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‘You’re right, we need this cut down,’ said Erika reluctantly. They came back out from the soggy undergrowth brushing themselves down, just as a yellow Labrador bounded up with a soggy tennis ball in its mouth. It stopped and sat, placing its paw on the ball.

Erika picked it up and threw it for the dog and it bounded away across the mossy grass. Just as it loped back with the ball, a woman appeared through the trees. She was dressed in an eccentric array of clothes; a saggy old green tracksuit, a Chelsea FC bobble hat, a Manchester united scarf, a pair of purple trainers, where one of the soles was detached and flapping. She had a carrier bag bursting with what looked like walnuts and her hands were stained black from the walnuts husks. From under her hat spilled tangled wiry grey hair, and her face was deeply lined.

‘Serge, heel,’ she snapped. She spoke with a refined yet phlegmy upper-class voice. The dog ran to her side and she peered at Erika and Peterson.

‘Hello, I’m DCI Foster,’ said Erika holding out her ID, ‘This is DI Peterson.’

‘It’s perfectly legal to glean walnuts,’ she started. ‘What the bloody hell does it need two of you out here?’

‘We’re not…’ started Erika.

‘Bloody police were called when someone was picking blackberries from the hedgerows, you heard about that? I mean really. It belongs to God, and he puts it all on earth for us to eat.’

‘We’re not here about Walnuts or anything that you might be picking…’

‘There’s no might, I am picking Walnuts, I’ve picked. Look!’ she said opening the carrier bag. It was full of walnuts, some still in the green and black husks.

‘We’re investigating the death of Jessica Collins, you may have seen something about it on the television,’ said Erika.

‘Haven’t got a television,’ said the woman. ‘But I listen to Radio Four. I heard the news. Nasty business. You found her over yonder,’ she added tipping her head toward the quarry.

‘Yes. Have you lived around this area for long?’

‘I’ve lived here my whole life, eighty-four years.’

‘Congratulations,’ said Peterson, but all this got in return was a scowl.

‘What can you tell us about the cottage there, in the undergrowth?’ asked Erika. The woman peered past her squinting, creasing her face even more.

‘Second World War, accommodation and storage for the air base they had here, all quite hush hush. I think someone stayed on after the war, but then it was empty, it’s been empty for years… Old Bob had it for a long time, unofficially, though not long enough to claim squatters rights, the poor bastard.’

‘Do you know where he is now?’ asked Erika, phishing for more information.

‘A few years back. They found him in there, dead,’ she said tilting her head toward the cottage.

‘Do you know what his name was?’

‘I told you, Old Bob.’

‘His legal name?’

‘Bob Jennings.’

‘And what’s your name?’ asked Erika.

‘Why do I have to give you my name? You don’t need my name for me to answer questions.’

Erika sighed feeling they were going round in circles.

‘There are few, if any witnesses to the death of Jessica Collins. She was only seven when she was dumped in the water. Her body lay weighted down in plastic, and left in the silt for twenty-six years. We don’t know if she was still alive when she was thrown in…’

The old woman was taken aback.

‘The poor child…’

Peterson stepped forward and gave her his winning smile, ’We may have more questions, ma’am. It could be beneficial to us to use your extensive knowledge of the area to help us in our investigation.’

She peered up at him for a moment, then said to Erika,

‘Is he flirting with me?’

‘No, of course not,’ said Peterson embarrassed.

‘I hope not man! Is that your idea of police work?’

Erika stifled a grin saying, ’We have an uphill struggle to get to the bottom of this murder case, any local knowledge will be of great use to us…’

The old lady’s faced creased even more as she gave both of them the once over,

‘I’m the honourable Rosemary Hooley. I live at the old vicarage. I don’t have a telephone, but I’m almost always at home.’

‘Thank you,’ said Erika.

Rosemary whistled at the dog and strode off, the labrador following after her. They watched as she disappeared round the bank of trees, the sole of her shoe flapping.

‘Flirting…’ muttered Peterson. ‘She’s flattering herself.’

Erika pulled out her phone and called in to control asking them to find out when they could about a Bob or Robert Jennings. When she hung up they stood looking out over the water.

It was so still and peaceful.

’To think she was here all this time, less than a mile from home,’ said Erika.

 

 

22

 

 

After three days watching Amanda Baker’s house, the dark haired man with the stubble had worked out that her routine was both predictable and pathetic. His name was Gerry, or G to his associates. He saw that she stayed in all day, but made a trip to the local off-licence mid-morning to pick up some wine and shop for that evening’s food.

He’d also hacked into her smart phone. He’d dabbled in a lot over the years; a stint in the army, but it didn’t agree with him, organised crime a bit over computer hacking. He was tall, dark and well built, and had the ability to both shine and gain people’s confidence, and when needed he could blend in the background.

It was easy to hack her phone, a cheap Android model, and he’d easily obtained her number from the electoral register. The previous day, in the early hours of the morning, he’d sent a text message containing a malicious code. Once it had arrived it had acted as a Trojan Horse, she didn’t even have to open it, he was able to gain access to her smart phone and delete the message. For the past couple of days she’d been using her handset, unaware that he was inside watching everything she did.

Amanda Baker played a lot of games like Candy Crush Saga, and Jewel. She’d also set up a profile on one of the dating sites using a fake picture of a blond haired woman in her twenties. He soon realised there was nothing malicious behind it, she just liked chatting to guys, the chatting turning into the kind of sexting where she came across as both needy and horny.

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