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 (5 page)

‘I dunno, Jack,’ she said. ‘I’ve got a million things on, I’m soaking wet, and I just want to get home, shower and put some warm, dry clothes on.’ She managed a weak smile. ‘But doing nothing feels… wrong. I want to try.’

‘Really?’ Jack was looking directly at her, nearly smiling. ‘Potential paradoxes are really, really bad. You behave nicely around them, and the universe doesn’t end. Trust me – I’ve spent chunks of the last century not bumping into myself. You get a knack for how to behave around paradoxes. Approach them like male models – very carefully and only from behind. If we can save him, then we will. But I can’t have you following your heart on this one. It’ll go horribly, horribly wrong. I need to rely on you to do the right thing.’ His smile suddenly flickered on. He sipped his coffee. ‘Is it me, or has Ianto’s coffee got better since he’s a woman?’

And, with that little misdirection, he was gone, bounding back to his desk.

That was bloody useless, thought Gwen, miserably. A few reassuring words, a bit of sexy banter, a lot of
que sera sera
. She looked back at the photo of Patrick Matthews floating across her screen. According to his Facebook status, he was booking a holiday. Bloody hell, thought Gwen.

EMMA WEBSTER IS ATTENDING
SPEED-DATING IN THE BAY

Hi, I’m Ross. I’m with the

No. Too old
.

Hi, I’m Terry. I’m

God, those teeth
.

Hi, I’m Roger. By name and

Tosser
.

Evening, gorgeous. I’m

There is not enough vodka in the world
.

Actually. I’m fed up of all of them. Can you make them go away?

An hour later the phone call came in.

‘A bar full of skeletons?’ said Jack.

TOMBOLA’S IS THE IDEAL
VENUE FOR YOUR NEXT PARTY

Tombola’s was one of those places. It was hard to see why anyone would go there for a drink unless it was for a reason. It wasn’t a bar you’d drop in on. The brewery were baffled. Clearly, the architect had put a lot of work in, and the décor was very nice – quite modern, quite classy, quite solid wood and cosy bunk beds. The beers were nice, the food wasn’t bad, the music wasn’t offensive. It was all very safe and ordinary – and the folk of Cardiff avoided it like the plague. Which meant it was easy to book it for a function – so it was popular with book groups, societies, and so on.

It had needlessly roped off an area for speed-dating. The area was full of corpses. All dressed up. All ready to go. All dead.

‘Well, they’re all men. I think we’re looking for a woman.’ Jack smiled. ‘Forget Mister Right – we’re looking for Miss Wrong.’ He stuck his hands on his hips and grinned broadly.

Jack Harkness, thought Gwen, I love you, but sometimes, you can be very hard work.

An hour later and they’d managed to collect twelve wallets and mobiles and only destroyed two bodies. Miraculously, Ianto had managed to avoid getting any of the dust on him. Whereas Gwen was caked in dead people. She was mentally rehearsing comebacks for any witty comments that Rhys might manage when she finally staggered in. But that wasn’t going to be for a long time.

Ianto confirmed there wasn’t any CCTV footage. ‘But, interesting development – the place was booked for speed-dating. And, as far as anyone can tell, this was it. The bar staff agree that everything was going on very much as normal, and then… all of a sudden… this.’

‘Yeah, but that’s stupid,’ said Gwen, a little harsher than she’d intended. ‘There are twelve men here. Where are the women? You don’t just get one woman – it’s normally a group. Fuelled on zambuca and desperation.’

Ianto reached into a large pink rucksack and pulled out a scanner which he ran over each of the bodies. ‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘No abnormal emissions, no radiation traces. Slightly elevated static electricity.’

‘Really?’ said Jack.

‘Yes. Twenty-three per cent. Same as over the rest of town.’

‘Oh.’

‘Right. This is peculiar.’ Ianto was scanning the room. He shrugged, which pushed back the straps on his shoulders. ‘No… something’s odd here. Each skeleton… it’s… perfect. Full set of teeth. No bones broken. Great posture. No fillings.’

Gwen laughed. ‘Twelve Welsh men without a single filling?’ The skeletons sat at various tables across the room, all in postures of polite attention.

‘So,’ said Jack slowly. ‘Apart from the mysteriously vanishing women, someone is taking men, making them physically perfect, then killing them?’

‘Don’t forget about sending the odd one back through time,’ put in Ianto.

‘Marvellous.’

BREN IS VERY PRECISE

It had been a long, long night, thought Ianto, but he had one thing more to do.

