A Spectrum Christmas story by Marion Woods
It’s a thin line between love and hate
Robert and Richard Poindexter and Jackie Members
The Christmas post still tended to buck the trend of modern communications in that it was the one time of the year when real – rather than virtual – letters and cards were sent. It was no different on Cloudbase and the job of distributing the cards, letters and parcels received on the base went to the admin staff. Sergeant Dave O’Neill, the senior Comptroller for the base, timetabled in the additional duty of post deliveries and even provided a wheeled trolley so that the numerous parcels could be carried around safely.
Philippa Daniels, Captain Blue’s Valet, was always happy to take on the additional work; it combined the excitement of Christmas with her two favourite pastimes, exploring the vast, hovering base she lived and worked on and people watching.
This particular morning she was in seventh heaven: The Captain was off-duty and was doing some online Christmas shopping in his quarters, which meant she had him to herself for a few precious hours. She busied herself making him another cup of coffee and chatted away as she did so.
“Lieutenant Marine’s very popular right now; I must’ve taken a dozen cards and presents to her quarters just this week.”
“Like Captain Scarlet, Marine has a birthday close to Christmas, Philly,” Blue said, as he accepted the mug of coffee with a smile. “I’m glad my birthday is almost as far away from Christmas as you can get,” he added. “Buying birthday and Christmas presents at the same time makes my head ache – especially for Scarlet. What do you give a guy like him, eh?”
“Well, I bet if you don’t know, Captain, nobody does.”
Blue sighed and leant back in his chair. “You’re not the only one who imagines that. Everyone asks me what to get him, as if I didn’t have enough trouble thinking of something I can get him, never mind everyone else. I can’t help feeling that bottles of whisky are a cop out, however much Paul says he appreciates them.”
She nodded sympathetically, but had no helpful suggestions to offer. Like most of the non-field operatives on Cloudbase, she had only the haziest idea of what made Captain Scarlet so valued by the organisation and so much the premier agent amongst the elite captains. Everyone heard of his repeated brushes with death, and his remarkable stamina and speed of recovery were regarded with awe, but the fact that Scarlet had been a Mysteron Agent and was endowed with the power of retrometabolism was a closely-guarded secret. It left everyone a little wary of him and Scarlet was considered to be somewhat ‘stand-offish’ by the lower ranks.
Philly, whose hero-worshipping of Captain Blue – her Captain – was legendary on the base, tended to consider that Scarlet hogged the limelight too much, thereby casting the bravery, courage, and nobleness of mind and spirit of his field partner into unwarranted shadow. She had soon learnt that that was not how Captain Blue saw things and was always careful not to annoy him by any criticism of his friend, however justified she felt it to be.
“You’ve given him some lovely things before,” she said reassuringly, “I’m sure you’ll think of something – you always do!”
“Your faith in me is gratifying, Mignon, but I wish I shared it.” Blue drank his coffee and pulled a face. “Right now I’d like a bolt of inspiration about what to get my brothers, never mind people outside the family. I’m toying with the idea of giving David an option on a painting by his favourite artist; he could exchange it for one of his works, or even, I guess, commission something. What’d’you think?”
“Can you even do that?” Philly’s eyes were wide with amazement.
Blue smiled. “I’ve emailed the artist and asked if it’d be feasible, so I’ll let you know.”
“Sounds like a brilliant idea to me, Captain. I’m sure your brother’ll love it. You said he likes arty things, so it’s bound to be a winner.”
“Yeah, Davy’s not so difficult, I guess; but whatever I get Peter will be scrutinised to the nth degree: it is more or less expensive than last year, does it equate to what I’ve given Kitty and Davy…” He sighed. “Families, eh? Who’d have ‘em?”
She smiled and gave a slight shrug; an only child of a single parent, Philly’s family was dysfunctional in an entirely different way to that of the wealthy Svensons, but it made her feel a kindred spirit with him in a strange kind of way. She collected his coffee mug and went to wash them up, before asking:
“What’re you getting Symphony Angel?”
Blue grinned. “Karen’s no problem; she’s already given me a list as long as my arm of the things she’d like.”
“And d’you know what she’s getting you?” she asked, as casually as she could.
“No; she hasn’t let on.”
“What’d you like her to get you?”
“Whatever she gets will be fine,” he assured her.
“But you must want something more than something else.” Philly’s face wore an expression of subtle craftiness that spoke volumes to her boss.
“No; not really. I could do with some new jeans, but I’ll pick those up next time I’m groundside.”
“Jeans? That’s not much for people who swap works of art and the like, is it?” she exclaimed.
“Philly, it wouldn’t be that Karen’s asked you to pump me for ideas, would it?”
“Me? She wouldn’t ask me!” she blustered and busied herself with a duster.
“Oh yes she would, if she was desperate enough,” replied Blue, but more to himself than to her as it dawned on him that Philly was asking the question for herself which presented quite another problem: he needed something she could afford that wouldn’t appear to be patronisingly cheap on his part… He ostensibly returned to his online searching.
“She can ask you herself,” Philly replied hotly. “I mean, she’s married to you!”
“Then I apologise for suspecting you, Mignon.” He waited a moment and added, “You know what I’d really like?”
“No. Are y’gonna to tell me?”
Blue nodded. “I want a new hairbrush to replace that old one on the dresser, the one with real bristles; it’s wearing out. People never think of practical things like that and I use the brush every day. D’you think Santa might arrange that for me if I ask him?”
Philly pursed her lips thoughtfully. “If you’ve been good, I suppose he will,” she replied, with a nod.
“I’m always good,” Blue replied, with false modesty. “Ask Karen if you don’t believe me.”
Philly sniggered and he grinned at her.
The doorbell sounded and she stamped across to open the door, returning with a pile of correspondence.
Blue groaned. “More bills?”
“Not all of ‘em.” She handed over a few envelopes and added, “There’s one for me, so Jo handed it over. Can I open it?”
“Sure; you don’t have to ask, Mignon.”
Philly examined her letter carefully. It was in a heavy cream paper and addressed in a dark copperplate font:
Miss Philippa Daniels, Spectrum, PO Box 2067, Futura TV21C
Carefully, she slipped her finger under the thick flap of the envelope and opened it. Inside was a single cream-coloured card in the same font:
Mr and Mrs John Svenson request the pleasure of the company of Miss Philippa Daniels at the marriage of their daughter, Katherine Isolde to Mr Seymour Griffiths. Boston, Mass. 24 December 2077. RSVP
Captain Blue had recognised the envelope and was watching her reaction.
“Anything interesting?” he asked casually.
She looked at him in astonishment. “Seymour’s invited me to his wedding,” she said.
“Is that a surprise? You’re good friends,” remarked Captain Blue, a slight smile on his lips.
“Well, yeah, but, I mean: I can’t go.”
“Why ever not? The Colonel’ll give you leave, no doubt about it.” Captain Blue had spent many hours liaising with Lieutenant Green and Colonel White to ensure there was adequate cover for all of the invitees.
“Don’t be daft! It’s going to be a big posh do – you and Symphony are going and Scarlet and Rhapsody and all sorts of important people!”
“Nobody’s as important as the friends who get invited,” Blue remarked. “Family have to be invited, friends are chosen.”
“I’d love t’go,” she admitted, “But I don’t have anything to wear and what about getting a present for them? And there’s the fare and stopping over…”
“Go from Cloudbase on the shuttle.” Blue said. “That’ll cost you nothing, and I think you’ll find that all guests will be provided with accommodation by my family, either at the house or in a hotel. Don’t worry, it’s what they did for Peter’s wedding and mine, so it’s the custom,” he added, as she began to protest.
“So you think I should accept?”
“Do you want to go?”
“I’d love t’go,” she repeated.
“Then yes, accept it.” He smiled. “And you worry too much, Mignon; whatever you wear will be perfect, I’m sure.”
“What’d I buy for them though?”
“Ask Seymour; he’s probably got a list.” Blue knew he had; he’d helped create it.
Philly nodded. “I will. I wonder if Audrey’s going. She’s friends with Sey too; that’d be better, otherwise I’ll know nobody.”
“You’ll know me and Karen, Paul and Dianne, and the colonel, for starters.”
The look she gave him made him smile and he had to admit he couldn’t see her feeling comfortable socialising with them. Especially Karen and Paul, oddly enough.
“Perhaps you’d better ask Audrey if she got an invite.”
“Don’t you know?”
He sensed that she suspected him to have been more involved with making the arrangements than he was letting on. He shook his head.
“But,” he replied, “I suspect that if she has got an invitation she’ll be as unsure about accepting it as you were. What I’ve said to you, Philly, applies to Lieutenant Flaxen as well, so you’d better go and tell her before she declines it, hadn’t you?”
“Yeah, suppose so. I’m done here anyway. I’ll collect the laundry and bring it up later, if that’s okay?”
“Sure; no hurry.”
The automatic door slid open and Symphony Angel strode in. “Hi, Adam. Oh hello, Philly, you still here?”
“Just going, ma’am. Thanks, Captain. Ta-ra.”
“Bye, Philly. Thanks.” He smiled up at Symphony who was watching the young woman gather her belongings and leave. As the door closed behind her, Philly heard his voice soften with affection as he said, “Hi, Honey…”
As soon as she could, Philly went down to the Research Library, where her closest friend and ally on Cloudbase, Lieutenant Flaxen, was usually to be found. As senior researcher on the base, Flaxen was responsible for providing and updating the information Lieutenant Green and the elite officers used, and the ever-loyal Philly considered her an important cog in the great Spectrum wheel. That she was always willing to spend time with someone as lowly as herself, confirmed to Philly that Audrey Geffen was ‘one-in-a-million’ and as close to the shining example of a wonderful human being that The Captain represented, as it was possible to be.
Flaxen was in her office busy writing a report when Philly arrived. She glanced up with a smile.
“Hi, Philly. You’re early; I wasn’t planning to go to lunch for another hour or so.”
“Aud, have you had a letter today?” Philly waved her invitation.
Flaxen stopping typing and nodded, reaching to pick up a matching envelope.
“A wedding invitation from Seymour? Yes.”
“I never thought he’d ask me, Aud; I thought he’d ask you, as was only fair and proper, you being his good friend, an’all. But me? Well, I call it proper decent of him.”
“It is nice of him…”
“I asked The Captain if I should go and he says I should if I want to. You’re going, aren’t you, Aud? I couldn’t go on me own, I’d feel like a fish outa water. The Captain said I’d know him and Simpery as well as Scarlet and Rhaps, but I couldn’t hobnob with that lot.”
Philly flung herself down into one of the chairs and stared at Flaxen with hopefulness in her large, brown eyes.
“I’m going,” Flaxen confirmed. “Sey told me to expect an invite, so I’ve had a few days to think it over. I know,” she continued as Philly drew breath to speak, “that there’ll be loads of VIPs and such like, but Sey said all his family will be there as well as some from Cloudbase and he’d appreciate having us there, as his side of things will still be outnumbered by the Svenson clan.”
“Sey said that? He’s a good bloke, Aud. Who else’s going from Cloudbase?”
“You, me, the Blues and Scarlets, the Colonel and some of the techie-crowd.”
“I wonder if Rhapsody will take the baby. Haven’t seen him yet. The Captain went to the christening, of course – he was its godfather, they named it after him, you know? – and I saw some pictures. Odd to think of her and Scarlet having a kiddie, isn’t it?”
“She might take him. Scarlet probably doesn’t see the baby that often, after all.”
“I wonder if The Captain’s daughter’ll be there.”
“I doubt that, Philly. Technician Saville wasn’t in Sey’s crowd and, I expect, if she was going – and little Freya couldn’t really go without her - Her Ladyship’d throw a wobbly, which’d make Blue’s life hellish.”
Philly nodded sagely but after a moment, she asked eagerly, “What’re you going to wear, Aud?”
“Don’t know, but what say we meet up when my shift’s done and we can do some online window shopping for ideas?”
“Brilliant! I’ll come over with some nibbles.”
“Not too many nibbles, Philly! I have to watch my weight or Fawn’ll have me trudging on the treadmills for hours at a time.”
“Trust me, Aud. I’ll have a word with Göran; he’ll rustle something low-cal up for us, I bet.”
“Philly, the chefs have enough to do without rustling up nibbles for you!”
“He won’t mind, he likes to be asked.”
Flaxen shook her head in disbelief. Philly seemed to know everyone and was a great favourite with most. Her inherent good-nature, optimism and enthusiasm stood out amongst a group of people dedicated to the serious business of protecting the World from the alien threat of the Mysterons and it was appealing. It also meant that she had no qualms about asking favours or doing them in return.
“If you say so, Phil. Now, be a star and push off ‘til lunchtime. Captain Grey’s expecting this report today and I’m behind schedule.”
“Righto, Aud; see you in the canteen…”
In her well-appointed study, at the centre of her luxurious home, Sarah Svenson was extremely busy. It was a state of affairs that delighted her. When looking at Sarah Svenson, the casual observer saw a scatty chatterbox, with a butterfly mind that never settled for long on any one topic, but her family and close friends knew that beneath that façade was an observant and intelligent mind with an inherent strength of character that enabled her to manage her family of strong-willed individuals with tact, diplomacy and, when necessary, utter ruthlessness.
Lesser mortals might have baulked at the herculean task of organising an annual charity fancy-dress ball, a family wedding and Christmas within days of each other, but Sarah, confident that whatever resources she needed would be available to her – whatever the price – found the experience exhilarating.
Her daughter Katherine’s decision to accept the proposal of her long-term boyfriend, Seymour Griffiths, had delighted her parents, even though Sarah knew that the marriage wouldn’t be an easy one. Seymour – like her eldest son, Adam – was an officer in the World Government’s anti-terrorism organisation, Spectrum and spent his on-duty hours aboard the aerial headquarters of the organisation, Cloudbase. As such he was not around for much of the time, and it had been Katherine’s continuing attachment to him during these absences that had convinced her mother she was in love with the charming, diffident and intelligent Trinidadian.
The wedding date had been set after considerable negotiation with Spectrum’s Commander-in-Chief, Colonel White, so that the absence of his Executive Administrator, Lieutenant Green, would cause the least possible disruption for the organisation. Quite what Seymour did aboard Cloudbase, Sarah wasn’t too sure, but the colonel had been generous with granting enough leave for the newly-weds to have a decent honeymoon over the Christmas period.
John Svenson had assumed that the wedding date of Christmas Eve would rule out the annual costume party the family organised for a Christmas Charity, but Sarah had swiftly disabused him of that. Even Kate had been doubtful that both events could be organised effectively, but she’d quickly learnt that her mother was no slouch. Whatever needed to be done was done and the invitations for both events had been sent out on the same day. Now there was a short lull before the frenzy of preparations began.
Looking up from her task list, Sarah glanced at the calendar on the wall and noted something against one of the tasks. Her eyes wandered to the collection of family photographs on the nearby shelf and she smiled. There was John, looking as uncomfortable as ever at having his picture taken; Peter and his wife with their young daughters, presenting a carefully posed picture of family unity, and David – her youngest – grinning like a Cheshire cat, dressed in tennis whites with a racquet over his shoulder. Katherine and Seymour together in their engagement portrait was the latest addition to the collection, but in pride of place was the picture of her eldest – Adam – with his wife, Karen, taken in the garden on their wedding day, two years ago.
Sarah sighed. There was an exuberance in the faces of Adam and Karen which even a casual observer would have recognised as a deep and satisfying affection, but that blissful situation had not lasted. Before long Karen’s expression had taken on a veneer of disappointment and Sarah knew far more than her son realised about the truth behind her daughter-in-law’s frequent moody tempers and interminable sulks.
