The rain finally stopped and both men were keen to get out into the fresh air after spending the day cooped up in the hotel. So, although it was already getting dark, they put on stout walking shoes and raincoats and wandered out into the busy streets. Some of the overhead street lights were already coming on, their bulbs casting the faint pink glow that would darken into a rich amber over the shiny paving stones and jet-black tarmac. Where the, as yet, feeble overhead light did not reach the ground, the brightly-lit shop fronts did.
Most people were hurrying towards the tube stations, desperate to reach cover while the rain held off. An interminable flow of cars swept along, squelching through the surface water and occasionally sending up a dirty, oily spray where they ploughed through the puddles caused by the blocked drains.
Adam Svenson, the taller of the two men, checked, apologised for the nth time for impeding the progress of a rushing commuter and stepped out of the flow of pedestrians to the relative safety of a gloomy office doorway.
His companion joined him. “We didn’t time this very well, did we?” he said, grinning at the irritated frown on his friend’s face.
“No.” He gave a sigh and said ruefully, “We’ve lost the habit of city living, Paul. Comes from being on Cloudbase all the time, I guess.” Paul Metcalfe nodded and smiled in response. “Where are we going anyway? I don’t think meandering along with no particular destination in mind is a good idea right now.”
“True.” Metcalfe paused, considering the options. “You hungry, Adam?”
“No,” Svenson asserted. “I seem to have done nothing all day but call room service for snacks.”
“Me too. Look, why don’t we walk down to Shaftesbury Avenue and go to a show? The box offices will be open and on the way we can pick up a newspaper and decide what we want to see and try and get some tickets?”
“Yeah, that sounds like a neat idea.” They set off again in the direction of central London. As they dodged the oncomers, Svenson explained, “I like the theatre but Karen doesn’t; well, not unless it is some gaudy musical she can sing along to. You weren’t planning to go and see a musical, were you?”
“Not if you don’t want to.” Metcalfe laughed. “What do you and Karen find to do together? You have absolutely no interests in common.” He paused, glanced ironically at his friend and continued, “No, scrub that – I really don’t want to know.”
“I wasn’t going to tell you anyway,” Svenson replied, the merest twitch of his lips revealing his amusement.
The audience streamed out of the theatre and milled around the entrance, hailing taxis and adjusting their clothing before heading towards the tube stations and bus stops in the steady drizzle.
“We might as well walk,” Paul said, “we’ll never get a taxi.”
“Okay by me. I could do with stretching my legs. There’s not a lot of room in those theatres. Back home, it’s better.”
Metcalfe gave the American a suspicious glance. “Really? Can’t say I’ve ever noticed – and before you argue, I have been to theatres on Broadway.”
“Oh, Broadway,” his friend replied in a disparaging tone that implied ‘what do you expect?’.
Metcalfe chuckled. “No Bostonian must ever admit New York does something better than they do, huh?”
Svenson shrugged good-naturedly, but didn’t rise to the bait.
“So, what did you make of the play?” Paul asked, as they crossed a junction at the lights.
“It was pretty good, I enjoyed it. I liked the actress playing the lead. I’m sure I’ve seen her before in something. But I thought the guy playing the baddie was an awful ham, which spoilt it, somewhat.”
“Yes, he is – he’s well known for it, in fact, but he has fan appeal, or so I’m told, and that guarantees bums on seats. The actress is even better known: in fact, you may remember she won an Oscar last year for that dire moon-based melodrama the girls dragged us to?”
“That’d be why I recognised her then, although I thought I’d successfully eradicated that experience from my memory.” Svenson shook his head ruefully as he recalled: “Oh wait - I did have to sit through the entire interminable Oscar ceremony with Karen giving me a running commentary on the dresses and the sex lives of the rich and famous. I thought my brain was gonna implode.”
“How you suffer for love,” Metcalfe teased.
“How do women function as sensible individuals with so much crap in their heads?”
Metcalfe shrugged. “Dianne tells me it’s because they can multi-task and men can’t.”
Svenson’s crude response to that gem of wisdom made it quite clear how vehemently he disagreed. His friend laughed.
They continued walking along Piccadilly, heading west, and were about to cross St James’s Street when their attention was caught by a couple coming up the street towards the main road. It was a young woman, obviously pregnant, and a short, thin man, and they seemed to be arguing. The woman remonstrated and caught the man by the arm. He struggled violently and broke away, causing her to stumble, then quickened his pace and walked away from her towards the main road.
She ran after him, pleading with him:
“Jerry! Jerry, please!”
“A damsel in distress?” Svenson murmured.
Metcalfe nodded. “And I think I might know who…” He broke off and moved quickly to intercept the man in his headlong dash for the main road.
It all happened in a moment.
The man rushed out into the road, ignoring the oncoming traffic.
The young woman screamed and ran forward. Svenson grabbed her to prevent her stepping into the traffic too while Metcalfe dived at the man in a rugby tackle, pushing him back onto the pavement out of the way of the approaching car. Then he turned to jump clear but slipped on the wet tarmac, falling back onto the road. He tried to get to his feet, slipped again and tried desperately to scramble to safety.
There was a squeal of brakes followed by the thud of impact as the car behind, driving too close to avoid the collision, shunted the first car forward.
Metcalfe screamed as the wheel rolled over his leg.
“Oh my God, Gerald – now look what you’ve done!” the woman cried, as she threw herself down between her friend and the writhing Metcalfe.
The driver of the first car was getting out to see what had happened, and Svenson yelled at him to move his car so that he could free his friend. The shocked driver nodded and urged the cars behind to back up. With an agonising slowness the drivers managed to roll back far enough for the American to drag his friend clear.
Metcalfe’s hands gripped like vices onto Svenson’s strong arms as he laid him on the pavement. “Take it easy, Paul; you’re going to be okay, buddy. You saved the guy’s life. It’s all okay,” the American reassured him.
In the distance there was already the wail of sirens as police cars, alerted by the traffic cameras that lined the street, approached.
“We need to get him to hospital, I’ll call an ambulance,” the woman gasped, riffling through her handbag for a mobile phone.
“No, I’ll do it,” Svenson snapped, thinking quickly. “The American Embassy has a medical facility – we’ll take him there. You’d better call one for you and your friend though, you’re both going to need to be checked over, ma’am.”
She stared at him in outraged surprise. Ignoring her, Svenson made a quick and cryptic call on his own phone. “I want a medijet to come to my GPS location and collect my partner. Code Red.”
There was a slight pause and then he said, “S.I.G.” as he closed the call.
He leant down to Metcalfe, placing a hand on his shoulder. “S’okay, Paul. I’ve arranged everything. We’ll get you to a suitable hospital.”
Metcalfe nodded. He was biting his lip at the agony of his injury and his face was damp, whether from the rain or sweat, it wasn’t possible to tell.
Svenson stood and turned to the couple. “Are you okay, ma’am, and you, sir?” he asked sharply.
The man looked down at Metcalfe and frowned. “Yes… yes. I never meant… I wasn’t thinking. Everything I do just goes wrong these days! Is he going to die?”
“No; but he’s hurt pretty badly. You’re not, I take it?”
“Why are you asking?” the woman snapped, “Are you going to tell them take us to an American hospital too? British hospitals are perfectly well-equipped; we have moved on from the days of the Lady of the Lamp, you know!”
Svenson looked at her in surprise and then smiled apologetically, although he felt more irritated than repentant. “I’m sorry, ma’am. We both work for the World Government and our medical insurance only covers treatment in designated hospitals. I know the Embassy has one. Going anywhere else involves mountains of paperwork. I didn’t mean to suggest-”
“No, forget it. I’m sorry. I had no right to criticise you after you’ve been so kind. I’m just so worried about Gerald – and your friend, Mr…?”
“Svenson, Adam Svenson, and my friend is Mr Paul Metcalfe.”
“Paul Metcalfe?” Gerald exclaimed. “Did you say Paul Metcalfe? It’s not P. C. Metcalfe, is it?” Svenson nodded. “It is? By all that’s holy!”
He stooped down and looked at Paul.
“Plod? Plod Metcalfe? It is you! Good Lord, what’re you doing here?”
Metcalfe glanced up, grimacing in pain. Nevertheless, he managed to reply with some cordiality, “Saving your worthless arse, Horsey Olifard. Same as bloody usual.”
Svenson took the senior police officer to one side and, while the constables took the details of the crashed drivers and directed the traffic around the incident site, he held a heated and whispered conversation with him. The young woman, sitting on a folding stool provided by the police, watched in surprise as Svenson drew out his wallet and showed something to the policeman.
The officer stiffened, glared up at the taller man and nodded reluctantly. He turned away towards his subordinates.
“Right, you lot: get those details finished off quickly and get the truck here now to tow these cars out of the road. I want this traffic moving again! Mrs Olifard, here’s the ambulance. I think you and your husband better go and get a check-up before the night gets much older. We will need a statement from you, madam, and I have to warn you that your husband might face charges of… conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace – or something similar.”
“But it was all a terrible accident,” Mrs Olifard tried to explain.
“No doubt, madam. Save it for later.”
His final words were drowned out by the whir of a helicopter’s blades, and a bright light switched on overhead, casting a spotlight on the crowded pavement. A man, with a stretcher, was winched out of the craft and he and Svenson lifted the semi-conscious Metcalfe onto it. Then it was winched back into the helijet, which swivelled and flew away in the direction of Grosvenor Square.
Before he allowed the paramedics to assist him into the ambulance, Gerald Olifard came over to Svenson and said:
“I ought to thank you – and – and I do, of course. It was damn silly of me – not looking where I was going and so forth.” He glanced at Svenson, gauging his reaction. The American’s face was expressionless. “Look, I asked Plod – erm, Paul - to get in touch when he’s fit again and all that, but he may not have been taking it all in. You will pass the message on, won’t you? It’s been an awfully long time, but I’d really like to see him again – to thank him in person and know he’s okay. If he’d like to come and stay while he recovers, he’d be more than welcome. Of course, you as well, Mr Svenson. I have an estate in the north country, be happy to see you both there. I… I need his advice: he’s always been the quick-witted one – such a level-headed type of chap and… and jolly bright. He might know how – have some ideas about – sorting things out, you know? If he’s prepared to forgive all this, of course.” Olifard waved a hand around the confused street scene. “But Plod was never one to hold a grudge, as I expect you know?”
“Fine, fine – absolutely. He may not have been taking it all in, as I said – understandable under the circs. I mean, would you tell him for me? He has my home address and he can always get me there, they’ll let me know if I’m away. I’d appreciate it – you telling him – I feel a cad for imposing on him under the circs, but Plod – well, he’s an old friend and one you can rely on, you know?”
Svenson nodded again, weighing up Olifard’s words and agitated state with an experienced and perceptive eye.
“Just hope he does forgive me: but he knows I’ve always been a clumsy oaf. I’m sure he will forgive me…?”
The sentence ended in what Svenson recognised was a plea for reassurance.
“Of course I’ll tell Paul. I’m sure he won’t hold you responsible for his injury and, whatever the police say now, I doubt there will be any legal action, Mr Olifard; Paul isn’t going to press any charges, believe me. Don’t worry about it, I’m sure he’ll be pleased to get in touch with you again when he’s fit. You just take care of your wife and yourself.”
Olifard glanced at his wife, who was already in the ambulance receiving attention from the paramedics. Svenson saw a slight frown appear between his dark brows and wondered afresh at the cause of the argument between them.
Realising he was under a watchful surveillance, Olifard gave a weak smile and nodded. “Got to take care of the ladies, eh? Always take care of them.”
Svenson nodded and said nothing.
Olifard returned to his original topic. “Paul’s always been a decent chap – he’s one of the best. Not surprised he did the mannerly thing and pulled me out the way; he’s never been one to stop and think, rather the man-of-action-type. Damn lucky for me he was around and decent of him, and you too, Mr Svenson, to lend a hand. Sorry we seem to have spoilt your evening.”
“Oh, please don’t give it a second thought,” Svenson said dryly, reacting to what he considered to be Olifard’s manner of ‘ultra-Englishness’ with some asperity. He knew enough Englishmen and women now to know that Bertie Wooster was no longer alive and living in London. However, his curiosity got the better of him and he asked the still somewhat chastened Englishman, “ How long have you known Paul, Mr Olifard?”
“Plod? Oh, I’ve known him for years, in fact, we were at school together. He was the House sportsman and I was the House duffer.” He gave a self-depreciating laugh. “You know what they say: opposites attract? We got to be good friends. He was always getting me out of scrapes.”
Svenson nodded. “That sounds like Paul, right enough. But, if I could just ask? Why Plod?”
Olifard gave a shaky laugh. “His initials, of course: P. C. Metcalfe; that just had to be Plod the Policeman, didn’t it? Like me: my parents lumbered me with Gerald George Ireby Olifard – well, that’s G.G. – Gee-gee, like the horses, so they called me Horsey.”
Svenson nodded and said, “Very… er… very- imaginative.”
“Silly schoolboy wit, Mr Svenson, but it stays with you a lifetime,” Olifard said, saving his companion from the problem of being polite about a long-exhausted joke.
“Yes, there are some things you can never get shot of… however hard you try,” came the surprisingly cryptic response.
The medical helijet did not go to the American Embassy, but instead it went straight back to Cloudbase. Once he was safely installed in the recovery room set aside for his sole use, Captain Scarlet had to endure a lecture from Doctor Fawn, and then another from Colonel White, about taking due care and attention and avoiding situations where any hint of his alien-given ability to recover from any wound in an inordinately short space of time, might be revealed.
“Now we’re in a situation where someone you know has seen you suffer an injury. You must not contact them again until you would have recovered under normal circumstances,” the colonel said, with a stern glance.
“Captain Blue ensured they didn’t get too close a view of my leg,” Scarlet muttered defensively. The shattered leg bones were almost healed and the extensive bruising was fading to storm-grey and dull-sulphuric-yellow patches. At that moment it was itching like hell.
Scarlet fought the urge to scratch and continued, “Besides, sir, you couldn’t have expected me not to have intervened, even if I hadn’t known who it was – and I wasn’t sure until the very last moment that it was Horsey – I mean, Gerald - Olifard.”
“Hummfph,” White snorted. “If you can’t be trusted not to get into these situations, I shall have to think long and hard about curtailing your furlough, so that we can protect the truth.”
“I was minding my own business walking back to my hotel,” Scarlet protested. “I didn’t ask to have a marital drama acted out in front of me.”
Fawn stepped in. “That’s true, Colonel. Fate has an knack of forcing an individual’s hand sometimes. I’m sure the situation with Mr and Mrs Olifard can be handled diplomatically.”
“Jerry’s an honest fellow and he’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer,” Scarlet said. “It’s unlikely he’ll make an intuitive leap to the facts and, even if by some chance he does, he wouldn’t say anything.”
“He had better not,” the colonel said, as he turned to leave.
“So he said that you – well, we, but mostly you – were welcome to go and stay at his family home in the north somewhere, while you recuperated,” Blue said, in-between munching the grapes from the bowl beside Scarlet’s bed.
