‘First stop, and its; gonna cost you double,’ said the driver pulling to a stop. The automatic locks clicked open on the doors.
‘Do you want grab a cup of coffee? I mean coffee in my flat,’ said Erika. Peterson looked surprised.
‘Sure… yes, a cup of coffee would be great.’
They paid the driver and got out, dashing across the car park. Erika could see that the lights were on in the communal entrance and a blond haired woman was inside with some kids.
At the door, she scrabbled in her bag for her keys, and Peterson slung his arm round her, pulled her against his body and kissed her cheek. She was about to turn to him when she heard a voice shriek,
The front door opened and a blond haired woman came out. She looked similar to Erika with a pretty Slavic face, and almond shaped eyes. Her blond hair was long, and hung wet down over her shoulders. She wore a long black coat over skin tight blue jeans and a low cut top. She towered over them both in six-inch heels. Behind her, a small dark haired boy and girl hung off an expensive buggy where a baby slept. She grabbed Erika in a bear hug and then stood back.
‘Who’s this?’ asked Peterson, taken aback.
‘This is my sister, Lenka,’ said Erika.
Erika helped Lenka with the suitcases, the buggy, and with getting her niece and nephew into her flat. Through the window of the communal entrance she could see Peterson stood by the kerb in the pouring rain, his suit jacket hitched up over his head, trying to hail a cab. She’d asked him to come in and wait while he called for one, but Lenka was talking to her in rapid-fire Slovak, and then the baby started to cry, so he left with a quick awkward wave,
Her niece and nephew Jakub and Karolina looked very tired. They were five and seven now, and she was shocked to see how much they had grown up. Erika switched on the lights and the central heating, and asked them to go through to the living room, saying she would be back shortly.
She then rushed back out into the hallway and out into the rain, her head down as she ran up the gravel path, the rain pelting down. The pavement was empty, and she could make out the red lights at the back of a cab turning the corner at the bottom of the hill. She stood for a moment, rainwater pouring down her face.
When she got back in the bathroom door was shut, and she came through to the living room where Jakub and Karolina sat on the sofa with the baby in between them. Her tiny hand grasped Karolina’s index finger and she was giving them a gummy smile, wearing a little pink hat with a cluster of coloured buttons sewn on the front.
‘How is little Erika?’ asked Erika.
‘We call her Eva,’ said Jakub regarding her curiously. He sat back with his hands clasped over a Man United football top.
‘Mummy’s on the toilet,’ said Karolina, too shy to look her in the eye.
‘How are you two?’
The kids shrugged, and looked around at the flat.
‘Would you like a drink?’
They nodded. Erika went to the cupboard and found the blackcurrant cordial she had bought for them the last time they had visited. She poured them each a glass. When she brought it to the coffee table, she realised the Jessica Collins autopsy photos had been left out, and she managed to get the file off the table before they noticed. The toilet flushed, and Lenka came back. She looked pale and stressed.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?’ asked Erika.
‘I tried to, I called you, left you messages but you didn’t pick up!’
‘Hang on, have you withheld your number?’
‘It’s been withheld for a while now,’ she said evasively.
‘I have a job. A very stressful job and I’d appreciate a heads up. Have you seen how tiny my flat is and…’
‘I did give you a heads up, you didn’t answer!’
‘Even if I had answered you didn’t give me much notice!’
‘I’m your sister!’
There was a slurping sound as Jakub took a sip from the glass. Karolina reached for hers and she watched Erika with the wise eyes of an eight year old. ‘Who was that big black man?’ she asked.
‘What? Oh, a colleague,’
‘What does that mean?’ asked Lenka.
‘He’s a police officer, I work with him,’ said Erika. Lenka raised an eyebrow. ‘What?’
‘He had his arm around you. It’s almost ten o’clock…’
‘Lenka. You are the last person who can ask me questions, seeing as your not answering any of mine… Who’s hungry? Who wants Pizza?’ The kids grinned and put their arms up in the air. ‘Good, I’ve got some menus in the drawer.’
They ordered pizza, and then Erika made up the sofa bed in the living room and tidied up whilst Lenka showered the kids and gave the baby a bath. The pizza arrived an hour later.
Erika sat with Karolina and Jakub, whilst Lenka heated up a jar of baby food and fed the baby. They ate hungrily in front of the movie Tangled which Erika found on Netflix putting on the Slovak subtitles. After they’d eaten, they quickly dozed off to sleep.
‘I only saw them a few months ago, and already they look older,’ said Erika watching their flushed sleeping faces. Lenka leaned over and pulled a blanket over them.
‘I know, I’m already arguing with her about wearing lipstick. She’s seven…’
‘You can talk, you were putting on make-up virtually when you could walk,’ said Erika. ‘You went from Mum’s tit to Max Factor. Lenka laughed,
Are you still smoking?’ she asked.
‘I’m trying out e-cigarettes,’ said Erika. She opened the patio door and saw it had stopped raining. They slipped on their coats and came out into the cold. Erika accepted a cigarette and they lit up, smoking in silence for a minute.
‘Is this your garden?’ asked Lenka peering into the darkness.
‘I’m renting, but yeah. Now are you going to tell me why you’ve shown up in London on my doorstep?’
‘I told you, I tried to ring but you didn’t pick up the phone, or listen to my messages.’
‘I should have listened, I’m sorry, why are you calling from a withheld number?’
Lenka bit her lip, ‘Things at home are tough. I needed to get away. And the kids haven’t seen London in a while.’