Commander Ed Straker’s face was as hard as flint as Colonel Alec Freeman entered the office in SHADO’s subterranean HQ.
Without a word, Straker gestured at the chair across the desk from his own and stabbed the button to seal the electronic doors. Freeman took a seat as the doors slid shut with a dull metallic thud.
He knew exactly why he was there and he wasn’t relishing the imminent conversation.
For a moment there was silence. Straker’s piercing clear eyes bored into Freeman’s as he tried valiantly to return the powerful gaze.
“How did it happen?” Straker finally asked.
The question didn’t contain so much as a wisp of rhetoric, so Freeman started at the top.
“It was at the shoot for the Ancient Greek picture last Thursday,” he began. “I was one of the background players, keeping a low profile as usual. Anyway, the supporting actor didn’t turn up and the star was getting more and more frustrated.
They waited and waited and the guy didn’t show. Then there was a call for the director. It was the hospital. The man who was supposed to be in the scene had been involved in a motorbike accident and was in the intensive care unit.
The star, that chap Hawkins, declared that if no-one could do the scene, he was going to walk off the set. You know what he’s like.”
Straker’s expression didn’t alter. It was difficult to know whether he’d actually heard the question.
Freeman continued, “So the director jumped to his feet and started looking around the extras. Before I knew what was happening, he grabbed me out of the group at the back and handed me the pages for the scene. Said something about how I was the right height and had the right sort of jawline.”
The slightest flicker of irritation showed in the depths of Straker’s otherwise cold eyes.
“All nonsense if you ask me,” Freeman added hurriedly, “Anyway, I tried to get out of it, said that I wasn’t really much of an actor, but he wasn’t having any of it. One thing led to another and before I could argue any further, the scene was in the can and that was that.”
“Just like that?” Straker asked.
“And you don’t see any problems with that?” Straker probed.
“Well of course I do, but I thought that if I made too much of a fuss I would only draw more attention to myself.”
“Colonel Freeman,” Straker said quietly, “Once that movie is released, you’re going to be recognised by millions of people around the world. Few things draw more attention these days than appearances in major motion pictures.”
Freeman sighed, “As a security risk, I’ll be as water-tight as a colander.”
Straker paid no attention to Freeman’s remark, “When we came up with your cover as a part-time extra, it was on the strictest condition that at no time would you appear prominently in any of the films produced by the studio up there.”
He motioned towards the ceiling and then crossed his arms on the desk in front of him.
Freeman looked at Straker, searching the man’s face for an idea of what might be going on in that cold, calculating brain.
“So, what happens now?” he asked at last.
“We’re cutting you. You’re out.”
The words were like a hammer blow.
“Just like that?”
“Yeah. Just like that.”
Freeman considered for a moment, “Well in that case, I think Paul Foster would be an excellent replacement.”
“Replacement?” Straker queried.
“As second in command,” Freeman said, then added, “He’s a fine officer.”
Straker allowed himself the ghost of a smile, “I’m talking about the film, Alec. We’re cutting the scene. You’re out of the picture.”
Freeman’s face flushed scarlet, “Now wait a minute!” he said angrily, “You mean I’ve been sitting here thinking I’m being replaced or goodness knows what and you’ve already taken care of the situation?”
“You know as well as I do that no one ever leaves SHADO. The director wasn’t happy about it, but I’ve agreed to put up some of the funding for his next picture, so he’s agreed to do things my way.”
Freeman was still fuming, “You could have said something earlier…”
The videophone sounded its shrill tone.
Lieutenant Ford’s image appeared on the screen, “Commander, Transporter 2 will be ready for departure in 30 minutes.”
“Acknowledged. Colonel Freeman will be overseeing the operation.”
Straker closed the video link and turned to Freeman expectantly, “Well? Was there anything else, Alec? You’ve got a flight to catch.”
Freeman decided it was best not to argue, “I’m on my way,” he replied and headed for the doors.
“Oh Alec,” Straker called after him, “Just one more thing…”
“I saw the scene before it was deleted. Don’t give up your day job.”
Freeman grinned broadly and left the office as the doors slid closed once more.