Forgiven but not Forgotten
Steed's Tale -
"Forgiven but not Forgotten"
Prologue to ‘Forgiven but not Forgotten’
I recently felt the need to bridge the gap between Avengers and Amber crossovers and return the duo to a more typical Avenger tale. In my Amber tale 'Dressed to Kill', the pair was magically cloned. In this way the Amber duo could remain there working for the crown and the duplicates could return to the Ministry and I can satisfy myself that both genres can be resolved (at least in my own mind).
As far as the duplicate pair is concerned, Amber doesn't exist; there is no knowledge of it. The world ‘we’ know as Avengerland is just a part of what can be referred to as the Cineverse Shadow Earth. Shadow Earth (from Roger Zelazny’s Amber novels) is any of an infinite number of inter-dimensional realities based upon the Earth (refer to ‘Sliders’ if it will make it easier). The place called Cineverse (from Craig Shaw Gardner’s Cineverse Cycle) is a small subset of those Shadow Earth’s, where anything we see on TV or on the cinema is very ‘real’ in that universe.
'The Forget-Me-Knot' is a temporary ending of the partnership between Steed and Mrs. Peel and the beginning of this tale. A couple of years have passed since 'The Forget-Me-Knot'. Tara went on to other things. Steed took an extended leave of absence. Purdey and Gambit are not yet part of the genre. Emma has found her way back to Steed and things are as they should be.
Returning to the Ministry won't be easy because their last visit with Mother ended rather badly. In this story I briefly describe what happened during that visit and the following visit a few months later. Some cases just refuse to be forgotten...
Steed and Mrs. Peel drove the Bentley from his flat, stopped for petrol, and went for a drive. It was a lovely warm and clear summer morning, perfect for a drive in a convertible. Mrs. Peel wanted to go on a picnic first, but Steed had insisted that this visit couldn’t be put off any longer. Knowing the reason for it, she settled for a light breakfast and was sipping on her coffee from a thermos cup as though it would be her last meal. Steed was quiet and expected the worst from this meeting. He was usually right, so she enjoyed her coffee letting the warmth of it take her mind off the bad vibes she got from Steed.
She had warned him that Mother wasn’t going to be happy with them, but both agreed that it couldn’t be helped. What was the worst thing that could happen? They knew, but ‘again’ it couldn’t be helped. So, Mrs. Peel kept returning to the reassuring warmth of her coffee. She needed to keep her edge and keep focused.
Along the final turn, they followed the lane along the red brick wall that encompassed the grounds. They followed the path to the wrought iron gate. Parking in the shade, Steed leaped over the door, somewhat slower than usual these days; then in his gentlemanly fashion, he helped Mrs. Peel out of the vehicle. They walked to the gate and Steed rang the bell with the tip of his umbrella. The prodigal pair returns, after a long absence.
A white haired grounds-keeper greets them and opens the gate.
"Good morning, Giles." Steed calls out.
"Good morning, sir. Good morning, madam."
"Is Mother home?"
"She hasn't been out all week."
"Poor thing. How are the bulbs coming on?"
"Coming along nicely, sir."
As if it were only yesterday, thought the undercover man. Their greeting more meaningful and effective than a string of passwords and more satisfactory. They walked along the wooded grounds to the expansive Victorian mansion. There are a few guards in black and gray suits. Slight bulges under their jackets reveal the fact they are carrying firearms. Steed tips his bowler and withdraws his pass.
After a quick weapons search, one of the guards escorts them into the inner sanctum of the Ministry headquarters – the one that Steed has been assigned to for the last few years of his long career. The other guard is using his radio, notifying others. Mother knows they are here. The guard leads them down a hall with vases, paintings, and other items pleasing to the senses. Then on the left, an over-sided door decorated with smoked and etched glass is opened to reveal a waiting area. There are chairs, cabinets, vases, and more artwork filling the room; designed to make one comfortable.
A slender bearded gentleman comes out to see the pair. Steed calls out. "Simon! Simon Filson, it has been ages. Still taking care of Mother, I see. Good man." Steed moves over to a cabinet and fingers a scale-model cannon that he once used to disarm Simon. "Some things never change."
