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 (9 page)

‘Are you kidding? I’d be brilliant.’

‘I’m sure you would, Jack,’ said Gwen patiently. ‘But I don’t think we’d learn anything. You’d just walk out of there with a pile of phone numbers, some broken hearts and a hickey.’

‘That would be from Ianto,’ sighed Jack. ‘Too much of the teeth.’

Gwen gently stirred her coffee and idly wondered how often the two of them actually had sex. She suspected that most of the time they just stood in a room naked, hands on hips, pouting at each other.

Ianto just looked deeply embarrassed. ‘I think Gwen’s right.’

‘Great,’ said Gwen. ‘I’ll pop home and change.’

EMMA WEBSTER IS SELECTING
HER NEXT VICTIM

Hi, I’m Martin. My friends call me Marty.

OK. Now, I’m gonna pass based purely on the dress sense
.

Hello. Hi. I’m Selwyn. I’ve never done this before. I’m with the

Hmm. Can we give him better – is it teeth? Or hair? I dunno
.

Hi, I’m William. My friends call me Bill, and I hope you will too.

We can’t fix tosser, can we?

Hi, I’m Harry. I’m

Oh. He looks amazing. Can we make him just a little taller?

Greetings!

No
.

Hi, I’m Rhys. I work in haulage.

Yes!

GWEN IS LOSING THE
ARGUMENT

Gwen let herself very quietly into the flat. It was a move she’d practised from back in the days when she still went out, taking her shoes off on the stairs and sneaking in giggling, trying not to wake up Rhys, who’d almost always be sat on the sofa, waiting up for her, passed out among a jungle of pizza and beer bottles. Once she’d even found him and Banana Boat, stretched out, game controls in their hands, as riderless cars zoomed round and round on the screen. How long ago was that? It had been ages. Honestly, you turn thirty, you get married, you vow the party won’t stop, but—

‘Love?’ Rhys was wandering through from the bedroom. Gwen froze, caught quivering on the step. She switched on her best smile. ‘Hiiiiiiii…’ she managed. It never failed.

‘Right,’ said Rhys, folding his arms. Damn.

‘What’re you doing home? I thought you were working tonight.’

‘I am,’ Gwen tried stretching the smile a tiny little bit further, but Rhys just walked closer.

‘You are up to something.’

‘Uh-huh,’ said Gwen, pottering through to the kitchen. He followed her. Bad sign. She turned. ‘Look, it’s undercover work. Nothing dangerous, but I’m just popping in for a change of clothes. You know. Don’t want to stick out.’

Rhys’s gaze continued to stare, pitiless and unblinking, at her jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket. It was at times like this he reminded her of her dad – Gwen could wrap him round her finger, unless he wheeled out the hard stare. Gwen sometimes wondered if Dad had taught it to Rhys.

She took a couple of steps towards the fridge, took out a can, opened it, and started to drink. All the while Rhys stared on.

‘Oh,’ she said, toughing it out, brightly, ‘I don’t suppose the immersion’s on is it? I’ve just got time for a shower, and then I can be all out of your way.’

Rhys tilted his head to one side and smiled. It was a dangerous smile. ‘Normally, if it’s Torchwood, an evening out involves you running through muddy tunnels. Suddenly you’re coming home for new clothes and a shower. Now, I don’t believe Jack’s got classier, has he, love?’

‘Well, no,’ Gwen admitted. ‘Look – I just don’t want you worrying.’

‘I worry every time you go to work in the morning.’ Rhys’s voice was rising a little. ‘I worry every time I try and call you and I can’t get through. I worry about you, full stop.’

Aww, bless, thought Gwen, and nearly kissed him. ‘Look, it’s really easy, Rhys. Something’s killing people. Remember the corpse I found at the restaurant? It’s not the only one. Several men have died on dates in the last week. So… I’m going speed-dating.’ She finished, quickly and bravely.

Rhys moved smoothly towards the kettle and pulled down two mugs before she could blink.

‘Speed-dating, is it?’ he said. ‘Not even married a few months,’ he sighed, stirring the tea bags and pouring in milk. With a practised move, the bags were flipped into the bin and the mugs carried smoothly across the living room towards the coffee table.

Oh god, thought Gwen, we’re going to have a rational conversation. Sometimes, I miss the rows.

A few minutes later, they were having a very good-sized row. Gwen was shouting. ‘No! Rhys! No! I am not having you come along!’

