Masquerade

A Spectrum story for Christmas

By Marion Woods

 

 

Boston, Massachusetts, USA.  Just before Christmas.

 

It had been on the cards for some years but they’d never quite managed to pull it off, until now. 

The spacious limousine swept in through the automatic wrought-iron gates and along the drive edged with snow-covered mature trees and bushes, towards the house.  Both buildings and grounds were awash with bright, white lights, which made the crisp snow sparkle under the leaden morning sky.

“It looks just like a beautiful Christmas card,” Karen Wainwright said, smiling at her hostess.

“You know, I really do like Christmas; if only because it is the only time of the year I can get John to scale down his business activities,” Sarah Svenson replied, as she drove slowly towards the paved area before the front entrance.

“Not that he really enters into the spirit of Christmas, you understand?” her son interjected. “He’s simply had to come to terms with the fact that the rest of humanity takes Christmas off… so he might as well.”

Sarah gave her eldest son an exasperated look.  “Now don’t start, Adam.  Let’s see if we can’t have one family Christmas where you and your father aren’t at each other’s throats, shall we?  Let’s show our guests just what a loving family we are – or at the very least, how civilised we can be?” 

Adam Svenson grinned at his mother.  “I’m willing, if he is.”

“Dad said he’d been looking forward to seeing you all again,” his sister Katherine revealed, adding, “That said, you mustn’t let him talk shop – and he will try, you can be sure of that.”

“He won’t get much of a conversation out of me then, I’m afraid; I’m a complete novice at banking,” Seymour Griffiths replied warily.  “The topic will go right over my head.”

“Oh, with you he’ll talk computers: which companies are making the best ones, which are falling behind… he’s not averse to mining anyone’s expertise, on anything,” she explained, smiling into his genial face. 

“I suppose I ought to be pleased that he’s prepared to talk to me at all,” Seymour responded, with a slight grimace.

“Nonsense; I don’t know what you’re all talking about,” Karen interjected.   “Mr Svenson is a charmer; I adore him to bits!”

The young men exchanged surprised glances and Sarah Svenson chuckled.  “Ah, well, you have distinct advantages, Karen.”

“At least two that I can think of…” Seymour muttered sotto voce.

Adam turned a cautionary glance on him.  “And those would be?” he asked with exaggerated mildness.

“She’s female and she’s beautiful,” Seymour responded with equally as exaggerated innocence.

Karen laughed.  “Just treat him as you would any man…”

“Any man worth more than the entire economy of my island home, you mean?” Seymour quipped.  “Right, thanks for the advice, Karen.”

The car had come to a stop and they started to get out, as the handyman emerged from the house to fetch their luggage.   Sarah put a hand on Seymour’s arm.

“You didn’t mean that, did you?  You know we’re always happy to see you, Seymour; I’d hate to feel that you weren’t comfortable with us.”

“No, Mrs Svenson-”

Sarah: Mrs Svenson sounds so old!”

“Sarah,” he corrected himself, giving her a bright grin.  “I just meant that I’d feel the same about the father of any girl I was hoping to marry…”

She hugged him, giving a delighted squeal.  “I’m already making plans!  Mind you, I have been making plans for Karen and Adam’s wedding for years – and they show no sign of doing the deed.  Well, not that deed – they might as well be married already as far as anything else is concerned; if you get my drift…”

Seymour nodded, feeling just a tad embarrassed.   He was still unused to Sarah’s stream of consciousness conversations.  He believed her to be an astute and perceptive woman, both her son and daughter told him she was, for a start, but she would rattle on for considerable lengths, without apparently saying anything, only to bring you up sharp at the end, so that you had to try and follow what she was saying.   He often wondered if Captain Blue’s habitual taciturnity was a reaction to a childhood of never getting a word in edgeways.

Now, as she drew him with her into the house, her arm through his, she was still chattering away.

“I have put you in the guest room at the end of the hall,” she continued without drawing breath.  “Kitty said that would be the best room for you, so that… if you needed anything, you know… she’s just down the corridor, on the left.  The house is a bit of a maze until you get used to it – but we like it and it suits us, especially as the children grew up.  Adam named it the ‘the archipelago’… when he was a child – I think he’d just come across the word and was applying it to anything he could… it is a rather nice name, though, isn’t it?  Did you see, by the gate, I got them to put it on a brass plaque ‘The Svenson Archipelago’ – John thought I was going soft in the head, but I said we should encourage the children to use their imagination and expand their vocabularies – I can’t abide children whose conversation consists of ‘yer-knows’ and ‘dude’.” She gave a delicate shudder.  “Of course, that was never a problem with Adam – or the others, really, but Adz in particular always liked to use unusual words when he got the chance – he still does, of course, but you know that.   He says the house was designed so that the inhabitants could live entirely separate lives if they chose, and I suppose he’s right; the kids have all declared unilateral independence for their bedrooms at some time or other.   David went so far as to devise a visa on his computer once, and present us all with one at breakfast one day – explaining that they could be revoked at a moment’s notice if we transgressed.” 

She shook her head in bewilderment.  “I will never understand my children, Seymour; they are impossible at times; but I fully intend to get to know my son and daughter in law – before I finally get the right to call them that!”

Karen slipped her arm through Adam’s and watched Sarah making Seymour welcome.  She grinned.  “Your mom is in full flow; I hope she doesn’t befuddle Griff so much he spends the weekend in a daze.”

“No, she goes gently with novices…”

Karen laughed.  “I love your mom.”

“So do I.”

He led her into the drawing room, where he knew there was a surprise for her.  As they entered, a woman rose gracefully to her feet and turned to them, her arms spread wide in welcome.

“Karen!”

Mom!”   She dropped her boyfriend’s arm and flew to embrace her mother. 

Sarah looked on with delight and went to her son.  “You didn’t tell her then?”

“You told me not to.”

“Good boy.”  She patted his backside.  “Always do what momma tells you, and you won’t go far wrong.”

He laughed and swept her off her feet in a hug.  “You are remarkable; have I told you that?”

“Not often enough,” she teased, as he set her down.  

Amanda Wainwright was holding her arms out to him now, and he went to greet her, stooping to kiss her cheek.  “I reckon this Christmas is going to be a classic,” he said.  “My three favourite women in the entire world are all here under one roof.”

A-hem,” his sister said, hands on her hips.

Four favourite women…” he amended smoothly, as he laughed at her.

 

They ate an early lunch.  The afternoon was to going to be devoted to a children’s party and, Mrs Svenson explained, everything had to be cleared away before that started.

“Why are you having a children’s party?” Karen asked Sarah.

“We always have one.  It all started a long time ago, well, when Adam was old enough to have his own little friends anyway.  We thought-”

“That means Mom thought and Dad gave in,” Adam translated.

We thought, Adam John, that it would be nice for him to have a party too.  He was too young to come to the adult party, of course, so we decided to have it in the afternoon, before the evening guests arrived.  It started out as a small thing, but it grew – like Topsy – until it’s become quite an event.  Of course, it’s had plenty of time to get established; I mean, it started when Adam was only about eighteen months old and carried on every year until David was ten or so.  By then it was a tradition, so we carried it on even though our own children thought it was too babyish for words.   Now, of course, we have Peter’s little girls, and so they invite their friends – and my children’s friends, some of them are married with children of their own… so we invite them to bring their children along, much as they used to come themselves.”  She sighed poignantly.  “Some mothers don’t have to keep asking themselves if they’ll ever have grandchildren…”

“You have grandchildren – two little girls, remember?” Adam interjected.

“I was going to say, grandchildren from all their children,” Sarah rebuked him; “but I never get a chance to finish anything I’m saying; in fact, I hardly get a chance to say anything at all… why are you laughing, Adam?  That’s extremely rude of you.  I might add, that I’m going grey waiting for these other grandchildren.”

“I agree, Sarah,” Amanda Wainwright said, as Mrs Svenson concluded her speech with a smug smile.  “Of course, it’s worse for me; I only have one daughter, who shows no sign of settling down and raising a family.”

Simultaneously, Karen and Adam both rolled their eyes and across the table Seymour guffawed with laughter.

Sarah left the table and returned moments later with a slim, electronic photograph album.  She handed it to Karen. Adam groaned.   “We always had a photographer to record the merry scenes.  Take a look – there are some cute pictures of Adam as a toddler.”

“Really?  Ooh…”

“You don’t want to look at them,” he said, making a grab to take the device from her. 

“Hands off, Harvard!  I want to see.”

“He really was cute as a little boy,” Sarah said, adding with a wink at her son, “shame he had to grow out of it.”

“Oh, I think he’s still rather cute,” Amanda said, joining in with the gentle teasing, “Especially when he gets all embarrassed and starts to blush… like he’s doing now.”

“Yeah, I guess, as big brothers go, he’s not bad,” Kate said, chuckling. 

“What big brother could ask for a greater accolade?” Seymour exclaimed.  “If I thought any of my sisters would say as much about me, I’d be over the moon, I can tell you.”

“Oh, Griff, that’s not true,” Karen cried.  “I’ve met one of your sisters and Merlene said you were wonderful.”

“Well, she would; there isn’t a mean bone in Merle’s body.”

“Or in yours,” Karen told him. 

“I’ll second that,” Adam said, raising his glass in a salute to the younger man, as Kitty slipped her arm through his and rested her head against his shoulder.

“I think my children are all very lucky; they’ve all found such wonderful partners… I only hope Davy does as well, when he stops fooling around long enough to start looking,” Sarah said.

 

They took coffee in the lounge.  Amanda sat beside Karen on the sofa, with Adam perched on the end, his arm along the back to balance him as he leant over to answer their questions about the photographs they were viewing.

“Are these your grandparents?” Amanda asked him.

“Yes, that’s Stefan and Karin, and behind them are Mom’s parents.”

“A definite resemblance there, I’d say.”  Amanda smiled at him.

“Aww, look, Mom,” Karen gushed.  “He was so cute…”

“You see, I knew this wasn’t a good idea, you’re getting broody,” he remarked ruefully.

“There is more to your mother than you realise,” Amanda agreed, with a chuckle.  He grinned.

“This is the party?  Wow, you had a visit from Santa Claus?”

“Yes, that’s part of the tradition.  Mom hires a stand-in Santa and he gives all the party-goers presents.  In addition he takes duplicate gifts to the Charity Tree and they’re distributed to kids around Boston who aren’t as fortunate as we are.  Dad also makes a donation equivalent to what the party cost.  He does the same for the evening party as well.”

“That’s kind of him,” Karen said.

