This story takes place approximately a year after the War of Nerves started, and shortly before Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel became a couple.
A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” story
By Chris Bishop
There wasn’t any real hospital as such in Les Arbrisseaux. The town was just too small and too remote from civilisation, to afford itself the luxury of having a hospital as big as in New Orleans – or even something remotely similar to the closest neighbouring city. There was only a small but very effective clinic, with only three doctors, about the double that number of nurses, all of them under Doctor William Evers’ authority. Evers himself was at the same time general physician, paediatrician, dentist and surgeon, and was in charge of the local morgue.
It was to Doctor Evers that Sheriff Masters took the bodies of Old Joe Benson and the stranger who had apparently killed him, after he had called for his deputy, Alan MacGibbons, to come with a police vessel to Benson’s cabin in the middle of the bayou in order to pick them up.
It was barely two hours since the two bodies had been handed to Evers, who had received from the sheriff very specific instructions regarding the stranger. Masters wanted to know exactly what it was that killed him – he didn’t ask for the same regarding Joe, as it was pretty obvious that the gunshot to the guts had been more than sufficient to put an end to his life. But regarding the stranger, Masters seemed to have some doubt; it looked like the violent blow he had suffered to the head had been responsible for his death, and the sheriff just wanted to make sure of that. To that effect, Evers thought that a simple X-ray examination should clearly indicate if it was the case; afterwards, when they had received the results, they would go ahead with a proper autopsy of the body.
It should have been an easy and clean affair, all things considered, but strangely enough, that would not be the case. Something very strange happened, and so Evers called for Sheriff Masters to come straight away to the clinic, the minute he received the latest results.
Masters found the doctor in his office, seated on the edge of his table, looking down at some negatives from a large folder; upon the sheriff’s arrival, Evers raised his eyes to him and gestured to him to close the door behind him.
“Sure glad you could come so quickly, Leonard,” Evers said by way of welcome.
“Well, I did ask you to call me as soon as possible,” Masters said, closing the door. “I’m still filling in the report on this sordid affair. So maybe you will be able to tell me if that blow to the head killed that guy or not, so I can wrap this up… and maybe arrest Jasper Holland and his gang.”
“The way I understood it, the kids were just defending themselves against this stranger… Wasn’t that so?” Evers asked with a raised brow.
“Who told you that?” Masters asked with a frown.
“From Johnny Monroe, He’s in the waiting room.”
“Yes, I saw him earlier when I came. What’s he doing here?”
“Apparently, Johnny hurt his wrist in what happened in the Bayou, and he’s waiting to be seen. Jamie Lewis came with him, but didn’t stay long… Well, just long enough to join Johnny in telling their story to anyone wanting to hear about it. I heard them saying it to one of the nurses. They were bragging about how they helped in arresting a murderer.”
“Stupid kids. I’m willing to bet Jasper and the rest of the gang are doing the same in town,” Masters mumbled. “I’m sure that the news that Old Joe has been killed is all over town already. They would make sure everybody knows a stranger killed him. That will certainly not help in my investigation. I still have to determine exactly how everything happened.” He shook his head. “I’ll deal with them later. So you’ve got news for me? That blow killed the guy?”
“Quite frankly, I’m not sure… There’s something bizarre going on.”
A puzzled Masters frowned, as Evers motioned for him to approach; he handed him the folder he was holding, before rounding his desk to sit down. Masters started looking at the pictures; his frown deepened. “Not very clear, are they? These aren’t X-rays, Doc…”
“No, they’re not,” Evers answered, rubbing his chin pensively. “Those… ah… those are scans from that new machine we received a month or so ago. That new technology that replaced scans by X-ray a few years ago? I’m afraid I don’t have the hang of it – it’s the first time I ever used it. So the pictures came out a bit… fuzzy, to say the least. It might need some adjustments.”
“So you finally got around to using that machine,” Masters said, with a thoughtful nod. “You’ve always been resistant to this new technology, and kept using that old X-ray machine of yours.”
“Well, it would appear my… ‘resistance’ wasn’t for nothing, if that’s the best this machine can come up with,” Evers replied. “Anyway, there was a reason why I finally used it.”
“What’s that thing I see there?” Masters said, without really listening to the physician, as he raised the film in front of the light, and narrowed his eyes to get a better view.
“The pale grey mass? Looks like a hematoma, probably caused by a violent trauma.”
“So the blow might have killed him?” Masters asked, still looking at the picture. “No, wait… there’s something else…” He held the film closer to the light. “Right in the middle there – that smaller, white spot… Can’t see very well…”
“Indeed, you can’t…” Evers commented. “I saw that thing too, but I’m unable to see clearly what it is either. Looks like some kind of foreign body, as far as I can tell. The autopsy will tell us exactly what it is. I’m having the body prepared right now, so I’ll have the answer shortly.”
Masters put the picture down. “If it’s the best you can do with this machine, why don’t you use the X-rays then, Doc?”
“I did,” Evers answered with a frown. “The first time around, actually. And it’s because of the results of the X-rays that I used the new machine.” He opened the top drawer of his desk and took a new folder from it. “I told you: something bizarre happened, but I wanted to know what results the new machine would give me before I called you.”
“Now you’re intriguing me,” Masters said, closing the folder and putting it down as Evers was handing him the other one.
“Wait,” Evers sighed. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Puzzled, Masters opened the new folder and took out the first film, to look at it against the light. He frowned deeply, before staring at Evers.
“Okay now, what’s the joke?” he asked. “These are obviously regular mug shots of the guy who killed Joe.”
“I have a full set,” Evers deadpanned, pointing to the folder the sheriff was holding. “Front, right and left… and I even have a back picture to go with it.”
“Where are the X-ray pics, Doc?”
“These are the X-ray pictures, Leonard.”
Masters glared at him incredulously. “You’re kidding me!”
“No.” Evers shook his head. “This is what came out of the X-ray scan, I swear.”
“That’s impossible,” Masters muttered, looking at the pictures again.
“I know, I could scarcely believe it myself,” Evers commented. “I can’t figure out how an X-ray scan would give that sort of results – it’s like the rays were unable to get through the guy’s skin.”
“So you don’t have an explanation as to how this could have happ –”
Masters’ question was left hanging in midair as suddenly, a scream was heard through the door that made both men jump to their feet. It barely took them a second to come out of their surprise, and Masters was the first to get to the door, and open it, at the same time instinctively reaching for his gun. Evers was right behind him when they stepped out of the office and the scream was heard again, this time much clearer. They turned to face the corridor, and saw one of the clinic’s nurses running up to them at full speed. She collided with Masters who took hold of her shoulders. Her face was drained of all colours and she was shaking like a leaf; it was a wonder that she could stay on her feet.
She pointed a trembling finger down the corridor, towards a door that was left open.
“He… he’s alive…” she stuttered. “He’s in there… Oh God, it can’t be… I was getting him ready and… He was dead and now… he’s alive… alive… alive…”
Masters couldn’t make any sense of what she meant. He could see there were people around watching with curiosity, wondering what could be happening – another nurse, and the lady tending the desk at the entrance of the waiting room, and patients waiting there to see a doctor. He left the nurse where she stood and ran down the corridor, Evers following him. He went straight to the door she had pointed to; it was marked ‘Mortuary’. He pushed it fully open.
