Death and Chocolate;Doctor Who;Sarah Jane Smith;Lis Sladen;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jon Pertwee;Jeri Massi
Death and Chocolate
Written by Jeri Massi
For a moment, the cold liquid pelted down in small slugs. Hugging her head and bowing to the floor where a tiny jet of air came under the door, Sarah Jane's throat tightened. After a long moment she heard herself let out one sob as the liquid spattered her hair and clothing. It dripped down her back. But as another moment passed, she realized that the door was now loose in the door frame, and she could still breathe, She reached up, found the knob, and pulled. She shot through the opening and fell forward onto her face on the dirt outside. The fresh spring air touched her face, and she hugged the ground, still expecting her throat and lungs to start burning.
She sensed another presence and looked up. Dave Highlers looked down at her. "What's happened to you, Miss Smith? You didn't go into that greenhouse did you?" he asked.
"The gas, the spray---"
He lifted an eyebrow. "Just water."
Her mouth dropped open.
"It's the irrigation system." His eyes looked deeply satisfied. "Have you ever heard the saying, too smart for your own good?" he asked her.
But just then a shout alerted him. Two UNIT soldiers, out doing an hourly inspection of the grounds, had seen Sarah Jane fall from the greenhouse door. They broke into a run. Dave Highlers, his eyes on them, carelessly held out his hand to her. "Well get up. You don't want your friends to see you face down in the dirt, do you?"
She wouldn't take his hand. She struggled to her knees, but her legs were shaking under her. From the open doorway, she could still hear the sound of the spraying machines. It was just water.
"Well get up!" he snapped. "Nothing's hurt you!"
"Miss Smith!" Warrant Officer Benton exclaimed.
Sarah's eyes, against her will, suddenly filled with tears. She tried to blink them back.
"Your journalist friend got herself locked in one of our buildings," Dave Highlers said.
"He told me there was poison gas in there, and then he trapped me inside!" she exclaimed.
"It was only water!" Highlers exclaimed. "She was doused with water from the sprinklers, that's----"
Benton didn't miss a stride. His fist abruptly connected with the face of Dave Highlers. The young production manager hit the ground. He didn't try to stand up as Benton and the other soldier helped Sarah Jane to her feet.
"Yes just stay there, unless you want another," Benton told him.
"She went in against my directions." But Highlers still didn't stand up. "She got a good lesson in safety---and obedience."
"Save it for someone who works for you, mate. Let me help you, Miss Smith."
"My father and your Brigadier will hear of this, soldier, what's your name?" Highlers snapped.
Benton carefully offered his clean handkerchief to Sarah Jane and as she took it, he turned around and leaned over the young man. He pointed to his name tag. "My name is Warrant Officer Benton. And you'll find my commanding officer frowns on abusing women just as much as I do. Now get up! Or, or just lie there!"
Highlers didn't move. Eyes filled with more caution than outright resentment,, he looked at Benton as though thinking the big warrant officer might hit him again. Without another word to him, Benton and the other soldier guided Sarah Jane away from the greenhouses.
The Doctor at last set aside the pathology reports that had been delivered by one of the soldiers. He scanned the wine list with a judicious eye and was just about to make up his mind when he heard voices at the door and a key fumbling uncertainly in the lock. He crossed the sitting room and opened the door to find Benton, another soldier, and the shaken Sarah Jane Smith.
"That bloke Dave Highlers is a beast is what's happened Doctor," Benton said, and the other man nodded. Sarah, in spite of a few swipes with Benton's handkerchief, had dirt streaked on her face and wet clothing, and she was trembling.
The Doctor put an arm around her and stepped aside to let them in. "What happened? What did he do?"
"He tricked me," she gasped. "I thought I was locked in the greenhouse with phosphine liquid. I couldn't get out."
"It was water," Benton told him. He strode to the telephone and dialed up a number. "Patch me through to the Brigadier," he said.
The Doctor turned startled eyes to the other soldier. "He did it deliberately to her?"
The young man nodded. "Come in," the Doctor said. "Sarah Jane, come and sit down."
He guided her to the sofa. On the telephone, Benton was speaking in a low voice, recounting what had just happened. The other soldier uneasily stood by the chair.
