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
Captain Blue gave a small knock against the frame of the open door of the sickbay room assigned to Captain Scarlet, and risked a peek inside. His English colleague was in bed, with his eyes closed, his stripped upper body propped against pillows, and his right arm offered to Doctor Fawn who was taking a blood sample. With a gesture of his free hand, Fawn invited him in and Blue entered.
“How is he, Edward?” he asked, gazing in concern at his friend.
He noticed the doctor’s unhappy expression. “How do you think he is?” Fawn replied in a sour tone. “The usual, of course.”
“I’m fine,” the voice of Captain Scarlet then slurred in answer. His blue eyes opened and he raised his head slightly from the pillows, turning towards Blue who had stopped by his bed. “I’m just waiting until Dracula finishes sucking my blood and removes this needle from my arm.”
“I’m hardly taking all your blood,” Fawn protested. “And you’ll be happy to know, I’m finished now.” Fawn pulled the syringe out of Scarlet’s arm, checked the contents with a satisfied nod, and then applied a small bit of cotton wool to the puncture, before bending the captain’s arm. “Hold this a few seconds, until the bleeding stops,” he instructed his patient. “I don’t want you to stain another set of sheets.”
Scarlet gave but a single look at his bent arm, and then started counting, slowly: “Three… Two… One…” He unbent his arm and removed the pad to casually present it to Fawn. “Here, as good as new, Doc. If you need another sample, you can always use this.”
Fawn glared at him. “You have to be the worst patient I ever had the displeasure to care for,” he said in a low, disgruntled voice, as a grinning Scarlet threw the soiled cotton wool into the trashcan near his bed. “If that’s all the thanks I get for the hard work I’m doing around here, I should probably go back to Australia. I’m sure there’s a lot of kangaroos in the outback who will appreciate my services much better than you do.”
“Awww… Don’t take it that way, Doc,” Scarlet said by way of apologising. “We love you here, you know that.”
Amused by their banter, which he knew was more playful than anything else, Captain Blue chuckled. “I see everything is back to normal then. If Scarlet is teasing you, Edward, it must mean he’s better than he was when he arrived here yesterday.”
“Much better, yes,” Scarlet confirmed with a vigorous nod. “When I woke up this morning, I felt like my usual self. I remembered everything: my name… who I was… Spectrum… my place in it and you guys… Everything… Ah, with the notable exception of what happened to me one year ago, when the Mysterons had me under their control. That remains elusive.”
“I expect those were the memories of… another,” Blue commented quietly. “No more headaches?”
“No… All gone now, thank God.”
“I fully expected to find you with a shaved head. Or at least a bald spot. Doctor Fawn told me he had to surgically remove that thing you had in your head that he suspected was causing your amnesia.”
Scarlet grinned. “Well, you wouldn’t’ve had the opportunity. You know Doc doesn’t do things by halves. He could have shaved my head, but he didn’t. Instead, he made some kind of laser incision, and lifted part of the scalp to get it out of the way for the operation. Then he put it back and stitched it nicely in place.”
Blue tilted his head to one side. “Did he really do that or are you leading me on?”
Fawn sighed. “He makes it sound worse than it really was,” he said, shaking his head dejectedly. “It was just a very small portion that was lifted and stitched back. It’s not uncommon these days, Captain Blue.”
“Still, it’s fascinating stuff,” Scarlet continued.
Blue grimaced. “I’m glad you think so. Because me, I don’t find it very fascinating. I wouldn’t be looking forward to someone scalping me – or fiddling inside my brain either, for that matter.”
“Don’t let him fool you, Captain Blue,” Fawn then piped up. “He wasn’t looking forward to it either. He was sedated the whole time. Not an easy thing to do, considering his fast-acting metabolism. We probably gave him enough drugs to put down a whole herd of mammoths.”
“I admit you did a very nice job of patching me up, Doc,” Scarlet said. “And with the minimum of discomfort for me. I’m completely healed, the stitches are already gone…”
“I can’t take credit for that,” Fawn retorted.
“Maybe not, but you can for the rest. If I’m back to what is considered normal for me, it’s thanks to you.”
Fawn shrugged and smiled. “Well, it is nice to see you sometimes appreciate my work, Captain Scarlet… and I’m glad to be of service whenever I can. However, if you’ve regained your memory and you’re free of those headaches you were suffering from, it’s all down to your miraculous powers of recuperation. I provided only a little of my expertise by removing what was causing you so much trouble.” He reached for a small object which stood upright on the table next to the bed, and handed it to Captain Blue. “Here. This was the cause of the whole problem.”
Blue turned the object between his fingers, and nodded pensively. “So it was indeed a bullet you had in your head,” he told Scarlet.
“Ah, but not just an ordinary bullet,” Fawn retorted, before Scarlet could utter an answer.
Blue frowned. “What do you mean, Edward?”
“Do you remember a few months ago – that component Scarlet retrieved from the hovercraft in Koala Base?”
“The one that caused it to malfunction, and we all thought it was an inside job by a traitor?” Blue said, frowning as he recalled the incident. “Well indeed, the hovercraft was sabotaged, but Colonel White told us our experts in R and D discovered that the component Scarlet brought back had been tampered with at a subatomic level.”
Fawn nodded at Blue’s summary. “Which is another way of saying that it was… Mysteronised.” He indicated the bullet with which Blue was distractedly playing. “Which I believed this thing was.”
“Are you suggesting that this slug –”
Blue stopped turning the bullet between his fingers and looked down at it with incredulity. Scarlet sighed and crossed his arms on his chest. “Edward thinks this bullet was indeed Mysteronised, and that it was the reason why my retrometabolism couldn’t deal with it as it would a ‘normal’ bullet.”
“Which means what, dissolve it?” Blue asked with a frown. He often wondered how Scarlet’s body dealt with projectiles, his friend and Doctor Fawn seemingly always neglecting to explain to him that aspect of Scarlet’s retrometabolism. This time, he thought he would finally learn about it, but as Scarlet was opening his mouth to reply to his enquiry, Doctor Fawn interrupted him, adding to his patient’s earlier statement:
“I’m not saying that it was specifically Mysteronised with the intent of causing harm to Scarlet. You were shot at by a Mysteron agent, Captain,” Fawn said, addressing Scarlet directly. “And it’s possible that his equipment has been recreated along with him, when he was killed to undertake this new assignment for the Mysterons.”
“Mmm – it’s true that Mysterons agents are not often recreated naked,” Scarlet commented, stroking his chin. “From what we know, they are fully clothed – and sometimes fully armed. However, if these agents are sometimes indestructible, what they wear or carry with them usually isn’t. I know my uniform wasn’t… Or that’d be less of a bother for me.”