Simon smiles and pauses when he sees Steed by the cannon, then frowns. Wishing often that he destroyed the miserable thing, a reminder of the ease in which Steed subdued him. Instead it has served as a reminder to be more alert and careful. "Steed. It ‘has’ been a long time. After your retirement, you dropped from sight. No one knew where you were. Hello Mrs. Peel, it is nice to see you again."
"Good morning Simon."
"Taking care of family business. Do I get to see Mother?"
"If I said no, would it matter?" Simon gave Steed a level gaze.
"I'm afraid not, old boy." Steed gave him his broadest smile, knowing that he could drop Simon before he moved an inch.
"I see. Some things ‘indeed’ never change. As it is, Mother is expecting you."
"Excellent! We don't want to keep Mother waiting. Do we, Simon?" Steed motions to Simon to have him lead the way.
Without a word, Simon turns and escorts them into a large room. It is well lit by the door, darker on the other side. There are two chairs, many ladders with phones on them, filing cabinets with agents' records, and a large drink cart with bottles and glasses. There are hanging straps throughout the room. The familiar sound of rolling rubber on polished floor is heard, a wheelchair moves from the darkness. The lights get brighter.
"John! It ‘is’ you!" Approaching is a portly English gentleman in a wheelchair, smiling warmly. "Mrs. Peel, I’m so glad you came along too."
"Mother! You haven't aged a day."
"Flattery will get you nowhere, John. If you left again without seeing me, Mother would have been quite cross. Good job on stopping that damned Creed invasion. It had your handwriting all over it. Now, I thought you retired. So, what’s all this about?"
The Creed invasion referred to a cybernetic infestation that occurred a year ago. Another mad scientist whose attempt at merging humans and cybernetic components that went horribly wrong. Doctor Armstrong’s cybernaut concepts were used in combination with a bio-engineer’s insane concept of the future. Members of the population were kidnapped and converted to zombie-like mindless cybernetic pawns of Doctor Creed. The thought of an army of human cybernauts still filled the pair with revulsion.
"I'm afraid I can't take full credit for it. It was Mrs. Peel who alerted me to it. There were others who assisted us. It was a large team effort, and yes I ‘am’ retired. I just couldn't let those things go unchallenged."
"Of course, how are you, my dear Mrs. Peel?"
"I can't complain, there hasn't been time to."
"We have been traveling the countryside together, for the last few weeks."
"Did you come to return to the organization, ending your sabbatical?"
"Tempting but no. I'm glad our operatives are ever alert. I have missed the organization, and you as well, old friend. I am still involved in family business - family security, you might say. I hope the Creed cleanup went well, with minimum losses."
"That's what we pay them for, John. Brandy?"
"Let me, I still get little exercise around here." He pulls himself with a cane on the strap, swinging slowly from strap to strap to the ladder, then supporting himself on the ladder while pouring the drinks with his free hand.
Handing the drink to Steed. "Cheers!"
Holding the glass up. "To your health, Mother."
Mrs. Peel smiles. "Thank you, Mother."
They sip their drinks.
Mother finishes his drink and swings his way back to the chair. "Well John, what do we owe for the pleasure of this visit; after saving the world again?"
"I would like gossip and a teeny favor. Pretty minor requests, nothing to jeopardize security."
"Steed, jeopardizing security." He looks at Simon, pointing at Steed, and heartily laughs. "You hear that, Simon?"
"Yes, Mother." It is obviously 'not' amusing to Simon; he has absolutely no sense of humor.
"Dear boy! You've been one of my most trusted agents for years. Sit down and we will talk. I will do what I can. No promises, though."
Steed spreads his arms and smiles. "That's all I ask."
They discuss old partners and what they were up to.
Any detailed information would be restricted, unless Steed cared to reenlist. Now for the favor, one that Steed knew would be the turning point. "Mother, do you remember the dart-guns that Mrs. Peel, Tara, and I confiscated, when we captured the traitor George Burton? They are silver with a telescoping barrel and red gas cylinders on each side of the barrel."
"Yes." His brow narrows.
"If it has been unclassified, I would like to take them off your hands. Temporarily of course, including the remaining batch of darts and gas cylinders. I realize that this is a most irregular request."
"Indeed it is. Did you know our chemists have been unable to analyze the make up of the drug or how it worked? Of course they stopped their research long ago – it was getting nowhere."
"I'm not surprised. In the last months, I learned more about it. George got help in the development of the drug. Perhaps I could arrange more research for the Ministry."
