A ‘Captain Scarlet’ story for Halloween
by Chris Bishop
The water trickling down her face woke her up slowly. Her head was hurting, and she had a bad taste in her mouth. Her limbs were numb, and she felt chilly all over, but especially the cheek she was resting on. She could hardly move. She shivered due to the cold, and that send a new wave of pain into her throbbing skull. Rhapsody flinched and groaned, not finding the courage – or the strength – to open her eyes.
Where she lay was damp and cold; when she attempted to move her head, with yet more painful results, she felt the ground moving beneath her. The air was cold, drizzly. There was something stuck in her mouth, between her teeth, foul and unpleasant, barely allowing her to breathe. She tried to push it out with her tongue, to spit it out, but it wouldn’t budge.
That strange sound seemed to come from nearby. It was regular, and hardly stopped. Rhapsody could also hear humming – A male voice, deep, hoarse, singing in whispering tones almost in tune with the noise.
With each new swishing sound, something gently brushed against her, and she instinctively recoiled. She was barely able to move an inch. Her arms and legs, while responding to her mental commands, would not move. She realised at this moment that she was tied up, ropes keeping her ankles together and her hands secured behind her back – the bonds so tight around her wrists that it was nearly cutting the blood circulation to her hands.
The realisation made her finally open her eyes and she looked around.
It was night, and the sky was half covered with rain-filled clouds; it was dark, and yet, the moon was shining brightly between the clouds, more than enough to permit Rhapsody to see around her and recognize where she was.
There were tombstones, and crosses all around – statues of angels standing on stony pedestals, praying to the Heavens above, or looking down in contemplation, or about to take flight. A nearby stone crypt was casting dark shadows on the ground in front of it, and all around there were autumnal trees, deprived of half, or all, of their leaves. In the distance, almost hidden behind a thin mist, she could see the outline of a metal fence, and even a large, closed gate, with threatening spikes rising high above the ground.
She was in a cemetery.
Tied up, gagged, and lying on the cold ground, half-covered with dead leaves.
She shivered anew.
The noises and singing that had welcomed her awakening had not stopped in the meanwhile and she shifted her position as best she could to turn her head in their direction. The moon chose that moment to hide behind a cloud, and at first, the darkness surrounding her didn’t allow her to distinguish anything.
The noises and singing continued and she pricked up her ears to discover where exactly it was coming from.
That’s when she also heard another noise, just at the limit of her hearing. Feeble and dull, that sound seemed to come from far, far away. It was like regular tapping, punctuated by prolonged silences, and then starting again.
Try as she might, she couldn’t guess where that sound was coming from.
The clouds passed by and the moon shone on the scene once more; Rhapsody returned her attention to where the singing seemed to come from.
There was a large hole, not that far from her, with a man standing in it up to his thighs, his back turned on her, and seemingly unaware that she was awake. Still half-singing and half humming, he was digging vigorously, and throwing dirt out of it and onto a mound that was increasing on one side of the hole – right next to Rhapsody. From time to time, the fresh dirt was rolling down to rest against her.
What is he doing? a worried Rhapsody asked herself. What is he digging? What am I doing here?
She shrank back a few inches from the dirt falling on her, but she couldn’t go very far, restrained as she was, and she found herself resting against the rough, cold surface of a tombstone.
The dull pounding persisted, nearly drowned out by all the singing and digging. And Rhapsody, looking around in perplexity, still couldn’t find out where it was coming from. There was only her and the gravedigger in the cemetery.
Oh no… he couldn’t possibly…
“Willya keep quiet, yer annoying bastard?” the gruff voice of the man said in anger, stopping his singing suddenly. “I have had quite enough of hearing yer, banging that way… Stop it, y’hear?”
Rhapsody thought she recognised this very distinctive, gruff voice. She narrowed her eyes against the semi-darkness, looking attentively at the man. She couldn’t see much of his features, but she did distinguish the beret of an unidentified colour he was wearing on his head. He stopped his digging, and drove his spade into the ground with a deep sigh. He took a dirty handkerchief from his trouser pocket and wiped his brow with its deep, receding hairline, panting heavily. The moon showed Rhapsody more of his features, and she was suddenly able to recognize him – and remembered meeting him, not that long ago.
In that pub. The Jolly Roger. They were looking for Paul, herself and Rick, and…
They were together – of that she was certain. It was her last conscious thought before…
…before complete darkness.
Rhapsody looked around again, heart pounding, wondering were her companion could be.
He was nowhere in sight.
“Go ahead, then! Bang all yer like!” cackled the man suddenly. Rhapsody turned in his direction again, and saw him climbing out of his hole, puffing and grunting. He stood up, brushing the damp dirt from his trousers, before taking a flask from his pocket and drinking a long gulp from it.
Alcohol, probably, Rhapsody mused.
“For all I care,” he muttered after lowering his small bottle. “Not got much air there anyway… Yer wouldn’t want to waste it all banging. Have it yer way, mate… Won’t do yer no good… No one’s gonna hear yer, anyhow…” He drank another gulp of his bottle, than turned around on his heels. He noticed Rhapsody looking at him with wide, concerned eyes. He gave her a grin, showing two rows of badly cared for teeth.
“Yer awake, then, pretty lass?” he asked, saluting her with his bottle. “I dunno if that is good for yer, I’m sorry to say… Dunno at all…” He shook his head with an expression of sadness in his features and sighed again, before taking another swig at his bottle. “Should’a kept the box for yer, instead,” he muttered for himself. “Should’a put yer friend directly in the ground, instead of giving it to him…”
“At least he would be DEAD ALREADY AND NOT PESTERING ME WITH ALL THAT THUMPING ANYMORE!”
