A Spectrum story by Marion Woods
The streets were so familiar it took hardly any time at all to fall back into the rhythm of walking the well-trodden route. Block after block, he strode along, drinking in the sights and the sounds, the smells and ambience that spelt home. He kept the hat pulled low on his head, the constant drizzle of rain lending credence to his huddled appearance.
It had been a conscious decision to come back – one he had thought long and hard about and of which he knew the colonel did not really approve. ‘Too dangerous’ the old man had muttered, even as he had signed the leave chitty.
Yeah, he thought, it is dangerous, but sometimes - there are times when you have to … go back. He had done all he could to tie things up before he’d … left. He had paid his debts, returned favours owed, bought the drinks for the boys in the bar after work. But however hard you tried, there was always something, somewhere, someone that … suffered – however unintentionally. However much you regretted it.
He’d tried; he really had tried to break it off.
She’d always said he was thoughtless – an unregenerate hedonist – yeah. She had a way with words, a way echoed occasionally by Blue’s rich vocabulary and his weakness for words with more syllables that you could count. The morning after the first night they’d spent together, he’d teased her, saying that the classic post-coital relaxant was a cigarette – but for him it was going to have to be a damn dictionary! She’d blushed – and she always blushed so prettily - and looked away so that he had apologised - and then she’d turned her face to him so that he could see her laughter.
“You are a fraud, Richard Fraser - an out-and-out fraud - ‘post-coital’ indeed…”
“Hey - police work gives you a rich and varied vocabulary – but not of words you can often use in polite conversation. I was just lucky to find an occasion when one phrase was ‘apposite’…” He’d joined in her renewed laughter - she had such a rich, warm laugh that it had made the blood in his veins simmer with desire.
She’d hated it – the police work. She’d tried not to show it, but he knew. She’d tried to cover it by fussing over him when he wandered in at all hours, dirty, hungry and frequently angry at his inability to solve the World’s problems. She’d cooked him perfectly balanced meals, which he’d shovelled down without noticing what they were – or simply been too tired to eat at all.
She’d ensured he had clean clothes, ironed his shirts – even his mother hadn’t done that – and then when it all got too much for him, she’d take him to bed and soothe away the heartaches and the fears with such tender passion that his head reeled remembering it.
Alison Margaret Topping – youngest daughter of an English science professor at MIT –raised in the US and now a teacher of English at a local Chicagoan college – ‘Tops’ to her pupils, Alie to her friends. Topsy to her lover in the privacy of their bed…
As he had risen through the police ranks, spending more and more time behind a desk dealing with the administrators and the lawyers, Alie had escorted him to the polite dinner parties, charmed the wives of the local dignitaries and smoothed his rough edges. She’d also watched him grow more dissatisfied and had tried to convince him that he was doing the right thing by becoming less of a street cop and more of a career police officer. She’d encouraged him to indulge in his life-long passion for flying, hoping he would bury himself in his hobby and lose his hunger for action – for excitement – for a chance to make a difference for the better.
Then, inevitably for such a high-flyer as he had become, there was the possibility of becoming the supreme commander of the WGPC – with the obligatory move to Europe - and he’d seen her willing him to take it. Seen the hunger in her eyes and known that he would hurt her so much when he turned it down.
They had argued – for the only time in their relationship. Alie wanted him to make the best of himself – “you are a fine man, Rick, an honest, dedicated police officer – you can do so much good…”
He had walked out of their house – walked down by the lake, weighing the possibilities of the promotion against the lure of the other job - the one Alie knew nothing of and could never know of - Spectrum.
It was a tremendous risk to take. He was well-known in his profession – a face people recognised from their TV news. To leave that behind and join a band of anonymous colour captains in a force dedicated to eradicating terrorism was chancy. Yet, with every fibre of his being, he’d wanted that chance.
He took some leave towards the end of May – told Alie he had a conference - and flew himself to the rendezvous, where he’d learned all about the fledgling organisation and met the men he would work with. They were a varied and ‘colourful’ group indeed - ranging from a master-criminal to a Boston socialite-turned-WAS security agent. There were military officers from the Space Corps and the WAAF, a submariner from the WASPs and, finally, a retired admiral as their commanding officer.
By the time he was ready to return home, he’d committed to Spectrum and plans were already underway for his ‘disappearance’.
A week or so after he got home, he’d told Alie he wasn’t going to take the WGPC job. He’d expected an argument - or that she would, at least, berate him for his lack of ambition. But she’d just said, “I know… you decided weeks ago, you just couldn’t tell me.”
