W&N Fiction

Rivers of London- Chapter Three

Gollancz Author: - July 12th, 2012
Ben Aaronovitch, Extract, Fantasy

To celebrate our long week part serialization of Rivers of London Team Gollancz are sharing their love of London before each chapter. Today, Jen tells you why London is home . . .

I first set foot in London when I was 19. I was a foreign exchange student. I had never been so far away from home in my entire life. But even being an ocean away from my family and friends something about London immediately made me feel as if I’d come home. London is like that. Like a home you didn’t know you had until you find it. Diverse, sprawling and the perfect blend of ancient and modern, London has something for everyone. It’s the only place I’ve ever been to that immediately worked its way into my heart and refused to leave. That’s why I abandoned New York and moved to London six years ago. It’s also why whenever I get asked the question: ‘Why did you move to London?’ (I get asked this a lot) I tend to sputter and gape at people. Because it’s LONDON! If you could live in London why would you want to be anywhere else?

And don’t forget, we’re giving you a chance daily to win a copy of Rivers of London (London Edition). To enter read the below extract and send the answer to this question: Who codified the basic principles of magic? To: competitions@orionbooks.co.uk with the subject line: Rivers 3 by 11.59pm 16th July 2012. Happy Reading!

 

Chapter Three: The Folly

Inspector Nightingale told Lesley and me to wait in the garden, and faded back into the house to check there was nobody else inside.Lesley had used her coat to cover the baby and was shivering in the cold.I tried to struggle out of my jacket so I could offer it to her, but

she stopped me.

‘It’s covered in blood,’ she said.

She was right: there were smears of blood up the sleeves and trailing the edge of the hem.There was more blood on the knees of my trousers.I could feel the sticki- ness where it had soaked through the material.There was blood on Lesley’s face, around her lips, from when she’d tried to resuscitate the baby.She noticed me staring.

‘I know,’ she said.‘I’ve still got the taste in my mouth.’ We were both trembling and I wanted to scream but I knew I had to be strong for Lesley’s sake.I was trying not to think about it, but the red ruin of Brandon Coopertown’s face kept sneaking up on me.

‘Hey,’ said Lesley.‘Keep it together.’

She was looking concerned, and she looked even more concerned when I started to giggle – I couldn’t help myself.

‘Peter ?’

‘Sorry,’ I said.‘But you’re being strong for me and I’m being strong for you and— Don’t you get it? This is how you get through the job.’ I got my giggles under control and Lesley half-smiled.

‘All right,’ said Lesley, ‘I won’t freak out if you don’t.’ She took my hand, squeezed it and let go.

‘Do you think our back-up is walking from Hamp- stead nick?’ I asked.

The ambulance arrived first, the paramedics rushing into the garden and spending twenty minutes trying futilely to resuscitate the child.Paramedics always do this with children, regardless of how much it damages the crime scene.You can’t stop them, so you might as well let them get on with it.

The paramedics had just got started when a transit van’s worth of uniforms arrived and started milling around in confusion.The sergeant approached us cautiously – mistaking us for civilians covered in blood and therefore potential suspects.

‘Are you all right?’ he asked.

I couldn’t speak – it seemed like such a stupid question.

The sergeant looked over at the paramedics, who were still working on the baby.‘Can you tell me what happened ?’ he asked.

‘There’s been a serious incident,’ said Nightingale as he emerged from the house.‘You,’ he said, pointing at a luckless constable, ‘get another body, go round the back and make sure nobody gets in or out that way.’

The constable grabbed a mate and legged it.The sergeant looked like he wanted to ask for a warrant card but Nightingale didn’t give him a chance.

‘I want the street closed and tapped off ten yards in both directions,’ he said.‘The press are going to be all over this any minute, so make sure you’ve got enough bodies to keep them back.’

The sergeant didn’t salute because we’re the Met and we don’t salute, but there was a touch of the parade ground in the way he swivelled round and marched off. Nightingale looked over to where Lesley and I stood shivering.He gave us a reassuring nod, turned on one of the remaining constables and started barking orders.

Soon after that, blankets appeared, a place was found in the transit van and cups of hot tea with three sugars thrust into our hands.We drank the tea and waited in silence for the other shoe to drop.

It took less than forty minutes for DC I Seawoll to reach Downshire Hill.Even with the Saturday traffic it meant he must have been doing blues and twos all the way from Belgravia.He appeared in the side doorway of the van and frowned at Lesley and me.

‘You two all right?’ he asked. We both nodded.

‘Well, don’t fucking go anywhere,’ he said.

Fat chance of that.A major investigation, once it gets under way, is as exciting as watching reruns of Big Brother, although possibly involving less sex and viol- ence.Criminals are not caught by brilliant deductive reasoning but by the fact that some poor slob has spent a week tracking down every shop in Hackney that sells a particular brand of trainer, and then checking the security-camera footage on every single one.A good Senior Investigating Officer is one who makes sure their team has dotted every I and crossed every T, not least so that some Rupert in a wig can’t drive a defendant’s credit card into a crack in the case and wedge it wide open.

Seawoll was one of the best, so first we were taken out separately to a tent that the forensic people had erected near the front gate.There, we stripped to our underwear and traded our street clothes for a stylish one-piece bunny suit.As I watched my favourite suit jacket being stuffed into an evidence bag I realised I’d never bothered to find out whether you ever got things like that back.And if they did give it back to me, would they dry-clean it first? They took swabs of the blood on our faces and hands and then were nice enough to hand us some wipes so we could get the rest off.

