Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

Sukie and Vicki were warmly dressed in twenty-third century thermal lined faux fur coats, hats and gloves. Even though there was no danger of them feeling cold they were being protected from the elements by masculine arms around their shoulders. Earl and Jimmy, wrapped up in winter coats and scarves were performing their boyfriend duties perfectly.

The faux fur was anachronistic, of course. Given the opportunity to spend Christmas together, it had to be a ‘classic’ Christmas.

Jimmy had vetoed any era when he would have to wear the dreaded ‘hose' even though Earl had invitations to spend Christmas with the Southworths of Samulsbury in the fifteenth century and the Earl of Derby at his house in East Lancashire in the sixteenth century. With a little Time Lord trickery, Vicki and Sukie had become penpals with Lady Caroline Lamb, wife of Lord Byron, but The Doctor, as well as Sukie’s parents had vetoed any of them getting involved with the questionable morals of that family.

It had been Sukie's idea to have a Christmas holiday themed on one of her mother’s favourite festive films and nobody could think of any reason why it couldn’t work.

Well, apart from the fact that there wasn’t a town called Pine Tree in Vermont, New England. But there was a place called Mount Snow which similarly did what it said on the tin and in December 1955 had several ski resorts open for business.

And so, having arranged the booking retrospectively and left their TARDIS in the freight yard of the railway station just before a holiday special train was due in, they were now being conveyed to the hotel in a genuine ‘one-horse open sleigh' that stood in for a taxi service in the season.

“Jimmy, this is one of the times when you can be glad you're not telepathic,” Earl said as the sleigh excitingly jingled and swooshed through a snow-covered valley. “These two are singing Jingle Bells in their heads, over and over again. It is seriously annoying.”

Jimmy, being free of the psychic earworm, was able to fill his head with ski holiday themed engineering, a busman's holiday from his university courses, and noted the style of ski lifts in use and the gear and braking systems they utilised. That kept him happily occupied until the hotel came into view.

It was a sturdy pine log building that might have been two separate structures, once. A long, high annex at the right and slightly to the back had the look of a converted barn with a newer roof over what had once been an open courtyard, creating a wide, high ceilinged interim room. Floor length windows edged with velvet drapes and with warm, welcoming light spilling out had been installed in both of these ‘new' rooms. As the four travellers climbed out of the sleigh and porters cane for their luggage and ski equipment they looked closer and made a guess that this was the restaurant and floor show that was one of the hotel's attractions with a licensed bar and lounge in the former courtyard.

The original main part of the building was three storeys high with a long balcony of decoratively carved wood along the two upper floors affording a morning view of the mountains from the guest bedrooms. A more modest accommodation was hinted at by windows between the steeply slanting sides of the Dutch gable above the main entrance. Most of the roof was snow covered except for that gable where it had slid down revealing the rich red tiles.

“Absolutely perfect,” the girls declared. “Just what we imagined.”

“I hope there's a big open fire with a stone hearth taller than me and wider than the sleigh,” Vicki added.

There was exactly what they wanted in that new annex, lit by natural light through those big windows as well as electric chandeliers in the high, sloping ceiling. It was accessed through an archway and three wide, warmly carpeted steps. After they signed the register for two twin rooms with panoramic views of the valley and stayed in the rooms just long enough to divest themselves of outer garments the two girls made the chairs by the huge stone fireplace their own. Jimmy and Earl sat beside them after placing orders for drinks and sandwiches at the bar.

“What is this,” Vicki asked about the glass mug filled with a hot, thick, caramel coloured liquid with a cinnamon stick for stirring.

“Hot buttered rum,” Jimmy answered. “It's a local speciality. Rum, butter, sugar, hot water and spices.”

“Oh... Yes. It’s mentioned in the film,” Sukie remarked. “Though I don’t think anyone actually drank it on screen.” She tasted it carefully. “Mmm. It's nice. Like butterscotch sweets in liquid form.”

Vicki thought it was nice, too, though a bit too strong for her taste. She and Sukie were only just legally old enough for alcohol and neither were accustomed to strong spirits.

But both of them were anxious to appear grown up, and a drink like that felt very sophisticated. They felt, too, as they sat by that huge fireplace with a fresh snowfall outside the windows that the spirit of a peaceful Christmas was settling on them.

Just one thing was missing. Vicki stood up from the fireplace and brought her drink to the back window which usually offered a wide view of Mount Snow itself, but was, at this time of the year, partially obscured by a huge real Christmas tree and a grand piano set partially under the lower boughs. Silver bells adorning the tree were reflected in the highly polished soundboard cover.

