This story happened to a young boy whose name was Paul Metcalfe.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking, but you would be quite wrong. This boy was not the same Paul Metcalfe that you know will one day become ‘Captain Scarlet’. No, this was a totally different boy, who might actually live next door to your house, or your apartment. He was quite similar to any other child of seven years old that you may know: vivacious, who loved to play and have fun, who laughed too loudly, and who would run all the way wherever he wanted to go. He loved playing ball, and when his mother called him for dinner, he had great difficulty tearing himself from his games – except, of course, when his favourite dish was served. Like most boys his age, he also had trouble tidying up his room properly, and didn’t like washing behind his ears when bath time came; however, he absolutely loved going to the pool and was always the first to play at who will splash the most water around – especially when it was to soak girls.
Saying it this way, young Paul seemed like any ordinary kid, but as you may well guess, he wasn’t quite that ordinary. To his parents, this only child was the most precious gift in the world. They did not, however, indulge his every whim, but brought him up properly; so Paul was a polite, very affable boy who was loved by everyone who knew him. He was very intelligent, and it seemed like a sure bet that he would one day become someone important, and make a name for himself in the world. Paul, of course, didn’t care much about that, and wouldn’t understand all the expectations that his parents had put in him. However, he was quite aware that the name he carried wasn’t just any name, and he took great pride in it. Because he knew that it wasn’t everyone who had the chance to share exactly the same name as their hero.
Because Captain Scarlet was Paul’s favourite hero. He would watch all the episodes on television, whenever they were aired, or failing that, pop a disc into the DVD player, from the very precious box set that his doting grandfather Metcalfe had bought him just the previous summer. Young Paul had an impressive collection of Captain Scarlet-related toys and various other items, from the tiny figures of his hero and his pals, to various vehicles of all sizes, toy guns, and even a hat, which he had plonked onto the head of a huge Teddy bear which sat on a small chair in a corner of his bedroom. His bedspread was Captain Scarlet-themed, and so were his pyjamas and slippers. His alarm clock was in the form of a SPV. He had board games, card games, electronic games, a remote-control Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, that he used to playfully chase the family cat around, various sized Angel planes and pilots, and a toy Cloudbase, hanging like a mobile from the ceiling of his bedroom.
You would think that Paul was a tiny bit obsessed with his hero; well, it might appear like that, but truthfully, not all of the boy’s time was exclusively devoted to Captain Scarlet. He would play cowboys and Indians, and cops and robbers too – and Spectrum officers and Mysteron bad guys, of course! He liked sport, and football was by far his favourite, and whenever he had the chance, he would go for a ride on his bike. However, when he started talking Scarlet, his all-time favourite subject, there was nothing that could stop him. For his friends, that was sometimes an annoyance – and for his family too, but they would generally humour him, and simply nodded their acknowledgement – or approval. The only person who seemed to take as much interest in the subject as himself was Granddad Metcalfe, who seemed to take great pleasure in watching the show with the boy whenever it was on TV – and to buy him whatever toy he was able to find to complete his collection.
for his grandfather, Paul’s family sometimes couldn’t help but think that maybe
it might seem a little odd, that the seven-year-old boy would have such
interest in a show they considered was intended for a more mature audience… and
in which violence was displayed on such a regular basis. His mother, Sandra,
once voiced her concern at the viewing of one episode, where a character met
his death by drowning and even thought the character in question was played by
a puppet, it seemed a bit extreme to her. But considering that none of what
Paul was seeing in that show seemed to give them any cause for concern in the
way of Paul’s behaviour, and that he appeared to be a well-balanced boy, who had
a strong sense of right and wrong, and conducted himself correctly, she didn’t
concern herself excessively with that. So she and the boy’s father contented
themselves with keeping an eye on him – just
to make sure he wouldn’t suspect any new neighbour to be a Mysteron agent in
Paul’s father had other causes for concern, anyway, much more worrying than his son’s childish fascination for the star of a puppet show. A police inspector of reputable standing, William Metcalfe was dedicated to his work and very busy fighting criminal elements. Paul was always very proud of his father and of his accomplishments. In his eyes, his father was as much the hero as Captain Scarlet was – except, of course, he wasn’t indestructible. And he wasn’t fighting Mysterons.
grandfather, who was living with them, had been a policeman too. Now retired,
James Metcalfe had been a commissioner at Scotland Yard, and in his time, had
fought his share of criminals, putting many of them behind bars for years. He
had faced the worst of them, and had been threatened more often than Paul’s
father had been. Paul looked up to both
of them, and had decided he would follow in the family tradition: he too would become a police officer, when he
was all grown up and strong. He too
would fight the bad guys, and stop them from hurting innocent people. Just like Captain Scarlet did, the boy
observed more than once. All in all, James had often reflected to his son, Paul
could certainly have a worse role model, and William could only concur with
that, if a little reluctantly.
When the family adopted a kitten, it was Paul who chose her name and he had called her Destiny. She was a nice-looking tabby cat, whose fur was mainly white, with cream and pale grey stripes all over. She had almond-shaped, honey-coloured eyes, and had taken an immediate liking to Paul, following him everywhere from the moment she had entered her new home, and playing with him at all sorts of games of hide and seek. She was pretty good at hiding, and even better at seeking, especially when she would rush from an unseen position and ‘attack’, grabbing the ankle of her young friend in a playful fashion. She was always very gentle with him, and quite defensive, even showing her disapproval whenever Paul’s mum or dad told him off, after he had done something they didn’t consider right. Even after she grew to an adult cat, she would stick to Paul like glue; it was peculiar to see such a love between a child and a cat – especially considering how independent cats usually were.
Physically, Paul was quite like his hero: he had dark hair and blue eyes. He was tall for his age, so that made the family think he would be as tall as his father and grandfather, both six-footers, when he had grown to adulthood. The whole family lived in Winchester, England – ‘the birthplace of Captain Scarlet’, Paul would proudly announce. His grandfather had told him that, after reading it from a book that he had bought from the internet for him. Which had prompted the boy to start trying to read the book himself, as well as whatever else he could find on the subject; at this point, he still needed help with the difficult words – and there were lots of them – but he was making progress. It wouldn’t take much time before he would be able to read all alone all there was to know about his hero.
There was another common point that young Paul shared with his hero: both of them had their birthday in December, a few days before Christmas. According to that same wonderful book, Captain Scarlet’s birthday was December 17, while young Paul had his birthday on December 23, just two days before Christmas. Which could have displeased any other child, except that his parents would compensate by making sure they celebrated the birthday separately, and his grandfather often gave him a very special toy for the occasion. And from the very moment Paul had started showing his excitement for Captain Scarlet – strangely enough, it started as early as the boy’s fourth birthday, an age where the Mysterons would scare the daylights out of any kid! – Granddad Metcalfe’s present would always be a Captain Scarlet toy.
This year was no different.
This was Paul’s eighth birthday. As usual, his mother had prepared a party for him, and some of Paul’s friends from school were invited, as well as young cousins, who came with their parents. Children’s birthdays were occasions during which the Metcalfe family would meet, and in the case of Paul’s birthday, it was a chance to discuss the preparations for the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. While the children played outside – or, if the weather would not permit it, a room would be allotted for their entertainment – the parents would quietly retire to the living room, and decide who would host the various parties, on what dates they would occur, what would be served and what should be brought over, what special activities there would be, etc. With the house full of children, Destiny the cat would usually stay in the living room with the adults, where it was much safer for her whiskers and tail. This was the only occasion on which she would disagree with her beloved young master; she disapproved strongly of all those kids’ presence in her home, and would keep clear of all the little hands that would invariably try to reach for her.
As the party reached its climax and it became time to give the birthday boy his presents, the adults invited the kids into the living room and they came, as noisy as you would expect a bunch of excited children to be, and sat in a circle on the floor, waiting expectantly to see what Paul would receive this year.
Contrary to what was customary, Paul’s father wasn’t present on that particular birthday. He had every intention to be, but unfortunately, early the same morning, he had been called to the police station for a matter of utmost emergency, and had had to leave in a rush. To say that Paul was not disappointed would have put it lightly, but his father had promised that he would do his very best to be back as soon as he could – and before they would cut the birthday cake. Truth to tell, Paul had so much fun playing with his friends that he barely noticed his father’s absence. It was only when his mother called them all into the living room that he realised he wasn’t there at all. He hoped he would arrive before it was time to blow out the candles.
When she saw the army of children entering the living room, Destiny, who had settled herself comfortably upon Great-Aunt Edna’s lap where she was purring contentedly, discreetly and cautiously leapt down to the floor and slipped out through the kitchen door. She would come back later on, when everybody had gone and it was quieter. In the meantime, she would sneak upstairs, and find a peaceful place on the bed of the masters of the house, away from everyone.
James Metcalfe, in front of all of his grandson’s friends, presented the boy with a big, oblong box, wrapped in multicoloured paper. It didn’t take five seconds for Paul to tear the wrapping paper into shreds and to open the box – to reveal a magnificent two feet tall Captain Scarlet doll, dressed in the usual dark grey and bright red uniform, complete with a solid plastic cap with transparent visor, and whose face bore an uncanny resemblance to the actual puppet.
Paul was ecstatic; holding the doll close to him, he ran into his laughing grandfather’s arms to thank him with an affectionate hug.
“This is the most fantastic gift ever, Granddad!” he said, all excited.
James laughed heartily. There was nothing he loved more than to spoil his favourite grandson. “Now don’t forget, Paul,” he told the boy as he looked gravely into his beaming face. “This is a very special toy, and there’s not another one like it in the world. You take great care of it. Remember what I always say: ‘Treat your toys well and they’ll treat you in kind.’”
Paul nodded vigorously. This was something his grandfather kept telling him, and Paul always took the advice to heart: his toys were always very well cared for and it was rare that he would leave them lying around. “Sure, Granddad. I’ll be even more extra careful with this one, I promise.”