We ended up back in the transit van for lunch, which was a couple of shop sandwiches, but this being Hamp- stead they were pretty high-quality.I found myself sur- prisingly hungry, and I was thinking of asking for a second round when DC I Seawoll climbed into the van with us.His weight caused the van to sink down on one side, and his presence caused Lesley and me to push ourselves unconsciously into our seat backs.

‘How are you two bearing up?’ he asked.

We told him that we were fine and ready, in fact dead keen, to get back up on that horse and go to work.

‘That’s a load of wank,’ he said, ‘but at least it’s con- vincing wank.In a couple of minutes we’re going to take you down Hampstead nick, where a very nice lady from Scotland Yard is going to take your statements – separately.And while I’m a believer in veracity in all things, I want to make it clear that there isn’t going to be any fucking mumbo-jumbo voodoo X-Files shit in any fucking statement.Is that understood ?’

We indicated that he had indeed adequately com- municated his position.

‘As far as anyone else is concerned, normal fucking policing got us into this mess, and normal fucking policing will get us out of it.’ And with a creaking of the van’s suspension, he left.

‘Did he just ask us to lie to a senior officer ?’ I asked.

‘Yep,’ said Lesley.

‘Just checking,’ I said.

So we spent the rest of the afternoon bearing false witness in separate interview rooms.We were careful to make sure that while our accounts broadly agreed, there were lots of authentic-looking discrepancies.No one can fake a statement the way a policeman can.

After lying, we borrowed some section-house cast- offs to wear and headed back to Downshire Hill.A serious crime in an area like Hampstead was always going to be big news, and the media was out in force not least because half the presenters could have walked to work that afternoon.

We let a suspiciously quiet Toby out of the Honda Accord, spent an hour or so cleaning up the back seat and then drove all the way back to Charing Cross with the windows down.We couldn’t really blame Toby, since we’d been the ones who’d left him in the car all day.We bought him a McDonald’s Happy Meal, so I think he forgave us.

We went back to my room and drank the last of the Grolsch.Then Lesley peeled off her clothes and climbed into my bed.I climbed in behind her and put my arms around her.She sighed and spooned against me.I got an erection, but she was much too polite to mention it. Toby made himself comfortable on the end of the bed, using our feet as a pillow, and we all went to sleep like that.

When I woke up the next morning Lesley was gone and my phone was ringing.When I answered, it was Nightingale.

‘Are you ready to go back to work?’ he asked. I told him I was.

Back to work.Back to the Iain West Forensic Bar and Grill, where Inspector Nightingale and I were booked in for a guided tour of Brandon Coopertown’s horrible injuries.I was introduced to Abdul Haqq Walid, a spry, gingery man in his fifties who spoke with a soft High- land accent.

‘Dr Walid handles all our special cases,’ said Nightingale.

‘I specialise in cryptopathology,’ said Dr Walid.

‘Salem,’ I said.

‘Al salam alaikum,’ said Dr Walid, shaking my hand. I’d been hoping that this time we’d used the remote monitoring suite, but Nightingale didn’t want a visual record of this stage of the autopsy.Once again in aprons, masks and eye protectors, we entered the lab.Brandon Coopertown, or at least the man we thought was Brandon Coopertown, lay naked on his back on the table.Dr Walid had already opened up his torso with the standard Y-shaped incision and, after rummaging around for whatever pathologists look for in there, closed him back up again.We had confirmed his iden- tity via the biometrics on his passport.

‘Below the neck,’ said Dr Walid, ‘he’s a physically fit man in his late forties.It’s his face that’s holds our interest here.’

Or rather what was left of his face.Dr Walid had used clamps to splay open the torn flaps of skin so that Brandon Coopertown’s face looked horribly like a pink and red daisy.

‘Starting with the skull,’ said Dr Walid, and leaned in with a pointer.Nightingale followed suit but I contented myself with peering over his shoulder.‘As you can see, there’s extensive damage to the bones of the face – the mandible, maxilla and zygomatic bones have been effectively pulverised and the teeth, those normally reli- able survivors, have been shattered.’

‘A heavy blow to the face?’ asked Nightingale.

‘That would have been my first guess,’ said Dr Walid, ‘if not for this.’ He used a clamp to seize one flap of skin – I guessed what had once covered the cheek – and draw it over the face.It reached right across the breadth of the skull and flopped down to cover the ear on the other side.‘The skin has been stretched beyond its natural capacity to retain its shape, and while there’s not much left of the muscle tissue, that too shows lateral degradation.Judging from the lines of stress I’d say something pushed out his face around the chin and nose, stretching the skin and muscle, pulverising the bone and then holding it in position.Then, whatever it is holding it in that shape vanishes, the bone and soft tissues have lost all their integrity and basically his face falls off.’

‘Are you thinking dissimulo?’ asked Nightingale.

‘Or a technique very like it,’ said Dr Walid. Nightingale explained, for my benefit, that dissimulo was a magic spell that could change your appearance. Actually he didn’t use the words ‘magic spell’, but that’s what it amounted to.

‘Unfortunately,’ said Dr Walid, ‘it essentially moves the muscles and skin into new positions, and this can cause permanent damage.’

‘Never was a popular technique,’ said Nightingale.

‘You can see why,’ said Dr Walid, indicating the remains of Brandon Coopertown’s face.

‘Any signs that he was a practitioner ?’ asked Nightingale.

Dr Walid produced a covered stainless-steel tray.

