Murder at Midnight
By Jeff Stone
DJ watched in paralysed fascination as the cleaver plunged towards his neck. It was as if he were watching it in slow motion as it fell. Then, everything seemed to happen at once; there was a muffled bang, a ricochet of metal on metal. The startled boy took in a shocked breath as Mrs White spun around, then was knocked over backwards in a spray of red as another loud concussion competed with the thunder.
DJ got shakily to his feet and gazed around at what had just happened. Mrs White lay dead at his feet, the rain diluting a steady flow of blood that oozed from a ragged hole in her chest. But who had done this, and what of the suit of armour?
DJ's question was answered as he saw a shadowy figure standing over a twisted pile of metal and chain-mail. The outline moved towards him, and DJ saw who it was when a burst of lightning illuminated the earth. It was Professor Plum, shotgun in one hand, crude bludgeon in the other. The old man's eyes were afire with a manic intensity as he spoke to the bewildered boy.
‘Instruments of darkness,’ Plum said, gesturing to the dead cook and the disassembled suit of armour. ‘Playthings of evil. We have won the battle; the war remains unresolved. You and I must purge the cancer that has invaded this place. I am the Saviour; you, my disciple. Come.’ So saying, Plum strode off back towards the Close.
Mechanically, DJ followed, his mind in a whirl. As he passed the ruined suit, he could see fizzing wires and circuitry amidst the metal wreck. Just what in hell was going on here?
The Ormolu clock struck three, but no-one in the drawing room cared much about the time. Thanks to his trusty sonic screwdriver (a new model that he had constructed only recently) the Doctor had managed to free himself and Valerie from their confinement, and had used Garrett's keys to release the others.
Alex Kreuger toyed with a gin he had just poured himself - his hands were shaking uncontrollably. ‘Why would she do it? Why?’ Upon trying to summon Mrs White, the Doctor had discovered the shattered jar of strychnine on the kitchen floor - proof enough of the cook's guilt. But there was no sign of her, nor of DJ or Professor Plum. The Doctor couldn't help but shudder at the sinister scenarios that could have developed. Had she killed them? Rassilon, please don't let it be true, he pleaded...
‘Madness, Mr Kreuger,’ Colonel M'Stard tried to explain. ‘I could tell from the time I arrived that the poor woman was deranged. A tragedy indeed.’
Something about the Colonel's remark sparked off a thought in the Doctor's mind. He looked up from his tonic water at the mustachioed soldier. ‘When did you arrive, Colonel? When did you get here?’ M'Stard looked puzzled at this question, then was more puzzled when he realised that he had no idea.
‘Do you know, I can't remember!’ The Colonel's face was a picture of bafflement as he struggled to recall such a simple thing.
‘Neither can I,’ Loretta Scarlett noted, frowning. ‘It's as if I've been here...’
‘Forever?’ the Doctor finished. Scarlett nodded her attractive head. The Time Lord nodded sagely; he had expected as much. Valerie shot him an anxious glance - the Doctor had told her about the video camera in his room, and this news confirmed that they were definitely not where they thought they were.
‘Hang on - I can remember. We arrived a few hours ago,’ said Alex Kreuger. His distraught wife nodded to corroborate this. This upset the theory that the Doctor had been formulating, but he decided to voice it anyway.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he announced. ‘I have good reason to believe that this is not the year 1932. I am also quite convinced that we are not even in Tudor Close - the real one, that is. We are being manipulated by some hostile force.’
Understandably, this was treated with disbelief by the others, but each realised that this had to be the truth. One thing remained unclear, however.
‘If this isn't Tudor Close, 1932,’ Valerie said carefully, ‘then where are we?’
The watcher applauded softly in the confines of his chamber. A good question, and one that deserved an answer. But, you won't find the solution by sitting around, will you, Doctor? the watcher mused at the image on the screen.
Time to liven things up; he rolled his dice, and the bone-white cubes clattered on the console. A four and a one. Excellent...
‘As I thought - we aren't even on Earth!’ The Doctor manipulated the controls on the TARDIS's sensor console and gazed at the readings. Around him Kreuger and the rest stood, awestruck at the size of the Time Lord's vessel. The Gallifreyan gestured at the scanner screen.
‘The Close - if this is the real Close - and about four hundred square metres around it are enclosed in a spheroid forcefield. Everything outside of the field is just an illusion - nothing but empty void. As to where we are exactly,’ he shrugged, ‘I have absolutely no idea.’
‘That turbulence we passed through on our way here!’ Valerie piped up. ‘It must have knocked us off course and brought us here.’
