Authors: Jodi Taylor
tings and Wedding Rings
A Christmas short story from The Chronicles of St Mary's Series
It's Christmas again at St Mary's and time for Max's obligatory illegal jump. On this occasion, however, they're right up against it.
A loaded gun has been left behind in Ancient Egypt and it's up to St Mary's historians to retrieve it before someone accidentally blows their own head off, thus affecting the timeline for centuries to come.
And as if that's not enough, Max has inadvertently poisoned Mr Markham.
It's hot, they're running out of supplies, they can't find the gun, and it's all going horribly wrong. Again.
Thanks, as always, to my editor, Cat Camacho.
Thanks to Suzie for her comments and encouragement. And special thanks to Phillip Dawson who kept me right about the Glock.
List of Characters
|Dr Edward Bairstow||Doesn't actually appear in this tale but is about to be very cross indeed.|
|Dr Maxwell||Chief Operations Officer.|
Head of the History Department. Trying to put things right.
|Dr Tim Peterson||Potential Deputy Director.|
Determined to be involved.
|Mr Markham||Security Guard. Currently flirting with the diseased transvestite look.|
|Miss Elspeth Grey||Historian. It's not really her fault.|
|Major Ian Guthrie||Head of Security. A man with a decision to make.|
|Mr Tom Bashford||Historian.|
concussed. A bit of a first.
|Mr Cox||Security Guard. Should have been more vigilant.|
|Dr Helen Foster||Chief Medical Officer. As warm and compassionate as pneumonic plague. That's the other sort and even more deadly.|
|Chief Leon Farrell||Chief Technical Officer. Max's husband. Hero.|
|Nurse Hunter||Recipient of Mr Markham's affections.|
|Mr Phil||Atherton Historian. Probably up to no good because that's what historians get up to.|
|Miss Elizabeth Sykes||Ditto.|
|Rupert||Markham's special little friend.|
|Snowman||With an oddly placed carrot.|
|A stallholder||With an eye for a bargain.|
|Sundry children||Dirty, sticky, crusty, dusty â the list just goes on and on.|
|Egyptian labourers||An unspecified number. Almost naked.|
Glistening. Muscular. Strong.
Lsing th ablty ti type â¦ May hv to lie dwn.
Years ago, when I first came to St Mary's, Chief Farrell said, âYou get a feel for when things have gone wrong,' and he was right. You do. So when Grey, Bashford, Cox, and Gallaccio stepped out of their pod, one look was all I needed to see that something had happened.
I stood quietly while they were ushered off to Sick Bay for the statutory check-up, waited for everyone else to disappear, and then followed on behind.
âWhy are you here?' said Nurse Hunter to me, ushering Bashford into an examination room. âIs everything all right?'
âAbsolutely fine,' I said. âWhy shouldn't it be?'
âYou're here voluntarily, that's why.'
âI'm just checking up on my people. They've returned from a vital and important assignment and I want to debrief them as soon as possible.'
She consulted her scratchpad. âAre you sure? They've only been checking out shipbuilding in â¦ Ancient Egypt.'
âQuite sure,' I said firmly. âWhere's Grey?'
She nodded in the direction of the women's ward.
Elspeth Grey was sitting in the window seat, staring at the snow falling silently outside. She turned her head as I entered and I knew I was right. Something had gone wrong. From the look on her face, something had gone badly wrong.
This wasn't unknown. We're St Mary's â something always goes wrong. To give us our full title, we're the Institute of Historical Research, based at St Mary's Priory just outside Rushford. We investigate major historical events in contemporary time. We don't ever call it time travel because our lives are hazardous enough without deliberately calling down the wrath of our boss, Dr Bairstow, upon ourselves.
Grey and her team had returned from Ancient Egypt and something had happened. I was at a bit of a loss. They all seemed relatively intact to me. Very sunburned, obviously and with hair like straw, but no one was missing a vital body part, or leaking vast amounts of body fluids everywhere. I had a horrible feeling this was more serious than simple physical injury.
I dragged up a chair. âWhat's happened?'
She was so pale that I was surprised Hunter hadn't shoved her back into the scanner again.
She said quietly, âI've done something terrible, Max,' and stopped, unable to go on.
Many terrible things can happen to historians. It was obviously up to me to whittle them down a bit.
I said, âIs anyone dead?' and waited for her hasty denial.
It didn't come.
I felt myself grow cold. The team was all present and as correct as St Mary's was ever able to achieve, which only left â¦
âElspeth. Is someone dead?' I took a deep breath. âDid you â has someone â killed a contemporary?'
She shook her head, then nodded, and then said, âI don't know.'
I'd had enough. If something catastrophic had happened, I needed to know immediately. Before the bloody Time Police came crashing through the door to arrest us all.
I pitched my voice to bring her back. âReport.'
She pulled herself together. âThe assignment went well. No one knew who we were. We've got masses of good footage.'
âSo what went wrong?'
âIt was me. I did it.'
âWhat did you do?'
She clenched her hands tightly in her lap. I'm not actually that terrifying. All right, I'm slightly pregnant, but that doesn't usually reduce people to a state of speechless terror. My husband Leon had actually been quite pleased. And Dr Bairstow had immediately commanded Mrs Partridge to prepare him a briefing on the duties of a godfather. Even I was coming round to the idea.
