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 (4 page)

‘Yeah – Gwen’s set up a sweep on any CCTV in case your body turns up. Don’t worry – it’s all in hand. Just get on with living.’

‘That’s easy for you to say.’

Jack pulled a face. ‘Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.’

Ianto swigged down the rest of the beer and belched. Jack laughed. ‘Oh, if I’d ever doubted it was you…’

‘But you don’t, do you?’ Ianto wanted to know. Partly because Jack’s trust was important to him, and partly because he didn’t want to wake up in a cell.

Again, the reassuring touch, the smile, but the strange look in Jack’s eyes. ‘No. I miss the old you – but I’ll have to get used to the new one.’

There was a silence between them. An awkward one. Ianto put his bottle neatly in the recycling.

Jack clapped his hands and put on some fresh cheer. ‘What say we go out tonight? There’s a town out there just waiting to be painted red.’

Ianto shook his head and swung off the desk. ‘Not tonight. I know you’ll laugh, but I’ve got a sudden urge to go home, run a bath and light a lot of candles.’ Truly, I just don’t want to be around you.

Jack held his glance. He knows I’m lying, thought Ianto. But he nodded, just slightly.

At just the right moment, Gwen came in. ‘Jack! Andy’s been on the phone. Says there’s a body in a restaurant that’s right up your street.’

‘A body, eh?’ Impressed, Jack swung his legs off the desk and bounded into action. ‘Your police friend’s really getting to know my tastes. Sometimes, I don’t know whether to jump him or wipe his memory.’

‘Both,’ whispered Gwen to Ianto.

Jack clapped his hands together. ‘Let’s head out. Ianto – you up for a body?’

Ianto considered. ‘OK. But first I’ve got to pee again.’

PAMELA’S SUDDENLY SHORTER

Torchwood operative
instructions for
When You Discover You’re Not
Who You Thought You Were.
(Last revised 1958)

There are five classic stages to body dislocation and misplacement.

STAGE I: Disbelief, fear and horror

Relax, this is the worst bit. Especially if your consciousness has been transplanted into a non-terrestrial organism, potentially with a superfluity of limbs. The good news is, if you’re reading this, you’re over the worst of it – if your mind couldn’t cope with the alien signal inputs, then it’d all be over by now. Instead, don’t worry.

You’re going to be fine.

From the Torchwood Archives

GWEN IS WEARING CORPSE

The skeleton sat looking out over Cardiff Bay, its hand resting on a glass of champagne which was still fizzing slightly.

‘Oh yes, definitely one for us,’ Jack was assuring the restaurant’s owner. Gwen was dividing her attention between the corpse and Ianto.

She was just about used to Ianto being a woman. Well, more or less. The weird thing was it was exactly, completely Ianto. Self-deprecating, quietly ironic, bashful. Only in the body of a woman who looked like she’d stepped from the set of Hotel Babylon.

Ianto was standing, staring at the body, completely entranced. His head was on one side, his mouth slack with unbecoming surprise. ‘Um,’ Ianto said, using lips that had clearly never said anything uncertain before in their lives. ‘This is quite a new thing.’ He bent over the table to examine something.

Gwen caught the manager checking out Ianto’s magnificent arse. Ah well, she thought. And she’d got used to being the pretty one. Poor Ianto – she wondered if he realised the effect he was having on men. Knowing him, probably not. But Gwen was going to have to have a little word about posture. He still moved like a Valleys Boy in a new suit, stiff, slightly afraid, and ever so slightly ungainly. Plus he kept sticking his arse in the air like a duck bobbing for food. It was like presenting a target to the entire restaurant staff. Still, Gwen guessed it distracted everyone, just slightly, from the enormous lump of skeleton sat at the table.

She wondered how Jack was feeling about Ianto. Was he being all sympathetic and reasonable, or just leaping on the poor lamb? She glanced briefly at Jack. He was watching Ianto and grinning. This was just one long sexy party for Jack, she decided.

Gwen went over to the counter where they kept the CCTV and started spooling through it. She’d called Rhys on the way to the restaurant, and tried explaining it all to him, but she’d got no further than ‘Ianto’s now a woman. Ianto. The quiet man who makes the coffee. No. Not in that sense. He’s not a trans-anything. He just came into work this morning as a woman. Yes. No! Of course I haven’t checked! No, Rhys, it’s a completely different body. I absolutely assure you he’s not tucked it up. Well, I guess so. Look- No, look, the point is that he’s gorgeous and I- Shut up. Listen- Well, yes I know about your Canadian cousin. It’s not like that at all.’

