A Captain Scarlet short story
Four a.m. in the morning
Carried away by a moonlight shadow
I watched your vision forming…
Star was light in a silvery night
Far away on the other side
Will you come to talk to me this night?
Cloudbase, December 17th, mid-morning:
Symphony and Melody Angels were carolling merrily as they busied themselves stringing streamers along the corridor that led to the Amber Room. Their well-matched voices echoed slightly off the metallic walls, giving the impression there were more than two voices raised in song.
‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly ( Fa la la la la, la la la la. )
T’is the season to be jolly (Fa la la la la, la la la la.)
Don we now our gay apparel ( Fa la la, la la la, la la la.)
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol (Fa la la la la, la la la la).”
They had almost reached the door of the Amber Room when Captain Scarlet stepped out of the lift and stood watching them for a moment, a warm smile on his lips.
“Need a hand, Angels?” he asked as Symphony stretched on tip-toe to try to fix the end of the final streamer on the walls.
“Scarlet, just the man we need,” she called in reply. “Mind you, we could have done with some help when we started – but better late than never, I guess. Give me a bunk up…”
Obediently he stepped up and hoisted her by the waist until she reached the corner, and pressed the sticky tape to the wall above the door.
“How does that look?” Melody asked as she stood surveying the colourful garlands and paper bells that bedecked the corridor.
“Well, there’s certainly a lot of it,” Scarlet replied.
“Meaning?” Symphony asked rather sharply.
“Meaning, it looks very cheerful,” he explained hastily; he’d seen that pig-headed expression on her face often enough to know when she was itching for a fight. “I’m all in favour of ‘cheerful’ at Christmas time…”
Melody chuckled. “We mean to make this Christmas the best Spectrum one ever,” she said. “Destiny’s in charge of the Christmas party nibbles and Rhapsody and Harmony will do the tree and the presents.
“Splendid,” Scarlet said. “But I hope you’re not insisting Rhapsody slaves away at the decorations this weekend? We have a date… and I’m looking forward to it.”
Symphony smiled up at him. “Of course, Dianne mentioned it. Let me be the first to wish you a ‘Happy Birthday’, Paul!” She stretched across and planted a kiss on his lips.
“Thank you,” Scarlet grinned and willingly accepted a similar hearty embrace from Melody. “A guy could get to wish every day was his birthday, if he got treated like this all the time by such pretty young women.”
The Angels rolled their eyes at each other at this blatant flattery, but neither seemed put out by it.
“Where are you and Rhapsody going? Somewhere nice?” Melody asked.
He pushed his radio cap back from his forehead and grinned. “Dianne wants to see the Christmas lights in London and, presumably, do some last minute shopping, if I know anything about you girls… So, I have booked us into a plush hotel where we can have dinner tonight, followed by a show in the West End before we get a good night… of sleep,” he clarified immediately, seeing the laughter on his companions’ faces “… before we tackle the shops tomorrow. Then, in the evening, I thought maybe we’d go dancing – if we aren’t already ‘plum tuckered out’. We’re back here on Sunday afternoon. It should make for the perfect weekend away.”
“You’re both going to need a rest after all that,” Melody predicted cheerfully. She glanced at Symphony. “We’d better be prepared to cover Rhapsody’s shifts the day after her return…” She looked with mock severity at Captain Scarlet. “You just make sure she does get some sleep,” she warned with a truly wicked laugh.
“And just as long as it isn’t the shopping that gets ditched due to your exhaustion,” Symphony added, with a smile that was far too innocent to be genuine.
Captain Scarlet actually started to blush. The Angel pilots chuckled and took him by an arm each to conduct him into the Amber Room to wait until the shift changed and Rhapsody came down from Angel One.
Destiny was busy concocting a menu of snacks for the annual Amber Room party and Harmony was reading a book. They both looked up as the trio entered.
“Ah, it is the birthday boy, himself,” Destiny cooed. She left her desk and came to plant a kiss on Scarlet’s cheek. “Bon anniversaire, mon cher Paul.”
“Merci bien, Juliette.” It was not so many years ago that he would have been taking Juliette Pontoin out for a night on the tiles, and the couple were still good friends. However, Destiny was tactful enough to keep her distance when Rhapsody was around. The younger Englishwoman was – in the normal course of events - a very even-tempered woman and she could see her fiancé in the company of any young woman with equanimity; but she found it hard to accept the residual affection and friendship between Captain Scarlet and his erstwhile ‘significant other’, Destiny Angel. The Frenchwoman quite understood this; she herself would have experienced the barbs of jealousy in such a situation, if her feelings for the handsome Englishman had remained as strong as they had once been. Now her main concern was maintaining a ‘camaraderie’ amongst the Angel crew that would allow them to function most effectively.
When Harmony Angel reached up on tip-toe to add her salutation to the captain’s chin, he saw her grimace slightly at the roughness, and sighed. He had shaved that morning, but his cheeks were already darkened by a pronounced five-o’-clock shadow and he gave an apologetic tilt of his head towards her.
He was well aware of just how quickly his beard grew, and shaving was rapidly becoming the bane of his life – along with regular reminders from Colonel White to ‘get your hair cut, Captain’. Captain Blue, his closest friend - and the confidant entrusted with all his doleful complaints - had suggested that, along with his retrometabolism and enhanced sensory capabilities, Scarlet had also acquired rapid hair growth. It wasn’t hard to see that Blue thought the matter one of some amusement and after a little probing – and one threat of physical violence – he’d revealed what he’d found so entertaining.
