Read Almost Perfect Online

Authors: James Goss

Tags: #Fiction - Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Space Opera, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Harkness; Jack (Fictitious character), #Science Fiction - Space Opera, #Sagas, #Human-alien encounters - Wales - Cardiff, #Cardiff (Wales), #Intelligence officers - Wales - Cardiff, #Radio and television novels

Almost Perfect (12 page)

‘Right,’ said Gwen. This was about all she could ever think to say to Mandy.

Rhys popped his head round the door. ‘Gwen? I thought it was you.’

He looked really happy to see her. Actually, he looked bloody stunning. It was ages since she’d seen him look this happy.

‘Come in, come in – I’ve got things to tell you. It’s about… Her!’

She wandered into his office, watching as he excitedly shut the cheap, thin door. She imagined Mandy on thundering tiptoe sneaking closer to eavesdrop on the other side. She clearly wasn’t alone in this – Rhys had dropped his voice to a spy movie whisper.

‘She! Phoned! Emma!’

‘When?’

‘Just now! Asking me out on a proper date!’ Rhys was actually rubbing his hands together.

‘Congratulations. You going to tell her you’re married?’

‘No! I’m going to go on the date.’

‘Rhys are you out of your tiny skull? For all we know that woman is a crazed killer. Look what she’s done to you already…’

Rhys looked down at himself and flashed her the same proud, silly smile he normally saved for when he let one off in the car. ‘Oh, I dunno. I don’t think it can be her. She’s so nice, love, but this is just careful eating.’

Gwen glanced bitterly at the half-eaten doughnut on a plate by the phone. ‘Bollocks. That woman is dangerous, she is manipulative, and she is after you. You are not going on that date.’

‘She’s hardly the black widow, is she?’

‘Rhys, wherever she goes, corpses turn up. She’s sliced through the dating scene in Cardiff. And now she’s sunk her claws into you. She is dangerous.’

‘And she’s expecting me to pick her up tonight at eight. And I’m going.’

‘What?’

Rhys’s stubborn streak was showing. ‘You want to find out more about her? You will. You can put a wire on me, you can all follow me. Dinner with her? She’ll open up to the Williams charm, tell me everything about her, and you can all listen in. If she is the Black Widow of the Bay, then you can arrest her. If she’s just a lonely gorgeous soul, then I’ll do my best to let her down gently.’

Let her down gently? ‘Oh, I’m sure she’ll cope.’

‘You are so jealous!’ Rhys appeared delighted at this. ‘It’s fine. Admit it, Gwen – I’m your best lead. And isn’t it just nicer to have a friendly chat over a bottle of wine than hosing her down in your cells? I won’t let anything happen to me. And at the slightest sound of danger, you and Jack can come crashing in like cowboys and save me.’

‘Too bloody right we will.’

‘Do I get a code word?’

‘Cocktail sausage. Work it into conversation however you will.’

‘Can’t it be saveloy?’

Gwen hugged him. ‘I love you, but I think this is really, really silly. I don’t want you coming to any harm.’

Rhys shook his head. ‘You always were a terrible judge of women. Emma’s a nice girl. And this is a first date. Nothing ever happens on a first date.’

Gwen stared at him, open-jawed. ‘If she doesn’t kill you, I will.’

EMMA WEBSTER IS
DETERMINED

‘I will not end up a gin-addled spinster in a cat-soaked attic.’

She scanned down Facebook and noticed that her ex, Paul, had changed his relationship status. She felt cold and unhappy. She’d always thought that, you know, maybe at some point they’d get back together. But here he was ‘in a relationship with Helen Corrigan’. There was even a picture of the two of them out together. She looked bright and young and happy and a bit on the drunk side. He looked as good as he’d ever looked. And underneath it, he’d posted: ‘Hey babe! I can’t believe it – the one time I look better than you in a photo, and I’m SLAUGHTERED!!!’

Helen had commented: ‘LOL!’

Emma took against her purely on that basis.

Hey, Emo girl, why so sad?

I’m just – you know, grieving for what’s lost.

Grieving? The past is where you dump things you no longer need. The future’s all fresh and tidy. Listen to me – we’re going to do better than Paul. You’re seeing Rhys tonight, aren’t you? That’s something to look forward to
.

Emma watched as Vile Kate pottered across the office and perched on the edge of her desk, leaning over to talk to Susan. Her mouth was starting to swell up due to some ‘mystery allergy’. Despite her nastily swollen lips, she had a happy little smile on her face.

