It was quite a long drive to the home of Jenny Harrison, and it was in the opposite direction to the town. It took Alex an hour and a half to get there. Jenny lived on an estate made up from small houses at one end, and blocks of flats at the other, she lived in a second floor flat in the middle of the estate.
Jenny Harrison was not what Victoria had expected. She was precisely dressed in bright colours and wore a few items of heavy gold jewellery. Her hair was permed and set and her make up was in place too. Victoria had expected a more demure individual.
"Are you lot ever going to leave us alone?" Jenny said angrily, as they stood in the tidy flat. "Why the hell do you think we moved up here? Just leave us alone."
"I have to know where Gavin was earlier today, Mrs. Harrison." Victoria said and Jenny started to laugh. "Does he live with you? Maybe I could ask him myself."
"No he doesn't and even if he did I wouldn't let you lot pester him!" Jenny snapped. "Whatever it is you're investigating, you're wrong. Save yourself an embarrassment darling, and don't bark up this tree."
"I have seven deaths and two suspect accidents. Gavin has cropped up time after time and I have two claims of him terrorising victims." Victoria said evenly. "Apparently Gavin told a gang of kids that he'd killed Alison Bell with a rock and these people are now being pursued."
"Bullshit!" Jenny shouted. "Pure bullshit! You don't have anything on Gavin, not one single scrap! You don't even know what the hell you're talking about! Rock? You little fool. Alison Bell was strangled!" Victoria grit her teeth and felt her blood pressure soaring. "Go on! Get the hell out!" Jenny Harrison pointed at the door and Victoria left, Alex following.
"How the hell was that overlooked. Shit." Victoria leant against the stair railings.
"Quite an oversight." Alex agreed. "We'll ask around. The locals should know where Gavin is."
"I know too." Victoria nodded down the stair well. A ground floor flat had its door just infront of the main doors. They'd already passed it once. Strong iron rails were bolted to the wall on either side of it and the door threshhold was elongated to form a gradual ramp. Victoria was just about to knock on the door when Jenny came rushing down the stairs in a frenzy.
"No!" She screeched, pushing infront of Alex. The door moved open a few inches. "For the love of god, leave him be. You're wrong about him! Can't you just leave him alone?"
"Excuse me, please." Victoria pushed the door open further and Jenny started to cry and stood aside. Gavin Franks was strapped into a customised wheelchair that was facing a television set. He blinked and grinned occasionally at the cartoon show, but he didn't even realise anyone was in the room with him. Victoria noticed his deformed arm and leg, and also a dead droop to the left side of his face.
"Are you satisfied?" Jenny sobbed from the door. "He's been here for years. Ask his warden. This block of flats is under a sheltered housing scheme. Get out! You've done enough."
Victoria sat in the car and felt like screaming, a frustration shared completely by Alex. "Well everyone did tell us it couldn't be Gavin." Victoria sighed heavily. "I want my hands on Jonathan."
"We don't have anything on him, boss." Alex reminded her. "We don't have enough to lift him and we don't have time to start from scratch from a different angle."
"Umm time." Victoria squinted out of the window. "You up for a trip to town?"
"Where the DCI can't contact you?" Alex smirked.
"Not my fault the phone reception's rubbish." Victoria shrugged. "We're looking for a straw to clutch, Alex. Let's hope Stan Mitchell has something from those paint samples."
"You're not seriously pinning it all on that are you?" Alex looked at Victoria and she frowned at her knees. "Doc Fielding?" She nodded.
"If I get taken off the case I'll have to stay clear of the place for a while. I'd just like to explain. Sorry Alex, I shouldn't expect you babysitting me while I sort out my personal life."
"Not totally accurate. Even though Gavin is disabled and immobile, someone sent you that letter. Professional security, boss." Alex nodded. Victoria appreciated it and felt very relieved.
It was approaching evening by the time Alex and Victoria arrived at the police station in the town. Stan Mitchell was about to lock up and go home when Victoria interrupted him.
"Nothing yet." Stan shrugged his shoulders. "Things like that take time around here."
"You have sent them?" Victoria asked testily.
"Like I said, these things take time. Anything else?" Stan obviously resented Victoria's manner. Victoria gave him a withering glare and returned to the car. "He hasn't sent them." She snapped at Alex.
"Do you want me to go and play hell with him?" Alex suggested.
"What's the point." Victoria stated gloomily. "Drop me off at Mark's, if you would, Alex. Will you book the rooms at the Boatman's?"
"No problems. I'll harass Charlie about the samples we have, discretely of course." Alex smiled.
"Well only if you can be bothered. I couldn't be bothered, I know that, and if I can't be bothered, I wouldn't expect you to be either." Victoria was getting very depressed indeed.
"Just get in there and see the Doc." Alex ordered, pulling up outside Mark's house. Victoria managed a smile at Alex and got out of the car. Mark must have heard the engine, because the curtains moved, then the door opened.
"Hey!" Mark beamed and came walking down the path. "How did you know I'd be home?"
"I didn't." Victoria hugged Mark.
"Well I am and I'm glad. Come in." Mark steered Victoria into the house. He'd been doing paperwork and it was scattered all over the sitting room floor. Mark quickly collected it up and excused himself while it took it upstairs out of the way. Victoria took off her jacket and sat on the couch, watching the shifting flames in the fire. "You OK?" Mark was back.
"Not really. The case has hit a brick wall, Mark. I'm not sure how long I'll be able to keep hold of it. If I get taken off it, I'll be professionally obliged to stay away from the place."
"Oh no." Mark said in dread. "That's a bit rough, isn't it? So will you get some sort of black mark against you, or something?"
"No, nothing like that." Victoria smiled weakly. "I was thinking more along the lines of not being able to see you as often as I want."
"What?" Mark said in alarm. "So you won't be able to come here at all? That can't be right, surely?"
"No. No I won't be banned from the place. Nothing like that. I'll have to keep a distance to allow the other officers to do their jobs. That's all." Victoria tried to sound reassuring.
"But we're OK? Me and you? The city isn't at the other end of the world, Victoria. I'm sure I can find my way there if I use a map." Mark said urgently.
"You'd better." Victoria smiled. "Be warned though, I'll have heap of reports to hand over. I didn't want to just vanish on you."
"I'll still be here after your reports, and after the case." Mark kissed her nose. "I'll sit here forever waiting for you."
"Forever? I'll retake the bloody case by brute force if they take that long." Victoria laughed. "Can we make the most of it while we're still here?"
"Every single second of it."
Mark gave Victoria a lift to the Boatman's the following morning and gave her the best news she'd heard for a while. Helen was being released from hospital with an array of outpatients appointments, and a nurse to visit her every other day. Despite that good news, Victoria felt a big wrench when Mark drove off in his car.
"All sorted?" Alex was standing behind her.
"Yes." Victoria smiled and wandered into the Boatman's. "Helen's out of hospital today."
"That's good news. Do we need to see her again?" Alex asked.
"No, I don't think so." Victoria sighed. "We need to start winding down. Paint samples? Or couldn't you be bothered." She smiled.
"Well it matches a red Astra. Actually it matches about five hundred red Astras, according to the paint batch." Alex said apologetically.
"Bloody wonderful." Victoria heaved. "Come on, we'll go and tell Mitchell about Helen. Maybe he can keep an eye on her."
Stan Mitchell was very offhand with Victoria.
"I don't have dozens of men, DI Lowry. I can't post a watch outside of Helen Walby's flat."
"I wasn't suggesting you did. She was ran down, Sergeant Mitchell. She's entitled to a little bit of interest and attention from you." Victoria said patiently.
"So it's still CID?" Stan asked uncertainly.
"Have you been told differently?" Victoria watched Stan carefully.
"Just hearsay." He shrugged his shoulders.
"Look, Sergeant Mitchell, I understand that you could possibly be utterly fed up with me marauding all over your patch, but yes, it's still CID and will be until you and me are told otherwise." Victoria said flatly.
"I'll see a constable keeps an eye on the place." Stan conceded. "I didn't mean to come off as stroppy but if more effort went into keeping me and my men informed, then we wouldn't have to speculate based on chat. Paint samples. Between five and six hundred Vauxhall Astras."
"Thank you. I'll let you know if anything else comes up."
A coach full of tourists had descended on the Boatman's Arms by the time Victoria and Alex got back.
"You need a lift anywhere later?" Alex offered.
"You aren't the chauffeur. Take advantage of the expenses paid board and lodge and relax Alex." Victoria smiled and headed for her room. Alex shrugged and decided to take his boss' advice.
"Off duty?" Margaret Ward smiled and pulled Alex a pint. "I expect the Inspector's out with Dr. Fielding?"
"I think that's her plan, yes." Mark paid for his drink.
"He's a nice lad. He'll look after her." Margaret assured him.
"I'm sure he will." Alex pocketed his change and Margaret went to see to her other customers. Nice lad? Alex was a nice lad too, everyone said so. Why was one nice different to another nice?
"You not get me one?" Victoria piped up from behind Alex.
"Hello!" Alex said in surprise. "No but I will. I thought you were off out." He got Margaret's attention.
"No. Mark's working late tonight." Victoria accepted her pint and they found a table.
"So he was OK about you leaving the case?" Alex asked.
"He was fine. It's me who's moping about like a wet weekend." Victoria said bleakly.
"Yes, you've got quite attached to him." Mark said conversationally.
"Yes I have. I don't do that often and never easily. I don't know what it is with him." She smiled and shrugged.
