A Captain Scarlet Story for Halloween
By Marion Woods
Georgina Kidd put the phone down with a discouraged sigh and glanced at the tall, dark and undoubtedly handsome man watching her over the counter. Sometimes, she really liked her job and this was one of those times – being face to face with a looker like this made up for a lot – even if she wasn’t having much joy trying to provide him with the result he wanted.
“I am sorry, they’re booked up too. You’ve chosen one of the busiest times to visit Whitby, Mr. Metcalfe, and I know for certain, the place is almost full to capacity.”
“Isn’t there anywhere? Just for one night? It’s too late for us to be moving on today.” Paul Metcalfe gave her his most winning smile.
Georgina blushed. “The only options left are the Youth Hostel by the Abbey, if they have room…”
Metcalfe shook his head and gave a theatrical shudder. “I thought we had agreed that my friend and I are both too old for youth hostels, Miss Kidd,” he reminded her. “But there is another option? You said there were ‘options’ – plural.”
Georgina demurred. “I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Metcalfe; we rarely recommend this accommodation – especially to gentlemen travelling alone. Not for any sinister reason, but it is run by two elderly spinster sisters, who can be rather prickly towards guests they disapprove of. The house isn’t exactly up to Twenty-first Century standards either – in fact it can appear downright Nineteenth Century – although the sisters are not intentionally catering for the Gothic crowd. Miss Eglan and her sister are very pleasant - in their way - but….”
“Shall we say ‘a little eccentric’?” Metcalfe’s hand hovered in a delicate balancing act as he made his suggestion with a smile. He glanced across the open-plan tourist information office, to where he could see Adam Svenson engrossed in a display about Whitby’s long and varied history. Turning to the woman across the counter, he leaned down towards her, lowering his voice, conspiratorially. She stretched forward to listen. “Let me let you into a secret, Miss Kidd. My friend, over there, is an American, and right now he can’t get enough of English eccentricity. You should have seen him in York…” he grimaced. It wasn’t often that the cultured Bostonian acted like the typical ‘American tourist’ was expected to act – but the beautiful, ancient capital city of northern England had flipped his ‘over-awed switch’ into overdrive. It had been amusing to watch.
Georgina smiled. “They do tend to get rather impressed by it all, don’t they?” she agreed. “Have you taken him to the Abbey yet?”
Metcalfe shook his head. “We wanted to get our accommodation sorted out first. This trip was rather on the spur of the moment and we are having to trust our luck on finding places to stay. So far, we’ve been very fortunate.”
“Well,” she excused herself and her home town, “it is the Halloween celebrations this weekend – a big event in Whitby. You’ll know all about part of the novel ‘Dracula’ being set in the town, of course?”
Metcalfe nodded. “Actually, my friend has been re-reading the book – it’s one of the reasons he was so keen to visit.” He rolled his eyes and sighed. “I am sure he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t spot at least one vampire whilst we’re here.”
She laughed. “Well, maybe the Eglans’ place will suit after all. It’s atmospheric enough. If you are prepared to accept that it may not be up to the standards you expect, Mr. Metcalfe, I’ll give them a call and see if I can persuade them to take you in.”
He nodded and turned back to glance at his friend. He had finished his study of the display board and, catching Metcalfe’s eye, he made his way through the crowds to the accommodation bureau counter.
“You should check that out, Paul,” he advised. “It is fascinating stuff. We could stay on a couple of days and really explore the place.”
“Right now, we’ll be lucky to find a place to stay for one night. This is our last option,” Paul explained.
Adam Svenson frowned; it gave his conventionally handsome face an expression of considerable petulance. “Gee, I never thought the place would be this crowded so late in the year.”
“It’s Halloween, idiot.”
“I know – but you’ve always said it’s not that popular a festival in the UK, that’s all.”
“It’s a big event here though, the last fling of the tourist season. The place is probably full of American tourists - all dressed like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” Metcalfe teased.
“Hey, don’t knock it – there is nothing wrong with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You’re not above ogling the TV screen – I’ve seen you - so don’t pretend to be so high-brow.”
“I said dressed like, not looking like, there is a subtle difference,” Paul pointed out with heavy irony.
Adam nodded his agreement with a grimace. He was well aware of the foibles of his fellow countrymen and, if he hadn’t been, his English friend would have taken delight in pointing them out. “Well, maybe we had better stock up with some garlic before the supermarket closes, just in case.” He placated his friend with a weak grin.
Paul laughed and hearing the phone call click off, he turned back to Georgina.
“Any luck?” he asked hopefully.
“Well, Miss Eglan does have vacancies, not surprisingly. There is one double room and one twin and she’s prepared to accept you – both - for one night.” Georgina’s eyes twinkled. “I had to promise her that you were well-behaved, sober and respectable gentlemen. The Eglans are very much of the ‘old school’.”
“Oh, we are,” Paul reassured her. “Even Adam has nice manners – for an American…” he qualified with a smirk at his friend.
Svenson gave a tolerant shake of his head. “Take no notice of him, ma’am - I have very nice manners. I’m far more domesticated than he is, for a start!”
Georgina smiled at them both. “Well, be sure you don’t let me down then! Here’s the address. You can’t get there by car, but there is a designated parking space allocated to the house, further up the hill. Miss Eglan should be able to provide you with an overnight parking permit. The house is in one of the old streets, you go along here and up the hill.” She drew their route on a street map. “You should have a wonderful view of the Abbey by moonlight from the bedrooms… if this rain ever stops. I hope you both enjoy your stay in Whitby.”
“Oh, I intend to, ma’am. Thank you for your help. Have a nice day…”
Metcalfe guffawed with laughter. “You see, Miss Kidd, I told you he’s determined to be the perfect American tourist. He’s going to enjoy every eccentric minute…”
She watched them leave with a friendly smile before turning her attention to a family in need of directions to a particular attraction.
Paul was studying the street map and speculating on the best way to get their hire-car up to the parking bay, when he realised his friend had disappeared again. He scanned the busy building for the distinctive blond head… and pushed his way to where Svenson was occupied examining a shelf of local merchandise.
“Come on, Adam… if we hurry, we might have time to find you a ‘kiss-me-quick’ hat to replace that Stetson you insist on wearing.”
“It isn’t a Stetson, it’s a fedora – can’t you tell the difference?”
“A hat is a hat is a hat….” Metcalfe asserted as he dragged his friend away from the extensive display of gifts with ‘Dracula’ motifs. They pushed their way through the exit. “Besides, it makes you look like an off-duty cowboy and we don’t want to frighten the landlady into refusing to let us in.”
Adam slipped the hat back on again as they walked out into the rain and headed towards the old town. “I’ll take it off when we get there,” he assured his friend, “but I’m not going bare-headed in the rain.”
“Then you will never be mistaken for an Englishman,” Metcalfe warned jovially.
“I can live with that…”
They walked briskly through the bustling streets, dodging the ghoulish, vampire-look-alikes that thronged the town, despite the murky drizzle. Following their instructions to the letter, they found themselves in a narrow passageway, standing before a dark, wooden front door, about half way up a steep street. The house appeared to be half the width of a normal building and set sideways onto the street.
Grinning, Paul rang the doorbell. “At the first sign of a deformed servant called Igor, I am leaving…” he warned, only half-joking.
Adam grinned back. “Coward,” he said conversationally.
The door was partially opened and they saw a dark-haired woman peering out through the gap.
“May I help you?” she asked coldly.
“Miss Eglan? Miss Kidd from the Tourist Accommodation Bureau made a booking for us.” Metcalfe responded to her unfriendly attitude with a bright smile and proffered the booking chitty.
“Didn’t you get the message? I called back almost at once, to say it was not at all convenient for us to accept guests today. I am responsible for making the bookings and I’m afraid my sister made a mistake, sir. Besides, I have always specified that we can only take family parties, or female visitors. I am afraid we cannot accommodate you… gentlemen.”
“But, Miss Eglan…”
“Miss Rowena Eglan. My sister is Miss Eglan,” she said curtly.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Rowena. Surely you could make an exception to your rule, just for once? You’re no doubt aware that the town is very crowded this weekend and we would be really grateful if you could accommodate us – just for the one night. Miss Kidd must have explained that we’d had no luck any where else, otherwise I am sure she wouldn’t have disregarded your preferences. You really are our last hope…” he added, with what he prayed was a reassuring and appealing smile.
It had little or no effect on the woman. “We are two women alone here and we do not choose to take male guests unless accompanied by their families. I am sorry, but I am sure you understand.” She began to close the door.
Anxiously, Paul stepped forward. “Please, Miss Rowena, we would gladly pay for both rooms – at a premium - for tonight.”
“Young man, you would only ever be offered both rooms…”
Adam sniggered but managed to turn it into a credible cough. Miss Rowena Eglan peered into the gloomy street, staring at him as if she hadn’t noticed him before this. Aware of her scrutiny, and mindful of his friend’s caveat about his hat, the American politely removed it. “Ma’am,” he said.
“Rowena!” a voice called petulantly from inside the house. “Rowena, what are you doing? There is a terrible draft… Rowena?”
Along the dark hallway a door opened and another woman appeared, silhouetted against the dim light of the room beyond the door. She saw the two men on the step and exclaimed joyously, “Rowena, these must be the visitors Miss Kidd spoke to me about. Do not keep them waiting in the cold! Come in, gentlemen – please come through to the parlour. I am sure you would wish for a refreshing cup of tea before you settle into your rooms. Rowena, open the door properly and then fetch a tea-tray for our guests – and hurry!”
Reluctantly, the unsmiling woman moved aside and gratefully the men stepped past her into the hall. She was thin, almost to the point of emaciation, dressed in a shapeless, navy-blue dress, which fell from her shoulders to ankles. Her long brown hair was swept into a single heavy plait and the only animation in her dour face came from her large, brown eyes.
As Adam sidled past her into the pale glimmer of the low wattage bulb, Rowena Eglan gave a muted gasp and her frown deepened. Surprised, and rather unsettled by her reaction, he hurriedly followed his friend into the surprisingly spacious parlour at the end of the hallway, as the front door slammed shut behind them with a dull echo.
“You must forgive my sister, gentlemen, we so rarely receive visitors these days and Rowena is very careful about who is admitted to the house.”
“That is quite all right, Miss Eglan,” Paul said evenly. He handed her the booking slip Georgina Kidd had given him.
