaving Magenta to make enquiries about Ochre at the airfield, Symphony hired a car at the booth on the main airport concourse and drove to the Vandermark house. She parked across the street and watched for awhile. When she was sure that there were no signs of any surveillance, she made her way to the front door and pressed the bell.
When Wyneke opened the door she stared with a frown at the young stranger for a moment before she recognised her from the video-phone. She was taller than she’d expected and shapely, with short, reddish-blonde hair and remarkable hazel-green eyes. Wyn summed her up as: attractive, but not quite beautiful. She was casually, but fashionably dressed, in smart dove-grey trousers with a crisp, white blouse beneath a pale jacket. The smile that crossed her face as she prepared to speak, gave her face animation, and Wyn realised that she was, after all, something of a beauty.
“Mrs Vandermark?” the stranger asked.
She was an American, but Wyn had no skill at identifying where the various accents originated. This was certainly the woman she’d spoken to, but remembering Adam’s warning to be careful, Wyn merely nodded warily and kept her hand on the door, ready to slam it at the first sign of trouble.
“We spoke on the phone; my name is Karen Wainwright. I don’t know if Adam mentioned me to you? I’m his girlfriend.”
Wyn’s eyebrows dipped into a somewhat sceptical frown, but she merely asked, politely enough, “Adam?”
“Adam Svenson: tall, blond, good-looking, laid-back kinda guy, who went to Harvard and is, therefore, annoyingly patronising at times, but you can forgive him a lot for the sake of his ‘little-boy’ smile?”
The merest twitch of a smile on Wyn’s lips showed that she recognised the description.
Symphony pressed on. “We work together and I’m trying to find him, Mrs Vandermark. You see, he’s disappeared – and I think he might be in terrible trouble.”
“And you thought this man would be here?”
“I hoped he would be here. I know he was here. He told a mutual friend he was coming to see you, before he attended your husband’s funeral. I didn’t see him before he left our base…”
“You work together?”
“Yes, after Adam left the WAS we found ourselves working for the same organisation.” Symphony could see the woman was still wary and in desperation she cried, “Please, Mrs Vandermark, I have to find him. I have to know that he’s all right. ”
Wyn opened her door wide. “Come inside, Miss Wainwright.”
Symphony followed her through the house, past the door to a living room where two young children, a girl and her younger brother, sat watching cartoons. The girl turned to see who it was and a frown flickered over her pale brows when she saw a stranger. Symphony gave her a friendly smile but the child did not respond, her blue eyes following the young woman until she disappeared.
“Your children?” she asked Wyn kindly, as they walked into the open-plan, kitchen-diner.
“Yes, but they won’t disturb us, Miss Wainwright.”
“I really appreciate your seeing me, and I don’t want to interrupt your routine, Mrs Vandermark. I can wait until you’ve seen to the children.”
Wyn gave her a grateful smile. “Then I will make you some coffee and, if you’ll excuse me, get them ready to go out? Max, my son, has a baseball practice and out neighbour will be taking them; he wants his sister to be with him. Both of them are unhappy to be alone since their father died.”
“Of course,” Symphony said.
She sat with her coffee while she listened to the sounds of family life going on around her. When she’d finished she went to put the empty mug on the kitchen drainer, pausing to make the acquaintance of the family cat. She liked cats – unlike Adam, who seemed to have developed an early antagonism to the creatures, preferring his family’s dogs. She crouched down and stroked the tabby’s ears while it purred loudly.
“Did you see him, Puss?” she asked the cat. “You’re such a pretty puss, and no mistake. Surely even Adam couldn’t resist you? Did you win him over and get him to stroke your ears? Oh, you like this, don’t you? Nice puss-cat… He’s usually so offhand with even the prettiest kitty, but I bet even he couldn’t resist you…”
“He gave Tigger some cake, so he has a friend for life.” Wyn said, as she came unheard into the kitchen. She smiled with amusement as Symphony sprang to her feet in surprise and embarrassment. “It always amused me how cats all seem to adore him,” she added, watching the young woman carefully.
Suspecting that this was part of Wyn’s test of her bona fides, Symphony replied, “Yes, it’s funny, especially as he really doesn’t like them much. He told me, his mom always has big, fluffy Persian cats – invariably bad-tempered, according to Adam – which she spoils dreadfully, at least if what he’s told me about Holofernes – her current one – is anything to go by.”
“Mrs Svenson always chose such… unusual names for her cats.”
“Yeah; Adam said she was working her way through the Old Testament, using the exotic names. He can’t wait for her to get to the Book of Malachi, and stop.”
Wyn smiled, the wariness vanishing from her eyes as she heard the familiar witticism. “Yes, he used to say as much. He has not changed his opinion, it seems.”
Symphony smiled in response. “Cats are probably too sedentary to have even registered on his consciousness as a kid, and small boys are not known for their ability to appreciate pretty, fluffy things. I guess the dogs were always up for a run in the park or a swim in the sea, and I have the impression Adam never sat still for long as a boy, so the dogs would be far more to his liking.”
“Indeed; he has learned the art of stillness now. He was never still when I first met him – always fizzing with energy.”
Wyn gestured for Symphony to take her seat again, so the young American guessed she’d passed the test. All mistrust dispelled, the women sat around the table, and Symphony accepted another cup of the excellent coffee. Wyn placed a plate of cookies between them. Karen took one and nibbled at it.
“How long have you known Adam?” Wyn asked, studying her companion intently.
“We met at a training base in Australia, in ’66.”
“When Spectrum was launched by the World Government, Teunis and I speculated that it was the kind of organisation Adam might’ve joined. He left the WAS so suddenly and said so little. Perhaps you know, my husband met him at a function in Futura, not so long ago? It was pleasing to know we were right.”
Symphony shook her head. “He didn’t mention it, although there was no reason for him not to, but he can be so secretive at times. And he was embarrassed to be getting a medal. He keeps it in a drawer.”
“This does not surprise me. But let me guess, you are one of Spectrum’s ‘Angel’ pilots?”
“I am – and I shouldn’t be telling you this.”
Wyn smiled. “Adam would tell you I know how to keep a secret.”
“Your husband worked with him in Security, didn’t he? Adam’s mentioned his name a few times, when I’ve managed to get him to talk about his life B.C.” She saw Wyneke’s eyebrows rise in confused surprise. “Sorry, it’s the base shorthand for ‘before Cloudbase’.”
“Now that I didn’t know – that he is on Cloudbase, I mean – but it isn’t surprising, given that he is such a good flyer.”
“One of the very best,” Symphony agreed, adding, “and I’ll deny I said that, if you ever mention it to him.”
“He would agree with you, I think; he is proud of his flying skills.”
They shared a smile.
“Do you know where he is, Mrs Vandermark?”
“My name is Wyneke – Wyn, to my American friends – and I’m sorry to say that I don’t. Believe me, Miss Wainwright – Karen, danke – I would like to help you.” She shook her head. “Always he must do everything himself – always he must be the one to take the risks…”
“Risks? Adam? Boy, has he changed his tune,” Symphony responded with a rueful smile. “We say his middle name is ‘caution’.”
Wyn smiled thoughtfully. “I’m speaking of days before this, when he felt he’d nothing to live for. He was convinced his life was over when… well…”
“When Soraya was killed?” Symphony prompted. “I do know what happened, Wyn, and… and how much it hurt him.”
“He’s told you about Soraya?” she asked.
Karen nodded and Wyn tilted her head slightly, weighing what this fact revealed about the relationship between the Americans.
When she spoke again, it was quietly, almost as if she was thinking aloud, “After Soraya died, he never would stop working, for to stop was to remember. We used to worry about him, Teunis and me. Now it would seem that his restlessness has been soothed, probably by the new-found contentment I sensed in him. It’s a good thing he has come through that time, for it would have burned him out in so few years.”
She glanced at the young woman opposite her and gave a decisive sigh. “I do not know where he is, but I can tell you what he was going to try to do. Perhaps you’ll be able to track him down with this knowledge? It may take some time, Karen, it’s a long story.”
“Anything you can tell me would be useful. Thank you, Wyn.”
Wyneke smiled. “I care about him too. He is a good man,” she admitted, placing her hand over Symphony’s. “Now, let me see, where to begin…”
Captain Magenta glanced at his watch and cursed. He’d had no luck tracking down any information about Ochre’s movement sat the airport or where he went after his arrival. His SPJ was where he’d left it, re-fuelled and ready for take off, but the captain hadn’t been seen since he’d left in the company of the man Magenta knew was Teunis Vandermark. Now Symphony had failed to make their appointed check-in. As she was undercover, he couldn’t use Spectrum wavebands to contact her, so he found a phone and dialled the cell-phone number she’d given him.
“Karen? This is your alarm call. Where are you?”
“Hi, Pat; I’m still at the house. Mrs Vandermark’s been very helpful, but she hasn’t seen Rick and she doesn’t know where Adam’s gone. She’s told me what she knows about what’s happening though, but I still have to track him down and it’s going to take some time. So, I don’t think I’ll be coming back with you...”
“Karen – we agreed: you’re not going on with this by yourself.”
“Pat, I can’t expect you to…”
“I’ve got no leads either; it doesn’t look like Adam came here at all to search for Rick, but I’m not about to give up on either of them – yet.” He snapped the name of a hotel. “Meet me there in about… 90 minutes. Understand? Use the agreed ID names.”
“Who are you to be giving me orders, Patrick Donaghue?”
“Let’s just try and remember that I’m the field commander here, shall we? Not that you ever pay much attention to them, either.”
“I don’t intend to argue, Karen, I don’t have the time. Meet me in 90 minutes, or I’ll tell the colonel what you’re planning to do, and you can explain yourself to Spectrum Intelligence.”
“I hate you.”
There was a slight pause and she continued, “Nevertheless, thank you, Pat. I don’t know what I’d do without you; you’re a real star.”
“I know that too. Be there, Karen.”
He hung up before she’d time to argue further and hoped she’d understood that he was serious. Then he called Cloudbase to make the routine report.
Lieutenant Green patched him through to Colonel White straight away, and although White heard of their failure to track their companions with concern, he reminded his officer of the mission deadline.
Magenta acknowledged it; even though he knew he’d have very little chance of getting Symphony to go back with him, unless they definite news of their friends. There were still a number of hours left and, Magenta reflected with a sigh, he was used to playing to tight deadlines – something might come up before they had to leave for Cloudbase. Until then, he proposed to continue working on the case. There was just too much at stake for him to give up.
His partnership with Captain Ochre had started as one that was fraught with disagreement, but they’d soon settled into an effective working relationship and, even if they weren’t as close personal friends as Scarlet and Blue, they were good friends. Besides which, Captain Magenta of all the people involved in the search, probably had the clearest insight into just what kind of treatment Ochre might be enduring, if he’d fallen into the hands of a criminal syndicate.
And I wouldn’t leave my worst enemy to face that sort of punishment – let alone a friend. Hang in there, buddy; I’m coming, Rick, just as quick as I can, he vowed.
He found a helpful Spectrum technician who let him into the technicians’ locker room, where he changed into some anonymous overalls, and went shopping in the airport concourse.
Some time later, a smartly-dressed businessman with an overnight bag left the airport and gave the address of a downtown hotel to his cab driver.
Symphony Angel approached the reception desk of the popular mid-range downtown hotel and smiled engagingly at the clerk, announcing herself in clear tones. “Miss Sylvie Delanoy to see Mr Brendan Tranter; has he checked in yet?”
“Mr Tranter arrived a short time ago, Miss Delanoy. He’s expecting you and gave instructions for you to go up to his room – room 220. Please take the left hand elevator and turn left along the third floor corridor.”
Instinctively she had taken a circuitous route downtown and she was amused at how readily her old USS instincts had kicked in. She felt the old familiar adrenalin buzz at being undercover again as, with heightened senses, she made her way to the meeting with Magenta. Even walking across the bank of elevators she kept a watchful eye on the people in the foyer, but no one seemed interested in her movements. She let the first elevator go and slipped into the second one with a young man who had just entered the hotel from the street. She watched him press the ninth floor before she pressed her selection – the fourth.
She rode the elevator to the fourth floor and waited until the elevators had both sped up and down again before she walked down the stairs to room 220. Magenta opened the door at her first knock, and she slipped inside.
“Any trouble?” he asked, as she removed her jacket and collapsed with a sigh onto the only armchair.
“No; I was careful. There’s no sign of any one keeping watch on the Vandermark place either. However, I’m worried about what the colonel’s going to say if we go AWOL. I don’t want to get you into any trouble, Pat,” she admitted, remembering Captain Scarlet’s warning on Cloudbase about the possible repercussions of her wilfulness.
He brushed her concern aside. “Then we need to get a move on and find the pair of them before the time runs out, don’t we? Ochre’s my field partner and my friend, I want to find him as much as you want to find Blue, albeit for completely different reasons: he owes me money after his farcical bets on the World Series.”
She laughed at him and he smiled at her. “Now, what’ve we got to work on?” he asked.
Symphony drew herself upright and lifted her handbag onto her knee. “Wyneke Vandermark told me all she knows about what’s going on, and gave me some photographs, of the regional commanders of the WAS security division. Her husband suspected one or more of them might be involved with industrial spies. She – and Adam – suspects a spy ring of orchestrating Ochre’s disappearance and her husband’s death.”
“Industrial spies? I don’t remember hearing about this,” he said. “Why would Spectrum get involved with spying anyway?”
Symphony raised her elegant eyebrows. “It seems the colonel wasn’t being quite as open as he could have been about what Ochre was doing here in the first place. It wasn’t just to do with ‘Fortify’. Wyn says there’s concern amongst the top brass that the spies may belong to a revitalized Nebula spy ring – and even you must’ve heard of them, Patrick?”
He nodded. “They were a real money spinner in their day,” he said calmly. “The syndicates financing them had a lot of clout – while the good times lasted.”
“They had links to organised crime? I didn’t know that. I wonder if Adam did.”
Magenta shrugged. “ I don’t know much more than that there was a… realignment in the power bases of the Syndicate Council when the WAS security busted The Nebula, but it didn’t have much – if any – impact on New York, most of the stuff came in through the West Coast.”
“You don’t mean to say you were involved with them?”
He shook his head. “Not my area of expertise; I left the industrial stuff to the real hard cases. Not nice people, Karen, and this is me telling you.”
“I know, I was in the USS remember? We got lectures about The Nebula as an example of what to look for in a well-established and efficient spy ring, and how to break them up. Of course, I didn’t know then who’d done it.”
Shaking the memories from her mind, she laid the snaps on the coffee table one at a time. “These are the top guys – the ones Adam picked to work with him when he started the security department. They’re also the top suspects, according to Wyn Vandermark.” She identified the people with a long, pale-pink varnished fingernail. “That’s Jilesh Gupta, his patch is the Indian Sub-Continent; Hiroshi Nugaka does Japan and the UAR, and Leyton Everett – Australasia and Pacifica. That one’s Ronnie Bracey, of North America, and this gorgeous hunk of Latin-American male is Jorge Càmpora. Wyn gave me these because, although there are others, she doesn’t have pictures of them all, and from what she’s heard, these guys might well be the ones involved. This picture shows Wyn with her husband, Teunis – a.k.a. Dutch Vandermark – and that impossibly-young-looking piece of man-candy is our very own Captain Blue, with Warren Allen and his wife, Fiona. We can get Cloudbase to track down mug shots of the others, if we need them – I have the names.”
She sat back and let Magenta study the pictures, adding, “The commanders are in their regions, Allen is in gaol in England, and no one knows where Fiona is, or Adam, of course.”
Magenta picked up the final photograph and studied it carefully. “Fiona Allen?” He pursed his lips. “The name means nothing to me, but the face looks familiar. Can’t quite recall where from.”
“She’s a good looking woman,” Symphony said grudgingly. “You’d probably have noticed her if you passed her in the street.”
He smiled. “No, it’s not that. Let me think it over. Is Adam likely to be hot-footing it after these suspects?”
“Wyn didn’t know. Of them all, she says Càmpora’s the one Adam trusted the most, apart from her husband, of course. But, at the moment Càmpora’s neck is on the block over some secret documents that went missing in Montevideo and Wyn thinks that incident may well have been the trigger for all this, starting with Ochre being sent to liaise with Dutch.”
She watched Magenta as he studied the portraits. She guessed that, although he hadn’t been trained to judge people’s characters in their faces as she had been, Magenta must’ve developed the ability in order to have survived in the cut-throat world he’d inhabited. It was hard for her to equate the considerate, friendly and totally dependable man she knew now with the man she knew Patrick Donaghue had been.
“So, maybe we should consider a trip to Montevideo?” she prompted, as he laid the last picture down on the table again.
He bit his bottom lip thoughtfully. “Missing secret documents? I wonder if that’s what the colonel was being so coy about. They may well have a part to play in whatever’s going on here. To be honest, Karen, I never bought into the premise that Ochre was only here on an early ‘Fortify’ trip; but the colonel’s been so keen on reminding us that whatever we expected to be doing, we’ve a far more important mission now, that I couldn’t see why else he’d been sent. What ever the truth is we’re no further forward than we were.”
“Perhaps we are? The colonel told us Adam was sent to find Rick; so maybe Adam wasn’t told about the documents either? Problem is, if he found out about them while he was looking for Rick, he would get involved; these people are his friends, Pat, and Adam’s nothing if not loyal. I’m guessing that’s why the colonel’s mad at him. He’d cut him slack for missing the deadline if the reason was that he was close to finding Ochre, but not if he’s gone off on a chase after The Nebula.”
He hated himself for even doubting that she’d level with him, but he asked anyway, “You haven’t been able to contact Adam? Wyn didn’t give you a number, I suppose?”
She shook her head, taking the question at face value. “No, she didn’t – except his personal cell phone number, which I already have and we know he’s not answering it. I don’t think she has any other number.”
“It just isn’t like Blue not to cover his back,” Magenta mused. “Someone must know where he is and what he’s up to and – if it isn’t Scarlet – we can assume whoever’s watching it for him, isn’t a Spectrum agent.”
“Maybe we should contact Càmpora after all? According to Wyn, he’d normally be the guy Adam had watching his back – failing her husband, of course. He did speak to Bracey and they went off together from Wyn’s house, so maybe we should question him?”
“And say what? We’re Spectrum, spill the beans?”
She gave a worried sigh. “Oh, I don’t know! What are we going to do, Pat?”
He glanced at her, noting the tension in her shoulders and the anxiety on her face with compassion. Karen could be as hard as nails until something threatened her friends and loved ones, and he could see how she was struggling to keep her fears at bay.
He gave her a reassuring smile and said, “Let’s have something to eat and go over our options. If we don’t get a lead, we’ll have to go back to Cloudbase and get the colonel on to it. SI will find them – eventually.”
She gave him an annoyed stare. “That’s the rub, isn’t it? They will find them ‘eventually’ and that might be too late! Besides, we don’t want them brought into it – not for any money. That’s why we’re here looking for them.”
“Karen, be sensible. It’s possible that whoever killed Vandermark has already killed Rick; but if he isn’t dead, Spectrum needs to find him as quick as we can because killing him will be on their ‘to do list’ – believe me. SI are the lowest kind of pond life – but they’re still Spectrum.”
She flounced back in the armchair, an ominously stubborn pout on her lips.
Magenta continued to try to reason with her. “If Rick’s kidnappers are involved in organised crime then he’s in deep trouble. The syndicates are all rather incestuous, when they’re not gunning for each other, and news like Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Fraser travels fast. Even if they didn’t know who he was when they took him, it won’t take them long to find out – a clean-shaven face and some dental work won’t fool everyone for long.”
It was obvious from his tone just how concerned for his partner’s safety and she reached across to place a hand on his arm in sympathy.
Magenta patted her fingers and continued, “Blue may well be onto something, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s still looking for Ochre. Not if he knows he’s already dead, I mean. If he’s setting himself up as a target to draw the guilty party out, he could end up getting himself killed. What would you rather have – two dead friends or one boyfriend who’s being badgered by SI?”
Symphony gave him a look of helpless concern. He took her hand in his and raised her fingers to his lips, in apology.
“Cheer up, Mo mhuirnín, I didn’t mean to upset you. Here’s you an’ me after him – the big duine fionn won’t get far before we find him.”
She gave him a shaky smile. “I don’t even want to know what you just called him – or me, if it comes to that.”
He chuckled and gave her a reassuring smile. “Nor do you – but you do want something to eat. Trust me.”
The discreet bleep of the Spectrum communicator was just audible over the low music on the radio, which they were listening to as they ate their room-service-delivered supper. While Symphony flicked the remote control to kill the noise, Magenta, chewing as fast as he could, reached for his communicator and mumbled, “Hello?”
“Captain Magenta? Lieutenant Green here; we have some information you might find interesting.”
“Oh? What’s that? The colonel’s discovered we’re intending to play hooky and he’s about to confine us to quarters for the rest of eternity?”
Magenta jumped out of his skin as the response came from Colonel White – a rather stern sounding colonel, at that.
“Don’t put ideas in my head, Captain. What I can tell you is that we’ve received a report from Spectrum: Los Angeles that a passenger using the Spectrum standard ID ‘Alex Scott’ has left California on a flight to Macau.”
“Blue! It has to be Blue,” Symphony exclaimed.
“Yes, Symphony, I have every reason to believe it was Captain Blue.”
“But he hasn’t reported in, Colonel?” Magenta asked.
“No,” White said, and there was a strain in his voice. “I admit that given the proximity of the deadline I’ve set, I’m rather surprised he didn’t make contact before he left California. Obviously, he is, as you so aptly put it, intending to play hooky. Our ground agents reported that he attended Commander Vandermark’s funeral, and went from there directly to the airport. It was there that he gained access to the Spectrum field operative network, through a WAS computer and, using his field officer clearance, created ID papers in the name of Alex Scott. The administrative lieutenants didn’t think much of it, although they noticed the name on a passenger list to Macau. They included that as part of their routine daily reports and Lieutenant Green brought it to my attention.”
From White’s tone Magenta surmised that a lax administrator was facing additional hours of duty to sharpen his senses.
Symphony, however, reacted to an entirely different aspect of the information. “You were having him followed?” she asked crossly, resenting the idea that Captain Blue was under surveillance.
“Not as such; we are watching Peter Galvin and he also attended the funeral, along with David Maudsley – the current Security Department chief – who is another of the suspects we have under surveillance. The terrestrial agent did not know the man Galvin conversed with after the service was a Spectrum agent – much less a colour captain. We only know he went to the airport because Galvin gave him a lift. He flew back to the East Coast, and Blue, it seems, flew to Macau.”
“He seems to have unwittingly got himself involved with investigating corruption in the organisation, Colonel,” Magenta said, going on to explain about the missing documents.
“Hmm, I don’t know about unwittingly, but he has certainly exceeded the scope and extent of his orders,” the colonel said wryly.
“What were his orders, exactly, Colonel?” Magenta asked. “It is beginning to look as if there is more to this than the simple fact that Ochre and Blue are M.I.A. and if this is industrial espionage, or organised crime, it’s too much for Symphony and me to handle alone.”
“Then I expect you to return to Cloudbase, Captain.”
Magenta explained his concerns, hoping to win permission to stay. “The Nebula had contracts with the Syndicates, and if they realised who Ochre is – I mean, who he really is – they’d see him as a valuable bargaining tool. I know plenty of Syndicate members with long memories, who’d like a chance at getting their revenge on the man who busted the Chicago network…” he concluded, anxiety evident in his voice.
“A plausible scenario, Captain,” White agreed. “Except that Blue has not remained in America but – we can only assume – hightailed it to Macau, which tends to disprove your supposition. If Blue had a firm lead to Captain Ochre he was to let us know, so that we could provide him with backup. He has not done so; in fact, he has abandoned his assignment and gone off on some chase for Peter Galvin. I will not tolerate any of my senior officers taking matters into their own hands or ‘going it alone’. Spectrum is a military organisation, not an egalitarian band of maverick vigilantes.”
“What happened to ‘use your initiative’?” Symphony muttered rebelliously.
Magenta hushed her up and prayed the colonel hadn’t heard her. They waited in silence for their orders.
“Maybe we’d better go after him…” Magenta suggested when it became clear the colonel had no more comments to make.
“No,” Colonel White insisted, “I want you two both back on Cloudbase. I can’t afford to have too many officers embroiled in this mare’s nest.”
“But, Colonel – ” Symphony cried.
Colonel White interrupted her protest. “Symphony, failure to obey a direct order is a disciplinary offence.”
Magenta interjected, “Does Scarlet know Blue is heading for Macau?”
He was genuinely concerned for Ochre’s safety and was starting to believe Blue was in danger as well. He felt sure the colonel knew more than he was saying and he was tired of White’s economy with the truth. It wasn’t like the colonel to behave in such an unhelpful manner; when his personnel were on a mission, White never failed to keep them informed of anything and everything that might affect its outcome. Moreover, feeling helpless was something Magenta was not used to; when he’d been the head of a criminal syndicate he’d known all there was to know and directed operations accordingly. Now the boot was on the other foot and he was getting increasingly frustrated.
“There’s no reason he should,” White remarked dryly. “Now, I want you two back on Cloudbase as soon as possible. That is a direct order and leaves you with no alternatives – do I make myself clear?”
“S.I.G, Colonel,” Magenta said, as the colonel broke the connection. He looked across at Symphony and sighed. “We’d better go back.”
Her expression spoke volumes. She bit into her sandwich and munched rebelliously.
“I think we should stay here…” she began, as soon as she’d swallowed.
“What! You heard what the colonel said – and besides, what good can we do?”
“There’s no proof Ochre’s left California and we might be able to find him if we can find out who stole the WAS’s documents.”
“You heard the colonel: leave that to the WAS,” Magenta advised, shaking his head.
“Pat, if one of the W.A.S officers is involved and they know Adam is on to them, they won’t stop at one murder, will they? Besides, you can’t let the chief suspects investigate the crime.”
“You go back, if you like. I’m staying right here.”
“Dammit, woman, you’re impossible!”