“If you could get Fawn to isolate what makes your hair grow at such a rate, you’d be able to make a fortune selling hair restorer…” the American had explained, with a grin. His ingenuity had only earned him a dismissive snort, which, in turn, had made him snigger all the more.
Realising he wasn’t going to get any sympathy for this particular aspect of his Mysteronisation from his friends, Scarlet had grown a beard; but after only a short experiment he discovered that it grew so vigorously he’d quickly felt like he was wearing a thermal blanket around his face. He also couldn’t help but notice Rhapsody’s happy smile when he shaved it off and so he’d resigned himself to the eternal slavery of the razor.
He dragged himself back to the present to accept the cup of coffee Symphony was handing him and sat on the sofa; he spent the next half hour or so being entertained by the beautiful young women of the Angel crew, until the buzzer sounded to alert them that Rhapsody’s shift was over and she was descending from Angel One. He was on his feet watching the door slide back as her chair reached the secure bay, and the first thing she saw as she walked from the elevator was his smiling face.
“Captain Scarlet,” Rhapsody cried with pleasure, “how nice to see you – and a very happy birthday, Captain.”
“Thank you, Rhapsody Angel,” he replied with equal ceremony, noting the two Americans rolling their eyes at the stiff formality of their English colleagues.
Destiny was already making her way towards the elevator for Angel One when she called, “Have a wonderful weekend, mes amis…”
The other three Angels waved goodbye to the couple as Scarlet escorted Rhapsody from the Amber Room.
Once clear of their sharp eyes, he stopped and enfolded Rhapsody in a close embrace. “Oh, I am so looking forward to this weekend…” he breathed against her copper-red hair after he’d kissed her.
“Me too, but I have to change and get my luggage before we can leave… shall I meet you at the hangar deck?”
“No, I don’t mean to let you out of my sight for one moment from now until we get back to Cloudbase…” Scarlet vowed.
Their plane touched down at London International Airport a few hours later and they squeezed aboard the London Underground train and grinned happily at each other as they were jostled and bumped along the miles to central London, oblivious of the press of humanity that surrounded them. It was such a pleasure to leave the restrictions and barely suppressed tension aboard Cloudbase behind, that even this plebeian mode of transport was a welcome change.
They alighted at Hyde Park Corner into the dampness of a dark December afternoon. The headlights from the cars wove intricate patterns as the traffic darted around them, and the blinking of car indicators, traffic lights and the brightly lit shops and offices looked magical against the winter sky. They walked together, Scarlet carrying most of the luggage – Rhapsody was carrying her own vanity case – past the luxurious hotels that lined Park Lane across the busy road from the park. He had chosen the most exclusive hotel of the lot, and booked them a suite. Since it had been some time since they’d had the opportunity to spend leave together, Scarlet was determined they’d enjoy themselves.
They were ushered into the quiet, plush lobby by the uniformed doorman – who regarded them with barely disguised suspicion, probably due to the fact that they had arrived on foot, despite the drizzle, and carrying their own luggage. Rhapsody imagined he thought of that as something that bordered on insanity, but walking in the open was always a pleasure, after the confines of Cloudbase. She hovered in the no-man’s land between the entrance and the registration desk, drinking in the serene atmosphere. She liked hotels; the anonymity and the self-indulgence of a good hotel was relaxing after the necessarily restrictive discipline of life on Cloudbase. She was looking forward to a relaxing evening – maybe a soak in a hot bath – then a light meal before they went out to the theatre and champagne on their return to crown what, she had no doubt, was going to be a wonderful night.
She frowned as she became aware of raised voices in the direction of the registration desk.
“…I can assure you, sir…”
“I don’t want you to assure me; I want you to honour the booking I made at this hotel…”
“As I was trying to explain, sir, we have no record of your booking.”
“I booked it myself. Check again; the name is Metcalfe – M E T CA L F E… Paul Metcalfe. I sent you my credit card details…”
The booking clerk made a show of checking his computer screen. His face turned a rosier shade and he sniffed. “I am sorry, Mr Metcalfe…”
“Colonel Metcalfe… Colonel Sir Paul Metcalfe…” It was a clear indication – for anyone that knew him – of Scarlet’s simmering anger that he bothered to trot out his full rank and title.
“I beg your pardon, sir; but according to our records when we attempted to verify the credit card, the response from the company was that… well, that you were … deceased… sir.”
“Do I look dead to you?”
“Well, no, sir – but the credit card company were adamant… we suspected fraudulent use of the card and cancelled the booking.”
“You didn’t think to check, man?”
“The phone number was unobtainable…”
Scarlet sighed. Sometimes Spectrum’s security measures made living a normal life impossible. “Well, never mind – just book us into a room now.”
“I’m afraid I can’t, sir – quite apart from the matter of the credit card,” he gabbled as Scarlet gave an inarticulate growl of annoyance.
Anyone with less innate courage than the receptionist would have surrendered immediately and turned someone else out of their room to accommodate the man at the desk; but this man was made of sterner stuff. “I’m afraid we’re fully booked – it is close to Christmas…”
“And where are we supposed to go tonight?” Scarlet exploded.
Rhapsody had come to his side and seeing the clerk’s distress she placed a hand on his arm. “Paul, please, the man can’t help it. It’s an unfortunate accident, that’s all.”
“But Dianne… this was our weekend – my birthday weekend…” She smiled at the hint of a petulant boy in his voice as he turned his intensely blue eyes on her.
“Not to worry, darling; perhaps the gentleman could find us another hotel?” She glanced hopefully at the receptionist.
“I’m afraid it’s unlikely, madam.”
