For Nans, because.
"Well, who is she now? "
Ed Straker was seated at his desk, leaning back in his SHADO executive chair, hands linked behind his head. He appeared tired, which didn't surprise Alec in the least. They'd finally located an attacking UFO and destroyed it, but not before the aliens had pulverized half a village. Among the casualties were several children, and Ed had taken that hard. Losing civilians always troubled him, but the kids hurt the Commander the most, as Alec knew all too well.
"Alec, A is for Attention , which you aren't paying, B is for Besotted which you are again, and C is for Commander. That would be me. I'm trying to get your report on the status of the recent UFO incident finally being closed and you're somewhere up in the clouds. Only this time its without an aircraft. So, who is she? I give her a week. No more."
"Permission to speak freely, Commander?"
"You've never asked permission before. Why start now?" Ed reached for his light and sweet coffee, sipped it and made an expression one might find on the face of a death row inmate being led to a hot seat.
"Funny, Ed. Very funny. Her name is Beryl Holly, she's one of our actresses. Incidentally it wouldn't hurt you to date once in-yeah I know. Too busy. Lord. Did you suddenly recall that coffee has been on your desk for three days? Jackson should marry whatever's been growing in it. It resembles him."
"Alec, do I look like I need a personal barista? " the Commander inquired, deciding that throwing up in his own office would be bad for morale.
His morale, he thought further.
"Maybe you should bully Henderson into, I mean ask Henderson for more funding and get one. You've already got a personal bar. "
Ed fought off a grin, tried to look menacing. He failed. Miserably.
"Alec. Report." The voice, he thought. That ought to work. Abandon all ye hope when the Commander uses the voice. There, he felt more intimidating already. Or was that just the poisoned coffee? Hard to tell.
"You haven't heard me describe Beryl yet."
"Alec, I'm warning you-"
"Hey. You asked. I haven't said a thing!"
"Yeah, that's the problem. Now forget your current romantic obsession and give me a report."
"How can you possibly expect me to give my report when I've met the most beautiful woman in the world?"
"Ed, you've just got to meet her. Then you'll understand."
Ed changed tactics.
Changing tactics had worked for him as a tot trying to get a cookie before dinner, no reason it would fail him now. Come to think of it, his posterior never recovered from his mother's lack of appreciation for his insisting the dog had broken the cookie jar. One did what one could at that age.
Or had he owned a cat? It didn't matter. Some bullets he'd taken hadn't hurt that much, he told himself with amusement.
Yes, a new tactic was called for.
"Alec, do you want me to start calling some of your discarded ladies? You could introduce them all to one another. Beryl would love them, I'm sure."
"Why not just march me to our Shooting Range and pump me full of holes?"Alec whined. "That would be more merciful."
"You forget, Alec. I hate wasting SHADO ammo. I could part your hair with one bullet blindfolded before you could blink an eye. I came to the conclusion I don't need to kill you. I could let your bevy of deserted blondes, brunettes and redheads do it for me. You probably have carved notches on your bed for all your conquests."
"I don't date anywhere near the amounts of women that the studio rumor mill and you claim I do."
Ed was playing impatiently with one of his pens while studying his mural's flowing colors. He swerved in his chair leisurely, snorted and put the pen back on his desk pen stand.
Wait, as Commander of SHADO he could have all the cookies, or biscuits he wanted.
I can't be seriously thinking this. You need sleep, Straker.
"Oh, come on, Alec. The only reason that's anywhere near the truth is because occasionally between conquests, you have to work. So work."
"That's Sir to you, Colonel."
"Fine then, Sir Ed-" Alec watched Ed drop his head into his hands with glee. He knew the only reason he wasn't facing a large gauge hypodermic full of amnesia drug was because both men were absolutely exhausted, and needing levity for emotional and physical balance.
"Go on." Ed said without looking up. Ed pictured himself as St. Sebastian, full of arrows. All shot by the annoying person in front of him.
"She's the one, Ed."
The hands came down with an audible splat! on the desk and the electric blue eyes rolled up and seized the Australian.