He was walking down St Mary Street. It was raining, but Cardiff was in full party mood. Tight hunting packs of single men, pumped arms and white shirts, strode past. Little groups of women stood queuing sulkily outside clubs. Everywhere were bouncers, flyer girls, and police just, you know, waiting.

And it was freezing. Last time he was out on the lash he’d been wearing a duffle coat. Now all he had to keep the elements at bay was a mini-skirt, a pair of tights and a light denim jacket. The rain was slicing through him. He was dying with each step.

Around him were girls wearing less and laughing more.

A gust of icy breeze lifted his skirt, and he heard some men across the street make a ‘Woooooo!’ noise. He glanced across at them, and they barked back.

Ianto cursed under his breath and carried on walking. ‘Lovely night for a spot of MurderRape.’ He got stopped briefly by an enormous queue outside a club. He stood there for a bit, trying not to jostle, sensing the ogling glances of the men, and the strange, jealous glares of the women.

A meaty hand landed on his arm. ‘Aw, not going home already, luv, are we?’ A boy’s voice, rough and slurred, sweet with beer, too close to his ear.

Ianto nodded. ‘I’ve got a boyfriend, sorry,’ he said quickly, and carried on walking.

All around him was noise and screaming, and empty glass bottles and rain, and the greasy smell of kebabs and piss. By the time he found the chip shop he was looking for, he was fed up and dripping, and he pushed gratefully inside, past a sign advertising curry with half and half. The shop stank of salt and vinegar and comfort. He shivered and made his way through the quiet crowd to the counter.

The shop was busy, as ever, the windows fogged up – couples sharing chips and sauce on the tiny lean-to formica counters, tight huddles of lads arguing over their orders, quiet groups of drunk girls, nudging and waiting and texting and stabbing at their chips with dainty mini-forks. And just one tiny little old lady behind the counter doing everything. Bren was a Cardiff institution, and a personal hero of Ianto’s – she was more organised and placid than he was. He just saved the world on a regular basis – but she kept order in St Mary Street on a party night. To the best of his knowledge, no one had ever had it large in Brenda’s.

She barely peered at him through her enormous fishbowl spectacles, waiting patiently for his order.

‘Aw, hello, Bren,’ said Ianto, cheered to see a familiar face, ‘How are you?’

She fixed him with a sudden razor gaze. ‘I don’t know you, dear,’ she said, quite certain of it.

‘No, sorry,’ said Ianto, slightly crestfallen. ‘I’m actually looking for Patrick.’

Bren held his gaze ever so firmly. ‘He’s out the back, luv, doing the batter.’ She leant back and raised her voice delicately. ‘Lady for you, Pat.’ And then Ianto was swept aside in favour of Vimto and a saveloy.

Patrick emerged, puzzled and then blinking happily. For a dead man he was in great health. He was tall and broad, with a grinning rugby-build that showed no signs of going to seed. He was wearing an old T-shirt, a little chef’s hat and an apron covered in flour. ‘It’s you – funny name girl. Er, Ianto, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘Still checking up on me? Come through.’

He lifted the heavy formica counter, and Ianto stepped through into another world, past Tupperware, a smell of hot oil and jars of pickled eggs, and a slowly spinning kebab.

‘Sorry if I don’t shake your hand, but I’m breading fish,’ Patrick explained, moving to a table and working quickly. ‘What brings you here? Girls’ night out?’

Ianto looked baffled and then remembered. ‘Oh, no. No. Well, a bit, but just a quiet drink with friends. Tombola’s,’ he put in quietly as an extra detail. No reaction. ‘Although we nearly went to Abalone’s.’

Patrick smirked at that and carried on quietly, expertly mixing up a batch of batter. ‘Abalone’s, eh? What would you think if I took you on a date there?’ His smile was sly.

Oh. Oh god, he fancies me. Ianto thought of something smart to say or do, and instead gave a little snorty giggle. With horror, he noticed a tiny fleck of snot land in the batter, but realised that Patrick was looking away. ‘Er… well… er…’

Patrick met his gaze and smiled. ‘Look, I’ll be truthful. You’re a pretty girl. And I was supposed to be going speed-dating there. They do a deal when you sign up – you book a table in advance for the Saturday night at a discount. So if I met someone nice, I could take them there.’

‘I see,’ said Ianto, not seeing at all. ‘And?’

‘Well,’ said Patrick. ‘I just wondered – is it a naff place to take a date?’

‘Oh,’ said Ianto, distracted into considering it seriously. ‘Well, it depends. Now me, I love a salad bar. Especially one with a sneeze guard.’

