Thanks again to my lovely beta, katididit, without whom my writing would be less coherent.
The Doctor walked briskly but quietly down the hall, followed by Shawn, Rose, Gus, and Lassie. Just before they reached the T-intersection that led to the main hall of the Santa Barbara police station, the Doctor held out a restraining arm and turned around, one finger pressed to his lips. "Whoever is out there cannot know that we're on to him. Or her. Raxacoricofallapatorians can smell fear."
"Wait a minute, what makes you think there's another one of those things here?" Lassie demanded. To his credit, he did keep his voice down.
"You didn't hear it break wind just now?" Rose said.
Lassie clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides, but forced a tight smile. "What, are you still making fart jokes? You two are worse than Spencer!"
The Doctor explained smugly, "Calcium decay from the interface with the suit's compression field produces distinctive gassy emissions. And a good thing, too, since it lets us see right through their disguise."
"Not such a great disguise, then, is it?" Shawn remarked.
"Shhh!" Gus said. "I can smell it now. It's that same weird bad breath smell."
"You weren't kidding." Lassie said. He rubbed his forehead as if it pained him. "If there is an alien in a human suit in this police station, we should get him into custody and question him."
"Dude, did you see the claws on that thing?" Shawn reminded the detective.
The Doctor shrugged and grimaced in acknowledgement of Shawn's point. "The Earth has in the past been infiltrated by at least one of their crime families. Whoever is out there should be considered dangerous."
Lassie's hand strayed under his jacket to rest on his gun. "We need to evacuate the station. Get everyone out of harm's way," he insisted, the clear threat giving him a way to fit the fantastic impossibility of the situation into his personal rulebook.
"We can't do that!" The Doctor whispered urgently. "We'll alert the alien, and its behavior might become unpredictable."
"Unpredictable is bad," Rose elaborated briefly.
Shawn jumped in, partly to defend Lassie, who he could not have falling apart just now, and partly because he didn't want Chief Vick, her baby, or Juliet anywhere near those enormous claws. "We just need a pretense and a distraction. Follow my lead."
He pushed past the Doctor and down the hall, where a giant of a woman in an electric blue muumuu was confronting Chief Vick. "I am afraid I must insist on seeing the bodies. Both of them," the woman insisted in a stentorian voice as she waved a badge in Vick's face. She released another gaseous emission, paused, and waved at her own behind in apparent embarrassment.
"I'm sorry, I don't recognize you and I will have to check your credentials before..." the Chief said calmly, crossing her arms and craning her neck to look up at the woman's face.
Shawn's mind presented him with the fleeting, gruesome image of those giant claws slicing down toward the pregnant police chief's body. He threw himself toward them both, pressing both hands to the sides of his head and staggering so that he fell between them. "Oh, God, the pain! We're all going to die!" As he lay on the floor, writhing and stalling, the carbon monoxide monitor plugged into an outlet near the floor caught his eye. Inspired, he curled into a ball and and moved his hands to clutch his throat. Not carbon monoxide, not sexy enough, he needed something more...explosive. "It's gas! I can't breathe and...and...I'm burning!" He raised himself to all fours just long enough to fling himself into Gus's legs. "Gus...help me!" he gasped.
Gus finally took his cue and added, "I think I smell...yes, I smell gas. Don't you smell it?" He turned pointedly to Rose and the Doctor.
Rose nodded, wrinkling her nose. "Oh, yes," she said, elbowing the Doctor hard in the ribcage.
The Doctor shoved the large woman aside. "We need to evacuate the station," he told the chief, loudly. "You first, you're pregnant. Rose, pull the fire alarm, that will get everyone moving." He steered the chief toward the front of the building over her protests.
"I'll call the gas company," Gus offered, flipping out his cell phone. He pointed out the fire alarm to Rose.
Rose pulled the alarm, then walked briskly over to the enormous woman and began to lead her toward the door without the slightest hesitation. "Can't be too careful," she said with a sort of chipper urgency. "The whole place could explode." Gus hauled Shawn to his feet and they joined the exodus.
Once outside, Shawn pulled Gus aside and let the throng pass them. Chief Vick was having a heated argument with the Doctor a few yards away, but he couldn't hear them because of the intervening crowd. The Chief appeared to freeze in mid-word and deflate suddenly, in response to something he said, then turned and walked briskly into the parking lot.
"Find anything out about those two from the girl?" Shawn asked Gus.
Gus shrugged. "She's from London. She talks about aliens as though she knows them personally, but she gets cagey anytime the Doctor comes up in conversation."
Shawn looked from Gus to Rose, who was whispering something in the Doctor's ear and pressing up unnecessarily close to him in order to do so. "She's just using you to make him jealous."
