He had no idea how much time had passed while he lay in the tranquil dimness. No words confusing his mind, no voices filtering into his thoughts, to twist and warp his perception. He let his body relax, let his limbs, still quivering with exhaustion, recover. Tiredness crept over him but he was cold now, too cold to sleep and his bed was waiting. He sat up and looked around. What was he doing here, in the dark? This place, this car was unfamiliar and he shivered.
Dr Cooper would be coming and he needed to get out of here and back to the safety of his room and John and Mary might visit later today and take him outside into the sunshine. He climbed out, shivering even more in the chill dampness. It was an effort to get back but eventually he was there, clinging to the doorframe, the safety of his room comforting.
Edgar heard a sound behind, and turned. ‘Lawson? Are you .. ?’
Lawson grabbed Straker’s arm. One chance. The prisoner might be his only means of getting out of here alive. ‘Shut up.’ He dragged Straker away from the door, pulling him back to the vehicle and focusing on getting out of here. The Range Rover was strong enough to break through the outer doors and with Straker as hostage he might stand a chance. There was no hope of saving the others, but that was not his concern now. Escape. Survival. That was his sole priority.
He pushed Straker against the car, leaving him there for a moment while he opened the tailgate. He dragged the holdall out, tugging at the zip and cursing as it jammed. One last jerk and it gave way. Lawson pawed through the emergency supplies: passports, cash, fake documents, spare magazines. The guns were at the bottom and he pulled one out, lifted the holdall, and went forward to open the driver’s door, tossing the bag over onto the rear seat. He took hold of Straker’s arm again. ‘Get in and move over.’ He raised the gun. ‘Do it.’
A distant beam brighten a small area of the huge space, not sufficient to dispel the murky shadows encroaching from the farthest corners, but enough for Keith to see the isolated structure at the other end, pale in the gloom, and in front of it, a car, dark paintwork and chrome gleaming in the soft light. He had no idea how, but he recognized it. Straker’s Audi, and behind it, half-unseen, appearing sinister and forbidding, another, darker, vehicle.
In the distance he could see a man standing in the rectangle of light that spilled out of the bizarre construction, one hand holding the frame of the open door. An unmistakeable figure, tall and blonde. And then Keith saw the other man moving in silence, unheard and unseen, towards the light. Towards Straker.
Ford was moving now, rapid footsteps crossing the wide space, still unheard and unseen in the darker shadows at the edge. He could see Straker and the other man, could see Straker about to get into the car, was close enough by now to be aware of the look of uncertainty on his commander’s face.
He stood still, holding the cobblestone in his right hand, fingers grasping it in the way that he had practised countless times before. It was a rock, not a leather covered baseball, but that didn’t matter. He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining that he was there, on the mound at Wrigley Field surrounded by thousands of fans, not in a dark echoing warehouse. One chance.
‘Commander!’ His shout reverberated through the silence and the blond head spun around; a look of recognition and comprehension flashing across the face and then Straker tore himself free, dropping to the floor as the man who had called to him swung one arm back, raised his knee and poised himself for a split second.
Keith’s left hand was bare but that did not matter; there was no-one else watching. He was not holding a leather-covered ball, just a wave-washed and rounded rock, but that did not matter. All those hours of practice came together in one fluid action as if it had all been for this moment. In his mind he was there, on the mound, throwing the opening ball of the game in front of his home crowd. He could sense the hush, the expectation. A fast pitch, with all his vigour and his skill sending the ball straight and hard, aiming for that one sweet spot. It flew through the air, and hit, not with the crack of leather on ash, but a softer sound as the rock pulverized flesh and bone and brain. And the thousands of invisible spectators, watching Keith Ford, roared their approval in a deafening cheer and a crescendo of noise unheard in the dark warehouse.
There was no other sound. Lawson toppled.
‘Commander!’ The familiar voice all that was necessary to restore normality, to reinstate his self-image for the one split second that saved him. Edgar faded into the background, even as Ed Straker spun around to see the figure standing there, arms raised.…… And he knew exactly what was going to happen.
He tugged away from those fingers gripping his arm, and dropped to the floor. There was a soft and unpleasant thud, and he was aware of his captor falling beside him, then running footsteps.
‘Sir. It’s Ford here. Keith….. Sir?’