“It just means that Mom feels justified in spending what she likes, on the grounds that it is for charity,” he replied.  “The thing gets more elaborate every year.”

“Still, it’s the thought that counts.”

Karen flicked through the photographs and suddenly chuckled.  “You weren’t awfully impressed by Santa, were you?”  The photograph showed the small boy frowning warily at the bearded man on whose lap he was sitting. 

“Actually, I was terrified.  He asked me if I’d been naughty and I’d already been told off for something… I’d pulled a little girl’s hair, I think… anyway, I felt I’d have to be very careful, or all my presents would turn to coal,” he explained, looking down thoughtfully at the child who seemed a different person from the man he was now.   “I was a very mercenary little boy - then.”

“Shame on you,” Karen said.  “Did you kiss the girl and make up afterwards?”

“Probably, but I can’t have been more than two or three in that picture…so it was all very innocent,” he hastily reassured her and she laughed. 

They were interrupted by the arrival of Peter Svenson’s wife, Cicely, and her two young daughters, and spent the next few hours entertaining the girls and helping them get ready for their party.   Guests started arriving in twos and threes and chatting with Sarah Svenson or Cicely, until there were about thirty children, all in fancy-dress costumes and all under seven.

It made a gaudy sight, and the three Spectrum Agents, used to spending their days living in expectation of another dangerous mission, gradually relaxed into the mood of excitement and jollity.  There was a plethora of fairy-tale princess, a sprinkling of pirates, superheroes and kings, and more than a few cute animals, including the Svenson girls, dressed as Tigger and Eeyore, who induced waves of adoring cooing in the women and soppy smiles in the men. 

 

 

  The noise was horrendous, and it took a lot of their time and energy to coax the children into playing the games they’d organised.  Seymour proved himself a natural, and soon became the most popular man in the room, surrounded by children clamouring for his attention. 

“He looks like the Pied Piper,” Karen said to Kate.  “Those kids would follow him anywhere!”

“I know – he’s simply amazing…”

Karen smiled; it was nice to see the self-effacing Lieutenant Green the centre of attraction for once.   She looked around for her own boyfriend, and saw him perched on a window seat commiserating with a tearful Renaissance King, who had just been beaten at musical chairs by Snow White.  

Things didn’t get much calmer when they went through for the food, with squabbles over who got to eat what, and spilt juice… but when the table was cleared away, Adam and Kate made a show of going to the curtains and drawing them back to reveal the bright, almost magical garden, lit by the multitude of fairy lights. 

Kate cried, “Listen, I can hear sleigh bells!”

Truth to tell there was a faint jingling of bells from beyond the doorway. 

This heralded the arrival of Santa, with two assistant elves, carrying bulging sacks of presents.   That created even more noise, as the children cheered and jumped up and down.  It fell to Seymour, Kate, Karen and Adam to keep the ones waiting to see Santa entertained.   The young Trinidadian fetched his guitar and soon had the children sitting around him singing songs and nursery rhymes. 

“Thank God for musical lieutenants,” Adam murmured to Karen as they watched.   She nodded and rested against his shoulder for a moment. 

“I’m not sure I can party tonight as well…”

“Where’s your stamina, Angel?  What would the colonel say?”

“He’d say ‘What in blue blazes… get me out of here!’.”  She managed such a passable imitation of the colonel’s gruffest accent that her mother turned in surprise and smiled. 

Once every child had been photographed with Santa and given their present, grateful parents started to arrive to collect them and gradually peace descended. 

Adam flopped onto the sofa, his legs sprawled out in front of him, and heaved a sigh.  “Now I remember why I never come home before the fancy dress ball, as a rule.  How do you do it, Mom?  I just want to crawl into bed and sleep for the next 48 hours!”

“You forget: I’ve had over thirty years’ practise… and if you think this was bad, there were some of yours and Peter’s that almost ended up with your father sending you both for adoption…”

Karen laughed and sat beside him.  “Poor old Adam…”

“You don’t really want kids, do you?  I mean – just imagine that every year!”

“You’re not going to talk me out of it by trying to scare me.”

“Don’t you let him, Karen.  I think it’s pathetic that a man who spends his working life doing all sorts of dangerous things, gets scared by a bunch of kids,” Kate said.  “I thought better of you, Adz.”

Cicely Svenson, who usually held her formidable brother-in-law in too much awe to ever dare to contradict him, looked up from where she was sitting on the floor with her younger daughter and said, “You would regret it, Adam.  It is different when they’re your own.”

“I dare say you’re right, Cissie.  But, I take my hat off to you ladies; I’d rather face a dozen threats than a dozen screaming kids, all wanting to sit on Santa’s lap at the same time.”

Karen picked up the discarded Santa hat from the coffee table and placed it on his head.  “I’ve been an awful good girl, Santa-baby; can I sit on your lap?” she wheedled in a little girl voice. 

“Get a room, you two!”

Karen looked up. “Hi, David,” she said and smiled, as David Svenson entered the room. 

“Hi, Davy,” Adam said, lazily raising an arm in salute.  “I might’ve guessed you’d arrive once the hard work was over.”

“Merry Christmas to you too, Adz, and to you, Seymour; it’s good to see you again.  Now comes the fun part.  I get a Christmas kiss from my future sister-in-law!”

“No you do not…” Karen protested.  “I want a kiss from Santa, first.”

“Thwarted again!” David exclaimed, theatrically beating his breast in anguish.  He turned to kiss his mother and greet Amanda, who had just returned from waving off the last guest. 

“David, where have you been?  I expected you here an hour ago; you were supposed to be supervising the caterers for this evening.”

“Mom, they can do it with their eyes closed.”

“I’ll end up having to do everything myself… it’s always the same,” Sarah complained, but not with any real annoyance.

“Did you pick up your costume?” Kate asked, as she handed him a cocktail.

“I did, and I got the list you gave me too, Sis.  I am just so good.”

Adam chuckled and cuddled Karen a little closer.    “What are you going as, dare I ask?”

David tapped a finger against his nose.  “That would be telling, Adz.  Wait and see.”

“I haven’t been to a proper costume party for years,” Karen said, sipping her martini.

“I can honestly say I have never been to one, apart from the ones on Cl… base.” Seymour grimaced at his superior officer, but Captain Blue either hadn’t noticed his inadvertent slip, or didn’t care.

“Is there a theme this year, Mom?  Karen and I just got something together; I guess I should’ve asked sooner?”

“Yes, you should’ve, Harvard.  No one mentioned themes to me.” Karen pouted, and then she leant down to kiss him.  “I shall be very cross with you if you haven’t organised it properly.  Retribution will be extracted…”

“That won’t work,” David chipped in.  “He’ll only enjoy it.”

“David!” His mother bristled with disapproval, but her sons merely grinned. 

There was a deep affection between the eldest and the youngest Svenson, and Adam tolerated far more impertinence from his two youngest siblings than he had ever done from Peter, the brother closest to him in age.   The relationship between the two oldest boys was strained, driven apart by Peter’s jealous ambition to outshine his brother – something he was unlikely to do in the eyes of either parent.  Peter had always been the biddable one, the son who conformed to their expectations – or rather his father’s expectations – whereas Adam had struck out on his own and made a success of his chosen career without his father’s help.   However much John Svenson resented that fact, he was also incredibly proud of the boy with the strength of character to walk away from the family business. 

There wasn’t long before the evening’s events started, so the group gradually drifted upstairs to get into their costumes.   Adam and Karen went off, arm-in-arm, to the far end of the long house, where he had a small suite of rooms.  Amanda glanced at Sarah and they both gave thoughtful sighs as they contemplated the, occasionally, tempestuous relationship between their children. 

“One day…soon, I hope,” Sarah said quietly, as she followed her guest out to the stairs. 

“I certainly hope so,” Amanda replied with feeling.

 

John Svenson knew he was cutting it fine even before his patient secretary handed him a bundle of increasingly irate telephone messages demanding his return home.  He glanced at the clock on the wall of the outer office and calculated that he had another thirty-five minutes before he stood no chance of not being late.  He glanced at his PA and, without being asked, she swung her computer screen round so that he could see the traffic webcams.  

It’s busy out there… better make that twenty-five minutes. 

He turned to the four men who had followed him out of his inner office and said, “Gentlemen, I am sorry but I do have an important family commitment this evening and I shall be late if I don’t leave now.”

“Don’t apologise, John, I understand,” said a stocky, grey-haired man in a dull-grey military uniform. “I – and, I’m sure, General Averescu – are grateful that you made time to see us at all.”

The General nodded and said something to his aide, who translated: “The General expresses his thanks, Mr Svenson.  He feels there has been much progress made and he hopes for a successful conclusion in the near future.”

“Yes, indeed.  I’ll be able to make a positive report to the Supreme Commander,” Perran confirmed.

John’s business instinct was urging him not to lose the chance of such a lucrative contract and impulsively he said, “Perhaps you, and General Averescu, and his aide, would care to join me?  Once a year my wife organises a large costume ball – for charity.  I’m sure you’d have a pleasant evening.”

He waited as the aide translated and the general nodded enthusiastically. 

“That’s good of you, John,” Perran said.  “It’ll be a pleasure to see Sarah again.”

“I’m sure she’ll be delighted to see you too.” He turned to his PA and said, “Please inform my wife that I’m on my way home and will be bringing three guests.”

“Yes, Mr Svenson.”

“We don’t have costumes, though,” General Perran said, after consulting the aide.

“Not to worry; I never wear a costume, I wear a mask… that’s all. There are plenty of spares.”

The aide translated and then Averescu smiled and nodded.  “Is good,” he said in a deep, sonorous voice.

“Splendid.  If you’ll wait by the elevator, I’ll just conclude my business here.”  He turned to the fourth man, who’d been waiting in silence beside him.  “You and Margery are coming along, aren’t you, Fred?”

“Marge would never forgive me if we missed it,” his subordinate said.  “It seems Sarah’s told her that not only is Kitty going to be there, but her young man, as well – and Adam and his fiancée…  Margery reckons she’ll be able to lunch out on the gossip for weeks after this!” 

John Svenson laughed – not something he often did.  “It’ll be good to have the family all at home, for once,” he admitted. 