She grinned. “That’s why Adam likes me – he enjoys the challenge…”
For once he lost patience with her. “You’ll end up getting yourself and me in more trouble than it’s worth, Karen. Colonel White isn’t going to bail out on Ochre or Blue, so we should do as we’re told.”
“Surely you want to find him – them – before we go back?”
Magenta was deaf to her blandishments. “Blue might be prepared to keep on appeasing you, but I’m not going to. You’ll come back with me to Cloudbase, even if I have to put you in handcuffs.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Just try me, Symphony! I have my career to think of and so do you. If for one minute you’d start thinking with your head instead of your libido, you’d realise the colonel could’ve closed the mission after Ochre vanished, but he didn’t. He could have Blue arrested – like that-” he snapped his fingers, “for failing to report in and exceeding his orders. But he hasn’t. True, he wasn’t to know the dumb ox would vanish immediately after the funeral, but he’s let us come and look around. He’s heard what we’ve discovered; he knows Blue’s heading for Macau, he probably knows what these missing plans are about. In fact, I’m betting he knows a lot more than we do about the whole affair. We should get our asses back to Cloudbase, before we get into trouble and the colonel refuses to let us play any further part in the mission.”
He paused and looked at her, searching for some sign that she was coming round to his viewpoint. With a sigh he realised she was still frowning sulkily and he added:
“Give the Old Man the benefit of the doubt, Symph. I’m sure he knows what Blue’s up to and he’s playing it his way. Now – finish that sandwich and let’s get out of here.”
“I thought you were on my side,” she said sullenly.
“I am – and one day you might even realise it.”
The casinos in Macau never closed entirely, although there were times when they were less busy than others. That was the case now, as Frank Lombardo and Lucille Haswell walked purposefully into the Lucky Red Dragon. They were instantly welcomed by a watchful flunky, and conducted through the gambling halls to the private corridors and rooms, where the casino’s proprietor, Mr Chen, had his offices.
Chen’s office was not the luxurious status-symbol room favoured by so many dignitaries, but a working office. Banks of CCTV screens monitored the flow of people in the concourse, where the absorbed, die-hard gamblers still stood feeding coins into the slot machines, like automatons.
Chen sat at a plain wooden desk, facing the screens, but closer to the monitors was a bench for the use of the scrutineers, who watched for signs that Lady Luck was favouring any particular punter, and who made minute but telling adjustments to the spin of the roulette wheels, or whispered instructions to the dealers and croupiers at the many tables, through state of the art communication sets.
Lady Luck was severely handicapped in the Lucky Red Dragon, where nothing at all was left to chance.
Lombardo greeted Chen without his usual oppressive geniality. Mrs Haswell sat in the seat a lackey brought for her with a chilly indifference. Chen studied them both for a moment. He generally disregarded Lombardo as a fool, a useful fool, but a fool nevertheless. Lucille Haswell was a different case entirely.
Chen respected women as a matter of course: he respected them in the kitchen and the bedroom, deferring to their natural talents as homemakers, child-rearers and carers. The women who worked in his casinos and clubs, he respected as valuable commodities, earning his wealth and entertaining his clients. He was, however, slightly uncomfortable with women who expected to be treated as businessmen. He accepted that any woman who gained the esteem of the largely masculine world of business – and especially criminal business – was going to be a formidable opponent, but he rarely saw one that could claim that right.
Lucille Haswell was one of that rare few, tougher than many men he knew. Ruthless and determined, she’d created a place for herself in the criminal hierarchy and that demanded respect.
He gave her that respect, and disliked her intensely.
“You wanted to see me, Mrs Haswell,” Chen said, giving her a slight bow of his handsome head.
“I did, Mr Chen, and thank you for agreeing to this meeting.”
He inclined his head again. “Your message said you had another proposal to put to me and I believe in doing business with anyone who can benefit my interests, Mrs Haswell. But I wonder if it is wise for us to meet given the transaction that is already underway between us? Macau is safe in many ways for businessmen – and women – such as ourselves, to operate but there are always pitfalls for the unwary and the streets have many eyes and every wall has ears.”
She settled herself comfortably, and took her time looking at the other people in the room, as if she resented he’d not ordered them out. Chen waited, he was not prepared to change his ways of dealing with people just to flatter this woman.
Finally, she said, “First, in respect of our existing joint venture, I should tell you that one of my associates is currently on his way to Hong Kong, where he will hand an info-disk containing the plans for the stealth planes to a trusted colleague of mine. I will, of course, bring the disc to you myself; just as soon as you let me know you have the money.”
““Excellent. I will inform General Soong that we are ready to discuss final terms. The Nebula has done well; I’m sure you’ll find our appreciation of your efforts acceptable. So, do not worry, Mrs Haswell, the money will be there.”
Her smile was cold and supercilious. “I’m sure it will. The gentlemen you represent are known to be scrupulous in paying their debts, Mr Chen.”
“You honour me,” he said with perilous politeness. “Perhaps you would now like to enlighten me about your other proposal?”
Lucille Haswell leant forward slightly and dropped her voice.
“My associates, in the course of performing another, non-related, assignment have come into possession of a very valuable – and unique – source of information concerning the World Government’s latest security organisation. We have a Spectrum officer, Mr Chen.”
“An officer? Why is that valuable or unique? Even here we have Spectrum agents, should we wish to know anything.”
“You misunderstand me. I’m not talking about a run-of-the-mill, terrestrial agent. We have one of their colour-captains. Not the man General Soong is seeking, but a man from the high-tech, top-secret airborne base – Cloudbase.”
Chen drew a sharp breath and sat back. “You wish to draw the wrath of Spectrum down on yourself?” he asked in obvious bewilderment. “You were warned not to do anything that would alert Spectrum there was anything being planned.”
“They don’t know where their officer is, Mr Chen. He was taken in California and is currently here, in Macau. I can give your people access to him, in fact, that is what I am asking as my price for sharing this resource. I need to have him interrogated by experts. He’s tough, and my men lack sufficient expertise. If I leave him with them for much longer, they’re like to kill him before they break his spirit. In return for the pick of the information he can give us, you might be able to provide a venue and suitably talented experts?”
“Why would I need Spectrum information?”
Lucille pursed her lips. “You’re acting on behalf of the UAR with regard to the acquisition of the stealth device plans, and they also have an axe to grind with Spectrum, over the unfortunate demise of the late Director General, don’t they? I understand that General Soong – amongst others of the political elite in Jianye – have recently made speeches berating the World Government for their failure to deliver the Spectrum Officers over to them for… justice. Imagine what they would give for Spectrum’s secrets? I’m sure a man of your calibre could negotiate many favourable deals to facilitate your own operations.”
“What is in it for you?” Chen asked brusquely.
“I want the rights to sell whatever I can, to whoever I can, with the exception of the UAR, because I acknowledge that you have the sole right of dealing with Jianye.”
“And when we have all the information he can tell us?”
“Then we kill him, of course.”
“Of course.” Mr Chen smiled. “Mrs Haswell, doing business with you has been, as always, both instructive and a pleasure.”
Captain Magenta and Symphony Angel were relieved to discover at their de-briefing that Colonel White wasn’t too angry with either of them – they’d barely missed their deadline, after all – but he wasn’t too encouraging either. After he had listened to their report he said:
“Leave it to Spectrum Intelligence now.” He saw the anxiety in Symphony’s face and knowing what he did about the relationship between his favourite Angel pilot and the urbane Captain Blue, he added, “He’s not dealing with the unknown, he knows more about The Nebula than anyone else. He’s perfectly capable of finding Ochre in time.”
After they’d been dismissed, Magenta and Symphony wandered towards the staff canteen, which was surprisingly quiet after the buzz of activity across the rest of the base. Magenta bought himself a large cappuccino and Symphony an elaborate ice cream sundae and took them through the almost deserted tables to where she was sitting waiting. He was enjoying the unusual privilege of spending time alone with her, even though he knew that he was almost certainly the last thing on her mind.
Symphony complained, “I wish I could believe the colonel, Pat. Rick and Adam are still out there somewhere – and Lord knows what’s going on. They could both be in terrible danger, and we have to sit here, doing nothing.”
“The colonel’s got it in hand, they’ll be okay,” Magenta replied, with more assurance than he felt. White was so busy with ‘Fortify’ that it was hard to see how he’d have time to coordinate a search for his missing officers. He’d have felt more confident if the colonel had delegated the responsibility – and preferably to him.
“Yeah, right,” she muttered, twirling the long-handled spoon around in the untouched sundae of multi-hued ice cream in front of her, mixing the colours to an unpalatable sludge.
Suddenly she stabbed the spoon in. “If we hear anything, I’m going to go and find them – colonel or no colonel!” she vowed, and scooped a lump of the melting dessert into her mouth almost as an act of defiance
“No you won’t,” he insisted. “You’ll stay here, because if Blue – when Blue gets back, he’ll want to see you.”
“What about Rick?” she asked him accusingly.
“Yeah, he’ll probably want to say ‘hi’ too,” he retorted. He shrugged off her angry snort. “Karen, honey, we’re under orders to sit on our butts and wait. So we sit. Right?”
“I hate sitting!”
“I would never have guessed.”
She looked across the table at his ironic expression, and had the good-natured grace to smile apologetically. “Oh Pat, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to have a go at you – but I’m so worried.”
“I know. What I don’t know is how to make it any better for you – or me.”
She smiled and ate more ice cream. They sat on in friendly silence until Symphony continued apologetically: “One thing about this mission,” she said almost regretfully, “is that you’re seeing just how awful I can be. It should cure you of any lingering good impressions you have about me.”
He glanced at her, seeing a blush reddening her cheeks. It was the first time she’d even suggested that she might realised how he felt about her. He didn’t know if he ought to be pleased or concerned, but with a desperate gaiety he did not really feel, he asked her:
“Has it cured Blue?”
She shook her head, lowering her eyes to hide the spark in them, but she was unable to disguise the smile that the mere thought of her boyfriend’s ardour brought to her lips.
Magenta’s heart stopped beating for one dreadful moment. I’m such a fool, he chastised himself. Why do I kid myself she might get tired of him and turn to me? Aloud he said, “Then I rest my case. You have to remember love is blind, honey, and deaf and stupid, if you ask me.”
“You mean anyone would have to be blind, deaf and stupid to love me?” she asked archly.
“I think the deaf part would be an advantage,” he teased, with a significant glance at her.
She laughed, more than a little embarrassed, and concentrated on eating her ice cream. She hadn’t finished it when the base Tannoy crackled for a moment before the deep, emotionless voice they all knew and had come to fear boomed across Cloudbase.
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. WE WILL BE AVENGED FOR YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX. OUR RETALIATION WILL BE SLOW BUT THE NONE THE LESS EFFECTIVE. NO FORTIFICATION WILL PREVENT THE UNITED COLOURS OF SPECTRUM FROM SUFFERING DURING THE ASCENDANCY OF THE YELLOW PERIL.
As the echoes died away the silence was intense.
“Here we go again,” Magenta whispered sadly.
“And Blue and Ochre aren’t here – nor’s Scarlet,” Symphony said, her voice also little more than a whisper, as if she feared they’d be overheard by the Mysterons’ lingering presence.
The Tannoy clicked again.
“All senior staff on board report to the Conference Room, immediately. This is a red alert,” Lieutenant Green snapped.
“Come on, Mo mhuirnín, we’re needed.”
Symphony raced him to the exit and as they went up in the lift she asked, “What does that mean, Pat, ‘mavourneen’?”
“Ah, ‘tis a simple touch o’ th’ Blarney,” he replied with a smile. “It means, ‘me darlin’…”
She simpered. “That’s what Adam calls me too – älskling means the same sort of thing.”
“Well, there you go then; we can’t both be wrong – you must actually be a darlin’, despite what you think.”
“I’m lucky in my friends, I know that,” she replied, and blew him a kiss from the ends of her fingertips as the elevator stopped and the doors began to open.
It was Magenta’s turn to blush but Symphony didn’t notice as she was already stepping out of the door.
Colonel White was already in the Conference Room when they arrived, along with Lieutenant Green, Harmony and Rhapsody Angels. Melody was in Angel One and Destiny was due back from Glenn Field with a newly repaired Angel Interceptor later that afternoon. Symphony and Magenta took their places alongside their companions, as Captain Grey arrived looking flustered, his black hair visibly damp from his latest session in the swimming pool. To their surprise the colonel did not begin the meeting immediately, but then the doors snapped open once more and Captain Scarlet strode in, fresh from his latest ‘Fortify’ reconnaissance.
“Reporting for duty, Colonel,” he said, and laid a file on the desk beside his commanding officer.
White acknowledged it and when his officer had taken a vacant seat beside Rhapsody Angel, he addressed them all.
“Most of you’ll have heard the latest threat, but I will ask Lieutenant Green to play it back for those amongst us who missed the original broadcast.”
He glanced at Grey and Scarlet and nodded his head at Lieutenant Green.
The Mysteron voice repeated its chilling threat, and Scarlet pushed his cap back from his forehead, his brow wrinkled in thought. When he glanced at his colleagues there was a similar expression on every face as they too struggled to make sense of the cryptic warning.
After a pause, Colonel White continued, “As always, we can’t know for certain what the Mysterons are planning, but we must assume that they’ve embedded clues in their statement, as they usually do. There are undoubted references to Operation Fortify in the threat, and the connotations of the phrase ‘Yellow Peril’ – saving Harmony’s presence – are easily recognized. It suggests to me that the Mysterons intend to undermine ‘Operation Fortify’ – possibly somewhere in the Orient. Progress towards the United Asian Republic joining the World Government has been halted and the authorities in Jianye still consider Spectrum culpable of a dereliction of duty, at the very least, due to the unfortunate death of their Director General.”
Captain Scarlet shifted uneasily in his seat. The death of the UAR Director General was still a touchy subject for him, as well as a vivid reminder that they could not always prevent the Mysterons from carrying out their threats.
The colonel continued, “As is well known, due to this diplomatic spat with the UAR, we have had little or no success in obtaining permissions to survey and advise on updates to vulnerable sites within their boundaries; but what the significance of references to the ‘united colours of Spectrum’ is, I can’t imagine, unless it means that their next move will be against us and originate in China?”
Hesitantly, Rhapsody spoke up. “Sir, I don’t want to think it, but I feel I should ask – could they be suggesting there is a traitor amongst us?” She looked around the table at her colleagues with a frowning concern. “I mean, Captain Ochre disappeared and now Blue is ‘missing’…”
“I think we can discount that, Rhapsody,” the colonel said briskly, clamping down on any suggestion of betrayal amongst his officers. “Spectrum’s elite officers are a united and loyal band. It’s true that Captain Ochre disappeared, but there are mitigating circumstances that suggest his absence is not a voluntary one – likewise with Captain Blue. I really can’t elaborate on that at this point. Does any one have any other ideas? We need answers now.”
Harmony, never one to put herself forward in discussions unless she’d something pertinent to say, caught the colonel’s eye and on receiving his permission to speak, she said, “I think it is possible that the Mysterons are alluding to the drug trade, Colonel. Certain forms of heroin are referred to as ‘Black Tar’ and ‘China White’. As such they could be meant to hint at Spectrum, couldn’t they? This would also link with the ‘Yellow Peril’ – for much of the drug consumed in the West is sourced from states within the UAR.”
The others all looked at the demure Chinese girl in astonishment; it just wasn’t the sort of thing you expected Harmony to know about.
Magenta broke in to add, “That’s a possibility, Harmony. Although the World Police have made it harder for the criminal syndicates to deal in narcotics, the trade hasn’t gone away, by any means. It’s still a profitable business in the West and there have been several ‘turf wars’ over the more lucrative distribution zones. There was one in New York as recently as ’64 – did me some good, actually, I came out of it with a far higher profile amongst the big Syndicates…”
He saw the colonel’s disapproving expression and shrugged. The truth about his past was something he refused to disguise any longer. He’d been a mobster, and they all knew it – now dealing with the fact was their problem, not his.
“Yes,” Scarlet said suddenly. “I remember in one of our early discussions about possible targets for ‘Operation Fortify’, you made a suggestion we should expect the Mysterons to make use of the less ‘respectable’ institutions in the world, as well as civil and governmental targets. Looks like you had a point, Captain Magenta.”
Magenta nodded. The suggestion had not gone down well with most of the working party, although Blue had made a cautious gesture of support at the time. It had not been included in the final report, so he thought it decent of Captain Scarlet to mention it now, before the colonel.
Captain Grey joined the discussion. “Then I suggest we need to get the ground-based forces close to the UAR to check out anything that might be a Mysteron target – especially anything with drug connections.”
This symposium lacked the usual ‘energy’ of their discussions about the convoluted threats the Mysterons issued, but at least there was one working hypothesis taking shape.
It is hardly surprising, the colonel mused, when two of my senior officers are missing. We could do with Ochre’s police expertise, even if is unlikely that Blue would have much to contribute.
Captain Scarlet spoke up: “Harmony’s probably right; at least, we have nothing better to go on and I think it’s the right part of the world to make a start, if northing else. I think we should go there, Colonel – not leave it to ground-based agents. I still can’t help thinking this is going to be tied up with the WAS in some obscure way; I mean obscure now – once we’ve worked it out, it’ll be flaming obvious, as always.”
He gave Rhapsody a rueful grimace and she laid her slim fingers on his hand for a moment. She guessed that he was worried about his friends and that he’d resent every minute spent on this Mysteron threat, if it turned out to be unrelated.
Scarlet smiled at her; despite being everything he resented his mother wanting him to ‘associate’ with – English, aristocratic, polite and fully cognisant of the way ‘Society’ behaved and functioned – he’d become extremely fond of her. Their relationship was far less widely known than that between Symphony and Blue, and he rarely made an overt gesture of affection, but now he covered her hand with his.
“Very well, Captain Scarlet,” White said, nodding thoughtfully. “As you say, there remains the possibility the Mysterons are connected to the problems in the WAS, although Captain Blue was adamant he’d found no indications of it. Nevertheless, we’ll work on the assumption that there is a connection, in so far as the threat and possibly the disappearance of both captains seem to be centred on the Orient.”
He glanced around the table at the attentive faces of his officers and added decisively, “I’m still inclined to alert our ground forces and the World Police, to keep their eyes peeled for any signs of Ochre or Blue.” There was a general nodding of heads at this. He turned to Lieutenant Green and asked, “Where is the current centre for illegal narcotics trading?”
Harmony supplied the answer before Green could conduct his search. “Most of the narcotics that go to the west are traded through Hong Kong or – primarily – Macau, Colonel. Supplies are shipped there for refining and distribution, at least. Because both places are designated as ‘free ports’ by the UAR, their police do not maintain much law and order and the World Police have a far less strong presence there...”
“Macau?” Symphony interjected, “That’s where Blue was going – wasn’t it?”
The insistent beep of the Control Room’s communication link interrupted her. Lieutenant Claret apologised for the intrusion and explained, “I have Mr Peter Galvin on the secure line, for you, sir. He insists it is most urgent. Under the circumstances, I thought it advisable to interrupt your meeting.”
“Very well, Lieutenant, patch him through.”
Moments later Galvin’s face appeared on the video screen across the Conference Room and White asked, “How may I help you, Mr Galvin?”
“Colonel, I have some information you may find interesting; about…” Galvin paused, seeing for the first time the phalanx of attentive officers seated around the colonel. “About the whereabouts of our mutual acquaintance,” he concluded smoothly, half-expecting the colonel to ask him to wait while he cleared the room.
“You have information concerning the whereabouts of Spectrum Agent Svenson?” White asked, ignoring the sharp intake of breath from Symphony away to his right.
Galvin shrugged; it seemed these people were trusted enough by Spectrum’s Commander in Chief to hear what he had to say. He nodded. “Officer Deringham – my P.A., who’s been acting as a facilitator for Agent Svenson – has been keeping me abreast of what’s been happening.”
None of what Galvin had to tell him was news to Colonel White, although it was to most of his officers. As Galvin’s report came to an end, he glanced at the colonel’s impassive face on his screen and continued:
“What makes this trip to Macau interesting, Colonel, is that my agent in Montevideo – Jorge Càmpora – has reported that a lab technician at our research facility there contacted a man known to fence information. Subsequent to that meeting, the ‘fence’ left Montevideo en route for Hong Kong. Officer Deringham reports that Agent Svenson believes the South American courier will meet up with a local ‘Nebula’ agent in Hong Kong to pass on the secret plans. In addition it seems Svenson has reasons to believe a former WAS pilot, Vincent Gambino, actually survived a car crash he was supposed to have died in some years ago, and is resident in Macau under an alias – Frank Lombardo. He’s almost certainly the senior contact who’ll do the actual negotiating with prospective buyers. Deringham told me she’s contacted our regional Commander – Hiroshi Nugaka – on Svenson’s behalf and they’re planning some sort of showdown with The Nebula, that – in her opinion, which is worth noting – is going to get them both killed.”
He paused as he caught a cry of dismay coming from the video-screen, although Colonel White’s expression hadn’t changed. Beyond White’s figure he could just see a dark-haired man calming an agitated blonde woman.
He concluded, “I can’t contact Nugaka or Svenson, but that in itself isn’t unusual; they’ve always tended to go it alone, those two. Commander Càmpora is following the courier, and the technician is under surveillance in Montevideo, although he can’t be taken in for questioning at this stage in case that alerts the others, of course.”
Colonel White had remained impassive though this and now he said, “My thanks, Mr Galvin. What you’ve told me ties in with information of our own. Spectrum will deal with it from now on. Expect to hear from us in the not too distant future. White out.”
He terminated the connection abruptly and rotated his chair to face the row of officers behind him.
“Right; that settles it. Captain Grey, you and Lieutenant Viridian will go to Montevideo and assess the situation there. Liaise with the WAS officers and check everyone with a Mysteron Detector. It is possible that the Mysterons have not been at work at that end of the line, but we can’t be too careful. I want you to ensure the security at the research facility is such that it will never be breached again, before you leave.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” Grey replied, and rose to leave the room.
“What about Captain Blue and Captain Ochre, sir?” Rhapsody asked, before Symphony exploded into demands for action that were likely to get her into trouble.
White barely glanced at her and turned to the remaining colour captains. “Captain Magenta, you’ll leave immediately for Macau-”
“Colonel –” Symphony protested, before a frown from her commanding officer warned her that she’d better hold her tongue.
“Once there you’ll contact Captain Blue; you must warn him about the Mysteron threat, but try and do it discreetly, Captain, the fewer people aware of who Blue is, the better. This news about Gambino certainly suggests the possibility that he has been Mysteronised. Something I’m sure will have occurred to Captain Blue, but he doesn’t have access to a Mysteron detector, so you had better take one with you. I want you and him to concentrate on isolating the Mysteron agents, and tracking down any drug trafficking they might be involved in. It may be that, given your knowledge of the underworld and Blue’s knowledge of The Nebula, you’ll be able to stamp this out before it takes root.”
He glanced around at his officers and decided they needed to know the full story. “The ‘information’ the WAS has lost concerns a stealth device for military planes; the WAAF was waiting for their assessment of the device before they start production on a prototype aircraft codenamed ‘The Recluse’. It is possible that’s what the Mysterons are after. Captain Blue’s orders were primarily to track down Captain Ochre, but also to investigate through his WAS contacts, where the breach in their security is in advance of ‘Operation Fortify’. I did not want him to attempt to retrieve the plans unless the opportunity presented itself. He may have information that Ochre’s in Macau, if The Nebula is operating from there. He has not seen fit to keep me informed about this.”
It was obvious from the colonel’s tone that Captain Blue was going to have a considerable amount of explaining to do when – if – he got back.
White continued, “If the Mysterons are involved, the recovery of the plans might have just increased in importance. You must provide what back up you can, Captain Magenta, but don’t interfere in WAS affairs: leave that to Blue who has, it seems, already done so. Your priority is the Mysteron threat.”
“Sir, the threat doesn’t seem relevant to secret documents and spy rings,” Rhapsody exclaimed. “It spoke about ‘Spectrum and the united colours’ all suffering and Ochre is still missing, even if we know now where Blue has gone-”
The colonel turned his stern gaze on the youngest of the Angel pilots. “As usual with a Mysteron threat, it may have several meanings: for example, it may refer to an undermining of Operation Fortify, rather than the suffering of any individual. However, although I have not forgotten that two of my senior officers are unaccounted for, it is impossible for them to take priority over the possibility that the Mysterons are out to destroy Spectrum or do something that will have an impact on global security, Rhapsody. It is one of our most important regulations, although it is more often acknowledged by its breach than its observance, that Spectrum officers will not place their own safety, or that of their colleagues, before the success of their mission. This is one occasion where we do not have the luxury of time to devote solely to finding our friends.”
Scarlet glanced at the young Englishwoman at his side. “You’re right, Rhapsody, but so is the colonel. We shouldn’t lose sight of what the Mysterons might be threatening to do. But, with respect, sir, there is another colourful phrase they’ve not been above using against us before – red herrings. We need to keep our options open.”
“Quite,” Colonel White said. “And for that very reason, Harmony, I want you to accompany Captain Magenta and gather what information you can that might lead us to Captain Ochre. Your knowledge of the language and culture should make that far easier for you than the other agents.”
Harmony inclined her head in obedient acceptance of her orders, although her expression revealed no distinct pleasure in the mission. Harmony had been recruited to Spectrum due to her flying skills; she had no military training or experience in espionage and, although she had received basic training, this would be her first field mission.
Magenta looked across at her. She was sitting with a thoughtful frown on her face; on seeing his encouraging smile she smiled back, but remained silent as she listened to the rest of the colonel’s orders.
“Captain Scarlet, you will be the Field Commander on this assignment. You’ll travel to Hong Kong at speed ultimate and make contact with WAS Agent Càmpora. You will work with him to trail the courier with the plans and discover where they’re being delivered. Once they’ve been handed over, you can arrest every one concerned – Càmpora has no authority in Macau, whereas technically, Spectrum does. I want to ensure that our plans for the WAS under Operation Fortify can be completed without hindrance. Co-ordinate with Magenta and Blue – a pincer movement, if you like, to cut off their options and close them down! The rest of you make sure you keep Scarlet informed of what you’re involved in – and where you are….”
There was a chorus of ‘SIG’ from everyone there.
Colonel White turned to the remaining Angels. “Destiny is due back within the hour.” Symphony couldn’t suppress her groan. “So I think we’re safe enough, Symphony, if you go to Macau with Magenta and Harmony.”
“SIG, Colonel,” Symphony interjected eagerly.
“I want you to specifically concentrate on retrieving the plans, Symphony – you’ve had more undercover experience than Harmony. You will need to work closely with Captains Scarlet, Magenta and Blue. And everyone is to keep me informed at all times. This mission needs to be coordinated centrally,” White reiterated.
Colonel White’s chair swivelled slightly towards the remaining officer.
“Rhapsody, the remaining Angels will hold themselves on Yellow alert – four hours on, two off duty. You will be Angel One and if you consider that you need further support, I’ll assign you junior lieutenants as backup pilots. Lieutenant Green, arrange for Cloudbase to relocate towards the Far East Asian seaboard.”
He drew a deep breath and fixed his team with a stern gaze. “Ladies and gentlemen, the last thing we want is for this to degenerate into an international incident between the UAR and the World Government, so be aware of the delicate nature of the relationship between these authorities at all times. Any trouble will – no doubt – be placed squarely on Spectrum’s shoulders once more.”
The assembled officers all nodded. Colonel White began to draw his papers together as he dismissed them.
The officers stood to leave and, as Magenta and Harmony led the way out, White called Symphony back. She came to stand before him, one slim hand curling a strand of her red-gold hair behind an ear, a soft flush on her cheeks and the bright sparkle of anticipation in her mossy-green eyes at the thought of seeing some action.
He paused just long enough to enjoy the sight of her and then said briskly, “Symphony, keep to your orders. Captain Blue is perfectly capable of looking after himself. If you overplay your part in this, you might put more lives than his at risk.”
He saw a flash of resentment in her eyes, but she replied calmly enough. “SIG, Colonel; you can rely on me, sir.” She drew a deep breath and said, “I can see the bigger picture, sir – whatever my personal involvement in the mission.”
He gave the merest twitch of a smile. “I know you can, or you would not be going. Dismiss.”
Svenson woke early and reluctantly to the sounds of the traffic roar in the street beyond his hotel window. The air-conditioning was emitting a low rumble, just on the cusp of his hearing and he could still taste the curry from his meal last night. He groaned miserably at the ache in his shoulders and the stiffness in his neck.
There’s a lot to be said for flying in an SPJ, he thought, as he tried to ease his aches and pains by stretching.
He stripped off his shorts and got into the shower, standing under the flow of the water, luxuriating in the sensation of it trickling down his tired body. In addition to an all-pervading physical tiredness, the trauma of Dutch’s funeral had finally caught up with him, leaving him emotionally drained as well. Memories of their long fight against The Nebula and the prospect of having to do it again – alone – added to his general feeling of despondency.
He brushed the water droplets from his eyes and leant forward, resting his hands on the tiles, concentrating the pulse of the water on his tense shoulder blades. He stretched as the warmth penetrated into his knotted muscles.
He was used to his periodic descent into a black mood of dejection and struggled to overcome what he felt sure was an inherited tendency to be morose. Although he knew better than most that the myth of high suicide rates in Scandinavia was mistaken, he still attributed his darker moods to his paternal ancestry. After all, no one who had met his mother would believe she’d ever had a gloomy thought, yet he struggled to control his emotions far more often than people realised – especially the fierce temper he’d inherited from his father. The surge of emotion he’d felt listening to Wyneke and Galvin’s explanations of how everything in the WAS had unravelled since he’d left, had fed the barely suppressed hatred he still felt towards The Nebula and the people responsible for it.
This unexpected encounter with his past had also revived haunting memories of his late fiancée, and she had dominated his troubled dreams last night, just as she dominated his thoughts now to such an extent that some of the water in his eyes was salty.
He was not as inexperienced with women as his boyish looks had led people to believe when he’d arrived at the Western European Test Base 3, 22 years old and full of energetic zeal and idealistic enthusiasm. As the good-looking son of an extremely wealthy man, finding a willing, not to say eager, companion had never presented much of a problem when he was at home, and in places where his family background was unknown, he’d found it easy enough to play on that misleading appearance of innocence and sweet-talk a likely candidate into his bed, whenever he’d felt the need.
But Soraya had been different. Still emerging from an unhappy marriage to a domineering bully, she’d been in no hurry to make the same mistake again, and, even when they’d got to know each other, she’d insisted on paying her way and retaining her independence. The novelty had intrigued him and through her influence he had gradually come to appreciate the true value of things. His attitude towards others and his sense of self-worth had matured accordingly and he felt he owed her a great deal.
The physical attraction he’d felt for her rapidly grew into fascination and he’d loved her devotedly – enthralled by her exotic dark beauty as much as her stubborn determination to be his equal in the relationship.
In the immediate aftermath of her tragic death, he’d been consumed by an almost debilitating guilt which had gradually hardened into an implacable anger that sustained his quest for vengeance against The Nebula. His only comfort in those dark times had been his increasingly rose-tinted memories of Soraya and their life together.
By the time he’d achieved his ambition to break The Nebula the sole fixed point in his life had been Soraya and what he remembered as their near legendary love affair, easily on a par with the ill-fated stories of Tristan and Isolde or Abelard and Heloise.
His global responsibilities at the WAS, as much as time with its own healing powers, had eventually distanced him from that view. His innate pragmatism had tempered his romanticism and he had slid easily enough into one brief relationship after another without investing any of his own emotional capital into them.
It had taken his mother – exasperated by his egotistical and heartless approach to life and – perhaps – recognising in it an underlying self-indulgent self-pity – who had helped him snap out of it. She’d told him that Soraya had discussed with her the misery of her home-sickness and the doubts she had about their long-term compatibility. Although he’d reacted badly at the time, he’d come to see the truth in what his mother had told him and, if he was brutally honest with himself, he’d known things could have been better between Soraya and himself. Despite this he retained a fierce loyalty to her memory and insisted that he was not ready for another serious relationship. The thought that Soraya might not have shared the intensity of his emotion still had the power to undermine his self-confidence.
He turned and leant against the surprisingly cold wall of the shower, closing his eyes. She was the first woman he’d ever felt he could’ve shared his life with, and he’d been convinced at the time that this was the love of his life. From the cocoon of his most personal memories, he drew the cherished image of Soraya… and it was as if she was there beside him, smiling, her eyes bright with love.
As if she could sense his thoughts, the mental image of Karen materialised, emerging unbidden from his more recent memories and hovering behind Soraya’s ethereal spectre, challenging, demonstrative and as demanding as always.
By no means the most beautiful woman he’d ever dated – and he’d demanded beauty as a pre-requisite in the transient women who populated his life – Karen Wainwright was long-limbed and shapely and the woman who, without trying, had made him face the fact that he could’ve been wrong about Soraya.
Her exuberant personality was similar to his mother’s, although Karen would never share Sarah Svenson’s self-confidence or her innate sense of style and élan – of that he was fairly sure. But, whereas Sarah felt the need to mask her perceptive intelligence with disarming prattle that, on occasion, tried the patience even of her devoted family, Karen was confident she was the equal of any man, and the tough brilliance of her intellect inspired his own. He was never bored in her company, as he’d often been with other women; no other woman – even Soraya – ever set his blood on fire the way Karen did, she only had to look his way, or speak, to make every bone in his body liquefy with desire.
The only problem was she didn’t believe that she had that power over him and so far he’d not found words to convince her.
He was not used to being dependent on anyone for his feeling of well-being, but she affected him like a drug and he was addicted to her. He found himself making excuses so that he could see her every day and tolerating behaviour from her that would have earned any other woman their marching orders long ago.
After she met Karen his mother had – after several glasses of excellent Bordeaux – been harping on, as usual, about his matrimonial prospects. This time, unusually for her, she’d tried to explain her idea of the ideal woman for him and gone on to expound that he needed someone to keep him on his toes – a firebrand. She’d tipsily confided that she knew this because he was her son, and she’d fallen for a man who’d kept her interested for almost thirty-five years.
Although he’d managed to laugh off his mother’s analysis at the time – embarrassed as much by her acuity as by her admission – thinking it over, he could see what she meant and how his relationship with Karen might well look to outsiders. Paul often wondered just what it was made him tolerate Karen’s unpredictable wildness and he found even his friend’s light-hearted teasing hard to take.
Even on the rare occasions he’d wondered about the hold she had over him, his doubts had only lasted until the next time she’d kissed him. The situation had baffled him until he’d finally come to the conclusion that this was ‘real love’ with all its mysteries and imperfections, and accepted the situation for what it was.
He opened his eyes and reaching for the shampoo, lathered his hair and then vigorously rinsed the suds out, as if that might wash the problems and uncertainty out of his mind at the same time.
Soaping himself with shower gel, he forced himself to ignore the inconvenient ache in his loins, turned the water as cold it would go and tried to focus on what he’d learned about his mission.
He was now even more convinced that The Nebula was active, that somehow, dormant agents had been reactivated, and that the catalyst was Fiona Allen – or Lucille Haswell, as she now calling herself.
The chances were that the organisation had been active for some time, probably dealing in minor secrets and low-level corruption, but the disappearance of the schematics for the stealth device was always bound to attract attention, and that meant the spy ring must have reckoned the risk of the theft was worth the price they’d been offered to acquire the information. The likely purchasers of such technology would be one of the rogue states that remained outside of the World Government. At present, Bereznik was keeping themselves to themselves, whereas the Military junta that controlled the UAR was at loggerheads with the World Government, so it seemed likely that The Nebula was steering clear of its old haunts and dealing with new buyers here, in the Far East, where Vincent Gambino had made those regular visits.
He sighed at the complexity of the problem and the awareness that the first time he’d faced the might of The Nebula, he’d had a team of dedicated and trustworthy agents working with him, now he was going to be forced to work exclusively with Hiroshi Nugaka, the one agent he’d never felt a hundred percent confident about.
He stepped from the shower and reached for the towel off the rail, wrapping it around his waist as he stood at the hand basin to shave.
He dressed in the pale checked shirt and a cream-coloured suit he’d bought at the airport in California. For once he felt pleased not to be wearing his pale-blue Spectrum uniform, with its roll-neck, black sweater and suede tunic, because out there it’d be too humid for comfort. Feeling as ready as he was ever going to feel, he left the hotel and went to keep his rendezvous.
While Harmony flew the SPJ to Macau, Magenta and Symphony held a comms-link conference with Captain Scarlet, en route to Hong Kong to rendezvous with WAS Agent, Jorge Càmpora, to discuss the latest twist in events.
“I have no idea why the British Police suspect Adam of Allen’s murder – it beggars belief. I suppose we’ll have to leave it to the colonel or SI to tell them to go and look for their poisoner somewhere else. We don’t have enough time to get involved with that when we still have to work out what the WAS agents plan to do,” Captain Scarlet said. “I sincerely hope Blue doesn’t try to sort this mess out alone – now we know the Mysterons are involved with something or other in the area, it wouldn’t be a clever move…”
“Blue’s too clever for his own good; I’ve always said so,” Magenta muttered, and glanced across to see Symphony fold her arms as an exasperated, but partly amused, expression appeared on her face. “Okay,” he soothed, “it’s not the most horrendous sin in the book – but it’s annoying…”
“Adam is not annoying,” she said, unduly offended by this remark and in direct contradiction of her own, frequent, complaints. “He can’t help being clever…”
“Never mind that now,” Scarlet said, sharply. “What do you think he’ll be doing?” he added, in an attempt to bring his colleagues back on track.
“He’ll be going wherever he thinks The Nebula’s based, of course,” Symphony replied with a bleak certainty. “He can’t know the Mysterons are involved and he’ll be after the guys in control.”
Magenta frowned and asked, “What’s all this with The Nebula anyway? I thought they were washed up years ago.”
“So did everyone else, but you know Wyn Vandermark said that’s what she thinks her husband had discovered – that they weren’t. She said Dutch was reluctant to tell Adam and drag him back into the fight. After all, there’s no way he would be able to resist getting involved; you know what a damn perfectionist he is about finishing a thing properly, Pat. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard him say, ‘if you’re going to do a job, do it properly, Karen’. He drives me nuts, sometimes.”
She met Magenta’s ruefully vindicated stare with a wry shrug.
“Think about it – first Teunis Vandermark dies in suspicious circumstances, then it looks like Adam’s hand-picked security agents are going to the bad, so, what does he do? He goes after the people he believes responsible for the trouble. The fact that Allen’s been murdered suggests to me that, rather than Adam taking delayed revenge, his erstwhile collaborators thought he was a danger to them and acted accordingly. By the way, don’t even try to tell me that Adam killed Warren Allen – I know he wouldn’t – and there’s nothing you can say that’d convince me otherwise.”
“That’s very loyal of you, Symphony; but if Blue thought Allen was in any way responsible for Vandermark’s death, don’t you think he just might’ve been tempted to exact revenge…?” Magenta suggested reluctantly, unease obvious in his voice.
“No, I don’t,” she snapped back decisively and drew a deep breath while she formulated the reasoning behind her instinctive repudiation of the accusation. “As you know, Paul, there’s a ruthless streak of vindictiveness in Adam that he generally keeps well hidden.” Scarlet gave a wary grunt of agreement, and she continued, “He told me once that Allen was claustrophobic; it was obvious when he said it, that he revelled in the thought of him stuck in prison as it must’ve been one long purgatory for him.”
She grimaced at Magenta’s surprised expression. “He hated that man far more than you can imagine, Pat; and it’s possible that at one time he might’ve been tempted to beat him to a pulp with his bare hands – in fact, I’d be surprised if the urge hadn’t occurred to him at some stage – but slyly arranging to poison someone? Hell, no – it’s not Adam’s way.”
“Yeah, that’s true enough,” Scarlet agreed. He had been reluctant to admit – even to himself – that he’d considered, for the merest blink of time, that his friend and partner might have had something to do with the death of his old adversary. Hearing Symphony’s corroborating view was reassuring; he realised what had been so distasteful to him about the whole situation, was the idea that Blue was capable of cold-blooded murder. He had better cause than most to know that his field partner had a vicious temper at times and, as Symphony said, he might well have killed Allen in the heat of the moment or in a face-to-face fight, but poison was a pre-meditated and remote approach to murder, and Blue wasn’t like that at all.
He added, “After all’s said and done, he’s a Svenson and his father certainly has a reputation for vindictiveness, so the prolonged suffering of an adversary would probably have some appeal. Besides, Adam’d know all about the agony of being cooped up – he’s a touch claustrophobic himself.”
Magenta looked in surprise at Symphony, who nodded in confirmation, but didn’t elucidate.
Scarlet continued, “However, this doesn’t help us work out where The Nebula’s likely to be.”
“I suggest Lieutenant Green does a little snooping through the WAS’s more secure recent files…” Symphony proposed. “Adam probably knows what they know and he’ll be basing his decisions on that – he’s not given to playing hunches, after all.”
Scarlet chuckled. “How right you are – he always wants concrete proof before he acts – having a gut feeling just doesn’t cut the mustard with Blue.”
“Well, you two know him best,” Magenta said. “I just hope you know him well enough…”
Privately, the others agreed with him.
Scarlet closed down the communication link, and prepared to land at Hong Kong airport. There were plenty of protocols to be gone through before he received permission to land – it wouldn’t be possible for the SPJ to land surreptitiously – so the authorities were going to know there was a Spectrum agent on the ground. He’d decided that he might as well make use of that, by standing where Jorge Càmpora couldn’t fail to miss him, and hope that the WAS agent had the brains and skills to make contact in some covert way.
The last report from Cloudbase said that Càmpora’s flight had arrived some twenty minutes ago. With luck the agent and the suspect he was trailing – a Senor Arismendi – would still be in the airport, tied up with the rigmarole of immigration and customs controls. If they had moved on, Càmpora had instructions to contact Peter Galvin direct, and he would forward the new meeting co-ordinates to Spectrum.
Scarlet sighed and banked the plane for his approach run. He couldn’t help feeling time was of the essence now.
Jorge Càmpora had recovered from the initial fit of pique he’d experienced when he’d received instructions to link up with Spectrum’s Captain Scarlet in Hong Kong. Spectrum were not known for co-operating in local initiatives – at least, those in his patch weren’t – and Càmpora had resented being told that he had to work with one of their ‘colour captains’ on what he saw as purely a WAS matter. However, the orders had come directly from Peter Galvin’s office, and when Officer Deringham had also told him that his old friend Adam Svenson was back in harness and prepared to co-operate with Spectrum, he surmised there was more to this mission than he’d realised.
Càmpora had worked alongside Svenson, Vandermark and Bracey on the original mission against The Nebula, and he valued the camaraderie they’d shared. Beneath his debonair, handsome exterior, Càmpora was the most ruthless of all of the ‘STARs’ and he had quite a lot in common with his erstwhile boss. Both men had suffered in their time from the prevailing belief that good-looking men of their types were either dumb or gigolos. Jorge cheerfully admitted that he had two left feet and danced like an arthritic buffalo, but he cultivated a look that suggested he was the natural successor to Valentino, and he was not averse to using that misconception when it suited. In the same way, he knew that Svenson had in his time, buried his natural disgust and successfully played on the prevailing belief that all blonds are dumb, to hoodwink his opponents.
Working with Adam again will be good, Càmpora thought, as he walked slowly through the bustling Arrivals hall of the airport.
He could see Captain Scarlet standing by a newsvendor’s stall, watching the passengers emerge from the immigration checkpoints, but he was still cagey about how to actually accomplish a rendezvous with the man. The Spectrum agent stood out like a sore thumb in his bright red uniform, and anyone approaching him was going to be seen by hundreds of pairs of eyes and Càmpora did not want to risk Arismendi realising he’d been followed from Montevideo.
Most of the civilian population had only a haziest idea what Spectrum and its officers did. The organisation had been launched with a certain amount of razzamatazz and talk of ‘anti-terrorism forces’ and ‘police powers’; but within the year Spectrum had gone much deeper underground, and even the security professionals in other organisations knew little, beyond the fact that they were dealing with ‘the Mysterons’ – and who or what they were remained obscure.
Such secrecy gave the sighting of a full-blown colour-uniformed officer rarity value, and ‘Scarlet’ was attracting much attention – albeit mostly surreptitious.
That was just what Càmpora didn’t want to attract.
Keeping one eye on the Uruguayan courier, who, thankfully, seemed to be in no hurry to leave the Arrivals hall either, Càmpora strolled over to the newsstand and bought an English-language newspaper. He turned, ‘accidentally’ bumping into Scarlet’s arm and dropped the paper at the officer’s feet.
“Pardon,” he exclaimed, adding in a whisper, “I’m from the WAS, in South America… you’re waiting for me?”
Bending down to help collect the various sections of the scattered newspaper, Scarlet replied quietly, “Agent Càmpora? Pleased to meet you.”
Accepting the retrieved sections from Captain Scarlet, Càmpora smiled, nodded and hissed, “You are too conspicuous, Captain. I can’t risk being noticed. If my suspect sees me, he may well bolt and we’ll lose the contact.”
Grimacing, Scarlet nodded. “I will find you...” He saluted politely and returned to his vigil, while Càmpora wandered away. Once the Argentinean was out of sight, Scarlet slipped into a gents’ lavatory and removed his tunic and cap. He then hurried into a nearby clothes shop, purchased a plain jacket and some shoes, changing in the shop and shoving his uniform into one of their carrier bags. The roundels on his sleeves were hidden by the jacket and although the stirrup trousers Spectrum officers wore under their boots looked slightly odd, they were perfectly acceptable. He dropped his cap into the bag, and slipped his gun into the inside jacket pocket.
He ran a hand through his black hair, pulled a face at his reflection in the shop mirror, and walked out to find Càmpora.
To his astonishment, as he approached the Argentinean, Càmpora threw his arms around him, exclaiming in voluble Spanish, “My brother! So good to see you again!”
Scarlet managed to keep up the pretence as Càmpora hissed, “He spotted me, and recognises me from the plane. Walk away with me…”
The two men sauntered away slowly, apparently deep in conversation. Once out of sight of the courier, Càmpora turned and peered back. “My apologies, Captain; but the man was becoming suspicious.”
“That’s okay,” Scarlet replied. “What do you suggest we do now?”
“We maintain a watch and follow the man he meets. It is always the way for The Nebula to use many couriers, each performing a short part of the journey. If we are correct in our assumptions, I’d expect the man he hands the documents to, to fly to Macau.” He glanced at Scarlet. “Then we’ll need to get tickets on the same plane, and quickly.”
“Leave that to me,” Scarlet assured him. “I have a security clearance that’ll get us both on any flight to anywhere.”
Càmpora smiled. “It must make for a very easy life,” he said.
“It does have certain advantages.”
The Argentinean relaxed and jerked his thumb to a coffee bar. “I spend much of my life in such places, Captain. The life of a WAS security agent is not so very glamorous as people expect. Allow me to buy you a coffee?”
As they sat, amicably enough, in the coffee bar, Càmpora sent several text messages on his mobile phone. When he finished, he apologised to Scarlet for his rudeness and started making polite conversation, although the Spectrum Officer recognised the tell-tale signs that indicated his companion was watching the courier like a hawk.
They’d just started on a second cup when they saw Arismendi greet another man who approached him from amongst the crowd. The pair of them exchanged handshakes and stood talking for some time before the South American threw his arm around the Chinese man, much as Càmpora had done to Scarlet.
Càmpora laid a hand on Scarlet’s arm. “There! See, amigo? He passed over the info-disk. Come, Capitán, we have to follow this new man.”
“Are you sure?” Scarlet asked. The angle he was at to the two suspects made it impossible for him to see what was going on.
Càmpora nodded. “Por supuesto. We have our new quarry. See, he is going to the check-in desk… Come, we must not be left behind.”
As Scarlet bent to collect his carrier bag, Càmpora threw a handful of notes onto the table and attracted the attention of the waitress with a friendly gesture before leading the way out.
“What about the courier you followed?” Scarlet asked. .
“He’ll be picked up. I would expect him to stay here a few days, before he returns to Montevideo. The WAS will watch him, and pick him up either here before he leaves, or back in Montevideo. Don’t worry; none shall escape the net, my friend.”
Scarlet watched as Càmpora gave the slightest nod at a uniformed airport official, busily sweeping up litter, which was acknowledged with a similar nod. Scarlet realised the whole area was now ringed with uniformed officials – the WAS seemed to be everywhere.
He followed his companion across to a queue of travellers waiting to check onto a flight. The new courier was ahead of them and, when he reached the desk, Càmpora left Scarlet in the queue and sidled forward enough to catch the man’s destination.
“Macau – the next plane,” he reported back to Scarlet. “We must get on it.”
When they reached the desk, Scarlet drew out his Spectrum ID, and laid it down for the booking clerk to see. “The next plane to Macau – two seats,” he demanded authoritatively.
The clerk made some show of protesting, but when he called over his supervisor, the other man gave instructions to do what was required the moment he saw the ID. Scarlet took the tickets and rejoined Càmpora, who had gone to stand amongst the crowds at the departure boards, and was watching their quarry, while apparently fiddling with his mobile phone.
The flight was called minutes later, but as they walked onto the plane, Scarlet had the unsettling thought, ‘this is too easy…’
He was right.
As they landed in Macau they were both arrested by a handful of men in unfamiliar uniforms, beaten up when they protested, and bundled into an unmarked van.
The small room was pitch dark, airless and fetid with the scent of sweat, vomit and urine. All he could sense was a dull thud – sounding like the relentless beat of loud music, but so far away it was impossible to discern a tune.
He ached. The sweat that was seeping from his naked body was stinging in the welts and cuts that covered his shoulders, back, thighs and legs. He suspected he’d a cracked rib, and knew the little finger on his left hand was broken. His lips were swollen and cut from repeated punches. It was too dark to see anything, but he doubted his right eye would open enough for him to make anything out anyway.
He was thirsty and swallowed, tasting the vomit that still encrusted his dry mouth. He groaned and crawled slowly along the wall until he bumped into the metal bucket he knew was there. He dipped his head into the water and wincing, sucked in the stale, tepid liquid.
After three gulps he backed away, breathing in shallow gasps so not to exacerbate the pain in his ribcage.
Resting his head against the wall, he tried to focus on what had happened, before the world had morphed into one long nightmare of pain.
The meal he’d eaten with Vandermark seemed like a lifetime ago. He’d concentrated on what the man was telling him – information about suspects, incidents, potential leads – rather than the food. Now even the memory of that food made him queasy.
They’d driven away from the restaurant, heading for a safe house, where Vandermark had documentary proof of his suspicions and where he’d said he could stay.
But the safe house wasn’t safe.
Someone was already there; someone who had stepped from behind a door and struck him with what was probably a cosh. When he’d come to he was bound, gagged and blindfolded, in the trunk of a car. From there he’d been half-carried, half-dragged to a plane and thrown into a seat. The blindfold was left on, but the gag removed, so he could take water. Now there were at least three separate and distinct voices. He’d asked to go to the toilet.
There’d been no escape from the small lavatory, and nothing of any use as a weapon, but he’d taken his time anyway, gathering his strength for whatever lay in store and bathing the lump on the back of his head in cold water. He wondered where Vandermark was, doubting that the man had escaped what had obviously been a well-planned attack, although the hope that the WAS agent might be able to mount a rescue attempt would keep flickering into life.
He’d been told to replace the blindfold before he came out of the bathroom and his bonds had been reapplied immediately and he’d been told to sit quietly. Once the plane landed, he’d been gagged again, and bundled into a vehicle and driven – not for any great distance – if the stop-start lurching had been any indication.