Sally, Paul’s young cousin from his mother’s side, snorted loudly. “Dolls are for girls,” she declared at the top of her four years of age, at the same time looking covetously at the big doll. In reality, she would have loved to have a similar one. All she had were girl dolls, wearing flowery dresses and blonde curls.
“Are not,” Paul replied, incensed by the remark. “It’s a boy’s doll. You can see it’s not a girly toy… He’s wearing a uniform, and he has a gun…”
Sally shrugged, not bothering to answer. She had a cowgirl doll at home which also had a gun. “Will you be joining me and my dolls with him for Sunday tea, then? He’s so handsome… I’d like him to meet Cindy.”
Paul scowled. “Captain Scarlet does not do Sunday teas.”
“Does to,” Sally replied. “He has to eat too, doesn’t he?”
“We’re not playing with you at your girl games. We’ll be too busy chasing Mysterons.”
“What are Mysterons?” Sally inquired. She had heard the word often in her cousin’s mouth but didn’t know what it was all about. She didn’t watch that show that Paul seemed so keen on. Her mother wouldn’t let her.
Hearing her question, Paul thought he saw a way to shut her up once and for all, and smirked mischievously. “I’ll tell you, if you wanna know…”
“No, you won’t,” his mother interrupted him quickly, knowing full well that the description of the Mysterons might actually scare the delicate little girl. Especially if it was to be depicted by the wild and vivid imagination of her son. “This is a beautiful gift, James. Where in the world did you find it? I never saw the likes of it in any shop.” She wisely kept to herself that she had probably seen all available toys that had been made on the subject of Captain Scarlet. God knew that her son kept pestering her to buy him whatever novelty she could find.
“It’s custom-made,” James Metcalfe replied, not without a certain amount of pride. “I know a very talented toy-maker that owed me a favour from way back when, so for a nice price, he made that toy for me. The boots are vinyl, and the tunic is made of suede. Even the zips are real.”
“And the microphone on his cap can be lowered down!” Paul suddenly realised with excitement. He slid down the said object in front of his doll’s mouth, and as soon as it was in place, saw with wide-eyed astonishment that the epaulettes were blinking a bright red.
“Captain Scarlet, Spectrum. I’m here to help you,” an electronic voice boomed from inside the boy’s new toy. He let out a hoot of pure delight.
“That’s the same voice!” he said turning to his grandfather. “And the epaulettes flash for real! That’s so cool!”
“They’ll flash five different colours,” James said with a wide smile, enjoying the effect his gift was having, as people gathered around were now looking at it with obvious interest – and in the case of the children seated on the floor, with complete awe. “Blue, green, red, yellow and white. And the doll says a different sentence for each of them. You just lower the microphone, and you’ll hear them.”
“Drop your gun, you are under arrest,” the synthetic voice then said, as Paul playfully tested the toy, and the epaulettes flashed yellow. The boy returned the microphone to the cap and lowered it a third time, making the epaulette blinked anew, this time with a nice shade of blue. “Come on, Captain Blue, let’s get him.”
“Now don’t be too rough with it, Paul,” his mother advised, as her son pushed the microphone back up and prepared to lower it down again. “You don’t want to break it on your first day. Remember your grandfather’s advice.”
“S.I.G. Everything is under control,” the doll replied with its unemotional voice, the epaulettes blinking green this time.
Everybody laughed. “My, Sandra,” Paul’s aunt Elaine said. “It does look like he’s answering you!”
“Oh great!” Sandra said, rolling her eyes to the sky. “Just what I need: another male voice to tell me what to do around this house. I’m in serious numeric inferiority… and I can’t even count on the cat to side with me! When it comes to requesting her dinner, she’s more insistent than the three boys put together.”
“Hey, we’re not that bad,” James Metcalfe replied, making a show of looking offended. “Isn’t that true, Paul?”
But the young boy was so busy playing with his new toy, that he barely noticed his grandfather was addressing him. Instead, it was the Captain Scarlet doll which answered: “S.I.R. We have a situation, Cloudbase. Launch all Angels.”
Sandra shook her head in dismay. “I have the impression that I will hear this very often over the next few days,” she commented softly.
“Well, he does have a nice sounding voice,” Elaine replied. “Don’t you think he sounds just like Cary Grant?”
“Oh, I know… I’ve been told that often.”
“Surely not by Paul?” Elaine asked with a thin smile.
“By your father, of course,” Sandra said, pointing to her father-in-law, seated by Elaine’s side. He had sat back onto his chair with a smug expression, obviously satisfied that his grandson liked his new toy so much.
“I should have known,” Elaine chuckled. “Paul is way too young – he wouldn’t know Cary Grant from Adam!”
“I know who he was!” Paul then piped up, looking at his aunt with an expression indicating that he was more than happy to tell adults he knew something they fully expected he didn’t. “They used his face to sculpt Captain Scarlet’s!”
Sandra raised a brow, addressing her sister-in-law: “You were saying?”
The conversation was interrupted by the sound of the front door being opened and then closed, coming from the hall. Sandra put her cup of tea down on the low table beside her. “That must be Will,” she informed her guests. “If you will excuse me, I will see how his day went. Maybe he will join us… if he doesn’t go and lock himself in his office, that is.”
“Tell my big brother he’s working too hard,” Elaine advised as Sandra slowly stood up. “He should learn to relax, once in a while.” She glanced in her father’s direction. “I swear, Dad, Will’s becoming more like you as the days go by.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” James replied coolly.
Sandra left the living room to walk into the hall. She saw the tall frame of her husband, standing in front of the door, as he was removing his coat to put it on the rack which was already overflowing with the guests’ coats. Sandra noticed how tired he looked, as she stood on tiptoe to kiss him welcome. He offered her a thankful if very brief smile.
“I see your day has not been very good,” she commented gently, stroking his cheek. “You work yourself too hard, darling.”
He shook his head slowly. “It’s been a bad day,” he admitted. “But it’s not because I’ve driven myself too hard on the work. We’ve had some bad news.” He looked into his wife’s eyes, with a grave expression upon his face. “Alexander Schwartz has escaped from prison.”
She paled. “That’s why you were called to the office today?” she asked in a low voice. He nodded. “How could that be possible?”
Will sighed. “He had made himself a weapon, out of a chair leg. One of the guards got distracted… Schwartz grabbed the chance, and killed him. He wounded the other guard, used his uniform to get out of the cell unit, and made his way to the guards’ lockers, where he changed into civilian clothes. He was out and away before anyone realised what was going on.” He grew sombre. “I told them to be careful with that shrewd bastard, that if there was one way for him to get out, he would find it. But no… they didn’t listen.” He scoffed with distaste. “They had to keep him in the regular cell until the end of the trial.”
“I thought he was already found guilty,” his wife commented.
“Yes, but he hasn’t received his sentence yet. As you know, the Court has adjourned until after Christmas. The judge was going to pronounce sentence at the start of January.” He grumbled under his breath. “Damn. Couldn’t they see he was desperate enough to try anything by now? Once he’d received his sentence, Schwartz knew it would be the end of the road. For him, it was now or never…”
“Will, it was your testimony that convicted him…” Sandra said with worry in her voice.
Her husband nodded. It was indeed his testimony that had been decisive in the jury’s decision to find Alex Schwartz guilty of the many murders he had committed during his long, infamous career as a mercenary turned hired assassin. It had taken Will Metcalfe a long time to gather all the proofs needed to arrest the man and to bring him to justice, and it had paid off, when the man had finally been brought to trial.
When the verdict was pronounced, and Schwartz fully realised he was trapped, he had gone crazy with fury. He knew very well that William Metcalfe’s testimony and the many proofs he had amassed during his investigation had condemned him; because of that, he mainly held Will responsible for the verdict, and he swore that he would find a way to make him pay.
If the threatening words had made an effect on Sandra, who had heard the news on the television, they did not impress her husband in the least. Alex Schwartz was a sociopath, who hated everyone, and who didn’t have any friends, or contacts he could use to reach anyone from the confine of a cell; many of those who knew him too well had died at his hands, and the rest stayed as far away as they could from him. In fact, they considered it a relief that the man had been caught and would likely end his life in prison. Schwartz didn’t have any money left that he might use to pay someone to do the job for him, even if he had wanted to. In fact, he was the kind of man who wouldn’t trust anyone to do the deeds for him, preferring to do it himself, and taking pleasure in it.
Once Schwartz was in prison, he would be unable to reach anyone. So Will didn’t consider him that much of a threat; he had felt for certain that the day of the verdict was the last he would hear of Alexander Schwartz.
He should have known it wouldn’t be that simple.
“He swore to kill you, Will,” Sandra continued, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “Now that he’s out, do you think –”
“He wouldn’t dare come around here,” Will interrupted suddenly. “Think about it, Sandra: now he’s a man on the run. He knows he will be caught, if he tries to come after me. He wouldn’t risk his new found liberty just to get his revenge on me. He’s not that stupid.”
“He’s not?” Sandra repeated with a dubious frown. “Will, you keep saying that criminals such as Schwartz always get caught because they undoubtedly will do something dumb and leave evidence behind that will eventually lead to their arrest. I’m frightened, Will. This man hates you more than he ever hated anyone in his life. To him, you are responsible for all the wrongs that happened to him lately. Now, taking that into consideration, he might forget all sense of caution and decide to come after you anyway.”
Will smiled. “There’s no need to worry,” he replied, trying to sound reassuring. “Here: take a look.” He gently took his wife by the shoulders and edged her towards the windows by the door. Pushing the curtains aside, he pointed to a car, parked on the other side of the street. Sandra could see two men seated inside, with their eyes riveted on their house. “That’s Sergeant Muldoon and PC Coltrane,” Will explained. “They’ve been assigned as my own personal bodyguards. You see, love, you’re not the only one that is worried: my boss took Schwartz’s threats against me seriously enough to make sure I’m properly protected.”
