T he barista was a Ukrainian teenager with bad acne and he had trouble understanding the girl so it was a full ten minutes after entering the coffee shop that Nightingale finally had his two coffees. He took them to the table where Colin Duggan was whispering into his mobile phone. Duggan pocketed the phone as Nightingale put the coffee mugs on the table and sat down.
‘One low-fat latte,’ said Nightingale. ‘Are you off pubs, then? In the old days it would have been a pint of best in the Rose and Crown.’
Duggan picked up his coffee and sipped it. He was an inspector, the same rank as Nightingale had been when he left the Metropolitan Police. He was completely bald with elf-like ears and a mischievous smile. He was wearing a beige raincoat over a dark suit and had a Burberry scarf around his neck. ‘I keep out of them these days,’ said Duggan. ‘No point in rubbing my nose in it.’
‘On the wagon?’
Duggan patted his expanding waistline. ‘Diabetes,’ he said. ‘I can keep it under control by watching what I eat and drink but the doctor says that if I don’t get a grip on it now I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life.’
‘Bloody hell, Colin, you’re not even fifty. How can you have diabetes?’
‘Forty-six,’ said Duggan. ‘But it’s nothing to do with age. It’s the booze and the fish suppers. And the cigarettes. I’ve given them up too.’
‘Smoking doesn’t give you diabetes,’ said Nightingale. ‘Zero calories and they reduce stress. If anything, you’d be better off smoking more.’
Duggan grinned and scratched his fleshy neck. ‘Yeah, if it wasn’t for lung cancer they’d be the perfect food.’
‘I’m not sure how true that cancer thing is,’ said Nightingale. ‘I’ve known people who’ve smoked all their lives and never had so much as a cough. And there are non-smokers who’ve never even tried a single cigarette who’ve died of lung cancer.’ He patted his chest. ‘My lungs are fine. I reckon your genes have a lot to do with it. You either get cancer or you don’t; smoking is just one of lots of factors.’
‘So you’ve got good genes, have you?’ chuckled Duggan.
‘Yeah, that’s sort of why I wanted to see you.’
‘I knew there’d be something,’ said Duggan. ‘I haven’t seen you since the Sophie Underwood thing.’
Nightingale nodded. ‘I know. Sorry.’
‘Hell of a thing, that.’
That wasn’t how Nightingale thought of what had happened that cold November morning. It wasn’t a ‘thing’. It was a pivotal moment in his life and Sophie’s death had changed him forever. Duggan had been there and had seen the girl fall to her death. Nightingale had been on the balcony of the flat next door, trying to talk her back inside. ‘Yeah,’ said Nightingale. ‘It was.’
‘What happened to the father, who’d been fiddling with her – he deserved it.’
‘Yeah,’ agreed Nightingale.
‘Seems like a lifetime ago.’
‘I’m back in CID and you’re a gumshoe.’
Nightingale chuckled. ‘Do they still say that? I thought that went out with Humphrey Bogart and Sam Spade.’
‘Guys I work with call you lot much worse than that,’ said Duggan. ‘The days of cops running checks for you private eyes for the price of a pint are well gone. These days, get caught and you lose your job, your pension, everything.’
Nightingale grimaced. ‘That’s not good news, Colin.’
Duggan raised his coffee in salute. ‘Don’t worry, Jack. You’ve got a lot of friends in the Job, me included. What do you need?’
‘I’m trying to track down my sister and I’ve drawn a blank through all the usual channels,’ said Nightingale.
‘Never knew you had a sister.’
‘Neither did I until recently,’ said Nightingale. ‘Thing is, she’s my half-sister – same father, different mother. And she was adopted on the day she was born. So I don’t know her name or her date of birth.’
‘You’re not making this easy, are you?’ said Duggan.
‘I was hoping you could run a check on the National DNA database.’
Duggan raised his eyebrows. ‘You think she’s in the system?’
‘I know it’s an outside chance but there are five million samples in the database and it’s growing at thirty thousand a month. She might have been arrested for something and had a sample taken.’ Nightingale sighed. ‘I know it’s a long shot, Colin, but I don’t have anything else.’
‘So you want me to run your DNA and see if there’s a sibling match?’
Nightingale shook his head. ‘No need. Our father’s DNA is already in the system. A guy called Ainsley Gosling. He committed suicide last month. Robbie Hoyle checked my DNA against Gosling’s a few weeks ago.’
‘Why did he do that?’ asked Duggan.
‘I’d just been told that Gosling was my biological father. I wanted to make sure that he really was.’
‘What happened to Robbie was a damn shame,’ said Duggan.
‘Yeah,’ agreed Nightingale. ‘It was a bitch.’
‘I couldn’t get to the funeral. I was up in Liverpool interviewing a guy on remand.’ Duggan shook his head. ‘What a waste. Just goes to show, right? Enjoy life while you can because none of us knows how long we’ll be here.’ He sipped his latte. ‘Okay, so all I need to do is run Gosling’s DNA through the database to check for close matches. Shouldn’t be a problem.’
‘On the QT, obviously.’
Duggan grinned. ‘Obviously,’ he said. ‘I’ve a couple of missing-person cases on the books – I’ll bury the search in one of those. Probably take me a day or two.’
‘You’re a star, Colin,’ said Nightingale, clinking his mug against Duggan’s.
‘So what’s the story? I didn’t know you were adopted.’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘Until recently, neither did I.’
‘This sister, she was born after you?’
‘Yeah, two years after. She’ll be thirty-one now.’
‘So he gave up two kids for adoption one after the other. That’s bloody strange, isn’t it?’
‘You don’t know the half of it, Colin.’
Duggan sipped his coffee. ‘What about the birth mother?’
‘Different mothers,’ said Nightingale. ‘Mine’s dead; my sister’s I don’t know about.’
‘Must feel strange, suddenly finding out that you have a sister after thirty-odd years. If you do find her you’re going to have a hell of a lot to talk about.’
Nightingale nodded but didn’t say anything. Duggan was right. Finding his sister would be hard enough, but if he did manage to track her down he was then going to have to explain to her that Ainsley Gosling had sold her soul to a demon from Hell. It wasn’t a conversation he was looking forward to.