I was driving the Asbo out to Dartford, Nightingale with me. We'd had to get up early to get here in time for the meeting with the local police forces. (If it had been up to me, I'd have scheduled the meeting for a later time. Alas, I had not been consulted.) I was fighting to keep my eyes open. I hoped the local nick had good coffee. Or any coffee. Preferrably with extra caffeine.
“So, anything new?” I asked Nightingale, hoping that conversation would keep me awake. I knew the basics – someone had disappeared while taking a walk near the Thames, a mermaid had been reported, and Mama Thames had declined responsibility (and become a bit concerned) – but the sudden expediting was curious.
“Another victim”, Nightingale said. “This time at the Littlebrook Deepwater Pier. The local authorities wanted to tell us of the details in person.”
I sighed and dreamed of caffeine.
The nick did have decent coffee. Nightingale skipped caffeination, left me with a local, and excused himself.
My native guide, Constable Alice Smythe, was a short, compact redhead with a vaguely equine face and a suspicious manner. She'd greeted us perfectly cordially, and was observing me drink my coffee, obviously waiting for me to start asking questions. I wondered what Seawoll and her superiors had told her about the “weird bollocks people”.
“What happened with the most recent victim?” I asked.
Smythe flipped open a notepad. “Vincent Andrew Jones, IC-1, twenty-four years old, had gone for a walk two nights ago at 21:30 after an argument with his boyfriend, and never came back. Around the time he'd have reached Littlebrook Deepwater Pier, a witness saw a man that fit the description of Jones first sit on the pier and then be pulled down into the water by a pretty mermaid. My boss considered this to not only be “weird bollocks”, but also part of a series of incidents involving mermaids.” Smythe lifted an eyebrow. “What does Falcon do?”
“We're the department that gets sent out to deal with certain types of unusual occurrences – mermaids, unusual cave people, large EMPs that take out an entire neighborhood's microchips, that sort of thing. These cases require a specialised skillset that's only present in our department.” I gave her a slightly less groggy than before smile, and wondered whether I'd have to demonstrate.
Smythe lifted her other eyebrow. “Interesting”, she said in a very predatory tone.
I sighed and gulped down the last of my coffee. “Come outside and turn off your phone, and I'll show you.”
We made our way toward the sites of the disappearances. When we were almost at the Littlebrook Pier, with no nearby witnesses, I made sure Smythe had turned her phone off and made a werelight.
“Huh”, she said. “Magic is real. Are there vampires that are all sparkly?”
“No”, I said. “They're nonsentient entities that suck the life-force out of you. Nasty.”
“Huh”, she said.
A hundred meters or so later, she stopped. “This is where the first victim, an IC-1 male, hopped in. He drunk-texted his mates that he'd be going for a swim with a mermaid. Based on spelling and grammar, he was pretty pissed at the time, so we put the mermaid down as drunken folly. With the second report in, however...” Smythe shrugged. I nodded in understanding.
The pier's vestigium felt odd. There were the notes of water, constant water, ships coming and going, hopes and heartbreak, but there was an oddly strong scent of fish, and an intense hunger. I made a mental note.
Later, Nightingale re-joined me. I gave him a synopsis of what I'd found out, emphasizing the vestigia that I'd felt at Littlebrook Pier and Littlebrook Deepwater Pier.
He frowned. “Similar vestigia? Interesting.”
“Do you know what this could be, sir?” I asked. “Do mermaids exist?”
Nightingale gave a fey smile. “There are a large quantity of creatures that can appear as what is popularly considered a mermaid. Mermaids proper, however, are not found this far North. The water tends to be … chilly.”
I nodded in perfect agreement.
“I have asked some – acquaintances in this region, and there haven't been any sightings of land-based fae that could turn into mermaids”, he continued. “Now, my sources can be incorrect”, he said, no doubt thinking about the Quiet People, “but I believe we should start our investigation with water-based creatures.”
“What will we do after we find the mermaids?” I asked. “Charge them with murder? Are they more like the vampires or Simone and her sisters?”