“And he thinks he might actually come to our house?” Sandra asked, her concern mounting.
“It’s just an added precaution,” Will reassured her. “Muldoon and Coltrane are not alone: there’re also many other officers, stationed all around the house and over the entire city, on the lookout for Schwartz. So if that bastard gets bold enough to show his face around here – he’ll be caught right away.”
“I don’t know, Will,” Sandra whispered. “This is far from reassuring me. Oh, maybe we should leave, and go and hide somewhere…”
“Sandra, love…” Will turned his wife towards him, and stroked her cheek gently. “Where would you want us to go? We can’t go to your parents… Or rent a house, or a hotel room somewhere… We would still need police protection, and I think they can protect us far better here than anywhere else. And I’m sure you wouldn’t go as far as wanting us to leave the country, even temporarily…”
“That doesn’t seem like such a bad idea…”
“We can’t hide forever, Sandra.”
“Not forever. Maybe until this madman is caught. Oh, Will… Can’t you see this is killing me? I can’t bear the thought of him being around, waiting for a chance to strike at you. Maybe he’s watching this house right now.”
“The last report we had of him was that he was heading south,” Will reasoned. “He’s probably thinking of leaving the country as quickly as he can. He knows it’s the only logical thing for him to do.”
“You’re sure about that…?” Sandra tried again, still unsure.
Will nodded. “Not that it would help him much. All the borders are under surveillance. Airports, train stations, boats… As soon as he tries to put one toe out of England, our boys will be on him faster than you can imagine.”
“Well, in that case, then…” Sandra sighed, and lowered her eyes. “But they’d better catch him soon, Will…”
The little voice coming from behind them made a shiver run down William Metcalfe’s spine. He spun on his heel, to discover his young son standing in the doorway leading to the living room, holding in his arms a Captain Scarlet doll he had never seen before. The boy was looking up at his parents with curious eyes. Behind him towered his grandfather, who was also staring at them fixedly. It was obvious both were wondering what was going on, and by the grave look in his eyes, James Metcalfe clearly understood much better than the young boy ever could that something serious was going on.
“Ah, some bad guy who’s trying to escape the police,” Will said, leaving his wife’s side, while she instinctively turned her back to hide her worried face from her son’s probing eyes. Smiling, Will crouched in front of the boy, to speak to him on his level, with as natural a voice as he could muster: “That’s a new one,” he said, pointing to the big doll his son was holding. “Who is it from?”
“Granddad,” Paul said, handing the toy to his father and giving a vigorous nod in the direction of his grandfather. The latter was keeping silent, and was looking at his son with the same sombre look as before. “He had him made for me. There’s no other toy like it in the world. The epaulettes flash and he talks. Listen…”
The boy pulled the microphone down and the doll spoke, as the epaulettes blinked red: “Captain Scarlet, Spectrum. I’m here to help you.”
Will smiled dotingly, and stroked his son’s cheek, before glancing up at his father. “That’s a very nice toy. I’m sorry I missed the party, Paul.”
“That’s okay,” Paul replied good-naturedly. “I know you’re busy catching bad guys. Just like Captain Scarlet.”
Will smiled. “Yeah. Just like him.”
“We haven’t cut the cake yet,” Sandra then said from behind. Will looked over his shoulder as he stood up. His wife had turned back to them, and was now approaching. She offered a smile at her husband. “So I guess you’re just in time for that.”
She took Paul by the shoulders. She was thinking that he didn’t need to realise how concerned she was, and she had decided do all she could to hide this from him. Furthermore, it was his birthday. It wouldn’t be fair to spoil that for him.
Will smiled back at her invitation. “Great, I’m famished. Go and light the candles then. Give me a moment to freshen up, and I’ll be down to join you for that very important moment.”
Sandra nodded her assent, and veered her son in the direction of the living room where the guests were still waiting. As they were crossing the doorway, Paul turned one last time to his father. “You know, Dad, he really means it.”
Will frowned. “Who means what, Paul?”
“Captain Scarlet, of course. He really means it.”
Paul pulled the microphone again, and the doll’s epaulettes blinked white. “S.I.R. We have a situation, Cloudbase. Launch all Angels.”
The young boy nodded enthusiastically. “You can always count on him, Dad. And you know, you can always count on me.”
Will stared at his son, chewing on his bottom lip. What exactly did Paul hear when he had surprised him and his wife talking just now?
He dismissed the thought that the boy might be worried; he seemed so casual in his offer. Maybe he was just realising that his father, the policeman, had had a really bad day at work and was offering his own brand of comfort in his very childish way…
“I know I can, Paul,” Will said gently, “and I appreciate the thought. Now, go in there with your Mum. I’ll be along shortly.”
Paul beamed. “Okay, Dad.” And he disappeared into the living room with his toy, closely followed by his mother who addressed a last worried look over her shoulder towards her husband.
James Metcalfe, left alone with his son, approached him, an apprehensive scowl marking his brow. “Something’s up?”
Will nodded slowly. His father could always read him like an open book; beside, there was no point hiding the truth from him. “Alex Schwartz has escaped,” he announced as quietly as possibly.
James’ face didn’t show an obviously concerned expression, but Will, who knew his father as well as the latter knew him, was able to discern the nearly invisible shiver in his eyes. The former commissioner knew perfectly well the kind of threats Will had been the target of, when Schwartz was found guilty.
“Tell me all about it,” James requested in a low voice.
The rest of the day passed smoothly, with the remainder of the birthday celebrations, and the guests left late in the afternoon, shortly before dinner. Paul played with his new toys for a good part of the evening, especially with the doll his grandfather had given him. His mother felt certain that the batteries would be exhausted before the day was over, but it was the young boy who ran out first and literally fell asleep on the floor of his room, his arms wrapped around his doll. It was up to his father to gently carry him and his precious toy to bed, where he tucked him in, before tiptoeing out without making a single sound.
That night, Sandra Metcalfe had trouble finding sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, she would see in her dreams the face of Alexander Schwartz, sneering evilly, and pointing a gun at her husband. Each time, she would wake up, before the fatal moment when the man would pull the trigger, covered with sweat, gasping for air and her heart beating fast. That Will only woke up once was a miracle, and he had tried to calm her worries the best he could. The other times she woke after that, she didn’t want to mention anything to her husband, who seemed to have fallen asleep by her side. Eventually, out of exhaustion, she drove herself to sleep.
She was far from knowing that Will barely slept that night, and kept his ears open for any suspicious sound; in the next room, his father was also on the qui vive, ready to interfere if something should happen. Both had weapons ready to use if the need should arise. Will had drawn a gun from the station armoury; despite all regulations to the contrary, he had put it into the first drawer of his bedside table, without telling Sandra, and James kept a cricket bat within reach.
The night, however, went on uneventfully.
The next day was December 24 – Christmas Eve. It was a tradition within the Metcalfe household to put up the decorations on that day, all of them united around the tree that Will and James would buy this same morning, at the same time as the remainder of the Christmas shopping would be done. That included any last-minute presents that might be left to buy. Normally, on that day, Sandra would take Paul with her to visit the shops, while her husband and her father-in-law would go their own way; but this morning, it was decided that they would stay all together.
Although Paul couldn’t fathom the reason for this change in the tradition, he didn’t mind it at all. He couldn’t very well understand that it was the voice of reason that made his father make such a decision. Considering the circumstances, William Metcalfe preferred to have his whole family around him. This way, his colleagues assigned to their protection, whom he knew were following the family around, would be able to do their job without concerning themselves with possible dispersed targets, and would make a better surveillance of the area.
Will didn’t really think that Schwartz would dare show up, especially not in the middle of a crowded street. He truly believed that the man needed to be a complete idiot to even think of risking coming around him while on the run. However, he also didn’t want to take any chance with his family – which was, for him, more precious than anything else in the world.
Sandra never noticed the presence of the covert police officers around them, nor did Paul, but Will and James, with their expert eyes, could easily spot them, blending in with the many people walking in the street, and looking as if they also were looking for last-minute Christmas gifts. Sandra had not talked about Schwartz all morning, and although Will knew it was unlikely she would have forgotten about him, he thought it better not to mention the policemen. At the moment, she didn’t look like she needed the added reassurance that everything was under control. She was too relaxed, and enjoying herself too much, for him to spoil that moment with talk of potential, but improbable, danger.
Leaving his father in charge of the family, Will temporarily sneaked away into a nearby shop to take delivery of the new ring he had ordered for Sandra, and to buy a last impromptu gift for his son that he had seen displayed on a shelf behind the counter of a collectors’ shop, a few days before. The present proved to be expensive, but considering what it was, Will didn’t hesitate to have it put aside and gift-wrapped, until he would be able to come this very day. With the small box in his pocket, and the huge one tucked under his arm, he returned to his family, to discover that Sandra, who was checking out new decorations for the Christmas tree, didn’t seem to have noticed he had been gone for several minutes. James had done a wonderful job distracting her.
She nearly jumped when she saw him suddenly appear by her side, with his big, gift-wrapped box. “Where’s that come from?” she asked, pointing to it.
“Oh, from Father Christmas…” Will nodded in a general direction down the street, and a curious Paul looked over – of course, to see nothing. He turned his attention back to his father who was smiling down at him: “He told me this was to be delivered to a very special young man… And as he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to get this down our chimney tonight…”
“Dad…” Paul smiled broadly. “I know it comes from you,” he said reasonably. “You don’t have to make any story up.”
“Make up a story – that would mean ‘lying’, wouldn’t it?” Will raised a brow. “Have you ever known me to lie, Paul Metcalfe? If I say this comes from Father Christmas, then you’d better believe I’m telling the truth.”
Paul laughed heartily. “Sure, Dad. Whatever you say.” He eyed the box covertly. It was really huge. “What’s in it?”
“It’s for Christmas, and Christmas is tomorrow, you naughty boy,” Will replied with a renewed smile. “You’ll have to wait until morning to find out.”