"It's all over now," the Doctor said, offering her his own clean handkerchief. She made some ineffective strokes down her face, and he took it from her and wiped her face for her. But she spoke. "It was cruel. He did it to make me feel small." She just barely resisted tears.
"Yes it was cruel. But it sounds like Mr. Benton has made his disapproval clear," the Doctor said.
Benton cradled the receiver. "The Brigadier wants to see me." He glanced at Sarah Jane. "I'll be a witness to any complaint that you make, Miss Smith."
She shook her head, suddenly frustrated. "He's the boss's son! Fat lot of good a complaint will do." But she looked up at him. "Thank you for coming when you did."
He and the soldier nodded to the Doctor and left. As they closed the door, Sarah Jane let out a single sob of repressed tears and humiliation. "All right, he did try to humiliate you and frighten you," the Doctor said. Gently, he took her face by the chin, and his eyes were kind. "He canít really bring you down, Sarah Jane." A faint light kindled in his eyes as he looked at her. "Not a remarkable girl like you."
She sniffed and then because he was being so kind to her, her eyes filled up with tears, but these weren't angry tears. She blinked them back and tried to smile. "Youíre going soft on me, Doctor."
"We could pack it in if you like. Leave now."
But now she straightened up. "No, that's just what he wants. That's part of why he did it. He wants to chase me off; chase us off. Oh they've rolled out the red carpet for us, but it was no coincidence that he joined our tour. He was there to scent us out, find out how much I knew." She hesitated. "And I told him. Told him Iíd talked to Mr. Ischink." She let out a little moan of self-reproach. "Oh, I was a fool. He seemed so sincere, so ready to admit to things that they can't deny."
"All right, you told him," the Doctor said. "And he punished you for it."
She nodded. She hesitated, and then, for no apparent reason, her eyes became alarmed. "Oh!' she exclaimed to herself, and she suddenly leaped up and raced past the Doctor. She ran into the wash room.
He stood up, and then after an uncertain pause he followed as far as the doorway. He was in time to see her lift her head from the bowl of the toilet.
"Are you all right?"
She nodded and cautiously straightened up. "Donít know what did that. Just came on me all of a sudden." With a shaking hand, she reached forward and pushed the handle. But the color was already coming back into her face.
He drew a cup of water for her from the sink and let her rinse out her mouth.
"Oh my," she said when she had spit it out and rinsed again. "This is not my day."
"Are you nauseated?"
She shook her head. "Itís like it leaped out of me," she said. "Stomach in reverse."
He caught her wrist and held it for a moment, taking her pulse. And then he would have taken the pulses Chinese fashion but she shook her head. "It just happened, but I'm all right now. Covered with mud and water, and just thrown up my breakfast, but I'm all right."
"Look if you really want to get revenge on Highlers like you said you did---" And he nodded to the cabinet that hung by the mirrors. "Why not go all out with those bath salts and skin conditioners? Fill up the tub, have a grand swim, and then change into fresh clothes? I'll order up lunch if you think you can handle anything, and you can lie about until dinner while I finish the pathology reports."
Still concerned, he put his broad hand against her forehead, and she surprised him by pushing into it, as a cat would do. "Yes all right," she said. "I will enjoy myself and get cleaned up. I hope I've seen the worst the day has to offer!"
Thirty minutes later, listening to Sarah Jane splash around in the great tub with one ear while studying the pathology reports, the Doctor looked up as somebody gently rapped on the door. From the wash room, he heard the rattle as Sarah Jane upended a few more bottles of conditioners into the water and then hurled the empty containers into the dust can.
The timelord rose, half expecting it to be the Brigadier, and crossed the room. But when he opened the door, he found himself face to face with David Highlers. The Doctor's eyebrows came together in a scowl. Highlers' face bore the emblem of Benton's quick justice: a broad shiner and swelling around his nose. But he also held one of the black and red boxes of the Royalty House specialty line of chocolates.
"I was wondering if I might speak to Miss Smith," he said.
"No you may not speak to Miss Smith. Nor to any other woman while I'm around. Go away." And the Doctor would have closed the door, but the young man stepped forward. "Look, I came to apologize," he said.
"Apology noted! I shall deliver the message!"