The Doctor dismissed this. ‘Very unlikely. What's more probable is that we were brought here deliberately - that turbulence must have been some kind of time/space tractor beam.’ The guests took all this in, not really understanding any of it, as the Doctor led the way out of the TARDIS. Mrs Peacock raised a very pertinent question at this point.
‘If we were brought here, Doctor, why are we here? And why are these terrible things happening to us?’
‘If I'm right, Mrs Peacock, and I think I am,’ said the Doctor, ‘we are here as... amusement. We're being made to kill each other for someone's grisly enjoyment. And I think I know who that someone is...’ He strode off down the corridor, leaving a very puzzled group behind him. Each peered in mistrust at the others - who would be the next killer? And who would he or she kill? It was a terrifying thought.
No-one noticed that Bernice was not with them...
Tudor Close's wine cellar lay in dusty silence, as it had for many years. Abruptly, a torch beam cut through the musty gloom like a laser, as Professor Plum moved through the racks of vintage port and Riesling towards his destination. DJ, now more convinced than ever that Plum had gone totally loopy, reluctantly brought up the rear. He coughed loudly as he breathed in a dusty lungful. ‘Yo, Prof! What are we doing again?’
‘We are approaching the demon's lair, my disciple,’ Plum murmured, his torch waving from side to side. ‘We are close to where that abomination that made me holds his court. Not far now - not far at all.’ DJ didn't fancy taking on a demon - one was more than enough* - but he owed his life to Plum, and he felt bound to help him in his mad plan.
‘What do you mean, ‘made you'?’ he asked, to no reply. Shrugging resignedly, DJ shuffled a little faster behind the wizened old Professor. Eventually, they reached the far side of the cellar and were faced with a blank wall.
‘Now what?’ demanded DJ. He felt angry; the old fool had led him on a wild goose-chase, it seemed. But Plum had a purpose in mind - he moved towards the brick as if he meant to pass through it. Before he did, a voice rang out in the stillness.
‘It's a trap, DJ! Don't follow him!’ With this warning, Bernice Black stepped from behind a wine rack and moved to stand by the young boy.
‘Bernice!’ DJ said incredulously. ‘What are you doing -’
‘No time for questions. We must go!’ Before Plum could do anything, the girl took hold of DJ's hand and began to lead him out of the cellar. DJ, more confident with her than with mad old Plum, followed quickly.
Willingness turned to surprise as Bernice turned and swiped at him with a knife! DJ cried out as the blade cut into his arm, drawing blood. As a reflex, he struck out and knocked the girl over. Hissing like a demon, she rose to her feet and leapt onto DJ, kicking and scratching at his face.
The girl had superhuman strength, and DJ found that he was weakening fast under her rabid assault. Just before he slipped into unconsciousness, DJ felt the blows cease, and he looked up to see the Doctor holding on to the thrashing girl, pinning her arms. The guests stood around him, expressions of bafflement on their faces.
‘Forgive me, my dear,’ said the Doctor, pinching a fold of skin behind Bernice's left ear. Instantly, she flopped forwards, out cold. The Time Lord smiled in relief - Venusian Aikido never let you down.
‘We heard the fight,’ Valerie explained to DJ, helping him up. ‘What happened to you?’ DJ recalled everything that had happened to him since his escape from his room. At the end of his tale, the Doctor nodded.
‘That confirms it. Whoever brought us here took over Mrs White and made her put poison in Dr Black's drink. You caught her when she was putting poison into our food for this morning. When the Professor killed her, control was transferred to poor Bernice here.’ He laid her on the cold floor and approached the old man.
‘You know a lot about this place,’ the Doctor said simply. Plum nodded. ‘Yes, Doctor. I have broken free from his control, and now I know who is doing this to us. He resides behind this wall.’ Plum indicated the brick wall before him. As he spoke, the wall shimmered and disappeared, revealing a passage. The Doctor frowned in confusion.
‘It seems that we've been invited to tea,’ he said drily.
The group, led by the Doctor, emerged on the other side of the tunnel into an amazing sight. They were standing inside a massive cathedral. Pews stood in serried ranks before the pulpit, and beautiful stained glass stretched up the walls almost to the vaulted roof.
‘‘‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said the cat’,’ DJ muttered. The party moved on up the aisle to the pulpit and stood, waiting for something to happen. Happen something did - organ music, deep and resonant, started up and a man dressed in the garb of an Anglican vicar stepped out from behind a pillar.
‘Reverend Green!’ Mrs Peacock exclaimed as the small, balding man approached.