The sudden roar of fury made Rhapsody jump and she recoiled. She saw the man spin on his heel and brutally throw his empty bottle at a headstone, a few feet away from her. She followed the trajectory with her eyes and saw it crash against the stone with a tinkling sound. Pieces of glass fell down at the foot of the tombstone.
Disturbed ground…as if it had been dug very recently.
No it couldn’t be…
“Stop it will yer!” the man raged again, attracting Rhapsody’s attention back to him as he walked – almost threateningly – towards the tombstone he had thrown his bottle at. “Stop it! Yer drivin’ me mad!”
The pounding didn’t stop, despite the man’s invective, although it was obviously growing weaker. Fretfully, Rhapsody was straining her hearing, very attentively – trying to desperately find out where exactly it was coming from – hoping, without really believing it, that her dreadful suspicion would not come true.
Unfortunately, she realised almost instantly that it was all too true.
The muffled thumping really was coming from underground.
Rhapsody’s heart started pounding faster and harder against her ribcage, as she finally understood what had happened to her missing companion.
“So now yer know, don’t yer?” The voice of the man, coming from very close, nearly made Rhapsody jump out of her skin. She turned in his direction, to find him, leaning over her. Almost instinctively, she drew back, but could go no further than the headstone she was already leaning against.
The man cackled. “Old Willy is so sorry, lass,” he said in a syrupy tone. “Really, really sorry… but I did warn yer t’is dangerous round ‘ere… I warned yer not to go onto the marsh, and search for the treasure… Yer did you lissen to Old Willy? No yer never …” His expression became hard, and his smiling lips straightened in a severe and straight line. “Now yer gonna pay for being so careless… like yer American friend is paying right now… Like yer other friend paid…”
“Have you seen this man?”
Rhapsody was showing the picture of Captain Scarlet to the man tending the bar of the Jolly Roger Inn, in the little village of Grimshore, somewhere between New Romney and Dymchurch. ‘Village’ was hardly the name for it – it barely had a dozen houses. It was a rather lost town, away from regular access, with old houses dating from centuries ago. It wasn’t even mentioned on most of the regular maps, and you could have ridden right through it if you had not been looking for it. It was even more likely at night, when the mist coming from the sea would hide it.
The only thing of interest in Grimshore was indeed its 500 year old inn, in the middle of the town, and its even older little church, which in the past had probably stood within the ancient boundaries of the settlement. However, for many years now, it had stood alone in the middle of a field, looking as if the other houses in the village had deserted it. It had an ancient cemetery bordering what was left of the wetlands – those created by the massive flood years ago, which had been caused by an attempt against Dungeness by the Rebels, during the last civil war. Most of the land had been reclaimed by the inhabitants since then, except for this small part, which was completely ruined and muddy – completely unsalvageable. It was simply deemed uneconomical to try and save it.
Perhaps out of nostalgia for a faraway past, this small part had been nicknamed – the Marsh.
There weren’t many customers in the inn that evening – all men, Rhapsody noticed – who, after a hard day working in the fields were now taking refuge from the bad weather outside. The mist had risen, and it was raining a cold drizzle.
Rhapsody had arrived late in the afternoon, with Captain Ochre; both of them were in search of Captain Scarlet who had given no sign of life since late last night. The mission against the latest Mysteron threat had ended successfully that very morning – they had threatened to flood that part of the Romney Marshes, which was under sea-level, by blowing the high wall built around it to keep the water at bay. The Mysteron agent who was to carry out the threat had been discovered during the night, and killed in Rye before he could act, but Captain Scarlet, who was following a lead that was supposed to take him directly to Captain Black, had gone missing. Concerned that he might have encountered trouble, Colonel White had dispatched various teams around the area, with the mission to find his missing agent – and possibly Captain Black, although everyone was doubtful that he would have stuck around, since the mission for his masters had failed.
So far, however, no trace of Scarlet had been found by any of the teams – except Captain Ochre and Rhapsody - who had heard from witnesses that their colleague had been seen in Dymchurch, and had stopped at a farm, outside Grimshore.
That was the lead they were following.
The barman of the Jolly Roger shook his head pensively, looking at the picture, while carrying on his business of pouring a drink for a man seated next to Rhapsody. The young woman took another picture from her handbag, and put it on the counter, next to the first one. It was of Captain Black. “And this one?” she asked insistently. “They were both in the area during the past two days. You might have seen them in town yesterday. You’re SURE you didn’t see either of them?”
As the barman was looking down at the pictures, seemingly hesitant, a man wearing a large yellow raincoat, and obviously coming in from outside, came to stand next to Rhapsody, so close that water dripped down his coat and onto her hand, making her jump. It was only when he pushed back the large oiled hood covering his head that she recognized Captain Ochre, his uniform hidden by the raincoat he was wearing.
“Sorry,” he genuinely apologized, taking the stool next to her. “It’s raining cats and dogs outside… And it’s getting cold.”
He nodded in direction of the two pictures lined on the counter. “Any leads from your end?”
“Not really,” she admitted in a frustrated tone. “I take it you didn’t find anything either?”
“Mmm… Nothing relevant, anyway,” Ochre answered as he watched the barman who was still looking down at the pictures. He put his hand in his trouser pocket and took out a hundred-dollar banknote of international currency, and put it down between the two pictures. “Say, pal, maybe that will help you recognize one of these faces?”