“It’s in Cumberland. I went there for a few holidays when I was a kid and my parents were out of the country. It was either there with Horsey or stay with my aunts in the country. Horsey was definitely the better option. We used to go hacking and camping about the fells.” Scarlet indulged in a wander down memory lane. “I used to say I was going to Horsey’s brothel because I assumed it would shock my aunts – and I thought I was being so clever.”
“Why did you say that?” Blue asked, surprised.
Rather sheepishly, Scarlet explained, “The place is called Torpenhow Hall, and there’s a little village not far away called Bothel.”
“My, what wits you boys were.”
Scarlet glared at him. “It’s near Cockermouth, out in the country. And stop sniggering, Adam.”
“I wasn’t. It sounds very bucolic; and about as far away from Cloudbase as you could get.”
“Yeah, but the colonel isn’t exactly keen on me seeing Horsey again – at least not until I’d have recovered if I wasn’t retrometabolic.”
“Are you gonna go and see him?”
“Why shouldn’t I, in due course?”
“No reason; it’s just that it strikes me that he … well, he wasn’t too grateful to have been rescued from certain death… if you follow me?” Scarlet was staring at him in some confusion. “I just got the impression that …” He hesitated.
“Spit it out, Adam!”
“Okay – I got the impression that it wasn’t an accident. I think he was trying to get himself killed.”
“Horsey? No way.”
Scarlet’s reaction was instinctive and there was a silence between the two friends for some time as Paul considered his somewhat disjointed memory of the event. Then he continued:
“I admit I wasn’t in any state to observe as much as you did and that you’re not one to make these assumptions lightly, Blue-boy.”
Blue waited for the ‘but’.
“And, if you’d said that to me four or five years ago, I might’ve believed it.”
“But you don’t now?”
Scarlet shrugged. “You see, it was about then that Jerry’s first wife was murdered, along with his young son. It was a nasty business, some sort of sadistic ritual, if I remember rightly. They never caught the perpetrator. I guess Jerry would’ve had reason to top himself then – but now? I’m damn sure his wife was expecting. That suggests to me that he’s put his life together again. And good for him.”
Blue nodded thoughtfully. “She was – is – expecting. I guess you could be right, Paul, it sure sounds like it and you know him best. Poor guy, what a terrible thing to have happen in your life. Maybe he was thinking about it when he … forgot to watch his step?”
Scarlet nodded agreement. He appreciated his friend’s attempt to retract his opinion, although he sensed that Blue wasn’t totally convinced by his argument.
The American continued, “Anyway, he said he was grateful to you and he made me promise to assure you that he’s very keen to have your company – which was kinda odd too - not that your company isn’t a nice thing to have, of course. I mean … well, you know what I mean.”
“Yeah… luckily for you I do. When you’ve finished stuffing yourself with my grapes, would you mind calling a nurse… I need to pee and they won’t let me get out of bed yet. You can wait outside…”
Blue grinned. “I’d better get back anyway. I’m on duty in about forty minutes and I promised Karen I’d give her…”
“I don’t wanna know!” Scarlet interjected genially, adding, “I’m too young and sensitive to hear about such goings on.”
Blue chortled and took one final grape from the bowl as he stood up.
“Get out of here,” Scarlet protested teasingly, as his friend waved goodbye and left the recovery room.
As soon as Captain Scarlet was fit for duty, he became embroiled in a mission and quickly forgot about the invitation to visit his old friend. The spring slid past almost unnoticed on Cloudbase and it was while he and Rhapsody Angel were enjoying a week at Royal Ascot that she looked up from reading her newspaper over breakfast and said:
“Paul, don’t you know a Gerald Olifard?” He nodded and she read, “There’s an announcement in the Births column: Olifard, Gerald and Cynthia (née Cameron) a son, Jonathan Cameron Ireby Olifard, at Torpenhow Hall, Cumbria. I used to know a Cynthia Cameron, her father’s in the diplomatic corps and worked with Daddy a few times. I wonder if it’s the same Cynthia? That’d be something, wouldn’t it? If my old friend had married your old friend?”
“Yes, it would. It must be the same one. There can’t be two people with names like that. Jonathan Cameron? Poor kid; you’d think Horsey would have learnt about the tyranny of initials, wouldn’t you?”
Lady Dianne Simms grinned. “Oh yes; Adam told me about your school nickname! Plod!”
“You wait till I see Svenson again… I’ll seriously damage his matinee idol mush for him …”
She reached out towards him. “Never mind; if you come here and give me a nice big kiss, Mr Policeman, I’ll tell you what his nickname at school was …”
“And how do you know that, may I ask?”
“A certain Angel told me, of course. I didn’t ask how she’d wormed it out of him, but no doubt she enjoyed herself doing so.”
He chuckled and swept her into a close embrace. “I might even go further than a mere kiss for such prime blackmail material….”
“Damn, I knew I should’ve played hard to get….”
Captain Scarlet came to in the recovery room again and screwed his eyes up against the light. There was an answering movement to the side and he tried to turn his head to see who it was – although he had a pretty good idea.
“Don’t try to move,” Blue said, leaning over so that Scarlet could see him. “That fall broke your spine in several places. Fawn’s got you strapped up so that your bones heal straight.”
Scarlet tried to speak and frowned as no sounds came out.
“Yeah, you’ve lost your voice too. Fawn said that might’ve happened. You’re effectively paraplegic, for the moment. I’ll go get him, shall I?” Blue rolled his eyes. “Oh… yeah, sorry… One blink for yes, two for no?”
Scarlet blinked once, very deliberately.
“This is a significantly serious injury,” Fawn said relentlessly. “Multiple breaks in the spinal nerve, and there’s tissue damage as well from the explosion. I’m sorry, but I don’t think even someone with retrometabolism should be back on full duty so quickly.”
“But-” Scarlet tried to reason.
“No buts. Colonel, I refuse to sign Captain Scarlet back to full duty for at least a month.”
“And what if we have another Mysteron threat?” Scarlet snapped.
“They’ll cope without you; they’re big boys now,” Fawn said.
“But if they don’t…” Scarlet persisted.
Colonel White cut in to stop the argument. “Doctor Fawn is right, Captain. You have suffered several serious injuries in a short space of time. I have to accept his medical judgement that this is the worst of them. You are off duty for one month starting at midnight. You may leave Cloudbase at any time during the next fortnight, if you wish, but I will not authorise you doing anything strenuous. Give yourself time to recover completely; then come back and we’ll see about some light duties, if Fawn’s satisfied with your physical state.”
“And that’s a damn big IF,” Fawn warned him.
Released from Sick Bay, Scarlet returned to his quarters and moped about trying to decide if he ought to go home or not. His mother would be sure to know that he’d been signed off as unfit. She had – he suspected – recruited operatives around the base to act as her eyes and ears and keep her informed of his well-being through some seemingly all-pervading maternal bush telegraph. That would mean endless cosseting and enormous meals three times a day. If he didn’t eat them, she’d worry and if he did, he’d probably need a whole new wardrobe as nothing he owned now would fit him any longer.
He couldn’t ask Blue to come with him; the American had used up most of his leave already – his inevitable ploy to avoid going home for the Christmas festivities – and besides, they’d be short-handed, so he’d be needed on Cloudbase.
There was a knock on his door and he rather grumpily said, “Come in,” expecting it to be Fawn with yet more restrictions on what he was allowed to do during his medical leave.
To his delight, it was Rhapsody Angel who stood just inside the door and looked at him.
“Dianne! How nice to see you!” He strode across and hugged her.
“You’ve decided you’re going to go home then?” she asked, when he relaxed his hug enough for her to breathe again.
Paul shrugged. “I don’t want to but I don’t know where else to go and I’ve got no one to go with,” he concluded, not realising how woebegone he sounded.
She smiled rather apologetically. “Well, maybe I can help you there, Paul. You see, I’ve had a letter: it arrived a few weeks ago and I have decided that now is the right time to share it with you.”
“That sounds serious; perhaps you’d better sit down? Dump that washing on the floor, I was going to put it away when I’d packed,” he lied.
Rhapsody left the washing where it was and perched on the edge of the chair. She opened the pale blue envelope in her hand and unfolded the several sheets of paper.
“A real letter? You don’t see them much these days,” he said. So much mail was electronic, postage rates were prohibitive and receiving a ‘proper’ letter was a rarity which served to underline the importance of the message it carried.
“Yes,” she replied. “It’s from Cynthia Olifard. Remember I told you she’d had her baby this summer? Well, I sent them a card and something for the baby from both of us from my parents’ address.”
“You did? You never said; I’d have contributed…”
She put a finger to her lips. “Doesn’t matter. Cyn wrote to me ‘care of’ my parents and they forwarded this to me. She says she didn’t want to write to you directly, although Jerry had your parents’ address, of course, because she didn’t want him to know what she was doing. She asked me to let you know all about it, but when the letter first arrived you were in Sick Bay.”
“Okay, I understand. What does Cynthia want?”
“She’s worried, Paul, and she’s asking for your help.”
“Worried? What about?”
“About Jerry,” Dianne replied. “He’s acting strangely and she’s … un-nerved by him.”
“Horsey always was a bit of a twerp, but he’s harmless. I presume she knew he was a bit of a duffer before she married him,” Paul said, with a dismissive shrug. “Bit late to worry about it now.”
“No, it is something more than that,” Dianne said. “She says she can’t explain it properly in a letter but she asks me to beg you – she uses that very word – to beg you to come and stay with them and try to help Jerry through the next few critical weeks.”
“Critical? How long ago did she write this?” Frowning, Paul reached for the letter, but Dianne withheld it.
“While you were in Sick Bay, you couldn’t have done anything and I wasn’t going to worry you about it then, was I? That’s why I think it is the right time now, because you have the opportunity to help, if you want to. I think she’s frightened, Paul, and she’s asking for help.”
“Frightened? No one in their right mind would be frightened of Gerald Olifard.” He shook his head sceptically and yet she could see the concern in his eyes.
“I didn’t say she was frightened of him, and neither did she, but she is frightened for him. She says he won’t see or talk to anyone about his anxieties. She thinks the only person he’d talk to is you. She says that since you saved his life in London he’s become convinced that you’re the man to resolve his concerns. He’s told her so.”
Dianne consulted the letter and read aloud: “ ‘Jerry’s current mantra is: Plod’s a decent chap and a clever one too, he’d know what to do. He must be better by now; I wish he’d get in touch’.” She folded her letter and zipped it into her uniform pocket. “Do you want me to tell her you’re too busy sulking to go and help, after all that?”
“I am not sulking,” he asserted sharply. “I just think Fawn’s worrying unnecessarily. I’m perfectly fit enough to go back on duty.” He looked at her sceptically. “You sure you didn’t cook this up to get me to go on holiday?” he asked.
She sighed at his suspicious outburst and went to place her hands on his shoulders, looking up into his sapphire-blue eyes with a sweet smile.
“Don’t you trust me?”
In answer he kissed her passionately.
“Okay,” he said when they eventually parted, breathless and dishevelled. “I’ll go and stay with Horsey, if that’s what you want. Although I don’t know what use I can be if this is just a domestic tiff between the Olifards; I’m not a marriage guidance guru.”
“If it is something like that, just be your usual charming self and listen sympathetically, without being judgemental. Perhaps you can act as an intermediary, passing on messages…”
“And banging heads together,” he interjected.
She sighed. “I hope for their sake that Cynthia isn’t expecting you to advise Jerry on how to handle a woman.”
“I know exactly how to handle a woman… come here and I’ll show you.”
“No thank you, you’ve already demonstrated your skills in that direction quite adequately for one day.”
He grinned at her. “You’ll regret not accepting my offer when I’ve been away for weeks and weeks,” he warned her. “Just you behave yourself while I’m away, d’you hear?”
She smirked, patted his cheek, straightened her uniform tunic and sauntered away towards the door. “You too,” she replied, winking at him as the door opened and she slipped through.
“Symphony’s a bad influence on her….” Paul said to the empty room and grinned, adding, “thankfully.”
Captain Blue came down to the hangar deck with Scarlet to wave him off. “Well, looks like you’ve managed to get your wish this year: you’ll be away from Cloudbase for Halloween,” he remarked conversationally, as they watched the shuttle being readied for flight.
“There is that added bonus,” Scarlet agreed. “So I should be grateful for small mercies. I mean, I shan’t have to witness Ochre playing inane tricks on everyone or you giggling like a schoolboy when Karen comes trick or treating.”
Blue shook his head. “You’re not above playing the odd inane trick yourself, Paul – or at least, you never used to be,” he amended, seeing Scarlet about to dispute the statement. “You really don’t like Halloween any more, do you? And yet, it’s just a bit of fun.”
“Fun? It brings out the infantile in all of you Yanks - even you. And I get criticised for not entering into the spirit of the thing. Yet ever since I was Mysteronised and managed, by whatever fluke of Fate, to escape their clutches, every Halloween results in me being targeted by some malevolent force, or circumstance, that leads to suffering or death. Even when I escape physically, there’s a crisis of self confidence or some other mental anguish waiting to juggle with my mind. Is it any wonder I’d rather do anything other than participate in the stupidity?”
“Can I take it they won’t be doing anything to celebrate at Torpenhow Hall?” Blue asked, as they walked out to the shuttle craft and Scarlet handed his luggage over to the steward.
“No, Horsey’s always hated Halloween. It’s one of his most commendable qualities.”
“Well then, I guess there can’t possibly be anything that could go wrong that far from civilisation.”
“Oi, watch it, you erstwhile colonial, you. There’s plenty of civilisation around there. I happen to know that the old church was built in the eleven-hundreds, with stones taken from the local Roman encampment. I haven’t seen anything in Boston, Mass., to compete with that!”
“I bet the Roman legionaries would’ve taken my side in the discussion,” Blue declared, with a cheerful smile, as his friend prepared to embark. “There can’t have been much to remind them of their sunny Mediterranean homes around Torpenhow Hall.”
“True, there wasn’t even a pizza delivery service last time I was there,” Scarlet said.
They smirked at each other, and both of them grinned before breaking into convivial laughter.
“Have a great time, Paul. See you in a fortnight,” Blue called, as he backed away towards the observation booth.
“Don’t pay Karen too many forfeits!” Scarlet yelled in reply, with a parting wave.
Minutes later the plane was lifted to the lower runway and sped away into the open sky.
Captain Scarlet flew into London airport and left the SPJ in the secure hangar, with a farewell wave to the duty pilot. He wandered over to the main airport departures hall where he got on his pre-booked flight to Prestwick airport, where Jerry Olifard was expecting to meet him.
His luggage of one medium-sized case was testimony to his years in the World Army Airforce and the knack of travelling light. He carried one other bag in which he had gifts for his host, hostess and their baby son. He’d bought them in the duty free at London and hoped that although they were not very imaginative, they’d be appreciated.
He had to admit that he was looking forward to a break somewhere no one knew anything about his career. Going home was always a pleasure, but his father was a WAAF General and both he and his mother knew he was in Spectrum, so they expected to be told what had been going on and were armed with questions about missions the World Press were only allowed to report in brief.
