Authors: Barbara Spencer
Copyright Â© 2013 Barbara Spencer
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To all the fans of Running, who asked for another adventure
* * *
Legend of the Five Javean
The Jack Burnside Adventures:
A Dangerous Game of Football and
The Bird Children
A Fishy Tail
* * *
For Younger Readers
A Serious Case of Chicken-itis
The man paused and glanced back, his hand on the doorknob.
His words registered in Scott's brain like a solid weight. Surprisingly, he no longer felt scared. Drained of energy, tiredness swept through his body blocking every sensation. Too tired even to keep battling. He eyed the open door. Once that closed it was over â all the anguish and pain. The door closed and silence fell. Pete drew his weapon. âYou always were a gutsy kid,' he drawled. âI'm almost reluctant to kill you.'
Scott raised his head wearily. Like a juggernaut running amok, these people had become unstoppable. âThen don't.'
âSorry, kid.' He aimed the barrel of his weapon at Scott's chest. âAs I told you before â this isn't personal. It's business.'
Scott watched the finger on the trigger tighten and shut his eyes.
The porter tapped politely before opening the door a crack, coughing loudly to alert the occupants of the room to his presence.
âMr Randal, sir, a visitor,' he announced, his voice carefully schooled to sound portentous.
The young man sitting by the window, his feet on the desk, was tall and dark with fine features that had stopped short of Homeric good looks by a broken nose and a kink in the jaw line â left from a high-speed collision with a tree while out skiing.
At the sight of the thin figure peering over the porter's burly shoulders, he leapt to his feet, a half-eaten doughnut dangling from his fingers.
âGreat Scott, it's Terry.'
âYou know this gentleman, sir?' The porter stated the obvious, although doubt was still uppermost in his tone. The gentleman in question was most likely one of those Yanks of Irish descent, badly dressed, not even bothering to shave. Not something the hallowed portals of Jesus College, in the fair city of Oxford, encouraged.
âAbsolutely, Bates, we're old climbing buddies.'
âI see.' Pushing the door wide open he stepped to one side, almost grudgingly allowing the visitor to enter. âIn that case, Mr Terry, sir, you are welcome.'
âAnd to what do I owe this pleasure?' Beau's irresponsibly infectious tones burst out as the door finally closed behind the porter.
The middle Randal child ought to have been born on a Sunday. Nothing else would account for the ease with which he floated through life. Monday's child might have been fair of face and Tuesday's full of graceâ¦ But it was only the child born on the Sabbath day to whom the rhyme awarded gifts of being fair and wise and good and gay (in the old-fashioned sense of being happy). And his acceptance into the University of Oxford at seventeen had been as easy as everything else. Surprisingly he had applied to live in Hall and had been lucky enough to be awarded a room in his second year.
By contrast, the man standing by the door might easily have been mistaken for a down-and-out
who hadn't bathed, shaved, or eaten in months. The porter had been correct about his being an American, although for the inhabitants of the eastern seaboard showering and bathing were as much a daily routine as the saluting of the flag in middle-America. And, as Beau knew only too well, the whippet-like figure disguised muscles of unbreakable steel, the result of climbing mountains most weekends when not working. Only the stubble on his chin provided a genuine clue to the man's character, his entire being devoted to the American Secret Service and their pursuit of the men who had destroyed America's reputation as a world leader.
âSit down and take the weight off while you explain what you're doing in Oxford,' Beau babbled cheerfully. âCoffee?'
Sean Terry's steely blue eyes broke into a reluctant smile and he collapsed his angular frame into a conveniently placed armchair. Beau disappeared into a side room, accompanied by the clatter of pottery and the abrupt click of an electric switch.
It was a large room overlooking the outer court with its immaculately kept lawn, the turf as sacred to the college authorities as any religious artefact was to the Church. The old-fashioned casement windows still retained their original wooden shutters, painted white and set deep into a recess on either side of the window. Thick walls and double doors kept sound in; the original oak door left in place as a gesture towards preserving the soul of building. Dark beams spanned a tall ceiling, which was sprinkled with ugly white cables running down the wall, splitting off into fire alarm, telephone and electric lighting, an aesthetically-challenging attempt to provide modern conveniences in a room five centuries old.
