Original series Suitable for all readersAction-oriented/low level of violence

 

Christmas with Adam's Family

 

A ‘Captain Scarlet’ story for 2006 Christmas

 

By Chris Bishop

 

 

 

 

Captain Scarlet stepped out of the airport’s private call booth.  He glared dejectedly at the pen-shaped private communicator, which he was still holding in his right hand.  Captain Blue and Symphony Angel looked at him expectantly.  “Well, what did he say?”  Blue asked.

Scarlet shook his head.  He checked around to make sure nobody walking about their business, or using the phones in the other booths close by, was paying them any attention, then, satisfied that it was safe to talk, he turned back to his colleagues. “He said:  ‘stay put until the storm is over, and then come straight back to Cloudbase, without any further delay’,” he answered, giving a rather good impersonation of Colonel White. 

“There’s really nothing much else he could say,” Symphony remarked, with an amused smile at her colleague’s sulky expression.  “He couldn’t very well ask us to risk our lives needlessly in all that snow and high wind.  Flying in that could be suicidal, and he knows it.”

“Yeah, well, if it was only me, maybe he would have risked it,” Scarlet answered gloomily.  “But since you two are with me…”

“Did he actually say that?” Symphony asked.  She thought that would be rather unlike the colonel.

“No… but he practically accused me of being responsible for this snowstorm – just so we could have a few more hours of our furlough.  As if I am looking forward to sleeping in an airport departure lounge, jam-packed with people…”   He shook his head again.  “Not my idea of a fun Christmas.” 

“You would rather be in Winchester right now,” Blue commented understandingly.  “We know that.”

Scarlet nodded in agreement.  He looked up at the information screen set over the walkway, reading the information appearing on it.  More civilian planes were now marked ‘delayed’ or ‘cancelled’ and various moans and groans were audible from people waiting all around. Some of them were taking their luggage and walking away gloomily. Many had realised that they would not be leaving Boston tonight to fly to join parents and friends waiting for them for the Christmas Holidays.  Everyone would have to wait for the snowstorm that was raging over New England to calm down and dissipate before any aircraft would be allowed to take flight.  That included military craft, of course, such as the Spectrum Passenger Jet which was waiting in the specially-assigned hangar at the other end of the airport.   

Scarlet had flown it from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after having picked up Captain Blue and Symphony Angel from Symphony’s mother’s ranch, earlier that day.  The storm, which had previously raged in the Midwest, followed them as usual across the country, but unlike most of the season’s easterly-moving storms had grown in intensity rather than petering out toward the coast.  Unable to avoid it, or to fly high enough to escape the furious winds, Scarlet had followed instructions from Lieutenant Green who had made arrangements with Logan Airport in Boston to receive the SPJ.  After the aircraft had been taken to its hangar, the three Spectrum officers, dressed in civilian clothes, had made their way to a restaurant, hoping that by the time they had eaten a light meal, the storm would have died out. 

But as they discovered as the time went by, the storm grew even more violent, and they found themselves stuck on the ground.

“We don’t have to wait here until the storm passes,” Blue said then. Like Scarlet, he too wasn’t so keen on staying in the airport for many long hours straight, with nothing to do but wait. 

“What do you suggest, Big Blue?”  Symphony asked him.

“We could call my parents’ house – and see if we can crash there.”  Blue saw Scarlet and Symphony’s eyes turn the same inquiring look on him. He shrugged, guessing what their thoughts were. “Hey, they have plenty of room. I’m sure they won’t mind inviting us for the night.”

“You’re sure you’re willing to make that sacrifice for us?” Scarlet asked meaningfully.

“What sacrifice?”  Blue scoffed.  “They’re my family, after all.”

“But it’s your father – and if I recall, the two of you don’t quite see eye to eye.”

“Things are a lot easier between us since Las Vegas.  I’m sure he’ll be happy to see me.”

“And it is the Holiday Season,” Symphony remarked. 

“Certainly beats the prospect of sleeping in the departure lounge,” Scarlet conceded. “Now, how do you propose we get there?  If I recall, your house is on the other side of the city.  Will we be able to find a taxi driver willing to risk life and limb just to get us there, through all that snow and wind? Seems like a dangerous adventure. Mind you, we could always requisition the Airport SPV from the Spectrum hangar.”

“And risk both the colonel having a fit over unauthorised use of Spectrum equipment and my father having a heart attack seeing an SPV parked in front of his door?” Blue replied, rolling his eyes. “No way! I still prefer the cab! And don’t worry – we’ll get home, even if it takes some time. Taxi drivers here are already experienced in driving in impossible conditions, and believe me they can work miracles when there’s a lot of money involved.” He took his cell phone from his pocket.  “I’ll call home to make the arrangements.”

“I’ll get the cab,” Symphony announced with a smile.

“And I’ll get the luggage from the SPJ,” Scarlet muttered. “But from my last experience of this city, if we don’t get stuck in traffic now, it really will be a Christmas miracle…”

 

 

“Mom!  Looks like someone risked his life to come after all!”

Humming a Christmas tune, Peter Svenson was crossing the hallway decorated with pine branches and multicoloured lights when he heard the doorbell.  This evening, the family was supposed to be giving a party in celebration of the Holidays, and many people had been invited, from the most venerable families of Boston’s upper society, to various business associates and clients of the family’s company.  Unfortunately, with the weather being so bad at the moment, and with all the snow falling and those winds blowing so violently, nearly all of the Svensons’ guests had called to cancel their presence for the evening – either their flights to Boston had been cancelled due to the storm, or, if they were living in the city, they preferred to stay home or to travel a shorter distance to relatives, rather than risk trying to reach the Svenson estate. The turn of events was proving to be a disappointment – the caterers alone, Peter understood, were costing the family a fortune – for Peter and his father, it also meant losing the opportunity to make a few interesting business deals.

Peter had been working at the offices that morning, settling a few details of an important affair, and had left in time to arrive at the house a few hours ago, just as the storm was becoming worse. The mansion, fully decorated for the party with pine garlands, fairy lights, and baubles everywhere, and soft, Christmassy music in nearly all the rooms, felt even larger than it really was, especially as most of the staff were away for the holidays, and the personnel his mother had hired for the party, had still not arrived yet because of the weather.

Aside from Johnson, the butler - who hardly ever seemed to take time off – and Mrs Kruger, the cook, who were both busy in the kitchen, there was only Peter, his two younger siblings and his parents in the house when someone rang at the front door.

Peter hurried to open the door, fully expecting to see either the Moore family, or old man Jessup and his brand-new bride – a young, attractive, blonde model whom he had married only two months ago in Europe. To his knowledge, these people had not cancelled yet. But when he swung the door open, the person he found waiting in the porch, buffeted by the wind and covered with snow, was the last one he expected that day.

“Adam!”  Peter’s surprise was plainly obvious in his voice and expression as he looked with bewilderment into the smiling face of his older brother.  “What are you doing here?”

“And it’s so nice to see you too, little brother.” Captain Blue grinned, stepping inside and patting the younger man’s shoulder.  “Don’t tell me you’re still living here? Can we come in?  It’s very cold outside. And my friend is not very accustomed to this weather.”  He didn’t wait for the invitation and passed right in front of his brother.  Peter followed him with perplexed eyes, before looking outside.  He just had time to get a glance of a yellow cab waiting in front of the door, with its motor running, when another man, dark-haired and covered with snow, carrying bags that looked very heavy, nearly bumped into him.

“Sorry, old chap,” he said jovially, and Peter instantly detected an English accent in his voice. “I didn’t see you there. Will you help me with one of those?  They weigh a ton each.”  He pushed one of his bags into Peter’s arms and entered, following Adam. 

Still puzzled, Peter was already pushing the door shut when he found that it wouldn’t close.  Looking down, he saw a foot protruding from behind it; he opened it a crack. A young woman, dressed in a short sports winter coat, and with blonde hair emerging wildly from under a wool hat that nearly hid her eyes, was standing in the porch, apparently waiting. 

“Oh, sorry.”  Peter put the bag down, fished into his pocket, and took out a few banknotes that he put into the young woman’s hand.  She looked down at the money with a frown.

“What is this for?” she asked, looking up.

A clueless Peter was about to reply when he saw the taxi leaving in a cloud of snow.  Understanding dawned on him.  “You’re not the cab driver.”

She lifted an eyebrow.  “Do I really look like a cab driver?”

“Well… most cab drivers I know don’t look as pretty, but yes …” Peter stopped himself and, embarrassed by his confusion, cleared his throat.  “You must be Adam’s friend, then.”

“Among other things.”  She put the money back into his still open hand and gestured towards the door.  “May I come in?”

“Oh, sure…  Please do.”  Peter opened the door wide and Symphony stepped in, following in Blue and Scarlet’s footsteps – leaving snow all over the place, Peter noted, with some displeasure. He closed the door, musingly, as he watched his brother approaching the young woman.

“Sorry if I seemed to have forgotten about you, but I had to get Paul to safety,” he apologised.  “You know these Englishmen are fragile in such cold.”

“Good going, Adam, blame it on me,” Scarlet shot back with a snort.

“That’s all right,” Symphony answered with a smile.  “The taxi driver thanks you very much for your tip – he said he will give his wife a gift that will make her forgive him for working so late today.”

“Good for him, then.”  Peter watched with a raised eyebrow as he saw his brother taking the girl by the shoulders and brushing her cheek with a quick kiss.  “He was really brave to face this weather and agree to bring us all the way here from the airport.”  Blue looked up as his brother approached, the bag Scarlet had given him in his hands.  “Peter, I’m really glad to see you.”

“It’s been a little while,” Peter acknowledged.  Awkwardly, the two brothers shook hands.  “I didn’t realise you were invited to the party,” Peter remarked. “Not that it isn’t nice to have you… but we seldom see you these days, Adam.”

“The party?  What party?” Blue asked with surprised. A thought seemed to cross his mind.  “Oh you mean, the party?  It’s tonight?”

“What party?” Scarlet asked with curiosity.

“The annual Svenson Christmas party,” Blue explained.  “It’s a big, social hoop-la to which many of The Company’s associates – and Boston high society – are invited.”

“Oh yes, you’ve told me about that,” Symphony remarked. She was removing her snow-covered wool hat, freeing her hair in the process.  It fell wildly onto her shoulder, and she shook her head to put it in place.

She’s not a bad-looking girl, thought Peter.  Quite the contrary.

“I didn’t know it was tonight,” Blue continued, speaking to his brother.

“It was tonight, but it’s been cancelled.”

The new voice coming from behind made Blue turn and his face almost cracked in two with a smile when he saw the newcomer entering the hall.  Nearly as tall as Symphony, with hazelnut hair, brilliant blue eyes and a radiant smile, the woman crossed the distance to the small group in long and elegant strides; Blue stepped forward to enfold her in his arms.  He lifted her up off the floor as he embraced her.  “Mom, I’m so glad to see you…”

“Adam, it’s been so long!” Sarah Svenson said happily.  “When I received your call earlier, I could hardly believe it was you!”  When he let go of her, she stepped back slightly and looked up at him, cupping his face in her hands.  “Now you’ve given me the best Christmas gift ever!  I thought you would not be able to come for the Holidays. Didn’t you tell me you were busy this year, with all your duties?”

“Well, Mom, actually, it’s…”

“We’ve also had a cancellation,” Symphony interrupted then.  Sarah appeared so happy to see her eldest son that it didn’t seem fair to her for him to say that his presence at the family home was only due to the bad weather.  “Of a sort,” she added, exchanging a glance with Scarlet standing by her side.  She stepped forward.  “Hi, Mrs Svenson.  I’m Karen Wainwright.”

“Adam told me he was bringing friends along, who are in need of a refuge for the night,” Sarah answered.  “Nice to meet you, Karen.”

“And I’m Paul Metcalfe,” Scarlet presented himself, stepping forward in turn and taking Sarah’s hand. “I’m Adam’s regular field partner.  It’s an honour to meet you, Mrs Svenson.”

“An Englishman,” Sarah said, recognising his accent right away; her face lit up with pleasure at the discovery. “And such a well-mannered one, too,” she added as he gallantly kissed the back of her hand. 

Scarlet winked.  “Aren’t we all?”

Blue rolled his eyes.  Sometimes, Scarlet could be a real pain when he was making such a show of being more courteous than was really necessary.  And it was working too – his mother seemed quite smitten by his friend’s over-blown behaviour.

“I’ve got family in England.  Where do you come from, Mr Metcalfe?” 

“Winchester, ma’am.  And please, call me Paul.”

“Only if you call me Sarah.”

Scarlet grinned.  “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that, but I’ll try.”

She squinted, looking carefully at Scarlet. “I think I remember you – we’ve met, I believe. At Spectrum’s commissioning ceremony a few years ago. Am I right?”

“I’m flattered you remember me, Sarah,” Scarlet answered with a renewed smile.

“I never forget a handsome face,” Sarah said with a chuckle.  “And you were standing right next to my son – so how could I forget?  I believe you were there too, my dear,” she added, turning to Karen.  “I kind of recall… a white – or cream – uniform.  You were one of those Angel pilots, right?”

“Your memory serves you well, Mrs Svenson,” Symphony smiled.

“Mom, what did you mean, ‘the party has been cancelled’?” Peter asked.  “Don’t tell me every last one of our guests has called to say they won’t come?”

“Nearly all of them already did,” Sarah Svenson replied.  “So I called the rest, and told them we’ll be doing this another time.  Considering the bad weather, I thought it would be the best for everyone.”

 “Oh great,” Peter muttered.  “I had a business deal to complete tonight…”

“Surely, it isn’t important to the point of risking someone’s life to come over here, is it?” his mother remarked.

She noticed her son’s gloomy expression.  He hesitated before answering quickly:  “Of course not.  It can wait.  But there’s all that food we have that will go to waste…”

“Nonsense, we can always store it and eat it during the week…”

“You mean, you’ll have food for months,” Blue said with a chuckle, remembering the amount of food his mother would order from the caterers for the annual buffet.  Don’t worry, Mom – we’re all famished after that long and harrowing drive through the snow... We nearly left the road three times on our way here, and we need to replenish our reserves after risking our lives the way we did,” he added with a smile.  And between Paul and Karen, I’m sure whatever the caterers prepared for your party won’t go to waste.” 

“Thanks – I think,” Symphony said, with a frown.  Blue was forever teasing her about her appetite.  On Cloudbase, it was second only to Scarlet’s – and moreover, she didn’t seem to put on more than a pound in weight - a fact that made her the envy of all female staff on base, especially her fellow Angel pilots.

“Adam!” A new male voice, coming from upstairs, made everyone look up and they saw a young man leaning over the pine garland-covered banister, staring down at them with curiosity.  He was nearly as blond as Blue, but his hair was far longer and his features much younger.  He ran down the stairs, taking several steps at a time and literally came jumping into Blue’s arms, thumping his back vigorously and laughing.  He was shorter and leaner than Blue.

“Look who’s here!”  Blue said with a laugh.  “The great traveller!  How’s it going, Davey?  How was Europe?”

“I’m fine and Europe was fine too!”  David Svenson detached himself from his older brother and punched him in the shoulder.  “Great traveller indeed, look who’s talking!  How are you, bro?  You’ve been bad, you know, not giving us more news of yourself while you’ve been away!”

“You were exactly the same,” Sarah Svenson reminded her younger son, with a falsely reproving tone.  “We didn’t receive any news from you for almost all of your trip, David Svenson!”

David barely reddened.  “Oh well, I was busy…”

“And I am not?” Blue chuckled. “All those beautiful girls could not have taken that much of your time, little brother…”

“Adam…”  This time, David’s cheeks flamed and he chuckled, inwardly recalling some memories from his recent trip – memories that the people standing in front of him had no trouble divining.

“You’ve both been terrible,” Sarah retorted.  “So that should settle it.  But I’m glad you’re both here for the Holidays.  If only for one night, Adam.” She leaned to the side to look behind Blue, where the brooding Peter was standing silently, his hands in his pockets, after putting the bag on the floor. “Isn’t that right, Peter?” she asked, almost warningly.

He seemed to snap out of his thoughts.  “Oh yes,” he said with barely an ounce of emotion in his voice.  “We’re very happy.”  He walked past Blue and towards the living room next door, adding very quietly: “Welcome home, brother.”

Every eye followed him until he disappeared from view.  Blue sighed.  “Well, some things never change…”

His mother patted him on the chest.  “Don’t mind him; I’m sure it has nothing to do with you.  He’s just annoyed that the party has been cancelled.”

“You’re sure it’s only that?”  Blue asked with a raised brow.  “Is Father home?  And Katherine?”

“They’re both here,” Sarah answered with a smile.  “But they’re working in your father’s office.  They should be getting out soon, I expect.  Oh, you’re still wearing your coats, the three of you,” she said suddenly, looking at the three Spectrum officers in turn.  “You should be changing into more comfortable clothes.  Why don’t you take them upstairs and give them rooms, David? I’ll go see what’s keeping your father and sister.”

“They still don’t know we were coming?”  Blue asked.

“Oh, I told them, as soon as you called – but knowing them, I think they must be engrossed in their work – as always.  Take your time to change, while I remind them.”

“You’re a doll, Mom,” Blue smiled.

“You’re always saying that when you want something from me.”  Laughing softly, Sarah walked out of the hall, leaving them.  The three Spectrum officers turned to David who motioned towards the stairs.

“Lead on, bro,” he said to Blue with a wink.  “You still know the way, I hope?”

“As well as you do, I expect.”

