tagNovels and NovellasGame of Life Ch. 05-06

Game of Life Ch. 05-06


Copyright© 2008 by Denham Forrest, The Wanderer

Chapter 5: Lost and found

I was over in Denmark for a few days when Vivian disappeared, or I suppose I should say that it was noticed that she was missing. It wasn't a secret that she was going away on holiday, I believe Katie probably knew more details than most of us, because she had been at home the weekend before Vivian was due to go and had actually seen the tickets for the coach trip.

Kate didn't panic that her mother wasn't home when she called until a fortnight later, because she assumed that she'd made a mistake and her mother's trip must have been for longer than the seven days she thought she remembered Vivian saying she was going for.

But she did panic when she could not reach her mother the following weekend. I suppose she tried to call me but as I've just said, I was over in Demark with Semine. Yes Semine and my friends with benefits relationship was still going on, we'd see each other about once or sometimes twice a month, one of us flying over to the others country for a few days at a time.

Anyway when Katie couldn't get me on the telephone, she'd called her brother and Liz. Liz hadn't wanted to disturb my weekend away so she'd started the investigation; meeting Kate and later James at the house. Both Katie and James were away at college at the time.

Liz found some paperwork regarding Vivian's trip to Rome and called the tour operator for more information. They weren't particularly helpful, but informed Liz, that Vivian had apparently left the coach tour in Lido di Jeselo on the morning of the fourth day. She hadn't been on the list of passengers who travelled on down to Rome with the rest of the party. And she hadn't used any of the accommodation booked for her for the rest of the trip. The person Liz spoke to seemed to think that it wasn't a particularly unusual thing for someone to leave a tour halfway through.

Liz had pumped them for more information but was told that the only person who would possibly know why Vivian left the trip was the tour guide, but he/she was away on another coach tour and it would be difficult to get in touch with them at short notice. However Liz did manage to get the name of the company whose coach the tour company had used and Liz had set about tracking down the driver in case he knew anything.

When I arrived back at my flat late on the Sunday evening, I found a note from Liz and Katie pinned to my door briefly explaining that Vivian was missing, so I went straight to Vivian's house where I found Liz and the two children.

Although James was annoyed that his mother hadn't got in touch, he was of the opinion that Vivian had just gone off on her own somewhere, but Katie was convinced that something was terribly wrong. Katie, I think, was closer to her mother than anyone by that time and she tended to speak to her mother on the telephone several times a week, besides going home every other weekend when her studies allowed.

It was apparent to me that Liz was very worried and she pointed out to me that Vivian hadn't called in at the office to join us for lunch in several months. She had been getting curious about Vivian's unexplained absence for some weeks. I think I made some quip about Vivian getting on with her life and maybe finding another man, but all that brought me was a withering look from both girls. I don't recall that James made any comment.

Liz informed me that she had managed to get in touch with the owner of the coach that Vivian had been travelling on, but he — for the sake of the driver's privacy - wouldn't give Liz the driver's phone number. He hadn't ignored Liz's request for information though and must have called the driver himself, because he called Liz back just after I arrived and told her that the driver remembered Vivian. The coach's owner arranged to have the driver in his office at a prearranged time on the Monday so that Liz could speak to him personally.

There was very little else that could be done that evening so Liz went home and I bedded down for the night at Vivian's house with the children. But not before I got my ears chewed off from Semine for not calling her earlier when I had first arrived at my flat, as was usually my habit after coming back from Denmark. Semine, like Liz and Katie was also more perturbed about Vivian's apparent disappearance than either James or I was. Although James appeared to be getting more perturbed as the women expressed their worries.

To be perfectly honest, I very much suspected that Vivian, had just got lost on one of her history gigs. You've got to understand Vivian, show her a museum or an old building, like a church, castle or cathedral and well she'd be in her element for hours; time meant nothing to her. Personally — and having been to Venice once or twice on business myself — I figured she'd just got lost in the beauty and history of the place; I could imagine Vivian spending a month or two just visiting every nook and cranny.

Monday morning I was awoken early by Liz — god knows what time she returned — and Katie cooking breakfast. Then Liz insisted that I called the police and reported Vivian missing; they didn't seem drastically perturbed either, once I'd explained the situation, but asked me to call in the station to make the report official. Then after we had eaten all four of us set off for the coach operator's depot in Essex. Liz apparently having already called Marsha who acted as secretary to both of us and told her to handle or reschedule anything that came up that morning.

The driver was a nice guy and — as I suspected he would — he told us that Vivian had been fascinated by Venice. So much so that she was late back to the coach to return to Jeselo, having missed — like some of the other passengers - the waterbus she should have travelled back across the lagoon on and consequently missed the coach; it apparently isn't an unusual occurrence for passengers to miss the coach and return directly to the hotel under their own steam. Although the driver considered it bad manners for the passengers not to inform them or the courier what they were doing, because it delays the coaches departure unnecessarily.

A little group of them returned to the hotel later in the evening by taxi; some of them — including Vivian - apologising to everyone for keeping them unnecessarily hanging around at the waterbus stop.

