The press release document in front of her was still blank. The cursor on the screen was blinking just out of tempo with the second hand on the clock, so that every twenty seconds or so, for three or four ticks, they were almost perfectly synchronized - but then it fell apart, again and again and again, and Sally Donovan was left more distracted than ever.
Her cell phone rang.
Didn’t I turn that off? She thought, pressing her fingertips to her temples. I’m sure I did. It’s for personal calls only, after all, and she was a professional. She let it go to voicemail. She was about to start typing– begin with a nice, technical sentence, try not to take up more words than you have to –
“Oh, fuck it.” She picked it up. “Donovan.”
“Hello, Sgt. Donovan, my name’s Gwen Cooper. Tell me, have you ever heard of Torchwood?” The voice was female, and had an accent Sally couldn’t immediately place.
“Sorry? I didn’t catch that.”
“Torchwood. Have you heard of it?”
“No, I haven’t.” Sally’s fingers flew over the keyboard. When a simple internet search didn’t turn up anything except a few old news articles, she searched the Police database – and immediately got a request for I.D. “What is it?”
“Don’t bother searching for it in your computer, you won’t find it. We’ve been doing some P.R. maintenance.”
“Is it something I should know about?” She tucked the phone more securely between her shoulder and her ear. “Is it a threat?”
“Not a threat, no.” Welsh, Sally realized, the woman’s accent was Welsh. Sally mentally kicked herself for not recognizing that earlier. “I’m part of Torchwood, and we were wondering if you would consider relocating. Very exciting. Lots of important stuff. Aliens.”
“I’m sorry, but did you just tell me that there would be aliens involved? And I must have misheard you, because that sounded like you were offering me a job.”
“Aliens are very real, Sally Donovan. And we need your help.”
There was a hesitant pause. “Why not you? We’ve looked at your work and we like what we see. Do we need another reason to hire another competent person with experience in the field?”
“I’m going to have to check this Torchwood out, you realize.”
“Ask Lestrade. He knows. We contacted him.”
“How did you convince him ? He wouldn’t recognize anything as alien if it did a dance in front of him! You haven’t even convinced me , for God’s sake!”
“Come on, Sally. You know we already have. As for Lestrade, well, we know someone who occupies a minor position in the government. He knows Lestrade rather well, as I understand it. My boss is quite jealous.”
The clock showed 5:30. A cubicle over, Anderson was getting his coat. “Can I call you back?”
“Lestrade will give you our number.”
Well. She stood up and stretched her legs. Anything to get away from the bloody press release.
She poked her head around the door to Anderson’s cubicle. “Catch up with you later, yeah? I’ve gotta go speak to the boss a bit.” He looked up.
“Yeah. See you later.” She left.
“Lestrade? Can I have a word?” He took his feet off the desk and had the decency to look embarrassed.
“Something called Torchwood called me just now, they said they want me for a job, said they’d called you first. You heard anything about it?”
“Oh, bloody hell.”
“That’s a yes, then?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of them. Met up with them in one of those odd murders a few years back - do you remember them? Might’ve seen the papers, some kind of glowing boils left on the bodies. Came right in and made a right mess of the scene. Bloody Torchwood.”
“Don’t like them very much, then, do you?”
“No love lost when they went away, I’ll tell you. They did solve the case though, I’ll give them that.”
“Would you prefer I turn their offer down?”
“Doesn’t sound like I’ve got much choice about it, actually. If Torchwood wants you, Torchwood gets you, that’s what I’ve heard.”
“Don’t I get a choice?”
“Of course, it’s your choice, I’m just not allowed to say that you’re a bloody fantastic Sergeant and I’d rather keep you in my squad.”
“Are you going to take the job?”
“They said aliens were involved. Lestrade, there’s no such thing as aliens, right? Don’t tell me my nephew’s been right because I will never hear the end of that.” He didn’t say anything. “You’ve got to be bloody kidding.” He shook his head. “Oh, fuck .”
“I should tell you off for swearing,” he said, leaning forward onto his elbows, “but that’s exactly what I said.”
“I’ve got to take it.”
“I figured you’d say that.”
She tilted her head. “You did?”
“I’ve got you booked on a train to Cardiff tomorrow morning.”
“I don’t know whether to hug you or slap you.” She grinned widely. Then stopped. “Wait, did you say Cardiff?”
Molly Hooper stood over a dead body. She zipped up the body bag and took off her gloves. The door opened.
“Hooper?” Her supervisor strode in, leading a woman - about Molly’s own age - in. “This is Martha Jones. Molly Hooper. Martha’s the new recruit I told you about. Show her around?” He was turning around, running a hand through his already very distressed hair. “There’s some kind of scandal in I.T. that I’ve got to go deal with.” He left. The woman stuck out her hand – probably from habit, it wasn’t the sort of thing you usually did when someone had until just now been poking at a dead body.
“Hi. I’m Molly Hooper. I mean, I know you knew that already, but... yeah.” She shook the proffered hand.
“Martha Jones, again, obviously.” They stood like that for a bit, awkwardly, until Molly brightened up. “I guess I’d better show you around, then.”
“Yeah, sure.” Martha followed her as she went to wash her hands.
“Do you mind me asking – why the morgue? It’s not most peoples’ first choice of profession,” Molly asked.
“Med school doesn’t pay the bills,” Martha laughed, a bit self-consciously. “I mean, I’m already an M.D.; I’m doing Paramedic training now.”
“Yeah, I need it for work.”
“I thought being a doctor was considered doing pretty well for yourself, I mean, they always need more doctors, don’t they?”
“I’m not looking for work as a doctor. I was, but that changed.”
“Changed? Changed how?”
“A hundred things happened all at the same time. My priorities got shifted around.”
“What happened? Did you meet someone?”
“You could say that. It’s a bit complicated, actually. Long story, and all that.”
“I can do complicated.” It wasn’t a lie, either. Faking someone’s death isn’t an easy feat.
“Maybe later.” Martha’s smile looked a bit sad.
“Sorry, it’s none of my business. I didn’t mean to pry, I just - “
“Yeah, it’s fine, just - later.”
It was quite a bit later that night when they saw each other again, bleary-eyed and still half-asleep, at the morgue. Their supervisor was livid.
“I trust you to make sure that this place is sanitary and secure. We’ve got a medical emergency and I’ve only got two lousy morgue attendants to try and clear this thing up. Mr. Smyth’s body, the one on your list? His widow says you’ve done something to his face. Did you give her the wrong body? Did you screw with his body? I expected better than this from you, Molly Hooper, especially after that bloody detective was gone.”
“Sir, I’m sorry, but I’m absolutely positive it’s Mr. Smyth. All the other bodies are accounted for.”
“Right. Well, his body’s on the table upstairs, you’ll have to go verify that. If you can’t figure out what’s going on, the Mrs. is prepared to sue. You had better bloody well straighten this thing out.” He threw his hands up in exasperation and went off to talk to Mrs. Smyth.
Molly looked at Martha and was shocked to see that Martha looked relatively unperturbed by this unexpected disruption from the norm – and on her first day of work.
“Where do we start?” Martha asked. “Is there a procedure, or...?”
“Procedure. Right, procedure. Got that.” Molly snapped out of her daze and went into autopilot. “Check our records, make sure it wasn’t just an oversight, check all the other bodies to make sure there aren’t any other mix-ups – we’ve got photos of all the other bodies from when they were first brought in, so that won’t be difficult – why don’t you start with that? I’ll get the paperwork.”
Martha nodded and walked off towards the positive temperature cold chamber, where the rest of the bodies on their list were. Molly turned back towards the office, where the files were kept. “O-kay, then.”
Irene watched the blonde woman arrive at her door from inside her bedroom - her own, not the one she used for clients. She checked her makeup and stood up, picking up her riding crop on the way out. She watched from the shadows of the top floor, taking care not to lean too far over the railing. She didn’t want to be seen, not just yet. Kate led the woman to the second-floor bedroom, passing through the metal detectors she’d installed - discretely, of course, and with a few unusual customizations.
The room that Kate led the blonde woman to was tastefully – and expensively – furnished. The bed was large, with strong brass posts at the headboard and smaller ones at the foot.
She watched Kate close the door and leave.
Barely two minutes later Irene approached, the sound of her high heels hitting the floor clipping the silence into carefully-measured chunks. The heel of her riding crop traced a lazy path up the outside of her thigh. She picked up the card that Kate had left on the small table outside. River Song. She spared it a quick glance before entering, her stride never faltering. “Have you been very naughty, Ms. Song?” She put her hand on the bedpost. If she was less experienced than she was, she might have been surprised that her client wasn’t already on the bed. As it was, she’d seen everything. Some liked to make an entrance, prove themselves different than anything she’d seen before. But it got tiresome. Nothing surprised her anymore.
River Song stepped out from behind the screen, still very much dressed. “Oh yes,” she said, winking. She reached behind her, into her belt. Irene had thought she’d seen everything. The gun that River drew and pointed directly at her heart told a different story.
“That’s my gun.” She reached behind her, towards the dresser, and found that the latch on it was broken.
“Couldn’t resist. I was going to use this - ” River held up a thin tube - Irene supposed it was lipstick, although she sincerely doubted that it was just that - “but then I found this and, well, guns are so much more fun to play with.” River grinned.
Irene might not have seen this before, but that didn’t mean that she was surprised, or at all out of her league. On the contrary. What had been shaping up to be an ordinary job had just gotten several times more exciting.
“I’ve got questions. Either you answer them and do as I say, or you’ll die. I don’t mean one of those pesky disappearing acts you’ve pulled recently, either. I mean I’m going to take this gun and put a bullet through the very centre of your heart.” River smiled confidently.
Irene knew she should be afraid. She knew that she should do something , call for Kate, bluff, something to get out. But strangely, she wasn’t, and she stayed where she was. Instead, she found herself smiling.
“Oh, I think I’m going to love you.”