N ightingale stopped the MGB in front of the gates to Gosling Manor and looked across at Jenny expectantly. ‘Can you get the gates?’
‘What did your last slave die of?’ asked Jenny, climbing out of the car. It was dark and the gates gleamed in the MGB’s headlights.
‘It wasn’t overwork,’ said Nightingale. He waited until Jenny had pushed open both gates before driving through. She closed them and got back into the car, shivering and rubbing her hands together.
‘Why didn’t Gosling install electronic gates?’ she asked.
‘I get the feeling he didn’t have many visitors,’ said Nightingale. He put the car in gear and drove along a narrow paved road that curved to the right through thick woodland.
‘Who’s taking care of the grounds?’ asked Jenny.
‘No one at the moment. Gosling let all the staff go before he topped himself.’
‘You’re going to have to get someone in when spring comes,’ she said, nodding at the expansive lawns to their left, the grass glistening in the moonlight. ‘The grass will need cutting and you can’t let woodland take care of itself. It’s got to be looked after.’
‘I keep forgetting that you’re a country girl at heart,’ said Nightingale.
‘Daddy has three gardeners working full-time,’ said Jenny. ‘And this place isn’t much smaller.’
‘I’ll have to check the money situation,’ said Nightingale. ‘But I’m pretty sure I don’t have enough to pay for a gardener.’
‘There’s the money from the books you sold from Gosling’s library. You got a stack of cash for them.’
‘Yeah, but that’s got to go towards the mortgages Gosling took out on the house. Could turn out to be negative equity there, in which case I’m really in trouble.’
‘Wasn’t there insurance? On Gosling’s life. I know he killed himself but most policies pay out if the suicide is a couple of years after the policy is taken out.’
‘Turtledove didn’t mention any insurance policies, so I guess not,’ said Nightingale.
He parked in front of the house, a two-storey mansion, the lower floor built of stone, the upper floor made of weathered bricks, topped by a tiled roof with four massive chimney stacks. To the left of the house was a four-door garage and behind it a large conservatory. In the middle of the parking area stood a huge stone fountain, the centrepiece of which was a weathered stone mermaid surrounded by dolphins and fish.
‘Are you going to sell it?’
‘I think I’ll have to,’ he said. ‘I can’t see myself living out here in the middle of nowhere.’ He switched off the engine and climbed out. He lit a cigarette as he looked over at the ivy-covered entrance. ‘It’d make a great hotel.’
‘You should get an estate agent to value it,’ said Jenny, getting out of the car. She looked up at the front. ‘It really is a beautiful building. Doesn’t seem like the sort of place that a Satanist would call home, does it? Even at night.’
Nightingale chuckled. ‘Doesn’t look like a haunted house, you mean?’
‘It’s a family house. You can imagine the kids playing on the lawn, Mum in the drawing room, Dad in the study tying fish flies, the faithful retainer in the kitchen giving a couple of pheasants to the cook.’
Nightingale looked over at her, his cigarette halfway to his lips. ‘You are joking, right?’
Jenny shrugged. ‘Maybe, maybe not,’ she said.
‘Who has a cook and a faithful retainer these days?’
Her cheeks flushed and she looked away.
Nightingale grinned. ‘Daddy?’
‘It’s a large house and it needs staff,’ said Jenny. ‘You’ll find that out for yourself. I can’t imagine you’ll want to be dusting and polishing and cleaning windows.’
‘Yeah, but a faithful retainer?’
‘Lachie is a gamekeeper, if you must know. Now stop taking the piss, Jack. And let’s go inside, it’s freezing out here.’
Nightingale fished the key from his raincoat pocket and unlocked the massive oak door. It opened easily and without a sound, despite its bulk. He switched the lights on. The hallway was as big as his office, with wood-panelled walls, a glistening marble floor and a large multi-tiered chandelier that looked like an upside-down crystal wedding cake.
There were three oak doors leading off the hallway, but the entrance to the basement library was concealed within the wooden panelling. Nightingale pulled open the hinged panel and reached inside to flick the light switch. He stepped aside and waved for Jenny to go ahead. ‘Ladies first,’ he said.
‘Age before beauty,’ she said. ‘I’ll follow you.’
‘Scaredy cat,’ he laughed, and went down the wooden stairs. Despite Nightingale’s levity he could understand Jenny’s reservations; there was something decidedly spooky about the basement. It ran the full length of the house and was lined with shelves laden with books. Running down the centre of the basement were two lines of display cases filled with all sorts of occult paraphernalia, from skulls to crystal balls. Nightingale had spent dozens of hours down there but had seen only a fraction of the contents.