The pretty blonde stood beside the Doctor, searching the area. She caught Gus's eye, smiled, and waved them over. Gus grinned, straightening his collar, his eye on Rose. "Doesn't mean I can't enjoy the attention."
"You think she's sleeping with him?" Shawn made a rude gesture intended to imply that the Doctor might not be quite so human under his suit.
"Shawn!" Gus gave him a shove. "You are disgusting."
Shawn ran a hand through his hair to give it just the right amount of disheveled charm, then sauntered over to where Rose was standing with the Doctor and the flatulent woman-mountain. Gus followed on his right hand, as usual. "What I don't get," Shawn said to Rose without preamble, "is what these two have that I don't?" He indicated Gus and the Doctor.
She smiled broadly, then tapped her tongue against her lips. "Personal hygiene," she said. She laced one arm around the Doctor's and leaned into him.
"Excuse me," said something over six feet and three hundred pounds of peacock blue muumuu clad "woman." "Alanna Barnes, Torchwood." She flashed an ID card at the Doctor, then around at the other three.
"Oh, dear," the Doctor said. "I'm so sorry, Torchwood has no jurisdiction this side of the pond. UNIT territory. I'll have to take this up with my...superiors." It took him a moment to squeeze out the last word. "Would you be so kind as to wait right here while I check you out?"
Ms. Barnes crossed her arms across basketball sized breasts and huffed importantly. The Doctor captured Shawn's arm and walked with him across the parking lot, leaving Gus and Rose to contend with the alien. He flipped out a cell phone and held it to his ear, arranging himself and Shawn so their backs were to Barnes. "We can't leave her to wreak havoc while we investigate. I think we're going to have to take her with us."
"In Gus's car?"
The Doctor glanced up at Gus's admittedly compact vehicle. "Point taken, but I think we'll have to make it work. Irritating as I find those psychic episodes of yours, would you mind staging another one for Ms. Barnes benefit?"
"Aw, you know you love me," Shawn said, slapping the Doctor on the back. He strolled back toward Ms. Barnes, Rose, and Gus. The alien woman held herself with her arms crossed over her chest. At first glance, he thought she looked indignant, but there was something about the tilt of her head, the way she drew her lip between her teeth, the white tips of her fingers where they clutched her huge leather purse--he knew she was a massive green swamp horror on the inside, but the face she was presenting was bereft. It didn't make sense for her to present herself as weak. The signs were too subtle. Shawn hypothesized that the human suit technology must accurately translate the emotions of the wearer. It wasn't like he had anything better to go on.
He kept his hands nonthreateningly in his pockets and put on a kindly smile. Upon reaching her, he reached out as if to take her hand, but paused in mid-gesture. "I'm sorry, I must seem forward, but I'm sensing that you and the murder victim were close. I just wanted to express my condolences."
Gus goggled and opened his mouth, as if to protest. Shawn cut him off with a wave.
"He was my partner. And my brother," Ms. Barnes murmured. "Whoever killed him will suffer for it," she added, her voice hardening.
Shawn nodded sympathetically, then stared off into middle distance for a couple of beats. "I..." he began. "I...oh!" He bent double to clutch his head. "Sorry, signal's coming stronger than usual." He staggered backward into Gus and Rose. "We need...we need a hunter!" Triumphant, he reached forward, grinning, to grasp her shoulders. "Do you hunt? The spirits say that in order to catch a hunter we need a hunter's instincts!"
Ms. Barnes stood up straighter, her ego successfully engaged. "I do enjoy a good hunt," she allowed.
The Doctor strode up to take a place behind Rose. "Absolutely not!" he said. "This is UNIT business. I won't have Torchwood getting its overconfident mitts in."
Shawn schooled his face to an appearance of sternness. "Doctor, Ms. Barnes needs to be with us. The spirits insist upon it."
"Doctor?" Ms. Barnes said, giving the word a peculiar inflection that made it both a title and a name. She looked sharply at the wiry man in the trenchcoat. "Are you now?"
He returned her sharp gaze. "And what of it?"
She drew herself up to her full height. "Know this, Doctor. Much rides upon a satisfactory conclusion to this investigation. I will see justice done." Her gaze took in the police station, then scanned the horizon and came to rest pointedly on Shawn and the Doctor. "Nice town."
"Justice, eh?" the Doctor said. He bit off two more words. "Nice outfit."
Shawn stepped between the two of them, stretching his arms first around the Doctor's shoulders, then, after a brief shuddering hesitation, around the other alien's. "Now, now, we're all on the same side, here. Let's go catch ourselves a murderer."
He strolled between the two of them for a few paces before both shrugged him off, but by then the moment of tension had passed. He jogged to catch up with Gus and Rose, but they still managed to commandeer the two front seats of Gus's car, leaving Shawn to squeeze into the middle seat between the two aliens. Ms. Barnes farted explosively just before entering the vehicle. "Pardon me," she said.