There were only two bodies, lying on two tables, side by side, in the very cold room; one of them was the body of Old Joe Benson, covered from head to toes with a shroud, waiting for autopsy.
On the other slab, there was the body of the stranger, only half covered, instruments laid on a small table right next to him, ready to be worked on.
And as Masters laid eyes on him, he heard the man groan loudly. The sheriff opened wide, unbelieving eyes.
“It can’t be!” he murmured.
He stood there, rooted in place, and Evers pushed him aside to get through the door; he went straight to the stranger, whose chest was rising and falling - he was obviously breathing. Masters took a few steps into the room, almost mechanically, watching the impossible motion, as Evers made a quick assessment of his ‘patient’, whose eyes were still closed.
He looked up at the sheriff. “He is alive, Leonard. But that’s… impossible! He was dead when your deputy brought him in!”
“And he was dead in the bayou,” Masters answered, unable to detach his eyes from the stranger’s body. He noticed the man’s naked shoulder, which seemed to have been cleaned recently. There was a small scar on it, very small… nothing like the kind of scar that would have been left by a bullet wound, inflicted only a couple of hours ago.
It’s impossible, he told himself. I shot this man. He could not have healed that quickly!
Somehow, this reminded him of something, and he found himself searching his mind for what it could be, as Evers was checking the body further.
“This can’t be,” the doctor was repeating. “Not only he is alive… but he’s getting better.” He looked up at the sheriff once more; there was something like fear in his eyes. “This is nothing short of a miracle, Leonard!”
“A miracle, eh?” Masters repeated, chewing on his lower lip. “I suppose you don’t have a better explanation than that, do you, Doc?”
“No – and it’s scaring the daylights out of me.” Evers took a few steps from the stranger and came to stand next to the sheriff. Quickly, he shut the door leading into the corridor. “He’s still unconscious… but I don’t know for how long. It looks like he could wake up any time now. Leonard, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know, Doc. The memory Masters was looking for had returned to him, and with it a whole new set of worries he never thought he would ever have to face. He turned to Evers. “Bill… remember that communiqué you and I received from Spectrum, a few months ago?” Evers’ brow furrowed as he tried to recall, still staring at his strange patient. “It listed the same phenomena that we are witnessing today,” the sheriff reminded him. “And it said that if we should ever encounter anyone displaying one of those –”
“ – To contact Spectrum without any delay,” Evers suddenly remembered. He turned to Masters. “And to consider the said person hostile.”
The sheriff grunted and looked at the still unconscious stranger. “Right. I’ll call Mac at the station and we’ll get this man out of here and into a jail cell. Quietly.”
“Leonard, I must protest… Not a few minutes ago, this man was – apparently – dead –”
“But you just said that he was getting better,” Masters interrupted quickly. “And quite frankly, Bill… after the way he seemed to have… ‘revived’ in front of your nurse, do you really think that he needs to stay in this hospital?” Evers hesitated at the question, and sighed heavily, as he finally shook his head. Masters put his hat on. “Keep this quiet,” he said to the doctor. “Remember that the Spectrum communiqué asked for the utmost discretion if these situations should occur. You think you can have your nurse keep quiet as well?”
“I’ll try. How about Jasper and his gang? And I’ll remind you that Johnny is in this clinic as well. I don’t think they will keep their mouths shut.”
“I know.” Masters sighed. “I should have followed my first instinct, and kept the whole lot of them in prison until the end of the investigation. There isn’t much I can do about that right now, I’m afraid. Mac and I will transfer this guy into a cell discreetly. We’ll use your back door.”
“Doesn’t Mac have to go to Baton Rouge today?” Evers asked his friend.
“Yeah, for a few days. His uncle died recently. He has to go and help his aunt with the whole funeral business.” Masters frowned deeply. “Which means I’ll be left alone to deal with this whole crazy affair. I really need the help, but I can’t very well ask Mac not to go. His aunt’s his only relative now, and she’ll need him.”
“If you need any help, Leonard…”
“Thanks, Bill, but this is my business. Anyway, I should be able to cope, once this guy’s in a cell.” Masters shook his head. “Before he leaves, I’ll have Mac call Jasper to come see me, and tell him to keep quiet or I’ll have him behind bars for interfering with the investigation.”
“Hope that’ll be sufficient for him to shut his mouth,” Evers muttered. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for all this, Leonard. I don’t know what the hell it could be… and I sure don’t like it.”
“I don’t like it either, Bill,” the sheriff answered sombrely. “I don’t like any of this… and like you, it’s scaring the hell out of me.”
* * *
Accompanied by his friend Jamie Lewis, Johnny Munroe had gone to the clinic straight after his return to Les Arbrisseaux. When the tall stranger had fought back, there at Old Joe’s cabin, Johnny had been thrown to the ground and had hurt his left wrist in his fall. His wrist was now a disturbingly bluish colour, and fearing that he might have broken something, he wanted to see a doctor as soon as possible. Unfortunately for him, as he was briefly checked over upon his arrival, his condition was not deemed that pressing, and he was made to wait, until such moment as someone would have time to see him.
Grumbling and showing plainly that he wasn’t very happy about the situation, Johnny sat down in the waiting room, his hand simply wrapped in an icepack, Jamie sitting by his side. The latter had very little to do, and so, even though no-one asked, he was only too happy to explain how Johnny had been injured. Of course, he told his own version of the story – how they heroically helped Sheriff Masters get his hands on a stranger who had killed that crazy Old Joe Benson, who lived in the middle of Devil’s Bayou.
The boys were still in the waiting room when they saw the sheriff and his deputy arrive with the bodies of both Old Joe and the stranger, and they watched with interest as the two lawmen entered by a back door and were taken to a room at the end of the only corridor they could see from where they were sitting. The sheriff gave the boys a hard look that sent a shiver down Johnny’s spine.
He wondered if Masters didn’t suspect the truth regarding Joe’s death. It didn’t seem possible, however: the stranger made a perfect – and unexpectedly welcome – patsy. Of course, Jasper and Scarecrow trying to kill him with the sheriff there might not have been the best of ideas – but quite frankly, what else could they do exactly? The stranger knew too much and could have denounced them all.
Cautiously, Johnny didn’t share his worries with Jamie, in fear that someone would hear them. In any case, that poor, stupid, devil-may-care Jamie would have dismissed his fears with a wave of the hand: Jamie’s only thoughts were to have fun and please himself, never thinking about the consequences. In that respect, he was very much like Jasper.
It was with some nervousness that Johnny kept waiting for a treatment that failed to come as soon as he would have hoped. At this point, Jamie, bored out of his wits, had left him, to go join the others at Sam’s Diner, and tell them about the arrival of the two bodies at the clinic. The pain in Johnny’s wrist slowly subsided, and he started to doze, almost despite himself; it had been a long and tiring day.
It had already been nearly two hours, and Johnny was now deciding if he should ask again to see the doctor, or if he should simply leave, considering his wrist wasn’t hurting him that much anymore, when he heard a sudden commotion down the corridor.
