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
After shouting his warning to Masters which prompted the sheriff to duck down to avoid being shot, Scarlet had done the same, throwing himself down onto the back seat of the car. As a result, he barely saw what happened afterwards, and could only make educated guesses, judging by the movements he felt from the vehicle and the various sounds he was hearing, as Masters put the car into gear and made good their escape.
Long minutes after the car had hit MacGibbons’s killer, Scarlet was still lying uncomfortably on the seat, feeling every bump of the racing vehicle. From his position, he could see the almost indistinguishable green blur of the trees passing by the window. He tried to push himself up straight, but it was a near impossible task, with his hands restrained to his body, and the bumps in the road making it even more difficult to get his balance. He grimaced in pain when his head roughly hit the side of the door, after a more violent jump of the car.
He was even more confused with the situation than he had been up until now. He couldn’t imagine who those men who had attacked them could be, nor why they had so ruthlessly killed the sheriff’s deputy. He couldn’t explain at all why he had this odd ominous feeling, even before they had appeared. All he knew was that there was a threat coming, and after the lethal meeting with those men, there was no doubt in his mind that this feeling was about them. They represented a danger – a deadly danger, for him and possibly to anyone who crossed their path.
He wished he could understand why and how he knew this; it was a complete mystery to him. He just was very glad that Masters was fleeing, as far away as possible and as fast as the car would allow. But this deep sensation of being threatened didn’t leave him. A cold shiver ran down his spine, at the mere thought of these men. He knew with grim certainty that if they got their hands on him, it could be the end.
The way he was struggling just to get his balance was a painful reminder that there was little he could do to defend himself. If only he wasn’t restrained like this… Maybe he wouldn’t feel so trapped, so powerless…
He looked down at the handcuffs holding his wrists, twisting them almost to the breaking point to examine them the best he could.
“Standard handcuffs, old-fashioned, still in use by American police departments in some remote areas. Don’t let them fool you. They’re quite sufficient to do the job, bearing in mind that there’s hardly any criminal elements dangerous or smart enough in these parts to warrant the use of electro-magnetic cuffs…”
Scarlet frowned in surprise. These words had popped into his head, and he had no idea where they were coming from. How the Hell could he know all this about handcuffs?
He didn’t know exactly, but he tried to concentrate, trying to reach that new memory so close to his grasp.
An image flashed into his mind, of a big, bulky man, walking in front of young soldiers standing to attention. “However, unlike electro-magnetic cuffs, these can be easily unlocked. I’ll show you how to do it, gentlemen, and I can guarantee you – you’ll be able to free yourself in a matter of seconds, once I’m done with you.”
Scarlet blinked in surprise, as the image vanished. The man had military insignia on his sleeve. Sergeant… No, master sergeant. He seemed tough as nails, and the young men under his command looked like they were very impressed by him.
And he knew he was one of those young men.
He looked down at the handcuffs again; if he had learned how to free himself from these restraints, why couldn’t he remember exactly how, at this moment when that information could mean the difference between life and death? It was so frustrating.
A more violent bump from the road threw him up from the seat, and his head, once again, hit the side of the door, roughly. He groaned in pain, but this latest jump had permitted him to regain at least a half-seated position, from which he was now able to see the road ahead.
This wasn’t the same road; it was narrower than the previous one. It looked like a barely used beaten trail, leading deeper into the bayou. Probably, the car had taken a turn at some point, to follow this new path, without him noticing it.
Scarlet opened his eyes wide with alarm. On this very bumpy road, the sheriff was driving too fast for both their safety. And he wasn’t showing any sign of slowing down.
He’s probably panicking…
Scarlet had hardly made this assumption when he felt another bump, so violent this time that it sent the car off-road; there was a loud bang as one of the tyres suddenly exploded. Scarlet just had time to notice that the path was ending just a few meters ahead, in a narrow clearing bordering a river where a small motor-boat was docked at a wooden pier.
The sheriff struggled with the wheel to get the car back under control, but at this speed, and with a flat tyre, his efforts were fruitless. The car went down the ditch forming the river bank, and then straight toward a large tree. Masters desperately pumped the brakes; the tyres squealed in protest, and the car slid.
It wasn’t nearly enough to slow the speed down, and it was with an ear-splitting crash that the vehicle ploughed into the tree.
* * *
While running through the woods to escape the last commando who had nearly captured her about two hours before, Rhapsody Angel found out that she had considerably wandered off course. Consequently, she took a good hour just to find the direction of Les Arbrisseaux; she was upset to have lost so much precious time, and she hoped that it still wasn’t too late.
As much as she would have liked to use the road, she avoided it, in fear that she might stumble upon some of Montgomery’s men again; she considered it safer to walk under the cover of the trees’ shadows. However, she kept close by the road, even though she had soon realised it was snaking through the bayou, instead of going to town in a straight line. She was hoping to see a passing vehicle that she would be able to signal to stop. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be so; the road remained desperately deserted. It wasn’t really that surprising: it looked so badly taken care of, it did seem like not many people used this road to begin with. It probably was but an abandoned beaten path, with bumps and holes that might prove lethal to the suspension of any ordinary car.
As she continued her progression, Rhapsody could hear assorted distressing sounds that appeared to be carried over the distance by various echoes. She thought she recognised the rapid crackling of automatic weapons, coming from only a few miles away, in a direction she was unable to estimate; that compelled her to quicken her pace. Of course, she knew she could be mistaken, and that sound could very well come from hunters chasing some unfortunate prey; but quite frankly, she doubted that, and she didn’t want to stay around to discover if Montgomery and his men were actually closer behind than she first imagined.
When she finally heard the sound of a car engine coming from the road, she looked ahead expectantly. She saw it appear; a big, ordinary enough sedan, of a nondescript brownish colour, covered with dirt, and racing at breakneck speed on the dusty road. More importantly, she could see an unpowered rotating police light stuck on its top. Her heart flared with hope and she ran to the road, stumbling and nearly hurting herself in the process, calling and gesturing.
But the police car was going much too fast, and Rhapsody went unnoticed. By the time she reached the side of the road, the vehicle had disappeared in a dust of cloud at the next turn, and she stood there, breathing hard, disappointed to have missed this probably unique opportunity to be rescued by none other than the local constabulary.
She blew a deep sigh, and watched thoughtfully as the dust settled slowly. That car wasn’t going to Les Arbrisseaux, but it probably came from there. She was still a good distance away from town and now she was torn between pursuing her course – or going after the car.
What am I thinking of? I can’t hope to catch up with it – especially at its present speed…
Standing pensively on the road, Rhapsody considered that it might be better to actually move on with her initial plan, when new engine sounds attracted her attention. This time, it wasn’t coming from the road and they weren’t car engines. Her eyes caught sight of three ORVs racing and jumping between the trees; she heard the joyous whoops and laughter of their drivers and passengers, barely audible over the sounds of their engines. She watched and wondered, noting almost distractedly that one of them was brandishing a heavy calibre rifle. They didn’t seem to notice her, and they disappeared from her view, following approximately the same direction as the police car a moment earlier. That observation made her frown in puzzlement: she had the definite and very odd impression that they were actually following the car.
The noise made by their engines died out rather abruptly, as if they had already reached their destination. The curious Rhapsody stood and listened carefully, but she couldn’t hear anything more.
Obviously, they were youths having some sick fun chasing after a deer or something of the like, she reflected inwardly. That would certainly explain the rifle she had seen. Although, she had to admit, it would seem like slight overkill to chase ORVs. She didn’t have any taste for hunting as a sport – despite the fact her father, an amateur sportsman himself, had tried on numerous occasions to interest her in it – but Rhapsody did however believe that the prey was at least entitled to what her father called ‘a sporting chance’. Consequently, she couldn’t see any fairness in hunting an animal with big guns and motorised vehicles.
Shaking her head dismissively, she turned around with the intention to continue her journey toward Les Arbrisseaux – when suddenly, she heard a loud cracking sound that made her freeze on the spot. It was coming from very nearby; she spun on her heel, to look with a puzzled expression in the direction that the police car and the ORVs had gone.
It was definitely a gunshot; she had heard enough of those to recognise them. Probably, she thought with disgust, the youths had found their prey and had cornered it.
Then, there were more shots – followed by loud, angry shouts and that made the young woman even more perplexed.
Rhapsody was now having a bad feeling – a really bad feeling that there was something wrong happening. What she was hearing wasn’t the sounds of any ordinary hunt. There was something else going on.
Curious as to know exactly what it could be, and sensing that it might have something to do with her present situation – she couldn’t say why, she just had a weird, uncomfortable sensation in the pit of her stomach – she decided it would be worth investigating.
She left the road and returned into the woods, thinking it would be safer, and resumed her walk, but this time in the other direction, guided by the sounds of the strange, continuous commotion that she could hear in the distance, not that far ahead.
* * *
The violent collision of the car against the trunk of the tree roughly propelled Scarlet against the back of the front seat; the sheriff, far luckier, hit the protective air-bag that deployed in front of him on impact.
Dazed after the shock, Scarlet tried to regain his focus. He was now in a very uncomfortable position, stuck between the back seat and the front seat, half sprawled on the uneven floor of the car, his feet up and his head at an odd angle. His back was hurting. He barely registered as the sheriff, cursing and groaning, pushed his smashed door open and extracted himself from the car. Then, the door against which Scarlet was leaning suddenly opened, and he felt himself falling backwards. Before he could hit the ground, strong hands caught him by the front of his shirt and pulled him out of the car, none too gently, before forcing him up to his feet. Scarlet tried to regain his footing, but Masters didn’t give him the time, and dragged him away to a safe distance from the car; he then roughly pushed him against a tree. That drove the air out of Scarlet’s lungs, and did nothing to improve the pain in his back. Before he could even react, the sheriff pressed his forearm against his throat to keep him still. He gasped in surprise and pain, and looked down with a haggard expression into the furious eyes of Masters.
“Now I’m through playing games!” the sheriff shouted angrily straight into Scarlet’s face, showering him with spittle. “Who were those guys?”
“I don’t know,” Scarlet answered weakly.
“You expect me to believe that?” Masters rammed Scarlet brutally against the rough surface of the tree. “You knew they were a threat!”
“Yes,” Scarlet admitted.
“I don’t know,” Scarlet answered again, more miserably.
That didn’t satisfy Masters at all, and he banged Scarlet against the tree again, more furiously, roaring: “HOW?”
“I don’t know!” Scarlet repeated forcibly, looking straight into the sheriff’s eyes. “I just… it was some kind of feeling that they were dangerous…”
“A feeling?” Masters was incredulous. “Like a sixth sense, or something like that?”
“Yes… No… I’m not sure…”
“You knew they were going to kill Mac,” Masters accused.
“No… I didn’t know.” Scarlet hesitated. “All I knew was that we had to keep away from them.”
“They were after you. What do they want from you exactly?”
“I… I don’t know, Sheriff. I don’t have the slightest idea. I’m sorry about your deputy, I…”
“Those dirty, murdering bastards…” The sheriff relaxed his grip on Scarlet, ever so slightly. “You say you don’t know what they want,” he said. “That you don’t know who they are.” Scarlet didn’t reply, and could only stare back helplessly into the probing eyes of Masters. The latter shook his head thoughtfully. “Maybe you do know them but you don’t remember. That guy who spoke to Mac – the one who appeared to be the leader. He talked like you.”
“Sorry?” Scarlet wasn’t sure what Masters was talking about.
“His accent,” the sheriff explained. “He had the same accent as you. An English accent. Didn’t you notice?” But as Scarlet kept looking back at him with a clueless expression, Masters shook his head. “I don’t know about the others – maybe they were English too. Maybe you came over here with them?”
“Then why would they want to kill me?” Scarlet asked reasonably.
“As far as I know, they didn’t try to kill you, O’Hara. Although, the way they shot at the car, they didn’t seem like they would care that much if they were to hit you – even accidentally.”
“I don’t think I have anything in common with them, Sheriff,” Scarlet replied. “It doesn’t feel… right.”
“Another of your weird feelings, O’Hara? Well, think about it a second. They were dressed in camo uniform… Just like you, when Joe found you. And those weapons they were carrying… They ain’t like any ordinary weapons. And you mentioned a helicopter… Those men ain’t hunters. No poachers I know of would carry such sophisticated weapons or ride helicopters to hunt ’gators.” Masters’ face took on a thoughtful expression. “They said they were Spectrum… But are they really?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Scarlet said, shaking his head.