Rhapsody was about to protest, when the man, as if by magic, suddenly seemed to decide and put his big finger on the picture of Scarlet, nodding his head vigorously. “Yes, I saw that man,” he said, beaming up at Ochre. “He came into the pub yesterday…”
“You’re sure?” Ochre asked, taking the banknote between his fingers and waving it in front of the man like a flag.
“Oh yes… I remember. He kept asking if we had seen this other man.” He pointed to the other picture. “He had the same picture. That one I haven’t seen,” he added.
“That was the last time you saw him?” Rhapsody asked.
“That was the only time I saw him. As far as I know… he must have left town not long after that. We don’t have many strangers coming over here, yer know?”
“I can understand why…” Ochre remarked. He gave the banknote to the man who took it. “So you don’t have ANY idea where he might have gone to?”
“Nope. Sorry. Nothing much for strangers to see or do around here – except to search for MacTaggart’s treasure. Many tourists have tried over the centuries, but didn’t find any trace of it.” The man chuckled. “The locals have tried too… Maybe your friends were looking for it?”
“I sincerely doubt it,” Ochre answered a little dryly. “Could you get the lady and myself some coffee? And a quiet table?”
The man took two cups from under his counter and turned around to the coffee maker to fill them up, before presenting the cups back to his customers and gesturing around. “Take your pick of a table.” He smiled largely. “Coffee’s on the house.”
“You’re too generous,” Ochre deadpanned, sliding off his stool, and taking the two cups. “Thank you for your time.”
He and Rhapsody walked to the other side of the inn, where it was quieter and chose an isolated table. They sat down, and Ochre tasted his coffee. He grimaced.
“It’s even WORSE than Blue’s coffee,” he reported to Rhapsody. “No wonder it’s on the house.”
“You paid a hundred dollars for it,” Rhapsody reminded him. “And for the information.” She sipped at her own cup and had to agree with her colleague’s assertion. At least, it was hot. “So,” she remarked. “It’s a dead end?”
“Well, not quite,” Ochre sighed. “At least, we have confirmation that Scarlet came through here, if nothing else. But where he went after that, is anyone’s guess.” He shook his head. “I contacted base earlier. The other teams haven’t found anything yet either. Looks like we’re still the only ones with a plausible lead.”
“I don’t like it, Rick,” Rhapsody said grimly. “It’s not like Paul at all to keep us in the dark and do a disappearing act like this. Where could he be?”
Ochre took a little more of his coffee, making a face again. “I know it might look worrisome,” he said to Rhapsody, “but you know him – and you shouldn’t worry too much. There’s really very little that could be done to him that would hurt him – I mean… permanently.”
“It’s the part beyond the ‘very little’ that concerns me,” she replied a little coldly. “And do remember – he might have been dealing with Captain Black. Which means it could be VERY dangerous for him.” She narrowed her eyes. “And you don’t fool me, Rick Fraser – you’re as concerned as I am myself.”
“All right… I confess I am a little bit worried.” Ochre pushed his half-drunk coffee from him. “Even that coffee isn’t enough to warm me up,” he muttered. “I don’t like this place. It’s cold, damp, and it’s creepy. Not only the settings, mind you, the people as well. Everywhere I went, they kept staring at me in strange ways.”
“They’re not that bad,” Rhapsody remarked with a faint smile. “They simply don’t like figures of authority around here. It’s in their blood, I suppose. There’s centuries of a culture of smuggling in the Romney Marshes – it was so widespread that nearly all the locals were in on it. Goods were smuggled in and out of the country through these little ports. The authorities chased smugglers ruthlessly, and after a swift trial they were invariably hanged. That’s why I suggested you to put that raincoat on earlier, to hide your uniform underneath… so you would not scare them off.”
“Not because it was raining as if the skies had opened directly over us?” Ochre said, raising one eyebrow. “Anyway, they must’ve seen the uniform – the boots and cap are rather hard to conceal… Scarlet must have been very popular when he came to this place… He must have reminded them of the Redcoat soldiers…”
“English police wear blue now, Rick.”
“I know that… And you know what I mean. Besides – I don’t think it was only the uniform that scared them off.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mentioned the name of ‘Captain Black’ on a few occasions,” Ochre explained. “I tell you, that earned me a few odd stares… But when I showed his picture, all I received in answer were dismissive shrugs and clueless stares.”
“As if the name seemed to mean something to them, but not the face?”
“Strange, isn’t it? I would have thought the contrary, you see. They’d have more likely seen Captain Black’s face around, and not know his name.”
“Oh, we know the name…”
The voice coming from beside her nearly made Rhapsody jump and she turned around. There was an old man standing there, that she had not seen earlier, leaning on the back of a chair and looking intently at them with piercing blue eyes. He looked like he was in his late fifties or early sixties, and was wearing dirty enough clothes, with a black beret on his head and a bushy beard which threatened to devour his cheeks and chin. He had a pipe between his twisted lips, which were grinning slightly.
“We know the name all right,” the man repeated with a slow nod of his white head. “ ‘Twas a rather infamous name in these parts, y’ know? All the area knew of it...”
“You mean – the name ‘Captain Black’?” Ochre asked in puzzlement.
“Aye.” The man pulled the chair out and sat down at the same table as Rhapsody and Ochre, without being invited. He put a large, half-empty glass of lager onto the table. The smell of alcohol pervaded his clothes and his breath was so strong and disagreeable that Rhapsody had to make an effort not to draw back from him and sniff in contempt. “Captain Black Jack MacTaggart was his name,” the old man continued. “He was a smuggler. The cruellest, most evil man on this side of the country, he was. To his enemies, that is. For the people of his town – he was a saint.” The man took a large gulp from his glass. “Lived in this very village, he did. THIS here pub was his, in those days – all those centuries ago.”