Nightingale thought for a moment. “I don't know. I suppose the decision shall have to wait until we find out which type of creature is responsible.”
Nightingale leaned forwards. “Next, the important part: catching our mermaids. They seem to prey near the local piers.”
“Lure them out with bait, sir?” I suggested. “They seem to have a thing for young, white men. Now, a sample size of two is not much to go on, so I'll try sitting on the pier next night, and if I'm attacked, you can save my arse.”
Nightingale glared at me disapprovingly. “I will not let you endanger yourself, Peter.”
“Well, you're much better at being the cavalry than I am, sir”, I said. “Do you have a better idea?”
“Unfortunately not”, he said.
We did go with my plan. I would be waiting at Littlebrook Pier, phone off, nonchalantly walking around and enjoying the scenery after dark, and Nightingale would be waiting near the pier, looking like a 1950s noir detective waiting for the housewife he was carrying out a doomed love affair with. If any mermaids came to chat me up, I'd send a werelight over to Nightingale the moment trouble came up, and he'd save me from the evil mermaid.
It was quarter to midnight when I felt a mild seducere pull me towards the edge of the pier. I didn't alert Nightingale, but walked to the edge with a purpose. Hopefully, he'd notice.
There was a very appealing young mermaid in the water. IC-1, blonde, large green eyes, an innocent smile, even features, all that jazz. I felt a desire to hop into the water, so I made a werelight.
The mermaid's expression changed dramatically when the water around her – with her still in it – was lifted out of the Thames. She was still beautiful in the standard Eurotypical way, but less generically cute now that she had an expression on her face. The fish part of her body reminded me of a trout.
“A finwife, I think”, Nightingale said.
She snarled. “I need a human husband, Isaac.”
“Why?” I asked. Always start by asking for the motivations. Peter Grant, community policing like a pro.
“I'd have to marry a Finman otherwise. He'd send me to live on land, and I'd become a hag, and have to send him all my silver.”
“Is this a problem with a specific Finman, or is this common to all Finmen?” I asked. Meanwhile, Nightingale was looking significantly out of his depth.
“All Finmen”, the Finwife said. “Please, my sisters already got their land-men. I don't want to lose my eternal youth. I'd take a nice land-man and marry him and keep him on Hildaland and I could stay with all my friends in Finfolkaheem.” She was visibly distressed.
“Miss, I believe that human men would like to stay with all of their friends, too”, Nightingale said.
I had an idea. “Miss, we're the Folly. We police all British magical creatures. We'd like for your kind to introduce yourselves to Mama Thames, the genius loci of the Thames river, and make contacts in the local fae scene. That way, we could help you resolve the sexism in your own community, so Finwives wouldn't be pressured into kidnapping human men. How would that sound?” I hoped Nightingale and Mama Thames wouldn't be too angry with me.
The Finwife thought for a moment. She smiled. “That sounds excellent. Who are you?”
“Inspector Thomas Nightingale.”
“Constable Peter Grant.”
“I'm Adamine.” She paused. “How would I best contact Mama Thames?”
“Swim further up the river, and you'll be bound to meet her or one of her daughters”, Nightingale said, and I launched into an explanation of etiquette that Adamine listened to intently.
She smiled. “I'll spread word amongst my sisters. Now, if I may-” she waved her hand evocatively. Nightingale let the bubble of water drop back. Adamine disappeared into the river. We watched the London lights in silence.
“Did we do the right thing, sir?” I asked.
“If it succeeds, you'll have eliminated the need for Finwives to kidnap human men. Perhaps the Finmen will then not have to kidnap human women. It will have made things much safer.” Nightingale looked at me. “To tell the truth, I was thinking more of where to sleep the night. The Folly is impractically far away, considering the local traffic.”
In the end, Nightingale drove us back to the Folly. I slept deeply, only waking after noon. For my sins, I had to tell Constable Smythe what had happened.
Her reply was an evocative “Huh.”