It’ll be a relaxing week with Horsey and then I’ll go and see the Aged Parents before I get Fawn to let me go back on duty,” he planned, as the plane took off on the short flight north. Adam’s right: what could possibly go wrong?
Jerry was delighted to see Paul again, and commented on how well he was looking.
“No long term consequences from that accident? I was so sorry, Plod – really you can’t imagine how bad I felt – do feel – about it.”
“I’m fine, Horsey. No damage done. How’re you and Cynthia – and the new baby, of course?”
“Fine, fine! We’re all fine!” Jerry gave a nervous laugh. “Here’s the car. I’ll drive. I’ll put your things in the back, Plod. Strap yourself in. Comfy? Good. Off we go.”
Paul leant back in the passenger seat and listened reflectively to Jerry’s ceaseless, nervous chatter. Gerald Olifard had always been highly strung and he could imagine that he was – as he insisted – embarrassed and apologetic about the incident in Piccadilly, but surely this was down to more than that?
Jerry’s mother had been a Spaniard and as a boy he’d been small and wiry. He was now about average height and thin, almost to the point of emaciation, his deep-brown eyes staring dully from a sallow-skinned, gaunt face. Paul noticed that the bones in his wrist were clearly visible as his hands gripped the steering wheel.
Paul interrupted the monologue to ask: “How’ve you been, Horsey? You look tired. Baby keeping you up nights?”
Olifard gave a nervous laugh. “He’s a grand chap, he really is. Getting on fine, growing like… like Topsy – isn’t that what you say about them? I, I see him every day - for a while. You know new mothers, always over-protective. He, he stays with Cyn. That’s the best way.”
“How old is he now?”
“Four months. Grand chap – absolutely splendid.”
“I’m sure he is.”
They had left the city behind them and were past Carlisle and out in the countryside when, in the distance, Paul saw the lights of a public house.
“Can we stop, Horsey? I could do with using the loo and… let’s have a drink. I miss a decent pint when I’m away from home. You can’t get one where I’m stationed most of the time.”
Olifard pulled into the car park and they went into the bar. Paul went to the gents, while Jerry got the drinks: a pint of best bitter for Paul and a half pint of lemonade shandy for himself.
Paul drank deeply, savouring the taste. “Ah, you just can’t beat a good pint,” he remarked.
Jerry was sipping his drink and smiling nervously. Paul decided not to beat about the bush. “Horsey, what’s wrong? You’re as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Look, if it is anything to do with the accident in London-”
“No! No, no – not London. Dreadfully sorry though – never meant to hurt anyone else. Safer in London though.”
“We all are. But you were there to… like a miracle. It was as if you were sent to show me there might be a way – and stop me…”
“Stop you from trying to get yourself killed?” Paul asked compassionately. “I got really mad with Adam when he said that’s what he reckoned you were trying to do. Were you, Horsey?”
Jerry looked at him for a moment and then looked away. “I wondered if he’d thought that. He’s clever – your friend.”
“Yes, he is,” Paul agreed, acknowledging that Blue’s initial assessment of the incident had been right after all.
“I’m sorry. Shouldn’t’ve got you involved.”
“Horsey, this is Plod you’re talking to: forget what happened to me. You must remember old Wilberforce saying I had a rubber hide? Like one of those old kids’ toys you can never knock down? After all these years in the military I’m as tough as old boots. Look, I don’t know what’s been happening since we last met but if I can help, I will.”
There was no response to this, so Paul tried again. “I heard about what happened to Natasha and I was very sorry.” He placed his hand on Olifard’s arm and the man jumped in alarm. He removed it quickly and Jerry calmed down again. Paul was even more concerned and said evenly, “I can’t help if you won’t talk to me, Jerry.”
There was a long silence, during which Paul finished his drink. He looked around the pub and came to a decision.
“Give me the keys and I’ll get my stuff out of the car. I can stay here tonight and get the train back to Winchester tomorrow.”
“No! No, please. I just can’t talk here, it’s all too private. Please stay, I need your help, Paul.”
“Come on then.”
They went out to the car park and sat in the car.
“Now, what’s going on?” Paul demanded.
Olifard sighed deeply and covered his face with his hands. “I think I’m going mad, Plod. I thought it had happened again – I swear, I thought I saw the revenge of Gillon Bane. I couldn’t bear it, not again. Cyn – dear Cyn – she’s scared of me since she heard about Gillon Bane and she won’t trust me alone with the baby. She thinks I’m crazy enough to do him harm. Maybe I am crazy, but I could never harm her or the boy, Paul. It’s too cruel of her to believe that of me.”
He began to cry, shivering and rocking back and forth.
Paul had often dealt with the shock of trauma in the course of his military career. He’d seen grown men – strong men – crack under the relentless horror of Mysteron attacks and the strain of their threats. He’d seen tiredness and demoralisation wear down the even the most resilient characters, and had experienced the blackness of despair himself a time or two, but this looked more like a complete emotional breakdown and he was at a loss what to do.
“You want to tell me about it?” he asked quietly.
Jerry didn’t answer, he just sat and stared out of the car window. After a long silence, Paul said quietly:
“Give me the keys; I’ll drive.”
Paul almost manhandled Jerry into the passenger seat, wrestled with the controls of the in-car satnav to find the quickest route home and started the engine. The short October day was already drawing to its close, so he switched on the headlights and drove as fast as he could towards Torpenhow Hall and the warmth and care his friend so obviously needed.
As they approached their destination, with the sky unbroken by either man-made light or the moon, Paul realised that Torpenhow Hall was as extraordinary as he remembered.
The original building, known as ‘The Old Hall’ had been little more than a strongly fortified Manor House, with thick walls, narrow windows and strong doors. Since then, generations of Irebys and Olifards had added rambling extensions to the main building, so that it represented an inharmonious hotchpotch of architectural styles and fashions. With its narrow, deep-set windows and round turrets, the Old Hall combined with the later building to give an impression of melancholic severity.
Contrary to expectation, it was the later parts of the building that were unlived in. Many of the windows on the west side of the house had been boarded up following a disastrous fire in the 1840s that had blackened the stones of the old Hall, but left the original squat building largely undamaged. There had been no funds to repair the whole building and so most of it had been abandoned and left to moulder, in the hope that one day the family would be able to restore it to its former glory.
Although Jerry’s Guardian, his father’s cousin Matthew, had declared it out of bounds during Paul’s visits, with the careless exuberance of youth the schoolboys had still used it for their exciting games. Since then, the roof had partly collapsed and now the building looked even more unstable.
As they drove along the winding drive from the single-track road to the house, through the open deer park where mature trees, leafless and stark, stood like sentinels against the encroaching hillsides, Paul realised that what had seemed a freedom-giving remoteness to two schoolboys during the balmy days of those long-gone summer holidays, was in fact a forbidding isolation.
Cynthia Olifard must have been waiting for them to arrive as she was at the door before Paul had switched off the engine. She was obviously surprised to see him driving and her hand went to her mouth as she saw Gerald sitting in the passenger seat.
Paul got out and went to her.
“Hello, good to see you, Mrs Olifard.”
“Cyn, please. Everyone calls me Cyn. Good to see you, Paul – thank you for coming… thank you so much!”
She was staring hard at her husband.
“Jerry’s just a little over-tired, I think. I thought it best to let him rest, so I drove,” Paul explained.
She went round the car and opened the door. “Come on, Jerry. I’ll make you some tea and you and Paul can sit by the fire.”
He gave her his hand and, like a child, allowed himself to be led indoors.
Paul collected his gear, locked the car and followed them inside. He felt great compassion for them both and hoped his visit would lift Jerry out of his depression, so, although he suspected that things may have gone too far for him to be of much help, he decided he would stay and do what he could.
The next hour provided all the evidence he needed that making any progress with Jerry was going to be hard work. Cynthia Olifard was a perfect hostess, but her husband remained silent, rocking backwards and forwards and shaking as if he was chilled to the bone. This was despite the huge log fire that burned in the stone grate and the heat being pumped out by the old-fashioned radiators that lined the tapestry-covered and oak-panelled walls. Finally, after Jerry had refused the offer of food, she suggested they all call it a night and Paul agreed. He felt surprisingly tired and had to admit that maybe Doctor Fawn was right after all and he wasn’t fully recovered.
He followed the Olifards up the dark oak staircase that clung to the rough stone wall of the Great Hall that served as the family’s main living room. Jerry turned towards their room without speaking to Paul but, as they parted at the top, Cynthia said:
“I need to talk to you; would you give me time to settle Jerry and feed Jonnie and – if you don’t mind – met me in the Hall in about an hour?”
Paul nodded, called goodnight to Jerry and went to his room. He lay down on the bed, fully clothed and set his wristwatch alarm for fifty minutes. Then he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep without any problem.
His retrometabolism meant that he rarely needed much sleep to feel refreshed, but it was his military training as much as his alien abilities that allowed him to come to full alertness so quickly when the alarm went off, orientating himself in the mere blink of an eye. He was feeling hungry now and hoped that there would be something cold in the kitchen that he could snack on.
About fifteen minutes later, Cynthia came downstairs in a long, silver-white dressing gown and joined him by the fireplace, sitting across the open hearth from him.
“I am sorry I haven’t had much chance to welcome you to our home, Paul. I hope that you’ll make yourself comfortable here. Help yourself to whatever you need. We have a cook who comes in daily, and a live-in nurse; Jerry doesn’t always sleep all night these days and I can’t leave him alone to go and deal with the baby. Rita helps with the baby and keeps an eye on Jerry – on his bad days.”
Paul nodded, wondering how often Jerry had ‘bad days’ and how bad they were if they needed a live-in nurse. Cynthia looked pale and drawn and he felt a surge of sympathy for her; it can’t have been easy living in such an out-of-the-way place with a new baby and a sick husband. He decided that his best policy was not to question her too much about her family and so he changed the subject to one that was – in his mind – equally as pressing.
“Do you think I could have something to eat?”
“Of course! Come to the kitchen and let’s see what we can find.”
The kitchen was large and warm, heated by an old Rayburn. They found some cold steak pie and both sat at the sturdy wooden table that occupied the middle of the room.
“Now,” Paul said, as he finished a mouthful and wiped his hands on the kitchen towel provided. “What’s going on, Cyn? Why is Jerry like this?”
She shook her head. “I can only guess. I met Jerry through his first wife – Natasha. Tasha was a friend of mine; I got to know her while my father was working at the Russian Embassy. Her father is an oligarch who made his money from oil. Tasha met Jerry in Paris and moved to London – to share my flat – in order to be with him.”
“I was invited to the wedding,” Paul remarked, “but I was at West Point and I wasn’t able to make it, so I never met her.”
“Tasha was wonderful: beautiful, lively and devoted to Jerry. They were very happy. It was obvious to see.”
“It must’ve been a terrible shock, what happened to her,” he said quietly, unsure if she’d want to talk about it, yet sure in his own mind that this terrible tragedy was linked to Jerry’s mental anguish.
Cynthia nodded. “It was terrible. Poor Jerry was in the Middle East when it happened. He was working as a trainee for a bank.”
Despite himself, Paul chuckled. “I can’t imagine Jerry doing that. He had to take his socks off to count over ten when I knew him. He was the only person at school who’d spend his term’s allowance during the first week and confidently still expect to have money left the following week. I’d love to know what he was training to be in a bank.…”
Cynthia smiled dryly. “Ah, it isn’t what you know, but who in some circles. Even these days.”
“Yeah, so I understand.” Paul hesitated and drew the conversation back on the track he wanted. “I’m glad that Jerry has put his life together again, with you. He spoke so lovingly of you and the baby that I could see how much you both mean to him. But, I have to ask, Cynthia, was it wise to come and live here? Given what happened to Natasha and their child, it must be hard for Jerry to forget it all, especially at the exact location.”
“It’s not through choice. Jerry never wanted to bring either of us here,” she replied sharply. “Natasha’s father paid for their London home, but that stopped after the murder. He maintained that Jerry had paid an assassin to murder his wife, so that he could have her money. That’s just plain ridiculous, Jerry adored her and he has no concept of money, as you know. Mr Chernovitch even employed a detective to try and find the killer when the police closed the investigation – but there were no leads. He’s kept hounding Jerry since – he lost him his job in the City through vague and unspecified rumours about him. There’s nothing Jerry can do about it, of course. It’s so unfair!”
“That can’t have helped Jerry’s state of mind,” Paul agreed.
“Jerry tried to explain, but you know what he gets like, he lacks a ‘killer instinct’, for want of a better word and he doesn’t know how to deal with people who do have one. He couldn’t stop the rumours and they were so vague as to have made it difficult for anyone to refute them. Once you lose your good name in that business, you’re finished. He had a bit of a breakdown when he lost his job, ended up on my doorstep seeking sanctuary. I guess I fell for him then.”
“Lucky you did,” Paul said. “He needed a friend. But, if Jerry didn’t want to live at Torpenhow, why were they here at all?”
“While Jerry was away on business for the bank, in the Middle East, his Cousin Matthew died. He’d been ill for quite a while. Tasha decided she must attend the funeral, which was here in the village church. She’d met Matthew and Jane at the wedding, so she wanted to be with Jane to help, as they had no children of their own. She brought the baby with her, of course.”
“And what happened?”
“They stayed here. Two days after the funeral, someone broke in to the Hall at night. The daily found the bodies the next day when she arrived.”
“It was pretty horrific, as I understand,” Paul said.
Cynthia nodded. “They’d been mutilated. Cousin Jane, Natasha and Little Michael all butchered with a knife so that their blood had drained from their bodies.”
Paul put his hand on hers. She withdrew quickly and thrust her hands into the pockets of her dressing gown.
“And Jerry?” he asked quickly, to cover his embarrassment and what he considered a rejection of his sympathy.
“Arrived hotfoot from London that afternoon. He was beside himself with grief. There was nothing to tie him to the murder, so he wasn’t a suspect – no one was – that was part of the problem.”
“And why did you come here, Cyn, because I’m sure I read that Jonathan was born here.”
She looked straight into his eyes with a stern expression, as if she thought he was in some way holding her responsible for Jerry’s condition.
“It is unfair of me to make you talk about this, I know,” he continued, “and I’m sorry; but I think Jerry’s problems stem from reliving that dreadful experience. Delayed shock is a powerful emotion.”
“I know, and I am sure it has affected him. He was upset when I got pregnant and when Jonathan was born here, I thought he’d go crazy.”
“Why were you here? I mean, I take it that wasn’t the plan?”
She shook her head. “Jonnie was a few weeks premature and arrived unexpectedly. Everything was okay… Jonnie’s fine, but I hadn’t expected it to happen. You see, Jerry said he had to be here for the annual fete. It’s held in the park and has been every year since the Flood, at least, according to the locals. You know the sort of thing: ‘There’s always been a Ireby to open the fete’ like so many Great Aunt Ada Dooms.”
“Yeah, traditions die hard.”
“Well, since I’d become pregnant, things had been a little… fraught between us; you saw us arguing in London that night he tried to get himself run over. I didn’t want him coming here on his own because I thought it might unsettle him to be here alone, and so I insisted on coming too. Of course, when I went into labour, he no doubt thought I was doing it on purpose. As if you can arrange that sort of thing to order.”