“MacTaggart,” Rhapsody repeated. “That’s the name the barman mentioned earlier.”
“Captain Black Jack MacTaggart,” Ochre said, rolling the name on his tongue. “Quite a mouthful. A Scotsman?”
“Aye – he was born in Scotland, all right…But only lived there when he was a child. He was a pirate, in his young days, he was. That’s where he earned his title of Captain. Was very proud of it. People around here din’t know he came from Scotland… He changed his name when he came to live here. People dinna like strangers around here, y’ know…”
“Doesn’t change that much,” Ochre muttered under his breath.
“Quite true, lad, we are distrustful of strangers, yer see… That’s why we don’t like ‘em today either. Nothing here to find, nothing here to do – but search for MacTaggart’s treasure. Strangers came over the years, trying to find it… That’s the only reason they came. Turned the country upside down… Destroyed our houses… But never found a trace of it.”
“The barman did mention a treasure,” Ochre said. “It’s supposed to be a big one?”
“Aye, lad – the looting of a lifetime! All that Captain Black Jack MacTaggart collected in his days of pirating and smuggling… It’s stashed somewhere around here… Close I’m sure… Very close… Perhaps even within these walls…” The old man took another gulp from his glass, draining it completely, and wiped his mouth before continuing with a large smile and glitter in his eyes, “I know it’s not far – I have been looking for it for years… Just haven’t been lucky enough to find it yet… But I will…”
Ochre offered a gentle smile. “Well, er… while I find this tale very interesting, mister…”
“Lancry – William Lancry. Everyone calls me Old Willy in town. They say I’m crazy… but don’t listen to them. And I daresay, I’d be the best guide yer can have, if yer want to find this treasure. Of course – in exchange for an itsy-bitsy part of the booty? There’s enough for all of us to be mighty rich.”
“Mister Lancry, I think there’s a little misunderstanding,” Ochre continued.
“We’re not here for Captain MacTaggart’s treasure,” Rhapsody explained.
“Course ye’re not…”
“No really,” Rhapsody insisted. “We’re looking for a friend who probably passed through this town yesterday.”
Lancry raised a brow. “This friend of yours – handsome young man – tall, dark hair, with blue eyes?”
Ochre and Rhapsody exchanged surprised glances.
“Yes…” Ochre said carefully.
Lancry pointed at Ochre with an emaciated, dirty-nailed finger. “He’d be wearing clothes like yours, except red?”
There was no doubt now.
“You have seen him too?” Rhapsody asked.
“I did,” Lancry said with a smile. “Yesterday. He was seated right where yer are, pretty lady. And I was seated right here.”
“You talked to him?” Ochre asked in turn.
“We talked – said he was looking for a friend of his…” Rhapsody opened her handbag and showed Lancry the two pictures she was carrying. He nodded vigorously, pointing to each photo. “Yeah. That’s him. And that’s the man he was looking for.”
“That confirms what the barman said,” Ochre remarked. “He came here, all right.”
“But that doesn’t tell us where he went to after that,” Rhapsody reflected.
“Excuse me, pretty lady,” Lancry said then. “But I might be able to help yer there?”
“You KNOW where he’s gone?” Ochre asked, in an incredulous tone.
“I told yer - we had some talk, yer friend and me,” Lancry noted. “Like yer, I thought he was here for the treasure… all tourists come here for the treasure…”
“We’re not tourists,” Rhapsody replied, with a frown.
“Sure yer not…”
Rhapsody had to keep herself not to sigh. The man had a one-track mind. “Mister Lancry, if you know where we can find our friend…”
“I can show yer where he went – I’m not sure where he might be right now.”
“No matter, whatever you can do to help us locate him will be appreciated,” Ochre insisted.
“Well, he was looking for this other man…” Lancry pointed to the picture of Captain Black. “Him, I din’t see around, but for some reason, yer friend seemed to think he could be in the marsh…Dinna know why, maybe he thought his friend would be interested in the treasure – even if he said he was not? That would be the only reason to go to the marsh…”
“The marsh?” Ochre said in puzzlement. He gave Rhapsody an enquiring glance. Why would Captain Black go into the marsh? That doesn’t seem to make any sense. She shook her head.
“The way to the sea from here is to go through the marsh, isn’t it?” she asked Lancry, her brow furrowed.
The older man nodded. There was another exchange of looks between Rhapsody and Ochre. Captain Black had been trying to reach the sea through the marsh. Either to carry out his masters’ plans or to escape from Scarlet, whom he knew was hot on his tail.
“Yesterday?” Ochre mused. Scarlet had not been heard of since then. In view of what Lancry was now telling them, it looked more and more evident that their colleague had indeed run into trouble while trying to get Captain Black.
That is – if what Lancry was telling them was the truth. Ochre addressed a suspicious glance at the older man.
“You didn’t see the other man around?” he asked insistently. “So how do you know he went through the marsh?”
“I dinna know. Yer friend seemed to think he would go there in the first place.” Lancry shrugged. “Anyway, I told yer friend - it was dangerous to go in the marsh alone, on foot – when yer don’t know it well enough, yer might find trouble.”
“Indeed you might…” Ochre murmured.
“I wonder if Captain Black would have gone through the marsh,” Rhapsody then said, pensively, with doubt in her voice. “There surely were other ways for him to reach the sea – more safely than to trudge through those wetlands on foot. The weather was about the same as today. Even with a compass, that would be a risky trek.” She looked at the older man seated with them. “As Mr Lancry noted, you might find trouble… Get yourself lost in the swamp, fall, drown…”
“If he knew the roads were under surveillance by Spectrum,” Ochre remarked, “he might have tried it…”
“Yer lady friend is right, lad,” Lancry then said. “Yer ain’t going through the marsh in this weather. There are other ways to cross them, without risking yer neck.”
