3: In Equal Scale Weighing Delight and Dole

‘Excellent, Professor!’ exclaimed the Count as the last of the equipment gauges fell back down to zero. Moments earlier the laboratory had been a roaring hive of computer activity and now it returned to normal as Kerensky shut down the machinery. ‘Excellent!’

The Professor was far from satisfied. ‘An unfortunate side-effect,’ he complained.

‘Not at all!’ the Count beamed. ‘Not at all. The work progresses well. And now,’ he continued, ‘I want you to find a way of vastly increasing the time span.’

Kerensky looked on in disbelief. ‘I'm not sure that I can, Count! You see, Einstein says that...’

‘I'm not paying Einstein,’ the Count cut in, his previous pleasure turning rapidly to coldness, ‘I'm paying you. Now continue with your work!’

Kerensky groaned his usual pathetic groan and shook his head in frustration, looking as if he were about to break down in tears. ‘You are stretching me to the limit, Count!’

Scarlioni smiled thinly. ‘Only thus is true progress ever made. You, as a scientist, should be the first to appreciate that.’

‘Ah, I do, Count,’ Kerensky assured him wearily, ‘I do!’ He stretched his arms out in front of him in an imploring gesture, determined not to fall for the Count's usual disarming tactics. The man was so good at making you believe everything was for your own good. ‘I appreciate many things! I appreciate walks in the country, sleep, regular meals...’

Count Scarlioni nodded in understanding. ‘Hermann!’ he called.

The butler appeared almost instantly and hurried down the stairs into the laboratory. ‘Yes, Excellency?’

‘Would you please prepare for the Professor half a dozen escargots aux beurres, followed by a course of entrecôte beaudelaise, with haricots verts and pommes sautées, served directly here to the laboratory,’ he ordered, looking Kerensky in the eye with a satisfied smile as he spoke.

Hermann nodded. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Oh, yes,’ continued the Count, ‘and a bottle of our best Champagne... no, you'd better make that half a bottle. We don't want to interfere with the work.’

Kerensky was torn. The thought of a decent meal made him want to burst into tears but fatigue robbed him of any appetite. ‘Count Scarlioni,’ he began, making a final attempt to reason with his employer, ‘please, I would really like to get some sleep...’

Scarlioni turned as Hermann mounted the stairs. ‘Hermann, cancel the wine,’ he called, ‘and bring the vitamin pills...’

Kerensky's face fell. He was quite certain he would never leave the château alive.

‘Well,’ said the Doctor, ‘here we are again.’

They had come full circle, and were once again seated at the table outside Café La Vache.

‘Doctor, I suppose you realise we were being followed?’ Romana informed him.

The Doctor nodded, resisting the urge to give Duggan, who was loitering in the background, a friendly wave. ‘All the way from the Louvre, by that idiot with the gun.’

‘Oh, you had noticed.’

‘I noticed twenty minutes ago.’

‘He wouldn't make a very good detective.’

‘You're right.’

‘What do you suppose he wants?’

‘Look in your pocket.’.

Romana felt in her blazer pocket. It was empty.

‘The other one,’ said the Doctor sharply.

She removed a large green bracelet and stared at it in surprise.

‘The woman I bumped into was wearing it,’ the Doctor explained.

Romana thinned her lips. ‘You stole it?’ she asked disapprovingly.

‘Of course not!’ objected the Doctor. ‘I just... borrowed it for a while.’

‘That's what you said about the TARDIS,’ she reminded him. ‘What do you want with a bracelet? It'll never go with that shirt.’

The Doctor scowled. ‘Look at it!’

Romana turned it over in her hands, examining the delicate designs running over it carefully. ‘It looks like a micro-meson scanner!’ she frowned.

‘That's right. She was using it to get a complete report on all the alarm and security systems around the Mona Lisa.’

‘Do you think she's trying to steal it?’

The Doctor gave her a glum look. ‘It is a very pretty picture.’

Romana held up the bracelet. ‘This,’ she said, pointing at it with her free hand, ‘is an extremely sophisticated device for a Level Five civilisation.’

‘That?’ The Doctor shook his head disdainfully. ‘That's never the product of Earth society!’

Romana gaped. ‘Do you mean an alien is trying to steal the Mona Lisa?’

The Doctor shrugged. ‘It is a very pretty picture...Romana, you know, I think there's something very funny going on here. You remember that man who was following us?’

‘Yes?’

‘Well, he's standing right behind me, poking a gun in my back!’

‘And then?’ Count Scarlioni asked his wife.

The Countess paced up and down the lounge of the château, watched by the Count from the sofa. ‘Well, then I had that stupid detective followed,’ she continued.

The Count raised an eyebrow. ‘Why?’

She directly avoided a proper answer. ‘Reasons.’

Scarlioni smiled; only slightly. ‘Oh please,’ he said mildly, ‘don't play games.’

She sneered bitterly. ‘What else have I been doing these past few years?’

Scarlioni looked up at her and frowned. ‘Following instructions.’

‘Well, this detective, Duggan. He started to annoy me. He stopped watching the painting and started watching me.’

