Victoria parked outside of her two bedroom flat and looked at it through the rain streaked car window. The neighbouring flats had warmly lit windows and that made Victoria's flat look cold and sad in the darkness. Had it always looked so gloomy? She unlocked the door and switched on a few lights, then the radio. Victoria caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she was going to the kitchen. She stopped for a closer look. Straight blond hair, pale blue eyes and incredibly plain. Had she always looked so nondescript? Victoria looked at a photograph by her phone. It was her and a friend and colleague, both still in uniform. She looked at her reflection again and it seemed so flat and washed out in comparison, as though she was fading. Dennis Hilton had sapped the life from her and he was still doing it. He had stretched every nerve to breaking point and selfishly demanded every last scrap of her attention. Victoria had no friends and no acquaintances. Hilton had seized her, isolated her and would continue to torment her even after his death. Victoria left the lights on, and went to bed.
A memorial service was held for Emily Jones, four days later. Victoria stayed well back, behind the bushes, away from the close family. She knew this service was symbolic. She also knew that eventually, it wouldn't be enough for Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Victoria grabbed her phone when it rang loudly.
"Lowry." She turned away from the service.
"Give me a minute to get in my car, sir. I'm at Emily Jones' memorial service." She unlocked her car and climbed in. "I left my report."
"I have it here. Listen Lowry. Just after eleven thirty this morning, Phillip Moore jumped infront of a car. Killed outright." The DCI said and Victoria was stunned.
"Mitchell said he was keeping him until he'd calmed down." She said in disbelief.
"I contacted Stan Mitchell and he says he was a different bloke after a night's sleep. Moore seemed a bit embarrassed about his performance. Mitchell suspected cannabis but let it slide for now. We aren't sure if it's accidental or suicide." Woods told her. "The car hit him outside the supermarket on the main road."
"So it won't be ours, as in CID?" Victoria asked.
"You spoke to the man, Lowry. Do you think anything dodgy's going on?"
"Stan Mitchell would know better. I can say that Moore was terrified. Even the man he was bothering agreed with that. Do you want me to go and take a look?" Victoria offered.
"Just to see that it's in order. I don't think there's enough to get it to us but it's best to check." Woods said.
Victoria left the service and drove to the supermarket. The road had been reopened and she noticed that the traffic moved quite fast, seeing it was a straight stretch of road with no turnoffs. The carpark was infront, and down one side of the supermarket and the entrance to it was to the rear of the building. There was no need for traffic to change speed on the main road. A young assistant called Scott had sold Phillip his cigarettes.
"He looked fine." He told Victoria. "He bought twenty John Players and a can of 7Up."
"He didn't seem anxious at all? Nervous?" Victoria asked.
"No, not at all. I wouldn't have remembered him at all if you lot hadn't asked. He was just normal." Scott shrugged his shoulders.
"Did you see him leave?"
"No, I was serving someone else by then. I heard the crash, the tyres and brakes screeching and I saw the traffic swerving. I told the other policeman all this too." Scott said.
"Thank you, Mr. Meeks." Victoria gave him a friendly smile and went to find the store manager. She found Mr. Derek Prat in the back store room and luckily he was with two eye witnesses. Mrs. Florence Pattinson and her daughter, Marie, had seen the whole thing from the carpark. Marie was very heavily pregnant and they were now waiting for a doctor to check her over. Mr. Prat was past himself.
"May I go and use the phone, DI Lowry?" He asked after Victoria had introduced herself.
"Yes of course. I'll chat to you later if you're free?" Victoria told him rather than asked him. Mr. Prat nodded and dashed for the door.
"I'm getting on to that hospital." He hissed at Victoria. "Do I look like a midwife? Ugh!" Victoria smiled and held the door open for him.
"Are you OK?" Victoria nodded towards Marie's baby-bump. "Apart from shocked out of your wits, I mean."
"Yes I'm fine. The police called the doctor. They insisted." Marie nodded.
"Wise precaution." Victoria sat on a crate of low-fat milk. "So you saw Phillip Moore coming out of the supermarket?"
"He came out at the same time as us." Florence said. "He lit a cigarette right infront of us and Marie tutted at him because it blew back in our faces."
"Mum pushed the trolley while I went to open the boot. We walked right past him. I took it his car was over by the metre and the bottle banks because that's where he was headed." Marie continued. "He got as far as the metre then he just sprinted off behind it. I saw him jumping over the fence and straight into the road. " Marie took a few deep breaths and her mother put her arm round her.
"The car dragged him along and we saw it." Florence said shakily.
"So was there anything strange about him before he got to the metre?" Victoria asked. "Did he seem agitated or nervous?"
"No." Florence shook her head. "He was just striding along, smoking his cigarette. The only reason we noticed him at all was because he blew smoke everywhere in the doorway."