“I thought you said…”
“I din’t finish my tale, lass.” Lancry leaned over the table, glanced over his shoulder, as to make sure that nobody was listening to them, and then returned to his young audience with a conspiratorial look. Ochre leaned to him. “I din’t mention yet… the secret tunnel…” he whispered.
“The secret tunnel?” Ochre repeated in the same fashion, doubt creeping into his mind. He sat back into his chair with a dismissive huff. “Now I know you are leading us on, Mr Lancry. You think I would believe that story …?”
“Rick.” Rhapsody interrupted him. He turned to her. “It’s highly possible. There is talk that such a tunnel exists in Rye – which would take you from the Mermaid Inn right to the beach. It was built by smugglers, to get their goods safely and easily in or out of the country.”
“Aye… That’s the truth,” Lancry confirmed with a energetic nod. “Listen to yer lady friend, she knows better. Anyway… there is a tunnel here, in Grimshore… going right underneath the marsh – and towards the sea. And what’s more,” he said with a lower tone. “It starts right here, in this inn…”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Ochre said, leaning back onto the table. He was still doubtful.
“Hey, this place, it was owned by Old Captain Black Jack MacTaggart, remember?” Lancry insisted. “He built it. He also built the tunnel for his sinful work… Yer think it’s not possible then? Yer friend thought it would.”
“Scarlet took the tunnel?” Ochre said with a frown.
“That he did. Was very interested in it, when I mentioned it in the first place…”
“I bet! That would mean that you know where the tunnel is exactly?”
“I do – I’m the only person around here who does, lad.” Lancry’s voice decreased again, almost to the point where Rhapsody and Ochre could barely hear him. “I found it… while searching for the treasure, y’ know? Thought maybe it would be stashed there, yer see…”
“You took our friend there,” Rhapsody interrupted him before he could go further into his story of the treasure chase.
“Aye. Took him halfway through the tunnel, to where it divides in two directions, and showed him the way to the sea. That’s the last I saw of him.”
“Two directions?” Rhapsody asked. “Where does the other go?”
“Directly to the Church, as it is. Apparently, the vicar in those days was in league with Captain MacTaggart’s smuggling. He provided shelter to his men – and the goods as well. The tunnel ends up inside the old crypt. Nobody would dare check there…”
“Never mind that,” Ochre interrupted. “Can you take us down there too? Show us where you took our friend?”
“Whatever our friend gave you for your services, we’ll give you double,” Rhapsody cut in.
Lancry grinned. “Yer are talking my language, pretty lady. Let’s go, then. But… discreetly. Meet me outside in five minutes. I’ll get yer to the tunnel entrance.”
The five minutes was enough for Rhapsody and Ochre to go to their car and get some electric torches for their forthcoming journey. They reported back to Cloudbase that they might have a lead on Captain Scarlet’s whereabouts. However, due to the fact that they still entertained some doubts about Lancry’s story – it sounded so ludicrously implausible – they decided, in mutual agreement, not to mention any details of what they had discovered. This was truly the only lead they had on where their colleague might have disappeared to, and that was the only reason they had agreed to go on with it. Until they actually saw the tunnel mentioned by Lancry and walked down to it to find Scarlet – they would reserve judgement.
That was their first mistake.
Still very much doubtful that William Lancry was all he seemed to be – a crazy old coot, obsessed by an imaginary treasure, who just happened to know where Scarlet might be – Ochre brought along the Mysteron detector to check the man. When the X-ray picture popped out of the detector and proved Lancry negative, both Rhapsody and Ochre heaved a sigh of relief, judging that the man was really as inoffensive as he seemed, and would not take them into an ambush.
That was their second mistake.
The tunnel did exist. The entrance to it was behind the inn – in an old, abandoned, and partly demolished barn. In the past it must have served to store wool, waiting to be smuggled away. Lancry easily found the trapdoor accessing the tunnel, effectively hidden under wild bushes that had invaded the barn, and pulled it open for them to go down first.
The tunnel, obviously man-made, was dark, large enough for them to walk upright most of the time, but both floor and roof were uneven, and they had to be careful not to bump heads and toes against any of the sudden holes, swellings and supporting studs they encountered along the way. The walls were covered with huge spider webs, making it clear that the tunnel had not been used for a very long time. And yet, they could see some of those webs had been disturbed and that there were footprints on the dirt covering the floor – they couldn’t clearly discern how many sets there were, but one set of very noticeable footprints was made by Spectrum boots.
Scarlet had obviously been through here. So Lancry had not lied to them.
Their third, and last mistake, was to grow a little too confident of their guide from that moment.
After long minutes of walking in the dark, with only their torches to light the way, they reached the junction where they knew the tunnel would go into two different directions. They were still marching up front, and they stopped at that point, wondering where they should go, examining both ways with the torches. The spider webs in one of the tunnels was not disturbed, and neatly formed a large curtain in the entrance, while the other had been torn and was hanging loose. The footprints went in that direction.
But according to Ochre’s compass, it was not the way to the sea. And when the American captain had turned around to inquire of their guide if they were in the right direction, everything suddenly went wrong.
