The rain was coming down in sheets by the time the motorcar stopped in front of the prestigious Belgravia townhouse. The occupants took a moment to look up at the dark front of the house with its iron railings and Grecian-columned porch, lights shining in its windows. They also took time to consider the water flowing down the outside of the motorcar’s windows, trying to put off the moment when they would have to venture outside for as long as possible.
“Is this the right place?” the man asked, irritably. Of course, he usually did sound irritable, so his female companion was not in the slightest bit surprised:
“Yes Gerald, 165 Eaton Place. It’s the address Colonel Enderby gave us.”
“We’re going to miss our train,” Gerald grumbled, consulting his pocket watch. “Next time, Enderby can run his own bloody errands around London.”
“Gerald,” said the young blonde woman seated beside him, casting a slightly embarrassed glance at the driver in the front.
“It’s the principle, Harriet; I need to be back in Cardiff for tomorrow morning, before Harkness completely destroys the place in my absence…”
“The Hub will be fine,” Harriet insisted. “Lydia’s in charge while you’re away.”
“Not the Hub,” Gerald retorted, “the city. We were only supposed to be up here to…”
“Well, Gerald, we’ll just have to be quick about it,” said Harriet diplomatically. “It’s not as if you’re the only one who has work to be getting on with in Cardiff.” She looked out at the rain and squared her shoulders determinedly: “Well, come on, then.”
They got out of the motorcar and hurriedly approached the imposing front door; dark blue paintwork, lion’s head doorknocker, everything you’d expect, really, for a house like this. The rain quickly soaked their coats, dribbling in streams from the low-pulled brims of their hats.
“Did you get a chance to look at this chap’s file on the way over?” asked Gerald, being the sort of person for whom actually reading files and the like was something that happened largely to other people.
“Yes,” said Harriet, with her usual cut-glass cheerfulness, “I jolly well did, thank you very much.”
“And?” Gerald ignored the knocker and rang the bell instead; somewhere off in the distance, chimes sounded.
“Mr Richard Bellamy MP,” she replied. “Son of a country parson, married the daughter of Lord and Lady Southwold in 1880…”
“Did well for himself,” Gerald commented. “Sounds just like your father.”
“My father was an archdeacon when he married Mother,” she pointed out, sniffily, as if with disdain for mere country parsons everywhere; The Right Reverend Dr Aloysius Derbyshire was now not only the son-in-law of a Peer of the Realm but also the Bishop of Bath and Wells. “Lady Marjorie Bellamy went down on the Titanic the year before last…”
“Dashed bad luck, that,” Gerald said, with the sort of inappropriate levity he generally reserved for such moments. “Went down; good job Harkness isn’t around, he’d have a field day with phraseology like that…”
“Gerald…” Harriet coloured a little, shaking her head disapprovingly as the front door finally opened, pulled aside by a young, uniformed footman with a certain cheeky gleam in his eye.
“You rang, sir? And how may I be of assistance?” The butler standing behind the boy was a Scotsman in late middle age, with thinning blond hair and an undertaker’s sense of dress.
“Yes,” said Gerald, curtly, “we need to see your employer at once.”
“You’re here to see Captain Bellamy, sir?” the butler enquired. Gerald cast a confused glance at Harriet, who had after all actually bothered to read the file.
“No, his father, Mr Richard Bellamy,” she explained.
“Ah, Mr Bellamy is currently engaged,” the butler gravely answered. “May I ask whether you have a prior appointment?”
“No, you may not ask,” Gerald told him, stonily. “Tell your employer that there are two representatives of the Torchwood Institute here to see him; being an MP, he’ll know who we are and want to see us, I’ll wager.”
“Sir…” the butler equivocated.
“Now,” snapped Gerald.
“Ah, yes sir, I see. I’ll just announce you. If you could wait here in the foyer for a moment…?” The butler waited for the footman to close the door behind them and then strode off in the direction of what looked like the drawing room. They were left to stand and admire the potted plants, paintings and tastelessly expensive ornaments in the hallway. The footman, meanwhile, busied himself with collecting their coats and hats.
“So, this is how the other half lives?” Gerald wondered aloud when the boy had made off again. He seemed to be deliberately dripping as much rainwater as possible onto the Persian rug.
“I was forgetting you were just a poor salt-of-the-earth soldier without a penny to your name,” Harriet commented sceptically, because while she was definitely a member of the “other half” herself, Gerald did not exactly speak like an honest working man either.
“I’ll never get used to being waited on,” he told her. “It’s just…embarrassing, for all concerned, master and servant.”
“Surely you had a batman when you were an officer in the Army?”