“But you are still here,” Paul observed as neutrally as possible.
“Jonnie had to go into hospital locally to make sure he was okay and when we got him home, Jerry was in no state to go back to London looking for a new job or anything at all, really. I got his authority to sell some of the timber from the park to make some money. That deal has taken a while to complete.”
Paul nodded sympathetically, then asked his next question. “What is Gillon Bane?”
Cynthia’s head came up sharply and she glared at him across the table. “Has Jerry been talking about that? It’s a stupid old legend used to frighten children into behaving. I’ve told Jerry to forget it, but he keeps harping on about it. It isn’t normal to be so obsessed about something so stupid.”
“What’s the legend about?”
“Some disgruntled servant stalking a daughter of the house way back in the dark ages, probably. She’s murdered, he’s hanged. End of story.” She looked at Paul with severity. “You can’t help Jerry by letting him dwell on Gillon Bane.”
“When he mentioned it to me I could see he was frightened,” Paul explained. “An irrational fear of something might be part of the symptoms of his condition.”
“It must’ve been some insensitive Nanny filling his head with Halloween horrors. Jerry hates Halloween to this day.”
“So do I,” Paul confessed. “I consider myself a rational man, Cyn, but I admit I don’t know or understand everything in this world or the next. There’s more goes on than people realise.”
“Don’t encourage him,” she pleaded. “He’s vulnerable enough without you shoring up his fantastical delusions.”
“Oh, believe me, I have no truck with fantastical delusions; I like nothing more than a quiet Halloween. But, sometimes you can rationalise these horrors and it helps.”
“I don’t even want it mentioned! Don’t you understand? I’m frightened for his sanity and our safety; while Jerry is convinced there’s some eternal evil dogging his family, he won’t let it rest. There’s no way to fight an enemy you can’t see, touch or hear, but Jerry won’t stop trying!”
Paul stared down at his hands for a long moment and said quietly, “Just because you can’t see, touch or hear it, it doesn’t mean something isn’t dangerous. There are forces active in the world today that no one sees, but which cause unimaginable damage. I know: I’m a soldier and my job with the World Government is in security. I take invisible foes very seriously.”
“That isn’t what I meant, Paul. Terrorists don’t have superhuman strength and take excessive revenge for centuries! Jerry’s enemy is all in his head!”
“You may be right. Believe me, Cyn, I’ll do all I can to help Jerry through these next few days. You can rely on me, but I think, in the long run, you might have to get him professional help.”
“I know that, but if it can be dealt with without doing that, it would be so much better for Jerry. He already feels he’s let everyone down and I don’t want to exacerbate that. Thank you, Paul. Jerry was right, you’re a good friend.”
“I try to be,” Paul replied. “Now, you better go and get some sleep – you’re getting cold sitting here. I’ll check the place is all secure for the night.”
After she had gone, Paul helped himself to another beer from the pantry and then wandered round checking windows and doors. He’d never been superstitious, but his experiences with the Mysterons and the events of recent Halloweens had given him a healthy scepticism when it came to the fabled nature of the supernatural. All too often he had found himself in danger from something that shouldn’t have posed a threat. Now he felt that he could take the fact that his old friend believed there was a vengeful ghost threatening his family in his stride.
When Torpenhow Hall was as secure as was humanly possible, Paul sat beside the dying embers of the fire with his beer. He stared for an age into the red embers and dwelt on the reality of his existence: the fact that if Jerry knew the truth about him, it might seem that he was second cousin to the dreaded Gillon Bane. He sighed deeply and finished the beer.
Then, feeling the need for contact with someone who understood the moods created by his special circumstances and determined to be as positive as possible, he drew his mobile phone from his pocket and texted a message to Adam’s personal number.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, the Good Lord protect us both. Have a scary Halloween. Whatever happens on Cloudbase I’m sure I can top it. I’ve been designated to rout the vengeful Gillon Bane. Even Rick’s tricks might’ve been preferable. Yours, Paul.
Of course, Adam might not see it before the Halloween festivities started, but when he did, he’d text something back – for sure. Even if it was only ‘WTF are you on about?’
Paul grinned to himself and settled back in the armchair. It’s nice to think I’ll know something he doesn’t for once…
Paul fell asleep in the chair and woke with a start in the early hours. He stretched his stiff limbs and rubbed his neck before hauling himself out of the chair and up the grand staircase to his room. Whatever noise had woken him had stopped and Torpenhow Hall was as silent as a tomb. He stripped and fell into bed, pulling the sheets over his head to deafen the incessant rattle of the window in the strengthening wind. Eventually he slept again, although his fitful rest was disturbed by vague and disturbing dreams. When the murky daylight finally woke him, he felt more tired than before he’d fallen asleep. He stared at the wooden beams across the ceiling and wondered if the Olifards had installed a shower since he last visited.
He washed, shaved and dressed in the cold, utilitarian bathroom along the corridor from his room, and seeing no sign of anyone else up and about, went downstairs to the small room, used as a dining room. He was surprised to find dishes of bacon, sausages and scrambled egg were waiting on heated stands and proceeded to help himself to a plateful, a cup of coffee and several rounds of toast.
After appearing briefly during breakfast to explain that her baby son had ‘the sniffles’ and so she intended to spend the day with him, Cynthia Olifard disappeared back upstairs. The nurse, a rather sly-looking redhead, came down to have her breakfast and then went to catch up on her sleep, telling Paul that Jerry was ‘resting’ after a restless night and couldn’t be disturbed. So Paul accepted that this was a rare opportunity for him to spend a day quietly.
He still felt tired and had a growing unease about the slowness of his recovery from his last mission. There was no hard and fast rule to his retrometabolism; Doctor Fawn had developed several hypotheses over the years as to how and why it was, occasionally, almost instantaneous and yet at other times seemed maddeningly slow. The most popular amongst these theories was that it was affected by the amount of adrenalin in his system, and there did seem to be something in that. At the moment, he wasn’t concerned about anything much, and so he wasn’t recovering quickly. Nevertheless, the gnawing lassitude and uncertain feeling that something wasn’t right refused to leave him. Enforced idleness had always been anathema to him and he felt sure what he needed was activity - and lots of it – to complete his recovery. Instead he was alone with nothing much to do or think about.
The weather was dull and overcast, with a cold westerly wind that constantly threatened to bring rain, so there was no incentive to go out and explore the half-remembered estate. He examined the library, which he remembered as being a good one, but either his memory was playing up or Jerry had sold most of the books as there were more empty shelves than anything. He couldn’t settle to watching the television: the news was all bad or repetitive and the daytime programmes left him feeling suicidal after little more than a few minutes. It was now too wet to go outside, so he wandered down to the kitchen to ask for a cup of tea.
Mrs Shelton, the daily cook-housekeeper, was a hatchet-faced woman, with a personality that was completely at odds with that of the stereotypical round-faced and genial cook. But she made tea readily enough and, without being asked, presented Paul with a plate of melt-in-the-mouth shortbread biscuits, making no protest when he sat down at the kitchen table to watch her kneading bread.
“Have you worked here long, Mrs Shelton?” he asked.
“Aye. Long enough t’ remember you as a gammerstang bairden, Mr Metcalfe. You came wi’ Maister Jerry and pair o’you use’ t’laik an’ fistle aboot the place, getting in folk’s way whenever it were syling like today.”
“I’m sure I never did any of that,” Paul said cagily. Grinning from ear to ear, he stared for a moment and racked his memory for her name.
“I weren’t married then,” she said helpfully.
“Ellie! You’re Ellie Graham!”
“I remember: you were the housemaid here and you tried to teach Jerry and me to talk like locals! I don’t think we ever mastered it, Ellie, but we learnt enough to be able to confuse all the boys back at school. It’s good to see you! So, you stayed on here as the cook when Mrs… Mrs – don’t tell me! - Mrs Dixon – yes! – when Mrs Dixon left?”
“Well, I’m pleased to see you again, Ellie, if I may make so bold as to still address you in that way?”
“You make a geet fine cookie, Ellie. May I have another?”
“Do you mind me chatting to you, while you work? Everyone seems to be occupied today and I’m supposed to be on holiday, but it’s not much fun on your own.”
“Nae, I can crack an’ wuk a’ t’same time.”
“Ellie, I have to confess: it’s a long time since I spoke any Cumbrian, so you might have to tone it down for a mere offcomer.” He laughed at her glance of approval.
“Seeing that you’re a local, Ellie, and, as I recall, you were a mine of information when Jerry or I needed to know anything, can I ask you about something Jerry said to me yesterday?”
“Tha can ask.”
“What do you know about Gillon Bane?”
She stopped kneading the dough and looked at the young man opposite her for a moment. Paul returned her stare with what he hoped was an expression of honest interest in his eyes. He knew better than to rush her and sat with commendable patience as she resumed kneading for a few moments, then set the bowl aside to prove and poured herself a cup of tea from the old brown pot on the Rayburn.
As if coming to a decision, she sat opposite Paul and took one of her biscuits, munching half of it before she spoke again.
“’ow much d’you know aboot t’ Irebys?” she asked.
“Not a lot. The family lived here for centuries, then, in the 19th Century, I think, one of the daughters married a Olifard and they inherited the estate.”
She nodded and her voice took on the sing-song lilt of someone retelling a well-known story from memory. “Ahreet, weel back in time the land belong’ t’ Sir William Ireby. Torpenhow were a much smaller place than now, probably no more’n a fortified farmhouse.”
“Sir William ha’ t’reputation as an hard man, cruel towards his tenants. He were not liked. But there were one thing he loved more’n his lands and more’n gold – his daughter. He loved her so much he called her Pearl. Lady Pearl had everything she asked for an’ Sir William schemed to make a great match for her.”
“Sounds familiar, I expect that’s happened in many families,” Paul said. “Probably still does.”
Ellie Shelton nodded and remarked, “Aye, she wa’ probably secca spoilt brat as any ‘Lady Pearl’ you might meet today, but nobody dared say as much, I expect.”
Her voice resumed its recitation tone as she took up the story once more: “One year, Scottish reivers came owwer the border, raiding for cattle, and burnt Torpenhow. Sir William swore he’d rebuild so as no man should ever burn it again. He scour’ t’countryside for stone masons and set them to work.”
“That would be this part of the house? The Old Hall?” Paul asked.
Ellie nodded and continued:
“Lady Pearl were then about 14 and she were sent away while this were going on. She returned when it were all but done. The master carpenter working on the Great Hall had an apprentice called Gillon Bane, a young man of such skill that it were clear he’d soon eclipse his master. So, sensing there were money to be saved, Sir William dismissed the master carpenter and took Gillon Bane into his own household to complete t’wuk. They say the staircase in the Great Hall is the same as were made by Gillon Bane and, if it’s true, it’s a testament o’ his skill, for it’s a masterpiece of carpentry.”
“It’s certainly a fine example,” Paul agreed.
Ellie continued: “Now Gillon Bane were tall an’ fair-haired, good-looking, God-fearing and meek-tempered, or so legend has it. Lady Pearl saw him and wanted him. She knew her father’d disapprove and so she courted him secretly until he was so much in love with her that he he agree’ t’ elope.”
“Uh-huh, that sounds like trouble,” Paul muttered.
“Aye. Sir William found out what they intended and he were radge. He ordered his men to find Gillon Bane and bring him to yonder Great Hall. They dragged him there, and Sir William taunted him for trying to woo his daughter. Gillon is said to have spoken up for hi’self and said Lady Pearl were as much in love as he.”
“Bad move, huh?” Paul asked. She nodded.
“Sir William ordered Gillon be castrated for daring to cast vulgar eyes on Lady Pearl.” She glanced at Paul and saw him cringe. “They carried out the sentence in yonder courtyard.”
“Sir William didn’t wan’ t’kill Gillon; he was too valuable to lose and he wanted his wuk on Torpenhow finished. He were seeking to turn a freeborn man into a serf, at his master’s beck and call for the rest o’ his life. Sir William wanted a lifetime’s revenge.”
“What happened to Lady Pearl?”
“Nowt, her punishment was to know what had happen’ t’ Gillon because of her. But, it were too late, because she were already pregnant by him. She kept it hidden and watched Gillon Bane working on t’ Great Hall until everything were finished. Then she told him and begged him to run away with her.”
“Poor kids,” Paul muttered.
“They tried t’ escape owwer the border, but were caught an’ t’ truth revealed to Sir William. He refuse’ t’ speak to his daughter although she screamed and pleaded for forgiveness - and for their lives. He had them both dragg’ t’ one o’ t’ fells overlookin’ t’ Hall and a rope were thrown owwer a branch to make a gibbet, while logs were piled up to make a bonfire, close by.“
Paul shook his head at the horror he could see, all too clearly, was in store for the young lovers.
Ellie’s voice resumed the sing-song quality as she completed the recitation of the family legend. “They strung Gillon Bane from a tree, letting him throttle until he were vanna dead, then lowered him down. They tied Lady Pearl to a stake in the midst o’ t’bonfire and lit it. While t‘flames caught and grew aboot her, they strung Gillon up again and again, making him watch t’fire consume his mistress.”
“Rough justice indeed; the bastards,” Paul murmured.
Ellie didn’t seem to have heard him. “Lady Pearl went int’ labour an’ t’bab’e – a boy - were rescued from t’ flames by one o’ the serving men. In them days even women convicted o’ wicked crimes weren’t executed if they were pregnant – at least, not ‘til they’d given birth – for every bab’e’s innocent of any crime. To kill a bab’e were a mortal sin, but Sir William order’ t’ child thrown in t’fire, saying no base blood should ever mingle with his noble family’s. The story says t’servant refused to carry out his order and so Sir William leant from his saddle and dragg t’ bab’e from his arms to fling it into t’ flames.”
There were two hectic spots of red on her cheeks as she continued, “And Gillon Bane were forced to watch it all.”
“His last words were to put a curse on every Ireby, for all eternity. He said he would take Torpenhow from them by blood and through fear, and if they tried t’ escape his curse by quitting Torpenhow or by demolishin’ t’Hall, he would take his vengeance on them, wherever they went.”
There was a long pause as the story drew to its conclusion. Paul sighed and shook his head sorrowfully.
“Every family has skeletons in the cupboard, or mad women in the attic, Ellie – mine included – but that’s a pretty hefty legacy to carry. Yet, it happened a long time ago, so what is there in this story for Jerry to worry about now?”
“The Irebys were known as an unlucky family. Many of t’masters of Torpenhow died violent deaths,” she explained.
“They live close to the Scottish border so I’d say that was simply an occupational hazard for much of history,” Paul responded.
“Aye,” she agreed, getting up to refill their tea cups. “But it didn’t stop with the union of the crowns. The family buil’ t’New House alongside with a view to moving in and lettin’ t’old Hall decay, but from that moment their fortunes went downhill and there were plenty o’ suspicious deaths.”
“That’s not surprising either, Ellie; I bet few families have done nothing but get richer. It probably has nothing to do with any ancient curses.”
“Mebby you can wash away some of it, but that’s no’ t’ end of t’ original story.” She sat down again and settled herself to tell the rest of the legend.
