Mrs. Mary Metcalfe put down the letter that had arrived with the last post before Christmas and frowned. She automatically reached out and sipped her cup of breakfast tea; her mind busy with the problem that had just presented itself. Across the table, her husband was reading the sports pages of the paper, and grunting moodily at the news of the latest cricketing debacle.
“Charles,” she said, to attract his attention.
“Hmm? I don’t know what things are coming to, Mary. These fellows can’t seem to hit a single ball without handing a catch to the slip fielders. Wasn’t like it my day, you know?”
“No, Charles; I’m sure England ruled the cricket field as surely as they did the waves in those dim and distant days.”
General Metcalfe lowered the paper and stared at his wife. He recognised that tone of voice and seeing the expression on her face, he folded the paper away. “Something up, old girl?”
“Read this.” She reached across and handed him the single sheet of paper.
The colour drained from Charles Metcalfe’s face and flooded back as he got to the end and lowered the letter. “Well, we knew it had to come one day, Mary.”
“Paul will be here this afternoon. He’s coming home for Christmas, Charles; have you forgotten?”
He shook his head. “No, I’ve been looking forward to seeing him as much as you have. But I’ve never understood why you’ve always wanted to keep the truth from him; at least, once he was old enough to understand, anyway. He was always going to find out one day, my dear.”
Mary stood and walked to the window, looking out at the garden that surrounded her home.
“Because it will break his heart to discover he won’t inherit Longwood.”
“Paul’s got more gumption than to let something as inconsequential as that upset him,” her husband asserted. He swivelled in his chair and saw his wife raise a hand to her face as her tears started to flow.
He went across to her and reached out to turn her into his strong arms. “There, there, old girl. There’s no doing anything about it. We should have told him when he was a youngster, but … well, there never seemed to be a right moment.”
She nodded her head against his chest, unable to speak.
“Mary, come on, my dear, you mustn’t let this upset you so much. Paul’s more likely to get upset at you being upset, than he is with the truth. He’s more than man enough to cope with the facts, of that I have no doubt.” He tilted her chin and looked down into her anguished face. “Our son’s a credit to us both, my dear.”
“Will he ever forgive us, Charles?”
“I’m sure he will,” Charles Metcalfe said with a conviction he hoped was justified.
The route to Winchester was familiar to both men. Adam Svenson had visited the Metcalfes’ home many times and now he took the wheel as they left the small, Georgian country house that was the home of Lord and Lady Simms, and headed westwards.
Beside him, Paul Metcalfe twiddled the dial of the radio. It crackled into life.
“With everything to play for on this final day, the English batsmen are looking determined, as Gupta comes into bowl from the commentary box end.”
“Oh, no,” the American protested. “I don’t want to listen to cricket commentary all the way to Winchester! Find something else, or turn it off.”
“No buts, Paul. That incontrovertibly constitutes ‘cruel and unusual’ treatment.” Svenson glanced at his friend and saw he was about to try wheedling. “Save your breath. I’m implacable. Turn it off.”
“Huh, I should’ve known better that to invite a damn Yankee to spend Christmas with me. I wouldn’t have asked you, but Doc Fawn said he was busy.” He grinned at his friend and flicked the switch off. “Can I at least check in, every 10 or 15 minutes, for the score?”
Svenson groaned. “If you must.”
“I must, I must! If I get home and don’t know what’s happened, what am I going to talk to my father about?”
“Well, there is that, I guess. But, I never figured that you and your dad have trouble making conversation, Paul.”
“We don’t – but if we don’t immediately start a conversation about the cricket, my mother will take over. As it is, she knows that cricket is too important to interrupt.”
“Hmm, but doesn’t that mean that, if she can’t talk to you, she’ll talk to me instead?” Adam said reflectively. “And I can guess exactly what she’ll talk to me about.”
He knew Mrs Metcalfe of old; she and his own mother had formed a friendship based on their sons’, and regularly swapped information about whatever was going on in the lives of their children. They almost seemed to compete for the latest - and juiciest – bits of gossip.
“Oh, you won’t escape her attention, you know that. Sooner or later we’re both going to have to answer questions like: ‘why didn’t you invite those nice girls to come with you?’ and ‘when are you thinking of getting married?’ Still, if she asks you the moment you arrive, it’ll be over and done with, and you can relax. If I’m not talking cricket with Dad, she’ll start with me, and she might nag me for days… Do you want that torment hanging over your head all Christmas?”
“No,” Adam replied, shaking his head vehemently and adding, “But, if I’d wanted that sort of third degree, I’d have gone home to Boston. I kinda hoped I’d escape it in Winchester.”
“You’re so naive sometimes, it amazes me. The combination of you - or me, no possible means of escape, and my – or your – mother, inevitably leads to discussions about when we’re going to settle down with some nice girl or other, and their longing for grandchildren.”
“Ah, but my mother already has grandchildren,” Adam reminded him.
“A mere bagatelle; mothers can never have too many grandchildren - it’s a well-known fact. Are you telling me your mother never even hints that she expects you to start breeding in the near future?”
Adam grimaced and shook his head.
Paul smiled. “Good, because I wouldn’t have believed you. If you ask me, it must be in-bred into them. As soon as they become mothers they start imagining grandchildren, and once you’ve started shaving, they become fixated with the prospect!”
“Oh, boy, does that present a real strange impression of your adolescent home-life, Paul,” Adam teased, grinning from ear to ear.
“Anyway, as I was saying, weigh it up, Blue-boy: if you listen to the cricket you can get the third degree over and done with on our arrival or, sing-a-long to the radio now and have to live with the knowledge, possibly for days to come, that you’re going to get grilled anyway. Either way, you won’t escape having to reveal all your intimate secrets to my mother...”
“Who will immediately tell my mother…”
“Yep, and with a great sense of achievement,” Paul confirmed, with a solemn nod of his head. “Face it: they have us surrounded, Adz. There’s no escape.”
Adam chuckled as he swung the car out into the motorway traffic. The very fact that his friend had used his family’s nickname for him, rather than his usual Blue-boy, reinforced the feeling of being off-duty, and enhanced the sense of freedom he felt.
“Oh, go on then, turn the damn commentary on,” he said genially. “You deserve it after that misanthropic tour de force. And I’d rather listen to that, than have you going on and on complaining all the way there.”
“Yes!” Paul punched the air and threw the switch.
Mary Metcalfe finished making the bed in the guest room and turned the edge of the duvet down. She put the clean towels on the end of the bed and made sure there were enough coat hangers in the cupboard. With a final swirl of her finger in the bowl of dried pot-pourri that scented the air, she left the room, leaving the door ajar.
Although she had finished preparing her son’s bedroom before she started on the guest room, she went back in now and stood looking around her. Paul had used this room ever since he was a child; he loved the view over the gardens and although it had been redecorated several times, there were still traces of his youthful enthusiasms. A small shelf of treasured scrap books, a collection of military models and several volumes of a part-magazine on World War II. In one corner was the signed team poster he’d won in a competition run by the Arsenal Fan Club. And, on the wall over the dresser, there were a few select photos – long-gone pets, his first pony, his first car – and a rare one of him with both of his parents at his graduation ceremony from Winchester University.
There was also a more recent and very charming picture of her son with his close friends, Adam, Karen and Dianne, against a backdrop of the luxuriant hothouse foliage on Cloudbase’s Promenade Deck.
Mary was one of the few civilians to have visited Spectrum’s floating headquarters, and she was proud that her son was the security organisation’s premier agent, codenamed Captain Scarlet. His tall, blond-haired, American friend was his field partner, Captain Blue, while the young women served as Angel Pilots, using the charming codenames of Symphony and Rhapsody. Even for the wife of a military commander used to keeping secrets, keeping quiet about her son’s exemplary service to the World Government was a struggle.
The reports that peppered the news would mention the codenames of the agents, but Spectrum made strenuous efforts to keep individual identities confidential, and consequently the tabloid press was full of speculation as to the true identity of these brave men and women. Sometimes their speculation was so wide of the mark that Mary itched to put them right.
Finally, in pride of place, there was a detailed pen and ink drawing of Longwood, which he’d done for a school project, and which she’d had framed for him as it was so good.
Her heart sank. She sat on the edge of his bed and looked around her, memories crowding into her mind of her son as he grew up. She sighed.
Has it all been a lie? I know we should have told him, but we were so happy, the three of us, it was as if there was no need. Surely, Charles and I paid our dues? How can this happen to us all now?
She sat there, oblivious of the passing hours, until she heard her husband’s voice floating up the stairs.
“Mary? The car’s just turned into the drive. They’re here, my dear.”
With a deep sigh, Mary Metcalfe stood and brushed the moisture from her eyes. She gathered her duster and the spray can of polish, told herself to snap out of it and, by the time she reached the hallway and her husband opened the door to let the hysterical dogs run out to meet the newcomers, she was herself again.
Whoa!” Paul chided the deliriously excited dogs as they pranced around his legs and jumped up, leaving muddy paw-marks on his denim jeans. He looked up laughing, and smiled at his parents.
“We surrender! Call these vicious beasts off,” he pleaded playfully.
“Heel!” General Metcalfe shouted, and the pair of young Labradors and the elderly spaniel rushed to his side, panting.
“It’s safe to get out of the car now, Adam,” Paul said, glancing with some condescension towards his friend.
The American had rolled down the window to call a greeting to his host and hostess, but he’d made no attempt to leave the safety of the driver’s seat.
Laughing, Adam clambered out, stretching his considerable frame as he did so.
“Did you have a good drive?” General Metcalfe asked.
“Yes, surprisingly good. We made good time,” Adam replied.
“He drove like a man possessed,” Paul chipped in, as he opened the boot to get the luggage. “I feared for my life at times.”
“I wanted to spend as little time as possible listening to that cricket on the radio,” Adam retorted.
“What a debacle!” General Metcalfe said, reaching out to accept Adam’s outstretched hand and give it a hearty shake. “After such a poor showing, I wonder how the top-order batsmen will be able to show their faces back home.”
Adam nodded. “I guessed by Paul’s comments that they’d lost.”
“By an innings and eighty runs,” the general complained, wagging a finger in Adam’s face, unable to contain his frustration any longer. “It’s a disgrace! England were outplayed and outmanoeuvred in every aspect of the game. Their performance on the final day smacked of irresponsibility. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a poor display. Why, Paul’s old school team could’ve made a better job than that team of so-called professionals!”
“That’s too bad,” Adam sympathised, now totally bewildered.
Mary came to his rescue and enfolded him in a hug. “Nice to see you again, Adam. Come inside and have some tea: and I mean food tea, not liquid tea. I’ve bought some of that nice coffee you like, just for you.”
“Hey, what about helping me with the luggage?” Paul called out, seeing his friend walking indoors with his mother.
Mary turned. “Guests don’t carry their own luggage, Paul. Give him a hand, Charles.”
“Yes, my dear.”
Adam grinned at Paul and gave an unrepentant shrug as he allowed Mrs Metcalfe to take his arm and steer him towards the door. Paul had to laugh to himself as he heard his mother’s clear voice saying:
“And how’s that nice young woman of yours, Adam? You know, the last time she called, your mother was asking me why you weren’t bringing her here for Christmas; she’s worried that you’d had some sort of falling out, so I said I’d be sure to ask you what was going on …”
Mrs Metcalfe cleared the plates from the dining table and stacked them in the ancient dish-washer before following her men-folk into the living room. Paul was sprawled on the old sofa, with the dogs clustered around him, while his father sat in his usual armchair by the fire, and lectured the younger men on the finer points of training gun dogs.
Adam was sitting in the chair she usually occupied, opposite the general, his long legs stretched out and a decidedly sleepy look on his face.
“Can I get anyone a drink?” she asked, as her husband paused and rose to fetch a book from the library, with the intention of illustrating some point he was making.
“No thank you, ma’am. I couldn’t eat or drink another mouthful,” Adam said politely. “That was a fine meal, Mrs Metcalfe.”
“I’m stuffed, Mum,” Paul replied, adding, “Is there anything you want me to do? After such a magnificent spread, you deserve to put your feet up. I can fetch whatever’s needed.”
“No, I’ve done it all, thank you, Paul. Move over and let me sit down.”
“You know, I think Christmas Eve is my favourite night of the year,” her son said, as she pushed the dogs out of the way and sat beside him. “I mean, here I am with my nearest and dearest, and I’ve eaten more food in one meal than I’ve eaten all year! I can look forward to a long, uninterrupted night’s sleep and in the morning, we get presents!”
“You don’t want to go to Midnight Mass, then, Paul?” his father asked, returning from the library in time to hear this statement.
“Oh. Well, I’ll come with you, if you’re planning to go?”
Mary shook her head. “Not this year.”
Paul looked across at his friend. “You want to go?”
“I don’t think I could walk far enough,” Adam admitted. “I ate almost as much as you.”
Paul chuckled. “You look half asleep.”
“Only half? I’d have said about three-quarters. Unlike some I could mention, I was on duty all day yesterday, don’t forget.”
“Can I help it if you squander your leave on weekend breaks with Karen?”
Adam pulled a face, but said nothing.
“Oh, please don’t stand on any ceremony with us, Adam-dear,” Mary said. She had a way of running the words together that made it sound like it was his name. “You take yourself off to bed, as soon as you need to.”
“Well, if you don’t mind, Mrs Metcalfe, I will go up. I promised Karen I’d ring and I ought to call home too.” He glanced at the clock. “I might catch them all before they disperse for the evening if I ring now.”
“Of course, my dear,” Mary said. “Use our video phone if you want…?”
“Thanks, but I have a cell phone.” The American rose slowly and bade them all good night.
As the door closed behind him, Mary glanced at her son. “Will he be all right?”
“Adam? Of course he will. He’ll be billing and cooing with Karen until the batteries go flat on his phone. It does no good getting between those two.”
Mary sniffed. “Well, you could have brought her here – her and Dianne.”
“Mum, we’ve been through this. Dianne’s parents wanted to see her this year, and Karen agreed to go with her. It seems her mother is going to Florida to visit her own mother over Christmas, so she was at a loose end. And before you even suggest it, Mum: there was no way – absolutely no way – Adam and Karen would have come here for a dirty weekend.”