The men had dragged him into a room of some sort – he’d smelt the distinctive odour of gasoline and assumed it was a garage. It’d been humid, and there was a distant sound of traffic. Not knowing precisely how long the flight had lasted, he was at a loss to imagine where he might be, and the men had given him food and water without removing the blindfold.
He’d slept fitfully on a blanket on the concrete floor, and unable to get comfortable as they had not untied him. Later they’d given him fruit, more water and allowed him to use a bathroom. That had at least been clean, but devoid of any clues as to where he was.
Eventually, they’d bundled him back into the trunk of the car and driven in the same stop-start fashion for some distance. Then they’d dragged him into this hell-hole, untied and stripped him, leaving him to grope his way around the stinking, solid blackness, feeling along the slimy walls to the water bucket.
He’d sat, waiting for something to explain why he was here; who these people were and what they wanted. He’d been impatient; but all too soon they’d come – bringing the answers, bringing the pain, bringing despair.
These voices were different – when they spoke to him, their English had a strange lilt, and amongst themselves they spoke what sounded like Chinese – he’d heard Harmony Angel speak like that on occasion. He’d no idea what they were saying, of course. They’d continued working him over for what must’ve been hours – until probably realising he wasn’t going to give in.
There were techniques for withstanding interrogation, of course. Spectrum taught them to you and he’d done as well as anyone in counter-interrogation. But it was different in real life. It was different when there were no safe words, no likelihood that anyone would walk in with a clipboard and say ‘you’ve passed – well done.’ No Doctor Fawn to minister to your aches and bolster your ego; strange how he’d never appreciated the subtle comfort of Fawn’s bedside manner – until now.
It was easy at first to hold on to his self-confidence and remain defiant: repeating codename, serial number and ‘go to hell’. He felt that he’d won every round with them, that he’d survived and done credit to his training.
Finally, they’d thrown him aside and dragged in a plain sloping wooden bench, with thick leather restraints at each corner and at the middle of the lowest end. He’d recognised what was to come easily enough, and fear had gripped his heart, sending its paralysing electric darts through every limb.
When they came for him he’d struggled, weak as he was, and, even though he was ashamed of his whimpering fear, he’d nevertheless pleaded with them as they strapped him head-down on the board, before covering his face with a rough cotton hood, blocking out his sight.
The fearful anticipation of what was to come had been nothing to the reality. The stream of icy-cold water had soaked into the cloth, making it impossible for him to breathe through his nose any longer. He gasped for breath, sucking the cloth into his mouth as he struggled for air.
They poured more water onto the cloth, through the fabric into his open mouth, and the shock, coupled with the instinctive fear of drowning, made him gag. He knew he couldn’t drown – but logic and reason had no place in this nightmare of fear, pain and mental agony he was enduring. Never overly confident in water, he’d vomited, and they’d had to stop to prevent him asphyxiating for real. They’d unstrapped his head and arms, and let him sit up as best he could, given that his feet were still strapped and higher than his head, to spit out the watery bile from his mouth.
He’d been shaking with terror, dreading the moment when they’d push him down again. He’d struggled, screamed, cursed – but all in vain.
Two, three times? He’d lost count.
He’d fainted – he knew that and come to only to be strapped down again. They were remorseless in their questioning.
Over and over the same questions.
Who controls Spectrum?
Where is Cloudbase located?
How many planes do they have?
What is their weapons capability?
Where are the SPVs hidden?
How do you access the vehicles?
Name the elite colour squadron – tell us who you are.
Respite had been temporary and as they’d started to strap him down again for the fourth or fifth time, he’d started talking, saying so many things – anything – gabbling, spitting out words to make them stop.
He tried to remember what he’d said.
They hadn’t been pleased with him when he’d talked about anything other than what they asked, and the cloth had been reapplied several times to reinforce their authority.
He supposed he ought to be grateful that they hadn’t cared he was Richard Fraser – the name he’d finally given them from amidst the fiery-red tongues of fear that seared his mind – and which apparently meant nothing to his Chinese captors. He hoped he’d had the sense not to reveal the real names of his friends, though. He took some pride in remembering so many of the fake IDs and giving those instead, but the memory of what else he’d said was fractured and he couldn’t be sure he hadn’t caved in.
He rested his head in his hands and closed his one good eye. It was ironic that his carefully concocted ‘death’, designed to protect a well-known policeman from reprisals, looked to be an irrelevance now.
And he’d given up so much to join Spectrum …
Tears pricked in his eyes and he sniffed.
God help me – how am I ever going to get out of here alive?
The humidity was sapping his vitality. Within the confines of the airport and the plush retail outlets, hotels and bars, the atmosphere was comfortable but once out on the streets, there was an almost tangible barrier of heat. He could feel the sweat plastering his hair to his forehead and seeping into his shirt, even as he strolled along the shady, paved walkway between the landscaped gardens that ran like a green canyon through the mountainous skyscrapers. He reflected that he could have been in almost any prosperous city in the world; the character of Macau was so effectively hidden beneath this blanket of modernity.
He paused at the foot of a gentle slope and glanced around. People hurried by, hardly paying him any attention – he was just another idle westerner with nothing better to do than get in their way. He continued to stroll along the path, surreptitiously watching for the person he expected to meet.
He was slightly irritated but not entirely surprised, when, at the top of the incline, the attractive young Chinese woman who’d been watching his approach with interest, accosted him. She was wearing heavy make-up applied in the tell-tale manner routinely favoured by her ‘profession’, and dressed like a coy schoolgirl in a hybrid fashion of westernised ‘oriental’ styles.
“You wanna see Macau, Mister?” she asked with a coquettish glance up at him. “I show you many sights…very reasonable.”
“No, thank you. I’m waiting for someone.” Even to his own ears it sounded a feeble excuse; his new acquaintance obviously thought so as well.
“No wait any body – come wi’ me, yes?” she implored, as he continued to walk away from her. “Very clean, very good.”
“No; thank you. I really am kinda busy right now.”
Sometimes he found the good manners his mother had drummed into him an awful encumbrance, especially when strangers mistook his politeness for indecision. He really didn’t want to attract attention to himself by arguing with this girl, but she showed no sign of taking his refusal as definite; in fact she stepped closer to him again, apparently determined to follow him.
“Mister Nugaka said I must get you to come with me, Mister Scott-from-Boston. He’ll get mad at me if you don’t.” Her voice had lost its coquettish whine. “I did ask you nicely,” she added reproachfully.
He stopped in his tracks and turned back to see her standing coyly in the middle of the pathway, her head on one side as she smiled mischievously at him. He took a step towards her, a frown on his face and serious doubt in his voice as he asked, “Nugaka? Are you Officer Li?”
“Don’t talk so loud and make like you want good time after all… eh?” She winked at him and slipped her arm through his. “I show real good time, yes?” she said encouragingly, as a group of workers on their way to work went by them, sniggering at the sight of another gullible western tourist entrapped by a cheap hooker.
Svenson sighed. “I suppose Hiroshi thought this would be a good joke?”
“He thought it would be less noticeable…” She corrected him and raised one arched eyebrow, adding ruefully, “He must have forgotten you don’t have a sense of humour, eh?”
Svenson shrugged; the affronted blood of generations of genteel Bostonian ancestors was making him absurdly embarrassed at her behaviour. “I just wasn’t expecting you to be so…”
“The word you want is ‘obvious’…” she said with a cheerful smile as she guided him towards a gate out of the park.
“Yes; perfectly obvious,” he said with an irony that she missed completely.
When their SPJ touched down at Macau, the Spectrum agents slipped into the technicians’ locker rooms to change into their civilian clothes. The women shared the larger of the two poky cubicles and Harmony changed quickly into a smart pair of pale grey trousers, a patterned blouse and flat pumps.
Symphony was surprised to see her wearing trousers for the diminutive woman was one of the few on Cloudbase who preferred a dress when off-duty, either that, or a Japanese kimono-style wrap. She wondered if Harmony was expecting trouble.
“Where do you plan to go, Chan?” she asked, concern for her colleague’s safety making her frown.
Harmony seemed reluctant to answer. “I have some connections in Macau, and they may be able to help us,” she said, a faint flush colouring her cheeks.
“I guess you made plenty of useful contacts while you were running the air-taxi business?” Symphony’s frown lifted and she gave her friend an artless glance; maybe Chan had a boyfriend she wanted to keep quiet about?
Harmony was by far the most reticent of the Angels, her quiet demeanour and modest manners often seemed prim to the liberated and vocal westerners, and although she was well liked, her flying skills respected and admired, none of the other Angels really felt they knew her very well.
Melody was probably Harmony’s closest friend; she was learning Japanese and they spent much time together talking so that Melody could perfect her skills. But even Melody said that she barely knew the real Chan Kwan. The last time it’d come up had been when they were trying to think of a suitable present to buy for her birthday, and no one could think of something the Chinese woman would like.
“She’ll like whatever we give her, just because we gave it,” Melody had reasoned, but Destiny had protested: “She should like it because it is what she likes!”
“But we don’t know what she likes – so we’re back at the start of the problem,” Rhapsody had pointed out with a sigh. “And we might as well get what we like after all…”
In the end, they had bought something they liked, and Harmony had smiled her inscrutable smile and thanked them all in her precise way; but none of them had felt as if they’d achieved success…
Symphony saw the same smile on her face now as she gave one of her shallow bows of agreement.
“It is the way of things,” she said sweetly, leaving Symphony none the wiser.
They joined Captain Magenta outside on the main concourse. He smiled at Harmony and asked her if there was anything he might do to help her, and where she intended going.
Once more her answer was evasive, but delivered in such a way as Magenta felt powerless to argue with her because, rather like her fellow Angel pilots, the colour captains all treated Harmony as if she was something fragile. They behaved with far more restraint when she was present, which was odd in itself, because they were all too well aware that Harmony was a black belt 4th Dan in Judo, and could floor most of them without breaking into a sweat.
So, now he smiled agreement at her plans and the three of them agreed a scheme for keeping in touch and times for routine reports to each other and Cloudbase. When they parted, Harmony slipped away on public transport, while Symphony and Captain Magenta headed downtown in a taxi.
Once they were en route, Symphony tried to contact Blue over his personal cell phone, without success, and her concern for his safety grew again. Magenta explained his plan to scour the casinos, hoping to find Blue or see one of the suspects Wyn Vandermark had identified. It was a long shot but neither of them could devise a better plan, especially as the contact numbers they had been given for the WAS’s agent, Nugaka, were not being answered either.
They registered at a casino hotel under their codenames and went straight to their room where they reported in to Cloudbase and went over the details of the plans they’d made for that night’s sortie into the casinos of Macau.
In the bedroom of a small hotel several streets away from the casino hotel Magenta and Symphony were in, Hiroshi Nugaka poured his exasperated former colleague a cool drink and waited until he’d finished most of it before he spoke.
“I got your message, Mr Scott. This seemed like the best way to proceed. Since you came here posing as a wealthy man, you can be sure that your arrival won’t have gone unnoticed. The airport officials are all in the pay of the casino bosses – they alert them to any likely looking new arrivals. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by meeting you; it is quite possible you’re being watched, for the same reason they watch all rich newcomers: if you have money to spend, they want it.”
“And so you sent Officer Li with instructions to make a public exhibition of herself and me?” Svenson asked reproachfully. He was still a little annoyed at her unique way of introducing herself.
Hiroshi smiled. “Believe me, Mr Scott, what happened in the park was nothing out of the ordinary for Macau. Besides, I often work with Mai Li and I know I can trust her and that is a rare commodity here. She’s a member of the World Police Corps, so your honour was never in any real danger.” Nugaka smiled again and gave his erstwhile superior officer a wry glance as he added, “Perhaps that is what you object to so vociferously?”
Svenson grinned back, his good humour restored. “I did think that maybe my luck had changed,” he joked.
Nugaka chuckled. “This close to the United Asian Republic, the World Police have to keep a low profile, but Mai will be helpful if you need information or backup I can’t supply.”
It soon became apparent that Hiroshi had told Mai Li enough about the newcomer to ensure her co-operation. When she came back from the bathroom, more suitably dressed in pale-coloured, cotton trousers and a brightly coloured Tee-shirt, she winked at Svenson and sat at the dressing table to start removing the excessive makeup from her face.
She referred to him as Mr Scott – Alex, after the second time of asking – and was prepared to share what information she had on Vincent Gambino.
“I’m sorry if my approach upset you, Alex, but I have to be careful too,” she explained. Her Chinese accent had evaporated and she spoke with a North American twang to her voice.
“Where are you from?” Svenson asked her.
“My family came from Hong Kong, originally. They got out and moved to Canada when the British left. I grew up in Vancouver. When I joined the World Police, they sent me here to work undercover.”
“Not what you were thinking, anyhow,” Mai retorted and both men chuckled, Svenson blushing slightly at the inference. “My cover is that I’m a croupier at one of the big casinos. I’m trusted enough to work in the high-stake games room – which means I get to keep a close eye on the comings and goings involving the Tong. I got to know Mr Nugaka when he needed an insider to trap a WAS employee who was authorising illegal cross-border flights.”
Svenson nodded and turned back to Hiroshi. He decided to lay his cards on the table – time was running out and he needed help. “I have a lead on The Nebula. I think they may be running the new operation from here.”
“’They’? You have names, already?”
“Do either of you know of a man called Frank Lombardo?”
Officer Li nodded. “Lombardo is an associate of Chen Xiong, one of the Tong bosses who run the casinos. I’ve seen him around the place a few times. I don’t know what he does or why he’s there, but it maybe that he’s a link to American organised crime. He’s not been caught out doing anything illegal – so far.”
“He may well have links to the Syndicates but I know he had links to The Nebula. He used to be a WAS pilot; his real name is Vincent Gambino,” Svenson explained.
Nugaka nodded. “I know the name, although I never met Gambino. What makes you think Gambino and Lombardo are one and the same?”
“I ID’d him from a photograph.”
Mai Li raised her eyebrows. “The Nebula, eh? I thought they were finished?” She glanced at Hiroshi. “But then, you did say there was something fishy going on a month or so ago, didn’t you?”
“I asked you to keep an ear out for the gossip, yes,” Nugaka corrected. He turned to Svenson, “Vandermark asked me to be on the look-out.”
“But you never thought to mention this until now?”
“I have much respect for you, my friend, you are a great man, but I don’t know what’s going on any longer and, after Dutch died, I resolved to keep my own counsel until things became clearer. One of the things I would like to become clear about, is why you are back amongst us. I’m far less trusting even of my supposed friends than my WAS colleagues. Gupta and Everett are not living cheek-by-jowl with the riff-raff from the UAR in the way I am, but we have to work together on occasion. Let me tell you, Adam: as good as he is, Gupta wouldn’t last a week in this hell-hole and Everett would never stoop to the level required to combat them. There is no place for your outdated western chivalry here. The Yakuza and the Triads are not powerful in India or Australia compared to here, where you can’t function without doing business with them. Even now.”
“Do you function with their tacit agreement, Hiroshi?” Svenson asked.
Nugaka ignored the question and continued with what Svenson came to realise was a prepared statement.
“You Westerners don’t see the bigger picture. I have discussed this many times with the Board members and they say to me, the American Syndicates are not as influential as they were, so there is no need to maintain our anti-corruption squads at the levels they were. It’s true, that the Syndicates are weaker; thanks to men like the late Assistant Commander Fraser and his colleagues, they were dealt a devastating blow that undermined their power. But, I tell you what I have told the Board – where the Syndicates used to function, the vacuum was filled by the Tong and the Yakuza. They have a safe haven for their operational bases in places like Hong Kong and Macau – traditional sinkholes of the ‘decadent’ West which are deemed to be beyond redemption by the UAR authorities – and, in return for a cut of their profits, and the pick of the information they gather, the UAR gives them license to operate. This is the frontier against industrial sabotage and spying, as well as the polluted criminality that dogs society – not the cushy streets of New York or London.”
Mai Li was nodding her agreement.
Svenson replied, “I agree with you, Hiroshi, but I have no clout with the Board any longer – if I ever did once Maudsley was in post. I ask you again, as my friend, are you allowed to function by an arrangement with organised crime here?”
Nugaka gave a harsh chuckle. “I function; that is all you need to know – and all you ever knew.”
“Do you know who killed Teunis?”
“No; that I would have told you. That the deed may have originated here, I would readily believe. The moment Dutch was seen as a threat to the Triads or the Yakuza – if he was – he was as good as dead.”
Svenson drew in a deep breath and considered what he’d heard.
“So, it wouldn’t surprise you if a resurgent Nebula was based here?” he said, concluding that his best chance of achieving success in his mission was by speaking frankly.
Nugaka shook his head. “It would be ideal for them in many ways. They can buy protection or sell information, either though the Tong or direct to the UAR. The authorities wouldn’t worry too much where the information came from, or how – as long as the kickbacks were generous enough.”
“Are we up against the Tong or the Yakuza?” Svenson asked in concern. He wasn’t a coward but he had the sense to know that he couldn’t hope to fight the might of organised crime alone.
Mai Li replied, “I don’t think so. Lombardo is tolerated but not trusted. I believe he’s an intermediary – nothing more.”
Svenson asked her, “When we arrested Allen, the money he used to finance The Nebula was sequestered. At least, what we could trace of it was. I always suspected some wasn’t recovered, but we have no idea how much that was. Gambino and his associates would need money to fund their activities, and they can’t ask for a bank loan, so – might they have taken money from the mobsters here?”
She considered the question. “If they did, the gangs will fight to protect their investment and their allies, for as long as it suits them. On the other hand, once they consider Gambino to be a liability and not an asset, he’ll find himself friendless and alone. That’s the way things normally happen around here – there are always new informants or suckers who think they can play the gangs at their own game and win – never mind survive. ”
Nugaka said to Svenson, “You know that the crime bosses constantly need permission to fly into the UAR’s restricted airspace?” Svenson nodded. “They have important business arrangements there relating to their drug trafficking – but the problem this end is the World Government’s ban on private flights to non-member territories. So, ever since the World Government was created and the UAR declined to join, there’s been a market for exemption certificates to and from the UAR. It makes our civil aviation branch a prime target for corruption, which is surely fertile ground for The Nebula. They were so closely connected with the WAS in the West that it’s inconceivable they wouldn’t have contacts here. Lombardo could introduce them to employees who have already… shall we say – compromised their integrity? It takes a brave man to say ‘no’ to the Tong.”
“Would the Tong be interested in aviation secrets?” Svenson asked dubiously.
“If they aren’t, their friends in the UAR will be,” Mai Li responded quickly.
Nugaka nodded. “This is true, but I think the Tong would have a use for a stealth device themselves. Calculate the savings they’d make from not having to pay bribes if they could circumvent the radars. The Nebula could ask a high price for the plans – and get it – for it would not take long for the Tong to recoup their costs.”
“The World Government’s pretty strict about keeping military secrets under wraps and away from the… less stable areas of the planet,” Mai Li continued, “getting their hands on a new, top secret stealth device would be a real publicity coup for the UAR. It would even be worth their while to equip the Tong’s fleet with the devices too. Then they could let the Tong run the test flights – if they, and the WAS, can’t track them, they’d know they had a bargain.”
“When were your anti-espionage operations scaled back, Hiroshi?” Svenson asked.
“Last year; they were cut back heavily. Dutch tried to stop it, but he couldn’t.” Nugaka stared at the American. “Why are you here?” he asked.
“I told you. I’m after whoever killed Teunis Vandermark and I want to find the Spectrum officer who was with him when he was killed.”
“You think he had something to do with it?” Mai Li asked.
Svenson shook his head vehemently. “I think he might have seen something – or heard something.”
“Why would he be here?” Nugaka reasoned.
Mai Li replied thoughtfully, “It comes to mind that I saw a routine report about a private jet that landed at Macau, on a flight from California, some days ago. A man was bundled from the plane, hidden by a blanket. No one has been reported missing – except this Spectrum officer – and no ransom received by anyone.”
She met Svenson’s anxious gaze with a rueful smile as he demanded, “Did your informant think to challenge them?”
Mai Li shook her head. “This is not the West, Mr Scott. People do not want to risk the consequences of attracting the wrong kind of attention. And any attention from the Tong is the wrong kind of attention! Besides, there are too many cases of kidnapping. If it was a Tong fight – or a punishment – it would be madness for the World Police to get involved. We have little authority here, remember, and you quickly learn not to ask too many questions, Mr Scott.”
“Well, I’m going to be asking questions, Mai Li, and if that means I have to delve into what’s happening in the WAS – or the Tong, for that matter – I will. After all, it is a case of ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes’?”
“I don’t know; who does watch the watchmen, Adam? You?” Nugaka countered with a wry smirk. He paused and then asked, “Do you have any authority to do this?”
Nugaka shrugged. “From Galvin, I suppose? Dutch trusted him. I’m not sure I do.”
“Have you ever trusted anyone, Hiroshi?” Svenson asked.
“I have to, to do my job. I used to trust you, but recently, I have been wary of all internal support. I work closely with Mai, and I have been… in discussions, with the local Spectrum base. They’re an anti-terrorist force; I thought they’d be able to help.”
“And can they?”
“They won’t commit, but they make the right noises.”
Svenson considered this. The Mysterons were Spectrum’s prime adversaries now, but their threats were sporadic and specific, more often than not. The nature of their activities was a closely guarded secret from the general public – fear and panic were all too easy to generate and far too difficult to calm. For this reason, the local terrestrial bases were allowed, and indeed encouraged, to continue their anti-terrorist work – with the over-riding proviso of supporting the colour-coded officers from Cloudbase when required. He dragged the name and details of the local commander from his compendious memory: a decent enough officer, and as far as he knew, experienced and trustworthy. If he was reluctant to get too closely involved, it suggested he did not see any real terrorist links.
He sighed; it was all rather academic anyway – an approach to Spectrum was out of the question while he was still working with WAS agents. He returned to the topic of Vincent Gambino:
“Is there a woman associated with Lombardo?”
Mai Li thought a moment. “He lives with a wealthy widow – Lucille Haswell – we know nothing about her – to her disadvantage, anyway.”
“What does she look like?”
“Caucasian, dark-haired, tall…”
“Everyone over five-feet-three is tall to Mai,” Nugaka explained to his grinning friend, teasingly.
Mai blushed and laughed. “She’s rich, rude and reclusive – that’s all I know.”
“She’s Fiona Allen,” Svenson asserted. “I’m sure of it.”
“That would be something to make you sit up,” Nugaka remarked, “but, Mrs Allen was not implicated in any wrongdoing, was she?”
Svenson shook his head. “Warren took all the blame. He was very insistent that Fiona knew nothing about it, only I’ve come to the conclusion that he was too insistent. Why else would she turn up in company with a known felon like Lombardo?”
Mai shrugged and suggested, “Perhaps she is a hostage to keep Allen’s mouth shut?”
“He’s always tried to protect her,” Svenson agreed thoughtfully. “Even though she treated him like dirt – especially after he was arrested. She’s left him to rot in a British prison and fled abroad – but he’s still protecting her.”
“Some men prefer domineering women,” she remarked, with an off-hand shrug. “He might truly love her.”
“Whatever the reason, he’ll never tell you now,” said Nugaka. “Warren Allen is dead.” He stared directly at Svenson as he spoke, watching for a reaction.
“What?” There was no mistaking the American’s surprise.
“You heard me. It was on the daily report from WAS:HQ. He was poisoned with arsenic,” Nugaka explained.
“I can’t say I’m gutted by the news, but before you have to ask me: no, I didn’t kill him.”
“They think you did, the British,” his colleague replied. “Myself, I would not have blamed you, if you had. I would’ve been surprised, though. You were always a man to work within the rules and, where you could not work with them, you confront your adversaries. I do not see you using the coward’s way of poison.”
Mai Li shifted uneasily. “You are Adam Svenson, aren’t you?”
“I’m Alex Scott,” he replied.
She ignored him. “I heard Hiroshi call you Adam – a rare slip, on his part. I should arrest you, Mr Svenson. You’re wanted for questioning by the British Police. I saw the report too.”
“It would be a sad case of mistaken identity if you did that, Mai Li.”
“It would be pointless,” she corrected him. “If you’ve upset The Nebula and The Nebula are in league with the Tong, your arrest would be open news in hours and you wouldn’t live to catch a plane out of here, Mr Svenson.”
As if he wasn’t prepared to hide behind a fake identity anymore, Svenson replied, “Oh, I think The Nebula will be delighted that Warren’s dead. I’d say that was a well-planned execution, much as Vandermark’s death was. A clearing of the decks: first Teunis and then Warren.”
“And then you?” Hiroshi prompted.
“I don’t doubt I’m on their list somewhere. But they have to catch me first.”
“Knowing this you came to Macau – looking for trouble?” Mai Li cried in surprise.
He smiled at her and she couldn’t help but smile back, blushing slightly.
“The best form of defence is often attack – I’ve learned that from a very accomplished soldier – and I’m not going to sit waiting for them to find me. Besides, I have my own wild justice to administer.”
“Wild justice?” she queried.
Svenson’s expression hardened and his voice took on a hard edge not normally present. “They call revenge a kind of ‘wild justice’,” he explained.
Mai studied his face intently, until he became uncomfortable and turned away from her, a flush on his cheeks. She glanced at Nugaka with some concern but he was also scrutinising his former colleague. Sensing her gaze, he turned his eyes to hers and they both realised that if revenge was the only reason the American was here, it would complicate matters.
Recovering his habitual equable poise, Svenson explained, “The Nebula have murdered two people I cared about: my fiancée and my friend. I shan’t forget either of them – but my prime motive here and now is to bring those who escaped the net the first time to justice and finish what Teunis and I started all those years ago.”
He looked at his companions and saw the flash of combat in Nugaka’s dark eyes and the sympathetic frown on Mai Li’s face. She met his gaze and nodded.
His smiled response was relaxed and warm as he realised with relief that he had two people on his side, at least.
Captain Scarlet was the first to regain consciousness. He struggled to sit upright. His hands were still locked in front of him in metal handcuffs. He raised both to his head, rubbed his eyes and looked around.