 

“Your father’s on his way,” ‘Marie-Antoinette’ announced as she put down the phone.  “It seems he’s bringing three guests with him: General Perran, a World Army Air Force general with an unpronounceable name, along with his aide and translator… if that isn’t four people?   Maybe the aide does the translating?  More than likely, I think.  I’m always having to remind your father that, although I do what I can to accommodate his business friends, a little warning is preferable to having them arrive unannounced… I think I’ve catered enough for unexpected guests as well as those we expect this year… what do you think; should I order some more, just in case?  You never know who might drop by – last year it was most of that hockey team your father was doing a deal with… and all their wives and hangers-on; we almost ran out of food… I’d have been mortified-” 

Across the living room Peter Svenson munched on a canapé and waited until his mother drew breath.  “He has warned you, Mom; and I think you have more than enough food here for the entire NHL and the fans, if they drop by again.”

“I suppose I should be grateful that he thought to call before the car pulled into the drive…”

“He was still involved in some high level talks with General Perran about a public-private finance initiative for some new military hardware, when I left the office,” he interjected.  “Perran only rang this morning, so it really is a last minute thing.  It seems that something went belly-up at Futura and they’re looking for new partners.  Dad thought this would be a sound investment and was disappointed not to get first crack at it.  It’s made his Christmas that the Europeans have had to pull out.”

“I don’t want to know about that, Peter; I want to know what these men are like…”

Peter shook his head and reached for another canapé.  “Sorry; I can’t help you there, Mom.  You know Perran, of course – he was here last year.  I didn’t meet General Averescu; I had meetings all afternoon until after five.”

“Leave those canapés alone, Peter – there will be none left for the guests if you eat them all.”  He rolled his eyes as he surveyed the mountains of food.  “Go and get ready… I’m sure Cicely will be grateful of your help.  What are you coming as?  No… don’t tell me; Cicely did say… I shall remember in a minute.  Go and get ready!”

Shaking his head, Peter picked up another canapé and fled before his mother’s cry of disapproval.  On the way out he encountered Amanda Wainwright, resplendent in the guise of a Gibson Girl.  He smiled and complimented her on her appearance before he went up the main staircase two steps at a time. 

“My dear, you look ravishing!” Sarah exclaimed, with such fervour Amanda blushed. 

“Do you think so?  I wasn’t sure it would do – too much like mutton dressed as lamb, perhaps?”  Sarah shook her head as emphatically as she dared. Amanda smiled.  “Thank you; but I can’t compete with your marvellous costume, Sarah…”

“Well, I feel I have to do what I can; John always refuses to wear a costume and I have to uphold the family honour.”  Sarah smoothed down the elaborate skirt of the dress and smiled, shyly.  “I like dressing up – I always have,” she confessed. “But balancing this wig isn’t easy and my neck will be aching before long.”

“You look magnificent,” her friend reassured her.   Although she didn’t envy her the high-coiffured headgear, crowned by a galleon in full sail, she had to admit Sarah Svenson did look fantastic and would probably top even her eldest son by several inches of powered wig – not to mention man o’war.  In comparison, she felt her own costume, based on a treasured family photograph of her great-grandmother’s grandmother, looked dowdy, despite the elegant trimmings on the leg o’mutton sleeves. 

Sarah seemed to sense her thoughts. She placed one bejewelled hand on Amanda’s arm and whispered, “I’d rather be wearing what you’ve got; but I’m expected to make a spectacle of myself at this event… I’m sure that’s the only reason half the ladies come at all…”

 

There was a marquee on the extensive lawn behind the house, where the main event took place.  It was reached from the conservatory by a covered walkway, bedecked with Christmas lanterns and fairy lights.  A select band of paparazzi were authorised to take pictures of the guests for the social magazines, and so it was with some nervousness that Seymour waited for Adam and Karen to arrive. 

“Anything wrong, Griff?” Karen asked.  “Where’s Kate?”

“She went across with her mother and your mom; seems she’s expected to have her picture taken for the magazines.”

“Hmm,” Adam snorted.  “Mom sells the rights for charity, but no one likes doing it much.  Have Peter and Cissie gone across?”

Seymour nodded.  “They had their pictures taken too.”

“I don’t mind having my picture taken,” Karen said, smoothing down the skirt of her costume.  “But no one will know who I am, so I don’t suppose they’ll want to take it.”

“We can’t have our pictures taken,” Seymour reminded her.  “We might be recognised as Spectrum agents.”

“Are you going to announce yourself as Lieutenant Green of Spectrum?” she asked, and he shook his head.  “Well, who is going to know?  Even the people who know Seymour Griffiths aren’t going to wonder much beyond the fact that you’re moving in exalted circles; same with me.  The real problem is Adam.  They’ll want to print his picture, right enough.”

“No worries,” he said, tilting the trilby he was wearing over his eyes so that his face was in shadow.  “I’m in disguise, don’t forget.”

I’d recognise you anywhere; hat or no hat.”  She smiled up at him. 

“Not everyone pays me as much mind as you do, älskling.”  He smiled at Seymour’s grin.  “I suggest you and Karen go across together and I’ll follow.  Just try not to look at the cameras.”

Karen sighed.  “You mean I have to forgo my fifteen minutes of fame?  The things I do for Spectrum.  Come on, Griff; let’s make an entrance.”

“Can I just ask…”

“Yes?”

“Who are you supposed to be?”

She laughed and went to lean against her lover.  “Isn’t it obvious?  I’m Bonnie Parker and he’s Clyde Barrow!”

“Or, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, if you prefer …” Adam suggested, with a broad grin, tipping his hat.

“Of course, it’s obvious now.  I should’ve guessed from the beret…”

“I presume you’re a wandering troubadour?” Adam said.

Seymour nodded.  “It’s Kate’s idea. The costume’s based on a famous painting, apparently; although between ourselves, it feels like something Destiny might wear….   Kate’s got one of those medieval dresses with the pointy hat and everything… I’m the hired entertainment…” 

“Aww... come on, Griff; if you keep saying things like that, you’ll make the rich folk feel guilty,” Karen teased, linking her arm through the younger man’s. 

“I didn’t mean it,” he protested, as she led him out towards the marquee and into the flash of a dozen cameras.

Before he could leave the conservatory and run the gauntlet of the reporters, Adam heard the front door open and close and the unmistakable sound of his father’s voice giving orders to the staff.  He hesitated as his father walked in.

“Adam!  Good to see you,” John called.

“Hi, Dad; good to see you too.”

“Have you met General Perran?”  Adam shook his head.  “General, this is my eldest son – Adam.”

“Ah, the one who got away, eh?” Perran said with ill-advised jocularity.  Adam gave a tight-lipped smile and shook the general’s outstretched hand.  “This is General Averescu, the commander of the World Army Air Force troops in Central Europe,” Perran said, as he dropped Adam’s hand and turned to the men behind him. 

The young American froze and lowered his head slightly, so that the brim of his hat obscured his face.  “Pleased to meet you, General,” he mumbled, stepping forward to shake the man’s hand.

The aide, a young, swarthy-faced man, listened and repeated: “The general asks if you have met before, Mr Svenson?”

Adam shook his head.  “No, sir.  But you know us Svensons, we all look alike…”

He saw his father’s frowning gaze turn on him and flashed a silent appeal.  He didn’t suspect him of any intentional mischief - there was no way he could have known that General Averescu had recently been to Cloudbase, discussing security matters with Colonel White, or that the agent sent to escort the general to Spectrum’s floating HQ had been Captain Blue, his Spectrum code name – but unwittingly, his father had created a potential security breach.    The identity of Spectrum’s premier agents was a closely guarded secret because many of them had worked in security departments, or led dangerous lives, before joining Spectrum and, in addition, revealing their names could put their families at risk.  He would have to warn Seymour and Karen, as Averescu had been introduced to most of the senior personnel and might well recognise ‘Lieutenant Green’ and ‘Symphony Angel’.

Shaking his head slightly at his son, John said, “Go and tell your mother that we’ve arrived, please.”

With a grateful nod, Adam turned and walked as fast as he could towards the marquee, his hat tilted towards the photographers and his head down.

“He’s a bit of a recluse, it seems?” Perran joked, watching the tall young man disappear.

“He doesn’t like the press any more than I do; but, as he doesn’t work for the company, he doesn’t have to tolerate them.  Something I envy him for.”

 

Adam found it easy to locate his mother.  He simply homed in across the teeming marquee on her wig, towering over the crowd, and tapped her shoulder, stopping her in mid-flow to her old friend, Abigail Tyrell, who was his godmother.

“Excuse me, Aunt Abi; I need to talk to my mom.”

“Adam, how nice to see you!  Melissa is here somewhere, she’ll want a dance later… and so will I, young man.”

He grinned and nodded, drawing his mother aside as he did so. 

“What’s the matter?” she asked, seeing the anxiety on his face.

“Dad’s here with two WAAF generals and one of them knows me… from work.  He might remember Griff and Karen too, so I have to warn them.  Do you know where they are?”

“I saw Kate and Seymour on the dance floor a moment ago.  Karen’s chatting to Lissa Tyrell, over by the bar. Is your father expecting me to go and greet them?”

“I don’t think so; I think it was more a case of giving me an excuse to get away from General Averescu.”

“Well, off you go, then.  I’ll keep an eye open for them and try to head them off if they seem to be heading your way.  I don’t want you to leave, Adz.”

“It won’t come to that, I’m sure. Thanks, Mom.” He bent and kissed her cheek, and Sarah patted his arm as he straightened and turned to find his companions.

He found Karen first; she was deep in conversation with Melissa Tyrell – who’d known Adam all their lives - and looked up to smile at him with an expression that suggested she’d been learning old embarrassing details of his youth.  

“Adz!” Melissa cried in delight, and moved to embrace him.   He hugged her – he was very fond of Lissa Tyrell.

“Hi, beautiful.”  He kissed her cheek.  “Have you been telling Karen about my youthful indiscretions?”

“Now, what makes you think we’d be talking about you? Except for your universally colossal male ego, of course…” she teased.

For a moment he actually looked surprised and blushed, shrugging. “Just a wild guess.”

Melissa laughed and Karen grinned up at him as she slipped an arm around his waist. 

“Well, you got it in one; I’ve been doing my research…”

“Oh dear, that sounds ominous.  Good job I have to break up your tête-à-tête.  My father’s arrived and he’s eager to see you.”  He gave Melissa a wry grimace of apology.

“Oh, you mustn’t keep Uncle John waiting.  I’ll catch you later, Karen, and finish my story about the wigwam…”

“Oh no – not that old chestnut!” Adam protested, chuckling.  “You’re never going to let me live that down, are you, Lissa?” 

Melissa shook her head and blew him a kiss. 

“This isn’t to do with your father, is it?” Karen remarked perceptively, as he drew her through the throng, towards the entrance.

