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 (7 page)

The last couple of days had been a whirlwind. Previously, her life had been mostly about a comfortably poky one-bedroom flat behind a Chinese takeaway and far too many amusing photos of cats from the internet. Now, all of a sudden, she was gorgeous, vivacious and men couldn’t get enough of her. But not tonight. Tonight she just wanted a break.

What’s that, girlfriend?

‘You know,’ she said quietly. ‘Just a nice evening in. Watching some
Friends
and
Scrubs
and so on. Bottle or two of plonk, pack of ten and some Müller Rice. You know. Me time.’

Me time?

‘Yeah, yesterday was quite a day, really. I dunno what to think.’

I’ll tell you what to think, babe – get your arse out there and work it. There are drinks to be drunk, hunks to be had. Forget watching George Clooney – you could have George Clooney. Go out there and get him. I know I would
.

‘But, you know, I don’t really… you know… I just fancied a bit of…’

I’ll tell you a little secret, babydoll. I NEVER get bored. I don’t like being bored. Being bored makes you boring. You want to know why you ended up alone? You made yourself. Get out there. Catch the eyes of a few tall, dark handsomes. You Know The Drill
.

‘But, I…’ Emma saw her quiet night in vanishing.

That’s better girl. You just listen to Cheryl. We’re going to see you have a portion, all right. Tonight, my doll, we’re going to paint the town red and have it large. Yeaaaaaah
.

‘Oh, all right then,’ Emma thought to herself. ‘Maybe just a quick one.’

Four hours later, Emma had sex in a car.

JACK IS PUZZLED

Cardiff didn’t make sense. Jack always worried when that happened. Mysterious energy cloud, corpses, that ferry. Ianto.

He wandered down into Owen’s area, and picked up one of the scans they’d done of Ianto. Everything seemed fine. Well, more than fine. He just didn’t get it. He was stumped.

Then he noticed his reflection in the mirror, and blinked with surprise. He had spots.

EMMA WEBSTER IS ON A DATE

She just met him in a bar. He honestly walked up to her, all shy. This had never happened to Emma before, and she just stared at him, like a fish without anything interesting to say. Luckily, he didn’t care.

‘Hi, my name is Joe.’ He grinned bashfully and paused. He was wearing a crumpled suit jacket, under which a striped Dennis the Menace jumper sagged. He was young and looked in need of ironing. He held out his hand, and Emma, slightly charmed, shook it. ‘Look, I don’t really know what to say. Hello!’ he continued, looking genuinely ill-at-ease and drumming the bar.

‘Pleased to meet you,’ said Emma, genuinely, thinking he was quite a few steps up from the tossers at speed-dating last night. A genuine husband. She smiled. ‘So, not that I’m judging you, but what do you do?’

‘Oh. I edit a magazine for the National Assembly. It’s OK – it’s a real laugh, and my Welsh has got pretty good. Do you know any?’

‘No, not really.’ Emma hadn’t actually sat down to learn any yet, although they had classes at lunchtime. Naturally, Vile Kate went every week.

‘Actually,’ continued Joe, ‘I’d always been rubbish at Welsh, and felt guilty about it. I blame too much vodka at school. There was an afternoon where we all sneaked out, bought a bottle of the cheapest vodka imaginable from the only corner shop that’d sell it to us. I think it was called Perestroyka, or something. And the four of us just sat drinking at Mandy Pollard’s house until Mandy threw up, and then they went back to school, and I decided that this was far more fun than learning Welsh. So I skipped all the rest of my lessons. Hadn’t really needed it until now.’

Emma thought about young Joe, bunking off. He looked the kind of guy who would. Oh dear, she thought, am I starting to fancy dangerous men? She smiled at him.

‘It’s really handy, you know. We have to publish two versions of the magazine, but it’s been really useful for the Cardiff Business Community.’

‘You just pronounced that in capital letters.’

‘Yes. Yes I did. Oh god. I take myself so seriously these days.’ Again, his fingers drummed on the table.

‘You do take yourself terribly seriously, don’t you?’ Emma had a sudden urge to mother him. ‘What did you want to be?’

‘When I grew up? A poet? Or even a writer of horror books. Ever read
The Fog
?’

‘It is my favourite book!’ Emma grinned, really liking him.

‘Really?’

‘Absolutely. I read it until the spine fell apart. No book’s lived up to it apart from… Oh, I can’t say.’

‘I know what you’re going to say.’

‘You do?’


The Da Vinci Code
.’