"What is your plans with it, John?"
"Emma and I are on our way overseas to a royal party, a crown affair. It involves family, so naturally I am concerned about security, the royal host and ours. I would also like to prevent any international incidents. Our host has had many attempts on his life. A quiet weapon may come in handy. Also, someone may see something they shouldn't. That could prove inconvenient. You know how noisy a Walther is, and it is so permanent. I would rather not kill anyone, if possible. I will return it later, along with any information about the drug that I can uncover."
Mother massages his chin in thought. "I will see what can be done. I will have to call the lab to authorize transport, I don't even know if there are any more of the drug darts left. Look, I know you are both in a hurry. Wait in the next room, while I make a few calls.
Simon escorts them to the next room. "Steed. Mrs. Peel. Make yourselves comfortable, we will return shortly." Simon is attempting a smile, which gives Steed a bad feeling.
"Simon is pleased about something. Probably means bad news for us, Mrs. Peel."
Simon and Mother disappear behind the closed door. The sound reverberates across the room, from the quite solid door. The room is bare, save for two flimsy chairs. There is a mirror along one wall. On the far wall, there is a small ventilation duct - too small to crawl through. A perfect holding cell.
Mrs. Peel verbalized Steed’s assessment. "Steed, it looks as though we are Mother's 'guests' for awhile."
The pair checks their reflection in the mirror. Steed examines the mirror and can tell that they are being observed from the other side of the mirror. Mrs. Peel is yawning. Yawning? She rarely ever yawns and she just slept for eight hours and had plenty of coffee – thought Steed. They feel a draft coming from the duct. Steed yawns as well. Steed and Mrs. Peel realize that they are being drugged with sleeping gas!
Steed remembers Simon's words. "After your retirement, you dropped from sight. No one knew where you were." He also remembers the ongoing policy of which Simon so proudly and often reminds Mother. "If a man goes missing, he becomes suspect."
Over an intercom, Mother’s voice is heard. "My apologies, John and Mrs. Peel. Before you undergo your interrogation, you already know that the dart-guns and darts you are inquiring about have vanished around the time when you left. I am curious why you have returned, acting as though you are unaware of that fact. What is your game, Steed? Since you are the ‘only’ suspects in the theft, you will be taken to a place where we can determine whose side you are on. I promise you will be well cared for. Be seeing you, Steed and Mrs. Peel!"
With no readily available means of escape, both are becoming weaker. Steed uses the umbrella tip to push into the ceiling tile. It goes through but stops within inches, hitting metal. Trapped. Before Steed loses consciousness, he conceals his action – turning a knob on the handle of his brolly – activating some electronic device.
They move slowly to the door, they stumble and collapse into oblivion.
To make a long story short, they passed out and woke in the Village. The details of their imprisonment and eventual escape are long and unimportant, and are meant for another story. Afterwards, the pair kept hidden from Ministry eyes until it was time to make their move. Needless to say, there are people in the Ministry have a policy of looking after their own, regardless ‘who’ is in charge. Long-standing personal debts are paid in full and often in blood.
Several months later, Steed and Mrs. Peel return to London. Steed was glad that Mrs. Peel accompanied him. She insisted – no, ‘demanded’ that she go along to help him at Amber Synthetics and later in London. He came to depend on her presence. The time they were separated was sheer misery to him, but he would never admit to it openly.
When Emma finally located Steed to tell him that ‘they were needed…’ to confront the Creed invasion and to tell him of her final separation with Peter Peel – it rejuvenated Steed. Witnessing her treatment in the Village was almost too much to bear and he would not allow that to happen again.
They worked out their plan and both agreed that this was their best option. Not perfect by any stretch, but indeed their best option. Mrs. Peel was especially fond of the part about the blackmail. She knew that Mother would be positively livid!
Steed left Mrs. Peel at Knight Industries and took the rental car for a drive. The Ministry still has his Bentley locked up and he hoped to get it back.
Steed thought to himself that she would be safe there, until it is time to make her move. We are trying to prevent a re-occurrence of our last visit, and I don’t relish another visit to the Village. Mother may still be cross with me, but that can’t be helped.
