There was an awkward silence as Moss came back with a round of drinks. She took them off the tray and placed them on the table. John came over.
‘Peterson, do you want to double up with me and Crawford and play air hockey?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ he said. He took his drink and gave Erika an awkward smile.
‘This isn’t bad, for a townie bar,’ said Moss taking a gulp of her lager.
‘It has to be the cottage at the quarry,’ said Erika tracing a pattern in the condensation of her glass. ‘Whoever grabbed her had so little time, and there was a window where she could have been kept in the cellar. She could have been buried there first.’
‘And forensics are going to excavate it,’ said Moss. ‘We have to be patient.’
‘I want to talk to Crawford properly tomorrow. The problem when you don’t take people seriously is that you don’t notice them. He was on the original case, and I sort of let it slide.’
‘Don’t beat yourself up, Boss.’
‘If that tooth doesn’t come back as belonging to Jessica, I’m fucked. Even if it does, I have to prove she was killed by a man with no prior violent behaviour, who died twenty-six years ago.’
‘If it was him, think what you’ll be saving the prison service,’ said Moss. They sat and drank their lager in silence for a moment.
‘Sorry, Boss. Wasn’t funny.’
‘That’s okay. We should be trying to unwind for a couple of hours. I’m not much fun.’
‘You’re never much fun, Boss. It’s what I like about you. There’s no pressure to have fun. I can be miserable around you. In fact, you have saved me from getting a hell of a lot of wrinkles. I look three years younger from lack of smiling.’
‘Dammit, here come the wrinkles,’ added Moss with a smile. Her phone began to ring and she pulled it out saying, ‘This is Celia, will you excuse me.’
Erika nodded, and squeezed out of the booth and went to the bathroom, locking herself in one of the cubicles. Sitting on the closed lid of the toilet she took a deep breath. She felt guilty that she was out having fun, when Jessica Collins killer was still out there on the loose. Guilty that she had lost her grip of the investigation. She also felt guilty that Peterson had been flirting with her… Was that flirting? Or was he just being funny? And did she hope that he was flirting?
‘You need to get a grip,’ she said to herself out loud.
‘What?’ came a voice from a cubicle further down.
‘Nothing, sorry,’ she muttered. Erika pulled out her phone and saw the two more voicemails from the withheld number, ‘what the hell?’ She muttered. She went to listen to them but had no signal. She sat for a few more minutes, listening to the sound of the toilet flushing and the hand dryer whirring.
Her mind went back again to Jessica Collins. She’d be thirty-three if she was still alive. What if Jessica hadn’t gone to that birthday party all those years ago? She could have just stayed home. Or left the house a few minutes later…She could be one of those women down in the bar, having fun , playing the Who Wants to be a Millionaire Machine? and laughing with her friends.
And then she thought about her past. What if she and Mark had decided to stay in bed the fateful day of the drug raid? Her life would be so different. She’d be out in a bar with him, cosy and safe as a couple. Then they’d go home, and make love and talk about the night out and their day… I’m a widow she thought. But I’m only forty-four… I could have children, couldn’t I? I’ve heard of women having children in their forties.
She grabbed at the toilet roll holder and pulled out a wad of tissue, dabbed at her eyes and made her mind up that she was going to go home. Three drinks was her limit.
When she came back out, Peterson sat alone in the booth with their drinks.
‘How long was I in there? Did I enter a time warp?’ she asked.
‘No. John’s girlfriend called, asking where he’d got to. Then Celia called Moss, Jacob has a temperature and she’s worried about him… then the uniform lot cleared out and went on to The Wetherspoon’s. Crawford has only just left, they forgot about him when he was in the loo, poor bastard… I didn’t think you’d want to get back and see we’d all gone.’
‘Thanks,’ she said slipping into the booth from the other side and sitting back down.
‘I hope I didn’t embarrass you earlier,’ he said. He sat back in the booth, his shirtsleeves rolled up and a lopsided smile on his handsome face.
‘No, not at all. It was a compliment, and I should have taken it. So thank you. I take it,’ she smiled, lifted her glass to him and they clinked. They chatted some more and before long their glasses were empty.
‘Would you like another?’ asked Peterson.
‘No. I should get going. I need to be in early tomorrow. I have to track down that video footage.’
When they came out onto the high street it was buzzing with people moving between the pubs. They walked down to the train station in silence, where one black cab sat, its engine idling.
‘Were you going to get a cab?’ asked Peterson.
‘Yeah. I’m over the limit.’
They looked up and down the road. There was no other traffic. The first spots of rain fell, and quickly became a torrent.
‘Are you going somewhere or not?’ asked the driver pushing down his window. He was a miserable looking old man, with wispy grey hair barely clinging to his head. Peterson opened the door and they both got in and sat on the seat with a gap between them.
‘Where to?’ he asked.
‘She’s first, Forest Hill, then Sydenham,’ said Peterson.
‘No you’re first, we need to go through Sydenham to get to Forest Hill,’ he snapped.
‘Let’s do her first, she’s my boss,’ joked Peterson. The old man rolled his eyes.
They rode in silence, the rain hammering down on the cab roof, the darkness slipping past. There was little traffic. Erika stole a glance over at Peterson. For once she didn’t want to be weighed down by life, by grief and responsibility. She wanted to have someone to hold her as she fell asleep. She wanted to wake up next to someone without feeling desolate and alone. Her heart was hammering as the cab turned into Manor Mount and began to climb the steep hill to her flat. The houses moved past so quickly, and then they were there.