Scarlet’s growl of anger got louder.
“Paul, I have an idea – let’s go to my parents’ house… we can stay there,” she suggested hastily.
“Your parents’ house? I don’t want to spend the weekend with your parents…”
“Don’t be silly – they’re not there. They’re on the estate; they always go away for Christmas. The place’ll be empty – we’ll have to cater for ourselves, but we’ll have it to ourselves – we can do whatever we like, for as long as we like….”
She smiled at the receptionist. “Come along, Paul. We’ll be just as comfortable there and you can spend the money you’ve saved by not staying here on your Christmas shopping…” She steered him away from the reception desk, and gestured the doorman to call a taxi.
They clambered in with their luggage and he heard her give the cabbie an address in Chelsea.
Captain Scarlet had never been to the Simms’s town house before. He had met her parents once at the small country estate they had, and he knew that they owned a house in Chelsea, but he’d never really known where. He was therefore a little surprised and awe-struck when the taxi pulled up before a large, impressive building in the most exclusive street.
He paid the cabbie, whilst Rhapsody fiddled in her bag for the keys. They dragged the luggage indoors before he spoke.
“You kept quiet about this place, Dianne,” he said.
Her answering smile had more than a tinge of embarrassment. “Well, what can you say about it, except ‘we live in a small Tudor mansion house by the river’?” she simpered and smiled again. “Actually some of it goes back further than that; not that it’d impress you - living as you do in the remains of an ex-abbey – but the time Adam came here, he moved around as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing; which was so endearing he had my mother eating out of his hand in about five minutes flat.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. It took him a while to stop doing that at our house too. My mother thinks he’s ‘sweet’… “
Dianne laughed. “Don’t tell me he’s got a bad case of domicile envy with you too?”
“Correct me if I’m wrong…” he began.
“Now you’re talking like him,” she teased.
Scarlet grinned. Captain Blue was prone to preface almost every piece of information he imparted with those words these days. “Poor chump; Rick’s made him thoroughly self-conscious about how much he actually does know. He has a memory like a sponge, it soaks up all kinds of useless information; the problem is - he also has this inborn urge to disseminate it…”
“Oh, you should hear Karen on the subject of ‘what Adam knows’. She says it’s like dating an encyclopaedia; albeit a very sexy encyclopaedia…” They shared an affectionate chuckle at the ways of their two closest friends.
“What were you about to deduce, before I so rudely interrupted you?” Dianne asked leading him across the entrance and into an enormous hall of imposing proportions.
“If I’m right,” Scarlet said, “this is Crossley Hall – it has connections with Sir Thomas More.”
“Yes, you’re right, it does. The Sainted Sir Thomas, the ‘man for all seasons’, once lived here. The hall was originally built by a 15th Century City merchant and rented out to the great and the good. The building was used by More when he was the Lord Chancellor – for a while, at least. This hall is part of that original building and the later part was built in what used to be the orchard,” she explained. It’s changed hands a few times since then, of course and my Great, Great Grandmother inherited it from a distant relative.”
“Did you grow up here?
“I was born right here… rather unexpectedly – there was no time to get Mummy to the hospital. I love the place, even though it is an utterly impractical building to live in.”
“Oh, tell me about it. Adam thinks draughty windows and solid stone walls are ‘romantic’ – we know better. Still, I can see what you mean about this place - it’s beautiful,” he agreed, examining the ornate oriol window that dominated the room. He turned to see her smiling at him. “Almost as beautiful as the daughter of the house…”
She tutted happily at this chestnut and dumped her handbag on a table. Then she turned and asked him, “Paul, why does the credit card company have you listed as deceased?”
He ran a hand through his black hair and exhaled deeply. “Oddly enough, I don’t think it has anything to do with… with my Mysteronisation. It first happened before I ever joined Spectrum. Some years ago now, some poor guy called Paul Metcalfe did die and they’ve muddled us up; that’s all. Took me months to convince them I was alive and well and getting angrier by the day. They finally caught on and I got my card back, but then - when there was a slight hiatus over my salary being paid into my account, after the… er, the Car-Vu incident, they cancelled the card once more - but I thought I had sorted that out and everything seemed to be settled. However, the last time I was away this same thing happened – luckily, Adam was there then and he just waved his magic plastic at them - and they fell over themselves to do everything they could for us; probably because the line of his A-plus credit rating went off their computer screen, I expect. Anyway, I meant to give the credit card company a rocket when I got back, but I guess I forgot… after all, I don’t use it much; any expenses I incur on a mission go on the Spectrum credit card. It never occurred to me that I hadn’t yelled at them about it when I booked the hotel.”
“Did you book the theatre tickets with the same card?”
His face fell. “Damn and double-damn…”
“You’d better call and see if they’re valid,” she suggested, coming to his side and slipping her arms around him. “You know, I won’t mind too much if they aren’t… I’m sure we can find something else to do tonight…” She raised her face to his and he kissed her, his arms tightening around her slender body hungrily.
“What have I ever done in my life to deserve an angel like you?” he asked rhetorically.
“I have no idea, but it must’ve been bad…” she replied as he kissed her. “I hope…”
There were no tickets waiting for them at the theatre for that evening’s performance, but neither of them really minded. The prospect of spending more time alone was appealing. Dianne knew several little ‘bistro’ restaurants where they could get a decent meal, should they wish to go out, but in the end, they decided not even to do that and took a quick shopping trip to buy cold meats, cheeses, salads and fresh bread, fruit and – as a special birthday treat – a luxurious chocolate gateau. Paul did question whose treat that was meant to be, only to be hushed up by Dianne. He was too happy to argue and paid over the money for the indulgence with a beaming smile. They walked back through the wet streets, insulated from the cold by their love and the expectation of a wonderful evening ahead of them.