‘I knew you’d ask that,’ he said, ‘so here’s something I whipped out earlier.’ He lifted the cover to reveal a human brain.I’m no expert, but it didn’t look like a healthy brain to me; it looked shrunken and pitted, as if it had been left out in the sun to shrivel.

‘As you can see,’ said Dr Walid, ‘there’s extensive degradation of the cerebral cortex and evidence of intra- cranial bleeding that we might associate with some form of degenerative condition, if Inspector Nightingale and I were not already familiar with the true cause.’

He sliced it in half to show us the interior.It looked like a diseased cauliflower.

‘And this,’ said Dr Walid, ‘is your brain on magic.’

‘Magic does that to your brain?’ I asked.‘No wonder nobody does it any more.’

‘This is what happens if you overstep your limi tations,’ said Nightingale.He turned to Dr Walid.‘There wasn’t any evidence of practice at his house.No books, no paraphernalia, no vestigium.’

‘Could someone have stolen his magic?’ I asked.

‘Sucked it out of his brain?’

‘That’s very unlikely,’ said Nightingale.‘It’s almost impossible to steal another man’s magic.’
‘Except at the point of death,’ said Dr Walid.

‘It’s much more likely that our Mr Coopertown did this to himself,’ said Nightingale.

‘Then you’re saying he wasn’t wearing a mask during the first attack?’ I asked.

‘That seems likely,’ said Nightingale.

‘So his face was mashed up on Tuesday,’ I said.

‘Which explains why he looks blotchy on the bus cameras, then he flies to America, stays three nights and comes back here.And all that time his face is essentially destroyed.’
Dr Walid thought it through.‘That would be con- sistent with the injuries and the evidence of the begin- nings of regrowth around some of the bone fragments.’

‘He must have been in some serious pain,’ I said.

‘Not necessarily,’ said Nightingale.‘One of the dangers of dissimulo is that it hides the pain.The prac- titioner can be quite unaware that he’s injuring himself.’

‘But when his face was normal-looking – that was only because the magic was holding it together ?’

Dr Walid looked at Nightingale.

‘Yes,’ said Nightingale.

‘When you fall asleep, what happens to the spell ?’ I asked.

‘It would probably collapse,’ said Nightingale.

‘But he was so badly damaged that once the spell collapsed his face would fall off.He’d have had to keep the spell up the whole time he was in America.’ I said.

‘Are you telling me he didn’t sleep for four days?’

‘It does seem a bit unlikely,’ said Dr Walid.

‘Do spells work like software?’ I asked.

Nightingale gave me a blank look.Dr Walid came to his rescue.‘In what way?’ he asked.

‘Could you persuade somebody’s unconscious mind to maintain a spell ?’ I asked.‘That way, the spell would stay running even when they were asleep.’

‘It’s theoretically possible but, morality aside, I couldn’t do it,’ said Nightingale.‘I don’t think any human wizard could.’

Any human wizard— Okay.Dr Walid and Night- ingale were looking at me, and I realised that they were already there and waiting for me to catch up.

‘When I asked about ghosts, vampires and were- wolves and you said I hadn’t scratched the surface, you weren’t joking, were you?’

Nightingale shook his head.‘I’m afraid not,’ he said.

‘Sorry.’

‘Shit,’ I said.

Dr Walid smiled.‘I said exactly the same thing thirty years ago,’ he said.

‘So whatever did this to poor old Mr Coopertown was probably not human,’ I said.

‘I wouldn’t like to say for certain,’ said Dr Walid.‘But that’s the way to bet.’

Nightingale and I did what all good coppers do when faced with a spare moment in the middle of the day – we went looking for a pub.Just round the corner we found the relentlessly upmarket Marquis of Queensbury look- ing a little bedraggled in the afternoon drizzle.Night- ingale stood me a beer and we sat down in a corner booth beneath a Victorian print of a bare-knuckle boxing match.

‘How do you become a wizard ?’ I asked.

Nightingale shook his head.‘It’s not like joining the CID,’ he said.

‘You surprise me,’ I said.‘What is it like?’

‘It’s an apprenticeship,’ he said.‘A commitment, to the craft, to me and to your country.’

‘Do I have to call you Sifu?’

That got a smile at least.‘No,’ said Nightingale, ‘you have to call me Master.’

‘Master ?’

‘That’s the tradition,’ said Nightingale.

I said the word in my head and it kept on coming out Massa.

‘Couldn’t I call you Inspector instead ?’

‘What makes you think I’m offering you a position?’ I took a pull from my pint and waited.Nightingale smiled again and sipped his own drink.‘Once you cross this particular Rubicon there will be no going back,’ he said.‘And you can call me Inspector.’

‘I’ve just seen a man kill his wife and child,’ I said.

‘If there’s a rational reason for that, then I want to know what it is.If there’s even a chance that he wasn’t responsible for his actions, then I want to know about it.Because that would mean we might be able to stop it happening again.’

‘That is not a good reason to take on this job,’ said Nightingale.

‘Is there a good reason?’ I asked.‘I want in, sir, because I’ve got to know.’ Nightingale lifted his glass in salute.‘That’s a better reason.’

‘So what happens now?’ I asked.

‘Nothing happens now,’ said Nightingale.‘It’s Sunday.But first thing tomorrow morning we go and see the Commissioner.’

‘Good one, sir,’ I said.

‘No, really,’ said Nightingale, ‘he’s the only person authorised to make the final decision.’

