When the Doctor finally got around to showing his face, Charley was going to give him a piece of her mind. She had it all planned out. ‘Oh, Charley, you’ll be dreadfully bored coming with me to see Professor What’s-his-face. Go and make your own fun. But oh! Be sure to meet me at five o’clock sharp in the hotel lobby. We simplymust eat dinner at the Hotel Delilah. Don’t be late! We need to miss the dinner rush if we want to get a table.’ Well, Doctor, I waited over an hour, and where were you? Probably off chin-wagging with that professor-friend of yours, that’s where. Or perhaps you got distracted by a pretty butterfly and wandered off.
Charley kicked her feet against the floor and got up to do another lap of the busy lobby, dodging around the technicolour guests. She halted in front of the glass-faced clock and glowered up at its glistening hands. Quarter past six, and still no Doctor. Glancing up into the dining room, she reckoned the dinner rush had already started.
And now I’m bored, and hungry, and you know how I get when I’m hungry. So this place had better be worth it, or, or — but of course, it would turn out the Doctor had been kidnapped by killer robots, or waylaid by a mysterious damsel in distress, or arrested for loitering. He probably had a perfectly good excuse for leaving Charley to kick her heels in the lobby of the Hotel Delilah. That was the worst of it. So I shan’t talk to you. I shall be silent all through dinner. If you want to talk to me you’ll have to speak through the waiter.
So deep was she in her internal ranting that when someone took her by the arm and began to drag her bodily across the lobby she didn’t even bother to look. “Took you long enough,” she said, fuming. “Where on earth have you —” It was not the Doctor on her arm. It was a total stranger, and she wasn’t even surprised. It was a young lady, a few years older than Charley. She was dressed in nondescript black, her hair pulled back sharply from her face. Behind her she was dragging a sort of suitcase that hovered a few inches above the ground. Over her arm was draped an equally nondescript jacket. And she was dragging Charley firmly towards the reception desk.
Before Charley could let out so much as a squawk of indignation, she said, “You’re my wife.”
“What?” Charley sputtered. She was too flummoxed to struggle.
“Just play along.” The woman patted Charley’s arm in reassurance and flashed her a brilliant smile. “Hi!” she said in what was surely her friendliest tone to the blue-skinned woman who sat behind the reception desk.
“Good evening,” trilled the receptionist. “Welcome to Hotel Delilah. How may I —”
“We have a room booked for tonight,” said the woman. “Isn’t that right, darling?” She nudged Charley.
“Hmm?” said Charley. “Oh, yes. A room.” Her attention had been caught a group of new arrivals spreading out from the shimmering glass doors. A handful of men and women in dark clothes, silent and not obviously threatening — unless you knew what to look for. They were spreading out and scanning the hotel lobby, searching for something — or, more likely, someone. She’d bet good money they were armed.
“What name would that be under?” The receptionist’s fingers hovered above her keypad.
“Pollard,” said Charley, at the same moment as the woman said,
They exchanged a mortified glance.
“Oswald-Pollard,” said the woman with a pacifying smile.
The receptionist tapped away at the keypad, her blue forehead crinkling into a pretty frown. As she typed, the woman — Oswald, if that was her real name — began to grow visibly anxious, throwing the odd glance over her shoulder at the dark, searching figures. “I’m sorry,” said the receptionist at great length. “I have a room under Oswald, but I’m afraid it’s a single.”
Oswald, or whatever her name was’s smile stayed frozen upon her face. “I definitely booked a double. Look again.”
The receptionist checked her screen again. “So sorry. We have no booking under Oswald-Pollard.”
Still smiling, the woman began to dip a hand into the bag slung over her shoulder. What she meant to do Charley didn’t know, but she didn’t intend to find out. The searching figures were growing ever closer, scouring the vast lobby.
She slammed a hand down upon the desk. “This is outrageous!” she cried. “Why, that’s the third time this month you’ve lost our booking!” The receptionist and Oswald both looked at her in mute, wide-eyed horror. “Isn’t that right, darling?” She looked at Oswald.
