T he outside of the church was old, with ivy-covered stone walls and a moss-spotted slate roof. There were modern touches, though, including wire mesh over the windows, anti-climbing paint on the drainpipes and a CCTV camera covering the main entrance. At some point the interior had been modernised on a budget, with cheap pine pews and a carpet that was already wearing thin in places. There was only one other person sitting in the pews, a middle-aged woman at the front on the right, curly ginger hair tucked behind her ears.
‘Not much of a turnout,’ muttered Nightingale. He turned to look at Jenny but she had vanished, then he realised that she was kneeling down, crossing herself. ‘What are you doing?’ he whispered.
‘It’s a church, Jack. This is what you do.’ She stood up. ‘Come on, sit down.’
They moved to the left and sat down. Directly in front of them were two wooden coffins, plain varnished teak with imitation brass handles. There was a small wreath of white flowers on top of each.
‘I guess they didn’t have many relatives?’ whispered Jenny.
‘Linda’s side of the family are mainly out in Australia,’ said Nightingale. ‘And they never had kids.’
A young vicar in black vestments walked out of a side door and strode up to the pulpit The service was mercifully short: a sermon and two prayers and it was over.
The vicar came over and introduced himself with a handshake that was as soft as an old woman’s and then hurried away. As Nightingale and Jenny headed out of the church, the ginger-haired woman who had been sitting at the front walked over. She wearing a fawn belted raincoat and carrying a black leather shoulder bag.
‘Are you Jack Nightingale?’ she asked.
‘In the flesh,’ said Nightingale. ‘Are you a friend of my aunt and uncle’s?’
The woman shook her head and took a small black wallet from her coat pocket. She flipped it open and flashed her warrant card. ‘Detective Sergeant Janet Bethel,’ she said. ‘Greater Manchester Police.’
‘So you’re not a family friend, then?’ said Nightingale.
‘I was the investigating officer,’ she said, ignoring his attempt at sarcasm and putting the card away. ‘Not that there was much to investigate. I wish all my cases were as clear-cut.’ She grimaced. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so callous. It’s been a rough few weeks.’
‘It’s not a problem,’ said Nightingale. ‘I know what it’s like.’
‘Of course – you were in the Job, weren’t you?’
‘In the Met. In another life.’
‘And you found the bodies?’
‘That’s right. I’m surprised we haven’t met before. I spoke to the uniforms at the scene but no one from CID ever followed up.’
‘My boss didn’t see the need,’ said Bethel. ‘It was a clear case of murder-suicide. Her blood all over the axe, along with his fingerprints and DNA; blood spatter all over him, fibres from the rope on his hands, the rope that he’d used to hang himself with. You didn’t have to watch much CSI to work out what happened. I said it was my case but really all I did was sign off on the paperwork.’
‘So, forgive me for asking, but why are you here?’ asked Nightingale.
‘It’s just something I do,’ said the detective.
‘Nothing to do with the case?’
‘Like I said, the case is closed,’ said Bethel. ‘I just feel… it’s difficult to say. The fact that I’m the investigating officer means there’s a connection, and the funeral is part of that.’ She forced a smile. ‘It sounds crazy, I know.’
‘No, it doesn’t,’ said Jenny. ‘I think it’s a lovely thing to do. It shows that you care. And in this day and age that’s a rare quality.’ She held out her hand. ‘Jenny McLean,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid Jack isn’t great with the social graces.’ They shook hands.
‘I thought there’d be more people here,’ said Nightingale, looking back at the church. ‘I mean, I know Uncle Tommy didn’t have any family other than me and Linda’s family is mainly in Australia, but even so…’
‘I asked the vicar about that,’ said Bethel. ‘They were well liked in the area and several of the parishioners had asked when the funeral was, but they all backed off when they found out it was a joint funeral. I think they were a bit loath to be saying prayers for your uncle, after what he did.’ She looked at her wristwatch, a cheap black Casio. ‘I must be going,’ she said. ‘The boss never likes me to be long at these things.’
‘Well, thank you for coming, anyway,’ said Nightingale.
‘No problem,’ said Bethel. ‘You’re going back to London?’
Nightingale nodded. ‘There’s not much to keep me here,’ he said. ‘Do you know what’s happening to the house and everything?’
‘It’s messy,’ she said. ‘They both had wills but she died first so everything passed to him. And I gather his will left everything to her. I don’t think he expected to outlive her. The lawyers will work it out, I’m sure, after they’ve taken their cut. Why don’t you give me your card and I’ll call you if anything crops up?’ Nightingale fished a business card out of his wallet and gave it to her. She took it and thanked him. ‘And I’m sorry about your loss,’ she said.
Nightingale and Jenny watched the detective walk away down the path. ‘She’s nice,’ said Jenny.
‘I suppose so, for a cop.’
‘You were a cop.’
‘Yeah, that’s how I know that most cops aren’t nice. There’s only one reason I know that a cop would go to a victim’s funeral.’
‘In case the killer turns up.’ She laughed at the look of surprise on his face. ‘Come on, Jack, I watch CSI. Everyone knows that.’
‘But in this case they know Uncle Tommy did it. So why is she here?’
‘Maybe she wanted to meet the famous Jack Nightingale.’
‘Notorious rather than famous,’ he said. ‘But maybe you’re right.’ He ran a hand through his hair. ‘Do you wanna grab a coffee before we head back?’
‘Just so long as you don’t expect me to make it for you,’ she said, smiling sweetly.