‘Sir, we need to get out, back to the team. Do you know who ….?’ Ford halted, unsure, embarrassed. ‘Can you walk?’
‘Keith? What are you doing here?’ Straker pushed himself upright to sit, leaning against the car. He looked around. ‘Are you alone? What about ….’ He stopped himself before the words betrayed him. Dr Cooper. Football. Mary…John. Edgar was there, lurking in the dark places of his mind, waiting to take over.
‘Everyone’s been looking for you. Please, let me get you out of here.’ Ford’s voice held a note of pleading and Straker looked at the body nearby on the floor. Blood on the concrete, not pouring out, just seeping.
He shuffled away, shaking his head, too exhausted to move far. ‘You go. I’ll wait here.’ Wait here. In the dark, next to one of his tormentors, and the room. That room. He shivered, hearing footsteps as Ford left him and walked away. He wrapped his arms around his chest, closing his eyes. The hand on his shoulder startled him and he looked up to see Keith standing there.
‘Lean forward, sir.’
There was a welcome warmth of a blanket draping around his shoulders, and he allowed himself a sigh of relief as Keith, his drinking partner, no – his chief communications officer – slid down beside him.
‘No way, sir. We’ll wait here, together.’
‘Three. Repeat three. Clustered together. Two hundred yards from your position. Searchlight on now.’
Freeman winced as the pilot’s report crackled in his ear. Three? Who was the third? He blinked as the searchlight dispersed the gloom and raindrops, illuminating men running towards that single building outlined by the helicopter’s searching eye. The small entrance door was still open and they assembled there, waiting.
‘Yes. You know, sir. Childhood dreams.’
‘Somehow I had the impression you followed Chelsea, or was that….’ Straker put a hand up to his head as if to rub away the painful memory of Edgar.
‘No. Never got into it. A disappointment to my dad. I had my own dreams and they weren’t scoring winning goals in the FA Cup.’ Ford sighed and leaned back against the door. ‘Wrigley Field.’
‘Standing on the mound? I know that feeling.’
‘You, Commander? I didn’t take you for a baseball fan. Ice hockey maybe.’
‘Fenway was my dream. I was sixteen when I finally gave it up. I could never pitch a curve ball.’ There was a pause. ‘You could have been a pro with an arm like that.’ Was there a touch of envy in the voice?
‘Too late now. But I’m glad I kept it up. Never thought I’d use it – not like that.’
‘Glad you did.’ Straker shivered. ‘Wonder how long they’ll be?’
‘Not much longer. I can go and look if you want?’ Ford started to push himself up.
‘No. Let them find us.’
The answer was abrupt, almost rushed, and Ford leaned back, an imperceptible contact of his shoulder against the other man.
Despite the risks, he had no other option but to order the team to advance. One by one they slipped inside, unseen and unheard, keeping to the shadows, advancing in silence. Alec was in their midst this time. Slow and steady, with infinite patience, alert for the slightest sign of danger and expecting at any moment to hear gunshots as the men attempted to escape, no doubt taking Straker as hostage.
The soft voices were coming from the direction of the vehicles. Lockhart waved his men into position and began creeping nearer, Alec close behind him. They paused.
Alec breathed out and held up one hand. ‘Wait,’ he whispered.
‘You always wanted to play professionally?’
‘As long as I can remember. That or be an astronaut. Daydreams, that was all. I did computers studies and journalism in uni, headed for a job as a teacher, but then I ended up with the BBC. You know what happened after that. What about you, sir?’
‘Cut the ‘sir’ Keith.’ Straker thought for a moment. ‘Teaching? I never considered teaching. But if I had, it would be Astronomy or maybe Physics…’ He closed his eyes, hands clenched, before continuing. ‘I don’t know whether I’d make a good teacher though.’
‘Really sir?’ There was amusement in the voice of the man sitting next to him. ‘I could see you standing at the front of a class, explaining the quark structure of neutrons and protons.’
‘Ten Red, that’s why.’
‘You know. The one group in each year no one could teach? The ones who made life hell for teachers? You must have had a Ten R class in your year at school?’
Ford was silent for a moment. ‘Yes. Upper Fifth G in my year. The dropouts that no one could handle. Made my life hell at times. You’d have made a good teacher. Kids like discipline.’
Straker sighed. ‘I wouldn’t have the patience. Simple as that.’ He sat upright at the sound of footsteps nearby and Keith pushed himself up to stand and lean over Straker.