“That doesn’t make sense. They were at the exact location that guy at the New Orleans Spectrum office indicated. They must be Spectrum. But why would Spectrum kill my deputy – and try to kill me? But if they’re not Spectrum, who could they be?”
“And you?” Masters stared insistently into Scarlet’s eyes. “They’re definitely after you, of that I’m sure. Dead or alive, they want you. But for what reason? Who are you exactly?”
As Scarlet could only answer with a troubled silence, the sheriff slowly nodded his understanding. “You genuinely don’t remember anything, do you?”
Scarlet shook his head. “I kept telling you that, Sheriff, but you didn’t believe me. I can’t remember a thing. I don’t know who I am… even less who those men could be and what they want with me.”
“Then Doc Evers must be right,” Masters grumbled. “That thing in your head that looks like a bullet… That could be what’s causing your amnesia.”
He let go of Scarlet and the latter sighed deeply; in a way, he was relieved that the sheriff now seemed to believe at least this. However, he could see there was still some uncertainty in the other man’s eyes.
“I’m… Truly, I’m sorry about your deputy, Sheriff.”
“Save it. I’ll have time to settle my scores with those murdering scum later. For now, I still have you to be concerned about. You’re still the prime suspect in a murder, and you’re still my prisoner.”
“I didn’t kill Joe Benson.”
“It’s not for me to decide, son.”
Scarlet sighed again. “What do you intend to do now? We can’t wait here until those murderers come and kill us.”
“You’re my responsibility, O’Hara. I certainly won’t leave you to them, that’s for sure. And I want to bring those bastards to justice for what they did to Mac.” Masters grunted with anger. “I have to take you back to Les Arbrisseaux.”
“How do you intend to do that?” Scarlet asked with a curious frown. “We can’t use the road: the car is finished, and on foot, these guys would get us. They can’t be all that far from us.”
“That’s true. And it would be too dangerous to trek through the woods to get back to town. We’re deep into the bayou, and although I pretty much know my way around, there’s no way I’m gonna drag a restrained prisoner in there with me. You’re liable to slip into a swamp and drown there.”
“Thanks for your solicitude, Sheriff,” Scarlet commented dryly. “So, what are your plans, exactly? If we’re stuck here…”
“We’re not stuck. I drove the car here for a reason.”
“That was on purpose?”
“I told you I know these parts well.” The sheriff pointed to the small motorboat moored at the pier. “We’ll use that. The river might be a little wild, but it’s the safest way to town, considering the situation.”
“And how do you propose to get the motor started?” Scarlet asked doubtfully. “You would need the key or something…”
“That’s McCullen’s boat. He fixed it so it the engine will start without a key.” Masters grinned. “Everybody knows that, in this area.”
Scarlet nodded thoughtfully. “What about those people who are waiting for me in town?” Masters stared at him anew, and he shook his head. “I heard you and your deputy earlier. I might be amnesiac, but I’m not stupid: you got me out of town in such secrecy to avoid the possibility of a lynch mob.”
“Believe me, O’Hara – at the moment, the townsfolk are the least of your worries, with those murderers after your ass.”
“Stop calling me that!” Scarlet snapped in annoyance. “That’s not my name. My name is…” He stopped suddenly, as a violent headache hit him and he closed his eyes against the pain. The sheriff looked at him curiously.
“What is your name, then?” he asked.
There was a flash in Scarlet’s mind, as the image of the same burly sergeant he had seen earlier returned to him – addressing him.
“Come on, you Brit… I thought you were better than that! You’d better start meeting my expectations, ‘cause you’re not leaving this room until you get yourself out of these cuffs. Even if it takes you all night…”
Scarlet opened his eyes as the image faded as quickly as it came. The headache was still there.
He felt frustrated.
“I still don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t remember that yet.” He looked at the sheriff. “I think… I’m a soldier.”
“Are you, now?” Masters said dryly. “Like those guys who killed Mac? Are they friends of yours?”
Scarlet’s answer had been swift. The sheriff raised a curious brow. “So you remember that too?”
“No, I…” Scarlet stopped as a new image flashed into his mind. Not of the sergeant this time. But rather, of one of the men he had seen earlier on the road – the older man, who had talked to MacGibbons just before the deputy was shot, and whom the sheriff thought was the leader. In Scarlet’s mind’s eye, he was wearing the same outfit as when standing in the middle of the road, and was holding a handgun – that he discharged into a very young man, who fell at Scarlet’s feet. The gun was then turned on Scarlet himself…
The image vanished. And this time, the headache with it.
“I do know them,” Scarlet murmured.
“Why am I not surprised?” Masters groused.
“… And they are no friends of mine,” Scarlet added quickly. “They… They tried to kill me…”
Scarlet shook his head, frowning as he tried to recall any other memories that had been escaping him. He could see nothing more. “I don’t know, I…” Scarlet’s words died on his lips as suddenly, something pricked his ear and he raised his head, listening carefully. The sheriff looked at him, a doubtful expression on his face.
“What is it, you’re ‘sensing’ something again?”
The sarcasm in Masters’ voice didn’t escape Scarlet, but he chose to ignore it. “No, I… I heard something.”
Masters looked around, a little nervously. He could see nothing out of the ordinary. “Can’t be those guys already,” he muttered. “They were on foot and –” Then he heard it and he froze; just over the sound of the violently rushing river behind them, he could perceive the sound of an engine in the distance, growing in intensity as it approached their position.
No. Not one engine, but many.
Very close, and drawing closer very fast.
“Maybe they’re not on foot after all,” Scarlet advised anxiously.
“Maybe you’re right,” Masters agreed. “We’d better get going.”
He took his prisoner by the shoulder and pulled him towards the boat, only a few feet from them, while with his free hand, he released his gun from his holster. They had barely taken two steps when a loud cracking was heard. The bark of the tree in front of which they both had been standing a second earlier exploded into splinters.
Scarlet, suddenly noticing a flash between the bushes, tackled the sheriff, accidentally making him lose hold of his gun, which flew out of reach. Both men hit the ground, into the ditch next to the pier, just as a new detonation was heard. A bullet whizzed by, just over their heads.
