‘And I’ve worked with Commander Clive Robinson on several police steering committees and—’

‘And whilst I respect that, you have to understand that I am now leading this investigation and I need to ask you both some questions!’ Too late, Erika realised her voice had risen to a shout. There was a silence.

‘Boss. Can I have a word?’ asked Peterson. He glanced at Moss and she gave a small, almost imperceptible nod. Erika felt her face flush.

‘Boss, a word. Now,’ said Peterson. Erika rose and followed him out into the corridor. He closed the door. She leant against the wall and tried to slow her breathing.

‘I know,’ she said.

‘Look, I’m not getting up in your face, boss. You’ve come in to a shit storm and I accept that, but you can’t get aggressive with the victim’s parents. Because right now, that’s all they are. Parents. Let him posture, but we know how it’s going to work from here on.’

‘I know. Shit,’ said Erika. ‘Oh, shit . . .’

‘Why did the mother want to know where you were from in Slovenia?’

‘Slovakia,’ corrected Erika. ‘It’s a well-known Slovak attitude. The people who come from Bratislava think they’re better than everyone else . . . I presume that’s where she’s from.’

‘And she thinks that makes her better than you,’ finished Peterson. Erika breathed in and nodded, trying to calm her anger.

Two men in overalls were approaching from the other end of the corridor, pulling a huge Christmas tree. Erika and Peterson parted to let them through. The tree had dried out and was brown in places, and as its branches brushed the walls, pine needles shed and sprayed across the thick blue and green carpet.

Peterson looked as if he was going to say more, then thought better of it, and took a different tack. ‘It’s way past lunchtime. You look like you could use a sugar rush,’ he said, studying Erika’s white face. ‘I know you’re the boss, boss, but how about you go off, and meet us round the corner at a pub or a caff?’

‘I’ll go in and apologise.’

‘Boss. Let the dust settle, yeah? We’ll get as much info as we can, and come and find you.’

‘Yeah. Okay. But if you can . . .’

‘I’ll arrange for them to do the ID. Yes.’

‘And we’ll need Andrea’s laptop . . . and . . . Well. Just get as much as you can for now.’

Peterson nodded and went back inside the study. Erika paused for a moment. She’d totally blown it, and was coming away with nothing.

She was about to have a look round the house when the housekeeper with the hooded eyes reappeared.

‘I’ll show you out, shall I?’ she insisted.

They followed the trail of dead pine needles to the front door. When Erika was deposited outside on the step, in front of the flashing cameras, she had to bite down hard on her bottom lip to keep herself from crying.

7

The light was starting to fade when Moss and Peterson caught up with Erika in a coffee shop on Chiswick High Road. She’d spent a frustrating hour sitting by the window, watching the light fade on a day that had seemed so long, but in which she felt she’d achieved nothing. It wasn’t like her to go roaring in on an interview and balls it up – especially not with the parents of the victim.

The café had been quiet when Erika had arrived, but had now filled up and was bustling with fashionable singletons, and a pack of yummy mummies who’d marked out a corner of the coffee shop with a barrier of expensive buggies.

Peterson and Moss bought coffee and sandwiches, then came over to the table to join Erika.

‘Look, thanks for stepping in there; I don’t know what happened. My judgement was off,’ explained Erika, feeling embarrassed.

‘No probs,’ said Peterson, tearing open a sandwich box and taking a huge bite.

‘Diana Douglas-Brown was out of order, but then again, it wasn’t the best day of her life, was it?’ agreed Moss, taking a bite of her sandwich.

‘Yeah, but I shouldn’t have . . . Anyway. What else can you tell me?’ asked Erika. She waited for a moment whilst they both finished chewing.

‘Simon and Diana don’t know why Andrea was in South London,’ said Moss. ‘She’d arranged to go the cinema with David and Linda, the brother and sister. They waited for her at the Odeon in Hammersmith, but she never showed up.’

‘Were the brother and sister at home?’

‘Yeah. David, he was asleep upstairs. Lady Diana didn’t want to wake him.’

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