“You’re right, Scarlet: they usually are not. But this time might be one of those occurrences where it actually was. ”
Scarlet grimaced. “Much to my misfortune, I regret to say,” he muttered.
Fawn took the bullet from Blue’s hand. “This projectile lodged itself in Scarlet’s skull,” he explained to the American captain. “Obviously, its presence impaired his memory – more so than the injury it had caused.”
“Yeah, because my retrometabolism had already healed that injury,” Scarlet stated.
“… But Scarlet’s retrometabolism couldn’t cope with the bullet, due to its own Mysteronisation. They conflicted with each other – cancelled each other out, if you will, in a cycle that kept repeating itself. Which caused the headaches Scarlet kept having during this whole period of time.”
“Those headaches occurred mostly when I was making an effort to remember,” Scarlet added. “Or when I did remember something – or get close to remembering something.”
Fawn nodded. “It’s possibly your retrometabolism was working hard to restore your lost memory,” he commented, as Scarlet took the projectile from his hands to examine it with curiosity. “But the presence of this bullet wouldn’t permit it to do so. To restore your memory would have meant getting rid of the bullet. But as the bullet was retrometabolic too –” He looked down at the projectile that Scarlet was thoughtfully turning between his fingers. “I’ll have to hand it over to R and D later,” he said. “I’m sure that upon examination, they’ll discover it underwent the same kind of ‘subatomic manipulation’ that the hovercraft component did in Koala Base.”
“So what you’re saying, Edward,” Blue then said, “is that as soon as you surgically removed that slug, that took care of the problem?”
“Indeed,” Scarlet said, causing Blue to turn to him. “When I woke up this morning, after the operation and a good retrometabolic sleep – which I was told, was longer than any of those I’ve had in the last year – all of my lost memories came flooding back. Gave me something of a headache to begin with, as my brain was processing all that information. But it didn’t take very long and now…” he shrugged, putting the bullet back onto the table by the bed, “it’s like nothing at all had happened.”
“As usual,” Blue commented with a grin. “I don’t suppose it’ll be long before you’ll be signed back to active duty?”
“Three days,” Scarlet answered, swinging his legs off the side of the bed. “Edward reckons I deserve a break after all that excitement in Devil’s Bayou.”
“You do indeed,” Fawn confirmed. “I know that Colonel White is expecting you to make your report as soon as you can. But after that, I expect you to take some much needed rest.” He waved dismissively. “Take a vacation. Leave Cloudbase and go home, or wherever you’d like to find yourself at the moment.” He seemed to give it some thought and addressed a mischievous smile to Scarlet. “Try to avoid swamps, marshes, bayous or any wilderness of the kind.”
Scarlet made a face. “That goes without saying, Doc.”
“Now I know you can’t wait to be out of sickbay, so I’m giving you your leave right away.” Fawn gave Scarlet a friendly thump on the shoulder. “Now get out of here, you bum. I want you gone from this room when I come by later on.”
Scarlet chuckled. “There’s little chance you’ll see me in here, Doc.” Fawn turned around and was about to walk out of the room, when Scarlet called him back: “And Edward…?”
Fawn turned on his heels. Scarlet addressed him a genuine, friendly smile.
“Thanks again. For everything.”
“Anytime, mate,” Fawn answered, smiling back. “Do take care of yourself for more than a week, will you?” And with that, he went on his way.
Left alone with Blue, Scarlet turned to his friend, still standing in the same place as when he had arrived, and gestured towards the sole chair in the room, which was set nearby, against a wall.
Would you pass me my uniform, Adam? And my boots, please.”
Blue turned to the chair and noticed the shirt and tunic which lay on the backrest. He took both and handed them over to his friend, while pulling the chair nearer to the bed; he sat down, moving the red boots at his feet within Scarlet’s reach.
“You remember everything then?” Blue asked, as Scarlet pulled the dark shirt over his head.
“Oh yes,” his friend confirmed, as his head emerged through the collar. “Everything… Even that twenty you owe me from our last poker game, and that you seem to have forgotten about.” He glanced at Blue who rolled his eyes. “How strange that a man so loaded with money would forget such small details, I can’t explain that…”
“Yeah, me neither,” Blue said, chuckling. “Would you settle for dinner in the cafeteria later, then?”
“Okay, but I’m warning you: I worked up quite an appetite during that stay in the bayou, dodging bullets and arrows, and escaping fires. I’m absolutely famished. It’ll cost you more than twenty.”
“I can live with that.” Blue watched as Scarlet slipped his tunic on. “And what happened in the bayou – you still remember that?”
“Why yes, of course… Every last detail.” It was Scarlet’s turn to roll his eyes and to heave a deep sigh. “Can’t believe I’ve been so inept… There were situations I would have been able to straighten out easily if only I’d had my memory in the first place! Just thinking about it – it’s almost embarrassing.”
Blue shook his head. “It’s not like it was your fault – not entirely, that is. I think we can say your instincts served you right when it became necessary… and you certainly turned up trumps in the end. The same could be said for Rhapsody.”
“Especially for her,” Scarlet retorted. “Without her support during that whole ordeal in the bayou, I might not even be here right now, talking to you. She was a rock and held the fort admirably, particularly in those times where I was totally useless.”
“I wouldn’t say you were useless,” Blue said softly. “You did save her life… Several times, according to her.”
“You talked to her?” Scarlet inquired. “Fawn told me earlier she was all right, when I asked about her, but I haven’t seen her yet.”
“She is… quite all right, actually. She has a room down the corridor and has been resting since her arrival. She received some minor burns from the fire, but I think you took the worst of it, protecting her. She had quite a ghastly slash across one of her arms… I think that’s the worst she suffered.”
“I remember,” Scarlet said, recalling the bandage he had seen on the young woman’s left arm. “She told me she did that to herself when she ejected from her Angel craft. She told me it was nothing, and it didn’t seem to bother her. She treated it with medicine she found in Joe Benson’s cabin. You tell me it was serious?”
“It looked ugly – and was probably painful. The medicine was probably helpful. Doctor Fawn assured that it won’t have any lasting effect.”
“Well, she didn’t let that injury affect her in the bayou, that’s for sure. I don’t suppose she told you she saved my life too? Also, several times.”
“I remember her mentioning a ‘hanging party’,” Blue commented with a grim expression. “And was quite angry just thinking about it. You really had it tough down there, buddy.”
Scarlet sighed. “It was… a difficult assignment, I must admit.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to assist you.”
“That couldn’t be helped.” Scarlet smiled fondly. “It’s true your help would have been appreciated, but Dianne made a more than capable replacement. She certainly made up for your absence.”