“That was different,” he insisted, shamelessly. “Privilege of rank, don’t you know?”
“Oh,” said Harriet, with audible amusement. “Of course.”
“Less of your cheek, my girl,” Gerald admonished her, unable to keep the ghost of a smile off his own face either.
“You didn’t have to be so…short with the butler,” she told him, more seriously. “He’s only doing his job.”
“Still managed to sound damned superior about it, for a glorified tea-boy,” Gerald grumbled.
“I hardly think that’s very fair,” she replied.
“Well, you’re used to dealing with them,” Gerald murmured as they saw the butler reappear at the end of the hall and start back towards them. “Is that what they call noblesse oblige?”
“Not exactly,” said Harriet, out of the corner of her mouth, while turning on a gracious smile again for the butler’s benefit.
“Mr Bellamy will receive you in the morning room, sir,” he informed Gerald, as if Harriet were not standing right beside him.
“The morning room?” Gerald blinked. “It’s nearly ten o’clock at night.”
“This way, sir.” The butler led them to another doorway, evidently having decided to ignore this comment. Gerald and Harriet exchanged a brief glance and followed him.
* * *
“Yeah, don’t know who they could be, pulling the bell off its hook at this time of night,” commented Edward the footman when he was safely back downstairs. “Here to see Mr Bellamy, they said; looked official, if you know what I mean. Here, the fella didn’t half give old Hudson an earful!” He laughed: “I’ve never heard anyone talk to him like that! And Hudson didn’t like it neither; he didn’t say nothing, but I could tell.”
“Well, he’s been a butler twenty years,” commented Mrs Bridges the cook, outraged. “That ought to count for something. This fella’s got no call talking to him like that; he mustn’t be a proper gentleman, is all I can say.”
“Talked like a gentleman,” Edward insisted, slouching with his hands in the pockets of his livery tailcoat.
“Well, not everyone who talks like a gentleman is one,” said Rose the house parlour maid. “Oh, I do hope it’s not the police again,” she continued, fervently. She practically gasped in shock as another thought occurred to her: “Oh no, what if it’s about that thing to do with the stocks and shares? Mr Bellamy nearly got in ever so much trouble about that…”
“I told you, this bloke was posh,” Edward sagely informed her. “Too posh to be a copper. And coppers usually dress better. And he had a woman with him,” he added, with an unconscious leer. “Not bad looking either; bit posh too, but you know what they say…”
“Oh, Edward!” Daisy the under house parlour maid pretended to be scandalised, but could barely contain her laughter.
“She had nothing on you, though, Daisy,” the footman added with what he probably imagined to be a gallant sort of wink. Daisy giggled delightedly while trying to look shocked.
“Edward!” barked the familiar Scots-accented voice from the top of the kitchen stairs. “There will be none of those sorts of carryings-on in this household,” Hudson announced, descending to berate the unfortunate footman.
“No, Mr Hudson,” Edward muttered, shamefaced.
“I find that your levity is getting out of hand again, young man.”
“Very sorry, Mr Hudson.”
“You will be, my lad, if you don’t mend your ways.” The butler took the maids in too with a sweep of his stern gaze: “And if I hear any of you spreading scurrilous gossip about the family again,” he added, “then I will not be inclined to show leniency. Up to and including recommending your dismissal without a reference.”
There was a chorus of murmured “sorry, Mr Hudson”s from the other servants.
“Of course not, Mr Hudson,” said Rose, “but we can’t help being worried about them upstairs, with all the tragedy that’s happened in this house lately…”
“Indeed not, Rose,” the butler acknowledged, with a kindly nod. “However, it is our duty as loyal servants to ensure that we do not repeat the sort of…filthy rumours that can destroy the reputation and good name of a great family in no time at all.”
“Oh no, Mr Hudson,” she quietly agreed. “I do hope it’s not more trouble, though.”
“I’m sure it is not,” Hudson assured her. “Now the guests will be leaving shortly,” he announced, putting on his wire-framed reading glasses and carefully checking his watch before returning it to his waistcoat pocket. “Edward, I will need you in the foyer to assist me with the coats and the door. Mrs Bridges, is the silverware all in order?”
“All clean and ready to be put away, Mr Hudson,” the grey-haired cook assured him. “And Ruby is just doing the last of the washing up.”
“Very good,” Hudson nodded with satisfaction as he folded up his glasses and put them away too. “Careful with that tureen now, Ruby.”
“Yes, Mr Hudson,” the kitchen maid chimed unenthusiastically.
“Oh, Ruby, you silly girl!” Mrs Bridges berated her. “Look how you’ve done those plates! They’ll need washing all over again!”
