T he uniformed officer, who looked as if he was barely out of his teens, showed Nightingale into an interview room and asked him if he wanted a tea or a coffee. He asked for a coffee and sat down at the table. Chalmers and the female detective had taken Jenny along to another interview room. After ten minutes the constable reappeared with a cup of canteen coffee.
‘You didn’t spit in it, did you?’ joked Nightingale.
The constable stared at him blankly and sat down opposite him.
‘Is this going to take long because I’ll need a cigarette break soon,’ said Nightingale.
The constable shrugged but didn’t say anything. Nightingale looked at his watch but as he did so the door opened and Chalmers walked in holding a clipboard and two blank cassette tapes. Behind him was another detective, who Nightingale recognised. Dan Evans. Evans was a detective inspector in his late thirties, with prematurely greying hair and an expanding waistline that hinted at a fondness for beer.
‘It’s almost midnight,’ said Nightingale. ‘Can’t this wait until tomorrow?’
‘No it can’t,’ said Chalmers.
‘You don’t need Jenny here,’ said Nightingale.
‘I’ll be the judge of that,’ said the superintendent. He nodded at the constable. ‘Off you go, lad, we’ll take it from here.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said the constable, and he hurried out.
Evans took the two tapes from Chalmers, sat down opposite Nightingale and slotted them into the recorder.
‘She’s just my assistant,’ said Nightingale.
‘She was at a crime scene,’ said Chalmers.
‘It wasn’t a crime; he jumped,’ said Nightingale, but the superintendent held up a hand to silence him.
‘Wait for the tape, please.’
Evans pressed ‘record’ and nodded at the superintendent. Chalmers looked up at the clock on the wall. ‘It is now twenty-five minutes past eleven on the evening of December the first. I am Superintendent Ronald Chalmers, interviewing Jack Nightingale.’ He looked at Nightingale. ‘Please say your name for the tape.’
‘And with me is…’ Chalmers nodded at Evans.
‘Detective Inspector Dan Evans,’ he said.
‘For the tape, can you confirm that I have not been charged or cautioned,’ said Nightingale.
‘You are here to help us with our enquiries,’ said the superintendent. ‘But I will now ask Detective Inspector Evans to read the caution to you.’
The inspector went through the caution, even though they all knew that Nightingale knew it by heart.
‘But I am free to leave whenever I want?’ said Nightingale when the inspector had finished.
The superintendent stared at Nightingale with cold eyes. ‘At the moment you’re helping us with our enquiries. If that changes then charges might be forthcoming and in that case we will of course follow PACE to the letter.’
Nightingale nodded. ‘And Jenny?’
‘The same,’ he said.
‘So how exactly can I help you?’ asked Nightingale.
‘On November the twenty-third of this year did you and your assistant, Jenny McLean, go to the residence of George Arthur Harrison in Battersea?’
Nightingale folded his arms and sighed. ‘You know I did.’
‘Yes or no?’
Nightingale sighed again. ‘Yes.’
‘And why was that?’
‘I wanted to talk to him.’
Nightingale glared at the policeman. ‘I just wanted to talk to him.’
‘About the death of your parents?’
‘For the tape, please.’
‘Yes,’ said Nightingale. ‘I wanted to talk to him about my parents.’
‘Because he was driving the truck that crashed into them?’
‘Yes,’ said Nightingale.
‘Why did you leave it so long to go and talk to him? Your parents died fourteen years ago.’
Nightingale didn’t answer.
‘Did you hear the question, Mr Nightingale?’
‘I don’t have an answer to that.’
Chalmers leaned forward. ‘You don’t know why you suddenly felt the urge to go and see the man who killed your parents?’
‘I’d only just found out where he lived,’ said Nightingale, even though he knew that wasn’t the reason.
‘Your parents died fourteen years ago. You went to see the man who killed them less than two weeks ago. I don’t see that for someone who was a policeman for as long as you were it would have taken fourteen years to track him down. What made you suddenly want to see him again? Revenge?’
‘Harrison didn’t mean to kill my parents. It was an accident. An RTA, pure and simple.’
‘You believe that?’
‘Of course I do. There was an inquest, he wasn’t charged with anything. It was a rainy night, my father overtook a car on a blind corner and hit Harrison’s truck. It was a stupid accident.’
‘So you didn’t bear him any ill will?’
Nightingale leaned forward and placed his hands on the table. ‘Are you stupid?’ he said. ‘If I did want him dead I’d hardly have waited fourteen years before throwing him off a balcony. Give me some credit, Chalmers. If I wanted to kill someone I’d be a bit more creative than that.’
‘Maybe you lost your temper. Maybe he said something that set you off.’
‘We were talking on the balcony and he jumped.’
‘Why did he do that?’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘I really don’t know. We were having a conversation and he jumped.’
‘Like Simon Underwood did?’
