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.
The rabbit, nose twitching merrily, squeezed through a hole in a fence as it hopped along in the woods, munching on the green grass of spring, oblivious to the danger lurking close by. A fox, eyes narrowed in its orange face, was scrunched over behind a large shrub, getting ready to sprint through the same hole towards its dinner. The rabbit hopped a couple of more steps and then swayed side to side, finally collapsing down to the ground as if in a faint. At that moment the fox dashed out of its cover, and launched itself through the hole to come upon the helpless hare. It raised a mouth to clamp down around the neck of its victim and then it too swayed back and forth for a few seconds before lying down next to its prey, not eating it, not moving, and the rabbit, feeling the motionless arm of the fox on its body, didn't even flinch or flick its ears.
Since Emma Peel had become John Steed's partner in, well, not exactly fighting crime, but more along the line of defeating lunatics, she had come to understand that anything at any time could happen in her flat. Oh, not due to some diabolical mastermind or his henchmen, those rarely discovered her penthouse apartment, but instead related to her debonair, charming and handsome colleague. Steed had this game of often alerting her to the existence of some new case by instigating some silly or odd trick. She'd found all sorts of "Mrs. Peel, You're Needed" bannered toys and trinkets around her apartment that he had snuck in and arranged, had bannered arrows shot through windows by Steed's unerring arm, had her television reception interfered with (and it still irked her meticulous and scientific mind that Steed never had explained the technology beyond that amazing feat), and so forth. Life at Mrs. Emma Peel's home was never dull with Steed about.
So, it was no surprise to her when she came out of her bedroom, set to go forth in the day, and saw a small airplane flying around the air of her living room. A quick glance about found a lean, long-legged and three piece suited Steed sitting casually in a chair across the room, with a control gadget in his hand. He nodded to her and pushed a red button; suddenly Mrs. Peel's peripheral vision noticed two little figures fall out of the plane, a tiny little man and a tiny little woman. Immediately little plastic parachutes opened up and on the female figure's chute was written the proverbial, "Mrs. Peel, You're Needed." They sank to the floor and lay there unmoving as Steed crashed the plane into a wall, by a very expensive painting. Innumerable little painted plane parts scattered all over the floor.
"Oops!" he said, shaking the control box. "Got caught by an unexpected crosswind."
Hands on narrow hips, Emma smirked. Steed always made her smirk. Previously under-used and feeble, her smirk muscles could probably drag a train caboose by now.
Steed put the control gadget on a table as he stood up. "Mrs. Peel, so glad to see you up and out of bed. " He took in her form-fitting dress with low boots, lingering on her show of legs. "Not that I wouldn't have minded seeing you down and still in bed, either."
They were partners; they were friends; they were lovers. They merged those roles effortlessly and with nary a thought for consequences. It was just right for them both, and they both enjoyed their companionship.
"It's 11 o'clock, Steed. I'm up, washed, dressed, and packed."
"Packed?" Steed eyes shone with amusement. "But, we don't go on trips to the Continent until after the case." He set off walking around the flat in thought. "I suppose we could make a mad dash to Tours for lunch and then return to begin the investigation-"
Whether he was actually serious or not, Emma didn't know. Unfortunately she couldn't call his potential bluff today.
"I can't begin any investigation today or go to Tours. I'm off to the Cotswolds."
Steed's face fell. He used his extraordinarily expressive eyebrows, eyes and mouth as his sole methods of conveying emotions and his disappointment was evident now. "The Cotswolds? No, you see, there is rash of thefts from the-"
Emma shook her finger in his face. "Steed, I'd love to help, but I told you about the wedding I'm helping to throw for my friend Maria."
"The crazy nurse?"
"The nurse who works with psychiatric patients."
He shrugged as if there really was no difference between the two. "That's now? Today? On a Thursday?"
"The wedding is Saturday. However, I've got to get to the resort and help organize the last minute details."
"My dear, perhaps I haven't made myself clear-"
"-Do you ever?"
"The existence of our great country is at risk!"
She smirked a second time. "What? Again?"
"Yes, again! Only this time it seems that an unknown airplane is being used to help men steal-"
She covered his thin-lipped mouth with her hand, ignoring his reflexive kiss to her palm, even though her hand tingled in response. He really was a very good kisser. "Can't. Sorry. You'll have to do without me. Isn't there someone else you can partner with for just this one case?"
He removed her hand, elegantly pecking it once more for good-bye. "Someone else?" he asked, shocked, as if she had requested him to purchase a cheap bottle of brandy. "There is no someone else!"
"Flattering, but surely the Ministry has other agents."
"Not like you. Not with those eyes, that brain, that way of brushing your hair back, your " (he whispered something very naughty to her), and she pushed him away playfully. "That has nothing to do with being a good agent," she giggled. "If it did, why, we'd have to say you were a good one, too."
She went back into her bedroom and came out with two suitcases. "Really, Steed, I do have to go. I invited you to the wedding, remember, some weeks ago."
Seeing she meant what she said, and wasn't going to help him with the case, he put his hands deep into his trouser pockets and frowned, "Well, this is an unhappy first."
She smiled tenderly, "And the unhappy last. Promise."
Ignoring the larger mess of the ruined airplane, Steed moved to the little plastic people on the floor, obviously in a temporary mope; he kicked them with his Chelsea booted foot a little and then squat down to pick them up and put them in his jacket pocket. Sometimes this super secret agent, star of British Intelligence, trusted and respected by world leaders in numerous Western countries, looked and acted like a little boy, and that was something Emma loved about him and loved that she could do to him.
He sulked, "You'll be sorry if my mind is transferred into some slimy little fellow with a mustache. Who gets headaches. Who's all flab and no muscles. Who smokes smelly cigars."
She would indeed regret that, just as she had previously. "Try to show up if you can," she said, figuring someone had to act like the adult. She wrote on a piece of paper. "Here's the resort address."
He took it from her, loathing in his eyes, and stuffed it into his trouser pocket. Then, his mood spontaneously changing, he sidled up closer to her, as close as he could without actually having their bodies merge into one four-legged Siamese secret agent, and he smiled, exuding so much sexual energy that for a second or two Emma could feel herself waffling about her decision to go. "If you're nice to me now," he said, softly, in a voice that was like tonal butter, "I won't allow any diabolical mastermind to direct his rain machine at your wedding party."
If he couldn't have her as a colleague, and wouldn't see her for the next few days then of course he'd try for sex. He was very predictable that way. And, it was close, very close. Falling under the spell of his cologne and his aura of lust, Emma's body began its urge to connect with Steed, its desire to hold him, kiss him, open to him. If it had been any other responsibility but the wedding of her dear friend She kissed his cheek and lifted the suitcases. "Sorry, Steed. I do have to go."
He sighed deeply and then took her suitcases from her hands. Disappointment by no means meant he would renege upon his commitment to being a gentleman. "After you, my dear."
She opened the door of her apartment just as Steed added, "I can guarantee you'll feel guilty if the next time you see me, I'm only three inches tall."
She had to put up with several more such statements all the way down to her car. She was amused by every single one of them, and in their perfect compatibility, her amusement enhanced and magnified his.
It had been a splendid wedding. Everything had gone perfectly, the blue skies of spring had bespoken a promise of happiness, the organ player never missed a note, the flowers were colorful and aromatic, and the joy of the occasion had been manifest in teary eyes and stoic men. Maria looked radiant in her gown with long train, and her groom, Alfred Canner, a solicitor with a firm in Buxston, looked respectable and upright. Having no parents, nor sisters, her brothers completely swamped in undertaking wedding arrangements, Maria's eyes fell gratefully on organized and efficient Emma as she strolled down the aisle, her eldest brother by her side. After the service, clothes were changed and cars were driven to the lakeside resort called "Brownstone By The Lake", where the wedding festivities were to begin.
A 500 year old building, the Brownstone was actually that-a large building built out of Wales brown stone, refurbished for the modern age inside with all the most luxurious and fine amenities. There was a large lawn from the patio of the dining room to the lake, and that was were, before the luncheon service and toasts were to take place, 150 people milled about chatting and snacking on catered hors d'oeuvres. It was very refined, yet very friendly. About the time that luncheon was going to be announced, calling the guests inside to their assigned seats, a loud noise lifted peoples' heads to the sky. There they saw a plane flying quite erratically at a relatively low altitude. At some point there was an explosion in the plane, which caused a great deal of screaming from the women and grave interest from the men. Flames burst out of the back of the plane, and as it began a precipitous decline into a rocky, barren hill across the lake, two people were seen to leap from the aircraft. Hard to make out, it seemed the two were tussling over something as they plummeted to the lake 4000 feet below. As the plane hit the hill, bursting completely into pieces, people yelled out "Good God!" Just then one of the figures seemed to win their fight and put something on. A second later, as the two were at a height of 500 feet, a parachute opened up behind his back. The other figure, helpless against the pull of gravity, fell with legs and arm spread eagle toward the lake. At the last minute, a pair of men in a row boat fishing in the center of the lake leapt out of their boat, and a few seconds later the man crashed right through the middle of it, sinking hard into the water, from which he never reappeared. A few seconds later, the other man slipped fast into the water, his parachute fluttering down to cover the gentle waves like a tablecloth.
150 guests and all the catering help stood at the edge of the lake mesmerized by what they had just seen. The two row boaters were picked up by their friends in a similar craft, stunned by what had just happened. Suddenly, a man bobbed to the surface of the water and, disconnecting himself from the parachute, he began swimming with expertise, using nimble and powerful strokes to cut quickly through the water. After a couple of minutes he reached the shore of the lake by the resort and stood up in the knee-deep water, walking the last few steps.
He was tall, lean, had a short mane of thick brown hair, and broad, muscular shoulders. Ironically, he was in an expensive blue three piece suit, for having just engaged in such an athletic, life-threatening situation. He moved like a panther, smoothly, as if his strong joints were made of elastic. His wet clothes clung tightly to his body, and outlined portions of it that had all the single women, and most of the married women, mentally licking their lips. Combined with his square handsome face, his sultry running of his hands through his healthy head of hair, and his bemused eyes, it was not surprising that as soon as he was on the lawn a gaggle of women had surrounded him.
"Anyone see a grey bowler, by chance?" were the first words out of his mouth, as he looked around the lawn. "Fell off during the scuffle."
The gaggle shook their collective heads.
He grabbed a glass of champagne off a passing tray just as one of Maria's brothers came up to him. "I say, what's the meaning of all this? It's my sister's wedding party you've crashed."
Steed nodded in agreement as he sipped his drink. "Literally."
"I don't know who you are or what's going on, but I've called for security to escort you out."
"But, I don't want to go. Not with these beauties here to dance with. Ah!" he added, as he reached for a shrimp appetizer off another tray.
Maria's brother was outraged. "Do you mind not partaking of the beverages and comestibles? They're for guests only."
A scene was developing. Steed hated nothing more than a scene. It irritated his fine sensibilities and drew attention to him, which was anathema to an agent. Excusing himself for a moment from the ladies, he pulled the brother aside and spoke to him earnestly for a brief moment; upon the understanding that he would chip in half costs for the catering expenses, the brother suddenly became his best friend and welcomed him whole-heartedly to the affair, slapping his back heartily. It would take a bit of finagling with his report to have the Ministry see this as a valid expense account item, along with another bowler, but Steed was sure he could manage it. After all, he had just ended a very serious series of thefts of top secret items that in their enemies hands could be ruinous to British defense. His glance across to the still smoldering plane assured him that the thieves wouldn't be stealing anything again.
Assured of his status as guest, Steed sidled back to his little group of adoring women, and allowed one to be so bold as to thread her arm through his. This sort of attention never bothered Steed. He quickly ran his eyes over the lot of them, admiring breasts, coiffures, long eyelashes, hourglass figures and shining white teeth. With the investigation over, Steed figured he had an hour or two before he had to call in his progress, in the meantime cunningly avoiding the police and fire brigade fellows called to the burning plane and angry row boaters, all probably looking to tar and feather him. Ah, replacing the row boat. That would be another Ministry expense.
"So, whose wedding is this?" he asked, nibbling a proffered olive from the fingers of the blond. At some point he reminded himself to get around to asking for their names.
"Maria Winston to Alfred Canner."
Steed felt a little alarm bell go off inside him. Maria?
"We in the Cotswolds, by chance?" he asked. It's hard knowing exactly where one is when one was tied up and blind-folded in a plane for most of the flight.
"Oh, yes, silly."
Maria in the Cotswolds ."Is Maria by chance a nurse?"
"Yes, but let's not talk about her," the black-haired woman said, on the other side of him from the woman who had her arm through his, "She's gone and got herself a husband, and a honeymoon " The woman's hands caressed Steed's wet buttocks in an absolutely seductive and suggestive manner.
Although in the past, Steed would have normally allowed the woman to continue with her kneading, only to later knead her himself in some quiet location, Steed suddenly had a bad feeling. Turning around to the right, he saw Emma Peel, resplendent in a black, thin-strapped dress and heels, standing there with her arms crossed, tapping one of her heeled feet.
At some point he had voluntarily committed himself to a monogamous relationship with Emma Peel, and had never regretted that decision. However, he had never been able to curtail his inveterate flirting. The two didn't always mix so well.
"Ha-ha!" he laughed, a bit nervously. "Ladies, I'm sorry, but my date has just arrived."
"Your date?" one asked as they all complained. "But you just arrived yourself."
"True. However, I don't want to ruin Maria's wedding bliss by ending the day with a funeral. Especially if it's mine. Good day, ladies," he said, adding sotte voce into the black haired woman's ear, "most unfortunately, to you as well." Before he could lift his head back up, she kissed him on the lips and slipped her card into his jacket pocket. He wouldn't call her, but it wouldn't hurt to add it to his black book.
Excusing himself he strolled over to Emma, hearing behind him, "Oh, of course, off to Emma Peel. What's so special about her?"
What was so special? There was only one word for an answer-everything. She was the most enchanting, intelligent, witty, sexual, sophisticated, lovely woman he had ever met. Every inch of her body, every crevice in her brain, every strand of her silky auburn hair, sent waves of desire through him and the fact the he did the same to her drove him even more wild with passion. What she said, how she looked, how she acted, there wasn't anything about her that didn't make Steed want to rip her clothes off and ravish her, bringing her to the same peak of pleasure he knew he was guaranteed to achieve. But, it wasn't just sex he wanted from her; he simply liked being with her, he liked talking to her, he liked going places with her, he liked sitting quietly on a sofa with her. He simply liked her. A great deal. More than he had ever liked anyone else before.
He reached Emma and said, "Hello. Fancy meeting you here."
"Couldn't you have blown up the plane over Hertfordshire?" she asked.
"Well, I didn't plan the flight path, you know. I was along as a captive."
It was hard to capture Steed; it took either a loaded gun or a strong blow to his head. "Are you alright?" she asked, glancing at his head for a bump or laceration and relieved to see neither.
"How charming of you to ask. Yes, I'm fine."
"No other partner with you?"
"It's you or no one, my dear. Somehow, by sheer luck, I muddled through without you."
