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

Jenny paused and looked into the shop window, then wondered why she had done so. What was it about the place that was so interesting? The arrangement of handmade chocolates and caramels on display was mouth-watering, of course, though Jenny’s practical mind just wondered if it was a good idea to have such things in direct sunlight.

Further in there were shelves that would send a sweet lover into paroxysm of delight. Row after row of jars held colourful sweets of every sort. The counter contained baskets of confectionary and there were bars of chocolate stacked like roof slates.

Jenny didn’t particularly crave sweets. Madame often bought boxes of chocolates as tokens of affection and she would eat them slowly and luxuriantly in the drawing room, but she could take them or leave them.

Madame herself had no interest in such things. The sort of delicacies she enjoyed didn’t come in boxes with ribbons on.

Young Millie, the timid and often bewildered scullery maid and Joe, the bootboy, both liked sweets, mainly because they came from such dire poverty before coming to Paternoster Row that even a taste of sugary treats was luxury to them.

It was for them, rather than herself, that she found herself stepping into the fragrant smelling shop. A bell tinkled as she did so and a small bald man in an apron came from the back room.

“Good afternoon, madam,” he said. Jenny was startled as she always was, to be addressed that way. Madam was… well, Madame, her reptilian lover. It didn’t fit her at all.

“Hello,” she replied. “Umm….”

She glanced around at the array of sweetness. Perhaps the very expensive chocolates weren’t quite right. Something simpler….

“A quarter of sherbet lemons,” she said, eyeing the jars. “And… strawberry creams… yes, a quarter of those, too.”

As the little man climbed a step ladder to get those jars down she noticed a basket with small pieces of pink sweets covered in powdered sugar. A label in decorative script said it was ‘special Turkish Delight’ and invited customers to ‘try a piece.’

She tried a piece. The perfumed sweetness was delicious. She looked around. The old man was measuring her chosen sweets on a set of stainless steel scales. She took another piece even though she knew that was a little naughty, almost like stealing.

The third piece didn’t give her any qualms at all. Perhaps stealing became easier as you did it more.

But her purchases were ready in little brown paper bags. She swallowed the piece of Turkish Delight quickly and just a bit guiltily and paid for the sherbet lemons and strawberry creams. She thanked the shopkeeper for his service and left the shop.

All the way around her other shopping and all the way home she had the flowery, perfume taste of the Turkish Delight in her mouth. It was so pleasant she almost didn’t want to drink the cup of tea Millie offered her when she got back to the kitchen at Paternoster Row. She didn’t want to wash the taste away.

Funnily enough, it didn’t wash away. She still had the taste even after the cup of tea as she watched Millie put the groceries away.

“What’s this?” Millie asked with a puzzled expression. She held up a jar containing something that, at a glance, looked like a ghastly experiment from the pathology lab of St Bartholomews where Madame often went in the course of her researches.

On second glance it proved to be green olives in brine.

“Why did I buy those?” Jenny asked aloud, even more puzzled than Millie who had never seen such a thing. “I don’t eat them and Madame certainly doesn’t.”

She thought about the grocery shop with jars and tins piled on shelves and on the long countertop. Had these exotic fruits been on the counter? She thought they might have been. She could recall a pyramid of carefully arranged jars.

But she was sure she hadn’t bought it.

“Perhaps it got put into the basket by mistake,” she suggested. “Never mind. Here, I bought a treat for you and Joe.”

She took out the bags of sweets and both of the youngsters beamed with pleasure at such an indulgence.

“Don’t eat them all,” she warned. “You’ll be sick.” She smiled at being able to offer two young street urchins that sort of luxury and left the servant’s domain for the drawing room that she was only slowly coming to think of as hers in that halfway between upstairs and downstairs world she inhabited.

The next afternoon saw her out in the little shopping streets around Cheapside again with the weekend’s meat to choose at the butchers. Of course, Madame often ate out, but Jenny always liked to have some regular cuts in the larder. She also needed to stop off at the ironmonger and the chandler.