She dropped it, unexamined, onto a heavy wooden table and studied him intently with obvious interest. She seemed particularly taken with him, hardly glancing at the taller, fair-haired American just coming into the room. Metcalfe examined her in return, although rather less obviously.
She was shorter than her sister, plumper and her face was softer in its contours, with a small, rounded chin. Her dark hair was streaked with a liberal handful of grey, and clipped back from her face in a jumble of loose curls, which gave her the appearance of an aging, faded Shirley Temple. She wore a fussy, be-ribboned dress in a pastel mauve, which did not suit her and - with her simpering smile and flirting glances - she gave the unfortunate impression of mutton, unconvincingly dressed as lamb.
Despite that, he thought, she must have been one of those pretty, doll-like women in her youth – the type that do not age well.
“I am Miss Clarissa Eglan,” she said primly. “Welcome to our home, gentlemen.”
Courteously he extended his hand and introduced himself – some instinct leading him to deduce that she would be reassured by rank - “I am Colonel Paul Metcalfe, formerly of the World Army Air force, I am pleased to meet you, Miss Eglan.”
“A colonel, and so young!” she simpered and lingeringly held on to his strong hand. Metcalfe felt the colour start in his face. He withdrew his hand and turned to his companion. “This is Mr. Adam Svenson…”
“Commander Adam Svenson,” the American amended, determined not to be outdone in this sudden display of status, although he was not as attuned to the factors that had led his friend to decide to play social one-upmanship.
“Are you in the Canadian forces, Commander?”
“I am an American, ma’am; my commission is with the World Aeronautical Society,” he explained.
“So, both of you are airmen – so romantic, I always think!” Clarissa gushed. “Do sit down, Colonel… here by the fire, and you, Commander, perhaps you would care to sit on the sofa, over there. The tea will not be long in arriving.”
Svenson grinned at his companion and moved across the room to the sofa, willingly leaving Paul the honour of his hostess’s close attention.
The house was undeniably gloomy; the hallway was decorated with muted colours and dark carpets and the parlour was hardly less sombre, although a cheerful fire burned in the huge fireplace and a variety of art-nouveau style, glass-shaded table-lamps stood on heavy, old-fashioned furniture. The place was a Victorian time-warp, looking like a particularly convincing set from a period drama.
“That is very kind of you, Miss Eglan, but we still have to move our car up to the parking space and fetch our luggage in, before it gets too dark…” Paul said with a displeased glare at his fair-weather friend.
“There is plenty of time, Colonel, plenty of time. You must forgive us, Commander, I am sure you know that everything stops for tea in England.”
“Yes, ma’am, I had noticed.”
Sharing wary glances, the young men perched uncomfortably on the high-backed upright furniture. When Clarissa Eglan went to switch on more of the numerous table lamps, which covered the surfaces like a crop of mushrooms, Svenson leaned across and whispered,
“How do you do it, Paul? I’d say you’ve pulled…”
“For Heaven’s sake, Adam - she’s older than my mother…”
Clarissa came back and switched on one final lamp on the table next to Paul.
“You must excuse the gloom, gentlemen. I suffer from a rare disorder, which makes me sensitive to excessive light. Rowena and I live very retired lives, and we have grown quite used to the muted conditions. You don’t object, I hope?” she asked Paul.
“Not at all,” he replied. “It must make life very difficult for you, Miss Eglan.”
“We manage well, enough, Rowena goes out at times, and we have a handyman to help around the place. The rest we manage ourselves, and, apart from my disorder, we have our health.” She sat opposite him, staring at him as she continued. “Sometimes, I hear the little children playing outside and I remember how pleasant it was to be in the sun…”
Rowena Eglan came in with the tea-tray and slammed it down forcibly between her sister and Paul. Obviously, she was not as taken with their visitors as her sister appeared to be.
Clarissa handed Paul a small plate and pressed him to sample the small triangular sandwiches and cakes on the generously laden tray.
“Please help yourself, Colonel; I know gentlemen are always hungry. May I offer you some tea?”
“Thank you, Miss Eglan,” he accepted the delicate bone china cup, noting its quality. However dotty the women seemed, he surmised that they were not short of a bob or two. Even the ghastly lamps all around the place would be worth a small fortune to the right collector.
That they chose to live at the pace of an earlier, politer age was not that alarming. His father’s two formidable maiden aunts had been inclined to behave the same way, filling what he imagined were dull and empty days with needless formality and austere etiquette.
As a child he had loathed visits to their chocolate-box, thatched cottage, when his mother had dressed him in his Sunday best and given him strict instructions to ‘behave’. He could still remember the unease with which he had sat, nervously silent, at the tea table, eating home-made seedy cake, until his father had given him the ‘all clear’ and he’d escaped to their extensive and well-tended garden to romp amongst the rose bushes and climb the trees.
As a young man, he had dutifully made time to visit them, and discovered - much to his surprise, in wide-ranging, lively conversations - that they had lived far more interesting lives than he had ever imagined, having both served abroad in the Balkans and the Gulf, during the troubled years at the end of the Twentieth Century. He had grown quite fond of them, and it had come as a surprise to him how deeply he was affected when they had died within a twelvemonth of each other, and he had heard the proud and loving messages they had left for him in their wills – along with their not inconsiderable property.
“Tea, Commander Svenson?” Miss Eglan dragged her gaze away from Paul to quiz her other guest.
“Thank you, ma’am. No milk in mine, if you please.”
“Goodness me! How very remarkable” She sounded almost shocked. “Still, I expect we are a little behind the times. Do have a sandwich, Commander.”
Rowena thrust the plate under his nose and Adam took one of the tiny sandwiches. He was not as comfortable as Paul with the social niceties of such archaic behaviour – not that Paul was looking all that much at ease. He hid his amusement. Neither of them was that unfamiliar with the phenomenon of ‘over-attentive’ females… but this was something else! He wanted to remember it all, to tell the guys back on base. He glanced up at Rowena, still hovering beside him waiting to offer him another sandwich, and caught the expression in her dark eyes in the second before she looked away.
Oh, help… he thought, not her as well…
Disconcerted by his glance, Rowena moved away and sat beside her sister. Side by side, the physical resemblance between them was far more obvious and he reckoned that they could not be much under sixty years of age.
“I understand that you are here on holiday, Colonel?” Miss Eglan enquired politely.
“Yes, we had planned a trip to Australia earlier this year, but it fell through for reasons beyond our control –“
“Ah, business. Gentlemen are always so pre-occupied with business,” Miss Eglan said archly. “Our dear father was the same.”
“Indeed, was he a military man, Miss Eglan?”
“Oh no, Colonel Metcalfe. He was a lawyer, a very well-respected man in the community. But we had a brother who was in the army... Jonathan. He rose to be a Major. We were so proud of him – he always looked so handsome in his uniform.” She sighed. “But I interrupted your story, I am sorry. What made you come to our beautiful town, Colonel?”
“Well, we discovered that we both had some leave owing and as our respective fiancées couldn’t get the time away, we decided to go alone and just tour around an area. Adam – Commander Svenson - is an avid reader, and, as my family come from Winchester, we’ve already spent time exploring ‘Hardy country’ and the thought occurred to do a similar literary tour elsewhere in the country. He’s read the Brontës’ novels – as have I, of course - so we thought we’d explore Yorkshire this time. We drove up the coast from Scarborough this afternoon, because Adam’s been re-reading ‘Dracula’…”
“Oh, that dreadful book!” Miss Eglan exclaimed. “My dear father would not have it in the house. It has besmirched this town with its insidious suggestions of such wicked and unnatural associations! I do hope you do not have a copy with you now, Commander?”
Startled, Adam swallowed his sandwich and replied, “No, ma’am… it’s in the car with my luggage.”
“Then, please do us the courtesy of leaving it there – in respect of my dear father’s stricture - you understand? It sickens me to think of our beloved Abbey being forever associated with the Godless undead in the minds of the hoi-polloi! For centuries the Abbey was a beacon of Christianity in a pagan world – pivotal in the conversion of the kings of this region. Why, its reputation rivalled York itself in those years – with people coming from all over the known world to worship at the shrine of the blessed Saint Hild. But all the devout glory of the original Abbey was destroyed in the dark years, when the heathen Vikings ravaged along this coast. No man, woman, beast or building was safe from them - their very presence was a sacrilegious pollution of this noble town! Such a vile race of men… may they be cursed even unto the final generation!”
Rowena spoke sharply into the uncomfortable silence that followed this outburst. “Sister, remember your manners…”
Clarissa Eglan glanced at the disapproval on the face of Colonel Metcalfe and then at the uncomfortable flush on Commander Svenson’s face…. Svenson…? She glared at the American with a ferocity that made him draw back on his seat. Then she seemed to regain her poise. “I am sure the Commander doesn’t believe I meant to include him in that, Rowena. He told me himself he was an American,” she said petulantly.
“Even so, Clarissa, you are beyond the pale,” her sister said harshly. She turned to the men with a grimly apologetic smile. “Please, you must realise that my sister is a noted local historian and that, in our retired lives, the past is very much alive. We forget that not everyone feels so strongly about past events.”
“I will ensure the book stays in the car,” Adam reassured her. “I have finished reading it, anyway,” he added half to himself.
“Well, if you are stopping, you had better fetch your luggage in… it’s getting dark and the rain’s heavier than it was,” Rowena said briskly. She collected the plates and cups from the men and added, as she picked up the tray, “I’ll get you the parking permit. You should find a space up the hill. I’ll show you the way on a street map. Will you want to eat with us, tonight, only I’ll have to see if the butcher can get more meat delivered…?”
“Rowena, of course they will eat with us… I wouldn’t hear otherwise!” Miss Eglan trilled, reaching out to place her pudgy hand on Paul’s arm.
“Please, don’t put yourself to any bother, Miss Rowena,” Metcalfe said quickly. He was in no doubt that she did not want them around any more than was essential. “We made a reservation to eat in a restaurant that the Tourist Information Bureau recommended, Miss Eglan. It has excellent sea-food and the Commander is something of a connoisseur, coming as he does from Boston, so I want to prove to him that America does not have the monopoly,” he explained conversationally.
She simpered at him. “I am sure you will enjoy it, Colonel. The town is noted for its excellent sea-food - you are in for a treat, Commander.”