“Old Sir William remarried t’get an heir and brought his bride to Torpenhow. Everything were fine until a son were born. Then on All Hallows Eve, the year of the baby’s birth, there were a great storm-”
Paul groaned. “Oh, how I hate stories that start ‘it was a dark and stormy night that Halloween’…”
“This is what the legend says,” Ellie replied, rather sharply.
“Forgive me, I’m just allergic to Halloween,” Paul replied, with a rueful smile.
She pursed her lips reproachfully and continued, “Well, they were all feasting whe’ t’door were thrown open to reveal a tall, fair man who proclaimed in a voice of thunder that he were Gillon Bane, come for his revenge. No man could stop him though many tried, because he had a demon’s strength. He killed many o’ them an’ strode through their blood to t’ crib, which was by t’ fire. He lifte’ t’bab’e and held its foot while he stabbed him through and through, so many times his blood flowed and mingled with t’ blood o’ t’ fallen. Then he threw t’ bloody corpse onto the fire. Sir William sat amongst the dead, transfixed, unable to move t’ save his family and while he watched, weeping and powerless t’ preven’t’ slaughter, Gillon Bane killed his new, young wife, slashing her throat and leaving her to bleed t’ death a’ t’ feet of her husband. He repeated his curse and vanished.”
There was a long silence when Ellie had completed her story. Outside the howl of the rising wind rattled the window panes so that the splattering of rain against the glass sounded unnaturally loud.
Finally, Paul remarked, “You know, I have to say I don’t exactly blame Gillon Bane, but even revenge ought to be proportionate and what happened – however terrible it was - happened centuries ago. None of the family living now, or for generations before that, can be held responsible for the actions of Sir William. By the way, Ellen, I presume Sir William tried again to have an heir?”
“No child o’ Sir William’s inherited Torpenhow, he were a broken man after t’ events o’ that night. It were his younger brother’s family that succeeded to t’ estate.”
“Then even back then, Sir William’s direct line was extinct. Why would Gillon Bane seek revenge from people who were not responsible? I know that the recent murder of the women and the child in the Hall must’ve revived memories of the legend, but that must just be a terrible, tragic coincidence.”
She raised an eyebrow and sipped her tea.
“You may think so, Mister Paul, bu’ t’ family’s suffered bad luck for many generations. Mister Jerry’s great-grandfather were tried for tryin’ t’murder his wife and bab’e son with an axe. He were found to be criminally insane, for all he repeatedly deni’ t’were him who attacked them. He claimed it were Gillon Bane. Nevertheless, he spent the rest o’ his life in an asylum,” Ellie said sadly. “The family tried t’ hush it up, o’ course, but us locals all knew.”
“Granted, that might be considered as evidence, but even the best of families can throw up a ‘problem child’ now and again,” Paul reasoned.
Ellie appeared to be getting exasperated by his scepticism; she continued to list the Olifards’ tragedies. “Mister Jerry’s father were another such: his first wife bled t’ death giving birth to a stillborn daughter – all because he refused t’ allow a doctor to attend her, in case – he said - it were Gillon Bane in disguise. There were a terrible scandal and he move’ t’ Spain. He met Mister Jerry’s mother there. His mother’s family were on hand t’ ensure she had proper care when her bab’e was born, but Mister Jerry’s father were paranoid about strangers – especially tall, fair ones, thereafter. His cousin and his wife, Mister Matthew and Missus Jane, lived in t’ Hall while t’ family stayed out o’ t’ country and when Mister Jerry’s mother died in a car crash, he were packed off to school in England under their care. That’s where you met him, ain’t it?”
Paul nodded. “I never met his parents. I knew his mother had died before he came to the school. Whenever we came here for the holidays it was always his Uncle Matthew and Aunt Jane who looked after us.”
“Mister Jerry’s father never came back to Torpenhow. He moved around Europe and from what I know, he were spending what little there was o’ t’ family fortune on high living. He married a third time when Master Jerry was at school.”
“Oh, yes, I remember Jerry saying something about it. She was a wealthy widow with her own fortune, which she made sure the Olifards couldn’t touch. I think it was a sort of business arrangement: she paid his debts and bankrolled his spending, while he gave her an entrée into fashionable society,” Paul explained.
Ellie sniffed disapprovingly. “The marriage were childless, and they spent all the time abroad, leaving Mister Matthew to run t’ estate and represent the family. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mister Paul, Mister Jerry’s father drank himself to death in Paris. His step-mother’s living in Monte Carlo, so I hear, married to husband number three - a rich businessman. She’s never come here, I know that for sure.”
“I know it’s a pretty woeful story, Ellie, but it still doesn’t prove the curse of Gillon Bane is anything but a colourful – albeit gruesome - family legend. Bad luck isn’t selective about which family it dogs.”
“Tha canna say what happen’ t’Missus Jane and tha’ young Russian girl and her bab’e were ‘bad luck’! Nae, t’were t’ work o’ t’devil, and I say wi’ Mister Jerry tha’ Gillon Bane’s not finished wi’ this family yet.”
“You think Jerry is right about the threat Gillon Bane poses?”
“I know there’s those as say he inna right in his head, but I say there’s more goes on than any folks knows aboot and tha’s no call t’ say any man’s crazy that says so.”
“I agree: Jerry always seemed perfectly normal to me,” Paul reasoned. “Apart from the fact that he couldn’t kick or catch a ball, whatever the shape or size of it. I mean, he had the same attention span as everyone else in class – that of a concussed newt unless it was something you were actually interested in - so there was nothing wrong with him. We’ve always got on fine.”
He looked up and smiled at her with all the charm he could muster. Reluctantly, her mouth crumpled up into what Paul realised was an answering smile.
“Mister Jerry is a warm-hearted man, but he’s easily led, if you want my view on it,” Ellie said, with a finality that signified the conclusion of the conversation for her part. “I don’t say but tha’ t’ missus is a fine woman, but she’s changed o’ late and he’s the sufferer for that.”
She stood up.
“Now, Mr Metcalfe, if I don’t get on wi’ es wuk, there’ll be no scran for t’ meals.”
“That would be a disaster, right enough. Thanks for the chat, Ellie; I’ll leave you in peace.”
In spite of her protestations Paul washed up the cups and left the kitchen with plenty of food for thought.
By the time the sun set on the short daylight hours, turning the surrounding fells into vast lowering shapes in the deep darkness, the wind was blowing a strong gale and the rain was lashing against the walls of Torpenhow Hall with unrelenting ferocity.
Paul was sorry to see Ellie Shelton preparing to leave when her husband arrived in his battered van to collect her, and he bade her goodbye with some affection.
She looked at him for a long moment and said, “Take care tonight, Mister Paul.”
“Why?” he asked in surprise.
Before she could answer, there was a creak on the staircase and Mrs Shelton looked up and then busied herself with a headscarf. “There’s a storm brewing, sir, and they can be nasty things around here.”
From the look she gave him he felt sure that wasn’t what she had wanted to say.
“Goodbye, Mrs Shelton,” he heard Cynthia say briskly, from above him on the staircase. “We’ll expect you tomorrow.”
“Right you are, Mrs Olifard. I’ll come at my usual time.”
“Please do; I expect my husband will be better by then and I’d like a good meal for us and our guest in the evening.”
“I dare say I can manage that. Goodnight, Mrs Olifard. Sir.” She gave Paul a portentous look, in which sorrow and warning were equally mixed, as she went to the door and closed it behind her with a resounding thud.
Cynthia came down the stairs shaking her head.
“Not the most cheerful of domestics, I’m afraid, but she’s a good woman underneath it all, I dare say.”
“She’s a very good cook,” Paul asserted. “I enjoyed my lunch and she said she’d left something for this evening in her pantry. How are your patients now?”
Cynthia smiled. “Jonnie’s asleep and Jerry has calmed down. He’s sorry not to be keeping you company; he feels it very much as a dereliction of his duty as host.”
“Please tell him not to concern himself over me, Cynthia: I’m fine. In fact I’m sure the rest is doing me the world of good,” Paul lied politely.
Her answering smile didn’t reach her eyes, which retained their earlier expression of aloofness. “Shall we investigate the delights of the pantry, then?” she asked, walking towards the kitchen door.
He nodded and followed her into the kitchen.
Laughter rang round the Officers’ Lounge as Captain Magenta picked himself up off the floor and ruefully examined the loose screws on the legs of the chair he liked to relax in..
“Better go on a diet, Pat,” Captain Ochre suggested, with a wink towards Captain Grey and Destiny Angel who were sitting opposite him, chuckling.
“I think I’d prefer to wring your neck,” Magenta grumbled good-naturedly.
“Me? I never did a thing,” Ochre protested.
“You keep on saying that, Rick, and I might just be believing it one of these days,” Magenta said, as he picked up the various parts of the chair and piled them to one side, where they could be left until a maintenance crew could put them back together.
“Didn’t you know Cloudbase has gremlins? Nasty creatures who undo nuts and bolts on comfy chairs or put itching powder in the Angels’ boots…” Ochre continued.
Destiny’s carefully sculpted eyebrows rose at this. “I ‘ope the boots they put it in are not mine,” she said. “But I do believe these gremlins are wise enough to know that the French are excellent at making their revenge against any people who cross them.”
Ochre nodded. “Gremlins do have a well-developed sense of self-preservation, Destiny, so you should be pretty safe.”
Moments later the door to the Officers’ Lounge slid open and an irate Symphony Angel stormed in.
“Which one of you jokers put talc in my uniform tunic?” she demanded of the assembled captains.
“How could it be any of us?” Ochre asked with implausible innocence. “None of us have access to your quarters, Symphony.”
“I wasn’t in my quarters, I was with… never mind. Someone’s gonna pay,” she concluded, as Ochre gave a crow of laughter.
Captain Blue strolled in just as this confrontation ended and gave everyone a genial smile. “Hi guys,” he said cheerfully.
“You should change the password to your quarters,” Ochre advised him. “Seems someone might’ve sabotaged your visitor’s uniform tunic.”
“But I haven’t had any visitors,” Blue said, looking winsome with an all too obviously fake sincerity.
“Oh, can it, you two!” Symphony raged, and threw herself onto the couch beside Magenta, who was starting to chuckle.
“This is all very well, but you know what?” Ochre announced, with a melodramatic sigh. “I miss His Britannic Misery. Without Scarlet to hoax it doesn’t feel like a proper Halloween.”
“He hates that nickname,” Grey reminded his friend.
“So, why is that a reason not to use it?” Ochre asked.
“I guess you’re safe enough from retribution as he’s not here to extract it,” Magenta observed.
“I’d use it even if he was here,” Ochre retorted. “We’ve got into the habit of pussy-footing around him every Halloween, if you ask me. I hope he’s really entering into the spirit of the holiday, for once – wherever he is.”
“I hope he’s having a nice, relaxing break,” Blue said, taking a mug of coffee with him as he went to sit close to Symphony. “Fawn thought he was getting run down, if someone with retrometabolism can get run down.”
“Yeah, the poor guy deserves a break,” Magenta said. “You extracting the urine all the time is hardly restful, Rick.”
“Naah! Scarlet needs to lighten up and Halloween’s a good time to let off steam,” Ochre protested irrepressibly.
“Scarlet needs a rest,” Blue corrected him.
“So do you, probably,” Ochre retorted. “Entertaining non-existent visitors in your bedroom is tiring.”
“I knew it was you!” Symphony exclaimed.
Ochre burst out laughing. “Sorry, Symph; but my guess is that the culprit is much closer to you than I am, although maybe not as close as he was…”
Blue gave a smug grin and sipped his coffee, bracing himself for the guaranteed retribution. However, it was debateable whether he thought the ominous crackle that suddenly came from the Tannoy was worth it to save him from the consequences of his actions. Everyone in the Lounge stiffened and fell silent as the deep, emotionless intonation of a Mysteron broadcast filled around the room.
THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. WE WILL BE REVENGED FOR YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX. THE PALE SERVANT, A SPECTRE OF YOUR PAST, WILL SLAUGHTER THE FETED RED CALF.
“Great,” Magenta muttered, “They’re in cryptic mode again. Just what we need.”
“Yeah,” agreed Ochre, “bring back the good old ‘we’re gonna blow this up tomorrow’ style of threat. At least you knew what you were up against.”
Everyone was on the move before Lieutenant Green’s voice ordered them to the Conference Room. The two off-duty Angel pilots went along, and they met Rhapsody Angel, currently on duty as Angel Three, as she came up from the Amber Room.
Colonel White greeted them all with a nod and ordered Green to play the tape again.
“Any initial thoughts?” he asked, as a the ominous message died away.
“Something religious?” Magenta suggested. “Slaughtering calves sounds kinda Old Testament-y to me.”
“The Pale Rider is a euphemism for death, isn’t it?” Grey asked, frowning in concentration.
“Book of Revelation, chapter 6, verse 8: And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him," Blue muttered by way of a response.
“And there was me thinking it was Clint Eastwood,” Ochre responded wryly.
“If only,” Symphony replied, with a sigh.
“Jewish law speaks of the ashes of a red cow being used to purify someone who has come into contact with a corpse,” Lieutenant Green informed them as he read the computer screen. “And Prophecy Watchers consider red cows to be a portent of the approaching Apocalypse,” he added.
“That does not give even the small comfort, Lieutenant,” Destiny said. “Or show any more meaning of the threat.”
“But the Mysterons don’t say a red cow, they say a red calf,” Rhapsody reminded them. “I’ve heard of a golden calf – is that something we should consider? It has been speculated that the Mysterons can’t see colours, hasn’t it?”
“The golden calf was an idol created by the Israelites when they were wandering in the wilderness,” Blue explained. “It was roundly condemned by Moses and destroyed. Bulls were worshipped in the Middle East at the time, especially in Egypt, where the Israelites had just come from, of course.”
“So, can we assume from that the threat is going to be in the Middle East?” Grey asked, suppressing his amusement at the stupefaction on Ochre’s face at Blue’s apparently effortless erudition.
“Is it a ‘fated’ red calf?” Magenta mused, spelling out the word, “or ‘feted’ as in worshipped? And if it is, fated – as in destiny with a small d - what is it fated to do? The Mysterons do tend to make every word in their threats count.”
Colonel White came to a decision. “Lieutenant Green, I want the full research team working on this. They are to look for anything that might have to do with a religious event or celebration, anywhere in the world-”
“Hinduism has sacred cows, of course,” Rhapsody interjected.
“Quite,” the colonel agreed. “That’s why I don’t think we should limit ourselves to the Middle East, although it may be that’s where we’ll find the most likely explanation.”
“S.I.G, Colonel,” Green replied.
“All on-board festivities are cancelled, so the rest of you can help by seeing what you can come up with. I want everyone back here in ninety minutes with options. There’s no time scale on this one, but as it is Halloween, I rather think it’ll happen quickly.”
“Gosh, yes,” said Symphony. “And plenty of people might dress as ‘death’ as part of the celebrations. You know, a skeleton with a scythe?”
“Good idea, Symph. I wonder if there’s any way we can check the guest lists of every official Halloween party for clues,” Ochre replied, as they walked from the room together.
