Chris Beresford finished his call to Blackpool and looked across at Brian. 'Vera's definitely with her relatives. Probably better off, if the truth's known.'
Brian opened the top drawer of his desk and took out a fresh pack of cigarettes. 'How do you make that out?' he asked, working his nail in the tab to tear away the wrapper.
'Well, Liz and Gerry aren't exactly what you'd call exhilarating specimens of humanity. They must be dreadful to live with.'
Brian pulled a face as he swallowed the last bitter dregs of his coffee. 'You don't run away just because you've got boring parents,' he said, earnestly spitting sediment into his handkerchief.
Lethargically, Chris circled the sharp end of a pencil in the first hole of the phone dial. 'Liz browbeats the lass, you know, though you'd never think she was capable. I've always thought she was a bit namby-pamby to look at but underneath that vacuous exterior beats a brutal heart.'
Brian exhaled a mouthful of smoke. 'Don't exaggerate.'
'I think Gerry's frightened of her.'
'You're talking rubbish, Sarge. Gerald's okay. His main problem is stopping Liz from overdosing. He always sticks up for his daughter when Liz has a go at her.'
'So he bloody should. Nevertheless, he's a bit too quiet for my liking. I'm always suspicious of quiet men with nagging wives, makes me wonder how they came to get married in the first place. Does Vera still knock around with Bess Coombes?'
'They were inseparable. Bess doesn't know what to do with herself now.'
'It won't be for long. Her pal will soon get cheesed off.'
Brian eyed the rotating pencil. 'What about school?'
'What about it? Lass'll be home before they've even missed her.'
Brian shrugged. Resting the cigarette on the ashtray, he returned to perusing the
'It's back to work then, eh, Bri? Strike me if I can't take a hint.' So saying, Chris dropped the pencil in a narrow glass tray and grabbed a wad of incident reports. 'Cast your eye over these,' he said, sliding them onto Brian's desk.
'In a tick,' Brian said, pushing them to one side. 'There's an item here about a man caught red-handed in the act of mugging a girl, in the town of all places.' He retrieved the cigarette and took a drag.
Chris nodded towards the forms. 'It'll be on one of those, then.'
Brian circled the article with a red ball-point before passing the paper to Chris. 'This could be our man.'
As Chris took the Gazette from Brian's outstretched hand, he scrutinised his face. 'I must say, you look bloody terrible. Is it Audrey again?'
Brian was pleased the subject had come up. He wanted to talk about it but didn't like to keep banging on about his self-inflicted problems. It wasn't as though there was anything he could do. If there was he'd be hotfooting it along the road to implement a solution. He leaned back, began to knead the tension knots in his neck which seemed to have worsened overnight. 'She had a minor breakdown yesterday,' he said. 'According to Matthew, she went to pieces while she was cooking breakfast. He blamed himself. Said he'd acted like a spoiled brat just because she scolded him. After we discussed it, he calmed down. He hadn't realised what an impact those calls had made. Or how susceptible she'd become. Anyway, Audrey's moved in with Gladys, just for a few days, until she's better. I reckon it'll take longer than a few days to get her right.'
'I'm not surprised she's cracked-up. She's been through a lot. I told you about Helen's experience, didn't I?
‘Don’t recall.’ Brian's moustache twitched as he chewed the inside of his top lip.
'Some woman she knew tried to kill herself after getting funny calls. Mind it went on for several years. She must've reached the end of her rope.' Chris broke off when he saw Brian flinch. He crashed a fist onto the desk. 'Shit! Me and my bloody big mouth. Hey, I'm not suggesting that Audrey …'
'People react in diverse ways. I've heard some women get real pally with weirdos.' Needing to move the discussion to less sensitive terrain, Brian had swiftly interrupted. He was quite calm but a discussion on the lines Chris was travelling would be tactlessly callous.
'How do you think Audrey'll cope, if it goes on?'
'I'm not thinking that far ahead.'
Chris looked intently at Brian for several seconds before dropping his eyes and turning away. Unhurriedly, as if he was grappling with a vital piece of advice, he picked up the paper to read about the mugger's arrest. He scanned the article, slowly, until the significance of the report caught up with him. He leaped into action. Going to Brian's desk, he leafed through the forms. Finding nothing, he rang Redhampton to check it out.
'Yeah, our girl's face was cut. Yeah, it could've been a ring.' Pause. 'Does he, by Jove?' Another pause. 'Truncheon! You mean, one of ours?' Brian cocked an ear at that. 'Good God! Okay, Sid. Yeah, I'll take a gander at him.'
As Chris replaced the receiver, Brian's chest heaved with a kind of excitement as he waited for him to speak.
'Sounds bloody right. Dark headed man, bulky ring on right hand. Gent sees him deliberately scrape it down the girl's cheek. By the time he got to them, he was hitting her with a truncheon.A truncheon…there’s a thing.’
Chris went on, 'Gent knocked him flying, then made a citizen's arrest. A couple of the chaps were patrolling. Heard the scuffle. They went to assist but it sounds as if the hard work was done for them.' Chris puffed out his cheeks. 'I've got a feeling this is the one who put young Penny Hancox in the hospital.
'I hope you're right, Sarge.'
(to be continued)