T here was a bright flash and the dwarf vanished. Sophie stayed where she was, her head down, her body wracked with silent sobs. Then Lucifuge Rofocale’s laughter echoed off the walls, there was a second blinding flash and Sophie disappeared.
Nightingale’s chest ached and he realised that he’d been holding his breath. He opened his mouth and tilted back his head, sucking in the foul-smelling air. His ears were buzzing and crackling and his legs felt as if they were about to give way under him. He looked around the room and then stepped gingerly out of the pentagram.
He took his pack of Marlboro out of his pocket and lit one, then opened the bedroom door. Flames billowed into the room and across the ceiling and a blast of heat hit him in the face, making him gasp. His cigarette fell from his fingers and he slammed the door shut.
Nightingale stood where he was, his mind racing. How the hell had a fire started? And so quickly? He went over to the window and tried to open it, but it was locked. He’d never bothered opening any of the windows in the house and had no idea how to unlock them. He looked for something to break the glass with. He picked up the metal crucible that he’d used for the burning herbs and smashed it against one of the panes of glass, but it didn’t break. Nightingale cursed and tried again. The glass steadfastly refused to shatter. He threw the crucible to the side and it clattered onto the bare floorboards. Gosling must have installed unbreakable laminated glass as part of his security arrangements.
Nightingale took out his mobile phone. He dialled nine nine nine and asked for the fire brigade. As he gave them directions he saw that smoke was pouring through the gap under the door. Nightingale had left his raincoat in the bathroom and he rushed to get it. He could use it to block the gap. But as he picked it up he knew that he would only be delaying the inevitable. Even if he plugged the gap he was still trapped in the room, and he’d be overcome by the smoke or the heat long before the firemen arrived.
He put his phone on the washbasin, pushed the bath plug into place and turned on the cold tap. He held his raincoat under the torrent of water until it was soaked and then climbed into the bath and lay down, submerging himself in the water.
He wiggled his arms and legs, thrashing around to make sure that his clothes were totally soaked, and shook his head from side to side, then climbed out of the bath, grabbed his phone and coat and ran to the door.
He stood by the door, taking deep breaths, then draped his soaking-wet raincoat over his head. He took a final deep breath, ducked down low and pulled the door open. The fire roared and flames burst over his head. He kept low as he ran out into the corridor, his mouth closed and his eyes narrowed to slits.
The fire roared and he could feel the heat on his wet skin. He turned to the right and ran, pulling the raincoat down low. He couldn’t see where he was going but he could make out the floorboards and kept to the middle of the hall, counting off the steps in his head. Three bedrooms. Each bedroom about fifteen feet wide. Each pace three feet. Five paces one room. Fifteen paces and he should be at the stairs.
His hands were burning as the flames dried out the water and the heat got to his skin. He kept them bunched into fists and curled them so that they were covered by the coat. His chest was aching but he forced himself not to breathe because the air would be blisteringly hot and would damage his lungs.
He turned to the right and reached the stairs, charging down them. He had to take a breath as he ran down but the air wasn’t hot any more, though it was thick with smoke and made him gag. He hurtled to the bottom and headed for the door, coughing and spluttering.
He pulled open the front door and fell out into the cold night air, gasping for breath. He threw his raincoat down onto the steps, where it lay smouldering, and staggered over to the mermaid fountain, thrusting his hands into the water.
Nightingale looked up at the house but there was no sign of fire or smoke, no indication of the blazing inferno within. He took his hands out of the water and shook them. The flesh was red but that was all. His phone rang and he pulled it out of his pocket. It was Jenny.
‘Jack, how did it go?’
Nightingale began to laugh. He sat down on the edge of the fountain. In the distance he heard a siren.
‘Jack, what’s wrong?’
‘I’ll call you back, kid. I’m in the middle of something right now.’