“Paul, I’m sure they don’t do such a thing,” she chided affectionately. He grinned at her, his sapphire-blue eyes sparkling with amusement. “Besides, I would have put them in separate rooms,” Mary lied primly.
He laughed. “Then it’d have been like a Whitehall Farce with people creeping down darkened landings in the dead of night!”
“Actually, I’m glad we have you alone, son,” his father said, once the laughter had died down. “There’s something we have to tell you.”
He was standing in front of the fire, the book he’d fetched clasped tightly in his hand. Alarmed at the sombre tone of his father’s words, Paul’s expression sobered and he sat a little straighter.
“What is it? Is something wrong? You’re both okay, aren’t you?”
“We’re fine,” Mary reassured him. “It’s nothing like that.”
Paul exhaled a long breath. “Good. You had me worried.”
Mary laid a hand on his arm and leant back on the sofa; her gaze was focused on her husband and the general was looking none too composed as he contemplated his wife and child.
“Dad, for heaven’s sake, what’s wrong?” Paul asked, starting to be really worried by their behaviour.
“Paul, your mother and I haven’t been entirely honest with you,” General Metcalfe began.
“You are ill!” his son exclaimed, turning to his mother with anguish on his face.
“No, darling, we’re fine. Listen to your father, please. This isn’t easy for either of us, Paul.”
He settled back and nodded, but his hand clutched his mother’s.
“You know that your mother’s family lived across the valley, don’t you, Paul?”
“Of course I do.”
“Well, long before you were born, I was courting Paul Blake’s daughter.”
“My mother, yes, I know.”
“No, Paul. Not your mother. Her sister, your aunt – my first wife – Victoria Blake.
“What?” Paul’s voice edged upwards in surprise. “I don’t even have an Aunt Victoria.” He looked at his mother in confusion. “What ‘first wife’? I don’t understand…”
“Listen,” his mother said.
General Metcalfe met his son’s fierce gaze with composure. “I know we should have told you about this before now; but understand, Paul, we’ve lived most of our lives in this small community, and some things – well, you don’t talk about them.”
He looked at Mary for support, and at her quietly confident nod, he began to explain.
“I joined the army at eighteen and, after my training, I was posted to London. There I met Victoria Blake, a young woman I’d known all my life. We’d gone to school together. I was lonely and homesick, and Victoria – well, she was a beautiful woman. Not as beautiful as your mother, but beautiful enough.”
Mary smiled affectionately at him and he returned her smile before continuing.
“As young people do when they’re away from home for the first time, Victoria and I had a relationship, and I, for one, was committed to it whole-heartedly. I was happy when she discovered she was pregnant. My parents weren’t that pleased, and nor was your grandfather Blake – he thought we were both too young for the responsibility of a child. But, despite that, Victoria and I got married in Wandsworth Registry Office and set up home in a small flat in London. I worked hard, determined to get promotion so that I could better provide for my family.”
Paul shifted uneasily and looked from one to the other. His mother’s expression showed her unease, and he realised with a jolt of surprise that her concern was for his father, rather than for him.
The general continued, “In my quest for promotion, I accepted a posting abroad before the baby was born, and, in what I can only assume was a fit of pique, Victoria refused to ask any of her family to stay with her, and had him alone in a London hospital. She complained bitterly about being deserted, and badgered me to get her accommodation where I was stationed at the time. I couldn’t, it wasn’t safe, but when my tour of duty finished and I came home, it was to a very angry young woman and a baby I didn’t know. We were given married quarters, but Victoria hated them. After a few months, she packed her things and went home to her family.”
Mary stirred and said, “I remember her coming home with the baby. She was angry, and there were rows all the time. She was frustrated by army life, but she didn’t want to know what she could do to make it any better for herself and Ronnie.”
“Ronnie?” Paul interjected.
“Your brother, Ronald,” Mary explained. “Charles came home to reason with her, but she’d had enough, she said. She packed up and left, taking Ronnie with her.”
Paul’s frown deepened. “Where did she go? What happened? I mean, how did you two…?”
“She went to Canada with a man she’d met in London. Probably the man she should have married all the time,” Charles Metcalfe said. “Two years later, I got papers filing for divorce. It went through on the nod. I haven’t seen her, or the boy, since.”
Mary took up the story.
“By then we were seeing a lot of each other. I felt… responsible, in some way, for your father’s unhappiness. I wanted to help him regain his usual joie de vivre.” She smiled at her husband and rose to go to his side, slipping her arm through his.
They stood, united in their love, and studied the young man on the sofa, who meant the world to them both.
“I had loved your father for many years, Paul. I was too young for him to notice me before he went into the army, but as time went on, we realised that we were both very much in love. We spoke to your grandfather, explaining our predicament: we wanted to get married. Your Metcalfe grandparents were opposed to it, although there was no legal reason to prevent us, they felt that it was somehow… immoral, I think?” She glanced at her husband and he shrugged.
“My mother’s people came down heavy-handed on the ‘religious’ reasons why we shouldn’t. But I think they would have done that whoever I’d wanted to marry: whom God joined, let no man put asunder, and all that. I don’t think my mother felt as strongly about it as her family did. She was more concerned that I’d found the right woman this time. And my father wanted to see the family line stretching into perpetuity, I think. Besides, you were always his favourite, Mary, love.”
She nodded. “I remember having a discussion with your mother and pointing out that, as you’d married Vicky in a registry office, it might not count.”
The general laughed and Paul gave a wry smile.
Mary continued, “My father said that, if we did decide to marry - and he never advised us to do so - we should act as if the first marriage had never happened. After all, Vicky had been the one to leave, and she’d made no attempt to contact any of the family since then. We married in Gibraltar, when your father was posted abroad again, and we’ve never had any regrets. We’ve been so happy: a happiness that grew beyond all imagination, when you were born, darling.”
Paul drew in a deep breath. “Why tell me all this now? I mean you’ve kept quiet about it for more than thirty-five years.” There was a hint of bitterness in his voice, although he was struggling to understand why he felt betrayed.
“We received a letter from Ronald this morning. He’s coming to see his father. In fact, he’s coming tomorrow, Paul.”
Paul spent a sleepless night, tossing and turning in his bed, going through the news and the discussions he’d had with his parents, before, tired and drained, they had left him sitting by the dying embers of the fire.
The implications of what they had told him had taken some time to seep into his consciousness. His first reaction had been anger that this unknown man – this spectre from his father’s past - could dare to intrude into their family Christmas. He felt absurdly protective of his mother and father and resentful that they’d had their equilibrium upset by this news.
It was later, as he lay sleepless in his bedroom, that he felt some pity for himself. He thought back over his life and tried to come to terms with the fact that his parents had kept something like this from him. What good telling him as a child would have done, he couldn’t see, but surely he’d had a right to know once he was a man.
It was only then as he thought of his ‘rights’ that the wider implications of the news dawned on him. He wasn’t his father’s eldest son, and, therefore, not his father’s undisputed heir.
Not his heir: not the heir to Longwood.
The impact of that hit him like a weight and he felt his heart pounding in his chest. He got out of bed and rested his feverish brow against the cold window pane.
Everything he’d ever longed for, and all that had become so much more important since his Mysteronisation, was centred on this place. His home, where he wanted to bring his wife, one day, and maybe watch his own kids growing up.
Only it wasn’t his. It was Ronnie’s.
He was still gazing out of the window when a gentle tap on his door broke his concentration and he turned to see Adam’s fair head peering round.
“Merry Christmas,” he said. “I thought you were awake. Can I come in?”
“Of course. Did I wake you up? I’m sorry.”
“No, my brother did.”
“What?” Paul’s hyper-sensitive mind latched onto those ominous-sounding words.
“David rang to wish me a ‘happy Christmas’, from what sounded like a riotous party. I pointed out that it was just gone five a.m. here, and he thought that was hysterically funny.” Adam sighed. “It’s at times like these that I envy you being an only child,” he said ruefully.
“Well, don’t, because I’m not,” Paul snapped.
“What are you talking about?”
Adam’s face was a picture as Paul told him the basic facts of his new-found brother’s existence. As his friend’s voice trailed into silence, Adam asked, “He’s coming here, today?”
“So my mother said. She had a letter from him.”
“Well, that’s a facer, and no mistake.”
After a few minutes’ silent contemplation, Adam said, “Look, would you rather I left? I can go to a hotel-”
“No! I don’t want his arrival to make any difference to anything. If you leave, it’s bound to upset my mother.”
“But Paul, surely this is a personal, family thing? I’ll be in the way.”
“You won’t, Adam. As far as I’m concerned, you’re more of a brother to me than this ‘Ronnie’ could ever be!”
Adam hesitated. His friend was markedly disconcerted by these surprising revelations, but the thought that his presence might cause embarrassment to the Metcalfes was an equally strong argument for leaving. He saw Paul swallow convulsively as he stared back at him, and knew what he had to do. Paul couldn’t ask him to stay, it was not in his nature to do so, but he wanted him to.
“Okay, whatever you think is for the best, Paul. I’ll be around for just as long as you want me here, buddy; but the moment I’m in the way, just say the word, and I’ll go. Promise me?”
Paul nodded, relief washing over his face. “Sure thing, Blue-boy.” He ran his hand through his hair and across his unshaven chin. “How about a cup of tea?”
“Sure,” Adam agreed. He knew enough about the English to understand that drinking a hot beverage was the universal panacea for times of stress and high emotion.
He followed Paul from the room and down to the kitchen, where his somewhat distracted friend made them both cups of strong tea, and – for once – Adam drank it without protest.
They gathered around the Christmas tree after breakfast, and Mrs Metcalfe handed out the presents, but the genial excitement and relaxed atmosphere of yesterday had evaporated, and it was a painful display of merely going through the motions.
Adam had added the ones he’d bought with him on his arrival, and there were gifts for him amongst the gaily-coloured pile as well. He tried to remain cheerful, but the tension amongst the Metcalfes was palpable and Paul almost monosyllabic in both his responses, and his thanks for the gifts he received. Mrs Metcalfe looked drawn, as if she hadn’t slept well either, and the general, usually unaffected by moments of emotional stress, was obviously on edge as well.
Adam folded the wrapping paper from the last present Mrs Metcalfe had given him, and sighed. I wish Ronnie Metcalfe would just get here and put us all out of our misery, he thought.
But it was late morning, and the aroma of cooking was starting to drift through the house, before Paul’s sharp hearing picked up the noise of an approaching car.
“He’s coming,” he said, walking to the window and watching as the dark, hatchback car pulled up on the drive.
His mother came to stand beside him, and took hold of his hand, squeezing his fingers.
The doorbell chimed, making them all jump slightly.
When none of the Metcalfes moved, Adam said, “I’ll go,” and he was out of the room before Mrs Metcalfe could respond.
He opened the front door, feeling absurdly nervous.
A smartly, if somewhat conventionally, dressed man, whose age Adam guessed at around forty, was standing on the top step. He frowned as he saw the tall, blond man inside the house.
“This is the Metcalfe house?” he asked with some uncertainty. He had a Canadian accent, and his voice was pitched slightly higher than Paul’s, but the resemblance was unmistakable.
“Yes, it is. And you must be Ronald Metcalfe?” The man acknowledged that with a nod. “Come inside, they’re in the living room.” Adam opened the door wider for the newcomer to enter. “Please go on in.”
“And you are?” Ronald asked, his curiosity piqued as much by the appearance of this stranger as by the unexpected American accent.
“Adam Svenson; I’m a friend of Paul’s and he invited me to spend Christmas here. I’m just trying to make myself useful,” he added.
Ronald nodded. “Thank you,” he murmured as Adam directed him towards the lounge.
As he crossed the hallway, Ronald’s gaze darted around the impressive building. The door Svenson had indicated was ajar and he could see that the room was occupied. Pushing it open, he walked into the room and faced his family for the first time.
Paul was standing next to his mother who had gone to her husband’s side. The three of them looked anxiously at the newcomer for a long moment, before Mary came to her senses and advanced towards him, her hand outstretched.
“Hello, Ronald. Welcome to Longwood,” she said. “I’m Mary Metcalfe.”
The man shook her hand and responded politely, “Pleased to meet you, Aunt Mary.”
She credited him with tact for the way he had dealt with the difficult question of their relationship, and smiled. “Come and meet your father, and your brother,” she encouraged him, studying the man before her.
Her first impression was that he wasn’t quite as tall as Paul, and his hair was the dark brown of the Blakes rather than the black of the Metcalfes. He wore a pair of spectacles that emphasised the size of his blue eyes, and as he dropped her hand, he pushed the glasses higher up the bridge of his nose, with an automatic gesture.
She stood aside slightly and guided Ronald towards his father.
Charles Metcalfe cleared his throat and a faint blush started to mount in his neck and face.
“Hello, Ronald,” he managed to say, his voice somewhat strangled by his emotion. “Welcome home, son.”
The pair shook hands and Charles turned to his right to say, “This is Paul – your brother.”
Adam, hovering by the door so that he didn’t get in the way, watched with concerned interest to see how Paul would react, but he needn’t have worried. Decades of instilled politeness fired up in Paul and he held out his hand towards the newcomer.
“Hello there, Ronnie.”
They shook hands.
Introductions over, there was a collective releasing of pent-up breath and the tension decreased.
“Please, sit down, Ronald – or do you prefer Ronnie?” Mary asked. “You must be tired after your journey; can I get you anything, a cup of tea, something to eat?”
“Ronnie’s fine,” he replied, “and I’m really not that tired actually. I’ve been in the country for almost three weeks, and I spent the night at a hotel in Winchester, so the drive wasn’t far. But, a coffee would be nice. Thank you.”
“Coffee? Of course! Adam-dear, would you give me a hand?”
In the kitchen Mary took a moment to sag against the wall and sigh out her remaining tension. She smiled up into Adam’s sympathetic face and placed a hand on his arm.
“Well, that’s the worst of it over. Thank you, dear, you were a great help.”
“I didn’t do anything except open the door.” He smiled, going to fill the kettle for her, as she bustled about sorting out the tea service and preparing the coffee.