The last vision Rhapsody remembered was that of Lancry, holding a pickaxe high over his head and suddenly swinging it in the confines of the tunnel, in a large and rapid arc in the direction of Captain Ochre. The latter had made a desperate step back to escape the deadly weapon, and Rhapsody could only imagine it nevertheless made contact with him, as she remembered the dull impact, just before Ochre fell against her and threw her onto the rocky floor. Her head must have hit something, because that was the last thing she remembered.
The light rain had awakened her eventually, and she had found herself here, in this cemetery, with Lancry digging this hole – and Captain Ochre nowhere in sight.
Rick – he must be dead… Lancry must have killed him with that pickaxe.
That pounding, coming from underground… Which was growing weaker by the second… That couldn’t be Rick, could it?
Oh Lord… What’s this crazy man did to them?
“Still wondering where yer friends are right now, are yer?” Lancry was cackling, as he was pulling on the last of the cigarette he had lit, a few minutes ago, after walking away from her. He was leaning against a large stone cross that surmounted an old headstone. The words ‘Here lies Barnaby Johnson – beloved vicar of the Grimshore Parish’ were carved on the stone. There were no dates – probably it was hidden beneath the mound under Lancry’s feet.
Disturbed ground there too, Rhapsody noticed.
Lancry crushed the cigarette against the stone and threw it on the ground of the grave, before walking towards Rhapsody.
“Do not worry… Yer’ll get to meet them again soon.” He tapped the ground with his feet. “Under there. Nobody ever comes here, yer see… So nobody will find yer. Yer won’t be disturbed… Unless, of course, others like yer come around looking for yer – or the treasure.” He leant over the defenceless young woman, anger now distorting his face. “I told yer I’ve been looking for this treasure for years… It’s mine by right – I won’t let filthy tourists get the booty in my place… I worked too hard for it, yer see? Why can’t yer all understand that?! Why do yer keep coming here, looking for it?!” He rose to his feet and took a step back. He chuckled. “Yer friend who came the other day – looking for the captain, he said, he wasn’t there for the treasure either. But he knew the name, din’t he? Yer all keep telling yer ain’t here for the treasure… but Old Willy knows better. Ain’t nothing around here that’s interesting. So it gotta be the treasure, ain’t it? It gotta be Old Captain Black Jack MacTaggart’s treasure…”
That guy is really crazy, Rhapsody realised with dread. She and Ochre had noticed that he seemed obsessed with the lost treasure – their mistake was not to realise the depth of that obsession. They never imagined he would go to such lengths as to murder anyone he suspected would go after ‘his’ treasure. Paul had obviously met him, and as the name of Captain Black crept out, Lancry obviously thought he was there to find the treasure. So Lancry must have somehow attracted him in the tunnel to ambush him. Then they had arrived, in search of their missing colleague – and Lancry had done the same to them.
None of them had suspected that the old man – not being a Mysteron agent – could be as equally dangerous.
“I’ll have to make yer car disappear,” Lancry sighed. “Like I did with the first one. Easy enough… The first I pushed into the marsh. I might leave yers on the side of the road. Maybe burn it. I’ll see…” He shrugged. “It’s getting complicated, being imaginative with this… There’ve been so many of yer lately… But nobody will ever find yer… That’s a fact.”
Lancry turned to give a murderous glare in direction of the grave from which the sound came. It was weaker still now, barely audible. He gave an appreciative nod. “He’ll be dead soon… I had but one box left, and I gave it to him… Old boxes from the tunnel, yer see, used to either carry smuggled goods or bury poor unfortunate souls… Clever he was, Captain MacTaggart, to smuggle goods in coffins… Clever indeed… He also used them to punish his disloyal men – by burying them alive. Like I did to your two friends…”
He crouched in front of Rhapsody; if she had been able to draw away from him, she would have done so, but she was still leaning against the headstone behind her. She couldn’t move further.
“Yer won’t have a box, pretty lady, I am so sorry… I have none left … I’ll just throw yer inna hole and bury you with dirt. Oh, it won’t take long for yer to die… Yer’ll suffocate quickly enough. It’ll just give yer enough time to say yer prayers before dying.”
He suddenly took her by the lapels of her coat and she felt her heartbeat increase, as he looked deep into her scared blue eyes. “In a way, that will be more charitable for yer that way, don’t you think?” He whispered with a sweetened voice. “Old Willy is not such a bad man after all… And he’s giving yer a decent Christian burial.”
He lifted her from her resting place and, with her heart beating faster, she thrashed and tried to escape from his hands. But to no avail. He was strong, and her bonds were solid, and all her efforts only served to tighten them around her wrists and ankles. She tried to call out, but the gag in her mouth barely let out a pathetic series of moans. He took her from behind and rolled his arms around her slender waist to drag her towards the hole. Her thrashing became more frantic and her breathing was now ragged with panic; her heart was beating so wildly, that she could only hear that, pounding against her chest, as if it threatened to jump out of it. It was so loud that no other sound could reach her. She scarcely could hear the thumping coming from underground, not noticing how it has suddenly increased, in strength and in pace.
The loud cracking noise suddenly drowned out even the sound of her thumping heart and made Lancry stop in his progress, just over the hole he had dug earlier. Frozen into place by surprise, both of them looked in the same direction, over the hole, to where the new sound seemed to come – the headstone of Vicar Johnson.
The disturbed ground underneath the shadow of the large cross was moving. As if something was pushing from under it.
Again the crashing sound was heard, and suddenly, the dirt was thrown aside, and a fist and then a whole forearm appeared in the moonlight.
Rhapsody recognised a Spectrum emblem on the dirty sleeve and suddenly, hope flared in her still pounding heart.