She had no intention of buying sweets, but somehow her feet brought her into Mr Sims’ shop. She didn’t know if the little bald man WAS Mr Sim, but he served her a quarter of nut brittle and two two-ounce bags of sugary fruit pastilles for Millie and Joe. Again, while he was weighing the sweets she sampled the Turkish Delight. She had sampled four pieces without even thinking about it before he was done with the weighing and bagging. There was something quite compulsive about it.

As she was leaving the shop the housekeeper from two doors down in Paternoster Row came in. Jenny noticed that she, too, was drawn to the basket of Turkish Delight samples.

Back home she enjoyed a cup of tea while Millie sorted the purchases in her basket. The bulk of the meat would be delivered later by the butcher’s boy on his wobbly bicycle. She gave Millie a warning to watch out for him before Strax scared him half to death like last time.

“Sausages?” Millie queried as she inspected the contents of one greaseproof paper package. “We don’t usually have those, do we?”

“Sausages?” Jenny was certain she hadn’t bought sausages. She had eaten them at home, where her father always called them ‘little bags of mystery’ because nobody was entirely certain what sort of meat might be in them, but now that she could afford to eat recognisable meat she tended to avoid them.

But there was a string of a dozen fat sausages – the better quality sort that were sold in the vicinity of Smithfields and which probably were mostly pork products.

“Sausages?” Joe looked at them with interest. They were the height of luxury food to him.

“Madame and I are going out to dinner tonight,” Jenny said to Millie. “You can cook these up for the two of you. Strax will have his usual side of rare cooked ribs.”

She made it sound as if it was a special kindness to the two servants, but for the life of her she couldn’t remember buying sausages. She thought there had been some packets on the butcher’s counter, but she hadn’t been interested in them.

The evening called for a change of hairstyle and a dress of fine silk. She was just coming downstairs from her room dressed for a social occasion when the front doorbell rang. She watched as Strax in his tightly-fitting butler’s uniform opened the door. A constable took an instinctive step back at the sight of him then rallied enough to ask if the mistress of the house was at home.

“I’ll deal with this, Strax,” she said coming down the stairs into the gaslit hallway. Strax bowed his head and returned to his duties. Jenny invited the constable over the threshold onto the oriental carpet that covered the vestibule. He looked slightly embarrassed to be allowed that far into a respectable house.

“I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am,” he said diffidently. “I’m following up an inquiry about certain items stolen from shops in the locality.”

“Stolen?” Jenny immediately thought of the extra samples of Turkish Delight she had eaten, but nobody would send a constable for that, surely?

“Just small things,” the Constable continued. “A pound of candles from Monks, a skipping rope from Kebbles toy emporium, grocery items, sausages….”

“Sausages?” Jenny’s face was a picture of surprised innocence. “Who steals sausages?”

“Well… ma’am….” The Constable looked embarrassed as he consulted his notebook. “The butcher mentioned your housemaid had been in the shop…..”

At that very moment Millie came up the kitchen stairs carrying a pile of newly laundered linen to be put in the upstairs cupboard. The constable regarded her carefully for a long moment before she scurried away from the scene.

“Do you have another maid?” he asked.

“No, just Millie,” Jenny answered truthfully. Whatever status she had in this house it wasn’t ‘maid’.

“Ah, then I think there has been a mistake. I have a description of a slender brunette… tightly buttoned down….”

Anyone trying to describe Millie would have to start with ‘plump’ or ‘dumpy’ and then ‘short’, and her hair was a dull blonde that possibly owed its origins to a Swedish sailor who was in town nine months before she was born. As for ‘buttoned down’, the girl was forever losing those. Her clothes were always best described as ‘haphazard’. That was why she was still a scullery maid and wasn’t sent grocery shopping as a rule.

As long as the smell of her frying the evidence didn’t drift up from the kitchen before they constable left…..

It didn’t. He apologised for disturbing the household with such a petty inquiry and went on his way. Jenny stood for a long time in the hallway, thinking deeply and more than a little guiltily.

Had she stolen the sausages? If she did, she couldn’t remember.

Just as she couldn’t remember adding a jar of olives to her basket on Tuesday?

But why would she steal either of those things? Even when she was as lowly as young Millie she had never resorted to stealing food from shops. Why would she do it now?

