The Parcel
  by Mona Morstein

Author's warning: Mona Morstein adamantly states that any reader MUST be over 18 years old to read her stories and if someone DOES read her story they are agreeing to that point and ARE over 18. If you ARE over 18, ENJOY; if you are NOT, then
other authors have stories you can read and enjoy.

Chapter Eight

It had taken a little over two weeks, during which the Colonel and a few other high level administrators had eaten all of the fingernails, for Steed and Purdey to be successful in uncovering the mole. They believed they had, anyway; the still needed solid proof.

Steed and Purdey had spent the first week calmly breaking and entering into the homes of each of the nine top suspects; it was suspect seven that had raised their concerns the most. Entering the dapper little home on a side street in north London at 11:00 p.m. one night when the occupant, Payton Diddering, was out, Purdey had immediately began searching through desk drawers while Steed stood in the dark living room, swinging his flashlight back and forth while his trained eyes fell upon the contents of the well decorated room.

"There's no need to do that, Purdey," Steed had said. "I may be mistaken, but I believe we have our man."

Purdey stood up from rifling the contents of some papers on the coffee table, and put her gloved hands on her hips. "How do you know, Steed?"
"Payton Diddering, operations sub-manager at M15, yearly salary £11000."
Purdey stood by Steed's side, "And…"

Steed lifted his arm and shined his flashlight one by one at various items. "Blaupunkt Stereo system, top of the line, worth five hundred quid; Pioneer speakers, two hundred quid. Bush television, with remote, brand new, also worth five hundred quid. Three bottles of Harvey's Bristol Crème, four quid each, and why buy three unless you are new to having the money to even buy one? We know from his file he came from working class family, no money for a bountiful inheritance, and he supports an ex-wife with two children. No, no, I think this is our man.

If nothing else Purdey was impressed with Steed's knowledge of entertainment equipment. "But, Steed, maybe he's just extraordinarily frugal, and has saved up money to purchase these items."

Steed stood there immobile, his head slightly tilted to one side, as if he was a psychic allowing Payton's aura to flow into his mind for analysis; and maybe he was. At times, Steed did seem to have an odd sixth sense about danger, about people he knew he had to watch out for.

"Could be, but I don't think so. I think someone is paying him very well for information. Let's see what else is new and expensive around here."
Suddenly Purdey's walkie talkie squawked. She lifted it up. "Yes?"
"The sun is setting," came a masculine voice over the radio. The code phrase from their watcher outside, Ian, that Payton's car was approaching.

Deciding to search the rest of the house at another time, Steed and Purdey left by the back door. Although they had still reconnoitered the other two suspects' homes, it was Payton whom Steed decided to focus upon. Steed and Purdey set up surveillance on him from the moment he woke, until the moment he was in bed; they tapped his office and home phone; they investigated his bank account, which was unremarkable; they checked his mail before it was delivered; they searched his desk at his office; they investigated anyone they saw him meet or even talk to.
They went back into his home and searched it top to bottom. In his bedroom they found a locked journal they opened with the picks, and read the entries, coming upon his writings about his holiday in Tunisia the year before, and how it had been excellent, how he wished he could just retire live there. "It's as if I have been there before, in another time, another life, it feels so comfortable to me, so much like home is supposed to feel, and how I have never felt in England" Payton had written his last day in Tunis. They photographed those pages. Steed found a case of money in his small and unkempt basement, behind the dryer. They heard him at home speak on the phone with a man called "Boris" who had a decided Russian accent, and tell him "the meeting was a go."

Payton Malcolm Diddering did not seem to be a complex study. They learned all about Payton's past, his schooling, his parents, his University career; they could not uncover any vice, drink, drugs, women, gambling. He had not spent time in socialist discussion groups, had never seemed to hold any strong opinions about anything. If Payton was the traitor, Steed concluded that seemed that it was solely to earn enough money to return forever to Tunisia. He was a good worker, quiet and responsible, had had his share of girlfriends, though was not involved with anyone presently. It was, Steed said, the complete and sorry waste of a good and solid man.

They saw Payton meet with a man identified as his brother Alfie in Regent Park, Payton obviously agitated, upset and imploring his brother for something. His brother had tried to calm him down, patting his shoulder, and back. They had learned that Alfie was a respectable vice president of a clothing firm, had no real vices, no criminal record and was a homosexual. It seemed that he was uninvolved in Payton's traitorous actions, and that Payton was simply turning to his elder brother for advice. All in all, it had been a very busy two weeks, and Purdey regretted most that business had eaten into all her and Steed's pleasure time.

And then, earlier this evening, when Purdey and Ian had followed Payton into The Boar and Goat, had seen him meet with his brother Alfie and an unknown third man, who, from Alfie's body language --holding the man's hand under the table, wrapping his arm around the man's shoulder-- was Alfie's lover. That fellow apparently held some other manner of respect over Alfie and Payton from the way they both had deferred to him so completely when he spoke. Ian snapped a picture of the unknown man with his tiny handheld camera. They had hoped to sit at the table next to the three when the two people there had risen to leave, but, much to their disappointment, some other fellow had claimed the table before them.

So Purdey had returned to Steed sitting in a café two blocks over, having a coffee, which he promptly ordered for Purdey as well. She told him of the meeting and their frustrated attempt to get close enough to hear any of the conversation. She had left Ian to follow Payton for the next four hours or so, until he went off duty and Steed and Purdey took over the watch, both being much more acclimated to late nights. Having four long hours to kill, they finished their coffees chatting about what they should do in the meantime. After deciding against a long walk, a movie, going to a pub, or letting Ian off early, they silently sat thinking what else there was to do. After a minute or two, their eyes met, and they smiled at each other over the little round table in the brightly lit café. They left the café after Steed called into the Ministry's central dispatch to let them know Steed's contact number was his flat at 3 Stable Mews, and then spent most of those four hours in Steed's king-sized bed, mutually assuring themselves in between their urgent and blissful cries of release that they would never again consider letting Ian off early.

George lay in bed straining to stay awake as Amy lay fast and deeply asleep at his side. All too often he glanced at the clock on his night table, only to sigh heavily at how slowly time was passing. He wondered how people did this regularly… waited.

He had returned home uneventfully, and had passed the rest of the evening pleasantly with his; at 11:00 p.m. they had kissed their sleeping children tenderly, stared down at them for a couple of minutes, and then had retired to bed themselves. Amy, exhausted from a busy day of shopping, meetings, and caring for the children fell immediately asleep. George had been laying and sitting, tossing and turning in bed in an attempt to not fall asleep himself. Once he got up to wash his face with cold water, and that helped for awhile. He thought about many things, his physician client and his case, what it would be like to be a criminal, and, mostly, what it would be like to be a secret agent. He had read spy books and seen spy movies; they seemed to thrive on excitement, daring, patriotism, cunning and quick decisions, strength of character, heroism. Yet, there was a second side to the work --it was lonely, violent, scary, and oftentimes very very dangerous. He knew John had been injured a number of times in his life, once or twice quite horribly badly --what appalling shape he had returned from Nee San in-- and he could sometimes see how haunted John's gray eyes became when he launched into one of his distant looks.

George liked living in all the light. He thrived on the common pleasures of life, work and family, and was not a man who grew bored with the repetitive nature of his day, which John, he knew, would soon consider utter drudgery. Well, George decided, he would play this one game for a while longer, and then it would be out of his system and he would put the picklocks in his safe and never use them again.
Finally, it was 12:30 a.m., and George kissed his wife's cheek, and rose from the bed, getting dressed quietly in the dark. There were no cooing owls in the city, but he hoped he'd hear one in Hampstead Heath, so he could smile at himself.

Boris Valovsky and Igor Turynekin waited in the dark on the north end of Whitestone Pond in Hampstead Heath, both morose and brooding, hateful of this assignment, England, and each other. It was a woman that drove these two Russian agents apart, whom each had romanced, whom each loved, Sofia Sobelinov. Sofia, sweet, passionate Sofia, who sat waiting back in Kiev for the first one to be granted leave to return home. The first one who returned with honor over his head, she had written to them both, she would marry.

This assignment they were on, to collect a list of over fifty English agents working in Eastern Europe, would bring honor to the one who claimed distinction, the one who personally handed over the parcel to their new Russian department chief in London, who had just been smuggled in to the country and had bought a small grocery store in Chelsea as his cover.

Boris and Igor glared at each other through slitted eyelids. Long term rivals ever since training school, Sofia had been just one more contest between them that had stoked the hatred each felt for the other. This assignment would be the ticket back home, out of the rain, back to the glorious Motherland, and back to the delights that Sofia was so generous in offering. This assignment would bring honor, yes, but only to whomever survived. Russia was not so generous with her honors that both would be equally rewarded; they had been told already by the chief, only one of them would be able to go back to Kiev.

Boris and Igor stood next to each waiting for the English traitor to arrive with his information. Knowing the wide breadth of his M15 access, they had, on a whim, followed him on his holiday to Tunis, and had approached him to spy for them in the anonymity of a city tavern. He had pressed for a great deal of money, more than they could agree to at the time, but once back in London the value of the information had been accrued and the payments assured. Payton had begun stealing information, then, the results of which had set off all manner of alarms bells in the English security organizations. The Russians knew Payton was panicking, knew that an investigation was underway for the traitor, though by whom or which organization their superior did not know. The Russians and Payton knew there was not much time left; so Payton had gathered as much data on the Eastern European networks as possible for one last transfer; and had asked for an enormous amount of money to do so. Russia had agreed.

Boris carried a suitcase full of money, £100,000. A veritable fortune, yet it was worth it to Russia to uncover and kill those spies and ruin so many English networks. It would set back England for five years, at least. So Boris and Igor waited together for the good of the Motherland, yet, each fingered the handgun in their coat pockets. They had no intention of shooting Payton; that fool they didn't care about at all. Whether he got away, or went to jail was of no concern to them. With their low hats, and trench coat collars high, and their impeccable English accents, the agents knew Payton could not identify them to the English authorities.

The two Russians knew time was ticking down for them; they would stay together until the transfer had occurred, protecting each other and the money from wandering thieves and any English trap. Once, however, Diddering departed and Boris and Igor knew they were safely alone, they would fight for the parcel. And it was understood, the fight would most definitely be to the death.

Ian had followed Payton to his home not long after Purdey had left The Goat and Boar to report back to Steed. Payton had spent a restless evening, pacing up and down his home, and drinking rather more alcohol than his file described him as generally imbibing at any one drinking session. Finally he had sat and turned on the telly, sitting like a zombie in front of it. At 11:30 p.m. Ian called Central Dispatch to locate Steed and Purdey and tell them to meet him two blocks over from Payton's house at midnight.

Steed and Purdey arrived together exactly at midnight in Steed's Jaguar, and bid Ian good-bye as he drove off to home and sleep. If they had been smart, Steed and Purdey would have tried to nap a little before this twelve hour shift through the night, but other ideas had kept coming to their minds and bodies, as they had lain naked under the covers of Steed's bed, unable to stop stroking and massaging each other tenderly and passionately. Neither was regretful at all for the loss of sleep.
They hadn't long to wait. At 12:30 a.m. they noticed Payton leaving his house and getting into his new BMW.

"New BMW," Steed remarked, clucking his lips, as he drove off following Payton from a safe distance. 'It's as if, at least subconsciously, the man wants to be found out."
"It is rather stupid of him, buying all these new toys, when he must know that M15 is up in arms over the leaks," Purdey said.
"This is a perfect example of a desk-sitter incompetently entering into field work; frankly, I'm rather embarrassed for the man. If I wasn't so outraged over the deaths he's caused I'd sit him down and explain to him how to be a more intelligent traitor."

Purdey could see the firm set to his jaw and his furled brow, and knew how angry he truly was with Payton. "I don't think they shall let you near the interrogation room. No one wants the scandal of him flying out a window landing on a group of American tourists."

Steed smiled, but his scary smile, the one he used to cover up all the sly and designing thoughts that sometimes entered his mind. "Purdey, surely you don't think that low of me."
"Certainly not," she replied, smiling. "I was just making conversation."

"Ah," Steed said, nodding his head a few times. His attention was soon focused on the car two blocks in front of him. "You know, I think this midnight trip might be a bit important to us. I'll bet my bowler and brolly that our dear Mr. Diddering is heading to Hampstead Heath, favorite playland of innumerable vodka loving villains. Tonight may finally see us with the proof we need to secure Payton's arrest. I have a feeling he will be transferring some more information, gathering quite a bank roll before he leaves the country to escape the escalating furor. We shall probably run into a couple of Russia's best tonight, so do check to make sure your gun is loaded and ready."

It amazed Purdey just how astute Steed was, how penetrating his insight was. With just one or two tiny clues --Payton leaving his home, and Payton heading towards Hampstead Heath-- Steed had pieced together probably the whole entire situation they were facing. No wonder why he was so successful as an agent, and so attractive as a man.

"Aren't you going to carry a gun as well?"
Steed's eyebrows raised high. "Me? A gun? You know how I abhor violence, and besides being seen with a weapon would absolutely ruin my reputation as a peaceable man."
"Steed, I'm sorry to inform you, but you really don't have a reputation as much of a peaceable man."
"Yes, Purdey, but just think how bad my reputation would become if I adding in carrying a gun."

She had to admit he had a point. He easily ignited fear in people already, even when they knew he wasn't armed. If he strode through life with a weapon on him, it would fairly instill terror in the enemy, and his friends.
"Well, I hope at least you took the brolly with the sword handle."
Steed glanced at Purdey and grinned. "Don't worry, that I did. I may be a peaceable man, but I am by no means a fool."