Captain Blue lingered until he was alone with the colonel. White looked up expectantly. “Something bothering you, Captain?” he asked.
“Yes sir: Captain Scarlet. He’s convinced that things only happen to him at Halloween.”
“Yes, I know, but he isn’t here and I don’t think we should worry him, do you?”
“No, sir, but I just wondered if I should check up on him.”
“He’s capable of asking for help if he needs it, Captain. Right now, you have more important things to worry about.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” Blue said, as he turned to go. But the niggling feeling that it wasn’t the right thing to do refused to go away.
An hour’s diligent searching wasn’t getting them any farther forward in deciphering the threat. Tensions were rising and tempers fraying. When Symphony and Ochre started bickering, Blue decided it was time to trust his instinct and took his personal cell phone from his uniform tunic pocket. He’d collected it on his way to the library, but forborne from using it out of deference to the colonel’s orders and in the hope that an obvious solution would present itself soon enough.
His valet, Philly Daniel, had just brought in fresh coffee and after glancing to see if he wanted a fresh cup – which he did – was preparing to bring one across for him.
She stood beside him as he activated his phone.
“Thanks, Philly,” Blue said absently, as he saw the ‘you have mail’ icon flash. He opened the screen and saw a message from his friend.
“Di,” he said in bewilderment, after reading Scarlet’s text, “What do you make of this?” He handed Rhapsody Angel the phone.
“ ’From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, the Good Lord protect us both. Have a scary Halloween. Whatever happens on Cloudbase I’m sure I can top it. I’ve been designated to rout the vengeful Gillon Bane. Even Rick’s tricks might’ve been preferable. Yours, Paul.’,” she read aloud. “I have no idea. He’s obviously talking about some Halloween event, but Gillon Bane? It doesn’t ring any bells with me.”
Blue raised his voice and called, “Lieutenant Flaxen, please do a search under the words Gillon Bane.”
“What’s that?” Symphony asked, coming to join them.
“No idea; something Paul’s texted me about.”
“Nothing positive coming up, sir,” Flaxen replied, after a few minutes.
“What can he mean?” Rhapsody asked. No one seemed to know.
“I know about Gillon Bane,” Philly admitted quietly to Flaxen, unsure if she should say anything in such an august gathering of educated minds.
“What do you know, Philly?” Flaxen asked, attracting Blue’s attention as she did so.
“Yes, what is it, Philly?” he asked her.
“Gillon Bane’s a bogeyman, used to frighten kiddies where I come from. My gran used to warn me to behave or Gillon Bane ‘ud get me.”
“Where was this?” Ochre asked.
“In Lancashire,” Philly squeaked, embarrassed at being the centre of attention. “Although Gran came from Cumberland and I don’t know but that it was some’at local to her.”
“A bogeyman? I think Paul’s having us on,” Magenta said. “He’s playing a Halloween trick on you, I expect, Blue.”
Flaxen turned from her computer screen and announced: “I’ve looked up Gillon as a separate word, it says that it’s a name; it comes from the Irish Gaelic ‘gillean’ and means ‘servant’.”
“A servant’s bane?” Rhapsody repeated, puzzled.
“No, it’s his name,” Philly insisted. “It comes from an old story, like a poem. My Gran knew the whole rhyme, but I just remember a bit of it:
Said the Lord unto his lady, who in the castle dwells,
Beware of Gillon Bane, who lives amongst the fells.
Beware b’ night, beware b’ day, beware if ever I am away
For Gillon Bane doth seek revenge and so the legend tells.
I used to use it as a skipping rhyme,” she admitted, looking from Rhapsody to Blue with some anxiety. “Is that what you’re looking for?”
“I very much doubt it,” Ochre said, with a shrug.
“Don’t be so sure,” Blue said. “The threat spoke of a ‘pale servant’, and Flax’s just told us Gillon means servant, in addition to which, there’s one calf we’ve ignored in all this – Metcalfe – Captain Scarlet.”
“It’s a bit of a leap from red calf to Captain Scarlet,” Magenta said. “Semantically speaking.”
“No, it isn’t,” Rhapsody gasped. “Captain Scarlet and Paul Metcalfe could be combined as red calf.”
Flaxen announced: “The family name ‘Metcalfe’ originates from the Anglo Saxon ‘mete calf’ – a cow being fattened for slaughter, or,” she added prosaically, as Ochre sniggered, “Middleton Top Calf, a settlement in Yorkshire.”
“Red Calf, that’s it – it must be!” Symphony said decisively. “They must be threatening Paul after all.”
“Where was your grandmother from, Philly?” Blue asked.
“Cockermouth, in Cumberland.”
Blue’s face went pale. “That’s close to where Paul’s staying with his school friend, Gerald Olifard,” he told them. “There’re too many coincidences here for this to be a red herring – no pun intended,” he added, as there were several groans at this unfortunate phrase.
“We should go and see the colonel right now!” Symphony exclaimed, jumping to her feet.
“Wait just a moment,” Blue advised. “I want this to be a watertight case when we speak to him. Philly, do you remember what kind of revenge Gillon Bane was seeking?”
She shook her head. “Me Gran’ud know, I’m sure. I could call and ask her, Captain, if that’d help?”
“Yes, it would help, Philly. Do that right away, please. Then let Flaxen know and she can tell the colonel what you’ve discovered. Okay?” Blue said, with a reassuring smile at her. Philly nodded, grateful not to have to speak directly to Colonel White, and hurried away to her quarters to make the call. “Now we’ll speak to the colonel,” Blue continued. “Flax, when Philly gets back to you, interrupt us with whatever details she has.”
“S.I.G., Captain Blue,” Flaxen acknowledged. She hoped Philly would get back with the information quickly, because she’d just looked up ‘bane’ and discovered that amongst the original meanings of the word was ‘murderer’.
Colonel White heard the rationale behind the arguments for regarding Captain Scarlet as the Mysterons’ target, in thoughtful silence. As Blue came to the end of his presentation and waited, exhibiting - what was for him – every sign of impatience, the other officers shuffled and whispered behind him.
Finally the colonel said, “One of you can go and check that Captain Scarlet is not in danger but I want the rest of you to concentrate on the other potential flashpoints you’ve identified.”
There was a murmur of protest. The colonel quashed the dissent with a glance.
“We cannot risk allowing the Mysterons to distract us from their target, if it is not Scarlet,” he explained, adding, “and I hardly think it takes all of you to rush to his rescue; he is perfectly capable of looking after himself, 99.9 percent of the time. If he needs help, he’s capable of asking for it, which he has not done. One officer is sufficient. Do I make myself clear? Good.”
He proceeded to order his elite officers to disperse around the globe close to the locations and events they’d identified as possible targets. Captain Blue’s name was not amongst them.
When the colonel had finished, Captain Blue said briskly, “In order to reach Torpenhow as soon as possible, sir, I request permission to use an Angel Interceptor.”
White consulted a screen on his desk and said, “Lieutenant Green, order the technicians to prepare Angel Interceptor 7 for immediate launch on runway 2. Instruct London Air Traffic Control to clear a flight path to the nearest suitable landing field to Captain Scarlet’s location, for Blue Angel 1, at speed ultimate.”
“S.I.G.,” Lieutenant Green replied.
Blue realised that if the colonel were prepared to go to such lengths to ensure him a speedy journey, it must be because he believed it was possible Scarlet was in danger. He gave a slight nod to show his commanding officer that they understood each other and turned to leave.
Colonel White said quietly, “God’s speed, Captain.”
Paul and Cynthia Olifard sat around the table eating home-cured ham with baked potato and cheese done in the microwave oven. There was also freshly-baked bread and butter and, for dessert, an apple pie. Paul ate with a voracious appetite, another indication that his retrometabolism was still struggling to return him to peak condition.
There was very little conversation around the table but, as Cynthia was looking drained and tired and was not eating much, he wasn’t surprised by that.
“I hope you’re not catching the baby’s cold,” he said, as he offered to cut her a piece of apple pie. “They’re all relying on you, and you need to keep your strength up.”
“I’m fine,” she replied, her voice worn with exhaustion.
“Doesn’t sound like it,” Paul said. “Let me make you a cup of tea, eh?”
She nodded and he went to fill the kettle and place it on the Rayburn. He turned towards the cupboards to find mugs for the drinks, and, as he did so, a moving shadow caught his eye. He turned towards Cynthia, to see what she was doing.
To his shock and surprise, she was moving towards him with a murderous glow in her eyes and the long bread knife in her hand.
“What the hell?”
Paul sidestepped a vicious sweep of the blade, which caught his sleeve. The resulting flesh wound bled profusely.
“Cyn!” Paul shouted in astonishment, as he skirted around the table, trying to avoid the deadly blade. “What are you doing? Cyn! Put the knife down, Cyn. I don’t want to hurt you, so put the knife down – we can work out whatever’s wrong. Cynthia, listen to me.”
She did not respond but kept moving, edging closer and trying to outflank him in order to engineer an opening for another attack. Paul had no trouble avoiding her, but he was confused and the pain in his arm was distracting him.
Why’s she behaving like this? I thought we were getting on fine…
She stalked him round the room, sweeping the blade from side to side to fend off any counter-attack he might launch.
He continued talking to her, repeating her name in an attempt to break through her sudden animosity and make her see sense. He had made a complete circle around the kitchen table and backed away from her sudden lunges until he came up against the Rayburn and could go no further.
There was a gleam of satisfaction in Cynthia’s eyes as she continued her advance.
His hand groped over the stove, scalding against the heavy metal kettle. Thankfully, he grabbed the handle and swung it round, dashing it to the floor in front of her. The lid flew off and a jet of near-boiling water drenched her feet and legs.
In the confusion, he made a dash for the kitchen door, but much to his surprise she recovered almost immediately and came after him, making an inarticulate scream of anger as he slammed the door shut to give himself a few seconds’ advantage.
He headed for the Hall, intending to make a stand on the staircase where it would be easier to defend himself and, if necessary, prevent her getting to the others upstairs. Whatever was going on, he could not let her attack her husband or their baby son.
The hall was in darkness and when he tried the light switch, there was no response. The only light came from the red glow of the fire.
The storm must’ve caused a power outage, he thought and moved as quickly as he could, dragging furniture behind him to impede Cynthia’s pursuit.
When he reached the fireplace he paused to pick up the poker from the fire irons. As he stooped, a wave of nausea swept through him, making him sweat and shake. He drew a deep breath and closed his eyes to fight the sensation of vertigo. Lost in a whirling dizziness, oblivious of time passing, his senses suddenly focused on a searing agony of red-hot pain as the serrated steel blade of the kitchen knife was plunged into his bent back, ripping through his ribcage.
“Aggh!” he gasped, standing upright and swaying with the intense jolt of pain. As far as he could tell, the blade was lodged mid-way down his back, where he could not possibly reach to pull it out. The chances were that it had punctured a lung or damaged an artery and that the internal injuries would weaken him until he was unable to defend himself.
Panting for breath and clutching the mantelpiece for support, he turned round slowly, fighting to remain conscious, to face Cynthia Olifard. She was wild-eyed, her expression distorted with some kind of madness and he noticed that in her other hand she now held a meat cleaver.
“Cynthia, what’re you doing?” he gasped, making one last effort to reach her. “I’m not your enemy. I’m here on your invitation to help Jerry. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“No, Earthman, you cannot hurt me,” she replied and took a step closer, raising her cleaver to deliver a death blow.
Earthman? That one word fired a flood of adrenalin through Paul’s pain-wracked body.
“You’re a Mysteron,” he gasped. “I should’ve known.”
“Yes, you should have. I thought you’d guessed last night when you told me I was getting cold. What’s happened to your much-vaunted sixth sense, Paul?” she sneered. “You’ve been weakened by your injuries and you’re at my mercy, there’s nothing to save you now! The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out.”
He shook his head. “They’ve tried before, Cyn, and I’ve survived everything they’ve thrown at me,” he gasped, wincing in pain. He had to keep her talking long enough for his retrometabolism to restore enough of his strength for him to overpower her. “You pose no more of a threat to me than any of the other Mysteron agents who’ve failed to defeat me.”
“You had your doting cohort with you then, always ready to interfere in our plans and preserve your worthless life – the life the Mysterons gave you and for which you have repaid them with betrayal! Now you are alone, weakened by the repeated deaths we’ve inflicted on you over the past months. Our plan was always to bring you here, alone, where the ancient evil that stalks the feeble Earthmen would act to our advantage. Torpenhow Hall is too isolated for anyone to come to your assistance this time, Captain Scarlet. The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out and you will never thwart our schemes again!”
She swung the cleaver and he sprang to one side, surprising her by his agility. Winded by even so slight a movement and almost doubled-over with the pain, he clutched the poker tightly in order to fend off another attack.
Backing away, he tried again to reach the staircase. Impeded by the furniture he’d thrown down earlier, he wasn’t able to put much distance between them. As she closed on him, coming between him and his destination, he saw the murderous intent in her expression. He was desperately trying to formulate an alternative strategy when the front door crashed open and, in a flash of lightning, he saw a tall, spare figure of a man framed in the doorway.
The man moved inside without making a sound. Paul saw the fire glinting on another blade, grasped in his hand. The more the merrier, he thought, slightly hysterical, as he wondered just who or what this apparition was.
For a split second Cynthia glanced in the direction of the door, hesitating in her attack. “Gillon Bane,” she gasped.
That was all the time Paul needed and he swung the poker down on her head with all his might, hearing the bone shatter under the force of his blow. He yanked the poker back, and the blood spurted out from the wound. Cynthia Olifard’s body collapsed at his feet. Her brains were spattered across the floor, and her blood seeped into the threadbare carpet. He closed his eyes for a split second to avoid looking at her corpse.
Killing a woman – even a Mysteronised one – was something he hated doing, although he knew there could be no excuse for not taking out an opponent of either sex where it was necessary.
When he opened his eyes again it was with a renewed sense of danger and he saw the stranger moving towards him. He backed off, hampered by his wounds and another intense bout of nausea.
Before his eyes he witnessed a sickly green glow suffuse the room and moments later Cynthia Olifard stirred, raising herself on her elbows and looking around. Her left eye lay across her blood-caked cheek, and there was a gaping wound where Paul’s blow had caved the side of her head in, but she reached for the cleaver again and began to get to her feet.
Never leave Cloudbase without a electron gun, he reminded himself. Now I have two of them to deal with…
Gillon Bane – if it was indeed him – had been moving towards where Paul was standing but now, as Cynthia was retrometabolised, he turned his attention to her.
Distracted by the apparition, Paul watched in surprise and failed to see Cynthia swing the cleaver towards him until it made contact with his left arm, smashing the bone and making him drop the poker.
“Aggh!” He sank to his knees, curling up to cradle the useless arm against his body, tears swamping his eyes and distorting his sight.
He turned to look up at Cynthia. She had the cleaver raised again to finish the kill. Behind her he saw the emaciated figure of Gillon Bane emerge from the darkness. Against an intense flash of lightning carving patterns through the storm-tossed clouds, he could see nothing in detail, but the figure looked solid enough and even in his agony his rational mind doubted that this was a ghost.
