N ightingale took his hands out of his raincoat and lit a cigarette as he stared at Connie Miller’s house. From the outside there was no sign that someone had died there. It was like every other house in the road, though it was the only one in total darkness. It was just after eleven o’clock at night and the pavements were deserted. Abersoch wasn’t the sort of village where people stayed out late, especially in the middle of winter. A cold wind ruffled his hair and he turned up the collar of his raincoat. The forecast had been for temperatures just above freezing with the threat of snow to come.
He smoked his cigarette as he walked past the house to the end of the street, and then dropped the butt down a drain. He took out a pair of black leather gloves and put them on. The only sound was from the occasional car in the distance. He walked back to the house, not too quickly, not too slowly, looking casually left and right to reassure himself that no one was watching, then opened the gate. He grimaced as the hinges squeaked, then closed it behind him and walked quietly down the paved path that led to the back of the semi-detached house.
He reached the kitchen door and paused. The last time he’d been there the kitchen door was open but this time it was locked. He checked the kitchen window and that was also locked, and when he stood back and looked up he could see that the windows on the first floor were all securely closed. There were French windows leading into the sitting room. He pushed them with his gloved hands. There was some movement but they were locked. He put a hand up against the window and peered inside. There were no signs of any alarm sensors, and no alarm box on the outside of the house.
Nightingale turned around and looked at the garden. At the far end, backing onto a neatly clipped head-high privet hedge, was a wooden garden shed with a pitched bitumen-coated felt roof. He walked down the garden, keeping close to the hedge on his left and watching the house next door. The shed door wasn’t locked but, like the front gate, it squeaked as he opened it. There was a petrol mower inside and a selection of old gardening tools, including a spade. He took the spade back to the house and used it to prise open the French windows. He slid back the door and stepped inside. The only sound was his breathing and he made a conscious effort to calm down. He put the spade on the floor and closed the French windows.
He walked across the dining room and opened the door to the hallway. Although he had a small torch in his pocket he didn’t use it; he didn’t want to risk anyone outside seeing the beam and there was enough moonlight to see by. He stepped into the hallway.
Apart from the stains on the carpet, there was no trace of Connie Miller or her suicide. The shoe that had been at the bottom of the stairs had gone, as had the washing line that she’d used to hang herself. He stood for a while staring up at where he’d first seen her, the body gently swaying in the air. He felt his heart start to race and took a deep breath to steady himself.
He went into the sitting room. It was neat and tidy, with an Ikea futon and an Ikea coffee table and a small television on an Ikea cupboard. Tucked away in one corner was a computer on an Ikea desk. He sat down in front of the computer and switched it on. He took out his mobile. He smiled when he saw that he had a signal and he phoned Jenny. ‘I need your help,’ he said.
‘I’m in bed, Jack.’
‘Okay, but I still need your help,’ he said. ‘I’m sitting at Connie Miller’s computer. I want to copy her files and stuff – can you talk me through it?’
Jenny groaned. ‘You really are computer illiterate, aren’t you?’
‘I have other skills,’ he said. ‘What do I do?’
‘What are you going to copy the files onto?’
‘I was hoping you’d tell me.’
‘Do you have a thumb drive on you?’
Nightingale laughed. ‘Yeah, it’s in my pocket next to my personal jet pack. Of course I don’t have a thumb drive.’
‘Okay, look around and see if you can find one. Or recordable DVDs.’
‘There’re some DVDs next to the keyboard.’
‘There you go, then.’
Jenny spent the next fifteen minutes talking him through the process of transferring files from the computer to a DVD. When he had finished he went back into the hallway and slowly climbed the stairs, his gloved hand on the banister. At the top of the stairs were three doors. Nightingale guessed correctly that the room at the front of the house was the main bedroom. He opened it to find a double bed with a black teddy bear propped up against the pillows. On one wall was a framed picture of white horses racing through foaming surf. There were small tables either side of the bed. On one there was a lamp and a Garfield alarm clock, on the other a photograph of a couple in their fifties in a brass frame. Nightingale picked up the photograph. It was probably her parents, he figured. They looked like a nice couple, and the man had his arms protectively around his wife and a proud tilt to his chin as he looked into the camera. ‘Do you know why she did it?’ Nightingale whispered to the image. ‘Do you have any idea why she killed herself?’
He put the photograph back on the bedside table and walked over to the dressing table. He caught sight of his reflection and grinned at himself. ‘Jack Nightingale, cat burglar,’ he said. ‘Where did it all go wrong?’
There were two hairbrushes next to a line of perfume bottles. The larger of the two brushes had several hairs among the bristles. Nightingale took a Ziploc bag from the pocket of his raincoat, slipped the hairbrush into it and sealed it.
He went into the bathroom. It was spotless, the towels neatly folded on a heated rack, hair treatment products in a neat line on a shelf, a tube of toothpaste neatly squeezed at the end. There was an Oral B electric toothbrush slotted into a charger. Nightingale picked it up, pulled off the brush head and put it in a second Ziploc bag. He looked around for a replacement head and found one in a drawer. He slotted it into the handle and put the brush back into the charger. As he looked into the mirror above the washbasin he caught a glimpse of red letters written across the wall behind him. Nightingale froze, his mouth open in surprise. He stared at the letters, which glistened wetly. They were uneven and irregular as if they had been smeared carelessly across the tiles. His eyes widened as he stared at the single sentence. His mind scrambled to read the back-to-front words in the mirror: