They sat in silence for a moment. The clock ticked loudly, a car went past on the road outside and the sky seemed to have grown darker.
‘There is something,’ said Amanda. She paused and rubbed at her face. ‘Hayes Quarry. There’s an old cottage beside it. When we searched the area there was an old guy, a squatter living there. He let us search the place, twice. It’s tiny with a cellar. We found nothing. Of course. Then a few months later he hung himself…’
‘And?’ asked Erika.
‘ I dunno. I was gung-ho for Trevor Marksman’s scalp, but I’ve had time to think since you found Marianne in the quarry.’
‘It was Jessica who we found.’
‘Yeah, that’s what I meant, who I meant. There was just something odd about it. He didn’t seem to type to do that.’
‘Do you know his name?’
‘Um, no I forget.’
‘Did you know him well?’
‘Course not. But he was just a bit simple, happy go lucky simple. That stood out for me. Then for him to go and drink poison and then hang himself.’
‘He drank poison too?’
‘Yeah, I just said that.’
‘You didn’t,’ said Peterson. They could see that Amanda’s hands were now shaking badly.
‘Fuck it, well he did. I need a drink,’ she said. ‘Anyone else?’
‘No, thank you, we won’t take up any more of your time,’ said Erika. ‘Is it okay if I call on you again. We’re working our way through all the evidence and there may be something I need to run by you, or clarify.’
‘Can you get me on the payroll?’ she joked with a wheeze. There was an awkward silence. ‘That’s fine. Call on me whenever you need to. As you can see, I’ve got all the time in the world.’
* * *
Amanda watched from her dingy front room window as the three detectives went back to their car and drove away. She thought the two women were a little annoying, but the black guy was pretty hot. She attempted to close the front window and keep out the cold. It didn’t shut properly, and she hadn’t bothered to do much about it. The only person who ever came with any regularity was the postman. She flicked through the letter, seeing it was all junk and a bill from the council.
She didn’t notice the old blue Ford parked a little way down the street, and the man inside who was watching her. He had dark hair and several days stubble. She hadn’t noticed him the day before either, when he’d parked further up the street and walked past her house, paying attention to the broken window. She took a gulp of the wine, moved back over to the sofa and settled down to drink herself into oblivion.
Erika had discussed what Amanda Baker had said with Moss and Peterson, and they had chewed over her confusion about some of the facts of the case. They’d presumed much of it was fuelled by anger, paranoia, and the booze. But what she had said about the cottage beside Hayes Quarry had stuck, so the next morning she came back with Peterson.
They parked at the Croydon Road entrance to Hayes Common in a small gravel car park. It was a cold morning and they buttoned their coats as they got out and started to walk toward a bank of trees at the top of a slope, following a gravel path. The path took them to the left side past the trees and then the path swerved to the right, blocking out the car park, the view of the houses and road, and it opened out to rolling common land.
‘Jeez, how quickly you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere,’ said Peterson as the trees muffled the sounds of the road. Their feet crunched on the gravel as they moved past tall bare trees on either side, set so close together that the woods inside were dark. ‘This is where I imagine eyes watching us from the depths of the wood,’ he added. The grass was coated with dew from the night before, and the sun hadn’t yet risen above the trees to evaporate it. A low mist hung in the air, and wisps floated past as they walked.
‘What if she was carried this way, Jessica?’ said Erika. They absorbed that thought as their feet crunched along the gravel path.
‘Was she wrapped in the plastic before she went in? Or did whoever it was, do it by the water?’
‘Whoever did it had a walk to get to the quarry. This Croydon Road entrance where we’ve parked is the closest and we’ve been walking for,’ Erika checked her watch, ‘five minutes.’
‘Maybe it wasn’t just one person,’ said Peterson plunging his hands in his pockets deep in thought.
The trees on either side seemed to part as the gravel path curved round, and slightly below them, sat the quarry. The still water reflected the grey of the sky, and the low mist hung over its surface. The gravel path finished a hundred yards from the water, and they walked across spongy uneven moss to reach its rocky banks.
‘Whoever did this would have needed a boat,’ said Erika. ‘She was found about a hundred yards out.’
Peterson picked up a small stone, crouched down and skimmed it across the water.
‘Six, that’s impressive,’ she said as they watched the row of ripples spreading across the water.
‘No one would have been able to throw a small child’s body that far from here on the shore,’ said Peterson. They moved off, their legs as well as their minds working in synch. The path around the quarry was thin in places, and in between there were rocks to clamber over and small gnarled trees, some with their branches hanging into the waters edge, to duck under.
‘Okay, I can’t see the cottage,’ said Erika. She pulled out a map she’d been emailed by the council.
‘In twenty six years trees would have grown up and…’ started Peterson.
‘Hang on,’ said Erika as they came level with a mass of overgrown brambles and reeds. ‘That’s a rooftop, isn’t it?’ she said pointing at a slice of red tile rising up through a mass of brambles and dried bindweed. They approached the mass, which as well as being sharp and thick in places, was slick with dew. Now they were closer, Erika could see broken glass glinting in the pale light. They started to make their way through, but the metres of brambles trees and dense undergrowth were impenetrable.
‘Jeez boss, we need to be better prepared for this; backup, some gloves,’ said Peterson, wincing as he pulled a large bramble from the soft skin on his thumb.
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