As they followed Rowena out, Adam hissed to Paul, “I’m in for food-poisoning – you know I’m allergic to sea-food…”
“But they don’t, Adam. Use your loaf, unless you want to eat with Morticia and her sister…”
Svenson nodded with sudden understanding and edged out of the front door, past the unsmiling Rowena, thinking it odd that such a severe woman should actually be less un-nerving than her sister. He had not liked the gleam of fanaticism he’d seen in Clarissa Eglan’s dark eyes.
It was getting late when they made their leisurely way back to the house through the wet and largely deserted streets. They had eaten well, before going on to sample the local ales in a number of lively pubs in the town. In the last one they tried, a couple of young women, wearing ghoulish make-up and very tight dresses, had come over and asked them to dance. They had spent some time there - until the place closed – when they had said prolonged and affectionate farewells to their young companions before seeing the surprised - not to mention disappointed – girls safely on their way home.
Paul slowed down again to wait for Adam, who was having some difficulty keeping up with his friend – even though the pace was not a strenuous one. He tried not to smile as the American negotiated the final kerb with intense concentration and came to stand beside him on the step, leaning against the wall with a sigh.
Miss Rowena had given them a key before they left, asking them to lock up on their return, should the sisters have retired for the night. The house was dark, so they let themselves in as quietly as they could and Paul steered Adam up the stairs to their rooms, which were adjacent to each other on a poorly lit landing on the side of the narrow house that faced the town. They did, indeed, have spectacular views across the River Esk to the cliff top where the ruins of the Abbey dominated the dark skyline. The rain had stopped some hours ago, but the clouds were starting to build up again, and the fitful light from the full moon was just strong enough to reveal the outline of the roofless arches of the nave.
They went into the twin bedroom, in which Adam’s minimal luggage had been left. Nodding towards the ruins, Adam said, “You could imagine vampires hanging about up there.” His voice was slightly slurred. He wasn’t a great beer drinker, but Paul hated to drink alone and so - just to be sociable - he had allowed himself to be persuaded into trying a few, to see what variety there was in the taste.
Paul bounced on one of the beds. “Huh, I reckon you got the best deal here. The bed in my room is like a hammock, it collapses in on itself when you lie down on it.”
Adam grinned. “Well, it was all down to Miss Rowena where the luggage went and I reckon she fancies me more than you…” He sniggered and then asked soberly, “Can we leave here tomorrow – nice and early?” He poured a drink from the water bottle the sisters had thoughtfully provided on the chest of drawers. The water tasted slightly stale, but he was thirsty after the beer.
“Now who’s a coward?” Paul teased, but he didn’t feel that comfortable in the house himself. It was unnerving to be sized up by a woman older than your mother. “Yeah, we’ll go inland tomorrow. Maybe visit Castle Howard? You know – of Brideshead Revisited fame? “
“How could anyone call a man Evelyn?” Adam asked tangentially.
“I don’t know, but I’ll sleep on it and see if I have a flash of inspiration before morning. I suggest you do the same… you look ready to drop. ‘Night, Adam.”
“G’night Paul… pleasant dreams….”
Back in his own room, Paul gazed through his bedroom window at the dramatic view before following his friend’s example and sipping a glass of water from the jug provided. He’d stayed in some weird places in his time, but this one took the biscuit. Miss Kidd had been right; the Eglans were ‘eccentric’. He stripped off his jacket and sweatshirt, kicked off his shoes and lay down on the bed, hands behind his head, staring up at the patterns on the ceiling.
I don’t feel tired, which isn’t unusual, but I feel like having a bit of a lie-down. I’ve got a book in my case... I’ll fish it out later and read for a bit… Adam is funny when he gets tipsy… and it didn’t take much of that local ale to have an effect on him… he’d never have agreed to dance with that girl otherwise… he’ll have one hell of a hangover tomorrow, poor chump… I’m glad it never has that effect on me… luckily. Do we really want to go to Castle Howard or shall we head for the Dales? There’s a steam railway near here… we could go for a ride on the trains….it will help clear Adam’s head…. Besides, I like steam trains… much better than fancy houses… but before we go, I’ll see if I can find Dianne a nice present made of Whitby jet… but not one decorated with Dracula motifs…Oh, no! Karen would’ve gone ballistic if he’d turned up with something like that for her… I wonder if he was having me on. Honestly… Americans!
He closed his eyes and dozed off.
Feeling strangely exhausted, Adam stripped off and rolled into the bed farthest from the window. He wasn’t sure how long he slept, but he was woken by a cold hand on his exposed shoulder. Blearily struggling to wake, he opened his eyes to see Rowena Eglan standing by his bed, dressed in a dull-brown knitted cardigan, over a pastel-pink flannelette nightdress and incongruous green ‘wellies’.
“Miss Rowena,” he gasped. Embarrassed by his state of undress, he buried himself under the duvet.
She hardly seemed to notice. “Commander, your friend, the colonel, he is not with you?”
Thinking that it was patently obvious Paul was not in the room, he replied, “No, he is in his own room.”
“No, Commander, he is not. I fell asleep – Heaven forgive me! – He has gone – they have taken him, I’m sure of it. We must make haste…”
“Gone? Miss Rowena, you are not making much sense. Why would Paul have gone anywhere – and who would have taken him?” He struggled to sit upright, screwing his eyes against the protesting stab of pain that scored the inside of his head. Eyes barely half-open, he tried to reach across to the other bed for his shirt, without revealing too much bare flesh.
Distractedly, she gathered up his discarded clothing and dumped it on his bed. “My sister – she has him.”
“I am almost loath to ask this, but why would she want to take him anywhere at this time of night?” He struggled into his clothes beneath the duvet. “And even if she did, how could Paul be in danger? He’s twice her size and we are both capable of effective self-defence, believe me, Miss Rowena.”
“Commander – I beg you – before it is too late!” She tugged at his arm.
Sighing, he slid from the bed and zipped up his jeans, sliding his bare feet into his trainers and buttoning his shirt.
“I want to see for myself,” he insisted, striding to Paul’s door. He snapped on the dim light.
The room was empty. A cursory glance showed that the bed bore signs that it had been lain on and Paul’s sweater lay on a chair by the dresser. There were some slight signs of disorder and, unlike virtually every other flat surface in the place; the bedside table was bare – without even one of the seemingly obligatory lamps on it. Of the occupant there was no sign.
“All right, Miss Rowena – I’ll buy it. Where has your sister taken him?”
“To the Abbey of course…”
“A midnight ramble? Very unorthodox, but hardly life-threatening, Miss Rowena,” he said wearily.
“Commander Svenson, believe me - your friend is in danger. I doubt he went willingly.”
He smiled. “As I said, Miss Rowena, Paul’s more than capable of looking after himself. Your sister couldn’t get him to go anywhere he didn’t want to.”
“You don’t know - you don’t understand…this isn’t the first time. Oh God, why did you come here…? We must go there if we are to save your friend… it may already be too late, we can only hope he is unharmed. Please believe me, Commander.”
“All right,” he sighed. Sensing he would get no rest unless he agreed to her demands, Adam capitulated. “While we drive there in the car, you can tell me what all this is about. And it had better be good….”
“Let’s go… hurry!”
They hurried through the wet street to where the car was parked. Rowena was agitated and urged as much haste as possible, as he fumbled with his seat-belt. He pointed out that he didn’t know the way and she began to give directions through the tortuous one-way system, back to the main road and towards the Abbey complex.
As they drove, the sky clouded over again and the wind rose. Huge, heavy drops of rain splattered against the windscreen. The windscreen wipers squeaked as they dragged across the glass.
“Now,” Svenson insisted, “tell me what all this is about.”
Rowena Eglan drew a deep breath and began her story.
“You’ll be too young to remember the European war – but no doubt you have heard about what happened here? There are still plenty of people in this country, Commander, who have every reason to remember those awful days and for whom the consequences of it all are still a part of their everyday lives.”
“My sister was a young woman in those dangerous days and I was a teenage schoolgirl. We were both pretty enough, although Clarissa was always prettier than me – she was lively and attractive to men with her trim figure, dark hair and bright eyes - attractive to and attracted by, I should have said.”
“Understand that our father was a lawyer – a well-respected man in the town - but a very religious man, strait-laced and ultra-conservative. He thought every form of pleasure was sinful. I wonder sometimes how he ever managed to convince my high-spirited mother to marry him – never mind having three children. After my mother died, when I was still very small, Clarissa – who is several years older than me - assumed the role of ‘lady of the house’ when it was necessary. She was very like mother to look at, and always so self-assured, she thought she could twist father around her finger, whenever she was in trouble.”
“If Clarissa was father’s favourite, my brother – Jonathan – was the target of his ambitions for his children. Johnny was to be a lawyer and take over the family firm, and rise to even dizzier heights than his father had managed. It wasn’t what Johnny wanted – not by a long chalk, Commander. Johnny didn’t have a great mind, only a sort of mother–wit that enabled him to get by, but he wasn’t up to the future father mapped out for him. It caused conflict – you cannot imagine how much conflict…”
“I suspect I might be able to imagine it, rather better than you think,” Svenson remarked with a jaundiced sigh.
Rowena glanced at him with a flash of unexpected perception, and placed a hand on his arm, in a gesture of silent sympathy. Once more he was surprised by this dour woman.
She removed her hand and continued her story. “Johnny wanted to be an artist. He wasn’t that good, but it is hard to know what he might have been better at. Father was adamant he would have to attend law school and make a go of his profession, but I suspect he knew Johnny wasn’t really capable. He began to turn to Clarissa in the hope that she might fulfil his social ambitions. He wanted her to make a marriage to a man capable of managing the firm… it was his company that held the dominant place in his heart, Commander. I dare say she was happy enough with that prospect. All of us had been denied chances to mix with people our own ages and we had very few friends in the neighbourhood. I believe we were thought of as ‘odd’ and even – eccentric - by our peers. Father had very strict ideas on what was ‘seemly’ and in denying us all an outlet for our emotions and ambitions, he created three very inadequate human beings.”
“By now Clarissa was in her mid-twenties and I expect she would be described as… highly-sexed, is that the right term, Commander?”
Svenson grunted a reply which might just have been an agreement.
Rowena continued. “She wanted a husband – or failing that, a lover – and she wanted him soon. She was ready to move on from lording it over her father’s household. The man she had in her sights was the son of father’s partner – Timothy Jessup. Tim Jessup was a fine-looking man, a good few years her senior, but that was not allowed to cloud the issue. He was also as dry as dust and not really the man to keep Clarissa happy, still, an understanding was reached that the couple would marry and Tim would become the next partner in the firm.”