‘Am I helping you with your enquiries into the death of George Harrison or Simon Underwood?’ said Nightingale.
‘There seems to be a pattern here. You go to talk to people and they die. It happened in Canary Wharf with Simon Underwood, in Abersoch with Constance Miller and in Battersea with George Harrison.’
‘What do you want me to say?’ asked Nightingale.
‘I want the truth,’ said Chalmers, leaning forward and interlinking the fingers of both hands as if he was about to pray. ‘I want you to tell me what happened. I want you to tell me why George Harrison died. Did you kill him?’
Nightingale’s jaw dropped. ‘Did I what?’
‘Did you push George Harrison off the balcony?’
‘Of course not.’
‘He just decided to commit suicide while you were there?’
Nightingale nodded. ‘That’s what happened.’
‘And Miss McLean will back you up on that, will she?’
‘She was inside the flat. She wasn’t on the balcony.’
‘So you’re saying that she won’t be able to back you up?’
‘She didn’t see me push Harrison off the balcony because that’s not what happened.’ Nightingale stared scornfully at the superintendent. ‘You’ve got nothing,’ he said. ‘If you did you would have charged me by now. You know I was there and I’m not denying it, but there’ll be no forensic that suggests I did anything but talk to him. Jenny McLean was there and she’ll back me up.’
‘We’ll see about that,’ said Chalmers.
‘Yes,’ said Nightingale. ‘We will.’ He looked at the clock on the wall. ‘Are we done?’
‘We’re done when I say that we’re done,’ said the superintendent. ‘We have CCTV footage of you arriving at the tower block where Mr Harrison lived. And we have video of you leaving thirty-eight minutes later. So you and Mr Harrison must have had quite a chat before he decided to throw himself off the balcony.’
‘He let us in, we went out onto the balcony, we talked for two minutes at most, and then he jumped.’
‘Why were you on the balcony?’
Nightingale sighed. ‘He wanted some air. And I wanted a smoke. I was just about to light a cigarette when he jumped.’
‘Then explain to me why you were in the building for thirty-eight minutes.’
Nightingale rubbed the back of his neck. ‘I don’t like lifts. We walked up nine flights and we walked down.’
‘Why don’t you like lifts?’
Nightingale folded his arms. ‘I just don’t.’
‘Fear of heights?’
‘It’s nothing to do with heights. It’s being suspended in a box held up by wires that makes me nervous.’
The superintendent tapped his pen against his clipboard. ‘So let’s say it takes – what, a minute per floor? Nine floors, nine minutes. Probably a bit faster going down. Let’s say a total of sixteen minutes up and down. That leaves twenty-two minutes. You said that you spoke for just two minutes before he went over the balcony. So that leaves twenty minutes to be accounted for. What were you and Miss McLean doing for those twenty minutes?’
Nightingale stared at the superintendent but didn’t say anything.
‘Are you refusing to answer the question?’
‘I’m thinking how best to phrase my answer,’ said Nightingale.
‘Just tell the truth,’ said Chalmers. ‘That’s all we want. What were you doing for twenty minutes?’
‘I was cleaning,’ said Nightingale quietly. ‘I was cleaning the surfaces that we touched.’
‘You were removing forensic evidence,’ said the superintendent.
‘You could say that, yes.’
‘You wiped away your fingerprints. You cleaned everything you had touched, and then you left. Is that correct?’
‘For the tape, please.’
‘Yes,’ said Nightingale.
‘You tampered with a crime scene?’
‘It wasn’t a crime scene,’ said Nightingale.
‘So why destroy forensic evidence unless you wanted to hide your guilt?’
‘I wanted to avoid this,’ said Nightingale. ‘I wanted to avoid being given the third degree for something I didn’t do. I thought it would be easier just to walk away and not be involved.’
‘But you can see how what you did suggests that you had something to hide?’
‘I can see that, yes,’ admitted Nightingale.
‘So why didn’t you call nine-nine-nine instead of running away?’
‘He fell nine floors,’ said Nightingale. ‘He was beyond needing the emergency services.’
‘The police,’ said Chalmers. ‘Why didn’t you report it to the police?’
Nightingale glared at the superintendent. ‘Because I wanted to avoid this.’
‘Being interrogated as if it was somehow my fault. It wasn’t. He jumped of his own accord. I don’t know why he did it, but he did, and nothing I did or said afterwards was going to change what had happened.’
‘You left a crime scene,’ said Chalmers.
‘It was a suicide and suicide isn’t a crime.’
‘But pushing someone to their death most definitely is,’ said Chalmers.
‘That’s not what happened.’
‘In which case you should have given the police the opportunity of deciding whether or not a crime had taken place.’
‘Are you going to charge me?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Not right now,’ said Chalmers, writing a note on his pad.
Nightingale stood up. ‘Then I’m out of here.’
‘That’s up to you. But this isn’t over.’
‘It never is with you, Chalmers,’ said Nightingale.