She put down her drink and sat on the piano seat. After a few chords to make sure it was in tune she began to play the only song anyone COULD play on a piano under a Christmas Tree in a pine built hotel lounge in New England.

“I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,” she sang in the clear, bell like soprano voice that had always made her popular in her school choir. “Just like the ones I used to know....”

Earl stood and brought his drink to the piano, too. He watched Vicki playing for a few bars, then drew a slimline sonic screwdriver from his pocket and on cue tapped the bells on the tree. In fact, being only tin painted silver they shouldn’t have sounded so clear, but he used the sonic to alter their frequency so that they matched Vicki's voice.

When they finished the song, there was a ripple of polite applause from some of the other guests who were starting to gather in the lounge now it was getting late for skiing. A family with two young children were very appreciative, as were two older married couples who were enjoying their own hot buttered rum and thought it was nice to see such talented youngsters.

“Of course,” Sukie pointed out as she and Jimmy joined the other two at the piano. “The thing with the bells is from the earlier film, Holiday Inn, not White Christmas.”

“Are you sure?” Earl asked, though he was still proud of his bell playing.

“Quite sure, “ Sukie assured him. “Mum always plays both films several times every December. She even has them on holovid as well as microdisc format.”

“Perhaps we shouldn't mention that in a time when White Christmas was only in the cinemas last winter,” Vicki reminded her cousin. “Sit down with me and let’s do the version we did as a duet at our last school concert.”

Vicki moved over and Sukie sat beside her. After a few practice chords they began to play the same song but in a jazz-blues style made popular in this era by singers like Ella Fitzgerald. This time Sukie, in a contralto voice more suited to the jazz style sang the lyrics.

Ella Fitzgerald actually hadn't recorded her Christmas album, yet, but her style of singing was known and it caused no incongruity.

Partway through the performance, in any case, they shifted from the jazz-blues to a contemporary soul style just recently made popular by The Drifters. Though they were an all male singing group the girls managed a comical rendition of their style with Sukie lowering her voice to sing ‘do-bi-do-bi-do’ backing sounds while Vicki sang a ‘falsetto’ version of the second verse as recorded by the band.

The two young men found themselves mere spectators. They sat and watched their talented girlfriends cheerfully as Vicki and Sukie extended the song for another chorus with some jazz improvisation for voice and piano.

Most of their audience were enjoying it, laughing and clapping along to the rhythm. One man was less enchanted. He had been drinking whiskey and reading a newspaper in the corner, but now he swept out of the lounge muttering loudly that it was ‘bad enough having to hear that annoying song the once without it going on again, twice more.’

Jimmy turned to go after the man, incensed by his deprecation of the girls and their obvious talents.

“Don't pay no mind to him,” said the porter called Lou who had taken their bags to their rooms and stowed their ski equipment in a shed by the tow base. While waiting for more portering he had watched and listened to the girls in an unobtrusive position by the steps. Jimmy and Earl turned their attention to him now as he spoke directly to them.

“It’s not the song that HE minds. Its the fact that your young ladies are playing it in a BLACK style. “

It had almost escaped their attention that Lou and the barman making up the drinks were both what in a later time were called ‘persons of colour'. Skin colour was something that had ceased to matter by the time humans of all kinds had fought the Dalek invasion and then rebuilt their society virtually from scratch.

But this was 1955, and though they were a long way from Alabama where the Civil Rights Movement had been kick started by Rosa Parkes and her bus protest just a few weeks ago, there were attitudes of that sort to be found everywhere.

“Your young ladies are very good,” Lou added in a friendly tone that he couldn’t have used in other parts of the USA when addressing white men about their white women all several rungs up the social ladder from himself. “They should play in the show tomorrow night.”

“What show?” Jimmy asked. Lou pointed out a large poster by the steps from the lounge to the reception. It invited guests to participate in a Christmas Eve charity concert here at the Mount Snow hotel in aid of a local orphanage.

“They’ve been holding a concert in this hotel since the war. It used to be a smaller affair, but since the big restaurant was built with the stage for dinner shows, its starting to get to be a real big event. The orphans all come up in a bus and sit up front by the stage. They enjoy themselves as much as the paying guests do.”

“Sounds great,” Jimmy said. He picked up a pencil and wrote in the girls as participants. Earl decided not to be left out. He had a good voice, too. It was only a few years ago that he had been prevented from making his own record at Sun Records in Memphis in case he changed history by actually sounding better than the young Elvis who was due in the same day to record a song for his mother’s birthday.