“There you are, my dear,” Madame said, sweeping down the stairs in an elegant green dress a shade deeper than her skin tone and her ‘going out’ veil fixed in place. “Are you ready for dinner with the Dean?”

“Quite ready,” Jenny answered, pushing the impossible self-accusation aside.

The Dean very obviously didn’t understand the relationship between Madame and Jenny. That or she exerted some kind of hypnotic suggestion on the Very Reverend Robert Gregory DD to make him think that a lesbian marriage between a human and a lizard lady was a social norm in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

His other guests for dinner this evening were a young visiting curate and his sister, George Hadley and Miss Mildred Hadley, and Mrs Eileen Brennan, owner of Brennan’s Millinery Emporium, one of the more select establishments on Cheapside and, most importantly, a very devout churchgoer who contributed generously to all of the Dean’s charitable causes.

It was Mrs Brennan who brought up a troubling subject as they were settling down to their soup.

“It has not been a good day for me,” the lady admitted. “I had to sack one of my workers. The girl swore she was innocent, but a three guinea hat was found under her bed in the attic. I had no choice.”

The upstanding Christians around the table agreed that theft was a reason for instant dismissal. Jenny kept her own counsel. A girl who lived on the premises was risking a lot more than losing her job. She would be homeless and penniless, too. All for a hat? It wouldn’t even be worth three guineas at the pawn shop. A few shillings at the most.

It seemed like a senseless crime.

“She was in tears,” Mrs Brennan added. “And she kept on saying she knew nothing about it. That was the worst part. She wouldn’t admit her guilt. I might have been less harsh on her if she had been repentant, but this girl wouldn’t even come clean about her dishonesty.”

That was the sort of Christian Mrs Brennan was, Jenny thought. She regretted the lack of repentance. It never occurred to her that the girl was crying and pleading innocence because she WAS innocent. After all, there had to be a dozen girls working at the millinery, not even counting a couple of domestics. The possibility that one of the others hid the wretched hat under the girl’s bed hadn’t entered her Christian mind, only that the thief was unrepentant.

Jenny was distracted from the possible injustice by the Very Reverend Gregory deploring the malaise of petty theft in these days, mentioning that the collection boxes for the poor in the cathedral had been ransacked twice in the past week.

“Stealing from the House of God,” he grumbled. “There is nothing lower.”

Jenny felt like pointing out that the thief was probably poor, so the money went where it was meant to go, but the mood around the table was not sympathetic to wrongdoers. As the fish course was served, Mr George Hadley gave the opinion that people still had respect for church property in the country parishes. The problem was peculiar to the city with its teeming masses.

“So many poor,” his sister Mildred agreed. “Here we are less than a mile from the Bank of England, and in the shadow of this great Cathedral, and it is so easy to walk into side streets and alleys where the poor are crammed together in wretched lives.”

Jenny had often noted that herself. It really was a very short walk from the great wealth of Threadneedle Street to abject poverty. That was London.

Doctor Gregory was expounding the idea that ending transportation of criminals to the antipodes was a retrograde step. Quite apart from the deterrent such drastic measures offered, it had the effect of removing the criminals from the scene of their crimes and offering rehabilitation through useful labour. He was a great believer in the rehabilitating power of hard work. He painted the prospect of being forcibly removed to the other side of the world as a prisoner’s greatest hope.

Again Jenny kept her own counsel. These were people who thought they had God on their side. They had never lived in one of those dark, rat-infested courts behind the high façades of the main streets of London. They didn’t know what it was like to share a privy with twenty other people, few of them you would want to be that intimate with. They were forking five courses of food into themselves without ever knowing what it was like to be so hungry that the sight of a loaf of bread that nobody would miss outweighed the Sunday School lessons about living a good life.

Madam kept her own counsel, too. Theft was unknown among her people. That was almost certainly because anyone who broke the rules was eaten by the tribe. Perhaps Doctor Gregory would approve of the no nonsense approach to crime, but he would doubtless regret the lack of opportunity for rehabilitation in the Silurian approach.

After dinner, with the coffee, the Very Reverend brought out a surprise indulge for his guests. Instead of the usual little chocolates or biscuits, there was a box of the very finest Turkish Delight.