“That isn’t true, and you know it. You’ve been there for Paul – as you always seem to be - I know how much he relies on you, and I appreciate it, probably even more than he does,” she said, as she set the coffee filter going.
“Hey, believe me, I rely on him just as much,” Adam assured her, as visions of the many times Captain Scarlet had saved his life at the loss of his own, flashed into his mind’s eye.
She turned to him and concern saddened her face. “He’s changed since he joined Spectrum, Adam; there’s an underlying sadness in him that never used to be there. I’ve wondered if it was because of his relationship with Dianne, but then, when I see them together, he’s almost like his old self and I know it can’t be that that’s making him sad.”
She glanced at the young man and pleaded, “I’m not asking you to betray confidences, Adam-dear, and I know you wouldn’t anyway, but I worry about him so much. You remember the Christmas you were here, and Paul got trapped in that secret room in the attic? Charles told me then that Paul had been infected by some alien virus. Now, I believe him, of course, only, I swear, when I mentioned it to Doctor Fawn, he didn’t know what I was talking about.”
Adam looked away and traced his finger over the top of the coffee jar rather than meet her questioning glance.
“And now there’s all this with Ronnie. I know we should have told Paul before now, but Victoria never made contact with either of us once she left, and Charles ...” She sighed. “I suppose he preferred to forget it had ever happened - my sister was not the easiest person to get along with. Rightly or wrongly, we felt that Paul might suffer if the fact that his father had married his ex-wife’s sister was common gossip. You live in a big city, but here, in a small country village, notoriety can make life unbearable. I couldn’t have forgiven myself if anything we’d done had made things difficult for Paul. After a while, we almost forgot we hadn’t told him about it, and it became much harder to find a way of starting to tell him.” She sighed. “He loves this place so much and the thought of losing it-”
“Why would he lose it?”
“At the very least, the estate would have to be split between Charles’ sons, and Paul might not get the house, or, if he did, he wouldn’t get the money to maintain it,” she explained.
The kettle boiled and she made the tea and filled the coffee mugs with the filter coffee.
“Wasn’t that always the case?” Adam asked.
Mary shook her head. “Charles didn’t include Ronnie in his earlier will. It was wrong, we know, but we had no idea where the boy was,” she added defensively.
Adam pursed his lips thoughtfully. The Metcalfes seemed to have made a conscious decision to ignore the disastrous first marriage and its resultant offspring. Coming from a family that had more internal wars going on amongst the members than most, he could understand both the appeal of doing that, and the futility.
Nevertheless, he tried to reassure her as best he could. “Paul is Spectrum’s number one agent, Mrs Metcalfe. He’s tireless in the fight against the forces that would destroy our World as we know it. We’ve both seen enough things to make anyone sad, and yet, we carry on. I couldn’t do the job Captain Scarlet does.”
Mary looked at him with an anxious expression, and he smiled.
“I’m sure he’ll cope with this news as well as he does everything life throws at him. It may be a cliché, ma’am, but your son is a hero – pure and simple.”
She gave him a sweet smile and reached up to kiss his cheek. “You both are, in my eyes.” Adam blushed. “Now, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to help me break the ice between Paul and his brother.”
“I’m glad to help, if I can.”
“I’m sure you can, even if it’s just keeping a conversation going. Would you carry the tray for me? Thank you, Adam-dear.”
When Mary opened the living room door, it wasn’t difficult to see that very little progress towards getting to know each other had been made by the three men during her absence. Paul was standing by the window, the general had returned to his armchair and Ronnie was perched on the sofa. The three dogs, which had gone over to sniff at his clothes, had then slunk away to Paul, and were now lying at his feet.
Mary glanced around and gestured to Adam to lay the tray down on the coffee table beside her armchair.
“Here we are,” she announced brightly. “Paul, come and have some tea. Ronnie, here is your coffee, please help yourself to milk and sugar. Adam takes his black, so I just put some extra in the milk jug.”
“Thank you, Aunt Mary.”
Once the procedure of dispensing the tea was over, and Paul was on the sofa beside his brother, Mary looked around the room.
“Well, this is pleasant, isn’t it?”
No one answered her. She sent a silent appeal to Adam, sitting behind the sofa on a straight-backed chair.
“Whereabouts are you from, Ronnie?” he asked. “I’m guessing that’s a Canadian accent.”
“Yeah. We moved about a good deal. My father – my step-father – is a regional manger for a national chain of stores. We moved around with his job. I guess we spent most time in Alberta, but right now, he’s based in Vancouver.”
“Goodness, that does sound interesting. Victoria always wanted to travel,” Mary said. “How is she, Ronnie?”
“She died last year, Aunt Mary. She had breast cancer.”
Mary’s face fell and she put her tea cup down. “Oh, my poor boy! Oh, Ronnie, I am so sorry. I didn’t know. Why didn’t you contact us then?”
“She made me promise not to. Mom could hold a grudge like no woman I’ve met.”
“And your stepfather? I’m afraid I don’t even know his name…”
“Mark. Mark Hutchinson. He’s okay. He retires next year.”
“Hutchinson?” Charles Metcalfe frowned. “That’s not the name of the man I remember.”
“I was about eight or nine when they got married,” Ronnie said. “Mom met him in Toronto.”
His father gave an understanding nod, but didn’t pursue the subject. Obviously Victoria’s relationship with her original lover hadn’t survived the move to Canada.
“We all lost track of Victoria,” Mary said sadly, thinking of her wayward sister. “She never contacted any of the family after our mother died.”
“No. She didn’t want to. She didn’t want me to come here either.”
“Why did you come?” Paul asked, unable to keep a note of petulance from his voice.
Ronnie turned his gaze on the younger man and replied, “I thought it was about time I got in touch.”
“And so it is,” Mary replied. “We’re so pleased that you did. Aren’t we, Charles?”
“Yes, yes of course we are,” the general replied.
There was a long silence.
“How long are you stopping here?” Paul asked suddenly and reacted to his mother’s glared reproof with an exasperated exclamation of: “What? I only asked!”
“Ronnie must stay for as long as he likes, Paul. Please, we’d be delighted if you’d stay – spend Christmas with us.”
“Do you have any plans for after Christmas, Ronnie?” Adam asked, as he leant past the sofa to place his empty coffee cup on the tray.
“A few. I came over here on business.”
“What is it you do?” Adam indicated Paul. “We work for the World Government.”
“I’m a reporter. I work for the Global News Network.”
“Really?” Mary said, casting a brief, alarmed glance at her son. “That must give you plenty of chance to travel and meet such fascinating people.”
“It’s not as glamorous as it sounds, Aunt Mary.” For the first time his voice betrayed some emotion. “It doesn’t leave you much scope for a personal life, for a start. I was due to get married last year, but my fiancée thought better of a life with a husband who could be whisked away at a moment’s notice to report on some disaster or other.”
“Oh, Ronnie, that’s sad,” Mary said sympathetically.
“I guess you aren’t married either?” Ronnie turned to Paul, and for one brief second his glance flicked towards Adam.
Paul noticed and raised a dark eyebrow as he replied, “No, I’m not. It’s much the same as you described – we’re never in the same place long enough to plan a private life. Luckily, my fiancée works in the same part of the organization, so she understands. One day, we’ll get time to make it all official.”
“She’s not here with you?”
“No. She’s visiting her parents, and Adam’s fiancée is staying with her. If we get time – and it’s a pretty big if – the four of us plan to meet up in London, and welcome in the New Year along with the crowds, in Trafalgar Square.”
“And if I know the girls, they’ll want to hit the shops as well,” Adam interjected. He grimaced as he admitted, “My credit card’s already cowering at the mere thought of it.”
Paul grinned and turned, resting his arms on the back of the sofa as he replied. “Well, pity mine then!”
“Hey, I’ll swap you Karen’s shopping bill for Dianne’s any day.”
“No chance, Adz, that woman’s an Olympic Class spendthrift.”
“That’s a little unfair! She’s not that bad.”
“Compared to what? Imelda Marcos?”
Adam stifled his laughter and shook his head.
In the distance the kitchen timer chimed, and Mary got to her feet. “Lunch will be ready in about thirty minutes. I hope you will join us, Ronnie?”
“With pleasure; thank you for inviting me.”
“Good. Paul, set the table with an extra place. Maybe, after lunch we can take Ronnie, and the dogs, for a walk around the gardens? Walk off all the food you’ve been scoffing since you got home, young man. I do wonder where you put it all at times, Paul.”
The Christmas lunch went far better than anyone had expected. Ronald’s stiff attitude towards his father thawed slightly under the influence of the good food and wine, and the general, his self-confidence returning, was, as usual, an excellent host. Between them, Mary and Adam kept the conversation going, and Paul gradually lost his overt antagonism towards his half-brother.
Once everyone had had time to digest their meal, and, as the general had insisted, they’d all watched the traditional Royal Christmas Broadcast, Mary chivvied everyone into their coats and called the dogs for their daily walk.
The two Spectrum officers quickly out-stripped the others as they strode over the fields. They were kept occupied throwing an endless flow of balls for the Labradors to chase. The dogs dropped the retrieved, and increasingly slobbery, prizes at their feet and darted at them as encouragement for yet another chase.
Adam wiped drool off his fingers onto the frosty grass and seeing they were far enough ahead of the others not to be overheard, asked,
“You heard Ronnie say he was a reporter? Do you think we should worry?”
Paul threw the second ball and watched the dog streak after it before he replied.
“I don’t imagine he’s here after a story, do you? My father’s largely confined to an administrative desk job now, so he’s unlikely to have access to any kind of secrets a reporter for GNN would find interesting. There’s no way he could know we were even at the house, let alone who and what we are.”
“He said he’d been in the country for three weeks. I wonder what he’s been doing all that time.”
Paul looked at him and chuckled. “It’s at times like these that you make me remember you were a security agent. Relax.”
“Not just a security agent,” Adam replied, grimacing as he picked up the wet ball that had just been dropped at his feet again. He sent the ball spinning into the far distance and, with a joyful bark, the dog raced away. “I’m a Svenson. We get pestered by journalists all the time. Well, we do Stateside.”
“Yeah, he didn’t seem to pick up on that, did he? Maybe he doesn’t do financial or society stories?”
“He said he covered disasters,” Adam agreed. He stopped and examined the damp hems of his trouser legs. “If he gets a move on he can cover the disaster that’s about to happen to my pants if your dogs slobber over them any more.”
Paul laughed. “I suppose Svenson family pooches don’t slobber?”
“Oh, the ‘Svenson family pooches’ slobber all right - what they do not do, is get the chance to do it anywhere near my best cashmere-and-silk suit.”
“I told you to get changed.”
“Next time I’ll take your advice.”
They walked on for some way in companionable silence until Paul said, “If you’re really concerned about Ronnie, why not contact Cloudbase and have them run a check on him?”
“You mean you haven’t done that already?”
Paul shook his head. “It slipped my mind. I guess I was only thinking about this on a personal level.”
“You really think we should have him checked out?”
Adam shrugged. “I take it you’re not sensing anything about him?”
“No. That much did occur to me. The reappearance of long-hidden relatives would be a perfect opportunity for them.”
“Looking at him, I’d say he is who he claims to be. You certainly look like brothers.”
“Brothers, and cousins, don’t forget,” Paul said, kicking at the tennis ball for the dog waiting hopefully at his side.
“Is that a problem? I thought the British upper classes were all interbred because they always married their cousins, anyway?” Adam asked, with an innocent expression.
“No, that’s backwoods Americans.”
“Backwoods or backwards?”
“Woods – backwoods, cloth-ears.”
“Ain’t nothing wrong with my hearing; it must be your accent…”
They shared a laugh.
Mrs Metcalfe’s voice came faintly on the icy breeze. “We’re going back now! Don’t be long!”
Paul turned and waved an acknowledgement, before whistling to the dogs.
“I’ll check with Cloudbase when I go to change my suit,” Adam said matter-of-factly, as they trudged back towards the house.
“S.I.G., Captain Blue.”
The short winter day was almost over when they got back to Longwood. Adam slipped away to change his trousers, while Mary bustled off to the kitchen, and Charles Metcalfe went to deal with the dogs, leaving his sons alone for the first time. Paul and Ronnie sat in the armchairs on either side of the fire, thawing out from their walk.
Paul was trying to think of something to say when Ronnie asked casually:
“What exactly do you do for the World Government?”
“This and that.”
“Your mother told me you were a WAAF colonel, one of the youngest ever – if not ‘the’ youngest. She’s very proud of the fact.”
“Yes, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t encouraged to think along the lines of a military career. Mum must be the archetypal military wife,” Paul said proudly, before he remembered that Ronnie’s mother hadn’t found the life at all congenial.
“So, isn’t it a bit of a comedown after that to be a gofer for the World Government?”
Paul straightened up slightly as he detected a certain cynicism in Ronald’s question. “Depends what you want from life, I suppose.”
“And you discovered that you didn’t want a distinguished military career? Hardly the Metcalfe way, is it?”
“What do you know about the Metcalfes and their ways?” Paul snapped.
“Look, Paul, I’m as much a Metcalfe as you are – and, as it happens, as much a Blake. Circumstances may have meant that I’ve spent my life half a world away, but that doesn’t change who I am. I have a right to be here.”
Paul gave an exasperated sigh. “I know that! I’m just finding it hard to come to terms with; I can’t believe my parents kept quiet about what happened for so long. I mean, what were they thinking of?”
Ronnie shrugged. “I’m sure they did it for the best, Paul. My mother was honest with me about my father; I’ve always known who he was, and where he was. But, after he married her youngest sister, she wanted nothing more to do with him, and didn’t understand that I might.”
Ronnie pushed his glasses higher along his nose and gazed towards the fire. Paul’s sharp eyesight could pick out the flames reflected in the lenses.
Suddenly Ronald looked in his direction and their eyes met. “It’s hard growing up and feeling that part of you is missing; that the key to your identity and your heritage is somewhere you’ve never seen. Maybe you had the best of it, Paul? Not plagued by wondering what the people who were a part of your life – and yet not part of it – were like?”