Back at the house, Dianne unpacked the shopping with a view to making dinner, while Paul trawled the wine cellar and selected a couple of bottles to suit their ‘picnic’ meal. There was music playing quietly over the sound system as he walked back into the kitchen, and Dianne, her long hair gathered up in an untidy bun, was preparing the salad, humming to herself as she did so.
He put the wine bottles down and crossed to her, gathering her up in his arms. She jumped; surprised by his return, but her protest turned to laughter as he planted gentle kisses her neck.
“Why can’t I ever be cross with you?” she asked him as he smiled down at her. A lock of his unruly hair had flopped across his forehead and he looked perfectly adorable. Suddenly she was afraid this exquisite moment of happiness wouldn’t last and she threw her arms around him and kissed him. “Don’t you ever change, Paul Metcalfe, because I couldn’t bear it.”
Even as she said the words she cursed her thoughtlessness. A shadow of uneasiness came into his brilliant eyes, turning the sapphire a darker blue. “You know the chances are that I’ll never change, Dianne – at least physically. I assure you, my feelings for you will never change for as long as I do live…”
She pressed her fingers against his lips. “Paul… I didn’t mean to drag that up. Please, forgive me. We’re not going to think about it – nor Spectrum, nor the Mysterons, nor anything except ourselves and having a wonderful time.”
“Agreed; this weekend is just for the two of us.” He stroked her cheek.
“The rest of the world can stay away…” She sighed happily.
“They can indeed… Now speaking of having a wonderful time, didn’t you mention something about wanting to have a hot bath sometime today…with unlimited water, unlimited time and someone to sponge your back?”
“Are you volunteering, Captain?”
“I’ll kill any man who tries to stop me, Angel.”
“But what about dinner?”
“Man cannot live by dinner alone – and we can always eat later… I’ll bring the wine, if you run the bath?”
“Paul Metcalfe, you’re nothing but an old romantic at heart.”
He smiled at her words. “That’s one way to describe what I’m feeling, all right…romantic,” he agreed.
The house had several en-suite guest rooms and Dianne had chosen one of these rather than her own room for this weekend; some instinct told her that Paul would have preferred ‘neutral ground’ and this was as neutral as any room in her family home could be.
The décor was a warm peachy colour, the large bed had drapes around it and the bathroom had a circular sunken bath. Dim lights, recessed in floor and walls turned the pale terracotta tiles into a warm cocoon of colour; she lit some small candles to create an even more intimate atmosphere. As the hot water gushed into the bath she tipped a handful of bath salts in, watching as it foamed in the flow. The steam rising from the tub would soon give the place a sensual haziness. She turned the taps to a gentle trickle and left to go to her own room.
When Paul pushed open the bedroom door there was no sign of Dianne. He put the glasses and wine bottle down and peered into the bathroom. There were sweetly smelling candles set around the room, and the water in the tub was a soft shade of turquoise. He hoped that wasn’t scented too – he didn’t want to emerge from this smelling like a…‘lady’s’ boudoir.
He wondered where Dianne had gone and turned back into the main room, to see her standing by the door.
She was wearing a creamy-white, floor-length silk robe, the sides of which crossed high on her breast bone, hiding her cleavage, and tied decorously at the side of her waist. Her beautiful red hair was gathered high on her head, secured by thin, silk ribbons. He had never seen her look so sophisticated, nor, conversely, quite so young… he was bemused and excited at the same time.
Her large, blue eyes sparkled as she surveyed his stunned reaction. “You are a tad overdressed, I’d say, Captain Scarlet,” she teased.
“I had to find a corkscrew and some glasses,” he stammered. “I was as quick as I could be. You might have waited for me…”
She laughed and advanced towards him, reaching out to unfasten his shirt buttons. “Let me help you.”
He kicked off his shoes and yanked his trouser belt undone, desperate to shrug off his clothes in record time. As his shirt fell open, she stepped away from him and waited. Paul saw the demure expression on her face and hesitated. It was not that she was shy – he knew that – but she seemed to be waiting for something…
He reached out to untie her robe.
She smiled up at him and then, modestly dropped her eyes, although he thought she was trying not to chuckle. The silken robe fell open and slid from her shoulders to lie crumpled at her feet. Beneath it she was wearing a basque, made of rich, embroidered red satin edged with black lace, which pushed her breasts up and together, pinching in at her slender waist – his eyes tracked over her body and he drew in a sharp gasp of pleasure. She was wearing black stockings, with lacy tops.
“Happy birthday to you,” she began to sing in a breathy voice that would have done Monroe credit, “Happy Birthday…Mr Metcalfe,” she purred and pirouetted around, laughter in her eyes and tugging at the corners of her full lips. “Happy birthday to you…”
She stood before him, a moment’s anxiety reflected on her face – but she need not have worried, he reached for her, his hand tracing a line down from her cheek, down the graceful column of her neck and along her shoulder and shapely arm, until he took hold of her hand and pulled her towards him, bending his head for a kiss that sent flame racing through her with its intensity.
“You like it then?” she had to ask.
“I have never seen anything like it in all my born days; it’s fantastic – and so are you…” He kissed her again, his hands roaming over her. “You are so incredibly sexy…” It was a revelation that his pure, innocent English Rose could turn into something that wouldn’t disgrace the best the Folies Bergere had to offer… albeit with fewer ostrich feathers.
