No witness protection

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Rose Tyler was staying with a friend on a new estate in Sandbrook when she sees 2 men carry something in a sheet.  Rose learns about an appeal for witnesses when 2 cousins go missing after she gets home, contacts the police but hears nothing.  Alec Hardy is about to see it all fall apart when Rose comes forward.  He then has to keep her safe when the killers go free by taking her to Broadchurch.

Taken from Claire Ripley's comment to Ellie about there being no witness protection when she had to rely on Alec helping her.

Chapter 1
Rose was on the train to a town called Sandbrook, looking forward to seeing her old friend Shareen again after all this time.  Shareen Costello's mother had found herself a rich bloke and gone to live with him in the town Rose had never heard of before her friend had gone off to stay with her and decided it was much nicer than living on the council estate they'd both grown up on.

Rose recalled the telephone conversation she'd had with her old friend a few days before, letting herself be talked into taking a day off from the department store, since she was still owed some holidays and going on the Friday morning, leaving Sunday afternoon and Shareen promising a party across the road at a couple's house where they were spontaneous and always inviting her to barbecues with their next door neighbours. 

As Rose was travelling down to see her friend, Cate and Ricky Gillespie were going over with their niece Lisa that she was staying overnight with her cousin Pippa and that they'd be leaving early the next morning to attend their friend's wedding.

"I know what to do Aunt Cate," Lisa had insisted, smiling at the thought of being able to slip the two of them next door and spend some time with Lee, if Claire was off visiting her friend again.

Lisa had taken Pippa to school, she was off college on a study break and thought about going off to see where Lee was working.  She had just left as Shareen was leaving to go meet Rose at the railway station.

"Hi Lisa, no college today?" Shareen asked her.  

Lisa shook her head.  "How's the job hunting?" she asked Shareen as they walked up the road to the bus stop.

"Still waiting to hear from a few places.  My friend's coming down from London for the weekend.  I mentioned her, Rose," Shareen told her as the bus was already at the terminus and she hoped the driver wouldn't be stupid and leave early.  "How's your hairdressing course doing?"

"Great and Claire's really good, she lets me practice on Saturday normally, gives students a discount but I'm looking after Pippa tomorrow, my aunt and uncle are off to a wedding.  They're staying overnight so I think me and Pippa might nip next door and spend some time with Claire, if Lee's working late."

Shareen looked disappointed there would be no party, after she'd promised Rose.  Lisa noticed.

"Hey, why don't you bring your friend over, to meet Claire?" Lisa suggested as the driver opened the door for them and asked where they were going.

They paid their bus fare, Shareen thinking it was obvious where two women were going, to the shops and went to sit upstairs, mainly so Lisa may see Lee working somewhere on the route into town.  

Shareen agreed she'd bring Rose across to meet Claire and Lee and they started talking about a bloke who'd taken Lisa out just once and she'd found him a bit creepy.

"I mean Shareen, he's been hanging around when I've been looking after Pippa, I daren't tell my uncle, he'll knock the bloke into the middle of next week," Lisa explained, gazing out of the window but now they were getting to the town, she had less chance of seeing Lee.

Shareen tried to be sympathetic.  "Is it that Gary?" she asked her friend.  Lisa nodded without turning away from the window, just in case.  "You should tell Lee then, he'll sort him out."

"Yeah, I might do, he'll knock some sense into the bloke, Ricky will probably just give him a warning.  So, bring your friend over then, have you known her long?" Lisa asked her.

"Only forever, we grew up together.  Right, this is my stop, I hope her train's not late, she might have some money and we can go look around the shops.  When we were kids, we used to skip school and go watch the boys in the mall," Shareen laughed.

"I know what you mean," Lisa smiled, having done the same with Lee Ashworth since her uncle had rented the house next door to the couple.

As Shareen got off the bus and waved at her friend upstairs, little did she know it was going to be the last time they really spoke.  Rose was just getting off the train as Shareen was waving through the crowd, Shareen grabbing hold of her.

"Hey, glad you could make it," Shareen laughed as they got outside the station building.

"So, how've ya been then?" Rose laughed as Shareen headed to the nearest coffee shop, knowing her friend hadn't much money and wanted to spend as little of it as possible.

"Oh, you know, still looking for a job, unlike someone," she nudged Rose as they sat down outside.

"Hey, I was lucky to get my old job back," Rose protested as Shareen messed with the menu.

Taking pity on her friend, Rose went off to order, coming back with two cartons after saying they were for out, which technically, they were.  She'd laughed at her mother saying the cups were more suitable to put soup in.  They spent the rest of the day catching up and Shareen's mother getting all the gossip from the estate, including who Rose's mother was currently seeing, to Rose's embarrassment.  

Rose was getting up the next morning, having slept in Shareen's room on a put-up bed since she didn't facing sleeping in the attic with a pile of junk, waiting for the bathroom to be free and glancing out of the window.  She saw a man and a woman getting into a waiting taxi, them looking like they were arguing.  They were.

Cate was complaining Ricky had put his hip-flask in the small case, knowing what was in it and what he would be up to.

"It's a wedding Ricky, have some respect," Cate was goading him as he went to get in the front of the cab.

Rose smiled as she saw the man ignore his wife and preferred to sit on his own.  After going into town again and Rose buying a new top in the sale and treating her friend to one, they headed back to Shareen's new home, her saying they should call over and see Claire later, since Lisa had mentioned it.  Rose wasn't so keen.

"I thought ya said she was looking after her cousin?" Rose asked, having seen Lisa out in the street with whom she presumed was Pippa riding a bike and Lisa watching her.

Shareen had just waved as they gone back into the house, having just got back from town.

"They often go round, Claire, the woman lets Lisa work at her hair salon sometimes, to get the practice.  Come on, we'll have a laugh, Lee's really funny," Shareen tried to encourage her.

Rose was about to give in a few hours later but they heard a noise out in the street and Shareen's mother's boyfriend, Ken, went to see what was going on, seeing it was the young man Lisa had gone out with.

"It's just that Gary," he told everyone as he came back in.  "You two should stay inside until he's gone, he'll be watching Lisa again and someone will have had a go at him for standing on their lawn."

Shareen wasn't so desperate to seek company, she knew the bloke was a creep.

"We'll give it a miss then?" Shareen suggested as Rose didn't seem that bothered.  

"Yeah, you can introduce them to me tomorrow," Rose suggested.  

Just then her phone rang, it was her mother.

"Rose, are you coming back tomorrow sweetheart?" Jackie asked her.

"Yeah, why?" Rose had to ask.

"Well Jimbo hears there's gonna be massive engineering works, it could take ya hours to get home Rose.  You'd best get an earlier train, some might even be cancelled."

Rose thought it was just her luck her visit would get cut short.

"Bad news?" Shareen asked as her mother tried to fill her glass, since they'd decided not to go out.

"Mum's friend said the trains are gonna be disrupted tomorrow, I'll have to call in the morning and see if mine's been affected."

"Aw, that's bad luck Rose," Shareen tried to console her friend.  "I was gonna introduce you to Lee and Claire, Lee's a bit of a dish, he loves to flirt."

Rose thought that was just her luck as well.  She pretended to take her time over the drink, only her second and just after ten, Shareen had decided she'd had enough and since Rose had to probably leave early, they went to her room.  After giggling about what had happened earlier and Shareen telling her about what Lisa had said, saying to Rose it had been the blonde she'd waved and shouted a 'Hi' to earlier, Rose asked about the younger girl.

"They're cousins, I've known Lisa since I arrived here, Pippa likes to stay in her back yard.  Lisa said she likes to play on her trampoline and with her tennis set.  She also said Lee and Claire sometimes take her to school," Shareen explained, getting into bed and yawning.  "Sorry, must be the drink.  You didn't drink much Rose."

"Gotta have a clear head in the morning, if I've got to contend with engineering works, goodness knows how long it'll take me to get home.  I'll be lucky to get back in time to go back to work on Monday," Rose complained.

Shareen let out a giggle.  "That's being a bit dramatic Rose.  I'm off to sleep, are ya gonna stay at the window all night?  If I didn't know any better, I'd think you want to get a glimpse of Lee."

"Well I wouldn't know if it was him or not since I've not met him yet, would I?" Rose laughed, staying behind the long curtain, it being parted just enough to get a view of the two adjoining houses opposite.  "So, what's with the neighbours then?  I saw two of them arguing as they got into a taxi this morning."

Shareen yawned again, Rose turning away and not seeing a taxi dropping off Ricky Gillespie and him going around the back of the Ashworth's house.

"That'll be Cate and Ricky, they're always arguing.  Lisa says she flirts with Lee more than Lisa herself does.  That's when she's not got a glass in her hand."

"She likes a drink then?" Rose asked, not that she was really interested.  "What's that Claire like then?  I just saw a woman go in."

"She's got long dark hair.  She's probably been to her mate's house, Lisa said something yesterday.  Lisa said her aunt and uncle were going to a wedding today, they're probably staying over and Lisa said her and Pippa would probably go next door.  Don't worry about it."

Rose wasn't going to, she stayed at the window as she turned to see Shareen had turned her back to go to sleep.  In fact, Rose was about to give up, not used to looking out on anything other than the estate she lived on and it was a change from rowdies going home from either a party or a pub on a Saturday night, her mother usually amongst them.

She was about to let the curtain fall back into place when the man she'd seen that morning came out of the Ashworth's house, Rose wondering how he'd got there since his wife seemed to be arguing with him getting into the cab and she also wondered why he hadn't gone to his own house, unless he'd been checking on the two girls.  She'd not seen any cabs or cars but she'd been looking away at Shareen, he could have been there a while.

Not being able to stop looking now, she waited to see if the two girls did indeed follow the man, whom she assumed was called Ricky but the door remained closed as he'd turned not to go home but down the street.  There was no sign of who Shareen had called a creep so she assumed he'd got tired and gone home or someone had forcibly removed him from their front garden and was once again ready to give up when a van pulled up.

She was unable to tell what colour it was under the street lamp but she saw a figure dressed in overalls go back into what she knew was the Ashworth's house.  Wondering if it was the same man coming back or if it was someone else, she waited to see if the man came back out.  

Five minutes later, the door opened and the man she knew was Lee let the other man out first but when she looked again, they appeared to be holding something between them, though the view was partly blocked by the back door of the van but she clearly saw the two men carrying something wrapped in a white dustsheet.

Rose had to admire their nerve, they were probably using the cover of night to get rid of an old carpet or some lino and going to dump it somewhere up near the main road, since she'd seen some spare land that looked like they were preparing to fence off to build on it.  What better way then to let the workmen get rid of unwanted rubbish?  

She still couldn't see the face of the other man as the back door of the van was opened awkwardly by who she could see was Lee though.  She gathered if the two girls had been there earlier, Lisa would have already taken her young cousin home, probably before she herself had gone upstairs.  The van doors closed, the figure in the overalls still had his back to her but his hair looked light, maybe blonde but it could have been a trick of the light she supposed.

Shareen couldn't be woken by anything other than fireworks under her, Rose remembered all the sleepovers they'd had as kids and she'd had more to drink than Rose herself had so there wasn't much point in trying to wake her.  It was probably nothing interesting anyway and if they were dumping anything, she had no idea where since she didn't know the area.

She saw Lee going back to the still open house door, thinking she saw someone moving inside, which was probably the woman she'd seen go in not long ago, the door closing behind him.  She had to smile, him getting the other man to dispose of his rubbish.  She yawned, she should try to get some sleep if she was facing a long journey tomorrow which would be even longer now some idiot had decided to hold the trains up just because they could.

She heard a noise from Shareen and smiled, not turning to see her friend as something caught her eye.  The door opposite opened again, light coming from inside and the woman came out, followed by Lee.  Rose almost gasped as the woman had hurried around the corner and backed out a car, then she rushed back inside for a moment.  Rose thought maybe they were getting rid of other junk and couldn't manage what had looked like a carpet or lino and had got a friend to dispose of it but she couldn't tear herself away as Lee appeared in the doorway, carrying a young girl, who looked like it was Pippa, dressed in pyjamas and her arm dangling.

The woman rushed to open the back door, never looking up towards where Rose was now standing at the side of the curtain but the woman was looking up and down the street while Lee was putting the girl on the back seat.  Rose wondered if the girl had been sick and instead of waiting for an ambulance, were taking her to the hospital but why had she still been there at this time?

There was no sign of the girl's cousin as the woman tossed the car keys to Lee and he got in the driver's seat but she was surprised Claire watched him drive off, going back inside and closing the door.  Rose supposed Lisa could still be in there and they were going to wait for a cab to follow but why?  She heard Shareen call her name.

"Rose?  Whatcha still doing at the window?" she slurred, the drink having taken hold.

"Nothing Shareen.  It's just so quiet around here, not like home," Rose bluffed.  

She assumed her friend had gone back to sleep since she got no answer and turned back to the window.

While all that had been going on, Rose not being able to tear herself away just for her curiosity's sake, on the other side of town, Alec Hardy had just come from the bathroom, hoping his wife had gone to sleep so she wouldn't pick any more faults with him.  They'd argued after their twelve, almost thirteen year old daughter had gone to bed about anything and nothing, although Tess had been going on about a holiday, which he didn't want to go on because it would be a disaster and before he'd gone to seek sanctuary in the bathroom, about him having the makings of a beard so he'd kept it, just to annoy her since he wasn't back at work until Monday morning, barring any emergencies.  

Little did he know that Rose was across town witnessing one as she couldn't stop watching despite yawning herself as the van came back and the woman, whom Shareen had said was called Claire, came out of the house, grabbed the man in the overalls and made him get back in the van.

Chapter 2
This story will not include anything about what happened inside the Ashworth's house that night, what happened in the woods and after Alec is called out to the disappearance of the two girls, only from his point of view.  It will only include dialogue Rose or Alec hear of the two neighbours and what they could have discussed about what happened as very little is known until the end of series 2.

Rose couldn't tear herself from the window as the van, still unidentifiable as to the colour drove off, Rose not knowing which way it went when it was out of view.  She yawned but knew she'd never get to sleep and she wanted to see if who Shareen had described as Lee would come back with the young girl or not.  She could only guess where he'd been taking her, maybe her parents weren't that far away, her father had come back and wanted her taking to wherever they were staying?

She dismissed that as being daft, the man would have taken her himself, unless that was his car?  Her theories were running wild, she was tired and the little she'd had to drink was giving her a headache, she didn't like sherry at the best of times, especially when her mother made her drink it at Christmas.  She leaned back against the wall, it seemed to have gone quiet in the street but she wondered if anyone else had been watching.

It was almost twenty minutes later when she heard a car pull to a stop so she carefully looked out to see Lee getting out of the car but he didn't go into the back seat.  Maybe she'd been right, he'd taken the younger girl to her parents but why had only her father come back, well if it was her father but he'd been arguing with a woman that morning, outside the house.

She'd almost forgotten about Lisa, where had she got to?  She watched Lee go inside, leaving the car on the street and a few minutes later, the van came into view and she just saw the first two letters 'HX' until the van jerked forward slightly just in front of the car and the woman got out of the driver's seat.

Rose saw the woman walk toward the man in the overalls, who was about to open his door but the woman stopped him.

"You have to take the van back Ricky and get back to the wedding before Cate misses you," Claire was telling him.

"She'll be too pissed to take any notice if I'm there or not," Ricky was telling her, unaware they were being watched.  "Give me the keys then Claire, we have to trust each other now, I'll have to report them both missing in the morning.  Not a word or I'll tell the police what Lee did."

"You really caught them?" Claire asked as he turned to go back to the van, a smile on her face.

"Why are you looking so pleased Claire?" Ricky wanted to know, still trying to recover.  "Why did you have to give Pippa all that stuff in the flask?"

"I told you, she reacted badly to it, there was nothing we could do, not with all the mess and you coming back for Lisa.  What happened anyway?"

"Lee lost his temper," Ricky lied, opening the van door.  "We'll say no more, we all have to live with it."

"Well don't forget, I know where your hipflask is buried, you don't say either of them were in our house tonight, you were at the wedding.  Like you said, Cate won't know any different."

Ricky was about to get in the van when Claire grabbed his arm.

"You'd better go back inside and make it look they were taken," she suggested.

Rose could see them talking then just saw a hand go in the man's pocket, bringing out what could have been keys.  She could see the woman refusing to take them, the man trying to get her to take them.

"Claire, go leave the light on and the patio doors open, go on."

"What?" Claire asked, trying to push the keys back to him.

"I can't do it, I have to drop the van off and call a cab back to the hotel," Ricky told her.  "No-one will get in and if they do, all the better, it has to look like they were taken."

"The police might think they came to us," Claire replied.  "I'll have to get Lee to stay quiet."

"He won't be any trouble, if they find Lisa, his DNA's all over her.  Why did he take Pippa to the woods?" Ricky asked her.

"It will take anyone a few days to find her, enough time for us to get rid of any evidence.  You'd better hope Cate didn't miss you."

"She saw me follow one of the bridesmaids earlier, she'll think I'm still in her room, stupid cow," he admitted but not saying the bridesmaid had thrown him out when he'd got his hipflask out, which was why he'd decided to come home.

Rose watched Ricky get into the van and the woman going to the house next door.  She waited for her coming out but when she didn't, Rose was even more confused, unless there was a gate between the two houses but where was Lisa?  She yawned again, she knew she had to get some sleep so she quietly slipped out to the bathroom and got into the tiny fold-bed and fell sleep.

The next thing Rose knew, Shareen was standing over her and grinning.

"Come on Rose, I thought I was the one who'd had too much to drink last night?"

"Yeah, me too," Rose grinned back, trying to move without falling off the bed.

"See anything interesting last night?" Shareen yawned, holding her hand out to help Rose.

"Nah, not nearly as exciting as the estate on a Saturday night," Rose lied, thinking maybe she'd best stay quiet, since she was going home, Shareen had to live there and she may have jumped to too many conclusions.

Shareen's mother was getting breakfast ready while Rose tried to find the phone number for the train station, not being able to get through so Ken switched the laptop on to get the latest rail information.

"Looks like you'd better get going Rose," Ken told her, Rose trying to make sense of the screen that gave live updates.  "Are you going to Waterloo?  If you are then they're also doing work on the platforms."

"Geez, just great," Rose complained.  "Why didn't I see anything when I set off?"

Shareen patted her shoulder.  "Sure you weren't in a hurry and missed the signs?"

"I don't know, maybe there were some but how was I to know it would be affecting this route?"

Shareen smiled at her.  "Never mind, come back another time but check first.  We'll have breakfast then go catch the ten thirty bus, you might not have long to wait."

"Yeah, at least I'll be on the train but I was gonna get a later one.  I wish we'd been able to go out last night, I'd have liked to have met your neighbours."

"There's always next time Rose, when you come back, I'll talk to Claire, make sure they're all gonna be in," Shareen replied.

"Do ya see a lot of them?" Rose asked her as she accepted her plate.

"Yeah, more of Lee and Claire, Cate hardly goes out until the afternoon, I see Pippa going off to school with her dad or them.  I wonder how the wedding went?  I'm sure Cate will have lots of photos, before she got totalled," Shareen laughed.

Rose went to get her things and looked out of the window, thinking back to last night.  Should she say anything?  All her friend would say was maybe she'd had more to drink than she thought, Shareen was hardly taking notice.  She knew she hadn't imagined any of it but was that the same man who came out of the house as the one who came back in the van and wearing overalls?  She was snapped out of her daze.

"Come on then, we'd better walk up for the bus," Shareen suggested.  "I'd get Ken to take you but he'll be going the opposite way for football training."

"It's fine and thanks for inviting me, it's been good to catch up.  I wish I'd been able to stay a bit longer," Rose replied.

"Yeah, they'll probably be having a barbecue later.  I'll catch up with Lisa later though I'm surprised Pippa's not already out on her bike," Shareen told her, looking out of the window, hoping Lee was up and about since they'd not gone over last night with that creep Gary hanging around.

"Do they have barbecues every weekend?" Rose asked, picking up her overnight bag.

"I only get invited to the ones at Lee and Claire's, Cate's a bit stuck up and I usually talk to Lisa and Claire.  You have to watch Ricky, I'm careful not to be on my own with him."

Rose had to smile, since it was obvious she wanted to be on her own with Lee, she'd only seen him at a distance in the dark but he was tall and slim, maybe Shareen's type but not hers, especially when he was married.

They went downstairs, Rose thanking Shareen's mother as Ken was leaving, who apologised and that he'd be late for football.

"It's fine, thanks.  Come on Shareen, best go see if I can get a train, I'll pay your bus fare," Rose offered.

As they set off, Shareen was looking round.  It was just after 10.15 and Rose asked what was wrong.

"Nothing, I thought Lisa and Pippa would be around and Lee's car's parked outside, they normally park it at the side of the house."

"They've probably been to the shops or something?" Rose suggested, not wanting to say she knew why it was there.  She looped her free arm in her friend's.

"You should come back to London when you get a job, mum would love to see you again," Rose told her as they walked around the corner and the bus was just pulling up to the stand.

"I miss the old life Rose but this is a nicer place to live and it's safer.  No drunks on a Saturday night, no guessing who's dating who and pretending you care.  I just wish I could get a job.  I was gonna ask about training as a hairdresser like Lisa, she likes it but I don't think I'd get paid while I'm training."

"You could ask," Rose encouraged her, not liking her friend being out of work.  "You never know.  Come on, let's sit downstairs so I don't have to take this up the steps," Rose smiled, swinging the bag.

The bus set off up to the main road but stopped on the roundabout as they could hear a siren, Rose looking around to see what it was and where it was going and as the bus set off again, the police car went past the bus and towards where they had come from.

"Wonder what that's all about?" Rose nudged her friend.  "Thought ya said it was quieter here than the Powell Estate?"

"It is, I've not seen many police cars around since I've been here.  Must be someone's cat missing," Shareen joked.  "Maybe Gary's been hanging around again and someone got fed-up of him?  I'll have to ask Lisa, she said he's been watching her aunt's house while she's been there, just because they went out once."

"No wonder she thinks he's a creep then," Rose mused as the bus carried on into town.

She thought maybe Shareen was right, that someone had reported this Gary, maybe even Lisa.  Then she had an idea where Lisa had got to last night, she'd gone out with him and she'd left Pippa with the neighbours but how did that explain her being taken, asleep in a car and not coming back?  Maybe she had been taken to her mother?

Shareen nudged her.  "Whatcha thinking about Rose?"

"Oh, nothing, just how long it's gonna take me to get home," Rose bluffed.  

Well it would give her something to think about on the long journey home and she'd have to buy some drinks and sandwiches before she got on the train.  She was lucky as she went in the station concourse, revised train times on a board by the steps to the other platforms and seeing there was one to London in twenty minutes but it would be a slower than the normal service.

"Aw, never mind Rose," Shareen patted her shoulder.  "At least you'll get home today.  The shop's open, you can get something for the journey."

Rose thought great, the prices would be expensive in the well-known chainstore but compared with being hungry, she had little choice and bought the budget sandwiches, two-for-one drinks and some chocolate, grateful she'd had some breakfast.

"So, have a good journey back Rose," Shareen told her as they waited on the platform.  "It was good catching up and I think I will try to get into a training college, it has to be better than job hunting and getting nowhere."

"You'll do great, Shareen and if Lisa's on the course, at least you'll know someone."

"Yeah but I'm older than her, they'll be a bunch of twenty year olds making fun of me," Shareen replied, looking a bit sad.

"Just give it a try Shareen.  Looks like this is my train, at least it's on time here," Rose joked.

"Yeah, it'll be on time if they keep changing it so it looks that way," Shareen suddenly laughed.

Rose turned to give her friend a hug.  "I'll call you soon and Shareen, don't take this the wrong way but are you sure you should fancy a married bloke?"

Anyone other than Rose would have got a slap but she knew her friend meant well.

"Yeah, I suppose you're right but I won't do anything stupid, I promise," Shareen assured her as people were getting off the train.

As they waved goodbye and Rose found a seat, she couldn't help but wonder if the police car had been going to where Shareen lived, maybe not for this Gary but she was jumping to conclusions again, what could happen on a quiet estate like that and everything she saw last night probably had a reasonable explanation.

On the other side of town, a call had been taken from Ricky Gillespie, who had told the operator he and his wife had just returned from a friend's wedding to find their patio door wide open and they'd looked everywhere for their twelve year old daughter and her nineteen year old cousin.  When Shareen got back home after wandering around the shops for an hour, the street was blocked off and she had to convince the officers she lived there and then she only got through because her mother was telling another officer on her side of the police tape.

"What happened Mum?" Shareen asked as a black SUV type car pulled up and the tape was lifted by two officers then stopped in the Gillespie's driveway.

She saw a man and a woman getting out, showing their ID cards to a uniformed officer who was waiting for them.  They seemed to be arguing and Shareen thought they'd fit in around here.  They were arguing.

Just over an hour earlier, Alec and Tess Hardy, or Tess Henchard as she liked to be referred so as to avoid any confusion but Alec knew the real reason, that of them not getting on well and constantly arguing, had just received a call from the station they both worked at, something Alec thought was a big mistake these days.

That had triggered another argument as Daisy had been told to grab her things and be dropped off at her aunt's house by Alec but Tess had said she was old enough to stay on her own.

"Tess, we just got a call to say two girls have gone missing and you want to leave our daughter on her own?" Alec asked her angrily as they waited for Daisy coming downstairs.

"Alec, it's on the other side of town," Tess replied, waiting for her sister to answer.

"She goes Tess, I mean it and if your sister is busy, we'll have to delay and go take her to your mother's house," Alec insisted.

He shook his head and went to start the car, what the hell had he done to deserve this, where his wife didn't even care about their daughter's safety as they were about to attend a double kidnapping?  Well at least for now it was a kidnapping and he hoped by the time they got to the scene, the girls had lost track of time somewhere and had turned up.

He didn't mind getting to the scene for them to be standing there grinning and wondering what all the fuss was about.  So now, they were getting out of his car and were arguing where they started.  An officer knocked on the Gillespie's door and Ricky let them inside, Alec knowing he had sympathy for the man as Daisy was only slightly older than the man's daughter.

After asking the usual questions like when they had last been seen, Alec asked about friends and neighbours the girls could have gone to.

"There's only the couple next door, oh and a young woman across the street Lisa talks to, she sometimes comes over to the barbecues they have next door," Ricky told them.

"You mean Shareen," Cate butted in, a glass of wine in her hand, which she'd figured she deserved Ricky thought.

"We'll need to know what number she lives at," Alec told them, writing it all down.  "What about the neighbours next door?  Did they know the girls well?"

Tess was looking at some photos of Pippa and Lisa.

"Can we take these or some similar ones?" Tess asked Cate.

"I'll get you some more, these are my favourite ones of Pippa," Cate told her, getting up.

Alec could see the woman was taking it harder than Ricky was.  Tess took some photos and Alec got up.

"We'll send someone around to do elimination fingerprints, we have to search the house," Alec informed them.

"You think we're hiding them?" Ricky asked, hoping he wasn't giving anything away.

"A case a while back, a young girl disappeared and her own mother had her stashed under a mattress for days, now we have to be more thorough," Alec explained, putting his notebook away.  "What are your neighbour's names?" 

"Lee and Claire Ashworth," Ricky replied, hoping he didn't sound too keen.  "I've no idea what the young woman across the road's surname is."

"That's because she avoids you," Cate hissed at him, going back to her drink, that Alec thought it was a bit early for.

"No, it's because she and Lisa were always talking and laughing about Lee.  Come on Cate, that's the only reason they both hung around, with Lisa it was only Pippa and Lee that made her keep coming back."

"Think what you like Ricky," Cate pulled a face at him and Alec wondering what all that was about but it wasn't helping find the two girls, these two were just as bad as he and Tess were.

Alec got the number of the house opposite and they left, stopping outside the door.

"You go across and interview the woman, I'll go next door with a WPC, see if they saw the girls last night," Alec told Tess.

"I'm surprised you don't want to interview a woman on your own Alec," Tess jeered at him.

Alec shook his head.  "Is that supposed to mean something?  Do you know anything about the rumours going around the station about two married officers?"

"Yes, I thought you'd know something about it," Tess replied as Alec waved a WPC over.

Chapter 3
Alec was furious.  Two girls were missing, Tess had wanted to put her own daughter in danger and now she was accusing him of being on the end of the rumours.  Maybe he should listen more carefully in future, they were probably about her since things were going from bad to worse lately.  If he admitted it, it wasn't just lately, it was since the last Christmas party when Tess had gone missing for an hour then tried to tell him she'd been in the ladies room talking with some friends.

Now, he'd seen her several times talking to a DS who he couldn't stand and they'd been looking a bit friendly and laughing, probably at him for not seeing what was going on but as yet, he'd no proof they were not just talking.

He went next door to the Ashworth's house, knocking loudly on the door and being greeted by a woman with brown hair and a strong Welsh accent.

"Do you have to knock so loudly?" the woman complained after he'd knocked three times and the WPC, who had been looking upstairs had seen a curtain moving and told him.

"Mrs Ashworth?  I'm DI Hardy from Sandbrook police, may we ask you some question?" Alec asked, remembering to hold his ID out this time but the Gillespies had been too upset to notice as he and Tess had been let in.

"It's not convenient, you woke us up," the woman protested, trying to keep the door closed.  "What's it about?"

"We're knocking on all doors, two girls, including your next door neighbour's have been reported missing at just after 10 am this morning."

"What?" the woman asked, suddenly seeming awake to Alec.  "You mean Pippa and Lisa?"

"Yes, we believe you knew the girls?" Alec asked her, seeing a figure behind her.

"What's going on Claire?" Alec heard a man's voice behind her and the door opened wider.

Alec held his ID card out.  "Mr Ashworth?  We'd like to ask some questions about Pippa Gillespie and Lisa Newberry.  May we come in?"

Alec noticed both of them were dressed so what had all the fuss been about?

"You knew both girls?" Alec asked as they weren't invited into the living room.

Claire and Lee had been arguing upstairs after trying to get rid of all evidence Pippa had been in their spare bedroom and hadn't slept, having to clean up after Lee had used the timber he'd bought for a job to replace the blood-stained floorboards in the living room and the place was still a mess.  
"It's the cops Lee," Claire had called back to him as he stashed the cushion he'd used on Pippa a few hours earlier.  "There are cars all over the street and uniforms everywhere.  What have you started?"

"Me?" Lee had asked.  "Why don't you ask Ricky?  If you think I killed Lisa, why did you help me clean up?"

"Why would Ricky kill his own niece?  He caught you with her and you wanted her to keep quiet about it.  Isn't that the truth Lee?" Claire had asked as another knock came on the door.  "You should have moved the car, now they know we're in."

"Well go get rid of them then.  Ricky killed her in a temper because he saw us.  Happy now?" Lee asked her while changing his shirt.

Claire could never resist him when his shirt was off as she crossed over to him and ran a finger down his bare chest.

"This isn't over Lee, we say nothing and act surprised.  I was out all night at a friend's house, I'll find someone who owes me a favour and you say you never saw either of them last night.  I'll say I got a taxi, you say you went to the shop and left the car out.  Got it?" Claire asked as she let go of him and went downstairs as Alec knocked loudly for the third time.

"Yes, we know them," Lee replied.  "They're missing?  Well they're not here, I've not seen them since yesterday morning when Pippa was riding her bike out in the street."

"I was out all last night, I've not been back long, I was just going to have a lie down," Claire lied, taking Lee's arm.

Alec was glancing around, the room door was closed but he noticed some streaks on the paintwork.  Still, he wasn't there to include it in the glamorous homes magazine.

"Do you always leave your car on the road?" Alec asked.

"I went to get some milk first thing," Lee answered quickly.

Alec got a card out of his pocket.  "Well if you see either of the girls, call me.  We'd like permission to do a search, if they don't return in the next few hours."

"What?  Don't you believe us?" Claire asked, getting a glare from Lee.

"It's not a question of that, we have to establish the facts," Alec told them, getting a bit suspicious.  "We have to establish what time they went missing in the last 24 hours or so and if they are missing or gone to visit someone and lost track of time."

"Claire, we have to help if the girls are missing," Lee told her.  

"Did they spend a lot of time here?" Alec wanted to know.

"Not really, they come around for barbecues some Sunday afternoons or we go next door," Claire replied.  

"Fine.  We may be back," Alec replied, putting his notebook away and wondering how Tess was getting on.

Tess was getting nowhere with Shareen after Ken insisted he was present when being asked about her friends.

"So Shareen, when did you last see Lisa and Pippa?" Tess had asked her.

"Yesterday morning when I came back from town," Shareen told her after Ken had talked to her when he got back, having trouble and leaving his car down the street and hoping he wouldn't get told off for it.

He had told her not to bring Rose into it and that Rose only knew the same as her anyway so there was no need.

"Where did you see them?" Tess asked her after she'd asked her mother.

"They were out in the street, Pippa was on her bike and I waved to them.  I was going over to see Lisa later."

"You didn't see them last night then?" Tess wanted to know.

"No, I was going to go across but Ken said not to bother, there was a bit of a scuffle outside, someone was hanging around."  Ken stared at her.  "He said it was probably someone chasing after a cat or something," she added.

"Anything else?" Tess asked her, hoping Alec was having better luck.

Tess left her card and went off to join Alec at the end of the street where an incident post had been set up.

"You didn't get anything either?" Tess asked as she helped herself to a drink.

"Maybe not but those two neighbours are hiding something," Alec admitted.

"I think that woman knows more than she's letting on but her mother's boyfriend wouldn't let her say.  So, how long do we give them both to show up?" Tess asked him.

"Tess, they are both teenagers, we can't still rule out they went out early and lost track of time but we have to keep looking," Alec replied.  "What time were they reported missing?"

"Cate Gillespie said they got back from a wedding around nine and went to check on the girls when they found the patio door wide open."

"Did they not check next door?" Alec wondered.

"She never said but she probably did," Tess replied.  "Why?"

"Well according to them, they didn't know the girls were missing.  There's a lot about this I don't like Tess," Alec admitted.

"You never like anything Alec," Tess scoffed and went to sit down to write her report, an officer trying not to smile at both of them.

Everyone in the station knew the two of them didn't get on these days and some had never known them when they were getting on.

While inquiries were being conducted, Rose's train had been stopped several times so she was texting her mother and Shareen but getting no replies from Shareen but thinking her friend may still be out window shopping in the town.  She had been lucky and still had a seat to herself, she thought passengers had heeded the warning of delays and stayed at home.

She was still thinking about last night and why the car was still outside and wished she'd been looking out earlier to see if Pippa's parents had come back.  She had decided it was just one of those things that happened on a housing estate and despite the properties being expensive, life wasn't that different than on a council estate after all.  She finally got to her destination, the train having to wait for a free platform even though it was Sunday and made her way back home, greeting her mother when she got in.

"So, how was Shareen then?" her mother asked her.

"Fine but I'm annoyed I had to leave early," Rose replied, making herself a coffee.

"Well don't thank me for warning ya," her mother laughed.  "Is everything okay?  You seem a bit off."

"I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, that fold-up bed was awful," Rose replied, checking to see if Shareen had replied to the numerous texts she'd sent her friend.

Shareen had seen the texts but was ignoring them.  She'd had an idea Rose hadn't stopped looking out of the window last night so if something had been going on opposite, why hadn't she said something?  Yes, she'd had a lot to drink but if Rose had called her over, she'd have taken a look.  Surely Lisa wouldn't have gone off with Gary and leave her younger cousin alone but what time had Cate and Ricky got back this morning?

She was slightly annoyed with Rose that after being invited for the weekend and they used to tell each other everything that she'd not bothered to mention Lee's car had been moved or had he been out earlier?  She knew Lisa fancied him but so did she but would Lisa have gone next door and left her cousin, thinking Pippa wouldn't wake up?

She was now furious with Lisa, wherever she was for getting in with Lee, they could have still had a party without Claire but then Rose would have got to know him as well and since she had to share with Lisa, didn't want Rose getting involved.  Why did Ken want to keep Rose out of it though but did she want her friend coming back after not sharing if she'd seen anything or not?

Tess and Alec had gone back to the station to run the search and Tess finally went to pick up Daisy, who had been complaining on the way back.

"Where's dad?" Daisy asked on the way home.

"Busy with a case, like always," Tess replied, hoping now, their daughter would be on her side and if Dave asked her out for a drink again, this time she wasn't saying no.

Two days later, nothing had been heard of Pippa and Lisa so Alec made the decision to go further than the local newspaper and called another press conference and wondered why it hadn't already hit the news headlines elsewhere.   He soon found out from the chief.

"Alec, we kept it local for a reason," Chief Abbott told him when Alec proposed to go wider.  "If it had been two younger girls then yes but we've not established yet if Lisa lured her cousin away."

"They would have been back by now," Alec tried to argue.  "Why wouldn't she have contacted her mother?"

"I can answer that," Tess interrupted them as she stood in the doorway.  "I've been trying to make friends with Cate Gillespie.  According to her, Lisa doesn't get on with her parents, well her father and she changed her name when she was eighteen to her mother's name.  I talked to her, Lisa spends more time at their house than she does her own."

"Well I think this should go national, make a wider appeal for any information," Alec told them, tired of getting nowhere after two days and Tess was complaining he never bothered shaving and Daisy was in her room when he got home.

"Well they're still not talking to you Alec, not after you had forensics dig up their back garden and patio," Tess replied.  "Really Alec, that was a bit low even for you."

"I authorised that Tess," the chief reminded her.  "Fine, go ahead with the appeal Alec.  Tess, I want you present as well, we'll do it tonight, get it organised with as many involved as you need."

Once outside, Tess stopped Alec.

"Hope you're pleased now Alec, we’ll have calls from all sorts of people now, all the usual cranks will come out."

"Well someone could be prompted to come forward Tess, we have to do something.  I still think the Ashworth's are hiding something, they refused to let a team search their house."

"Well they have the right to refuse.  Are you going to get a search warrant?" Tess asked him.  "By the way, something interesting came back from the lab, you might want to take a look."

By the time they went to the briefing room which was packed with cameras and journalists, Alec had written what they wanted to say and began by saying he and DS Henchard would answer any questions after the statement, not wanting to let on the two of them were married, though for how much longer, he hated to think because he knew by her reactions that something was going on.

Rose had just got home from work and found her mother watching the news.

"Hey Rose, isn't Sandbrook where Shareen lives?" her mother asked her as the announcer said they would be going for a live broadcast shortly that was of interest to the public.

Rose tossed her bag on the chair and went to turn up the volume with the remote, since she didn't think her mother paid any attention to the news normally.

"Yeah, why?  What's going on?"

"Some detective's gonna make a statement, something about two girls going missing."

"What?  When was that?" Rose asked, a dreadful feeling in her stomach.

Jackie noticed the look on her face.  "Rose, do ya know anything about it?"

"I don't know Mum, Saturday night, well there was something going on out in the street," Rose told her.

They both went quiet as the chief handed over to Alec.  He wasted no time giving his well rehearsed statement, since he knew what he wanted to say and he concluded that if anyone had any information to call the number on screen.   Rose went to grab a pen and some paper to write it down.

"Rose, what did ya see?" her mother wanted to know.

"I'm not sure Mum but I think I should call them," she replied as Alec was being asked questions and directed them to Tess.

The press conference over, Tess confronted Alec.

"Thanks for heading the questions my way Alec," Tess told him as she let the press leave first.

"Come on Tess, you know as much as I do and I had to write out that statement.  You go home if you want, I'm staying to see if we get any calls."

"Well since Daisy's at my sister's I'll stay for a while, just to see if anyone was taking any notice but I think it's a waste of time," Tess replied.

Tess had just got back to her desk when someone was holding a phone and waved her over.

"DS Henchard, I think you should take this," the woman told her, the call being put on hold.

Rose was on the other end, fighting the part of herself that was telling her to hang up while she had the chance and not get involved after the person who had answered had told her she was going to get a senior officer when Rose stated she had seen something that night.

"Well, what is it?" Tess asked, not taking the phone.

"Someone claims to have been there the night those two girls went missing," the woman tried to tell her.

"Was someone missed out in the house to house?" Tess wanted to know, since she'd been put in charge of it.

"No Ma'am, not as far as I know, it's a London number."

"I knew this would happen," Tess complained, thinking she'd tried to tell Alec everyone would crawl out of the woodwork with tales they knew what had happened to the girls and it had started not an hour after the appeal had gone out and people were working overtime to answer calls.

"Okay, put it through to my phone," Tess gave in, knowing she'd regret it and she'd make Alec pay for it.

Rose was about to give up, how much did they think calls cost, since it wasn't an regional number and her mother was watching the time.  That was after Jackie had tried to talk her out of it.

"Rose, don't get involved sweetheart," she'd tried to tell her.

"How can I not get involved Mum?" Rose asked after she'd told her what she'd seen.

"You don't know anything for sure Rose, it could have been anything," her mother had replied.

"That's what I tried to tell myself for the last three days Mum but I know what it was now," Rose replied, dialling the number.  "I thought it was nothing, I didn't even say anything to Shareen about it on Sunday morning.  She'd had a few drinks on Saturday night, I didn't want to wake her."

"Sure you didn't have a few as well?" her mother asked her, knowing what the two of them used to be like together.

Rose was waiting for someone to answer.  "No Mum, I had two half glasses, you know I hate sherry.  Blimey, they must have got a lot of calls already."

"Don't be on too long, it had better not be one of those premium numbers Madam, you can pay for it."

"Mum, we're talking about two missing girls and I saw them on Saturday, Shareen waved to them.  The older girl was her friend.  I wonder why Shareen's not answered my calls, unless she's too upset?"

"How well did she know them then?  She's probably told the police what she knows but if she has, why haven't they called you?" her mother asked.

Rose was still in a queue waiting for a call handler, well so she was told.

"Because I never said anything Mum," Rose reminded her.  "She'd have just laughed it off, she saw me at the window and said I was just tryin' to get a look at her dishy neighbour."

"Well were ya?" her mother laughed.

"No, I was being nosy, it being a new place but I know what I saw.  Oh, I think I've finally got through," Rose said as the music went off.

She had told the call handler she had information about the two girls who were missing and was told she'd be put through to a senior officer when she said she'd seen something suspicious being taken out of the neighbours house that night.

"This is DS Henchard," Tess answered when the call was put through.  "I believe you have some information.  Can I take your name?"

"Yeah, I'm Rose Tyler, I was staying with a friend the night the two girls went missing."

Chapter 4
As Rose began to tell Tess what she saw the other night, Tess was writing it down, well some of it as she didn't quite believe it.

"So let me get this right, Miss Tyler, you saw two men carry something wrapped up in a sheet and you've just come forward now?" Tess asked her, looking around and seeing Alec in his office, his head in his hands.

She knew he looked tired but he wouldn't admit it and refused to go home.  Well she only had so much patience with him lately and unlike her husband, Dave was more than willing to listen to her problems.

"Well if I'd called the police and they were just dumping a carpet or something, they would have been annoyed, not to mention the two men, my friend has to live there," Rose replied, wishing she'd never called.

"I suppose that's a reasonable explanation," Tess told her, since it had been a local problem up until now and now she was right, calls would be coming from all over the place.  "So, who were you staying with that night?"

"My friend, Shareen Costello.  I've been tryin' to call her but she was friends with Lisa, she might be upset with her being missing," Rose told Tess.

Tess looked at her notes.  That was the name of the young woman she'd interviewed on Sunday and got nothing out of.

"She never said you were there that night," Tess admitted, wondering why that was.  "Have the two of you fallen out?"

"Not that I know of," Rose replied, getting tired of this and her mother looking at the clock.  "When we were going back to the railway station, we got the bus and a police car was on its way towards where we'd just come from, you must know what time that was, if ya don't believe I was there."

Her mother was shaking her head and mouthing, "I told ya not to get involved Rose."

Rose covered the phone, about to say her mother was right.

"So, one man drove off, came back and a woman got in and they drove off again?" Tess asked wearily, wishing she'd gone home now.  "Could you see them clearly?"

"Only one of them.  My friend said he was called Lee Ashworth," Rose replied.

Now Tess was interested.  If she kept this to herself, she would be one up on Alec.

"Did your friend see what happened?" Tess asked, wanting to catch the other woman out and charging her with obstruction.

"No, she was asleep, she'd had a bit to drink earlier.  We were gonna go out but her mother's boyfriend said some creep was hanging around and told us not to bother.  Shareen was going to introduce me to the Ashworth's."

The word 'drink' flashed alarm bells to Tess.  Maybe this caller had drunk a few too many herself, the whole thing seemed a bit odd, especially for a private estate.

"Did you meet the Ashworths?" Tess asked her.

"No, I told ya, we never went over," Rose repeated.  "She'd described him to me and since he came out of that house, it had to be him.  There was a smaller man with him but I couldn't see his face.  It looked like Pippa's dad, I saw him and her mother getting into a taxi that morning."

"What time was that?" Tess asked, to see if it agreed with what Cate had told her.

"Around nine," Rose replied, thinking she was getting nowhere fast and she'd have to pay for the wasted call.

"But that night, you and your friend had been drinking in her house?" Tess asked as she saw Alec get up as she twisted in her chair.  

She didn't want Alec to get hold of this, he wasn't going to get the glory for it, if the caller was to be believed.

After a few more questions, Tess thanked Rose and said she'd look into it.

"What was that?" Alec asked as Tess closed her notebook.

"I warned you they would be crawling out of the woodwork Alec, it's late, let's go home, we'll leave Daisy where she is, my sister will make sure she gets to school."

Alec just shrugged his shoulders.  Maybe tonight he should make some effort to keep Tess interested but who was he kidding?

Rose sat with the phone in her hand, her mother patting her shoulder.

"Well at least ya tried Rose.  Did ya get the name of the person who took your call?" she asked Rose.

"Yeah, it was the woman sat beside that other detective who spoke," Rose replied, scribbling Tess's name on the pad and the time she called.

"Well maybe they'll make something of it?" her mother suggested.

Rose wasn't so sure about it.  "I don't think she believed me Mum," Rose had to admit.  "Would you believe me if I said me and Shareen had a few drinks?  Why won't Shareen answer my texts?  That detective said she's spoken to her and never even mentioned I'd been there over the weekend."

"Well I expect Shareen didn't want ya to get involved," her mother suggested.

"Well maybe but she knew I'd been looking out of the window, maybe she's annoyed I didn't wake her to see what was going on?" Rose replied.

"Yeah but then, neither of ya would have been believed?  Maybe Shareen was hoping you'd contact the police and would be of some use to them?"

"Maybe Mum but those girls have been missing since the time I saw what was going on opposite and the police don't believe me," Rose said sadly.

"Listen Rose, you've done your best love, maybe you'd have had better luck with the other detective, who knows?  Anyway, they could still turn up, maybe they saw the news, Lisa took her cousin off somewhere and they never realised what bother they were causing?  Lisa could have led her younger cousin on and told Pippa her mother already knew?" her mother suggested.

Rose thought about it.  "Yeah, maybe and maybe the neighbours were just dumping stuff that night but why did Lee take Pippa out to his car and not come back with her?" Rose asked.

"You never mentioned that to the police Rose," her mother reminded her.

"Well she didn't believe the rest of it, why would she believe that?" Rose asked.

The next morning, it was raining in Sandbrook for the second day, the search had been toned down but now they were reluctantly having to step it up to include the nearby woods that were at both sides of a river that had broken its banks as water from the hills poured down into it.

Tess wasn't about to go out again in it but Alec was going and if something happened, he'd get all the praise but she had the witness statement from the night before as an ace up her sleeve if Lee Ashworth and Pippa's father had been doing anything other than illegally dumping rubbish late at night.

She'd been back to ask Ricky if he'd stayed at the wedding all night, to which he'd shouted his annoyance at her for asking stupid questions while his daughter and his niece were still missing.

Cate however was more forthcoming, not wanting to let on there was anything wrong with their marriage.

"I had to look after her all night, she'd had a lot to drink," Ricky agreed when Cate had said they were together all night.

"So you never left?" Tess had asked him, wondering whether to believe the statement from Rose the day before.

Had Rose Tyler seen Ricky?  She'd claimed to have seen him on the Saturday morning but couldn't identify him late at night because she had claimed his back was turned a few times and the other times behind the van, with a partial number plate and not being sure even what colour the van was.

Ricky had lost his temper so Tess had left to go join the search in the woods, opting to stay in the van they were using and wondering if Alec was wandering the riverbank in the pouring rain with the dog-handlers and the rest of the search team, which now included those who could be spared from nearby police stations.

A few hours later, the search was called off for the time being.  Tess went to break the news young Pippa had been found by Alec in the river, the medical examiner having determined she'd been in the water at least two days, the amount of time it had been raining but she'd not necessarily been put in.  She could have been left on the bank somewhere and been carried in when the river had flooded or she could have come from further upstream – it was impossible to determine, so they had been told.

She wasn't that concerned Alec was sat at the back of an ambulance, the other one having taken Pippa to the nearby hospital.  He'd been sat drinking hot tea with a thermal blanket around him and he'd assured everyone he was fine so she'd said she'd go break the news to the family.  When she had left, Alec was given some dry clothes by a DC who had also brought his personal belongings from his office.

"Are you sure you're okay Alec?" Tess had asked before she'd left.

"Yes, you go tell the family, I'll stay and finish up here," he had told her.

The medics were not impressed with him when after getting changed, he'd told them he wasn't going to the hospital, not until they went to see the medical examiner.  Cate and Ricky had of course broken down but Ricky knew the truth.  He knew the Ashworth's were lying about what happened to Pippa and he also knew Lisa was never coming back because he'd killed her in a jealous temper for having sex with Lee.

