Victoria came close to cancelling her supper date, on quite a few occasions. She should have been in the town, or at the station, or ... something. She caught sight of her reflection, scowling at the phone.
"You look haggard, Lowry. You look like an old woman." She muttered. "Make-up. I know I have some somewhere." Victoria eventually found some years old make-up and the only dress she owned. It was a red summer dress with a purple stripe at the neck and she was quite surprised at how different it made her look. All she ever wore was professional style clothes. Her wardrobe consisted of trouser suits and smart blouses. Victoria picked up a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine, then left her house before she changed her mind.
"Hiya boss." Alex opened the door. "Come ... hell you look different."
"Yes, I have legs." Victoria handed the wine to Alex.
"Hello sweety!" Sally came bustling though from the kitchen. "Carnations! Oh you shouldn't have! I'll go and put them in water. Alex get the girl a drink, for goodness sake!"
"Yes mother." Alex rolled his eyes and made Victoria laugh. "My house!" He added quietly as his mother went into the kitchen. "She's made enough food to feed the entire station." He handed Victoria a glass of wine. "Come and sit up at the table. I'll go and see if she needs a hand." Soon they were all enjoying a huge roast beef dinner. The last full dinner Victoria had eaten was at a christmas party about eight years ago. Dinners for one seemed a bit pointless to Victoria.
"Alex you're useless." Sally said casually.
"For any reason in particular?" Alex asked in bewilderment.
"Well I can't call her Boss, can I? Neither should you out of hours." Sally pointed her fork at her son.
"OK. Detective Inspector Lowry, then." Alex smirked at Victoria.
"Victoria." Victoria smiled.
"Oo! I have a sister called Victoria. Your Aunt Victoria, Alex."
"Yes mum, I know she's my aunt Victoria. I'm sure the bo ... Victoria ... doesn't want to know about all ninety million members of our family." Alex shook his head.
"Charlie's granddaughter is called Victoria too. Vikki." Victoria said.
"Is she? He didn't tell me." Alex said in surprise.
"Why would he? You're a man." Sally observed.
"Huh? Well so is Charlie." Alex said in confusion.
"Yes but he's her granddad. It's different."
"Er ... yes OK." Alex gave it up as a bad job. "I'll chuck these through the dishwasher. You go and put your feet up, mother." Alex began clearing the table.
"Dishwasher." Sally snorted. "When you lot were growing up I was the dishwasher." Sally and Victoria went to sit on the couch with their drinks.
"That was beautiful, Mrs. McKenzie. Thank you."
"Sally and you're welcome. I know you police officers often forget to function outside of work. Look at Alex, he's a hermit." Sally laughed.
"It isn't the most sociable of jobs." Victoria agreed.
"Takes its toll on friendships." Sally said wisely. "There again, that harpy he was shacked up with is no big miss."
"I suppose it takes a patient partner." Victoria said awkwardly.
"You haven't found anyone either?" Sally asked and Victoria shook her head. "That's a shame."
"Mum, stop interrogating the guests." Alex glanced uncomfortably at Victoria.
"I'm not." Sally protested. "It's wrong for people of your age to be lonely and police work is a lonely job."
"I'm not lonely." He said awkwardly. One thing he did know about Victoria was that she liked her privacy.
"No because you're a voluntary hermit, Alex. You have friends but you choose to ignore them." Sally preached.
"Yes OK, mum." Alex grimaced. "Hey can you remember dad ignoring your sisters at that barbecue?" He steered the conversation away from lonely Victoria and onto a subject that his mother was certain to be distracted by. Victoria's estimation of her DS went up a few more points.
"He did." Sally laughed. "That was our Margie's fault. Oh she's the oldest." She nodded at Victoria who nodded back dumbly. "She organised a huge barbecue and didn't invite our Greg."
"Greg's my brother." Alex explained.
"Oh I see. I didn't know you had a brother." Victoria said, trying to keep up.
"One brother and four sisters." Alex smiled at the astonished look on Victoria's face. "All invited to Aunt Margie's do, except brother Greg. He was in disgrace for messing about with a married woman."
