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

Jenny was puzzled. She was also a little lost and becoming increasingly frustrated. She was seriously regretting thinking that she could take on a challenge the way Madam did.

It had seemed simple enough when the messenger boy had come with a letter requesting an immediate visit to No. 4 Trap Street. She tipped the boy a farthing and sent him on his way before examining the letter. There was a small hand drawn map on the reverse of the page. She recognised Cowcross street. It was opposite the Charterhouse Street entrance to Smithfield. Cowcross was probably some reference to the existence of slaughterhouses and meat markets on the site for centuries.

Peters Lane was easy enough to find only a short way along Cowcross Street. It was a narrow alleyway with no pavement, just about wide enough for three thin people on foot walking side by side or maybe the baker’s boy on his bicycle with the pannier baskets making for an ungainly and wide load. It had a gas lamp at the entrance and another halfway down.

What it didn’t have was a street leading off from it as the map indicated. On her left, coming from Cowcross Street was New Court, one of the many dark, cramped, airless, huddled groups of dwellings for those who couldn’t afford to live on an actual ‘street. By the smell of it the night soil men were overdue. She walked on quickly until she came to a wall that blocked off a former ‘court’ too noisome even for slum dwellers.

And according to the map, Trap Street should have been halfway between the two on her right hand side.

And that was the first thing that puzzled her. A ‘street’ suggested a much wider and more substantial thoroughfare than a ‘lane’ or a ‘court’. It ought to have been easy to find.

But there was nothing to suggest that a street, or even another narrow lane, might be here. Even if there HAD been a street and it had been closed off, there would be a wall like the one on the other side. But there was nothing like that. The whole of Peter’s Lane was small houses with their front doors opening directly out onto the cobbles and their overhanging eaves closing off the sunlight except for one narrow strip of sky. She walked the length of it, all the way to the other end where it emerged into St. John’s Lane. She turned and walked back. She repeated her steps again, looking for any indication of an even narrower alleyway, perhaps with some kind of concealed opening.

Still nothing. She looked at the map. It was clear enough, the place names written in small, neat handwriting. The message on the other side was in the same ink, the same hand.

She wondered briefly if this was some kind of trick – a trap.

Trap Street? What kind of place name was that? When she thought about it, who would have named a street Trap Street?

Unless it WAS a trap.

She turned once more towards Cowcross Street, meaning to give up and go home. Then she noticed a boy lounging against the lamppost at the junction with the quiet lane and the busier street.

“You… you’re the one who brought the letter,” she said accusingly. “What’s going on? Where’s this Trap Street? Who wrote this? Why are you hanging around here?”

The boy made a dart for it, but even in the sort of ankle length skirt she wore in public her reflexes were quick. She grabbed the boy by the grubby collar and held onto him.

“If you ain’t been there before, you can’t find Trap Street unless you’re not looking for it,” the boy said. Then he wriggled and ducked and ran back down Peter’s Lane leaving his shirt behind in Jenny’s hands.

Jenny was caught wrong-footed for a second before she gave chase. To her surprise, the boy didn’t run all the way to St. John’s Lane. She saw him stop and turn, stick his tongue out at her and dash sideways as if down an alleyway on the right hand side of Peter’s Lane.

“Not so fast, sunshine,” Jenny called out and followed him through the narrow space between two houses. Then logic caught up with her. She turned around. There was Peter’s Lane crossing the entrance to Trap Street. There was the Borough of Clerkenwell sign with ‘Trap Street’ clearly marked.

She stepped back out into Peter’s Lane – or part way, at least. She kept one of her button-up booted feet on Trap Street and put one forward. Leaning towards that foot her head was in Peter’s Lane.

She brought her feet together and turned quickly. This time she saw the gap – not more than twelve inches – separating two side walls of houses. The Trap Street sign was above her head on one wall.

Defying logic she stepped forward into Trap Street. Instead of a painful bang on the head from slamming straight into a wall, she found herself back in the mysterious thoroughfare.

Interestingly, it seemed to be very late at night on Trap Street. The sky was dark in the sliver that she could see between the roofs of houses close on either side. Gas lamps lit the way. These gas lamps, Jenny noted, were all quite a lot older than those outside in what she was mentally calling the ‘normal streets’.

All was quiet within the houses. The windows were dark. Not even a flickering night candle brightened the windows. There was nobody in the street – not even the shirtless boy she had followed in.

“All right,” she said to herself. “How about Number Four?”

The problem with THAT, now, was that the houses didn’t seem to be numbered in any way that made sense. The six down one side were 1,5,9,11,3 and 7. Down the other were five houses - 2,8,12,10,6.

“All right, I’ve had enough of this!” she called out, her voice echoing satisfactorily around the quiet street. “Where is Number Four, and no more games!”