“Certainly?” Blue repeated, raising a brow. “Don’t you mean ‘almost’?”
Scarlet burst out laughing. “Don’t be jealous, Big Blue! Having her as a partner during a field assignment wasn’t the same as working with you. It was… different. For one thing, she’s prettier.”
Blue sniggered. “I’m not sure she would consider that qualification as relevant, considering the circumstances.”
“I can tell you she doesn’t,” Scarlet confirmed. “And she’s certainly one tough lady.”
“That she is,” Blue admitted with a slow nod. “I saw that first hand down there.” As Scarlet gazed at him inquiringly, he continued: “You were out for the last part of your assignment, so you didn’t get to know what happened after we found you.”
“What did happen, exactly?”
“The medicopter took a few minutes more coming than expected, and Sheriff Huxley was pestering us to take you and Rhapsody down to Les Arbrisseaux, to be treated by Doctor Evers…”
“Oh God, you didn’t –”
“No, don’t worry. The medicopter did finally arrive, and that put an end to that part of the problem. However, in the meantime, that gave Rhapsody the opportunity to… shall we say… exact vengeful retribution on the leader of those young scum who wanted to kill the both of you?”
Scarlet had reached for one boot and was about to put it on, but Blue’s words made him stop and he returned his attention to him. “What did she do?” he asked with curiosity.
“Well, that Holland boy was brooding in his corner, kept under watchful surveillance by Sheriff Huxley’s volunteers. The way he was glaring at you and Rhapsody – if he had had daggers instead of eyes, you both would have been killed on the spot.”
“Now why am I not surprised?” Scarlet growled.
“Rhapsody noticed that and went to him. I went with her. Holland was handcuffed, I wasn’t afraid that he might do something to her. On the contrary, I was concerned that she might do something to him. Her eyes were flashing with cold, barely contained anger. You know how she can be when she gets particularly cross?”
Scarlet rolled his eyes as he put his boot on and zipped it up. “Do I! I’ve seen her in action already. And I’ve been on the receiving end of her wrath, once or twice. She’s not considered our fiercest Angel pilot for nothing, that’s a well-earned reputation. But I don’t suppose she would have got physical with Holland? I’m sure you worried too much, Adam.”
“Well, at the time, Paul, I couldn’t be less sure of what she was planning. She really didn’t look in any kind of forgiving mood. You would have been concerned too, if you had seen her. She stood in front of Holland, and asked him if he was happy with what he had accomplished – that so many people had to die and suffer because of his greed.”
“And…?” Scarlet asked reaching for his second boot.
“That bastard told Rhapsody, in no uncertain terms, and with conceit such that you can’t even conceived in a man in his situation, that he would have been much happier if the both of you had died in that fire.” Blue paused a second, watching as Scarlet’s blue eyes glimmered with anger at these words. “He did use some words that weren’t very nice nor polite to describe you both.”
“I can imagine what those words were,” Scarlet muttered between his teeth, zipping his boot up. “The scumbag.”
“I already felt like punching him in the mouth in the beginning,” Blue said dryly. “Imagine after he had said that. But Rhapsody beat me to it.”
“What did she do?” Scarlet asked with a raised brow. “She didn’t slap him – you said she didn’t get physical with him and anyway, you would have put that in your report and I would have seen it. Or maybe you would have ‘forgotten’ that part…”
“So you read my report, huh?”
“Of course. Colonel White had Lieutenant Green supply it to me – after I argued that it would probably be helpful to fill in my own report – that he is waiting for impatiently, I reckon.”
“Liar,” Blue said with a thin smile. “The truth is, you were impatient to learn how the assignment had ended. Admit it.”
“I’ll admit whatever you want, but please, go on, Adam. Tell me what happened next.”
Blue laughed. “You’ll be disappointed if you think that Rhapsody resorted to physical violence. She didn’t slap Holland – although he would have richly deserved it. No, she has more class than that. With a pokerfaced expression, she presented the boy with a handful of something she had brought with her – and that I didn’t notice she had in her hand before that moment.”
“A handful of ‘something’?” Scarlet echoed, his brow furrowed.
“At first I thought it was burned bark – or leaves, blackened beyond recognition. It took me a moment to realise it was paper material… green, tied in a wad…”
“Money,” Scarlet suddenly realised. “Riley’s loot.”
Blue nodded quietly. “What was left of it, anyway. Rhapsody told Holland: ‘You wanted Riley’s treasure so much you were willing to kill everyone and destroy everything in your path. Here’s what left of that treasure. The whole lot of it burned with the shed, when your chums set it on fire in their attempt to kill us. For all your efforts, that’s all you’ll have. It’s yours. Enjoy it’.”
“Oh my…” Scarlet opened his eyes wide. “And I missed that? Bloody hell – I bet that didn’t go down very well with Holland!”
“No,” Blue said in confirmation. “From what I know, he was absolutely obsessed with that treasure.”
“Enough to resort to multiple murders to have it, yes. What happened next?”
“Rhapsody threw the money at Holland’s feet, and then turned her back on him and walked away, her head held high, without looking back, to return to your side.” Blue shook his head in disgust. “I never saw anyone go so many colours in quick succession. I swear, he was so red I thought he was going to burst. Then he became very pale – and finally, green, as if he was going to get sick on us. He started shivering and fell down on his knees, whimpering like a child, repeating over and over again that he’d come so close to finally getting what he wanted and to have a life of his own – and then sobbing that he never had any luck in his life.”
“Oh my heart bleeds… so not,” Scarlet retorted with bitterness. “I hope that little creep will receive his just punishment. I don’t know if Louisiana applies the death penalty anymore, but considering all the deaths he’s been responsible for…”
“Maybe that would be too light a sentence,” Blue commented.
“Then the rest of his life in prison, for all I care. He’s a dangerous psychopath, a manipulative murderer who got away with too much not to be properly punished in the end. When I think of all he and his gang did, I can barely contain my anger.” Scarlet gave a deep sigh. “I read in your report that Sheriff Masters is alive. I’m glad, he’s a good man. He was very lucky. When I saw him fall into that river with a bullet in his chest, I felt sure he was done for.”
“He’s certainly a tough guy,” Blue commented. “He was very weak when we got to talk to him, but he was able to tell us enough to realise that you were in trouble – not only from the Mysterons that we knew were present somewhere in Devil’s Bayou, but from that gang of young hoodlums who had killed that man – Joe Benson.”
