Halloween on Cloudbase is a peculiar time. We’re all on duty, as always and nowhere does it say it’s a holiday, but somehow a strange festival atmosphere seeps into the old place and everyone gets into the spirit of the thing.
Well, I say everyone, but that’s not strictly true. There are a few people who look askance at the rest of us, exuding an air of superiority that makes me itch to bring them down a peg or two.
One of them is the colonel, but however much I want to target him, I’m not stupid enough to try. Actually, I suppose he isn’t that bad; as long as no one actually gets hurt or manages to do something that reduces our level of operational capacity – or some such - he turns a blind eye.
There are some guidelines, of course; but, generally speaking, these have grown up from past experiences.
Dr. Fawn told me once that ‘the old man’ appreciated the need for us all to let of off steam now and again, or we’d all go stir-crazy sitting around waiting for the Mysterons to take another of their deadly pot shots at us.
I guess that’s why we’ve been allowed to form our little Am-Dram group. It’s called CADS, presumably because of the military’s fondness for wacky acronyms. We had a nasty experience doing a Shakespeare play a few years ago, when a mysterious gold torque, that was part of his costume, turned Captain Scarlet into a raving psycho – so now we stick to light-hearted stuff and don’t do a production for Halloween any more.
Ouija boards and séances are disapproved of too. Apparently, just because Captain Blue believes they’re not something we should indulge in, since they tend to upset Captain Scarlet. But then, Blue is usually so busy humping Symphony Angel every spare minute they get, that he probably wouldn’t notice if we held one again.
I’m not the only one with a penchant for practical jokes. Just the one everyone blames, and I’ve been ticked off occasionally at Halloween. Once or twice it wasn’t even my fault. Genuinely. I remember the ‘joke’ Captain Scarlet played the first Halloween after he’d had his own ‘run in’ with the Mysterons.
The incident of Scarlet’s attempted abduction of the World President, and how Blue had had to kill his friend to save the politician, was something that shocked us all. Scarlet fell something like 800 feet from the top of the London Car-Vu and due to his Mysteron-given ability to retrometabolise, he still managed to wake up again.
Now that is what I call scary.
Of course, we’re profoundly lucky that he’s on our side and he’s put his life on the line more times than we can count since it happened – one time was when he walked into the Halloween Party and tried to make out the Mysterons had regained control of him.
I thought Captain Blue really was going to kill him – again.
It’s true to say that weird things do tend to happen on Cloudbase at Halloween. We all pretend we haven’t noticed, because they generally seem to happen to Scarlet and he’s developed a complex about it now, but we all get involved from time to time.
That’s why I always try to do something light-hearted and ‘normal’ at Halloween. I don’t play tricks on April Fools’ Day - often - but I like to think that injecting a little light-hearted humour into the, sometimes, all too sombre atmosphere of Halloween, helps people relax a bit. I keep it simple though.
I think one of the best things I did was the other year when I went round as many desks as I could and loosened the bottoms of all the hole-punches I could find.
You know, it’s amazing how long people have been predicting the advent of the paper-less office. And how determined human beings are to retain piles of print-outs and memos. Colonel White is always telling us to ‘think before we print’ – so, of course, we do… and then most of us print out a spare copy, in case we lose the original.
So, on the afternoon of October 31st – before the celebrations proper had started - I hacked into the admin lieutenant’s base-wide-comms account and sent a wide-ranging memo on new security routines and how to formulate new pass-codes: a perfect pretext to print out and keep for reference.
All over the base howls of anguish went up as paper-fixated officers reached for their hole-punches and showered their desks, and the floors around them, with fiddly little circles of paper.
Colonel White made me apologise to the housekeepers for that one – but it was worth it.
The only problem with thinking up an endless stream of essentially uncontroversial pranks is that as time goes by, you start to run out of steam. Living up to past triumphs gets more difficult as people get more wary and, as happened this year, you can be just too busy to give it much thought.
My partner-in-crime (appropriately) has often been Captain Magenta, although over the years he’s probably been the butt of my jokes to an equal extent. He doesn’t seem to mind, and, although it pains me to admit it, he’s a pretty good sport. I’ve never known him to grass me out when the colonel’s asked if he knows who’s responsible.