Now Ricky was determined to help the police in as little way as possible because Claire had him and she knew it.  It wouldn't however stop him from holding a grudge against them, as long as he didn't tell what happened that night.

Rose found out when she got home that night.  Her mother had heard it on the news and was upset herself, even though she'd never met any of them and she knew it would be more upsetting for Rose as she told her.

"I'm so sorry Rose, they found Pippa, in the river," her mother told her as she handed a mug of tea to her.

Rose flopped on the kitchen chair.

"No.  When was that Mum?" Rose asked, tears welling up.

"This morning, they don't know much yet though, if she drowned or she was already dead."

"I've avoided the news all day Mum, maybe they'd have found her sooner if that detective had listened to me?"

"You don't know that sweetheart.  You said you saw her being carried out, she could have already been dead and he was taking her to the woods.  Did she look like she was moving?"

"I couldn't tell Mum but if she was asleep, I wouldn't have known anyway.  I have to call the police again and tell them I missed that part out," she told her mother, reaching for her mobile.

"Don't Rose, what will it look like?" she asked her.  "You could get into trouble for not saying.  Nothing from Shareen yet?  She must be devastated, if she knew the girl but where's Lisa?"

"Lisa can't have known about it Mum," Rose told her.  "She wouldn't have just let Lee take her off like that.  I thought Lisa was in the house but she can't have been.  What did I get into Mum?"

Her mother leaned down to hug her, rubbing her back.

"I don't know sweetheart but you can't say anything, if ya do, they'll be all kinds of questions to be asked and what if you're wrong and those people find out you saw them that night?  Mind you, I'll bet a week's money it was her dad you saw with Lee but what were they doing?  Do ya think it was an accident and he left Lee to deal with it?"

Rose shook her head, not knowing what to think any more.

Tess had seen Alec come back to the station, not looking any worse for wear – well so she thought.  She went into his office, closing the door behind her.

"They're continuing the search for Lisa," she told him, sitting opposite.  "Now we have to find out where Pippa was killed."

"You don't say?" Alec replied sarcastically, not wanting to let on he didn't feel as good as he actually looked.

He'd not bothered when Tess had gone off and left him, he'd not wanted to be there to tell the family Pippa had been found.  When he closed his eyes for a moment, he could still feel the weight of her and going under the water himself as he'd lost his footing as several pairs of hands had been trying to grab hold of him.  Now all that mattered was finding the coward who had left a twelve year old child either in the water or close by and make sure they went away for a very long time.

It had been driven home to him they could have been out looking for Daisy.  Little did he know that Tess had forgotten about the so-called witness from that night.  She had written down a lot of things since that night Rose had told her what she'd seen and had started a new notebook, leaving her old one in the drawer and meaning to get anything important out of it later but later never came as the station suddenly became even more inundated with calls after she gave a statement to the press, Alec telling her to do it this time.

"So Mum, who broke the news then, was it the woman I spoke to?" Rose asked after tea.

"Yeah, she was on her own this time.  Maybe you'd have got further if that man had taken your call?  Are you gonna try and call Shareen?"

She was about to when the doorbell went, her mother getting up and letting Mickey in.

"Rose, isn't Sandbrook where Shareen moved to?" he asked as Jackie made him some tea.

Jackie opened the hatch from the kitchen.  "Tell him Rose."

Mickey listened and got up to grab the phone.

"You have to call them again and get them to take notice.  Try Shareen again as well."

Rose begrudgingly took the phone but got a busy tone, giving up after five minutes of trying.  She tried Shareen's number and was surprised her friend actually answered but she didn't expect the reception she got. 

"Pippa's dead," was all Shareen could say.

"Yeah, I know.  I'm so sorry Shareen.  I've been tryin' to call ya since Sunday.  Why didn't ya answer me?" Rose asked her.

Tess had also called at Shareen's and with both her mum and Ken out, she'd had to tell Tess Rose was there that night but her friend had not said anything about seeing what had happened.

"So Shareen," Tess had said to her after breaking the news to Pippa's parents and now not in the mood for the run-around from neighbours.  "Are you sure you never saw anything on Saturday night?  I've been given information you weren't alone that night so you may as well tell me."

Shareen was furious.  She should have known that Rose was watching after she'd fallen asleep again and her friend had lied.  She'd not answered Rose because she suspected and Ken had said Rose needn't be involved but she was.

"I've no idea what you're talking about, DS Henchard.  Yeah, my friend was down from London, we had a lot to drink instead of going across the road.  Who knows what the silly cow saw?"

After that, Tess had gone back, started a new notebook and thought nothing else of what Rose had said she'd seen that night, if the two of them had been drinking.

"I thought we were friends," Rose was now telling Shareen after she'd told Rose she hated her for saying she'd seen something that night and not told her.

"Friends?  Friends tell each other everything Rose and that woman detective had to tell me you said you saw something across the street that night."

"I thought it was nothing," Rose replied.  "Now I know what it was," she continued, not mentioning she'd seen who she now wondered was Lee or not carrying Pippa.

When she thought about it, she'd not actually seen Lee before, she'd gone on Shareen's description of him but the woman going in had lived there and she must have been Claire, surely?  Now she didn't know what to think.

"Don't try to contact me again Rose, I mean it.  Lisa's still missing and now I have to go to Pippa's funeral and don't you dare turn up for it either," Shareen warned her.

With that, Rose heard her hang up and put her phone on the glass coffee table.

"She's fallen out with me, just because I didn't tell her what I saw," Rose told her mother and Mickey.  "All the time we've been friends, she's mad because she didn't see what I saw.  How could she?"

"Maybe it's for the best?" her mother offered while Mickey tried to console Rose.

"Forget it Rose," Mickey advised her.  "If she's spoken to the police and admitted you were there, they'd have rung you by now."

"Mickey's right," Jackie agreed.  "If she said you'd been drinking and had as much as she'd had, they're not likely to believe ya now."

"I've lost my friend Mum and now I have to live with what I saw that night and only you two believe me.  You do believe me, both of you?" Rose asked, seeing the looks on their faces.

"You have to admit it's a bit far-fetched Rose," Mickey grinned when she shoved him away.  "It's like that vampire film when no-one believed what that kid said about his neighbour being a vampire."

"Great Mickey, that's a big help," Rose told him.

All her mother could say was, "Is that the original or the remake with that Scottish actor Rose likes?"

Chapter 5
A/N I have limited knowledge of how they would have treated Alec at the doctor's and the hospital so I will keep it to a minimum.

Two days later, Ricky Gillespie having been warned to stop calling the station constantly and that when they had some news about Lisa, he'd get to know, he turned up asking for Alec.

"You keep shutting me off when I call," he told Tess and Alec in an interview room, a less formal one.

"You have to let us do our jobs," Alec told him, feeling worse than the day before but not saying anything.

He planned on sneaking off early under some false pretence and go visit his family practitioner later in the afternoon, telling those who were bothered he was following a lead.  That covered a multitude of questions anyone had.

It turned out Ricky wasn't as calm as he'd appeared, banging his fist on the low table.

"That's all I get out of you Hardy.  Tess, tell me anything?" he asked her, since she'd been spending a lot of time at the house and trying to stop Cate from tipping over the edge.

"Sorry Ricky, I wish I had something other than what you already know," Tess told him sympathetically.  "We have a lot of leads to follow since the appeal, it takes time to go through them, to make sure they're genuine."

She half thought about the woman opposite and her friend who had been drinking but she now didn't consider them as 'credible' as the woman's friend could have seen anything.  She didn't want to ask Ricky if he'd been involved with what was thought to have occurred, since he swore he was at the wedding and Cate had vouched for him.  She also wasn't going to ask him in front of Alec, he seemed to bring the worst out in young Pippa's father.

"Are you calling round later?" Ricky asked, getting up.

"Tell Cate I'll call on my way home," Tess assured him.

Alec looked at her, she was getting too personally involved with this.  When Ricky left, he told her so.

"Well someone has to keep them up to date," Tess huffed.

"Well do it on police time, not in your own or they will expect it all the time.  Is your sister still going to have Daisy after school?" he asked, getting up.

"Yes, since you spend more time here than I do, are you calling for her?" Tess asked.

"No, you go collect her, she hardly spoke to me last night," Alec replied, thinking back to the uncomfortable ride home where Daisy hadn't said a word.

"That's because she wants to go straight home, not walk home with her friends who live in the same street as my sister," Tess replied.

"I have somewhere to go later, a lead I got earlier," Alec decided to admit, to see if he could get away with it.  "I'll come back here then try to be home early."

Tess laughed.  "If you say so Alec."

"I had Daisy home for seven last night," Alec replied.

"Only because she rang me and asked when someone was collecting her," Tess told him.

"So why did you send me?" Alec wanted to know.

Tess didn't say anything, she had been talking to Dave and complaining about Alec.

Alec left just after four to go to the surgery near home, wondering if he should go home afterwards but there was still a pile of witness statements to go through that had been passed for him to approve to follow up, not that Tess couldn't do it.  He decided he would go back just to see if Tess left early to see the Gillespies or if she'd wait until later.

"So Alec," his friend and doctor spoke to him as he indicated for Alec to fasten his shirt.  "That heartbeat of yours is a wee bit of a concern.  You say it's been like that since they pulled you out of the river the other day?  Just try and rest over the weekend and see if it calms down," he advised.

"I can't.  Can you give me something for it?" Alec asked, pulling his still knotted tie over his head, not that he ever fastened it properly, causing Daisy to laugh when she was younger, now she called him other names.

"Well, you have early indications of heart arrhythmia Alec, that's not going to help," his friend told him in a stronger Scottish accent than Alec himself had.

"Is that serious?" Alec tried to joke, putting his jacket on and ignoring his phone buzzing, since it was probably Tess.

"It can be.  I'll write a letter for the hospital, just go to emergency and they will see you, you won't need an appointment.  Don't leave it Alec, it'll only get worse.  I won't put a date on the letter, just my concern that I want a second opinion.  I'd get the nurse to put you on the heart-rate monitor but she's left for the day.  Here," he told Alec after scribbling some notes that Alec hoped the hospital could read.  "Don't leave it too long," his friend smiled, knowing what Alec could be like.

Alec took the sheet of paper, folded it and put it in his inside jacket pocket.

"I take it you don't want Tess to know?" his friend smiled.

"What do you think?" Alec tried to joke but his sense of humour was almost non-existent lately.  "So what caused it?"

"Well getting pulled out of the river for a start.  You should have got yourself checked out."

"I couldn't, there was too much to do," Alec replied, wondering if it was worth going back to the station.

It would be quiet at home until Tess got back with Daisy but when she did, it wouldn't help his newly discovered condition.  He had a decision to make and soon.  Take medical advice or let Tess walk all over him for a quiet life – some choice but depending on what he was advised, he could live with it until the case was solved, maybe it wasn't that bad?

He soon found out how bad it was the following morning when Tess said she was taking the weekend off and he said that one of them should show their face so he used the time to present the letter at the hospital's emergency department desk then saw the current waiting time was over an hour.

"I was assured I would not have to wait," Alec pointed out to the over-worked receptionist who was trying to decipher his friend's writing.

"You won't Mr Hardy but we only have so many specialists on duty but a nurse will be with you shortly to take your vitals and put you on a monitor, just take a seat," she told him.

He was about to get a drink when he saw a sign for no eating or drinking prior to being seen so he had to do without, hoping he wouldn't be long and Tess didn't ask anyone at the station if he was in or not.  She wouldn't bother until at least lunchtime, she and Daisy had taken to going shopping on Saturday mornings and even a murder investigation wouldn't stop the pair of them.

As he waited, he thought back over the last hectic week, wondering how things could turn so sour in a short space of time and two families had been ripped apart as there were still no leads on the older missing teenager, whose birthday was coming up and she was either hiding or had been abducted and no-one knew which it was.  Her own family had been no help at all since she'd distanced herself from her father recently and spent more time with her cousin's family.

He was interrupted from his thoughts by his name being called, getting a few looks as he walked past people but he didn't care – they were probably not there for the same reason as his friend had pointed out, his irregular heartbeat could be anything and could be life-threatening but he had things to do and this wasn't going to stop him.

He was walking out two hours later, getting some heart medication and being given the news he would benefit from having a pacemaker fitted at the earliest possible time or he could get worse.

"I can fit you in next week," the cardiologist had told him, typing on his keyboard.

"Am I that bad?" Alec asked.

"The medication will only help if you take it on a regular basis and in your line of work I understand that may be difficult.  I know who you are Alec."

"Great.  I'll think about it but if the medication can get me through this investigation, then I'll stay on it for now," Alec replied.

The specialist shook his head as Alec got up.  "Don't leave it too long, you have a high-pressure job."

Alec thought maybe the man was over-reacting.  As soon as he got a grip on this case, he'd get himself sorted, how long could it take?  If he'd only known Tess had vital information and had thought to share it, the case would have been halfway solved.

Rose had tried to put the incident to the back of her mind, there was nothing else she could do.  Shareen was no longer her friend, she'd tried to get the police to believe her but no-one had even phoned back asking her any more questions so she could only conclude Shareen had claimed they'd both drunk too much that night and she wasn't a reliable witness.  Not only that, her mother and Mickey didn't seem to think going on about it would do any good so she'd not even got anyone to talk to about it.

So Mickey had decided to try to cheer her up and dragged her to the pub on Saturday night and she'd let him when he assured her his team wasn't one of the matches shown on the TV highlights.

"Come on Rose, try and get over it," Mickey tried to encourage her as she sat looking at her drink.

"If we hadn't been drinking last Saturday night, I might have been believed," she told him sadly.  "If we'd gone across the street, maybe those two girls would have been okay."

"You don't know about Lisa," Mickey reminded her.  "She could have run off, remember when you went to Shareen's and you two went off?  Your mum was frantic."

"I know but we both came back, Pippa's not coming back," Rose replied.  "Where was she being taken at that time of night?"

The police, on Alec's orders had not revealed how Pippa had been found so as to not add any speculation so Rose thought she could have maybe done something.

"If we'd been there, maybe nothing would have happened to her," Rose continued.

"Get over it Rose, there's nothing else you can do," Mickey told her.  "Come on, drink up, it's your round," he grinned. 

Rose kicked his leg under the table and reluctantly took a drink, not really being in the mood but she'd not been the week before and now she had to carry the guilt around that she could have prevented what happened and Lisa wouldn't still be missing but what got her the most was losing her friend, the friend who she had made on her first day at school.  

It had not only affected two families, it had brought a lifetime friendship to an end because she and Shareen had shared everything and now Shareen didn't believe she was sorry she hadn't told her.

Over the following weeks, Ricky started causing more trouble, forever trying to put the blame on the neighbours by saying they should have noticed something going on if the two girls had gone out.  Tess was trying to get Cate to admit Ricky wasn't with her all that Saturday night, forgetting she'd got that idea from a not so reliable source but Cate was too embarrassed their marriage was breaking down to the point Ricky had moved out.

"Did you know?" Alec asked Tess as Ricky had informed them of his change of address.

"No but Cate said he spent more time at work, like someone else I know," Tess replied as she sat opposite him in his office.

"Don't bring that into this Tess," Alec reminded her as he was also on the verge of calling it a day or go for the surgery the hospital had reminded him to get, thankfully by text and not letter.  "Right, I want you to have a go at Claire Ashworth."

"Me?" Tess scoffed.  "You might have more luck with her, if you tidied yourself up, you look like that American detective on TV."

"This is not a fashion contest Tess," Alec reminded her, thinking he only did it just to annoy her.  "It seems to me they know more then they are letting on so here is what we will do."

Try as they may, the more they questioned the Ashworth's the more Lee got annoyed and Ricky demanded something was done about his neighbour as he'd told Tess he was convinced now it was him.  The weeks turned into months, Lee had been brought it several times for questioning and Alec had repeatedly put off his surgery and moved out into a one-bedroomed apartment to avoid even more stress with arguing day and night with who was soon to be his ex wife.

Then they finally got a breakthrough.  It was going stale, Alec knew it and this was their chance to prove Lee had something to do with the events and reluctantly the chief had to agree to let Pippa be returned for a funeral as nothing would be gained by delaying it further.

Ricky had argued again with Alec on the day, telling Alec he had a nerve to turn up.

"My daughter's her age, we are doing our best for you," Alec had told him as the small coffin was being put carefully in the back of the Hearst.

"I have nothing more to say to you, stay away from the house, Cate's upset enough," Ricky had warned him.

Then Alec had noticed Claire hiding behind the crowd and approached her.

"Want to change your story?" he asked her as Tess was busy talking to someone.

"Why?  Why don't you just leave Lee alone?" Claire asked him.  

"Maybe because the way he reacts makes me suspicious," Alec replied, wishing he could take his pills.

He knew they weren't doing as well as they should, his friend had warned him several weeks ago they weren't an excuse not to have the pacemaker.

"If you think I'm going to betray my husband, that's never going to happen," Claire replied.

Alec shook his head and went to shake Cate's hand.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.  

Alec thought if he'd not pushed the chief, they wouldn't have been there.

So several weeks went by and now they were preparing to go search a car that Lee had just sold after an alert was put out to hold it.

"Where did the information come from?" Alec asked, trying not to grimace from the stitches in his chest from the operation two days previously.

"I told you Alec, I put an alert out for anything he sold, we still have to find that pendant and I was taking no chances," Tess replied, wondering why he'd been so calm lately and where he'd disappeared to a few afternoons ago.

They successfully retrieved the missing pendant of Pippa's, Alec ordering that Lee be brought in for questioning when they got back as he'd been in custody for several weeks and had been let out again on police bail but had moved into a bedsit.  That small victory was about to be spoiled as Tess met Dave at a nearby hotel.

After they had both been chewed out the next morning by the chief, who threatened to demote the pair of them if they didn't get it back and stop bickering with each other about whose fault it had been, they were now arguing in his office, hoping no-one would tell.

"I'm not taking the blame for you Tess," Alec was telling her.  "There must be something else we can get him on."

"We tried, what is it with you?  If this gets out at the trial, we've nothing and it's only a week away," Tess replied.

"Oh, it will get out at the trial, his bloody solicitor will make a point of it.  See if we can get it put back for a few weeks."

"You are kidding?" Tess asked him.  "On what grounds?"

"On the other evidence we have on him, that Claire admitted she went out that night and didn't get home until late," Alec reminded her.

"Well she wouldn't have done that if I'd not convinced her," Tess replied.

There was a knock on the door and Alec shouted for the person to go away.

"Really Alec," Tess told him, getting up.  "What is it Andy?" she asked the DC, who was always timid around Alec with being newly promoted and been warned about the DI.

"Sir, Ma'am, there's a Claire Ripley at reception needs to speak to both of you urgently."

"Take her to the interview room," Tess told him.  "Coming Alec?"

Alec got up reluctantly.  All he needed was for Ashworth's estranged wife to change her mind about that night.

They sat across the table from Claire.

"So, you two are getting divorced?" Claire commented.  "Now you know how it feels like.  I've thought it over, I can't testify against Lee."

"Claire, you said you were scared he'd find out, he won't," Tess reminded her.

"I know what he'll do if he finds out and I'm pregnant, I've been hiding it.  Don't say you never noticed Tess?" Claire grinned, Tess noticing now the woman was wearing lose clothing.  "I need him."

"It doesn't work like that Claire," Alec told her.  "You can't just revoke your testimony like that, a young girl died, a young girl you knew well."

"I know but I'm not standing up in court, I'm not risking it if he gets off," Claire told them, crossing her arms on the table.  "Say what you like so you'd better release him."

"We can't just release him on your say-so Claire," Alec told her.  "Where were you last night?"

Tess looked at him.

"What?  I was in all night, where else would I have been?  Ask Cate, she knocked on the wall to tell me to turn the TV down, those builders should have built thicker walls."

Alec had to let it go, he'd no proof she had broken into Tess's car but he was going to find out by asking Cate if she did tell her to turn the TV volume down.

"So what are we going to do now?" Tess asked him when Claire had left.

"Find something else.  Go back and see if we missed anything or we missed interviewing someone.  Think Tess, has everyone been seen again?"

He was glad that now they'd begun divorce proceedings they could at least work with each other, even if Daisy was taking her mother's side but he could win her back when this was finally over.

"Well, there may be one thing," Tess admitted.  "I'll meet you in your office, I have to find an old notebook of mine.  There was that neighbour across the street, remember?"

"Yes, I seem to remember you said it was more my field of expertise interviewing women.  Go on, what about her?"

"Well I took her statement but I went back to see her, the day we found Pippa.  I'd had a phone call a few days before from someone who claimed she'd been staying there on the Saturday night and saw something."

"What?" Alec shouted.  "You never thought this was important?  What is wrong with you?"

"The woman said the pair of them had been drinking so I dismissed it as not a credible statement," Tess replied, seeing he was getting angry, something he'd not done for a long time.

"Well go interview the neighbour again and find this person who called you.  Does she live locally?" Alec asked.

"No, it was after you put that appeal out, she lives in London," Tess admitted.

"Well get that notebook and give me the number, why have you not said?" he asked, not quite believing it but was he clasping at straws if it depended on two women who'd had a few drinks the night Pippa and Lisa had gone missing?  "So, do you remember her name?"

"Which one?" Tess asked him, not remembering.

"The one in London.  Get the details now and be in my office in ten minutes, I have now got to go to the chief and tell him we missed something," Alec replied, glad his newly fitted pacemaker seemed to be doing its job.  "No, actually, I'm going to tell him you failed to follow it up and never brought it to my attention," he added.

"Don't do that Alec," Tess asked him.  "You've changed lately, what is it about you?"

"How would you have noticed?" he replied.  "You were too busy with Dave and as for me changing, you could say I finally saw what was going on under my nose but the main reason is that I came to my senses."

Chapter 6
Rose was on her break at the department store, playing with her phone and debating if she should finally delete Shareen's number from her contacts.  She'd not been able to bring herself to do so, in case her friend, well her ex friend decided to forgive her for not sharing.

It had been months since that night, standing at the window and watching who she believed was Lee carry Pippa out to the car and not coming back with her.  It still haunted her she could have done something about it but that woman detective had more or less decided not to follow up on the claim she had seen something and so she'd gone and left that bit out, for fear as her mother and Mickey had pointed out numerous times they either thought she'd made the whole thing up or they'd charge her with obstructing a police enquiry.

She'd given up trying to talk to Mickey about it on the few occasions he'd dragged her out, one being her birthday, which hadn't been the same without Shareen being there.

Tess had found her notebook in the back of a deep drawer and had to accept the fact she had to share the information, even though at the time she'd dismissed it.  The same notebook contained Shareen Costello's details and she supposed Alec would want those too.

"Here, the details are at the back of this," Tess handed the open notebook to him as he put his glasses on, the new rimless ones he'd got after he'd moved out.

She still hated the fact he always had one days beard growth, like he was trying to make himself look different just because they were getting a divorce.  She wondered if he was secretly seeing someone and that accounted for the change?

"Right, you try and see if the woman opposite remembers anything odd about that day," he told Tess.  "Anything at all and in future, I will decide who is a credible witness or not.  Were you having some kind of contest with me?"  

He saw the look on her face as he looked up from copying Rose's mobile number.

"Well you sent me to interview her Alec, I made a decision not to follow it after she concurred the two of them had a few drinks that night," Tess tried to explain.

"Maybe the neighbour had?" Alec asked.  "Her friend however could have been completely sober and seen everything that went on that night.  Did it never occur to you?"

"Don't take the moral high ground with me Alec, I'm the one who still comforts Cate by telling her we won't give up on Lisa," Tess hissed at him.

"Oh, right, so I'm the bad guy who does not care?" he asked as he picked up his desk phone.  "Go find the neighbour and get her in for an interview."

"You don't trust me to do it?" Tess asked as she took her notebook back.

"What do you think?" he replied as he waited for Rose to answer, not knowing if she worked or not.

Rose jumped as her phone buzzed in her hand.  No-one called her during the day, well apart from the 'Unknown Number' and 'Private' that were a dead giveaway they were either trying to sell something or get you to make a claim.

"Hello?" Rose answered warily as she noticed it was a blocked number but thought she'd have the satisfaction of telling the caller not to bother her again.

"Miss Tyler?" a Scottish male voice asked her.  "This is DI Hardy from the Sandbrook police."

"Oh.  You're the detective in charge of Pippa's murder?" she asked, knowing she had to go back on the shop floor in five minutes.

"Yes and I have just been passed your details that say you saw something the night she and her cousin disappeared.  Can I ask you some questions?"

"Well sorry, I'm at work, just finishing my break.  Is it about what I talked to the other detective about months ago?" Rose asked, thinking about time.

"Well yes, can I call you back?" he asked, knowing that not everyone was always free to talk.

"Yeah, I'm home for six or is that too late?" Rose replied, going to her locker.  "I really have to go now or my manager will go mad."

"Yes, sorry," Alec apologised, something he didn't do much of recently.  "I will call back after six.   Just one thing, you know a Shareen Costello?"

"I used to, we fell out," Rose admitted, knowing she didn't have time to nip to the ladies and would have to sneak off later.

"Sorry to hear that.  We'll talk later, thanks for your time," Alec replied.

"Yeah, I'd almost given up," Rose had to admit.  "I'll wait for your call then?"

Alec agreed and let her go, seeing Tess was about to leave.  He opened his office door.

"I'm calling her back later, she's at work.  Where's the statement you wrote from your phone conversation with her?" he asked.

"I didn't write one, I told you, I stopped when she admitted she and her friend were drinking earlier," Tess had to confess.

"What is it with you?  We asked for information, she could have seen everything that night and you thought it was not relevant?" he asked, not believing it after all this time.

"You would have thought the same Alec, don't have a go at me," Tess replied, everyone looking at them.  "Do you want me to visit the neighbour or not?"

"Yes, go.  See what happened and get a proper statement this time.  Did you get one before?" he asked.

"Yes, it's written out somewhere," Tess replied, wanting to get out just to get away from him now he was in a mood.

"Was it passed for another interview?  I don't remember seeing one, all the neighbours saw nothing, though I find that hard to believe, someone must have been looking out of a window."

"There was, the woman you just rang," Tess reminded him.

"Well did she see the whole thing?" he wanted to know since Tess had taken her notebook back.

"Some of it.  She just saw two men who could have been Lee Ashworth and Ricky Gillespie carry something out to a van."

"What?" Alec erupted.  "What are you playing at?  Did you not think that was important enough to follow up?"

"We'll discuss this when I get back Alec," Tess tried to get out of it, wondering if she'd made a mistake.  "It was probably Lee Ashworth and a friend doing some illegal tipping on the spare ground.  Cate said Ricky was with her all night."

"Really?  How would she know?  Her statement said she'd had a lot to drink yet you believe her and not believe a possible eye-witness?" Alec wanted to know.  "What else did she say?"

"Get her to tell you when you call her back," Tess suggested.  "I suppose you'll be late finishing again?  When are you coming round to see Daisy?"

Alec knew everyone in the office had known of their impending divorce and thought the chief would have moved one of them off the case but they had started it together.

"Stop using her as an excuse Tess.  That witness could hold the key to this and you were going to hold her back.  I hope you're pleased?" he asked.

Tess huffed something under her breath and got her shoulder bag.  "Come on Andy," she told the DC from earlier.

Alec followed her out to go see the chief, who if he'd not been mad about losing evidence, he was certainly mad now.

"She did what?" the chief asked when Alec told him Tess had withheld a possible witness.

"She dismissed it because the woman, who lives in London and her friend had a few drinks that night.  I've sent her to bring the neighbour in to answer a few questions and I'm calling the possible witness back later, she was at work," Alec told him.

"Well make sure you're present during the interview," the chief told him.  "What was she thinking not making this known?  Did she just forget about it?"

"Something like that.  She obviously was wanting to take the credit if something came of it but made the decision to not follow up, which was not hers to make.  I've already chewed her out for it."

"I should hope so.  I know it's not ideal you two still working together Alec but you both have to see this through.  Tess made friends with Cate Gillespie?" the chief asked.

"Yes and she took Cate's word Ricky was with her all night yet she did not believe a woman who said she saw two men, one who could have been Ricky take something out of Ashworth's house that night.  You know we've been trying to get Claire to change her story she was with her husband all that night?" Alec asked him, wishing now he'd made Tess leave her old notebook.  "Well she came in earlier and said she won't do it so we don't even have that now."

"Well get Tess onto her, I don't want Claire making a complaint against you Alec.  So this witness in London was only talked to once?"

"Apparently, Tess never followed up and the woman, a Rose Tyler said she thought we'd forgotten about her.  She must have called in after the appeal when we found Pippa," Alec suggested.

"She could have seen even more, we have to talk to her urgently.  Try and find out where she works and have them get her to call us back."

"She was on her break but she may have her phone with her at lunchtime, I'll try again but she'll be with other people, it's not ideal," Alec replied.  "She may be reluctant to say everything over the phone.  Will you let me arrange to have her brought down here?" Alec asked, thinking as long as Tess wasn't there or she'd think the worse.

"You mean pay her expenses?" the chief asked, knowing they'd already gone over-budget and the investigation was on the verge of collapse.

"Well it would only involve refunding the train fare, if she got here mid morning it wouldn't take more than a few hours," Alec replied.

"Yes then, if it gets the full story and we can prove both Ashworth and Ricky Gillespie were putting something in a van but I thought Cate Gillespie said he was with her all night?"

"So she said and yet Tess believed her over a possible witness.  I think Tess intended to get more information and get one up on me then when she found out they'd both been drinking, decided she wasn't going to look foolish," Alec theorised.

"Maybe Alec but if this witness saw the whole thing, how reliable do you think she is?" the chief asked.

Alec shook his head.  "About as reliable as Cate Gillespie but there again, her friend whom she stayed with may not have been counting and she could have drunk a lot less.  I want to see what she knows before asking her to come down, since Tess may have stopped the phone interview at the words 'a few drinks'."

"Did she actually tell you she herself had been drinking?" the chief asked.

"I don't know, since Tess never actually wrote out a statement.  The woman could have been completely clear headed, Tess must have got that from the neighbour.  I bet anything that Tess was going to use it to get one up on me, went to see the neighbour again, she told Tess she'd been drinking and Tess assumed they both had," Alec suggested.

"Well maybe not any drinks but if her friend was drinking?  She may I suppose have just had one to be sociable?" 

Alec bet that was the case and Tess had wasted all this time.

"I'll try her again and if she does not answer, I'll give her my work mobile number, the charges for the information line may be expensive on mobile networks.  I've sent Tess to bring the neighbour back," Alec told him, wondering if he'd already mentioned that.

Tess was just arriving at Shareen's house when an older man was coming out and she saw an older woman in the doorway.  She didn't remember exactly what the woman's mother looked like but she remembered the man who had been there.

"Excuse me?" Tess called across.  "Do you live there?"

"Yes, what of it?" the man asked, unlocking the car door as Tess crossed the street.

"I was looking for Shareen Costello," Tess replied, having gone through her old notebook again.  "Does she live there?"

"No, the last owner moved about a month ago, my wife and I just bought the house.  Were you a friend of theirs?" the man asked, looking at Andy in the driver's seat.

Tess didn't think it wise to say she was investigating a murder and a potential witness had stayed there several months ago.

"No, it's no matter, I'll find where she's moved to," Tess replied instead.  "Don't let me keep you."

"Waste of time Ma'am?" Andy asked her as she got back in the car.

She felt like saying no, her soon ex husband had got the better of her.  It meant more work trying to find where Shareen had moved to since she didn't know the name of her mother's boyfriend.

"I'm going to see how Mrs Gillespie is, you wait here," she told Andy. 

She went to knock on Cate's door, now hoping Alec wouldn't go upsetting her by suggesting Ricky may not have been with her all night.

"I wasn't expecting you Tess," Cate told her as she let her in.  "What brings you round?"

Tess's visits had got rarer as time went on.

"I was in the area," Tess started to tell her.  "Cate, we've had some new leads, we're very hopeful."

"Like you can finally lock those two up next door," Cate nodded to the wall between the houses.  "I had to throw something at the wall last night, don't know why she has the TV on so loud when she's on her own."

"Did she turn it down?" Tess asked.  

"Not until half an hour later," Cate replied, filling her glass and it wasn't even lunchtime yet.

It got Tess wondering but maybe Claire was just being spiteful and ignoring Cate on purpose?  It didn't mean she was responsible for the break-in at her car last night.  Maybe she should tell Alec, she was sure he was going to see the chief about the other matter.

Tess was about to leave.  "Cate, I know you always said Ricky was with you all that night but could he have left at any point?" she asked, hoping to catch Ricky out.

"How can you ask me that Tess?  We know who's responsible, you've had him in enough times," Cate replied.  "So what are these new leads?"

"Sorry Cate, I can't tell you that but we're hoping we'll have something positive very soon," Tess told her.

Alec was trying Rose's mobile again, leaving a message with his work mobile number and keeping it simple.

"Miss Tyler, this is DI Hardy again, it's very urgent I talk to you, can you please call me back?" he asked, reeling of the number.  

He hoped she'd check her phone at lunchtime, we'll she'd be updating her social profile if nothing else.  Rose went to her locker to get her purse and meant to try and find out if there had been any more developments in Pippa's murder since the lead detective wanted to talk to her.  She went up in the lift to the staff canteen, getting her meal and sitting with some of the other girls.

"What's wrong with you Rose?" one of the woman asked her.

"Nothing, why?" Rose replied.

"You look like you've seen a ghost or the past has come back to haunt ya," Alice teased her, making the others laugh.

Rose got up.  "Yeah, something like that," she grinned and went off to a quiet corner to check her email.  

She noticed she had a missed call and a message and since the detective had called her earlier she decided to play the message after seeing the number was missing.  She waited for an answer though she was going to spend the rest of her lunch hour seeking information about the case.

Alec looked at his work mobile as an unknown number came up and hoped it was Rose calling him back.

"Yes?" he asked cautiously in case it wasn't her but normally he would have answered with a 'What?'

"Yeah, it's Rose Tyler, you left a message?"

"Yes," he replied grabbing his notebook and pen.  "Do you have time to talk?" he asked hopefully.

"What about then?  I told that other detective and no-one ever called me back.  I tried again when Pippa was found but I couldn't get through," Rose told him.

"Did you not keep trying?" he asked, wondering why she'd given up so easily.

Rose thought about it.  Would she get into trouble for withholding information?

"My mum said I should forget about it and someone would have called back if what I'd told ya had been important," Rose defended herself.

"Well things have changed Miss Tyler, I am very interested in what you have to say but I can understand your reluctance.  Did you tell DS Henchard everything you saw that night?" he asked her.

"Well, not quite everything," Rose admitted.  "Will I get into trouble for not telling her the rest?"

"Absolutely not," Alec replied, thinking Tess hadn't been so clever after all.  "Can you come down to tell us all that happened that night?  We will pay your train fare," he offered.

"Well it's my day off tomorrow, I can come down.  Will it take long?" she asked.

"Hopefully not, it should only take a few hours of your time.  Maybe you could try and make up with your friend?" he suggested.  "What happened exactly?"

"She didn't like it when I didn't wake her to see what was going on opposite that night," Rose replied, looking at her friends who were all laughing at something.

"Why would you not want someone else to see what was going on?" he wondered out loud, thinking she may have nothing much more to say.

"Because she'd had twice as much to drink as I had, I only had about two half glasses of sherry, I hate the stuff, ask my mum.  She has to force it down me at Christmas," Rose told him, sure she'd already told the other detective that.

That did it for Alec, Tess had made a gross misjudgement of the woman he was talking to.

"Do you know where the police station is?" he asked.

"I'm not sure, I've only been there once.  My visit was supposed to be for us to catch up, I never thought I'd be a witness in an…"  she stopped before she said murder investigation.

"Well I look forward to you telling us what else you saw Miss Tyler.  The station is easy to find, just ask anyone, it's beside the town hall.  Just ask for me at the desk when you arrive then I'll get personnel to refund the train fare.  Until tomorrow then."

"Yeah, I'll be there but what about what I told the other detective?  Why are you suddenly interested?"

Alec couldn't admit they were about to see the case fall apart.

"We are going over some old leads, your details came up," he replied, not sure if he should say Tess had screwed up big time.

Chapter 7
Rose hung up, not believing someone was finally taking notice of her but the other detective had obviously never even written anything down other than her name and phone number.  More importantly, it had come to the attention of the detective in charge and she felt her stomach do back flips.

"Something wrong Rose?" one of the girls asked as she sat there staring at her phone.

Rose shook her head.  "No Natalie, I'm fine, just had an important phone call."

"Shareen?" Natalie asked her, Rose having told her friends they'd lost touch instead of saying Shareen had fallen out with her.

"No, still no luck with that," Rose tried to smile.

She thought about calling her mother but decided to leave it.  Alec had ended the call and thought Rose sounded nervous but it was hardly surprising after all this time when she'd been ignored just because Tess was being spiteful.  He saw Tess come back and called her into his office.

"The potential witness is coming down tomorrow," he told her as Tess leaned on the door.  "So, where's the neighbour?"

"She moved away," Tess had to admit.

"What?" Alec erupted, getting him stared at – again.  "Why was she never followed up Tess?  We have two possible eyewitnesses and now we have lost one of them.  Find out where she went."

"That could be awkward Alec," Tess replied.  "Although we have her name, she lived with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, he was never interviewed so we don't have his name."

Alec sat back in his chair, wiping his hands over his face and shaking his head.

"This is unbelievable.  You screwed up big time Tess.  We're running out of time, we can't keep holding Ashworth if we have nothing new and he'll go crying to his solicitor he wants compensation.  Get people onto it and find the neighbour and I promise you Tess, if Ashworth gets off because of your mistakes, you will go down on your own, understand?" he asked her, thinking he'd be a fool to take the fall with her.  "Then find out from the new occupants who they bought the house from," he added.

"I tried, they had no idea where they went to.  I'll go back and try again but they were on their way out," Tess replied.

"Then ask some of the other neighbours, ask Cate if you have to but don't tell her why," Alec told her.  "You were overstepping your authority by dismissing that witness.  No-one goes without another check from now on, I'll decide who gets let go.  You had better hope this Rose Tyler can give us enough to apply for another extension on Ashworth's custody and have another go at Claire, see if you can get her to change her mind."

Tess had to agree to go see Claire but didn't hold out much hope of getting her to change her mind.

"Oh, I called to see Cate while I was there.  She confirmed Claire had the TV on loud last night, she said it was half an hour before Claire finally turned it down," Tess told him.

"Half an hour?" Alec questioned.  "Half an hour would be all she needed to break into your car Tess."

"You're grasping at straws Alec," Tess replied.  "Why would she break into my car?"

"Come on Tess, she comes in and says she's no longer going to turn on him?  Get a search warrant and go find that pendant, then we'll have something on both of them.  That with the witness's statement when she arrives tomorrow will be enough to take it to court."

"You're wasting your time Alec.  If Claire stole the pendant, she'll have got rid of it, I'm not sure you're right it was her," Tess told him.

"Who else would it be?  Get that warrant and we will see and get someone finding that neighbour.  When you get the warrant, I'll come with you."

He picked up his desk phone and called the chief.

"You think Claire stole the evidence?" the chief asked him.  "Does Tess agree with you?"

"I am no longer concerned with what she thinks," Alec replied.  "The neighbour whom the witness stayed with has left the estate, I've got Tess finding out where she went.  When I spoke with the witness, she said they had fallen out over that night so she has no idea where the woman went.  She probably doesn't even know her friend has moved.  I also think Claire Ashworth broke into Tess's car last night, considering she told us she won't turn on her husband."

"It's a big risk searching the house again Alec," the chief warned him.  "We don't have a lot of time to keep Ashworth locked up.  So what about the witness, has she agreed to give a statement?"

"Yes, she will be here tomorrow sometime, I'll interview her but under the circumstances, I'll take someone else with me.  If we recover the pendant, we'll have Claire as an accomplice if nothing else but when I spoke to Rose Tyler, she seems to have even more to tell us, since Tess cut the phone interview short."

"Well let's hope she saw Claire involved with it then," the chief suggested.

Rose got home and had to break the news to her mother someone finally wanted to talk to her about what happened in Sandbrook that night.

"Rose, are you sure you still want to tell them?" her mother asked her.

"I have to Mum, I know it's been a long time but I can't walk away from this now.  It was the lead detective who called me and he seemed pretty annoyed no-one had followed up before now.  He said it'll only take a few hours.  Maybe I can go see if Shareen will talk to me?" Rose replied.

"Do ya want me to come?" her mother asked as they ate.

"No, I'll be fine.  He offered to give me the train fare back though, which I never expected," Rose admitted.

"They must be desperate then?" her mother asked.  "Well don't let them trick you Rose, I mean into saying something you didn't see."

"Mum, I know what I saw, how can I ever forget it?" she asked.

Tess and Alec finally arrived at the rented house of Claire and Lee Ashworth to find no-one at home.

"Go around the back," Alec ordered one of the uniformed officers.  "She may be just trying to avoid us."

"No, she's not," Tess told him, looking down the street and seeing Claire just coming around the corner.

"Well don't let her get away," Alec told another officer as Claire stood where she was.

Claire was 'Escorted' back to her house.

"What do you want?" Claire asked defiantly.

Tess held out the search warrant but Alec already thought she'd had time to get rid of the evidence, if she had stolen it.

"Why don't you just leave us alone?" Claire asked as she opened the front door.

"Just make it easy for yourself," Alec told her.  "Tell us where the pendant is."

Claire let out a laugh.  "What pendant?"

"You already know Claire," Tess replied.

"I know nothing about a pendant.  Oh, you mean the one Pippa used to wear?" Claire asked.  "Wasn't she wearing it when you found her?"

Alec thought Claire believed she was being clever.  After a thorough search, Alec was told there was no sign of the evidence bag or the pendant.

"Finished?" Claire asked, sitting at the kitchen table and Alec glaring at her.  "Now get out."

Once outside, Tess reminded him she'd said it was a waste of time.

"She's hidden it somewhere Tess, why do you think she was out?" Alec asked her.

Tess turned as Cate's door opened.

"Following your new leads?" Cate asked Tess, Alec thinking she seemed worse for wear.

"Coming to see Daisy?" Tess asked as they got in her car.

Alec wondered how she always seemed to drag their daughter into everything.

The next morning, Rose was up early after getting the train times and was once again on her way to Sandbrook, having thought she'd never go near the place again.  She'd got a separate receipt for the ticket, getting her a funny look from the cashier in the ticket office after queuing rather than go to the machine.

Alec was wondering how Claire had managed to dispose of the evidence, he was now convinced it had been her but if all went well with the new witness, he'd have enough on her to get her as an accomplice with or without the pendant.  He heard a knock on his door and Tess let herself in, holding an envelope.

"You found the evidence?" Alec asked hopefully, taking his glasses off.

"No, my copy of the divorce papers, they were sent here for some reason.  Last chance if you want to convince me to come back to you," Tess taunted him.

"Really?" Alec asked.  "With Dave still hanging around?  I don't think so Tess but I'll be civil for Daisy's sake, not yours."

"Suit yourself Alec, don't say I never asked.  What time will that witness be here?" Tess asked him.

"I'm interviewing her, not you," Alec reminded her.  "You should stay out of it."

"I contacted her, remember?" Tess replied.

"Yes and you almost let her get away.  She's not likely to talk with you there, is she?" he asked, getting a empty folder from the drawer and some interview sheets.  "I'll take one of the other DS's with me."

Rose's train had arrived and she went to the information office to ask where the police station was.  Following the directions, she stopped in front of the building, already losing her nerve and telling herself she had to do this to get justice for Pippa and help find Lisa because two men, one the girl's father were still free. 

She really didn't know how she'd kept it to herself all this time, she would have gone crazy if she'd not confided in her mother and Mickey, who was still trying to get her to start going out with him again after she turned one of the office staff's cousins down again.  She'd seen Donna Noble's geeky cousin in the gent's department, looking at ties and he'd stopped her and asked her opinion after they'd been introduced once at the Christmas party.

She'd pointed to the one he had in his left hand and made a hasty retreat.  Now she thought about it, this detective she was on her way to see bore a slight resemblance to John Noble.  She went inside the building and walked up to the desk just after twelve thirty and hoped the detective had not gone for his lunch or she'd have to wait.

"Yes Miss, can I help you?" the overworked desk sergeant asked her.

"Yeah, I'm here to see DI Hardy, about a witness statement," Rose replied quietly.

"Right then, take a seat and I'll let him know you're here.  You are?" he asked.

"Rose Tyler," she replied, wondering how many other witnesses they were expecting to walk in off the street when the detective had seemed desperate.

She saw the sergeant pick up the phone and went to take a seat.

"Tell her I will be right down," Alec told the sergeant, waving one of the DS's over, the name having escaped him since a lot of new ones had started.

As he walked downstairs, the DS asked him what it was about.

"A new witness came forward recently, she's travelled down from London so I want you to make sure she gets her train fare reimbursed.  What was your name again?" Alec asked.

"Jenkins, Sir.  Tim Jenkins.  I'll see to it before she leaves," the tall DS replied.

"Yes, you do that.  Actually, she's not a new witness as such, she was somehow missed out during the second round of interviews," Alec admitted, thinking why should he defend his almost ex wife?

"How was she missed out?" Jenkins wanted to know.  "Did someone mess up?  I wasn't here then Sir."

"No, you probably weren't," Alec replied dryly.  "A lot of officers got moved off the case, I wish a certain other DS had also been moved but it never happened."

"You mean DS Henchard?" Jenkins grinned.  "I heard you two used to be married, it must be difficult having to work with her still?"

"You have no idea," Alec told him, opening the door to the reception area and seeing a blonde playing with her phone.

Rose had text her mother to say she was waiting to be seen.  She looked up when Alec stood in front of her after the desk sergeant nodded in her direction.

"Miss Tyler?" Alec asked, holding his hand out.

Rose got up, slipping her phone in her jeans pocket.

"Yeah, hi, that's me," she tried to laugh, shaking his hand.

"Don't be nervous, we'll talk first before you give a formal statement," Alec assured her.  "This way.  Jenkins, get Miss Tyler some tea or coffee."

"Thanks, tea's fine, just milk," Rose looked across at Jenkins, who looked as nervous as she felt.

Alec settled her in an informal interview room and put his folder down.

"Is that what I told the other detective?" Rose dared ask as he got a pen out of his jacket pocket

"No, I wanted to get your statement from scratch," Alec replied, wondering why he was defending Tess's decision not to put anything on paper.

"I got the impression she never even wrote anything down," Rose admitted.

"What makes you say that?" he asked her.

"She stopped when I said me and my friend had a few drinks that night.  So why have you asked me down here?"

"May I call you Rose?" he asked, trying to put her at ease.  Rose nodded.  "Rose, whatever the other detective thought, that is not the case with me.  I would like you to start from the beginning of that day, anything to do with Lisa and Pippa and anyone connected to them that you saw or heard.  I'm going to record this to make it easier for later, is that okay?"

Rose nodded again just as Jenkins came in with her drink.

"Take your time Rose," Alec assured her as she put the drink down.  "When did you arrive at your friend's house?"

"I got the Friday off and she met me at the station.  I was gonna stay until Sunday night but I left early 'cos my mum called and said there were rail disruptions.  Shareen, my friend told me about the neighbours opposite, that she was always being invited over for barbecues and if they were having a few drinks but only to Lee and Claire's, she said the other neighbour didn't like her much."

"So she knew them well?" Alec asked, thinking now he was one up on Tess.

"Well from what she said.  I'd not seen her for a few years, since she moved here so we were catching up.  We stayed in on Friday night just talking, her mum was a friend of my mum's so she wanted all the gossip."

"So did you meet any of the neighbours?" Alec asked, watching her take a drink.

"Not exactly, while I was waiting for Shareen coming out of the bathroom the next morning, I saw two people standing outside, they got into a taxi.  They were outside what my friend had said was where Pippa lived.  They looked like they were arguing, he looked totally pissed off and got in the front of the taxi."

Alec raised his eyebrows.  So the Gillespie's had been in a bad mood before the wedding.  Maybe Lisa had run away after all?

"Go on, please take your time," Alec encouraged her, getting a funny look from Jenkins that said he was being too friendly, considering he was almost divorced.

"We went off into town and when we came back, Shareen waved to who she said was Lisa and Pippa, Pippa was on her bike.  It was after one, I don't know the exact time," Rose continued.  "She said we'd go over to Lee and Claire's later and that Lisa had mentioned her aunt and uncle were off to a wedding.  I never thought any more about it."

"So you never spoke to either them or the neighbours?" Alec asked, wondering where this was going.

"Well no, not really.  We were about to go across the road but there was a noise outside and Ken, Shareen's mother's boyfriend went to see what it was."

"This Ken, do you know his surname?" Alec asked hopefully.

"No, sorry, he never said and I really wasn't that bothered.  Is it important?" Rose asked.

"No, please, carry on," Alec encouraged her, hoping this really was going somewhere other than her seeing Ricky and Cate arguing and that all had not been well before Pippa had died.

"He came back in and said someone was hanging around and we shouldn't bother going out.  He said it was someone called Gary, I think."

That was more than a coincidence, Alec was thinking, since the name had cropped up before.

"So you and your friends had a few drinks?" he had to ask.

"Well Shareen and her mother did, I told ya already I hate sherry, I was only taking a few sips at a time.  Ken was drinking lager but he never offered me any," Rose replied.  "Shareen was getting a bit giddy, going on about Lee, the man opposite, saying he was funny and other things."