“Oh, Ruby…” Hudson groaned. “Come on, now, Edward; make yourself useful!”
“Sorry, Mr Hudson,” Ruby said, but continued washing up without showing too much concern. She was used to being the one who got blamed for everything by now, and the rest of the servants were more than used to her.
* * *
“Good evening,” said Richard Bellamy, entering the cluttered sitting room where Gerald and Harriet were waiting awkwardly. “Please, do be seated.”
“Thank you, Mr Bellamy,” said Harriet, perching on the edge of an antimacassar-ed sofa with curly feet. Gerald said nothing, and remained standing.
“I’ll ring for Hudson to bring you some sherry,” the grey-haired MP suggested, dressed in immaculate evening wear. He stood near the fireplace, evidently deciding not to sit down until Gerald did.
“No need,” said Gerald, rather tersely. “This is only going to be a flying visit.”
“Ah, just as well,” said Bellamy. “I have guests waiting for me in the next room. Hudson informs me that you’re here from the…” The MP hesitated and gave an embarrassed little smile: “From the Institute.”
“That’s right,” Gerald confirmed, without much in the way of politeness. “I’m Gerald and this is Harriet. And I can see from the shade of greyish green that you’ve turned that you know what our organisation is and what business concerns it.”
“I came across your organisation’s activities in the course of my work with the Foreign Affairs committee,” Bellamy confirmed, without disputing the part about turning greyish green.
“As for your butler,” Gerald went on, “he seems a little confused. We asked for his employer, but he seemed to be in two minds as to whether that was you or your son.”
“My son, Captain James Bellamy, is indeed now the master of this house,” Bellamy explained, smoothly. “He inherited it from my late wife after she…she passed away. I live here as his guest.”
“I see,” said Harriet, compassionately. “It must make it difficult for the servants, if they’re used to taking their orders from you.”
“Quite,” Bellamy agreed genially.
“Oh, I’m sure it must,” Gerald echoed, with barely concealed sarcasm, earning himself a disapproving glance from Harriet.
“And how can I help you?” Bellamy asked. “With your…your investigations?”
“Well, Mr Bellamy,” said Harriet, apparently opting for the diplomatic approach.
“We won’t beat around the bush,” Gerald interjected, more bluntly. “You recently came into the possession of a certain, shall we say, objet d’art - a small green metal box covered in golden hieroglyphics. A friend of the Institute spotted it here in your house in the course of some soiree, and tipped us off. We’re here to take it.”
“I see.” Bellamy cleared his throat politely. “I know of the item in question, of course. It was a gift to my son and his wife on the occasion of their wedding. It came from a close friend.”
“I don’t care if you stole it from the Louvre, Mr Bellamy,” Gerald replied. “Go and get it.”
“Now…” Bellamy frowned unhappily, but his voice remained mild. “Now, look here, do you have any idea who you’re speaking to? I’ll have you know that the King himself has dined at this house.”
“Yes,” said Gerald. “Who did you think that that “friend of the Institute” was?”
“Mr Bellamy,” Harriet cut in, in more conciliatory tones, “the item in question is not of this world.”
“I know the kinds of things the…your organisation deals with,” the MP assured her.
“Then you’ll know how dangerous our work can be,” Harriet continued. “Obviously we cannot tell you what the item is, for reasons of security, but suffice to say that you, your family and indeed the population of London would be much, much the safer were you to turn it over to our custody.”
“I see,” said Bellamy again, appearing to give the matter some thought. “Do you need to take the object right this instant?” he asked.
“Well…” said Harriet, casting a glance in Gerald’s direction.
“Yes,” he snapped, stealing a peek at his watch, no doubt thinking about the last train to Cardiff.
“In the normal course of things, I would of course give it to you,” the MP told them. “I can explain to my son and daughter-in-law that it is a matter of great national importance, ordered by the King and so forth…”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” said Gerald. “So why not do it right now so we can let you get back to your guests?”
“That’s just the thing,” Bellamy answered. “The problem is that the very friend who gave us the item in question is right now sitting next door playing bridge with James and the others; how could I be so impolite as to let you make off with his gift before his very eyes?”
“The man who gave you the artefact is in this house right now?” Gerald asked, very slowly and carefully. He and Harriet exchanged another glance, this one silent and tense. “Harriet,” he said. “Go and get the driver out of the motorcar. Make sure he’s armed.”
“Armed?” Bellamy asked, in mild consternation. When Gerald drew his revolver from beneath his jacket and checked the cylinder, it became outright alarm: “What the deuce do you think you’re doing?”
