The superintendent was in his early fifties, his brown hair flecked with grey, and he studied Nightingale through thick-lensed spectacles. He was in uniform, but he’d undone his jacket buttons when he sat down at the table. Next to him was a younger man in a grey suit, a detective who had yet to introduce himself. Nightingale sat opposite them and watched the detective trying to take the plastic wrapping off a cassette tape.
‘You’ve not gone digital, then?’ asked Nightingale.
The superintendent nodded at the tape recorder on the shelf by Nightingale’s head. ‘Please don’t say anything until the tape’s running,’ he said. He took off his spectacles and methodically wiped the lenses with a pale blue handkerchief.
‘That could be a while, the way he’s going,’ said Nightingale.
The detective put the tape to his mouth, ripped away a piece of the plastic with his teeth and then used his nails to finish the job. He slid the cassette into one of the twin slots, then started work on a second tape. Nightingale figured the man was in his mid-twenties and still on probation with the CID. He kept looking nervously at the superintendent, like a puppy that expected to be scolded at any moment.
The custody sergeant who had taken Nightingale from the holding cell had given him a bottle of water and a packet of crisps and they were both on the table in front of him. He opened the bottle and drank from it, wiped his mouth on the paper sleeve of the forensic suit they’d given him to wear when they took away his clothes and shoes. On his feet were paper overshoes with elastic at the top.
The detective finally got the wrapping off the second tape and slotted it into the recorder before nodding at the superintendent.
‘Switch it on, lad,’ said the superintendent. The detective flushed and did as he was told. The recording light glowed red. ‘Right.’ He checked his wristwatch. ‘It is a quarter past three on the afternoon of November the thirtieth. I am Superintendent William Thomas and with me is…’ He nodded at the detective.
‘Detective Constable Simon Jones,’ said the younger man. He began to spell out his surname but the superintendent cut him short with a wave of his hand.
‘We can all spell, lad,’ said the superintendent. He looked over at the recorder to check that the tapes were running. ‘We are interviewing Mr Jack Nightingale. Please give us your date of birth, Mr Nightingale.’
Nightingale did as he was asked.
‘So your birthday was three days ago?’ said the superintendent.
‘And you didn’t get me a present,’ said Nightingale, stretching out his legs and folding his arms. ‘I’m not being charged with anything, am I?’
‘At the moment you’re helping us with our enquiries into a suspicious death.’
‘She killed herself,’ said Nightingale.
‘We’re still waiting for the results of the autopsy.’
‘She was hanging from the upstairs banister when I found her.’
‘You were bent over her with a knife in your hand when two of my officers apprehended you,’ said the superintendent.
‘Your men beat the crap out of me,’ said Nightingale, gingerly touching the plaster on the side of his head. ‘I used the knife to cut her down.’
‘One blow, necessary force,’ said the superintendent.
‘I was an innocent bystander,’ said Nightingale. ‘Wrong place, wrong time. They didn’t give me a chance to explain.’
‘Apparently they asked you to drop your weapon and when you didn’t comply they used necessary force to subdue you.’
‘First of all, it wasn’t a weapon; it was a knife I’d taken from the kitchen to cut her down. And second of all, they hit me before I could open my mouth.’ He pointed at the paper suit he was wearing. ‘And when am I getting my clothes back?’
‘When they’ve been forensically examined,’ said the superintendent.
‘She killed herself,’ said Nightingale. ‘Surely you must have seen that. She tied a washing line around her neck and jumped.’
‘That’s not what women normally do,’ said the superintendent. ‘Female suicides, I mean. They tend to swallow sleeping pills or cut their wrists in a warm bath. Hanging is a very male thing. Like death by car.’
‘I bow to your superior knowledge, but I think I’d rather go now.’
‘You’re not going anywhere until you’ve answered some questions.’
‘Does that mean I’m under arrest?’
‘At the moment you’re helping us with our enquiries,’ said the superintendent.
‘So I’m free to go whenever I want?’
‘I would prefer that you answer my questions first. If you’ve done nothing wrong then you shouldn’t have any problems talking to us.’ Thomas leaned forward and looked at Nightingale over the top of his spectacles. ‘You’re not one of those Englishmen who think the Welsh are stupid, are you?’
‘You know what I’m talking about,’ said the superintendent. ‘Us and the Irish, you English do like to take the piss, don’t you? Calling us sheep-shaggers and the like.’
‘What the hell are you talking about?’
‘I’m talking about you coming into our small town and causing mayhem,’ said the superintendent. ‘And acting as if it’s no big thing.’ He linked his fingers and took a deep breath. ‘Because it is a big thing, Nightingale. It’s a very big thing.’
‘She was dead when I got there.’
‘So you say.’
‘What does the coroner say?’
‘We’re still waiting on the exact time of death, but it looks as if it’s going to be too close to call.’
‘She was swinging from the banister when I got there.’
‘And her DNA is all over your clothes.’
‘Because I cut her down. Trying to save her.’
‘You said she was dead. Why were you trying to save a dead woman?’
‘I didn’t know she was dead. I just saw her hanging there. Then she moved.’
‘She was shaking and she was making sounds.’
‘So she wasn’t dead?’
‘No, she was dead. Some sort of autonomic reaction. I got a knife from the kitchen and cut her down. I checked for life signs and there were none. That’s when your guys arrived.’
‘Which raises two questions, doesn’t it?’ said the superintendent. ‘Why didn’t you call the police? And what were you doing in the house?’