A few days before this Halloween, we were sitting in the Officers’ Lounge waiting to go on duty and I noticed him looking sideways at me. I checked my flies and wondered if I was wearing my uniform vest back to front – but all was safe and secure on the sartorial front; so I asked him what was eating him.
He told me he was wondering why I hadn’t explained what my Halloween prank would be as he was expecting to be asked to help.
“I don’t have one,” I confessed, and it was obvious that he didn’t believe me because he said:
“Yeah, right: just don’t include me as one of the patsies, Rick.”
I ignored him; the stupid Paddy is always on my back when he feels I’m not including him in something. Mind you, I get ticked off when he goes his own sweet way, as well; except when he’s mooning over the foxy Symphony Angel. Karen’s a babe, all right, but she’s Adam’s babe, and I respect Blue’s right-hook too much to hit on his squeeze. Pat doesn’t have the choice; he’s fancied her since the early days and can’t break the habit. Poor sap.
Now, as he sat looking at me with disbelief in his puppy-dog eyes, I had an idea: it came to me in a flash, as my best ideas often do, and I acted on it immediately.
Framing my face to an expression of hurt innocence, I said, “Would I do that?”, and, just as I had expected, Pat replied,
I shrugged and, with as much indifference as I could muster, replied:
“If you think that, there’s nothing I can do to change your mind, is there?” Pat shook his head. I smirked. “Just watch your back then, for all the good it will do.”
I glanced back at him as I left the Lounge, and I saw – with glee – that he was frowning after me, with some concern. Going out of the door without looking where I was heading, I bumped straight into Captain Grey.
Bradley Holden has a nasty habit of appearing unexpectedly and unheard.
“What’re you up to, Ochre?” he asked me suspiciously. Like Magenta, Grey has been the target of some of my best jokes over the years.
“Ask Pat,” I replied, grinning broadly.
And that was all I did on Day One.
Day Two was a busy one; everyone had been working their butts off for the past couple of months and so I didn’t see anyone until the late afternoon when I finally had the chance to stroll into the Officers’ Lounge, off duty.
Captain Scarlet was still out of action after getting infected by some killer mushrooms – no, to be serious for once, it’s no joke. It was nasty stuff, dissolving his internal organs and finally exploding from his body to disperse spores into the air.
Not surprisingly, the mood on the base was sombre; Blue – Scarlet’s partner – was particularly edgy and had been snapping at anyone who got in his way for weeks. As I entered the Lounge, I saw Symphony smothering a polite yawn behind her hand. I guessed she’d had another hard day’s night taking her lover’s mind off the problem and soothing his anxieties – amongst other things.
Rhapsody Angel was also there, looking drawn and apprehensive, and even the solicitous attention of her two closest friends – Symphony and Blue – didn’t appear to be helping. I nodded a general greeting and headed for the coffee pot. If there were other people in the Lounge, the chances were they wouldn’t have let Blue make the brew – he makes terrible coffee.
I took a refreshing gulp and almost choked: obviously Blue hadn’t been at his most approachable today, and nobody had tried to talk him out of making the coffee after all.
We all sat about in a strained and oppressive silence, until Symphony announced she had to go and prepare for her next duty stint. Blue went with her, presumably to help her prepare, so I went and sat beside Rhapsody.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Dianne Simms; a bit like Pat lugging his flaming torch around for Karen, I have a smouldering ember for Good Old Di. Way back in the early days, before we’d really settled down in Spectrum, we’d had a bit of a thing going, and I’d been a bastard towards her. Yet, like the true lady she is, she forgave me and we’re buddies now.
Besides, I knew she and Scarlet were as much an item as Symph and Blue-boy, only they were about a million times more discreet.
She smiled at me; a wan little smile that made me feel all protective. I put an arm round her slender shoulders and hugged her. She smiled and rested against me for a moment.
“You getting ready for Halloween, Rick?” she asked, pulling away, but still sitting close.
“No,” I said, truthfully enough. “It doesn’t seem right to do something so frivolous with Paul… urmm… ill.”
“Oh, but he’s the last person to expect you to stop having fun,” she protested.
“He might well be, but Blue’d have my guts and, honestly, do you really think I’m so insensitive, Di? Don’t forget, I saw something of what was going on at Casterbridge Hospital,” I said, and she blushed slightly, so I hugged her again.
Just then Pat came in and saw us in what must have looked like a conspiratorial huddle. I spoke up a little louder, so he couldn’t fail to hear.