"Do you have any idea how many times you've told me that, and I've gotten my morning suit from the cleaners, only to stick it to rot somewhere in the back of my closet again after you broke up with the one?"
"Its jealousy that makes you say these awful things, Ed."
"What's that phrase? Get real, Alec. Your conquests are legendary. Throw you in the middle of a flock of women and you go off like an incendiary rocket until you sizzle out."
"And to think I thought you were my best friend. Helping horrible rumors to fly around like that."
"Alec, we have a small SHADO base in the Virgin Islands."
"What's your point?" Alec asked nervously, wondering where his suitcase was and if he had clean underwear for the trip he had a feeling he'd never come back from.
"I never assign you there. Do you know why that is?"
"I have the feeling I'm about to find out." Alec grinned. He knew that wry expression on the Commander's face. Ed was up to something. He awaited the falling of the piano.
"If I did, when you came home they'd have to rename them-"
"The islands?" Alec laughed.
"Give me the damn report. Get out of here. Go find Beryl. Poor woman doesn't know what's coming. Did you tell her you seduce anything in a skirt?"
"I'm beginning to see why everyone hates you. Here. Then go home. You look awful."
"Why thank you, Alec. I live for your compliments."
"What now?" Ed was already skimming the report he'd been given, light mood fading.
"Go home afterwards. These last days have been hell on all of us, but especially on you."
"Alec, stop, I don't need-oh hell. You're right. I can still hear that mother's screams when we found her daughter's body." Ed admitted softly. Alec scowled.
" Stop with the self-punishment. Nobody could have done this any better than you have. Now, if I could just get you to appreciate my finesse with women-"
"Get out, Alec Freeman."
"I keep telling you, this is it."
"Alec, one day your love life is going to get you in a lot of trouble. I'll be there to take every karmic moment in."
"Finish that, get something to eat, give that bacteria laden cup to Jackson in the dungeon and then go home, Straker. I want a best man that doesn't look like he belongs in an Egyptian museum."
"OUT." Ed hit the door button.
Alec waved enthusiastically and went out. He hadn't been sure the Easter Islands had good pubs. Or women! Now that was a sobering thought. Not literally of course..
"He told me to check."
Miss Ealand looked at the ragged figure vaguely resembling Ed Straker which had finally slunk out of the habitat of his studio level office.
" Colonel Freeman asked me to check. Whether you'd eaten. Did you really drink some of that coffee? Shouldn't you get your stomach checked out? Could you remind me what your favorite flowers are? For your casket, that is."
"Don't you start in on me now. I suppose you know about this mysterious Beryl? Yeah, thought so. Not tell me anything? Yeah, thought that too. Another one more interested in his bank balance than his personality?"
"Aren't they all?"
"Yeah. Hey, do I smell something good?"
"You mean this? You didn't eat dinner did you?" Miss Ealand said in an arch, superior tone.
"I seem to recall I missed several breakfasts, and lunches, and the tea lady, too." Ed said resignedly. "Maybe if I hurry I can go to Trafalgar Square and dine on whatever the pigeons leave behind? It can't be any worse than that coffee."
"Which is why Alec had this put together for you to take home. " she smiled. "Roast beef with garden salad and jacket potato. With ginger ale for your stomach. Compliments of our SHADO restaurant."
Ed chuckled and accepted the large bag she held out.
"I was threatening his life two hours ago. Now I may have to give him a raise. Good night Miss Ealand. Oh. I nearly forgot. Here. See that this gets to the right people, would you? Priority One. See you tomorrow morning."
"Tomorrow morning it is."
"Do you like cooki-never mind."
Miss Ealand looked at him peculiarly, waited until the Commander half walked, half stumbled, mostly fell out the door, and then she looked at the check he'd handed her. Normally she handled all billing and finances that had to do with him personally. This wasn't any studio matter. She recognized one of his personal checks. He'd made out a sum with quite a few zeros to be drawn from his own account, and it was designated for the family, friends, and parents of the UFO victims of the village.
"The icy cold Commander Straker. No heart. Have to be blind to think that." Miss Ealand smiled and started in on her vital task.