“I chose it especially for tonight and I wanted to show it to you tonight, but I didn’t want to have to get dressed again after we’ve bathed. It won’t take me a minute to take it off…”
“Why would you want to do that?” he murmured.
“I’ve left the bath taps running,” she managed to mutter against his lips as his mouth sought hers.
“Damned stupid thing to do…” he responded lifting her up and carrying her to the bed. He laid her gently on it, smiling down at her. “Now don’t you go away; I just have some minor plumbing work to do and I’ll be right back…”
He was as good as his word, and this time when he emerged from the bathroom he had undressed. She watched him walking towards her, excited by the sight of his muscular body; the rich blackness of his hair on chest, belly and legs, emphasising the pallor of his skin. These days he never tanned, which was, perhaps, the most noticeable legacy of his retrometabolism and one which he resented bitterly; she’d heard him grumble at what he called ‘Blue’s ‘perma-tan’ complexion often enough. But she never minded; the pallor was as much part of him as the intense blue of his eyes or the strength of his virile body, and, as such, she accepted it and loved him all the more for his all-too-human umbrage.
She held out her arms to him and he lay down beside her. For a moment they simply savoured being so close. Then he raised his head to smile down at her, prior to pressing his mouth to hers.
They lost themselves in the pleasure of being with the one they loved.
Paul stirred before Dianne; she gave a subdued moan of protest as he rolled to her side, and kissed her hair. She curled up against him, reluctant to lose the warmth and comfort of his embrace. He wrapped his arm about her, holding her close, and smiled up at the ceiling, an overwhelming sense of well-being and fulfilment welling up inside him.
Their relationship had taken a while to get going and to begin with, he’d thought she was merely agreeing to make a fourth with him so that Adam and Karen’s relationship wasn’t so blindingly obvious. After his… accident – he’d backed away from any contact with his colleagues for a time – fearing what the Mysterons had done to him and what they might still have the power to do. Captain Blue had been his lifeline through that crisis and Adam had gradually led him back into the social life of Cloudbase and then, to Dianne.
The first time they’d gone out as a foursome after his Mysteronisation, he’d been so surly and rude, that Dianne had eventually walked away from him – leaving him with such a feeling of desolation that, at long last, he understood the real state of affairs with his own emotions. The next day he had gone to apologise and from that small olive branch they had progressed to a friendship and then – to his eternal joy – to become lovers.
He’d always been the one to insist they keep their relationship secret and Dianne had agreed. Not for them the emotional rollercoaster that characterised her closest friend’s romance with his closest friend. The warm glow of their love might be well hidden, by the brilliance of the glare from the furnace of Symphony’s affair with Blue, but neither couple had any doubt of the depth and sincerity of their feelings for each other.
The Americans hoped to marry one day, and, Paul realised, so did he. He wanted to share his life with this young woman – but could he ask her to share his? He knew Dianne loved him; she showed it in so many ways – but he still shied away from making that final commitment.
His reverie was interrupted as she woke from her satisfied doze and reached across his chest to hug him.
“Did I wake you?” he asked gently.
She shook her head. “No… maybe we should take that bath now? Before it gets too late to eat…”
“Whatever you want it will be my pleasure to perform.”
She grinned at him and then pouted slightly, resting her chin on her hands as they lay against his ribcage. “I thought I was supposed to be giving you pleasure, on your birthday?”
“Oh… believe me; you most certainly did that…”
Dianne chuckled. “I’m glad you approve…”
He glanced at the bedside clock. It was later than he’d realised and without disturbing her he went across to the bathroom and turned the taps on. When he returned to the bedroom, Dianne was waiting for him. She stretched out her arms so that he could carry her to the bathroom and ease her into the tub.
She lay back and closed her eyes as Paul squeezed spongefulls of the water over her shoulders and breasts. The water was fragrant, warm and soothing. She felt cosseted and cherished; isolated from any of the harsh realities beyond this room by the warm, sensual nature of her sanctuary and by the man who loved her.
There was just nothing like this on Cloudbase. There were utilitarian showers in every officer’s quarters, or the Jacuzzi and saunas in the gym areas, but those were open to anyone and there was no privacy. In fact, privacy was something you learned to value when you lived in such a close and crowded community. Paul valued his so highly that he rarely risked anyone learning of their secret by spending too much time alone with her, in stark contrast to their closest friends. Although Captain Blue - Dianne felt sure - would have followed their example, Symphony was too open, too exuberant in her emotions, to care much about keeping their relationship covert. In fact, it had been an open secret for some time, at least amongst the senior staff, that the two Americans were lovers, even though most of them played along with Blue’s apparent belief that it remained clandestine.
Paul wouldn’t appreciate such behaviour, Dianne thought, experiencing an unexpected twinge of regret.
She stirred, opening her eyes as Paul stopped sponging her and leant forward to kiss her. She responded to the desire in his kiss, sliding her arms around his strong shoulders and holding him against her. A frisson of delight ran through her at the feel of his muscular body against hers. Wet and slippery from the over-generous application of the expensive bath lotion he had added, they both slithered down into the turquoise depths, splashing water over the edge.
She giggled a little nervously. “We’d better not flood the place… I’d have trouble explaining that to my father.” Playfully, he splashed her, but she continued to worry about the amount of water sloshing over onto the tiled floor, soaking the cork bath mat and the floor beyond. They were both giggling now and she was delighted to see the world-weariness evaporate from his eyes as he teased her. Finally, the water started to get cold and Paul hooked the plug out with his toes and they clambered out of the tub in an undignified scramble, to splash across the wet floor to the heated towel rail and wrap themselves in the soft, warm bath-sheets.