Blue picked up the bag that Peter had left on the floor and led the small group up the stairs, Scarlet following behind, with David and Symphony bringing up the rear.  The Angel pilot was re-arranging her messed-up hair, when she noticed that the young man by her side was staring at her fixedly, while smiling from ear to ear.

“Hi, I’m David,” he said, the smile never faltering, as they climbed the stairs. Symphony kept her face straight. She recognised that look and that smile.

“I’m Karen.”

“You know you’re very pretty, Karen?”

“You know you’re very young, David?”

“I’m betting I’m not that much younger than you.”

“I mean mentally.

Scarlet, walking just in front of them, could not help but grin on hearing her deadpan answer.  He wondered if Adam had noticed his brother was obviously flirting with his fiancée. 

We’ll soon find out, I suppose…

 

 

 

Once they had been assigned rooms for the night and had changed into more comfortable clothes, Captain Blue led his colleagues back downstairs and into the living room. It was all handsomely decorated, with a nine-foot-tall pine tree standing in a corner, fully illuminated with white fairy lights, shiny red, gold and green baubles, garlands, and various wooden decorations, painted in bright colours.  A large table, covered with cold meat, small sandwiches, canapés and various hors-d’oeuvres and drinks was standing right next to a beautiful fireplace, where logs were burning merrily, adding to the warmth of the room. A small - but obviously expensive - music centre set against the far wall beneath a large, wide-screen television, was playing the melancholic tune of 'I'll be home for Christmas’ – most appropriate, thought Captain Scarlet.

Blue went straight to his mother, who was waiting for them there, along with his two brothers – Peter having elected to sit down in an armchair, with a glass of rum.  David, who had come down earlier after leaving them in Blue’s company, came to Symphony and – Scarlet noticed – eagerly invited her to sit on the sofa; he was about to sit right next to her when Adam quietly took his place, seemingly unaware of the attention his younger brother was lavishing on his fiancée.  Symphony – who had obviously noticed David’s little game – simply ignored it.  Scarlet found the situation rather amusing.

“Mr Metcalfe – Paul…”  Sarah Svenson smiled coyly, correcting herself.  “Would you like something to warm yourself?  Whisky, rum…?”

“Rum would do nicely… Sarah.  Thank you very much.”

Sarah turned to Symphony.  “And you, my dear… Karen, is that right?”

“The same, Mrs Svenson.  Thank you.”

“Peter, would you…”

“I’ll get it.”  It was David, still standing right next to Symphony, who left his place, to literally spring towards the little bar set not far from the table.  Symphony rolled her eyes at his eagerness, and Scarlet quickly hid an amused smile.  Blue simply noticed that Peter had not made a single offer to move from his seat.

“Where is Father?” he asked his mother, choosing to ignore his brother’s rudeness.  “Will he and Kate be joining us, or are they still busy working in the office?”

“We’re never too busy to welcome the wayward son,” a pleasant female voice said from the door at that exact moment, and everyone turned around to see a young woman standing there, smiling broadly.  John Svenson towered behind her, looking into the living room, a thin smile playing on his lips.

“Come on, Kate, that’s no way to say hello to your brother,” he admonished.  But as in his daughter’s case, his voice didn’t carry a single trace of resentment when he spoke.  And when Blue stood to walk to them, he welcomed his eldest son with a warm embrace.  When he gently pushed his son back, holding him by the shoulders at arm’s length, Scarlet noticed the barely-concealed expression of pride reflected in the older man’s eyes, which were as blue as his son’s.  Despite the frequent friction and disagreement between them, it was obvious John loved Adam more than he would be willing to freely admit in public. 

“You don’t know how glad I am to see you,” John Svenson said, his smile broadening.  “You look well…  What brings you home?”

“The bad weather?”  Blue replied, almost teasingly.  “Seriously, Father – I’m glad to be home tonight.”

“It’s been a while since we celebrated Christmas together, all of us…  I recall it was, what, five years ago the last time?”

“Christmas was two days ago, Dad,” Kate reminded him quietly.

“Well, that’s close enough – what difference does it really make?”  John squeezed his son’s shoulder.  “Welcome home, Adam – and Merry Christmas.”

“Thanks, Dad – and Merry Christmas to you too.”  The three of them stepped down the single step leading into the living room.  David had just given Scarlet and Symphony their glasses of rum, when Blue presented them to his father. 

“Father, you remember my friends… ”

“Of course I do,” John acknowledged.  “Captain Scarlet, I believe…”  He shook hands with Scarlet. 

“Paul Metcalfe, sir. I’m not on duty, right now.”

“Of course.  Paul.  I remember.”  He turned to look at Symphony, apparently trying to recall her name.  “And you are… Symphony, right?”

“My name is Karen, Mr Svenson,” Symphony corrected him.

He smiled.  “I remember that too.  But to me, you’ll always remain Symphony in my mind.  I can’t forget that red-sequined dress you were wearing in Las Vegas when I saw you first… Do you still have it?”

She groaned, reddening under his probing stare.  That dress… he had to remember that!  “No, it was borrowed for the occasion – fortunately.”

“It’s a pity – it suited you so perfectly.”

“Well, obviously, you didn’t have to wear it.”  Symphony chuckled.  “It was too tight and far too revealing for my taste.”

“And I didn’t even get to see it,” Blue complained.

“I did,” Scarlet deadpanned, sipping from his glass, feigning not to notice the annoyed glance Symphony turned on him.

John nodded. “Which is why I actually got to see the dress myself.  I wasn’t in the casino, as you remember.  I was in that surveillance van and I saw it on the camera screen…”

“Through the camera in my glasses,” Scarlet remembered. 

“Exactly.”

“What were you doing in a dress like that, in Las Vegas, my dear?” Sarah Svenson asked with curiosity and an obvious tone of surprise in her voice.

“She was posing as a lounge singer,” John answered before the obviously embarrassed young woman could. 

“A lounge singer?” Peter asked from his place.

“All in the call of duty – to find Adam… when he was kidnapped by that bastard Grover.”

“Oh, that dreadful affair,” Sarah muttered, shivering at the mere thought of it. “When your father first told me about it, Adam, I couldn’t believe he’d taken off like that when he heard you were in danger – without telling me about it!”

“Mom, everything turned out okay,” Blue reassured her.  “Father didn’t want you to worry needlessly.  Anyway, we shouldn’t talk about it now.  There’s far better topics of conversation.”

“ ‘Symphony’?” Peter Svenson then said, addressing the Angel.  “What kind of a name is that?”

“That’s the name she used in that casino,” John said.

“Where you were working as a lounge singer?”

“Only posing as one, as your father said,” Symphony answered.  She hadn’t missed the mocking way Peter was talking to her, but she feigned to pay little attention to it. “And actually, ‘Symphony’ is my codename.  I’m Symphony Angel, and I’m part of Spectrum Angels squad.”

“A fighter pilot!” David exclaimed vivaciously. Somehow, he succeeded in squeezing himself in what little space there was between Symphony and Blue.  Turning his back squarely on his annoyed-looking brother, he took Symphony’s free hand between his and looked right into her eyes.  “How interesting this is!  Dear brother, you lead such an exciting life!” 

“I heard all the pilots of the Angel squad are women,” Kate remarked.  “Is that true?”

“So far,” Symphony answered.  She disengaged her hand from David’s and moved slightly away from him, before speaking to Kate again:  “Your father met two of us in Las Vegas.”

“Destiny,” John recalled as he motioned for them all to sit again.  “Yes, she made quite an impression on me.  Such a petite woman, Sarah – but you should have seen her facing those two punks who tried to rob me at the airport!  She was not at all afraid of them.” 

“Destiny can be quite lethal at times,” Scarlet remarked.  “You don’t want to cross her.  Nor Karen, for that matter,” he added, as he gave a cautionary glance in David’s direction.  But the latter didn’t take any notice.

The boy must be stupid… or blind. He’ll learn the hard way, soon enough, I’m afraid.

As if things weren’t bad enough already, David put his hand onto Symphony’s knee and patted it.  Scarlet rolled his eyes skyward and started counting the seconds before Symphony floored the kid. 

“I’ve always wanted to date a pilot,” David confided.

Oddly enough, Symphony gently removed his hand. Scarlet tilted his head to one side, admiring the Angel’s uncharacteristic patience.  “How flattering,” she answered, hiding her annoyance behind a charming smile.  “Sorry, Mr Svenson, but I’m taken.”

“You are?  Oh, what a lucky guy he must be…”

“He is indeed,” Scarlet said, looking at David over his glass of rum in a rather warning way.

“Would that be you, Mr Metcalfe? I’m sorry if I seem to want to step on your turf…”  David didn’t give the impression he was sorry at all.  He sat back onto the sofa, getting comfortable – and not-so-inconspicuously putting his arm behind Symphony.  She rolled her eyes again.

“You’re not stepping on my turf,” Scarlet said quietly.  “Karen is not my girlfriend – she’s more of a sister to me. No, if you want to know whose turf you’re stepping on, I suggest you look to your left.”

Surprise was plain on David’s face as he suddenly realised the meaning of Scarlet’s words; the latter took tremendous pleasure in watching the embarrassment in the younger man as he slowly turned to face his older brother. Blue was watching him with an amused grin; he knew how immature David was when in presence of beautiful women; the lad was still at an age where his libido was raging, and he would go after anything in a skirt.

“Adam, oh God…”  David instantly shot to his feet, reddening as he did so; he looked in dismay as Symphony and Blue got closer to each other, closing the gap he’d just left.  “Jeez – I’m sorry, I should have realised…”

“You certainly should have,” John Svenson said, more amused than anything else by his youngest son’s behaviour.  “Wasn’t it obvious from the start?”

“You don’t seem all that surprised, Father,” Blue remarked.

John raised an eyebrow. “Should I be? I did notice you two seemed inseparable, in Vegas, all those months ago – and I met Karen’s mother too, remember?” He smiled. “She and I had time to talk. She gave me quite a few hints about you two being close.”

“She did?” Symphony said in surprise.

“And you said nothing?” Blue added in turn.

John shrugged.  “I figured you would tell me – us – when you felt ready…”

“It’s nice to know that you are finally seeing a nice girl, Adam,” Sarah said enthusiastically.

“I say!” Kate said in turn, before adding with a teasing tone:  “Frankly, dear brother, I was beginning to despair of you…”

“Despair of what?” Blue asked, rolling his eyes.  “You’ve been trying to hitch me to one of your friends for years – I figured I’d be safer finding someone on my own – before I found myself engaged to Mary-Jane Willoughby…”

“Who is Mary-Jane Willoughby?” Symphony asked with a faint smile.

“One of Kate’s friends from way back when,” Sarah explained with an amused smile.

Blue shuddered.  “She was ten when she started following me around like a shadow… Freckled face, crooked teeth, pigtails…”

“Quite a picture,” Scarlet commented, grinning.

“You should see her today,” Kate replied. “She’s changed quite a lot, Adam – you wouldn’t recognise her.  And she’s a lawyer with the company now…”

“A lawyer, really?”  Blue said, raising a brow.  “Wonders never cease…”

“What did you do before Spectrum, Karen?” Sarah Svenson asked with curiosity.  “Where do you come from?  Tell me about yourself…  You’re an American, obviously.”

“Mom…  Don’t start with the inquisition, please?  All the girls I’ve ever brought home had to go through it,” Blue confessed apologetically to Symphony. “It’s become like a tradition.”

“Well, why break with tradition?” Symphony replied. “I’m from Iowa, Mrs Svenson.  I grew up on the family ranch, and went to Yale University at an early age – rather like your son here, when he went to Harvard… So we have a lot of interesting debates between us about the merits of both universities…”

“Tell me about it,” Scarlet muttered into his drink.

“What were your degrees at Yale?” Kate enquired again.

“Technology and employment of mathematics.” Symphony shrugged. “I don’t know how much good they did me after that, to be frank.”

“Why’s that?” Kate asked.

“Well… maybe I shouldn’t tell you all this but…”

“Come on!” Kate insisted.  “You can trust us, can’t you? We’re Adam’s family after all…”  She interrupted herself and gave a thoughtful look around. “Why does that sound creepy?” she added with an amused frown. 

Sniggering, Symphony finally complied. “After university, I was recruited to undergo a training session at the U.S.S.”

“What kind of training?” Sarah asked.  “Administration?”

Symphony chuckled again.  “Not quite.”

“Wait a minute,” David said at that moment.  “The U.S.S. – that’s the Universal Secret Service.  You mean to tell us you were trained to become a spy?”

“We prefer the designation ‘agents’,” Symphony replied.  She had lost count of how many times in the past she had said that line – or heard one of her friends say it for her. She caught sight of Blue and Scarlet trying to suppress a smile. “And actually, it was my job to find out spies and to bring them to justice.” 

“Karen became one of U.S.S.’s top agents,” Blue explained, getting some amusement from the various surprised reactions of his family. “She was very effective at dealing with industrial espionage…”

“That must have been a fascinating life,” David said, obviously in awe.  “Do tell us more about it…”

“Actually, I’ve already told you more than I really should,” Symphony replied.  “And so did you, Adam – It’s better that we stop right here and keep our mouths shut.”

“Why?”  David asked again.

“Because then, I won’t have to kill you?” There was dry humour in Symphony’s voice as she said those words, just before quietly taking a sip of her drink in the ensuing silence. Peter shrugged dismissively, seemingly not taking any interest in the conversation, and John and Kate exchanged a curious glance, while Sarah seemed a little unsettled.  As for David, he was most interested.

“Awww… you’re kidding, of course,” he said with a sly smile.

“How can you tell?” she answered with deadpan aplomb.  She took another sip of her drink, and then, smiling faintly, addressed a wink all around; the moment of awkwardness passed, as everyone realised she was joking. Involuntarily, Sarah warmed to the young woman. She found her most sympathetic.

  “How did you come to transform from a spy – pardon me, an agent – to an Angel pilot?” David enquired. The way he was looking at Symphony, he obviously found all of this very fascinating.

“I was already a pilot,” Symphony explained. “I learned to fly at a very young age, with my father in Iowa, where my uncle owns a fleet of small planes.”

“That’s nothing to do with piloting fighters,” John remarked.

“No, you’re absolutely right, Mr Svenson. But at one point, my work at the U.S.S. called for me to take a crash course in flying more advanced airplanes. So some years later – here I am.”  Symphony smiled.  “The love of flying is something I have in common with your Adam.”

“So I can see,” John said, raising a brow. 

So often in the past, he and his eldest son had clashed over the latter’s ambition to fly planes.  He had agreed for Adam to learn to fly, of course – John had considered it an asset for a future head of industry to know how to fly his own plane.  It was when Adam eventually mentioned his ambition of becoming a test pilot – thereby giving up all intention of becoming a part of the family company – that had caused John some headaches, not to mention many heated confrontations with his son. Fortunately, today, the conflict between them had calmed down considerably; but still, John felt a little awkward over that particular subject.  He still entertained the hope that one day Adam would come back to the family business.

But now that he was obviously so happy in his work – and was apparently so deeply involved with a young woman who actually seemed as adventurous as himself – John realised that the chances of seeing Adam back working with him were growing even more remote than they had been in the past.  

However, it was the Holidays, Adam was with them, and Sarah had asked him to behave for the occasion. That she thought he might start an argument with his son under the circumstances had nearly choked him, but his wife knew him better than anyone in the world and she was still concerned that his temper would get the better of him. Anyway, he had already decided that he would be on his best behaviour.

But obviously, not everyone had decided the same.

“So, you like to destroy things with your plane?” Peter said, taking a sip of his drink. “Must make you feel pretty powerful, doesn’t it?”

His tone was insolent enough, and Sarah glared meaningfully at him.  “Peter, you’ve had enough of that,” she said, pointing to his glass. 

“I simply meant:  they always say that piloting a jet is like an extension of their manhood for fighter pilots. I always reckoned that was why Adam enjoyed it so much.  I was mainly wondering how you can translate that when the pilot in question is a woman.”

“Mom is right, you’ve had enough.” Very elegantly, Kate Svenson swept the glass from her brother’s hand and put it on top of the fireplace.  He didn’t even try to stop her.  “You should learn diplomacy, Peter Svenson.”

“I… you’re right.”  Peter probably noticed the warning in Blue’s stare, because he lowered his eyes, apologetically. “I’ve obviously had too much to drink. I’m sorry, Miss Symphony – or whatever your name is. I didn’t mean to offend you in any way.”

“You can call me Karen.” Symphony shook her head. “And there’s no harm done,” she said charitably. “I didn’t feel insulted.”

“It’s still early in the evening, give him time,” Blue remarked. “Something wrong, Peter?”

“Naa…  Feel like celebrating, that’s all.” Peter grinned. “My long-lost, big brother is home for the Holidays. That warrants a little drinking, doesn’t it?”  Somehow, his words didn’t sound right to Blue’s ears. He could detect a double-entendre in them.

“Peter is probably very disappointed that the party won’t take place tonight,” John remarked, going to sit next to his wife on the other sofa. “We were to meet some would-be clients – who were flying straight from Washington, for a possible business deal.”

“And that was Peter’s baby,” Kate remarked. “He didn’t want to tell us whatever it is exactly… well, not before the deal was concluded.”

“Tonight, possibly,” Peter murmured.

“He was so convincing about it, that I gave carte blanche,” John continued.  “I must say – I’m still very eager to see what it is all about exactly.”

“I worked very hard on this,” Peter agreed.  “Just to get these people to accept the invitation tonight proved to be an exploit in itself.”

“Obviously, the weather gods had other plans,” Scarlet commented.