"Hey, Mr. Straker! I'll just be a minute." Miles Miller, the chief of the studio's costume department, had spotted the weary Commander about to get into his car, and dashed to him.
"Make it just a minute. I'm exhausted and sleepwalking already."
"Did you want a driver, Sir?" he asked, genuinely worried.
"No, Miles, thanks for asking but I'll be fine. What did you need?"
"Look at these run-throughs. Marvelous, isn't it. We need dash and flash for the film and my people have never let me down yet."
Ed Straker sighed at the costume drawings and photos Miles held out.
"They look terrific, Miles. Carry on. '
"Sorry, sir.. It's just that every project is my baby and you want to see your child do well. "
Ed pressed his lips together, abruptly fighting to get the image of the sobbing, inconsolable mother out of his head.
My baby, my baby. My child!
So many deaths on his hands. No. Alec was right. He had done his best.
Something caught his eye.
" Wait. Let me see that one again."
"Something wrong, Sir?"
Ed found himself smiling a little.
Ed shook his head. "Don't worry, they're all great. I didn't mean to scare you like that. You look like I just suggested your dog and your wife be put down!"
"Goodness no, Sir!" Miles chuckled.
"Right. Listen, has your wife Cynthia wrapped up yet? Locked up the land of make believe ?"
"No Sir. She prefers me to go home early and start our supper while she finishes her business."
"Let me do it. I've decided I want to have a quick, closer look at your work myself as I need to know what goes on around here. It'll give me a chance to see Cynthia again, too."
"Indeed Sir! Grand that is! Here you are! Good night, Sir."
Ed accepted the keys then entered the building, then greeted a delighted Cynthia with a smile.
"Can you clear up some things for me?" Ed said charmingly.
That night, Alec Freeman was uncorking a bottle of champagne when his phone rang.
"Its Ed, I'm at my place. I wanted to thank you for dinner. I don't think you'll mind if I have a lie in tomorrow, Alec? Maybe you can report in a little earlier? Cover for me."
"Did you finally get some common sense?"
He heard Ed's tired chuckle.
"I suppose so. I think I may be getting old. I'm turning in. Good night, Alec."
"Take care, Ed."
Alec had just put the phone down when his doorbell rang.
"Hello, gorgeous!" Alec greeted the redheaded, bosomy woman who stood framed in his doorway. On a gold chain adorning her throat was the name BERYL. Alec didn't recall seeing it before.
"I hope that champagne is chilled up right, " Beryl exclaimed.
"Naturally it is. The bubbly will stay cold but your kisses will keep me warm. Come in, come in."
"Is that boss of yours taking the mickey out of you these days, darling?" The infamous Beryl threw her massive handbag on the couch, then followed it down.
"Ed? Not any more than usual. Why?"
"You know Cyn, in makeup? She was practically giving me the third degree and I had a feeling Straker was behind it. I wish he'd stay the hell out of our lives."
"Oh, Ed's not all that bad. He has his moments. Here, drink up."
"You wouldn't think that if you heard Cynthia carrying on like a mad cow."
"Love, everyone on the lot knows Cynthia's a gossipy type. It's Miles who's level headed."
"Oh hell, I've spilled my drink."
"Let it go. I'll pour you another one."
"Alec, don't. I'm afraid my mood is spoiled!"
Rot. There go my kisses. What's gotten into her anyway? Did Ed really-why-I wouldn't put it past him.
"Darling, I'll soon have you right as rain. Come here."
"What kind of a person is Straker anyway? To hear Cyn tell it, she and Straker are the best of friends, all cozy. I hate a braggart, don't you?"
"Ed doesn't have casual friends like that. He doesn't play favorites that way. What exactly did Cynthia say?"
"That Straker has plans for you. That you aren't to be trusted in a relationship. That-oh, Alec! It isn't true, is it? That you've got other women in your life?"
"It sounds to me like Cynthia is jealous. Besides, most of the women on the studio lots have a crush on Ed. She's probably wanting to sound grander. I don't know how she and Miles ever get along. He's a warm, easy going sort. She's a drama queen. Comes with the territory. Probably wishes she were one of the actresses, like you. Its jealousy, no question."