I said gently, âElspeth. You must tell me so I can put it right.'
She took a deep shuddering breath and braced herself. âI took a gun on the assignment.'
I braced myself because I could see what was coming.
âAnd I lost it.'
She couldn't bring herself to say it. âNot â¦ here.'
âYou took a gun on assignment?'
âTo Ancient Egypt?'
She nodded, miserably.
âBut why? You had two security guards.'
Yes, she did. One more than normal, but there were special circumstances attached to Elspeth Grey and Tom Bashford. They'd gone missing in 12
-century Jerusalem and were eventually discovered in Roman Colchester, only minutes before Boudicca's army crashed down upon the town, hell-bent on obliterating everyone and everything within it. Something like that can take some time to recover from.
Bashford had apparently picked up the threads of his old life with no problems at all, but Grey, who had been the one who battled to keep them both alive while he'd been semi-conscious, had been having problems. It had taken her a year to pluck up the courage to re-enter a pod. I'd selected her for the shipbuilding assignment specifically because it would be quiet and uneventful. And I'd allocated her an extra security guard. To make her feel safe. There were no wars, no plagues, no famines, and no civil unrest at that point in Egypt's history. All they had to do was record the various stages of shipbuilding and anything else they thought might be useful, stay out of trouble, not die, and return to St Mary's. All of which they appeared to have achieved, no problem at all. And now â this.
Keeping my voice steady, I said, âWhat did you take?'
She swallowed and whispered, âA Glock.'
Shit. Glocks don't have a conventional safety catch. They have safe action designed to prevent the weapon accidentally discharging, should it be dropped or banged, but if you pull the trigger, it will fire. Because that's what it's designed to do. And now we had one in Ancient Egypt. Just waiting for someone to pick it up, wave it around, and blow someone's head off.
We're not allowed to kill contemporaries. Think of all the thousands of people who must be descended from one single person living say, three thousand years ago. Now imagine that person never lived long enough to have children. What would happen? Would all those people disappear? Some would never be born. Others would be the product of different parents and all that would work its way down to the present day. Suppose Grey herself suddenly vanished, never having been born. And if she'd never been born then she couldn't go back to Ancient Egypt to leave the gun that was the cause of all the trouble. What would happen then? At the very least the Time Police would come down on us like the proverbial ton of bricks and at the very worst, we'd be looking at the âP' word.
With two security guards to keep her safe, why on earth would she feel the need to take a weapon? At the very most, historians are allowed a stun gun to defend themselves. Our normal defence strategy is to run like mad away from any trouble. Obviously, it would be nice if we could rely on not getting into trouble in the first place, but we're St Mary's and that's not really a reasonable expectation.
âElspeth,' I said carefully. âTell me about your problem.'
The door opened and Bashford entered.
Without turning my head, I said, âGo away.'
He closed the door behind him. âWith the greatest respect, Max, no.'
I'd never actually had someone defy me before. They would stand in front of me and argue themselves to a standstill â that's the definition of an historian â but I don't think I've ever actually had someone look me in the eye and say no.
He said, âI can explain.'
âNo need. Miss Grey is about to do that. Continue, Miss Grey.'
âNo, Max â¦'
âBe silent, Mr Bashford, or leave the room. Continue, Miss Grey.'
She returned from wherever she had been and focussed on me again.
âI took a gun on the assignment in case â¦ in case â¦
She meant Clive Ronan. The man who'd snatched them out of Jerusalem and abandoned them in Colchester. Abandoned them to die.
She was continuing, clenching her hands so tightly I could see red crescents where her fingernails were digging into her palms. âI can't â¦ I know â¦ I know it's stupid to expect him to be everywhere I go. I do know that, but I just can't rid myself of the fear that I'll step out of the pod and he'll be there and I'll be whirled off to somewhere and this time â¦ this time â¦ there won't be anyone to pull me out and I'll die. And yes, I know you allocated an extra guard. And I know there is no reason to suspect anything like that would ever happen again. I know all that. But I keep thinking, Max â¦ suppose you hadn't found us. Suppose you hadn't pulled us out in time. Suppose it happens again â¦'
Silence fell in the tiny ward. On the other side of the door, I could hear Dr Foster giving Cox a hard time over something or other. She'd be in here in a moment to find out what was going on.
Bashford stirred. âMax, she's been through enough,' he said, and put a protective hand on her shoulder.
It wasn't needed. I wasn't going to shout at her. Actually, I didn't know what I was going to do. I fell back on more questions.
âSo, what happened to the gun?'
âI don't know. I was carrying it in my pack so I could get to it quickly if I needed to. And we stopped for water, and when I looked, it wasn't there.'
âCould it have been stolen?'
âNo. Not a chance.'
âDid you take it out and leave it somewhere?'
âNo. I think â¦ I fell â¦ and my pack came undone. I think it must have been then.'
âDid you go back and look?'
âYes. Three times.'
âSo Cox and Gallaccio know what happened?'
I had huge sympathy for her, but she'd committed a cardinal sin by taking a gun in the first place and an even bigger cardinal sin by leaving it. My blood ran cold just thinking about a child picking it up, staring down the barrel and wondering what would happen if you pulled this funny bit here â¦
âDid the others know you had this weapon?'
âNo,' she said, too quickly.