He shot to his feet, and went to the waiting room door to see; a nurse was running from the door behind which he had seen the two bodies disappear earlier. She collided with Sheriff Masters and Doctor Evers, who just had left the latter’s office. She was repeating the same words, again and again, stammering as she spoke:
“He’s alive… He’s in there… Oh God, it can’t be…”
Johnny frowned in perplexity, wondering exactly what could be happening; he watched as Masters and Evers left the nurse where they had met her, to run down the corridor to the door, and went inside the room behind.
The nurse was near to tears and the woman keeping the reception desk came to her and took her into an empty room, trying to comfort her at the same time. Johnny bit his lower lip, watching the door behind which Evers and Masters had disappeared. Only at that moment did he see the word ‘Mortuary’ written on the door.
The young man took a look around; the two women had disappeared from view and he could only hear nervous sobs coming from the nearby room. His curiosity got the better of him; quickly but quietly, he approached the Mortuary door.
He felt for sure that Jasper would want to know what was happening…
* * *
“That’s definitely the spot where he landed.”
Sergeant Palmer stood from his crouched position on the ground in front of a big tree, which he had been perusing with attention for the last few minutes. He looked up at the sky; the branches above his head were either broken or stripped of their foliage. He reached for one of the lower damaged twigs, pulled a piece of torn dark cloth from it and examined it. It was covered with blood. He grunted.
“The branches must have broken his fall considerably,” he said to his companions who were standing a short distance behind him. “It wasn’t a soft landing, that’s for sure, but it wasn’t as hard as it should have been, considering the height he fell from.” He threw the piece of cloth to the ground. “He might have survived the fall,” he added coolly.
“Why am I not surprised?” Major Montgomery didn’t sound or look very happy. Ever since they had discovered, a few minutes ago, that Scarlet was not where he was supposed to be, he had been displaying a frown of frustration and barely contained anger upon his face.
Palmer simply nodded, thoughtfully stroking his chin. He was the most experienced tracker amongst the group, and was patiently examining the surrounding ground with his expert eye, trying to get a clear picture of what had happened. “If the fall didn’t kill him,” he said, “he was probably seriously wounded.”
“I’ll say,” Williams groused darkly. “The major put a bullet in his skull.”
“Maybe it just grazed him,” Baxter suggested.
Palmer crouched again, to further examine the spot where Scarlet’s body had so roughly landed. “The ground is soaked with blood. He was bleeding heavily.”
“But if he had been dead, or seriously wounded, he would still be here,” Montgomery said sharply. “His recuperative time depends largely on the seriousness of his injuries. He fell from the chopper about three hours ago. If he wasn’t as seriously wounded as you suggested, could it be possible for him to have already healed – and then simply left?”
“No, sir,” Palmer replied, turning to look at his commander. “I don’t know if he was dead or not, but he certainly didn’t walk from this spot by himself.”
“And how can you be so sure?” The frown on Montgomery’s face deepened.
Palmer pointed to the ground and slowly followed a trail with his finger. “See these tracks? Scarlet was wearing combat boots similar to ours. Those weren’t left by combat boots.”
“So someone else came,” Williams realised.
Palmer nodded again. “Whether Scarlet was alive or dead, that person dragged him away in that direction.” He pointed to the ground, in an easterly direction. “Look at these other marks. They were left by his feet dragging on the ground.” He stood up, and started to follow the trail he had found, his companions walking closely behind. They could see the traces in question, mixed with deep footprints – the same kind of footprints he had found which were not made by combat boots – imprinted in the muddy ground. Obviously, whoever it was who had taken Scarlet, that person had difficulty carrying the body with him – the weight was probably hindering his progress. There were traces of blood all the way, smeared on the ground and surrounding foliage.
The men walked in silence, guns at the ready, looking all around, almost expecting to see someone appear from behind the trees. They soon arrived at a river of dark and gloomy water and they stopped.
Imprinted in the thick mud of the bank, they could see the deep marks of a small boat that had obviously been launched from there very recently.
The trail they had followed ended there.
Montgomery did nothing to hide his irritation, as he looked up and down the stream, hoping to see something; the surface of the water was empty of any boat, as far as the eye could see. There were only a few dead trees floating down the stream, which churned up a sickening yellow froth on the surface of the muddy water.
He cursed. “Damn it all! That’s all we needed. Where could they have gone to now?”
“Downriver,” Petroski suggested. “By the looks of it, they left very recently from this spot. We didn’t hear an engine, so they might be using a rowboat? And since they’re already out of view, I’d say they went with the current. Not against it.”
“They’re on a small craft,” Baxter concurred, examining the marks on the bank. “Very light, by the looks of it. Yes, I would also say they’ve gone downriver.”
“There’s a small town downstream,” Montgomery concurred with a thoughtful nod. “Les Arbrisseaux. Whoever found Scarlet might be taking him there for treatment – since our man is wounded.” His brow furrowed anew. “So we’ll follow the river then. And we will look for any trace of this damned boat. Maybe it has gone to Les Arbrisseaux, but it could stop anywhere between here and there. Whatever, I want it to be found.”
“It could have gone across to the other side,” Williams remarked.
“Thank you for volunteering, Williams. You and Baxter will cross the river and follow it down from the other bank.”
Baxter seemed bewildered by the order. He looked towards the river, with hesitation. “But... how are we going to get across?”
“I don’t care!” Montgomery snapped, turning to his men. “Find a way, that’s all. We have a mission to perform, and I won’t let anything or anyone stand in our way.” He glared at his men. “I want that microchip Scarlet is carrying,” he said between his teeth. “And I want Scarlet dead. And I mean permanently.” He spun on his heel, turning his back on the others. “Now get a move on. We have work to do!”
He started walking, and Petroski and Palmer followed, in silence. Left behind, Baxter and Williams watched them go morosely, before Williams finally turned to his grim-looking companion.
“You’re not afraid of crossing that river, are you?” he asked with curiosity.
“Of course not,” Baxter replied, scoffing and shaking his head. “I have no concern about that. The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out.”
“But there’s still something bothering you.”
Baxter scowled. Being a now Mysteronised agent meant that he possessed all of his human counterpart’s expertise – but also, some of his natural concerns and uncertainties. “I still hate alligators,” he muttered under his breath. He then turned cold eyes towards the river. “Come on. Let’s find a way to cross safely.”
The two men started walking up the river, in the opposite direction from their companions.
* * *
Not that far from there, crouched behind thick bushes which concealed her perfectly from her enemies, Rhapsody Angel watched attentively as the WAAF commandos separated into two groups to follow the river.
Delayed in her trek by a terrain that presented many more obstacles than she had counted on – she nearly fell into quicksand and had to make a detour to find a passage across a dangerous-looking patch of quicksand – she had arrived barely minutes after the soldiers had discovered the spot where Captain Scarlet had landed. She had stayed hidden, and spied on them as they made their discoveries and followed the trail of the vanished Spectrum officer, hearing and witnessing everything.
Now that they were gone, she rose from her hiding place and retraced her steps to the spot where Scarlet’s body had hit the ground. She didn’t expect to find anything more than what the soldiers had already found; in any case, their footprints were now all over the place and if there was any other clue left to find, that was enough to erase it.
She stood over the disturbed ground where she could still see the body’s imprint on the crushed twigs and flattened grass; there were traces of blood all around. Her eyes scanned the ground for a moment longer, before rising to the sky above; she could see the many branches and twigs through which Scarlet had fallen some hours before. Such a long fall, she told herself, trying hard not to shiver at the thought of it. And it looks like it was a rough one…
Her eyes narrowed as she saw something caught on a branch, which was flapping in the wind. At first, she thought it was a leaf, but then, she noticed it was dark, and had an odd, square shape; something colourful was printed on it.
Frowning, she stood on tiptoe; it was dangling on a twig just within reach and she snatched it, almost losing it as her fingers closed around it. It was hard and had a leathery feel to the touch.
It was only when she brought it back to eye level that she realised that it was the remains of a badly damaged cardholder. The half-torn cover was printed with what was left of a Spectrum emblem.
Although she already knew which one it was, Rhapsody’s heart missed a beat when she opened the cardholder to find the dirty and blood-smeared I.D. card of Captain Scarlet still inside it.
Probably, Rhapsody realised, it was torn from his uniform pocket in his fall.
She crouched down and sighed heavily as she examined the ground again. She had to grimly concur with Palmer’s deduction that Scarlet had been badly wounded. She also had to agree with the fact that he hadn’t left by himself and that someone else found him – and took him. She had followed the same trail the commandos did – so her conclusion was not in any way different.
But who found you, Paul? she asked herself with concern. And where did that person take you?
Friend or foe, it didn’t make any difference. If Scarlet was wounded – and he was – he would heal eventually, and that meant someone would witness his incredibly fast recuperative powers. What would be that person’s reaction to this miraculous feat was anyone’s guess, but Rhapsody was apprehensive it could mean some kind of trouble for her colleague. At the very least, it would arouse questions, to which he would not be able to provide any answer. Not without imperilling Spectrum’s security, anyway – and perhaps even shedding some light on the real nature of the organisation’s fight against the Mysterons.
Right. You’re getting much too far ahead of yourself, Dianne. No sense in worrying about such abstract notions for now. The important thing is to find Paul – quickly. And before those murderous bastards do.
But where to look was another question. She rubbed her chin thoughtfully as she rose to her feet. Should she follow the same trail as the commandos? It seemed to her that, that way, she would always be a step behind them, and that they would certainly find Scarlet before her. And certainly, she couldn’t fight them all – she was all alone and completely unarmed.
Okay – time for a change of strategy then.
Until a few minutes ago, Rhapsody’s priority was to beat the WAAF commandos to finding Scarlet. That was still the case, but as her opponents had a good head start on her, she now had to do this a different way.
She needed help. If someone had found Scarlet after his fall, that meant that there were people living around there somewhere; and some of these people, she reckoned, would probably have a means of communication – a phone, at the very least. Her new option would then be to try to warn Spectrum – or contact the proper authority, if there was any nearby – and ask for help to locate her missing colleague before the Mysteronised commandos.
At the moment, it seemed to be her best alternative.
She looked around, getting her bearings and deciding which direction to take; from what she recalled of the area’s map, the nearest settlement of any importance was downriver, on the western shore, towards the south. Les Arbrisseaux, she had heard Montgomery say. She remembered the name. The commandos were heading in that direction, but as the river followed a serpentine course, probably filled with obstacles along the way, they would take a very long time before reaching it. She, on the other hand, would be there much faster if she were to cut through the woods and head directly towards the town.
Still, she realised, it would be hours of walking…
But do I have any choice? she asked herself.
She wiped her sweat-drenched brow with her forearm. She felt hot, and she wondered if it was because of the warmth and dampness surrounding her, or if it wasn’t some fever due to the not-so-well-tended injury to her arm. She shrugged, trying to dismiss it. She still had things to do, and she couldn’t let this get in the way of her work.
She didn’t hesitate much longer in taking her decision, and started to jog… hoping that this time, the terrain would be more favourable that it had been up until now. And maybe, she would find someone along the way, who would be willing to help her.
The race against time had started again.
* * *
Scarlet woke up with a start and sat up abruptly, breathing rapidly. He felt like he had awakened from a very bad dream that he couldn’t remember, his heart beating fast, his brain pounding against his skull. He felt hot all over, and was famished and thirsty, his tongue thick inside his mouth. He looked around with haggard eyes, dazed and disoriented, trying to clear his mind and concentrate on where he could be.
He was lying on a bunk, made of a thin mattress, in a dark, very small room, barely lit by a dim fluorescent light recessed into a grey concrete ceiling, its plastic cover filthy with dirt and dead bugs. The floor and three of the walls surrounding him were made of the same, obviously solid concrete.
The remaining wall, that he was facing, was made out of sturdy steel bars.
I’m in a cell, he realised in confusion. A prison cell… How…?
The memory of what had happened in the bayou, outside of Joe’s cabin, suddenly came back to him. He closed his eyes in sadness at the thought of the old man’s death, and felt a wave of anger for those who had killed him – and also tried to kill the only witness of that heinous crime.
Instinctively, he reached for his shoulder, remembering the bullet that had hit him. It was healed, under the new grey shirt he was now wearing; there wasn’t even a single scar apparent. He looked down at himself; the shirt replaced the one that had been covered with his own blood, when he had been shot, and he was wearing it over a grey tee-shirt. He was still wearing the trousers that Joe had given him, but he had no boots on; obviously someone had removed them before putting him in this cell.
He heard the sound of a lock being turned and raised his head to look beyond the iron bars, where a door was open and a tall, black man, wearing a uniform, was approaching. Scarlet didn’t move as the man came up to the bars of his cell, stopped and simply looked at him.
Scarlet recognised the man as the one who had shot him in the bayou.
The sheriff… Masters, Joe had called him.
For a few seconds, the man stood, immobile and silent, as he stared at Scarlet with something that looked like curiosity; it was becoming uncomfortable, and Scarlet, almost despite himself, found that he couldn’t stay still. He wiped his sweat-covered forehead in a nervous gesture. The sheriff tilted his head to one side.
“You’re awake already,” he said matter-of-factly. “Seems like we moved you to this cell not a moment too soon, then.”
Scarlet swallowed hard and slowly got to his feet. “Sheriff Masters?” he asked, his voice sounding hoarse. He cleared his throat, and noticed the frown on the black man’s brow.
“How the hell do you know my name?”
Scarlet felt ill-at-ease under the sheriff’s very intense stare. “Joe told me,” he answered. “He told me he had called you, after he found me.”
“So you had time to talk to him before you killed him?”
Scarlet frowned at the accusation. “I didn’t kill him.”
Masters scoffed. “Right. You would say that. I found you with the murder weapon in your hands. Your fingerprints are all over it.”
Scarlet took a step forward. Masters raised a warning hand. “Stay where you are, mister.” The Englishman stopped instantly, and the sheriff sighed. “You have the right to remain silent…” he started, and Scarlet nearly rolled his eyes upon hearing him. It sounded way too much like a badly written line from a cop and gangster movie. He wondered how he could even remember that; he didn’t even remember any movie that clearly.
“Look, I know all the evidence is against me,” he said, interrupting Masters in the middle of his homily. “But I can assure you – I didn’t kill Joe. Why would I have killed him?”
