your mother more than you?” says the false knight on the road.
“Oh, none of them for you,” says the wee boy and still he stood.
“I think I hear a bell,” says the false knight on the road.
“It's ringing you to hell,” says the wee boy and still he stood.
Lady Susan Simms, Countess of Anerley, flicked the switch to turn on the music player and soon the car resonated to the thrilling voice of the latest operatic diva, in the opening act of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’. It was her favourite opera and she had been touched by her husband’s thoughtful gesture in giving her the latest recording to play on her journey.
She was alone in the car, driving from her London home to the home of her daughter’s perspective in-laws in Winchester because her husband, Lord Anerley, had been called away to an important diplomatic meeting in Paris. His decision to attend the meeting, rather than accompany her to meet the Metcalfes had been the cause of unusual friction between them, which was, no doubt, the reason for his thoughtful gift.
She’d always known he would go, despite the fact that she’d pleaded with him to accompany her instead. Robert Simms was a man who took his ‘duty’ very seriously, and, if she was honest with herself, she wouldn’t have it any other way. She was proud of the way he’d forged himself a career in the service of the World Government and the years they’d spent living abroad had been enjoyable ones.
The earldom of Anerley was not one of the greatest or oldest in the country, unlike that of her own distinguished family, but the Simms family took pride in the title’s unbroken inheritance from father to son since its creation in the 17th Century. That was why Robert had both been so delighted when their first child had been a son – christened Robert like his father and forefathers. Five years later they had had a daughter, Dianne, and had felt that their little family was complete. Robbie had been an able child, lively and athletic, while his sister was beautiful and sweet-tempered: all they could have wished for.
For eighteen years they had been so happy and carefree that the change, when it came, had very nearly destroyed them as a family.
Robbie had been in the school team for just about every sport he chose to play, but like his father, his favourite game was cricket and she’d always known that both father and son were hopeful Rob might play for his country one day. Even now the memory of summer days spent watching Rob hone his batting skills against other schools and amateur sides, was enough to make her sigh with regret for what might have been.
Of course, there had inevitably been accidents. She’d been distraught when Rob’s front teeth had been broken playing rugby, and he was forever being hit by cricket balls, despite the copious padding and protective gear they wore. But whenever she’d remonstrated with him about the risks he took, he’d only grinned – his endearingly boyish smile revealing his fore-shortened teeth – and cautioned her against worrying too much, and of course, she had never had the heart to stop him doing what he loved.
Then one winter afternoon, Rob had complained of tiredness: on examination he’d had a low grade fever which didn’t abate despite the medicine he was given. Over the weeks his healthily tanned skin had grown pale and become clammy to the touch. They had summoned doctors who had frowned and done numerous tests before they’d had the courage to tell them that their son had leukaemia. The cause was eventually traced to an old sports injury where a cricket ball had damaged a thigh muscle. Somehow the healing process had created a slow-growing cancer which, undetected by annual physical examinations, had spread throughout his body and had now infiltrated his lungs.
There was nothing they could do. In desperation, they’d gone from specialist to consultant, from one hospital to another, seeking advice. A lung transplant had seemed to be an option until further tests revealed the kidneys were also compromised and, after two years of hospital visits and useless and often painful treatment, Robbie had come home to die.
And so it was that her fifteen year old daughter, Lady Dianne Simms, had become the heir to the family estates, but not to the title, which was entailed to the nearest male heir. For a few years she’d clung to the possibility that she might have another baby, but without success; so her every hope had become centred on Dianne making a suitable match and producing the next generation, or there was a distinct possibility that the earldom would become extinct. Robert’s only sister’s marriage was childless and his father had been an only child, so the direct bloodline died with Dianne.
But, Dianne had had other ideas. Marriage and raising a family had been a long way down her list of ambitions. She’d toyed with a legal or diplomatic career and then, after meeting the highly eccentric Lady Penelope Creighton Ward, had gone off to work for her ‘agency’ – gadding about Europe doing things that her mother could not bring herself to approve of.
To her surprise her husband had seen it differently. He’d told his daughter that she had to live her own life and when - and if - she felt like marrying some lucky fellow, he’d be only too pleased to welcome her choice into the family.
