N ightingale let himself into his flat and went straight into the kitchen. He kept a bottle of Russian vodka in the freezer and he took it out and poured a big slug into a glass, adding a splash of Coke. He drank it in one go and then poured himself another. He went through to the sitting room and phoned Jenny.
‘Where are you?’ she asked.
‘The flat. Can you come round? I need to talk.’
‘Before you wouldn’t tell me what was going on and now you want to talk?’
‘Just come round.’
‘What’s wrong, Jack?’
‘Just come, yeah? I don’t want to tell you on the phone. Too much has happened.’
He ended the call and took another long pull on his drink. He sat down on his sofa and flicked through the TV channels but couldn’t find anything that he wanted to watch.
The fire brigade had arrived in time to save the house, though there was extensive damage to the upper floor and the firemen’s water had flooded the ground floor. Nightingale hadn’t been able to check on the state of the basement but he figured that the damage there would be extensive.
He finished his drink and went back into the kitchen to make himself a fresh one. This time he took the bottle of vodka into the sitting room and put it on the coffee table. As he sat down the entryphone buzzed. He frowned and looked at his wristwatch. It was too soon to be Jenny. He pushed himself up off the sofa and went over to the intercom. ‘Yes?’
‘Mr Nightingale? It’s Janet Bethel. Greater Manchester Police.’
‘We met at your aunt and uncle’s funeral.’
‘I remember. What’s up?’
‘I’d like to talk to you, if you don’t mind. We have some new information on the case.’
‘Case? Which case?’
‘Your aunt and uncle.’
‘I didn’t realise there was a case,’ said Nightingale.
‘It’d be easier if I could sit down and talk to you,’ she said.
‘It’s late,’ he said. ‘I was just about to go to bed.’
‘It’s important, Mr Nightingale.’
Nightingale pressed the buzzer to let her in. He had the front door open for her by the time she reached his floor. She was wearing the same fawn belted raincoat that she’d been wearing in church and carrying the same black shoulder bag. Nightingale showed her into the sitting room. She put her bag on a chair and took off her coat, revealing a dark blazer with a grey skirt. She looked more like a holiday rep than a detective.
‘What on earth are you doing here at this time of night?’ he asked.
‘I heard about the fire so I figured you would be up. Do they know what happened?’
‘Arson,’ said Nightingale.
‘While you were in the house?’
‘Yeah. It was a close thing.’ He frowned. ‘You said you wanted to talk about my aunt and uncle? What’s so important?’
‘I couldn’t trouble you for a glass of water, could I? I’m parched,’ she said. She draped her coat over the back of the chair. ‘I got the train and it took forever.’
‘Sure,’ said Nightingale.
‘Or coffee,’ she said. ‘I could really do with a coffee.’
‘Milk and sugar?’
‘Lots of milk and no sugar.’ She smiled. ‘Sweet enough already.’
Nightingale went through to the kitchen and made her a mug of coffee. When he took it through to her, she had put a sheet of paper on the table and was holding a pen. ‘I couldn’t be a nuisance and ask you to sign this, could I? They’re being a real pain over expenses at the moment.’
‘It’s not a confession, is it?’ he said, picking up the sheet. It was on Greater Manchester Police headed paper and confirmed that he was being interviewed by Detective Sergeant Janet Bethel.
‘Why would it be a confession, Mr Nightingale?’
‘I was being flippant,’ said Nightingale. ‘Which, under the circumstances, probably wasn’t the wisest move.’ He scrawled his signature at the bottom of the letter and gave it back to her.
‘I’m sorry about that,’ she said, putting the letter into her bag. ‘But we have to get a signed receipt every time we conduct an interview outside our area. No receipt, no expenses.’
Nightingale sat down on the sofa and sipped his vodka and Coke. ‘So why are you here?’ he asked.
‘Frankly, Mr Nightingale, I’m not convinced that your uncle took his own life. And if that’s the case, it casts doubt on the assumption that he killed your aunt.’
