N ightingale walked Jenny home and then went to get his MGB, which he’d parked in a side road not far from her house. When he reached his car he cursed as he saw that the nearside rear tyre was flat. He opened the boot, dropped in the carrier bag, and started unscrewing the spare tyre. Headlights illuminated the rear of the MGB and Nightingale turned to see a black Range Rover coming down the road towards him.
The car slowed and then stopped. Nightingale shielded his eyes against the blinding lights. He heard a door open and close and then saw a figure walk in front of the Range Rover. ‘Flat tyre, yeah?’ said a voice.
‘Yeah,’ said Nightingale.
‘Do you need a hand?’
‘I’m okay,’ said Nightingale. ‘It’s not my first flat.’
The man was tall, a little over six feet. He was about Nightingale’s age with jet-black hair and skin that was ghostly pale. He was wearing a long black overcoat and had a bright red scarf around his neck.
The man stuck out a gloved hand. ‘The name’s Chance,’ he said.
‘Jack,’ said Nightingale, shaking the hand.
Chance nodded at the flat tyre. ‘Happened to me last week. Bloody nail. Still don’t know if it was an accident or if someone did it deliberately. Come on, I’ll help. You get out the spare and I’ll start getting the wheel off. Have you got a torque wrench and a jack, Jack?’ He grinned. ‘That’s funny. A jack, Jack.’
‘Former boy scout, always prepared,’ said Nightingale. He took a wrench from the tool kit in the boot and gave it to Chance. ‘Loosen the nuts first,’ said Nightingale. ‘Then I’ll raise her up.’
‘No problem,’ said Chance.
As Nightingale pulled the wheel out of the boot, Chance put the torque wrench on one of the nuts and forced it counter-clockwise. He grunted but then grinned as it moved. ‘I don’t know my own strength,’ he said. He loosened the rest of the nuts then stood up, swinging the wrench. ‘There you go,’ he said.
He moved out of the way to give Nightingale room to work. Nightingale continued to turn the handle of the jack. As he concentrated on the task at hand he hardly noticed Chance step closer. Something slammed against the side of his head and Nightingale slumped to the road. He groaned and rolled over onto his back. Chance dropped the wrench and it clattered on the ground next to Nightingale. Nightingale blinked as he tried to focus, but the man standing above him was a blur. He tried to speak but his mouth refused to work.
Chance reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a cut-throat razor. He flicked out the blade and it glinted in the Range Rover’s headlights. He drew back his hand but then hesitated. He put the razor on the roof of the MGB and put his hand in his pocket.
‘Proserpine sent you?’ croaked Nightingale.
Chance put his foot on the middle of Nightingale’s chest. ‘Hush,’ he said. He tossed a coin into the air, caught it and slapped it down onto the back of his left hand. He removed his right hand and his forehead creased into a frown. ‘No way,’ he said. He glared down at Nightingale. ‘You are one lucky son of a bitch,’ he said. His face hardened. ‘Best out of three? Why not?’ He tossed the coin up into the air again.
Nightingale groped for the wrench. He was still dazed from the blow but his fingers found the cold metal and he picked it up. Chance was looking at the spinning coin, his eyes wide, and he didn’t see Nightingale draw back his hand and smash the wrench against his knee. He screamed in pain as the kneecap cracked.
Nightingale rolled over and came up on all fours as Chance howled. Chance grabbed the razor and lashed out with it but Nightingale managed to block it with the wrench. He got to his feet as Chance raised the razor again but Nightingale caught him with a quick kick to the groin. Chance yelped like a dog and Nightingale smashed the wrench down on his wrist. He heard bones break and the razor fell from Chance’s nerveless fingers. Nightingale lifted the wrench and backhanded it across Chance’s face. Blood spurted from his nose and he fell backwards, unconscious before he hit the ground.
The blip of a police siren made Nightingale look round. He hadn’t heard the police car drive down the road behind him. He slowly raised his hands as the car doors opened and two heavily built uniformed officers climbed out.
‘Put down the weapon!’ one of them shouted.
‘It’s a torque wrench,’ said Nightingale.
‘I don’t care if it’s a bloody cotton bud, drop it now,’ said the officer, taking his baton from its holster and flicking it open.
Nightingale dropped the wrench, keeping his hands high in the air. He nodded at Chance, who was lying motionless in the road. ‘He started it,’ he said.