For several minutes, nobody spoke. Ben stood near the door of his cell, hands against the bars, as much as he was able, although the handcuffs made even this simple task damnably difficult. He kept his head down, for all the world as if he was more interested in the scuffed leathers of his shoes than in the presence of his companions in misfortune.
Inwardly, however, it was a different story. He was burning to ask Amy Melheart so many things. What had happened in the few short hours since she had left his office? What fate could they expect - although he felt that he knew the gist of it, which was bad. Where did Kriposvsky come into the puzzle? What had happened between her and Lucida to poison a sisterly relationship so badly? Why oh why had Amy come into his life, just when things were looking better and he was considering a reconciliation with his wife? Damn her!
Just when he was at the point of ending his self-imposed silence, Amy suddenly spoke. 'Ben, what are you doing here?'
He thought through some of the likely options, which included, a) I'm just hanging out; b) I'm about to donate my organs to the local Vivisectionists chapter, c) I don't know, and d) looking for my soul, and said, 'risking my neck trying to help you, as it happens.'
'But how did they get hold of you? When you came for our appointment, did they grab you then?'
He felt in no mood to dispense the truth, which was that he had not even made it as far as the front door of the Melheart residence. 'Yes,' he said shortly. And in a sense, he was being truthful. He had been on his way there.
'They must be getting bold, if they're kidnapping callers and bundling them down here,' the stranger said, in plummy Brit tones. 'After all, this man could have friends, family, a wife, a lover, waiting for him to return, with access to his diary - when he fails to return, his sweetheart will call the police and direct them straight here!'
'Is that right, Ben?' Amy asked, her eyes shining an appeal direct to him.
He hesitated, then said 'no,' shortly.
'No one? Family? Friends?' she entreated.
'No one who'd check,' he admitted. His cheeks reddened at the thought of the picture they were building up of him from their cross examination.
'Oh Ben,' Amy exclaimed, dismayed.
'Oh well, that's that plan scotched,' the stranger muttered, in distinctly modulated tones.
Ben turned away from them both and studied his cell. There was nothing that looked useful or interesting. The walls were featureless plaster, there was no external access or even a vent. Clearly, he would have to get them out of this mess himself. He turned his attention to the lock and tried waggling it.
'Excuse me sir, we haven't met!' a voice piped up.
Ben had already written him off as a degenerate specimen of British nobility. If there was one type he really couldn't stand, it was old world types like this one, with their strange customs and their superior ways. He said indifferently, 'I'm Ben, and who might you be - the plumber?'
His opponent - for so Ben thought of him - appeared to size Ben up, and find him wanting, judging by the curl of his lip. Nevertheless, he spoke warmly, 'Allow me, my name is Piers Brosnan-Pierce.'
Amy spoke anxiously, 'Benjamin is a private investigator I hired to find Daddy.'
Piers nodded. He had thick blond hair, which swept untidily to one side, giving him, Ben had to admit, an air of rakish charm. 'Ah yes, well all roads lead to Rome I suppose. What matters most is that we find your father and reunite you with him.' Then with a slow, sweeping gesture, he drew an imaginary blade across an equally imaginary throat. 'And clean out that nest of vipers upstairs.'
'Well I'm the man for that job,' Ben said truculently. 'I've spent more years cleaning up the mean streets of LA than you've spent getting out of nappies and into a public school tie.'
'You might find that I can be of some assistance in that regard, old chap,' Piers said.
A definite sense of hostility pervaded the air.
'And what do you do?' Ben asked.
'You might call me an adventurer.'
'An adventurer. Long ago I left behind my birthright, in Old England's hallowed halls, and hied ho for adventure in the jungles of South America.'
'Oh Piers!' Amy said admiringly.
'Yes, while still a boy I retraced the steps of the Spanish conquerors in Darien, surmounted the great mountains of the Andes, swam the Amazon's brown waters and saw the evil that clings to men's hearts like a scum upon the dead branches jutting out of the murky pond.'
Despite himself, Ben was fascinated. 'You've really been down there? With all the jaguars and the anacondas?'
'Yes, all true, my friend.'
'And the savage Indians, with their blowpipes and their darts tipped with curare?'
'Ah, Ben, you fall into the trap so endemic within our civilisation, of judging the Indians through your own blinkered standards. They are a very gracious people. In a truly enlightened world, these rude savages of which you speak would be numbered among those considered wise, whereas you may friend have much to learn.'
Ben bridled. What was this Piers guy saying, that Ben was a savage himself? Damn him! If only they weren't separated by two layers of metal and an uncrossable expanse of space.
More moments passed, then Amy took a deep breath and seemed to come to a decision. 'I've got a plan.'
'Seeing as how we've got nothing better to do, please enlighten us,' Ben said, not bothering to hide his sarcasm.
Amy thought a little longer, and said, 'Oh no, that wouldn't work.'
Ben raised his head and looked accusingly across the room at Amy, who cut a forlorn but attractive figure in her twinset. She tilted her chin and stared back at him unflinchingly.