The engines were now roaring louder, and as they both looked over the ditch, the sheriff and his prisoner saw three ORVs emerging from behind the trees and leaping into the clearing, the boys riding them laughing with delight.
Masters muttered darkly, as he recognised the newcomers. “Gimme a break…” he said, glancing over the side of the ditch. “I don’t believe it. It’s Jasper Holland and his gang. I recognise them and their infernal machines.”
“Hey, Sheriff!” That was the voice of Jasper, seemingly confirming Masters’ statement. The call made both men prick up their ears. They noted that the sound of engines had stopped suddenly; there was little doubt that Jasper and his friends were just over there, watching and waiting for them. “What exactly happened with the car?” Jasper asked. “You had an accident?”
“You’re telling me you don’t know, Holland?” the sheriff barked in answer. “I bet you and your pals have been following us since we left town. So you already know what happened to us back there on the road. You probably saw everything!”
“We cut through the woods to catch up with you. So we have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“And I should believe you?”
“Where’s MacGibbons? Is he still in the car? Is he hurt?”
“So now you care if someone is hurt, Holland?” Masters replied angrily. “After you took shots at us? What’s the big idea, you stupid punk? I could have you arrested and thrown in jail for that, the whole lot of you!”
“We don’t have anything against you, Sheriff. We just want your prisoner.”
Masters’ features became hard, as he glanced in Scarlet’s direction; the latter was keeping quiet, and there was no expression visible on his face. He was simply listening carefully.
“And what exactly do you want with him?”
“You really have no idea?” Scarlet muttered darkly.
Masters ignored him. Partly, because he had figured out what it was that Holland and his band wanted, and also, because the young man was responding, with the exact answer he expected:
“We just want to give him the justice he deserves… for killing Ol’ Joe.”
Masters exchanged glances with Scarlet. “Since when do you care about justice?” he said, addressing Jasper anew.
“You killed Joe, you little bastard!” Scarlet shouted in frustration. “You just want to get rid of me because I witnessed the whole thing!”
“You would say that, wouldn’t you, dirty liar!”
“Why, you bloody hypocrite…” Scarlet started with righteous anger.
Concerned that his prisoner would stand up, the sheriff put a calming hand on his shoulder. “I’m beginning to think you told me the truth all along,” he said.
“You still had doubts, after the way they shot at us?” Scarlet replied between his teeth.
“Those slimeballs still haven’t realised I’m not armed,” Masters muttered. “Have to find my gun…”
He scanned the immediate area with his eyes, and raised himself a little too much to look over the side of the ditch; a new detonation resonated, and a bullet hit the ground right in front of him, making dirt and gravel fly right into his face. Temporarily blinded by the pain, the sheriff cursed loudly, and ducked back into the ditch. He fell right against Scarlet’s chest.
“Sheriff, are you all right?”
For a few seconds, Masters remained motionless, eyes closed, his hand to his face, now covered with dirt and cuts, and grunting in pain. A concerned Scarlet, with his hands still restrained, tried his best to shoulder him up into a half-seated position. The fingers of his right hand grazed the silver star-badge pinned on the sheriff’s chest.
Then the voice of the master sergeant boomed in his mind. “A single pin” it said. “That’s enough to get you free. “It can be an hairpin, or come from a belt, a badge or a watch… Whatever you lay your hands on, however insignificant, use it. It could save your life.”
By instinct, Scarlet snatched the badge, and kept it hidden inside his closed fist. “Sheriff?” he asked insistently.
“I’m okay,” Masters moaned. His hands left his face and he blinked a few times, trying to focus his vision as he searched around. “Where’s that damned gun?”
Scarlet’s eyes scanned the ground around them, in search of the missing weapon, when a clicking sound made both men freeze. Scarlet slowly turned his head.
Dallas Fenmore was standing just by the side of the river, not that far from the destroyed car, and was training the sheriff’s gun on them. There was a large, evil smirk spread on his lips.
“Is this what you’re looking for?” he asked, goading Masters into reacting.
Seeing the victorious expression on the boy’s face, Masters went pale with anger and his mind became blank and oblivious of the surrounding danger. He sprang up to his feet. “Why you little –”
He probably didn’t even imagine that Fenmore would fire, that the boy probably only meant to intimidate him with the gun; unfortunately, he was wrong in his assumption. As for Scarlet, he realised instantly that the sheriff had inadvertently presented himself as an easy target; at the same moment, he saw Dallas’ finger squeeze the trigger, and heard the deafening crack of the gun. The projectile struck Masters violently in the chest, thrusting him backwards. A grunt escaped the sheriff’s lips as he staggered back. Before Scarlet’s horrified eyes, he tumbled into the river behind him. The water momentarily closed on the man.
“Sheriff!” Scarlet watched helplessly as Masters’ body reappeared on the surface of the water, floating on his back, his face contorted with pain. The violent current was now pulling him down river, and he was already far out of reach. Scarlet swallowed hard, and then heard the new click from the gun held by Fenmore, and the smell of smoke emanating from its muzzle. Distracted by the sheriff’s fall, he had taken little notice as the young man had approached him.
“We have him!” Dallas shouted triumphantly to his accomplices.
Scarlet reacted instantly. The careless boy was standing too close to him, making him open to a surprise attack; Scarlet applied a lock to Dallas’ legs with one of his feet and violently kicked the young man’s legs with the other. Dallas gave a cry of pain as he felt the violent impact against his knee; he lost his balance, falling onto his back, the gun escaping his grasp to fall into the river.
Scarlet’s victory was short-lived. Still restrained by the handcuffs and helpless to defend himself, he saw the other members of the gang rushing to him and surrounding him. Shouting insults, Scarecrow brutally hit him on the head with the butt of his rifle, half-stunning him and sending him sprawling on the muddy ground. He received a vicious kick in the side from another of the boys; he doubled over, in an attempt to protect himself the best he could against the blows that rained down on him.
Dallas was already back on his feet and joining his companions, started to kick Scarlet angrily.
“That’s for throwing me in the mud, bastard!” he spat. “And that,” he added with a new kick, “is for that punch you gave me at Joe’s!”
From the ground, Scarlet could see Jasper Holland, keeping away from the action. For a brief moment, the two met gazes, and Jasper’s eyes burned with a dangerous glare.