And… oh yes, a little belly. She’s ballooned already! I wonder if she’s noticed that everyone thinks she’s pregnant. They’re even getting up a card for her.

Kate finished talking to Susan about something to do with the laser printer and turned to Emma, wearing her ‘sad face’, even sadder due to her dramatically bloated lips that made her look like a goldfish dealing with terrible news. ‘Ooh. Sorry to see your ex has found someone else. Are you OK?’ She squeezed her shoulder, and Emma cursed that she’d been unable to think of a reason for declining Kate’s friendship request – which gave her instant access to a treasure trove of embarrassing facts and moments.

Emma nodded. ‘I’ve moved on.’

Kate slid her head onto one side, like she was listening for an approaching train. ‘Oh. I’m so pleased. I always think it’s tragic when we can’t move on. There’s no point in torturing yourself over your failures, pet.’ And she smiled again and walked away.

Cancer?

OWEN HARPER IS STILL DEAD

Jack sat on his own in the Boardroom, just listening to the sounds of Torchwood. It was never quiet, even here, several storeys below Cardiff Bay. There was always the rumble of traffic, and the thud of the waves, the not-quite-right ticking from their unique computer system, the occasional roar of a Weevil, and the angry hum of the Rift Manipulator, the only thing keeping Cardiff from being torn out of existence. Oh, plus, sometimes, he swore he could hear the chiming of a grandfather clock, but he’d never found it, or asked Ianto where it was.

This was his time, and he loved it. In his long lives, he’d only ever felt truly at home in Torchwood – the only place and time that suited him. All the noises comforted him – in an odd way, this creepy, dark place was his only friend. It let him think.

He heard a distant footfall. Ianto, he thought. He didn’t say anything until he came into the room.

‘Oh, hi,’ said Ianto, awkwardly. He was wearing his favourite suit back from when he’d been a man. And carrying a tray of coffee. He tried out a brave smile. ‘Normal service has been resumed.’ He set down the tray with a bang and waited. His smile faded as his look at Jack became desperate.

‘Oh, Ianto,’ Jack got up and walked over to his friend, gripping him by the shoulders. ‘You look ridiculous in those clothes.’

Ianto shrugged. ‘What every girl wants to hear. I just felt like a change. Hoping it would jog my memory.’ He poured milk into Jack’s cup, stirred it and handed it to him. Jack took it, brushing his hand against Ianto’s. Ianto held it, but snatched his away when Gwen came in in a waft of pastry flakes. She put down her sausage roll on the Boardroom desk, scattering more crumbs, and grabbed a coffee from the tray. Only then did she notice Ianto. She paused. ‘Hum. OK. It’s quite Marlene. I’ll give you that.’

‘Really?’ said Jack. ‘I think she’d be quite upset.’

‘Hey!’ protested Ianto, tugging unhappily at the suddenly overlong sleeves of his jacket.

Jack pressed on.

‘Now, sit down. Ianto, drink some of your excellent coffee, and listen. I’ve got some news. News about what made you the man you are today.’

He pushed a key, and documents managed to drift onto the Boardroom computer screen. As he waved his hands in the air, various ones floated forward to fill the wall.

‘This was an active file of Owen’s. He was monitoring various news reports about revolutionary gene therapy. Apparently this was a therapy that wasn’t available on the NHS – the makers said they’d been told by various hospitals that it was too costly. But they were claiming some success with all the usual suspects – the big C, the big A, the even bigger A, and even baldness and wrinkles. So far – so normal. There are a dozen of these stories every week in the papers. Breakthrough press releases that are never heard from again, or turn out to be flawed studies. But you know how it is – everyone wants to be perfect, to be cured. And we know that a couple of these stories have turned out to be worth Torchwood’s time. And so, they’re flagged.

‘This one – there was something that grabbed Owen’s attention. It was partly the deliberately low-key nature of the reports. As though the people behind it wanted the public to know about it, but didn’t want anyone to take it seriously. Then it turns out that…’ He paused. A long document floated past in very small print. ‘… This is the report from the NHS trust that was supposed to have looked into this treatment. It’s a fake – no one has even considered using this. It’s not even been through basic testing – that’s all faked too. This treatment is a fake. Which isn’t necessarily a problem – only there are all of these testimonies to its success. And they read wrong – they’re not showing up like the fluke cures you get from placebo trials. Nor do they read like faked testimonials. No “Mrs N of Stoke-on-Trent” – these are the real things. Names, addresses, photos. All over the last two months, appearing in papers across the country, but all claiming to have received treatment in Wales. Owen thought that this was a fake cure that accidentally worked. So, we flagged it. And then, on the night you disappeared, Gwen and I were out hunting Weevils, and here you were. Alone. Cleaning the coffee filter. Same old Saturday night. And then the file noticed this, and sent you an alert.’