New Scotland Yard was once an ordinary office block that was leased by the Met in the 1960s.Since then the interior of the senior offices had been refitted several times, most recently during the 1990s, easily the worst decade for institutional decor since the 1970s.Which was why, I suppose, the anteroom to the Com- missioner’s Office was a bleak wilderness of laminated plywood and moulded polyurethane chairs.Just to put visitors at their ease, photographic portraits of the last six Commissioners stared down from the walls.

Sir Robert Mark (1972–1977) looked particularly disapproving.I doubt he thought I was making a significant contribution.

‘It’s not too late to withdraw your application,’ said Nightingale.

Yes it was, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t wishing it wasn’t.Typically, a constable only sits in the Com- missioner’s anteroom when he’s been very brave or very stupid, and I really couldn’t tell which one applied to me.

The Commissioner only made us wait ten minutes before his secretary came and fetched us.His office was large and designed with the same lack of style as the rest of Scotland Yard, only with a layer of fake oak panelling on top.There was a portrait of the Queen on one wall and another of the first Commissioner, Sir Charles Rowan, on the other.I stood as close to parade- ground attention as any London copper can get and nearly flinched when the Commissioner offered me his hand to shake.

‘Constable Grant,’ he said.‘Your father is Richard Grant, isn’t he? I have some of his records from when he was playing with Tubby Hayes.On vinyl, of course.’ He didn’t wait for me to answer but shook Night- ingale’s hand and waved us into our seats.He was another Northerner who’d come up the hard way and done that stint in Northern Ireland which appears to be obligatory for would-be Commissioners of the Metro- politan Police, presumably because violent sectarianism is thought to be character-building.He wore the uniform well and was judged by the rank and file as possibly not being a total muppet – which put him well
ahead of some his predecessors.

‘This is an unexpected development, Inspector,’ said the Commissioner.‘There are some that would see this as an unnecessary step.’

‘Commissioner,’ said Nightingale carefully, ‘I believe circumstances warrant a change in the arrangement.’

‘When I was first briefed about the nature of your section I was led to believe that it merely served a ves- tigial function, and that the—’ The Commissioner had to force the word out.‘—that “the magic” was in decline and only posed a marginal threat to the Queen’s peace. In fact, I definitely remember the word “dwindle” being bandied about by the Home Office.“Eclipsed by science and technology”, was another phrase I heard a lot.’

‘The Home Office has never really understood that science and magic are not mutually exclusive, sir.The founder of my society provided proof enough of that.I believe there has been a slow but steady increase in magical activity.’

‘The magic’s coming back?’ asked the Commissioner.

‘Since the mid-sixties,’ said Nightingale.

‘The sixties,’ said the Commissioner.‘Why am I not surprised ? This is damned inconvenient.Any idea why?’

‘No, sir,’ said Nightingale.‘But then there never was any real consensus as to why it faded in the first place.’

‘I’ve heard the word Ettersberg used in that context,’ said the Commissioner.

For a moment there was real pain on Nightingale’s face.‘Ettersberg was part of it, certainly.’

The Commissioner blew out his cheeks and sighed.

‘The murders in Covent Garden and Hampstead, these are connected ?’ he asked.

‘Yes sir.’

‘You think the situation will get worse?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Enough to warrant breaking the agreement?’

‘It takes ten years to train an apprentice, sir,’ said Nightingale.‘It’s better to have a spare just in case something happens to me.’

The Commissioner gave a mirthless chuckle.‘Does he know what he’s getting himself into?’

‘Does any copper ?’ asked Nightingale.

‘Very well,’ said the Commissioner.‘On your feet, son.’ We stood.Nightingale told me to raise my hand and read me the oath: ‘Do you, Peter Grant of Kentish Town, swear to be true to our sovereign Queen and her heirs. And well and truly serve your Master for the term of your apprenticeshood.And ye shall be in obedience to all the wardens and clothing of that fellowship.In reverence of the secret of the said fellowship ye shall keep and give no information to any man but of the said fellowship.And in all these things ye shall well and truly behave yourself and secretly keep this oath to your power so help you God, your Sovereign and the power that set the universe in motion.’

I so swore, although I did almost stumble over the clothing bit.

‘So help you God,’ said the Commissioner.

Nightingale informed me that as his apprentice I was required to lodge at his London residence in Russell Square.He told me the address and dropped me back at the Charing Cross section house.

Lesley helped me pack.

‘Shouldn’t you be at Belgravia,’ I asked, ‘doing Murder Team stuff ?’

‘I’ve been told to take the day off,’ said Lesley.‘Compassionate – don’t get on media’s radar – leave.’

That I could understand.A family annihilation involving charismatic rich people was going to be a news editor’s dream story.Once they’d picked over the gruesome details, they could extend the mileage by asking what the tragic death of the Coopertown family told us about our society, and how this tragedy was an indictment of modern culture/secular humanism/ political correctness/the situation in Palestine – delete where applicable.About the only thing that could improve the story would be the involvement of a good- looking blonde WP C out, I might add, unsupervised on a dangerous assignment.Questions would be asked. Answers would be ignored.

‘Who’s going to Los Angeles?’ I asked.Somebody would have to trace Brandon’s movements in the States.

‘A couple of sergeants I never got a chance to meet,’ she said.‘I only worked there a couple of days before you got me into trouble.’

‘You’re his blue-eyed girl,’ I said.‘Seawoll’s not going to hold it against you.’

‘I still reckon you owe me,’ she said as she picked up my bath towel and briskly folded it into a tightly packed cube.

‘What do you want?’ I asked.

Lesley asked if I was likely to get the evening off and I said I could try.