Paul gave a slight shrug. “Could be, but right now, it doesn’t feel like it.” He studied the older man, noticing for the first time signs of weariness and disappointment in the face that reminded him so much of his maternal grandfather. “You left it a long time to get in touch,” he said. “You must’ve been here before – for your work – you could’ve ‘dropped by’.”
“I never felt the urge to come here – until now. Besides, my mother was dead set against it, don’t forget. Maybe this has something to do with losing her and my fiancée in quick succession? I’ve been taking stock of my life since last year and finally decided that I wanted to meet my biological father. If you can’t accept that, I’m sorry.”
Paul had the grace to look a little ashamed of himself. “No, I’m the one who should be sorry; but I didn’t know you even existed until last night, when they told me. It’s rather a lot to take in all at once.”
“Yeah, I guess it must be.”
Paul stood and crossed the hearth, extending his hand. “I’d like us to be friends; for my own sake as much as my parents’.”
Ronnie stared at the hand for what seemed like an age, until Paul began to wonder if he would accept the offer of friendship after all. Then, he pushed his glasses high on the bridge of his nose again, and reached out his hand to shake Paul’s.
“I guess I’d like it too. Your mom reminds me of my mom a lot – which isn’t surprising, I guess.”
“None of my aunts ever spoke about Victoria – at least not to me,” Paul said. Memories of whispered conversations that ceased as he’d entered rooms floated back into his mind. “Do you have a picture?”
Ronnie nodded and drew a leather wallet from his jacket pocket. Paul studied the small, rather creased picture of an attractive, dark-haired woman, with blue eyes and a bright smile.
“She does look like my mum; you’re right.” He handed it back. “Thanks.”
“I guess our father runs true to type,” Ronnie said, slipping the wallet back.
Paul inclined his head, but said nothing. It was still too soon for him to discuss the matter objectively.
The door opened and Mary edged in, pulling a two-tiered, wheeled serving trolley, the bottom tier piled with sandwiches and scones with jam and cream. She smiled with genuine pleasure to see the young men talking together.
“Now, if we can only find Charles and Adam, we can all have some tea,” she announced.
Paul gave a theatrical groan. “Mum, you really are the most illogical woman! Before we went out you were accusing me of scoffing too much food, and now you want me to eat more?”
“I have never known a boy that can’t find room for a cream tea,” she said archly, and smiled.
Adam finished the last crumbs of scone on his plate and sighed. “Mrs Metcalfe, I’m going to need the next size up if you carry on like this,” he said ruefully, tugging the waistband of his jeans.
Mary smiled. “I’m sure you boys don’t eat properly when you’re at work. I can’t send you back there without making sure you’ve been well-fed.”
“For ‘well-fed’, read ‘stuffed stupid’,” Paul said. He had just finished his second scone.
“I agree with Paul,” Ronnie said. “Aunt Mary, you’re an excellent cook, but I can feel my arteries hardening as I sit here.”
She laughed, delighted at their teasing.
“Let me take the trolley back to the kitchen,” Adam said, rising to his feet. “I need to start working off today’s excesses right now.”
“No, really, Adam-dear,” Mary protested.
Adam ignored her and instead turned to his friend. “Paul, shift yourself, and give me a hand,” Adam said, catching his eye.
Paul got to his feet and the pair left the room, dragging the tea trolley after them.
Safely out of earshot in the kitchen, Paul asked, “What did Cloudbase say?”
“He’s clean. He was working for GNN right up until last payday. No known discrepancies in what he’s told us. His mother died, like he said, and she was married to a Mark Hutchinson.”
Paul looked up from loading the dishwasher. “There’s a ‘but’ coming, I can hear it in your voice.”
“But, he resigned from GNN last month. He’s a freelance now.”
“He said he’d reassessed his life last year,” Paul reasoned. “Maybe he felt he could make more as a freelance?”
“A freelance accounts clerk?”
“He was never a reporter, as such, except for a few unpaid feeder stories on the local GNN service. His job in the company was to handle the expense claims from the paid-up, professional reporters.”
“That’s a big ‘but’.”
Adam nodded. “Could be that he’s just playing up his achievements to impress, of course,” he suggested, seeing the cold expression that settled on Paul’s face as he digested the information.
“Yeah… yeah, no doubt.” Paul didn’t sound at all happy. He stood brooding for a long moment. “You know, I bet I know why he came here. Fed up with a dead-end job, faced with a fiancée who decided life with an accounts clerk wouldn’t be worth living, and then his mother dies, so he ‘reassesses’ his life, and decides he can do better elsewhere: in fact, he can do better here. He’s come here to move in on my parents and wheedle his way into my family.”
“Cut the guy some slack, Paul. If his mother was so against any contact with her family, it seems to me that Ronnie was right to do as she wanted. Wouldn’t you humour your mother in those circumstances?”
Paul gave a derisive snort. “I think I’d be man enough to do what I wanted.”
“Yeah, maybe you would at that, but you’ve been the pivot this family revolves around all your life – I don’t think Ronnie’s had that particular boost to his self confidence.”
“Are you saying what I think you are? That I’ve been indulged all my life? Well, there’s the pot calling the kettle black, Mr Rich Man’s Son.”
Adam shook his head. He didn’t want to get into that sort of pointless argument with his friend; they’d both grown up with streaks of stubborn independence in their personalities or, as Colonel White frequently described them both, ‘pig-headed’. The only distinction was that, as the eldest, he’d been expected to keep the peace between his siblings as he grew up.
He changed tack, trying to keep Paul reasonable.
“Look on the bright side; at least we don’t have to worry about nosy reporters blowing our cover…” He switched on the dishwasher. “Let’s get back. And try to look like you don’t know any more than you did before we came out here.”
“Hey, I’m a Spectrum Agent; I know how to work undercover.”
Paul stalked from the room.
“Yeah, sure you do,” Adam said without conviction. As he trailed after his friend, he had a nagging suspicion that he should have kept his mouth shut.
They heard the deep rumble of the general’s laughter before they reached the living room. When they entered, they saw Ronnie deep in conversation with his father, and Mary sitting beside them, a benign smile on her face.
When Ronnie turned and smiled a welcome as the two men walked in, Paul felt a sudden jolt of jealous anger flood through him.
“Maybe Paul can tell me the truth of that, Dad,” Ronnie said cheerfully, continuing his conversation with Charles.
“You’re after the truth, Ronnie?” Paul said, cynically raising one black eyebrow. “That’s strange, because it’s exactly what I’d like from you. So, let’s start with the easy questions, shall we, like where did you study journalism?” When his brother didn’t answer straight away, he continued, “Too difficult? Then maybe you can tell me how many articles you’ve had printed, or how many of your reports have been broadcast on GNN?”
“My work was mostly local,” Ronnie said, flushing under Paul’s attack. “I never said I was part of the international service.”
“No, you’ve been pretty hazy about all of this, haven’t you?”
“Paul, what do you think you’re doing?” Mary asked angrily.
“Exposing my ‘brother’ as, at the very least, a fantasist, and at worst, an outright liar!”
“Paul,” his father said sternly. “That’s enough.”
“No, Dad, I don’t think it is. You see, Ronnie’s been telling us all that he’s a GNN reporter, but Adam’s found out that the closest he gets to the news services is handling the reporters’ expense claims!”
“Paul!” Mary snapped.
“He’s a fraud, and a liar. That sort of behaviour certainly has no place in the ‘Metcalfe way’, Ronald!”
Ronnie got to his feet, his face red with embarrassment. “One thing I never thought the Metcalfes were was callous,” he said to Paul, before turning to his father. “It is true that I wasn’t completely honest with you when I arrived, but you know how quickly I regretted that, Dad. I wanted you to be as proud of me as you so obviously are of him – although I might wonder what you imagine makes him so great!” He turned to include Mary in his comments. “I’m sorry that you’ve had to witness this. I shouldn’t have stayed once I saw Paul was here, and how he felt about me. All I wanted was to be accepted.”
“We don’t accept liars!” Paul snarled angrily.
“Cool it, Paul.” Adam put a cautionary hand on his friend’s shoulder but it was shrugged off.
The two brothers stood face to face, curiously alike in their anger and high emotion, but it was Ronald who looked away. He turned back to his father.
“Goodbye, Dad. It was good to meet you at last.” General Metcalfe, looking slightly stunned by the speed of events, got to his feet and embraced his son. Ronald turned to Mary. “Aunt Mary, you were kindness itself. Thank you.”
“You’re not leaving us like this, Ronnie? Charles, speak to him.”
“Mary’s right, stay as long as you like, Ronnie.” He glared at his younger son. “You’ll always be welcome here – this is your home too.”
“I’ve so obviously outstayed my welcome already; I think it’s better if I go back to my hotel. Thank you for seeing me and for making me welcome in your home.”
“Ronald,” General Metcalfe pleaded helplessly, as his elder son moved across the room to the door.
As he passed Adam, he paused. “What did I do to you that made you hound me, like this?” he asked, and moved on without waiting for a reply. Adam’s head dropped at the rebuke and a blush mounted into his cheeks.
“Bloody Drama Queen!” Paul called after him, as they heard the door open and slam shut.
Mary rounded on her son. “Paul Metcalfe, you have a lot to answer for. Get out there and apologise to him – immediately!”
“What? I proved he was a liar! Why am I in the wrong?”
General Metcalfe glared at him. “Ronnie told us all about his deception when we were out walking. He admitted he’d felt a bit intimidated by what he called his ‘high-flying family’ and wanted to sound more important than he thought he was. But he’s just as important to me as you are, boy! Your mother and I understood why he’d done what he did and we’ve forgiven his ruse. But you - hot-headed and pig-headed to the end - had to know better!”
“Get out of my sight.” He glanced at Adam. “Both of you.”
“But-” Paul gasped.
Decades of wielding authority had given General Metcalfe a formidable presence when he chose to reveal it; he chose to do so now. “GET OUT!” he bellowed.
Paul glanced at his mother, but she had come to her husband’s side, placing a solicitous hand on his arm. Behind him, he heard Adam walking away, and so, with as much pride as he could muster, Paul turned and followed.
Ronnie was shaking with humiliated rage as he drove away from Longwood with as much speed as he could, but once he reached the main road back to Winchester, he pulled over into a lay-by and turned the engine off.
He sat there for some time, thinking back over the meeting with his father and whether it had been a wise thing to do after all. Although his father and step-mother had been wary at first, they’d made him feel welcome and he’d felt accepted by them. The fly in the ointment had been Paul’s attitude, and he concluded that he’d have done better to time his visit for when his half-brother wasn’t at home.
He hadn’t known that his father and step-mother had never told his half-brother about him, of course, and he could sympathise with Paul’s feelings of resentment, but only up to a point. In his eyes, Paul had had all the advantages: a wonderful home, a decent education, a helping hand into a career that was guaranteed to bring him success. His own childhood had been spent in cheap lodgings, moving from town to town, school to school, as his mother found work, and even after they’d met Mark, the itinerant life-style hadn’t changed.
He’d never really settled anywhere long enough to feel he belonged, so the meagre information his mother had given him about his father and the Metcalfe family had given Longwood, and the stability it represented, a magical quality. Now that he’d seen it, he regretted his involuntary exile even more.
He did not expect, and never had expected, to inherit much from his father; that aspect of the situation had not really featured in his plans until Paul had shown such antagonism. Now he believed he knew why his half-brother had been so unwelcoming: Paul felt his hold on the inheritance was threatened by his reappearance.
Well, if you want to play it that way, Paul Metcalfe, we can do it that way. All I wanted was to have some kind of relationship with my father – but if you can’t even share that willingly, I’ll make you share everything.
He resolved to consult a lawyer as soon as he could after Christmas, with a view to finding out just what he might be entitled to.
Feeling better for his decision, he started the engine and drove back to his hotel. There, he went to sit in the bar rather than the private lounge for the hotel’s guests; he felt the need for some company and hoped sitting amongst the local drinkers who frequented the public bar would help prevent him brooding on his recent experiences.
He was nursing his second beer when a shadow fell across his table and he looked up. A tall, thin, dark-haired man, with compelling black eyes, was standing there. He was well-dressed, but there was an unhealthy pallor to his face.
“Hello, Paul,” he said in a deep voice.
Ronnie gave a rueful grin. “I’m not Paul. I’m his brother, Ronald.”
“Really?” The stranger studied him closely. “Of course, now that I look closely, I can see my mistake. It has been some years since Paul and I worked together. Forgive me; I didn’t know he had a brother.”
“Well, we’re half-brothers really, and Paul didn’t know I existed either.” Ronnie stared at the man, and felt a slight unease.
“Were you in the WAAF too, Mister…?”
“Turner. Conrad Turner. No, we weren’t in the WAAF together. May I?” He indicated the vacant chair at Ronnie’s table.
“Sure, why not?”
Turner placed his pint of beer on the table and pulled the chair up to the table. “You’re here to see the family for Christmas?” he asked, inviting Ronnie to explain.
Although he had not intended to say anything to anyone about his visit and the reasons for it, Ronnie found himself telling his story to this strangely authoritative figure. Turner listened carefully, nodding at times and occasionally sipping his beer.
“So, you see, Mr Turner, I’ve had a rather wasted journey.”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, Ronald. Your father and his wife were welcoming enough. The problem lies with Paul.” He leant forward, and dropped his voice to a confidential whisper, “This does not surprise me at all. I found Paul Metcalfe to be a most difficult man to get along with. Headstrong and ego-centric to an extreme.”
“Where did you work with him?” Ronnie asked. “He said he was working for the World Government now.”
“Yes, in a way.”
“You don’t work with him now?”
“No, our paths have diverged; although we do run across each other from time to time. You could say we were more rivals than colleagues now.”
“He wouldn’t tell me what he does.”
“No? How typical of him. I could tell you what he does.”
Ronald looked interested. “He gave up a colonelcy to start doing this, whatever it is. I sort of guessed it must be something important. His mother dotes on him, but even she’d have to admit he gave up a lot for nothing, if he wasn’t employed in some… confidential capacity, I suppose. As it is, she inferred that whatever he does is difficult and comes with a barrow-load of stress.”
