While he was stuffing his fat ass with carbohydrates, she had been up half the night slaving over a hot computer. But she had met the deadline. Just. By sacrificing the Chardonnay.
She was standing at the front desk with a cup of black coffee and watching Albert finish the Sun crossword, when the coloured girl turned-up. Teenager, slim, oversized-sweater and black leggings, who was peering back at the entrance lobby as if she didn’t want anyone to see her talking to a copper.
‘My sister’s gone missing.’
The desk sergeant was old school, with neatly manicured nails and freshly laundered uniform. Nearing retirement. He pushed the Sun to one side and peered over the counter.
‘What’s your name miss?’
‘Carol. Carol Naringa.’
‘You told your parents Carol?’
‘Not got any. Serena and me ... we live together. Harmony Estate. You know it?’
Jackie was listening. She knew it. Worst crime statistics in Bridleton. A tower-block haven for pushers, toms and robbers; violence included in the price. A black ghetto and a no-go area for cops unless you had serious back-up. She frowned.
Must be desperate, coming in here.
Albert tried again. ‘You told one of your teachers?’
The girl looked at him as if he was mad. ‘Finished that stuff; I got a job at a paper shop ... but I go to evening classes.’
Albert looked at Jackie; pointed to an interview room, door open. One table, two chairs.
‘It’s private in there. You can talk to one of our women officers, okay?’
Carol dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. ‘I’m going crazy, miss. It’s been four days now.’
The girl sniffed. Jackie stopped day-dreaming, turned her attention back, and reviewed her notes. From Carol’s recollection Serena had started her evening ‘shift’ outside the Town Hall. She wasn’t there when Carol finished evening classes. Jackie made a pencilled note. Punter made contact between seven and nine.
‘What you studying, Carol?’
‘Book-keeping ... Serena said I’ve got a brain, might as well put it to good use.’
Jackie suppressed a smile. Round where they lived it would be useful. Accounting for illicit drug trafficking and earnings from prostitution sprang to mind.
‘You got a picture of Serena?’ She watched Carol rummage around her bag and pulled out a packet.
Carol slid it over the table. ‘Passport photos. We’re going to Benidorm, soon as term ends.’
Jackie extracted pictures of both girls and clipped them to her file. Now the awkward questions.
‘Serena got a boy-friend, or anyone who looks out for her?’ She avoided saying pimp.
Carol shook her head. ‘No way. Serena does her own thing ... and she ain’t into crack or nothing.’
Jackie studied the girl closely. ‘Carol ... you can’t take a dump around Harmony Estate without someone wanting a piece.’
Carol’s eyes started to water. ‘Evil spirits gave her AIDS. She don’t get any hassle.’
Jackie blinked. ‘AIDS ... you sure?’
Carol started to sob. ‘When Serena’s there, it’s okay. They wouldn’t dare touch me. Now she’s missing…’
Jackie got up and put an arm around the little orphan. ‘Don’t worry, Carol. We’ll find her. And we’ll take care of you. Protect you from the evil spirits.’
But not from AIDS…