The englishman stared at him shrewdly. 'And what would you do, Mr - Mr'
'Slademore,' Ben supplied. 'Well, I, uh, think we should wait till th7ey come to give us food and water, and, um, jump them then.'
'Pathetic,' Piers opined.
Unaccustomed to having his opinions relegated to the scrapheap, Ben was momentarily at a loss. 'What about you? Do you know anything about how to get out of dungeons?'
'I am indeed experienced in escaping flimsy prisons such as this!'
Ben felt his anger rise. Didn't this fool understand the danger they were in. 'Amy, what kind of crackpot is this guy?'
Piers lifted up his right shoe and flipped up the sole. Amy clapped her hands with girlish delight. Piers removed some electronic gadgets and wiring.
Ben's jaw dropped. This guy had more gadgets than he did! 'Hey, are you a spy or something?'
Piers did not reply. Instead he pulled out a plasticine-like material and proceeded to attach it to the lock. He attached the two wires to the gadget - clearly a miniature detonator, Ben realised - and poked them into the plasticine. 'Stand back please, ladies and gentlemen,' he said.
Amy retreated to the back of her cell. Ben stayed where he was.
Piers pressed a button, activating the detonator. Nothing happened.
He seemed to be at a loss for a few moments, then he clapped his hand to his head. 'Oh, forgot the batteries!' With that he removed his left shoe and pulled off the heel. Out came two miniature batteries. He inserted them into the detonator.
He pushed the button again. There was a small explosion and the door flew open.
Seconds later there was the sound of footsteps approaching at a trot. A burly prison guard raced into the room. Seeing Piers, he went for his gun. But before he could draw the weapon, the Englishman had delivered a flying kick to his head. The man's head exploded with the force of the kick, and his brains splashed across the wall.
'Good kick, Piers!' Amy said, clapping enthusiastically.
'Wasn't that one of your father's men?' Ben rounded upon her. 'Shouldn't you be concerned about the cost to payroll?'
Amy looked hurt, but Piers ignored Ben's snide remark, and stooping over the body of the guard, removed the keys from his lifeless hand. 'I'll have you out of here in a jiffy, my dear.'
As Piers sorted through the keys he said 'ah, so he's got a Porsche - could be handy!' With a deft flick of his wrist he had the door to Amy's cell open. She crossed the room in a single step and was in his arms. 'Oh Piers, thank you!' she cried. 'Without you I'd be lost. Now we can work together to restore my father to his rightful position, and all will be well again!'
Yeah, and Dorothy and her monkeys and the Wicked Witch of the West too, Ben thought. He had experienced a sharp stabbing pain in his appendix when he saw Amy go to Piers. Oh my god, he thought in despair, I've fallen for her! For a high-class dame!
'And after that, the bedroom,' Piers whispered, his blond moustache nestled into the crown of her lustrous locks. Amy wriggled in a state of embarrassment and anticipation. Does he think I can't hear him, Ben raged. I'll kill him!
"Come, Miss Melheart" Piers mumbled gently, shepherding Amy towards the door with his arm around her waist , "We must work together to favorably resolve this dire situation. That infernal machine must be destroyed."
"But how will you get passed Uncle Angus, Lucida, and the rest of their goons?" Amy protested with earnestly wide eyes.
"With you at my side, anything is possible." replied Piers, reaching for the door handle as his confident tones echoed around the small room, drowning out the quiet retching sounds emanating from the back of Ben's throat.
Still loosely embraced by the smarmy Englishman, Amy turned back towards the cells. "What about Ben?" she asked.
"We'll come back for him later after the jobs done. He's probably safer here", Piers replied, also looking back at Ben, but with a condescending expression on his face.
Amy paused for a second, she appeared to be thinking quickly. "We will back for you soon, Ben", she said, turning back towards the door.
"Listen Pier's-whatever-you-name-is", Ben snarled like the caged beast he was, "No decent man would leave me here, sometime you'll get a good smack in the face for this."
It would not be the first time in his life that Ben had made an empty threat of violence that he had no immediate means of carrying out. He considered the tactic, like late nights and alcohol abuse, as simply part of the job. In later years, when Ben was in the habit of reminiscing on the events being described he would reflect on the fact that never in his career had retribution come so swiftly to his enemies.
Piers opened the door and was immediately hit in the face by a speeding fist of unusual size. He toppled like a brick chimney in a earthquake. His assailant stepped over the prone body of the unconscious man and coolly surveyed the room.
"Mustafa!" gasped both Ben and Amy simultaneously.
If the short black man shared any of the surprise of Amy and Ben then none of it showed on his baby-like features.
"Miss Melheart, your father's worst fears have been realised. Do you still have the fragment your father gave you?"
"My sister took the one I had off me when she threw me in here." Amy replied.
"That is unfortunate"
"Just a moment, we may be in luck." Amy quickly reached down and began to search the recumbent form of the unconscious Englishman at her feet.
"Just what the hell are you doing here?" Ben asked, having recovered slowly from the shock of the black mans reappearance. "What are you looking for? Just what is going on here?" He added after being ignored for a few seconds, not electing a response from either Amy or Mustafa.
