Chapter 7

"This is surreal." Alex said in shock as they drove back to the Boatman's Arms. "Just how disabled is Gavin Franks?"

"According to most people, disabled enough. Jonathan isn't though." Victoria said.

"What? So you think Jonathan's doing this to protect Gavin?" Alex asked.

"He's done it all his life, Alex, including giving him an alibi for Alison's murder. We need to check on the whereabouts of Brenda Cobb and Andrea Collins." Victoria exhaled loudly.

"Be careful boss. The others were closed as accidents or suicides. Woods will haul you over." Alex reminded her.

"They said that about Phillip Moore too. I know Helen Walby isn't the most rational of witnesses but come on! She gave us a list of ten and only three are still alive. You don't have to be a cynic to dismiss the idea of a coincidence." They parked the car outside the Boatman's and got out.

"Are we going to talk to Jonathan Franks?" Alex asked.

"We've got nothing to go with just now. He's a hard, shrewd man, Alex. If I go at him and I can't follow it through, we'll lose him" Victoria headed for the stairs.

"I'll grab a table for dinner." Alex said.

"I'm not eating here. I'm having dinner with Mark." Victoria called over her shoulder. "Grab a few pints, Alex, you've earned them."

"Do you want a table?" Margaret Ward was standing behind Alex with a menu.

"Yes please. Table for one." Alex shrugged.

Victoria realised why Mark had suggested driving himself. The road that lead out of the town was little more than a thin, winding dirt track and it was unlit. The beautiful restaurant seemed to shimmer into view from nowhere and it was as beautiful inside too.

"I love this place." Mark pulled Victoria's chair out for her. "I wouldn't know what to recommend because it's all good."

"I'll leave that up to you." Victoria smiled.

"I'll do my best." Mark picked up the menu. "How did you get on with Helen?"

"She's a wreck." Victoria said. Mark nodded and ordered for them both. "Gavin Franks crops up in everything. Is he as restricted as people are making out?"

"Almost certainly, as I told you. I'll have to get a couple of bottles of this wine. It's very good." Mark refilled the glasses.

"So he'll be dependent on someone, probably Jenny. He'd have to either live with her, or very close to her." Victoria reasoned.

"Well I've no idea about him in particular, I haven't seen him for years. I should think he could need alot of help though." Mark nodded. "Food OK?"

"Yes it's fantastic. People keep feeding me lately. I'm going to be like a balloon." Victoria laughed.

"I doubt that. You look wonderful." Mark told her.

"Thank you." She smiled. "Mark would Gavin's disability affect his voice or his handwriting?"

"Victoria, he isn't here. You've seen for yourself how well known he is. He'd be recognised straight away by a hundred people." Mark assured her.

"That's why I asked about speech and handwriting."

"Handwriting, possibly. Speech would depend on his personal condition and I've no way of knowing that." Mark repeated.

"Do you think Jonathan would write letters on his behalf? I can't quite figure out that relationship." Victoria noticed that Mark was just looking at her so she automatically wiped her chin. "What?"

"Victoria, switch off." Mark smiled and refilled the glasses. "Seriously, give your brain a rest and enjoy your dinner."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bore you to death." Victoria sighed.

"You could never do that." Mark reached over and stroked her hand. "You do need to unwind though."

"I know. Sorry. No more cop talk. In fact, I don't know why I'm rattling on about it. I really do want to get to know you better." Victoria smiled.

"I can't believe my luck, actually. Women like you are almost certainly not single." Mark said.

"They are if they're in the police force." Victoria nodded. "I'm probably in the same boat as you. We're both single but with very demanding careers."

"So we'll both know what to expect." Mark raised his glass and Victoria joined him. "So have you delegated all your duties to your Sergeant? I heard he was here with you."

"Alex. No he's having a few pints in the Boatman's. We don't work all the time, you know. Um well they don't work all the time." Victoria rolled her eyes and made Mark laugh. "See why I'm a social failure? You've no idea."

"Well I'm quite a hermit too. Demanding job, like you say. Also it's different for me round here. All the girls I know here used to nick my dinner money and use my shoelaces for hair ribbons." Mark said grimly.

"I never thought of that." Victoria conceded. "What made you come back here to work?"

"I've always classed this as my home. I've never considered living anywhere else, even when I was away studying. I own the house too, so that's a big factor. All this property ladder stuff seems completely horrendous to me." Mark told her.

"You own it outright?" Victoria asked.

"Yes. It was left to me by my parents."

"Forgive me. I take it they're no longer here."

"Nothing to forgive. Mum went ten years ago and dad followed a year later. It was a long time ago, so talking about it doesn't upset me." Mark shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

"I have no parents either. We do have a lot in common, Dr. Fielding." Victoria commented.

"And I hope we find much, much more, DI Lowry."

Alex was closing the curtains in his room when he saw the car headlights. He saw a very good looking man get out of a Jaguar, then open the door for Victoria. He saw the talk, and the laugh, then the awkward stance. Alex closed the curtains.