‘I don’t want to be stuck here,’ she said.‘I want to go out.’

‘Where do you want to go?’ I asked, and watched as she unfolded the towel and refolded it into a triangle shape.

‘Anywhere but the pub,’ she said and handed the towel to me.I managed to stuff it into my rucksack, but I had to unfold it first.

‘What about a film?’ I asked.

‘Sounds good,’ she said, ‘but it’s got to be funny.’

Russell Square lies a kilometre north of Covent Garden on the other side of the British Museum.According to Nightingale, it was at the heart of a literary and philosophical movement in the early years of the last century, but I remember it because of an old horror movie about cannibals living in the Underground system.

The address was on the south side of the square where a row of Georgian terraces had survived.They were five storeys high, counting the dormer con- versions, with wrought-iron railings defending steep drops into basement flats.The address I wanted had a noticeably grander flight of stairs than its neighbours, leading to double mahogany doors with brass fittings. Carved above the lintel were the words SC IE NTI A
PO TE STA S E ST .

Science points east, I wondered ? Science is portentous, yes? Science protests too much.Scientific potatoes rule.Had I stumbled on the lair of dangerous plant geneticists?

I hauled my rucksack and two suitcases up to the landing.I pressed the brass doorbell but I couldn’t hear it ring through the thick doors.After a moment, they opened on their own.It might have been the traffic noise, but I swear I didn’t hear a motor or any kind of mechanism at all.Toby whined and hid behind my legs.

‘That’s not creepy,’ I said.‘Not even in the slightest.’ I pulled my suitcase through the doors.
The entrance lobby had a mosaic floor in the Roman manner and a wooden and glass booth that, while in no way resembling a ticket booth, indicated that there was an inside and an outside to the building, and that one had better have permission if one wanted to proceed inside.Whatever this place was, it certainly wasn’t Nightingale’s private residence.

Beyond the booth, flanked by two neoclassical pillars, was a marble statue of a man dressed in an academic gown and breeches.He cradled a mighty tome in one arm and a sextant in the other.His square face held an expression of implacable curiosity, and I knew his name even before I saw the plinth, which read:

Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light.

Nightingale was waiting for me by the statue.

‘Welcome to the Folly,’ he said, ‘the official home of English magic since 1775.’

‘And your patron saint is Sir Isaac Newton?’ I asked. Nightingale grinned.‘He was our founder, and the first man to systemise the practice of magic.’

‘I was taught that he invented modern science,’ I said.

‘He did both,’ said Nightingale.‘That’s the nature of genius.’

Nightingale took me through a door into a rec- tangular atrium that dominated the centre of the build- ing.Above me there were two rows of balconies, and an iron and glass Victorian dome formed the roof.Toby’s claws clicked on a floor of polished cream-coloured marble.It was very quiet, and for all that the place was spotless I got a strong sense of abandonment.

‘Through there is the big dining room which we don’t use any more, the lounge and smoking room, which we also don’t use.’ Nightingale pointed to doors on the other side of the atrium. ‘General library, lecture hall. Downstairs are the kitchens, sculleries and wine cellar. The back stairs, which are actually at the front, are over there.Coach house and mews are through the rear doors.’

‘How many people live here?’ I asked.

‘Just the two of us.And Molly,’ said Nightingale. Toby suddenly crouched down at my feet and growled, a proper rat-in-the-kitchen growl that was all business.I looked over and saw a woman gliding towards us across the polished marble.She was slender and dressed like an Edwardian maid, complete with a starched white bib apron over a full black skirt and white cotton blouse.Her face didn’t fit her outfit, being too long and sharp-boned with black, almond-shaped eyes. Despite her mob cap she wore her hair loose, a black curtain that fell to her waist.She instantly gave me the creeps, and not just because I’ve seen too many Japanese horror films.

‘This is Molly,’ said Nightingale.‘She does for us.’

‘Does what?’

‘Whatever needs doing,’ said Nightingale.

Molly lowered her eyes and did an awkward little dip that might have been a curtsey or a bow.When Toby growled again Molly snarled back, showing disturbingly sharp teeth.

‘Molly,’ said Nightingale sharply.

Molly demurely covered her mouth with her hand, turned and went gliding back the way she came.Toby gave a little self-satisfied snort that didn’t fool anyone but himself.

‘And she is …?’ I asked.

‘Indispensable,’ said Nightingale.

Before we went up, Nightingale led me over to an alcove set into the north wall.There, resting on a ped- estal like a household god, was a sealed museum case containing a copy of a leather-bound book.It was open to the title page.I leaned over and read: Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Artes Magicis, Autore: I. S. Newton.

‘So not content with kicking off the scientific revolution, our boy Isaac invented magic?’ I asked.

‘Not invented,’ said Nightingale.‘But he did codify its basic principles, made it somewhat less hit and miss.’

‘Magic and science,’ I said.‘What did he do for an encore?’

‘Reformed the Royal Mint and saved the country from bankruptcy,’ said Nightingale.

Apparently there were two main staircases; we took the eastern one up to the first of the colonnaded bal- conies and a confusion of wood panelling and white dust sheets.Two more flights of stairs led us to a second- storey hallway lined with heavy wooden doors.He opened one, seemingly at random, and ushered me in.

‘This is yours,’ he said.

