A Minor Misdemeanor

Chapter 10

When Clara opened the TARDIS doors, she was greeted by the conflicting smells of the late nineteenth century in a metropolis. It wasn't nearly as bad as it had been, according to the Doctor, in previous times, but, to her twenty-first century nose, it was still like being hit in the nostrils by a baseball bat, with horse-excrement competing with unfiltered smoke, factory pollution and a certain underlying miasma of raw sewage. Underfoot, she could feel the tell-tale straw and organic substances of the stable yard, and the hard, smooth cobbles below them, very distinct through the soles of the shoes she was wearing, which were effectively thin soled pumps with high ankles.

She'd looked a number of items out of the extremely extensive wardrobe provided by the TARDIS, and was wearing a simple white shirt, with a high collar, along with an ankle length black dress. Over the shirt, she was wearing a sleeveless woollen shirt, in sea green. She also had a stock of similar garments in a carpet bag slung over one shoulder.

About fifteen feet from where the TARDIS had appeared, there was an official looking coach parked in the stable-yard. The horse, an impressive looking animal, was wearing a nosebag, which only slightly reduced the effect, and far less than the uniformed coachman who was busy wiping off what looked like a quart of gin from the front of his uniform.

"Sorry." Clara called, before heading inside, wiping her feet conscientiously on the rear doormat before stepping off of it onto the carpet.

Inside, she was met by Strax.

"Can I take your coat?" The sontaran asked, offering a solicitous arm.

"I'm not wearing one." She replied, feeling a moment of Deja-vu.

"Are you wearing any garments that I may take?" he asked, shortly before having a cardigan draped over his head.

"There you go." She replied, smiling.

"Miss Clara, I really must protest." He responded, clearing the cardigan from the top of his head. "I'm Madame Vastra's butler, not a coat stand." The sontaran responded, indignantly, before she also handed him her bag.

"Could have fooled me." She retorted, before patting him on the head. "Where's Vastra?"

"Madame Vastra is in the drawing room. Would you like me to conduct you there?" The sontaran responded, specifically using her title.

"I think I can find it, thanks. Would it be OK if you took my bag up to my room?" Clara responded, with a mischievous smile. "Jenny has shown you how to make tea, right?"

"I have been following her instructions on the matter, Miss Clara. And Yes, I will transport your bag to your assigned quarters."

"Excellent. If you could bring some tea through in a few minutes…"

"I will do as you ask." Strax declared, before marching off in the direction of the kitchens.

Making a circling gesture with her index finger, Clara went in search of Vastra.

"As you are no doubt aware, 'Madame'," The leading politician said, dropping the quotes neatly into place around her adopted title. "The loss of these plans is a great threat to the security of the kingdom."

The man had spent the previous half hour lecturing her about the theft of plans for an experimental underwater boat, which, for some entirely unknown reason, at least outside of the home office, had been codenamed "Artful Dodger." Apparently, if they were sold overseas, it would be a dire threat to national security, along with the effectiveness of the royal navy.

Vastra wasn't convinced.

"Admiral, if what you say is true, this vessel would have to be able to travel at sixteen knots while submerged, and release a mine undetected by its prey, before retiring a considerable distance to avoid being destroyed by its own mine. The torpedoes you intend to arm it with, which you call a revolutionary weapon, require the submarine to nearly surface, within a few hundred yards of its intended prey, which then has to remain within that radius and on the same course for nearly a full minute, during which time it must fail to spot the highly visible trail of bubbles from the engine approaching it. Overall, sir, I fail to see how it is a weapon against anything other than a merchant vessel, such as a slow steamer, and even then, an alert lookout would be all that was needed to prevent damage."

The Silurian was seriously considering murder, simply because of the annoying single minded insistence that this was the most serious problem in the universe, when there was a knock on the drawing room door that connected to the kitchen, followed by it swinging open.

"I hope I'm not interrupting." Vastra heard the newcomer say. "I was sent here by Mr Strax to see if anyone wanted any refreshments?"

Turning around, she was surprised to see Clara in an appropriate uniform, with a simple white shirt overlaid by a sea-green vest, and with a simple, clean black skirt underneath it, with just a hint of sensible, plain black pumps underneath, with no heel to speak of. Admittedly, there was something else, but she knew that raising it in front of company would lead to complaints.

"The agency sent me to take over for Miss Flint while she is indisposed," Clara explained, taking care to avoid using any provocative phrases like imprisoned. "I've been reading through her notes on the household, and I hope I can do as good a job as she does."

"Ah, excellent." The Whitehall worthy exclaimed. "I could use a stiff brandy. I'm sure that the drinks cabinet can be relied on for such."

"I'll see what I can find, sir." She replied, before curtsying and heading out of the room, hoping she'd derailed any plans to commit bureaucraticide.

The kitchen, fortunately, was organised, replete with copper pots and pans, all highly polished, and so she was easily able to find the kettle, hanging on a rack next to the stove, along with several other similar vessels.

