Despite Mark's extended work day, he'd still managed to set the scene in his house. The house itself was quite beautiful. It was a three story stone building with ivy covered walls and was surrounded by small gardens. The dining room was candlelit and the table was laid out perfectly. Victoria's idea of a takeaway was sitting on the couch with the foil containers. The meal itself was like no takeaway Victoria had ever had, it was more like something from a top class menu.
"You shouldn't have gone to all this trouble, especially after a long day at work." Victoria finished her meal and felt fit to burst.
"I don't mind. It's just a few candles." Mark smiled. "Go through into the lounge and open a bottle of wine. I'll get rid of this lot." He began clearing the table and Victoria went into another beautiful room. It was decorated in dark, soft colours and had an open coal fire.
"Long time since I saw one of those." She said as Mark came in.
"Ah now that was hard work. I was as black as a crow." Mark sat next to Victoria.
"This is a lovely house, Mark."
"It is. I'd never leave it. You're going to patronise me now and ask how I keep it like this all myself, aren't you?" Mark smiled.
"No! Well yes." Victoria laughed.
"Well there's only me in it. Simple eh?" Mark shrugged.
"I still don't understand that. You're attractive, you're well mannered, you're professional, comfortably off, own house and car. So why is there only you in it? I know the job's demanding, but even so." Victoria looked around the lounge.
"Did I mention the local girls?" Mark reminded her.
"You did. All this and you is enough to reel them in from afar." Victoria complimented.
"I don't know." Mark shrugged. "I'm not a total monk but I've never actively sought out a partner. I take it as it comes. Or at least I did. I'm pretty taken up with you, Victoria." He stroked her hair.
"I don't see why. I'm hardly the most approachable of people." Victoria said.
"You value your privacy, it's different. I don't mind that at all." Mark told her.
"You make it sound like I have things to hide."
"That isn't what I meant."
"I know." Victoria smiled and put her arms round Mark. "I'm actually a pretty open book. It's just not a very interesting book."
"I'm sure we could fill in a few pages." Mark suggested and Victoria felt her pulse rate increase. "In my medical opinion, you've had too much to drink to drive back to the Boatman's."
"In my legal opinion, I agree with you."
Victoria was almost in tears as she curled up next to Mark among the pillows and bed sheets. She was only thirty five, yet she'd started to forget what this should feel like. How could she have frozen her feelings like that for all those years? How could she have forgotten that she was a woman? Mark Fielding had probably saved her from herself.
Victoria's copper body clock still woke her at the crack of dawn. She watched Mark as he slept next to her. She couldn't ever remember feeling as happy as this in her whole life. Victoria smiled and slipped out of bed to shower. Twenty minutes later and Mark was still sleeping. The previous night, she'd felt a hefty scar on Mark's back and now she could also see it. It was a sizeable dent and actually hollowed up under his shoulder blade.
"Hello gorgeous." Mark smiled and rolled onto his side.
"I borrowed your shampoo." Victoria said.
"Accident when I was nine. I ended up impaled on the church railings." He said and Victoria felt embarrassed for being caught staring.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been studying you."
"No need to apologise." Mark sat up. "It's a scar, that's all. Does it upset you?"
"What? No of course it doesn't." Victoria sat on the edge of the bed. "It must have been a nasty injury."
"It was, yes. The railing punctured my lung and it collapsed." Mark told her.
"That could have killed you!" Victoria said in horror.
"It tried." Mark grinned and started to get dressed. "I don't remember alot about it, really. I remember us all climbing along the wall, then the pain, then the panic because I was being left behind."
"They left you behind?" Victoria said in shock.
"We weren't supposed to be there. Private property. I believe the vicar's cleaning lady found me and called the ambulance. Oh don't look so distressed! It'll take more than an old railing to see me off." Mark caught Victoria by the waist. "Should we both call in sick?"
"Oh I wish. The boss will have half the CID down here looking for me." Victoria laughed. "Actually, I have to drive back to the city today."
"Do you have to?" Mark kissed her neck.
"I wish I didn't, but yes." Victoria smiled. "What time do you start?"
"Right now if you like." Mark grinned.
Alex was on the phone in the lobby when Victoria got back to the Boatman's Arms. She gave him a little wave and went to sit in the bar, which was closed at that hour.
"Nice evening?" Alex asked, when he'd finished on the phone.
"Lovely, thanks. Maybe I should have phoned to tell you I wasn't returning. I'm sorry." Victoria apologised.
"No need. You're entitled to time off and I'm not your mother." Alex shrugged his shoulders. "I had a few pints and a game of darts with the bloke from the post office. Nice chap. Anyway, the lads dug up an address for Brenda Cobbs. If we're driving back today, I'll go and see her myself."