She did a rare thing in public; she smiled widely. To Steed it seemed like her high cheekbones reached to the sky when she did that and it mesmerized him. "You might not be so lucky next time," she said.
"Quite true, so I hope you're through with arranging weddings."
"I'm through." As Steed grabbed another shrimp appetizer from the waiter strolling by, she added, "Although I can see you agree with my choice of hors d'oeuvres."
Steed's eager chewing and nodding confirmed her statement.
"So, aside from coincidentally acting out in person the mess you made on my apartment floor, what was going on?"
He swallowed. "There have been a rash of thefts of these super strong, super small batteries the Ministry of Defense is working on. Right out of the warehouse in Glasgow. Some of them one can hold in one's hand and are strong enough to power a tank! People were stealing the prototypes and then flying off in a plane back to England, parachuting the batteries to people on the ground. I was able to track them down just as they were loading another case of batteries onto their plane."
"Why were they stealing them?"
"Ah, well, there was a slight explosion in the plane before I got all my questions answered."
"Which you set off?"
"Who was behind it?" Mrs. Peel asked. "An insane scientist with a grudge?"
"Aren't they all?"
"Was that the other fellow?"
"The smashed through the boat one, or the flew the plane into the mountain one?"
"Boat smash was merely a minion; flew plane was also a minion."
"So who was in charge of the thefts?"
"You see, there was this slight explosion "
"Thus, the unknown diabolical mastermind is still at large?"
"Until he makes his next move, yes. I figured out how they broke into the warehouse, through the sewer drain pipes, and that's being rectified so with security tightened we're pretty confidence there won't be any more thefts. I heard them mention that the plane was going to land somewhere in the middle of England, which narrows things down to-"
""Why was there a struggle for the one chute? Plane didn't have two of them?"
"Yes, it did, but one caught fire right away. I just happened to untie myself and set off the teensiest explosion..."
"You know, you're all brawn and no brains without me."
"How true. How true."
She stared at him affectionately. "You're dripping on my shoes."
"Sorry. The lake was quite watery." He took off his jacket and gave it a good wringing out, which caused endless drops of moisture to fall to the ground.
She thoroughly eyed his yummy brawn head to toe, resting her eyes for quite some seconds just below his belt. "You definitely show well sopping wet in clothes. I'll have to remember that."
He smiled as he put his jacket back on. "The ladies thought so too."
Her eyes lowered again. "Yes, no more umbrellas for birthday gifts." Finally tearing her vision away from his crotch, she asked, "Do you have to leave now?"
"No, I've arranged to stay if I want to, although I don't want to have to deal with the local authorities. I must keep an eye out as I dine."
"How did you arrange a lunch invitation? A suit of wrinkles is not exactly the high style of clothing Maria's brothers were aiming for in the guests."
" I told her brother I was paying for half the food costs. Or, that is, between you and me, The Ministry is. As soon as I convince them to."
"I don't think they've forgiven you for adding in our safari to Kenya as a Ministry expense after that traitorous butlers case."
"That is still a sore spot with the accountants." He paused then complained, "I'm starving. When's lunch?"
"Luncheon is served" was immediately announced by Maria's brother, standing on the patio. Steed smiled and then said, "I wonder if that works for everything." Emma's questioning eyebrows showed her confusion and then she did a super mega smirk when he asked, whispering in her ear, "When's sex?" He then stood still in the act of listening intently, murmuring, "Come on, come on, announce it ."
She kicked his shin lightly, quietly announced the time that evening when sex would be served, and led his delighted face into the dining room. Working or not working together, they were still very much a couple.
Two weeks later, at 23:30 p.m., Lord Lyon Danworthy was ready for bed. The day had been full, filled with a long cricket game, a few hours of tending to his flower garden, and ending with an awfully tedious dinner party at his rather boring business partner's home. Finally he had been able to politely leave, and return to his own abode. Lyon's bedroom was wholly Victorian, spacious, complete with four-poster mahogany bed, inefficient fireplace, bearskin rug, and a thick, braided bell pull to summon his butler, Meckle. Entering his bedroom as he pulled off his tie, Lord Lyon was dismayed to see one of the windows was open. Lord Lyon, programmed in his childhood years by his well-bundled grandmamma to fear the cool night air, never slept with the window open. Yanking strongly on the bell pull, he was finishing the switch into his pajamas when Meckle appeared, in a bathrobe and yawning himself.
"You rang, milord?" Meckle asked.
"I did indeed! What is this, Meckle? That window is open. Who did that?"
"The window, Sir?" Meckle asked, as he crossed the room to close it. He saw a dark figure darting across the lawn, but then it was gone and Meckle blamed his fatigue for his seeing things. "I don't know who opened it. The household is well aware of your wishes in this matter." Meckle closed the window, noticing dirt on the window sill. He made a mental note to mention that to the housekeeper in the morning. "There you are, milord, all set for sleep."
"I should like the household questioned tomorrow as to who opened it in the first place. There is now a decided chill in the air."
Meckle, fond of his generally decent employer, was well used to all his moods, including the slightly grumpy one he always had upon returning from one of his partner's monotonous fetes. "Very well, Sir. Do you need anything else?"
"No, no, go to bed. "
"Good-night, Sir. Don't forget to take your pill, Sir."
"I won't. Good-night, Meckle."
The butler left, closing the door softly behind him. After attending to his toiletries, Lord Lyon got into his bed, thick with mattresses, and pulled the covers over himself. He thought he could hear a faint whirring sound. Immediately a strange sort of exhaustion claimed him, much more intense than he had ever experienced. It was like lead weights were suddenly on top of him, pushing him down into the bed, as if it had a cavernous mouth he was falling into. He didn't even have the strength to turn his head to the side, but he moved his eyes, and saw the heartburn medicine he was supposed to take nightly. Using all his determination he was able to bestir his right arm in miniscule movements, a quarter inch at a time. His chest muscles began to grow too tired to breathe normally. Now Lord Lyon grew afraid, unable to understand what was happening to him. This was not exhaustion, it was as if something was sucking the life out of him. He was getting weaker and weaker, and he aimed his hand for the bell pull, sorry he would have to annoy Meckle again, but his hand never made the two feet swing it needed. Lord Lyon's enervation increased and as his hand flopped down to the bed, he fell unconscious, never to wake up again.
The next morning, Emma Peel was out and about London, catching up on her errands and purchases. Around 13:30, her stomach decided that lunch was imperative and she parked her Lotus, full of packages and bags, by the kerb of her favorite place for lunch, "Le Petit Café" known for its variety of gourmet salads and luscious sourdough rolls. Emma was greeted with a sincere welcome by Louis, the Maître'D, as all regular customers of quality establishments should be. She was settled in a table by the window, and even though she knew the menu handed to her by heart, she opened it to study the meal possibilities as most people do.
The menu was totally different. Her eyes just about bulged out of her head at what she read:
Cybernaut salad-an usual mix of bitter greens with hearts of artichokes; silvery smooth sardines on top, which you are commanded to eat entirely.
Oliver Twist salad-red leaf lettuce served with unknown vegetables that one needs to telepathically guess.
Tiny Vegetable salad-doll house portions of genetically shrunken vegetables, served on a dime-sized plate.
Baby Bouncer salad-Healthy salad topped with perfectly round whole tomatoes and hallucinogenic drugs.
Mrs. Peel, You're Needed salad-exclusively prepared and served by the gentleman sitting in the back of the restaurant.
At that last menu item, Emma Peel snapped her head up and looked behind her. There was Steed, also at his own table, leaning his chair against the wall, bowler slung low over his eyes, brolly resting across his chest. He raised his hat to her. Emma closed up the menu, slapped it flat on the table and darted to the back of the restaurant, where Steed, now sitting up straight, began buttering a nice, large, warm sourdough roll.
Emma stood arms akimbo. "Right, then, how on earth did you do this? How did you know I'd be out? How did you know where I'd stop? How long ago did you print out a menu like that? How did you get Louis to agree?"
Steed smiled up at her, chewing on the bread. "Mum's the word. Have a roll. They're delicious."
"I am not moving a step, and neither are you, until you tell me how you did this."
"Mystery is the spice of life," he said, standing up and moving the roll tantalizingly around her mouth. She was hungry, it smelled like heaven, and she took a bite, giving in. She adored the way he created these notices that a case was on; what other woman had a man as special as him? Well, not actually had, as in ownership, but more had in her life. As the primary focus of her life. As all the good things in her life.
"Which salad did you decide on?" he asked. He held up the fingers of his hand to count off others. "On page two there's the 'Nuclear Bomb in the Basement salad', the 'Chastity Belt salad', the 'Invisible salad', and the 'Brodny salad', which is served by spilling it by mistake in your lap."
Her heart suddenly ached with a sweet fondness for Steed. "What? No 'Bentley salad' with huge, ungainly pieces of vegetables one can hardly lift off one's plate?"
Steed smiled and then completely changed the subject and the mood, as was his habit. It had taken Mrs. Peel by surprise the first few times, but then it just became another part of him and his quirks. He motioned for Mrs. Peel to sit down as he did so himself. Hunching over onto the table he said, seriously, "There's some odd doings around, Mrs. Peel. Ready for a brand new case?"
"Well, I'm arranging a birthday party for my cousin's daughter, when she turns three "
He stared at her.
" but since she's only 8 months old now, I've got some time to spend with you."
He gave a look that was supposed to be evil, but wound up instead bemused. He launched into his explanation. "Five heads of businesses died in the last month. That's one and a quarter a week."
"And they died of?"
"Apparently of natural causes." He narrowed his eyes. "Very suspicious."
"Why is that suspicious?"
"Because they were all in tip top shape, and died in their sleep. Four of them were under fifty. Only Lord Lyon Danworthy was older, and he was a mere 58. Cricket champ to boot. He died last night."
"So, we're supposed to look into it?"
"Yes, right away."
Mrs. Peel stood up ready to go. Steed looked up at her, beginning to butter a second roll, a slightly embarrassed smile lifting his lips momentarily. "Well, not exactly right away. Relatively right away. I've ordered the Nuclear Bomb salad." He patted his trim stomach. "Must keep one's energy up. And, I hate to be insensitive, but Sir Lyon isn't going anywhere." He handed a menu to her as she sat back down.
Lunch sounded good to her ravenous stomach. Re-examining the full Steed menu, she ordered the same salad as Steed, a mishmash of vegetables cut up as if they had been burst from inside, with symbolic mushrooms lining the edge, and a rip-the-door-open muscle building piece of meat on top. It looked funny, but tasted wonderful.
They drove to Lord Lyon's separately, out of habit, in case they each had to follow a different clue. He lived in Harpendon, just north of London, one of the richest communities in England, in a massive brick home, covered almost entirely in thick ivy, which was cut neatly around all the windows.
They were escorted to Lord Lyon's bedroom by a grieving Meckle, dressed in black. As they entered the bedroom and saw the rigid face of Lord Lyon on the pillows, Steed asked the butler to tell them what had happened the previous night. Meckle relayed the story to them, assuring them that after he had probed all the employees, no one in the household had opened the window in question.
Steed wandered over to the window, looking down upon the well-manicured lawn with hedges and fountains, rose bushes and a multitude of other colourful flowers. "Did you notice anything when you closed the window?" he asked.
"Well, Sir, now that you mention it "
"I thought it was a trick of my tired eyes, but I saw a figure darting away through the hedges. It was a cloudy night, without any moon, so it was hard to tell."
"There was some dirt on the window sill. That was most unusual, given Mrs. Harkness' commitment to perfectionism."
"She's the housekeeper?" Emma asked.
"Yes. She and Irene, her aide, care for the house, but Mrs. Harkness personally cleans Lord Lyon's bedroom on a daily basis. She never would have missed even a speck of dirt, let alone the spattering of it I saw."
"Does she have any openings on Tuesdays?" Steed asked. When Meckle was rewardingly blank-faced, he skipped right to his next enquiry, "When was Lord Lyon found?"
"This morning at 8:00 a.m. I attempted to awaken him myself, as he had directed, with him having another cricket match, but it was obvious that he had passed away. " Meckle led them to Lord Lyon and they all stood around the bed.
Steed lifted the covers off Lord Lyon and he and Emma studied the body for a minute-it was pale, wan, and almost like a scarecrow, shrunken, as if he had been bled dry without losing a drop a blood.
"Vampires?" Emma asked.
"No fang marks."
They closed up the covers and walked away. "Nothing else unusual happen this morning?" Steed asked.
"Had Lord Lyon any enemies?"
"Not that I am aware of. His alliance with his business partner, Sir Geoffrey Artle was amiable. He has three children, who are fond of each other. His wife died a few years ago."
"Thanks, Meckle. We'll leave now. We can see ourselves out."
"Very good, sir. I'm assuming we can make arrangements for Lord Lyon's burial, now?"
"After the coroner is through, yes."
On the outside of the house, they wandered around to the grass under the window that had been opened. A few footprints were visible, and as if their two heads belonged to one body, they both looked up examining the ivy.
"Steed, someone has climbed up the ivy to Lord Lyon's window."
Mrs. Peel looked down the lawn. "I'll see if I can track where the footprints came from or went to." She scampered off in her dress and boots, studying the ground as she went. She came back ten minutes later to find a bucolic Steed in the flower garden area, affixing a red carnation in his buttonhole. Pointing back where she had been, Mrs. Peel said, "Footprints led to a dirt road and some car tires, but the car was gone."
They walked back to Steed's Bentley, and putting his brolly on the back seat, he took out a file lying next to it. Emma stood next to him as he opened it up.
Steed said, "It's all very odd. There's no understandable connection between the five of them. They didn't all attend the same prep school, or the same University. Not in the same army units, club, or athletic teams. They didn't even know each other!"
"Maybe they really did die of natural causes."
"No, no, something's going on. I can feel it. It's just a little more blurry than usual."
He studied the file further. "This is interesting. There is one thing they all had in common-a night or two after their deaths, their houses were broken into. But, nothing was stolen."
"A serial killer who doesn't steal?"
"Apparently. Rather mixed up morals, wouldn't you say?"
"Are the families sure nothing was taken?"
"That's what they report."
Emma bit her lower lip in thought. "Were they all wealthy?"
"Well, more or less. But, they each have their own relatives who received money."
"Perhaps it's like that marriage murder market. They're each killing each other's relatives?"
"By putting them to bed?"
They leaned back against his Bentley in thought, he tapping the file against his chin, she with arms firmly crossed.
"Well, obviously, one of us has to stay here at the house for the next several nights, to watch for the break-in," Steed said.
"I'm sure," Mrs. Peel grinned, "that given the hourglass figure of Irene, whom I saw you stare at as we left the house, you're electing yourself to that role."
"You attack my honor! I do volunteer, however, it's merely because I would never ask you to stay up late on a case."
"Uh-huh. Well, in the meantime, I think I'll go talk to the relatives of the other four businessmen. Check date books. Make sure that there isn't a connection between all of them that we don't know yet."
"And you? Night-time has yet to come."
"I'll check with The Ministry coroner at the morgue. Get a clearer picture of what exactly has caused their deaths."
Mrs. Peel went to her own car but before she got in, Steed called to her. She looked up and he said, "Mrs. Peel, see if any relative in particular needed the money they inherited."
