N ightingale lay on his back, his ears ringing
Fairchild appeared, standing over him and looking down. ‘My God, man, what happened?’ he asked. He held out his hand and pulled Nightingale to his feet. There was blood on Nightingale’s raincoat. ‘Are you hurt?’
Nightingale shook his head. One by one the guns fell silent though pheasants still flapped overhead.
Marc Allen and Danny Smith were staring down at Lachie’s body. McLean had his arms outstretched and was telling Sally Allen and Wendy Bushell to go back to the Land Rovers, while Jenny’s mother was hugging Lesley Smith.
McLean shouted over to the boys who had been loading for Fairchild. ‘Rob, Peter, go and tell the beaters to stop. Be quick now.’ The two teenagers hurried towards the woodland.
Jenny was standing, frozen to the spot, but then she jerked as if she had been stung and ran over to where Lachie lay in the mud. She screamed when she saw that his face had been blown away. Allen put his arm around her and led her a short distance away from the body. Tears were streaming down her face.
McLean strode over, his gun broken over his arm. ‘What the hell happened, Jack?’ he asked.
‘He did it himself,’ said Nightingale. ‘With Jenny’s gun.’
‘Nonsense,’ snapped McLean. ‘Lachie was far too experienced to do something like that. Who was holding the gun?’
‘He was. He just… I don’t know. It happened so quickly. He was talking to me and then…’
‘Accidents happen,’ said McLean.
‘It wasn’t a bloody accident,’ said Nightingale. ‘He turned the gun on himself.’ He pointed at the shotgun, which was lying across the gamekeeper’s ankles. ‘How else do you think that got there?’
McLean went over to look at the body. Nightingale glanced around for his cigarette. It was lying in a pool of mud so he took out his pack of Marlboro and lit a new one.
Fairchild joined McLean and the two men stood staring down.
‘Did you see what happened?’ McLean asked the lawyer.
Marcus shook his head. ‘I was too busy watching the birds,’ he said.
‘This is a nightmare,’ said McLean. He walked back to Nightingale, reaching inside his jacket. He pulled out a silver hip flask, unscrewed the top and drank. He offered it to Nightingale, but Nightingale shook his head. Jenny walked over and took the flask from her father without saying anything.
‘He was just talking to me, then he put the gun under his chin and pulled the trigger,’ said Nightingale.
‘What did he say?’ asked McLean.
Nightingale looked across at Jenny and saw the look of panic in her eyes, the flask still close to her lips. ‘He was asking me if I wanted to shoot and I said that I was happy just watching,’ he said. Jenny took another swig from the flask before her father reached over and took it from her. ‘That’s all he said before he…’ Nightingale left the sentence unfinished.
‘What do we do, Jack?’ asked McLean, putting the flask away. ‘You were a policeman. Do we call nine nine nine? Do we ask for an ambulance?’ He took a deep breath and exhaled. ‘You know, this is the first time I’ve seen a violent death.’ He grimaced. ‘Not that I saw it. I heard it. I mean…’
‘Yeah, I know what you mean,’ said Nightingale. ‘You should move everyone away from the body. You can call the local police and tell them there’s been a suicide. They’ll inform the coroner.’
‘We just leave him there?’ said McLean. ‘Can’t we cover him up?’
‘Best not to,’ said Nightingale. ‘Once the police see the scene as it is they’ll confirm it was suicide. As will the coroner. Then you can get an undertaker to come. His wife’s at home, right? Angela?’
McLean nodded. ‘Their cottage is on the edge of the estate. I’ll go and tell her myself.’ He ran a hand over his face. ‘She’ll be devastated. My God, Jack, how do I tell her?’
Nightingale shrugged, not knowing what to say.
‘I’ll get Melissa to come with me,’ said McLean.
‘Where are the nearest police?’ asked Nightingale.
‘There’s a local bobby in the next village. I’m not sure if he’ll be working on Christmas Day.’ Jenny came over to her father and put her arms around him. He hugged her.
‘Call him anyway,’ said Nightingale. ‘If he’s not available then there’ll be a message saying who is. It’s not a matter for the emergency services.’
‘And no ambulance?’
Nightingale shook his head. ‘They won’t be able to touch the body until the coroner has pronounced death and the cops have examined the scene. And by then there’s no point in taking it to hospital.’
‘I’ll call an undertaker, let them know what’s happening,’ said McLean. ‘Thanks, Jack. Lucky you were around.’
McLean hugged Jenny again and then went over to the shooters who were still standing by Lachie’s body.
Jenny sighed. ‘What do you think, Jack? Do you think he was lucky you were around?’
‘What did he say? What did he say before he killed himself?’
‘Not here,’ said Nightingale.
‘What do you mean, not here?’
Nightingale flashed a warning look towards the rest of the shooting party, who were gathered together in a group about twenty feet away from the body.
‘Don’t use them as an excuse,’ she hissed.
Nightingale walked away, drawing on his cigarette. She hurried after him. ‘He said what you think he said,’ he muttered.
‘I’ve known Lachie since I was born, Jack. He wouldn’t kill himself.’
‘He just did.’ He looked across at her. ‘What do you think, Jenny? Do you think I killed him?’
‘Of course not,’ she said. ‘But it wasn’t Lachie’s decision. Something made him do it.’
‘Something? Or someone?’
‘I don’t know. But whatever it was that forced Lachie to do what he did, it’s come to my family’s home, Jack. It’s come here.’
Nightingale took a lungful of smoke and then exhaled slowly. ‘What do you want me to do, Jenny?’
She shook her head. ‘Something. Anything. Jack. It could be my mother next. Or my father.’
‘Or you?’ said Nightingale quietly.
‘Yes, Jack. Or me.’ She glared at him. ‘Damn you, Jack, you have to do something about this.’
‘What? What can I do?’
‘Something. You have to make this stop. Lachie didn’t know you from Adam, but whoever or whatever is after you doesn’t care. They’ll kill anybody, just to…’
‘Just to what, Jenny? What does anyone gain by him giving me a message and blowing his head off?’
‘That’s what you have to find out.’
‘I don’t know, Jack. But you have to get this sorted. We can’t go on like this.’