Along the final turn, he follows the road along the red brick wall that encompasses the grounds. He follows the path to the wrought iron gate. Parking in the shade, Steed leaps over the door, walks to the gate, and rings the bell with the tip of his umbrella. The prodigal son returns, again.
A white haired grounds-keeper greets him and opens the gate.
"Good morning, Giles." Steed calls out.
"Good morning, sir."
"Is Mother home?"
"She hasn't been out all week."
"Poor thing. How are the bulbs coming on?"
"Coming along nicely, sir. Thank you."
The undercover man walks along the wooded grounds to the expansive Victorian mansion. There are more guards than usual in black and gray suits. He tips his bowler. "I’m expected."
A brief search of Steed for weapons, including a metal detecting wand, turned up nothing. Only the bowler and brolly were his weapons and they knew it. They also knew not to deprive him of them, unless he offered – and he wasn’t about to. The guard that appears to be in charge of this lot gave him a curt nod and motions him ahead. This time he is escorted. Two guards on each side of him. They are more alert to the surroundings than to Steed’s movements. Steed thought, my! I seem to have ruffled some feathers.
One of the thugs escorts Steed into the inner sanctum of the headquarters. Another guard is using his radio, notifying others. Mother knows Steed has arrived. He is escorted down the hall. The over-sided door on the left is opened into a waiting area.
A slender bearded gentleman comes out to collect Steed. "Hello again, Simon, it has been awhile. Taking good care of Mother?"
Simon attempts a smile. "Steed, it has been awhile. After your last visit, I didn’t think you would ever return."
"My family business kept me busy for awhile, but I always expected to return, like a bad penny." Steed grins evilly. "Do I get to see Mother now?"
"Yes, Mother is expecting you."
"Excellent! We don't want to keep Mother waiting. Do we, Simon?" Steed waves his hand to have Simon lead the way.
Without a word, Simon turns and escorts Steed into a very familiar large room. The room has been redecorated, but is functionally the same as Steed remembers.
"That will be all, Rhonda, you may go. You too, Simon, leave us." The woman who pushed Mother’s wheelchair was striking in many ways. She was blonde, very tall, fairly attractive, and silent. Almost like an Amazon out of Norse lore. To Steed’s memory, she has never spoken a word. It was unknown to him if she was a mute or if she preferred to be silent for Mother’s benefit. She nods and leaves through a far door. Simon leaves through the door that he came in. Mother turns to Steed, smiling. "John, my boy!"
"Hello, Mother. It’s nice to see you again." Steed tries to present his warmest smile.
"It’s nice to see you, too. Brandy?"
He pours for both of them.
Handing the drink to Steed. "Cheers!"
Holding the glass up. "To your health, Mother."
They both drink.
"John, I must admit that I was surprised to hear from you again. That was very naughty, escaping from the Village. I trust they took good care of you?"
Steed paused after a sip of the brandy. "Apparently, they hadn’t received any request from you for special treatment. They tried to brainwash Mrs. Peel. Fortunately, I got her out in time." With some outside help, he thinks to himself. "I haven’t decided if I have forgiven you for allowing Mrs. Peel to be so ill-treated in that damnable place."
"Steed, I’m shocked!" Mother looked embarrassed. "I suppose I should have expected it. I’m truly sorry about all that. They were only supposed to determine if it was truly you and not some impostor – and to get more information about the missing drugs - nothing excessive."
With a grave expression on his face, Steed looks into his glass. "Good. I’m glad to hear you say that. Because, I intend to return there later and level that five-star prison resort. I will take great pleasure in killing their Number 1 personally when I find him, I treated their Number 2 fairly enough – as well as he treated us. I plan to release all the prisoners, regardless which side they are on. I haven’t yet decided what to do with the warders. Their treatment of Mrs. Peel was inexcusable – but they were only doing their job... I thought it was only fair to let you know why."
"I appreciate that. Maybe some day you will tell me how you managed all that. You realize that you are taking chances in being here again."
"I don’t suppose you would believe me if I told you that I ‘expected’ to be captured and had arrangements for escape already made. And I expect not to be captured ‘this’ time." Steed took another sip of brandy. "You can use a trusted ally, Mother. Every time there is a power struggle, you get closer to being shipped there yourself. Hopefully I will tell you the story, very soon. You may even decide to help, ‘before’ you are forced into retiring there. I saw what happened to some of their more important guests, and it’s not pretty." I gave him the wickedest grin I could manage. "Not at all pretty, old friend."
