N ightingale arrived at the Ritz Hotel at noon. He unbuttoned his raincoat as he walked across the marble floor towards the reception desk, swinging his Sainsbury’s carrier bag.
The receptionist was a man in his mid-thirties with a fifty-pound haircut and a made-to-measure suit that was probably worth as much as Nightingale’s MGB. He smiled professionally at Nightingale and tapped in the name Whistler on a discreetly hidden keyboard. ‘Who shall I say is here to see him?’
‘Tell him it’s his mother,’ said Nightingale.
The receptionist frowned.
‘Whistler’s mother,’ said Nightingale. ‘It’s a joke.’ The receptionist continued to stare impassively at him and Nightingale flashed back to when he was at school, explaining to a teacher why he had a packet of Marlboro and a box of matches in his schoolbag. ‘Then again, maybe it isn’t,’ he said. ‘Nightingale. Jack Nightingale.’
The smile reappeared and the receptionist tapped again on the keyboard. ‘Mr Whistler hasn’t checked in yet.’
‘He was supposed to be here at twelve,’ said Nightingale.
‘That’s our understanding too, sir, but, as I said, he’s yet to arrive. Would you like to leave a message?’
‘I’ll wait,’ said Nightingale. ‘Do me a favour and leave a message that I’m in reception.’
Nightingale left the receptionist typing away and walked over to an armchair. He sat down and waited. From where he was sitting he could see the main door and all of the reception area, but an hour passed and there was no sign of the American. He called Wainwright’s mobile phone but it just rang out and didn’t go through to voicemail. At one o’clock he went back to the desk and spoke to another receptionist, this one a pretty blonde girl. She confirmed that Wainwright still hadn’t checked in.
Nightingale sat down again and continued waiting. It was another hour before a man in a black suit, crisp white shirt and black tie appeared in front of him. He had a head that was completely shaved and a small scar under his left ear. At first Nightingale thought he was a hotel employee but then he spotted a discreet clear-plastic earpiece.
‘Mr Nightingale?’ he said, in a soft American accent.
‘Mr Wainwright will see you now,’ he said.
‘I didn’t see him come in,’ said Nightingale.
‘Mr Wainwright uses a private entrance,’ said the man. ‘He prefers it that way.’
Nightingale stood up as the man headed for the lifts. ‘What floor are we going to?’ he asked.
‘Sixth,’ said the man.
‘Room six six six, by any chance?’
The man frowned and shook his head. ‘Six three two,’ he said. ‘He always stays in the same suite.’
‘I know this is going to sound crazy, but can we use the stairs?’
‘Absolutely,’ said the man. ‘I’m no fan of elevators myself.’
They took the stairs to the sixth floor and then Nightingale followed the man along a plush corridor. The door to Wainwright’s suite was opened by a gorgeous blonde in a tight-fitting suit the skirt of which ended a good ten inches above her knees. ‘Good afternoon, Mr Nightingale,’ she said. ‘Do come in. Mr Wainwright is expecting you.’ She had an Afrikaans accent and the bluest eyes that Nightingale had ever seen.
She took him through to a sitting room where Wainwright was sprawled on a sofa reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal. He was wearing a blue denim shirt, black 501 jeans and a pair of gleaming lizard-skin cowboy boots.
‘Jack, good to see you,’ said the American. He stood up, shook hands with Nightingale and then waved him to an armchair before sitting down again. ‘Sorry I’m late. I had a thing at Westminster and the guy I was there to see was tied up with your PM.’
Nightingale gave Wainwright the carrier bag and sat down.
The American opened the bag and took out a leather-bound book. His eyes widened. ‘This is… indescribable,’ said Wainwright. He looked up at Nightingale. ‘Do you know what this is, Jack?’
‘Aleister Crowley’s diary,’ said Nightingale. He looked around but didn’t see an ashtray. ‘Is it okay to smoke in here?’
‘They block-book the suite for me all year round,’ said Wainwright. ‘We can set fire to the place if we want.’ He held up the book. ‘This isn’t just his diary. It’s not just a first edition. It’s a bound proof copy, with his corrections in ink. He held these pages and made corrections to them, corrections which were then made before the book proper was printed.’
‘But it’s still cursed?’ said Nightingale. He lit a cigarette.
‘I didn’t say it was cursed. I just said that whenever a copy was sold, the buyer and the seller died.’
‘That suggests a curse, doesn’t it?’
‘Not in the strict sense of what is usually meant by a curse,’ said the American. ‘Anyway, curse or no curse, this is beyond price, Jack. This is…’
‘Priceless?’ Nightingale finished for him.
‘I don’t know what to say to you,’ said Wainwright. ‘I had no idea that you’d be bringing me this. It’s…’ He shook his head, lost for words.
‘Bearing in mind what happens to those who sell it, I want you to accept it as a gift. With my compliments.’
‘I accept, of course,’ said Wainwright, holding the volume against his chest. ‘And I’ll be forever in your debt, Jack. Ask and you shall receive.’ He grinned. ‘Except for cold hard cash, of course.’ Wainwright swung his feet up onto an antique coffee table. ‘On the phone you said you wanted help with something.’
‘That’s right,’ said Nightingale. ‘I need to talk to Lucifuge Rofocale. The devil you said was Lucifer’s negotiator.’
Wainwright’s jaw dropped. ‘Say what?’
‘I need to know how to summon him. I have to talk to him.’
He nodded at the book. ‘You’ve got what you wanted; all I’m asking is that you give me what I want.’
‘I thought I explained how dangerous it can be to summon the upper echelons.’
‘You don’t have the experience. Or the power. I’m pretty darn good at it but I don’t have the power to call Lucifuge Rofocale, and even if I did, I wouldn’t. One slip, one sign of weakness and… puff! You’d be ashes. Or worse.’ He held up the book he was holding. ‘Crowley? Maybe he could have done it, at the height of his powers. But he was one of the greatest Satanists of the last century. You, Jack, what are you? A disgraced cop turned private eye.’
‘The “disgraced” label is a bit harsh, Josh.’
Wainwright smiled apologetically. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bite your head off, but I like you, Jack. I really do. And I wouldn’t want you to get sucked into something that could only end badly.’
‘I don’t have much of a choice,’ said Nightingale. ‘I need to resolve the situation with my sister, and he’s the only one who can do that.’
‘You want to do a deal with Lucifuge Rofocale?’
‘Not exactly. I just want to talk to him. Do you know how?’
Wainwright shook his head. ‘He’s way out of my league.’
Nightingale pulled a face. ‘That’s a pity,’ he said.
‘Well, not necessarily.’ Wainwright held up the book. ‘If anyone knew how to call up Lucifuge Rofocale, it was Aleister Crowley. The answer’s almost certainly here.’ He flicked through the pages, a thoughtful frown on his face, while Nightingale sat and smoked. Eventually Wainwright grinned and stabbed at a page. ‘There you are.’
Nightingale stood up, walked across to the American and looked over his shoulder.
‘This is what you have to do,’ said Wainwright. ‘But you have to follow his instructions to the letter. The letter, Jack.’
‘Are you sure that you do? Because one mistake, one slip, would mean certain death.’
Nightingale blew a smoke ring towards the ornate ceiling. ‘Everyone dies eventually, Josh,’ he said.
‘True,’ said the American. ‘But not everyone burns in Hell for all eternity.’