Scarlioni chuckled. ‘Shown a glimmer of intelligence at last,’ he mused. ‘Perhaps we should... deal with him? No, there's no need for that. He's too stupid to threaten our work seriously.’

‘Only then,’ the Countess went on, ‘something else happened in front of the painting. This man I'd never seen before... well, he fainted.’

Her husband burst into laughter. ‘You are getting jumpy! He was probably overcome by your irresistible charm!’

The Countess closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Now here was the hard part. ‘It's just that... as he fell, he somehow managed to get the bracelet off my wrist.’

For a moment the Count was silent. He was aware that she had been building up to a confession, but he hadn't expected this. ‘What?’ he bellowed. ‘And you let him?’

‘I had no choice!’ she protested. ‘It was rushed and confused - and well organised, I'm sure of that.’

Scarlioni's face had turned crimson with anger. ‘If anything happens to that bracelet...’

‘We'll get it back!’ she assured him. ‘The matter is in hand even now.’

The Count got to his feet, seething. He knew how resourceful his wife could be when necessary, and that she was more than capable of solving her own problems. He put a hand up to his forehead. The Countess thought he was mopping his brow but he was itching at a crack in the skin below his hairline. Rubbing it just made the thin layer of skin peel further back. ‘I trust you will be...’

‘Discreet?’ the Countess cut him short. ‘Of course.’

The gun pressed against the Doctor's head looked fairly discreet, or at least as discreet as a gun could possibly be.

The Doctor and Romana had persuaded Duggan to put away his gun and to go inside the café with them and discuss things in a reasonable manner. They had barely sat down at a table when the Doctor found himself threatened with a gun for the second time in almost as many minutes. This time it was Scarlioni's two dark-suited thugs.

For a moment, the Doctor was silent. Then he looked up at the man with a frown. He smiled, then dared to ask, ‘What bracelet?’ as innocently as he could.

The man flicked back the safety catch on the revolver.

The Doctor's smile turned into a sour frown. ‘Oh,’ he murmured, ‘that bracelet.’

Romana took the bracelet from inside her blazer and passed it to the Doctor, who clipped it on to the end of the gun pointed at him. The thug pocketed the bracelet, and then the pair backed away out of the café.

‘Patron!’ the Doctor called as soon as they had gone. ‘Get me three glasses of water - and make them doubles.’

‘All right,’ said Duggan at last, ‘that's enough. Very cleverly staged, but you don't fool me.’ He took a glance back at the doorway. The thugs were nowhere in sight.

The Doctor looked Duggan in the eye. ‘What are you talking about?’

Duggan was nearing aggravation. ‘Your men who were in here just now!’

My men - those thugs?’

Your thugs!’

My thugs?’

‘Yes!’

There was a momentary silence, and then the Doctor said, ‘Are you suggesting those men were in my employ?’

Yes!’

Another momentary silence.

‘I don't know whether or not you noticed,’ the Doctor told Duggan in lowered tones, ‘but he was pointing a gun at me. Anyone in my employ who behaved like that would be sacked on the spot.’

Duggan nodded. ‘Except that I know you arranged for those men to hold you up as a bluff!’

‘What?’

‘You're trying to put me on a false scent!’

The Doctor opened his mouth to deny the accusation, when something else occurred to him, and he pointed a finger at the detective. ‘You're English, aren't you?’

‘So?’

‘So, I just thought that was very interesting.’ The Doctor turned and called out to Jaques behind the bar. ‘Patron, I thought I ordered three glasses of water?’

Jaques sighed and brought over a tray of three glasses of water, grumbling under his breath in the assumption that none of them were fluent enough in French to understand him

Duggan was becoming even more impatient. ‘Listen...’

‘‘Doctor’,’ the Time Lord supplied helpfully.

‘What's Scarlioni's angle?’

The Doctor shrugged. ‘Scarlioni's angle? Never heard of it.’ He turned to Romana. ‘Have you ever heard of Scarlioni's angle?’

Romana shook her head. ‘No, I was never any good at geometry. Why don't you ask a number-cruncher?’

The Doctor ignored the jibe and looked back at Duggan. ‘Who's Scarlioni?’

Count Scarlioni!’ Duggan sighed. ‘Don't play the innocent with me. Everyone on Earth's heard of Count Scarlioni!’

The Doctor's eyes lit up. ‘Ah, well that's it! We've only just arrived on Earth,’ he explained.

‘Right, that's it,’ snapped Duggan. ‘I give up,’ he called as he made for the café door, ‘you're both mad.’

He opened the door, and was about to go through it when the Doctor called after him, ‘Mad enough to want to steal the Mona Lisa?’

Duggan stopped. Slowly, he turned to face the Doctor and against his better judgement found himself walking back to the table and sitting down. ‘Or at least,’ the Doctor continued quietly, ‘be interested in someone mad enough to want to steal the Mona Lisa?’

Duggan slumped back into his chair, and took a long swig from his glass of water. The liquid wasn't nearly strong enough for the morning he'd had. He reached over to the table opposite, took a glass of red wine that sat on the peripheral of a young couple's intense conversation, and knocked it back in a single gulp before they'd had time to register what was happening. After a shudder - he hated red wine - and a deep breath, he looked up at the two grinning Time Lords in front of him.