A small newspaper article floated to fill the screen:

HEALTHCARE ALL AT SEA FOR MIRACLE CURE

DOCTORS ARE DEMANDING to know if a miracle cure is legal, following the discovery that secret gene treatments are being offered on a Dublin to Cardiff ferry service
.’

‘Oh my god!’ said Gwen. ‘The ferry!’

The headline swum slowly across the wall.

Gwen shook her head. ‘But… No one mentioned anything strange. They just seemed shocked. They literally didn’t know what hit them. Everything seemed OK.’

Jack looked at her. ‘Read on…’

Nicknamed the ‘Hope Boat’, this is an ordinary ferry service that has been offered for the last four months. Patients can join normal passengers heading to the Emerald Isle and, once the ferry is in International Waters, the apparently ‘illegal, untested’ treatment can be carried out
.


It’s brilliant,’ said Barry Truman, 48, of Minehead. ‘We did some
shopping in Cardiff, some sightseeing in Dublin, and on the way back my cancer was cured. My GP had given up on me, but apparently I’m in complete remission
.’

Furious NHS officials are demanding access to the Hope Boat, but the ferry company has explained that the procedure is nothing to do with them. ‘We know it goes on,’ explained a spokesman for the company, ‘but we don’t know who carries out the treatment, or even who the patients are. All we know is that there’s a lot of miracle cures going on onboard, and who are we to stop that?

Cancer specialist Oliver Feltrow disagrees: ‘Terminal illness care has always been prey to so-called miracle hoaxes like this. Proper palliative care can be derailed by these claims of a total cure, leading to a tragically inevitable relapse. The really sick people are those behind this scam
.’

Passengers on the ferry last weekend rallied to support the Hope Boat
. ‘
I had no idea,’ said Mr Ross Kielty, 35, of Neath. ‘Fancy learning that the wife and I have been on a shopping trip while everyone around us has been cured of god knows what. No wonder they’re drinking the bar dry!

There were several photographs accompanying the article. A picture of the ferry and a few shots of passengers. They started to drift into close-up on the screen as Jack continued his narrative.

‘So, the system notices this article, and flags it as being on our very doorstep. And so, as the only person in the Hub, you print out a timetable and head out. And that’s not all. Look…’

Gwen gasped. There, at the very back of a crowd of a picture from over a week ago, was a woman who looked exactly like Ianto.

‘I don’t remember, I don’t remember,’ said Ianto very quietly.

IANTO CAN RIDE A HORSE
ACROSS A BEACH WITHOUT
FEAR OR SHAME

‘You OK?’ asked Jack. Ianto was in the tourist office, diligently tidying away leaflets in the carousel. He hadn’t exactly run out of the Boardroom, but it hadn’t been a slow saunter either.

‘No, Jack,’ sighed Ianto. ‘I’m really, really scared, and I don’t remember a thing about that ferry. If that’s not me, who is it?’

‘Ianto, relax.’ Jack’s voice was soothing. ‘Come on. Let’s talk about this. See what we can sort out.’

‘No,’ said Ianto. ‘I can’t relax. My breasts really ache.’ He popped down a small pile of postcards of interesting Welsh political buildings and rubbed at his left breast. ‘It’s really sore.’

‘Would you like me to rub it better?’ Jack was always smooth.

Ianto glanced sharply at him. ‘Jack, it really itches. Maybe it’s this top. I swear it’s a poly-cotton mix, but the label says no. But then what kind of fool trusts a label? “Dry clean only”! I wasn’t born yesterday.’

‘You are such a princess.’

‘Well yes, obviously.’ Ianto was lost in thought. ‘Geranium leaves are supposed to be good. But that’s for when you’re lactating, I think.’

‘Are you lactating?’ Jack wore an expression of dangerous interest.

‘I assure you, you would be the last person to know if I was.’ Ianto moved into a corner.

‘Is that what’s been different about the coffee?’ Jack laughed.

Ianto snapped the elastic band off of a new batch of leaflets about an organic jam activity centre. He pinged the band expertly at Jack’s ear. The Captain clapped his hands over the ear and gave Ianto a pout.

‘God, you’re moody these days – you’re not… at that time of the month, are you?’

Ianto stared at him, horrified. ‘Oh. I hope not. Am I? How can I tell?’

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