This time she leant on the button, knocked and called out Georgina’s name. Still no answer.
Where the hell was she?
One more long blast on the bell. She paused; thought she heard a baby crying, inside. She lifted up the letter box flap and looked. No one downstairs, but definitely crying noises.
She looked up at the bedroom window. It was closed; the curtains drawn. She tried the bell next door at number 15. She heard someone shout; then the door opened. A young mother with bleary eyes stood there, cradling a baby with a dummy in its mouth. The baby was asleep. It wasn’t this one she’d heard.
The woman’s eyes focused; her mouth opened. ‘Yeah?’
Jackie pointed to number 17. ‘Seen this lady today?’
‘Do you know if she went out?’
A male voice from inside. ‘Who is it?’
‘Well close the bloody door, it’s fucking freezing.’
Jackie reached into her pocket and pulled out her warrant card. ‘I need to talk to Georgina.’
The woman shrugged her shoulders; tried to explain. ‘We keep ourselves to ourselves. Chocolate madam ... we call her that ... has men calling at all times ... the noise ... keeps us awake ... as if I haven’t got enough ...’
The male voice was louder. ‘I told you to shut the bloody door.’
The woman hesitated, tried to be helpful. She pointed to the alleyway between number 17 and 19. ‘You could try round the back; maybe she’s sweeping the path clear of snow.’
The male voice possessed by a fat slob stomped up to the door. ‘We’re not interested ... whatever it is ... get it?’
It took two seconds for Jackie to recognise the type.
She couldn’t afford to be confrontational. Not now. Her brief was quite clear.
Interview Georgina, not the whole damn street.
So she backed-off, let the door slam behind her as she trudged down the alley and round to the back. She peered over the fences, no one about – and Georgina hadn’t been clearing the path – there were scuffled imprints in the snow leading up to the back door. Jackie followed, tried the door; locked. She stood on her toes and peered through the window. Nobody.
Then she noticed the catch; it was slightly open and there were marks in the wood where paint had flaked off. The window opened when she lifted it up. Now she could hear Jasmine having a tantrum; the cries were persistent. She spotted a key on the nail; tried to reach it but her arm wasn’t long enough. She called out Georgina’s name but only the baby’s shrieks answered. She levered herself up; tried to grab the key, but it eluded her fingers and fell to the floor.
Maybe Georgina was hurt; she needed to find out.
Not tomorrow - or next week - when the new assignments were given out.
Her entry through the window was embarrassing; her body twitched like a stranded whale as she slithered across the work-top and fell on a heap on the floor.
Apart from an empty glass and crumbs on the table, the kitchen was spotless; they seemed out of place. She frowned; moved through the lounge into the hallway, and climbed the stairs, calling out as she went.
The two bedrooms she passed appeared empty; the screams came from the bathroom. The frosted door was closed. She took a deep breath, and opened it.
Jasmine was lying naked on the floor by the bath, her face contorted with effort, trying to reach a plastic duck; sobbing and sniffling with frustration. Jackie’s gaze went over her; there was a larger naked body in the tub.
The chocolate madam.
Bile bubbled up in her throat as she rushed to the bath and pulled up Georgina’s head, feeling for the carotid pulse in the neck.
Shit. Nothing – no sign of life.
No blood, no sign of a struggle, no water all over the place; it looked all very peaceful, an unexplained death. She swallowed the nausea back down, propped up the body, then turned and attended to Jasmine. No outward sign of injury; no bruises or red marks on Jasmine’s wet body; she also looked unharmed.
Thank God. What the hell had happened?
She wrapped the baby in a towel and hugged her close for a few minutes, until the little girl had exhausted her tantrum and fell asleep.
She gently placed Jasmine in her cot; then radioed in.
Fifteen minutes later, it was bedlam at number 17. The police doctor, ambulance, and CID all traipsing through the house downstairs, before converging upstairs. The crime scene sectioned off; death certified, and a red-eyed Jasmine carted off to hospital.
Jackie was caught in a turmoil of questions, not least her entry into the premises. She was sitting with DCI Hillock in the kitchen. Jackie felt miserable; why hadn’t she come back earlier? She might have been able to save Georgina’s life.
Hillock made it quite clear where he stood; the moral high ground. ‘So you heard a baby crying, and decided to break in?’
‘It wasn’t like that.’
He seemed to sneer at her, as though he was enjoying her discomfort. ‘I’m all ears, DS Steel. Explain.’
How many more times?
‘The baby was in obvious distress. I shouted for Georgina, but there was no answer. The window catch had been tampered with. I suspected foul play; maybe she was incapacitated, her life at risk. Therefore I took immediate action.’
Hillock fixed her with an icy stare. He jabbed a finger in front of her face and his voice rose.
‘You put your life at risk, as well as the little girl’s. If, and I’m stressing if, your instincts were correct didn’t it occur to you that there could have been an axe–wielding murderer inside?’
Bang goes my career.
‘Or a hostage situation?’
‘You’re gung-ho DS Steel; unprofessional behaviour. You recklessly entered the property on a hunch without informing me ... and without back-up.’
‘It was an emergency ...’
Not that it cut much ice. Hillock’s mind was made up; dead body or no dead body. He looked exasperated, frowning and shaking his head at her responses, as though she was an imbecile. ‘D.S Steel ... the bottom line is you screwed up. This time, your head’s on the block.’
‘Yes, Mr. Hillock. Is that all?’
‘Are you taking the piss? You’re the first responding officer ... for Christ’s sake do I have to tell you how to do a professional job? Go back upstairs and record everything.’
It’s so unfair...
Trouble was; she knew he was right. Why hadn’t she called in first? Better to be safe than sorry, even if patrol officers were dragged out for nothing. She didn’t say a word; took her pocketbook out and climbed back up the stairs, each step draining her emotions.
A couple of hours later, they were through; postmortem, next morning. Jackie decided to spend her last night as a DS getting thoroughly drunk.
With Paul – if he was off-duty.
He seemed surprised when she called him from her apartment.
‘Err ... I wasn’t expecting ...’
‘I’m celebrating. Are you free tonight?’
Please, I need comforting.
‘Is that a Yes?’
‘Err ... what’s up?’
‘Paul ... for god’s sake ...’
‘I thought we were going to cool it.’
‘Well ... things have changed.’
‘Paul ... do I have to beg? I just want to see you, okay?’
There was a pause. Then she heard him chuckle.
‘It’s more than okay. Where ... and what time?’
‘Somewhere quiet where we can talk. A real log-fire, a few local characters, and plenty of alcohol ... but not the Blacksmith ... I’m not into heavy metal tonight.’
‘Better I pick you up, then. We can take a drive out to the Foresters. Say eight?’