"Please Doctor Smith, I truly am sorry! Wonít you give her these?" And before the Doctor could close the door, the box of candy was thrust at him. He stopped and scowled. "Not a very costly gift, coming from the son of a chocolate magnate!" he snapped. "Too cheap to spring for flowers?"
"There wasn't time to get flowers," he said. "It's Saturday afternoon, and the local florist wouldnít have anything made up until Monday. Please tell Miss Smith that I do humbly apologize. I wish I could speak with her."
But from inside, the Doctor heard a distant splash. Sarah Jane was clearly enjoying herself. He heard another rattle of empty bath salts containers hitting the dust can.
"No you may not speak with her. She has no desire to speak with you," the Doctor said. "And I would deal with you in the way you deserve, except that I see somebody already has---"
"At least give her the candy, and my message---" The Doctor took the box ungraciously. But before he replied, Highlers said, his voice defensive, "You wonít want her forever. I'm no worse than you---" And then he gasped as he found his wrist imprisoned in a grip like steel bolt cutters.
He went to his knees in pain. "Donít ever say that again about her," the Doctor said. He eased the pressure enough to let Highlers speak, but the young man gasped out, "I can see she's not your daughter."
"She is my colleague; my companion." And he increased the pressure again to the point of agony. Dave Highlers grit his teeth from it, unable to stand up or resist the agonizing pressure. "We donít have that sort of relationship," the Doctor said. "But I cherish Sarah Jane Smith," and his voice low. "And if you harm her or humiliate her again, I shall find you, and I shall make it right on her behalf. Do you understand me?"
Gasping, the young man nodded.
"That's good. Now stay away from her!" And the Doctor abruptly released his wrist and then strode into the room and closed the door.
* * * *
"Well now," the Doctor said 45 minutes later as Sarah Jane ate soup from the room service cart and sipped hot tea. "Donít you feel better?"
"Yes I do. And I'm ready for something more substantial than soup." She tried to say this around two soda crackers in her mouth and the result was a fine spray of crumbs. "Oops!" She swallowed them and returned to spooning up the soup.
"Well they sent up a nice roast chicken. There's plenty there."
She nodded but remained focused on the soup and crackers. Clad once again in her robe and the plush slippers, she looked better. He noticed that there were towels all over the bath room floor.
He had the easy chair, and the folders and papers from the pathologist lay scattered around him. She sat on the sofa, slippered feet perched on the coffee table, her attention on the bowl in her lap.
"What's the latest on everything?" she asked.
He ruffled up his hair. "The suicides, or the little boy?"
She shot a quick glance at him. "Both."
The Doctor stretched out his legs. "Nothing on the suicides. Normal men, both of them. Morales spent one weekend here, once, over a year ago, but not the other fellow. Neither one spoke of any tie to Royalty House, apart from investment chatter. But as for Royalty House itself. . . ." And his voice became thoughtful.
"Go on then, I'm all ears!" And she set aside the empty bowl and stood to inspect the roast chicken and other covered dishes.
"Local pathologist has found a spike in the incidence of stroke in this area," the Doctor said. "The unusual frequency ramped up just as this place was hiring up the local men and women as staff."
She looked interested, but he didn't pursue it. Instead his eyes became distant, as he reconsidered the data from the reports. She took up the serving spoon.
"And the little boy?" she asked as she filled a plate with mashed potatoes and chicken.
"That local pathologist does good work," the Doctor said. "The acute cause of death in the child was heart failure. It will take him---or me---several days to isolate any agent left in the boy's body, but he suspects, and I concur, that the lad was probably killed by an overdose of an antihistamine."
She sat down. "Do you mean cold medicine?"
He nodded. "Not an infrequent means of doing away with children, Sarah Jane. It's dispensed pretty freely, can be made to look accidental, and if it's sweetened enough, a child might take it unwittingly. Or even willingly, if after all that pain he's promised that this will let him sleep."
"So all that the little boy suffered---all of that---" she said, trying to get her mind around it.
He nodded. "He was subjected to every form of violence and indignity a child can suffer. Yet in the end he was killed by poison."
"But his death isn't tied to this place then? Not as far as you know?"
