To celebrate our long week part serialization of Rivers of London Team Gollancz are sharing their love of London before each chapter. Today, Gillian tells you why London is a miracle of a city . . . .
London is a little miracle of a city. It’s a hodge-podge, even in the most modern, up-to-date areas of the city, are packed with hidey-holes, secret bars and second hand bookshops to discover. Huge skyscrapers cosy up against ancient roman religious sites; power stations turned art galleries overlook stunning replica mediaeval theatres; it’s a fusion city of ancient and modern, culture and shopping, history and the future. London bursts with personality, character and energy.
And don’t forget, we’re giving you a chance daily to win a copy of Rivers of London (London Edition). To enter read the below extract and send the answer to this question: Where is the Westminster Murder Team located? To: email@example.com with the subject line: Rivers 2 by 11.59pm 14th July 2012. Happy Reading!
Chapter Two: Ghost-hunting Dog
The next morning Lesley asked me how the ghost- hunting had gone.We were loitering in front of Neblett’s office, the place from whence the fatal blow would fall.We weren’t required to be there, but neitherof us wanted to prolong the agony.
‘There’s worse things than the Case Progression Unit,’ I said.
We both thought about that for a moment.
‘Traffic,’ said Lesley.‘That’s worse than the CP U.’
‘You get to drive nice motors though,’ I said.‘BM W Five, Mercedes M Class.’
‘You know, Peter, you really are quite a shallow person,’ said Lesley.
I was going to protest, but Neblett emerged from his office.He didn’t seem surprised to see us.He handed a letter to Lesley, who seemed curiously reluctant to open it.
‘They’re waiting for you at Belgravia,’ said Neblett.
‘Off you go.’ Belgravia is where the Westminster Murder Team is based.Lesley gave me a nervous little wave, turned and skipped off down the corridor.
‘There goes a proper thief taker,’ said Neblett.He looked at me and frowned.
‘Whereas you,’ he said, ‘I don’t know what you are.’
‘Proactively making a valuable contribution, sir,’ I said.
‘Cheeky bugger is what you are,’ said Neblett.He handed me not an envelope, but a slip of paper.‘You’re going to be working with a Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale.’ The slip had the name and address of a Japanese restaurant on New Row.
‘Who am I working for ?’ I asked.
‘Economic and Specialist Crime as far as I know,’ said Neblett.‘They want you in plain clothes, so you’d better get a move on.’
Economic and Specialist Crime was an admin basket for a load of specialist units, everything from arts and antiques to immigration and computer crime.The important thing was that the Case Progression Unit wasn’t one of them.I left in a hurry before he could change his mind, but I want to make it clear that at no point did I break into a skip.
New Row was a narrow, pedestrianised street between Covent Garden and St Martin’s Lane, with a Tesco’s at one end and the theatres of St Martin’s Lane at the other. Tokyo A Go Go was a bento¯ place halfway down, sandwiched between a private gallery and a shop that sold sporting gear for girls.The interior was long and barely wide enough for two rows of tables, sparsely decorated in minimalist Japanese fashion, with pol- ished wooden floors, tables and chairs of lacquered wood, lots of right angles and rice paper.
I spotted Nightingale at a back table eating out of a black lacquered bento¯ box.He stood when he saw me and shook my hand.Once I’d settled myself opposite, he asked if I was hungry.I said no thank you.I was nervous, and I make it a rule never to put cold rice into an agitated stomach.He ordered tea, and asked if I minded if he continued eating.
I said not at all, and he returned to spearing food out of his bento¯ with quick jabs of his chopsticks.
‘Did he come back?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Your ghost,’ said Nightingale.‘Nicholas Wallpenny: lurker, bug hunter and sneak thief.Late of the parish of St Giles.Can you hazard a guess as to where he’s buried ?’
‘In the cemetery of the Actors’ Church?’
‘Very good,’ Nightingale said, and grabbed a duck wrap with a quick stab of his chopsticks.‘So, did he come back?’
‘No he didn’t,’ I said.
‘Ghosts are capricious,’ he said.‘They really don’t make reliable witnesses.’
‘Are you telling me ghosts are real ?’
Nightingale carefully wiped his lips with a napkin.
‘You’ve spoken to one,’ he said.‘What do you think?’
‘I’m awaiting confirmation from a senior officer,’ I said.
He put the napkin down and picked up his teacup.
‘Ghosts are real,’ he took a sip.
I stared at him.I didn’t believe in ghosts, or fairies or gods, and for the last couple of days I’d been like a man watching a magic show – I’d expected a magician to step out from behind the curtain and ask me to pick a card, any card.I wasn’t ready to believe in ghosts, but that’s the thing about empirical experience – it’s the real thing.
And if ghosts were real ?
‘Is this where you tell me that there’s a secret branch of the Met whose task it is to tackle ghosts, ghouls, faeries, demons, witches and warlocks, elves and goblins …?’ I said. ‘You can stop me before I run out of supernatural creatures.’
‘You haven’t even scratched the surface,’ said Nightingale.
‘Aliens?’ I had to ask.
‘And the secret branch of the Met?’
‘Just me, I’m afraid,’ he said.