Rhys roared back. ‘What, are you frightened I might get more attention than you?’

‘No, of course not!’

‘Thanks very much, pet.’

‘No! You know what I mean – this isn’t fair. I can’t spend the evening worrying about you.’

‘Then don’t. I’ve been on dates with mental girls before. I’ve even married one, and it’s going bloody well, thank you very much.’

Gwen marvelled at how determined Rhys’s jaw had got. She suddenly saw a glimpse of him as a child really, really wanting a toy fire engine. She spoke, gently. ‘I see. And how will you know if it’s the suspect you’re talking to?’

‘Well, I’m assuming two things will happen. One, she’ll try and kill me, two, you’ll come down on her like a ton of bricks.’

‘Ten points to Gryffindor,’ said Gwen.

‘Admit it – you’re looking for a woman. You going along is a bit pointless. What’ll you be looking for?’

‘I don’t know – desperation, anxiety, hunger.’

‘I see. You’ve not been out with single women for a while, have you? Good luck spotting the difference there, pet.’

‘Rhys – how many single women do you have throwing themselves at you?’

Rhys shrugged. ‘Company Christmas Do, they hurl themselves at me like Blu-Tack.’

Gwen couldn’t help but laugh. ‘Bollocks.’

Rhys placed a placating hand on her arm. ‘Now don’t fret, love. I may possess a raw animal magnetism, but I swear I’ve only ever used my powers for good.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah. I know what single women are looking for – someone dependable, reliable, and studly.’

‘But what about the single men?’

Rhys smiled wolfishly. ‘Something blonde, fit, and easier to get into than a tangerine.’

HELENA CARTER IS MAKING
MONEY FROM THE MISERY OF
OTHERS

The manager of Abalone’s shot Gwen a worried look when she walked in. She ignored it, and headed over to a girl at a table with a lot of stickers.

‘Hi!’ she said.

The girl looked up, and grinned, professionally.

Gwen eyed her up and didn’t like her. The woman was very polished. Everything about her reminded Gwen of the people who came in to do training courses when she was in the police. Great, great people skills but as shallow as a bucket. All open questions and big smiles and no bloody use in a crisis.

‘Hello! Welcome! Is this your first time at speed-dating?’

‘Er, yes. Yes it is.’

‘Lovely,’ said the woman. ‘Well, it’s ten pounds, it’ll be a lovely evening, and there’s a free cocktail at the bar. What’s your name?’

‘Gwen Cooper.’

The woman looked at Gwen for a beat, and then wrote out ‘Gwen Cooper’, and handed it to her on a sticky badge.

Gwen grinned goofily. ‘Why do they never make these things nice so that they don’t ruin an outfit, eh?’

The woman looked at the badge. ‘Please don’t take it off. We’ve got some gorgeous men here tonight and we’ll be kicking off in a couple of minutes. Why not have a mingle and enjoy your complimentary Bellini?’

Gwen swished to the bar, where a small group of women were nervously making scrabbling small talk. In a corner, like they were penned up, a clutch of men stood. They looked sullen.

‘Oh god,’ Gwen thought. ‘None of these people look like killers. This is just going to be a completely embarrassing nightmare.’

And then Rhys walked in.

Gwen picked up her free cocktail, downed it, and walked swiftly to the loo.

Rhys walked in, in time to see Gwen darting to the loo. He grinned and marched up to the table.

‘Evening, luv. I’m here to find the love of my life, or whatever comes along.’ He smiled and the woman gave him a plastic flicker of interest.

‘Well, it’s ten pounds, it’ll be a lovely evening, and there’s a free cocktail at the bar. What’s your name?’

As Rhys told her she scribbled on a sticker and continued in a flat voice, ‘Please go and join the bachelors. Don’t forget the lovely free cocktail or beer waiting for you at the bar. We’ll be starting in just a few minutes.’ She put the sticker on him.

‘Hey!’ said Rhys. ‘You’d think they’d come up with something that didn’t ruin an outfit.’

He walked off, and the woman at the desk watched him go, curious.

‘We’re going to be late,’ said Emma.

Yes, but you look fabulous. You have nothing to worry about
.

‘Really?’

Of course. If there was anything wrong with you, you know I would fix it. I’m not letting you in there unless you’re perfect, girlfriend
.

‘Perfect?’ Emma liked the word and repeated it.

Yes. You’re going to be the best person there. You know it. You can have whoever you want. Now go on – let’s make a storm
.

