Main I Know Who Did It (A Jack Nightingale Short Story)
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I KNOW WHO DID IT By Stephen Leather *** Jack Nightingale was always happier dealing with criminal cases or even divorce than he was with matters of the supernatural. So when a client came with a simple request to uncover the meaning behind her father’s last words, he was happy enough to take the case. Little did he know that the investigation would lead him to one of the vilest demons to ever walk through the gates of Hell. Jack Nightingale appears in the full-length novels Nightfall, Midnight, Nightmare, Nightshade, Lastnight and San Francisco Night. He also appears in several short stories including Blood Bath, Cursed, Still Bleeding, Tracks and My Name Is Lydia. The Jack Nightingale time line is complex, this story is probably set between Nightshade and Lastnight. The old man’s eyes were closed and his chest wasn’t moving. Mary Campbell wiped her eyes and looked over at the nurse. ‘Has he gone yet?’ she asked. She dabbed her eyes again. ‘Not yet,’ said the nurse. ‘You’ll know when it happens.’ ‘Is he in any pain?’ The nurse shook her head. ‘None at all. The doctor has made sure of that.’ The man who was lying in the king-sized bed weighed barely more than thirty kilos, a quarter of what he’d weighed before the cancer had gripped him. It had moved quickly, as if making up for lost time, and in just three months it had reduced him to a shell. He had insisted on dying at home, and as J. Ramsay Campbell was a very wealthy man his wishes were respected. He had paid for round-the-clock nursing care and his doctor was always by his side within an hour of being called. But there had been no calls for the past few days because now it was just a matter of time. His morphine was supplied intravenously . For a while he had been able to adjust the amount of morphine himself but now the nurse did it for him. She had helped people die many times before and she knew exactly how much to increase the dosage by. She had learnt from experience that death was best not rushed. Mary was J Ramsay Campbell’s daug; hter. Her mother – J Ramsay Campbell’s wife – spent most of the day sitting next to his bed but she was almost as old as he was and she needed her sleep. Mary caught what sleep she needed during the day and maintained her vigil throughout the night. Part of her knew that most people died at night and she wanted to be there when he passed away. Mary barely thought of the dried husk as her father. The cancer had taken most of him away, all that was left was a shell. It was his face, just about, but his body had shrunk and she thought that she could, if she had to, scoop him up in her arms and carry him. His skin was almost translucent and she could see the veins and arteries that carried what little blood he had left in his system. His chest moved, just a fraction, and there was a dry rattle from somewhere at the back of his throat. ‘It won’t be long now,’ said the nurse. She was dark-skinned and barely more than five feet tall. Mary wasn’t sure if she was from the Philippines or Thailand but she seemed to have a genuine affection for her patient. All his nurses did. There were five, working staggered shifts so that there was always one in the room and another close by. ‘Do you think he knows I’m here?’ asked Mary. The nurse smiled. ‘I’m sure he does,’ she said. But Mary could see the lie in her eyes. The nurse turned away and at that exact moment J Ramsay Campbell sat bolt upright. Mary shrieked and her hands flew up to her face. His eyes were wide and clear and his skin seemed healthy and liver spot-free. ‘Dad?’ said Mary, but her father didn’t react. He licked his lips as he continued to stare straight ahead ‘I know who did it,’ he said. ‘What, dad? Who did what?’ The old man took a deep breath and then screamed at the top of his voice. ‘I KNOW WHO DID IT!’ He stiffened, his mouth fell open and then he collapsed back on the bed. The lines on the monitor went flat. * * * ‘And those were his last words? I know who did it?’ Jack Nightingale was sitting at his desk, across from Mary Campbell. Jenny McNeal was sitting next to the client, taking notes. Jenny was wearing a dark blue dress that ended just above the knee and had her blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. Mary Campbell looked as if she was in her late thirties but was dressed as if she was in her sixties, in a tweed suit with sensible brown shoes. There was a large silver brooch close to her neck. ‘He sat up, said it. Then shouted it. Then he passed away. It was the only thing he’d said over the past week.’ ‘People do get lucid towards the end,’ said Nightingale. ‘They often have a moment of clarity just before…’ He shrugged, not wanting to finish the sentence. ‘That’s what the nurse said. And I understand that. But it was the way he said it, Mr Nightingale. It was as if he had solved a mystery.’ She leaned forward, closer to him, and he could see that she was about to cry. ‘The thing is, there is a mystery in our family. My sister, Emily. She died forty years ago. We never found out what had happened.’ Nightingale frowned, not understanding. Jenny pushed a box of tissues towards Mary Campbell and she took one and dabbed her eyes. ‘There was an inquest, surely, there’s always an inquest when someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly,’ said Jenny. ‘They said Emily had killed herself, but my parents never believed that.’ She dabbed her eyes again. ‘Emily was their first child. I was born two years after she died.’ She forced a smile. ‘Mum was nearly forty then and they weren’t expecting to have any more children.’ She sighed, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. She exhaled slowly before opening her eyes again. ‘Emily was at boarding school, in Hampshire. She cut her wrists, they said. But my father never believed that. He always thought that someone had killed her. But the police insisted that she was found in a locked room, locked from the inside, and the coroner called it a suicide.’ She took another deep breath to compose herself before continuing. ‘My father hadn’t mentioned it for years. And then three days ago, as he was dying, he sat up and said that he knew who’d done it. I can’t think of anything else he could have been talking about.’ ‘But what is it you want me to do?’ asked Nightingale. ‘If my father knew who did it, if he’d remembered something, then I want to know too. I want to know who killed my sister.’ ‘But it was forty years ago.’ ‘My father was so sure. I could see it in his eyes. He knew, Mr Nightingale. Without a shadow of a doubt, he knew.’ She fumbled in her bag and brought out a cheque book. ‘I’ll pay whatever you want, just find out what happened to Emily all those years ago.’ Nightingale looked over at Jenny. Business had been quiet for the last few weeks and it wasn’t as if he had any pressing cases. Jenny nodded at him. ‘I’ll do what I can,’ promised Nightingale. * * * Mary Campbell left the office after signing a cheque for a thousand pounds on account, and Nightingale phoned his friend Robbie Hoyle. He’d known Hoyle for more than a decade. He was a sergeant with the Territorial Support Group but was also a skilled negotiator. ‘Jack, I’m a bit busy right now,’ said Hoyle. ‘I’m on my way to a jumper.’ ‘I need a quick favour when you’ve got the time,’ said Nightingale. ‘I assumed that’s why you called,’ said Hoyle. ‘The only time I hear from you these days is when you want something.’ ‘That’s harsh, Robbie.’ ‘Harsh but true. What do you need?’ ‘I need the name of an investigating officer in Hampshire. Forty-year-old case. A schoolgirl died at Rushworth School near Winchester. Her name was Emily Campbell.’ ‘A forty-year-old case, Jack? Seriously?’ ‘The client wants information, that’s all. Can you get me a name?’ ‘I’ll try. Call you later.’ Nightingale put down the phone. Jenny was looking at him and shaking her head. ‘What?’ he said. ‘You might have asked him about his wife. His kids. How he was getting on.’ ‘He was busy. He has a suicide to talk down. Anyway, Robbie and I go back a long way.’ ‘You use him, Jack. Like you use everybody.’ ‘I’ll buy him a drink when I see him.’ He held up his hands when he saw the look of contempt flash across her face. ‘Fine, you’re right, I’m sorry, I’ll phone him back and ask him about his wife and kids.’ He reached for the phone but she had already turned and walked out of his office. He sat back and lit a cigarette. * * * Hoyle didn’t ring back that morning so Nightingale decided to drive down to the boarding school after lunch. He grabbed his raincoat and tossed it over his shoulder as he walked to Jenny’s desk. ‘If Robbie calls, tell him to try my mobile.’ ‘Have you got your hands-free fixed up?’ ‘Sort of.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘I tuck it between my neck and my shoulder. That counts as hands-free.’ ‘You’ll lose your licence, Jack. The cops don’t want you smoking and phoning while you drive.’ ‘To be fair, I don’t do both at the same time. Why not come with me?’ She frowned up at him. ‘Because?’ ‘Because I’ll need a cover story. A guy on his own might look a bit out of place, but we could say we’re parents looking for a school for our kid.’ Jenny’s eyes narrowed. ‘Parents?’ ‘It’s just a cover story.’ Her eyes narrowed a bit more. ‘How old is our child?’ Nightingale shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Eight? Nine?’ ‘You’d tell them that I’m the mother of an eight-year-old?’ ‘You married young.’ ‘You’re an idiot sometimes. First, I doubt anyone would believe I was the mother of an eight-year-old. I bloody hope not, anyway. And second, I really hope that no one would believe for one minute that you and I were…’ She shuddered. ‘It was just an idea,’ said Nightingale. ‘A better idea would be for you to go on your own and say that your wife is overseas. You’re looking at schools before she comes over with the kid.’ She flashed him a tight smile. ‘That sounds a lot more realistic.’ Nightingale raised his hands in surrender. ‘Then that’s what I’ll do,’ he said. ‘Can you get me directions to Rushworth School?’ ‘Why don’t you get yourself a GPS?’ asked Jenny. ‘I don’t trust them,’ he said. ‘But you trust a computer printout?’ She shook her head in amazement and turned to her computer. After a few minutes on the internet she printed out a map and gave it to him. ‘What about running me out in the Audi?’ asked Nightingale. ‘I’ll pay for the petrol.’ ‘As much as I’d love to, I’ve got to file our VAT returns today and I’m still working my way through the stack of receipts you gave me this morning.’ Nightingale took the map from her. The school was about sixty miles away. ‘Suppose I’d better set off, then,’ he said. His MGB was in a multi-storey a short walk from his office and five minutes later he was heading west. Traffic was light and it took him just over ninety minutes to drive to the school. It was a large grey stone building, two wings either side of a columned entrance, with a grey-slated roof. Off to the left were tennis courts and a hockey pitch. Nightingale parked in the staff car park and went to reception where he told a stern-faced woman the cover story that he’d been rehearsing on the drive down. He and his wife Jenny were moving back to the UK from Australia and bringing their nine-year-old daughter with them. Nightingale worked for a bank that meant he had to travel a lot, and Jenny was a high-powered lawyer so they had decided that Zoe would be best boarding. Nightingale actually felt quite sorry for the hypothetical young girl for being saddled with parents who clearly didn’t give a toss about her. The stern-faced woman gave him a glossy brochure and a print out of the fees. He tried not to show surprise at the huge amounts being charged and asked if it would be possible to speak to the headmaster. ‘Headmistress,’ said the woman, archly. She waved him to a line of wooden seats. ‘I’ll see if Ms Cunningham is available.’ Nightingale was kept waiting for fifteen minutes but when Ms Cunningham did eventually arrive she was very apologetic. She was in her early thirties, with shoulder length blonde hair and bright red lipstick that matched her fingernails. She was wearing a dark green suit with a skirt that ended just above the knee, and matching green heels. She wasn’t wearing a wedding ring or engagement ring but there was a framed photograph of her with a good-looking man holding a toddler on her desk. Nightingale gave her his cover story and she listened and nodded, then she gave him a five-minute sales pitch which she had obviously delivered a thousand times before. Then she asked him if he would like a tour. ‘Perfect,’ he said. As he stood up he saw a row of framed photographs on the wall by the door. Under each picture was a small brass plaque with a name and date. Ms Cunningham peered over his shoulder. ‘Former heads,’ she said. ‘I’ll be up there myself one day.’ ‘You’ll certainly be the prettiest there, by a long way,’ said Nightingale. He felt Ms Cunningham stiffen and he held up a hand. ‘I’m sorry, totally inappropriate,’ he said. She laughed. ‘Actually, I’ll take the compliment,’ she said. ‘I was brought in to liven things up. The school was getting a bit staid and I was very much the new broom.’ Nightingale looked at the last photograph in the line. It was Ms Cunningham’s predecessor, a grey-haired man in his fifties with deep furrows in his brow and black-framed spectacles. He had the look of a teacher who still believed in corporal punishment, and probably relished it. According to the brass plate he had held the job for twelve years. He looked along the line of pictures. The head at the time of Emily Campbell’s death was also a man. Charles Nelson was round-faced and balding with a small chip in one of his front teeth. He was smiling like a kindly uncle. The date on the brass plate suggested he had left the school the year after Emily had died. Nightingale put his hand against the wall and shook his head from side to side. ‘Are you all right?’ asked Ms Cunningham. ‘I feel a little dizzy, actually,’ said Nightingale. ‘I don’t suppose I could have a drink of water, could I?’ ‘Of course,’ said Ms Cunningham. She hurried out of the office. Nightingale took out his phone and snapped a quick photograph of Charles Nelson and was back in his chair when Ms Cunningham returned with a glass of water. She stood over him as he drank. ‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ ‘I’m been feeling a bit rough all day,’ lied Nightingale. ‘Maybe I’m coming down with a virus.’ He handed her back the glass and smiled. ‘But I think I’m well enough for the tour.’ Ms Cunningham looked at her wristwatch. ‘I have a meeting coming up, but my secretary will show you around.’ She took Nightingale through to the outer office and introduced him to the stern-faced lady who had given him the brochure. Her name was Sally and once she began taking Nightingale around her stern face vanished and she became quite chatty. She was very knowledgeable about the school and its history and Nightingale could barely get a word in as she talked away. She showed him around the classrooms and sporting facilities, and then upstairs to the bedrooms. The girls slept four to a room in bunk beds in bright, airy rooms. ‘I’m sure your daughter will love it here,’ said Sally. ‘It’s a magical place. And such a good mix of children. We have a lot from China and Russia, but they’re all from good families.’ She took him out of the room and closed the door. ‘That’s pretty much the full tour,’ she said, ‘but is there anything else you’d like to see?’ ‘There is one thing,’ he said. ‘I know it sounds crazy but my wife has a thing about spirits.’ Sally frowned. ‘Spirits?’ ‘Well, ghosts. She’d heard that a girl died on the premises.’ ‘Oh, that was years ago. It was in the seventies.’ ‘What happened? Do you know?’ ‘It was long before my time, obviously,’ she said. She began walking down the corridor towards the stairs. ‘All I know is what I was told by the caretaker when I first came to work here. Mr McGowan, he’s long since retired. He said a young girl killed herself. Cut her wrists, I think.’ She shuddered. ‘Poor thing.’ ‘And where did it happen, exactly?’ She frowned again as she looked across at him. ‘Why would you ask a question like that?’ she said. ‘I know it’s crazy,’ he said, and flashed her his most boyish smile. ‘But as I said, my wife has a thing about spirits. She wouldn’t want Zoe sleeping in a room where someone had died.’ ‘Oh, it wasn’t a bedroom. I’m sure of that.’ ‘Where was it, exactly?’ ‘It was a store room.’ She gestured down the corridor. ‘It’s used for storing spare mattresses and things these days. Back then I think it was empty.’ ‘Can I see it?’ ‘I suppose so,’ she said. She walked down the corridor and opened a door on the left. Nightingale looked over her shoulder. It was a windowless room, about twelve feet by ten feet, and as Sally had said it was full of mattress and surplus furniture. The walls were painted white and the floor was bare boards. ‘The children never come in here, your wife has absolutely nothing to worry about.’ ‘Did Mr McGowan ever tell you why the girl was in there when she died?’ ‘It really wasn’t something we talked about,’ she said. ‘And as I said, it was a long, long time ago.’ She closed the door and took Nightingale downstairs. She said goodbye to him at the main entrance and Nightingale thanked her and headed out. As he walked over to his MGB he saw Ms Cunningham looking at him through the window so he resisted the urge to light a cigarette. He climbed in and drove off. * * * Robbie Hoyle phoned just as Nightingale was driving away from the school. He pulled up at the side of the road and took the call. ‘How was the jumper?’ asked Nightingale. ‘Cry for help,’ said Hoyle. ‘Husband had left her, one of her kids is on drugs, her benefits have been cut. She just wanted to talk to somebody. You know how it is.’ ‘Yeah,’ said Nightingale. Sometimes people just wanted a shoulder to cry on, and if someone had no friends or family to, then a police negotiator would do. People who really wanted to kill themselves usually just went ahead and did it. Anyone who waited for a police negotiator to turn up more often than not wanted someone to talk to. ‘Is she going to be okay?’ Hoyle sighed. ‘She’s back home but her husband is still off, her boy is still a junkie and I put a call in to the benefits office but you know what they’re like. She’s on anti-depressants so they might calm her down.’ He sighed again. ‘So, that case. You know it was a suicide, right?’ ‘That’s what I was told.’ ‘So why the interest in a forty-year-old suicide?’ ‘I’ve a client who wants answers. I just need a chat with one of the investigating officers because it was all paper back then.’ ‘The guy you need is Inspector David Mercer. Retired fifteen years ago. I’ve got an address. He lives not far from Winchester.’ ‘You’re a star, Robbie.’ * * * David Mercer’s house was a three-bedroom semi-detached on the outskirts of Winchester, with neatly-tended red roses growing around a small patch of grass, and a caravan parked in the driveway. Nightingale left his car in the road and walked past the caravan to ring the door bell. A grey-haired woman answered the door. She was a small woman, just over five feet tall. Her face was wrinkled but her eyes were a piercing blue and she stared up at him fearlessly. ‘If you’re trying to get me to change my electricity supplier, you’re wasting your time,’ she said. ‘I’m not,’ he said. ‘Are you Mrs Mercer?’ ‘Yes?’ Nightingale flashed her his most reassuring smile. ‘Is your husband in? David Mercer?’ ‘Why?’ ‘I’d like to talk to him about an old case.’ ‘Are you police?’ ‘I used to be.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘Private?’ Nightingale nodded. ‘Is he home?’ ‘He’s sitting with the fishes.’ ‘What? Is that like a Mafia thing?’ ‘I beg your pardon?’ ‘Sleeping with the fishes?’ She shook her head in confusion. ‘Sleeping? Who said anything about sleeping? He’s sitting with the koi in the garden. It’s his hobby. He spends more time with the fish than he does with me.’ Now it was Nightingale’s turn to be confused. ‘Koi?’ ‘Koi. Carp. Big fish.’ She sighed and pointed at the kitchen. ‘Outside.’ Nightingale thanked her and let himself out through the kitchen door. Ron Mercer was sitting on a wooden bench by the side of a large pool surrounded by rocks and pebbles. He was a small man, bent over a Tupperware container full of brown pellets and he was tossing them a few at a time into the water. More than a dozen brightly coloured fish were snapping at the food. ‘Inspector Mercer?’ asked Nightingale. Mercer peered up at him with watery eyes. His skin was as wrinkled as old leather and he had a large mole on his nose that looked pre-cancerous. There was a flesh-coloured hearing aid tucked behind his right ear. ‘No one’s called me that in years,’ he said. His voice was surprisingly powerful, deep and authoritative. ‘You in the job?’ ‘Used to be,’ said Nightingale. He nodded at the bench. ‘Mind if I join you?’ ‘Go ahead,’ said Mercer. Nightingale sat down and Mercer held out the Tupperware container. Nightingale took out a handful of pellets and began throwing them one by one into the water. ‘I was a firearms officer in the Met,’ said Nightingale, ‘And a negotiator. Jack Nightingale. He offered his hand and Mercer shook. He had a firm grip. Mercer let go of Nightingale’s hand and joined him in throwing food to the fish. ‘They’re expensive, right?’ said Nightingale. ‘Most expensive fish in the world, I heard.’ ‘Can be,’ said Mercer. ‘They can go for thousands. Some of these are worth a couple of hundred.’ What makes them valuable? I’m guessing it’s not the taste.’ ‘You don’t eat these lovelies,’ said Mercer. ‘Most of the value is in the colour and the pattern. The most valuable is the fish that most resembles the Japanese flag – a red spot on a white background. The closer the red spot is to the head, the more valuable.’ ‘You like feeding them, huh?’ ‘I’m checking them,’ said Mercer. ‘I check them all every day, This food is designed to float so they have to come to the surface to feed. That way I can see if they’ve got ulcers or parasites. They recognise me, you know. When I walk up to the pond, they come to the edge to be fed. But the wife, they ignore her.’ He chuckled. ‘That drives her crazy, it does.’ Nightingale threw a couple of pellets and a large orange fish snapped up both of them. ‘They eat according to the temperature,’ said Mercer. ‘The warmer it is, the more they eat. And in the middle of winter they don’t feed, other than to nibble a bit of algae from the bottom.’ He threw in some more food. ‘They can live for more than a hundred years, if you look after them.’ He chuckled. ‘They’ll outlive me for sure.’ He began to cough and dabbed at his lips with a handkerchief. ‘So what do you want, Jack? I’m assuming you want something?’ ‘An old case of yours,’ said Nightingale. ‘Forty years ago. Emily Campbell. She died at the Rushmore Boarding School.’ Mercer frowned, his liver-spotted hand lying on top of the fish pellets. ‘Emily Campbell,’ he repeated. ‘She was sixteen. One of the pupils.’ Mercer shook his head. ‘I remember the name, but the case was closed. She killed herself, right. It was a suicide.’ He shuddered. ‘Are you a smoker?’ Nightingale grinned. ‘Sure am. You?’ ‘Used to be. The wife made me stop ten years ago.’ Nightingale took out his cigarettes and offered the pack to Mercer. ‘I won’t tell her if you don’t,’ he said. He lit the cigarette and one for himself. Both men blew smoke contentedly up at the sky. Mercer looked nervously over at the house. ‘It was definitely suicide?’ asked Nightingale. Mercer looked back to him, eyes narrowed. ‘You think I’m senile?’ ‘No, but it was a long time ago. What can you tell me about the case?’ Mercer frowned. ‘Young girl, she cut herself. Bled to death. There was a black magic thing going around at the time and she was a vulnerable kid.’ ‘Black magic?’ ‘You know how kids like to mess with that sort of thing. There was some magic circle drawing on the floor.’ ‘And no one else was involved?’ ‘The door was locked from the inside. The staff had to break in to get to her.’ ‘Were photographs taken at the time?’ ‘Of course.’ ‘Where would they be now?’ ‘Long gone,’ said Mercer. ‘The files weren’t kept?’ ‘No computers back then, everything was paper,’ said Mercer. ‘It wasn’t a case so it would have been thrown away. No point in keeping it.’ ‘What about your notebooks?’ ‘My notebooks.’ ‘Every cop I know keeps his notebooks,’ said Nightingale. ‘I did for sure. You never know when an old case might come back to bite you in the arse.’ Mercer laughed. ‘That’s the truth,’ he said. He gestured at the house. ‘In the attic. But I’ve not looked at them for years.’ Nightingale grinned. ‘Would you mind?’ ‘Are you serious? For a forty-year-old suicide?’ ‘It’d be a big help.’ Mercer bent down, stubbed out his cigarette on the soil and buried it. He nodded at Nightingale. ‘You’d better do the same. My wife would have made a great murder squad detective.’ Nightingale followed his example while Mercer put the top back on his Tupperware container and stood up. He placed the container on the bench, then led Nightingale down the path to the kitchen door. Mrs Mercer was watching a quiz show on television and she looked up as her husband walked by with Nightingale. ‘I’m just taking Mr Nightingale up into the attic,’ he said. ‘For heaven’s sake, why?’ ‘An old case,’ he said. ‘Well don’t bring any dust and dirt down with you,’ she said, and looked back at the TV. The attic was reached through a small trapdoor above the landing. Mercer used a pole with a hook on the end to open the trapdoor and pull out an extendable ladder. It rattled down and Mercer leaned the pole against the wall before slowly climbing up. Nightingale waited until Mercer had disappeared through the trapdoor before following him up. Mercer flicked a switch and a fluorescent light flickered on. The attic was windowless and lined with plasterboard. There were cobwebs around the ceiling and dust everywhere. There were several metal chests to the left of the trapdoor and against the wall that marked the boundary with next door there were a dozen cardboard boxes. ‘My police stuff is in there,’ said Mercer, nodding at the boxes. They went over to them. They were all labelled with dates written in felt-tipped pen. Mercer took a pair of spectacles from his shirt pocket and he put them on and peered at the boxes. ‘There we are,’ he said, pointing at a box on the floor. Nightingale moved the two boxes on top of it and Mercer opened it. It was full of manila files and black notebooks. There was a sticker on each of the notebooks, also with felt-tip writing, and Mercer went through them until he found the one he was looking for. ‘Got it,’ he said, waving it in triumph. He went over to stand underneath the fluorescent light and slowly flicked through the pages. ‘The father kept calling me. Every week, regular as clockwork. J Ramsay Campbell, his name was but he never told me what the J stood for. Kept asking how the investigation was going. I suppose he’s been dead for years.’ Nightingale shook his head. ‘He died last week. Eighty-five.’ Mercer looked up and grimaced. ‘I felt for him. My youngest had just been born. No parent wants to bury his child. What about you? Kids?’ Nightingale shook his head again. ‘No wife.’ ‘Playing the field?’ Nightingale grinned. ‘I guess so.’ Mercer continued to flick through the pages of his notebook. Then he stopped and frowned. ‘I’d forgotten I did that.’ ‘Did what?’ ‘I made a drawing of the thing on the floor. The magic circle thing.’ He held out the notepad. The diagram filled one page. It was a circle with a five-pointed star inside, similar to a regular pentagram. But in the spaces between the points of the star were filled with strange symbols, the like of which Nightingale had never seen. ‘Did you ever work out what it is?’ asked Nightingale. ‘Some black magic thing, obviously. We figured she’d made it up. Just squiggles.’ He frowned. ‘You think it’s significant?’ Nightingale shrugged. ‘I’ve seen similar circles. But not as complex as this one.’ ‘Well we got nowhere. I did speak to someone at the British Museum but they weren’t much help.’ Nightingale held up the notebook. ‘Can I borrow this?’ Mercer looked pained. ‘I’d rather not. I feel happier knowing that I have them, you know.’ ‘Can I copy it, then?’ ‘I don’t see why not but let’s do it outside, the dust isn’t good for my lungs.’ Nightingale went down the ladder first. Mercer switched off the light and followed him down before closing the trapdoor. This time Mrs Mercer didn’t look up as they walked down the hallway to the kitchen but she shouted ‘I hope you didn’t bring down any mess’. ‘We didn’t,’ said Mercer as he led Nightingale through the kitchen. He grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen from a drawer and took Nightingale into the garden. They sat on the bench while Nightingale copied the drawing from Mercer’s notebook. When he’d finished he handed the notebook back to Mercer. ‘So who discovered the body?’ ‘A member of the cleaning staff found the door was locked from the inside and she called the headmaster. Now what was his name?’ He flicked through the notepad. ‘Charles Nelson. He was called and he broke down the door.’ ‘So it was locked?’ Mercer nodded. ‘From the inside. The key was in the lock.’ ‘And the girl?’ Mercer grimaced. ‘She was lying on the floor. There was a cut in her left wrist. Deep. And a knife on the floor.’ He shuddered. ‘Don’t suppose you’ve got another cigarette, have you? I smoked like a chimney back then and all this talking about it is bringing back the craving.’ Nightingale took out his cigarettes and lit two. ‘There must have been a lot of blood.’ ‘Now that’s a cop question.’ ‘I was just wondering if she died in the room or if the body was moved.’ ‘The door was locked from the inside. I told you that. But there wasn’t as much blood as you’d have expected.’ ‘Did you think it was significant?’ ‘I thought it was but my boss didn’t. It was an old building and the floors were bare wood. He said the blood had probably just drained through the floorboards. Possible, I suppose.’ ‘Was there a note?’ Mercer shook his head. ‘And no social media back then. We spoke to her friends and they said she was worried about her exams.’ ‘Do you think she killed herself?’ ‘You’re asking me that after forty years?’ He sighed. ‘She didn’t seem the type to kill herself.’ And the blood thing worried me. But the headmaster was a Mason and so was my Chief Superintendent so I think a secret handshake was done and I was told to put it down as suicide and move on.’ ‘What made you think it might not be suicide?’ ‘The whole magic circle thing seemed out of character. She hadn’t expressed any interest in the occult, the girls weren’t using Ouija boards or any nonsense like that. And who goes to all that trouble, drawing something like that, before killing themselves?’ ‘But the locked door?’ Mercer smiled. ‘Yeah, the locked door. The key was on the inside, but that doesn’t mean that the door was locked from the inside.’ ‘I don’t follow.’ Mercer took a long drag on his cigarette. The kitchen door opened and he put the cigarette down guiltily. His wife appeared in the doorway. ‘Do you want tea?’ she called over. ‘That would be great, love, thanks!’ shouted Mercer. He looked at Nightingale. ‘How do you take your tea?’ ‘White, one sugar.’ ‘White with one sugar for Jack!’ shouted Mercer. The kitchen door closed and Mercer resumed smoking. ‘What did you mean, the door didn’t have to be locked from the inside?’ asked Nightingale. Mercer screwed up his face. ‘I always thought Nelson was off.’ Nightingale took out his phone and showed Mercer the photograph he’d taken at the school. Mercer nodded. ‘That’s him. He just wasn’t right, you know. They call it a copper’s sixth sense, but it’s more than that. I’d been a copper for ten years, three as a DC, and I could tell when someone wasn’t right. He was upset, but it was like he was pretending to be upset. It didn’t feel right. I knew at the time he was off but I was just a DC and my DS was ten years older than me and our Chief Super wore a funny apron and rolled up his trouser leg, so I just did as I was told.’ He took a long drag on his cigarette and blew smoke before continuing. ‘We signed it off as a suicide and I didn’t give it much thought until a few years later. I was watching some TV show, one of those detective things, can’t remember which one. It was a locked room thing. Guy dead in a study, locked from the inside. He’d stabbed himself is what it looked like. Turned out it was the guy’s brother who’d done it. Stabbed him, put the knife in his hand and then left, locking the door as he went.’ ‘From the outside?’ ‘Sure. From the outside. But he comes back later with the guy’s wife and knocks on the door. The door’s locked, right? So he kicks down the door and they go into the room. As the wife rushes over to the body, the brother slips the key into the lock. So when the cops come, it looks as if the door had been locked from the inside. That’s when I remembered the Emily Campbell case. Nelson was first through the door, he could have put the key in the lock after he’d broken it down. But as I said, that was years later. The horse had bolted, right?’ He took a long drag on his cigarette, then leaned over, stubbed it out and buried it in the soil. ‘Any idea what happened to Nelson?’ Mercer shook his head. ‘It wasn’t a case to be followed up. What about you? Why are you so interested?’ ‘I’ve a client who wants to know what happened.’ ‘Family member?’ Nightingale nodded. ‘The dead girl’s sister. She just wants answers. Closure.’ ‘Forty years is a long time.’ ‘You’re telling me.’ The kitchen door opened. Nightingale followed Mercer’s example and buried what was left of his cigarette in the soil before Mrs Mercer came over with their tea. * * * Nightingale got back to the office with a couple of Starbuck coffees and two chocolate muffins. ‘Any joy?’ asked Jenny as he put a coffee and muffin down in front of her. ‘Thirty grand a year for a boarding school, does that sound right?’ ‘Education isn’t cheap,’ said Jenny. ‘But thirty grand,’ said Nightingale. ‘That’s serious money.’ He went through to his office and dropped down on his chair. Jenny got up and followed him through. ‘The cop thinks that she was killed,’ said Nightingale. ‘I’m going to ask Robbie to check out the headmaster. He might have been involved.’ He sipped his coffee and then called Hoyle. Hoyle answered on the third ring. ‘Robbie, it’s Jack.’ ‘Ask him about Anna,’ mouthed Jenny. ‘How are Anna and the girls, by the way?’ asked Nightingale. ‘What?’ ‘Anna. And the girls. Are they good?’ ‘They’re great,’ said Hoyle. ‘Anna keeps asking when you’re coming around for dinner.’ ‘This weekend works,’ said Nightingale. ‘Why don’t you bring Jenny?’ ‘I’ll ask.’ He put his hand over the receiver. ‘Robbie and Anna want you to come to dinner at the weekend.’ Jenny grimaced. ‘I can’t, my parents have a shoot. Tell them I’d love to but sorry.’ Nightingale nodded and put the phone back to his ear. ‘She’s shooting peasants this weekend.’ ‘I think you mean pheasants,’ said Robbie. ‘Peasants, pheasants. I think they’re pretty much interchangeable among the upper classes.’ Jenny shook her head contemptuously and walked out of his office. ‘So what do you want, Jack?’ ‘Another favour.’ Hoyle laughed. ‘I took that for granted,’ he said. ‘What in particular do you need?’ ‘I’m trying to trace the headmaster of a boarding school from forty years ago. If I give you a name and a photograph, do you think you could find him?’ ‘Bloody hell, Jack, you don’t ask much do you. Is it an unusual name?’ ‘Not really. Charles Nelson.’ ‘There’ll be hundreds with that name,’ said Hoyle. ‘Have you got a date of birth?’ ‘Just the name and a photograph. Can’t you run it through DVLC or the Passport office.’ ‘Why the interest?’ ‘There was a case forty years ago that was put down as suicide. I went to see that cop you told me about – Mercer – and he said he thought this guy Nelson might have killed her.’ ‘Forty years ago? That’s one hell of a cold case, Jack.’ ‘I know, but can you do it for me? I’d really like to talk to this Nelson if he’s still alive.’ ‘Even if you find him, what are you going to do? He must be seventy or eighty now, unless he right out confesses I don’t see the CPS being interested.’ ‘The client is more interested in finding out what happened,’ said Nightingale. ‘Closure.’ Hoyle sighed. ‘I’ll see what I can do. But don’t expect miracles.’ * * * Nightingale drove to Camden in his MGB. It was a sunny day so he took the top down and let the wind blow through his hair. He parked in a multi-storey close to Camden Lock market and smoked a Marlboro as he walked to the Wicca Woman shop. Mrs Steadman’s shop wasn’t easy to find unless you knew what you were looking for, it was in a narrow side street wedged between a shop selling exotic bongs and t-shirts promoting cannabis, and another that offered hand-knitted sweaters. The Wicca Woman window was filled with crystals, candles and pendants, plus crystal balls of differing sizes. There was also a display of books with titles such as ‘Love Spells to Catch Your Man’ and ‘How Wicca Can Fulfill Your Dreams.’ Nightingale flicked away what was left of his cigarette and pushed open the door. The tinkling of a tiny silver bell announced his arrival and he smelled lavender and lemon grass and jasmine. Alice Steadman was arranging a display of incense sticks next to an old-fashioned cash register and she beamed when she saw him. ‘Mr Nightingale, this is a lovely surprise.’ She was in her late sixties, with pointy features that always reminded Nightingale of a bird. Her grey hair was loose around her shoulders. It was the first time he’d seen her hair like that, usually it was tied back in a ponytail. Her skin was wrinkled and almost translucent but her emerald green eyes burned like coals. She was dressed all in black, a long tunic over a floor-length skirt and a thick leather belt with a silver buckle in the shape of a quarter moon. ‘Would you like tea?’ she asked. ‘I would love some,’ he said. Mrs Steadman pulled back a beaded curtain behind the counter and shouted up a flight of stairs. ‘Shona, you can leave that for the time being, can you mind the shop for me?’ Nightingale heard the soft pad of bare feet on the stairs and a pretty blonde girl with full tattooed sleeves and several stainless steel face piercings appeared. She avoided looking at Nightingale as she took her place at the cash register while Mrs Steadman ushered him through the curtain into a small room where a gas fire was burning, casting flickering shadows across the walls. As Nightingale sat at a circular wooden table under a brightly-coloured Tiffany lampshade, she went over to a kettle on top of a pale green refrigerator and switched it on. She looked at him over her shoulder. ‘Milk and no sugar,’ she said. ‘Perfect.’ ‘So how can I help you, Mr Nightingale,’ she said as she spooned PG Tips into a brown ceramic teapot. ‘I’m assuming this isn’t just a social visit.’ ‘I do love your tea,’ he said. ‘But yes, I could do with some advice.’ Nightingale took the drawing of the magic circle from his pocket and spread it out on the table. ‘Have you seen something like this before?’ Mrs Steadman walked over and frowned down at the drawing. ‘Now where did you get that from?’ she asked. ‘It was done in a school,’ said Nightingale. ‘A boarding school.’ ‘Oh dear,’ sighed Mrs Steadman. ‘Dear, dear, dear.’ ‘What does it mean?’ ‘Nothing good, Mr Nightingale,’ she said. ‘Nothing good.’ She went back to the kettle and stood with her back to him, her shoulders hunched. When the kettle had boiled she poured water into the teapot and carried it over to the table on a tray with two blue and white striped mugs and a matching milk jug and sugar bowl. She sat down and poured tea for him, then added milk. Only when she had handed him his tea did she speak. ‘Mr Nightingale, you really shouldn’t be messing with things like this.’ She nodded at the paper. ‘And please, put that away.’ Nightingale picked up the paper, folded it, and put it back in his pocket. ‘What does it mean, Mrs Steadman?’ ‘Just walk away from this, please.’ ‘You know what it is, don’t you?’ ‘So do you. It’s a pentagram.’ ‘But it’s special, isn’t it. I’ve never seen those markings before.’ ‘They’re…special.’ She shuddered. ‘Special in what way?’ ‘Why do you want to know, Mr Nightingale.’ ‘A young girl was found dead by one of these circles.’ ‘Inside or outside?’ asked Mrs Steadman quickly. ‘Outside.’ Mrs Steadman winced as if she had been struck. ‘Please, I need to know what the significance is.’ ‘Of the girl? Or the circle.’ Nightingale frowned. ‘Both, I guess.’ Mrs Steadman took a deep breath, then poured herself more tea. ‘The circle is used to summon Paimonia, one of the kings of Hell.’ She pointed at one of the symbols. ‘This is his sigil. His symbol. He is a demon of the first rank with two hundred legions of followers and really, you don’t want to have anything to do with him. He is powerful, Mr Nightingale. Really powerful.’ ‘I just need information, Mrs Steadman. I’m not planning on summoning him.’ She stared at him with her bird-like eyes. ‘I do hope that’s the truth,’ she said eventually. ‘Paimonia is different to most of the demons in that doing a deal with him requires a sacrifice.’ ‘A human sacrifice?’ Mrs Steadman nodded. ‘Generally a deal can be struck with a demon once summoned. A quid pro quo. But Paimonia requires more. And because of what he offers, many are prepared to make the sacrifices that are required.’ ‘What does he offer?’ ‘Eternal life, Mr Nightingale. ‘Or as close to eternal as is possible.’ ‘You can live for ever?’ ‘At a price, Mr Nightingale. At a terrible price.’ Nightingale sipped his tea and waited for her to continue. ‘Demons are devious, as you know. Paimonia is more devious than most. He offers you immortality, but demands a sacrifice. That sacrifice means that only the most committed move forward. Which is when the rest of the deal is made clear. The sacrifice is not a one-off. It has to be repeated. If it isn’t repeated, the immortality is lost.’ ‘So the person has to keep on killing?’ ‘Not necessarily doing the actual killing, but they have to supply the sacrifice. The only negotiation is how often the sacrifices have to occur.’ ‘I don’t understand, I’m sorry.’ Mrs Steadman sipped her tea. ‘The person who summons Paimonia often doesn’t know about the sacrifice. Those who do a deal with him are sworn to secrecy. When they do realise that a girl has to be killed, they often back out. Those that decide to continue then negotiate how often the sacrifices have to occur. Paimonia has some flexibility. If it’s a soul that he really wants, perhaps the sacrifices take place every fifty years. Or a hundred. If a soul is less valuable, then perhaps Paimonia would insist on a sacrifice every year.’ ‘But if the deal is for immortality, Paimonia would never collect. That doesn’t make sense.’ ‘Devils have patience, Mr Nightingale. They view time differently.’ ‘But if the person never dies, Paimonia won’t get the soul.’ Mrs Steadman smiled sadly. ‘No one wants to live forever, Mr Nightingale. Not really. They think they do, but birth, life and death form a cycle. You can’t fight the cycle for ever. Sooner or later everyone decides it’s time to go.’ Nightingale felt a sudden craving for a cigarette but he knew that Mrs Steadman didn’t approve so he picked up a biscuit and nibbled it. ‘Time means nothing to the likes of Paimonia. He just waits for as long as it takes. And he’s happy to wait because he takes pleasure from the sacrifices.’ ‘Always a girl?’ Mrs Steadman nodded. ‘A girl, the younger the better. Sometimes that will be spelled out during the negotiation. Paimonia might insist on a virgin, for example.’ She leaned towards him and stared into his eyes. ‘Mr Nightingale, please don’t even think about getting involved with Paimonia.’ ‘I’m sort of involved already,’ he said. ‘It’s a case. I have a client who wants answers.’ ‘You won’t get answers from Paimonia. Only grief.’ Nightingale forced a smile. ‘I understand.’ She leaned even closer. ‘I hope you do,’ she said. Nightingale realised for the first time how dark her eyes were. The irises were almost as black as the pupils. As he stared into her eyes he saw his own reflection, then suddenly his reflection was gone and he was looking at something else, something with a gaping mouth and pointed teeth and slanted red eyes. He flinched and jerked backwards, tea slopping over his hand. He apologised and Mrs Steadman scurried away to fetch a towel. She used it to mop up the spilled tea. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he said. ‘Don’t be silly. There’s no point in crying over spilled tea.’ She sat down opposite him and refilled his mug. Nightingale smiled. Her eyes were brown now, her pupils clearly defined. ‘This Paimonia, he’s all-powerful, is he?’ ‘Most devils are,’ said Mrs Steadman. ‘But Paimonia is especially strong. He’s cunning and careful. The only time he takes physical form is at the moment of sacrifice.’ ‘Could he be killed then?’ Mrs Steadman’s eyes narrowed. ‘Mr Nightingale…’ she sighed. He held up his hands. ‘I’m just curious,’ he said. ‘I’m serious about this, Mr Nightingale. You really don’t want to go anywhere near Paimonia.’ ‘I’m not planning to. I’d just like to know.’ She sighed and sipped her tea. ‘Then the answer to your question is yes. In theory, Paimonia could be killed at the moment of sacrifice. But you know about the magic circle. You have to stay within it while the devil is present. Or your own life is at risk.’ She waved her hand in front of her face. ‘I really don’t like talking about this, Mr Nightingale. It makes me very uncomfortable.’ ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Steadman. Let’s drop the subject.’ He sipped his tea and smiled brightly. ‘So, what’s new in the world of Wicca?’ * * * Nightingale was eating duck noodles in Mrs Chan’s Chinese restaurant on the ground floor of the building where he lived when Robbie Hoyle called him. ‘You screwed up with that photograph, it’s not from forty years ago.’ Mrs Chan put a bottle of beer down in front of him and smiled. Nightingale waved his thanks. ‘Why do you say that?’ he asked Hoyle. ‘Because his name isn’t Charles Nelson and he’s thirty-nine years old.’ ‘You must have the wrong guy.’ ‘One hundred per cent match on facial recognition,’ said Hoyle. ‘I’m looking at both pictures now, Jack. It’s the same guy, same chip in the front tooth. Where did you get your photograph from?’ ‘It was on the wall of the school. He was the headmaster there, forty years ago.’ ‘Somebody is messing with you. His name is Richard Hall and like I said, he’s thirty nine.’ ‘Have you got an address?’ ‘Sure. He’s in north London. But if your guy was a headmaster forty years ago, it’s definitely not him.’ ‘You’re a star, mate, thanks.’ Nightingale ended the call and a few minutes later, just as he was finishing his noodles, his phone beeped to let him know he had received a message. Attached to the message was a picture of a driving licence belonging to Richard Hall. The address on the licence was in Highgate, not far from the cemetery where Karl Marx was buried. * * * ‘Exactly what are you going to say to him?’ asked Jenny. She was behind the wheel of her Audi sports car, parked a short distance from the house in Highgate where Richard Hall was supposed to live. ‘I’ll ask him if he’s Charles Nelson,’ said Nightingale. He was in the passenger seat. She had picked him up in Bayswater at just after seven o’clock in the morning, the idea being that the early bird would catch the worm. ‘And if he denies it, what then?’ ‘The picture evidence is pretty convincing,’ said Nightingale. ‘You’d need DNA or fingerprints to be sure,’ said Jenny. ‘Face recognition isn’t an exact science, not yet anyway. And if you’re right – what then?’ ‘What do you mean, what then?’ ‘Suppose he admits to being Charles Nelson? And that he changed his name to Richard Hall? And that he hasn’t aged a day over the last forty years? You think he’ll just put his hands up to murdering Emily Campbell.’ ‘You’d be surprised how many people do confess when confronted with the evidence.’ ‘Jack, all you have is a photo on your phone. And the change of name means he wants to cover his tracks.’ Nightingale sighed. ‘I could do with less negativity, frankly.’ ‘Yeah? And I could do with a boss who doesn’t use me as a chauffeur before the sun comes up.’ ‘You get what this guy has done, right? He’s done a deal with a devil to live forever and in return he has to offer up regular human sacrifices.’ ‘You really believe that?’ ‘If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be up at sparrow’s fart, would I?’ The front door opened and a man in a suit stepped out. He was carrying a briefcase. ‘Is that him?’ asked Nightingale, peering at the picture of the Richard hall driving licence on his phone. ‘Hard to tell,’ said Jenny. The man pulled the door shut and walked down the path towards the pavement. ‘It’s him, no doubt,’ said Nightingale. He climbed out of the car. ‘You stay where you are.’ ‘That’s exactly what I was planning to do,’ she said. Nightingale walked towards the man. He kept his head down and tried to get by but Nightingale held out his arms to block his way. The man stopped, confused. Only then did he look at Nightingale. ‘Mr Nelson? Charles Nelson?’ Nightingale had been a cop long enough to recognise guilt when he saw it, even though it flashed across the man’s face in less than a second. ‘I’m sorry, no, you have the wrong person.’ He tried to get by but Nightingale moved to block his way again. ‘You were headmaster at Rushworth School forty years ago.’ The man froze and his eyes burned into Nightingale’s. ‘Are you stupid? How old do you think I am?’ ‘We both know how old you are, Mr Nelson.’ ‘Are you mad?’ sneered the man. ‘I’m not mad enough to do a deal with Paimonia,’ said Nightingale. ‘Not now I know what that entails.’ The man’s eyes narrowed. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘The name’s Nightingale.’ ‘Have you got a card, Mr Nightingale?’ ‘Why do you want my card?’ ‘I’m in a bit of a rush right now, I’ll call you later.’ He looked over Nightingale’s shoulder at the Audi. ‘The blonde, she’s with you?’ ‘All I want is for you to confirm that you used to run Rushworth School. And that you left after Emily Campbell died.’ The man thrust his face close to Nightingale’s. ‘Who the fuck are you?’ ‘I told you. Nightingale.’ ‘What the fuck do you want?’ ‘I wanted you to confirm that you’re Charles Nelson. And you’ve pretty much confirmed that.’ The man moved even closer to Nightingale so that their noses were just inches apart. Nightingale could smell the man’s breath. It was sour, like milk that had gone off. ‘I’ve confirmed fuck all, now you need to get the hell out of my way or I’ll rip your fucking arm off.’ His eyes went completely black and Nightingale flinched as he saw his own face reflected in them. He took a step back and the man pushed past. Nightingale watched him go, then walked over to the Audi. Jenny looked over at him as he climbed in. ‘How did it go?’ she asked. ‘Not great.’ ‘He was looking at the car, wasn’t he?’ ‘Yeah. Sorry.’ ‘If he knows my registration number he can track me down.’ ‘He’d have to know the right people, Jenny.’ ‘If he’s who you think he is, he probably does.’ She sighed. ‘Jack, what the hell have you done?’ * * * Jenny stopped the Audi in front of the gates to Gosling Manor and Nightingale climbed out to open them. She drove through and waited while he closed the gates and got back into the car. She put the car in gear and drove along a narrow paved road that curved to the right through thick woodland and parked next to a huge stone fountain, the centrepiece of which was a weathered stone mermaid surrounded by dolphins and fish. They climbed out and looked up at the two-storey mansion, the lower floor built of stone, the upper floor made of weathered bricks, topped by a tiled roof with four massive chimney stacks. ‘You should sell it,’ she said. ‘It’s not as if you’re living here.’ ‘I will,’ said Nightingale. ‘Once I’ve worked out what to do with all the stuff in the basement.’ Nightingale fished the key from his raincoat pocket and unlocked the massive oak door. The hallway was huge, with wood-panelled walls, a glistening marble floor and a large multi-tiered chandelier that looked like an upside down crystal wedding cake. There were three oak doors leading off the hallway, but the entrance to the basement library was hidden within the wooden paneling. He clicked it open and reached through to flick the light switch. Jenny followed him down the wooden stairs. The basement ran the full length of the house and was lined with shelves laden with books. Running down the centre of the basement were two lines of display cases filled with all sorts of occult paraphernalia, from skulls to crystal balls. At the bottom of the stairs was a sitting area with two overstuffed red leather Chesterfield sofas and a claw-footed teak coffee table that was piled high with books. Nightingale waved at the bookshelves. ‘We need something about summoning demons,’ he said. ‘Specifically a demon called Paimonia.’ ‘Is there an index or something that lists the books?’ ‘Not that I know of,’ said Nightingale. ‘So we browse through, what, two thousand volumes?’ ‘Do you have a better plan?’ She sighed. ‘Unfortunately not.’ She took off her coat and draped it over the back of one of the sofas, then walked over to the bookcases closest to the stairs. Nightingale started on the bookcase next to hers. As always he was amazed by the variety of titles in the library, all devoted to witchcraft and the occult. The books had been collected over more than fifty years by Nightingale’s genetic father, Ainsley Gosling, a Satanist who had put Nightingale up for adoption at birth. It took them the best part of two hours before they found what Nightingale was looking for. Like most of the books on the shelves, there was no title on the spine. It was bound in the skin of some long-dead animal, a reptile maybe. It was a small book, six inches by four inches just about, with fewer than a hundred pages, most of which were blank. The pages weren’t paper, they were more like yellowed cloth, and the words had been handwritten in capital letters. The only title was on the first page – THE SUMMONING OF DEVILS and underneath was a list of twelve names. Paimonia was the last name. Nightingale took the book over to one of the sofas and sat down. Luckily the book was in English – the volumes on the shelves came from all over the world, and a lot of them were written in Latin. ‘Does it tell you what you need?’ asked Jenny. Nightingale nodded. ‘The whole thing. Though it skates over the details over what the deal involves.’ ‘The deal?’ Nightingale was about to explain when he realised that Jenny was better off not knowing the finer points of negotiating with demons. ‘It’s complicated,’ he said. ‘But I’m guessing that Nelson found a book like this.’ ‘What are you planning, Jack?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You’ve got that look in your eye that says you’re up to something.’ Nightingale grinned. ‘I’m just doing my research, that’s all.’ Jenny looked around the basement and shivered. ‘Can you do it somewhere else, this place gives me the heebie jeebies.’ ‘The heebie jeebies?’ ‘You know what I mean. The sooner you sell this place, the better.’ * * * Nightingale was about to clean his teeth when his phone rang. It was Jenny. ‘He’s here, outside my house,’ she said, her voice trembling. ‘Who is?’ ‘Nelson. Or Hall. Or whatever his name is. He’s parked in a grey Toyota.’ ‘Has he said anything?’ ‘He’s just sitting there.’ Stay inside, keep the door locked, I’ll be right around.’ Nightingale hurried downstairs to the street and flagged down a black cab. Jenny’s three-bedroom mews house was just off the King’s Road in Chelsea. Nightingale had the cab drop him at the entrance to the mews. Jenny’s Audi was parked outside her house. The grey Toyota was four houses along. There was someone sitting in the driver’s seat, hands on the wheel. Nightingale walked towards the car, trying to stay in its blind spot. He grabbed at the passenger door handle and pulled the door open. Hall looked over at, mouth open in surprise. Nightingale climbed in and slammed the door shut. ‘What the hell are you doing?’ he said between gritted teeth. Hall sneered at him. ‘It’s a free country. You came around to my home, I thought the least I could do was return the favour.’ ‘I don’t live here.’ ‘I know that. The lovely Ms McLean does.’ ‘You go near here and I’ll…’ ‘You’ll what, Nightingale? And I’m already here so do what you think you have to do?’ ‘I just want you to leave her alone. She’s nothing to do with this. If you’ve got a problem with me then face me, man to man.’ Hall chuckled. ‘First things first.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You haven’t worked it out yet? I’m due a sacrifice, and Ms McLean fits the bill. It’s a pity she’s not a virgin, but…’ Nightingale grabbed Hall by the throat but the man continued to smile at him. ‘What do you think you can do to me, Nightingale?’ he said, his voice strangled but firm. ‘I can stop you. That’s what I can do.’ Hall reached inside his jacket and pulled out a knife. It had a blade almost six inches long, pointed and with a jagged edge along one side. Nightingale stiffened and released his grip on Hall’s throat. Hall handed the knife handle first to Nightingale. ‘Take it. Kill me. Go on.’ Nightingale shook his head. ‘That’s not what I meant.’ ‘So what are you going to do? Tell the cops?’ He laughed. ‘I’m sitting in a car in a public street.’ ‘With a knife,’ said Nightingale. Hall tapped him on the chest with the handle. ‘Take it. You know you want to. Take it and kill me. Go on.’ Nightingale shook his head and Hall laughed. He turned the blade around and quickly plunged the knife into his own chest, grunting through gritted teeth. Nightingale jerked back and Hall continued to smile. ‘What do you think you can possibly do to me if I can do this to myself,’ said Hall. He slowly pulled the knife out. There was no blood, not on his chest or on the blade. Hall took a deep breath then put the knife back inside his jacket. ‘You can’t kill me, Nightingale. That’s the deal I have. I’m immortal.’ ‘In exchange for your soul? And regular sacrifices?’ Hall shrugged. ‘It’s a small price to pay, in the grand scheme of things.’ ‘And Emily Campbell was the first?’ ‘Why do you care?’ ‘Her sister wants to know what happened. They said it was suicide. But she didn’t believe it.’ ‘If it makes her feel better, it was Emily’s fault. She shouldn’t have been there. It was midnight, I’d done the ritual. Paimonia was explaining the small print. I didn’t know about the sacrifice, or that the sacrifice had to be repeated. All I knew was what I’d read in this old book I found among my grandmother’s things after she died. She was a bit of a witch, though I never realised that. Anyway, the book explained the ceremony and what I could get, but there was stuff missing.’ He shrugged. ‘Emily came into the room. I think she was sleepwalking, maybe. Or maybe Paimonia had done something to her. Anyway, she walked into the room, the door slammed behind her and that was that. She was the first.’ He grinned. ‘Does that help you, Nightingale? Does knowing what happened help you in any way? Because it isn’t going to change anything. I’m going to arrange for your friend Jenny McLean to be the next sacrifice and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now go.’ ‘You can’t do this.’ Hall reached for the knife inside his jacket. ‘Get the fuck out of my car or I swear I’ll kill you now and fuck the consequences.’ Nightingale glared at the man but knew there was nothing he could do. He cursed and got out of the car. Hall grinned and drove away. * * * Mrs Steadman could see from the look on Nightingale’s face that he was worried so she didn’t make any small talk or offer him tea. ‘What on earth has happened?’ she asked. ‘I’ve made a huge mistake,’ he said. ‘I confronted a guy who’d done a deal with Paimonia and I told him that I know what he did.’ Mrs Steadman frowned. ‘Why would you do that?’ ‘I guess I wanted to know for sure, so that I could tell my client what she wants to know.’ ‘Client?’ ‘It’s a lady whose sister died forty years ago. She was told it was suicide but she never believed it.’ Mrs Steadman’s hand flew up to cover her mouth. ‘The sister was a sacrifice?’ ‘I think so, yes.’ ‘Oh Mr Nightingale, what have you done?’ ‘It gets worse, Mrs Steadman. This man is now threatening me, and my friend Jenny. And there’s nothing I can do to stop him.’ Mrs Steadman sighed. ‘I warned you, didn’t I? I told you not to mess with Paimonia.’ ‘This man can’t be killed, can he? That’s part of the deal.’ ‘I thought I explained that to you.’ ‘I knew the deal was that you could live for ever. I didn’t appreciate that meant you couldn’t be killed. What can I do, Mrs Steadman? How can I put a stop to this?’ Mrs Steadman looked at him fearfully. ‘You can’t, Mr Nightingale. If this man has the protection of one of the strongest demons in Hell, there’s nothing you can do.’ Nightingale sighed. He wanted a cigarette, badly. ‘You need to run, Mr Nightingale. You and your friend need to get as far away from this man as you can. That’s your only hope, to be somewhere where he can’t find you.’ ‘I can’t do that, Mrs Steadman.’ ‘You have to.’ Nightingale rubbed the back of his neck. ‘There’s no way of stopping this man? No way at all.’ Mrs Steadman swallowed nervously. ‘I’m afraid not. So long as he has the protection of Paimonia, there is nothing you can do.’ ‘What if this Paimonia were to die. What then?’ Mrs Steadman’s eyes narrowed. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘If Paimonia were to die, what about the people who had done deals with him?’ ‘Those deals would no longer be valid, obviously. But Paimonia is all-powerful, only Satan himself is stronger.’ ‘I have to go,’ said Nightingale, heading for the door. ‘Thanks for your help.’ He hurried out, leaving Mrs Steadman staring forlornly at the door. ‘Mr Nightingale, I didn’t help you at all,’ she whispered. * * * Nightingale drove south to Streatham, through the town centre and made a right turn and then a left and then drove down an alley between two rows of houses. There was a row of six brick-built lock-up garages with metal doors and corrugated iron roofs. A large black man was waiting for him, next to a black Porsche SUV. He was wearing a black overcoat and impenetrable wraparound sunglasses. T-Bone worked for a South London gangster but had a sideline in supplying illicit weapons to the criminal community. T-Bone grinned as Nightingale climbed out of his MGB. ‘You still driving that rust bucket, Birdman?’ ‘It’s a classic,’ said Nightingale. ‘It’s a piece of shit,’ said T-Bone. ‘If I sold guns as shit as your motor, I’d be out of business.’ T-Bone pulled out a set of keys from his coat pocket, unlocked the door of one of the lock-ups and pushed it up. There was an old Jaguar there, its boot facing outwards. T-Bone pulled the door halfway down behind them. ‘Don’t want anybody looking in,’ he explained. He used another key to open the boot of the car. Inside were a dozen or so packages, covered in bubble-wrap. T-Bone picked up one of the packages and unwrapped it. It was a Glock, similar to the one Nightingale had used when he was with the Met’s firearms unit. T-Bone held it out to Nightingale but Nightingale shook his head. ‘Have you got anything smaller? More concealable?’ ‘A lady gun, you mean?’ ‘I was thinking of something I could hide.’ T-Bone nodded and rooted through the packages before selecting one and unwrapping it. ‘Smith and Wesson 638 Airweight?’ he said. ‘Aluminium so it’s light, small frame so it’s, well….the clue’s in the name, innit?’ Nightingale nodded and took the revolver. He held it in the palm of his hand. T-Bone was right, the 638 Airweight was a near-perfect lightweight revolver. It weighed less than a pound and the barrel was just two inches long. That meant it wasn’t especially accurate beyond a few yards but it could easily be carried in a jacket pocket. It only held five rounds but there were thirty eights so would do a lot of damage. ‘Five rounds be enough for you?’ asked T-Bone as if reading his mind. ‘Five should be overkill,’ said Nightingale. ‘I was never one for spray and pray. How much?’ ‘I was thinking six hundred.’ ‘Four?’ ‘Five-fifty. And if you don’t fire it, I’ll buy it back for three.’ ‘I’ll be firing it,’ said Nightingale. ‘Five, and I only need five rounds.’ T-bone pulled out a plastic bag of bullets and counted out five. He slammed the boot shut and gave the rounds to Nightingale. ‘Deal,’ he said. Nightingale took out his wallet and handed over ten fifty-pound notes. Always a pleasure doing business with you, T-bone,’ he said. He shoved the gun into his pocket then tried to raise the garage door. It seemed to be stuck and he couldn’t get it to budge. T-Bone chuckled and forced it up with one hand. ‘You take care, Birdman,’ said T-Bone, as Nightingale walked back to his MGB. * * * According to the book, Paimonia was best summoned during the day. There were other peculiarities of the ceremony. The candles had to be a mixture of black and blue, and among the herbs and compounds that had to be burned were mercury and bindweed, both of which he managed to find in storage jars in a display case in the basement. The book also emphasised that the summoner had to look to the northwest during the ceremony and he had used a small brass compass to check which way that was. He put everything he needed into a cardboard box and carried it upstairs. He chose a large bedroom that had been stripped of all its furniture and furnishings. He closed the door behind him, placed the box on the bare floorboards, then used consecrated chalk to draw a circle in the middle of the room, about twelve feet in diameter. Then he used a birch branch taken from the garden to slowly outline the circle. Then he used the chalk to draw a five pointed star on top of the circle, with two of the five points facing northwest. So far it was a standard pentagram. Nightingale sprinkled consecrated salt water around the perimeter of the circle before studying the diagrams in the book. They were a pretty close match to the page he’d copied from Mercer’s notebook. In a standard pentagram the letters MI and then CH and then AEL were written around the circle, spelling out the name of Michael, the archangel, but for Paimonia the letters were replaced by complex symbols. Nightingale spent more than an hour making sure he drew them perfectly, then he went through to the bathroom and stripped off his clothes. He had already filled the claw-footed cast iron bathtub with water and he slid into it. He held his breath and slid down under the water, holding his breath until he felt his lungs start to burn, and then he pushed himself up and scrubbed himself clean with a small plastic brush and a bar of soap. He washed and rinsed his hair twice, then climbed out of the bath and towelled himself dry. He put on clean clothes and a pair of new trainers. Finally he combed his hair, checked himself in the mirror over the sink, and went back into the bedroom. He picked up five candles, three black and two dark blue, and placed them at the five points of the pentagram. He lit them with his lighter, picked up the cardboard box, then stepped inside the circle. He took a couple of deep breaths then used the birch branch to go over the chalk outline again. He sprinkled consecrated salt water around the perimeter of the circle, then set fire to the contents of a lead crucible. The herbs and spices and bits of wood hissed and spluttered. He added bindweed and mercury salt and the room filled with cloying smoke. He took the book out of the box and opened it at the chapter on Paimonia. He began to carefully recite the words that would summon the demon. They were written phonetically, they weren’t English or Latin, they were something in between. The candle flames flickered as warm wind started to blow through the room, even though the windows and door were shut. The air was getting thicker as the fumes billowed up from the lead crucible. He tried not to think about the damage the mercury might do to his lungs and he concentrated on the words he was saying. His eyes began to water and he blinked away the tears. There were flashes of light above his head, like lightning strikes. He ignored them and kept his eyes on the book. It was getting harder to see, his eyes were tearing and the smoke was getting thicker by the minute. He reached the end of the incantation and closed the book. He peered through the smoke. There was no sign of any demon. He frowned, wondering if he had missed something out. Then there was a loud boom that hit him in the chest like a punch and he staggered back. There was a second boom, even louder than the first and then something appeared in front of him. It had no real form, it was greyish-green and constantly shifting. Nightingale saw a glimpse of what might have been a claw and then a wing but they were there only for a few seconds. ‘Who are you?’ asked a surprisingly soft, almost feminine, voice. ‘My name is Jack Nightingale and I have summoned you to offer my respects and to respectfully request you bestow on me the gift of everlasting life. Are you Paimonia?’ ‘You summoned me, so you should know.’ ‘Then can you grant me my wish?’ ‘That can be done,’ said Paimonia. ‘But there is a price that has to be paid.’ ‘My soul?’ ‘Yes, of course. But the gift of immortality does not come so cheaply. You were baptised?’ ‘Why do you need to know that?’ ‘Because a baptised soul has more value.’ Nightingale shook his head. ‘No. Not baptised.’ ‘Are you Jewish? Or a Muslim?’ Nightingale shook his head. ‘I’m a Christian.’ ‘I shall require a sacrifice.’ ‘I will do whatever you ask,’ said Nightingale. ‘A girl.’ ‘You want me to kill a girl?’ ‘No, merely to provide the sacrifice. I will do the rest. All you need to do is to bring her to me.’ Nightingale nodded. ‘And then I get to live for ever?’ ‘For ever and ever. For as long as you want, anyway.’ ‘And you take my soul?’ ‘Only if you die.’ ‘Let’s do it, then,’ said Nightingale. ‘It’s not as straightforward as that,’ said Paimonia. ‘I will require more sacrifices, in the future.’ Nightingale frowned. ‘What? So we don’t have a deal?’ ‘We have a deal, my friend, you give me your soul and I grant you eternal life. But I require a sacrifice first and then sacrifices at regular intervals. Every five years.’ ‘So I have to provide you with a sacrifice every five years? And if I do, I live forever?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And I don’t get any older?’ ‘Not a day.’ Nightingale nodded thoughtfully. ‘What about every ten years?’ ‘Ten years?’ ‘How about I get a sacrifice for you every ten years?’ ‘You want to negotiate with me?’ ‘It’s a deal, right? So let’s deal. I’ll get you a sacrifice every ten years.’ ‘Ten is not acceptable.’ ‘What is acceptable?’ ‘I told you. Every five years.’ ‘Nine.’ Paimonia sighed. ‘Seven. And that is my final offer.’ ‘When? When do you want the sacrifice?’ The door opened and Jenny McNeil stood there, a look of surprise on her face. She was wearing a leather flight jacket with a sheepskin collar and blue jeans. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail. ‘What the hell are you doing, Jack?’ she said. ‘Jenny, what are you doing here?’ ‘You’ve summoned Paimonia? You did it?’ Paimonia roared and the floorboards shuddered. ‘She is perfect,’ he said. The grey-green shape began to harden. It became darker, and smaller. ‘No!’ shouted Nightingale. ‘Not her.’ Paimonia laughed again. There were wings now, grey and leathery, and a reptilian jaw, lined with teeth. Eyes opened, a fiery red, that glared at Jenny. ‘She is the price,’ said Paimonia. ‘She is the sacrifice.’ There were legs now, covered in scales with large hooked talons. And a tail, with a vicious barb at the end. Jenny turned to run from the room but the door slammed shut. She whirled around, her eyes wide in terror. ‘Jack, what’s going on?’ ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Your phone’s not working. I thought you might be in trouble.’ Paimonia laughed and the walls and floor vibrated. ‘You’re the one in trouble, my dear,’ he said. ‘But if it’s any consolation, you’ll be helping Mr Nightingale to get his heart’s desire. Eternal life.’ ‘Jack, what’s happening? Tell me?’ She was stood with her back against the door, her arms outstretched. The creature was fully formed now and it moved towards Jenny, its claws reaching for her. ‘Jack!’ she screamed. ‘He can’t help you,’ said Paimonia. ‘He can’t and he won’t.’ ‘I wouldn’t bank on that,’ she said. She reached inside her jacket and took out a small canister of mace. She pointed it at the demon’s head and pressed the trigger. A tight stream of mace sprayed over its eyes and mouth and it roared in anger. Jenny took a step forward, continuing to spray the burning liquid at the eyes. Nightingale bent down and pulled the Smith and Wesson revolver from the box. He brought the gun up, supporting his right hand with his left and fired twice at the back of Paimonia’s head. Both bullets hit their target, the first shot blowing off a chink of green skin and bone, the second burying itself in the skull. The creature roared in defiance and turned. Nightingale waited until it was facing him before firing again. Two quick shots to the throat then as the creature staggered to the side he fired into its eye at point-blank range. Green blood spurted from the wound and it began to stagger. Then there was a loud bang and space seemed to fold in on itself and the creature disappeared. Nightingale stood with the gun in both hands, breathing heavily. Jenny was leaning against the door, still holding the can of mace. ‘That worked out well,’ said Nightingale. ‘Do you think?’ asked Jenny, her voice loaded with sarcasm ‘It could have gone worse. I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure that bullets would kill it.’ He put the gun back in the cardboard box. Jenny’s jaw dropped. ‘Please tell me you’re joking.’ Nightingale grinned. ‘I was joking.’ She tilted her head on one side. ‘Really?’ ‘Mrs Steadman said he took on physical form at the moment of sacrifice, so assuming that was the case, bullets should have worked.’ ‘And if they hadn’t?’ Nightingale looked uncomfortable. ‘I’m afraid I didn’t have a fallback position.’ ‘Good to know, Jack. Good to know.’ She glared at him, put the can of mace in her pocket and then turned on her heel and walked away. ‘You’re going to run me back to London, aren’t you?’ he shouted after her. He heard the click of her heels as she headed downstairs, the front door open and slam shut, followed a few seconds later by her Audi starting up. ‘I guess not,’ said Nightingale. He took out his cigarettes and lit one as he walked over to the window, just in time to see Jenny drive off in her Audi. * * * Nightingale was walking back to his flat when his phone rang. It was Robbie Hoyle. ‘What have you been up to?’ asked the detective. ‘This and that,’ said Nightingale. ‘Why do you ask?’ ‘Seen anything of that guy you wanted information on? Charles Nelson? Or that guy who looks like him? Richard Hall?’ ‘Nah, I let it drop,’ said Nightingale. ‘It couldn’t have been him, obviously. No one stays the same for forty years, right?’ Nightingale didn’t like lying to his friend, but on this occasion he didn’t have a choice. There was no way he could explain that Charles Nelson had sold his soul to a demon from Hell in exchange for immortality, and no way that Hoyle would ever believe him. ‘So you just let it drop?’ ‘It was a dead end.’ ‘Because Richard Hall is dead.’ ‘Dead?’ ‘You know what dead means, Jack. Deceased. No longer with us. You sure you didn’t go to see him?’ ‘What’s happened, Robbie? Why not just cut to the chase?’ ‘Okay. Richard Hall was found dead in his house today. His cleaner turned up and found him in his bed.’ ‘People die in their beds all the time.’ ‘Not like this, Jack. The doctor who came in to examine the body says Mr Hall shows all the signs of having been dead for forty years.’ ‘What?’ ‘How is that not clear, Jack? The body was mummified, pretty much. Dental records proved who it was but even so… forty years. How does that happen, Jack? His driving licence was issued four years ago. And his cleaner said he was alive and well two days ago when she was last in the house.’ ‘It’s a mystery, no question.’ ‘So why do I get the feeling that you’re not telling me everything?’ ‘I’m off the case,’ said Nightingale. ‘I couldn’t find Charles Nelson so I just assumed he’d died or left the country. I’m trying to find other people who worked at the school but I’m not having any joy. Forty years is a long time, like you said. So is it a murder enquiry?’ ‘According to the doctor, Hall died of natural causes. Forty years ago. I can’t see my bosses being happy if I start a murder investigation on the basis of that. So no, it goes down as death by natural causes. There don’t seem to be any relatives to cause a fuss so I guess Mr Hall’s secret will be buried with him.’ Hoyle ended the call, clearly less than satisfied with the answers that Nightingale had given him. Nightingale waited until he’d got back home and drunk two bottles of Corona and smoked three cigarettes before phoning Mary Campbell. He took a deep breath and began talking. ‘I know who did it,’ he said. ‘And I’m happy enough to tell you who did it. But I warn you now, you’re not going to believe it.’ ‘I just want to know what happened, Mr Nightingale.’ ‘Then I think you’d better sit down,’ he said, reaching for his cigarettes. ### Jack Nightingale appears in the full-length novels Nightfall, Midnight, Nightmare, Nightshade, Lastnight and San Francisco Night and in the short stories Still Bleeding, Tracks, My Name Is Lydia and Cursed.