Gus reached for the can of air freshener he kept under the driver's seat and rested it between his legs for easy access during the rest of the trip. Shawn scrunched his shoulders up and tried to think small.
Simi Valley was not really as far from Santa Barbara as the amount of time they spent in the car would suggest. Shawn wasn't sure what was worst, the sudden snarls of traffic, the massive alien on the left's unstoppable flood of flatulence, or the one on his right's unstoppable flood of chatter. He suspected he would have found some of whatever the Doctor was talking about fascinating if he'd had any context. Unfortunately, most of it sailed right over his head. He considered feigning another psychic episode on the off chance that it would shut the Doctor up, but he suspected he would merely be treated to a lecture on psychic phenomena on other planets he wasn't familiar with and about which he cared very little.
Finally, mercifully, the car pulled up to the Simi Valley police station. The five of them piled out of the car. Rose took Gus's arm and said, "I need to go pick up some girl stuff across the street." She gestured with her chin toward the drugstore. Gus allowed her to drag him away, while Shawn, Ms. Barnes, and the Doctor flashed identification of varying levels of authenticity at the uniformed officer guarding the door and gathered at the reception desk.
Officers and other staff clustered in groups of two or three, speaking in low voices. The officer manning the desk's eyes were red and puffy, but her voice was steady as she addressed them. "Is this an urgent matter?"
The Doctor leaned onto the counter and flashed his paper at her. "I'm the Doctor, with UNIT. We're investigating the circumstances surrounding the Chief's death. Could we speak with Chief Herrero's lead detective? In the Chief's office, if you don't mind."
"Detective Adeola is out on a case, but I will let you know when he arrives." She pointed to an office across the hallway and handed the Doctor a key.
"Thank you, Officer Clark," he said, then opened the office door and let them all in.
"First things first," Shawn said, once they were inside the office. "Ms. Barnes, you said the...ah...person impersonating the Chief was your partner. Partner in what?" While he waited for her answer, he glanced at a picture on top of the filing cabinet. Herrero stood in fishing gear next to an equally amply endowed wife, who was holding a shotgun in one hand and a dead rabbit in the other.
Ms. Barnes shrugged. "We were conducting an investigation into some fugitives reported to have taken refuge on this planet." She flicked a glance at the Doctor. "What, you'd rather we have called in the Judoon?"
"Are they Slitheen?" The Doctor asked.
"Yes, Slitheen." Ms. Barnes made the word into a curse. "Rounding up that particular crime family has consumed a significant portion of Fremlin family resources for years. We tracked a whole nest of them here."
"We've met the Slitheen," the Doctor said. "But how many of them are there?"
"Here? I don't know. There are still quite a few at large in this part of the galaxy."
"How many is quite a few?" the Doctor pressed.
"Fewer than ten thousand," Ms. Barnes said dismissively. "We've managed to carry out sentence on most of them."
The Doctor turned to her, his face suddenly stony. "And how many were in the family Slitheen when sentence was passed?"
"Three million." She strode around the desk to make herself home in Chief Herrero's chair. "Our family is charged with maintaining order in the Raxas Confederacy. It is a thankless job at times, but we do it with pride and efficiency." She rifled through the papers on the desk. "It would appear my partner had tracked a nest of Slitheen to the Santa Barbara area, where they were involved in some sort of real estate investment scheme." She gathered up the pages and handed them to the Doctor. "Do these make any sense to you?"
The Doctor flipped through the top two or three pages, shrugged, and said, "Early twenty-first century Earth finance is ridiculously complicated." He handed the pages off to Shawn, who glanced at the names and addresses just long enough to memorize them, then set them back down. He would get Gus to look at the numbers later.
He wandered casually around the room. There was a faint, feminine scent of perfume, something sweet and girlish, with vanilla notes. He pulled open file doors, one by one. Files, files, more files, small sweater from a twinset...interesting. He thought back to his memory of the people in the police station when they arrived. There had been a dozen people in the room, nine who could be identified as police by uniforms or sidearms, two people sitting, bewildered, on chairs by the door, and one young woman in a sundress. A uniformed woman had brought her a cup of coffee, which she had held close to her body, but had not sipped.
He peered through the picture window. She was still there, with the uniformed woman. They were standing next to each other awkwardly, as though each felt obligated to comfort the other, but didn't know the other well enough to say anything helpful. Gus and Rose had returned from their errand, but appeared to have been waylaid at the reception desk. "Ms. Barnes," he said without turning around, "How long were you and your partner using your, ah, current identities?"
"Eleven of your days," Ms. Barnes said. "Why?"
"It might matter. I feel...I feel that the chain of events that led to your partner's death may have begun before your arrival. If you'll excuse me," he said, opening the door. "I feel the need to commune with the bereaved."