“Tough and clever,” I said, after a few minutes of silence. “That's what Hugh Oswald said you wanted in an apprentice.”
Nightingale stopped glaring at the wall opposite and turned towards me. “Did he?”
I shrugged, more in the face of Nightingale's apparent surprise than anything else. “I'm not sure I measure up.” I pulled a little at the handcuffs currently holding me to the wall. It had been an ignominious kind of day.
“Don't be ridiculous,” Nightingale said straight away.
“I haven't thought of a clever way of getting us out of this,” I continued, because god knows now is the time for me to run my mouth off. “And I certainly haven't got the magic power to get us out of here.”
“Neither have I right now,” Nightingale said. He took his handkerchief away from his head for a moment, wincing at the pain and at the sight of fresh blood, and then put it back. I tried not to worry about it. Or rather, since there was nothing I could do about it, I decided to file the worry away somewhere else. “And that isn’t what I meant, anyway.”
“What did you mean, then?” I asked. I'd been curious since the day Oswald told me, but I'd not mentioned it before, not wanting to sound like I was fishing for a compliment. But now, with us caught in a trap the Faceless Man would be proud of, it seemed as good a time as any to get some answers out of my boss. Just in case.
“When I was discussing what I wanted in an apprentice, it was...some time after the War, when I felt like the possibility wasn't too absurd but before I thought magic was dying out. I'd just got back from a particularly troublesome mission in the Middle East where I could have done with some back-up, but no-one had been willing to accompany me, and I didn't have the authority then to insist.”
“How bad a mission?”
“Several people died who needn't have, if I'd done things differently,” Nightingale said. “And so when the conversation turned to apprentices, I said what I most wanted was someone tough and someone clever. The others all agreed of course, but they thought, like you did, that it was all about brawn, or being able to face up to the horrors we see, and clever enough to learn new formae quickly and efficiently.”
Nightingale looked over at me, a fresh light in his eyes that I'd been worried was gone forever. “But what I wanted was someone tough enough to stand up to me and tell me I was wrong. And clever enough to make me believe it too.”
I found that I had to turn away from Nightingale's knowing look then, pleased and hopeful all at once, and awfully embarrassed too. I wasn't going to ask though.
“I have never been disappointed in you,” Nightingale said and I had to look at him then, how could I not? “Now,” Nightingale continued, once he saw he had my full attention, “why don't we try to get ourselves out of this mess?”
Two days previously
I stared down at the dead body of the chimera and then, with a sigh, leaned down and pressed my face as close to the slit throat as I could. Flashes of familiar vestigia hit straight away and I had to hold back a very inventive curse that was just itching to be released.
“So?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“Definitely one of ours,” I confirmed, standing up. “Faceless Man's signature all over it.”
“Perfect. Guleed, any luck with the neighbours?”
DC Guleed shook her head as she came back into the kitchen where the body was lying. “No-one saw anything and no-one heard anything. Apparently a man with a tail growing out his back isn't considered remarkable around here.”
I grinned in her direction then put on a perfectly bland expression as Stephanopoulos looked at me.
“Where's your governor?” she asked.
“Still on a call out from this morning,” I replied. “Mysterious death at King's Cross.”
“Don't know yet,” I replied, not for the first time wishing Nightingale remembered he had a mobile.
“All right, you two keep plugging away at the neighbours, see if there's any useful CCTV in the area – yes, away from the centre of the unusual death,” she added before I could point out that most of the videos in the area were probably going to be useless. “Well, what are you waiting for?”
“Thanks, boss,” I said, hurriedly following Guleed out.
I stood in the driveway and looked up and down both sides of the road. I hadn't been able to shake off the feeling I was being watched since I got there and it was only getting stronger now that I was out in the open.
“Problem?” Guleed asked. By now she'd seen me in action enough times that I hoped she knew to trust my instincts. Well, at least where the weird shit was concerned.
“Just, keep an eye out for anything, odd.”
Guleed raised an eyebrow at me. “Odder than usual?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Where to next?”
“Let's try the newsagents. The daughter was manning the shop when I popped in before, said her Dad would be back from the cash and carry soon.”