Oswald, better late than never, caught on. “Oh, yes,” she said. “Yes, this is — unacceptable.”
“I — so sorry,” stuttered the receptionist.
“Quite unacceptable!” Charley raised her voice still higher. “I demand to see your manager.” When the receptionist didn’t respond at once, she slammed her hand upon the counter again. “This instant!” Behind the, the search party was moving on.
By the time they were checked in, she’d managed to argue her way not only into a double room, but into an upgrade to a suite on the fiftieth floor, which didn’t mean much to her but was evidently an improvement. Oswald was brimming with excitement when they stepped into the lift, practically bouncing up and down.
She whirled upon Charley the moment the doors had closed. “That was amazing!” she said.
“It was, rather, wasn’t it?” said Charley, smugly proud of herself.
“Oh, I chose a good wife,” said Oswald. “Where did you learn to do that?”
“From my mother, mostly,” Charley admitted. The walls of the lift shaft dropped away around them. They whooshed on up a transparent tube, the hotel a glittering blur about them. “Anyway, I’m Charlotte Pollard. I think you ought to know my name, if we’re going to be married.” She held out a hand for Oswald to shake. Oswald looked at her oddly and shook slowly.
“Wow, you’re old-fashioned,” she said. “Charlotte? What is that, French or something?”
“It’s English,” said Charley. “My friends call me Charley.”
“Charley it is,” said Oswald. “You can call me Oswin. Hold this.” She pressed a compact mirror into Charley’s hand and began to adjust her hair, shaking it out of its neat bun.
“Oswin,” said Charley. “Just who exactly are you? And why were those people looking for you?”
“Details, details,” said Oswald — Oswin. “We’re almost at our floor.” She finished fussing over her hair, snatched back the mirror, and shuffled about to face the opening doors.
The door was opened, curiously, not with a key but with a touch of Oswin’s hand — tuned to her fingerprints, she said as if it was obvious. She rushed on in, her suitcase bobbing behind her, momentarily blocking Charley’s view.
“Oh, my,” she said. The door opened into a vast atrium, one wall composed entirely of dazzling glass. The furnishings were all bright and white, intermingled with shining silver. There was even a fountain tinkling in the centre of the room, though upon closer inspection the water wasn’t real, just — what was the word? — a hologram.
Oswin had dashed straight through largest of the doorways leading off, into what proved to be the bedroom. Charley watched her flump down onto the crisp white bed with a sigh of contentment. Apparently oblivious to Charley’s presence, she let out a giggle, dancing a horizontal jig of delight.
“Ahem,” said Charley.
“Oh, you’re still here?” Oswin rolled onto her stomach and smirked at Charley. “You can go now, if you like. Thanks for your help!”
Charley crossed her arms. “I thought I was supposed to be your wife?”
“If anyone asks I’ll tell them you’ve gone on ahead to — to Horus or something,” said Oswin. “Really. It’s fine.” She waved her hand, gesturing in a most patronising manner for Charley to leave.
The nerve! As if she didn’t at least owe Charley an explanation. “Who are you?” Charley demanded.
“I mean it.” Oswin lolled onto her back. “You really ought to go. If you hang around me long enough you’re liable to get into trouble.”
“I can handle trouble,” said Charley. Oswin did not relent. She repeated her patronising gesture. Charley rolled her eyes and put on a show of acquiescence. “Fine,” she sighed. “I was supposed to be meeting my friend, anyway. He’s sure to be downstairs waiting for me.”
“You go meet your friend.” Oswin smirked again.
Charley turned on her heel and stalked through the archway. She walked, very deliberately, to the door, which she opened and allowed to fall closed before doubling stealthily back.
Just as she’d suspected, Oswin hadn’t wasted a moment. She already had her suitcase open upon the bed. Inside it, rather than luggage, was another case, this one made of dull metal and sealed with an intricate lock. Charley watched Oswin open it with a few lightning-fast twists before making herself known. “Ahem.”
