By the late Cathy Lynn Goodwin
Set within Sun Hill, mid-1990s: Featuring Marion (Brownlow's secretary) with Mike & Polly, Dave & Tony, Debbie K.
[The Bill is (C) Thames-Carlton TV. This is a fan-written story and no infringement of character copyrights is intended.]
A rare morning off for Marion couldnt be considered leisure time. Far from it. She invariably had a list a mile long of things she needed to do. Today was no different. One item on her list, underlined, took her to the post office, but it was close to mid morning before she finally got around to concluding her business there.
Outside again, Marion looked up to scan the grey layer of clouds. You might have been able to pick your days, but you certainly couldnt pick the weather. Fortunately the drizzly rain had finally stopped. Even so, she found she was now burdened with an unwieldy umbrella. Really, she told herself, she needed to get herself one of those new fold-away types - another item for her list.
Preoccupied with these matters, Marion didnt pay much attention to the blue Granada at first. Not the car, it was the man standing much too nonchalantly beside the sedan on the footpath who drew her attention - something familiar about him. Not exactly sure of her interest, Marion ruefully glanced in his direction as she slowed to appear to view the nearby shoe shop window.
The man was solidly built standing 5 8". He was slightly stooped and balding from the back of the head, the remaining chestnut flecked with grey. Terry Hobbs. The name suddenly sprang to her mind like it had come up on her computer. The last task she had performed before finishing up the previous afternoon had been to update the float again. Hobbs, wanted for several thefts (minor crime, admittedly) had reportedly been seen in the Sun Hill area. The man looked to be eyeing the post office - sizing it up - casing the joint in the American vernacular. Her suspicions were aroused as she moved back from the window and her mind raced as to what she could do.
What were his intentions? Was he armed? Should she warn the staff? She was neither a police officer or a special constable, but as citizen this right brought certain responsibilities.
Hobbs didnt appear to be in any kind of hurry - at least not noticeably. Perhaps he was waiting for the customers inside to get their business out of the way and depart. He smoked heavily and glanced furtively into the building every few minutes. Was he gathering his nerve, she wondered?
As if deeply preoccupied with her own business, Marion walked by the man and as close to the car as possible. The drivers side window was down and the keys were in the ignition. No doubt if he could have, Hobbs wouldve left the motor running. He didnt seem to notice her, so she made her way to the stand of public telephones in the alcove outside the post office, and dialled Sun Hills number from memory.
"Sun Hill police, may I help you?" The reply was prompt.
"This is Marion, Mr Brownlows secretary," she explained.
"Yes, Marion, Debbie Keane here." Debbie's tone was familiar and friendly.
"WPC Keane, Im outside the Smith Street post office," Marion spoke urgently. "Ive just seen a man I believe to be Terry Hobbs. I suspect he intends to commit a robbery."
"Smith Street post office?"
"Yes, thats right."
"Ill have someone with you right away. Stay with me -" Debbie turned to Sgt Boyden. "Sarge, the Chief Supers secretary is on the line. She reports that Terry Hobbs may be intending to rob the post office in Smith Street."
Boyden raised his eyebrows at this news then clicked his tongue. "Thats about his style. All right, nearest unit."
Debbie checked the computer and then made contact. "Sierra Oscar 85, receiving over."
"Eight Five receiving." Mike Jarvis voice sounded slightly muffled.
"Report that Terry Hobbs is loitering with intent outside the Smith Street PO. Hobbs is wanted for robbery. The contact is Marion, Mr Brownlows secretary."
"Roger, will deal."
Polly Page eased the panda into the forecourt of a garage in order to turn the vehicle around.
"Whats Marion doing playing detective?" Mike Jarvis asked as his companion completed the turn.
Polly shook her head slightly and frowned. "Just as well as it happens," her voice dripped with irony, "CID havent been able to pick him up."
"Yeah, well, hes not first division, is he?" Mike agreed.
Not far away, in Devonport Street, Sierra One had also picked up the call and Dave Quinnan, together with his partner Tony Stamp, had no hesitation in volunteering themselves to act as back up.
Meanwhile, Debbie requested that Marion keep her appraised of Hobbs movements. For her part Marion was only too happy to have this slim contact with someone she knew. If truth be known she was just a little scared; her heart was not only pumping, it seemed to quiver every few seconds and her throat was tight. It was an unaccustomed feeling and it unsettled her.
As Marion kept watch, Hobbs finally tossed away his cigarette. Head down and in a purposeful stride, he pushed through the doors and disappeared inside. There was still no sign of the distinctive white of the police car as Marion reported what she had seen, and she became acutely aware that she was more than Johnnie-on-the-spot.
Marion was not only a secretary, she held the unofficial post of office manager, accustomed to making quick and sometimes complex decisions. She may not have worn a uniform but for all intents and purposes she spoke with the chief superintendents authority. The obvious course of action suddenly hit her and she left the phone without explaining; knowing full well WPC Keane would have protested strongly and try to warn her off. She was beside the car in more than four strides and opened the drivers door. With a trembling hand she reached in to take the keys, locked and closed the door. Her body had gone cold; she wasnt certain whether the trembling stemmed from fear or excitement. There seemed to be a curious mix of both. Standing well back, her hope was that she had done enough to delay him.
Swag in hand, Hobbs burst from the building and dashed to the car just as the incessant ringing of an alarm shattered the relative silence. He reached for the door handle only to find the door locked. He rattled the handle furiously and swore, then fumbled comically in his pockets for the keys. By now he was panicky, knowing damn well hed left them in the ignition.
Marion saw the panda turn into Smith Street from the junction and relief washed over her. However, Hobbs saw it too and Marion realised the man would bolt before the panda could reach them. She had to do something.
Polly caught sight of Marions tall figure near the phones and a man she presumed to be Hobbs banging on the roof of the blue sedan in a demonstration of frustrated violence. She wanted to pull over; there were too many parked cars.
"Get in as close to the curb as you can," Jarvis directed, "Im going to try and run him to ground. You cut him off." He released his seatbelt and tensed in preparation for making his move. They could see the blue light of Sierra One now at the extreme end of the street.
A gap appeared so abruptly that Polly had to fight the wheel to turn the thing and the panda slew into it like a rally car taking a corner. Mike threw the door open and launched his long frame from the vehicle in a surprising display of athleticism.
Marion turned. Mike Jarvis was in sight now, pounding down the footpath with giant strides. Hobbs saw him, too, and real panic flared in his eyes. From one direction the copper on foot, from the other a police car with two occupants, both car and man diverging rapidly. How did they know? Hed locked everyone in the managers office and the alarm had only just gone off. There was usually time enough to scarper!
Polly Page had driven the panda past them in an attempt to dissuade Hobbs from finding another escape route. Marion was between them, the only one close enough to do anything at all.
Her choices were clear; she could either do nothing and let him attempt an escape into the maze of alleys and yards she knew crisscrossed the rear of the shops behind Smith Street. Or, she could intervene, try and again delay him. This dilemma took only a fraction of a second in her mind.
His back was turned. Whatever her intentions, it had to be now. Marion became conscious of the umbrella in her left hand. She switched hands, taking the pointed end in a solid grip. It was a simple action - just reach out. The danger didnt occur to her at all. If it did, the need to take some kind of positive action over-rode it. Anywhere else, the simple effort to trip the man might have been funny. For Marion it was deadly serious and yet she was still surprised by how easy it worked.
Hobbs found his forward movement suddenly dramatically arrested; an ankle taken, snarled by what he didnt know. He fell flat on his face before he knew what happened.
Mike Jarvis pounced onto the mans arms back to cuff him. Polly Page had abandoned the panda in the street and was by Marions side in an instant, able to support and steady her. Marion was breathless and just a little shaky.
There was a lot of movement now. Initially startled onlookers had crowded in to watch proceedings. Dave Quinnan and Tony Stamp arrived to push their way through the crowd. Mike Jarvis handed his prisoner over in order to dust himself down. Pollys concern was directed elsewhere.
"Are you all right, Marion?"
"Yes, I think so."
Polly shook her head. "Taking a bit of a chance there, wouldnt you say?" she indicated Hobbs as he was assisted into the police car.
Mike Jarvis joined them. "Well, I dunno, youre full of surprises, you are. Neat collar that."
Marion tended to agree. Secretly she felt quite pleased with herself. Shed been working with the police for years; now she had a genuine appreciation of the problems they faced.
It hadnt dawned on her until she returned to the office to find the flowers on her desk. Mr Brownlow was away at Bramshill, so he couldnt have known; yet they were from him. The card read:
"With kindest regards and deep appreciation on Secretarys Day."
Marion suspected she would never have another one quite like it, more's the pity.
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