"Such as?" Alec wanted to know.

"I got the impression she and Lisa fancied him though she never actually admitted it in so many words," Rose replied.  "She said he was a bit of a dish," she admitted, feeling herself going red.  "She also said he liked to flirt.  She said Lisa was probably already there but she'd also said Lisa was looking after Pippa so I assumed they were both there.  Anyway, when we got to Shareen's room I was looking out of the window."

Now Alec thought they were finally getting to what happened that night as Rose took another drink.

"What did you see Rose?" he asked her.

Rose sat back, looking to Alec like she didn't think he was going to believe her.

"Anything you tell us Rose is strictly confidential but it's crucial you leave nothing out.  Tell us what happened."

Chapter 8
Alec could see the young woman looked nervous and he was trying his best to put her at ease.

"Take your time.  Would you prefer I got a female officer to interview you?" he offered.

Rose shook her head.  "You mean the one who didn't believe me?" she asked.  "No but how do I know you'll believe me?"

Alec leaned forward.  "Rose, I will be honest with you.  This investigation has been going on a long time, we have a suspect in custody but we need you to confirm we have the right person.  Can you do that for us?" he asked her.

Rose nodded.  "Yeah.  That other detective, I didn't tell her what else I saw that night.  She asked me why I didn't report two men carrying something out to a van but it could've been anything and I'd have looked like an idiot for wasting police time."

"No, it would not have been a waste Rose but I understand how you can think that.  So what happened while you were standing at the window that night?" Alec asked her.

"I saw a woman go in, Shareen was still awake, I asked her what Claire looked like," Rose began to tell him.  "She said Claire had long brown hair and though it was dark, the woman had long dark hair and she let herself in so it was safe to assume it was her.  I also asked her about Ricky and Cate, she said they were always arguing and I told her I'd seen them that morning."

"Good.  So Claire went into the house, what time was that?" he asked, since Claire still insisted she was in that night and she'd lied.

"After ten.  She told me a bit about Lisa and they both fancied Lee and that Lee and Claire sometimes used to take Pippa to school."

That was news to Alec.  "Did they now?" he asked, making a note.

He was beginning to get a completely different picture and that the Gillespies trusted their neighbours with their daughter.  He now had serious doubts Claire was wholly innocent.

"So, you saw Claire go in the house?  Did you see Lisa and Pippa go in?" he asked.

"No, it was late though, I assumed Pippa was in bed but Shareen teased me about staying at the window 'cos I wanted to see what Lee looked like but I wasn't that interested."

She didn't want to say she wasn't interested in married men – full stop.

"Oh, Shareen did say Lisa and Pippa may have gone round even if Claire was out," she added.

Alec knew there had been more than what everyone was telling the police and now, they'd lost someone who could verify the Ashworths and the Gillespies were good friends before Pippa was killed.  Well Tess had better find this friend of the woman now talking to him.

Rose picked up her cup, the contents now cooling.

"Why don't we take a break Sir?" Jenkins suggested.  "Shall I take Miss Tyler to the staff canteen?"

"I will take her, you go see if DS Henchard is back yet and take Miss Tyler's ticket and get the money for it.  Did you get a receipt?" Alec asked Rose.

Rose went in her shoulder bag and into her purse, bringing the extra ticket out that acted as a receipt.  She handed it to the other man.

"Be back here in half an hour or so and don't hand any money over in the canteen, others could take it the wrong way," Alec ordered him.

Tess had gone back to the house where Shareen used to live and knocked on the door.  A woman answered it.

"You were here yesterday," the woman observed, then saw Tess was holding ID in her hand.

"I'm DS Henchard from Sandbrook police.  May I come in and ask a few question?" Tess replied.

Twenty minutes later, after she was offered tea and biscuits, she was no nearer finding out where the young woman who lived there had gone, since the Morgan's, the present owners had bought the house through an agents and paid cash from their retirement fund.

"What about mail, do you get any for them?" Tess asked hopefully, in case they'd not got around to giving it back and the man's name may be on one of them.

The man shook his head.  "No, they must have had it redirected.  Sorry we can't help.  Is this to do with what happened a while ago?  We heard about it and those two women opposite, well we've hardly seen them, like they keep to themselves."

"We were round asking questions when it happened, we're just following up," was all Tess would admit.

As she left, she now wondered why the previous owner had been in such a hurry to move and maybe they all knew more than they'd let on at the time.  She now regretted not interviewing the man and Alec had the statements from the two Costello women, not that they'd been much use.  She was sure Alec would get out of the other witness that she herself had ended the phone interview suddenly but alarm bells always rang when witnesses admitted they'd been drinking.

Alec had sat Rose down at a table in a corner and Rose had said she'd have whatever he was getting so as not to be awkward, since she bet he'd go for the special.  No-one was paying any attention to her, thankfully.  It hadn't been as bad as she'd thought but now, they were getting to the crunch - the part where she finally had to admit she'd seen who she now knew for certain was Lee.

"Was the train journey pleasant?" Alec asked, at a loss of what to talk about with a witness, in public.

"Yeah, it wasn't that busy really, I must've missed the morning rush," Rose smiled, trying not to look conspicuous that she could be responsible for finally getting Pippa's killer locked up.  "Did ya say ya had someone in custody?"

"Yes, we do but time is running out to keep the suspect there.  Whatever you have to tell us could give us cause to extend that time to investigate further.  Depending on what else you have to say, you may have to come back or do it over the phone, which is not ideal," Alec replied.  "Would your workplace object if you gave us their number so we can contact you?"

"I'm not sure but they have a no personal calls policy except emergencies.  My mum thought that was for me to call and get some shopping on the way home," Rose grinned.

Alec could only imagine.  "Then I'll have someone call and say you are helping us with our enquiries and we may need to contact you urgently.  Most places are willing to co-operate with us in such cases," he assured her.

"This food's really good, thanks," Rose tried to change the subject.

"I don't normally eat in, they must be trying to impress me today," Alec smiled, something he didn't do much of these days.

"You should come in more often then," Rose smiled back.  "Thanks for going easy on me with the interview.  I'd almost given up and my mum and my ex kept telling me if I came forward now, I'd get into trouble.  Will it take much longer?  Only I thought I'd try and see if my friend was at home and try to talk to her.  Not that admitting I've been talking to the police would help."

Now Alec was certain Rose had no idea her friend had moved.

"You would be wasting your time Rose, she's no longer at that address.  Did you not know she had moved?" he asked, wondering if she was going to ask for the dessert.

"No, I told ya, we fell out.  It was horrible, I've known her since I was a kid and just because I never told her what I saw.  She said a detective asked her if she'd seen the same that night."

Alec just knew that had been Tess and her less than tactful interviewing skills.

Rose continued.  "She yelled down the phone at me, saying she shouldn't have heard it from the police."

"She told us you had both been drinking that night.  The detective assumed you both had a lot to drink and I'm sorry, she should not have assumed that," Alec apologised.  "I know that was not the case with you.  I can get you an apology from the detective concerned."

Rose smiled.  "You know who it was then?" she asked, playing with the napkin.

"Can I get you something else?" he offered.

"Mmm, the special dessert's rather tempting," Rose replied, seeing it was her favourite.

Alec smiled back and went off to order, seeing Tess come into the canteen.

"Why are you eating here Alec?" Tess asked him, cutting in front of someone who was taking his time.

"I brought Miss Tyler for something to eat, since she's had a long train journey.  Any luck finding her friend?" he asked as he took a bowl from the hotplate and poured some custard on top of the apple pie, Tess watching him.

"So she doesn't know where her friend went then?" Tess asked, getting her own plate handed to her by the server when she indicated what she wanted.

"She'd not spoken to her for a while, they fell out over her not telling what she'd seen that night.  You made a big mistake Tess, she has plenty more to tell us."

Tess looked around to see who the possible candidate was, then spotted Rose with her phone as she was texting her mother.

"I might have known she'd be blonde," Tess muttered to herself as Alec paid for the dessert.  "You should introduce us Alec," she suggested.

"Why, when you put her off coming forward?" Alec replied, collecting a spoon from the cutlery tray.  "This could have all been over Tess and I'm holding you responsible for it not being."

He went off towards Rose, Tess deciding to leave him to it, the woman probably hadn't remembered that much.

"Thanks," Rose greeted him as he put the dish down.  "Watching your figure?" she grinned when he'd not brought any for himself.

"Something like that," he joked.

"Was that her, the detective who I spoke to?" she asked him as Tess had found a seat at another table.

"Unfortunately yes.  She's also my almost ex wife," Alec replied as he watched Rose eating. 

Why did he have to tell her that, he asked himself.

"So why after all this time do you want to know what I saw?" Rose asked again.  "Oh, I get it, she never told you about me, did she?"

"Honestly?  No, she failed to mention it because she spoke to your friend and decided not to follow up.  It all came up recently, after something happened.  Excuse me a moment, I'll be right back."

He went across to Tess, who was complaining to those who were listening about her almost ex husband.

"I mean," Tess had been saying.  "He drags someone all the way down from London to interview them, how desperate is that?" she asked, not daring to mention any names.

"Tess, a word," Alec asked her as he approached.

"We should get back to work," one of the women told her, nudging her friend.

Alec sat opposite.  "Did you follow up on Claire?" he asked, since he'd told her to pay a visit at the same time as the neighbours opposite.

"She wasn't in," Tess replied, since she'd forgotten about it.  "What's the point anyway?  If she's been lying all this time?  You still think she took the pendant, don't you?"

"Yes, I do and when Miss Tyler over there has finished telling me what she saw, which includes Claire going into her house around ten that night, I'd say we have plenty to ask her, don't you?"

"She could have seen anyone Alec," Tess told him.  "It was late at night, she'd had a drink."

"Sips of two half glasses of sherry, I'd not count that as drinking.  Call her mother to confirm she doesn't like sherry if you don't believe it," Alec offered.

"She told you that?" Tess asked, seeing Rose push the dish away and look across.

"She told me on the phone and she knows why you never followed up.  Are you going back to see if Claire wants to change her story?" he asked her.  "No, leave it for now, I'll see what else Rose Tyler has to say then we'll bring Claire in for questioning but under no circumstances are you to tell her we have a new witness.  Understand?"

"You can't keep your new witness under wraps Alec," Tess told him  "You'd better get back to interviewing her then before she changes her mind."

"She wanted to go see her friend so I had to tell her that she'd moved away, she was surprised," Alec admitted.

"I find that hard to believe somehow," Tess replied.  "They fell out over it?"

"Yes, she seems upset over it.  Get on with finding out where she went, I want to talk to all of them and find that Gary Thorpe, she said her friend's step-dad or whatever he is saw him running off that night."

"He's already been questioned twice Alec," she reminded him.  "He admitted he was waiting for Lisa so maybe she never went out until someone chased him off?  Several people complained about him hanging around before that night."

"Well I want to see him again, Lisa could have been the reason he ran off," Alec surmised.

"Well no-one else admitted they'd chased him off that night, maybe it was Lee Ashworth, if the girls did go to his house.  Your witness saw that?" Tess asked him, a smile on her face that told him she was trying to be clever.

"I will find out when I continue the interview, won't I?" Alec asked, not wanting her to think she was right.

Jenkins had seen Alec talking to his soon to be ex wife and had joined Rose, Alec scowling across the canteen.

"How are you doing Rose?" he asked.  "I have your train fare for you, don't go without it, will you?"

"I'm not likely to.  So have you worked with him long?" she nodded towards Alec, who acknowledged her with a nod back.

"No, I've not been here long, a lot of officers got moved around off the case.  Those two were married, they don't get along very well.  Seems she well and truly got him riled over you.  It's getting to everyone, not knowing what happened to Lisa but he seems to be taking it personally."

"Well at least he's taking me seriously, which is more than she did," Rose replied as Alec got up.  "Guess it's back to grilling me then?" she tried to joke.

Once back in the interview room, Rose was hoping it wasn't going to take much longer as she had to think about getting home.

"Right, shall we continue?" Alec asked when Rose got her train fare back and she'd given her work number, reluctantly.  "What made you stay at the window when who you believe was Claire went inside?"

"I don't know.  I told Shareen it was because it was different to where I lived.  On the estate, there's always some drunks going home or some noise or other.  She went quiet so I thought she'd gone to sleep when I saw Pippa's dad come out of their house."

"What?" Alec asked, trying not to alarm her.  "Are you sure Rose?"

"Well yeah, it was the same man who got in the taxi that morning but I didn't see him arrive, he could have been there a while or got there when I turned to talk to Shareen.  I assumed he'd gone to check on Pippa so then I thought they'd been there all night.  I wish we'd gone over there now."

"If you had Rose, maybe nothing would have changed, if the girl's were not actually there," Alec told her.  "Are you sure your friend said they were staying at the wedding overnight?"

"Yeah, that's why Lisa was there but I just thought he or her mum had got worried but when he came out, I didn't see where he went.  I expected the two girls to come out but they didn't.  I was gonna give up and go to bed but then a van pulled up."

"How much later was that?" Alec asked, thinking it could have been Ricky coming back.

"Not long but I couldn't see if it was the same man or not.  Whoever it was, they were about the same size but I only saw the back of him.  Then I saw Lee follow the man out carrying what looked like a dust sheet rolled up, the van was partly blocking them."

"You clearly saw Lee?" Alec wanted to be certain.  "You never met him though?"

"Well no but since his wife went in and he came out and Pippa's dad had just left, I don't need to be a detective to work out it was him," Rose replied sarcastically.  "Sorry, this is getting me all wound up after all this time."

"No need to apologise Rose, it's understandable.  Go on.  Did you get the van registration?" he asked hopefully.

"No, sorry but it might have had an EX in it and it was under a lamp, it could have been dark blue or black maybe?  The other man was wearing overalls though and I thought Lee had called a mate to help him dump some old lino or whatever.  That's why I didn't report it.  If word got back, they could have made it difficult for Shareen.  Crikey, do ya think they moved because they thought Lee would say something if they talked?"

Alec thought that indeed could be the reason.

"Possibly but in that case, they may have known someone else was there.  If as you say Lisa saw you with your friend, she could have told him the neighbour had company that night."

"Well I hope Shareen never gave her my name then," Rose said worriedly.  "Anyway.  Just the man in the overalls got in the van and drove down the street."

Alec was about to turn the recorder off to send it for a transcript when she looked at him.

"I ain't finished yet, are we having another break?" she asked.

"No, please, carry on," Alec replied, glancing at Jenkins, who was making notes while Alec was just crossing things off.

Things were not adding up in his mind, Claire's statement she'd been in all night for one, Ricky Gillespie not saying he'd been back, even if it was to check on the two girls but why would he, if he trusted Lee and Claire to take Pippa to school?  Why though didn't this friend of Rose's get on with Cate and more importantly, why get Lisa to babysit when they could have left her next door?

No, things were not as they had appeared to be and he looked across at Rose and could judge she still had things to tell him.

"What happened after whoever it was drove off Rose?" Alec asked her.

He knew Ricky had a van but had never seen it.  It was possible he'd walked off to get it, his business wasn't far away.

"Ya have to promise me you'll find Shareen," Rose told him.  "What if they think she'd witnessed everything?"

"Don't worry about them, I have people looking for them but you could be wrong Rose.  What else did you see?"

"Lee went back inside, I saw who I thought was Claire inside then a few minutes later, she came out.  She went to the car at the side of the house and reversed it out, Lee was standing in the doorway.  They both went back inside."

Alec thought now she was grasping at every detail but so far, he had enough to bring both Claire and Ricky in for questioning, just as long as Rose's name wasn't mentioned.

"What did they do then Rose?" Alec asked.  Is that all you saw?"

Rose laughed nervously.  "I wish.  Now I regret even being there 'cos I can't get it out of my mind that I did nothing."

"Rose, you are doing something, isn't she Jenkins?" he asked the other man, making him jump at Alec remembering his name since he'd asked earlier.

Jenkins nodded.  Alec leaned forward.

"You don't get it do ya?" Rose asked.  "I could have done something and I didn't.  I should have woken Shareen, called the police but I didn't because I didn't realise what was happening until I saw it on the news the night I called the other detective.  I've had to live with this for months."

"Calm down Rose," Alec said quietly.  "You saw two men dumping something, you were not to know what it was at the time but what I don't get is why you are so worried I would think you had been withholding something.  Yes, Pippa's father came back and possibly drove the van but we have no reason to think he had anything to do with their disappearance."

"Well ya should," Rose declared boldly.

Alec put his notepad and pen down.

"Then tell me something more Rose," he replied.  "Or did you give up watching after that?"

"I knew you wouldn't believe me.  I thought that all I was doing was watching the weird neighbours until Lee came back out and he was carrying Pippa."

Now she had Alec's attention.

Chapter 9
"I think this would be a good time to make this a formal interview." Alec declared.  "Jenkins, are you taking notes?"

"Yes Sir," Jenkins replied, wondering why the DI wasn't.  "Do you want me to take what we have so far and get it transcribed?"

"No, it can wait.  Miss Tyler, I know you have to think about getting home but please be assured, we will make sure you are returned safely or offer you some accommodation overnight.  If you have to stay, someone will call your workplace and explain.  It that okay with you?"

Rose nodded, a bit surprised but she supposed anything she now had to say was being taken very seriously and had to be checked out.

"Okay.  Up until this point, another man came out and he drove away in a van," Alec recalled.  "Then a woman, who had been described to you as Claire Ashworth backed a car out.  What did she do after that?"

"She opened the back door and he came out, carrying the girl, Pippa.  I'd seen her earlier in the day so I knew it was her," Rose replied.  "He got in the car and drove off down the street after the woman threw the keys to him.  I don't know where it leads, I've not been around there."

"That's fine, don't worry about that," Alec told her, since he knew where Pippa had been taken but no details had been released except she'd been found in the woods.  "Did the girl look awake, asleep?" Alec wondered, since nothing had been established so far.

"I thought she was asleep.  Her arm was dangling, it looked like she was wearing pyjamas but she was still.  I thought maybe she was sick and he was taking her to the hospital after her dad had gone.  Then the woman went back inside and my friend called out to me."

"Did you not tell her anything?" Alec asked her.

"You don't know her, she'd have laughed and told me not to be nosy and leave the neighbours alone.  I thought Lisa was maybe still inside and her and Claire were going to follow after calling Pippa's dad back.  When they didn't come out, I thought maybe Lee was taking Pippa to her parents, at the wedding hotel."

Alec knew Rose hadn't known at the time what she had witnessed.  "So, he drove off?  Did anyone else come out?"

"Yeah, the van came back, Claire came out and she made the man in the overalls get back in and they drove off down the street."

Alec knew Ricky had a building business, he would have a van and overalls for work but Rose hadn't seen the man's face for the van being in the way, which was a pity.

"Did you see any of the registration number?" Alec asked, Jenkins looking back in his notes.

"You said it looked like 'EX'," Jenkins reminded her.

"Did I?  It was difficult to tell, I thought at first it had been HX but now I think about it?  Anyway, I waited, even though I was tired and had a bit of a headache but the car came back and Lee got out on his own, there was no-one in the back.  He left the car on the street and went back inside.  Then a few minutes later, the van came back, Claire was driving."

That was news to Alec that Claire could even drive.

"They were talking for a while then the woman went next door and he drove off," Rose continued.

"Did she let herself in?" Alec asked, since Cate had told them the patio doors were open when they'd returned.

This was getting very interesting, Alec thought.  This shed a whole new light on what happened that night.  He just thought it was a shame Tess had screwed up and had waited so long to admit she'd dismissed this witness.  It seemed all three of them were up to something that night and were keeping each other's secrets.  What did they have on each other though?

"Well she went inside and I didn't see her come out.  I waited but I was tired so I just went to bed, well the camp bed or whatever.  It was quiet the next morning but as we got the bus into town, there was a police car heading that way, the bus driver waited to see where it was going up on the main road.  I told the other detective that."

Alec thought that was probably all Tess remembered, since Rose would have been sober the following morning, had she been drinking.

"You went home and heard it on the news the next day?" Alec asked, hoping he could get her to quickly sign the statement and escort her to the train station.

"My mum told me when I got home so I told her about what I'd seen and she said I should call the police.  I tried to tell the detective but as you already know, she didn't take me seriously," Rose recalled.

"Yes, I know and I'm very sorry for that," Alec told her again.  "We'll get this recording typed up then you can read it and sign it, then you can go.  If we have any questions, we'll call your work."

"Yeah, they'll just love that," Rose tried to joke.

"They will treat it seriously," Alec assured her.  "Who should we speak to about it?"

"You can ask for Miss Noble, she's in the personnel department.  I'd rather not tell the whole store I got involved with this," Rose replied.

"You mother knows everything?" Alec wanted to know.

"Yeah, so does my ex boyfriend, well most of it.  I'd have gone crazy keeping it to myself," Rose admitted.

Alec could only imagine.

"If you will just wait here Rose, I'll have a drink sent in and I'll leave you to write everything in your own words, just to make sure we got it right."

Alec looked at his watch.  It was just after two, she should have plenty of time to get home before the evening rush and now he had to get Ricky and Claire brought in for questioning, without revealing who had witnessed what had taken place that night.

Alec left Rose some statement sheets and went off to find Tess while Jenkins took the tape recording to be typed out and organise a drink for Rose.

"Tess, my office," Alec stood behind her.  "You should have taken notice of her," he told Tess when she'd closed the door.  "She saw Lee Ashworth carry young Pippa out to his car and if you'd not lost the pendant, we'd have enough to charge him with her murder.  Rose Tyler said Pippa looked like she was asleep so he either drugged her and killed her somewhere in the woods or she was already dead when he put her in the car.  I'm betting it was the second."

Alec thought that Tess was lost for words.

"What can I say Alec?" Tess asked him.  "You know my feeling of witnesses who mention the word 'drink' but why did she never call back?"

"She tried, when we found Pippa and couldn't get through, for all the cranks," Alec replied angrily.  "All this time Tess, it would have been over."

"Well would it have been over with Lisa?" Tess asked him.  "Did she see Lisa?"

"Only the day before but what worries me is what were the two of them carrying out to that van?" Alec replied.  "Have Claire Ashworth and Ricky Gillespie brought in, we have some questions for them.  I'll let Rose Tyler go for now, call her work and tell them we may have to call her but only speak to one person about it and the manager, if necessary.  I don't want her name getting back to either the Ashworth's or the Gillespies.  All four of them lied about that night."

Rose had finished writing out her statement, a WPC just outside, who went off when Alec came back.

"All done?" he asked as Rose was sat back.

"Yeah.  It was quicker writing it down than talking," Rose smiled.

"It always seems so," Alec agreed as Jenkins came back in.

Rose signed the typed statement and asked if she could leave.

"I'll take her to the train station," Jenkins offered.

"No, it's fine, I could do with a walk," Alec replied.  "Rose, we may have to ask you to come back to identify those you saw that night so if we do, do you agree to do so?"

"Yeah.  I'm still worried about my friend though.  Have you found her yet?" Rose asked Alec.

"When we do, I will tell her of your concern," he assured her.  "Have you tried calling her?"

"I deleted the number, her phone was always off so I assumed she'd changed the number," Rose replied, getting up.

"This way then," Alec gestured for her to go in front of him.  "Don't worry, if we get a confession, you won't have to identify anyone but if not, they won't see you, we will withhold your identity, even to any solicitors involved.  You will have to testify in court so I advise you look up someone to represent you."

"That'll be a bit expensive," Rose argued.  "How am I supposed to afford one?"

"I'll see if I can get the police to pay for it or you may be able to be represented by the prosecution.  If they confess, there may not be a trial," Alec replied as he led her to the front desk.

Tess was just checking on something and saw them.

"Miss Tyler," Tess addressed Rose.  "I'm sorry I didn't listen to what else you had to say."

Alec thought he was hearing things.

"Yeah, well good job someone did," Rose told her, making Alec crack half a smile.  "Can you take me to the station now, I've no idea when the next train is."

"There should be plenty going back to London," Alec tried to assure her.  "You said you left early that Sunday morning, had you remained, we would have interviewed you when we discovered the two girls were missing."

He directed that more at Tess than Rose and Tess knew it.

"Yeah, blame engineering works," Rose sighed.  "Why didn't you listen?" she asked Tess.  "I proved I was there."

"Never mind," Alec tried to usher her out, not wanting Tess to come out and tell Rose to her face it was because she didn't believe in potentially drunk witnesses.

He led Rose outside and towards his car.

"I'd rather walk," Rose objected.  "I've been sat down for ages and I'll be on the train, if I can get a seat."

"Sorry it took so long," Alec apologised.  "I also had to tell my chief about it."

When he'd sent Tess off, he'd called in to see the chief.

"So, she had plenty to say?" the chief had asked him.

"It seems so.  Tess screwed up big-time.  We have to keep her identity out of it, even if any solicitors insist, it has been done before," Alec told him.

"I agree Alec, if she witnessed everything that night and it gets out who she is, especially if somehow one or more of them talk their way out of it," the chief agreed.

Alec showed Rose a shorter route that took them to the side of the railway station and they stood looking at the departures board.

"That's not bad, another twenty minutes," Rose tried to smile.  "I'll let ya get back to work then?"

"Yes, Claire and Ricky should be on their way in, no doubt under protest," he half smiled and looking at his feet.  "Sure you will be okay?"

"I'll go get a drink and some chocolate, maybe something to read," Rose smiled back as she located the newsstand.

Alec followed her, like he was afraid to let her out of his sight until she got on the train.  Rose got what she wanted, Alec shaking his head that he didn’t want anything and Rose went to find a bench until her train arrived, since the platform was just through the barrier, Alec showing his ID to get through.

"Making sure I leave?" Rose laughed as he stood at the side of the bench.

"No-one will know who gave us the information, Rose," he promised her, giving in and sitting next to her.

Rose didn't even try to move up.  "Promise?" she asked.

"Only those who need to know.  You should tell your manager but they will probably already have been informed.  We'll make sure you don't lose your job."

"There was just one thing.  That car, it was still there the next morning," Rose told him.

"It was there when police arrived," Alec admitted as the train was announced.  "When I visited next door, Claire claimed we'd woken her up."

He knew now that was a lie, she'd been no more asleep that morning than he'd not seen what Tess was up to.

Rose got up as the train approached the platform.

"Thank you for coming forward Rose," Alec told her, holding out his hand.

Rose shook it, she couldn't help notice his hand was warm but didn't know why.

"Yeah, you've no idea how relieved I am," Rose tried to smile.  "Good luck getting them to talk."

He watched her let people off the train and she'd managed to get a window seat and waved to him.  He gave her a little wave back and heard the door alarm that the train was about to leave.  Why was she having such a big impact on him?  As the train set off, Rose giving another wave, he waited until the train was out of sight before moving off, finding he was the only person left except for the guard, who was giving him a funny look.  The man probably thought he'd been seeing off his girlfriend Alec supposed but he wanted to protect Rose now.

She was their one and only witness who'd seen what had gone on outside the two houses that night and he wanted to protect her at all costs.  Now, it was back to the police station and decide who was getting his attention first – Claire or Ricky.  No wonder Claire had changed her mind then, she had too much to lose by admitting she wasn't with Lee that night but he might get her talking if she'd not played that big a part in the whole thing.

Maybe she'd just helped cover it up but she was still an accessory to the events, if Pippa wasn't alive when Lee had brought her out.  He was expecting the new suspects to deny everything and Cate would never dare admit Ricky wasn't with her all night.  Now though, he had a very nasty suspicion about the mysterious item being taken out to that van and who was the accomplice.  Lisa was still missing, it didn't take being a detective to work that out and he had an idea Rose suspected it too.

All the way home, Rose went over things in her mind.  The more she thought about it, the more she convinced herself it had to have been Lisa wrapped up in the sheet and she'd hesitated at the time but it was probably already too late to have done anything.  If only that local stalker hadn't been hanging around, she and Shareen would have gone over but would they have got caught up in whatever had happened?

She wondered if there'd been some kind of argument and things had got out of hand but if Lee had turned nasty for some reason, she and Shareen might not have escaped.  Now, only Shareen knew she'd been standing at the window that night and she'd gone away, probably quite sensibly under the circumstances.  Shareen must have known word would get back to Lee she'd had a visitor and since Rose had been staring out of the window she'd seen something and Lee would go straight for her.

Rose knew Shareen had told Lisa about her and she hoped Lisa had not told Lee or if her name had been mentioned.  Well at least for now she wasn't needed but being asked back to identify three people was asking a lot.  She supposed the police had to be sure, since she'd admitted she'd never met any of them and had been going on how Shareen had described them.

Alec went back to the station, Tess waiting for him.

"So, are we both interviewing Ricky and Claire?" she asked him.  "I should have been with you earlier."

"Why?  She would never have talked to you," Alec replied.

"I'm surprised you don't want to interview Claire on your own," Tess scoffed.

"I'm not the one who was playing around Tess," Alec reminded her.

"You could have fooled me in the canteen," Tess scoffed.  "Couldn't she get her own food?"

"She was a guest Tess, she may have just saved this investigation," Alec replied, glad he'd had the pacemaker as he was fast losing his temper with her.

"She looked more than a guest to me, the way you were talking," Tess huffed.

"Why should you care?  Need I remind you that you chose to be with Dave?" he replied.  "I will be glad when the divorce is finalised but we have a case to finish so put the personal feelings aside.  You take Claire, I'll take Ricky."

Ricky Gillespie was protesting to Jenkins as he was led into the interview room Rose had been in.

"Why did you drag me out of my office?" Ricky wanted to know.

"DI Hardy wants to talk to you, as was explained to you," Jenkins told him.

"When are you going to lock Ashworth up properly?" Ricky then wanted to know.  "I know it was him who killed my little girl, tell Hardy to stop wasting time."

Alec opened the door, a file in his hand containing what Rose had just told them.

"Ricky, I have some more questions for you," Alec told him.

"Enough of the questions and charge Ashworth.  I have a business to run and Cate's in pieces," Ricky replied.

"On the night Lisa and Pippa disappeared, you claim you were at the wedding," Alec stated.

"How many more times?" Ricky asked him.  "I told you Cate had a lot to drink."

"Well that could mean a few things," Alec replied.  "You say she was out of it, so while she was asleep, did you go home?" Alec asked him.

"What?" Ricky laughed.  "You're having a laugh.  Why would I do that?"

"Maybe to pay a visit to your neighbours house?" Alec continued.

"What would I do that for?  What are you getting at?" Ricky asked, Alec watching his reaction.

It was hard to tell, Alec thought.  The man had all this time to perfect the grieving father look and although he'd seemed genuinely affected, was he hiding a secret?

"We have reason to believe after we received new information that you did pay the Ashworths a visit," Alec told him.

"Like I said, why would I be doing that?" Ricky wanted to know.  "If I'd had gone home, why wouldn't I go check on Pippa and Lisa?"

"Maybe they were next door?" Alec asked seeing how the man reacted.  "You have a van?  What colour is it?"

"Dark blue, why?" Ricky admitted.

"It was seen outside your house that night.  Do you have an explanation?" Alec wanted to know.

Tess was having just as much a hard time across the corridor with Claire, who had informed Tess she was going back to being called Claire Ripley.

"Well you've had Lee locked up long enough and everyone knows he's a suspect.  I have to get by," Claire had told Tess.

Tess had read Rose's statement, getting chewed out by the chief for almost letting Rose get away.  When he'd called her to his office, he'd not been kind to her.

"Really Tess, you made a rookie mistake in not taking Rose Tyler seriously.  That and the evidence going missing, from your car, we'll it's not looking good for you," the chief had told her.  "You'd better make up for it and give Alec your full co-operation in interviewing Ricky Gillespie and Claire Ashworth."

So Tess was trying her best but as usual, Claire was giving her the run-around and offered no explanation why as new information had been received, she'd been seen going into the house late that night.

"It's months ago," Claire protested.  "I don't know if I've been coming or going these last months.  Everyone stares at me when I go to work.  It's not easy when your husband's locked up.  So, how are you and Alec getting on?"

"That's none of your business Claire," Tess told her.  "Did you go out that night or not?"

"I may have nipped up to the shop across the other side of the main road at some point, we probably fancied a few drinks," Claire answered.

"Did you have any company?" Tess asked.

"No, just me and Lee, we fancied a quiet night, the neighbours were always coming in, especially that girl across the street.  Lisa was always bringing her over but she was looking after Pippa that night so we assumed they'd be doing their own thing," Claire replied.  "What's this about?  Do I need a solicitor?"

"I don't know Claire, do you?" Tess asked her.  "What about later?  Did you move your car?"

Claire laughed.  "Why would I do that?  Oh, hang on, I might have done, Lee was complaining I always drove it in so he had to reverse.  We might have argued over it so I think I took the keys in a huff and went to move it.  We made up later," she grinned.  "Then your husband was banging on the door loudly the next morning, he woke us up."

Tess thought well that tied up with what Alec had said at the time but so far, Rose Tyler could just have been seeing that and Lee and someone else moving some rubbish.  In Tess's mind, it was all circumstantial so far and the investigation was far from over.

Chapter 10
Alec had waited for an answer from Ricky, the man just shrugging his shoulders and telling Alec he didn't have to explain himself.

"I can't understand why you would not want to help put away the person or persons responsible for killing your daughter," Alec told him, closing the folder.  "If it were my daughter, I'd be doing everything I could to assist.  You keep on asking why Lee Ashworth hasn't been convicted but your hesitation tells me there's something else."

"Say want you like Hardy," Ricky spoke up.  "So I have a blue van, several people have access to the office, they could have easily got the keys for it."

"They all know Lee Ashworth?" Alec wanted to know.

"Some of them," Ricky replied laughingly.  "I told you, I was miles away at a wedding and I can prove it.  I did sneak out, to go see one of the bridesmaids.  There's no point in denying it now, it's over between me and Cate now.  I hear things aren't good with you and Tess, now you know how it feels."

Alec ignored him.  "So, now you say you were with one of the bridesmaids?  Really?  Does she have a name?" Alec asked, seeing Jenkins crack a smile as everyone knew Alec and Tess were just waiting for the papers.

"Tiffany something, you've probably already talked to her?" Ricky replied.  "I'm sure you've already checked we were actually there?  Can I go now?"

"For now but someone will be round to check your van," Alec replied, since now they had a reason to even though it was months ago.

"It's used all the time, what do you expect to find?" Ricky asked him.  "Anyway, why would I go help Ashworth move something late at night and leave a wedding?  Where did your information come from, a nosy neighbour?"

Alec had to let the man go, he did rather have a point that anyone could have used the van to help Ashworth move something that night, since Rose couldn't see a face.  He couldn't tell Ricky anything else without giving the game away.  He went off to find Tess to see how she'd got on with Claire.

"She's not giving him up Alec," Tess told him as they compared notes.  "She said she moved the car out into the street to stop him complaining.  I'll send someone back out when we've gone through the guest list from the wedding, since we know now he was with one of the bridesmaids, we know what to ask."

"Check with taxi companies in that area, see if Ricky called for one.  He would not give an explanation about the van or admit he went back home that night so if it wasn't him, who did Rose Tyler see?" Alec wondered.

"Well you wanted to believe her Alec," Tess reminded him.  "Say she hadn't been drinking much that night, she admits she was never introduced to any of them, it was all her friend's descriptions of them."

"Have someone find out where her friend went to, we need to talk to her," Alec ordered, not wanting to say Rose had been worried about her.  "She did say she saw him and Cate waiting outside their house that Saturday morning, that was how she recognised him later that night.  Why would she say that?  She said they looked like they were arguing over something so admittedly, she assumed it was them but who wouldn't?"

"Well maybe so but saying he came out of the Ashworth's house when she never saw him going in is a bit much," Tess replied.  

"Well she said she turned to talk to her friend Tess, we have to assume he did get a taxi and went to check on the two girls, even if he won't admit it.  Right, this is what I want doing."

Rose went back to work, waiting to be contacted.  Alec called her a few times when he had some questions for her, Rose having to admit to Donna the reason why she was getting called to take a phone call after she'd asked Alec if she could tell the personnel officer.

"Yes then, if you have to," Alec agreed two weeks later during his second call.  "We have a lot going on at present Rose, I just wanted to ask a couple of things, is that okay?"

"Yeah, go ahead," Rose told him, Donna having left her alone after saying Rose had better have a good reason why the detective in a murder case ninety odd miles away would keep calling.

"I want you to think carefully Rose.  Your friend, she confirmed Claire had long dark hair?"

"Yeah, I saw someone walk up to the house and stop, then went inside.  Shareen was still awake so I asked her while the woman was letting herself in," Rose replied.

That put paid to Tess's theory it may not have been Claire and that Lee was fooling around, which everyone thought was the case anyway, since Rose had said Shareen had told her she went to parties and barbecues just for her and Lisa to flirt with him.

"Just one more thing Rose," Alec continued.  "I'd like you to come down when you can and identify the three of them formally."

Rose had been dreading that since he'd mentioned it a few weeks ago.

"We'll have them in a line-up Rose, they won't be able to see you.  I know it was late at night but you have to do your best.  There will be others of a similar height and features, it's not to trick you but before we can proceed, we have to establish those are the three people you saw that night.  I know you can't identify the person who helped carry something to the van though."

"Yeah, sorry," Rose told him.  "I'll do my best though.  Is next Tuesday okay?"

"That's fine, get a receipt again and let me know what time you will be arriving.  Can you remember the way I showed you?  It's shorter than the other way," Alec asked her.

"Yeah, I'll try not to get lost," Rose smiled, seeing Donna looking at her through the glass door.  "Anything else?"

"Not for now.  Try not to be nervous about it.  It tends to put a lot of witnesses off but seeing them in person is better than looking at photos as you may have seen one or more of them from the side.  Just one more thing," Alec wanted to know.  "Pippa's parents, the two you saw waiting for a cab that Saturday morning.  They appeared to be arguing?"

"Yeah, they both looked totally pissed off with each other," Rose confirmed.  "I think he might have gone into his inside pocket but it was casually, like he was checking something."

"I'll make a note of that then.  Anything else you can remember from that weekend, it can all be added to your statement before it goes to court.  The only thing we can't add, well, it goes without saying but I have to tell you.  You can't say anything about how Pippa was carried out other than what was in your statement, you can't speculate if she was alive or not.  You also can't speculate about what was wrapped up in those sheets.  You understand?" he asked her.

"Yeah, I get it.  I wish I'd done something at that point, even after watching something being carried out," Rose admitted.

"Yes, I know Rose, a lot of people feel like that afterwards but the only consolation is, you can help get justice for her," he assured her.  "Thanks for your time Rose, don't worry about your job."

"Yeah, thanks.  Any news about my friend?" she asked him.

"No, I'm sorry Rose but while we can't find her, well if anyone thinks she may have seen something that night, it's taking the idea away there was someone else, which was you.  I know it doesn't help Rose but at present, it's best they don't know there is someone else," he told her.

"Well what about identifying them then?" Rose asked, getting worried Shareen would get accused of it.

"They will be asked to attend a line-up, they already know we have new information.  They will assume it was a neighbour and since they know your friend has moved, they won't necessarily assume it was her," Alec replied.

"Well maybe not at first but they'll start to think it was her, since she knew them," Rose pointed out.

"Hopefully, thinking it is her and her being untraceable will, if they get off, stop them going after her but Ricky and Claire are still free, if Ashworth is indeed guilty, he could get Claire to find out if it is her or not.  That could take a while though."

Rose just hoped he was right.  Donna came back in, wanting to know what was going on.

"Come on Rose, I get a phone call from police in Sandbrook, where those girls went missing?" Donna told her.  "You saw what happened?"

"It was late at night Donna, I'm not sure what exactly I did see.  I told the police, they seemed to think it was important all of a sudden," Rose admitted.

"Well they must have done," Donna told her.  "You need some time off then?"

"Not yet but I might do.  Promise you won't tell anyone?" Rose asked her.

All over the weekend, Rose was getting more nervous about having to pick out three people in a line-up so by Monday night, her mother was trying to convince her to either do it or call the whole thing off.

"I can't Mum I have to do this," Rose told her.

"Well you're making me nervous as well," her mother replied.  "Are they paying your train fare again?  Maybe I should come with ya?"

"I'll be fine Mum I won't be there that long.  I just wish they could find Shareen," Rose replied.

"That Shareen deserted you Rose, you seem to forget," Jackie reminded her.

"She might have got scared Mum," Rose defended her old friend.  "DI Hardy told me those who were involved may think she's the person they got their new information from but it's me.  How can I not be worried about her?"

The next morning, Rose set off early to get the 10.05 train that stopped in Sandbrook and sent a message to Alec's work phone she was on her way.  She was surprised to find him waiting for her just by the barrier.

"Hi, didn't expect to be met," Rose smiled at him.

"I thought we should talk first," he replied, not giving anything away.  "We'll just go here," he pointed to where she and Shareen had gone before all this had kicked off what seemed like ages ago now.

He bought a latte for Rose and a tea for himself and some sandwiches, Rose finding a table at the back.

"Is there something wrong?" Rose asked.

After he'd called Rose, they had tried to include Ricky as a suspect but all he'd admit was that he was with someone else that night and they had failed to find this 'Tiffany' though they were still working on it.

"Maybe?  Rose, we've tried to include the girl's father but he's not admitting he was even there.  The chief told me we have to rule him out of the investigation – sorry," he told her.

"I know it was him, Detective Inspector," Rose sighed.

"Please, call me Alec," he insisted, though he hated his name even more as Tess now used it, since he'd got his copy of the divorce papers and in less than six weeks, he'd be free.  "I know you believe it was him came out of the Ashworth's house that night but we have no proof.  He was asked about the van, he claimed several people have access to it."

Rose leaned back against the wall.  "Well that leaves the other two then?" she asked.

"I'm afraid so but Claire said she'd been out to the off-licence at some point, she could have been in earlier and you saw her returning," Alec told her.

"Well she didn't look like she was carrying anything to me," Rose replied.  "What about moving the car and him carrying…"  She stopped before she said something.  "Sorry.  You know what I mean?"

"Yes, I do Rose and we asked her and they both deny anything.  We told them we had new information, all they said was the informant got it wrong or confused them with someone else or got the night wrong," Alec replied.

He'd been dismayed when both of them had denied they had even seen Pippa that night, let alone carry her out and so far, it was two against one.  When it came to court, if it got that far, Rose's testimony would get cut to pieces, especially with Tess dismissing her at first after Rose admitted drinking, however little it had actually been.

Without her missing friend, the defence would make short work of her testimony.

"So you believe they think it was Shareen who saw them?" she asked, just to make certain.

"Yes so as I said, it's best we don't find her just yet.  I know you wanted any news of her, I'm sorry.  If they think it's her and they get off?" he told her.

"Yeah.  So, what do ya want me to do today?" Rose asked, finishing her drink.

"We have to establish it was Claire and Lee you saw that night.  Then we'll know if we can proceed.  So far, it's all circumstantial but if who we have in custody is the man you saw that night, then we have him and possibly her as an accessory.  So far, they have no idea it wasn't your friend.  We've agreed to keep your name out of it."

"Well that's something, I suppose?" Rose asked.  "So if the man you have and the man I was told was Lee aren't the same person?"

"Then neither you or your friend have anything to worry about and it all starts again," Alec admitted.  "We should have got you to identify him before but it takes time, I wanted to do it weeks ago," Alec told her.

"Well, can we get it over with?" Rose asked.  "If it's neither of them, I've wasted your time."

"No, you can still help Rose, don't think that," Alec assured her.  "We just have to resume looking for those responsible but I have every faith in you."  He reached across the table and touched her arm.  "Whether it was them or not, you saw what happened.  Who else could it have been?  They're both lying Rose, I know they are.  They're all hiding something, trust me."

"Well I have to prove it," Rose reminded him, not bothering his hand was still on her arm.

"Yes, we're asking a lot of you Rose, sorry," he apologised.

They went off to the police station, Alec taking her to his office whilst Lee was fetched and Claire was escorted there, her having moved out of the house next to Cate's.  Tess had gone to collect her and was having one last go.

"So, what's all this about?" Claire asked as they left the hostel Tess had referred her to.

"I can't say anything except we've been following new information," was all Tess would admit.

"The same information when you asked me if Lee went out to the car that night?" Claire asked her.  "What were you even asking us for?  I don't even know why you're still keeping him locked up."

No-one had said anything about the evidence going missing but Tess suspected they couldn't hide the fact much longer.  She just hoped the witness Alec had insisted appeared in person and whom he'd decided to 'escort' from the train station recognised them.  It was still all up in the air though, Ricky had somehow managed to squirm his way out of the investigation and they'd had no choice but to let him go but now, it all rested on one person to say they saw Pippa being put in a car that night.

Alec was just going through what Rose was required to do.

"There will be a line of men, all holding a number," he began to explain.  "You just have to say the number, ask them to step forward or turn to the side.  When you are sure you have the right person, just say.  The same goes for the women.  Do you understand Rose?"

Rose nodded.  "Yeah, I got it.  So, I can't be accused of singling someone out?  I mean the man you have in custody might not be the same person I saw?" she asked, just to clarify.

"That's right," Alec assured her.  "We'll go through once I get the call the men are in place, then the woman will go through but you won't be seen."

Alec's desk phone rang, Jenkins telling him they were ready.  Alec got up and opened the door for Rose, allowing her out first.

"There's nothing to worry about, just take your time," he told her, placing his hand on her shoulder and indicating where to go.

It seemed like ages to Rose as she stood behind the glass, after being told it was only one way.  Jenkins had instructed her further as he'd taken over the supervision of the line-up.

"Take a good look at each of them," Jenkins told her as she looked along the line of six men.  "What distance were you away that night?"

"Across the street," Rose reminded him.  "It was clear though and goodness knows why neither of them looked across, they looked up and down the street, well she did."

Alec was taking notes, making Jenkins smile.  Alec was keen to get the smallest details Rose may have forgotten to tell them up until now.

"Anything else you remember from that night?" Alec asked, doing that thing with his pen that Jenkins found amusing.

"Can ya ask number three to step forward?" Rose asked, Alec hoping she would say that was him, since it was Lee.

Jenkins asked him to stand forward, Lee taking his time.

"Yeah, that's him," Rose confirmed.  "I know my friend only described him but he's the one who carried something wrapped in a sheet with another man, then he came out a bit later carrying Pippa."

"If you go with DI Hardy, I'll have the women brought in," Jenkins told her.

Alec opened the other door and allowed her out first as Jenkins was telling the officer in the other room to wait until she'd gone.

"You can't tell me, can you?" Rose asked Alec as he told a WPC to get Rose a coffee.

"No, sorry Rose.  If I told you, it would have an effect on you identifying Claire.  Have a short break while they get organised, the man you pointed out will be detained," he told her, so as not to give away she'd been right by saying Lee would be questioned further.

Rose tried to look enthusiastic about doing a further identification.

"You're doing fine," Alec assured her as she finished her drink.  "Ready?"

"As I'll ever be.  Best get it over with then?"

Alec led the way, since she looked just as nervous as earlier.  Claire was standing around with the other women, two were police officers to make up the numbers but didn't look much like Claire apart from having long dark hair.  Jenkins had argued with Alec that since it had been dark and Rose had admitted she'd asked her friend what the Ashworths looked like, they were presuming a lot that it had actually been Claire.

Alec had sent Tess to get Claire and he'd just been about to go meet Rose off the train, a last minute decision, getting him a huff from Tess as he'd got his coat off the hook.

"Where are you going?" Tess had asked after Jenkins left.  "He's right you know Alec, we are assuming a lot from your witness."

"Oh, so suddenly Rose Tyler is my witness?" Alec asked, straightening his jacket collar.

"Well you took her over, got an ulterior motive?" she hinted.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he replied, checking his phone what time the train arrived and hoping it was on time.

"You know what I mean Alec," Tess told him as she left.

So now, Tess had left Claire with the other women and saw Alec approaching with Rose.

"Just wait in there Rose," he told her, opening the door.  "I'll be right in."

"Really Alec, she doesn't need special treatment," Tess told him.

"Do you want her to back out now?" he asked her as he pulled the door to.  "You know how much work has gone into this, if she's wrong, we have to start all over again and that's your fault Tess," he reminded her.  "You should not have sided with the chief over delaying the line-ups."

"I was trying to get Claire to admit something, you already know that," Tess defended herself.  "Your witness was watching from a window, at night.  I'd say if I'd got Claire to turn, she would be more reliable."

"Seriously?" Alec asked, raising his eyebrows.  "After she's lied to us several times?"

"Only because your witness claims she saw a woman go into the house, really Alec, it could have been anyone, she admitted her friend told her Lee likes to play around."

Alec wanted to add she knew all about playing around but now was not the time.

"Right now, I trust her more than I do Claire," he replied instead, opening the door.

"Something wrong?" Rose asked nervously, hoping it had been called off but that wouldn't solve anything.

Jenkins joined them, seeing Tess was in a mood, as she tended to be lately, even more so than when he'd first arrived so he'd assumed their divorce was about to be finalized. 

Alec had received his papers shortly after Tess had made a point of having them delivered to the police station and in four weeks or so, it would be official.  Rose followed Jenkins's instructions and after looking carefully, she ruled out three of the women and had asked the first woman to step forward again and then Claire.

"There is no rush, take your time," Alec reminded her, getting a look from Jenkins not to encourage her.

"They both look similar," Rose admitted, not knowing the first woman had been plucked off the street by Tess, who happened to notice the similarity as she'd gone to collect Claire.  "Can they both turn to the side again?"