The look on his face spoke volumes; I struck a sensitive nerve. "John, old friend, surely you came here to discuss more than plans for my retirement."
"Of course, but surprisingly enough that ‘is’ one of the things I came to discuss. That is, the ‘prevention’ of your involuntary retirement. I’m rather fond of having you for a boss."
"I appreciate your loyalty. Well, Steed, you have my undivided attention. You realize that we are being monitored and recorded, for security reasons of course. If you prefer discretion…"
"That is fine, I expected as much. Before I begin, I want to thank you for the faith you had in me long ago. In our last encounter, you seemed to have lost it."
"You’re welcome, I always had faith in ‘our’ Steed, I just wasn’t sure it was ‘our’ Steed before."
"Like now." Steed took another sip.
"As you say, like now. I gave you the benefit of the doubt every time, old friend, although procedures dictate otherwise. Yes, procedures that I wrote and of which Simon incessantly reminds me."
"Yes… Simon… It’s good to have someone nearby one can really ‘trust’…"
Mother looked at Steed quizzically, but didn’t remark.
Steed looked thoughtful and continued. "I was less than honest with you on my last visit. I did file for retirement – or extended leave of absence – to help with the family business. My Uncle Gerard Borimen (on my mother’s side of the family) contacted me about some problems. He was unaware of my connection with the Ministry, just as the Ministry was unaware of my connection with Amber Synthetics. He was aware of my skills in investigative work and not being known by most in the company made it easier to assist him with his problem. After I learned of the circumstances, I felt it prudent that the Ministry was kept even further in the dark about it."
"Steed, you aren’t implying…"
"Mother, as you know, there was… were, Ministry agents working against you at the time. I eliminated several of them for you before I initially left. After talking with Gerard, I ‘knew’ there were others. If anyone knew why I really left, the rats would have scampered off before I could catch them."
"Understandable, what did your uncle tell you?"
"First I want to explain something. You are probably aware that Amber Synthetics is a company that designs custom polymers. They are involved in things like Kevlar, armour shielding, vehicle armour, high-impact glass and plastics, and weapon designs – very high-tech polymer research. They are as crucial for our military as Knight Industries is for their computer technology. They are very complimentary and cooperative industries." Steed paused to let that sink in.
Mother knitted his eyebrows. "This explains why Mrs. Peel is not with us. And this also explains why you arranged this meeting. When I heard that Knight Industries and Amber Synthetics filed a report through ‘unofficial’ channels that the Ministry would be personally responsible and accountable for any harm that may fall upon you or Mrs. Peel. They would declare all contracts with the government null and void – to protect their interests. Then they will offer their products to ‘other’ interested governments. It may end up in the courts, but the end effect would be that our military would suffer until it is all sorted out. Steed, if it was anyone else, I would consider this extortion."
"Mother! Extortion is such an ‘ugly’ word. Think of it as our insurance policy until I was heard out. If I am not heard from in, say 12 hours - both corporations will carry out their promise. But let’s not dwell on those unpleasant issues. May I continue?"
"As I said before, you have my undivided attention. And remind me ‘not’ to play chess with you later."
"Thank you, sir. Mrs. Peel tells me that I play very dirty." Steed grinned at the thought of her and hoped that she had things ready. "My Uncle Gerard informed me that there was a rash of missing documents. At first it seemed that some might have been misplaced. Having a suspicious nature, he planted a sensitive document (with some subtle errors so it wouldn’t jeopardize any projects) and leaked out information of its existence. Later that evening there was a break-in."
"Were there any clues?"
"Most striking was that the guards did not remember any visitors. Or anything else! Apparently they suffered from amnesia."
Mother was leaning forward and almost fell back in his wheelchair - hard. "Dear lord, you don’t mean."
"I’m afraid so. Someone else has been using the memory-removing drug that we got from the traitor George Burton. Either the same group had other agents or…"
He scowls. "Or ‘someone’ else in the Ministry had taken the drugs – without my knowledge or approval. Either way, they were involved in industrial espionage. Damn them! Sorry, Steed. I didn’t ‘think’ it was you, but…"
"Understood. So, when Mrs. Peel and I visited last time and asked (very politely) to see, examine, and borrow the drugs. We already suspected we were too late, the missing items confirmed everything. And we expected that we would look culpable. And I couldn’t tell you ‘why’ because…"
"Because there was someone ‘very’ close to me that had probably taken it and would have discovered exactly why you were asking about it. I can see that ‘now’ Steed!" Mother almost shouted. "It must have pleased that person immensely to see me have you both carted off to that retched place."
