S uperintendent Chalmers sat back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling of the interview room. ‘Right, Nightingale, I’m sure you know your rights as well as any ex-copper does, but I have to tell you that you do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’
‘Are you going to charge me?’ asked Nightingale.
‘That remains to be seen,’ said Chalmers. There was a manila envelope on the table in front of him.
‘So why the caution?’
‘You know why,’ said Chalmers. ‘You’ve only been off the Force for two years. This questioning might well result in charges being laid, in which case you have to be cautioned prior to the questioning. I’m assuming you haven’t completely forgotten the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.’
‘I said I’d come here to help you with your enquiries.’
‘And we’re grateful for that. But we don’t know where those enquiries will lead so I have to caution you before we begin. Now, tell me again how Alfie Tyler comes to be sitting behind the wheel of his car minus his head.’
‘It was suicide,’ said Nightingale. ‘I told you. I’ve told you three times already.’ He nodded at the digital tape recorder on the desk. ‘It’s not my fault you didn’t have the machine switched on.’
‘Just answer the question, please,’ said the superintendent.
Detective Inspector Dan Evans, who was sitting next to Chalmers, sighed, folded his arms and stared at Nightingale with undisguised contempt.
‘He tied a rope around his neck, tied the other end to his door knocker and then he drove his car at the gates.’
‘Where were you while all this was happening?’
‘The other side of the gates. I couldn’t get in.’
‘And you just stood there and watched, did you?’
‘No, I shouted myself hoarse and tried to get over the gates, but they were too high. I was still outside when the cops arrived.’
‘So you just let him kill himself, did you?’
‘There wasn’t time for me to do anything.’
‘You were trained as a hostage negotiator. You’re used to dealing with suicides. Remember? That was part of your job, talking to people in crisis.’
‘I remember,’ said Nightingale. ‘But he wouldn’t talk. He didn’t say anything. In fact he didn’t seem to notice I was there – he looked like he was in a trance. He just tied the rope around his neck and got into the car.’
‘Did you say something to him, something that set him off?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe you insulted his mother. Maybe you threatened to expose some dirty dark secret. People don’t usually decapitate themselves for no reason.’
Nightingale took his pack of Marlboro out of the pocket of his raincoat.
‘You can’t smoke in here,’ said Chalmers.
‘I’m not smoking, I just like feeling the pack,’ said Nightingale. ‘It’s a tactile thing.’ He tapped the pack on the table. ‘Look, Tyler was expecting me. I called him before I went round and he said he’d see me. We were going to play snooker.’
‘We’d played before.’
‘So it was a social call but rather than play snooker with you he chose to take off his head?’
‘I’m as surprised as you, Superintendent.’
‘There’s no record of Mr Tyler having any mental problems in the past. Though he does have a conviction for GBH.’
‘He can handle himself,’ said Nightingale. ‘I mean, he could. He could handle himself.’
‘Broke a few limbs in his time, did Mr Tyler. Did you know that?’
‘He was an enforcer for a heavy mob in north London. Broke a few arms and slashed a few faces. Not the sort of guy you’d want to meet in a dark alley. Or any sort of alley, for that matter.’
‘I think he’d mellowed,’ said Nightingale. ‘He was fine with me.’
‘And you wanted to talk to him about what, exactly?’
Nightingale tapped the pack of Marlboro against his right temple. He wanted a cigarette, badly. ‘He drove my father around. He was a chauffeur slash bodyguard slash dogsbody.’
Chalmers frowned. ‘Your father? Which father? William Nightingale or the man who killed himself and left you the big house?’
‘Look, it doesn’t matter what Alfie Tyler did for my father. It was suicide. It was clearly suicide. I was on the other side of locked gates when it happened. He tied a rope around his neck himself, he started the car himself, and he drove the car at the gates himself. Once he’d killed himself I called three nines and I stayed outside until the cops showed up. This has nothing to do with me.’
Chalmers nodded slowly. ‘So you’re saying that his death was nothing to do with you?’
‘Absolutely nothing to do with me.’
‘Nothing at all?’
‘That’s what I keep telling you.’
Chalmers smiled thinly and picked up the manila envelope. He opened it and took out a crime-scene photograph, the date and time printed across the top. ‘Perhaps you can explain this, then,’ he said. ‘This was how we found his bedroom.’
Nightingale took the photograph. It was a bedroom, presumably Tyler’s. A king-sized bed with leopard-print sheets and pillowcases and a large gilt-framed mirror above it. And written across the mirror in brown smears was a sentence that made Nightingale catch his breath: