A n hour later Nightingale walked out of the hospital. Jenny was waiting for him in her Audi. ‘How did it go?’ she asked.
‘She’ll do it.’ He climbed into the car. ‘She doesn’t really believe it’ll work but she said she’ll give it a try.’
Jenny started the engine. ‘Now what?’
Nightingale sighed. ‘Now we wait for New Year’s Eve.’
About twenty minutes after they left the hospital, Jenny drove past a modern brick church with a tall steeple and a sign outside that announced that coffee and biscuits were served every morning at ten.
‘Stop here, will you?’ Nightingale asked Jenny.
‘Here?’ she said, looking over at him.
‘There,’ said Nightingale, jerking a thumb at the church.
‘If you need the toilet, we’ll stop at a filling station.’
‘The church, Jenny. Please.’
Jenny braked, flicked on her indicator and did a quick U-turn. ‘What’s going on, Jack?’ she asked as she drove back to the church.
‘I’m going to give God one last chance,’ he said.
Her jaw dropped. ‘You’re what?’
‘Eyes on the road, kid,’ said Nightingale.
She brought the Audi to a stop next to the entrance to the churchyard. ‘What did you say?’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘I just want a one-to-one with the big guy upstairs.’
‘You’re worrying me now,’ she said.
‘That’s the crazy thing about all this, don’t you see?’ said Nightingale. ‘Summoning devils is okay, but anyone who talks about having a conversation with God has a screw loose, right?’
‘It’s not as simple as that.’
‘But I’m right, aren’t I? No one really ever has a conversation with God, do they? And if anyone claimed they did, we’d think that they were crazy.’
‘The Pope probably talks to God.’
‘You know what I mean. The religious leaders must believe that they hear the voice of God, or they couldn’t do what they do. But I don’t think that you can just walk into church and have a one-to-one. It doesn’t work like that.’
‘Yes, there’s prayer. If you said you were going in there to pray then I’d say good on you. But that’s not what you said. Please, Jack, stop messing around. Let’s go back to London.’
‘Just humour me,’ said Nightingale, opening the passenger door. ‘I’ll be ten minutes.’ He climbed out of the Audi and walked towards the church.
There was a sign by the door announcing that the church was St Mary’s and giving the times of the services. A dozen or so candles were burning against one wall and Nightingale lit one and put a one-pound coin into a wooden donation box. It was freezing cold and as he walked towards a large crucifix on the far wall his breath feathered around him. The floor was tiled in grey slate and the pews were oak; there was a large modern stone font in one corner. He looked around but there was no one else in the church.
The crucifix was almost three foot tall and on it was a figure of Jesus, long-haired and dark-eyed, his face tranquil as if being crucified was no big thing. Nightingale knelt down in front of the crucifix and crossed himself.
‘I haven’t been here much, other than for funerals, so this is the first time I’ve been able to have a private chat,’ he said. He smiled amiably. ‘There’s been a lot going on.’
His knees began to ache and he sat back on his heels. ‘This position hurts like hell,’ he said, ‘but I guess yours hurts more. I’m going to stand, if that’s okay with you.’
Nightingale got to his feet and put his hands in his pockets, then shrugged and took them out. ‘I suppose it’s you I have to talk to, right? There are no statues of God, just of Jesus and Mary. I’ve never understood that. It’s God that’s being worshipped but there are no statues of him, no pictures. Why is that?’
He looked at the Jesus figure and nodded expectantly.
‘Oh right, you don’t talk back, do you?’ He folded his arms. ‘Okay, here’s the thing,’ he said. ‘My sister’s behind bars, and I want to get her out. She’s in a hospital not a prison but the doors are locked and no one’ll be giving us a key. She’s inside for killing five kids but she didn’t do it. Now, there’s a devil who’s the bee’s knees for getting people out of prison. Name of Sugart. Nasty piece of work by all accounts but at the moment he’s the only hope I’ve got.’
As Nightingale began to pace up and down in front of the crucifix he continued talking. ‘I’ve been reading the Bible a bit recently. Trying to get a handle on what’s been happening to me. Came across a story about Peter, when he was thrown into prison by Herod. Herod had James, John’s brother, put to the sword and figured he’d send Peter the same way. So he threw him in prison and had him guarded by sixteen soldiers, night and day, until he could bring him to trial. Every hour of the day and night Peter was chained to two of the guards. Escape-proof, right? Except the night before his trial, an angel of the Lord appeared. The angel shone a light in Peter’s cell and woke him up. As he woke, the chains fell off. All the guards were asleep and the angel led Peter out of prison. He took him to the city’s iron gate, opened it, and Peter was free.’
Nightingale stopped pacing, looked up at the crucifix and held his hands out to his sides, palms up. ‘So how about it? How about doing the same for my sister? She’s an innocent in all this. The guy who set her up is a fan of your opposition. Why not put some balance in the universe? Why not set my sister free? The devil put her behind bars so why can’t you get her out?’
He stared at the crucifix for several seconds, then sighed and put his hands into the pockets of his raincoat. ‘And that’s the thing, isn’t it? You pray for a miracle, and you don’t get one. You ask for a sign, and no sign’s forthcoming. But if I draw a pentagram and say the right words then I get can to talk to devils, and do deals with them. Why can’t I call your guys? Why are there tons of books telling me how to summon devils and not one that tells me how to call up an angel?’
Off in the distance he heard a police siren, and a few seconds later the sound of a helicopter high overhead.
‘How about a sign? How about just a sign that you’re there and listening to me?’ Nightingale took out his packet of Marlboro. ‘I hear smoking’s not allowed in churches, is that right?’ He grinned up at the crucifix. ‘Shall I put that down as “no comment”?’ He tapped out a cigarette and held it out between the first and second fingers of his right hand. ‘How about lighting it with a bolt from above? That’s easy, right? A flash of lightning and I’ve got my proof.’ Nightingale looked at the cigarette. ‘Yes? No?’ He shook his head. ‘Why is it so bloody difficult? Why can I summon devils but not angels? Why are the bad guys so keen to appear but your lot stay in the shadows? Are you scared? Are you not here, is that it? Has God left the building? Did his only son go with him? Are we in such a bloody mess that you’ve washed your hands of us?’
Nightingale took out his lighter and lit the cigarette. He stared at the crucifix as he blew a cloud of smoke. A grey haze spread across the feet of the crucified Jesus, then dispersed.
‘Well, it’s been nice talking to you,’ said Nightingale. ‘We must do this again some time.’ He turned and walked away, his shoes squeaking on the tiled floor.