"That would be a fair assessment."
"Damn it Steed, you could have somehow told me what was going on and alerted me who the bounder is?"
"To blow what leads I had to a double agent working at your elbow. Thank you, no. I didn’t know ‘who’ it was. Perhaps you can devise a way to talk with someone without ‘anyone’ overhearing it. Security can work ‘against’ you just as well as it can ‘for’ you."
"I will give it some thought. Strike that, a ‘lot’ of thought." He sighed as though he had suddenly aged considerably. "You both could have been killed or worse."
"I know, but it was a risk that I had to take. Our current insurance policy is supposed to prevent that from being an eventuality. I dislike being shot. It ruins a perfectly good suit and it takes longer for me to heal than in the old days."
"Good thinking, but I must admit it made me unhappy when I received word of your ‘insurance policy’. Everyone was on their toes and absolutely miserable when you arrived. Security is concerned that there would be an attempt on your life in our front yard. The repercussions of that would have extended to the ears of the Prime Minister and the Royal family! You had placed us in a very uncomfortable position."
"Consider us ‘even’ then." Steed smiled. "When Mother’s not happy, no one is happy. That old quote?"
"Very well, we are even then. And you are right, no one was happy. Please continue with the rest of the tale, perhaps you can supply us a happy ending. You escaped the Village and presumably returned to Amber Synthetics."
"Yes, to continue our investigation. Gerard was quite concerned about my prolonged absence. I am his favorite nephew and he thought that I was in the hands of the industrial spies. I left out the real events, for obvious reasons."
Steed continued. "Gerard runs the corporation like a closely knit family business. He knows and can vouch for nearly every person in his employ. He pays them very well and their loyalty is hardly in question. Gerard had narrowed down the list of suspects to three new employees; all from London and all were well qualified in their prospective fields. Background checks turned up nothing questionable. The files were glowing and extensive, verified by the Ministry. The name on the authorization is what really caught my attention. George Burton."
"The traitor that you, Mrs. Peel, and Miss King captured."
"Precisely." I paused to let it sink in. "Three rogue Ministry agents involved in stealing industrial secrets. Burton influence reached beyond our knowledge, there may be other companies getting a similar treatment. Only my connection to Amber Synthetics exposed his plans. So, now we know that the same men who worked for Burton, now works for this double agent."
"Yes and that does seem to be the pattern, a team leader and his two henchmen."
"Agreed. However, it was too soon to contact you. I wanted to recover my uncle’s documents first and search for more clues. Mrs. Peel and I discovered their residences and thoroughly checked them out."
"We recovered most of the documents, but found no trace of the dart-guns and darts. Presumably, they kept them on their persons. They appeared to be on their way for another break-in and we were only minutes behind them. A guard was unconscious at the gate and we surprised two of the men popping open locked filing cabinets in the restricted research offices."
Steed paused and considered his next words. "Do you remember what was discovered about the drug?"
Mother gave it some thought, considering what he knew of the details. "Our team has been unable to duplicate it because it was organic in nature. I understand that it is a neuro-toxin, like a derivative of spider venom or snake venom. The creature that the venom originated from is not known. The victim passes out and when they come to, memory is lost but eventually recovers (depending on the amount of the drug and the metabolism of the victim). It interferes with the synapses of the brain that affects memory.
"Right. The key point is that it is ‘very much’ like venom. Eventually, immunity is developed to the drug. Much like a snake-handler that has developed limited immunity to frequent bites. After repeated doses, depending on the individual, the drug no longer affects you as badly."
"Steed, how on Earth did you ever discover that? None of our researchers informed me of that."
"Because they didn’t have a guinea pig to try it out. Only Mrs. Peel, Sean Mortimer, and myself were the only ones exposed to large doses of the drug. And none of us would have ever volunteered for additional exposure. The higher the doses, the quicker one becomes immune."