She smiled back at him, she had to, it was a reflex, it was automatic. And she was not the least bit surprised when Payton Diddering drove to Childs Hill and parked his car at his arrival at Hampstead Heath.

George Steed knelt on the south side of Whitestone pond in the southwest corner of the Heath. It was a little more rugged in this area, with woods and scrubby bushes present in good quantity and well into bursting into their full ripening after waking from their wintry sleep. The man had said his meeting was on the north side of the pond, but George didn't feel it was necessary to get that close to him or whoever he was meeting; he didn't need to prove to himself he was that brave. A bit of unflinching steadfastness would be sufficient; no cause for medals and epaulets. Besides on the south side there were more bushes to hide among, so George crouched, peering out from between the small branches. He saw a star in the sky and wished that no policeman would find him here, that his sterling reputation as a respectable upright barrister would not be destroyed in one fell swoop of, well, somewhat idiotic late night snooping in an area renowned for certain sexual proclivities among men that he would be horrified to be thought part of.

It was stupid and juvenile and irresponsible to be there, George knew, but when he actually did hear an owl coo, and it didn't scare him at all, George settled down onto the ground, warm in his clothes, and began to think this wasn't so bad after all, that it was, actually, quite a bit of fun. And that, he had turned out to be, unbeknownst before this night, a Steed like his brother John… that he really was finally proven to be a courageous man.

Steed and Purdey had parked their car quite a bit away from Payton, by North End Way, and had silently trotted back down to where he was, until Steed, with his eagle eyed vision in the half moon night, had picked him out wandering across the sloping ground about fifty yards ahead of them. They followed in a quick stroll, Purdey holding onto her handgun, and Steed swinging his umbrella.

They walked for twenty minutes until they saw Payton approaching Whitestone pond, and on the north rim of it they could see two men standing there, one clutching a briefcase in his hand. Steed held his hand up for Purdey to stop.
"Go call in the reserves," he told her, handing her his car keys. "I'll watch the transfer to prove Payton's guilt, but whatever he's passing over must be retrieved. Get enough agents here to capture those two Russians. Tell them to hurry."
"Well, then you take my gun," Purdey argued, holding it out to Steed, "or I'm not leaving you."

Steed eyed the gun distastefully, but realized that for all he was the boss, Purdey had a stubbornness that when riled was relentless. There was no time to discuss it; he took the gun and put it in his pocket. "All right, there. Now, skedaddle."
Purdey took off running back to Steed's and the car phone it contained. She didn't like leaving Steed alone, but he was right, they had to get back whatever information Diddering was relaying to the Russians.

Steed hurried until he crept up silently to Payton and the two Russians, standing behind a tree only twenty feet from them. He took a tape recorder out of his pocket to record any conversation between the three of them.

"I've got the information; it's part of what I copied a month ago, but much more than what I've given you before," Payton said, standing before the two men. "Do you have the money?"

Boris held up the case, flipping open the top to reveal neat packets of bills. "It's all here. £100,000." Steed's eyebrows raised at that amount, and he held back a whistle of surprise. The information must be vital to England's security to warrant such a fee from the notoriously miserly Russians. Steed's stomach tightened as he realized how many lives were bound up in that £100,000, and he formed a tight fist angry at Payton's treason.

"It's worth it," Payton said, handing over a parcel to the Russian, who closed up the briefcase. "This contains five microfiche films documenting five major networks of agents in Berlin, Hungary, and Moscow; including all the active agents in the networks."

Steed saw the Russians look at each other, and noticed the malevolence of their gazes for each other. Uh-oh, Steed thought, that means trouble of some sort. However much he hated Payton, and would do his utmost to have him spend the rest of his life in gaol, Steed would not let him be murdered by the Russians, if that was what their evil looks entailed.

But, it wasn't, and Steed was confused yet relieved to see the taller Russian hand over the briefcase to Payton. Payton, amateur that he was, mumbled an earnest "Good-bye" and began walking back towards the way he had come. Steed ducked around another tree to avoid being seen by Payton and was about to follow him when the Russians grabbed his attention.

The shorter one had grabbed onto the taller one's arm, the one holding the parcel, and was trying to wrestle the small package from him. The taller one responded by boxing the other one in the side of the head, and as the shorter one fell to a knee, he twisted the taller one's arm sending him crashing to the ground. Then it was, Steed noticed fascinated, a free for all. The agents punched, kicked, cursed in English and Russian, and bit each other, and as they fought they came close enough to Steed that he was no longer able to leave his tree without detection to follow Payton. The taller one had a longer reach and so was able to land more blows, but the shorter one was stockier and each of his were more powerful. Were they fighting over retaining possession of the parcel? It was one of the most unusual things Steed had ever seen, and he had seen a great deal in his life.

Yet, as Steed had figured, the fight escalated into a more violent arena, as both agents, frustrated in their inability to overcome the other by more physical means, gave one last loud cry and drew out firearms from their trench coat pockets, pointing the barrels at each other as the parcel lay on the ground in the middle of them. The outcome was inevitable and it sickened Steed to watch it. The shorter man fired first by a second, hitting the taller man in the chest, the gunshot echoing through-out the park. The taller man flew backwards, firing his gun into the air as he landed supine and lifeless, his weapon bouncing out of his hand.

The shorter man stood still breathing very heavily, and looking around him seemed to realize where he was, in a public park, and what he had done, murder a man. He shook himself into a calmer state of repose, and just when Steed was stepping forward, gun in hand, to arrest the Russian and recover the parcel a whoosh ran by twenty feet from him and Payton Diddering at full speed crashed a shoulder into the back of the Russian, knocking him roughly to the ground as Payton fell on top of him. The Russian's gun went sailing through the air, and Payton, standing up quickly, grabbed the parcel and took off running south around the pond.

Steed took off after Payton, yelling for him to stop, one hand holding his umbrella, one hand grasping the gun. Payton could not be allowed to get away with the money and the network microfilm. Steed sprinted as fast as he was able to, which was impressively fast, but Payton, with a head start and fueled by sheer panic kept ahead of him. Steed didn't know why Payton had run south not back west towards his car --did he have another car parked nearby? A motorcycle? An accomplice waiting for him? If it was any other absconded item than traitorous material, Steed would have just kept up the chase, confident in his speed and stamina to be able to chase any man down. But with so much riding on the recovery of the parcel, Steed did not feel he had the option for a long foot race; the information in the package was just too vital, he couldn't risk Payton escaping with it. He would not risk Payton's escaping with that parcel. The man had already proven he would sell it for cash. There were people's lives at stake, a great deal of lives. Yelling out one more warning to stop which Payton ignored, Steed came to a sudden halt, raised his arm, aimed, and fired the gun at the man forty feet away from him.

The bullet hit Payton in the back. Like someone had just struck him between the shoulders with an anvil, Payton was lifted slightly off his feet and he stumbled forward, the parcel becoming airborne and landing in the bushes to his left. The briefcase full of money fell out of his hand and further tripped up his feet, and Payton crashed forward to the ground, alive still, yet blood spilled out of his back, he felt cold and numb, unable to move, and his breathing was harsh and labored.

George Steed froze in panic as the parcel skidded to a stop by his feet. His mind became a complete blank as it was overwhelmed by the violence he had just witnessed. He had heard a shot from over on the other side of the pond, but hadn't been able to make out what had occurred. But this, this was horrific. The man from the restaurant shot! What should he do, what should he do…? The answer came instinctually as George noticed a man, thirty feet away, walking slowly up to the shot man, with a gun in his hand…

Holding his hand over his mouth to prevent a scream, George grabbed the parcel and took off running as fast as he could straight east, praying that the sloping ground would soon hide his escape from the murderer behind him. He had to slow down from lack of wind soon, and placing the parcel under his belt, he strolled along hands in pockets down a bridle path, hoping the men rushing by him thought him nothing more than a late night insomniac. When he arrived at his car unmolested, he put the parcel on the seat next to him, and drove to his home, pointedly and exactly obeying all the traffic laws. What had he witnessed? What had gone on there? Who were those men--the gunshot victim and the shooter? He imagined he would learn a great deal the next day in tomorrow's paper. He wondered if he would have to turn himself in to the police as a witness. He wondered what was in the parcel. He should just throw it out his car window, but…even though seeing that man bleeding had sickened him, George couldn't help denying the thrill of being there, being a part of it, of having his wonderfully calm life turned blatantly exciting.

Once inside his house he put the parcel in his desk drawer in his study, and climbed the stairs to his bed, the thrill and dismay at what had happened that night slowly giving way to a feeling that his bones had turned into lead ingots. George undressed and entered his bed, warm from his beloved wife's body. He wrapped his arms around her, relieved that the night was over, greatly consternated by what he had witnessed. Yet George's fatigue was over-whelming, and he fell instantly asleep.

In the meantime, the Bureau Chief of the Russian agents, Dmitri Kazakov, sat in his car in front of George's home and wrote down George's address on a pad of paper. The Chief had arrived at the south end of Whitestone Pond knowing that somewhere by the pond was the meeting place for Boris, Igor and the English traitor and he had hoped to catch up with his men to tell them that he had decided that they could both return to Kiev, thus avoiding them getting violent with each other on English territory. Let them kill each other back in Russia, out of the enemy's limelight. He had seen Payton shot and when some man by some bushes had picked up a suspicious looking parcel and run, the Chief had followed him in a circuitous route, avoiding being noticed by any English agents. He had followed the man to his car, which was only two blocks from his own, and had followed the man to his home, figuring his idiot men had blown the transfer, and that something terrible had gone wrong. Who this man was he did not know; apparently he wasn't an English agent. Yet all of Kazakov's finely honed intuitions believed that the parcel was the one documenting five of England's best spy networks. What a coupe that would be for Kazakov--his elevation to a high level administrator in intelligence would be assured. Kazakov contemplated breaking into the man's house and looking for the parcel, but worried about whatever had happened at the pond, and thought that if Boris and Igor had killed one another, enough damage had been done that night, enough attention drawn to them. He didn't want to risk being caught and exposed as well. No, he knew where the parcel was; he would just have to wait a day or two to steal it.

Kazakov knew that if he his agents had lost the £100,000 and he did not have five networks to show for it, he would be sent home to Russia and no doubt killed. Dmitri Kazakov had not climbed so high in Russian Intelligence by being a man who panicked easily, nor had he climbed so high by not overcoming the odds. He had done many things in his life to achieve his level of importance, and he would do whatever he had to maintain it. Russia, however, would not tolerate such a resounding failure without severe punishment, and Kazakov's detractors, those who had fought with him for this position, would not lack speed in attacking him if he showed himself to be weak and out of control of his agents, and careless with so much money. Kazakov lit a cigarette, decided to have the man's house watched twenty-four hours a day, then and drove away from the home. He had confidence that he would be able to fix this mess and salvage his career. There had been other potentially damaging situations in Dmitri's past, and he had always had the finesse and cunning to overcome their threats. Dmitri took a long smoky inhalation. There were always hungry sharks out looking to eat the weaker ones; Dmitri Kazakov was still a very strong shark.

Steed knelt beside Payton as he gurgled out some blood from his mouth and died. Steed closed his eyes for a moment, stuffing this man's death inside the closet where he stored all the men he had killed, trying not to see their faces at night when he slept. Another face, another nightmare. Steed sighed; he really, truly hated guns, and really, truly hated violence. If he didn't believe so strongly in protecting his country, and protecting the men and women working overseas aligned in the same cause, he could see sometimes himself resigning from the Ministry, and living a life of wine, women, and horses. Then the solemn moment passed, and Steed realized Payton had been willing to sell the lives of fifty people for money. Steed stood up, disgusted at himself for his sentimentality; Payton's death was no great loss to him.

Steed collected the briefcase as he saw Purdey and the reserves coming from all directions. He began searching for the parcel, which he imagined would be simple to find, though as his sharp vision did not find it in the immediate area he became more anxious.

"Steed!" Purdey called out to him, as she and the other eight agents aggregated around him. As Steed was senior agent, they waited for his orders. "What on earth happened? One of the Russians is dead, shot in the chest, and one is being held by Hooper; he's got fractured collarbone and a gashed head. We found him moaning on the ground by the dead fellow."

Steed nodded. That was good, the capture of the Russian. "Well, things descended into a bit of a fracas between the two Russians after the pass was made. Then the shorter fellow shot the taller fellow, but before the Russian gent could claim possession of the parcel, Payton tackled him worthy of a Blue in Rugby, and ran off with both the money and the information." Steed paused as everyone looked down at the dead sub-manager. "It was unacceptable to me to have him escape," Steed said simply, "and he was not of a mind to stop and surrender." He held up the briefcase, and opened it showing the immense amount of money in it. "Christmas gifts for everyone in the department this year," he said, closing it back up.

Steed's head swung left and right studying the ground. "Now we just have to find the parcel, and the evening shall not have gone that badly."

Only they never did find the parcel, and the only emotion Steed showed was seen by Purdey and consisted solely of a tight clenching of his jaw. They did find evidence of someone crouched in the bushes near where Payton had been shot. And two agents remembered a man, tall, well-dressed in tweed coat, Oxford shoes, over-weight, wavy hair, hurrying down the bridle path as the men ran towards Whitestone Pond.

"Right, that narrows it down to, oh, two million Englishmen," Steed said. "Perhaps you two should take a refresher course on interviewing suspicious individuals as the scene of an operation. How many obviously wealthy men traverse the environs of Hampstead Heath at 1:00 a.m?" The men shied away. Steed was not usually so caustic, and that had been caustic for him; but fifty lives depended on that parcel and Steed wanted that parcel kept out of enemy hands. Besides they had had no reason to give the man any real thought, and then had noticed a few pertinent details. The man's attire indicated a certain level of wealth, and it was questionable to have a fellow like him be here at night. This was not the time or place for a respectable man to be out and about.