“Johnny.” Jasper gave a curt nod to the boy who stood beside him. Johnny Monroe visibly jumped at the mention of his name and turned to his leader with uncertainty. “Go get the rope,” Jasper told him in a cold voice.
“Oh, geez, Jasper…” Hesitantly, Johnny’s eyes scanned the surface of the river for the floating body of the sheriff. He couldn’t find it, so he turned to Jasper, who was looking down in contempt at the groaning man at their feet. “Did Dallas have to shoot the sheriff? You know that could get us in a lot of trouble…”
“You knew the plan,” Jasper replied crisply. “The sheriff was in our way, we had to get rid of him. Now he’s dead.”
“… Killed with his own gun,” Dallas said triumphantly. “So even if his body is found down river, they’ll all think that his prisoner took the gun from him and shot him with it, to try and escape. That’s perfect!”
“And there’ll be nobody else to tell to the contrary,” Jasper approved.
“What about MacGibbons?” Johnny asked, looking around with concern, as if expecting the deputy sheriff to appear from behind a tree. “I saw him getting in the car in town… He should be here. Where could he be?”
“There’s no trace of him,” Jamie Lewis replied, shrugging. “Not in the car, and apparently not around anywhere.”
“Well, he probably only helped the sheriff get this guy in the car, before leaving for Baton Rouge,” Jasper remarked. “Remember what Billy Ray told Dallas… He was going there anyway…”
“I saw him getting in the car,” Johnny insisted.
“Then maybe Masters dropped him at the bus stop, or somewhere else,” Jasper snapped. “You didn’t keep your eyes on the car all the time, did you?”
Johnny hesitated. “Well no… I only watched as it left the station.”
Jasper narrowed his eyes at him. “What’s the matter, Johnny? You getting cold feet now, or what, so close to success? You know the plan… Get the damned rope.”
Johnny nodded nervously, and left Jasper’s side to head towards the ORVs waiting nearby.
“You stupid kids…” Scarlet groaned from the ground. “You know nothing about what’s going on.”
“Shut up, you bastard!” A new kick from Dallas hit Scarlet in the side and he grunted in pain; his right fist closed around the badge he was holding in the palm of his hand.
“Come on, Brit, use it!” the voice of the master sergeant rang in his head. “What’re you waiting for? You practiced it. You know you can do it!”
Keeping the object unseen from his assailants, he pulled on the long pin, and inserted it into the lock of the shackle restraining his left hand, moving it around. He was amazed at his own expertise, at how easy and natural it seemed to be.
… And he was even more surprised to hear a faint clicking sound coming from inside the lock, and to feel the cuff loosening around his left wrist.
Something heavily fell onto his shoulders; as he realised it was a thick rope, he felt it swiftly tightening around his neck, and a sudden jerk pulled him onto his knees. He instinctively took a deep gasp of air, and kept very still, as Dallas Fenmore leaned by the left side of his head, holding the rope tight against the nape of his neck, and callously sneering into his ear: “Now who’s stupid, jerk? Us… or you, who’s about to dance for us?”
Scarlet’s eyes opened wide with shock, as he realised what the boys were planning for him. plan; it was pure reflex from his part that he instantly freed his left hand from the shackle holding it to reach for the noose around his neck. He was able to insert two fingers between the rope rubbing against his skin in an attempt to loosen it, but it was already too late.
There was the deafening sound of an ORV’s engine starting nearby, and then he was forcibly pulled to his feet, the rope tightening even more closely around his neck, squeezing his throat uncomfortably, as it gave an upwards jerk. He gasped again for air, and his other hand flew up, desperately grabbing the noose as well; a fraction of a second later, his feet left the ground, and he felt himself hauled up into the air.
He heard the audible crack of the two fingers stuck between the rope and his neck as they broke under the violent tug, and felt the pain reverberating through his whole hand. But that was nothing compared to the awful sensation of suffocating, as he hung in the air, with his feet dangling about four or five feet above the ground.
His teeth clenched, gasping and grunting, Scarlet struggled desperately to free himself. Just at the limit of his vision, he could see Jamie Lewis, seated on his ORV, looking over his shoulder, gloating cruelly. Scarlet barely registered that the engine had been turned off, but he noticed the end of a rope tied to the frame of the machine. He didn’t need to look up to know that the other end of the lasso from which he was hanging had been flung over a sturdy branch of the huge tree extending its shadow over them.
Scarlet looked down with shock and disgust at the band of young men reunited underneath him, and looking up smugly at him.
They were all taking a sick pleasure in watching him die.
And he just knew it would be a very slow and painful death.
* * *
After a few minutes’ walk through the wood, Rhapsody found herself by the river, and for a minute or two, she followed it upstream, guided by the clamour she could hear coming from close by. She came to the side of a ditch by the river bank, and nearly fell into it. Sliding down carefully into that ditch, she walked a few hundreds of meters, to discover the car she had seen racing along the road earlier, its front crushed against the trunk of a large tree. The doors were open, and from where she was standing, there didn’t seem to be anyone inside the vehicle. On the other side of the crashed car, on the raging river, she could see a wooden pier, to which a motor boat was secured.
The tumult she had been hearing up until now was now much closer and clearer; and to her expert ears, it sounded like a fight or something similar was raging. It was coming from over the side of the ditch, just over her head.
The distinctive sound of an OVR’s engine roaring into life almost deafened her; it was now barely covered by happy yells and bawls of laugher. She wondered exactly what could be going on. Silently, she moved around the car, and crawled up the steep side of the gully to risk a peek.
She nearly tumbled down the whole distance she had climbed at the scene that appeared before her eyes.
Captain Scarlet was hanging by his neck from the branch of a tree, gasping in desperate need of air, and was vainly struggling to release himself from the noose strangling him, while a group of young men, none of them apparently older than twenty years of age, were watching the show with obvious delight, laughing loudly and mocking him. The other end of the lasso was tied to the baggage holder of the only OVR to still have its engine running. Its driver, turning the ignition off, sat backwards on the seat, to join his cruel teasing to that of his companions, while they goaded their helpless victim to try and free himself.
For a few seconds, Rhapsody felt rooted into place, in complete shock, wondering how in Heaven’s name her colleague could have found himself in such a precarious situation.