She caught the barest glimpse of light reflecting off the contents of the case before Oswin slammed it shut and whirled around. “You’re still here?”
Charley shrugged. “It’s my suite too, isn’t it?”
Oswin scowled and rolled her eyes upwards to glower at the ceiling. She let out a coarse sigh of frustration. “Alright, fine. Do you want a cut? Is that it? I can’t give you a cut until I meet my contact. My employers will be furious if they don’t get the complete set.”
“The complete set of what?”
Oswin gave her an odd look. “You don’t know?”
“Why would I?”
“Look, just what game are you playing?”
“I’m not playing any game. And I don’t want a cut. I just want an explanation. I dare say you owe me one, my darling wife.” Oswin sighed again, and, muttering under her breath, threw open the case.
Inside was — well, it was easily the most dazzling sight Charley had seen all day, and she’d seen quite a few. Diamonds — or what looked to her like diamonds — dozens and dozens of them, in all shapes and sizes and cuts, strung on chains and bracelets and set into rings, reflecting the light anywhichway within the metal case. “Goodness,” she breathed.
“I’m a jewel thief,” Oswin explained with a patronising air of pride.
“Well, obviously,” said Charley. “You stole all this?”
“Last night.” Oswin’s smug air was only intensifying. “I’m brilliant, I am. They call me the Fox of Osiris.”
“Really?” said Charley. “Who calls you that?”
“Well, me, mostly,” Oswin confessed. “But I’m sure everyone will, after this hits the papers!”
“They are awfully pretty.” Though she’d never been terribly thrilled by diamonds. She liked something with a little more colour. Give her a ruby any day.
“Pretty?” Oswin snapped. “Pretty? You have no idea what these are, do you?”
“I’m not from around here,” Charley said, which was surely the understatement of whatever century she was in.
“These are the Crown Jewels of Bastet.” Oswin allowed her a moment to digest that, nodding encouragingly as Charley’s understanding dawned.
“You stole,” she tried again, “you stole somewhere’s crown jewels?”
“I did say I was brilliant,” said Oswin. “Look, you’re not going to turn me in, are you?”
“To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t know who to turn you in to,” Charley admitted. “Even if I wanted to.”
“I’ll get you a cut, when I meet my contact,” Oswin babbled as if Charley hadn’t spoken. “It won’t be any trouble. I’ll be able to spare a little. I’m going to be fabulously wealthy.”
“I’ll say.” Charley couldn’t quite tear her eyes away from the diamonds. “I really don’t need a cut, though.”
“Oh, come on,” said Oswin. “You must want something. Everyone wants something.”
Charley considered — and as she considered, her stomach growled. “Tell you what. Buy me dinner?”
Oswin stared at her. “Dinner?”
“I was promised dinner, before you so rudely interrupted my evening,” said Charley. “I suppose this place does room service?”
“It does a lot better than that.” Oswin marched towards a blank screen laid into the wall. “Room service. What planet are you from?”
The screen, it transpired, was a food synthesiser, a device that could rustle up more or less any foodstuff at the touch of a button. It seemed to Charley an excellent invention — and a terrible thing to have around when one was rather hungry. Things were getting silly even before Oswin suggested they try out the extensive virtual bar.
“I don’t know,” she said, still picking at the remains of her chocolate ice cream-and-meringue-and-strawberry-and-toffee-and-apple-pie concoction. “I should probably look for my friend. He might have got into trouble.” She was objecting more for show than anything else. Getting squiffy in a hotel room with a jewel thief didn’t seem like the kind of thing she ought to be doing. But then again, nor was travelling through space and time with a strange man who was also an alien, so.
“Oh, come on,” said Oswin. “I ‘spose you’ve never had an Osirian Martini. You haven’t lived till you’ve had an Osirian Martini. Trust me.” She tapped the screen. It slid open, revealing two cocktail glasses filled with something pink that fizzed gently. Oswin pressed one into her unresisting hand. “Here.”