“Joe was also a good man,” Scarlet murmured. “He helped me, not knowing who I was – I know he had stashed all that stolen money at his place, and that he probably killed that Riley guy years ago, but…”
“Rhapsody told me you had found that part,” Blue continued. “And that you suspected he had killed that bank robber out of vengeance, for that young teller who died in the robbery in New Orleans – and who had the same name as Joe.” As Scarlet looked at him, waiting for more information that he was obviously about to provide, Blue continued: “The girl was Joe’s niece – Anita. She was his only living relative at the time and he loved her like his own daughter.”
“I knew he was close to her,” Scarlet said with an understanding nod.
“What you might not know, however, is that Riley was a close friend to Joe at the time of the girl’s death.”
Scarlet opened his eyes wide in disbelief. “Joe knew that man?”
“And knew him pretty well. They were from the same town – a town that was destroyed many years ago by a series of floods, tornadoes and other tropical storms, and which once stood not that far from Les Arbrisseaux. I’ve got the information from Doc Evers himself. He knew about the history between Joe and this man.”
“The doctor told you all that?”
“He did. Joe Benson was a colleague of his. He was the doctor of that town, before it vanished.”
“A doctor,” Scarlet said in realisation. “That explains a lot… The way he treated my injuries. The medicines Rhapsody found in his cabinet. He must have kept contact with people who could provide them to him. Very useful when you live in a hostile environment like Devil’s Bayou, I reckon.”
“Joe lost all of his relatives in the last flood that destroyed the town, except for Anita. As for Riley, he lost his home and all he possessed – and probably part of his good sense too. He knew Anita from Joe. Evers thinks – because he can’t say for sure – that it’s possible that Anita unwittingly gave information about her work at the bank in New Orleans. Riley thought of using that information to attack the bank. It might be that Anita, who wasn’t supposed to work that day, recognised him, and that his intention was to get rid of an unwanted witness… or that she might even have been an accomplice. Joe might have been one too in some way, knowing of Riley’s projects. But even if Joe was an accomplice, it’s certain he would never have done any harm to Anita. It could also be possible that Riley, while on the run from the police, was simply looking for a place to hide, and he thought his friend Joe might help him. Maybe in exchange for some money.”
“But when Riley came to him, Joe already knew of Anita’s death,” Scarlet continued thoughtfully.
“That’s what Evers thinks. He suspected for a long time that the person who killed Riley and hanged him in Devil’s Bayou might be Joe, but he had no evidence to confirm that. There were no traces, no prints, nothing to indicate who might have killed Riley. As for Joe… He never left the area – although he could have, taking the money along to make himself a new life.”
“He wouldn’t touch it,” Scarlet asserted. “For him, it was blood money. It caused the death of his beloved niece. And by not using any of it, nobody suspected he had it all this time, and that he was Riley’s killer. Everybody would have thought that killer had gone with all the money. Except for Jasper and his gang,” he added in an undertone. “Somehow, they discovered the truth.”
Blue nodded. “Joe was already some kind of a recluse at the time, having lost his practice and all of his relatives. Now with Anita’s death, it was like his last remaining link to civilisation had been cut. There weren’t that many people who knew of his past – to everyone, he was just an old crazy guy who didn’t like to mix with anyone.”
“Did Sheriff Masters ever know of Joe’s secret?”
“Sheriff Masters might have had some suspicion, but all this happened before his time. He wouldn’t have bothered Joe with it, more than likely. As for Evers, from what I was able to gather from him, out of deference for his former colleague, and not wanting to cause him any trouble with groundless accusations should he be mistaken, he didn’t mention his suspicions to anyone. Joe was mostly a quiet man who didn’t have any hassle with anyone. With all he endured in the past, he deserved to be left alone. Riley’s death could have been described as ‘Bayou Justice’. I can’t say I agree, but I can certainly understand.” Blue sighed. “That’s it, you have the story. I didn’t ask further questions on the matter. I didn’t think it was for me to investigate deeper than that or report the situation to higher authorities. ”
Scarlet nodded his appreciation. “Better to leave people to rest in peace,” he said in a low voice.
“Amen to that.”
“That answers that mystery – at least in part. But what about the microchip?”
Blue raised a brow. “That thing you and Rhapsody went into Devil’s Bayou to retrieve?”
“Yeah. What happened to it? Was it found?”
Blue shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Much to the colonel’s chagrin. Or rather – the World President’s. Do you have any idea what was on that chip?”
Scarlet shrugged. “How would I know that? I doubt the colonel knows either and I’m not sure World President Younger even does. What I know is – whatever it contains is probably big – and dangerous – enough for the Mysterons to want to get their intangible hands on it.”
“I agree. Their threat this time was very cryptic – so much so that we had trouble understanding it. It mentioned something about pitting allied countries against each other and causing the disunification of the World Government. At first, it looked like the Mysterons were preparing an attack within Futura City; they made us believe it, anyway.”
“And during that time, they had Montgomery trying to get the microchip,” Scarlet said thoughtfully. He nodded. “The good news is the Mysterons didn’t get the microchip either. If they had found it, we would know: Montgomery and his men would have left Devil’s Bayou with it and would not have wasted their time trying to get it from Dianne and me. They thought we had it – or at least that we knew where it was.”
“So Rhapsody told me,” Blue approved. “According to her, you were the last person to actually see it and to have it in your possession.”
“Maybe,” Scarlet said, frowning deeply to remember. “My memory might be working fine right now, but the circumstances in which the chip was lost remain rather fuzzy. I retrieved it all right. It was inside the case the colonel had given me the combination of. It was in a small metal box, small enough to be held in the palm of my hand. The last time I saw it, I had thrown it into a waste basket in Joe’s cabin. Dianne and I thought it was still there, so that’s why we went to his cabin in the first place. But it wasn’t. We then suspected that maybe it was taken with all the rest of my stuff by Sheriff Masters as evidence. That would be standard police procedure, I guess.”
Blue huffed. “Well, you were right about that one. Sheriff Masters had a list of the items taken from Joe’s place at the same time you were taken in. On that list figures an object that fits the description you just gave me.”
“And that’s all. When Masters and his deputy drove you to the place where you were supposed to be taken into custody by Spectrum – actually, a trap laid by a Mysteronised agent planted in our New Orleans office, which would have led you into Montgomery’s hands – that object, along with all the rest, was brought along.”
“We fell into a trap all right,” Scarlet muttered.
“Sheriff Masters’ car was set on fire… everything that was inside was burned with it. So if the chip was in there – and Masters confirmed that the box containing it was – then it was destroyed.”
“That probably happened after Dianne rescued me from Jasper and his gang and she took me up river,” Scarlet commented.