They were in a small, cell-like room, thrown down onto thin, damp mattresses on unmade camp beds. Càmpora, also handcuffed, lay on a bed against the opposite wall; he was pale and his breathing was shallow. Scarlet swung his legs round so he could sit on the edge of the bed, which tipped alarmingly as he transferred his weight. Frowning at his own pain, he staggered across to examine Càmpora.
The black hair on one side of the Argentine’s head was matted with thick, syrupy blood, and when Scarlet laid his hand against the pale cheek, his skin was clammy. He might have taken a more serious injury than Scarlet, although given that Scarlet’s retrometabolism allowed him to heal quickly, it was hard for the Englishman to tell.
He certainly needs medical treatment, Scarlet told himself.
The men who attacked them had gone about their business as if their orders were to capture, but not kill. He doubted they were policemen – or from any known authority. That they’d been waiting for them was obvious – so they must’ve been tipped off that the pair of them had left Hong Kong and their intended destination.
I should have trusted my instincts back there – it was too easy, Scarlet considered ruefully, as he rubbed his aching head.
A powerful thirst alerted him to the fact that his retrometabolism was patching up his bumps and bruises, and he rose unsteadily to his feet and shuffled across to where a metal bucket stood, filled with relatively fresh water. He dipped the tin mug, fixed by a sturdy length of chain to the handle, into the water, sniffed it and took a sip, savouring it before swallowing. It tasted fine and appreciatively he drank several cupfuls.
What am I going to do?, he mused, I can’t leave Càmpora, even if I had the faintest idea where we are and I could get out of here – which doesn’t look likely at the moment. The chances of getting help before they – whoever ‘they’ are – killed him would be miniscule. Still, better do what I can…
He went back to his camp bed and started steadily trying to work his hands free of the cuffs. Someone would come along eventually, and then surprise would be an important element in any attack and it was possible that Càmpora would be awake and able to move by then.
Besides, he was no good at sitting still – so any activity was preferable to doing nothing.
He smiled wryly to himself as he recalled Captain Blue’s long-suffering expressions whenever they were given surveillance missions which involved long periods of simply watching and waiting.
“It’s at times like these I envy my partner his seemingly endless supply of patience,” Scarlet said conversationally to the comatose man beside him, as he squinted at the handcuffs’ locks in the dim light. “He can sit in motionless silence for what seems to me an absolute eternity. When I asked him how he stops himself going mental with boredom he said he did ‘calculations’ in his head.”
Scarlet chuckled and glanced at Càmpora, who was still dead to the world. None the less, he continued talking aloud, with the rationale that Blue’s belief in verbal communication as an aid to his own recoveries after injury, did no harm and that it had the additional benefit of making the healthy party feel they were doing something useful, at least.
“Honestly, I ask you, Jorge, would any sane person voluntarily do maths in their head for hours on end? I didn’t want to offend him, so I said I’d try it and maybe it’d work for me. I should’ve known it wouldn’t, of course. But you know what? There was an added bonus when he got irritated with me. I mean, how was I supposed to know if I was doing it right, if I didn’t keep asking him?”
His smile grew to a grin. “It isn’t often I manage to make him lose his cool with me, but the murderous look he gave me after an hour or so, still counts as one of the best of my rare successes!”
His grin faded as he wondered where his friend was now, and his mind went to the whereabouts of Captain Ochre. Doubtless, his own disappearance, along with Càmpora’s, was probably causing his colleagues just as much concern. Now that they knew the Mysterons were involved, he was far more worried than he had been, and he’d been none too happy with the situation before the threat arrived.
He wondered if his friends were nearby and increased his efforts to get free.
There were footsteps outside, approaching the door.
He struggled to raise his head, fighting the urge to whimper in anticipation of the fear and pain he now associated with the door opening. He’d already dragged every last atom of information he could remember about every plane he knew, mixing their specifications with openly available information of Spectrum’s fleet, merging identities and capabilities, obscuring, confusing and inventing in a desperate effort to keep Spectrum’s secrets safe.
There wasn’t much more he could tell them; the next time they asked he feared that he’d have to reveal the truth about Cloudbase, the Angel jets and the SPJs; his imagination was exhausted and he was too tired to think any more. He’d hoped they wouldn’t realised he’d been lying to them for much longer than this – time for him to recover his strength, regain his confidence, recharge his nerve…
The bolts scraped back and the door opened.
His head sank back onto his arms, he had no desire to look at his torturers, or let them see the fear on his face.
He was surprised to hear the voices speaking English and that one was a woman… he strove to concentrate.
“Has he given you the information we need?”
“Not truly. We check wha’ he say, and many things are lie. This time we still are check it. I think he still lie some things.”
A shiver ran through him as he recognised the voice and halting English of his main interrogator.
“Who is he?” The woman’s voice held no compassion.
“He ‘Captan O-Kah’. He ‘merican, name R-ichar’ Fr-aser.”
Footsteps approached him; he shrank back against the wall.
“Let me see his face.”
An order was snapped out in Chinese and then his hair was grabbed, pulling his face upwards into the dim light seeping into the room from the corridor.
“How am I expected to see in this gloom? Put the lights on!” the woman snapped.
The blinding glare of the interrogation lamps flared, and he moaned, screwing his eyes against the brightness.
“Richard Fraser? It isn’t that uncommon a name and he is supposed to be dead… Given the mess you’ve made of his face he could be anyone – from Frankenstein down. What else has he told you about himself?”
“He come D-troy-t an’ he wa’ a preece man.”
He sensed the woman leaning down towards him and ventured to open the only eye he could, just enough to make out her outline.
“Well, well; this is an unexpected honour, Commander Fraser. I know some American gentlemen who will be overjoyed to hear that not only are you still alive, but that you are in our custody. They have some outstanding issues they’d like to discuss with you – I’m sure.”
She straightened. “Keep interrogating him – but make sure you don’t kill him. He’ll be more than useful even after we’ve finished with him than I had anticipated.”
Once they settled into their hotel room, Captain Magenta started to prepare for the evening’s mission. He showered, shaved and laid out his tuxedo with plenty of time to spare. It was hot and steamy, even with the air-conditioning on, and he wasn’t looking forward to wearing the tux later. When he retired to the lounge area, wearing a pair of shorts and a knee-length bathrobe, Symphony took possession of the bedroom and the ensuite, to get ready.
As he expected her to take some time, he amused himself by channel hopping through the myriad TV stations, catching up on the news, boggling at the incomprehensible programmes in Chinese and gawping in disbelief at the tacky game shows. His interest in such programmes was soon sated and he flicked on until he found a station showing an old ‘B’ movie, in English.
Magenta considered himself something of a film buff. He enjoyed movies and his knowledge of plots and productions was extensive, so he quickly recognised which film he was watching and settled down to enjoy it. As the story of deception, deceit and depravity unfolded, his attention was taken by the leading actress. He knew about her, of course; Madelyne Barry had made one spectacularly good movie at the start of her career and gone on to carve herself a niche in pot-boilers and ‘straight-to-TV’ films, culminating in the lead role in a glitzy TV soap opera.
Her private life had been almost as tempestuous as that she’d portrayed on the screen, and was not untouched by scandal and tragedy. In her youth she’d married a screen-writer and had been notoriously unfaithful to him with several of her leading men. When he died, in somewhat bizarre circumstances, she’d thrown herself into the less than salubrious social life of LA, finally marrying Johnny Varsallona, a leading member of the crime Syndicate that ran Las Vegas.
He recalled that he’d met her once, and although she was long past her best, she’d still been an attractive woman, however, it wasn’t that memory that was nudging at his consciousness.
He reached across for the folder Symphony had left on the table and drew out the photographs Wyn had given them. He stared at the TV and then at the picture of the youthful Adam Svenson with the Allens.
“Well, I’ll be banjaxed…” he muttered. He grabbed his portable computer and fired it up, typing in ‘Madelyne Barry’ and reading the biographical details:
m. (1) Daniel West – 1 daughter
(2) Johnny Varsallona – 1 daughter
He heard the door from the bedroom opening and turned to tell Symphony what he’d discovered, but the words died on his lips when he saw her emerge.
His jaw dropped and he stared at the vision before him. He knew of her chameleon-like ability to reinvent herself whenever she felt like it, but the change from the business-like Angel pilot to… well, to his private idea of a sex-Goddess, was astounding. He carried on staring, feeling a stirring in his loins, while she was pre-occupied fiddling with the neckline of her dress – a dress that outlined and enhanced every wonderful curve…
She looked towards him and destroyed his fantasy with her first sentence. “What’s wrong, Pat? You’re staring at me like a fish out of water.”
“What? Oh… well, I think I have a lead on Fiona Allen.”
“Great! What is it?”
“I remembered where I’d seen her before – well, I’ve seen her mother. See that actress on the TV? That’s Madelyne Barry – and the second husband she married was a guy called Johnny Varsallona-”
“How nice for her.”
He ignored the interruption and continued, “Varsallona ran a large part of the Las Vegas Syndicate; I… er… well, I did some computer work for him once or twice, and he was a pretty shrewd operator. It was always said he was invulnerable because he had no weak spots. It wasn’t quite true, however; because Johnny and Madelyne had a daughter, called Fenella. Now, Fenella-baby was the light of his life – what she wanted she got – and I’d say, from what I heard – Fenella really didn’t have any weak spots. Now – take a good look at the photo of Fiona Allen – see any resemblance?”
Symphony frowned down at the picture. “You mean she’s got connections to the American Syndicates?” she asked, glancing back to the TV screen.
He nodded. “I’d stake my year’s salary that Fiona Allen and Fenella Varsallona are one and the same.”
She looked again at the photograph and the screen and her uncertainty began to evaporate – Magenta was a cautious gambler and a successful one more often than not. She’d trust his instinct on this one. “Great work, Pat, but how exactly does this help us?”
“Well, it means I can identify which casinos we need to case, for a start. I can find out which ones the Syndicate has a stake in – no trouble.”
“You mean you still have a valid password for ‘crime-syndicates-R-us-dot-com’?” she teased, with a wry smile. “That’s useful, Pat, really it is, but I’m not actually bothered about Fenella-Fiona; unless it helps us to find Adam. Still, I guess it does throw another light on The Nebula. I wonder if Adam knew this about her.”
Magenta shrugged. “Depends if she ever told him. Last I heard, ‘Fenella-baby’ had gone to Europe with a large bank account full of Syndicate money, not something she’d want to bandy about. There was a little… local controversy over the fact that Johnny had handed it over to her and things got pretty nasty for awhile, but Varsallona saw the vultures off. He was still there when I left, sitting in his web of corruption like some bloated spider, although I heard he was recently given the order of the boot from the big syndicate, and now he operates a few small, specialist businesses in Vegas.”
“You have kept yourself up to date,” she said, with a smile. She rested a hand on his shoulder and leant over to pick up the photograph again, giving him a waft of her intoxicating perfume and a glimpse of the curve of her full breasts in their lacy cradle.
“Yeah,” he agreed, as casually as he could. “That’s pretty lenient of them, because, if you want to know, ousted syndicate members do not – as a rule – have long and happy retirements. It means that either Varsallona was higher up the oligarchy than I ever realised, or he has something on the back-burner that just might be big enough to get him his credibility back. What if that something is The Nebula, Karen?”
She gave a thoughtful nod. “You mean Fenella-Fiona might well be using Daddy’s mob money to finance her industrial espionage racket? I wonder if she was doing it the first time round, when she married Warren Allen…”
“It can’t be ruled out, but either way, my guess is that Fenella-Fiona didn’t broadcast where she originally got her money from, so I doubt if Blue knows a thing about it. You know more about The Nebula than I do, I expect, so if you don’t know, I’m guessing he doesn’t. He’s certainly never mentioned Allen’s wife being related to a big Mob Boss to me. Has he said anything to you?”
She shook her head, surprised by his implication that Captain Blue had discussed The Nebula with him at all. Blue was not known for talking about his past and even she felt asking him about what he’d done before they met was like getting blood from a stone sometimes.
Magenta continued to reason aloud. “We know he’s looking for the person who killed Vandermark and, therefore, presumably also took Rick – and he flew here. If he isn’t trying to find her,” he pointed at the photograph she was holding, “who is he after? Besides, now we know that Fiona Allen has underworld credentials, she’s the obvious place for us to start.”
“But if Adam doesn’t know, why would he go after her? I mean, he doesn’t like Fiona Allen because he blames her for Soraya’s death as much as her husband. Even so, he’s never said anything to me that suggested he thought she was a mobster. The only reason he’d have to chase her is…” she paused, “well, revenge,” she concluded, adding, “And that wouldn’t be like Adam – not really.” She paused and admitted, “He tends to have a real problem with treating women as the bad guys – seems to think we’re all far too pretty to be really bad – or some such nonsense.’
Magenta gave her a quick, sympathetic smile. “You might be right, Karen, but do you have a better idea as to why he’s here? Besides however much he may pretend otherwise, Adam’s a Svenson to his core and that family have a reputation for … well, for getting their own back. I know you think he’s as pure as the driven snow and motivated by ideals mere mortals can’t hope to emulate, but … well,” he paused, “All I can say is that if some gang murdered my girl, I wouldn’t settle up with just one of them, d’you know what I mean?”
She bit her lip and, after a moment’s hesitation, nodded. She’d always suspected that her lover had a ruthless streak, an inkling that had been reinforced when she’d learned about his past involvement with The Nebula and the part he’d played in their downfall. She didn’t have to like the fact though, and even now she was reluctant to agree with Magenta that Blue might be on the trail of some personal revenge.
Magenta didn’t press his point. He continued, “I know how these people work. If his daughter was involved with it, Varsallona – and through him, the Syndicates – have a stake in The Nebula. That means wherever she is Fiona Allen can call on the Syndicate for help, protection and finance.”
He glanced at her biting her lip in concern for her lover, and added with some reluctance, “It also goes without saying that if she knows Blue’s here and looking for her, he’s in even more danger than we realised.”
Karen dropped the photograph onto the table top and turned away placing the palm of her hand against her forehead as she fought to stay focused on the problem.
I’m a skilled security agent, she told herself, with experience of a dozen missions like this; the thought that Adam’s involved should not turn me into a quivering wreck.
She drew a deep breath to steady her nerves and stood up straight, making a determined attempt to retain her professional detachment.
Magenta saw her concerted effort and said firmly, “We should look for Fiona Allen; I’m sure she’ll lead us to Blue.”
He saw Symphony give a brusque nod of her head and then turn round to smile at him.
He smiled back and added, with a touch of humour, “Of course, there is always the possibility that that dress will bring him straight out of hiding at a run. It would me.”
But he’d miscalculated – Symphony wasn’t in the mood for flirting. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she challenged, tilting her head quizzically, as she stood with her hands on her hips, in an unconscious imitation of her lover’s favoured stance when he got argumentative.
Smiling to appease her irritation, Magenta explained, “It means: that is a very pretty dress, worn by a very pretty woman, and you’d better not leave the room unless you are prepared to fight off every red-blooded man within miles of here.”
To his surprise, Symphony blushed. “Well, you’ve only yourself to blame. You said you wanted to look rich enough to play ‘big money games’ at the casinos and I thought a rich guy like that’d have the sort of girlfriend who’d wear a dress like this.”
“In my dreams,” he agreed, and switched off the TV.
“Have I gone too far?” she asked, sounding unsure of herself. Looking down at her décolletage she wriggled as she pulled on the narrow straps and hoisted the neckline higher again.
Magenta moved towards her, and drew a ragged breath. “Ask yourself: what would Adam say about this dress – and you’ll have the answer to that,” he managed to say.
Surprised, she looked up.
He was standing very close, his eyes sweeping over her body with an expression in them that she’d seen before in other men’s eyes, but had never recognised in his. She drew in a half-breath and tried to shrug it off, saying with a jokey shrug,
“You know me, Pat; I never do things by halves…”
He reached out and gently raised her chin with his finger. “You are quite simply the sexiest woman I think I’ve ever seen,” he confessed.
Appalled that things had gone this far, she pushed him away and gasped, “A joke’s a joke, right enough, but that’s enough, Pat… Cut it out, please.”
A wave of frustrated anger fizzed through him and for a moment he looked at her with animosity. Symphony was standing poised to attack if he advanced again; there was a flush of colour on her pale and shocked face, and a tinge of anguish in her beautiful mossy-green eyes. Although at that moment he almost hated her, the feeling didn’t last – and he felt the anger ebb away to be replaced by a miserable embarrassment.
He shook his dark head sadly and said, “You’re right and I’m sorry, Symphony.” He could see her starting to relax at his words. “I don’t know what came over me,” he lied.
Symphony nodded, more than willing to accept that statement at face value. “We’re both concerned about our friends; that’s enough to make us both over-react. I should think twice before I strut around dressed like this. I’m sorry, Pat, I kinda forget at times. So, as we’re both a little to blame, let’s forget this ever happened, right?”
“Yeah – let’s.”
She gave a sigh of relief and a shaky smile and tidied her hair with one hand before saying, as casually as she could, “Now, will you identify the casinos we should be targeting, while I go and find a jacket?”
Magenta responded with equal apparent nonchalance. “No problem. We have work to do.”
He turned back to the table and his computer and began to type in instructions, while she fled back to the bedroom and rummaged through her luggage for something suitable to cover her exposed shoulders.
Harmony took the rapid transit network downtown. She strolled through the office-lined streets of the business quarter until she found the building she was looking for. On the outside wall of the glass fronted skyscraper was a plaque listing the tenants. On the eighth floor was ‘Peking Taxi Corps’.
She took the lift and walked across the open-plan reception to the desk.
The receptionist addressed her in Chinese. “Good day, how may I help you?”
“I wish to speak to Mr Yue,” Harmony replied.
The receptionist’s neatly shaped eyebrows rose in a cynical curve.
“Mr Yue is in conference. May anyone else help you?”
“I wish to speak to Mr Yue; I’m sure he’ll excuse the interruption if you tell him that Chan Kwan is here.”
Harmony nodded, relieved to see that the significance of her name was apparent to the woman without further explanation.
The receptionist gave a nervous smile. “Please to take a seat; I will endeavour to contact Mr Yue.”
Harmony strolled over to the glass wall and stared down at the ceaselessly busy street below. She’d never been to Macau before, but the cityscape looked much the same as any of the great modern metropolises.
She heard a door opening and turned towards the sound.
A small, smartly-dressed, elderly man hurried into the reception. His face lit up as he saw her. “Chan Xiaojie,” he cried in delighted surprise, bowing low and then shaking her hand warmly. “This is a great and unexpected pleasure. Please come into my office and tell me what brings you to Macau – of all places.”
Once she was settled in the traditionally furnished office, with refreshments placed close to hand, Harmony began to explain the reason for her visit.
Yue listened intently, a frown between his eyes.
“Chan Xiaojie, you can’t mean to tackle these people alone?”
She nodded. “The people who have become embroiled with the Tong are friends of mine, Yue Xiansheng. They have risked themselves to help me before and I’m duty and honour-bound to come to their aid. Indeed, it is my pleasure to do so. But, I would prefer to have some co-operation from you, if you can perform it?”
“You shall have whatever I can give, my dear,” Yue said without hesitation.
“Thank you,” Harmony said with genuine relief. “Tell me, do you know where I can find my uncle?”
Yue nodded. “Chen Xiansheng does not do much business now; most of it is handled by your cousin, Chen Xiong.”
Harmony hesitated, she had been dreading asking her next question. “Yue Xiansheng, I have to know what leverage I have with them in order to ask help for my friends. I want you to tell me all you know about what lay between my father and his brother.”
Yue sighed. “Your father kept the story from you for a reason, Chan Xiaojie. He was my dear friend; he did not need to ask me to keep his confidences, he knew I would; but I can see you are determined to do this and I promised him I would look after you, and help you, if the need arose. For that reason, I will tell you.”
Harmony expressed her thanks and listened as Yue explained the family history her father had never spoken to her about.
“Your grandfather was an important member of a powerful criminal group, based around Macau and Hong Kong. They were smugglers, dealers, pimps and thieves – turning their hands to anything that made money. He had two sons, your father and his younger brother. Your grandmother was a beautiful and well-bred woman, who longed for her husband to leave his business, move away and start afresh. These aspirations she instilled in her eldest son.”
Harmony nodded; she knew the basic story already, but her father had never spoken about the specific incidents that had sundered him from his family.
Yue continued, “Your uncle was more like his father – he saw riches in remaining in the Tong and grew to despise his mother and brother for their weakness – as he saw it. As he grew, your father was trained as a pilot and he was an excellent one. The Tong wanted him to fly the drug-trade routes as the first step towards a career in the Tong. He was not happy with this, he spoke many times of his wish to leave the business and with his mother’s encouragement he was about to do so when something happened to stop him. He fell in love with the daughter of another gangster.”
Yue glanced at his visitor and when he saw her nod serenely he realised she wanted him to continue.
“Your father wanted to marry this girl and leave Macau with her, to start a new life. She wanted to go with him and had money of her own that would have given them an independent start in their new lives. But, it was not to be, Chan Xiaojie, for her father, who was an important boss in the Tong, disapproved; he warned your father to leave his daughter alone, but my friend was a man of courage and he refused. The young people plotted to elope, but the day before their plan was to be executed, your uncle betrayed them. Your father was shot in the scuffle and it was only the pleading of his beloved that saved his life.”
Harmony’s lips had parted in surprise as she realised for the first time, how the scar she’d seen on her father’s shoulder had originated.
“The lady agreed to give up their relationship, if your father was allowed to live and leave Macau,” Yue explained. “He refused to go without her, but your grandmother pleaded with him and finally she had her way. She went with her favourite son to nurse him back to full health – she said – but she never returned to her husband. They settled in Tokyo, your father adopting the alternative form of the family name, to distance himself from the increasingly notorious Macau Chens. He started working as a pilot, and was much in demand. That is when I first met him, and we became good friends, although it was many years before I heard the story of his past from his own lips. We both saved what we could and clubbed together to buy our first aircraft, calling our company, the Peking Taxi Corps.”
Harmony smiled. “I know the story of how you both worked to make the company successful, Yue Xiansheng, and why you sold your share to my father. I’m glad and honoured that you were able to come back to the company on his death and help me run it.”
“We remained good friends all our lives, and when he married your mother, our families celebrated together.”
“What happened to the woman he had loved in Macau?” she asked curiously.
“That was always something of great regret for your father. It was many years before he fell in love again – with your dear mother. His plan had been to rescue his first love.” Yue gave a gentle smile. “I really think that was the real reason why he wanted to be the owner of his own plane.”
Harmony’s responding smile was tinged with sadness at the thought of her gentle father pining for a lost love. Her mother was much younger than her husband and Harmony had always been aware that the real love was on her side, rather than a deep mutual emotion. Her father had been affectionate and considerate towards his young wife, but there had never been any evidence of ardour in his behaviour.
Mr Yue continued, “Soon after your father left Macau, the young lady married your uncle. Your father did not know – and nor do I – if that was part of the bargain she made to save him, or her way of remembering him, or even that her fickle heart was wooed so quickly by another suitor. We heard nothing more until the news came that she had died not so many years later, leaving a child.”
“My cousin, Chen Xiong?”
Yue shook his head. “No, this was a daughter. The girl was sent away to live with relatives when your uncle remarried. I don’t know what happened to her; there were rumours that she’d died, also.”
“But she may still live and be out in the world somewhere?”
“She may be. Perhaps your uncle would know. Whatever the truth of it, Chan Xiaojie, because of his marriage, he grew to be a powerful influence in the Tong, and was – until he retired – the most powerful man in Macau, or so they say.”
“Since you came here to open a branch of the PTC, have the Tong bothered you, Yue Xiansheng?”
“I have been approached by several of their leaders, offering ‘deals’ for the use of our planes, or money to buy out the entire firm – these I have reported to the board, which you are aware of, I’m sure. I’m confident that I can deal with them,” Yue replied, “but I would be a liar to say they do not bother me.”
“I wonder why my father never told me the full story of why he broke with his family, after my mother died,” Harmony mused. “I can see that he would not wish to upset her but there were opportunities after that.”
“You were his pride and joy, Chan Xiaojie, he did not want you sullied with the sordid past, nor endangered by the family he’d grown to despise.”
She nodded, smiling, and then said, “He was a wise man, Yue Xiansheng, but now I think the past between the brothers might give me the leverage I need to save my friends. I see more than ever now that I must speak to my uncle. There is no other choice.”
“Be careful. Your uncle is a ruthless and dangerous man, and your cousin is another such.”
“Is it true that they want control of PTC?”
Yue nodded. “Since we moved into Macau, they have watched us with greedy eyes, and have made a few false claims against us, but we have seen them off. If it comes to the crunch, we shall close this branch down, however profitable it has become, and retrench to Japan. They can not touch us there.”
She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “You are sure they can’t take control even if I were to offer it to them as a bargaining tool for their help to find my friends?”
“I am sure. Your father was aware that when he died you might be vulnerable to the machinations of your uncle and that you might have ambitions to do more with your life than simply follow in his footsteps. Therefore, the constitution he devised for the company does not permit you to dispose of your assets in the company without the legal agreement of the entire board and the trustees of your holdings. You can sign any paper you wish, Chan Xiaojie, but it is worthless without those agreements.”
“And if they come to collect?” she asked.
Mr Yue’s expression hardened. “We are not without friends, even in Macau.”
“Good, then I shall offer them the company.”
“Be careful,” Yue repeated. “They are dangerous men.”
She gave a secretive smile. “I have dealt with worse, Yue Xiansheng, believe me.”
As the only daughter of a wealthy businessman, Chan Kwan had been expensively educated in Tokyo and London, and although she had seen nothing out of the ordinary in this decision at the time, she now wondered if it had been part of her father’s concerted attempt to keep her out of the reach of his family. Her mother had been heart-broken when she was told that her only child was to go to London, but for once her father had been implacable and to London Kwan had duly gone. Returning home, she had been immediately enrolled in Tokyo University, once again, safe from the reach of her uncle. When her mother had died, the 20 year old completed her courses and then came home, determined to remain at her father’s side.
