N ightingale climbed out of his MGB. ‘Nice of you to let me use my own car,’ he said to Chalmers, who was walking towards the front door.
A Surrey Police van with half a dozen uniformed officers had been waiting for them at the gates and had followed them in.
‘We’ve got better things to do on New Year’s Day than run a taxi service for you,’ said the superintendent. ‘Now open the front door.’
‘Anything to stop you doing the chinny-chin-chin thing.’ Nightingale took out his keys and opened the front door as the uniforms piled out of the van. They were led by a bruiser of a sergeant, who glared at Nightingale as if blaming him personally for having to work on New Year’s Day.
Chalmers put a hand on Nightingale’s shoulder. ‘You hang on outside with me while the men give it the once-over. If she’s in there you’d best tell me now.’
‘She isn’t,’ said Nightingale.
The uniforms filed through into the hallway. Two of them went upstairs and the rest spread out on the ground floor.
Nightingale tapped out a Marlboro and lit it. ‘Happy New Year, by the way,’ he said.
‘What’s going on, Nightingale?’ asked Chalmers. ‘What’s this all about? You inherit this house from a mystery man who blows his own head off. People around you have a nasty habit of coming to a sticky end. A serial killer tries to slit your throat. And your long-lost sister escapes from the most secure mental hospital in the country a couple of days after you pay her a visit. And all this happens over – what, four weeks?’
‘It’s been an eventful month, that’s true.’ He blew smoke towards the mermaid fountain.
‘Is there something you want to tell me? Something that would explain it?’
‘I’m as baffled as you are,’ said Nightingale.
‘I’m trying to help you here,’ said the superintendent.
Nightingale held the cigarette away from his mouth. ‘No, you’re not,’ he said. ‘You’re playing good cop in the hope that I’ll give you something you can use to send me down. You didn’t like me when I was in the Job and you don’t like me now, so you can just search the house and then get the hell off my property.’
Chalmers opened his mouth to reply but then the transceiver he was holding crackled. ‘Superintendent, you need to see this. Third bedroom on the left.’
Nightingale gritted his teeth. That was the bedroom where he’d summoned Frimost, and he hadn’t cleaned up.
Chalmers noticed his discomfort and he grinned triumphantly. ‘Something there you hoped we wouldn’t find, huh?’ He jerked a thumb at the door. ‘Inside,’ he said.
Nightingale flicked away his cigarette and went into the hall. The superintendent followed him up the stairs. The panel that hid the secret passageway down to the basement was still in place and Nightingale avoided looking at it. They turned left at the top of the stairs. A constable was standing outside the door to the bedroom, his arms folded. A sergeant was inside the room, looking down at the pentagram and the candles. He nodded at the superintendent.
‘No sign of the girl?’ asked Chalmers. The sergeant shook his head. ‘Okay, search the rest of the rooms while I have a word with Mr Nightingale here.’
The sergeant left the room and Chalmers kicked the door shut, then turned and shoved Nightingale in the chest with both hands. Nightingale staggered backwards. He regained his balance and pulled back his right hand in a fist.
‘Go on, do it!’ shouted Chalmers. ‘Do it and see what happens.’
Nightingale relaxed his hand. ‘You assaulted me.’
‘Yeah, and I’ll do it again if you don’t start telling me the truth.’
‘So PACE goes out of the window?’
‘Screw PACE and screw you.’ He pointed at the pentagram. ‘You did this?’
Nightingale didn’t say anything.
‘There was a pentagram like this in your sister’s room. And candles, and the same strong smell of burned crap. What’s going on? What does it mean?’ Chalmers jabbed his finger at the pentagram. ‘Did she do this? Was she here?’
‘I did it,’ said Nightingale quietly.
‘I can’t tell you.’
‘Can’t? Or won’t?’
‘Both,’ said Nightingale. ‘So what are you going to do? Hit me again? Because if you do, I’ll break your sodding arm and take my chance in court. I could always say you tripped and fell – that worked for me when I was in the Job.’
Chalmers glared at Nightingale, then reached for the door handle. ‘I’m going to get you for this if it’s the last thing I do, Nightingale.’
‘Good luck with that,’ said Nightingale, taking out his pack of Marlboro.