“A gift from one of our newest parishioners,” explained Doctor Gregory. “A gentleman called Sims.”

“Oh, yes, I have been in his shop,” Jenny commented, unable to help herself. But why should she feel guilty about that? Visiting a sweet shop was not something beneath the dignity of this Christian fellowship. It wasn’t like the pawn shop or the second-hand clothes shop where so many of the working classes outfitted themselves. Or a gin house or worse. A respectable lady might enter a sweetshop just as they had been able to enter the decorously appointed ABC tea rooms without a male companion for many years, now.

If it had been a social faux pas, nobody seemed to notice. They were too busy eating the Turkish Delight. Funnily enough, after trying so many samples, Jenny didn’t really feel like eating a larger piece when it was offered. Perhaps because she had just eaten a large meal she wasn’t hungry for it. She only nibbled the small piece she took.

Madame didn’t eat any at all, nor did George Hadley, who said he had given up eating sweet things as a penance before God. His forbearance allowed Mildred Hadley to surreptitiously take two large pieces. She ate them with obvious relish then, when she thought nobody was looking, slipped another piece onto her plate. She looked very guilty about it, as though she was aware that Greed, even for an unexpected sweet treat at dinner, was one of the Deadly Sins.

Let her, Jenny thought. We all have our secrets. At least it wasn’t gin!

Jenny and Madame returned home in the late evening after a pleasant interlude in such refined and civil company. In Paternoster Row, however, they were surprised to see an unrefined and uncivil scene. A police wagon, solid and dark, stood with its back door open and waiting while two constables dragged a crying, screaming woman from number seventeen, two doors down from Madame’s house.

It was the housekeeper. Jenny recognised her despite her distressed state.

“What has happened?” she asked of the housekeeper from number fifteen, the house between their home and the one where the drama was taking place.

“It’s Mrs Barclay,” the woman answered. “They’re arresting her. It seems she’s been stealing – there was a watch from the jewellers next door to Brennan’s, and a pair of candlesticks, and rings from her own mistress’s jewellery box. She had them all hidden away in her room. Hundreds of pounds of valuables, they do say.”

Mrs Barclay was still crying and protesting her innocence as the door to the wagon closed upon her. The wagon hurried away, iron rimmed wheels and horse’s hooves clattering on the cobbles.

In the sudden quiet Jenny noticed that Madame had already gone indoors. She quickly followed her into the warm, welcoming hallway of number thirteen Paternoster Row, the place that, upstairs or downstairs, she called home. She noticed the faint residual smell of fried sausages coming from the kitchen stairs, but the drawing room was pleasantly scented with the spicy incenses that madam liked to burn when she was in a certain ‘mood’.

“Curious goings on,” she remarked. “But none of them touching upon us. Let us leave the troubles of the world outside our door.”

She smiled her thin smile as she sat in a comfortable chair and reached out her hand. Jenny took it happily and sat upon her wife’s knee as they shared a kiss that would have sent the Very Reverend Gregory into apoplexy.

The kiss was just the start of a pleasant ending to the day. Later, Jenny slept soundly beside her lover and her dreams were unconcerned by the troubles outside the front door.

But just before dawn those troubles came in from outside. Jenny and Madame were woken by shouts from the drawing room. They donned silk dressing gowns and house shoes and hurried to find out what was happening.

“Madame!” Strax, dressed in an extra large nightshirt that answered a disturbing question about Sontaran sleeping habits, announced triumphantly. “I have apprehended a burglar… using the minimum force you suggested after the incident with the mugger on Hampstead Heath.”

“You mean this one still has all his arms and legs?” Jenny asked. She stepped into the drawing room and noticed that the burglar was female and wearing a flannel nightdress.

She definitely WAS a burglar. There was a bag containing several pieces of silver from the sideboard beside the figure hog-tied on the floor with the velvet ties from the curtains.

“Miss Mildred Hadley?” Jenny recognised the burglar as she bent to lift her up from the floor and loosen bonds that were starting to cut off circulation in her hands and feet. “Look… you’d better sit down on the sofa. Strax, it is quite all right. Madame and I can handle this. You go on back to bed.”