Of course, she had been surprised as anyone when, shortly after his marriage, Adam had confessed that another woman was pregnant with his child – and the circumstances surrounding that were still as much a mystery as ever despite her gentle probing – and she could well understand Karen’s dismay and anger. Nevertheless, she supported her son’s decision to acknowledge and maintain the child and its mother, and had accompanied Adam to see them soon after the birth. Lesley Saville was a young woman who, if she was any expert, was utterly bewitched by her son – something Sarah found perfectly understandable – but she saw no reciprocal attachment to her on his part. It was a different matter with the baby: a pretty, blonde cherub, named Freya Evelyn by her mother. Adam was captivated from the moment he laid eyes on the tiny, flawless being and from the moment she opened her blue eyes and looked back at him, she’d had him wrapped round her chubby finger.
Of course, Adam’s circumstances meant that he saw little enough of his child, but she had been happy to pay visits to the Cornish cliff-top house he’d bought for Lesley and Freya on his behalf.
Christmas, Sarah thought, is a time for families – all families. Every family.
Reaching a sudden decision she picked up the remote and activated the video phone on the desk, deftly keying in an international number.
Karen Svenson wandered from the shower room into the bedroom and sat at the dressing table. Out in the living room she could hear the rustle of paper as Adam turned the pages of his magazine. She unwrapped the towel from around her wet hair and combed it through. The face in the mirror stared back at her: it was an attractive face, with lovely hazel-green eyes, but she could see the overlying discontent that was creating frown lines and a sulky pout on the full lips.
Why does life have to be so complicated? she thought as she pulled on her bathrobe and ambled out to join her husband.
“Your mom messaged me that she’s found the ideal gift for us to give to Kate and Sey,” she said, lightly brushing her hand over Adam’s hair as she passed by. “I said she should go ahead and get it. I hope that’s okay with you?”
He looked up at her. “Sure; I trust Mom’s taste and expertise in buying presents for the family. I never usually have the time to do it, so I have to rely on her. Still, I guess you’d have enjoyed doing the shopping yourself?”
She shrugged. “It’s okay by me. I can do Christmas – and Sey’s birthday. Remember, he’s another winter baby.”
“I’m surrounded by them,” Adam teased. He reached for her and she came and sat on his knee. “Tell me what you want for Christmas and your birthday, älskling.”
“All I want for Christmas is you,” she responded, kissing him gently.
“Flattery will get you everywhere, Mrs. Svenson…” he reassured her. He returned her kiss as he slid his hand inside the bathrobe.
The doorbell interrupted them and Adam cursed under his breath as Karen grabbed her bathrobe and fled to the bedroom. He went and opened the door to reveal Captain Scarlet standing in the corridor.
Scarlet knew his friend well enough to recognise when his visits occurred at inopportune moments, but he was canny enough not to show it.
“Hi, Adam; sorry to disturb you off-duty-”
“-but I wanted to ask your advice.”
“Come in and sit down. What’s the problem and how can I help?”
Scarlet gave a wry laugh as he moved a pile of Karen’s magazines and sat down on the two-seater sofa. “That’s the problem, I’m not sure you can – I’m not sure anybody can; but I felt the need to share. You know, how they say a problem shared is a problem halved…”
Used to being his field partner’s sounding board, Captain Blue nodded.
“Well, it’s Dianne and ‘The Wedding’, of course. She’s saying that she doesn’t think she can go and it’s upsetting her.”
“Why can’t she go?”
“Because of the baby, of course. She thinks leaving him alone for Christmas is too much of a wrench.”
“He wouldn’t be alone – exactly.”
“No, he’d be with his doting grandparents, but I suspect Di thinks it’d be too much of a wrench for her. He’d hardly notice.”
“Well, I guess that’s understandable, he’s only ten months old, Paul. And I’m sure he’d notice if his mommie disappeared; the problem would be that he wouldn’t understand why.”
“That’s as maybe; but I know she wants to go to the wedding. She’s fond of Seymour, as you know.”
Blue sighed. “I think she’s going to have to sort it out for herself.”
Scarlet hesitated before continuing to explain. Dianne had also expressed concern over how Karen might react to the presence of their baby son. Ever since her marriage, it had been Karen’s intention to start a family, but things had not gone according to her carefully laid plans. The arrival of Adam Charles Metcalfe, fourteen months after his parents’ wedding, had been a difficult time for Karen, although she had tried not to show it.
His reticence was justified when Karen emerged from the bedroom wearing her Angel uniform.
“Hiya, Gorgeous.” He smiled brightly at her. He liked Karen and admired her skills both as a pilot and as an undercover agent, but he also knew that she was jealously possessive of her husband and likely to resent any intrusion that diverted his full attention from her. “Sorry to intrude.”
“No problem; I’m on duty in an hour and I’m going to get something to eat beforehand. So you boys can continue plotting in peace.”
“Plotting? What makes you think we’re plotting?” Scarlet asked.
Symphony Angel picked up her helmet. “I know you both too well to doubt it when you sit whispering together.”
“Were we whispering?” Scarlet looked at Blue in surprise. His friend shrugged.
“Catch you later, Harvard,” Symphony said to Blue, as she opened the door.
“Okay, älskling. Take care.”
As the door closed, Blue turned to Scarlet and said, “Let’s have a coffee and brainstorm this, shall we?”
Scarlet nodded gratefully.
At one of the social computer stations in a staff common room, Philly and Lieutenant Flaxen were trawling The Net looking for what Philly called ‘suitable Wedding Wear’.
“I don’t think we’re gonna find anything,” Philly moaned. “Especially as every time I see something that’d do you tell me it’s awful.”
Flaxen sighed. Philly’s ideas of ‘suitable’ would be hard enough for a six-foot, stick-thin model to wear with confidence, never mind a solidly-built woman of less than average height.
“We’re gonna stand out among the rich folk like sore thumbs.”
“No, we won’t. Anyway, not everyone there will be rich; Seymour’s brothers and sisters are going, for a start, and they’re not rich.” Flaxen closed the site and suggested, “Let’s look for things on sites that aren’t designer ones. We can be comfortable and look smart, even if we can’t look chic. Besides, I don’t like all that Verdain-type stuff much and you’re paying for the label.”
“Fancy calling everything above a size zero ‘plus-size’,” Philly remarked resentfully. “They don’t seem to make clothes for proper people-shaped people.”
“Exactly.” Flaxen sighed with relief.
Philly had insisted on looking at ‘Posh frocks’ but had quickly grown despondent over the sizes, styles and prices.
“This looks more hopeful. Look, classic styles and reasonable prices. What colour do you want?”
“Oh, Philly, try something else for a change! You’d look nice in a warmer colour…”
“Stop, Aud- I like that one!”
Flaxen stared in dismay at the dress on the screen which had a frilly bodice and long, full, floaty skirt in a pale, ice-blue chiffon.
“It’s not you,” she said firmly, as she visualised the figure of her friend swamped in the creation while freezing to death in the snowy cold of Boston. She hastily dismissed the comparison with an iceberg that can unbidden to her mind. “Believe me, Philly, it really isn’t.”
“I’ll never find a dress!” Philly wailed.
“Rubbish. Look, how about this?”
“It isn’t: it comes in a variety of colours and it’d be smart and practical.”
“I don’t want to be practical!”
Flaxen closed the computer down.
“Why’d you do that?” Philly protested.
“Because I have better things to do with my time than listen to you diss everything, except the most unsuitable frocks.”
“They’re not unsuitable! I want to look special and it’s my money, I can spend it on what I want.”
“Yes, you can, but you can do it on your own. Look, Phil, it’s getting late; let’s go down to the pool and swim off our frustrations, shall we? Then we’ll have earned ourselves a latte and a piece of cake in the canteen. My treat.”
“But what about choosing an outfit?”
“We can start again later.” She stood and started to walk away without waiting for a response.
Sighing with regret over the rejected frocks, Philly trailed after her.
While Philly was still splashing her way up and down the pool to complete her regulation number of lengths, Flaxen saw Destiny Angel sitting poolside on a relaxer. Destiny was always approachable and, Flaxen knew, an acknowledged Fashionista, so she decided to seek her advice.
Destiny listened carefully and after some thought gave some clear suggestions of styles and colours that might suit, along with some absolute ‘don’ts’.
“Thank you, Destiny. I’m afraid Philly will take some convincing though, she’s locked into the concept of floaty frocks and lots of bling being de rigueur for weddings.”
Destiny shuddered delicately. “She is a sweet girl, but not… au fait with the art of fashion, hein? She gave a smile as an idea came into her mind. “I ’ave une parfaite solution. Come to my apartment this evening when I am off-duty and I will give you a program I ‘ave. It will make for you a 3D representation of you in any outfit you select. You will need to upload a body scan image first, but it is very good.”
“A body scan? Can we use the uniform ordering image for that?”
Destiny nodded. “Voilà une excellente idée, Flax. Per’aps seeing an image of herself will show Philly what will suit her more?” She watched Philly scrambling from the pool and continued, “For those of us who lack the inches of height, it can be très difficile to find graceful clothes, but they are out there, Flax.”
“I know; but please bear in mind that Philly isn’t that well off and some really nice things cost a bomb.”
“It is not necessary to spend a fortune to look chic. If you wish it, I can help you and Philly find the exact outfit for a reasonable cost? There are some French websites you may not know of. It is less likely that the other guests will be wearing the same outfit too if you buy from there,” Destiny reasoned.
“That’d be wonderful; thank you so much, Destiny.”
“Mais de rien.” She smiled at the two young women. “This evening in my apartment, then? Au revoir.”
Philly watched the elegant Frenchwoman make her way past the admiring glances of the male bathers and asked:
“What’re we doing this evening?” she asked Flax and was not pleased when she found out.
“Mom, another couple of responses have arrived.” Katherine Svenson walked into her mother’s study and handed her two envelopes. “Looks like they’re acceptances.”
Sarah opened the envelopes and confirmed the names of their guests, so that her daughter could add them to the seating plan.
“Virtually a full house,” Kate said happily. “Seymour will be pleased that all of his relatives are coming.”
“Did he think they wouldn’t?” Sarah asked, surprised.
“He did wonder,” admitted Kate, with a wry smile.
Sarah kept the thought that the provision of free transport and accommodation had gone a long way to ensure that Seymour’s guests were able to accept, to herself.
“Well, it is a long way for them and they might’ve had long-standing Christmas plans. It will be nice to meet them all.”
Kate smiled and sat down. “I’m looking forward to it. Sey’s told me so much about them all and I’ve met Merlene and Grace, but I imagine they’ll be quite a force when they’re all together.”
“Wasn’t there a brother who died?”
Kate nodded. “Jayson, the one after Seymour. Sey was very close to him; I think he still misses him. But they’re a close knit family – unlike us.”
“Not close-knit? Of course we are! Just because we fight amongst ourselves that doesn’t mean we aren’t close.”
“If you say so, Mom.”
“I do say so. I know Peter is a thorn in Adam’s side-”
“-but either of them would do anything for the other, if push came to shove – and you know it.”
“I know Peter would help Adam hand over his control in the company in the blink of an eye, and Adam would help him boil his head. Mind you, Davy and I would form a queue to help with that.” She laughed at her mother’s outraged expression.
“And if someone other than a Svenson attempted to take over SvenCorp?”
“Oh, we’d all rally round to repel borders; that goes without saying.”
Sarah shook her head. “Just remember that the next time Peter winds you up, please.”
“Oh, Pete’s okay; just so damned annoying.”
Sarah contemplated her only daughter: Katherine was the spoilt darling of her proud father and was manipulative enough to have the ‘annoying’ Peter, and the insouciant David, at her beck and call. Between Adam and his sister was a mutual affection that had survived her frequent bouts of selfishness and his frequent – and all too long – absences: if ever there was a disagreement amongst the children, you would never find Kate and Adam on opposing sides. In fact, the only grit in the oyster of their relationship was Karen – who Kate was adamant was not good enough for her brilliant eldest brother, not that she’d ever told Adam that, of course.
“You, of course, are utterly perfect, I suppose?” she remarked pointedly.
“Good Lord, no! I’m utterly self-centred, as you well know, Mahmee, dearest. I’m a good looking bitch with a brain I’m not afraid to use and underneath my sexy exterior beats a heart of pure granite, just like my daddy’s. But, when I leave work, the milk of human kindness flows through my veins and I’m a scintillating coquette, just like my momma.”
“Get out of here before I call Seymour and warn him what he’s taking on!”
Kate laughed. “He already knows and he’s looking forward to the challenge.” She kissed her mother’s cheek and playfully waved goodbye.
Sarah shook her head ruefully. She’d done her best with them all, but they’d all turned out to be such self-willed and perverse individuals that she could only imagine they got it from their father’s side of the family.
“Ah, well; at least I know they can look after themselves and what parent can do more?”
“Captain Blue and Captain Scarlet are expected back from Mozambique in about an hour,” Lieutenant Green told Symphony Angel in response to her anxious question over the internal communication system.
“How badly is Scarlet hurt?” she asked.
“Blue says it isn’t too bad: ‘a broken arm and a sore head’ to quote his last report,” Green told her. “He’ll hardly be in Sick Bay long enough for Fawn to do any tests.”
“Thanks, Lieutenant. Is it okay if I contact Rhapsody and let her know?”
“I have no order to the contrary, Symphony; but please be sure to use the encrypted communication network.”
She closed the link and glanced at her companions in the Amber Room. Destiny Angel was in Angel One; Melody was Angel Two and, with the shifts due to change in about 10 minutes, Prosody Angel had already arrived to take over her own role as Angel Three.
“Prosody, would you take over for me now? I want to go and make a call to Rhapsody and reassure her that Captain Scarlet’s okay before she hears about the mission on the news.”
“Of course, Symphony.”
“Thanks; I owe you 10 minutes.”
“There’s no need,” the younger woman assured her.
“Give Rhapsody my love,” Melody called from the couch.
Symphony jogged down to the married quarters she shared with Captain Blue and let herself in. She took a moment to pour herself a cool drink from the mini-fridge and sat down before the video-phone. The number of the Metcalfe’s home outside Winchester was on speed dial and in next to no time, the call was answered by Rhapsody Angel.
“Hello, Karen! How nice to see you.”
“Hi there, Di. How’re you and Baby Ace?”
“Never better. You and Adam?”
“Fine; he’s on his way back from Mozambique with Paul. You may see it on the news once the security clearance is lifted. Seymour’s confirmed that the mission was a success but that Paul sustained a slight injury: ‘a broken arm and a sore head’, apparently. I’m sure he’ll call you as soon as possible after he gets back to base.”
“Thanks for letting me know. I’m almost frightened to put the news on these days. Somehow, although it was bad enough being on base while he was working, being here it is much worse. I feel so helpless.”
“We all feel like that when Paul’s in the firing line.”
“I know, and I appreciate you letting me know as soon as you can, Karen.”
“It looks like Paul will be fit enough to attend his birthday party tomorrow; are you all packed to come too?”
“Yes; well just about – I’m sure I’ll have forgotten something, you know how it is. Mrs Metcalfe’s driving us to London Airport and we’re travelling up on the morning shuttle. I am so looking forward to it, Kay.”
“So are we; it’ll be great to see you – and Baby Ace – again.”
“I’m grateful that the colonel’s given permission for our visit, even if it does mean that poor Ace will have to undergo some of Fawn’s tests. I didn’t think I’d be able to go to Seymour’s wedding, but staying on Cloudbase and flying down with everyone is a perfect solution! Plus I’ll get more time to spend with Paul.”
“He misses you,” Symphony confided to her friend.