Jenkins spoke into his mobile, telling the duty officer and Rose looked again.

"Number four, that's the woman I saw, I'm sure now she's turned to the side.  I saw her moving the car that night then she got in the van when it came back," Rose confirmed.

Chapter 11
After being taken back to Alec's office to wait for everyone else to leave and Claire had been cautioned by Tess, Claire ranting on about she'd volunteered for the line-up and what was she doing being cautioned, Rose was waiting to be told she could leave.

Alec came back in and Rose turned to face him.

"You can go now, I'll walk back to the train station with you," he offered, getting his coat.

"I'm really fine walking back on my own," Rose assured him.  "You can't tell me, can you?  If I identified the right people?"

"I wish I could, to assure you but I can't Rose, I'm sorry," he apologised.  "Once we've concluded the investigation, we'll be told if we can take it to court and I'll keep you up to date with things.  We could not have got this far with you Rose."

"I wish it could have been different, I wish I could have somehow stopped them," Rose told him sadly.

"It would have just put you in danger, if you had been in their house that night and things had started to go wrong.  We'll continue looking for your friend, now we have the right people locked up, it will be safe for her to come forward and confirm a few things," Alec replied.

"Like I was drinking with her that night?" Rose tried to joke.

"Don't put yourself down Rose, I know you were telling me the truth about that, never mind what Tess told you," he tried to assure her.  "If there is anything you want to know, don't hesitate to call, I'll give you my personal number, call me any time if you're worried or to ask any questions."

He got a card out of his inside jacket pocket and handed it to her.  Rose got up, taking the arm he offered and he opened the door.  They walked back to the train station, Rose only having twenty minutes to wait so she went to get a coffee from the machine in the newsagents and they walked onto the platform, Alec taking her down to the end.

"You were very brave today Rose," he told her as she sipped from the paper cup, putting his hand on her arm.

"Didn't feel like it," she half smiled.  "How long will it take now?"

"A few weeks to get everything together, if all goes well but now we have positive IDs, we'll get them to talk.  Rose, I meant it, you can call me whenever you feel like talking, it will start getting to you now."

"I'm sure you have other things to do," she told him, hiding her smile behind the paper cup.

"Not any more," he admitted, thinking once the divorce became final, maybe he'd stay away from women for a while.

He wouldn't mind making an exception for the young woman who had saved the investigation though.

"What about your family?" Rose asked innocently.  "Oh, sorry, I forgot, you mentioned something a while back."

"No matter.  Take care of yourself Rose," he told her as her train was announced.  "My divorce becomes final in a few weeks, just, well, if it was of interest and you felt guilty about calling me."

Hell, why had he just come out with that, he wondered.  That would surely drive her away but what was he expecting?

Rose tried to move, Alec moving his hand he hadn't realised was still on her other arm so as he moved it, she reached up and kissed his cheek as the train was approaching the platform.

"Bye Alec, I'll call, if my mum gets tired of listening to me," she smiled, Alec touching his cheek.

She was about to move when he kissed hers back.  "Bye Rose, take care, call me."

"Yeah, you'll regret that," she laughed as the train doors opened.  She was about to get on when he grabbed her arm.

"No, I won't.  Don't miss your train," he smiled as the guard stood watching Rose half in the doorway.

She hurried to find a seat as the doors closed, tapping on the window and waving.  Alec waved back, about to put his hand on the window as the train moved slowly away and he stepped back.  He felt like walking alongside, what the hell had just come over him?

He was left on the platform again, a puzzled look on his face as he heard a male voice behind him.

"Hey, you're making a habit of that," the guard called to him from the office.

"What?" Alec looked around.

"Letting her go like that.  You should tell her," the man advised him.  "She won't wait forever mate."

"Thanks for the advice," Alec replied, trying to make it sound sarcastic but he didn't have it in him. 

Rose was getting to him and he knew it and she shouldn't be.  She was a material witness in a murder investigation and if he asked her opinion, she would agree it was Lisa who she saw wrapped up in the dustsheet that night.  Now he was in danger of compromising her if he wasn't very, very, careful.

He went to sit down, getting his phone out and debating if he should apologise for his behaviour just as she was leaving.

"She'll figure it out," he told himself.  He was about to get up and found himself accessing the messaging on his phone and sent 'I meant it Rose, I won't regret it if you call me.  Alec.' 

Rose heard her message tone.  What had just happened back there on the platform?  As she was about to read it, the guard came round, smiled at her and asked to see her ticket.

"Thought you weren't gonna get on the train Miss," he commented as he clipped the return part of her ticket.

Alec was on his way back to his office when Tess rang him.

"How long does it take to make sure she gets on the train?" she asked him.

"Why would you care Tess?" he replied.

It was going to be a long four weeks until the divorce was finalised and for the first time, he wished the court case would be delayed so that when Rose came back to testify, he would be free.  Why was he even thinking about it like that?  Surely Rose would just brush it off as him trying to make her feel at ease about what was going to be a difficult time for her?

He was worried though that she was discussing the case with her mother but who else did she have to talk to about it?  If her friend hadn't disappeared, the two of them would surely have been talking about it.  He made his way back to the station, avoiding Tess and closing his office door but she saw him creep past her and let herself in a few minutes later.

"You shouldn't give her any special treatment Alec," Tess pointed out.

"Like you're not giving Claire any?  Right, who's first, her or Lee?" he asked, trying to change the subject but knew Tess was right, he was going out of his way to assure Rose.

Maybe next time he spoke to her, he should tell her he treated all witnesses like that but who was he kidding?  Rose was almost home, thinking about how now, she must have correctly identified Lee and Claire, which wasn't bad going to say Shareen's descriptions had been hazy at best.  She took Alec's card out of her pocket, having looked at the message he'd sent and not having replied.

She started composing one but got stuck – what could she say?  What had just happened back on the platform?  The same as what had happened in the café when they'd been talking?  She finally sent a brief message back 'Thanks, I feel better now, I'll try not to bother you' and just hoped she could keep her word.  When she got home, her mother wanted all the details so Rose told her how the identifications had gone but said nothing about afterwards – she was on very shaky ground and she knew it.

Claire was giving Tess and Alec the 'I don't know anything' speech as Alec asked her for the truth about that night.

"Where had you really been Claire?" Alec asked her.  "We have someone who saw you return after ten and you were not carrying anything."

"Well they were wrong, weren't they?" Claire replied, leaning her head on her arms and glancing up at Tess.  "I've had to leave home because of you two, Cate hates me, she threw me out, not that I wanted to stay there when I can't even listen to the TV."

"We checked about that night she complained about it being loud Claire," Tess told her.  "Why did it take you half an hour to turn it down?" she asked, hoping to catch Claire out.

Tess still doubted Claire had been the one to break into her car.  How had she managed it in a short space of time?  Then she realised Cate may have been out of it and maybe woken up from one of her drinking sessions and not realised how much time had actually passed.

They had a short break then turned their attention to Lee, who wasn't saying anything either.

"So Lee, what really happened that night eh?" Alec tried asking him.  "We know Claire went out so were you alone with Lisa and Pippa?"

Tess thought he was asking a bit much, considering.

"I told you Hardy," Lee replied.  "How many more times?  So, where did you get this new information from?"

"You know we can't tell you that," Alec replied.  "Just answer the question.  We have a lot of new information that tells us you weren't telling the truth about that night so you may just as well tell us.  Why were you carrying young Pippa out to your car that night?"

Lee looked up suddenly, glancing at his solicitor.

"Who said my client was carrying anyone out to a car that night?" the solicitor asked Alec.  "Mr Ashworth has already said he and his wife were in on their own that night."

"Then you and your client need to have a re-think," Alec suggested, gathering the folders.  "When you have, Mr Ashworth had better be ready to give us an explanation because someone came forward who saw him.  That and certain other factors prove your client is not telling the entire truth."

Once they were alone, Tess turned to face him.

"You're putting a lot of trust in Rose Tyler," Tess warned him.   "What if you find her friend and she still maintains the two of them were drinking that night and Rose drank more that she admitted?"

"Then her friend knows more than she was telling Rose," Alec replied.  "Think about it Tess.  Rose said her friend knew Lisa quite well so what if Lisa confided in her that she liked Lee a bit more than she led anyone to believe?"

"You mean they were grooming her?" Tess asked.

"Exactly and how many young women and girls know when they are being groomed?  It starts off innocently Tess, you took that course with me of how they do it.  That has to be the reason, that Shareen Costello knew a lot more than she told Rose about them.  That's the reason she tried to convince you Rose had as much to drink as she did that night.  I think Lisa confided in her Tess and she realised what was going on."

"You're serious?" Tess asked him.  "You mean she didn't want her friend to know she was getting mixed up in it?  What did Rose tell you about it?"

"Not much.  I think Rose took it innocently enough but maybe that guy hanging around that night did her a big favour Tess?  What if Rose had been taken over there that night?  I think Claire went out on purpose, to give Lee chance and maybe Pippa wasn't involved but Lisa was?  I bet you anything Ricky got suspicious and went back that night and caught them and he either threw Lisa out or went to get his van to dispose of her if he killed her."

"Whoa Alec, you know where this is going?" Tess asked him.  "Ricky denies being there that night, we can't prove anything, Rose may have mistaken him for one of his employees."

"I seriously doubt that Tess.  Let's go see what the chief thinks and if he agrees, we need to talk to Rose again and double our efforts to find her friend.  Shareen Costello may be more deeply involved than anyone realised.  Tess, if the Ashworth's get set free, they could go after both of them."

Alec though was more concerned about Rose but he knew he shouldn't have been.  Now he wondered how well this Shareen and Lisa really knew each other.  If Lisa thought it was a game with Lee flirting with her and wanted her friend to get involved, maybe Shareen had taken it innocently enough at first but then realised what was involved so she didn't want to get Rose involved?  Maybe her disappearance and her hostility towards Rose was her way of trying to keep her friend out of it?  Well either that or she didn't want Rose spoiling anything and was about to get involved with whatever was going on?

Just why was Cate so hostile towards Shareen Costello though?  From what Rose had told him, Shareen was never invited to anything Cate was organising so maybe Cate was just as bad in that department?  The mystery was deepening and he didn't like where it was going.  As he went to the chief's office to tell him what they had so far, he didn't know how much longer he could go without telling Rose at least some of it.

He wanted to tell her that her friend had innocently got caught up in the events but now, he wasn't so sure.

"So, that's what we think," Alec told his chief.  "I want to step up the search for Shareen Costello, it's vital we speak to her."

"I agree Alec," the chief told him.  "I also want Tess to talk to Cate Gillespie again, why she didn't like her neighbour but tell Tess to do it tactfully." 

Alec thought Tess was about as tactful as a bull in a china shop but she did have her moments.

Back at the Tyler residence, Rose was being asked what had gone on.

"I can't talk about it too much Mum," Rose had told her.  "There's a lot more going on and now, I'm worried Shareen was more involved."

"What do ya mean Rose?" her mother asked.

Rose was reluctant to say anything because she wanted to be wrong about her old friend but it would explain why she'd gone hostile towards her suddenly and it wasn't just about her not telling Shareen what went on that night.

"I have to make a phone call Mum," Rose excused herself after their tea.

She just hoped Alec wouldn't be mad at her for calling him after hours, he may regret giving her his other number.  Alec had just got home and taken his jacket and tie off when his personal mobile rang.  Seeing a number instead of a name, his first thought was maybe Rose had taken advantage of his offer to call him but seriously doubted it.  He answered cautiously, in case some idiot from a call centre had got hold of his number, then he'd tell them they were in serious trouble for bothering a police officer.

"Alec Hardy," he spoke into the phone, waiting for a recorded message or someone who began spouting on before he'd a chance to tell them not to bother.

"Alec?  It's Rose.  You did say I could call?"

"Yes, sorry Rose, what can I do for you?"

"I hope I'm not disturbing ya?  I'm worried about something," Rose admitted.

"What's bothering you?" he asked, opening the fridge and looking to see what he could make to eat that was quick, since he wasn't really in the mood and might just call the takeaway.

"Where do I start?" Rose tried to laugh.  "Okay, I'm worried Shareen may have been caught up in whatever was going on at the Ashworth's house.  Maybe that's why she got angry with me?"

"What do you mean by that?" Alec asked, opening a bottle of water.

He wanted to see if she thought the same as he did, that Shareen may have been jealous of Lisa and used the incident in the street not to let on to her friend she was involved.

"Well, maybe Lisa told her something, about what went on?" Rose suggested, not sure about this now.

"Rose, before you say anything else, I can't discuss this with you.  It's only a theory at best, it may not have been the case.  Unless we find her, we won't know.  I'm sorry, I know you are worried."

"Yeah, I know you can't discuss it, it was a daft idea," Rose had to admit.

"No, it wasn't," Alec tried to assure her.  "Rose, if it helps, we have similar ideas about your friend's involvement but I can't say anything.  I'm sorry but that's all I can tell you."

"Do ya think Shareen told Lisa who I was?  I mean, she must have mentioned I was visiting and I saw Lisa and Pippa out in the street.  I hope she didn't give my name."

Alec was hoping the same but didn't want to worry her even more.

"If she did, then maybe Lisa thought nothing about it?" he tried to assure her.  "We don't even know if Lisa saw the Ashworth's that weekend.  It may have been that she left Pippa with them while she sneaked off somewhere.  Maybe that's why that guy was hanging around?  Maybe he went off after her?"

He still needed to see that person to ask some more questions, if indeed he'd moved off to follow Lisa somewhere.  Maybe there was no person in those dustsheets after all?

"Yeah, maybe?" Rose had to admit, feeling guilty for bothering him and taking advantage of him giving her the number.  "See, I told ya you'd regret giving me this number," she tried to joke.

"No, it was worrying you, I'll let you off," he replied.  "Anything else?" he asked, hoping she wouldn't ask him what the hell all that on the station platform was all about.

"No, sorry, I was just worried.  I'd known her a long time, I don't understand why she'd get annoyed with me for something like that.  We never even fell out over a boy we fancied when we were teenagers," Rose admitted.

"It sounds like it was something deeper than that Rose," Alec tried to tell her.  "Call me if there is anything else worries you."

"Yeah, I will but I'll try to think about it before I do," she replied.  "Alec, can I ask you something?"

"Sure, what is it?"

"Back at the train station, you started to tell me something.  I just realised, you meant about your divorce, in general.  You were just trying to tell me so I wouldn't wonder why you and DS Henchard were a bit hostile."

Alec couldn't recall if he'd even mentioned it was Tess he was getting the divorce from but Rose may have gathered that on her own.  It didn't take much to work it out.

"I was just trying to tell you that if you rang, no-one would get the wrong idea."

Yeah, of course he was, he tried to convince himself.

"Well, I won't keep ya talking all night, I just wanted to escape from my mum's questions," Rose laughed.

"Then I am glad I could rescue you.  Goodnight Rose and try not to worry too much.  We may have some more questions for you but I'll try not to have you come down here again."

"I don't mind, if it helps.  Night then and if I think of anything, I'll let ya know."

"You do that Rose.  Bye for now."

He cursed himself as the call ended.   Hell, he was now looking for any excuse for her to come back to answer a few questions he could ask by phone and he shouldn't be.  Now though, this Gary Thorpe was a person of interest because even if he'd ran off, he could know where Lisa went and who had chased him off.  Maybe it was Lee himself and only one other person knew that – the man who had warned Shareen and Rose not to go out and they had no idea who he was or where he'd gone.  Great.

Well at least it had put the two women off, he could have been investigating more than one death and one disappearance but now, the Ashworths knew they had been seen that night, they would soon work out who it might have been and if Lisa had mentioned it to either of them Shareen was expecting a visitor?

The next morning, Alec went straight to the chief's office.

"I'm worried about our witness, Rose Tyler," Alec admitted to him.

"In what way?" the chief wanted to know.

"I have reason to believe the Ashworths may have got her name from Lisa," Alec replied.  "They know we have new information and that they were seen.  If Lisa mentioned Rose's name?"

"I see.  What do you want Alec?"

"I want to make sure they haven't got her name without giving anything away and should it go to court, I want her name protected," Alec told him, trying to keep his temper.

"You mean witness protection?  You have to face up to it Alec, there's no such thing in these kind of cases.  Her testimony, at best may bring the case to trial but we both know the defence will pull her to pieces.  Are you sure she's up to it?" the chief asked him.

Now Alec wasn't so sure, she'd not sounded too good on the phone the night before and now, he couldn't even tell her she'd be protected, apart from her name being kept out of the proceedings.  Well he was determined she wasn't going to be put in any situation where if they somehow got off, they would go after her – even if he had to do it himself.
Chapter 12
Alec was not pleased when he left the chief's office and slammed his own office door.  Tess got up to see what was wrong, wondering why he was in such a mood if it wasn't about their impending divorce.

"What's wrong now?" Tess asked him as he put his head in his hands.

He then leaned back, putting his arms behind his head.

"This whole stinking system, what else?" he asked.  "A young woman risks everything to come forward with information and I can't even tell her she will remain anonymous."

"Come on Alec, she's not the first and she certainly won't be the last witness to risk something.  We still can't be certain what she saw was actually any of them.  You have to admit it, she was a bit vague, since she never actually met any of them."

"Vague or not, she's the only witness we have, whether it was any of them or not, you can't deny what she saw.  Someone carried Pippa out of the Ashworth's house Tess, that has to account for something and who knows what was wrapped in the sheet?"

"Her imagination working overtime?" Tess queried.  "Okay, Pippa may have been carried out to a car that Claire may or may not have moved but who's to say it was Lee carrying her?  What description did Rose Tyler actually give of him?"

"It's written in her statement Tess, read it," Alec snapped at her.

"If I remember rightly it was something along the lines that her friend said he was a bit of a dish," Tess recalled.

"Oh, so the day she called and you dismissed her for drinking, you did actually take some notice?" Alec asked her, leaning forward and getting up.  "I need coffee."

"You don't drink coffee Alec," Tess reminded him.

"Well I do now," he replied.  "So, what else do you remember from her initial statement that you never bothered to write down?"

"It's a while ago now Alec, how do you expect me to remember?" Tess asked him.  "She said something about a police car holding up the bus on the main road, something about the bus driver waiting to see where it was going."

"Oh and you did not think that was important?" Alec wanted to know, about to open the door.  "That proves she was there Tess."

"I never denied she wasn't there Alec," Tess defended herself.  "I said her recollections may have been scrambled if she'd been drinking."

"Well she wasn't, she assures me of that and since her friend has disappeared, we have to believe her.  Even if we find Shareen Costello, she may still be annoyed with Rose and maintain the pair of them were drinking but now, I'm more interested in what Mrs Costello has to say about that night, she was never asked if Rose had actually drunk as much as was made out she did," Alec reminded her.  "Did you interview her Tess?"

"Not really, she insisted she knew nothing," Tess admitted.

"Yes, well so have the Gillespies and the Ashworths but I don’t believe any of them now, they are all hiding something, I'm sure of it and I want the search for Shareen Costello and the man they lived with, this Ken stepping up.  He may know who chased Gary Thorpe off that night."

"Are you still going on about him Alec?" Tess asked as he put his jacket on.

"Yes, I want him found as well, I want to know who chased him off and non of that nonsense he denies being there.  What is wrong with everyone in this case?" he asked.  "Why is everyone hiding things, except Rose Tyler?"

"She's getting to you Alec, back off a little," Tess tried to warn him.  "Don't get too close to her."

"Someone has to assure her she's being taken seriously Tess," Alec replied, checking his phone to see if Rose had left a message on his personal one but why would she?

Maybe Tess was right, he was getting too close to their only witness and he should back off but something was making him want to be sure she would be safe should those now locked up get set free.  Tess was also right, as much as he hated to admit it that Rose had never actually met any of them but they had to face it, who else would have been going in and out of both houses at that time of night, with keys?

It was a bit far-fetched he had to admit that a bunch of strangers all had keys and were the ones acting strangely but it would be up to the prosecution to prove it was them but their case was resting on Rose's testimony and she was getting scared.  How could he tell her they couldn't offer her any protection once the case was in court and the Ashworths actually got off?

He didn't want to think about it just yet, hopefully they could persuade Claire and Lee they had enough evidence against them and get them both to plead guilty but it still bothered him Ricky was denying anything.  Did Rose get mixed up and it only looked like Pippa's father that night?  Why would Ricky be involved with what happened to his daughter, unless indeed tempers had flared and both girls had got caught up in it?

He was still thankful Rose and her friend had been spared it due to the incident out in the street but he could never forget he was the one to pull Pippa out of the river, it still haunted him and woke him at night.  He went to the kitchen area and found a jar of a cheap brand of coffee and changed his mind.  Seeing Rose drinking it had made him want to try it for some strange reason and he'd given up coffee years ago.

Tess watched him, a smile on her face that she was right – Rose Tyler was getting to him and he'd never admit it and it would be his downfall.  It would soon fade, she thought as he went out, wondering where he was going.  He walked across the courtyard that lead to the train station and went in the café he'd been in with Rose, not knowing what had led him there.  He got what she had ordered and sat in the corner, wondering if she was at work.

Who was he kidding?  It was just after ten, of course she'd be at work, why was he even wondering?  He spontaneously composed a message, asking her to call him when she could, then he'd have to find an excuse for it when she did.  Now he knew why the station guard had mistaken him twice for someone letting her get away.  He still had to ask her a few things anyway but they could have waited – couldn't they?

Rose had gone to work, hoping Alec wouldn't keep calling her and Donna wouldn't ask her any further questions but that wasn't to be when she saw the personnel officer at break time.

"So, how did your trip go?" Donna asked, making a point of sitting opposite.

"Don't normally see you in here," Rose managed to smile, wondering why Donna was suddenly being friendly when all the time she'd been there, they had hardly talked.  "Yeah, they had some questions and I had to ID someone, well two people and trust me, it was a bit daunting," she tried to joke.  "You haven't told anyone, have ya?"

"Don't be daft Rose," Donna grinned.  "I keep secrets all day long.  You wouldn't believe half the stories some employees come up with so they can have a sneaky little shopping trip.  So far, I'm impressed with you, despite the phone calls.  He's Scottish then, that detective?"

Rose thought that was rather obvious.

"Yeah, have you not seen him on the news?"

"Well yeah but I didn't take any notice, it upset my mum, finding that young girl like that.  Who does something like that?" Donna wondered, sipping the less than desirable coffee and wishing she'd made her own.

Donna had been curious a few days before when Alec had called her and she'd asked him why it was so important Rose was disturbed at work.

"So come on then, Detective Inspector Hardy, give me a good reason why I should keep calling Rose to my office," she'd asked him.

"Because, Miss, whatever your name is," Alec had started, since Donna had reeled her name off rather quickly when the switchboard had put the call through.  "It's urgent I speak to her.  She did explain to you she's helping us with some enquiries about a major investigation?"

"Well yeah, she said something but can't it wait?" she'd asked him.

"Well if it could, I would not be calling her urgently, would I?" Alec had replied, wondering why she'd not applied to be in the police, she asked enough questions.

Rose was trying to avoid answering Donna.

"Sorry Donna, I can't talk about it but I'm trying my best not to have to take any time off.  That might change though, if it goes to court.  Excuse me, I have a message I need to answer."

Rose went off to the ladies room but she only had a few minutes so she sent Alec a message back saying she'd call him at lunchtime, wondering what his cryptic message of 'I need to speak to you' was about.  She'd only called him the night before but she supposed something could have come up.  Maybe they'd found Shareen?

Alec had gone back to work, those in the office being used to him wandering around lately but he went up to Jenkins's desk.

"Can I help you with something Sir?" Jenkins asked him.

"How are you getting on finding the Costello women and this Ken?" Alec asked him, seeing a file on the desk of missing possible witnesses.

He supposed that's what they were really, even though they didn't want to admit it, they were unwitting witnesses, ones who could say for definite Rose hadn't really been drinking and that it was Gary Thorpe out in the street but more importantly, who'd cleared him off.

"I have people on it Sir," Jenkins assured him.  "I found something interesting about Gary Thorpe though, seems that night he admitted himself to the emergency room at the hospital."

"What happened?" Alec asked, seeing there wasn't much in the folder when he'd picked it up and glanced at it.

"Well, it seems he had a bloodied nose to start with but he'd gone in claiming it was self-inflicted.  I think he has a problem and I'm going out later to interview him again.  Seems the business he ran folded and he's working at a car wash place.  I'll see what I can get out of him."

"You do that," Alec replied, wishing Rose would call him back but the longer it was, the more time he had to come up with a reason he'd sent the message.

He heard his message tone on his own phone and read what Rose had sent.  It was all he could do to stop himself replying with 'looking forward to it'.  Since when had all this started?  He had listened to her last night, tried to assure her she was doing the right thing and he was doing everything he could to find her friend.

He turned back to his DC.  "Jenkins, make finding this Shareen Costello a priority."

"Yes Sir," Jenkins replied, glancing at another DC opposite as Alec walked back to his office.

"What's so important about her?" his friend asked.

"Beats me but maybe it'll get him off our backs if we do find her," Jenkins told him.

Before she went to order her lunch, Rose found a quiet corner and called Alec.

"Hi Alec, is it something urgent?" Rose asked, glancing out of the window.

"Ah, Rose.  Thanks for calling me back.  Just a few things really.  You mentioned your friend was never invited to anything at the Gillespie house?"

"Yeah, I thought that was a bit odd really, since she was invited to the Ashworths all the time," Rose had to admit.  "Mind you, Cate could have taken a dislike to her since Lisa hung around with her I suppose?"

"Yes, that could be it," Alec agreed.  "Maybe there was a little jealousy going on if Lisa was supposed to spend time with Pippa?"

"Yeah, could be.  I had Donna trying to find out things earlier, she's not happy being kept in the dark," Rose smiled, even though he couldn't see her.

"Just tell her the minimum.  Oh and about the morning you left, you saw a police car heading to the estate, yes?" he asked.

"Are ya asking to make sure I was actually there?" Rose asked him.

"No, I'm the one who does believe you were there, remember?" he reminded her.  "Sorry, the reason I ask is why that time?  I mean you were on a visit, why leave so early?"

"My mum had warned me about rail engineering works, I didn't want to be back late or have to get a bus replacement service.  We got the bus to the train station because Ken had football training and couldn't give us a lift."

"What?" Alec asked, quickly scanning her statement.  "What football training?  He had a car?"

"Whoa, one question at a time," Rose laughed.

"Sorry.  Rose, where did he go training, did he say?" Alec asked, getting his notebook out and fishing in his pocket for a pen then seeing a silver one under a sheet of paper, one Tess had bought him ages ago.

"No, just in the opposite direction from town and Shareen said it would make him late.  Alec, I'm so sorry, I forgot all about it.  It's important, isn't it?"

"It could help us find your friend, if they are still with him," Alec admitted.  "Rose, I'm sorry but the reason they moved could have only been because they left him.  Your friend may not even be aware of any of this.  She may not think anyone opposite believes she's the one who saw everything that night."

Rose supposed he was right, Shareen had been really annoyed with her and maybe her mother had fallen out with Ken.  She didn't know much about him or where they'd met, only that Shareen's mother had met someone and moved away, in a bit of a whirlwind romance.

"Yeah, she's not come back here though, as far as I know.  You might be able to find out who Ken is though?  There might not be that many football training grounds in the area?" Rose suggested.

"Yes, maybe and don't worry, things will keep coming back to you Rose, just let me know if they do.  That was why I gave you my other phone number.  You surprised me by calling last night, I'd not put your number in my contacts, which I have now corrected.  Can you remember anything else at all, even the slightest thing?" he asked.

"I'll let ya know if I do.  I'd best go get my lunch, everyone eating is making me hungry," Rose laughed.

"Yes, don't let me keep you and I will keep you informed.  Just one thing, what's your work address?" he asked.

Why the hell had he just asked her that, he wondered.

"I'll text it to ya," Rose suggested, feeling hungry and not thinking anything of it.

"Yes, you do that.  Oh, do you know what sort of car this Ken had by any chance?"

"No, sorry, it must have been parked at the side of the house, I didn't go out that much and on the Sunday, he left before we did.  Did I tell ya Shareen told me the neighbours sometimes gave Pippa a lift to school?"

"I'm not sure but I will check," Alec assured her, not recalling it.  "I will add your workplace to your statement, it will show any judge you are employed and not doing this for any financial gain.  Sorry, it does happen, people looking for rewards though I am not suggesting you would do such a thing but it will be on record we paid your train fare so from now on, we'll have to be careful with that."

"Yeah, well you paid the last two, I'll live," Rose replied, getting up.  "Let me know if ya want anything else, I mean if you've any more questions, I'm usually free at this time."

"Yes, I will try and keep the questions for your lunch break from now on, unless it's urgent.  You have been a big help Rose."

Rose went to get her lunch and quickly sent him the store address, wondering why he needed it but if it helped make her seem a more credible witness, then all the better.  Alec received the message and wrote it in her file, keeping the message but didn't know why he needed to.

For the next few days, everyone was kept busy.  No-one had come across any football training grounds that had a member called Ken so Alec wondered if it was his real name, things were getting complicated.  Both Claire and Lee were given another chance to come clean about that night but had declined so now, it was going to be passed to the crown prosecution service and let them decide if Rose's testimony would be enough.

Friday evening, Alec was dismayed to learn Daisy had a really bad cold and wouldn't be meeting him as usual, now they spent the whole of Saturday together over the last few weeks.

"So, tell her to get better soon," Alec had told Tess as they left the police station on the Friday evening.  "Has she been in school?"

"No, she went to my sister's, you were the one who didn't want her being left on her own," Tess reminded him.

"That was when we were searching for a killer Tess," Alec snapped back.

"Are you so sure we have them?" Tess asked, signing out.  "You're putting a lot of faith in your witness Alec."

"I have confidence in her," Alec replied.  "Are you going to the court to get the final judgement on the divorce?"

"No, are you?" Tess asked as she saw Dave waiting by her car.  "Is there any need or are you going to say you don't want it?"

"No, not me, that part of the legal system I do trust.  We should get to know by Monday if there is going to be a trial, I don't need to go to court for anything else except to see those two locked up for good.  I just wish we could have also pinned something on Ricky Gillespie."

"Well we can't, we've tried Alec," Tess reminded him.

So as he went home, he wondered what he was going to do the following day, since he arranged things around his daughter now she was agreeing to see him.  He put his laptop on when he got home and looked at the map of London, trying to see where Rose worked when he put in the postcode and saw it was near the main central area.  Where did he really expect it to be, he wondered.

Before he knew it, he was on the train information website and getting the price of a ticket, since Rose had never said how much it cost and was glad she'd got it back since it was almost thirty pounds even on the weekend rate.  He wondered why the train companies had to have a complicated pricing system but he supposed they made money out of those who had to get to work.  He then saw where the train stopped and booked a hotel for the night, he didn't know what he expected.  

Maybe he'd just go have a wander around and accidentally end up outside the department store.  Maybe he wouldn't go anywhere near it but who was he trying to fool?  He hadn't really needed her work address, had he?  Resisting phoning her, he packed a shoulder bag that was a reasonable size and debated whether to put his shaving kit in.  Hell, what was he thinking? 

Rose had spent the rest of the week phoning her friends to see if anyone had heard anything from Shareen.  She'd avoided it so far but Alec had her wondering now if they'd moved because they had to or Shareen's mother had broken up with Ken.  Maybe they'd fallen out over the events, she had no way of knowing.

"It's no use Rose," Mickey was telling her when he called round on the Friday night.  "No-one's seen her, I asked around for you."

"Thanks Mickey but I'm worried about her now.  I don't know if they threatened her and she left or if it was something else.  Not knowing is more worrying," Rose told him and her mother.

"So, any more visits to Sandbrook coming up?" Mickey asked.

"Not yet, they'll let me know.  Donna's asking a lot of questions, seems she's missed DI Hardy calling me," she laughed.

"Maybe he's finally run out of questions?" Mickey laughed back, nudging her elbow.

"Well he only called me on Wednesday lunchtime, well I called him back.  A lot probably goes on in the background that no-one needs to know about?" Rose wondered.

Thankfully, the next day at work, Donna wasn't working so Rose was able to have her break in peace, since Donna had asked her the last few lunchtimes why no-one had been asking for her.  Rose had laughed a few times at Donna and they seemed to Rose like they'd made friends, after Donna had only been a temp and had stayed.

"So, what's he like then?" Donna had asked the day before.  "Is he all gruff like he was on TV?"

"Donna, give him a break," Rose had laughed.  "He'd just found that poor girl, you'd be gruff as well."

"Well be careful Rose, he might just be ringing you for the sake of it," Donna advised her.

So as Rose had her morning break, Alec was on the train to London, not fancying paying to drive round every area of the city plus for crossing a bridge or going through a tunnel.  He'd printed out a map of where the station, the hotel and the store were and he could get the underground a few stops to Leicester Square and the hotel was only a few yards from the station, then the store was about ten minutes away.

He found his hotel, asking about breakfast and he'd booked a double room and if he could extend the time until around four the following afternoon.  That sorted, he went out to have a look around and see what was on at the cinema and before he knew it, he was waiting outside the department store and standing where he'd see anyone coming out of the side entrance he'd spotted on his arrival.

Rose was talking with some friends as they'd got through the bag check and were going down the stairs, the double doors open with other workers going out and as she turned the corner, she stopped.

"What's wrong Rose?" one of the girls asked her.

"Oh, sorry, it's nothing," she bluffed as she clearly saw Alec on the corner.

"Someone stalking ya?" Bev laughed.

"No.  It's fine, I know him," Rose replied as she walked towards Alec.

"Hi, what are you doing here?" Rose smiled.

Alec was wondering himself what he was doing there.  It had been just his luck the station guard was on duty again and as he'd waited for the train, the man had spoken to him after siding up to him, his flag in his hand.

"Here again then?" the guard had asked him, grinning.  "So, is she arriving soon or are you going to see her?" he continued, seeing Alec's shoulder bag.  "Right, guess you're gonna do something about it then?"

Chapter 13
"Hello Rose.  I have no idea why I'm here, I just got on a train and took a chance you would be working today.  Can I buy you a coffee or something to eat?" he asked her as her friends said goodnight to her.

"Well, yeah but you seem to be making a habit of it," Rose smiled as they found themselves alone.  "You've not come about what happened have you?  Only I had enough the other day and I'd rather forget it for now."

"No, it's not about the case, although it is about the other day, what I said when you were getting on the train.  I wanted to apologise, I did not want to sound personal," was all he could think of.

"Oh, I didn't take it personally, otherwise I wouldn't have rung you when I got home.  I just didn't want to seem like I was gonna call every five minutes over something, I mean if you were busy.  I didn't mean to pry into your personal life.  I can see you and DS Henchard don't get on, you didn't have to explain anything to me.  So you came by train then?" Rose asked as they crossed the road leading back to Leicester Square.

"I did not want to get lost or have to pay excessive charges for bringing the car.  Was I assuming too much by meeting you from work?" he asked, not sure this was such a good idea.

What had he been thinking?  Had he let his imagination run riot because the station guard had assumed Rose was his potential girlfriend?

"I just wasn't expecting you," Rose smiled as they emerged into the busy area.

"Then maybe we could eat then go see a film?  I booked a hotel for the night, I wasn't sure you would even see me.  Have I had a wasted journey?" he asked.

"I wouldn't say wasted exactly but what would people think?" Rose wanted to know.  "Don't you have to be careful, associating with me?"

"As long as we don't talk about the case, I don't see any harm but I did not tell anyone I was coming here today.  My daughter was ill, I usually meet her on Saturdays.  I know, it was not a good idea for me to take advantage and visit you," he had to admit.

"Sorry, I hope I didn't disappoint you?" Rose asked him as they headed for a café.

"What?  No, of course not, I just maybe should have given you some warning?" he replied as he saw people waiting to be seated and wondered if they should go elsewhere but Rose headed for the ladies room, which having caught her coming out of work was understandable.

"I think ya did," Rose smiled as they were found a table when she rejoined him.  "Giving me your other phone number and expecting me to call."

"I supposed I deserved that," Alec smiled as he took a menu.  "I meant it though, if anything was bothering you, you were right to call me, no matter what time.  So, is there a film you may like to see?"

"A few.  I'll have to call my mum and tell her I'll be late back.  She worries since, you know."

"That's understandable, under the circumstances but they don't know who you are, your name has not been mentioned but there is something you should know."

They were interrupted by the waitress, Rose hoping it didn't matter to him how much a place like this cost to eat in.  He didn't seem bothered but she chose something fairly simple, Alec getting the same.

"So, what do I need to know then?" Rose asked.

He didn't know how to tell her.  He thought he'd best be honest with her and hope for the best.

"Rose, we can keep your name out of things but once they see you in court, well, if by some chance they get off, they will know who you are and I'm really sorry but my chief said there's no kind of witness protection in place."

"Seriously?" Rose asked as their drinks arrived.  "So they see me and hear about what I saw that night and if the jury don't believe me and they get off, there's a chance they'll come after me?  What sort of incentive's that?"

"There's every chance they will be convicted Rose," he tried to assure her, touching her arm across the table.

Rose didn't even try and resist.

"They might come after me, then what?  You'll just leave me to it so I have to go into hiding?"

"I won't let that happen Rose," he promised her, not knowing if he could keep his word or not.

"Well at least you warned me I suppose?" she admitted as their food arrived.  "So that's why you're here then?"

"No, that was only part of it but I thought I should be the one to tell you.  I made it clear I was not happy about it.  I'll do everything I can, I promise.  Will this change your mind about testifying?" he asked as the waitress left.

"It should but how can I leave it?  I know what I saw Alec," Rose insisted.

"I know you did, try not to worry about it too much.  I'll work something out, I promise.  Still want to see a film?" he asked, thinking she might finish eating and get the next bus home.

"Yeah, we can still go, I already warned my mum," she smiled, since he'd been wondering why she'd been so long in the ladies room on their arrival as they'd waited for a table. 

"I thought you would have changed your mind?  I know we're asking a lot of you Rose and I will keep on about protecting you but I was told in these sort of cases, it was very rare.  Maybe if you are threatened something will be done?"

"I'd better hope so then.  We could have gone elsewhere to eat," Rose smiled as those around them made her look out of place.

"I did not want to appear like I would just take you to a fast-food place," he smiled as they finished eating and the waitress was descending on them.

"Well I've had enough, thanks but don't let me stop you," Rose smiled back, seeing how skinny he was.  "Maybe some coffee though?"

"Yes, coffee for two if you will?" Alec asked as the waitress looked disappointed and cleared their plates.

Rose sipped her white wine and Alec his low-alcohol lager, which he really hated and decided to leave it, making Rose smile from behind her glass.

"Thought you'd left your car behind?" she asked him.

"I'm still a police officer, I can't be taken seriously in warning you were I to be drinking," he smiled back.

"So you're gonna be a detective all evening then?" she tried to ask seriously.

Alec knew when he was being kidded.

"Not all evening.  You can choose the film or do you trust me?"

They left the restaurant, Rose watching him settle the bill and they headed for the multi-screen cinema, Rose knowing what she wanted to see but wondered if Alec was into the latest of the famous spy film franchise.  He'd already had the idea that was what she would choose and since there was half an hour before the next showing, he went to get the tickets and Rose went to get a place in the queue, since it hadn't been showing for long.

"I can't believe we're into October already," Rose mused as he got back to her, handing her a packet of chocolate pieces and hoping she wouldn't want him going back for drinks and popcorn later.  "I hadn't realised how long it had been since, well you know."

"I know, if I'd known back then, about you, then it would have been all over, well hopefully but it went on too long," he admitted, wondering if she considered this a date as she faced him, touching his arm now and then as people around them chatted.

"It was her, wasn't it?" Rose asked him.  "She was being spiteful, not telling ya she'd talked to me."

"Yes, she was hoping to take the credit," he replied, not sure if they hadn't already gone over who was to blame before.  "I thought we were not discussing this?"

Rose tapped his arm playfully.  "It's not that simple, is it?" she asked as there was no sign of them moving yet.

"No, maybe not?  We should try and forget it for now, nothing can be done about the time we wasted.  Let's just enjoy the film?" he asked.

"Yeah, looks like we might be moving?" Rose nudged him, then grabbed his arm.

Once the film started, Rose grabbed him a few times, once when there was a loud explosion and then nearer the end, she had her arm in his.  Once the credits rolled, Alec helped her up.

"Did you enjoy that?" he asked as they made their way out.

"Yeah, it was sad near the end though.  Can ya wait here a minute?" she asked, indicating to the ladies.

Alec hadn't realised how long the film had been and wondered if Rose would insist she tried to get home.  Had he deliberately delayed her by saying he'd see that long film with her?  Once outside in the square, it had got quite chilly and he was glad his hotel wasn't far but also glad Rose had a jacket on but as they stood, she shivered a little.

"Sorry, I never intended keeping you out so long.  Do you want to go get a hot drink?" he asked, seeing a few places were open.  "Will you be able to get home?"

"Not from here, I'll have to go back to near the store I think, it goes another way, I usually get off there.  I've got time for a drink though."

Alec thought if they were long enough, he may entice her back to his hotel.  Was that what he'd intended when he'd booked a double room?  He was assuming an awful lot really, they hadn't known each other long and she was his star witness.  He really shouldn't be contemplating this at all.  Yes, he wanted to protect her but this was going beyond that.

He went to get some drinks and Rose had found a table by the window.  It was still busy, lots of theatres around and restaurants with people all coming out at the same time.

"I enjoyed that film," Rose smiled from behind the paper cup, reaching out to touch his hand.

"Then I'm glad we went.  Sure you can get home, I would be worried about you."

"You would?" Rose asked, trying not to blush.  "I've not far to go when I get off you know?"

"No, I did not know that," he defended his concern for her.  "If I had brought my car, I could have taken you home."

"Aw, thanks but then like ya said, all those extra road charges?" she reminded him.

He thought maybe it would have been worth it but he'd made the decision.  He noticed she didn't seem in that much of a hurry to see if she could get home.

"So, are ya staying nearby?" Rose continued, stirring the remains of her hot chocolate with the plastic stirrer.

"Not far.  Rose, would you spend the day with me tomorrow?" he asked hopefully.  "Am I asking too much?  I can keep the hotel room until late afternoon, I checked the times of the trains."

"You want me to see you off this time?" Rose smiled.

"If you want?  I was not suggesting you go to the station with me.  When you left the other day, the guard took things the wrong way."

There, he'd almost admitted something.

"Really?" Rose giggled into her empty cup.  "The guard on the train said he thought I wasn't gonna get on.  I suppose it did look a bit odd?"

"Yes, it probably did?  Ready to leave?  We should go find where your bus goes from or if we have to walk back to the store, unless?"

"Unless what?" Rose asked as she let him take her hand to get up, seeing there wasn't a lot of room behind her.

"I expect it's too far to get a taxi?" was all he could think of. 

Rose stood looking at him as they went outside.  She didn't normally stay out late in town, sometimes she'd grab something to eat with the girls but that wasn't very often.  She swayed in front of him, putting her hands on his arms, hitching her bag on her shoulder.  Alec tried to steady her.

"Would you maybe want to come back to my hotel?" he offered.  "I really would be worried about you going home."

"You would?" she asked, letting go with one hand.  "So, you'd feel a lot better if I went with you?"

"I would indeed, it's this way.  You do know I can't just ask you back to my hotel for no other reason?" he asked, just to be clear.

"Yeah, I get it.  If your boss found out it would make things difficult for you?" she asked as they walked along, Alec finding himself putting his arm around her.

"It probably would, if anyone other than you knew I had been here," he agreed as they reached their destination. 

They went to the lift after Alec got his key and went up to his room, not saying anything.  Then as they got inside, they both tried to speak at once.

"So, do you have a spare t-shirt then?" Rose wondered as they stared at each other when Alec allowed her to speak first.

"Just the one I brought with me but you can borrow it.  I could sleep in the chair."

"Rubbish, I do trust ya," Rose smiled.  "So, when I was leaving the other day, that guard thought you were letting me go?"

"Something like that.  I saw him again this morning," Alec replied, getting the t-shirt for her.  "He thought I was putting it right."

"He did?" Rose asked, staring at him.  "So, he's the only one who knows you came after me?  Is that partly why you came here today?"

Alec thought maybe it was.  He had to face facts, what had made him decide to get the train that morning?  The night before he'd made his plans, on the spur of the moment but he'd found himself getting a taxi to the train station and still didn't know why until the guard had spoken to him.  He'd almost backed out, standing waiting for the train and even when he'd got to the hotel, he'd almost not gone to meet her but when he'd seen her emerge from the side door with her friends and she'd agreed to go with him?

"Yes.  How can I put this?" he asked.  "I know I may get into trouble if my chief found out but Rose, trust me, if we are very, very careful, he won't."

Before Rose knew what was happening, she was responding to his kiss.  She fluttered her eyelids, Alec supporting her as she grabbed his arms.

"Hey, did I have such an effect on you?" he smiled.

"I just wasn't expecting that," she smiled back.  "Alec, I don't want to ruin the investigation."

"How can you?  You have told me everything from that weekend?" he asked her.  Rose nodded.  "Then, if you have and add nothing to your statement, neither of us can be accused that I tried to get you to say more."

"Yeah but what if they think you got me to say it in the first place?" Rose asked him, trying to get her heart to calm down.

"Rose, Tess took your call, she wrote it down months before I even knew about you," he replied.  "Besides, there was someone with me when you gave your statement and when you identified Claire and Lee Ashworth."

"Even so, it could be taken the wrong way," Rose protested.

"What are you afraid of Rose?  I promise, if they get free, I will take care of you," he assured her.

Rose relaxed a little and leaned into him.  He kissed her forehead and tried to get her to take her jacket off.

"Go get changed in the bathroom," he suggested, holding out the t-shirt to her.  "Here, take this."

Rose gave him a weak smile, allowing him to take her jacket off and retreated to the bathroom.

He took his own jacket off, wishing he'd brought his overcoat with him but he'd not thought about it when he'd set off.  It was still reasonably warm during the day and he never really went anywhere at night, he had no reason and he'd not intended staying out late tonight.

"Rose, are you okay in there?" he called out five minutes later.

Rose was splashing some water on her face.  The kiss had been unexpected but nice, she could go for more but after all she'd witnessed, if anyone found out, it would all be wasted.  She got herself together, gathered her clothes and opened the bathroom door.

"We can't do this Alec," she stated as she put her clothes down.

"It bothers you I'm still married?" he asked, putting his hands on her shoulders and very aware his t-shirt was just covering her legs.

"No, you told me the divorce would be final in a few weeks, it's not that.  I'm worried how it will affect you and my testimony.  I can't let Pippa have died for nothing Alec and I could help to get them to confess what happened to Lisa."

He had to admire her dedication.

"Rose, I so admire you.  The way you were still willing to talk when Tess brushed you off and made it out you were unreliable, it would have deterred other people.  Let me worry about the rest eh?" he asked, going to kiss her neck.  "Just relax and if you get worried, just say and I'll back off.  I've had no-one since Tess left me, I don't make a habit of asking witnesses to my hotel room," he tried to joke.

"I believe ya.  Can we do some more kissing?"

"Yes, I can go for that," he smiled into her neck, kissing it lightly.  "You're all tense, try to loosen up eh?" he asked, nudging down the neck of the baggy on her t-shirt.

Rose couldn't resist him, she knew she should but the light kisses on her neck felt like melted snow on her, it was so making her want to give in but getting Pippa's killers locked up was the reason she'd got mixed up in this and giving in to her feelings could compromise all that.  She had to trust he knew what he was doing. 

He let go and invited her to unfasten his shirt buttons.

"You have my only spare t-shirt," he smiled as she ran out of buttons and stared at his slightly hairy chest. 

He could see it made her smile, though she was failing miserably at trying not to stare.  He'd tried to keep himself in good shape, he had the good fortune of never seemingly putting any weight on but the way he often skipped lunch probably helped though he'd enjoyed the two lunchtimes he'd spent with Rose.

"Sorry," Rose replied weakly, her fingers on the last button before the shirt came apart, not that she couldn't already see his belly-button and noticing how well-toned he was and was fast running out of all her strength of will not to pull the shirt off and blow the consequences of pushing him on the bed and kissing her way across his middle and his rather prominent chest. 

She was also resisting a 'wow' and making a fool of herself that she'd never seen a man's bare chest before.

She had but never anyone as sexy-looking as Alec Hardy, who was smiling at her and holding her shoulders, under the arms of the baggy t-shirt she'd borrowed.  He let go, seeing she was making no attempt to finish the job so he pulled his shirt out and unfastened the cuffs, leaving Rose to decide what happened next.

"Rose, I won't force myself on you.  I was rather hoping when I set off this morning that you would want to relax a little with me?  Okay, forget about me being the detective in charge of a murder investigation, just for one night.  Can you do that?" he asked, taking her hands that were hovering in front of her, like she was having an internal debate with herself and wanted to be ready once she knew what she wanted.

He put her hands on his bare shoulders, under the shirt and left her to see if she'd pull it off.  He wasn't one to force himself on a woman, certainly not this young woman standing nervously in front of him because if he scared her off, if she got the wrong idea, then there would be consequences.  The case would fall apart again – it was barely hanging on by a thread and that thread was Rose.  She was the vital key to all this and he so wanted to get her into bed.

If she wasn't willing to risk it, he would have to agree with whatever she was comfortable with and trying to judge was difficult.

"So, what do you think?" he suddenly asked, her hands on his shoulders.  "If it makes you feel better, then on Monday, I will try and find out discreetly what would happen if word got out we had become involved.  Would that make you feel better?"