It was twice the size of my room at the section house, with good proportions and a high ceiling.A brass double bed was shoved into one corner, a Narnia wardrobe in the other and a writing desk was between them, where it could catch the light from one of the two sash windows. Bookshelves covered two entire walls, empty except for what turned out on later inspection to be a complete set of the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica published in 1913, a battered first edition of Brave New World and a Bible.What had obviously once been an open fireplace had been replaced with a gas fire sur- rounded by green ceramic tiles.The reading lamp on the desk had a faux-Japanese print shade and beside it was a Bakelite phone that had to be older than my father. There was a smell of dust and freshly applied furniture polish, and I guessed that this room had dreamed the last fifty years away under the white dust sheets.

‘When you’re ready, meet me downstairs,’ said Nightingale.‘And make sure you’re presentable.’

I knew what that was about so I tried to stretch it, but it didn’t take me long to unpack.

Strictly speaking, it wasn’t our job to pick up grieving parents from the airport.Leaving aside the fact that officially this was Westminster Murder Team’s case, it was extremely unlikely that August Coopertown’s parents had any information pertinent to the murder.

It sounds callous, but detectives have better things to do than impromptu counselling for bereaved relatives; that’s what Family Liaison Officers are for.Nightingale didn’t see it that way, which was why he and I were standing at the arrivals barrier at Heathrow when Mr and Mrs Fischer cleared customs.I was the one holding the cardboard sign.

They weren’t what I expected.The dad was short and balding and the mum was mousy-haired and tubby. Nightingale introduced himself in what I assumed was Danish and told me to carry the bags back to the Jag, which I was glad to do.

Ask any police officer what the worst part of the job is and they will always say breaking bad news to rela- tives, but this is not the truth.The worst part is staying in the room after you’ve broken the news so that you’re forced to be there when someone’s life disintegrates around them.Some people say it doesn’t bother them – such people are not to be trusted.

The Fischers had obviously googled for the closest hotel to their daughter’s house, and had thus booked themselves into a brick-built combination prison block/ petrol station on Haverstock Hill whose lobby was shop- worn, fussy and as welcoming as a job centre.I doubt the Fischers noticed, but I could see that Nightingale didn’t think it was good enough, and for a moment I thought he was going to offer to put them up at the Folly.

Then he sighed and told me to put the luggage down by the reception desk.‘I’ll deal with things from here,’ he said and sent me home.I said goodbye to the Fischers and walked out of their lives as fast as I could go.

*

After that I really didn’t want to go out but Lesley persuaded me.‘You can’t just come to a stop ’cause bad things happen,’ she said.‘Besides, you owe me a night out.’

I didn’t argue, and after all, the good thing about the West End is that there’s always somewhere to see a film. We started at the Prince Charles but they were showing Twelve Monkeys downstairs and a Kurosawa double bill upstairs, so we went round the corner to the Leicester Square Voyage.The Voyage is a miniature village version of a multiplex with eight screens, of which at least two are larger than your average plasma-screen television.Normally I like a certain amount of gra- tuitous violence in my cinema, but I let Lesley persuade me that Sherbet Lemons, this month’s feel-good romcom with Allison Tyke and Dennis Carter was just the film to cheer us up.For all I know it might even have worked, had we had a chance to see it.

The foyer was dominated by the concessions counter which stretched across its breadth.There were eight transaction points, each with its own till nestled amid a confusion of popcorn dispensers, hotdog grills and cardboard display signs offering kids’ boxes tied to the latest blockbuster.Above each transaction point was a widescreen LC D which displayed the films on offer, their age classification, when they were on, how long we had until they started and how many seats were left in each auditorium.At regular intervals the screen would switch to display a trailer, an advert for mech- anically recovered meat or just to tell you what a good time you were having at the Voyage chain of cinemas. That evening there was only one transaction point open, and a queue of approximately fifteen stood waiting to be served.We joined the queue behind a well-dressed middle-aged woman out with four girls aged between nine and eleven.It didn’t bother Lesley and me – if you learn one thing as a copper, it’s how to wait.

The follow-up investigation revealed that the single member of staff manning the transaction point that shift was a twenty-three-year-old Sri Lankan refugee named Sadun Ranatunga, one of four people staffing the Leicester Square Voyage that evening.At the time of the incident, two were cleaning out screens one and three in preparation for the next showing, one was on duty to take tickets and the last was dealing with a particularly unpleasant spillage in the gents.
Because Mr Ranatunga was selling both tickets and popcorn, it took him at least fifteen minutes to wear down the queue to the point where the woman in front of us began to get her hopes up.Her accompanying children, who up till then had been amusing themselves elsewhere, flocked back to the queue so they could get their bid for sweets in early.She was impressively firm, making it clear that the ration was to be one drink and one serving of popcorn or a packet of sweets – no exception, and I don’t care what Priscilla’s mother let you have when she took you out.No you can’t have nachos, what are nachos, anyway? Behave, or you won’t get anything.

The tipping point came, according to Charing Cross CI D, when the couple next in line asked for a concessionary price.The couple, who were identified as Nicola Fabroni and Eugenio Turco, a pair of heroin addicts from Naples who had come to London to dry out, had leaflets from the Piccadilly English Language School which they claimed made them bona fide stu- dents.As recently as the week before Mr Ranatunga would have just let it slide, but that afternoon his manager had informed him that Head Office had decreed that Leicester Square Voyage had been selling far too many concessionary tickets, and that in future staff should decline any request that seemed suspect.

In compliance with this directive, Mr Ranatunga regret- fully informed Turco and Fabroni that they would have to pay full price.This did not go down well with the couple, who had budgeted their evening on the basis that they could lig into the cinema.They remonstrated with Mr Ranatunga who was adamant in his refusal, but since both parties were doing this in their second language, it used up valuable time.Finally, and with ill grace, Turco and Fabroni paid the full price with a pair of grubby five-pound notes and a handful of ten-pence pieces.