As another cracking noise, louder, stronger, was heard, another arm appeared and the whole surface of the grave moved and heaved and literally flew into the air. A piece of broken wooden board rose to the sky and was tossed aside, with more dirt, and then, a dirt-covered head appeared, and the arms started pulling a powerful body out of the hole, just as a blinding flash of lightning illuminated the whole cemetery, quickly followed by a loud rumble of thunder.
Rhapsody grunted under the gag, recognising the red uniform of Captain Scarlet covered with dirt. She watched as he tiredly pulled himself completely from his grave to fall face down onto the ground with a loud moan. He must have exhausted himself, digging himself out the way he did.
“Impossible!” With a howl of anger, Lancry let go of Rhapsody, who fell down onto the ground, right next to the hole the old man had dug for her, nearly knocking her out in the process. She rolled onto her back and looked up at the man, who was now grabbing his spade leaning against a headstone, and looking in Scarlet’s direction with crazed eyes. “Yer must be a devil incarnate!” he yelled with fury. “Yer cannot possible still live, buried under there for all that time! Yer must be dead!”
Panting hard, Scarlet lifted his heavy head and looked in Lancry’s direction with weary eyes. He noticed the bound and gagged young woman lying at the mad man’s feet, and his features, although covered with dirt, became visibly hard and angry. He pushed on his hands to try to get up.
“I’ll send yer back to Hell, yer demon’s minion!” Lancry raged, raising his spade and making a step towards Scarlet, who was still trying to get his bearings. “I’ll kill yer once and for all, and then I’ll make sure yer’ll stay dead, yer devil…”
Lancry never got to finish his invective.
As Scarlet finally stood on his still trembling legs, getting ready to face the mad man’s attack, Rhapsody, lying at Lancry’s feet, drew her legs up and suddenly uncoiled them, to give a violent shove behind her captor’s legs. His spade escaped from Lancry’s hands and he lost his footing, falling into the hole he had been standing so close to, yelling as he did. The yell stopped abruptly, with a thud and a cracking noise.
Rhapsody looked over the side of the hole to see that Lancry had fallen straight on his spade, and that the blade of the tool had embedded itself in his skull. He was looking up, with dead eyes, his limbs still shaking from the shock. She turned away, closing her eyes. She felt like throwing up, and the gag into her mouth wasn’t helping any.
Tiredly, Scarlet walked the short distance separating him from Rhapsody; he fell on his knees and gently removed the gag from her mouth; she gasped and greedily gulped the night air.
“Are you all right?” he asked with a concerned whisper.
Her answer was a mixture of nodding acknowledgement and negative shake of her head. “Rick…” she gasped. “That madman… he buried him alive…”
Scarlet’s weary features became hard. “Where?” he asked.
“I… I’m not sure…” As Scarlet was freeing her hands, she looked around, trying to get her bearings, searching for that other grave with the disturbed ground that she had seen – where the thumping noises came from. She couldn’t see it, she couldn’t remember…
Thumping again… But, oh, so weak…
“There!” Rhapsody’s now free hand flew in the direction of the headstone she was looking for. “He’s under there… He’s still alive… Can you hear the thumping?”
“Yes…” Scarlet leant into the hole Lancry had fallen into. He had no qualms about disengaging the spade from the dead man’s skull and quickly walked towards the grave that Rhapsody had indicated, while the young woman was frantically removing the bonds holding her ankles. The thumping had stopped by the time she was free and she joined her fiancée, using her hands, to desperately dig out the grave, as quickly as they could. Ochre would not survive much longer, they suspected. They didn’t have any idea how long he had been down there already.
It seemed like far too long before the spade, after about a foot down, finally thudded against the top of the wooden box that served as Ochre’s coffin. Although exhausted beyond human limits, Scarlet gave a sturdy shove of the spade against one of the half-rotten old board, driving the tool beneath it. He tugged forcefully on the spade and the board came out with a loud crack. Thrusting the spade aside, Scarlet stepped off the surface of the coffin, leaned himself against the side of the hole and, helped by Rhapsody, pulled with his hands to remove the cover. Fortunately, it wasn’t nailed down and although still half-covered with soil, it came out easily. Both Scarlet and Rhapsody peered down inside the box to see Captain Ochre lying inside, on his back, his uniform and face grimy with dirt, and his eyes closed. He didn’t appear to be breathing.
“Help me get him out,” Scarlet said with urgency. He leant down to take Ochre under the armpits and pulled on him to extricate him from the box. Rhapsody grabbed him by the large shoulder pads of his uniform and the dead-weight body was pushed and dragged onto the ground, where the young woman laid him.
Scarlet hauled himself out of the hole, panting heavily, and crawled next to Ochre, who Rhapsody was checking, concern marking her beautiful face. “How… how is he…?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a quiver in her voice. “He… he isn’t moving…”
“Is he breathing?” Scarlet asked quickly.
“I…” A new flash of lightning and a loud crack of thunder interrupted Rhapsody, making her jump. Rain suddenly started pouring heavily. Throughout all their digging, they had barely noticed how the clouds had so quickly covered the sky above them. Rhapsody looked up in dismay. They really didn’t need this…
She heard coughing, suddenly followed by a faint moan; she looked down, as hope flared in her heart. Again, there was a flash of lightning and she was able to see the now washed face of Ochre moving as he started breathing deeply and stirred in her arms. He coughed again, and opened his eyes.
“Man,” he moaned, out of breath, “you didn’t have to pour all that water onto me to wake me up, Rhaps…”
“Oh, thank God, you’re alive!” Rhapsody exclaimed, leaning to embrace him. “I was so scared we wouldn’t get you out in time…”
He grinned, obviously pleased by her reaction and basking in the warmth of her embrace. “I was scared too,” he croaked. He shivered. He held tight to Rhapsody.