‘And you want me to what … join?’
‘Help,’ said Nightingale, ‘with this inquiry.’
‘You think there’s something supernatural about the murder ?’ I asked.
‘Why don’t you tell me what your witness had to say,’ he said, ‘and then we’ll see where it goes.’
So I told him about Nicholas and the change of clothes by the murdering gent.About the CC TV cover- age and the Murder Team thinking it was two separate people.When I’d finished, he signalled the waitress for the bill.
‘I wish I’d known this yesterday,’ he said.‘But we still might be able to pick up a trace.’
‘A trace of what, sir ?’ I asked.
‘The uncanny,’ said Nightingale.‘It always leaves a trace.’
Nightingale’s motor was a Jag, a genuine Mark 2 with the 3.8 litre XK6 engine. My dad would have sold his trumpet for a chance to own a car like that, and that was back in the 1960s when that still meant something.It wasn’t pristine: there were some dings on the body work and a nasty scratch on the driver’s side door, and the leather on the seats was beginning to crack, but when Nightingale turned the key in the ignition and the inline-6 rumbled, it was perfect where it counted.
‘You took sciences at A level,’ said Nightingale as we pulled out.‘Why didn’t you take a science degree?’
‘I got distracted, sir,’ I said.‘My grades were low and I couldn’t get on the course that I wanted.’
‘Really? What was the distraction?’ he asked.‘Music, perhaps? Did you start a band ?’
‘No sir,’ I said.‘Nothing that interesting.’
We headed down through Trafalgar Square and took advantage of the discreet Metropolitan Police flash on the windscreen to cut through the Mall, past Bucking- ham Palace and into Victoria.I knew there were only two places we might be going; Belgravia nick, where the Murder Team had their incident room, or Westminster Mortuary where the body was stashed.I hoped it was the incident room, but of course it was the mortuary.
‘But you understand the scientific method, though?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Yes sir,’ I said, and thought, Bacon, Descartes and Newton – check.Observation, hypothesis, experiment and something else that I could look up when I got back to my laptop.
‘Good,’ said Nightingale.‘Because I need someone with some objectivity.’
Definitely the morgue then, I thought.
Its official name is the Iain West Forensic Suite, and it represents the Home Office’s best attempt to make one of its mortuaries look as cool as the ones in American TV shows.In order to keep filthy policemen from con- taminating any trace evidence on the body, there was a special viewing area with live autopsies piped in by closed-circuit television.This had the effect of reducing even the most grisly post-mortem to nothing more than a gruesome TV documentary.I was all for that but Nightingale, on the other hand, said that we needed to get close to the corpse.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘Because there are other senses than sight,’ said Nightingale.
‘Are we talking ES P here?’
‘Just keep an open mind,’ said Nightingale.
The staff made us don clean suits and masks before letting us near the slab.We weren’t relatives, so they didn’t bother with a discreet cloth to cover the gap between the body’s shoulders and the head.I was so glad I’d skipped the bento¯ that morning.
I guessed William Skirmish had been an unremarkable man when he was alive.Middle-aged, just over average height, his muscle tone was flabby but he wasn’t fat.I found it surprisingly easy to look at the detached head, with its ragged edge of torn skin and muscle instead of a neck.People assume that, as a police officer, your first dead person will be a murder victim, but the truth is it’s usually the result of a car accident. My first had been on day two, when a cycle courier had had his head knocked off by a transit van.After that you don’t exactly get used to it but you do know that it could be a lot worse.I wasn’t exactly enjoying the headless Mr Skirmish, but I had to admit it was less intimidating than I’d imagined it.
Nightingale bent over the body and practically stuck his face into the severed neck.He shook his head and turned to me.‘Help me turn him over,’ he said.
I didn’t want to touch the body, not even with surgical gloves on, but I couldn’t bottle out now.The body was heavier than I was expecting, cold and inert as it flopped onto its belly.I quickly stepped away but Nightingale beckoned me over.
‘I want you to get your face as close to his neck as possible, close your eyes and tell me what you feel,’ said Nightingale.
‘I promise it will become clear,’ he said.
The mask and eye protectors helped; there was no chance of me accidentally kissing the dead guy.I did as I was told and closed my eyes.At first there was just the smell of disinfectant, stainless steel and freshly washed skin, but after a few moments I became aware of some- thing else, a scratchy, wiry, panting, wet-nose, wagging sensation.
‘Well ?’ asked Nightingale.
‘A dog,’ I said.‘A little yappy dog.’
Growling, barking, yelling, flashes of cobbles, sticks, laughing – maniacal, high-pitched laughing.
I stood up sharply.
‘Violence and laughter ?’ asked Nightingale.I nodded.
‘What was that?’ I asked.
‘The uncanny,’ said Nightingale.‘It’s like a bright light when you close your eyes, it leaves an afterimage. We call it vestigium.’
‘How do I know I didn’t just imagine it?’ I asked.
‘Experience,’ said Nightingale.‘You learn to dis- tinguish the difference through experience.’
Thankfully we turned our back on the body and left.
‘I barely felt anything,’ I said, while we were chang- ing.‘Is it always that weak?’