"During the break-in, the two men pulled out their dart guns and shot us both. There was some initial dizziness, but it passed quickly. We subdued them with no apparent after effects. Apparently Mrs. Peel and I are now immune to the drug."
"However, we still had the third man at large. Gerard was working in the lab nearby and heard the commotion. He surveyed the room, smiled, and phoned security to hold the men until we found their partner. Mrs. Peel and I finally had in our possession two of the dart-guns and a supply of darts. I gave Gerard a few of the darts so that he could run some tests. He contacted his entire staff and they worked on it solidly for days. As far as I know, they are still working on it."
"A full search turned up nothing. The third member of the triumvirate had vanished. I contacted someone I could trust in London to do a check on the third man. The name of the man is Willis Hardy."
"The Ministry file provided his last known address in London. It was late afternoon when we entered the apartment. On a table there was a glass of ice water. It still containing some ice indicating that he had left a short while ago. Our prey was good at covering up his tracks, leaving few clues to his whereabouts. Mrs. Peel picked up the phone and hit the ‘redial’ button. She motioned for me to listen. It rang and someone picked up the phone. ‘Rand Enterprises, may I help you?’ spoke the voice on the other end. Mrs. Peel indicated that it was a wrong number and returned the phone to the cradle."
"Steed, wait a minute. Rand Enterprises was a Ministry cover-organization. It burned down two days ago."
"Yes, was…" Steed frowned. "We went to see what the connection was. We found Hardy in an office, behind a desk, reclined in a leather chair. He was unconscious from one of those darts. Timed incendiary devices were triggered all around the building, quickly igniting paper and wood. The roof caved in around us. We were nearly trapped but got out in time, but couldn’t save Hardy. We discovered later that there were other bodies were in the building. The fire was set to destroy all evidence and remove the connection to the unknown double agent."
"I remember the report. Ghastly business. I didn’t know you were on the scene."
"The last dart gun wasn’t on Hardy. Presumably your double agent has it, with the remaining supply of darts. He is the one responsible for murdering all those people and he is still at large."
Steed’s senses were at full alert, prepared for what should happen next. "My contact in London performed one last service for me. He provided a list of agents who were present in the Rand building from the computer door access files. And a list of those who were identified that perished in the fire. The missing people were potential suspects. It was too easy, for there was only one man missing and he happened to be here when the fire occurred. Your double agent is here in the building and his name is..."
A voice came from behind Steed. "You should have let it drop, Steed." The voice from the shadows belonged to Simon Filson. "Don’t worry. I disabled all the security monitors a while ago and everyone out there is drugged and asleep, even your dear dependable Rhonda. They will remember nothing and there will be no clues as to what happened – or is going to happen. That computer door access system, I expected it to be destroyed in the fire. I was so close…" He stepped out of the shadows, a revolver in one hand and the dart-gun in the other. The gun was aimed at Steed and the dart-gun at Mother.
"Simon! In God’s name, why man?" Mother shouted.
"Mother, it’s time that you were replaced. You see - Steed is going to be blamed for trying to kill you. You won’t remember anything – for a long while I’m afraid. I will kill Steed, defending you. No witnesses or evidence to prove otherwise and I will take Mother’s place. You will be well cared for in the Village, like Steed and Mrs. Peel ‘should’ have been. Steed was quite correct in being concerned about your early retirement. After I have dealt with you both, Mrs. Peel will have to be eliminated or at least neutralized, unable to interfere with my plans."
"When Burton was captured, I came up with the idea of striking out on my own. I was fed up being your toady, Mother. I should have been put in charge! I ‘will’ be in charge! So, I took the dart-guns and darts and put them to use for stealing industrial secrets. I found a copy of the document that Steed mentioned – recommending the men to Amber Synthetics. With the information I found on Burton, I knew where to find the men to do the work for me. No one else was aware of the connection. Everything went smoothly until Steed paid a visit to Amber Synthetics. His arrival put all my plans at risk. I knew that he wasn’t under Ministry orders - I kept any information about it out of Mother’s hands. If I knew there was a family connection… Well, there’s no crying over spilt milk."
Simon gloats a bit. "I am going to enjoy killing you Steed, very much. I’m glad you told Mother about the immunity of the drug. That detail will go to the graves with both of you, I’m afraid."