She didn’t expect anything much to happen, except possibly some angry shouts from upper floor windows around her.

She was surprised when all of the windows in an un-numbered house at the end, making Trap Street into a cul-de-sac, turned on at once. She walked towards it, noticing for the first time the letters IV on a half-moon of frosted glass above the door.

IV – Roman numerals for 4.

That explained the missing house, but not the insanity of it all.

She grasped the knocker on that front door and knocked loudly.

She had given up being surprised by anything when a shirtless urchin opened the door.

“Well, this is obviously yours,” she said. “But I’d put it in the laundry and get a clean one if I were you.”

The boy snatched the shirt and disappeared inside the house, leaving the door open. Jenny stepped inside. There were no doors to any rooms downstairs. This house was as strange inside as it was out.

A staircase led upstairs.

There was a dark landing on the top floor, but Jenny could see light under a door. She approached cautiously and turned the handle. She pushed open the door and stepped in cautiously.

“Who are you?” she asked the pretty blonde woman sitting on a wooden chair beside a bed. There was a man in the bed. All Jenny could see was white hair, but he seemed oddly familiar.

“I’m Jo Grant. Who are you?” the woman replied.

“I’m Jenny Flint. I got the letter.” She waved the paper with the message and map as proof of that.

“I thought… the message… was for somebody called Madam Vastra. You’re not… exactly… what I was expecting. The Doctor said….”

“Oh!” Jenny exclaimed, looking again at the old but noble features of the white haired man in the bed. “He’s The Doctor… one of him, anyway. I’ve seen his picture in Madam’s album. But… what’s the matter with him?”

“He was in a sword fight with a man called Valkun Sen. H e….” Jo took a deep breath. She was clearly distressed, though she had been holding back at first for the sake of appearances. “Sen is a sort of intergalactic bounty hunter. The Daleks paid him to kill The Doctor. He has been chasing us through time and space. We landed here in Victorian London, somewhere near Smithfield. Sen caught up with us and there was a fight. The Doctor was a better fighter, but Sen’s sword was poisoned. The Doctor was only scratched once but it was enough. He got sick straight away. Sen laughed horribly and I think he might have finished the job, but there were people coming because… well, because I was screaming. I couldn’t help it to see The Doctor so horribly ill. He ran off, and I helped The Doctor to come here.”

“Why didn’t you go back to the TARDIS?” Jenny asked.

“He was VERY sick. He told me that Trap Street was closer. He said it was a Null Space. No time passes in here. A dying man can linger for ever, and a fugitive is safe from his enemies. With his last strength he wrote the letter to the only person he knew he could trust in this time.”

“But Madam is not in London. She went to Wales. There was a report from there about what might be a Silurian living in a cave in the hills. I took the letter on her behalf. But I didn’t know what it was about. I came to find out, but first I couldn’t see where the street was, then the numbers. And now… oh dear. I really am not doing very well, at all.”

“You came. I’m so grateful for that. I felt so alone. Nobody really lives here, you know. It doesn’t really exist in London. It’s not on the real maps. That’s a sort of joke, apparently, but I don’t get it, and I don’t much feel like joking, anyway. The Doctor is so sick. And even if he won’t get worse, here, he won’t get better, either, without medicine. He thought your Madam Vastra would know it. He said Trozon poison is something she would know about.”

“Well… I suppose I could send a telegram. Farringdon station is not far away. I have an address in Cardiff where Madam can be contacted. But how would she get a message back? How would the telegram boy know where to bring the reply?”

Jenny thought about that for a little while. Jo made herself busy pouring some water from a carafe to a cup and letting a little of it trickle into The Doctor’s mouth.

“I know,” she said. “I’ll find that urchin. The one who showed me the way into Trap Street. Do you think he could be trusted to wait for a reply at the station?”

“He’s called Joe,” Jo said. “He doesn’t live anywhere, so a street that’s nowhere doesn’t bother him. I think he can be trusted as long as long as you have plenty of farthings. He could do with washing and feeding, that’s all.”

“All right. I’ll do that. Will you be all right while I’m gone?”

“We’ll be fine,” Jo assured her. “It’s peaceful here, at least. I just wish The Doctor was able to talk. But if he doesn’t get any worse, there’s hope.”

“Of course, there is,” Jenny agreed. “I’ll be as quick as I can.”

She made her way down the stairs and out through the strange street where no time passes – which explained why it was dark, at least. She walked towards the entrance where it was daytime in Peter’s Lane. When she stepped into the ‘real world’ she turned to look. She knew it was there, now, so the way back to Trap Street was easy to spot.

Joe the urchin was easy to spot, too. He was lounging against the lamppost by the entrance wearing a replacement, but still grubby, shirt.