“All right, lead the way,” I replied. Guleed rolled her eyes but went ahead of me anyway.
As I stepped into the road I felt that tingling sensation along the back of my neck again. I paused and looked behind me, only to see a dark car barrelling straight at me, definitely not observing the speed limit. With no time to shout a warning to Guleed I raised my arm and hoped that the second time I stopped a car coming straight at me would be as successful as the first time.
I was dimly aware of both Stephanopoulos and Guleed shouting something but all I could concentrate on was the car as it screeched to a halt, millimetres away from my legs. I took a deep breath and tried to remember how to stay upright.
The two people inside the car – one white man with ginger hair and the definite look of a cat about him, one black woman with dreadlocks and looking pretty averagely human – didn't seem at all surprised or impressed with my magical prowess and jumped out of the car the second it stopped.
I braced myself as the woman jumped on me and tackled me to the floor.
The thing is, no matter if you've been brought up to never raise your hand to a woman, that all goes out the window when you're trying to maintain the Queen's peace. It doesn't mean you can use excessive force, and Faceless Man aside I wouldn't want to, but it does mean that you can knee a woman in the stomach and try and headbutt her when she's trying to strangle you.
Thankfully Guleed got in there pretty quick and pulled the woman off me. I twisted around on to my hands and knees in time to see Stephanopoulos taking charge of the other suspect.
“What did you do to him?” the woman started to shout. “Bastard wizard!”
Guleed got the woman under control before she could lunge at me again. I got up and eyed her suspiciously.
“What did you say?”
“Wizard,” she spat at me, as if it was the worst word she'd ever heard. “Murderer!”
That made all us frown. “What?” I asked, proving that I can think on my feet when the situation demands.
“You killed him, you son of a bitch.”
“How did you know he was dead?” I asked.
The woman glared at me. “I want a lawyer.”
Stephanopoulos snorted. “I bet you do. Guleed, let's get her cautioned and back at the station. Same with this one.”
Guleed nodded at the same moment I sensed the formae nearby.
“Everybody down!” I shouted and sank back to my knees. Guleed and Stephanopoulos did the same, pushing their prisoners on to the ground as a fireball careened over our heads, missing Stephanopoulos by inches.
She swore and we all started to move back towards the house as another fireball almost hit the car next to us.
“If that hits the engine,” Stephanopoulos said, rather unnecessarily I thought, but I nodded all the same. “Inside, now, move.”
We didn't really need to be told twice. Or in fact once, running at a sort of half-crouch made worse by the fact that I couldn't tell which direction the wizard was standing in. As another fireball hit the gate, I realised that wherever they were, they were moving around.
Once inside the house I had the chance for a quick breath before focusing on Stephanopoulos shouting orders on the radio.
“We need Nightingale,” she said to me.
I nodded and grabbed the phone on the table, rather than risk using my mobile. Now would be a really good time for him to actually pick up, I thought to myself.
“Nightingale,” he said on the second ring and I fought back a very manly sob of relief.
“We're under attack by an unknown practitioner,” I told him, not pausing for any niceties.
“Where are you?” he demanded. I gave the address and I could practically hear him making the calculations in his head. “I'm ten minutes away. Who's with you?”
“Guleed, Stephanopoulos, some of the forensics team...”
“Are you out in the open?”
“No, inside. I couldn't see who it was, but their fireballs were pretty powerful.”
“Stay together. I'll be as quick as I can. And Peter, don't do anything rash.”
He hung up before I could reply to that.
“Well?” Guleed asked. She was crouched in the doorway to the living room, peering over the sofa at the window and the street outside. It seemed eerily quiet.
“Ten minutes,” I told her.
There was a bang at the back door and we all jumped. I got a sinking feeling as both Stephanopoulos and Guleed expectantly turned to look at me.
“I can't take on someone that powerful,” I said.
Stephanopoulos looked momentarily disappointed before nodding. “Upstairs.” She rounded up two of the forensics team that were still on site and we all proceeded as quickly as we could upstairs and headed towards the back bedroom.
Peering through the window from a crouched position we could see the practitioner, dressed in stereotypical black with a white mask over his face. At least, I was presuming by the stance that he was male.