“Whatever I might have up my sleeve, you don’t need to worry about it.” I flicked my eyes towards Magenta and Rhapsody laughed.
“Watch it, Pat,” she said gaily, “he’s got you in his sights this year.”
Pat glowered at me and I smiled back, sweetly.
I was off duty for most of Day Three, so I devoted much of my time to humming. Humming is the second most annoying thing in the universe, after people who insist on talking to you during the big game on TV. It suggests something is going on, but doesn’t give any clue of what. I know, from past experience, that it annoys Pat immensely.
Around lunchtime, I wandered into the technical stores down under the runways, while I knew Blue was in there and made a big show of scrounging some wood and a few screws from the technicians. Then I went to the Spectramart and when I saw Harmony Angel go in, I followed her and made a big deal of picking up a package of stuff I’d ordered from a model-making supplier, to which I added some ground pepper and some washing up liquid – both potential ingredients for playing pranks.
Harmony came to the counter as I was paying for my stuff.
“Don’t tell Pat,” I whispered, trusting that by the inevitable process of osmosis that fuels gossip around the base, my list of purchases would get back to him soon enough, fuelling his imagination as he tried to figure out my ‘plan’.
That evening, as we were in the Officers’ Lounge, I busied myself constructing a small lidded box from the wood.
It was the humming that finally unsettled Pat – as I knew it would. He threw a cushion at me and stormed out.
I counted Day Three as a total success.
Day Four was characterised by Pat getting antsy. He was hovering around the door to my quarters when I came back from breakfast and I know that, given his past and his undoubted computer wizardry, no electronic lock is safe from Patrick Donaghue.
I challenged him to explain what he was doing looking sneaky in the corridor, and although he looked a little sheepish, he swore he’d merely been waiting to see if I responded to his knock and wanted to get breakfast, before we went on duty.
“I’ve been up hours,” I told him, adding, “I had a lot to do.”
He glared at me, and took himself off to get his breakfast, while I very pointedly waited until he’d turned out of the corridor before I opened my door and went in.
Later that afternoon, when we’d finished our admin assignments, we wandered down to the Officers’ Lounge, as we always do, and joined Grey and Blue who were on duty. Magenta and Grey went into a little huddle and were casting suspicious glances in my direction while I sat innocently reading the newspaper.
Finally, Grey asked, “It’s Halloween tomorrow. Anyone got any ideas about what we could do to celebrate?”
Blue cut in with a sharp retort that he wasn’t in the mood for the usual tomfoolery, especially not with Scarlet still in sickbay and seriously ill.
I nodded sagely. “I agree with Blue,” I said, “after all, things can all too easily go belly-up at Halloween and we don’t want to tempt fate, do we?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Blue snapped. “Doc Fawn says he’s sure they will find a cure. He and Dr Owens are working like Trojans on it.”
“I know,” I replied, as soothingly as I could – Blue can get really wound up on occasion – “What I mean is that I don’t think it’s right to indulge in tomfoolery, or dick or harry foolery either, for that matter, while he’s still ill.”
“Oh sure, you’re as innocent as a new born babe,” Pat grumbled.
“This time it so happens that I am,” I said. “Have you seen me doing anything that could even remotely be described as tomfoolery?”
“Not seeing you do it, doesn’t mean you aren’t,” Grey replied, giving me his ‘superior’ stare.
“You’re paranoid,” I said, folding the paper and making to leave. “Both of you.”
Out in the corridor I saw Destiny and Melody Angels wandering towards the Lounge. I greeted them with my usual fulsome smile and a speech that my happiness was complete having seen such undoubted poetry in motion.
Destiny simpered and smiled, while Melody, who knows me much better, rolled her beautiful, dark eyes heavenwards and shook her head.
“You’re up to something, Fraser,” she declared.
“Not at all. I am merely paying my compliments to the two most beautiful women on the base.”
“Tell me, Rick,” Destiny purred – the way she rolls the R at the start of my name is hot-wired to my libido – “do you have plans for the ‘alloween party?”
“You asking me for a date?” I grinned at her as she simpered again, and then dashed my hand against my forehead in a theatrical gesture of despair. “I’m fated to perpetual disappointment in my life, Angels,” I declared in grandiose tones that would have done Blue justice. “The one year there isn’t going to be a Halloween party, Destiny wants me as her date! Can I take a rain check on that, Juliette?’
