A Minor Misdemeanor

Chapter 34

It almost felt normal to listen for carriages, rather than minicabs and unmarked white vans when crossing the road, Clara mused, with a slight smile. A careful glance, confirming what her ears were telling her, and she watched a two wheel hansom cab roll past her, before allowing a pair of what looked like members of the middle class to disembark, the woman holding a brightly coloured parasol, despite the weather and time of year. The cabbie accepted the fare, in a cheerful cockney accent, before trotting a few yards down the road, and being hailed almost immediately by a man wearing the bowler and frock coat that marked a member of the financial community, and disappearing swiftly in the direction of the square mile.

Keeping a careful eye, and an even more sensitive ear, out for traffic, she crossed the road, passing outside a small local licensed establishment, with a sign over the door identifying it as the Pig and Hound. Vastra had indicated that she maintained a bar tab there, which she cleared once a month.

Getting a drink in a Victorian public house, a group of premises well known for their hygiene standards, or rather lack of them, wasn't on her agenda, however, and she walked past with barely a sideways glance at the woman sweeping the floor, or the man hauling empty beer barrels out of the cellar by main force, and loading them onto a brewer's dray. It was a scene bizarrely similar to the publicans in the 21st century, only differing because they didn't have metal kegs and a van.

Another cross street, and again, she checked in both directions, before stepping out into the road, trotting slightly to avoid the omnibus she could see approaching at a trot, and was safely on the pavement on the far side of the road by the time it passed her.

Grinning slightly, she ably dodged a costermonger, before stepping around what appeared to be a small stall, carrying kitchen spices, although she suspected from the colours that the spices were likely to contain large amounts of sawdust as well as their official contents.

The butchers looked like something out of the living village at Ironbridge. A large bow window, with meat hanging inside the curve of the window, along with a simple sign with both the name of the shop, Elliot and Sons family butchers, and a separate section that simply showed a cleaver embedded in a side of meat. The window frame was painted a dull red, and what appeared to be very basic chainmail hung in the doorway, striped in red and white. The man behind the counter was facing away from the entryway, holding a meat cleaver that, to Clara, looked like something out of a low budget horror movie, with a slightly pitted blade a full twelve inches long. He was peddling with one foot, and holding the blade against a grindstone, carefully angling it to return the cutting edge to an almost mirror finish. His blue and white apron showed dozens of marks, which had in places changed the colour from blue and white to dark brown and lighter brown.

After a few moments, he seemed to notice someone was in the shop and turned around.

"What can I do for you today, miss?" He asked, with a more refined accent than Clara expected.

"Madame Vastra sent me to collect her weekly order."

"Where's Jenny?" He asked, sounding very suspicious. "This isn't the first time someone's tried to get away with nabbing the order belonging to the most reliable customer this side of Whitechapel."

"She gave me this note. She sealed it before handing it to me, and contains information that would be something only she would know about." The man took the note, which was secured inside two envelopes, both with an old fashioned wax seal, before folding it open, nodding, and chuckling slightly.

"That makes me certain it's from the old lizard." He said. "Her version of a joke message is very distinctive."

He pocketed the missive, before spending the next several minutes bustling around the shop, wrapping an assortment of meat products in several layers of white paper packaging.

"According to her ladyship, Jenny has managed to get herself locked up." He said, chuckling. "Guess she still has a few secrets, even from Vastra."

"What sort of thing?" She asked, only for the man to tap his nose twice.

"Not my place to tell you about that." He said, fairly sternly. "She'd take my head off with my own cleaver if she found out I'd said anything. She has one hell of a temper when roused." He grinned. "The first one who suggested she should enter into a business arrangement, shall we say, had his gentleman's area kicked so hard they nearly came out of his ears."

Clara grinned slightly, remembering her several encounters with the small maidservant, including the incident where she had arrived via a form of fast-roping armed with a katana. She could imagine her reacting to someone suggesting that she should become a working girl under his supervision with extreme prejudice.

"After that, they left her alone, until the tong moved in and tried main force. She seemed to pick up Vastra around that time, or it might have been the other way around."

As he had been speaking, a mound of items had been piling up in a basket, until it was full.

"Nine shillings and sixpence." He said.