"Alex, you're telling it all wrong." Sally tutted. "She had a husband in the Isle Of Man and didn't tell anybody, Greg included. Our Liz was going to slap her silly."
"Liz is the youngest sister." Alex laughed. "You still up to date?"
"Just." Victoria blinked a few times. "So are you the oldest?"
"No. Me and Greg are stuck in the middle. In descending order, Margaret, Jane, Greg, me, Kerry, Liz."
"Good grief." Victoria was in shock. "Here's my list. Me. End of list. My mum wasn't around long and my dad was a DI. How dull."
"Your dad was a copper?" Alex said in surprise.
"He was shot during a drug's raid." Victoria explained.
"Ah that's a shame." Sally said sympathetically.
"Yes it is. Sorry boss." Alex agreed.
"My John passed in his sleep and I'm grateful for that." Sally said. "So you joined the force to follow in his shoes?"
"It seems so, yes." Victoria smiled.
"Well he would have been proud of you sweety." Sally said sagely. "Alex will drive you if you want some more wine."
"No, I'm fine. I'm not the world's biggest drinker." Victoria declined. "Anyway, I'm sure Alex doesn't want to just sit there while we get sloshed."
"Taxis are easily ordered." Alex shrugged. "You're welcome to more wine, boss."
"I've had plenty, thanks. I should be getting going." Victoria said.
"Must you? We don't mind having you here." Sally offered.
"What's this 'we' mother? You don't live here remember?" Alex rolled his eyes.
"Thanks for the meal, Sally. It was fantastic." Victoria followed Alex to the door. "Thanks Alex."
"She didn't bombard you while I was in the kitchen, did she? She sees everyone as a waif and stray and she means no harm." Alex said.
"No of course she didn't." Victoria assured him. "See you tomorrow." She got into her a car then started beating herself up. She hadn't realised she was so transparent. Sally McKenzie had her weighed up in no time. Victoria the loner with no friends. "Pity Party Lowry. You big drip." She cursed herself and drove home.
Victoria slept well, courtesy of the two glasses of wine. She really had enjoyed her evening but she knew she should have enjoyed it more and that was completely down to herself. Work was far easier to handle.
"I'll be going into the town as soon as I get the nod from the DCI." She told the men. "Alex, collect anything we might need. You're coming with me." She picked up her files and headed off to see Woods.
"We'll be at this forever." Brian grumbled, staring a his computer.
"Bloody desk work." Charlie snapped. "How come you get the day out and we're stuck in here?" He asked Alex. "Or need we ask. You must be getting something out of it."
"Hand me that folder please, Charlie." Victoria obviously hadn't gone as far out of the office as they presumed. Judging by her face, she'd heard what Charlie said. "Thank you." She took the file and walked away.
"I've had enough of this." Alex opened the door and looked up the corridor to make sure Victoria was on her way to the DCI's office. "You, mate, just watch your trap!" He pointed at Charlie.
"Hey! Who are you talking to?" Charlie said defensively.
"One of my Detective Constables and that was a Detective Inspector!" Alex snapped.
"She's a snotty kid playing cops and robbers!" Charlie shouted.
"For a DC, you can be really stupid, Charlie. Do you know what got her promoted? Any smart comments and you are out of here. No joke." Alex shouted back.
"Well she wasn't in our department." Charlie deflected.
"I'll take that as a no. Seven years sitting six feet from the vilest, sickest bastard this area has ever know. She was twenty eight years old when she was flung in at the deep end, and a very close range, on the Dennis Hilton case. You know that Charlie! The press were all over her because of 'lack of results'. Bull bloody shit! Hours, weeks, months, years listening to that twisted bastard until she got two confessions from him. Could you have done that? Could you have gone through not only the sickening hard evidence, but also Hilton's warped and perverted recollections of what he'd done? Could you, Charlie?"
"The evidence was enough without the confessions." Charlie said stubbornly.