The agents took the Russians away, took Payton away, dug up the ground and poured water from the pond over it so that the blood was no longer visible. They kept any curious Bobbies away from the site. And no reporter learned anything about the event.

Steed and Purdey took the money to the Ministry and gave it to the operations clerk responsible for storage of items. Then they decided to call it a night. Nothing more could be done this evening, and a night's rest would serve everyone's purpose. Steed drove Purdey home, and then he went to 3 Stable Mews instead of his home outside of town. He wondered who could have possibly been hiding by Whitestone Pond and taken the parcel. Had someone actually been waiting there, or had it been just a coincidence for them. Why had the person taken the parcel--were they working with Payton; were they just a common thief ingrained to abscond with whatever item fell their way? The man's dress didn't seem to fit either picture. And how could they track that person down, whoever he was? Fifty lives depended on them doing just that. Which fifty? They didn't know which M15 networks were at risk and couldn't just shut them all down; vital information passed through them regularly. Steed undressed and looked at his unkempt bed; only hours ago on it he and Purdey had enjoyed each other's company in the most delectable ways. Now he just hoped it would be the venue for a few black, dreamless hours of rest.

But it was a long time before Steed fell asleep. He couldn't get a certain number out of his head: fifty.

Chapter Nine

The next morning, Saturday, George Steed sleep in quite later than usual, but his wife knew he had been working hard on his physician's case and allowed him that Sybaritic indulgence. When he arose, his mind immediately went to the parcel in his desk drawer, and he quickly did his morning ablutions, dressed and went downstairs.

"Good morning, Love," his wife greeted him as she sat reading the paper and drinking coffee at the kitchen table.
"Good morning, dear," he replied and bent over to kiss her. "Have the children left already?"
"Yes, my parents picked them up a half hour ago. Today they're planning to take the children to the zoo and eat out supper at some restaurant. They shan't be back till quite late. My parents warned me that they were of a mood to spoil the children terribly. I fear we shall quite a time undoing their blatantly excessive gestures, and we should make sure we have some bromide in the house to settle upset tummies abused by too many sweets."

George smiled. "I'll check and see if there's some in the bathroom cabinet, and if not, I'll purchase a box later." George Steed was a rather unusual man in that it pleased him to go shopping, and often on Saturday when the children were with their grandparents, George would leave his wife to some quiet time in the home while he went and did the household errands. It made him feel that he was more a contributor to his home than just depositing money into their bank account, and it gave his wife a lovely breather from the hectic aspects of her week.

"Perhaps," George added, "since the day looks sunny, we'll take a walk in Regent Park. Have lunch at Pepe's Café."
"George, dear, the walk sounds delightful. However, lunch is only two hours away."
George looked at the time; it was nearly 10:00 a.m. "Dear me, I have slept in today. Well, then we'll have a walk when I return and take our afternoon tea out before the children return." He opened up the refrigerator door and pulled out a couple of eggs, a loaf of bread, butter, and a tomato. "First, though, breakfast, well, brunch, and then the errands. Have you written out a list, Amy?"

George made his own breakfast, over the protestations of his wife, who he shooed away from the stove, and then sat at the kitchen table to join in reading the paper with her as he ate. He was surprised when no mention of the murder of the man by Whitestone Pond was on the front page of The Times. Searching the paper avidly, he became confused and a bit concerned when he found no mention of the crime at all in the entire newspaper. Crime was not uncommon in London, true, but such a blatant murder, with a handgun!, should still have been a newsworthy item. Handguns were fairly nonexistent in Britain, and rarely if ever implicated in a crime. In all the years George had discussed cases with fellow barristers, none had ever mentioned a trial involving an offense committed with a handgun. It was very odd.

"George, dear, your eggs are getting cold." Amy's voice pulled him back to his bright and airy kitchen.
"Oops, sorry, rather let my mind get away with itself," he smiled. George put the paper down on the chair beside him, and ate his chilly eggs. Amy put her foot down at his attempt to wash the dishes, though, so he left the kitchen and put on his light spring coat, placing the parcel in its front pocket.

George returned to the kitchen and collected the list of foods and household items from his wife, made sure they did have bromide in the upstairs bathroom, and then, exchanging a warm kiss with his wife, he made for the front door.
"Enjoy your book," he called to her as she stood watching him leave.
"I shall. See you in a few hours," she said, and gave him a wave.

George drove off towards Harrod's, never realizing he was being followed. He wondered about what he had seen last night; if it hadn't been reported in the papers, and a handgun had been involved, it seemed to George that he had stumbled on something rather serious and outside the ordinary course of life. Who carried handguns in England? No standard criminal did, why, not even the police were issued them. That left the military, and… George's heart skipped a beat… and the intelligence organizations. Had those men been spies, or agents, or whatever they were called? If so, then how on earth was Freddy Sloan-Beck involved? He wasn't a spy, he was a barrister. Like George. And George had no way of being involved in spy activities; except, George realized suddenly, he was. He had the parcel. And, suddenly George had to know what was in the small package, so, very uncharacteristically, instead of slowing to a stop as the light ahead turned yellow, George accelerated and darted through the light. All the cars in back of him were forced to stop as the light turned red, including the blue BMW containing a Russian agent who cursed and hit the steering wheel as he watched George turn onto another road. George had inadvertently lost his Russian tail. The Russian would now have to return to the grocery and report his failure, though given Dmitri's inevitably outraged response, he was in no rush to do so.

George arrived at his office building twenty minutes later. Unlocking the building's front door, he locked it behind him and then took the elevator up to the fifth floor, which contained his partnership's suite of offices. Unlocking the entrance doors, he walked in and entered his office, taking the parcel out of his coat pocket. He sat behind his desk and taking a deep breath examined the package closely for the first time. It was, frankly, rather bland in its presentation; a small manila envelope stuffed with some bulky item. There were no markings at all on the envelope, aside from a speck of dirt from its abrupt fall to earth last night after the man had been shot. It was taped closed. George pulled the tape carefully off the edge of the closure flap, and then undid the little metal hooks flattened to their sides to hold the flap down. Lifting the flap, George felt a thrill equal only to when Amy had agreed to marry him and when she had announced her pregnancies to him. So this is what it's like to be John, he thought. So daring, so exciting, and a bit scary. It could be addictive.

There was a bundle in there, something wrapped in a plain white cotton handkerchief. George took the bundle out and unrolled it. He found five small metal containers in it, each about the size of the last joint of his thumb. They were screwed shut with small lids, and with some fumbling, George was able to open one of the containers. At first he thought it was empty, but then, rolled around the inner side of the container he noticed something bluish. Reaching in with his index finger he pulled out a small ribbon of film. Film? He held the film up to the ceiling light fixture but couldn't make out any images on it.

It came together for him in a flash. Handgun, parcel, film… microfilm! Spies! His hand shaking, George quickly opened up the other four containers, and was rewarded by pulling out four other pieces of microfilm. George sat at his desk, film and containers littering it, his mind a total jumble of thoughts. He had stumbled onto some intelligence operation. Freddy and the other two men were involved somehow, but he had no idea how. And, no doubt the operation involved whatever that was on five containers of microfilm; of which George was now in possession.

It was time to call John, he thought. Tell him what happened and give him the film, washing his own hands of it and returning to his simple, routine life. Yet, George knew that such a situation came around only once, if ever, in a typical person's life, and he was rather reticent to end it so quickly. That realization made his chest swell with pride; I'm not panicking, I'm not running like a rabbit for my warren. Sure, I feel a bit scared, but mostly I find this all rather stimulating, and fun. He sat up straight in his chair. I must be a real Steed after all, I just never had the chance to find out. I'm not afraid of Russians, of guns, of microfilm… I'm intrigued.

A real Steed would do just a bit more investigating first, before giving up the game. He knew there was some danger involved, but he was just an innocent in all this, and had confidence that a little more snooping would do him no harm. Especially since he could call in John at any moment if he grew worried, and John would come to his aid. John would protect him. But, the thing was, George needed to prove to himself that he could first protect himself. As any Steed could.

George paused in his exuberance, and frowned as his innate responsibility and practicality reasserted itself. Someone had died for this package last night, he thought. There was a very good chance it contained absolutely vital information. It could contain data that could harm British Intelligence, or the military, that could, Heavens, even cause the death of British agents or good British soldiers. Or, even if it was Russian information then that would be just as vital to our country, enabling British lives to be saved by learning important data about our enemy. George could not deny his latent culpability if that was the case and the containers were not promptly turned over to the proper authorities. Which did mean, George was sure, giving them to his mysterious brother John.

George turned the envelope over and addressed it to Steed at his country manor. After his faux pas on his front stoop with John, George felt more comfortable using the distance of the post to express his recent, peculiar actions and feelings. It would take a bit longer for John to receive the parcel, but two more days couldn't really hurt, especially if the package was safely hid in the reliable Royal Mail.

George wrote a letter to his brother, explaining all that had happened to him since George first picked Freddy's lock, including how he had come across this parcel, and why he was mailing it to John. Then George wrote a little detailing how this episode had excited him, how it had assured him he too was a brave Steed, and how he hoped John wouldn't be too mad at him for holding onto to one of the containers just for another day or two to cement this memory in his head before he handed it all over to John for his personal attention. He signed and dated the letter and then folded it and put it in the envelope. He then put a ribbon of microfilm back in each container, screwed the lids on, wrapped four of the containers in the handkerchief, placed the bundle back in the envelope, and then lowered the metal tabs and placed a new piece of tape over the rim of the closure flap. Then looking at the last container sitting on his large desk pad, he placed it in his jacket pocket, stood and left his office. Like holding onto a teddy bear George was not ready to give up the newfound melodrama of the entire game yet.

George mailed the package at the postal office down the street, then climbed in to his car. John should get the package on Monday. He went to Harrod's and Boot's Chemists, and then, found himself in southeast London, and he parked his car on Sullivan Street. He walked north a block towards the intersection of Simpson and Dartford, nearing a grocery that was the corner store. He had the intention to walk inside and look around, but then he stopped abruptly at the intersection which was green for walking, causing the person behind him to say "Oi!" and dodge around him. George apologized and moved out of the way of the perambulating mass of people, leaning against a street lamp. Walk inside, look around, and do what, he asked himself. What are you doing here? What do you hope to see, to learn? You don't have a clue, really, as to what is going on, or who is in the grocery. It was silly and useless to enter the store.

Yet… it couldn't hurt anything to just walk by it… then walk around the block and go back to his car. As the light turned green again, George strolled into the intersection and coming up on the kerb across the street, he casually glanced to his left, looking into the confines of the grocery. He saw two men talking at the back of the store, one obviously angry with the other, who stood rather penitent. And then he was passed the doorway. George made a circle so that he was on the opposite side of the street for his passage back in front of the store --and another glance to the store revealed nothing to him-- and then crossing the street once more, wound his way back to his car. There, he thought, I'm done. No more spy games. I bit of anxiety filled him. I should call John tonight and give him the film I have. I'll do that right after dinner. No need to ruin Amy's day yet by having to explain himself to an irritated John in front of her. No, it can wait until later. George sighed heavily. I shouldn't have mailed the parcel, either. I should have just given that to John as well. George rolled the small container in his pocket in his fingers as he stood by his car --he appeared to be a perfectly average Englishman. Who would suspect he held in his hand vital security secrets? George shook his head at the absurdity of it all. He spent another couple of hours getting all the items on Amy's list, passed some time in a bookstore looking for a few first edition books and talking to the proprietor, then had a cup of coffee with a friend he ran into on the kerb outside the bookstore. It was around 3:00 p.m. before he drove home to his wife whom he expected to be dressed and raring to go for an afternoon stroll in the peace and beauty of Regent's Park.

Dmitri Kazakov felt his heart beating irregularly Saturday afternoon. It had begun to do that over a year ago, but he had kept it secret as to show any weakness was to invite adversity. It happened randomly as well; his heart seemed to be fine for a few days or even a few weeks, then would skip some beats here and there for several days before paradoxically righting itself. On the worse attacks, which occurred occasionally, his heart would get into an accelerated rhythm that forced him to sit down as its intensity made him light-headed. What made his heart beat so abnormally? Trouble.

And Dmitri Kazakov was in a great deal of trouble. His confidence of earlier had taken a terrible blow. He was bereft of money and information and he knew that if one or the other was not recouped his career and his life would be over. His idiot agent had lost the man with the parcel almost immediately upon beginning to follow him that morning, although had slightly redeemed himself by learning the man's name by reading his mail. George Steed. Dmitri had sent the man for some lunch; he was alone for a moment to plan his next actions.

In the back room off the grocery area, Dmitri held a file in his hand. Even being relatively new to England he had heard of John Steed, had heard his name uttered with the utmost respect by men who did not grant respect easily. Especially to enemies. He perused the file on Steed and learned that he had a brother named George. Could it be the same person? The London phone book had listed three other George Steed's aside from the man who had taken the parcel. Kazakov couldn't be sure; their files were so inadequate, no address for Steed's brother George was given. No wonder his predecessor had been recalled and was now setting up house in Siberia. Dmitri had no intention of being so lax in his duties. Dmitri's scowled. John Steed, England's top agent --now there was a way to learn £100,000 worth of information. If they could make him talk.

Dmitri wondered if George and John Steed were related if the latter had been using George in his investigation of the traitor; it seemed highly unlikely, but why would any wealthy man find himself hiding at a pond on Hampstead Heath at 1:30 a.m. It was a clear mystery to Dmitri and he had no more time to rationally attempt to figure it out. He was being forced to act immediately.