"Thank you ladies." Victoria stood up. "Horrible shock for you both so I appreciate you helping me. Good luck with the baby." She passed two paramedics at the door, and noticed Derek Prat hiding behind the Fruit and Veg.
"Is she OK in there?" He peeped over the oranges.
"She's fine." Victoria reassured him. "I noticed the cameras out front. Did the other officers ask about the CCTV footage?"
"Yes they're taking it to the station. Those two there, I think." Derek pointed to two officers who were leaving the supermarket.
"Damn. I've missed them. I could have had a quick look before they took it. Oh well." Victoria sighed. Now she'd have to come up with a reason to butt into the Uniforms' viewing.
"Important announcement! Derek Prat speaking! Could the two officers at the door please wait a minute! Important announcement!" The tannoy boomed all over the supermarket. Victoria turned round to see Derek grinning and waving a microphone at her. The two officers were looking in all directions in confusion.
"Thank you Mr. Prat." Victoria tried to keep a straight face.
Sergeant Chris Green and Constable David Proctor were a bit confused, and a bit irritated at Victoria's intrusion. They sat in the supermarket's security office while a technician started the footage. It showed Phillip, Florence and Marie leaving the store, and Phillip lighting a cigarette. Marie could be seen waving smoke out of her face, just as Florence had said. The women headed for their car and Phillip looked perfectly fine as he walked away. He had one hand holding his cigarette and the other in his jeans pocket. A normal, casual, manner. He stopped abruptly infront of the metre and Victoria told the technician to freeze the footage.
The metre stood infront of a row of hedges and behind the hedges was a low barrier, a narrow pavement, then the road. Next to the metre was a row of recycling bins. At this point the metre and the bins were to Phillip's right, the bins being about six feet from him. Victoria commented on how shadowy the area behind the bins was. The technician told her that the supermarket were planning on either lighting that area or getting another camera there because people tended to dump rubbish there illegally. The footage continued and it showed Phillip drop his cigarette and run full tilt to his right, straight into the road.
"The driver had no chance of stopping ma'am. I have his statement." Chris Green said.
"I'd believe it." Victoria nodded. "Did anyone notice if there someone lurking about behind those bins?" Victoria asked the obvious.
"We asked. No one saw anything out of the ordinary." Chris told her. "Pardon my asking ma'am, but why have they sent CID?"
"Sergeant, does that look right to you?" Victoria frowned and pointed to the video screen. "He didn't stumble or fall into the road so it's hardly accidental."
"No, he ran into it. He jumped straight infront of that car." Chris said.
"Well if he decided to commit suicide then he only did so five seconds before he did it. It doesn't look right." Victoria repeated.
"A bit unusual, I admit." Chris conceded. "So do you take these tapes or do we?"
"You do." Victoria smiled. "I'm pleased I caught you before you left. Thank you." Victoria left the security office. Outside, she took a look behind the bins. Two heavy black bags had been dumped there and the ground back there was flattened and littered with broken twigs and general refuse. They'd find no forensics there even if a dozen people had used it as a hiding place. Victoria needed to see the DCI. She needed him to let her connect these events surrounding Phillip Moore.
DCI Bill Woods listened to DI Lowry, his big, stony face expressionless. Actually, he was cursing himself ten times over. His reasons for sending Victoria to Franks' Construction was genuine enough, she was only five minutes from the place. If he'd known one of the men involved was going to end up dead, he'd never have sent her. Bill knew that his DI had been seriously worn down by Dennis Hilton and he didn't want to hand her anything that would lead to a burn-out. Bill knew full well that when Victoria found out about Moore's death, she'd be curious. He decided to send her in straight away to establish it as either a suicide, or an accident, for herself. He should have known it wouldn't have been so cut and dried. Nothing ever was.
"His previous behaviour has to be taken into account, sir. I saw for myself how terrified he was and Jonathan Franks verified that he was a scared man. The night he spent in Stan Mitchell's cell may have been the first full night's sleep he'd had in ages. He was calm when he left Sergeant Mitchell and he was calm when he bought his cigarettes. Two eye witnesses and the CCTV saw him change in a split second. Something, or someone, terrified the life out of him, sir. He saw something out in the carpark that scared him so badly that he fled away from it in a blind panic." Victoria indicated her very extensive report that was spread out on the DCI's desk. Woods pursed his lips and looked at the papers. He didn't want this dragging on. If it was to be brought to CID then he needed officers who were used to grafting and used with getting the job done.
"Kennedy's men aren't on anything right now. I'll get DS McKenzie to sort out the paperwork." Woods said at length.
"Thank you, sir." Victoria said in relief.
DI Tony Kennedy had retired a few months ago and he'd been an excellent detective, as well as very popular man. His men seemed to be a bit unfocuseed just now and Victoria wasn't convinced that she was what they needed. The men had worked with Kennedy for a long time and still felt his absence on a personal level.
