The Doctor strode commandingly into the dining room of the Hazelbrook Arms hotel the following morning, glancing around expectantly in search of one or both of the UNIT operatives. He found Colonel Stark sitting alone in the corner, the table spread with documents, his hard, muscular features set more rigid than ever as he stared at the sheet of paper in his hand. The Doctor strolled over.
“Morning, Colonel. Where’s Angela? Not grounded in her room, I hope?”
The Colonel was unresponsive for a moment, then lifted his head with a jolt, staring at the Doctor as if he were an intruder with no right to be here. Wordlessly he held out the sheet of paper he had been reading and pushed it into the Doctor’s hands.
“Dear Colonel Stark,” the Doctor read. “It is with regret that I tender my... resignation from the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce.”
His fingers stiffened about the paper and he read the rest in silence, his eyes tightening and his lips thinning. A second later, he looked up sharply at Stark.
“What’s this? She’s leaving UNIT? What happened last night? What did you say to her?”
“Nothing!” protested Stark, his parade ground bark rising above the note of defensiveness in his voice. “She apologised for the incident of yesterday, I said we’d discuss it when her six-monthly review came around but that for now the matter was closed. She was a little upset but not distraught.”
The Doctor glared down at the paper as though trying to search out its secrets through sheer force of will.
“This is definitely her signature?” he asked. “Have you spoken to her?”
“Yes, it is,” said Stark, submitting doggedly to the interrogation. “And no, I haven’t. The letter was left for me at reception. She’s checked out of the hotel.”
The Doctor tossed the note down onto the table, his thin face hard with focus.
“I don’t believe it. Even if she was having doubts I simply don’t believe she’d walk out like this in the middle of this case. Hazelbrook is behind this.”
“I’m inclined to agree, Doctor,” said Stark with a nod. “I’ve had him under surveillance. Let’s see what Sergeant Crombie has to say.”
The Doctor turned to see another man, in civilian clothes but very obviously military from his stiffly held jaw and erect posture, marching across the room towards them. He was in his forties, greying around the edges, with a great square head and square body which suggested hard muscle packed too tightly into a given area.
“Good morning, sir,” he said, visibly having to control his instinct to boom it in a voice which would have alerted everyone in the building.
“Morning, Crombie,” said Stark, unobtrusively throwing a half salute. “What do you have for us?”
Crombie retrieved a bulky brown envelope from an inside pocket before glancing suspiciously at the Doctor.
“It’s all right, Crombie. The Doctor has security clearance.”
“Very good, sir.”
He retrieved from the envelope a sheaf of 8x10 inch photographs and spread them over the table. Stark and the Doctor leaned forward, their heads almost touching, to run their eyes across them. The Doctor’s long fingers quickly picked one out, drawing it from the others to lie on his side of the table. Though evidently taken at long range it showed clearly enough Angela’s bespectacled, tidily coiffured figure dwarfed by the bulk of Hazelbrook and the three other initiates surrounding her. They were at the main gate of the sanctum, disembarking from a van, the great steel doors standing open for them.
The Doctor ran his eyes over the other pictures a second time and then looked up at Crombie. “You took these?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Crombie with stiff formality.
The Doctor glanced back down at the photographs, then up again at Crombie. “They’re awfully good.”
“Um...” Crombie’s eyes flicked uncertainly towards Colonel Stark. “Thank you, sir.”
“This one.” He tapped the picture of Angela with a fingertip. “Did she look to be under duress? Was she struggling, did they hold her or push her?”
“No, sir.” Crombie shook his heavy head. “That wasn’t my impression.”
“No.” The Doctor pondered the photograph again. “Nor mine, from the picture. That’s worrying.”
“You’d prefer they’d dragged her out of the van bound and gagged?” asked Stark.
“Frankly, yes. That would be a much simpler situation, much easier to deal with.” He straightened briskly and cast a commanding eye across the other two men. “Still, we’ll soon see. Let’s get down there, shall we?”
Stark hesitated, not rising from his seat. “I think there’s some doubt as to whether Hazelbrook will speak to us after the events of yesterday...”
“You have a missing person,” the Doctor pronounced, “and evidence that she’s on his property. He’ll have to say something. Now come on, we’re wasting time.”
* * * * *
Even the Doctor had been a little surprised when the Sanctum gates slid back for them even as they approached, allowing them to drive up to the front entrance of the concrete blockhouse within the enclosure. The three of them climbed warily from the car and approached the steel door. When they were within ten feet it swung open and Hazelbrook, glowing with self-congratulatory confidence, stood beaming at them, his moustaches bristling proudly outwards.
“Colonel Stark! Doctor! And you’ve brought another friend. I can’t imagine what has granted me the good fortune of yet another visit from you.”
Stark, accustomed to taking the lead, drew breath to reply, but the Doctor’s quiet, thin voice forestalled him. “No banter, Hazelbrook. Where is Angela Castle?”
Hazelbrook grunted with laughter, his eyes sinking deeper into the pudgy roundness of his face. “Now, what makes you think I’d know the answer to that?”
The sun was shining down warmly on a pleasant spring day, and yet as the Doctor hunched his shoulders, pushing his hands deeper into his pockets, his face immobile and his skin almost white against the jet of his hair, there was a tactile sense of wintry chill felt by everyone around him. His voice was a serpentine whisper.
“Don’t play games with me.”
Even Hazelbrook’s ever-present smile faltered for an instant, but was quickly restored. “Now, now. Don’t upset yourself. Just my little joke.” He turned back towards the interior of the building and stretched out an arm. “Come along, my dear. Say hello to your friends.”
She stepped into view in the doorway, allowing his meaty hand to settle on her shoulder. Stark and Crombie stared in disbelief while the Doctor watched in grim resignation the confirmation of what he had expected.
She wore the white tunic and loose trousers of an initiate of the Sanctum. Her glasses were gone, and her blonde hair fell loosely about her shoulders. She called to mind a solemn, serious-minded child answering the door in her pyjamas.
“Colonel... Doctor,” she said. “Please don’t make trouble for me. This is my home now.”