Turner lowered his voice and leant closer. “He works for Spectrum, that’s why.”
Turner nodded. “That’s where I met him. I’m the man who trained him to be a Spectrum agent, and he hounded me from my post.”
“Typical of the man, if you ask me.”
“Indeed,” Turner said. “But you could get back at him so easily, if you wanted to.”
“How?” Ronnie gasped.
The public’s knowledge of Spectrum was limited to the brief news reports of their successful missions. The World Government was careful to keep the full details of the Mysterons’ threat to the World, and its billions of inhabitants, top secret, which added to the mystique surrounding the force dedicated to combating the dangerous aliens. Spectrum’s powerful vehicles, weaponry, apparently limitless resources, and the kudos of being the World President’s ‘personal’ security force, created an impression of technical superiority, and virtual invulnerability.
“Simple. Expose him. Reveal his Spectrum identity to the media – you have the contacts to do that, don’t you, Ronnie? Something I don’t. Spectrum agents depend on anonymity to work effectively. With his cover blown, Metcalfe would have to resign.”
“Oh, I don’t know that I could do that…”
“Why not? Isn’t it about time Paul Metcalfe had a little misfortune in his life to compensate you for all you’ve suffered?”
“It would annoy him immensely to have to leave Spectrum. He really has a very high opinion of his value to the organisation. It’d teach him a little humility, to be bested by the man he’s treated so badly. He could move back to the WAAF, or retire to his comfortable home – your home. Of course, you know you could make a move on Longwood as well?”
“The thought had occurred to me,” Ronnie admitted.
He fell silent, considering what he’d learned and what Turner had said. His companion seemed to be in no hurry for a response, and sat patiently, his dark eyes trained on Ronnie until they started to give the younger man the creeps. To break the oppressive silence, he asked, “Do you know a guy called Adam Svenson too? He’s staying here with Paul. He said they worked together. Is he a Spectrum agent as well?”
“Yes, I know Svenson. He and Metcalfe are field partners now; they are as overbearing as each other. You could expose him too, and take complete revenge on them both. His father’s John Svenson, the financial magnate. If he left Spectrum, I imagine he’d have to go back to Boston and start making money for his father’s company, something he’s always said he didn’t want to do.”
Ronnie thought there was a certain satisfaction in the idea that he held so much power over those two supercilious men. “What proof can you give me of your assertions, Mr Turner?”
Turner smiled. “Oh, I can supply plenty of proof. I know more about Captain Scarlet than even his parents do.”
Adam watched as Paul paced the bedroom, his anger sparking out in a torrent of words.
“They’re being completely unreasonable! How was I supposed to know Ronnie had confessed all and pleaded for forgiveness? Mum would forgive anyone who asked nicely enough and looked at her with soulful eyes, anyway. You found out the truth, and you told me about him! I trust you, but I still don’t trust him – he’s up to something. If he wasn’t, why didn’t he tell me about it before I accused him? Tell me that!”
“Did you give him a chance to?” Adam asked, in the slight pause when Paul drew breath.
“Of course he had a chance! You left us alone and we were chatting, but all he did was keep asking about what I did - and try to make me feel sorry for him. I don’t feel sorry for him-”
“No, I can see that!” Adam interjected loudly. “You’re far too busy feeling sorry for yourself.”
“Paul, you need to calm down.”
“Butt out of this, Svenson!”
“Fine. I told you I’d go just as soon as you told me to.” Adam stood and walked to the door. “I’ll pack my things and be outta here in minutes.”
“No – that’s not what I meant!”
“Listen, Paul; you need to calm down and think this through. You’ve upset your parents, not to mention Ronnie, and, for the record, I’m none too pleased with you either, at this precise moment.”
“You’ve nothing to complain about.”
Adam ignored that. “I suggest that you go and eat humble pie to your parents, then put your coat on, get in the car and find Ronnie’s hotel. When you do, I suggest you get out of the car, find Ronnie and, if he will let you, apologise.”
“Ap-ol-o-gise. It won’t kill you.”
“Fine, have it your own way. I’m going to apologise to your parents, pack my bags, call Karen and Dianne, book a taxi to the station, and, if I can’t stay with Lord and Lady Simms, get myself a room in London.”
Paul looked away and shrugged off his anger. “I’m sorry.”
There was a considerable silence, before Adam asked, “Any life-threatening side-effects?”
“Did saying ‘sorry’ cause any life-threatening side-effects?”
“Give over!” Paul struggled to hide his grin.
“Great; then go say it to you parents, get your coat and…”
“I know; you don’t have to repeat yourself.”
“Then there’s hope for you yet, Bro.”
When Paul drove to Winchester he was still in a belligerent mood.
His mother had told him which hotel Ronnie had said he was staying at, and she’d grudgingly forgiven him for what she’d described as his ‘jealous injustice’, when he’d told her he intended to apologise and invite Ronnie back to the house. His father had heard him out with a frosty expression, accepted his apology with a brusque nod and returned to reading his book without a word.
Memories of similar interviews with his father, stretching back as far as his memory would go, had left Paul feeling like a naughty schoolboy and resenting the fact. This feeling of victimisation was not helped by the fact that, as he’d prepared to leave, he’d heard his father’s voice in conversation with Adam, and, as he closed the front door behind him, he could have sworn he heard both men laughing.
He pulled into the hotel car park and reluctantly got out of the car. He could see the car Ronnie had arrived in parked closer to the building, and so he knew he was in the right place. He decided, on a whim, that rather than go straight to see Ronnie, he would get some Dutch courage, in the shape of a whisky, beforehand.
He walked into the bar and ordered a double.
Standing with one elbow propped against the bar he sipped the amber liquid and glanced around the crowded room. He recognised a few faces and nodded a polite greeting. Then one noisy group of revellers left, giving him a clear view across the room to the small, round tables.
He saw Ronnie sitting at one of them, facing towards the bar, and talking to a black-haired man. Feeling there was no time like the present; Paul took a deep gulp of his drink and started across the room. A wave of nausea hit him and he dropped his whisky glass as he approached the table.
Ronnie looked up at the crash. Behind his glasses, the pale blue eyes widened in alarm and he gasped: “Paul!”
As if in slow motion, Ronnie’s companion turned in his seat to stare at Paul, and the cause of his unexpected nausea became apparent.
“You!” Instinctively Paul felt for the gun at his hip, and then realised he was in civvies.
“Hello, Metcalfe,” Captain Black said, his dark eyes seeming to flash with amusement.
Ronnie got to his feet as Paul named his companion. However vague the authorities’ warnings about the Mysterons were, their condemnation and vilification of Captain Black could not be misunderstood: the renegade Spectrum captain was a wanted man across the globe.
But he was too slow, Black reached out a hand, grabbing his companion’s arm as he tried to dodge away.
“Merry Christmas, Captain Scarlet,” Black said, drawing a gun from the pocket of his jacket and cocking the trigger as he held it to Ronnie’s head.
“NO!” Scarlet launched himself across the gap and cannoned into Black, jogging his arm so that his shot went high and buried itself in the ceiling, causing a shower of plasterwork over the bar.
“Get out!” Scarlet shouted to the frightened and confused clientele, and as if moving with one accord, they rushed for the doorway and out into the relative safety of the car park.
Ronnie hesitated and bent towards his brother, as Paul struggled to his feet.
“Get out of here. Tell Adam everything!” he ordered and pushed Ronnie towards the exit.
Black was also getting to his feet and both men were searching for the gun, which had been knocked out of Black’s hand by the force of the impact.
They spotted it at almost the same moment and both feinted towards it, colliding and wrestling for supremacy. In the distance, the wail of police sirens could be heard and it was clear that Black was in danger of being trapped in the pub.
He gave Scarlet a push that sent him sprawling. Undeterred, he tried to grab Black’s legs and bring him down too.
“How ironic it would be if we caught you here, in Winchester,” Paul said through gritted teeth, as Black backed off and drew a hand across his bleeding mouth.
“You will not take me, earthman. Will you never learn that the Mysterons have powers you cannot hope to understand, let alone fight against?”
As Scarlet watched, the cut on his adversary’s mouth healed and Black’s narrow lips stretched in a cynical smile. “Humanity’s doctors marvel at your feeble retrometabolism, unaware that we can do so much more. Even you, Scarlet, the most formidable of the Earthmen ranged against us, are nothing compared to the power of the Mysterons.”
“Well, your advertising is good, I’ll say that for you,” Scarlet remarked, “but your PR is crap.”
He darted towards the gun, and Black swung a kick which caught him in the stomach, expelling the air from his lungs. Winded, Scarlet still managed to crawl forward, but the Mysteron Agent stepped over his outstretched hand and kicked the gun further away.
Even though he knew it was pointless, Scarlet kept crawling: Never give up, never surrender!
Outside in the car park, the flashing blue lights of the police cars were creating a mesmerising light show and a voice, amplified by a loud hailer called:
You are surrounded, give yourself up! Drop your weapons and come out with your hands up!
Black sighed, and for a brief moment some gleam of humanity shone in the blackness of the Mysterons’ overwhelming domination as he glanced out of the window, muttering, “I swear they teach them to speak in clichés.”
Scarlet took advantage of his distraction to make a final desperate lunge for the gun. Black’s foot came down on his hand, breaking several bones; such was the force of his stamp.
Scarlet gasped with pain and instinctively curled up, cradling the wounded hand to his chest. Black glanced over at him as he bent down to pick up the gun.
“You can’t defeat us all, you know. You may kill thousands of us – millions, even – but as long as one human remains standing, we’ll defy you. Whatever powers you possess, however formidable the weapons you use against us, we will never surrender. That is our strength.”
“Our revenge will be slow, but none the less effective. You were the aggressors, you attacked our peaceful settlement. We do not forget.”
“And you can’t forgive? You can’t forgive the millions of innocent people on this planet who had nothing to do with the Martian expedition – who knew nothing of you - who know nothing of you – and would deplore the events on Mars as much as Spectrum does?”
“We forgive nothing.”
Scarlet sighed. “No, I guessed as much, and I pity you.”
Black cocked the trigger of the gun and pointed it at Scarlet’s head. The younger man swallowed convulsively. Even if his retrometabolism meant that he would return to life and health, he knew the fear and the pain of every wound and each death he experienced. Such incidents never got any easier, and always, in the back of his mind was the idea that ‘this one’ might be the one he would not recover from.
He stared upwards into Black’s impassive and implacable face, determined that he would not show any sign of his anxiety. The clock over the bar counted out the seconds of what seemed like an eternity, and yet Black did not pull the trigger. Then Scarlet caught the slight movement of his finger on the trigger and drew in a sharp breath, his lips parting slightly as he braced himself for the impact he knew was coming.
The bang startled both men, and Black’s shot went wide, ricocheting off the floor into a wooden bench. Black turned around and saw Ronald Metcalfe standing in the doorway that led from the hotel to the bar. Surrounding him were three armed policemen. All three fired once more.
Black looked down at the red stain spreading over his shirt and slowly lowered his arm, swaying unsteadily before he toppled to the floor beside Scarlet.
Ronnie ran over and knelt beside his brother.
“I thought I told you to get out of here?” Scarlet said amiably enough.
“You saved my life. I may not be a Spectrum Agent, but I wasn’t going to leave, not while I could be of some help,” Ronnie replied. “I showed the police how to get from the hotel part to the bar. It seems the staff dispersed into the crowds.”
“I was just doing my job,” Scarlet said. “You didn’t have to stay, but I’m glad you did, Ronnie. Thank you.” He gave his brother a shaky smile.
“You’re more than welcome, Paul. We Metcalfes have to stick together.”
Scarlet chuckled and nodded his agreement as Ronnie helped him to his feet. Two of the policemen had disappeared, no doubt, returning to report to their officers and the remaining one asked Scarlet for his name.
“Paul Metcalfe, Colonel Paul Metcalfe, World Army Air Force.”
Ronnie glanced at him but said nothing.
“We’ll need a statement from you, Colonel; you and your brother. We’re just waiting for the forensic team to come and record the body of …” The man’s voice came to dead stop and he stared at the floor in disbelief.
Scarlet turned and sighed. The body of Captain Black had vanished. “Don’t worry about it, Constable; I think Spectrum are on their way. They’ll deal with it.” He glanced at Ronnie. “You did call the house?”
Ronnie nodded. “I told them that Captain Black was here.”
“Then Spectrum will be here almost before you know it.” Scarlet knew that one of Longwood’s garages housed a Spectrum Patrol Car, and that – as he had done – Adam had packed his uniform. They knew from experience that going on leave didn’t mean they were ever really off-duty.
“We’d better get your hand seen to,” the confused policeman said, only too happy to have something tangible to deal with. “I’ll find a paramedic.”
“It’s all right – believe me. Just bruised.”
Ronnie reached for the arm his brother was cradling against his side and drew the hand out into the open. The whole hand was swollen and there was a dark bruise covering the back of the hand, in the shape of a boot heel.
“Looks more than bruised to me,” he gasped.
“It’s nothing,” Scarlet said, aware that this could lead to complications once his retrometabolism kicked in properly, and already the hand looked better than it had done. “But it does ache a bit,” he conceded, as Ronnie gave him a disbelieving look. “Do you think you could get me a drink of water?”
“Sure.” Ronnie went to the bar and opened a bottle of mineral water he found behind the counter. “Ice and lemon?” he called.
Suddenly it was all too much for Paul, who threw back his head and laughed until his sides ached.
Captain Blue strode through the police cordon and into the pub, leaving an angry and irritated commander protesting in his wake.
“Am I glad to see you,” he said to Scarlet, who was sitting with his feet up on a bench, munching his way through a pile of packets of crisps and peanuts, and surrounded by several empty bottles of mineral water. Opposite him sat Ronnie, sleepily nursing a brandy. “Mr Metcalfe,” Blue said, and saluted.
“Hello,” Ronnie slurred in reply, and raised his glass in salute.
“What happened?” Blue asked his field partner.
“Black was here. He tried to kill me. Ronnie brought the police marksmen in through the private door for the hotel guests. They shot Black.”
“And?” Blue looked up from the blood-stained floor to his friend.