Victoria was introduced to DS Alex McKenzie first, in the DCI's office. He was a tall, sandy haired man with keen, green eyes and a lively disposition. Alex was thirty and Victoria felt ancient next to such a colourful person, even though she was only five years older.
The DCI outlined the situation to Alex, and Alex looked rather doubtful.
"It seems a bit thin, sir."
"Both events together raise enough doubt as to the straightforwardness of it." Woods said. "If it turns out to be a cut and dried suicide or accident then there's no harm done. You'd better introduce the DI to Kennedy's lot."
"This should be fun." Alex held the door open for Victoria.
Kennedy's men had taken personal occupation of an incident room they'd used a few years ago. It was an enclosed area containing desks, computers and filing cabinets. A windowed wall marked off a separate office at one end. The office still had 'DI T Kennedy' on its door plaque. The whole area was a mess. Bins were overflowing with rubbish, food containers were stacked on the desks and piles of paper cluttered every flat surface. Apart from DS McKenzie there were three other men, all DCs. The DS was the most smartly dressed because he wore a polo shirt instead of a T-shirt. All three men looked at Victoria in surprise, then at Alex with suspicion.
"We have a case lads." Alex announced. "I'll go over it with you shortly. This is DI Lowry." The men just looked from Alex to Victoria. "Fantastic. OK! This is DC Brian Tucker and he's the baby of the group." DC Tucker was five feet five but three feet wide. His cropped hair gave him the appearance and air of a bare knuckle boxer. "This is DC Charlie Thompson and he knows the place inside out." Charlie was a hard looking man in his mid forties and he looked the least impressed with Victoria. "And over there is DC Don Morgan." Don was around Victoria's age. He was as tall as Alex but only half his weight. "Your enthusiasm is overwhelming." Alex heaved. "Your office is up here, DI Lowry. I'll give the lads the rundown."
"Thank you." Victoria picked her way through the clutter and went into the end office. It wasn't quite as atrocious as the rest of the area but it was stale and stuffy. Victoria pushed open a window to let in the damp, outside air. The men outside were raising some noisy objections and Victoria exhaled loudly.
"How is that CID?" Don exclaimed. "My granny could work out that he topped himself."
"Yeah and we don't need Little Miss Muffet in there pulling rank." Charlie snorted. "Hasn't she got some typing or something to do?" That got a round of loud laughter.
"OK, knock it off." Alex was laughing too. "I know she's not quite Tony but she is a DI."
"You lot must be blind." Brian contributed. "The DCI has obviously given her this as a go easy. Any fool can see that. He's given her a soft option after that paedo crap and the hammering she got off the press."
"So we have to play along like a bunch of faries?" Charlie snapped. "It's not our fault she can't take the heat. She shouldn't be where she is if she's going to buckle." They all fell silent when Victoria came out of the office. She walked past the men and opened the outer door.
"Excuse me!" She got the attention of someone out in the corridor. "Thank you. Can you take a message to Sergeant Chris Green, please? Ask him if he can spare me Constable Proctor for a few hours. He can phone me if he needs to." Victoria nodded and came back into the room.
"Uniform?" Brian asked.
"Yes, uniform." Victoria looked over the men. "From now on you'll turn out here suitably dressed. I don't mean a three piece tuxedo suit but at least make an effort. Shirts and ties. No jeans and no trainers."
"W ... what?" Charlie said in disbelief and got to his feet. "We aren't a bloody fashion show!"
"Also, get this dump cleaned up. If you can't dispose of your food containers and cups after yourselves then I'll prohibit food in this area and you can use the canteen." Victoria stood her ground.
"Hey! You can't ..." Brian began.
"Yes I can. Try me." Victoria looked evenly at Brian, who soon looked at his desk. "How can you expect people to respond to you when you look like you've no pride in yourselves? If you don't respect yourselves, how do you expect others to? " Constable David Proctor tapped on the door. "Who would you take seriously? Someone who looked like this?" Victoria indicated David's uniform. "Or someone dressed in jeans and a faded T-Shirt? Come on, Constable Proctor, I'll explain on the way." She left with the baffled Constable and Kennedy's lads were stunned.
"She can't do that!" Charlie exploded eventually.
"Actually, she can." Alex shrugged.
"And you're going to stand there and let her?" Charlie demanded.
"She doesn't need my permission." Alex said in annoyance. "I'll talk to her when she gets back. OK?"
"You'd better." Charlie grumbled. "Stuck up bitch."
"Hey! Now no, Charlie." Alex said flatly. "Less of that talk and I mean it. The bottom line is she's the boss just now. I'm sure we can find some middle ground but talking like that isn't going to cut it. Come on, get this place tidied up a bit." He pulled a face as he peeled a hotdog box off the window sill.
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©Alex Harvey 2011