The following morning when it was time for the coach to leave for Rome the driver had seen Vivian getting into a taxi — possibly the same one she'd returned to the hotel in the evening before — and the courier had told him she'd left the tour; but didn't enlighten him as to the reason why.

I got the impression that there was some ... animosity between the drivers' — there were two of them, but we only met one - and the courier and mentioned the fact. The company owner butted in at this point and said that that wasn't an unusual occurrence on the cheaper coach tours where the courier is picked up on the other side of the channel. The drivers - who meet the passengers' first, as they go around collecting them all from near their homes - generally have a pretty good rapport with them before the couriers get on the coach. The couriers then see the drivers as the enemy in the gratuity stakes at the end of the tour. There's also the problem of what the courier would like the drivers to do, and what the drivers are legally allowed to do as far as driving hours go as well.

The driver told us that he thought the courier was a complete tosser and rip off artist as far as couriers go. But didn't enlighten us on what kind of rip-off's he was pulling. From personal knowledge though I'm aware that he probably insisted on stopping at places where he would get a kickback or commission on any cash that the passengers spent. It's fairly standard procedure in the holiday industry.

Anyway as it turned out the driver had no real idea as to why Vivian had left the tour or where she had gone. But he did remember the name of a couple who had returned from Venice with her that evening, and as she eaten breakfast with them the following morning, they might have had some idea of her plans.

Liz was already calling the tour company again before he finished speaking to get their home phone number, when the coach operator told her not to bother; they would most likely refuse her request anyway. But then - after looking through his files - he produced a copy of the passenger list that the coach had been required to carry and which contained their details.

Liz was on a roll by then and she was soon speaking to the wife of the couple, who informed her that they'd run into Vivian as she was coming out of a small hotel and she'd told them she had decided to stay over in Venice for the rest of the week.

We thanked the coach operator and the driver for their help and headed back to my flat via my local police station. I thought that we'd kind-a solved the mystery, but both Katie and Liz pointed that a week isn't a fortnight and they were sure that Vivian should have got in touch with one of us by then. So the missing person report was made official.

There was really nothing more any of us could do, so the children stayed another day and then went back to their colleges. They couldn't afford to sit around waiting for news; they had their education to think about. Liz had gone back to the office on the Monday afternoon and I returned on the Tuesday after I'd dropped the children at their respective railway stations.

Nothing much else happened for the rest of the week. That's if you don't count plenty of phone calls between the children and Semine, and Liz and myself. Janice and Vivian's parents I discovered later were calling Liz regularly as well; it seemed as if every other call we got in the office was from someone enquiring if there was any news.

It was the following Monday before we heard from the police. The officer who called me back - after I'd been prompted to call him yet again — told me that the Italian police had traced the hotel in Venice that Vivian had stayed at. But after staying there for five days she'd left again. They'd tracked her to the railway station where she'd apparently cashed a couple of traveller's cheques, but they could not discover where she'd gone from there.

There had been some hearsay from the hotel where she'd mentioned the Eurostar and that suggested that she had been heading for Paris. But apparently she'd possibly mentioned Monaco and Nice as well. Apparently Vivian had paid for her train ticket in cash, and because of that fact and the time that had passed, they could not find out where she'd purchased a ticket too.

It was all I could do to stop James from dashing off to the south of France to look for his mother. James by then had — like myself — begun to get really worried as well. It was unlike Vivian not to let someone know where she was.

By the end of the third week it was becoming obvious that the British police had begun to take Vivian's disappearance a bit more seriously as well. I knew that when they turned up at my flat and requested details of my movements around the time she disappeared. An ex-husband it appears is a likely candidate for inclusion in the suspect list if anything untoward happens to his ex-wife. Even Semine got a visit from her local police to confirm that I was with her the weekend we reported Vivian missing. Oh and they didn't just take Semine's word for it either the Danish police questioned several people we saw that weekend.

It wasn't until the French newspapers picked the story up that Vivian turned up again, she was in a clinic somewhere in the middle of France. All the police could — or would - tell me, was that she was physically fine but somewhat confused. Confused was to turn out to be a massive understatement.

After a lot of telephone conferencing it was decided that Vivian's parents along with Janice would go down and bring her back to the UK. But as I said, there had been a little bit of understatement going on, or maybe the details got lost in translation. Anyway they did not return the following day with Vivian as I'd expected.

"Jim this is serious, Vivian's lost her memory and has no idea who she is. She didn't recognise any of us, not even mum or dad." Janice blurted down the phone line at me.

Janice - as you might expect - isn't one of my most favourite people in the world, and that telephone call was the first time I'd spoken to her in person in a few years by then. But the news she gave me pushed all the animosity I felt towards the woman aside.

"Why not; what happened to her?" I asked. Now that was a pretty stupid reply really, when you've had time to reflect on it; but it was the first thing that jumped into my brain at the time.

"No one knows, Vivian was found by some farmer wondering across his fields. She had no recollection of how she got there and had no idea who she was. She's lost her memory completely, Jim. The people at the clinic here actually thought she was Canadian; honestly Jim, Vivian's in a terrible state, she couldn't even recall her own name."

"But surely she must have got there somehow. Someone must know how she ended up wandering around in the middle of France."

"The middle of nowhere Jim, this place is about as far from civilisation as you can get in France. Strangers' stand out like a sore thumb around here, but the local police can find no one who saw her before the farmer found her in his field. They have no idea what happened to her; except..."

"Except what Janice?"

"Except they think she was attacked and robbed ... Possibly raped as well, but they can't be sure. The doctors and police over here think that she'd been wandering around for a couple of days until that farmer and his wife found her. God knows how they got it into their heads that she was Canadian, but it meant that they didn't do the obvious thing and get in touch with our police. Not that that would have done much good because you hadn't reported her missing at the time they found her."

"Oh Christ what's the prognosis, have you any idea?"

"Not really, we're in rural France here and there's a bit of a language problem; I never did do French at school. I gather that the doctors believe that Vivian's still in too much of an emotional condition for us to bring her back to the UK yet; well that's what I think they are trying to put across. Not surprising really Vivian has no idea who we are and she's only just got to feel secure with the French staff here. I never realised that my sister is almost fluent in French, did you know?"

"Well I knew that she could speak the language; we went over there a few times on holiday. But I didn't think that she was fluent."

"Neither did mum or dad, but she sounds pretty fluent to me. Jabbers away to the nurse two to the dozen. Jim, I don't think she believed us when we told her who she really is. I was wondering if Katie could come over; she's speaks French better that any of us and maybe James as well. I think the doctor said Vivian's mind needs prompting to remember things; surely she can't forget her own children."

"I'll speak to them and see if they can get away from their colleges for a few days."

"And, Jim, is there any chance you can come over? You were the main person in her life for such a long time."

"I don't think so, Janice, not at the moment; I'm caught up in something pretty important here. After what she did, I don't think it would be sending out the right kind of signals anyway."

I spoke to the children during the morning and they both expressed a wish to go out to France. After talking to Liz, she agreed — or rather suggested - that she take a couple of weeks holiday to drive the children over and act as my representative. Vivian had known her quite well and the two women had always got on okay. Honestly, I would have liked to have gone over myself; I was worried about Vivian. But, - call me a pessimist if you like - I still wasn't completely convinced that Vivian wasn't trying to pull some kind of a fast one.

You know, once your trust in someone has been broken, you can never be sure what kind of a game, they are playing.

Katie was really upset when she called me from France two days later. To find that your mother has no recollection of you at all and treats you with suspicion must have been quite a shock for the girl. James was a little less upset, being a little older, I think he'd had a little more insight into what to expect.

"Crikes Jim, its difficult to explain, Vivian appears to have really lost it. I've never seen anything like it in my life. You know that when they first found her, everyone assumed that she was French; it was only her accent that told them she wasn't. She really can't recall anything at all. Although she's apparently accepted who she is now; she still doesn't recognise anyone, but she appears to be accepting what she's being told." Liz told me when she came on the line.

Liz's knowledge of the French language was to prove a boon. Katie's French was good but she was young, and being upset about her mother's loss of memory and general condition, she was pretty emotional about everything.

Liz informed me that when she was found, Vivian had all the signs of having been beaten up; she still had some bruises on her face and body when Liz got to see her. But the police had changed their minds on what had actually happened and were now under the impression that Vivian had been in some sort of an accident. The latest suggestion was that she might have fallen or possibly even been pushed from a train. A suggestion, that I thought unlikely but not impossible when I first heard it.

But I was to learn later, that it had happened several times in the past. And the French police eventually appeared to settle on the scenario that Vivian had accidentally fallen from a Paris bound express train when by lucky chance it hadn't been travelling very fast. Their argument was that if someone had been trying to kill Vivian, they would have pushed her out when the train was travelling very quickly and there'd have been no chance of her survival.

So their assumption was, that she'd fallen from a relatively slow moving train and by lucky chance landed in some bushes or something similar beside the track. It was suggested that the bushes cushioned her landing and were also responsible for her torn clothes, which had first led them to believe that she'd been sexually assaulted. It was also suggested that she'd been knocked out for a while and that was the reason that she was still suffering from concussion when found several days later. The doctors as they expected they would, had found signs that she'd received a significant blow to the head, besides the bruises all over her body, which it was suggested were as to be expected after such a fall. The blow to her head they also suggested was responsible for her loss of memory. Later back in the UK, some suggestion of a hairline skull fracture was spotted by the doctors at the private clinic in Hertfordshire that she was eventually moved to.

The fact that a few weeks later it was discovered that several of Vivian's travellers' cheques were cashed in Paris and several more in Holland about a month after that. The police put down to an opportunist amateur thief having found her abandoned luggage on the train. They appeared to base that assumption on the fact that apparently no attempt was ever made to use any of Vivian's credit cards.

Liz's presence at the clinic in France proved to be very useful, because it was she who organised for Vivian to be transferred to a private clinic near St Albans in Hertfordshire, less than a week later. It was some way out for us to drive, but it was far closer than the middle of France. Liz's organisation also surprised me when I learnt that she and Katie had picked up some clothing for Vivian to travel back in, from the house before they had gone out to France; I hadn't - and I don't suppose anyone else either —thought of doing that.

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