But four days later, she’d been found. Intact . . .

There was the sound of a door slamming. Looking back up, the figure saw that the light had gone out in DCI Foster’s window. She had left her flat and was stepping out onto the pavement to her car.

The figure smiled. It ducked down and retreated rapidly, melting into the shadows of the dark alley.

22

Erika liked driving. It wasn’t so much the type of car – it didn’t have to be anything exotic. It just had to be secure and warm. As she drove through the empty streets of South London, the car felt like a cocoon around her, and more like home than the flat.

She turned her head away slightly as she drove past Brockley Cemetery, the headstones glimmering under the street lights. The car lurched to the right, and she realised she had to slow down. The snow had melted a little during the day, but at night a freeze had descended, making the roads dangerous.

She put her phone on hands-free and put a call in to the nick. Sergeant Woolf answered, and she asked him to give her a list of the dodgiest pubs in the area.

‘Can I ask why?’ he said, his voice tinny on the end of the line.

‘I fancy a drink.’

There was a pause. ‘Okay. There’s The Mermaid, The Bird In The Hand, The Stag, The Crown – not The Crown that’s a Wetherspoon’s, there’s another Crown on the brink of the brewery pulling the plug. It’s at the top of Gant Road. And of course, there’s The Glue Pot.’

‘Thanks.’

‘DCI Foster, keep me posted where you are. If you need backup . . .’

Erika hung up, cutting him off.

She spent the next three hours making her way round some of the roughest pubs she’d seen in her long career. It wasn’t the squalor, the dirt, or the drunken people that bothered her. It was the despair in people’s faces as they propped up the bar. The hopelessness as they sat slumped in a corner, or poured what little money they had into fruit machines.

What was even more disturbing was that the pubs weren’t miles from affluent suburbs. A horrible dive called The Mermaid was next to an Indian fusion restaurant, which was advertising it had recently been awarded a Michelin Star. The bright interior, on show for everyone to see, was filled with happy, well-dressed people dining in groups. The Bird In The Hand, where Erika gave a haunted-looking young girl begging with a baby twenty pounds, was next to a posh wine bar filled with glossy women and their rich husbands.

Was she the only one who noticed this?

At midnight, Erika arrived at The Crown in Gant Road. It was an old-fashioned looking public house with brass lamps over a red frontage. A lock-in was underway, but Erika managed to get in, giving a lad on the door a crisp twenty-pound note.

The inside was packed and the atmosphere rowdy. The windows were steamed up and there was a smell of beer, sweat and cheap perfume. Everyone seemed rather rough round the edges, but had made the effort and was dressed in their best. Erika was questioning exactly what the party was in aid of, when she spied who she’d been looking for.

Ivy sat on a small bar stool at the back, next to a flashing fruit machine. Beside her sat a large young woman who had long black roots in her blonde hair and her lip pierced. Erika slowly made her way over, squeezing through groups of people who looked pretty far-gone. When she reached Ivy, she could see her pupils were dilated. Her eyes were now hideous pools of black.

‘What the fuck are you doin’ here?’ asked Ivy, struggling to focus.

‘I just wanted a word,’ shouted Erika, over the noise.

‘I paid for all this,’ shouted Ivy, waving a finger around. Erika noticed that there were several bags of shopping pooled around the stools.

‘It’s not about that,’ said Erika.

The girl beside Ivy glowered. ‘Everything all right, Ive?’ she said, leaning in, not taking her eyes off Erika.

‘Yeah,’ said Ivy. ‘She’s buying the next round.’

Erika passed the girl a twenty, realising she’d parted with a lot of cash that evening. The girl heaved herself off the little stool and vanished into the crowd.

‘Where are the kids?’ asked Erika.

‘’Oo?’

‘Your grandkids?’

‘Upstairs. Asleep. Why, do you want to hit ’em?’

‘Ivy . . .’

‘Well you can get in the queue, love. They’ve bin fuckin’ me off today something proper.’

‘Ivy. I need to talk to you about The Glue Pot,’ said Erika, perching on the warm, vacated stool.

‘What?’ said Ivy, trying to focus.

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