She quickly got over it, and her resolve was immediate; she had to do something fast. No matter how indestructible Captain Scarlet might be, she could imagine very easily how unpleasant this could be for him. He was slowly choking – his face was already turning red – and it wouldn’t be too long before he died, strangled by his own weight.
She looked around in desperation, searching for a way to effectively come to his aid.
Then her eyes lightened with an ominous glow; the trunk of the car, next to which she was lying, had been forced open by its earlier impact against the tree, and at the bottom of it, she could see exactly what she needed to execute her rescue operation.
She didn’t hesitate one second more.
* * *
“Have you ever heard of Jim Riley?”
Realising that his thrashing was doing nothing more than making his situation worse, Captain Scarlet had minimised his movements. His free right hand was now clutching the rope just over his head, in a desperate attempt to support his weight. The broken fingers of his left hand were still stuck in the noose around his neck, but they offered only the slightest reprieve; he couldn’t use them to loosen the lasso’s deadly grip. Half-conscious, unable to talk, he could only offer a strangled grunt and a murderous glare at Jasper Holland, who was quietly pacing below him.
Jasper shook his head and gave a dismissive shrug. “Of course you wouldn’t know him… You’re not from around here. Well, I’ll be nice and tell you, then. Jim Riley robbed a bank, quite a few years ago. That wasn’t a nice robbery and it didn’t go very well.”
“Riley killed a security guard,” Dallas then added. “And a young woman who was working at the bank. However, he was able to escape. He tried to find a hiding place in Devil’s Bayou, while waiting for the authorities to stop looking for him. But here’s the catch: they say that Riley got away with a small fortune.”
Jasper nodded approvingly. “We don’t know exactly how much, but it was enough to make anyone dream of a better life. People around these parts are not very rich, so there was a huge manhunt to try to find Riley and his booty.” The boy stopped pacing and stood in front of Scarlet. “The money was never found, they say. But Riley – they found him, all right. About two, three months later. Hanged from an oak tree, deep in the bayou. Apparently, he had been hanging there for weeks, before he was found. He didn’t look too good by then, with the heat, and the rain… Smelled pretty bad too, according to those who found him. They never learned who did that to him.” He grinned mischievously. “And before you ask, we had nothing to do with it. That was years ago. We were too young at the time. But let’s say that… it was an inspiration.”
Jamie cackled from his seat. “When they find you, they’ll wonder if, by any chance, after all these years, Riley’s killer is not still roaming the Bayou. You know, giving his own brand of justice to criminals who dare come onto his turf? People’ll get scared, and will think there’s some kind of a ghost around here. We’ll have given birth to a new legend in this area. The ‘Ghost of Devil’s Bayou’. Now that’s a nice ring to it, ain’t it? And there ain’t nobody who would suspect we were behind it!”
“How the devil did he get himself out of these cuffs?” Dallas suddenly asked with obvious surprise – and something like admiration.
Jasper looked down on the ground, just under Scarlet’s dangling feet; he saw a glint in the mud. “With this, maybe?” He crouched down and picked up the star-shaped sheriff badge that Scarlet had dropped just before being hauled up. The boy chuckled loudly. “Well, look at that, guys! You wanna bet he picked the lock with this? You gotta be pretty slick to be able to do a thing like that!”
“Nah, that ain’t possible,” Dallas said with a shake of his head. “Gotta be the sheriff who freed him before I shot him.”
“What does it matter?” Jamie replied with an evil smile. “That won’t save him none. He’ll be dead soon.”
“But why is it taking so long?” Scarecrow asked with a sigh, as Scarlet’s struggles for breath grew weaker. “Shouldn’t he be, like, dead already?”
“I’m afraid none of us is good at hanging people,” Jasper said with a shrug. “I heard that if the neck doesn’t break right away, and the noose is not done right, it could take some time. That’s too bad for our friend.”
Jamie cackled sadistically from his seat. “We’re not in any hurry anyway, are we?”
“Who wanna to place bets on how long he’ll last before croaking?” Dallas asked excitedly.
Jasper’s cruel smile widened. “There’s only one bet I wanna place,” he said in a cold voice. “It’s whether he’ll return from the dead or not after this one. My bet is… if we leave him hanging to dry indefinitely, he won’t.”
There were laughs of approval following his heartless statement, and the boys started placing their bets.
A loud explosion coming from behind interrupted them; startled, they jumped, and turned on their heels.
Standing just by the side of the ditch, in front of the open truck of the damaged police car, they saw a red-haired woman, dressed in dirty white pants and undershirt, and holding a shotgun that was still smoking. She was hurriedly pumping the weapon, before training it on them, her eyes glaring with a cold anger.
“Release him!” she shouted in a strong, commanding voice. “Right now!”
“Hey! Who’s the chick and where’s she come from?” asked the surprised Dallas.
The boy didn’t sound suitably impressed by the powerful gun she was holding, so Rhapsody turned her newly acquired weapon on him. “The ‘chick’ is going to blow your head off your shoulders if you don’t obey her right now!” she promised. “I said: release him at once!”
“Lady, you don’t know what you’re asking.” Jasper took a step forward, but he stopped almost right away, when Rhapsody aimed the huge barrel straight at him. He smiled sheepishly. “This guy’s a criminal… A killer.”
“A freak,” Jamie added with contempt.
Rhapsody’s mind registered the last epithet, but thought now was not the time to elaborate on this particular subject. “And I suppose you’re all law-abiding citizens only making sure that justice is served, right?”
A cold smile appeared on Jasper’s lips. “Why, how did you guess that, hon?”
Disgust filled Rhapsody at the callousness she could hear in his reply. It was obvious he had no intention of obeying her; none of them was moving. They were standing there, watching her, waiting – probably patiently biding their time until their victim choked to death, and it would be too late to save him. She glanced up at Scarlet who was gasping for air, and she saw the panic and despair in his wide-open blue eyes; he was looking straight at her, pleadingly. His right hand, clutching the rope, was losing its grip; his strength was obviously abandoning him.
“Pl-please…” he gasped, managing somehow to force his strangled voice through his compressed throat. “H-help me… I can’t… hold…”
His hand slipped from the rope.
Rhapsody barely hesitated; with determination, she raised the shotgun. Scarlet’s eyes grew wider still when he saw the barrel seemingly directed at him for that fraction of a second before the weapon thundered. Fire spat from the muzzle.