“Who the hell is that?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“No idea, boss,” I replied.
I was spared trying to come up with an explanation as Stephanopoulos' radio sprang to life, announcing that SO19 were five minutes away. I checked my watch; hopefully Nightingale would get there sooner.
“Think Nightingale will be able to handle him?” Guleed asked.
I nodded. “Easily,” I replied, hoping I sounded a lot more confident than I felt. I'd seen what Nightingale could do, but Varvara hadn't been throwing fireballs around and I imagined Nightingale might be a bit rusty in the fighting fire with fire department himself.
Stephanopoulos looked sceptical but before I could further defend my boss' honour there was a loud cracking sound from the garden. Carefully we looked over the windowsill to see the tree below the window starting to sway. And that's when I spotted him, Nightingale striding into the garden like an avenging angel, arms outstretched. I didn't recognise the spell, but that cracking noise was back, and I realised it was the roots of the tree breaking free, scattering paving slabs as they reached up and tangled around the practitioner's ankles. Surprised, he tried to throw a fireball at Nightingale, but Nightingale didn't even flinch as it missed him by a mile.
“Bloody hell,” Stephanopoulos muttered next to me, and I nodded in agreement.
Nightingale strode closer to the man and the roots of the tree reached up and fashioned handcuffs, stopping the practitioner from throwing any more magic around.
Nightingale looked up to where we were crouched, and nodded, before starting to speak to the man. It took me a moment to realise that he was cautioning him, and I couldn't help but smile that he didn't stumble over the words this time.
“Remind me never to piss your governor off,” Stephanopoulos said, before she started moving out of the room. I started to nod my agreement, but really, I couldn't remember seeing Nightingale angry. Not truly, vengeful, angry. Even now it was all contained fury, impressive but not out of control. Though I'd guess that if Nightingale did ever lose control his magic would be all over the place and he'd be no good to anyone.
The stiff upper lip thing has its uses, I suppose.
Guleed and I looked at each other, gestured our incredulity at the situation with some good eyebrow wriggling, and then moved downstairs.
Stephanopoulos was already barking orders as the other reinforcements finally turned up. I headed out the back and nodded towards Nightingale who was talking to one of the SO19 officers. The practitioner snarled in my direction, but I manfully ignored him.
“Peter, are you all right?” Nightingale asked.
“I'm fine, you?”
“Not a scratch,” he said with a grim smile. “Do you recognise him?”
“Nope,” I replied.
“Hmm,” Nightingale hummed. He was looking at the practitioner again with a slight frown.
Nightingale shook his head. “There's something familiar...but I can't quite place it.” He took a step back and seemed to visibly shake the thought off. “No doubt it will come to me.”
“What are we going to do with him?” Guleed asked. She'd removed his mask and one of the forensics team had taken a photo of his face while she was closely examining the tree that was keeping the practitioner in place.
“Yes, that has been concerning me as well,” Nightingale replied.
It would have been concerning me too, if I'd thought about it. I didn't ask what happened before to prisoners like this one; I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer. The look Nightingale shot me suggested he wouldn't want to have to answer either.
“We could keep him at the Folly,” I suggested, though I wasn't very hopeful. We did have cells but given recent Faceless Man related incidents I don't think we were really that keen on having the enemy on the premises.
“I'm afraid that may be our only option,” Nightingale agreed. “We can hardly leave him in an ordinary...”
Before Nightingale had even finished his thought a shot rang out, so loud the shooter may as well have been standing right next to me. We all flinched and dropped low, two SO19 officers moving to cover us, one even going so far as to put a hand on Nightingale's shoulder to make sure he stayed down.
I could see Nightingale's fingers twitch as if he wanted to throw the armed officer off, but he kept himself still until the all clear was given. That's when I realised who the shot had been aimed for.
“Shit,” Stephanopoulos said, at the same time as me. “So much for questioning the suspect.”
Nightingale stood up with a frown and brushed down his jacket. “He really doesn't like loose ends,” he observed. No need to ask who he was talking about.
We all turned to ponder the body of our fireball throwing practitioner, a neat hole in the middle of his forehead.
