H amdale was just a dot on the map and it wasn’t much bigger in real life: a cluster of houses around a thatched pub and a row of shops that would have been out of business if Tesco or Asda opened up within twenty miles. Nightingale left his green MGB in the pub car park and smoked a Marlboro as he walked to Turtledove’s office, which was wedged between a post office and cake shop. He stood outside the cake shop as he finished his cigarette. The cakes were works of art, birthday cakes in the shapes of football pitches and teddy bears, layered wedding cakes with ornate icing, cakes shaped like cartoon characters. A sign in the window announced the shop’s internet address and the fact that they could do next-day delivery anywhere in the United Kingdom but not Northern Ireland. A pretty brunette in a black and white striped apron smiled at him and Nightingale smiled back. He tossed his cigarette butt into the street and pushed open the door to the solicitor’s office. A bell dinged and Turtledove’s grey-haired secretary looked up from her old-fashioned electric typewriter.
‘Mr Nightingale, Mr Turtledove’s expecting you,’ she said. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’
‘I’m fine, thanks,’ he said.
She started to get up but Nightingale waved for her to stay put. ‘I know the way,’ he said.
He opened the door to Turtledove’s inner sanctum. The solicitor was sitting behind a large oak desk piled high with files, all of them tied up with red ribbon. There was no sign of a computer in the office, or of anything that had been manufactured within the last fifty years. There was a single telephone on the desk, a black Bakelite model with a rotary dial, and a rack of fountain pens with two large bottles of Quink ink, one black and one blue.
‘Mr Nightingale, so good of you to come,’ said Turtledove, pushing himself up out of his high-backed leather chair.
‘I just hope it’s worth my while,’ said Nightingale.
Turtledove extended a wrinkled, liver-spotted hand. It might have been Nightingale’s imagination, or poor memory, but the solicitor looked a good ten years older than the last time they’d met. The lines on his face seemed deeper, his eyes more watery and his teeth yellower. He used a wooden walking stick with a brass handle in the shape of a swan’s head to steady himself as he shook hands with Nightingale. Even his tweed suit seemed older and shabbier, the elbows almost worn through and the trousers baggy at the knees. ‘Please, sit down,’ said the solicitor as he limped back around to his chair.
‘What do you have for me, Mr Turtledove?’ asked Nightingale.
The solicitor lowered himself into his chair with a soft groan. ‘I’m afraid I have to ask you for some form of photo identification,’ he said.
‘You know who I am, Mr Turtledove. I was here just three weeks ago. I’m Ainsley Gosling’s sole heir, remember?’
‘Please, Mr Nightingale, bear with me. I am instructed to confirm your identity before I give you the envelope.’
‘Where did this envelope come from?’ asked Nightingale, pulling his wallet from his trouser pocket.
‘From the same law firm that sent me your late father’s will,’ said Turtledove.
Nightingale fished out his driving licence and gave it to the solicitor. Turtledove studied it for a few seconds and then handed it back. He pulled open the top drawer of his desk and took out an A4 manila padded envelope.
‘I don’t understand why you couldn’t just post or courier it to me,’ said Nightingale. He took it from the solicitor. There was a typewritten receipt clipped to one corner.
‘Please sign and date the receipt,’ asked Turtledove, handing Nightingale one of his fountain pens. He sat back in the chair and steepled his fingers under his chin. ‘It wasn’t so much your identity that I was asked to confirm,’ he said. ‘It was more that I had to check that you were still…’ He winced before finishing the sentence. ‘… alive,’ he said. ‘My instructions were that I was to confirm that you were still living and hand you the envelope personally.’
Nightingale signed the receipt and slid it, and the pen, across the desk towards the solicitor.
‘And if I wasn’t alive?’ said Nightingale. ‘What then?’
‘Then I was told to put the envelope and the DVD through a shredder and burn the shreddings.’ He frowned. ‘Is that what they call the waste that has gone through a shredder? Shreddings?’
Nightingale was surprised the elderly solicitor even knew what a shredder was. ‘I’ve no idea, Mr Turtledove,’ he said. He looked at the padded envelope. ‘There must have been a covering letter, because if there wasn’t you wouldn’t have known about the stipulation that you had to confirm that I was still in the land of the living.’
Turtledove nodded. ‘Yes, yes of course, there was a covering letter. Now let me see, where did I put it?’ He frowned again and began rearranging the files on his desk. Little puffs of dust burst into the air like miniature explosions and he began to cough. He took a handkerchief from the top pocket of his jacket and coughed into it. Nightingale saw flecks of blood on the white linen before Turtledove slipped the handkerchief back into his pocket.
‘Are you all right, Mr Turtledove?’ asked Nightingale.
The solicitor forced a smile. ‘I’m fine, Mr Nightingale,’ he said. ‘Just old.’ He leaned back in his chair. ‘Angela!’ he called. ‘Come in here, please.’ Turtledove gestured with his hand at the door. ‘My wife and secretary,’ he said.
‘Keeping it in the family,’ said Nightingale.
‘She’s a trained book-keeper, and makes the perfect cup of tea,’ said Turtledove. ‘I’d be lost without her.’
The door opened and Mrs Turtledove looked at her husband over the top of her gold-rimmed spectacles and smiled. ‘You yelled?’ she said.
‘I’m sorry, my love,’ said Turtledove. ‘The envelope we were sent for Mr Nightingale – I can’t find the letter that came with it.’
‘I haven’t filed it yet, so it should still be in the in tray,’ said Mrs Turtledove.
The solicitor began rifling through papers in a wire tray. His wife sighed. ‘The other in tray, dear,’ she said.
The solicitor pulled a face and started sorting through another stack of papers.
‘It was delivered by a courier, was it?’ Nightingale asked Mrs Turtledove.
‘A motorcycle courier,’ she said.
‘A local firm?’
‘I hadn’t seen him before,’ said Mrs Turtledove. ‘In fact, he didn’t take his helmet off and he had a black visor so I don’t actually know what he looked like. But it wasn’t a firm we’ve used before, I know that.’
‘I don’t suppose you remember the name? Of the company?’
‘It had courier in it, but I suppose they all do, don’t they?’
Nightingale nodded. ‘I suppose they do.’
Mr Turtledove produced a sheet of paper and waved it triumphantly. ‘Found it,’ he said.
‘Told you so,’ said his wife. She closed the door as Turtledove handed the letter to Nightingale. There was no letterhead, no company name, no address or phone number, and no signature at the bottom. It was typewritten and comprised a simple set of instructions, which Mr Turtledove had carried out impeccably.
‘I’m assuming that you will be paid for this?’
‘The bank in Brighton that handled your late father’s finances has already transferred the money to our company account.’
‘This is all very irregular, isn’t it, Mr Turtledove?’
‘Mr Nightingale, nothing about your case has been the least bit regular from the start.’ He coughed again and dabbed his lips with his handkerchief.
Nightingale gave the sheet of paper back to the solicitor. ‘Would you by any chance know anything about my sister?’ he asked.
‘Gosling had another child two years after I was born. A girl. Like me, she was adopted at birth.’
Turtledove shook his head. ‘My only involvement with Mr Gosling has been the administration of his estate and passing on that envelope. I know nothing of any other relative.’ He scratched his forehead. ‘Not that having a sibling would affect the will, of course. Mr Gosling was quite clear that you are his sole beneficiary.’
‘How is the work going on the will?’
‘Slowly but surely,’ said Turtledove. ‘I think it should all be tied up in another month or so.’
‘What’s the hold-up?’ asked Nightingale.
‘No hold-up,’ said Turtledove. ‘These things just take time, that’s all.’ He gestured at the envelope that Nightingale was holding. ‘I do hope that’s good news,’ he said.
Nightingale scowled. ‘Considering what I’ve been through in the last three weeks, I very much doubt it,’ he said.