“Folie a famille is characterized as a shared psychotic disorder within a family in more than two members...”
It was just another normal day at the Folly, except that there was a baby on the stoop.
I had just completed my very masculine skincare regime when there was a strange high-pitched hiss from downstairs – sort of like a blood curdling scream that had been cured in salt and hung up to dry.
I was downstairs in ten seconds and came skidding into the atrium right on Nightingale’s heels. He was half-dressed, his shirt cuffs unbuttoned and his hair damp from a very recent shower.
Molly was backed into a corner and curled into a defensive ball, with Toby the dog snarling from behind her skirts. At our arrival, Molly jabbed a bony finger in the direction of the door.
There are not many things that scare Molly apart from leaving the Folly, so, swinging around, I expected to clap eyes on something truly grotesque. I was not disappointed.
A gaping maw. Streaming eyes. Limbs kicking violently. An ear-piercing scream that rang in depths the Folly hadn’t even known it had. A hat with a bow on it.
‘Good Lord,’ said Nightingale, who was to religion as men with life sentences were to homosexuality.
‘It’s a baby,’ I said, because someone had to.
‘It looks like a baby,’ said Nightingale grimly, and started a cautious but determined approach. Molly hissed.
‘I’m right behind him!’ I told her, and then had no choice but to fall into step behind him, hands raised to claw, to fight, to keep it from touching me.
Nightingale paused upon reaching the baby, who was wrapped in a pink blanket it had kicked itself mostly free from. He sunk to his haunches and slowly reached out to touch its cheek.
The baby squirmed and kicked harder.
‘It’s just a baby,’ he said, and picked it up.
The baby was probably about three or four months old, with chubby cheeks and plump little fists and startlingly green eyes. Like, novel Harry Potter green (and not Daniel Radcliffe blue) (needless to say, I did not point out this distinction to Nightingale.)
‘Is there any vestigia?’ I asked, keeping a bit of distance. Growing up with the amount of cousins I had meant I knew that proximity might result in unplanned childcare on my part, including nappy changes and feeding schedules.
Nightingale considered the crying baby closely. ‘No,’ he said, ‘but her nappy needs to be changed.’
I took an automatic step back, and then turned it into a full-fledged retreat: ‘Nappies,’ I said, ‘we need nappies. I’ll just step out and--’
‘I could--’ Nightingale said quickly, but I was almost out of the room.
‘Nonsense!’ I said, and then thought, What the fuck? ‘I’m dressed and everything,’ including desperate.
We had a Tesco Express within convenient walking distance, if you happened to be desperate for escape. It was only when I was inside and facing down the long aisle dedicated on one side to personal hygiene products and the other to baby stuff that it occurred to me that I had no idea what I was doing. The nappies were easy enough to find, but the variety was dizzying. And what was Microlock®, anyway? So I did what anyone does when hopelessly out of their depth: I called my mother.
‘I’m working,’ she said by way of greeting, and I could indeed hear her cleaning in the background. Before she lost patience and hung up, I explained that it was an emergency, then what I needed. As soon as it transpired that I was talking about babies she became ominously silent.
‘Mum?’ I asked, when my question about Microlock® remained unanswered.
‘Who is the mother?’ she asked, but all quiet like. I didn’t trust it.
‘I told you,’ I said, which earned me a tongue click for my tone, ‘we don’t know, we found it – her – on the Folly’s--’
‘You listen to me, Peter,’ she said, which ironically meant that she had stopped listening herself. Also, the use of my name never bode particularly well. ‘I don’t care what happened. But you have a responsibility now. You bring the mother and the girl over. We’ll start organising the wedding.’
‘But--!’ I protested, but my mum’s insanity was having none of it.
‘Otherwise we come there!’ she threatened, and hung up. I heard a Hoover blast back on before the line went dead.
‘It’s isn’t mine!’ I told the dead line angrily, which earned me a nasty look from a passing woman who had a toddler in her shopping cart.