It was going to be a very long day.
* * * * *
Deaths in police custody are, quite rightly, taken extremely seriously. Deaths in police custody where the suspect was being kept in place by the use of a magically enhanced tree are, in the words of that great linguist Alexander Seawoll “bloody typical of your bloody department.”
This was directed at Nightingale, although Seawoll was glaring daggers at me. I tried to keep a neutral expression, while Nightingale seemed unusually exasperated.
“There was nothing that we could have done differently,” Nightingale said.
“Could he have defended himself if he wasn't...” Seawoll scrunched up his face, “tied to a tree?”
“No more than you could have,” Nightingale replied. “Or anyone else handcuffed by any means. The precision required to stop a bullet using magic or any other....”
“All right,” Seawoll interrupted, which was probably what Nightingale had been intending to happen, if the way his eyes slanted quickly towards me and then away again was any indication. “This is going to be a shit storm, you understand that?”
“I will take full responsibility,” Nightingale said. I wondered if it was time he started counting how many things he was taking responsibility for.
“Yes, you bloody will,” Seawoll replied, and then headed off towards his office before Nightingale could say anything more.
We were back at Belgravia nick, having answered preliminary questions at the scene and now waiting to be called to answer more questions. Nightingale didn't appear worried, so I was trying to emulate him. Not my first mistake.
“It will be all right,” Nightingale said. “We've faced worse.”
Not the most reassuring thing he could have said and my face must have indicated as much because Nightingale smiled ruefully and patted me on the shoulder.
“I'll go in first and smooth the way,” he said.
“Right,” I replied. And just as I was failing to find something reassuring to say in return, Nightingale was called away for his interview.
I wouldn't see him again for two days.
* * * * * *
Paperwork is the bane of my life, particularly when Nightingale takes a surprisingly lax approach to correlating data. Luckily, or not as the case may be, Seawoll had his own meeting to attend so Guleed let me borrow the computer terminal next to her, rather than me having to go back to the Folly.
I'd made out that I was merely trying to get everything down before I forgot it, but she wasn't fooled – I was waiting to talk to Nightingale. For all the times we'd been through this rigmarole before, I wasn't usually there when Nightingale had to defend himself, or me, and he never told me afterwards what he had said or how it had gone. Not that I ever asked.
So there I was, fooling no one into thinking that I was concentrating on my work, when I remembered that Nightingale had been out to see a dead body that morning too. Knowing full well that Nightingale wouldn't have updated HOLMES2 even if he'd had the time, I turned to the best source of information I knew – Sahra Guleed, Muslim ninja.
“Any idea what happened with Nightingale's body from King's Cross?” I asked her.
She looked over at me and then looked over at her empty coffee mug.
I considered my options and then headed outside to the nearest Costa. Even the best investigating officer needs some stimulant to get them through the day and no one in their right mind would think you could get that in the staff canteen.
So, it was while I was armed with coffee and chocolate brownies, trying to balance my purchases and cross the road at the same time, that Nightingale was taken.
I got the story third hand from Guleed at first, and then again from Stephanopoulos. Nightingale had been in with the DPS, and by all accounts it had been going well. Nightingale was answering all the questions he should have been, telling them as much as he knew in the most circumspect way he could. I shouldn't have been surprised, he's had a hell of a lot of practice at it.
And then, it started to get weird.
The officer doing all the questioning wasn't one we knew – as we'd learn later his employment records were meticulous, he'd worked his way steadily up the ranks, he was respected by his colleagues, and none of them knew about his particular predilection for women who wouldn't complain if they were strangled to within an inch of their lives. But the Faceless Man knew. Somehow he'd found out and used that to his advantage. Just one more spy within our ranks.
It was beginning to feel more than a little personal.
According to those that had been listening in, Nightingale started to realise something was wrong before the other DPS officer conducting the interview. But she cottoned on soon enough when DC Matt Franklin smashed a mug of coffee into her face.
Nightingale doesn't appear to have used his magic.
I was allowed into the room to have a look around and I couldn't sense his signare anywhere. We could only speculate then, but it seemed likely that he chose not to use it against someone with no apparent magical ability himself, and because he didn't want to knock out anything useful like the cameras and computers in the building.