"Yeah, a bit.  It's not just that Alec.  I can live with knowing I tried to get justice for Pippa but I'm worried how it will affect you," Rose replied, not wanting to give in but was on the verge.

"You're worried about me?" Alec smiled.  "Oh Rose, no-one has worried about me for a long time.  Is that what's stopping you?  For one thing, there is no-one to tell.  No-one knows where I am or that I'm with you.  Where did you tell your mother you were?"

"I said I'd made friends with Donna, which I sort of have though she's more interested in why you keep calling me all the time," she admitted.

"Yes, she should think about a career in the police," Alec smiled.  "So your mother doesn't know her, I mean to check up on you?"

"Nope," Rose began to smile, pulling on the shoulder of the shirt then moving one hand, ran a finger down from his now bare arm as she slipped one side of the shirt down his arm.  "Just one thing?" she asked as the sleeve came off and he didn't know whether to pull the other side off or let Rose finish the job.

"What's that?" he asked, looking at her hand.

"You promise if I back off, you'll do the same?"
Chapter 14
"Yes, you have my word.  I would never hurt you Rose.  Just forget who we are for tonight eh?  We'll worry about other things before I leave tomorrow.  I can keep the room until four, you can show me around for a few hours.  Would you come with me?" he dared ask, smiling at her as she hovered her finger above the faint scar from his surgery.

"What's that?" Rose stopped moving her finger, not noticing him slip out of the other side of his shirt.

"I had surgery, a while back.  It's nothing to worry about, I'm perfectly fine now.  The case got to me, before I found out Tess was hiding you from me.  She did it because we were on the verge of a divorce and she was trying to steal the one thing that would have made it seem like I could solve the case on my own."

"She'd do a callous thing like that?" Rose asked, hardly believing Tess could do such a thing.  "So she made it out I was drunk that night and I was making it up?"

"Calm down love," he asked without realising.

"You should report her Alec.  She was so mad with you, she stopped you solving the case weeks ago?  She made me feel like I didn't matter Alec.  My mum and Mickey tried to get me to forget about it but I couldn't."

"You were right not to give up," he agreed as he pulled her head onto his chest.  "We can't let her ruin anything else.  I may not have got my divorce yet but there's only a few more weeks.  It will go through Rose, the thing is though, it only went through so fast because I agreed to keep her new boyfriend out of it.  If she thinks there's anything going on, she may still protest."

"Geez, that's just great," Rose sighed, liking the feeling of resting on him now his shirt was off.  "So now, we have to be even more careful not to give any clues?"

"Nothing's happened yet but you should know what you're getting in to," he warned her.  "Just a few weeks until it's final and by then, we could have a court date.  As soon as the judge hears what you have to say, if they still protest their innocence, he'll order a trial."

"I'm not sure Alec.  If ya say I'll have to face them?"

"They won't know your name," he tried to assure her.  "Now, are we standing here all night?"

All Rose remembered when she woke up, a man's arms around her and her nose itching from his hairy chest was that she was with Alec and he'd done as he promised.  He'd not fought her when she let him go so far and she got him to back away.  All he'd done was eased off and assured her it was fine and that since his surgery, he still wasn't sure how good a job had been done.

They had done a lot of kissing, Rose melting into him, he had kissed her cleavage, having removed the t-shirt she'd borrowed and she'd got to kiss her way across his chest and somehow, she'd lost her underwear and moved on top of him.  Both of them had moved together, Alec getting on top of her and whispering to relax and go with her feelings.

She had done until she realised if they carried on, well she wouldn't be able to stop herself, let alone him.  Alec realised she'd never had her first time and wasn't sure she wanted it to be with him so he'd moved away, taking her with him and kissed her again.

He felt her moving, he was resting his chin on the top of her head then kissed it as she stirred.

"Hi," Rose managed to say, trying not to move so she didn't bump his chin.

He let her move slightly so she could see him.  At that moment, he couldn't remember having woken up to such a beautiful smile as the one Rose was giving him.

"Hello, did I wake you?" he asked as Rose twitched her nose now she'd moved away from his chest.

"No, my itchy nose did.  Hi again.  What time is it?"

He tried to move to reach his phone.  "Don't worry, I checked what time breakfast was, we still won't miss it if we have a repeat of last night."

Rose giggled.  "Yeah, it was really nice and I'm sorry I was so reluctant."

"Don't worry about it Rose.  I respect the fact you made me stop though I admit if you had not done so when you did, any other attempt to tell me may have been too late."

"Yeah, me too.  I mean a bit longer and I might not have wanted ya to stop.  Alec, what happens to us now?  There's no going back, is there?" she asked, leaning on his chest again.

He put his arms around her and kissed her forehead.

"Seems not.  When I go back, I'll have to resist sending for you to answer more questions but I will try and get away again next weekend.  I will bring my car with me."

"Don't do that.  We can meet somewhere, out of the city, there's loads of places or just find a hotel, if ya want?"

"I would like nothing better.  I had been seeing my daughter but she's not been that keen, she may be glad to back off.  I doubt the cold was that bad she needed to cancel this weekend.  Now, are we going to have a debate or are you coming to lie on me?"

After almost an hour, Rose finally got out of bed and hoped she could freshen up her underwear and was glad she always kept a small pack of wipes and some spare liners in her bag.  Alec was grinning as she ran off, knowing she'd embarrassed herself before he'd coaxed her underwear off but it hadn't been too bad as he'd fished beneath the sheets to find them again.

"Where are we going?" Rose asked as she came back, going to find her bra.

"Maybe you should decide?  We could eat out later then come back here for an hour?  The underground takes me back to the station but I will make sure you get your bus home first."

"I can come with ya.  I know how to get back to the store.  Alec, it was really nice, I'm glad I stayed.  I just hope my mum doesn't ask any awkward questions.  She'd only try and talk me out of it and to refuse to help with the case.  Promise me you'll find out, if it's gonna make things complicated?" she asked him.

"I promise.  Not getting changed in the bathroom?" he dared ask.

Rose pretended to be shy.  "Maybe I should?"

"I would be very disappointed if you did.  Let me help?" he asked, getting out of bed and going to fasten her bra from behind.

"Don't need your specs to do that then?" Rose smiled at him through the mirror.

He kissed her neck, his hands on her shoulders.

"I don't think so.  So, where are you going to take me but no boats eh?"

"Right, boats are out then?  I can't imagine what that was like, finding her like that.  I don't think she was alive when Lee carried her out to the car."

"Rose, we can't talk about it love, remember?" he asked, going for his spare clean shirt and thinking of maybe buying some more casual ones and some more t-shirts.  "If we talk about it, I can't use any of it.  If you want to add things you remember about that night then fine but we have to do it officially and you should speak to Jenkins about it.  If I admit we are involved, well there may be a chance they'll take me off the case."

"I can't let that happen Alec.  Seems we're stuck then?  I wish I'd never seen anything now, I should have drunk as much as Shareen and gone to bed."

"Don't say that, we would never have got this far without you Rose," he tried to assure her.  "We will find a way around this."

"Well I don't want Tess taking the credit, not after what she tried to do," Rose replied.

"Well if I step back and let Jenkins deal with you, that should appease the chief somewhat, if they find out.  Let me see how things go when I get back eh?"

After breakfast, they walked around for a while, getting the tube out to Tower Bridge and looking around the Tower of London then after a late lunch, went back to the hotel.  They were just kissing when Rose's phone rang.

"I have to get this or she'll keep trying," Rose sighed at the display.  "What Mum?"

"Don't you what mum me.  Where are ya?" her mother asked, trying to stop Mickey taking the phone after she'd called him, saying Rose had been out all night.

"I told ya I was staying out Mum, I'm not a kid.  I went back to Donna's, we stayed out late."

"Well I hope she didn't try to get you with her cousin again?" Jackie replied, getting a frown from Mickey.  "Since when did ya get so friendly with her anyway?"

"Never mind Mum.  If ya must know, she keeps asking why the police are always calling me, I have to use her office."

She finally got away and Alec put his arms around her.

"Never mind love, we still have a bit of time before I have to leave.  Maybe I should walk you back to the store so you can get home?" he asked.

"No, I want to go to the station with ya, you keep seeing me back to the one in Sandbrook."

"I went to the café there the other day, to get coffee," he admitted.  "I don't drink coffee.  Tess wondered what had come over me." 

Rose put her hands on his shirt buttons.

"She's not suspicious is she?" Rose almost panicked.

"No, I hope not.  I can cover it up, don't worry.  No more talking, it may be a while before we see each other again."

After a repeat of earlier, only just managing to stop themselves going any further, they got dressed and Alec went to hand in his key, paying with his bank card then they walked down to the tube station, since they'd both got day tickets earlier.

"Sure you want to come with me?" he asked as they entered the station.

Rose just smiled and put her arm in his as they walked to the escalator.  They got to the train station and Alec had about twenty minutes to wait so they both got coffee and found a seat.

"So, will ya call me?" Rose asked, sitting touching his knees and holding his hand.

"When I get back.  There will be a lot going on next week, I will try and keep any calls to a minimum, since your friend may be asking more questions," he smiled.

Putting their paper cups in the bin, they walked to where Alec's platform had just opened and he turned to hug her.

"Bye Rose, it was worth the risk," he told her.

"Yeah, sorry I was a bit reluctant but if we got too carried away?" she questioned.

"I know, you were right.  Bye love."

He gave her a light kiss that was just about acceptable in public and showed his ticket to the collector, turning back to see Rose waving.  She wished she could have gone on the platform with him but she wouldn't have wanted him to go.  Alec found a seat to himself, well hopefully and sent a quick message saying 'It was more than nice' and left it at that.  What else could he say?

For the next few days, Rose had to be content Alec would call her late at night, having to take the call in her room so her mother wouldn't hear.  She hated sneaking around but if she didn't, she would have to answer more questions than she was comfortable with.

By Thursday, they were both climbing their respective walls.

"I can't come up there this weekend," Alec had to admit when he got home.  "Daisy wants to meet and if I refuse, well Tess will ask questions and it may put Daisy off."

"Yeah, I understand Alec.  She needs you, she's lucky to have you," Rose replied, upset they wouldn't be meeting.

"I could ask you to come down next Tuesday, if you want?" he suggested, not yet telling her the bit of news he had.

His chief had called him in his office earlier, finally getting word they were going ahead with the court case and it was all hinging on Rose's testimony, since they'd failed to find her friend.

"Tess came to see me earlier," the chief added as Alec was about to leave.  "She seems to think you were getting a bit too close to your star witness."

"Like she got too close to her new boyfriend and lost the evidence?" Alec had scoffed back.  "Like she almost lost the only eyewitness from that night because of her being spiteful and wanting to take the credit?  Then she dropped it and wasted weeks in extra work when Rose Tyler was just waiting for someone to call her who believed her."

"Yes, I know Alec, she was wrong, we all know that.  Just be careful though, getting too close to a witness is treading on very thin ice, in the eyes of the defence.  It's been all we can do to not release her name," his chief had told him.

"Well she'll run if they don't keep her name out of it," Alec had warned him.  "She's already scared as it is at the prospect they will see her face.  If me reassuring her she'll be safe is getting too close then that's too bad.  I need to get her down here again then, if it's going ahead, the prosecution service will want to talk to her."

"Yes, I expect they will, then we'll get a date.  You know things would have been different if the Ashworths had confessed and we weren't relying on just one witness.  We have to be careful though, Tess's initial brush-off may go against Miss Tyler," the chief had told him.  "Yes, get her down here if you have to but paying her costs has to stop now, or the defence may take it the wrong way and Alec, be careful, if you do get too close, I don't want to get to hear about it – understood?"

"I told you, she needs some reassurance if they get off and since the law will do nothing to protect her?  She has already given her statement, if she has anything else to add, Jenkins can interview her, if it makes it seem any better?" Alec suggested as he left.

So now, Rose was asking him if they really needed her or he was finding an excuse.

"Alec, if I come down, it's only for a few hours," she tried to protest.

"Not if you come down the night before?  I mean it Rose, get the train after work, just put a few things in a bag and I'll meet you.  We can at least have the evening together, it has to be worth it love?" he asked.

"So what excuse are ya gonna come up with or don't you really need me at the police station?"

"Easy love.  Yes, the prosecution service will want to interview you, I got word they will be going ahead – if they think you are a credible witness."

"Great, then they'll find out what Tess thought and I've no-one to say otherwise," Rose sighed.

"I believed you, so will they.  They may call your mother, ask about your drinking habits.  Do you often get drunk?" he asked, a hint of humour in his voice.

"Watch I don't slap you when I see you," Rose laughed.  "Only at Christmas and new year, same as everyone else.  I wish you could find my friend."

"I'm sorry Rose but the chief ordered that to be scaled back, now we have to concentrate on what we do have.  Once it becomes public, it may prompt her to come forward though?" he suggested.

"Yeah, great, then she tells everyone I imagined it all, she might still be mad at me," Rose replied.

"No love, she may realise you did see something, she knows how much you drank and like you said, she was upset you saw something she didn't.  If she'd seen the same thing, I would be protecting both of you.  Rose, did you tell her anything that night, about what you were seeing?" he asked, suddenly realising her friend could back her up after all.

"No, not really.  I asked her about Claire, oh and about Cate and Ricky but that's all, sorry.  She just told me a few things about them, I said I'd seen Cate and Ricky arguing that morning.  She teased me I was only watching to get a glimpse of Lee.  She also said Cate liked to flirt with Lee more than Lisa did."

"Did she now?" Alec asked, thinking they should be doing this during working hours.  "Rose, don't say any more to me, we'll go through it when you come down.  Find out the times of the trains, I'll meet you."

"Yeah, I might just be able to manage until then," Rose teased him.  "So, what are the prosecution gonna ask me?"

"They will be on your side Rose, it's the defence you have to worry about, sorry.  The prosecution will recommend to the court that your name remains out of the proceedings, the defence will try and get your name revealed but the court will decide then the judge will rule your name can't be published.  They may also put a ban on all reporting, well any photos at least."

"Well I hope so.  If they get my name Alec, I'm not going ahead."

"I know love, try not to worry too much eh?"

"Easy for you to say," Rose replied.  "See ya Monday night then?"

"Yes love, if Daisy changes her mind, I will call and we can meet, okay?" he asked.

Since he heard nothing from Daisy on Friday night, he went to where they'd been meeting on Saturday morning.  Rose was right, meeting his daughter was important and now he had to juggle her and Rose.  If Daisy wanted to meet every Saturday, it would take some careful planning but maybe he could get a late train to London and meet Rose in the hotel again?  Well that was half a plan, providing the court didn't scare her away by saying her name had to be revealed - then he would never see her again.

He couldn't let that happen so if her name was released, he had to take responsibility for her if the Ashworths got off.  Daisy roused him from his daydream as he waited outside for her.

"Hey, sorry about last week Dad, you didn't want my cold did you?"

"No thank you.  So, how have you been?  How's school?"

He just hoped if they kept meeting on Saturdays that she wouldn't suggest anything else just yet but by the time he'd seen her home, it was already almost seven so maybe next week, he'd plan accordingly and leave his car in a long stay car park near the train station and see what time he'd get to London.  Maybe he'd just leave his car at work, everyone else seemed to.

Rose was getting nervous on her way to work on Monday morning, after admitting to her mother she was needed early for an interview in Sandbrook and she was going the night before.

"So are they paying for it then?" her mother asked, fancying a free trip.

"I don't know Mum, I'll have to see if I can claim it back but I've got the money from last time.  It'll be too much going down there early morning, I don't know what time they'll want to see me, I'd best be there when the court opens.  DI Hardy said he'd meet me there."

They had discussed it a few times over the weekend but when she got to work, Donna called her to her office.

"Been a bit quiet on the phone calls Rose?" Donna remarked.

"It won't be soon, the court case will be coming up.  Anyway, he's managed to catch me at lunchtime," Rose told her.

"Who are you trying to fool Rose?  You like him, don't you?" Donna asked her.  "Be careful, that's all."

Rose didn't need her new friend to tell her that. As she left work and walked to the nearest underground station, that being Leicester Square again, she got to the train station and got her return ticket, glad she had some spare money and she'd not really a hotel to pay for and waited for the train, calling Alec.

"Not changed your mind?" he asked as he was leaving his office but seeing Tess hanging around.

"Nope, should I have done?" Rose asked.

"Then I will see you later.  Sorry love, I have to go."

Rose wondered why he'd cut the call short.  Tess was waiting for Alec as he came out of his office.

"So, you're taking Rose Tyler to see the CPS tomorrow?" Tess asked him.

"So?" Alec asked back.  "What are you implying Tess?  If you'd had your way, they wouldn't even be seeing her would they?  You'd best hope that does not come up Tess, that you withheld a witness."

"You'd let me take the blame, wouldn't you?" Tess asked him, now they were a few weeks away from their divorce.

"It was entirely you Tess," he reminded her.  "You dismissed her and forgot about her.  I'm going to need that notebook of yours again."

"What for?" Tess wanted to know.

"In case you did not tell me everything, about her friend who went missing.  I think you put her off as well Tess, she could prove Rose was not drinking that night."

"Come on Alec, she could also prove you're wrong about Rose," Tess replied.  "She could prove Rose had drunk as much as her that night, then what?  You're being too defensive of her Alec, if you're not careful, you could be the cause of the case to collapse," she warned him.  "I'd back off if I were you, everyone thinks the same, ask them."

Alec looked around at Jenkins in particular, had the DC noticed the last time Rose had been there?  The junior officer maybe wouldn't dare say anything to him but he may have said to Tess how Rose had been treated on her last two visits.

"I have things to do," Alec told her, trying to ignore the insinuation.

Tess shook her head, going to stand by Jenkins's desk.

"Just how was he around Rose Tyler?" Tess asked him.

"You saw him as much as I did Ma'am," Jenkins replied, knowing the two of them were almost divorced and not wanting to get caught taking sides.

Alec set off to go home, then thought maybe he'd wait around for Rose but if Tess saw him as she left?  No, it would be safer to go home, even for a short time, he had to tidy up anyway.  He got home and was about to leave when his doorbell went.  Rose didn't know where he lived and she'd still be on the train for a while longer.

"Daisy, what are you doing here?" he asked as his daughter stood there.

"I had a row with mum, can I stay tonight?" the teenager asked quietly, a small bag on her shoulder.

"Daisy, what happened?  I'm due to go meet someone."

"Great, you leave as well then," the teenager huffed.

"I'm not leaving you, it's just I arranged to meet someone off the train, she'll be here soon," he had to admit.

"Well, is she your girlfriend then?" Daisy wanted to know as he let her in, not leaving him much time to meet Rose's train.

"Well, sort of.  Daisy, can't you make up with your mum?" he asked hopefully.  "Look, I have to go, come with me and I'll drop you home."

"I don't want to go home Dad, mum said you don't care about me, I stuck up for you so now, it seems she's right?" Daisy told him.

"Well come with me and we'll talk later but you'll have to meet Rose," he told her, hoping Tess had not mentioned their star witness's name.

"Dad, tell me it's not the woman mum keeps going on about?" Daisy asked as he hustled her out and locked the door.

He knew Tess shouldn't have mentioned their witness's name, what was she thinking of?

"What exactly did your mother say?" he asked as they reached his car.
Chapter 15
Rose was sat on the train, wondering if she should text who now seemed to be her boyfriend.  Donna had sussed her out, it was only a matter of time before her mother did.  She thought maybe he'd be setting off to meet the train so she didn't bother and hoped they would be able to establish a few more things about their rather dicey relationship.

On the way to meet Rose, Daisy told him her mother never stopped going on about him getting too close to a witness.

"But did your mother mention the witness's name?" Alec wanted to know as they neared the train station.

"No, she just keeps saying you'd better be careful and that she'd warned you," Daisy told him.  "So, this Rose, is she the witness?"

"Yes but she's not my girlfriend," he had to lie. 

Well it wasn't exactly established she was his girlfriend yet, she could still run away.

"I'm meeting her because she has an early appointment at the court tomorrow morning, it was best she came tonight," he continued.  "Don't tell your mother."

"Geez Dad, like she believes anything I have to say.  That's why I stormed out and got the bus to your place.  Maybe I was being a bit hasty?" Daisy wondered.  "Now I've had time to cool down I mean."

"Running off to defend me is commendable Daisy but long-term?  You have to decide what you want to do, once you reach your birthday, you'll have more of a say but until then, you have to do as your mother says, you chose to stay with her," he reminded her, looking for somewhere to park in the station courtyard and just spotting somewhere.

"Want me to wait here?" Daisy asked.

"No, I'm not leaving you here, just decide what you want to do, I can take you home or you can sleep on my sofa," he offered, hoping that would put her off.

He just hoped Rose would see he had someone with him and not jump all over him when she got off the train.  He'd not even had the chance to text her.  As he made his way to the steps where she would cross over the bridge, not thinking it a good idea to cross over himself and give Daisy ideas, he hoped Rose would think to do so herself.  The train pulled in, Rose got off and looking around, thought he'd maybe wait over the other side for her and followed the other passengers.

She was just near the bottom of the steps when she saw him standing with Daisy and assumed somehow, his daughter had tagged along with him.

"Hello Rose," Alec greeted her formally.  "This is my daughter, Daisy, she paid me an unexpected visit as I was setting off to meet you."

"Right.  Hi Daisy, nice to meet you," Rose held her hand out, Daisy looking back at her dad.

"You don't have much with you," Daisy pointed out.

"Yeah, I came from work, I just have enough for tomorrow, I'll be going back.  So, did you find me somewhere to stay?" Rose played along, thinking he wouldn't want his almost thirteen year old daughter to know she'd intended staying with him.

"So Daisy, what's it going to be?  Are you going home?" he turned to her.

"I suppose I was being a bit silly Dad.  Take me home but drop Rose somewhere if you want?"

Alec thought she was onto him.  "Let's get you home first.  Did your mother know where you were going?"

"I used my bus pass to get to your place, you can use it before seven.  I said I was going to my friends," Daisy admitted.

"Well what about when you didn't go home eh?" Alec asked as Daisy went to the back seat.  "Do you want me to go in and talk to your mother?"

"No, it doesn't matter," Daisy replied, thinking they'd just have another row.  "Just drop me off.  I won't tell mum where I've been."

Dropping her a few doors down, he waited until she turned into the garden and drove off, hoping Tess wasn't looking out of the window.

"Does she do that lot?" Rose asked.

"No but there's a first time for everything.  Sorry, I did not have chance to warn you," he apologised.

"Good job I didn't run down the steps and snog your face off then?" she teased him.

They got back to his flat, calling to get some food on the way and they snuggled up on the sofa.

"So, what was that about Daisy running off?" Rose asked him, running her finger on his exposed chest since she'd unfastened all the buttons of his shirt.

"Something about Tess saying I didn't care about her.  She also said Tess complains I was getting too close to you.  She said something earlier about it but so did the chief.  Sorry love, we are going to have to be very careful."

"I know Alec.  Maybe we should back off for a while?"

"No, stuff them, we are not backing off, not unless it makes you uncomfortable with my divorce not being final yet?" he asked.

"No, it's not that, I don't wanna cause any trouble, that's all.  So, how are ya gonna sneak me into the police station tomorrow?"

"Let me worry about that.  We'll go through a few things then go to the court, the judge may want to see you.  Now, are we going to talk about this all night?  That's not why you came here early."

"You would have had to find a hotel for me if your daughter wanted to stay," Rose reminded him.

"I know.  She asked if you were my girlfriend but I could hardly tell her when her mother had been complaining about you being a witness.  Do you consider yourself my girlfriend?"

"I don't know Alec, it's not gonna be easy not to say anything about it.  Donna's onto me, my mum might suspect something."

"Well, if they guess, don't deny it.  My chief said he did not want to know if I got too close to you, it will be Tess who makes all the fuss."

"Yeah, what then?  Will she stop the divorce going through, out of spite like she didn't tell you about me being a witness?" Rose asked him.

"No, she's too interested in her new boyfriend, he'd never go for it, he got divorced for her, though how he got his quicker, I don't know," Alec replied.  "We just have to be careful she doesn't talk to the defence, that's all."

"Why would she do that and spoil the conviction?" Rose wanted to know.  Alec raised his eyebrows.  "Oh, same as before then?  She'd let the killers walk free?  That seems a bit extreme to me."

"I know but who knows what she'd do?  I don't think she would do it on purpose but she may moan to others and it gets back to the defence so be very careful."

"I will, don't worry but I've no idea what to expect.  After she forgot about me calling, I didn't expect to get this far," Rose admitted.

"Have you forgotten why you came down early?" he teased her.  "No more talking about what may or may not happen, we will worry about that tomorrow.  Do you need to borrow my t-shirt again?"

"Do ya mind?  I couldn't bring a lot with me but what am I gonna do if they search my bag at the court and my dirty laundry's in a plastic bag?" Rose laughed.

"Leave it here, you can collect it another time," he offered, helping her off the sofa.

"Could you have left me in a hotel?" she suddenly asked.  "No, that's not fair, I can't make you choose between me and your daughter, forget it."

He took hold of her shoulders and went to kiss her.

"I know you would never do that but I would have taken her home anyway.  She might be almost thirteen in a few days time but she doesn’t get to say who I spend my time with.  It's her birthday on Friday so maybe Saturday, she'll be out with her mother spending her birthday money and I can come up and see you?"

"Best news I've heard," Rose smiled, kissing him back.

They made up for not seeing each other for over a week and Alec wondered how she would cope if they were warned to stay apart and the chief enforced it.  He woke her up early the next morning by gently nudging her.

"Hey, are we gonna be late?" Rose asked, wafting her hair out of the way.

"No love, we are not going to be late, I just wanted us to have some time, since once we leave, we can't let anyone know we are together."

"Yeah, I know we can't.  Last night was even more amazing, I wish I hadn't stopped you again though."

"It's understandable love, you are still unsure of me.  We'll get past it, once my divorce comes through and the court case is over with.  That's if once this case is over, you want to continue?"

"Yeah, of course I do Alec, did ya think I'd just go away once it was over?  We won't be able to stay here though, I mean being in the same town as your ex?" Rose asked him.

"Let's see what happens first?  Now shush, we still have some time before we have to leave.  I'm glad you decided not to steal my t-shirt last night," he smiled, going for her vest top and lifting it to kiss her tummy, making her giggle.

Alec dropped her just by the railway station, having left her laundry in his bathroom then she went to get a coffee to then make it look like she'd got off the train.  She walked across to the police station and asked for Alec.

"He's expecting me," Rose insisted as she gave her name.

"Just wait there, I'll get someone for you to take you to his office," the desk sergeant told her.

He picked up the desk phone and called Alec's office.  Alec told him to tell Rose to wait there and called Jenkins.

"Go fetch Miss Tyler from the front desk," Alec ordered him.

"Are you taking her to the interview room Sir?" Jenkins asked him.

"No, we need to go through what the court will ask her.  I want you present Jenkins."

"Yes Sir.  You should know that I was asked about you and Miss Tyler last night," Jenkins admitted, not knowing what to call Alec's almost ex wife, since he'd heard rumours she may keep her name, probably to annoy her almost ex husband.

"Let me guess?" Alec asked.  "Well don't keep Miss Tyler waiting and that's why I want you present during all her interviews, so my ex can't say anything, can she?"

"No Sir, I suppose not but why was she asking me?" Jenkins wanted to know.

Alec just shrugged his shoulders.  Rose was escorted to Alec's office, Jenkins thinking he'd better not say anything to her just in case the ex DS Hardy or whatever she was going to be known as got to know about it.  Rose broke the silence on the way there.

"So, has there been a lot going on then?" Rose asked, not wanting to let on that she'd been talking to Alec about it.

"A fair bit, behind the scenes, just putting things together really, like your testimony," Jenkins grinned as they came out of the lift. 

They had the misfortune to bump into Tess, Jenkins gulping as she stopped.

"So, back again Miss Tyler?" Tess asked, Rose thinking that was rather obvious, even when she wasn't a detective.

"Yep, I have to go to the court for them to decide what to do I suppose, DI Hardy didn't say much on the phone," Rose lied.  "You wouldn't believe what time I had to set off to get here early."

"No, I probably wouldn't," Tess replied sarcastically.  "Funny though, I would have thought you would have come down last night?"

"Why?  I can't afford hotel rooms, not with the cost of the train fare, since no-one offered to pay it back this time," Rose replied, looking at poor Jenkins, who knew a cat-fight when he saw one.

"Sorry Miss Tyler, DI Hardy will have to sort that out but I expect we'll have to be careful now, the defence could take it the wrong way," Jenkins replied, suddenly deciding his shirt collar was too tight and now knowing why Hardy didn't fasten his.

"I'm surprised he doesn't offer to pay it himself then?" Tess huffed.  "Since he seems to call you down for the slightest reason," she added.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Rose asked, wishing the woman would go away.  "Maybe if you'd taken notice of me, I wouldn't have to keep coming back?"

Jenkins was getting more uncomfortable by the minute and didn't want to have to explain to Hardy or the chief why a fight had broken out near the CID office.

"I have to get Miss Tyler to DI Hardy's office Ma'am," Jenkins suddenly spoke up as the two women had a stand-off with claws at twenty paces.

"Well we can't have him waiting, can we?" Tess replied.

"Well it won't be just him waiting, will it?" Rose asked.  "I've to go to the court."

Rose was sure Alec's daughter must have said something last night when he'd taken her home.  Still, her mother never took any notice of her when she was almost thirteen and had tried to tell her she knew where that red bike had come from at Christmas and her mother had said there had to be another explanation other than aliens leaving it.

Tess went off wherever she was going and Jenkins opened the door to CID then to Alec's office, tapping nervously on the door.

"Jenkins, what took you so long?" Alec asked him, seeing Rose and getting up.

"Sorry, bumped into DS Hardy, Sir," Jenkins apologised.

"Well be more careful next time and go get Miss Tyler some coffee," Alec ordered him, gesturing for Rose to sit.

Rose grinned when Jenkins had left.

"Had a bit of a close call with Tess," Rose admitted.  "I think Daisy may have said something."

"I'll talk to her, she was probably on a fishing expedition to see what she could catch.  Right, we'll go through what the court will expect from you when Jenkins comes back, I've asked him to be present from now on, to be on the safe side."

"Yeah, best be safe than sorry, I don't want to spoil things," Rose replied.

Alec thought that he didn't want their new relationship to be the cause of two out of three killers walking free, Ricky Gillespie may be free for now but faced with a prison sentence, the other two may give him up, since they'd have nothing to lose.

An hour later, having driven over to the court and Rose being amused Alec put his police sign on the dashboard to avoid paying for parking when he went in the official parking area, they were waiting to be called to see the court appointed prosecutor.  Rose tried not to look nervous, failing and wishing she could hold Alec's hand but if she did, it would all be over.

"Try not to be too worried," Alec advised her as they waited, wondering what the delay was then seeing a woman pass them and go inside.  "That's probably her, she may have been delayed."

"I hope so, I feel like throwing the towel in and walking away," Rose told him.

He put his hand on her shoulder for reassurance, which he'd get away with if caught.  Another woman came out and called them both in then led them to a small office.

"This is Ms Knight, she's representing the crown.  Ms Knight, this is DI Alec Hardy and Miss Rose Tyler, in the case of crown versus Ashworth and Ashworth," the woman told them all.

"Yes, I know who they are Sally, get me some tea," Ms Knight snapped at her.

Rose could only hope her briskness was an act and she'd go easy on her, the woman was supposed to be on her side.  Rose soon found out differently when questioned about that fateful night, Alec hoping Tess hadn't interfered by rubbing it in about Rose drinking that night.

"Right Miss Tyler, let's get a few things straight, you will be on your own in that witness box, I have to make sure your testimony will stand up to the defence.  They will pick at every tiny hole in your statement, they will try to turn the tables on you, tell the jury you are unreliable as you did not know either of the defendants and that you were speculating who they were.  They won't give you an easy time in other words," Ms Knight told her, looking at Rose then Alec.  "Have we met before?" she asked him.

"No Ma'am, I don't think so.  Miss Tyler knows what she's up against," Alec replied.

"Does she?" Ms Knight asked, getting a folder off her desk.  "The defence will probably try and find out about who you are, it's up to the judge if they can be told."

Rose wondered if she could speak without being told, she'd never had to do such a thing before.  The only time she'd been in a police station was Mickey getting into a fight and she'd bailed him out.

"Excuse me Ma'am," Rose addressed her, following Alec's lead.  "I was promised my name wouldn't be given out but if the judge rules it has to be, I can't risk it, I have my mum to think about.  They might come after me if they get off."

"Well they've not got off and they won't if I have anything to do with it either.  We have a good case but it's all depending on what you saw that night.  I understand some evidence was lost?" she asked Alec.

"Yes, a junior officer's car was broken into, a pendant belonging to the murdered girl was stolen.  We had reason to believe Claire Ashworth had something to do with it but it was never proved.  She still will not say anything," Alec replied.

"Was the house searched?" Ms Knight wanted to know, Alec raising his eyebrows she had the cheek to ask him such a question.

He wanted to reply with what did she think?  He just nodded instead, moving in his chair and hoping Rose wouldn't giggle.  Rose was asked to quickly describe what happened that night, which didn't take long since it wasn't being written down and she was surprised it had all taken place in such a short space of time.

"You are certain that both times, someone came out of the Ashworth's house and that the woman you saw let herself into the house and she let herself into the Gillespie house later?" Rose was asked.

"Yeah, I'm sure, she didn't knock either time," Rose replied, having been warned by Alec on the way over to practice not giving any other information and just answer the questions as put to her.

She hoped adding a bit to it didn't count.

"Take my advice Miss Tyler, don't offer any more information, you'd be best keeping to simple answers.  The defence may try and trick you into saying something else," Ms Knight told her, looking at Alec as if to say he should have already told her that.  "They will take things and twist them and since you say you never actually met any of them it's pure speculation, since their clients are protesting their innocence."

Ms Knight carried on asking Rose questions, which took longer than going through what she saw and Alec could see Rose hadn't been expecting half of it.  She was finally told the court would be in touch with her after the judge made his decision her name could be kept out of the proceedings.

"I thought I'd get to know today?" Rose dared ask, getting a frown from Alec.

"It will be brought to his attention Miss Tyler and you'll be informed either personally or through the police," Ms Knight replied, gathering her folders.  "Have you anything you want to add before I put your statement forward?  Nothing can be added to it at a later date but if you remember anything at all, get my secretary to give you the office number and I'll see if I can enter it."

"No, I told the police everything," Rose replied.  "I wish I had seen if Pippa was alive when she was being carried out or what was in those sheets."

Ms Knight took her glasses off.  "Miss Tyler, I can tell you now, this case would not have been brought to me if it had not been for you coming forward.  People often ask why witnesses don't come forward, the answer is they feel intimidated and fear they won't be believed.  You were very brave in coming forward and I'll do everything I can to keep your name out of it, I understand you being scared should things not go our way."

Rose and Alec got up to leave but were stopped.

"Just one more thing.  Miss Tyler, don't discuss the case with anyone else now.  I know it will be difficult.  You can talk to DI Hardy about it but only if you have any questions or he has any for you.  Have you discussed it with anyone?" Rose was asked.

"Just my mum, I would have gone crazy keeping it to myself all this time," Rose admitted.

"Well you can't discuss anything else about it, not even a boyfriend," Ms Knight told her, looking at Alec.  "Be careful, both of you, don't give the defence any inclination either of you are involved."

"How did you know?" Alec needed to know.

"Eye contact, you being defensive of her.  Luckily, if the judge rules so, the defence will not have access to ask you pre-hearing questions.  If the defendants plead guilty at the hearing, which I doubt but if, then your testimony may not be needed but the defence may still ask for you to be named."

"Great, so I can't win either way?" Rose asked.

A/N: I thought I would bring in Jocelyn Knight as the prosecution for a number of reasons.  I'm somewhat familiar with how she would work and she knew who Alec was in series two of Broadchurch (Maybe not for the reason of meeting him in Sandbrook though) plus she said she'd not tried a case in years but maybe she, like Alec, wanted to forget Sandbrook?
Chapter 16
Once outside, Alec drove her back to the railway station and they went into the café.

"Well, guess that told us then?" Rose tried to smile as Alec brought the drinks and some sandwiches to the table in the corner.  "I wonder how she found out?  We didn't look that much like we were together, did we?"

"I don't know love but if she's onto us?  Even if your name's not revealed, the defence could start watching me, to see who I associate with.  Think about it Rose, they might associate the fact I keep disappearing with seeing the witness, which is you."

"I don't need reminding of that, thanks," Rose smiled, stirring the froth on her latte.  "So what do we do now?"

"I'll risk coming to London this weekend but after that?  If they are putting the case together, the defence will start paying more attention to those involved.  Me getting a divorce soon is not going to help if it's discovered I have a girlfriend, is it?" he asked, raising his eyebrows that drove Tess mad but made Rose smile.  "Besides, it's getting expensive, which reminds me, do you need the money back for the train fare?" he offered.

Rose shook her head, reaching for his hand.  "No, I can manage.  Alec, it was bad enough when I didn't see ya for over a week, what are we gonna do?"

"We'll talk on Saturday love, they won't be watching me just yet.  We'd best hope Tess keeps her suspicions to herself though I doubt she'll want them to go after her.  Who knows what dirt the defence may try and dig up?  If I disappear every weekend or you keep coming down, whether about the case or not, they could make something out of it," he reminded her.

"Great.  I can't win, can I?  They may as well release my name, then I'm out and it won't matter, will it?" Rose replied, the smile dropping from her face. 

Alec squeezed her hand and prayed Tess wasn't out and about and would spot them, which was why he'd steered Rose to the far corner near the platform.

"I know you're risking a lot Rose.  Let's just see what happens eh?  If they don't know your name, they can't check up on you, can they?  They can only watch for signs of me associating with you.  I could spread word I have a girlfriend and that's where I keep going, how are they going to know?" he asked.

"Yeah but it's a risk Alec.  I can't come down here, not unless it's official and then we'll have to be careful.  Ms knight already guessed and I thought we'd given nothing away.  Would the defence go that far?" Rose asked.

"Maybe, if the two suspects think they were unfairly treated.  They must suspect who identified them, they know your friend left Rose, what if Lisa did mention her friend across the road was expecting a visitor?" he asked, finishing his ham salad sandwich, making Rose smile as he patted his beard with the napkin.

He smiled back, that had made her see things weren't so bad.  Rose thought otherwise.

"Geez Alec, are ya tryin' to make me feel better or worse about it?  Surely Shareen wouldn't have told Lisa much?  Shareen didn't say much about her, except going over to the neighbours and Cate not liking her."

"Think Rose, was there anything at all, small-talk, girl-talk, about Lee?  Anything you laughed about?" he asked, not wanting anything to stop them seeing each other.

"I can't add anything remember?  What's the point Alec?" Rose asked, leaning against the window.

Alec got up and made her move over, his back to the door so if Tess happened to pass by, she could only speculate it was him.  He put his arm around her.

"I'm sorry love, I know this is not what you were expecting.  Ms Knight said she'd be able to add things but maybe not trivial talk, sorry.  I could ask the chief to still go after Ricky Gillespie though?  I don't know why it was dropped."

"So your boss just let him walk away then?" Rose asked, seeing her drink had gone cold.

Alec took the hint and picked up the empty glass mug and went to get her another.  He'd just left when her phone rang.

"Hi Mum," Rose answered.

"Well, how did it go?" her mother asked her.

"Not too bad I suppose, I'm just having some lunch before I get the train back," Rose told her as she glanced sideways and saw Alec getting served.

She knew she loved him, so why couldn't she bring herself to give in to him?  Her mother brought her out of staring at him.

"Well what did the court say?  Did ya see the judge?" her mother was asking.

"No Mum and I'm not allowed to discuss it now.  I'll tell ya when I get back what happened," Rose replied as Alec came back to the table.

"That was my mum, she's gonna be so annoyed I can't talk about it any more," Rose told him.

"Well, you heard what was said, which is why we shouldn't really talk about it but what does she expect?" Alec asked as Rose took the drink.

"Can we go back to your place for a while or do you have to go back to work?" Rose asked.

"If I don't go back soon, I'll have a lot of explaining to do," he smiled.  "Sorry love, I'll have to say I stopped for lunch to get away with being late back.  I may have some free reign but not that much.  I will come and meet you on Saturday and if Daisy decides she wants to meet, you go to the hotel and wait there, okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, okay then, you make the booking but if it's cheaper to check out in the morning, it's fine," Rose assured him.

"I would have to carry a holdall around with me love," he reminded her.  "We also would not be able to go back before I have to leave so it is worth the extra.  Think what film you want to go see if I can get there early and where you want to go on Sunday."

"Yeah, I will but somewhere indoors, it's getting colder now.  Do ya think it'll all be over before Christmas?  What do you have planned?" Rose asked him.

"Nothing, well maybe now I have?  If I get to see Daisy on Boxing Day, maybe I can drive up and see you, we can meet somewhere."

"It'll be really expensive Alec," Rose warned him.  "I can come down to Sandbrook and stay with you, no-one knows who I am and like ya said, you can claim you have a girlfriend."

"Yes, I could but there's still a problem though.  If I say I've been visiting my girlfriend, that will only be viable once my divorce comes through and what about when you appear in court?  One indication we are friendly and the defence will turn on us."

Rose went quiet.  He was right, there was no getting around this unless the judge ruled her name to be revealed, then she'd have to seriously think about withdrawing her testimony.

"It's gonna be difficult not to do that Alec," Rose reminded him.  "Well, I'd best let you get back to work before your DS comes looking for you," she tried to joke.

"Let him," Alec replied, getting up as Rose finished her drink.

They walked onto the platform, Alec wondering why there was no door and thought someone had slipped up somewhere and he took her down the far end, hoping that station guard wasn't around again, he'd been grateful the man hadn't been there last night.

He'd enjoyed having Rose staying, he could get used to it and he thought Daisy was going to spoil it but Rose had been good at covering up for being there.  Maybe between them they could fool the defence should they go on a witch-hunt.  He had wished Rose might have given into him but maybe she would, when she knew his divorce had come through?

He put his arms around her shoulders, Rose leaning into him.

"Nothing from the news-stand today?" he tried to cheer her up, Rose's arms around his back.

"No, I'm fine.  So I'll see ya on Saturday, leave me a message if ya gonna be late?  Are ya seeing Daisy on Friday night?" she asked him, wishing they dared to kiss in public properly.

"Yes, no doubt she'll want something expensive for her birthday.  I've been stretching my salary somewhat the last few weeks.  Rose, we'll get around this, I promise love and Saturday night, well think about maybe us going a bit further eh?  I'm not putting any pressure on you, if you want to wait a while, then fine, I understand." 

"It's not anything about your divorce Alec, it's just me.  I've never met anyone like you who's been so good to me.  Just give me a bit of time, yeah?" Rose asked, trying to reach his lips.

They stood holding onto each other as far down the platform and slightly back against a wall, Alec trying to shield her after he nodded his agreement.  Rose's train was announced it was the next one to arrive and they only had a few minutes.

"I love you Rose," he whispered as she was about to move away.

"I love you too Alec, I don't know how long I can do this though," she replied, giving him a brief kiss.

"Neither do I," he replied as the train was approaching and he moved, leading her to follow the carriages.

"I'll miss you love," he told her, kissing her cheek as passengers got off the train.

"I'll miss you too, bye Alec."

She thought she'd best not let the guard think she wasn't getting on again.  She could have got a later train but then what?  It wouldn't change anything, they were still faced with not being able to see each other because of what the defence may do.  She found a seat and waved, blowing him a kiss, making him smile.  Now he did hope that guard was watching but as the train pulled away, he was almost alone and it was another guard.

He went back to his car and took the official police sign out, which Rose had joked about him not paying and made the short journey, well a longer way around than walking and parked up – just as Tess was coming back from somewhere and him seeing Dave getting out.  He was annoyed they were still getting to work with each other despite all the warnings he was getting about being seen with Rose but that was just him, he wasn't jealous Tess was with the annoying DS, he was missing Rose already and he'd just put her on the train.

The sooner their divorce was finalised the better.  Then Rose wouldn't think she had to hold off, well if she wanted, he wasn't going to keep on about it. 

"So, how did it go at the court?" Tess asked him as she locked her car, nodding for Dave to go ahead.

"I've been told not to talk about it and that includes you," Alec replied, wishing he'd brought his coat with him.

"Really Alec?  I'm still working on the case with you, remember?" Tess reminded him.

"You may well be but we can't discuss anything other than what we already know.  I was warned not to speculate, we have to stick to the facts we already know."

"Fine then, maybe you'll stop going on about how I almost let your star witness go?" Tess scoffed.

Alec let it go.  Instead, he went to the chief's office to tell him what had been said – well except about him and Rose.

"Did she give you any warnings?" the chief asked him.

Alec looked guilty by his silence.

"Then you'd best heed them Alec, we can't have this investigation compromised if you and your witness are involved.  So are you denying it?" the chief asked him.

"No, you said you did not want to know," Alec reminded him.

"That was before the court warned you.  I mean it Alec, whatever is going on had better stop, at least until the hearing.  Were you given any indication when that was?" the chief wanted to know.

"No, none.  I personally fail to see what difference it makes if we are involved.  Let the defence dig up what they want," Alec replied defiantly.  "Yes, I know, they will dig up whatever they can, if we started an affair before my divorce came through or if I got her to change her testimony.  How can she change it when it's written down?"

"I can see your point Alec but we have to be careful and not give them any cause to go after you.  If Miss Tyler's identity is withheld, that makes you the number one target of the defence.  Get the hearing out of the way, then we'll know what we're up against but they may already be keeping an eye on you so no sneaking off every weekend or getting her down here under false pretences," the chief warned him.

Alec shook his head.  "If we need to re-interview her or talk to her, it will be unavoidable," he replied.

"Then keep it to a minimum and make sure someone's with you when you talk to her.  Has she been warned not to talk to anyone?" the chief asked him.

"Yes, she's been talking to her mother about it, you can't blame her after she waited all that time to be contacted," Alec replied.  "She knows not to discuss anything else now."

"Good and you be careful what you discuss with Tess," the chief replied.  "You're a few weeks away from your divorce, once that's final, the defence can't accuse you of having an affair with Miss Tyler but they can still come up with plenty more.  Are you seeing her again?"

"I'm going up this weekend, then who knows?  She may be the one who wants to back out but if her name gets out, then there won't be a problem, she'll back out of the investigation, never mind our relationship," Alec told him.

"We have to hope the judge will see sense, if he rules to reveal her name, he must be aware of her threat to back down?  Was that stressed to the prosecution?  Who did you see anyway?" the chief asked.

"A Ms Knight, I don't recall meeting her before but she thought she knew me," Alec replied.  "She must be new here?"

"I've heard of her, I thought she'd gone back where she came from, some place in Dorset, some seaside town.  Something must have made her change her mind?" the chief asked, picking up a folder that indicated the meeting was over.

"Maybe when she found out a young girl was killed and the killers almost got away?" Alec wondered, taking the hint.

"Yes, that seems about right, maybe though she got to know who the defence is?  The word is, she and another barrister who worked for her had a bad fallout, she may be trying to prove a point?" the chief replied.

"Who was that then?" Alec asked.

"No idea, I just know both their reputations," the chief smiled.  "Remember what I told you, no seeing Rose Tyler."

Alec left, wondering how he was going to tell Rose?  This could be their last weekend together, until the hearing and then what?  If the Ashworths pleaded not guilty and a trial was ordered, then seeing Rose was going to be even riskier.  If the defence was Ms Knight's adversary, there would be a showdown so he just prayed it was someone else.

Since Rose was now declared a witness for the prosecution, the defence wouldn't have access to her even if her name got out, well so he hoped.  He was just glad they'd kept her name out of it but he was a bit surprised the defence had not already tried to get to speak to her.  Maybe they'd been too busy?  Well he hoped it would stay that way.

Rose got back home and wondered if she should come clean over her involvement with Alec or not.  It might be over anyway, they couldn't risk compromising the court case and he may say it was over, at least for now.  Could she just walk away though?  Maybe she could from the court case but Alec?  Her mother was wanting to know why they couldn't talk about it any more.

"I was warned not to Mum," Rose tried to explain.  "We can talk a bit but I can't tell ya anything new or about what was said today."

"Well I expect they warn everyone then?" her mother asked.  "Are ya going out with your friend again this weekend?  Only we got invited to a birthday party."

"Yeah, I'll be out again Mum," Rose admitted.

"Seems you two made friends then?  Off to pick up a couple of blokes?" her mother laughed.

"Something like that," Rose replied, not having the courage to tell her the truth and it may not be worth it anyway.

If Alec was warned by his chief as well as the prosecution, that was it.  He was a police officer, he couldn't risk his job for her and she'd never ask him to.

Alec was about to leave when Tess came in his office.

"Since you were in a rush after lunch, I didn't have time to ask you about Daisy," Tess told him.  "What are you getting her?"

"Something expensive I imagine?" he replied.  "What does she want?"

"I would have thought she would have already told you?" Tess asked him.

Alec thought maybe his daughter had told on him after all?

"She said nothing to me Tess, any suggestions?"

"Maybe a new phone, since she asked you ages ago?  Or had you forgotten?"

He vaguely remembered a conversation with Rose, something about her mother always calling over the balcony for her.  He thought if it kept Tess getting suspicious of him and Rose, it was a small price to pay.

"Does she know what model?" he asked, hoping Tess would be satisfied.  "Maybe I should give her the money and she can go choose one on Saturday?"