“Not as much as I miss him,” Rhapsody replied. “He’s busy and surrounded by his friends, while I’m here alone with the baby and his parents. Dear though they are to me, I’d rather be alone with the baby and Paul.”
“Yeah, spending time with the Svensons can be fun, but only if it includes Adam.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing Sarah again; she never ceases to amaze me.”
Symphony’s acknowledging smile was rather forced. She generally got on well with her mother-in-law and also – even more surprisingly – with her formidable father–in-law, but she increasingly felt they were expecting ‘grandchildren’ and blamed her for the delay.
“The wedding is a topic of great anticipation here. The colonel’s allowing it to be streamed so that those who can’t attend can still participate in some way,” she told Rhapsody. “I was surprised so many of us were invited and given permission to go.”
“The colonel’s very fond of Greenie, although he’d never admit it. Actually, he’s popular with everyone if you think about it. Who’ll be in command while the colonel’s partying at the wedding?”
“Ochre, which caused a few raised eyebrows, I can tell you, but Cloudbase will be in safe hands; Rick’s not as giddy as he likes to makes out.”
“I have cause to know it,” Rhapsody agreed. “Is Captain Grey going to the wedding?”
“Yes. Brad, Adam and Paul will be there – and the colonel, of course.”
“And your mum?”
Symphony nodded. “Yes, Sarah invited her as well. It’ll be great to see her, I haven’t been home for some time.”
“Good; I like your mum. Who else is going?”
“Some of the support staff, including Flaxen and – for some reason – Philly Daniels.”
“Philly gets on with everyone,” Rhapsody said cheerfully, although she knew that the relationship between her friend and her husband’s valet was not without its problems. “And she’s always been one of Seymour’s circle for years because she’s friendly with Flax.”
“She gets on my nerves,” Symphony confessed. “But Adam won’t hear any criticism of her.”
Privately, Rhapsody considered that Philly’s devotion to Blue mirrored Symphony’s devotion to him and that, of the two, criticism of Symphony was the more likely to be justified, given her increasing moodiness and acid tongue. However, everyone knew that Blue wouldn’t listen to that either.
“Well, if you had someone who thought the sun shone out of your every orifice, would you want to hear any criticism of them?” she replied tactfully.
“I just hope they don’t make a nuisance of themselves at the wedding.”
“Karen, this isn’t your wedding, it’s Seymour’s and Katherine’s. If they wanted to invite Captain Black you’d have no right to complain! I’m sure that Sey will want everyone to have a good time and if you having a good time is dependent on not having any contact with Flax or Philly, he’ll do his best to see that’s what happens. However, you may well find that Adam is more than happy to socialise with them; he likes them both.”
“For an intelligent man he chooses some pretty bizarre friends.”
Rhapsody drew an angry breath before deciding that it wasn’t worth arguing with Karen – she was obviously in a mood about something and wouldn’t listen to reason. That, however, was no reason for her to make such unfriendly remarks.
“Concentrate on having a good time and leave everyone else to do the same,” she advised sharply. “Now I have to go. See you soon.”
“Bye, Dianne. Take care.”
The connection went blank and Symphony switched it off at her end with a rueful grimace.
Why can’t I even have a decent chat with my best friend without turning into the Bitch Queen from Hell? Who am I kidding? I know why I can’t chat to Di anymore – it hurts too much.
She felt the familiar tightening of her throat as the tears welled up again.
If I had a baby too it’d be okay again. Oh – why isn’t it happening? If something’s wrong it has to be me – that trollop’s brat proves that.
She looked at herself in the full-length mirror and hated every inch of the shapely reflection that stared back.
This won’t do. Adam’ll only get worried if he sees me like this. I’m going to hit the gym and maybe that’ll cheer me up?
She changed into her gym-wear and strode out of the apartment with so much anger and self-loathing in her heart that she didn’t notice the way people avoided her gaze and went out of their way not to speak to her – which was, perhaps, just as well in the circumstances.
When they got to Destiny’s quarters, Flaxen and the still-reluctant Philly were surprised to discover that she was treating it as a social evening. She was in civilian clothes and three chairs seated around a central table bearing plates of savouries and some chocolates. The wall-mounted video-TV screen was showing the internet link page and there was music playing quietly in the background.
“Come in and sit in comfort,” Destiny said, smiling in welcome as she waved them in. “I have set up the screen so we can all see the fashions…”
“That’s very kind of you, Destiny.”
“Ah, you must call me Juliette, please… I am not on duty and we are friends, n’est-ce pas?”
Flaxen smiled. “I got our body scans out of the admin files, so I hope they’ll do for your fashion program,” she said, handing Destiny a small memory stick.
“Bon, cela devrait être idéal. Before we start, let us have some refreshment. Sit here, Philly; Audrey, you here. I thought the screen would be a good way to view the websites and I can run the program on it too.”
“Thank you,” Philly muttered. Feeling somewhat ill at ease, she accepted a glass of the fruit cordial Destiny offered her and took one of the small savouries to nibble.
“Now, this is jolly, n’est-ce pas?”
It soon became evident that Destiny had taken the whole exercise very seriously. She installed their body scans into her fashion program and, starting with Philly, ran through the details it asked, such as hair colour and skin tone, so that it could incorporate that into the 3D image. Then she pulled up its recommendations for colours that would suit.
“If you want blue, it should be bleu foncé – that is, as you would say, eh…dark, Philly,” Destiny explained. “You ‘ave the complexion for such colours. For me, I would disappear amongst it.”
“I happen to like pale blue,” Philly muttered stubbornly.
“Bien sûr, but I will show you on the screen ‘ow more suitable is the dark colour.”
Destiny called up various websites and discussed the most suitable options for them.
“Philly, these are bons designs pour les filles courtes… eh… good designs for short girls. I too ‘ave use them. The styles are very good for us.”
“You always dress so well,” Flaxen said, “doesn’t she, Phil? Let’s have a look and see if there’s anything we like, shall we?”
Philly pulled a face, but nodded. “Okay, can’t hurt to look…”
Gradually Destiny won her companions over and even Philly had to admit that the Frenchwoman had a point when the 3D images showed exactly what each outfit would look like on the prospective customer – some of them resulting in gales of laughter from the three women. At the end of the evening, important decisions had been made and both Flaxen and Philly had ordered outfits for the wedding.
“This was a good evening’s work, non?” said Destiny, as she closed the fashion program down and handed Flaxen the memory stick with the details on.
“Yes, it was,” Flaxen replied. “And we’re both very grateful to you, Juliette. Aren’t we, Phil?”
“Oh yes, very grateful. It was so nice of you to spend the time helping us, Juliette.”
“For me it is an enjoyment, mes amies! I am contente you ask me and very ‘appy to ‘ave helped. I hope when the clothes arrive, you will permit me to see you in them?”
“Oh yes, of course,” her new friends replied in unison.
“Bon, alors je suis bien payée de mon temps. I am sure that you will both look merveilleux at the wedding !”
“It’ll be all thanks to you if we do!” said Flaxen enthusiastically.
Glad to be off duty, Lieutenant Green changed into his casual track-suit trousers and a T-shirt, made himself a cup of herbal tea, and sat down to read his personal emails. Frowning at the number of new unread emails, he realised that his family were busily emailing each other about the wedding and including him in as a matter of course. He opened the latest one, from his sister Merlene, and read through their animated discussions about what to wear, what to bring, whether they needed to bring presents for Mr and Mrs Svenson, who were providing their accommodation, and whether to tell Seymour about it all.
Sighing, he composed a reply: wear something formal but comfortable – which meant the twins would have to get suits because jeans and T-shirts would not be acceptable; bring the minimum amount of luggage to cover the length of the stay in Boston – always remembering that it would be cold - one present from them all would be more than adequate for the Svensons, and he suggested something with a local Trinidadian connection, which he knew they’d be even more appreciative of.
He hit ‘reply all’ and hoped that’d stop the debate, but suspected he’d still get copied in to every little doubt and uncertainty.
There was a message from Kate, which he lingered over, carefully crafting his reply to ensure he managed to answer her questions and reassure her that his family wouldn’t resent her. He realised that she was becoming a little self-conscious about the disparity of wealth between their families. The Griffiths family members, who were blithely unaware that they were considered ‘poor relations’, would have been hurt and surprised to know this, and so he was anxious that Kate – through purely genuine feeling – didn’t let on about it.
There was a chatty email from George Sheridan, a colleague from his days in the WASPS at Marineville, who was going to be attending the wedding, and from a couple of old friends who weren’t going to be able to make it. All in all, he was pleased to see the number that had accepted, given that Christmas Eve was an awkward time for a wedding…
He closed the computer down and finished his tea. He was off duty for another ten hours, not long enough to get groundside, but time enough to relax and hit the gym and the pool for a couple of hours. His leave period was due to start in another eight days, and he knew he’d be busy as Kate was already filling up his diary with fittings for his suit, haircuts, shopping trips for their honeymoon to Australia, where they were going to pick up the Svenson family yacht and cruise along the Great Barrier Reef.
Although he loved Kate with a passion he’d never experienced for anyone or anything else, he couldn’t help but wonder if the marriage would work in the long term. They were very different people in so many ways, and although there was the old adage that ‘opposites attract’, he was going to be away from her on Cloudbase for much of the time and Kate was, if nothing else, ‘high maintenance’. She had decided that once married, she was leaving the family home and her father had bought them a lovely house across Boston, which allowed Kate to get into work at SvenCorp easily enough while providing them with independence and privacy. Yet, he sometimes wondered how much of her time would actually be spent there when he wasn’t with her.
Adam and Karen had an apartment in downtown Boston, but whenever they visited they always seemed to stay with his family, and Mrs Svenson, although a lovely woman, was rather… possessive about her children and expected them to spend time with her whenever possible.
He liked Sarah Svenson – few people didn’t – but he’d never been taken in by her smokescreen of being scatter-brained; he’d quickly recognised the gleam of a formidable strength of character in her blue eyes and the similarities between her personality and that of her easy-going eldest son were all too obvious at times. Kate shared that forthright honesty and rock-hard determination, as well as the intelligence, but she was also far more self-centred than her brother - a result of being spoiled rotten as the only girl in the family.
“Ah, well, it’s too late to change your mind now…” he reminded himself with a grin, and sprang up to gather his sports gear together.
Symphony Angel was working out on a treadmill in the officers’ gym, when Lieutenant Green arrived at the next machine. She unhooked her earphones and called:
“Hi, Sey! Getting fit for the honeymoon?”
“Hi, Karen. Yeah, and I need to make sure that suit still fits me. There won’t be time for last minute alterations when I arrive for the wedding.”
“Don’t you believe it; Sarah will be sure to find some tailor willing to work 24:7 for a shedload of cash.”
Seymour laughed. “Yeah, I guess she would at that.”
“That women doesn’t know the meaning of ‘no we can’t do it by then, Mrs Svenson’. Money don’t buy everything, it’s true, but what it don’t buy, Sarah can’t use…” she paraphrased the old song, with a wink. “You’d better hope Kate knows better, unless you’re expecting a massive pay rise.”
“I guess that, just like you and Adam, we’ll pool our resources: with all our worldly goods we’ll endow each other, so to speak.”
Karen bridled a little at the implication that she freely spent her husband’s money – although, she admitted to herself, it was basically true. They’d been married for about two-and-a-half years and she was still excited at not having to count the pennies. Their joint salaries meant that they could enjoy a high standard of living anyway and whatever she wanted she got, as Adam would always top up their finances from his private fortune, if the need arose.
That was the point though – his private fortune…
“You don’t think you’re getting access to the Svenson money, do you? They keep that pretty closely guarded; you certainly won’t get the key to the safe as a wedding present!”
“I wouldn’t want it,” Seymour replied, trying to keep his temper. “I know Kate has more money than me, but it isn’t important to either of us. We’ve talked about it and she knows I don’t want a penny of hers.”
“Wait till you’ve tried it, Seymour; it’s addictive – not having to watch every dime you spend.”
“I’ve spent most of my life watching every dime, Karen; it’s a habit I’d find hard to break.”
She didn’t reply, but kept pounding along on the running machine.
Seymour was irritated that he’d let her get to him so easily. The big society wedding was not something he’d wanted, but the Svensons had insisted that the bride’s family paid for the wedding and they’d pulled out all the stops: no hole-in-the-wall-wedding would be acceptable for John Svenson’s only daughter. He sometimes wondered if they were making such a production of it because of who he was: an unknown Trinidadian, with no banking experience, no fortune and a coachload of siblings… not the son-in-law John and Sarah wanted, but they were determined not to let that be known. Kate – and Adam – had told him he was imagining it, but it still lurked in the back of his mind and occasionally rankled. Karen’s apparent assumption that he was marrying for money only made it worse.
The timer on her machine bleeped and she slowed to a jog and then a walk as it came to a stop. She swigged from her water bottle.
“Catch you later, Sey,” she said, with a wave of her hand, as she moved off to the next piece of equipment.
He made sure that he avoided Karen until she left the gym and then he went and punched seven-bells out of the punch bag. He was still there when Captain Blue came in.
Seymour stopped and breathing heavily gasped, “Hi.”
Blue was in shorts and t-shirt and one of the gym trainers was taping his hands prior to putting on some boxing gloves.
“You want a sparring partner?” he asked the younger man.
“Sure,” Green replied grimly. The prospect of taking his irritation out on Kate’s brother was too tempting to resist. Despite Adam being 7 inches taller and about 50lbs heavier, he came out fighting.
Captain Blue was startled by the ferocity of the attack at first, but quickly realising his opponent was not going to play it gently, he went onto the defensive, using his superior reach to keep Seymour at bay until he had taken his measure, when he counter-attacked with skill and speed.
Seymour found himself flat on the canvas in no time at all.
He leapt to his feet and attacked again. Adam parried and dodged for a minute or two before dispatching his assailant back onto the canvas with a sharp right-hook.
“Keep your guard up, Lieutenant,” he advised. “You’re wide open.”
Grimly, Seymour advanced, determined not to get floored again. For a while he held his own, but a devastating upper cut sent him sprawling again and the trainer stopped the bout.
“Now,” Adam said to Seymour, as the trainer unbound their hands, “supposing you come to the bar and tell me exactly what all that was about?”
“Supposing that wasn’t a friendly suggestion but an order.”
“It wasn’t about anything; you’re just a better boxer than me.”
“Bullshit; you’re a competent boxer, Sey. That was anger and anger leaves every boxer open to a beating. I’ll buy you a drink and you can tell me what’s bugging you – if you want to – and if you don’t, well, I’ll still buy you a drink. You’re my future brother-in-law, after all.”
As Seymour trailed out of the changing room after Adam, they saw Captain Scarlet hurrying towards them.
“Hi, Seymour; sorry I’m late, Adam.” He looked confused as to why his friend was leaving. “I’m not that late,” he remarked.
“Sorry, Paul. You’ll have to beat me to a pulp next time. Seymour and I are going for a little fraternal one-to-one time.”
“Fraternal? Oh, yes, right… well, have a good time then. Maybe there’s someone else I can spar with in there?”
“I saw Ochre over by the weights… you know you always enjoy thumping him,” Adam said, with a broad grin. “See you later.”
“Okay. ’Bye,” said Scarlet, rather forlornly.
True to his word, Captain Blue found a table, and bought two drinks, putting one down before Lieutenant Green and keeping one for himself.
“Get that down,” he ordered. “You’ve got wedding nerves.”
“No, I haven’t,” Green argued, but he took the drink anyway.
“If I was marrying into my family, I’d have nerves,” Adam confessed. “But we’re not really that bad, Sey.”
“Everyone’s been very welcoming. Everyone.”