He stared beyond Cynthia and appealed directly to the stranger.
Cynthia hesitated, surprised by this plea. Then with a grim smile she began to swing the cleaver towards Paul’s defenceless head.
He watched, mesmerised by the glint of the firelight on the approaching blade.
From Cynthia’s lips, a gargle of surprise foretold the spluttering eruption of blood. Her mouth filled and then the liquid sprayed out, splattering Paul’s upturned face.
He looked away as she staggered, the cleaver falling from her hand to clatter on the floor inches from her intended victim. Then she sank to her knees, her one good eye clouding as, once more, the life ebbed away. She keeled over to lie on her face beside him.
Sticking out from the back of her neck was the sharp blade Paul had seen in Gillon Bane’s hands.
“Thank you,” he said to the tall man, and struggled to get to his feet, still wary of the stranger’s intentions. Gillon Bane ignored him and as he bent to retrieve his knife Paul saw his face for the first time.
Paul pulled himself upright by grasping a chair-back with his good arm and leaning on it. He stared at the apparition, not wanting to believe the evidence of his eyes.
The apparition did not respond to his cry but, even as he came to terms with the shock, Paul doubted that his friend had been Mysteronised along with his wife; there were no records of Mysteron agents fighting each other to accomplish their missions. Cynthia had spoken of ‘the ancient evil that stalks the feeble Earthmen’, implying that Gillon Bane was nothing to do with them – at least, not directly. Yet, Jerry’s features, although somewhat indistinct in the flickering firelight, were as devoid of expression as any Mysteron agent he’d ever met.
As he moved away, careful not to draw attention to himself by any sudden movements or noise, Paul watched warily as Gillon Bane retrieved his blade from Cynthia’s neck and systematically began slicing into her body until the floor was awash with blood and the Hall reeked like a slaughterhouse.
His hearing had always been acute and since his Mysteronisation his senses had grown sharper. Now he could hear a low rumble of sound coming from the apparition as it bent to its work of mutilating Cynthia’s body, and with effort he could make out some words:
Beware by night, beware by day
of the terror that never will go away.
For Gillon Bane shall have revenge
Just as the legend tells.
The words brought back the full horror of the legend Ellie Shelton had recited and Paul realised that Jonathan Olifard was now in great danger. He picked up the poker and moved with renewed purpose to the staircase and began to climb, going backwards so he could see what Gillon Bane was doing. He had no doubt that it was now his responsibility, and his duty, to protect the nurse and the child from whatever evil had come to Torpenhow Hall. Whether Jerry Olifard was Mysteronised or possessed was a moot point; the fact was, he had to be stopped.
Paul was about three-quarters of the way up the stairs when Gillon Bane completed his gruesome task to his own satisfaction and stood up, straddling the bloody corpse. For a long moment he stared at the open fire and then, as if recalling there was more work to do, gathered his knife and began to move again.
Paul hesitated; perhaps it was the perspective of looking down on the scene, but the apparition gave the impression of being different, somehow. The features were indistinct and in the flickering light, the hair seemed to change to a paler brown than Horsey’s dark curls. As Gillon Bane’s head rose to look towards the staircase, Paul thought he detected a flicker of green in the depths of the cold, grey eyes.
The Mysterons must’ve taken him over, he thought. I guess he’s well and truly dead, after all.
He recalled hearing that the Mysterons claimed to have studied mankind for many centuries before their complex had been discovered on Mars and so quickly destroyed by Captain Black in a truly monumental error of judgement. He wondered if somehow the intensity of the evil perpetrated by Sir William Ireby had allowed them to retrometabolise Gillon Bane all those centuries ago, and if this dangerous ‘entity’ was not, in some manner or characteristic their very first agent, designed to punish mankind for its depravity. That the Mysterons appeared to have a moral sense, however warped, was proven by their comments when they’d warned of their intention to destroy the Second National Bank of New York: We've seen the greed and corruption of the world in which you live and will take our revenge upon it.
If that’s the case, Black’s actions would simply have confirmed their impression that we’re all dangerous barbarians. We could be in this War of Nerves for the long haul…
The apparition’s gaze fixed on Paul and with deliberate intent he started to walk towards the stairs. There was no room for doubt in Paul’s mind now that he was the next victim. He fled into the corridor that led towards the bedrooms and opened the first door, searching for the nursery and other survivors.
All of the doors opened easily at his touch. The coppery smell of fresh blood was drifting up from the Hall, but Paul knew what he’d see before he opened the final door in the corridor from the stench that emanated from the room.
He stepped inside with some reluctance.
The redheaded nurse had been dead for some time. Her throat had been slashed clean across so that her head lolled over the back of the chair she was in, revealing the severed ends of the great arteries. The blood had congealed but there had been enough to soak the carpet around the chair.
Paul flinched from the sight, but hopeful that he might yet be in time to save the child, he walked further into the room. Sitting in a rocking chair by the far window, cradling his lifeless child in his arms, was Gerald Olifard.
Paul’s voice revealed the depth of his confusion as he called out: “Horsey!”.
At the sound of his voice Jerry looked up. His eyes were red with weeping and his cheeks ashen, apart from streaks of blood where he had wiped his face with his blood-drenched hands.
“Oh, thank God, it wasn’t you. Come on, Jerry, we’ve got to get away from here,” Paul insisted.
“Plod? Thank God it is you,” Jerry replied. His voice was cracked with grief. “You know: I tried to stop her, Plod, honestly I did, you know that, don’t you? It started last night … last night when Gillon Bane came for Cyn. I found her – aah...”
He broke down in tears and hugged the child closer.
“She was in her room, next door – it was dreadful; he had slit her throat… all that blood…”
Paul realised that whoever or whatever had killed Cynthia Olifard had provided the Mysterons with a perfect tool for their attack on him.
Although the Mysterons prided themselves on issuing a threat before they acted, and in most cases, did not make more than one attempt on the life of an intended victim, their messages were only heard on Cloudbase because the World Government had taken great pains to ensure they were never broadcast around the world. It was feared that the panic and resulting trouble that would cause would hamper Spectrum in their efforts to thwart the attack and save the target.
He could not know for certain if a threat had been issued against his friends, but from what Cynthia had said he now believed that the Mysterons were familiar with the legend of Gillon Bane and had plotted to use it against him.
It’s too late now to contact Cloudbase, he thought. Instead he spoke to Jerry, clearly and authoritatively. “Why didn’t you come and tell me what had happened?”
“I would have, Plod. I know you wouldn’t believe I could have done such a thing, but the police, they would think I’d done it – I know they would. They’d have looked at my great-grandfather and thought I was mad too.”
“I don’t think you’re mad,” Paul began.
“You will,” Jerry interjected. “You will! Because I saw her – after Gillon Bane had killed her - I saw Cyn walk into the nursery and attack Rita with such savagery! Then… then… our son, our little Jonnie…How could she do it, Paul?”
Despondently Paul realised that there was nothing in the human psyche strong enough to withstand the Mysterons if even the maternal bond could be broken by them. His anger flared up against the pitiless aliens who dominated his life and subverted the moral codes of so many innocent humans, forcing them against their nature to commit such heinous crimes.
“It wasn’t Cynthia who did this,” he tried to assure Jerry. “It was something evil, a pure, malevolent evil that is trying to destroy our world. Believe me, Jerry. I have reason to know that it was not your wife that murdered your son – she was as much a victim as he and the poor nurse.”
Olifard was looking at him in bewilderment.
Paul forced himself to concentrate. “We have to leave here. Leave Jonnie and come with me-”
“I can’t leave here,” Jerry replied. “Gillon Bane will track me down wherever I go…”
The mention of the name reminded Paul that the apparition was on its way up to them. When it knew that the child was dead – assuming that it did not know already – surely it would take its retribution on Jerry and possibly himself.
“Horsey, have I ever let you down?” Paul demanded. His friend shook his head.
“You trust me, don’t you?” Paul demanded again. Jerry Olifard nodded. “Then trust me now and come with me,” Paul ordered in the tone of voice that had brought innumerable men of lesser rank to unthinking obedience.
Gerald Olifard looked towards his friend, seemingly ready to obey. Then Paul saw his eyes widen in fear. It was warning enough and he turned aside to try and avoid the expected blow.
Gillon Bane was behind him, effectively blocking the corridor to the stairs and safety. The resemblance to Jerry, however superficial it had become down in the Great Hall, was now perfect, even down to the red-rimmed eyes.
Although his left arm was still useless, Paul’s retrometabolism was now working much faster and he already felt much stronger. He fended off another blow with the knife and tried to make his attacker retreat by jabbing the poker towards him.
It went through Gillon Bane without making contact. Whoever or whatever the apparition was, he was invulnerable to attack by conventional weapons.
In desperation, Paul swung a punch and felt his fist pass through an ice-cold column of air, but once again, he made no contact.
“Come on, Horsey!” he shouted, “We have to go! Gillon Bane can’t stop us if we act together – come on!”
Gillon Bane swung his blade at Paul again, and he warded it off with his already damaged arm, gasping with pain and screwing his eyes momentarily as the shards of agony swamped his senses. When he opened his eyes he sensed Jerry was beside him and screamed as his friend roughly yanked the knife from his back where it was still lodged.
“Get out! Get out!” Jerry yelled hysterically. “You’ve killed my family, there is nothing here for you, Gillon Bane!”
The apparition’s long blade slashed down, burying itself in Jerry’s shoulder so that he squealed and dropped the knife.
In the split second that this took, Paul saw the apparition shimmer, its facial features blurring and changing, like a radio tuner seeking the strongest signal. The dark curls that mirrored Jerry’s hair, straightened and darkened further, the red-rimmed, brown eyes turned a sapphire-blue and the long face shortened, the jaw squaring while the chin dimpled.
Paul was staring at himself.
He was speechless with surprise, but Jerry Olifard was not. When he opened his eyes and saw the apparition he began to scream with terror: “It’s you – Gillon Bane! You’re Gillon Bane!”
Paul’s uninjured arm swung out, catching his friend on the side of his head, so that he stumbled against the door and sank to his knees, concussed.
Paul had not taken his eyes off Gillon Bane. He was realistic enough to know that he couldn’t hope to kill this entity in any conventional sense, but there might yet be a way to neutralise the threat he posed.
Speaking with far more self-assurance than he felt, Paul said, “Your work is finished. There are no more Irebys deserving your vengeance. Jerry is not worth your hatred, he’s a broken man thanks to you. You killed both of his wives and his children and they will lock him away as they did his great-grandfather all those years ago.”
Gillon Bane turned his gaze on Paul with apparent interest.
He continued, “You appear in the guise of the victim’s most trusted person, don’t you? Just to rack up the terror, I guess? So it was probably ‘Jerry’ who entered Cynthia’s room and cut her throat, just as it was ‘Jerry’ who appeared downstairs in the Great Hall and killed the Mysterons’ recreation of Cynthia. That must’ve surprised even you, Gillon Bane. Did you ever know that there was an even greater evil in the universe than that which condemned you and your lady to an eternity of hatred?”
The apparition remained motionless, and once again its features became indistinct, searching, Paul suspected, for the likeness of the person he trusted the most.
“Don’t bother, I’m not going to believe you if you do decide who to look like. I’m confident the person I trust the most would never betray that trust. Nevertheless, you have won, Gillon Bane. For myself, I’m sorry for the loss that has tied you to this place, sorry for the centuries you’ve spent seeking revenge; but it is over. I can only ask you to be magnanimous in victory and let it end here.”
The figure before him had resolved itself into that of a boyish, golden-blond, blue-eyed man, with a smattering of freckles and work-calloused hands. Paul studied the good-looking face and believed he was seeing Gillon Bane as he had been in life.
“We’re going to leave,” Paul continued. “I am taking Jerry with me and we’re walking out of here. Torpenhow Hall is yours.”
He stooped warily, still keeping an eye on the motionless apparition, and hoisted Jerry to his feet. Half-dragging and half-carrying his friend, Paul stumbled through the ice-cold barrier and along the corridor towards the stairs. They slithered and fell down the staircase – the same one Gillon Bane had constructed centuries ago. At the foot of the stairs the apparition appeared again, and, as if he was escorting them from the premises, hovered far enough away to pose no threat.
Jerry regained his senses as they passed the mutilated corpse of Cynthia. He retched, pushed Paul aside and ran, screaming, away from the exit and through the connecting door to the new Georgian house.
Weakened as he was by loss of blood and exertion, Paul could do nothing to prevent him but he shouted after him:
“Come back, Horsey! Please, come back…”
He staggered after Jerry for a few paces and quickly realised he was in no state to chase him. He changed direction and walked towards the front door feeling the apparition’s gaze following his every move.
If you want me you’ll have to come and get me, he thought. Maybe I can still get Horsey to come out from the New House before you have a chance to do your worst and we can drive away from here.
If I can find the car keys…
The door flew open as he approached; it seemed Gillon Bane wanted him gone as much as he wished to leave.
Paul stepped out into the wind and driving rain, almost grateful for the cold moisture that clung to his face and clothes. He licked his lips, for any retrometabolisation created a strong thirst in him. He was out on the drive when he heard the door slam behind him and the bolt ram home.
“Jerry!” he yelled desperately, certain now that Gillon Bane would go in search of his final victim. He stumbled to the door of the empty shell of the New House and pounded on it with his fists.
“Horsey, let me in!”
There was no response and he could hardly see what was before him, except when the random flashes of lightning split the sky with their fierce brilliance. Exhausted, Paul sank to his knees and leant against the door, croaking repeated calls to his friend and knocking feebly against the solid panels of the door.
His knew his retrometabolism was working to cure him, but it could not function effectively completely without food, water and sleep, and its demands were taking their toll even on his remarkable body. He felt overwhelmed by sadness for the generations of innocent Irebys and Olifards who had suffered for their ancestor’s actions and even pity for the long-dead Gillon Bane. He felt tears on his cheeks, mingling with the raindrops and longed to howl out his misery and frustration.
Huddled against the locked door, cold and soaking wet, he lost track of time, only coming back to reality as the halogen brightness of the headlights of an SPV swept across the front of Torpenhow Hall and caught him in their beam. Instinctively, he started to crawl away from the building and towards them.
He could not remember when the sound of Adam’s voice had been so welcome and moments later the American was at his side, helping him to his feet and back towards the warmth and brightness of the SPV.
“What the hell has been going on?” Captain Blue asked, as he helped his friend into the passenger seat.
“Jerry’s still in the house – the New House,” Paul tried to explain, pointing. “Gillon Bane’s gone after him – the others… the others are all dead.” He pointed back towards the old Hall. “I couldn’t stop him, Adam; he’s not human. Gillon Bane is…” He paused, trying to find the words to explain.
“I know what Gillon Bane is; Philly told me,” Blue said, to the surprise of his friend. “There’s been a cryptic Mysteron threat which I believed was directed against you. That’s why I’m here – once I’d seen your text message and discovered what ‘Gillon Bane’ referred to, the colonel agreed it was wise to check it out.”
Paul gave a rueful shrug and a weak smile.
Blue smiled back. “Stay here,” he ordered and started to run towards the New House.