“This new arrangement meant that Johnny lost out and he was going to have to find another means of making his way in the World. My brother was a handsome man, tall, dark - as we all are - and – so it seemed to me – sophisticated. I could not understand why a ‘suitable marriage’ was out of the question for him – but then, I began to realise that unlike Clarissa, where almost any suitable member of the opposite sex would have done, Johnny was … not interested in women… do I make myself clear, Commander?”
Svenson nodded and fought to keep the car on the steep road that descended towards the river bridge. The wind was getting stronger and the rain heavier with every passing minute.
“Even after the war ended, the government was keen to maintain a strong military force in this country. There were many men due to come out of the army and little or nothing to occupy them. The government decided that, in order to keep these men off the streets, they should stay in the forces… it was, of course, the start of what became the military regime that ran the country, before the civil war in ’42 , but no-one realised it at the time – or if they did, they did not oppose it. There was a group of Canadian pilots, who had come across to help fight the war and were now based at the old RAF base at Fylingdale, on the moors between here and York, and the military government held on to them, too. These young men had little grasp of the politics involved in the matter and were attracted purely by the prospect of continuing adventure. They would come into Whitby on their days off, drinking and whoring, as men do when so far away from home. What is they say about such men - ‘over-paid, over-sexed and over here’?”
“It was said about the GIs in World War Two,” he confirmed with a wry tilt of his head.
“Well, it was true about the men at Fylingdale too. These men were a temptation to both Johnny and Clarissa – because Tim Jessup was having serious doubts and seemed strangely reluctant to fulfil his side of the bargain regarding their marriage - and Clarissa was tired of waiting. So, they both began to associate with the military personnel –in a very clandestine manner - which probably made the whole exercise appeal even more to Clarissa, as it had to be kept from father, whatever happened.”
“It was Johnny who introduced them to Clarissa and to me, the summer when I left school and just before I went to college. I had managed to prevail upon father to allow me to study domestic management and I had a dream of having my own hotel someday – anything to get away from home. For some time, Clarissa had been teasing me with stories about her adventures with the Canadian airmen, but these two were different. One was an Englishman and the other a Canadian. Both were good looking and – it seemed - honourable men. The Englishman was a handsome, dark-haired devil, from London. He was called Geoffrey Braithwaite and he was a charmer all right – ‘birds off the trees’ was child’s play to Geoffrey. His friend was younger, a Canadian of Danish ancestry – called Harry Jensen. I think Harry was as much in thrall to Geoffrey as my family became, but there was no malice in Harry – he was just easily led. Geoffrey was a different sort entirely – he took his pleasure from tormenting people. He could see that Clarissa had fallen head-over-heels in love with him and – I don’t doubt for one moment – he was prepared to take advantage of the fact. It may have added piquancy to the situation that Johnny was in love with him too. I know he borrowed money from Johnny - a great deal of money, which Johnny really did not have to lend. Such was his devotion to Geoffrey that he began embezzling the company – where father had given him a clerical job – to meet Geoffrey’s extortionate demands.”
“Once Clarissa realised about Johnny, she became very possessive and taunted him about her relationship with Geoffrey – for I hardly need tell you that he had seduced her and – so Clarissa claims – promised to marry her. I admit I was not paying too much attention to all this, for I spent that summer in the arms of Harry Jensen. We talked about getting married and of my going away to Canada with him – away from my father’s repressive regime. I went back to college full of hope for my future.”
“Before long, my father became aware, both of Johnny’s sexuality and his embezzlement. He agreed that he would not inform the police, to save the family’s reputation. It might have been better if he had done so, for he was neither tolerant nor merciful in his derision of his son, Commander Svenson. I know Jonathan had committed a crime, but my father made no attempt to understand why – he never understood any his children – if he had, our lives might have been very different. He threw Johnny out of his job and our house and left him destitute.”
“This did not suit Geoffrey at all – he was dependent on Johnny for his spending cash – Clarissa had no money of her own. He seems to have decided to punish them both – presumably for their failure to do as he wanted… who can tell? As far as I understand, he seduced Johnny…or maybe he allowed Johnny to seduce him… but he made quite sure that Clarissa caught them – in flagrante – as they say.”
“My father was away on business, there were only the three of them in the house. There was an almighty argument; one which I am sure must have amused Geoffrey, seeing my brother and sister fighting over him. As I said, he was an arrogant bastard. But he was also over-confident, because he did not take into account how fragile Clarissa’s self-esteem was, nor how desperate she had become for him to marry her. She fetched the pistol father had bought to protect us from looters, and she waved it about, threatening both of them, I think. She claims that is all she meant to do, but the gun was fired and Geoffrey was shot. He was not killed, but he was seriously wounded. With medical assistance he might well have survived, but neither Clarissa nor Jonathan had the guts to call for medical help – they feared the consequences. They moved Geoffrey to one of the attics and ‘nursed’ him there. The wound went septic and he died - in agony. I cannot pretend to have much sympathy for him, Commander, after what he did to my family. I found out subsequently, that Johnny and Clarissa buried him in the precincts of the Abbey - thirty-five years ago this very night.”
“Harry searched for his friend. I believe he suspected what might have happened, but in the general confusion of civil unrest, men were deserting from their regiments every day, and no-one could spare the manpower or time to track them down. He phoned me once, asking for my help, but I couldn’t get away and, by the time I did get home, he was gone. Clarissa told me he had left for London, to search for Geoffrey, but that he promised to come back for me. I waited – for years I waited – but I never heard from him again. Perhaps, he was as cavalier a man as his friend, although I had thought better of him.”
There was a heavy silence for a few moments that spoke volumes about the woman’s emotions, but when she spoke again her voice was as brisk and self-contained as always.
“Immediately after this, Johnny enlisted in the Army and moved away from Whitby. Clarissa, knowing she was pregnant, begged Tim Jessup to marry her, but, naturally enough, he broke their engagement and told my father why. When father found out, he was furious. He told her she no better than a common whore and that no decent man would look at her, so she had better resign herself to spinsterhood and a life of charitable endeavours in an attempt to redeem herself. He called it a judgment on her innate wickedness and, for the very first time in her life, she could not divert his anger. He confined her to the house for the duration of the pregnancy, no-one was told the real reason why she was confined, and when anyone questioned him, my father put about the story of her suffering from a rare disorder that made her react badly to daylight… goodness knows where he dreamt that up from. He would not allow her to see the proper doctors and he kept me at home to look after her. When the baby was delivered – it was a healthy boy, with dark hair and blue eyes - father took the child away for adoption, despite Clarissa’s desperate pleading. I think it broke her heart – it certainly destroyed her mind, Commander.”
Svenson stirred uneasily, beginning to have an inkling where this was leading.
“Then, we heard that Johnny had been killed in a skirmish and father went to pieces – blaming Clarissa for everything. He said she had debauched Jonathan – rubbish, of course - but I suspect neither of them were quite in their right minds by now. He refused to let her leave the house and only allowed me to leave when it was necessary. Life was becoming intolerable and I prayed every night that Harry would come back for me. It was many years before that particular hope died, Commander.”
“One winter’s night, Johnny turned up – hideously disfigured – and begging for our help. He was so terrified of father’s reaction that we hid him, in the same attic where Geoffrey had died. Perhaps, none of us was truly rational in those fearful times. We kept Johnny hidden for almost a year, and then father discovered him. He raged against us all – calling Johnny awful names – and including Clarissa and me in his scorn. My father had a heart condition – oddly enough for a man who had never seemed to have a heart – and such was his rage that he suffered an attack… His pills were downstairs – we were in the attic, remember? He ordered Clarissa to fetch them and she refused to go – she prevented Jonathan or me from going too. Father fell down in a faint and hit his head on the chimney brickwork. It didn’t kill him – unfortunately for him - but by the time we got him back to his room and called the doctor, he was reduced to a helpless invalid. He lived for another three years – with Clarissa’s ‘careful nursing’. I hate to imagine what revenge she took on him during those years – for I have no doubt she did revenge herself on him. I should have stopped her – I know that - but like the others I was trapped in some sort of living hell, and I couldn’t leave her alone with father and Johnny.”
“He was still with you?” Svenson asked in surprise.
“Where else could he go? He has half a face, Commander, he’s afraid to be seen.”
“What has all this to do with Paul?” he asked, with a sinking feeling that he knew the answer.
“Nothing – unless he was adopted?” Rowena said, raising quizzical eyebrows at her companion.
“No, the General and Mrs. Metcalfe are most definitely his biological parents; you only have to meet them to see that.” He shook his head. “You cannot be seriously trying to tell me that she imagines Paul is her son?”
“I do not know what she imagines. Clarissa has very little grasp of reality these days. She saw two young men – one as dark as Geoffrey and the other as fair as Harry… her mind is disturbed, she may have seen her dead lover, or her lost child, but your friend’s appearance undoubtedly stirred something in her, Commander. I haven’t seen her behave as she did for many years. That you should have arrived now – at the very time of year this happened - is unfortunate. She is always more unsettled now. Her memories are that much more vivid. If the colonel rejects her, Clarissa is quite capable of harming him. I fear very much for your friend, Commander. “
So did Svenson as he urged their car up the rough track to the entrance of the visitors’ complex car park.
There was a vintage hatchback parked in the corner nearest the entrance gate and Rowena confirmed that it was theirs. Before they went any further, Svenson rummaged in the boot of their hire car and found his torch, and Paul’s, which he gave to Rowena.
They battled against the strong wind and he helped her scramble over the walls, striding across the springy, damp turf towards the monastic fish-pond that fronted the abbey buildings.
“Where will they be?” he asked.
“Geoffrey was buried in the presbytery – near the High Altar. Clarissa insisted on what she called ‘consecrated ground’ for her lover.”
“Lead the way, Miss Rowena.” He stepped aside for her to precede him, banking on the fact that her relationship with the kidnappers would offer her some protection. He had a nagging wish that he had his service pistol with him – but neither of them had expected their holiday to descend into such jeopardy.
Rowena Eglan staggered through the dark night, her knitted jacket billowing around her. Svenson followed, his head bent against the off-shore gale, and so he bumped into her when she suddenly stopped at the first archway of the building and pointed.
At the far side of the open ground, enclosed by the impressive, three-tiered stone arcade that was all that remained of the Abbey’s former glory, they saw a figure standing over an inert body stretched out on the wet grass. Svenson held Rowena back and moved forward, dowsing the light from his torch.
