S uperintendent Thomas clicked his ballpoint pen as he stared impassively at Nightingale. The detective constable who had sat in on the last interrogation was also sitting across from Nightingale.
‘At least this time I get to keep my clothes on,’ said Nightingale.
‘You think this is funny?’ asked the superintendent. ‘You think that breaking into a woman’s house is funny, do you? I know that in London you punish burglars with a slap on the wrist but here in Wales we take breaking and entering very seriously.’
‘I didn’t break in,’ said Nightingale. ‘And you know I didn’t. When your men burst in and beat me up I was having tea with Mrs Miller.’
‘My men took what steps were necessary to take you into custody.’
‘I wasn’t arrested and I wasn’t informed of my rights, which means custody wasn’t an issue. We were having tea together. If your men had bothered to ask her, she’d have told them that I was her guest.’
‘You were holding a weapon.’
‘A poker. I’d picked up a poker.’
‘Which counts as a weapon.’
‘We heard a noise in the kitchen. We didn’t know who it was.’
‘They were uniformed police officers.’
‘Yeah, well, we didn’t know that when we heard them in the kitchen, did we? We heard a noise, I picked up the poker, then your men charged in and assaulted me.’ He sat back in his chair and folded his arms. ‘Do your men make a habit of assaulting people for the hell of it?’ he asked.
The superintendent clicked his pen again. ‘You told her that you were a journalist,’ he said quietly.
Nightingale winced. ‘A little white lie,’ he said. ‘I thought she’d be more likely to talk to a journalist than a private detective.’
‘And that works, does it?’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘Yeah, it does. Especially if you say you’re with the local paper.’
‘That’s misrepresentation and fraud.’
‘Not really,’ said Nightingale. ‘I wasn’t trying to con her out of money, I just wanted some information.’
‘So you lied?’
‘I bent the facts. I didn’t think she’d be able to handle the fact that I was the one who found her daughter. It’s not as if I was pretending to be a police officer.’
‘Nonetheless you broke into her house and lied about your identity.’
The back door was open.’
‘You seem to make a habit of walking into other people’s houses, don’t you?’
‘I’ve already explained about Connie Miller. And when I wanted to talk to her parents, I knocked on the door. Then I went around to the back of the house and knocked again. I tried the door and it was open.’
‘Any normal person wouldn’t have tried the door,’ said the superintendent. ‘Any normal person would have gone away and tried again later.’
‘Yes, what did you think? What exactly was going through your mind when you walked uninvited into Mr and Mrs Miller’s house?’
Nightingale ran a hand through his hair. ‘To be honest, I thought that maybe something had happened. Something bad.’
Nightingale wanted a cigarette, badly. ‘In view of what I found when I went to Connie Miller’s house, I was expecting the worst. I thought maybe she was dead. Then I saw her sitting in her armchair and she didn’t seem to be moving.’
‘She screamed,’ said the superintendent. ‘Loud enough to wake the dead. A neighbour out walking her dog called us.’
‘I surprised her,’ said Nightingale. ‘She was listening to her iPod. It was all a misunderstanding.’
‘Telling her that you were a journalist was a misunderstanding? I think not.’
‘I need a cigarette,’ said Nightingale. He gestured at the tape recorder. ‘Look, the fact that you haven’t bothered switching this on suggests you’re not going to take this anywhere. You just want to haul me over the coals and I understand that and I consider myself hauled. But we both know that I haven’t done anything that merits an ASBO, never mind a court appearance.’
‘Why did you come back, Nightingale? Why did you travel right the way across your country and then across mine to lie to a sweet lady who’s still grieving over the loss of her only daughter?’
Nightingale stared at the policeman but didn’t say anything.
‘I’m waiting,’ said Thomas.
‘What do you expect me to say?’
‘The truth would be a good start.’
Nightingale sighed. ‘I wanted to know why Connie Miller killed herself.’
‘And why would that be any concern of yours? I already told you that she wasn’t related to you.’
‘Maybe not, but I found her body. We had a connection.’
‘And so you went back to London and then decided to come all the way back here because you think that you have a “connection” as you call it.’
‘I know there’s something not right about her death,’ Nightingale said quietly. ‘I also know there are more suicides than there should be in this part of the world. Something’s going on. You know it and now I know it.’ He gestured at the tape recorder. ‘You’re not switching that on, so I can go, right?’
‘What do you know about Connie Miller’s death?’ asked the superintendent. ‘What do you know that you’re not telling me?’
‘I know that you think there’s a serial killer on the loose who’s making the murders look like suicides.’ It had been a shot in the dark but Nightingale had the satisfaction of seeing the policeman’s jaw tighten and his eyes harden. ‘Why haven’t you gone public?’ asked Nightingale. ‘Don’t people have the right to know what’s going on?’
The superintendent clicked his pen several times. The detective constable turned to look at him and Thomas put the pen down and interlinked his fingers. ‘The problem, Nightingale, is that we don’t know what’s going on. You’re right – the suicide rate in north Wales is way above what it should be. But we’ve no proof yet that there’s a serial killer on the loose.’
‘But when you found me in Connie Miller’s house, you thought it might be me that was behind the deaths?’
‘You were the stranger in town and we found you with her still-warm body.’
‘But now you know I’m in the clear, you’re still looking for the killer.’
‘We’re not sure that there is a killer.’ The superintendent sighed. ‘I need a cigarette.’