‘So that’s a yes?’ asked Patrick, washing his hands in the sink. He was smiling with a natural confidence that Ianto had never really had.

‘What?’

‘God, why do the pretty ones always make a meal out of it? Look, gorgeous, I’m saying screw the speed-dating. Why don’t I just take you to Abalone’s, sneeze guard and all?’

Oh dear. He’s asking me out on a date. Right. What? But… What do I do about this? If I go, perhaps I’ll save his life. Or break the space-time continuum. Or end up pregnant. That’s a whole new risk. What would Jack do? Ianto thought hard. And realised that Jack would barely have glanced at Patrick’s wicked grin and blue eyes before having him up against the gherkins.

I need a better role model, thought Ianto glumly.

‘OK,’ said Ianto, slowly. ‘Firstly, why are you asking me out, please?’

Patrick wiped his big hands down on his apron. ‘Oh come on, Ianto. When you walked in here it wasn’t to watch me batter a sausage.’ He laid a hand on Ianto’s shoulder and drew close. ‘Or was it…?’

‘Well,’ began Ianto, ‘actually, it was to save your life.’

Patrick took it as a joke and leaned in closer. He was wearing quite a nice scent, Ianto decided. ‘Really? You’re my saviour, are you?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Ianto, suddenly noticing how warm a fish and chip shop was. ‘Uh, yes. Seriously. I didn’t knock on your door by accident today. I was looking out for you.’

‘My guardian angel?’

‘Sort of,’ said Ianto. ‘I’m slightly psychic, see, and I saw you out the other night, and I had a premonition.’ He rolled the last word like a preacher.

Patrick laughed heartily, and clapped his giant hands on Ianto’s shoulders, drawing him into a big, easy hug. ‘Oh you are precious and funny.’

He pecked the side of Ianto’s cheek and then drew back. ‘So, gorgeous, you want to be around me and watch over me? Is that it?’ He grinned a big grin and then kissed Ianto again, this time on the lips. Ianto discovered two entirely new things about being a woman.

Patrick leaned back, and smiled at Ianto. ‘OK then. If I survive till the end of the week, we’ll go to Abalone’s. How about that, angel?’

Ianto was quite distracted for a second, but eventually replied. ‘Yes. Right then. So long as I’m just saving your life. If that’s all right?’

Patrick laughed. ‘It’s quite all right. You know, you aren’t like the other WAGs we get in here. You’re very shy. It’s rather sweet.’

He was about to kiss Ianto again, but they were interrupted by Bren bustling loudly down the corridor. ‘Pat, luv, there are customers who need to tuck into a good mutton pie. I can’t have you out here all night handling the fish.’ Bren gave Ianto the briefest of glances.

‘Yes, Nan,’ said Patrick, cowed just a bit, but also smirking. ‘Come on,’ he said to Ianto, leading him back to the counter and holding it up like a wedding arch. ‘See you Saturday, unless you feel the sudden need to save my life first.’

His hand brushed against Ianto’s skirt and then he went over to heat up some pies, giving Ianto an enormous wink.

Ianto watched Patrick’s back as he worked and realised that, for the first time, he was actually enjoying being a woman. Suddenly hungry, he turned to Bren. ‘Can I have some chips after all?’

Without looking up Bren got to work. ‘Small chips, is it?’ she said. ‘1.20 thanks, love.’

As Ianto walked out, he was oblivious to the two flour handprints over the back of his skirt.

Back out in the rain, he took three steps, trying to eat the chips and shield them from the weather. Steam rose from them, wafting around in the downpour. They didn’t taste of much, other than hot, but somehow they comforted him. A crowd of blokes edged past, their eyes all over him. Someone grabbed his arse, and he flinched and forced himself to move on. If only you bloody knew, he thought.

Later, he’d ask Gwen how she coped with an evening of constant ogling. She’d grin and say, ‘Well, most of the time, I was all padded up in my lovely copper’s outfit. That tends to soften the curves a bit. You still get a bit of chat, mind, but it’s all “awright luv?” banter. Honestly, if I’m lucky, someone’ll tell me that they’ll come quietly. You know. Clever. But not so bad.’

Yeah, Ianto would say, but what about when she was out… properly? And Gwen would shrug and grin. ‘I gave as good as I got.’ And Ianto didn’t doubt it for a second.

But for the moment there was just the chips and the rain. Ianto pressed on, past the bright lights of the last shop open selling cigarettes in Cardiff. One foot in front of the other.

These bloody, bloody shoes. I am never doing this again. And definitely never sober.

The chips were cold and damp. The rain was in everything.

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