‘That body’s been on ice for two days,’ said Nightingale, ‘and dead bodies don’t retain vestigia very well.’
‘So whatever caused it must have been very strong,’ I said.
‘Quite,’ said Nightingale.‘Therefore we have to assume that the dog is very important and we have to find out why.’
‘Maybe Mr Skirmish had a dog,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ said Nightingale.‘Let’s start there.’
We’d changed and were on our way out of the mor- tuary when fate caught up with us.
‘I heard rumours there was a nasty smell in the build- ing,’ said a voice behind us.‘And bugger me if it isn’t true.’
We stopped and turned.
Detective Chief Inspector Alexander Seawoll was a big man, coming in a shade under two metres, barrel- chested, beer-bellied and with a voice that could make the windows shake.He was from Yorkshire, or some- where like that, and like many Northerners with issues, he’d moved to London as a cheap alternative to psycho- therapy.I knew him by reputation, and the reputation was, don’t fuck with him under any circumstances.He bore down the corridor towards us like a bull on steroids, and as he did I had to fight the urge to hide behind Nightingale.
‘This is my fucking investigation, Nightingale,’ said Seawoll.‘I don’t care who you’re currently fucking – I don’t want any of your X-Files shit getting in the way of proper police work.’
‘I can assure you, Inspector,’ said Nightingale, ‘I have no intention of getting in your way.’
Seawoll turned to look at me.‘Who the hell is this?’
‘This is PC Peter Grant,’ said Nightingale.‘He’s working with me.’
I could see this shocked Seawoll.He looked at me carefully before turning back to Nightingale.‘You’re taking on an apprentice?’ he asked.
‘That’s yet to be decided,’ said Nightingale.
‘We’ll see about that,’ said Seawoll.‘There was an agreement.’
‘There was an arrangement,’ said Nightingale.‘Cir- cumstances change.’
‘Not that fucking much they don’t,’ said Seawoll, but it seemed to me he’d lost some of his conviction.He looked down at me again.‘Take my advice, son,’ he said quietly.‘Get the fuck away from this man while you still have a chance.’
‘Is that all ?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Just stay the hell away from my investigation,’ said Seawoll.
‘I go where I’m needed,’ said Nightingale.‘That’s the agreement.’
‘Circumstances can fucking change,’ said Seawoll.
‘Now if you gentlemen don’t mind, I’m late for my colonic irrigation.’
He went back up the corridor, crashed through the double doors and was gone.
‘What’s the agreement?’ I asked.
‘It’s not important,’ said Nightingale.‘Let’s go and see if we can’t find this dog.’
The north end of the London Borough of Camden is dominated by two hills, Hampstead on the west, High- gate on the east, with the Heath, one of the largest parks in London, slung between them like a green saddle. From these heights the land slopes down towards the River Thames and the floodplains that lurk below the built-up centre of London.
Dartmouth Park, where William Skirmish had lived, was on the lower slopes of Highgate Hill and within easy walking distance of the Heath.He’d had the ground-floor flat of a converted Victorian terrace, the corner house of a tree-lined street that had been traffic- calmed to within an inch of its life.
Further downhill was Kentish Town, Leighton Road and the estate where I grew up.Some of my school
mates had lived around the corner from Skirmish’s flat, so I knew the area well.
I spotted a face in a first-floor window as we showed our cards to the uniform guarding the door.As in many converted terraces, a once elegant hallway had been walled off with plasterboard, making it cramped and lightless.Two additional front doors had been jammed side by side into the space at the end.The door on the right was half-open but symbolically blocked with police tape.The other presumably belonged to the flat with the twitching curtains upstairs.
Skirmish’s flat was neat, and furnished in the patch- work of styles that ordinary people, the ones not driven by aspirational demons, choose for their homes.Fewer bookcases than I would have expected from a media type; many photographs, but the ones of children were all black and white or the faded colour of old instamatic film.
‘A life of quiet desperation,’ said Nightingale.I knew it was a quote, but I wasn’t going to give him the sat- isfaction of asking who’d said it.
Chief Inspector Seawoll, whatever else he was, was no fool.We could tell that his Murder Team had done a thorough job – there were smudges of fingerprint powder on the phone, the door handles and frames, and books had been pulled off bookcases and then put back upside down.The last seemed to annoy Nightingale more than was strictly appropriate.‘It’s just careless- ness,’ he said.Drawers had been pulled out, searched and then left slightly open to mark their status.Any- thing worthy of note would have been noted and logged into HO LM ES, probably by poor suckers like Lesley, but the Murder Team didn’t know about my psychic powers and the vestigium of the barking dog.
And there was a dog.That, or Skirmish had a taste for Pal Meaty Chunks in Gravy, and I didn’t think his quiet life had been quite that desperate.
I called Lesley on her mobile.
‘Are you near a HO LM ES terminal ?’ I asked.
‘I haven’t left the bloody thing since I got here,’ said Lesley.‘They’ve had me on data entry and bloody state- ment verification.’
‘Really,’ I said, trying not to gloat.‘Guess where I am?’
‘You’re at Skirmish’s flat in Dartmouth bloody Park,’ she said.