Favouring them all with a warm smile, Green opened his prayer book and said in a loud voice, ‘Dearly beloved...’
‘Cut the amateur dramatics, Toymaker,’ the Doctor said wearily. ‘It doesn't suit you at all.’
An angry expression on his face, the vicar closed his book with a clap and then vanished. In his place stood a much taller man, dressed in a flowing golden Mandarin robe. He fixed the petrified group with a disdainful glare, then looked at the Doctor.
‘Very good, Time Lord. You are very intelligent. How have you been since Blackpool? It has been a while, has it not?’ An arrogant smirk, but the Time Lord did not rise to the bait. He merely stared.
‘What is all this for? Why are you tormenting these people?’
In answer to the Time Lord's question, the Celestial Toymaker sat down on a pew and said: ‘People? They are not People, any more than you are a human. Their existence is due to me, as is the house that I built for them. You have been playing a game, Time Lord. The only real players in it are you, your companions, and these two, who arrived here by accident,’ he indicated the Kreugers, who gasped with horrified realisation at this news.
‘That fog bank we drove through...’ May Kreuger breathed.
‘Was no fog bank, precisely,’ the Toymaker answered. ‘Rather, it was a tear in the fabric of the space/time vortex - a million to one happening.’ He redirected his gaze to the Doctor. ‘I made the game a familiar one, so you would not be too confused by it.’
Suddenly, DJ realised. ‘Cluedo!’ he screamed. ‘We've been playing bloody Cluedo! Colonel Mustard! Miss Scarlet! My God!’ The boy looked thunderstruck.
‘Exactly, Master Johnson,’ the enigmatic figure informed him. ‘I'm surprised that it took you so long to figure it out. An impressive trap, don't you think, Doctor? One that you fell right into!’
The Doctor was forced to admit the truth of the Toymaker's words. Ever since he had imprisoned the evil being in the time bubble way back in Blackpool, he knew that the Toymaker would one day escape and seek revenge. That day, it seemed, was today. Judgment Day, as it were.
‘Let's blag him, Doc!’ DJ urged vehemently. ‘He's unarmed!’ The young skater was about to leap on the Toymaker when the Time Lord restrained him.
‘He can't be hurt or killed!’ the Doctor told him sternly. ‘The Toymaker doesn't really exist in our sense of the word.’
The Mandarin smiled. ‘Precisely, Doctor. Now, I shall begin the best game of all - the torment of your pitiful soul. I shall make you suffer a thousandfold for every second that you imprisoned me.’ He raised his hand to set his plan in motion when Plum's voice rang out.
‘The Doctor cannot harm you, but we can. We do not exist either.’ Plum advanced on the Toymaker. Concerned, the powerful being turned his attention from the Doctor and tried to cancel out Plum's being. It didn't work.
‘You have no power over us now,’ intoned Mrs Peacock emotionlessly. ‘We have broken free. You created us - you shall die with us.’
So saying, the good Dr Black's guests descended on the Toymaker. His screams were soon muffled by the sounds of falling masonry, as the church roof began to cave in.
‘The Toymaker's world is crumbling! C'mon!’ The Doctor tore out of the church and back down the tunnel, followed quickly by his companions and the Kreugers. Seconds after they left the church, it exploded in a burst of soundless light and left only empty void. A world that had come from nothingness returned to nothing. This time, forever.
‘Is the Toymaker really defeated? Gone forever?’
Valerie peered at the Doctor as he set the controls of the TARDIS. It had been an easy task to flee the Close, as the forcefield had dissipated, and the Doctor had just dropped the totally bewildered Kreugers off in their proper time and place. The Doctor looked up.
‘Hmm? Oh, it's hard to tell. The question is, can you kill something that was never alive? He's defeated for now, at least - but as long as there's time and space in the Universe, there will always be a Toymaker. Let's just hope we never get to meet him again.’
‘Amen to that,’ DJ said with feeling. He stood up and crossed to the console. ‘Let's go visit Queen Victoria - I've got a few dirty jokes up my sleeve that'd amuse even her.’ The Doctor looked doubtful.
‘I was thinking of going to Mandella, actually. It's beautiful there. Sun, sand, surf...’ It was obvious that a debate was going to occur, so Valerie came over and handed the Doctor a coin.
‘Flip for it. You call, DJ.’ The coin spun into the air...
A flip of a coin, a roll of dice. Games of chance, games that had won great battles, destroyed mighty empires. After all, wasn't life really a game in itself? A game with no prize, no stake.
A game that would never end.
* See Across the Universe, Timestreams 3
This item appeared in TSV 28 (April 1992).