“I should be on standby in case he tries to attack you,” Strax suggested.

“No, Jenny is quite right. You go on, now, Strax,” Madame insisted. “You have done well, but we will deal with the matter, now.”

Grumbling, he went on his way to the Spartan cell where he slept – or whatever it was he did in the quiet hours. Jenny brought a small brandy to revive the shocked and bewildered woman while Madame studied her carefully.

“You don’t remember anything about the last hour or so, do you?” she said after Mildred had swallowed half of the brandy and then coughed for a whole minute.

“Not… at all….” She admitted. “I went to bed… and the next I knew, I was being held down on the carpet by a huge man with no neck.”

“I believe her,” Madame said in a matter of fact tone. “Something is very strange around here. Ordinary people committing absurd crimes….”

“Mrs Barclay two doors down,” Jenny counted aloud. “The girl at Mrs Brennan… the thefts from the church….”

She turned and ran to the kitchen, returning with the mysterious jar of olives. The sausages were only a memory now, but the olives were evidence of her own inexplicable larceny. She wasn’t sure why she felt they ought to be presented in the drawing room, but Madame placed them next to the bag of loot on the table and studied them as if they provided an answer.

“Something has had a controlling and mesmeric effect on people in this locality,” she said. “Some people… not all. There is an element of ‘selection’ in this. I wonder…. What is it that you all have in common?”

Jenny thought about it for a long time. There didn’t seem to be anything that she and Mildred and Mrs Barclay… and the girl Mrs Brennan sacked… might have in common. They were all very subtle grades of social class, from the hat shop girl through to the housekeeper and on to Mildred who was one of the ‘educated women of independent means’ that Jenny heard about these days.

They had nothing in common except….

Well, Jenny recalled that Mrs Barclay bought groceries and meat at the same shops along Cheapside. They had even bought sweets at the same place.


“Wait a minute….”

The solution was there, at the back of her mind. There was SOMETHING she knew, but she couldn’t quite grasp it.

Her thoughts were disturbed by a knocking at the door. It was still only six o’clock in the morning, and such urgency was surprising. Jenny moved towards the hallway, but was quite glad when Strax appeared, this time dressed as a butler, to open the door on whoever might need their services this early in the day.

She was quite surprised to see the young curate, Mr Hadley, Mildred’s brother, looking as if he had dressed hurriedly, too.

“I’m looking for Madame Vastra,” he said breathlessly. “I was told she can help. My… my sister is missing and Doctor Gregory has gone… a little mad.”

“Your sister is here,” Jenny told him. “What do you mean, ‘mad’?”

She brought the distraught man to the drawing room where there was an emotional reunion and more questions than answers.

“Doctor Gregory is sitting in his study, in his nightshirt and cap… surrounded by empty collection boxes and piles of coins,” Hadley said. “I think he took them from the cathedral himself. Last night… when he talked about people stealing from the poor boxes… I think it was him… I think he has been doing it under some strange compulsion.”

“Last night….” Jenny suddenly understood. “It’s the Turkish Delight. Mildred had three pieces. Doctor Gregory had some, too. And… Mrs Barclay… she was in the sweet shop yesterday. She must have eaten some.”

She picked up the jar of olives.

“I ate some and it made me take these… and the sausages. I think….”

“You go with the Hadleys back to the Deanery,” Madame decided. “Do what you can for Doctor Gregory. Strax and I will visit this sweet shop.”

Jenny accepted those terms. She left the Hadleys to their own devices just long enough to dress quickly but respectably, then she set out with them to walk to the end of Paternoster Row and into the Cathedral Close. As the party approached the entrance to the Deanery they spotted another lost soul wandering in the pearly early morning light. She was wearing a white cotton nightdress of a style that might have suited the young victims of penny dreadfuls about vampires except that those nightdresses were about four sizes smaller and not filled with Mrs Eileen Brennan.

“Mrs Brennan, what are you doing here?” Jenny called out. The lady stopped and stared around. Close to, Jenny saw that she was wearing several very expensive necklaces and bracelets. Somewhere there was a jeweller or a pawn shop that had been ransacked during the night.