‘How do you know that?’
‘Because I can hear DC I Seawoll yelling about it right through his office wall,’ she said.‘Who’s Inspector Nightingale?’
I glanced at Nightingale, who was looking at me impatiently.‘I’ll tell you later,’ I said.‘Can you check something for us?’
‘Sure,’ said Lesley.‘What is it?’
‘When the Murder Team tossed the flat, did they find a dog?’
I heard her tapping away as she did a text search on the relevant files.‘No mention of a dog in the report.’
‘Thanks,’ I said.‘You’ve made a valuable contri- bution.’
‘You’re so buying the drinks tonight,’ she said and hung up.
I told Nightingale about the absence of dog.
‘Let’s go and find a nosy neighbour,’ said Nightingale. He’d obviously seen the face in the window too.
Beside the front door an intercom system had been retrofitted above the doorbells.Nightingale barely had time to press the button before the lock buzzed open and a voice said, ‘Come on up, dear.’ There was another buzz and the inner door opened, behind a dusty but otherwise clean staircase that led upwards, and as we started up we heard a small yappy dog start barking. The lady who met us at the top did not have blue-rinsed hair.Actually I’m not sure what blue-rinsed hair would look like, and why did anyone think blue hair was a good idea in the first place? Nor did she have fingerless mittens or too many cats, but there was something about her that suggested that both could be serious lifestyle choices in the future.She was also quite tall for a little old lady, spry and not even slightly senile.She gave her name as Mrs Shirley Palmarron.
We were quickly ushered into a living room that had last been seriously refurnished in the 1970s, and offered tea and biscuits.While she bustled in the kitchen the dog, a short-haired white and brown mongrel terrier, wagged its tail and barked non-stop.Clearly the dog didn’t know which of us it regarded as a greater threat, so it swung its head from one side to the other barking continuously until Nightingale pointed his finger at it and muttered something under his breath.The dog immediately rolled over, closed its eyes and went to sleep.
I looked at Nightingale, but he just raised an eyebrow.
‘Has Toby gone to sleep?’ asked Mrs Palmarron when she returned with a tea tray.Nightingale jumped to his feet and helped her settle it on the coffee table.He waited until our host had sat down before returning to his seat.
Toby kicked his feet and growled in his sleep.Obvi- ously nothing short of death was going to keep this dog quiet.
‘Such a noisy thing, isn’t he?’ said Mrs Palmarron as she poured the tea.
Now that Toby was relatively quiet I had a chance to notice that there was a lack of dogness about Mrs Palmarron’s flat.There were photographs of, pre- sumably, Mr Palmarron and their children on her mantelpiece, but no chintz or doilies.There was no dog basket by the fireplace, and no hair ground into the corners of the sofa.I got out my notebook and pen.
‘Is he yours?’ I asked.
‘Lord no,’ said Mrs Palmarron.‘He belonged to poor Mr Skirmish, but I’ve been looking after him for a little while now.He’s not a bad chap when you get used to him.’
‘He’s been here from before Mr Skirmish’s death?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Oh yes,’ said Mrs Palmarron with relish.‘You see, Toby’s a fugitive from justice, he’s “on the lam”.’
‘What was his crime?’ asked Nightingale.
‘He’s wanted for a serious assault,’ said Mrs Palm- arron.‘He bit a man.Right on his nose.The police were called and everything.’ She looked down to where Toby was chasing rats in his sleep.‘If I hadn’t let you hole up here it would be the pokey for you, my lad,’ she said.
‘And then the needle.’
I called Kentish Town nick who put me through to Hampstead nick who told me that yes, there had been a call-out to a dog attack on Hampstead Heath just before Christmas.The victim had failed to press charges, and that was all there was in the report.They gave me the name and address of the victim; Brandon Coopertown, Downshire Hill, Hampstead.
‘You put a spell on the dog,’ I said as we left the house.
‘Just a small one,’ said Nightingale.
So magic is real,’ I said. ‘Which makes you a … what?’
‘Like Harry Potter ?’
Nightingale sighed.‘No,’ he said, ‘not like Harry Potter.’
‘In what way?’
‘I’m not a fictional character,’ said Nightingale.
We hopped back in the Jag and headed west, skirting the south end of Hampstead Heath before swinging north to climb the hill into Hampstead proper.This far up the hill was a maze of narrow streets choked with BMWs and Chelsea Tractors.The houses had seven- figure prices, and if there was any quiet desperation here then it had to be over the things that money couldn’t buy.
Nightingale parked the Jag in a residents-only bay and we walked up Downshire Hill looking for the address.It turned out to be one of a row of grand Victorian semi- detached mansions set back from the north side of the road.It was a seriously buff house with gothic trim and bay windows; the front garden was professionally cared for and judging from the absence of an intercom, the Coopertowns owned the whole thing.
As we approached the front door we heard an infant crying, the sort of thready, measured crying of a baby that was settling in for a good wail and was prepared to keep it up all day if need be.With a house this expensive I was expecting a nanny or, at the very least an au pair, but the woman who opened the door looked too haggard to be either.