"Jealousy can ruin everything, Alec. Even friendships."
"What is it you aren't telling me?"
"You know I'm being fitted for that film we're about to shoot. Baubles and Lace."
"Of course. Why are you asking me silly questions?"
"You know Rupert Bailey? My leading man?"
"Beryl, spit it out."
"Let's face it, Alec. He's seven years younger than you. He-well, he gave me this necklace. Eighteen karat gold. Just like that. All casual like as if it was made from plastic. Maybe Straker is right. Maybe I'm a gold digger, darling. Look at these photographs of us." Beryl grabbed some publicity glossies from her bag.
"How long have you been cozying up to Bailey?"
"I don't like the tone of your voice!"
"All right by me, I don't think I ever liked you!" she shrilled.
"Good that we had this little chat then, isn't it? Goodbye, you fraud. What was I thinking, to actually fall for an actress again."
"Right you are. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the way your fair Beryl Holly is pressing against Mr. Bailey's latex enhanced chest only needs one word. Deceit. By the way, Alec, this necklace? It is plastic. The genuine Beryl never looked close enough at hers to realize it. But then she is as fake as the necklace, and would have cleaned out your cupboard and then run off with Bailey and stayed with him until he was dry and the next rich fool came along. The irony is, Bailey was using her too, as a front. He's gay. She has a rude awakening coming, but then she deserves it. The chest pressing was as fake as my eyelashes. How do women see through these hairy things anyway? One of life's mysteries I suppose." the distinctive voice intoned.
"No. No. This is just from the champagne, and no sleep, and-"
Ed Straker reached up and pulled off the wig. Wincing as he did so, he pulled off large hoop earrings.
Alec Freeman began to call his commanding officer several names, all of which were not presentable in polite company.
"You-you-you-I ought to-"
"Since when did Beryl Holly ever spill her drink, Alec? She can drink with the likes of you, so I've been told by Cynthia. That might have made you suspicious, but it's the absence of attention again. Oh, and Colonel, those things you're threatening to do to me could lead you to a court martial. Yours. Say, Alec, does this lipstick go with this dress? Alec put down that gun!" Ed laughed.
"Okay you bastard. Start from the beginning." Alec said sourly, replacing his sidearm in his hip holster, trying not to guffaw.
"Incidentally I made that call to you while standing outside your door, hoping not to fall over in these heels. I have my clothes in that hideous bag. How about I get dressed, and you take me home. I'll tell you more about it in your car. I'll have mine picked up later."
"I'm going to get you for this, Ed."
"You should thank me for this. I spotted Bailey and Holly's body language in Miles' photographs and that was not from any script. I saved you from -what was it Cynthia called her? Oh. Right. A hussy. You were a fool for love, Colonel Freeman. Cynthia is a gossip, but that's how our security people make use of her. She's a better actress than many of our professionals in the studio."
"How the hell did you do all this? That high voice! I know you never tell me everything but I never would have guessed you went out for drag." Alec laughed.
"Alec, Cynthia has won several awards for makeup and my Boston U. college education wasn't all that stodgy. We used to have stage plays all the time, and because of my physique and coloring, I often was chosen to play women. It was a ball. I wasn't always the stack of books on two legs, just like you aren't the ladies man all the time. Not many ladies men dodged anti-aircraft flak. Come on. I'm going to need a can opener to get out of these hose, and my feet are killing me. These heels don't fit but it was the best Cynthia could do on short notice."
"I should have known Cynthia would be involved somehow. For ten years Miles has believed she simply likes to be the last to go home. I wonder what he'd say if he knew she worked down below." Alec smiled.
Ed nodded as he swiftly changed clothes, and wiped off his makeup that had been applied so carefully (and mirthfully, he knew) applied by Lieutenant Cynthia Mills."I don't think his gentle heart would stand it, but he'd be proud. He's as much a professional in his world as she is in ours, and of equal value and standing. Come on, let's go, heartthrob."
"Lead the way, Edwina."