That hadn’t happened. Instead, once Lady Penelope had retired from active public life, Dianne had joined an airline as a pilot and then, in a move that verged on lunacy, a team of stunt flyers called ‘The Angels’. There had been another family conflab about that, during which her husband had told her that ‘The Angels’ were now going to be part of a new and prestigious World Government organisation and they ought to be proud of ‘our Di’. He had not gone into details.
However used she was to her husband keeping diplomatic secrets, she had nevertheless resented his reticence about their daughter’s new career and things had been ‘difficult’ at home, for a while.
Lady Susan changed gear as she saw slow moving traffic ahead of her on the motorway, and let out a long sigh.
I should have left earlier; I’ve hit the rush hour…
As she crawled along in the outside lane, she went back to her musing. Her daughter had remained something of an enigma to her since she became a teenager and although she loved Dianne, she felt that her husband was closer to his daughter than he was to her these days, and try as she might, she couldn’t help resenting the shared confidences she was excluded from.
But, she thought with a thrill of excitement, all that will all be about to change. There will be the wedding to plan and they’ll need to set up a home. They can’t possibly live in Winchester, that is too far away from the best gynaecological services and I’m sure Dianne will want to bring the baby home to Chelsea. I’ll offer to contact a suitable estate agent for them. I’ll speak to Ruth Esterházy too and see where they hired Rachael’s nanny from – the girl is a marvel it seems - and these days you have to put your baby’s name down on a waiting list before they’re hardly more than a twinkle in their parents’ eyes…
She hadn’t seen Dianne since she had telephoned to announce that she and Colonel Paul Metcalfe were getting engaged, and she was looking forward to meeting the General and Mrs Metcalfe. Of course, she’d bumped into them occasionally on the social circuit and Robert knew General Metcalfe, in the vague way men of affairs always seemed to know each other. In the recent past Paul had accompanied Dianne several times when she’d visited them and she’d seen the way her daughter looked at him, so she wasn’t exactly surprised by this announcement. Nevertheless, it was an exciting development – and not before time.
The Metcalfes were a sound family – she’d looked them up once she realised Dianne was deeply in love with their son – and, although it wasn’t the most brilliant of matches for the only daughter of an earl – it was much better than some of the previous boyfriends Dianne had brought home over the years.
Mind you, there was that tall American - with the Scandinavian good looks and an impressive bank balance. Lady Susan sighed. Although they were friendly enough and had been all hugger-mugger about that business they said they had at the British Museum, it was easy enough to see they weren’t romantically involved. Besides, it seems that he – Adam? – is now engaged to one of Dianne’s work colleagues, so we must make the best of what we have.
Frustrated at the slow speed of her progress, Lady Susan took the next exit and turned onto a dual carriageway. Having spent many weekends in this part of the country with friends in the past, she thought she knew the way well, and it was quicker to cut across country than follow the major roads. There was still some way to go, but she was confident she’d arrive before dinner.
That confidence gradually waned as the dual carriageway turned into a busy, twisting, single road and she was delayed, firstly by a car towing a caravan, and then by a farm tractor which ambled along. She put her foot down once it turned into a farmyard, the driver giving her a friendly wave as she sped past, but that only meant she arrived at the road works sooner. The sign beside the side of the road helpfully informed her that the Ministry of Road Works were very sorry for the delay, which was scheduled to continue for another six months whilst a road bridge was strengthened, and advised her to seek another route.
She cursed the faceless bureaucrat whose idea of fun was to put that message after the last major turning that would have avoided the delay. Nevertheless, she took the advice and struck out across country at the first opportunity, heading in the general direction she needed to go.
The autumn light was fading and she soon realised that this had not been one of her better ideas. The car’s Navisat guidance computer kept insisting she take the ‘next left’ – which invariably would have landed her in a field. The signposts all pointed to places she’d never heard of – or didn’t want to go.
Finally, she had to admit it – she was hopelessly lost.
It was completely dark before she reached a main road and spotted a sign that was helpful. She realised that she’d gone miles out of her way and would almost certainly be late for dinner. She set the cruise control for the legal speed limit and hurried into the night, the headlights of the car highlighting the grotesque shapes of hawthorn trees in the hedgerows, and the winking of the cat’s-eyes on the road.