"I do. He hasn't known you long and doesn't know your record. He sees you, not the outstanding workaholic copper." Alex reasoned.
"I think you're right, Sigmund Freud." Victoria raised her glass.
"You should let the real you out more often, boss. This job sucks everything out of you if you let it, moreso with you because of that Hilton shit. Ah excuse the language." Alex grimaced at his beer.
"Well I'm not sure there was much there to begin with, Alex." Victoria smiled sadly. "I was raised by a police officer to be a police officer. I don't know anything else."
"I remember you saying you dad was a DCI. So he always wanted you to follow him?"
"I'm not sure, really. For as long as I can remember I had it drilled into me how evil and sick the world was. He'd seen it. Most kids got Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty at bed time, I got the headlines from all the newspapers. He was obsessed, Alex, probably paranoid." Victoria said reflectively.
"You think? You know as well as I do some of the horrors out here in the world. I'd probably be the same with my kids." Alex said.
"Probably. He was a very overbearing man, though. I know now it was out of concern for his family but it was so hugely out of proportion. He showed me police photographs of accidents. I asked for a bike when I was seven and he showed me an eight year old girl with a crushed skull from being knocked off her bike. Lesson? Wearing a helmet is important. Paranoid, as I said." Victoria saw Alex wince.
"A bit excessive, yes. He must have loved you a great deal to be so fearful about you all the time."
"Yes I'm sure he did. I know he did. I loved him too." Victoria smiled.
"Was your mum in the force too?"
"No. She'd never have made a copper even if she'd wanted to. She didn't do anything." Victoria frowned at the table.
"Eh? She must have done something." Alex prompted.
"She was just there. My dad was so ... big ... that he overshadowed her completely. I can't even remember them having a conversation. They must have done though." Victoria tried to remember.
"Of course they did. As kids, we don't notice anything if it doesn't involve us directly. I can't remember my mum ever changing my bed sheets, but obviously she did." Alex shrugged, then waved his hand to get Margaret's attention. "You see much of her?"
"Who? Your mum of course."
"She died when I was nine." Victoria said and Alex almost dropped the pints on her.
"Sorry boss. I didn't know. Well obviously I didn't." Alex grimaced.
"You don't have to apologise, Alex."
"No but I will. Was she ill?" Alex asked tactfully.
"Look, you obviously know nothing about it so I'll just tell you to save awkwardness. It's fine, Alex, honestly. She committed suicide. No! No apologies! Long time ago." Victoria pointed at Alex and cut off his planned, very extended apology. "She almost certainly was ill, yes, although I can't remember. I was only a little girl and my dad wasn't the type of man to discuss things like that with anyone."
"You don't have to explain, Victoria. It's personal."
"I know but it saves situations in the future. Can you remember the day you asked if me and Charlie had had words? He stumbled on the same subject in complete innocence, then felt bad for doing so. There's no need." Victoria explained. "I think he's getting used to me?" She grinned, and decided to end that particular subject.
"Pfft! Charlie? He couldn't get used to himself." Alex snorted. "Old school and set in his ways and sometimes out of order."
"And you've been having a go at him." Victoria added and Alex shrugged. "I owe you thanks for that and thanks for calling me Victoria."
"Ah now I do have a reason for that." Alex leant foreward. "See that big bloke over there by the dartboard? Red T shirt? Yes well I was playing darts with him the other night and I kept referring to you as the boss. He told me that's what he calls his girlfriend when she gets out the handcuffs, which didn't really help the situation, given your profession." Victoria erupted into laughter. "I tried to tell him for over an hour that you really were my boss. He just wouldn't have it. Victoria it is incase he hears me." Victoria laughed even more. "Ah it's a shame the case is going nowhere. We're getting along OK down here."
"Well you and the lads were only loaned to me. They'll probably put it down to novelty and wave me off." Victoria shrugged.
"I wouldn't be so sure. They miss having a DI around." Alex told her.
"They miss having DI Kennedy around and I don't blame them. He was a good copper and I'm no substitute." Victoria conceded.
Alex's darts parter started waving for her attention and made a 'phone' sign. Victoria went into the lobby to answer it. "DI Lowry."
"He's here! I told you! Oh my god he's here!" The screech almost deafened Victoria.
"Helen!" Victoria got to her feet. "Helen who is there? Helen?"
"Leave me alone! I can hear you. Leave me alone." Helen sobbed. "He's here! I heard him come in. He's downstairs! I told you!"
"Helen listen to me."
"What do you want? I've said nothing to anyone. Just leave me alone!" Helen screamed.
"Shit!" Victoria hung up and shouted for Alex. "It's Helen. Get Mitchell round there straight away. If there isn't a taxi out there, jump in the closest car!"
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©Alex Harvey 2011