The party was in full swing. Holly and mistletoe hung from every inch of the Observation Lounge, and someone had set up a table covered with festive fare against the wall. Rhapsody stood there. The other Angels had dragged her here and all she really wanted to do was wait until they were distracted, (and given the number of off duty Captains here, that shouldn’t take too long), and get out of here.
A hand coiled around her waist, while a voice whispered in her ear. “If you will stand under the mistletoe...”
A smell of alcohol and fruit ran down her neck. Without thinking, without remembering that it all happened years ago and there was no way it could be him, she jammed her elbow back.
Crash, the table collapsed, as everyone was suddenly looking at her.
“Jesus, Caroline!” Captain Magenta said, cradling his abdomen as he got to his feet. “Can’t you take a joke?”
Rhapsody’s breathing was deep and panting as she gazed furiously at the Italian.
“Joke? Well, personally, I didn’t find it very funny, and I doubt that the Spectrum Sexual Harassment Committee would agree with you!”
“Oh, come on! It’s just a tradition; don’t you think you’re over-reacting?”
He was close, too close. She could still smell the Martini on his breath. Without thinking, without even noticing the spectacle she was making of herself, she turned around and fled.
Unthinkingly, she ran past her quarters, past the lifts, past the mess halls and the kitchen to the Standby Lounge.
She sat down. Here she was safe. Even Lieutenant Green’s holiday spirit had been quelled at decorating in here, and it wasn’t like anyone would think to look for her here.
Unfortunately, she had reckoned without a Mysteron-free evening, as she had not been in the room for five minutes, when she suddenly heard the door sliding open.
Poking her head over the top of the sofa, she saw Captain Scarlet entering the room.
“Paul, what are you doing here?”
The dark-haired Englishman smiled. “Switched shifts with Grey. Destiny’s with her folks.”
He came and sat down on the sofa opposite her. “Thought you might like to talk about what happened back there.”
He glanced at her. “You O.K?”
“I’m fine,” she said, automatically. “It’s just… I hate this!”
There. It was at last out in the open.
“I hate that stupid party and all the junk that accompanies it. They…” She jerked her head towards the corridor, where the sounds of the party could be heard. “…don’t know anything about it.”
“And you do?” It was simply an enquiry.
Rhapsody sighed. “Christmas isn’t just a time for family, for parties, for food and drink. It’s a time when our past...can be too close,” she finished, aware of how feeble it sounded.
“You sound like you’re talking about ghosts,” Scarlet said, attempting to turn the situation into a joke.
“Maybe I am,” she muttered softly. “A ghost made me what I am today.”
At Scarlet’s questioning look, she began: “When I was a kid, I…” She picked at the hem of her uniform jacket. “… I made some stupid decisions. A lot of them involving alcohol.”
She glanced up at his face, seeing the disbelief written there.
“I know. I know. Miss Rhapsody Angel: the frigid English woman. Won’t even drink fruit punch. It’s too close to the real thing, and I know if I drink it, I’ll want something stronger and I can’t do that, because I know what it does to me.” She sighed deeply.
“I was nineteen, just finishing my first term of second year at University and my parents were getting a divorce. In one sense, it was a relief - they fought continuously. But it got tricky when my father got involved with one of my friends.” She shivered at the memory. “I just stopped going home; I started drinking and hanging around with a bad crowd...”
She paused, as though uncertain about how far she should go, but decided that as she’d come this far, it made more sense to finish her explanation. “We did a lot of stupid stuff,” she admitted finally. “But we were just kids. Just stupid kids, doing stupid stuff and we more than paid for it.”
“Everyone does foolish things when they’re young,” Scarlet agreed softly,
nodding his head.
She shivered, but there was a hint of a smile at the corners of her mouth.
“John was a real whirlwind; completely different to every other guy I’d dated. His hair was green and he dressed totally in black. He told me that he was studying English, and in Halls at St. Jude’s. I thought it was odd I hadn’t heard of it, but it was a big university. Even some of the professors still got lost.”
“I don’t blame John for what happened, the route he took me on, I was quite happily going there on my own, but he gave me a lift. I was drinking, cutting classes, waking up some nights and having no idea what had happened, ditching my friends.” She sighed. “Everyone was worried; they could all see I had a problem. Everyone, but me.”
Paul tried to picture the Rhapsody he knew, happier underneath a plane than at a party, doing all this, but gave up. People changed, and something told him that she needed to tell someone this, whatever this was.