Jenny followed him down, keeping a tight grip on the brass banister. ‘I still don’t understand why he kept all this stuff hidden,’ she said. ‘There’s a perfectly good study and library upstairs.’
‘I don’t think he wanted his staff knowing what he was up to,’ said Nightingale. He walked along to a seating area with two overstuffed red leather Chesterfield sofas and a claw-footed teak coffee table that was piled high with books. He sat down into one of the sofas.
Jenny ran her finger along the back of the other. ‘Looks like no one’s dusted in years,’ she said.
‘Are you offering?’ asked Nightingale.
‘No, I’m not.’ She sat down. ‘So what’s the plan?’
Nightingale waved at the bookshelves behind him. ‘I guess we need to find books on devils, see if any of them refer to a Frimost. While we’re at it, we should start compiling a list of titles so that I can see which ones I can sell. We’ve got to sort the wheat from the chaff because some of them are really valuable. That’s where most of Gosling’s money went, remember?’
‘It’s going to take forever, Jack. There must be – what, two thousand books here?’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘Yeah, give or take.’
‘And most of them don’t even have titles on their spines.’
‘The longest journey starts with a single step,’ said Nightingale.
‘Did you get that piece of wisdom from a Christmas cracker?’
‘From Mrs Ellis at my primary school, as it happens. We don’t have to do them all at once.’ He put his feet up onto the coffee table. ‘What do you think’s the best way of doing it?’
‘Not sitting on your backside would be a good start,’ she replied. ‘How about we take a shelf each and work along it? We can write the details down and if either of us spots a book on devils we can flick through it and see if Frimost is mentioned.’
‘Sounds like a plan,’ said Nightingale. He stood up and went over to a huge oak desk that was piled high with books. He pulled open a drawer and found a couple of unused notepads. There were a dozen or so ballpoint pens in an old pint pot and he took two. ‘There we go,’ he said, giving Jenny a pen and a pad. ‘Race you.’
‘You’re so competitive,’ she said.
Nightingale pointed at the bookcase next to the stairs that led down from the hall. ‘Might as well be methodical and start there,’ he said. ‘I’ll take the top shelf, you take the one underneath.’
‘I’ve just had a thought,’ said Jenny. ‘Have you actually looked for a list yet?’
‘With this many books, he must have had some sort of inventory. How else would he know if he already had a particular volume?’
Nightingale nodded thoughtfully. ‘Okay, that makes sense. But where would he keep it?’
‘That’s the question, isn’t it?’ said Jenny. ‘He could have put it on a computer or his BlackBerry, if he had one. Or he could have written the list down in a book. Or filed it away.’
‘Or maybe he didn’t have a list in the first place.’
‘Oh ye of little faith,’ she said. ‘There isn’t a computer down here, is there?’
Nightingale gestured at the far end of the basement. ‘There’s one down there linked to the CCTV feeds but I’m pretty sure it’s just for recording. And I haven’t seen a laptop.’
‘Have you checked the desk?’
Nightingale shook his head.
‘Why don’t I go through the desk while you make a start on the books?’
‘Go for it,’ said Nightingale. He took went over to the bookcase, where he started taking books down. They were mostly leather-bound and dusty but they had all been read and had been annotated in the same cramped handwriting. Passages were underlined and there were exclamation marks and question marks in red ink in the margins.
There didn’t appear to be any logic to the order that the books were in. There was a book on plant biology next to a book on Greek mythology, then a first edition of Lord of the Rings next to a book on fairies. There were historical books, works of fiction, books of photographs and books written by hand. In turn, Nightingale noted down the title and the author and a number corresponding to its position on the shelf.
A bell rang somewhere upstairs. ‘Who’s that?’ asked Nightingale.
Jenny smiled sarcastically. ‘I’m not psychic,’ she said.
‘Yeah, that was just about the only thing missing from your CV,’ said Nightingale. He stood up and walked the length of the basement to where half a dozen LCD screens were fixed to the wall in two banks of three. Nightingale tapped a button on a stainless-steel console in front of the screens and they flickered into life. There was a man in a dark overcoat standing in front of the main door, his hands in his pockets.
‘Who is it?’ called Jenny.
‘The last person I want to see just now,’ said Nightingale.