“Bottoms up, I suppose.”
“If you say so,” said Oswin brightly.
Like she said, things were already a bit silly. Throwing Osirian Martinis — which turned out to be surprisingly light and refreshing — into the mix sent things from a bit silly to pure nonsense.
“This one,” Oswin was saying. “This one is my favourite.” She pulled an intricate chain of diamonds from the case. “No no, wait — this one.”
“They all look the same to me,” said Charley, which struck her as very funny. She giggled as she coaxed the food synthesiser into making her another drink — a green one, this time. She couldn’t be doing with reading the menu, but it was very nicely illustrated.
Oswin had found a pair of tear-drop earrings and was posing before the mirror, holding them up to her earlobes. “No, no,” she said. “I don’t have the colouring for diamonds. C’mere.” She dragged Charley bodily to the mirror, slopping half of her green cocktail on the carpet.
“Hey!” said Charley. “Careful.”
“I’ll get you another one. My employers are paying my expenses,” said Oswin brightly. “Here.” She dangled the earrings from Charley’s ears, adjusting them with some care. “There! You look gorgeous. They go with your eyes.”
Charley admired her reflection. “I do look rather smashing, don’t I?”
“Smashing,” Oswin mimicked with a chuckle. “Honestly, where are you from?”
“I’ll let you in on a secret.” Charley leaned back against the white dressing table and sipped her green cocktail, which tasted a little like pears and mostly like some sort of fruit she couldn’t identify. “I’m a time traveller.”
Oswin gave her an odd, incredulous look, then began to laugh. “That’s funny. You’re funny.”
“It’s not a joke!” Charley said around her frost-rimmed cocktail glass.
Oswin stalked across the room towards her. “I like funny.” Abruptly, she draped one of the diamond necklaces around Charley’s neck and spun her about-face. Charley blinked at her reflection, which was suddenly sparkling with diamonds. The necklace was dozens of interlacing, woven strands, hundreds of tiny diamonds. “That’s beautiful,” she said, holding it up to better admire it.
There was a chink of metal behind her. She spun around. Oswin was pulling something else from the case — something heavy, from the way she held it. It wasn’t till she donned it that Charley realised it was a crown. Not a crown like the King’s crown, mind — it was an elegant, delicate thing, a thin circlet with strands that arced up gracefully and trailed down about Oswin’s dark hair. “Should you be wearing that?” she said, scandalised. “Isn’t it for — for the queen, or something?”
“Oh, probably,” said Oswin. “Never was good on my history.” She admired her reflection for a moment before leaping onto the bed and bouncing there. “I’m gonna be queen, though. When I get paid, I’m gonna buy my own planet and make myself queen. I’ll be rich enough.”
Charley laughed. “Oh, yes. Queen Oswin the First.” But Oswin did look like a queen, standing atop the bed. She looked positively regal, in her lovely crown.
“Queen Oswin.” Oswin did her best royal wave. The trailing strands of her crown bobbed as she moved her head. “I’ll have a palace with bloody huge gardens, and more rooms than I know what to do with, and I’ll have pretty girls like you on tap.”
Charley almost choked on her green cocktail. “Pretty girls?”
Oswin hopped off the bed and strutted forward till her face was scant inches away from Charley. “On. Tap.”
Charley studied her face, taking in the devious quirk to her lips, the bewitching glint in her eye. She downed the rest of her green drink. “I am pretty, aren’t I?” she said.
“So pretty.” Oswin twisted her fingers into the web of Charley’s diamond necklace and tugged her gently towards the bed.
The crown sat haphazard atop Oswin’s head as she sat atop Charley. Her fingers trailed down Charley’s bare chest to toy with the hem of her knickers. “And whenever anyone makes me cross, I’ll just shout off with their head!” she said. “And then have them sent to the dungeons for a while, because I’m not gonna be that sort of queen.”
“I should hope not!” said Charley, a little indignant and very squirmy. Oswin’s hips rocked forwards, rolling against her. Charley gasped.
