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It was her internet searches which had spiked Terry’s interest; several times she’d googled the Jessica Collins murder, its wikipedia entry, and searched for information on the Collins family. She had also tried several times to log onto HOLMES the UK police database. She’d had no luck logging in, her access had long ago been revoked, so she had made calls to an officer working on the case called DI Crawford, who was ex-colleague.

Gerry had listened to the calls, and at first DI Crawford had been cold with her, but it became apparent they had a history, they had been lovers, and for a time it had been serious.

She had asked if she could use his login for the HOLMES database, he’d refused her that but he did say he would keep her up to speed with the case. Gerry had reported this back to his boss during a late night phone call, and it was decided that the surveillance of Amanda Baker would be increased.

 

* * *

 

It was dark and raining when Gerry saw Amanda turn off the lights downstairs. A few minutes later the light came on in the upstairs window. He waited for the light to go out and then left the car. He moved swiftly through the darkness to the front room window. It opened easily and he climbed in. He worked fast, he had two options; conceal a small battery operated listening device in the room, or find a concealed plug for a tiny black box listening device with a SIM card. Using a low watt torch he saw the mess inside the room and moved quickly. The room stank of smoke, but there was a long defunct smoke detector on the ceiling. He used a chair and quickly fitted the small listening device in the plastic housing of the smoke detector. It was voice activated with a battery life of several days.

He flicked off the light and moved into the hallway. The landline sat on the table, its red charging light glowing in the dark. As he reached out to take the handset from its cradle, the stairs creaked and he froze. He moved quickly and found the doorway to an empty room filled with junk, which was once a dining room, just in time as she reached the bottom of the stairs.

She creaked past him, heavy footed to the kitchen. The light came on, he heard the tap running and a crackle of a foil sheet of pills. The light flicked off and she rumbled past, and back up the stairs.

He came out of the shadows and worked quickly taking the handset apart and inserting a small listening device.

He paused in the hallway. His eyes had grown used to the dark. He noticed just how steep the stairs were. He made a mental note and then left the house through the front window, melting back into the darkness.

 

 

23

 

 

Erika slept fitfully, and in her dreams she was sinking down into the freezing dark waters of Hayes Quarry. The moon was full, and as she slowly sank down, the bottom of the quarry stretched out, lit up like a moonscape. She swam along the bottom, her arms and legs numb, her lungs screaming. The silt billowed up around her clouding her view, but then it cleared and her mother’s body appeared. She was dressed in the patterned housecoat she wore when Erika and her sister were little, the strings of her apron suspended in the water out behind her, the skin on her face was pale and it flaked away until she dissolved to silt.

She then saw her late husband Mark. His body pale, and still dressed in his police uniform with the bullet proof vest. When she came close his body slowly turned exposing the bullet holes in his neck, gaping like raw dough. She tried to reach out and touch him, and as she sank down into the silt beside him, his body disintegrated.

Through the clouds of grey, she saw Jessica standing on the bed of the quarry, but she wasn’t a skeleton. She was dressed for her friend’s birthday party; her long blond hair floated around her head like a halo, the material of the pink dress billowed lazily in the gentle undercurrents. Her patterned sandals hovered above the silt. Under her arm she held a wrapped gift, a small square of black and white polka dots. Erika could now see there were a row of houses on the bottom of the quarry. A light shone in one shimmering through the water. When Erika reached Jessica, she was close to the house with light shining. She turned and smiled at Erika. She tried to grab at Jessica, to pull her up to the surface, but as her fingers closed around Jessica’s tiny arm, the skin began to fall away, exposing the bones underneath. The skin then fell away from Jessica’s face, exposing the skull and gaping eye sockets.

 

* * *

 

Erika woke with a yell, her sheets soaked with sweat, but shivering. It was still dark outside her bedroom window and the clock beside her bed showed it was four thirty am. She got up and took a shower, standing under the hot water for a long time. Trying to warm her bones, which still held the chills of the cold water in the quarry. When the water finally ran cold she dried, dressed in her thick robe and came through to the kitchen. She had been reading through a stack of files John had flagged for her attention, and she made some coffee and sat down with one labelled “AUG 1990 - OCT 1991 AMANDA BAKER”.

She read with interest details of Amanda’s role the search in the days and weeks after Jessica’s disappearance. It began with a door-to-door in Avondale Road, which drew a blank. Of the sixty houses on the street, residents of twenty-nine of them were away on holiday. In addition, the residents of a further thirteen houses were out on the afternoon of August 7th. In the remaining houses, the neighbours who were at home that afternoon saw nothing.

Almost immediately after Jessica Collins was reported missing, DCI Baker had officers conduct a house-to-house on Avondale Road. At first light on August 9th a large team of officers and local volunteers met on Hayes Common and combed the area. They found nothing.

In the following days, Amanda had the front and back gardens of Avondale Road searched, and where earth had recently been moved or dug over, she sent forensics in with a methane probe. On August 13th a probe registered something at the bottom of the garden at number 34. It was the house of a local councillor, Bob Murray. They also discovered that Bob had briefly been at home on the afternoon of August 7th, between 2pm- 2.20pm until his wife returned from shopping. He was well-respected in the local community, but he was one of the few people who couldn’t account for the full two hour period when Jessica left home and was discovered missing. Despite protestations that he was innocent, and that twenty minutes was a very small timeframe, the garden of number 34 was excavated. All they found was the body of a decaying cat. A stray that their housekeeper had buried at the bottom of the garden three weeks previously, without their knowledge.

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