“No, my father’s brought General Averescu back with him.  I think he recognised me, although I hope I put him off.  You met him, didn’t you?”  She nodded.  “I thought so; he’ll have met Griff too.  We have to keep out of his way.”

“Is he in costume?  No, well, we just avoid anyone in a WAAF general’s costume, then.”

“Sure, but first Griff has to know why we need to.  Can you see him?”

They scanned the dancers but there was no sign of Kate or Seymour.

“Maybe they’re at the bar?” Karen suggested.

They searched thoroughly without any luck.  Finally Karen said, “I think they must’ve gone back to the house… for a little quality time, maybe? After all, they see a lot less of each other than we do, Sky.” He nodded.  “We can hardly go looking for them in that case, can we?  Imagine if we barged in on them in an intimate moment…”

“I’m worried, Karen; if Averescu does recognise Griff…”

If… you worry too much.”  She slipped her arm though his and snuggled against him.  “Besides, I expect your father’s keeping them occupied with business matters… and I want some quality time with you, and not spend the entire party playing hide and seek with a general.”  She yawned genteelly. “We’ve done all we can, Adam; let’s go and enjoy ourselves.”

Reluctantly, he agreed.

 

General Averescu had no intention of spending the entire evening talking shop with John Svenson, and when his host went for the obligatory photocall with his wife and family, he slipped away from Perran and his aide, and went in search of something to eat and drink.   He was enjoying himself eating exotic canapés, sipping chilled wine and watching the partygoers dancing, when a young woman, dressed in the uniform of a waitress and carrying a tray of drinks, approached him. 

Averescu nodded and reached for another glass.   To his surprise the woman spoke to him in his own language and delighted to find someone to talk to, he engaged her in a conversation, which rapidly grew intimate.  She sidled up to him, and pressed her hand against his chest, glancing up at him through long eyelashes – and there was no mistaking the invitation in her eyes.   Averescu was a bachelor, who prided himself on being something of a ladies’ man, so he found her proposition of him entirely believable.   They slipped away together from the noisy marquee and went back to the house, intent on finding somewhere private.

 

 

 Katherine Svenson sighed and adjusted the veil of her hennin.   Perched beside her on the bed, Seymour finished fastening the multicoloured, pointed-toes shoes and grinned at her reflection in the mirror opposite. 

“Do you think anyone will have missed us?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “These parties are always such a scrum, you can never find anyone.  We’ll say we went for a walk in the garden, if we’re asked – which we won’t be.”

“I don’t want to upset your folks, Kitty.”

She turned to him, her face earnest with sincerity. “Sweetheart, nobody will mind.  My mom adores you, my brothers like you, and my father… well, you can leave him to me – but he’s never approved of any man I’ve dated since I was in junior high – but  he likes you.  Of course, I like you better than any of them…” She leant across and kissed him. “And I do what I want, with who I want, when I want.  You’ll have to get used to that, when we’re married.”

“And you’ll have to get used to my being away … on base, I mean.  Are you sure you’re happy with that?”

“I know you’re committed to your job, and I respect you for it.  Although I know it isn’t in the same league as saving the world, we all have a similar sort of concept of duty towards SvenCorp, even Adz - although he tries to pretend he doesn’t care what happens - even he keeps an eye on things.  So, I do understand.  I can’t say I like the thought of you putting yourself in danger-”

“Don’t worry, that rarely happens.  I’m stuck on Cloudbase more often than not, sending the other officers out to do the dangerous stuff,” he complained.

“It’s still dangerous.  But… well, when you come home on leave, we’ll have plenty to catch up on, won’t we?”  She kissed him again, long and passionately, until they toppled backwards onto the bed. 

Reluctantly, he let her go and said, “Look at the time, Kitty.  We’d better get back downstairs…”

“Yeah… we can always start again, later.”

Giggling, they walked from the room hand in hand and down the few stairs that led to the main landing. Suddenly, Seymour pressed her back against the wall and put a finger to his lips.  Kate peered over his shoulder and saw a man she didn’t know, in the uniform of the WAAF officer, leaving one of the spare rooms with a young waitress following close behind. 

“Cheek,” she said huffily.  “This isn’t a bordello…”

“Do you know him?”  he asked, and she shook her head.  “I do; that’s General Octavian Averescu – the commander of the Central European forces.  What’s he doing here?”

Kate thought for a moment.  “The name rings a bell; I think that’s the man General Perran asked Dad to talk to, about some arms deal he wanted financing.  I guess Dad invited him to the party; it’s no big deal, Seymour – except that he thinks it’s okay to hump some trollop in our guest rooms…”

“I wonder if the others know he’s here…”

“You think my father would countenance that?  It’s disgusting; he’s gotta be old enough to be her father anyway!”

Seymour frowned and explained, “I meant Adam and Karen.  He’s met us all on base.  He can identify us.”

“I take it that’s not good?”

He shook his head.  “No.”

“Then we’d better tell Adz and Kay then.  Come on, I’m going to tell Dad as well... My guess is he’ll rack up the commission charges….” She raced down the stairs with Seymour hurrying after her.

 

“Adam!” John Svenson called peremptorily across the hallway, as he saw his son walking towards the kitchen.

Adam turned and looked enquiringly at his father and General Perran, who were both looking flustered.  “Dad?”

“Have you see General Averescu?”

Adam shook his head.  “Why?  Have you lost him?”   He tried to keep the question light-hearted, although he felt a jolt of concern at the news that the general was loose amongst the partygoers and Seymour still didn’t know he was here.

Perran replied, sounding exasperated.  “His aide went to the bathroom and when he came back the general had vanished. We’ve been searching for a considerable time.”

“I haven’t seen him; mind you, it’s such a crush in there, that’s not surprising.  I was looking for Kate and Seymour and couldn’t find them either.”

“I saw them in the marquee, talking to your mother, a few minutes ago,” John said. 

“You did?  Thanks, I’ll go and catch them.”

But he didn’t have to leave as he saw his sister and friend hurrying across the walkway back to the house.  Seymour raised a hand to attract his attention and Kate shouted for her father.

“I’ve been looking for you,” Adam said, as they drew close. 

We’ve been looking for you and Dad,” Kate responded.  “You’ll never guess who we saw creeping out of one of the bedrooms with a waitress in tow?”

“I’m not interested in gossip,” John said disapprovingly – although whether of his daughter or the actions of his unnamed guest wasn’t clear.

“You’ll be interested in this.  Tell them, Seymour.”

Griffiths looked at Adam rather than John Svenson.  “General Octavian Averescu,” he said, with a significant expression.

“Averescu?  But we’re looking for him?  The randy old man,” Perran chuckled.   “No wonder we couldn’t find him, John.”

“Where did he go?” John asked his daughter.

“He went towards the garage.  Probably needed a cigarette…” she said, disgust colouring her voice and expression. 

“I’ll go and bring him back,” Adam said, and set off at a brisk pace across the hall and out towards the integral garages.

He hadn’t gone far before he met Hewitt, the family’s chauffeur/ handyman, walking towards the house.

“Mr Adam,” Hewitt acknowledged the younger man with a brief smile.  “Have you seen your father?”

“He’s in the hall.  Hewitt, has anyone come into the garages recently, apart from new arrivals, I mean?”

Hewitt nodded, looking surprised.  “Yes; I was on the way to tell your father.  A military gentleman just came down and commandeered a car.  I had to give him Miss Kate’s; it was the easiest one to get out.  He said he had permission to use one and would return it, but it was an emergency.”

“He said that in English?”

 “Sure, I don’t speak anything else, sir.”

“And General Averescu doesn’t speak any English…” Adam’s voice faded to a whisper, “unless of course, it wasn’t Averescu…” he added to himself.

He described the general and Hewitt agreed that it was the same man who had taken the car.

“Did I do wrong, sir?” he asked.

“No – don’t worry.  Thanks, Hewitt, I’ll tell my father.” 

He turned and ran back to the hallway.  His father and General Perran were still there talking to Kate and Seymour, who had been joined by Karen.   All of them looked around when he ran through the door. 

“Did you find him?” Seymour called.

“No; Hewitt says he’s taken Kate’s car-”

“He’s what?” Kate exploded.

“Averescu demanded a car, so Hewitt gave him yours,” he explained to her, much as one would to a child.  “You’ll get it back later, I don’t doubt.”

“Taken it where?” Karen snapped.

“Not sure.  Maybe we’ll find a clue back in the room.”

“A clue to what?” Karen asked as she followed him up the stairs, with Seymour close behind them. 

“How come Averescu could speak perfect English to Hewitt.” There was a harshness in his voice that spoke volumes to her.

“You don’t say…” she responded genially, all the time fearing the worst.

They reached the door of the room Seymour indicated, and Adam gently pushed Karen to one side.  She grimaced in protest, but realised this was not the time or situation to complain.   Adam drew a gun from the inside pocket of his jacket, but it was not the kind Clyde Barrow would have used; it was his Spectrum-issue pistol, with the pale-blue hand guard.   She was only mildly surprised that he was carrying it, but then she knew Spectrum’s elite captains were rarely – if ever – truly off duty. 

She gazed at him as he slowly pushed the door open wary of what might lurk within, and was suddenly aware of how much she loved him and how often he went unselfishly into almost inconceivable danger, so that to him it was almost a commonplace.  It was clear to her that he expected to find proof that Averescu had been Mysteronised, and that proof would be his dead body, because, in order to recreate a person or a thing as their weapon against humanity in this chilling war of nerves, their alien adversaries had to destroy the originals first.   Somehow the realisation that they would strike anywhere, at any time, made that all the more disheartening.   These few days had been intended as a break from the punishing schedule of duty rotas and missions, and yet even here, in the heart of Adam’s family home, the Mysterons pursued them. 

She shivered and waited impatiently for the men to come out.

Seymour was the first to emerge, looking slightly green around the gills and definitely shocked. 

“He’s dead?” she asked rhetorically.

He nodded.  “It wasn’t and easy death from the look of it either.  There’s…there’s a lot of blood.”

She laid a hand on his arm, but looked towards the partly open door and said, “Poor Adam; what an awful thing to happen in your home.”

Seymour nodded.  “He’s sent me to call the police.  There will have to be a murder enquiry, even though Averescu’s been Mysteronised.”  He pressed his hands against his eyes.  “I was really looking forward to a quiet Christmas with Kate and just forgetting about all of this.”

“Hey, we’re Spectrum, remember?  If the Mysterons won’t stop, neither can we,” she said kindly.

“I’m okay, Symphony.”