Which was actually really helpful, if only in allowing us to see, as we jostled for position around the computer monitor, that Franklin drew a gun and threatened to shoot anyone who got in his way as he demanded Nightingale go with him.
(The gun had belonged to a drug dealer and was due to be used in a trial that week. No one had noticed the chain of evidence had been compromised and the trial fell apart.
The CPS continue to blame the Folly).
No one was close enough to hear what Franklin said to Nightingale, or what it was he showed him in the hand that wasn't holding the weapon, but the video feed clearly shows Nightingale's usual stoic mask slip away. Whatever it was, it was serious enough for Nightingale to allow himself to be taken hostage. Nightingale, as Seawoll was to say more than once “is too good a cop to just hand himself over without a bloody good reason.”
(The second time he said it I filmed it for posterity).
(So did Guleed).
And so in under half an hour I'd lost my boss and only had two cups of coffee and a couple of brownies to show for it.
* * * * *
The police don't take kindly to one of their own being taken. And the residents of the Folly especially don't. After I was finally preparing to leave for the day – words were starting to blur on the computer screen, my neck and shoulders were aching from examining CCTV footage and I could barely keep my eyes open – I started contemplating finding a hotel room to crash in. But Stephanopoulos frogmarched me into a car and drove me home so my fantasies of being able to avoid Molly for a little while longer remained a pipe dream.
“You look like shit. Sleep, eat, have a shower. Back in the office at 7.”
I didn't have the energy to argue and besides, I knew that making myself ill with worry wasn't going to help Nightingale. He'd been looking after himself perfectly well a long time before I came along.
In a fashion.
Molly was waiting as usual in the atrium. I suspected this was more to do with Nightingale not having returned yet than any desire to see me. And by suspected I mean knew for a fact.
I hovered in the doorway for a few seconds, but she wasn't fooled. She moved closer to me and tilted her head.
“We think the Faceless Man has him.”
I took two steps back and banged my elbow on the front door – Molly looked like she wanted to tear me to pieces with her bare hands.
“There wasn't anything I could have done,” I told her and she just continued to glare at me, her fingers balled into fists. “I'm worried about him too,” I added and couldn't have held back the tremor in my voice if I'd wanted to.
If I was expecting any kind of sympathy I'd have been a long time wanting.
“Right, well, I need to...” I slinked past Molly, never turning my back on her. She stayed where she was, staring at the front door; I'd pity anyone who tried to come through it next, if I didn't think it would probably be me.
* * * * *
Sleep didn't come easily that night. I kept waking up with the feeling of being watched, only no one was actually there. And every time I lay back down it was to thoughts of what other ways I could use to track Nightingale's movements.
Finally I gave up and went out for a run at 6. By the time I'd got washed up, got changed and had breakfast (cereal because Molly didn't appear interested in doing me anything) Stephanopoulos was waiting outside the front door.
“I can drive myself,” I said, aware that Molly was hovering in the shadows behind me.
“Magic or not,” Stephanopoulos said, mouth puckering as if she were eating a lemon, “Nightingale's one of us. Now get in the bloody car.”
I considered giving Molly a reassuring look as I left but thought better of it at the last moment; she wouldn't believe me any more than I'd believe myself.
As I got into the car I spotted Frank Caffrey lurking opposite, so at least Molly wouldn't be keeping watch on the Folly by herself.
Stephanopoulos waved at the back seat and I pulled my focus back to the matter at hand, grabbing a couple of the files she was pointing at and started flicking through them.
“We have a breakthrough?” I asked.
“Uniforms managed to track down some neighbours and we got an ID on our original corpse – Charles Cooper. He was a solicitor up until three years ago when he handed in his notice, though not before punching his boss in the face on the way out.”
“Huh,” I said. “Did the CPS pursue it?”
“Tried to. Cooper fled the scene, didn't go back to his flat, parents said they haven't seen him since. We're still checking but it doesn't seem like anyone from his old life had seen him since that day.”
“Do the solicitors have any connection to Nightingale?”
“What are you thinking?”