“Sorry to hear that, Peter,” Blue said, genuinely sympathetic. “I know your work in the company is very important to you.”

“Oh well,” Peter muttered.  Que sera sera, as they say.  I’ll have to make a further effort to get these people into bed with us.  It’s not the first time – and won’t be the last – that I have bust a gut working – as you might say, for two – to get things done for the company.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”  There was some coldness in Blue’s tone now.

“What’s what supposed to mean?” Peter asked with puzzlement.

“You said you were working for two – what do you mean exactly?  Because I’m not there, you have to…”

“Boys, that’s enough,” Sarah interrupted suddenly. “Adam, I’m sure Peter didn’t mean anything…”

“On the contrary, Mom,” Peter cut in suddenly. “I did mean it…”

“Here we go again,” David sighed, rolling his eyes.

“David,” his father warned him.

“Maybe I should say I’m working for three, actually,” Peter suddenly snapped, turning to his younger brother. “You aren’t around much either, as I recall.  Pursuing your own dreams in Europe – just like Adam pursued his when he left this house, years ago.”

“Oh Peter, stop complaining!” Kate interjected, before anyone else could say a word. “You’re not the only one who works hard within the company.  Dad and I are doing as much as you do yourself.  Nobody is forcing you to overdo it.”

“Of course, Kate,” Peter mocked her.  “You would like to be the perfect little girl for your Daddy…”

“Peter!” Sarah called angrily.

“Mind your words, Peter,” Blue warned.  “That’s no way to talk to her.”

“Shut up, flyboy – you’ve been gone for so long, you don’t have any idea how hard it is to fill the void you left.”

“What are you talking about? I left no void to fill! I’ve never worked for the company – and I always made it clear I didn’t want to work for it, so what difference does it make whether I am there or not?”

“What difference does it make, you say?  I’ll tell you what difference…”

“That’s enough, Peter!”  John interrupted in a loud voice.  “You have said quite enough as it is!” 

An uncomfortable silence fell on the room. Scarlet and Symphony exchanged awkward glances. They were ill at ease, to have witnessed such an outburst and didn’t know quite where to stand.  And it was obvious they would have preferred to be anywhere else but there.  John Svenson noticed it and sighed with exasperation.

“This is no way for us to behave,” he remarked sternly.  “In front of guests, no less…  What must they think of our family?”

“I have nothing to hide from my friends,” Blue said between clenched teeth.  “As far as I’m concerned, they are as much part of my family as anyone else in this room.” He glared murderously at Peter.  “I know I can count on them not to stab me in the back whenever the chance presents itself.”

“Adam,” Sarah demanded.  “Please, don’t start again.”

“Mom, I’m sorry,” Blue told her. “I didn’t mean for this to happen. I should have realised.  Maybe it was a mistake coming here after all,” he added gloomily.

“Adam, be fair,” Sarah replied. “We’re all happy to see you here. Peter is a little… preoccupied, that’s all.  Aren’t you, Peter?”

“I…”  Peter stopped, hesitating.  He finally blew a deep sigh.  “Yeah, you’re right.  I’m sorry, everyone – I’m not in the best of moods.”

“Obviously,” David piped up.

“David, that’s enough,” Sarah warned again. She turned to the still apparently fuming Blue. “Anyway, Adam, where would you have gone, with this bad weather outside? Stay at the airport, sleeping in the waiting room, until the storm cleared?  No, Adam – this is your home, and you’re always welcome here.  And your friends too.  You know that.  This is the Holiday Season, and on such an occasion, we should celebrate – not quarrel amongst ourselves. ”

Blue smiled thinly.  “Mom, you’re an angel, you know?”

His mother chuckled.  “As long as you don’t ask me to fly a plane…”

“That’ll be the day,” John muttered.  “You’d be quite unable to learn how to fly, Sarah – you’re too afraid of heights.  Anyway, I think there are enough pilots in the family as it is, right now.”

“It’s funny you should mention that, Father,” Blue observed. He gave an inquiring look at Symphony by his side, and she nodded a mute, affirmative answer.  “I think it’s time I told you, since we’re all together.”

“Told us what?” Kate asked.  “What are you up to, Adam?”

“There will be another pilot in the family very soon.” Blue took Symphony’s hand in his. “Some months ago – I asked Karen to marry me… and I was lucky enough for her to accept.”

There was another stunned silence.  The members of the Svenson family looked at each other, obviously not sure how to react to the news.  Scarlet mentally started making bets on who would be the first to say something.

“What?”  It was Peter again.  “You’re serious?”

“Why shouldn’t I be serious?” Blue asked. There was a warning in his voice, obviously advising his brother not to push his luck.

The latter apparently got the message.  His tone changed instantly. “I just meant – well, you always struck me as a lone wolf, Adam. I didn’t really see you making the decision to settle down with a girl – any girl – and start a family.”

“I did!” Sarah said, literally jumping on her feet once the first moment of surprise had passed. She went over to her eldest son who stood up with Symphony, and she took him in a warm embrace, kissing his cheek. “Adam, I’m so happy you’ve found someone!  Welcome to the family, my dear!” she added, turning to Symphony.

“Thank you, Mrs Svenson…”

“Adam, my congratulations,” John said, shaking hands with his son.

“Thanks, Father,” Blue grinned. “But I supposed that, after your little chat with Amanda, it didn’t come as a big surprise to you?”

“No – you’re right.  I had some… vague suspicions, I admit.”

“Vague suspicions.  Of course.” Blue chuckled. “But I have to warn you and Mom – don’t count on having grandchildren, just yet – as it is right now, it’s already a big step for us to have our commander to agree to our marriage, in theory.”

“Oh yes, I remember your commander,” John snorted with a frown. “He seemed to me like a stern fellow. How did you come to convince him, then?  Threaten to elope to Vegas?”

Blue and Symphony shivered almost imperceptibly, while Scarlet, taking a sip of his drink, nearly choked. He did wonder how detailed the chat between John and Amanda had been in Vegas.

“It’s rather a long story,” Blue said hesitantly, exchanging knowing glances with Symphony. 

John smiled. “Well, we’re stuck here for the evening, anyway. With all that snow and with plenty of food between the few of us. So we have all the time in the world to hear any long story you want to tell us.” He put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “It seems like it’s about time we heard about your life, Adam. I’m sure it’ll make for a very entertaining evening.”

There were murmurs of agreement around, as everyone still standing sat down, following John’s invitation.  Scarlet looked around as the family grew closer to his best friend and felt a sudden wave of envy for him.  He didn’t have any brothers or sisters of his own, and he speculated that, notwithstanding all the bad things that might happen in any big family, it was certainly moments like this that made it all worthwhile.

Yet, he noticed that one member of the family didn’t seem that eager to participate in the general feeling of closeness the others were presently sharing. 

He watched as Peter Svenson, looking particularly sombre, retrieved his glass from the fireplace and downed the reminder of his drink, while glaring daggers in the direction of his older brother…

 

 

“There you are!  I’ve been wondering where you disappeared to!”

David Svenson entered his father’s office to discover his brother Peter seated at the desk, his reading glasses on his nose and working at the computer with deep absorption.  Peter barely raised his eyes from the screen when he saw his younger brother step into the room, closing the door behind him.

“In fact, everyone has been wondering where you had gone,” David continued as he approached.  “What are you doing all alone here, anyway?”

“I’ve got work to do, Dave,” his brother answered.

“And it couldn’t wait?”  David rolled his eyes.  “You’ve become worse than Dad, Pete.  It’s the Holidays, for Heaven’s sake.  Put that aside for the evening and come join the rest of the family. Mom’s right:  it’s not often we’re all reunited, you know. You’re being very rude.”

“Who needs me, with the return of the prodigal son?” Peter replied acerbically. 

“Are you jealous of Adam, by any chance?” David asked with a raised brow, sitting on the side of the desk.

“Jealous? Whatever for?  I’ve been working my butt off for the company for years, while our Big Brother was gone in pursuit of ‘other, more important affairs’…  And he comes back and is welcomed like… like…”

“The prodigal son,” David suggested, using the term his brother had used himself.  He shook his head, watching the dejected expression on Peter’s face. “I was right, you are jealous.”

“I am not. Adam’s got nothing that I don’t have.”

“I can think of something, actually.  He’s got a girlfriend he’s about to marry.”  Seeing Peter scowl, David continued:  “What is it, Peter?  Are you afraid that Adam will actually beat you to producing a second generation heir to the family?  Dad’s first grandson?” He shook his head again, pensively.  “He did say not to count on any grandchildren yet, but…”

“That doesn’t worry me,” Peter interjected with a deeper frown.

“You don’t sound very convincing,” David remarked. 

“David – this is what I worry about.”  Peter slightly turned the laptop toward his brother; the latter leaned to look at the screen.  He frowned on reading what it contained.

“You’ve been checking on Karen?” he said with surprise.  “Whatever are you doing that for?”

“When one of my brothers announces that he’s about to get married to a girl he’s working with, and we know nothing about her, I tend to get suspicious, David.  This girl Adam is planning to marry – I don’t trust her.”

David sighed.  Peter, just because your marriage is on the rocks and your wife's threatening to divorce you and take half your money doesn't mean...”

 “David, remember your last girlfriend?” Peter interrupted. “How much did she cost you, before you realised she was only after you for your money?”

David looked sheepishly at him.  “My brand new sports car,” he admitted after a short moment of hesitation.

“And how about that no-good skier Kate met in Aspen?  He was nothing more than a gigolo – I had to pay him off to leave our sister alone.”

“You didn’t!” David protested.  “Peter, I never knew that!  How could you…”

“It was for Kate’s own good, you should know that. She’s so naïve – I had to protect her.  Can you blame me for that?  And now this girl in Adam’s life…”

“You think she’s a gold-digger? She’s nothing like that!”  David protested.  “She doesn’t look the part…”

“They never look the part, David. They never do, until they’ve made off with half your possessions! You just think she’s a nice girl because you fancy her. Don’t deny it, David:  everyone noticed.”

David reddened. He shook his head and looked down at the screen again.  “You’re wrong about her, Pete. I don’t see anything here that might mean she’s interested in Adam because of his money.”

“Not his money.  The family money.”

“You are being ridiculous.”

“Am I?  Look at that.”

Peter pressed a key and new information appeared on the screen. David screwed his eyes, reading. 

“Holy – that’s the financial information of the Wainwright Ranch in Iowa.  Peter, how could you…”

“Continue to read,” Peter cut in.  “David, look at that line, there…”  He pointed to the line in question.  “What does it say to you?”

“A transfer – from Svenson Financial Industries – to the Wainwright Ranch?” David looked puzzled.  “That’s quite a sum of money too…”

“Isn’t it?” Peter said coldly.  “It looks as if, four months ago, our dear brother Adam transferred quite a significant amount of Svenson money to the ranch owned by Karen’s mother.”

“Peter, I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for this… transaction.  As far as we know, it might be genuine.”

“Maybe.  But it’s a transaction I never heard about.  Until today.”  Peter closed the lid of his computer.  “Adam never called me to ask to do this transfer, David – and if he had called Dad, Dad would have told me.  I am responsible for this kind of… investment, in the company, you know that.” He stood to his feet, and rounded the desk.  “So you know what it looks like to me?  This girl is using her mother’s ranch – the family ranch – to hide Svenson money, fraudulently acquired from our big brother.”

“You think Adam would be naïve enough not to notice his girlfriend is taking advantage of him?” David asked with a doubtful frown.

“Adam is in love – he would be blind to any awful thing this girl might do. She’s beautiful, she’s intelligent… she has a lot in common with him… and a lot of appeal as well, I’m sure…  If you know what I mean.”

“I still can’t believe she would be able to trick him like this,” David murmured. “Peter, are you sure?  You’re talking embezzlement.  On Adam’s part?  That doesn’t seem right.  I know I don’t have much experience in these things, not as much as the rest of you, but…”

“See the obvious, little brother. That girl is like all the others: she’s only thinking of how much she can get from Adam - and he's obviously infatuated with her...” Peter put his hands on his younger brother’s shoulders and leaned in front of him. “But we won’t sit idly by while she cajoles Adam into misappropriating the family’s money. I may have my disagreements with him, but he’s still my brother.  Our brother.  We have to protect him from himself – and protect the family business, and all the hard work Dad’s put into it. Besides,” he added as an afterthought, “we have to take care of this problem quickly.  Before the press – or investors – can get hold of it.”

“What do you have in mind?” David asked suspiciously.

“We have to stop Adam from marrying that girl – or she’ll get her hands on all his money, and will have a free ticket to the family business,” Peter said.  “And you can help me, David.”

“Are you insane?” David snapped.  “Adam will never listen to you – or even me, for that matter!  He’d break me in two before I could tell him his girlfriend is nothing but a gold-digger!”

“That’s why we have to prove to him that she doesn’t really love him,” Peter said with a knowing nod.

“How?”

“I don’t know – I have to think about a solution…  For example, we could use your innate charm for the fairer sex…”

“Whatever do you mean?” David asked suspiciously.

“David – you’re young, as handsome as Adam… and as rich as he is… and you’re much easier going – Adam must be hard work.  I’m sure a girl like she is will readily transfer her attentions to you.  She wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation, especially if you show her you’re… interested in her.  Then we’ll be able to prove her disloyalty.”

David grunted. “Why don’t you do it, then?” he grumbled.  “You qualify as well…”

“Very flattering,” Peter smirked. He waved a finger under his brother’s nose. “But I’m afraid she’ll be suspicious of me right away.  I haven’t shown any interest in her since the moment I saw her.  You, on the contrary, did.”

“Yeah, so you said already,” mumbled David.  “So it has to be me, risking death at Adam’s hands in order to show him that his girlfriend is up to no good?”

“When he finds out why we did it, he’ll forget all about this Karen.  And he’ll thank us, don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you for what, Peter?”

The stern voice coming from the door made both David and Peter turn around; the door was open, and they saw Adam standing there, looking at them with fire in his eyes.  He entered the room.  “I see that David found you – what are you doing here, Peter?”

“Working, if you want to know,” Peter answered dully.  “The family business needs to be run, you know that.  But what does it matter to you, Adam?  You never interested yourself in the family.”

“That’s not true. I said I wasn’t interested in the family’s company.  But on the contrary, I’m rather interested when a member of this family is so rude to someone who will soon be part of it.” 

David moved towards the door.  “If you two need to talk, I will leave you,” he announced.  “Someone has to entertain the family while you kill each other.”  He walked past Blue, while the latter kept his eyes set on Peter, and crossed the threshold; he looked behind him as he grabbed the doorknob.  “Please,” he appealed, “don’t spill any blood on Dad’s brand new carpet?”  With that, he closed the door, leaving his two estranged brothers alone.

Blue tilted his head to one side. “What are you up to, Peter?” he asked meaningfully.

“What do you mean?” his brother responded with a frown. “I’m not up to anything.”

“The little I heard when I entered the room leads me to believe the opposite.  You were talking about Karen.”

Peter nodded, pensively, pushing his hands into his trouser pockets and moving towards his seat behind the desk.  “Oh yes, your precious little Angel…”

“Your future sister-in-law,” Blue reminded him, walking over to his brother.  “I couldn’t fail to notice that you were less than thrilled to learn that we were engaged.  What do you have against her?”

“Against her?”  Peter sat down and leaned against the back of his chair.  He looked up squarely at his brother.  “Nothing at all, I can assure you.”

“You are lying to me,” Blue accused.  “Or maybe, you have something against me.”

Peter raised a brow.  “My dear brother – do you want me to make you a list?”

“Peter, you should know that I really mean it when I say I’m not interested in coming back to the family business, so you’ve got nothing to worry about on that subject.”

“Now it’s you who’s lying,” Peter replied.  “You can’t tell me that eventually you won’t be coming back – when you’re through playing hero with that Spectrum organisation of yours…” Peter leaned forward and glared at his brother.  “You’ll grow old, eventually – you won’t be able to work as a field agent indefinitely.  You won’t be able to cut it anymore with the younger agents you’ll be working with – and then you’ll come back.”

“You’re wrong, Peter…”

“You can’t know what you’ll do in ten years, Adam – that’s the truth of it. You can’t keep a commitment to a cause indefinitely. You were a test pilot at the W.A.S. – you went on to become a security agent…”

“Still with the W.A.S.,” Blue reminded him.

“And now you’re a field agent for the Spectrum organisation. An anti-terrorist group.  You never commit yourself.” 

“You’re still wrong, Peter. I think I know more about the word ‘commitment’ that you will ever know.”

Peter scoffed.  “Don’t make me laugh…”

“That is not my intention.  And I’m not here in this office for that.”  Blue sat down quietly in front of his brother, on the free seat on the other side of the desk and leaned back, intertwining his fingers and looking levelly at him. “Now – I don’t have any intention of leaving this room before we set things straight between us…”

Peter rolled his eyes.  “Then we’ll still be here next year…”

“Which gives us a little less than a week,” Blue answered with a deadpan expression.  “Now, Peter, I suggest you tell me what you’re up to concerning Karen.”

“I’m not up to anything.”

Blue sighed and got comfortable.  “Suit yourself.  I can wait as long as you want, until you decide to talk…”

 

 

Sarah and Kate Svenson had just returned from the kitchen with plates of re-heated hors d’oeuvres, and were putting them down onto the buffet table, where the others had started helping themselves to cold sandwiches and canapés. With the hired staff cancelled for the evening, and the butler and the cook still busy in the kitchen, the two women had resolved to do the service themselves. Sarah had ordered both members of the staff to take the evening off, as soon as they had finished in the kitchen.  If the hired staff had arrived in time to take over, they would be dismissed, and so she saw no reason for them not to be anyway, no matter the circumstances.  The family would be quite able to manage all alone for the evening.  Besides, Sarah considered, that would mean the members of the whole family having a nice, intimate evening together – something that didn’t happen quite often enough for her taste.

