N ightingale carried the two glasses over to the corner table where Barbara was fiddling with her digital voice recorder. ‘White wine spritzer,’ he said, putting the glass down in front of her. He sat down and raised his glass to her. The barmaid had started pouring his Corona beer into a glass before he could say anything, even though in his experience it always tasted better straight from the bottle. Barbara ignored him and concentrated on the recorder so Nightingale shrugged and sipped his beer.
‘The first hour or so was mainly about putting her at ease,’ she said. ‘It was quite hard to get her under. It was as if she was blocking me.’
‘She didn’t want to be hypnotised?’
Barbara shook her head. ‘No, she wasn’t fighting me. It was as if there was already some sort of hypnotic control at work. I had to override that before I could get her down to a lower level.’
‘Someone else had hypnotised her before?’
‘That’s what I think. And that’s a big problem because we’ll have to differentiate between the real memories she has and those that are the result of suggestion.’
‘I don’t follow you,’ said Nightingale.
‘Listen to this, first,’ she said. She looked at the screen on the side of the recorder. ‘Okay, this is where we were after eighty minutes,’ she said. ‘I’d taken her back to the church where she was found with the dead boy.’ She looked around to make sure that there was no one else within earshot. A middle-aged couple were tucking into Shepherd’s pie at the next table. Barbara opened her briefcase and took out a pair of earphones. ‘Use these. We don’t want to scare the natives,’ she said. She plugged them into the recorder.
Nightingale slotted the earphones into his ears and pressed ‘play’. It started mid-conversation and it took him a couple of seconds to realise that it was his sister speaking.
‘It’s dark and I can hear the engine.’
‘Why is it dark, Robyn?’
‘There’s something over my eyes.’
‘What? A blindfold?’
‘A bag. It’s cloth and I can breathe but it’s hot. I feel dizzy.’
‘Are you dizzy because of the bag over your head?’
‘I’m not sure. It’s hard to think. It’s like I’m drunk.’
‘But you haven’t been drinking?’
‘I don’t think so. I can’t remember.’
‘Try to remember,’ said Barbara.
Nightingale sipped his beer and settled back in his chair. Barbara was watching him. ‘Okay?’ she mouthed. Nightingale nodded.
‘I haven’t had anything to drink but I think they gave me an injection. In my leg.’
‘Why do you think that, Robyn?’
‘Something hurt me. Like a pinprick. Then my leg went numb.’
‘Okay, now tell me what happens when the van stops.’
‘I can hear voices outside then the doors open and they take me out. My feet crunch on gravel. I slip but they’re holding onto me so that I won’t fall. It’s cold and it’s raining.’
‘You’ve still got the bag over your head?’
‘What happens next, Robyn?’
‘I can hear a door opening. I’m not walking on gravel any more. There’s something hard under my feet. I’m inside. I can hear people around me. A lot of people. They’re muttering, like they’re praying.’
Nightingale picked up his glass and took another sip as he listened. He had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach as he was fairly sure he knew what was coming next.
‘Can you hear what they’re saying, Robyn?’
‘Yes, but it’s not English. I don’t know what it is.’
It’s Latin, thought Nightingale. That’s why she can’t understand them.
‘What’s happening now, Robyn?’ asked Barbara.
‘A door – there’s a door closing. A big wooden door, it sounds like.’
A church door, thought Nightingale. A church in Clapham.
‘Talk me through it, Robyn,’ said Barbara. ‘Keep telling me what’s happening.’
‘They’re making me walk forward. They’re holding me by the arms. And the chatting is getting louder, like a buzzing in my ears. Something’s happening to my hood. They’re taking it off.’
‘That’s good, Robyn. Tell me what you see.’
‘People,’ said Robyn. ‘Lots of people. They’re wearing black clothes. No, not clothes. Like cloaks with hoods. Long cloaks. I can’t see if they’re men or women because the hoods hide their faces.’
Nightingale looked over at Barbara. She was watching him intently. He nodded at her and she nodded back.
‘I’m in front of an altar,’ said Robyn. ‘But there isn’t a cross there. It’s covered with a white sheet. Oh my God.’
‘What?’ said Barbara. ‘What is it, Robyn? What have you seen?’
‘A boy. They’ve got a boy. Who is he? Why’s he here?’
Timmy Robertson, thought Nightingale. Little Timmy Robertson.
‘They’re putting him on the altar and holding him down. He’s struggling but one of them has put their hand over his mouth. No, no, no!’
‘What, Robyn? What’s happening?’
‘A knife. One of them has a knife. No, please don’t. He’s just a boy. Don’t! No!’
Nightingale’s stomach lurched and then Robyn screamed so loudly that he winced. He pressed the ‘stop’ button and took the earphones out. ‘They murdered the boy,’ he said. ‘They murdered him in front of her.’
Barbara nodded. ‘Assuming that she’s telling the truth.’
Nightingale frowned. ‘Why would she lie?’
‘It’s not about lying,’ said Barbara. ‘It’s more misremembering. That’s why hypnotic regression has to be done by experts. In the wrong hands it’s a dangerous tool because it can produce false memories, memories that aren’t real but feel real to the subject.’ Barbara gestured at the recorder. ‘Listen to the end,’ she said. ‘There’s more.’