The rope and the branch a few inches over Scarlet’s head exploded in splinters; the noose loosened instantly, and Scarlet was brutally released from its deadly hold. He saw the ground rushing to him, as he fell the short distance, and he landed roughly, with a strangled huff. He lay there, coughing, thoroughly dazed, barely able to move, and moaning miserably.
The members of the gang were stunned with surprise, looking from their potential victim to the woman who had just saved him from his fate, and back again. Jasper’s face became white as a sheet. He turned angry eyes in Rhapsody’s direction, as the latter, with exaggerated coolness, was pumping the gun again, before pointing it back in their general direction.
“What d’you think you’re doing?” Jasper yelled in frustration. He took a step forward, but, like before, stopped right away, when he found the shotgun aimed directly at him.
“Now you know I can shoot straight!” Rhapsody said warningly. “You had all better keep your distance… or else!”
“You can’t expect to stop all of us,” Dallas replied defiantly. “Not with that gun. You wouldn’t be fast enough.”
Rhapsody’s eyes flashed angrily. “Perhaps not all, but I will have plenty of time to blow the head off at least one of you – perhaps even two. Now I’m sure you don’t want to find out which will be the lucky candidates.”
She caught sight of Jasper Holland looking all around, as if in search of something, and then noticed the rifle resting against the side of an ORV. “Don’t even think about getting that weapon, buster,” she warned him specifically. “That would be a huge mistake!”
“Frankly, lady, would you really shoot at one of us?” Jasper goaded her. “You don’t look like the killer type.”
“Do you really want to find out?” Rhapsody replied with cold aplomb. “You’d better not try me. You’d be the first to learn how wrong you can be! Now back off! All of you!”
Glaring ominously at her, the boys stepped back, hesitantly; Jasper hurriedly joined his companions, as he suddenly realised this woman wasn’t kidding around and would not hesitate one minute to use the gun to inflict some serious damage. Rhapsody carefully stepped forward, keeping her gun trained on the gang, and reached Scarlet, who was still sprawled on the ground, gasping and coughing, and trying to pull himself together. He managed to get up on his hands and knees and to raise an unsteady hand to remove from around his neck the unpleasant lasso which had almost choked him to death. He let it fall onto the ground.
“Are you all right?” Rhapsody asked him, not letting the gang out of her sight. When he failed to answer her question, she frowned, and looked down at him with a brief, but worried glance. “Captain? Will you be okay?”
Scarlet didn’t quite register the way the young woman addressed him; at this moment, he wasn’t feeling on top of things. His head was so heavy, it was difficult to think, and his throat was hurting like hell; he could feel something salty running into his mouth. He recognised the taste and he tiredly wiped his hand under his nose before looking at it. His fingers were covered with blood.
His nose was bleeding again. Then he felt the beginning of one of those awful headaches.
“I don’t feel so good,” he croaked. He looked up at Rhapsody, pleadingly. He frowned as he scrutinized her. Somehow, this young woman, still very attractive despite her sorry attire, looked vaguely familiar to him. But he really couldn’t recall from where he could have known her.
Seeing Captain Scarlet so shaken and weak, Rhapsody felt a twinge to her heart. Her anger grew, and she glared with deep contempt at the gang standing in front of her.
“Don’t worry. I’m getting you away from here,” she promised her colleague. “You’ll feel much better in a while.”
Jasper was looking straight at her, his eyes narrowed to slits. He chuckled evilly. “And how d’you suppose you will do that, girlie? The car’s finished… And I can’t quite see you riding one of our machines with him hanging on to you. He doesn’t seem in any state for that.”
Rhapsody didn’t have time to ponder this. Scarlet painfully cleared his throat, and gestured in a vague direction towards the river. “The sheriff… he wanted to take the boat… to go back to town.”
“Yeah,” Jamie suddenly lashed out, “and that’s why you killed him, isn’t it? You just knew what would happen to you if you were to return to town!”
“Shut up, you,” Rhapsody snapped instantly at him.
“He’s a freak, lady,” Jamie continued. “A murderer! He killed an old man in the bayou… And just now, he murdered the sheriff. Right in front of our eyes!”
“That’s right, we saw him,” Dallas added quickly.
Rhapsody wasn’t in the least impressed by these allegations. If they were true – and she had her doubts about that, considering the accusers – then she was sure that Scarlet had had very good reasons for killing whoever these boys said he had killed.
“I’ll wait to hear what he has to say before passing judgment,” she replied.
“You know him, don’t you?” Jasper said, his eyes still narrowed at her.
Rhapsody didn’t answer this question – which sounded more like an accusation than anything else. She had other things on her mind. Scarlet had just fallen flat back on the ground, with a loud moan, having visibly used up all of his remaining strength. He wouldn’t be able to move without outside help. She scanned the gang with her eyes; one of the boys seemed especially afraid of her, judging by the way he avoided meeting her eyes or even looking down at Scarlet; he seemed to find more interest in looking at his dirty shoes. He had a dressing around one of his wrists. To all appearances, this boy was the least dangerous of the lot.
“You!” Rhapsody called loudly. “The one in the blue shirt.” He was the only one wearing a blue shirt, and hearing himself addressed so directly nearly made him jump out of his skin. He looked up at the woman, his eyes trembling with concern. She nodded in the direction of Scarlet. “You will help him.”
“M-me?” Johnny Monroe asked in a stutter, turning very pale. “But… I’m hurt, and…”
“So is he,” Rhapsody replied sharply. “Get him up.” She moved slightly to the side, and gave another curt nod in the direction of the nearby wooden pier, where the motorboat she had seen earlier was moored. “Help him into the boat. But be careful,” she added, as Johnny stepped forwards, and her warning made him stop momentarily. “Make sure you stay between him and the gun. If you even think of using him as a shield…”
She let the rest of the threat hang. In any case, Johnny didn’t need further warning; he got the message perfectly right. As he tentatively moved towards the still half-stunned Scarlet and leaned over him, Rhapsody kept a careful eye on him, but left the gun trained on the other boys.
“The rest of you, back off,” she ordered sternly. They didn’t dare to argue and stepped back; Jasper Holland was glaring at her.