She’d sat at her desk and listened to him, as he tried to find a way to tell her it was over between them. She just listened, an enigmatic smile on her lips.
Finally, she interrupted him: “Rick, it’s your life – you make your own decisions, you’ve always insisted that was the case. So be it, I’ll accept your decision. You must do what is right for you - trust your instincts; they’re sounder than you believe. Don’t concern yourself about me.” She laid a hand on his arm and studied his frowning face. “Life isn’t always easy, Rick, you of all people should know that. You don’t have to decide anything straight away… I still say you should give it a week or two before you tell them for definite… who knows, something may turn up that changes your mind…”
“Something like what? I can’t imagine anything will, Alie. I don’t want the job – okay?”
He had shaken off her hand, turned away, speechless with guilt at what he was going to do. He couldn’t warn her – he mustn’t warn her – to do so would endanger her life as well as his own. He had no doubt that it was the right decision to join Spectrum – he just wished he knew how to make her hate him, so that the final parting, when it came – and it was now imminent – would be less of a wrench. Try as he might, he couldn’t find a way and she’d never know how the guilt of that failure would come to haunt him.
Sighing, Alie said, “Now, please, I have essays to mark – go watch the football game... or something.”
The days sped by so quickly – too quickly… then, on June 19th 2066, at 6:00pm precisely, he’d walked from his office in the World Government Police building and stopped on the steps, fumbling for a key to his car.
A single shot rang out, echoing around the tall skyscrapers until it was impossible to tell where it came from - or even how many shots were fired - and he fell. It had hurt far more than he’d expected and he swiftly lost consciousness.
Spectrum Agents, their presence all part of the carefully plotted incident, rushed on to the scene to sweep him up into a nearby ambulance and the news went out over the airwaves – Assistant World Police Commissioner Richard Fraser, the man responsible for busting apart organised crime in Chicago, has been assassinated.
Captain Ochre alias Richard Fraser (deceased) – had been born.
There had been no other option but to sever all ties. His family – such as it was – his friends and Alison. He shed every trace of his past, as thoroughly as he shaved off his distinctive beard and allowed the barber to cut his hair into a more military style. He felt disconcertingly naked – and cold – without the beard and the weight of his hair on the back of his neck. They’d even thought to make him use a sun-bed to even the tan on his face… He adapted to it quickly, less startled at seeing the stranger in his mirror every morning and resigned to the tyranny of a daily shave.
Bizarrely, he’d watched his funeral on the local news, seen the same local dignitaries and his colleagues paying tribute to a man they had admired, liked and thought they knew well. They’d have been surprised to discover that they’d hardly known him at all.
At his side in the Officers’ Lounge on Cloudbase were the men he was having to come to terms with as his ‘new family’ – with all their strengths and weaknesses, their quirks and foibles. No-one knew quite how to react to what they were seeing – even him. Captains Black and Magenta stood across the room, watching the broadcast with expressionless faces, fearing to get too closely involved and yet, perversely, wanting to be involved. Captains Scarlet and Grey sat either side of him, providing strangely impersonal comfort by their presence while Captain Blue – the ‘sensitive’ one amongst them - stood behind the sofa, a hand resting lightly on his shoulder in a comforting gesture of unspoken support. Blue could not have failed to notice how his colleague tensed as a young woman, swaddled in a heavy black coat and wearing a wide-brimmed hat that hid her face, stepped forward and laid a wreath, before melting back into the crowd.
It was Blue he feared the most in those early days, feared that he might divine what Richard Fraser had done, and disapprove. Blue could be a harsh judge of human frailty, having no pity for himself - or any other man - who transgressed the boundaries of his idiosyncratic definition of chivalrous behaviour. So it was Blue he used to tease the most and provoke into keeping his distance.
But the change from Richard Fraser to Captain Ochre had been hard. He had missed her so much that he had buried his loneliness under a cloak of light-hearted buffoonery and the emptiness in his heart with a roving eye for the ladies on the base. Over the months, he perfected the character, until he wore it like a second skin – his second nature. He was the genial Captain Ochre, the ladies’ man among the officers - always ready with a smile, a wink, a quip…always the clown – always the joker.
It was a damn good performance – pity no-one realised it.