“No party?” Melody asked. “We thought you must be planning a surprise one for us.”
I shook my head. “If anyone’s planning a surprise party, it’ll be a surprise to me as well.”
They both looked a little disappointed and as the door opened, I explained, “I’m not celebrating Halloween out of respect for poor Paul.”
Destiny’s expressive eyes flooded with tears. “Ah, oui, it would be unkind to do so without Captain Scarlet being with us. You are a very caring man, Richard.”
“Hummph,” Pat said, as he walked past us. “Believe that, Juliette, and you’ll believe anything.”
I tried to stifle my sniggering, but Melody noticed and raised one eyebrow in cynical interrogation. I winked.
With an exasperated sigh she called after Magenta. “Wait for us, Pat!” And she pushed Destiny away towards Magenta as she hissed at me: “You’d better behave yourself, for once, now you’ve said that.”
So, you can see what I mean, can’t you? I wasn’t doing anything but they all thought I was planning something. Even though the only one who might fully appreciate that joke was me, I was enjoying myself. I am a firm believer that not everything has to be shared with the general public. Well, I’d have to be wouldn’t I? I faked my own death to join Spectrum and that’s the biggest joke of all.
Day Five was Halloween. I was up before Magenta was stirring and when it was time for him to appear, I left my quarters and waited for him, leaning against my door and smiling.
When Pat’s door opened he was standing some way back, no doubt to avoid any booby traps. I waved cheerfully.
“Top o’ the morning to you, Paddy, me-boyo. You after eating some breakfast?”
Pat has never appreciated my cod-Irish accent and he wasn’t enjoying it now.
“With you? Do you think I’m mad? I don’t want salt in my coffee instead of sugar, or plastic fried eggs with my ham.”
Over the years I’ve perfected an expression of injured innocence. I framed my face into it now and said:
“Pat – this is me: I’ve told you I’m not out to be a prankster today. Don’t you believe me?”
“No; I know you, Fraser. You can resist anything, except temptation.”
“Well, that’s a nice thing to say to your partner. I give you my word – as a cop – that I’m on the level.”
Magenta laughed. “Your word as a cop? Like I’ll believe that’s worth the paper you’d write it on. I’ve known more bent cops than you’ve had hot dinners.”
This was an old ploy. Pat’s previous experience was of the other side of the law from mine. Usually I’m quick to defend my brother officers, but I’m willing to accept that not all were whiter than white.
By now we were walking towards the refectory, Pat keeping his distance across the corridor. As we approached the dining room, we could smell the food and Lieutenant Flaxen joined us, tripping off the escalator from the lower floor, as usual.
“Morning, Flax,” I called out. “Have a good trip?”
Audrey Geffen’s a friend of mine. We have an understanding that goes back some years now. I think she fancies me – or she did at one point, although that’s mellowed into a tolerant friendship, now - and I can trust Aud; she’s a good girl.
“Good morning, Captains,” she replied, with her usual vague salute.
“Flax, let me warn you,” Pat said, “it’s Halloween; beware of Ochre, especially a genial Ochre. He’s planning something, I’d bet my bottom dollar on it.”
“I’m not!” I protested, with a wink at Flax that I made sure Pat noticed.
“If you’re out to help him, you’ll get into trouble, Lieutenant,” he told her.
“Me? Why would any one ask me to help them? You know I’m a walking disaster when it comes to playing tricks, Captain Magenta. I can’t even remember the punch lines to jokes,” she added, with a wry grimace.
“I also know that you’d do anything for this… this cop.”
“No, I wouldn’t. Not anything.” Flax blushed like a schoolgirl.
I pushed open the door and stood aside to let her and Magenta go in first. He let her pass him and waited for me to go after her, explaining that:
“I want you where I can see you. I don’t want any whimsical notices pinned to my back.”
I glanced behind me to see him squirming to catch a glimpse of his back in the chrome-trim of the door.
Symphony and Blue were already eating and we joined their table.
“Morning, all,” Karen trilled, moving over to make room for us.
Blue glanced up and nodded a silent welcome. We’ve been pretty hard pressed of late and lost some good men over the past month or so, and, in the natural sunlight of the refectory, I could see that Adam Svenson was still looking the worse for wear. Although the colonel had called up the reserves and there were plenty of new faces on board the base doing the routine jobs to give us – the elite squad – a break, it wasn’t helping Captain Blue.