They had had three years together before he too had died, leaving her a rich woman. Mr Yue had come back as Chief Executive of the company to lend his expertise to his friend’s daughter, and when Spectrum had offered her the chance to become Harmony Angel, Chan Kwan had asked his advice before accepting the offer. Mr Yue was now the closest thing she had to ‘family’ and she trusted him implicitly.
A couple of hours after she’d arrived, an almost unrecognisable Harmony Angel walked through the Peking Taxi Corps offices to the taxi waiting for her in the street. Although her Spectrum colleagues might not have recognised the demure Harmony Angel in the assertive woman walking through the lobby of the building, she was instantly recognisable to the board members of the PTC. She had as instinctive a head for business as Captain Blue – although few on Cloudbase suspected as much – but, unlike Blue who had walked away from any involvement in the concerns of SvenCorp, Chan Kwan kept a finger on the pulse of the Peking Taxi Corps.
She’d taken great care with her appearance; aware of the social conventions that would protect her whilst she negotiated with the dangerous and amoral men she was being forced to confront, she’d chosen to stay within their boundaries.
Yet despite the cosmopolitan upbringing her parents had chosen for her, she’d always felt comfortable with the time-honoured traditions of her native Chinese and Japanese homelands and had willingly studied them, but her respect for them did not prevent her using them to her own advantage when the need arose.
She’d always chosen to wear her thick, black hair in a short bob, but now she had arranged it in a bouffant style that would have made Symphony – Cloudbase’s undisputed ‘Queen of the Back-comb’ – proud. She was dressed in a modern variation of a traditional-style dress made of white silk, patterned with clusters of red flowers, and wore elegant shoes with discreetly raised platform soles and heels, to increase her height. The carefully applied make-up emphasised her dark eyes and bee-stung lips.
It was power-dressing of the most subtle kind and Chan felt thoroughly confident as she glanced at herself in the mirror before she thanked Mr Yue and his secretary for their help and left.
She held her head high as she boarded the taxi, smiling internally at the thought that no one on Cloudbase really knew her well enough to recognise her beneath her ‘disguise’. She just hoped she’d be able to put her plan in operation in time to save dear Captain Ochre and her good friend, Captain Blue.
Shortly afterwards, she paid the taxi driver and rang the bell of the trim, traditional style house that was her destination. The door was opened by a neat servant, who bowed to her and listened to her request,
“I wish to see Chen Xiansheng. I am Chan Kwan.”
The maid conducted her to a small vestibule and when she returned, bowed much lower, inviting Harmony to follow her. She was taken into an exquisitely furnished room, where an elderly man sat close to the window, reading a newspaper.
He lowered the paper and studied her carefully for a long moment, then closed it, stood and came towards her. Although he was smiling, his eyes were wary and he watched her intently as he approached her.
“Welcome, Chan Xiaojie; welcome to my home. I’m honoured to see you here.”
Harmony bowed, glad her elaborate make-up hid the flush of surprise she felt at seeing this man who so resembled her dear father. She reminded herself that a physical resemblance was all they shared, and murmured politely, “Thank you, Chen Xiansheng.”
Etiquette dictated that her host did not question why she was there, nor could she state her business until she’d been welcomed in an acceptable manner, therefore she accepted a seat and waited until the maid had delivered some refreshments and left them together.
There was no point in rushing things; that would have been considered the height of rudeness, so she accepted the tea with every appearance of contentment, despite her belief that there was a need for speedy action. The conversation skirted around general topics but, when they finished their drinks the atmosphere in the room changed slightly. Mr Chen’s manner became far more businesslike. He studied Harmony intently and then said,
“What can I do for you, my niece? I’m sure you have not come to Macau to spend your time making polite conversation, Chan Xiaojie.”
Harmony inclined her head. “Uncle, you will recall that after my father’s death, you demanded from me what you said was yours to take?” Chen gave a brusque nod. She continued, “I denied you then and I kept what you wanted from you.”
“We could have moved against you anytime, Chan Xiaojie; it was the respect I had for my brother that protected you.”
Harmony acknowledged the statement with a slight, but sceptical inclination of her head. “My father was your older brother, yet you took from him what was rightly his and forced him away from his home. To a simple woman like me, that shows very little ‘respect’, Chen Xiansheng. ”
Chen gave a smile so tight-lipped it signalled nothing but anger. “You have heard only his side of the story, Chan Xiaojie. Allow me to enlighten you as to the other side. Do you know that in his youth your father worked as a pilot for the Tong?”
Harmony’s nod of confirmation seemed to surprise her uncle, but he continued,
“Our father was a member of a powerful family, and looked to see his sons follow in his path. My brother made many successful flights into the Golden Triangle to collect raw opium, and became highly regarded by his comrades. He also grew to have a too high opinion of himself. Our leader had a daughter – his only surviving child – and your father made a request for her hand in marriage. It was considered a suitable match – my father had raised the reputation of our family to great levels – but Jaing Li did not wish this. She had by then given her heart to another. She’d given her heart to me, Chan Xiaojie. Her father was loath to make his daughter comply and rejected my brother’s suit, permitting his daughter to marry me, instead. Your father was offended and chose to leave Macau, but he left under a cloud, with money that was not his to take. It was my wife who pleaded for her rejected suitor to be pardoned and for love of his daughter the Leader did so. Thereafter, it was me who has protected your father and his family from the far-reaching wrath of the Tong. I watched my brother build his company, dedicated to the skill that had made him valuable to the Tong. In time, he married a Chinese woman from Beijing, the second of the bases he opened, after Tokyo. You were born and he prospered. Yet, when he died, you must understand that my colleagues expected that what had been theirs should be returned to them.”
“My father left you money – more than he could ever have taken from the Tong. And Peking Taxi Corps was never theirs,” Harmony responded, a spark of fire in her dark eyes.
“They see it differently. Especially when you chose to reject our very reasonable offer, Chan Xiaojie.”
Harmony gave a slight shrug. “Uncle, I took what my father gave me, and I work to make it grow. PTC is now a global company with resources in many countries. As such, I expect it is even more attractive an acquisition to you and your colleagues.”
Chen nodded. “That is true, Chan Xiaojie.”
He regarded the young woman with a perceptive concentration that again reminded her of her father. Harmony remained impassive under her uncle’s gaze, her head held high and any fear well hidden. Learning some of the truth of their family’s past had been a shock that was going to take some getting used to, but she owed it to her father and grandmother not to be cowed by this man.
Finally the formidable old man said again, “How may I help you, my niece?”
Harmony explained, “Friends of mine, decent, honest men, were investigating the theft of some technological plans, and the death of a colleague. I have reason to believe these documents were destined for certain ‘businessmen’ here, in Macau, to be traded with the Jianye for privileges concerning the supplying of drugs. My friends have unintentionally stumbled into this transaction; one of them is being held a prisoner and the others are in danger. I want you to help me extricate them safely, Uncle. In return for this, I will pledge to deliver the Peking Taxi Corps into your hands.”
Chen made no immediate response. He stood and walked before the window, staring out at the carefully landscaped garden beyond the house. His hand stroked his chin as he pondered the request. Finally he turned to Harmony and said,
“You know a great deal, Chan Xiaojie. I must ask you how you got to know of this ‘business’ deal.”
“I can’t tell you, Uncle. My only concern is that my friends’ lives are in danger. I ask you to help me save them. I believe you can do that; but if you will not, then I have no more to say to you.”
She stood, gathering her small silk handbag in preparation for leaving.
“Patience, Chan Xiaojie. My days as an important figure in the business world of Macau are gone. My son now runs the Lucky Red Dragon Casino; he deals with all aspects of the business.”
“And he does not respect his father?” she asked sharply.
“Chen Xiong is a most respectful son.” The old man paused, a stern expression settling on his face. “I shall make the request to him and you will come with me.”
Harmony gave a slight shrug, although relief flooded through her at these words. Things had gone better than she’d dared hope. “If you think that is the best way to progress, Chen Xiansheng, I will accompany you.”
With a sour smile, Mr Chen made ready to leave the house, telephoning for his car to meet them at the front door.
As twilight closed in, Macau came alive. The multi-storey casinos, nightclubs, bars and restaurants switched on their neon lights and the city sparkled. Pulsating music accompanied the lightshow. The night-people emerged from their rooms to throng the streets, where the pungent aroma of food wafted invitingly from the thousands of restaurants and stalls.
Hiroshi Nugaka turned to from the window and nodded farewell to Mai Li. She was wearing her uniform as a croupier at the biggest Casino in Macau, her black hair swept back into a tight knot against her slender neck and her make-up far more subtle than it had been earlier.
“Let us know if you spot Lombardo,” Nugaka said.
“As soon as I’m able to,” she agreed. “I can’t leave the tables easily; it would attract attention and it’s a dismissal offence. I know this is important, but I need to keep my job or my chief at the WPC will be on my case faster than I can say ipecacuhana.”
Nugaka gave a wry smile, “Why would you want to say that, you strange girl?” he teased.
She smiled and winked.
“That’s okay, Mai,” Svenson said, watching the by-play between the two with a dawning realisation that they were more to each other than simply partners. “I’ll be arriving at the casino just as soon as I’ve changed, I’ll be there to watch for him too.”
“I don’t like it,” Nugaka said for the third or fourth time in the discussion. He turned to the American. “You shouldn’t go in there alone, Adam. If they are Gambino and Allen, as you believe, Lombardo and Haswell can identify you.”
“Why should they even be looking for me?” Svenson asked.
“They’ll know Warren Allen is dead, they might know the British Police are looking for you…”
“But they still won’t expect to see me here,” Svenson reasoned.
Nugaka knew from the tone of his companion’s voice that it was useless to argue further. Instead he consoled himself by asking, “You have a weapon, Mai?”
“A small gun, yes,” she answered. “I always carry one.”
Nugaka knew that wasn’t going to be much use in an emergency and he came to a decision. “I will follow you in, Adam.”
“There’s no need,” Svenson reassured him quickly. “There might be two people there who can identify me, but there will be many more who know you, Hiroshi.” He didn’t want to risk Nugaka being recognised and ruining his chance of finding Ochre and The Nebula spies.
“That is probably what Teunis thought,” Hiroshi stated flatly. “I will be there when you need me.”
Svenson knew there was no comeback to that. He nodded, acknowledging that it was comforting to know support would be close by. He opened the door for Mai to slip out. There wasn’t that much danger of his having been followed, but if they were seen together – well, since she’d picked him up in the park earlier, it would explain their being together and the length of time they’d spent in the room.
They parted on the street, Mai hurrying towards the casino and Svenson strolling back to his own hotel. He kept a wary eye on the crowds, alert for any sign of being followed. There were plenty of Westerners enjoying the sights and sounds of the city, but he knew he stood out even amongst them; being tall and startlingly fair-haired had its disadvantages.
Back in his hotel room he routinely swept the place for bugs before contacting Deringham and bringing her up to date with events. She had some news for him too.
“Commander Càmpora has landed in Hong Kong and should have made contact with the Spectrum agent Captain Scarlet by now. They’re to follow the couriers and try to locate the bosses, sir.”
Svenson smiled at the news; it was good to know that Scarlet was somewhere in the vicinity, even if he was ostensibly working on another mission, and that by contacting Jorge he could also reach his partner.
He replied to Deringham with undisguised relief in his voice, “I think that more than vindicates my belief that The Nebula’s base is around here. Layla, it might be wise to alert Càmpora that I’m in Macau, and so is Nugaka, if he didn’t already know. If his lead heads this way, we should co-ordinate our efforts.”
“Certainly, sir. What will you do in the meantime?”
“I’ll follow my original plan, and see if I can track down Lombardo or Lucille Haswell.”
“You’re still going to go to the casino?” she asked doubtfully.
“Officer Li believes that Lombardo will show tonight. It’s his usual day for – she suspects – paying the Tong what’s owed. Of course, he may also be there to report that the plans are on their way, if, as seems likely, they plan to sell them to the Tong and through them to the UAR. If I can spot him and follow him, I’m sure he’ll lead me to Fiona Allen and hopefully to Captain Ochre as well.”
“Shouldn’t you wait for back-up? These people are desperate and once they’ve recognised you, they won’t think twice about killing you... sir.”
“Layla, I didn’t know you cared. Perhaps you can tell me why everyone suddenly assumes that since I left the WAS I’ve become totally incompetent at this?” he asked rhetorically. He sensed her discomfiture at his annoyance and relented, saying: “Don’t fret your beautiful head over me, Officer Deringham; Nugaka will be close by and so will Officer Li, in case anything goes pear-shaped. Besides, I am perfectly able to take care of myself.”
“Well, if you say so, but I just hope those aren’t ‘famous last words’, sir.”
The scrape of the bolts on the metal door alerted Scarlet to the arrival of visitors. When the door opened he was standing, innocently enough, beside the rough camp bed where Càmpora was sprawled. Prepared to use his own body to shield the still unconscious WAS agent from further harm, Scarlet stood his ground as a small group entered.
It consisted of three Chinese men, dressed in short white lab coats and an elegantly dressed, dark-haired Caucasian woman. Scarlet studied her face as she surveyed the room with distaste, and recognised the suspect, now known as Lucille Haswell, from the dossier the colonel had distributed before they left Cloudbase.
Well, wherever we are, we’re definitely in the hands of The Nebula, he thought grimly.
Aloud he said, “Who are you and what do you think you’re doing interfering with a Spectrum officer in the course of his duty? I suggest you let me and my associate go before…”
“Before what?” Lucille Haswell interjected. “You’re in no position to make any demands, Captain – Scarlet, is it? No one knows where you are and I have no intention of letting Spectrum or the WAS interfere with my plans.”
“The WAS? What’ve they got to do with anything? I am on a fully authorised mission for Spectrum. You could find yourself prosecuted by the World Government for impeding that mission…”
Haswell laughed. “Oh, very good, Captain. I’m almost convinced the World Government might be able to reach Macau and drag me out to face the music. Resign yourself to the inevitable; no one’s about to burst in and rescue you.”
“You’ll never get away with it,” Scarlet retorted.
To his surprise, Lucille Haswell laughed again. “Really, Captain, I never thought people actually used that corny line!” She came closer and taunted him, “How exactly do you intend to make good on your threat?”
Scarlet returned her stare without blinking, until it was Haswell that had to look away. She was angered at his defiance, but if he hoped that would keep her attention focused on him, rather than Càmpora, he was mistaken.
She pushed past him and jerked her head towards the Chinese, indicating that she wanted Càmpora raised.
Two of the men came forwards and dragged Càmpora from the bed, to his feet. Outraged as he was to see such rough treatment of the wounded man, Scarlet was nevertheless, pleased to see the Argentinean come to when they threw water into his face; he’d been worried about him.
When they let go of him, Càmpora sank to his knees, only staying upright by leaning against the bed. At a word from Haswell the henchmen dragged him to his feet again, making it clear he should remain upright if he wanted to be left alone. Scarlet was impressed that Càmpora was able to remain upright, albeit unsteadily, given the state he was in. He willed the Argentinean to stay conscious and watched in concern when the man raised his manacled hands to his head and swayed alarmingly.
Haswell walked across to Càmpora. He glanced up at her.
“Hello, Jorge,” she said with surprising tenderness. “It’s been a long time.”
“Fiona?” Jorge stammered in confusion, a frown creasing his brow as he continued to stare at her.
“I never expected to see you again, especially not here in Macau, and certainly not in company with Spectrum. You used to be a man with some independence of spirit; you took pride in your work. You were a good pilot, before Svenson wooed you into his ‘Department of Do-Gooders’.”
Càmpora shook his head, flinching at the movement. “I volunteered; I hated the men – and women – who were dragging the service into the same cesspit they had crawled from. I was proud to play my part in your husband’s downfall, Fiona. I would do it again any time.”
“So principled; I’d forgotten that,” she said, reaching out a finger to touch his bruised and filthy cheek. “But see where it gets you, Jorge. You could have been with me, living well on the profits from The Nebula.”
“You must be mad,” he snarled. “I would rather die.”
She shook her head again, reprovingly this time. “Oh, Jorge, you were ever the sweet-talker.” She leant closer. “I always had a soft spot for you; even though you turned me down all those years ago, I could be persuaded to forgive you. Just think of it: with Vandermark’s death, Galvin will need someone to run the Security Department – it could be you, Jorge, working with The Nebula, and with me.”
She grabbed his hair and tipped his face back, so that she could press her lips to his.
It was a long, lingeringly sensual kiss – a violation of the prisoner by his captor. Scarlet, dry-mouthed and parched, would never know where Càmpora found the saliva to spit in her face as she pulled away, a triumphant smile on her lips.
Her smile quickly turned to anger.
“You fool, you stupid fool!” she shouted, wiping the spittle from her cheek. In retaliation, her fist punched his head, where the hair was matted with dried blood. He cried out as he toppled sideways, raising his bound hands to protect his injured skull from further onslaught.
“I was almost inclined to spare you – you could have been useful – but you’ve gone too far!” She smashed her fist down onto him once more.
“Leave him alone, you crazy bitch!” Scarlet screamed. “You’ll kill him!” He sprang forwards, making Haswell draw back and making way for the Chinese to grab Scarlet and throw him back onto the camp bed so violently that his head hit the wall.
“You can’t stop me, Spectrum!” she snarled.
“What the hell are you doing?” Scarlet demanded.
She gave him a scornful glance. “It seems these days there’s nowhere you can go where Spectrum doesn’t have a grubby presence; causing inconvenience and distractions. But you should know this, Captain; The Nebula’s survived far worse than anything Spectrum could devise. We’ll survive once more, but, sadly, neither of you will be here to see it.”
In an attempt to draw attention away from Càmpora, Scarlet rolled his eyes and said tauntingly, “Ah, I’ve noticed this tendency criminally insane people have to want to explain themselves to their victims. Are you expecting me to beg for our lives? Is that it? Well, you’re in for a disappointment, lady, because I don’t intend to waste my breath.”
Her expression hardened as she turned towards the Spectrum captain, but she didn’t react; instead she moved towards him and said, “Oh, you’ll beg, Captain – you’ll crawl on your hands and knees for your release. Sadly, that very release will bring your death – at your own hands.”
She turned towards the man in the white coat. “You have the samples?” He nodded. She jerked her head towards Scarlet and the two henchmen came to stand alongside him, wrestling him to his knees, with difficulty, beside Càmpora.
“Allow me to explain, Captain,” Fiona said, as she watched the ‘doctor’ prepare a syringe filled with a yellow-tinged liquid. “Some months ago The Nebula was approached by the Macau Tong acting for the military junta in Jianye. They asked us to help them extract retribution from the World Government for the Director-General’s death. It seems they were more than a little angry by his death while under Spectrum’s protection and, in particular, they wanted two of their agents: Captain Blue and Captain Scarlet, to suffer justice for the assassination. They can’t find hide nor hair of these ‘Mysterons’ that Spectrum chose to blame for the incident – they don’t believe they exist – and they’ve concluded that this was part of a World Government plot to destabilise their regime.”
“These spats blow up periodically, they don’t mean anything,” said Scarlet dismissively, although his heart sank at her words. “The World Government’s negotiating with the UAR as we speak.”
“Then maybe they’re not talking to the right people?” Fiona snarled, “Because I’m telling you – you little red-coat soldier – the junta is not happy with Spectrum.”
“You expect me to believe you engineered all this to capture two Spectrum agents?”
“No,” she replied, with a nonchalant shrug. “We had no intention of getting involved with Spectrum. We were simply commissioned to deliver the technology for the latest stealth planes, so that the junta could – I assume – get close enough to launch aerial attacks on Spectrum’s bases without being detected.”
“That’s never going to happen, lady,” Scarlet said with considerable swagger. “Spectrum has technology that can detect anything that approaches any of its bases.”
She gave a gloating smile. “I know they do. At this very moment, I have one of your friends singing like a canary about all the wonderful technology at your disposal. He can’t tell us quick enough what Spectrum has and where. We’ll pass the information on, of course, and make a nice tidy profit.”
Scarlet’s heart skipped a beat as he realised that against all the odds, he’d found Captain Ochre and that – according to his gaoler – he was still alive. Before he had time to respond in a way that might give him better information, Càmpora spoke.
“You must be mad,” he interposed, shaking his head in horrified disbelief at her threats. “You could start another global conflict if the World Government takes an attack on Spectrum as something ‘personal’. Millions of people could die!”
“Your point being?” Haswell said coldly. “Listen, Jorge, I have a few scores of my own to settle with the World Government, and the WAS, if it comes to that. I don’t care if the whole shebang collapses. You might say that anarchy is good for the kind of business I’m in – my father made his fortune during the Atomic War. Besides, Spectrum doesn’t scare me.”
Càmpora startled them both by exclaiming, “Madre de Dios, they sure scare me! Even if they are supposed to be the good-guys,” he added with an apologetic glance at Scarlet. “Think about it, Fiona, even though Spectrum keeps themselves to themselves, they protect their own; attack one and you’ll have them all on your tail. They will hunt you down like the bitch you are, Fiona, and you’ll deserve everything you get.”
“You have that right,” Scarlet said coldly, thinking of Ochre.
Although she was a little alarmed by their words, Haswell managed to maintain an air of indifference. “They don’t have a clue where we are,” she said, seeking to reassure herself almost as much as she wanted to dishearten her prisoners. “And don’t imagine either of you’ll get the chance to tell them. My friends here,” she indicated the Chinese men who were waiting patiently for their orders, “have syringes of heroin solutions. Your bodies will be found, riddled with puncture marks from where you’ve been shooting up. The police will shrug – just another couple of dead junkies – no great loss to anyone.”
Turning to the doctor, she ordered, “Him first.” She indicated Càmpora. “Minimum strength – we’ll work our way up to a lethal dose; those needle marks have to look for real, and besides, I want to see how it hurts.”
Scarlet cried out in protest. “He’s injured. What can you gain by torturing a man who’s already weak?”
“Don’t worry, Captain Scarlet, your turn will come.” Fiona turned towards him, and he saw madness in the liquid depths of her dark eyes as she added, “You’ll die just as painfully as Jorge – I promise you.”
Càmpora’s weak struggles were fruitless as he was held steady by the two henchmen. The doctor’s hypodermic pierced his arm and the dose was administered. The men let go and he fell to the floor, moaning softly. Scarlet could see the light glinting on his hair where fresh blood was seeping from the reopened wound, but there was nothing he could do.
The two henchmen stood between him and Càmpora and he didn’t doubt Fiona Allen would order them to kill him if he tried to break free. He lowered his head, averting his eyes from their pitiless faces and racked his brain for a way out.
“Now him,” Fiona said, and the henchmen moved to Scarlet’s side.
Concerned that his short-lived reaction to the drug – any drug – would reveal his retrometabolism to his captors, Scarlet fought long and hard, but eventually the fact that he was outnumbered and still handcuffed meant that he was overpowered. One of the henchmen took a painful revenge by putting his boot into Scarlet’s ribcage as they forced him to the floor.
They dragged him to his knees and held him steady while the doctor approached him and tore the fabric of his sleeve to bare his forearm to the syringe. Scarlet stared with belligerent eyes at Fiona Allen. He saw the gleam of triumph in her face as the needle pierced his skin.
He felt the cold fluid seeping into his bloodstream, spreading with each heartbeat through his veins. He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, in preparation for whatever onslaught the drug would bring.
His senses, which were already heightened beyond those of normal men by his Mysteronisation, grew oppressively acute; he could hear the cockroaches scrabbling on the filthy floor, the high-pitched whine of the mosquitoes, the swoosh of his own blood as his heart pumped it through his body, along with the muffled heartbeats of the people in the room.
He smelt the musky body odours of his companions, mingled with ineffective commercial deodorants and the floral aroma of Fiona Allen’s expensive perfume. The rancid smell of vomit and ordure assailed him, bringing a surge of bile to his throat. Beyond that there were traces of the world outside: traffic fumes, spicy food, the filth of the city and the distant tang of the sea.
Behind his eyelids, coloured motes of light danced and swirled to the faint beat of distant music – somewhere a man’s voice screamed, pleading for mercy… yet the awareness hardly impinged on Scarlet’s mind as he floated on waves of sensation, a calm euphoria lulling him into a false sense of security.
There’s no hurry; things will sort themselves out, I don’t have to worry…
He was starting to feel sleepy and closed his eyes, sagging down from his pose of a ramrod straight back to sit on his heels as he knelt on the floor.
The rapture was seductive; the problem of the Mysterons, the disappearance of his friends and how to escape from the clutches of their psychotic female gaoler were all becoming an irrelevance, when suddenly he became aware of a sudden burning thirst and his eyes flew open as his senses hit a sheer wall of pain.
He drew a gasping breath. Sweat broke out all over his body, making him shiver with an unnatural chill. Nausea swept in; worse than anything he sensed in the presence of a Mysteron, so that he could taste the metallic aftertaste of his saliva; his head reeled and his thirst intensified.
He realised that his retrometabolism was purging the drug from his system, and plunging him into a severe case of withdrawal symptoms. He fell back, struggling to focus and keep his balance. Briefly he lost consciousness, and was woken by the shock of a face full of water, as one of the henchmen threw a cupful over him. His tongue lapped eagerly at the droplets.
“Impressive,” he heard Fiona Allen mutter, although to his still hypersensitive hearing it sounded like the deafening toll of a bell. “That must have been a sub-standard sample. Try again.”
Scarlet glanced across at Càmpora. He was still in the grip of the treacherous euphoria; a vague smile was on his face and his body was slumped against the camp bed as if his bones had dissolved and he had no internal skeleton to hold him upright. He caught Scarlet’s gaze and smiled beatifically.
“How long before Càmpora comes out of this?” Fiona asked the doctor.
“It should be an hour, maybe two. I’m surprised the Spectrum man has sobered this quickly.” The man looked suspiciously at his box of hypodermics. “Possibly it was a faulty solution…”
“Then administer another dose – stronger this time,” she ordered. The doctor raised a cautious protest, but she cut it short. “Do it. If he dies we have lost nothing. We can get all the information we need from the other Spectrum agent.”