 Casually David entered the room all alone, and John gave him an enquiring look.  A few minutes ago, Adam had disappeared, right after David, in search of the missing Peter who had left without warning, a good hour before.  Now that only one of his sons had returned, John was suspicious that something was going on under his own roof.

“Where are your brothers?” he asked, watching as his youngest son, after taking a small sandwich, came to sit next to Symphony, who was busy eating some of the canapés from a generously piled up plate she had made for herself.

“They’re busy in your office, Dad,” David answered quietly, biting into his sandwich.  “I think they figured out they had a lot of stuff to talk about.”

“Uh-oh,” Kate said in an undertone.

“Oh, John.”  Sarah turned a concerned look to her frowning husband.  “Those two can’t be in the same room very long before an argument turns into a civil war.”

“Quite true,” John agreed with a tired sigh.  He had hoped that Peter would have been sensible enough to emulate his good-behaviour, but obviously, that was too much to hope for.  He put his glass down onto the table.  “I’d better go see if they are both still alive.”

“Do you have any siblings, Mr Metcalfe?”  Kate asked, turning to Scarlet, while offering him a canapé.

He accepted it gratefully.  “I’m an only child,” he confided.  “I only have cousins about my own age.”

“Other children to play with?”

 “Plenty, while growing up in Winchester.  Many of them were military children, like me.”

“And are you married?” she asked.

“Not just yet, no.”

“Someone special in your life then... like my big brother has?”

Scarlet wondered how the conversation could have moved from childhood memories to his present day private life.  He smiled, amused by the younger woman’s obvious interest.  “Yes,” he admitted, and watched her crestfallen reaction.  “To a very lovely woman.  Nearly as lovely as yourself – Katherine.”

Just at that moment, the lights suddenly went off, plunging the house into total darkness.  John, who was on his way to find his two older sons, groaned deeply.

“What’s the matter now?”

“Probably the storm finally brought down some electric cables, or something,” David suggested.

“That would be my first thought,” Symphony agreed. “The storm was rather violent when we arrived.”

“And it‘s grown even more violent since then,” Kate concluded.  “They said so on the radio.”

“Then we shouldn’t have to worry,” John said. “Corrigan will start the home generator.”

“John, Corrigan is on holiday,” his wife suddenly told him. “Don’t you remember?  He left yesterday for a family reunion in New York…”

“So he did,” David said in turn.  “As a matter of fact, nearly all the staff have gone. Only Johnson and Mrs Kruger have stayed.”  He turned to Symphony, grinning at her in the semi-darkness. “Mrs Kruger is the one who made those superb canapés. She wouldn’t trust a caterer with her specialities…”

 “I can’t see her or Johnson starting the generator,” Sarah said with a sigh.  “They wouldn’t know how to do it.”

Kate chuckled.  “Knowing Johnson’s expertise in such electric matters, it could even prove dangerous.  He could set fire to the house.”

“That’s very reassuring,” John muttered.

 I have expertise in generators,” Symphony offered. “We’ve always had one at the ranch, and we often have to start it – when the bad weather knocks out the electricity.  I can start it for you.”

“Really, Karen,” Sarah started protesting, “we can’t ask you to…”

“I insist,” Symphony said, getting up.  “We can’t very well stay in the dark, now, can we?  Where’s the generator?”

“In the basement,” David answered, standing up in turn.  “I’ll take you there.  Once I have found a flashlight, that is – I wouldn’t want to bump into something or go down those stairs in the dark.  That wouldn’t be very safe…”

 

 

Less than five minutes later, after finding an electric torch hidden behind a row of books on the bookcase in the living room, David Svenson guided Symphony Angel through the dark house to a door that he unlocked to reveal a straight staircase leading into the basement.  They climbed down, to another door at the foot of the stairs, which he opened, and invited Symphony to precede him.  Leaving the door open, he followed, flashing the light of the torch around, searching.  He turned to her, a sheepish expression on his face, after a few seconds. 

“They must have moved it around,” he said.

She sighed and took the torch from his hands. “You don’t come down here often, do you?” she reflected, lighting the way as they continued to walk around.

“No, I admit I don’t,” he answered truthfully.  “Well, when I was a child, I did come to play here very often … until I found myself accidentally locked in.  The two doors were closed and no matter how hard I banged on the one down here, nobody could hear me. Virtually an entire day passed before one of the staff found me and freed me.  I got told off by my father, you can’t begin to imagine.  He and Mom – particularly Mom – were hysterical.  They couldn’t imagine where I had disappeared to for so long.  At the time, I couldn’t imagine why they reacted that way.”

“I think I know – after what happened to Adam years before – they might have been afraid history was repeating itself?”

David nodded sombrely, as he stopped and turned to Symphony.  “Yeah, I imagine it was the case. I didn’t know about the kidnapping, then – it happened before I was born, and they didn’t want to tell me before I was old enough not to be scared by such a story.  It still gave me goosebumps when they did tell me, though. But anyway, I never came back down here to play after that. That gave me goosebumps, too.”  He paused.  “Adam told you about what happened to him, then?”

“Only recently,” she admitted.  “Last summer, in Vegas, when we met the awful man who kidnapped him as a child – and who did it again.”  She sighed, in dismay.  “I don’t think he likes talking about it. Which is understandable. I couldn’t think of anything worse happening to a child.  It’s a wonder it didn’t scar him for life.”

“I think it did – in a positive way, if such a thing is possible.  What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, they say.”  David shrugged.  “I was told that the kidnapper originally wanted to take Peter – the occasion just presented itself for him to snatch Adam instead.  If that had happened to Peter, I would never have known one of my brothers.  Peter would never have survived what Adam did.”  He shivered, despite himself.  “But Adam – he always was a rock.  Even as a child, my mother said.  If he could survive an experience like that, then I believe he could face anything.”

“You like your brother very much, don’t you?” Symphony asked with fondness in her voice.

“Of course I do – he’s my big brother…”  David grinned.  “I would do anything for him.”

“That makes two of us, then.”

“Does it?  I think Adam deserves a nice girl to love him, Karen.  Are you that girl?”

She smiled.  “I believe I am, yes.  I count myself lucky that he loves me in return.”

“Lucky indeed,” David mused.  “Adam’s capacity to love is second only to his loyalty.   Once you have both, he will be committed to you ‘til the day he dies.”

 “You’re a very nice guy, David,” Symphony said in a genuinely kind tone.  “I’m sure that one day – you’ll make a girl happy too.”

Symphony noticed the intense way the younger man was looking at her – almost as if he was trying to see through her and read her inner thoughts and her very soul.  She wondered what could be in David’s mind, and not being able to decipher it made her feel quite uncomfortable for the moment; not really intimidated – it wasn’t her way to be intimidated by the presence of a man – but certainly ill at ease.  She turned on her heels, breaking eye contact with him, and started looking around for what they had come for.

“So where is that generator, then?  We’ve wasted enough time as it is.”

When she spun round once again towards David, it was to find him very close to her, the light reflecting on his smiling face; it almost made her jump. It did when his hands took her delicately by the shoulders; she looked down at those hands with suspicion.

“Why so eager to return upstairs, Karen?” he asked in a syrupy voice.  “It’s positively boring there.”

“David…”  She frowned.  “What are you doing?”

“Getting to know you better?”  He leaned forward to steal a kiss.  Symphony stepped back.

“Not that way, you don’t – that’s for certain.  Keep your hands to yourself, please.”

She was distraught when she saw the smile on his face widening and, instead of heeding her warning, he stepped forward. 

“What’s the matter, Karen?  Okay, I admit – it’s not very comfy here, but we’re alone together, with no-one to disturb us…”

That’s exactly what’s bothering me, Symphony reflected inwardly.

“David, I’m warning you - keep your distance,” she said, taking another step back. Her retreat was cut short, when she found herself backed against a work table, covered with tools.  David came to stand in front of her.

“I can’t – I find you way too attractive.” He raised his hand and gently caressed her cheek.  “You are stunning, you know that, Karen?”

“David, I’m engaged to your brother.”

“So…?”  he whispered, leaning against her, and putting his hands on the table on each side of her, effectively trapping her.  He leaned closer still, to brush her cheek with his lips. “I’ve got as much money as he has…  I’m as good-looking – aren’t I?”

“Yes you are, but…”

“I thought you might think so…”

Symphony felt positively annoyed. “I thought you loved your brother?” she said acerbically.

“I do…”

“Then how can you do this to him?”

He shrugged. “I thought that maybe… you would find me as good a catch as my brother, Karen?”

Symphony blinked in surprise; her hand slowly slid down, and came to rest on David’s right hand and stroked it. “You think you’re an irresistible guy, David?” she asked him smoothly.

He grinned smugly.  “Well, maybe I am – what do you think, Karen?”

“I’m sorry, David… but you thought wrong!”

Before David could react, her hand closed on his fingers and squeezed and pulled tight; he yelped in pain, and stepped back, almost instinctively.  Symphony’s knee jerked upward and hit low; she heard the whimper escaping his lips, as she slipped under his arm to escape him.  Once free, she tripped him, and he fell, face first, onto the work table, sending the tools slithering to the floor.  Gasping in pain, his eyes watering, he turned around – to discover her standing in front of him, her face livid with anger.

“You have exactly ten seconds to explain yourself properly, before I call for your brother and watch him make mincemeat out of you!” she exclaimed.  “Then I will decide if I have to press charges against you for sexual harassment!”

“Harass–” David blanched, and started stammering. “W-wait a minute, Karen… it’s not what you think!”

“Oh, isn’t it?  Then tell me what it is – and you better make it convincing!”

Symphony had barely uttered those angry words when a loud banging sound echoed through the room, making her jump and turn around in surprise, flashing the light from her torch.  She discovered that the door through which David and she had walked to enter the room had slammed shut.  Seeing that, David suddenly rushed to the door; he grabbed the doorknob and tried to turn it, without success.  Symphony saw him trying to pull on the door that wouldn’t budge.

“Oh no,” the young man muttered under his breath. “Don’t tell me…”  He turned to the still annoyed and suspicious-looking Symphony.  “We’re trapped!”

“Are we, really?” She walked to the door and tried the handle herself.  It wouldn’t move.  Sighing, she turned to David, flashing the light almost directly in his face.  “All right, David – what kind of game are you playing this time?”

“I swear this has got nothing to do with me!”  he exclaimed, rushing to the door again and trying the lock. 

“You expect me to believe that?”

“Listen, I wouldn’t lock us in here – since that time it happened to me as a child, I can’t even stand just the thought of it happening again – I get claustrophobic just imagining it!”  He stopped his efforts.  “Unless…  It might be Peter.”

“Peter?”  Symphony was even more confused.  “What does Peter have to do with the fact that we’re trapped here?”

“He could have come down here and heard what was going on – he thought he could help.”

“Wha…”

“Peter!”  David shouted through the door, banging loudly on it.  “Open the door this instant!  It isn’t funny anymore!”

“David…”

“Peter!  It isn’t working!  Open the door!”

“David, stop it!”

Symphony seized David’s arm as he was swinging his fist once more against the door.  She forced him to turn towards her; she was shocked to see his eyes, almost wild with dread, and the alarming pallor of his face. He was panting, as if in need of air.  He’s genuinely claustrophobic, she reflected.  She took his face between her hands, gently, but firmly.

“There’s nobody behind that door, you can see that. Perhaps it closed by itself.  Now, calm yourself,” she told him soothingly.  “Nothing’s going to happen to you…  Somebody will realise what has happened and will come along to get us out.”

“I can’t stand being trapped,” he gasped.

“Breathe deeply – it’ll pass.  Don’t worry – you’re not alone.  I’m here with you.  There’s no reason to panic.”

“Yeah…” he breathed.  “You’re right… no reason at all…”  He closed his eyes and exhaled loudly.  Symphony felt him relaxing under her touch. When he opened his eyes again, she could see they were still a little cagey, but definitely calmer.

“Feeling better?” He nodded silently, and Symphony sighed. “Now then,” she said more sternly, “while we’re waiting for someone to come and open the door, you will tell me what the Hell all that was about earlier – why were you coming on to me so strongly?  What were you trying to do, David?  And what does it have to do with Peter?”

“I was doing it for Adam,” he answered a little awkwardly.

“You are not making any sense, David.  Now, I’m warning you…”

“It’s true, Karen.  I’m not...“  David lowered his eyes.  “I was trying to find out…”  He hesitated, embarrassed to say more, and unsure if he should indeed continue.  Symphony raised a brow.  She thought she understood his dilemma.

“You were trying to find out if I was loyal to Adam, right?”

“Yeah…” he muttered.  “Something like that…  Listen, I thought you might really only be interested in Adam because… because of his money…”

“Whatever gave you an idea like that?” she asked, shocked by the revelation.

“It’s Peter…”  David sighed.  “I guess I shouldn’t listen to him…  It’s obvious you’re a nice girl, and…”

 “You actually listened to him? Oh, I could see Peter wasn’t very happy to learn Adam and I were engaged but…  I can’t see why it’s any of his business…”

“Maybe he was afraid you would go after the family money?” David suggested.

“Whatever gave Peter that idea?” Symphony repeated, frowning. 

“Maybe because of the money transfer he found in the company accounts… All that money that was given to the ranch, you know?”

The frown on Symphony’s brow deepened.  She stared at David intently.  And by her clueless expression, the young man suddenly understood that she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

What money transfer?”

 

 

“Is it supposed to take this much time to get the generator started?”

Captain Scarlet was checking his watch.  Nearly ten minutes had passed since David and Symphony’s departure, and they were still in the dark. Sarah Svenson had found a handful of candles in the cabinet, and had set them all around the living room, lighting them one by one. 

“Maybe Karen is having difficulties with the thing,” Kate suggested.  “It could be a model she doesn’t know about…”

But Scarlet knew how efficient Symphony was with any electrical machine – she had the gift of understanding almost immediately how they worked.  He shook his head.  “I would very much doubt it…” He gave it some thought.  “Is the generator actually in working order?”

Sarah, leaning over the table in the middle of the room lighting the last candle, rose to her feet at Scarlet’s question. “Last time we used it, it was,” she confirmed.  She, more than anyone else, was in touch with the little details of the running of the house.  “It was… last year in January, if I’m not mistaken.”

Scarlet stroked his chin, thoughtfully.  If the generator wasn’t defective, he could see no reason for Symphony and Peter not to be back after all this time. 

Unless… He had noticed the way David had been staring at Karen all evening long.  Could it be that the little punk was taking advantage of the situation to try to get his chance with her?

Naaaa… Karen would break both his legs instantly, if he was to even attempt such a thing.

“Is anyone else wondering what happened to Johnson?” Kate then asked.  “Normally, in times like this, we’d see him running around, wondering what he can do for us…”

“It’s probably as dark in the kitchen as it is here,” Sarah remarked.  “Besides, I dismissed him and Mrs Kruger for the rest of the evening.  So maybe Johnson is already in bed, and hasn’t noticed anything wrong.”

“What exactly is going on?”

Everyone turned around at the sound of the voice, coming from the open door leading into the living room.  The light of a torch, as well as the sounds of footsteps, preceded the arrival of Adam and Peter Svenson who entered together. 

“There you are, you two,” John grunted.  “We were about to send a search party to find where you had both gone to.”

“We were just having a conversation in your office, Father,” Blue answered quietly.

“With no bloodshed?” Kate asked in a deadpan voice.

“None whatsoever,” Blue reassured his sister, smiling despite himself.

“We were interrupted,” Peter pointed out, sitting down. Even in the darkness he could almost feel his parents glaring at him. Surely, they were condemning his uncalled for rudeness towards their guests that evening.  He didn’t care.  “So what’s happened?  We lost the lights?”

“It must be a local failure,” Sarah answered. “David and Karen went to the basement to start our generator.”

“They’ve both gone there?” Peter enquired, his voice displaying both surprise and interest.

“Ten minutes ago – they must be having trouble with it, since they’re not back yet.”

“Or maybe David got them lost,” Peter grinned, settling comfortably against the back of his chair.  “This house is big and he doesn’t actually have a good sense of direction.”

“Don’t talk nonsense,” Sarah chided him.  “This house is not that big…”

“Well, maybe not, but I’m starting to worry,” Kate retorted.  “What if one of them has fallen down the stairs in the darkness?”  She put her half-drunk glass of rum onto the low table.  “I’m going to go see what they’re doing.”

Blue opened his mouth to offer to go with her, but before he could, Scarlet actually stepped forward and took the torch his friend was holding.  “Do you mind if I go with you, Katherine?”

“Why?  Do you think I will get lost, Mr Metcalfe?” she asked in surprise.

“It’s just that the thought of you falling down the stairs you mentioned is not really an appealing one.”  Scarlet smiled.  “I just want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.”

“My hero,” she answered with a smile of her own.  “I’m sure it’s a very small task compared to what you’re used to.  After this, you’ll be helping cats down from trees.”

“What about me?” Blue asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Three’s a crowd, Blue-Boy,” Scarlet answered.  “Keep your parents company, we won’t be long with your girlfriend… and possibly the lights as well.”

He gave his arm to Kate and the two of them walked out of the room; all the remaining Svensons watched them as they departed. As they disappeared from view, Sarah was thoughtful.

