The Grassmarket was just beginning to wake up, beaten to the chase even by a moon that had been in the sky for a good two hours at least. But the people crowding the street didn’t seem to mind: they spilled out of the makeshift theatres and into the bars and take-aways, talking loudly and oblivious that the city might have a single soul in it that hadn’t travelled there for the Festival.
With that many people around, and that much alcohol flowing, the scream was nothing unusual.
Barely anyone paid it any attention.
‘It’s weird,’ Martha was saying, holding a chip in front of her. ‘It’s like they got gravy and brown sauce and just mixed them up.’
She popped the chip into her mouth with a smile.
The Doctor wasn’t listening. His bag of chips, with salt and sauce, was sitting open in his hand, but his eyes were looking in the other direction.
‘Doctor?’ Martha said. ‘Hello?’
‘Hmm?’ he said, distracted. He seemed to remember that she was there for a moment, which was nice, and said: ‘Did you hear that?’
Here we go again.
‘Oh come on!’ Martha whined. ‘You said we were just staying to get chips: we’ve been here all day. Can’t we just leave it?’
But the Doctor’s attention was down the road again: a double-decker bus had pulled to the side of the road, its driver standing by the doors trying to hold back a young hoodie. No, Martha corrected herself, it was the nineties and they didn’t have hoodies yet: he was just a young kid in a hood. A small crowd was starting to gather around them, but no-one was helping the bus driver out. Probably too scared of the boy, who was violently kicking and shouting as if his life depended on it.
‘Hold these, would you?’ the Doctor said, handing his chips over.
Martha rolled her eyes, but as the Doctor hurried over to the bus she was only a few steps behind him. It might not be Dalek invasions, but there might be something the two of them could do to help.
‘Hello there,’ the Doctor said cheerfully. ‘What’s all this then?’
The driver just gave him a pitiful look and kept trying to pull the shouting youngster away from the vehicle.
‘He’s touched in the head,’ the driver barked.
The Doctor rested a hand on the youth’s shoulder and prised him from the driver’s grip. For a moment, the youngster seemed too surprised to react, spinning and finding himself eyeball to eyeball with the Doctor. Martha felt her heart give a little skip, but the Doctor just gave a friendly smile.
‘There now,’ he said. ‘Everything’s alright, isn’t it?’
‘You’ve got to stop him, man!’ the boy shouted.
‘Alright,’ came a gruff Scot’s accent through the gathering crowd. ‘Let’s be calming all this down, eh?’
A ginger-haired man in a pinstriped suit appeared by the Doctor’s side. He took a cigarette from his mouth and dropped it to the floor in one practiced motion, as he folded his arms and looked disapprovingly at the Doctor. In his wake came a shorter, darker man whose clothes were almost completely hidden beneath a crumpled brown raincoat. The second man looked nervously to Martha the moment he felt her eyes on him, and then snapped his attention back to the trio at the centre of the crowd.
‘Why don’t you let the wee schemie go, eh?’ the ginger-haired man said, with an air of half-veiled threat. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a little leather wallet, flipping it open. ‘DI Kirkwell. This is DC Walk. How about we quieten this up so we can all get home to bed, eh?’
The Doctor reached into his jacket and pulled out his own wallet.
‘DCI Sam Tyler,’ he said, showing a blank piece of paper. ‘This is DI Jean Hunt. Greater Manchester Police.’
DI Kirkwell gave Martha a quick look, and she smiled sweetly.
‘You’re a way off your patch, sir,’ he grumbled.
‘Just here for the Festival. Aren’t we, Martha?’ the Doctor answered. Martha flashed her eyes, and the Doctor leant confidentially towards the DI: ‘She likes to be called Martha. No idea why. Anyway, we saw the commotion and thought we’d lend a hand.’
‘Much obliged,’ Kirkwell said, making it clear he meant the opposite.
‘Is he alright?’ DC Walk asked the driver, looking at the young boy.
‘He’s off his nut,’ the driver answered helpfully.
‘You’re polis?’ the boy said urgently, grabbing Kirkwell by the lapels. ‘You’ve got to get him. He’s up there!’
The boy looked back to the bus, a look of terror on his face.
‘It’s alright,’ Walk said, his voice calm and English-accented. ‘You’re safe.’
‘I’m no!’ the boy shouted. ‘He’s up there! He killed Davey, and he’s after me!’
The Doctor and Kirkwell gave each other a grave look, and then turned as one to the bus door. The crowd started backing away from the bus.
‘I’ll go up the stairs,’ the Doctor was saying. ‘You watch the windows.’
Kirkwell simply nodded.
‘You’ve got to stop him,’ the boy sobbed.
Martha stepped forward and put a comforting arm around him.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said softly.
‘You both as touched as he is?’ the driver snapped. ‘You think I’d be down here wrestling wi’ him if there was a killer on my bus? It’s empty up there: this mad rocket’s the only one who’s been up there this last quarter of an hour.’
The Doctor and Kirkwell both looked to the driver, to each other and finally to the boy. Martha could feel the youngster’s sobs as they fought their way out of him: whatever else he might be, he was genuinely terrified of something.
‘He killed Davey,’ he sobbed again. ‘He killed him.’
And he looked to Martha, pleading for her to believe him.