"Try telling that to the families who'd lost everything." Alex had never felt so pissed off with anyone in his whole life. "Just as recently as last week, she got a third confession out of him. He killed Emily Jones. Do you know what he did a few days ago? I do, I was there. He summoned her just so he could tell her he'd take the kid's whereabouts to the grave with him. And he did. She also had to tell that family that their dead daughter is still rotting in the wilds somewhere. Could any of us have done that? She's a bloody good detective and she has more balls than the rest of us put together! She does not need your shit, Charlie! You think about it. You have a daughter too." Alex was quite out of breath.
"OK I catch your drift." Charlie said moodily. "Don't drag my family into it."
"Not nice is it? Make good of your desk work and think yourself lucky you aren't out there looking for dead children. You'll have to text our phones, the reception's shit down there." Alex left and banged the door behind him.
DCI Woods reluctantly accepted the link between Phillip Moore and Helen Walby.
"I had hoped this was going to be straightforward." He said.
"Police work never is." Victoria retrieved her notes from the DCI's desk.
"How are you getting on with Kennedy's lads?" Woods asked.
"Fine, sir. They're good workers." Victoria replied.
"You also have a uniform sergeant and a constable on the Jones case." Woods shuffled his notes.
"As part of a task force, yes." Victoria said, slightly defensively.
"Hilton's gone, Lowry. There's only so much you can take on. It's no good clinging to dead wood."
"I don't see it as dead wood, sir. I see it as hope and so do the Jones family. May I go?" Victoria stated rather than asked. Woods nodded her dismissal.
Alex and Victoria took Alex's car and set off for the town.
"You'll like the pub we're staying in. The Boatman's Arms. The proprietor cooks on the same scale as your mum." Victoria smiled. "You can book the rooms, if you would?"
"OK. What about you?"
"I'm going to see Mark. Mark Fielding, that is. Local doctor." Victoria watched the landscape as it sped by.
"Oh?" Alex thought he detected an overly casual tone. "Well it'll only take a few minutes to book rooms. I could come with you."
"No there's no need." Victoria shrugged.
"Fair enough. I'll stay at the hotel, you take the car." Alex headed for the Boatman's Arms. Victoria shuffled over to the driver's seat and left Alex to see to the rooms. She was rather relieved to be by herself for a while. Why had that felt a bit awkward? She drove to the hospital and was eager to see Mark again.
"Victoria!" Mark spotted her as soon as she entered the building. "Great to see you back. You look fantasic." He said happily.
"Why thank you." Victoria smiled. "I'm sorry about cutting out the last time. An emergency cropped up."
"Oh don't worry about it. I know exactly how that is." Mark pushed open the office door. "I hope this visit isn't purely professional?"
"Just partially." Victoria felt very flattered at this attention. "I need to go and see Helen Walby. I know you can't discuss her as a patient, but I'd like to know how approachable she is."
"Well she's not dangerous, if that's what you mean." Mark said. "She's very highly strung and she flits from one subject to another, making it hard to keep up."
"So she won't feel intimidated by me? I don't want to panic her."
"I wouldn't have thought so, no. Just remember that she's somewhat paranoid and obviously the drink amplifies that." Mark said. "She lives in a bedsit over on Newark Street. It's the big corner house that's been converted into bedsits." Victoria made a note of it. "Now I think that dinner date has been postponed for long enough."
"I completely agree." Victoria smiled.
"My favourite restaurant is a little Italian place about half a mile out of town." Mark said and Victoria nodded eagerly. "I'll pick you up at the Boatman's. " He rested his hands on Victoria's arms. "I'm not usually this spontaneous, you know. I've honestly missed you."
"You have?" Victoria was very pleased indeed. People often wondered where she was. or what she was up to, but no one ever missed her. Was that because Mark had linked to Victoria, and not DI Lowry? "Well it's great to see you too, Mark. I'm looking forward to dinner." Victoria left the hospital feeling the happiest she felt in a long time.
Victoria picked up Alex from the Boatman's Arms and they set off for Helen Walby's bedsit.
"So were Phillip Moore and the doctor mates?" Alex asked.
"Not quite that close, no, but they knew each other." Victoria answered.
"So what's he like?"
"Mark? Well he's a doctor." Victoria shrugged. "He's very nice, actually. He made good for himself then returned to his own town. He's a very popular man."
