The Boatman's Arms was a pretty little pub and quite quiet. Victoria had no trouble getting one of the four rooms that were available for let. Mrs. Margaret Ward seemed to run the place single handed as receptionist, porter, barmaid and cook. Victoria had missed dinner but Margaret offered to 'knock her something up'. Victoria thanked her and went to use the phone on the corner of the bar.
"Alex? Everything OK?"
"Yep! All under control. The lads are quite impressed that you're playing hookie." Alex laughed.
"I bet they are." Victoria smiled. "I have a name for you to check out. She may be an acquaintance of Phillip Moore. Helen, with an H, Walby. W.A.L.B.Y."
"Got it. I'll pass it on to Brian in the morning. There's just me and Charlie here now." Alex told her. "There's not alot to those cases, except the Bell Case, of course. Brian noticed they were all the same age but apart from ..."
"What? What did you say?" Victoria interrupted.
"Same age. If they were alive, they'd all be forty." Alex clarified.
"So was Phillip Moore." Victoria observed. "Give me the names again, Alex."
"Alison Bell, Brian Fox, Carol Nixon, Denise Porter, Eric Summers. Do you want me to look into local connections?"
"I could do that from here more effectively." Victoria wrote down the names and added Phillip Moore then, in brackets, Helen Walby.
"Anything urgent for tonight? I think Charlie's wanting away. His daughter is due to give birth any time." Alex asked.
"No, I think we've enough to be going on with." Victoria replied.
"OK. I'll pass on your best wishes to Charlie, boss." Alex said and Victoria cringed at her own lack of compassion.
"Yes, please do. I'll be in touch." Victoria hung up and went to sit down. She came eye to crust with the hugest sandwich she'd ever seen. The bread was like two doorsteps and the filling spilled all over the plate. It looked delicious.
"You'll be here about Phillip Moore then." Margaret said conversationally. "I heard he'd been carrying on up at Franks' Yard. What a sad thing to happen to him. Poor bugger."
"You knew him?" Victoria tackled her sandwich.
"Not well. He was a local lad but he moved away to go to college." Margaret leant on the bar.
"Did he stay in touch with anyone? Mr. Franks thinks he may have been in touch with Helen Walby. Does that sound right to you?" Victoria dropped half the filling down her chin.
"Not right, exactly, but possible I suppose. She's a funny one is Helen. Between me and you, she has a problem with the drink." Margaret said quietly. "I won't serve her in here. She's getting treatment from the hospital so it would do no good for me to supply her booze, would it?"
"Very responsible of you, Mrs. Ward." Victoria nodded. "What about Jonathan Franks? What's he like?"
"As straight as they come. He takes no nonsense from anyone, especially if it's drink fueled. He's fair though, I'll give him that. He could have had Helen locked up many a time, but hasn't. His business has kept alot of jobs in town, DI Lowry. He didn't deserve all the rubbish with his brother the first time, let alone after thirty years." Margaret shook her head.
"I suppose Helen's accusations didn't help." Victoria said.
"No, it didn't. She was after attention, that's all. She was only a kid so she didn't realise how serious that sort of talk was. I don't know if she was trying to help Alison Bell or if she was a bit jealous of the attention she was getting, even after the poor little mite was gone."
"It could have been shock too." Victoria observed. "Where they friends?"
"Well they were of an age. So was Phillip come to think of it. You had enough to eat? I can soon throw you another one together." Margaret offered.
"It was delicious, Mrs. Ward. I couldn't eat another thing. Thank you." Victoria smiled.
"No wonder you're such a scrap." Margaret tutted. "You high fliers don't know how to eat properly. What you need is a good tatie-pot down you. I'll have it on the menu tomorrow."
"I'll look forward to it. Good night, Mrs. Ward." Victoria headed for her room on the first floor of the Boatman's Arms.
Victoria slept well, given that it was an unfamiliar environment. Margaret served up a predictably hefty breakfast and Victoria was struggling with it.
"Mrs. Ward, you mentioned last night that Alison and Helen were of an age. Would they have been classmates?" Victoria asked, pushing down the last of her bacon.
"Quite possibly. Phyllis Stone could tell you better. She was headmistress at the school for decades. She only retired a few years ago." Margaret began clearing the table. "She lives just along from the school on Craddock Street. Her house is right next to the bus stop. She'll probably appreciate the company and talk your head off." She laughed. "Is Helen in any trouble? I know her and Jonathan don't get on."
"No she's not in trouble. I just want to ask her a few questions about Phillip Moore." Victoria stood up and felt bloated. "I can't remember the last time I ate breakfast. That was splendid."
"You don't eat breakfast? Not good, DI Lowry, especially for a busy working woman." Margaret scolded. "Craddock Street. Straight down the main road here."
Mrs. Phyllis Stone was a sprightly sixty six year old. She was just getting off her bicycle as Victoria was knocking on her door.