She nodded and zipped off in her Lotus. Steed stood in thought for a few more minutes, and then with a graceful move he hopped into his Bentley and rattled off back to London.
The body of the rabbit and fox had decayed quite a bit, although their basic forms were still evident. Thus it seemed only natural for a hunting dog, out with his master, to sniff the odors of the two and come prowling toward them through a hole in the fence. The dog stood and looked at the two bodies for a moment, sensing a sort of danger it simply couldn't figure out. Finally, its head tilting in curiosity, it took a few steps forward to inspect the two animals. By their side the dog began swaying, tried to take a step away but couldn't, and then fell down, whimpering for a few seconds before it grew silent. His master called and called for him, searching fruitlessly for the dogs whereabouts, and then walked home, hoping to find his beloved pet there.
Steed arrived at the Ministry's coroner office just as Lord Lyon was being brought in. Lifting his bowler in hello to the receptionist, he continued on through to the autopsy room, where he met Dr. Donner, the coroner. Steed greatly disliked the grey, plain morgue, although he wouldn't show it and wouldn't admit it. The graphic display of death, cold and hopeless, brought home what all the scars on his body had almost done to him. Every case in his active career brought him the risk of winding up decaying skin and bones; and now brought the same risk to Mrs. Peel. Those were thoughts Steed preferred to have nothing to do with because the idea of Mrs. Peel not being alive and regularly in his life made him feel sick and desolate inside.
Steed approached the coroner as he was uncovering Lord Lyon's body lying on a thin, metal table. Steed put on a mask, which was optional, as the coroner donned latex gloves, a full body plastic apron, and without a pause reached for a scalpel. Steed definitely didn't need to see him slice into Lord Lyon's body, so his hand stopped the coroner's movement.
"Before you begin, Doctor, tell me what you found in the other four bodies."
"It's all in my reports, Steed."
"Yes, I know. You couldn't find any specific cause of death in them, right?"
The coroner sighed, putting down his scalpel. Everyone knew Steed preferred to gather information directly from person to person discussion instead of from well-documented files. There was a general feeling in the Ministry that Steed read files as poorly as he wrote them. It was a tad frustrating at times, but, on the other hand, he had a well-known intuition that could pull secrets from people's words and behaviors, and uncover information not specifically recorded in official papers, which is why he favored one to one contact. Anyway, Steed's status as Britain's top agent gave him the authority to do and ask what he wanted throughout The Ministry, all the Military, and all government departments. Thus, if he wanted to bother hard working, busy coroners, he had the right.
"Correct," the coroner replied. "There was no evidence of coronary thrombosis, stroke, pulmonary embolism, head injury, or any other reason for death, in any of the previous four. They weren't drowned, strangled or suffocated."
"How can you be sure they weren't suffocated?"
"There were no skin, blood, glove or clothing particles in their fingernails. People will wake up when being suffocated and invariably will have a few seconds to fight their attackers, scratching or grabbing them, ripping their clothes or gloves. There was no evidence of any of their hands having been tied to prevent that."
Internally cringing, Steed poked Lord Lyon's cold, lifeless shoulder, in that odd yet typical way of tempting oneself to disgust as when one rubbed one's tongue over a painful canker sore. "Could they have been tickled to death?" he asked. "My auntie Irene--"
Donner pushed Steed's hand away from Lyon's body. "Steed, I don't have the time-"
"How about poison?"
Donner sighed. "We checked their blood for every known one. We couldn't find any."
"Did all the other four look like Lord Lyon?" Steed pointed at the man's wan body.
"Yes. That's the only inexplicable aspect of this case. The bodies look drained, almost desiccated; very unique. Intriguing, actually. I couldn't find any reference to a similar presentation in the worldwide historical coroners' literature."
"That must be a cheery library."
"Are you done?"
"One last question-do you have any theory as to what could cause perfectly healthy bodies to look like this after a night's sleep?"
"No. I don't know. As I said, it's inexplicable."
"Perhaps they didn't drink enough water the year before?" Steed wondered, picking up some bizarre tool from the little tray next to Donner and turning it around in his hand.
The coroner gave him a withering look, took the tool back and put it down, picked his scalpel up and began the standard long cut from sternum to pelvis. Steed turned aside, conceding the interview was over, and left.
Mrs. Peel visited, in order, the relatives of each of the four previous dead people. She had the list of them and their addresses she had taken from the Ministry file in Steed's car. For the most part it was exceedingly boring to meet with these people, who overall seemed to be dealing with sincere grief, and very respectable. However, the thrill of the possibility of uncovering some large or small clue kept her committed to her task.
She spoke with the Turners, of Berkshire, wife and four children, two women and two men, all between sixteen and twenty-eight years old. The inheritance mainly went to Mrs. Turner, which was fine with the children, as they worried about her being comfortable. Mr. Turner, a mild and agreeable fellow, had been Vice-President of an accounting firm and had absolutely no known enemies.
Next to die was Mr. Timmerson, of Berkshire, who had a daughter and a son, in their late teens, the former an economics major, the latter an artist struggling to make ends meet. Mrs. Timmerson also received the vast share of the moderate inheritance, with each child granted 5,000 pounds. Mr. Timmerson had been a developer, and aside from beating other competitors in bids for contracts, and launching a lawsuit against a contractor who had done shoddy work in one of his projects, which he won, Timmerson had no bad relations with anyone, as far as the family knew.
Then came the Blackmans, of Hertfordshire, with three children, two men and a women, also in their twenties. Mrs. Blackman had been dead for two years from cancer, so the money, which was considerable, was split equally among the children. The eldest son, a clerk for a Tory MP, did not get along with his younger Labor siblings, although the two youngest--a clerk for a clothing manufacturer, and a non-working wife--were close among themselves.
Last came the Lederers, of Wiltshire, just a widow and a twenty year old daughter, Molly, who were clearly fond of each other. Molly was at University with a scholarship in biology. The only enemy of Mr. Lederer, a barrister, had been an old rival for the love of his wife, but neither of the Lederers had seen him for years, since their marriage. Of course, one could also include those who had lost their cases against his clients in court. There was a considerable inheritance, which they would use in the frugal manner in which they had in general lived. The daughter seemed particularly nervous and Emma inquired if anything was bothering her.
"It has been a very traumatic spring for me."
"Aside from your father's death?"
Molly hesitated, "I don't quite like discussing my private life."
Emma pat her shoulder, "I understand. But, it might help us find the reason for your father's death."
"You don't believe it was natural causes?"
"I don't know. But, it is a little suspicious. Please, I'm very trustworthy." She gave Molly a small smile and Molly smiled back.
"Well," Molly said, "it's quite embarrassing actually. I was dating this man but he turned out to be very disagreeable and I had to break it off. He wished me to spend time with his odious friends, too, flying off here and there."
"One of his friends was a pilot and had his own plane. I was dragged to Glasgow and other places I had no desire to go. Donald was much put off by my break with him, and caused quite a ruckus in the house, yelling and screaming. I was horrified. Father had to ask him to leave."
"When was that?" Emma asked.
"About two months ago."
"What was his name?"
"That's another interesting thing. He said he was Donald Smythe, but I haven't been able to track him down to return a rather ghastly brooch he gave me. He never had a phone line, and I never visited his apartment; he always came here. Told me in was more gentlemanly to visit a woman at her home, but he was certainly not a gentleman otherwise."
"Where did he say his apartment was?"
"In London. He had a car, an old, grey Mercedes that he drove out here to pick me up for dates."
"Oh, I'm not very good with cars."
Her mother chimed in, "I'd say around 1960 or 1961. It had the same lines that our old Mercedes had, before we bought the Volvo."
"Do either of you remember the license plate?"
They both shook their heads. "Sorry, no. I'm not very good at observing things like that," Molly apologized. "Oh, it started with a 'D', like Donald. I do remember that."
"Do you know what he did for a job?"
"He said he drove a delivery lorry for a furniture store. Hated the job. His hobby was rocks and stones and such, of all types. He also had the most unusual fascination with power lines."
"Yes, electricity. We went on a picnic once and while I was commenting on the flowers in the field he was studying the wires that ran nearby."
"What did he look like?"
"He was tall, just about six feet, thin. Wore glasses. Thin black hair."
Emma thanked her and left. By that time it was early evening and she went home, figuring that she and Steed would connect tomorrow, after his return from his stay at Lord Danworthy's home. She hoped that he wasn't going to be bothered much by Irene, who had studied Steed's impressive physique with much more intensity than he had idly glanced at hers. Not that Emma ever doubted Steed's monogamy, begun after that early Christmas telepathy case. It had been an unspoken event under the mistletoe on the carriage, his commitment to her, as she had committed to him, but they both knew it, and knew there was no one else for either of them to even think of dating. It seemed that she was the inhalation and he the exhalation of their shared existence, so wonderfully did they form a single unit of partnership. So, Emma never bothered with his flirting, exuding in public and private a type of imperious confidence in him and them, impervious to the petty doings of other women interested in Steed, who, in moments of idle thought, she realized was hers and hers alone. And that was just how she wanted it to be.
Irene would have indeed been a problem if it hadn't been her night off, and she hadn't had a date with a couple of girlfriends to go to London and catch a show. Needless to say, her vision of handsome Steed, elegantly attired in of all things a bowler and furled umbrella, and with a smile that lit up his unusually grey eyes, was quite a long topic of her conversation to her giggling friends.
Steed spent the evening with Lord Robert's children and the servants. Lord Robert's business partner dropped in to offer his condolences, and agreed to give a eulogy at the funeral three days away. He didn't stay long. Steed had returned to the house early enough to partake of a solemn but delicious dinner and then allowed the children their privacy whilst he sipped on a couple of snifters of smooth, auburn brandy. He patrolled the house casually, though his senses were on high alert, and he focused mainly on the second floor, and particularly Danworthy's bedroom, sitting on a chair right outside the open door to the room. He wanted to be close enough to act, if necessary, but not in the room to scare off a potential burglar. It was around 2 a.m., when the house was dark and quiet, and everyone else was asleep that Steed's light nap was ended not by any specific noise, but by a feeling of imminent danger. He stood up out of the chair silently, like a cat stretching, and glanced up and down the long hallway, seeing nothing. Then he heard a specific noise. A window was being lifted up in Lord Robert's bedroom. Glancing around the door, Steed noticed a dark clothed nimble man, with a mask over his head, hop over the window ledge and into the room. He tiptoed to Lord Robert's bed and then bending over it, his back to Steed, he seemed to extract something from between the mattresses, something buried deep in there. In the dark of the night, illuminated only by the faint glow of moonlight floating vaguely into the room, it appeared to Steed that the object was some sort of flat disk, that the man quickly folded in half. He slipped it into a bag that had been hanging from his belt, retied the bag onto the belt and then turned to slip out of the room. He was met by Steed, who seemed to the man to have appeared out of nowhere.
"The bag, if you'd be so kind," Steed said.
Instead, in a flash, the man lashed out with a punch. Steed blocked it as he stepped to the side, throwing his own punch back, which connected with the man's face, knocking him into Lord Danworthy's massive wooden dresser. The man shook his head once and then sprinted into Steed, connecting with his chest and driving them both back to the wall, the man hitting Steed's torso like a boxer would in a clinch. It was bothersome to Steed, but the man was a lightweight, and his stomach muscles and ribs could handle the blows. Steed did a quick turn that flattened the man against the wall and then he grabbed hold of his throat, squeezing hard as his arm straightened and he was able to step back a foot in preparation of removing the mask to see more clearly who he was fighting. The man was squiggling about, so Steed gave him a good solid punch to the stomach and then another to his face. The man sagged against the wall as Steed ripped off the mask, seeing a man with glasses and thin hair.
"Glasses?" Steed tsk'd. "I'll only punch you in the stomach from now on."
The man bent over protectively covering his stomach with both hands, and Steed undid the bag on his belt as he let the man go. At that moment the strangest thing happened. The man reached out from under his shirt and shot his palm out towards Steed's waistcoat; Steed's lightning reflexes activated and he grabbed the man's forearm, ready to break his wrist if he saw some weapon in the man's hand. But, there was no weapon, just something attached to the hand, something round, flat, and it reached Steed's chest Steed felt the bones in his ribcage melt away and he staggered back, suddenly too weak to even get a breath. He reached out for the dresser, but it was too far away and he fell to his knees, trying to feel blood pouring out of him, to find the knife jabbed into his torso, to understand the reason why he was so suddenly enervated. Sitting clumsily down on the floor, he realized that his hands probing his chest found nothing, and that already he was feeling fine again. He stood up and took several deep breaths, a touch of dizziness clearing up.
The man was gone, through the window and just about down the ivy and on the lawn. Steed flew out the window after him, sailing down the ivy with the barest restraint and landing fast and hard on the ground. He took off after the running man, the light of the moon outside illuminating things better than it had done inside the house. The chase went through a dense brush of trees at the edge of Lord Robert's property and as the glint of car metal shined thirty yards ahead, Steed dove forward and tackled the man about the knees, and they tumbled to the ground. In a second Steed had turned the man over and had a fist raised threateningly above his face.
"Right, now, let's try this again," Steed said. "Keep your hands in sight and give me the bag."
Cigarette smoke. A wisp of the smell of a burning cigarette reached Steed's nose and he turned in a flash to confront the smoker, only to be met with a large, hard rock crashing down forcefully on his head. Steed was blinded by the explosion of brilliant light in his vision as he groaned and rolled to the ground, flopping helplessly onto his back, eyes closed, feeling blood drip down the side of his head. He was not yet unconscious, but was too stunned too prove otherwise.
"You okay, Smythe?" he heard a voice float above him.
"Yes, bloody hell."
"Come on, get up."
"Man, he's strong and fast. Good thing you were here. Thanks for helping out."
"Why didn't you use the little one on him?"
"I did, in the house! He shrugged it off one, two, three!"
"He did? Why, that's unprecedented. I can't believe it. Must have the constitution of an ox."
"As long as you knocked him out with one of my meteors, I don't care about his constitution."
The words became all jumbled up to Steed's ears then, and the last thing he heard was a car engine starting up as he slipped into a darkness blacker than a moonless night.
He didn't usually lose a fight. And when he did, his mood was never the best. Especially when he was left not with a diabolical mastermind, but with a pounding headache and a torn scalp.
Steed sat up in the woods, repeating an age old process of allowing his body to adjust, once more, to the results of a hard hit to its head. Steed was glad he had smelled the nasty odor of cigarette smoke, as he had had just a moment to roll his head upon the impact of the rock, a meteor fragment?, thus probably saving him from having had his skull split open. Whoever had swung the limb was not a lightweight like the thief. There was a nice bump rising up from the skin, and blood was matted in his hair and dried on his face. He checked the illuminated dial of his watch and was relieved to find that not only was his vision clear enough to read the dial, only the second hand was stopped cold. He tapped the glass face, and the watch still didn't work. Odd.
He stood up gingerly, leaning on a tree, taking deep breaths and hoping the dizziness would pass. It did, for the most part, enough to have him feel he was able to walk. He went back to the house and in a mood to test himself, he slowly climbed back up the ivy to gain re-entry into Lord Robert's house, without having to wake staff or family by pounding on a locked front door.
