‘TW3 1QL’ Rebecca called to the driver of the big saloon car as she slid into the rear seat beside Sara. Alec Freeman was strapping himself into the front seat even as the car set off, wheels skidding on the loose gravel of the executives’ parking area. The driver punched the postcode into the satnav even as he was pushing the car through its gears, forcing it into a narrow gap between other vehicles on the main road that gave access to Harlington Straker. Horns blared, cars braked, but he was oblivious, concentrating on getting the car up to speed while following instructions that were guiding them to the Shelter and Straker.
There was another vehicle close behind theirs, tight on their tail. Rebecca twisted in her seat to look back at them before turning to Sara with an expression that verged on disbelief. Alec spoke, curt and efficient. ‘Miss Steel, please phone the Shelter again. I want to speak to John Shepherd if possible.’ The driver gave Freeman one puzzled glance before returning his eyes to concentrate on the road, the car speeding now as it overtook slower vehicles with ease.
Rebecca pulled out her phone and speed dialled the Shelter, then waited, frowning ‘No answer,’ she said, looking at the screen, ‘but Barry always …’ A hand came round from the seat in front and took the phone from her.
Alec Freeman looked at it, listened, grimaced. ‘Something’s wrong. Push it Paul. Best possible speed.’ He handed the phone back before resting his hand on the arm rest, his fingers drumming impatiently as the car seemed to surge forward.
Rebecca had no idea what was going on now apart from the fact that something had happened. This was quite outside her purview, and she was confused by the apparent seriousness of the situation. This was not what she had been anticipating today; the planned day out with the guys at the film studios, instead she was in the back of a speeding car, driving back to Hounslow and John Shepherd.
But he wasn’t John Shepherd was he…. he was called Straker, Ed Straker, and Alec Freeman was on a headlong dash to get to the Shelter to meet him. But why the urgency and the car behind them?
‘Mr Freeman,’ she leaned forward, ‘what’s wrong? Is John in danger? You seem desperate to get there as quickly as possible.’
Alec Freeman twisted around to look over his shoulder at the two women. He gave Sara a quick, tight smile before turning to Rebecca. ‘Don’t worry. Paul is one of the best drivers we have. Trust me.’ It was not the answer she had expected, and she knew that the man in the passenger seat was trying to forestall any further questions about John Shepherd. She settled back in her seat, knowing that there was nothing she could do until the car ceased its headlong dash and they arrived at the Shelter.
The driver was silent, as was Alec Freeman, apart from the rhythmical thudding of his fingers on the armrest, not in synchrony with any music, but an indication of his concern. The car rushed on, ignoring speed restrictions, barely slowing down at junctions or roundabouts, the driver at the edge of his limits as she could tell by his intense concentration. Rebecca looked at Sara again, and shrugged her shoulders. They would have to be patient.
Shepherd was sprawled on the floor, fists clenched, eyes screwed shut, aware only of the pounding in his head that made any thought of movement impossible. His mind was a confusion of sounds and recollections that made him dizzy and nauseous. Red and silver and white. A man stepping out of the shadows, others in silver banded red suits that gleamed under muted lights, their faces watching him with implacable hatred or fear. And running. He remembered running, and falling and running again. Anything to get away.
‘Straker.’ The voice filtered through his feverish thoughts, the word slicing into him like the knife last night. No blood though, just more pain. One word. Straker. And John Shepherd clutched his head and screamed once as his brain exploded with agony.
Mason looked down at the man he had been searching for. ‘Straker,’ he said again, his voice loud in the small room as John Shepherd fell silent, ‘get up. Or I will shoot you right where you are, on the floor.’
An empty threat and Mason knew it. The necessity of having to kill the man in the reception area had forced Mason to change his plans for Straker; instead of taking the commander away he would kill him in the same place and make it look as if Straker had shot the receptionist before committing suicide. It would be a neat solution, eliminating Straker and also discrediting him at the same time. And SHADO would be thoroughly embarrassed. It might be sufficient to appease the aliens.
He scowled with annoyance, before slipping his gun back into its holster and reaching down to grab Straker roughly by the shoulders and haul him up to sit leaning against the wall before slapping him across the face. ‘Get up, I said, or I’ll……’ What would he do, he thought with grim cynicism. It was clear that Straker was still either suffering from amnesia or else was too terrified to obey. He had to get him out of here… back to the entrance, and time was running out. Freeman might arrive in the next few minutes.
Bending down he grabbed a double handful of Straker’s t-shirt, dragging the man to his feet and propping him against the wall while he pulled his pistol out once more, and with callous indifference rammed the muzzle into his prisoner’s jaw under his ear.