“Well,” I said slowly, trying to get this straight in my own head. “Faceless Man isn't in the habit of doing people favours for nothing. If he sought Cooper out it was because he wanted something from him. If not about Nightingale, then something else.”
“And what, the price was getting a tail?” Stephanopoulos asked incredulously.
I was just about to reply that I'd seen stranger, when the world turned upside down.
* * * * *
I wasn't to learn until much later exactly what had happened but the long and short of it was that as Stephanopoulos and I proceeded away from Russell Square a truck ran a red light, slammed into our car and flipped us over until we landed upside down in the middle of the road.
According to witnesses two men exited the front cab, and three people exited the rear. The front two came towards me and dragged me out (all the witnesses agreed that they thought I was dead at that point) and transferred me to another car (witnesses differed in colour – red, blue, green, model – Citroen, BMW, Renault, and first two letters of the registration number – BP, RS, LX). From there I was driven north for a couple of miles, at which point I was apparently transferred to another car and disappeared from trace.
Frankly I'm glad I was unconscious for all of this, it doesn't sound like much fun.
When I eventually woke up I found myself in a typical villain's lair and handcuffed to a water pipe above my head. If a man stroking a cat in his arms had sauntered in I wouldn't have batted an eye.
I had a splitting headache (not a concussion, no matter what Walid would later say), stiff arms, aching ribs (3 bruised as it would turn out) and what I diagnosed as a sprained ankle. It could have been a lot worse, provided I wasn't slowly internally bleeding to death. (Spoiler: I wasn't.)
I tried to twitch my head back to see my watch, in a vain attempt to work out how long I'd been there, but no luck. It was moments like these that I wished Nightingale would teach me something useful, like a lock picking spell.
The Commissioner was already spitting nails after the incident at the police station (anger at Nightingale's kidnap seemed a minor thorn in his side), so I could only imagine how apoplectic he was about an attack in broad daylight against one of his favourite police officers (and I wasn't talking about me). But that would at least mean that all stops would be pulled out to find us. Provided we were being kept in the same place.
I had my answer to that quicker than I would have liked.
I won't lie, I think my heart stopped when Suspect Number 3 and Suspect Number 4 dragged an unconscious looking Nightingale into the room and left him in a heap in the corner.
I didn't bother doing all those things you see in movies – shouting in outrage, struggling, cursing the suspect's parentage – for one thing panic in the face of the enemy has never really been my style, and for another I could sense Nightingale's disapproval of any kind of histrionics even while lying face down on a damp concrete floor.
The Suspects didn't stick around, for which I was grateful. I pulled at my arms a little and was sure I heard a reassuring creak when all thoughts turned towards Nightingale as he groaned, and pulled himself up to a sitting position.
“Sir?” I asked, just stopping myself from asking the obvious.
Nightingale gifted me with a sardonic smile and took out a handkerchief that he pressed to the bleeding wound on his head.
“No, I don't believe I'm fine,” he said after a moment. “Yourself?”
He was so matter of fact about it that I couldn't help but laugh, then hiss as my ribs creaked.
“Peter?” he asked, moving slightly towards me.
“No, no,” I said, “don't move.”
Nightingale blinked at me, his eyes slowly coming back into focus as I anxiously watched. “How badly hurt are you?”
“I'll live,” I replied. Nightingale frowned and then winced as the movement pulled at the cut on his head. The lighting was pretty dim but as far as I could tell it didn't look too bad; I'd seen enough incidents as a probationer to know just how much head wounds could bleed.
“Peter, now is not the time to dismiss your injuries.”
“Pot, kettle?” I asked.
Nightingale sighed. “I'm not fine. Nor am I dying, just yet.”
I decided changing the subject was probably the best idea at this point. “Is it him?”
Nightingale looked like he was considering the question a bit harder than I thought it truly warranted, so I started to worry again about the blow to his head.
“I don't believe so, not in a direct manner anyway.” Nightingale shifted a little to lean against the wall behind him. “From what I've been able to ascertain from some rather indiscrete conversations, a group of the Faceless Man's acolytes decided to stage an attack on the Folly in order to ingratiate themselves with him. I believe the death I was investigating in King's Cross was part of this same cabal.” Nightingale shook his head in disgust. “They seem to almost worship him, and were willing volunteers for his experiments. Apparently only those in his inner circle get the best treatments.”
