‘Thanks for coming. In all the chaos you were the last person I expected. I was waiting for a cab which never arrived. I saw your statement on TV. You did good.’
‘Thanks,’ said Erika, putting the windscreen wipers on a faster speed to deal with the rain pouring down.
‘Is Marianne okay?’ asked Nancy.
‘Laura is staying with her at the house. We called a doctor, he’s given her something so she can sleep…’
They reached the exit, and came to a stop behind a car waiting to pull out. ‘Where are we going?’
‘I’m the other side of Dulwich. Head through Forest Hill.’
The car in front pulled out, and they could see the road was busy with rush hour traffic. A car slowed and let Erika pull out of the junction and she waved thanks. The rain came down harder, pounding on the top of the line of cars stretching ahead of them.
‘I thought you could help me out, in return for a lift,’ said Erika.
‘Ah, so your lift has an ulterior motive?’ she said. She tried to turn her head but winced.
‘Sorry. I’m trying to get up to speed on this case. You were the Family Liaison Officer the whole time, from when Jessica disappeared?’’
‘Yes, far too long to be honest. It’s all on record, but I can fill you in… Jesus this hurts,’ she said grimacing. She undid the paper bag, popped another pill out from the foil sheet and swallowed it dry.
‘I have to ask if you want to press charges?’ said Erika inching the car forward in the traffic.
‘Against Marianne? God no,’ said Nancy leaning back against the headrest. ‘Although I would like to complain about those bloody doctors. They’ve given me a pitiful amount of painkillers… Marianne was never violent, in all the years, through all the heartbreak. Sometimes with Family Liaison work you feel like a spare part. You want to be out there on the beat, amongst the action but you’re making tea, and answering the phone.’
‘Family Liaison work is important.’
‘I know, but in a weird way I’m pleased I was there, to take the punch… They never write in police reports about all the cups of tea you make, or the advice you give. This will be documented. And in a weird way its closure.’
‘How long were you there in the house after Jessica first disappeared?’
‘I spent the first few months, from the summer of 1990 virtually living with the family. Marianne and Martin were still together.’
‘When did they divorce?’
‘No separated in ninety-seven. They lasted longer than I expected. When a couple loses a child, the strain nearly always rips them apart. But they had little Toby, who was only four when Jessica vanished, and he was the glue that kept them from coming unstuck. Laura, was a lot older. She’d already done her first year at university. She delayed going back for her second year, but she should have gone, really. She and Marianne have always clashed.’
‘How did they clash?’
‘Marianne just tuned out everything, poured her energy into trying to find Jessica. Toby was tiny, and Laura ended up having to look after him.’
‘How old is Toby now?’
‘Twenty-nine. He’s gay, and married to a chap. Marianne has never really accepted it ,or him as being gay. You must have seen the inside of the house. All those crosses and pictures of the Virgin Mary.’
‘Are they Catholic?’
‘They were always Catholic, but after Jessica vanished Marianne turned to her faith, started attending mass every day. Became quite militant.
‘Does Toby live locally?’
‘So Marianne and Martin aren’t divorced?’
Nancy shook her head and winced again, ‘No, she’s always refused to grant him one. So, he’s gone off let her keep the house and he lives in Spain. He’s a millionaire now, that’s why Marianne has stayed in that big house after the divorce, I think he makes sure she’s taken care of. She just rattles around it all day. It’s like she’s Miss Havisham. Although unlike Miss Havisham, Marianne always pushes the hoover round. The place is spotless.’
‘What does Martin do in Spain?’
‘He builds holiday homes for rich ex-pats. Makes a fortune. Lives in Malaga with a younger woman and two small kids.’
Erika was pleased the line of traffic was inching forward. Nancy was a goldmine of information.
‘Do you know how Martin and Marianne met?’
‘In Ireland. He’s Irish, Marianne is British but she grew up in Galway. She met Martin when they were in their late teens, at a youth club I think. She fell pregnant at seventeen, and they had to marry. It was in Ireland in the late seventies. They had a tough start, but he worked his way up on the building sites and then they made the move to London in 1987 just after Jessica was born. They did it at the right time, made a packet during the property boom. Laura was fourteen when they moved, and I think it was tough for her. She had to leave her friends and her home in Ireland.’
‘Is that when the problems began with her?’
Nancy pulled a face, then winced, again remembering she was bandaged. The traffic was now moving faster, and they inched their way through a set of traffic lights, and they moved past the vast gothic red brick Victorian building of
’Yes. She’d go out all night and not come home, there was a new boyfriend every week. I think she found it tough to find her feet when they moved here, and their life changed. When she was growing up they were dirt poor, it wasn’t until Laura, Laura was in her late teens that Martin started making money. They were rich enough to buy Jessica and Toby all the toys, they joined so many after school clubs. Jessica did ballet… She was such a pretty little thing, Jessica. The press only really used that one photo of her in the dress. It sort of defined the investigation. Marianne has hundreds of photo albums with pictures of Jessica. There’s a little room upstairs in the house, like a cupboard, and she has shelves full of those albums, and there’s just enough room for a chair by a window…’
The traffic inched forward, past the closed shops on Catford High Street. Only a West Indian supermarket was open, and beside it a betting shop. Through the condensation of the brightly lit window, they could see a group of old men stood around peering up at a screen.
‘Do you really think you’re going to solve it, after all these years?’ asked Nancy.