‘We don’t really have one. We broke up, he’s not been on my radar really. I have my kids and my husband. He works for Lloyds bank in Bromley… I have my own mobile nail business. Look,’ she added holding up her hand where the nails were bitten down to the quick. The doorbell chimed and she jumped.
‘Okay, well I’ll be going,’ said Erika. ‘I’ll come with you in case it’s another journalist.’
They moved through the deathly still living room where the curtains were drawn, and to the front door. When Laura opened it, Erika heard a voice say,
‘Hi Lor, we need to talk…’
Laura pulled the door open and Erika saw it was Oscar Browne. He was surprised to see her.
’DCI Foster was just here to ask about Mum,’ said Laura.
‘Right,’ he said. He seemed to stand taller and become more formal. ‘That’s what I was here about. We need to go over a few things with regards to her legal defence.’
‘Thank you detective,’ said Laura giving Erika a smile. Oscar came inside.
‘I can stay, if you want to talk over anything, I really don’t think that the CPS is going to come down heavily on your mum after all she’s been through, and she has no criminal record.’
‘I need to talk to my client,’ said Oscar. ‘If you don’t mind.’ He moved to the door and held it open for Erika.
When she came up onto the street and got into her car, she thought she had something, but ishe couldn’t keep hold of the thought and it slipped out of reach in her mind. She started the car and drove back to the station.
Erika spent the rest of the afternoon trying to make sense of the case, but didn’t get anywhere. At six thirty, after spending a couple of hours listlessly flicking through the case files on her computer, she left for home.
When she came through the front door, Jakub and Karolina were playing a game of chase, screaming and running through the flat. The baby was crying, in concert with the washing machine, and the television was on full blast on the MTV channel. Lenka was dancing around with a muslin over her shoulder, the baby leant against it, trying to get her to calm down. Erika’s heart sank, after months of coming home to a lonely flat all she wanted was some peace and quiet.
‘Zlatko! You’re home early!’ cried Lenka, ‘so you did what I told you for once.’
Erika went to the fridge and opened the freezer box.
‘Where’s my vodka?’
‘I moved it, for the frozen vegetables. I was worried the bottle would break,’ she replied. Spice up your Life by The Spice Girls came on MTV and Lenka leant down and turned it up even louder. The kids came charging through and ran up and over the sofa bed.
‘Please can you just calm them down!’
‘You’re their aunt, you can talk to them a bit you know,’ snapped Lenka.
‘Why do they have to run over the furniture?’
‘It’s a bed, you know it’s okay for kids to jump on a bed.’ On cue the kids jumped on the sofa going mad to the music. Erika noticed that the ice cube tray had been dumped in the sink.
‘Why did you take the ice out?’
‘It’s the middle of November, what do you want ice for?’ Snapped Lenka transferring the screaming baby from one shoulder to another. The kids were now bounding higher and screaming their heads off along with The Spice Girls. Erika took a deep breath and went through to the bedroom. It was a tip, the bedclothes were bunched up in a ball, there were toys all over the floor, and a bag of dirty nappies were warming hideously by the radiator. Erika squeezed past the baby’s buggy and saw that her photo of Mark had been placed flat, and on the glass was a bottle of baby oil which had dripped over the glass. She grabbed the frame and unhooked the back. The oil had gone in and stained the top of the photo just above his head and down to his hair line.
Erika seized the photo and marched back into the living room, nearly colliding with the children as they ran past.
‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ shouted Erika.
Lenka turned and stared at the photo. ‘What?’
‘You put the baby oil bottle on my photo of Mark…’
‘Sorry, I’ll get you another one, have you got it on a USB key? There there, it’s okay, Auntie Erika is home.’
‘Lenka, I don’t have another copy of this photo… I took it on an old film camera,’ said Erika, her voice cracking.
‘So you have a husband who you miss more than life itself and yet you have a photo of him, which only exists as one copy!’
‘How can you fucking well say that!’ Erika shouted. The tears were rolling down her face.
‘You lord it over us all that you’re this amazing detective, but you have one copy of the most precious photo in the world. I moved it from the changing table and you put it back there! You knew I was using it to change her nappy! You tell me it’s okay to stay and you get all territorial over me.’
‘How the hell is my photo in my house territorial?’
Lenka sneered at her and turned back to the TV. The baby had stopped crying and was staring at her with big eyes.
‘Don’t turn away from me, Lenka…’
Lenka stayed with her back to Erika.
‘How much longer are you staying? Or is it all dependent on your stupid husband?’
‘At least I have my husband’s back…’
There was a horrible silence.
‘What did you just say?’
‘Erika, I didn’t mean that,’ said Lenka, her face dropping.
‘I want you, and the kids out by the time I get back tomorrow morning. You hear!’ Erika left the living room carrying the photo of Mark, grabbed her car keys and went out into the rain.
She started the engine and pulled away, unsure of where she was going to go.
Amanda Baker didn’t notice the rain pouring outside her window, and the thunder flashing as she worked at her computer.
She didn’t notice the car parked a few hundred yards along her street, the same car that had been watching her over the past few weeks.
She was filled with a feeling of youth, of being back on the case - she knew she wasn’t, but being able to access the files online and hearing updates from DI Crawford had made her feel like something was happening in her life again. Like she was a police officer.