August Coopertown was in her late twenties, tall, blonde and Danish.We knew about the nationality because she managed to work it into the conversation almost immediately.Before the baby she’d had a slim, boyish figure, but childbirth had widened her hips and put slabs of fat on her thighs.She managed to work that into the conversation pretty quickly, as well.As far as August was concerned, all of this was the fault of the English, who had failed to live up to the high standards a well brought-up Scandinavian woman comes to expect. I don’t know why; perhaps Danish hospitals have gyms attached to their maternity units.
She entertained us in her knocked-through living room stroke dining room with blond-wood floors and more stripped pine than I really like to see outside of a sauna.Despite her best efforts, the baby had already begun to make inroads into the ruthless cleanliness of the house.A feeding bottle had rolled between the solid oak legs of the sideboard, and there was a discarded romper suit balled up on top of the Bang & Olufsen stereo.I smelled stale milk and vomit.
The baby lay in his four-hundred-quid cot and continued to cry.
Family portraits were hung in a tasteful grouping over the minimalist granite fireplace.Brandon Coopertown was a good-looking older man in his mid-forties with black hair and narrow features.While Mrs Coopertown bustled, I surreptitiously took a photograph with my phone camera.‘I keep forgetting you can do that,’ murmured Nightingale.
‘Welcome to the twenty-first century,’ I said, ‘sir.’ Nightingale rose politely as Mrs Coopertown bustled back in.This time I was ready and followed him up.
‘May I ask what your husband does for a living?’ asked Nightingale.
He was a television producer, a successful one, with BAFTAs and format sales to the US – which explained the seven-figure house.He could do even better, but his ascension to the higher planes of international pro- duction were entirely hampered by the parochial nature of British television.If only the British could stop making programmes that catered only to a domestic audience, or even cast actors who were the least bit attractive.
As fascinating as Mrs Coopertown’s observations on the provinciality of British television were, we felt com- pelled to ask about the incident with the dog.
‘That too is typical,’ said Mrs Coopertown.‘Of course Brandon didn’t want to press charges.He’s English.He didn’t want to make a fuss.The policeman should have prosecuted the dog owner regardless.The animal was clearly a danger to the public – it bit poor Brandon right on his nose.’
The baby paused and we all held our breath, but he merely burped once and started crying again.I looked at Nightingale and rolled my eyes over at the baby. Perhaps he could use the same spell as he used on Toby. He frowned at me.Maybe there were ethical issues about using it on babies.
According to Mrs Coopertown, the baby had been perfectly well behaved until the thing with the dog.Now, well, now Mrs Coopertown thought he must be teething or have colic or reflux.Their GP didn’t seem to have a clue and was unforgivably short with her.She thought they might be better off going private.
‘How did the dog manage to bite your husband on the nose?’ I asked.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Mrs Coopertown.
‘You said your husband was bitten on the nose,’ I said.
‘The dog’s very small.How did it reach his nose?’
‘My stupid husband bent down,’ said Mrs Cooper- town.‘We were out for a walk on the Heath, all three of us, when this dog came running up.My husband bent down to pat the dog and snap, with no warning, it had bitten him on the nose.At first I thought it was quite comical, but Brandon started screaming and then that nasty little man ran over and started yelling, “Oh, what are you doing to my poor dog, leave him alone.” ’
‘The “nasty little man” being the owner of the dog?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Nasty little dog, nasty little man,’ said Mrs Coopertown.
‘Was your husband upset?’
‘How can you tell with an Englishman?’ asked Mrs Coopertown.‘I went to get something for the blood and when I got back Brandon was laughing – everything is a joke to you people.I had to call the police myself.They came, Brandon showed them his nose and they started laughing.Everyone was happy, even the nasty little dog was happy.’
‘But you weren’t happy?’ I asked.
‘It’s not a question of happy,’ said Mrs Coopertown.
‘If a dog bites a man, what’s to stop it from biting a child or a baby?’
‘May I ask where you were last Tuesday night?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Where I am every night,’ she said.‘Here, taking care of my son.’
‘And where was your husband ?’
August Coopertown, annoying yes, blonde yes, stupid no, replied, ‘Why do you want to know?’ she asked.
‘It’s not important,’ said Nightingale.
‘I thought you were here about the dog,’ she said.
‘We are,’ said Nightingale.‘But we’d like to confirm some of the details with your husband.’
‘Do you think I’m making this up?’ asked Mrs Coopertown.She had the startled-rabbit look that civil- ians get after five minutes of helping the police with their inquiries.If they stay calm for too long it’s a sign that they’re professional villains or foreign or just plain stupid.All of which can get you locked up if you’re not careful.If you find yourself talking to the police, my advice is to stay calm but look guilty; it’s your safest bet.
‘Not at all,’ said Nightingale.‘But since he’s the prin- cipal victim we’ll need to take his statement.’
‘He’s in Los Angeles,’ she said.‘He’s coming home late tonight.’
Nightingale left his card and promised Mrs Cooper- town that he, and by extension all right-thinking policemen, took attacks by small yappy dogs very seriously and that they would be in touch.
‘What did you sense in there?’ asked Nightingale as we walked back to the Jag.
‘As in vestigium?’