Masters shrugged. “I don’t know – maybe because you didn’t want to go to prison for poaching and he was stopping you from escaping before I arrived?”
“I am not a poacher,” Scarlet shot back.
“Who and what are you, then?”
“I…” Scarlet stopped himself, realising that even at this moment, he wasn’t even close to knowing who he was and what exactly he was doing in the bayou. Again, he searched his mind, frowning, trying desperately to remember. A twinge of pain hit him and he grunted, stopping instantly, knowing far too well that further effort would bring further pain.
As he returned his attention to the sheriff, he noted that the latter’s eyes were still riveted on him.
“I’m waiting, Mister.” Apparently, Masters didn’t seem to have noticed his momentary malaise.
“I… don’t know,” Scarlet finally admitted. “I… don’t remember.”
Masters raised a brow. “You don’t remember,” he repeated doubtfully, sounding exactly like Joe. “How convenient.”
“I know it seems ridiculous but –”
“Ridiculous, all right.” Masters half-turned to take a step in the direction of the door, plainly showing this way that he was about to leave. Scarlet shot to the bars, grabbing them, and called him back.
“Wait! You have to hear me out!”
Masters returned his attention to him, his eyes glaring. “I won’t listen to you until you tell me who you are.”
“I… I can’t tell you that. I can’t…” Scarlet felt desperately frustrated. If there was a moment when he would need to remember something as simple as his name, it was surely now, but it kept eluding him, as hard as he tried. His head started pounding anew.
Again, Masters seemed ready to leave, and suddenly, on an impulse, Scarlet shouted after him: “O’Hara!”
That stopped the sheriff right in his tracks and he turned back. “O’Hara?” he repeated. “That’s your name?”
Scarlet nodded, a little hesitantly. Where the hell did that name come from? he wondered. He had no idea. His left hand reached imperceptibly for the dog tags which he knew should be hanging from his neck, where he had seen the name ‘Scarlet’ earlier.
He couldn’t find them.
“Is this what you’re looking for?”
Scarlet watched as Masters reached for his shirt pocket, and extracted something from it; he saw the man’s fingers holding the thin chain, with the dog tags dangling from it. The sheriff raised the dog tags and narrowed his eyes at them.
“There’s something like a serial number on them,” he said. “And a word… A name perhaps? Scarlet?” Something like a sardonic smirk appeared on his lips. “Scarlet O’Hara? Are you saying that’s your name, Mister?”
Scarlet hesitated. Somehow, he felt that it wouldn’t be safe to answer, so he kept silent, and wondered why Masters seemed to find this name so unlikely. He watched as the sheriff approached to stand in front of the bars, keeping at a safe distance.
“Mister O’Hara,” Masters continued, scoffing, and putting the dog tags back into his pocket, “if that is your name – if you are not a poacher, like Joe thought you were – what was your business in Devil’s Bayou?”
Scarlet opened his mouth to answer that he didn’t know, but he stopped himself right away; he hesitated, not knowing how to respond to that question, realising that he had to find a credible answer to give.
Masters grunted with impatience. “If you didn’t kill Old Joe Benson – who did, then?” he snapped.
“The boys who came to see him,” Scarlet answered without hesitation. “One of them… Tall, blond… he used Joe’s gun against him.”
“Jasper Holland?” the sheriff suggested. “Why would he have killed him?”
Scarlet shook his head. “I don’t know… Joe said they wanted something from him… I don’t know what.”
“So Joe had time to confide in you? A stranger whom nobody knows and who he found poaching in the bayou? That makes perfect sense.”
“You don’t believe me,” Scarlet realised, noting the sarcasm in the sheriff’s voice.
“I’ve got plenty of reasons not to believe you,” Masters harshly replied. “Mainly, I don’t see why I would take the word of a stranger who refuses to tell me what his business in this area is over that of a local resident – whose father is a very influential businessman, I might add.”
“I wish I could tell you, Sheriff…” Scarlet murmured.
“You said you can’t. Why is that?”
“I… I don’t remember.”
“You said that already. You know how preposterous that sounds?”
Scarlet swallowed hard. He was very aware that it all seemed absurd. Or at the very least, not very credible. His shoulders sagged. “Nevertheless, it’s the truth. I don’t remember a thing. Not a single thing. Why I was in this area, who I am…”
Masters raised a sceptical brow. “You don’t remember who you are? And that name you just gave me? That… ridiculous name?”
Scarlet shrugged. “It just popped into my mind. I thought it might be my name?” He frowned. “Why is it so ridiculous to you?”
“You’re pretending not to know… Yeah, right,” the sheriff muttered. “And you don’t remember because… you suffered a shock or something?”
“I hurt my head.”
“You mean, when Jasper clubbed you with that gun? That’s what caused you to forget?” The sheriff still sounded doubtful.
“No, no,” Scarlet protested desperately. “Joe said I fell from a helicopter. I can barely remember even that. I know it must be true, but…”
Masters nodded. “He told me the same when he called me about you.”
“So you see I’m telling the truth! All I know is that I was lying in the woods, in pain – and Joe found me. After that, I must have lost consciousness, because then I woke up in his cabin. I had been hurt, and he looked after me. My leg –” Scarlet stopped in the middle of his sentence. How could he tell Masters that he had broken his leg, when obviously there wasn’t anything wrong with it now? Already, the sheriff didn’t believe most of what he was telling him.
Seeing that his prisoner now seemed reluctant to continue, Masters deeply sighed with impatience. “So you hurt your head and you forgot everything about yourself,” he said. “And you expect me to believe that.”
“I swear that’s the truth,” Scarlet answered bleakly. “I know I don’t have any apparent injury –”
“That’s another thing, Mister O’Hara,” Masters swiftly interrupted him. “You don’t have any apparent injury. But then, you just told me you fell from a helicopter – a fact that was confirmed by Joe Benson himself. And also...” He took a step forward, narrowing his eyes at his prisoner. “I shot you earlier. Put a bullet in your shoulder. Here.” The sheriff passed his left hand between the bars and poked at Scarlet’s shoulder at approximately the place where he knew the man had been injured. Scarlet didn’t move; the sheriff had his right hand resting on the butt of his gun, as an obvious warning for him to stay still.
“Now explain to me,” the black man continued in a low voice, “how is it that you don’t have any injury from that now?”
“I…” Scarlet shook his head, unable to answer. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t have a mark on your face from Jasper’s clubbing either,” Masters pursued. “And I know both of these injuries existed. I saw them. But now they’re gone. Can you explain that?”
“Sheriff, I wish I could…”
“Can you also explain to me what’s the deal with the X-ray pictures?”
“What X-ray pictures?” Scarlet asked with a frown, genuinely confused by this new question. “I don’t understand…”
“You wouldn’t now, would you? Well, I have yet another strange question for you, then: how did you manage to appear dead and then seemingly come back to life soon after?”
Now Scarlet’s brows rose skywards in obvious surprise. “What!?” he exclaimed, almost scoffing at the apparent accusation. “I don’t understand what you –” He stopped and looked awkwardly at the sheriff. He swallowed hard. “That’s impossible,” he said.