"Aren't you meeting her this Saturday?" Tess asked.

Now he'd put his foot in it.  He soon recovered.

"I thought she'd like to go with you this Saturday, if she got some money for her birthday?" he asked hopefully.

"That's thoughtful of you or have you got an ulterior motive?  Not sneaking Rose Tyler down then?" Tess replied.

"What are you trying to insinuate Tess?" he asked, wanting to leave so he could call Rose.

"Did you know Daisy sneaked off last night?  She was sticking up for you.  Did she go to your place?"

"What for?" Alec asked, hoping Daisy hadn't said anything after she'd promised not to but she was thirteen, what did he expect?  "Why was she sticking up for me?"

"Never mind.  When I saw Rose Tyler earlier today, I got the impression she'd not just arrived in town," Tess replied.

"What were you inferring to her?" he asked, forgetting what he'd been told about making it obvious about them.

"Nothing.  She said she couldn't afford a hotel room anyway," Tess told him.  "I expect you'll be disappointed if I take Daisy shopping but I'm sure you'll find something to do instead?  You are calling round on Friday night?"

"Is she having a party?" he asked, turning the monitor off and hoping to avoid a bunch of teenagers singing and dancing.

"Just a few friends.  I expect the ones where she disappeared to last night will be there?"

Alec hoped not.  If Tess were to ask them, he hoped Daisy would evade being questioned.  Maybe if he started dropping a few hints he'd met someone, it could throw her and the defence lawyer off the scent?  He had nothing to lose.  What would Rose think about it?  She'd have to go along with it and he didn't want her getting jealous if she thought it was true.  Maybe he'd wait?  On the other hand, Rose wouldn't be against him covering his tracks.

"You can stop with the speculation about Rose Tyler anyway," he hinted.

"What?  Have you got yourself a girlfriend Alec?" Tess scoffed.

"Not as such, I'll let you know, if you are interested?  I'm not like you Tess, flaunting someone when the divorce isn't final yet.  Yes, there is someone, I'm doing things properly and waiting, she knows but it may have put her off.  Maybe she'll change her mind once it's final?"

It was fairly close to the truth, he thought.  Rose was holding back and he was sure it was due to that though he'd assured her it made no difference to him.

"So, you met someone then?  Strange you keeping it quiet and letting me think it was your witness though.  Mind you, she looks a bit young anyway and she looks scared," Tess remarked.

"She has every right to be scared Tess.  She's risking everything by testifying.  There is still no guarantee her name won't be released, then it's all over, she'll be gone.  That should make you happy?" he asked.

"Well, we had no-one before did we?" Tess replied. 

"No thanks to you I found out about her but there's no-one else left Tess, unless you want to try your luck with Claire Ashworth again, get her to turn against her husband?" he asked hopefully.

"I tried Alec, which was how you found out about her," Tess replied.

"Yes and you would have kept her hidden to spite me," Alec answered.

"Well you did but if she backs out, we're back where we started."

"I know that Tess and you going on about her does not help.  Leave her alone Tess, I'm warning you."

Now, Tess could take that either way but he hoped she'd heed his warning.  Getting Tess to back off would help put Rose at ease but if they couldn't see each other, it wouldn't help him.
Chapter 17
Rose was still debating if she should tell her mother about Alec but the way Jackie was going on, she really didn't have much choice and now, they couldn't even talk about the case.

"So, what else can't ya tell me?" her mother asked as Rose made a drink and looked for something to make a sandwich with.

"The prosecution said not to discuss anything else, she didn't say if that included what's already been said though," Rose admitted.  "She might have just meant nothing new, like if I remember something, well with you.  She said if I remember anything else, I have to tell her and she'll include it.  I'm still worried though."

"You have every right to be Rose," her mother assured her.  "It's a big risk to you.  So, what else happened?  Are you disappearing at the weekend again, we got invited to a party, you love a good party."

"Yeah, I know Mum but I promised Donna," Rose lied, trying not to bite her bottom lip, which she knew gave the game away.

"You expect me to believe all of a sudden you're mates with the personnel officer?" her mother asked her.  "Why exactly did ya go to Sandbrook early?  Oh don't tell me it's that detective?  Rose, are you involved with him?"

She could hardly deny it, it would come out eventually and she couldn't keep using Donna as an excuse.  Maybe she should invent another boyfriend, like Alec was inventing a girlfriend to cover their tracks.

"Well?" her mother reminded her as she sat opposite Rose.

"He came up to see me a few weeks ago, he was waiting outside the store," Rose had to admit.

"So he came onto you?" her mother wanted to now.

"No, it wasn't like that.  He'd been really nice to me and when I left after that line-up, well I think we both felt something but I didn't want to say anything.  He just decided to come up and see me and it paid off.  It's got complicated though, the prosecution told us to stay away from each other, in case the defence makes something of it."

"Well of course they're gonna make something out of it," her mother replied.  "You could ruin the whole thing if ya not careful."

"We know that Mum but if the judge says my name can be revealed, I'm out of it anyway.  I'm not gonna put you in danger.  If they want a conviction, they have to agree to me remaining anonymous, whether they like it or not," Rose replied.

"You're asking for trouble Rose," her mother warned her.

"We know that Mum.  He's coming up on Saturday, then we have to decide what to do.  I have to tell him I'll pull out of the case if I have to."

"Then they'll get away Rose," her mother reminded her.

"They would have done anyway if he'd not found out I saw most of it.  His ex wife never even mentioned she'd talked to me, if anyone, she's to blame if the case collapses again."

"Rose, getting involved with a married detective's not gonna help prove you're a reliable witness ya know?" her mother asked.

"Yeah, well neither is she saying I didn't know what I saw because I'd had a few sips of sherry either.  You know I hate the stuff Mum but she talked to Shareen, she must have done and Shareen must have told her I'd had as much as she did.  Anyway, they have no proof either way now Shareen's disappeared.  I wonder where she's hiding?"

"Well they can ask me I suppose?" her mother offered.  "I can tell them you hardly drink it but think about how it looks Rose.  What will the defence make of it?"

"I hate to think Mum," Rose admitted.  "I should back out, before it's too late because the prosecution should be on my side and I don't think she is."

"She will be Rose, she'll only be warning you what it'll be like once you get to court.  Still, everyone will see ya, even if your name's not given," her mother reminded her.

"I know that Mum but all this is dependant on if they get off or not.  If they're found guilty, I have nothing to worry about but if they do get off?  It's all down to me Mum and I can't do it without Alec's support.  He's the one who put me at ease and got me to come forward again."

"I know sweetheart but getting involved with him isn't gonna help your testimony if the defence turn it against you," Jackie told her.

Rose already knew that but what could she do?  She needed him to get through this and if they were already warned about keeping their relationship, the nearer it got to a trial, the more difficult it was going to be.

Over the next few days, they talked on the phone in the evening but on the Friday, Alec had already said he'd be late calling since he had to go see Daisy.  He'd been let into the house and Daisy had taken her present and Alec had offered her some money towards a new phone.

"Thanks Dad, I'll put the money with the rest I got.  Mum said she'd take me shopping tomorrow.  What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to visit someone Daisy," he admitted.

Daisy made sure they were alone in the kitchen.

"You mean Rose?  You can't keep her a secret Dad, I've already been asked who your mysterious almost girlfriend is.  Mum's been dropping hints she knows it's her and that you're trying to deny it."

"It's complicated, I have to go tell her we can't keep seeing each other because of the court case.  She'll not be happy so I can't tell her on the phone.  I had a call from the prosecution, the defence are trying to demand Rose's name is revealed and she's trying to stop it.  I find out on Monday, then it could all be over anyway, Rose will back out of the case."

"That's a shame Dad," Daisy told him, giving him a hug.  "After all that hard work and well, you know, it leading to you and mum splitting up."

"Daisy, that was already happening," Alec replied.  "Yes, the case brought it all out but even so, it would still have happened.  Anyway, one more week and it's final this time.  If your mum asks you again, all you know is I've been waiting for it going through and I've not told you who I'm getting involved with."

"Okay Dad, she seemed nice though.  She'll be upset if you can't see each other."

Alec already knew that.  Earlier that afternoon, he'd had a call from Ms Knight, who had asked him to let Rose know.

"I'm sorry DI Hardy but I'm doing all I can to keep Miss Tyler's name out of the proceedings.  The judge called us both to his chambers and the defence gave him a reason to bring his decision forward.  They hinted that if you are more than just the detective in charge and the main witness, they are going to demand a mistrial is declared, that you are leading the witness with her testimony."

"I see," was all Alec had been able to reply.  "So, when will you know?"

"Monday morning, I'll call you but if you are going to see Miss Tyler, despite my warning, make it your last visit.  If the judge refuses to entertain the mistrial motion and that the defendants can get a fair trial, the defence will be watching you like a hawk.  Try not to have her come down here again unless you have someone with you all the time and if you are going to sneak off, be careful you are not followed."

"They'd go that far?" Alec asked.

"Yes, I believe they would, just to prove the point and persuade the judge they were right.  Be very careful," Ms Knight warned him.

"I was going to try to convince everyone I had a girlfriend, to take the speculation it's her away," Alec confessed.

"Well you can try but there are no guarantees the defence won't try to find out who that is, especially if they see you leaving town," she replied.

"Well they will have to catch me first, since I usually spend Saturdays with my daughter," Alec replied.

"Well don't say you were never warned.  Who knows what dirty tricks they will use to discredit your witness?  If they find out you are involved, they will go after you if they can't get to her."

Alec already knew that, which was why he was trying to protect Rose by spreading rumours he already had a girlfriend.  Now, he had to travel up to London the next day and tell her that whatever they did, it was going to be difficult to throw off the bloodhounds otherwise known as the defence and he didn't even know who they were.

Rose was all giddy the following morning, taking what she needed in a small holdall and hoping the others wouldn't see her trying to cram it in her small locker and ask what she was doing.

Alec was setting off just after lunch, planning his journey to get him there around half three, collect his room key where he'd stayed the last time and see where they could go after Rose got out of work.  He'd left a message for her and said he'd meet her outside the store when it closed.

Her friends noticed she was sat on her own again and were speculating what she was up to.

"She's been talking with Donna a lot," one of them suggested as Rose was debating if Alec would be driving or on the train.

"No, I think she's got a bloke, the one who was waiting outside for her the other Saturday," another suggested.

"Who was that then?" 

"This tall bloke with a beard.  I swear I've seen him before somewhere."

Alec was about to set off and wondered if Rose was still on her lunch break.  She was just about to go put her phone away when he called.

"Hi, thought you'd be back at work," Alec replied when she answered.

"Just about.  You were quiet last night," Rose smiled to herself.

"I'm just excited to see you love.  We have things to talk about when I get there, after I take you out."

"We can just get something to eat then go back to the hotel," Rose, suggested, knowing it was getting expensive with him paying train fares and the hotel, even though it was a budget hotel.

"If that's what you want love?" he agreed, picking up his holdall and seeing if the taxi had arrived.

He'd thought against leaving his car at the station, if the defence already had their spies lurking around.

"Can't wait then," Rose replied.  "I gotta go back to work now, see ya soon."

So Alec got into the taxi, thinking maybe it was just as well he had to tell her there could probably be no more visits for a while.  It was getting expensive going to see her but Rose visiting him was too risky.  She'd told him her mother knew about them, maybe he'd suggest he stayed there but they wouldn't get much privacy.

Now though, once he told her what Ms Knight had warned him about, she'd want to break it off anyway because whatever happened between them, he couldn't allow her to back down from her testifying and let two killers walk away, not when one already had.

Monday morning, he was going to the chief and ask to start investigating Ricky Gillespie again, even if it was only to get him to tell on the Ashworths but he didn't think he'd have much luck with that, if Rose had been right.

Rose rushed out when the closing bell went, she'd edged her way to the staff exit for a quick getaway before the others asked why she was in such a hurry.  She wanted to get downstairs before those she worked closely with saw her greeting Alec.

Alec was already positioning himself to see Rose coming out of the side door but dare not get any nearer but she'd see him as she came out, he'd convinced himself.  How was he going to tell her?  He'd purposely not said anything on the phone last night, she deserved to hear it from him face to face.  They both had a big decision to make about the future and he had to tell her what he thought was best.

He greeted her as he offered to take the holdall and Rose put her arm in his and steered him around the corner.

"Hi," Rose greeted him, kissing his cheek before she heard voices around the corner and pulled him away towards the main area.

They found another café, Alec saying she probably felt more at home there which got him a nudge as they entered and over their meals, Alec asked what her mother thought about them.

"She's getting used to the idea," Rose admitted.  "She thinks we have to be careful though."

"Yes, we have to talk about it," Alec had to agree, thinking she might already be prepared for the worse.  "Sure you don't want to go out?"

"Nah, I'd rather stay in.  So, how did Daisy's birthday go?" she asked him.

They got back to the hotel and Alec sat on a chair opposite where Rose had sat on the bed.

"Rose, we need to be serious.  I had a call from Ms Knight yesterday, I wanted to wait to tell you about it."

He quickly explained what he'd been told, trying to judge Rose's reaction.

"Rose, I am really sorry but we can't risk it, me coming up here and you certainly can't come down to Sandbrook unless it's official, which I can't justify now.  I'm going to try to get my chief to investigate Ricky Gillespie again, that could give me a reason to call you back but someone would be with us."

"Yeah, I get it Alec, we can't risk it.  It's too expensive for you to keep coming here but like I said, I could meet you somewhere else?" Rose suggested.

Alec didn't know how to tell her.

"Rose, that's not going to help.  If I'm not seen around the town at weekends, they could claim I was going to see you.  I'm trying to get everyone to believe I have a girlfriend but so far, no-one's taken the bait.  Tess is still questioning Daisy, my chief keeps reminding me and other's are not interested.  I don't know what else to try."

"Yeah, it's the same for me, I only dare talk to Donna, the other's think I don't want to be friends but she's my only ally.  So, what are we gonna do?"

He got up and went to sit beside her, holding her hand.

"Rose, it's not that far off Christmas so how about we don't meet every weekend and we go away somewhere?  I'm not sure but the defence may try to get information from the station so if I start letting my plans be known and say I'm planning on taking my new girlfriend away for the holidays, it may throw them off.  What do you think?" he asked her.

Rose put her arms around him.

"What can I say Alec?  So when ya say go away?  You mean I meet ya just outside London somewhere?  I don't think I'll get any extra time off though, not then."

"Well you're friends with the personnel officer," Alec smiled, kissing the top of her head.  "No, I meant we'll go to a resort, maybe Brighton, you can get there easily by train, we can book a hotel, say the 23rd to the 26th, leave the following day.  If I don't have this hotel and train fares to pay, we can have four days together, instead of just four separate ones.  You don't have to give me an answer now."

"Yeah, we'll do that, if it'll take the pressure off," Rose agreed.  "It's gonna be hard, not to see each other though."

"It will be worth it love.  We can still talk every night."

"What if they bug your phone?"

"Don't be daft, they need a court order for that and they won't get one.  The judge will rule on Monday and if he says they can't ask for a mistrial over us seeing each other, they may resort to other tactics, which is why we still have to be very careful.  So, I will make the arrangements, yes?" he asked.

"Yeah, okay, if that's the best thing to do.  It's gonna seem like forever though."

"I know love and if there was any other way, I would take it, you know that?" he asked.

"I know you would Alec.  What then though?" Rose asked.

"We may have a court date by then, then we really have to be careful when the trial is coming up but until then, I will keep insisting I have a girlfriend.  What would you like me to say you are called?" he smiled, pushing her back onto the bed.

The weekend went all too quickly as Rose was waiting with Alec for his train, her arms around him as he waited for the barrier to open.

"So, you have to think of how you are going to get the time off work," Alec reminded her.

"I know.  I can't take advantage of being friends with Donna, it's not fair and the other girls will complain.  I've got some leave to come but I was saving that for the trial.  I guess I'll just have to think of something then?" Rose smiled.

"I'm sure you will love.  My train just arrived," he added as people were walking up the ramp and he let go.

"I should have got a ticket to go on the platform," Rose smiled.

"I could use my ID to get you on but you may get questioned when leaving," he smiled back.  "Bye love, I will call you later."

"Bye Alec, start looking for somewhere to go."

"I will love.  Bye Rose, I love you."

"I love you too Alec."

Rose waited until the train was leaving, wishing she could have waited on the platform but it wouldn't have made her feel any better, she'd still just be watching him leave and they couldn't see each other for a few weeks.  She had to plan to get out of working over Christmas, even if she had to get her mother to call in sick for her.  It was something she wasn't used to doing but being presented with very few options, she'd have to seriously consider it.

She also had to now consider pulling her testimony, if the defence were going to play dirty and go after Alec.  She knew he had to be careful and she didn't want him to lose his job over it.  They would just have to wait to see what the judge decided, now he'd been forced to make one and not keep delaying it.

Her mother noticed the look on Rose's face when she got home.

"Did he break up with you?" her mother asked her.

"Not exactly.  The defence are trying to get the judge to believe they'll call for a mistrial if it's proved we've been seeing each other.  They don't even know if we are, they're just trying to get out of a trial but the prosecution think the defence will be watching Alec so he can't come up here any more."

"Oh Rose, I'm sorry sweetheart but you did half expect it," her mother replied.

"Yeah but when it actually happens?  He can't risk leaving town every weekend."

"Well why can't you go down there, I mean if they don't know who you are yet?" Jackie suggested.

Rose thought about it.  "Well I could but if someone's watching Alec, he's seen with me walking around the town, when the trial starts, they'll know, won't they?"

"Not necessarily Rose," Jackie replied.

"Think about it Mum, they'll put two and two together, won't they?  Alec's seen with a blonde and don't tell me to dye my hair, they might take photos."

"Sorry, I was just trying to help love," Jackie replied.  "Well, what are ya gonna do?  Are ya backing out of the case?"

"I don't know Mum.  Do I let two guilty people walk free because I love the lead detective on the case?" Rose asked her.

"Only you can decide that Rose but if you do, what about justice for that poor girl?" 

"You think I don't know that Mum?  Have you any idea what it was like standing there and watching it happen that night?  Then when I wasn't believed until Alec found out his spiteful ex wife was hiding me from him, just to get the praise if I'd turned out to be a credible witness?  She forgot about me Mum, Alec found out by chance and he couldn't apologise enough for her mistake."

"You already told me Rose.  Still, it's up to you in the end.  Put two killers behind bars or walk away to be with him," her mother pointed out.

"Yeah, some choice Mum.  Even if they find Shareen, if she says we were both drunk that night, it could still go against me, then it'll all have been for nothing."

Chapter 18
On the way back to Sandbrook, Alec was wondering where this had left them.  Was this the right decision to make?  Rose had just gone along with it, he'd not really given her a choice.  Had she thought they were breaking up?  He hoped not, that hadn't been his intention but she could see it like that.

There was only going to be one way to find out over the coming weeks.  The next day, Donna noticed Rose wasn't her usual cheerful self and meant to find out what was wrong with her new friend and Alec was snapping at everyone in sight that got him called to the chief's office.

"So, what's wrong with you today?" the chief asked as Alec refused a seat.  "Don't tell me, you went to see her and you broke up?"

"Near enough.  You and the prosecution barrister got your way, we are not seeing each other, at least not until the judge makes a decision, then it will still be risky," Alec replied, giving in and scraping the chair on the floor.

"Well if her name's given out, I thought you said she would back out?" the chief reminded him.

"She will but I can't let her, it's too important to think about what I want, I have to persuade her to go ahead so we came to a compromise, well sort of.  It all depends what happens.  All I can think of is to guarantee her safety, should they get off."

"How are you going to do that?" the chief wanted to know.

"I can't say," Alec replied, still trying to figure something out.  "All she needs to know is that she will be safe and the less people know about it, the better."

That would be somewhat difficult, persuading Rose would be the most but he knew he had to find a way.  All he could do now was wait for a phone call.  He knew Rose would be feeling just as anxious to hear what Ms Knight had to say.

In the court, Ms Knight and her opponent had been summoned to the judge's chambers.

"I have made a decision," they were both told.  "The defence has made a valid argument, that the lead detective may or may not have compromised the only eye-witness.  However, I feel that since the witness came forward on her own, she had something to say, before she even met him.  Her statement will have been taken and if and I mean if, they have become involved, I fail to see how her statement can have been altered.  Therefore, I see no grounds for you being able to call for a mistrial should your defendants plead not guilty," he addressed the defence barrister, whom Ms Knight had been relieved it wasn't her former junior.

The judge looked at both of them then continued.

"As for her name being released, she has requested it be kept to myself and the prosecution and I'm in a mind to agree.  Her argument is that the defendants could be found not guilty and seek revenge, she has the right to be protected.  I'm sure the defence can still ask her questions without addressing her personally in the witness box?" he asked.

"Yes, your honour," the defence barrister was forced to agree.  

"Ms Knight, inform the witness she can be assured her name will not be revealed but is she aware she will be seen to all those who attend?" the judge asked Ms Knight.

"Yes, she's aware of that but there is one other request," Ms Knight replied.

The judge took his glasses off and looked at her.

"Why am I not surprised Ms Knight?  What is it?" he asked.

"That if the detective and the witness are found to be involved, the defence can't hold it against them and keep harassing them," she replied, thinking she could maybe do something to take the pressure off them, seeing it may encourage the witness not to back out.

"Your honour," the defence barrister objected.  "We have to be assured the defendants will get a fair trial.  We have to look into everything."

"Yes, I'm aware of that," the judge replied wearily.  "Just make sure you are not too intrusive and I think Ms Knight means no focusing on the lead detective.  If however, you have reason to believe he is involved with the witness and is trying to encourage her to say more then that can't be allowed so, I will give some leeway."

Ms Knight shook her head – she shouldn't have expected any less and had to agree to the terms.  Now it meant another warning to the detective.  She went back to her office to call him.

"So, that's all he would agree to?" Alec asked her, a bit disappointed.

"It was all I could to get that concession.  There are certain conditions the defence have to stick to, they can't use any underhand tactics to get information, well to a certain extent but you still have to be careful."

Alec already knew that.

"Well we will have to settle for that then?  At least her name is being kept quiet but something else is bothering me.  If she were to come down here then the defence see her in court, will they still be able to claim she was coerced into giving her testimony?"

"I see what you are getting at," Ms Knight told him.  "I can't say what they would class as coercion.  It all depends if they have been watching you or not, they may decide it's not worth it, since they don't yet know what she looks like.  Say if she's blonde and they see you around town with a blonde then see her in court, they will be asking questions and it may prove their suspicions, though I doubt the judge will go for a mistrial at that point."

"I see.  Well we agreed we would stay apart, for the time being but I don't know how long for.  Any news of a hearing?"

That had been the last thing the judge had discussed.

"Yes, next Monday at 10am, Miss Tyler is not required to attend, it's just for the defendants to enter their plea.  If they plead guilty, which I very much doubt, then your problems are over.  All we can do is hope they've had time to think about it, since they will be aware their actions were seen that night.  What about the deceased girl's father?  I thought he had been under suspicion?" she asked.

"He was but my chief will not pursue it, we had to drop it when his wife swore he was with her all night, even though there was some doubt," Alec admitted, having failed to get the chief interested again.

"Well so did Claire Ashworth but since Miss Tyler clearly saw them and not Ricky Gillespie, it proved she was lying.  Is Miss Tyler absolutely certain she never saw the other man's face that night?"

"No, she said the man had his back to her or was around the other side of the van both times but Claire Ashworth did drive off with him, which led us to believe she knew him, plus she took the key to get in the Gillespie house."

"Yes, I know about that and it should have been enough but the defence argue that she could have already had a key and went to check on the two cousins," Ms Knight replied.

Alec did think she had a point, Rose could have been mistaken.  Now he just hoped it wouldn't come out in court her recollections could have been clouded by a few sips of sherry.  He had no doubt that Ms Knight would be asking just as many questions as the defence.

He was still no clearer as to if it was safe to leave town or for Rose to visit him but he still had to make sure the defence had no grounds to cast doubt on Rose's testimony.  He had to somehow break the news that the defence would not be kind to her once she was in the witness box.

Rose had met Donna at lunchtime, Donna hoping to see some improvement in Rose's mood, since she'd heard Rose was a misery on Saturday.

"So, what's happening with you two then?" Donna asked her.

"Nothing much, we just have to be careful so no more visits until he gets word the defence can't accuse him of anything," Rose replied, not wanting to mention their Christmas plans.

She'd thought it over and decided if she needed to fake an illness to sneak off to meet Alec, then so be it.  Her work record had been spotless so far.  When Alec told her that night what had been said, she wasn't any happier.

"Well we expected as much," Alec tried to tell her.  "Never mind love, we have our time away to look forward to.  There is something else though.  You do know the defence will not be kind to you?"

"Yeah, I know.  I have to do it though, if they agree not to give out my name.  I'm just glad the defence can't ask me questions before the trial.  So, the hearing's on Monday?" Rose asked.

"Yes, you don't need to attend, it's best you stay away, then the defence still don't know what you look like," Alec replied.

"Does that mean I can come down for a visit then?" Rose asked.

"Best not love, they were warned not to follow me but we still have to be careful, as Ms Knight pointed out, if I am seen around town with a blonde then you appear at the trial, they will make the connection.  They may not go after me directly but they may ask my colleagues or show my picture around, if they get desperate."

"Yeah, my mum asked why I couldn't go down there, I thought as much.  Guess we'll just have to wait then?"

"I'm sorry love, I did try.  It won't be so bad."

"I know you tried Alec.  Any luck getting Ricky Gillespie back for questioning?" Rose asked.

"Sorry love, unless we get concrete evidence it was him you saw, the chief believes since you never saw his face that night, he has to go with what his wife said."

"Well I guess that's it then?  Unless Cate changes her mind?" Rose asked.

"I guess so love.  We can't even get Claire to turn against her husband, though I would have thought she would have done to save being in prison.  I hope the judge does not entertain the notion of letting her out on bail."

Rose hadn't thought of that.  Alec realised when she went quiet.

"Rose, she has no idea who saw them that night," Alec tried to assure her.  "They may have guessed it was your friend but Claire will already know she's moved away.  You are still safe."

"Now I'm glad Shareen moved away, she would be a prime target for them all.  So, have you seen the Gillespies?" Rose asked.

"No, I was told they had split up though so why Cate is still covering for him, I have no idea.  I thought at one point we'd got her to say what really happened that night but between him protesting it wasn't him and the Ashworths saying nothing about it, we can't prove anything.  It's fortunate you saw Claire and Lee clearly."

"Yeah, then when the defence get me on the witness stand, they take me apart, don't they?" Rose asked.

Alec couldn't promise an easy time.

"Sorry love, I was going to warn you.  I've been trying to get Tess to talk to Claire again, about turning on her husband but she's not keen.  Rose, I wish there was another way."

"I know you do Alec, we'll just have to wait a few weeks.  We can't risk it now my name won't be given to the defence.  Just one thing though, if they get off.  They'll have seen me."

"I know you are worried Rose but I will take care of it.  So, have you thought how you are going to get out of working at Christmas?"

"I'm gonna come down with a mystery illness the day before.  Alec, I've never done that before, well not since me and Shareen were kids when we'd sneak off from school."

"Well you said you did not want to get Donna to cover for you," Alec reminded her.

"Yeah, that's not fair but it still might seem suspicious though.  Maybe I'll have to act a bit off a few days before?  I could come down with the 'flu?"

Alec had to smile to himself.

"Well I will leave that up to you but don't pass whatever it is onto me."

Rose also had to smile.

Over the next few weeks, the prosecution built their case against Claire and Lee Ashworth, calling Alec a few times to clarify a few points and to make sure he'd not been seeing Rose though not asking him directly.  The Ashworths had both pleaded not guilty and were remanded for trial, a date to be set so Alec was hoping it would be sooner rather than later.

He had found a good deal on four nights in Brighton through an online booking site and Rose found out the train times so whatever excuse she came up with had to be good.  Now as the time got nearer, he had to explain to Daisy why he wouldn't be seeing her and trying harder to establish he had a girlfriend, since the divorce had been finalised. 

"So I won't see you over the holidays?" Daisy asked him a few Saturdays before he was meeting Rose.  "How come?"

"You know why Daisy.  I told you Rose and I couldn't see each other because of the court case so I have to make it up to her by saying I'm going away and then meeting her," he explained.

"I could go with you?" Daisy offered.  "Then no-one could accuse you of sneaking off to meet her."

"I appreciate the offer but your mother would never allow it.  Has she been asking any more questions?" he wanted to know, since he now hardly spoke to Tess even at work.

Now the case was being prepared for court, hardly anything was said about it so he'd had no excuse to get Rose to visit and they were both anxious to see each other.  It had been hard on both of them, Rose would leave the store every Saturday and hope he would be standing waiting for her but he never was, the girls taunted her about the mysterious man who had waited for her twice.

She knew he was right to stay away, someone may have recognised him but the more she thought about it, the more obvious it was that no matter how much they tried to deny they'd been seeing each other, the defence would tear her apart once they got the chance.   She knew she had to talk to him about it when they finally got together.  She had a decision to make that could possibly change everything but one that might solve their problem – if Alec was willing to risk it as well.

Jackie though had serious doubts about Rose being able to convince Donna she was ill.

"I'll convince her somehow Mum," Rose was telling her on the 21st of December and she was packing what she'd need for a four day trip.

"Well, do ya have to get off the bus outside the store then?" she asked Rose.

"No Mum, I'll get the other bus, I'm going from another station.  I just need you to ring Donna to say I've got a temperature and tell her it's typical I get sick at Christmas.  I just have to use a lot of tissues today and pretend I want to sneeze all the time, not in front of customers though.  Oh hang on, that might get me sent home," Rose grinned.

Jackie had to laugh at the trouble she was going to just to sneak off.

Rose wasn't going to let on though what she had planned but had something else to ask her mother.

"Mum, if Alec can get a few days off for the new year, well do ya mind if he stays over?  He'll have to leave late on New Years Day though but if he can, well we won't be any bother."

"Rose, you're old enough to know what you're doing and at least you're askin' me.  If he can get the time off then I won't stop ya from asking him, okay?" her mother replied.

"Thanks Mum, goodness knows when we'll get an actual court date.  It could still be ages.  I have something to talk about with Alec when I see him."

"You're thinking of going down there, aren't ya?" her mother asked.

"Yeah, I've been thinking about it, what do I have to lose?  So, I'm seen with Alec, the defence get to know about him being with a blonde.  They may or may not put two and two together when they see me in the courtroom.  The defence have been told they can't use that against me, not unless they convince the judge but would he want the Ashworths to get away on them speculating I'm the one Alec's been seen with?"

"That's a good point Rose, they still have to prove it's you I suppose and since they don't know how to do that?" her mother laughed.

"I just wish I'd thought about it before.  If Alec agrees, I'm going back with him in the new year Mum, I'm owed some holidays, I can use that as my notice.  I just hope Alec thinks it's a good idea."

"I'm sure he will sweetheart.  Anyway, it's time I met him, since you're going away with him.  I just hope you don't get caught out by the defence."

"Mum, it's not like he's gonna tell everyone, is it?" Rose asked.  "He's been trying to convince everyone he has a girlfriend to throw them off the scent, I just hope it's been working.  I'm gonna see what he thinks when I meet him."

"Well I hope he appreciates it then," Jackie replied.

"So do I Mum, it's still a risk but maybe we'll just get away with it?"

Well she hoped so as she continued packing.  She knew he'd do his best to visit for the new year, maybe she should surprise him when he arrived?  What if he didn't agree though?  Surely he'd jump at the chance for them to be together?

The following day, Rose started early by taking a packet of tissues onto the shop floor and pretending she wanted to sneeze, which got Donna's attention at lunchtime.

"Don't you give that to me Rose," Donna laughed.  

"Sorry, my mum already told me that," Rose managed to grin.  "I don't even know where it came from, I bet that woman I sat next to on the bus had a cold."

"Yeah, the joys of public transport," Donna agreed, trying to move her chair and making Rose smile behind her tissue.

When Alec rang that night, he teased her about her fake cold.

"Don't worry, I won't pass it to you," Rose laughed.  "Alec, I asked my mum if you can stay over the new year, if you want?"

"Well, I don't normally take both holidays off," Alec started to say.  "Maybe I can make an exception though?"

"Well I hope so, it's not like my mum to let anyone stay, especially in my room.  Will you find another way to get here avoiding the charges?" Rose asked him.

"Well I thought you would maybe like to stay in town?"

"Alec, everywhere will be crowded and if you leave your car, you can't drink," Rose pointed out.

"Yes but we could go celebrate, don't you all go to Trafalgar Square?" he asked.

"Yeah but now the council decided it's tickets only to the main area and I have no idea if I can still get some.  We could go to the local with mum and her friends?" Rose suggested.

"Maybe we could just have a quiet night in?" Alec teased her.  "Are you all set for your trip?"

"Yeah, I can't wait to get on that train tomorrow and see you again after all these weeks being apart."

"Neither can I love," Alec agreed and hoping what he had planned would work.

Chapter 19
He may have only just got out of his marriage to Tess but he was ready to take the plunge with Rose – if she was.  He had planned on her arrival to go around the shopping area and locate a jewellery store and choose a suitable ring she could wear on either hand, since they couldn't be seen together as engaged but then he thought if he got there early and chose a ring then take her out onto the pier, he could ask her what she thought.

Could he really ask her though, under the circumstances?  It would be difficult to keep it quiet but he was still trying to convince others he had a girlfriend, maybe if he said he'd taken her away for the holidays to propose to her, they may just believe him.  Well so he hoped as he tidied his flat then called Daisy.

"So did she agree Dad?" Daisy asked him.

"Aye, she did but you may as well know Daisy, I am serious about her and if there was a way for her to come and live here, then I'd take it."

"Then why let that stop you?" Daisy laughed.

Alec thought if only he were thirteen and carefree again?

"There are lots of reasons Daisy," Alec replied.  "If the defence ever found out to start with and apart from that, how could I hide her from your mother eh?  She knows who Rose is."

"Then just tell her Dad, what can she do about it?" Daisy asked.

Since when did he listen to Tess or the advice of his teenage daughter?

"Dad, mum's hardly likely to ruin the court case, is she?  If she knows, so what?  Just don't tell anyone else, mum might be annoyed but she won't be that surprised, she still suspects something," Daisy told him.

"Yes, I know she does," Alec agreed, after all the speculation of the last few months.  "Well, there's maybe no harm in asking what Rose thinks, I'd best hope the court will give us a date for the trial then there will be nothing to worry about.  Daisy, when it's all over, I'm going to ask Rose to marry me so if you have any objections, say so now."

Daisy went quiet, making Alec think she'd hung up or at least thrown her phone on the bed though hopefully not on the floor since it was fairly new.

"Are you still there?" he asked, holding his phone out to see if the call was still connected.

"Yeah, I was just a bit surprised but I shouldn't have been.  So you ask her to stay with you then what?" Daisy asked him.

"She has to agree first," Alec replied, thinking if she did, it would be a miracle, given she would have to hide from Tess.

"I saw the way she looked at you when you met her at the station that time.  She'll agree Dad, I'm sure she will."

Alec just hoped she was right.

Rose was up early the next morning, being all nervous and getting a frown from her mother.

"Oh for goodness sake Rose, just go get an early train or something, you're drivin' me nuts," Jackie told her.

"I can't Mum, what'll I do, Alec's meeting me at the train station at ten past two, he has a long way to drive," she replied.

"Well don't look so nervous then.  Are ya gonna tell him, that you want to go back with him in the new year?"

"No, not yet, he still might not think it's a good idea, I'd best wait until he comes up here Mum.  I'll call on Christmas Day and no peeking at your present either," Rose laughed.

"As if," her mother replied.

"Sure you'll be okay Mum, I mean with me being away?"

"Yeah, I'm going over to Bev's, it's all arranged and Mickey's popping around on Boxing Day, you go be with Alec," Jackie assured her.

Alec was getting ready to set off when Tess called him.

"You kept that quiet Alec," Tess greeted him.

He swore Daisy had told on him.  "Kept what quiet?" he asked, deciding if he should take his shaving kit with him then tossing it in his toiletries bag then into his holdall.

"Taking both holidays off.  You never even did that when Daisy was younger," Tess reminded him.  "Why now?"

"I've had them booked off for a while Tess, you did not need to be informed," he replied, looking at the time.

He wanted at least an hour before he met Rose from the train.

"Still insisting you have a girlfriend?" Tess asked, since they didn't talk much socially any more, just at meetings in the office.

"Well you keep asking Daisy, why ask me?" he replied.

"You were always evasive when you wanted to be," Tess reminded him.  "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were hiding the fact it's Rose Tyler but why would she risk everything when she was scared the defendants would go after her if they knew her name?"

"Stop going on about it Tess, I don't have time for this.  I am going off to meet my girlfriend, who for several reasons does not want to come here, you being one of them," he snapped back.  "I can't say I blame her, why would she want to run into you, for you to tell a pack of lies to her and put her off."

"Well you'll have to bring her here sooner or later," Tess told him, feeling pleased she'd rattled his cage and he might slip up and mention his mysterious girlfriend's name.

She'd asked around the station and no-one could give her a name.  Half of them didn't believe he actually had a girlfriend, a few thought he was tangling with the witness who had come forward and the rest of them weren't bothered one way or another.  As for Daisy, the teenager was still evading her questioning.

"If I do bring her here Tess, don't worry, I'll keep her away from you," Alec replied, checking he'd switched everything off and timed the heating to come on for when he got back.

"Please yourself Alec, do you think I'll try and put her off?" Tess asked.  "Does Daisy know?"

"Yes, she does but I gave her no details," he replied.

Well it was sort of true, they'd only met once, the fact he never stopped talking to her about Rose was immaterial.

Rose decided she'd rather wait an hour in the station than go crazy at home so she went out for the bus that bypassed the store, thinking she'd go get a coffee while she waited for the train or she'd go crazy and catch the earlier train.  Should she?  She'd no idea where Alec had booked them into, only it was almost on the seafront and what would she do whilst waiting for him?

At least he'd be able to get on the platform or near the barrier to greet her when she arrived.  The only thing wrong was having to leave again, even though he'd agreed to visit for the new year, there was still a few days gap.  So they were both on their way to Brighton, Alec finally hanging up on Tess or he wouldn't have time to choose a suitable ring and hope it would fit her and she'd want to accept what he had in mind.

He just hoped that sort of being engaged would compensate for being apart, he'd tell her it was a sort of promise ring, that when the court case was over, he'd ask her properly to marry him but as for her coming back with him?  He'd not considered it but maybe Daisy was actually right?

Who would take any notice except for Tess and the few officers at the station who knew who she was?  The only two who would actually care were his chief and the prosecution barrister but despite being warned to stay away from Rose, the only problem would be the defence finding out but could they prove it before Rose appeared in court?

There were a lot of pros and cons but the assurance he had that the defence couldn't use it against them was somewhat comforting but was that enough?  Would they ignore the judge's ruling and tear him and Rose apart about it, making the jury think neither of their testimonies were reliable?

Rose was now getting nervous as the train was on its way to Brighton, it was over fifty miles but the train had to be the one that stopped at every station, didn't it?  The one before was faster but Alec had estimated what time he'd get there, though maybe she should have waited there instead of in London?  She tried to calm herself down by playing some music on her phone when someone sat next to her as the train got busier.

A woman was sat next to her, Rose managing a weak smile and turning the phone volume down.

"Not everyone would be so considerate," the woman told her as Rose took one of the earphones out.

"Sorry, I never realised," Rose apologised.

"Are you getting off before Brighton?" the woman asked her.

Rose shook her head, pausing the music.  "No, I'm meeting my boyfriend there for the holidays," she admitted, not wanting to give details.

"That's nice then, don't you see much of him?" the woman asked.

Rose wished the woman would read the magazine on her lap instead of asking questions.

"No, it's been a few months, it's too expensive for him to keep visiting me all the time so we decided to wait a while," Rose replied.

She wasn't going to add that she hoped they would find a solution to that.  She watched the scrolling information board above the carriage doorway and longed to see her destination being the next stop and after what seemed longer than it had actually been, having excused herself once to visit the restroom, Brighton finally came up on the board in red letters.  

She waited for the woman to move after saying goodbye, thinking she should let her go ahead, since the woman may recognise Alec from the TV and their 'secret' meeting would be for nothing.  Alec had found a car park and paid for an hour and walked back to the shopping arcade to choose a ring, trying not to look so conspicuous it was meant as a sort of engagement ring.

He had to guess her size, asking if it could be altered were the ring not to fit Rose.

"Of course Sir, we offer an alteration service," the male salesperson told him as Alec got a closer look at the sapphire ring he was being shown from the pad of other rings.  "Is it for anything specific Sir?  An engagement ring perhaps?"

"Not as such, I suppose should the opportunity arise, it would be suitable?" Alec asked, looking at the small price tag where the ring had been resting after getting his glasses out.

He thought maybe he should see about contact lenses, Daisy was always teasing him about it.  Now he wasn't paying for hotels and train fares every weekend, the ring wasn't too expensive and he'd managed to save up.  All he had to do was take her on the pier later when he'd got her to unpack and see what she thought.

Now he was looking at the arrivals board in the station entrance to see which platform Rose's train would stop.  As her carriage passed him, he thought he could make her out so he waited to see which door she would use and went to stand out of the way but so she'd see him.  She did as most of the passengers bypassed him and she went up to him, Alec offering to take her small case.

"Hi love, had a good journey?" he smiled as Rose went to hug him and kiss his cheek.

"Oh, ya know?  Trust me to pick the train that stopped at every single station on the way?" Rose smiled back, looping her arm in his free one.

"Then you should have got an earlier one maybe?" he replied.  "We'll go find the hotel first then we can look around, not that there will be much open."

"We could just walk on the pier, then tomorrow find the shops, I need a new outfit for Christmas Day," Rose told him.

Alec had to smile, he wasn't bothered what she would be wearing on the big day, as long as she was wearing the ring that was a substitute for getting engaged, which he knew at present was impossible and he hoped she would understand.  They got into the car, Alec already having the hotel address in the satnav that he loved to argue with and five minutes later, he pulled into the parking area.

The hotel receptionist handed him the coded key card and they went off to find their room and once inside, greeted each other properly.

"I missed you love," Alec confessed, kissing her neck as she clung to him.

"I've been driving my mum nuts," Rose laughed.  "She almost threw me out earlier, I had to set off before it was time or she would have put me on the bus herself."

"Never mind love, you're here now.  Have you eaten anything?" he asked, feeling hungry.

"No, I was too nervous to eat, my stomach's been doing double back flips all morning," Rose confessed.

"Feel like eating now?  Let me hang up my shirts then we'll go find a café, we passed a shopping arcade, there should be something in there."

They went off to locate a café then Alec steered her towards the pier, noting what time it was open until as some rides at the end were still operating.  Then spying the giant wheel just past the entrance thought that would be perfect, if they got to the top and he could see what she thought.

As they walked along the pier, Alec was fingering the small ring box in his pocket, hoping she wouldn't demand he took her back to pack her things so she could get the next train home.

"Can we go on the wheel later?" Rose asked as they sat outside the bar drinking coffee, now he actually liked it the way Rose drank it.

"Yes love, it will be dark soon anyway, we could wait, if you want?"

"Yeah, let's wait then?  So how did Daisy take the news you were going away with me?  Did you tell her?"

"Yes, she had a few things to say about it," Alec smiled.  "She asked me something," he hinted, wondering if he should make a start or leave it until they took a ride on the wheel.

"What was that?" Rose asked, wishing they'd sat inside now the sun was going in.

"She brought up the point of why you can't come down here more often," he confessed.  "You know why that's impossible love."

"Yeah but I was thinking about that," Rose admitted.  "Alec, there's only Tess and your DS who know who I am, I could probably avoid them?  I could come down every other weekend or….?" she stopped.

Alec put his coffee mug down.  "Or what?" he asked.  "Rose, it would be risky enough coming down every weekend but it's also expensive love," he reminded her.  "You don't get there until late and you are hardly there for 24 hours – unless you are suggesting what I think you're suggesting?"

Maybe this was going to be easier than he'd thought?  Maybe he didn't need the ring in his pocket after all to entice her to stick it out until they had a court date.  Once they had that, it wouldn't matter, she'd have an excuse to be there.

"Rose, what were you going to say?" he asked as she went quiet.  "You mean come down to stay?"

"It doesn't matter Alec, it was a daft idea," Rose admitted, thinking maybe it hadn't been one of her better ideas.

"Rose, if that's what you meant, it would be even more risky," he reminded her again.

"I know that Alec but no-one knows who I am.  So the defence have their information sources, so what?  They won't know until they see me in court then we deny it."

"How do we do that?" Alec asked, thinking maybe she didn't need an incentive after all but could he agree to it?

"They have to prove it was me, unless they hire someone to take photos of you but that's illegal, isn't it?" Rose asked, wishing they'd gone inside.  "You said the defence couldn't hold that against us, how would the judge react if it was true?"

"I have no idea if he would go back on his ruling love but he has already decided that you gave your version of what happened that night before you met me.  As long as you add nothing to it, he may not need to change his mind," Alec replied.

"So, whatcha think?" Rose smiled, feeling better already.

"That we go back to the hotel and discuss it?  I missed you love," Alec smiled back.

"You promised me a ride on the giant wheel," she reminded him.  "I just need to visit the ladies room first."

There wasn't much of a queue for the giant wheel but it was still operating as the lights were going on.  He was disappointed there were a few others waiting to board but he went to speak to the attendant while Rose was looking around.

"Is there any chance we can get a carriage to ourselves?" he asked the young man.  "I want to try to propose to my girlfriend," he added, nodding towards Rose, who was smiling and wondering what he was up to.

"Just hang on Sir, I'll ask my supervisor when I get everyone else onboard," the young man replied.

Alec went back to Rose.

"What are you up to Alec?" Rose grinned.

"Just trying to get some privacy, they are not that busy," he indicated as the people in front waited for others to disembark.

They let four people in front get in then Alec indicated for a couple behind them to enter in their place.  The young man closed the door and pressed a button then spoke into a two-way radio.

"Hey Mandy, I've got a man here who wants a carriage just for him and his girlfriend," he told the woman who was in the booking office.

"What's he want a carriage just for them for?  You know the rules Steve," she reminded him.

Steve was trying not to let anyone hear him but the next carriage would be level in thirty seconds and he wondered what the others who were waiting would think.

"Mandy, he wants to propose to his girlfriend," he hissed quietly into the radio.

"Why didn't you say so?  It's good publicity.  Let them go forward then hold the others back and tell them the reason," Mandy told him, thinking if word got around, more couples may do the same and the owners would be pleased, especially if the newspaper got to know.

The next carriage came level and Rose was holding Alec's hand.

"What did ya go speak to him about?" Rose asked as Steve opened the carriage door and people came out.

"You'll see love," Alec smiled as Steve called them forward then got behind them to stop two more people going forward.

"Why can't we get on?" the man he'd stopped asked.

"That man wants to propose to his girlfriend," Steve grinned, closing the door and pressing the button.

Rose had soon realised no-one else was getting in.

"How did you persuade that guy not to let anyone else on?" Rose asked him as they began to move slowly.

"I wanted to enjoy the ride with you, not four strangers love, I've not seen you for a while, have I?" he asked, going to sit opposite and taking her hands.

"Aw you're such a softy Alec," Rose smiled, looking down at the now lit pier.

They got around halfway up when he went in his jacket pocket, having let one of her hands go.

"Rose, you know I love you, don't you?" he asked.  Rose nodded.  "I was going to ask if when this is all over, you would consider marrying me but I wanted you to have a ring, since you obviously can't wear an engagement ring, so I got you this."

He opened the small box and took out the ring, hoping it would fit and took her left hand, even though it couldn't stay there but the wheel attendant would be expecting her to be wearing it on that hand.  Rose could only watch as he placed the ring on her finger, Alec very aware people in other carriages could probably see them, even though it was dark outside but there were tiny lights in the carriage roof and a glow coming from the coloured lights on the outside of the wheel.

"I don't need an answer right now Rose, just think about it and just wear that ring there for now, then change it and you are right.  Would you consider coming to live with me?" he asked as he went back to sit next to her as the wheel reached the top.

They kissed very briefly, Rose was also aware they were probably being watched but Alec didn't seem to care so neither did she.  He put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head, surprised she'd not opted to wear a hat since it was cold now.

"We have some plans to make love," he reminded her.

"I have to go home, to get my things Alec," Rose replied, putting her gloves in her coat pocket since she wanted to show off the ring.

"I know love, I will come up for the new year and you can go back with me.  That gives me a few more days to convince everyone you said yes and will be joining me.  The only problem is, Tess will get to know."

"Yeah, I know she will but what can she do Alec?  She's hardly gonna run to the defence to tell them, is she?" Rose asked him as the wheel descended.

"Who knows what she will do?" Alec replied.  "So are you giving notice at work?"

"Yeah, I'm due some holiday, they can take the rest out of that.  I don't think Donna will be that surprised actually.  Alec, what am I gonna do about a job though?"

"Relax love, no need to worry about that.  It's best you don't give your name out everywhere, what if someone recognises you when you're in the witness box?" he asked as the wheel stopped again, just before they reached the platform.  "I can take care of you Rose, you will just not be able to go into the town, in case you bump into Tess."

"I can't stay in all day though," Rose told him as they prepared to leave.