"Mrs. Stone? I'm DI Victoria Lowry. Could you spare me a few minutes, please?" Victoria showed the retired headmistress her ID.
"Police? Well ... yes of course. Please come in." Mrs. Stone unlocked the door and lead the way into a clean and tidy cottage. "Phillip Moore, I take it? What a shame."
"Absolutely." Victoria agreed. "I need to verify something, Mrs. Stone. I found a list of names in Phillip's flat and I think they all may have been classmates. The first name on the list was Alison Bell."
"Oh my." Mrs. Stone sat down and sighed sadly. "That brings back some very sad memories. Yes, her and Phillip were in the same class."
"What about Brian Fox?"
"Brian? Yes I remember Brian. His family moved away, closer to the city, because of Mr. Fox's job. He'd have been twelve ot thirteen. What's Brian got to do with it?" Mrs. Stone asked in confusion.
"He died nineteen years ago, Mrs. Stone. Carol Nixon, Denise Porter and Eric Summers are also dead." Victoria told her and saw the shock register on her face.
"Good grief! I read about Eric in the papers and Denise was still living here when she died so I knew about them. I didn't know about Brian and Carol. Oh my Lord!"
"And now Phillip, all from the same class." Victoria said.
"I'd never have made the connection." Mrs. Stone shook her head.
"Gavin Franks' name keeps cropping up. Phillip caused quite a scene up at the yard."
"So I believe. News travels fast around here. Gavin was older. I taught him too to some extent but he spent a lot of time in hospital." Mrs. Stone nodded.
"Can you think why Phillip would say that Gavin was harassing him only last week?" Victoria asked.
"Is that what he said? I've no idea why he'd say such an odd thing. No one's heard from Gavin for years. I'm not even sure if Jonathan has any contact with him either. It was an awful time, DI Lowry, an absolute nightmare." Mrs. Stone said sadly.
"Was Helen Walby in the same class?"
"I see why you asked. It's common knowledge that Helen has aggravated Jonathan on quite a few occasions." Mrs. Stone sighed and shook her head. "Yes she was."
"I know about the accusation she made against Gavin."
"Nasty thing to do but she was only a child. Having said that, so was Gavin. Helen has a lot of issues, Inspector. She's an alcoholic for a start. I think that's why Jonathan's been patient with her in the past." Mrs. Stone shrugged her shoulders.
"Are there anymore classmates still in town?"
"They tend to leave town when they go into further education and they don't come back, unfortunately. Apart from Franks' Construction and tourism, there's not much in the way of jobs here. We do have a precious exception." Mrs. Stone smiled. "Dr. Mark Fielding works up at the hospital. He did well for himself and came back. We're all quite proud of him."
"I'll call up there and talk to him, if he has time. Thank you, Mrs. Stone. I appreciate you talking to me." Victoria stood up.
"Just a minute. I don't know if these will help." Mrs. Stone opened a drawer in a dresser. "I don't have class lists anymore but I have these." She handed Victoria a file containing childrens' pictures. "The school photographer was due in school so the class painted their own class 'photographs' as a project. We cancelled the photographer because of Alison's death so the paintings are quite meaningful to me. If you can use them for names then you can borrow them."
"Thank you. These could be very useful. Did the photographer come every year?" Victoria thought she'd seen a photograph in the box from Phillip's flat.
"Yes, except that year. I hope you don't need his name because I've no idea."
"No I won't need his name." Victoria stood at the front door. "How did the other kids treat Gavin?"
"Children can be very cruel, unfortunately. Jonathan usually put them in their places, often physically." Mrs. Stone told her.
"So he stook up for his brother?" Victoria asked.
"To be honest, I think he saw it as an obligation. I'm sure Jenny reinforced that too. She was extremely protective over Gavin which is understandable, the lad was handicapped. She was abnormally overbearing though and she'd let Gavin do anything he liked, right or wrong. She couldn't see any wrong in him at all." Mrs. Stone said.
"And was there wrong in him?"
"I don't know if wrong is the correct word. He could be very difficult. He'd often take out his frustrations on the little ones, the new starters. Handicapped or not, he's dished out a few kicks and punches to the younger kids. Jonathan was left with the repercussions." Mrs. Stone shook her head sadly. "Quite a tragic little family."
"So it seems. Thank you Mrs. Stone. I'll get these pictures back to you safely." Victoria walked to her car and Mrs. Stone waved her off.
The hospital was a decent size and more up to date than Victoria had assumed. She showed her ID to a pretty receptionist then took a seat in a blue and white waiting room while Dr. Mark Fielding was located. Victoria was feeling quite drowsy, courtesy of Mrs. Ward's breakfast. After twenty minutes, she had to stand up to stop herself from nodding off to sleep. A man in a white coat appeared through a set of double doors and hurried towards her, obviously Mark Fielding. Victoria's professional appraisal of detail soon overlapped into a personal appreciation and Mark Fielding was certainly worth appreciating. He was around six feet tall, maybe an inch or two more, and he had collar length, dark hair and healthy tanned skin. When he got a bit closer, Victoria noticed attractive, light brown eyes behind silver rimmed glasses. Mark smiled and Victoria prayed she wasn't grinning like an idiot.