Scarlet nodded. “He vanished - again.”
“This is a pretty mess to have to clear up. I’ve alerted the local base, and the post-operative mission team will be here soon. I’ve also alerted Cloudbase and you are to go straight back. The Mysterons have made another threat.” He glanced at Ronnie. “I take it he knows who you are?”
Scarlet nodded. “Seems Conrad told him. He wanted Ronnie to expose my identity to the press; yours too. The idea being to force us to resign our commissions.”
Blue looked at Ronnie. The man looked half asleep and was certainly tipsy. “He’ll need to be debriefed.”
Scarlet nodded and offered him the crisp packet. Blue shook his head. He produced one of the new slim-line Mysteron Detector Cameras and took a photograph of Ronald.
Scarlet nodded. “I could have told you that.”
“I don’t doubt it, but you know me – I’m a belt-and-braces man. Have you been wounded?”
“Only my hand, but it’s nearly okay now.”
“Paul, did Ronald see the wound? You know what the colonel says about… injuries.”
“I’m too tired, and he’s too drunk, to care about that right now, Blue-boy.” Scarlet swung his feet off the bench and sat up straight. “I made damn sure he drank a bellyful.”
“It’ll have to do for now,” Blue agreed. The epaulettes on his pale-blue uniform flashed and his radio cap mic swung down as the commander of the nearest ground-based unit reported their arrival.
“I’ll get things underway,” he told Scarlet once the call was completed. “You get yourself, and Ronnie, ready to move out.”
Ronnie fell asleep in the back of the SSC and Scarlet dozed off in the front, as Blue drove back to Longwood, where they were due to rendezvous with a Spectrum helijet. Their leave was officially over; Colonel White wanted both his officers back on Cloudbase, and had decreed that Ronald be taken to Spectrum’s London Headquarters for debriefing by members of Spectrum Intelligence. Accordingly, Captain Pitt and Lieutenant Chapman had been despatched to collect him from Longwood.
General and Mrs Metcalfe were waiting as patiently as they could for the return of the SSC.
Ronnie’s message had caused them great consternation and they’d only been able to relax once Blue had contacted them with the news that both men were safe – if slightly ‘under the weather’. Mary had immediately prepared a room for Ronnie and was still fussing about and preparing hot water bottles and collecting any number of items that she imagined might be of use to make her guests comfortable when the SSC turned into the drive of Longwood.
Alerted to the new arrivals, Mrs Metcalfe flung the front door open wide walked down the steps, her husband close behind her.
Blue got out of the driver’s seat and smiled at her.
“They’re both okay, ma’am. In fact, they’re both asleep.”
“Was Paul hurt?”
“Not seriously, but the colonel has recalled us to Cloudbase; there has been some kind of red alert. I’m afraid there’s a helijet on its way to pick us up, so I have to get our gear together straight away.”
“Oh, poor Adam. You never get a decent Christmas, do you?” Mary sympathised and placed a hand on his arm.
He smiled, but didn’t have time to comment, as she walked past him to the car and peered through the window at the men inside.
General Metcalfe moved closer to Captain Blue. “How is he, son?”
“He’s fine. His hand was injured; apparently it got stamped on, but you’d hardly tell to look at it now, sir.”
General Metcalfe knew the truth about his son’s initial encounter with the Mysterons and the power of retrometabolism that it had imbued him with. It had been a difficult thing for him to come to terms with, but for some years now he had accepted that, despite being a Mysteron reconstruction, Captain Scarlet was the same man his son Paul had been.
“Don’t tell his mother,” he warned Blue, who nodded in acknowledgement.
Because Captain Scarlet had never managed to explain to his mother what had happened to him - although he had set out to do so on several occasions - the small clique that did know went to great lengths to protect the secret.
Mary was with Paul, who’d woken as she reached the car, and was now hugging her and reassuring her that he was fine.
“What’s the matter with Ronnie?” she asked, peering at the comatose figure in the back seat.
“He… he needed several large brandies to soothe his nerves,” Paul explained.
“He’s drunk,” she translated.
“Pretty much, but he’s been through a stressful time, Mum; so cut him some slack, as a good friend once advised me to do. He saved my life back there.”
She smiled at him. “I’m glad you’ve come to terms with things, Paul. Your father and I – well, it hasn’t changed how we feel about you, you know.”
He shrugged and slipped an arm around her shoulder. “Hey, the drop from ‘number one son’ to ‘number two’ came as a bit of a shock, but I can live with it.”
“You’re still my number one son, and you always will be!” She hugged him. “Now, get inside and let me check you over before that helijet gets here. I won’t be happy otherwise.”
“I’m all right…”
“In – now. Adam can help me move Ronnie.”
“Yessir, Colonel Mum, sir.”
“You cheeky young bugger,” she said cheerfully. “Go on in…”
Laughing, Scarlet walked towards the house and as he passed his father, General Metcalfe slapped a hand on his shoulder and smiled.
“Well done, son.”
Scarlet walked into the living room and gratefully lowered his aching body into the armchair by the fire. He examined his hand; the bruise was still there, but the swelling had gone down and he flexed his fingers and twisted the wrist to ensure everything had healed up.
Blue and the general half-carried Ronnie into the room and eased him down onto the sofa. Mrs Metcalfe brought up the rear, and sent her husband to bring in freshly-made tea.
“I’ll go and get my stuff together,” Blue said. “Shall I pack yours as well, Paul?”
“Thanks,” Scarlet replied with a nod, and rolled his eyes at Blue as his mother approached with the light of determination in her eyes. He felt sure that he was going to get first aid, whether he needed it or not.
Blue gave a casual salute and disappeared up the stairs two at a time.
General Metcalfe’s approach was heralded by the reassuring jingle of tea cups on the tray he was carrying, and Paul was looking forward to a cup of tea. He looked up with a smile as his father entered, and saw, walking closely behind him, the menacing figure of Captain Black.
The bloodstains from the police bullets was visible across his white shirt, and he looked ghostly pale, but there was no other sign of his recent trauma, or of any weakness in him.
“Mum, get over here,” Paul called, beckoning Mary away from the sofa, where she was helping Ronnie wake up.
“Do not move,” Black countermanded, and pointed the gun he was carrying over the general’s shoulder in the direction of his wife and son.
Mary gave a stifled scream and Ronnie, twisting to see what was happening, got unsteadily to his feet and edged slightly in front of her, providing her with some cover.
“You were told not to move,” Black snarled. He looked over at Captain Scarlet and warned him, “Move one muscle, Scarlet, and I will shoot the general.” His eyes scanned the room. “Where is Captain Blue?”
Before anyone else could answer, Scarlet replied, “He went to the nearest airfield to get a helijet.”
“You are lying,” Black said.
Scarlet shrugged. “If you think that, you’d better leave us here and go and look for him, hadn’t you?”
Black shoved General Metcalfe further into the room and closed the door behind them, turning the key in the old-fashioned iron lock.
“How did you get here?” Ronnie asked, “I saw those policemen shoot you; they shot you dead!”
“The Mysterons have powers you can not hope to understand, Earthman. If you do not believe me, ask Captain Scarlet. He would tell you that, for a human who has known the power of the Mysterons, death is never final.”
Scarlet felt everyone’s eyes turn to him and reluctantly he explained, “The Mysterons have a power called retrometabolism; they can recreate a person or object and reuse them for their own ends.” He directed their gaze back onto Captain Black.
“How?” Ronnie asked.
“I have no idea,” Scarlet said sharply, and glanced at his brother, hoping that Ronnie would stop his questions. To his horror, the next question came from his mother.
“Recreate?” Mary said. “That suggests they must have to destroy the object - or the person - first, doesn’t it?”
Scarlet drew a deep breath to try and deflect that question, but before he could speak, General Metcalfe broke in quickly.
“I’m going to drop this tray if I stand here holding it any longer, Black – or whatever your name is.”
“Stay where you are, Old Man. Scarlet, this time you will not escape the wrath of the Mysterons. You have disrupted our plans for the very last time.”
“I’ve heard that threat before, Black. Look, this is between you and me; let the others go,” Scarlet demanded.
“The Mysterons do not make deals, Scarlet. Everyone here will die. Did you think that they would be able to save you? Even if Captain Blue is in the vicinity, he will be too late.”
“I’ve always known that one day I must die, Black. But I won’t do it sitting down.” Scarlet got to his feet; at least standing, he stood some chance of turning the tables on his enemy.
Black aimed the gun and they heard the ‘click’ of the trigger.
“Paul!” his mother screamed, and darted towards him.
At that moment, General Metcalfe deliberately dropped the tea tray and threw himself backwards against Captain Black. The pair of them fell to the ground, but Black was far more agile, he threw the older man away from him and was back on his feet, pointing the gun at the general before Scarlet could take advantage of the situation.
“That was a mistake, General.”
Scarlet shouted defiance and moved forward, prepared to risk his life to save his father, but before he reached Black, or the Mysteron could pull the trigger, Ronald, who was much closer, leapt to his father’s defence and cannoned into their captor, his arms flailing. Black staggered back slightly, but sidestepped the attack easily enough. He took his aim and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore into Ronnie’s chest at close range and he dropped like a stone beside his father.
General Metcalfe shuffled across and cradled his son in his arms, vainly trying to staunch the blood pumping from the wound. He glanced up at Scarlet and then to his wife, seeking their help. It was obvious from the look on his face that Ronnie didn’t stand much of a chance for survival – and none at all without expert help.
Scarlet knew that Blue would have heard the shot and would be looking for a way to rescue them, he knew the helijet was on its way and there were emergency medical facilities on board. They could even fly Ronnie to a hospital – if they could get past Captain Black.
He shifted his weight slightly to improve his balance and prepared to make his move, but he had reckoned without his mother.
Frightened and angry, Mary Metcalfe saw the look of utter helplessness on her husband’s face and instinctively hurried to help him.
Captain Black moved to intercept her.
“I don’t care about your so-called ‘Mysteron powers’,” she berated him, “you’ve shot that boy and he needs help.”
“Stand aside, Earthwoman. You will all die.”
“Oh, get out of my way!” When Black grabbed her arm, Mary’s hand swung up and she struck him hard across the cheek with the flat of her hand. “Don’t you dare touch me!” she raged.
As Black brought the gun to bear on his struggling captive, Paul raced across the room. Mary was shrieking and thrashing about trying to fight her way out of the iron grip that held her. Her fist caught Scarlet a glancing blow and, slightly dazed, he couldn’t adequately avoid the shot Black fired at him. He was hit in the neck, and rich, red life-blood spurted out from the wound in gushes, as his heartbeat raced.
“Paul!” Mary screamed, as her son, his blue eyes glazing over, sank to his knees and slowly keeled over at his adversary’s feet. “Damn you! Damn you! Let me go!” she screamed, fighting against Black with a frenzied determination.
The door to the room burst open and Captain Blue, backed by Captain Grey, sprang into the room. Both officers took barely a second to aim and fired almost simultaneously at Captain Black.
In the blink of an eye, Mary slipped to the floor, thrown off-balance as the grip on her arm relaxed, and the figure of Captain Black evaporated before her eyes. The bullets flew through empty space and buried themselves harmlessly in the wall beside the fireplace.
Captain Blue swore.
Captain Grey turned and shouted the Spectrum paramedics forward, while Blue strode to Mrs Metcalfe and helped her to her feet. He enfolded her in his arms and stood at such an angle that her view of her son’s bloodied corpse was blocked. She was sobbing hysterically and, in her distraction, started to punch her fists against his chest, wailing:
“He’s dead! He’s dead! My baby… my Paul! He shot him dead!”
Blue, lost for words, said nothing.
The Spectrum paramedics ran in and, on Grey’s orders, worked on Ronnie first, before wheeling him out on their gurney to the helijet. Grey helped the general to his feet and said:
“You’d better come with us to Cloudbase, sir. This is going to take some sorting out.”
General Metcalfe nodded and, glancing down at his son’s dead body as he passed by, went to Captain Blue and took his wife from the young man’s arms.
Mary clung to her husband, helpless with grief.
“Come on, old girl. This won’t help. Let’s get aboard the helijet.”
Blinded by her tears, she allowed him to lead her out of the house, across the hard, frosty lawn to the neighbouring field, where a Spectrum helijet, specially adapted for use in cases of injury to Captain Scarlet, stood with its blades turning slowly.
Blue stooped to lift Scarlet from the floor and followed them out with his friend’s dead body cradled in his arms.
Grey volunteered to stay behind to secure the building until the ground forces could reach the place and take over. He moved back to the doorway and watched as Blue piloted the helijet into the night sky and it swerved away in the direction of Cloudbase, disappearing quickly as its pilot expertly forced every ounce of speed out of it.
Doctor Fawn and his team of experienced medical staff did what they could. The operation lasted several hours and the patient ‘died’ on the operating table several times, before he was finally wheeled into an intensive care ward, and the exhausted Doctor cleaned himself up and went to his office to report to Colonel White.
“Doctor, how did it go?” the colonel asked, although the expression on his friend’s face was not a hopeful one.
“He’s alive – just – and we’ll do all we can to keep him that way. He’s not out of the woods yet, by a long chalk.”
“Have you spoken to the Metcalfes?”
“Not yet.” Fawn glanced at some paperwork on his desk. “I see they’re being treated for shock, and some mild abrasions and bruises, but the biggest problems won’t be physical ones, Charles. I can tell them that Ronnie survived the operation, at least. Beyond that, I think it is more the chaplain’s territory than mine.”
“I appreciate that. Would it help if I came down and spoke to them?”
Fawn gave a weak smile. “It might – let’s just say, I’d certainly appreciate that.”
The colonel returned the smile. “I’m on my way.”
Duty done, Fawn helped himself to some hot coffee. He needed to refocus and regain some stamina before he faced the next hurdle. After swigging down several mouthfuls, he strolled across the medical bay, to the side room used exclusively by Captain Scarlet, and peered through the observation panel. The captain was still hooked up to various monitors and his eyes were closed.