Dry and warm, Dianne slipped into a silky nightdress and, refusing anything to eat, snuggled down in his arms to sleep.
He fell asleep soon afterwards.
When he woke it was several hours later, and Dianne had rolled away from him, her rich, red, hair tumbled across the pillow, her dark lashes curled against her soft cheek. He smiled at her in the dim glow of the light beyond the bedroom.
God, I’m hungry!
He slipped from the bed and pulled on his jeans and shirt. He collected the unused wine glasses and the bottle and padded out to the landing. They had left lights on through the house, it seemed.
He made his way to the kitchen, placing the wine back in the fridge and helped himself to some cold meat, chopping a chunk from the crusty loaf they’d bought. There was yoghurt and fruit as well. He piled up a plate and wandered, chewing on a chunk of bread, into the great hall. It was a magnificent room, with perfect proportions and even bigger than the ‘hall’ at home.
As he entered the room he paused and frowned. Sitting across the hall was an elderly woman, staring out of the oriol window at the moonlit courtyard beyond. The earlier rain had stopped and the silver light was glinting off the wet paving. Puddles reflected the moon as it darted between the racing clouds, making an ever changing light show
Paul hesitated. Dianne had been certain none of her family was at home and he’d met her immediate family a few times, so he knew most of them by sight, at least. He studied her in silence, his instincts alerted by the suddenness of her appearance and the strange stillness of her posture. The redness of her hair had faded to a pale rusty-brown, liberally sprinkled with grey, and it was swept back from her face into a neat bun on top of her head, but her bright blue eyes and the soft, rounded chin were familiar to him – they found their echo in Dianne’s sweet face.
“Lady Simms?” he asked quietly. Of course this might not be Lady Simms – it certainly isn’t Dianne’s mother – her grandmother maybe? I can’t remember what their names are… “I’m sorry to disturb you; I didn’t know there was anyone here.”
The woman’s face turned to him, and he could see that she was not as elderly as he’d first thought, but her skin lacked the suppleness of youth. “Come in, young man, you are not disturbing me at all,” she said with a smile on her lips.
“Dianne thought everyone had gone to the country,” he explained, anxious to establish his credentials and his right to be here; although she didn’t seem perturbed.
“Oh, everyone has,” she replied. “There’s only me here…”
“I am Paul Metcalfe… Dianne’s… errm…”
“Dianne’s young man,” she supplied the missing description with a gentle smile. “Yes, I know you are.”
“I was feeling a little peckish,” he indicated the plate in his hand. “May I get you anything?”
“No thank you, Mr Metcalfe, I have eaten already. At my age a little goes a long way.” He could see that she was almost painfully thin, but she did not seem to be sick or weak. She saw his concern and said, “Please, you eat what you have; don’t mind me. Perhaps you would do me the kindness to sit awhile and talk to me?”
“Willingly.” He wandered closer to her, placing his plate on a low coffee table, but not taking a seat. He was still not sure he trusted her.
“You’re not cold? You’re hardly well dressed.” There was a gentle amusement in her voice.
“No, I’m fine,” he replied. His Mysteronised body no longer suffered from extremes in temperature although the hall was chilly. Even now, the practical side of his mind was thinking how much it must cost to keep the place heated.
“It is your birthday, as I understand it?”
“Yes, that’s right.” He gave a rueful shrug. “Well, it was ... I mean, its past midnight, so technically speaking – yesterday was my birthday. I suppose the tendency is to think that it lasts until the next dawn…”
She inclined her proud head slightly acknowledging his words. “The hours until dawn are something of a no man’s land, aren’t they? I think we can allow you the extension.”
He gave a polite chuckle and continued, “I had intended to take Dianne to an hotel and to the theatre last night, but things didn’t work out as I’d planned. So, Dianne suggested we could come back here. I’m sure if she’d know you were about, Lady…erm? Lady…?”
“…Lady Constance, she’d have cleared it with you first.”
“She wouldn’t expect me to be here, my boy. I come and go as I please.” She looked him over with a perceptive glance and he felt himself blushing self-consciously at his semi-nakedness.
She sighed softly and asked, “Do you love her, Mr Metcalfe? Really love her?”
Paul was surprised at the directness of her question, but when his eyes met hers he had no doubt that she expected an answer. He drew a slight breath before replying, “Yes, Lady Constance, I do. Very much.”
“That is good; but I must also ask you, do you respect her, Mr Metcalfe?”
“Lady Constance, I… errm; that is… We… errm…” Without thinking, his hands went behind his back; much as they had done as a child when he was being quizzed about some misdemeanour by his parents, or at the boarding school he’d attended, although these days of course, the questions were more likely to be being asked by Colonel White.
Her smile was unexpectedly charming. “Do not concern yourself – I am no arbiter of morals, nor do I judge others. You are in love and the lives you lead are perilous in the extreme. To find comfort in your feelings for each other is an admirable thing. But, I ask again – do you respect Dianne?”
“Yes,” he replied firmly. “She’s a wonderful woman; intelligent, beautiful, independent…”
Lady Constance appeared pleased by his answer. “She is, indeed, a very remarkable young woman – she means a great deal to this family. We would not see her hurt.”
“I would never hurt her, Lady Constance.”
“But you already have, young man; you hurt her by your pretended indifference; and you continue to do so with your refusal to accept that she can and does love you – for what you are, Mr Metcalfe.”