“And I’m gonna buy so many necklaces,” Oswin hooked her fingers into Charley’s necklace, moving the cool metal against her skin. “To dress my pretty girls in.”
“Just necklaces?” said Charley. “What about pretty dresses?”
Oswin shrugged. “They can buy their own pretty dresses.” Still clutching Charley’s necklace, she dropped her head and trailed kisses between her breasts, down her stomach. “Any clothes will be too dressed for my liking.” Her other hand toyed again with the hem of Charley’s knickers.
“Oh, bother it,” said Charley, and slipped hurriedly out of the last of her undergarments.
The pristine white bedroom was in a state of some disarray. Charley sat up in bed and looked about herself in bemusement. It was probably morning — it was light outside, but one could never be certain on alien worlds. Oswin was slumbering beside her, snoring away gently. There were discarded cocktail glasses and garments all about the room. The delicate crown was strewn across the pillow. Charley herself was still wearing the diamond necklace, and very little else.
She was startled to find that she felt more or less alright about her predicament. Slightly hazy memories aside, she didn’t seem to be any worse for wear. She shrugged mentally and climbed out of bed.
A minute or two later, clad in her knickers, undershirt and diamond necklace, she wandered into the atrium — where to her momentary and utter confusion was standing a gaggle of people in dark suits and armed men in dark uniforms. They’d evidently only that moment walked into the atrium, for they seemed as startled to see her as she was to see them.
Her hasty and flimsy explanations did not go over terribly well. “No, no, I didn’t steal the crown jewels of Bastet,” she said. “Really, I had nothing to do with it — oh, this.” She lifted the necklace self-consciously. “Yes, I can see how this would look dreadfully incriminating, but I assure you, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation — that is —”
Half a dozen itchy-triggered guns were trained upon her. The eyes of the men and women in dark suits were stony. Charley gulped, and bolted.
She ran for the bedroom, dodging a wave of what she truly hoped were some sort of stun-darts. “Oswin!” she cried as she ran through the archway — but her warning died on her lips. The bed was rumpled, but empty. A panel of the windowed wall was standing open.
Charley dashed out onto the balcony, and there, just before she was apprehended, she found Oswin, clambering down the window in her underwear with a curious array of suction cups. “Oh, don’t you dare!” she cried, leaning over the railing. Oswin shushed her. “Don’t you shh me!” She turned to the uniformed men streaming onto the balcony. “She’s down there!” she cried, pointing emphatically downwards. “Don’t let her get away!”
“Turncoat!” Oswin yelled up at her.
“Judas!” Charley screamed back down. Black-clad arms closed about her. “Hey! Let me go! I didn’t —”
A blue bolt that she desperately hoped was merely set to stun hit her square in the chest, and she knew nothing more.
Charley had been sitting in the police cell for what felt like hours, bound at the wrists and the ankles. The only small consolation, in the face of her humiliation and her aching limbs and bladder, was that they’d let her put her trousers back on. If she’d still been in her knickers when the Doctor came for her, she thought she might have died of embarrassment.
“Oh, Charley, Charley, Charley,” he said as the buzz of the cell door died away. “How did you get yourself into this mess?”
“It’s not my fault!” Charley protested weakly. “You were very late for dinner! I got bored!”
“So you thought you’d just nip over to Bastet and steal the crown jewels, did you?”
Charley fixed him with an exasperated stare. “I did not steal the crown jewels of Bastet. I’ve never even been to Bastet. I’m not altogether sure where it is!”
“Well, the police seem quite certain you’re some sort of accomplice,” said the Doctor. For all he was trying to be stern, he was barely concealing an amused smirk. But that almost made it worse. She would almost rather he was angry than laughing at her. “I understand you were sharing a hotel room with the thief? Who, according to their records, is your wife?”
“That was her idea,” Charley protested. “I had nothing to do with that. She asked me — well, told me — to pretend to be her wife, and I — I went with it, because I thought she might be in trouble. I was only trying to help.”
