“Alice Brown,” Jenny’s mother said, shaking Sarah Jane’s
hand quite firmly. “Will you have a cuppa?”
“Oh, yes thank you. I hope I’m not interrupting at a bad moment.”
“No, not at all.”
She followed Mrs Brown down the hall into the kitchen, making a show of looking around. “Oh, this is lovely.”
“Yes, I think Twenty-Nine’s slightly smaller. But it does have that lovely spiral staircase; my Jenny was always begging to go round there when she was little so she could run up and down it.”
“Jenny’s your daughter?” Sarah Jane tried to sound casual.
“Yes, she’s fifteen.”
“Any other children?”
“No, just her. But she’s a handful on her own.”
“Oh, I know. I have a teenager myself.” Sarah Jane had been looking hard around the kitchen, and her eyes fell on a family photo on the window-sill.
It looked very unnatural to her—but then, she would have to get Mr Smith to check to know for certain; her judgement may be compromised as much as the Doctor’s on this one. They all wanted Jenny to be his daughter. “This her?”
“Yes, from our holiday last year. The Brecon Beacons. Do you take milk and sugar?”
“Are your family in?” Sarah Jane asked as they sat down with mugs.
“My husband’s at work, and Jenny’s out with her friends. Shame, they’d have liked to have met a new neighbour.”
“Well nothing’s decided yet, not for final.”
“Anyway, any particular questions you had or did you just want a general overview?”
“What are the schools like?” Sarah Jane asked, hoping to keep the conversation on Jenny, or as close as she could without arousing suspicion.
“The secondary schools? Well Jenny’s at Hillview, it’s quite good.” Alice thought for a moment. “She hasn’t been there that long, so I’m not sure if I’m the best person to judge …”
“Six months. We haven’t had any trouble. There were a few instances last year apparently of drugs on the premises, but it seems to have been dealt with. Jenny’s a sensible girl, very honest, she says there hasn’t been a problem since they expelled that kid with the bike. We’ve taken that to mean they’re a pretty efficient school.”
“Sounds like it.”
“Well I know no school is perfect, but the head at this one seems to have her head screwed on right, if you know what I mean.”
Sarah Jane laughed. “I do.”
“Any problems with neighbours? Please be honest, I won’t repeat anything.”
“Well, the Johnsons are a bit weird. But as long as you don’t park across their drive or neglect to pass on their mail if it gets put through your door, they’re reasonable people. Just don’t bring up the subject of dog walkers, they’ll talk your ears off.”
“What about crime in the area?”
Mrs Brown hesitated. “You could get stats, couldn’t you?”
“Well I prefer the more personal approach, stats can reflect almost anything the person collecting them wants. Also why I take things like exam results with a pinch of salt.”
“You’re a very cynical woman.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“Well, it’s not bad round here at all. No burglaries or anything that I know of, though like I said we haven’t been here that long. Although …”
“We did have someone break into our house the other night. Scared my daughter out of her wits. Bastard.”
“You mean a burglar?”
“Don’t think so. He broke into her bedroom.”
“Is she all right?” Sarah Jane tried to sound alarmed.
“Yeah, he didn’t hurt her. Didn’t get a chance.” Alice sighed. “If I ever get my hands on him …”
Sarah Jane continued the conversation, for appearances asking her about transport and local facilities, and when she felt she’d covered everything, she asked to use the toilet.
“Upstairs, first on the right,” Mrs Brown answered.
“You don’t mind if I have a little nose around, do you? I’m curious to see how similar the houses are.”
Mrs Brown chuckled. “Knock yourself out.”
Once she was upstairs and safely out of Mrs Brown’s vision range, she opened her watch and stared scanning.
That was odd. She shook it. The watch was telling her there was only one person in the house.
“But she’s there, downstairs,” she whispered at it. “What is she? Human? Something else?”
It didn’t change; no-one besides Sarah Jane in the house. Sarah Jane sighed and increased the scan to look for anything alien, living or otherwise.
This time, it detected something: some kind of technology, but couldn’t identify what. Whatever it was, it was downstairs—the upstairs was clean, she triple-checked.
She ventured cautiously into Jenny’s bedroom and had a quick poke around. Clothes, makeup, school books, a sketchbook and pencils, pop star posters … a very average teenage bedroom, as far as she could see. A few books … an anthology of poetry—
Sarah Jane opened it up, revealing the leaflet that had been inserted as a bookmark. The front image was an artist’s impression of some planet. Making a quick note of the details, Sarah Jane replaced it and continued her scour round.
Afterwards she had a quick look around downstairs, but couldn’t spot anything out of the ordinary. It was a very average house belonging to what appeared to be a very average family.
She thanked Alice Brown for the tea and her time, and then was about to leave when she spotted something by the door that she’d missed.
A business card. Strazer & Loukem.
When the phone rang, the Doctor knocked it off the table in his hurry to pick up. “Sarah Jane? What’s going on? Found anything?”
“I’m not sure,” was the reply.
“What do you mean?”
“I think there’s something odd in that house but I couldn’t pin it down. I’m sorry, it’s not proof she is Jenny.”
“You know those lawyers who called?”
“No,” the Doctor said blankly.
“Strazer and something, they called offering to be your defence in the case against the Browns. Well, the Browns had their details as well, and apparently they’re the prosecution.”
“But—they can’t be both.”
“Exactly. Something’s fishy. Shall I go to their office, or would you like to do that?”
“I’ll do it!” He jumped to his feet. “I want to do something, sitting still is driving me insane.”
She laughed. “I thought so. I’ll go through my other findings with the kids, and then we’ll compare notes together.”
“Great. Where’s the address?”
When Sarah Jane got home, she Googled the words from the leaflet with Luke looking eagerly over her shoulder. They both looked around as the Doctor entered the attic. “Anything on the lawyers?” Luke asked.
“I had a discreet poke around, did some scanning, didn’t pick up anything.” The Doctor flopped into a chair. “Wondered if you lot had got anywhere here.”
“Not yet. But I found a leaflet for this in Jenny’s room.” Sarah Jane pointed at the screen.
The Doctor leaned forward. “A poetry club?”
He did, and his eyes widened. “A science fiction poetry club?”
“Rani likes poetry,” Luke said thoughtfully. “And let’s face it, we all live science fiction. She might be able to go and blend in.”
“Sounds like a plan of action to me,” the Doctor said, sounding slightly more cheerful. “One flaw though.”
“What’s that, Doctor?”
“I still have nothing to do.”