Reaching the substantial wooden door, he rattled the door handles and tried to barge it open with his shoulder, before shooting the locks. Turning on his powerful flashlight, Blue directed it inside and called:
His voice was almost drowned out by a clap of thunder. He glanced skyward, frowning. It seemed as if the storm, which had already caused problems at the airfield he’d had landed at, thereby delaying his access to the SPV and ultimately, his arrival at the Hall, had followed him, and was now directly overhead.
With a final wave to reassure his friend, Blue stepped inside and vanished from Paul’s view.
Paul Metcalfe was not the most patient of men, at the best of times, and given the heightened state of his mind it was not surprising that he was soon uneasy at what he considered the inordinate length of time Blue’s search was taking. He undid the seat belt and slid from the SPV seat, starting to walk unsteadily towards the house, determined to help in any way he could.
He was about halfway there when he saw Blue emerging, a body slung across his shoulders in a fireman’s lift. Seeing Paul approaching, Blue gave an authoritative wave, instructing his friend to return to the SPV.
Although he was anxious to know how Jerry was, Paul knew it was incumbent on him to obey the orders of the Mission Field Commander, and that Blue did not appreciate having his instructions ignored, however valid the reason for it seemed to anyone else. He acknowledged the ‘order’ with a wave of his own and hesitated, gathering the energy for the walk back over the muddy ground.
Suddenly, between him and Blue, the apparition of Gillon Bane materialised. This time he ignored Paul and menaced the approaching American.
“Adam – watch out! It’s Gillon Bane!” Paul yelled, staggering into a slow run. “He wants Horsey!”
Captain Blue slid his burden to the sodden earth and stood his ground, straddling the inert body protectively.
Paul flung himself at the apparition. He was disconcerted, yet unsurprised, when Gillon Bane brushed him aside with a contemptuous sweep of his arm. As he hit the ground, Paul gasped to see that – to his eyes, at least – the apparition’s features now looked like Captain Blue.
“Oh no, I told you, I’m not falling for that,” he muttered, struggling in the mud to get to his knees. He shouted a warning to his friend: “He takes on the looks of other people. Ignore it, Adam!”
Gillon Bane was closing the gap, the murderous blade in his hand raised above his shoulder to strike – at Blue or at Olifard, it wasn’t possible to tell.
There was a flash of brilliant, concentrated light, that stung the back of Paul’s eyes. Blue had fired an electron gun at the apparition. These weapons had been developed by Spectrum to prevent the Mysterons from retrometabolising a human corpse or one of their fallen agents again, by firing a concentrated beam of electrons.
Gillon Bane staggered as the blast spread and sent sparks shooting from every fingertip. Losing even the solidity Paul had encountered, the apparition fluctuated wildly, but it did not vanish. Then, slowly, the entity started to reconfigure.
Blue fired again; a shorter blast as an electron gun needed time to recharge between shots. The effect was much the same but the pace of Gillon Bane’s recovery slowed.
“Paul, get back into the SPV, quickly!” Blue ordered, and bent to pick up Olifard again.
By the time Blue had picked up Jerry, Gillon Bane had regained stature. In fact, to Paul, he seemed to have grown to a supernatural height. His features were indistinct, as if he couldn’t decide which face to replicate, but there was no mistaking the anger, or the intention, as he gathered strength for an attack.
Blue manhandled Jerry Olifard into the SPV and turned to help Paul.
“We’ll get out of here,” he was saying, as a thin stream of particles emanated from Gillon Bane’s fingers and earthed themselves in his back.
With a silent scream of pain, Captain Blue crumpled to the sodden earth, stunned.
Paul slithered from the seat and struggled to help Blue to his feet.
“Come on, Adam… we need your help. Come on… that’s it. Take it easy – get your bearings.”
Blue stood for a moment, his weight resting on Paul’s shoulder, his head bowed as he drew in gulps of air. When he raised his head, Paul saw the determination in his expression and smiled in relief.
He turned to Gillon Bane and cried in defiance:
“I told you – the person I trust most would never betray that trust! And I will never betray his trust in me. You can’t defeat us both, Gillon, and we don’t want to destroy you, but if we have to, we will. The power of the Mysterons – the same power that revitalised Cynthia Olifard – is in me! If you hurt so much as a hair on the heads of my friends, I will not rest from seeking my own revenge. Let us go; take Torpenhow Hall and be satisfied.”
Still bemused, Blue looked at his friend in confusion. Paul saw the glance and hissed, “Back me up here, Blue-boy.”
With a wry twist of his head in agreement, Blue turned to face the apparition.
Gillon Bane stood before them. His features had reverted to those Paul had seen in the nursery – the real look of the man - and he appeared to be considering Paul’s words.
“You will find nothing but honesty and trust between us,” Paul said resolutely. “This man shot me dead after the Mysterons had murdered and recreated me. I owe him my life.”
Blue spoke up with equal force: “Since that day this man has given that life many times in order to save others. I owe him my life.”
Gillon Bane looked from one to the other and as if he was weighing the honesty of their words against their thoughts. He looked so young and vulnerable that both men felt pity for the fate that had befallen him.
Blue spoke again and this time there was compassion in his voice: “We both love, as you loved. There are two young women who fight alongside us, against the power of the Mysterons, in an effort to protect our world from their vengeance. We live with the constant fear that they will suffer and die in the pursuit of our cause. We understand what that loss would mean. We can understand what you have lost.”
Paul conjured the image of Rhapsody Angel into his mind and concentrated, hoping Gillon Bane could sense his thoughts. “What happened to you and to Lady Pearl was wrong on every level, but surely, you have to honour such a love between others when you encounter it?” he asked.
Gillon’s piercing gaze dropped away from them and, as if he was bidding them farewell and Godspeed, he made a gesture with his hand and turned from them, striding back towards Torpenhow Hall.
The two Spectrum officers waited for a long moment. When it was clear that the apparition had finished with them, Paul sighed out his tension and drooped against Blue for support.
“Nice one,” he muttered.
“Well, you know, I have my moments,” Blue replied. He felt, rather than heard, Paul’s snort of laughter.
The storm continued to rage overhead and the rain intensified. Paul shivered. “It’s bloody cold,” he muttered.
Blue was immediately concerned. “You’re feeling the cold? Fawn was right, you’re not recovered yet.”
“Hey, I’ve been attacked by an axe-wielding Mysteronised woman and a centuries-old ghost. Give a guy a break.”
“Let’s go before something else happens,” Blue ordered.
“S.I.G.. We ought to get Jerry to hospital,” Paul said, just as a piercing bolt of lightning split the sky and earthed itself in the ruins of the New House. The almost simultaneous peal of thunder was deafening.
A second bolt cracked the clouds and struck the front of the house again. There were massive filaments of flame shooting up into the dark sky and a distant rumble of collapsing masonry. The destruction of the New House spread to the Old Hall and the centuries old masonry cracked at the weakest point, where the two buildings had been joined. A spurt of flame jumped through the crack and quickly grew, fed by the extensive tapestries and the oak panelling on the walls.
There was an explosion from the direction of the kitchen and a fireball rose into the sky. The wooden roof imploded and finally, even the stout walls began to split and shatter.
Gillon Bane stood framed against the bright orange glow of the flames. When the frontage fell, it was possible to see that the oak staircase was alight.
Then, for one heart-stopping moment, the apparition took on the solidity of an all too human figure, subject to the laws of gravity and time. The young man raised his hands to the heavens and issued a long, nerve-shattering cry of longing and pain.
Then Paul felt the centuries of hatred, for a father who could act with such cruelty towards his beloved child, and the anger that had fuelled an inexhaustible hunger for vengeance flooded into his receptive mind and heart. The emotional tsunami rolled over him and crashed against the bulwark of his sense of duty and his belief in the love and fellowship of his family and friends.
It shattered and ebbed away, broken and powerless.
Slowly, as the oak staircase was consumed by the hungry flames, the body of Gillon Bane fragmented into wisps of spark-spangled smoke.
Lightning shattered the darkness again and the thunder rolled overhead as the wind sprang up and dispersed the unearthly remains of Gillon Bane into the ether.
It was impossible to tell if the wailing that carried over the deer park was the final cry of the apparition or simply the howling of the storm.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Blue said sombrely. “There’s nothing more we can do.”
Paul nodded sadly and turned away to clamber into the SPV.
After he had examined Gerald Olifard, Doctor Fawn went to patch up the injuries of Captain Scarlet and, to a lesser extent, Captain Blue.
“Your friend is going to make a physical recovery, given time,” he reported in response to Scarlet’s urgent questions. “But I can’t say what his mental state will be. I think the chances are that it will be very fragile, at best, possibly permanently. After all, he’s seen things that no man should ever have to see and that’s a heavy burden for any man to bear.”
“We can make sure he gets good care, at least, can’t we?” Scarlet asked anxiously.
“I can recommend doctors and hospitals, yes,” Fawn replied. “He’ll get the best care possible.”
Scarlet nodded and sighed. “Poor Jerry. You don’t think the police will suspect him of the murders, do you? I’m sure he had nothing to do with them.”
Fawn shrugged. “You’d do better asking Ochre about that,” he replied. “But I don’t think Mr Olifard will be any state to be interrogated for a good while, and even then, he may not remember much about it. Sometimes the human mind does its own damage limitation and there’s very little anyone can do about it. By the way, the colonel’s given permission for you to write a sworn statement for the authorities, so you’ll have a chance to put your side of it, at least.”
“Good; although how I’m going to begin to explain it, I don’t know. They’ll be bringing me a little white jacket and shipping me out to the funny farm if I tell them the truth about Gillon Bane and the Mysterons.”
Fawn nodded. “Perhaps you’d better try and explain it to me as a dry run?” he suggested. He fetched the second chair from where it stood against the wall, and placed it on the opposite side of Scarlet’s recovery bed from Captain Blue. Then he listened, without interruption, to the somewhat garbled accounts of both officers concerning what had actually happened at Torpenhow Hall.
“I can see your problem, Scarlet,” Fawn remarked, as the officers’ explanations petered out into speculation. “Even if we accept that the Mysterons had some involvement in what happened to poor Mrs Olifard, Gillon Bane won’t be an easy thing to explain.”
“It seems that whatever Gillon Bane was and however he became the entity he was, is destined to remain a mystery,” Blue remarked. “He vanished without trace, there’s nothing to show he even existed, except the memories in our minds.” He indicated Scarlet and himself.
“Strange how once the building was destroyed he ceased to be,” Fawn said thoughtfully. “Makes me wonder if it was all an illusion – like a kind of mass hysteria.”
Both men shook their heads at this suggestion.
“He existed - in some form or other,” Blue said firmly.
Scarlet nodded. “I agree. Right at the end it was like… like he was offering me the chance to use his thirst for vengeance to fuel my own,” he tried to explain. “I shan’t forget that feeling in a hurry.”
“You have a thirst for vengeance?” Fawn asked lightly.
“Yes, of course I do,” Scarlet snapped, and stopped. There was an uneasy frown on Fawn’s face. “Well, not like Gillon Bane had, I mean, I’d like to wring the Mysterons’ necks, but it’s not like I’ll ever get the chance, is it?”
“Always supposing they have necks,” Blue interjected with his habitual pedantry.
“Well, yes, of course, supposing they have necks,” Scarlet retorted, rolling his eyes at what he considered an unnecessary qualification.
With a casual tilt of his head that quite failed to convince either officer that his next question was unimportant, Fawn asked, “Did you accept his offer of a new improved capacity for vengeance, Paul?”
“No,” Scarlet replied indignantly. “Do me a favour, Doc. I may be your pet project for tests and trials, but I’m still me. I have my feet firmly planted on the ground. I only do what I can, when I can, and that’s all I can do, and all I ever want to do.”
Both Doctor Fawn and Captain Blue, who were forever on the sharp end of Scarlet’s determination to do everything himself, took that declaration with a pinch of salt.
The doctor decided not to contest it, however, and turned his attention to Captain Blue.
“How about you, Adam? Did Gillon Bane give you the chance to enhance your capacity for vengeance?” he asked.
Blue smiled. He glanced surreptitiously at Scarlet and back to the doctor, his smile broadening into a huge grin, then he started to chuckle.
Scarlet looked at Fawn in alarm.
Blue quickly regained his composure, apologised and answered the doctor’s question with sincerity:
“What use would that be to me? You know I’m a Svenson, Doc; I reckon we could teach Gillon Bane a thing or two about holding a grudge…”
Fawn stared at Blue in consternation. It took a second or two until he noticed the American’s lips compressing in an attempt to control his urge to grin. He glanced at Scarlet to see that the Englishman was already sniggering.
The doctor was a little surprised that they were taking the whole thing so lightly, but he knew them well enough to realise that he was unlikely to get any serious answers out of either of them now.
I suppose I should be pleased they’re taking it in their stride, he thought. Then the recollection of the horrors they witnessed and, far too often, experienced for themselves in the course of their work, put this latest incident into a macabre perspective. Maybe this is what it takes to keep them sane?
Entering into the convivial spirit of the conversation, he wagged an admonishing finger at them, and said, “Don’t you come the raw prawn with me, Captains!”
Blue’s grin exploded across his face and both men began to laugh heartily.
Shaking his head, as if at this sad lack of self-control amongst grown-men, Fawn turned to leave them to their tomfoolery. “I’ll come back when you’ve sobered up, you bloody pair of drongos!” he said, amiably.
And Paul Metcalfe leant back on his bank of pillows and laughed until his sides ached.
The 10th Halloween Challenge. Goodness, who would have thought it? My very first offering to the website in 2002 was a Halloween story, ‘Trick or Treat’. I have vivid memories of my nervousness and uncertainty about sending it in. I told myself the worst that could happen was they’d tell me not to give up the day job and to go away.
It didn’t happen. I was fortunate that my first attempt at fan fiction was sent to Chris Bishop, whose response was kind and encouraging. Perhaps, if she had known what she was letting herself in for, she’d have sent it back!
Therefore, I owe a great debt of thanks to Chris and to all of the friends I have made through her wonderful website and the fandoms of Captain Scarlet and New Captain Scarlet.
My thanks also go to my
beta-reader, Hazel Köhler, who does her best to ensure that I make as much
sense as possible. Any mistakes in the
text are therefore mine.
My Torpenhow Hall does not exist, although the villages of Torpenhow and
Bothel do and there is a real Torpenhow Hall in the region. I apologise to the
locals for appropriating their neighbourhoods and peopling them with all sorts
of ‘fantastical delusions’.
My Torpenhow Hall does not exist, although the villages of Torpenhow and Bothel do and there is a real Torpenhow Hall in the region. I apologise to the locals for appropriating their neighbourhoods and peopling them with all sorts of ‘fantastical delusions’.
The rights to the TV show ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™’ belongs to a business corporation. I have to admit, I have lost track of which one. The original concept belonged to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and a team of technical magicians in the 1960s, who created a world that still has the power to captivate and enthral more than 40 years later.
They are the real heroes.
Thank you for reading. I hope you have enjoyed it and that you have a peaceful and happy Halloween.
18 September 2011.
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