“Your friend seems to have taken some interest in Kate,” she said, turning towards Blue who was standing right next to the window. “Is he really engaged?”

“He is, and very in love with his fiancée.  Paul is just being more English than his usual English self,” Blue answered. He was looking outside thoughtfully, contemplating the falling snow.  The winds had calmed down a bit, but the snow was still falling very hard.  He turned to his mother, grinning. “In fact, apart from him and the colonel, I’d say they might be a dying breed. It must be the military upbringing – officer and gentleman, through and through.”

“Oh great!” Peter muttered.  “Our sister is gonna get herself infatuated with an English soldier – what a proud Bostonian she is…”

“Hush, Peter,” Sarah warned him, fearing that her elder son would rise to the occasion to defend his friend.  “Stop it now, it’s quite enough.  Where have you been all evening, anyway?”

“Yes,” John added in turn, addressing Blue who was still standing in front of the window. “We were starting to wonder. What was it that you talked about, the two of you?”

Blue shrugged. “Nothing much, Father,” he answered quietly.  Peter had not been very cooperative, and had stubbornly kept his feelings to himself in their father’s office.  Obviously, there was something on his mind, but he refused to talk about it.  That was annoying Blue. Sometimes, he really wanted to reach out to his brother – to whom he had been very close as a child, so long ago.  Things had deteriorated between them rather rapidly, when Adam had decided to lead his own life, instead of committing himself to the family company.  Already, even at that time, Peter probably felt that he had to fill in for his missing brother – as he had said earlier.  Blue would have liked his brother to elaborate more on the subject, for them to have had an honest conversation about this, once and for all.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t Peter’s wish to do so.

As he was thoughtfully staring outside, mulling over these preoccupations, Blue’s eye caught sight of something beyond the curtain of falling snow.  His brow furrowed in a deep, perplexed frown.

“Now, that’s odd,” he muttered.

“What is?” his father asked.  He had approached his son from behind and leaned by his side to look through the window, narrowing his eyes as he did, to see in the direction that Blue was now indicating.

“Those dots of light in the distance,” Blue explained. “Aren’t they from the Patterson house?”

“It looks like it,” John confirmed. 

“Why do they have lights and we don’t?”

John shook his head and walked to the telephone. “I guess we should call the security company to ask them…”  He lifted the receiver, but as he put it to his ear, he turned with a puzzled look to his son.  “The phone isn’t working.”

“No phone and no electricity?” Sarah said.

“And the neighbours’ lights are on,” Blue added.  Something wasn’t right; his innate sixth sense was alert now, warning him.  If he had been in a working situation, he would have automatically thought that danger was looming over them. “I don’t like it,” he muttered.

“Oh, please…” Peter exclaimed, shooting to his feet. “Stop being so melodramatic, Adam, you’re starting to scare Mom and Dad. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation why we don’t have light and phone and the neighbours do.”  He was searching his pockets for his cell phone and found it in his trouser pocket.  With a flick of his hand, it flipped open, with a faint musical sound, and the lights from the pad reflected a yellowish hue as he started pressing the keys.  “My phone is working, so it’ll be a small matter to call the electric company and see what’s going on exactly.”

As he was watching his brother with a still doubtfully furrowed brow, Blue suddenly became aware of a presence near him.  He didn’t have time to react, as he heard a faint clicking sound, not far from his ear. Something cold and metallic came to rest against his temple at the same moment and he froze.

“Leave the phone alone,” an ominous voice then said, addressing Peter who stopped just as he was about to press the last number.  “Or the big guy here will get a Christmas present he’s not about to forget in a hurry.”

Sarah gave a horrified gasp and her hand flew to her mouth; she grew deathly pale. Almost instantly, John moved to her side to support her. As for Peter, he was rooted to the spot, his cell phone in his right hand, still open but unused.  The three of them were staring in shock at the man standing right next to Blue, holding a gun to his head.  He was dressed as Santa Claus, with his false beard loose and hanging down his chest.  His expression was grim, and despite his clothes, he seemed to be deadly serious.

“Everyone keep quiet,” another voice then said, from the door, causing John, Sarah and Peter to turn in that direction.  As for Blue, he didn’t dare move – not that he needed to, since he had a pretty good view of the other man.  Oddly, that one was dressed as an elf, and was also armed with a pistol.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll do exactly as you’re told,” the elf said gravely.  “Or nobody will get out of this house alive.”

 

 

“You think I’m a jerk, right?”

Symphony rolled her eyes at David’s question.  During the last few minutes, the young man had not spared any effort in trying to explain his disgraceful behaviour to her, and had finally confessed what he and Peter had been talking about.  She had listened to him, disbelieving at first, and then realising that he genuinely thought he was trying to protect his brother from her. By that time, they had finally started to look for the generator again, which they found in one corner of the large room.

With David holding the torch to shed light on the machine, Symphony had crouched in front of the generator and started checking it, trying to find the reset button.  She was starting to realise something was wrong with the contraption when after long, oppressive seconds, David started speaking again. She looked for a tactful way to answer without hurting the young man more than he already was.  

“You certainly acted like one,” she finally conceded, picturing in her mind the sudden depressed expression of his face in the semi-darkness.  “But your intentions were honest, I suppose,” she added quietly.

“No, they were not,” he mumbled.  “They were also interested, Karen, I have to admit it.  Okay, I had my brother’s interests at heart but…”

“… You were not averse to a little roll in the hay in passing, right?”

He reddened, smiling shyly.  “You have a way of phrasing it…”

“That’s the Iowa girl in me speaking, David.” She turned eyes flashing with inner warning to him.  “But I am not that kind of girl.”

“I realise that now.  And I should have realised sooner.”

“And you should have realised that I am also not after your family’s money,” she added pointedly.

“I know – I’m really, really sorry, Karen.”

“Peter Svenson just better wait…  I will have a word or two to say to him when we get out of here… And Adam too, for that matter.  I want to know why he’s been financing the family ranch, and thought he shouldn’t tell me anything about it.  I can’t believe either he or my mother kept it a secret from me.”

“Maybe they thought they would eventually surprise you with it?”

“With the amount of money you’ve been telling me about –”  Symphony huffed.  “That’s a surprise, all right.”  She frowned, still examining the generator.  “And so is this…”

“What’s the matter?”

From her crouched position, Symphony turned to David, to show him a little metallic box she had picked up from the floor, and from which protruded a series of colourful wires.  “Have you been telling me the whole truth, David?”

“Why the question?”  He took the box and shone the torch on it, examining it.  “What is it?”

That should be the control box for the generator,” Symphony explained.  “It was lying there, on the floor.  Someone’s removed it.”

“Someone…?  You think it was me?” 

“Or your brother Peter – to get me to come down here with you?” the suspicious Symphony pointed out.

“Come on, Karen…  Peter didn’t know about us coming down here – I didn’t know either, until the lights went out and you offered to come start the generator.  Remember, you offered.  Besides, neither of us would know you knew how to work these machines.”

Symphony took only a few seconds to realise it must be the truth.  “Then we have a problem,” she said, shaking her head.  David was interrogating her with his eyes, wondering exactly what she meant.  She took the box back from his hand.  “Someone has removed this from its place,” she explained.  “It didn’t fall by itself. The wires were cut.”

“Who…?” David asked with a deep, confused frown.

“That, David, is the question…” she said musingly.  “But while we’re trying to come up with an answer, we should also try to put this back where it belongs.  Let’s see if we can find some useful tools around this place…”

 

 

“How much do you trust Karen?”

As they were walking through the darkened house, Scarlet raised an eyebrow at Katherine Svenson’s question.  He glanced at the young woman by his side, as he lit the way in front of them.

“I would trust her with my life,” he answered. “And so would Adam. Actually, we’ve already done that, more than once, in our day-to-day jobs in Spectrum.”

“Then it’s David you don’t trust,” Kate said with a knowing nod.

Scarlet only hesitated a second, before answering, truthfully. “It would have been difficult not to notice the… ‘admiring way’ David kept looking at Karen. Maybe Adam didn’t – but I certainly did.”  He raised an inquisitive eyebrow.  “It would seem you don’t trust David either, do you, Kate?”

“I know my little brother.  He’s a pussycat, but something of a reckless fool, when it comes to girls.  I did see his interest in Karen too, but it didn’t occur to me that he would go after her, once he realised she’s engaged to Adam.  I guess I was trusting in his good sense – such as it is… and in Karen’s ability to put him in his place.”

“Oh, you can trust her for that,” Scarlet answered quickly.  “But I can’t promise that she won’t hurt him when she does – and I’m not speaking figuratively.” 

“Well, all things considered,” Kate muttered, “I prefer her to hurt David a bit for being a jerk – than hurt Adam a lot.  Or I would hurt her in turn,” she added in a threatening promise, her blue eyes glaring.  The way she had said that left no doubt in Scarlet’s mind that she was very protective of her big brother.  He smiled, despite himself - Adam was not the kind of man to need the protection of his kid sister, and he was not really worried about Karen either.

“Don’t worry, it won’t come to that.  Karen would never hurt Adam, of that I am certain.” He shook his head.  “I just hope we might be wrong in our judgement of David, then.”

“We might – really, I hope we are.  But if we’re not, for both my brothers’ sakes, I would rather not let Adam find out.”

“Me neither.”

They had just arrived at the top of the stairs leading to the basement; the light of the torch shone on the closed door down the steps, and they were about to climb down, when a slim form suddenly jumped from an alcove behind them and violently struck Scarlet on the back of the head with the butt of a pistol.  Taken by surprise, the Spectrum captain didn’t even have time to avoid the blow.  His foot slipped and he fell, head-first, down the staircase. 

Kate watched, with horrified shock, as he tumbled spectacularly down the steps, until he reached the landing at the bottom and his body hit the base of the door with a loud thump.

“Paul!”  As Scarlet stayed motionless where he had fallen, Kate made a movement to run down the stairs in order to check on him, when she felt a strong hand roughly seizing her arm and pulling her back. 

She turned around angrily, to see a tall, unknown woman, older than herself, but younger than her mother, dressed in a Mrs Claus suit, shoving a pistol under her nose. 

“You stay quiet, Blondie, or I’ll give you the same I gave your boyfriend!”

“But he might be hurt…” Kate started to protest.

“Didn’t you hear?”  The hold on Kate’s arm grew stronger, and she felt nails digging into her flesh; Kate winced, and the woman pulled harder.  “YOU come with me!”

Reluctantly, under the threat of the gun, Kate stepped back, and preceded the woman, who kicked the door leading to the basement closed behind her.

 

 

“What was that sound?”

Symphony was still working on the generator when they heard noises coming from behind the door, which ended with a loud thud against it.  From then, only silence followed.  Almost instinctively, David had turned the light of his torch towards the door, almost expecting to see it open.  But it remained closed, and all he could hear now was the grumbling from Symphony:

“Please, David.  I need the light to finish the work on this.  Try to keep it over here…”

“You heard that?” David asked, turning the light again in the direction of her hands.  “It sounded like someone falling down the stairs.”

“I heard.  But we can’t do very much about it for now, can we?  One problem at a time…”

“You’re right.  How is it going?”

“Very well.” Symphony clipped the control box into place once she had made the last connection, by twisting each end of the wires back together.  Then, she pulled the red hand lever set right next to the box.  A whining sound came from the generator, then a dull roar, that was followed by a quiet humming.  Symphony got to his feet, sighing, and David looked at her with an expression of total admiration in his eyes.

“You’re amazing!”  He said excitedly.  “It’s actually working.”

“Not quite,” she said with a thankful smile.  “The generator is on, but the lights won’t start.  Maybe it’s the circuit breakers that tripped.  Is the box somewhere around here?  If I’m not mistaken, with this model, we’ll have to turn the master switch off and then back on again for the generator to take over.”

“Yes, it’s on that wall, just in front of us,” David said, lighting the way.

“All right.  Let’s not waste anymore time, then…”

 

 

“You.  Go join the others.”  The man dressed in a Santa Claus suit pushed Blue towards the rest of the family, whom the elf had forced to sit on the sofa.  Cautiously keeping his eyes on the two pistols trained on them, Blue sat down next to his parents, his hands in full view so not to alarm the twosome. He could see his mother was shivering, and she looked very distressed, while his father was trying his best to keep a set expression. As for Peter, he seemed haggard, his mouth open in total shock.  For a man who was normally in control of himself and who could face any situation at a board meeting or in the course of his work, Peter seemed inept at dealing with this situation. He didn’t even react when the elf snatched the cell phone from his hand, to close it and put it on the mantelpiece, out of reach.

“What do you want?” John asked abruptly.

“Don’t be so impatient,” Santa answered. “For now, don’t any of you make a single move.  We’re just waiting for…”

Footsteps from the entrance attracted everyone’s attention and they turned in that direction to see Kate being forced at gunpoint to enter, by a mean-looking Mrs Claus.  Blue was barely able to refrain from groaning, as Kate was pushed to join them.  She stumbled forwards and would have fallen to the floor if he had not caught her in time; he helped her to sit right next to him, glaring at the trio now standing in front of them.

“Where’s Paul?”  he asked his sister.

She was shivering, as she looked up at the woman who had brought her inside the room.  “He fell down the stairs when that woman hit him from behind,” she answered, her voice trembling.  “He looked hurt, I couldn’t help him…”

“Shut up!” the elf suddenly snapped, making her jump. “You will talk when I tell you, pretty girl.  Is that understood?”

“You’re feeling very brave with that gun in your hand, aren’t you?” Blue remarked dryly.  “I bet it makes you feel very manly to threaten a young woman with it.”

“You keep quiet, smart guy,” the elf growled, taking a threatening step in Blue’s direction.  The latter didn’t lower his gaze and kept glowering angrily at him.

“Is it true?” Santa asked then, turning to Mrs Claus. “Was that guy with the girl hurt?”

She shrugged in a rather flippant way.  “I don’t know,” she answered gruffly.  “I didn’t go down there to check on him. He sure didn’t look that good – not in any state to be bothering us, anyway.  Just to make sure, I locked the door at the top of the stairs.  If by any chance he’s all right, he won’t get out of there before we’ve finished our business here.”

Somehow, what she had just said did nothing to reassure the Svenson family, who exchanged worried glances. Only Blue seemed unruffled by her words.

“What about the youngest boy?” Santa asked again. And the question caused Sarah to grow horribly pale.

“I locked him down in the basement with the other girl.” A sneer appeared on the woman’s lips.  “They won’t come to bother us either. They would have to get through the two doors first, and I doubt they would be able to do that without us hearing them.”

“Are they both all right?” Sarah asked, her voice quivering.

“Oh yes, they’re all right,” Mrs Claus answered. 

“Thank God for that,” Sarah sighed, holding her husband for reassurance.

“Do we need the boy as well?” asked Santa, addressing the elf.  “I could go and bring him back.”

“No, we don’t really need him. Leave him where he is.”  The elf turned to face their hostages.  “You see you don’t have to worry about your precious little boy, lady.  You should worry more for yourself. And for the rest of your family.”

John frowned deeply.  “What do you want from us?” he asked again.

“You’ll soon learn,” the elf said dryly.  “For now, don’t any of you make a single move.” At this moment, the lights suddenly came back, dramatically – and so unexpectedly that everyone seemed to be taken by surprise by it.  Blue watched as the three culprits in front of him blinked and took a step back.  He evaluated his chances; they were slim: three against one… and he had to contend with his family as well, knowing full well that any of them could get hurt, if a gun should go off during a scuffle.  He opted to stay quiet for now, observing his adversaries until he could see an opening for him to actually act, without too much risk for himself or his family.

 “Ah” said Mrs Claus, “It seems as if the boy and the girl in the basement have actually been able to repair the generator.”

“I thought you had disabled it effectively,” Santa remarked dryly.

“My mistake – obviously, it was still repairable.”

Blue’s ears pricked. Of course. David and Symphony…  They were still in the basement – and so was Scarlet, although the latter might be hurt at the moment.  Blue considered that maybe his best plan of action for the moment was to play for time – waiting until his two colleagues could free themselves. He trusted that between the three of them, they would be able to put these people out of commission.  He hoped, however, that Scarlet wasn’t that badly hurt – and that he would not take too much time to recover.

“It’s not a bad thing,” the elf said.  “With the lights back, we’ll actually be more comfortable to conduct our business.”  He pointed his gun to Adam.  “Now, who’s the smart guy?”

“Our eldest son,” Sarah answered.  “Adam.”

“Well, I don’t like the way he’s looking at me,” the elf spat.  “You’d better behave, golden boy, or you’ll get yourself seriously hurt!”

Adam saw his mother about to start speaking and placed a finger against his lips, willing her to stay out of it for the moment.    

“That one is not involved with the company,” Santa remarked, looking straight at Blue.

“No, Adam is not…”  John Svenson stopped suddenly, looking intently at the man standing in front of him.  “Wait a minute, I know you…”

“You certainly do, Mister Svenson,” Santa said between his teeth.  “But I’m rather surprised you remember me.”

“Harrigan,” Peter said in turn, staring at the man dressed in the Santa Claus suit.  “Timothy Harrigan… Oh my God…”

“Right on, boy – you do remember me too!”

“I don’t believe it – what do you think you’re doing?” Peter snapped, shooting to his feet, before anyone from his family could stop him.  “Coming here, dressed in those ridiculous costumes, threatening us with guns, and…”

The elf took a step forward and roughly pushed him back; Peter fell back onto the armchair, and when he raised defiant eyes again, he found the gun aimed right under his nose. He blanched when he heard the click of the hammer being pulled back. There were gasps of panic from Sarah and Kate, and John made a move to rise from his seat to either protest or intervene.  He was held down by Blue’s hand and he turned around in surprise to his eldest son; the latter gave a brief shake of his head, advising his father not to do anything foolish, at the same time trying to make him understand with his eyes that Peter would be okay for now.  Reluctantly, John sat back.