“The first hint we got that anything was going on, was at the annual Christmas Bazaar at Church. I’d been dragged there by my mum. I didn’t want to go. At the last moment, I persuaded John to accompany me. It was exactly as it always was, as it always had been, and I hated it. John dragged me aside into one of the rooms the Sunday School met in, off the main hall. He’d brought some Vodka with him - it was what he always drank, a Martini, shaken not stirred, like James Bond he used to joke - and we were drinking it and fooling around. Suddenly, John fell forward on to the floor. I shook him, but I couldn’t wake him. That sobered me up pretty quickly. I ran out, almost colliding with Kate Atkins.”
“Kate Atkins?” Paul asked, stunned. “As in Kate Atkins, President of the British Red Cross? I remember you mentioning you knew her, but I didn’t think you went that far back.”
“The same, though at that point, she was just a university student doing first aid duties in her spare time. I’d known Kate since we were both children. I babbled at her to help John, and that he was in the Sunday School room. She tried to calm me down, and called Byron, who I’d also known since childhood, over - to act as a chaperone.”
At Paul’s expression she shrugged. “Males can’t treat females unsupervised and vice versa. Their Duty Officer, Marion Hill, was a bit of a stickler about that.” She sighed. “My mum found me. She wanted me to meet someone; the details are a little hazy, but what I remember very clearly is Kate and Byron pulling me away, and demanding to know what I thought I was playing at. I told them I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, and Kate said, that my joke wasn’t funny, that it had got them into trouble and could have cost someone their life. When I asked them ‘what joke’, Byron told me that they had gone into the Sunday School room, to look for my “collapsed casualty”, but the room was empty and in darkness.”
“They’d got the room wrong,” Paul suggested, shrugging. Caroline nodded.
“That’s what they thought too, or that I had; they could both smell the alcohol on my breath, so they checked all the other rooms that the Sunday School used. That’s why they were in trouble. They hadn’t reported in what the situation was, so the duty officer got worried that it was serious and sent another couple after them, with a defibrillator. When they couldn’t find either the casualty or them, she was pretty cross. I called them liars and stormed off into the graveyard. Sitting on a tombstone, I found John. He told me that he’d just come out for a smoke, that he’d never seen anyone in a Red Cross uniform. Looking back, that should have warned me something was up, as both Kate and Byron were very conscientious in their duties, and they’d never have abandoned a casualty, but, at the time, I just joined him in bad-mouthing them.”
She paused, chewing her lip.
“Things were getting ugly. I was hanging out with John, drinking worse than ever. And a few days before the end of term, I was approached by a very worried Kate. ‘Caroline,’ she said, ‘I think you need help.’”
“I demanded to know what she was on about. She hummed and aah’d, but eventually admitted that the night before she’d been coming back from a spell on duty, when she saw me in a car, with a guy all in black. While she couldn’t prove anything, she was fairly sure that he’d been drunk. I told her she was mistaken, that it couldn’t have been me. She asked where I’d been that night anyway. I thought, but I...I couldn’t remember. Kate started trying to talking to me about how dangerous that was, how anything could have happened, and I...” She sniffed. “I snapped at her, called her some horrible, horrible things, which brought Byron over to me. He also told me a few home truths, which, of course, I didn’t want to hear.”
“That’s the thing I regret the most about what happened. Byron and Kate were, are, good people. They both volunteered tirelessly with the Red Cross, and when the Terrorism Wars started, both were out there, trying to help people. Byron was actually shot by Renegades, when he tried to save the life of a wounded soldier.”
She rubbed at her eyes, praying she wasn’t going to start crying. Not here. Not now.
“Kate also said that the oldest member, a guy called Rob Hill, had seen me too. I called him a blind old fool, especially when I learnt that he’d told Kate to ‘get her away from him at any cost’. She’d no idea what that meant at the time, anymore than I did.”
“But you know now?”
Caroline swallowed, the tears running down her cheeks. “It was Boxing Day. We’d arranged to meet up after dark. John was so full of good cheer; I knew he’d been drinking. He suggested we go some place different. There was a club on the way out of town, the Night Owl. We’d all heard of it. It was trouble.” She was shaking now, as well as crying. “We were drinking. I ordered a double whisky, John had a Martini. There was a guy at the next table, making eyes at me. I was drunk, flattered and flirting.”
She closed her eyes, trying to shut out the memories.
“I went to the ladies, and… when I got back… ” Scarlet offered her a tissue and she grabbed it gratefully. “John had agreed to race the guy; he thought it was laugh! Even though this guy was so drunk he could hardly walk. I tried to talk him out of it, pleading with him to stop. But he told me I was being a square. He all but dragged me into his car. Called me his good luck charm.”
The tissue was sodden, and Paul didn’t dare move to get another. He sensed that, like the Ancient Mariner, Rhapsody needed to tell someone this.