"Yes we are. Go and get your stuff together and we'll set off straight away."
Victoria let Alex drive and blamed the wine for her drowsiness. She doubted she'd ever build up a tolerance to alcohol.
"Doc Fielding seems like a decent bloke." Alex said conversationally. "His name cropped up in the pub last night. Not a bad word to be said about him from anyone."
"I'm pleased. What was that about not being my mother?" Victoria smiled.
"Eh? No! No I wasn't checking up! I said you were having dinner with the Doc and it went from there." Alex said defensively. Victoria smiled again. "Seriously, boss, you do look a hell of a lot better lately. You can't spend every minute of your life working, especially not after the last case you had for so long."
"Thanks Alex. You're concerned aren't you? The effect the Hilton case had on me worries you?" Victoria was slightly confused at this.
"I've seen cases crack officers up big style and they were officers older and more battlescarred than you. The welfare of my friends is always a concern to me." Alex told her and didn't realise how impactive that was to Victoria. He'd just reminded her that real friends still existed.
"You're a good man, Alex. I'm pleased you class me as a friend." Victoria said awkwardly.
"Friend enough to care. Get over it." Alex smiled sideways at Victoria.
Victoria had to look twice at the incident room, and at the lads. They'd obviously cleaned and tidied the place regularly, even in her absence. It seemed like they'd decided to make the best of a bad job and invest in shirts and ties that were a bit less '70s reject'.
"Can you sign these please boss?" Brian handed her some paperwork.
"Yes of course." Victoria sat at a desk. "Don, Alex has some paint samples. Can you get them down to the labs and tell them to push them through, please?" Don nodded. "Oh and take this too." She gave him Helen's G.F letter. "Here you go Brian."
"Er ... boss?" Brian looked at the papers. "You've signed these 'Gavin Franks'."
"I've what? For crying out loud!" Victoria rubbed her eyes. "I'm sorry Brian. Give them to me and I'll re-type them for you."
"No need. I can easily do it." Brian shrugged. "You OK?"
"Tired." Victoria said.
"Well you should go to sleep at night eh?" Alex piped up. "Go on home for a few hours. I'll go and see Brenda Cobbs and call you later."
"No. I don't need to go ..."
"Typical bloody woman." Charlie heaved. "Stop arguing! Hell I wish he'd let me go home."
"No chance Charlie. Drive carefully." Alex handed Victoria the car keys. Victoria accepted them and decided that a few hours rest was probably a good idea afterall. Alex watched her leave the office. "Nice one lads! I'm impressed. You aren't up to anything, are you?"
"Nah." Charlie sniffed. "Like you said, the kid's had some pretty crappy stuff to deal with."
"Yes she has." Alex looked suspiciously at Charlie. "This isn't a wind up, is it? Seriously, it wouldn't be a good idea."
"Listen to you!" Charlie snorted. "No wind up. OK? She's getting results here from bugger all and she's getting them by grafting. That's OK in my book."
"Fair enough." Alex laughed. "How's the baby?"
"Noisy." Charlie grumbled. "Actually, the wife's organising the christening and she's invited you lot."
"That's very nice of her Charlie. Tell her I'd like to go." Alex told him.
"No! Well yes, yes I'll tell her. What about the DI?" Charlie said in concern.
"Is she not invited?" Alex asked stupidly.
"I don't know if to ask her, really. Will she want to go? I don't want her, and you lot, to think I'm arse-kissing. I'm not."
"Charlie no one will think that for buggery's sake. You'd have asked Tony if he was still here." Alex said.
"Well yes, he was one of the lads." Charlie nodded.
"It's no different, Charlie. We just haven't known her as long, that's all. You wouldn't really just leave her out, would you?" Alex smiled.
"No, I suppose it would look a bit bad. I'll tell the wife and she can get on with it. I can't bloody do all this stuff." Charlie grumbled and turned his attention back to his paperwork.
Victoria looked at the letter in her hands. It had been hand delivered and only had DI Lowry written on the envelope.
'Stay away bitch. Stay out of it. It has nothing to do with you so back off bitch. G.F.'
"So much for sleep." Victoria put the letter in a plastic bag and set off back to the station.
Charlie blinked at Victoria in surprise when she walked back into the incident room.
"Now that's what I call a power nap." He said. "You just missed Alex. He's gone to see the Cobbs woman."
"Yes I know. I need this down the labs Charlie." Victoria handed him the letter and he read it.
"You just got this?"
"Well it was on my floor and hand delivered so I don't know." Victoria shrugged.