She began to relax, glad to be on a main road again and hopeful that she wouldn’t be too late after all.
She was a careful driver and had slowed down as she approached a sharp bend on a steep hill, but even so, she could not completely avoid the rickety lorry that came hurtling round the blind corner too far over on the wrong side of the road. Momentarily, the beam of her headlights caught the expressionless face of the driver, a pallid mask between his dark hair and clothes, as she swerved across to the other side of the road. The lorry’s offside bumper caught the back of her car, sending it spinning off the road down an embankment. It came to a sudden, shocking stop, as it crashed into a tree, the boot crumpling with the impact which knocked the breath out of her. Shaking, she sat in the car, held upright by the seat belt and fought back the tears. The lorry sounded its horn as it disappeared around the next bend and raced away into the darkness.
Doctor Anthony Knight was on his way back from the clients’ offices to the hotel in the village he was staying at. Generally his company booked him into a city centre hotel, but the place he and his colleagues frequented was unusually full – catering for a business conference – and he’d drawn the short straw and been booked a room out in the wilds.
The evening stretched ahead of him with nothing particular to look forward to. The hotel – whilst comfortable enough – remained stuck in the past with regards to its facilities. It didn’t even have internet access, so he wouldn’t be able to log on for the usual informal chat with the crowd of like-minded cyber-friends he’d discovered a few years previously. He doubted very much that there would be anything worth watching on the telecast, so that left him with the option of reading a book.
To that end, he’d bought an interesting looking hard-back at lunchtime, written by the well-respected journalist Ronda Curtner, it purported to be an exposé of the Spectrum organisation. The World Government’s secret, anti-terrorist force had been launched years ago amidst much hype. But almost as soon as it was announced to the curious world, Spectrum had become very quiet and involved with some mysterious terrorists known only as ‘the Mysterons’. He was interested in why that had happened – as were his cyber-friends – and much of their talk revolved around the latest sightings of the brightly-hued officers or rumours about their most recent top-secret missions. Although he had never been as convinced as some of his friends that Spectrum was a threat to peoples’ civil liberties and an agent for repression, he was intrigued by the evasive explanations given by Spectrum’s press office as to who – or what – the ‘Mysterons’ were.
Coincidentally, he remembered attending an air show at Biggin Hill a few years ago and seeing a female squadron of pilots, called ‘The Angels’, performing daredevil feats. According to the rumours that circulated on the websites and forums he frequented, these pilots had gone on to work for Spectrum.
Maybe the book will tell me if that’s true, he mused, after all, Ms Curtner has a reputation for not peddling speculation and hear-say.
As he cleared the brow of the hill and took the blind corner carefully, he saw a dim glow down the steep embankment. He slowed down and peered down the slope. There was a car down there, with its rear end up against a tree and its headlights pointing towards the road. Carefully, he parked his car on the road side, where it wouldn’t impede traffic, got out and went to peer down the bank.
The sports car must have skewed off the road and ploughed into the tree, he reasoned, glancing at the road surface revealed by the sweep of his own headlights and seeing black skid marks.
He slithered down the muddy back, and approached nervously. He was concerned to see if anyone needed help, but hoped there wouldn’t be… dead people in there.
The only occupant was a woman - a very beautiful and elegantly-dressed woman, with copper-red hair. She was hurt, but he could see her breathing. He wrenched the car door open and reached inside to place a hand on her shoulder.
“Hello, can I help you?” he said. After all, what did you say to an unconscious woman dressed in an obviously expensive evening dress?
Thankfully, he noticed her eyelids flutter, and slowly, she opened her eyes and turned her face towards him, one slim, bejewelled hand reaching up to her head.
“What happened?” she asked him.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I came around the corner and saw your headlights… I came down the bank to see if I could help. Are you all right?”
“I… I think so,” she said gingerly. She pushed herself back in the seat and struggled to clamber from the car.
He reached over to help her.
“There was a lorry… It overshot the corner… I swerved to avoid it, but it must’ve hit me… my car spun around and I lost control…” she explained as the memories started to come back to her.
She staggered as she tried to stand. He put his arm around her to steady her and helped her lean against the bonnet for support.
“I don’t think you’ll be going much further tonight,” he said soothingly. “Your car looks like a write-off.”