Dmitri realized that he would be on the next train to Siberia if he did not find the money, the parcel, or some other information worth £100,000. He knew Igor wouldn't confess to anything; if he did, all chances of him returning to that woman in Kiev were eradicated. No, Igor would keep his lips sealed. Igor's capture was another thorn in Russian Central Control regarding Dmitri. Dmitri had not yet contacted the English regarding Igor's release --he didn't have the time or focus to play those games right now. He had to find the parcel. Let Igor, the idiot, take care of himself. Kazakov paced back and forth on the floor. It was time to get very aggressive here if he was to save himself. However, London was a boiling pot right now; it was necessary he moved his operations to their safe house outside of Wrexham.

Dmitri first thought of kidnapping George Steed himself, and taking him to the secluded house in northern Wales. Now, however, not knowing where the man was or what he was doing, or who he was talking to, or when he would return home, Dmitri was forced to change plans. Dmitri's agents had reported in that Mrs. George Steed was at their home, and their children were not. It seemed best to kidnap George's wife, and lure George to Wrexham in that manner, out of London, with strict orders not to tell anyone or else his wife would die.

It was a bluff, but Dmitri had no doubt a civilian like George would obey such orders. Dmitri had one firm rule in his life, and that was that he would not injure a woman. It was the least he could do to honor his dear sister, who had raised him from childhood, and who had died at the hands of a criminal in Moscow, a criminal who Dmitri had ensured had regretted being born by the time Dmitri had slowly caused his very painful death. But George Steed did not know Dmitri's vow to himself. And George Steed would come to Wrexham. But at the point that he entered the M1, Dmitri would release his wife from her holding place in London, and let her return to her home. After all, she had two children to care for, as dear Anna had cared for him. She would be told to remain silent or her husband would certainly die; and that usually was quite effective with civilians.

Dmitri wondered if George would obey the orders in the note. Would he bring his brother John, if it was his brother? Dmitri did not know either answer but ensured himself that every precaution would be taken to guarantee success in this venture. He had few enough agents left in London now with Boris dead and Igor captured, using two more agents to kidnap and hold Mrs. Steed. He would leave those agents behind, and allow his other few operatives presently free to stay here in London trying to tap into the English investigation of Friday night's events. Dmitri would bring to Wales the London hooligans his predecessor's notes recommended be employed for dirty work.

His heart suddenly flipped in his chest and he sat on a chair, feeling his pulse. Eighty-six. Not bad. He leaned over to the small desk placed among empty produce crates stacked haphazardly around the room, and picked the phone receiver up, dialing a number. A person answered it on the first ring.

"Yes, let's do it," he said. "Kidnap Mrs. Steed, blindfold her, leave the note, and take her to the flat in Chelsea. Be warned --do not harm her at all."
This would have to work. Dmitri would make sure it did. He had no other choice. He lifted up the phone to contact the leader of the hooligans.

When George Steed entered his home, setting the two bags of groceries and household supplies down on the floor as he hung up his coat, his wife, strangely, didn't greet him and calling for Amy he was rewarded with an unusual silence. He noticed a white envelope on the floor of the entranceway, and a shock of anxiety coursed through his body as he bent down to pick it up. Brave, he thought, be brave. You're a brave man. He opened the envelope.

The words were typed: George Steed, we have you wife. She will be killed if you do not follow the enclosed directions exactly. She will be killed if you say anything about where you are going to anyone. Follow the enclosed directions. Leave immediately to ensure your wife's safety. Bring the parcel from Whitestone Pond.
As if made of molasses, George slowly opened up the second sheet of paper and read the directions to Chester. At Chester he was told to simply wait in his car in front of the pub The Golden Goose.

That was it. George's legs began to wobble, and then they gave out completely and he sat down on the floor. A great ball of nausea filled his stomach and he leaned over retching several times, although he did not actually vomit. He crinkled the papers in his fist, and closed his eyes, wishing for it to be a dream, this wasn't really happening to me, this wasn't really his life. George buried his face in his hands, resting on his bent knees for several minutes until he felt more composed. His mind wavered between only two possibilities: Do what the letter said. Or call his brother John, and have him come and save the day. But could John save Amy? Was it worth the risk? George's gorge rose again as he realized he didn't even have the parcel anymore. But he had one container, that would be proof, and he would tell them he had mailed the parcel to Steed's house and then they could just watch the postal delivery and steal it back before John got a hold of it. There was no need for them to hurt Amy or himself. There was no need at all. They would let them both go. They would be set free to come home to the children… Oh, God, the children… Her parents, her brother and sister… How had he wreaked such havoc in Amy's life? Would she ever forgive him? Would John forgive him? Would he forgive himself?

He had seen that man shot in Hampstead Heath; these men had that capability. He had to play it their way. He could not call anyone, even John. He could not risk harm to Amy. Basically he and Amy were innocents in this; there was no reason to harm innocents. He would do what they said. Dear God, he would do what they said. And, if there were guardian angels above in Heaven, George prayed with all his soul that one would come down now and watch over him and his family.
George called his sister Elizabeth and asked her to take care of the children for the week-end, something had come up and he and Amy had to leave town. He dodged the inevitable questions of what, where, and just told her to expect the children later that night, then hung up hearing her concerned curiousity floating through the receiver.

He left note on the door to Amy's parents, asking them to bring the children to Elizabeth's, and saying he and Amy had left town and all would be explained later.
And with no more ceremony than checking his pocket to make sure the small metal container was still there, he left his house and ran to his car, pulled out of the driveway and took off down the road, the directions to Chester on the seat beside him.

Chapter 10

Steed picked up Purdey early Saturday morning and they drove to Alfie Diddering's house. Steed had spoken to the Colonel about what had happened the previous night. The Russian agent, identified as Igor Glotsky, had been cared for at a Ministry clinic and then taken to an interrogation cell where he was so far refusing to say anything about what had occurred, what exactly the parcel contained, or about the Russian spy set-up in London. And so far, the Russians had not asked about their agent, which was a bit curious in itself. The Colonel considered increasing the intensity of interrogation, but Steed was loathe to do that; yet, anyway. Years ago he would have had no qualms at all about being a bit violent with Igor, but he had been a different man for a long time, ever since Mrs. Gale had, well, helped reintroduce him to the more civilized methods of interacting with his targets. Steed wished first to run out of all other options before relying on drugging or beating Igor. So the Colonel and Steed had both agreed to change tactics, and have Steed be the one to break the news about Payton's death to his brother Alfie and then try to find out from Alfie if he knew where the parcel would be.

Steed and Purdey had stopped at Whitehall briefly to talk with the analysis fellows about the photo Ian had taken last night at The Goat and Boar. The third fellow at the table with Payton and Alfie Diddering had been identified as Freddy Sloan-Beck, who lived in a home on Callon Road in Kensington. From the information gathered on Alfie from Payton's file, Freddy Sloan-Beck was thought to be Alfie's lover. Steed figured Alfie had called him to the meeting to ask legal advice for Payton; perhaps Payton had had a brief thought to turn himself in and wondered about how many years in gaol he would serve on a treason charge. This was good information, usable, and gave them another lead to follow. Steed told analysis to find out where Freddy's office was, and then arrange for an agent or two to search it that day. Steed and Purdey would look in at Freddy at home later, if the need arose.

Alfie Diddering, middle management executive at a large advertising firm, lived in a modern, rather exclusive building on the edge of Belgravia, on the fourth of twelve floors. High enough to acquire a rather decent view of London, but not so high that Alfie couldn't still feel connected to the city, see it and merge with it, have it be something he could touch and conquer. Soon, he knew he would be promoted to vice-president, and then Freddy and him could have a grand old time on the town. Even though it was early on Saturday Alfie was formally dressed; appearances were important at all times. To gain entrance into the Atheneum, one could never be caught off guard in less than impeccable flair. Alfie saw himself as a perfect candidate for application there. Alfie had to smile, his life was turning out pretty well, for a poor lad from the East End. He had a good job that paid well, a barrister partner who loved him, and prospects that only looked better and better. If only Payton hadn't become such a bloody nuisance.

Stealing top secret documents so he could move to Tunisia. It was laughable, ridiculous, if it wasn't absolutely true. That lad had always been enthralled with the northern African countries, since he had been, what five years old? While all the other boys were out playing Lord Nelson, or Kings and Knights, Payton had been sitting on the lawn looking at a book their parents had bought showing Moroccan bizarres, and Arabs on camels. It was peculiar, frighteningly so, and almost made one think that their cousin Laura's idea that Payton was a reincarnated Arab made sense. How Payton could want to give up all the fun and money of London, and move to some third world sewer, Alfie just did not know.

Alfie did not need the aggravation of a family scandal just when his own life was looking so promising. Yet, Payton, for all his oddities, had been a good brother, and Alfie and him had always been very close. So, when he had confided in Alfie, and asked Alfie to talk to Freddy regarding legal advice, Alfie had supported him and done as he asked. It hadn't made Freddy very happy though, to be asked to hold onto Payton's will in some safe place, and the argument Alfie and Freddy had had after meeting in The Goat and Boar had been their worst ever. He had been with Freddy for three years now, and had had no idea how strongly he believed in the value of protecting Great Britain before that row. Freddy positively despised Payton and what he'd done.

It hadn't helped when Alfie had told Freddy that Payton wanted him to wait on the south side of Hampstead Heath so that, hopefully, when Payton recovered the parcel from the Russians after getting the money, he would give the parcel to Alfie, who would anonymously mail it to the address Payton had given him, while Payton then ran back to his car and drove for the Dover ferry, where Payton already had luggage in storage. Then Freddy had screamed about Alfie placing his life at risk and aiding and abetting Payton. Well, it hadn't happened that way anyway. Payton had never showed up at Alfie's car, and Alfie had just gone home after awhile.
Alfie sighed, sipping on his coffee as he stood looking out his large living room window. Even though he loved Payton, Alfie could only hope that Payton had exchanged the information, gotten the money, left England, and would stay out of his and Freddy's life from now on. He should expect a phone call within a couple of days. Then, Freddy could rip up the will, forget the whole episode ever happened and all would be back to normal. Alfie relaxed on his sofa, and thought about seeing Freddy Sunday night when he returned to town.

The door knocked suddenly, and Alfie jumped at the sound. Who was that at this hour? Another knock came in quick succession and Alfie placed his coffee cup on a coaster and stood and walked to the door. He opened it and saw a man and woman standing in the doorway, and an especially attractive couple at that. A tall, markedly handsome middle-aged man, broad shouldered and lean, wearing a dashing three-piece grey suit with matching grey bowler. He carried a tightly rolled grey umbrella as well. The woman, in her early thirties, was also tall, though still several inches shorter than the man, and was lithe and lovely, with legs that went almost to the ceiling and a short bobbed haircut that high-lighted her intelligent, pixie face.

The man lifted his bowler briefly in greeting. "Good day, Mr. Diddering. My name is John Steed and this is Purdey. I'm sorry to disturb your Saturday morning, but I'm afraid we have some rather distressful news for you. May we come in?"

Alfie's stomach tightened at the words, and for a moment he could neither move or speak. The man and woman patiently waited for him to respond, standing in front of him calmly, their bland faces unreadable. It had to be about Payton, and it was no doubt bad news.

"Are you the police?" Alfie finally asked. Perhaps he should call Freddy.
"No, we're not," Steed said. "May we come in? It's about your brother Payton."
Alfie frowned and then opened the door wide. Steed smiled and allowed Purdey to enter the flat first, then he followed. His eyes took in the living room, the modern art, the pastel colors.

"Please have a seat," Alfie said, motioning them to the sofa. Purdey sat down on the arm on one end, and Steed sat in a chair across from the coffee table, placing his bowler and umbrella on the floor, and crossing his legs casually. Alfie, the only one still standing, followed his own invitation and sat down on the couch.
"What's this all about, then?" he asked. "You mentioned Payton; is he all right?"
Steed crossed his fingers in his lap. "No, Mr. Diddering, Payton is not all right. I'm sorry to tell you that he's dead."

Alfie couldn't prevent his eyes from widening and his jaw from dropping. He had thought they were here to tell him Payton had been arrested, was in gaol, not, not, dead. "Dead? What do you mean he's dead? How did it happen?"
"Mr. Diddering, may I be frank? Your brother Payton was shot last night as he tried to escape with some very valuable information he had stolen from an organization related to British Intelligence. Alfie felt a light sweat break out on his forehead, and he interrupted Steed. "Payton was shot? By whom?"

Steed paused. "By an agent of our country." After a breath he continued, "Unfortunately the information itself was not recovered. You were seen with your Brother earlier last evening at a pub, The Goat and Boar. We need to know if you have the parcel or have any knowledge of where it might be. I cannot underscore the importance of our recovering this package; a great many lives depend on it. I suggest you aid us in any and all ways you can to prevent your own troubles with, shall we say, various aspects of the government."
"What kind of troubles are you referring to?"

Steed smiled blandly. "Oh, legal, financial, criminal, social --you don't really want to find out. Do you know where the package is?"

Alfie felt his mouth go dry and he sipped on the cold coffee sitting on his coffee table. Social troubles --they knew about him and Freddy. "Maybe I should call my barrister friend." It was a bluff, as he knew Freddy was down south with his mum, but it made him feel like he had some semblance of control.

"Freddy Sloan-Beck, Esq.? If you wish to, go ahead. However, there is no need to make this more difficult than need be. We really have no desire to make your life problematic, Mr. Diddering. We are simply asking you to be truthful with us."
Alfie hung his head low on his chest. It was all over, Payton was dead. His brother had paid a terrible price for his impulsivity. Alfie grieved yet realized there was no need for his life to be ruined as well. It wasn't a purely selfish thought, but was rife with a practicality that Alfie had arranged his life around. "What do you want to know?"
"Do you know where the parcel is?"
"No. I've never seen any parcel." He paused, wondering if he should tell about last night, but decided, in his fear, against it.
"Do you know what the parcel contained?"
"Payton told me it was just some pretty important spy information, about our agents over in Eastern Europe, but he didn't tell me more than that."
"Were you at Hampstead Heath last night."