"You want to be careful, boss. I'll get it to the labs." Charlie nodded.
"Boss? DCI Woods wants you." Brian had the phone in his hand.
"You going to tell him about this?" Charlie held up the letter.
"He'll find out in time." Victoria answered vaguely and responded to the summons.
"It's all a bit circumstantial." DCI Woods said, pressing his fingertips together.
"I have the paint samples." Victoria nodded. The DCI looked unimpressed. "Sir I have an avalanche of information and it all relates to that town and its events. All I need is one thing to click into place and the rest will follow. " Victoria tried and DCI Woods was looking evenly at her. "Oh come on sir! Something is obviously wrong there and all I need is something to solidify and I'll find out what."
"I don't have much here to keep it CID. We don't have the resources to ... excuse me please." The DCI paused to answer the phone. He listened, then looked at Victoria. "Yes, I see. Thank you Charlie." He hung up and frowned. "Alex called in. He found Brenda Cobbs half gassed to death in her home. She's in hospital. Suicide attempt?"
"Another one? How odd." Victoria's sarcasm was dulled by her feeling of shock.
"You have days rather that weeks, Lowry. Turn something up or it goes to Uniform." DCI Woods nodded and Victoria hurried out of the office.
Charlie was waiting in the corridor with Brenda Cobbs' details.
"Alex said to meet him at the hospital, boss. You need anyone with you?"
"I'll drive straight there. I'll be fine. Thanks Charlie." Victoria smiled and headed for the doors. Alex was in the City Hospital waiting room with a cup of coffee when Victoria arrived.
"I got no answer when I knocked a few times so I looked through the window and saw the television was on. I went round the back of the house to see if she was there. She wasn't but her washing on the line was drenched. I looked through the back kitchen window and saw her lying on the floor, oven door open. I put the door widow in with my elbow and unlocked it from the inside. There were rolled up towels across the bottoms of the two doors in the kitchen. She has a cut on her head and there was a blood smear on the table, so it looks like she hit it as she fell." Alex exhaled loudly. "I was as sick as a dog and I was only in there ten minutes. Here's the Doc." Alex stood up and introduced Victoria to Dr. Hilary Paige.
"She's still unconscious. I'm keeping her in Intensive care due to her asthma."
"She has asthma?" Victoria grimaced.
"Indeed. It could have been much worse for her. I'm waiting for her test results but even the dose she had could be fatal if it aggravates her asthma." Dr. Paige explained.
"Had she been lying in there long?" Victoria asked.
"Half an hour to an hour. It's hard to be accurate due to the asthma."
"And the bang on the head?" Victoria said.
"Contributed to her condition, obviously." Dr. Paige nodded. "I'll let you know when she pulls round, but I can't let you go in. There wouldn't be any point anyway. She's still unconscious."
"Here's the station number." Victoria handed the doctor a card. Dr. Paige took it then excused herself.
"I'd say she was in there over an hour, maybe closer to two." Alex said and Victoria looked at him for an explanation. "It started raining half an hour before I got here. I noticed the time because I was thinking about my mother who had a hair appointment at that time. I told her I'd give her a lift if I could so I'm in for an earbashing." Alex shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "Brenda Cobbs was obviously unconscious before that time otherwise she'd have brought her washing in."
"Nice work Detective Sergeant." Victoria smiled. "I was thinking of the washing too, but for a different reason. If you're contemplating suicide, you don't do your laundry first, do you? Nor do you block the doors with towels, turn on the gas, then just stand there waiting to collapse and hit your head on the way down. You said there was blood on the table so she did hit her head on the way down but the towels and the oven came later, after she was knocked out." Victoria frowned for a few seconds then took out her mobile phone to call the station. "We need something solid, Alex, otherwise the DCI is going to take it off me. Charlie? Did you get an address for Jenny Harrison? Yes I'll wait." She took out her car keys and Alex walked towards his own car. "Oh I got a G.F letter. Charlie? Yep, got that. Thanks." Victoria hung up and opened the car door.
"Hey!" Alex barred her way. "He sent you a letter?"
"Basically telling me to back off. The lab lads have it."
"So he knows where you live?" Alex said in annoyed disbelief. "Did you get a couple of uniforms to watch your house?"
"No. I drove straight back to the station, then straight here." Victoria sighed heavily.
"Yes well you can drive straight back there and get them on to it. I'll follow you. Then we take my car and go and see Jenny Harrison." Alex said flatly.
"Is that an order?" Victoria smiled.
"Oh don't you pull rank with me, DI Lowry." Alex sniffed. "See you at the station."
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©Alex Harvey 2011