“And when you found out she was a wanted criminal, you…?”
Charley sagged in resignation. “Got squiffy with her.”
“And then you were apprehended in your underwear and a diamond necklace,” said the Doctor. “You know, the police report makes for some very colourful reading. Honestly, Charley, I leave you alone for one afternoon and you get arrested for grand larceny!”
“Oh, spare me the lecture,” said Charley. “Where were you? Five o’clock, you said!”
“I got talking with Professor Hemenhotep over tea and we lost track of time,” said the Doctor.
“Just as I thought,” Charley sighed. “Chin-wagging. Look, just get me out of this, would you?”
“I wish I could,” said the Doctor. “The bail is quite extraordinarily high. The Bastetians aren’t happy.”
“But I didn’t do anything!” Charley wailed.
“I’ve half a mind to leave you here. I’m not entirely sure you don’t deserve it.”
“I was only trying to help!” said Charley. “Break me out, won’t you?” She put on her best beseeching look.
“Oh, very well,” said Doctor with a mock sigh and a show of reluctance. He sidled across the cell and stealthily unfastened her handcuffs, covering the sonic hum with a cough. “I’m sure I can talk our way out of this one.”
“I have utmost faith in you,” said Charley dryly.
One hasty bamboozlement of the officers on duty later they were hurrying down the street outside, racing back to the TARDIS before anyone realised that the Doctor hadn’t actually paid her bail and wasn’t any kind of government business. “Oh, hurry up, Charley!” said the Doctor.
“Just a moment.” Charley hopped on one foot, trying to get her other shoe on. There was something stuffed into the toe that was blocking her way. She gave up and resigned herself to limping one-shoed back to the TARDIS. “Wait a minute,” she said, stopping short on the first street corner.
“What about Oswin?”
“Oh, her.” The Doctor kept walking. Charley stumbled after her. “I imagine she’s going to get what’s coming to her.”
“And what’s that?” said Charley. She knew it was only fair, since Oswin was so clearly guilty and she’d tried to leave Charley to take the fall, but she couldn’t shake off her panicky concern.
“Probably she’d be extradited to Bastet, where she’ll have a nice long prison sentence to reflect on her wrongdoings,” said the Doctor. “Don’t worry. If I remember correctly, it’s far from the worst prison system to end up in.”
Charley twisted about-face and stared wistfully up the street at the police station before shaking herself. It was a silly mess, Oswin was a crook, and she was well shot of her.
Back in the TARDIS, she sat upon an armchair, buttoning her blouse and preparing to put on her other shoe. “I’m not sure I can trust you any more, Charley,” the Doctor was saying as he prepared to dematerialise.
“Oh, shut up.”
“I mean it. I may not let you out of my sight in future, if you’re going to make a habit of falling in with jewel thieves.”
“I have no intention of making a habit of it.” Charley thrust her foot into her shoe and found the way still blocked. She scowled and shoved her hand in, rooting about. “It’s just —”
“She was very pretty,” Charley confessed, hanging her head in shame.
She wasn’t sure how she expected the Doctor to react to a statement like that, but when she looked up she found her was smiling at her. “Ohh,” he drawled. “So that’s how it is.”
“I did wonder why you were parading around in your underwear. I thought you might have been canoodling.”
“Doctorrr. There was no — canoodling.” He gave her a look. “There may have been a little canoodling. But —” She managed at just to dislodge the blockage in her shoe. It tumbled into her hand. It was a rolled up sock — not one of her socks. Maybe one of Oswin’s. She began to unroll it as the Doctor pottered away, slamming down a lever.
Just as they began to dematerialise, the bundle fell open, revealing a pair of tear-drop diamond earrings. Charley stared at them, for a moment startled, and then slightly breath taken. Her heart leapt.
“But what?” said the Doctor.
Charley scrunched the sock back around the earrings and jammed the whole mess into her trouser pocket. “But nothing.” She hopped to her feet. “So, where to next?”
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