‘I didn’t have time to phone anyone,’ said Nightingale. ‘I’d just finished checking for a pulse when your men stormed in and beat me unconscious.’
‘I’m told that you were resisting arrest,’ said the superintendent. ‘A neighbour called nine-nine-nine to say that a stranger had just entered Miss Miller’s house. When they arrived they found you crouched over her, holding a knife.’
‘They didn’t say anything, just clubbed me to the ground.’
‘You shouldn’t have been in the house,’ said the superintendent. ‘It’s not as if she invited you, is it?’
‘The back door was open,’ said Nightingale.
‘Even so,’ said the superintendent. ‘You committed trespass at best, and at worst…’
‘A woman is dead, Nightingale. And you still haven’t explained why you were in the house.’
‘I wanted to talk to her.’
‘It’s complicated,’ said Nightingale.
‘There you are again, suggesting that the Welsh are stupid.’ He banged the flat of his hand down hard on the table and Nightingale flinched. ‘Start talking, Nightingale. I’m getting fed up with your games.’
Nightingale sighed. ‘I think she’s my sister.’
‘Like I said, it’s complicated.’
‘Complicated as the fact that her name is Miller and yours is Nightingale?’
‘She never married?’
‘Miller is the name she was born with. So how can you be her brother?’
‘Stepbrother. Or half-brother. We’ve got the same father.’
‘And would the father’s name be Nightingale or Miller?’
‘Neither. Gosling. Ainsley Gosling.’
‘So you’re telling me that Gosling was your father and hers and yet all three of you have different names?’
‘I was adopted. So was my sister. We were both adopted at birth.’
‘And so what were you doing at her house today? Surprise visit, was it?’
‘I wanted to talk to her.’
Nightingale bit down on his lower lip. There was no way on earth the superintendent would believe Nightingale if he answered that question honestly. In the cold light of day he wasn’t even sure if he believed it himself. ‘I’d just found out that she was my sister. I wanted to meet her.’
‘Did you call her first?’
Nightingale shook his head.
‘For the tape please, Mr Nightingale.’
‘No, I didn’t call her.’
‘You just thought you’d pop round? From London?’
‘I wanted to see her.’
‘So you drove all the way from London for a surprise visit?’
‘I wouldn’t exactly put it that way,’ said Nightingale. ‘It wasn’t about surprising her. I just wanted to…’ He shrugged. ‘It’s difficult to explain.’
‘You see, any normal person would have phoned first. Made contact that way and then arranged a convenient time to meet. Not turned up unannounced.’
‘I’m a very spontaneous person,’ said Nightingale. He wanted a cigarette, badly.
‘And what made you think that Connie Miller is your sister? Or half-sister?’
‘I got a tip.’
‘What sort of tip?’
‘I was given her first name. And the name of the town.’
‘And that was enough to find her?’
‘I knew how old she is. Was. She was the only thirty-one-year-old woman called Constance in Abersoch.’
‘Is that right?’
‘You can check the electoral roll yourself. It’s all computerised these days.’
‘Well, I can tell you for a fact that Connie Miller isn’t related to you. I know her parents. I’ve known them for years. And they’ve just been to identify her body.’
Nightingale rubbed his face with his hands. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘I was misinformed.’
‘Yes,’ said the superintendent. ‘You most definitely were. Connie was born in Bryn Beryl Hospital in Pwllheli, and I can assure you that there was no adoption involved.’
‘If that’s true then I was given a bum tip. It happens.’
‘If it wasn’t true then I wouldn’t be saying it,’ said the superintendent. ‘I’m not in the habit of lying. So you’re based in London?’
Nightingale nodded. The superintendent pointed at the tape recorder and opened his mouth to speak but Nightingale beat him to it. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That’s right.’
‘And before that you were a policeman?’
‘For my sins, yes.’
‘You were with SO19, right?’
‘CO19. It used to be SO19 but they changed it to CO19 a few years back. The firearms unit. Yeah.’
‘You were an inspector?’
It was clear that the superintendent had already seen his file. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I was an inspector.’
‘Until that incident at Canary Wharf?’
Nightingale smiled sarcastically and nodded again.
‘People have a habit of dying around you, don’t they, Nightingale?’
‘She had already hanged herself by the time I got there. I had never met the woman, never set eyes on her before today.’
‘Let’s leave Connie where she is for the time being,’ said the superintendent. ‘For now let’s talk about Simon Underwood.’
‘With respect, that’s out of your jurisdiction,’ said Nightingale. ‘Way out.’
‘Paedophile, wasn’t he? Interfering with his daughter, according to the Press. She killed herself while you were talking to her?’
‘Where are you going with this, Superintendent? I’d hate to think that you were opening old wounds just for the hell of it.’
‘I’m simply pointing out that you have a track record as far as dead bodies are concerned. Simon Underwood went through the window of his office while he was talking to you. Sophie Underwood jumped off a balcony. Your uncle took an axe to his wife and then killed himself not long before you went around to their house. Bodies do have a tendency to pile up around you.’
‘Can I smoke?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Of course you can’t bloody well smoke,’ snapped the superintendent. ‘Last time I looked Wales was still part of the United Kingdom and in the UK we don’t allow smoking in public buildings or places of work.’
‘Can we take a break, then? I need a cigarette.’
The superintendent leaned back in his chair. ‘You know smoking kills,’ he said.
‘Allegedly,’ said Nightingale. ‘Ten minutes? It’s either that or you’ll have to charge me because I’m not going to continue helping you with your enquiries unless I have a cigarette first.’