‘Yes! No! How did you know? I’ve never dared admit that to anyone.’

‘I can tell. It’s like KFC, Jeremy Clarkson… you know.’

‘Oh, I so do.’ He is perfect.

I can tell you like him
, said the voice in her head. The voice she had grown used to. The voice that had said ‘chat to him, let him buy you a drink’. The voice that oozed confidence, calmness and something else. Something Emma didn’t quite… like.
Relax, Emma. I’m trying to stop you from blushing. It’s taking a bit of effort to calm down your body language
.

What do you mean?

Well, I’m toning down the amount of shadowing you’re doing. Keeping you a bit more neutral. It gets him more interested
.

Oh, ta. I dunno, though. There’s something about him I like.

‘Anyway, Emma – look, do you mind if I nip outside for a smoke?’

Oh damn.

Hey, Em, you smoke
.

I know. But I don’t want him to as well. Then I’ll never give up.

But Emma, love, you don’t need to – I can cure any little thing that pops up
.

And him?

Yeah, I can
.

But can you just stop him from smoking?

Sure
.

Emma paused, wondering. What about a little bit taller?

OK. Anything else?

Oh, I could do with a cigarette, decided Emma. She was aware that Joe was looking at her. Had she zoned out? It was hard concentrating with Cheryl around sometimes. She smiled. ‘Let’s,’ she said, reached for her packet, and slipped outside into the freezing Cardiff air.

She and Joe huddled next to each other. He grinned and handed her a light.

‘Does anyone still smoke?’ he asked her, cupping his hands round the cigarette.

‘Just us left,’ she said.

They looked at each other for a bit, and smoked quietly.

‘Er, you ever thought of giving up?’ asked Emma.

Joe laughed. ‘Who hasn’t, these days?’

She shrugged. ‘I’ve tried a couple of times. I’m getting pretty good at it. It makes me happy.’

Joe nodded. ‘Nah, I’d never give up. Unless I wanted to.’

Emma smiled. ‘What if I made you?’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, what if I had a machine that made you want to stop smoking, could repair all the damage, could make you… well, perfect, I guess.’

Joe laughed. ‘Well, if it can repair the damage, why give up?’

‘Good point,’ said Emma, feeling suddenly sad. She watched Joe go back inside and sighed. ‘Sorry, Joe,’ she said, stubbed out her cigarette and followed him back inside.

For the second night in a row, the people of Cardiff slept badly.

JOE STERLING IS LISTED AS
BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP
WITH EMMA WEBSTER

Early the next morning, Joe padded out into the living room, where Emma lay stretched out over the sofa, watching TV. He kissed her on the shoulder and she turned, her gorgeous hair falling neatly out of the way.

He loved the way it did that. In fact he loved pretty much everything about her.

‘Hey!’ she said, in that lovely warm voice of hers.

‘I missed you!’ he said. ‘I woke up alone in bed, and you weren’t there. Is everything OK?’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ she said. ‘I just woke up and fancied a bit of… me time. Little bit of TV and the sofa.’

‘Is everything all right?’ he asked, worried. ‘Was I snoring? Did I take up too much of the duvet?’

She smiled, and pulled him close to her, kissing the back of his neck where his hair was neatly shaved. ‘No, it’s nothing,’ she said softly. ‘I just… it takes time for me to get used to sharing the bed with someone.’

He wrapped his arms around her. ‘Well, I’ve got used to you already,’ he breathed as he nuzzled her, and she felt the slight stubble brush across her shoulder and giggled.

‘Oh, Joe,’ she said. ‘It’s only been a few hours.’

‘Yeah, I know.’ Joe grinned wickedly. ‘But I’ve never felt this way about a girl before. And I’ve certainly never… well, not in a car. You’re wicked! And you’re special.’

‘Am I?’

‘Yeah, you’re perfect.’ He kissed her again, wrapping his arms around her. ‘You’re perfect and you’re mine.’

She sighed happily.

‘I want you to meet my friends,’ said Joe. ‘They’ll love you.’

‘I’m sure they will,’ sighed Emma again. She reached across for the ash tray and lit a cigarette. She offered a drag to Joe, but he shook his head. ‘You know I’ve given up for you, babes.’

She looked at him as she dragged on her cigarette.

He sometimes wished he knew what was going on in her perfect head. He wished he could read her thoughts so that he could make her life even better. She had everything – and she wanted him. He knew he had to try very hard to live up to her. To be worthy of her.

She ran a hand through her hair. ‘What’s your favourite film?’ she asked.