In the end I spent a lot of money on a lot of things I had no idea if we’d need. Nightingale would already have contacted social services – I guessed we’d send whatever was left along, or distribute it to Sierra Leone.
The Folly was quiet when I got back. ‘Hello?’ I called, lugging the shopping through the back door and pausing a moment to try and reassemble my spine. There was a muffled yap and then more silence.
I followed the yap to the basement kitchen – with difficulty, I might add, loaded down as I was with several of everything a kid might need between infancy and university. I found Nightingale there. He was holding the baby while Molly watched suspiciously from a corner. Toby sat between them, clearly torn between protecting Molly and licking the pink thing Nightingale, occasional provider of pork chops and sausages, was rocking.
‘I got – everything, sir,’ I said, feeling like I was interrupting something. Nightingale’s brow was furrowed, his attention wholly taken up with the child. He’d rolled up his shirtsleeves and I noticed that the blanket and sleep suit were gone and that the baby was wrapped in a large, fluffy towel. It must have been a guest towel because I’d certainly never gotten one.
‘How’s it – she – doing?’ I asked.
‘I’ve phoned social services,’ Nightingale said, snapping from his reverie. ‘They said they’ll be here in an hour.’ He abruptly handed the baby over – she squirmed at the sudden movement – before stalking off without another word.
I readjusted the baby automatically, but my mind was on Nightingale. Because he was alone – or I assumed alone; who knew what was going on with him and Molly – I had assumed he’d always been alone. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if he had lost more to the war than just his friends, comrades and colleagues?
I glanced at Molly. She shrugged, keeping her eyes on the baby. Her arms were tightly crossed.
‘Well, baby,’ I said, moving to lay her down on one of Molly’s scrupulously clean surfaces. I unwrapped the towel and spread it open; it doubled neatly as a changing pad. I dragged a big square of nappies closer. ‘You’re officially the oddest thing that’s happened to us, and we’re wizards. Aren’t you special?’
The baby, who was indeed a girl, regarded me with a vaguely sceptical expression.
‘I know, I didn’t think wizards were real, either. Luckily I was wrong.’
Fortunately there had been no significant, and complicated, advances to the nappy design field since my last babysitting stint four or five years previously, because I managed to stick the nappy on with very little hassle. Satisfied with myself, it took me a few seconds to realise that I was beaming at the baby and that the baby was waving chubby fists to be picked up again.
‘Where on earth did you come from?’ I wondered aloud. The baby merely gurgled.
That question was answered less than an hour later, when an irritated Stephanopoulos called me mid-feed. I pressed my mobile to my ear with my shoulder, trying to juggle the bottle and the baby in a way that didn’t involve dropping either.
‘The great news,’ Stephanopoulos said, by way of greeting, ‘is that you can walk to work this morning. The bad news is that there will be a dead woman and a possible abduction waiting for you here when you do.’ She explained that they were only a few blocks from the Folly, and had I not heard the sirens? Really, Peter?
I didn’t connect the dots right away. Lesley would have.
‘Proximity does not a Falcon case make,’ I said, adding a receiving blanket to the delicate eco-system that was my attention span and number of available limbs.
‘No,’ Stephanopoulos agreed, ‘but your governor’s name and address on the victim does.’
IC1 female, late twenties/early thirties, dead but with no obvious signs of foul play except for the fact that she had written down “T Night” and the Folly’s address on a piece of paper and then stuck that piece of paper in her mouth moments before her death, and less than a kilometre from the Folly. She had an empty baby carrier with her. I told Stephanopoulos about the baby, which surprisingly did not please her a great deal. I begged off her irateness to go find Nightingale.
I tracked him down in a rarely used parlour on the first floor. His sleeves were still rolled up and by now probably wrinkled beyond hope, which indicated the vast inner turmoil he was experiencing. Also his facial expression, which was tired and shocked and pained, like someone dealt a blow.