"There is someone else who knows about it, Simon." The voice belonging to Mrs. Peel came from the shadows. "It’s about time you made your move, I was getting bored waiting for you." She advanced at him quickly.
Simon turned in Mrs. Peel’s direction and pulled the trigger. It was the dart-gun. She staggered but kept moving forward. Before Simon could level the gun at her, Steed struck. Knocking both guns from his hands and spun him around.
Mother withdraws a secreted gun and trains it on Simon, but finds it difficult with Steed in the way.
Simon's guns slid on the floor towards Emma. Steed aims a punch below the breastbone, knocking the wind out of Simon. Simon backs up and recovers enough to block the uppercut to his jaw. They trade punches, until Steed deftly steps aside when Simon tries for a hard right. Overbalanced, Simon is grabbed and thrown to the ground and rolls out of range.
Sensing that he has lost this battle, Simon searches for the nearest place where a Plan B can be implemented. He sprints to the front exit. A soft pop is heard and Simon stumbles as if tripped. He struggles to get up, but falls unconscious.
A shadowy figure steps from the main door. "Very good shot, Mrs. Peel. You didn't need me to block the exit after all. I turned all the security equipment back on after Simon revealed himself. I think we have enough evidence to put him away for a long while."
Emma smiles. "Simon appears to be blissfully ignorant of his fate."
Mother strains his vision to see the figure in the shadows. "Who is that?"
Mrs. Peel responds first. "Mother, surely you remember the only other person who is immune to the darts. And the brains behind our plan to bring Simon into the open."
"Sean Mortimer? Good man!"
There is obvious relief in his voice. "Yes, Mother. I'm glad you are safe again – for a while anyway. Thanks, Steed. Thanks, Mrs. Peel. I knew you would come through for us."
Steed advances to shake Sean’s hand. "My pleasure, Sean. Mother, Sean was my contact in London. The only other person I could trust with the investigation. And as Mrs. Peel said, this trap was his idea."
Mother leveled a gaze at Emma. "Mrs. Peel, that was a brave but rather foolish thing to do. Simon could have killed you."
"Not foolish, Mother, I approached from the side where he could only reach me with the dart-gun. I guess that he forgot which was which."
Mother turned to Steed. "And Steed, you took a big chance turning yourself over to the Ministry with Simon loose."
"I counted on him listening in on our discussion. I was just the bait. Sean and Mrs. Peel waited for the right moment. I was – we were - in good hands. They coordinated everything through Rhonda. Only 'she' knew what was going to happen. As long as the monitoring equipment was in operation, Simon couldn't take the chance to kill anyone - too much noise - even with a silencer. However the dart-gun was a different story."
"Oh yes, Mother, there is one more loose end. I didn’t mention it before because Simon may have chose not to reveal himself. Remember the Ministry agents from the Rand offices?"
"Yes, poor souls."
"You will be pleased to learn that they are in good hands and resting comfortably. When Mrs. Peel hit the 'redial' button and we discovered the Rand connection, we got off the phone and called Sean to join us. He gathered a few closely trusted agents to accompany him. We were able to locate and rescue all of the employees before the fire engulfed the building. Including the computer access door files, it provided Simon’s name. Sean kept them secreted in a safe house - including Hardy. Hardy eagerly named Simon as his contact; he was rather upset to discover that he was left to die. The story reported that all were lost, so that Simon would think that all was well for him. Also Sean's idea."
Steed and Mrs. Peel did their best sales pitch, but it wasn't actually needed. Steed spoke up. "Well, Mother, it looks like Simon's position has suddenly become vacant. Any ideas for a replacement?"
Mother smiled broadly. "I don’t think I'm likely to forget my choice. How about it Sean?"
"Mother, I'm honored beyond words. Thank you."
"Good, now that we've settled that. There is something else that we need to discuss. I recall that someone has used up way too much vacation time. It's time you got back in the saddle, John. Have you had enough time playing family man yet?"
"Well, it 'was' nice while it lasted. Mrs. Peel, what say you?"
"I rather liked things the way they were before I left."
"Even better, my dear. Mother, you have a deal. But first, I think that Mrs. Peel and I have a side trip planned. You could arrange transportation for us, but this time we would like to be awake to enjoy the scenery along the way."
Mother shook his head. "My God, I honestly think that you two could pull it off."
Steed smiled. "With a little help from our friends, of course."
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