"Hah, I knew the slimy mole would be holding out on them." Amy straightened up, having found what she was looking for in Piers' jacket pocket. Not having a clue what any of this meant, Ben's confusion was only heightened by the object in his client's hand. It appeared to be a chuck of light green crystal about the same size as an egg, with sharp ragged edges. Whatever it was, it disappeared into Mustafa's pockets as soon as it was offered.
"Excellent, we may still be able to stop this madness, " Mustafa said to Amy, "I will take this to the machine room and try and raise as much hell as I can. Do not go back to the house, you should leave by the secret entrance through the storeroom - I left a rope." Amy nodded in agreement.
"What about me?" Ben spoke, not liking what he was hearing. The lovely Miss Melheart was obviously involved with Mustafa somehow, and Ben was starting to suspect that there was more to the short black man than appearances would suggest.
"Take him with you, if you want, but be quick, this will all be over soon - " Mustafa ordered as he tuned back towards open door, " - one way or the other.". And with that parting qualifier the stocky man disappear into the corridor beyond.
A minute later as Amy was freeing Ben from his confinement, luckily the guard's key ring also included a key for Ben's cuffs, Ben began to learn the circumstances that they found themselves in.
It all started, Amy explained, eight months ago when her father had been sent a small sample of a substance by scientists working for Applied Defensive Arms Machinery, the company that Melheart Industries is contracted by to supply designs for improved weaponry. The substance, a greenish crystalline compound which the senders dubbed "mystorite", stores vast amounts of potential energy and Victor soon designed a prototype rifle that had twice the range of a conventional model but weighed only half as much. When this prototype was delivered a few weeks ago, the directors of the arms company had suggested the Victor start work on a bomb made from the same material. Although her father had worked on arms all his life, he had never liked weapons of mass destruction, and he had quickly realised that a bomb made from just twenty pounds of mystorite would overshadow even the most powerful atomic devices.
Luckily, Applied Defensive Arms Machinery did not yet possess enough mystorite to build even a prototype bomb, but the company was busy acquiring more. It seemed, the scientists at the company had eventually told Victor, that mystorite could only be obtained from one source - a certain, very rare, type of meteorite. The company had agents working around the world locating fresh samples. Piers was one of those agents, recently returned from Africa, Amy related to Ben as together they shoved the still unconscious Englishman into one of the intact cells.
After a few weeks of deliberation, Victor had eventually told the directors of the arms company that he was not going to be a part of building such an awful weapon, and that they could find somebody else. The next day Kripovsky, one of the directors, had arrived at the house and had threatened Victor that, in his words, "something terrible" might happen if he did not comply with the company's wishes. Victor ignored the threats, despite increasing urging from both his daughter Lucida and his brother Albert to cooperate.
Finally, just last week, Lucida and Albert had stunned Amy and her father by announcing that they were forming a new company with Kripovsky to develop mystorite technology. Victor had refused to have anything to do with it and there had been an awful fracas lasting several hours, although nothing untoward had happened until Victor's disappearance a couple of days later.
Amy led Ben down the corridor towards the storeroom. "It was only after I let slip that I had hired a private detective that my sister and uncle Albert revealed that they had plotted behind my father's back. They said that father was safe 'for now' and then forced me to hand over the mystorite my father had given me for safe keeping and then locked be down here with that awful Piers." She gave a shudder at the recollection " I had been flirting with him for hours to try to get information out of him."
"How do you know Mustafa?" Ben asked as Amy finished her tale.
"Oh, he is a friend of my father's, we have been neighbors for years - he used to baby sit me sometimes when I was younger," Amy replied, "He works at the burlesque house across the hill.". Ben thought it prudent not to volunteer the circumstances under which he had met the man in question.
After a couple of moments the pair reached the storeroom where Ben had first gained entry into the underground complex. He was delighted to find his wrecking bar, still lying where he had so unfortunately left it not half an hour before. Bending down to pick it up he made an even greater discovery.
"I know where your father is, " The detective told his startled client, "look at this."
Ben pointed to a nearby create, partially obscured by a packing palette that was leaning against it in such a way that only the first letter of each stenciled word was visible, so instead of "Applied Defensive Arms Machinery" the label readů
"ADAM!!" exclaimed Amy excitedly, "So that is what father meant in his note. He must have gone to the company headquarters to talk to the directors."
"I bet Kripovsky nabbed him before he could talk to the others. He's probably still there, there would be equipment there that he could be forced to use." Ben agreed, looking at the young woman. Amy was looking happier than Ben had ever seen her. "Don't you worry, we are already halfway to getting your father back."
"This is the best news I have had all day. We should contact the authorities immediately." Said Amy smiling broadly.
"Yes, you should." Ben replied darkly.
Amy's tone changed, "Are you not coming with me?" she asked.
"No, there's something not quite right about this. I'm not sure what it is yet, but I think its time I had a talk with Mr. Kripovsky." Ben muttered, almost to himself.
Amy's protests were to no avail, and a minute later she started the long rope climb out of the hidden shaft. By this time Ben was moving quickly but quietly back down the long gray corridor with a spring in his step, determination on his face, violence in mind, wrecking bar in hand.