"DI Lowry. Please forgive me for keeping you waiting. Emergency on maternity. I'm Mark Fielding. My office is just down here." He shook Victoria's hand and lead her round a corner and into a tidy and spotless office. He sat on the edge of his desk and indicated a chair for Victoria. "What can I do for you?"
"I believe you were a classmate of Phillip Moore's?" Victoria began.
"I was, yes. Poor Phillip." Mark said sadly.
"He was quite agitated up at Jonathan Franks' yard. Mr. Franks told me he's received similar attention from Helen Walby. Do you know if Phillip and Helen were in contact?" Victoria asked.
"Helen? Hell I wouldn't know." Mark said in surprise. "A bit of an odd friendship, if they were. Phillip was always an academic. It wasn't a surprise when he did well at university then went into computers. Helen has a few problems. She doesn't form friendships easily."
"She has an alcohol addiction." Victoria prompted.
"Yes. Obviously I can't discuss that with you, I'm sure you understand. It does make her quite irrational at times, though, I can tell you that." Mark told her.
"Well this particular irrationality was shared by Phillip Moore." Victoria pointed out.
"I honestly wouldn't know." Mark shook his head. "He didn't live here so I wouldn't know about any medical problems. I haven't seen him for years."
"What about Gavin Franks?"
"Jonathan, you mean?"
"No. Gavin, Jonathan's brother." Victoria clarified.
"Well for a kick off, they aren't full brothers. Different fathers. He hasn't been here for years. I presume you know about all that, seeing as you brought his name up?" Mark asked and Victoria nodded. "I can't see why that has to be raked over. That family suffered enough at the time. Gavin was acquitted, and quite rightly too. He was a cripple. Inspector. He was marked out as different and persecuted for it. I know the type of things Helen Walby says. It's impossible. Gavin was physically impaired at thirteen and he'll be worse now. I could give you a ton of texts on his condition if you like. It's degenerative."
"You seem to have quite a bit of sympathy for him." Victoria smiled.
"I'm not saying he was a paragon of virtue. He was never that. Think of the frustration he's had to deal with all his life. In my personal, not professional, opinion, Gavin, and his family should have been given far more support and councelling than they did. Support for Jonathan too, and for Jenny Harrison." Mark said sympathetically.
"Their mother. None of them had it easy. Both fathers left her to it. If I'm not mistaken, Gavin's dad left Jenny when she was pregnant. I suppose she did her best raising two boys on her own, especially as one had a handicap. They were all treated very unfairly." Mark said.
"Do you think it's possible that Phillip and Helen could be dragging all this up to harm Jonathan? He's the only family member left here." Victoria asked.
"Helen, possibly. Like I said, I haven't seen Phillip for years so I've no idea what he was like." Mark's pager began beeping in his pocket. "You caught me at a bad time, Inspector."
"Victoria, please." Victoria smiled and hoped she didn't sound as awkward as she felt. "Thanks for your time. I know you're busy."
"Well I'm not always busy. Maybe we could talk properly over a drink, or something?" Mark smiled.
"C ... can I contact you?" Victoria stuttered for the first time in her life. "I have a few things to do." Mark took a card off his desk with the hospital number on it and added his own number in biro.
"Do all city detectives look like you?" He laughed and Victoria felt herself blushing!
"We'd have a force full of runts if they did." She smiled. "I'll be in touch." Victoria left the hospital feeling very giddy and a bit light headed. "Emotions, Lowry. Remember them?" She muttered to herself as she got in the car. She had a text from Alex, telling her that the DCI was looking for her. Victoria swore under her breath and looked at the feeble signal on her phone. She drove to the end of the road to the phonebox.
"Alex? Victoria. What does he want?" She sighed.
"You." Alex answered. "I told him you were talking to witnesses but he'll only have that for so long. You'd better show up at the station."
"Pain in the bloody arse." Victoria heaved. That would mean her missing her date with Mark. "OK, Alex, thanks. I'll call him now and get him off your back." She hung up and called the hospital first. She left an urgent message with the receptionist to give to Mark regarding her return to the city. Victoria chewed her lip and looked at the phone in her hand. Woods would probably have worked out where she was. He wasn't a stupid man. She grit her teeth and phoned the station.
"Lowry! Where the hell have you been?" The DCI barked.
"I'm stuck in traffic, sir." Victoria lied.
"Well get unstuck. Dennis Hilton has sent for you." Woods said and Victoria's temper rocketed.
"With respect, sir, I'm not retained, or paid by Dennis blasted Hilton. He doesn't send for me."
"Asked for you then. Save the pedantic crap Lowry! Get over to that prison." Woods snapped.
"On my way." Victoria threw the phone back onto it's hook and swore horribly.
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©Alex Harvey 2011