“My father’s still hoping to get you into SvenCorp to do the IT systems. He doesn’t give up easily.”
“He should; I’m not going anywhere near SvenCorp.”
“That’s what I said about 25 years ago and I still get sent documents and proposals to ‘consider’.”
“That’s different: your grandfather left you his shares and his voting rights.”
Adam frowned. “My sister talks too much.”
“She’s very fond of you,” Seymour informed him, although he knew that wasn’t news.
“I’m very fond of her and I’m glad you two have got your act together. She needs to settle down and – to be honest – get away from home. You’re ideal for her.”
“Meaning I’m an eldest brother too?”
Adam gave a wry smile and acknowledged the jibe. “If you like; except you’re better at it then me - you don’t give in to emotional blackmail so easily.”
“No, I don’t.” Seymour finished his drink. “Doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me though, or that I’m immune to being ‘got at’.”
“Who’s getting at you? Not me.”
“Karen.” Seymour saw Adam’s eyebrows rise in surprise and continued, “She more or less accused me of marrying Kate for her money.” Seeing Adam’s disbelief, he recounted their conversation.
“I’m sure she didn’t mean it to be taken like that. Look, Sey, she gets touchy about it herself sometimes – it’s been said to her and about her in her time, so I’m sure she wouldn’t intend to hurt you by saying the same thing; although, she might’ve been trying to warn you what you can expect from certain quarters, even within the family. We – Karen and me – know that you and Kitty care for each other and we wish you nothing but happiness.”
“I think the best way to ensure that is to keep out of our lives,” Seymour replied, still angry.
“Oh, you’re on your own as far as I’m concerned, and, if you think it will help, I’ll speak to the most likely culprits: Karen and my mom? Just to remind them to butt out.”
Seymour studied his companion, who returned the scrutiny with composure. He saw no animosity in the older man’s expression, merely a tolerant understanding – which was, in some ways, even more annoying. With an inward shrug, he acknowledged the validity of Symphony Angel’s and Captain Scarlet’s often stated complaint that Captain Blue’s inherent reasonableness almost amounted to passive aggression, because the damn man would never argue – and recalled something very similar that Kate had once said.
“I don’t think you need to say anything to either of them; but I warn you, if Karen gets my goat again about anything – anything at all – I will tell her exactly what I think of her ideas - and maybe even what I think of her - and you and I may end up much less friendly than we’ve been until now. For some considerable time.”
“Seymour, I love my wife. Don’t ask me why, because there are times when even I don’t know why; but, if she deserves a dressing down from you about some inconsiderate or idiotic thing she says or does – you go right ahead. Karen’s tough enough to stand on her own two feet, or so she keeps telling me.” Blue drained his glass and added, as he got to his feet to leave, “Besides, if it came to a cat-fight between Karen and Kate, I’m not sure who’d win… are you?”
Colonel White nodded across at Lieutenant Claret and his officer gave permission for the SPJ to take off.
“S.I.G., Control Tower. See you after Christmas, Claret!”
The colonel snorted.
The SPJ, which was bound for Boston with the groom’s brother and sister-in-law to be, Paul and Dianne Metcalfe and their baby son, Bradley Holden, Audrey Geffen, Philippa Daniels and box-loads of wedding presents from friends and colleagues on board, gave the impression of being nothing more than a charabanc.
He was due to fly down on the day of the wedding and back on Boxing Day, and he was looking forward to it more than he cared to show: not only would he be present for the wedding of a young man he liked and respected, but he’d see Amanda Wainwright – Symphony’s mother – who was the only woman he’d ever met with the ability to supplant the memory of his late wife in his heart. Amanda, who’d been widowed shortly after her daughter joined Spectrum, felt the same about him, which had created tension between her and her daughter for a time, but now they all got along together famously and he considered Karen as the daughter he’d always wanted.
Watching the SPJ bank away from Cloudbase and head westwards, he considered the interconnectivity at the heart of Spectrum. He loved Symphony’s mother, and through her was linked to Symphony, who was married to Captain Blue, whose father’s company was part of the World Government’s financial arrangements for Spectrum, and whose sister was about to marry Lieutenant Green, one of the most essential officers on Cloudbase. Captain Blue’s close relationship with his field partner, Captain Scarlet was like that of two brothers, and Scarlet was married to Rhapsody, whose father was a World Government Official who reported directly to the World President, just as did he.
When he’d accepted the job of creating and commanding the World Government’s global anti-terrorism security unit, he’d had never expected it would have made such a difference to his personal life, as well as fulfilling his ambitious career goals. He almost dreaded the day he’d have to retire and leave behind the close-knit society of Cloudbase, and the satisfaction of feeling they were doing a vital job well, even though that would be the occasion for his marriage to Amanda and the chance to settle down to the domestic bliss he’d missed out on for decades.
Still, he had at least another five years before that day’d arrive, time enough to worry about it later...
“Ask Captain Ochre to come to the Control Tower, Lieutenant, I want to go over the details of the command duty rota during my absence with him.”
Captain Ochre appeared several minutes later. “You wanted to see me, Colonel?”
“Indeed; please take a seat, Captain. I want to go over the routine duties you’ll need to be aware of during my absence. I know you have commanded Cloudbase before, but, as this is Christmas, you’ll have more permanent staff away and back-up teams on board. You will need to make sure that Destiny, Melody and Harmony don’t take on the majority of the shifts; I know those girls and they don’t do delegation very well….”
“They’re not the only ones,” Ochre remarked, quickly adding, “With respect, sir, I do have experience of managing large teams and I’m familiar with most of the teams on Cloudbase and the personnel in them.”
The colonel considered him for a moment. Ochre had a reputation for a devil-may-care attitude and for being something of a practical joker, but if that’d been all there was to him, he wouldn’t have survived ten years amongst the elite force of agents who were responsible for most of Spectrum’s success. The biggest blot on his record was the Mysterons’ attack on the Atlantica Base, which had involved him and Captain Blue bombing the underwater base while under the influence of some non-alcoholic champagne that had been tampered with. But, somehow, while Captain Blue had largely shaken off the opprobrium for that, it had tended to linger around Ochre’s shoulders.
Yet White knew that his officer’s previous experience in the World Police had proven his ability to deal with complex situations and motivate teams and there had been numerous times in the past when he had pulled off dangerous missions – for the police and for Spectrum - to great acclaim.
Perhaps I am still underestimating him? White thought. I might even be in danger of taking his reputation at face value… He came to a decision.
“Very well, Captain Ochre.” He handed his officer the file before him. “Here is the duty rota. If you have any questions about it, please feel free to speak to me before I leave tomorrow. You will also find the security codes for the direct lines to all of the senior military commands, the Chair of the Security Council and the World President, listed there. Those must be kept secure, along with the personal contact details for Captains Scarlet, Blue, Grey and myself.”
Ochre glanced down at the file in some surprise and nodded. “S.I.G., Colonel.”
White gave a dry smile. “Dismiss, Captain…” he prompted.
“Yes, sir. Thank you, Colonel; I won’t let you down, sir.”
“I know that, Captain, or I would not be trusting you with my Cloudbase.”
From Atlantica Airport, the Svenson family’s chauffeur drove the wedding guests in a luxurious SUV to the hotel where most of them were to stay. Karen and Adam Svenson went with them, and it was agreed that the gifts would all go to the family home with them, rather than leave them to be transported on the day of the wedding.
Philly was staring out at the passing scenery and the tall, modern buildings of the city, hardly listening to the conversation going on around her.
“So, you’ll be ready before 10:30 tomorrow, won’t you, Philly?”
“Sorry, Captain? I… I was miles away.”
He smiled at her. “Hewitt will pick you, Audrey and Brad, along with some other guests, up from the hotel at 10:30 tomorrow morning and drive you to the church in time for the ceremony. Then, he’ll bring you all back to the house for the reception.”
“Okay, that sounds good to me. I’d never find me way on me own, I know that for sure.”
Audrey laughed. “We’ll stick together, Philly, and then we won’t get lost.”
“Sure about that?” Karen said, with a dry smile. “You still get lost on Cloudbase, Flax.”
Audrey blushed slightly, but tried not to be hurt by the remark, which had been made in a humorous way. She replied, quietly, “Very true, Karen. My sense of direction’s never been my strong point.”
“What about me?” Bradley Holden asked, “I’m actually pretty good at navigating, ladies… I’d be able to save you.”
“Thank you, Brad. We’ll rely on you then,” Audrey replied, turning to him with a grateful smile.
“S’alright if we do get lost, Aud, we’d be lost together. It’d be fun,” Philly said, rushing, as usual, to her friend’s defence.
“Nobody’s going to get lost,” Adam said sternly, “because nobody’s going wandering off… are they, Philly? Audrey?” The women both grinned. “I’m relying on you, Brad, to get them where they need to be, when they need to be there!”
Paul laughed and interrupted. “Ignore him, everyone; he can’t help himself. I’ve noticed this phenomenon before: the closer he gets to home, the more ‘big brotherish’ he becomes.”
“I think Adam’s just trying to ensure that nobody misses the wedding, Paul,” Dianne remarked. “Boston’s a big place and it’d be easy to get lost. Think how disappointed Seymour’d be if anybody missed the wedding.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that for the world,” Philly exclaimed anxiously, “Not after he was so nice as to ask me.”
“If you all follow my instructions, nobody will miss anything,” Adam explained. “Seymour’s family and some more of his friends are at the same hotel and Mom’s arranged for cars to fetch everyone and bring you all to the church in plenty of time. She’s also arranged for you to meet them all tonight at dinner in the hotel, so you won’t be total strangers to each other at the reception.”
“Dinner? But I didn’t bring more than my one posh frock,” Philly said, looking horrified at the very idea.
“It’s an informal thing, Philly. Nobody will be dressed up and it’s in a private dining room, so you won’t have to worry.” Adam was pleased that his mother had given the matter such considerate thought.
“Will you be there?” she asked.
“No; we have to go to a family dinner, which will be much less enjoyable, I’m sure. All the relatives’ll be there to meet Seymour. Poor guy; I hope he doesn’t turn tail and make a run for it after that. I wouldn’t blame him if he did, to be honest.”
“You going to that, Paul?” Brad asked.
“No, it’s strictly a Svenson-thing. So although we’re staying at the house, tonight we get to spend some time together with Ace.”
“He’s being so good, isn’t he?” Philly cooed. “He’s a little darling!”
Dianne smiled warmly at her. “He is, but he’s not usually this quiet. I’m hoping he isn’t saving his energies for a special performance in the church…”
“Nobody would mind if he did,” Adam reassured her. “After all, being so close to Christmas, ‘family’ is what this wedding’s all about.”
“And Spectrum’s just like one big family, i’n’t it?” Philly remarked happily.
“You could say that…” Paul replied, sounding sceptical.
“We don’t do so badly,” said Brad, glancing at Paul with some asperity. “I always think the old adage ‘all for one and one for all’ fits Spectrum very neatly. For example, you and Adam are that close you’d be hard put to get a knife blade between you at times.”
“You can say that again,” Karen remarked dryly.
“We’re field partners and our lives depend on each other,” Paul expostulated hotly. “That kind of trust and interdependence has to be worked at.”
“Well,” said Adam calmly, sensing an old argument brewing between his wife and his best friend, “My life depends on Paul, at any rate. I’d’ve been dead several times over but for him. So – no bickering.” He looked directly at Karen.
“But, Captain, ain’t that what real families do?” Philly chipped in, brightly, and when everyone chuckled in agreement, she added, “Just goes to prove my point, if you ask me.”
The car drew up at the hotel and everyone concentrated on disembarking. When the Svensons had booked three floors for their exclusive use the reception staff had been well-briefed and registration went through quickly and efficiently. In no time at all, the Svensons and Metcalfes were bidding everyone goodbye and the guests were riding the elevator up to the 7th floor.
The small suites of rooms had living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms and Philly was over-awed by the luxury of the fittings.
“Flipping ‘eck, Aud; I’m glad we’re sharing. I wouldn’t need to go out to get lost in something this big…”
Audrey laughed. “It’s impressive, isn’t it? But I guess to the Svensons it’s just ‘normal’.” They both walked to the window and stared out over the city streets. “It puts our Cloudbase quarters into perspective, doesn’t it?”
“Too right. If we all had this much room Cloudbase’d be too big to fly!”
Leaving her friend at the window, Philly went off to explore the various rooms and cupboards.
“Hey, Aud; this is a mini-bar. Want some nuts or… spicy cracker things?”
“No thanks; we’re going to be eating soon, don’t forget.”
Crunching her way through a packet of cashew nuts, Philly replied, “I don’t care. I’m having everything going!”
Audrey gave up. “I’m going to freshen up and get ready for this meal.”
“Okay, I’ll go after you. I’m going to see what else they’ve left us.”
They wandered into the bedroom where Philly let out a shriek. “Chocolates!”
Audrey shook her head. “You won’t want your meal,” she warned.
“Are we paying for it?”
“I don’t think so. Adam said everything was already paid for, didn’t he? Including tips for the staff. They certainly think of everything.”
“Look at these lovely dressing gowns! Do we get to keep these?”
“I don’t know; maybe they expect people to take them and it’s factored into the price. What’d’you think?”
“I think it’s going in my suitcase…”
“You don’t have to take yours, if you don’t want to.”
“We could ask Brad; he’ll know,” Audrey said reluctantly.
“I expect The Captain told his mum to sort it out for us. It’s the sort of thing he’d do.”
“Yeah, and he walks on water in his spare time,” Audrey teased.
“Owweh, Aud, don’t be mean!”
“I’m not, but just remember to watch what you say and who you say it to. He’s a married man and most people we meet won’t know how we come to know him – we’re Seymour’s guests, don’t forget. They’ll draw ‘conclusions’ which’d lead to Symph having palpitations. That’ll make his life a misery – and you wouldn’t want to do that, would you?”
“No. I’ll be good. Promise.” Philly scratched her head thoughtfully as she privately conceded that Karen was already prickly enough and the wedding proper hadn’t even started.
Audrey smiled. “We’re both going to have to watch our Ps and Qs… nudge me if I forget, won’t you?”
“Will do! Now get showering, or we’ll miss the horses’-do-fers…”
The private party was being held in a sumptuous dining room, with silver service waiters hovering in attendance. When they walked into the room, the waiter offered them a glass of champagne, and they each took one before glancing round the room.
There were about a dozen people already there, standing together in full conversation. These were obviously Seymour’s family. One young woman broke away and came to greet them
“Hello; you must be colleagues of Seymour’s – we were told that we’d meet some of them tonight. Forgive me, I should introduce myself first – I am Merlene Griffiths.”
She extended a slim hand and Audrey grasped it.
“Hello, Merlene, I am Audrey Geffen.”
“You are Aud? Oh, that’s wonderful. Sey has spoken of you many times. He says you are one of the few he can trust to always do a proper job!”
“That’s very kind of him.”
“And if you are Audrey, then this must be Philly.”
“Yes, I’m Philly Daniels. Pleased to meet you, Merlene.”
They shook hands.
“Seymour doesn’t tell us much about what he does, but he has mentioned his friends. It is lovely to be able to place a face to the names. Come - come and meet the others.” She started to lead the way towards the others in the group. “We’re a big family and used to people getting us mixed up, so don’t worry if you forget which is which!”
Audrey and Philly were warmly welcomed and shook hands with Seymour’s family: Lacena and her husband, Umar; Deon and Rohan, the irrepressible twins, Kendon and his fiancée, Steebeth, Grace and, finally, Sonny, the youngest of the brothers.
