N ightingale caught a black cab and was heading back to Bayswater and had the driver drop him close to where he’d parked his MGB. He’d been shocked by what had happened in the basement but had hidden his unease from Jenny because he didn’t want to make her more upset than she already was.
He climbed into his car and drove to the cemetery where Robbie Hoyle was buried. He made only one stop on the way – at an off-licence. He parked close to the entrance to the cemetery and switched off the engine of his MGB. It continued to turn over for a couple of seconds before cutting out. He flicked off the lights, picked up the Oddbins carrier bag and walked through the wooden gates. Robbie Hoyle’s grave was on the far side of the cemetery, close to a line of conifers that whispered in the cold breeze that was blowing from the north. Nightingale shivered as he stood looking down at the grave.
There was no headstone and there wouldn’t be for another eight months or so, until the soil had settled. There was just the earth, and a small wooden cross with Hoyle’s name, his date of birth and the day he’d died – run over by a taxi as he crossed the road. The details of his death weren’t on the cross, of course, and they wouldn’t be on the headstone. They never were. Visitors were happy enough to know the names and dates of the deceased, but no one wanted to be confronted with how they’d died. Robbie Hoyle. Crushed to death under the wheels of a taxi, his spine broken, his spleen ruptured, his lungs filling up with blood as he took his last breath. The words that would be carved into the marble would be less graphic. ‘Loving husband and father. He died too young.’
Nightingale took out a Marlboro and lit it. ‘Everyone dies too young,’ he muttered to himself after he’d blown smoke into the night air. ‘Everyone wants just one more day.’
He took the bottle of red wine from the carrier bag and unscrewed the top. ‘I know, I know, you hate screw-top bottles, but I don’t have a corkscrew in the flat.’ He held the label towards the wooden cross. ‘It’s French, and it was twelve quid, so I reckon it’s a good one.’ He poured a slug of wine onto the earth and watched it bubble and soak into the soil. He took a drink from the bottle and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. ‘Never been a huge wine fan,’ said Nightingale. ‘But I figured if I bought you a Corona you’d think I was a cheapskate.’
He poured more wine onto the grave then took a long pull on his cigarette, held it for several seconds and let it out slowly, enjoying the feel of the nicotine entering his bloodstream. ‘I really thought that was you in the basement, talking to me and Jenny through the Ouija board.’ He chuckled. ‘How crazy does that sound? I’m talking to a decomposing body about communicating with spirits by using a piece of wood and a chunk of elephant’s tusk.’
He took another drink from the bottle and poured some more over the grave. ‘I do wonder if maybe I’m imagining it all, Robbie. What if I’m lying in a bed somewhere, a hospital or an asylum, and all of this is a dream? I tell you, that would explain a lot of the shit that’s been happening to me.’
He sighed and stared up at the night sky. ‘Jenny told me about some Chinese philosopher, back in the fourth century before Christ, name of Chuang Tzu. He had a dream that he was a butterfly, flying about enjoying himself. Then he woke up. But he couldn’t decide if he was Chuang Tzu and he had been dreaming that he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly and now he was dreaming that he was Chuang Tzu. That’s how I feel now, Robbie, like I’m trapped in a dream. Or a nightmare.’
He blew smoke and poured more wine onto the soil.
‘Here’s what I don’t get, Robbie. I can talk to devils. I can summon them. It’s not easy and you have to know what you’re doing but it can be done. You draw a magic circle and you do shit with salt and herbs and you say the right words and, Abracadabra, a devil appears. You can talk to them and you can deal with them. So if there are devils, then there are angels. Why can’t you call on angels when you need them? My old man left me a library full of books on devil-worship and Satanism and I’ve not found a single book that tells you how to contact an angel. Why is that? Why can you call up the bad guys but the good guys are ex-directory? And if there are devils, there has to be a Satan, right? That the devils answer to. Lucifer. If there are devils, and I know there are, then Lucifer has to exist. But here’s the big one, Robbie. Here’s what I really don’t get. If there’s a Lucifer then there’s a God. But where is He in all this? If all this crap is going on in the world, why isn’t He doing something about it?’
He flicked ash on the grave and took a drink from the bottle.
‘And how can there be a God, Robbie? How can there be? What sort of God tells people that they shouldn’t eat pork, but makes bacon taste so good? What sort of God tells people they shouldn’t cut their hair and they should spend their lives covering it with a twenty-foot-long piece of cloth? Or tells people that if they blow up innocent folk on a Tube train they’ll spend eternity being serviced by seventy-two black-eyed virgins? I’m not sure I’d want anything to do with any of those Gods.’ He poured the rest of the wine over the grave. ‘And I sure as hell have nothing but contempt for any God who’d allow you to die the way you died. You were a good cop, Robbie, but you were also a good man, a fair man, and your wife and daughters needed you. There was no reason for you to die. If there was any sort of God, or any sort of justice in the world, you wouldn’t be lying in that grave.’
Nightingale put the bottle back into the carrier bag.
‘There’s no God, Robbie. How can there be? He’s as much of a nonsense as Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. No rational, intelligent person believes that God created the universe or that He decides who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. So if there’s no God then there’s no devil, and if there’s no devil then nothing that’s happened to me over the past month makes any sense at all. Unless I’m out of my freaking mind.’
Nightingale looked up at the night sky and blew smoke. ‘We did the Ouija board thing again and it went wrong. We had to end the seance by invoking Jesus, but it’s just words, right? If there’s no God then there’s no Jesus. But it worked. So what does that mean? I don’t know, Robbie, this whole business is doing my head in.’
Nightingale flicked away his cigarette butt. ‘So there you have it, Robbie. I’m as crazy as a coot and the fact that I’ve come out to tell this to your dead body just goes to show how far gone I am.’ He flashed a mock salute at the grave. ‘You take care, yeah. I miss you, you bastard.’
Nightingale turned and walked away from the cemetery.