“Come with me,” she said to him. The boy did as she asked, following dutifully out of Peter’s Lane and up Cowcross Street to where it met Turnmill Street near the entrance to Farringdon railway station. Before she went into the telegraph office with the metropolitan railway sign above the door, though, she crossed over the road again and stepped into a steamy fish and chip shop.

She ordered a tuppence fish and chip dinner and passed it to Joe.

“Eat that,” she said. Joe didn’t wait to be told twice. He swallowed three hot chips at once before pacing himself on the rest. The battered fish was a banquet to him and his eyes told the story of how much he was enjoying the unexpected meal. Jenny waited until he was done. The station staff wouldn’t appreciate fried food in their office, and though there was some urgency to the matter, it wasn’t quite so urgent as filling one usually empty belly.

“Come on, now,” Jenny said when he was down to licking the salt and vinegar from his fingers – a disturbing sight considering how dirty they were. The mismatched pair stepped into the telegraph office and Jenny sent a carefully worded message to an address in the busy port district of Cardiff.

“There will be an answer,” she said to the clerk. “When it comes, give it to him.” She pointed to Joe who was sitting on a straight-backed chair with his shoeless feet dangling. “If you happen to be making a cup of tea in the meantime, he’ll take it with four spoons of sugar in your cheapest cup.”

The clerk was surprised by the veiled order from a young woman who dropped her ‘haitches’ when she wasn’t thinking about it, but who had nevertheless borne herself with a sort of authority. The clerk looked at Joe and remembered going without a meal or two before he was apprenticed to the railway company. After he had sent off the strangely worded telegram to the headquarters of an organisation called Torchwood in Cardiff, he put the kettle on and found a mug with a big chip on the rim that had been pushed to the back of the cupboard.

Jenny stopped off at the chip shop again on the way back. She brought a large, hot parcel wrapped in old newspaper back with her to Trap Street where Jo Grant was surprised but not ungrateful for the food.

“I bought one for him, too, in case he wakes up,” Jenny said, leaving one portion of fish and chips by The Doctor’s bedside. It didn’t seem likely that he would wake, but she was being optimistic. Jo smiled weakly and thanked her for the consideration. Optimism was draining by the minute for her.

“He MUST get better,” Jenny said brightly. “You shouldn’t worry. I… don’t know if I ought to tell you this, but I’ve met The Doctor… later versions of him, if you know what I mean.”

“Later? Oh, yes. Of course. I met a different one of him not so long back… a friendly little man with a recorder. I suppose it makes sense that there are later….” Jo realised what that implied and for a time her eyes looked hopeful “Oh, but it might not work that way. He and I were in the future a month or so back. Only what happened in our present changed that future and none of it happened. So, even if you have met another one of him, he COULD still die here and the future will change.”

“But at least there’s a chance. You have to think the best.”

“Yes, I must,” Jo agreed. She reached out and touched The Doctor’s hand as it lay over the blanket. “I must think that it is going to be all right. After all, he’s The Doctor. He’s amazing.”

“So I have always found,” Jenny agreed. “What is your Doctor like?”

“He’s… like my dad and granddad and all my uncles all in one. I can trust him at any time. I can tell him any of my troubles. And he’s so brave and clever, like nobody else I’ve ever known.”

“That sounds about right,” Jenny admitted. “Though mine is a bit….” She found a word that had not been in her vocabulary before Madam had become part of her life. “Irascible.”

“Well, yes, that too,” Jo admitted. “The way he and The Brigadier fight all the time… but they are friends, too. They trust each other implicitly.”

And as always happened when two people meet who have had any contact with The Doctor, Jenny and Jo forgot their worries for a while exchanging stories of their adventures.

Whether it was the distraction of such reminiscences or the fact that time was distorted inside Trap Street, it didn’t seem long before young Joe was back with the telegram in one hand and a chipped tea mug in the other.

“The man said I could keep it,” he said proudly. He didn’t have much in the way of personal possessions, so this was something special to him.

Jenny read the telegram quickly.

“There are a lot of ingredients, but most of them are easy. Salt, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda… there’s a grocery shop on Turnmill Street, and the rest the pharmacy on Cowcross Street will have. Joe, would you go to the grocers and save me some time?”

Joe didn’t mind running errands, especially for two generous ladies, but the mention of salt and vinegar reminded him of how rarely he ate solid food. He glanced at the packet of fish and chips left for The Doctor.

“Go on,” Jo told him. “They’re going cold, anyway. I’ll get some more when The Doctor’s feeling better.”

Joe put down his mug and with both hands attacked the food. He had reduced it to empty wrapping while Jenny wrote out the grocery items and found a shilling to pay for them. Joe took the list and the money and ran off. Jenny went at a more refined pace to the pharmacy.