“That would seem to be obvious, wouldn’t it?” Masters’ cold remark sent a shiver down Scarlet’s spine, and yet again, he found himself unable to reply. The sheriff took a step back. “Well, Mister O’Hara, it would seem you can’t give me any answers to my questions. It’s quite a shame, I must admit. I was rather curious to learn a little more about all these strange… phenomena.”
“Sheriff, I genuinely don’t understand. Will you explain to me… What about those X-ray pictures? Did you find something wrong with me?” Scarlet was concerned now. He dejectedly shook his head. “Maybe that might explain… why I can’t remember anything? Please, tell me –”
“I’m sorry, mister. But I probably already said more than I should have. I guess that I’d better follow the directives I received regarding a case such as yours.”
Masters turned on his heel and started walking towards the door; it was obvious he intended to leave, but Scarlet found his last words far too ominous for his taste and he couldn’t help but call for the sheriff’s attention again: “What do you mean by ‘a case such as mine’? What directives are you talking about?”
Masters had opened the door; he stopped in his tracks, at the sound of his prisoner’s call, and turned one last time to face him. “Why, I’ll be calling Spectrum, of course,” he quietly answered. Scarlet could see by his intense stare that he was hoping to see a reaction from him; he was sadly disappointed. The prisoner could only stare back at him with a clueless expression. The sheriff shook his head. “You know what Spectrum is, do you?”
Scarlet frowned, trying to remember; he felt his headache increasing, and he shook his head. “No… I can’t say I do.”
“Well, if you don’t, maybe you’re on the level and you don’t know what it’s all about, then. It would appear your case is way out of my jurisdiction. Even considering you might have killed Old Joe. Which would be under my jurisdiction.”
“I did not kill him,” Scarlet repeated insistently.
“Whatever. Considering the circumstances, however, it’s all out of my hands now. We’ll see what Spectrum thinks of all this. And maybe, they will be able to help you remember… assuming you’re not faking this amnesia of yours.” The sheriff stepped outside. “Don’t get too comfortable. You won’t be staying here very long.” And with that, he closed the door behind him and locked it, leaving his prisoner alone to ponder his situation.
Scarlet made another attempt to call him. “Sheriff! Wait, you have to tell me… I want to know… What does it all mean? What the devil is this Spectrum you’re talking about?”
If the sheriff heard him, he didn’t return. Scarlet suddenly felt his mounting headache seemingly explode inside of his head, sending a wave of pain that made his knees buckle underneath him. He moaned in pain, reaching for his head, and barely able to stand on his feet, went down into a crouching position. He clasped his hands to his head; that’s when he felt something wet dripping from his nose, and running into his mouth with a salty taste. He wiped it with his hand and looked at his fingers.
They were covered with blood.
His own blood.
“Good Lord,” he muttered under his breath, opening eyes wide with perplexity and fear. “What the hell is happening to me?”
It was with great difficulty that he stumbled and almost crawled, to his bunk; the pain in his head was almost impossible to fight, and his body was shaking, barely responding to him.
He fell onto the mattress, and felt darkness, mercifully, engulf his burning mind and body.
* * *
When Leonard Masters turned around after locking the door, he found himself facing young Jasper Holland; the boy seemed to have appeared behind him out of nowhere. Not expecting to see anyone there, the sheriff nearly jumped in surprise, and just managed to stop himself from reacting too violently.
“How come he’s alive?” the youth asked, his face a mask of coldness.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Masters snapped back, frowning.
“You asked for me,” Jasper answered.
That was true, Masters reflected. He had asked his deputy Mac to get Jasper, before he left for Baton Rouge. The sheriff however didn’t comment and passed the young man, grabbing his arm and taking him along with him. “I mean, you shouldn’t be here, next to the cells,” he said, grumbling. “You are not allowed to come near the prisoners.”
“What ‘prisoners’? You only have one!”
“Don’t play smart with me, boy, or I will have more than one in a minute! You know what I mean!”
“You said he was dead,” Jasper remarked. “Back there, at Joe’s place.”
They had reached Masters’ office, and the latter threw his key onto his desk, before taking his seat, in front of a cup of coffee that he had poured himself earlier. He looked up at the young man who was glaring at him, and shrugged. “Obviously, I made a mistake.”
“Bullshit,” Jasper spat.
“Be polite with me, boy,” Masters quickly warned before Jasper could say another word. “I’m really this close to throwing you in there too, you hear? You are fortunate that this guy isn’t dead. Or I would have arrested you for murder.”
“I was only defending myself,” Jasper protested. “We told you already… and you saw it too! That guy is dangerous! He killed Old Joe.”
“So you keep telling me,” Masters said, leaning back on his seat and putting his feet up onto the corner of his desk. He nodded towards the open door, in the general direction of the cells. “He said you’re the one who killed Joe.”
Jasper scoffed derisively. “Don’t tell me you believe him!”
“Should I believe him?” Masters asked with a raised brow.
“Look, Sheriff, I don’t like that kind of accusation! And I don’t have to accept it! I’m no killer, not like that stinking poacher!”
Masters examined the young man closely; there was no indication in his general disposition that would tell him that he could be guilty of any crime. But then, the sheriff didn’t count on him being easy to find out if by any chance he was guilty.
“He says he ain’t a poacher,” Masters pursued evenly. He picked up his cup of coffee, and grimaced as he tasted it; the beverage had grown cold, some time ago.
“Well, obviously he’s lying,” Jasper noted. “What else could he have been doing in the bayou? Joe said he was a poacher, didn’t he? So maybe Joe saw it all… and that would be the reason why that guy killed him. That makes sense! And… didn’t that guy say he didn’t remember a thing? So how could he remember he ain’t a poacher?”
“That’s assuming he’s telling the truth about his amnesia,” Masters replied. He put his feet down and straightened up in his seat, glaring up at the young man facing him. “Say, how come you know that?” he asked suspiciously. “Exactly how long were you standing in front of that door? What else did you hear?”
“More than enough to know this guy ain’t clean, Sheriff. That whole business about him… It smells rotten. I mean, really rotten.” Jasper narrowed his eyes at the sheriff. “What does Spectrum have to do with him, anyway?”
“That’s not for you to know,” Masters replied harshly, as much as for the youth’s benefit as to hide the fact that he himself had not a clue about that specific question.
“Oh, then, maybe I’ll be able to help you out here, Sheriff,” Jasper said with a faint smile.
“You, helping me out?”
“Of course. Y’see, I know a thing or two about Spectrum…”
Masters rolled his eyes. “I wonder what you could possibly know, boy.”
“Well, for starters, I know this: Spectrum fights terrorists, right?”
“It’s part of their jurisdiction,” Masters said, and then cursed himself, as he realised he should probably not even have commented on that subject… and shouldn’t even listen to whatever the boy might have to say.
“You know these new guys they’ve been fighting… with that weird name… the Mysterons – you heard of ‘em, right?”
“Yeah… I heard the name.”
“You know, there’s crazy rumours about them… It’s all over Worldnet, I read about it. The World Government, they’re trying to hide the whole thing, but when you know where to look, you can learn the truth. These Mysterons, y’see, they’re not even from this Earth. They would be from Mars, and… you know, it’s said they’re able to wake up the dead…”
At the first mention of ‘Mars’, Masters, who was starting to take another gulp of his coffee, nearly choked himself with it and put his cup down onto his desk, roughly. “Now, stop talking nonsense!” he snapped angrily, looking up at Jasper again. “What are you driving at, exactly? That guy in there would be a zombie, or an alien from another planet? He ain’t got antennas or green skin, you know!”