She gave him a gentle smile at the way he has slipped back into using her operational codename.  “Go dial 911…”

He nodded and slipped away down the stairs to where John, Kate and their guest were waiting, they were all looking up to the first landing as if they sensed something dreadful had happened.

Karen watched him go and then pushed open the door to the bedroom.  She could smell the blood and in a full length wardrobe mirror saw Adam looking down at something that had obviously slipped off the bed onto the floor. 

He heard her footstep and turned.

“No!  No, älskling; stay where you are.”

“I’m not squeamish-”

“The fewer people who contaminate the murder scene the better,” he snapped angrily.

Abashed, she nodded.  “Are you okay?”

He came to her then, holding out his hand.  She slipped hers into his grasp and allowed him to raise it to his lips.  

“As long as you’re here with me, I’m fine,” he murmured, as if she was the one needing comfort.

“We need to track Averescu,” she said, hating to drag him back to his responsibilities.

Instantly, his mood changed and he said briskly, “My communicator’s in my room.  Would you fetch it for me?  I’ll stay here for now – make sure no one enters.” They could hear the hubbub as John and General Perran expostulated with Seymour and tried to come upstairs. 

She nodded and he followed her out of the room, closing the door and planting his considerable bulk in front of it. 

No one was getting into that room unless he chose to let them in.

 

By the time the wail of police sirens was heard, Karen was guarding the bedroom door and Adam was reporting the situation to Colonel White, on Cloudbase.

“You say Averescu was seen leaving the murder scene and your house after he must’ve been dead?”

“Yes, sir.  Hewitt was quite sure who it was and I can identify the body in the bedroom; I saw quite a lot of General Averescu when he came to Cloudbase.”

“Did he recognise you?”

“I’m not sure.  If he did, neither he nor his Mysteronised self made any use of the knowledge.  Whatever the Mysterons have planned for Averescu, it doesn’t seem to involve me – or my family,” he added thankfully.

There’s been no threat, so far,” the colonel said thoughtfully, “but I agree, events would suggest the Mysterons are planning something.” He paused and, in a rare expression of empathy, added, “I’m glad you – and your family – are not the targets, Adam.”

“So am I, sir; all the more because we have Symphony and her mother staying with us, not to mention Lieutenant Green.”

He thought he heard the colonel give a sharp intake of breath.  The relationship between Amanda Wainwright and Charles Gray – the colonel’s real name – was not one that was widely known, but not long ago Symphony and Captain Blue had become involved in a Mysteron threat to an important company in Symphony’s home town, and, while recovering from wounds received on the mission, the two agents had discovered that the colonel was staying with Amanda Wainwright for the Christmas holiday. 

Since then the two men had grown closer, united by their love for the two women, although neither expected, or allowed, it to affect their working relationship.

 I will alert Spectrum Boston, order them to provide you with an SSC, and set up road blocks.  We need to apprehend Averescu before he does any damage.  Keep me informed, Captain Blue.”

“S.I.G, Colonel.”

Lieutenant Green was struggling to keep General Perran from rushing after the waitress, the prime candidate for having committed the murder.   Of course, he was well aware that the woman was also likely to be a Mysteron, and, if she hadn’t already left the house, she’d be indifferent to whatever fate befell her, but he couldn’t explain that to Perran without revealing who he and Adam Svenson worked for.  Therefore, he was relieved to see Captain Blue striding down the stairs, closely followed by Symphony Angel.

“What the hell?” Perran gasped. “This is no time to be indulging in fancy-dress games, Svenson!”

Green suppressed his desire to grin, and waited to see what his superior officer would say to this accusation.

Captain Blue saluted the general and said, “I’m afraid it’s for real, General.” 

You are a Spectrum colour-captain?”

“And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, that information is classified,” Blue said smoothly.

“Don’t you go anywhere without that blessed uniform?” John Svenson growled.

Blue ignored him. “I’m leaving now, before the police arrive.  Seymour and Kate will show them the body and explain what they saw.   They can question Hewitt for themselves; they will anyway whether they’d questioned me or not.”

“Where are you going?” Kate asked.

“After Averescu – or at least, after the man pretending to be Averescu.”

“Of course,” Perran exclaimed, “the man Hewitt saw must’ve been an impostor!”

“Exactly.  Now tell me quickly, General, why were you and Averescu really in Boston?”

“To arrange finance for an arms deal with an American company.  We’d thought to finance it with a credit guarantee from a Central European consortium, but at the last minute the company here baulked and demanded we use what they called ‘a good, solid American company’ they could trust.  Xenophobes – you’d think they’d never heard of the World Government.”

“Naturally, you came to SvenCorp,” John said, preening slightly. 

“Naturally.”

“Were you going on to collect the weapons?” Blue asked.

“Eh, no…Captain.  We’d need a fleet of trucks for that.”

“Right; I’m trying to think what was so special about Averescu that … anyone would want to kill him and impersonate him.  That suggests he has access to something they want.”

At that moment the epaulettes on Blue’s shoulders flashed a deep red and the microphone attached to his cap swung down to his mouth.

“Go ahead, Lieutenant Claret.”

“Captain Blue, one of the terrestrial units reports that the car being driven by General Averescu has crashed a roadblock on the road to the Atlantic airport.”

“The airport?”

Yes, sir.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”   The microphone swung back to the Perspex peak of the cap as the connection closed.

 “Averescu’s heading for Atlantic airport,” Blue relayed. 

 “I’ll come with you,” Green said.

“No, Lieutenant; someone has to deal with the police, ensure that matters don’t go too far and prevent undue alarm amongst the other guests.   Besides, I want you to find the general’s aide, and the waitress, if she’s still alive; see if you can get any information concerning the intended target.  There must be some purpose behind Averescu’s death; we have a chance to be one step ahead of the Mysterons – for once – I don’t want to waste it.”

“S.I.G., Captain Blue.”

“Besides, I need you here keeping the lid on things,” Blue added with a significant glance towards their companions and then across at the crowded marquee.  Green nodded. 

“I’ll suit up,” he said.

“No need,” Blue said quickly.  “My father and General Perran already know you’re a member of Spectrum, there’s no need to broadcast the fact.”  He turned to the general.  “Lieutenant Green will be the field commander in my absence; you will take your lead from him.”

“The Mysterons?  You really think they’re behind this?” Perran asked, shocked.  “I’ve heard they’re utterly ruthless.”

“They are, believe me.  I’m sure they’ve killed General Averescu in the furtherance of some plot they’re hatching.  Ruthless they may be, but it is always with a purpose in mind,” Blue explained.

Perran nodded.  “Okay, Captain Blue; you have my full co-operation.”

“Thank you, sir,” Blue said politely, although he knew the general really had no option; he could, if he’d chosen to, have pulled rank.  Spectrum’s colour-captains had the authority to take command of any mission, regardless of the rank of the senior officer present.  However, it was always easier to work with other service personnel rather than against them, and he wasn’t entirely sure Lieutenant Green had the self-confidence to contradict a far more experienced officer.

“I’ll go with you,” Karen said.

“Don’t be silly,” Perran snapped at her.  “He’s trailing a murdering terrorist, not taking a moonlight drive, missy.   You better stay here and keep out of the way.”

John Svenson’s eyebrows rocketed upwards and Kate looked at him in amused alarm as he finished speaking.

“Thank you for your concern, General Perran; but Spectrum agents don’t operate without backup,” she said, disarmingly. 

“What?” Perran looked from one to the other in bewilderment.

Blue smiled.  “S.I.G., Symphony Angel.  Are you armed?”

She drew her pistol from her skirt pocket.  “And dangerous,” she replied.

“Never knew you when you weren’t,” he teased, as they started towards the front door.

 

Police cars were blocking the drive, and the officers had already fanned out across the grounds when they walked out.  An officer approached them.

“Where do you think you’re going?  No one is allowed to leave until we say so.”

“I’m Captain Blue of Spectrum-”

“And I’m Mickey Mouse.  Go back in the house, sir, before we run you in for obstructing the police.”

“I’m telling you -”

“- And I’m telling you! Get inside or you’ll end up in as much trouble as your friend…”

The man gestured to where a young man stood hemmed in by two uniformed officers.  He was dressed in a bright-orange tunic that mimicked the Spectrum uniform Captain Blue wore.  He raised a hand and waved, bemused by this turn of events.

Davy….” Blue groaned.

“So that was the costume he was being so cagey about,” Karen murmured.  “Boy, is he in trouble…”

“I don’t have time for this,” Blue snarled. “I’m a Spectrum officer in lawful pursuit of a suspect; you have no right prevent me leaving.”

The policeman lashed out as Blue tried to move past him, catching the taller man a glancing blow on his chin.  Instinctively, Blue retaliated, decking the officer with a fierce right hook.

The sound of guns being cocked echoed around the garden.  Symphony laid a hand on his arm.

“Be careful, they’re not joking, Adam.”

The policeman got to his feet, rubbing his jaw.  “You rich men all think you’re above the law.  Book ‘em – all of ‘em.  Assaulting an officer.”

Blue was about to protest, but he suddenly closed his mouth and swallowed his temper, even allowing one officer to grab his arm and lead him towards a police car.  David was already inside the car at the end of the drive when Karen was pushed in, a hand pressing her head down to avoid the doorframe.  There was obviously not enough room for Blue in the back as well as the other two, so the officer shoved him into the front seat and turned to get his cuffs out.

Blue’s fierce kick flung the door open, knocking the man down.   Slamming the door behind him, Blue slithered across to the driving seat and slipped the Spectrum pass key into the ignition, locking the doors internally a second later.  The engine purred into life and he drove the car away at speed. 

“Wow,” David breathed.

“Assaulting two officers, avoiding arrest and stealing a police vehicle,” Symphony said, amusement obvious in her voice. “You’re determined to spend Christmas in jail, aren’t you, Sky?”

“Could you think of another way to get out of there?”

She shook her head and squirmed around to look through the back window.  “They’re not following.”

“They’ll expect to pick us up easily enough.” Blue brought the car to an abrupt stop, having driven around the block. “Everyone out.” He released the locks.

Across the broad street was an SSC and Symphony ran towards it.  David made to follow her, but his brother‘s arm stopped him.

“You - go home!  I will deal with you later.”

“Go home to be arrested?”

“If that’s what happens.”

“And interrogated about where you both are?” David asked innocently.  “I’d have to tell them the truth, Adz; my principles wouldn’t let me lie to the police.”

Blue rolled his eyes.  “You don’t have any principles, Davy!  But, I don’t have time for this; just get in the car.  Don’t touch anything and keep your mouth shut.  If I speak to you, I want you to do what I tell you, without question or hesitation.  Okay?”

