‘What can I do?’ asked Nancy.
Marianne pulled her hand back and punched her in the face. Nancy staggered backwards blood pouring from her nose. John and one of the uniform officers leapt up and went to her lying on the floor.
‘Get out of my house, all of you!’ screamed Marianne. ‘Get out! GET OUT!’
From behind the living room curtain, came the sound of cars arriving, and lights began to flare. The media had heard the news and was descending on the house once again.
Ten miles away, in a small terraced house in Tooting Bec in south east London, the television buzzed and flickered from the corner of a messy living room. The afternoon was fading behind low grey cloud, and retired DCI Amanda Baker sat opposite, slumped in a saggy armchair; her head flopped forward, sleeping. The lights were off, and the light from the TV screen played her loose jowly face, the burst of studio audience laughter failing to wake her. On a low table beside her was an overflowing ashtray and a half full glass of white wine. This was all that was left of the second bottle she’d opened. She’d pulled the cork on the first at nine thirty am, when the breakfast dishes had been stacked in the sink, and the shakes and sweats got too bad.
Her house had been smart. It was decorated in a cold elegant style, much like its owner had looked, but now, like its owner, it was shabby. A fake glow fire rippled in hues of red and orange in the hearth, and a dog’s basket beside it was covered in a thick layer of dust.
The phone started ringing in the hall, screeching above the sound of the TV, until it went to answerphone. It was then that Amanda woke.
‘What was that?’ she said absently. There was a barking sound, and she rubbed a hand over her face, heaved herself up from the chair and wobbled through to the kitchen, brain foggy, and eyes bleary. She spent a few minutes rummaging through her cupboard full of tinned food, when she realised that her dog had died a few months ago. She stopped, leaning against the counter. Tears fell onto the crumb-covered work surface with a soft pat. She wiped her face with her sleeve, catching a whiff of her stale breath.
The phone shrieked again from the hallway, and she shuffled through and answered, leaning on the bannister for support.
‘Is this former Detective Chief Inspector Amanda Baker?’ came a young female voice with an edge.
‘Who is this?’
‘I’m calling for a statement about Jessica Collins, now that the police have recovered her body.’
Amanda rocked back on her heels for a moment.
‘Jessica Collins,’ repeated the voice impatiently. ‘Went missing in 1990. You were the lead officer investigating, until you were dismissed…’
‘I took early retirement…’
‘Her remains were discovered by police.’
‘So you didn’t know?’
‘She’s been found?’
‘Her skeleton was found in Hayes Quarry. It’s a flooded…’
‘I know where it is.’
‘Do you have a comment?’
From her spot in the hall by the bannister, Amanda could see the television screen in the living room; BREAKING NEWS was rolling across the screen. A ticker tape headline ran underneath saying REMAINS BELONGING TO MISSING GIRL JESSICA COLLINS DISCOVERED. The sound was off, and the picture changed to show images of Marianne and Martin Collins, at a police press conference in 1990, speaking into a microphone, supported by a much younger version of herself, behind them was the old MET police logo on white.
‘So, do you have a comment?’ asked the voice. She sounded interested, could smell blood.
’We checked, I checked that quarry. She wasn’t there…’ said Amanda, more to herself.
‘Is that your comment? Cos, I’m looking through and that’s on record…’
Amanda leaned on the bannister, watching as a tall blond-haired officer was reading from a statement. Her name flashed up at the bottom of the screen “DCI Erika Foster”.
’They found photos of Jessica in a local sex offender’s house, a man called Trevor Marksman. You let him go though, didn’t you?’
‘I had no choice! There wasn’t enough evidence.’
‘Trevor Marksman is still a free man. Do you still feel you’ve got blood on your hands?’
‘Leave me alone!’ shrieked Amanda, and she slammed down the phone. As soon as it hit the cradle it began to ring again. She kneeled down on the floor pushing through piles of old newspapers, magazines, and junk mail. She grabbed the wire and yanked it out of the wall. The phone fell silent. She rushed through to the living room and turned up the sound,
‘We’d like to extend our condolences to the Collins family. The historical murder case has bee re-opened and we are actively pursuing several new leads. Thank you.’
The camera zoomed out as the tall blond officer went into the Scotland Yard building flanked by two other officers. The image on the screen flicked back to the BBC news studio and the next news item.
Amanda sat back on her haunches and took deep breaths, her whole body shaking. She noticed a small white squeaky toy rabbit peeping out from the piles of old junk. It had belonged to her dog, Sandy. She reached out, picked it up, and hugged it to her chest. She began to cry, for Jessica, for her beloved Sandy, and for the life she should have had.
When she finally stopped, she wiped her face with her sleeve and went to the kitchen and opened her third bottle of wine.
It was late and raining as Erika drove to the main entrance of Accident and Emergency at Lewisham Hospital. Through the swishing wipers she saw DC Nancy Greene waiting under the flying canopy. An ambulance pulled away, as an elderly lady was stretchered through the automatic doors, a withered arm poking out from under a red blanket and raised in pain.
Erika pulled up, and opened the passenger window. Nancy had a thick square bandage taped to her nose, spotted with blood. ’Get in quick, there’s another ambulance coming up behind.’
Nancy opened the door and climbed in, clutching a small white paper bag.
‘Broken. In two places,’ she said touching the thick white bandage gingerly as she eased herself into the passenger seat. The bandage gave her nose a beaky quality, and with her large brown eyes looking over she reminded Erika of an Owl. She helped Nancy fasten the seatbelt, then put the car in gear and pulled away.
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