‘Now move.’ Mason ordered, his left arm across Straker’s back, his hand gripping tight on the man’s shoulder. He guided him out of the room, forcing him forward by the gun pushed hard up into the soft tissues of his neck, and his own body close against that of his prisoner. There was no resistance; Shepherd, still dazed and confused by the pain and terror that had surged through him, staggered along the corridor towards the common room, his steps faltering and hesitant as if moving in total blackness, his left arm across his body pressing his hand against his ribs, his other hand reaching out to the wall for support.
They reached the door into the common room, and Mason leaned past Straker to push the heavy fire door open with his left hand, the other still pushing the gun up into his neck. Mason could see the pulse in Straker’s throat, a fast throbbing beat, under the rough bristles of his unshaven skin.
Shepherd stepped unseeing into the common room, oblivious to his surroundings. Dark shadows patched the floor in random shapes, and the scattered sofas and easy chairs added to the gloom. Mason pushed Straker across the room, heedless now of any noise that they might make. Nearly there, and all Mason had to do now was kill him and make it look like suicide.
‘Keep moving, Commander.’ Mason growled. There was a note of contempt in his voice and with clenched knuckles he prodded Straker between his shoulder blades. Shepherd jerked and took another pace forward, his breath rasping in the silence, his head tilted backwards under the pressure of the gun still pushing into the underside of his jaw, one more step, and another, and yet another across the room, weaving an unsteady path between the random furniture.
The reception area was there, ahead, and Mason shoved harder in a desperate attempt to get the man moving. It was a mistake. Shepherd stumbled then tripped, before falling onto one of the sofas where he lay crumpled and still.
Mason leaned over and shook him, ‘Damn you, get up Straker. There’s no one here to save you, no escape this time.’ He sighed with exasperation, and straightened up. ‘You know I’m going to kill you, so why don’t you face it like a man.’
The voice from behind Mason Rimmer was soft and almost apologetic in its sincerity. ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t let you do that.’
Mason had no time to anything else other than spin round in shock, his gun still in his hand, but now pointing at the dark shape that had loomed up behind him.
It was usually a fifteen minute drive to Hounslow, on quiet roads, with traffic lights in their favour but just seven minutes after pulling out of the Harlington Straker entrance, the two vehicles were turning into the small side road that housed the Shelter. Rebecca leaned forward, ‘There, just by the railings, that door,’ and Paul slewed the car to a sudden halt, half blocking the road. Alec had already unfastened his seat belt and was opening the door even before it had come to a dead stop.
He waited impatiently, until Rebecca had opened the door and then gestured to the driver, ‘Paul, with me. James; stay with the women. The rest of you; follow us.’’
Rebecca hurried to join him, opening the outer door with her pass and stepping back as Alec Freeman, together with Paul and three men from the other car that had followed them, ran down the steps to the basement.
Blood. That was Alec’s first thought. Blood spattered on the walls behind the desk and the sharp acrid stench of burnt electrical circuits. The dim lighting cast subdued shadows and Alec Freeman realised that the main circuit had to be down and the building was on emergency lighting. In a split second of pure panic as he saw the huddled shape on the floor behind the desk, he thought it was Ed. But no, the colouring was wrong and he turned an anxious face to Foster.
‘Bloody hell, Paul. Where is he?’ but Paul was already moving towards the nearest open door, into the common room. Alec gestured to the security guards, ‘Start searching, but be careful. We don’t know what’s happened here, and there may still be …………….’
The sound of a shot obliterated his next words, and as the echoes died away, Paul shouted.
‘Alec, get in here. NOW.’
Dale had flung himself at Mason, unaware of the danger, or else heedless, it didn’t matter. What was important was that he had to protect John Shepherd, had to stop whoever it was standing there threatening to kill him. Mason was too startled to react in time, as the heavy-set man thudded into him, knocking him to the ground. The gun clattered away, sliding across the floor into the darkness, as Dale struggled to contain Mason. It was futile; the SIS officer was not only well-trained in self-defence, he was still reasonably agile and fit and it was a matter of moments before he managed to disable Dale with a violent kick to his head, before he slithered on hands and knees across the floor, his hands sweeping over the hard surface in the hunt for his gun.
There. Searching fingers touched the cold metal of the muzzle and he clawed it towards him, scooping it up again, his palm tight against the grip, index finger slipping easily inside the guard, and curling around the smooth arc of the trigger. Still on the floor and now aware that time was running out, he swivelled onto his buttocks, and balanced himself. The man he had kicked was still down on the floor, sprawled near the sofa where Straker had collapsed.