David beamed.  “S.I.G.”

“Shut up and move it!”

 

En route to the airport, Lieutenant Claret called through.

We’ve done a thorough search on Averescu’s records.”   His deep voice reverberated around the car.  It seems that he, and General de Losada, the Commander of the South American forces, are currently the reserve holders of the nuclear keys.”

“What are they?” David hissed. 

Symphony frowned at him, placing her finger against her lips.  Claret was continuing:

Colonel White has ordered Captain Magenta to fly immediately to Santiago to ascertain the welfare of General de Losada.  There has been no report of any attack on the general, but that’s no certainty.”

“Averescu might be the danger,” Blue responded, swerving through the traffic at speed.

“The colonel concurs with that analysis, Captain Blue.  Captain Scarlet is on emergency standby to intercept Averescu, if he takes off from the airport.”

“S.I.G., Claret.  Thanks.”  Blue closed the link.  “I’d say we have the reason the Mysterons killed Averescu,” he said to Symphony. 

“Yes, it sounds the most plausible reason,” she replied.  Then she turned to David and explained: “The codes for the launching of the World Government’s tactical nuclear strike are held by the World President and the Vice-President.   As reserves, in case anything happened to those two, there is a random rotation of the codes amongst the senior staff of the World Government’s military forces.   Averescu and de Losada are the current holders of the codes – the ‘nuclear keys’, as they’re called.”

“So anyone getting the codes from Averescu could use them to launch missiles?”

“Yes, if they convinced de Losada to use his codes too.”

“And that’s what’s happening?” David asked excitedly.

“That’s what we think may be happening,” Symphony agreed.  “No one has any proof that’s what’s happening.”

“And these terrorists killed the Averescu guy at our house?”  Symphony nodded.  “Then I want to help capture the killer,” David announced.

“You will stay in the car and leave it to the people trained to deal with such situations,” his brother said sternly, as he swung the car onto the slip road to the airport. 

“I never get to do anything exciting,” David protested, slumping back in the car seat. 

“Look, David, this isn’t one of your fantasy games.  Averescu is really dead; there really is a distinct possibility that a world-wide catastrophe could be imminent if we don’t prevent it.  I can’t keep one eye on you and do my job effectively as well.  Please, stay put!” Captain Blue pleaded.

Grumpily, David Svenson nodded, and with that his brother had to be satisfied.

 

They’d made such good time that they reached the airport only a minute or so after General Averescu’s car broke through the security barriers.   Captain Blue slowed long enough for a captain of the security guards to jump aboard and give directions, so that they could follow Averescu.   The general seemed to be heading for the hangars where the WAAF kept its transport planes. 

“He won’t get far in one of those,” Symphony said. “They’re built for capacity, not speed.  Even if he gets it airborne, he’s a sitting duck for any fighter plane.  We could alert Cloudbase and the Angels would pick him off with ease.”

“That’s true, ma’am,” said the corporal, “but yesterday we took delivery of five Viper jets – for the air show we give at New Year.”

“Great,” Blue remarked and opened a channel to Cloudbase to report the situation.

Launch all Angels!” Colonel White’s order was clearly audible over the car radio.  And tell Captain Scarlet to get airborne too.  I don’t want Averescu leaving American airspace.”

S.I.G,” Claret said, and gave the orders.

“Look!” David exclaimed, “There is a fighter coming out of the hangar over there!”

He was right; on the far side of the hangar a camouflaged Viper Jet was emerging and taxiing to the nearby VTOL pad. 

“The Angels won’t get here in time!” Symphony cried.  “Let me out, Adam; I’m taking one of the other planes up – Averescu won’t escape.”

“No – wait,” Blue replied, but as he slowed to negotiate a barrier, she jumped from the car and sprinted towards the hangar. 

He cursed; making an emergency stop to watch her racing away.   “Why doesn’t she ever listen?” he asked rhetorically, but without hesitation he switched off the engine and removed the ignition key. 

“Stay here!” he ordered David, then sprang from the car and followed Symphony, calling for her to wait.  He had almost caught her up when she slipped into the hangar and slammed the door behind her.  He stopped to yank it open and a moment later followed her inside. 

David heaved a deep sigh and turned to the security guard with a rueful smile.  “I wish I could help,” he said.

“You under his orders, sir?” the guard asked.

David smiled at the realisation that the man thought he was also a Spectrum officer.  “Yes,” he admitted.

“I don’t know how you do it,” the guard continued.  “We only hear the rumours and the basic reports down here, but it seems to me you colour-captains – well, you never rest!  Seems like every week we’re hearing that Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue, or one of the others, sir, have been rushing about and escaped certain death by the skin of their teeth.  My buddy over at airport security, he says it’s better than ‘Captain Starlight’!”

David gave a thoughtful nod.  “Yeah, it is, much better – because this is for real.”

“You know those two…?”

David nodded.  “The woman’s Symphony Angel and the man… the man is Captain Blue.” And he’s MY brother… he added to himself. 

“You’re kidding me?  That’s the Captain Blue?”

“The one and only.”

“Jeez… I’d like to shake his hand.”

“I hope you’ll get the chance,” David said sadly.  “Anything could happen up there…”

The man, some years older than his companion and a kind-hearted soul, responded with a nod.  “It’s Christmas, sir.  All sorts of miracles happen at Christmas.  Maybe we should just wish hard.”

“Can’t hurt,” David agreed.  “But somehow, I have a feeling that we should pin our faith on those two, and their colleagues from Cloudbase.”

 

 

The airport technicians cried out in alarm as Symphony clambered into the cockpit of the closest Viper.   She realised they could have no idea who she was, because she was still dressed in her costume, and so she slammed the cockpit closed, in case they tried to stop her.

She strapped herself into the Viper and checked the control panels – the gauges all showed green – the plane was ready to fly.  She fired the engines and started to turn towards the open hangar door and the runways beyond.

When Captain Blue was spotted, he was immediately surrounded by technicians and was forced to try and calm the situation.  Eventually, he convinced them that they were both Spectrum agents, and they allowed him access to another of the remaining planes.

Symphony was ready to take off when she saw another plane, piloted by Captain Blue, begin to taxi out of the hangar.   Her intercom crackled into life, but before he could say anything she took off and banked right to follow the distant lights of the Viper jet Averescu had appropriated.  Moments later she saw Blue’s plane do the same. 

“Angel Leader to Blue Angel,” she said over the plane’s communication link.  “I’m setting course, one-five-three-mark-two, and speed ultimate.”

Copy that, Angel Leader. We’ll keep the suspect under observation, but don’t get too close.  You already know how dangerous Mysteron-controlled planes can be.  Oh, and we’ll talk about what an excellent idea it is to listen to someone else’s good advice later.”

She grinned, but then sighed out a long breath as she brought her concentration to focus on the chase.  It was odd to be flying without wearing her Angel uniform; she was cut off from Cloudbase, for a start.   Her only communication link with the world beyond her cockpit was through to the sister plane being flown by Captain Blue.  Other than that and the fact that there were a few subtle differences in the dashboard layout, which took a few moments to familiarise herself with, the overall experience was familiar and trouble-free. 

She heard Blue’s voice over the intercom, as he relayed their expected flight paths to Atlantic Flight Control and smiled. 

There flies an ex-WAS pilot; some habits die hard...

“Angel Leader, I have a fix on Averescu’s position, from the Control Tower.”

“Go ahead, Blue Angel.”  She listened to the co-ordinates and made the necessary course and speed adjustments, noting with approval how his plane’s movements mirrored hers. 

“I’ve informed Cloudbase.  They report the Angel Pack and Captain Scarlet in SPJ05 should rendezvous with us in about fifteen minutes.”

“S.I.G, Blue Angel.” She squinted into the distance.  “Target sighted – two o’clock, high.”

“S.I.G., Cloudbase reports Colonel White wants us to observe and leave any engagement to the Angel Pack,” Blue’s voice relayed over the intercom.

“I am part of the Angel Pack!”

“These planes are not armed, Symphony.”

“What?”

“Weapon status is negative… we’re unarmed.”

“Then so is Averescu’s plane,” she reasoned.

“Yes, but we can’t force him down without putting our own planes in jeopardy.”

“Huh; I bet I could.”

“Symphony, don’t be silly.”

She heard the slight groan he gave as he realised, the moment he’d said it, that it was the wrong thing to say.

She increased speed, pulling ahead of his plane, and banked across his flight path, striking out after their quarry. 

Blue’s plane dropped back slightly to avoid a collision and he yelled: “Symphony Angel, abort mission!  Symphony!  Karen, please…”

She killed the intercom and carried on, glancing behind her after a few minutes, oddly comforted to see that he was following her, matching her speed and trajectory.

It took her some time to catch Averescu’s plane as the Mysteron presumably saw their approach and increased his own speed.  Finally, she came up alongside it and flew slightly ahead of him so that he couldn’t avoid seeing her, then she slowed, closing the gap between them, until the distance between their wing tips was the minimum for safety. 

She could see Blue’s jet keeping pace behind them.

She opened the communication link, so that all Vipers were now in communication.  “Angel Leader to General Averescu; you are making an unauthorised flight.  You must return to Atlantic Airport and land.  There you will be arrested and questioned over the murder of… which took place this evening at the Svenson house in Boston.”

There was no reply.

“Angel Leader to Averescu; do you copy, over?”

In response the renegade jet moved across further away, widening the gap between them and increasing speed slightly.

Symphony adjusted her own course to compensate and made several feints towards the plane, swerving away just before it was too late, but Averescu didn’t react; his plane continued on its way without deviation.  Captain Blue’s plane maintained its distance, merely monitoring the course.   She bit her lip, wondering what to do.

Angel Leader; Angel pack approaching,” Blue’s voice said over the plane’s communication system, quickly followed by Melody’s voice.  She realised that he’d probably been working to patch the links through and felt a surge of guilt; once again she’d struck out on her own without giving due consideration to the team effort. 

I’m still having trouble balancing using my initiative with military discipline.  The unwelcome thought went through her mind as she listened to what Melody was saying:

Angel Leader to Symphony Angel and Captain Blue, please withdraw; we will deal with this now.”

Yet, if I can pull this off, they’ll have to admit I was right to follow Averescu…  She replied resolutely, “Negative, Melody Angel; I am shadowing suspect’s course.  Stand by.”

A new voice crackled across the intercom.  “Scarlet One to Symphony Angel, stand down.  That is a direct order from the mission field commander.  Stand down, Symphony.”