Apparently, Lesley had kept her copper’s eye on the Italians right from the start while I – easily distracted, remember – had been wondering whether I could sneak Lesley back to my room at the Folly.That’s why it came as a bit of a surprise when the respectable middle-class woman in the good coat standing in front of us lunged across the counter and tried to strangle Mr Ranatunga to death.

Her name was Celia Munroe, resident of Finchley, who had brought her daughters Georgina and Antonia and their two friends Jennifer and Alex to the West End as a special treat.The dispute started when Ms Munroe proffered five Voyager Film Fun vouchers as part payment for the tickets.Mr Ranatunga regretfully indi- cated that the vouchers were not valid at this particular cinema.Ms Munroe asked why this might be so, but Mr Ranatunga was unable to say, since his management had never bothered to brief him on the promotion in the first place.Ms Munroe expressed her dissatisfaction with a degree of forcefulness which surprised Mr Ranatunga, Lesley and me, and, according to her later statement, Ms Munroe herself.

It was at that point that Lesley and I decided to inter- vene, but we hadn’t even had time to step forward and ask what the problem was, when Ms Munroe made her move.It happened very quickly, and as is often the case with unexpected events it took us a few moments to register what was going on.Fortunately we were both sufficiently street-seasoned not to freeze, and we each grabbed a shoulder and tried to drag the woman off poor Mr Ranatunga.Her grip on his neck was so strong that Mr Ranatunga was pulled back across the counter as well.By now one of the girls was hysterical and apparently the eldest, Antonia, started beating me across the back with her fists, but I didn’t feel it at the time.Ms Munroe’s lips were drawn back in a rictus of rage, the tendons standing out on her neck and fore- arms.Mr Ranatunga’s face was darkening, his lips turning blue.

Lesley got her thumb into the pressure point on Ms Munroe’s wrists and she let go in such a hurry that we both went sprawling backwards onto the floor.She landed on top of me, so I tried to pin her arms but not before she got a vicious elbow into my ribs.I used my weight and strength advantage to tip her off and roll her face down into the popcorn smelling carpet.Of course, I didn’t have my cuffs with me, so I had to hold her with both hands behind her back.Legally speaking, once you’ve laid hands on a suspect you pretty much have to arrest them.I gave her the caution and she went limp.I looked over at Lesley, who had not only tended to the injured man but had corralled the children and called in the incident to Charing Cross.

‘If I let you up,’ I asked, ‘are you going to behave?’ Ms Munroe nodded.I let roll over and sit up where she was.

‘I just wanted to go to the pictures,’ she said.‘When I was young you just went to the local Odeon and said “a ticket please”, and you gave them money and they gave you a ticket.When did it become so complicated ?

When did these disgusting nachos arrive? I mean, what the fuck is a nacho, anyway?’ One of the girls giggled nervously at the profanity.

Lesley was writing in her official notebook.You know in the caution when it says ‘anything that you do say may be used in evidence against you’, well, this is what they’re talking about.
‘Is that boy hurt?’ She looked at me for reassurance.

‘I don’t know what happened.I just wanted to talk to someone who could speak English properly.I went on holiday to Bavaria last summer and everyone spoke English really well.I bring my kids down to the West End and everyone’s foreign.I don’t understand a word they’re saying.’

I suspected that some total bastard at the CP S could parlay that into a racially aggravated crime.I caught Lesley’s eye and she sighed but stopped taking notes.

‘I just wanted to go to the pictures,’ repeated Ms Munroe.

Salvation arrived in the form of Inspector Neblett who took one look at us and said, ‘I just can’t let you two out of my sight, can I?’ He didn’t fool me.I knew he’d been rehearsing that line the whole way over.

Nonetheless, we all trooped back to the nick to com- plete the arrest and do the paperwork.And that’s three hours of my life I won’t get back in a hurry.We ended up, like all coppers on overtime, in the canteen where we drank tea and filled in forms.

‘Where’s the Case Progression Unit when you need it?’ said Lesley.

‘Told you we should have seen Seven Samurai,’ I said.

‘Did you think there was something odd about the whole thing?’ asked Lesley.

‘Odd, how?’

‘You know,’ said Lesley, ‘middle-aged woman sud- denly goes bonkers and attacks someone in a cinema, in front of her children.Are you sure you didn’t feel any …?’ She waved her fingers.
‘I wasn’t paying attention,’ I said.Looking back, I thought there might have been something, a flash of violence and laughter, but it felt suspiciously retro- spective; a memory I’d conjured up after the fact.

Mr Munroe arrived with a brief, and the parents of the other children, around nine and his wife was released on police bail less than an hour later.Considerably earlier than Lesley and I finished the paperwork.I was too knackered by then to try anything clever, so I said goodbye and caught a lift in the fast-response car back to Russell Square.

I had a brand new set of keys, including one for the tradesmen’s entrance round the back.That way I didn’t have to sneak past the disapproving gaze of Sir Isaac. The main atrium was dimly lit, but as I climbed the first flight of stairs I thought I saw a pale figure gliding across the floor below.

You know you’re staying somewhere posh when the breakfast room is a completely different room and not the same place where you had dinner, only dressed up with different china.It faced south-east to catch the thin January light, and looked out over the coach house and mews.Despite the fact that only Nightingale and I were eating, all the tables had been laid and bore laundry- white tablecloths.You could have seated fifty people in there.Likewise the serving table sported a line of silver- plated salvers with kippers, eggs, bacon, black pudding and a bowl full of rice, peas and flaked haddock that Nightingale identified as kedgeree.He seemed as taken aback by the amount of food as I was.