He tutted. ‘You know better than to ask a bloke that. There are so many – and several of them just jostling for a place in the Top Ten.
Indiana Jones
,
Ghostbusters
, Proper
Star Wars
, the
Die Hards
… You know what it’s like. What’s yours?’

She considered. ‘
Breakfast At Tiffany’s
.’

Joe nodded. ‘Oh yeah. That’s in the list. In fact it’s my favourite, pretty much.’

She laughed, delighted, and kissed him. ‘You’re so funny!’

He looked at her, puzzled. ‘No, it really is. Have I said something wrong?’

Emma’s laugh died, but she continued to look at him.

He felt suddenly tired and wanted to go back to bed. ‘I feel suddenly tired and want to go back to bed,’ he said, and did.

Thank you.

GWEN AND IANTO GET A
SHOPPING MONTAGE

Jack had insisted they go shopping.

‘Just wear something natural,’ Gwen had urged. Ianto had looked at her, slightly worried, and then gone off, very solemnly. Ianto emerged wearing… oh god. A tight pair of jeans, the same T-shirt as Gwen and a pretty close match for her leather jacket.

‘What do you think?’ he asked.

‘Yeees,’ said Gwen. ‘You look very good. Really good. But it’s not you. It’s me.’ Plus, if you wear that, I will have to kill you.

‘But it looks so good on you,’ said Ianto. Bless.

‘Wear what you want. Surely you’re more suits and skirts? Look around you. Really express yourself. Go crazy. And nothing orange.’

Ianto nodded, a bit panicked, and wandered off.

After three quarters of an hour they both gave up and bought him a little black dress, a sensible grey business suit and some blouses. ‘I got it a size up,’ explained Ianto to Gwen as they headed for the tills, ‘After all, hopefully I won’t be a woman for long. And then I thought you could have my clothes.’

Right, thought Gwen.

‘Now,’ said Ianto, smiling bravely, ‘perhaps you can explain about bras.’

It was at this point that Jack called.

CAPTAIN JACK IS AVAILABLE
FOR CHILDREN’S PARTIES

Jack was waiting for them in the park, holding balloons. Gwen laughed at the sight.

‘Morning, girls!’ he said, winking and handing them each a balloon.

Gwen took the pink one, happily. ‘Jack, is there a reason for this?’

‘There’s always a reason, Gwen,’ said Jack. ‘No day is all bad if it’s got balloons in it.’

Ianto looked at his, glumly. ‘Mine has Mickey Mouse on it. Not a problem.’

‘Cheer up,’ said Jack, rubbing his balloon enthusiastically on his sleeve. ‘It’s time for a practical demonstration. I tell you there’s a building field of static electricity around Cardiff, and what do you do?’ He let go of his balloon. It started to drift up. ‘You laugh.’

The balloon reached three metres above their heads. And exploded.

‘Not funny any more is it?’ said Jack.

‘Bloody hell,’ said Gwen. ‘Surely that’s—’ ‘Oh, pretty much impossible, yup,’ said Jack. ‘But there’s an energy current flowing around Cardiff. It’s been building up gently for two months. It spikes on Sunday night. Same night something strange happens to the ferry. And now little things are changing. Surge in static electricity, elevated levels of background radiation. Skeletons in bars. Ianto. Anything else?’

‘Hmm,’ said Gwen. ‘Rhys and I have been sleeping really badly all week. Is that part of it?’

Jack nodded, excited. ‘Me too! And hey, I don’t sleep. Plus, I’m getting spots. And that never happens. Something’s wrong with the atmosphere. So, spots, energy cloud and terrible sleep patterns. Anything else?’

Gwen let her balloon go. It floated away into the sky. ‘I didn’t charge it,’ she said. ‘Just checking.’

‘Ah, an inquiring mind,’ beamed Jack. ‘Ianto, you want a go?’ Ianto gazed forlornly at his balloon. ‘I don’t want Mickey Mouse to die,’ he said.

Jack patted him on the shoulder. ‘It’s OK,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t have to. I just didn’t want you not to have a balloon. Let’s go and look at something else. It’s extraordinary.’

They stood in the car park. Jack was grinning. ‘Touch a car. Any car.’

Gwen picked a BMW. She’d never liked them. Jack nodded at her, approvingly. It was black, and shiny, and very new, quite expensive and – she touched it. There was the tiniest static shock. The car crumbled away.

‘Oh,’ said Ianto.

They looked aghast at the pile of BMW dust blowing away in the breeze.

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