‘All right,’ he said at last, ‘what do you know?’

Scarlioni took the bracelet that was being held out before him and examined it carefully for any sign of damage. Satisfied, he looked up at the two henchmen. ‘Good,’ he said at last. ‘Thank you. You may go.’ He, the Countess and Hermann watched as the men left the lounge.

‘But not good enough,’ he said as soon as the lounge doors had closed. He nodded to Hermann. ‘Kill them.’

Hermann arched his eyebrows in surprise. ‘The detective and his friends, Excellency?’

‘No, Hermann,’ scowled the Count, ‘those two fools!’

Hermann smiled gleefully in anticipation. It had been at least three weeks since the Count had last allowed him to kill anyone. ‘With pleasure, Excellency!’ He bowed and left the room.

‘So,’ murmured the Count, turning to the Countess as his hands played idly with the bracelet. ‘One was interested in you and the painting, and the other in this bracelet...’

‘Yes.’

Scarlioni put the bracelet down and looked up at her. ‘I should like to meet these people,’ he said.

‘Of course.’ The Countess indicated the doors. ‘Just tell Hermann.’

The Count went to stand, but as he did so, two gunshots rang out from the next room. He turned back to the Countess and resisted a smile. ‘No, my dear,’ he said, ‘you tell Hermann.’

They both chuckled, realising that it was a little too late.

‘I think,’ mused the Count, ‘that we will need to hire those new men after all.’ His wife was still smiling as he kissed her lightly on the cheek and headed for the doors. It was little moments like these that made this marriage successful. ‘I wonder how soon they can start?’

The Countess frowned as she noticed how red her husband's complexion had become. Patches of skin on his forehead and jawline seemed to be peeling, as though he had been badly sunburnt, which hardly seemed likely with the weather they'd been having recently. The Count had skin problems often - once every month or so it would flare up like an infection, and then suddenly be fine again. They seemed to have an unspoken agreement never to discuss the matter.

Even so, it still made her shudder.

‘So,’ said Duggan as he came to the end of his story, ‘you can imagine the furore.’ He had managed to maintain his cool though the discussion no matter how many times the Doctor or Romana had interrupted him with an inane comment or peculiar observation. Despite their eccentricity the pair did seem intensely interested in what he was telling them. After so long of little contact with English speakers, after days of talking to himself and running all the facts through his head, Duggan found it a relief to be able to discuss the matter out loud.

‘The what?’ Romana cut in.

‘Furore - the whole of the art world in a uproar.’ Duggan sat back in his chair. ‘Masterpieces that apparently have been missing for centuries are turning up all over the place!’

The Doctor nodded. ‘All fakes, of course?’

‘If so, then they're very, very good ones. They stand up to every scientific test.’

The Doctor looked perplexed. ‘Really? And the only connection in all this is the Count?’

‘Yes,’ nodded Duggan, ‘but nothing dirty can be proved. He's clean, absolutely clean. So clean,’ he said bitterly, ‘he stinks.’

The Doctor disagreed. ‘He isn't clean anymore. The Countess has the bracelet.’

Duggan paused. ‘How much is that bracelet worth?’

‘Well, that really depends on what you want to do with it... oh, hello!’

Romana and Duggan both leaned closer. ‘What?’ they asked intently.

The Doctor pointed behind them. ‘I think we're being invited to leave!’

Romana and Duggan turned to see three men dressed in black suits and hats, each pointing a gun at them. They looked indistinguishable from the men who had reclaimed the bracelet from them. The Doctor glanced over to the bar to give Jaques an apologetic look. The patron shrugged as though he were more than used to several armed hold-ups a day in his little café.

‘I say,’ said the Doctor to the thug nearest him, ‘I like your hat.’

The man's reply was not as cheerful; if anything it was quite the opposite.

The native French speakers in the café were appalled.

‘You rang, Madam?’ enquired Hermann as he entered the lounge.

The Countess looked up. ‘Where is the Count?’ she asked.

‘I believe he is in the laboratory, my lady,’ Hermann replied.

She grimaced. ‘With that idiot Professor again, no doubt.’

Hermann shook his head. ‘No, my lady. Professor Kerensky has retired to his bed.’

The Countess gave a look of genuine surprise. ‘Oh. Thank you, Hermann.’

She left the lounge and went to the cellar door. It was locked.

‘Carlos?’ she called, pulling on the handle. ‘Carlos!’

No reply.

The Count was not in the laboratory. He was in his study. But the Countess's calls still reached him, and he smiled. He was staring, unblinking, into the mirror. All over his face the skin was blistering and peeling. He watched calmly as the skin around his mouth began to twitch, his forehead slowly bulging...

The Countess gave the door one last tug, then gave up and returned to the lounge.

His senses heightened, he heard her go. He might have smiled, but he no longer had any discernible mouth with which to effect this. The only part of his face that looked even vaguely human was the one lidless eye in the centre of a green scaled head.

It was the face of a Jagaroth...

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Epilogue