The Doctor shook his head. He threw a glance to the reports on the floor. "The pathologist has identified some items---cheap canvas trousers and a sort of braided moccasin footwear. The lad may very well have been a resident of a village or city on the coast. Or perhaps he was on holiday there when he was kidnapped. But as far back as ten years in this area, no reports match his description. Child disappearances up here---in this decade---are a great rarity."
Then he folded his arms thoughtfully. "The thing is, the lad's body shows scarring from a pattern of violence. I'm wondering----"
"What?" she asked.
"Well, he suffered several broken bones, but they were all in various states of self-repair---"
"Untreated you mean?"
He nodded and then caught himself. "Well, untreated for a time, and then---apparently---treated all at the same time."
"That child lived with broken bones?"
"Yes. And then I suppose some school teacher may have noticed him in pain, or perhaps some neighbor, or a relative. But there was some professional effort to set the bones. Even though they had been broken at different times, they were set all at the same time. Looks like he had one or two minor surgeries as well, for orthopedic correction."
"Well if he's received medical treatment, there must be a record of him somewhere," she said.
"It would still be a mountain of information to sort through. Remember, he may have been killed years ago. But it's apparent that preliminary healing had taken place before he received medical treatment. He lived a life of being abused---beaten. Then somebody intervened to get him medical treatment. And then he was abused again and killed."
"How many bones were broken?" she asked.
He scooped up a folder and thumbed through it. "This is preliminary, but the village pathologist says eight, and that's after a mere survey of the body." He caught himself. "Look, you need to eat and rest. We can discuss this later. This is only going to get more tragic."
"Yes, all right." She took up her fork. As she ate, he hesitantly approached the subject of her recent visitor. "David Highlers came to the door. I sent him away."
She looked up, astonished.
"Benton gave him a decent shiner," the Doctor said. "He'll carry that for a week, I should say."
"What on earth did he want?"
"He offered you an apology. And he left that box of chocolates for you. Exclusive line."
"And you didn't give him a poke in the nose for me?"
"Let's just say I let him off with a very firm handshake. He won't be back."
"Well at least I got some of their top flight chocolates out of it." And she shrugged and went back to the chicken.
"You're going to eat that chocolate?" He was surprised.
She looked up at him, surprised in her turn. "I jolly well am going to eat those chocolates! A box of the exclusive line sells for over a hundred pounds."
"But you were sick---"
"Oh that had nothing to do with it. I'm fine. It was from being terrified by those water jets in the greenhouse."
He relented. "Well, that's possible, I suppose."
She ate her late lunch with a contented steadiness. She seemed well enough. The clock was ticking over onto 4:00.
"I'm all in!" she exclaimed. "I think I'll nap for an hour or two. Can you manage without me?"
He nodded. "Oh yes. I've got miles of papers to read." And he sighed.
She suddenly became cautious. "But you wonít go far from me? I--I feel a bit vulnerable."
"I'll be right here," he told her.
She nodded, scooped up one of the filled bowls of chocolate, and disappeared into her room and closed the door. He ruffled up his hair again and returned to the folders.
* * * *
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart paced restlessly in the great, sunlit office of Jack Highlers. Standing almost as though at attention, Benton faced straight ahead, as though heedless of the fact that they were being kept waiting.
"This is deliberate," Lethbridge Stewart rasped.
"Perhaps he's embarrassed sir. He's surely heard the story by now."
"Well he would do much better to come out and face it."
He stopped as the door opened. The great Jack Highlers, founder of one of the largest chocolate processing plants in the world, was actually only of moderate height, balding, with jowls faintly suggestive of bulldogs. He wore thick glasses. And yet, in spite of the signs of age, there was a broadness in his shoulders and a sturdiness to his hands that spoke of at least some experience with hard work.
"Sit down gentlemen," he said directly. His voice had a penetrating quality, as well as a rumble to it, yet he failed to meet their eye as he passed them and sat behind his magnificent desk.
"We are here to lodge a complaint against your son for his mistreatment of a young lady," the Brigadier said, not sitting down.
"Do you have proof of anything?"
The question caught the Brigadier off guard. "Don't you want to know what happened?"
Highlers threw a nod at Benton. " I know that your man there belted my son."
"To get him away from a woman he had mistreated," the Brigadier snapped.
"I didnít know that. I still---" But then he caught himself. He leaned back in his chair and---for the first time---looked Lethbridge Stewart in the face.