Under such direct questioning, Alfie relented and told the story of his wait by the south entrance. He grew anxious as Mr. Steed's face eyelids narrowed and his face darkened briefly during Alfie's tale. Then Mr. Steed's smooth smile reasserted itself.
"And Freddy Sloan-Beck. Would he have any other knowledge of the parcel?"
"I don't see how," Alfie answered. "As far as I know he only met Payton the once with me. I gave him Payton's will, and asked him to hide it for him. Freddy was very disapproving of Payton."
"Yes, we all were," Steed replied, and a silence fell in the room.

Steed grabbed hold of his bowler and umbrella and stood up, placing his hat on his head at the angle he favored. "Well, Mr. Diddering, thank you for the chat. That's all for now, but please do not make any attempt to leave the city for the next week or so."

Steed and Purdey left Diddering's flat. Back in Steed's Jaguar, Purdey stared at him as he sat thinking behind the steering wheel, not turning the car's ignition.
"Steed, what are you thinking?" she asked, her hand reaching out to touch his arm.
Steed turned and smiled at her, his eyes sliding down to her soft white hand, then further down to her endlessly long legs, which were very visible below her short dress. "At this particular moment I'm thinking that sometimes it's rather arduous keeping my mind on the case with you as my partner."

Purdey's whole face lit up at the comment, and she let her hand wander down to his muscular thigh, which she gripped tightly. "And what were you thinking just before that moment?"

"I was thinking that I have a very bad feeling about this whole affair. That something is going on behind it of which we are all unaware. Someone is involved in a way I don't yet understand." His eyes moved toward Purdey's hand resting on his thigh, and he covered her hand with his left one, then brought his right hand up around the nape of her neck and brought her willing lips to his. They lingered through the kiss, until Steed finally pulled his head back, sighed deeply, and started the car. "Oh, yes, rather arduous indeed," he said as he pulled out of the parking space.
"Quite, quite, indeed," Purdey agreed, and when her breath settled down she asked, "What's next?"
"Back to Whitehall. See if they've got any information yet on Freddy's office."

They arrived back in twenty-five minutes, and went to Steed's office. There was a note on his desk asking Steed to call Erwin Desmond, head of Research. Steed dialed promptly.
"Desmond, Steed here," he said as the man picked up the phone on his end.
Purdey heard Steed utter his usual array of "I see's" and "Uh-huhs", and "Are you sure's". Purdey imagined that Steed would say "I see" or "Uh-huh" if he got a phone explaining that three-headed aliens from Pluto had invaded the House of Commons and were demanding equal say in government. At the final "Of course", Steed hung up the phone, and sat back in his chair, rather heavily, and with a deeply pensive look about his face.

"Trouble, Steed?" Purdey asked.
He flashed her a quick grin. "I don't know, really." His eyebrows ran together. "Perhaps."
"What did Desmond have to say?"
"Oh, that Freddy Sloan-Beck is a barrister, a partner in the firm "Patterson, Stockton, Steed, and Sloan-Beck." Steed tapped a pencil on the desk.
"'Steed?' Is that a relative of yours?"

Steed glanced up at her and then returned his attention to the pencil. "Actually, yes. It's my brother George. A very brilliant barrister." To whom I gave some picks. Who could be described as a tall man, with wavy hair, overweight, wearing Oxford shoes. Steed's intuition began to raise all manner of alarms in him, but he put them aside. It was best to wait for any information from the office examination.

Purdey let Steed have the time he needed to continue speaking. "They're sending a couple of agents over to Freddy's office later today to look for the parcel. We can't do it since Freddy and my brother are obviously acquaintances, if not outright friends. Potential for conflict of interest, you see. They've already sent someone to Freddy Sloan-Beck's flat. Freddy himself is out of town for the week-end visiting his mother in Eastbourne, says a helpful, rather nosy, neighbor."
"And what do we do until then?"
"Well, I have been advised to return home and wait for the report. So you, too, therefore, have a free afternoon." The worse part of his business for Steed was waiting, although he had developed an entire proficiency in the art. Besides, it would be good to go home, and easy enough to find interesting things to do there while Freddy's office was investigated. There was no use jumping to frantic conclusions without the evidence to do so. Never at a loss for hobbies, Steed could entertain himself at his home on a number of different activities.

"Hmm," Purdey asked, "do any of those horses of yours need to be ridden?"
Steed stood up and motioned Purdey to the closed door. "Horses always need riding, Purdey," he said. "It's built into them."
Purdey smirked at Steed. "Yes, yes, it is. Well, then I'll go back to your house with you. To ride your horse." Her hand lightly traveled across Steed's buttocks as she passed him.
"The frisky one or the one with stamina?" Steed asked, suddenly thinking that some hobbies were much more entertaining than others.
"Now that is a difficult question," Purdey laughed.
"An arduous question," Steed replied.

And later, on his bed in his home, as he lay naked and entwined with Purdey's naked and voluptuous body, kissing her lips, her neck, her breasts, deeply inside her, moving with her, thrusting again and again as she moaned and wrapped her arms and legs around him grasping him tightly to her, imploring him to never stop; even through all the passion, the pleasure, and the mutual cries of ecstasy, which were repeated until both of them were finally completely sated and lay immensely contented and on the scattered sheets, even through all of that Steed, with all his mental training, couldn't stop a certain sickening anxiety from creeping through his mind.

The phone rang later as they sat dressed in Steed's kitchen, having sandwiches for lunch. Steed picked up the phone and began his usual litany of "I see's". Only this time were added in an "I have no idea" and "I'll take care of that," which he repeated in a much more forceful tone, "I said I'll take care of that. Yes, back to Whitehall." Steed hung up the wall phone, and stood rock still, his side towards Purdey. She could see his handsome face lost in thought, his eyes distant, his mouth firmly set, and there, a tight clenching of his jaw.

"Steed, you're positively emotional," she said. "What's going on?"
He grinned that quick grin of his, which was used to reset his features into the bland, charming mien he favored, and then looked down at Purdey's glass of water that was almost empty.
"More water?" he asked, pointing to the glass.

She was used to this by now; Steed avoiding the main point of a conversation until he found in his mind the right way to relay whatever needed to be said. "No, no, I'm fine, thanks," she answered.

Steed nodded his head, and then walked to the window looking out the side of the house. "Well, then when you are done eating, it's looks like we shall take a little drive over to my brother George's house." Steed turned toward her smoothly, like a dancer. "Seems that his fingerprints were found all around Freddy's desk, including a piece of paper hidden underneath a drawer that contained Payton Diddering's will and a note telling Freddy to go to The Goat and Boar 7:30 p.m. Friday night."
"How do they know the fingerprints are George's?"
"Because they broke into the individual offices of all the barristers, and were able to match George prints in his office with his in Freddy's."
"Yes. Oh."

Steed came and sat down next to Purdey, leaning his hand on the kitchen table. "Purdey, try to remember, what did the man look like who beat you and Ian to the table next to Payton's at the pub?"

Purdey thought back to that night and a figure formed itself in her mind. "Tall, brown wavy hair, glasses, about twenty pounds over-weight with slightly rounded face and the beginning of a double chin, well-dressed… oh…" She saw it in Steed's eyes. "Your brother?"
"My brother." Steed exhaled deeply. " The Colonel wants to talk with him. I want to talk with him. We're to go pick him up and take him to Whitehall."

Purdey pointed at his half eaten sandwich. "You should finish eating first. You said you were famished."
Steed stood up. "Yes, well, now I'm not. Are you ready?"

Within five minutes they were in Steed's Jaguar and driving back towards London.

"Odd," Steed said, as he came to a stop in front of George's house, noticing his normally slow and steady brother drive off in a mad dash, coming to a sudden halt at the stop sign at the end of the block, then immediately accelerated through it. Steed turned to the door of the house and noticed the white piece of paper taped to it. "Purdey, run to the door and read that note. Hurry." Steed looked down the street trying to follow his brother's progression, and grew very agitated when George turned right onto the main road.

Purdey dashed from the car to the stoop and read the note. She sped back to the car and once inside turned to Steed. "It's a note to his in-laws. Says that he and Amy had to leave town and that they should take the children over to Elizabeth's for the night."

On hearing those words Steed hit the accelerator himself, barely slowing down for the stop sign. It was only pure luck that had kept George going straight ahead on the main road, allowing Steed's eagle eyes to find him eight block up.

"Steed what is it? What's wrong?" Purdey asked.
Steed didn't answer for a moment, then he said, "I believe my brother George is in serious trouble, and I have to take some little responsibility for it."
"What kind of trouble?"
"I think he has the parcel, and our Russian friends want it back from him."
"The parcel? With the network information in it? How on earth would he have gotten hold of it?"

Steed shook his head back and forth. "By playing spy, I imagine." With the picks I gave him. Steed's face grew dark with concern. "I believe he's on his way to meet with the Russians. He's alone in the car. Based on that and the note, I have to believe that our conniving comrades have kidnapped Amy. His wife. My sister-in-law. And are using her to ensure George cooperates."

Purdey looked at Steed, her eyes warm and soft. It had to be brought up. "George is the brother you get along with rather well, isn't he?"
Steed darted a quick look sidewise at Purdey and then returned his gaze out the windshield. "He's a fine chap, George is," was all he said.

"Should we contact the Colonel?" she asked, eyeing the car phone.
"Yes, we should, but no, we won't," Steed said. "Not yet, anyway." And Steed fell silent while he continued following George, making sure that no other car was following George, and making sure that no other car was following him and Purdey.

Purdey had a hundred other questions she wanted to ask, a hundred worries that suffused her mind, but there were times when just letting Steed have some private time were necessary. When Steed was his own boss, made his own rules, it was easier to just participate in his already predetermined and unshakeable plans, than attempt to have him minutely explain them or, even worse, attempt to disagree with them and try to change his mind. Purdey was sure this was one of those times, and it made her uncomfortable because she couldn't help feeling an impending sense of doom pervading Steed's manner.

Chapter 11

Steed and Purdey drove up the M1; they were not concerned about running out of petrol because Steed never let his cars get below the half way mark with petrol before filling up the tank again so that he was never caught without enough fuel to suddenly follow anyone anywhere. Though Purdey doubted that Steed had ever imagined he would one day be tailing his brother George, of all people. The only sibling with which he had a truly good relationship.

Steed had been silent for almost the entire ride. But she had gotten used to his silences, and his playfulness, and his charm, and his gentleness, and his caresses and kisses. Of a moment her affection for him overtook her professional demeanor, and she put her hand on his arm and said, "Don't worry Steed. They'll be okay."

Steed smiled at her; he had such a deadly smile when he wanted to. Spread to his tender grey eyes, and made her feel like she was the most special person in the world to him. Which, she knew, she wasn't, yet, she would take what she could from him for as long as she could. She could ask nothing more than that.

She continued. "There's no reason for the Russians to hurt them. In fact, that would be greatly against their spying designs. I mean, everyone would come down on them and search them out if they went around shooting English citizens in England."
"Quite true," Steed agreed. "Yet it may not be such a good sign that they are dragging George out to what is, no doubt, one of their safety houses in the country. If we hadn't driven by when we did…well, no one would have known where they were. No one would have known where to search."

"What do you plan to do?"
"Get as close to their safety house as possible, making sure that George and Amy are fine. If we bring in the reserves before we know where everyone is and they go bungling through the countryside, the Russians are bound to see them… and then George and Amy's lives would be at risk. No, first we find them, then we can launch a rescue mission."

It made sense to Purdey as well. "But, don't you think you should contact the Colonel with an update. We should have been back by now, and they are bound to send someone over to your brother's house and read the note. The Colonel will figure things out just like you did."

"Well then, there is no need to update him, is there?" Steed asked.
Purdey grinned and shook her head. "You are fairly recalcitrant, aren't you?"
"It's one of my most lovable qualities."
"Well, it's one of your qualities, anyway."

Their bantering was not strong enough to alleviate the tension in the car and Steed returned to his morose mood.
"Don't worry, everything will turn out all right, Steed," Purdey said.
"Purdey," he sighed, "that is just not always true. But, thanks for the concern."
And they drove on, George's car three quarters of a mile in front of them.

George pulled off the A54 at Chester, and driving down more and more rural roads, he finally came to a stop to the side of a defunct small brick pub named The Golden Goose on the far outskirts of town. It was a small building, surrounded by dense woods. Steed and Purdey drove passed the pub and then a half mile away pulled their car off the road in-between a thicket of oak trees. Getting out, they crept back towards the pub through the woods, until completely hidden from sight they had a perfect view of George sitting complacently in his car, waiting patiently for his contact to appear.

It took forty minutes, and by that time, George's fidgety perturbation was evident in his inability to sit still, his tapping the steering wheel, and his opening the car door a couple of times to get out, though he never did so, but instead, just solemnly pulled the door closed.

At 7:00 p.m. a black Volvo pulled into the carpark of the pub and came to a stop beside George's car. Two men got out. They looked around the carpark and finding no one there but them, they approached George, who got out of his car, but stood by its side waiting for the men to approach. Steed tensed and held his hand up to Purdey --at the first sign of violent attack on his brother he and Purdey would rush the scene. She nodded and felt the gun in its holster under her light spring jacket.

