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Murder at Midnight

By Jeff Stone

Part One


Alex Kreuger cursed for the fifth time in as many minutes as he peered out of his car's windscreen at the driving rain. It was coming down virtually in a solid sheet, making driving extremely difficult. The fact that the road was little more than a dirt track, and that it was ten in the evening, didn't help matters either.

Kreuger gazed through the spots in the windscreen where the wipers were winning the battle against the downpour, searching for the next deceptive bend in this infernal road. A sigh from the passenger seat; he looked across to where his wife sat. She looked very angry.

‘God Almighty, Al! How much longer?’ she demanded of him.

‘Not much further, dear. Not much further.’ Kreuger did not sound convinced, and all his wife did was snort derisively.

‘Now where have I heard that before?’ May Kreuger put on a show of thinking. ‘That's right; you've been saying that for the past hour! Face it, Al - we're lost!’ Kreuger was about to agree reluctantly with his beloved when he caught sight of something ahead of them through the murk - a huge Tudor-style mansion perched atop a hill, backlit by sporadic lightning bursts. Happy at finding their destination, he pointed.

‘Look, dear. Tudor Close! We're here at last!’

‘Well, it's about damn time.’

Kreuger edged a little speed from his Bentley as they passed the mansion's outer gates. Despite his close friendship with the house's owner, he could not help but feel slightly uneasy as he approached the imposing edifice. It looked... it just looked creepy. Then his attention was drawn to one of the windows on the mansion's top floor; just for a second, he could have sworn he'd seen a strange blue light flashing. Oh well... Dismissing it from his mind, Kreuger smiled at his wife as they pulled into the forecourt...

With a final grinding thump, the blue Police Box solidified in the corner of the bedroom and sat in silence for a time. Then, its double doors cracked open, and a curious, dark-skinned face peered out. Taking in his surroundings, the man stepped fully from the Police Box. Dressed in a smart leather jacket, blue question-mark sweatshirt, whitewash jeans and green sneakers, he cut an impressive figure. He gazed back into his ship.

‘Come on, lovely boys, move yerself, move yerself,’ the Doctor called in his rich, deep voice. ‘Let's be having you.’

‘I'm not a boy,’ said an attractive young woman, dressed in bright psychedelic clothes and headband as she strode out of the TARDIS. Valerie, for that was her name, looked around with interest as another voice, this time adolescent and definitely boyish wafted from the ship's interior.

‘That's right, baby. You're a girl, I'm a boy. What say you and I go somewhere and make beautiful music together?’ Grinning wolfishly, Darren ‘DJ’ Johnson emerged from the TARDIS to the same old wry smiles from his companions.

He joined his friends in an examination of the room they had landed in - sumptuous carpet, a roaring fire in the grate, huge double bed, and exquisite furnishings everywhere. The room seemed to ooze the feel of ostentatious splendour. Breaking the silence, DJ crossed to the bedroom's only window and peered out into the raging thunderstorm outside.

‘Well, it looks like that turbulence we came through didn't knock us off course after all. If this isn't Tudor Close, it does a pretty good impression of it.’ The Doctor and Valerie joined him, and the Time Lord nodded.

‘Yes, this is the Close alright, DJ. I hope we're not late.’

Doctor Lemuel Black, OBE, smiled broadly as two very wet Americans came in through the front door and stood in the foyer, dripping on the Axminster.

‘My dear Mr Kreuger. How lovely of you to accept my invitation!’ Black said happily, shaking hands with Kreuger. ‘And your lovely wife: charmed, I'm sure.’ May Kreuger smiled awkwardly as Tudor Close's owner kissed her hand. After greeting his guests in this fashion, Black gestured to his butler, a gaunt fellow named Garrett.

‘Garrett, if you would show our esteemed guests to where they can dry themselves...’ Without a word, Garrett led the Kreugers out of the foyer through one of the many doors leading out of it. After a moment, Black followed, and the chamber was empty once more.

The TARDIS crew, having watched the tableau from the top of the main staircase, tiptoed quietly down and stood at its foot, taking in everything around them. Valerie went to look at what could only be a genuine Monet hanging on one wall, while DJ and the Time Lord conferred.