"Well," he said slowly. "I suppose a man of your caliber wouldnít be in here over nothing. You believe the girl's story? Whatever she told you?"
"My sergeant here saw the girl in a state of near hysteria because your son caused her to believe that she was locked in a greenhouse with nerve gas."
He barely hesitated. "That would be the young lady journalist?"
"Yes!" The Brigadier snapped.
"Is she all right?"
"She will be, but that is hardly the point---"
"My son has his troubles, Brigadier. I hope you can appreciate that. He's got huge shoes to fill, and he resents any attempt to disparage him." Highlers took up a pen and fingered it as though suddenly nervous.
"Miss Smith did not in any way disparage him." And the Brigadier's voice was like iron.
"I promise you, I'll talk to the boy. I want you to understand---I was a distant father to David. I did him a lot of damage in my climb to the top." His voice was suddenly serious. He leaned forward. "I'll talk to him. But I must ask you to give him a chance. It's only been in the last year that I've really connected with him."
The Brigadier leaned across the desk. "His behavior has been abominable."
"I give you my word, Brigadier, I will talk to him and make him sense what he's done. That's the best that I can do. If you take this story to the papers, you'll only succeed in damaging my son further. Finishing the bad job that I began---"
"I have no intention of going to the papers! I am coming to you! And if I ever catch him mistreating another woman, I will see to the matter then and there."
Highlers slowly stood up, no animosity in his bearing. He suddenly seemed humble to the point of being grateful. "I appreciate and respect you concern for the young lady. And I appreciate your discretion in the matter. I will talk to David and try to instill a better sense of what's appropriate into him."
"Very well sir. Good day to you." And with a curt nod, the Brigadier walked out, and Benton followed.
* * * *
Brilliant orange and red clouds drew the day to its close. Pensive, the Doctor stared out the window, his gaze skipping over the flower beds, and watched the decline of the day. From down below, he heard faint strains of music as a small orchestra tuned up for the cocktail hour before dinner. He assumed that Sarah Jane would not want to join it, and he had plenty of work to do.
On sudden inspiration, he stood and crossed the dimming room to the table where he'd left the box of exclusive chocolates. He opened it and pulled away the protective wrap. The delicate fragrance enticed him. His keen sense of smell detected a certain lack of vividness that had been present in the Lawman hand crafted chocolates, but he didnít suppose that many human beings would detect the difference. He selected one from close to the center and put in his mouth. He let it roll around his tongue as he fitted the lid back on the box.
He noted a faint, powdery grit of lecithin. No matter how long Highlers conched his brand, he wanted the safety of a good stabilizer. The ingredients were just too expensive to discard if the temperatures failed to align the cocoa butter molecules properly. Lecithin assured a uniformity that even good conching couldn't guarantee.
He refrained from swallowing and continued to taste it as it rolled. He detected cream---a bit overpowering if that was the right word. There was a slight lack of balance, a lack of texture because of the lightness of the cream. It was slightly diluting the silky, heavier feel of the chocolate.
He took in a breath and considered.
"What's this? Eating my chocolates?" Sarah Jane's voice asked.
He turned and smiled but didnít speak. She seemed much better. She pulled the menu from his pocket and looked at it.
Finally, he swallowed. "You're not hungry, are you?" he asked.
"I could do with a glass of wine. What's good?" She glanced up at him.
"Oh, they have some nice table varieties. Red is what you want, I expect."
She nodded. She was in her pyjamas and robe and the plush slippers. She went to the fireplace and took up the poker with the attitude of an unskilled person. The day staff had laid new wood. She hopefully poked at the fresh logs. "Can you get a fire going?"
"Of course I can. Nothing to it."
She turned. "Would you then?"
"Certainly. Are you going to laze about again?"
Yes, I think so. And I don't want you spending the evening with your nose in those papers. You should tell me more about your travels." She was decisive.
"You always doze off during my stories," he said as he crossed to the telephone. He plucked the menu from her hand and glanced at it.
"I wonít doze off. I promise."
He called down his order for wine and his own supper, and then he saw to the fire. While he did, to his surprise, Sarah Jane gathered up his papers in neat stacks and collated them. This was rare for her. She disliked doing anything that smacked of secretary work, and she also had a journalist's great respect for any type of research. Normally, she would never touch the papers he spread around for fear of spoiling his work.