“Oh… Not even a peek?”
“Now, now, Paul…” Sandra took the boy by the shoulders and coerced him towards the door of the shop they were standing in front of. “Don’t be so impatient! Christmas will come soon enough, and then you’ll know. Now come. Why don’t we buy that set of angels you’ve been admiring for the last five minutes?”
Paul’s eyes lit up. “Can we name them after the Spectrum Angels?” he enquired.
He didn’t see her mother rolling her eyes. “If we must… but won’t Destiny be jealous, then? You’ve already named her after one of them…” She pushed the boy through the door, and Will and James missed the answer the young boy gave to his mother’s comment.
“You two are spoiling that kid way too much,” James remarked.
Will raised a brow. “You’re a fine one to talk, Dad.” He showed his box. “The dealer told me this was a very rare, collectable item. But even considering that, I’m not sure this will compete with that doll you gave him yesterday.”
“And what is it exactly?” James asked, his words echoing those of his grandson. By the sound of it he was as curious as the boy to find that out. But Will would not give in.
“You’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning to find that out.”
James shrugged. “If it’s not Captain Scarlet related, you’re doomed.” His son remained poker-faced. It was obvious he wouldn’t say a word about what was in this box. James cleared his throat and changed the subject, taking advantage of the fact that both Paul and Sandra were out of earshot to ask the question that had been burning his lips since that morning: “I know you called the station earlier on. Did you have any news regarding Schwartz?”
Will shook his head grimly. “He has supposedly been seen in Bristol this morning,” he reported.
“That means he hasn’t been identified properly. Maybe it wasn’t even him, to begin with. For all we know, he could be anywhere else in England.” Will paused, hesitant. “Even here, in Winchester.”
“Or he could already have left the country.”
“If he’s smart, that’s what he would have done. But it seems very unlikely that he would have succeeded at that.” Will sighed. “Dad, I try to sound confident, if only to keep Sandra from worrying, but I –”
“You’re worried too, I know.” James squeezed his son’s shoulder. “But I don’t think you should. Your chums are all around, keeping their eyes out for this pond life. And I am here too, and you know I won’t let anything happen to you. You’re perfectly safe… and the family is too.”
But these words, as reassuring as they were meant to be, did nothing to lift Will’s dark concerns from his mind. “Yes, Dad,” he said in a sombre voice. “I hope you’re right…”
The shopping done, the family returned home and started on the decorations. The tree was up in the middle of the living room in no time, and Paul and his mother had great fun trimming it all day long, while James and Will were hanging garlands, lights and mistletoe around the house. Sandra had cooked hors-d’oeuvres for tea, and they ate various titbits at dinner time and for a good part of the evening, during which they completed the decorations to the sound of Christmas music.
When they had finished, it was already late in the evening, and the night had fallen a long time ago. They admired their handiwork with no small amount of pride; the tree was wonderful, with all of its lights blinking merrily. Sandra had hung the new set of angel lights in plain view, right in the middle of the tree, and they discovered, upon plugging it in, that it played Christmas melodies. ‘Musical Angels’, Will read on the box… and that definitely settled the argument with Paul that indeed, each of the crystal angels deserved to be named after the Spectrum Angels. The first five were easy – but for the last half of the set, all of the members of the family had to call upon every bit of imagination to come up with new names that would be fitting.
There were no guests on Christmas Eve, no party with both sides of the family visiting, or the neighbours filling the house, drinking, eating, singing and making lots of noise well into the night. For the Metcalfe household, Christmas Eve was a time they kept for themselves. Traditionally, they would go out for a walk after finishing decorating the tree, strolling the streets at night until they reached the Cathedral where they would attend the Midnight Eucharist, conducted by the Bishop. But this year, it was decided they would stay home. As much as Will believed that Schwartz was likely to be as far away from Winchester as possible, there was still the slightest doubt that he might be around. And if that was the case, he didn’t want to expose his family to any kind of risk by going out tonight, even considering it was Christmas Eve.
Paul didn’t mind the change of plans at all, and didn’t even think of asking why they were not going to the midnight Church celebrations that night. He actually didn’t want any of the adult members of his family to change their minds after all. He much preferred staying home and play with his Captain Scarlet toys – especially with that brand new doll of his, while his parents and his grandfather were watching a Christmas movie on television.
When Paul started yawning his head off, somewhere around eleven, his mother decided, despite his protests, that it was high time he went to bed. His father took him to his room. He tucked him in with his precious Captain Scarlet doll and it barely took five minutes before Paul fell asleep.
With the boy now out of the way, Will, Sandra and James piled up the many boxes of Christmas presents underneath the tree. Sandra opened wide eyes when she saw the small box wrapped with golden paper that her husband delicately put amongst the huge presents, while giving her a look bright with a mischievous glint. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
“So I’m guessing that huge box for our son wasn’t the only thing that you bought today?” she asked.
Will smiled. “Why, love, I really can’t surprise you anymore, can I?” He waved the tiny box at her. “You know you’ll have to wait until morning too?”
Sandra pouted. “It’ll be midnight in barely an hour.”
Will shook his head; he wouldn’t waver in his resolve. “Uh-uh. You know the tradition,” he said, putting the small box back amongst the rest of the presents. “You will have to wait – just like the rest of us.”
Sandra nodded, before shooting a look in the direction of James who, crouched on the other side of the tree, was watching them in silence, a thin smile upon his lips. Their eyes met, and James thought he read something in those of his daughter-in-law. Clearing his throat, he stood up, huffing as he did.
“I think I’d better turn in too,” he said, looking down at the couple seated on the floor, who barely were taking any notice of him and now seemed to only have eyes for each other. “Don’t stay up too late, you two. We’ll be up very early in the morning.” He chuckled, and walked away. “You can count on Paul for that.”
Sandra and Will glanced in his direction, as he climbed up the stairs, before returning their attention to each other. “He’s right, you know,” Will commented. “We’d better get upstairs ourselves.”
“Of course…” Sandra stood up, and held her hand out to her husband, who took it and pulled himself to his feet. He stood in front of her and brushed her lips with his own; she let him linger a bit, before gently pushing him away. “We should go upstairs, yes… but it should be for sleeping.”
It was his turn to present a pouting expression. “What do you mean, exactly?”
She smiled mischievously. “Exactly what I said.” She let go of his hand and turned away, slowly heading towards the stairs. “And besides, you should wait for your own present too, darling. There’s no reason you should receive it before anyone else.”
He watched her with a puzzled expression as she started climbing up; she stopped briefly in the middle of the stairs and looked over her shoulder, to give him an enticing look. He grinned; she was in a teasing mood tonight – and he had to say, he liked it quite a lot when she was like that.
“Now wait a minute, you little witch…”
He set out after her, and she ran up the remainder of the stairs, giggling playfully, with her husband in hot pursuit, keeping her lead on him until they reached the door of their room.
All thoughts of Alexander Schwartz, and of any threat he could represent to their lives completely left their minds that night. They even forgot the policemen, keeping guard outside, all around their house, ready to intervene at the first sign of danger.
It was cold that night, and a cotton wool-like snow was falling from the sky, slowly covering the ground with a white layer that was thickening with each passing hour. The police officers keeping guard around the Metcalfe house felt a bit drowsy from the cold, and mostly stayed inside their cars, leaving the engine running to keep warm, and drinking vast quantities of coffee to stay awake and alert.
The surroundings were quiet. At least, outside it was, as some of the neighbouring houses were celebrating Christmas, and the parties were in full swing, with music, songs and dances, and laughter coming to the officers’ ears. As guests left to return home, they were unaware that their every move was under watchful surveillance from the policemen who were on the lookout for any suspicious behaviour. After all, Alexander Schwartz could be posing as one of these revellers, and making his way towards the Metcalfe house, thinking this cover would not arouse any suspicion. But no-one seemed to be going that way, and after many ‘Merry Christmas’, hugs and kisses, they would leave in the other direction.
When he saw a visibly inebriated man trying to unlock his car in order to take the wheel and return home, Sergeant Muldoon felt he needed to intervene. In good conscience, he couldn’t let the man go, and drive his car under the influence; he would be a danger to himself and anyone who would cross his path. So leaving PC Coltrane alone to continue the surveillance of the Metcalfe home, he went to the man to stop him.
As Muldoon was busy talking to the drunk man, and trying to convince him that it would be much safer for him to take a cab and leave the car behind, Coltrane found himself absent-mindedly watching the scene from a distance. Both officers were too distracted to notice a silhouette detaching itself from the shadow of the immediate neighbouring house of the Metcalfe home and using the cover of the darkness to surreptitiously reach the objective they had been keeping an eye on for the past two days. The other policemen watching the house didn’t see the shadow either, nor suspect its presence, as it slowly followed the outside wall to make its way towards the kitchen window, half hidden behind a thick, bushy pine tree.
Coltrane glanced once towards the Metcalfe house, saw nothing, and returned his attention to Muldoon who, after introducing himself as a police officer, was now confiscating the man’s car keys, and had taken his portable phone to call a cab to pick the man up. With that done, and the frustrated man agreeing reluctantly to wait for the cab, Muldoon slowly returned to his post, satisfied that he had performed a public service and a good deed on this Christmas Eve night.
Seeing his companion return, Coltrane turned his attention back to the house again; unfortunately, the silhouette had disappeared from view, and so everything seemed to be perfectly under control.
Neither Coltrane nor Muldoon noticed the window, which, a second earlier, had been forced open; neither did they see the outline of the man who slipped inside the house, as quiet and swift as a cat, and slowly closed the window behind him…
Paul woke up with a start in the middle of the night and sat up straight in bed. He barely disturbed Destiny, who, until now, had been sleeping on his legs. She didn’t move from her place, and continued to purr contentedly, opening one of her big yellow eyes to stare curiously at him, obviously wondering what he could be doing up at this hour. The night life was for cats, not for humans, although Destiny was more than happy to accommodate her family’s nightly habits, by keeping them company when they woke up for a midnight snack. That was more James Metcalfe’s way, however; not her young master’s.