‘You certainly pick some interesting friends, Doc. This guy Black must be loaded!’ The Doctor nodded.

‘Yes, he is. Dear old Lemuel is one of the most eminent physicians of his time. He's currently the Royal Physician to the King, hence all of his finery.’ The Doctor gestured at the countless artworks that bedecked the walls and floor. A thought struck DJ and he voiced it.

‘Uhh, Doc. That invite you got to visit this guy all that time ago. Won't he wonder why you've changed both your face and your skin colour? Black people weren't held in very high regard in 1930's England.’

The Doctor was quick to allay his young friend's fears. ‘Don't worry - Dr Black is an old friend. I first met him when I was in my second incarnation, and again in my sixth. Lemuel is, shall we say, clued up on who and what I really am.’ He abruptly changed tack. ‘I think it's time we introduced ourselves. Come on, Valerie!’

Valerie turned from perusing a suit of armour to follow the two men. As she came, she shuddered - had that suit of armour really moved its head since she had glanced at it before? Nah, it couldn't have...

As the trio ducked through a door leading out of the foyer, the suit of armour's helmet swivelled slowly to follow them...

The gloved hand delicately touched a stud on the control panel in front of it, and the scanner picture changed from showing the foyer to showing a corridor. The watcher chuckled slightly in the darkness as he watched the Doctor and his two friends walk cautiously along the passage.

‘You've changed again, my dear Doctor,’ the watcher whispered to himself. ‘No matter - it alters nothing. Let the game begin.’ So saying, the watcher scooped up a pair of ivory dice and threw them. Two sixes...

‘Another tea-cake, Mrs Kreuger?’

May Kreuger smiled at Professor Plum's request and took another toasted tea-cake from the proffered dish. Sipping her Darjeeling, she tried to recall all the names of the other guests. There was Miss Loretta Scarlett, the famous actress, over by the Professor; that man talking to Alex was... what was his name? An army guy... that was it. Colonel M'Stard. Funny name... and that woman in the sedan chair by the fire, by Doctor Black. Her name was Doris Peacock, Black's housekeeper. Biting into the tea-cake, Mrs Kreuger tried to look interested as Plum blathered on about physics.

The group were relaxing in the Close's cozy drawing room, waiting for Mrs White, the cook, and her chefs, to finish preparing a late dinner. Just as the clock chimed ten-thirty, the room's door creaked open and Garrett came in, followed by a rather embarrassed TARDIS crew.

Everyone looked up in mild surprise as the foursome entered the room. ‘Unexpected visitors, sir,’ Garrett intoned in a reedy voice. ‘They claim that they were invited by you.’ Black looked baffled as he stood up to meet the new arrivals. Though puzzled, his expression was not altogether hostile, which put DJ and Valerie at ease.

‘Good evening, sirs, Madame,’ Black said crisply, bowing slightly to Valerie as he did so. ‘I don't believe I know any of you, though the sentiment is obviously not mutual.’ The Doctor and his friends saw Black's statement for what it was - a polite way of saying ‘Hi, who the hell are you?’ - so, the Time Lord moved forward to explain.

‘Hello, Lemuel. How are you? I trust you've had no more ant trouble since last we met?’ The Doctor's emphasis of the word ‘ant’ was quite deliberate - the last time he had met Black, he and Peri (his companion at that time) had dealt with an army of giant ants that had terrorised the district. It was not something one was likely to forget, and Black's look of dawning realisation showed that he certainly had not. He beamed widely.

‘Doctor, old chap! It has been a while, hasn't it?’ Laughing, the two men shook hands vigorously and began chatting as if they were long-lost friends reunited. DJ and Valerie, who were as baffled by all of this as the rest of Black's guests, sat down and looked nervous until Black called for silence with a wave.

‘My friends, tonight is a happy occasion indeed. The Doctor, an old friend and fellow physician, has decided to honour us with his learned presence, along with his two companions.’ Everyone said hello as Black turned to his butler. ‘Garrett, tell Mrs White that we have three extra guests for dinner, please.’