"Shit happens, Alex." He sighed.

Victoria had a wino headache the following morning and eyed her huge breakfast with some trepidation. Alex got stuck into his with gusto.

"Nice night?" He asked conversationally.

"Fantastic. It's a lovely restaurant." Victoria decided on lots of tea instead. "We need to get the lads to track down Brenda Cobbs and Andrea Collins."

"Already done. I called in last night and got Charlie."

"Charlie? Why was he in late?"

"I think all the baby talk at home is getting to him." Alex laughed. "Actually he told me not to let you flog yourself to death over all this."

"Right. I bet he did." Victoria smiled.

"Seriously. Yes he did. He's not a bad bloke under all that male bluster." Alex said.

"I'll take your word for it."

"DI Lowry? Phonecall in the lobby for you. It's Dr. Fielding." Margaret waved from the door. "Damn. My phone's upstairs." Victoria got to her feet. "Help yourself to my breakfast Alex." She hurried to the public phone in the lobby.

"Crappy reception." She heard Mark swearing. "Victoria!"

"Mark, are you OK?"

"I'm fine. Victoria, Helen Walby's here. She was ran down in the street this morning." Mark sounded very upset and Victoria was horrified.

"Run down? Accidentally?"

"Someone mowed her down and drove off." Mark said.

"Shit! OK, Mark I'm on my way. Thanks." Victoria threw the phone onto its hook and ran to the dining room for Alex.

Mark met them in the hospital foyer.

"She's all patched up and awake." He said, leading the way to Helen's room. "It could have been alot worse, Victoria. The car knocked her over the railings by the school. The fence probably saved her life."

"What time was this, Dr. Fielding?" Alex asked.

"Around six this morning. She'll tell you the details herself. She has a double fracture on her left arm and a broken collar bone. She's got a few stitches too and a host of bruises and smaller cuts. As I said, it could have been alot worse." Mark opened the door and Victoria winced. Poor Helen was black and blue and a mess.

"Didn't I tell you?" She said weakly when she saw Victoria. "Didn't I? Now do you believe me?"

"I'll be in my office. Helen, it's OK. You're safe." Mark squeezed Victoria's shoulder and left quietly.

"Shit. Helen what happened?" Victoria dragged her chair to the bedside.

"He tried to kill me! Jesus! I keep telling you this!" Helen cried.

"Are you telling me that Gavin Franks was driving the car that hit you?"

"Who else would it be?" Helen said in despair.

"Helen, listen to me. This is vitally important. Did you see Gavin Franks driving the car that hit you?" Victoria spoke very clearly.

"No." Helen whispered miserably. "I didn't see anyone. The car hit me from behind while I was on the pavement. I was taking bottles to the recycle bin. I decided to give myself a shake and clean up my flat! Now see what's happened!"

"It's OK Helen, you're safe here and Mark's right outside." Victoria tried to reassure the poor woman.

"I've known Mark since we were kids. He likes you, Inspector. He's mentioned you a few times." Helen managed a smile.

"Well he's a good man, you already know that. You've no need to be frightened here." Victoria held Helen's hand. "What can you remember about it?"

"Not alot. I'm useless. It was still quite dark and like I said, the bastard hit me from behind. I think the car was purple or red. I'm sorry. I've tried really hard to remember more." Helen looked at Victoria.

"It's fine. You should rest. If you do want to talk a bit more, just tell Mark to send for me." Victoria smiled at Helen, then left the room with Alex. "And that has sorely pissed me off." She said angrily.

"I'll go down to the school and take a look." Alex said.

"Take the car. I'll catch you up." Victoria said and watched Alex leave before going to Mark's office.

"Here get this down you." Mark gave Victoria a cup of hot tea. "Poor Helen."

"I should never have left her alone in that state." Victoria snapped. "OK reassure me here, Mark. Gavin Franks would not be able to drive a standard car. Am I right?"

"Absolutely right. Even if his condition hadn't worsened from the last time I saw him, he wouldn't be physically capable of driving a car and he'd never have obtained a license. It wasn't him, Victoria. It just isn't possible." Mark confirmed.

"How far would Jonathan go to protect Gavin?"

"I honestly don't know." Mark shook his head. "Jonathan's a hard man, Victoria. My opinion is that he'd be more inclined to protect his name and business than Gavin. That's just my opinion though, I've no way of backing that up."

"I know." Victoria nodded. "I need to talk to him again."

"Victoria, Jonathan is a hard man and he has a vile temper." Mark was very worried about Victoria, and it showed.

"I'll take Alex with me." Victoria smiled. "Are we still on for dinner tonight?"

"I'm looking forward to it." Mark kissed the top of Victoria's head and opened the door for her. Alex got out of the car when he saw Victoria walking down the road.

"Red paint flakes." He nodded towards the twisted metal railings. "You can even see the paint from here."