“Mr Bellamy,” said Gerald as Harriet hurried out of the room. “Right now you have a potentially hostile xenomorph sitting next door, drinking your brandy and smoking your cigars. It is our duty as agents of the Crown to apprehend this creature before it kills anybody. Don’t worry, we’ll try not to get blood on your carpets.”
Bellamy appeared outraged: “And just who do you think you are?”
“Me?” Gerald gave a grim smile as he slammed the revolver closed. “I’m Torchwood.”
* * *
“Lord Charles Gilmour?” All of the dinner guests seated in the comfortably-furnished drawing room turned as one to the sound of the door slamming open. All but one. The lean, elegantly-dressed individual with his back to the door paused for one dramatic moment, carefully laying down his hand of cards on the green baize tabletop before him and removing the long, slim cigar from his mouth. A thin trickle of bluish smoke curled away towards the decorative plaster mouldings on the ceiling.
“And just what is the meaning of this intrusion?” demanded the tall, dark-haired man sitting on the opposite side of the table, rising angrily. He appeared to be in his early thirties, with a neat military moustache.
“Now, James,” said Richard Bellamy, somewhat crowded out of the narrow doorway by Gerald and the Institute driver. “These gentlemen merely wish to speak to Lord Charles…”
“Father, they’re waving revolvers around!” The rest of the guests did not seem to share James’s sangfroid; most of the men in evening wear and the women in their gowns and jewels looked absolutely terrified.
“Don’t make a fuss, James,” Bellamy insisted.
“Lord Charles Gilmour?” Gerald asked again in a low, unnervingly calm voice, taking aim at the dead centre of the cigar-smoking man’s back.
“I believe that’s the name I’m using in this timezone,” the man conceded, without turning around. He set the cigar down in the ashtray and took a sip from the crystal balloon of brandy that stood at his elbow. “It can be rather difficult to keep track, however. And how can I help you?”
“You’re coming with us,” Gerald stated, finger poised on the trigger of his revolver. “Try not to make a scene in front of all of your high society friends.” He nodded towards a walnut-veneered side table: “Harriet, the artefact!”
“I have it, Gerald,” she assured him, picking up the little green metal box.
“I wonder,” said the man who claimed to be Lord Charles, “can you humans have any conception of what that little toy actually is?”
“Not my department, I’m afraid,” Gerald replied. “I just collect trinkets like that and shoot holes in blackguards like you. Now come quietly.”
“Tell me,” said the man, picking up the cigar and taking another mouthful of smoke, “what would you say if I told you that that “trinket”, as you put it, could quite easily blast this miserable little planet in two?”
“I’d say, in that case why did you give it to Captain Bellamy as a gift?” Gerald shot back.
“It amused me to do so,” the man answered, offhandedly. He turned in his seat, revealing a sharp-featured face with unnaturally dark hair. His straight white teeth flashed, shark-like, in a feral smile: “I could have just left it lying in a gutter somewhere, but there it might have been discovered; in a house such as this, it was sure not to be disturbed until I activated it.”
“Yes, very good,” said Gerald, dismissively. “Now come along, before I shoot you where you sit.”
“Really, father!” James Bellamy protested
“James, these men and this woman are agents of the Crown!”
“Oh, really?” The feral-looking man gave a savage laugh; it might almost have been described as a cackle. “Am right in thinking, then, that I am lucky enough to be addressing emissaries of the esteemed Torchwood Institute?” he wondered, rising from his chair.
“Slowly, now,” Gerald ordered.
“That’s right,” the man agreed, with another flash of his sharp teeth. “Slowly. In fact, I’m going to take…the rest of your life!”
Everything happened very quickly. In a blur of movement, “Lord Charles” raised his hand, the short black rod clutched between his fingers blazing with mysterious alien energies.
“Gerald!” Harriet flung herself across the narrow doorway, barging into Gerald and sending him sprawling too. The Institute driver gave an exclamation of surprise and pain as the beam contacted him, his cry cut off in an instant.
“Good lord!” James Bellamy exclaimed as “Lord Charles” charged towards the open door, shouldering Richard aside, turning in mid-escape to taunt the fallen enemies he left in his wake:
“Did you really think that you, mere humans, could stop me?” he demanded. Where the driver had stood there was now merely a greasy stain across the drawing room’s wood panelling; it looked unnervingly like a human shadow, frozen in place. “Did you think that you could prevent my escape?” “Lord Charles” cackled as he raised his weapon again, training it at all those left behind in the drawing room: “Did you really think that you could stop the Mas—?”
“Oh, terribly sorry, sir!” exclaimed Edward the footman, barging up the servants’ stairs without looking where he was going. “Lord Charles”, moving in the opposite direction with equal inattention, collided resoundingly with the young servant, and both of them tumbled to the carpet of the foyer, the rod-like weapon skittering away into one corner.