With her usual great timing, Flax asked, “How’s Captain Scarlet today?”
Symphony frowned at her and then looked with concern at her boyfriend. Blue was eating toast and had his eyes fixed determinedly on his plate. Finally he said:
Flustered, Flax started to tip sugar from the table-top sprinkler into her tea and the top came off, spilling the entire contents of the glass jar into her cup.
I couldn’t help myself: I laughed.
Blue sprang to his feet, his face like thunder and the cold-fire of anger blazing from his pale-blue eyes. Even though he is usually the most tolerant and patient of men, he can be very intimidating when he wants to be.
He pointed a finger at me.
“That’s enough, Ochre. You play one more prank today and I will take you apart!”
Flaxen, her face red with embarrassment, was repeating, “Oh, I’m sorry; it was an accident, an accident…”
I looked up into Blue’s angry face and said as reasonably as I could, “How do you imagine I had anything to do with that? I haven’t touched it since I sat down and you and Karen were here already.”
We stared at each other and I refused to look away. Blue’s an intelligent and habitually reasonable man; the infrequent, albeit breathtaking, flashes of temper he exhibits are soon over. He swallowed and dropped his gaze before mine.
I realised I’d been holding my breath and exhaled slowly.
“Sorry, Captain,” Blue said. “I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“No worries; we’re all worried and on edge, Adam.”
Karen had been helping Flax sweep up the mess onto a tray, but now she stopped and laid a hand on Blue’s arm. He glanced down at her and gave a dry smile.
“I’d better go,” he said, realising he was now the undivided centre of attraction for the entire refectory.
“Finish your coffee,” Karen said levelly.
I didn’t think Adam would take any notice of her, but she gave him a stern glare and flicked her gaze towards his seat. Slowly, he sat down and took a gulp of his coffee.
Flaxen took her tray back and got herself another cup of tea, while I ate my ham and eggs and Pat chewed through his cream cheese bagel.
Slowly, like a sleeping giant beginning to wake, the noise of conversation rose around us and people got back to their own business.
By lunchtime I was ready for a break, having spent the morning going over the base security records and checking any number of the other mundane, yet essential, admin jobs that fell at each month’s end; but I knew there really wasn’t going to be time for me to enjoy a well-earned lunch hour at the canteen, so I marched into the Officers’ Lounge hoping to grab a cup of coffee and a few cookies – at least.
Grey and Magenta were huddled round the drinking tap of the kitchenette, while Symphony was helpless with laughter on the couch and Melody was standing behind her, grinning from ear to ear. As they heard the door open, all of them turned to see who had arrived and Grey bellowed:
“Ochre! What the hell did you think you were playing at?”
“Playing?” I asked, really bewildered by what he’d said.
“The place nearly flooded.” Grey turned away and Magenta threw me a threatening glare.
I looked at the speechless Symphony and then to Melody.
“Nolie,” I said, feeling aggrieved at this less-than-effusive welcome, “can you explain to me what that idiot is talking about?”
Melody looked at me with some sternness.
“Come on, Rick; you know well enough. Patrick went to fill the coffee jug with water to make a fresh pot, and the tap started to spray water everywhere!”
“Maybe it’s sprung a leak?” I replied, starting to move towards my colleagues to offer my help.
“Push off, Fraser,” Magenta growled at me. Now I was closer I could see that the front of his uniform tunic was much darker, soaked by the fountain of water from the tap. “You’ve done enough damage.”
“I’ve done nothing,” I protested.
“Oh, go tell that to the Marines,” Grey almost snarled at me. “We know your warped sense of humour, Ochre; we don’t need it written out for us to know when you’ve been up to your tricks.”
“What? What are you talking about?” My temper was rising at this totally unjustified accusation. “I haven’t done anything to the tap. Last time I came in here Blue had made the coffee and I was fool enough to drink some of it, that’s as close as I got to the water tap.”
“Are you accusing Adam of tampering with the tap?” Symphony, who has hearing like a bat at times, stopped laughing and leapt to the defence of her boyfriend like an angry tigress defending her only cub.