Blue hoped he was right.

“I suggest you stay quiet, Mr Svenson – Mr Peter Svenson – before I make some holes in your pretty clothes,” the elf snarled. 

“Peter, I think you’d better do what the imp tells you,” Blue said, addressing his brother.  “He doesn’t look like he’s kidding – despite the way he’s dressed,” he added, not without a hint of dry humour.

“I’m an elf, smart guy,” the elf said, turning in annoyance at Blue.  “Not an imp – and this costume, believe it or not, was supposed to help us get past the security to get inside this house. We were supposed to get in as part of the staff.”

“You’re the entertainment I hired for the children during the party?” a doubtful – and horrified – Sarah asked.

“It was a brilliant idea,” Mrs Claus replied.  “We simply ‘replaced’ the regular team. Wasn’t that complicated when we handed them double the fees they were supposed to receive.  The gullible fools believed us when we told them it was to play a joke on old friends.”

“Well, it looks like the joke was on you,” Blue said. “Your ‘brilliant idea’ was wasted. Because of the blizzard, the party was cancelled.”

“Actually works a lot better for us,” the elf replied.  “We won’t have to wait until after the party to actually make our move as we had planned to – if only we didn’t have to content with these damned costumes…”

“I don’t know, the one you have on rather suits you,” Blue remarked quietly.

Annoyed by his intervention, the elf came to stand over him, threateningly.  “We don’t need you, smart guy, so maybe you’d better shut your big mouth before I lose my cool!”

“That’s enough, Billy!” Santa interrupted suddenly.  “There’s no need to hurt innocent bystanders…  We’re not here for that.”

“You will find that I am far more than an ‘innocent bystander’ if you plan to hurt my family and friends,” Blue replied coldly.  “Now, will you get on with business and tell us what you want from us?”

“From you, nothing, Mr Svenson,” Santa answered.  “From your father –”  he turned to aim a mean look at John.  “I want everything he took from me!”

“What are you talking about?” John asked with a frown.

“You know damn well what he’s talking about,” the elf scoffed.

“Is it so easy for you to forget, Svenson?” Santa asked, raising his gun.  “You drive a guy to the ground, and then you don’t give him another thought, is that it?”

“Harrigan – if that’s your name – I don’t see what…”

“My BUSINESS, Svenson!” Santa roared angrily.  “I want my business back, you hear me!?  It was EVERYTHING I ever had and you TOOK it from me!  You’re gonna give it back to me, or so help me – I’ll take everything you ever owned!”

“Whatever kind of business are you talking about?” Sarah asked.

“Harrigan Toys and Games – the toy factory I owned, downtown.”

Blue raised a brow in surprise.  “You’re kidding, right?”

“Do I look like I’m kidding? Because of dealings with your father’s company, I lost everything!”

“Father, you took Santa’s workshop?” Blue continued, turning to John.  “Shame on you…” 

“You’re really starting to annoy me, you know that?” the elf warned Blue, noticing his flippant tone.

“Wait a minute,” John suddenly interrupted.  “I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, Harrigan. I remember you, yes – I remember that I turned down a business deal between our companies, months ago, when you came to me, because I estimated it wasn’t a viable one.  That’s the last I heard of it.  Is it because of that you lost your company?  If so, I can’t see why you should hold me responsible!”

“You’re lying,” Harrigan snapped back.  “Surely you can remember you changed your mind?”

“I never change my mind when I make a decision about a deal,” John answered. 

Harrigan walked to him, angrily.  “You came back to me,” he said in a low tone.  “You had a new business proposal you offered me.  An investment deal that was a ‘sure thing’ – with practically no risks at all for my business.  It was just a formality I should sign the papers, using my business as collateral…  I should have realised you were trying to rob me of it.”

“It was not me,” John insisted with a frown.  “I never met you again, Harrigan.  I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh yeah, we never met again personally after that first meeting, I admit it… You sent a representative of yours after that. But I have something to show you – that proves that you were all behind this, Svenson.”  Harrigan’s free hand slipped inside the padded lapels of his Santa coat and when he pulled it out again, it was holding a piece of crumpled paper that he shoved under John’s nose, shaking it insistently.  “That’s the paper stipulating that Harrigan Toys and Games is now legally owned by Svenson Properties, a Division of Svenson Financial Incorporated.  You still calling me a liar, now, Svenson?”

“I…”  Trying hard to hide the shake in his hand, John took the paper and scrutinised it carefully, frowning.  It was the regular contract his company used; there was no doubt about it – it had the company letterhead.  And the signature… well, it was his signature, but he couldn’t remember signing that paper.

He looked at the letterhead again, puzzled. “Svenson Properties…?” he said, incredulously repeating what Harrigan had told him.  “Oh God…”

The truth suddenly dawned on him, and his understanding obviously reflected on his face, because Harrigan stood in front of him again, smiling triumphantly. 

“You do remember, right?” he growled.  “You remember doing that deal…  If I don’t have anything left, it’s your fault, Svenson!  You, and your goddamned company!”

“Harrigan,” John started, “I’m sorry, I…”

Before John could continue, Kate suddenly tore the paper from his hand to look at it in turn.

“I don’t understand,” she said in confusion. “All financial deals with the company have to go through me and I don’t remember seeing this paper…”

“You expect us to believe you can remember every deal you do for your company?” Mrs Claus asked doubtfully.

“I do,” Kate answered harshly.  “I’m in charge of the Financial Division of the company – all investment deals like this one have to be endorsed by my office before being accepted. I did not approve of this.”

“Then you either have a bad memory,” the elf accused, standing behind her.  “Or you are lying to cover your father.”  He leaned over her shoulder, and she shivered to feel him so close to her; he pointed to the paper insistently.  “You do recognise his signature there, don’t you?  You won’t deny it’s his?!”

“N-no,” she admitted, shaking her head.  “It is his signature, but…  It’s highly irregular…”

“Of course, it’s irregular!” snapped the elf furiously.  “Your father tried to rob Tim of what was rightfully his!”

“Wait a minute!” Sarah then protested. “My husband would never do that!” 

“Well, you obviously don’t know everything about him, lady. He made Harrigan sign this paper, and he arranged things so Harrigan Toys would take the plunge – so then it’ll be ripe  for your husband to take over!” the elf continued, walking around the sofa to face John and pointing an accusing finger at him.  “Don’t deny it!  I bet you do it all the time with little businesses, you corporate scum!” 

“This is preposterous!” scoffed Sarah with anger.  “My husband is an honest man!”

“Sarah, let me handle this,” John asked his wife before she could continue her harangue. She bit her lip, obviously annoyed at his intervention.  He looked up at the man standing over him. “I would never do that to Harrigan, or anyone else! I’ve always conducted an honest business…  So does everyone in the company,” he added meaningfully.

“Could you swear that in the court of law?” Mrs Claus said scornfully.

“Against the likes of you, anytime,” John answered sternly. 

“You have some nerve to ask that question,” Blue remarked icily, “while holding us at gunpoint.”

“We’re not the bad guys here, boy!”  Harrigan snapped at him.  “It’s your father who stole from me!  I just want my rightful dues!”

“And how exactly do you intend to get them?” Blue asked again, frowning.  “It doesn’t seem to me that you’ve got much idea of how to go about it.  Unless the idea was to simply come here to make these accusations, without any further real plan.”

“Oh, we have a plan, Junior,” the elf said, smiling wickedly.  “We’ll force your father to give back his business to Tim.”

Blue raised a brow.  “And you expect it will work – just like that?”

“That’s impossible, Harrigan,” John said, shaking his head.  “We can’t conduct a business deal…”

“Damned if we can’t!” the elf interrupted him angrily.  “We’ll just make you sign a paper…”  He nodded to Harrigan, who put his hand yet again into his coat, and took a new document out of it.  This time, it was neatly folded in two.  He put it on the table in front of John, unfolding it.  The elf took John by the collar of his coat and pulled him, to force him to lean over the paper.  He put a fountain pen into his hand.  “That’s an act of property,” he said in a syrupy voice.  “You sign it, Tim has his business back, and all is done and forgotten.”

John looked down at the paper, unsure. The pen seemed to burn his fingers; gnashing his teeth, he frowned and raised angry eyes at the man who was pulling harder on the lapel of his coat. 

“You expect me to believe – that once I have signed this paper, you would release my family and go your way – like nothing has happened?” he asked incredulously.

“You have my word,” the elf said. 

But his words obviously rang false in everyone’s ears, especially in John’s; the latter shook his head.

“You are lying,” he said in a murmur.

“Takes a liar to know a liar, I believe,” the elf said, smiling thinly.

“We’re not,” Harrigan replied suddenly.  “Svenson, all I want is my business – which you dishonestly took from me.  Once I have that, we’ll go – that’s the truth.  We won’t be bothering you again.”

John grunted.  “Harrigan, maybe you believe it,” he dryly replied, “but I don’t.  And your accomplices obviously don’t either. We all know who you are – and through you, we’ll be able to find them.  Once you have your paper, they don’t plan to let us live long enough to warn the police.” He slowly put the pen down, his eyes set on those of the man dressed as an elf, watching as his pupils trembled angrily, on hearing what the financier was saying. “I’ve had dealings before with scum like you,” John said coldly enough. “I won’t make any deals with you.”

Blue couldn’t help to admire his father’s stand, and the coolness he was displaying right now – even if it was obviously with great difficulty. Of course, he was right.  It was the only course of action he could take.  If he agreed to sign that paper, he would also be signing the death warrant, for all of them.  But at the same time, his attitude could only anger the trio threatening them.

The reaction didn’t take that much time to come.

“You want us to get angry, Svenson?” the elf snapped, gritting his teeth.  “You want us to hurt you – or your family – until you give us what you want, is that it?”

“Wait a second, Marshall,” Harrigan suddenly intervened. “It’s not what we had…”

“Shut up!” the elf snarled at him.  “You want your business back or not?”

“Not that way,” Harrigan answered, shaking his head.

“Just face the facts, Tim,” Mrs Claus remarked in turn. “You will have to do whatever it takes to get it back.”

“Carol, you don’t mean that you too…”

“It wouldn’t do you any good anyway,” Blue said then, interrupting Harrigan’s further protests.  “That paper will have no legal meaning, even if you force my father to sign it.”

“It’s true,” John agreed. “That’s not how it works. A signature obtained under duress would not…”  He stopped suddenly, when Marshall – the elf – suddenly pulled the hammer of his gun and pointed it directly at his heart.  He heard Sarah gasp in fear and felt Adam tensing by his side. 

“We’ll see if it will have meaning,” Marshall growled, looking deep into John’s fearful eyes, “when this paper is signed with your blood…”

“No, wait!” Suddenly, Peter was on his feet, calling loudly at seeing his father in danger of being shot in front of them.  All eyes turned to him – even John’s.

“Keep quiet, Peter,” John ordered sternly.  “Do not antagonise them.”

“I can’t sit idle while they threaten to hurt you, Dad,” Peter protested.  “You or the rest of the family.”

“Peter…” John warned again.

“Peter, do as your father says,” Sarah added in turn, hoping that their son would listen.

“Sit back quietly, Junior,” Mrs Claus ordered, turning her gun to Peter.

“I won’t,” Peter said insistently, trying to keep his voice firm and his knees from shaking.  “I won’t, because you have the wrong guy.”

“What do you mean?” Harrigan asked with a frown.

“Mister Harrigan – my father is not responsible for what you accused him of,” Peter answered, his throat drying as he was speaking.  “His signature is on the paper, but he was not behind the deal.  I was.”

 

 

The light in the basement was flickering wildly, and David, looking at it, wondered how long it would actually hold.  Was it a bad connection from the generator, or was the bulb weak and about to go? In either case, he wasn’t really looking forward to being plunged into darkness once more, so he was keeping the flashlight, presently turned off, within reach, on the work table just next to him. He was watching with curiosity as Symphony worked on the door lock.

“It doesn’t look like you’re getting anywhere with it,” he noted, trying to sound nonchalant.

She sighed and turned an annoyed glance on him.  “Give me time, will you?” she answered gruffly.  “This lock isn’t an easy one to pick.  Why, for Heaven’s sake, would your family have an electromagnetic lock installed on a basement door, I wonder…”

“My father had it installed after that incident I told you about, years ago,” David explained.  “With the scare it gave him and Mom, he didn’t want it to happen again.  So he wanted to make sure I wouldn’t wander off here ever again.”

“Somebody should have told him that you are all grown up, now.”

“Not that it was useful anyway,” David continued. “I learned my lesson back then.”  He frowned.  “Do you get the impression that the air is getting bad in here?”

“No.”

“You’re sure?”

Symphony rolled her eyes. “Don’t get paranoid, David. It’s just your imagination. It’s just that you were obviously traumatised by your experience as a child. The air is perfectly fine, I can assure you.”

“Well, all the same,” David grumbled. “I won’t be satisfied until we are actually able to get out of here.”

“Same here, actually,” Symphony agreed. “I have a word or two to say to your brothers.  The both of them.”

David smiled thinly. “I will have to admit – I’m glad I’m not in their shoes.”

“Don’t count yourself off the hook just yet, David.”

“Awww, come on – you’re not telling me you’re still upset at me?”

“Upset is not really the word I have in mind. I still can’t believe you actually thought all those awful things about me!”

“I know – you’re a nice girl, Karen – I realise that now… and it’s because you’re so nice you won’t say a thing to Adam, right?” he asked hopefully.

She glared at him. “Why should I do you that favour?” she replied.

“Because I’m a loveable guy?” David suggested coyly.  Seeing that it didn’t really have an impact on her, he cleared his throat.  “Seriously, Karen – you wouldn’t want Adam to kill me, would you?”

“He wouldn’t kill you.”

“Okay – hurt me, then.  He would certainly be upset if he found out that I tried to… well… you know…”

“Seduce me?”  Symphony offered.

“Please, Karen?”  he pleaded.  “You won’t tell him, will you?”

“I’ve never kept a secret from your brother, David.  Not like he did with me, anyway,” she mumbled, thinking yet again of the revelation the younger man made to her earlier about the money invested in her mother’s ranch.  She sighed, giving into him.  “All right – I promise I won’t tell him…”

“Great!”  a joyful David beamed. “I knew you were the nicest girl alive!”

“…Not until we’re at a safe distance from Boston, on our way to Cloudbase.”

David’s cheerfulness fell instantly.  “Karen, you wouldn’t…” A buzzing sound coming from the door interrupted him, and he raised his eyes to see the handle turning.  “Great!  You finally got it open!”  he said with a wide smile of satisfaction.

“Well, no, actually,” Symphony answered truthfully.  She knew she still had a step to go through before actually being able to unlock the door, so she was rather surprised to see it being slowly pushed forwards. She stepped back with David and watched; a dark head slipped into the opening and blue eyes looked around, finding them almost immediately.

“Is everybody all right?”  Captain Scarlet asked.

“Oh thank God, someone’s come to our rescue!” David exclaimed.  “We thought we would be here forever!”

He thought,” Symphony corrected.  “I was already working to get us out…”

Scarlet raised his hand, to put his finger to his lips.  “Be quiet,” he ordered in a hushed tone.  “Don’t speak so loud.”

Instantly, understanding that something was bothering him, Symphony calmed down and became serious.  “What’s going on?”

Scarlet shook his head. “I don’t know – something odd is going on in this house.”

“You’re kidding!” David scoffed.

But Symphony shushed him instantly.  She knew better than to dismiss any warning from her colleague.  If he thought something was odd, then something surely was.

And anyway, there was something unusual with the way he presently looked…

 “Paul, what happened to you?  You look like…”

“…I fell down the stairs?”  he smiled sheepishly, ruffling his dark hair with his hand.  “That’s… exactly what did happen to me, actually,” he admitted.  “I’ve been out cold for a little while, I’m afraid.”

“You fell?” Symphony said with a frown.  “That must’ve been the noise we heard earlier, then.”

“Those stairs are treacherous,” David said.  “Especially in the dark.  Are you okay?”

“I’m quite fine, thanks.  And actually, and that’s the reason why I asked you to be quiet, I didn’t really fall, all by myself,” Scarlet continued.  “I distinctly remember having been attacked from behind – by somebody knocking me over the head.”

“Somebody attacked you?”  David asked, opening eyes wide with surprise.

“Who…?”  Symphony asked in turn, frowning.

Scarlet hesitated for a second. “You’ll say I’m crazy, but it did look like a rather good-looking Mother Christmas.”

“Uh… it’s certainly obvious you hit your head badly, my friend,” an incredulous David said, shaking his head.

“Nevertheless – someone did attack me from behind, and left me lying at the bottom of the stairs,” Scarlet replied with a frown. “And the same someone obviously took Kate with him… well, her…”

“What’s Kate gotta do with this?”

“We were both coming over to get the two of you when I was attacked.”

Symphony nodded slowly. “How much would you bet the same someone waited for David and me, and locked us in the basement – after having sabotaged the generator?  AND most probably cut all the electrical systems in the house?”

“Seriously, guys, aren’t you overreacting a little here?” David protested.  “Real life is not always fighting terrorists, you know – I’m sure there’s no reason to believe this house has been overrun by criminals.  There must be a rational explanation for all this.”