‘Uh, sir,’ I said. It took a second for him to register my appearance. His eyes immediately went to the baby I was holding. He stood and started pacing.
‘What is it? Are social services here? You can handle that, can’t you?’
The baby made a wet, unhappy sound. Apparently the whole LMPD needed a nap.
‘Actually, Stephanopoulos called. I think they found the mother.’ I felt bad, shooting down the hopeful expression on Nightingale’s face. ‘She’s dead. And – sir, she had your name and this address on her.’ I explained that particular set of grisly details.
Nightingale rubbed at his face at the news, but the next moment he was squaring himself. I could see his focus narrow.
‘We’ll take your car,’ he said, leading the way from the room. ‘It’s – safer, isn’t it?’
If by “safer” he meant its bodywork might actually protect us in the case of a collision, then yes, it was safer. But Nightingale had never worried about that sort of thing before.
‘That’s unnecessary,’ I volunteered – bravely, I thought. ‘I’ll stay with it – I mean, her.’
Nightingale didn’t break stride. Literally. ‘That’s not an option. My name is on the body of a dead woman, Peter. They’ll need you there. And the girl can’t stay with Molly, so she’ll have to come with us.’ We were heading for the kitchen and from thence, I presumed, the back door.
‘I’m not sure that’s developmentally appropriate,’ I said, then added, ‘sir.’
He half-smiled. ‘This is going to be a mess anyway.’
Molly immediately retreated when we came in, although I noticed that she had prepared two bottles from the formula and packed them and some nappies and wipes into an old army-issue satchel that stood open on the counter. It was our baby go-bag.
‘This is excellent,’ I told Molly, who nodded, albeit from a safe distance. Nightingale added a blanket, apparently on autopilot, and then we were out the door.
Travel presented somewhat of a moral dilemma. A car seat had not been among my purchases, and when you’ve been a PC for two years you begin to understand why they insist on those kinds of things. I pointed this out to Nightingale, but his “modern road safety awareness” had hit its ceiling, because he just told me to sit in the back with the baby, that he would drive slowly and really, Peter, it was only a few blocks away.
My coddling proved unnecessary, but Nightingale was kind enough not to point it out.
The scene had been cordoned off. A flash of Nightingale’s warrant card got us easy access and uneasy looks, exacerbated by the fact that the baby started fussing. Cops were used to seeing a lot of things at crime scenes, but babies, fucking fortunately, were not one of them, and so this fussing left a trail of flabbergasted and tutting officers behind us, culminating in Stephanopoulos’ mouth dropping right open at the sight of us.
‘Good Lord,’ she said. Nightingale’s grimace was sympathetic. ‘Is that--?’
‘She was left at the Folly’s front door this morning,’ Nightingale said. ‘Molly found her. We called social services’ (this irately) ‘but they haven’t shown up yet and we couldn’t leave her.’
‘But a crime scene?’ Stephanopoulos said.
‘They let PCs in, don’t they?’ I said, but Stephanopoulos was not mollified by my brown nosing. Probably because she had the unpleasant task of asking a senior officer if he had an alibi for the morning, a task she visibly steeled herself for.
‘I have to ask,’ she told Nightingale. To his credit, he didn’t seem to take it personally.
‘I came home at about five last night,’ he said, ‘and this is the first time I’ve left the Folly today.’
‘I can vouch for him,’ I said immediately.
The look Stephanopoulos gave us before she took notes in her little black book was not encouraging, and I didn’t blame her. She knew enough about the Folly to know that it was large and old; that there were no keycodes and no one to notice movement except a stolen dog and a fae with blood lust. And me, of course; the sworn protégé who slept a floor away from his master, and this was when said protégé wasn’t shut up in his tech cave or running the kind of errands you became a DCI specifically to avoid running.
