I t was the best Beef Wellington that Nightingale had ever tasted. That’s what he told James McLean, and it was the truth, but then it was actually the only Beef Wellington he’d tasted. In fact the pate around the beef was too salty for Nightingale’s taste and he’d never been a fan of pastry. But he ate and smiled and made small talk with the TV presenter on his left and Sally Allen on his right, who actually was as smart as she was pretty but was clearly only with her husband for the money. His mind wasn’t on the conversation, or the food; all he could think about was that the man sitting across the table from him was Marcus Fairchild, the Satanist lawyer that Joshua Wainwright had warned him about.
Fairchild was sitting between Jenny and her mother and had them both entranced with whatever stories he was telling them. The lawyer kept his voice low and Nightingale couldn’t hear what he was saying but every now and again there were peals of laughter from their end of the table.
McLean extolled the virtues of the wine, which he said was a vintage Nuits-Saint-Georges that he bought by the case, but as Nightingale sipped and swallowed he barely tasted it. Why was Marcus Fairchild in the house? How did he know James McLean? And why was Jenny clearly so relaxed in his company?
The waitress cleared away the plates and Nightingale took out his packet of Marlboro. He saw a look of concern flash across Jenny’s face and she waggled her finger at him across the table. Before Nightingale could say anything, Mr McLean leaned over towards him.
‘I’m sorry, Jack, but we’re very much a non-smoking house,’ he said. ‘However, if you fancy a cigarette before pudding there’s a terrace off the study with a few nice planter chairs.’ He nodded at the double doors. ‘Back down the corridor, second door on the left.’
Nightingale thanked him and stood up. He had been craving a cigarette and it would give him a chance to have a quiet word with Jenny. He tried to catch her eye as he headed for the doors but she was deep in conversation with Fairchild again and didn’t look up.
He headed for the study. It was a comfortable man’s room lined with leather-bound books, with a massive Victorian globe next to the fireplace. On the mantelpiece were half a dozen plaques in recognition of McLean’s charitable work. Nightingale took a cigarette from the packet and reached for his lighter. Above the fireplace were several framed degrees and certificates, including a Law Degree from Oxford and a Masters from Yale. He went over to one of the bookcases, half expecting to see the sort of volumes that were in the basement of Gosling Manor, but instead he found an eclectic mix of thrillers, autobiographies, science and reference books.
The study door opened and Nightingale turned around. ‘About time,’ he said, but it wasn’t Jenny standing in the doorway, it was Fairchild.
‘Don’t even think about lighting up in here, or Melissa will have your guts for garters,’ said the lawyer affably. He walked behind Nightingale and opened the French windows. On a stone terrace were four teak planter chairs facing the garden. Hidden spotlights illuminated a dozen or more trees and a large white octagonal gazebo. Fairchild sat down in one of the chairs and took out a leather cigar case. He offered it to Nightingale. ‘They’re Cuban. Rolled on the thigh of a dusky virgin,’ he said. He scratched at his right ear. There were tufts of grey hair sprouting from it, Nightingale noticed.
‘Female, I hope,’ said Nightingale, sitting down on one of the other chairs. He held up his packet of Marlboro. ‘I’ll stick with my fags.’
‘Ah, you’re a cowboy at heart,’ said Fairchild. He chuckled and used a silver cigar cutter to neatly clip off the end of his cigar. ‘I’m just glad there’s at least one other smoker,’ he said, lighting his cigar with a match. ‘Shame on James for banishing us from the house. Especially when he’s fond of the odd cigar himself.’ He grinned. ‘Mind you, gives a chance for the men to talk, of course.’
Nightingale lit his cigarette and tried blowing a smoke ring, but the wind whipped it away. ‘I don’t mind being sent outside in the summer, but in the winter you could catch your death,’ he said.
‘You know, I prefer to smoke outside in the cold,’ said Fairchild. ‘I don’t know about cigarettes but cigars never taste as good in the warm.’
The two men sat in silence for a couple of minutes, enjoying their respective smokes.