Opening the small purse Vastra had handed her several days earlier, she realised that although it contained a large number of coins, it didn't contain more than three actual shillings. Remembering something about pre-decimal currency, she dived into the purse, before checking the face of one of the coins to be sure. With a look of assurance, she handed over two crowns The man nodded slightly, before dropping the coins into the till, and scooping out a tiny silver sixpence, which he handed to her with a nod, before she scooped up the basket.

"I'll send the boy around for it in about three hours." He said, before she headed out of the store and turned back towards Paternoster row.

"Can I see the menu?" Vastra asked, looking at the young waiter from behind the veil the Doctor had insisted on her wearing before she left the X-Ray room.

In response, a laminated two-sided sheet was placed on the table. "Can I get you any drinks?" He asked.

"Vodka martini." She said, grinning impishly under her veil, or at least grinning in the way an imp would grin if it had enough sharp teeth to intimidate a dentist used to working on sharks. "Shaken, not stirred."

She was amused to see what appeared to be a very subtle eye roll, before he said, aloud, at least; "I'll get that for you."

While the boy was acquiring the drink, which she'd taken an extreme liking to during her blue box days, to the extent of having been found draped over the food synthesizer surrounded by a small mound of glasses, with a small, amusing and brightly coloured paper umbrella protruding from one earhole. Her stomach had been revealed to contain seven more by a scan the Doctor had carried out as a precaution, although they had been contained by the system that protected her stomach wall from bone fragments, Vastra was busily pursing the menu, searching for the largest and hopefully highest quality option on the menu, before settling on an eighteen ounce sirloin steak with every single form of trimming known to the restaurant industry. This included a fried egg, onion rings, fries, BBQ sauce (something she couldn't ever find at home), mushrooms, and bacon.

It was also about twenty quid. That said, it was the Doctor's money, rather than her own. Mentally, and thinking in terms of the ape money she was used to, after more than a decade living among them, she equated it to about twenty shillings.

Her martini arrived, and quickly vanished beneath her veil, allowing her tongue to access the contents of the glass. Cold. Far colder than anything Jenny can produce without putting it in the icebox. Very smooth flavours. Berries... bit of cinnamon, although it only tastes like cinnamon. Without hesitation, she wrapped her tongue around one of the ice cubes floating in her drink, and pulled it into her mouth, tucking it between her still somewhat carnivorous molars and pressing down, feeling the cold powder and liquid spread through her mouth as it melted, although the heat was sluggish to return, even sitting next to the radiator. Absently, her tongue dipped back into her glass, and siphoned about fifteen millilitres of fluid into her mouth, before swirling it over the taste receptors. The process continued until she had an empty glass, by which point her meal was being placed on the table.

Then she hissed at herself. You daft, gluttonous lizard. She thought, without realising for an instant it sounded more like Jenny than her own voice. You've ordered something you can't eat under your veil, and now you've got a choice between a police cell for being odd in public, and having to pick at your food.

She thought for a few seconds, before deciding to ask a question. "Is there a private room I can use? I've got a skin condition most people find disconcerting in a restaurant."

"I'll get the manager." The boy said, visibly and olfactorly content to boot it up the chain, where it would no longer be his problem to deal with, at least to someone with Vastra's ability to read body language and sense of smell.

It took the manager approximately three minutes to arrive, during which time several onion rings vanished under Vastra's veil, admittedly via an extremely high-speed tongue.

"I understand you need to use the private facilities." He said, in the slightly oily voice of a man angling for a gratuity, but without the skill to disguise it.

In response, Vastra simply replied; "Yes."

"Now obviously, this is at rather short notice…"

"And, if we cut to the chase, no, I am not going to bribe you."

The man's eyes bulged slightly, before he paled, noticing the fact that her voice, although at normal conversational volume, seemed to have been deliberately modulated to cut through the restaurant chatter and be audible for a considerable distance.

"More to the point, if I am not allowed to use the private room, which I will ensure stays clean, I will simply remove my veil." She said, bluntly. "This is likely to result in a loss of trade for your business."

"You have to understand… WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU?" the man began, before yelling out as Vastra removed her veil.

"I am a lizard woman from the dawn of time. I am trying to eat my lunch. I do not believe that beer and cigarettes improve the flavour of ape, so I won't be having any dessert."

The manager just fled. With a brief glance upwards, Vastra got back to her meal, quickly ingesting the various high calorie and low nutritional value foods, before throwing a fifty pound note at the barman, and walking out, deeming herself to have successfully navigated the issue.

The police caught up with her halfway to the hospital.
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