And, let’s be honest, it wasn’t like they could exactly take my word as a DC, either. Nightingale and I weren’t a unit; we were a two-man team of which the command structure had softened over the years. We were dangerously close to being friends even though Nightingale had stopped trying to get me to call him by his first name.
It was a conundrum. To outside eyes I was both too close and not close enough to provide a reliable alibi. It would be torn asunder.
Unless, I thought, and had a very bad idea – and this from a man who had recently taken on two flesh-eating unicorns and traded himself to their mistress.
‘No,’ I said, which got both Stephanopoulos and Nightingale’s attention because neither of them had spoken since I had backed up Nightingale’s alibi. ‘I mean,’ I said, dropping my voice, ‘when I say I can vouch for him, I can vouch for him.’
I could tell that Nightingale didn’t get it, but Stephanopoulos did. Her eyebrows inched dangerously close to her hairline.
‘The whole night?’ she asked. ‘And this morning?’ she tagged on, to make it seem like a more professional curiosity.
‘I’d have woken up if he left,’ I said, and Stephanopoulos wrote that down. Oh god, I thought, the gossip. But sometimes a man’s gotta do, or pretend to do, what he’s gotta do.
‘Take her,’ I told Nightingale, who had finally caught on and looked flustered with a high chance of anger and immediate repudiation. So I handed the baby over to distract him. ‘I’ll check out the body.’
And I was off after Stephanopoulos before he could get in another word or any kind of denial.
A forensics tent had been erected over the body, and it looked suitably spooky in the thin early morning light, with people in noddy suits shuffling about trying to look like they were doing something important enough to avoid doing more unpleasant things. Stephanopoulos was quiet as we pulled on our own noddy suits; it was only when we headed for the corpse that she asked, abruptly, ‘How long?’
‘How long what?’ I stalled. ‘Oh,’ I said, when she scowled, ‘well, you know. A few – since the thing with, err, with Lesley.’
‘Hmm,’ she went, and then, ‘Well, Grant – I’m glad he’s found someone. Although he’s going to catch hell for it.’
‘More hell than he already catches?’ I asked.
‘Good point,’ Stephanopoulos conceded.
The woman was indeed white, although to me she looked more firmly in her thirties than late twenties. She was dressed in a pair of branded jeans and a knit lavender jumper over a frilly white blouse. The strap of her baby bag was still hooked over her arm; it lay next to her on its side. Some of the stuff had gotten strewn about.
She was thoroughly dead, but there seemed to be no apparent cause. Her mouth had been shut again, I noticed, and found that I was weirdly grateful for it.
‘The pathologist will know more once he’s got her on the table,’ Stephanopoulos said.
‘Dr Walib could take a look,’ I said.
‘You think it’s definitely Falcon, then?’
‘Hold on,’ I said. I hadn’t gotten to the super technical bit yet. I leaned forward and stuck my face in as close to the dead woman's as I could get without touching skin. Luckily I didn’t do anything creepy, like inhale – I just hovered. But other than a faint tang of orangey perfume, there was nothing. No vestigia – the afterburn magic leaves on people and things when it’s strong enough.
‘Nothing,’ I said, ‘but maybe my guv should check, just to make sure.’
It was at this point that someone shouted, ‘Good Lord!’ from outside.
Stepping from the forensics tent, Stephanopoulos and I found that DCI Alex Seawoll had arrived like the hurricane he shared a name with, in the sense that fifty-one casualties were a distinct possibility. Luckily he was too busy glowering at Nightingale to pay me any belligerence.
‘Whose baby is that?’ he demanded.
‘We believe the dead woman’s,’ Nightingale said, bouncing the baby like he confronted angry peers while doing so all the time. ‘She was left on the Folly’s doorstep and is currently in our care.’
Seawoll had managed to shut his mouth, but paused to share a look with Stephanopoulos. Stephanopoulos, however, just crossed her arms, to Seawoll’s confusion. He couldn’t know that she now considered us as part of her camp, and I felt a flash of guilt and more than a little fear if I’m being completely honest.