Paul looked around, feeling lost and still a bit sleepy. He felt sure he had heard a noise that had awakened him, but now, he couldn’t hear anything at all but the silence. From the window, he could see the Christmas lights decorating the neighbours’ house. They were blinking merrily, sending all kinds of multicoloured shadows onto his walls. Paul figured this was what had awakened him; his hand reached to stroke Destiny’s back, as he admired the lights and the falling snow outside. The cat’s purring grew in intensity.
Paul glanced at his SPV alarm clock. It said two o’clock. So it was Christmas morning, then, and therefore, Father Christmas had probably come, and all the presents were probably under the tree right now. Paul smiled to himself; he had known for a long time – since the year before, to be exact – that it was mostly his parents who put the gifts under the tree, making sure they would be there in the morning when he woke up. He even suspected that, if there was a Father Christmas, maybe he didn’t have all the time he needed to do his whole tour, and that parents all over the world needed to give him a hand, so not to disappoint the kids – especially the little ones – if there should be no present left for them.
Paul didn’t think he would be that bad a boy if he decided to go and check if the presents had indeed arrived. After all, it was officially Christmas now, so he had the right to check. On the other hand, he didn’t really have the authorisation to go about the house at night, except if there was a need for him to go to the toilet. Unsure, he considered what to do, chewing on his bottom lip.
The temptation was really too great. This wasn’t a night like any other, after all: it was Christmas! Paul peeled the covers from him, and threw his legs off the side of the bed. He disturbed Destiny who meowed her disapproval and leapt lightly onto the floor, shaking herself. He shushed her.
“You’ll wake everyone up, Destiny,” he whispered. “Keep quiet.”
The cat ignored him, and trotted briskly towards the half-opened door.
“Right,” Paul approved in a low voice. “Go on reconnaissance, Destiny. We’ll be following you.” He put on his slippers, grabbed his Captain Scarlet doll and started tiptoeing towards the door. All in all, slipping out of the room and going down to the living room promised to be a wonderful and exciting adventure. One he was now gladly sharing with his favourite hero. “We’re going on a mission tonight, Captain,” he whispered to his doll. “But we’re not going after Mysterons… We’re just making sure Father Christmas came tonight.”
He pushed his door slightly open, and went silently out. In the semi-darkness of the landing, he could see the long shadow of Destiny, who was presently seated at the top of the stairs, zealously cleaning herself up. Paul groaned. It was just like a girl to make herself pretty right in the middle of an important mission.
He went to the railing and crouched down, to peer through the sculpted wooden bars down into the living room. The tree lights were blinking, and he could see underneath the heavily decorated branches piles and piles of presents, wrapped in various multicoloured papers and ribbons. He opened eyes wide with excitement, and stood up. He silently hurried towards the stairs.
“Come, Destiny,” he said as he passed by the cat. “Let’s go.”
The cat contented herself with watching him as he slowly went down, carefully feeling each step, not wanting to fall in the semi-darkness of the staircase. It was only when the boy had reached the first floor that Destiny decided to join him, her footsteps barely making any sound at all.
As she jumped from the last step onto the floor and prepared to join her young master in the living room, Destiny froze suddenly, and twisted around towards the dining room, the fur on her back standing straight, all of her instincts telling her that something was wrong. Flattening herself low on the floor, she gave a low growl, looking into the room, probing with her eyes to find what it was that was making her feel so uncomfortable. She saw something big, something unknown, crawling into the shadow. Knowing a short moment of panic, she darted into the living room, and went to Paul, who at this point, not realising there was something amiss with his cat’s behaviour, had sat down in front of the tree, putting his Captain Scarlet doll by his side, to better examine and admire the many gifts displayed underneath the illuminated branches.
Paul’s eyes were not big enough to take in everything; all of this was so beautiful, so very bright. Seeing all these presents, all wrapped in their brilliant papers, all tied up with these shiny ribbons, which reflected all the lights of the Christmas tree into the semi-darkness of the room – the new Angel lights even more brightly than the rest, he thought – it had something magical that seemed to come right from a dream. He had seen many Christmas trees, many decorations, in his life – he was already eight years old, after all! – but nothing seemed to compare to seeing this in the middle of a peaceful and hushed Christmas morning. He was literally in admiring awe, sitting there in reverent silence and watching all this with bright eyes. He wasn’t sleepy at all now, and felt fully awake.
“This is so beautiful, Captain,” Paul said, addressing his doll in a hushed voice. “You see it, don’t you? All the lights… all the pretty colours. That’s a Christmas tree for Spectrum. I’m sure it is.”
He was wondering if he could open one of his presents – only one, really, maybe a small one… Would his parents be cross with him if he did? He was aware that he was already going against the rules, anyway, and if they ever found out he was up at this time of the night, they might not like it. So maybe he shouldn’t push his luck… He wasn’t a disobedient child normally. And he was trying to reason that this night, which was Christmas Eve night, was something very special, and that maybe his mum and dad would not be as angry as he imagined they might be if they were to walk down and find him there, sitting in front of the tree, mesmerized by the pretty lights.
His eyes fell on the big box he had seen in his father’s arms earlier that day. The secret present he had bought at the last minute… And again, the temptation became difficult to fight, nearly impossible, and Paul bit his lip, trying to decide what he should do.
Destiny came, brushing herself against him, and slipped under his arms to settle on his knees, meowing softly. Dreamily, he stroked her, his eyes still set on the magical sight offering itself to him.
His hands reached for the first box, and he pulled it to him to check it out more closely.
Alexander Schwartz couldn’t believe his luck when he had seen those dumb policemen watching the Metcalfe house let themselves be distracted by a common drunk who wanted to drive his car home. Still, he wasn’t a man for looking the gift horse in the mouth; maybe this would be his unique chance to get his revenge.
Schwartz considered himself lucky to have been able to escape the cell where he had been kept incarcerated since his verdict – again, thanks to the bad judgment of yet another idiot policeman, who paid with his life for his carelessness. Once out, Schwartz had been able to avoid arrest and stayed in hiding. The thought had crossed his mind that he should probably try to leave the country and lie low for a while, making himself forgotten… But his hunger for vengeance was too great; he would not rest, and leave his old life behind, without settling his score with the man who had hunted him down like an animal for the past three years, who had been responsible for his arrest, and whose testimony had caused the jury at his trial to pronounce a guilty verdict against him, which would likely cost him a life sentence.
He hated Metcalfe so much that he was willing to risk everything, even his newfound freedom, to get to him, and to make him pay.
Beside, Schwartz considered that the police were so stupid, that they probably imagined he would keep away from the man he had sworn to kill… That they would concentrate their efforts on trying to find him in what they considered the ‘usual places’: airports, train stations, somewhere close to the borders, because they would think his intention was to leave the country. They didn’t know him that well, if they thought that. And Schwartz was quite satisfied with that. That left him free to carry out his real plans.
However, Schwartz nearly did change his mind when he saw the amount of surveillance around Metcalfe’s house, and all the protection his enemy and his family benefited from. So… the cops were not that stupid, after all... or maybe they just wanted to be careful. For a brief moment, he considered putting his plans on ice, but finally decided to stay around and watch from the shadows, waiting for the one chance that would permit him to sneak into that house – and finally get his revenge. Then – and only then – would he be free to leave and make himself forgotten. It didn’t even occur to him that once he had killed Metcalfe, he might well get caught again.
Early that day, from his vantage point, he had noticed the window half-hidden behind the tree, and had determined it as the best way to get inside; that was the blind spot, that the cops watching the house didn’t seem to have noticed. All he needed after making this discovery was to wait for the perfect moment to execute his plan. It didn’t matter how long it would take, or how cold it was out here. The wait only served to strengthen Schwartz’s resolve.
William Metcalfe was going to suffer for that as well.
The occasion presented itself in the middle of the night, and he seized it, without any hesitation.
Entering the house had been easy. Schwartz didn’t even need to break a window to get in, just to force the old lock with the short crowbar he was carrying. Then he slid the window up and slipped inside as silently as he could, taking great care to close it behind him. A glance outside informed him that the cops had not realised what had happened, and he let out a deep sigh. He was at the same time relieved and elated that his simple plan was working so easily.
His hands squeezed the crowbar as he cautiously looked around; he was in the kitchen, dark, barely lit by the lights coming through the window through which he had just entered. There were knives on the counter, and smiling evilly, Schwarz chose a butcher’s knife, and tested the blade. He grunted with satisfaction: it was razor-sharp, and would do the job nicely.
He slipped the crowbar into his belt and, the knife in hand, pushed the door to enter the dining room; his eyes spotted the staircase, just beyond the hall, and he silently made his way towards it. Upstairs, the entire family was surely sleeping soundly: William Metcalfe himself. His wife. His son. His father – Schwartz heard that the old man had also been a cop in the past. He wondered if he might have time to kill the whole lot of them. The old man and the kid would not be that difficult to get rid of. But maybe the sounds would wake Metcalfe, and that would certainly spoil Schwartz’s chance of getting him. And Metcalfe was definitely the one that Schwartz wanted the most to see dead. All the others were mainly extra.
A cat stepped down the last step of the stairs and suddenly stopped in its tracks to turn in his direction. Schwartz stopped his advance, as he saw the cat’s yellow eyes looking into the dining room, seemingly searching for him. He heard the faintest of hissing from the small animal, before seeing it dart away in the opposite direction, straight into the living room. Schwartz wondered if the cat had seen him, or merely felt his presence; he shrugged it off dismissively, figuring he had nothing to fear from it – either to attack or warn his masters. A cat wasn’t a dog, after all.
