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41

S o you didnt tell her? asked Jenny, deftly picking up a prawn with her chopsticks and dipping it into a small dish of hot sauce. You went all that way and you still didnt tell her that Gosling sold her soul and yours? And that on her thirty-third birthday its so long and good night?

Nightingale shrugged. He tried to pick up a piece of beef but the oyster sauce made it slippery and it fell onto the white paper tablecloth to add to the dozen or so food stains that proved testimony to his lack of chopstick skills. You chose Chinese just because you know I cant handle these things, didnt you?

They were eating in a restaurant close to Jennys mews house, one of her favourites. Nightingale had hit heavy traffic on the way back from Nottinghamshire and phoned her on his mobile to tell her that hed be late and to arrange to see her for dinner.

I chose Chinese because I offered to buy you dinner and because I like Cantonese food, said Jenny. She smiled brightly. I can get you a fork if you want.

Ill struggle on, said Nightingale.

Dont think I didnt notice that you changed the subject. Why didnt you tell her that a devil was coming to claim her soul on her thirty-third birthday? That Gosling had traded her soul and that theres nothing she can do about it?

Nightingale sighed. How could I tell her, Jenny? She looked at me like I was crazy when I told her that I was her half-brother. And even after Id told her about the DNA evidence she was doubtful. If Id told her that Gosling had sold her soul to a devil before she was born shed have had me thrown out. Or committed. Can you imagine what the doctors would have done if theyd known? Theyd have put me in a jacket with long sleeves before you could say paranoid schizophrenic.

An elderly waitress dressed in black Chinese pyjamas brought a steel bowl of bok choi in garlic sauce over to the table. She spoke to Jenny in guttural Chinese and Jenny answered. The old woman cackled and walked away, as bow-legged as an elderly mariner.

You were talking about me, werent you? asked Nightingale, trying unsuccessfully to pick up another piece of beef.

She asked me if you were my new boyfriend and I said Id rather crawl across broken glass than go on a date with you. She popped a piece of chicken into her mouth. It sounds better in Cantonese.

New boyfriend? said Nightingale. What happened to the last one?

Jenny jabbed her chopsticks at him. My love life is a closed book to you, Jack Nightingale, and its going to stay that way. And youve changed the subject again.

I thought the conversation had just progressed, said Nightingale. Moved on.

I know what progressed means, said Jenny.

I was using repetition for emphasis, said Nightingale.

No, you were using it to distract me, she laughed. And its not working.

Nightingale sipped his Tsingtao beer. My sisters in an insane asylum, he said. They call it a secure mental facility but its an asylum. Im not sure that telling her that her soul has been promised to a demon from Hell is actually going to help her.

If its true, she has the right to know.

Nightingales eyes narrowed. If its true? What do you mean?

Dont get all defensive, Jack, she said.

No, I want to know what you mean.

Jack, please

You do believe me, dont you?

Of course I do.

Look at me, Jenny. He leaned towards her. Im serious, look at me. Im having enough trouble convincing myself that this is actually happening. If you dont believe me, then I might just have to accept that Im going crazy.

She looked into his eyes and smiled. I believe you, Jack. Hand on heart, scouts honour, cross my heart and hope to die, by all thats holy, blah blah blah. I believe you.

He smiled. Thank you.

It was a slip of the tongue. But its the fact that I do believe you that makes me so sure she has the right to know. If it was nonsense then it wouldnt matter either way.

Suppose I tell her and it pushes her over the edge? asked Nightingale.

She killed five kids, said Jenny. That boat has pretty much sailed.

Okay, but I tell her and then what? Shes locked up; theres nothing she can do. Shes going to spend two years sitting in a cell knowing that shes going to Hell. He sipped his beer again.

So shes better off spending that time in ignorance?

What can I do? He put down his chopsticks. Look, I dont want to tell her what the problem is until I can offer her a solution. Its as simple and as complicated as that. And at the moment I dont have anything approaching a solution.

But youve got a plan, right? Youve always got a plan.

Im going to talk to the detective who ran her case, said Nightingale. Ill take it from there. Hes already said hell see me tomorrow.

Thats not much of a plan, is it?

Nightingale shrugged. Honey, right now its all Ive got.

When theyd finished, the elderly waitress brought over a white plate with two Chinese cookies and the bill. Jenny slid the bill out from under the cookies and pushed the plate towards Nightingale.

Ill pass, he said.

Chicken, said Jenny, taking one of the cookies and crushing it with her fingers. She fished out a small slip of paper, read it, smiled, and held it out to him. He who knows he has enough is rich.

Bit sexist, said Nightingale. Theres an even-money chance that a womans going to be reading it.

Youre such a spoilsport. She held out the plate for him.

Nightingale shifted uncomfortably in his chair. I dont think its a good idea, he said. Tempting fate.

What do you mean?

Ive been getting enough shitty messages from beyond the grave recently. I can do without one in my fortune cookie. He nodded at the plate. You open it for me. As part of your secretarial duties.

I think its bad luck to open someone elses fortune, she said.

Jenny, bad luck is the only sort of luck Ive been having lately, he said. I dont think you opening my cookie is going to make it any worse.

Suit yourself, she said. She cracked open the cookie and looked at the fortune inside. Her eyes widened and she sat back in her chair. Oh my God, she gasped, putting a hand up to her mouth.

What? said Nightingale, leaning forward. What does it say?

Its horrible, she said, shaking her head. Its so, so horrible

Jenny, show me, said Nightingale, holding out his hand.

Jennys face broke into a grin. Youre so bloody gullible sometimes, she said, waving the fortune in his face. You need to relax. She held it with both hands and read it to him. Your life will be happy and peaceful. She laughed. I think this ones mine. She gave it to Nightingale and he shook his head as he read it.

Id settle for happy and peaceful, he said. Who writes these things?

Jenny shrugged. Theyre supposed to make you feel good, she said. If you feel good youll come back to the restaurant. Positive reinforcement. She put three twenty-pound notes onto the plate.

At least lets split it, said Nightingale, reaching for his wallet.

I said Id buy you dinner, said Jenny. The old waitress came over and Jenny told her that she should keep the change. As they headed for the door, a young Chinese man with gelled hair and a single diamond earring handed Jenny her coat and helped her on with it.

A small Chinese girl, who barely reached Nightingales shoulder, gave him his raincoat. He smiled at her but she stared stonily at him, her eyes as dark as polished coal. Your sister is going to Hell, Jack Nightingale, she said, her voice flat and robotic.

What? said Nightingale. What did you say?

The girls face creased into a smile showing grey teeth and receding gums. I say hope see you again, she said.

Jenny put a hand on his arm. Whats wrong? she asked.

Nothing, said Nightingale. But Im not hopeful about that happy and peaceful forecast.


| Midnight | c