“And this is Kichiro, our nephew,” Merlene said, introducing a young boy of about 10. She added quietly to Audrey, “He’s Jayson’s son – Jayce was the next after Seymour - only he died before Hiro was born. Hana’s married now and can’t be here this weekend as she has a young family, but Seymour wanted Kichiro to come and she understood completely. So, here he is!”
“Pleased to meet you, Kichiro,” Audrey said, shaking the reluctant boy’s hand.
Philly’s soft heart went out to the youngster, who looked as nervous and uncomfortable as she felt. “Will you help me find my way around? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do at posh weddings,” she whispered confidentially to him, as she also shook his hand.
“Nor do I,” Kichiro confessed, smiling shyly at her. “But stick with me and we’ll do whatever Aunty Merle does – she always knows what to do! Aunt Lacena is all about having clean hands and washing behind your ears, but Aunty Merle’s fun!”
“Pretty much like Uncle Seymour, I guess then?” Philly remarked, with a sly wink.
“Oh sure; Uncle Sey’s the best!” He grinned at her, suddenly feeling much less intimidated by all the grownups.
“You and me, Kichiro, we’ll stick together,” she promised.
The meal was fabulous and Philly began to regret eating the nuts and chocolates she’d found in their room. She and Rohan were kept busy entertaining Kichiro, but, as the wine flowed freely, the conversation was bright and lively. She had never seen the serious Captain Grey so jovial, but Brad was also having a wonderful time and was flirting outrageously with Marlene. Things got more serious when Merlene realised he was the WASPS Captain Holden who had known her late brother, and they sat with their heads close together talking about Jayson for some time.
Across the table, Deon was deep in conversation with Audrey and it crossed Philly’s mind that the Griffiths men were all charmers in their own way…
“Have you met this Kate Svenson?” Deon asked Audrey. “Only we haven’t.”
“Not Kate, but I know her brother and he’s a nice guy.”
“That don’t mean she’s nice,” Deon said bluntly. “Let me tell you, my Aunt Cathalina isn’t too pleased about this wedding. Oh, she’s happy Sey’s finally getting wed, but with this woman, she’s not so sure.”
“But the Svensons are decent people. In this day and age does anything else matter?”
“That’s as maybe, but they ain’t Catholics. With Aunt Cath, that matters to her.”
“No, they’re not Catholics,” Audrey confirmed, pleased she hadn’t mentioned the more obvious difference between the couple. “Do the others in the family mind?”
“I think Lacey have her doubts; but she very strict about such things. I not so strict and I well pleased when Father Andrew – who’s known us all since we was born – spoke out in the church, saying that The Lord will know if they have a true love for each other in their hearts and he ain’t the kind to worry about how they say their prayers. That put an end to the gossiping, at least.”
“I hadn’t even given a thought to what sort of church the wedding’s going to be in,” Audrey admitted.
“It is the Svensons’ church, but an ecumenical service. Aunt Cath got to saying that she wasn’t going to come, only Seymour asked her special, as she raised us when our parents died. Then Mrs Svenson said Aunt Cath wasn’t going be staying at the hotel, she was going be with the family, so that she could see they were a decent folk. Aunt Cath couldn’t hardly say no to that, could she?” He smiled. “And we was mighty pleased, as it’d be no fun with her staying here!”
He grinned and she could see his resemblance to his older brother, although both twins had much longer hair and were taller than the stocky lieutenant.
“I hope she isn’t making Seymour’s life hell,” Audrey said, smiling back at him. “That’d hardly be fair.”
“Oh, Sey can take care of himself and he Aunt Cath’s favourite anyway.”
“What do you do for a living, Deon?”
“Mechanic; you need your car fixing any time, you call I.”
“I will – thanks!” She didn’t even have a car, but the offer was well meant. “Does Rohan work with you?”
“No; he a builder. He can build you a garage for your car.”
Audrey laughed and saw him smile at her. “You’re teasing me.”
“Not much; Sey said you was a good sport. I just testing his judgement.”
“Oh, he’s pretty shrewd, Deon, from what I’ve seen of him. We get on really well and on… the base, that’s important.”
“I know where he work, Audrey, and, by extension, where you work. Sey told us because we all we have and we all very close.”
“Yes, I…I do know about your brother.”
“You and he must be friends, he don’t tell everyone about Jayce. They was real close – in age and love. Sey still miss him – we all do. But at least we got Hiro. Aunt Cath say Jayce shoulda waited, but if he had we’d not have his son, so I say, I’m glad he didn’t.”
Audrey glanced across to where Philly and Rohan had Kichiro in stitches. “He looks like a nice boy.”
“He is and his mom’s a nice woman, although to hear Aunt Cath you’d think she was the whore o’ Babylon.”
“Must be a generational thing…”
“Must be,” he agreed.
The dinner was over and the party moving back towards the comfortable chairs, when the door opened and two people walked in.
“Seymour!” Grace exclaimed and ran to throw her arms around him. “We didn’t expect you! Oh, how are you?”
“”I’m fine.” He hugged her and gently put her aside to hug his other sisters and shake his brothers by the hand, before hugging the excited Kichiro.
“Hey, everyone,” he said over the general hubbub, “I’ve got someone who wanted to meet you all… this is Kate, my fiancée.”
The attention turned to the other newcomer, a strikingly beautiful blonde woman, who was smiling a little nervously.
“Hello, everyone, welcome to Boston!” she said.
“Oh, hello!” a chorus of voices cried at once, and everyone pressed forward eager to shake Kate’s hand.
“One at a time,” Seymour ordered, laughing. He introduced them all and Kate offered her hand, only to be hugged and kissed by them all – even the boys. Marlene pushed Kichiro forward and Kate bent to give him a kiss.
“Pleased to meet you, Kichiro; I’ve heard so much about you from your uncle.”
The little boy blushed and whispered, ‘Hello’, before moving back to where Merlene and Lacena where standing.
“How’s Aunt Cath?” Deon asked.
“Like the cat with the cream,” Seymour replied, unconsciously adopting the lilting accent of his brothers and sisters. “She think Christmas come early. Sarah – Kate’s mom – she treating her like royalty.”
“She reconciled to the wedding then?”
“She always was; she just like to make her point – you know Aunt Cath – if she can imagine a disaster waiting to happen, she will.” He winked at his scandalised sisters. “But, she happy now,” he reassured them, turning to Kate standing quietly beside him. “Who wouldn’t be happy to meet such a beautiful bride-to-be?”
“Right enough,” Deon said. “You a lucky man, Sey.” He turned to Kate, “And you a lucky woman; there’s few men to match my brother.”
“I know, Deon; that’s why I love him.”
“Then it’ll be all right on the night,” Deon pronounced, and a ripple of laughter spread through the guests.
The sisters took Kate under their wings and sat her down in the middle of the room, settling around her and talking excitedly. In no time, Kate’s uncertainty had vanished and she was laughing along with them all.
Seymour walked across to where Audrey and Philly were watching.
“Are you two okay? Comfortable here?” he asked.
“It’s amazing,” Philly assured him. “Sey, can we keep the dressing gowns?”
“Keep what you want,” he replied, with an amused shrug. “It’s all on the house – or rather, SvenCorp. The company owns the hotel.”
“Ah, good business practise at all times: look after the pennies and the pounds’ll look after themselves.” Audrey smiled at him. “They do say John Svenson is a canny operator.”
“His middle name is Midas, and if his wife didn’t share Karen’s capacity for spending the money like it’s going out of fashion, he’d be the richest man on Earth, without a doubt!”
Audrey sniggered. “Sounds like Adam inherited more than just his surname from his father then.”
“Meaning?” Philly asked, uncertain if she was daring to criticise The Captain, and ready to rush to his defence.
“Well, Symphony spends money like water, doesn’t she? Must be that Blue has inherited a susceptibility for spendthrifts… that’s all I meant, Phil.”
Seymour’s expression grew sombre for a moment. “Everyone’s walking on tiptoe round Karen. She’s a leporid of negative euphoria at the moment. Even her mother was running out of patience with her, and Mrs W doesn’t get riled, as a rule.”
“She’s a what?” said Philly.
“Not a happy bunny,” Audrey translated.
“She was miserable before we left Cloudbase,” Philly volunteered. “I don’t know why, The Captain was being very nice to her. As always,” she added.
Seymour grimaced. “I suspect it’s because of the fuss everyone’s making of little Adam Metcalfe,” he said. “I just hope she cheers up for tomorrow.”
“Oh, she’s bound to! Everyone loves a wedding,” Audrey reassured him.
“I hope you’re right, Aud,” he replied, seeing the doubtful expression on Philly’s face and thinking she probably had the truth of it. He sighed. “Ah, well, as long as she’s the only one who thinks they’ve cause to be miserable tomorrow, I’ll be satisfied.”
Christmas Eve dawned cold, clear and crisp; the weak sun shone on the wet streets making the hoar frost sparkle. Although Audrey and Philly were up early, they had little time to spend admiring the wonders of nature. Breakfast was delivered by room service and eaten on the hoof as they showered, blow-dried their hair and applied their make-up in readiness for the wedding. Then came the great moment for dressing in their special outfits.
Audrey’s was a simple classic cut, midi-length, shift dress with a Nehru collar, in a rich terracotta coloured cashmere, run through with reds and pale-blue threads. Teamed with dark-brown ankle boots and a warm woollen coat with a fur collar, it looked elegant and made her feel like a million dollars. The hat was something she’d always wanted but had never felt she could justify spending on: a steel-grey Astrakhan Fur Cossack hat.
Philly had been harder to please, but she had finally accepted that the deep, pillar-box red shirt-dress, with the gold buttons, teamed with a dark blue boxy jacket and knee-length black boots, looked better than the floaty, pastel-coloured, chiffon-based dresses she’d hankered after. She had held out against wearing a hat, but had finally agreed to a black sheepskin cap, to which Juliette had pinned some red beads. She looked at herself in the full-length mirror and felt that she wouldn’t disgrace herself.
They were both downstairs waiting for the car to arrive when Brad appeared.
“Wow, ladies; you look fabulous!” he exclaimed, chuckling as Audrey blushed while the ever-ebullient Philly ‘gave him a twirl’ and a fanciful curtsey.
“Juliette helped us find the outfits,” Audrey explained, “She’s very knowledgeable about fashion and she gave us some good advice.”
“Well, however you found the outfits, they do you both justice,” he assured them. “Makes me wish uniforms weren’t the norm on Cloudbase.”
Philly laughed. “I could get used to dressing up in such nice clothes,” she confessed.
“But your bank balance couldn’t,” Audrey reminded her, with more care for realism than romance.
“I know, but I can dream, can’t I?” Philly retorted, with a wry smile.
Brad laughed and then waved over their heads to the advancing Griffiths family. All of the women were dressed to the nines in bright primary colours and the men wore suits of the latest fashionable cut.
“You look very nice,” Merlene assured them both.
“So do you,” Philly replied. “I wish I’d thought to get a frock in canary yellow; it brightens the day up good and proper. And that natty suit is to die for, Rohan…”
Hewitt, the chauffeur arrived and helped everyone settle down in the mini-coach. The excitement grew as they drove through the busy streets to disembark before the classical portico of a church, nestled amidst the towering office blocks.
Inside the church was plain, well-lit and, thankfully, warm. The pews on one side were rapidly filling up with expensively turned-out people, but the Griffiths family and their guests took their places at the front of the other side of the church with no apparent self-consciousness.
Philly looked around and nudged Audrey. Across the aisle were Captain Blue and Symphony, with her mother and the rest of his family. The Metcalfes sat in the row behind them, but what surprised them both was the fact that in the front row, beside the bridegroom, sat Colonel White. Audrey pointed out that the man with the video camera filing the whole event, was in fact Lieutenant Opal from the Public Relations Service.
“It must be being streamed to Cloudbase,” she explained to Philly. “So many people know and like Seymour that they couldn’t all come in person. This way, at least, they’ll be able to participate.”
“That’s great.” Grinning widely, Philly waved as the video camera panned over the congregation.
“Oh, for heaven sake, what’re you like, Philly?” Audrey said, laughing, as her friend urged her to wave as well, but she did wave, none the less.
When the organist started to play a stirring anthem, Seymour walked to the front of the congregation, the colonel at his side, and all heads turned to see the arrival of the bride.
Katherine Svenson in a superb gown of white damask, laced with silver threads, edged with white fur and lace, appeared to float down the aisle on the arm of her father. Even under her diaphanous veil her joyous smile was evident and she reached out to take Seymour’s arm as she moved away from her father to stand beside him.
“Dearly beloved…” the celebrant began…
The Church bells were in full peal when the wedding party left the church. To the annoyance of the lurking paparazzi, the bride and groom were whisked away in a vintage Rolls Royce, thus, incidentally, avoiding being showered with confetti by their joyous guests who had to wait for their own limos and coaches to arrive.
“Didn’t she look fantastic?”
“It was a lovely service, I thought.”
“Seymour looked so happy and Kate was radiant!”
The Griffiths family were already waiting under the portico, along with Audrey and Philly, whom they now considered as honorary members of the clan, when John and Sarah Svenson emerged from the church, with Peter and his family, David, Adam and Karen following them. Flashbulbs went off all around as the paparazzi surged forward, anxious to get the best picture or – the Holy Grail of the reporter – a direct quote.
Anxious to avoid publicity, Adam and Karen drifted over to join the Griffiths family, leaving the others to deal with the press.
“Camera shy?” Gracie asked Adam.
He smiled. “It wasn’t just to avoid the confetti that Seymour and Kate beat a hasty retreat.” He glanced over towards Colonel White and Karen’s mother, who had now also emerged from the church and were staying out of the limelight. “In our organisation, keeping a low profile is essential.”
“Oh, I forgot,” Grace admitted. “Must make life difficult when your father is a public figure, such as yours is.”
Adam nodded. “One reason I don’t come home that often…”
Karen touched his arm as Sarah’s voice called to them that the car was here.
“We should go,” she said.
“See you at the reception,” Adam said, taking Karen’s arm and heading quickly for the waiting limousine.
As the Svensons’ cars moved off, the reporters raced for their transport to follow. Guests who were making their own way to the reception drifted off to collect their cars, and there was hardly anyone except the Griffiths family left outside the church when Hewitt drew up with the mini-coach.
The Svenson family home was situated in surprisingly large grounds on a gently-rising incline, so that the building was on various levels. As the mini-coach drew up at the front, it was just possible to make out a large, brightly lit marquee at the rear of the building, connected to the house by a covered walkway. As the guests entered the front door, into a wide hallway dominated by a glittering Christmas tree, their hosts and the newly-weds were lined up to greet them.
As they followed Seymour’s family along the line, Mrs Svenson was fulsome in her welcome and her far less gregarious husband was not as intimidating as Philly had been expecting; although he clearly had no idea who they were, he made a few genial pleasantries as they waited their turn to greet the bridal couple.
“Now, you’re under orders to have a great time,” Seymour said, as he hugged Audrey and then Philly. “Mrs Svenson’s parties are legendary for being an absolute riot. Just ask for whatever you want. Okay?”
“Congratulations, Sey,” Audrey exclaimed. “I’m sure we’ll have a ball; everything looks wonderful!”
Kate kissed each of them on the cheek and added her instructions that they just ask for whatever they wanted and enjoy themselves.
They wandered through to a large reception room, where a liveried flunky handed them a crystal glass flute of champagne.
Audrey sipped it. “Ooh, that’s good,” she said to Merlene, who had come to claim them and introduce them to her formidable ‘Aunt Cath’.
Philly didn’t respond to the invitation; she was searching the room and spying Adam talking to some elderly, and rather homely, people close by the entrance to the covered walkway, she started to move in that direction.
