Erika looked across at her.

‘Come on love, you didn’t think I worked in Marks and Spencer’s, did yer?’

‘Where do you live?’ asked Erika.

‘Why should I tell you where I fuckin’ live?’ Ivy lurched towards her, but her seatbelt locked, holding her in place.

‘Easy . . . You just told me that you’re “sick of the taste of cock”. I thought asking for your address wouldn’t be too impolite?’

‘Don’t you try and be clever with me. I know you. Like your job, do you? Got any friends?’ There was a silence. ‘No I thought not, never off duty, are you? You lot would shop your own mother . . . Left here.’

Erika put on the indicator and turned. ‘I don’t live anywhere, right now,’ she said, figuring she could offer up some info of her own. ‘My husband died recently, and I’ve been away, and . . .’

‘And you lost your marbles, yeah?’

‘No, but I came close,’ said Erika.

‘My ’usband was stabbed. Years ago. Bled to death in my arms . . . Go right here. You’re all right though, ain’t yer? Good job. I could’ve been a police officer, or something better,’ sneered Ivy.

‘You know this area well, then?’ asked Erika

‘Yeah. Bin ’ere me whole life.’

‘What bars do you recommend?’

‘What bars do I recommend?’ she said, mimicking Erika.

‘Okay, what bars do you know?’

‘I know ’em all. As I just said, I’ve been round ’ere for years. Seen places come and go. The rough ones last the longest.’

They passed the Catford Broadway Theatre, the front lit up, still advertising the Christmas pantomime.

‘Drop us here,’ said Ivy.

Catford High Street was deserted. Erika pulled up by a pedestrian crossing, next to a Ladbrokes betting shop and a branch of Halifax.

‘There aren’t any houses,’ said Erika.

‘I told you, I ain’t got a house!’

‘Where are you staying then?’

‘I’ve got business to attend to. Come on, wake them up,’ snapped Ivy to the boy. Erika looked through her rear-view mirror. The two girls were asleep, their heads leant together. The boy stared back at her with a white face.

‘I’m sorry I hit you,’ said Erika. His face remained impassive.

‘Leave it out, just give me the money,’ said Ivy, unclipping her seatbelt and opening the car door. Erika fumbled in her coat and brought out the twenty. Ivy took the note, stuffing it in the folds of her parka.

‘Before you go, Ivy, what do you know about pubs in Forest Hill? The Stag?’

‘There’s a stripper there who’ll do anything once her pint glass is full of pound coins,’ said Ivy.

‘And what about The Glue Pot?’ asked Erika.

Ivy’s whole body language changed. Her eyes went wide. ‘I don’t know nothin’ about that place,’ she said hoarsely.

‘You just said you knew all the bars around here. Come on, tell me about The Glue Pot?’

‘I don’t ever go in there,’ Ivy whispered. ‘And I don’t know nothin’, you hear me?’

‘Why not?’

Ivy paused and looked at Erika. ‘I’d get that hand looked at. Little Mike, he’s HIV positive . . .’

She got out, slamming the door, and vanished in between the shops, the kids trailing after her. Erika was so focused on Ivy’s reaction to hearing the name of the pub that she didn’t take in what Ivy had just said. She quickly opened her door and followed them to the entrance of a dank alley. She peered down, but it was too dark to make them out in the shadows. ‘Ivy,’ she shouted. ‘Ivy! What do you mean, you don’t ever go in there? Why don’t you?’

Erika started down the alley, the street lights quickly fading. She felt something soft and squelchy under her feet.

‘Ivy. I can give you more money, you just have to tell me what you know . . .’

She pulled out her phone and flicked on the light. The alley was filled with empty needles, condoms, and discarded packaging and price tags. ‘I’m investigating a murder,’ she continued. ‘The Glue Pot was the last place this girl was seen . . .’

Her voice echoed. There was no response. She reached a ten-foot high chain-link fence with metal spikes on top. Beyond, she could just make out a scrubby yard with some discarded gas canisters. She looked around.

‘Where the hell did they go?’ she said under her breath. She doubled back down the alleyway, but she could see no way out – just the high brick walls of the buildings either side.


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