“You bungling fool!” the lord yelled, hauling himself to one knee, and punching the still-recumbent Edward hard in the face.
“Ow! I said I was sorry!” the footman protested, clutching his suddenly-bleeding nose. “No need for that!”
“Out of my way,” “Lord Charles” snarled, starting towards the front door once more. As he did so, Hudson emerged from the same direction as Edward had, face falling as he saw the scene before him:
“I am most sincerely sorry, my lord!” the butler profusely apologised. “Please don’t be too hard on the boy, my lord, he’s only young yet and still learning his—”
“I said get out of my way, you servile fool!” “Lord Charles” roughly shoved Hudson aside as well and opened the front door.
“Let me get that for you, your lordship,” Hudson insisted, but his lordship had already run off into the rain-lashed night, ranting curses echoing behind him.
“Gerald,” said Harriet, finding herself lying on top of him on the drawing room floor.
“Harriet,” said Gerald, awkwardly. “Yes, do you think we’d better get up?”
“He got away,” Harriet commented, unhappily, when they were both back on their feet. She picked up “Lord Charles”’s fallen weapon, and examined it cautiously.
“Tell me we still have the artefact, at least,” Gerald muttered.
“Here,” said Harriet, holding up the green box.
“We’d better get the Research boys down here to take charge of it,” he decided, “in case it really does blow the planet in half.”
“Yes,” Harriet agreed, “we better had.” Then, she saw the greasy shadow that was all that remained of the driver Enderby had provided for them: “Oh, Gerald…”
“Good God…” Gerald sounded sick to the stomach.
“Sir,” said Hudson, still painfully apologetic, “I hope that Lord Charles did not find anything about this evening to be not to his liking?”
“Mr Hudson,” Edward protested, “he broke me nose…”
“Hush now, Edward,” the butler advised.
“No, Hudson,” said Richard Bellamy, smoothing down the front of his dinner jacket, “there’s nothing for you to worry about. Lord Charles, it would seem, was not everything he claimed to be, and when these people confronted him…” He paused awkwardly for a moment. “No, Hudson, none of this was anybody’s fault. Now, take young Edward downstairs and get something on that nose of his. And then…well, I think all of our guests have had something of a fright, so maybe you could bring up a stiff drink for everybody. And for yourself and Edward as well, of course.”
“Yes, sir,” nodded Hudson, gratefully, as he helped Edward to his feet. “Very good, sir.”
“Well, that was all rather unexpected,” James Bellamy commented, brow furrowed in perplexity.
* * *
By the time the men from the Institute had arrived to take care of the curious green artefact, as well as cleaning up the mortal remains of the unfortunate driver and covertly administering the amnesia drug, Compound R, to the Bellamys, their guests and the household servants (Hudson’s round of brandies for all concerned had come in very handy indeed), it was almost midnight. As they left the townhouse on Eaton Place, leaving the family and servants to retire, accompanying the last of the departing high society guests, Gerald ruefully examined his pocket watch.
“We’ll never catch the last train for Cardiff now,” he mused, with palpable irritation. “Bloody Enderby…” The rain had slackened off now; only a few stray drops fell upon them as they walked along the slick, wet pavement.
“Just who was Lord Charles Gilmour?” Harriet wondered aloud, ignoring his grumbling.
“Damned if I know,” Gerald replied. “Some xeno with a taste for the high life, and an overinflated opinion of himself; they’re more common than you might think.”
“Yes.” If Harriet was sceptical of this assertion, she did not show it. “So,” she said, “if we’re not going to make it back to Cardiff tonight…”
“God alone knows what Harkness is getting up to right now…” Gerald complained.
“Well, what are we going to do?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he sighed. “Find somewhere to stay the night, I suppose.”
“I suppose.” Harriet fell silent for a moment before shooting him a shy sort of smile: “We could…”
“Yes?” he asked after a while, when it seemed that she was not inclined to complete that sentence. Her smile broadened as she pretended not to notice him looking at her; that game that they continued to play even now, long after their growing… arrangement had made it redundant.
“Well…” She brushed her fingers against his as they walked along side by side.
“Good lord…” Gerald blinked. “You weren’t going to suggest something perfectly beastly, were you, like us finding some disreputable hotel and signing in as “Mr and Mrs Smith” or something of that sort?”
“Well…” said Harriet again, blushing captivatingly as she fully took hold of his hand.
“Good lord,” said Gerald again as they continued on their way, shoes clattering on the shining pavement, leaving Eaton Place behind them and disappearing into the night.