‘The other Spectrum agent’ – my God, that voice – that was Rick! Scarlet realised and he struggled upright, filled with determination to get to his friend and help him. But his control over his body was still affected by the drug, and he struggled to retain his balance.
The two henchmen roughly pushed him, and were amazed when he swung out his arms, landing a punch on one that sent the man reeling back, a hand pressed to his nose to stem the sudden flow of blood. The second man moved in more warily, striding over to punch Scarlet in the belly, making him double up with pain. He sank to his knees again.
Fiona cast a merciless glance at Scarlet. “Double the dosage,” she ordered. “And if he fights – kill him.”
The interior of the Lucky Red Dragon gambling complex was vast. Galleries of shops and exhibitions enticed the punters off the streets into a huge hall, lined with thousands of slot machines, many of them in constant use by gamblers dutifully feeding their insatiable appetite for coins. The clatter, rumble and mechanical ‘kerchink’ of the machines vomiting out their jackpots, mingled with the hum of the air-conditioning to produce an annoying level of background noise. Even the air conditioning couldn’t keep the room fresh, and the smell of stale food and unwashed bodies was all pervasive.
Beyond this was a maze of smaller foyers leading to restaurants, cabaret theatres, more shops and much quieter rooms dedicated to the more serious games of chance. Here the security was vastly more evident; with tuxedo-wearing heavies mingling with the crowds of well-dressed customers. Svenson didn’t doubt that every one of them was armed.
He stopped at a money booth and changed a large amount of cash for casino chips, tipping the pretty teller handsomely when she handed over the pile of coloured plastic disks.
That ought to get me noticed pretty quickly, he thought as he walked into one of the dimly-lit rooms and glanced at each table and its patrons, as if looking for a suitable opening.
A smart-looking employee approached him and asked politely if he might be of assistance.
“I was thinking I might play baccarat, eventually,” Svenson replied. “I understand that you can play for serious stakes here?”
“Certainly, sir; but you would understand we would need to perform certain credit checks before allowing a gentleman into those tables?”
“I’m pleased to hear it. There have been far too many instances lately of impostors getting into the high-stake games in Vegas.” He blessed Captain Magenta for passing on the information about the problems his ex-colleagues in the Syndicate-run casinos had been facing recently.
The official reassured him, “It does not happen at the Lucky Red Dragon, sir. May I ask your name?”
“Scott, Alex Scott of New York. You’ll find I’m a good enough risk.”
“I’m certain, sir,” the man said, although Svenson could see him weighing the evidence of the rental tuxedo against the wearer’s impeccable ‘rich-man’s’ arrogance.
It was lucky that the hotel he was staying at had a rental service and, although this suit didn’t fit as well as those he actually owned, it was of reasonable quality. Since he’d long ago lost the habit of packing a tuxedo just in case he needed one, this was better than nothing. It was comforting to feel the weight of his gun in one pocket of the jacket and the silencer in the other. However, the fact that no one had frisked him suggested that there were so many heavily-armed employees in the complex that no one in their right mind would even produce a gun here – let alone threaten to use it. He’d have to factor that into his plans.
The official had obviously decided the man was more impressive than his suit and he said, “If you would care to play at one of our public tables until the check is complete, I will hasten to complete the formalities, sir.”
“Yeah, okay. Have them bring me bourbon – on the rocks.” He tossed the man a high-value chip, well aware that someone with the status of this particular flunky would consider being tipped an insult, and equally well aware that ignoring such considerations characterised the worst kind of affluent businessman. He’d met far too many of them in his youth.
As he walked across to a blackjack table, he considered how fortunate it was that his father did not equate ‘rich’ with ‘soft’ and had ensured all of his children received a decent grounding in the seamier side of ‘real life’, as well as the usual academic subjects. John Svenson’s jaundiced outlook had led him to expect that each of his four children would go off the rails – at least once – and therefore he had, with his usual thoroughness, made damn sure they were clued-up enough not to fall for con-men and scams when they did. And so, rather surprisingly, young Adam Svenson had acquired a working knowledge of establishments such as this at his father’s side, just as soon as it was legal for him to enter one.
He fondly remembered his mother’s outrage when she discovered what her husband had done. She had eventually been mollified by his father’s calm reasoning that their son’s modest overall losses was ‘money well spent’, if it succeeded in removing the glamour from gambling. For, as fate would have it, the buzz of winning had proved a transitory sensation once Adam realised that his ‘photographic’ memory gave him a natural advantage at many card games.
Now he rarely gambled and, if he did join in the games of poker played for nominal wagers by the officers on Cloudbase, he generally underplayed his hand, leading both Ochre and Magenta to suppose he’d no aptitude for the game.
One day, he thought, with a wry smile to himself, I hope I get the chance to show them both how wrong they are.
He sat at the blackjack table and sipped his drink, while exercising his mind to track the cards, so that when he started to bet he was consistently successful. Before long he had a substantial pile of chips in front of him and increased the amount he bet accordingly. People began to gravitate to the table as news of a big winner started to seep around the room. He ignored them, concentrating on the cards.
A simpering hostess joined the audience and he invited her to sit beside him, so that she wasn’t blocking his view of the door. The game required that he pay attention to what was happening and he was hard-pressed to examine the other gamblers and watch the exits as well. He lost several bets in a row when he took time to glance around, but before long he got his eye in again, and then the winning streak returned and the chips began to pile up.
The spectators, swollen now to a small crowd – mostly female – gathered to watch, their finely-tuned senses almost smelling the luck. Svenson played on, one eye on the crowd and the players beyond the table. He found it annoying when the growing audience started to hem him in, completely blocking his view, and he made moves to collect his winnings, indicating that he’d had enough for the evening.
As he’d expected, an official bustled up to him and asked, in a confidential whisper, if ‘Mr Scott’ wouldn’t prefer a game with rather higher stakes – he’d known the management wouldn’t want to see this amount of money walk out of the building. Although it was exactly what he wanted, he made a show of considering the options while the man ingratiated himself by suggesting ‘Mr Scott’ was a man of great acumen and skill and finally asking if he would like to join the private games that offered wider scope for his obvious talents.
“It is unwise to offend Lady Luck when she is smiling on you, sir,” he concluded, with a bow.
“Why not; the night is still young, isn’t it?” he asked rhetorically, carelessly tossing the dealers the highest denomination of chip.
“Indeed it is, sir, you might win plenty more,” the man reasoned against all the logical odds.
Svenson nodded, drained his drink and swept his chips into a pile, before the official swept them into a small plastic basket for him. With the hostess hanging on his arm, he followed the man through a guarded door into another room, where muted voices conducted the business of serious gambling.
This room was small and intimate, even after claustrophobic atmosphere of the public salon. The numbers of gamblers were fewer and their dedication absolute. Svenson glanced at the roulette wheel, the baccarat table and finally at the blackjack table, where Mai Li was busily dealing cards. She glanced up and caught his eye, although her expression never altered, nor her hands falter in their task. He felt some reassurance knowing she was there.
He accepted a complimentary drink from another smiling hostess, tipping her with a brightly-coloured chip, and waited to see what would happen next. There was generally a set pattern for these places, but they varied from establishment to establishment and he was wary enough not to want to upset too many people.
He was approached by a sombrely dressed man, who bowed towards him, introduced himself as Mr Wu and said, “Welcome, Mr Scott, to the Lucky Red Dragon Casino’s private gaming rooms. You may choose to play at any table, the minimum stake is fifty thousand and the maximum has never been reached.”
“Thank you. I’ll just sit at the bar awhile and finish my drink, if I may. Then I think I’ll join the baccarat table, when I’m ready. I feel my luck is in tonight.”
Mr Wu bowed again and as he edged away Svenson noticed that he nodded towards the hostess who had accompanied him from the main room and jerked his head towards the newcomer. Obediently, she smiled at Svenson and started a conversation. He responded affably and bought her a drink, all the time wondering how long he would have to wait for Lombardo to appear.
After about ten minutes, Mai Li was relieved at her post and came to the bar to get a soft drink. Her eyes met Svenson’s and rolled towards a screened off area, where a hefty looking bouncer stood guard, as patient as a statue.
As she moved from the bar, drink in hand, Mai Li managed a convincing stumble drenching the hostess’s dress and splattering lemonade on Svenson’s trousers. The woman stormed away in a rage towards the cloakroom, and Mai Li, under the guise of making profound apologies to the guest, muttered,
“You’re too late. Lombardo is already with Chen. Haswell is with him.”
Svenson didn’t react beyond assuring her in a loud voice that he’d been barely touched by the spillage and not inconvenienced in the slightest by the incident. Mai Li gave him a wary grin as he handed her a high-value chip and beat a hasty retreat when he patted her backside, leaving him to consider what to do next.
When his escort returned from the cloakroom, he swept her over to the blackjack table that afforded him the best view of the guarded door, and chose a seat in the middle of the other players.
He introduced himself with a smile and began systematically to take the casino to the cleaners. As he won another round and gathered his chips into an ever-growing pile, he thought: This ought to draw attention to me soon enough.
Harmony Angel emerged from the black limousine with a grateful sigh. The street had been clogged with traffic, pedestrians wandered across the roads without looking and they saw one serious accident, so that it had felt as if the journey had lasted for hours. Sitting together on the back seat while the chauffeur edged the car towards their destination, her uncle had barely acknowledged her presence. Now, she knew, was the time to assert herself.
Without waiting for her uncle, she walked up to the door where a burly young man, looking uncomfortable in a too-tight suit, shuffled from foot to foot in uncertainty.
“Open the door,” Harmony demanded, a hint of anger in her voice.
The man stared at her in confusion and then looked beyond her to where her uncle was approaching. Harmony stamped her foot. “Open this door! Now!”
The guard, taken aback by her behaviour, looked pleadingly at her uncle, and out of the corner of her eye Harmony saw Chen give the merest nod. The guard leapt forward and opened the door, moving aside so that the petite woman could enter without hindrance. She walked briskly along the corridor until it branched and then turned, an impatient expression on her face, while she waited for her uncle to indicate which way she should go.
As he came alongside her he said dryly, “Allow me to precede you, Chan Xiaojie. It will be less aggrieving for your humour.”
“Uncle, as you wish,” Harmony replied with a polite incline of her head. “But I do not wish my cousin to think I’m not capable of doing business for myself. I won’t be trifled with, nor patronised.”
“My son is not so foolish that he would attempt to do either. We are of a blood, you and I and Chen Xiong; and none of us are prone to underestimating our adversaries.”
“You feel I’m an adversary, Uncle?”
The elderly man nodded. “Many years ago your father and I parted on less than amicable terms. He felt I had dishonoured him, I felt he’d dishonoured the family. Since then the two branches of the family have co-existed best when apart.”
“Once we have concluded our business and my friends are safe, you’ll never have to see me again,” Harmony vowed, adding quietly, “nor I you.”
She followed him down the short corridor and through a dark doorway to a vestibule. Through one door, equipped with a two-way mirror, she could see a dark, smoke-filled room filled with gambling tables, but Chen Xiansheng turned the other way and entered a sturdy wooden door into a large room, where the far wall was lined with CCTV screens. Across from the screens was a plain wooden desk, at which sat the man she knew to be her cousin.
Chen Xiong rose to his feet as his father entered the room and greeted him warmly, offering him the only chair at the desk.
Chen Xiansheng turned to Harmony and beckoned her forward.
“My son, this is my brother’s daughter, Chan Kwan. Chan Xiaojie, may I present to you my son, Chen Xiong?”
The cousins exchanged polite bows and at a gesture from Mr Chen, a henchman strode off to return a few moments later with another chair. Harmony was ushered to her seat with great ceremony and offered refreshments.
While she was dealing with this, father and son were exchanged whispered conversation and as she raised her eyes towards her hosts, she saw Chen coming towards her.
“Welcome, my cousin Chan Xiaojie, welcome to the Lucky Red Dragon Casino. I’m honoured to meet you.”
Chen Xiong was a sleekly handsome man, several years older than Harmony. He was dressed in a neat business suit that would not have seemed out of place in any corporate boardroom and, like his father, he treated her with almost excessive politeness and consideration. Yet Harmony was on edge, her senses alert for danger. Good manners would ordain that while she was a guest she was inviolate, but once she became a supplicant, she could lay herself open to any amount of chicanery. She was sure she could protect herself, but if Ochre was here – or any of the Spectrum officers – she would have to be careful how she dealt with her relatives once they knew her interest in the officers. She perched on the edge of the straight-backed chair she was offered, ready for flight if the necessity arose.
Chen Xiong continued smoothly, “My father tells me that you have a proposal to put to us, concerning the company your late father founded with money he’d appropriated from my associates.”
Harmony forced herself not to react to this jibe. She remained focused on the goal of her mission: to find and deliver Captain Ochre from captivity.
She replied, “I was not born when the events you speak of occurred, Chen Xiong, and my father is not here to defend himself from these charges, so I would respectfully ask that we do not concentrate our minds on what happened so many years ago, but rather on what I require from you, and you want from me. If you do not wish to negotiate, you only have to say, and I will leave.”
“What makes you imagine, cousin, that you would be allowed to leave?”
“I did not come here without making arrangements should I fail to return to my people. Aside from that, ‘Cousin’, I’m well able to take care of myself.” She looked Chen Xiong up and down with a hauteur alien to her usual genial nature and continued, “Do not think to frighten me; I do not frighten easily and I’m far from being as naïve as you imagine.”
“Spoken bravely, Chan Xiaojie.” Chen Xiong’s attitude relaxed slightly. “I wish to hear what you have to tell me and what you have to trade.”
“I have Peking Taxi Corps. I’m sure there’s little I can tell you that your informants have not already made you aware of. I no longer play an active role in the company, but I retain control, even though it is managed by others. If you meet my demands, I will assign the company to you, or to your nominee.”
“These things take time, and your demands are of a more immediate nature, I presume?”
“Indeed they are. But I’m sure you have lawyers willing to work outside office hours? I will remain here until our business is concluded. On this you have my word.”
Chen Xiong studied the face of the young woman before him and then with a gracious bow, excused himself and went to his father. The two men held a whispered conversation, frequently glancing at the imperturbable Harmony, as she remained upright and silent in her chair.
In fact, she was oblivious to their glances, as she scanned the CCTV monitors, looking for any sign of where Ochre might be held. She didn’t doubt that he would be somewhere within the Lucky Red Dragon complex: keep your enemies close, was a rule of the Tong. When she saw the image of Captain Blue come into focus on a monitor, only the merest widening of her dark eyes betrayed her surprise and delight.
She watched as the blond American continued to accumulate a large pile of gambling chips, and noted that the scrutineers in the room were beginning to display concern. One man turned and beckoned to his superior. They held a whispered conference and the supervisor went back to his station. Seconds later an internal telephone rang on Chen’s desk and he interrupted his discussions with this father to answer it.
“We have a record winner, sir. The scrutineer can not see how he is doing it, but he has already reached the limit. He’s an American, Alex Scott; his credit checked out fine.
Chen had moved to the bank of screens and was squinting at the monitor, when the door to the room opened again and two westerners came in – a woman and a man – with a smartly-dressed Chinese man in attendance.
Sighing at the interruption, Chen greeted Fiona Allen and Frank Lombardo with a polite nod. “Was everything to your satisfaction, Mrs Haswell?” he asked in a tone that indicated he’d be surprised if the answer was anything except yes.
Fiona Allen did not answer immediately, she was staring suspiciously at Harmony. The Angel returned the inspection with equal hauteur. She recognised the two people from the briefing on Cloudbase and could not help a slight feeling of satisfaction that they had located the prime suspects so easily. It also explained why Captain Blue was here gambling – no doubt he too had tracked the suspects down.
Chen turned and demanded, “What did you say the name of this man was, Wu?”
“Alex Scott of New York,” he was told.
Fiona Allen turned her head to look at the screens, perhaps intrigued by the western name. She moved towards the screen and a wry smile spread across her lips as she tapped the monitor.
“Is this the man?” Chen nodded. “Mr Chen, you have a phoney in your midst. That is not ‘Alex Scott from New York’ , that is Adam Svenson from Boston – a security agent of the WAS.”
Lombardo swore and leant over the study the monitor for himself. “Christ Almighty, what’s he doing here? What’re we going to do, Luce?”
The Chens spoke urgently amongst themselves and then the younger man barked an order at a bulky guard. The man left the room in a hurry.
“Where’s he going?” Fiona asked.
“We will invite Mr Scott into the inner sanctum where only the serious gamblers are welcome. There he will meet with an unfortunate accident,” Chen Xiong reassured her. “He must be playing a system to have won so much, and that’s illegal.”
Fiona gave a dry chuckle. “The system is in his head, Chen; he has one of those ’photographic memories’. To destroy his system you’ll have to destroy his mind.” She met Chen’s gaze with a challenging expression. He appeared unconcerned.
“Unfortunate accidents are invariably fatal,” he assured her dourly.
“It seems I underestimated you,” Fiona remarked with casual approval. “Svenson is dangerous and a nuisance but it seems his luck has run out this time.”
Harmony managed to hide her concern and thought quickly. She doubted that Captain Blue, probably the most cautious of all of Spectrum’s officers, would have come on such a mission without adequate back up; which meant that there were other Spectrum agents in the casino. That was reassuring, but there was nothing she could do to help at the moment, isolated and outnumbered as she was.
Anxious to begin negotiations, she prepared to interrupt until she caught sight of two people entering the gaming room on one of the other screens. Captain Magenta looked elegant in a conventional tuxedo and appeared to be perfectly at home in his surroundings, but Symphony Angel, walking at his side, was fizzing with excitement and – Harmony sighed – was dressed like only Symphony could consider ‘classy’.
Nevertheless, it was good to see them both.
Captain Magenta had been flashing money about in the main casino for some time before he was approached and offered access to the high-stake gaming rooms. Symphony had also been doing her unique best to make sure they were noticed while checking to see if there was anyone they recognised. Her act as a ‘dumb broad’ was totally convincing and Magenta got the impression she was enjoying herself, nevertheless, he was relieved to see Captain Blue sitting at a gaming table when they were ushered into the private rooms.
He saw them at the same moment and instinctively got to his feet, ignoring the flunky who was approaching him from the direction of a well-guarded, yet unobtrusive doorway. He hesitated, as if unsure whether to acknowledge them, but the decision was made for him when Symphony shrilled:
“Oh look, Brendan, there’s Alex Scott! You remember Alex from New York, don’t you?”
“I sure do, Sylvie,” Magenta responded with considerably less enthusiasm.
“What a small world it is, to be sure! Alex, hi there! How great to see you!” She walked towards him, her hands outstretched.
Blue smiled. “Well, this is a surprise,” he said, stooping to accept her extravagant kiss. “I’m sure glad to see you – both. You look absolutely… wonderful, Sylvie.”
“You always were such a flatterer, Alex. Brendan and I are here for a vacation. I was telling him it’s no kind of holiday for a girl like me when there’s no one here I know – and then we run straight into you! Long time no see, Alex. What’re you doing now?”
“Killing time. Is your trip purely for pleasure, Tranter, or are you here on business too?” Blue extended his hand and Magenta shook it with apparent reluctance.
“Sylvie wanted to combine the two,” he growled. “I have business interests here.”
“We used to have some great vacations in Vegas, didn’t we, Alex?” Symphony said, lifting a glass of wine from a passing waitress’s tray. “You used to call me your Lady Luck. Let me have a go now.”
She took two of the highest denomination chips from Blue’s pile and carelessly tossed them onto the squares of an adjacent roulette wheel table. The wheel spun... the ball rattled over the divisions and flopped into one of them as the momentum slowed.
Symphony’s squeal of delight was perfectly genuine. “Can I keep them?” she begged as she scooped her winnings from the table.
“Sure,” Blue replied easily, amused at her excitement.
Magenta frowned as she tucked the chips into her purse.
“Hey, Sylvie, give the man his money back. You don’t need to use his money.”
“I don’t mind; you’re welcome to it, Sylvie. I rarely play the wheel myself, Baccarat is my game,” Blue explained. “Still, I’d say Lady Luck is with you tonight.”
“Luck? I never knew her to be much of a lady.” Magenta turned to Symphony and hissed, “You just remember that a lady always leaves with the same guy she came in with…”
“Oh, you’re cute, Brendan. Me and Alex, we go way back.”
“I don’t care if you were in kindergarten together,” Magenta snarled. “You’re with me now.”
“I don’t want to interfere, Tranter,” Blue said, smiling at Symphony. “Good to see you again, Sylvie. Give me a call sometime and we’ll get together at a more… convenient time.”
Symphony shrugged and went to him, slipping her arm through his and stood on tiptoe to kiss him again. “We arrived today,” she whispered. “There’s been a Mysteron threat; the old man’s sent us to find you and Ochre. Have you found him?”
“I’m sure he’s here,” he whispered, as if he was nuzzling her cheek in return.
“Scarlet’s here with a WAS agent, looking for some aircraft plans.” She was flirting with him, looking up from under her dark eyelashes.
“Scarlet? Good – where is he?”
“Not sure. We’re working independently. Harmony’s here too.”
“Is there anyone left on base?”
She chuckled as if he had made a personal remark and said a little louder, “You’re smart, Alex. You know how it is. I better get back to Brendan – he gets a little… possessive.”
“I know how that is.”
She couldn’t help feeling that was said out of character and flushed slightly as Magenta took her arm and led her away.
“What’d he say?” he hissed.
“He’s sure Ochre’s here,” she reported.
“What’s his plan?”
“He never got chance to tell me – you dragged me away…” she said pointedly.
“Well, there was no way it was going to look right if I’d let you two virtually make-out in front of me, was it? You were just a little bit too pleased to see him, Karen.”
She pulled a face, but the fact that she didn’t argue told Magenta that she accepted the criticism. He continued:
“Great, now we’re going to have to play our hunches and hope they’re the same as Blue’s.”
He started to settle at a roulette wheel that gave clear sightlines around the room. Symphony watched Blue talking to the Chinese flunky and following him through a door and out of their sight.
“Be careful, Sky,” she murmured.
The inner gambling room was lit by dim lights hanging low over small tables, where no more than three gamblers sat. The croupiers were relentless in playing game after game and the men – for they were all men – played with a concentration that showed no pleasure. Ever-attentive waitresses flitted between tables replenishing glasses and the small bowls of salty morsels that encouraged the players to drink even more. Against one wall was a red-leather couch on which sat six very young women, dressed in little more than colourful scarves and heavy make-up. An older woman watched over them with hawk-like eyes, and snapped angry commands when one supremely bored-looking, childlike girl failed to smile as Blue’s gaze roamed over her.
The ‘mamasan’ gestured towards her charges with an inviting smile at the American. Blue shook his head and turned away towards one of the gambling tables. As he did so a large, sweating man with receding black hair, stood up and beckoned a waitress for another glass of champagne before he shuffled towards the couch.
There was a babble of simulated delight from the young women and a few minutes later the thud of a closing door. Blue glanced towards the couch where the remaining four girls were settling down again; no one else appeared to have registered the man’s departure or the fact that the girls were even there at all.
However much he felt the urge to wade in and send them all home to their mothers, he knew it was pointless and that, right now, he had a different – and important – job to do.
He took a seat and placed a handful of gaming chips on the table in front of him. He bet low until he could be sure he knew the run of the cards then started piling on the wagers, winning most of the time. He could see the croupier was starting to become uneasy when he called for another deck of cards, shuffled them with speed and artistry and started dealing again. Blue bet low, prepared to lose his money and then hit his stride again.
This is like taking candy from a baby, he thought, as he scooped up another large win.
He became aware of people moving to stand on either side of him and stiffened. He turned to look inquiringly at Mr Wu, who was standing behind two large, grim-looking security guards.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” Blue asked, starting to get to his feet. “You worried I’ll break the bank?”
Wu’s deferential manner had vanished and he almost sneered as he replied,
“The Lucky Red Dragon Casino does not tolerate those who cheat, Mr Scott.”
“Cheat? Who are you calling a cheat? I want a policeman here now and an apology from you – you little-”
He lunged towards Wu, but the security guards moved with a speed that belied their bulk and barged him aside. Winded, he turned to the one between him and Wu and swung a punch – with every intention of missing, which he did. He spun round, knocking his chair over into the path of the lunging guard and started a domino effect of other chairs crashing to the floor. The ripples of the disturbance spread across the room with shouts of protest from the other gamblers as Blue dodged away from the security men, shouting defiance and heading for the door back to the more public room where he knew Mai Li, Magenta and Symphony were. He yanked it open, crashing into the guard on the other side and swung another punch in apparent desperation to escape. As he’d intended it to, this one connected and the guard staggered back.
For one brief moment, Blue’s eyes met Magenta’s and the older Spectrum agent gave a curt nod, getting to his feet as Symphony screamed in surprised alarm.
Blue allowed the chasing security guards to grab his arm. He wished he hadn’t though, when the man nearly dislocated his shoulder as he twisted it behind his back. The two men dragged him back into the room and slammed the door.
Even as they dragged him back to where Mr Wu was waiting, his anger almost tangible at the turn of events, Blue heard the commotion in the public room as Magenta launched his assault on the door. Wu stepped forward and reached up to strike the taller man’s face. Blue rolled with the all-too-obvious punch but took care to make it look as if it hurt.
Wu snapped orders in Chinese and the two security guards began to drag Blue towards the door of the inner office.
At last, he thought. I began to wonder if they’d ever take the bait.
Around the room, the gamblers who had stopped to watch the fracas, turned back to their games and indicated to the croupiers to continue playing.
Harmony sprang to her feet as the office door opened and two stocky men dragged the struggling Captain Blue in. She was alert enough to notice the reaction of her relatives and their western associates: Fiona Allen sank into the background, while Frank Lombardo put distance between him and the newcomers.
Blue continued to protest, although Harmony noticed that his gaze raked across the room and noted where everyone was standing.
He didn’t seem surprised to see her.