I wanted to throw up. “They wanted the You-Know-What?” I asked, remembering at the last second not to say library in case they were listening in.
“Quite,” Nightingale agreed, with an approving nod. “Though I think all they know is that the Faceless Man wants something from the Folly, it doesn't seem as if they know what. I don't really think he knows what he wants from us either, which is perhaps more worrying.”
I closed my eyes for a moment, even more aware of the ache in my shoulders and neck that was started to spread to the back of my head. What I wouldn't give for sleep right now. Magic was certainly taking as much out of me as it could.
At this point I opened my eyes again and looked over at Nightingale, who was watching me out of the corner of his eye. As usual I didn't really know what he was thinking, but I did know magic had exacted a far higher price from him, and he was still standing. Magic was worth it.
And that's where you came in, with me wondering out loud if it had been worth it for Nightingale to have me as an apprentice and Nightingale suggesting we hurry up and get ourselves out of this mess.
Well, not in so many words, but you get the gist.
“What do you have in mind?” I asked, instead of “you're not going to try and use magic with a head wound, are you?”
Nightingale looked at me as if I'd asked the question anyway. “Those chains don't look like they'd hold up to much,” he said.
He stood up, deliberately held himself still as if I couldn't see that his legs were shaking, and then moved over to where I was. I craned my neck up, looked at the chains and gave them an experimental tug. It didn't seem like it moved to me, but Nightingale hummed approvingly.
“This might hurt,” he said. I bit my lip to stop myself from asking, “me or you?” and simply nodded. There was no point talking him out of it; I could see this was going to be one of those times he didn't listen to me.
He braced himself with one hand on the pipe attached to the wall, and the other around the chains themselves, taking the slack to protect my wrists as much as he could. He looked at me and I nodded, and then he started to pull.
I honestly don't know who was hurt the most; each time he tugged at the pipe I felt it all down my arms and spine, and though he didn't say anything, I could see the strain on his face and the way he gritted his teeth. It was enough for me to suspect that the head wound wasn't his only injury. (Spoiler, it wasn't).
Then, with a final effort that left him sprawled on the floor, Nightingale managed to pull the pipe from the wall. I felt his signare wash over me, knew that he'd used magic for that last extra pull, and swallowed down any comment, because I knew perfectly well that I'd have done the same.
I took a moment to pull my wrists over the end of the pipe and then I hurried to Nightingale's side.
“Sir? Are you all right?”
Nightingale wisely didn't tell me that was a stupid question, but allowed me to help him into a sitting position. He was breathing hard with the effort and clearly trying not to show how much pain he was in. I was about to call him out on his idiocy, consequences be dammed, when there was a sound by the door.
We both froze and then Nightingale uncurled himself into a fighting stance. I tried to do the same, wincing as handcuffs rubbed against my wrists.
After a slow count to ten and nothing had happened Nightingale slowly got up and motioned me to stay where I was. Reluctantly I did, working the handcuffs over my wrists as quietly as I could, cushioning them against my shirt so they wouldn't make a sound.
Nightingale was stalking to the door less like a panther and more like a house cat drugged up on cat nip. But when he finally rested a hand against the wall to steady himself I did some stalking of my own.
“You're in no fit state to...” I began to hiss in a whisper.
“I'm your boss,” Nightingale interrupted, standing up straight. “And you are in no fit state to...”
“Then we'll be in no fit state together,” I interrupted him.
Nightingale looked like he was on the verge of pulling his hair out, but then he nodded and practically smiled. “Very well. Together?”
I nodded, but manoeuvred myself so that I was in front nevertheless. I didn't hear Nightingale's eyes roll, but it was a close call.
Cautiously I pulled the door open and cast a small werelight. It floated a little haphazardly, but then settled on the far wall and I found myself releasing the breath I'd been holding. Nightingale patted me on the back and then moved out of the door in front of me.