He resumed his silent walk and reached the stairs; he barely glanced in the direction of the living room, where stood a huge Christmas tree, fully decorated and lit with multicoloured blinking lights. He wasn’t in a festive mood; his vengeance, about to be fulfilled now, was the only thing on his mind. He started climbing the staircase, his eyes set on the landing up ahead; with each step, he could feel his heart beating faster with anticipation, drawing his plans as he progressed. He would use the knife to kill the old man, then the kid, while they were still sleeping. Clean and swift, there would be no sound. Then he would go into Metcalfe’s room. He would kill his wife and then slit his throat. With any luck, he would take a long time to die, unable to cry out to alert his buddies watching the house outside. And Schwartz would take the opportunity to gloat. He would show him the dead bodies of his loved ones, as he slowly choked on his own blood.
A thin smile tugged on Schwartz’s lips. That was a good plan; a shame he didn’t have time for more, so he could be more inventive with his vengeance. Metcalfe had a pretty wife; killing her in front of her defenceless husband’s eyes would have been quite enjoyable. But it would be too much to ask, really. All he could hope for was to kill everyone, making Metcalfe suffer with the knowledge that he was responsible for all of their deaths… and then disappear into the night before anyone else noticed he was even there.
As he was getting nearer to the landing, and he saw the many doors leading into the rooms of his sleeping would-be victims, Schwartz found he had trouble containing his excitement. Soon, so very soon, he would be revenged. His hands were clammy, his breathing short; he stepped onto the landing, and a floorboard creaked underneath his foot. He froze in place and listened, concerned that someone might have heard. All he could hear was the regular snoring coming from behind the nearest half-opened door.
Everybody seemed to be very soundly asleep.
Schwartz smiled wickedly. This would be way too easy.
As he took a step forward, he heard some shuffling coming from downstairs and again, he froze. Slowly, he turned his head, and looked down, screwing his eyes in the semi-darkness; he had a full view of the living room, and of the big Christmas tree standing in the middle. He then felt his heart miss a beat.
There was a dark-haired young boy sitting on the floor, in front of the tree; he was carefully going through the gifts piled underneath it, admiring each one, trying to read the cards by the faint glow of the blinking multicoloured lights. He was trying not to make too much noise, but Schwartz had heard him, and was now staring at him with disbelief.
That was Metcalfe’s son.
Schwartz kept watching him like a hawk. The boy had not seen him, did not even suspect his presence, and continued to casually pile the wrapped presents to one side, in a slow regular motion, seemingly unbothered that it was the middle of the night and that he really should be in bed. He was now pulling a big box from underneath the tree and was contemplating it thoughtfully, seemingly wondering exactly what he would do with it. Taking a decision, he put the box upon his lap and started un-wrapping it, carefully avoiding any ripping noises that might be too loud.
A new crooked smile appeared on Schwartz’s lips as a sudden thought came to him and a new, truly cruel plan started to take form in his mind.
This innocent child, not realising the danger he was in, should be the first to die. First, it was a matter of safety: if the boy should hear noises coming from upstairs when Schwartz started on his dirty work, he could very well give the alarm. Secondly – killing his son would be a perfect way to get his revenge on the man he hated. Schwartz could only imagine Metcalfe’s look of horror when he threw the boy’s dead body onto the bed, after slitting the father’s throat. Oh, sweet, sweet revenge… The Fates really were with him tonight.
He nearly chuckled at the thought: this was indeed a true Christmas present…
His eyes set on his victim, Schwartz slowly turned on his heel and headed back towards the stairs, intended to make his way down as quietly as he had climbed up. The boy had finished unwrapping his box and gave a gasp of happy excitement at the discovery of what the present was. He swiftly removed the cover to get a peek inside. Schwartz kept watching and smiled anew. The kid was admiring this uncovered present with such awe that he was totally oblivious to what was going on around him. All Schwartz needed to do was to reach him, and surprise him from behind. He didn’t expect any resistance: Metcalfe’s son would be dead at his feet without him needing to break a sweat.
It would be so easy…
Still keeping his eyes fixed on the boy, Schwartz put his left foot onto the first step down; then he moved his other foot to the next step…
“Drop your gun, you are under arrest,” a very stern voice said, coming from very close behind him.
Schwartz felt his heart missing a beat and in a panic, he turned around. He couldn’t see much in the nearly total darkness of the landing except for two tiny red lights blinking at about two feet from the floor, seemingly attached to a dark form that he couldn’t clearly discern.
Surprised, he took a step back, and his foot landed on something that made him lose his balance. He missed a step and suddenly, to his horror, he tumbled backwards down the stairs with a loud crash. His knife escaped his hand as he made an attempt to catch himself, and the crowbar, still stuck into his belt, drove itself painfully into his abdomen. He yelled as he landed roughly on the hard floor downstairs, and heard a crack from his right arm and one of his legs.
He was lying on his side, his eyes closed, gasping and overwhelmed with pain; when he opened his eyes, it was to see the cat, just a few inches from his face, flat on its belly, the fur on its back as straight as a porcupine’s, and hissing and spitting with fury. Sharp claws came right at his face at lightning speed, and he had to close his eyes to avoid being blinded. The scratches stung painfully and he cried out again.
Lights went on upstairs.
Awakened by a loud crashing sound, in the middle of the night, both William and James Metcalfe emerged from their respective rooms, ready for anything, turning on the lights as they came out. Will was carrying his gun, and ordered his wife to stay where she was, while he checked out exactly what was going on. He found his father in the doorway of his room, holding a cricket bat. He didn’t even consider the oddity of seeing his father with a cricket bat in his hands; this was one of Paul’s toys, and he never actually played with it at all.
There was an even stranger sight awaiting both men as they stood on the landing and looked down the staircase. At the bottom of the stairs, Alexander Schwartz was lying in an awkward position, with one of his legs bent in the approximate shape of a boomerang; he was moaning and bawling in pain at the same time. They could see the head of a crowbar emerging from beneath him, and there was a knife lying on the floor near where he had fallen, but it was presently out of reach.
In the living room, rooted in place, stood Paul, who was now looking at the fallen and wounded man with eyes big as flying saucers. Will’s heart stopped beating for a fraction of a second at the thought that Schwartz could have had the intention of hurting his son badly. He pointed his gun at the downed man:
“Don’t you move, Schwartz! I won’t hesitate to shoot!” he bellowed. He saw Paul jumping at the sound of his furious voice and looking straight at him, his face pale and his mouth open.
Will didn’t know if Schwartz had heard him, and quite frankly he couldn’t care less; he went down the stairs so fast that he missed half the steps, and leapt over the prone body of the fugitive lying on the floor, keeping his gun on him. James was coming down too, and he stood over Schwartz from the other side, with his bat raised in a threatening manner.
“Make one move, punk, and I bash your head in,” he warned in an ominous voice.
Will thought his father had seen too many Clint Eastwood movies, but at this point, he really didn’t mind if he put his threat into execution. If Schwartz had had any intention of hurting Paul, he certainly deserved it.
He pulled on the crowbar’s head, sharply wrenching it from the man’s belt, and threw it away, well out of reach. He thought Schwartz lucky not to have impaled himself on it while falling down and almost regretted that it hadn’t actually happened. It would have saved a lot of people a bundle of trouble.
On the other hand, if Paul had seen the man dead on the floor, that would have caused other kinds of trouble…
“Will!” At the sound of his name, Will looked upstairs, to see Sandra standing on the landing and looking down with dismay at the scene. All the colour had left her beautiful face, and she seemed on the verge of panic. “Will, I can’t find Paul! He isn’t in his room, he’s –”
“Don’t worry, he’s down here,” Will quickly answered. “He’s all right.” He glanced at his son, still standing like a statue in the middle of the living room and, having made sure of his first assessment about his well-being, turned back to his wife: “Call the police,” he instructed. “Tell them to send the look-out guys right away. Schwartz is in here and has been neutralised…” He narrowed his eyes at the man, suspiciously. “He fell down the stairs, and I think he’s hurt. He’ll probably need an ambulance.”
She became even paler upon hearing the name of Schwartz, but as her eyes fell on the man and she realised that indeed he couldn’t do any harm to any of them, she nodded her assent, and disappeared inside their room.
Will looked down with contempt at the moaning man lying at the foot of his stairs; Schwartz was indeed neutralised, and by the looks of things, it might be a long time before he would be able to walk again, let alone hurt anyone. He couldn’t even writhe in pain, and stayed still on the floor, keeping the only hand he was able to move against his abdomen where he seemed to have hurt himself as well. He didn’t even raise his eyes to look at Will and in fact was keeping his eyes closed. There were three long, bleeding scratches across his face.
Will tilted his head to one side, looking at the man’s face with curiosity; then he caught sight of Destiny, crouched on the floor, her big eyes fixed on the downed man; she was emitting a low and throaty ominous growl that would have scared even the bravest of Doberman dogs. Will nodded, understanding that she was responsible for the marks on Schwartz’s face.
Good job, Destiny, he thought inwardly.
“Keep an eye on that bastard,” he then said to his father. “If he makes one single move…”
“It’ll be the very last he’ll ever make, you can believe me on that,” James replied with a threatening edge to his voice. There was no doubt he would have no hesitation.
Will turned to face his son; it was only at this moment, upon looking into the very pale face of the young boy, and the fixed expression of his eyes, that he felt his legs shaking underneath him, and suddenly was afraid they would collapse under him. He strode the short distance separating him from Paul, and he abruptly seized him by the shoulders. He shook him, perhaps a little more forcibly than really was needed, but he fully intended to compel his son to detach his eyes from the man lying there, at the foot of the stairs. The boy seemed in shock, and William desperately wanted him to snap out of it.
“Paul,” he called in a strong and firm voice. “Look at me. Don’t look at him, son, look at me!”
Paul blinked and seemed to emerge from a deep dream; he let out a gasp, as if he had been holding his breath for a long time, and obeyed, diverting his eyes from Schwartz and turning to look into the devastated expression he could see on his father’s face. Will, whose legs were now shaking so much he could barely stand, fell onto his knees; both his hands were gripping Paul’s shoulders as he looked into his scared and confused blue eyes.