She swivelled round and saw the distinctive lights of an SPJ approaching them at maximum speed from below. 

“Symphony to Scarlet One, I’m dealing with it.”

This is a direct order, Symphony.  Stand down!”  Captain Scarlet’s voice bristled with angry authority. 

Blue to Symphony, let’s get these birds back to their nests…”

Frowning angrily with frustration, she made another feint at Averescu’s plane.  “One more for good measure,” she murmured, noticing that Angel One had moved to the other wing of the Mysteron’s plane and Angel Two was flying above them, while Angel Three was coming up behind her to take her place. 

We have him surrounded, Symphony,” Melody reported. “You can withdraw now.”

Scarlet’s SPJ was changing course to take a line in front of the Mysteron plane and close down Averescu’s options.  Once he was in place the plane would effectively be hemmed in.

At least I’ve played my part… she thought, realising with a sigh that there was nothing she could do any more.    “Symphony Angel to Scarlet One, Blue Angel and Angel Pack, I’m standing down.”

There was a chorus of acknowledging ‘SIG’s.

Symphony was plotting the careful manoeuvre necessary to leave her station without colliding with Angel Three, when suddenly Averescu’s plane swerved.  The wings of the two Vipers collided and there was a spurt of flame. 

Are you okay, Symphony?  Please acknowledge,” Harmony, astern of her in Angel Three, asked.

“I’m unhurt, but the planes are wedged together… the wings seem to have become jammed.  I’m going to try and break away.”

Be careful, or you could rip the wing off…” Blue cautioned.

“S.I.G.”

Symphony tried to move away as the plane started to buck and shudder.  Averescu was continuing to push sideways, forcing her out of the formation, and she could not stop him.

“This is Spectrum Angel Leader to General Averescu, disengage plane immediately or we will be forced to shoot.”

“I’ve lost control,” Symphony announced.  “The plane is not responding.”

Prepare to eject, Symphony Angel,” Captain Scarlet’s voice ordered.

“There is no need for that yet; let me see what I can do first, Captain Scarlet.”

She tried repeatedly to break free of the general’s plane, but without success.  The others watched as Averescu gained as much height as he could, dragging Symphony’s plane along with him.  Scarlet backed away, unwilling to engage with the enemy while Symphony was still aboard her stricken jet.

Then, with the engines at full throttle, Averescu threw his plane into a steep dive.   The strain caused part of the damaged wing to snap off from Symphony’s plane and another burst of flame erupted along the wing and across the fuselage as fuel sprayed out from the damaged engines.  Averescu’s plane ripped free, and continued diving, gaining speed.

Over the jumble of voices on the intercom, she picked out Blue’s voice sounding agitated.

Karen, are you okay?”

I’m fine; but I’ve got no engine control, I think the system’s been damaged by the collision.”

“At least you aren’t being pulled down with him; he’s going to ditch in the ocean…”  Scarlet said.

“We can’t stop that – and I’m more concerned about Symphony’s plane.  We have to find a way to get it down safely…” As Blue spoke there was a small explosion at the rear of the Viper and flames started to lick along the fuselage; he drew a sharp breath.  Too late – it’s on fire! Eject now, Symphony. Everyone move away, give her room!”

Immediately the Angel Interceptors spread out from the burning Viper and there was clear sky around her.

 “S.I.G.,” she said, “Ejecting now,” and she pulled back the levers that released the ejector seat.  Nothing happened.  She tried again several times as the voices over the intercom all urged her to get a move on.  “Ejector malfunction!  It’s not working…” she exclaimed.

Are you sure?”  Melody asked, in the commonly dismissive tone of someone not wishing to believe bad news.

“I’ve been flying planes long enough to recognise when an ejector seat isn’t working,” Symphony snapped back, her normal calm demeanour starting to fray slightly at this unexpected turn of events.

Then you’ll have to use the parachute, won’t you?” Melody said, calmly enough. 

“There’s a parachute?” Symphony asked hopefully. 

There’s no parachute stored aboard a Viper jet,” Blue’s voice cut in.  The pilot’s regulation flight gear includes an emergency parachute.”

 “Then what am I going to do?” Symphony asked.

There was - what seemed to her – a long, deathly silence until Blue responded:

You’re going to have to jump for it.”

“I’m not dressed for free-falling and I don’t have a parachute,” she reminded him, the first signs of fear cracking her voice. “And now you want me to jump out of this plane?”

Blue sounded remarkably calm as he replied, “Remember you told me how the colonel set you a similar exercise in your training days?  You jumped out of an Angel Jet without a parachute – and you’re still very much alive, aren’t you?  Well, that’s what we’ll do now.”

Angel Leader to Captain Blue,” Melody interjected, “on that occasion I threw Symphony a spare parachute we’d taken on board for the exercise.  Angel Jets don’t have spare parachutes, any more than Viper Jets do, and the SPJ isn’t manoeuvrable enough to get that close.”

“I know; but she must get out of that plane, or she will die. It’s either going to explode or ditch in the sea… ”

“I’ll die anyway if I jump,” Symphony exclaimed.

“Not if I can help it,” he reassured her vehemently.

 “What do you propose, Blue?” Scarlet asked brusquely; there wasn’t time for a lengthy discussion and besides, he thought he could hear panic starting in Symphony’s voice.

“I will bring my jet under her and she can catch on to the wing…”

“You’re joking-” Symphony murmured. 

“Trust me, älskling; I won’t let you fall…”

She looked out of the cockpit and knew she had no choice.  The plane was doomed.   “Okay… what do you want me to do?”

“Release the manual cockpit control,” he replied, giving her concise instructions of how to locate and operate the emergency switch.   Then release the seatbelt, climb onto the seat and out onto the wing, if you can - then jump as far away from the plane as you’re able… I’ll come from below and get as close as I can.  When you get onto the wing of my plane – there are maintenance hand grips along the leading edge. Hold tight and leave the rest to me.”

Putting all of her faith in him, she obeyed.  With shaking hands she operated the manual control and the cockpit deadbolts blew open, taking her Bonnie Parker beret with it and whipping her hair across her face.   At the same moment the Angel jets switched on their powerful searchlights, pointing them at the stricken Viper.

They watched her scramble onto the seat; hampered by her tight mid-calf length skirt, it soon became apparent she wasn’t going to be able to climb onto the wing. 

More importantly, Symphony realised that the skirt was too fitted to enable her to assume the free-fall position once she was out of the plane, so she slithered back into the seat and squirmed about to remove it – now was not the time to be unduly modest – and then she made another unsuccessful attempt to leave the cockpit.   Deciding that was too dangerous, and that there wasn’t enough time to make a third attempt anyway,  she let go of her handhold, and stood precariously on the pilot’s chair, before launching herself into the void.  

The wind speed hammered her backwards into the darkness beyond the Angels’ searchlights, knocking the breath from her body.  She closed her eyes and struggled to manoeuvre into the correct freefall posture, trying to calm her fears by reminding herself how the girls had saved her life when the colonel had set the exercise – only this time she knew it was for real. 

Free from the slipstream of the Viper, she was able to concentrate on maintaining her position and trying to regulate her erratic breathing.

I have to trust Adam; he won’t fail me, she thought.   Although she knew what he proposed to do was going to be difficult to achieve, she reassured herself that if anyone could do it – he could.

She opened her eyes and in the brilliant glare of the Angels’ searchlights, saw his Viper jet steadily rising in vertical flight towards her, edging slowly forward as it tried to match her downward trajectory.  

Ahead of her the two twisted Vipers sped downwards in a race to meet the darkness of the freezing Atlantic waters, while above her the Angel jets circled, training their searchlights on the insignificant speck that was the falling Angel. 

After that, Symphony kept her eyes focused on Adam’s plane – gauging its distance and preparing for the inevitable collision. 

Suddenly, sooner than she’d expected, the wing was beneath her, although a little too far forward.  She swung her legs round and tried to land feet first, making wild grabs for something to prevent her falling out of control, but her stockinged feet could get no purchase and slithered off the smooth surface.   The plane dipped away, dropping vertically, so she had chance to get into the freefall position again. 

Once she was stable, it rose towards her, slightly behind her this time, and then, as she got close, it started to fall away again, edging back and forth as she fell.  This phase of adjusting position lasted for agonising moments, and then – all of a sudden - she crashed onto the wing.  

Every atom of breath was knocked from her lungs and a razor-sharp pain made her cry out, even as she frantically grasped at the edge with all her strength, sobbing with relief as her fingers found the maintenance hand holds.   She bit into her bottom lip, as the agonising pain in her ribs made drawing any breath torture.  

The most dangerous part’s over, she told herself, all I have to do now is hold on….

The plane went into a dizzying drop, as Blue continued to lose height.   He had already identified an emergency landing site and, flying low and as slowly as he could to reduce the wind drag, he changed course towards it. 

Symphony felt along the wing for a better handhold, and squirmed to get as secure a grip as possible, while Scarlet’s SPJ came alongside, almost as if it was offering support.   Her chest hurt so much that she was afraid of blacking out, and her arms were feeling as if they’d been ripped out of the sockets while her fingers were getting numb.  She knew she couldn’t hold on much longer.  

She closed her eyes and tried to shut out the pain. 

The Viper reached a strand of derelict waterfront, and hovered.   Changing to vertical landing, it descended slowly, almost inch by inch, landing with such precision it took Symphony a moment to realise all movement had stopped and the engines had cut out. 

She sobbed with relief.

The next thing she knew was the feel of two familiar strong arms surrounding her, lifting her gently from the wing and encircling her, as the man she loved held her close. 

“You stupid, impulsive, little cow,” he murmured with infinite tenderness, “if you ever do anything this idiotic or scare me this much again, I will personally break your neck…”

She was already crying, half in shock and half in relief, and at those words she began to sob uncontrollably against his chest, while he stroked her hair and murmured far more conventional terms of endearment. 

“Is she okay?” Captain Scarlet asked, running over from where he’d landed his SPJ.   He’d brought a blanket from the SPJ’s medical kit, and handed it to Blue so that he could wrap it around the less-than-suitably dressed Symphony. 

“I think so, but I won’t be happy until Fawn’s given her a once over – I did my best, but she hit the wing with some force.  I’m not sure she hasn’t got some broken bones,” Blue said, undisguised anguish in his voice.