Two of the items in the list of ingredients for a poison cure were, in large enough doses, poisons themselves. Jenny signed the register and gave ‘pest control’ as her reason for such a purchase. She wasn’t sure the truth would do.

She set off back to Trap Street. At the junction of Peter’s Lane she met up with Joe who looked very pleased with himself and was anxious to prove that he had brought the right change back.

“It’s fine,” Jenny assured him, passing a whole penny back to him for his effort. He followed her up the stairs to the room at no. 4 Trap Street. Before she assembled the ingredients for the medicine she poured sterilised milk from the bottle she had included in the grocery list into the chipped mug and gave it to Joe as a supplement to the two lots of fish and chips. He sat on the chair next to The Doctor’s bed to drink it while the two women set to work on what looked half science project and half witches brew. When it smoked slightly they were uncertain about it altogether.

“Well, he’s not Human,” Jo pointed out. “Maybe it won’t hurt him.”

“I suppose we can only try.”

They waited until it had stopped smoking and then brought the dish to the bedside. Jo put it into The Doctor’s mouth a spoon at a time until he had drunk half of the batch. He didn’t look much different.

“I suppose we can’t expect instant results,” Jenny said. “We just have to wait….”

There was a sound behind them as they watched The Doctor anxiously. The door had opened.

“It’s all right, Joe, you don’t have to go,” Jenny said without looking. Then she heard another noise and turned to see Joe standing on the chair with the handle of his precious mug in his hand. She turned to see a strange man falling to the floor, milk and fragments of pottery around the back of his head and a patch of blood blooming out from his side where he had been caught by his own sword as he fell.

“Oh, Joe!” Jenny exclaimed. She rolled the man over. He was swarthy of complexion with long, straggly hair but a well cut beard and moustache. His eyes were glassy and his breathing ragged.

“It’s him… Valkun Sen…” Jo said. “He must have watched you and Joe coming in and out of Trap Street and guessed you were helping us.”

“He’s dying,” Jenny noted. “The wound isn’t so bad… just a scratch really. But… oh, of course. His sword… He’s poisoned himself.”

“Like Laertes in Hamlet,” Jo remarked. “But….” She glanced at Joe. He didn’t understand everything that had happened, but he knew when somebody was dying. Defending his new lady friends was one thing, but killing somebody, especially when you were a homeless urchin in Victorian London, was a terrible thing with dire consequences.

“The potion,” Jenny remembered. “It will cure him of the poison. We can bandage the wound. He’ll live, though he hardly deserves it.”

Jo brought the dish with half of the mixture left and poured it into Sen’s mouth. He started to look better and breathe better though he was still delirious from the mug against the back of his head and some blood loss. Jenny ripped a sheet to make a bandage and then some more to tie Sen’s hands and feet before he recovered his strength.

“Well done, girls,” a voice said. Jonand Jenny both turned to see The Doctor struggling to sit up. “Very well done.”

“Joe helped, too,” Jenny told him.

“We owe him a new mug,” Jo added before she hugged The Doctor enthusiastically. “I’m so glad you’re well again.”

“I’m glad you’re glad,” The Doctor replied. He looked at Jenny who quickly introduced herself.

“Such a pity. Madam and I go way back. But do give her my regards. I shall try to drop by sometime, soon, but getting this fiend off to a suitably secure penal planet will be my first priority – at least after a cup of tea and some dinner. Is there anything to eat?”

“The chip shop is still open,” Jenny answered. “Joe will run and get fish and chips. And a ha’penny bag of chips for himself if he hasn’t had enough of those by now.”

She held out a coin and the much relieved and still hungry boy ran to do the errand. Meanwhile Jo made tea and Jenny made plans.

“I’ll bring Joe back with me,” she said. “He can help out in the kitchen. There’s a little room off the scullery we can put a bed in for him. And I’ll make sure he has his own mug, and a cup of tea in it any time he needs it.”

“Excellent idea,” The Doctor told her.

Jenny hoped Madam Vastra agreed with him over her expansion of the kitchen staff. By the time she returned from Cardiff with news that Torchwood had recruited a Silurian as their in-house scientific advisor Joe was settled in his new situation and looking cleaner and much better fed.

“Trap Street?” She smiled her rather predatory smile. “I knew there was one not far away. The Doctor told me about it. Usually they are non-existent streets included in a map to catch out forgers. This one is the opposite. It exists for those who know where to find it, but will never be on any printed map.”

“Well, fancy that,” Jenny remarked.

“He also said that when I find it, I should have it re-named Diagon Alley and he can sue for copyright. That was a joke, I believe, but I’m not quite sure how.”

“That sounds like The Doctor,” Jenny replied. “Well, anyway, The Doctor and Jo… bless them both, wherever and whenever they are.”

“Indeed,” Madam confirmed.