Johnny pulled Scarlet up; still conscious, but weakened by his experience, and with his head now pounding furiously, the Spectrum captain had trouble staying on his feet, so the boy needed to make a considerable effort to drag the larger man’s powerful frame to the motorboat. When they finally reached it, despite Johnny’s carefulness – the boy was undoubtedly terrified of Rhapsody’s gun – Scarlet dropped heavily into the boat and emitted a groan before falling completely silent. He remained motionless, with his eyes closed. With some apprehension, Johnny looked at Rhapsody over his shoulder.
“I think he passed out,” he announced nervously.
Rhapsody received the news with the same coldness she had affected since the moment she confronted the gang. “Go back to join your chums.”
Johnny obeyed, hurriedly leaving the boat. Rhapsody, her eyes and gun always set on the band, backed away slowly towards the boat. Jasper was still glowering furiously at the Angel pilot, who recognised murder in his eyes; she recognised him as the leader, and by far, he looked like the most dangerous of the gang.
“You do know him,” he said with certainty. “I’ve noticed – you speak funny too.”
“I speak funny?” Rhapsody gave a scoff. “That’s rich, coming from the likes of you.”
“Say, you’re right, Jasper,” Scarecrow then said in turn. “And she’s a stranger to these parts too… It can’t be coincidence!”
“Probably he’s her boyfriend,” Dallas said with a half-felt snigger. He was worried by the big gun Rhapsody was still training on all of them.
“Maybe she’s a freak like him,” Jamie moved on.
“Stop calling him a freak,” Rhapsody said curtly. She wondered exactly what these boys could have witnessed. She would have time to ask Scarlet later. She stepped into the boat, and carefully moved around her colleague.
“Who are you and where do you come from, the both of you?” Jasper demanded.
“I don’t think that’s any of your business, boy,” Rhapsody replied coldly.
“I’ll make it my business, girl,” he answered between his teeth. “Nobody ain’t me without paying the price. You don’t know it yet, but you are making a big mistake.”
“I’ve made many mistakes in my life, and I’ve learned to live with all of them,” Rhapsody answered coldly. “Maybe you should learn to live with yours. Because crossing me is certainly a big one, boy.” Her gun always aimed at the group, she removed the mooring rope with one hand, and backed one step further towards the boat controls. She turned the contact and felt gratified – and relieved – hearing the soft rumbling of the engine.
Jasper shook his head slowly, his eyes not leaving Rhapsody. “You think you will be able to get away with it? You are deluding yourself, hon. Your boyfriend – he’s wanted by the law for Old Joe’s murder. And now that he’s killed the sheriff, you can’t go back to town. You’ll be torn apart as soon as you get there.”
“And you won’t get far with that boat,” Dallas added.
“You might be right, but I’ll wager we’ll get further than you will.” With these calm words, Rhapsody took aim, turning the gun in the direction of the ORV Jamie Lewis was still sitting on. He paled and jumped hurriedly off his seat. His companions scattered, as if terrified she would shoot them in cold blood.
Rhapsody pulled the trigger, and the powerful gun thundered. The projectile hit the ORV that Jamie had just vacated, hitting the tank. There was an explosion of flames, and debris flew into the air in all directions. Before the fleeing and stunned boys could react, Rhapsody had pumped the gun, and was now firing on the second ORV, effectively destroying the whole front. She discharged the gun a last time on the third and last vehicle, and the force of the impact sent it rolling down into the ditch.
The five boys looked with astonishment at their destroyed vehicles, and Rhapsody took advantage of their shock to finally put the gun down and take the helm of the boat. She opened the throttles to their fullest, and the boat jumped forward, onto the river and away from the pier.
“That crazy bitch!” An infuriated Jamie Lewis ran to the pier, followed closely by Jasper and the rest of the gang, and he shook his fist at the departing boat. “You destroyed my bike! I’ll get you for this, girl! You’ll pay with interest, I swear!”
Jasper Holland had picked up his rifle, which had been thrown on the ground after the second ORV had been destroyed. It was still working, and so, taking aim, he fired one shot at the boat racing upsteam. But it was already too far away, and the projectile flew harmlessly wide.
“Dammit!” Jasper muttered, lowering the gun. He gave a wild kick to the nearest, destroyed ORV. “I won’t let them get away with this!”
“She destroyed our bikes,” Johnny moaned. “What will we do now?”
“Stop snivelling, you sissy!” Dallas Fenmore snapped at him. “It’s your fault they got away!”
“If you had not done what she asked…”
“Hey, the girl had a gun, remember?”
“You didn’t have to be so compliant,” Jamie added in turn.
“I don’t remember any of yous trying to stop her!”
“That’s enough!” Jasper shouted at all of them. He looked on as the boat disappeared from their view at a turn of the river. His jaws were still clenched in anger, but he was slightly more composed, already planning what needed to be done. “They’re not going to town,” he noticed.
“Yeah, well, she’s not from around here,” Jamie said. “She probably doesn’t know what direction to take.”
“Or they simply don’t wanna go to town,” Dallas added. “This guy can’t show his face there… Not without the sheriff.”
“You think he’s dead?” Johnny asked. “The sheriff, I mean…”
“Of course, he’s dead,” Jasper snapped. “He can’t have survived a bullet in the chest and a dive in the river.”
“But if his body’s found…” insisted Johnny.
“It’s like we said. They’ll think the stranger killed him,” Jasper said.
Jamie frowned at this. “But if the guy talks… or the girl?”
“You think anyone will believe them?” Jasper remarked. “The freak’s already got a murder rap on him.” He looked again in the direction in which the boat had disappeared, narrowing his eyes. “But anyway, we can’t take any chances. They won’t get very far with that boat. We gotta find them and get rid of them quickly. Before they talk to anyone who might listen to them.”
“And how are we going to do that?” asked Dallas. “We don’t have any weapons – except your rifle. We need more.”
“We’re not that far from McCullen’s house,” Jamie then suggested. “We can find what we need there. McCullen’s got a nice collection of hunting weapons. And he’s away from his home these days.”
“Then let’s go,” Jasper said coldly. “And then let’s quickly hunt those two down. We’re too close to success now, after all this time working so hard, and finally getting rid of Joe. We won’t let these two strangers get in our way.” His eyes became ominously cold. “They have to disappear – without nobody finding any trace of ‘em.”