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101

S pace folded in on itself amid the swirling clouds of smoke and then she was there, dressed in black, her black and white collie at her side. She was wearing a black T-shirt with a gold inverted cross on it, a black leather miniskirt and thigh-length black boots with stiletto heels. Around her neck was a black leather collar with chrome studs.

Why do you always dress like a cheap hooker? Nightingale asked.

She walked up to the edge of the pentagram. I could ask you why you always dress like a cheap gumshoe, she said. The dog growled softly and Proserpine bent down to scratch it behind the ear.

Nightingale ran his left hand down the front of his raincoat. It was raining earlier, he said.

I meant the suit. And the shoes. She pointed at his rain-flecked Hush Puppies. Suede? Didnt suede go out of fashion in the seventies?

Theyre comfortable, he said. I do a lot of walking. Goes with the job.

She looked at him and slowly walked around the edge of the pentagram, her heels crunching on the bare floorboards. So what do you think, Nightingale? Alls well that ends well? Her smile hardened and she stared at him with her black, featureless eyes. I told you before that I dont like being bothered for nothing. You cant summon me whenever youve a question you want answering.

I dont have a question for you, said Nightingale. Theres something I want to give you.

Proserpine frowned. Give me? What could you possibly have that Id want, Nightingale?

Nightingales hand appeared from behind his back, holding a long-stemmed red rose. He tossed it high in the air and she caught it easily.

Whats this? she asked.

A flower, he said. By any other name.

Proserpine sniffed the rose. Nightingale reached into the pocket of his raincoat and brought out a small box. He threw it towards her and she caught it with her other hand. She smiled when she saw what it was. Perfume? she said.

Mademoiselle by Chanel, he said. The girl in Harrods said it was very popular.

It is, she said.

She said Chanel Number 5 was heavier.

Much, she said. Too much jasmine for my taste.

Im crap at presents, he said. I told you that before.

Much as I appreciate the gift, you know that we eternals dont celebrate birthdays, she said. We measure time differently.

Yeah, you explained that to me. Its not a birthday present. He smiled and took out his pack of Marlboro and his lighter. Its to say thank you.

Thank you?

He tapped out a cigarette and slipped it between his lips. You sent three guys to kill me. Well, two guys and a girl.

That was the deal, she said. Three questions answered; three killers.

Yeah, but you decided who to send, didnt you? You could have sent anyone, and Im pretty sure that, doing what you do, youd be spoiled for choice.

I do know some mean motherfuckers, thats true.

Nightingale grinned. I love it when you talk dirty.

Dont flirt with me, Nightingale, she said. I choose this form because, like your cheap suede shoes, Im comfortable with it. Its not the real me.

Its not about the way you look, said Nightingale. Its about what you did. You could have had a sniper blow me away or have a bomb put under my car, but you didnt. You gave me a fighting chance.

Proserpine shrugged. I wouldnt read too much into that if I were you, she said.

You could have sent killers who wouldnt have given me a chance. They could have killed people close to me. Collateral damage. But you didnt do that, did you? You sent people you knew I could beat.

Youre reading too much into it, Nightingale.

Nightingale shook his head. I dont think so, he said. But, whatever the reason, you went easy on me and I just wanted to say thank you.

With perfume and a rose?

I had absolutely no idea what else to get you, he said. Okay. Thats all I wanted to say. You can go now, and I promise not to bother you again. He flicked the lighter.

You know that cigarette smoke is an impurity, she said. Itll weaken the protective circle.

Nightingale flicked his lighter again, lit the cigarette and then blew a cloud of smoke into the air. You know what, honey? he said. I trust you.

Im not sure thats a good idea, she said.

Nightingale shrugged. Ill risk it.

Up to you, she said. But I have to say that youre being a little presumptuous.

Nightingale frowned as he blew smoke. Why?

I answered three questions for you.

And you sent three killers. Chance, Katherine Whelan and the arsonist.

Proserpine smiled. Whelan was nothing to do with me, she said. She had her own agenda. The other two were mine, though.

Nightingales cigarette froze on the way to his lips. So theres still another killer out there? he said.

Proserpine smiled and blew him a kiss. Be lucky, she said, then turned and walked away.

Time folded in on itself and she and the dog vanished.

Nightingale took a long pull on his cigarette and let the smoke escape slowly from between his lips. That didnt go quite as well as Id hoped, he said. He flicked ash onto the floor and stepped out of the circle.


| Midnight |