Marsh finally located a small padded envelope, and handed it to Erika. She tore the edge off and pulled out the wallet with her badge and ID.

‘So, I suddenly go from zero to hero?’ she said, turning the badge over in her hand.

‘This isn’t about you, DCI Foster. You should be pleased,’ said Marsh, moving round and sinking into his chair.

‘Sir, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that when I returned to service, I’d be put on administrative tasks for six months minimum?’

Marsh indicated she should take the seat opposite.

‘Foster, when I called you this was a missing person case. Now we’re looking at murder. Do I need to remind you who her father is?’

‘Lord Douglas-Brown. Wasn’t he one of the main government contractors for the Iraq War? At the same time as serving in the cabinet?’

‘This isn’t about politics.’

‘Since when have I cared about politics, sir?’

‘Andrea Douglas-Brown went missing on my patch. Lord Douglas-Brown has exerted enormous pressure. He’s a man of influence who can make and break careers. I’ve got a meeting with the Assistant Commissioner and someone from the bloody cabinet office later this morning . . .’

‘So this is about your career?’

Marsh shot her a look. ‘I need an ID on this body and a suspect. Fast.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Erika hesitated. ‘Can I ask, why me? Is the plan to throw me in first as potential fall guy? Then Sparks gets to clean up the mess and look the hero? Cos I deserve to know if . . .’

‘Andrea’s mother is Slovak. And so are you . . . I thought it might help things, to have an officer her mother can identify with.’

‘So it’s good PR to put me on the case?’

‘If you want to look at it like that. I also know what an extraordinary police officer you are. Recently you’ve had troubles, yes, but your achievements far outshine what has . . .’

‘Don’t give me the shit sandwich, sir,’ said Erika.

‘Foster, the one thing you’ve never mastered is the politics of the force. If you’d done that we might be sitting on opposite sides of this conversation right now.’

‘Yeah. Well, I have principles,’ said Erika giving him a hard stare. There was silence.

‘Erika . . . I brought you in because I think you deserve a break. Don’t talk yourself out of the job before you’ve begun.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Erika.

‘Now, get over to the crime scene. Report back to me the second you have information. If it is Andrea Douglas-Brown we’ll need a formal ID from the family.’

Erika got up and went to leave. Marsh went on, his voice softer, ‘I never got the chance, at the funeral, to say how sorry I was about Mark . . . He was an excellent officer, and a friend.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ Erika looked at the carpet. It was still difficult to hear his name. She willed herself not to cry. Marsh cleared his throat and his professional tone returned.

‘I know I can rely on you to reach a swift conviction on this. I want to be kept posted every step of the way.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Erika.

‘And DCI Foster?’

‘Sir?’

‘Lose the casual gear.’

3

Erika found the women’s locker room and worked fast, changing into a forgotten but familiar ensemble of black trousers, white blouse, dark sweater and long leather jacket.

She was stuffing her civilian clothes into a locker when she noticed a crumpled copy of the Daily Mail at the end of one of the long wooden benches. She pulled it towards her and smoothed it out. Under the headline, DAUGHTER OF TOP LABOUR PEER VANISHES, was a large picture of Andrea Douglas-Brown. She was beautiful and polished, with long brown hair, full lips and sparkling brown eyes. Her skin was tanned and she wore a skimpy bikini top, shoulders back to accentuate her full breasts. She stared into the camera with an intense, confident gaze. The photo had been taken on a yacht, and behind her the sky was a hot blue, and the sun sparkled on the sea. Andrea was being embraced from either side by wide, powerful male shoulders, one taller and one shorter – the rest of whoever they were had been cropped out.

The Daily Mail described Andrea as a “minor socialite”, which Erika was sure Andrea wouldn’t enjoy if she could read it, but it refrained from calling her “Andie” as the other tabloids had done. The paper had spoken to her parents, Lord and Lady Douglas-Brown, and to her fiancé, who had all pleaded for Andrea to get in contact with them.

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