He could see that Paul was unconscious and wondered what the woman had done to reduce her captive to this. Under normal circumstances, Paul Metcalfe had no trouble defending himself. Svenson guessed that in this situation his inbred chivalry towards ‘ladies’ - of all descriptions – would make him reluctant to hurt Clarissa and, quite unprepared for the pure madness of her ideas, that might mean Clarissa may have been able to get the drop on him. Yet, even so, Paul was not an easy man to subdue.
He remembered that Rowena had mentioned a pistol and wondered if the family still possessed it. A gunshot wound would explain why Paul was so still. He sighed. There were factors concerning Paul Metcalfe that were going to make the situation very awkward when he recovered consciousness and there was likely to be one almighty security breach, if they weren’t careful. Somehow he guessed it would be him that got the rocket from their boss… how could anyone expect Paul to watch his own back, if he was… incapacitated?
Beside him, Rowena was weeping silently, drawing her breath in great, dry sobs. She murmured, “Oh Clarissa, not again – dear God, when will this end?”
He placed a hand on her shoulder in mute support and she gave him a grateful glance. However many memories his superficial likeness to her long-gone lover evoked, she knew he was not Harry Jensen. Her sister had no such clarity of thought.
The fitful moonlight and the dim glare of a hurricane lamp showed a third figure, knee-deep in a coffin-shaped hole, and determinedly digging through the compacted earth. Svenson suspected that this was the site of the previous burial and that the grave was already occupied.
“She means to bury your friend with Geoffrey – father and son,” Rowena whispered, confirming his thought.
“She is not going to bury Paul anywhere. He’s not dead…” Svenson grated, preparing to move forward.
“How can you be sure?” she asked.
He didn’t answer, but moved out of the shelter of the arch in preparation to crossing the open space to where the guilty pair were occupied in their grisly rites.
He raised his voice and shouted against the gusting wind. “Hold it right, there, Miss Eglan, I’m afraid you’ve gone too far this time and your little charade is over.”
The woman spun around and he could see the dark shape of a pistol in her hand.
“You,” she gasped. “Just as Harry Jensen before you, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, Commander.” She raised the gun and fired. The bullet went wide and struck a stone pillar. Svenson dodged away, trying to draw Rowena with him, but she broke free and advanced on her sister, her dark eyes blazing with a fiery anger.
“What are you saying, Clarissa? When was Harry in the wrong place?” She walked forward and peered down at the freshly open grave. With Clarissa’s attention focussed on her sister, Svenson edged forward, hoping to protect one woman and disarm the other before a further tragedy occurred.
Clarissa began to speak. “We never meant to harm him, Rowena, but he wanted to know what had happened to Geoffrey – he was too persistent. He would not accept that Geoffrey had left for London. He followed us here – Johnny and I – when we came to bury Geoffrey in this holy ground. He accused me of killing him – me, who loved Geoffrey more than life and who was carrying his child! Harry called me many wicked names and he threatened to expose us. I couldn’t let that happen. I told him to go away – to go far away and never return. He said he would come back with the police and then take you away to Canada – so you might live with him. But I needed you here – I was going to have my baby and I would need you to help me care for him - I couldn’t let Harry do as he threatened, you understand, don’t you, Rowena. I did what was best.”
“You killed him? You killed Harry?”
“It was for all our sakes, Rowena, don’t take on so! It had to be done. He died a cleaner death than my darling Geoffrey. I shot him - through the heart.”
“You killed Harry!” Rowena screeched. “All these years, you let me think he was still alive and all the time you knew he was dead! I hate you, Clarissa! For years I bore with your delusions, took your orders and looked after you, believing – hoping against all hope – that he would come back for me – as he swore he would! You knew if you told me he was dead, I would leave… you knew I would not stay here - in the living hell you had created! And you feared to be left alone in the house, alone with the ghosts of your victims, alone with the consequences of your madness! Well, I have done with you. I am leaving, Clarissa, see how well you manage without me! You are stark, raving mad… you murdering bitch! You murdered my Harry….”
She turned from her sister and began to walk away. Svenson could see the tears running unchecked down her face. He moved towards her, unsure if she would even accept his help.
“You cannot leave, Rowena! Where would you go? A dry, worthless old woman! You have to stay with us! Rowena…” Clarissa called imperiously after her sister, but Rowena walked on. “I am warning you … stay where you are!” She raised the gun and fired. Rowena staggered under the impact, lost her forward impetus, sank to her knees and toppled across Metcalfe’s body.
Impetuously, Svenson sprang forward. “Miss Rowena!”
He ignored Clarissa’s hysterical commands to keep away, and gently turned the younger sister over. The bullet was lodged in her upper arm and the wound was bleeding copiously. He drew a handkerchief from his pocket and applied a tourniquet.
“You are lucky, she’ll live,” he said over his shoulder to Clarissa, “but we’ll need an ambulance. She must get to hospital as soon as possible.”
“No – no one must know. You will help Johnny dig the grave deeper. Then we will bury them all together – my lover, my sister, her lover and … my son. All in one grave!”
“He is not your son and, just like your sister, he is not dead!” Svenson protested. He still cradled Rowena in his arms as he knelt beside the body of his friend and he glanced across at Paul in the hope he was right.
When Rowena stirred and opened her dark, pain-filled eyes, he reassured her. “Lie still, Miss Rowena, you’ve a bullet in your arm, but we’ll get you to a hospital and you’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”
She raised a bony hand and touched his cheek and lips. “Don’t fret about me, Commander. Get out of here, save yourself and the colonel…”
“I am not going to leave you – either of you,” he said firmly.
She smiled. “You’re a good lad,” she murmured and closed her eyes with a sigh.
Svenson’s delay in obeying her orders was making Clarissa angrier. “Leave her and help Johnny,” she ordered, waving the gun threateningly at the American. “Dig!” she raged.
Adam knew that there might be at least two more bullets in the gun, and that it would do no-one any good if he got himself shot. There was no choice but to comply with the woman’s demands, but nevertheless, he was not going to obey her without checking on Paul first. He needed the reassurance that he was doing this for a good reason.
He examined his friend, but could find no bullet wounds and, at a loss to understand why Paul was still unconscious, he glanced up at Clarissa. She was staring angrily at him from the side of the open grave. Jonathan Eglan was back at work, shovelling spadefuls of damp earth out of the pit onto the surrounding grass.
“How did Paul die?” he asked carefully.
Clarissa was eager to absolve herself of the blame and began a fervent explanation.
“I knew he was strong enough to escape, if he wasn’t restrained, so I had left some water in a jug, water with some of the sedatives we had used for father in. Just to calm him… I meant no harm. He had drunk most of it… I could see that, and he was drowsy. Even so, I had Johnny tie his arms; I did not want him to get away. I wanted the chance to make him listen while I explained it all to him – to make him understand how I had no choice but to give him up but that now I was going to make it all up to him - we would be happy together. My poor, dear, foolish boy - he would not believe I was his mother. He got to his feet, shrugged Johnny away and demanded to be untied. He said unkind things… I slapped his face – no boy should talk to his mother that way – he needs to mend his manners! He began to call for you… he didn’t know you were drugged as well, Commander – I wasn’t going to risk you interfering – nor Rowena, I put some of the sedative in her cocoa. She was opposed to my telling Paul about his true parentage; she said he was not my son. What does she know? I can see Geoffrey in the proud carriage of his head, and his strong body…he is my son, I am sure of it! Johnny couldn’t hold him; even after he had taken the sedative, Paul was too strong…he can’t have drunk as much as I thought. There was a tussle and Paul fell to the floor, knocking over the bedside table. The lamp fell on his head and the glass smashed. He was stunned and sank down to the floor. The lamp was on and he fell on to it – the electricity burned him.”
“Electricity!” Svenson gasped. Even in the fitful moonlight she could see his colour fade in alarm as he bent over his friend once more. With a better idea of what to look for, Svenson quickly found the burn marks where the lamp had made contact with the bare skin, and his heart sank. Once more he placed a finger against Paul’s neck, but could not detect a pulse.
Clarissa was still babbling on, in a frenzy to clear herself. “It wasn’t my fault; I couldn’t have known he would electrocute himself… I told Johnny to rescue him… but he – poor fool – he could do nothing. There was a smell of burning flesh…it was terrible, terrible!”
“How did you get him away from it?” Svenson snapped.
“I think the fuse went… there was a flash. Then Johnny pulled him away – but it was too late… he was already dead!” She turned suddenly and raged to the open sky, screaming, “I made one mistake – I loved a man too well and for that my life is destroyed – everything I love is destroyed! There is no justice under heaven….”
Shaking his head, Svenson turned back to his friend and tried to assess just how seriously Paul had been electrocuted. He tried to convince himself that exposure to a simple domestic supply could not be fatal. But, although he had remarkable powers of recovery, Paul was as vulnerable to being hurt as the next man, and electricity was, undoubtedly, his Achilles’ heel... so, he just had to hope there was a chance his friend would revive.
“Leave him,” Clarissa ordered suddenly, coming back to where he was kneeling. “Dig – or you will be joining them under the abbey.”
“My guess is you intend to do that anyway – how else would you keep me quiet?”
“Well done, Commander. I have killed people I care far more about for much less. Why should I hesitate to kill you? Consider yourself fortunate, for you’ll share a grave with the noblest and finest of men… my lover and his son… In many ways it is fitting, that, as Harry accompanied Geoffrey in his final rest, my son should be accompanied by his friend… as my final gift to him.”
“You are crazy – downright psycho!”
“I loved him!” she keened into the howling wind. “He betrayed me with my own brother and countless women – he thought I didn’t know, but I watched him – I knew. Yet, he would have stayed with me once our son was born – he was to be the bond and covenant between us. Geoffrey was mine… I never meant to kill him… and now his son – his foolish, wayward son has killed himself!”
She glared at the American still crouching beside the motionless body. “Dig…” she pointed the gun at him.
“Drop dead, lady! I won’t let you bury your sister alive.”
“I have enough bullets to kill Rowena – she won’t suffer – but you, Commander Svenson,” she spat his name like a curse, “you will go breathing into the ground your ancestors desecrated – to expiate the sins of your race!”
“I am an American, for Christ’s sake!” He looked around for some way of diverting her attention and his gaze fell on the third member of the family, the silent, stooping figure of Jonathan Eglan. “You helped her do all this? You’ve watched her kill and kill again? Call yourself a man?” he snarled.