The two men did not harm George. One led him back to the Volvo and tying his hands behind him, lifted the boot door and indicated George should get in. Steed's brother hesitated for a moment, then swung his right leg clumsily over the rear bumper. He sat down on the edge of the boot and then lifted his left leg up and over. Pausing once more, he then lay down in the boot, and then the man took a hood out from his pocket and placed it over a protesting George's head, lightly tying it in place around his neck. The man then enclosed George in the boot. A brief word with the other man, and one got in the Volvo and the other got in George's car.

"Back to the Jaguar," Steed whispered and took off running, Purdey at his heels. They made it to the car and were in it by the time the Volvo drove by, bending over hidden from sight, although Steed didn't feel that the car was visible from the road anyway. Steed waited until the one car drove passed; when George's BMW didn't follow soon after, Steed turned the Jaguar out and began following the Volvo's path.

"Where is George's car?" Purdey asked, looking behind them.
"They're probably taking it the other way from the safety house to store it, so that if it's found, it's nowhere near the Russian hide-out."
"Well, that's smart of them," Purdey commented.

They followed the car into north Wales, through Wrexham and then turned off onto a dirt road, winding their way through the mountainous forest scenery that usually would have elevated Steed's mood into one of happy appreciation of the beautiful natural vistas of Britain. That was not the case, though. As they drove further, the woods dotted with the remnants of old mining equipment, and a boarded up mine visible here and there, Steed became more and more determined to have this little escapade of George's end peacefully; he would not allow anything to happen to his brother, or his sister-in-law. He had worked to protect his country for twenty-five years of his life; he promised himself he would not fail to protect the one family member he… cared for the most.

The Volvo made a hard left onto what looked like the beginning of a long driveway; however, the dirt road was very rutted in that area, and with the wetness from many weeks of rains in Wales, the car's tires slid on thick patches of mud. Loosing traction, the Volvo skated across the road and went over the side, sliding down six feet before it impacted against several trees and came to a sudden stop, breaking windows and crushing the side.

"Idiot," Purdey scoffed.
"Actually, helpful enemy," Steed said, stopping his car where the Volvo went off the road. He leapt from his seat and jumped down the incline. The driver, a bit stunned, and awkwardly positioned in the car, had opened the door but struggled to push it into the upward angle needed to egress the vehicle.

"Allow me," Steed said, pulling open the door, and offering a hand to the man.
"Thanks, mate," the man said, impressing Steed with his manners. The man used Steed's hand as leverage to pull himself up and out of the vehicle.
"You're very welcome," Steed said, letting go of the door and then smashing his fist into the man's jaw. The man fell against the side of the car, and then slowly slid down unconscious onto the wet grass. Steed undid one of the man's shoelaces and took it from his shoe, using it to tie his hands behind him.

"Some Good Samaritan you are," Purdey called from the Jaguar.
"I failed Good Samaritan in the Boy Scouts, you know," Steed replied. "Never really got the knack for it."

Steed reached into the car and took out the keys from the ignition. He walked around to the back of the car and opened the boot. After removing the hood from George's head and dropping it to the ground, he smiled as George's eyes opened as wide as humanly possible.

"John! What are you doing here?"
Steed took out his penknife and cut the rope around his brother's wrists. "I might ask the same of you, George," he murmured. Lending his brother a hand, George stepped out of the boot, looking around for where he was. He did a quick double take on the unconscious man's body and then climbed back up to the road, searching right and left.

"Where's the house?" he asked, nervously.
Steed lifted the agent's body and dumped it unceremoniously in the boot, then closed it, brushing his hands clean.

"What house?" Purdey asked, as Steed rejoined them at the Jaguar.
"The house where they've got Amy! John, they've kidnapped her." George began to panic and starting running down the extremely rutted road, slipping here and there in his haste, then following the road's sharp turn to the right and disappearing behind some trees. "I've got to find the house!" he yelled.

"George!" Steed yelled after him. Then where anyone else would have cursed, Steed just pressed his lips firmly together for a few seconds. Purdey had never heard one tiny expletive come out of Steed's mouth. "Purdey, stay here by the car," he ordered. "The road isn't traversable with the Jaguar. If I'm not back with George in fifteen minutes call for back-up."
He ignored Purdey's "Steed!" as he took off after his lately very troublesome older brother.

Dmitri Kasakov held onto a walkie talkie and waited outside his safety house for the arrival of George Steed. He had men posted all over the woods watching for any problem. They consisted of those English hooligans discovered by his predecessor, young men who were always open for hire from anyone, and who remained loyal for a price. Who didn't shy away from violence. And who were now armed with rifles and guns, courtesy of the Motherland.

Dmitri's heart missed an entire beat and then seemed to race like he was running a marathon. He needed George Steed and he needed that parcel. He had already had Mrs. Steed released in London and she was back home by now, making excuses for her husband who was called away for the week-end. It would have been better if Dmitri could hurt women, but it just was not possible for him to behave poorly toward them. Mrs. Steed had been hooded the entire time, so was not able to identify any of her abductors.

Dmitri's walkie talkie crackled to life.
"Hey, guvnor," came a voice, "we've got a spot of trouble, we have."
Dmitri's heart did a somersault inside his chest. "What sort of trouble?"
"Well, the Volvo's off the road, the bloke driving it is in the boot, the bloke who was in the boot's been rescued by another fellow who was driving a Jag and what looks like out target, only thinner, and there's a very pretty lady waiting about the Jag as well. The two blokes are running down the road towards the house."

Running down the road towards the house? George and a man who looks like him; who found him here? Who could that be? Comprehension dawned on Dmitri. Steed. Only John Steed could have figured it all out and found his way here. So they were siblings, after all. Steed would ruin everything; Dmitri just wanted to have to deal with George. He could handle George; get what he wanted from him and then let him go. If Steed, though, discovered this safety house, foiled all of Dmitri's plans, discovered Dmitri's files in the house… it would be a total and complete disaster not just for Dmitri, but for a good network of Russia's agents in England. That couldn't be allowed to happen. The woman must be his partner. She had to be contained as well.

Dmitri shouted into the walkie talkie, "Kill the bloke who's not George! Capture and hood George and bring him here. Capture the woman too, and put a hood on her, but don't hurt her at all otherwise." They were all dubious decisions, but the only ones that Dmitri could trust with everything falling apart around him.
"Righto," came the voice. "Roger and out."

Steed caught up with George and felt like tackling him and pounding his head into the mud. Instead, he grabbed George's arm and yanked him to a full stop. George fought his brother, trying to scamper away again, until Steed raised his voice and, gripping him by his shoulders he shook George, yelling "Stop this, now!"

The forcefulness and anger in Steed's voice brought his older brother to bear, and George settled down quietly, feeling as if a mania had just left him. He was breathing heavily, and his legs and hands were thick with mud.

"George, we've got to go back," Steed said. "It's not safe here. Let's go back to the car..."
"No! Steed we've got to find the house. The two fellows at Chester mentioned taking me to a house. If anything happens to Amy because of what I've done…"

Steed voice grew harsh again, as he pulled his brother back down the road, his strength plainly over-riding George's resistance. "What you've done! You took a parcel of vital information from Hampstead Heath, didn't you? Information that could cost fifty men and women their lives. Why were you there? What have you been doing? What have you been thinking?"

"I, I, I was trying just trying to be brave…" George mumbled, his face flushing with shame. George realized he would not be afforded the luxury of having John read his letter first, defusing his inexplicable actions from a distance. He became docile and Steed was able to release his painful grasp of his arm, as George walked peacefully back towards the car. He struggled to put the last few days of his life into coherent words. "I picked Freddy's lock, went to the pub, then Hampstead Heath, visited the grocery at Simpson and Dartford… I didn't want to take the parcel, John, it just happened. It was fun to use the picks, like a game…"

Steed could barely contain his wrath. "This is not a game, George! It is not a mild midlife past-time one does for amusement! People's lives are at stake! Yours, Amy's, our agents. Now, where is that parcel?"

George stopped walking and after wiping his filthy hand on his hopelessly muddy trousers, he reached into his jacket pocket and took out the small metal container. He handed it over to Steed. "Here's one of the microfilm containers, John. There were five in the parcel." George said softly, putting the container in Steed's hand. "I posted..."

There was a sound, a "crack," and Steed felt his face become wet in a couple of spots. He looked up from his hand and it was like the world just slowed down, each second lasting a year, and that he had lost all of his senses except sight. He couldn't move, hear, talk, feel. He could only see. What Steed saw was a hole burst out of George's forehead, and then George's eyes went dull, like a doll's eyes, and his head snapped back, and his body stepped back, and his arms flailed out to the sides, and then he was falling backwards into the mud, and some mud splashed up when he hit the ground, and then he lay still, his eyes still open. After staring at George laying in the road for awhile somehow then Steed could move his hand, and it went up to his face to where it had felt wet, and when he brought his hand back down he saw it was bloody and held a bit of bone and skin… and Steed just stood there staring down at his hand.

And then Steed heard another "crack" and saw a hole form in a tree, and the world returned to normal. Havoc, chaos, fear, normal. Steed put the container in his pocket, crouched down and sprang off the road into the woods opposite from where the bullets had come from. He saw two men coming towards him in the woods across the road; they both carried rifles. He heard one of them yell "--wrong one, you moron!" He saw another man on the dirt road between himself and Purdey. He saw George laying dead in the road. And, even though Steed couldn't seem to form a rational thought, another part of his mind took over, his training took over, and he acted. He dashed through the woods, taking a slightly circuitous route back to the Jaguar. It wasn't far away, but when he neared it, although it was still hidden by the thick trees in front of him, he could hear voices by it. Several men's voices telling Purdey that she wouldn't be hurt, and then apparently leading her off down the road to the house; then one fellow got into the Jaguar and drove it away, back towards Wrexham.

Steed, armed only with his steel-rimmed bowler, his sword containing umbrella in the Jaguar, crept back towards the turn in the road where he thought he would have the best chance of ambushing the men with Purdey.

"There he is!" a voice rang out and Steed looked to his right to discover another fellow with a gun closing in on him. Who were all these men? Where had they all got guns from? The Russians? A bullet hit the tree to Steed's left and he took off running, on pure survival mode now that everything had fallen so terribly apart.

Steed maneuvered around the woods for twenty minutes; he knew his situation was worsening, even though twilight was rapidly falling and the sunlight was almost gone. Steed could feel himself being hunted and surrounded as the men kept calling to each other after they spotted him running through the trees. They would kill him if they caught him, Steed was sure of that. He crossed a slightly open area and neared a hill, when he turned to look back and saw three men dart into the same open field. Steed frantically searched for an escape ahead and then noticed one of the boarded up mine entrances that inhabited the whole area; it was imbedded in the hill forty feet away. Dreading the necessity Steed knew he had no alternative but to enter it, that he was surely a dead man otherwise. Steed reached the mine as bullets began hitting the boards and the hill beside him. He ripped a board off, and instinctively used it as a shield to stop a bullet that would have entered his chest, then threw it to the side and ripped another board off. Bullets skimmed his leg and arm as he dove through the small hole he had opened into the absolute darkness of the mine. Immediately Steed's old fear of being enclosed in total blackness surfaced like a dead body sunken in the water rising bloated and ghastly.

Steed fumbled for his penlight in his breast pocket as he stood and ran forward as fast as he could into the absolute black to get away from the bullets flying into the mine. He had just gotten the penlight unclipped from his pocket when, to Steed's horror, his feet ran out of ground, and he stifled a cry of shock. Steed threw his hands out forward, his wide eyes useless as he began falling into a dark nothing, into ebony air, into the depths of the mine.

Chapter Thirteen

Dmitri Kasakov's heart slowed its beating a little when he saw two men walking down the driveway leading a hooded woman whose hands were tied behind her back. Perhaps things would work out after all. He looked behind them striving in the darkening twilight to see some other men with George Steed, but no one else was on the dirt path.

"Right, here you are guvnor," one of the men said as the three of them stopped in front of Kasakov; Carsdale, he thought. "Tied and hooded but untouched."
"Where's George Steed?" Dmitri asked. "And did you kill the other man?"
Dmitri saw the woman's head snap up at his words.

"Well, guvnor, there was a bit of a problem," and the man jerked his thumb back down the path towards the dirt road. Now Dmitri could make out, barely, some other men walking awkwardly, carrying something between them. Dmitri's heart renewed its fast beating. No one spoke until the two men arrived carrying the dead body of George Steed between them.

Dmitri stared down at the body, his face growing livid with anger. "Who the bloody hell did this?" he growled, pointing at the body. He was stunned at all his plans dissolving away with one stupid, careless move. One irreversible move. He had only wanted to hire the four men his predecessor had used in the past and had found completely trustworthy, but the leader --Frankie-- had obligated to him hire all his friends; ten of them were here now. Ten! It was ridiculous. Out of all of them, only Frankie had a brain in his head. Now one of the other dolts had killed the whole point to everything.

The young, stocky man who had helped carry George to the house shuffled his feet and then lifted his right hand. "Uh, that was me, sir, Roth. Could've sworn had the other bloke in my sight."

Kasakov said nothing but nodded his head up and down several times. Then in one swift move he took out a gun from jacket pocket and shot the man through the heart. The woman reflexively ducked down at the loud retort of the gun as Adams fell to the ground dead. As silence fell once more, she slowly stood up.

"Don't worry, my dear," Dmitri said to her, standing next to her ear. "Whatever else happens, no harm shall come to you." Then he turned to the three remaining men. "Where's John Steed?"

The men exchanged confused looks and shrugged their shoulders. Dmitri's patience had long since fled. "The other man!" he yelled. "The one you were supposed to have shot. Where is he?"
"Oh, that bloke. Well, the other chaps are hunting him down. Closing in on him, too. He might even be dead by now."

