J enny parked her Audi next to the mermaid fountain in front of Gosling Manor. ‘I suppose I’m going to have to get used to driving you around,’ she said.
‘Why’s that?’ asked Nightingale as he climbed out of the car.
‘Because they take away your driving licence for drink-driving,’ she said. ‘The only question is how long for.’ She picked up a briefcase from the back seat and locked the car doors.
‘I wasn’t in an accident and I wasn’t speeding,’ said Nightingale. ‘I was barely over the limit.’
‘Doesn’t matter, these days,’ she said, following him to the entrance. ‘You might think about getting a full-time driver.’
‘I’m not made of money,’ said Nightingale. He unlocked the front door. ‘Honey, I’m home!’ he shouted. His voice echoed around the hallway.
‘You really are twelve years old, aren’t you?’
‘Can you imagine me living here on my own?’ he said, holding the door open for her. ‘What if I heard a noise in the middle of the night? How long would it take to check every room?’
‘That’s probably why Gosling put in his CCTV system,’ she said. Nightingale closed the door and followed her over to the section of wood panelling that hid the stairway leading down to the basement. She pulled open the panel and switched on the basement lights. ‘Anyway, if you don’t want to live here, sell it.’
‘Easier said than done,’ said Nightingale. ‘The bottom’s fallen out of the luxury-mansion market ever since Brown went after the bankers.’
‘Arabs or Russians, then,’ said Jenny. ‘They’ve always got money. This is a beautiful house, Jack. It’d sell.’
They went down the stairs. Jenny put her briefcase on the desk and took out the two notebooks they’d been using to compile the inventory. ‘We finished the bookcase by the stairs, and most of the one next to it,’ she said. ‘I thought I might put them on computer. It’d make it easier to sort through them by subject or author. What do you think?’
‘Good idea,’ said Nightingale. He lit a cigarette and went over to the desk to get a crystal ashtray. He grinned when he saw the Ouija board beneath it. ‘I wondered where that had got to,’ he said.
The board was a large square of oak that had cracked across the middle. Two words were printed in silver letters in the top corners, YES on the left and NO on the right, and the letters of the alphabet were embossed in gold in two rows across the middle of the board. Beneath the letters were the numbers zero to nine in a row, and below them the word GOODBYE.
He picked it up and showed it to Jenny. ‘You know Parker Brothers still sell Ouija boards as a kids’ toy,’ he said. ‘They even do one that glows in the dark.’
‘I didn’t know that,’ said Jenny, taking off her coat and draping it over the back of one of the sofas.
‘Yeah, and actually Ouija is a trademark. Hasbro owns it. Before Parker Brothers made their set, they were just called spirit boards or talking boards.’
‘Fascinating,’ said Jenny, her voice loaded with sarcasm.
‘Do you know where the name Ouija came from?’
‘ Oui is yes in French and Ja is yes in German?’
Nightingale grinned. ‘That’s what a lot of people think, but it’s more complicated than that. You know Wicca, right? Witchcraft? Well, the guys who designed the game wanted a spooky name and one of them was talking to some Spanish chap and it turns out that the Spanish pronunciation of Wicca is Ouija. So that’s what they went with.’
‘I prefer my version,’ she said. ‘Anyway, since when did you become an expert on Ouija boards?’ asked Jenny.
‘I’ve been reading up on it.’
She put her head on one side and narrowed her eyes. ‘Did you ask me here because you wanted to work on the inventory, or because you wanted another go at the Ouija board?’
‘I’m serious, Jack. I don’t like being played.’
‘I swear it hadn’t occurred to me until the moment I saw it,’ said Nightingale. ‘You know me better than that.’
‘I thought I did,’ she said. ‘But recently you’ve been…’ She shrugged. ‘Forget it.’
‘I’ve been what?’ asked Nightingale. ‘What do you mean?’
‘You’re under a lot of pressure, I understand that.’
‘It’s been a rough few weeks,’ agreed Nightingale. He stubbed out his cigarette.
‘But just remember that I’m on your side. You don’t need to play games with me. If you want something, just ask.’
‘Jenny, I swear…’
She held up her hand. ‘Okay, I believe you.’
He went to put the board back on the desk, but he stopped and turned back to look at her. ‘Do you want to try again?’ he asked.
She held his look. ‘Do you?’
