‘Yeah, get back away from the driveway. On the pavement ,’ said Erika. He rolled his eyes and took a couple of paces back.
They walked off in the direction of number 27. It sloped up slightly and the houses to their left were lower than the road, each driveway sloped down. On their right the houses sat on a bank, so he driveways led up.
’So we’ve got all these houses, shrouded in trees and shrubs on both sides,’ said Erika.
‘That’s it, we’re here,’ said Moss. They came to a stop outside number 27. It was a cream coloured two storey house with faux pillars out front. The driveway had just been resurfaced and drops of rainwater clung like mercury to the unblemished surface.
‘The house has its second lot of new owners since 1990,’ said Moss. They stood for a moment and looked up and down the street.
‘The halfway house where Trevor Marksman lived at the time is just up here,’ said Erika. They carried on climbing for a few more minutes, and came to where the road turned sharply to the left. A large three storey manor house sat on the other side of the road, nestled in the crease. It was painted a buttery yellow, and its window frames and the pillars out front gleamed white. There was a white painted swing sign on the manicured lawn and large black letters told them this was now The Swann Retirement Home.
They turned and were afforded a clear view of the whole street sloping away, past number 27 and down to their car parked on the kerb and the photographers who had grown in numbers. A large black crow landed on the sign. His coat gleamed like the painted letters and he let out a mournful cawing. It was the only sound on the street and it echoed.
‘That’s it. It took us less than four minutes to walk here.’
‘Whoever did it must have a had a car,’ said Peterson. ‘And might not have taken her far, Hayes quarry is less than a mile away.’
How could she just vanish?’ said Erika.
‘She did just vanish,’ said Moss. The crow cawed again, as if in agreement.
‘What now, Boss?’ asked Peterson.
‘I think we should pay Amanda Baker a visit.’
‘This can’t be right,’ said Erika as they pulled up at an end of terrace house. The small front garden was an overgrown mess, and a greying coat of paint was peeling from the sash windows. The street was quiet, and it had just started to rain.
‘Should we have called ahead? She is one of us, or was,’ started Peterson as they opened the gate.
‘She stopped being one of us when she took the law into her own hands with Trevor Marksman,’ said Erika grabbed an old rusting knocker and rapping on the door. They waited, but there was no answer, she knocked again, and after a moment went to the grimy front window and peered into the living room. She could make out a television in the corner of the room, which was on, and showing one of those auction shows. She jumped when a pair of hooded eyes appeared, framed by long greying hair. The woman inside jumped also, and shooed her away with a hand half covered in a long woollen sleeve.
‘Hi, I’m DCI Foster,’ said Erika quickly retrieving her ID from her coat and pressing it open against the window. ‘I’m here with two colleagues, DI Moss and DI Peterson. We need to ask your advice about the Jessica Collins case…’
The face leaned in a peered at their ID.
‘Do I have to speak to you?’ she shouted through the closed window.
‘No. But we’d like to talk to you about the case, it would help us to hear your thoughts…’
The face moved back, thought for a moment,
‘Go round and I’ll let you in,’ she said.
They came back out through the front gate and walked alongside a mildewing fence, which curved around the end terrace. They saw the hand over the top at the far end and then one of the panels swung inwards.
Former DCI Amanda Baker was a large woman; she had on black crocs with thick woollen socks, and black leggings. She had a bloated red face, and a large double chin. Her grey hair was long and greasy and tied at the nape of her neck with an elastic band. She nodded at them and turned as they followed her down a dank little alleyway, past a bathroom window where a small vent twirled lazily, puffing out the aroma of urine and toilet cleaner. The back garden was overgrown and sacks of rubbish were piled up in one corner.
They came to the back door and Amanda wiped her crocs on a thin scrap of mat, which Erika thought ironical, as it was the kind of house where you wiped your feet on the way out. The kitchen had once been quite smart, but it was filthy and crammed with dirty dishes, and old newspapers. There was a dog bed by a washing machine on spin cycle, but no dog.
‘Go through to the front room. Do you want tea?’ she said with a gravelly smokers voice.
‘Er, yes,’ said Erika seeing Moss and Peterson’s faces at the mess. They moved through a hallway, past a steep wooden staircase leading up to a gloomy landing. The hallway was crammed with old newspapers, and they were piled chest-high against the front door.
As they came into the living room there was a knock at the front window. Erika went over and the postman was outside holding up a sheaf of letters. Erika opened the window and took them from him.
‘That answers my question about the front door,’ said Peterson. The living room was crammed with two saggy sofas, a dining table and chairs. The television sat in a large shelving unit dominating one wall, and crammed with books and paperwork; there was one picture on the wall which stood out. It was in a cheap gold frame with a braid pattern. The colour photo was a little spoiled and faded at the bottom where the damp had got inside. A thin young version of Amanda Baker wore the old uniform of the WPC; thick black tights, a skirt, jacket and peaked cap. Her black hair shone from underneath and she stood outside Hendon Police College with a young male officer in uniform, he wasn’t wearing his cap, but had it under his arm. They held up their badge’s and were grinning at the camera.
‘I thought you’d make a beeline for that,’ said Amanda, shuffling in with a tray full of steaming cups of tea.
‘I recognise him,’ said Erika taking a cup from the tray and peering back at the photo.
‘PC Gareth Oakley, as was. We worked in vice back in the seventies. Me and Oakley were the same rank then. You now know him as retired Assistant Commissioner Oakley.’
‘That must have been interesting, being a woman in vice, in the seventies?’ said Moss. Amanda just raised her eyebrows.
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