“Did he hurt you?” Will asked urgently. Paul automatically started shaking his head, but his too-nervous father didn’t seem to register it straightaway, and repeated the question: “Did he do anything to you, hurt you in any way?”
“No, sir,” Paul answered in a broken voice, still shaking his head. “No, he didn’t. I… I didn’t even know he was there… I heard noises… Someone saying something… I think it was Captain Scarlet…”
“My doll,” Paul said, and he started looking right and left, searching for it. “Where’s my Captain Scarlet doll?”
“Paul…” Will blew a deep sigh, closed his eyes for a second a two, thanking God that his son was okay, then he opened them and forced his son to look at him again. “Forget the doll for a moment, Paul. What were you doing down here? Why are you downstairs, in the middle of the night? Did he get you out of bed?”
“No, I… I came myself…” Paul was trembling. “I told you, I didn’t even know he was there.”
“You came by yourself?” a disbelieving Will repeated. “Paul, what… You know you’re not allowed to roam around the house at night… You should be in bed!”
The boy knew he wasn’t allowed to wander around the house in the middle of the night; his parents were too worried that he might fall down the stairs in the darkness – those way-too-steep stairs – and seriously injure himself. Of course he was a big boy now, but the concern was still with them, and the fact that it was Schwartz who had fallen down those stairs tonight – whatever the providential reason behind it – was proof enough that they were not absolutely wrong when they had set that particular rule.
And of all the nights for Paul to decide to disobey his parents, tonight might have had dire consequences. He could have fallen victim to Schwartz’s evil deeds. The thought of that knife, presently on the floor, not that far away from him, made Will shiver.
Paul swallowed hard; the ball in his throat didn’t seem to want to disperse. His father looked like he was in shock; he had never seen him like this before. “I just… I came to admire the tree,” he said in a shaky voice. “I just wanted… Dad, I was checking the presents...” Tears were beginning to well into his eyes, and he didn’t even have the strength to raise his hand to wipe them away. “I just… I wanted to know…” The tears started running down his cheeks. “I didn’t mean to be bad, Dad… I didn’t mean it… I didn’t want to make you angry…”
“Paul…” Will was trying to calm himself. The thought of what could have happened that night, how he could very well have lost his son to the madman that was Schwartz, that his family had been threatened right in the middle of his home had put his nerves on edge. He breathed deeply, and he suddenly realised that he was holding Paul in such a strong grip that he was probably hurting him. He relaxed his hold, looking into the tear-washed young face.
The boy had been scared more than he had ever been in all of his young life; and probably, seeing his father this way was scaring him even more.
“Paul… I should be angry… so very angry with you…” Will said, the words catching in his throat. “But I am not… really, I’m not... I was so scared… I’m just glad you’re okay, son...” Tears starting to brim in his eyes, he pulled his son to his heart, and held him in a strong embrace. “I’m just so glad you’re okay…” He squeezed the boy tighter, at the risk of smothering him, and looked over his shoulder at the mess he had made of the boxes of presents piled underneath the Christmas tree. There was one box opened, with its torn paper pulled aside, and the cover removed, and he recognised the gift he had bought the previous day. Despite himself, he smiled, and in an attempt to reduce the tension, said, with a genial voice and a nervous chuckle: “I see you couldn’t wait to open your presents. You’re such a naughty little boy…”
“I love you, Dad.” He heard the muffled voice of his son in his ear.
Will closed his eyes. “I love you too, son…”
There was a short moment of silence between the two, before it was abruptly interrupted by strong and insistent knockings on the front door. Will reluctantly tore himself from his son’s embrace, and stood up. He briskly strode to the door and open to discover Muldoon and Coltrane on his porch, with a whole team of police officers, and behind them, two medics standing at both ends of a rolling stretcher. Will moved away to let all of them through, and without a word, pointed them to the foot of the stairs where the still moaning Schwartz still lay, under James’ vigilant eyes. As they hurried inside, a visibly disturbed Destiny flew into the dining room, meowing her discontent of seeing more strangers invading her home in the middle of the night.
Will glanced up to the landing, where he could see Sandra standing, leaning against the railing and looking down at what was going on downstairs, a hand clutched to her heart. Her eyes were wide, but he could see she was relieved to see the police finally coming in. Silently, Will went to stand by his son, encircling the boy’s shoulder with a protective arm. He barely even looked as his colleagues took over from his father to check on Schwartz, as the latter was examined by the medics. Will realised that these men were probably on duty nearby when they received the call, or they would not have arrived here as fast as they did.
The medics declared Schwartz’s right arm to be broken, as well as his right leg, his left ankle and a few ribs. His back wasn’t broken, although he had managed to twist a few muscles, so he was deemed in a good enough condition to be moved. They asked the policemen’s help to lay him down carefully on the stretcher. James Metcalfe watched like an hawk as the man’s unbroken left wrist was cuffed to the side of the stretcher, and the medics started to move him.
“That’s right,” he growled with barely contained anger, “get that piece of filth out of this house.”
As the medics carrying the stretcher crossed the hall in front of them, Will felt Paul slipping behind his legs, and he still held him, protectively; the boy was obviously still frightened by the sight of the man lying there, moaning in pain. Schwartz barely glanced in Will’s direction, before quickly averting his eyes. Silence hung between them. Schwartz was taken outside the house, and it was only when he saw the madman cross the doorway that Will permitted himself a sigh of relief.
James was talking with Muldoon, giving him a report of what he knew had happened – that more than likely, after breaking into the house, Schwartz had fallen down the stairs in the dark, and that they had found him there, unable to harm anyone or to offer any resistance. He then continued, stating his dissatisfaction that the man had been able to enter in the first place, considering the house was under such constant and close surveillance, and that he had succeeded in getting so far, before a stroke of Fate – not the police – stopped him before he could actually hurt anyone. Muldoon could barely get a word in; when James Metcalfe was angry and in full ranting mode, there was little that could stop him.
Will didn’t feel like he needed to add his own twopence-worth; his father was doing a wonderful job venting his frustration at poor Muldoon, who could only agree that the old man had every right to be unhappy.
“Where’s Captain Scarlet?” he suddenly heard a little voice behind him say.
Will looked over his shoulder; still hanging on to his father’s leg, Paul was looking around, frantically searching for something infinitely precious that he seemed to have lost. He raised his eyes, still red from having cried earlier, but now filled with a different kind of concern: “My Captain Scarlet doll,” he explained as he looked at his father. “I had it with me when I came downstairs… It should be around, but I can’t find it.”
“It’s probably hiding underneath all these boxes you moved around,” Will said in a half-chiding, half-amused voice.
He looked down, briefly looking for it, and his eyes fell again on the box his son had fully opened and which lay on the floor. The cover had been removed and put aside, but save for one, all the pieces were still in their places. Will figured out his son had been interrupted in his further investigation of the gift when he had realised Schwartz’s presence. He playfully ruffled the boy’s hair.
“We will have to talk about waiting till the morning to open your Christmas presents, young man,” he said in a falsely stern voice. “Did you at least enjoy this one?”
The boy looked up, his eyes alight with delight. “Boy, Dad… A complete set of Captain Scarlet race track! And the box looked like it’s never been opened!”
“Well, up until ten minutes ago, it did look like it,” Will confirmed, smiling mischievously. “I was told they’re very rare, especially in such good condition.” He frowned, looking into the box, and reached to take a small sports car that looked much like one of those ‘Spectrum Patrol Cars’ from Paul’s collection – except this one was yellow. “I was pretty sure the set was complete. It seems there’s one of the cars missing.”
“There was another when I opened the box,” Paul said. “A red one. A ‘real’ patrol car.”
“You took it out?”
“No, Dad.” The boy lowered his eyes, hesitantly. “Didn’t have time… with what happened, and all…”
“Exactly what did happen earlier, Paul?” Muldoon then asked, from where he was standing. Will turned an annoyed stare at him; seeing the expression on his son’s face, James thought it better to first intervene; when he wasn’t happy, especially when it came to protect his family, Will could be very scathing with words.
“Not now, Joe,” he said warningly. “The boy has had enough.”
“I’m sorry,” Muldoon replied softly but firmly. “But I have to know exactly how Schwartz ended up in the state he’s in right now…”
“What, you think one of us pushed him down the stairs?” Will snapped angrily. “I would have gladly done so, and worse, if I’d had the chance to get my hands on him! But he was already down when we got here. It was the sound of his fall that awakened us…”
“Please, calm down, Will,” Muldoon demanded, keeping his voice calm. “Your wife already told us that on the phone. We’re just trying to figure out what happened.”
“I hope you don’t think my son pushed him?” Will moved on, his anger not dwindling.
“I’m not implying anything of the sort.”
“The bastard slipped, or missed a step… what do we care?” James replied. “If that had not happened…” He let the rest hang, preferring not to voice the obvious – not in front of Sandra, who was listening to every word. And certainly not in front of Paul.
Muldoon sighed. “I was just thinking that maybe the boy saw something,” he suggested.
“I didn’t see much,” Paul then said, interrupting his father as the latter was giving a new warning to his colleague. “I heard a voice… It was Captain Scarlet, I’m sure. I turned round… just in time to see a big shadow falling down the stairs, making a lot of noise… I was scared… I first thought it was Dad or Granddad… But then, he started shouting, and I knew it wasn’t one of them. I couldn’t see very well… I couldn’t move either… I was too scared…”
His voice broke, and his father took him by the shoulders, comfortingly. “It’s all right, Paul. It’s finished now…”
The boy offered a thin smile, and then looked around again. “Where is my doll? I had it with me…”
“Here.” Sandra was coming down the stairs, holding the precious doll under her arm; she crouched on the third step to pick up something, and then came all the way down. She passed in front of both James and Muldoon, and walked to Paul, to hand him his toy. He took it eagerly and held it against his heart. “It was upstairs,” she explained, smiling at her son. “Just at the top of the staircase.”