“I’m not accusing anyone of doing anything,” I exclaimed. “All over the world, washers wear out, taps break, and no one’s done anything to them except use them for a while. I told you guys that I wasn’t planning to play any pranks for Halloween this year.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” Magenta said, assuming an expression of ironic innocence. “You said you were too concerned about Scarlet to play the fool. And we believed you, didn’t we, guys? Like hell we did.”
Now I really was angry. “You’re all paranoid,” I said, and walked out of there with my head held high.
It’s all very well being a practical joker; but it’s unfair that your reputation condemns you, unbelieved, when you’re an innocent man. But, I was damned if I was going to let them see how hurt I was.
I left the Officers’ Lounge and went down to the canteen after all, so annoyed by the false accusations that I was damned if I was going to work my allotted lunch hour. I pushed open the doors and walked in to the longest line I’d ever seen in the place. Nurse Ingram was at the back and she caught sight of me and rolled her eyes.
“Hiya, Gorgeous,” I said, giving her my most charming smile. I knew Ingram fairly well and knew she was a good sport for all her starched ways and disapproving manner, but this time she was scathing in her reply.
“Don’t you gorgeous me, Captain Ochre. I wouldn’t put it past you to have engineered this.”
I sighed, and asked with a sinking heart, “Engineered what?”
“A power cut in the kitchens this morning. None of the food’s cooked.”
“Nothing to do with me,” I asserted, as several people turned to glare at me. “How could it be?”
“You’re the most notorious practical joker on Cloudbase,” she replied. “I’ve heard Captain Scarlet talking about the things you get up to.”
“Well, today I’ve not been up to anything.”
“Says you,” she retorted in a tone that verged on insubordination.
I was almost as surprised as I was annoyed. I never expect to be treated with kid-gloves, but I guess my rank means I do get treated with respect despite everything and her attitude embarrassed me.
“I don’t have time to waste waiting,” I said, providing myself with an excuse to leave. I walked out, feeling very conscious of several pairs of eyes boring into my back.
I finally managed to scrounge a sandwich from the lunch provided to the on-duty Angels in the Amber Room. Harmony and Destiny seemed pleased to see me and didn’t once accuse me of playing any pranks. In fact, they were most attentive and I was flattered by the way they crowded around me, plying me with titbits from their buffet trays. It put me back in a good mood, and I bid them a cheerful goodbye. I strolled back to the admin offices, smiling at the base staff I passed and nodding ‘hello’ at those I knew. I became aware of the smiles of a number of people who passed me by, but was feeling too cheerful to do more than smile back. Coming along the library corridor, I ducked inside to see how Flax’s day was progressing.
“Hi there, Flax,” I called, as she was busily thumping merry hell out of the keyboard.
She spared me a glance. “Hello, Captain.”
I frowned; Flax is a good friend of mine, as I said, and she’s always so pleased to see me she’ll stop what she’s doing for a quick chat.
“Something wrong, Audrey?”
“I’m just finishing the urgent information report Doctor Fawn asked for on the toxicity of every commercial weed-killer,” she muttered. Banging her hand down on the enter key, she sat back and smiled up at me. “Happy Halloween,” she said.
“No, it isn’t,” I replied. “Everyone’s assuming I’m responsible for every little thing that’s gone wrong,” I explained and told her about the tap and the kitchen power failure. “I’d have died of hunger if the Angels hadn’t taken pity on me.”
She smiled and I grinned back before walking away to the magazine stand where the latest news and current affair journals and hobby magazines were displayed. I never got there, because Flaxen laughed out loud and I turned to see what was funny.
She came up to me and reached out her hand to my back. I felt a little tug and she produced a sheet of paper with the picture of a jester printed on it. Someone had superimposed an inexpertly drawn picture of my face over the original.
“‘You too can live the Vida L’Ochre. Just ask me how’,” she read out and sniggered.
“What the?” I grabbed it off her. “Who the hell did this?”
“I’d assume it was the Angels,” she said, a huge smile on her face. “Just goes to prove, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, Rick.”
It took me a while to calm down, I admit it. I stormed out of the research library and was heading back to the Amber Room to have it out with them, when I met Magenta.
“Whoa! Slow down,” he called after me, as I pushed past him.
“I’m going to sort those duplicitous bitches,” I snarled, brandishing the poster under his nose.
He took the paper from my hand and studied it for a moment, before his face lit up with amusement and he chuckled.
