9: But Look; The Morn In Russet Mantle Clad...
Romana sipped her coffee and sighed.
Jaques had arrived to open up Café La Vache at 7 am. He had not been all that surprised to find that a window pane in the back door had been smashed and that two people had set up camp in his café and polished off a bottle of his best shiraz. After all, this was Paris, and things like that happened here all the time. Rather than make a fuss, he had accepted their apologies and the strange currency with which Romana had paid him for the damage to the door. He could only assume that a ‘narg’ was whatever passed for money in backward countries like Poland. However European currency was European currency, be it Polish or not, and he could easily include it in some tourist's change and be rid of the stuff. He made Romana and Duggan a pot of coffee, turned the television on, cursed the weather and set about the daily routines.
Duggan was fast asleep, his face flat on the table top. The red wine had not agreed with him and he had spent the night getting more and more miserable and indulgent while Romana tried to think rationally about the situation. ‘Your coffee will get cold,’ she eventually said.
Duggan jerked into instant wakefulness. He sprang to his feet and drew his gun, his gun-arm sending his cup spinning sideways to the right, over the edge of the table and to the floor with a ceramic crash. The debris and liquid left a surprisingly large pattern over the floor.
Jaques sighed and picked up a dustpan and a dishrag.
Romana offered Duggan her half-full cup. ‘Have some coffee,’ she suggested.
He did so. The aftertaste of red wine made it the worst mouthful of coffee he'd ever had, so he spat it out again. Jaques wondered how long it would be before a customer finally drove him over the edge.
‘That's it,’ Duggan said at last, slumping back into his seat and putting away his gun. ‘I'm sent to Paris to find out if anything odd is going on in the art world, and what happens? The Mona Lisa gets stolen right under my nose. Odd isn't in it.’
Romana took a notepad from inside her coat. ‘I'm going to leave a note for the Doctor. I think we should go and get it back.’
‘Which one?’ Duggan was incredulous. ‘I've seen seven! What am I going to see today? Two Arc de Triomphes? Half a dozen Eiffel Towers lying around?’
‘The real Mona Lisa!’ Romana sighed. ‘The original!’
‘Then how the hell do you account for all the others?’
‘I don't know. Perhaps you're right. Perhaps Scarlioni has found a way of travelling through time. Perhaps he...’ Romana fell silent, as a sudden thought occurred to her. ‘Perhaps,’ she continued slowly, ‘he went back in time, had a chat with Leonardo, got him to rustle up another six, then went forward in time, stole the one in the Louvre and then sold all seven at an enormous profit!’
For a moment Duggan was silent. ‘I used to do divorce investigations before I was a detective,’ he said earnestly. ‘It was never like this.’
‘There's only one flaw in that line of reasoning I can see,’ said Romana. ‘That equipment of Kerensky's wouldn't work effectively as a time machine.’
‘No. You see, you can have two adjacent time continuums running at different points...’
Duggan saw no point in arguing and simply agreed with her as best he could. ‘You can.’
‘...but without a field interface stabiliser you can't cross from one to the other.’
‘You can't.’ He was despairingly out of his depth.
Romana shrugged. ‘I'm just guessing, of course. Come on, let's get back to the château where at least you can thump somebody.’
Duggan's eyes lit up. That, at least, he could relate to. Romana quickly scribbled a note on her pad, tore the paper off, handed it to Jaques and then she and Duggan ran for the door, leaving almost as noisily as they had arrived.
It was 8.05 am when the Doctor arrived at the Louvre. Waving an old UNIT pass around got him past the police cordon and towards the entrance where he was greeted by a pair of security guards. ‘Well?’ he asked, doing his best to act authoritative. ‘What news?’
‘Sir, it is very grave,’ one of the guards replied. ‘The painting of the Mona Lisa has been stolen!’
‘What?’ This time the Doctor did his best to act surprised. ‘That's terrible!’ He pushed past them and hurried into the building.
