T he rear garden was meticulously laid out with a perfect square of lawn leading onto two rockeries laden with ferns and, beyond them, a vegetable patch and a small creosoted shed with a tarred roof. Nightingale reached for the handle of the kitchen door.
‘Jack, this is so wrong,’ said Jenny, folding her arms and shivering.
He turned to look at her. ‘I’m just checking to see if it’s locked,’ he said. ‘It’s a Neighbourhood Watch thing.’
‘It’s a breaking-and-entering thing,’ she said.
‘Jenny, I haven’t broken anything,’ he said. He reached into his raincoat and pulled out a pair of black leather gloves.
‘Why do you need gloves?’ asked Jenny.
‘So you won’t leave fingerprints. Because you know that what we’re doing is wrong.’
‘Do you have any?’
She glared at him. ‘No, Jack, I left my burgling gloves at home,’ she said, frostily.
‘We’re not burgling. We’re visiting,’ said Nightingale. He twisted the door handle and pushed it. ‘Anyway, the door’s open.’
‘It’s okay,’ said Nightingale. He leaned into the kitchen. ‘Mr Monkton!’ he called. ‘Mrs Monkton? Is anybody there?’
‘If there was, they’d have answered the doorbell,’ said Jenny. ‘Let’s go, Jack.’
Nightingale stepped into the kitchen. There were dirty dishes in the sink and two coffee mugs sitting by a chrome kettle. He took off one of his gloves and gingerly touched the kettle with his knuckles. It was warm but not hot. Instant coffee had been spooned into both mugs.
Jenny stood on the threshold. ‘Jack, this is wrong on so many levels,’ she said. ‘You don’t know these people. You can’t just walk into their house. And…’
She gritted her teeth. ‘You make me so bloody angry sometimes,’ she hissed.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, putting his glove back on.
‘Damn you, Jack. We rang the bell, they’re not here – let’s just go.’
‘You’re scared, aren’t you?’
‘I’m scared that I’m going to be arrested for burglary.’
‘It’s only burglary if we steal something,’ said Nightingale. ‘But that’s not what’s worrying you, is it?’
‘Please, Jack, let’s just go.’
‘The kettle’s warm, the back door was unlocked. I know what you’re thinking, Jenny.’
‘Then you know why we have to go,’ she said.
‘If they’re dead, we have to know.’
Jenny closed her eyes. ‘Why did you have to go and say that?’ she whispered.
‘Because that’s what you’re thinking. I went to see my aunt and uncle and they were dead. I went to Abersoch and the woman there was dead. You think they’re dead too.’
She opened her eyes and shivered. ‘I don’t want to know if they’re dead or not. I don’t care. I just want to go.’
‘If something’s happened, I want to know,’ said Nightingale quietly.
‘We can read about it in the paper,’ she said. ‘We don’t have to go inside.’
‘You can wait in the car. You don’t have to be here.’ He walked across the kitchen to a door that led to the hallway. He opened it. ‘Mr Monkton!’ he shouted. ‘Are you in? Mrs Monkton? Hello? My name’s Jack Nightingale and I’m here about your daughter!’
‘If they could answer, they would have done by now,’ said Jenny.
Nightingale walked down the hall. The front door was at the far end. To the right of the door was a wooden table with a telephone on it. ‘Mr Monkton! Hello?’
The carpet was red with streaks in the pile as if it had only just been vacuumed. There were two doors leading off the hall to the right and two to the left. All were closed.
Jenny called to him from the kitchen. ‘Jack, are you okay?’
Nightingale didn’t reply. He wasn’t okay. He knew she was right, that the best thing was to leave the house and never come back. The Monktons wouldn’t have left the house with the back door unlocked, and if they were alive they would have answered when he rang the bell. He opened the first door to his right. It was a bedroom with a pine double bed and a matching wardrobe and dressing table. The room looked as if it had never been slept in, and there was nothing personal in it, no trinkets or books or photographs. Nightingale realised it was probably the guest bedroom and that the Monktons didn’t have many guests. He closed the door.
The door opposite opened into another bedroom. From where he was standing Nightingale could see that the duvet was rumpled and there was an open book and a pair of reading glasses on one bedside table and a box of tissues and an asthma inhaler on the other.
‘Mr Monkton! Hello!’ shouted Nightingale, pushing the door wider.
There was a door next to a double-fronted wardrobe facing the bed and Nightingale could hear running water.
Jenny came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘There’s someone in the shower,’ he said.
She tried to pull him away from the door. ‘We can’t stay,’ she hissed. ‘They’ll have a heart attack if they come out of the bathroom and see us standing here.’
‘They can’t both be in the shower,’ said Nightingale.
‘You don’t know that,’ she said. ‘But that’s not the point. We should wait outside and keep ringing the bell.’
‘Stay here,’ said Nightingale. ‘Let me check the rest of the house.’
‘Jack!’ whispered Jenny, but he was already heading down the hall.
The door at the end of the hall opened into a large sitting room. In one corner a television set was showing a chat show with the sound muted. On a table next to the sofa was a packet of cigarettes and an ashtray in which there were three lipstick-smeared butts. Nightingale smiled. Mrs Monkton was obviously the smoker in the family. To his left was a fireplace with a modern mantelpiece. There was a framed wedding photograph next to a vase of dried flowers. Nightingale walked over to the fireplace and picked up the picture. The man was tall and looked like a young Sean Connery in a dark blue suit with large lapels; the woman, who barely came up to his shoulders, was plump with a cheeky smile and long blonde hair. He put the picture back. It was the only photograph in the room.
There were shelves lined with books to the right of the fireplace. The top two shelves were filled with books on military history, the lower three contained romances and books of crossword puzzles and Sudoku.
A car alarm burst into life in the road outside and Nightingale walked over to the window but before he could see anything he heard Jenny scream in terror.