“Oh yes…” Scarlet muttered.  “There must be one, for your sister to leave me unconscious at the bottom of those stairs, and close the door on me…” He thumbed towards the closed door, at the top of the stairs.  “And I’m about sure that door is also locked from the other side.”

“Uh-oh…” Symphony said, rolling her eyes.  “Is there an electromagnetic lock on that door too, David?”

“I… uh… I’m not sure.”

“Well – why don’t we find out, then?” Scarlet suggested.  “Quietly…  Until we know what’s going on.  Will you do the honours, Karen?”

“Of course,” she said rolling her eyes and starting to climb up the stairs.  “I need the practice, anyway…”

 

 

“You say you’re the one who drove my company into the ground, boy?” Tim Harrigan said, turning doubtful eyes in the direction of Peter. 

The latter nodded his head, nervously.  “I am,” he confessed.  “It was me, and me alone who conducted that deal.  My father knew nothing about it.”

“But it’s his signature on the paper,” Bill Marshall insisted.

“I know.”  Peter sighed and sat down, his legs were now shaking so much he had trouble staying upright. He put his head between his hands, in defeat. “I simply slipped the contract in among other papers I needed to have him sign – so he put his signature on it, without reading.  It was only a formality, anyway… I didn’t think it would cause so much trouble.”

“Peter, how could you do this?” Sarah asked him in a reproachful tone.  “You took this deal when your father turned it down…”

“That was not very wise, Peter,” Kate added in turn.

“I did it – because I genuinely believed I could make it work!”  Peter raised his eyes to Harrigan, standing in front of him, and looking down at him sternly.  “Honestly, Mister Harrigan.  I didn’t think for a minute it could go sour like that.  I thought I had examined all the aspects of the deal, and foreseen every possibility.  It couldn’t go wrong, and both your company and Svenson Financials would have benefited from the deal.  Greatly.  But then, one investor decided to back down, at the last minute, and… everything crumbled.”  He shook his head, genuinely filled with remorse.  “I’m really sorry – I didn’t mean you to lose your business.”

Harrigan’s lips tightened and drew a very thin line.  He glanced at John.  “And you didn’t know a thing about this?” he asked dryly.

 “I’m responsible, Harrigan.  I’m the head of Svenson Financials.  If you want to take it out on someone…”

“DID you know about this?” Harrigan interrupted abruptly.

John sighed.  “Not a thing,” he admitted.  “I’ve only just realised it came from Peter – when I saw it had been conducted by Svenson Properties.”

“A branch he directs,” Harrigan said, with an understanding nod.  There was bitterness in his voice, and it didn’t escape any of the Svensons.

“Peter thought this deal would benefit your company, Mr Harrigan,” Sarah pleaded in a shaking voice.  “Surely, you can’t blame him for trying to…”

“Trying to what?” snapped Marshall suddenly.  “What he did drove Harrigan Toys into the ground!  And now your company owns it.”

“And what do we own?” Peter answered quickly.  “A company that is worth next to nothing at the moment.  Svenson Properties lost a lot on this deal too, and the acquisition of Harrigan Toys won’t even start to cover those losses.”

“I bet you’re proud of yourself, you little bastard,” Marshall seethed, standing menacingly over Peter.

“Watch what you’re saying,” Blue warned ominously.

“Or what?  There’s very little you can do, you…”

“Enough, Bill!” Harrigan cut in.  “This really isn’t helping any.”

“I tried to save the deal as much as I could,” Peter said, attracting Harrigan’s attention back to him. “Tonight, I was going to make an attempt to convince another investor to come into the deal – he was supposed to be at the party the family was giving, before it got cancelled because of the bad weather.  I’m sure I would have been able to bring him in and save the deal.  If that worked, maybe you would not have lost your company…”

“Or maybe he would have, anyway,” Mrs Claus said dryly.  “But you might not have lost as much money as you say you did.”

“Carol, not now,” Harrigan warned her with a frown. “Mr Svenson… how much of this is true?”

“It’s the whole truth,” Peter answered.  “Listen, I can understand that you’re upset…”

“You bet we are,” Marshall growled.  Harrigan, however remained without apparent emotion.

“… But I’m the only one responsible, and nobody else ought to suffer for the mistakes I made,” Peter continued pleadingly.  “Please.  Leave my family alone.  Whatever I can do…”

At this moment, Blue realised he had never felt prouder of – nor closer to – his brother before.  Okay, their present alarming situation was mainly due to his own misconduct, but in a way, Peter was showing himself more of a man by accepting the responsibility – and by putting his life on the line, while desperately trying to keep theirs safe.  And for that, he won his older brother’s respect.

Whatever you may say about this family, Blue thought with no false sense of pride, its members will always stand up for each other.  Whatever the risks.

“Can you give me my business back?” Harrigan asked Peter imperturbably.

“I… I’m afraid it might be too late,” Peter confessed, his heart sinking as he pronounced the words. 

“And your father?” Harrigan insisted with a frown.  “Can he get it back for me?”

“No – I was the one who made the deal.  I’m afraid there’s very little he could do to help you.  I’m sorry.”

Harrigan shook his head very slowly.  “He made it clear that he would not do it, anyway,” he said sourly, as if for his own benefit.  He turned around, to look at John, who kept his eyes set on him, waiting anxiously to know what the man’s reaction would be.  “You tried to cover for your son,” Harrigan remarked.

“I’m still the head of Svenson Financials, Harrigan,” John answered truthfully for the second time.  “The deal was Peter’s – but I gave him free rein over Svenson Properties.  So I am the one ultimately responsible.”

“So you said, earlier,” Harrigan said dryly.

For long seconds he was thoughtful, obviously pondering what should be done now; every one of the Svensons was wondering anxiously what would happen next – Blue even more so than the rest of his family.  So far, he had not seen the slightest opportunity for him to take that trio of ruffians by surprise and save the day.  Now, he felt that he would soon run out of time to do anything.  He feared that his waiting for the right time to act, to make sure any of his family would not get hurt, might result in them all being killed.  He would have to do something very soon or all would be lost.

The elf – Bill Marshall – was easily the most dangerous of the trio, he suspected; but he was also the most edgy.  He was the most likely to use his gun if he felt he was being threatened and had nothing to lose.  He would have to be the first one to be taken care of. Carol – Mrs Claus – appeared to be following Marshall’s lead – maybe she was not as dangerous, but she was, in all probability, a force to be reckoned with.  If she should see her accomplices in trouble, she might also use her gun.

As for Harrigan… the disbelief of discovering that he had most probably lost his business for good seemed to have numbed him for now – a temporary situation, of course, and he would probably get over it very quickly.  And when he did, there was no telling what he would do.

But then, just as Blue was still contemplating the safest way to deal with the trio, something strange happened; Harrigan turned on his heel, presenting his back to Peter, and with his hand holding the gun hanging dejectedly by his side, he addressed his two accomplices, in a rather tired voice:  “Let’s go.  We have nothing more to do here.”  Then he started walking towards the exit.

His stunned companions watched him, not moving an inch – seemingly unable to react.  Marshall suddenly growled:  “What?!  You want to leave, just like that?”

“There’s nothing for us to do here,” Harrigan repeated, stopping and glaring at him.  “Didn’t you hear what these people said?”

“They’re obviously lying,” Marshall objected.  “They’re afraid for their lives – that’s for sure – they would say anything to save themselves.  They’re trying to gain time!”

“For what?  No, Bill, they’re not lying.” Harrigan sighed.  “Don’t you see?  They told the truth. And if they have been trying to gain time – for whatever reason – they would have told us anything but what they did tell us. It’s over. Harrigan Toys is gone, finished. We won’t get it back, no matter what we do.”

“And so you will leave them to believe they have won?” Marshall continued.  “What they did to you…”

“Bill, I believe it only concerns me, what they did.”

“And me,” Carol then said.  “Don’t you forget about me?  I’m your wife; I was as much a part of your business as you were.”

“And you owe me, Tim,” Marshall continued angrily.  “I invested in your damned business, when you started it, years ago, remember?  All my savings!  Now don’t make the mistake of abandoning everything like this.  It’s what they want!”

Harrigan hesitated, but only for one second.  “My only mistake,” he finally said, “was to actually listen to you when you said you knew a way for me to get the company back. And I knew it was a mistake, but I was so desperate that I actually went along with it. I should not have done that.” He looked down at his gun and then showed it to his accomplice.  This is not the way to do it, Bill.  I should have realised it before I came into this house and threatened these people.  I should have known it would never work.”

“So you’re backing off?”

“It’s finished, Bill.”

“It ain’t finished until I say so.”

 “Listen to your friend, Marshall,” Blue said sternly.  “He’s the voice of reason. Now’s the time to back off before it’s too late.”

Marshall scoffed loudly. “It’s already too late, smart guy,” he snapped, turning abruptly to Blue and walking to him.  “And you know that, don’t you? It’s already too late for you and your whole damned family!”

“Wait a minute, Bill…”  Harrigan began.

“You can’t stop now, Tim,” Marshall cut in suddenly.  “They said so themselves: they know us – they can identify us.  There’s only one sure way to keep their mouths shut, and you know which one.”  He took Blue by the arm.  “You might not get your business back, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of getting back at them for losing it.  Come on, big mouth, get up!  You’ll be the first!”

“Wait,” John suddenly called, shooting back to his feet, just as he heard the gasps of horror from both his wife and daughter. “You are making a mistake!  Please don’t…”

He didn’t have to finish what he was about to say.

Forced to his feet by Marshall, who was holding the gun at his head, Blue saw an opening when his father provided an interruption. His right arm flew up at lightning speed and his open palm hit Marshall right under the chin, while his other hand grabbed the gun and pushed it skyward.  There was a single shot that lost itself in the ceiling, sending confusion and panic around the room.  Marshall’s gun clattered to the floor as Blue roughly hit him in the stomach.

Carol took a step back, in the direction of the door leading to the hall, seeing Blue turning his attention on her, and seeking to put as much distance between the two of them as possible. Blue took a step in her direction, but suddenly, he saw Harrigan raise his own gun and point it at him; he froze instantly.

Just at that moment, exactly as Carol was reaching the door, Captain Scarlet appeared from the hall and seized the woman from behind.  She struggled in his grip but he easily snatched her gun from her hand, releasing her only at that moment; it was Symphony, standing beside him, who properly finished off the nefarious Mrs Claus by striking her with a devastating left hook which sent her flat on her back to the floor.

Followed by Symphony, Scarlet continued into the room, raising his newly acquired gun in Harrigan’s direction.  He didn’t shoot; the man still had the Svensons in his sights.

“Give it up, man,” he warned.  “It’s not worth it.”

Harrigan hesitated. He seemed to ponder what to do next; his gun was directed straight at Blue, standing in front of him, obviously ready to jump him at any moment. He could squeeze the trigger before the dark-haired man could use his gun.

“Stay where you are,” he said to Scarlet.  “I will kill him, if you move.”

“Shoot, Tim,” Marshall gasped from the floor.  He was on his knees, and was holding his painful belly.  His gun was just within reach, in front of him. He was glaring at Blue, furiously. “Go ahead, shoot him.  We can make them pay for what they did.”

“What will it give me?” Harrigan asked coldly, not lowering his gun.

“You’ll get the satisfaction of getting even with them,” Marshall said.

Blue was shaking his head, his eyes riveted on Harrigan’s, not even lowering them to look at the pistol aimed at his heart.  “It’s not worth it, Harrigan,” he said quietly. “You said it yourself, earlier – it’s finished.  Follow your own advice and give it up.”

“The police…”  Harrigan started.

“If you give it up now – they’ll be a lot easier on you.”

Harrigan hesitated again; then, he blew a deep sigh, and lowered his hand, releasing the hammer of his gun. “You’re right,” he murmured with a nod. “It’s better to stop now, before someone gets hurt.”

There was a cry of frustration from Marshall when he saw his accomplice’s surrender. “We ain’t finished yet!” 

The rest followed in mere seconds. 

Marshall’s hand closed on the handle of his gun, and he raised it, pointing it towards the person who was straight in front of him – Peter.  Blue stepped swiftly in front of his brother who had frozen in his place, and pushed him out of the line of fire; he saw the evil smile on Marshall’s lips, as the man was obviously delighted at the idea of killing him.  He felt his heart miss a beat, as, almost in slow motion, the hammer was pulled back. 

Unable to get a clear aim at Marshall, with Harrigan standing between them, Scarlet launched forward and pushed the rocking armchair in front of him with his foot.  The sound attracted Marshall’s attention for a split second, which was enough for Harrigan to actually seize his arm and pull it backward. The chair rolled past Harrigan and hit Marshall squarely in the chest, sending him sprawling to the floor once again.  Barely stunned, he still had his hand on his gun, but he didn’t even have time to raise it this time. Symphony crossed the short distance separating her from the downed man and she stepped fiercely on his hand, keeping it down.  Marshall yelped in pain, and the next second, Symphony was swiftly leaning to pick the gun up.  She pointed it at Marshall’s head.

“You say another word, make another move, and I’ll blow your head off, punk!” she seethed.  “And don’t believe I won’t do it!”

Defeated, Marshall lowered his head. 

While Scarlet was pulling Carol to her feet, Harrigan took a step towards Blue, to present him with the gun; Blue took it, nodding his thanks to Harrigan at the same time.

“You did well, Mr Harrigan,” he said. “You made the right decision.”

“Did I have any choice?” the older man answered in a murmur.

Blue shook his head.  “You could easily have killed me instead of giving up – or any member of my family, for that matter.  You did not. Thank you for your help – and for saving my life.”

Harrigan smiled sadly. “No money in the world is worth the life of one human being,” he answered.  “I’ve always known that.  I just kind of forgot it when I agreed to follow Bill in this mad scheme. Now I know I must pay the price.”  Harrigan turned one last time to the members of the Svenson family, all on their feet and all watching grimly as he stood in front of them. “I’m sorry,” he said in a shaking voice.  He lowered his head in shame.  “I never meant for it to go this far.  Please forgive me.”

He was answered only by a bleak expression from Sarah, Kate and Peter, while John, shaking his head in a non-committal way, took Peter’s cell-phone from the fireplace, where Marshall had put it.

It was time to call the police.

 

 

“Thank God, it’s over.”

It seemed like many hours later.  The police had come and gone, after taking statements from all witnesses in the house about what had happened during the evening.  Johnson, the butler, and Mrs Kruger, the cook, had been freed from the kitchen cupboard where they had been locked up since the start of the adventure.  They were terrified especially considering they had heard a gunshot, and immediately inquired into the well-being of the family as soon as the police released them. They had been relieved to discover that no-one had been hurt by the nefarious trio – a relief that was reciprocated by the family for the most faithful and longstanding servants of the household.

Harrigan and his accomplices had been taken away, all of them handcuffed, all of them expecting to appear before the judge in the morning to face accusations of breaking and entering, assault and death threats.  While his two accomplices appeared defeated and in a rather gloomy mood, Harrigan seemed serene enough.  He had received the promise from the Svensons that they would indeed testify on his behalf, so the judge would show leniency.  He had, after all, stood up to his accomplices, and saved Adam – and perhaps Peter as well – from being killed, and there were extenuating circumstances in his case.  He would probably benefit from this and get a light sentence, instead of long years in prison, like the two others.

Peter, however, found he would not get off the hook as easily; straight after the police had gone, his family turned towards him, with inquisitive stares, obviously waiting for his explanation – an explanation, he wagered, that would have to be a damned good one for them to forgive him. Under their scrutinising glares, he reddened and lowered his head, obviously feeling embarrassed – and repentant.

“I’m sorry, folks,” he said apologetically.  “I… realised what happened was all my fault.  I… I really didn’t mean for this to…”

“Peter.”  That was John’s voice, deep and stern, cutting in before his son could add another word.  Almost fearfully, Peter raised his head and looked towards his father, to meet his critical gaze. John sighed and cleared his throat and walked towards him. “There is no question that trying to get this deal after I had turned it down – and deceiving me to get my signatures on documents – is less than commendable…”

“Dad, I had every reason to believe it was a sure deal.   I only did it to prove that I could do – well, not as well as you, obviously, but…”

“Peter,” John cut again, a little more sternly.  “I would prefer that we don’t speak of this now, if you please. We’ll discuss it later between ourselves, and then you’ll give me your explanation.” 

Blue winced.  By the sound of his voice, his father wasn’t very pleased – and wasn’t as yet ready to discuss matters with Peter.  He remembered more than one ‘discussion’ he had with him, when he was like this.  He didn’t envy Peter at all.

And yet, he couldn’t help thinking that his brother had it coming.

There was a deep sigh from John as he walked away from Peter and back to the centre of the room.  “The important thing for now,” he said, looking again at a contrite-looking Peter, “is that you’re all right.  That all of us are all right – I can’t bear thinking what might have happened tonight.  Adam, you took a big risk, you know that?”

“Yes,” Sarah added.  “You were very brave, Adam.”

Blue shrugged dismissively.  “Just part of my job,” he answered quietly. 

John exchanged a smile with his wife. “Yes, we know,” he said, turning back to his son. “Well, even considering that Harrigan finally came around, I believe we owe you our thanks.  To you – and to your friends as well.”

“I’m just glad we arrived when we did,” Scarlet said. “But until we heard those guys from the hall, we had no idea what was actually going on.”

 “Are you okay, Paul?”  Kate asked with concern.  “You took a rather nasty dive down that staircase.  I was afraid you had hurt yourself seriously.”

“I’m all right, Katherine,” Scarlet answered with a large smile.  “Just a few bruises, that’s all – in places that are unseen, fortunately,” he added with a discreet wink to Symphony. The latter answered with only the faintest of smiles.