“Yes. She said the car was untouched when she left. Jess Crowley – the guy his friends called ‘Scarecrow’ – told us that Jasper had asked one John Monroe to burn the car, to destroy all trace of what had happened. There was a body in that car when it was found, and when the forensics were done – well, it turned out it was Monroe.” Blue sat back against the backrest of his chair. “And there was a ‘John Monroe’ found at Joe’s place too. According to Crowley, he was following Montgomery’s orders to the letter.”
“He was a Mysteron agent.”
Blue nodded. “He was killed later by Jasper Holland.” He scratched the side of his nose, thinking. “I don’t know how this happened exactly, but I would say that Montgomery surprised Monroe at the sheriff’s car and killed him to ‘recruit’ him. I would say the Mysterons were very close to getting their hands on the microchip, but they never suspected it was in that car.”
“Thank God for small miracles,” Scarlet said in a sour voice. “It looks like many people died over that microchip – and over Riley’s money too.”
“All the Mysteron agents were killed,” Blue confirmed. “And there’s only two members left of Jasper Holland’s gang. Holland himself and Crowley. The latter is quite happy to testify against his former leader, if it can get him a reduced sentence.”
“I remember that boy,” Scarlet said, a glare of anger shining in his eyes. “Scarecrow… In my book, he was nearly as bad as Jasper Holland. He tried to hurt Dianne, with that other friend of his – the one that got sucked into quicksand. Jamie, I think his name was. That one was a real blackguard.” Scarlet then noticed Blue’s expression, as the latter tilted his head to one side to stare at him intently. He frowned, wondering what was on his friend’s mind. “What? Is there something wrong?”
“Nothing, as far as I’m concerned,” Blue said thoughtfully. “I’ve just realised… you keep talking about Rhapsody as ‘Dianne’.”
“It’s her name, right?” Scarlet retorted a little sharply.
Blue noticed how the English officer suddenly seemed on his guard. He shrugged dismissively.
“Of course, it is – it’s just that it seemed odd to me that not once since we started talking, have you referred to her by her codename… Is there something I should know?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Blue looked at his friend for a moment, chewing on his bottom lip, realising that there was indeed something he wasn’t telling him. However, Scarlet’s expression remained neutral. That made the blond captain curious.
“Come on, Paul, it’s me. You know you can tell me everything. Did something happen in that swamp, between the two of you?”
“And what do you mean exactly by ‘something’?” Scarlet replied, still guardedly.
Blue sighed. “It’s just a feeling that I have, really. You know, when I talked to her earlier, she said she was very concerned for you and hoped you would regain your memory soon. She told me that she had been worried the whole time you were separated during this assignment, and that she was just as worried when you finally got together, and discovered you had amnesia. She felt powerless to be of any help to you.”
“Did she?” Scarlet asked with a thoughtful smile.
Blue narrowed his eyes at him. “Something did happen down there,” he said in a knowing voice.
Scarlet glared at him with an annoyed expression. “Adam, we were fighting for our lives. Whatever you’re thinking, we didn’t have time for anything else but –”
“Hello?” The soft voice coming from the opened door interrupted Scarlet and he almost choked when he realised who just popped her head through the opening to peep inside with smiling blue eyes and a cheerful smile.
“Hi, Di – Rhapsody,” he welcomed her as she entered. He felt himself reddening to the roots at the mere thought that she might have heard any of the conversation he’d been having with Blue about her. She didn’t seem to notice – but Blue did, it was obvious just by his mischievous smile and his general attitude. Scarlet could have throttled him on the spot.
“Hi, Captain,” Rhapsody replied quietly. “Doctor Fawn told me you can receive visitors today.” She waved at him. “And I see you’re already up and dressed, all ready to leave?”
“Fawn dismissed him from sickbay,” Blue said, before Scarlet could answer. “Now that he’s fully healed and that he has regained his memory. He probably thinks this room would be put to better use by someone who really needs it.” He smiled at the young woman. “How are you today, Rhapsody?”
“Much better, thank you, Captain Blue. I’ve received my release from sickbay as well, although I’m not fully back on duty.” Rhapsody turned to address Scarlet. “Your memory is back, then? That must be a relief for you, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet answered first with a slow nod. Blue glanced at his friend, finding him uncharacteristically lost for words. Apparently having said what she wanted to, Rhapsody waited for her compatriot to speak next. There was a prolonged silence between them.
Blue smiled inwardly, realising he had been right all along: something had happened in the bayou between these two; something that seemed to have had some deep impact on both of them, but that obviously neither was willing as yet to voice – not in front of a third party, anyway. Blue could only imagine what it might be, although he had a pretty good idea. The way Rhapsody had been protective and defensive of Scarlet from the moment they had been rescued the day before was already a good indication; and then, just now, there was Scarlet’s behaviour and denial. It couldn’t be clearer.
And it was about time too.
Blue cleared his throat, breaking the silence and causing his two colleagues to turn to him as he left his chair. “You will excuse me, both – but I’m due back on duty in five minutes, so I will have to leave right away. Besides,” he added, “I think you’d prefer to be alone and have a little chat.” He noticed Rhapsody’s confusion and Scarlet’s warning stare. “You’ve been through a lot these last few days,” he added quickly. “So maybe you have a lot to talk about… You have a report to present to the Old Man, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Yes, we do,” Rhapsody confirmed quickly. “I was told that I will need to present myself with you, Captain Scarlet, so we can be debriefed together.”
“Then I’d better be on my way and leave you to it.”
Scarlet addressed a grateful smirk at his friend. “Thanks, Adam. I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah – and I expect you will give me all the details then.” Blue waved at both of them. “Take care, Dianne.”
“See you soon, Captain.”
Rhapsody followed Blue with her eyes as he left the room quietly. Once he was gone, she turned to Scarlet; he was seated on the side of the bed, watching her silently. She gave a brief nod in the direction of the door, frowning in curiosity. “What did he mean by you’ll give him all the details later?”
Scarlet shrugged dismissively. “My nosy best friend wants to hear from the horse’s mouth every little detail of my – our – misadventures in the bayou.”
“All the details?” she asked. “And you’ll tell him?”
Scarlet grinned. “Only what he needs to know.”
She considered that answer and approached closer. “So… you’ve really got your memory back? All of it?”
“No more headaches?” she persisted.
“And… you’re completely healed?”
“Yes. I’m back to my old self.” He stood in front of her and looked down at her with a renewed smile. “The indestructible and loveable Captain Scarlet.”
“Uh-huh.” Rhapsody’s brow went sky high. “And you’ve certainly regained your confidence and high opinion of yourself.” His eyes lowered and she discovered the bullet, that Scarlet had put back onto the table a few minutes earlier. She took it and presented it to Scarlet. “Is this what I think it is? The thing that was the origin of all your troubles?”