"Local hero." Alex commented.
"I suppose so. Just over here, I think. Briery House." Victoria pointed to rather sad looking building that badly needed a coat of paint. The house had a communal front door which was open, and inside there was a door to the left and the right marked as numbers 1 and 2. Victoria and Alex walked up a flight of stairs and found bedsit 3, and up another flight of stairs to get to Helen's bedsit, number 4. Alex rang the bell three times before any movement was heard.
"I hope she hasn't been on the bottle." Alex said.
"Me too." Victoria nodded as the door opened a few inches. "Miss Walby? I'm Detective Inspector Lowry and this is Detective Sergeant McKenzie. May we come in a moment, please?" Both Detectives showed Helen their badges and she pushed the door shut to take off the safety lock. The flat was like a bomb site. Overflowing ashtrays were balanced on every flat surface and empty cans and bottles were shoved into corners. Magazines and newspapers littered the floor and clothes were strewn over the backs of furniture. Helen was a mess. She was dressed in an oversized shirt and pyjama pants and her hair was tattered and unbrushed. Her red rimmed eyes darted from Victoria to Alex, and her hands shook as she lit a cigarette.
"Phillip, right?" Helen perched on the edge of a battered couch.
"You wrote to him before he died." Victoria said.
"It was either him or me. He's gone. I'm next." Helen muttered.
"What do you think is going to happen to you, Helen?" Victoria asked and Helen started to cry.
"Not think. I know. I'm going to die. I'm going to be killed. He's told me he's close and he is. He can see me."
"Who?" Victoria asked. "Helen, who is he?"
"Franks!" Helen sobbed. "Gavin Franks! Phonecalls, letters, and he's even been here among my things!"
"Have you seen him? We were told he'd be physically incapable of following anyone around unnoticed." Alex said.
"I don't need to see him! I've heard him and he's been here!" Helen clambered over to a scratched set of drawers. "See? See this?" She flung a letter at Alex. It was almost identical to the one received by Phillip, signed G.F.
"Can I keep this?" Victoria asked, and Helen nodded absently. "Helen why would Gavin Franks want to harm you and Phillip?"
"Oh god." Helen crumpled to the floor and sobbed heavily. Alex went to help her but Victoria stayed him with her hand.
"I saw the letter you sent to Phillip. You said there were others. Why would Gavin Franks be after you?"
"No! I can't tell. I can't tell you!" Helen wailed.
"You have to Helen! I need that reason. Was it Alison Bell?" Victoria asked and Helen went white, then nodded. Alex looked at Victoria in surprise. "Tell me, Helen."
"Gavin did kill Alison. He was acquitted but he did kill her." Helen said, fumbling under the sofa for a can of strong lager. "We were a gang, you see? We were kids. Gavin was older but he was a bit slow in the head. He wanted to be in the gang. He wanted us to accept him so he killed Alison and told us. He thought we'd be impressed. He told us about it. He said he hit her with a rock then buried her with branches."
"This is your class photo isn't it?" Victoria nodded at Alex who produced the photograph he'd cleaned up. Helen just nodded. "Can you tell me who's who?" Helen nodded again and blew her nose.
"That's Alison at the front there. This one here is Brian Fox. Carol Nixon is behind Alison and Denise Porter is beside her. Eric Summers is behind Brian and there's Phillip on the back row because he was so tall. That's me on the end next to Brenda Cobbs and Andrea Collins is the little one in front of Brenda."
"That's great, Helen. Just to clarify this, Gavin Franks told nine children that he'd killed Alison Bell? You and eight others. Is that right?" Victoria asked carefully.
"Nine, yes. Six of them are dead. I'm next." Helen swallowed hard.
"And you think Jonathan Franks is covering for Gavin?"
"Of course he is. He always has done." Helen said in dejection.
"Helen, I'm leaving you my mobile number. The reception's awful round here but texting works." Victoria put her card in a gap on the coffee table.
"It won't do any good but thank you." Helen watched Victoria and Alex leave.
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©Alex Harvey 2011