Jimmy considered adding his own name, but his talents weren’t really musical. If the ski lift broke down or the bus full of orphans had trouble getting through the snow, there was nothing he didn’t know about mechanical systems of either sort, but he wasn’t especially musical.

The girls were taking requests, now. They were partway through ‘I'll Be Home For Christmas’ which was a 1943 favourite by Bing Crosby again, dedicated to soldiers and families parted by the war.

Earl went to join in with them. Jimmy stayed by the steps, listening to the music and idly watching the activity in the reception where two new guests were booking in.

After a moment or two Jimmy's attention turned from idle to curious. There was something odd about these men. The fact that they were two men was a bit strange for this time and place. Married couples of any age were welcome. Unmarried couples like the four of them were fine as long as the two twin rooms they had booked were strictly segregated on gender lines.

But assuming these two overcoat wearing men weren’t a musical duo like Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in that film that had been in their minds since they proposed this trip there seemed no reason acceptable to 1955 society for two men to arrive at a winter resort without a pair of skis or even a snowshoe between them.

And their luggage would bear a second look, too. Four huge suitcases that were so heavy Lou struggled with them. He brought them one at a time to the hand controlled luggage lift beside the stairs but despite being a strongly built manual worker he actually had trouble operating the pulley.

The two guests were starting to grumble at Lou for not working fast enough. Jimmy had been secretly hoping he might turn around and tell them to carry their own cases, but that wasn’t going to happen in 1955.

Instead, Jimmy stepped forward and offered to help.

“I’ll do the hauling,” he said. “You go upstairs to unload.”

Lou would have protested about a guest pitching in with the work, but one of the two men spoke so impatiently he hurried away upstairs.

Jimmy hauled on the ropes that worked a simple fulcrum and lifted the case up to the next landing. When Lou had pulled the case off the lift he reversed the pulley and set about sending the next case up.

All the long while one of the two men watched him carefully, with a suspicious expression on a face that hadn’t exactly been glowing with Christmas spirit to begin with.

“I’m not going to steal anything,” Jimmy said as he put the last case onto the lift. “Neither is Lou, so make sure you tip him decently when he's done.”

Jimmy had spent a great deal of his young life being told what to do by other people. Being somebody who could give other people orders was a new and refreshing feeling. He could have exercised the skill on people like Lou, who were paid to take orders from their betters, but he got more satisfaction from asserting himself over people who thought themselves better than somebody like the hard working porter.

The last case reached the upper floor and Jimmy mounted the stairs ahead of the man. He helped Lou carry the inordinately heavy suitcases to the room and watched to make sure that Lou was properly tipped for the work he did.

“I've not lifted that much weight since I worked on the railways,” Lou commented as the door was closed on them both and he pocketed the tip that made the whole thing worthwhile. “Its not for me to question what a guest brings with them, but....”

“Maybe they smuggled their wives in the cases to save train fares,” Jimmy suggested. Lou laughed and said they had to be very hefty wives.

Lou went off to do his many other duties. Jimmy returned to the lounge and ordered another hot buttered rum while his friends continued their ad hoc Christmas singalong.

Later they dined well in the converted Dutch barn with a wide stage where a Christmas tree and a festive backdrop were ready for tomorrow night's concert.

Earl and the girls were talking over their contribution to the concert through most of their meal. Jimmy put in his thoughts when they were asked, but for most of the meal he had his own preoccupation.

The two men with the heavy suitcases dined with the man who didn’t like Vicki and Sukie's jazz improvisations. It didn’t seem to be a random table allocation. The three had a lot to discuss in hushed tones and heads were close together conspiratorially.

They were certainly not in the Christmas spirit.

But apart from being unpleasant people, was there any reason to be suspicious about them?


He couldn’t exactly explain why, but Jimmy had been suspicious of these men since he first set eyes on them.

And he wanted to find out what they were up to.

He just wasn’t sure where to start.

It was easy for the others with their special Time Lord powers. They could probably read everyone’s minds in the whole restaurant, including the three bad tempered possible crooks.

He didn’t resent those talents. He loved Vicki and had big plans for their future. He had great respect for her father, The Doctor, who had helped him more than anyone to set his life in the right direction so that a future with Vicki was possible. He liked Sukie and Earl and Sukie's two brothers who were brilliant in their own ways.