Straker. He was Mason’s priority now. Nothing else mattered. Nothing. The muzzle pointed, moved a fraction, steadied, his finger starting to tighten even as he heard the sounds outside the room.
Paul Foster stepped towards the room aware that the darkness was his enemy, but that Ed Straker might be here, alive and waiting for help. Gun in hand, he eased himself around the doorframe, eyes still adjusting to the gloom. He was aware of Alec, ordering the security men to search but his concern was getting to Straker, and making sure that he was alive.
Shit. The silhouette against the subdued gleam of lighting was not Straker, not slender enough, but it was holding a gun and it was pointed at ……….
Blond hair shining in the light, long slender fingers trailing onto the floor….. Ed.
It was so easy to raise his gun, to look briefly down the sights, to aim with the same care that he used on the firing range, to forget that he was aiming at a living man and to pull back on the trigger, his actions mirroring those of Mason Rimmer. Paul did it all in one split second, without forethought, his mind solely focussed on that still pale figure lying so lifeless and silent just a few yards away.
Dear God, was he too late?
He fell on his knees beside Ed, reaching out….
‘Alec, get in here. NOW.’
His fingers came away dark and wet with the blood that stained Ed’s t-shirt and was seeping onto the leather cover of the sofa. ‘Ed,’ he whispered, ‘Ed, it’s Paul. Can you hear me?’ Eyes closed, hand limp and cold over the edge of the seat, Straker was barely breathing.
There was a bustle of noise behind Foster as Alec and the others ran in, and he moved back from where he had been kneeling to let Alec get closer to Straker. ‘Paul, get Dr Harper down here right now,’ Freeman ordered, his eyes fixed on the man lying there; the friend that he thought he had buried just a few days earlier. Foster stood up, reluctant to leave, but after one last backward look hurried out. Alec heard his footsteps as he ran up to street level, where James was still waiting with the two women, shivering in the cold December wind.
‘Dr. Harper? Can you come with me please?’ Paul turned to go back down and Sara, after a worried glance at her friend, followed him, and after a moment’s pause Rebecca joined them, the man who had been ordered to stay with them taking one look around before going after them, looking around for Barry as she entered the reception room. There was a man behind the desk, bending over something on the ground. Not Barry; one of Alec Freeman’s men, and as he straightened up and faced her she saw Barry, behind, on the floor, huddled in a broken heap, bloodied and obviously dead. She gasped and nearly cried out with the horror, but James put one hand on her shoulder and turned her away from the sight. ‘Don’t look, there’s nothing you can do here.’
Barry. Arrogant, insensitive Barry, who had worked here longer than she had, who had resented the fact that she was in charge, who had bought her a card on her birthday and a chocolate cupcake as well. James held her for a moment, as she shuddered, then she stepped out of his arms and turned her back on the desk, on the silent man standing there watching her. On Barry.
‘Sara, I need your help.’ Alec looked up at the doctor as she entered the room, his eyes dark with concern and she knelt beside the sofa, her medical training taking over as she examined the man whom she thought had died and whose corpse she had sliced open. But this man was warm and breathing. And alive. With calm efficiency she examined him, his pulse ragged and fast, his pupils responsive, but blood had soaked his t-shirt. She eased it up to reveal a sodden dressing over his ribs.
‘Shit.’ Alec bent over her. ‘What happened?’
Dale was stirring now, feebly trying to get himself off the floor, his head aching and his stomach churning. His soft moans caught Paul’s attention and the young colonel went to his side. With help from the guards he heaved Dale up and into one of the easy chairs, where the stunned man sat, watching Sara as she worked.
The common room was a large open space, but to Rebecca, as she stood there taking in the whole scene, it seemed full of people. Dale, in the easy chair, looking pale and sick, even in the dim emergency lighting; Paul leaning over him with a couple of the anonymous men clustered around. Alec Freeman, standing by a sofa and staring down intently, his face worried, and Sara; she was kneeling next to John, her hands moving over him.
‘Ed,’ Sara smoothed his hair, as she had done before, when he lay on her mortuary table. No, not him, not this man, she had to convince herself; his double, his twin. It was eerie, seeing him here like this, so similar and yet so different. This was a man whose face was lined with the stress of living, with the pain of existing from day to day, a man who had experienced life, lived it and endured it, and it had etched itself deep into his very being. A face that was nothing like the bland and soulless expression that had been on that other body. She shook her head in disbelief at her own foolish thoughts. That ‘other’ Ed Straker was a mere copy of this man, a thin and false replica, without heart or emotions.