It wasn't far to go up the house, and he made it, though his entrance wasn't that slick, as he simply poured his body somewhat clumsily over the ledge onto the floor, resting there as the sensations of pain, nausea and dizziness over-whelmed him for a few minutes. He mopped off fresh blood from his face with his handkerchief, trying to remove most of the older dried blood, too. When he felt stronger, he stood up, collected his bowler, which he carried not donned, and checked between the mattresses to make sure there wasn't anything else to find, which there wasn't. A quick check of the clock in the room assured him he hadn't been unconscious for more than five or ten minutes. Not long. Downstairs, he found his brolly and left the house, feeling confident he could drive back to London, albeit slowly. By his car he coincidentally met a returning, slightly inebriated Irene, who was walking back from the nearby train station. She stopped in front of him, smiling and actually batting her long eyelashes, but his throbbing head gave him the motivation to do nothing but curtly bid her good-night. Her pout stuck to her face as he drove off in his Bentley.
Mrs. Peel enjoyed barging in on Steed at all hours of the day and night. She barged in early in the morning, during the day, and very late at night. She occasionally caught him in his bathrobe, in the shower, or pajama clad but of course mostly, no matter what time she arrived, in a three piece suit. She loved his three piece suits, which seemed like they had been molded to his body; he spent a great deal of money on his clothing and they made him look fantastic. Which is why she got so much pleasure peeling off his suits article by article by article, slowly or quickly depending on her need, and seeing the muscled, powerful and very masculine body hidden by the material unfolding underneath.
Mrs. Peel in her own way was as vain about her attire as Steed was. She wore the finest dresses, the most expensive skirts, the most utile and sexy catsuits. Accessories were vital and so handbag, boots and gloves always matched and improved her outfits. And depending on Steed's need, they too would wind up neatly on a hanger, or strewn about the bedroom.
It was funny, sometimes her need to be in his presence was unavoidable, and there she was, at whatever hour, traipsing across London to his dark wood and red leather Stable Mews flat. If she admitted it, which she rarely bothered to do, Steed was an addiction to her, and not infrequently, whether on a case or not, she needed her fix.
So, there she was, at 9:00 a.m. the next day, opening Steed's front door with the little unlock doohickey he had installed on top of his door. It swung open without a sound, and she came in, none too surprised that Steed was not yet up. Steed didn't believe a day should begin one minute before 11:00 a.m. He was the proverbial night owl.
Emma was at home at Steed's apartment, as he was at hers. She plugged in the coffee pot and let it go about heating and filtering water through the fine French beans Steed purchased. Then she slipped up the curved stairs like a phantom, not a creak or peep to be heard from her steps. Steed's large loft-like bedroom was on top, with the king bed against the further wall, and spacious bathroom off of that. He lay on his right side in his silk pajamas, between his silk sheets. Everything about Steed was smooth; his clothes, his bed, his skin, his personality. She crept up to the side of the bed and her face fell at the sight of the bandage wrapped around his sleeping head.
"Don't stare," he mumbled, his lips stifled by the pillow. "It's embarrassing."
Or his not so sleeping head. It was frustratingly impossible to sneak up on the man.
She sat down next to his curled back. "What happened last night?"
"I fought twenty sumo wrestlers armed with bayonets."
She smiled. He openly acted indifferent, but losing a fight for Steed truly hurt his pride, while when the same thing happened to her she dealt with it in a "Heigh-ho" view of life. Tempted, she found herself touching the bandage.
"Is a mournful 'Ow' enough to get you to stop, or do you need a full chested 'Yowch!'"?
She pulled her hand away. '"Sorry." Then she leaned over and kissed and licked the nape of his very erogenous neck. "Is there anything I can do to take your mind off your boo-boo?"
Steed turned over onto his back looking at her, yawning once and stretching, and then became fully awake. His eyes fell to her small bosom and then her long, shapely legs, and his leer was unmistakable. "Did you put the coffee on?"
"Yup," she said, as she began unbuttoning his pajama top, avidly viewing the short brown hairs in the middle of his chest and the ones leading from his navel on downwards. "Enough to get even your lazy bones going."
"I had a late night." In a very efficient move, Steed rested his hand on her shoulder for a second and then reached around and grabbed the tab of her zipper, in a fluid motion unzipping her short blue dress. "Sex helps a secret agent heal, you know," he explained.
"You sure you're up for it-?" she began to ask and then, her hand traveling a bit south of his opened pajama top, she had her positive answer. "Never mind."
They came together in a long passionate clasp, their mouths eagerly merging, their clothes winding up hither and yon, their hands caressing, rubbing, massaging, their bodies aligning themselves with astronomical precision. Their eventual cries of delight filled the apartment with most welcomed early morning sounds.
Later, they sat dressed in Steed's living room drinking the coffee and discussing their previous day's investigations. Emma went over the four families' histories, especially mentioning her suspicions regarding Molly's suitor. When Steed told about his day and night, the description of Molly's ex-boyfriend matched the man in Lord Robert's bedroom. They both nodded their heads knowingly. It was a weak clue, but a clue nonetheless. As was, perhaps, the struggling Timmerson artist who was the only child who really needed his inheritance money.
"Who fixed your head?" she asked, sipping on her second cup of coffee.
"It didn't need fixing-"
"--Matter of opinion-"
"--it needed six tiny stitches, which it received at the Ministry clinic downtown. Went there before coming home."
He shrugged. "No fracture. They took an x-ray."
"Had to tie you down for that, I'm sure, unless Dr. Waterston was there."
That lovely and curvaceous Ministry doctor predictably got Steed to agree to do tests and procedures that no other physician could wrangle out of his typically medically recalcitrant mindset. "Tried something new," he said, gingerly probing the wound, then undoing the bandage, "doing the stitches without shaving off my hair."
"Your new idea or theirs?"
Steed put the unrolled white gauze on the sofa next to him. One couldn't see where the stitches were through his thick and wavy hair. He smiled, "A compromise." Vanity, thy name is Steed, Emma thought, entertained, as she pictured in her head the scene of Steed protectively defending the right of his beautiful hair to exist as is. She could almost hear the doctors' arguing stridently to remove the risk of infection his hair created as Steed sat passively, ogling Dr. Waterston, shaking his head whilst blatantly ignoring their concerns, the doctors finally giving up and giving in to his "compromise" just to get the wound sewn up.
Steed stood up to begin his pacing, as pacing was a hobby of his, but his head spun a little when he was upright and he had to stand still with eyes closed and wait a few seconds for the dizziness to clear.
Emma was by his side, a bit anxiously, holding his arm for support. "Steed, you might well have a concussion."
He smiled, demurring to agree. "I'm sure a little bit of breakfast is all I need. After all, Mrs. Peel, my morning exercise was quite pleasantly strenuous."
She bopped his nose in the friendly manner that was her hobby.
The omelet he made for them was superb and they spoke about the weakness Steed had experienced the night previously when Paul's hand had touched his chest.
"You couldn't make out exactly what was on his palm?" Emma asked.
"Not really. It was quite dark in the room. I suppose I should have turned the lights on."
"Cats eyes let you down?"
"Maybe I need glasses."
She smirked. "But, it was something flat, attached to his palm?"
"Yes, round and flat, hidden under his shirt. I think there were elastic loops his fingers went through to keep it in place. Didn't see to bother him a bit. But, when it touched me, it was quite odd. I felt exhausted. Like I hadn't slept for days. Then"-he snapped his fingers loudly-"poof!, it went away and I ran after him."
"You didn't see what Donald removed?"
"No, not really. But, his bodyguard said 'little one', so it must be that a bigger one was what he took out from between the mattresses."
"Whatever they both are."
"Whatever it was, somehow I think it broke my watch. I shall have to use my unattractive spare."
They both sat at the kitchen table lost in thought.
"Why would Donald and friend carry around a meteor fragment with them? And Donald has more of them; his bulky friend said 'one of your meteors'. Are they important?"
They sat in thought some more.
Steed rubbed his cleft chin. "Hmm, we might as well focus on what we can further investigate. You say that all the families have daughters in them, around their twenties, like Molly Lederer?"
Emma's intelligent mind made the connection in a flash. "Did any of the other daughters date a disagreeable man?"
"I'll find out. What will you be doing?"
"Having The Ministry track down all the owners of a 1961 or 1962 grey Mercedes, with a 'D' in the plate. One of us should also take at look at artist Timmerson. Timothy was his Christian name, right? I'll do that, too."
"Watch out for falling stars," Mrs. Peel said, leaving his flat. Looking for some excuse for having allowed her the last word, Steed conceded to himself he had a concussion, which was why he hadn't thought up a rapid zinger in return.
Emma made the dreary trek back to the households of the recently bereaved families. Like Steed, she appreciated asking questions in person, studying the recipient for any sign of duplicity or patent prevarication. Things went quickly, and with a loud flourish.
All the daughters had dated, in the last year, for a brief time, Donald Smythe, tall, thin black hair and glasses. Timing-wise, Molly had been the last woman he chased after. All had found him reprehensible and all had broken with him, to his anger. None knew anything about a little round disk. Emma went back to her penthouse to wait for Steed to come by with his information. It felt like they were getting closer to something. She turned on the TV to watch the news that neither Steed nor she had taken the time to read in the paper earlier that morning, and her face frowned in disapproval when she heard that Professor David Adkins, of Whilton Grange, Stimpley, Director of the Electrical Research Institute in London, had been found dead in his bed this morning. A health fanatic, Professor Adkins, age 52, had apparently died of natural causes. Emma Peel found his address in the directory, then picked up her handbag and dashed out the door to check on the Professor's affairs, especially if he had had any contact with Donald Smythe.
Steed went to Ministry headquarters to begin the registration search for the Mercedes, careful to avoid meeting up with any of the organization's accountants, who for some peculiar reason didn't like him. If Steed met one or a herd of them, they stood by him with reddening faces and deafening voices constantly waving expense sheets about. But, top agents are top athletics, and a quick dodge around a corner, a spritely hop over a trash can, a quick kiss in the corridor of Maple Thornapple's forehead, The Ministry's 80 year old historian, and more often than not he was in the elevator thankfully sinking downwards away from the much slower and more vociferous accountants.
Even on Sundays, the Ministry was in full work mode. Steed went to Tipple, in modern research, and asked him to check about the cars in his computers. Agreeing there could be thousands of them, he left the researcher to do his grumbling work, whilst he had another couple of cups of coffee, the caffeine helping to jolt his energy a little higher than it was. That was good. After all, he'd only had at most five hours of sleep last night and he had a terrible concussion; if he dragged around all day he'd get dark circles under his eyes. Very unsightly.
A quick look in the phone directory gave him Timothy Timmerson's address and a quick news update garnered by listening to the gossip of Ministry employees standing at the water cooler filled him in on Professor Adkin's unanticipated death. Had Smythe struck again after leaving Lord Robert's home? He had an inkling that Mrs. Peel would have more to report to him than who the daughters had dated.
He waited around another forty minutes, eyes on the look-out for accountants, and then was told to return to Tippen, who had a list of 480 grey Mercedes from 1961-1962 which started with a "D" license plate. Steed asked him to remove all those belonging to anyone other than a single male living near London. To kill time he went to Mrs. Thornapple in her extensive library section, whom he fondly considered a surrogate auntie, although he certainly had enough of his own. He happily spent a half hour listening to her talk about all her grandchildren, and hearing her mention that Steed needed to get married soon, needed to settle down, have his own home and raise carnations for his lapels.
"That's what flower shops are for, Maple," he said, smiling, as he saw Tippen wave him back to his office. "I've an awful brown thumb."
Tippen had narrowed the list down to 12 single men. Steed took the piece of paper, lifting his bowler in thanks. Sighing, he realized he had a busy afternoon. Since it was Sunday, he hoped to find most of the fellows at home.
Short, short, fat, no glasses, blond, burly, medium height, fat, no glasses, redhead. Eleven of the twelve Steed ruled out after eight hours of zipping around London and the near towns and villages. There was just number seven left, and the address given on the sheet had turned out to be a low income flat in the East End, with no one home and none of his neighbors knowing where he was. Or who he was. There was nothing left to do but break into the apartment, which Steed did, easily, with the lockpicks he carried around as others did pens and lipstick cases.
The flat was clean, for being in such a bad part of town. Steed walked throughout the bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom, searching drawers, and didn't find anything that stood out. He was beginning to think he had made a mistake, and entered a perfectly innocent fellow's home when his eagle eyes, not in the least needing glasses, espied the tip of a piece of paper hanging out from the bottom of a cheap framed picture hung up on the wall. He walked to the picture and turned it around; the paper was taped to the back. With a deft yank, Steed pulled the paper down and saw it was a map. He opened it up on the coffee table and studied it. It detailed some private land northeast of London; Steed knew the area. Steed pulled his brolly to him and aimed the camera contained in it at the map. A few skillful clicks and the whole map was photographed. He replaced it as it was, even with that edge sticking out, and left the flat.
He took the film to a Ministry film developer and had the shots in his hand within 30 minutes, and told the developer to have a second set of the map photos sent round to Mrs. Peel's penthouse. He called Mrs. Peel's home phone, leaving a message on her machine that he would be late getting there-he looked at his watch-probably around 22:00 and that he was off to the mapped area. Then he took off to visit Timothy Timmerson before he went and saw whatever was on that little plot of land.
Steed knocked on Timothy Timmerson's door and heard a voice yell "Come in!", so he did. Timmerson was in his studio staring at a canvas on which he was throwing paint. Not brushing it, but throwing it with his fingers. He was a well-muscled fellow dressed in baggy pants, holey t-shirt and a paint soiled apron, his hair completely disheveled, the blond strands standing out as if he had just stuck his fingers in an electrical outlet. Steed came up to him and narrowed his eyes at the painting.
"Abstract modernism?" he asked.
"Certainly not. It's a still life," the man answered tossing more paint on the canvas. "See?"
Not sure exactly what to see, Steed looked behind the canvas and noticed another canvas set up on a easel, painted in the identical way that Timmerson was painting this one. How he had gotten all the thrown colors so similarly matched amazed Steed.
"That's quite a talent," Steed acknowledged, eyebrows lifted high.
"Thank you. Art lover?"
"Yes, but mainly of our fair English countryside or Nelson at sea."
"That's old news, man, this is the up and coming art nouveau. Exposition on the state of the world. Watch, here is where the whole thing comes together. See those red squiggles along the edge of the painting?" he asked, nodding to his further work. Steed smiled and silently nodded.
"This is where the grand statement about the depravity of the world is made," Timmerson said and instead of taking some red onto his fingers, he took blue instead and splatter the blue just where the red was on the other canvas. Standing back he wiped his hands on his filthy apron and then moved the new work next to the older one. "Ah! Chaos! Armageddon! Famine! Plague! The world is ending! Do you feel it? For me, it brings sheer joy! Does it make you fearful? Angry?"
Steed pointed his umbrella at a mishmash section of lines on the newer work. "I see a little kitten there."