She went in to the washroom and tidied it as well. The Doctor scowled as his eyes followed her. He appreciated the thoughtfulness, but this was unlike her. She sopped up all water from the floor and hung all the towels neatly.
While she was busy, he re-spread the tinder in the fireplace and touched a match to it. Flames quickly spread over the newspaper fronds and shavings, and in a minute the dry, slender pieces of wood around the two logs were bathed in flame.
A hand rapped on the door, and he answered it. He wheeled in his own supper and the wine.
"Would you like anything?" And he removed the covers from the assorted dishes. "Plenty here."
She had scant interest in it. "Oh no, I'll just spruce up the place. Will you pour me a glass of wine?"
And so while he sat on the sofa and ate, she drew the curtains and straightened them, carried her shoes and other small odds and ends back to her room, turned off several of the lamps, poked the fire with the poker more out of curiosity than skill, and finally settled down right next to him with the glass of wine.
He was just finishing his meal.
"Now you can tell me a really good story," she said.
"Well, all right, if that's what you like." But he noticed that she was close against him. "How about the time I rather imprudently challenged a Kardisgian Kulkaarder to an arm wrestling match?"
"Why was that imprudent?"
"Because this particular subspecies of Kardisgian Kulkaarder have sixteen arms, as this fellow did."
"Well tell me what happened, then." And he wasn't sure how she did it, but she got under his arm, and he didnít want to prevent her. She settled against him with surprising confidence that she ought to, rather like a house cat would settle onto his lap without a second thought. So he draped his arm around her and realized that this was exactly what she wanted: the very reason she had tidied up, and dimmed the lights, and wanted a fire.
He told her the story carefully, and he made his voice slower and slower as he spoke. This did not offend her at all. Gradually, as he spoke and she watched him, her eyes grew heavy and then finally closed. She nestled against him, wine forgotten, and fell asleep.
He was not at all offended. Indeed, often enough he had put one or both arms around his young companion to comfort her, to encourage her when she was frightened, and even to pull her away from danger. But Sarah Jane rarely sought him out for that purpose. She had a free and almost fierce independence: a certain joy about being out on her own.
Yet here she was, cuddled against him without a shade of self consciousness, asleep. He stroked her head and very cautiously took her pulse first on one wrist, then the other, Chinese fashion. But though the heart pulse was a touch throbbing, and the kidney yang was excited, he could not detect that anything was seriously wrong.
The shadows deepened in the room as the night deepened, but he didnít move. He listened to her slow and steady breathing and pondered the recent developments.
* * * *
The great main hall of Royalty House glowed like a bright jewel in the warm spring night. The velvet sky showed a few faint stars.
Lethbridge Stewart's driver pulled the jeep to a halt at the cordon, where a police man nodded and stepped aside. Through the fringe of trees, he could see men digging with shallow thrusts into the hard soil, reluctant to push too hard.
The pathologist, flanked by another man not in uniform, hurriedly approached. They were marked with dirt from the recent digging.
"We will need your men," the pathologist said. "As many as you can spare. We've got to keep people away from here. It's not nearly over."
The other man, a hard bitten, clean shaven man wearing a rumpled suit coat and no tie, laid a restraining hand on his colleague's arm. "Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart?" he asked. "I'm Chief Inspector Lyons. I was sent here earlier for the first boy, but it's turned into something of much wider scope. If you can help keep the scene secure, we'd be very grateful."
"I can provide a detail for a day or two, Detective Inspector. How many are we taking about?" the Brigadier asked.
The pathologist shook his head. "Who knows? They're still finding them." But he was stopped again by Lyons.
"We've uncovered eight distinct bodies so far," Lyons said. "We are assuming that we will find between 15 and 30. Mostly young boys."
"Six, six boys. Two girls," the pathologist said. He got hold of himself and looked at Lethbridge Stewart. "Not like the first. Not frozen. These bodies have decomposed." But he spread his arm to indicate the length of the fringe of trees.
I appreciate comments from readers. Please tell me what worked for you in the story and what did not work. Did any part move too slowly? Was the story hard to get into? Were any of the characters not true to the television series? I appreciate all input.