‘I think Molly may have become a little over- enthusiastic,’ he said and helped himself to the kedgeree.I had a bit of everything and Toby got some sausages, some black pudding and a bowl of water.

‘There’s no way we can eat all this,’ I said.‘What’s she going to do with all the leftovers?’

‘I’ve learned not to ask these questions,’ said Nightingale.

‘Why’s that?’

‘Because I’m not sure I want to know the answers,’ he said.

My first proper lesson in magic took place in one of the labs at the back of the first floor.The other labs had once been used for research projects but this one was for teaching, and indeed it looked just like a school chemistry lab.There were waist-high benches with gas taps for Bunsen burners placed at regular intervals and white porcelain basins sunk into the varnished wooden tops.There was even a poster of the periodic table on the wall missing, I noticed, all the elements discovered after World War Two.

‘First we need to fill up a sink,’ said Nightingale.He selected one and turned the tap at the base of its long, swan-necked spout.There was a distant knocking sound, the black swan neck shook, gurgled and then coughed up a gout of brown water.

We both took a step backwards.

‘How long since you used this place?’ I asked.

The knocking grew louder, faster and then water poured from the spout, dirty at first but then clear.The knocking faded away.Nightingale put the plug in and let the basin fill three-quarters before closing the tap.

‘When you’re attempting this spell,’ he said, ‘always have a basin of water ready as a safety precaution.’

‘Are we going to make fire?’

‘Only if you do it wrong,’ said Nightingale.‘I’m going to make a demonstration and you must pay close atten- tion – as you did when searching for vestigia.Do you understand ?’

‘Vestigia,’ I said.‘Got it.’

Nightingale held out his right hand palm upwards and made a fist.‘Watch my hand,’ he said and opened his fingers.Suddenly, floating a few centimetres above his palm was a ball of light.Bright, but not so bright that I couldn’t stare right at it.

Nightingale closed his fingers and the globe van- ished.‘Again?’ he asked.

Up until then I think a bit of me had been waiting for the rational explanation, but when I saw how casually Nightingale produced that werelight I realised that I had the rational explanation – magic worked.The next ques- tion of course was – how did it work?

‘Again,’ I said.

He opened his hand and the light appeared.The source seemed to be the size of a golf ball with a smooth pearlescent surface.I leaned forward but I couldn’t tell whether the light emanated from inside the globe or from its skin.

Nightingale closed his palm.‘Be careful,’ he said.

‘You don’t want to damage your eyes.’

I blinked and saw purple blotches.He was right – I’d been fooled by the soft quality of the light into staring too long.I splashed some water in my eyes.

‘Ready to go again?’ asked Nightingale.‘Try and focus on the sensation as I do it – you should feel something.’

‘Something?’ I asked.

‘Magic is like music,’ said Nightingale.‘Everyone hears it differently.The technical term we use is forma, but that’s no more helpful than “something”, is it?’

‘Can I close my eyes?’ I asked.

‘By all means,’ said Nightingale.

I did feel a ‘something’, like a catch in the silence at the moment of creation.We repeated the exercise until I was sure I wasn’t imagining it.Nightingale asked me if I had any questions.I asked him what the spell was called.

‘Colloquially it’s known as a werelight,’ he said.

‘Can you do it underwater ?’ I asked.

Nightingale plunged his hand into the sink and despite the awkward angle, demonstrated forming a werelight without any apparent difficulty.

‘So it’s not a process of oxidisation, is it,’ I said.

‘Focus,’ said Nightingale.‘Magic first, science later.’

I tried to focus, but on what?

‘In a minute,’ said Nightingale, ‘I’m going to ask you to open your hand in the same manner as I have demonstrated.As you open your hand I want you to make a shape in your mind that conforms to what you sensed when I created my werelight.Think of it as a key that opens a door.Do you understand ?’

‘Hand,’ I said.‘Shape, key, lock, door.’

‘Precisely,’ said Nightingale.‘Start now.’

I took a deep breath, extended my arm and opened my fist – nothing happened.Nightingale didn’t laugh but I would have preferred it if he had.I took another breath, tried to ‘shape’ my mind, whatever that meant, and opened my hand again.

‘Let me demonstrate again,’ said Nightingale.‘And then you follow.’

He created the werelight, I felt for the shape of the forma and tried to replicate it.I still failed to create my own light, but this time I thought I felt an echo of the forma in my mind like a snatch of music from a passing car.

We repeated the exercise several times until I was certain I knew what the shape of the forma was, but I couldn’t find the shape in my own mind.The process must have been familiar to Nightingale because he could tell what stage I was at.

‘Practise this for another two hours,’ he said.‘Then we’ll stop for lunch and then two more hours after that. Then you can have the evening off.’

‘Just do this?’ I asked.‘No learning of ancient languages, no magic theory?’

‘This is the first step,’ said Nightingale.‘If you can’t master this then everything else is irrelevant.’

‘So this is a test?’

‘That’s what an apprenticeship is,’ said Nightingale.

‘Once you’ve mastered this forma then I can promise you plenty of study.Latin of course, Greek, Arabic, technical German.Not to mention you’ll be taking over all the legwork on my cases.’

‘Good,’ I said.‘Now I’m incentivised.’ Nightingale laughed and left me to it.

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