‘Everything we need is here from the last time,’ he said. ‘Except for the freshly cut flowers and there isn’t a florist for miles.’
‘There’re heathers and stuff in the garden,’ said Jenny.
‘So you’ll do it?’
Jenny sighed. ‘Jack, it’s up to you. But if we’re going to do it I’d be happier if we did it back at my place. We could open a bottle of wine and make a night of it.’
Nightingale could hear the uncertainty in her voice. She was putting a brave face on it but he knew she wasn’t happy at the prospect of using the Ouija board again. ‘This is where Robbie spoke to us,’ he said. ‘And alcohol and the Ouija board don’t mix. Can you do me a favour and see what plants you can find? The more colourful the better.’
As Jenny headed back upstairs, Nightingale went to a cupboard and took out five blue candles, slotted them into candle holders and spaced them evenly around a circular table, then put the Ouija board in the centre. He lit the candles with his cigarette lighter, then went over to the desk and pulled open one of the drawers. Inside were all the things that he’d needed the first time they’d used the board, including the old planchette, distilled water, herbs and consecrated sea salt.
He put the planchette on the board and poured the water into a crystal glass, then set out the herbs. He was just standing back to admire his handiwork when Jenny returned, clutching a handful of twigs with orange-brown flowers.
‘Do you know what they are?’ she asked. ‘I’ll give you a clue: they’re very appropriate.’
Nightingale shook his head. ‘Botany was never one of my subjects,’ he said.
‘What’s your degree in again?’
‘Economics? You can’t even balance your cheque book.’
‘There’s a big difference between the theoretical and the practical,’ he said. ‘Ask me something about supply-side economics.’
‘Okay. What is it?’
Nightingale grinned. ‘It’s a macroeconomic theory described by Jude Wanniski in 1975 that basically says that the economy is best served by lowering barriers to producing goods and services, which in turn lowers prices. It’s in contrast to Keynesian macroeconomics, which argues that demand is more important than supply.’ He winked. ‘I got a First.’
‘You never cease to amaze me,’ she said. ‘If you were that good, why did you become a cop?’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘It’s a long story,’ he said. He waved at the board. ‘Are you playing for time because you don’t want to do this?’
‘I’m ready when you are,’ she said. She held up the twigs again. ‘Witch hazel,’ she said. ‘How appropriate is that?’
‘Brilliant,’ said Nightingale, taking the twigs from her. ‘Be a sweetie and get the lights, will you?’
As Jenny went up the stairs again, Nightingale put the witch hazel into a crystal vase and placed it on the opposite side of the table to the glass of distilled water. Jenny switched off the lights and came back down into the basement. The flickering candles cast moving shadows over the walls. She sat down at the table next to Nightingale.
‘You remember what to do?’ asked Nightingale. He sat down and picked up the planchette. It was made of ivory that had yellowed with age.
‘How could I forget?’ she asked. ‘We visualise a white light all around the table.’
‘That’s right. A protective light, pure white. Keep thinking about the light whatever happens.’ Nightingale pinched some sage from a small bowl and sprinkled it over the candles one by one, then he rubbed some on the board and the planchette; finally he sprinkled lavender and salt over the board.
‘It’s very Jamie Oliver, isn’t it?’ said Jenny.
Nightingale wagged a finger at her. ‘You have to take this seriously,’ he said.
‘I’m trying,’ said Jenny. ‘Believe me, I’m trying.’
‘Are you ready?’
‘As I’ll ever be,’ she said.
Nightingale nodded. ‘Okay.’ He took a deep breath before speaking in a low monotone. ‘In the name of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Great Brotherhood of Light, of the Archangels Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel and Ariel, please protect us from the forces of Evil during this session. Let there be nothing but light surrounding this board and its participants and let us only communicate with powers and entities of the light. Protect us, protect this house, the people in this house and let there only be light and nothing but light, Amen.’
‘Amen,’ repeated Jenny.
Nightingale looked up at the ceiling. ‘We’re here to talk to Robbie Hoyle,’ he said. ‘Robbie, are you there? Please, talk to us.’
The planchette twitched under their fingers.
‘Robbie, is that you?’
The candle flames simultaneously bent away from the stairs as if a draught was blowing from the door.
‘We want to talk to Robbie Hoyle,’ said Nightingale, raising his voice. ‘Robbie, are you there?’
The planchette scraped across the board and pointed at the word