‘Vestigium is the singular, vestigia is the plural,’ said
Nightingale.‘Did you sense vestigia ?’
‘To be honest,’ I said, ‘nothing.Not even a vestige.’
‘A wailing child, a desperate mother and an absent father.Not to mention a house of that antiquity,’ said Nightingale.‘There should have been something.’
‘She seemed a bit of a neat freak to me,’ I said.
‘Perhaps she hoovered up all the magic?’
‘Something certainly did,’ said Nightingale.‘We’ll talk to the husband tomorrow.Let’s get back to Covent Garden and see if we can’t pick up the trail there.’
‘It’s been three days,’ I said.‘Won’t the vestigia have worn off ?’
‘Stone retains vestigia very well.That’s why old build- ings have such character,’ said Nightingale.‘That said, what with the foot traffic and the area’s supernatural components, they certainly won’t be easy to trace.’
We reached the Jag.‘Can animals sense vestigia ?’
‘It depends on the animal,’ said Nightingale.
‘What if it was one that we think might already be connected to the case?’ I asked.
‘Why are we drinking in your room?’ asked Lesley.
‘Because they won’t let me take the dog into the pub,’ I said.
Lesley, who was perched on my bed, reached down and scratched Toby behind the ears.The dog whimpered with pleasure and tried to bury its head in Lesley’s knee.‘You should have told them it was a ghost-hunting dog,’ she said.
‘We’re not hunting for ghosts,’ I said.‘We’re looking for traces of supernatural energy.’
‘Did he really say he was a wizard ?’
I was really beginning to regret telling Lesley every- thing.‘Yes,’ I said.‘I saw him do a spell and everything.’ We were drinking bottles of Grolsch from a crate that Lesley had liberated from the station’s Christmas party and stashed behind a loose section of plasterboard in the kitchenette.
‘You remember that guy we arrested for assault last week?’
‘How could I forget.’ I’d been shoved into a wall during the struggle.
‘I think you hit your head much harder then you thought,’ she said.
‘It’s all real,’ I said.‘Ghosts, magic, everything.’
‘Then why doesn’t everything seem different?’ she asked.
‘Because it was there in front of you all the time,’ I said.‘Nothing’s changed, so why should you notice anything?’ I finished my bottle.‘Duh!’
‘I thought you were a sceptic,’ said Lesley.‘I thought you were scientific.’
She handed me a fresh bottle and I waved it at her.
‘Okay,’ I said.‘You know my dad used to play jazz?’
‘’Course,’ said Lesley.‘You introduced me once – remember ? I thought he was nice.’
I tried not to wince at that and continued, ‘And you know jazz is about improvising on a melody?’
‘No,’ she said.‘I thought it was when you sang about cheese and tying up people’s gaiters.’
‘Funny,’ I said.‘I once asked my dad’ – when he was sober – ‘how he knew what to play.And he said that when you get the right line, you just know because it’s perfect.You’ve found the line, and you just follow it.’
‘And that’s got the fuck to do with what?’
‘What Nightingale can do fits with the way I see the world.It’s the line, the right melody.’
Lesley laughed.‘You want to be a wizard,’ she said.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Liar,’ she said, ‘you want to be his apprentice and learn magic and ride a broomstick.’
‘I don’t think real wizards ride broomsticks,’ I said.
‘Would you like to think about what you just said ?’ asked Lesley.‘Anyway, how would you know? He could be whooshing around even as we’re speaking.’
‘Because if you had a car like that Jag you wouldn’t spend any time mucking about on a broomstick.’
‘Fair point,’ said Lesley, and we clinked bottles.
Covent Garden, night time again.This time with a dog.
Also a Friday night, which meant crowds of young people being horribly drunk and loud in two dozen languages.I had to carry Toby in my arms or I’d have lost him in the crowd – lead and all.He enjoyed the ride, alternating between snarling at tourists, licking my face and trying to drive his nose into passing armpits.
I’d offered Lesley a chance to put in some unpaid overtime, but strangely she’d declined.I did zap her Brandon Coopertown’s picture and she’d promised to put his details on HO LM ES for me.It was just turning eleven when Toby and I reached the Piazza and found Nightingale’s Jag parked as close to the Actors’ Church as you could get without being towed away.
Nightingale climbed out as I walked over.He was carrying the same silver-topped cane as he had when I’d first met him.I wondered if it had any special sig- nificance beyond being a handy blunt instrument in times of trouble.
‘How do you want to do this?’ asked Nightingale.
‘You’re the expert, sir,’ I said.
‘I looked into the literature on this,’ said Nightingale, ‘and it wasn’t very helpful.’
‘There’s a literature about this?’
‘You’d be amazed, Constable, about what there’s a literature on.’
‘We have two options,’ I said.‘One of us leads him around the crime scene, or we let him go and see where he goes.’
‘I believe we should do it in that order,’ said Nightingale.
‘You think a directed first pass will make a better control ?’ I asked.
‘No,’ said Nightingale, ‘but if we let him off the lead and he runs away, that’s the end of it.I’ll take him for his walk.You stay by the church and keep an eye out.’