 “Karen, you’ve been so terribly brave,” Sarah then said, with an admiring tone in her voice.

“Indeed!” Katherine added quickly. “The punch you landed on that horrible woman!  That was wonderful!”

Keeping herself from reddening, Symphony shrugged dismissively, rather like her fiancé had done earlier. “It was nothing,” she answered modestly.  “Only basic self-defence training, really…”

“Well, the self-defence courses I took don’t even begin to teach us stuff like that,” Kate insisted.  “And the way you handled that Marshall guy…  I just wish I was able to do that too!  You will have to teach me, Karen.”

“I couldn’t very well leave that man to kill your brother,” Symphony remarked, looking towards Blue. “After all, if we are to be married, I have to keep him safe, don’t I?”  He beamed.  “Even if I am a trifle cross with him at the moment,” she added in an undertone.

The smile on Blue’s face disappeared and he frowned.  “Cross with me?” he enquired.  “Whatever for?”

“Oh, I just found out one little – but oh so interesting – secret, you’ve been sharing with my mother,” Symphony answered, walking to him. 

“What secret are you talking about?” a perplexed-looking Blue replied.

“Don’t play the innocent with me, Adam Svenson – I know about the money you invested in the ranch. Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

“Adam invested money in your mother’s ranch?” Scarlet asked, puzzled.

“You did?” Kate asked in turn.

“No, I did not,” Blue answered with a shake of his head.  “Wherever did you get that idea from?”

“Well, David told me.  He said it was transferred from the family’s company and…”

“David?” A puzzled Blue raised his eyes over Symphony’s blonde head to direct his attention to his younger brother – who, strangely enough, was standing behind Scarlet – as if he was trying to hide from him.  “Why would you make up such a story, David?” Blue asked with a renewed frown.

“It’s not a story,” David protested. “I saw it on…”  He hesitated.  He was about to point at Peter, but stopped himself before he actually did so.  Fortunately for him, Peter himself stepped forward to answer:

I discovered it,” he said.

“What?” Blue looked from one brother to the other, obviously confused. “What is going on here?” he asked with a growl.  “What are you talking about, Peter?”

“Are you really saying it’s not true?” Symphony asked.

“It is not.  Peter, what is this about, exactly?”

“Adam,” Peter sighed, “don’t try to deny it.  I saw all of the transfer details – from Svenson Financials’ expense account to that of the Wainwright Ranch.  All in black and white, right there on the computer screen.”

“It must be a mistake,” Blue murmured. “Are you making it up?”

“I am not making it up,” Peter defended himself.  “And it was not a mistake. I did see the transaction that was done, months ago. Why are you denying it?”

“Listen, Peter, I…”

“Peter, how did you find that out?” John suddenly asked.  So far, he had kept oddly silent; when Peter turned to him, it was to see his thoughtful frown.

There was an awkward silence, with Peter obviously reluctant to answer his father’s question.  It lasted until Kate stepped forward, with a question of her own: “Finance is my division – you accessed the accounts?”

“Actually, I was checking on the Wainwright Ranch, and…”

“Peter!” Sarah protested heatedly.

“I had to find out if that girl was a threat to Adam,” Peter continued quickly.  “You know how it is, Mom, with people coming into our lives and trying to cheat us out of our money – I wanted to make sure who we were dealing with. If she hadn’t, somehow, used her influence on Adam, to pour the company’s money into her mother’s ranch.”

“Watch it, Peter,” Blue warned, taking a step forward.  He had the surprise of seeing both Sarah and Symphony stepping in front of him to stop him in his tracks.  He glared at his brother from a distance.  “I resent those accusations against Karen. How can you think such a thing of her?  You don’t even know her, and you already categorise her! She is not a gold-digger.”

“Peter, this is unspeakable, even from you!”  his mother continued.  “How could you really be thinking this adorable girl could be a threat to your brother?”

Symphony grimaced.  “It has been a long time since anyone called me adorable,” she remarked.  “I’m not sure I’ve been worthy of the epithet since my childhood.”  She turned a somewhat amused smile on Peter.  “But a threat I could be – although not to Adam, Peter.  However, I can appreciate that you were trying to protect him – even from me.”

“Protect Adam?” Kate said with a snort.  “Protect the company’s money, more likely! Peter, you accused Adam of embezzlement, and if you don’t mind my saying so, what you did with Harrigan was very close to that!”

“Now, Kate, don't you start squabbling too!" Sarah told her.

“Hey!” protested Peter with an irate frown.  “The deal with Harrigan was a genuine one.  As for Adam – I was protecting him – whether you believe it or not.  I was concerned that…”

“You already said what you were concerned about, Peter,” Sarah suddenly interrupted.  “And like Karen, I can appreciate that you were trying to protect your brother. But, like your father said, your methods are certainly questionable - again.”

John glanced in David’s direction.  He found it odd that his youngest son should stay so very quiet – and keep himself apart from them, seemingly hiding behind Scarlet. The latter was also keeping very quiet, observing what was happening, obviously not willing to put his nose in business that only concerned the Svenson family.  John wasn’t sure, but he could have sworn he could see a gleam of amusement in the Englishman’s blue eyes. 

Musingly, he looked past Scarlet, and straight at David. “Peter, you got David into this, didn’t you?”

David seemed to disappear further behind Scarlet. “David just wanted to help,” Peter defended his youngest brother.  “When I told him what I had found, he also found it highly suspicious.”

“I saw the transaction on the screen,” David piped up.  “I only wanted to investigate too…”

“Investigate you did,” Symphony remarked innocently. 

Scarlet looked over his shoulder to glance curiously at the younger man still standing behind him; David only smiled at him in answer, very awkwardly.  He sincerely hoped that Symphony would not say exactly what had happened in the basement between the two of them. He didn’t want to get Adam in a worse mood that he apparently was already in at the moment. But somehow, he had the impression that the Englishman had guessed more of this affair than he was letting on.  That thought was rather unnerving for David.  After all, that man was Adam’s friend and partner.

“But I keep telling you there was no transaction,” Blue protested.  “How can you have seen something that doesn’t exist?”

“It does exist,” Peter insisted.

“Come on, Peter… That’s getting old. Besides, since I don’t work for the company I don’t have any access to the company’s money.  How would I have done that, exactly?”

That simple affirmation was enough to make Peter suddenly realise that his brother was telling the truth. He sighed deeply and closed his eyes. Of course, why didn’t he realise that earlier?  Was he so concerned – even jealous – that the obvious had escaped him?

But then… how did that company money find itself in the Wainwright Ranch account? There surely was an explanation. 

“Adam, Peter did see a transaction,” John said at that moment. All eyes turned to him. He nodded. “Indeed, there was a money transfer from Svenson Financials’ expense account to the Wainwright Ranch. I authorised it.”

Sarah opened wide eyes. “You…?”

The surprise was general in the room.  The same frown appeared on the brow of each of the Svenson boys.  Nobody would doubt they’re brothers, looking at them now, Scarlet reflected inwardly.

“Dad, what’s all this about?” Blue asked. 

“Remember that little talk I told you about earlier – the one I had with Amanda Wainwright in Las Vegas last summer?” his father reminded him.  “We discussed business at length with each other.  She appeared to be quite the businesswoman and she mentioned the projects she had for the ranch – in order to fully transform it into the ‘Dude Ranch’ her husband had started, a few years ago. Her projects sounded interesting, and very well thought through – but to make it all possible, it seemed to me like she would need more capital than she had available.  So I offered to… invest in the deal.”

“You did?” Blue said, raising an incredulous brow. 

“You, Dad, you invested in a Dude Ranch?” David added in turn, his growing perplexity showing on his face. “I don’t believe it…”

“Well, you’d better believe it,” John replied with a slightly annoyed frown.

“So that’s where Mom got that money for the improvements she wanted for the ranch,” Symphony mused.  “She never told me.”

“Like you never told me, Father,” Blue remarked.

“It was a business deal between Karen’s mother and me.  Neither of us saw any reason to tell you – not as yet, anyway – and not before we thought it would be the time to do so.”

“In case something should go wrong,” Blue nodded pensively.

“I don’t expect anything to go wrong. Last time I spoke to your mother, Karen, everything was proceeding rather smoothly.”

“I can confirm that,” Symphony answered with a smile. “I think your investment will be paying off.  Thank you, Mister Svenson. That was a very kind gesture you made.”

“Nonsense,” he grumbled.  “It was only business. An investment deal like any other…”

“Like any other, really?” Sarah asked with a faint smile.

“Well… not exactly,” John confided a little reluctantly. He found it very bad for his ruthless businessman image to appear as soft in front of anyone – even his own family. “Since I already knew about the… relationship that Adam had with Karen, I thought it would be a good gesture to help her mother with this business venture of hers…  After all, in all probability, both of them would become a part of this family some day soon.”

“Awww,” his wife said, hugging him tightly, and teasingly.  “You’re such a Teddy bear…”

“That was very nice, Father,” Blue said in turn with a wide smile.  “I bet Amanda was delighted.”

“Oh, she certainly was…”  John turned to Peter who was standing a little apart from them all, looking completely dejected. Noticing his father was looking at him with attention, the younger man looked down.

“You never told me,” he said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, very uncomfortably.

“I don’t always tell you of all the small deals I’m doing,” his father remarked.  “I didn’t even tell Adam or Karen either. Only Kate knew about it, because she had to authorise the transfer from her division.”

“That’s right,” Kate confirmed.  “I authorised the transfer.  I was rather surprised to see Dad investing in a Dude Ranch – I thought it wasn’t really his style.  Now I understand the motivations behind it.”

“So I blew it,” Peter murmured.  He sat down heavily on the armchair behind him. “Again.”  He looked up at his family.  He smiled awkwardly, but noted that none of them was smiling in turn – except for Karen. Oddly enough, she seemed rather amused by the situation… and the fact that he saw her as a gold-digger – which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Peter realised how wrong he had been about her now; and somehow, the idea that Karen was the only sympathetic soul in the room at the moment made him feel even more ill at ease.

He sighed.  “Adam, I’m truly sorry,” he finally said.  “I didn’t mean to be rude to you or your fiancée.  I was… concerned.”

“Actually, you have been rude to her since the moment we walked in the door, even before you checked the account,” Blue remarked sourly.  “And to me, and to just about everyone here.  But I assume that was mainly the rum talking.”  He noticed the pleading look from his brother, and then the way Symphony was looking up at him, with a mute request reflecting in her smiling eyes.  He nodded, almost reluctantly, understanding what she was asking of him.  “I forgive you if Karen does,” he said finally.

“How about the way you manipulated David into helping you?”  Symphony asked with a raised brow.

Peter grimaced, acknowledging the message.  “David, it wasn’t fair of me to bring you into this… conspiracy.”

“Ah, no sweat, Peter,” David replied candidly.  “I was concerned for our big brother, too…  Needlessly, I know,” he quickly added, catching the warning glance from Blue – and Symphony.  He figured he’d better kept his mouth shut if he didn’t want to see Karen tell Adam everything that happened in the basement – and feel the latter trying to unscrew his head.  He stepped further behind the still discreet – and rather amused – Scarlet, almost disappearing from view.

“Well, it’s all well and good,” John muttered, “but boys, I hope that next time, you’ll be more circumspect in your judgement.”

“Yessir,” both Peter and David answered contritely.

“And I don’t mean just for family business, Peter.”

“I know, Dad,” Peter answered quickly.  “I’m not too proud of myself, really.  Neither for what happened with Adam and Karen – nor with Mr Harrigan’s company.  I know you said you wanted to discuss this later, and I think I understand that you want to chew me out properly in private – without any witnesses.”

“Peter…”

“I understand that.  I didn’t behave like you would have expected me to.  I went over your head, and I know you think I tricked you.  But Dad, I was so sure of this deal, and of the success it could mean for me – for the company.  I wanted to show you I could make it too.  I…”  He lowered his head.  “I wanted to make you proud of me.”

 “Proud of you?”  John went to his son and stood in front of him, to stare into his eyes.  Peter felt somehow compelled to stand up, but in doing so, obviously intimidated, he lowered his eyes once again, unable to face what would no doubt be his father’s reproaches.  He only raised his head again, when his father put his hand on his shoulder, and looked once more into his eyes. He could see no blame reflected in them – perhaps a little disappointment – but more than anything, there was a deep feeling of relief.  “Son, I can’t say I’m not dissatisfied with what you did, but you should know I’ve always been proud of you – of all my children,” he added, raising his head to look at all of them. “Let’s face it - despite all the successes I’ve had in life, all my achievements, none of them are greater than you.  You’re our greatest achievement.  To me – and to your mother.”

“Dad, I…”  Peter’s voice broke, and suddenly, he didn’t know exactly how to express himself.  “I’m so sorry,” he finally said, in a whisper.  “I was so afraid that something might happen to one of us…  I never meant for anything bad to happen…”

John understood that his son had been pretty shaken by the recent experience – not being able to bear the thought that he could have been responsible for a tragedy befalling the family, and that he was now unable to hold up under the pressure, and was about to crumble. So he stepped forward and took Peter into his arms and brought him against his chest.  Peter answered to his father’s embrace, finding the need to sit down again, as his legs faltered beneath him. John helped him down onto the chair, holding him tight. 

At the sight of her son’s distress, Sarah’s heart melted, as only a mother’s heart can, and she rushed to his side, to take him into a loving hug too.   Peter’s shoulders were shuddering, but he didn’t cry, although he was very near to it; he closed his eyes and basked in the warmth of his parents’ embrace.  He felt humbled, and ashamed, and he knew he would still have to make amends for his mistakes, but at least, he knew he was loved – and would be forgiven.

Scarlet finally broke his self-imposed silence. “Aww, isn’t it nice?” he murmured from where he was standing with Blue, Symphony and Kate, all of them watching the touching scene. “The real picture of a united and happy family – always nice at Christmas time.”

“Isn’t it?” Kate said with a contented sigh.

Blue wasn’t fooled; even if it wasn’t obvious, he could hear the English sarcasm in his friend’s tone of voice.  Even now, looking at him sideways, he could see that Scarlet was biting his lips not to reply to Kate’s remark.

“Wouldn’t you like a family like this, Paul?” Blue asked nonchalantly.

Scarlet’s brow rose sky-high and he snorted, “Me?  To have a brother like Peter waiting to stab me in the back at every turn of the road?  Thanks very much, Blue Boy – you can keep it to yourself.  I’d rather stay an only child.”

 “How moody and cynical you are tonight, Mr Metcalfe,” Kate remarked in a vivacious enough tone.  “How about a glass of rum to lighten that dark mood of yours?” 

“Best offer I’ve received tonight, Miss Svenson,” Scarlet smiled.  “And one I’ll accept gladly.”  And he followed Kate, who took him to the bar.

 “I don’t know,” sighed Symphony, as she drew closer to Blue and he rolled his arm around her slender waist to hold her warmly against him.  “I kind of like the thought of having a big family myself…  Growing up as an only child could be so… lonely, at time.”

“Don’t you worry, Karen.”  That was David, who had suddenly appeared beside Symphony, to put his arm around her shoulders; she gave him an annoyed look, noticing he wasn’t bothered at all, as he continued, nonchalantly:  “Soon, you’ll be part of our big family – and then you’ll know all the joys – and pains – of being a Svenson.”

She was about to answer, and in her own fashion order him to let go of her, when the voice of Captain Blue rose calmly:  “David?”

“Mmm?”

“Pick your tongue up from the floor and put it back into your big mouth.  And remove that arm, before I tear it from its socket.”

The tone might have been convivial enough, but David knew his brother enough to recognise a warning when he heard one. 

He removed his arm from the shoulder of a smirking Symphony, and put both hands carefully behind his back.

 

 

 

 

AFTERWORDS:

 

‘Adam’s Family’ was a title that stuck to my mind from quite some times – and I knew JUST that it had to be written one day, and that it will all be about Adam bringing Karen to his family, presenting her to them, and announcing they were engaged to be married.  Most of the reactions I imagined – especially from Adam’s brothers - would pretty much be what you have read in this story; at the start, for obvious reason, the story was to be an Halloween one – but I found that Christmas seemed a rather better occasion for Adam to introduce Karen to his family.  Scarlet in this story, as best friend of both, was merely to appear in it as a witness, around whom most of the action was revolving… 

From this moment on, the story became ‘Christmas with Adam’s Family’.

The story is set after A White Christmas Carol, a co-authored effort with Mary J. Rudy and Sue Stanhope, written in 2003, and directly after The Last Flight’ – another Christmas story I wrote two years ago.  It also refers to some events from another of my stories,A Symphony in Blue ’, in which the members of Adam’s family, and their names, first appeared or were mentioned, inspired by the background suggested by Captain Blue’s official biography (which was vague enough to allow for creative freedom). The characters of Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue and Symphony Angel (and the mention of other characters, craft and other stuff from ‘Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons) are copyrighted property of their creators and the companies owning the rights.  I’m just borrowing them for the circumstances.

.All my most grateful thanks go to Hazel Köhler, Mary J. Rudy and Marion Woods – for their wonderful patience at being such gracious and wonderful beta-readers, and who also provided with helpful advices, comments and suggestions for this story.

I also want to thank Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, and all the team that was behind them for the creation of the Captain Scarlet original series – it’s their combine work that provides the inspiration that allows me – all of us fanfic writers – to continue to write.

And… thanks to you, the readers, for reading these stories, that we hope you still enjoy today.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2007 for all!

 

 

CHRIS BISHOP

 

 

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