She heard the woman say:
“Well, we don’t see enough of ya, Adam. I hoped that when you and Karen tied the knot, ya’d be spending more time on the island. I’m sure it’d do ya both the world of good to spend some time there – just the two o’ ya. Ya momma’s always telling me how busy you are. Ya won’t be a family man any time soon if you don’t spend time together, y’know.”
“Chance would be a fine thing, Martha. But, I promise you, if there is the slimmest chance that we can get across, we’ll be there.”
“If ya do, make sure ya come and see us; now ya hear me?”
“I hear you.” He smiled and with a rare show of impulsiveness, hugged the woman.
“Leave the man alone, Martha,” said the man at her side, with a teasing good humour. “He ain’t the boy ya used to cosset any more. Forgive her, Adam; she’s just getting old and crotchety.”
“Nothing to forgive, Ben; besides, harking to what Martha says is bred into me, man and boy!”
From a distance he heard his mother calling for him, and glancing towards her he saw Philly hovering nearby and, smiling, beckoned her over.
“Martha, this is Philippa Daniels; Philly, this is Martha and Ben Brownlow. They live on Nantucket and I’ve known them since I was born. Philly is my personal assistant on the base where I work. I’m not sure I let you two talk, but I’m gonna put you both on your best behaviour and risk it. If my ears start burning, I’ll know who to blame!”
Martha Brownlow laughed and gave Philly a long look, before deciding she liked what she saw and extending her hand.
Philly said ‘hello’ and shook hands with the Brownlows. As he excused himself, Adam whispered to her, “Look after them for me, Philly, will you? My mom’s calling me but I don’t think they know anyone but the family and I’d hate them to feel excluded from everything.”
“Sure, Captain,” she whispered back, and treasured his grateful smile and the hand he rested on her shoulder before he walked away to answer his mother’s imperious call.
The wariness between Philly and the Brownlows only lasted until Martha discovered that Philly’s opinion of her ‘boss’ was sufficient to match her own. Within five minutes of saying hello, they were swapping anecdotes about Adam that really should have made his ears burn… and Philly was having much more fun than she’d ever expected.
They were separated when everyone was conducted into the meal, and they found themselves seated on different tables.
Audrey asked peevishly where she’d got to: “Merlene and Deon were great fun – you missed it all.”
“I had fun,” Philly asserted. “Maybe not the kind of fun you’d’ve enjoyed, but I enjoyed it. I was talking to some people The Captain’s known since he was a kid.”
“And I can guess what you were talking about,” Audrey said, rolling her eyes. “Or should I say, ‘who’?”
“I had fun,” Philly repeated. “I didn’t question that you had fun with the Griffithses, did I?”
“No, you didn’t. I’m sorry, Phil. I just hope you didn’t give too much away about what exactly The Captain does…?”
“Of course not: I’m a Spectrum agent too, you know. I may only be the smallest cog in the machine, but I know the rules and I obey them.”
Audrey smiled apologetically. “I’m know you do, Phil. Don’t let’s squabble; if we’re both having fun, I’m sure that’s all that matters. Pax?”
“Of course. I wasn’t squabbling, Aud.” She looked at the table where Seymour’s family were sitting. “I like them; they’re all fun, but The Captain asked me to look after the Brownlows, ‘cos they didn’t know anyone but him. They’re nice people too.”
“You’re on leave, Philly; you don’t have to do what he asks you to if you don’t want to,” Audrey reminded her.
“I know.” Philly sounded exasperated. “The Brownlows were nice; I had fun talking to them. Okay?”
Audrey grinned. “Okay.”
Philly peered along to other tables where the food had already arrived. “I wonder what we’re getting to eat. I hope it’s nothing too fancy.”
“Apparently, we’re getting lobster – something of a local delicacy, it seems.”
Philly watched the other guests milling about as she stood in the reception room after the meal and the speeches were over. Seymour and Katherine were circulating, accepting congratulations and exchanging polite banter, while Audrey was deep in conversation with Captain Grey and a man who’d been introduced to them as Captain Sheridan from the WASPs. Karen was busy talking to Mr Svenson and Colonel White, while Scarlet and Rhapsody stood close by discussing their young son, who had been as good as gold all day, with Mrs Wainwright.
There was a promise of dancing later, when everyone had had time to digest their food and Philly wondered if she’d be lucky enough to get a Christmas dance with The Captain… and one with Seymour, of course.
She took another sip of the excellent champagne and politely smothered a burp.
“Hi, Philly; having a good time?”
“Oh, Captain, you made me jump; I nearly spilt me drink.”
He grinned down at her. “Are you having a good time?”
“It’s a lovely party,” she said with as much enthusiasm as she could manage. “Everyone’s looking lovely. Don’t you think Aud looks…” she sought for a suitably upper class description, “spiffing?”
“Utterly… spiffing. And so do you; that colour suits you.”
She flushed happily.
“Only, I’ve a favour to ask of you,” he confessed, “but I don’t want to take you away from having a good time …”
“Not a problem. What can I do to help?” she replied instantly.
“You’ll miss the party,” he admitted.
“Never mind, they won’t miss me. Tell the truth: I’ve seen enough, Captain. It’s very pretty and I wish Seymour and your sister every happiness, but, well, it’s not really me, is it?”
He smiled at her. “Come on then…”
She put the glass down on a nearby table and followed him through the house and out into the long garage. The lights of a red Ferrari flashed in response to a remote key and he opened the door for her to climb aboard. The garage door opened as if by magic and the car swept down the drive and out onto the wet street, heading towards the city.
“Where’re we going?” she asked, as she stared at the grand houses and brightly-lit shops that flashed by.
“You remember Lesley Saville, don’t you?”
“Yes.” She was hardly likely to forget her in a hurry.
“And, I’m sure you know what happened between her and… me.”
“Yes.” So did most of the base…
“Well, she’s here in Boston. My mother just told me that she arranged it …as a sort of Christmas present, I suppose. You see, she’s brought my daughter with her – Freya. They arrived this morning and we’re going to see them.”
He chuckled at her enthusiasm.
“But, why d’you want me along, Captain? Surely, you’d be better seeing them on your own?”
“Ah, no; no, I wouldn’t.” He gave a deep sigh and concentrated on passing a stationary vehicle before continuing: “Karen’ll kill me when she finds out and – I guess I need a witness that ‘nothing happened’.”
“Oh, I see.” She considered what he’d said and added, “When she finds out? You mean you haven’t told her where you’re going?”
He shook his head. “I knew she wouldn’t want to come with me…and I didn’t want to spoil her day; she’s enjoying spending time with her mom, so she won’t miss me for a long time.” He executed a left turn and continued into the silence: “Besides, I… I wanted to see Freya as soon as I knew she was here. I’d promised her I’d see her at Christmas but, when the wedding came along, it didn’t look like I’d be able to keep my word. Didn’t reckon with my mom, I guess.”
“It was nice of her to bring them over, but – maybe – she should have talked to you before she did? I’m sure she didn’t mean to cause…well… upset for you or Symphony.”
“I doubt the possibility even occurred to her, Mignon; my mom doesn’t always think things through when she has a ‘good idea’.” He smiled affectionately. “She tends to be a bit impulsive.”
“Like Symphony,” Philly remarked.
“Yeah; I guess so, in some instances.”
“Does your mum get stroppy too?” She clapped her hand to her mouth. “Sorry, Captain; that was rude of me. I didn’t mean to say that Symphony’s… that she gets…” She petered to a halt.
“Forget it. You’ve seen my marriage first hand, in all its aspects; I’d be foolish to think I could keep secrets from you, Philly, and because I know I can trust to your discretion, you can be frank with me. After all, I asked you to come with me, didn’t I? That shows how much I trust you.”
“S’all right, Captain, you don’t have to explain. I’m happy to come with you. I’d have come even if you’d told me where we’re going before we left.”
“I knew I could count on you, Philly, but I really shouldn’t involve you in my domestic problems. Although, to be honest, I couldn’t think of anyone I’d prefer to have with me –except Karen, of course.”
“When will you tell her where we went?” asked Philly, speculating that she might need to make sure she was well away from ‘the danger zone’ when it happened.
“No need to upset her sooner than necessary, I thought, so my Mom’s going to tell her when she asks where I am.”
“Your mom? I’d have thought you’d have been better telling her yourself, but you know best, I suppose.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Per’aps not. Thinking about it, I reckon your problem’s going to be when Symphony tells you she still doesn’t believe ‘nothing happened’ because I’d say whatever you told me to,” she remarked with unexpected perspicacity. “But I’ll have to tell the truth whatever happens, Captain. I’m a rotten liar and I couldn’t lie convincingly – even for you.”
“I’m not asking you to lie, Philly. Nothing is going to happen. I’m going to see Freya and Freya couldn’t come to Boston without her mother. And I think, under the circumstances, you should call me Adam.”
“I’ll try, but it’s gonna come hard.”
She gave him a beatific grin and he laughed.
They drove on in silence until he turned into the underground carpark of a plush City Centre Hotel, not the one where the wedding guests were lodged, she noted, and parked. He opened the boot and removed a large canvas bag, which, Philly correctly guessed, was full of Christmas presents. She trotted beside him to keep up with his long strides and once in the lift he pressed the button for the 10th floor. The door opened onto a long, softly lit corridor, carpeted in a deep green. They walked along to room 1015 and he pressed the doorbell.
She glanced up at him and saw that he was far from being as calm as usual. His tongue flicked out and licked his lips and he exhaled deeply, as if steeling himself for what was to come. Impulsively, she slipped her hand into his and squeezed.
Surprised – and charmed – he smiled down at her and squeezed back.
The door opened and Lesley Saville stood in the doorway.
“Hello, Adam.” She sounded a little breathless, her brown eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed as she stared up at him, a slight smile on her lips.
“Hi, Lesley; good to see you. You’re looking well.”
“So are you. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas! I’ve bought some gifts for Freya - and for you, of course. You might want to hide them until tomorrow morning?”
“That’s kind of you. Your mother’s already given us a pile of presents, they were under the tree when we arrived and she’s invited us to spend Christmas Day with you all. She’s been so kind. But, I’m keeping you on the doorstep – come in. Freya’s over by the window looking at the lights.”
He put a finger to his lips and stepped inside quietly, handing Lesley the canvas bag. Philly followed.
“Hello, Philly!” Lesley said, surprised.
“Hello, Lieutenant Saville.”
They both turned to watch as Adam moved obliquely towards the little girl, careful not to get his reflection in her line of sight. In the crook of one arm she held an obviously well-loved, grubby teddy bear and in the other hand a small jacket of pink rosebud-patterned material. Partially hearing movement behind her, she demanded:
“Rosie Bear cold. Mummy coat on, peas.”
“Mommie’s busy, can I help, Flicka?”
The little girl spun round, her eyes wide with excitement. “Daddy! My Daddy!” She dropped the bear and raced towards him as he crouched, arms wide to receive her.
She flung her arms around his neck and, squealing with delight, was swept into his embrace and up into the air as he got to his feet.
“Hi there, my little sweetheart!”
“Daddy! You camed.”
“I came. Didn’t I say I’d see you at Christmas time? I wouldn’t tell you a fib, now would I?”
She shook her head and laid her face against his. “Don’t never go ‘way,” she pleaded.
“Not for a long time, Flicka.”
Philly felt her eyes prickle with tears as she watched and glancing at Lesley Saville saw she was not alone.
“Does this posh place have anything as useful as a kettle?” she said practically. “I think we could all do with a cuppa.”
After several frenetic hours playing with her father, mother and new ‘Aunty’ Philly, Freya was exhausted, but so excited there was no getting her into bed when the time came, so she sat on Adam’s knee until she dropped off against his chest, her teddy clutched in her arms.
“Let me take her off to bed,” Lesley offered.
“Do you have to?” He sounded bereft. “She’s okay where she is.”
“No, I don’t have to, Adam. I just thought you might want to eat?”
He shook his head and Philly explained:
“We were stuffed stupid at the wedding reception. I never want to see another volley-vont.”
“Have you eaten?” Adam asked Lesley. When she shook her head, he continued, “Then why don’t you go and get something in the restaurant? Have a bit of a break – go out on the town if you like. I’m a fully paid up member of the baby-sitting guild, you know?”
“There’s no denying it’d be nice, for an hour or two.”
He smiled. “Then go! Philly will make sure I don’t do anything stupid and Freya’s spark out. Charge it to the room, remember.”
“Of course.” Lesley sighed, she would have preferred some adult company, but it looked as if she’d be eating a solitary meal in the busy restaurant. But, after all, what could you give a man who had almost everything he wanted for Christmas, except some one-on-one time with his daughter – even if she was sound asleep?
Alone in the hotel room, with Freya snuggled in his arms and Philly sitting quietly in an enormous armchair opposite a small coffee table, cluttered with cups and the plate with Freya’s partially-eaten supper still on it, Adam considered it rather strange that he’d rarely felt so content. He looked down at his sleeping daughter and smiled.
She’s going to be a beauty, he thought, recalling his sister at this age. Please God she grows up without suffering any consequences from her unconventional parentage and that she never loses that wonderful delight at seeing me.
“She’s a pretty girl, isn’t she?” Philly asked, making Adam wonder if he had spoken aloud. “She’s going to look like you more than Lesley, if you ask me.”
“Poor kid, I wouldn’t wish that on her; but if she’s lucky she’ll look like Kitty.”
Philly grinned. Then after a moment’s silence she said, “I never realised you got to see her so much.”
He was rather surprised at her conclusion and confessed, “I miss her more than I can tell you, Mignon, which kinda proves I don’t see her enough.”
“Just enough for her to instantly know who you are and love you.” Philly shifted in the chair. “I never really knew my dad; he turned up sometimes, but I never really knew him enough to miss him, let alone ‘love’ him. I never thought it mattered much; mum and me managed, after a fashion. Then I met Audrey and learnt how close she is to her dad and I started to feel as if I’d missed out, somehow. I don’t think Freya’s ever going to feel like that when she’s grown up.”
He smiled. “I hope not. I want nothing more than to see her through life until she’s everything she wants to be and supply the shoulder she cries on when, inevitably, things don’t go according to plan. I’m just not sure I can do that and live the life I have right now. Karen and I always agreed we’d stay together in Spectrum until we had a family of our own…” he paused and she saw a terrible sadness in his eyes. “We never thought that might not be what Fate had in store for us; I don’t suppose anybody does, do they?”
“Probably not; most people are more optimistic than they realise.”
He smiled at her. “Yeah, don’t I know it? You see, I’ve even wondered about asking Lesley if she’d let Karen and me adopt Freya – formally. Of course, I haven’t said anything to her because I haven’t mentioned this to Karen yet…”
“No, I’d have noticed your life-threatening injuries if you had.”
“Sorry, Captain, but – to me anyway – it does look like she’s a bit of a bully… at times.”
Disturbed by his vehemence, Freya stirred in Adam’s arms and he said nothing as he gazed down at her. When the child settled again, he continued in a quiet, even voice, “Karen has cause to get mad at me – more than you know – more than any one knows.”
“Besides, even though sometimes I’m not sure why I do, I love her to distraction and there’s no point me even trying to deny that to you, is there?”
“No - its ruddy obvious, even to a numbskull like me. But, and you did say I could be frank, Captain; well, it seems to me you soak up a lot of grief because of it.”
He took a while to reply and she began to fear that she’d angered him; but when he did answer, there was more sorrow than anger in his voice.
“Sometimes you have to roll with the punches, Philly. Look at Captain Scarlet: his life’s even less his own than mine is. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it’s not easy maintaining a loving, stable relationship, when any day you could be sent out on a mission and come back in a coffin – if you come back at all. It makes grabbing what happiness you can – when you can - all the more important.”
