Doyle strolls into the greenhouse, having learned to simply refuse Strax's offer of high explosives politely. “Afternoon, Dr. Doyle,” Jenny says, holding a pad of paper and a pencil. “Madame and I were about to go over pros and cons of spending some time in the country.”
“I wouldn't have thought you the type to run.”
“I admit, I do not like that aspect of the plan,” Vastra allows. “But a wise warrior must sometimes retreat.”
“On the bright side, we might get that Torchwood lot off our backs,” Jenny begins, making a note in shorthand. “Lord knows we've got enough to deal with.”
“On the downside, there would be no-one in town to rein them in,” Vastra counters. “Though it might let us see if this Clarence DeMarco is, in fact, tracking us.”
“On the other hand, if he is not, then he will have the run of the city,” Jenny notes.
“You might say that about any number of foes that you have faced over the past few years,” Doyle reminds them. “London was a dangerous place before the Veiled Detective made her debut, and I daresay it will continue to be long after you have rejoined your ancestors. And, indeed, there is no telling what sort of curiosities lurk outside London's friendly confines.”
“A fair point,” Vastra acknowledges. “Between Torchwood, the puffed-up pieces about us in the news, and DeMarco's killing spree followed by his absence, I am fairly convinced that there is some sort of conspiracy circling about us. London has more than its fair share of hiding places: if it wishes to come after us, it will have to come out in the open.”
“We might be playing into its hands, madame—what if it wants us out of the city?” Jenny frets.
“We shall leave Strax here, along with our other associates,” Vastra decides. “If it is we who are the targets, then they will be out of harm's way. If it is the city, then at least it will not be unprotected.”
“I might add,” Doyle interjects, “that if nothing else, the two of you are overdue for a vacation, and that the rest of us are quite capable of looking after ourselves for a few days. Dare I remind you of the events of your honeymoon?” Both women shudder. That had been a busy and not entirely romantic week.
Jenny thinks there is a flaw somewhere in Vastra's logic, but she looks into her wife's eyes and finally shrugs. The plan does seem plausible on its face, she thinks. “And it's not as though we've been having much success the usual way,” she says, finishing her train of thought as well as the argument. “We'd best pack our bags, then, madame.” Vastra nods, and they bid Doyle good day.
Vastra has been feeling paranoid ever since they decided to go on this little excursion. She still thinks it is the best choice—but that doesn't mean that she isn't worried for herself, and for Jenny, and for their friends. They pick their destination from the atlas at random. They leave under cover of darkness. They take the third cab that stops for them. She even dons her thickest veil for the occasion, despite the dim light. This has the added benefit of shielding her face from Jenny, making it easier to conceal her nerves from her wife. She cannot help but wonder how well her facade is holding up, but she is intensely gratified when Jenny suggests searching their train compartment. “An excellent idea,” she says, and smiles. Granted, the search turns up nothing, which, in turn, means nothing: perhaps they have eluded their pursuers for the time being, or perhaps they were never the target of some shadowy force to begin with. Or, Vastra thinks, perhaps the trap is not one they can detect. “Perhaps we should sleep in shifts as well,” she suggests, trying not to betray her fear.
“You can go first, madame,” Jenny says. “You need your beauty sleep, after all,” she teases.
“Wretch,” Vastra replies, kissing Jenny on the cheek. Vastra leans back across the seats as Jenny fishes out her compact scanner and a revolver from her purse. At last she feels safe, with Jenny watching over her, she thinks, and smiles as she dozes off.
Jenny hopes her wife can get some rest and calm her nerves. They've both been putting up good fronts, but Jenny knows when Vastra is nervous, and probably vice versa. But perhaps strangely, Jenny is most worried for those they are leaving behind. If there is someone trying to kill them, then Jenny cannot help but think that she and Vastra will deal with that threat as they have so many others. But she has watched her young friends grow and mature over the past few years, and they're amateur spies, not trained warriors. (She doesn't count Strax in this assessment.) And what's more, they all have friends and family to protect, if it comes to that. She just hopes it doesn't.
She thinks about when Vastra first awoke from her hibernation, how she had planned to exact years of bloody revenge upon humanity. That had been a bleak night, when Vastra had made that confession, she recalls. She had forgiven, but she hadn't yet understood. Now, though, she thinks she might.
Jenny wakes Vastra when they are about halfway through their journey. Her wife flinches into a ready stance, but Jenny's smile reassures her as it so often does. “Sleep well, my love,” she whispers, sitting up and taking out her own pistol. She waits until Jenny's breathing has evened out to bite her lip. The rest went a long way towards easing her nerves, but she cannot help but think that they are walking into the midst of a trap. This would bother her less if she at least knew who was setting the trap. After all, she and Jenny have walked into danger countless times and sent their associates into sticky situations more times than she cares to admit, trusting each time in their own competence to see them through. But most of those times were carefully measured risks, with known enemies that could be prepared for in some way. But this was a mere leap in the dark, hopping from shadow to shadow.
She snorts scornfully (but quietly). Perhaps the most troubling feature of the whole business was the unshakeable feeling that she had, telling her that she and Jenny were at the heart of this conspiracy, that they were being targeted for some yet-inscrutable reason. Goddess only knew they had made plenty of enemies during their careers as detectives (though a disproportionate number of them had wound up in their larder). But which of them would go to such lengths to embarrass them? She shivers and peers out the window as the landscape rattles by.
He watches as they flee through their town. He pierces their ingenious subterfuges with ease. They are clever foes, he must award them that. But he is all-seeing, even if he is not all-knowing. Yes, they are quite cunning prey, and at last his stratagems have flushed them from their den. Well, if he has their attention, then the next part of his plan can go into effect.
Anaya is taking advantage of the empty library at Paternoster Row when she hears the banging at the door. “Hello?” the woman asks, introducing herself as Annette Walker. “Is this the detectives' house?”
“Yes,” Anaya answers with some trepidation, grateful to sense Strax stepping up behind her. The woman didn't look like an assassin, but one couldn't be sure. “Can we help you?”
“It's my sister, Sandy,” Annette explains. “She's gone missing. Police told me to wait a few days, to see if she comes back. But she's the responsible one—she doesn't just leave and not say where she's going.”
Annette's pained expression couldn't help but move Anaya. Hopefully not a trap, then, she thinks. “I'm sure we can help you,” Anaya tells her confidently. One missing person couldn't be too hard, after all, and Anaya suspects they could use the business (even if this client couldn't pay very much) with the blows their reputation has been taking. “We'll discuss payment later,” she informs Annette, who has been clearly a little anxious on the point, mostly because she isn't sure what Vastra and Jenny would charge in this case. Annette nods gratefully and thanks her profusely. “Please, come inside,” Anaya tells her, gesturing her into the parlor. “And tell me everything you know.” Annette nods and walks past her. “Strax, would you find Henry and Nellie? I don't fancy solving this one by myself.”
Strax nods, then pauses. “Not Dr. Doyle?”
Anaya bites her lip. “No, not Dr. Doyle. I don't think he'd approve.”
Strax's eyes light up. For a member of a military clone race, Anaya thinks, he has a mischievous streak longer than he is. “Splendid,” he pronounces, and is off.
Last night Jenny and Vastra had checked into their inn and gone straight to bed, knives tucked under their pillows. This morning they had time to unpack and take a leisurely breakfast downstairs. “Almost makes you feel like we really will just be spending some time in a sleepy little hamlet, doesn't it?” Jenny asks. “Instead of being on the run from some great big conspiracy?”
“I just hope that this isn't a cunning plan to bore us to death,” Vastra notes, indicating the otherwise empty dining area with a smile.
“To be fair, we did pick the town at random,” Jenny responds, equally amused. “Besides, we've got each other. And a bed, if it comes to that.”
“Boredom or over-exertion?” Vastra asks rhetorically. “Not precisely a latter-day Scylla and Charybdis. Still, perhaps there are a few things to do in Little Walmsley. We hardly had time to explore last night in the dark,” Vastra reminds them.
“Well, if you want to know something,” Jenny notes, flagging down the serving girl, “ask the servants.” Jenny suspects she also serves the inn as cook and bartender most days, probably the innkeeper's wife or eldest daughter. “Excuse me,” she asks politely. “We're travelers passing through, and we wanted to know what there was to do in town. Perhaps you could help us?”
“Well, in town there are some shops, an old Viking campsite, a Roman fort, and a medieval abbey.” Vastra nods. That should hold their attention for a day or two. “The town church is quite pretty as well,” she adds, smiling. “But other than that, you might try wandering through the woods. You might see a fairy pool.” Before either of them can press her further, she gathers up their plates from breakfast and clears them away to the kitchen. Vastra settles the check, leaving an extra shilling in the tip for the information.
“No idea where we're going, madame,” Jenny states as they link arms. “But the town is only so big. Shall we?” Vastra nods once, firmly, and they are off.
“I know it's a bit unusual,” Anaya admits. “But I may have taken a case for the four of us, a missing woman.”
“We should certainly help find her,” Nellie declares.
“Sounds exciting to me,” Henry agrees. “Make a nice break from picking up odd jobs.”
Anaya, relieved, smiles and relates the facts. “Annette's sister, Sandy, went missing a day or so ago. They don't live together, but they do visit regularly.” She produces a photograph of the two women, pointing to the older, shorter of the two. “This is who we're looking for.” Henry and Nellie nod, taking in the details of their quarry: the wrinkles around the eyes, the dark hair, the rounded chin.
“Any suspects?” Henry asks.
Anaya shakes her head. “She's a widow and her children have all moved out. Her sister is the only family she has in town.” There is a knock at the door. “That's probably her—I told her to come back so you two could talk to her.” She hurries to get the door before Strax can terrify Annette more than she already is.
“You two should be experts at finding missing people by now,” Nellie jokes. “Don't mention how long it took you to find me.”
“That isn't funny,” Henry informs her.
“No, I suppose not. I wish I could have done more to help them,” she notes, eyes losing focus.
“You were magnificent.” Henry places a hand on her arm. “You are wonderful.”
“Thank you, Henry,” she says,” and as she is about to say something else, Anaya returns with Annette. They question her politely for a few minutes.
Finally, Henry asks, “Where do you think we should look?”
Annette shrugs. “I haven't the faintest idea, though I must admit that I haven't looked inside of her home since she went missing. The doors and windows were locked, and I didn't dare try to break in.”
“That won't be a problem,” Nellie assures her. “One way or the other, we'll find her.
“On the bright side,” Jenny says, “the abbey, the Roman fort, the town church, and the Viking campsite were all very charming.” Vastra glowers. “On the down side, they were all the same building.”
Vastra sighs. Even by the standards of sleepy English villages, Little Walmsley is a dreadful bore. “I suppose we should make sure the shops occupy the entire afternoon, then.”
“Suppose we'd better,” Jenny agrees, pushing open the door of the nearest boutique. “Maybe we can get a souvenir,” she notes, slowly scanning the little items for sale.
“Do we want to remember our time here?” Vastra jests at a whisper. She makes her way to a display of small pastoral scenes carved in relief on blocks of wood. “Excuse me,” she flags the shopkeeper, a grizzled man of forty who introduces himself as Jenkins. “How do you dye the wood such an unusual shade of green?”
“For that, you'd have to ask my youngest, as he's the one what finds the wood and carves it.” Vastra nods her assent, and Jenkins calls “Freddie! Come out, will you?” Turning back to Jenny and Vastra, he continues. “Don't know how he does it, but folks seem to like it, so I don't make a fuss.” A skinny lad of perhaps fifteen comes out from the back of the shop, sawdust and wood shavings stuck in odd places to his clothes. His father nods towards Jenny and Vastra. “Tell them about your...what do you call it?”
“Green Oak,” Freddie says. “You can find it in the woods hereabouts. I can show you tomorrow if you like, but I'm in the middle of a piece I'd like to finish just now.”
“That would be most acceptable,” Vastra begins, wishing idly that she could scan the wood. Certainly she had never heard of anything like this before (at least not on this planet in this century), and Little Walmsley seemed to have few enough attractions that they may as well poke their noses into it.
“Would you mind showing us around the woods generally? We'd pay for your time, of course.” Jenny adds. “It's just that we've heard that there are fairy pools out there, but we wouldn't know one if we fell in.”
“I wouldn't want to fall into one of those, but to be sure, you don't want to fall into Crichton's Creek.” He shakes his head. “You'll not be getting out again, not if you had the strength of a Hercules.”
“Oh?” Vastra pries. This tiny hamlet might have more to it than she had given it credit for.
“Seems every year someone will lose a dog who jumps in for a swim—good, strong-swimming hounds, too. Any living thing that falls in gets sucked to the bottom before you can say 'Jack Robinson.' Man, woman, child, or beast.” He shakes his head. “And it looks so inviting and calm, no less. But I wouldn't even go fishing in it if you paid me ten pounds, and I'd sooner cut off my foot than risk sticking it in there.” He crosses himself. “Freddie'll show you where it is, but if you want to walk up to it, that's on your own head. You keep back from that creek, you hear me?”
“Aye, father.” Freddie nods.
Jenkins shakes his head. “Now then, ladies, is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Tell me, does your son do custom work?” Vastra asks. “As you can see, I have a rather discoloring skin condition, but your Green Oak is about the right shade.”
“You'd be wanting a portrait, then?” Freddie asks. “Aye, I could manage that. And one for your lady friend as well, if she liked.” He nods, looking them over. “Aye, if you stop by tomorrow, I'll show you about, and do the carving in the evening.” They thank him graciously and leave the shop.
“What do you think, madame? That Green Oak could be an alien plant of some variety.”
“Certainly possible,” Vastra admits. “Though we shall have an answer for certain tomorrow. I myself can't help but wonder if there is a spatio-temporal rift beneath that creek.”
“That the water doesn't go through?” Jenny asks.
“Perhaps there is a semi-permeable barrier which screens for living matter, or some alien being which takes the animals as prey,” Vastra theorizes excitedly. “But then, I am getting ahead of myself.” She sighs. “I seem incapable of simply relaxing, despite our soothing surroundings.”
Jenny sighs. “I know the feeling, madame. At least we haven't resorted to knocking on the door of the local police.”
Henry creeps up to the window and begins to jigger the lock. Anaya and Nellie are watching two of the approaches, so as long as nobody comes down that third alley, he should be fine.
He has one leg in the window when a constable taps him on the shoulder. “Good evening, sir,” Henry says. “You might not believe this, but I'm investigating a missing person.”
“Sure thing, boyo,” the policeman tells him. “Now why don't you come with me?”
“Really, sir, he is,” Nellie says, coming up and giving the cop her best innocent face. “We're working for the Veiled Detective.”
The policeman nods. “I thought you lot looked familiar: always skulking around the station.” He squints. “Did you help me catch my brother's killer?” he asks Anaya as she trots up.
“McGovern?” she asks, and the policeman nods. “Yes, I think so.”
McGovern nods slowly. “There was a woman saying her sister had gone missing around here. Come on, let's have a look while we're here. Maybe something will come of it.”
Freddie leads them through the woods the next day. Jenny wishes she had worn her suit, stares be dammed, rather than slogging about in all these petticoats. At least they were wearing skirts tailored to the calf rather than the ankle. “This is a fairy pool,” he remarks off-handedly. “Reckon they go all the way down to Tir na Nog.”
Jenny lingers at the still, blue pool. It is about as wide as her shoulders and a mesmerizing, unnatural shade of blue. She can see why the locals ascribe magical properties to it. Certainly there isn't anything like this in London. The Thames is all well and good, but this is equally impressive in its own way. She thinks she can see something moving, down in the depths. A fish? An insect? A reflection? Or the swirlings of something stranger, something magical...something calling to her... Perhaps if she leans a little closer, she can see it...
The call of a bird pierces the fog of her mind, and she checks the scanner. Nothing doing: the pool is just insanely deep, and contains some unusual minerals, but nothing dangerous or even valuable. Just as well Nellie and Doyle aren't here: they'd be sorely disappointed by the lack of magic. She shrugs, and hurries to follow Freddie and Vastra. Funny how the mind plays tricks when it wants to see something.
“Have you been carving long?” Vastra asks Freddie. She sees Jenny catching up with them out of the corner of her eye.
“Few years now,” he replies, hopping up on a log to walk along its mossy length, hands out for balance. “I've gotten better.” He looks over at Vastra, then turns his eyes back up the path.
She can tell that he is trying not to stare. “I've been like this all my life,” she tells him, which is true, after all. “I suppose it might be a bit of a handicap, but it got me work in a circus, and there are certainly those who can look past my skin,” she continues in the same gentle tone. He looks back at Jenny, then to Vastra, and nods. Perceptive little fellow, Vastra thinks, surmising what chain of thought Freddie has just pursued. “When it comes down to it, I suppose the things that make us different are what makes us valuable—I could not carve as you do, for instance.” He nods again, solemnly.
“Here it is, then,” he says, leading them to a clearing. Though, she notes, the space is hardly empty. Instead, it is filled with downed trees. “Big storm a long while ago,” he tells them, for Jenny has caught up. “You could hear it even in town. Bit scary if you were little.” He points to a growth of eerily teal mushrooms. “That's what does it. Dead trees all over the place, but the wood only turns green if you get those on it first.” Vastra nods, idly pleased by the boy's empiric outlook, but she finds the shade of teal to be more pressing.
“They remind me of home,” she whispers to Jenny. “A great many things were such bright, bold colors then instead of placid emerald green. How I wish you could have seen them!”
“You don't think they're dinosaur mushrooms, do you?”
“You aren't planning on taking any, are you?” Freddie calls over. “I reckon I'm the only one who knows where this place is, and I mean to keep it that way.”
“No, no, our sights are not set on the woodworker's craft,” Vastra reassures him. “We merely marvel at the strange color of the mushrooms.”
“They are a bit odd, aren't they?” he observes. “Don't mind me, I'll just be chipping off a bit—I think I know how I want to do your carving, ma'am.”
Vastra waves her hand absently as Jenny produces the scanner. “Nothing, either from the wood or the mushrooms. The chemical change is unusual, but definitely terrestrial.”
Vastra nods. “And they while they are reminiscent of my era's plants, they are not anything I recall from my own time, so we need not fear some errant time-portal.” She sighs, thinking of the creek yet to come. “Well, at least not yet.” She stands, and turns towards Freddie. “When you are ready, then.”
Another companionable half-hour's walk brings them to the brink of Crichton's Creek. “Take that path.” Freddie indicates a shallow path down the embankment. “I'll be up here when you're done.”
“Well, at least we won't have to come up with a clever subterfuge to talk and scan privately,” Jenny notes.
“I suppose we won't,” Vastra agrees, and the creek, burbling merrily, appears to feel the same way. “Well, this looks unassuming.” She takes out the scanner anyway. “Nothing,” she notes, almost disappointed. “Extremely deep with some very strong currents beneath the surface, but no portals and no rifts. No alien creatures or any large biological signatures to speak of.”
“Just drowned, then?” Jenny asks, and Vastra nods slowly. She looks out at the watery graveyard and shudders. The creek holds a certain morbid allure, very different from that of the pool, and Jenny says a quiet prayer before they left, holding Vastra tight as she does and pressing a kiss to her cheek.
“You want to go home, then?” Freddie asks. “Been thinking about the piece I mean to carve of you two, and I've got some ideas.”
“Yes, that would be lovely,” Vastra says. “Perhaps a spot of lunch first.” Jenny nods—they have been hiking thither and yon all morning, and she is starting to get a touch peckish.
Over lunch, Freddie explains his plan: an interlocking pair of cameos depicting the two women. (He doesn't comment on the exact nature of their relationship, and they don't ask what he suspects.) One of Green Oak for Vastra, one of ordinary wood for Jenny, capable of being separated, but forming an artistic whole. The plan is quickly approved.
Nellie isn't surprised when they find Sandy's body inside her home. If anything, she is a little surprised by the fact that she's taking the discovery so well. Though she has seen a lot, she supposes. And it will be harder to tell Annette, later. But she's seen awful things before, she supposes. And, too often, to women. Maybe it's time to get out of this business, she thinks.
“You okay?” Henry asks. His hand on her shoulder feels nice, she thinks.
“Yeah,” she says, honestly and easily. “Any ideas on who killed her?” she asks as they rejoin the group.
“Looks like the work of your friend Clarence DeMarco,” McGovern says. “But I can't be sure.”
Anaya sighs. “We should probably see if Doyle can take a look at her. I'll fetch him; I got us into this.” She'd really hoped that they could handle this by themselves, but it had gotten rather out of hand.
“And I've got a murder to report,” McGovern adds. “I hope to God you kids don't bollocks anything up.”
“We might as well keep looking for clues here,” Henry says, voice optimistic despite knowing that DeMarco had left few traces behind at each of his past killings.
“Might as well,” Nellie agrees. “Henry,” she adds, once the other two have gone, “is this what you want to do with your life?”
“I'd like to raise a family, of course,” he begins. “Which probably means a bit more stable work,” he admits. “What about you?”
“Both of those sound good, yes,” she admits. “But fighting monsters isn't everything, and neither is working. I'd like to keep doing good, after helping out with the laundry and all, and now with going to that rally... I don't know what, exactly, I want to do, but it's got to be something.”
It takes Freddie until the next morning to finish his piece, and while they wait, Jenny and Vastra pay a visit to the local police department, and ask for a look at their open cases. The officer on duty agrees readily. “News doesn't get out here as quickly, but all of England has heard of you two,” he commends them. “Poke around all you like,” he invites them.
“We are properly terrible at going on vacation, madame,” Jenny announces as they sort through the files.
“I suppose this is what happens when the destination is chosen at random, and the time is forcibly selected,” Vastra counters. “Still, the trip has not been a total bore, or waste of time.” She jots down a few notes and tosses a folder onto the 'solved' pile.
“I suppose not.” Jenny frowns. “I just know the brother-in-law is responsible for this one, but we'll never be able to prove it. Do we need provisions?”
“No, and the last thing we need is a suspicious death adding to our clouded reputation.” Vastra shakes her head. “While these files prove that small towns are as crime-ridden, person for person, as London, I cannot help but feel that a sudden disappearance might be linked to us.”
“I suppose you're right,” Jenny admits. “Still, I hate to see him escape justice.”
“We can hardly solve every crime, and perhaps with the notes you've made, the local police will be able to find more evidence on their own.”
“I hope so.” Jenny's stomach rumbles. “Grab some lunch, and see how Freddie's coming along?”
“Excellent idea,” Vastra decides. “And then, I think, we should return home and see how our friends have fared in our absence.”
Clarence, he whispers. Clarence, it's time to go now. He can sense some resistance and smiles. One last thing to do, Clarence, he promises. Then it will be all over. He can sense Clarence nodding, and reaching for his knife. No, he whispers, leave it—we'll get a new one. Listen carefully, Clarence...
Doyle made a good show of being unamused by Anaya's news, but she was fairly confident that he was, in fact, quite pleased to help them investigate a murder. His autopsy takes most of the evening, and she leaves to tell Annette of her sister's death.
“Thank you,” Annette says, clear-eyed. “I knew there was something bad, something wrong about her home.” She sits, arms wrapped around her body. “I suppose it's better to know?” she asks, and now Anaya can see the tears forming.
“Yes, I think so,” Anaya replies, remembering how she had felt when she had finally closed the book on her late parents. “Can I help you with anything?”
Annette shakes her head. “No, thank you... Just let me sit and think and pray for a while. But thank you, for everything.”
Anaya nods, and leaves, praying that she won't have to deliver news like that too many more times. The next morning, she meets with the others at Sandy's house, hoping that with Doyle's scientific eye, they might gather more information. McGovern is just about to open the door when she looks over his shoulder and nearly keels over. “Is that him? DeMarco?”
The others turn, and, sure enough, there he is, watching them from about a block away. “They always return to the scene of the crime,” McGovern notes, blowing on his whistle as DeMarco bolts and they give chase. Conveniently ignores the fact that DeMarco had never gone back to an old crime scene before, Anaya thinks. If they catch him, she won't complain, but she can't help but wonder if this is a trap.
“He's headed for the train station,” Henry observes as they dodge through the crowd, Strax slowly falling behind. “I'm not letting him get away.” Definitely not, Anaya agrees, saving her breath for the chase.
They finally catch up to him at a terminal as a train pulls in. DeMarco looks nervous despite his hostage; the blade at her throat twitches uncomfortably. His eyes flicker at points in the distance, as if waiting for something to arrive. Anaya has no idea how they will resolve this stand-off when the door of the railway car opens behind DeMarco. She isn't sure whose eyes go wider: DeMarco's, the hostage's, Jenny's, or Vastra's.
“You must be kidding me,” Jenny says, even as she wrestles the knife from DeMarco's hand. Vastra pulls the hostage to safety and the crisis is defused. “How have you all been then?” she asks cheerily, despite standing with one foot on the throat of a notorious serial killer.