‘DI Moss will go, won’t you,’ said Erika. If Moss was disappointed she hid it well.
‘Yes, of course. I’ll go and keep you posted.’
‘We need to talk to you,’ said Erika.
‘I don’t know anything about the pills, I didn’t know they would be bad for her!’
‘No, we want to talk to you about Jessica’s father Gerry O’Reilly.’
Erika and Peterson sat with Laura in the living room of Avondale Road. It was still and silent. A clock ticked out in the hallway and the painting of the Virgin Mary seemed to tilt her head imploringly toward the tableaux below.
Erika had laid the copy of Jessica’s birth certificate out on the polished surface of the coffee table in front of Laura.
Laura had been silent for a moment, staring at it in fear and disbelief, and then she had started to retch.
‘Laura,’ said Erika grabbing her hand, ‘It’s okay, we’re here, and it’s going to be okay.’
‘No, it’s not!’ she cried, tears running down her cheeks. ‘It’s not.’
‘Start at the beginning,’ said Erika. Peterson handed her a tissue and she took it wiping her face. A calm seemed to descend on her and she began to talk,
‘I loved living in Ireland. We had a small house in a pretty village by the sea. We didn’t have much, Dad was working on various building sites and Mum was at home with me, but we were happy. I met Gerry when I was thirteen.’
‘Where did you meet him?’
‘At the local Catholic youth club, a little hut on the hill at the top of the beach. It may have ben filled with pictures of Our Lady, and they assumed that the kids would be playing Ping-Pong and cards, but the older kids would slope off to the beach, amongst the dunes. I was the unlucky girl who fell pregnant.’
‘God, it was so long ago, and Ireland in the early eighties was like England must have been in the sixties. My mother went crazy. I tried to hide it from her, but one night when I stood up in front if the television she saw my silhouette and that was my childhood over…’
‘Your mother was more religious than she is now?’
‘It’s like a fervour in Ireland, competitive Catholicism, like keeping up with the Jones’s only it’s not washing machines and house extensions that people are investing in. It’s the accumulation of deity’s, it’s time spent at mass. I was sent away to an aunt… she’s dead now, but you don’t need to check, you can see I had the baby. I had my Jessica…’ she broke down again and they waited to give her time to compose herself. ‘We moved to England a few months after I came back from my holiday with Aunt Mary. A new start. We came to London with very little, we all lived in a youth hostel near London bridge for two weeks. And we stuck to the story, my mother had given birth a few months previously. Not that anyone cared! You should have seen it. It was a dump, no one said grace before bed, they all took the lords name in vain, some of the women were shagging around. And you know what was fucked up? My parents were the happiest they’d ever been! They could have let me keep her. It could have been a fresh start for me too.’
‘When did you move here?’
‘A few years later. My dad got work on the construction of Canary Wharf, they were behind schedule and there was so much work to be done. He’d never earned so much money. We were living in a rented a house in East London. I remember the day so clear. He took me to work with him, and we left mum with Jessica, she was almost one. The construction work was all over the East London Docks, and they’d been drained. The mud was dry and you could climb down the ladder and walk around. Dad was in the pub with some mates in between work, and I got taking to this beautiful lad, he was a gypsy. He was searching amongst all the mud for any metal. I’d started smoking on the sly and I offered him a cigarette and we got talking. Nothing more. Then my dad started yelling at me to come back, he said he’d done a big deal to buy a piece of land. We left to go home to mum and he was so excited, was talking about building a big house for us all. When we got home, my mother had registered Jessica for nursery school, and a doctor and dentist. She’d told them all she was her mother, she’d made it official…’
Erika and Peterson watched patiently.
‘This is the land my father bought, and this is the house he built. It all happened so fast. Life changed and I struggled to keep up with it all. Then Mum had Toby, and I was doing my school leaving exams. I used to look at them with Jessica and Toby and I felt the odd one out. My mother thought I was a sinner, that I was a fallen woman. I went away to university and it made me realise that I was living with a religious nutter for a mother. When I came back after my first year in 1990, my mother had started Jessica and Toby studying for their first communion. She was my little girl and I didn’t want her to have to go through all that, having to go to confession as a child, learning all about original sin…’
‘Did you have much contact with Jessica’s father? Gerry O’Reilly?’ asked Peterson.
‘No. We did what was akin to a midnight flit from Ireland. We left without telling anyone. And this was before Facebook and mobile phones, and we were moving to a new country. We lost contact. Well, I did something I never should have done, and I wrote to Gerry, shortly after I left home for University. I thought he had the right to know…’
Erika’s phone rang and she saw it was DS John Mc Gorry.
‘Can we stop for just a minute, I need to take this,’ said Erika. She left Peterson with Laura and came out into the garden. The sun was just breaking through the clouds and there was a smell of rotting leaves and wood smoke in the cold air.
‘Boss, where are you?’ asked John.
‘I’m at 7 Avondale Road,’ said Erika.
‘We’ve had a setback, Boss. I’ve just been going through all the records we’ve got on Gerry O’Reilly. During August 1990 he wasn’t released from St Patrick’s Youth detention centre until August 30th 1990, three and a half weeks after Jessica went missing, and he didn’t leave Ireland to come to the UK until October of 1990. He couldn’t have abducted Jessica.’
‘What?’ asked Erika looking back at the house. The windows reflected back the grey sky.
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