“Oh, the bullet,” Scarlet said, taking the small object between his fingers. “Fawn must have forgotten it. I know he wanted to give it to R and D, for them to find out if it was possibly retrometabolic, as he suspects.”
“So that’s the answer, then,” Rhapsody said in understanding. “A Mysteronised bullet?”
“Most likely, yes. Fawn thinks it must have conflicted with my own retrometabolism, which was trying to get rid of it – but obviously couldn’t. He removed it surgically and all the problems were gone. I’ll have to remember to give it back to him.”
“Maybe he meant you to keep it as a souvenir?” Rhapsody suggested with a teasing smile.
He chuckled. “I’m not really the type of man who gets attached to this kind of stuff, Dianne.” He looked down at her hand, which previously held the projectile; he had noticed that it was covered with bandages, from the wrist to the fingers, as was the other, that she kept by her side. He pointed to it, scowling. “What did you do to yourself?”
“Oh, that?” Rhapsody raised her hand and wiggled her fingers. “First degree burns, to both hands. I wonder how it could have happened…” she added in a falsely musing tone.
“I wonder too,” he replied in the same fashion. “Perhaps it was when you held on so tight to me, while we lay together in that dark, narrow, damp and awfully uncomfortable hole. I’m sorry this happened to you. I daresay it’ll keep you off duty for a while?”
“Two weeks. But it’s not only my hands. My left arm is a little sore, as well, so until I’m healed, I must rest. That’s not too bad, all things considered. And you don’t have to apologise, Paul. You did your best to protect me from the worst… especially by offering yourself as a shield between me and that fire. I’m sure your back looked far worst than my hands are at the moment. I could tell by your blackened shirt. You must have been in terrible pain.”
“I did what I had to do, Dianne,” Scarlet said, shrugging.
“You saved my life,” she insisted. “At the risk of yours. I know, I know: you’re indestructible, and you never stay injured, or ‘dead’ for that matter, for long. But I also know you feel every wound and every pain. I know how difficult it was for you in that hole.”
“It was,” he confirmed, lowering his eyes. “You’re right, I might be indestructible, but when I feel pain or injuries, it’s the same as any other man. ‘Dying’, if you can call that, doesn’t come easy, even in the best of circumstances. And down there in that hole, with the heat of the fire against my back, and the smoke filling my lungs, I really felt as bad as you can imagine… until you put that respirator in my mouth.” He gave her a half-reproachful, half-grateful look. “Despite the fact I told you to keep it for yourself.”
“You were suffocating,” Rhapsody retorted, in a tone that meant she wasn’t offering any apologies for her actions. “I couldn’t let you suffer needlessly like that, certainly not while you were risking everything to save me. You were too weak anyway to protest or stop me.”
“We were lucky there were a little more oxygen in that capsule than you first thought – or you might not be having this conversation with me right now.”
Scarlet stopped her with a gesture and smiled thinly. “You took advantage of the situation. I thank you for that – and for not listening to me.”
Rhapsody smiled back. “You’re welcome. And you have to admit, that was one situation worth taking advantage of.”
He let the words sink in, and then added, very softly: “Unlike that other situation in the bayou when you chose not to take advantage?”
Rhapsody looked down, as if trying to avoid his eyes. “I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t remember that episode,” she said.
“Hey, regaining my whole memory doesn’t mean I ought to forget what happened while I was amnesiac,” Scarlet retorted. “It’s not exactly like last year, when the Mysterons took me over.” He narrowed his eyes at the young woman. “And frankly, do you really expect I would forget something like that?”
“I know. I’m sorry, I suppose I was a little embarrassed by it all.”
“Whatever for?” Scarlet inquired. “Dianne, what happened between us –”
“What almost happened between us.”
“No. What happened.” Scarlet sighed, annoyed that she wouldn’t look him in the eyes. “Dianne, look at me, please.” He reached for her and gently raised her chin. She docilely complied and their eyes met. Scarlet could see the confusion in her face, which reflected his own mixed feelings. “Something did happen down there,” he insisted.
“A result of the strain born from the hard situation we found ourselves in,” she replied, trying to sound rational about it. “In those circumstances, I think it would be normal that two people – a man and a woman – would feel naturally attracted to one another and would try to find comfort in –”
“No. You know as well as I do that this psychological mumbo-jumbo doesn’t apply in our case.”
“Maybe at the time I was trying to find a way for you to regain your memory?” she suggested.
“By sleeping with me?” Scarlet shook his head dismissively. “Come on, how in the world would that have helped if we weren’t a couple before? I know you. I know you would not have permitted things to go as far as they did between us, if you didn’t have some kind of feeling for me – and didn’t think that those feelings were reciprocated.”
“And what kind of feelings are you referring to?” Rhapsody replied, narrowing her eyes at him.
Scarlet swallowed hard. “I think I’m falling for you, Dianne Simms. Falling hard. And I think the same is happening to you.”
She looked him squarely in the eyes. “Are you being serious about this?”
“What, don’t you believe me? What do you want, proof?”
Scarlet took a step forward to come closer to her. Rhapsody froze at his approach, and as a result, didn’t react when he put his arms around her and pulled her against him. His lips were on hers, silencing her just as she was about to protest, in a hard, passionate kiss. At first, she felt like pushing him back for his presumption – but a second later, her resolve melted at the intensity of his embrace. Her arms enfolded him in turn and her lips returned his kiss with the same fervour.
When they finally resurfaced to breathe again, they looked at each other, with a similar glimmer in their respective eyes. “So?” Scarlet asked in a voice barely above a whisper, keeping her close to him.
Rhapsody reached to caress his cheek, in a tender gesture. “I think I’m also falling for you too, Paul Metcalfe,” she finally answered with a sigh. “And I think – it’s been going on for quite a while.”
At these words, he addressed her a grateful smile. “I had a feeling it was that way,” he said with an understanding nod. “And I think the same goes for me. Otherwise,” he added in a good-natured tone, “I wouldn’t have asked you all those silly questions in the bayou about us.” He was happy to see her chuckle at the memory. “I hope I didn’t embarrass you too much with those?”
“It was awkward, I have to admit, but truly embarrassing? No, I wouldn’t describe it that way. I would say it was… enlightening.”
Scarlet grinned at her and was about to reply when they both heard footsteps coming from the corridor. They broke their embrace and took a step back from each other; looking towards the open door, they saw one of the sickbay nurses walking down the corridor. She barely addressed them a look as she continued on her way, probably too busy with her duties to concern herself with their presence.
When she disappeared, Rhapsody and Scarlet looked at each other again, a little gawkily as if they were unsure of their next move.
Scarlet pushed his fists into the pockets of his trousers, his expression now one of thoughtfulness. “So… what do we do from here?”
Rhapsody nodded at his question. The same thought had crossed her mind. “I think we should take it one step at a time. See how this develops… where it will take us.”
Scarlet smirked. “I know where I’d like it to take us, love… But the question at the moment would be – how to get us there?”
“Carefully, I would say,” Rhapsody replied with a fond smile.
He raised a brow. “I agree. We have Spectrum’s regulations to bear in mind; the colonel’s feelings about it… We should be discreet.”
“Like Adam and Karen?” Rhapsody suggested.
Scarlet chuckled. “I’d hardly describe Adam and Karen as ‘discreet’. I bet everybody onboard knows about them. Maybe even including the Old Man.”
“Then we’ll have to do much better than them.”
Scarlet nodded slowly, his eyes riveted on those of the young woman standing in front of him. “It seems there is a lot we need to discuss, then. Things to organise…” He tilted his head to one side. “How about we talk these things through away from Cloudbase?”
“What do you mean?” Rhapsody asked with a slight frown.
“I seem to recall I promised you some time off in New Orleans after our last assignment.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh. That. Actually, you had arranged a date between me and a man who ended up turning into a Mysteron…”
“I’m sorry Mahoney can’t be on hand –it really wasn’t his fault. The poor guy. However, you’re still entitled to that date. And I don’t think I’m mistaken in thinking you would actually have preferred, from the beginning, that this date was with me instead?” Scarlet smirked mischievously. “I did recognise disappointment in your voice two days ago, when I organised that date – and told you it would be with Mahoney.”
“It wasn’t as much disappointment as it was exasperation, actually.”
“You’ve just told me you’re not due for active duty for a couple of weeks. As for me, I’ll be off for a few days, after I meet the colonel for debriefing, and present my report…”
“Something I have to do with you,” Rhapsody then reminded him.
“Doctor Fawn recommended me to go off base for a short furlough. I’m sure Colonel White would agree you need the same. Considering all we’ve been through lately, I don’t think he will say no to us having some time off on the surface.”
“In New Orleans?” she repeated thoughtfully.
“Or elsewhere, if you’d rather not find yourself too close to where we had our misadventure.”
“No.” She smiled, looking up at him with eyes bright with anticipation. “New Orleans is fine by me. I seem to recall you mentioning that the New French Quarter would be nice to visit. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Then it’s settled.” Scarlet went to the nearby table to take his cap from it and putting it on his head, returned to the young woman to present his arm to her. “Would you care to accompany me to the Control Room, Rhapsody Angel? I think Colonel White is waiting for our report – and then we’ll talk to him about that furlough.”
“By all means, Captain Scarlet – that’s another invitation I eagerly accept.” She took his arm and together they walked towards the exit. “Especially as I don’t want to miss seeing the colonel’s reaction when you reveal to him that you told Sheriff Masters your name was ‘Scarlet O’Hara’.”
Scarlet opened falsely horrified eyes. “Does he know? No, don’t tell me he does!”
“Paul, if he doesn’t already know, he will have to be told. If you don’t tell him, I will.”
“No, you won’t. It can be another secret of ours, can’t it?”
“No way. I wouldn’t dream of keeping this one to myself. Come on, be a man and face the consequences of your actions.”
“You big bully. Come on, Dianne. Do you know what this could do to my self-esteem if you reveal this to Colonel White? I’ll be mortified for life!”
And to that, Rhapsody could only answer, with a wicked smile: “Frankly, my dear Scarlet, I don’t give a damn.”
* * *
“I should have known I would find you here, Leonard.”
Leonard Masters raised his head at the sound of the voice coming from his right; he turned to look in that direction. Doctor Bill Evers was standing only a few feet away from him, seemingly waiting patiently by the car the sheriff had borrowed from Sam Caldwell, when he had met the man a couple of hours before in front of the clinic. Masters acknowledged the doctor’s presence with the briefest of nods, and returned to his contemplation of the river. He was seated directly on the ground, on a patch of grass right next to the burned remnants of his car, at the end of the beaten trail leading to the river, not far from Devil’s Bridge.
“You didn’t have to come for me, Bill,” the sheriff said in a low voice. “I can find my way back home perfectly well when it’s time.”
“Yes, you can – but will you have the strength to come back?” Slowly, Evers approached closer and stood over his friend. “Leonard, it’s only been two weeks since we fished you from this very river, literally more dead than alive. You should still be in bed and convalescing. You’re far from being healed, and all this wandering around certainly won’t help get you back in shape. The bayou is a good place to catch death. A man can come down with a fever, or disease that can send him to an early grave – especially if this man is in a weakened state. Like you are. Now come on, be reasonable and follow me back to the clinic right now.”
Masters lowered his eyes, and didn’t deign to answer at first. It was true he didn’t feel on top of things; all things considered, he knew he was lucky to be alive and counted his blessings for that. However, he was going crazy, locked up in that room at Bill Evers’ small hospital, with the nurses all over him, treating him almost like a old man, swallowing painkillers like so many candies and accepting the sympathies of visitors coming over to offer their support. Everyone seemed to consider him a hero, to have survived what he did and to have, in some way, contributed to the arrest of vicious criminals.
But Leonard Masters didn’t consider he had done that much; and he certainly didn’t feel like a hero. And there were too many questions which for him remained unanswered, many days after the end of those events in Devil’s Bayou.
“How did he do it, Bill?” he asked his friend.
“Who?” Evers replied with a slight frown.
“That Spectrum officer – the amnesiac man I found at Joe’s place and locked up in my jail.” Masters sighed. “How did he do it, seemingly reviving from death itself and healing from his wounds, without a trace left of them afterwards?”
“You know I don’t know that anymore than you do, Leonard. And I’m unlikely to find any answer to it, now that Spectrum has confiscated all files I might have had on that guy.”
“I’ve been thinking about what Holland told me,” Masters continued. “You know, doing nothing in that room… that makes a man think about all kinds of things, even crazy things…”
“What have you been thinking about?”
“About Spectrum and their fight against these Mysterons… Do you believe in aliens, Bill?”
His friend scowled. “Those coming into the country illegally across the border, or the interstellar kind?” He grunted and waved dismissively. “I read Worldnet too, Leonard. I know about those idiotic rumours you can find in there. The Mysterons coming from another planet… Zombie-like terrorists roaming the surface of the globe… Is that what Jasper Holland told you about? You’re not going to believe any of that, are you?”
“It does sound stupid, when you put it that way,” Masters admitted.
“Me, I prefer to think of more rational explanations.” Evers paused a second or two and added: “It’s true I can’t think of any right now, but I’m sure there is one.”