Once she'd found the kettle, and filled it with water, before placing on the hotplate of the aga, she turned to tracking down the tea, which, as it turned out, lived in a small labelled drawer in a wall cabinet next to the counter, along with dozens of assorted herbs and spices, along with the condiments, and set it to brew on the aga, before ducking into a room immediately next to the kitchen, which seemed little used.

Inside, sure enough, there was a stock of spirits and other intoxicating beverages, particularly wine. Looking over the extensive wine rack, she counted eighteen different vintages, and more than twenty vineyards. The stock of spirits leant heavily towards 'medicinal' drinks; whiskey and brandy, although there were also bottles of port, and what might have been sherry. All of the bottles were coated in a fine layer of dust.

She selected a whiskey from the shelf by the simple measure of selecting an already opened bottle, and extracting it. After a few minutes of rummaging in the kitchen cupboards, she located an appropriate glass to serve it with. By that time, the water had boiled on the stove, and she put the leaves in the pot, before adding the boiling water, in order to begin the brewing process.

Thanks to the layout of the kitchen, she was instantly able to locate a copper tea tray, that, she guessed, was probably worth more in the 21st century than a diamond ring. Regardless, she placed a tea-towel onto the elegantly engraved tray, before loading it up with the glass of whiskey, two cups and saucers, a half-opened packet of rich tea biscuits, the teapot, and, simply to ensure eventual departure, the bottle of whiskey.

It wasn't an easy carry, even for a teacher experienced in transporting multiple folders down a corridor full of students, but she managed to return to the drawing room, and place the tray on a small serving table, before pouring a cup of tea for Vastra, and passing the Admiral his drink. She then stood behind the table, seeming to almost disappear, as far as the Admiral was concerned.

"So, 'Madame,"' he asked, putting the Madame into a french accent. "Are you intended in taking the case?"

"My fee will be paid?"

"We have some discretionary funding that we can use to pay you." He replied. "Your rate is £3 10s an hour, am I correct?"

"Given that you wish me to put aside a number of other cases, including several that are near to fruition, in order to focus on yours, you will be paying my premium rate." She replied, calmly. "There will also be a surcharge for the essentially uninteresting nature of this case."

"How much do you want?" He muttered, reaching to the side-board for a second cup of whiskey.

"£5 per hour. You will receive a full invoice with your plans."

"I could hire a dozen other detectives for that sort of money." He burst out, taking a hasty gulp of his whiskey."

"You could. However, I think it unlikely that you would see your plans again if you hired any of those bunglers." She declared, dismissively. "They're perfectly good for finding out who else your wife is sleeping with, which is a question I think you should be asking, judging by your boots, or for following foreign diplomats around, but I am far more subtle when it comes to locating documents such as these." before finishing with; "Clara, more tea." holding out her empty bone china cup imperiously.

Clara poured the tea, resisting with difficulty the urge to slap the silurian's hand for the somewhat imperious nature of her statement, before realizing how invisible it made her to a Victorian aristocrat.

"I still say it is an extortionate rate, 'Madame'." He argued, visibly red in the face.

"It is the rate you will be paying, unless you know another detective who might be able to locate your documents, and I doubt that charlatan in baker street will be able to help you either."

"Mr Watson was highly recommended to me by several members of my club." He stated, hotly.

"He is a fraud, who works using music hall magic tricks and overweening pride. Mr Brown should not have sacked the butler after his wife's jewellery box disappeared. It was her maid." She declared.

"How did you..." He began.

"I read the papers." She replied, calmly. "I know who is selling what to which pawnbrokers, and I often know where it came from."

"How soon will you have me my papers back?" He asked.

"I would expect to return them within the week." She replied, before turning to Clara. "Jen... Clara, go to the back of the mews in Oxford circus, and ask for Muggins. Tell him I want to know about anyone visiting several embassies, particularly if he is carrying a satchel, and spends an extended period inside each."

"Yes, ma'am." Clara replied, with a curtsy. "Do you want me to summon Mr Strax to see the gentleman out?" She asked.

"I think that would be a wise course." Vastra replied. "I wouldn't want my reputation to suffer."

Quickly, Clara moved over to the bell pull in one corner of the room.

Within a few seconds, Strax appeared.

"Strax, would you be so kind as to conduct the gentleman to his carriage?" Vastra asked.

"If you'd like to follow me, sir?" The sontaran said, before the Admiral stood up, bowed to Vastra, before departing.

"Ma'am…?" Clara asked, once the man was on his way.

"Go along Newgate Street, and simply follow it towards Hyde Park." Vastra said. "Stay on the pavement where you can, and keep an eye out for carriages."

"Follow Newgate Street towards Hyde Park, and ask for Muggins at the Mews when I get there." She repeated.

"Excellent." I'll hope to see you back here at five." Vastra said, before shooing her temporary servant out of the door, taking a moment simply to look over her figure, comparing it in her mind to Jenny's. Her gaze lingered on Clara's rear end, and she momentarily imagined what it would feel like under her hands.

Then the door swung shut behind Clara, and she turned to the more important business of deduction.

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