‘And I did, of course, pass this information across to DCI Sparks as soon as I made the discovery.’
‘And what did he say?’
‘I haven’t heard anything. I think he’s concentrating on his prime suspect, the Italian lad.’
‘He should at least be running these dates, checking where Marco Frost was when these murders happened. Jesus! Can I see the file?’
‘I thought about telling you. And I wasn’t going to. And then you show up, and, well I have a good instinct for people . . .’ His eyes travelled up to the shelf of crime thrillers. ‘Well, a good instinct for everyone except lovers.’
‘Please can I see the files?’
‘No. I’m sorry. I think it’s grossly unfair, what’s happened to you in the press, but you do need to cool down. You need to think tactically. Can’t one of your colleagues furnish you with the information?’
‘Possibly. And you’re really not going to tell me any more?’
He reached for a pad of paper. ‘I’ll give you their names and date of birth. But this will not come back to me. Do you hear?’
‘I promise,’ said Erika.
Isaac watched Erika through the CCTV monitor as she hurried off down the corridor, clutching the list of names, and hoped that she would remain true to her promise.
Erika went straight to the coffee shop when she got back to Brockley Station. She ordered a coffee, booted up her laptop and started to search the Internet. Armed with names and dates, it didn’t take her long to find details of the girls. The first victim was nineteen-year-old Tatiana Ivanova from Slovakia. A lone swimmer at Hampstead Heath ponds found her body in March 2013. It had been a warm start to spring, and her body was badly decayed. The press used a photo of Tatiana at a dance competition. She was dressed in a black leotard with sparkly silver fringing, striking a pose, hand on hip. She must have been part of a dance troupe, but the other girls had been cropped out. She was dark-haired, very beautiful, and looked younger than her years.
The second victim was Mirka Bratova, aged eighteen. She was originally from the Czech Republic, and was found eight months after her disappearance, in November 2013. One of the park wardens in the Serpentine Lido discovered her body floating in the water amongst leaves and rubbish by the sluice gate. In the press photo, she was also dark-haired and very beautiful, and pictured holding a black kitten on a sunny balcony. Behind her, blocks of flats stretched away in the distance.
The third victim was Karolina Todorova, again aged just eighteen. Her body was discovered in February 2014. A man was out walking early in the morning and his dog found her body by the edge of one of the lakes in Regent’s Park. Karolina was originally from Bulgaria. The press had used a photo taken in an automatic photo booth. She was dressed up for a night out, in a white low-cut top, and she had a streak of pink in her dark hair. Another girl was hugging her in the picture, presumably a friend, but her face had been blurred out.
It frustrated Erika that she couldn’t see more; details were sketchy and almost dismissive in the press reports of the deaths.
One other thing mentioned about all the girls was that they had come to England to work as au pairs, and that they had then “fallen into” prostitution. Erika wondered if it had been that gradual. Had the girls been lured to the UK on the pretence of a better life, of a good job? The chance to learn English?
Erika looked up from where she sat in the window of the café. Outside, it was raining hard. It hammered on the awning out front, where several people had gathered to shelter. She took a sip of her coffee, but it was cold.
Erika had left Slovakia when she was just eighteen, for the same reason, to be an au pair. She’d left the bus station in Bratislava on a bleak November morning, travelling to Manchester in England with little knowledge of English.
The family she’d worked for had been okay. The kids had been sweet, but the mother had had a cold attitude towards Erika, as if somehow Eastern Europeans were worth a bit less as human beings. Erika had found the suburban street where they lived to be sinister, and the atmosphere in the house was always tense between husband and wife. They’d refused to let her return home early that first Christmas, when Erika’s mother had fallen ill with cirrhosis of the liver, and eighteen months later, when they had decided they no longer needed an au pair, they had given Erika three days’ notice to leave. They hadn’t asked if she had anywhere to go.
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