In the armchair provided for his use, Captain Blue was sitting, nursing a mug in his hands. He’d changed the blood-stained uniform tunic he’d been wearing when he’d brought Scarlet back to Cloudbase, but he was still in uniform. With a knowing smile, Fawn flicked the audio button. As he’d expected, Blue was keeping up a quiet monologue:
“…they wanted to come straight back when I told them; but there’s not much they could do here. Doctor Tan said that right now, your parents need some peace and quiet, and the girls wouldn’t get to see them anyway. So, I told them to stay put. There’s no guarantee that they’ll listen to me, of course. Grey says the ground squad have locked your house up safely. There’s a guard detail patrolling the grounds, in case … oh, I don’t know ’why’ really – just ‘in case’.”
He paused and glanced at his friend, but there was no reaction – no change – so he continued:
“Grey got back about twenty minutes ago. He’s brought our stuff back with him, by the way. It was lucky the helijet arrived when it did. I was coming downstairs after the first gunshot when I saw them land. I radioed for them to get over as quick as they could. I thought we stood a better chance if we acted together. I was surprised to hear Brad’s voice, I can tell you - although it seems the Mysteron threat had been something about ‘destroying the ties that bind Spectrum’s agents’ and they took that to mean family ties, or the ties of friendship. Although, when he popped in just now, Magenta did say that that Ochre made some wise-crack about bondage games. You can just imagine it, can’t you?”
Fawn chuckled, and saw that Blue was waiting to see if Scarlet was reacting to the comment too. He knew that Blue suspected that sometimes his friend kept quiet, even when he was conscious, just to hear what his partner would come up with next, but this time there was nothing to indicate Scarlet was awake.
Blue continued, “Anyway, that’s why Colonel White sent Grey down with the helijet, just in case you and I had started punching the crap out of each other, I guess... I know that first shot was Ronnie, of course, your father told me all about it on our way here, but at the time, we had no idea what we’d see when we kicked the door open. I hope your parents won’t be too cross about the broken lock.”
He squirmed in his seat, staring in the general direction of the operating theatre. “I wonder how Ronnie’s doing. Fawn’s operating on him, did I mention that?”
Smiling, Fawn switched off the audio and pushed the door open.
“Oh, hi, Doc,” Blue said. “Were your ears burning? I was just talking about you.”
“Hello. So I overheard.” He put his coffee down and walked to the bed, checking the monitors. “For your information, Ronnie’s out of the operating theatre and in intensive care. It’ll be touch and go, but, it seems these Metcalfes are made of stern stuff, even if they’re not all capable of retrometabolising.” He finished his checks. “He’s improving. Taking his time, that’s true, but improving. The wound in his neck’s almost healed completely. Blood pressure’s fine.”
He turned to look at Blue, noticing that even this good news had not lifted the gloom from the American’s face.
“You think there’s a reason why he’s taking his time?” he asked. He picked up his coffee mug and sipped thoughtfully as Blue shrugged.
“Just seems to me that for all these years, Paul’s gone to great lengths to keep his retrometabolism from his mother and now – she witnesses not just a wound, but a fatal one.” Blue gave a rueful grimace. “It’s time for Paul to admit the truth and he won’t be looking forward to that…”
Fawn’s eyebrows rose and he stroked his unshaven chin. “Yeah, there is that.” He glanced at Scarlet. “But, for what it’s worth, my bet is that she’ll be so pleased to see him alive and well, that she’ll forgive him – eventually. Still, I have no intention of letting her see him until he’s awake, and ready for the encounter.”
Blue grinned. “Hear that, Paul? Fawn’s gonna protect you…” He chuckled. “I sure hope it’ll be that simple, Doc.”
Fawn smiled and replied, “I’m sure it will, Blue, although there may well be some bumpy times ahead before they reach that equilibrium. Still, who was it said, ‘Motherhood: all love begins and ends there’?”
“Errm… Robert Browning, I think.”
Fawn’s smile grew to a grin and he shook his head. “It was meant to be a rhetorical question, Adam, but thanks for the info…”
Fawn was back in his office by the time Colonel White arrived in the Medical Bay. He listened as the doctor updated him about Scarlet’s recovery and the progress of his other patients.
“I’m sure you’ll do everything possible to help Ronald pull through. We’ll consider what needs to be done about de-briefing him, if and when it becomes necessary. It may be that we can find some ground-based opening that will keep him in Spectrum and covered by our own confidentiality restrictions.”
“He won’t be working for a long time, Charles. The bullet damaged his heart and one lung,” Fawn explained.
The colonel nodded. “We have to handle the whole affair carefully, Edward. Captain Scarlet is the single most important agent we have; I don’t want him de-motivated or depressed because he feels rejected by his family.” White glanced at his colleague. “Quite apart from the fact that I like the chap, and I know how hard he finds living with this ‘gift’ of his sometimes.”
“I know. Of course, General Metcalfe has known about the retrometabolism for some time, but, as they’ve both been mildly sedated so that they can rest, I doubt he’ll have explained it to his wife. Last time Mrs Metcalfe encountered evidence of one of her son’s ‘amazing recoveries’ she told me some cock-and-bull story the general had cobbled together about an ‘alien virus’. ”
White looked thoughtful. “Do we tell her the complete truth this time, or just enough?”
“The whole shebang,” Fawn said firmly, “or we could end up with a similar situation again. Let’s put an end to the secrecy and get it all over and done with.”
“Easy for you to say-”
“Not really,” Fawn protested. “I do understand what Scarlet’s worried about, as much as you do. I just think it’s about time he bit the bullet and told his mother. It’d be for the best in the long run.” He could see the colonel had some reservations about that and he added, “Captain Blue agrees with me, by the way.”
Before the colonel could respond, the intercom buzzed and when Fawn answered it, Captain Blue’s voice said: “Scarlet’s awake, Doc.”
“We’re coming over – the colonel and me.”
Captain Scarlet drank the water Blue gave him thirstily, but his mind was pre-occupied with the fall-out from recent events, and he listened attentively as Blue reassured him that his parents were safe and told him that Ronnie was in intensive care aboard Cloudbase. Before he alerted Fawn to his patient’s recovery, Blue was filling in the remaining details which, it seemed to Scarlet, were not exactly unknown to him already.
“Your parents are resting,” Blue concluded. “And I guess you can see them any time you’re ready. Fawn isn’t likely to stop you.”
“And I’m not likely to volunteer for some time,” Scarlet mumbled.
“Hey, they’re still your parents, Paul. Your dad got used to things, what makes you think your mom won’t?”
“Years of lying my socks off, for a start.”
Blue sat on the edge of the bed. “Your mother is a sensible, reasonable woman. She loves you-”
“Adam…” Scarlet squirmed.
“It’s true. I saw her when she thought you were dead.” Blue looked away. “We don’t consider what we put our loved ones through nearly often enough.”
“No, because if we did, we’d never do what we have to, Blue-boy.”
Blue nodded. “I guess. Anyway, she might slap you round the head for not being honest with her – God knows, I can understand that urge at times - but I can’t imagine for one second that she won’t thank the Lord you’re alive.”
“She might, if I was still her son – still the Paul Metcalfe she gave birth to. Have you forgotten that man’s dead and buried?”
Blue stood up and stared down angrily at his friend. “When will you get it through your dense skull, that YOU ARE Paul Metcalfe? Whatever made that man the man he was makes you the man you are! I don’t care if every time you recover you regenerate into an entirely new body, if there isn’t a single cell in you that was in him - you are Paul Metcalfe! Call it a soul, if you like, call it sheer dumb-ass obduracy, but there’s not a hair’s-breadth of difference between you. End of story.”
“Don’t hesitate to give me your opinion, will you, Adam?”
“You make me so mad…”
Scarlet smiled. “Wouldn’t have it any other way, Bro.”
Blue gave an exasperated snort and informed Doctor Fawn that his patient was awake.
There was a short pause before the door opened and Colonel White and Doctor Fawn came in.
“Am I glad to see you,” Scarlet muttered, as Fawn came and started checking him over. “Blue’s idea of a bedside manner lacks a great deal.”
Colonel White was standing at the end of the bed and he addressed both men. “Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue, I understand you have been briefed on the latest Mysteron threat? Luckily, we’d concluded that ‘the ties’ the Mysterons referred to were family ties, and, as Scarlet was the only agent currently at home – with the exception of Rhapsody Angel, and Captain Ochre reports that everything is all right there – we’d decided to send a team to Winchester before we got Blue’s message.”
“Yes, it was lucky, Colonel. I’m only sorry we failed to catch Captain Black,” Blue responded.
“It seems that whenever he is in danger of being apprehended, the Mysterons will ensure he is transported away. I look forward to reading your full reports, gentlemen, there might be some new information we can gleam to help us in our continuing fight.”
“S.I.G.,” both men chorused, although Scarlet was pulling a rueful face.
“In the meantime, our more immediate problem is debriefing your parents, Captain Scarlet, and your half-brother, when he recovers.”
“If he recovers,” Fawn amended. “I won’t lie to you, Scarlet, the chances are slim, but we are doing everything we can.”
“Thank you, Doc. I’m sure if you can’t save him, there’s no-one on earth who could,” Scarlet replied, smiling at Doctor Fawn. However much he complained at Fawn’s insistence on repeating tests and taking samples, he knew that the doctor had his best interests, and those of every member of Spectrum, at heart. “Ronnie saved my father’s life down there, and mine too, in the pub.”
“Captain Scarlet, would you like me to speak to your parents about your… situation?” Colonel White asked.
Scarlet gazed at his hands for some time. He thought over Blue’s impassioned argument and although he dreaded having to do it, he knew he owed his mother an explanation.
He looked up.
“No, thank you, sir. When she’s ready to talk to me, I’d like to see my mother. Just her. My father’s known about this for some time, but … I owe her the truth.”
“Very well. I will leave it to Doctor Fawn as to when he thinks it a suitable time.” With a cordial nod to his two senior agents, the colonel left the room.
“I’ll be around, Paul. If you need me,” Blue said, and turned to go as well.
“Thanks, Adam. I just might.”
“I’ll order you a meal. Your parents are having something to eat right now, and I think,” Fawn proposed, “that once you’ve digested your food, that would be the best time for you to see your mother.”
“I’m not hungry,” Scarlet said.
“Captain,” Fawn began to protest. It was unheard-of for Scarlet to reject food or water during and immediately after undergoing a bout of retrometabolism. It was if his body needed to refuel.
“I am not hungry,” Scarlet insisted, giving the doctor a belligerent glance.
“Very well. You know best. I’ll send your mother through once she’s finished her breakfast.”
Mary Metcalfe approached the door to her son’s room with trepidation. She couldn’t believe that what Fawn had told her was true: her son was alive and well, and able to speak to her. She knocked gently and pushed the door open.
Paul was sitting up in bed. The monitors and electrodes had been removed and the bruising on his neck was the only sign of his recent trauma.
“Hello, Mum,” he said sombrely, as Mary walked in.
She looked around the room, her hands clasped to her chest in an effort to stop them trembling. Her eyes alighted on the coloured banner fixed on the ceiling over the bed, and with some difficulty she made out the words: welcome back. Finally, she turned her troubled gaze on the man in the bed. She studied the dark hair, the sapphire-blue eyes beneath the straight brows, the short nose and the sensual curve of his mouth above the unmistakable cleft chin, which gave his face its rugged masculinity. It certainly looked like Paul.
She approached warily. “Who are you?”
“I’m Captain Scarlet.”
“And who is Captain Scarlet?”
Paul’s gaze dropped away and he sucked in his bottom lip in the way he always had ever since childhood, whenever he was faced with a difficult or emotional problem.
“I was Paul Metcalfe,” he said so quietly she could hardly hear him.
“You were Paul Metcalfe? Then who the hell do you imagine you are now? I think you’d better explain yourself, my boy.”
She drew her skirt around her legs and sat herself in Adam’s armchair, her elbows resting on the arms and her chin on her hands as she prepared to hear him out.
Her steady gaze never left his face as he began:
“Well, it all started in 2068, when a Spectrum-led expedition went to Mars…”
General Metcalfe was pacing the floor of Doctor Fawn’s office. He stopped every so often to gaze across the medical bay at the room his wife had entered, listening for any sound, watching for any indication of what was going on behind the closed door.
“Cup of tea, General?” Fawn asked, as his guest stopped his pacing once more.
“Thank you, yes. Yes, I would like one. How long have they been in there now?”
Fawn glanced at his clock. “About twenty minutes.”
“It seems much longer. Is she going to be all right, Doctor?”
“Mrs Metcalfe? Oh, I think so. You’ve both had a pretty rough time, but apart from the bruises, and I expect, some stiffness, which is only to be expected, you’ve both come through it with flying colours.”
“I meant…” General Metcalfe started to interrupt, but then stopped and started pacing once more.
Fawn waited a moment and then continued, “She’ll be fine, given a little time, and once the shock has worn off. I only wish I could be more positive about your son’s condition.”
“But you said Paul was all right!”
“I meant Ronald, General.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Charles Metcalfe ran a hand over his pale face and shook his head. “I don’t know which one to worry about more, Doctor,” he confessed. “I know Ronnie’s still in danger, but there’s nothing positive I can do to help him.”
“You can go and see him, General, any time you like. You know, Captain Blue spends as much time as he can at Scarlet’s bedside while his friend is recovering. He keeps up a one-sided conversation – heck, I’ve even seen him reading some damn-fool book or other to him. They have a kind of superstition that it helps – like it can do with coma victims. You could try talking to Ronnie. It wouldn’t do any harm, anyway.”
General Metcalfe looked at him hopefully. “I could, couldn’t I? We were just getting to know each other, so it might help, mightn’t it? I’d like to do that, Doctor – and I will – as soon as Mary comes out of there. I can’t help worrying about her, you see? That boy, in there, is her life. Her love for me is nothing compared to her love for Paul. You don’t know what this might do to her.”
“Neither do you, General. Your wife has a right to know the truth, don’t you agree? The alternative is for her to remain in ignorance of Captain Scarlet’s …condition, and for neither of you to ever see him again. Is that worth the price, General? Speaking as Scarlet’s doctor, I’d say that would be the worst possible outcome for him. There is a risk that his mother won’t be able to accept him for what he is, but if there is even the slightest chance that she can – in time – come to terms with it, we have to take it.”