“But that would explain everything, Sheriff! He was dead in the bayou, don’t deny it. He was dead and he came back… Johnny saw it all at the clinic.”
Masters jumped to his feet. “Now I should be worried! Johnny ain’t nothing but a tattletale liar! He doesn’t know what he saw, he wasn’t there!”
“Yes, he was,” Jasper shot back. “He was in the waiting room for his arm, and he saw you running to the mortuary when –”
“So that makes him a first line witness, then? Listen, boy – there’s a logical explanation about all this. And it doesn’t involve Martians, I can assure you that.”
“Then tell me what this explanation is, Sheriff.”
“I don’t see why I would have to, even if I had the expertise. I’m not a doctor.”
“Then maybe Doc Evers could –”
“That’s enough!” Masters pointed a warning finger at Jasper. “Now you hear me, Jasper Holland: you will stop this crazy talking about Mysterons and aliens. You will keep quiet about all this, and about this stranger in my cell coming back from the dead. If I hear that you, or any of your stupid friends say anything about this to anyone in this town, I’ll have you all arrested for disturbing the peace!”
“You ain’t gonna hide the truth forever, Sheriff,” Jasper challenged. “If any of this was as crazy as you say, why would Spectrum come for him? You see it all makes sense.”
“Whatever business Spectrum might have with this guy concerns only Spectrum,” the sheriff replied harshly.
“Will they take that freak away from here?”
“He’s not a freak,” Masters warned. “And how the hell should I know if they’ll take him away? If they do, they’ll have good reason, and I’ll have nothing to say, even if this man’s suspected of murdering Joe Benson. Spectrum business takes all precedence over any police business. Even a murder in a small locality like ours. I might not like it, but I have no choice but to accept that fact – and co-operate.”
“Yeah, Spectrum deals with worldwide security,” Jasper reasoned. “They would have the power to do whatever they want, without anyone asking questions. So you see the alien theory ain’t that crazy… The Government wouldn’t want us to know. Spectrum would make sure of that.”
“Of course…” Masters said, rolling his eyes anew. “That old conspiracy theory again. Have you considered this guy might be a down to earth terrorist, boy? After all, Spectrum’s an anti-terrorism organisation. But I don’t want to assume – I might be as wrong as you are.”
“And what if I’m not wrong, Sheriff?” Jasper replied.
Masters glared at him. “As I said, whatever the reasons Spectrum might have to interrogate this man, it’s their business, and I won’t get my nose in it. And you should do the same.” He leaned over his desk and looked directly at the young man. “And I’m warning you for the last time, Jasper: you keep quiet about all this, and you don’t go spreading crazy rumours around… Or else!” His eyes flashed. “I’m serious, you’re this close to getting yourself arrested. I don’t care who your old man is, you’d better keep your nose clean. I’m keeping my eyes on you, kid… and on your little gang of punks.”
“All right, Sheriff. We’ll keep quiet… Don’t want no trouble with the law.”
Masters scoffed, as he reached for his phone. “Well, that would be a first. Now get the hell out of here, right away. I’ve got an important phone call to make.”
“Sure, Sheriff, whatever you say.” Jasper sighed as he moved towards the exit.
“And I don’t want to see your face around here, if I don’t call for you!” Masters called after him.
He watched the young man shrug his shoulders as he disappeared from his view, and heard his footsteps decreasing in the distance. A few seconds later, he heard the main door being open and closed.
Masters grunted with irritation, and pensively put the phone down; he was wondering, very seriously, if the stranger in the cell had not told him the truth about what had happened in the bayou. Thinking about it, it was quite probable that Jasper had killed Old Joe. Masters knew there had been some trouble between the two of them, but he couldn’t really figure out exactly what it could be, and had no idea if it would have been sufficient to lead to murder.
Still, the stranger was the most likely suspect. For starters, he seemed to have a motive, unlike Jasper; and all the evidence pointed to him as Joe’s murderer. Moreover, the murder weapon was in his hands when he was found, and he was threatening Jasper and his gang – who had gladly testified against him. Of course, if Jasper was the real killer, and if his buddies were witnesses, or even accomplices, it was possible that they would do their very best to exonerate their friend – even if it meant ganging up on an innocent man.
But exactly how innocent is that stranger? Masters wondered. Joe said he was a poacher, but he could have been wrong. Obviously there was more to this man than met the eye.
The way he had seemingly come back from the dead was staggering; of course, the sheriff had heard of so-called ‘Yoga masters’, or other such meditation practices, who had so much control over their own body that they were able to slow down their metabolism to a point where they would seemingly stop breathing and that their heart would appear to have stopped beating. Masters would have readily accepted that the stranger could have been an adept of this strange technique – if he had not been witness of those other strange happenings – like the surprisingly rapid way he had healed from his wounds and the X-ray phenomenon.
No, there was obviously something else; something that made this man O’Hara – if it was his name, and Masters doubted that very much – someone of interest to Spectrum. Someone who was to be considered so dangerous that he was not to be approached, and Spectrum had to be contacted right away, for them to deal with him personally.
But there it was: the man was in Masters’ cell, and didn’t seem at all that dangerous. If anything, he looked confused by his situation; which made the sheriff even more uncomfortable. He didn’t want to believe Jasper’s ‘speculations’ – it all sounded way too absurd to consider. But even without taking this into account, Masters had to admit that this was all very unusual; and he didn’t like it.
I’ll be losing a murder suspect, he thought grimly. Or, at the very least, a witness to a murder. He didn’t expect Spectrum to leave the man to him until the investigation of Joe’s death was through. Unfortunately, like he had said to Jasper, Spectrum’s business took priority, and a little business like a simple murder in a small town wouldn’t convince them to let the local Law follow its own course.
Oh well… Maybe they’ll be helpful in discovering what happened, then, Masters reflected, as he picked up the phone once again. I can always ask them if they need what little expertise I could offer them.
Yeah… I wish!
* * *
“So, Jasper, what’s the news?”
Jasper Holland found his friends – all those who had been with him when he had visited and killed Joe Benson – waiting for him at Sam’s Diner, where they had agreed to meet after Johnny came back from the clinic with his stunning news. As Jasper had been asked by the deputy sheriff to come see Sheriff Masters, they all were a little nervous to learn what it was all about.
The diner was almost empty, except for Sam himself at the counter and a lone couple near the door. The gang was reunited at the far end of the diner, and they were watching Jasper approach, expectantly. Curiously, their leader didn’t look worried when he joined them at their table. He took the Coke bottle resting in Scarecrow’s hand and before the latter could even protest, took a swig from it before addressing a nod to Johnny.
“You were right – the guy’s alive.”
Scarecrow gasped. “How could that be? He was dead when the sheriff took him! We all saw it!”
“I know,” Jasper grumbled. “I don’t know how he did it. Guy must be a freak…”
“Sure must be!” Jamie concurred. “Nobody can come back from the dead like that!”