“Hey,” Scarlet said reassuringly, “she hit the wing with considerably less force than she’d have hit the ground.  That was superb flying, Adam.   If it helps you rationalise the risks you both took, I can tell you that both Vipers were blown to pieces when they hit the water; not even a Mysteron would have survived that.  Whatever Averescu was intending to do, and we’ll never know for sure, he won’t be doing it now.  I think we’ve foiled this threat before it even got off the ground, if you’ll excuse the pun, and that was due to some quick thinking and smart work by you and Karen.”

“Thanks, Paul,” Blue murmured, gently squeezing her a little tighter.

“I’ll contact Cloudbase and get Fawn ready to receive a patient who isn’t me - for once!”

As she heard his footsteps moving away, Symphony drew a ragged breath and raised her tear-swollen eyes to her lover’s fear-drained face. 

“How are you?” he asked.  “Are you okay?”

She sniffed and gave a brave little smile.  “As long as you’re here with me, I’m fine,” she quoted. 

He smiled - the most wonderful smile she’d ever seen – and gently bent down to touch his lips to hers.

“I intend for us to be together for a very long time,” he reassured her.

 

By the time they arrived back at the Svenson house, Captain Ochre and Lieutenant Cinnamon had arrived to deal with the aftermath of the murder and the on-going police inquiry.

Ochre was fluent in the language and proceedings of the police and, having been informed by a somewhat bemused Lieutenant Green that Blue, Symphony and the youngest Svenson had not only been arrested but had subsequently hijacked a squad car, Colonel White had quickly despatched the law enforcement expert on his elite team to sort the matter out, without drawing too much attention to the Mysteron involvement. 

Realising that the police were already understandably highly sceptical about the validity of the credentials of the Spectrum officers they’d encountered, Ochre appreciated the need to make an emphatic entrance, and consequently there was a Spectrum helijet parked on the Svensons’ lawn. 

 There had been some argument about who was going to go back to the house and who should return to Cloudbase, but Symphony had proved to be intractable: she was not going back to Cloudbase without Blue, who was needed back with his family; besides, she was concerned that her disappearance - especially after the events of the mission were revealed – would alarm her mother even more than her bedraggled appearance would do.

The ground staff at Atlantic had recovered Blue’s Viper from its emergency landing site, while an officer from Spectrum Boston had flown the SPJ to the secure compound at the airport, so that Scarlet could accompany his friends and drive them home in the SSC.  A muted David Svenson sat beside him in the front, while Blue cradled the traumatised Symphony in the back. 

At Scarlet’s peremptory orders the police moved their cars off the driveway and allowed the SSC to drive to the door.  Although she protested she was fit enough to walk, Blue carried Symphony into the house and laid her gently on the couch in the living room. 

The party had broken up in disarray.  Police officers had taken the names and addresses of the guests and now had a list of possible witnesses that read like a catalogue of the city’s richest, most famous, greatest and best citizens.   The body of the waitress had been found behind the marquee; there was no sign of a struggle and no obvious cause of death, which, to the Spectrum officers, merely confirmed that she’d been a Mysteron agent and that her alien masters had discarded her once she’d killed their intended victim and her part in their plan was suspected. 

Ochre had ordered Cinnamon to send a ground-based incident team to the girl’s last known address, in case her human remains were there.  Spectrum had evolved well-established procedures for covering up the evidence of Mysteron involvement, and there was no chance the press would get wind of this.

Mrs Svenson was beside herself with worry.  She hugged her sons repeatedly, one after the other, alternating rebukes, criticism and reproaches with lavish praise in a ceaseless torrent of words, until her husband finally drew her aside and made her sit down. 

By comparison, Mrs Wainwright was sitting on the edge of the sofa, holding her daughter’s bruised hand in shocked silence. 

Captain Scarlet took one look at the stunned and bewildered faces of the family and went to organise the staff into making hot drinks for everyone, and from somewhere the housekeeper rustled up hot toast as the dawn began to break over the surrounding trees. 

The general’s body had finally been taken away to the city morgue, accompanied by General Perran, while Lieutenant Cinnamon accompanied that of the Mysteronised waitress, when Ochre began to wrap things up on the investigation front. 

He helped himself to a cup of the coffee and addressed the assembled company.

“The police are satisfied that the waitress – whose name was Linda Hinchcliffe – murdered the general after he attempted to…” he glanced at Mrs Svenson and continued, “after he made improper advances towards her. They’re not looking for anyone else in connection with the murder.”

“And who killed the young woman?” Kate asked.

“They’re hypothesising that she got scared and committed suicide,” he replied with a shrug.

“But that’s nonsense!” Kate exclaimed.  “No court would’ve convicted her if she’d acted in self-defence.”

Ochre sipped his coffee and drew a deep breath.  “The post mortem will reveal that she ingested a lethal dose of a toxic substance, shortly before she died.  Residue of the toxin will be found on her fingers.”  He glanced at the frowning Kate.  “Who can say why she did it?”

Seymour rested a hand on her shoulder and gently shook his head.  Kate gave an exasperated sigh and shrugged.

“It’s dreadful that this should have happened here, in our home and at Christmas!” Sarah cried.  “I don’t know what I’ll say to people-”

“As little as possible,” her eldest son advised.  “It’s a matter of police investigation, Mom, you can’t comment.”

“But that won’t stop them gossiping, Adam!”

He agreed.  “It’ll be a nine-day wonder; I shouldn’t worry, if I were you.”

“People will say there’s no smoke without fire…” she replied apprehensively.

“People will be wrong,” John said firmly.  “Averescu was a first-time guest in this house, and the waitress was a temporary employee; there’s no family connection to either of them.  Anyone who says otherwise will find themselves slapped with a lawsuit so fast it’ll take their breath away.”

Adam smiled and sat on the arm of her chair, putting an arm round her shoulders.  “Don’t worry, Mom; we’ve survived tittle-tattle before and I bet you next year’s party will be bigger and better than ever.”

“There won’t be another party!” Sarah vowed.  “I couldn’t stand the strain.”

Kate laughed.  “I’ll remind you of that when you start getting the planning schedule drawn up, Mom…”

Adam stood and adjusted his uniform tunic.  “Now, if you’ll excuse us, I have to get Karen back to Cloudbase so that Doctor Fawn can check her over and patch up her aches and pains.  I take it you won’t mind if I commandeer your helijet, Ochre?”

“No, I’ll come back with Scarlet in the SPJ.  I still need to wrap up a few loose ends with the police department.  I think a quick trip to the Commissioner’s office should suffice.”

He looked down at the bruised and grubby Angel on the sofa.  “I have to say, Karen, when you do something you do it with style.”  She glanced up at him, blushing slightly.  He bent down and kissed the top of her red-gold hair.  “I’m so glad you made it, Angel.”

“Thanks, Rick,” she whispered, catching his hand and giving it a slight squeeze. 

Ochre straightened up and looked across at Blue.  “When you get a chance, I want to hear everything that happened out there.  Scarlet says it was the best bit of flying he’s ever witnessed.  Gotta hand it to you, Adam, you are one mean mother of a pilot.”

Blue gave a silent chuckle.  “Takes one to know one,” he retorted.  “Now, if you’ll permit me, Amanda, I’m taking your daughter back home.”

Amanda kissed Karen and as Adam moved across to the sofa to lift her, she caught his arm and enveloped him a bear hug. 

“Thank you for bringing my daughter safely back to me,” she whispered, emotion choking her voice.

“Oh, you’re very welcome,” he replied, smiling at the two women. As Scarlet opened the door for him to carry Symphony from the room, he heard Ochre saying:

“Now, Mister David Svenson, there is the little matter of impersonating a Spectrum officer to be considered….”

 

 

Captain Black saw the Spectrum Helijet take off from the Svensons’ garden and the frown on his brow deepened.   He was sitting in an anonymous car parked along the street from the crime scene, watching the police close down their investigation and pack up to leave.  He had seen the SSC drive up to the house earlier and he knew what had happened out over the coast. 

His masters’ latest plot was in ruins.  No doubt they would move on to other things, but for now he was at a loss what to do.  Occasionally, between the missions they gave him, he found the freedom to do as he pleased, but he sensed that they were not going to do that this time.  He’d developed a sixth sense for their communications and as he thought, the familiar, deep voice rang out in his head.

CAPTAIN BLACK, SPECTRUM HAS PREVENTED US FROM CARRYING OUT OUR INTENDED ATTACK, FOR NOW.  AS THEY WILL BE ON HEIGHTENED ALERT FOR SOME TIME, WE HAVE POSTPONED OUR IMPLEMENTATION OF THIS PLAN.  INSTEAD, YOU WILL TRAVEL TO TOKYO, WHERE THERE IS A PROFESSOR OF ROBOTICS WHOSE RESEARCH WILL PROVIDE THE FOUNDATION FOR OUR NEXT ATTACK.

OUR RETALIATION WILL BE SLOW BUT NONE THE LESS EFFECTIVE. 

“The Mysterons’ order will be obeyed,” Black replied aloud. 

After a few more minutes watching the Svensons’ house and seeing Captains Ochre and Scarlet drive out of the gate in the SSC, he started the engine of his car and set out for the airport. 

 

 

Masquerade - The End

 

Author’s Notes:

 

This story is dedicated to Caroline Smith, whose original artwork provided the catalyst my imagination sorely needed.   The illustrations in this story are mine, however. 

The original TV show of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ – and everything to do with it – belongs to Carlton International, and the characters in that show were created by the talented team of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in the late 1960s. 

The members of Captain Blue’s family (the Svensons) were created by Chris Bishop, as was Symphony’s mother – Amanda Wainwright.  They have become as much a part of my ‘Captain Scarlet World’ as the original TV characters, so I take this opportunity to acknowledge my debt to Chris and say ‘Thank You!’. In addition, Chris is the webmaster for the Spectrum Headquarters website and its associated forum - the best CS sites on the Internet – and I’m only too proud that she finds my stories worthy of inclusion on the site.

 I really enjoyed writing this story; it is amazing what having some free time – and no deadlines – can let you achieve.  I’ve struggled with several ongoing stories over the past year, which do not seem to want to be written, and these days I don’t have the necessary time to devote to them, so finishing this story – and enjoying the whole writing experience again – has a special significance for me.     Of course, I owe a great deal of thanks to my long-suffering Beta-reader, Hazel Köhler, who always offers much-needed encouragement, and exhibits such patience when presented with another of my interminable screeds.   Her tireless determination to improve my grammar and, in so doing, make my narrative intelligible, deserves nothing but praise!

I hope you enjoyed reading this – as much as I did writing it.

I wish everyone a very happy New Year.

 

Marion Woods

Boxing Day, 2008.

 

 

Other stories from Marion Woods

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