Nodding, Garrett moved off to comply. Almost at once, conversation started up once more - Colonel M'Stard strolled over to talk to the Doctor, and Valerie watched in awe as DJ hungrily devoured three tea-cakes in less than a minute, when Mrs Peacock had offered him one. In a few minutes, the trio felt very welcome, and the time flew past until Garrett appeared at the door, at precisely eleven o'clock.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served.’

DJ sighed into his soup as he gazed down the dinner table to where the Doctor and Black were talking over old times. Valerie? She was talking to Loretta Scarlett, also having a great time. But, it seemed the same was not applicable to himself; Garrett had merely given him a blank stare when he'd asked for a Diet Coke to drink, and he was stuck next to Colonel M'Stard, who wasn't the greatest of conversationalists - if you weren't passionately interested in tanks or warfare, you were out of luck.

Just when DJ felt that he was going to die of boredom, an attractive young woman swept into the dining room and sat in the vacant seat next to him. Garrett filled her soup bowl as Black introduced the new arrival.

‘Good evening, my dear,’ he said warmly, then to his guests: ‘My friends, may I present my lovely daughter, Bernice.’ There was a chorus of greetings, then things returned to normal. DJ grinned - what luck!

‘Uhh... hi there, my name's Darren, but you can call me DJ. Everyone does.’ At the sound of the young skateboard fanatic's voice, Bernice Black turned her darkly beautiful face to meet his. She smiled at him.

‘Hello, DJ. Call me Bernice.’ The girl stuck a cynical thumb at the conversing adults. ‘Load of old bores, aren't they?’

They shared a conspiratorial smile. ‘You're not wrong there, Bernice!’ Having hit it off almost at once, the two teenagers talked about subjects wide and varied.

During this time, DJ learnt a great deal about Dr Black and the Close. It seemed that Black was something of a lonely figure - his beloved wife had passed away two years ago - and took great pleasure in inviting his few friends for elaborate parties. The morning would see the good Doctor and his guests playing golf, going on foxhunts and participating in various activities all over Black's enormous estate. Being the youngsters that they were, Bernice and DJ had vowed to do something more interesting, like horse riding, or perhaps a little skating; DJ personally could not wait to show off his truly awesome skating skills.

Eventually, dinner was over, and the group retired to the spacious, yet cozy drawing room for brandy and cigars. Being a vehement anti-smoker, DJ was on the way to the Close's huge weapons museum when Valerie stopped him in a secluded passage. She looked very worried indeed.

‘What is it, Val? What's wrong?’

The young peace activist from 1968 glanced furtively around before looking DJ straight in the eye. ‘Something very weird is going on around here.’

‘Care to run that by me again?’ DJ asked, puzzled.

‘You know how you and the Doctor are always going on about my intuition?’ A nod. ‘Well, I'm getting some pretty bad vibes right now.’ She frowned. ‘Nothing definite, just a feeling, a feeling that something's not right.’

DJ mulled over her words for a moment before replying. ‘I've got to admit, this place does seem a tad unreal. It's as if...’

A roll of the dice. Snake-eyes...

A piercing scream rent the air, freezing DJ in mid-sentence. Staring at each other for a fleeting second, as if to say ‘It looks like you were right’, the two time-travellers raced back to the drawing room, where a disturbing sight greeted them.

Dr Black's guests were all on their feet, expressions of shock on their faces. Loretta Scarlett was petrified, her knuckle in her mouth. And on the floor, sprawled face down, lay Dr Black himself.

Wasting not a second, the Doctor dropped to one knee and felt for Black's pulse, the Time Lord's dark skin contrasting with Black's pallid flesh. A few seconds examination was all it took - the Doctor stood up, a solemn look on his face.

‘He's dead,’ the Time Lord muttered unnecessarily. ‘Murdered...’

DJ and Valerie exchanged incredulous glances. This can't be happening, DJ told himself, it can't be...

Continued in Part 2

This item appeared in TSV 26 (December 1991).

Index nodes: Fiction