...Ben was never quite sure how it had happened. One minute he and Polly were out to the world, the next thing he knew he was back on board ship. He was relieved to find he had not been absent without leave. Apparently he had returned to the ship in good time. But how? Discreet conversations with his shipmates had drawn a blank, and after a few days he was still none the wiser.
The only clue of sorts was a slip of paper tucked inside the lining of his cap. He had found this on the second day of his return. All the paper contained were a few words and a date. It wasn’t much, but there had been times, he recalled with a smile, when the Doctor had had even less to work with...
Polly had been waiting outside Ben’s house for some time. He had answered the door almost immediately, but asked her to wait. “Give me another minute,” he begged. “I shan’t be long.” True to his word, it was barely a minute before he joined her outside, closing the door behind him. As he led her to his car, Polly noticed his old seaman’s cap in his hand. “I had to ring a few people. Call in a few favours for the address we need,” he told her.
“What do you need that for?” Polly asked, indicating the cap.
“Something I should have remembered at the start,” he replied mysteriously. “It’s a bitter-sweet reminder of the old days.” The car pulled away from the kerb side, as the two friends set off on their journey.
Polly looked at him. Beneath his cheerful smile, she could tell there was something wrong. Ben noted the look. “I s’pose you ought to know — I didn’t leave the Navy voluntarily. I was pushed.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Nor did I, at the time,” he continued. “I only found out later that I’d been made a scapegoat for someone else’s mistakes. Nothing could be proved either way, but someone had to suffer. And that someone was me.”
Polly felt wretched. “Ben, that’s terrible. Couldn’t you appeal, or something?”
Ben shook his head. “Not a chance. It was like everyone banded together against me. Even those who knew I was innocent. That’s what really hurt — when I found out just who my real friends were. And d’you know what, Pol? None of them had the guts to tell me to my face. They just ignored me, as if I didn’t exist.”
“But surely, if they knew you were innocent...?”
“They weren’t prepared to take the risk, in case they went down with me,” Ben replied. “Like I said, they needed a scapegoat, and I was the one they picked.”
Polly was shocked, and could think of nothing more to say. The rest of the journey was made in silence, as the two friends wrestled with their own private thoughts.
Thanks to the light traffic, within an hour they were parked outside a large, unobtrusive building. Ben turned to Polly. “Look, I’m sorry about earlier. I just needed to...”
“It’s alright, Ben.” Her expression was unreadable, but she offered an encouraging smile.
They looked up at the building and exchanged a glance. “Well, this is the place. Ready, Pol?”
She nodded. “As I’ll ever be.”
They exited the car and walked in step towards the imposing doors. A sentry barred their way. “Sorry sir, miss. This is a military training area. I’m afraid you’ll have to move on.”
Ben had been prepared for this. He pulled out a carefully folded slip of paper from his cap. He opened it up, and read the words written on it. “Tell Greyhound that Trap One is here.”
The sentry hid his surprise well. “Just wait there a minute.” He stepped back a few paces and spoke into his two-way radio, awaiting instructions.
Polly turned to Ben. “What was that all about?”
He smiled, his good humour now returned. “When I’d recovered from the gas attack in the car, I found I was back on board ship. No one knew how I’d got there. But a few days after, I found this piece of paper in the lining of my cap.” He handed her the paper and she read the message — ‘Greyhound to Trap One’. “Now read the other side.”
She turned the sheet over and read:-
You may not need this for some time, but be sure never to loose it.
The note was unsigned. “Ben, you don’t think...”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, Polly. I honestly don’t know.”
The soldier turned away from the intercom and gestured to the now open doors. “You’re to go straight in.”
“Thanks,” Ben smiled affably. The soldier chose not to return the smile.
Inside, a man in the uniform of an army Colonel met them. “Colonel Crichton,” he introduced himself. “How can I help you?” His tone was not unfriendly, but guarded.
“My name’s Ben Jackson, this is Polly Wright,” Ben replied. “We’re looking for Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart.”
“Does he know you?”
“No,” Polly admitted. “But you could say we have a mutual friend.”
“I see.” Crichton wasn’t exactly being obstructive, but he seemed prepared to be less than helpful. “And how did you get that call-sign?”
“From the same mutual friend,” Ben answered. ‘This is like pulling teeth,’ he thought. But if the positions had been reversed, he knew he would have been just as suspicious. So he bided his time.
“How did you know the Brigadier would be here?”
This question threw Ben slightly. “Well, this is UNIT. And he’s the man in charge, isn’t he?”
“Until recently.” Crichton noted their confusion. “Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart retires from active service today,” he explained. “You’ve arrived on the day of his official sending off.”
“Blimey,” Ben sighed. “Talk about cutting it fine.”
“Quite.” Crighton regarded the two people with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. “Can anyone else help?”
Ben and Polly exchanged a look. “I’m afraid not,” Polly insisted. “It has to be the Brigadier.”
“Very well,” he decided. “This way.” They followed the Colonel through a maze of corridors, until eventually, they arrived outside a laboratory. “He’s in there, reminiscing with two of his former staff. If you’ll excuse me?”
Crichton abruptly marched off, presumably in search of something better to do, Ben decided. Through the door he and Polly could hear the sound of voices.
“...he’ll be off in that TARDIS of his.”
“Come on, sir. You’ll be late for your own speech.”
“And that would never do.” The door then opened, and the man who was obviously the Brigadier came out from the laboratory, flanked by two other men. Though these two were dressed in civvies, to Ben they were definitely army types. “Hello, what’s this? Friends of yours, Mike?”
“Nothing to do with me, sir.”
“Nor me, before you ask, sir,” answered the second man.
“Thank you, Benton.” He turned to the newcomers. “Well, speak up!”
“Sorry,” Polly apologised. “Are you Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart?”
“I am indeed.” The Brigadier was curious. “And who might you be?”
“I’m Ben Jackson, and this is Polly Wright,” Ben answered, for the second time.
“And what are you? Press? Autograph hunters?”
Ben was now at a loss to explain himself. He had come to UNIT with a barely thought out plan of action. Now he and Polly were actually here, he wasn’t sure what his next move should be. But it was Polly who broke the uneasy silence. “We know the Doctor,” she blurted out.
This announcement brought a mixture of expressions from the three men. The Brigadier was the first to find his voice. “Do you now? I think perhaps we should continue this conversation somewhere more private.” He turned to his associates. “Yates, see if my old office is free. Benton, see if you can obtain some provisions for our guests.”
Benton spoke up. “Sir, haven’t you forgotten something?”
Lethbridge Stewart looked at him blankly for a moment, then realised. “Good Lord, my farewell speech!” He turned back to Ben and Polly. “We’ll talk later,” he promised. “If you are telling the truth, we could be in for a rather long evening.”
To be continued…
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