“Have you told Symphony that?”
He gave a slight shake of his head. “Karen knows it well enough without me having to tell her.”
“You know her best.” She didn’t sound convinced.
After a period of intense silence, he said quietly, “Thank you, Philly.”
“What for? Putting me foot in it every time I open me mouth?”
He shook his head, smiling and went on to explain: “For keeping me grounded. For not giving me ‘advice’. For never judging. For… just being there.”
“Tosh, Captain. You’re going to make me blub if you talk like that.”
He looked at her and she blushed under his perceptive inspection, unable to meet his gaze because she knew he would read everything she so desperately sought to hide from him, in her eyes.
After what seemed an eternity to Philly, he said quietly, “I know – and I respect the fact - but all I can offer is a special thank you for… caring, so much. I really do appreciate it, Phil.”
It was the first time he had called her ‘Phil’, rather than the much more adolescent sounding ‘Philly’, and this acknowledgement of her as an adult, with adult feelings and yearnings, threatened to bring tears to her eyes. She sniffed and drew a deep breath, giving him a shaky smile, so unlike her usual bright grin that he wondered if he’d said too much.
But Philly was made of sterner stuff and was ever the pragmatist; she drew herself up and said: “You must’ve had too much of that champagne…Adam. I think we could both do with a warm drink. I’ll put the kettle on, shall I?”
“Sure, Mignon; that’s a damn good idea.”
Adam drove back to the house in the early hours of the morning. He’d dropped Philly at her hotel and – on a whim – gone to a downtown bar for a nightcap. He really hadn’t wanted to admit that he was putting off explaining to Karen where he’d been, and he hoped that she’d be asleep by the time he got home.
“You might as well put the light on,” she said, as he crept into their bedroom.
He snapped on the light and turned the dimmer switch down. “Sorry, älskling, did I wake you up?”
“I wasn’t asleep. I was wondering where you were…” She was fully-dressed, sitting in the armchair by the bed.
“I went downtown for a drink.”
“You walked out of your sister’s wedding to go to a bar?”
“Don’t lie to me, Adam; credit me with the intelligence you know I have. Besides, your mother told me that you’d gone to see that… Saville woman.”
“No, she wouldn’t’ve told you that - because it isn’t true,” he interjected, when Karen began to protest. “I didn’t go to see Lesley, I went to see Freya. Mom invited them over for the holidays and to join us for dinner tomorrow.”
“What? I hope you made it clear that’s not gonna happen?” He shook his head. “Why not? How could you be so insensitive?”
“Karen, it’s no big deal. I’d like you to meet them-”
“I’ve met Lesley Saville.”
“-to meet Freya,” he amended. “She’s a nice little kid-”
“As if it isn’t bad enough with Dianne and Paul flaunting their baby, you now want to humiliate me by parading your…” the sentence was choked off by the angry sobs she couldn’t suppress any longer , which was, perhaps, just as well.
“My daughter. Yes, that’s what she is and we have to face that.”
“I don’t have to face anything. I want nothing to do with it - or her or her mother.”
“Calm down and try and be reasonable.”
“Don’t you dare patronise me. You sneak off to spend time alone with them-”
“I wasn’t alone – Philly came with me.”
“Oh, a fan convention of the Captain Blue Adoration Society – you must’ve been proud!”
“There’s no talking to you when you get like this!”
“Like what? Humiliated and slighted by my husband? You make me ashamed to be married to you.”
“If anyone should be feeling ashamed it should be me – you know what happened, but I can’t ignore the fact that there is a child because of it. It’s not her fault – not even Lesley’s. I can’t turn my back on her. I want her to be part of this family – our family.”
“Over my dead body! But maybe you’d prefer that? If I wasn’t around, you and Saville and frigging Philly Daniels could live in a commune together!”
“Don’t blame Philly; I asked her to come with me.”
“And of course, she ran after you like a faithful bitch puppy!”
“Karen!” He was appalled; he knew how possessive she could be but hadn’t realised it had become so corrosive an emotion. “She’s just a kid.”
“She is not a kid. She was, and you thought her hero-worship was cute; but now she’s a fully-grown woman and she wants you. Well, Mr Svenson, as far as I’m concerned, she’s welcome to you!”
She stood and for the first time he noticed the suitcase beside the chair.
“Where’re you going?”
“Anywhere but here.”
“Don’t be stupid!” He lunged to grab her arm as she strode passed him towards the door.
“Get your hands off me!” She swung the suitcase into his ribcage, knocking him sideways and winding him.
“Karen!” he called, and as soon as he got his breath back, he raced after her.
At the foot of the staircase Paul was watching her march down.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
“Get outa my way, Paul.”
Paul stepped aside and looked up at Adam who was in hot pursuit.
“What’s going on?” he repeated as his friend drew alongside him.
“She’s walking out,” Adam gasped.
“Let her go,” Paul advised, preventing him from following her.
“She’ll calm down soon enough and where can she go except Cloudbase?”
“I need to talk to her!”
“No, you don’t. You’ll only make it worse. Don’t dignify such behaviour by tolerating it: it’s a power game, Adam; don’t play. Look, she was fuming when she realised you’d vanished and when your mum told her where you’d gone she went off like a nuclear explosion. It took me, Di and Mrs W ages to stop her leaving then and there. I guess she’s wound herself up again waiting for you. Let her get it out of her system.”
They heard the screech of wheels leaving the garage and heading down the drive.
Adam stared helplessly in the direction she’d gone and sighed out her name.
Paul was sympathetic, but brisk: “Come and have a whisky with me. You look all done in.”
“Why’re you here…waiting?”
“I wasn’t waiting. I’m trying to let Di and Ace get some sleep – because, as you know – I don’t need much sleep. Come on, Blue-Boy, the bottle’s three-quarters full and I’ve set myself the challenge of emptying it by morning…”
He smiled encouragingly and waited while Adam stared in the direction Karen had gone for a long moment. Then, with a slow nod, the American turned and led his friend back into the living room.
Christmas morning in the Svenson house, in the wake of the wedding celebrations, was almost an anti-climax. When breakfast was served in the dining room, somewhat later than usual, John and Sarah Svenson were alone. In the absence of any of their family or guests, John, looking tired, munched his habitual breakfast of toast and coffee while he read and notated his overnight email and Sarah drank her freshly-squeezed orange juice and consulted her ‘to do’ list.
“Peter, Cissy and the girls will be here at about midday,” she reminded her husband, who grunted in response. “So we’ll have to do some present opening then to keep the children happy. Dinner will be at about four o’clock? That should give us the evening to open the rest of the presents – for the grownups. Peter and the family will be stopping here overnight, of course – the girls will sleep in the old nursery room.”
“I’m sure you’ve got it all organised, Sal; you always do a fine job.”
“Charles has to go this evening, but Amanda can stay for a few days. We hope to find some time to go shopping before she goes back to Iowa.”
John grunted again, it was no news to him that his wife was planning a shopping expedition.
Sarah ignored him and continued, “Kate and Seymour fly out to the yacht tomorrow morning so his family are coming over before they go home tomorrow. The Metcalfes are going back to England tomorrow too. It was nice of them to spend Christmas with us rather than in Winchester and their little boy is so cute. I must be sure to send Mary Metcalfe a note by Paul. I’m going to invite her and Charles to come and see us in a week or so – whenever they can, really.” She peered at her husband. “I want you to come to the Opera – or whatever we decide - with us, John. No excuses.”
“Yes, dear. Just give me enough notice.”
“I always give you enough notice, but you don’t always take it. You know you like Charles Metcalfe – and who could not like Mary? – so you have no excuse not to make it a firm date in your diary. Are you listening to me, John?”
“Yes, dear. They’re very nice people.”
Sarah pulled an unconvinced face, but let it pass. “I’m not sure what Adam and Karen are doing: Martha Brownlow seems to think they were planning a visit to Nantucket, which’d be nice for them, although I’d love to have them stay here for a while longer. Wouldn’t you?”
She looked thoughtfully at him and continued in the same light tone: “I hear the World Government’s finally announced the introduction of a universal currency. All national currencies have been declared worthless from this morning. They’ve said that everyone’s going to get a thousand World Credits each to start with, just to make things fair - that famous ‘level playing field’ they talk about so much. So I suppose that means we’ll effectively be bankrupt, doesn’t it? Won’t that be exciting, John?”
She waited serenely.
John looked up. “What?”
“I knew you weren’t really listening.”
The door opened and Paul Metcalfe walked in.
“Good morning, Mrs Svenson, Mr Svenson. Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas, Paul! How’re Dianne and Baby Adam? Would she like her breakfast in bed? It’d be no bother…”
“Thank you; I’m sure she would. She’s giving him some breakfast, or rather, she’s trying to prevent him throwing mashed banana all-round the room. They both slept very well, so it’s looking good for a quiet day.” He smiled.
“He was so good yesterday. What a blessing a contented baby is; I know. Peter wasn’t contented – ever – and Kitty was a handful. David and Adam were both laid back: the eldest and the youngest; I wonder if that’s the way things normally are. By the time you’re on number four, you feel like you’ve seen it all before and for the first one it’s all new and you’re hyper-attentive.”
“More than likely,” Paul responded, with a weak smile. He helped himself to some coffee and a bowl of cereal from the serving counter and sat opposite John, with an acknowledging nod. Sarah gave instructions to one of her kitchen staff for breakfast in bed to be taken up to her guest.
“I’m glad I’m here before everyone else,” he said to Sarah, when she’d sat down again. “I wanted to have a word with you, Mrs Svenson.”
“Sarah, Paul, please.”
“Sarah. It’s about…Karen.”
“Oh dear; she’s still not sulking is she? I thought we’d sorted that out yesterday.”
“Well, I’m afraid the fix didn’t last long. When Adam got back they had a fight and… and she’s left.”
“Left, as in for good?” asked John, looking up from his cell-phone.
Paul shook his head. “I doubt it, sir. She was mad at him for…leaving the wedding reception, but I expect it’ll all blow over.”
“Mad at him for going to see Freya, you mean?” Sarah asked pointedly.
Paul nodded. “I guess so.”
Sarah shook her head.
“Maybe I should’ve waited to tell him they were here, and just surprised him with them today? But I wanted him to have as much time with Freya as possible; I know he feels that he can’t spend enough time with her, as a rule and I just wanted to see the happiness on his face when I told him, if I’m honest. Was that wrong of me, John? Even when I told him, I sort of thought he’d go to fetch them this morning, I didn’t expect him to rush off like that. It isn’t what you’d expect him to do normally – impetuosity isn’t one of his major character traits, is it? But then the fact that he did rush off to see her speaks volumes, don’t you think? Anyway, there’s no crying about it now. I can’t really see why Karen’s so upset about it; she knows all about Freya, after all, so it isn’t as if it is some big surprise or shocking revelation, is it? She’s being unreasonable. Totally unreasonable.”
To her surprise – and Paul’s – John Svenson begged to differ. “Is she? I happen to agree with her that it was rude of Adam to leave his sister’s wedding. And, although I know he admitted that because the child was a result of a one-night-stand she is nobody’s fault but his own, it isn’t something he should glory in. No, I can see Karen’s point.” Seeing Sarah was about to remonstrate, he added, “Not that two wrongs make a right and she shouldn’t have walked out. You have to work at making a marriage work.”
“I’m glad you realise that after 40-odd years…”
John sighed and asked Paul: “Where’s she gone?”
“We don’t know; she wasn’t very forthcoming. I should warn you, Adam was pretty upset and he got rather drunk on the back of it all. He’s going to be a bit fragile this morning.”
Sarah sighed. “He’d better sober up quickly then: Peter’s kids are not the quietest you’ve ever met and Freya and Lesley will be arriving in about an hour or so. At least, I’ve told Hewitt to collect them in about an hour.”
“I’ll warn him,” Paul replied. He concentrated on drinking his coffee as an uneasy silence fell on the room.
“I never thought Karen would be so temperamental about it,” continued Sarah, glancing at her husband, apparently for reassurance. “It just seemed natural to me to ask Lesley to bring Freya over and then to invite them to spend Christmas Day with us – not have done would have been incredibly rude – and rather unkind, if you think about it.”
“Maybe you should’ve consulted Adam before you invited them,” John replied, his voice carefully neutral. “He may have had perfectly comprehensible reasons for keeping Karen and Lesley apart. At the very least, he’d have been able to warn you of Karen’s likely reaction.”
“I don’t know that he would,” Paul remarked. “He seemed as surprised as anyone that she was so upset and – believe me, Sarah – he was overjoyed to see Freya. You couldn’t have given him a better present for Christmas.”
“I knew he would be, and I wanted to see her again too - and for you to get to know her, John. After all, she’s our granddaughter, just as much as Peter’s girls, and I felt it was time she met her American relatives and became an accepted part of this family.”
“I don’t doubt that you acted from the purest of intentions, Sal; you always do, but maybe, this time, you should have given some thought to the possible consequences? What does Amanda think?”
John Svenson had a good deal of respect for Amanda Wainwright and valued her opinion on a great many subjects.
“She was okay with it,” Sarah said, sounding a little uncertain. “I guess she can see it more from Karen’s point of view and, like us, she knows how… jealous Karen can get, so maybe she could see the pitfalls clearer than I obviously could.” She grimaced. “But, dammit, John, why shouldn’t I invite my granddaughter and her mother to spend Christmas with us – and what the hell has it to do with my daughter-in-law if I do?”
“She’s married to your son, that’s what,” he replied curtly. Then seeing his wife’s distress, he added. “Well, it’s done now and I’m looking forward to meeting Freya – and her mother - so cheer up, Sal. It’s Christmas!”
“And a fine mess I’ll have made of it if I’ve destroyed my son’s marriage!”
Paul felt he had to intervene. “Mrs Svenson, please don’t worry. It’s not the first time something like this has happened. Karen’s become prone to throwing a wobbly – as we Brits would say – when something she doesn’t like or want happens. It’ll blow over in a few days - weeks at most. She can’t stay mad at Adam for long: she really does love him, you know. When she calms down she’ll realise he wasn’t responsible and that, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t alter a thing – he’s as much in love with her as he’s always been and that’s never going to change: he’s a creature of habit… ”
Morosely, Sarah replied, “I’ll never forgive myself if I’ve caused him a problem.”
John put a hand over hers and said affectionately, “You worry too much about him, Sal. If anyone can take care of himself, it’s our Adam.”
“Speak of the devil,” Paul muttered, as the door opened and Adam walked in.
Although unshaven, he looked surprisingly well, for a man who did not drink much and yet had put away almost third of a bottle of single malt Scotch only hours before. He greeted them all with a less than hearty, ‘Merry Christmas’ and kissed his mother’s cheek as he walked round the table to help himself to black coffee.
“Merry Christmas, darling,” Sarah replied, watching him with anxious eyes. “Help yourself to breakfast.”
“It’s okay; I couldn’t eat a thing.”
“That’s what a hangover does for you,” his father remarked, with a dry smile.
Adam smiled ruefully and glanced at Paul. “I see you got here before me.”
“Ever the bearer of bad news, you know me.”
“Hewitt’s going to fetch Lesley and Freya soon; he’ll come and let me know when he’s ready to go. Do you want to go with him?” Sarah asked.
“Sure. Now she’s here I want to spend as much time with my girl as I can.” He looked at his father, expecting disapproval, but John replied:
“Be good to meet them at last. I know your mom has a hundred presents under the tree for both of them.”
Suddenly feeling very much in the way, Paul got to his feet and said, “I’d better go and see if Di’s okay and if I can help with Ace. If you’ll excuse me?”