Timmerson scoffed and took off his apron, lighting a cigarette. "Who are you? What do you want?"
"Steed. John Steed. I'd like to discuss your father's death with you."
"What's to discuss? The old goat is dead, long live the young goat."
"You didn't get along with your father?"
"He thought art was a useless career, and I thought he was a useless father."
"What will you do with your inheritance?"
"Squander it on wine, women and song, I suppose. Or, perhaps attempt to achieve world domination through vile and despicable means. Haven't yet decided."
"It's not that much money. World domination would take at least 10,000 pounds. So many minions on the payroll."
"Not if I can use the money to create some terrible weapon."
Timmerson shrugged. "Don't know. Something to wreak destruction on the scale of catastrophe."
Steed smiled. "Don't like the world?"
"What's to like? Wars, prejudice, hate. Needs another flood, man, needs another cleansing."
"Did you ever meet Donald Smythe?"
"The fellow my sister dated? Once or twice."
"Know anything about him?"
The man stamped out his cigarette in an ash tray. "Nope. Seemed to be a nice enough chap to me."
Steed thanked him and left. Timmerson looked at his paintings and said, "Chaos and Armageddon."
Timmerson was definitely a suspicious character, but Steed couldn't quite figure out how he might fit into all this. Noticing the cigarette, Steed did wonder if it was Timmerson who had almost knocked his head off his shoulders the previous night; if so, Steed looked forward to delivering a dainty little uppercut to his chin. However, there was more to investigate before calling it a night. It was getting on 18:00 when Steed set off for the land in Redfern; it took him an hour to get there and another thirty minutes following the map to find the fenced off ten acres that he was sure was the land marked with a red circle. Ignoring the headache that had nagged him all day, he nimbly hopped the fence, but then had to stand still for a few seconds as that annoying dizziness occurred. It was gone in a minute and Steed progressed further onto the land. He saw a little house built on the southeast edge, but all the lights were off. It had a very odd roof, with some sort of square metal turret in the middle, high enough at about eight feet tall to have a ladder running up one side, and something wrapped tightly in protective tarpaulin atop that.
Definitely needed to be closely looked at, but first Steed wanted to check the rest of the landscape. Being extra careful, Steed skirted around the home keeping to the birch and oak groves around it. Although it was drizzling lightly, Steed was loath to open his furled umbrella; one could never re-furl it as tightly as the original way it came. He allowed his bowler and light coat to protect him from the rain. He covered the majority of the land, there didn't seem to be anything else to find, aside from a track of land flattened into what he imagined was a runway, so he turned around to head back to the house and break into it. It was then that Steed noticed a small shed off to the side and as he went around some trees to get closer to it, he noticed three animals lying together on the ground. His attention drawn to that odd and intriguing sight, he put the shed on hold as he moved toward the mammals. A rabbit, a fox and a dog lay next to each other, although the rabbit and fox had been dead for a little bit now. None of the animals seemed to have been attacked by the others, or eaten at all.
"Talk about the lion and the lamb," Steed commented.
He took a step towards the dog, noticing it was sort of shrunken, like Lord Lyon had been. He poked it with the solid mass with his brolly tip. Suddenly felt that same effect he had experienced in Lord Robert's bedroom, a weakness so severe he couldn't move. Fool! Steed silently castigated himself, You didn't think it through Must be a buried disk Killed the animals You walked right onto it He tried to walk away from the spot, but, he couldn't even turn, let alone take a step as his legs weakened and he fell to his knees. Somehow he managed to throw his umbrella away and then he was lost to the force acting upon him. It felt as if he hadn't slept his entire life, as if he hadn't eaten for weeks, the all encompassing tiredness grabbed him with steel claws and pulled him down. He fell onto his back with a thud, his arms uselessly at his sides, his bowler sitting next to his head. He was strong, powerful, determined, and he put every bit of effort into getting up, into escaping, but he couldn't even move his pinky, he could hardly lift his chest to take a breath of air. He suddenly understood firsthand the way Lord Danworthy and the others had died. Yet, there was nothing he could do but lie there, too drained to even be scared as he sensed his life slowly but inextricably evaporating from his body
Mrs. Peel went to Whilton Grange. The weeping house-keeper let her in and she was able to scoot around Professor Adkin's siblings and aged father to get to his bedroom. She knew that the Ministry would not allow anyone to remove the body until either she or Steed viewed it. It was the same as Lord Robert; pale, shrunken, dead. She then drove to the Electrical Research Institute to search Professor Adkin's study there. All the workers had been called in on a Sunday, with Dr. Adkin's death and so much to organize. Allowed access by his secretary Clauson by stating she was from the Ministry of Technology, and pulling out some fake card to prove it, she was directed to the Professor's study and entered it. She immediately saw the window behind his desk open and someone rifling his desk; a tall man dressed in black with a black mask on. Emma dove at the man and as he twisted to the side, she got a solid grip on his arm and they both hit the floor hard. The scrimmaged on the floor a few seconds and then Emma stood, dragged him to his feet and flipped him over her shoulder. He got up slowly, rubbing his elbow where it had struck the floor. Emma hit him hard with the side of her hand on his neck and he fell over a chair, landing in a mass of limbs on the floor. Brushing her hair back on her head she went over and stood above him. She saw a piece of paper under his shirt sleeve and pulled it out.
"Let's see," she said. "What were you doing in here?" She studied the letter for a moment; it was a missive from Donald Smythe spewing all sorts of vitriolic rancor towards Dr. Atkins.
The man sat on the floor looking up at her and then quickly touched her ankle with his flattened palm. Emma's body turned to pudding and she slumped to the floor, deflated, as if all the bones in her body had vanished. The letter sailed through the air and was snatched by the man. She heard a scurrying but in her immense fatigue couldn't care what was happening. Her eyes were half open and she could see a clock on the wall across from her. The seconds ticked by, and time passed. About twenty minutes later, she felt herself coming alive again, like an engine inside her was charging back up, sending blood and oxygen throughout her system. She sat up woozily, realizing that she had just met up with Donald Smythe and his handy little enervator gadget. Obviously he felt compelled to remove evidence of his hatred of a man who had, Emma was sure, just been murdered. Clauson and a researcher came into the study and noticed the up-turned chairs, papers strewn about, and Mrs. Peel on the floor.
"Goodness!" Clauson cried, "Mrs. Peel, are you alright? What happened?"
Mrs. Peel was helped to her feet, where she brushed her hair behind her ear. She glanced at her watch and noticed it had stopped. "Someone was searching through Professor Adkin's desk. I think it was a man called Donald Smythe. He took a letter he had mailed to Dr. Atkin's, which rather reeked of loathing.
The two men glanced at each other questioningly.
"Are you familiar with him?" Mrs. Peel asked.
"Yes," Clauson answered. "Donald Smythe worked for us temporarily as a janitor. But, well, I hate to cast aspersions..."
"Cast away. My lips are sealed."
"Well, we had some thefts of materials whilst he was here cleaning the Institute. That had never happened before and Dr. Adkins was forced to find him guilty although he never could entirely prove it. Mr. Smythe was furious upon being made redundant. Professor Adkin's and"-he indicated the man next to him-"Dr. Miller admired his cleaning skills but we are the best electromagnetic field research scientists there are in the country. We certainly can't associate with criminals. We'd lose our funding, which is considerable. Donald Smythe was very well paid, so his treacherous actions were unconscionable. Then, of all things, he sent a letter expressing his anger towards Dr. Atkin's in no uncertain terms. He's an unstable character, if you ask me."
"What was stolen from here?"
Miller spoke, "Some special wires that we hope will enhance EMF production."
Mrs. Peel crossed her arms. "Electromagnetic fields? What's the focus of your work?"
"We're aligned with the military working to study the ways that EMFs affect the human body."
"It weakens the body, doesn't it?"
"Well, yes, quite so, if concentrated enough, and maybe can cause specific illnesses. We are at the edge of learning how to greatly enhance EMF capacity and need to know the physiological effects it would have on people."
Emma made a quick connection in her head. "Does the thefts of the super strong batteries from the Ministry of Defense warehouses have anything to do with your work?"
The men had stoic faces. Miller asked, "How did you know about those thefts?"
She smiled. "A little horsie told me. Does it relate to your work?"
"Actually, yes," Miller answered, reticently. "Those batteries, when attached to certain unique wires that Smythe may have absconded with, have the potential to produce an extremely concentrated EMF effect."
"Have the potential ?"
"Yes, we've had problems finding the right mineral mix in the wires to stimulate the highest production of EMF. That's one of the main focuses of our work here at the Institute."
"What sort of mineral mix are you looking for?"
"One that best fosters the production of magnetic energy when combined with electrical activity."
"How were the batteries stolen? Who has authorization to go to that warehouse?"
Clauson jumped back into the conversation. "Well, anyone here at the Research Institute does. Plus various other Military departments."
Emma thanked the men for their information. As she was leaving, she noticed an unusual painting on the wall, streaked with various colors in an abstract way that brought to mind havoc and anarchy.
"That painting," Emma said. "Do you know who did it?"
Dr. Miller went over to it and read the name in the corner. "It was one of Dr. Atkin's favorites, although I myself never quite took to it. Too frenetic for me. It was painted by a Timothy Timmerson."
"Did Dr. Atkins know Mr. Timmerson?"
"Met him at an art gallery, I think, owned by one of our larger patrons, who had thrown an affair and invited us to attend. I'm sorry, Mrs. Peel, that's all I know."
The circle of players were coming together and things were finally starting to gain some clarity. Or were they? A few minutes processing this new information with Steed, and she was sure that they could deduce what was going on. She got in her sporty Lotus and zipped back to her penthouse.
It was about 19:00 when Mrs. Peel arrived home. She listened to the message on her answering machine from Steed, informing her to expect him in three hours, and then she studied the map of the area he had gone to investigate. Ten acres, she thought, large enough to land a plane.
Famished, she broiled some halibut and fashioned a large salad. After the dishes were done, she sat down to relax. Pulling out a couple of scientific journals she read up on EMFs, then read an article on strategy in bridge, which she enjoyed playing coupled with Steed, because he was very good and because no one, but her, ever knew what strategy, if any, he was employing.
She had a snifter of Napoleon brandy, a vice she had picked up from her brandy-loving partner, and began watching the clock. She hadn't yet developed the fine sense of danger Steed had over the years of his being an agent, but still, she did on occasion feel her stomach tense up when she knew things weren't quite right, or more specifically, when Steed didn't show up when he should.
She was used to spending time alone and amusing herself along those lines, but on nights like this, when 22:00 came and went, and there was no contact from Steed, her famous ability to concentrate and focus dissolved away and she was left looking at the clock every five minutes, dreading the passing of seconds and minutes. He didn't need rescuing often, but he did sometimes. Emma was quite sure his head was actually slightly concussed and that would slow down his thinking, slow down his reflexes, slow down the speed of his punches. In his line of work, the tiniest physical flaw could have terrible repercussions. Yet, on the other hand, all sorts of reasons could exist for him being late, and God knows, he had arrived late and healthy before, gently teasing her for being a worried mother hen.
Mrs. Peel sat nibbling on her lower lip trying to read a book, glancing at the phone, glancing at her front door, glancing at the clock. Time, her enemy, flowed relentlessly without thought of what it meant to her. And as midnight came and went, it meant that Steed wasn't by her side. It meant he might be in trouble, injured, dead. Picturing those possibilities in her mind made her frantic, made her realize again what she didn't want to realize. That game they constantly played, that everything was just for fun, was just light-hearted frolicking. At times like this, Mrs. Peel knew the game was false, insincere, and hid a world of honest emotions neither of them for their own personal reasons wanted to or were ready to acknowledge. But, sitting there without Steed, Emma knew her attraction to him was far more than simply being his partner, his friend, his lover. It was so much more than that. It was everything more than that. She couldn't bear to lose him.
She changed into a dark catsuit, grabbed her jacket and the map, and tore out of the penthouse, screeching her Lotus onto the road taking her north. Let him be fine. Let him tease her for being a mother hen. It would be heavenly if that happened. But her true faith rested in her car's accelerator, which she flattened to the floor.
Mrs. Peel arrived at the map location and was dismayed to squeal to a halt behind Steed's forest green Bentley. He had been here, and he hadn't been back. She leapt from the car and glancing quickly once more at the map, she set off down the road towards the ten acres where she knew Steed had gone.
Rain had been falling all day and it worsened as Emma got out of her car; the night sky was cloaked in clouds and without the moon ir was very dark. Emma flashed a torch she had taken from her glove box, shining the yellow light in front of her as she used all her senses to discern danger. She moved rapidly and when she met the beginning of a fence, she knew she was at the land marked on the map. The fence was only six feet high, and she carefully climbed up and over it, searching for footprints or any sign of Steed's passage. There was none she could make out so she continued her lurking. She noticed a light shining in a window not far off; a house, on the land. Perhaps the headquarters of the diabolical masterminds. They could have captured Steed. She crept closer to the house, until she was able to look in and see if her partner was in there. Her eyes espied a large empty room and. no Steed; no brolly, no bowler lay about, etiher. Before she crashed in to search other rooms or for a basement, etc., she thought that maybe she should perambulate the rest of the land, to see if Steed was anywhere to be found. She left the house and prowled away from it, noticing the landing strip, and further along a small shed. She looked around and decided to return to the house when suddenly the light of the torch landed upon an object that made her heart skip a beat. A furled umbrella. Steed's furled umbrella. She almost yelled out, but then regained control of herself and whispered fiercely, "Steed?"
Nothing. No response. It could mean he was nearby. It could mean his captives had carelessly left it here when they took him back to the house. She darted about the woods, repeating her whisper over and over again and at one point had she heard an inarticulate grunt? She froze in place.
"Steed?" she whispered. "Steed, are you here?"
She walked toward the sound, slowly, deliberately, shining the flashlight back and forth in the total darkness. And, there he was. Lying on the ground, by what looked like the remains of three animals. Confused, she approached him and then stopped in her tracks.
A ghostlike, haunting "Nooo!" creaked out of Steed, but that was all he could say.
"Steed? What's wrong?" she asked.
"Stay"-and she heard him take a desperate gasp of air-"back."
Standing eight feet away, Mrs. Peel didn't see blood or bruises on him but he was telling her not to approach him her genius mind raced at lightspeed. There must be a disk buried in the ground that emitted a vastly enhanced electromagnetic field. It had weakened and killed each animal one by one, and then Steed, standing by them in his curiosity had been similarly stricken.
And that's how the others had died; by disks placed under their mattresses. Removed later to prevent detection.
Emma had to get Steed off that disk now! Putting aside her scientific enquires about how the disk was powered below ground, she cogitated upon needing to rescue Steed. Of a moment she looked at the umbrella in her hand. If she could reach out with it, not entering the energy field, and hook his belt, maybe she could pull him off. She had to give it go.
Mrs. Peel didn't know where the field started when she gently pushed the handle of the umbrella toward Steed's unmoving body.
"Steed, I'm going to pull you out," she whispered.