Emma pushed open the door.

As she walked in, she breathed in, closed her eyes, and then opened them. First she took in the group of women at the bar, all of them turning to look at her. Emma gave them all a wide, unthreatening smile. She could hear Cheryl’s voice in her head:
You are better than them!
But she didn’t, she couldn’t believe it. Some of the women smiled back. It was the kind of look of quiet comradeship and sympathy that women gave each other when stuck waiting for an unfairly late bus.

She looked at the men in their little area. She noticed some quiet nudging and glancing in her direction. Hello, boys, she thought, and gave them the curiously bored look that Cheryl had taught her.

She barely glanced down at the woman running the speed-dating. ‘Emma Webster,’ she said, taking the sticker and placing it proudly on her lapel before striding to the bar.

Helena Carter had been running speed-dating for a few years. It made her a tidy little profit. She did, it was true, work in PR. But she found this a nice little sideline, and, as she told her few friends, ‘I really feel nice – it’s making a difference in people’s lives, that’s what it is, you know. I’m really giving something back.’

If you’d asked for her opinion of Gwen, Rhys and Emma, it would have gone as follows.

Gwen:
Don’t go giving yourself airs that you’re too good for this, darling. You’re not. You’re here, aren’t you? You’ll be lucky to find something with an attitude like that. And I think you bite your nails. I’ve seen your type. Three speed-dates in, and you start slugging back the cocktails, and then you’re either being helped into a taxi, or a man called Barry.

Rhys:
Aw, what a sweetheart. He’ll do very well here. First-timer. I can tell – a bit nervous, but a real sweetie. Bet you he has a lovely flat and a nice job. Good old bit of Welsh charm – and there’s nothing wrong with that. If he doesn’t get snapped up, I’ll try and see if he needs a bit of coaching. I bet he’s not been back on the scene for long. Perhaps he’s just out of a marriage. Oh. I could take those broken wings and make you fly.

Emma:
What is she doing back here? I mean, it’s unsettling. She looks so good – has she been dieting, or sprayed on the tan, or just found a new hairdresser? I dunno, but she looks knockout, the cow. Of course, I shouldn’t begrudge her her looks, but she’s really come on in leaps and bounds. She’s made an effort. She used to look like she’d been dressed by her cat. Ah well. If there’s hope for her, there’s hope for all of us.

Emma got herself a drink from the bar, and inhaled it, glancing around nervously.

Bloody chill, girlfriend! Leave everything to me, and you know you’ll be brilliant
.

Yeah, thought Emma. I’ll just look at a few people, and if I don’t like them, then I can go home, we’ll log in to
Are You Interested?
and laugh at strange men’s curtains.

God, you are thrilling. And I’m taking the liberty of tweaking your metabolism just a little. A little less adrenalin, a little more…

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Emma decided this was the best drink she’d ever tasted. She caught her reflection in the mirror and grinned. I am looking fantastic, aren’t I?

See? Now, let’s get on with this
.

‘Hello, my name is Harry. I work in… well, it’s just a call centre really. At the moment. It’s not what I wanted to do, really, but you know how it is – you doss around after uni, and then you do something for a few weeks, then a few weeks more, and before you know it, you’ve been doing it for eighteen months, and then you’re the manager. But you know, it’s OK – the people are great, and the money’s nice, but my real love is my sport and my mates and surfing. Do you know what the original lyrics to that Beach Boys song were?’

Emma sipped carefully at her drink.

Well?

He is gorgeous, she admitted. He’s got great hair, lovely teeth and piercing blue eyes. And I can tell he’s ripped. She let herself imagine them taking walks along a foreign beach. They looked good together.

But…?

Well, he’s so dull. I can just tell. And so young.

What do you want me to change?

I dunno.

Oh, Emma!

Look, the body’s perfect, but he’s so empty. I mean, can you make him more mature, teach him a foreign language, get him a decent job, some nicer jeans and a cordon bleu cookery course?


What was that?

Emma love, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you, doll. You know that. But there are limits. Yeah, I can give him more balls, and make him a bit brighter. I can also have a bit of a fiddle with the genes that predispose him to cheating
.

Cheating?

Oh yes. I’m afraid he’s never been faithful in a relationship. Those cheekbones were built for cheating. He gave his last girlfriend the clap. And her best friend got it too. And while he’s here making puppy eyes at you, there’s a girl in Newport who thinks he’s The One. But I can change all that. I can make him faithful and pox free
.

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