The CCTV bore out the manager’s story in time-lapse. Crowded lunchtime in a Cardiff restaurant. Lots of business. Only a few empty tables. People came and went. 3pm: the restaurant started tidying up after lunch. 3.17pm: between one frame and the next, the skeleton appeared. 3.18pm: one of the waiters noticed, and the screaming begins.

Gwen pocketed the disc and went over to the table.

Jack was looking at the skeleton, and standing closer to Ianto than he’d ever stood before. He smiled at Gwen briefly, and then looked back at the corpse. ‘It’s a young skeleton,’ he said.

‘How can you tell?’ asked Ianto. Gwen suddenly realised that he really, really missed having pockets. His hands were patting the top of his skirt nervously. It wasn’t an attractive look.

‘Calcium deposits?’ put in Gwen.

Jack shook his head and pointed to the body. ‘It’s the clothes – they’re very new, they’re trendy without being expensive. We can bother with the scanners in a bit, but I’m going to bet this was a young man.’

‘Out on a date,’ Gwen put in. ‘The table’s set for two, and he’s wearing his finest pulling gear. White shirt for clubbing, stripy shirt for a date. Those are the rules.’

‘Oh those rules,’ sighed Jack. ‘What did the CCTV tell us?’

‘Middle of the afternoon. Blink and he’s there. But the look of the table suggests he’s been there hours.’

Ianto checked a clipboard, happily. ‘Table’s got a good view.’

Jack nodded. ‘See if he’s got a wallet or a phone would you, Gwen?’

Gwen bent over and started rifling through the pockets,

Ianto had spotted something. ‘There’s lipstick on this coffee cup!’ observed Ianto.

‘Excellent work, Ms Jones,’ said Jack.

Gwen sighed, and tried to feel inside the jacket without touching the ribcage or retching. She managed to undo one of the buttons and was just edging her hand in when the body moved slightly and – oh god – she touched it, then jerked back as the body moved. It fell forward and just hit the table and carried on going, and she yelled and shut her eyes.

When she opened them again, she was covered in dust. There was no sign of the skeleton, just a pile of clothes. She gagged.

‘I just touched it and…’

Ianto shook his gorgeous head disapprovingly, and bent over the body. ‘Well, here’s the mobile,’ he said.

Gwen started to brush herself down. ‘Honestly, I just…’

Jack tutted. ‘Complete cellular exhaustion. The only thing holding those molecules together was boredom. Just a tiny nudge and…’

Ianto smiled. ‘Aw, Gwen, it’s made such a mess of your nice trousers.’

Gwen laughed. ‘Look at Ianto Jones, criticising my clothes! Fancy that – your first bitchy comment. Welcome to the sisterhood.’

Jack looked up from sweeping some dust into an envelope.

‘You two aren’t going to gang up on me, are you?’

Gwen’s mobile rang. Inevitably Rhys. No matter how many times she said ‘Please don’t call me at work unless another starliner lands in The Hayes, or there’s a new
Heat
with Gavin or Charl looking fat.’

‘Hello, lover!’ he said. ‘What’s up? Apart from Ianto’s cup size.’

Gwen stepped out onto the balcony. It was cold and windy, and she watched the wind blow vital crime-scene evidence off her and into the Bay. Ah well. ‘Nothing much. I’m covered in bits of corpse.’

‘Eugh!’ there was a pause. ‘I was eating a doughnut,’ said Rhys reproachfully.

‘I
knew
you were cheating,’ Gwen smiled. Rhys was on another semi-diet, which gave Gwen hours of innocent pleasure.

‘No… not really. Pastries left over after a meeting. Stolen food doesn’t count.’

‘Really?’

‘You’ve always said so. Anyway, corpse?’

‘Yeah.’ Gwen did a little relationship maths – how much could she tell him against how much would it make her feel better. ‘Yeah. Skeleton turned up at a table-for-two.’

‘You are kidding! Classy!’ Rhys sounded worryingly enthusiastic. ‘Where?’

‘You’ll never believe it – Abalone’s,’ said Gwen. Rhys laughed. ‘Wouldn’t be seen dead in there!’

‘Well quite,’ said Gwen. ‘Poor bugger seemed to be on a date.’

‘Abalone’s. What a way to go. It’s only one up from keeling over at the Chinese Buffet. What’ll you tell the relatives? Died of shame?’

‘Ah,’ said Gwen. ‘We’re still working out who he is. You see, I touched him and he… well, exploded over me…’

There was a dangerous pause, in which Rhys had the chance to say something reassuring. Instead: ‘So you’re seriously wearing skellington?’ Rhys was really amused. More amused than when Gwen had trodden in dog turd. Wearing flip-flops. ‘Well, mind you have a shower before tonight – we’re going round to Darren and Sian’s. They’ve got a new pet.’