There was no reply. She aimed the light beam of the torch on him and couldn't even be sure his chest was rising How long had he been like this, under the effect of the EMFs? Four, five, six hours? How long did it take for them to drain all life from their victims? Yes, a ray of encouragement keep her from screaming; he had somehow found the strength to warn her of the field, otherwise she soon would have been lying next to him in that fatal area. He had summoned the remarkable ability to save her life, and now it was time for her to save his.
He was a tall man; it was a long umbrella. Deftly, she pushed aside his jacket with the brolly, wiping rain from her face, as the drops began falling harder. Leaning back away from the border of the disk she manipulated the handle around his belt, and then grasping the stem of the umbrella in both hands, she yanked, forcefully. Steed was dead weight at 170 pounds and he moved an inch or two. Emma yanked again, and again, inching him closer and closer to her, his right arm stuck under his torso, his left flopping uselessly in back of him. Little by little she dragged him over the grass, until his shoulders were by her feet, and she reached down, put her hands under his armpits and pulled him ten feet away from that awful spot. She knelt down next to him as she put him back on the ground and was appalled at what the torch showed her. He was pale, and it seemed as if his face had sunken in some and his whole body had lost 20 pounds. He looked feeble, aged. But, she felt his carotid artery and put her ear by his mouth and his heart and lungs were still working. He was still alive. Thank God.
"Steed, Steed," she said, shaking him a little, bent over him to protect him from getting his face wet from the rain. "Are you awake? Can you open your eyes?"
No eyes opened.
"Steed, you're off the disk. You're no longer being drained. I'm going to drag you to the car and take you to the Ministry clinic. You're going to be fine." She hoped.
Suddenly, the noise of the click of a trigger and a firm and booming voice behind her caught her attention. "I don't think so, Mrs. Peel," the voice said.
She turned around and was astonished to see Dr. Clauson, cigarette hanging from his mouth, holding a gun on her and Steed, and next to him was Molly Lederer.
Mrs. Peel stood up slowly, keeping herself in-between the gun and Steed's helpless body. "Dr. Clauson, quite a surprise."
"I'm sure it is. No doubt you were expecting Donald Smythe."
"Actually, I was."
"Yes, it is helpful having an infatuated idiot around. Aids one so well in planting clues away from oneself."
"An infatuated idiot?" Mrs. Peel asked, truly confused, and as with Steed, that didn't happen often.
Molly Lederer spoke up. "He's a complete fiasco with women. A crass bastard, actually. But talking with Hal"-she and Dr. Clauson exchanged affectionate glances-"we realized that if I showed some interest in him, he'd do anything I wanted. Which is exactly what's happened."
"You tell him what to do, what to steal, what disk to place under whose mattress, and he does, without knowing why or what it does," Mrs. Peel deduced. While she spoke she snapped opened up the umbrella and held it over Steed's sopped body .
"Exactly. Hal, kill them, won't you? I'm getting wet."
Dr. Clauson approached the limp Steed on the ground. To Mrs. Peel's delight, Steed's eyes cracked open, although there was no expression in them or on his face.
"Molly, I can't kill Steed yet. I want to study him a few hours. When we arrived at the house a few minutes ago, our sensors indicated a human fell prey to the disk around 19:30. it's near 01:00 now, and he should be dead. Everyone else on the disk, for even less time, died. He hasn't. I want to see how he recovers over the next hours, or maybe even days, and then ask him some questions when he can talk again. We've got to plan for people like him that aren't so easily killed, if we want our disks to be unbeatable. Perhaps we've got to try to make them even stronger than they are now."
Molly stood over Steed, too. "It is remarkable, his survival. Didn't Donald tell you he recovered immediately from the smaller disk?"
"Yes, right after I knocked him out."
"Alright, we'll bring them back to the laboratory for a few hours." Molly pulled a walkie talkie out of her pocket and spoke into it, calling Donald Smythe to her. He agreed to come right away.
Within a few minutes Smythe showed up, fawning his attention to Molly.
"Donnie, darling, carry this man back to the house," Molly said.
Donald looked down at Steed. "He's a big fellow. I'll need help."
Molly took the gun from Dr. Clauson and kept it aimed straight at Emma. "If you move, I'll shoot him," she said, motioning the gun towards Steed.
Clauson and Donald hefted the still languid Steed and carried him back to the house. Emma followed, with Molly behind her, sometimes poking the gun deep into her back to keep her going. Inside the house, they dropped Steed rather unceremoniously on a sofa up against a wall. His left arm hung over the couch, his hand resting on the floor. Emma shook the umbrella off, and then refurled it and brought it inside, resting it against the side of the sofa. Then she grabbed a towel from a table and dried Steed's face off; his eyes watched her, but he was speechless and motionless, trapped in his totally enervated body. She then found a blanket and covered his drenched body with it.
"What do we do with her?" Molly asked about Emma.
"Tie her up. We'll need to ask her some questions later, too."
Molly told Donald to tie her up and after he had, her arms inconveniently behind her, Molly rewarded him with a kiss, which brought a huge leer to his face. "Can't get enough, eh?" he said, as he grabbed her roughly, and kissed her again, his hands squeezing her breasts hard through her cotton sweater. She allowed him this brusque action, and when he was done, she sweetly asked him to go out and patrol the grounds, in case anyone else was about. He left swaggering.
"Hal, I can barely stand him anymore, even if we need me to deal with him."
Dr. Clauson stood next to her, gently massaging her shoulders. "Just a little longer, honey. I know he's a horrid little man, but once we kill the two of them, and him, no one will know we're responsible for everything that's happened. If anyone investigates, all blame will lie only on Donald."
"Doesn't it bother you, though?"
"You and him together? Yes, a great deal! Ever since you were a student in my EMF course at University, you know how much I care about you. But, these are the trials we must put up with for our plans to come to fruition. Besides, we do get a chance to be together when he's not around "
They kissed tenderly and it would have touched Emma's heart if she didn't hate them for their callous and fatal treatment of so many innocent people. Much was understood, but not everything. The whole point to what Dr. Clauson and Molly were involved in was beyond her comprehension. She sat on the ground not far from the sofa with her hands and feet tied, and she concentrated on surreptitiously wearing down the ropes binding her and watching Steed's chest struggling to rise and fall.
Smythe returned after twenty minutes reporting that there was no one else in the area; he was sent out again to bring Emma's and Steed's cars by the house. When he returned after that, Molly told him to get some food and relax, which he obediently did, closing his bedroom door after him. Dr. Clauson, chain-smoking in his eagerness, spent some time testing Steed's non-responsive reflexes and watching his pupils fail to dilate as he shone a penlight in them. He pressed down lightly on Steed's chest with one hand, and that was all the strength that was needed to completely prevent Steed from being able to draw a breath. He held himself there, watching Steed slowly suffocate without moving a finger in defense, until Emma was ready to dive her bound body into his, and knock him off Steed's chest. But, at that moment, he let up and Steed, with a sudden jerk, inhaled. Dr. Clauson put his finger in Steed's left hand and told him to grip him as tightly as possible, but there was no grip at all, and Clauson wrote some notes down on a piece of paper.
"It's quite fascinating. He's very weak, but alive. I don't understand it, really. That buried disk is at maximum strength. It would have killed an elephant in three or four hours. Our laser disk will deliver the strength of the buried disk across miles, and if wish to threaten the country and gain millions in blackmail, we have to be sure that few people can survive that dose of EMFs."
"Perhaps we need to figure out a way to make a stronger extract of the lodestone we get from Donnie's meteors," Molly answered.
"Meteors?" Emma asked.
Dr. Clauson spoke to her, "Yes, meteors. Molly and I figured out that by combining the proper amounts of the super strong batteries which charge up the wires, with the new wires the Institute created, plus, the key, adding in a very specific compound of highly magnetic meteor lodestone and a little mineral mix of our own brilliance, we can create a disk of such high EMFs that it can weaken and even kill living beings within hours. One side is benign, so, for example, Donald can hold it as a weapon in a smaller size, but the activated side actually sucks out their life force, draining them of the energy of life when it contacts someone."
"And since Donnie apparently has a meteor collection, which Molly learned when he attempted to date her, you realized that he would be useful to you," Emma reasoned.
"Yes, it was his grand-father's collection, an avid astronomer."
Emma continued, "It was only afterwards that you figured out that you could also frame him for all the crimes you wished to perform. Why did you kill the father's of those families, including, Molly, you own father?"
"They were all fathers to women who Donnie dated, and it was just more set-up to him being the criminal."
Emma felt a wave of freezing chill go through her, realizing the depths of madness and insanity that Molly exhibited. To kill her own father! It was dreadful to think about. "And who stole the batteries?"
Molly answered, "Donnie's friends. Although he's not too loyal to them. Didn't seem that upset by the wreckage of their plan, however that happened, although Hal and I did regret losing that second shipment of batteries. And now, our way to break into the warehouse has been figured out, so we just have to make do with the ones we have left."
"Molly, let's go downstairs to the lab. I want to plug in a few calculations."
Molly opened the door to Donnie's bedroom. "Donnie, stay here and watch the two of them. If Mrs. Peel does anything suspicious, then beat the hell out of Steed."
Emma realized that even if Molly was crazy, she had intuited Emma's own weak spot very, very well.
Molly and Hal went through a door and down some stairs. They were gone for quite awhile. It was very late, and Emma had to fight from lowering down into fatigue and sleep, but she also worried that if she forced herself to stay up too much longer, she might not be fit and awake enough for whatever action she needed to take. The ropes around her limbs were stout and well tied and there was nothing near her for her to rub them against, creating the friction needed to slowly shred and weaken them. She scolded herself for not hearing Clauson and Molly sneak up on her; if she had and had been able to deal with them at the time, neither she nor Steed would be in this difficulty now. She chewed and chewed and chewed on her lower lip, as she fought to keep her eyes open.
Steed had been in Berlin a number of times before the wall had been built. Once that edifice had been established, effectively separating East from West Berlin, English agents had had to resort, at times, to climbing over the wall to gain access to their agents, their moles, and their information inside the Communist zone. The first time Steed had leapt the wall had wound up being a nearly fatal disaster. He had been shot three times and suffered a broken thigh, a devastating bone to fracture. Taken to an East Berlin hospital for a few weeks, he had been traded for Communist spies arrested in England, when they could risk moving him. Thus East Berliners had given him back to the English alive, though in very bad shape, and it had taken months and months, nearly a year, for Steed to recover his full energy and strength.
Lying there on the sofa, he felt very much like he had after that failed mission-akin to pudding, formless, a dilute mass of squishy cells without a foundation, without a solid structure to bind them together. He couldn't believe he had mustered the strength to warn Mrs. Peel not to come closer to him, not to walk on the disk, but from some vigorous reservoir deep inside him, he had rallied to speak those three life-saving words. His muscles had dissolved in a reciprocal weakening as a result, but had been worth it. If saving Emma meant sacrificing himself that was a trade-off he was eminently willing to make.
He didn't try for major movements as he lay there, just to stir a finger. So far he was unable to do even that minuscule an action, but he had hopes that if given time, he would regain the full use of his body. He had done so so many times in the past, after all manner of serious injury or illness. One thing a long-lived agent gained mastery in was patience. Steed was infamously long-lived, given the inordinate dangers his career had thrown his way, so he concentrated on breathing in and out, took comfort in having Mrs. Peel sitting five feet away from him, and simply gave himself up to waiting for his body to rejuvenate. And once it had, after hearing all the despicable deeds Dr. Clauson, whoever he was, and Molly Lederer had done, they would regret having kept him alive for study. He couldn't move, but he could hear, and disapprove, and plan.
At some point, Molly came back up and told Donnie they were going to bed for a few hours; Donnie checked Emma's bonds, making sure they were still tight and sure, which they were. Just for safety, he then tied another loop around her neck and attached the other end to the radiator pipe beside her. Donnie then took the frowning Molly into a room off the main one, turning off all the lights. Apparently, Dr. Clauson was staying down in the basement.
"Steed? Are you awake? Can you hear me? Can you speak?" Emma whispered in the complete darkness of the main room.
A noisy inarticulate exhalation sound was emitted.
"Have you heard what's going on?"
"I can't help you. I'm all tied up over here."
"Try to sleep. Get rest. Maybe you'll recover quicker that way."
"Good night," she said, feeling somewhat stupid. Putting aside all her worries and fears, Mrs. Peel finally allowed her tiredness to claim her and lying down on the floor, she fell fast asleep.
They slept six hours in the house, and ironically, Steed was the first to awaken around 8:00 a.m. on Monday. He was very thirsty and hungry, but was happy to learn his body had come back to life to a certain extent. With effort that caused sweat to break out on his brow, he was able to sit up on the couch and look around. The dawn light was shining in through the windows, illuminated the room, with its bare furniture and rugs. He could move his hands and feet, although his fists weren't ready to wallop someone yet.
Looking to his left he saw Mrs. Peel still sleeping on the floor. His heart swelled at her beauty and courage, and he remembered fondly her kindnesses of the previous night, keeping the umbrella over him in the rain, drying him, and covering him up with a warm blanket. He marveled that he had been able to win over a remarkable woman like her, the only woman in his very promiscuous and woman-chasing life he had ever actually wanted to win over. The house was quiet; if he moved quickly, maybe he could untie her and they could get away before anyone woke up. Steed always carried a little pocketknife in his jacket, given the frequency with which either he or his partner wound up confined by ropes. Grabbing the edge of the sofa, he was able to scoot himself over to the side and whisper to Mrs. Peel.
"Psst! Mrs. Peel. Time to wake up."
Her eyes fluttered open and they fell upon him looking down at her. Her wide and sincere smile spread throughout her whole face, her eyes sparkling brightly. As always, it rather embarrassed him, and he cleared his throat to deal with his emotional response and keep himself on target with them escaping.
Unfortunately, Dr. Clauson's voice and the click of a gun trigger were unwelcome surprises to Steed, just as they had been to Mrs. Peel several hours earlier. "Extraordinary! Such a quick recovery! Amazing, Mr. Steed."
With a sound-covering cough, Steed flicked his opened knife to the floor directly under Mrs. Peel's tied-up hands; even in his lingering fatigue, his aim was perfect. Then he turned to the doctor and sat back against the sofa in repose, as Emma, faking sleep, worked to get the knife into her fingers.
"I don't believe I've had the annoyance of your acquaintance," Steed said.
"No, we've not been introduced. Dr. Harold Clauson of the Electric Research Institute. Former secretary to Dr. Adkins," he said, putting out his hand to shake. If Steed had been just an iota stronger he would have taken Clauson's hand and tossed him through the nearest window, but that was not possible then. So, he kept his hands to his side, refusing to honor his enemy by shaking his palm.
"It's always a former position when you murder your boss," Steed mentioned.
Dr. Clauson took his hand back. "Indeed. Quite true," he agreed. He put the gun in his pocket and studied his notebook, which he had brought up from the basement with him. "You know, you should have been flat on your back for another week, as my estimated mathematical measurements proposed, regarding the physiological energy depletion you experienced with the dosage of EMFs you were exposed to."
"Math was never my best subject," Steed said.
"You are a remarkable specimen of humanity, Mr. Steed."
Steed tapped his spare watch, and noticed it was not working either. "You owe me two watches," he said.