“You should have been there at the clinic,” Johnny added. “Everybody was freaking out! I nearly did myself… I had to come and tell you all…”
“Keep it down,” Jasper hissed between his teeth. “The sheriff just told me not to talk about any of this and not to spread any kind of crazy rumours around. Or we’ll all be thrown in the jail.”
“Is that why the sheriff asked for you?” Dallas Fenmore, the last member of the gang, asked.
Jasper nodded again, grimly. “Yeah. He wanted to warn me. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not that eager to go to jail. Even for one night. So we have to keep it quiet.” He looked around, making sure no-one was paying any attention to them. It wasn’t the case.
“Do you think Masters suspects… something?” Johnny asked him. That was the question that was in all their minds and was making them nervous. Jasper shook his head.
“He might suspect things are not as clear as we told him,” he said. “The stranger’s been telling him that he didn’t kill Joe and that it was me who did it.”
“Calm down, Jamie – obviously, Masters didn’t believe him: he hasn’t arrested me, as you can see. He must still think the stranger’s the killer – or the most likely suspect, anyway.” He chuckled. “Maybe he’s afraid of what my dad would do, if ever he was wrong about his suspicions too… Elections are near, and he wouldn’t want to lose ‘em.”
“How long before he changes his mind?” Johnny asked in grim concern. “Ya know, if the stranger starts to get convincing –”
“I don’t know about that,” Jasper said. “And I ain’t sure if I want to take that chance. Even if the sheriff doesn’t get any proof, if he gets suspicious, it might get complicated for us.”
“We wouldn’t be able to return to Joe’s place, you think?” Jamie asked.
“Not if the sheriff keeps his eyes on us,” Jasper said. “And he told me he would… just to make sure we’ll keep quiet.”
“Damned,” Dallas muttered. “Now that the old fool ain’t there anymore, we would have been free to do whatever we please. This had to happen.”
“We were lucky,” Scarecrow retorted. “If that stranger had not been there to take the fall, we could have been in deep trouble.”
“The sheriff wouldn’t have gone to Joe’s place today if not for the stranger to begin with,” Jasper retorted. “It’s all his fault we have to wait now. But I can guarantee you, boys, we ain’t waiting for long. We’ll get our business done soon. For the moment, we have to do something about the stranger.”
“What can we do?”
“I don’t know yet, Dallas… But this I know: if we do something, we have to do it fast. Y’see, Spectrum is coming over to see that guy.”
Jamie, who was drinking from his bottle of Coke, nearly choked on hearing this, and put it down noisily. “Spectrum?!” he gasped in complete surprise. “What did they have to do with anything?!
“Who’s that guy, anyway?” Dallas asked in turn.
“That’s another thing,” Jasper said. “I overheard him talking to Masters. He says he doesn’t remember a thing about who he was – and what he was doing in the bayou. He’s supposed to have amnesia, after falling from a helicopter…”
Jamie raised a doubtful brow. “You believe that crap is true?”
“How the hell should I know?” Jasper grumbled. “Masters doesn’t seem to believe it, mind you. So that doesn’t make the stranger’s credible. That gives us some time.”
“Not long, I think,” Scarecrow said grimly.
“The more I think about this guy,” Johnny said, “the more it gives me the creeps. He’s a freak all right. Nobody could revive the way he did.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Jasper concurred. “Y’see, I’m thinking about that stuff I read on Worldnet… about these Mysteron aliens…”
“You’re serious?” Scarecrow asked with a doubting frown. “You believe all that stuff they say? There ain’t no proof, you know!”
“I’m liable to believe it, when I think ‘bout what Johnny witnessed,” Jasper replied, scowling. “And what about what we all saw? There can’t be no other explanation. This guy was dead, pure and simple. No way a normal human being can return from death, you know that as well as I do. And now Spectrum is coming… He’s gotta be an alien terrorist.”
“I’ll buy that,” Johnny said with an approving nod. The others kept themselves from rolling their eyes. Johnny would approve of anything Jasper would say, just to stay in his good graces. “I always thought the Government was hiding the truth from everyone about those Mysteron guys. Guess that’s right, then…”
“Yeah, okay,” Scarecrow sighed. “So let’s say you’re right. Freak or not, what will we do if someone starts believing what this guy says? We’ll be in trouble, big time.”
“Maybe Spectrum will take this freak away?” Johnny suggested. “Then all our problems will be over.”
“Ya wanna think before talking, Johnny?” Jasper grumbled. “I would prefer if they don’t do that, y’know. They take that freak away, they interrogate him… and they might learn the truth about what happened. They believe him, and then they make a call to Masters… and then we’re all in deep trouble, and it’ll be too late to do anything about it.”
“You already have something in mind?” Dallas asked in turn.
Jasper shrugged. “Not yet. But we’ll think of something. In the meantime, let’s keep an eye on the sheriff’s office. We gotta grab any chance we’ll get. And not hesitate to do whatever’s necessary to keep the freak from babbling too much.” He took another gulp from his bottle, and then his eyes became very cold. “And if anyone gets in the way, whoever he might be, even the sheriff or those Spectrum guys, they gotta get the same. There ain’t nobody gonna get in our way now… You have my word on that, boys…”
* * *
Ever so slowly, Max Laborteaux put the call he had just received on hold, a thoughtful expression on his face.
The phone call was from a little town called Les Arbrisseaux, set inside the limits of Devil’s Bayou. The sheriff of the place, Leonard Masters, the only authority in the area, had contacted him about a man found in the swamp, possibly a poacher, and the prime suspect in a murder case. The man had apparently revived from death in the local clinic – and X-ray scans of his body had shown a positive image. Faced with these strange occurrences, the sheriff had followed standard procedures and had reported them to the nearest Spectrum office.
In this case, the New Orleans office.
A faint smile spread on Laborteaux’s thin lips, as he recalled the sheriff’s report: the man seemed to suffer from amnesia, not even recalling his own name, and had only given the name ‘O’Hara’ when he had been arrested. However, he was wearing dog tags with a serial number and a different name engraved on them.
And, to boot, an amnesiac Scarlet.
“O’Hara indeed,” Laborteaux muttered, chuckling.
There was some humour in this situation, he reflected; their quarry was in a prison cell, in Les Arbrisseaux, and only he, an agent of the Mysterons working inside a Spectrum office, knew about this.
Sheriff Masters had assured him of his full co-operation, and that he would keep the prisoner in custody, until Spectrum came for him.
This is far too easy… But an opportunity like this will not repeat itself.
Laborteaux chuckled anew, just before he took the call back, and regained his serious demeanour. “Sheriff Masters,” he said to his caller, in a very official voice, “I just informed base, and received their instructions. Yes, do keep hold of your Mister O’Hara for us.” His smile widened into an evil, satisfied grin. “I’ll be contacting a Spectrum unit currently in your area right away. You will hand your prisoner over to them.” He nodded slowly, and his thoughts flew to the Mysteronised WAAF soldiers, under the command of Major Montgomery. “I’ll call you back in a short while with further instructions of how they will take delivery of him. Please, be careful… This man is to be considered very dangerous. And again, Sheriff… Thank you so much for your help. It is much appreciated.”
He hung up the phone, very slowly, his smile broadening even more as he sat back onto his chair.
“The Mysterons certainly appreciate it,” he added to himself with dry humour.