Often he had found that if you pretend to be in control of a situation and act as though you have every right to be somewhere you haven't, no one will question your presence there. This morning exactly that philosophy was in practise. Inside, the Louvre was swarming with activity - police investigators were dusting the glass screen for fingerprints, interviewing gallery staff, and examining a smashed window on the floor above the gallery. There were probably more people in the building than would have been had the painting still been on display.
The Doctor looked around and caught sight of the Louvre guide he had met the previous day. She was being questioned by a police officer. When he had finished talking and put away his notepad to move on to another member of staff, the Doctor approached her and tapped her on the shoulder.
She gave a cry as she turned and recognised him.
‘Ssssh!’ the Doctor cautioned. ‘I was just wondering... you didn't happen to notice two people here last night trying to stop that painting from being stolen, did you?’
She frowned. ‘Monsieur?’
‘One was a fair-haired pretty girl, the other a man; kept hitting people...’ The Doctor raised a fist to illustrate his description, and the startled guide cried out again. ‘Sssh!’ hissed the Doctor. ‘Did you see them?’
‘No, monsieur, but perhaps you should speak to the police...’
‘No, no time,’ replied the Doctor hurriedly. ‘I've got the human race to think about.’ He leaned close, and whispered the words for greater effect. ‘The human race..!’
The guide stared after the Doctor's retreating back, his words echoing in her mind. Last night she had drafted her notice; now she figured if she waited a couple of days, she could claim job-related stress and claim a huge compensation settlement. It was the man in the scarf that had driven her to it.
‘...was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503 and is considered to be the most famous painting of all time. The theft occurred at approximately eleven o'clock last night. Police have made no comment thus far on how it is possible that all the security systems surrounding the painting came to be deactivated...’
The Doctor caught a brief glimpse of an image of the Mona Lisa on the television set on top of the bar as he entered Café La Vache. Everybody's attention was fixed to the television, numerous cups of coffee growing cold as all sat, astonished at the news.
‘Patron,’ the Doctor said, ‘were there two people in here earlier?’
The Doctor frowned. ‘How long ago did they leave?’
The Doctor frowned again. ‘Did they say where they were going?’
Jaques shook his head.
The Doctor frowned for a third time. ‘Did they leave a note or something like that?’
Jaques rummaged under the bar and produced the note Romana had left. He handed it to the Doctor and returned to watching the news.
‘They can't have been mad enough to go back to the château,’ he muttered as he opened the note and read aloud, ‘Dear Doctor, gone back to the château.’
The Doctor bit his lip. He thanked Jaques, stuffed the note into his pocket and left the café at a run, his scarf flapping behind him.
‘...and the weather will be mostly fine with occasional showers...’
‘As soon as the alarm sounded, Excellency, she was halfway through the window and he was outside.’ Hermann sneered as he pointed his gun at Duggan and Romana, who stood before the Count in the château lounge with their hands raised. ‘They cannot be professionals! I thought you would wish to speak to them, so I called off the dogs.’
Scarlioni got to his feet. He had changed his suit and his usual calm, suave air was restored. ‘My dear,’ he said to Romana, ‘you did not have to enter my house by...’ he chuckled to himself, ‘well, one could hardly call it stealth. You only had to knock on the door.’
‘You'd better not touch her, Scarlioni,’ Duggan warned futilely.
‘I'm quite capable of looking after myself, thank you,’ Romana muttered under her breath.
Count Scarlioni continued. ‘I've been looking forward to renewing our acquaintance. In fact, I was almost on the verge of sending out a search party. You've saved me the trouble, however. Come and sit down.’
He went over to the Louis Quinze chairs and sat on one, gesturing to Romana to do the same. Romana did so, with her hands still raised. Scarlioni chuckled and motioned to her to lower them. Whereas the Doctor's pretending to be an idiot was merely irritating, Romana's was somehow charming.
‘Don't lay a finger on her,’ growled Duggan threateningly.
‘Oh do shut up,’ sighed Scarlioni.
Duggan did as he was told.
Scarlioni turned back to Romana. ‘You have some information that could be very valuable to me,’ he revealed, ‘concerning temporal physics.’
Romana gave a look of innocent surprise. ‘Who, me?’
