N ightingale blew smoke up at the sky. Inspector Evans stared at the ground glumly. ‘What’s your problem?’ asked Nightingale. They were standing outside the police station. A uniformed constable and a community service officer were also on the pavement, smoking with serious faces.
‘I had tickets for the Arsenal match today,’ he said. ‘A bloody box.’
‘No way,’ said Nightingale.
‘I’ve got a mate who works for Emirates, the airline. He gets seats as a perk, and gave me two for the game today. I was going to take my boy.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Nightingale. ‘Really.’
Evans pulled a face. ‘It’s not your fault,’ he said. ‘Chalmers is a prick. There are others he could have brought in today. But I’m an inspector so he brings me in because inspectors don’t get overtime. Plus, he knew I had the tickets.’ He shrugged. ‘It’s no big deal; my brother-in-law’s taking my boy.’
‘Yeah, well, I’m sorry.’
‘No problem.’ He jutted his chin out. ‘What you did to that paedo, that took guts.’
‘Allegedly,’ said Nightingale. He dropped his cigarette butt onto the ground and stamped on it.
‘That’s why you left, right?’
‘I wasn’t given much of a choice.’
‘But they couldn’t prove anything, right? You were in the office when he went out through the window?’
‘Allegedly,’ said Nightingale. ‘It’s not something I talk about.’
‘I can understand that,’ said the detective. ‘But guys I’ve spoken to all say the same thing. You did what they’d have wanted to do. He was screwing his daughter, right? Nine years old.’
Nightingale nodded. ‘Yeah.’
Two years had passed since little Sophie Underwood had died but he could remember every second as clearly as if it had just happened. He remembered how her voice had changed to a dull monotone and the way she hadn’t looked at him as she’d spoken. ‘You can’t help me,’ she’d said. ‘No one can help me.’ Then she’d kissed her doll on the top of its head and, without making a sound, she’d slid off the balcony and fallen thirteen floors to her death. He shuddered at the memory of the sickening thud her little body had made as it slapped into the tarmac.
‘My daughter’s eleven,’ said Evans. ‘If anyone touched her, I’d do them, without even thinking about it.’
‘You’d think about it,’ said Nightingale, ‘but you’re right – anyone who touches kids, they deserve anything they get.’
‘And the mother knew, right? She knew what the bastard was doing?’
Nightingale nodded. ‘She said not but there was no way she couldn’t have not known, not with the marks he’d left on her. Anyway, she killed herself, not long after they buried the girl.’
Evans stamped on the ground, trying to keep the circulation moving in his feet. ‘Damn it’s cold,’ he said. ‘They reckon snow’s on the way.’
‘White Christmas,’ said Nightingale. ‘God rest ye merry gentlemen.’ He took out a second cigarette.
Evans pointed at the pack. ‘Have you got a spare one?’
Nightingale raised an eyebrow. ‘You smoke?’
‘Used to,’ said Evans. ‘Wife made me give up when our boy was born.’
Nightingale tapped out a cigarette and gave it to the detective.
Evans shrugged ‘I figure that if I don’t actually buy them, I’m not really a smoker.’
‘Nice philosophy,’ said Nightingale. He lit the man’s cigarette and Evans inhaled gratefully. ‘Chalmers doesn’t really think I’m going around killing people, does he?’
Evans blew a cloud of smoke, and coughed. He patted his chest and grinned shamefacedly. ‘He thinks you killed Simon Underwood and that you got away with murder,’ he said.
‘He’s not alone in that,’ said Nightingale.
‘Yeah, but Chalmers has taken it personally,’ said Evans. ‘He reckons you’ve got friends in high places, which is why you weren’t charged with Underwood’s death.’
Nightingale’s eyes narrowed as he pulled on his cigarette. He tried to blow a smoke ring but the wind whipped it away as soon as it left his mouth. ‘He does, does he?’
‘He has a point, right? You’re alone in the office with Underwood and he exits through the window. How many floors up?’
‘Twenty,’ said Nightingale.
‘And the next day you resigned. Chalmers thinks you should have been charged with murder.’
‘There was no proof, no CCTV, no evidence.’ Nightingale shrugged. ‘And no witnesses.’
‘Me, I couldn’t care less,’ said Evans. ‘One less paedophile in the world and you won’t find me shedding any tears. But Chalmers is gunning for you.’
‘He’s wasting his time,’ said Nightingale. He dropped what was left of his cigarette onto the ground and stood on it. He gestured at the door to the station. ‘Come on, let’s get this over with. And when we’ve finished I’m going to need a lift back to Tyler’s house to pick up my car.’
‘Still driving that MGB? When are you going to get yourself a decent motor?’
‘It’s a classic.’
‘It’s an old banger. But yeah, I’ll arrange a car to run you back. Just don’t tell Chalmers.’