“You’re probably right, Bill. But for the rest, can you believe it? Terrorists… and Spectrum fighting here in Devil’s Bayou? That certainly tops anything that might have happened here – including that hanging of Riley, that’s for sure. That mystery finally got its answer, but it’s now been replaced by another mystery. ‘Cause I don’t know for sure what this whole deal with these terrorists was all about – and I don’t expect we’ll ever find that out.”
“Yeah,” Evers grunted. “World Government security and all that… I wonder why it’s even necessary. Frankly, I don’t really care about that. I care more about the lives that were lost out there in the bayou.”
“Joe and Mac…” murmured Masters. “And these boys, who thought they would get rich easy… I know they were bad, but I can’t help myself thinking it was such a waste, Bill. Maybe… I should have seen coming.”
“How could you? Even if you had known for sure that Joe was behind Riley’s death all those years ago… That he had kept all that money all that time…”
“You and I suspected Joe had something to do with Riley’s death, Bill. You, nearly from the beginning and me, when I came into office some years ago, and checked the story out – mainly out of curiosity. But with no proof, neither of us could act upon it. And I don’t think we ever wanted to find any proof.” Masters took a small stone from the ground and tossed it into the river, absently. “Riley was a scumbag and deserved his death many times over. And Joe –”
“Despite it all, Joe was a good man who had had enough setbacks in his life,” Evers said. “He didn’t need for anyone adding to it.”
“Until Jasper Holland killed him,” growled Masters.
“Holland will pay for his crimes. You were very lucky not to have become one of his multiple victims, Leonard.”
“I may not be dead, Bill, but I’m still one of Holland’s victims. I got shot – and won’t probably be fit enough to hold the post of sheriff of this parish anymore because of that.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” Evers scolded. “It’s true you have a long way to go, but you’re alive, and that’s more than can be said for others. And look at you: you’re up and about, despite all my efforts to keep you still! Does that look like a man who won’t be able to resume his duties to you? You might feel like you’re unfit right now, but that’s because you’re not giving yourself proper time to heal completely. You just need to be patient.”
“Maybe.” Masters looked to his left, straight at the twisted and burned remains of his car and his mind wandered back, thinking about the recent events that had marked the area. Not two weeks ago, he was driving this car with Alan MacGibbons seated by his side, and there were very few crimes happening in the area. He never imagined for one second that already then, Jasper Holland, helped by his gang of friends, was hassling old Joe Benson into selling his property – just because he thought somewhere around it was hidden the loot of a hold-up that had been performed a decade and a half ago. Joe’s stubbornness led to his end at Holland’s hand – whose greed caused even more suffering and deaths in the aftermath.
And then came that Spectrum officer on assignment in Devil’s Bayou, literally dropping from the sky. Defenceless, amnesiac, without a clue of who he was or what he was doing there. For Jasper and his gang, he seemed to be the perfect victim of a frame up for Joe’s murder, but that was to be their ultimate mistake. Because this man, who wasn’t as defenceless as he seemed after all, already had people gunning for him – dangerous people who would take out whoever was standing between them and their prey.
Jasper and his gang stood in the way and became unwittingly entangled in a war between Spectrum and vicious terrorists… and they paid the ultimate price.
And unfortunately, so did Alan MacGibbons.
A ‘plop’ coming from the river attracted Masters’ attention and he turned his eyes back to it; he saw a dark form slithering just below the surface. He noticed the movement of the waves, and narrowed his eyes, looking attentively; he was able to distinguish the scaly back of an alligator, along with its snout; one dark eye seemed to stare straight at him, before the beast dived under the surface. Masters had taken note of the sheer size of it just as it disappeared from his view.
“You were right, Bill,” he said in a soft voice. “Indeed, I was lucky to escape death. I could have died many times over when I fell into that river… I could have bled to death, I could have drowned, hypothermia could have finished me off – or alligators might have made a nice meal out of me. But here I am, still talking to you.” He smiled, almost sadly. “Maybe some of that Spectrum officer’s healing abilities rubbed off on me. Who knows?”
“Some of his luck, more likely.” Evers approached his friend and took hold of his arm. He had noticed his weakening voice, and the lines around his eyes. This stay in the bayou, sitting on the damp ground, wasn’t doing him any good. “Come on, now. My car is a few yards down the road. I’ll drive you back to the hospital, and ask Willa to prepare you a nice, warm chicken soup. That’ll do some good to your bones.”
Masters let his friend pull him up; he staggered once he found himself on his feet, but Evers held him firmly, squeezing his arm warmly.
“Thank you, Bill,” he said as he followed his friend down the path. “That soup will certainly be welcome – but what about Caldwell’s car?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll ask Caldwell to find someone to bring him here, to pick it up.”
“So many things happened here – we’ll have to get this wreck cleaned up at the next opportunity. Can’t leave a mess on the banks of this river – it could disturb the local fauna.”
Evers smiled with satisfaction. His friend was in ‘sheriff’ mode now and that was a good sign. “You’re right, Sheriff. We’ll arrange that.”
Masters nodded. Then a thought came to his mind. Something he had heard while lying in that hospital bed, doing nothing but listening to what people were saying around him, bits and pieces of what happened in Devil’s Bayou and that he didn’t have the opportunity to witness himself.
“Is it true there was a girl lost in the bayou, that we didn’t know about?”
“That’s what’s people say, yeah.”
“Was she pretty?”
“I don’t know, Leonard – I didn’t get the chance to see her… but Huxley told me she was.”
“Dang it. And I missed that…”
Both men walked down the path leading to Evers’ car, without a second glance behind them.
They didn’t get to see the large alligator heaving itself on the banks of the river, near the place where Masters had been sitting, and resting there for a while, taking in the sun which glistered against its scaly back. With curiosity, it turned one of its dark little eyes towards the wrecked and burned car, seemingly wondering what this odd object could be, and of what interest it might be to it. The animal seemed to decide it wasn’t even to be considered, and it turned around, preparing itself to return to the dark waters of the river behind it.
Its snout disturbed the muddy ground against which it was resting, and dislodged a small square object, blackened by fire and smoke, and covered with dirt. The alligator leaned towards it, again its curiosity piqued. It wasn’t something it had ever encountered before: it felt like a small stone, was as cold as a stone and just as hard, but it didn’t have rounded edges, like a stone.
The large reptile took the object into its mouth and tasted it; it didn’t have any taste at all and obviously wasn’t something eatable.
To the alligator, the small box containing the microchip that had taken many decades to be discovered and which had so many people going after it and finding death, was just a strangely shaped pebble. And the animal treated it just like it would any stone it would likely take into its mouth.
It swallowed it whole, before returning to the dark and muddy waters of the river.