He didn’t say what I should keep an eye out for, but I had a shrewd idea that I knew already.Just as I’d suspected as soon as Nightingale and Toby vanished around the side of the covered market.I heard someone pssting me.I turned around and found Nicholas Wall- penny beckoning me from behind one of the pillars.
‘Over here, squire,’ hissed Nicholas.‘Before he comes back.’ He drew me behind the pillar where, among the shadows, Nicholas seemed more solid and less worry- ing.‘Do you know what manner of man you’re keeping company with?’
‘You’re a ghost,’ I said.
‘Not myself,’ said Nicholas.‘Him with the nice suit and the silver cad-walloper.’
‘Inspector Nightingale?’ I asked.‘He’s my governor.’
‘Well, I don’t want to tell you your business,’ said Nicholas.‘But I’d find myself another governor if I was you. Someone less touched.’
‘Touched by what?’ I asked.
‘Just you ask him about the year of his birth,’ said Nicholas.
I heard Toby bark, and suddenly Nicholas wasn’t there any more.
‘You’re not making any friends here, Nicholas,’ I said. Nightingale returned with Toby, and with nothing to report.I didn’t tell him about the ghost or what the ghost had said about him.I feel it’s important not to burden your senior officers with more information than they need.
I picked up Toby and held him so that his absurd doggy face was level with mine – I tried to ignore the smell of PA L Meaty Chunks in gravy.
‘Listen Toby,’ I said, ‘your master is dead, I’m not a dog person and my governor would turn you into a pair of mittens as soon as look at you.You’re looking at a one-way ticket to Battersea Dog’s Home and the big sleep. Your one chance to avoid the big kennel in the sky is to use whatever doggy supernatural senses you have to track … whatever it was murdered your owner. Do you understand ?’
Toby panted and then barked once.
‘Close enough,’ I said, and put him down.He imme- diately trotted over to the pillar and lifted his leg.
‘I wouldn’t turn him into a pair of mittens,’ said Nightingale.
‘He’s a short-haired breed – they’d look terrible,’ said Nightingale.‘Might make a good hat.’
Toby snuffled around a spot close to where his master’s body had lain.He looked up, barked once and shot off towards King Street.
‘Damn,’ I said.‘I wasn’t expecting that.’
‘Get after him,’ said Nightingale.
I was already on my way.Detective Chief Inspectors don’t run – that’s what they have constables for.I sprin- ted after Toby who, like all rat-like dogs, could really shift when he wanted to.Past the Tesco’s he went, and down New Row with his little legs whirring like a low- budget cartoon.Two years running down drunks in Leicester Square had given me some speed and stamina, and I was gaining when he crossed St Martin’s Lane and into St Martin’s Court on the other side.I lost ground when I had to dodge around a crocodile of Dutch tourists leaving the Noe¨ l Coward Theatre.
‘Police,’ I yelled, ‘get out of the way!’ I didn’t yell ‘stop that dog’ – I do have some standards.
Toby whirred past the J.Sheekey Oyster Bar and the salt-beef and falafel place on the corner, and shot across the Charing Cross Road, which is one of the busiest roads in central London.I had to look both ways before crossing, but luckily Toby had stopped at a bus stop and was relieving himself against the ticket machine.
Toby gave me the smug, self-satisfied look employed by small dogs everywhere when they’ve confounded your expectations or messed on your front garden.I checked which buses used the stop – one of them was the 24: Camden Town, Chalk Farm and Hampstead.
Nightingale arrived, and together we counted cameras.There were at least five that had a good view of the bus stop, not to mention the cameras that Trans- port for London routinely mounts in its buses.I left a message on Lesley’s phone suggesting she check the camera footage from the 24 bus first.I’m sure she was thrilled when she got it.
She got her revenge by calling me at eight o’clock the next morning.
I hate the winter; I hate waking up in the dark.
‘Don’t you ever sleep?’ I asked.
‘Early bird gets the worm,’ said Lesley.‘You know that picture you sent me, the one of Brandon Coopertown? I think he boarded a number 24 at Leicester Square less than ten minutes after the murder.’
‘Have you told Seawoll ?’
‘’Course I have,’ said Lesley.‘I love you dearly, but I ain’t going to fuck up my career for you.’
‘What did you tell him?’
‘That I had a lead on WI TN ESS A , one of several hundred generated in the last two days, I might add.’
‘What did he say?
‘He told me to check it out,’ said Lesley.
‘According to Mrs Coopertown he should be back today.’
‘Can you pick me up?’ I asked.
‘’Course,’ said Lesley.‘What about Voldemort?’
‘He’s got my number,’ I said.
I had time for a shower and a coffee before meeting Lesley outside.She arrived in a ten-year-old Honda Accord that looked like it had been used in one too many drug raids.She gave me a sour look as Toby scrambled onto the back seat.
‘This is just a borrow, you know,’ she said.
‘I wasn’t about to leave him in my room,’ I said as Toby snuffled God knows what from the gaps between the seats.‘Are you sure it was Coopertown?’
Lesley showed me a couple of hard copies.The bus security camera was angled to get a good shot of anyone coming up the stairs and there was no mistaking the face – it was him.