‘Ed,’ she persisted, even as she was pulling the soaked dressing away from his side. ‘Fuck,’ she muttered and dropped it onto the floor before looking around. ‘Alec? No. Rebecca. Get me a first aid kit, and someone call an ambulance.’ She turned back to Straker, her fingers feeling for any other injuries as she waited and all the while her soft voice talking, encouraging, reassuring.
Shepherd groaned as her hands slid under his skull, probing for damage, before she lowered his head carefully back down onto the cushions of the sofa, his eyelids fluttering and hands beginning to twitch as her voice filtered through his mind.
Sara rooted through the contents of the first aid box, discarding items until she found what she had been searching for. ‘There, that will do for now, Ed. Just lie still now,’ she told Shepherd as she pressed a thick sterile pad against the reopened slash in his side. His eyes seemed to be watching her, but she had no idea whether he was aware of her, or even able to understand. His lips started to move but any words he said were mere inaudible whispers.
Minutes ticked by, the time defined by small events as they waited for the ambulance; Paul organising the re-setting of the fuse box so that normal lighting was restored, Dale being helped out of the common room and up the stairs, first pausing to look down in concern at John Shepherd, and Straker falling silent once again, his ashen hair glinting under the bright lights, his face pale with bloodless lips.
They ignored the third player in the tragedy, the man who had set in motion the chain of events that had led to this meeting here, in a basement refuge. Mason, sprawled in careless abandon, was past caring whether anyone noticed him or not.
The siren of the ambulance echoed through the room and Sara looked up at the men standing close to her. ‘Right, let’s get him outside. Be careful, I don’t want that wound opening any further.’
Rebecca could do nothing to help; she stood back and watched with a feeling of helplessness as Alec and Paul lifted John. He roused slightly as they got him to his feet; she saw his head move and he looked around with a dazed expression even while blinking in the bright lights.
‘I’ll take him, Paul.’ Alec murmured as he lifted Straker’s arm around his own shoulders, before putting his left hand around his friend’s waist to support him. Straker’s head felt heavy on Alec’s shoulder, his legs seemed too weak to support his weight, but Alec held him close in a strong embrace. ‘Come on, Ed. Let’s get you out of here, let’s get you home.’ he muttered, and half-carried his commander, his friend, out of the room. Sara followed, concerned that Straker might require her help, but also aware that Alec Freeman wanted, no, needed to do this himself. Rebecca looked around the common room, at the body lying there as if a mere heap of rubbish, at the stern men waiting and watching as John Shepherd was taken out, and then she shook her head and hurried to follow Sara.
Paul watched them for a moment then once the room was clear, spoke. ‘James. You know what to do. Clean up here, and leave no evidence of the Commander. The evidence will show that Mason killed Barry and then himself. Okay? No need for further action at this moment. Jackson and a support team are on the way.’ The two men exchanged looks, and James nodded, before Paul continued, ‘And make sure Miss Steel and Dr Harper get back to the studios as soon as possible.’ Then he hurried away, running up the stairs and reaching the top just in time to help Alec half-lift Straker over the threshold and out into the chill winter air.
Alec swore as Straker began to shiver in the cold, but he felt his friend begin to awaken and raise his head as if to look around. The ambulance was ahead, its doors open and the ambulance men standing there, waiting for him. Dale was already inside, wrapped in a blanket and anxiously looking out for Shepherd.
‘No.’ Shepherd pulled away, starting to panic, fighting to get away from the hands that were holding him, taking him towards the waiting figures in their dark uniforms, towards open doors…….. ‘please, don’t….’
His desperate struggles pulled him away from Alec’s embrace, and he staggered against the car that was still slewed across the road. He stood there, leaning against the vehicle, head down on the cold metal, gasping with the terrible realisation that they had found him at last. There was a hand on his shoulder, warm, comforting, like Rebecca’s hand when he had relived his nightmare escape. He fell back, surrendering to the embrace of the touch and felt strong hands hold him again, but not the hands of his enemy. These arms were wrapped around him to protect not to harm.
‘Paul, we’ll take him in the car. Help me.’ Alec could feel Straker’s anguish and fear though he had no idea why his friend was so distressed. It would be easier to get him in the car rather than try to disturb him even more by forcing him into the ambulance, and Paul would be driving. The man wrapped in Alec Freeman’s arms was shaking with the cold now, his bare feet numb and his body chilled.
The car door opened, and Shepherd felt himself lifted like a child into the interior, those strong safe hands easing him onto the soft seat. He leaned back as the same hands fastened straps around him, and then he felt a presence beside him. The sense of someone next to him, warmth from a body, but he was not trapped, not confined.