Then he noticed Scarlet, kneeling beside him, and looking down at him with a mix of concern, relief – and perhaps annoyance to see his friend taking so much enjoyment at being in his fiancée’s arms. He was all covered with dirt, and looked totally shattered. “Hey, big guy,” Ochre said with an apologetic smile, detaching himself from Rhapsody’s embrace. “We found you finally…”
Scarlet cleared his dry throat. “You found me, yes,” he said, putting a tired hand on Ochre’s shoulder, and helping him get into a seated position.
“He put you… down there too?” Ochre whispered.
Scarlet answered with a nod. “Yes. That madman… attacked me from behind in this tunnel of his. He must have killed me there. I just remember waking up in that box and having difficulty breathing…”
“I know how you felt,” Ochre murmured. “What with waking up and realising what had happened to me…” He shivered anew. “I don’t want anything like this ever to happen to me again…”
“That makes two of us,” Scarlet approved. “Or should I say ‘three of us’?” He looked at Rhapsody with concern. She was looking deeply into his eyes, as she raised her hand and gently caressed his cheek.
“Thank you,” she said in a murmur. “You arrived just in time to put an end to this madness…”
He shook his head. “It was just a good thing those boards were so rotten,” he said. “And that I had not been buried too deep in the ground…” He didn’t say more, not wanting to dwell on what could have happened if he had not awakened from his retrometabolic sleep when he did, and started fighting his way to get out of the box he had been encased in, and through all the ground above it. He was just lucky to have burst out on the surface at the moment he did, in time to save Rhapsody from being buried too.
The rain had stopped, as suddenly as it had started, and the clouds were dispersing already; Scarlet looked up to the full moon, shining her silvery light on them once again, before turning to look in the direction of the hole in which Lancry was now lying dead.
“That man was truly mad…” he whispered. “He was so obsessed with his treasure… There’s no telling how many people he’s killed and buried in this cemetery. I’m sure the authorities will make interesting discoveries when they start digging the ground…”
Rhapsody shuddered at his words, remembering what Lancry had told her about all those ‘tourists’ wanting to get his treasure. She had no doubt that Scarlet’s words were no less than prophetic.
“Let’s get out of here,” Rhapsody said, her voice quivering. “Out of these filthy clothes, and away from this place…”
The three of them stood up. Tiredly, leaning against one another, they started walking, passing in front of the hole, but not looking into it and then in front of the large headstone, surmounted with the cross that had marked Scarlet’s grave.
The light from the moon above shone directly on the stone. Rhapsody stopped suddenly in front, right in front of the grave, compelling her companions to do the same. She was staring in wonder at the words carved on the surface of the stone:
‘Here lies Barnaby Johnson –
beloved vicar of the Grimshore Parish’
And just underneath them, where the ground had been disturbed by Scarlet’s thrashing to get out, previously hidden by the dirt, were new words, that Rhapsody had not seen before. Scarlet leaned to take one of the wooden boards from his coffin, which was lying nearby, and used it to thrust the dirt away, and reveal the rest of the epitaph, reading as he did:
‘Known to his fellow men as
Captain Black Jack MacTaggart, pirate and smuggler
Hanged by the neck for his crimes on Grimshore Green
October 31, 1801.
May his body rot in the ground
And his soul in Hell for all Eternity’
Rhapsody gasped in surprise.
“Well, I’ll be,” murmured Ochre. “So that’s the assumed name MacTaggart used when he came to live in Grimshore – he was posing as the vicar. That was a clever cover.”
“Not so clever,” Scarlet said with a slow nod. “‘The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh’.”
“What’s that?” Ochre asked with a raised brow.
“An old movie – based on a series of novels – ‘Doctor Syn’, I think they were called. The hero was a pirate who, after becoming a vicar in Dymchurch, used the assumed identity of ‘the Scarecrow’ to smuggle goods in and out of England.” Scarlet waved to the grave. “Just like… MacTaggart seemed to have done.”
“What a coincidence,” Ochre mused. “Maybe the author heard of MacTaggart, then?”
“Who knows?” Scarlet answered grimly.
Ochre nodded again, rubbing his chin. “Think the treasure is there, in that grave, with him?”
“Don’t you think Lancry would have checked that out already?” Rhapsody asked with a frown. “Even before he… buried Paul on top of that pirate?”
“Maybe not if he did not see the complete epitaph…”
Scarlet frowned in turn. “Don’t tell me you want to check that out, Rick?”
“Quite frankly?” Ochre gave it some thought. “No – I don’t want to. I’ve had enough of cemeteries and digging graves to last a lifetime. I’m with Rhapsody. Let’s get out of here and away from this place. Far away from this place.”
With a combined approving nod, the three of them turned their back to the tombstone and walked away from it, and out of the cemetery.
Thanks to Marion Woods and to Mary J. Rudy for all the help they provided in beta-reading this story.
This story used characters from the TV series “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” ©, is the creation of Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, and the rights of the series, once owned by Century 21, ITC/Polygram and now by Carlton International.
‘The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh’ movie and the series of ‘Doctor Syn’ books, written by Russell Thorndike, served as inspiration for some background events and situations, but the present story is my own. Smuggling, as described in this these books – and this present story! – really happened for centuries in the Romney Marshes.
As far as I know, there wasn’t any ‘Captain Black Jack MacTaggart’ living in the Marshes and he left no treasure hidden anywhere there – but who knows, maybe other smugglers did…