“Let me go – I’ll report you all for this! I have not been cheating – and you’ll never prove I have!” Blue shouted.
Chen Xiong stepped forward, raising a hand to command silence and attention.
“You will return the money you have stolen and, if you wish to leave Macau alive you will do so without argument early tomorrow.”
“I will not! I won that fair and square – I’ll have the law on you!”
Chen Xiong smiled in genuine amusement. “They will not listen. You will do well to go while you have the chance, Mr Svenson.”
Blue hesitated and frowned. “My name is Scott, not Svenson. You’ve got the wrong guy.”
“It amuses you to say so, but I do not think so. Using a false identity is a crime, Mr Svenson, and you do not want the local police to investigate it.”
Blue gave a wry smile and shook himself free from the security guards’ grasp, and adjusted his jacket with seeming nonchalance. “If you know so much, you’ll know that I avoid publicity whenever I can. There’s nothing special about my doing it here.”
“No one you wish to avoid?” Chen Xiong asked.
“Yeah,” Blue replied, “every paparazzo on the planet. But, that doesn’t mean I’ve been cheating. If you know who I am, you know I don’t need the money.”
“I know many things,” Chen Xiong replied. “I know you have many more enemies than just newspaper men, for example.”
“I’ve never claimed to be a nice guy,” Blue retorted. For the first time he openly glanced around the room, as if only now becoming aware of the other people there. He gave a dry snort as he ‘recognised’ Lombardo and then a self-depreciating grin as Fiona stepped out of the shadows.
“Hello, Fiona,” he said. “Still keeping bad company, I see.”
“Hello, Donnie. I felt sure that one day we were going to run into each other again but this time the boot’s on the other foot.”
Blue gestured around the room. “You own this place? I’m impressed.”
“Mr Chen and I are business associates,” Fiona replied. “I was able to clarify the issue of your identity for him and, in return, he’s going to make sure you never meddle in my affairs again.”
“I’m here on vacation. If you know anything, you’ll know I left the WAS. Warren’s paying his debt to society and that’s enough for me. I can’t say I’m delighted to see you, Fiona, but I wasn’t looking for you and I really don’t care if I never see you again.”
“Oh, you won’t.” She turned to Chen. “When they kill him, tell them to do it slowly. He owes me and I always collect.”
Harmony stepped forward and spoke with barely concealed anger. “Chen Xiansheng, I did not come here to witness such barbarity. I do not know these… gweilo, but they are no concern of mine. If you do not want to do business with me, I shall leave.”
“Cousin, your pardon; this will take very little time,” Chen Xiong replied. “We can discuss our business then.”
“My business cannot wait. If you will not help me to find my friend, I will speak to other casino bosses. I am sure they will be interested acquiring in the Peking Taxi Corps.”
She began to move towards the door, deliberately breaking the standoff between Blue and his enemies and placing herself closer to him.
Chen Xiong took his eyes off the American long enough to gesture to his henchmen to prevent her leaving. By the time he returned his gaze to Captain Blue the American had drawn a gun and had it pointed at Harmony.
“Don’t be a fool,” Chen Xiong said. “You can’t hope to escape, Svenson. My men will gun you down.”
“Perhaps, but I‘d take enough of you with me before they had chance. You think I’m bluffing, don’t you? Well, ask Fiona Allen if I have anything left to live for and then reconsider that assumption.”
Chen glanced at the older woman. The woman he knew as Lucille Haswell was looking worried and her companion was sweating heavily. He shouted an instruction and the first of the henchmen drew a gun.
Without hesitation, Blue shot him dead.
“Not a good move,” he snapped.
“They will hear your shot,” Chen Xiong explained. “I have many armed men in the casino.”
“You-” Blue gestured to Harmony, “come here.”
“I will not!” she exclaimed.
With a creditable show of reluctance she moved to his side. He placed a hand on her shoulder and she swung with her handbag, almost winding him with an unfortunately low blow. He drew a sharp breath. “Cut that out, lady, if you want to get out of here alive.”
Harmony bit her lower lip in an effort not to laugh nervously.
“Now, Mr Chen, if you want to see your pretty little cousin again, call your men off,” Blue ordered.
Chen Xiansheng spoke quietly to his son and the younger man gave a curt nod. He went to a microphone and spoke in Chinese.
Harmony whispered a rough translation, “Kill the western man that leaves my office; spare the woman.”
“You,” Blue ordered Mr Wu, “find something to tie these people up and be quick about it.” The man started to open a desk drawer. “Stop that – use the wiring, rip it out!”
Wu hesitated and glanced at Chen Xiong who nodded.
Wu ripped the wires from phones and computers and Blue ordered him to tie Fiona to a chair and then bind the Chinese together. Once that was done he ordered Harmony to tie Wu to his colleagues.
Harmony moved quickly and, deciding that her cover was no longer essential, she checked that Wu had done a proper job, as well. When she was satisfied, she reached for a box of tissues from the desk and used a screwed-up handful as a gag for each of the Chinese.
“They won’t get free easily,” she reported, going back to stand at his side.
Blue gave her a quick smile, and beckoned to Lombardo, who was still standing nervously by the dark monitor screens.
“Now, Frank, you’re going to open the door and walk into the casino. When you get there you’re going to say ‘everything’s okay, but there has been an accident’ and order everyone to leave. Got that?”
“And if I don’t?” Lombardo blustered.
“You’d better kiss Fiona goodbye right now, before you go…”
“Don’t be a fool, Frank; do as he says.” For the first time there was fear in Fiona’s voice. Something in what Svenson had said had triggered the memory of his implacable hatred and his vow to be revenged on those he held responsible for Soraya Carmichael’s death. She wasn’t prepared to take the risk that he wasn’t bluffing.
Lombardo was so used to doing as she ordered that he immediately walked out of the room and turned into the short corridor back to the gaming room. Moments later they heard the crack of gunfire and Harmony looked at her relatives with scorn.
“It pains me to say, Uncle, that although I am of the same bloodline as you, you made the common mistake of underestimating me.” She drew a small pistol from her handbag and looked up at Blue. “What next, Mr Svenson?”
There was more gunfire in the corridor and then the office door was flung back against the wall and Symphony stood there, a gun in her hand, a determined expression on her face and her elaborate hairstyle mussed up.
“Hiya, Harmony, I wondered if we’d see you here,” she said. She came to stand beside Blue and rested her head against his shoulder for a brief moment.
Magenta arrived close on her trail and smiled at his friends. “I’ve done what I can to secure the doors. When the guards shot the westerner, the gamblers panicked and they’re fighting to get out of here. That won’t hold the Chinese off for long though and I don’t suppose you know if there’re other ways out of here. Shall I call for Angel back up?”
“And have them blow up half of Macau?” Blue replied, with a rueful smile. “Mai Li and Nugaka will be on the case. They’re our best hope now.”
“Nugaka of the WAS?” Magenta asked.
Blue nodded. “I wasn’t acting entirely alone.”
“Who is Mai Li?” Symphony demanded.
“A World Police Corps officer who is working here under cover. She’ll have called Nugaka as soon as the balloon went up. We can leave it to them to clean up the mess out there and deal with the local police. We have to find Ochre – and quickly.”
He stepped forward and held his gun against Fiona’s head. “I’m sorry to be so crude, Fiona, but I don’t have time to play games: where is Captain Ochre of Spectrum?”
She shook her head and said nothing.
Blue primed the weapon. “See where it gets you when you play with the big boys? When you stitched Warren up and left him to rot you should have realised that there was no way you could come back from that. Not while I am still here to stop you.”
She glowered at him and her tone was mocking. “Donnie, you’ll never wipe out The Nebula. Even if I fail, there will another to take my place.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” Magenta said quickly. “The American Syndicates are much less willing to risk foreign adventures these days; they have a nasty habit of costing much more than they make. Isolationism is the flavour of the day, and it makes sense at the moment.”
She looked at him for the first time. “Do I know you?”
He shook his head. “But I know you, ‘Fenella-baby’, and I know your old man. Johnny Varsallona is a spent force. The Syndicates don’t trust him any more – largely because he bankrolled your grandiose schemes. You better get used to the idea that your lifestyle is going to become a lot less comfortable – and soon.”
“Johnny Varsallona?” Blue raised an eyebrow. “I guess there is such a thing as heredity, after all. Now, earn yourself some credit, Fiona, and tell me where the Spectrum captain is.”
There were sounds of more firing out in the casino and thumping on the locked door out in the corridor.
“Go and find him,” she snapped.
Blue grabbed Fiona’s hair and forced her head back against the chair-back. “I don’t have time to play nice,” he snarled. “Tell me now!”
“Adam!” Symphony protested.
“Shut up! Fiona, I’ve learned plenty of ways of making someone’s life unpleasant over the years. I lost any scruples I had about ‘treating women nice’ when you blew Soraya to pieces. I’m not about to let you die so easily.” He placed his gun against her thigh. “This has a hair trigger and if I get angry I tend to clench my fists…”
They heard the catch of the pistol engage. The two antagonists stared at each other and it was Fiona Allen who blinked first.
“Downstairs in the cellars,” she gasped, averting her gaze from the implacable face of her enemy. “And much good will it do even if you find what’s left of them.”
Blue let go, pushing her head away, and turned. Harmony caught a satisfied smirk on the woman’s face.
“She said ‘them’,” she observed to Blue. “Maybe more than one agent is here?”
Blue cocked the pistol again and pointed it at Fiona.
“Leave her, Adam,” Symphony ordered, placing a hand on his arm. “We don’t have time to play her games. We have to find Ochre and whoever else she’s got down there. We don’t know where Scarlet is,” she reminded him.
“These things get remembered, Fi,” Blue said, his voice icy with anger. “Come on,” he ordered his companions, ignoring the stream of abuse Fiona Allen shrieked after him.
“Tsk, tsk,” said Symphony, and rammed the last of the tissues into Fiona’s mouth.
When they reached the basement levels, Magenta and Harmony took the right-hand fork in the corridor and Blue and Symphony raced along the shorter left-hand passageway that led towards the loading bay and the garage where the limousines waited for their owners. The doors of the cell-like storerooms were unlocked, apart from one, and Blue, impatient to complete the search, shot the lock. Inside they found much more than they had been looking for and what Blue had feared: Captain Scarlet was sitting cross-legged on the filth-strewn floor, humming to himself with a serene and vague look on his face.
Lying face-down on an old blood-and-vomit-stained camp bed lay the stiffening body of Jorge Càmpora. Blue stared at the body and as recognition dawned, his blood ran cold and the colour faded beneath his tan.
Captain Scarlet had looked up at their sudden entrance, a bright smile spread over his face and he stopped humming and waved cheerfully. “Hi Adam, hello Karen! What are you guys doing here?”
“I could ask the same of you,” she replied, when Blue did not respond. She glanced in concern at her companion; he was still staring with shock and misery at the body of the man on the bed.
“That’s so neat! Hey – you both look very sprauncy – that’s a spiffing dress, Angel. Are you going out?”
“Yeah,” Blue said, shaking his head and looking away from his old friend and towards his present field partner. “We’re going to a party – and you’re invited as well, so we came to get you. You’d better come with us.”
“I like parties,” Scarlet announced. “I’m a great dancer – you should see me on a dance floor. Hey, if we’re going to a party, can my friend come?”
Blue avoided looking at Càmpora’s corpse and swallowed his sadness. Instead, he looked at Scarlet’s cheerfully expectant face and said, more sternly than he’d intended, “No, he can’t. Besides,” he added, as the smile faded on Scarlet’s face, “he’s too tired.”
“A party would liven him up – lemmee wake him,” Scarlet insisted and started to shuffle towards Càmpora.
“What’s wrong with Paul?” Symphony gasped. “I didn’t think he could get drunk?”
“He can’t, in the normal way of things – well, not for long – but I don’t think he’s drunk.” Blue’s foot scattered the pile of discarded syringes on the floor. “My guess is he’s stoned out of his mind,” he said. “God knows how much stuff they pumped into him. It was enough to kill Càmpora anyway.”
He turned back to Scarlet who was shaking Càmpora’s arm, urging him to wake.
“Paul, come on; we gotta go. We’ll be late.”
“I want my friend to come,” Scarlet protested. “Wake him up, Adam. Wake up, Jorge; you’re missing the fun!” He shook Blue’s hand off from his arm. “Leave me alone – I don’t wanna go with you. I wanna stay with my friend. We’re mates, me and Jorge. If he’s not going then nor am I.”
“Paul!” Blue stepped closer and Scarlet swung a punch at him. It missed by a yard, but Blue was wary – Scarlet was strong enough to lay him out and doped up enough not to realise his own strength.
“We don’t have time for this,” he said decisively. “Sorry, Paul.” He stepped closer and punched Scarlet’s jaw with all his strength.
“Adam!” Symphony protested.
Scarlet staggered backwards, frowned and rubbed his chin. “You fuckin’ bastard…”
He leapt at Blue and collided with another punch. Dazed he stood for a moment. “That hurt…” he muttered; a wounded expression flooding into his eyes as he stared in wretched accusation at his friend. Blue hid his amusement and punched him again. This time, the light faded in his eyes and, like a sturdy oak tree falling, Scarlet slipped slowly sideways – unconscious.
Blue shook his fist and blew on his knuckles. “That guy has an iron jaw,” he complained, as he handed Symphony his gun. “Upsy-daisy, Paul,” he said as he hoisted his friend to his feet and hoisted him over his shoulder. “Come on, let’s go.”
She grinned at him as he turned towards the door. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you enjoyed that, Captain Blue.”
He actually blushed slightly. “Payback time for all those trigger-happy incidents with ejector buttons…” he muttered, adding rather more loudly, “and I have to give this suit back, Paul – so I’d be obliged if you didn’t puke all over it, buddy.”
“What about him?” Symphony asked, with a sad glance at Càmpora.
“It’s way too late for Jorge,” Blue said, his face assuming an expressionless façade. “Maybe, if we get a chance we’ll come back for him… come on, Karen – we just don’t have time.”
“You knew him, didn’t you?”
“Yeah; he was my friend.”
She laid a sympathetic hand on his arm and he gave a subdued smile. “Let’s go; this place is giving me the heebie-jeebies.”
They made their way back along the corridor to where they were to meet Magenta and Harmony. There was no sign of their companions when they arrived.
“What can be keeping them?” Symphony asked. “Ochre should be down here somewhere.”
“Walk along and see what’s going on – but, be careful, Älskling.”
“SIG,” she muttered as she started along the passage, the gun in her hand cocked and ready to fire.
As she approached a series of open doors, she heard the soft murmur of voices and suddenly Harmony emerged from the furthest one. Her face was pale – white with shock – and she was trembling.
“Chan, is everything okay?” Symphony called, hastening to her colleague’s side. Harmony looked up into the worried face of the taller woman and glanced back into the room.
“Oh, Karen,” she gasped.
The very fact that she’d used her Christian name alerted Symphony to the magnitude of whatever had happened. “Is it Rick?” she asked, reluctant to investigate.
Harmony nodded. “They have been – interrogating him. Poor, poor Ochre.” She raised her pale face, her dark eyes flashing with a sudden and vengeful justice. “They are animals! They should be exterminated! I’m ashamed my grandfather’s blood flows in their veins!”
Symphony put an arm around the slighter woman’s shoulders and turned to look back towards Captain Blue, who had caught them up. He stopped beside them and slipped the still-comatose Captain Scarlet to the floor, stretching his shoulders with relief.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Rick – in there,” Symphony said.
Blue walked into the cell.
Captain Magenta was standing beside a crude plank and tank arrangement and he was gently removing the leather straps and restraints that held a man’s body to the sloping trestle.
“My God,” Blue murmured. Magenta turned at the sound, and Blue saw that his eyes were filled with tears. “Rick?” he asked the Irish-American in a whisper.
Magenta nodded and looked down at the comatose body.
“Is he…” Blue’s voice faded.
Magenta sniffed. “He’s alive; but God knows what they’ve done to him, Adam. If I ever get my hands on those bastards…”
“Come on, Pat; we have to get him to Cloudbase as quick as we can.”
Blue hurried to assist him. He supported Ochre’s battered body, as Magenta – his face contorted with pity – ripped off the sticky tape that covered his partner’s eyes.
“He’s alive,” Blue confirmed, two fingers pressed against Ochre’s bruised neck, “but his pulse is erratic.”
“You know what they’ve been doing?” Magenta snarled. Blue nodded, but his colleague continued, “Water-boarding: they were using water-boarding to interrogate him! I thought that was banned? Isn’t it banned?”
Sadly, Blue shook his head. “No,” he said quietly, disgust all too evident in his voice. “Technically it’s not torture, but classed as an ‘enhanced interrogation’ technique, and, as such, if not exactly ‘approved of’ under international law, it isn’t banned.”
“Bastards! And the frigging lawyers and sleazy politicians have the gall to call me and my friends criminals! I’d wring their necks for ‘em!”
“Patrick, any other time I’d help you, but we don’t have time, right now. We have to get out of here. Scarlet’s stoned – he’s no help right now…”
From the corridor came Scarlet’s voice enthusiastically bawling an old song about going to San Francisco, wearing flowers in his hair…
Blue grimaced. “I suppose I ought to be grateful he’s conscious again because at least I won’t have to carry him – but if he carries on making that much noise we’ll be sitting ducks!”
Symphony poked her head into the room. “What shall I do with our happy hippy?” she asked. She grew hesitant as she saw Ochre held in Magenta’s arms.
Captain Blue assured her their friend was alive.
“What’s wrong with Scarlet?” Magenta said, as the singing grew louder.
“He says he wants to serenade me, so we can dance together.”
“See if you can convince him some silent meditation on the intricate beauties of a petal would be a good idea,” Magenta suggested, with an upward roll of his dark eyes.
“Or better still,” Blue said thoughtfully, “a quick chorus of ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’ – with a demonstration. He can carry Rick for us.”
“Are you as stoned as he is?” Magenta snapped. “Rick’s in a bad enough way already!”
“Look, there’s nothing wrong with Scarlet physically, but I wouldn’t put a gun in his hand any time soon. He can carry Rick and that’ll leave the four of us against the massed might of the Tong. Otherwise we’re down to three – maybe two, if Scarlet decides to tune in and drop out and someone has to hold his hand.”
Magenta looked at the broken body of Captain Ochre and reluctantly agreed that it was as good a solution to their problem as any he could offer.
Harmony reappeared with a couple of blankets – grubby and threadbare, but all she could find. As the others wrapped Ochre in them and lifted him carefully, Symphony explained to Scarlet what they wanted him to do.
“Carry Rick? Sure, I can carry Rick for you, Karen. I’d do anything for you, Karen. Did I tell you how pretty you look in that dress? You should wear it more often. I bet Adam’d like it…”
He slipped an arm around her shoulders and one hand cupped her breast. Seeing the lusty twinkle in his sapphire-blue eyes, Symphony laughed up into his handsome face.
This was the sight that met Blue’s gaze as he and Magenta carried the blanket-swathed, unconscious Ochre out into the corridor.
“Oh, there he is,” Scarlet said, and gave a cheerful wave at his partner, whose expression was less than affable at seeing his over-familiarity with Symphony. Then Scarlet caught sight of Ochre and removed his arm from her shoulders to ask, “What’s wrong with Rick?”
“He’s been beaten up. I want you to carry him, Paul. You must be careful, okay? Look after him,” Blue said sternly, “and keep up with Sym – Karen and Chan. Okay?”
“Righto, me old mucker…” Scarlet said, with a sloppy salute and an infectious chuckle.
“Oh, I’m so going to enjoy telling you all about this when you sober up,” Symphony remarked, with a friendly pat on Scarlet’s backside as he bent to lift Ochre. “Don’t drop him,” she added.
“Promise,” Scarlet said sombrely.
“Right, let’s go. The garage is along the other corridor, if we can get to a car, we stand a chance of getting out of here alive,” Blue ordered.
The others nodded, and drawing their weapons, followed him along the corridor.
The underground garage was largely empty of cars.
“I guess people got out when the fighting started,” Magenta said, looking around the open space. “I would’ve.”
“Maybe the police are up there and we could go back?” Symphony said. Scarlet was standing close beside her with Ochre in his arms and a benign smile on his face.
“It depends which police you mean,” Harmony said. “If the Macau police have come, then they’re not to be trusted; my cousin will have them in his pay.”
“I thought you said Mai Li was in the World Police?” Symphony glanced at Blue. “Surely, they’d answer her call?”
“This is Macau, not Des Moines,” Harmony explained. “The World Police are not welcome here. The UAR has much influence amongst the powers that be.”
“So, what do we do?” Symphony asked.
Harmony pointed to a slope down to a lower level. “I think we may find the staff cars over there. My cousin would not travel except by his own limousine. It would not be safe for him.”
Blue nodded. “Magenta, you and I will check out the lower level. You girls stay here with Scarlet and Ochre.”
“S.I.G.,” Harmony said, although Symphony was pulling a face. “You have a gun, Symphony?”
She nodded and waved it so everyone could see.
“Fine,” Blue said. “Use it if anyone challenges you. Come on, Captain.”
The two Americans set off across the car park, keeping to the shadows near the wall.
“Where’s Adam going?” Scarlet asked.
“To find a car to take us to the party,” Symphony explained.
“What party?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know – but it is being held somewhere else,” she snapped.
Scarlet bent down and very carefully laid Ochre on the concrete floor. The unconscious man groaned and with surprising tenderness Scarlet laid a hand on his hair. “S’okay, Rick. You wait here with Karen and Chan.”
“Where are you going, Captain… Paul?” Harmony asked.
“After those two guys; we can’t go to a party – Rick needs a doctor!”
“Paul, wait!” Symphony cried, as Scarlet loped after the other two men and vanished into the shadows.
“Damn,” she hissed, glancing at Harmony. “Let’s hope no one’s close enough behind us to find us before they get back.” She looked down at Ochre and back to her companion. “And I hope they’re quick,” she added.
Magenta covered Blue’s back as the captain edged down the ramp to the lower level of the car park. He beckoned Magenta down after him and they looked across at the two limousines that stood by the door of an elevator. There were two guards – one either side of the door, which suggested that either news of the events in the casino hadn’t reached this far down, or – more likely – the Chens were free and hot on their trail.
“I’ll cover you, you fetch the car,” Blue ordered, as he checked the ammunition clasp on his gun.
“You got the keys?” Magenta asked, putting out his hand.
Blue was incredulous. “You’ll have to break in and hotwire it.”
“Hey, I ran a financial cyber-crime syndicate, not some hoodlum street gang, remember?”
“You don’t know how?”
“No; my mammy woulda tanned my hide if I’d run with any gangs that did that. Besides, Rick always does that sort of thing, when it’s necessary.”
“Gah, did you ever have a misspent childhood.”
“Oh, and I suppose you know?”
Blue nodded and sighed. “When I was a kid about the only way to escape my bodyguard used to be to hijack one of the beach buggies. Keep me covered. And I think you’d better put car jacking on your training schedule, Pat.”
Magenta gave a grimace as he considered that his family had not, more often than not, even had a car, whereas Blue’s family seemed to have had them by the dozen.
Blue crouched down and then sprinted from the ramp to the shadows on the other side of the car park as quickly as he could. He pressed his back against the wall and listened for the sounds that he’d been spotted. When nothing happened, he crouched again and edged towards the nearest limo.
He’d told Magenta the truth – he was adept at hijacking a car when he needed one – but it had been some time since he’d practised the skill and for some reason he was all fingers and thumbs, so the job didn’t go as smoothly as he’d expected. He exhaled with relief as the door handle engaged and the heavy driver’s side door clicked open.
Thank God the car alarm isn’t switched on, he thought. I guess they assume no one in their right mind would attempt to steal the car from right under their noses. I think they’re right; this isn’t…
A noise from the direction of the ramp broke his concentration. Scarlet was loping down towards Magenta without an apparent care in the world.
“Hi, Pat,” he called. “Need help with the car?”
“Get down,” Magenta hissed, to no avail. Scarlet waved towards his field partner.
“Hi, Adam; I wanna help you guys.”
The guards were already taking aim, when Magenta popped up over the wall of the ramp and fired at them.
Scarlet whooped in delight and started running towards Blue. “Let me shoot at them,” he pleaded. “I’m a good shot!”
“Paul, get down!” Blue shouted. He peered over the boot of the limo and fired off several bullets in quick succession.
Magenta managed to wing one of the guards with his second shot, and the man fell to the ground clutching his leg. The second guard hesitated, and Blue took the opportunity to fire straight into his body. He collapsed to the floor.
Magenta ran from his hiding place and joined his colleagues.
“That’ll have warned the entire casino we’re here,” he panted, as he nodded at Scarlet who was grinning broadly.
“Where are the girls?” Blue asked his partner. “You were supposed to stay with them.”
“They’re okay. Karen has a gun and Chan can look after Rick and, besides, I don’t want to stay with the girls.”
“Paul, this is not a game.” Blue was losing patience.
“Think I don’t know that?” Scarlet replied, suddenly sober. He continued, “Brilliant bit of car-jacking, Adam; but you forgot the CCTV cameras.” He pointed to the corners of the car park where four powerful cameras were trained on them. “Haswell and her cronies will’ve seen everything and the other guards will be here anyway in a few minutes, and at least, with those two out of action, we have a clear operational window to get out of here.”
“You’re sober,” Magenta gasped in surprise.
“Sort of; but I have the grandmother of all headaches,” Scarlet confessed.
“When did you sober up?” Blue asked. With surprising self-control he handed his gun to Scarlet and turned to begin to remove the limo’s dashboard and expose the wiring.
“About the time you two heroes rushed off to pinch a car,” Scarlet explained, avoiding Magenta’s more censorious gaze by reloading Blue’s gun while his partner rewired the car.
“But you didn’t think to say anything like ‘I’m back, guys’?” Magenta remarked.
“Hey, I had to get my bearings, you know. Last thing I remember I was in a cell with Jorge Càmpora and the less-than-friendly Fiona Allen, then suddenly I’m in a car park with my old friends.”