(Did you hear what happened to the DC who played on DI Stephanopoulos’ feelings?)
‘Peter said you’d want to take a look,’ Stephanopoulos told Nightingale.
Nightingale nodded without, I noticed, making eye contact with me. I moved forward to take the baby – I’m not kidding about all those cousins, you know – but, to everyone’s surprise, Seawoll took her and cradled her comfortably in his vast hammy embrace.
‘Who’s a little baby then?’ he asked, and bounced her.
I followed Nightingale back in before Seawoll remembered that he was supposed to put the fear of God, Queen and the Met hierarchy into everyone, and doubled his efforts to compensate for his momentary lapse. I walked in just in time to see Nightingale do the “technical bit”, although his technique was far more eloquent than mine. Not that I was jealous about his ability to be seemingly calm, collected and perfectly coiffed in all circumstances or anything like that, of course.
‘Anything?’ I asked, resolutely ignoring the chilly barrier my lie had created.
‘None that I can feel.’ At least his tone was civil, but that might just have been for Stephanopoulos’ benefit – she had re-entered and looked weirded out, probably by Seawoll’s paternal display. I wondered suddenly if he had kids and wanted to ask, but I also wanted to keep my job, so I said nothing. I had this momentary thought that I couldn’t wait to tell Lesley about my self-restraint – before the realisation landed a punch squarely in my gut.
Lesley was still persona non grata. We had not seen or heard from her since the failed sting a few weeks before.
‘Do you recognise her?’ Stephanopoulos asked. Her notebook was out again.
‘Not at all,’ Nightingale said, straightening. ‘Peter said they found my name on her person?’
Stephanopoulos didn’t even need to snap her fingers – some enterprising forensic tech had obviously been listening in to the conversation and immediately produced the paper. It was already sealed inside an evidence baggie. Nightingale and I leaned forward to read it. I noticed he didn’t physically flinch away from me, which was a good sign – we would be fine, I thought.
The paper indeed bore the words “T Night” in a very feminine hand, followed by the Folly’s address. There was also a set of GPS coordinates beneath it, presumably the Folly’s. But because you couldn’t presume anything, someone would have to check it and that someone would probably be me, or maybe the over-enthusiastic forensic tech.
‘Nothing ringing any bells, then?’ Stephanopoulos asked.
Nightingale handed the evidence baggie back. ‘I’m afraid not, Detective Inspector.’
‘Then I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you both to leave the scene,’ she said. ‘Just for procedure’s sake, you understand.’
‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea,’ said Nightingale. ‘Just because she wasn’t murdered, as far as we can tell, with magic, doesn’t mean a practitioner wasn’t involved.’
‘Just because you own a gun,’ I told her, ‘doesn’t mean you can’t kill someone with a knife, guv.’
But Stephanopoulos had clearly drawn a line she wasn’t willing to cross. We call that “being a good cop”.
‘If anything more definitely Falcon pops up,’ she said, ‘I’ll call you back in. But until then...’
Until then she had a suspicious death not a kilometre from the Met’s weirdest unit, and the address of that unit, and the name of the man who ran it, were found on the body. As soon as we left we would become the subjects of action lists. Determining our movements would be top priority. Some lucky slog was going to be spending a lot of time fast forwarding through all the CCTV camera footage they could pull up from around Russell Square, probably going back a few weeks if they didn’t hit “in the last twenty-four hours” gold. There would be some light background checks. The ambulance incident was going to get traction again. And probably, I thought, everything about Nightingale since the war. In fact, I wondered if his war records were on file somewhere, other than with Postmartin?
Concentrate, I told myself, only it sounded suspiciously like Lesley.
‘Until then, hands off,’ I offered into Stephanopoulos’ meaningful silence.
Stephanopoulos gave me as much of an approving look as she could, under the circumstances.