But surely every situation didn’t need a Time Lord to sort out. If there was some kind of criminal activity going on, then a Hunan with a bit of intelligence ought to be able to sort it out.

And he did have intelligence. He had resourcefulness. He had stayed alive through the Dominator invasion by his own wits. He had learnt all there was to know about animal conservation in his ‘gap year' on Arzalia. He had applied himself to the theory and practice of civil engineering for three years and was about to start his post graduate work next year. He could think, and think well.

He could get to the bottom of this mystery, with pure Hunan resourcefulness.

But he was still not sure where to start.

The problem stayed with him through dinner and drinks in the lounge afterwards when the three men were absent, presumably in their room. He was still thinking about it later when they all went to bed, respectably divided on gender lines. He snapped out of his thoughts long enough to say goodnight to Earl, then fell asleep thinking about suitcases.

He woke early in the pre-dawn of Christmas Eve, disturbed by a noise outside the window. He looked out to see the two men who had occupied his thoughts so much making their way along the picturesque balcony to the fire escape at the far end of the building.

Of course! Their room was on the same floor, next to the bathroom of the girls' room.

And if they could leave by the balcony, he could enter the same way.

He quickly threw on trousers and jumper and shoes, and slipped out through the glass door. He looked down to see the two suitcase men and their racist accomplice picking their way through the snow in single file like an odd counterpoint to the Three Wise Men. It was hard going for them, proving that snow shoes hadn’t featured in their heavy luggage.

Jimmy moved quickly past the room where Vicki and Sukie were still soundly sleeping and turned the handle of the door beyond there. He had half expected it to be locked, but it opened easily. He slipped into the dark room.

The four cases were a little lighter. Some clothes had been taken out of them and hung in the wardrobe, but when he pulled one of them from under the bed it was still heavier than it ought to be.

It wasn’t empty. In the half light Jimmy looked for a long time at the big sheets of thick paper taking up two full inches of suitcase space. He picked one of them up and looked closely at it in the moonlight by the window.

There was a lot of very small print he could barely make out in the dark, but the larger text included phrases like ‘United States of America' ‘Promise to pay the Bearer on Demand' and ‘Ten Thousand Dollars.’

He was holding ten thousand dollars in his hand.

There had to be at least two hundred of these papers in the suitcase he had opened. If the three other cases contained the same....

Jimmy had grown up poor, even by twenty-third century standards. Even now that he had some money of his own and spent most of his time with people who were well off, he felt a little dizzy in proximity to such unbelievable wealth.

These were Bearer Bonds. Even having skipped a lot of the duller parts of his formal education he knew that. Before electronic banking they were a way of exchanging large sums of money. Bearer bonds were ‘unmarked' and untraceable. Literally the ‘bearer' – the person physically holding a bond in his hand was the owner of that money.

At this moment he was the owner of ten thousand American dollars. He picked up four more sheets. He now owned fifty thousand dollars. Invested in a bank in 1955, it would make him a millionaire by the time he claimed it in his own time. These were not like stock certificates that could be worth less than the paper they were printed on after a bad day at the Exchange. They were money that would accrue interest no matter what happened in the world outside the bank vault.

He felt dizzy again, thinking about how these few sheets of paper could change his life.

Then he dropped them back in the suitcase again and wiped his hands on his jumper as if they were soiled.

One way or another, these bearer bonds had to be something to do with crime. Either they were stolen or were going to be used to buy something illegal.

And he wanted no part of it.

“Good decision,” said a voice close to him that made him jump visibly at least three inches off the floor before he realised that it was Earl who was standing beside him.

“How did you....” he began.

“Perception Filter,” he answered. “You didn’t even know I was there until I let you know. It’s better than an invisibility cloak – mainly because it isn’t fictional and I could explain the physics to you if you really cared.”

“I know about perception filters,” Jimmy answered. “I mean how did you know I was here? Did you read my mind? I thought you lot had rules about that.”

“We do. But if you want to solve a mystery without a Time Lord in the next bed knowing about it, you really should learn to clear your mind. I’ve been dreaming about these suitcases and what might be in them – body parts, the English Crown Jewels, drugs, guns... You covered the lot so thoroughly and my head was pounded by it all. I'm glad to see it isn’t body parts, anyway.”

“I’m right, though, aren’t I?” Jimmy said. “These are something to do with a crime?”

“Oh, absolutely.” Earl cast his sonic screwdriver over the open case. “Two million dollars here. If the other cases have the same amount....”