‘Your sister is going to Hell, Jack Nightingale,’ said Fairchild quietly.
Nightingale turned to look at him. Fairchild was holding his cigar at chin level and was watching Nightingale with amused eyes.
‘What did you say?’
‘I said your sister is going to Hell. That’s what everyone has been telling you, isn’t it?’
‘What?’ said Nightingale, stunned.
‘What’s wrong, Jack? You going deaf?’ Fairchild laughed and took a slight drag on his cigar. He didn’t inhale, just held the smoke in his mouth and then let it ease through his lips. ‘Jenny said you’d been getting messages about your sister. Robyn Reynolds.’
Nightingale shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. ‘Why did she tell you that?’ he asked.
‘Was it a secret?’ Fairchild shrugged. ‘I’m sure it wasn’t, not considering my involvement in the case.’
‘You’ve got me totally confused,’ said Nightingale. ‘What do you know about Robyn?’
‘I represented her in court,’ said Fairchild. ‘Didn’t Jenny tell you?’
‘I think it must have slipped her mind,’ said Nightingale.
‘She was asking me about famous cases I’d worked on over the years and I mentioned Reynolds. Could have knocked me down with a feather when she said you were related.’
‘Half-related,’ said Nightingale. ‘She’s my half-sister. Same father, different mother. Up until a few weeks ago I didn’t even know I had a sister.’
‘I was her barrister,’ said Fairchild. ‘She was on Legal Aid but I did it pro bono. Didn’t feel that she was getting a decent show.’
‘I thought you specialised in human-rights cases?’
‘I’m a jack of all trades,’ said Fairchild. ‘Hired gun; have brief will travel. And there’s nothing like the thrill of a good criminal case, no matter which side you’re on.’
‘She pleaded guilty, right?’
‘Yes, but there’s guilty and there’s guilty. Just because you plead guilty doesn’t mean you don’t need decent representation.’ He sucked on his cigar. ‘The stuff about her going to Hell. What’s that about?’ he said quietly.
‘I don’t know,’ said Nightingale. ‘She’s been on my mind a lot lately and when it’s happened I’ve only half heard it. How did that come up in conversation with Jenny?’
‘I think I mentioned that the tabloids at the time were saying that she should burn in Hell and Jenny said someone had said that to you.’
Nightingale shrugged and tried to look unconcerned. ‘Like I said, I was probably imagining it.’
‘I thought perhaps members of the public were making their views known,’ said the lawyer. He blew a cloud of smoke over the garden. ‘There was a lot of ill-feeling at the time, if you recall. A lot of people would have hanged her, given the chance.’
‘You were convinced that she was guilty?’
‘No question of it,’ said Fairchild. ‘Open and shut. But there were suggestions that her father abused her.’
‘Did that come out in court?’
The lawyer shook his head. ‘She wouldn’t let me. I have to say, I wish I’d known then that she had been adopted. It would have been useful.’
‘We were both adopted at birth,’ said Nightingale. ‘I don’t think that alone would have turned her into a killer.’
‘I suppose you’re right,’ said Fairchild. He smiled at Nightingale. ‘Besides, you turned out all right.’
They heard footsteps behind them and turned to see Jenny standing by the French windows. ‘Pudding is served,’ she said. ‘Mummy requires your presence in the dining room.’
Fairchild groaned as he pushed himself up out of the planter chair. ‘Banoffee pie?’ he said. He stubbed out his cigar in an ashtray.
Jenny laughed. ‘Absolutely.’
Fairchild patted his stomach. ‘Your cook will be the death of me,’ he said. ‘I always leave here weighing a good ten pounds more than when I arrived.’
Jenny linked arms with him. ‘Come on, Jack,’ she said.
Banoffee pie was the last thing Nightingale wanted just then. What he wanted more than anything was to ask Jenny why she was so close to Marcus Fairchild and to ask Marcus Fairchild whether he really did belong to a sect that promoted human sacrifice. He couldn’t ask either question, of course, so he just smiled, extinguished his cigarette, and followed them back to the dining room.