Beau stuck his head back into the room. âNice isn't it. Can you believe I also have a kitchen and shower? I'll give you the tour later. May I tempt you with a doughnut? They are quite divine â I pick them up from a bakery on the way back from my run. I hope you're planning on staying. You can join me in the morning if you are â best way to see Oxford, a ten-mile run at six a.m.'
âI'll not say no to a coffee and doughnut. I was up at five. I saw your dad last night. He said you'd taken up athletics.'
Beau reappeared carrying a tray which he placed on the table, passing across a steaming cup of black coffee. âHad to,' he said, sitting down again. âThe old jaw won't take contact sports any more. That's why I'm still here â training stops for no man. Wellâ¦' He shrugged, âHolidays anyhow. Most of the others have already left for the summer. So, Dad?'
Sean Terry took a cautious sip of the steaming liquid. âGood man to have on your side if there's a spot of bother. Nice place you've got here. Historical!'
Beau grinned. âTerry, you didn't drive nearly three hundred miles to discuss the wallpaper. What's going on? Did you lose another Cornish resident?'
âGive it time.' The agent rubbed his chin ruefully. âIt's only a few months since the last one.'
âBill's okay, though.'
âWe were lucky there. Fraction of an inch either way and Scott'ud be an orphan right now. He's home â and mending nicely but that's about all. Got one of my men stationed there permanently.'
âStill hates my guts. Thinks I'll try and involve his dad again.'
âAnd will you?'
âI need him to convince the UN that America didn't blow up Iran and we aren't the bad guysâ¦'
Beau grinned. âThey already know that.'
Terry responded with a scowl. âBut getting them to admit it, that's a whole different ball game. In any event, he and the Styrus project should stay together. No one else really understands itâ¦'
âSo you are getting him involved again. Scott won't like that one little bit.'
Terry dropped back into his chair and gave a curt nod. âI know. Still, it's only till the UN scientists get up to speed. Hey, give me some credit, I'm into good deeds these days.'
Things are definitely serious.' Beau grinned wickedly and took a bite of his doughnut. âBut with you at the helm don't be surprised when it backfires.'
Terry acknowledged the hit with a rueful smile. âOkay, so in my walk of life good deeds are a sign of weakness. But they're a decent family and I like young Scott. He doesn't trust me, never has, and makes sure I know it; not by anything he says or does, but it's there deep down â tightly controlled. I admire that in a kid. That's why he can climb, because he's able to control his emotions.' He leaned back in his seat and picked up his coffee cup, wrapping both hands round it. âOnce Bill is totally recovered and the UN are out of the way, I'll drag them back to the States â they'll be safe there.'
âYou mean they might still be in danger? How come? The bad guys ran away.'
âDid they though?' The agent stared across at Beau, his blue eyes deeply serious. âI went over Bill's debriefing. It keeps me awake nights. I was talking to your fatherâ¦'
âDad again! Aren't there any Americans worth talking to?'
Terry ignored the jibe. âThink about it. Somewhere in Europe is a man with dreams of becoming king. Then Bill and his little team of scientists come along with a world-beating computer virusâ¦'
âIs Styrus really that good?'
âBill says the only way to stop it is to switch computers off â permanently. He admits it was badly named â Black Death would have been more appropriate.'
Silence fell broken only by the sound of distant laughter. âIt's impossible to imagine a world without computers,' Beau said after a moment, his brow furrowed thoughtfully.
âHell yes! That's why the UN must take it on. No one country â not even my own â can be allowed to wield
sort of power. Half the team that created it are dead, Bill captured, and it's not even out of the wrapping paper yet. Okay, so we managed to get him back, but the men responsible vanished with the computer discs, blowing up half of Holland on the way. We were lucky not to have more casualties.'
âFerdinand Aquilla, the mysterious Mr Smith's right-hand man, told Bill â and I quote, “In the big scheme of things, this doesn't even register”.'
âAh!' Beau dusted the sugar off his fingers. âHence the sleepless nights.'
âYep!' Sean Terry's expression took on a grey glaze, his eyes bleak. âI think it's about to get scary â and I've seen scary.'
Beau gave a whistle of surprise. âThe ace detective admits a weakness â whatever next? So what is this good deed you happened to stumble over?' Beau strung his long legs over the arm of the chair.
âOh that!' Terry reached forward and topped up his half-empty coffee cup from the filter jug on the tray. âI suggested Hilary should think about quitting the service.'
âAh! Young love, eh. Very powerful stuff. My advice is: never get involved.'