Scarlioni nodded. ‘I understand you are a considerable authority on time travel.’
Romana shrugged. ‘I don't know who could have given you that idea.’
‘Your friend the Doctor, actually.’
‘The Doctor?’ responded Romana. ‘But he's in...’ She broke off, but had already said enough.
‘...Florence, 1505,’ the Count finished for her. ‘That's where I... er, we met him.’
‘Leonardo will get mad if you don't call it Firenze,’ said Romana inaudibly.
From where he stood Duggan asked, ‘Is this a private conversation or do you need a licence?’
The Count looked up. ‘If he interrupts again, Hermann,’ he ordered, ‘kill him.’
It was evident from Hermann's response that he would derive considerable satisfaction from carrying out this order. ‘With pleasure, sir!’ He released the safety catch on his revolver and pressed the barrel firmly against Duggan's temple.
The Count smiled. He liked to keep his staff happy. He turned his attention back to Romana. ‘Would you like to examine the equipment?’ he invited.
‘And if I refuse?’
The Count sighed. ‘Must we go into vulgar threats?’ he smiled. ‘Shall we just say that if you refuse, I will use the machine to destroy Paris?’
‘And how am I supposed to be sure you can do that?’
‘You can't until you've looked at the equipment!’ Scarlioni laughed. ‘Checkmate!’
The Doctor ran through the streets of Paris, pushing through the crowds of people. His twin hearts beat rapidly in his chest as he paused briefly to catch his breath. He had to get to the château before Scarlioni captured Romana and Duggan.
He had the strangest feeling that he was already too late. Surely, he thought to himself, that was the most ridiculous contradiction in being a Time Lord - this continual race against time. He remembered that lovely evening in Firenze and wondered what his drinking comrades that weekend would have thought at how poorly he managed his time...
Romana turned and looked back to Duggan. She, Duggan and Scarlioni stood around the Particle Cellular Accelerator. Hermann's gun was still pressed to Duggan's head and Professor Kerensky stood in the background, pleased for an interruption but also irritated at continually being interrupted.
‘What?’ she asked.
Duggan indicated the machine. ‘Can he?’
‘Destroy Paris? With this lot?’ Romana's burst out laughing and Duggan was nearly relieved until he saw what the expression on her face actually conveyed. ‘No problem. He'd blast the whole city through an unstabilised time field.’
‘What, do you really believe all this time travel stuff?’
‘Do you believe wood comes from trees?’ Romana retorted instantly.
Duggan frowned. ‘What do you mean?’
‘It's just a fact of life I was brought up with,’ she replied
‘So now you accept the truth of my words?’ the Count enquired in his Cheshire Cat voice.
‘That you can destroy Paris?’ Romana nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘Why all this talk of destruction?’ Professor Kerensky interjected. ‘What is going on? What are you doing with my work?’
A thought struck the Count. ‘Professor, I shall show you,’ he decided. ‘Would you care to examine the field generator?’
Kerensky frowned. ‘Why? There was nothing wrong with it when I last used it.’
‘Oh, very well,’ grumbled Kerensky, baffled. He wandered over to the machine and stood on the central pad. He knelt down to examine the device in question.
‘You will now see,’ the Count addressed his audience, ‘how I deal with fools.’
Kerensky recognised those words and turned white with fear. ‘No!’ he cried. ‘Not that switch!’ But he spoke too late. The Count glared at the little scientist as he pressed a switch on the control panel. Kerensky jerked and twisted as the projectors on the machine began to pulsate and enveloped him in a pool of green light. His mouth fell open in a silent scream of agony.
Romana and Duggan watched in horror as wrinkles appeared on Kerensky's face. His hair began to grow longer and turned grey. First a moustache and then a beard rapidly grew over his face. His body became hunched over and he collapsed on the pad. His spectacles slipped off his face and smashed. His skin paled, and his clothes turned to rags. His hair began to thin out as he gradually went bald.
With the next pulse of the machine, all that remained of Professor Theodore Nicholai Kerensky was a withered rotting skeleton.
There was an appalled silence, broken only by Count Scarlioni roaring with laughter.