‘I thought the forensic evidence was conclusive.’
‘It was, but, as I’m sure you know, evidence can be planted or removed.’
‘That’s certainly true,’ said Nightingale. He took another drink.
‘And I understand that you were in north Wales recently. Abersoch.’
Nightingale nodded but didn’t say anything.
‘You know what’s going on there, I assume.’
‘The serial killer? I heard.’ He frowned. ‘What are you saying? The same guy killed my aunt and uncle?’
‘It doesn’t fit the profile completely, I know. The killings in Wales have all been of women and they have all been made to look like suicides. Your aunt was murdered, and your uncle’s death appeared to be a suicide.’
‘Plus it’s quite a way from Wales to Manchester. Most serial killers tend to stay in an area that they’re comfortable with.’ Nightingale yawned. He was feeling tired. He took a long drink and stretched out his legs.
‘I’m sorry for getting here so late, Mr Nightingale. I can see that you’re tired.’
Nightingale put a hand up to his head. He was finding it difficult to concentrate. ‘No, it’s okay,’ he said. ‘What were you saying? About my aunt and uncle?’
‘There is a possibility that they were both killed by a third person,’ said Bethel.
‘And do you know who that might be?’
‘I was going to ask you the same thing, Mr Nightingale. You were in Connie Miller’s house just after her death. And you were there a few days later, weren’t you?’
‘How do you know that?’ asked Nightingale. His legs were going numb and he couldn’t feel his feet. He drained his glass.
‘My opposite number in north Wales told me,’ said Bethel. She stood up and went over to her bag.
Nightingale’s head started to spin. ‘They didn’t know,’ he mumbled.
‘Didn’t know what?’
‘They didn’t know that I went back to Connie’s house. They knew I went around to her parents’ home but they didn’t know that I was in her house.’
The glass tumbled from his fingers and bounced on the carpet. He looked up. The detective was standing in front of him, a roll of tape in her hands.
‘You were there,’ said Nightingale. ‘You were watching the house.’ He tried to stand up but his legs had gone numb.
She bent down and used the tape to bind his wrists together. He tried to resist but there was no strength in his arms.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked.
‘Keep quiet. It’ll all be over soon,’ said the detective. She went over to her handbag again and returned with a plastic bag. She pulled it down over Nightingale’s head.
Nightingale tried to shout but it felt as if there was a heavy weight on his chest.
Bethel started to wind tape around his neck, sealing the bag shut. Nightingale heard a buzzing. It was his door intercom. He tried moving away but Bethel slid onto his lap, her thighs pinning his legs as she continued winding the tape. The intercom buzzed again.
The plastic bag began to mist over and it started pulsing in and out in time with his breathing. Nightingale knew that he had to breathe slowly so he fought the panic that was making his heart race.
Bethel smiled as she watched his discomfort. She placed her hands on his shoulders and put her face close to his. ‘Not long now,’ she said.
She was wearing gloves, Nightingale realised. Black leather gloves. ‘Why?’ he asked, but then had to gulp for air. His breathing was fast and shallow and his lungs were burning.
He felt himself start to pass out. Bethel was grinning at him in triumph, staring at him with a wild look in her eyes. Nightingale’s eyes were just closing when he saw movement behind Bethel. There was a cracking sound and Bethel tumbled off his lap and fell to the floor. Hands pulled at the plastic bag and ripped it apart. Nightingale gulped in fresh air.
‘Jack, are you okay?’ It was Jenny.
‘She put something in my drink.’ He groaned as the room began to swim.
Jenny hurried to the kitchen and returned with a pair of scissors. She used them to cut the tape around his wrists. Bethel lay on the floor face down, not moving.
‘You were lucky I had a key,’ Jenny said. ‘I’ll call for an ambulance. You should try to throw up.’
She picked up Nightingale’s mobile phone, called nine nine nine and spoke to the operator, but Nightingale couldn’t hear what she was saying and his eyelids fluttered as he slipped into unconsciousness.