“Eight million. I can do maths. Who needs that much money?”

I don’t now. But it IS something illegal. You are right about us not reading minds. But I read body language and emotional impulses. Those three men were so nervous at dinner last night they were as easy to accidentally read as you were.”

“What can we do?” Jimmy asked. “Should we call the police? That wouldn’t be any good. These bonds on their own aren't a crime. ‘pay the bearer on demand’. Owning them isn’t against any law.”

“The other thing about bearer bonds is that they are worthless if physically destroyed,” Earl pointed out. He held out his sonic again. “I could burn these to ashes in seconds or fill the cases with water and turn them to pulp. I could even use the sonic to excite the ink and turn the lot into a fine collection of Mickey Mouse cartoons.”

Jimmy laughed at the ideas.

“Something more subtle so that the bonds are worthless but the men don’t find out until its too late,” he suggested.

Earl grinned. He adjusted his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the open suitcase before finding the other three and doing the same to their contents.

“But....” Jimmy looked at the bonds in extreme puzzlement. “Wait....” He picked up what now appeared to be a twenty thousand dollar bearer bond. “You’ve just doubled their money. “

“I’ve just made their money worthless, “ Earl answered. “The United States treasury never issued a bond for more than ten thousand dollars. Anything more... Twenty thousand, or even ten thousand and two dollars is instantly recognised as a fakes. Ten to one your pair of crooks won’t even look at them. But whoever they're meeting up with will want to check the merchandise, and then.....”

There were several phrases that described what was likely to happen, but Earl was too polite to use them. Jimmy understood without words anyway. They closed the cases and put them back under the bed before returning to their own room and getting back to bed.

They went back to sleep, but less than an hour later they were woken by a tapping at the balcony door. Earl let Vicki and Sukie into the room. They reported sounds of raised voices and a violent fight in the room next to theirs.

The girls sat on Earl's bed while he went out onto the balcony to listen to the argument. Apparently the deal involving the bearer bonds had gone sour. This was confirmed when a burly man rushed out onto the balcony and threw the contents of a suitcase onto a snowdrift below. He was in too much of a rage to notice Earl witnessing his actions.

“None of it is our problem,” he said, coming into the room again. “But since we're awake and its Christmas Eve in Vermont let’s take a walk before breakfast.”

The walk in the crisp, clean, morning air brought them in a broad circle back to the front of the hotel where Earl examined some wet lumps of paper with running ink that wouldn’t be any use at all to the ‘bearer’. As they came into the reception they noticed three guests checking out. All three had bruised faces and two had suitcases that were much lighter than when they arrived. They certainly didn’t need Lou's help to get them into the taxi that picked them up.

After breakfast they went skiing, since that was the point of a ski resort. After lunch, Sukie, Vicki and Earl were needed to rehearse their parts in the concert. As the two girls did a spectacular rendition of ‘Sisters’ from THAT film, Jimmy watched them with just a twinge of regret that he didn’t have a role in the concert.

He was wondering if there was any scene shifting he could volunteer for when Lou came up to him.

“Could I ask your advice on something, sir?” he asked.

“You don’t have to call me ‘sir',” he answered. “I'm nobody special. What’s up?”

“I was cleaning up the room those two left. A fair old mess they made. But... I found this down the side of the bed.”

He held out a bearer bond. Jimmy looked at it and recalled the less than precise way he had dropped the bonds he had been holding. It was possible one of them didn’t fall back into the case before Earl sabotaged them.

“It’s genuine,” he said. “Worth ten thousand dollars to the bearer. That means whoever is holding it in their hand. That would be you, right now.”

“It's... not stealing?”

“No, its not. I told them yesterday to give you a decent tip. As soon as the banks open after Christmas you get that into an account... I don’t need to tell you to spend it well.”

Lou laughed and stowed the bond inside his coat. Jimmy smiled as the porter went on with his work despite having just become a rich man, then turned to see Earl holding out a stage costume.

“You're needed for the finale,” he said. “there's just time for a run through it now before they finish dressing the stage.”

“What finale?” he asked.

“The concert. You don’t have to sing if you don’t want to but the four of us are doing the scene from the end of White Christmas. The only question is whether you want to be Bing Crosby or Danny Kaye.”

“I think I have to be Danny, because Vicki is playing Vera Ellen up there and she’s the one I get to kiss behind the Christmas tree,” Jimmy answered as he pulled on the wobbly Santa hat and grinned widely. There were worse ways to round off what had started off as quite an odd Christmas Eve.