The days sped by, bringing momentous changes in Spectrum’s purpose due to a series of events that transformed the lives of every one of his new colleagues. The Mysterons became their ruthless enemies, exercising powers that were beyond belief in a variety of ways that continuously threw new challenges at the small elite unit of Spectrum’s defence force. A unit of five officers who implicitly trusted each others’ integrity, courage and dedication; a unit that functioned as one. It was in this furnace of war that Richard Fraser was finally forged into Captain Ochre, too preoccupied with world events to even remember the cop from Chicago – a man who, to all intents and purposes, was dead.
Then, only last week he had seen in the local newspaper – the one remnant of his past that he could not wean himself from – a report of a tragedy in which a teacher had been gunned down in a brawl between rival gang leaders at her school. His heart had stopped beating as the name of the victim had leapt from the page – Ms Alison Topping.
So that was why he was here, back in Chicago. To say goodbye, to say sorry, to say I miss you. He‘d sent a wreath of golden chrysanthemums with a card ‘To Topsy – with all my love’ but he had left it unsigned, of course.
From across the cemetery, hidden from the mourners, he watched as the coffin was lowered into the freshly-dug grave. He saw her parents: her mother, dressed entirely in black and leaning on her husband’s arm, weeping. As the small crowd dispersed he saw a woman approach the grave – Alie’s favourite sister, Eleanor - with a small child, a little boy, of no more than three or four years old. He was a robust child with wavy, dark-brown hair and bright brown eyes, which no sorrow could completely dim. He had a sweet, roguish face – a face designed to laugh at life.
She helped him drop a tiny wreath of white roses into the grave and then gently led him away. They passed close by the anonymous stranger and he heard the child asking with some urgency:
“I am coming to live with you forever now, Aunt Ellie, aren’t I? Now Mommy’s gone to heaven to be with Daddy?”
“Yes, Ricky. Mommy asked me, when you were born, to look after you if anything happened to her. She was worried that since Daddy… went away, there was no-one else she trusted to care for you. I promised her I would. We’ll have some fun together, won’t we, Ricky?”
“Yes, Aunt Ellie… but you won’t go away – will you?”
Eleanor Topping stopped and knelt before the child. “No, Richard, I won’t go away. I promise.”
“Honest injun. You and I will live together for always.”
The child smiled, revealing a dimple in his cheek. “Well, I guess that’s just fine then, Aunt Ellie.” He hugged the woman and said, glancing back at the grave, “Mommy will be happy now she’s gone to be with Daddy – won’t she? I don’t want to leave her here if she’s going to be unhappy, Aunt Ellie.”
Eleanor turned her eyes back towards the graveside. “Oh yes, Ricky – she’ll be happy now.”
He watched them walk out of the cemetery and get into the small sea-green car Eleanor had always driven. The wardens were slowly filling in the grave as he approached, but they stopped and allowed him to look down at the coffin. The brass plate on the lid was just visible and he read Alison Margaret Topping – followed by her dates. Beneath that, it said simply - Beloved mother of Richard Fraser Topping.
“Damn you, Alie – why the hell didn’t you tell me!” he roared into the emptiness.
It was only later that he realised there were tears on his cheeks – the salty, scalding tears of a clown.
Just like Pagliacci did, I try to keep my sadness hid,
Smiling in the public eye,
But in my lonely room I cry
The tears of a clown
When there’s no-one around.
Tears of a Clown (Song credited to W. Robinson/H. Cosby/S. Wonder)
I really don’t know where this story came from. I was hoovering up in the dining room when the Smokey Robinson song – always a personal favourite – came over the stereo, and suddenly this story was there in my mind – almost exactly as I’ve written it down.
I hope no-one minds me wading into Richard Fraser’s past. I have always thought that for a man who’s supposed to be an incorrigible charmer and practical joker, he looks awfully intense and rather stern, but I imagine he can be utterly charming when he wants to be.
My thanks are due to Hazel Köhler for her invaluable services as a beta-reader, to Sue Stanhope – the doyenne of Captain Ochre stories - for a particularly pertinent insight, and to the usual culprits for their generous encouragement and feedback.
I do not own the characters from Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons – they were created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for the TV series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. The copyright © of all trademark materials (Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons, all characters, vehicles, etc.), are owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton. Information about the series has been taken from copyright © materials (books, magazines, videos, T.V. media, comics, etc) owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton.
Thanks, as ever to Chris Bishop for her wonderful website, and to you for reading the story and to William ‘Smokey’ Robinson for one Hell of a good song…