The general nodded, and Fawn realised with some pity that this man, on the verge of retirement, tired and confused, was being pulled both ways by his emotions.
“I know, I know…I just wish…” He gazed across the medical bay, watching anxiously as an Intensive Care Nurse went into the post-operative ward where Ronald lay fighting for his life. He turned away and stared at the closed door where his wife and younger son were, in a strangely similar way, fighting for their lives – or at least for the continuation of the lives they’d always led.
“How did you feel when you learnt of your son’s condition?” Fawn asked quietly.
He knew the general had initially rejected his son, when he’d discovered what had happened, soon after Scarlet’s Mysteronisation. That had caused both men much heartache. Scarlet, his emotions still raw and his self-confidence in shreds, had retreated into a shell, refusing to face up to the problem. In the end, it had taken a visit to Winchester from Captain Blue – in the face of stiff-necked resistance from both parties - to get the two of them talking again. It had been a difficult time for all concerned.
“It was hard to accept. I didn’t handle it well,” Charles Metcalfe admitted, “and that’s why I never wanted Mary to find out.” He turned and looked for reassurance from Doctor Fawn.
“Give them time,” Fawn said calmly. “If your wife’s affection for her son is as important to her as you say it is, there has to be hope.”
“I pray that you’re right, Doctor.”
So do I, Fawn said to himself, and went to order some tea.
Captain Blue wandered back to sick bay, anxious for news.
“There’s nothing I can tell you,” General Metcalfe said. “They’ve been in there for over an hour.”
“No, Colonel. No news yet,” Fawn replied, in answer to his commanding officer’s question over the communication link. “It’s been roughly two and a half hours… I think that’s a good sign, don’t you?”
Three heads looked up in anxious alarm as the door of Scarlet’s recovery room opened, and Captain Scarlet, fully dressed, emerged from his room. Mary Metcalfe came out after him and glanced at the three, surprisingly guilty-looking men with some amusement.
“Did we keep you waiting? I’m so sorry.” She slipped her hand through her son’s arm and added, “Paul’s been telling me all the things he’s been up to since his… Mysteronisation. Did I say that right? I shall have to get used to all these strange words.”
“Mary!” the general cried, getting to his feet. “You understand what happened, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. What I have trouble understanding is why you thought it necessary to keep the truth from me, Charles. I asked Paul the same thing, and he, very cleverly, threw that one back at me, and asked the same question about Ronnie. The outcome is that we’ve agreed our mutual sins of omission were done from the best possible motives. We’ve also promised that we won’t keep secrets from each other any more.”
Scarlet smiled at his father and winked at Blue. “My mother is a remarkable woman,” he said.
“Have you only just realised that? After more than thirty-five years?” Charles Metcalfe said, his voice dripping with relief. “Maybe you’re not as bright as I gave you credit for being, Paul…”
His son laughed, and hugged his smiling mother.
“Do you want to come with us, Charles? Paul’s taking me to lunch in the Officers’ Restaurant; it seems he hasn’t been given anything to eat since he got back here, and his ribs are sticking to his backbone – or so he says. I have a feeling that is a slight exaggeration, but you know how these boys can eat…”
“Yes. Yes, I’d like to come.” He glanced at Fawn. “I can see Ronnie after that, can’t I?”
“Of course, for as long as you like, sir.”
The general explained his intention of sitting with his son for a while, and Mary readily volunteered to sit with him, if he wanted her to. “Maybe you could drop by, Paul?” she asked her son, and Scarlet nodded.
“As long as I’m still off-duty, Mum.”
“Well, if you are off-duty – or when you are and if we’re still here - perhaps you could show us round a little, Paul? If Colonel White has no objection, of course,” she said, holding out her hand to her husband. “It’d be nice to revisit the Promenade Deck. The last time I was here they had some beautiful hibiscus and roses. I didn’t have time then, but I wonder who we have to ask for some cuttings.”
Scarlet laughed. “You’re making this sound like a holiday, Mum,” he teased. “But I’m sure we can manage a few cuttings for you to take back.” He glanced at his partner. “You coming, Blue-boy? Looks like lunch is on me.”
Blue nodded. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world, it’s not often you say that, Paul,” he teased.
They bade farewell to the cheerfully smiling Doctor Fawn, and made their way towards the restaurant.
“I’m glad it’s all been sorted out between Paul and you,” Blue said to Mrs Metcalfe, as they rode the escalator towards Cloudbase’s command centre. “It’s been preying on his mind for so long, ma’am.”
“I don’t blame you for not telling me, Adam-dear, Paul’s told me he swore you to secrecy, but you - and Charles - were there when I told you before that ‘he is my son, and I will always love him, whatever happens to him’. I meant it then, when – from the kindest of intentions – you all tried to keep me in ignorance of the truth, and I mean it now. Captain Scarlet is my son, and nothing – on this earth or beyond it - is ever going to change that.”
“Amen to that,” Charles Metcalfe said with profound satisfaction.
“Five,” the women chanted.
“Four,” the men responded.
“One,” the four voices mingled together, all but drowned out by the surrounding crowd.
Across the square the sonorous tone of Big Ben reverberated on the buildings that lined the square on three sides. Fireworks exploded along the embankment of the river and the crowd roared their approval into the crisp, clear night.
Strangers linked arms with each other and the muffled chorus grew into a deep-throated carolling:
“Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And the days of auld lang
“For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.”
A cheer went up as the impromptu sing-song finished and party poppers fired into the air, spewing paper streamers over everyone.
“Happy New Year, darling!” Rhapsody cried and threw her arms around Captain Scarlet.
“Happy New Year, älskling,” Blue said, enfolding Symphony in a passionate embrace.
Some of the crowd was getting rowdy, when Scarlet and Blue escorted their partners across the square, and along Whitehall towards Parliament Square. It was a straight forward walk along Millbank to the Chelsea Embankment and the Simms’ town house in Chelsea, where they’d spent last night and were to spend tonight before their return to Cloudbase tomorrow afternoon, so they agreed not to even bother trying to find a taxi. It was a cloudless night, cold enough for their breath to turn to a steamy vapour as they walked along.
Once past the parliament buildings, the throng of people thinned and the couples walked arm-in-arm down the street.
“Well, it has been a funny old year,” Symphony said, “But we’ve come safely through it and there is a whole new one before us. I hope we’ll be together this time next year!”
“Hear, hear,” said Rhapsody.
Symphony withdrew her arm from her friend’s and the couples split up, with Scarlet and Rhapsody leading the way. As the silence dragged on, Rhapsody glanced up at her fiancé’s face and squeezed his arm. “Okay, Paul?”
“Yes, sure.” He turned to smile at her and caught sight of their companions kissing passionately in the shadow of a convenient doorway. “We’d better get those two home as soon as possible, before they get arrested for public acts of gross indecency.”
Rhapsody laughed. “Oi,” she shouted, “if you two don’t want to spend the night in a police cell, wait till you get to your room!”
Symphony broke away from Blue’s embrace and grinned back. “Race you,” she challenged Rhapsody, dragging Blue by the hand. The British couple watched as the Americans sprinted ahead.
“Let them go,” Scarlet said, as Rhapsody looked up inquisitively at him. It was unlike Paul to resist a challenge, even one made in fun. “They’ll have to wait on the doorstep anyway. You’ve got the only key.”
She giggled, and they started their leisurely stroll once more.
“I think this Christmas has taken more out of you than you like to admit, hasn’t it?” she said sympathetically, resting her head against his strong arm for a moment. “But really, Paul, everything’s going to be okay, isn’t it?”
Scarlet nodded. “I’m so relieved that I don’t have to lie to my mum any more. I hadn’t realised how guarded it was making me; it’s good not to have to pretend with those I love any more. She’s a remarkable woman, Dianne. I mean, she took it all on the chin and surprised us all by her reaction.”
Rhapsody said nothing; she’d suspected Mrs Metcalfe had had some idea of the truth for a long time.
Scarlet continued, “It’s Dad I feel sorry for. He regained his eldest son and lost him again, all in a few days. It’s rather knocked the stuffing out of him, Mum says. I just wish there was something I could have done to prevent this happening.”
“At least he wasn’t Mysteronised, Paul. Think how your parents would have felt if that had happened to Ronnie…” Her voice trailed off as she realised where her sentence was going.
“Like it did to me?” he completed the sentence.
“But it wouldn’t have been like it was with you. You survived – you escaped them. What was it Black said: ‘you’re the most formidable of their opponents’, wasn’t it? I don’t imagine – from what I’ve heard - that Ronnie would ever have earned that accolade.”
“He saved my life, Di, and he tried to save my father’s – our father’s – too. Who knows, if things had been different, maybe he’d have been Colonel Metcalfe and joined Spectrum. Maybe he’d have gone through what happened to me and made a better job of it?”
“You can’t think like that – you mustn’t. Ronnie was a hero in his small way, you’re right, but he couldn’t be Captain Scarlet. You’re unique, Paul, and it’s because of who you were before you were Mysteronised, that you are who you are now.” She grimaced. “I think that makes sense.”
“Yes, it does – well it does to me. Adam said much the same when I was in sick bay.”
“It’s bound to be right then. You know Adam always checks and double checks his facts before committing himself to anything!”
She was relieved to see him smile. The events of this Christmas had been hard for him and he was still worried about the residual effects of what had happened on his parents.
“Yeah, ‘caution’ should be his middle name,” he agreed cheerfully. They walked on in silence for a short while and then Paul said:
“I suppose it seems to everyone that I’m a lucky guy. I mean, my brother was badly injured and I was shot dead; but now we’re about to bury him and I’m walking around London with the most beautiful woman in the world on my arm. Hardly seems fair, does it? ”
“Ronnie had the very best medical care in the world, and the best chance he could ever have had, with Fawn in attendance. They did everything they could. That second operation was just too much for him, but they had to try, Paul.”
“Hmmm,” Scarlet said non-committally. “I guess the notion that Fawn can’t always work miracles is a bit of a novelty too.”
“The walking miracle worker around here is you,” she said, stopping so that he had to, and wrapping her arms around him for a kiss.
“I wish I could have done something to prevent Black shooting Ronnie; then I might have felt like a miracle worker.”
“You did what you could, Paul. Your parents know that as surely as I do.”
“You’re going to go to the funeral?” she asked.
He nodded. Rhapsody didn’t know that Ronnie’s body had been shot with an electron rifle before it had been coffined and shipped back to Winchester. Even so, Colonel White was keen for Scarlet to attend the funeral; almost as if he feared something might still go wrong, and Spectrum was taking no chances that a Mysteron reconstruct might suddenly appear and challenge the serenity of the Metcalfe home once more.
He answered her question more fully. “Of course I will; he was my brother, even if I never really got to know him. It’s set for the 7th, and Adam’s said he’ll come with me – Mysterons permitting.”
“Isn’t that the way we do everything?” she asked ruefully. “‘Mysterons permitting’?”
He smiled. “Yes, I guess so, but, Mysterons permitting, I plan to forget all about them tonight and start your new year with a bang, My Lady.”
“Ooh, haven’t had one of them for weeks…” she teased. “Let’s walk a little faster, shall we? I don’t really want to have to climb over the horizontal bodies of Karen and Adam, just to get inside the front door and those two have no self-restraint…”
“Oh, come on! They’re not that bad! Two upright American citizens… I mean, Adam’s next door to a full-bloodied Puritan, and Karen…” He hesitated.
“You were saying?” she asked, with a teasing smile.
“I was saying, maybe you’re right – we’d better speed up!”
Laughing, they sprinted down the final yards to their destination together…
The initial trigger for this story was the clipping- shown here- from an issue of TV21, revealing that Captain Scarlet has a brother, Ronald Metcalfe. Beyond what is revealed in the clipping, I knew nothing about him, but thought it was a reasonable premise for some Fan Fiction.
‘Fanon’ tends to assume that Paul Metcalfe is an only child, and that’s why I decided that Ronald should come as a complete surprise to Captain Scarlet. In order for this story to fit in with my own fictional timeline, Ronald had to disappear from the scene, as well.
I had also been considering a story about how Captain Scarlet’s mother might discover and react to her son’s Mysteronisation for some time, and the idea to merge the two ideas presented itself complete in my imagination on the 22nd December. The race was on to get it written before I forgot it and the first draft was finished on 26th December.
References are made in the story to two of my own earlier stories:
The Mistletoe Bough, one of the first Christmas Challenge stories I wrote, and which is set in the Metcalfe Family’s home.
The Passengers, in which Mary Metcalfe goes to Cloudbase.
It is not essential to have read either story to read this one.
My thanks to Keryn, for bringing the TV21 cutting to my attention, and for the many, varied and fascinating email discussions we’ve had about Captain Scarlet and all things Anderson.
Thanks to Hazel Köhler, for beta-reading the story, and to Connie for some on-the-spot advice about ‘American’ English. I don’t suppose for a minute I’ve got it all right, even so.
The Christian names I have used for Scarlet’s parents – General Charles and Mrs Mary Metcalfe – were originally devised by Mary J Rudy. My use of them in this story, in no way implies that the storyline is endorsed by her, or that my characters, as depicted here, are the same as those she imagined. My thanks are due to Mary for the use of the names.
The relationship between Paul Blake (from ‘The Secret Service’ Supermarionation series) and the Metcalfe family was first proposed by Chris Bishop, and is used with permission. Once again, my use of it in this story does not imply that the events in it are endorsed by her.
The characters from the TV show ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ belong to Carlton International, and were created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in 1967. My use of them in this story is done with great respect, and does not imply they endorse the story either.
(Have I covered everyone now?)
As always, every mistake is mine, and I apologise for it (whatever it is). Something always seems to slip through, despite my best vigilance, and that of my erudite and long-suffering Beta Reader.
A HUGE thank you to Chris Bishop, for the ceaseless delights of her marvellous website, and to the other authors whose works find a home in the Fan Fiction section. I enjoy reading all the varied ideas there are about Captain Scarlet - both versions!
And finally, a thank you to the reader.
I’ll take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year.
27th December 2007.
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