“Of course, Paul. Tell Dianne that whatever she needs, just to let us know.”
“I will; thank you, Sarah.” He placed a hand on Adam’s shoulder as he started to leave. “Catch you later.”
There was quite a crowd at the Svensons’ Christmas dining table with Seymour’s family, the Metcalfes, Amanda Wainwright and Sir Charles Grey, Lesley Saville and Freya, as well as the family. Surrounded by a crowd of people enjoying themselves, Sarah Svenson was in her element: confident that the food was excellent and the wines superb, she rejoiced in the jovial atmosphere and glanced contentedly at her guests.
There was a small table close to the main one intended for the children, although, because she had cried inconsolably when placed at it, Freya had ended up sitting on Adam’s knee for the entire meal anyway. Little Adam Metcalfe was perched in a high chair, between to his mother and ‘Uncle’ Adam, who was his godfather. Freya was enchanted with ‘the babba’ and kept giving him food from her plate – especially the things she didn’t like.
Next to Dianne, Paul was talking to Peter, who was turning out to be rather good company, for a change. David was talking ‘sport’ with Deon and Rohan Griffiths, and their brother-in-law (whose name Sarah had completely forgotten, but then she considered she was doing well to remember the names of the actual family), while Merlene, Grace and Lacena were discussing fashions with Peter’s wife, Cicely, their brother’s fiancée, Steebeth, and Lesley Saville. Kendon and Sonny were flirting with Kate.
Cathalina Pairaudeau, as relaxed as her nephews and nieces had ever seen her, was deep in conversation with Sir Charles, while Amanda was listening to John Svenson’s take on the latest political upheaval.
Seymour tapped his wife on the arm to get her attention and remarked wryly, “I hope Aunt Cath isn’t damaging my chances of promotion by revealing my youthful misdemeanours to my boss.”
“Misdemeanours? Did you have any misdemeanours, Sey? I don’t believe it! Come on, guys; what can you tell me about Seymour’s youthful indiscretions?” Kate cried, with a happy laugh.
“We don’t have time to tell you all of them right now, Kate,” Deon protested. “You’ll have to come and see us in Trinidad and we’ll give you all the gen.”
“Deon Griffiths, if you aren’t telling the tallest tales since Adam ate the apple, I don’t know anything,” Aunt Cath retorted. With a cheerful smile at Kate, she continued, “He the best of the lot, Kate; you take my word.” She waved her hand in the direction of the brothers. “These are all the reprobates, not my Seymour!”
Kate hugged Sey with enthusiasm. “I know he’s the very best, Aunt Cath. I only accept the best!”
“Can you drop by Trinidad while you’re on the yacht?” Grace asked.
“No, Gracie,” Seymour answered. “We’re cruising the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a bit far away for ‘dropping by’.”
“Oh, lovely. I’ve always wanted to see that,” Lacena said. “One day I’ll get there.”
“Plenty of chance to go surfing while you’re there though,” Adam remarked brightly.
“On no account are we going anywhere near anywhere with surfing!” Kate retorted. “I’ve spent my lifetime quota of watching you fall off a surfboard in the summer holidays. I don’t want to see another one – ever.”
“In fairness, Kitty, he rarely fell off,” Peter observed dryly.
“No, he didn’t,” Sarah confirmed. She glanced at Aunt Cath and explained, “Adam holds the World Record for the longest surf ride.” Then she glanced at her son uncertainly. “You do still hold it, don’t you, dear?”
“Just about, Mom; but they’re catching me up.”
Rohan looked impressed, but Cathalina was confused. “But how do they measure it?”
Adam was busy preventing Freya from drinking his wine, and gave no reply.
Sarah shrugged and grinned. “He got a medal for it, that’s all I know. It’s probably upstairs in his bedroom, with about two dozen others for various championships…”
“Man, that’s cool,” Rohan muttered. “Respect, Bro.”
“Thanks,” Adam said, with a self-conscious smile. His attention was immediately reclaimed by his daughter. “Flicka, I’ve told you, that’s my drink – it’s only for grown-ups! If you want some more of your special Christmas drink, I’ll get you some.”
Dianne chuckled. “Come to me, Freya, while Daddy gets you a drink. You can help me give Ace the rest of his pudding.”
She held out her arms and the little girl willingly slithered from Adam’s knee to her lap.
“I think you’ve had enough, Freya,” Lesley said. She glanced at the clock. “We should be going back to the hotel; it’ll be bedtime soon – you haven’t had a nap today - and you need a bath first.”
“No naps!” wailed Freya, clinging to Dianne. “No baffs!”
“Daddy!” She squirmed towards Adam as he came back with her beaker, lifting her arms towards him. “No naps!”
“It’s almost her bedtime,” Lesley explained, getting to her feet. “We really should be making a move. We’ve had a lovely time; thank you so much, Mrs Svenson.”
“Must you go?” Adam asked, lifting Freya into his arms.
“She needs to get some sleep, Adam. She’s been on the go all day and she’ll be a nightmare if she doesn’t go to bed on time, especially given the jet-lag.”
Freya was clinging to him and wailing miserably.
He tried to soothe her before saying, “You haven’t opened your presents yet, Lesley.”
“You and your mother gave us some delightful presents this morning – Freya and I opened them before you picked us up. Then she’s had even more here.”
Sarah stood and gave her son a warning glance. “I’ll get a bag for you to take them with you – and something for all Freya’s toys.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
“I’ll come back with you – to the hotel.”
Lesley was standing before him, reaching out to take her daughter from him. “Better not, Adam; she won’t settle while you’re there.”
Reluctantly, he relinquished the sobbing child to her mother. Freya beat her little fists against her mother’s shoulder in impotent fury.
“See, she’s over-tired. Look, perhaps you could take us to the airport tomorrow? If you want to, that is? Our flight’s at 2 o’clock.”
“Of course. I’ll be there.”
Sarah came over with two heavily laden bags. “Hewitt was supposed to drive you over, but it seems he’s had a few too many beers. We can try and get you a taxi, but it might take some hours?”
Lesley hesitated, looking unhappy at the prospect.
“Let me drive you,” Paul offered, getting to his feet. “I’m sober as a judge.”
That offer earned him a look of pure hostility from his friend.
“Thank you, Paul,” Lesley said gratefully, watching as he took the bags from Sarah. “Well, good night everyone – merry Christmas! Thank you so much, Mrs Svenson, Mr Svenson, you have been wonderful and we’ve had a wonderful time, haven’t we Freya? Come on, say goodbye to everyone.”
“No!” wailed Freya, reaching out towards Sarah in the hope of rescue.
Sarah grabbed one small hand and kissed the sticky fingers. “I’ll see you again soon, Flicka,” she promised. “I’m sure Mommy won’t mine me coming to visit and you can show me your lovely seaside home.”
“Not at all; we’d be delighted to see you anytime,” Lesley replied, unable to refuse without appearing churlish.
Thwarted, Freya turned and reached out to her father. “Daddy!”
“Be a good girl, Freya, and I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll take you and Mommy to the airport so you can ride a big plane all the way back home.”
“We’d better go,” Lesley said decisively, collecting the grubby teddy. She handed it to her daughter who threw it on the floor and cried even louder. Adam Metcalfe began to whimper in sympathy. Paul picked the bear up and handed it back to Lesley.
“Thanks, Paul. We’d really better go. She’s just getting more and more upset and it’ll just get worse. See you tomorrow morning, Adam.”
“Sure. Bye, sweetheart. Be good.” He blew Freya a kiss as Lesley followed Paul out of the room.
Slowly, the child’s wailing protests died away.
Adam turned away from the others and went to the window to watch the car heading down the drive. He sensed someone beside him and thought it was his mother, until Amanda spoke.
“She’s a sweet little girl, Adam, you can be proud of her. I do understand why you miss her and I wish Karen had stayed; I’m sure she’d have understood how things are – and why. But you know my daughter: she’s such a hothead and her own worst enemy so much of the time. There’s not much anybody can do about that.”
“I know – I’ve tried.” He sighed and smiled ruefully down at his mother-in-law. “I’m sorry, Amanda; while I hope you know there’s almost nothing I wouldn’t do for Karen, if she wants me to choose between her and Freya, I can’t do it. I won’t. I know Karen believes I’m to blame for this mess and she may be right, but none of it is Freya’s fault and while I can be of any use to her, I won’t let her down by walking out.”
“I’d think less of you if you did, Adam.” She placed a hand on his arm and looked into his eyes with an earnest expression. “All I ask is that you don’t turn your back on Karen either. She loves you, even when she’s behaving like a fool and making life for you - and herself - a complete nightmare. She never could bear the thought that she might lose you and she hasn’t lost the insecurity – the fear – that one day she might.”
“Ain’t gonna happen, Mrs W, but every time she does something like this there is damage done. I can’t help it. You’d think there’d be some way I could have both of them in my life, wouldn’t you? Who would it hurt?”
She held his arm a sympathetic squeeze.
He continued, “It’s at times like this that I think I must’ve done something really wicked in this or a previous life, because however miserable she makes us both, I still love her. I probably always will; to my own destruction, if it comes to it. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”
And for the first time in all the years she’d known him, Amanda realised, with gut-wrenching certainty, just how hard he must’ve tried to do something about it.
“Twelfth Night: now maybe we can get back to normal?” Captain Scarlet said to his companions in the Officers’ Lounge on Cloudbase.
Captain Magenta pulled a face. “I like Christmas and for once it’s been quiet.”
“Maybe the Mysterons are beginning to get the ‘peace on earth, goodwill to all men’ scenario?” said Captain Ochre, in between mouthfuls of chocolate chip cookie.
“Maybe they were just expecting us to shoot ourselves in the foot while you were in charge, thus saving them the bother?” Scarlet suggested, an amused expression on his face.
“Hey – that’s below the belt!” Ochre protested, although he took the remark in good humour, realising it was an example of – what he considered was - Scarlet’s very idiosyncratic wit.
“We won’t get back to normal until Greenie’s back,” Magenta remarked. “Well, I won’t: the colonel’s got me spending every shift on the comms desk in the Control Room.”
“None of us really appreciated how much Sey does, until he wasn’t there to do it,” said Captain Grey. “Last night, when we were on duty, Lieutenant Claret was telling me that he’s had to delegate so much of his own work to his team just in order to pick up the slack.”
“Seymour’s very good at delegating,” Magenta explained. “Flaxen and her team of techies work very closely with him and she does a lot of his research.”
“Well, things should improve then, because she’s back on base now,” Ochre told him. “She returned from leave yesterday.”
“And went straight round to your quarters to say ‘hi’, I expect…” Magenta grinned. Flaxen had long carried a torch for his field partner and, although Ochre had never reciprocated her interest in that way, after some initial hostility on his part they had become good friends.
“Yes,” Ochre replied smugly. “She’d done some shopping for me while she was groundside and she brought it round. I now have three of the latest limited edition kits in the ‘Space Race’ range to put together.”
“Oh no – that means we can expect the subtle aroma of model-making glue wafting around the place through the air con again. Flax should know better by now…” Scarlet complained.
“Can I help it if she finds me irresistible?” Ochre grinned.
“Every woman has her weakness, I suppose,” said Magenta.
“Speaking of women and weakness,” Ochre said to Scarlet, changing the subject slightly, “How’s Blue?”
“How do you think?” Scarlet sighed. “I think he’d almost welcome a Mysteron threat, just to take his mind off things.”
“Symph still playing hard to get?” Ochre asked, rolling his eyes.
Scarlet nodded. “She went back to Iowa and I think it’s going to take a rocket from the colonel to get her back on base. She was due back yesterday – no; well, that is, their leave ended yesterday, so she should’ve been back for the 0600 shift at the latest; only she isn’t.”
“I can’t see the colonel looking kindly on that. Going AWOL is a disciplinary offence,” Grey remarked.
“Where is Blue?” said Ochre. “I’m thinking that maybe we should rally round and take his mind off things. Having your wife thrown in the brig for unlicensed absence will almost certainly ruin your day.”
Magenta was looking a little uncomfortable, but after some hesitation he volunteered the confidential information he was privy to:
“Symphony Angel’s on her way to Koala Base. The order went through yesterday while I was on duty. She’s been seconded to the training team there for an unspecified period. Prosody’s staying on Cloudbase in the meantime.”
“Has anyone told Blue?” Scarlet demanded.
“I haven’t, if that’s what you mean. By rights, I shouldn’t have told you lot,” Magenta retorted.
There was a silence as they all considered the implications of Magenta’s revelation.
“Damn.” Scarlet got to his feet. “I’m just going to take a stroll and drop by their quarters. Purely out of habit, you understand?”
His companions nodded.
“Guys, might I suggest that nobody says anything about this to anyone?” Scarlet added, as he turned to leave.
“Especially anyone wearing a blue uniform,” Ochre established.
Alone in his quarters, Captain Blue closed the comms link to Colonel White and stood for a moment, considering the exchange he’d just had with his commanding officer – a man he respected, whose opinion he valued and whom he considered as a personal friend.
It had not been a comfortable conversation.
He glanced at the coffee table in the middle of the room, where three small, gaily wrapped boxes stood beside an ice bucket containing a bottle of champagne and two glasses. Lying beside them was an envelope, addressed simply to ‘Karen’.
He drew a deep breath, walked across and slowly picked the card up. He looked down at the envelope before ripping it in half in sudden anger and dropping it on the table. With an inarticulate cry, he swept the boxes onto the floor and sank down on the sofa, his head in his hands.
The minutes ticked by.
Rousing himself with a start, he got to his feet, resignedly picked the boxes up and locked them in his desk drawer. Then he put the glasses back into the small kitchen cabinet, emptied what was left of the ice into the sink and turned the bucket upside down to drain.
He held the champagne bottle in his hand for some time, as if debating what to do. Then he deliberately tore the foil cap off, untwisted the metal cage and forced the cork out.
Pop! It ricocheted back from the tiled wall and shot off into the living area. The foaming bubbles cascaded into the sink and Blue watched them spiral down the plughole.
He tipped the bottle up ensuring it was empty. Then he dropped it in the recycle chute and listened to it clatter its way into the oblivion of the refuse bays.
He found the cork, picked up the torn card and binned them.
Then he picked up his sports kit bag, turned the lights off and left for the gym.
didn't think my woman could do something like this,
I didn't think she had the nerve, so here I am.
I guess action speaks louder than words.
It's a thin line, between love and hate.
Christmas comes but once a year – a fact for which I am profoundly grateful as I find it the hardest of the Challenges to write for. For years I have claimed that I just ‘chuck tinsel’ at a story and call it Christmas. This is another of them. Sorry. However, they do say that spending time with your family at Christmas can rate as one of the most stressful things, as well as one of the best.
As ever, my thanks go to Hazel Köhler for her expert beta-reading. Poor Hazel gets to plough through my turgid offerings and her advice is always welcome and pertinent. She is probably pleased to see that – at long last – I have worked out how to punctuate (more or less). Her patience, erudition and guidance make writing much more of a pleasure for me, as I know she has my back – so to speak! Any and all mistakes are entirely mine.
Thanks also to Chris Bishop for the website. We all admire her dedication and selflessness in maintaining what is the finest website on the Internet – without it and her, where would we be?
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons thrilled children in the 1960s and I have never lost the fascination with the concept – not to mention my devotion to a certain blond ‘American’ puppet. Along with being ‘tinsel-shrouded’ this is really a Captain Blue story, in which Captain Scarlet and several other characters come along for the ride. So my final acknowledgment and thanks are to the late Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and their creative co-workers who kick-started the whole adventure.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.
01 December 2016