“Johnny doesn’t call himself anything any more,” Clarissa said in disgust. She reached out and pulled away the scarf that covered the man’s head, despite his futile attempt to prevent her.
Svenson recoiled as the ruins of the face were revealed. One expressive, dark eye remained intact; the other was sunken and sightless above a yawning chasm of shattered cheekbone and scarred flesh. Jonathan Eglan saw the horrified pity in the young man’s pale-blue eyes and he turned away, whimpering, to cover his head with his arms.
“Jonathan was always a bad shot, Commander,” Clarissa derided her brother, goading him into making dreadful moans which must have been pleas for her to stop. With only half a palate, Jonathan was unintelligible. “He attempted to commit suicide not long after he entered the military… but he only managed to blow away half his face. The doctors saved his life – heaven alone knows why! Johnny knows what he owes to me – without my help he would be destitute – for how is such a man to live?”
“He could have had reconstruction surgery – they can do wonders these days – I know – I knew - a man, who had suffered terrible wounds himself, and they rebuilt his face…” Svenson stammered, moved despite his revulsion. No-one deserved to live his life like that.
“However much of him they rebuilt, Commander, they could never make Johnny into any kind of proper man. Now, you will carry Paul and Rowena’s bodies closer to the graveside and then you will get in there with Johnny and dig!”
This time she cocked the trigger of the gun that she pointed at him. He knew he had to play for more time – time to give Paul a chance to recover – he estimated that his friend’s unique abilities were likely to need longer than normal, simply because he had been exposed to electricity – but he had come through worse things and the electrical charge had not been too high a voltage nor had his exposure to it been too prolonged. Even if not, someone might yet see them and send help… until then, he had to stay alive.
He moved slowly, carrying both victims with compassionate care, and placing them side by side, close to the grave. Then he dropped down into the pit and with his bare hands he began to help Jonathan Eglan shovel the damp earth.
They soon began to uncover the decomposed remains of the two airmen and reverently they laid the bones on the grass, some distance from the unconscious bodies of Paul and Rowena. Clarissa watched them dig and as they worked she lectured them on the abbey’s history – speaking with knowledge and lucidity - as if she were addressing a lecture theatre of students, rather than an assembly of the dead and dying.
It began to rain again.
Down in the grave pit, Svenson worked on as slowly as he could, keeping an eye on Rowena and Paul whenever he got the chance. It was with profound relief that he saw his friend’s eyes flutter and flicker open, staring up at the clouds that raced overhead.
“Adam?” Metcalfe croaked, moving his head from side to side in confusion as he tried to orientate himself.
“Right here, Paul.”
He turned towards the voice and to his astonishment saw Svenson’s face at ground level.
Clarissa‘s lecture stopped mid-sentence and she gasped to see the young man raise himself onto his elbows, squinting down at his friend.
“What are you doing down that hole?” he asked almost conversationally.
“Digging your grave,” Svenson replied, with a frown of warning, flicking his eyes upwards to where Clarissa stood.
“Rather prematurely, as it happens, Adam,” Metcalfe replied sourly.
Clarissa swooped towards him, her eyes bright with emotion. “My son, my dearest boy! You are alive!”
Metcalfe turned his fierce gaze onto the vision of the grotesque, raddled woman, standing with her hands clasped beneath her chin and a look of adoration on her tear-streaked face. He groaned and looked away. “Now I remember what happened. There were two of you – a man and you – and you had some weird ideas about who I was … and then you attacked me…”
“I was over-hasty in my happiness. You were understandably startled – the news was too much for you to assimilate at once. …”
“You’re crazy,” he responded, heaving himself to his feet and grimacing with pain. “My father is a WAAF General and my mother is the daughter of a long-established Hampshire family. I have never set foot in Whitby before.”
“They would tell you that…but you are my son – mine and Geoffrey’s! They took you away from me – gave you to another mother…”
“Not me, Miss Eglan. I am Paul Metcalfe.”
“We will be so happy together, my boy… nothing can stand in our way now,” she declared happily.
Paul turned a confused face to Adam, who was leaning with his arms on the edge of the grave, which was now at shoulder height. He shrugged up at his friend.
“If you like talking to brick walls, Paul, just carry on, you’re doing fine so far.”
Metcalfe’s eyebrows rose in accord and he moved unsteadily to offer his hand to his friend and help him out of the pit.
Jonathan Eglan had been watching all of this with intense concentration. His eye was fixed on the dark-haired man, and as Paul moved towards the graveside, he let out an inarticulate cry and began to babble to Clarissa in his indistinct speech, whimpering and pointing at Metcalfe with a shaky finger.
The young men couldn’t understand what was being said, but Clarissa did. She snapped dismissively at her brother, yet on his jabbered insistence, she stepped across to Metcalfe and grasped his arms, forcing him to turn so that she might examine his chest. The burns made by the electric lamp were visibly healing and the skin returning to its unblemished smoothness.
A desolate horror swept over her face and she gasped, “You… you are one of the undead…”
Metcalfe grimaced and shook himself free of her. “That’s one way of looking at it,” he said. It had become so much of a normal, everyday, occurrence that he had almost failed to remark on his body’s miraculous powers of recovery. But the revelation was having a tremendous effect on the unstable woman holding them prisoner.
She span away from him and scrabbled in a miscellaneous pile of items that lay on the grass at the foot of the grave.
Slowly, she stood erect, and Metcalfe, who had been reaching down to catch hold of his friend’s outstretched hand, straightened up, unnerved by the expression he saw in her eyes.
“Godless undead, filth of the ages….” she ranted. “You have taken the soul of my beloved son and turned him into a foul demon… tormenting me with false hopes that my boy was alive again…” She extended her right arm, raising it to her shoulder like an over-dressed javelin thrower. They could see that she was holding a substantial piece of wood, the end of which had been whittled into a sharp point.
Metcalfe backed away as she approached him.
“Be careful, Paul!” Svenson yelled as he attempted to scramble from the grave, but the wet earth slipped beneath his strong arms as he heaved himself up, and he was defenceless as Jonathan Eglan whacked him across the shoulders with his spade. With a cry of pain he fell to the bottom of the grave-pit, stunned.
Torn between the natural desire to help his friend and the necessity of avoiding the murderous advance of Clarissa Eglan, Paul hesitated. He moved towards the grave and Clarissa lunged at him, blocking his access to Adam. Trying to turn and outflank her, he lost his footing in the wet ground, and tripped over Rowena’s body. While he was struggling to recover, Clarissa was on him.
He raised his arms to deflect the savage, stabbing blows she was determined to inflict on him. Normally he would have been perfectly capable of restraining the woman, despite her deranged fury, but he was weak from his electrocution and his tired body ached for something to eat and a long, cold drink.
He struggled with her, pushing her away, so that eventually she fell back on the ground. But even then she did not release her hold on him. He rolled over to pin her down, intending to remove the stake from her hand and, if necessary, knock her unconscious. He was so preoccupied with Clarissa that he failed to see Jonathan advancing towards him, spade in hand.
The sharp metal edge of the shovel bit into his shoulder blade and he gasped in surprise and pain. A second blow, with the flat of the shovel, caught the side of his head and he lost his balance, toppling forward towards the stake Clarissa was holding before her.
She rammed it home with a triumphant shriek.
As he was impaled his breast-bone snapped under the impact. The searing pain made him scream, and self-preservation made him try to crawl away from the murderous pair, but every breath he drew was excruciating and he could feel his strength ebbing away. He staggered to his feet, trying to grasp the wooden stake that protruded from his chest, and pull it out. Instinctively he moved in the direction of his friend, trying to call for Adam’s help, but Svenson was still out cold and no help came to relieve the torment. He gulped in great lungfuls of air, but it was getting more and more difficult to concentrate and his body was failing to respond to his demands of it. Finally his over-wrought heart stopped beating and he fell, head first, into the grave, on to the body of his friend.
Clarissa crawled to the edge of the grave, blood dripping from her hand. Her own breath was coming in anguished gasps as she stared down into the pit, where the two young men lay motionless.
“Bury them, Johnny,” she croaked. “They don’t deserve to be laid to rest in such holy ground, but we have no time to do more than cover them. Once they are covered, lay the bones of Geoffrey and Harry on top of them and Rowena on top of them. Hurry, it will be daylight soon.”
She hauled herself upright using the spade as a crutch and, holding it out to her brother, she urged him to comply. Mechanically, Jonathan Eglan began to shovel the piled earth back into the grave, each load splattering onto the bodies with a dull thud.
In the dank hell-hole, Adam stirred. He spat out the dirt that filled his mouth and managed, with some effort, to free one hand, wiping the mud from his face. Momentarily he could not recall where he was, and panic swept through him as the years fell away, and the memory of being trapped at the bottom of another enclosed space took hold. The childhood experience had left him with a claustrophobic fear of dark tunnels and he began to sob as he struggled to move free from the suffocating weight that pressed on his chest.
Gradually he realised that the dead weight pinning him to the ground was Paul’s body, and he cried out again, this time in anguish, when he realised the terrible way his friend had died. He laboured to push the body away, but the grave was too narrow for him to roll his friend aside, and the soil beneath him too slippery to gain enough purchase to stand.
Metcalfe’s weight was pinning him down and, with an inexorable momentum, soil was still being shovelled back into the grave. Svenson could sense his self-control splintering and he felt increasingly helpless. Coherent thought became more difficult with every increase of the weight pressing him down into the watery mud. He struggled to keep Paul’s face out of the mire; whilst there was a chance that, despite the trauma of his latest fatal encounter, Paul would recover in time for them both to get clear, he had to ensure nothing impeded that recovery. Yet, the doubtful voice of experience told him, that given two such deaths in such quick succession, the likelihood that Paul would recover in time was a slight one. The soil around them was piling up with terrifying speed. In a final, desperate bid to save them both, he shouted… pleading with the unseen labourers to stop what they were doing and let him and Paul out of the pit.
Against the faint twilight of the dawn sky he saw a figure looking down into the grave. He called out again, fear making him hazard his precious strength to attract help.