But more peculiarly, she was holding the box of Turkish Delight that had graced the Dean’s table last night. She had broken into the Deanery apparently to steal the sweets and was now cramming pieces of into her mouth greedily.

“That stuff will make you sick,” Jenny said, gently taking the box away and then gripping Mrs Brennan by the arm. “Come along inside with us. Maybe there’s a chance of a cup of tea.”

Mildred made the tea while Jenny, assisted by George Hadley, persuaded the bewildered Dean to go to bed. They convinced him that he had suffered a mild brain fever and needed to sleep. Mrs Brennan, clothed in a spare dress belonging to the Dean’s housekeeper, and divested of her stolen jewellery, couldn’t be convinced of anything that explained what had happened to her, but she drank several cups of tea to remove the taste of Turkish Delight from her mouth.

“I declare I shall never eat that dreadful, sickly stuff again,” she said. “I don’t believe it was meant for Christian folk to partake of. Turkish, indeed. A heathen place if there ever was one.”

“I don’t think it is actually made in Turkey,” Mildred suggested. “It’s just a name for it. Though I suppose it would explain the strange effect it had on us… some kind of eastern distillation… a drug that made us all act so insanely. I can hardly believe that I burgled a house. If anyone knew… the shame….”

“Nobody knew what they were doing,” Jenny assured them. “I think it must have been a drug, but not from Turkey, just a shop on Cheapside.”

“It was, indeed,” said Madame Vastra as she stepped into the Dean’s drawing room, followed by Strax. She was carrying a bird cage that contained, not a bird, but a tiny bald man.

“Mr Sims?” Jenny queried.

“Probably not his real name,” Madame said. “He is an Alverian Gen, a sort of gnome which can maintain the appearance of a full-size Human as long as he maintains concentration on the scale and form. Being roused from his bed by Strax disrupted his concentration. This was a disappointment to Strax, of course, since dismembering such a puny thing is beneath his dignity.”

Mildred, George and Mrs Brennan stared in astonishment and some disbelief at the caged miscreant. The evidence of their eyes was unmistakeable, though. They had to accept that something unnatural and certainly ungodly had made them all act in such uncharacteristic fashion.

“Gens have a magpie mind,” Madame continued. “But they never steal for themselves if they can get others to do their dirty work for them. This one had set his sights on the Bank of England itself. That’s why he opened up his shop on Cheapside. He meant to beguile his own little gang of thieves.”

“You mean he would have had us….” Mrs Brennan began. Mildred gasped in horror at the thought.

“Indeed,” Madame commented. “But he is thwarted. I intend to send him to some friends of mine in Wales who will know what to do with his like. The matter is closed.”

“No, it is not,” Jenny interrupted. “You’ve all forgotten that others were used by him. Mrs Barclay is still in a police cell, and there’s that girl you sacked, Mrs Brennan.”

“That girl was caught red-handed,” Mrs Brennan protested.

“So were you,” Jenny snapped.

“I….” Mrs Brennan actually flushed with embarrassment as she realised what it was like to be on the wrong side of an accusation of theft.


“I have her home address. I will… I will say it was a mistake… reinstate her. I… will apologise to her.”

“That’s something at least,” Jenny conceded.

“I shall speak to the police inspector about Mrs Barclay,” Madame promised. “I am sure I can get the charges dropped.”

“But reinstating her will not be so easy,” Jenny pointed out. “Her employer will not be so forgiving, and besides, the whole street knows her as a thief. She would never be able to hold her head up.”

“We need a housekeeper in Surrey,” Mildred announced. “When George starts his new position as vicar of Gore Sudbury. We could employ her. She will be away from London and any such scandal. It… is the least we could do for another victim of this strange business.”

“Now that’s what I call Christian,” Jenny agreed. “All right, somebody needs to tell the constable that some stolen jewellery has been left here at the Cathedral by a penitent thief. And those collection boxes have to be put back where they should be. And if there is any more Turkish Delight in the pantry it needs throwing in the dustbin. And THAT is the end of the matter.”

She looked at Madame who was smiling approvingly at the way she had handled the loose ends that she would not have thought about.

A job well done.