The woman’s beautiful blue eyes filled with tears. “I was going to visit my daughter at her friends’ home,” she told him. “She’ll be worried about me.”
“Do you have a mobile phone? You could call them and get them to fetch you.”
She glanced back into the car. “Somewhere,” she replied shakily.
He handed her his phone. “Use this, call them up…”
“I can’t remember their number.” She frowned. “Oh, wait, I do know one number…” She typed it in and he heard the burr of the other phone.
It was answered very promptly.
“Hello, Dianne Simms here,” the voice was anxious and the woman beside him couldn’t help but sob.
“Dianne, darling, its Mummy…”
“Where are you?” she asked urgently. “We’re all worried about you – we expected you several hours ago…”
“I’m all right, darling, really, but I’ve had an accident. The car went off the road and it’s wrecked…” There was a tremor in her voice, but she was trying to sound confident.
“Are you all right, Mummy?”
“Yes, yes, darling, I’m fine. There’s a gentleman here who’s rescued me – I’m using his phone.”
“Where are you? We’ll come and get you.”
“I’m not sure. I got lost. Wait a minute…”
She turned to Doctor Knight who had politely moved away once the conversation had started and was inspecting the back of the wrecked vehicle. In response to her question, he gave the name of the village he was staying at and suggested she come back to his hotel there and wait for her daughter to collect her.
She nodded and passed on the information.
“Okay, Paul says he knows where that is and he’s ready to leave – he’ll get there as soon as he can – but it might be about an hour. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Perfectly; don’t fuss, Dianne.”
“I can’t help it!”
“Don’t worry, darling, I shall be fine. Please, give my apologies to the Metcalfes and – don’t let the dinner spoil. I’d hate to think I ruined everything.”
“That’s the least of our worries – as long as you’re all right…”
“Of course I am – now. I had better go and let my guardian angel drive me back to his hotel to wait for Paul to arrive.”
“He won’t be long; he’s taking his sports car and he drives like a dervish when he has to.”
“That is not exactly comforting, Dianne – it was a driver like that who forced me off the road. I saw his face as I swerved – he looked as if he was doped or something. It gave me the jitters, I shall have nightmares, I’m sure I shall. He never stopped to help me, didn’t even slow down.”
“Paul’s a brilliant driver. You’ll be perfectly safe with him, don’t worry, Mummy.”
“I’m sure I shall. Good bye, dear – and don’t you worry.”
Once the call was terminated she handed the phone back to Doctor Knight and said, “I haven’t even introduced myself; I am Susan Anerley.” She extended her hand.
“And I am Anthony Knight – Doctor Anthony Knight – very pleased to meet you.” They shook hands. “I’ll carry what I can rescue of your things up to my car and drive you to my hotel. You should get a doctor to check you over, Mrs Anerley…”
“But surely, you’ve checked me over?” She smiled. “And anyway, I feel fine – just a bit of a headache.”
“Unfortunately, I’m not a medical doctor… but at least you can have something to eat and get cleaned up while you wait for your friend…” He offered his arm to help her up the bank. “Where is he coming from?”
“Oh, just the other side of Winchester; he’ll be about an hour getting here. He’s my daughter’s fiancé; they got engaged just a few weeks ago. I was going to meet his family and those parcels on the back seat are presents for them and for my daughter, from her father and me and some close friends. He’s coming to fetch me in his sports car – Colonel Metcalfe – so I imagine his driving might well attract a few speeding fines en route; especially if he wants to impress his fiancée.”
“Well, that’ll be fine then, just time for you to get something to eat, at least.”
They reached the car and he opened the passenger door, installing her in the front seat before returning to carry her belongings back to his car.
“I really can’t thank you enough, Doctor Knight,” she said, as they pulled away from the kerb and out into the road.
“Oh please, call me Tony.”
“If you hadn’t stopped for me I could have been there for hours…”
It wasn’t far to the hotel and Doctor Knight was as good as his word. He ushered Lady Anerley up to his room and left her to tidy herself up, while he went to book a dinner table for them.