Paul stared down with an angry frown and began to pace the room. He couldn’t believe Dianne would have discussed their relationship – discussed him – with her family; if for no other reason than it breached Spectrum’s security protocols. He wondered what this odd woman knew, or had deduced. Either way he was losing patience with her interrogation.
“Don’t be angry with Dianne; she did not tell me – or anyone,” Lady Constance said. He turned and stared at her. “I have my own ways of finding things out.”
She stood up from the chair. She was taller than Dianne, slender and upright in her carriage and he saw that her long dress was not the evening gown he had taken it for, but a day-dress in a style fashionable over 150 years ago. He assumed she had been to a fancy-dress party somewhere in the town and was still in her costume. He wondered again who exactly she was.
“I believe that you will make her happy, Mr Metcalfe; as happy as any two people in your situation can be. But, even so, I charge you to look after Dianne. She has so much to live for – and so many…” She gave a sad, almost silent laugh and mused, “What wouldn’t I have given to have had the chance to do one tenth of what Dianne can do. Women have taken their proper places in society now, Mr Metcalfe, and we are valued for ourselves, for our skills and our aptitudes- and that is for the good.”
“I don’t understand you, Lady Constance, when you say Dianne has ‘many to live for’?”
“She carries the hopes of many generations of her family – the wives, daughters and sisters of the house, who were never allowed the freedom to live as they chose, to do a job they chose – even a far less dangerous one than Dianne does – nor even to love where they would.”
She noted his scepticism. “You are still very young, and despite your own experiences, you know little of the trials others have faced before you. Many of us have faced our own ‘Mysterons’, Paul – or an equally implacable foe: in the guise of an oppressive, domineering, unforgiving society - and not all of us have survived their onslaught as well as you.”
“What do you know about the Mysterons?” He was beginning to wonder if she wasn’t a Mysteron reconstruction herself.
“As much, or as little as anyone. I know that you, and your colleagues, are locked in a mortal struggle against them – and that Dianne plays an important role in this conflict. I am proud of her fighting spirit and I would not see her give up this struggle - in order to marry you, for example.”
“Dianne certainly doesn’t intend to become a housewife any day soon,” he assured her with a wry smile. “She is a member of Spectrum’s Angel Strike Force and she knows her duty.”
“As do you.”
Lady Constance wasn’t really questioning his devotion to duty but he felt the need to reassure her, and himself, “As do I.”
“Whatever the cost?”
He nodded. “My live will be dedicated to working with Spectrum to defend the world from any threat. I am reconciled to that, Lady Constance.”
“You are a brave man, Paul Metcalfe. Many others could not have accepted the hand Fate dealt you. I charge you with the responsibility of making Dianne’s life as fulfilled as it can be.”
“Nothing would please me more,” he assured her.
Once again Lady Constance seemed to approve of his reply. He waited patiently for her next words, wondering what she was going to say, but her attention was taken by a sudden flash of moonlight through the window and she stood for some time watching the scudding clouds. He studied her carefully, sensing a sadness in her that he was at a loss to understand. From her appearance he deduced she had been ill for some time – possibly very ill - but her strength of character suggested she had risen above any physical weakness. There was an iron will beneath that fragile exterior, an inner strength that Dianne also possessed. He smiled. This family breed remarkable women, he thought, and I am so lucky one of them loves me…
Lady Constance glanced back at him, catching the affectionate smile on his lips, and responding with a smile of her own. He felt they shared a camaraderie and was sure they could be friends.
“But I have already kept you too long from your bed, Mr Metcalfe…”
“Paul,” he corrected gently; he’d appreciated her use of his Christian name, although he suspected that she was more comfortable with the formal mode of address. She inclined her head towards him, acknowledging his instruction. He continued, “And no, I am not really tired. I don’t need much sleep – these days.”
“Nevertheless, you are tired now,” she said confidently and raised a hand almost as if she was dismissing him. He blinked, suddenly aware that he was feeling sleepy. “You should sleep well for the rest of tonight; Dianne will expect you to be full of energy tomorrow … for your shopping trip.”
Her smile made him blush again, suddenly horrified by the thought that she might have heard them earlier and guessed what they were doing. To cover his confusion he said, “May I do anything for you, Lady Constance; before I go back to bed?”
“No, thank you…Paul. I am fine. I will sit here a little longer… it cannot be long now till the sun rises, and your birthday – and mine – are over for another year.”
“Well, goodnight then. See you in the morning…”
He turned and left the hall, casting one backward glance to see her silhouetted by the moonlight in the window embrasure, watching him. She raised her hand again in farewell, and Paul raced back upstairs, weariness seeping into even his resilient bones.
He slipped back under the duvet beside Dianne, who turned in her sleep and rolled against him – loving and trusting.
“I swear by everything I hold dear – I will make you the happiest woman on earth…” he murmured as sleep took him.
The next morning they woke late and when Dianne went downstairs to make coffee, Paul followed her.
The hall was empty; Lady Constance must still be in her bed too.
“You’ll never guess who I saw last night?” he said conversationally. “It must’ve been a relative of yours… staying at the house. She said her name was Lady Constance.”
Dianne dropped a cup which smashed to pieces on the floor. “Lady Constance – she was here?”
He noted her surprise and once again began to have doubts about just who his companion was. He nodded, stooping to help her collect the shards. “We had quite a chat; she seems very proud and fond of you.”
“She spoke to you?” Dianne’s voice was now incredulous.
“She was civil enough – if a little formal. I wasn’t sure she approved of me being here- well, not here with you…alone and in the same bed.”
“No, I don’t suppose she did.”
“Is she an aunt?”