Clarissa Eglan stared down into the grave; she showed no emotion as she studied the frightened face of Adam Svenson, staring up towards her in supplication. She shook her head and, with such hate in her voice that it destroyed every last glimmer of Svenson’s hope, she said coldly,
“Pray to whatever God you may have, Commander Svenson – for nothing else can save you now! Jensen, Rowena and my beloved Geoffrey will be placed in there with you and all of you will lie in this holy ground, where saints once lay! May God have mercy on you, for I will have none…”
She turned away, ignoring the screams that issued from the grave and the muffled sounds of frantic scrabbling as her victim strove to avoid his fate.
Svenson redoubled his efforts, terror lending him renewed strength. The earth continued to rain down on him, spadeful after spadeful, splattering his face and filling his eyes and mouth. He was crying now, crying for the waste of it, crying for the futility of his ever-weakening attempts to escape. One more load of backfill hit him in the face; a sharp stone in the mix gashed his forehead. His vision blurred and although he fought to retain consciousness, everything went dark.
On the surface, Clarissa Eglan watched with grim satisfaction as her brother kept shovelling the earth back into the grave. The way Metcalfe’s body had fallen meant that it was partially shielding his friend’s face, and it was likely that, even when the men were completely buried, there would be a protected enclave around the American’s head. She smiled, taking a perverse pleasure from imagining the man’s slow suffocation, assuaging her momentary guilt by the thought that, however belated it was, it was a kind of retribution for the Viking raids, which had brought her beloved Abbey to the verge of ruin, so many centuries ago.
Svenson’s face was almost completely hidden now, and Metcalfe’s body was starting to disappear from sight. She turned away to estimate how much room they would need to re-bury the bones and Rowena. Then she realised she no longer had the gun. With a frown of annoyance she began to search for the weapon, Rowena might no longer be the asset she had been, but it wouldn’t be fair to make her share Svenson’s fate… despite her all too obvious liking for the young man.
She stepped towards her sister’s body and stopped suddenly as Rowena slowly raised herself on one elbow. She was holding the weapon in her shaking hand. Clarissa advanced once more and shots rang out.
Clarissa reared up. “You….” she gasped, clutching at her heart. She fought to keep her balance, slipped on the muddy ground and toppled backwards on to the mound of earth that already partially buried the men.
Still clutching the gun, Rowena stared commandingly at her brother.
“Get them out, Johnny. Get them all out,” she ordered. “It is finally over… I can’t take any more.” Her shaking hand dropped the still smoking pistol onto the grass.
Jonathan Eglan looked with resignation at the task before him and, with a sigh, set to work. He had the sense to concentrate on the bodies, dragging Clarissa from the grave and then uncovering the American’s head before he heaved Metcalfe’s inert body from the pit. That the dark-haired Englishman was dead, he had few doubts, but he hoped the blond man was not too far gone to recover. He laid him, face down, on the wet grass and thumped his shoulders.
The body jerked, shuddered, vomited out a mouthful of mud and took huge, life-giving, gulps of air. Satisfied, Eglan rolled him over and waited.
Svenson came to again on the damp grass -the hideous face of Jonathan Eglan staring down at him. He gave a start, backing away on the grass to put distance between himself and the ghoulish face hovering above him.
Eglan sighed, a deep hurt filling his expressive dark eye. As Svenson’s mind adjusted to reality, he flushed and gave the man an apologetic shrug. Eglan nodded sadly and backed away.
His head still ringing, Svenson sat. Gingerly, he raised a hand to his pounding head and swallowed what tasted like a mouthful of mud. One side of his neck and shoulders felt raw and every movement fired red-hot bolts of pain through him.
I am going to have one hell of a headache. The inconsequential thought almost made him laugh – except it hurt too much to do more than keep breathing.
He saw Paul Metcalfe lying beside him, the blood congealed around the jagged hole in his chest, from which a wooden stake still protruded.
Rowena Eglan, red-eyed and pale, watched him from across the yawning grave. Beside her lay the body of her sister.
Sighing, Adam Svenson wiped his hand across his face once more and then reached into his jeans and drew out what appeared to be a mobile phone. He keyed in a code and waited.
“Hello?” a man’s surprised voice said.
“Hello, Lieutenant Green? I need medical assistance straight away, Captain Scarlet has been stabbed. Condition: Red. Alert Doctor Fawn.”
“Where are you, Captain Blue?”
“Whitby Abbey, on a headland on the North Yorkshire coast.”
“SIG.” There was a momentary pause, during which Svenson again wiped his face and glanced over at his silent audience. The clear, lilting voice came back once more. “I have ordered the immediate launch of a medical helijet from the nearest Spectrum Base. It should be with you in approximately 15 minutes. Please follow the normal security procedure, Scarlet – Alpha One. Your estimated time of arrival at Cloudbase is two hours and seventeen minutes. On base medical services have been alerted. Doctor Fawn requests a concise update, once you are airborne.”
“Wait, Lieutenant, I cannot return with the helijet, there are… other fatalities and the local law enforcement personnel will have to be debriefed. Better make it security protocol Scarlet – Beta One – as there will be no cognisant staff on hand to assist the medical crew, and we don’t want any security leaks regarding Captain Scarlet’s… condition.”
“SIG, Captain. Do you require assistance, sir?” The disembodied voice took on a note of concern.
“You could ask Doctor Fawn to send Symphony down with a couple of aspirin, Lieutenant. And a fresh uniform might not go amiss.”
Green chuckled. “I’ll take that as a ‘no thanks’. What have you two been up to this time on your holiday? I don’t know how you always manage to get into trouble.”
“Neither do I,” Captain Blue said with feeling.
“Let me know when you are ready to return to base. I’m sure I can arrange a sympathetic pilot to collect you.”
“SIG, Lieutenant… and thanks.”
“Who are you?” Rowena asked, frowning at the young man.
“Paul and I are both Spectrum agents, Miss Rowena. We are here on vacation though, that much is true.” Gingerly he moved to assist her. A rudimentary, but practical knowledge of first aid, told him that she was still losing too much blood. He tore the least grubby part of his shirt into a bandage to augment the tourniquet on her arm. “I have to get my partner away from here, Spectrum deals with its own staff, you understand? But then I’ll help you and Jonathan,” he explained as he bound her arm.
“I am all right, Commander,” Rowena said stiffly. “You are right to attend to your partner. Is he going to be all right? I felt sure Clarissa had killed him.”
Svenson had no idea how the stake had got into Metcalfe’s body, but - if his assumption that Clarissa had stabbed him was true - she’d been a lot stronger than she looked. He sought to play down the serious nature of the situation, hoping from Rowena’s comment that she did not know for certain Paul was dead.
“No, Miss Rowena, it takes a deal more strength than your sister had to push a wooden stake into a man’s chest, deep enough to do real damage. Paul will be okay, especially if we can get him back to our base, where the medical facilities are excellent. I cannot elaborate, but, believe me; he’ll be as fit as a fiddle before you know it.”
She did not look particularly convinced by his assurance. She forced herself to meet his gaze and said stiffly, “I am sorry you had to get involved with this. You understand now why I was reluctant to let you stay? Maybe I should have made you share a room – there is safety in numbers, after all.”
“You weren’t to know this would happen,” he soothed.
“But I suspected it might. Can you ever forgive me, Commander?”
“Forgiven and forgotten – after all – you saved both our lives.” He glanced at Clarissa’s body and asked, “Your sister… is she…?”
Her face clouded over. “I am afraid so. Miss Eglan is dead. I killed her.” The sudden implication of those words overcame her and she buried her face in her hands. “I had to do it, she was going to bury you in that grave as well, and I heard your voice calling, I knew you were alive.” She drew a deep breath and steeled herself to ask, “What will happen to us now, Johnny and me?”
“That will be down to the local police. I imagine Jonathan will be an accessory after the fact. I trust it will not come to that – you have both suffered enough.”
“Some would say it was a hell of our own making, Commander, and the crux of it is, I killed my sister. What will they do with me?”
“I doubt you will get blamed for that, Miss Rowena.”
With a sardonic gleam she said, “You should really call me Miss Eglan now I am the eldest unmarried daughter, but I don’t suppose Americans understand that?”
“No, ma’am, I didn’t know. I am sorry, Miss Eglan,” he said obediently. Shock takes people in very different ways and he realised she was close to breaking down. Thinking it better to give her time and space to come to terms with the horrors of the last few hours, he moved back to where Metcalfe lay, motionless.
He wiped the mud from his friend’s pale face, and pressed his fingers against his neck, vainly searching for a pulse. He debated whether to remove the stake, but decided against it, there were doctors better qualified to deal with that problem. Exhausted, he closed his eyes and leant against one of the elegant stone columns, his friend’s head resting on his legs, for want of any other pillow.
The survivors sat, in profound silence, on either side of the grave-pit. Jonathan Eglan crouched close to his sister and whimpered occasionally. Svenson suspected he might actually be talking to Rowena, but she made no reply. He could see that she was fighting to retain the last shreds of her self-composure, and he knew that she would forever regret giving way to her shock and misery before an outsider, so he remained quiet – deciding to speak only if he was spoken to.
After some time, he took off his jacket and, despite the filth that clung to it; he wrapped it around Metcalfe’s body, to obscure the sight of the murder weapon. Even that simple action drained him of what little strength he had left and he did not move again until they heard the thrum, thrum of the helijet blades.
The powerful, grey machine had made good time, and it touched down expertly, close to the Abbey ruins, on the rabbit-cropped grass that surrounded the site. Two Spectrum medics, in the charcoal-coloured uniforms of terrestrial agents, raced over to the group.
Captain Blue dragged himself upright by leaning against the pillar, and drawing on hidden reserves, managed to give quick and precise orders. He watched as the medical team swung into action. They gently laid his friend on the specially devised stretcher, wrapping him with a thermo-blanket that went from foot to chin, and covering his nose and mouth with a respirator mask, before they loaded him aboard the helijet. One of the medical technicians returned and insisted on giving Blue an examination, causing an almost hysterical reaction when he innocently handed over three analgesic tablets and a clean charcoal-coloured tunic for him to wear.
Moments later Captain Scarlet was airlifted to safety - the terrestrial pilots none the wiser as to the nature of his injuries.
Once the chopper was clean away, Svenson used his communication device to call the local police. Their arrival was hardly quicker than the helijet’s had been.
The detective in charge of the enquiry was a large, blunt-spoken Yorkshireman, of middle-age, who looked at the bedraggled people sitting around the grave with an almost weary grimace. The younger man – a bloody American tourist, no doubt - tried to explain what had happened, but wasn’t making much sense. The detective raised a hand to silence the convoluted explanation.