"Yes, watches are destroyed by our EMF disks."
"Who are you going to blackmail?"
"Me? Why nobody. But, Donald Smythe will blackmail the government, the military. I plan on Smythe killing several top Ministry people from various departments, and then have him offer to not kill any more people for a certain amount of money. Perhaps then he'll terrorize other government heads for their money, too. In the meantime, from the comfort of my lab at the Institute, I'll figure out exactly how he's created such a powerful EMF device. He'll get the money, which Molly will get from him, and share with me, and then he'll unfortunately die in some tragic way. Smythe doesn't mind doing any sort of dirty work, but overall, he's not that intelligent and doesn't yet comprehend the whole plot. Of course, that suits me, as I'll get fame and respect for uncovering the way EMFs can harm people. I've spent my whole life, Mr. Steed, trailing in the glory of others, making a measly salary. It's time I received my due notice, instead of playing lackey to Dr. Adkins."
"This is your land, your home, then? Your secret laboratory?"
"Yes. I inherited the ten acres from my father, and it's been my private laboratory for some years. At the Institute, any genius idea or invention became the purview of Dr. Adkins alone. He made sure of that. I was always relegated to arranging his lunch meetings and plane tickets, and wasn't respected for my own electromagnetic insights. I've been working on EMF intensification for a long time. Meeting Molly at University was a godsend, as she has a brilliant understanding of physiology; she is something of a scientific prodigy that way. Plus, she appreciated my plans for becoming incredibly rich. When she visited me at the Institute and Smythe, the janitor, took a liking to her, and he had his grand-father's large collection of meteors with super magnetic lodestone in them. We saw what a horrid little weasel he was, and how much he lusted after Molly, and our plans fell together. It was rather like Kismet, Mr. Steed. Fate."
"With a touch of depravity and homicidal intent added in, wouldn't you say?"
"I never claimed to be an angel," Clauson shrugged.
"You mentioned a disk you could aim. Is that what's on the roof?"
"Yes. The controls are in the basement. We had them adjusted to a certain strength, as strong as we could make it, and that was what we tested in the disk used to kill those we killed. You're survival throws a wrench into our calculations, but I doubt there are many that have your superman-like resiliency." He looked at his watch. "We shall see, in one hour, when the disk is set to fire EMFs at Westminster, killing most, if not all, of the MPs there."
Dr. Clauson put his notebook down and took the gun out of his pocket, aiming it at Steed. "And now, Mr. Steed, I'm sorry but my interest in you has waned. I have noted the beginning of your recovery. That is all the information I needed from you. I was worried you might have told others of your suspicions of me, but as no one has come to rescue you, I see my fears were unfounded."
"Not all of them," Steed smiled, as he tossed the rolled up blanket to Clauson, covering him with it. Clauson fought to get it off of him as Steed launched his body off the sofa. He had no delusions of being able to fight off Clauson, but if he gave Mrs. Peel a few more seconds to work herself free
He dove forward as Clauson threw the blanket to the floor, not quite in control of his steps, but he was able to reach for Clauson's right forearm as the bulk of his body crashed into the doctor, and his precisely aimed forehead smashed into the doctor's nose. They both stumbled backwards, the gun going off loudly in the small space, the bullet flying into the floor, the dropped weapon striking the ground soon after. Clauson desperately shrugged Steed off him and Steed fell face forward onto a plush chair, his arms too unsteady to keep him from landing with an "Oof!", helplessly splayed across it. Clauson was blinded by the pain in his broken nose, bright red blood flowing freely from it down over his mouth and chin. There was a temporary stalemate, as Steed fruitlessly attempted to push and shove his non-cooperating body into a better position for attack or defense; all he was able to do was to turn over, still caught in the chair like a fox in a trap. Clauson meanwhile wiped the reflexive tears from his eyes as he held a hand over his swelling nose and searched the floor for the revolver, which lay partially under the chair Steed frantically jerked about in. When Clauson noticed the gun, he bent over to reach for it and Steed, giving up on his arms, had enough coordination to kick out with a foot and hit Clauson in the side of the face a solid, though not devastating, blow.
Still, Clauson fell over onto his side, temporarily knocked out. Steed was exhausted. There was no more he could do in the battle for a minute or two, and he glanced over at Mrs. Peel to see her progress; he was rewarded by conflicting answers-her hands broke free of her bonds, and she immediately cut through the ones binding her legs, but her eyes suddenly widened and she yelled "Steed! Look out!"
There was someone behind him. He had been too fatigued to sense it. No doubt the gunshot had drawn Molly and Smythe from their shared room. An arm encircled his throat and yanked him hard, up and off the chair, gagging him as he sagged on bended legs. He could barely lift his arms, let alone elbow his attacker in the ribs, or toss him over his shoulder. His vision darkened as his neck was squeezed tighter and then there was a dizzying jumble; he was released and fell to the floor, his vision returning. He noticed he was, by a nice chance, near the gun, which he managed to grab, as Molly Lederer flew over him to the floor. He ducked down as she landed on her back.
"Mrs. Peel, perhaps you should yell 'incoming' when you do that," he said. There was no response as Mrs. Peel and Donald evaluated each other and set themselves in position for battle. Donald had a little disk in his hand and was waving it menacingly in front of him, and Mrs. Peel was committed to keeping it away from her. Steed, shaky in his muscular exertion, got to his knees, the gun seemingly weighing a ton, still in his hand on the floor. Molly turned prone and dove at the weapon and she and Steed began a tussle for possession. They heard a masculine cry of pain behind them and Donnie collided with a desk and twirled to the floor, though quickly regaining his feet to face the hunched over, approaching Mrs. Peel. Donnie threw a punch, which Emma dodged as it by-passed her, then she grabbed his arm, twisted it behind his back and kicked his leg out from under him. He feel to his knees, and she then bopped his head on the desk very hard, then again, and he fell unconscious to the floor. She anticipated clear victory but was just a few seconds too late in her maneuvers to fully protect Steed.
Steed and Molly had closed ranks as they fought for control of the gun, and Molly, with two strong arms, took one away from the weapon and punched Steed on his cheek. Normally he would have laughed at her somewhat pathetic strike, but now it affected him greatly. His hands lost all strength and Molly wrenched the gun from him, and it went off by mistake. However tough she had acted, pulling the trigger had shocked Molly and she dropped the gun. The bullet had grazed Steed's left arm, and as he was flung to the side, he threw a fist up in desperation. It luckily connected with Molly's jaw and she, too, sank to the floor.
Steed was panting, as if he had just run a marathon wearing a 100 pound sack on his back. Given a temporary respite, Emma came over, got the gun and knelt beside him.
"We need to stop the disk on the roof," he said, holding onto his left arm.
Emma had not seen the disk; it had been pitch dark when she had first viewed the house. "The controls are in the basement." She removed half of Steed's jacket and held in her anxiety over the growing red stain on his white shirt; undoing the cufflinks, she rolled his sleeve up, then took off his necktie and wrapped it around his wound, ignoring his reflexive wince. The tear in his skin was deeper than merely superficial, and was dripping blood down onto his hand. She replaced his clothes and patted his shoulder in bonhomie.
"Let's go down and see what we can destroy," he said.
"Brains before brawn; I might be able to shut them down."
"As long as that disk is inactivated. I don't like politicians, but some of them do throw awfully good parties. My social calendar would be sadly diminished without them all alive. Give me a hand up."
Emma's firm grip on Steed's right hand helped get him to his feet easily. He swayed back and forth a little and she asked, "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Frankly, I'm exhausted. Limbs like wet noodles. But, gentlemen don't whine. Let's get a move on-uh-oh."
The "uh-oh" was directed at the recovering figures of the three people lying on the floor. "Give me the gun," Steed said. "I'll hold them up here, whilst you dally down below."
Emma looked around. "Should I tie them up?"
"You sawed through all the rope, it looks like. Go on downstairs. We'll be fine up here."
Emma hesitated a moment and then knowing there was no other way, she turned over the weapon to him and ran downstairs into the mysterious cavern in which three people planned on furthering their designs of murdering innocents. There were clunky, large computers along three sides of the room, and tables filled with notebooks scribbled with all manners of advanced mathematical computations. Beeping and flashing buttons filled the face of the computers, with other assorted dials flickering information in a steady, stable fashion. There were no visible outlets or cords to yank out, and the computers were far too heavy to even contemplate moving. There was no "On/Off" button. Thus, Emma nervously sat down and began studying the arrangement of the card slots and the notebooks, knowing there was about one hour for her to figure out, but also doubting that Steed could last much long without collapsing and allowing the three upstairs to wreak havoc on both of them, and the country.
After a few minutes she pushed a button or two in a sequence she thought might initiate some positive response, but instead she heard a certain whirring behind her
With casual waves of his gun-holding hand, Steed corralled the three people into a corner of the room devoid of things to throw at him; they sat there, glowering and with a palpable tension building up inside them. Steed pulled the plush chair over and sat down, never letting his eyes off of them and keeping his gun aimed at them as they sat next to each other.
"Well, we've some time to kill, unlike people, so should we talk about our childhoods?" Steed asked.
"Go to bloody hell," Molly said. "She'll never figure out the computer."
Steed puckered out his lips in introspection. "Mrs. Peel is highly intelligent. She'll make do."
"We've factored in cipher code upon cipher code in the operation of the computer. She'll have to figure out both of those and the way to recalibrate the directional frequency of the EMF roof disk. Otherwise, she might have the EMFs miss Parliament and hit Buckingham Palace. It took us three years to set it up. Do you really think she can undo all that in one hour?"
Steed smiled, hiding his growing concern. "If she can't, that sledge hammer over there might suffice."
"If you attempt to destroy the computer it will activate our failsafe mechanism which will send the EMFs out immediately, in a wide swath all across the country. Babies, children, seniors, everyone will fail victim to it."
Dr. Clauson elbowed her in the side. "Enough, Molly, let them fumble through their efforts to stop us. It can only be to our benefit."
Steed needed to alert Mrs. Peel to the computer set-up but decided that two could play a game of working one's enemies for their own benefit.
"So, Dr. Clauson, Molly," he began, "when exactly were you planning on killing Smythe, there?"
Seconds of silence filled the room, allowing the downpour of rain outside to become loud and clear.
"We had no intention of doing that," Molly said, threading her arm around Smythe's.
"But, what about living your lives together, rich and in love? After all, you were just using Smythe as a lackey, to take all blame and suspicion away from you. You had no intention of having him survive this affair."
"Don't be ridiculous, Steed. Hal and I aren't in love. We're merely colleagues."
Steed pointed his head back to the sofa. "That's not what you told Mrs. Peel and me, nor what the pictures in my umbrella camera would say. Such touching photographs of your passionate embraces, conveniently occurring when Smythe was out doing some meaningless errand."
It was a bluff. Steed hadn't taken any photos, but none of them knew it.
"You didn't take any photos," Clauson said, curtly.
"No? Then let's get them developed and see."
"Is that true, Molly?" Smythe asked. "Is that what's been going on? I know you've set me up to be the patsy, and I've gone along to take all clues away from you, but were you really going to kill me for him? After all the times you told me we'd kill Clauson and keep the money?"
"No, Donald, Dr. Clauson and I were not going to kill you. Don't you see what's he's trying to do? Get us to turn on ourselves."
"No," Steed said, "I'm merely leveling the playing field. Equalizing the facts. Donald, you weren't only the patsy, which you loyally went along with, but you were also a fool. Molly and Clauson are on record as being intimate lovers."
"Why, you stinking bastard!" Smythe yelled and launched himself over Molly onto Dr. Clauson. A full-blown tussle began, with them rolling about on the floor, punching, pulling, and in Donald's case, even biting. Molly gave one half-hearted effort to pull them apart and then scooted away from the ferocity of their confrontation. Steed shot a bullet right over them into the wall, stopping their fight.
"Now, now, children, we must learn to settle our conflicts without resorting to violence. Back up against the wall." The barrel of his gun made things quite clear, and the three of them settled down where they had been, although not so closely together.
Scowling at Steed with pure unmitigated hatred, Dr. Clauson sneered and said, "Oh, there was one more thing we didn't tell you, Steed, about fiddling around unauthorized with our computer set up. If one doesn't first initiate the safety code, then within two minutes of working on the machine, a EMF ray hits the intruder from the opposite wall. One as strong as the one on the roof; one able to kill in minutes." He paused for dramatic emphasis. "Sounds pretty quiet down there, doesn't it?"
Bluff on bluff, or actual fact? Steed couldn't risk not knowing. Standing up, he kept the gun steady on the malefactors as he went to the door leading to the basement. Opening it, he yelled down, "Mrs. Peel? Mrs. Peel? Everything fine down there?"
He could just make out her weak response. "Steed! I'm trapped down here, behind a table. If I move, I'll be struck by EMFs."
He thought of shooting the smiling faces across the room from him. Just shooting them and being down with it, and, maybe ten years ago he would have. But, it hadn't been good for his soul to cold-bloodedly kill then, and it would certainly not aid his peace of mind now. Besides, it appeared he needed them to deactivate what they had set-up. Just then he remembered seeing an axe leaning up against the outside of the house when he had been carried in. Unless, simpler means would suffice
Just then Smythe attacked Clauson again and as Molly tried to pull him off, Steed let the threesome fend for themselves as he dashed downstairs to rescue Mrs. Peel. At the bottom step he took in the scene-a disk sticking out of the wall opposite where Mrs. Peel was crouched in a corner, apparently just out of the main range of the rays of the EMF pouring out of the disk.
"It popped out of the wall as I started working on the computer," she cried out.
Steed got his first close up view of the disk-it replicated the top of a typical drum. A thin vinyl covering coated with dark minerals stretched tight between a ring of metal, from which wires came down disappearing into the vinyl. Some of the small super strong batteries were nestled in the wires. Aiming the gun with his unerring eyes, Steed shot five of the batteries, all the ones that were visible, and holes sprang up in them. The whirring stopped and Mrs. Peel cautiously came out from her corner, waving an arm in the general area through which the EMFs had just penetrated. She felt nothing, no lack of strength.
"Don't bother with the computer, Mrs. Peel. They've got more booby-traps in it."
She came up to him, brushing her hair back into place behind her ear. "Then what can we do?"
"Brawn, it is," he said, heading back up the stairs.
"Two against three, Steed? And you so weak?"
"I've set up a slight bone of contention between our mad hosts."
"Spilled the beans?"
They climbed upstairs and eased their heads out into the main body of the room, careful to take in the situation before stepping out. They saw a dreadfully gruesome sight. Smythe was on the floor dead, his head covered in blood, whilst Molly and Dr. Clauson stood over him, blunt objects in hand, a duet of frank hostility. They turned upon seeing Steed and Emma and Dr. Clauson said, "Now, it's your turns."
The gun was empty of bullets, but still made an excellent throwing weapon. Steed and Emma split apart, each taking the same gendered diabolical mastermind to fight. Emma ducked the paperweight Molly threw at her, but Dr. Clauson was not so lucky and the rapidly thrown gun bounced off his head, creating stars in his vision. He dropped his fireplace poker and staggered about.