In a flash Dmitri pulled out his walkie talkie and screamed into it. "Hello, Frankie! Come in! Now!"
"I'm here, guvnor," a voice crackled back. "What do you want?"
"John Steed, the fellow you've been hunting down. Is he still alive?"
"Well, yes, but we've got him cornered…and we think he might have been winged by a bullet or two."
"Frankie, I want him alive!"

The man's astonishment was clear even through the poor connection. "You do?"
"Yes, you idiot. I need one of them alive, and since your fellow idiots shot the right man, I need the wrong one alive. I want you to capture him and bring him to me, alive."
"Well, I don't know about this capturing him, sir."

Dmitri's heart actually seemed to stop beating in his chest for a full five seconds before it began flipping around in his chest. '"Why not?"
"Well, he's gone into a mine, he has. And none of us wants to follow him. Dark and dangerous, they are."
"As is my mood, if that man is not brought out of there alive."

Their was pause on the other end. "Well, we'll have to return to the house and gather up some lights and ropes."
"Then come and do that and then go on in after him! And make it fast!"

Dmitri turned off his walkie talkie and took some breaths to settle down. If they got Steed he still had a chance to salvage his career and his life. He would have to take harsher methods with Steed then he would have had to with his brother; much harsher methods. He could still use Amy Steed as a bluff, that might help, as he didn't feel that violence against Steed would necessarily be successful. But he would have to try. Dmitri at this point was willing to try anything. He looked at the woman standing tense and stiffly. Well, almost anything. He hated that weakness in him that meant he could not harm a woman. It was only by the sheerest of luck and the most intricate of machinations that he had gotten this far in Russian intelligence with that limitation. How he had managed to hide his inability to injure women all these years sometimes amazed him. His colleagues had no such compunction. And Dmitri had no such compunction regarding men.

"Get her inside; lock her in one of the cells in the basement. Put George Steed's body in the barn. Gather all the lamps and torches and rope you can find." One man led Purdey into the very isolated stone house. A first floor with living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom; a second floor with study and three other tiny bedrooms; and the basement, with three small cement cells, and a small kitchenette and bathroom. He took her downstairs into the nicest of the cells, the one with a cot with adequate mattress, a chair, and even a small rug over the cold floor. Once inside, he untied her hands and pulled off her mask.

"Welcome to your suite, madam," the man snickered as he closed and locked the door. Purdey stood in the center of the cell looking around it. It was plain and bare; the cot, the chair, the rug. She had never been put into a cell before; there was a decided claustrophobic aspect to it. She went to the door and shook the doorknob knowing it was locked, and then walked a small circle about the eight by ten room, touching the solid stone walls. Very claustrophobic indeed. To get her mind off being trapped in the room, Purdey sat down on the chair and instead worried a great deal about Steed.

Steed came to laying on his stomach on cold, hard ground; half his body was in a pool of chilly water. He opened his eyes, and when he saw just total darkness in his momentary confusion he tried again to open his already open eyes. Nothing. He could see nothing. He passed his right hand in front of his face, and could not even make out his palm or fingers. A wave of fear sent a shock through his entire body. Nee San, I'm in Nee San. In that box. A flashback to his time in the Chinese compound he had been imprisoned in twenty years ago terrified his mind; he had healed both mentally and physically from those fourteen months, except for this. He couldn't stand being in the total dark.

The next few seconds were frenetic for Steed. He tried to push himself up with his arms but a terrible pain in his left wrist made him cry out and he fell onto his left side grabbing his wrist with his right hand, rocking to and fro for a moment. Even in the dark, even through his fear, he could feel the wrist was swollen; it was clearly broken. But the horrid blackness soon overcame his injury and he released his wrist to grab his penlight from his breast pocket, only to feel an empty space--he patted the pocket several times until he recalled that he had pulled the tiny torch from his pocket right before he fell. Frantic now, Steed ran his hands over the ground searching desperately for the penlight, the rising tide of panic trying to chase all rational thought from his mind, and images of being dragged to an interrogation chamber filled his blinded vision. It's here, It's here, Steed kept telling himself as he widened his search on his hands and knees, ignoring his wrist's broken bone complaining it shouldn't be bent, and his left knee alerting him that it was injured, too. Soon Steed had lost his perspective in the total dark, and did not really know whether he was touching new ground or old. Suddenly, a miracle, as he wandered back into some cold puddle his right fingers felt the slender steel object and Steed grabbed at it and, shaking, turned it on. Light. Wonderful light. The beam cut through the dark and illuminated a round yellow spot on a carved out wall six feet from Steed. Steed immediately settled down a little and could get his breath under control. The light was good. They had regularly shined a tiny light into that dreadful small cell in Nee San, the cell he couldn't fully sit up in, or fully stretch out in; what they had called "the box." When they had turned the light off and he had been plunged into total darkness, that was the signal that they were coming to drag him out and interrogate him again…

The light was good.
Steed stared at the light as he came up off his knees straightening up out of the water, and stood on the dirty, musty ground, shivering from being wet, his left knee painfully stiff. It was then he noticed his head aching by his left forehead, and he put his right hand up into his hair and felt a solid, tender swelling, and some blood. He used the light to examine himself further: his trousers were torn over his left knee, where there was some bruising of the kneecap, and a slash through the trousers with a slice of skin in his thigh torn open underneath indicated he had been grazed there by a bullet. Another bullet had apparently flown through his jacket and shirt, though just a trickle of dried blood on his left hand and the complete use of his arm assured Steed that he had been very lucky in escaping more serious bullet wounds, given the number of people who had been shooting at him. Holding his throbbing broken wrist close to his chest Steed aimed the light upwards to determine how far he had fallen and if he could climb back out. Climb back out… to his dead brother George.

George was dead. That fact hit him like a fist to his gut, and Steed staggered back against a rough wall, and then allowed his legs to give out and he slid back down to the ground. George was dead. He couldn't believe it. Thoughts ran rampant through Steed's head. How could he tell Amy, Paul, Marilyn, the rest of his family? That happy, loving family was now torn at the roots, blighted, gone forever. How could this have happened? Why had it happened? Why hadn't he been shot instead? Why had George picked Sloan-Beck's lock, and gone to the bar, to Hampstead Heath, taken the parcel? Why had Steed given George the picks? It was his fault his brother was dead. But hadn't he told George not to embark on a life of crime? Would everyone blame him for George's death. Could he stop blaming himself? Why couldn't Steed have just told George he loved him? Steed's stomach retched. George was dead. Had he known that Steed had loved him? I should've just told him, Steed bitterly castigated himself. I should've just told him. He had felt it, why could he not have just said so? What had he saved? What had he protected? No, instead he relied on gestures, and here it was, proof of the inherent uselessness of gestures. He should have just voiced his love; just whispered it, there, on the stoop, the two of them. Even if he had never been able to voice it again. No, instead he had given him picks! And now his dear brother was dead. Steed felt a couple of wet spots on his face, and reached up to wipe off George's blood, and bone and skin. There was nothing to wipe off, but the feeling of wetness remained.

The world has gone mad, Steed thought. At least, his world had. His dark world. Then the image of his last night with his George and his family flashed through Steed's head, the light and the warmth and the joy. And he realized, grief sucking his breath from his lungs, that their once bright world had gone mad as well.

This can't be happening, Steed thought. This can't be real. George can't be dead. But, Steed knew it all was real. Knew it was just like all the other times he had wished so hard for life at that moment to be a dream. Steed sat there on the floor, shivering from the cold, retching from sorrow. It was only when he heard voices above him, and saw a light shine down through the opening he had fallen through ten feet above, that Steed was able to pull himself out of his anguish. For a brief second, Steed thought, Let them get me. But then, because he was England's best agent, because he was superbly trained to persevere and succeed no matter what the odds, because the belief in survival was ingrained in his soul, but mostly because he had to live so that he could kill a man, the man who had shot his brother by mistake, Steed, penlight in hand, left wrist pulled to his chest, stood up on shaky legs, and limped further down into the mine, into more endless dark.

Frankie and the others stood at the hole in the floor, shining lights down to the rocky ground below.
"I don't like it, Frankie," Adams said. "I'm no miner."
"We were hired to do a job, Adams. We've got to do it." But the squint in his eyes didn't instill confidence in the others. They stood there, no one willing to make the first move.

"You know," said one of them, "my grandpa worked in mines. And he talked about it sometimes. That they often put in ventilation shafts that connected to the main shafts." The other men looked at him with blank faces. "They dug other holes, like, in the sides of the mine, to bring some fresh air in, and help bring in supplies and such." The man's voice sped up with the excitement of his own thought. "If we just keep a bloke or two here, blocking this exit off, the fellow will travel till he finds a ventilation shaft, and we can get him when he climbs out there."
"How do we know where the shaft will be?" Frankie asked.
"I dunno. I suppose someone local fellow around here might have a map of the mine's layout." The man's torch suddenly sputtered and went out, and he hit it a few times but no light came back. "Shite! Anything beats going down in there."

Everyone stood by watching Frankie. Suddenly a small voice came from behind the men gathered around the hole in the ground. "You know," a young lad said, "I know this Steed chap. He saved me cousin's life once, and kept him out of gaol. He's not such a bad fellow."
"Shut up, Tony," Frankie said, but the man's words had had the effect on the group, causing a further loss in interest in chasing after Steed through the mine. "All right. We'll bag going into the mine. Adams and Davis, you stay here and shoot him if he comes back this way. The rest of you, lets get out of here. I met a Dr. Peterson at The Blue Bull back in Wrexham; bored me to tears yammering about this whole area, how he knew every inch of it. I'll go visit him at home tonight. In the meantime, the rest of you spread out in the woods and keep your eyes peeled for Steed, in case he gets out. That means you, too, Tony. You let us down, you pay for it."

Tony murmured his acquiescence, but was in two minds. Frankie was the head of his gang that had been hired by Mr. Smith, and so he was obligated to do what Frankie said. But he hadn't figured on killing anybody, and certainly not a man that had done his cousin Benny a favor just last year. Benny, who had been involved in some drug running. Tony had been at his cousin's home in Berkshire when this Steed fellow had brought Benny home to the village, covered in grey ashes and fear. The whole family had marveled at how Steed had saved his cousin's life by pulling him out of the drug warehouse the boss had set on fire not caring who was still inside. Then Steed had said he wouldn't put Benny in gaol, this time, and all the family, Tony included had shaken the man's strong hand in thanks.

Tony hadn't wanted to get involved in a gang himself. But that gambling habit he had, it was bad. But gambling wasn't murder. As the men climbed out through the mine entrance and split up to patrol the woods, Tony wandered off by himself. He had a light, and a gun, and a job to do. He had to pay his debts or else men would be hunting him down pretty soon. But, this Steed chap, he was just not such a bad fellow.

Steed wandered the mines for hours; it would be his luck of late to have entered a whole subterranean cavern of mines. It was not that he covered that much ground, he didn't really. It was hard going on the uneven, rock strewn, wet ground, bending down at regular intervals to pass under the thick square timbers that went from floor up across the ceiling and down to the opposite floor, holding up the ground above him. Steed's knee and head ached with every step, his wrist throbbed enough to make him nauseous, even though he had arranged his tie as a sling, and he was shivering from the cool, moist air that kept his clothes from drying quickly.

And, worst of all, Steed was in the dark, which he was not thrilled to be traveling further into, so his movements forward were not necessarily quick. He had a fresh battery in his penlight, and a spare battery in his pocket, so he knew he had quite a few hours of light left. Enough, he hoped to help him find an exit. Didn't mines sometimes have ventilation shafts in them? I just have to find one and climb out. Can't be too far ahead. Steed just kept putting all his recurrent thoughts of running out of light while deep in the mines out of his head, though he could not stop his anxiety from slowly crawling through his insides.

Steed sneezed a couple of times. Oh, good, he thought, I'm probably getting a cold. That answers the question of how things could possibly get worse. He came to another branch, with one mine staying straight, and one veering off to the right. What was this, the third branch? Steed had no idea which one was the one to take, so, without much though he went to the right. He turned behind randomly ensuring that no one was gaining on him. He hadn't seen any more lights or heard any more voices since over by the hole he fell through; he wondered if he should turn around and go back. Steed stopped walking, and pulled his wristwatch from his pocket; he had removed it from his left wrist due to the swelling. It was near 11:00 p.m. He was very tired, exhausted really, and, however banal it was, was hungry and thirsty. He should have finished his sandwich at lunch. He should have done many things differently… Steed broke that useless chain of thought.

Steed flashed his penlight in the left right up down waving pattern he had initiated. On the left he saw an indentation in the wall, and looking in, he saw a corridor about twelve feet deep, as if the miners had started another branch and had stopped rather abruptly. It was useless for him to walk further --he needed to rest; if he kept going and ran into any of the men after him he would have no strength to fight. But, Steed wasn't too keen about sleeping in the dark. He couldn't waste battery power keeping a night light going like some scared child… though, to give himself the benefit of doubt, what he had gone through in Nee San had been anything but childish. Steed sneezed again, and then yawned. He really had no choice about it, and he walked to the end of the alcove, leaned against a wall, and then slowly slid down until he was seated on the ground. He undid the top two buttons on his shirt, then hugged his jacket around him. Steed waited a moment, feeling his heart pounding against his chest; after a few deep breaths he turned off the penlight, plunging himself into absolute darkness.

Steed kept his eyes closed and constantly repeated the thought "I'm in Britain" while he imagined himself horse-riding through the fields in back of his home in summer. He saw himself in the sunlight, a clear blue sky above him, surrounded by the innumerable flowers and trees that blossomed and decorated the lovely English countryside that Steed loved dearly, that he had made it his life to protect. He jumped fences and rode by the river. In that way Steed was able to contain his intense fear long enough that his exhaustion could take over. It took a long time, and all of Steed's mental discipline, but eventually Steed's head tilted forward and he fell asleep.