“No, Paul. Not an aunt, exactly. She called herself Lady Constance – you’re sure?” He nodded and she continued, “Come with me. Let me show you something.”
She led him through to a study, the walls of which were lined with a collection of ‘swagger’ portraits, photographs and family pictures. She stopped before a portrait of a beautiful young woman, with glowing red hair and bright blue eyes. “Is that the woman you saw?” Dianne asked steadily.
He nodded. “Yes, that’s her – although she looked older than when this was painted. You look very like her.”
Dianne’s brows came down into a slight frown and she bit her lip before saying, “That is a portrait of Lady Constance Simms; she was an active suffragette and she died not long after the First World War – from the effects of injuries sustained whilst being force fed in prison. A member of the Women’s Political and Social Union, she went on hunger-strike after she was convicted and imprisoned for interrupting a Government rally and demanding the right for women to have the vote.”
“But – I saw her – I spoke to her!”
Dianne ran a hand through her red hair and shrugged. “They do say that her… ghost has been seen around the house. We had a maid once who was … psychically inclined; she had the screaming abdabs every so often over Lady Constance – claimed she saw her wandering about from time to time. But I’ve never heard any reports of her actually speaking to anyone before.”
“So why last night and why me?”
Dianne shrugged. She was rather surprised that he was taking it all so matter-of-factly. She was not aware of her fiancé’s previous encounter with a far less benign spirit, at his own family home one Christmas. Captain Blue had been with him then, and they’d decided not to say anything about it once they got back to work – it had seemed rather too fantastical to be real in the familiar, eminently rational, atmosphere of Cloudbase.
Paul was running the conversation he’d had with Lady Constance back through his memory, looking for a solution to this mystery. “She told me it was her birthday too… could that have had anything to do with it? Or was I imagining it all?”
“I’m almost sure it wasn’t her birthday…” Dianne’s voice trailed away. “Oh, but Paul - I remember now. She died at about midnight on December 17th and that’s the night when they say her ghost is most likely to appear. Where did you see her?”
“In the great hall; I came down to get something to eat.”
“This is very odd; she’s usually seen upstairs – by those that can see her, I mean. I always wanted to see her… as a child, I got told off by my father because once I sat outside her room and fell asleep waiting to see her.” Dianne put her hand over her mouth and stared at Paul with wide eyes. “Paul, we were in her room – that guest room used to be her room! No wonder she was sitting in the hall… bless her, she could hardly walk in on us… could she?”
“I most sincerely hope not…”
She laughed at his outrage and laid a hand on his arm. “Well, she can’t have disapproved that much – she spoke to you, after all. Now, come and have some breakfast and I want to hear everything you can tell me about Lady Constance… this is certainly turning into a birthday to remember…”
“You can say that again,” he muttered as he gave the serene portrait of Lady Constance one last lingering glance and followed Dianne from the room.
Like most people with birthdays close to Christmas, I suspect Paul Metcalfe’s is, more often that not, overlooked in the run up to the general festivities. So, I thought it would be nice to show him making a special occasion of it for once – although, as always with Captain Scarlet, things do not go according to plan.
The story developed from that simple idea.
‘Crossley Hall’ is a thinly disguised reference to the real ‘Crosby Hall’ in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. I was once privileged to visit the original part of the building – then a women’s college – and see the oriol window in the great hall which, tradition has it, was installed on the orders of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester in the early 1480s, when he used the building as his residence in the City of London. In the 16th Century it was the residence of Sir Thomas More and his family. Around 1910 the extant parts of the building – including the window and the great hall - were moved and reconstructed in their present location, to allow a bank to be built on the site it had occupied in Bishopsgate.
The building is now privately owned.
The character Constance Simms is loosely based on the life of Lady Constance Lytton (1869-1923); an ardent suffragette who was force-fed eight times whilst imprisoned in Walton Gaol. Even though her frail health (she had a weak heart) was undermined by the experience, she continued to campaign for women’s rights until she died, after a series of strokes.
Inscribed on her mausoleum in Knebworth Park, her family left the following epitaph: “Endowed with a celestial sense of humour, boundless sympathy, and rare musical talent, she devoted the later years of her life to the political enfranchisement of women and sacrificed her health and talents in helping to bring victory to this cause”.
Beyond their shared experiences, nothing I have written or implied in my character, Constance Simms, is meant as a direct description of Lady Constance, whose story I first encountered in the marvelous BBC drama series, Shoulder to Shoulder, and for whom I have nothing but admiration.
The previous encounter Captain Scarlet had with a ghost mentioned in the text, is related in my story, The Mistletoe Bough, although he, and other members of Spectrum, have encountered a variety of spirits in several of the other stories on the Spectrum HQ Website.
My thanks are due to Caroline Smith and Hazel Köhler, for their services as beta-readers, as well as advisers, providers of calm and practical support in moments of panic and friends, par excellence - only they know the trouble I put them to. Any errors to be found in the text are my fault.
Ladies, you are both stars!
As ever, my grateful thanks to Chris Bishop, without whom we’d all have a vast, empty gap in our lives! She is always generous with her time and her advice, and yet she still finds time to write her own wonderful stories. (Thank goodness!) I am determined to discover how she gets 26 hours out of every day… given time.
I do not own the characters in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ - but if any genii ever gave me three wishes, I would. They belong to the business conglomerate Carlton International Media Limited, (I think) and owe their existence to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and the superb artists who brought them to life for a generation of wide-eyed children in 1967-68.
My thanks to you for reading; as always, I can only hope you enjoyed it.
Now, all that remains is for me to say:
Happy Birthday, Mr. Metcalfe.