Steed had no intention of fighting the man. He was running on empty as it was, pushing his body to move by sheer force of will and the adrenaline that flowed through his blood at the knowledge that he and Mrs. Peel were the only two people who could divert a national catastrophe. Every inch a limb moved took all his focus and self-determination and he innately knew that if he received more than a few blows from Clauson's meaty fists, he would be lost.
Steed dashed outside, the rain dumping huge drops that thoroughly soaked him in seconds. He took hold of the axe resting against the wall and ran around the house, looking for the easiest access to the roof. Usually he could have just climbed up the stones of the building, gotten a hand grip on the edge of the roof and pulled himself up, but he doubted he had that ability now, not just because he was weak, but his left arm was throbbing and a bit unstable. He found his answer on the side of the house in a young oak tree. Working steadily he climbed fifteen feet up the branches, and then leapt two feet from a branch onto the shingles. He had to rest for a moment, and try to get his air back; every slight action felt like a three hour bicycle ride uphill. His muscles were shaking with fatigue. Out of habit, he glanced quickly behind him and the view brought him dismay; a tall, bulky Clauson was shimmying up the tree himself. Steed pushed himself forward to the turret's ladder. The tarpaulin was gone, and the disk, seven feet in diameter, was just visible through the grey lines of the torrential downpour. The roof was slick and Steed scooted across it as fast as he dared. He had just reached the ladder and grabbed a rung, when he felt Clauson's hand land on his shoulder.
Emma and Molly circled each other with malice in their eyes. Both blocked items thrown their way. Although Emma had gotten the upper hand of Molly previously, with little work, she doubted that she could use the same technique twice. There was no doubt that Molly was highly intelligent and was not intimidated by Emma's aura of self-confidence, as many bad people were.
Molly and Emma charged simultaneously, and they grabbed each other's upper arms, both trying to use their legs to take the other down. Emma mimicked the move she had seen Steed do earlier, and brought her forehead down on Molly's face. She missed her nose and hit the ridge above her eye; it was fairly stunning for both of them, but with Emma having the act of surprise, she was able to then kick out one of Molly's legs and hurl her to the floor. Molly got to her knees, only to be met with Emma's karate chop on her neck; she tumbled backwards, but did a backwards roll that ended up with her standing again, facing Emma. She stumbled and Emma moved in, but it was a feint, and Molly was able to spring to action and in a lightning quick move, she flipped Emma over her shoulder. Emma landed well on the floor, absorbing the force just as she had been taught in her karate classes. She kicked out with her legs and got a solid hit on Molly's chest; Molly flew backwards and fell down. Emma stood up and so did Molly. They squared off again.
Steed swung around and ducked Clauson's fist, which hit, by chance, one of the metal rungs of the ladder. Clauson cried out in pain as Steed punched him in his windpipe and then in his solar plexus, then kneed him in the groin, turning him green and knocking the wind out of him. Clauson grabbed for his throat and groin, falling to his knees, as Steed turned and began scampering up the slippery ladder, made more so by the blood on his left hand.
Standing precariously on the ladder, Steed lifted the axe and began striking at the vinyl and wires of the disk. Losing himself in a sort of heroic meditation, again and again he sliced through the disk, damaging the intricate make-up. Wires sheared and hung down, batteries fell out of the pattern and the whole internal workings were decimated. Coming out of a sort of trance, Steed surveyed the damage; it was total. The disk could not possibly work now. Steed breathed a sigh of relief, and then Clauson jumped up and grabbed both his legs, literally pulling him off the ladder. Steed and Clauson fell to the roof, eight feet below them, Steed instinctively concentrating on holding onto the axe more than on hitting the surface in the least dangerous way; thus he landed hard on his back, with Clauson winding up on top of him. The steep of the roof was around fifteen degrees, and the two of them rolled downwards, arms around each other, trying to get the position of advantage. Digging their collected feet in, they stopped rolling halfway down the roof, but Clauson again was on top of Steed and began punching his face, once, twice, three, four times. Steed's teeth rattled in his head and his vision darkened as he desperately tried to make use of the axe, but Clauson held his arm tightly and wrenched the axe from his hand, throwing it off the roof behind them. With that gone, there was nothing Steed could do anymore to protect or save himself. Clauson reined another set of blows onto his body. Even without being on a disk, Steed could feel his life force once more evaporating like steam out of a tea cup. One more insult to his system, and that would be it for him. He came to that realization with a strange peace of mind. Clauson had won this fight, but Steed had saved his country. It was the sort of bargain he had spent his whole life willing to make.
"You bastard," Clauson said, gripping Steed's lapels. "I've worked on this plan for ten years, ten years, and you come here and ruin everything!"
"You'll get no apologies from me, Clauson," Steed gasped.
"Neither will you, when I kill you," Clauson growled. And lifting Steed up off the roof he dragged his sagging body to the edge. "You can survive EMFs, Steed, but can you fly?"
"Don't do it, Clauson," Mrs. Peel said.
Clauson looked and saw Mrs. Peel on the roof, wielding the axe.
"Let him go," she said, as she approached them.
"Stay back or he goes off the roof!" Clauson threatened and Mrs. Peel took it seriously, seeing Steed drooping like a rag doll in his hands. "Where's Molly?" he yelled over the noise of the downpour.
"She had an unfortunate accident, tripping down the basement stairs. She's unconscious." Actually, Molly was dead of a broken neck, but Mrs. Peel didn't think relaying that honest information was a good idea.
For a few seconds there was a stalemate on the roof, and then Clauson, more astute than Emma granted him, roared, "You liar!" and in a simple move, heaved Steed off the roof. Time slowed like in a movie as Emma froze, watching Steed drop in slow motion the long way down to the ground. Then, without thinking, she hefted the axe and as Clauson ran to her she chucked it like a tomahawk at him. It somersaulted a couple of times and ended up buried deep in his chest. Like an invisible giant had flicked his forehead, Clauson slammed backwards onto the roof, sliding down a foot or two before he lay still, eyes opened vacuously.
Emma ran for the tree and flittered down it, the rain and her fear almost causing her to lose her balance several times. Landing on the wet grass she dashed off to the front of the house, where Steed lie on the ground on his side, unmoving. She pushed him over onto his back and scoured his body for signs of injury; she found a brand new bump rising on his head. Was it fractured? Was he dead? He had been so weak; was that injury the straw that broke his broad back? She felt for pulsating carotid arteries and regular respiration and didn't find either sign of life. Panic and hysteria filled her. She grabbed his lapels as Clauson had done, but for a totally different emotional outburst.
"No, no, you will not die on me! You will not die on me!" she railed, shaking his slack form. Yanking hard on his torso, she got him up into a sitting position, wrapping her arms around his body, resting his chin on her shoulder, hugging him as tightly as she could, ignoring the lifeless swinging of his arms by her sides. "Wake up! Don't die! Do you hear me? Do not die! Breathe in! Beat your heart!" She continued ordering about his unresponsive body for another minute, and then stopped, a torrent of tears replacing futile words.
Of a sudden she felt a tiny shudder and then a scratchy whisper reached her ears. "Emma..." She pushed Steed enough away from her so she could study his face, lifting his chin off his chest. His eyes were heavy-lidded, but slanted open just a slit.
"Steed, I didn't feel your pulse, I didn't see you breathing. I can't believe you're alive."
He was drifting away again and murmured. "Bright. Warm, quiet. Nice."
"Nice? What was nice?" she asked, confused by his strange words.
"Too early. Had a choice." His closed eyes opened once more and looked at her affectionately. "Chose you." Then they closed again, and he wilted in her arms. She held him in her arms, not noticing the rain pelting them, aware only of the rise and fall of his chest, and the muted thumping of his beating heart.
She dragged him into her Lotus, not far from the house. He was dead weight, but she managed with effort, sweat, and a few choice words most sailors would be mortified to hear. She drove him to the Ministry's London clinic where she made an almost full report as Dr. Waterston began examining the still unconscious Steed. When she was done, telling everything except her final conversation with Steed, the Ministry clean-up crew went to Clauson's house and did their job of removing diabolical inventions and dead diabolical bodies.
Steed wasn't badly hurt, and it was nothing short of a miracle that he had not broken any bones in his fall to the ground. Probably, Dr. Waterston said, his total state of relaxation had softened his body for the impact, the reason drunks survived head on car collisions. He needed a little patching up, especially of his bullet wound, and that was it. However, Steed wound up terribly depleted upon waking a day later. It was even worse for him than the first time he had been on the disk, and instead of recovering in a mere eight hours, it took a couple of weeks for him to begin feeling he had bones and muscles and wasn't just a consciousness resting in pajama clad soup. During that time Emma visited him regularly and told him how things had ended for Clauson, but at night, at home, she read all the articles she could on after death experiences, her scientific mind ridiculing what she read, her experiential mind taking in every word. When Steed could stand, and was thereby given release from the clinic, Emma helped him dress and gave him leaning support to get him to her car, where she then took him back to his flat. He refused to go in before taking a short walk, adamant that the more he used his body, the quicker he would fully recover. Emma was leery, but indeed, Steed did manage to stroll a comfortable twelve blocks, and that brought a bit of color and youth back into his pale and waxen face. They went upstairs and Emma prepared a lovely gourmet dinner complete with a rare, fine bottle of dry white wine. Not long after the dishes were washed and dried in a shared effort, Steed leaned over and kissed Emma tenderly, his hands wrapped around the side of her face. Smiling lewdly, he grabbed her hand and nodded towards the curving stairs heading to his loft.
"We've done a lot tonight. Are you sure you're up-". She happened to notice the firm tenting of his zipper, and sighed, "Never mind. From now on, I'm just going to assume you're always up for it."
"With you around, my dear, I always am."
Their love-making was needy, energetic and full of a roiling joy of life, as it always was after the end of a particularly harrowing case. Emma chose to be on top, both to save Steed some energy and also so she could have a clear view of his handsome face and the expressions of endless warmth that sometimes slipped out. With Steed's undulating hips and his finger on her clitoris, she loved this position, but then, she loved them all. She came first, pushing herself down onto him as far as she could go, as her hands gripped his shoulders, avoiding his still healing gunshot wound; spasms of sheer bliss shook her body again and again. Steed followed soon after, grabbing her hips and buttocks and he thrust upwards into her, his back arching as his semen poured out in a warm spurting stream, his ecstatic grunts punctuating his physical release.
She lay down next to him, snuggling into his side, deciding to finally broach the topic she had patiently waited to enquire about. "Steed, do you remember anything after you fell off the roof?"
"I didn't fall. I have excellent balance. I was pushed."
She rolled her eyes at his ever present ego. "After you were pushed off the roof?"
He looked at her. "Why? Did something happen? Everyone was dead, weren't they?"
Yes, everyone including, it seemed, you. "You woke up briefly and said a few words."
"Pass the brandy?"
She bopped his nose. "No. That it was bright, and warm and quiet."
"What was? Certainly not the roof. That rain was cold. Like having tiny ice cubes continually dumped on one's head. If we had an insane scientist able to take lava, say, and make it slightly cooler, and then take rain, and make it slightly warmer, in some sort of scientific exchange, now there would be a philanthropist to mankind."
"You also said you had been given a choice."
"Who gave me a choice of what? Emma, This is a very enigmatic discussion and I'm a tired man. I'm trying to recuperate enough to be able to make love to you twice in a row, not to figure out wordy conundrums."
Emma rubbed her hand on Steed's flaccid penis. "You have been known to make love three times in a night."
Steed shivered in delight. "And why not? With your touch, your hair, your face, your breasts, your abdomen, your hips, and all your other body parts, no man could strive for less."
She stared at him for a few seconds and rested her head next to his, her hand over his heart. Suddenly years of aristocratic reserve fell away. "You scared me, you really scared me," she admitted, for the first time ever.
"I'm not leaving you," he comforted her, rubbing her back. "I'm never leaving you."
Emma grew silent. What exactly did Steed mean by that? She didn't actually know if Steed didn't remember what he had said, or if he did remember but didn't want to discuss it in a forthright manner, for whatever reason. Sometimes he acted ignorant, though he was actually dancing around a topic. She might not ever know the truth, but the fact was she did remember, she had heard, she had understood. They had seen all manners of scientific wonders in their years together as agents, and it wasn't so hard to believe that other wonders existed in the world that science couldn't explain. She would choose to believe that was true.
He didn't have the reserve to make love to her again, but they both settled for knowing that being in love felt just as good.
A few days later Mrs. Peel was again doing the simple errands that single people were forced to regularly do. Pick up the dry cleaning. Do the food shopping. Buy new light bulbs. Etc. Having only had a piece of toast for breakfast, she was hungry around 11:00, and decided on a quick bite at a little French bistro that had superb coffee and even better scones. Pulling up at the kerb, she leapt out and was seated at a table for two, affecting an air of diffidence and contempt directed at a table of four gentlemen who regarded her with obvious lust and mutual nudges.
She sat down and open the menu, and once more her eyes almost jumped out of their sockets. She read the food offerings listed:
EMF scone-a mouth-drying, bone weakening luxury that one needs an axe to cut through.
Hellfire scone-comes in the shape of a snake.
Silent Dust scone-chalky scone that if fed to birds, kills them.
Trip to Switzerland scone-Comes with two full sets of packed luggage, plane tickets, private mountain chalet and several new watches.
Her head shot up and slapping the menu down on her table, without reading the rest of her choices, she gained the attention of the other diners. Ignoring them, she stood up looking for Steed. She found him outside the window, leaning casually against his Bentley, which was parked across the street, lifting his bowler to her, two suitcases resting on his car's back seat. Grabbing her handbag, she left the bistro and strode purposely across the street.
"Choose your scone?" he asked, innocently.
"Now. Tell me. How do you do it?"
"How do I do what? Make reservations in Switzerland? First I call up my travel agent-"
"-You're never going to tell me, are you?"
There it was, his adorable little boy's face, a forty-five year old face without wrinkles, open, gentle and sweet. "No," he said, maturely leaving off sticking his tongue out at her.
She stood there, arms crossed, acting a bit petulant, but not really feeling that way.
He took a bag out of the front seat of his car and held it up in front of her. "French roast coffee and a blueberry scone, your favorite. Do you mind eating it on the way to the airport?"
She wanted to rush into his arms, to lavish him with love, but in public there was no way she could even consider doing that. It would have to wait until they were in private, and the urge was so strong there was no reason for her to dally any longer. She ripped the bag from his hand, and nodding to her car said, "Got to go home first and put the food away, and pack."
Steed pointed to the luggage. "You're packed. Trevithick will take care of your belongings."
She glanced at her car and saw another agent getting into her Lotus and driving it away. Emma raised a finger in protest but he was already down the street. Steed opened the door of the car, "If you please, madam."
"Another expense account trip?"
"This time, no. I'm in the mood to treat you to a memorable holiday myself."
There are times to fight, and times to admit defeat. Sniffing the delicious coffee, Emma got into the car. Steed closed her door and hopped over the driver side door, smiling at her as he turned the ignition. She smiled back, he was temporarily mesmerized, and then they headed off to romance in Switzerland, and wherever else life took them.
© Mona Morstein 2002
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)
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