Frankie found Dr. Peterson at home. It wasn't hard getting the old fellow to speak; he was a lonely old man, who felt thoroughly unappreciated for his knowledge in many areas. Frankie let the man talk about the old mining days for awhile, about his being the doctor for the whole mining company that had worked there. Frankie had had a grandmother, and so when he had to, he knew how to act well in social situations. After awhile Frankie asked to see maps of the mine, which the doctor had, so that if there was an explosion or a cave-in, he, as the big, important doctor of the company would know what was where, and how to get in to save lives. It took some time, but finally they came across the mine complex that Frankie could identify was the one Steed was trapped in, and Dr. Peterson was very helpful in locating the main entrances--as this had really been two mines that had been joined together, and the three ventilation shafts that existed between the main entrances.

Frankie asked for the map politely, saying he'd return it in a day or two and then would want to hear more of the doctor's fine and interesting tales. The doctor fairly thrust the map into Frankie's hand. Frankie returned to Mr. Smith's house, and located the men, assigned two of them to each ventilation shaft and two at one entrance, smirking to Mr. Smith that it was a good thing he'd brought so many men. He'd take the other entrance by himself since Roth was dead. Roth had deserved to die, Frankie supposed, for killing the wrong fellow, but it hadn't gone over well with the rest of the lads. Frankie wondered if he and his mates could blackmail Mr. Smith into a bit more money over it to appease the chaps.

Frankie handed out walkie talkies to each team, and told them to call in for assistance as soon as they noticed any sign of Steed coming out of the mine. The men each received a thermos of coffee, an umbrellas, and sandwiches, and put on extra sweaters, and their raincoats, hats and galoshes. By 11:00 p.m. that night they were in their positions, and sat waiting with their guns protected by the drizzling rain. It was a miserable vigil, but they were being paid well, so they kept their complaints to themselves.

Disjointed images pervaded Steed's sleep --Hong Kong, China, Commandant Yung, his brother George, Amy, and then falling him down into nothing forever. Steed awoke with a start, sweating, shivering and stiff all over. The dark hit him like a bolt of lightening, and he immediately turned on the penlight. He checked his watch, 6:00 a.m. Steed struggled to his feet; it was a difficult act to perform between his shivering, stiffness, left knee pain and only having one viable arm to use. He rubbed his right hand over his legs, left arm, and abdomen, and stomped his feet trying to warm up. He felt achy in his bones and he sneezed a number of times in a row. He was even more hungry and even more thirsty. All in all, he thought, I've had better mornings. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to get some sleep; he didn't feel better or stronger at all.

Yet, here he was, and he had no choice but to begin moving again. Steed limped out of the alcove and stood at the main mine passageway. Back the way he had come or forward to the unknown? Steed looked left and right and once more acknowledged how helpful psychic powers would be in his job. Too bad he didn't have any aside from a random sense of danger at times. Steed decided to go forward for an hour more; if he didn't find an exit he would be forced to turn around. He couldn't wander around the mines for long without any supplies and with a dwindling amount of battery power left. Already the battery in the penlight was dimming a little. He began moving slowly and without much grace down the mine.

It was with a great deal of thanks to fate that, forty minutes later, Steed felt a wisp of air blow against him. Staying calm, he strode forward, shining the penlight high on the left and right, being led onwards by the growing breeze. Another sixty feet down the mine and his penlight hit the proverbial gold. There was an old steel ladder on the right wall, leading up to a boarded up hole near the ceiling. Chinks in the boards allowed the air to slip through, and water trickled down the wall pooling on the floor.
Steed stopped by the ladder; it was rusty but intact. Holding it with his right hand, he shook it; the eight foot length of it seemed sturdy enough. Steed sat down on the floor and took the container of microfilm and his penknife out of his pocket. Steed would not let the film fall into Russia's hands, and he had no idea what was waiting for him outside that opening. Holding onto the penknife with his right hand, he opened it with his teeth. He pulled his left leg closer to him, and slightly above and to the inside of his already bruised and torn knee he cut a small deep slash in his leg with the knife, gritting his teeth against the sharp incision. He took the microfilm out of the tiny metal container and rolled it up as tightly as he could, ignoring the tickle of blood flowing down his leg. Once compressed as much as possible, Steed pushed the microfilm into the slash, inserting it as far down in and under the skin as he could with first his finger and then the blade of the knife, until it was firmly imbedded in his flesh, off to the side of the slash, hidden from sight.

Steed held his leg for a few minutes with his right hand after that, applying firm pressure to stop the bleeding, and also to stop the deep discomfort that was gnawing through-out the area. When the bleeding had decreased and the pain eased he took the empty container and put in it a crack he found between the floor and the wall, pushing it far back in with his index finger. He then covered the crack completely with dirt and placed a couple of rocks in front of it. When that was finished, Steed stood back up, a little light-headed. When his head cleared, he put the penlight in his mouth, and began climbing up the ladder a little awkwardly, forced to use just his right arm to lift himself.

Steed reached the top and wrapping his left forearm through the top rung to balance himself he pushed against the boards with his right hand. They didn't give, so he began beating against the side of one to loosen it from the nails. The sound resonated loudly in the cave and was audible outside as well.

The two men who sat by that opening had spent a miserable night, cold and rainy, slumbering on and off. Drinking the last of their coffee when the hollow pounding began, they looked around themselves until they located the sound as coming from inside the cave. Scrambling back from the hole, one pulled out his walkie talkie, and whispered in it, "Frankie, it's me, Eddie, he's coming out here, he's coming out."

Frankie "Rogered" that and contacted all the others, telling them to hurry to the northern most ventilation shaft. He figured that him, Frankie, Eddie, Tony, Adams, Pickens, and Walters could be there in minutes. The other three fellows would take longer. That was fine to Freddy; five of them would have no problems with one middle-aged man. They'd beaten younger stronger men than him, though it had impressed Frankie how the man had blocked that one bullet with the board. Frankie began trotting towards the ventilation shaft looking forward to this whole affair being over. He hated nature and wanted to get back to the city. And when they all got to London and told their mates at the pub what had happened it would go well for Frankie. He'd get new gang members, guaranteed.

One more blow and the board broke free on one side. Steed began hitting the other side, and after a few more strikes, it loosened enough that Steed could wrestle it off and drop it too the ground. Although the morning was damp and grey, it was wonderful to Steed to see the dawn's light, however dreary, and the grass and trees, however wet. He studied the outside as best he could through the small opening available to him and warily acknowledged there was no one in the small field that encompassed his immediate view. Steed began hitting the lower board, and was rewarded within a couple of minutes with it being loose enough he could pry it from its nails and drop it to the ground as well. He took the penlight from his mouth and put it back in his pocket, silently thanking whoever had invented it.

Untwining his left arm from the rung, Steed stepped up the ladder until he could lean out the hole and pull himself out with his right arm, using his legs to push; he felt a slight tingle of danger doing so. He wound up on his right hand and knees and after resting a moment he stood up, shaky and wet. Taking a few steps forward to head for the cover of the trees, Steed heard a concerted thump and turned and saw four men leap down from the hillside over the ventilation shaft hole. They encircled him, and out of the corner of his eye Steed saw two other men coming towards him from his left still about a hundred feet away. The men carried guns, but had them holstered. Since they hadn't just shot him right off, Steed reasoned that something had changed and that they had plans to capture him instead. Steed had no desire to accommodate them. He was, he had to admit, in a particularly foul mood; one of these men had killed George, and all of them had tried to kill him. He had no real desire to allow any of them to live, but, he would not wantonly kill them unless absolutely necessary. Though it was time to put his general pacifistic nature aside, he was still a gentleman.

The four young men smirked at Steed as they walked closer to him. Steed took his left arm from his sling, then lifted it from around his neck and put it in his jacket pocket. No reason to ruin a perfectly good Eton tie, no matter what happened.

"Just come with us and there's no need for violence," one of the men said.
"Okay," Steed said, shrugging his shoulders. Then in a flash he launched himself at the man he had perceived was the strongest, the man directly behind him. Take out the strongest man and the rest will become scared and careless. He spun around and used that momentum to increase the force of his punch against the man's jaw. Catching the man completely off guard, Steed connected solidly and the man's head was flung to the side as he fell over unconscious. Ducking under a punch from the man to his right, Steed connected with two jabs to the man's stomach and then as the man bent double Steed lifted his right knee into the man's nose crushing it. The man cried out as he sank to his knees covering his bloodied nose with both hands.
The two other men rushed at Steed and Steed reflexively blocked a punch from one with his left forearm. His concentration was shattered as the jarring of his bruised and swollen wrist created agonizing pain. Though his follow through punch struck that man's face, Steed would up slightly off balance regarding the attack of the fourth man, who successfully rushed Steed, hitting him solidly in the chest and knocking him to the ground.

Sitting on top of him the man began flailing his fists into Steed's face. Steed could see the two other men getting nearer him and desperate, he reached for the gun in the holster of the first man he had hit, who still lay senseless on the ground next to where Steed had fallen. Grabbing it, Steed was momentarily stunned by a blow to his mouth that ripped his lip open, but he recovered quickly and in one smooth move Steed brought the gun to the man's head and pulled the trigger. The retort was deafening and the man toppled to the ground, half of his head gone. Steed rolled to his knees and shot through the heart the third man who had stood back up after Steed's weak blow, then he similarly shot the man whose nose he had broken as the man, panicking, reached for his own weapon. He did not shoot the unconscious man on the ground; it went against all his civilized bearing.

Standing up Steed shot one of the two men who had been running towards him in the chest. Steed then leveled the gun at the other man, a very young lad who came to a sudden stop ten feet away; Steed's eyes narrowed as he took quick aim.
The man lifted his arms up in surrender, his eyes wild in fear. "No, Mr. Steed, don't shoot!" he called out. The lad's familiar use of his name garnered Steed's attention. Steed's remarkable memory recalled having met the lad once, but couldn't place where… and in his general abhorrence of violence, Steed made a terrible tactical error. Steed hesitated, and it was too late when his peripheral vision espied movement far around his right side. Steed ducked down, but not enough, and something very solid glanced off his head, doubling his vision, and before Steed could regain normal sight, another harsh blow landed on the side of his head and he staggered backwards. He was driven to the ground once again by a vicious tackle that knocked his breath away, although he still managed to hold onto the gun. However, the man on top of him --the unconscious man he had not shot-- held his right arm down, and reined a solid, stunning blow to Steed's face with what Steed had a glimpse was the butt of a handgun. Steed's world darkened as he felt something crack in his cheek, and he felt himself fading away. He had no ability to fight having the gun ripped from his hand and then being turned onto his stomach and having his hands tied tightly around his back, causing his wrist to erupt in severe throbbing.

From far away he heard, "Bloody damn hell! Tony get over here! I don't believe it. I don't bloody believe it."
Then the other voice, of the lad he somehow knew, Tony. "Frankie, oh my God, they're all dead."
"I know they're all dead, you bloody bastard. Christ! How will I explain this back in London? Roth alone was okay; but all these lads now. Bloody hell!"

Steed flinched as his side was kicked a couple of times. "Bastard!" Frankie yelled. Then after a pause, Frankie pulled out his walkie talkie and directed the three others who hadn't arrived at the ventilation shaft yet to meet him and Tony back to the house. "Grab one of his arms, Tony. We might as well take him to Mr. Smith."

They each grabbed one of Steed's arms and pulled him to his feet. Steed was in no position to fight now. His arms were immobilized behind his back and he was weak; resistance would just bring more blows. So, Steed let himself be lead away towards the mysterious Mr. Smith, angry at himself for not just shooting the young man. For not shooting the unconscious man. For being a gentleman.

Tony helped drag Steed a mile through the quiet and isolated wet woods towards the house and the cell they knew he would be put into. Mr. Steed could have killed him easily, but hadn't, and now as a result Mr. Steed was going to be… well… Tony didn't finish the thought. He didn't want to be here doing this, especially to Mr. Steed, who had, really, saved Tony's life in a similar manner of saving his cousin's. No, no he wasn't a bad bloke at all, and he didn't deserve all this. Tony wished he had never taken up a deck of cards in his life, wished that he was anywhere else, that he didn't know what would happen to Mr. Steed.

Catching him whenever he stumbled, they dragged a limping Steed back to the house, and then down the stairs, and into one of the cells, which contained two chairs, a light bulb hanging from the ceiling, a mattress laying on the floor against a side wall, and a small table. Steed's breath caught as he saw an ominous hook also attached to the ceiling, and a long hard rubber truncheon and cattle prod laying on the table. Frankie and Tony were joined by the three other men in the cell and so were easily able to hold a struggling Steed down on the floor as they untied his hands and then removed his jacket, waistcoat, shirt, socks and shoes, commenting among themselves on Steed's surprisingly muscular and defined body and the various old scars disfiguring it. They searched through his trouser pockets, removing all the items they found in them, then lifted Steed off the cement floor and sat him in a wooden chair facing the table tying him hand and foot to it. Frankie took charge of Steed's hands and made sure the bonds across his wrist were particularly tight, smiling when that forced Steed to wince and close his eyes tightly.

Patting Steed on the head, Frankie nodded to the men and they all left the cell, closing and locking the door behind them. To Steed's dismay the light bulb over him turned off, leaving him securely fastened, in great discomfort, and in the pitch dark.

Continued in part three

©  Mona Morstein 1998
No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. These stories may not be altered in any way or sold; all copyright information must appear with this work at all times. Please read disclaimers and warnings on top of each story. Feel free to send constructive comments to the author.. :o)  

Back to The Avengers Library