Once we’d stripped out of our noddy suits (in complete silence), we found Seawoll waiting for us. He handed the (now sleeping) baby back to Nightingale, being quite tender about it, and then barreled off and shouted at some people just to make a point. I wordlessly accepted the Asbo’s keys from Nightingale, and we set off back to the Folly. It would have been a nice drive, actually, had it not been for the baby and the weight of unspoken (and spoken) accusations.
I expected Nightingale to get into it en route; then inside the carriage house; then in the Folly’s kitchen. But he carried the baby up to the first floor, me trailing uncertainly behind him, the go-bag heavy on my shoulder. I hesitated when he went into his bedroom before following him in.
I had never been inside his bedroom before. It was the same size as mine and had the same basic furniture: a four-poster bed, a dresser, a desk. But there was a fireplace, and in front of it a very comfortable-looking armchair and Ottoman. On the mantelpiece were a few framed photographs, all black and white, and above them a painting of a mountain range capped with snow. The bed was neatly made, the linen dark green and crisp white and matching the pine green drapes. I was relieved to find that there was no old person smell.
Nightingale started pulling out his pillows and rearranging them one-handed. Satisfied, he laid the baby on the bed between them, roughly in the middle, so that there was no chance, presumably, of the baby rolling herself off.
She was still asleep. She fussed a little at being moved, but settled down again right away.
I wondered briefly whether a baby monitor would interfere with what Nightingale called the Folly’s magical defences and I called its force fields, though not aloud. Well, not anymore. It was one of those things Nightingale proved very stubborn over, like proper grammar and inappropriate Harry Potter references and not accidentally killing myself by using too much magic.
Then it occurred to me that it didn’t matter, anyway, because social services were bound to show up soon.
So it so happened that I didn’t notice straightaway that Nightingale was subjecting me to a very cool look.
‘Sir?’ I asked, on the off-chance that I’d missed something he said while wondering about baby monitors. And it wouldn’t hurt to find out, I thought; I could loan a set off--
‘What the hell were you thinking?’
He was as angry as I’d ever seen him. His nostrils were flared and he was even paler than usual.
I took a breath and then asked, calmly, ‘Are you angry because you think I think you did it or are you angry because I think you could be gay?’
I think it cost him something not to punch me.
‘Because if the first,’ I ploughed on, ‘I don’t think so, you’re one of the best men I know, but your absence – even a temporary one – is just the kind of hole someone like Lady Ty or the Faceless Man is looking to exploit. And if the second, honestly, sir, I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m sorry if this has put you in an awkward position, but it was the only thing I could think of. Sir,’ I added, for good measure.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘Peter--’ But his anger had already faded. ‘This could ruin your career,’ he said.
I hadn’t expected that. I had expected variations on “doing the right thing”, which would involve calling Stephanopoulos and recanting and watching everything swiftly unravel.
‘Not if we play it right,’ I said. ‘We’ll – we’ll just fake it for a bit and then fake a break-up, and everything goes back to normal. In fact, nothing changes anyway, except more than usual gossip.’
‘And that doesn’t worry you?’
‘Does it worry you?’ I countered.
He laughed, but the sound was strained. ‘I’m more than a century old. My career ambitions have been satisfied.’
‘And I’m the only legitimate wizard’s apprentice in fifty years,’ I said. ‘Mine will be, too, mostly because they haven’t got any other options. It will be fine.’
He nodded, opened his mouth, but seemed to change his mind. ‘I think the child should stay here. It’s obvious the mother isn’t the one who left her here.’ Because of course Nightingale had noticed that she still had the baby bag and carrier with her. ‘For all that she wasn’t killed with magic, it doesn’t rule out a Falcon aspect. In that case, the child is safer here.’
‘I’ll head off social services,’ I said, turning to the door. Using my magic (pun intended) all-access Falcon card.
‘Thank you,’ Nightingale said, facing the baby again. But I wasn’t sure that was what he was thanking me for.