Alec stepped into view, glancing at the corpse lying a few feet away before shaking his head in exasperation.
‘I wondered where you got to Ford. And, simple as what, Ed?’ The throw away remark, offhand and casual, might have fooled a casual bystander, but Ford nodded once and moved away, leaving the two men alone.
Freeman waited until the other man was a few paces away and talking to the team leader, before bending down, close to Straker. ‘You okay?’
Eyes met. ‘Yes.’ Straker gave a sigh, shoulders sagging with relief. ‘Give me a hand up.’
‘No. Stay there until we’ve finished securing the area.’ Freeman looked at the body nearby. ‘What happened? Did you do this?’ He bent, grimacing as he checked the pulse then straightened up, beckoning to Lockhart. There was a muted discussion, Lockhart casting a quizzical glance at the man propped against the vehicle. Straker kept his eyes lowered. He would let Alec deal with everything for now. He was too tired, too cold. He was aware of Lockhart moving away again, out of sight and Alec coming back to stand beside him.
‘Lawson? No. I didn’t. It was Keith.’ Straker tugged the blanket around his shoulders, shivering. ‘It’s cold here. When can we leave?’ He didn’t look up, didn’t want to see the doubt in Alec’s eyes. How could he prove to them that he was still Straker? That, although he was still confused and bewildered, he knew who he was, what he was. And, more to the point, he had not betrayed them.
‘Jackson’s coming. I want him to have a look at you first. Just to …. ‘
‘We were worried.’
‘Just a few more minutes. Jackson’s dealing with the woman. Shouldn’t take too long.’
‘Bowman. Claire Bowman. Said she’s a doctor. The other man calls himself Cooper. I don’t know his first name.’
‘Get anything out of me? I don’t think so. But I can’t be certain.’ Straker turned his head away, staring at the walls illuminated by the helicopter’s search light. ‘I don’t remember everything.’
‘It’s okay. It’s going to be fine. Don’t worry.’
The silence was uncomfortable. Straker tugged the blanket tighter around his shoulders; his blanket, the one from Edgar Strachan’s room, listening for the quick tapping footsteps of Jackson, for the start of the interrogation, for the doubts and concerns. The quiet discussions. They would probably have him locked away in the secure unit while they worked out whether he was Edgar or not.
He could hear Jackson talking to Ford. Such different voices. He never imagined Ford as a teacher. Or as a baseball player. There was a lot he didn’t know about people. Perhaps he might have time in the future. He twisted his head to look at Alec.
‘Won’t be long now.’ Alec put one hand on the roof of the car. ‘You know they sent us videos…’
‘Ford told me. So you saw what they were doing.’ Straker shuffled uncomfortably, tucking his bare feet under the warmth of the woollen cloth. ‘That’s why Jackson’s here. You need to know who I am. Who I think I am.’
‘Oh God, Ed. That’s not what this is about.’ Alec hunkered down next to Straker. ‘I’m a bloody idiot. I wanted to make sure you’re okay that’s all. You’ve been through hell. And….’ He reached out a hand. ‘Jackson can check you over later. Let’s get you out of here.’ There was a pause. ‘Just one thing though.’
Straker flinched. ‘Yes?’ He lowered his head again, staring at Lawson’s outstretched arm, the fingers clawing at the dusty concrete.
‘Ford got it all wrong you know. You’d make a crap teacher. You’re too much of a perfectionist. Stick with SHADO. The holidays aren’t much but the pay’s better.’
Laughter brightened the gloom and, with Freeman’s strong hands helping him, Ed Straker hauled himself to his feet as Lockhart and the others approached to take him home.
This story has a rather sombre history. I started it while sitting in the dark in a silent room and thinking about how our minds can deceive and betray us. The story was intended to be finished within a couple of weeks, but with one thing and another that did not happen. As for teaching, I actually think Straker would have been a good secondary school teacher., Intelligent, strict and with high expectations, but above all, caring. He would not have suffered fools gladly, but would, at the same time, been infinitely compassionate and patient towards those who strove to learn. I would have loved to see him deal with a class of five year olds though! (Oh my. Plot bunnies abounding now!)
Anyway. Here it is. Driving Force. Special thanks go to dragon who helped with the baseball scene. ( I prefer football – English football- the only sort!)