No answer. The guest bedroom was empty; the bed had been made, and the room made tidy. But no Carol - and none of her clothes in the wardrobe.
She found the note on the lounge table.
Serena needs me. I’ve gone back home. Thanks for looking after me.
Love Carol xxx
Jackie gave a long sigh, sank into the sofa, and closed her eyes. The court might not see it that way. Carol was at risk and she needed to sort it...
...Her phone was ringing; she glanced at her watch. It was morning and daylight was streaming in.
It was Helga. ‘Jackie?’
‘One more possible.’ Helga was terse, to the point. Her voice echoed concern. ‘It’s your young girl. Carol.’
Jackie was furious. ‘What a fucking cock-up. It’s been three days.’
Helga sounded apologetic. ‘CID overwhelmed us with Operation Venus samples - and we’ve got a relief lab technician. As you know, Carol’s initial test was inconclusive, and so was this one ... it went back in the fridge.’
Jackie felt sick. ‘What’s “inconclusive”, mean?’
‘Jackie, this is between us ... for the moment. Carol’s blood sample has a unique defence mechanism against this strain of AIDS. Infected cells get inactivated. Simply put, Carol is probably a carrier.’
Just like Serena.
‘Are you saying she can infect others but not herself?’
‘Possibly ... I don’t know ... but we need to carry out a lot more tests.’
Helga was saying something else. ‘... living at your address, under your care. We need Carol to provide more samples, PDQ.’
Sod it. I’ve blown it again. ‘Let me talk with Carol.’
‘Jackie ... if the next sample confirms my initial findings, I have a duty to inform the coroner ... and the police.’
And then bloody Tania Simpson will get to know about it. And then...
Carol wasn’t answering her phone. She wasn’t at her flat. Jackie leaned on the doorbell, peered through the letter-box - no sign of anyone inside - and knocked on the doors on either side, only surprised looks and head-shakes from her neighbours who hadn’t seen her for days - hadn’t heard anything, either.
Jackie was in a quandary. It was her duty to inform the court – and CID - that Carol had absconded. That’s if she had - and not just gone shopping. The legal implications were serious; Carol would be caught and incarcerated until her trial – and it wouldn’t aid her defence, however lenient the judge.
She ticked through her options. Really there was only one person who could help. One who she could trust to carry out a covert investigation.
Paul answered on the third ring. He sounded surprised until she told him what she wanted him to do. ‘You don’t even know she’s gone missing yet.’
She crossed her fingers. ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.’ She could hear him sighing.
‘Where are you?’
He whistled and changed his tune. ‘Tell you what, I’ll meet you there in the Vic ... say half an hour?’
‘No, Paul, this is bloody urgent. Get your ass down here now.’
‘Err ... okay, Sarge. Right away.’
It sounded serious, but Paul now had the perfect excuse to get it back on with Jackie. And she could help him track down the Seagulls. It was less threatening to have a woman with him – plus added protection, if it came to it. He got Reilly to print off some stills of them and Sam’s attacker, plus the identikit photo. He also pocketed a copy of the CD. Excuse for getting back to her apartment and then...