‘Is that bruising?’ I asked.There appeared to be blotches on Coopertown’s cheeks and neck.Lesley said she didn’t know but it had been a cold night, so it could have been from drink.
Because it was Saturday the traffic was merely hor- rendous, and we made Hampstead in just under half an hour.Unfortunately as we pulled into Downshire Hill I spotted the familiar silver shape of the Jaguar nestled among the Range Rovers and BMWs.Toby started yapping.
‘Doesn’t he ever sleep?’ asked Lesley.
‘I reckon he was on obbo all night,’ I said.
‘He ain’t my governor,’ said Lesley, ‘so I’m going to go do the job. Coming?’
We left Toby in the car and headed for the house. Inspector Nightingale got out of his Jag and intercepted us just short of the front gate. I noticed he was wearing the same suit he had been in the night before.
‘Peter,’ he said, and inclined his head to Lesley.
‘Constable May.I take it this means your search was successful ?’
Even the Queen of Perky wasn’t going to defy a senior officer to his face, so she told him about the CC TV footage from the bus and how we were ninety per cent certain, what with the evidence from our ghost-hunting dog, that Brandon Coopertown, at the very least, was WI TN ESS A if not actually the killer.
‘Have you checked his flight details with Immigration yet?’ asked Nightingale.
I looked at Lesley, who shrugged.‘No sir,’ I said.
‘So he could have been in Los Angeles when the murder was committed.’
‘We thought we’d ask him, sir,’ I said.
Toby started barking, not his usual annoying yap but proper furious barks.For a moment I thought I felt something, a wave of emotion like the excitement of being in a crowd at a football match when a goal is scored.
Nightingale’s head snapped round to look at the Coopertowns’ house.
We heard a window break and a woman screaming.
‘Constable, wait!’ shouted Nightingale, but Lesley was already through the gate and into the garden.Then she stopped so suddenly that Nightingale and I nearly piled into her back.She was staring at something on the lawn.
‘Jesus Christ, no,’ she whispered.
I looked.My brain kept trying to slide away from the idea that someone had thrown a baby from a first-floor window.Tried to convince me that what I was seeing was a scrap of cloth or a doll.But it wasn’t.
‘Call an ambulance,’ said Nightingale and ran up the steps.I grabbed my phone as Lesley stumbled over to the baby and fell to her knees.I saw her turn the little body over and feel for a pulse.I gave the emergency code and the address on automatic.Lesley bent over and started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, her mouth covering the baby’s mouth and nose in the prescribed manner.
‘Grant, get in here,’ called Nightingale.His voice was steady, businesslike.It got me moving up the steps and onto the porch.Nightingale must have kicked the front door right off its hinges because I had to run right over it to get into the hall.We had to stop to work out where the fuck the noise was coming from.
The woman screamed again – upstairs.There was a thumping sound like somebody beating a carpet.A voice, I thought it might be a man’s but very high- pitched, was screaming: ‘Have you got a headache now?’ I don’t even remember the stairs.Suddenly I was on the landing with Nightingale in front of me.I saw August Coopertown lying face down at the far end of the landing, one arm thrust through a gap in the ban- isters.Her hair was wet with blood and a pool was growing under her cheek.A man stood over her holding a wooden baton at least a metre and a half in length.He was panting hard.
Nightingale didn’t hesitate.He bulled forward, shoulder down, obviously planning to take the man down in a rugby tackle.I charged, too, thinking I’d go high to pin the man’s arms after he’d gone down.But the man whirled around and casually backhanded Nightingale with enough force to slam him into the banisters.
I was staring right at his face.I assumed it must be Brandon Coopertown, but it was impossible to tell. I could see one of his eyes but a great flap of skin had been peeled back from around his nose and was covering the other eye.Instead of a mouth he had a bloody maw full of white flecks of broken teeth and bone.I was so shocked that I stumbled and fell, which was what saved my life when Coopertown swung that baton at me and it passed right over my head.
I hit the ground and the bastard ran right over me, one foot slamming down on my back and blowing the air out of my lungs.I rolled over as I heard his feet on the stairs and managed to get onto my hands and knees. There was something wet and sticky under my fingers, and I realised that there was a thick trail of blood leading across the landing and down the stairs.
There was a crash and a series of thumps from the hallway below.
‘You need to get up, Constable,’ said Nightingale.
‘What the fuck was that?’ I asked as he helped me up. I looked down into the hallway where Coopertown, or whoever the hell it was, had fallen – mercifully face down.
‘I really have no idea,’ said Nightingale.‘Try to stay out of the blood trail.’
I went down the stairs as fast as I could.The fresh blood was bright red, arterial.I guessed it must have fountained out of the hole in his face.I bent down and gingerly touched his neck, looking for a pulse.There wasn’t one.
‘What happened ?’ I asked.
‘Peter,’ said Inspector Nightingale.‘I need you to step away from the body and walk carefully outside.We mustn’t contaminate the scene any more than we have already.’
This is why you have procedure, training and drill, so that you do things when your brain is too shocked to think for itself – ask any soldier.
I stepped outside into the daylight. In the distance I could hear sirens.