‘What did they choose?’ Knowing them it was going to be something fluffy and low maintenance. Their ideal pet would be a spider plant that could purr.

Another laugh from Rhys. ‘A rat.’

Gwen squeaked. ‘Oh this is the best day ever.’

PATRICK MATTHEWS IS NOT
DEAD

Gwen scurried back into Torchwood. She’d nipped out for a sandwich and got soaked. She’d needed a break from combing through interviews with ferry passengers and CCTV from the bar. She’d been hoping to come back refreshed. Instead her teeth were chattering.

And there was Ianto. Sat at a desk, looking annoyingly perfect, not a hair out of place.

‘You bloody cow,’ laughed Gwen, dumping her bag on the desk. ‘How do you do it? You look… You’re not even wearing make-up.’

Ianto shrugged. ‘It’s getting weird, isn’t it? It’s like this body can only be pretty.’ He pointed to the hair. ‘And the hair! It just naturally… bounces into place. I’ve not even moisturised. This’ll take some getting used to.’

‘Hey, ladies!’ Jack bounded into the office, laying a fond hand on Ianto’s shoulder. I bet they’re at it like rabbits, thought Gwen. Jack picked up a leaflet on caravanning in the Gower and then favoured them with a wide grin. ‘Ianto Jones – looking amazing. Gwen Cooper – looking damp. Keep it up troops!’ They followed him through into Owen’s old medical area, where what remains they’d salvaged lay in an untidy heap on a slab.

‘I have news about our corpse,’ said Ianto. ‘His wallet says he’s Patrick Matthews. He checks up as living in Adamstown. He’s 25. And he’s still alive.’

‘Really?’ Jack looked pleased.

Ianto nodded. ‘I went over to his flat. He answered the door. Oddly, I didn’t have to think of a cover story. He seemed perfectly happy to chat.’ With those knockers, I bet he bloody did, thought Gwen. ‘Nice bloke, really,’ Ianto went on. ‘Works in Chippie Alley, moved from Neath. Got a nice car. Very friendly. Even gave me his mobile number – but told me it wasn’t working. He was off to get a new one, which was why I’d caught him in. Not at all dead in any way.’

‘Ah.’ Jack held up the corpse’s phone. ‘I have a theory. Two copies of the same mobile can’t function on the same network. You’d need a degree in temporal engineering and a soldering iron to get around it. Dusty the Corpse is from the future.’

Ianto coughed, gently. ‘And there’s more. I rang the restaurant. Patrick Matthews has booked a table for Saturday.’

Jack wore an expression which on any other man would have been embarrassed. ‘Tricky. Tricky.’ He spread his hands out in a really big shrug. ‘We used to hate stuff like this at the Time Agency. We’d have seminars. Really boring seminars. And don’t even get me started on the flowcharts.’

‘Jack!’ Gwen didn’t quite shout. ‘What do we do? Can we stop this?’

Jack’s look turned shifty. ‘Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps he does die. Perhaps not. That’s the problem. He dies in the future, his corpse turns up here. But if we prevent him from dying – what happens? It’s a massive ticking paradox inches away from a colossal space-time rift.’

‘Are you saying we do nothing?’

‘Not… nothing. I’m just saying that we might not be able to do anything. There’s two ways of looking at it. And one of them argues that we can spend the rest of the week trying to save Patrick Matthews – and somehow, he’ll still die. Do we really want to spend the next week in one of those films about doomed teenagers who die with hilarious consequences? Kind of hoped we were classier than that.’

Gwen thought about it. Rhys liked
Final Destination
way more than she did. That was a fact. Her left shoe was more wet than her right one. That was also a fact. You couldn’t even go out for a meal in Cardiff these days without causing a space-time paradox. Third fact. Hmm. She glanced at her watch. Not even 7pm. This was turning into another long day.

‘Right.’ Ianto’s voice was soft and echoed across the Hub. ‘We’ve got a week to work out who’s going to kill him. Failing that, we just turn up on the night.’

Jack started to open his mouth to argue, but Ianto carried on speaking. ‘It’s the least we can do. Maybe it’s fated that he’ll die. But maybe we can find the killer. What does it say about that on your flowcharts?’

Jack spread out his hands helplessly, and for a second looked like a farmboy with a missing cow. ‘To be honest, we never got to the end of the flowcharts. They were really big, the print was very small, and most of us were bombed by that point. See what you can find out about him, I guess.’

Later Jack sauntered over to Gwen’s desk. They’d spent the last few minutes pretty much not making eye contact. ‘So,’ he said, ‘are we going to have a row about this?’

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