T here was a white VW Golf parked next to Jenny’s Audi when Nightingale arrived at her house at eight o’clock the following morning. As he climbed out of his MGB, a middle-aged lady in a fur coat, walking two Yorkshire terriers on leads, wished him a good morning. Nightingale resisted the urge to tug his forelock. He rang Jenny’s buzzer and a female voice he didn’t recognise said, ‘Who is it?’ through the speakerphone.
‘It’s Jack,’ he said. ‘Jack Nightingale. Is Jenny okay?’
The speakerphone clicked and went quiet. Nightingale heard footsteps and then the door opened. It took him a couple of seconds to recognise the brunette standing in the doorway. Barbara McEvoy was an old friend from Jenny’s student days, the psychiatrist that Jenny had taken to Gosling Manor. She smiled at him but her eyes were wary as she stepped back and let Nightingale across the threshold.
Barbara pointed to a door at the end of the hallway. ‘Jenny’s in the kitchen,’ she said, closing the front door as Nightingale headed down the corridor.
Jenny was sitting at a breakfast bar in a pink bathrobe, toying with a bowl of cornflakes. ‘You’re up early,’ she said. Her hair was tied back in a red scrunchy.
Barbara came into the kitchen behind him. ‘Ouija boards aren’t toys, Jack,’ she said. ‘They can do a lot of damage.’
‘Is that a professional opinion?’ asked Nightingale. Barbara was a psychiatrist at one of the larger London hospitals.
‘I’m serious, Jack. I’ve known patients develop all sorts of problems after playing with them.’
‘Problems like what?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Depression. Hallucinations. Schizophrenia, in one case.’
‘Come on, Barbara, you’re not suggesting that a Ouija board can cause schizophrenia.’
‘Of course not, but if someone already has mental-health issues, messing around with the spirit world isn’t likely to help.’ Barbara poured tea into a mug and handed it to him.
‘I’m surprised that you’re not accusing us of imagining things.’
Barbara frowned. ‘Why do you say that?’
Nightingale sipped his tea. ‘Because you’re a psychiatrist. I didn’t think you’d believe in spirits.’
‘I don’t,’ she said. ‘But that doesn’t mean that I think Ouija boards aren’t dangerous.’
‘But Jenny told you what happened?’
‘She said that you were playing with the board in the basement and that you got upset and the candles went out. And that you then forced her to go back to finish the seance.’
‘The session had to be finished; the spirit had to be banished.’
‘Jack, come on, you don’t believe in spirits, do you? You don’t really think that you were talking to someone who’d died, do you?’
Nightingale folded his arms and looked across at Jenny. She flashed him a warning look and he realised that she hadn’t told her friend everything. She certainly hadn’t told Barbara that Nightingale had negotiated with a demon from Hell to save his soul from eternal damnation. ‘What do you think happened, Barbara?’ he asked quietly.
‘I think you let your imaginations get the better of you. I think the game went a bit too far and Jenny paid the price.’ She put her hands around her mug. ‘Ouija boards are a way of getting in touch with thoughts and emotions that are usually suppressed. Most people assume that someone is consciously pushing the glass or the pointer or whatever, but in fact that’s often not the case. You might have three or four people around the board and all of them would swear blind that they weren’t trying to influence what was happening. And the thing is, they’d probably all be telling the truth.’
‘You mean they might be doing it subconsciously?’ asked Nightingale.
‘And why would they do that?’
Barbara shrugged. ‘There’s a host of reasons,’ she said. ‘You have to remember that a lot of times people use the Ouija board to try to contact a loved one who’s died. So they’re under a lot of stress to start with. And often there’s something they want to say to that loved one, and something that they want to hear back. So there’s an element of wish-fulfilment. That might be as simple as wanting to hear that they’re still loved. Plus there’s the fear of death, of course.’
‘Fear of death?’ repeated Nightingale.
‘Most people want to believe that death isn’t the end,’ said Barbara. ‘They want to get a message from beyond the grave so the subconscious kicks in and gives them what they want. It’s not a harmless game, Jack. Even for consenting adults. Jenny said that you were trying to contact your partner. Robbie?’
Nightingale nodded. ‘He died a few weeks ago.’
‘And I’m guessing you had unresolved issues with him?’
‘Sure,’ said Nightingale. Jenny was still keeping her head down, unwilling to look at him. ‘I know it was stupid.’
‘And the basement of an empty house wasn’t the best venue. I mean, the house is lovely, but there is some seriously disturbing stuff in the basement.’
‘No argument here,’ said Nightingale. Jenny looked up at him and smiled. ‘You don’t have to come in today,’ he said. ‘You can hang out here with Barbara.’
She shook her head. ‘No, I’ve got lots to do,’ she said. ‘I’ll get changed.’
‘Jack’s right,’ said Barbara. ‘We can try some retail therapy. Karen Millen’s got a pre-Christmas sale.’
‘Really, I’d rather work.’
‘Work rather than shop?’ Barbara looked at Nightingale, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. ‘You’ve done some magic thing on her, haven’t you? Bent her to your will?’
‘I wish,’ laughed Nightingale.