W hen Nightingale went down to breakfast on Christmas morning, Jenny and her father were already in the dining room, with Marc and Sally Allen and Wendy Bushell. Everyone was casually dressed. Jenny’s father was wearing a red sweater with green Christmas trees across the front. Food was laid out in silver serving dishes – scrambled and fried eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, tomatoes, grilled kippers and kedgeree – along with fresh fruit and a selection of cereals.
‘Help yourself, Jack,’ said Jenny. ‘They’ll get you toast from the kitchen if you want it.’
Jack was carrying three wrapped presents. He handed one to Jenny. ‘Merry Christmas,’ he said.
‘Jack, you didn’t have to get me anything,’ she said. ‘You really shouldn’t have.’
‘Wait until you’ve opened it,’ he said. ‘I’m terrible at gifts.’ He handed a wrapped box to McLean. ‘I think I’m on safer ground with this one,’ he said. ‘And this one’s for Melissa.’ He put the present on the table.
‘Really, Jack, you didn’t have to.’ McLean pulled off the wrapping and beamed when he saw the Laphroaig box. ‘Good choice, Jack,’ he said. ‘Thanks.’
A uniformed maid appeared and asked if Nightingale wanted tea or coffee. He asked for coffee and then filled his plate. ‘I don’t suppose you fancy adopting me,’ Nightingale said to McLean. ‘I am an orphan, you know.’
Jenny finished unwrapping her present and held up a Louis Vuitton shoulder bag. ‘Thank you, Jack. It’s lovely.’
‘I’ve kept the receipt if you want to change it.’
‘It’s perfect, thank you.’ The maid appeared with a pot of coffee and two toast racks, one full of white toast and the other wholemeal. She placed the toast on the table and poured coffee for Nightingale.
McLean looked over at Nightingale as he buttered a slice of toast. ‘Jenny tells me you’re a decent shot, Jack,’ he said.
Nightingale raised an eyebrow at Jenny. ‘She did, did she?’ He took a sip of coffee. ‘I’m afraid shotguns aren’t my thing. I’m happier with an MP5 and a Glock.’
‘I’m not sure how sporting it would be to shoot pheasants with an MP5,’ said Allen.
‘You know, the birds would have more of a chance against a carbine,’ said Nightingale. ‘A nine-millimetre bullet is relatively small, but the spread from a shotgun at fifty feet would be – what, six feet? Eight?’
‘It’s not as bad as that,’ said McLean. ‘The general rule of thumb is that shot spreads about an inch for every yard it travels. So if you were shooting at a bird fifty feet away the spread would be about one and a half feet. I have to say, that would be pushing it, Jack. I wouldn’t want to be shooting at a bird more than thirty feet away.’
‘I would guess Jack is more used to sawn-off shotguns than Purdeys,’ said Marcus Fairchild. Nightingale looked up in surprise. He hadn’t heard the lawyer come into room. Fairchild bent down over the server containing kippers and smelled them appreciatively. He was wearing a dark blue pullover, baggy blue jeans and Timberland boots and looked more like a building site labourer than a City lawyer. ‘The spread of a sawn-off is about one inch per foot travelled,’ he said.
‘Come on, Marcus,’ said Sally Allen. ‘How would you know something like that?’
Fairchild picked up a plate and used silver tongs to take two kippers. ‘It was a case at the Old Bailey a few years back,’ he said. ‘I was defending an armed robber who’d been charged with attempted murder. He was twenty-five feet away from the woman when he pulled the trigger.’
‘He shot a woman?’ said Allen. ‘He shot a woman at point-blank range and you defended him?’
Fairchild waved a languid hand in the air. ‘First, anyone is entitled to the best defence they can get.’ He smiled. ‘Or at least, the best defence they can afford. And this chap had a lot of money hidden away. And second, the point we made was that twenty-five feet isn’t point-blank range. Far from it. The shot would have spread out over more than two feet and almost certainly wouldn’t have been fatal. My client was something of an expert with a sawn-off so we argued that there was no intention to kill.’
‘He got off?’ asked Allen.
‘Three years, out in just under two,’ said Fairchild. ‘My client was not dissatisfied.’
‘I remember the case,’ said Nightingale. ‘The cashier was in a wheelchair, right?’
‘I’m afraid so, yes,’ said Fairchild, deftly filleting a kipper with a surgeon’s skill. ‘She was unlucky.’
‘I’m not sure how much luck comes into it,’ said Nightingale. ‘Your client was a career criminal and she was a cashier. He pointed a shotgun at her and pulled the trigger. He made a calculated decision. Luck is something out of our control.’
‘Agreed,’ said Fairchild.
‘Do you think two years was a fair punishment, for what he did?’
Fairchild laughed harshly; the sound was like the bark of an attack dog. ‘Fair?’ he said. ‘We’re talking about the law. The law isn’t fair. If it was fair there’d be no need for lawyers.’
Mrs McLean breezed in and picked up a glass of orange juice. ‘Not shop talk again, Marcus. You have been told about that.’
Fairchild held up his knife and fork. ‘I plead guilty, m’lord, and throw myself on the mercy of the court.’
‘My fault, I’m afraid,’ said Allen. ‘I put him in the witness box.’
Mrs McLean looked at her watch. ‘The beaters will be gathering in about thirty minutes,’ she said.
‘It’ll give me time to show Jack my Purdeys,’ said Jenny.
‘You’ve got your own shotgun?’
‘Guns,’ she said. ‘Daddy got me a pair for my eighteenth birthday.’
‘Made to measure,’ said McLean. ‘But she barely uses them.’
Jenny pushed back her chair and stood up. ‘Come on, Jack. You can give me your professional opinion.’