And he sighed at the realisation that he was, at last, safe.
‘Okay Paul. Let’s go.’ Alec slid across the seat to sit close to Ed. He could see Sara and Rebecca on the pavement watching with anxious eyes as Straker stirred and began to respond to the heat in the car. Paul slipped the heavy saloon into gear and pulled smoothly away as Alec took hold of Straker’s hand in his own. He tightened his grip around Ed’s fingers, aware that even now Straker was too confused to be aware of his surroundings, but hoping that this simple contact might be enough to comfort him.
Straker turned to look at him, his eyes bewildered but as if finally seeing his friend. In a quiet voice he said one word.
It was all that needed to be said.
Authors notes Shepherd Pt 2 Hefted:
(a sheep that is ‘hefted’ is one that knows its own territory and doesn’t stray far from home. Particularly applied to sheep on rough fell-land pasture)
This story morphed into a 2 parter simply because it got a bit too unwieldy to manage as one long story.. I had settled down with a load of post-it notes and planned out a rough outline for the second part and it just seemed the best thing to start this second part with Alec meeting Sara on the evening of the funeral, although I hadn’t originally intended to do that.
If I was to write full notes about the process of writing ‘Hefted’ it would add another 15,000 words or more, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that I struggled nearly all the way through. I thought of Straker as ‘Shepherd’ all the way through, knowing that if I began to think of him as ‘Straker’, it would skew my writing. And at one stage it did. I was chatting to my beta-reader about ‘ Straker’ and the next thing I knew I had written a section where ‘John Shepherd’ had Straker’s memories… very confusing. Fortunately my beta spotted it!
I had, all along, planned the ending to this story, with that final word ‘Alec’ and I was merrily working towards that when I was stopped in my tracks. Dale. He stepped in and demanded to be developed.
Dale is, like Rebecca, based on a real person. A person in the homeless shelter that I support, and have supported for the last six years. But the real Dale (not his name) isn’t clever or brave. But he is kind, and has ‘looked out’ for ‘Rebecca’ on occasions, when things got difficult.
There is one point in the scene near the end where I think nit-pickers might take me to task! Barry says to Rimmer that there is no-one else in the shelter apart from Shepherd. But of course Dale is there. It was a deliberate decision to have Barry say that, simply because in Barry’s eyes Dale was unimportant. To all intents and purposes there WAS no-one else there. Dale was a ‘nobody’.
And ‘Rebecca’? She started out as a fairly minor character in a way, just as a foil for Shepherd, but again., she developed, thanks to my Beta… who described her as a po-faced prig. I LOVE the fact that my Beta is honest! So, back to the drawing board with Rebecca. I think she turned out as a believable person in the end. However, she is NOTHING like the ‘real’ Rebecca, just in case you were wondering!
It was my Beta who kept pulling me back into line when I strayed…. the conversation between Sara and Rebecca in the café, for example, was stilted and false, until I took her advice and let myself go! and the scene in Alec’s bedroom was rewritten several times.. Whoever said writing angst was hard. …writing believable sex is much harder. (parody is dead easy though!)
So. After six months I have finished. But yet I haven’t. I had always intended to end the story with Ed being rescued and recognising Alec.. the reader could fill in the details themselves … how he recovered, how his first day back at HQ went, how Alec dealt with Straker’s return. But Rebecca and Straker had other plans. And I have plans for them.
So. Shepherd: Part 3 ‘Drafted’ is in the process of being written. (‘Drafted.. a sheep that has been brought down from rough pasture to spend time on the richer better grazing closer to the farm.)
Best parts to write?
Both nightmares… Alec’s was pure fun..I simply let my imagination run riot. Whereas Shepherd’s escape from the aliens had been planned with care and I stuck to it rigidly.
The scene in the café.. with Rebecca and Sara ..- once I had stopped trying so hard!
All the scenes with Shepherd and Rebecca. Such a joy to do.
And of course the last scene.. everyone together in the shelter.. it took me six months of writing to get to that point.
Poor Ed Straker. But… this story isn’t finished ..yet.
Thanks to ‘Rebecca’, who gave me permission to use her and her Shelter, and also gave me the floor plan of the building. Most thanks though to my Beta-reader who nagged at me to get on and WRITE.
And I hope that Ed Bishop, and the directors and writers would be pleased with my interpretation of ‘Straker’. I have tried to write Straker as true to the series as possible, because otherwise I am cheating you, the reader. UFO is a rare fandom. If we want to keep it thriving, we need to try to retain the spirit and character of the series, otherwise we might as well all just give up right now.