“Oh, come on, Ochre,” he said. “Where’s your sense of humour now? Just because you’re on the wrong end of a prank for once, you’re having a hissy fit?”
“I’ve told you all, until I’m sick of telling you, I haven’t played any pranks today!”
“Not even one?” Magenta looked me straight in the eye and raised his black eyebrows as he gave me a quizzical look. “Not even a ‘let’s lead them all up the garden path’ style prank? Hmm?”
I blustered a bit and snatched my paper back. “I can’t help what you chose to believe.”
“No, but you can play along with it; can’t you, Rick?”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Okay, I believe you, but why does that mean no one else should?”
I opened my mouth to snap back at him, but the justice of his comment hit me and I shrugged. I looked down at the dancing cartoon of myself, clad in a red and ochre-coloured jester’s outfit. It was really quite clever.
“They don’t really think I look like that, do they?” I said, pointing to the sketched face. “Because, if they do, I might as well give up dating now and become a monk.”
“It’s not that bad a likeness,” Magenta said, as he fell in beside me and we strolled back along the corridor. “I thought Nolie managed to capture the essential mischief in your expression.”
“Nolie? Melody drew it?”
Magenta nodded. “She had drawing lessons at the finishing school her folks sent her to.”
“They wasted their money,” I joked.
He sniggered. “You should have seen what the pictures the others drew of you looked like,” he retorted. “Now that really was the trick and not the treat!”
“What happened to the other drawings?” I had visions of similar drawings to this one being posted up all around the base with distorted images of my face on them. I’m not vain – not by a long chalk – but I could imagine the endless teasing that’d create and I wasn’t in the mood for it.
“Don’t panic; I shredded them.”
“Phew; thanks, Pat.”
“Don’t mention it, Rick. After all, we’re partners, aren’t we?” He put a hand on my shoulder and I felt him press something into the small of my back as he strode away, laughing.
I couldn’t reach whatever it was he’d stuck there, so I walked back towards the library, keeping my back to the wall and sidling past people as they approached. I got some funny looks, but it was better than being made a laughing stock by whatever Pat had stuck to my uniform vest.
“Aud,” I called out, as I slipped through the door. “Where are you? Magenta’s only gone and stuck something else on my back. I can’t get it off, I need your help!”
She emerged from the office, shaking her head, and beckoned me over. I turned my back to her.
“Don’t you dare laugh, Lieutenant,” I warned her. “Even if it’s as rude as I expect it is.”
It took Flaxen some time to make me believe that there was nothing there. She stood and watched me with an amused grin on her face as I took my tunic off to check for myself, and then rolled her eyes heavenwards when I had the grace to smile apologetically for not trusting her.
“Americans; you’re all just like little kids at Halloween, aren’t you?” she said and chuckled. “Captain Magenta really did have you going for a minute, though!”
‘Yeah, nice one, Patrick,’ I thought wryly, but I couldn’t help joining in with her laughter, nevertheless.
I guess I owed him that one, at least.
This story is a corollary to ‘Cordyceps’ – a sub-plot that didn’t really fit in, but which refused to be buried. The title is, of course, a play on the words of the Ricky Martin song, ‘Living the Vida Loca’.
It seemed ideal for a first-person narrative, and who better to tell a story about practical jokes, than Captain Ochre?
I know that Ochre has the reputation of being a practical joker, and we’ve all enjoyed reading about his exploits from time to time, but I find it hard to believe he’d always be the man behind the pranks, or so insensitive not to notice the mood of his companions and the base.
I don’t know who was playing the pranks this time – if they were pranks and not just coincidences – certainly, no one’s admitted it so far. Maybe Ochre will have to employ his other known skill – as a detective – and do some investigating, if he wants to find out.
I would like to thank my over-worked beta-reader, the ever efficient Hazel Kohler, without whom, my bad grammar would become apparent to all. She is a star!
As is our wonderful webmaster – good old Colonel Chris, herself. What would we do without the website and the forum to keep our fandom alive? Respect, Chris!
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ belongs to Carlton International, and they probably belong to someone else by now. The series was devised and created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and has entertained children of all ages for over 40 years – not bad for some puppets, eh?
I hope you enjoyed reading the story – a little ‘treat’ after the gory ‘trick’ of ‘Cordyceps’?