“We were going fast. Too fast. I kept yelling at him to slow down, to stop, to do...something. I had a sort of dog’s collar bracelet; you know the ones with the spikes? It caught him on the face when I was hitting at him, and... the flesh tore away. His face was a skull. I was sitting next to a corpse!”
She was all but shrieking and Scarlet glanced nervously towards the corridor, relieved that the music was so loud.
Rhapsody stopped and breathed for a few minutes trying to collect herself.
“I just opened the door and flung myself out of that car. I hate to think what could have happened to me that night. We were on the M25, just before it closed for good. and while it was quiet, there was still some traffic about, but I got lucky. I ran into friends.” She swallowed. “In our area the Red Cross had a victims’ support unit; they helped out after fires and that sort of thing, and I literally landed on the tarmac in front of their van. Kate, Byron and Rob Hill, were on board. Rob was driving, he slammed on the brakes and Kate and Byron jumped out. I told them everything, although, I’m not sure how much of what I said made sense. Kate was sitting beside me, and Byron was talking on the radio, when there was a terrific explosion. Byron and Rob grabbed their gear from the back and were starting off, when there was another explosion that just threw us all back. Rob was the first one to his feet, and he started moving, barely aware of the rest of us. He kept muttering, “no, not again!”
She shook herself.
“We were too late. The cops said that the guy must have been going at nearly 100 miles an hour when the car hit a guard rail. By that time we got there, the place was an inferno. There was nothing anyone could do. The police said he must have been dead before the fire started. I pray to God they’re right.”
“What happened to John?” Paul asked, his heart pounding even while he fought to keep his expression neutral.
Caroline shook her head.
“There was no evidence of him. None of the patrons at the club remembered anyone with me; everyone said I’d been in there alone. I got a lecture on the dangers of that; the police thought it had been an attempted rape gone wrong, that the dead guy had spiked my drink and I’d been lucky enough to get out of the car before it crashed. They wanted to use it in their “Don’t Drink and Drive” adverts that year. I tried to tell the sergeant that they were wrong, but Rob Hill…” She shook her head. “He told me not to say too much to the police, but to come and meet him in the New Year, once I’d got myself together.”
She looked at Paul, very seriously. This was the part she wasn’t entirely sure she’d have believed herself if she hadn’t been there. Byron had always insisted there had to be another explanation, that the car could have gone over the embankment, even though he and Kate had searched there with a torch that very night, and in the weeks that followed.
“When I met him, he showed me some old photos, from the club that used to
stand where the Night Owl was. Revs, I think it was called. There was his wife,
Margery, her sister Joan, and John.”
“No,” Caroline said quietly. “No, that might have been kinder.” She sat up straighter. “Margery was the eldest of three sisters. Joan was apparently the wild one, one of the bright young things. John was her boyfriend, a real bad lot according to Rob. The family thought he was completely without morals. About a week before Christmas, according to Rob, she was at the club that stood on the site of the Night Owl, along with her younger sister, Veronica. John took them there and said he’d give them a lift home, but he was drunk.”
“They never made it home. John crashed the car into a tree. Joan was dragged from the car, horribly burnt, but alive. Veronica was killed.” She paused licking her lips. “According to Rob, Joan never said a word after the accident; by all accounts she was virtually catatonic. She spent the rest of her life in an institution, where she died of natural causes. John didn’t survive the crash.”
“What did Rob mean by “get her away from him at any cost”?” Paul asked, slightly confused.
“Rob told me the family always thought that Joan might have had something to do with the accident. They don’t think she meant to kill them both, but... It was well known that he’d been unfaithful to her. There were a couple of stories of his other affairs that, if they weren’t quite technically rape, came dangerously close. One of these,” she swallowed, “was with Veronica. The barman said that John had only had a glass of gin, that he wasn’t drunk, not that anyone believed him. The family…” She chewed on her lip. “…always wondered if Joan had spiked his drink, with tragic consequences.” Despite the warmth of the lounge, Paul shivered.
Rhapsody smiled slightly, a bitter smile. “In one sense, what happened with John was a good thing. I started hanging out with Byron and Kate again, quit drinking, Byron was actually the one who got me involved with engines. He had this old banger that continuously broke down and of course being a student he could never afford to repair it. I offered to help, to keep my mind off what happened. Turned out I was a natural.” She shrugged. “MI6 recruited me, for that, and for the martial arts I got involved with for the same reasons, just after I graduated. And that led me here, which I wouldn’t change for the world, but...” she shook her head.
“Now you know why I hate this time of year,” Caroline said.
Captain Scarlet nodded as the strains of Silent Night penetrated the night.
This story was beta-read by members of the Beta-Readers Panel. Any remaining mistakes are the author's.
The rights to 'Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons'Ó are owned by Carlton International Media. The series was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.