W hen he woke up early on Saturday morning Nightingale thought about going for a run in Hyde Park, but then decided against it in favour of a bacon sandwich, a black coffee, and two cigarettes while he read the Daily Express. The main story was about three bank bosses who between them were set to receive bonuses of more than?200 million. Nightingale shook his head in disbelief as he read the story. ‘Who the hell did you sell your souls to for a deal like that?’ he muttered. Inside the paper was a story about declining attendances in the nation’s churches while worship at mosques was up thirty per cent. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the internet was to blame and that the Church of England would be revamping its website in a bid to win back worshippers. Nightingale put down the paper as he finished his coffee. He couldn’t think of any of his close friends who went to church regularly. For marriages and funerals, certainly, but not to worship.
He went through to the hall and took his tatty address book from his raincoat. He flicked through it, looking for Alfie Tyler’s number. Nightingale didn’t trust phones and rarely stored numbers in his mobile. Phones broke down and SIM cards mysteriously lost their data for no apparent reason, but, in Nightingale’s experience, once a number was written down in an address book it tended to stay there.
Tyler answered, his voice thick from sleep. ‘Who the hell is this?’
‘Jack Nightingale, Alfie. Wakey, wakey, rise and shine.’
‘What time is it?’
‘Just after nine-thirty.’
Tyler groaned. ‘What do you want, Nightingale?’
‘Had a late one last night, did you? Out hustling pool?’
‘Snooker. And I’ve got to do something for cash now that I’m no longer gainfully employed.’ He groaned and coughed. ‘Call me back later, I’m sleeping.’
‘Hang on, hang on,’ said Nightingale. ‘I need a chat. Can I come round?’
‘I’m all chatted out,’ said Tyler.
‘Why don’t I come round to your place with a wad of notes and I’ll play you for a monkey a game?’ said Nightingale. ‘We can talk while you beat me.’
Tyler chuckled. ‘You’re a persistent bastard,’ he said. ‘Okay, there’s a Starbucks on the way. Bring me a large Mocha and two chocolate croissants.’
‘You got a sweet tooth, Alfie?’
‘Just bring my breakfast and your money and we’ll talk,’ said Tyler, and he ended the call.
Tyler lived on the outskirts of Bromley in south London. The Saturday morning traffic was light and Nightingale got there just after eleven o’clock. The large black wrought-iron gates that fronted the driveway leading to the six-bedroom, mock-Tudor house, complete with tall chimneys, were locked. Chained and locked with a massive brass padlock. Nightingale frowned as he held the padlock. The last time he’d visited Tyler the gates hadn’t been locked. He looked around for a bell or an intercom but there was no way of announcing his presence. He leaned against his car and lit a cigarette, then took out his mobile phone and called Tyler’s number. It rang out, unanswered.
Nightingale cursed and put the phone away, then went back to the gates, wondering whether or not to try climbing over them. They were a good nine feet tall and topped with fleur-de-lys points. He peered through the bars. Tyler’s black Bentley was parked in front of the double garage. As Nightingale blew a tight plume of smoke through the gate, the front door opened and Tyler appeared, wearing blue and white striped pyjamas.
Nightingale waved at him. ‘Alfie, over here!’ he shouted. ‘The gates are locked.’
Tyler ran a hand through his hair, walked out of the house and headed towards the garage.
‘I’ve got your Mocha and your croissants!’
Tyler ambled into the garage and reappeared a few seconds later holding a coil of rope.
‘Hey, come on! Stop pissing about.’
Tyler showed no signs of having heard Nightingale. He went over to the front door and tied one end of the rope to the door knocker, a large brass lion’s head with a thick metal ring gripped in its jaws.
‘Alfie! What are you playing at?’
Tyler walked slowly to the Bentley, playing out the length of rope. Nightingale dropped what was left of his cigarette onto the tarmac and ground it with the heel of his shoe. He grabbed the metal gates and shook them. They rattled but the chain held firm.
‘Alfie, come on, this isn’t funny!’
Tyler stood next to the driver’s door of the Bentley and began to fashion the rope into a noose.
Nightingale cursed under his breath. He jammed his right foot against one of the bars and pulled himself up. He managed to get halfway up the gate before he lost his grip and slid down. He took off his raincoat, tossed it onto the bonnet of his MGB and threw himself at the gate. He hauled himself up, gritting his teeth at the pain, his feet scrabbling against the bars, but he didn’t have the strength and he slipped back down, tearing his palms. He yelled in frustration as he stared through the bars. Tyler had finished making the noose and he slid it over his head. For a couple of seconds he looked towards the gates but he didn’t seem to notice Nightingale standing there.
‘Alfie, for God’s sake, will you open these bloody gates!’ shouted Nightingale.
Tyler opened the door of the Bentley and climbed in. He pulled the door shut but the rope prevented it from closing completely. The engine started and white exhaust billowed around the rear of the car.
‘Oh no, please, no…’ whispered Nightingale.
The engine roared and the car leaped forward. The rope went taut almost immediately but the two-ton Bentley didn’t even jerk as it accelerated down the driveway. Nightingale threw himself to the side a second before the car crashed into the gates, Tyler’s headless corpse slumped over the wheel, blood still pumping over the walnut dashboard.