J enny had programmed the address of her parents’ house into his phone’s GPS system so Nightingale had no problems finding it. It was called Edmund House and it was signposted off the main road. Black railings bordered the estate and he drove onto the property and stopped out side a stone building with leaded windows. He smiled as he saw that it was much smaller than Gosling Manor. He was just about to climb out of his MGB when a uniformed security guard appeared and Nightingale realised that the building was the gatehouse.
‘Jack Nightingale,’ he said. ‘I’m here to see the McLeans.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said the guard, a heavy-set man in his fifties. ‘Just follow the road and park anywhere to the left of the main house.’
He was talking into a transceiver as Nightingale drove off. The driveway curved to the left and bordered a lake that was several hundred yards across. Then the road bent to the right and the MGB crested a small hill to reveal the house for the first time. Nightingale stopped the car and sat looking at it, shaking his head in wonder. It wasn’t a house, it wasn’t a mansion – it was a stately home that would give Buckingham Palace a run for its money. It was a severe building, grey stone and dark grey slated roof, the main entrance flanked by Corinthian pillars that went up two storeys. He counted a dozen chimneys, with wisps of smoke coming from half of them.
To the left of the house was a line of expensive cars. A black Bentley, a red Ferrari, four Range Rovers, a 7-Series BMW, a large Mercedes and Jenny’s Audi. Nightingale eased the car forward and drove towards the house. The closer he got the more immense it looked and he realised it must be at least five times as large as Gosling Manor.
He parked his car next to the Ferrari. As he was taking his suitcase out of the boot a liveried footman hurried over.
‘I’ll get that for you, sir,’ he said, in a broad Norfolk accent.
Nightingale let the man carry his case and followed him up a flight of steps to the double-height front door and into a huge hallway, where the walls were covered in gilt-framed works of art. A butler, slightly overweight and with a receding hairline was waiting for them. He nodded at Nightingale.
‘Dinner has already started, sir,’ said the butler. ‘You’re to go straight to the dining room unless you want to freshen up first.’
‘I’ll go straight in,’ said Nightingale. He took off his raincoat and gave it to the man holding his case.
‘Simon will put your things in your room, sir, and I’ll show you in. Please follow me.’
The butler strode down a wood-panelled corridor to a set of double oak doors, which he opened with a flourish. ‘Mr Nightingale has arrived,’ he said. He stepped to the side to allow Nightingale through, and then closed the doors behind him.
The dining room was panelled in a light wood with French windows overlooking the rear gardens. The table was set for ten, with three large silver candelabra and gleaming silverware. The guests had just finished their soup and a waitress in a black and white uniform was collecting the dishes. Jenny had twisted around in her chair and was smiling at him. He winked at her.
Sitting at one end of the table was a big man with an expensive tan and short curly hair. He was in his mid fifties and was wearing a charcoal-grey suit over a black silk shirt buttoned at the neck. He stood up and walked over to Nightingale, his arm outstretched. ‘James McLean,’ he said. ‘I’m so pleased to finally meet you, Jack. We were starting to worry that you might not actually exist.’
Nightingale shook McLean’s hand. ‘Oh I’m real enough,’ he said.
The man had a strong grip and his hand easily enveloped Nightingale’s. There was a gold Rolex watch on his wrist, and a simple gold band on his wedding finger.
‘We’re just about to start our main course and the chef hates it if we keep him waiting – but he’s allowed to be temperamental because his last restaurant had two Michelin stars – so let me introduce everyone very quickly,’ said McLean, putting a hand on Nightingale’s shoulder. ‘The lovely lady at the head of the table is my wife, Melissa.’
Melissa McLean, a few years younger than her husband, and pretty with the slightly softened angular features of a former model, was wearing a red dress cut low enough to show just a hint of cleavage. There was a large diamond pendant around her neck and matching stones hanging from her ears. More diamonds glinted on her fingers when she waved at Nightingale.
‘Next to her on the far side of the table is Marc Allen, next to him is Lesley Smith, and if she seems familiar it’s because she’s on Channel 4 most nights.’
Allen and Smith nodded and smiled. Smith mouthed ‘Hello’.
‘You’re sitting between Lesley and Sally, she’s Marc’s wife. Sally’s the brains of the Allen family, and the beauty.’
Allen raised his glass. ‘Cheers, James.’ He was in his late forties, overweight, with several chins and drooping eyelids. His wife was much younger; she was pretty and, like Mrs McLean, was bedecked with expensive jewellery.
‘Opposite Sally is Wendy Bushell, who does a lot of work with George Soros.’
Bushell was in her sixties, with shoulder-length grey hair and no make-up but when she smiled it was to reveal a gleaming smile that could only have come from dentures or implants.
‘Next to Wendy is Danny, Lesley’s husband.’
Like McLean, Danny Smith was a big man and still fit, with a shock of chestnut hair that was only just starting to grey at the temples. He was wearing a black silk jacket that glistened in the candlelight. He raised his glass to Nightingale.
‘Next to Danny is your hardworking and underpaid assistant, or at least that’s how she describes herself.’
‘Daddy!’ exclaimed Jenny. She hurried over to Nightingale and gave him a peck on the cheek. She was wearing a short black dress and had a thin gold chain around her neck that he hadn’t seen before. ‘I thought you weren’t coming,’ she said.
‘I got tied up at the Ritz,’ said Nightingale.
‘My favourite hotel,’ said the final guest at the table, a man in his late fifties. He had a mane of grey hair combed back and a square chin with a dimple in the centre. A pair of delicate half-moon glasses nestled on a pug nose that was flecked with broken blood vessels.
‘Be careful what you say around this one, Jack,’ said McLean. ‘He’s one of the best lawyers in England and he loves to argue at the dining table as much as he does in court.’
The grey-haired man raised his hand in greeting. ‘Marcus Fairchild, at your service,’ he said.