“Ah, you see?” Will said. “You probably just left it there; you were too excited at seeing the tree with all the presents…”
“No, I didn’t,” Paul protested. “I had it with me, I’m sure of it!”
“If it was at the top of the stairs,” Muldoon remarked, “it’s possible that Schwartz stepped on it. Or caught his feet in it. That might be what caused him to fall.”
“I didn’t leave it there!” Paul insisted. “I know how dangerous it is to do that. Anyone could trip over it…” His voice trailed off, and he looked down, “… And fall down the stairs.”
“Which is probably what happened,” James commented. “There you go, Joe. You have your explanation, now.”
Joe Muldoon nodded thoughtfully, then glanced in the direction of Destiny the cat who, lying underneath the Christmas tree, was looking fixedly at him, growling with obvious animosity. “Funny, I would have bet it was the cat he tripped over,” he commented. “Seeing the way his face looked…” He shook his head dismissively, and sighed deeply. “Well, maybe he’ll be able to tell us himself exactly what happened. Not that it really matters, mind you. The important thing is, we got him back and you’re safe, all of you.” He shook his head, looking at Will. “You know you’ve been terribly lucky?”
“I know that.” Will again ruffled his son’s hair. Paul wasn’t saying a word, and was looking down, clutching his doll against him, in an obvious attempt to comfort himself. Will figured that he was feeling guilty about the incident.
“Don’t be too hard on the boy for leaving his toys lying around,” Muldoon said with a wide smile. “He may have saved your lives tonight.” He walked towards the door, putting his hat on. “I’d better go and follow that ambulance, and make sure that Schwartz will be well guarded at the A&E…”
“He’d better be,” James said fiercely. “Don’t let him out of your sight for even one second. And when he leaves that hospital, make sure he’ll be kept in a cell he won’t be able to escape from!”
Muldoon nodded. “I’ll make personally sure of that. Merry Christmas, all.”
The family answered in kind and Muldoon walked out, closing the door behind him. Quickly, James followed, and locked it. There had been enough surprises for the night, and they could all do with some peace and quiet from now on.
But looking at the family at that moment, it was easy to see that no-one, including Paul, would be able to get back to sleep.
“Daddy?” Paul, still clutching his doll, raised his eyes to his father and looked at him a little apprehensively. “Dad, I didn’t leave my doll at the top of the stairs. I brought him with me downstairs. I swear. I put it down on the floor there, just beside me.”
“It doesn’t matter, Paul,” his father offered kindly. “I’m not angry with you. If you had not left the doll upstairs, Schwartz would not have tripped over it and –”
“But I didn’t –”
“Maybe he stepped on this,” Sandra then commented. All eyes turned to her. She showed what she was holding in her right hand. It was a red car, similar in every way to the yellow one within the racing set box, except it was slightly flattened. Paul gave a loud gasp.
“The Spectrum Patrol car… Mum, where did you find it?”
“On one of the top steps,” his mother explained. “It looks like it’s been crushed.” She looked meaningfully at her husband. “Perhaps Schwartz did step on it and it rolled underneath his foot…”
Will frowned and took the car in his hand; he looked at it with incredulity, then at the top landing, then followed the stairs with a cursory glance. “But how did it get up there?” he wondered out loud. “It was still in the box when Paul opened it… And surely, Paul didn’t have time to go upstairs with it… and come back downstairs?”
“I certainly didn’t,” Paul protested. “I was here all the time! Sitting in front of the tree!” The young boy failed to notice the look of incomprehension on the faces of the adults surrounding him.
Other considerations suddenly came to Paul’s mind, as he surveyed the little car his father held in his hand. There was an expression of complete dismay in his eyes: “Look at it! It’s all broken! It’s ruined! It won’t work anymore.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” James said quietly, as he took the small car from his son’s hand. “Doesn’t look too damaged, actually…” He examined it, turning it within his fingers. “Yeah, the frame isn’t cracked, it’s just collapsed a bit. And I’m sure the mechanism inside is still in working order. It’s nothing a good screwdriver couldn’t repair in seconds, I reckon…”
“You’re sure of that?” Paul asked with hope.
“Spectrum Patrol Cars are sturdier than they look, Paul,” his grandfather gravely replied. “Come with me. I’m sure we’ll find something in the kitchen that we’ll be able to use to repair it. Then we’ll put the race track together and we’ll try it out.” He glanced at his son and daughter-in-law. “I’m pretty sure no-one will want to go to bed now, and since it’s Christmas, we might as well finish what you started, and unwrap the rest of our presents.”
The boy beamed. “Awesome, Granddad!” All thought of the awful man he had seen at the foot of the stairs, who seemed to have made everyone so angry, had left him now.
James took the doll his grandson was still holding in his arms and handed it to a still silent Will. “Hang on to that, son. The kid and I won’t be long.” And he took the boy by the hand and led him away through the dining room.
Paul disappeared with his grandfather behind the door leading to the kitchen, followed by his parents’ eyes. There was still disbelief in Will’s face as he considered the events of the night; he didn’t quite understand exactly what had happened. It was impossible for Paul to have had the time to open the box, remove the little car, run upstairs – behind Schwartz, without being seen – and leave the car there… so that Schwartz would so auspiciously step on it, saving all of their lives...
That seemed so very unlikely.
“I don’t get it,” he muttered, shaking his head. “How did that car get upstairs, exactly? If Paul didn’t take it there…”
“Maybe the cat did?” his wife suggested. Will stared at her, then looked in Destiny’s direction. The cat was quietly crouched in a sphinx-like position, underneath the Christmas tree; she was purring contentedly, fixing her bright yellow eyes upon the couple with that mysterious gaze that was unique to felines. She seemed to wink at them, and then turned her attention elsewhere, to look dreamily at a red bauble that was dangling only a few centimetres away from her nose.
“I can’t see very well how she could have done it,” Will commented. “Although she did a wonderful job rearranging Schwartz’s face…”
“Then maybe it was Captain Scarlet.” Will turned back to his wife with an interrogating look. Smiling, she took the doll from his hands. “Maybe seeing us all in danger, he took the Patrol Car himself, and drove all the way up to the top of the stairs to put an end to Schwartz’s reign of terror upon our family. After all,” she added with mischief in her voice, “protecting the innocents against evil invaders is what Spectrum agents do.”
Will blinked and then gazed at her for a moment. She was joking, of course, but somehow, her words were making him think; it was a ridiculous thought, really, but he couldn’t help having it.
And what if… it was all true?
It was the oddest feeling… but not an uncomfortable one. It was as if something wonderful had happened that night, that he couldn’t explain… And the more he was wondering about it, the more he was telling himself that it was nothing less than miraculous.
He looked into the doll’s face. It was staring at him, with that blank expression, plastic blue eyes painted to appear as lifelike as they could possibly be, and strangely human-like under the dim light of the hall. He realised for the first time how closely it did resemble the puppet-character on television; the artisan who had created this doll certainly made a good job of his craft.
“You know, darling,” Will said to his wife, “at this point, I’m ready to believe anything is possible. This is Christmas, and a time for miracles. And what is it that my father always says about toys? ‘Treat them well, and they’ll treat you in kind’. And Paul does love this doll…” He pulled on the metallic wire holding the microphone. The epaulettes blinked red and the synthetic voice echoed from within the doll’s belly: “Captain Scarlet, Spectrum. I’m here to help you.”
Will shared a smile with his wife. “Thank you, Captain. You did a fine job at it too. And I’m sure you’ll continue to do so in the future.”
He pulled on the microphone one last time. “S.I.G. Everything is under control.”
Will could have sworn the doll was actually answering him.
The idea for this story came to me for last year’s Christmas, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the time nor the proper inspiration to write it all. The only thing I had to go on with was the scene where the villain of the piece was roaming alone in the dark house and spotting the young boy sitting in front of the illuminated Christmas tree... to be stopped in his nefarious plans to kill the child by the intervention of a Captain Scarlet doll. One year later, the story expanded to what you have just read, the characters having developed fully. They are not, of course, the regular characters from the cast of the Captain Scarlet TV series, and are fully original, and I hope you will forgive me this intrusion into ‘the real world’, with a bit of a Christmas magic.
In regard to toys mentioned in this story – some of them exist, others don’t. There is indeed a ‘Captain Scarlet Racing Set’ that resembles the one described in this story. Created by Rovex Industries Ltd., in 1967, the set is actually called ‘Captain Scarlet Pursuit 21st Century Driving’, and is composed of tracks and two battery powered Spectrum Patrol Cars – and exactly like those of the set from this story, this is one red, and one yellow. This set is very rare, especially in mint condition, and is a highly sought-after collectable item.
As for the Captain Scarlet doll – well, although there is a number of Captain Scarlet dolls around, this particular one doesn’t actually exist. As stated, it was ‘custom-made’. I wish I would personally know someone good enough to make one for me… Even today, it would hold a special place within my collection.
And for those of you who bemoaned the fact this story is set in our bland and real world, is hardly related to the Captain Scarlet universe, and doesn’t present any of the ‘real characters’, here’s a little addition, a respectful nod to ‘Back to Basics’, one of my favourite stories, written by my beta-reader Hazel Köhler, and meant as a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for checking this story and all the others she had beta-read in the past:
Let’s imagine that there is a parallel world, existing right next to our own, and that in this parallel world, which action is set some sixty years in the future, live all those characters we love, unaware of our existence, except for those magical moments where they are allowed to cross the barrier between our worlds…
On this one Christmas morning on Cloudbase, a red-clad senior Captain wakes up, having fallen asleep in the Officers’ Living room, after the previous night’s celebrations, and gratefully accepts the cup of coffee handed to him by Captain Blue.
“I really should avoid falling asleep on a chair, Adam… I had the wildest of dreams you can imagine…”
Happy Christmas to everyone.