“We’ll sort it all out, sonny, don’t you worry. Let’s get you lot back to the station …” He shuddered as he saw Jonathan Eglan’s face. “I hate bloody Halloween…. it brings out all the nutters.”
He had the Eglans taken into custody and was about to do the same for the poncey Yank, when the man showed him a Spectrum ID card.
The detective studied the photograph and compared it to the scruffy, mud-caked man beside him. “This puts rather a different complexion on the case, doesn’t it, sir?” he growled.
“I guess it might at that, Detective.”
“Inspector…” the man corrected. “Well, if you’ll just come along with us, sir, we’ll try to sort this little… fracas out …without taking up too much of your … valuable time.”
Captain Blue spent the best part of the next 24 hours explaining what he thought had happened at the house and then at the Abbey. The police were, understandably, sceptical that Clarissa Eglan had attacked and wounded a man as fit and healthy as Captain Scarlet of Spectrum would have to be – especially as there was no injured body to prove these allegations. Captain Blue listened to their concerns with commendable patience and then calmly invoked Spectrum’s high-category security protocols, to cover the reason for Scarlet’s removal from the crime scene.
Jonathan Eglan was questioned carefully about all he knew. It was easier for him to write down his statement, rather than for his interrogators to try to interpret his guttural speech, but his solicitor was adamant that he check everything his client wrote before the police saw it, and that it was not to be used in evidence. This procedure took considerable time.
Rowena Eglan was seen by a doctor and then also questioned. Her story – whilst being surprising and somewhat melodramatic – tied in with that of the Spectrum officer and, when they finally got to see it, Jonathan’s statement corroborated them both, as well as adding new details regarding the deaths, thirty-five years ago, of the two airmen, and the abduction of Paul Metcalfe.
Towards the end of the interrogation period, Captain Blue - who had been allowed to shower and change into clean clothes after the Spectrum officers’ luggage had been fetched from the Eglans’ house by a constable - was rounding off a substantial English breakfast in the police canteen by sipping yet another cup of the strong tea the locals preferred, when the detective came over to join him.
“Looks like we have as much of the story as we’re going to get,” he said without preliminaries. “By and large it all ties in. Seems like Miss Eglan was a right nutter… and you and your… friend… tipped her over the edge. I’d say you could count yourself lucky you weren’t buried alive, Captain.”
“I do, Inspector, and you might care to know that my colleague, Captain Scarlet, has regained consciousness and is on the way to making a full recovery,” Blue said evenly, putting the mug back down on the saucer beside his plate.
“It’s bloody lucky for the Eglans that he is. Mind you, I doubt yon Jonathan Eglan would be seen as fit to plead…the poor devil - and, from what we’ve heard, Rowena Eglan was not a willing party to the conspiracy. What a bloody life these people have led, eh? Who’d a-thought it? It were known that the family were complete nutters, but all these years and no-one ever knew why… they were considered harmless enough.”
Captain Blue nodded and sighed. “I guess it was lucky it was Captain Scarlet and I that stumbled into their fantasy and brought it to the surface – at least we are capable of looking after ourselves. Some poor innocent civilians might both have ended up dead…”
“Aye, that’s right enough. And you are sure you don’t wish to pursue a prosecution on your own behalf – outside of Spectrum, I mean?”
“No, Inspector. I’m a firm believer in letting things lie… I can’t see it would do much good now. Whatever motive drove them to act so is gone. I don’t see either of the Eglans as a ‘threat to society’ any longer.”
The Inspector lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. “There’s nowt as queer as folk…” he opined.
Once it was officially decided that she was unlikely to face prosecution, Rowena Eglan was transferred from the prison infirmary to the local hospital.
Before he returned to Cloudbase, Svenson went to see her. He took her a bunch of twelve red roses and a huge box of chocolates and smiled to see her embarrassed pleasure at his gifts.
She must have been a pretty woman in her own right, he thought, before the misery of disappointed hopes and her sister’s madness blighted her life.
The niceties over, he had to turn to more serious matters. He was under orders to issue Miss Eglan with an official warning about protecting the security cover of Spectrum agents, but the sonorous words of the legal warning died on his lips as he looked at the frail woman in the bed.
Not so very frail, he corrected himself, she’s come through a lot lately. Yet he had a duty to perform and so he said gently:
“You do understand, Miss Eglan, that you have been party to a serious security breach here? You know the identity of two Spectrum agents.”
“Never fear, Commander, over the course of my life I have learned how to keep secrets. No one will ever hear it from me. Besides, to me you will always be ‘Commander Svenson’.”
“My name is Adam,” he told her with a smile.
“I remember, Commander, never fear,” she twinkled at him, then sobered, asking, “How is Colonel Metcalfe?”
“He’s well on the way to recovery, Miss Eglan. It takes a great deal to keep Paul Metcalfe down for long. The nurses were telling me you can go home in a few days too.”
She nodded. “But I am not going back to the house. I will stop in an hotel for a time. I have decided to sell the place and buy myself a small cottage, further inland. Whitby has too many memories for me now. But, I shall always have spare room for old friends, Commander, and if you are ever in the area again, I hope you and the colonel will stop and visit…”
“That’s good news, Miss Eglan, and I think it’s for the best. I’d be delighted to see you again – and so would Paul – we’ll be sure to drop by...”
“Maybe with those fiancées the colonel mentioned?” Her dark eyes sparkled up at him.
“You never know, stranger things have happened,” Adam said with a wry smile. He turned and deliberately looked towards the ward entrance. Rowena followed his gaze and saw an attractive young woman with short, reddish-blonde hair, looking out of the window. The woman turned and smiled at them both, raising a hand in what Rowena hoped was a salutation meant for her. She waved back.
“And is that your young lady?” she asked with a teasing smile at the man beside her bed.
“She would dispute that she is anyone’s young lady – but that is Karen… and one day – if I’m lucky - she might agree to change her name to Svenson… “
She smiled to see the faint blush that coloured his cheeks.
Hesitantly, he handed her a small rectangle of white card. “This is strictly not allowed, you know, I could get in serious trouble if my boss finds out, but I want you to have this. You can always reach me at this address – it’s my home in Boston. I have given the police my statement and your solicitor has my official address... but this one is just for you… understand, Miss Eglan?” She took the card and read it carefully before she looked at him and nodded. “Good. You make sure to let me know where you move to, and how you are, won’t you?”
“With pleasure, Commander…. Adam.”
He bent his head and kissed her cheek. “Take care, Miss Rowena,” he said. She held on to his hand for a long moment then watched him stride away to join his fiancée. The young woman took his arm, smiling into his face with an expression of proprietorial, trusting love. The years were stripped away and, as she watched the attractive couple leave the ward, arm in arm, she remembered looking at Harry with the same pride and devotion.
I hope they will get the chance of many happy years together, she thought, contemplating the uncertainty his life must hold. She glanced at his address card again, with a warm feeling of contentment.
“Your nephew?” the nurse asked, arriving with a vase for the expensive roses.
“No, just a friend – a very dear friend,” Rowena smiled.
Back on Cloudbase, Captain Scarlet was happily congratulating himself at having missed the base’s Halloween celebrations, when Captain Blue strolled into sickbay to a general welcome from the staff on duty. They were used to his comings and goings.
“Adam, back from the embraces of Dracula’s sisters?” Paul called, with genuine pleasure at seeing his friend.
“Sure am,” Blue smirked. “Oh and by the way, Paul, you left these behind.” He handed his friend a stick of peppermint rock candy and a set of plastic vampire fangs.
“Oh, so you did go back to the Tourist Information shop, then!” Scarlet laughed and inserted the fangs into his mouth. He turned and grinned at his partner, revealing the sharp, red edged teeth.
“The Godless dead indeed,” Blue remarked with an exaggerated shudder.
Scarlet’s blue eyes clouded over. “Sometimes the truth hurts, Adam,” he muttered, removing the fangs.
Cursing his own insensitivity, Blue coloured and stammered an apology. “I never thought… you know I didn’t mean…”
Scarlet shrugged. “Forget it, Adam. I know you didn’t mean anything by it. I guess I am just hyper-sensitive right now. Clarissa Eglan may have been out of her mind, but I bet there are plenty of normal people, out there, who would agree with her assessment of me as one of the Godless undead.”
“Paul, anyone who knows what happened to you, knows that you are as human as the next man, and more alive than most.”
“Sure, if the next man is Captain Black or Count Dracula,” his friend retorted grimly. Blue shook his fair head as Paul continued. “You know, Adam, the dying is easy enough – once you get used to it – it’s the day to day living that scares me. Everyone I meet I have to regard with suspicion.”
“That goes with the job, buddy – not the retrometabolism,” Blue corrected. “Spectrum Officers are never really off duty.”
“Maybe Clarissa Eglan was right…” Scarlet mused, ignoring Adam’s attempts to lighten his mood.
“Clarissa Eglan was a madwoman and you are no such thing,” Blue asserted vehemently.
“Not mad or not female?” Scarlet teased. He slipped the fangs in again. “Remind me to go into hibernation in time for the next Halloween. It feels like I am fated to have a hell of a time.”
Nurse Ingram passed by and gave a gratifyingly alarmed squeal when he smiled at her. She chastised him soundly, until, becoming aware that she was only increasing their amusement, she finally marched away, full of her own importance.
“They suit you,” Blue said. “Give you that ‘dangerous’ look women go for…”
“I wonder when Dianne is likely to visit,” Scarlet said with a wicked grin.
“Forget it,” Blue advised. “You’d never get close enough to bite her neck.”
“Be no use anyway – I think it has to be the blood of a virgin…” Scarlet winked broadly. “I guess that means Karen’ll be safe too?”
Blue looked askance. “A gentleman never discusses such matters,” he said prudishly.
“Hey, whatever I am, I never claimed to be one of those,” Paul Metcalfe said, suppressing a smile. Just occasionally, even Adam’s well-developed sense of humour missed a trick.
“Now, how are you fixed for fetching me a nice bottle of beer?” he asked his friend.
Prospect of Whitby was inspired by my summer holiday in Yorkshire, when I visited the wonderful town of Whitby with its spectacular Abbey ruins. I didn’t meet any vampires or any strange landladies – but then I went self-catering.
Thanks are due to Chris Bishop and Hazel Köhler – the former for her never ending encouragement and the latter for her beta-reading skills.
I do not own the characters from the TV series ‘Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons’, I have merely borrowed them – with thanks.