âHow old are you? Nineteen? Twenty?'
Beau hooted with laughter. âA very old nineteen. I'm right though. Scott might forgive you his dad but not his girlfriend. So why are you unloading this on me?'
âI trust you.'
Beau leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. âTrust and faith â the most seductive words in the English language,' he said dreamily. âTell people you have faith in them, trust them, and they queue up to do your bidding.'
Terry shifted in his seat as if suddenly uncomfortable. âBack at the hospital in Lisse, you said you might like to join our team.'
âAbsolutely, once I've finished my degree â I'm your man.'
âTrouble is â it can't wait.'
Beau's eyes flew open again and he bent forward, his normal amused expression wiped off. âI should have been a betting man. When I saw you standing there, I got this chill deep in my bowels, that was nothing to do with my run earlier in the day. Knew all along you had something up your sleeve. Spit it out.'
âI hope you are still acting this cheerful when I reach the end. It's refreshing.' Sean Terry's voice took on the texture of gravel â harsh and rough. âHave you been keeping up with the news?' Beau gazed across the room, one eyebrow lifted questioningly.
âTwo major conglomerates â rock solid for a century â gone into receivership. Debts galore. What's the betting our Mr Smith is behind it?'
Beau sprinkled some flakes of sugar into his coffee, stirring it briskly. âSo soon?'
âTold you it was getting scary. Do you know what I did last night, and the night before? Watched student riots on
. Belfast suffers riots most weekends; so does Paris, Lyons, Stuttgart, Rome, Lisbon, Brussels â you name it. On any weekend, the police throughout Europe are up to their asses.'
âIsn't that to do with unemployment?' Beau asked
âI don't think so!' The agent cut through Beau's words like a guillotine slicing paper. âOn the face of it, maybe,' he conceded, âbut behind the scenes, I believe they're being orchestrated, and rather carefully too. Aquilla actually boasted to Bill that Europe was packed with angry, unemployed youth who could be manipulated into doing anything.'
âSo how can I help? I'm definitely not angry although you could say I'm unemployed.' Beau reached for the coffee jug.
âI want you to get yourself arrested.'
?' He burst into laughter. âDad would never go for that. It would damage the fair name of Randalâ¦ ' Beau glanced affectionately round the small room, its white walls austere and lacking any form of embellishment except the memories of centuries. âBesides, the College would chuck me out.'
Terry rubbed his ear lobe. âDoug actually thinks it a good idea. Says, it's something he'd have wanted to do at your age.'
âThere's a rally planned for London in the next couple of weeks â royalists determined on bringing back the monarchy. It's an all-across-Europe thing. You know â a bunch of deluded middle-aged people who want to re-write history. Don't be surprised when violence breaks out. Join it. If possible, get yourself arrested. For minor affray you'll most likely end up at one of the new internment camps. All very practical and sensible. Everyone agrees that short, sharp punishments are the way forward.'
âTen years ago, a young immigrant applied to me for a job. Brash chap. Wanted to serve America. I had agents coming out of the woodwork â they weren't needed any more with the US foreign policy in tatters â and reluctantly I sent him away, telling him to keep in touch. He wandered back to Europe and got hired by a nest of villains. To my surprise, he contacted me a few years later offering information in return forâ¦ peanuts, I guess.' Terry shrugged and took a sip of his coffee.
Beau rested both feet on the table, his glance absentmindedly flicking through the window where a couple of sparrows were bickering over a crust of bread on his window sill.
âA job was what he was after in the US, with a green card,' Sean Terry continued his monologue. âFor a couple of years he was involved in some pretty nasty goings on â feeding me information when he could, protecting our interests in Europe. A year ago, he asked me to meet him in Belgium. For some reason, pure instinct, I told no one. Thank God, he wouldn't be alive today if I had.'
Beau raised his eyebrows. âNice people you mix with.'
âIf you look hard enough,' the agent's tone grated harshly, like stone through a crusher, âyou'll meet up with murderers even in the most exclusive society â and don't you ever forget it. You won't live long enough to regret it, if you do.'
âLike that, eh?'
Terry gave a curt nod. âThe chap had changed, coarsened, and he admitted he'd killed. Swore it was necessary to stay alive and become trusted. Had a strange story to tell. One that involved computer scientists and underground cities, in which armies of teenagers were being programmed to set Europe alightâ¦ Those were his exact words.'