"It hit that with a hefty bang, didn't it?" Victoria observed.

"Like the doc said, she was bloody lucky." Alex and Victoria got in the car. "Jonathan Franks' yard, or paint samples to Sergeant Mitchell?"

"Jonathan Franks." Victoria told him. "I'm getting nowhere fast here and it's frustrating me."

"So what are we working on. Gavin is up to something, even if it is only verbal and written. The people are starting to make noises so Jonathan comes to the rescue. Is that about right?" Alex said.

"Not necessarily but it's possible." Victoria nodded.

"Do you think Gavin did have something to do with Alison's murder afterall?" Alex asked.

"Well I don't know how far I'd get with that one. It's a thirty year old closed case. He was acquitted and backed up by his family and the medical profession." Victoria shrugged her shoulders.

"Why would he confess to that?"

"Like Helen said, he wanted to be accepted. He was an outcast. Even the reminder of a false confession could be enough to cause embarrassment to Jonathan." Victoria and Alex got out of the car outside Franks' yard. One end of the site was fenced off and held quite a number of vehicles.

"You see that?" Alex said as they walked past the compound.

"Yes I do. One dented red Vauxhall Astra." Victoria marched into Jonathan Franks' office.

"What the hell is this?" He demanded, getting to his feet.

"Where were you at six o clock this morning Mr. Franks?" Victoria asked.

"Why? I've had enough of this shit." Jonathan shouted.

"Why? Because Helen Walby was mowed down in the street by a red car and you have a dented and scratched red Astra in your yard. I'll ask you again. Where were you at six o clock this morning?" Victoria repeated.

"It's a bloody construction yard!" Jonathan roared. "Cars get dented and scratched all the bloody time! That's why they're old second hand jobs and not new ones."

"So you're sure that the paint sample DS McKenzie took from the school railings won't match that Astra in your yard?" Victoria pointed out of the window.

"Look, DI Lowry. Those are company cars, pool cars. They're used by all my workers all of the time. At six this morning I was in bed. I started here at eight. Satisfied?" Jonathan snarled.

"Not by a long way." Victoria snarled back. "Where was that car at six and who was in it?"

"How the hell should I know? I don't follow them around!" Jonathan bellowed.

"So an organised businessman like yourself, doesn't keep records on who takes out company cars? Time sheets? Milage? Petrol?"

"No I don't." Jonathan sat down and folded his arms. "I make the business rules here because it's my business. That isn't one of them. You obviously aren't here to arrest me, so excuse me DI Lowry. I'm a very busy man."

"You haven't asked Helen's condition." Victoria said and Jonathan looked sharply at her. "It was a hit and run, Mr. Franks, and you haven't even asked if she's alive or not."

"Is there a reason why I should? The woman is of no direct interest to me. If I was to adopt a burning compassion for the welfare of everyone in the town, I'd have to swap careers and go into councelling. Good day, Detective Inspector Lowry!"

"Thank you, Mr. Franks." Victoria left the office and Alex followed. "Bullshit! He's lying his arse off. You mention a hit and run to anyone and they automatically ask about the victim. It's human nature." She yanked open the car door and flung herself into it.

"We need these paint samples away. I'll split the sample between Mitchell and our lads." Alex said and Victoria nodded. "Are we staying down here or returning to the station?"

"I want to be here. I've annoyed Jonathan Franks and annoyed people do rash things. Go and give Mitchell his samples." Victoria looked at her phone when it beeped. It was a text from Mark saying 'call mobile if you can, if not we'll have to miss dinner'. She heaved a sigh of sheer annoyance and followed Alex into Mitchell's station to use the phone.

"Victoria I'm stuck at work." Mark told her. "I'll be here until around eight o clock."

"You're at work now? The reception's pretty good." Victoria had never been able to get a signal anywhere at all in the town.

"I am yes. I'm hanging out of a fourth floor window in the female nurses quarter. Don't laugh." Mark laughed. "It's the only place for miles where you can get a signal. Anyway! About dinner? I'll order a takeaway and we'll eat up at my house. Yes?"

"It sounds great. Are you sure? Won't you be tired?"

"No. The time factor is what I was thinking of. See you up at the house at eight thirty?" Mark suggested.

"Fantastic, yes. Oh and get out of the nurses quarters or I'll come up there and arrest them all." Victoria laughed and hung up. Alex met her in the foyer.

"He says it could take a while, whatever that means. He was grumbling about it getting in the way of real police work." He smiled.

"Good job we kept some then." Victoria rolled her eyes. "Right! Boatman's via that clothes shop in town."

"Dinner again?"

"Yes and I need clothes. I always look like a copper no matter what I wear." Victoria grumbled.

"Nah. You didn't look like a copper when you had dinner at my flat." Alex reminded her.

"Would you believe that's the only dress I own?"

"Drop me off at the road end." Alex laughed. "You're not getting me in any clothes shops."

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©Alex Harvey 2011