"I would never ask you to love, there's a shopping parade not far from where I live, you will be able to go there whenever you want.  Leave your gloves off, you need to show off your ring love," he smiled as they levelled with the platform and the door opened.

"So, did it work?" Steve grinned, since no-one else was waiting to get on.

Alec took Rose left hand.  "Yes, you could say that.  Thank you for your help."

"It's our pleasure Sir," Steve replied.

"So that's what you were up to?" Rose grinned.

"You got me love," he smiled back, putting his arm around her shoulders.

Rose pointed to a poster on a railing that advertised ice skating outside the pavilion.

"Oh, can we go later?" she asked him, pointing it out.

Alec looked at the opening times.

"What better way to spend Christmas Eve?" he replied, noting it was open until 10pm.

"Do ya know how to ice skate though?" Rose laughed.

"I used to take Daisy when she was younger, I can keep my balance," he replied.  "You may have to stay close and keep hold of me though."

"I wouldn't have it any other way Alec," Rose assured him.  "Alec, whatcha said, about when the case is over?  I never gave my answer."

"You did not need to, I told you I didn't need you to answer right away," he replied as they walked back to the hotel.

"Well, I'm ready to give it to you." 

Chapter 20
He had taken her by surprise but the way things had been, it shouldn't have done.  Did she really have to think about it?  If everything went well, she would only have a few days at home until he came to collect her after the new year.

"So, let me get this right," Rose teased him when they got back to their nice warm hotel room.  "You pretend you've asked your made-up girlfriend to marry you, I just wear the ring on my other hand, for now and I go back to Sandbrook with you and hope no-one finds out?"

"Is that too much to ask?" Alec wanted to know.  "I said I don't need an answer Rose, I was doing it as a commitment to you, a promise that when the court case is over, we can move on together.  It's a big decision, you need time to think about it love."

"Alec, I was thinking almost the same," Rose smiled, putting her arms under his jacket.  "Well I never expected the ring but I told my mum, when you came up for the new year, then I'd ask if I could go back with you, even if I have to stay out of Tess's way."

"You were?" Alec asked, surprised it had been so easy.

"Yeah, I've hated the last few weeks Alec, it's been awful without you coming up to see me.  I kept expecting you to be waiting for me outside the store, everyone wondered why I was being a bit of a recluse, sitting on my own when Donna wasn't there."

"Everyone noticed how much of a grump I had become," Alec admitted.  "I only had Daisy to talk to.  Tess has been asking her questions but she's kept quiet so far."

"It must be difficult for her?  She's caught in the middle of it.  Alec, yes, when the case is over, ask me properly but until then, I'm keeping the ring where it is, I'll just move it when we have to go to court.  I don't care if those at work ask me about it, it'll only be for a few days, I'll give my notice when I get back."

"So, now that's sorted are we going skating tonight or tomorrow night?" Alec asked, kissing the top of her head.

They decided to stay in the hotel bar but when they got to bed, Rose startled him by whispering she was over being shy.

"I'm happy to hear that love," Alec spoke quietly back as he helped her with her underwear.

"Yeah, sorry, I guess it was still in the back of my mind that you weren't free?  I should have said," Rose replied.

"Never mind, I understand it was difficult to accept," Alec assured her.  "It made no difference to me but I should have considered how it would affect you."

"Don't say that Alec, it was my problem, not yours.  It was just the way I was brought up, I guess my mum was over-compensating for me not having a dad, that's all.  Don't ever think it was your fault.  I missed you so much."

"I missed you too love, I want you to keep that ring where it is, if you want?"

"Yeah, I want to, you still have to do it properly though," she reminded him.

"Oh, I will love, when the time is right," he replied, lifting her vest top.

All Rose's doubts disappeared as she let him continue when she'd usually carefully stopped him.  Alec was too engrossed as Rose clung hold of him, making soft noises and encouraging him.  As he finally moved onto his back, Rose followed him and lay in his arms.

"Why did we take notice of your chief and the prosecution?" Rose asked him.

"I was being careful, maybe I should have taken no notice?" he replied.  "If you come to live with me, we still need to be careful love."

"I know that Alec, I can't go back to what we were doing and it's too expensive to travel every weekend.  Are you taking your car for the new year?"

"Yes, to take you back with me love, I can pay the fees just the once.  I will have to look up how it works and plan the best route.  Maybe I can avoid it somehow?  See if you can get tickets for that event, there may be some left."

"Yeah but it's getting there and back, I doubt the buses will still be running to where I live," Rose replied.

"Well a big crowd must be expected, I expect they will make sure people can get home?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'll see then?  Alec, I'm sorry I was so reluctant before."

"You already said that love, it's fine.  Everyone is scared of having their first time.  Maybe you felt better because you had that ring and my promise?"

"Maybe?  Maybe it's also the fact we won't be apart for much longer?" Rose wondered.

After breakfast the next day, they agreed to go off on their own for an hour, Rose wanting a new dress that she didn't want him to see.  She also wanted a warm jumper to go skating in, Alec joking she should get a Christmas one.

"Well if I get one, I won't get much use out of it now," Rose pointed out.

"Never mind love, it will do for next year," Alec smiled as he offered her some money to get one.

"I can afford it Alec, I saved some up," Rose insisted.

Meeting up in the coffee shop, they took their things back to the hotel then Rose wanted to go back on the pier.

"Not going to show me your new outfit for tomorrow?" Alec teased her.

"You'll have wait and see.  We are going ice skating later?"

"Yes, I said we would though it's been a while, you'll have to hold onto me."

"Yeah, I've not been for ages either," Rose had to confess.  "I hope if I fall I don't bring you down with me," she laughed, deciding to wear her new rather loud Christmas jumper she'd not been able to resist with snowmen and trees on it.

"So do I love.  You want to go back on the pier or we can go for a walk?" he asked.

They ended up in the amusement arcade, until she ran out of change for the games then they walked back up the pier to the bar they'd been in the day before, sitting inside as it was getting cold.  After their evening meal, they went to the outdoor skating rink outside the pavilion and sat down to put the skates on, helping each other up.

"It's a shame it's not snowing," Rose smiled as they attempted to get onto the rink, letting some other skaters go by.

"You'd like it to snow?" Alec replied, not sure if he could still keep his balance and hoping he wouldn't be the one to take a tumble first.

Rose soon found her confidence again, skating backwards and holding both Alec's hands and laughing as she tried to be clever.  Just before closing time, after a break, they got their shoes back and walked to the hotel, going into the bar.

"It's been a long time since I actually enjoyed ice skating," Alec confessed.  "I used to take Daisy but then when she got older, she'd meet her friends and I used to end up watching her."

"Aw, never mind, I enjoyed myself," Rose smiled, still holding onto him.

Alec thought he'd have never agreed to go with anyone else but if he now had a younger girlfriend, he'd better get used to doing things again such as playing table hockey in the amusement arcade, which Rose had narrowly beaten him at.  They waited until midnight, the bar hours being extended then went to their room, Rose looking out at the lit up wheel and looking at her ring.

"Alec, I don't want to keep swapping this ring over," she told him as he rested his chin on her head, his arms around her.

"I know love, I don't want you to have to but when we go back to reality, we have to be careful," he replied, kissing her cheek.

"Well maybe only when I'm at work for a few days?  I don't want to be interrogated by the girls I work with and Donna will want details, trust me," Rose replied.

"I can imagine she will," Alec replied.  "She interrogated me over the phone a few times."

"Yeah, sorry about that.  She'll ask more question when I give my notice in though, since I'll be asking for some of my holiday to make up for it.  Alec, I'm not tryin' to back out but am I doing the right thing?"

"You mean moving to Sandbrook?" he asked, thinking they'd already agreed they couldn't go back to how it had been.

"Yeah, I mean my mum's already said maybe I'm being hasty but I want to go and live with you, it's just, well, not being able to be seen out with you, in case someone sees me when I'm in the witness box."

He turned her around to face him.

"Rose, I will talk to the prosecution and ask if it makes any difference you being in the town.  I can tell her it's to make it easier when the case goes to court.  I don't have to say you are living with me.  She already suspects we've been seeing each other and has not enforced a ban, well not yet.  The defence can't stop you living in the town love," he tried to assure her.

"Yeah I know but like you said, if we do get seen together and then when I appear as your star witness?" Rose asked.

"It will be fine, no-one is likely to approach the defence and say they've seen us together.  I will talk to Tess and admit it, then if anyone is going to do anything about it and tell the defence, it will be her.  Since she wants the Ashworths locked up as much as I do, she won't do anything about it."

Rose just hoped he was right as they got into bed, for a repeat of the night before, Alec smiling to himself as Rose made contented noises as they came down from their highs.  He also hoped he could trust Tess not to say anything but after all the denials and him saying he had another girlfriend, would Tess turn on him?

He'd only find out once he'd admitted he'd been seeing Rose, Daisy would sort of back him up, he hoped.  After a light breakfast the next morning, they had opened their presents and Rose had called her mother.

"So, did ya like the cardigan I got ya?" Jackie was asking her.

"Yeah, it's lovely Mum, thanks.  We went ice skating last night, it was great," Rose smiled at Alec, who was setting the time on the watch she'd bought him.  

She wished she'd been able to afford a more expensive one but he seemed to like it, since he was fastening it on his wrist.  Jackie had sent him some cufflinks, Rose saying she didn't know if he'd wear them or not as they were now still in the box.

They went out for a walk along the seafront until Christmas dinner was due to be served and Rose went for a lie down since she'd eaten too much. Alec making fun of her.

"It's okay to stuff yourself once a year love," he told her as he had his arm around her.

"Yeah, now I have to go work it off," Rose sighed, wishing she'd gone easy on the Christmas pudding.

"I can think of a few ways of you shedding those extra pounds love," he teased, going to unzip her new dress.

Rose just thought she bet he did.

Boxing Day evening, Rose was packing.  Her train was at ten fifteen back to London and Alec was seeing her off.  He noticed she didn't look too happy at the thought of going back on her own.

"Rose, you know I would take you back, if I didn't have to go back to work?" he asked her, having said he'd go in for a few hours when he got back from his break.

"I know you have to Alec, it's not just that.  It's been really special, spending the holidays with you."

"It was really special love," he replied, going to put his arms around her and Rose leaning on his shoulder.  "We won't be apart for long, I'll be seeing you in a few days," he reminded her.

"Yeah, it'll seem twice as long though.  Are ya really gonna tell Tess I'm your mysterious girlfriend?"

"She'll find out love, sooner or later.  I told her the reason why you weren't already in the town, now I can say everything changed.  Maybe I won't actually tell her you'll be living with me though?" he smiled.  "You can get a place of your own though, if you want?"

"No, that's not what I want Alec and how will I afford it if I can't even take a job?" she asked him.

"Sorry love.  It's just not a good idea to give your name out though.  I know you'll have to register at a health centre but no-one is allowed to give out patients names.  I just don't think it's a good idea to apply for jobs and giving your name."

"Yeah, I know that.  I just hate hiding away though," Rose replied.

"Just think, once the case goes to court, your friends at work will maybe get to know.  I will have to ask if a press blackout can be enforced though I would have thought that would already be planned, since your name is not being released.  It would not take much for the press to put a name to your face."

"Great, that's all I need," Rose sighed.  "I know I've made a lot of demands Alec but if they let the press in, I'm not going ahead, even if it means they walk free.  If my picture's in the papers, loads of people will be claiming they know me."

"I'm sure they already know that love, they will have handled enough witnesses who need protection from the media and the accused but after it's over, well so far I've never been involved.  I asked my chief and he more or less said the police won't be involved once you've testified.  I expect he thinks they will get locked up and there will be no need."

"Then I just get left, even if they get off?" Rose asked, not liking what she was being told.

"I will take care of you, you have nothing to worry about love, I promise you."

"I know you will but what if we weren't together Alec?"

"Rose, it is not very often the police have to keep a witness quiet.  I expect in such rare cases, something could be done, where the defendants are found to be not guilty, I have never been involved.  I promise you, you will be safe if Claire and Lee Ashworth get off."

"How are ya gonna do that?" Rose asked worriedly.

"Let me take care of that, I can easily get a transfer where no-one will find you," he promised.

"Even if it seems like you were partly responsible?" Rose asked him.

"That was Tess, not me.  I'm not taking any blame for that.  I thought about it, at the time but that's no longer the case.  I thought about protecting Daisy but she knows her mother sees someone.  I thought I owed it to her not to find out her mother had let her personal life ruin the investigation but then I found out about you."

"Well after all that time, if Tess had called me again, I think I'd have told her to forget it," Rose managed to smile.

"Then I'm glad it was me who found out and called you," Alec smiled back.  "Want to go skating again or maybe see a film?"

"Yeah, let's go sit on the back row?"

The next morning, they had one more time together before breakfast then put their things into Alec's car.  He drove her to the station, Rose recalling the first time she'd left Sandbrook.

"I bet that station guard still wonders," Rose teased him as they waited.

"Well, he could take it either way, he's probably forgotten about it though," he replied as her train was announced.  "Bye love, see you in a few days then?"

"Yeah I'll have plenty to do and I'll still call every night," Rose told him as she saw the train approaching the platform.  "Are ya gonna tell Tess or not?"

"I've not decided yet.  Bye love, I will miss you."

"I'll miss you too Alec, that was the best Christmas I ever had.  It even tops the one where I found Santa had left me the red bike I wanted when my mum said she couldn't afford it," Rose confessed.

"Someone must have seen you looking at it and felt sorry for you," Alec suggested.

"Yeah, mum said maybe my dad was looking down on me and gave someone the idea," Rose smiled as the train stopped.

Alec lifted her case onto the train and kissed her cheek.

"See you soon love," he told her as Rose smiled at him.

"Yeah, it won't be too bad, now I know I'll be going back with you.  Bye Alec, call me later," Rose replied.

The guard blew the whistle and Alec heard the buzzer of the train doors, standing back.  Rose stood for a second and waved then went to put her case on the rack then quickly waved again as the train began to move.  She found a double seat, not wanting any company then heard her message tone.  The message just read 'Miss you already xxx'

Alec had watched the train move off and got his phone out.  He did miss her already as he sent the message and the train went out of view.  Now, he had to survive the next few days, tell Daisy he'd sort of asked Rose to marry him and admit to Tess she'd been right all along.  Tess would gloat she'd been right – either that or she'd tell the defence he was involved with the star witness.  Would she go that far to get her revenge?

He went to his car to begin the journey back to Sandbrook and make his plans.  Rose had to be protected if the Ashworth's did actually get let off.  He could try going to see Claire himself, see if they could make a deal with her but if the police got her to give her husband up, he'd have two women to protect and Rose may not take kindly to it.  If he got Tess to do it though, she'd be responsible for Claire but she would be free and may still turn on Rose and he couldn't allow that.

If it all turned sour and Lee still got off, he'd go after both of them but Claire may still yet give up Ricky Gillespie.  There were a lot of unanswered questions, why were neither of the suspects not giving up the father of the dead girl?  It had to be all three of them colluded and Ricky was more clever than they all reckoned?  Had he something else on the other two and they couldn't risk it?

It was all still a mystery, except for the events Rose had witnessed but he was glad she and her friend had decided not to go visit that night, they could have been caught up in whatever had happened.  He was about to set off then a dreadful feeling came over him.  If this friend of Rose's was always visiting the Ashworth's, she must have talked about Rose to them, even if she'd not given Rose's surname.

He'd have to call the prosecution barrister the next day and mention it, Rose could still be in danger and he couldn't allow anything to happen to her.  If they got convicted, Ricky would still be free but maybe he'd leave her alone, since he obviously had something on them and if they got off, maybe they'd go after Ricky instead but he couldn't risk it.

This was getting deeper than he was comfortable with.  Now he was glad Rose had agreed to go live with him but once the case went to court, as soon as it was over they both had to leave town.

Chapter 21
The next morning, Rose went to see Donna to tell her she was leaving.

"Why am I not surprised?" Donna asked her.  "It's getting to you?  You weren't really sick, were you?"

"Yeah, a bit.  Sorry but it was the only way I could meet Alec, I've never done that before.  Donna, you won't tell anyone the real reason I'm leaving will ya?"

"Only the manager.  So, is that an engagement ring or not?" Donna wanted to know.

"Sort of, he bought me it more to assure me he was serious 'cos he wasn't sure I'd agree to go and live with him.  I'd already talked to my mum about it.  He's coming up for the new year and I'm going back with him Donna, that's why I need to take some of the leave I'm due as my notice."

After agreeing, Rose went to her department and hoped that would be the last time she'd need to go call in Donna's office rather than have a drink before she started work.  At lunchtime though, her friends caught up with her, since the department head frowned on them chatting on the shop floor.

"So, what's with the ring?" one of the girls asked her.

"It's not an engagement ring, my boyfriend bought me it 'cos we didn't see much of each other," Rose tried to explain.

"That bloke who came to meet ya a few times?" another asked her.

"Yeah, it's a long way for him to travel," Rose replied, trying to eat her lunch since Donna wasn't around.

She saw Donna come in late and having eaten, Rose went over to talk to her.

"I'm late because of you," Donna explained.  "Mr Moore wanted to know why you were on sick then hand your notice in the day you come back."

"Sorry Donna but me and Alec talked about it, he thinks I'd be better off down there, not just because of us but when the trial takes place," Rose told her.

"Does he think they'll get off or something?" Donna asked.

"Maybe?  If the defence find out about us," Rose replied.

"I would have thought you'd be best staying apart then?" Donna suggested.

"We tried that," Rose smiled.  "It didn't work and besides, he's seeing the prosecution about it today.  The defence won't know about it, they don't know who I am and we already know once I appear in court, if anyone's seen us together it might go against us."

"Well, the worst that can happen is they get off," Donna surmised.  "That's why you want to go down there, so you can disappear if they find out who you are."

"That's Alec's idea behind it.  We tried being apart Donna, it didn't work.  You know the lengths we went to and if the defence find out, then I'm out of it so it's up to the prosecution to make sure they don't," Rose replied.

"I bet they'll do anything to prevent you skipping out on them," Donna replied.  "If you're their only witness, they should take the responsibility, whether you and the lead detective are involved or not."

"Well I hope they see it that way," Rose sighed, trying not to look at her ring.

Alec wasn't having a very good morning.  Tess had caught him on his way in and he'd wanted to call Ms Knight and tell her he needed to talk to her urgently.

"It's no good denying it Alec, Daisy more or less admitted she knows who you've been seeing.  It's Rose Tyler, isn't it?" Tess asked him, not caring if anyone could hear her or not.  "It's the only logical explanation why you've been going out of your way to keep it a secret.  If it's not her, why aren't you bragging about it?"

"Like you bragged about Dave?" he asked, wishing she'd go away.  "Yes, okay, I admit it.  Can you blame me for keeping it quiet?  I'm going to see the prosecution and admit it, not that she doesn't already suspect.  Then it's up to her if she wants to proceed or not with Rose being the only eye-witness and go on other evidence.  Oh, I forgot, we have no other evidence, do we Tess?"

"I knew you'd bring that up at some point Alec," Tess replied.  "Do you still want me to have another go with Claire?"

"If you think you can appeal to her better nature," Alec replied.  "It's best you go, I have Rose to worry about, I can't deal with two of them but be careful Tess, she's devious and that makes her  dangerous.  If she'd wanted a deal for turning on Lee, she would have done so by now so maybe you should just leave it?"

"I think maybe she's beyond doing a deal with Alec, after all this time," Tess agreed with him.  "They all have something on each other, we just have to find out what that is."

"You can still talk to Claire though.  I need to find out if Rose's friend mentioned her name when she was friendly with both of her neighbours.  Go pay her a visit but don't mention Rose's name, just ask her about her neighbours."

"What am I suppose to say?" Tess wondered.

"Think of something.  Tell her if she can think of anyone who could give her a character reference that might help her get off," he suggested, not that he wanted Claire to get away with whatever part she'd played.

Even if she was just an accomplice, she'd go down for quite a while.

"Very clever Alec, throw her off your girlfriend's scent," Tess replied.

"Well what do you expect me to do?" Alec replied.  "If she thinks Shareen Costello turned on her and Shareen has disappeared, then all the better but I need to know if Rose was talked about."

"Alec, have you forgotten that Rose will be facing both of them in court?" Tess reminded him.

"I know that Tess.  I want to reassure Rose she's in no danger by testifying.  She's scared and she could back out at any time.  That's why I'm bringing her down here, I can't protect her while she's still in London."

"Oh, I might have known," Tess laughed.  "What was that about her not wanting to be in the same town as me?"

"Things are different now, when we get a court date she'll be coming down anyway.  No-one will know who she is, she will be just the mysterious girlfriend I've been talking about for the last few months.  I'll worry about it when she gets to court but I'm still refusing to say who she is, I'm not naming her."

"Well I'll try to talk to Claire but I'm making no promises Alec," Tess told him.  "She might want something in return."

"She can ask all she wants, she'll not get anything except maybe a lighter sentence or turn on her husband altogether.  Then she'll have to worry about him, just like Rose is worried about both of them getting off.  I'm going to speak to the chief about having another go at Ricky Gillespie."

"Leave it Alec, we have nothing on him," Tess reminded him.  "If Cate won't turn on him, that's it, Rose didn't see his face late that night except him coming out of the Ashworth's house and even then, she didn't know for sure it was actually him."

"Well who else would be standing outside the Gillespie house on Saturday morning and get in a taxi with Cate?" Alec asked.

"We've got no proof on that either Alec, Rose was never introduced to them, any couple in the street could have stood outside their house and waited for a cab," Tess replied.

Alec put his elbows on the desk and rested his head.  As much as he loved Rose, she could still have just assumed it was them, Tess did have a point he supposed.  Still, there was no doubt anyone else but the Ashworth's would have been going in and out of next-door late at night and since Claire had let herself in, that was positive proof they did exactly what Rose had described.

The only other question was if it wasn't Ricky, who else carried something out of the Ashworth's house with Lee then came back later with a van and later still and went off with Claire?  Ricky had retracted his story and the chief was doing nothing about it.  Well time to ruffle a few feathers.

"Tess, you seem to forget Rose saw Claire being handed something then she went into the Gillespie house.  What did she have to say about that?"

Alec picked up his desk phone and told the chief he wanted to discuss Ricky Gillespie. 

"We've been over this Alec," the chief told him as he sat down instead of pacing like he normally did.

"So you believe his wife?  What about him saying he did go back that night, to check on the girls?"

"We've been through it Alec, what more can we do?" the chief asked.  "I'm ordering you to leave it, unless your witness can attest it was him who was also seen later with a van leaving the Ashworth's house?"

"You know she can't," Alec had to admit.  "I'm getting Tess to talk to Claire again, to see if the neighbour mentioned Rose by name."

"You're wasting your time Alec.  So the neighbour mentioned she had a friend coming to stay with her?  They never met, remember?" the chief asked him.

"I know that but if they already know someone is giving us information, they could still assume it's coming from their neighbour, not Rose," Alec replied.

"How's that going to help when your witness is called?" the chief asked him.

Alec had no answer to that.  No matter how much he tried, they would see Rose and try and get her name.  Yes they may think their neighbour opposite turned on them then moved away so Rose was safe for now but the moment she stepped into the witness box, they would know the truth.

He went back to his office to call Ms Knight then since he had an hour to kill, he went via the coffee shop by the station, still not being able to get the image of them sat in the corner out of his head.  In just a few days, she'd be joining him and it was taking all his will not to just drive up and get her before then but he'd promised her to give her time to pack and leave her job.  All he could do if he went up early was wait around for her so he may as well just stay here.

He still wasn't sure about staying with her at her mother's though, he'd never even met her and he'd no idea what she thought of him.  Maybe he should see how much he could get a hotel room for on New Years Eve but it would be expensive and he may not get one near where they were before.  Then he remembered he'd asked her about the celebrations so he sent her a message to remind her.

Rose hadn't been to her locker, she'd no reason to think Alec would try and contact her until the evening but she had ten minutes to spare so she got her phone out and saw his message.  Alec though was now arguing about his decision to bring Rose to the town so she left him a message and said she'd see about the tickets.

"DI Hardy, I warned you about getting involved with the witness," Ms Knight was telling him when he admitted it.

"Well, it's too late now.  I'm bringing her down here, if something happens and Claire Ashworth turns against her husband, she could still hold a grudge against who she thinks told on them.  I'm trying to find out if she knows about Rose."

"I see.  Well I'll do all I can to keep her name out of the proceedings but the defence are starting to question the need for it, since they found out their neighbours had moved.  They are trying to say it's one of them but when they find out it isn't, well I don't need to remind you they will go back to the judge to try to find out who it is."

That was what he was afraid of and why he didn't want to leave Rose in London.

"I know they will," Alec replied, wondering if Rose had got his message.  

He felt his phone buzzing in his pocket, he knew it would be her but she'd know he was busy.

"Well if she comes to live here, just make sure she's careful where she's seen," Ms Knight warned him.  "I'll keep the defence guessing who our witness is as long as I can but warn Miss Tyler not to go giving her name out everywhere."

"I've already told her that," Alec replied.

"Well make sure she knows, she's your responsibility.  I have some news for you anyway, we have a preliminary date for the pre-trial where we will go through everything, Miss Tyler needs to attend.  The judge may not send it to a jury, depending on her testimony and if the defence wants to go for a jury.  It's in two weeks time, you'll be informed but if Miss Tyler is coming down here, we'll need to know where she's staying."

She gave him a knowing look.

"Yes, I'll make sure the court is informed," was all Alec replied.

"What is she doing about work?" he was asked.

"You think it's a good idea for her to find a job, when she's trying to lay low?" Alec replied.  "She'll be taken care of, you said yourself she should not give her name everywhere and that's what she would be doing, going for job interviews."

"I see.  Well when the defence does find out, I don't need to tell you they won't go easy on either of you.  Be sure you are ready to be asked questions about your relationship."

"They would be allowed to do so?" Alec wanted to know.  "You said yourself, we already had her testimony and she contacted us before I even met her.  I had someone with me when I interviewed her and it was typed up."

"Did she change anything afterwards?" he was asked.

"Only some things she remembered but only finer details.  I have been trying to establish I have a girlfriend and hopefully, it will take the pressure off."

"Well don't go making it known who that is.  Is that what you requested a meeting for?" she asked him.

"Partly.  I'm trying to get my chief to go after Ricky Gillespie again.  I expect now it will hold things up?"

"It could, why was he let go so easily?" Ms Knight asked him.

"Mainly because his wife insisted he was with her at the wedding hotel that night.  He'd admitted he went to check on the girls that night then denied he said that was the case.  Because Miss Tyler did not see the face of the man with the van or carrying out whatever it was from the Ashworth's house, it couldn't be proved.  I want to question him again."

"I see.  Well we could try that as a separate case I suppose, if you can prove it was him?" she told Alec.

"We have to get him to admit it and I doubt he will do that.  The only way would to be say he'd been identified and somehow trick him into a confession.  If we tell him he was observed leaving the Ashworth's house, it would call Rose's testimony into question."

"Yes DI Hardy, it would," Ms Knight agreed.  "So we may lose after all?  It would bring her whole recollections of that night into question and we may have nothing left.  Try persuading him the witness identified him but be careful."

Alec already knew he had to be careful.  It could make any of the three suspects more dangerous and go after anyone they believed had seen them that night.  If their solicitor had mentioned Shareen Costello had moved, they may indeed think it had been her but if they were also told whoever it was would be standing up in court, they may now believe it was someone else.

Now he really hoped Rose's friend hadn't given any of them her name.

Tess had decided to go visit Claire in the women's prison and was waiting to be admitted.

"Ask her if she wants her solicitor present," Tess had told the prison officer.

Tess didn't want Claire to turn that against them once it came to a court date and would be glad when something was settled.  Maybe Alec would have some good news about that when he'd seen the prosecution.  She was angry though, that after all this time he'd admitted his mysterious girlfriend was Rose Tyler.  She was a lot younger than him, did the woman know what she was getting herself into?

Still, Alec wouldn't thank her if she scared the witness off, her being his girlfriend or not.  She knew he'd done it on purpose, trust him to get involved with their one and only eye-witness – or was she the only one?  Maybe the two Costello women had seen something that night and they'd had the sense to get out while they could?

She should have gone back to question them earlier, when Rose had come forward and before her ex-husband got involved with her.  Now, she was paying for keeping Rose a secret from him when she'd hoped, if it all turned out right, that Rose would be her ace-in-the-hole and make her look like she'd solved the case herself without Alec's help.

Now though, she could maybe still get one up on him if she got Claire to talk.

"DS Henchard, the prisoner will see you now, she doesn't want a solicitor," the female officer told Tess.

Tess was led to the interview room, Claire already sitting at the small table.

"What do you want Tess?" Claire asked her, Tess not being able to tell what sort of mood she was in.

"I came to offer you a sort of deal, if you will give evidence against Lee," Tess began, getting Claire's folder out of her shoulder bag.

Claire spluttered.  "After all this time?  You left me here Tess, after I helped you before."

"You helped?" Tess questioned her.  "That was a great help Claire, it landed you here because Alec  didn't believe you or had you forgotten?"

"No, I'd not forgotten he didn't believe me about that night," Claire replied.  "So, the neighbours moved, I've nothing to worry about, have I?  I know it was that Shareen who betrayed us, why else would she and her family disappear?  We befriended her Tess and she goes and does that to us, she makes up a ridiculous story about that night and you all believed her."

So Alec was right, Tess thought.  Claire did believe it was Shareen who had told on them.  Should she burst Claire's bubble and tell her it was her neighbour's friend who had told on them?  Alec would be livid if she did, especially now Rose was his new girlfriend he'd been hiding for a few months or had it started after her first visit to give her statement?

No, it had to have been when he insisted Daisy and herself went shopping the day after their daughter's birthday.  She bet anything he'd sneaked up to London and had begun his affair with Rose, when they were technically still married.  So, he was just acting the down-trodden betrayed husband when he'd found out about Dave and herself but maybe it had become more when she'd lost the evidence?

He'd still have done it though, she was convinced, just to spite her and rub it in her face he wasn't past getting someone younger when Dave was older than her.  If they'd not stopped off that night, they'd still have the pendant but would Alec still have found out about Rose being their only witness from that night?  Then it dawned on her.

Yes, one or more of the neighbours knew more than they'd admitted at the time and she bet anything it was the mysterious Ken, whom no-one knew his surname or what he did for a living.  Now, she had to get Alec to question Rose about him but maybe she should do it herself, since he was bringing her here and was involved with her.

Yes, she'd get a lot of pleasure out of asking Rose Tyler a few questions, Tess gloated as she got up.

"I'll be back Claire, think about it but not for too long," Tess told her, picking up the folder.

"What's the hurry?" Claire huffed.  "Do you know when the hearing is?"

"Not yet but Alec's gone to see the prosecution, he may have got a date," Tess replied, hoping it would help Claire to talk.

"Just one thing Tess.  Why isn't my solicitor being told who the witness is, when I know it was that bitch Shareen?" Claire asked her.  "We made friends with her, she was always in our house and she turns on us."

"You know the court can't give witness's names out Claire," Tess reminded her.  "You could help yourself though and tell us about Ricky."

"I've nothing to say about him," Claire insisted.  "Why don't you ask him?  Oh yeah, you did and got nowhere with him," she laughed.  "Me and Lee are accused of killing his daughter, do you think he'll be talking to us?"

"That night my car was broken into Claire, we you really at home?" Tess thought she'd ask.

"I told you, Cate was banging on the wall and yelling about the noise.  I turned up the TV because I was getting annoyed.  She'd had a go at me earlier.  Ask her what about," Claire replied.

"We did, she denied anything," Tess told her.  "She said you turned up the TV just to annoy her."

"To sober her up more like," Claire laughed.  "Why don't you ask her if Ricky really was with her that night?  That bitch across the street obviously thought she saw him.  If he was in our house that night, it was before I got back."

"So you did go back that night?" Tess asked her.  "Make your mind up Claire."

"I told you Tess, yes, I lied I was there all that night.  I was at my friends but decided to go home and see if I caught Lee with Lisa and her friend."

"Come on Claire, admit it.  You were grooming the two girls for him," Tess tried to get her to admit, since it would help convict her on that if nothing else.

Claire got up, banging her fist on the table and tipping the chair over.  It was loud enough for a guard to burst in, the chair on the floor.

"Get her out of here," Claire screamed, going red in the face.

"It's okay, officer, I was just leaving," Tess smiled.

She'd hit a raw nerve and now she knew for certain but should she tell Alec or let him find out for himself?

Chapter 22
Tess got back to the station and saw Alec pretending to be interested in a folder open on his desk.  Without knocking, she made him look up when she entered.

"Did you go see Claire?" he asked, taking his specs off.

"I did, until she screamed at me.  Seems she was grooming the two cousins."

"Really?  We already knew that Tess, why else would they keep two teenage girls around eh?  I wanted to be wrong about it but something must have gone wrong that night?  What if Pippa was asleep, Lisa tormented Lee a bit too much and Claire came home and found them?" he asked, hoping it was a lucky guess.

"What are you getting at Alec?" Tess wondered.

"Think about it Tess, Claire wanted to be part of it and got annoyed she missed out," Alec replied.

"No, I don't think that was the case Alec, maybe they made Pippa watch and they were afraid she'd tell her parents?" Tess suggested.

"Then what happened to Lisa?  Did she storm out and disappear?  It's not very likely Tess," Alec told her.  "She would have come forward after Pippa was found."

"Not if she was the one who caused it?" Tess asked.  "Okay, I know I was wrong for not telling you there was a witness to what went on outside that night."

Alec looked surprised.

"Oh, so now you admit it was wrong?  We wasted a lot of time because of you Tess.  So let's say Pippa was either forced to watch or she heard them, then she told Claire when she got home?  No, wait, what if Ricky really was there that night and he caught them, Claire came back and dealt with Pippa?" he asked.

"I don't think Claire's a killer but she has got a temper," Tess replied.  "She may have encouraged Lee to do something but that doesn't explain what happened to Lisa, does it?" she asked.  "With Ricky denying he was there that night, we still don't know who to believe."

"Well I believe Rose," Alec told her, rubbing his face.  "She's the only one who told us the truth about that night, it's just regrettable she never saw the face of the other man.  Hold on though, maybe she did?"

"Alec, stop it.  Don't have Rose perjure herself by saying she did see who else was there," Tess warned him.

"I was not intending to Tess, I would never put her through that.  She swears she saw Ricky plainly, coming out of their house earlier, before everything else happened.  We just can't prove it was him but we could trick him into admitting it."

"How are you going to do that?" Tess smiled, thinking he was getting desperate to have his new girlfriend believed.

"Have her describe him, to a police sketch artist.  She saw him plainly that Saturday morning Tess, she just wasn't introduced to him.  The defence are claiming it could have been any couple in the street standing outside the Gillespie house waiting for a cab but what if we were to go around and ask who called a cab that morning?"

Tess let out a laugh.

"Really Alec, how many people are going to remember that, months ago?" she scoffed.

"Then call the cab companies in the town, see who made bookings from the estate that morning, then find the driver and show him a photo.  If someone was already waiting outside, the driver is more likely to remember them.  While you're at it, find out which hotel they stayed at, see if any cab companies in the area picked Ricky up that night and brought him here," Alec suggested.

"Why didn't you think of that earlier?" Tess chided him.

"Because we thought we had enough with first the evidence, then Rose's testimony and the chief now won't let us go after Ricky.  Also, the Ashworth's are not giving him up, if he was involved and I want to know why.  They all have to have something on each other but I can't understand why they aren't giving him up."

"I'll get someone onto the cab companies, here and where they stayed that night.  Did we have a name of those who got married?" Tess asked.

"Look it up in your notes Tess, it's probably there with the original information you got from Rose," he replied sarcastically.

"Stop going on about it Alec, you found out about her in the end, then you put her whole testimony in jeopardy by sleeping with her," Tess scoffed.

"I am not just sleeping with her Tess, she's my girlfriend, there's a difference.  Don't bring our personal lives into this, you won't win.  The chief was more than mad at you for meeting Dave that night when the evidence was stolen, remember?" he asked.  "Did you ask Claire again about that night?"

"She still insists she was watching the TV with the volume turned up, to annoy Cate.  She said Cate had a go at her earlier, that means Cate believes Claire was involved that night, that's something I suppose?" Tess asked.

"Just because the TV was loud does not mean to say Claire was in, does it?" he asked.

"How did she even know?" Tess wondered.

"The car dealer could have called to ask why the police were interested in it?" Alec suggested.  "If he'd paid good money for it, he wasn't too happy about it being taken away to be searched properly.  The dealer wasn't far away, Claire could have got there easily."

"Maybe but how did she know I was going to stop off where I did?" Tess asked.

Alec thought that was easy.

"She called Ricky to meet her near the car dealers, then they followed you."

Tess stared at him.  He did have a point she supposed.

"So Claire and Ricky colluded to steal the one thing that could tie them to what happened to Pippa?" Tess wanted to know.  Why call Ricky though?" 

That was also what Alec wanted to know.

"I don't like this Tess," he admitted, forgetting he had a grudge against her for challenging his choice of girlfriends.  "The more we dig, the more questions there are.  Right, go back and see Cate, find out what she and Claire were arguing about that night your car got broken into."

"Alec, you really expect her to remember?" Tess laughed.

"If she was being annoyed, maybe?" he replied.  "Find out also if Ricky went off, it must be worth a try."

"You mean in the hotel?" Tess asked.

Alec rolled his eyes.  "Yes, he may have been showing off to someone, even flirting with the bridesmaids."

"Oh, hang on, I have the names of the bridesmaids, I got a list of the guests, most of them were totalled that night but maybe someone's remembered something since they were last asked?" Tess suggested.

"Then do it Tess, if we can convince the chief Ricky wasn't with Cate all that night, it gives us cause to question him again.  If a cab company got a booking from him, all well and good.  Concentrate on the women, see if Ricky approached any of them."

"Why didn't we ask them before?" Tess wanted to know.

"Because it did not seem important back then, we never had Rose's statement, did we?" he asked.

"That's right Alec, bring that up again why don't you?" Tess huffed, getting up.  "I made a mistake, how was I to know she'd become your girlfriend?"

"That's not the point Tess, all this could have been over with, Ricky Gillespie may not have had the time to think about how he was going to get out of being seen leaving his neighbour's house."

Tess left to organise finding out about the taxi companies in both areas and follow up the guest list, well the female guests, then she set off to see Cate again.

"What do you want Tess?" Cate asked when she answered the door with a glass of wine in her hand.

"I need to ask a couple of questions," Tess told her.  "The night Claire turned up the TV, what time was that?"

"No idea, it went on for long enough though," Cate replied, going to top up her glass.

"Could you tell what was on the TV?" Tess asked.

"Shooting, shouting, loud crashes.  It could have been a film I suppose, it was about ninety minutes or so.  The cow finally turned it down, I assumed she thought she'd suitably annoyed me," Cate replied.

"Did anything happen between the two of you to make her turn up the TV?" Tess wondered.

"No, except for me accusing her of helping her husband kill my little girl," Cate admitted.  "It had been going on every time I saw her, I know it was them, I just lost my temper that morning.  Your ex husband had been asking questions again."

"That same day?" Tess asked, wondering why he'd not mentioned it.

"No, a few days before but that morning was the first time I saw her, I just snapped," Cate replied.

"I see then.  Cate, I know you've been asked before but did Ricky leave the reception at all that night at the hotel?" Tess dared ask.

"I couldn't watch him every minute Tess, he might have been outside talking to someone at some point but he wasn't away that long, not long enough to come back as you accused him of," Cate replied.

Tess wondered if she'd lost track of the time, Ricky had gone back, visited his neighbours and sneaked into their hotel room.  If Rose had got the time right though, it would have been early for turning in at a wedding reception.  No, he had to have been missing longer than Cate recalled, if Rose had indeed seen Ricky.

"Thanks for your time Cate, I'll see myself out," Tess told her.  "Oh, one more thing.  The morning of the wedding, how did you get there, did you drive?"

"No, we got a cab, I didn't want Ricky being tempted to wander off or get caught the next morning driving with a hangover," Cate replied.

"You went out, when it arrived?" Tess thought she'd ask.

"No, we went outside to wait, Pippa and Lisa were in the kitchen.  Is that important Tess?"

Now, maybe Rose had seen Ricky that night, since she'd been right about it being him coming out that morning but why hadn't Alec looked into this?

She went back to the station, getting messages that the taxi companies had been contacted and it was confirmed a driver remembered picking up Cate and Ricky that Saturday morning but nothing from the hotel back to the Gillespie house until the following morning.  That could mean he'd flagged a taxi down outside the hotel or got in one that was dropping someone there.  She called the DC who had been dealing with it and told her to ring the taxi companies back and to ask the drivers if they'd taken someone out of the area that night.

Alec was waiting for Tess to return, hopefully with some answers.

"You were right Alec," Tess had to admit as she took a seat opposite.

Why were they getting on better now than when they were married, Alec wondered.  She wasn't even that bothered he was bringing Rose Tyler to town, to live with him, not that he'd told her yet.  After Tess had relayed what Cate had confirmed and that there was a distinct possibility Ricky had been around that night, Alec went to see the chief even though it was late afternoon and Tess had not heard back about any cab drivers remembering a trip to the estate just outside the town.

"You said you needed a reason to bring him in," Alec reminded the chief.

"Well call him and get him in tomorrow to answer a few questions.  When can you get Rose Tyler here to formally identify him?" the chief asked.

"Well, about that.  I'm bringing her down here, I'm worried that if Claire starts to change her mind and tells us everything that happened inside the house that night, she'll realise someone other than her neighbour already knew.  There are no guarantees the defence won't wear the judge down and get Rose's name revealed," Alec told him.

"Is it wise to bring her down so soon?" the chief asked.

"Well I was told the pre-trial would be held soon so yes, she may as well already be here," Alec replied.

"Well if she's staying with you, be very careful," the chief warned him.  "Does Tess know?"

"She does now," Alec had to admit.  "The prosecution know, about my plans to bring Rose here.  She'd already given her statement before we got involved."

"Yes, I already know that," the chief replied.  "You had better not do anything to jeopardise her testimony." 

"I've already been warned.  Say if when Rose arrives, we get Ricky back in for a line-up, get her to identify him rather than relying on photos?" Alec suggested.  "I'm bringing her back with me after the new year.  Hopefully, she will identify him and he can be charged, though it may be too late to include him in the court proceedings."

The chief could only agree.  Now he had to call Rose later and tell her the good news and the bad news, the good news being Ricky may be questioned after all and that he'd told Tess about them but the bad news was that there was only a few weeks before she'd have to appear in court and the defence may question the nature of their relationship.  She wouldn't be happy about that, he was certain.

He called Rose when he got back, Rose though was still on the bus home.

"You're early," Rose told him when she answered.

"Sorry love, I was anxious to talk to you.  Do you want me to call back?" he asked.

"Depends what ya want to talk about?" she teased him.

"This is serious love.  I was given a date, for the pre-trial and the chief has given the go ahead for bringing Ricky Gillespie back for questioning," he replied.

"Wow, how did ya manage that?" Rose asked, trying to stay calm.

"You can thank Tess, well partly.  She had people digging further into taxi records from that day, unfortunately for him, a driver remembered picking him and Cate up outside their house but we are still waiting to hear back if anyone took him back home that night.  If he just stopped a cab outside the hotel, there won't be a record of it, only the general area so it may take longer.  There is just one thing though," he added.

"Go on then," Rose told him, hoping it wasn't anything bad.

"Well love, it means it was him you saw that morning and now, the prosecution have to believe it was him you saw coming out of the Ashworth's house later that night.  I asked him to come for an interview in the morning, then when you get down here, you will have to identify him."

"Wow, we're finally getting somewhere?" Rose asked, after she'd not originally been believed by Tess.

"Yes love, we are.  Let's just hope our relationship won't be called into question but I doubt it will be now.  We just have to find the driver who took him there that night.  Then there's the question of how he got back and if it was him driving that van.  Rose, are you sure you did not get a better view of the van's registration number?" he asked hopefully.

The bus was just reaching her stop.

"No, I couldn't see it Alec, only what I told you, then I'd got confused.  Do ya think he did it on purpose?" she asked, getting off the bus.

Alec thought about it.  "Maybe you are right?  Yes, if he suspected your friend opposite had a crush on Lee Ashworth?  If he saw her flirting with Lee, maybe he thought she may go visit or be watching for him, especially since Claire was actually out until around 10pm.  Rose, you are brilliant, remind me to thank you when I come and get you in a few days time."

Rose had reached her block of flats.

"Well it stands to reason if he knew about Shareen's crush on Lee," Rose replied opening the door.  "Alec, do ya think Lisa told her uncle that Shareen had someone staying with her?"

"No, from what I could gather, she did not get on well with either Cate or Ricky though Cate thought otherwise.  The reason she won't move is in case Lisa comes back but I doubt that is where she will go," Alec replied.

"Alec, I hate to ask but do ya really think Lisa is still alive?" Rose asked.

"I would like to think so love but now, after all these months?  She would have turned up when she heard about Pippa, they were very close and she loved Pippa like a sister, not a cousin.  Cate told Tess when they were together, they were inseparable and Lisa paid more attention to her younger cousin than to Lee most of the time.  I think Cate was jealous Lee paid more attention to Lisa.  I don't like where this is going love."

"Sounds kinda complicated and it all went wrong?" Rose asked, reaching her floor.  "Alec, do ya think those 'parties' were, you know?" she giggled, arriving at her door.

"I know what you mean love, who knows?  I will get to the truth, when Ricky Gillespie arrives tomorrow because this time, it will be a formal interview and I will place him under caution."

"Good.  I have to go now Alec, I just got home, I'll call ya later," Rose told him, seeing her mother in the kitchen.  "We are still staying here when you come to get me?"

"Ah, about that love.  Maybe I should try to get a hotel?" he asked.

"Scared of meeting my mum?" Rose laughed as she went into the living room.

"No, not at all," he lied.  "I was just thinking about staying out in the city."

"We can go local, or just stay in, it makes no difference to me," she assured him.

Rose ended the call and went to get her tea.

"What were you planning when you came in?" her mother asked.

"Alec wants to stay in the centre to celebrate the new year," Rose replied.

"Did ya get tickets then?" Jackie wanted to know.

"Not yet but I expect they'll all be gone but it's too late to apply online and I've not got time to find where to go pick them up."

"Well, you'll have to come with us then?" her mother suggested.

That was what Rose was afraid of – her mother and her rowdy friends.

The next morning, Rose had agreed to work her day off so she could leave on new years eve and Donna caught her.

"You could have taken the day off you know?" she asked Rose.

Rose thought now she tells me.  Alec though was keen to get to work since he had a few questions for Ricky Gillespie and this time, he wanted some real answers.  The first one was why had he first admitted he'd gone back that night then changed his mind?  What was he hiding?  Maybe he'd tried it on with one of the bridemaids or a female guest and been turned down and decided to go see what Lisa was up to?

Now though, he was worried Lisa had told her uncle the name of Shareen's friend – Rose.  He was informed Ricky had arrived so he got up and motioned to Tess to join him.

"Why pick me?" Tess asked as they went to the interview room.

"Because you were the one who did not believe Rose that night," Alec replied.

"Are you going to keep going on about that?" Tess asked him as they approached the room.

Ricky was making a fuss as he was waiting for them to arrive.  Jenkins had been asked by Alec to keep an eye on him.

"What's this all about?" Ricky had asked him.

"You'll have to wait for DI Hardy, I can't tell you," Jenkins replied.

"This is ridiculous, why does he want to see me now you have my daughter's killers locked up?" Ricky wanted to know.

Jenkins knew he'd been told who they had arrested and if not, Ricky would know through the absence of the next door neighbours anyway, especially when the rent wasn't being paid.

Tess and Alec were talking outside, the uniformed officer being dismissed by Alec after being told to come back when Jenkins called him.

"Let me take the lead," Tess offered.

"Why, to make up for the investigation almost drying up?" Alec asked, raising his eyebrows.  "Rose is the only reason this is still going ahead Tess, or had you forgotten?"

"Well don't screw it up by bringing your girlfriend to live with you," Tess reminded him.

Alec just ignored her and opened the door, seeing Ricky sprawled out on the chair and looking like he wasn't bothered.  He knew the irritating man would soon change his tune.

"You can go now Jenkins, get someone posted outside," Alec told him.  "Have you read him his rights?"

"Yes Sir, just as you asked," Jenkins replied.

"Right.  Ricky Gillespie, you are here under caution due to the fact new evidence has come to light that on the night your daughter was killed, you were identified as returning from the wedding you were attending and observed leaving their house when you claim you never left the hotel.  So, what have you got to say for yourself?" Alec asked him

Ricky sat up, a grin on his face.

"You're making it up Hardy," Ricky scoffed.  "How have you suddenly got new evidence?  I bet it was that little bitch opposite who was always flirting with Ashworth?  It was her, I knew it, you found her?"

Alec couldn't say otherwise without putting Rose in danger once she came to the town.

"It's the same witness who saw what the Ashworth's were doing that night, we can't reveal any names.  Are you still denying you went back, when at first you said you had?" Alec asked him.

"If Cate found out I'd left the wedding reception, she'd think I was off with one of the bridesmaids," Ricky admitted.

"So, what's it going to be hmm?" Alec asked him.

Ricky folded his arms.  "I want to talk to my solicitor."

Chapter 23
Alec motioned for Tess to leave.

"Call his solicitor, in the meantime, he stays here," Alec told Tess.  "Ricky Gillespie, I am further cautioning you for obstructing a police enquiry.  You lied about that night, you were seen leaving the Ashworth's house when you claim you were miles away at a wedding.  We have evidence from the cab companies you used that night and a witness can identify you."

"Think you're clever Hardy?" Ricky asked him.  "I knew that little bitch across the street would have to be nosy that night.  Have you found her then?  She was quick enough to leave after Lisa went missing.  I bet anything she's hiding Lisa," Ricky told him.  "She'll have been looking for Ashworth, Claire was just encouraging her and Lisa."

"Was she now?" Alec asked, raising his eyebrows.  

He half suspected Claire was grooming all three of them for Lee.  Maybe Rose's friend got scared but why did all of them leave?  This Ken must have seen something when he looked out earlier that night then?  Why else would he sell up and move away, leaving no forwarding address?

"Hardy, Lisa mentioned something to me that morning, about her friend," Ricky called after him as Alec was leaving.

"What was that then?" Alec turned back to ask, hoping it wasn't about Rose.

"She said her friend was excited about seeing some woman who was visiting, she never said when.  Why are you asking me these questions now?" Ricky asked.

"I told you, new evidence has come to light that you lied about being there that night.  You said you had a van, similar to the one that was seen there that night.  I want a list of all those who use it," Alec replied.

Ricky laughed.  "So, your witness saw a van?  It doesn't prove it was mine.  A few of my employees know Ashworth, they could have been helping him move something."

"At that time of night?" Tess asked him, waiting for Ricky's solicitor's number.

"It's likely he was dumping something on the spare ground, well before they started building on it anyway," Ricky replied.

Alec knew it was too late now, contractors had come in and cleared the area to start building more houses and if anything suspicious had been found, he would have heard about it.  Now though, since Rose mentioned Lisa may not still be alive, he was thinking more and more that it was her wrapped up in that sheet but what did the man opposite see before it all kicked off?

He left Tess to organise Ricky's solicitor and went to see the chief.

"So, he's still denying anything?" the chief asked him.  "I could have told you he wouldn't change his story.  What about his van though?"

"He claims anyone could have used it though no-one is admitting they did," Alec replied, remembering all the denials uniformed officers had got from Ricky's employees.  "I want to be wrong but I have an awful feeling I know what they were taking out of Ashworth's house that night."

"So do I Alec but it's looking more and more likely they were disposing of poor Lisa that night.  What about the man opposite?  You said he went outside when something was going on.  What exactly did he tell your witness?" the chief asked him.

"It was someone called Gary Thorpe, he's also disappeared since he was first interviewed but at that time, Rose hadn't been contacted after her initial call to Tess."

"Yes, I know and I bet you never for one minute stopped reminding her of her error," the chief smiled.  "Get someone onto finding this Gary Thorpe, he has to be somewhere.  Find out where he used to work, he could hold some valuable information.  Maybe he was stalking Lisa and Ashworth got jealous?" he suggested.

Alec wondered if he was right.  "Well I would not be surprised after what Ricky Gillespie just told me.  He asked for his solicitor, then I have a few more questions for him."

Alec went off to wait until Ricky had finished, taking the time to send a message to Rose, who was counting the hours until Alec was coming up to take her back with him.

"So, whatcha leaving for then?" one of the girls asked her on the way to lunch.

"How did ya know I was leaving?" Rose wanted to know.

"Sheila, in the office saw you talking with Donna and she was asked to process your holiday pay, less the few days you're leaving early.  Is it that boyfriend of yours?"

"I'm moving, that's all.  Alec doesn't live in London," Rose replied, not willing to say any more.

Rose went to get her phone out of her locker to see if Alec had been trying to call her.  She'd just sat down when he called, having got nowhere fast with Ricky again.  Ricky had been advised to admit he did visit the Ashworth's that night but he'd gone back to his original story of checking on the girls and he'd not gone back later but Alec knew the man was still lying.

"Hi Alec," Rose greeted him as she waited for Donna to arrive.

"Rose, glad I caught you.  I have something to ask you.  That night, that Ken who your friend was living with, did he say anything else, about what the disturbance was?"

"No, just what I told you Alec," Rose replied, wishing she'd found out more.  "He didn't seem to want to say anything else.  At first he said the bloke had fallen down drunk or something or someone had chased him and he'd fallen in someone's bushes.  Is it important?" she asked as she waved to Donna.

"Yes, it could be love.  We think he might have got into an argument with Lee Ashworth, over Lisa.  Did your friend mention if Lisa had been out with Gary Thorpe?" Alec asked her.

"So that's his name?  Ken only said Gary, have you mentioned it to me before?" Rose asked as Donna sat down.

"I may have done love.  If he was watching the Gillespie house, maybe Lisa and Pippa went next door to get help from Ashworth, if Lisa was worried about Pippa.  Maybe Ashworth then went out and they got into a fight and that's what Ken saw?  Maybe he saw Ashworth going back inside and never said anything?  I don't like this love, we thought we had a clear picture from that night, now it seems we missed a key part of it."

"I thought ya said that it was going to court soon?" Rose asked, trying to keep her voice down.  

"Yes, it is, now we'll have to either delay or treat this separately.  Now I have to go back to the prosecution and admit Gillespie is giving us the run-around, he's admitted what he said before but it has to be more than that.  We just can't prove it though I did learn something," Alec replied.  "Cate confirmed she didn't see her husband all that night.  It would have taken him an hour or so to get back home then back to the hotel.  She could have thought he'd got one of the female guests to go back to their room with him, she doesn't seem bothered."

"Wow, sounds like both couples are a bit strange in that department," Rose replied, getting a stare from Donna.

"We'll talk later love.  Just one more day, then I'll come and get you.  I'll leave here early and meet you at the store, I can pay the charges for once or do you still want to go to a hotel?" he asked.

"No, it'll cost too much Alec, unless we go to one near where I live?  The pub mum goes to does rooms, we could ask there, if ya want?  Then we can have a few drinks without worrying or my mum going on about us sharing."

"Well ask then love, I would prefer not to stay at your mother's," Alec admitted.  "I will talk to you later love."

Rose said goodbye and saw Donna looking at her.

"Is he afraid to meet your mother?" Donna laughed.

"He's right though, I mean he's never met her yet I'm asking a lot of him by expecting him to stay."

"Well, all blokes have to meet their girlfriend's mothers sooner or later," Donna replied.

"Yeah, I know that but maybe not both at the same time, meeting her then going to my bedroom with me," Rose laughed.

Donna burst out laughing, making everyone look.

When Alec had ended his call to Rose, he had to contact Ms Knight again.  She wasn't very pleased.

"Why was all this not done before?" she asked Alec.

"Blame Ricky Gillespie for it.  Now he's admitted he was there but he's saying nothing else.  We are also now looking into this Gary Thorpe and the man Rose Tyler says was her friend's mother's boyfriend.  We think they may know what went on before Rose saw through the bedroom window."

"So you have no idea where either of them are?" Ms Knight asked him.  "What am I supposed to do with that?  I think I should ask for a postponement until you get this sorted, detective inspector and neither the judge or the defence will be happy when I say some more evidence has come to light that Ricky Gillespie did go back that night." 

"Well, both of them being missing is not helping and Ricky Gillespie is still hiding something.  Claire Ashworth is not saying anything about when she got home, so her husband has something on her and she on him.  What I can't understand is why they won't say anything, all three of them are as guilty as hell, they were all involved in whatever happened.  At least we have proof Ricky went back that night, from the taxi company," Alec told her.

Tess had caught him on his way back to his office to say a taxi firm had confirmed after asking its drivers that they took someone back to the estate that night.  Alec had asked her to keep on finding out who took him back and what time.  He doubted the man would have driven the van back to the hotel, what with drinking at the wedding and Cate asking how he'd got the van.

Now though, he had serious doubts Claire had been at home when Tess's car had got broken into, it had to be her that stole the evidence back, they just had to find it.

"Just one more thing, DI Hardy," Ms Knight asked him.  "So you have at least two more witnesses whom can't be found as to what happened earlier that evening?"

Alec thought he'd already said that.

"Yes, at least we have one surname but when someone went to the estate agency about who sold the house opposite, we were told it was done through a law firm so the man obviously was either worried or just plain did not want to be found and questioned over that night," Alec replied. 

"Well that could be the case but what about Miss Tyler's friend?  Maybe the man was worried for her, with her being Lisa's friend?  I don't like any of this any more than you do," Ms Knight admitted.  "I'm going to ask for the case to be postponed, I have no choice now but the defence may now press for Miss Tyler's name to be released."

"That cannot be allowed, we still need her to prove this case," Alec reminded her.

"I'll do all I can, I assure you but this now is not helping if at least two others witnessed some of the events.  The defence will claim since they've both disappeared and Miss Tyler is keeping out of the way that their clients should be out on police bail."

"Well that cannot happen either, it would give them both the chance to find out who saw them, though if I'm right and Ashworth did pick a fight outside, give him the chance to go looking for Gary Thorpe and finishing what was started.  We now believe what happened earlier was something to do with Lisa," Alec told her.

"I see.  This is getting more complicated by the hour.  Leave it with me, I'll see what I can do but warn Miss Tyler, especially if she's coming to live with you and just pray the Ashworth's won't get released, we still have plenty to hold them on," Ms Knight replied.

Did they though, Alec wondered as he ended the call.  He sat back in his chair, wondering how Rose was going to react when he talked to her later.  During her afternoon break, Rose sent him the name of the pub her mother was a regular at and asked if he wanted to book a room there, if there were any free that night.  He looked up the place and got the phone number and decided he'd call when he got home.

Just another full day, then he'd wrap things up early on new year's eve and make his way to London, programming the satnav to avoid as many road charges as possible to get to the store where Rose worked.  It would be a miracle if he avoided the charges altogether but Rose was worth it.

He was thankful they'd be able to forget about the case the few days he was away.  Nothing much was going on so he decided he'd leave a little earlier.  There were still officers finding out about Gary Thorpe and trying to get information out of the estate agency but they wouldn't release any details without a court order and even though he'd gone back to ask the chief to get one, it had been refused until they had more details Ken, whatever his name was, had actually seen something.

Then as he was leaving, he had an idea and stopped by the chief's office.

"Leaving early?" the chief asked him.

"I just had an idea, about the neighbours where Rose was staying that night.  She said she told her friend a few things, we could use her friend to confirm she described Claire and Lee Ashworth to Rose," Alec told him.

"You mean get a court order to find out who sold their house, on that?" the chief asked, wishing he could find an excuse to leave early.

"Well yes, if Rose asked her friend what Claire looked like, it would prove we have the right person," Alec replied.

"I thought we'd already established that?" the chief smiled.  "You don't think your girlfriend's testimony about it being Claire will stand up when she's questioned by the defence about it, do you?"

"They will try to suggest she was wrong, since she was never introduced to the Ashworths," Alec replied.  "Rose said in her statement that she asked her friend what Claire looked like, that could be confirmed."

"Alec, she also said her friend thought she'd drunk too much that night, was that in her statement?" the chief asked.

"It did not seem relevant, Rose claims she was clear-headed, I believe her," Alec replied.

"Well, you had best hope the defence don't find out," the chief warned him.

"Then I will get her mother to confirm Rose does not like drinking sherry," Alec declared.

He was trying to remember if that had been left in her statement, he'd have to check and if it wasn't, it was in Tess's notes and the defence may trick one of them up over it.  He left the station, wishing he could justify going to get Rose the following day but she had to work her notice out, well most of it anyway.  Once home, he was about to call the pub near where Rose lived when Daisy called.

"Are you going to see Rose?" she asked him when he'd greeted her.

"Yes, I am bringing her back with me.  Do you want to meet her properly?" he asked.

"I'm not sure Dad," Daisy admitted.  "Mum says allsorts about her."

"Yes, I bet she does but since your mother sees Dave, I fail to see what it is to her that I have admitted Rose is my girlfriend," he replied.  "You can meet her, next Saturday but she can't go out into town, for obvious reasons."

"You mean her being your star witness?" Daisy laughed.

"Yes, we don't want people seeing us together, if she gets recognised in court as being seen around when she's visited the police station."

"Then why are you so worried?  You must have been seen when you met her that night with me.  How many times did you take her back to the railway station?" Daisy asked him.

Then he realised.  The station guard had seen him twice saying goodbye to Rose and not wanting her to leave, other people must have seen the way they were together when she was getting on the train home.  Then there was the station café so yes, they had already been seen together and it was now too late to hope no-one would have noticed.

Now, he just prayed that the Ashworths wouldn't use the delay in the pre-trial to their advantage and get themselves released until another date could be arranged.  Both he and Rose had already put her in danger of being recognised the moment she stood in the witness box and press or no press being allowed in, it would be just their luck someone would start talking they'd seen her somewhere before.

Even by insisting he had a girlfriend, they would be very lucky if people believed they weren't involved with each other.  He'd said goodbye to Daisy, promising to call her on new year's day then called the pub and asked if they had a double room vacant on the 31st.  Rose had said to say he knew her mother, since Jackie had suggested it when they'd talked it over the night before.

Her mother had been asking if it was really necessary for Alec to stay over and not just come up the following day.

"Mum, it's already been agreed," Rose had told her mother the previous night after Alec had called her back.

"Well I'm not keen on him staying Rose," Jackie told her.  "Why not get a room at The Spinner's?" she suggested.  "Get him to call and say he knows me, if ya don't want him to say he's your boyfriend.  Why are you being so secretive about it then?"

"Mum, you know why," Rose had told her.  "We don't want anyone recognising me, if it does get on the news about the court case.  I don't want anyone pointing out, saying they saw us here together.  We'll only just get away with me being seen down there with him."

"Well maybe it's too late to worry about it?  I mean if he's been seeing you off on the train?" her mother asked.

Rose hadn't thought of that.  Once she stood in the witness box, the accused would see her as would everyone else and if people were talking amongst themselves, they could hear it being said she and Alec had been around town with each other.  Now she was worried more than ever and it may be too late.

So when Alec called her, she told him.

"Rose, we don't know that love," Alec tried to assure her.  "I got us a room at the pub, the landlady was a bit reluctant but when I mentioned your mother's name, she changed her mind.  She must be a good customer then?" he joked.

"You could say that," Rose replied.  "So, if the pre-trial's delayed, maybe I should stay here, if they get out on bail?"

"What?" Alec asked.  "Rose, I am bringing you back with me, you are safer here.  I would be very worried at you being so far away.  Your friend may have mentioned your name to her uncle though."

Rose went quiet.  "How do ya know?" she asked, almost whispering.

"I'm sorry love, Lisa mentioned to her uncle that your friend was looking forward to a visit from an old friend of hers but he never knew exactly when that was.  Now though, he knows he was seen leaving the Ashworth's house, it would not take much for him to put things together.  We had to let him go earlier, he admitted being there that night but he won't admit anything else.  Rose, I know it's been a while but have you any idea where your friend may have gone?"

Rose thought about it.  "Alec, maybe Shareen left them?  I mean, since it may have been Ken who wanted to keep her out of it?  She might be too scared to come forward now."

"Then what about her not believing you?" Alec asked her.

"I don't know Alec, it just wasn't like her to fall out.  I mean it was her idea for me to meet Claire and Lee, then because I don't tell her something, she gets mad at me.  Maybe she's come round but she doesn't think I'd forgive her?"

"You could be right love and we've got nowhere trying to find her.  Would she have gone to a relative or someone?"

"I didn't know her mum that well, you know what it's like when you're kids?  I can't believe she'd fall out with me just like that though.  She was up before me the next morning though, maybe Ken said something to her?" Rose suggested.

"I think he saw more than he admitted that night," Alec told her.  "If we find this Gary Thorpe, we might get to know what he was doing there and what the trouble was but I bet it's safe to say it was about Lisa and Lee warned him off.  Rose, count yourself very lucky your friend did not take you over there that night."

"Yeah, you said I might have got caught up with it all but when I saw Lee that night, I don't know what all the fuss was about, I mean Lisa and Shareen fancying him.  I think Cate must have done as well.  Alec, you said about Claire being mad about missing out that night, why she went home.  What if Shareen's disappeared because she knew they were grooming Lisa, then planned on grooming Pippa, when she was a bit older?"

Alec didn't like where this was going but if he didn't get the Ashworth's for killing Pippa, he'd get them on child abuse, even though Shareen Costello was older.  Maybe though, the Ashworth's were trying to get her involved as a spectator, not a victim?  He shuddered at the thought – Daisy was the same age, more or less as Pippa had been and if anyone went after her, being a police officer or not, whoever dared would pay for it.

Chapter 24
New Year's Eve morning, Rose packed an overnight bag, knowing she'd have to cram it in her locker at work but she didn't want to have to go home first.  She planned on going back the next morning, pack everything into Alec's car after they left the pub and make their way back to Sandbrook.

Alec had got to work early to finish off some paperwork and Tess took that as a sign he was sneaking off to meet Rose Tyler, as he'd just informed anyone who was listening he was away until the 2nd of January.  She went into his office as he was clearing his desk.

"You're really doing it, aren't you?" Tess asked him.

"What do you think Tess?  That I'm going to leave it to chance that Ricky Gillespie knows who stayed across the street that night?" he asked her, bundling loose items into the top drawer.  "Even if it wasn't Rose, I would still try to protect whoever it had been."

"Yes, as long as that person was female and blonde?" Tess wondered out loud.

"What is it with you?  You have no interest in me any more Tess, I waited until the divorce came through before bringing here down here," Alec defended himself.

"You only waited so as to keep her a secret," Tess replied.

"Can you blame me?  If you must know, I made the first move on her but she wouldn't do anything about it until she knew the divorce was going ahead.  At least we waited, unlike you."

"Blame it all on me then?  You never tried to stop me," Tess reminded him.

"I'm not getting into this with you Tess, it's done, we are both moving on.  I still have to hide her from the Gillespies and the Ashworths, if they get police bail after the hearing until we get a date for the trial.  Don't bother trying to keep Daisy away, she wants to meet Rose."

He'd almost said properly but as far as he knew, Daisy hadn't told her mother Rose had come down that time and she'd gone to the railway station with him.

"I have to get going, the traffic will be building up if I leave it any later," Alec told her, getting up.  "You're in charge for now and keep out of my office."

Tess just huffed as he indicated for her to leave.

"You think I want to be in charge where your girlfriend is the key witness?" Tess asked him sarcastically.

"Really?" Alec wanted to know.  "Ricky Gillespie is not off the hook yet, he's out on a technicality.  He admitted he went back that night but he's still claiming he's not the one Rose saw later.  He only admitted that part after the taxi rides tripped him up.  Let him stew over the holidays, he'll slip up sooner or later, now he knows we are onto him."

So Alec went to pick up a few things to take with him for their overnight stay and hoped the pub Rose had told him about wasn't rough and her mother wasn't friends with a load of rowdies or he'd have to convince Rose to get an early night.  He didn't though expect to be able to lure her away from the celebrations this side of midnight.

Rose's friends were watching her all morning as she tried to concentrate on serving customers rather than the coming evening.  They had a surprise for her though when the shop floor went quiet just after four.  They had got the manager to agree to let them spring a surprise on Rose after she had been sent on an errand to top up a display of scarves and when she came back, everyone was waiting for her, even from the other department on their floor.

"We're all going to miss you," the manager told Rose as one of the girls took the scarves from her and another one handed her a wrapped box.  "Donna told me the reason you're leaving, don't blame her though, I insisted since I noticed how you were apprehensive these last few weeks.  Good luck then, you can leave early if you want to say goodbye to Donna and anyone else."

"Thanks.  As for the present, I don't know what to say," Rose almost choked.  "I'm sorry I've been all mysterious for months on end but there is a reason and I wish I could tell ya all but I can't.  All I can say is that time I went to visit my friend, things happened and I got caught up in it all.  I had to tell Donna about it but I'm sorry you all thought I was hiding something."

"Aw, we forgive you," one of the girls told her.  "We know you're off to live with your bloke so we hope you know what you're doing?"

Everyone laughed, making Rose feel guilty about leaving.

"Yeah, I know exactly what I'm doing.  Last week was the first time we'd seen each other in months, so we decided I should move to where he lives," Rose told them.

"He looked a bit familiar though," someone spoke up.  "I'm sure I've seen him on TV a while back.  Is he in the police?"

Rose could hardly deny it, he'd be in the news again when the trial took place.

"Yeah but I can't tell ya anything else about him but we sort of got engaged," she admitted.

Now, as she was going to live with him, would he still think the same?

Leaving the box she'd been handed in the office, she went around the store saying goodbye to everyone then went to Donna's office.

"Thanks for all you've done Donna," Rose told her as they hugged.

"We'll all miss you Rose, well apart from me calling you into the office every time you went away," Donna grinned.  "Go on, get out of here.  Is he gonna be waiting for you?"

"Yeah so I'd best make my escape before everyone else leaves.  I'll miss you Donna."

"Don't make me all soppy," Donna insisted.

Rose went back to collect her leaving present and got to her locker, taking the overnight bag out and hoping Alec was early.  Alec had made a stop halfway to London as he didn't want to get there too early and risk getting a parking fine on top of the road charges he'd looked up that he had to pay.  He now wished he'd got the train but it was risky getting back the next day, knowing his luck, they'd use the day to make rail 'improvements'.

He got to the store and parked in a limited waiting area and hoped the traffic wardens had finished for the day.  He supposed he could get his police ID out and see if he could get away with it by saying he was collecting an eye-witness to a major police incident.

Rose put her coat on and was making her way to the staff exit as the store bell sounded that meant customers should make their purchases before it was too late.  She walked down the steps and could see what looked like Alec's car then as she neared the bottom of the steps, he was leaning back on it.

"Hello love, what have you got there?" he smiled as she let him open the car's back door.

"Leaving present.  I thought we could go straight to the pub?" she asked, putting her bag down and seeing Alec's.

"Sure, I put the address in the navigation system.  What time will your mother be there?" he asked, thinking he may as well get it over with and be introduced rather than wait until the woman had drunk a few of whatever it was she drank.

Rose leaned over and gave him a kiss.  "Come on before everyone gets down here or a traffic warden sees ya," she smiled, getting in beside him.

"Then let them, I will just get my ID out," he smiled back as he was about to reverse out of the parking spot that Rose knew was for deliveries only.

Alec drove them towards the estate then Rose told him to turn off for the pub and he found a place to park, since it was early.

"We will go check in first, do they serve food here?" Alec asked her as they got out.

"Yeah but they may stop serving early, I'm not usually here this early," Rose smiled, taking her overnight bag he offered.

After enquiring about food and being in luck, they chose from the menu then went up to their room.

"Sure you don't want me to go get some drinks and we will have a quiet night in?" Alec suggested, trying to tease her.

"You wish.  Anyone would think you were scared of meeting my mum.  Even Donna said so."

Hoping her dress hadn't creased too much, she hung it on the wardrobe handle and went to get ready to go downstairs.

Jackie had just be leaving the block of flats when she saw Mickey, who didn't know Rose wasn't coming back, since she'd not seen him since Rose announced their little plan.

"Where's Rose then?" Mickey called out as he caught up.  "Are you walking to the pub?"

"What's it look like Mickey?" Jackie replied, since no-one wanted to take a car with them except Jimbo, who she no longer relied on after he'd let them down once too often.  "I'm meeting her there, she was going straight from work."

"That's a bit early, she'll be on her own," Mickey replied.

"No, Alec's coming up, he was meeting her at work.  They're staying at the pub, Rose didn't want him staying at the flat," Jackie told him.

"Have I missed something?" a puzzled Mickey asked, Jackie patting him on the back.

"Tell me about it.  She's leaving Mickey, she's off down to live with Alec, in Sandbrook."

"What?  Why's she doing that?" Mickey wanted to know.

"Things are happening Mickey, I think Alec's worried about her, being all this way from him.  She came back after Christmas with some sort of ring."

"What?" Mickey repeated.  "She got engaged to him?"

"Yeah, I think it's a bit soon for that though, she's been having to hide it.  It's complicated so don't ask any more questions.  She's been very secretive about it.  Oh, she did mention something though.  She asked if I had any idea where Shareen may have gone.  I told her she knew more about her friend than I do, they were always as thick as thieves when they were kids."

"Why would she be asking you?" Mickey asked as they saw the pub in the distance.

Jackie just shrugged her shoulders.  How was she meant to keep up when Rose didn't talk to her any more but spent hours on the phone every night to Alec.  She was glad though Rose had decided it was better not to bring him back after the party, since she herself either went off or friends came back with them.

Rose had got out of the bathroom and Alec had taken the opportunity to show her how much he'd missed her the last few days.

"I missed you love.  I missed waking up with you."

"I missed you too Alec.  How did we manage, when I didn't see you for weeks?" Rose asked him, laying on his chest after she'd unbuttoned his shirt and she was just in her underwear.

"You may have coped better than I did," he smiled, kissing her forehead.

"I somehow doubt that," Rose replied, running a finger on him.  "Come on then, everyone will be arriving soon."

"You know everyone?" Alec asked, reluctant to let her go.

"Most of them.  Hopefully, none of them are interested in crimes that happen in other towns."

"Well maybe they will when it goes to trial?" Alec asked.  "Rose, I am worried about Ricky Gillespie now, if Lisa mentioned your name somehow."

"Alec, Shareen might not have told Lisa my name.  I wonder if it was him chasing Gary Thorpe that night?"

"Unless we find him, we won't know love.  I doubt it was Gillespie though, that was earlier, he would have been missing from the wedding reception longer than we thought.  He must have got there just before you started looking out of the window," Alec suggested.

"Maybe he caught that bloke spying on Lisa and chased him off before going into the Ashworth's house?"

"No love, I think it was Ashworth.  Lisa must have gone in there and told him she was worried about Pippa.  Maybe she agreed to have sex with him for getting rid of her stalker?" Alec wondered.

"Geez, this gets more complicated by the minute," Rose smiled as Alec zipped her dress up for her.

"I agree love, it seems we missed an awful lot of what happened before you saw what was going on.  I'm going to get my chief to agree to Gillespie standing in a line-up, since he escaped the last one.  If it was him you saw coming out of next door you should be able to identify him."

"Yeah but Alec, that's the only time I actually saw him that night," Rose insisted.  "I know now he was keeping his back turned later, he suspected Shareen was watching."

"Yes, we know love.  Maybe he was jealous of Lisa's friendship with her?  Maybe he thought she would tell his niece if she actually saw his face when he was helping Ashworth?"

"You mean Lisa had an argument with him?  Maybe he burst in while they were, you know?" Rose asked, hearing loud music from downstairs, meaning the DJ was making a start.

"We can only guess what went on love.  Now, are we going downstairs or staying here?" Alec smiled.

"You don't get out of meeting my mother and her rowdy friends as easily as that," Rose smiled back.

"That's what I'm worried about, all her rowdy friends," he joked.

It went better than they both expected.  Jackie was determined to give Alec the 'you'd better look after her' speech after a few drinks but he'd got away with it.  Rose though had to rescue him a few times when Jackie began asking awkward questions but as it approached midnight, Jackie forgot about interrogating her future son-in-law as to why they were hiding the fact they were engaged.

On the stroke of midnight, everyone began cheering and grabbing hold of each other, Rose having to drag Alec away from a few of the women by scowling at them though Alec found it amusing.  After being assured her mother would be seen home, they went to their room.

"Do you wish you were going back with her?" Alec asked as he locked the door.

"She'll be fine, a lot of the others live there.  Well, another year over then?" Rose asked, wishing they could just forget she was his star witness.

"Yes love but it did not turn out too badly.  I got my divorce and I met you, what more could I want?" he asked.

"Well let's hope we don't spend the best part of this year hiding or in court," Rose replied.

"That's what I am afraid of, with Ricky Gillespie.  It may be too late to get him in court at the same time as the Ashworths, well so the prosecution says.  It will make it drag on unless they feel like giving him up.  I had Tess try to get Claire to talk but she was still refusing.  Now, no more talking about the case eh?" he asked, unzipping her dress.

As they lay together afterwards, Alec made her a promise.

"Rose, I want you to know, once the trial is over and they are all locked up, I'm going to ask you to marry me properly."

"Yeah, I know ya will Alec.  It's just having to stay out of the way for now, in case I get recognised.  So, what's a pre-trial then?"

"I will tell you another time, I am not done with you yet," Alec replied, getting on top of her then diving under the duvet, making Rose giggle.

Jackie had got home, followed by Mickey and a few others, Mickey being miffed Rose had ignored him all night except introducing him to her new boyfriend.

"She's changed Jackie," Mickey told her as he followed her into the kitchen.

"Yeah. I know.  I thought she wasn't serious about him but she is Mickey.  She's scared though, of what could happen if they all get let off.  He'd better be able to protect her."

"Can't you convince her she's safer here?" Mickey asked.

"Lord knows I've tried Mickey but she ain't having any of it.  Now she can't even talk about what happened with me.  Mickey, will ya take me down there, when the trial starts?"

Mickey scratched his head.  "Why are you so worried?" he asked.

Jackie let out a laugh.  "She's more worried about not being able to find Shareen, after she was deserted but what if Shareen suddenly turns up and makes Rose out as she was really drunk that night and imagined most of it?"

"Well for her sake, I hope Shareen's got the sense to stay hidden," Mickey replied, being handed a mug of coffee as the others were raiding the drinks cabinet, Jackie having put the good stuff somewhere else for the night.

"So do I but Rose said the court might ask me a few questions, like if she really hated drinking sherry," Jackie told him.

"Crikey, I can answer that," Mickey replied.  "Yeah, I'll get a few days off if you want to go down there Jackie, Rose needs all the support she can get."

"Yeah, thanks Micks.  Well happy new year then," Jackie laughed, raising her mug of tea.

"Is she really gonna marry him?" Mickey asked.

"They seem serious even though she's been hiding it.  It can't have been easy for him either.  I'd still love to know how they managed to get tangled up with each other, her being a witness," Jackie replied.

After breakfast the next morning, Rose directed Alec to the block of flats, assuring him his car would be fine because everyone would have hangovers, which didn't amuse him that much.  They crossed the playground at the back, Rose skipping over the metal border, holding his hand as he went around it.  They stopped at the back of the block and they kissed.

"Now we're really in trouble, if my mum's sobered up from last night," Rose giggled as she put the code in.

That was what Alec was worried about and why he was glad her mother had been in company last night.  Now he had to face her and the thought of her being his mother-in-law when she was more or less the same age as he was seemed daunting.  He loved Rose, he knew he did after their second meeting and he'd watched her get on the train home.  If he'd already had the courage to get his divorce sooner, it wouldn't have taken him several attempts to convince her he was serious.

Now he hoped the ring he'd given her proved he was serious but as Rose led him on the balcony to her flat, he was worried her mother may try and talk her out of leaving.  Since Jackie still had a headache from the night before, Rose got no opposition when she'd got everything she needed to take with her.

"It was a pleasure to meet you Jackie," Alec told her since she'd told him last night to call her that.

"Promise me she'll be safe with you," Jackie asked him.

"I promise.  None of them have any idea who saw them that night but we believe they think it was Rose's friend.  If you hear from her, call me right away.  She may come looking for Rose at some point, since it's out of the news for the time being," Alec told her.

He knew though that was only the calm before the storm that would be the trial, especially if they got Claire or Lee to turn on Ricky Gillespie.  He wouldn't mind the trial being put back if it meant all three of them were found guilty but it all rested on Rose, the woman who had made him change.  If her friend came forward, she may unwittingly ruin Rose's testimony because if she was still mad at Rose, she may decide it was worth the risk letting the three suspects get let off to get back at her.

He just hoped while Shareen had been in hiding, she'd forgiven her friend for not sharing but if Rose had told her that night, he'd have two of them to protect.  If that had been the case, would he have fallen in love so quickly with Rose?  He helped Rose downstairs with her things after she gave her mother a hug and they were about to set off when Rose saw Mickey coming towards them.

"Hold on a second," Rose insisted as she opened the window.  "What do ya want Mickey?"

"To know you'll be safe down there, in the same town," Mickey replied.

"I can assure you Rose will be quite safe," Alec answered for her, wondering why everyone thought he couldn't take care of her.

"Rose, I promised your mum I'd take her down there, when the trial starts," Mickey told her.  "She figures then at least someone else is on your side."

"Thanks Mickey.  Bye then, keep an eye on her for me, yeah?" Rose asked.

"We have to go love," Alec reminded her, putting the car into the 'drive' position.

As Rose waved to Mickey, Alec put his hand on her leg.

"Don't worry love, I'll take care of you.  Now I don't have to worry about you being so far away.  I've been thinking though, you should be safe enough to go out, even in the town, without me of course."

"I don't want to go on my own Alec, what can they do if they find out about us?" Rose asked as they left the area.

"I did not want to say this Rose but if it is discovered we are involved, the defence could call your whole testimony into question," he replied, immediately regretting it.

"Great.  So I have to choose between you and locking up three child killers?" Rose asked.

"I'm sorry love but yes, that's the choice we have and I can't tell you what you should do about it."

Chapter 25
Alec could see now she was in a dilemma, even if her friend came forward and didn't claim Rose had been drinking that night, he knew she was on shaky ground.  In front of a judge to see if her testimony would hold may be easy enough but the defence finding the slightest thing and a jury listening as she got ripped to pieces and her having no choice but to stand there and take it or refuse to go ahead?

This was why he wanted her with him, not because he'd missed her so much over the last few months and being unable to find an excuse to bring her to the town but because the nearer the date, the more worried she would get.  A few hours later, Alec was pulling into the block of flats that was to become Rose's new home.  He helped her with her cases then said they should go to the local supermarket for groceries and anything else she needed.

Rose though wanted to know if she should change her address and if it was safe to register at the local health centre.

"Yes, it's safe," he tried to assure her as he pulled her into his shoulder.  "You don't have to hide Rose, it will be a while before people even know there's a trial about to take place and the chances of anyone local being there are very slim.  If we can keep the press out of the courtroom, you will be safe enough."

"Yeah, I hope so," she sighed into him.

"I know you're worried love," he assured her, kissing her forehead.  "If it helps, I will get the chief to step up the search for your friend."

"What good's that gonna do Alec?  What if she just says I drank as much as she did that night?"

"Then what about her mother or this mysterious Ken?  I know it's Tess's fault for not investigating at the time but surely your friend's mother knows how much you drank?  Tess should not have dismissed it as she did, she knows that.  I want you to come into the station with me tomorrow and have a meeting with my chief.  Will you do that?" he asked.

Rose nodded.  "Yeah, if ya think I should?"

"I think he should meet you.  You can ask him yourself about finding your friend but I also want to find out more about this Gary Thorpe, to find out where he disappeared to that night.  He could still hold a lot of clues as to who chased him off but my bet is it was Lee Ashworth.  Lee saw him as a rival, possibly.  Maybe Claire being out, he saw an opportunity of being alone with Lisa.  Maybe they got the younger girl to sleep and Lee saw the other man hanging around?"

"Yeah, Ken probably saw who was chasing him but thought since Lee was seeing him off, Ken just left him to it?  Maybe it had happened before?"

He kissed her forehead again.  "You are probably right love and I bet your friend would say the same.  What about the morning after though?  Was there anything going on when you were about to leave?"

"Not that I saw but I was getting ready to leave early, since the trains were all over the place.  I wasn't gonna leave until the afternoon.  I had to prove to Tess that I was there you know?" she asked him.

"In what way love?"

"That when I was leaving, a police car was up on the main road and the bus driver was at the junction, waiting to see where it was going.  How would I know that unless I was there?" Rose asked him.  "I wouldn't have asked Shareen would I?"

"I don't think you would have," Alec had to agree.  "Say you heard about it on the radio the next day, there would be no point in you asking your friend if any police cars were there, the street was covered with them.  Did you call your friend when you got home?"

"Yeah, I told ya, she didn't believe me," Rose replied.

"Never mind love, you will have told me all this before so leave it eh?"

The next morning, Rose got ready to go to the police station after they made breakfast together, just enjoying being around each other without fear of Rose leaving on a train later in the day.  Alec though wasn't so sure she still wouldn't leave at some stage if things got too much for her.

He didn't know what he could do to make it any easier on her though.  She had to face the court and eventually the accused who didn't know who she was but would do once she took the witness stand.  He still wished she could do it via video link though, to make it easier on her.  Maybe he should try the prosecution again?

Rose followed him into the police station, picking up a visitor's badge and went to wait in Alec's office while he saw the chief.

"I'm not sure it's a good idea having her here Alec," the chief reminded him.

"Well I do think it's a good idea, there will be a lot to go through soon enough.  What about Ricky Gillespie?" Alec asked, wanting to get back to Rose before Tess pounced on her the first chance she got.

"What about Ricky Gillespie?" the chief asked.  "You want him in a line-up?"

"Yes, I do want him in a line-up, since he got out of the last one," Alec replied.

"Then have someone call him and get him in tomorrow but he'll probably refuse," the chief told him.

"Not if he wants to clear his name," Alec disagreed.  "Not that he knows we are fairly certain he was involved somehow.  The most we can get him on is helping Lee Ashworth dispose of something, if Rose had seen him better later.  That's just it," Alec stated.  "Everything that went on that night was indoors, Rose only saw from the outside and apart from Pippa being carried out, it all seem innocent."

"I hardly think someone planning on illegally dumping something was innocent," the chief replied.  "Still, we're presuming an awful lot of her Alec and losing that pendant didn't help.  The defence knows by the way, I couldn't stop them."

Alec leaned forward.  "Great, that's all we need though I'm surprised it took them this long or did they know all along?"

"Don't ask me, ask your now ex wife Alec," the chief told him.  "Maybe Claire never mentioned it to her solicitor?"

"Why should she?" Alec asked him.  "Anyway, I'll go get Rose, she's nervous enough as it is.  We'll have to ask the prosecution if they told the defence our key piece of evidence was lost."

"Maybe they've managed to keep it quiet?" the chief hoped, looking forward to meeting the witness, who was now Alec's girlfriend and he hoped the defence hadn't already worked out the fact she was.

While Rose was waiting for Alec coming back, Tess hadn't been able to resist meeting her ex-husband's new girlfriend since she'd barely had anything to do with Rose the few other times Rose had visited the police station.

"So, you're here again then?" Tess mused as Rose turned when the door opened.

"Geez, I can see why you're a DS then?" Rose remarked.  "Lost any more evidence lately?"

Tess supposed she'd walked right into that one.  If she'd not lost the pendant, Alec would never have got involved with the blonde who was now going head to head in the catty remarks final of the century.

"Well you're only here because the evidence went missing, remember that," Tess replied.

"Yeah?  Well don't think I wouldn't have rung back after you totally blew me off at the time.  Do ya think I'd have stayed quiet if I'd seen it on TV that any trial was about to collapse?" Rose asked her.

Tess thought maybe she had a point.  Alec would have done more digging anyway and knowing him, he'd have found out sooner or later she had tucked Rose's initial phone statement away.

"So are you staying in the town?" Tess asked.

"I'm staying with Alec, we're not hiding, well not yet.  I just want you to know that there was nothing between us until I found out he was divorcing you," Rose told her.

"That's comforting," Tess replied.  "Why are you getting all this special treatment?"

"Huh?  The defence would love to get their grubby hands on me to find out what I know," Rose replied.  "Do ya think it's fun, having to sneak around?"

"I'm saying no such thing," Tess protested.

She turned around when she heard Alec behind her.

"I hope you've been apologising to Rose?" he asked Tess as Rose turned around.

"What do I have to apologise for?" Tess wanted to know.

"Maybe for not believing I had something to say?" Rose replied, Alec putting his hand on her shoulder, trying to resist kissing her in front of Tess and thinking it may be worth it to see her face as he did so.

"Leave it Rose, the chief will see you now.  Tess, I want Ricky Gillespie in for a line-up after lunch."

"He won't agree to it Alec," Tess reminded him.

"I don't care if he agrees or not, just get him in here.  He knows someone saw him that night," Alec replied, holding his hand out to help Rose up.

"Yes but you've nothing else on him Alec," Tess told him.

"That's what the chief and I were just discussing Tess, we know that already but it will cast doubt on the fact he claims he went back to the wedding reception after he claimed he went to check on the girls that night.  I also want to interview him again, I want to know if he actually saw them in the Ashworth's house that night and find out if anyone else had a key for their house."

"You're asking that now?" Tess wanted to know.

"Yes, Rose saw Claire being handed a key and she went into the Gillespie house so who gave her it?  Come on Tess, it could have only been Ricky with that van that night so why is he getting away with denying it?  Rose, are you certain that was what you saw when the van came back?"

"Yeah, whoever it was went in his pocket, handed something to Claire and she let herself in," Rose replied.

"Hang on," Tess interrupted.  "You never saw what it was?" she asked Rose.

"What else could it have been?  Unless Claire already had the key, what difference does it make?  She went in there and whoever else was there got in the van and drove off.  I never saw her come back out."

"There must be a gate between the two houses," Alec concluded, both women looking at him.

"Did anyone check at the time?" Tess asked him.

"It never seemed relevant at the time.  Call Cate Gillespie and ask her if they made a gate, maybe if they were friends it was a way for them to use both gardens when they were socialising or if they were watching Pippa for her.  If Claire went in there that night, she could have been checking on the girls but Rose saw Pippa being carried out so why did Claire go in there?"

"Alec, what if she was checking something?" Rose dared ask.

"Such as?" Alec asked her.  "You mean it was her just making sure no signs of the girls had been left?  Tess, you went in their house the next morning, what did Cate say to you while I was talking to her husband?"

"I'll have to get my notes," Tess confessed.

She went off to her desk, Rose sitting down again.

"Just when you thought this was sorted?" Rose managed to smile.  "That's where she buried my statement, in the back of an old notebook?"

"Sorry love but at least your statement wasn't the only one, she had notes about your friend as well and what they told her that morning," Alec replied.

"Well Ken won't have seen much, he was off to football or something.  Did anyone check?"

"Want to become a detective love?" Alec smiled.  "We made enquires, as far as I know, nothing came of it, maybe we asked in the wrong places?"

"Well Shareen said it was in the opposite direction to the town, that's why he couldn't take us to the train station.  Mind you, it was funny how Shareen never called me when she got back to say something was going on in the street," Rose replied.

"Yes, that does seem a little strange," Alec had to agree.  "I know how you women just love some gossip," he smiled.

"That's typical of men," Tess told him as she came back in with her old notebook.

"Rose was just saying her friend never called to tell her something had happened that morning.  If you saw something going on and your friend had just left, would you not want to tell them about it?" Alec asked her as Tess thumbed through to find the information.

"Maybe Rose's friend was giving her time to get home?" Tess suggested, seeing where she wanted.  "I interviewed all three of them, this Ken had just got back so he saw nothing, apart from he said he'd had to leave his car at the end of the street and he complained the officers weren't going to let him go home until he saw Shareen Costello's mother outside watching and she told the officer he lived there.  I spoke briefly to her, she said she'd known nothing until all the police showed up and Shareen herself had only just got back though she never said where she'd been."

"Well we know now she'd gone to the train station with Rose," Alec told her.  "So what did she say?"

"That she'd been into town and just got back.  Don't forget Alec, this was over an hour after the first officers were called out, we didn't arrive until later.  By that time, searches were being conducted for the two girls, we knew nothing else at that stage."

"Yes and while we were searching for two girls instead of just one, we were wasting time because Rose had already left the area," Alec replied.

"Well how were we to know?" Tess asked indignantly.

"Geez, were you two always like this?" an amused Rose asked.  "Tess, if ya had listened to me, you would have found Pippa three days earlier."

Alec scowled at her.  "Tess, maybe if you'd asked if anyone else had been there, we may have got Rose's name?" he asked Tess.

"Maybe, maybe not?  Shareen seemed very reluctant to say why she'd been out.  Maybe she thought she was just keeping Rose from being questioned?" Tess asked.

"Or maybe she was already jealous?" Alec suggested.  "She knew that Rose was at the window the night before, maybe she already knew Rose must have seen something?"

"Yeah," Rose agreed, feeling left out.  "She must have already known if something had happened, when I asked her those few things.  It's my fault she clammed up, I should have called her to watch."

"Rose, it would have made very little difference.  If you'd both seen something, Shareen already admitted she'd been drinking, any statement from you would have assumed the same of you," he assured her, glancing at Tess.

"Well I'm not the only one who would have dismissed it," Tess insisted.  "When I went back, I got a bit more out of Shareen but only how Rose had left her out while she was being nosy the night before."

"You never said that before," Alec looked at her.  "Give me that notebook Tess, what else haven't you told me?  All these months have gone by, Rose came forward so what are you hiding eh?"

"I'm not hiding anything Alec, it never seemed relevant at the time, it was just Shareen going on about her friend being there and she was annoyed Rose could have seen something but as soon as she said Rose had drunk as much as she'd done, I dismissed it."

"They would have sobered up by the next morning Tess and Rose wasn't drinking," Alec reminded her.

"We only knew that afterwards Alec.  When I took Rose's call, I took her friend's statement into account and made a decision," Tess replied.

Rose and Alec looked at her.

"Well we all know you made the wrong decision now, don't we?" Alec asked her.

"Geez, thanks for the vote of confidence Tess," Rose snapped.  "I knew you didn't believe me when you never called me back, even when the police were still asking for witnesses.  What would ya have done if Alec hadn't found out about me?" she asked Tess, who wasn't keen Rose was using her first name.

Tess was about to reply they may be still married but she doubted that, they were already on the verge before it had all kicked off, the investigation was just the icing on the cake and Rose Tyler was the topping.  They were interrupted by the chief calling Alec, wanting to know what the delay was.

"I want a copy of what's in your notebook Tess," Alec told her as Rose got up again.

He led Rose to the chief's office, stopping just outside.

"Ready for this?" he asked her.

"Yeah.  Alec, did you go for the divorce because of me?"

"What?  Is that what you think?" Alec asked her.

"Just tell me Alec 'cos that first time I came here and we were waiting for the train, you said something about it."

"Yes, I may have done but you were not the cause of it love, it was already on the cards," he tried to assure her.  "Now no more, you are staying here, no matter what happens in there or in the court."

"Good, 'cos I told Tess I wouldn't have gone with you until I knew you were getting divorced," Rose smiled.

"I'm glad to hear it though I apologise for trying to make you feel sorry for me on your first visit," he smiled back, knocking on the chief's door.

"It worked," Rose whispered as they were told to enter.

Alec squeezed her hand then let go as he allowed her in first.  After the introductions, the chief asked Rose how she felt about facing the court in a few days time.

"Not so keen but I need to get it over with," Rose replied honestly.

"Well DI Hardy will be with you when you have to appear.  I'm aware of your relationship and while I'm not entirely happy about it, I won't insist you break it off.  The hardest part will be the defence using that against you.  I'm sure the prosecution will do everything in their power for you to remain anonymous."

"I hope so," Rose replied.

"We were just talking with Tess, she has a few things she never disclosed before, we had words about it," Alec informed the chief.

"Anything relevant?" the chief wanted to know.

"Plenty, such as the delay in knowing about Rose and her friend who lived across the street," Alec admitted.  "She had no right to keep all that back, I should charge her with withholding evidence, I would not have expected her to be so low that she'd try to keep it quiet and use it to her advantage at a later stage," Alec replied.

"That's going a bit far Alec," the chief told him.

"Is it?  Really?" Alec asked, shifting in his seat and wanting to pace the floor, the chief looking like he was daring him to.  "Three or more witnesses got away because of her, are you on her side?"

"Calm down Alec, no, I'm not on her side.  Get everything she had and have it gone through," the chief replied.

"I'm already on it," Alec told him.  "She's a liability," he added.

"She was trying to be one up Alec, we know why she withheld it but maybe then, she purely forgot about it?" the chief suggested.

"How convenient then?" Alec asked him.  "Anyway, Rose can pick Ricky Gillespie out of a line-up as the person she saw leaving the Ashworth house that night when he claimed he was elsewhere."

"You're sure it was him Miss Tyler?" the chief asked her.  "His solicitor may want to question you."

"I thought I was protected?" Rose asked, not happy with the news.

"From the other defence," the chief replied.  "Don't worry, we'll try and get the prosecution to extend that, I'll get onto them myself but since it's hardly likely it will go to court, they may not go for it."

"What?" Rose asked.  "So they get to know who I am and then the other defence say if it's good enough for his defence, it's good enough for theirs?  

"We don't know that Rose," Alec tried to assure her.  "We don't even know what we can hold him on at this stage.  We may only have him on conspiracy or at most impeding a police enquiry."

"Yeah, 'cos he hid when he came back," Rose pointed out.  "He must have had a idea he was being watched then?"

"Maybe he'd begun to suspect?" Alec had to agree.  "It would explain a lot but it also makes it more likely we would pursue it to find out."

"Yes Alec, I agree," the chief told him.  "See what happens after the line-up then?  Just keep a low profile for now, Miss Tyler."

"I'll try but it won't be easy," Rose replied.

When they left, Alec took her to the staff canteen and got her a drink.

"So what good is there, getting me to identify Ricky Gillespie?" Rose asked.

"We have to hope he will trip himself up," Alec replied.  "There are still a lot of questions to be asked, about that weekend.  Maybe his wife would be willing to tell us what they were arguing about on the Saturday morning?"

Rose smiled.  "Yeah, then they will know they were being watched, that's a great help."

"Yes but at this stage they still think it was your friend," Alec pointed out.  "Until such times as it goes to court, they will still think the same."

"Meaning?" Rose asked, wondering what he was getting at.

"We could light a fire under him and see what happens," Alec replied.

The story will continue here - Blogger won't let me update this post, it's being stupid and temperamental 

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