Lady Susan gingerly dabbed at the darkening bruise on her forehead and washed her face and hands. She tidied her hair and wished she had the means to freshen her make-up, before going back downstairs. As she walked into the little restaurant, she was immediately conscious of several astonished glances at her arrival. She knew her dress was spectacular, a marvellous, sparkling fabric of deep greens and blues, tailored to fit like a glove by the finest dressmaker in London. The outfit was completed by a powder blue bolero-jacket that set off the colour of her eyes…
And by a wonderful black and yellow bruise… she thought ruefully.
Doctor Knight stood as she approached the table and moved the chair for her to sit. He handed her a menu.
“Please, you should try to eat something.”
She encouraged him to have his usual meal and ordered herself some soup and a bread roll. While she waited for the food to arrive, she sipped at a glass of water from the bottle on the table, and gradually began to feel better and more at ease with her rescuer.
He set himself out to be entertaining, chatting away in a bright voice and all the while keeping a concerned eye on her for signs of fainting fits or concussion. By the time Colonel Metcalfe arrived they were laughing and talking like old friends.
Dr Knight saw
him first: a tall, dark-haired man, who paused by the door long enough to spot
his dinner companion and then moved purposefully towards them.
“I believe your friend’s arrived,” he said.
She turned. “Colonel Metcalfe.” She extended one immaculately manicured hand and smiled up into her future son-in-law’s sapphire-blue eyes with a welcoming smile.
Paul Metcalfe returned her smile and kissed her hand. “Lady Susan, I’m delighted to see that you’re not badly hurt – we’re all very worried about you…”
She brushed his concern aside. “Anthony, this is my daughter’s fiancé, Colonel Paul Metcalfe. Paul, this is Doctor Anthony Knight – truly, my knight in shining armour…”
Metcalfe extended a hand and shook Doctor Knight’s hand firmly. “I owe you my thanks, Doctor, we all do,” he said, glancing at Lady Anerley. “She means a great deal to my fiancée - and therefore, to me… We’d have been sorry if anything had happened to her…”
“Anyone would have done as much, Colonel Metcalfe. But I think you should encourage Lady Susan to see a doctor and get herself checked over. She wouldn’t let me call the paramedics.”
“I’m all right,” she insisted. “Nothing much hurt but my pride…”
“I’ll get her home and we’ll make sure she’s okay,” Metcalfe said soberly.
“You must let me pay for dinner,” Lady Anerley insisted as the three of them walked to the door.
“In no way,” Doctor Knight said. “You’ve enlivened what would have been a most boring evening. It has been my pleasure…”
“Well, thank you – you are too kind.” She leant forward and kissed his cheek affectionately.
Metcalfe’s powerful sports car was in the car park and Doctor Knight helped them load Lady Anerley’s things from the boot of his car, into the small boot of the other car.
“Goodbye, Anthony – and thank you for all of your kindness,” Lady Anerley called, as she strapped herself into the passenger seat.
“My thanks, Doctor,” Metcalfe said again.
“The pleasure was all mine,” Knight replied, adding, “Drive carefully.”
He waved as they drove off and out onto the road and stood for a long moment watching the taillights disappear.
Out of the depth of the shadow a man emerged. A tall man with black hair and a lantern-jawed, pallid face, dressed in a black leather jacket.
“You understood what you had to do?” he asked in a deep, unemotional voice.
“Yes, I understood.”
They remained side-by-side, neither speaking.
Suddenly, in the distance there was a bright flash of orange and red lights and the sound of the explosion rumbled towards them.
I wrote this short story some years ago and promptly forgot about it. I discovered it again while doing some backups and dusted it off.
My thanks go to Caroline Smith for beta-reading it for me and to Chris Bishop for giving it the once over and judging that it had made the grade for her excellent website.
The original version owed its inspiration to a picture drawn by Caroline Smith – who is a very talented artist as well as the author of some truly chilling Halloween stories in her own right. I am grateful to her for giving me a copy of her artwork and indeed for an original picture she drew for me.
This story is for Hazel Kohler to say ‘thank you’ for many years of beta reading, friendship and far too many bottles of wine…
I do not own any of the characters from ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’™ and I acknowledge the ownership of whichever company has it now, and give my final thanks and acknowledgment to the talents of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and their team, for creating a world of such lasting fascination.
I hope you enjoyed reading it and I wish us all a Happy Halloween.
25 October 2010.
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