Movement further down the corridor drew both our attentions. It wasn't until Nightingale was stepping directly in front of me, shielding me that I realised exactly who I was looking at.
“Nightingale, Peter,” Lesley said. She was standing in the shadows cast by the werelight, but I'd have recognised her anywhere. I took a step forward but Nightingale put his fingers around my wrist and I stopped.
“Lesley,” he said, his voice vibrating in time to the pulse beating in my wrist, “this was your idea?”
“No,” she said, quickly, sharply, and waited for Nightingale to comment, which he didn't. “I wouldn't,” she added.
“The list of what you wouldn't do appears to be quite small,” Nightingale replied, a steel to his voice that sent a shiver down my spine.
Even in the shadows I could see Lesley's eyes flicker to where Nightingale was still holding on to my wrist and then back again.
“I'm a pragmatist,” she said. “This wasn't Him.”
“We'd already worked that one out for ourselves.”
Lesley's mouth probably curved up into a sneer, but I couldn't be quite sure. “Good for you.”
“You realise I can't let you leave,” Nightingale said.
I knew I should probably say something at this point, but I couldn't. Because Nightingale was right, whether or not she had been involved in our kidnapping, she was still wanted for a number of crimes, not least of which was her attack on me.
“I unlocked the door for you. That means you have to give me a head start. Isn't that how it works in the demi-monde?”
“The demi-monde, yes. The police force, no.” Nightingale finally released my wrist and took a few steps forward. “Lesley May I am arresting....”
Nightingale didn't get to finish, as he was suddenly tackled to the ground by someone neither of us had seen lurking in the shadows by Lesley's feet.
Later I'd tell the DPS that my immediate concern was assisting my senior officer who was in what I judged to be danger of losing his life. But really it was only Nightingale calling for my help that made me stop in my aborted pursuit of Lesley.
It wasn't until even later that I realised that Nightingale had had everything under control by the time I went to help him and as usual he'd been protecting me from doing something I might regret.
It would be annoying if I didn't keep finding it so touching.
“We need to find a telephone,” Nightingale said, as he positioned his attacker in to a sitting position on the floor. It was only then that I realised what he already must have, that my pockets were empty.
“I can go on the street,” I started to say and then I stopped and looked at the woman in front of us a bit closer. “Hang on...you were at the house the other day.”
I leaned forward and then backwards quickly as she spat at me.
“That's enough of that,” Nightingale said, pulling her back away from me. “You know her?” he asked me.
I shrugged. “She tackled me to the ground and accused me of murder,” I explained. “In all the confusion when we were dodging fireballs she must have escaped.”
I tried to think back to what had happened – it seemed like a life time ago now – but getting everyone inside had been my priority, not securing a prisoner.
Lesley would have secured the prisoner.
“She accused you of murder?” Nightingale said. He moved around so he was facing her and then crouched down, though not in spitting distance, I noted.
“I don't talk to the Issacs,” she said, before Nightingale could ask a question.
“And why might that be?” I asked.
“The only good Isaac is a dead one,” she said.
Nightingale didn't react, he just sat down on the floor in front of her; I guess when you've been wearing the same suit for a few days and Molly does your washing you don't care about the stains you're getting covered with.
The first thing he did was caution her, and he didn't even look at me to check that he'd got it right. (He had).
“My name is Thomas Nightingale,” he said. “You don't have to answer any of my questions. But I can't help you if you don't.”
For a moment I thought the woman was going to start spitting again, but then she looked up at me, and then back down at Nightingale.
“You're his Master?” she asked.
“I'm his boss,” Nightingale replied, without hesitation. “And we both went to help.”
“He said you'd kill us. That the Isaacs always kill what they don't understand.”
Nightingale sighed and his shoulders slumped. “Perhaps that was true once,” he admitted. “But it isn't true now. Peter in particular is very inventive when it comes to solving difficult problems.”
I wanted to say that he was getting pretty good at it himself, but I didn't want to interrupt.
“You can call me Lupita.”
I blinked, but didn't comment; it would be lost on Nightingale anyway.
“Lupita, how can we help you?”
“Can I get a cup of tea first?” she asked.
I could hear the almost smile in Nightingale's voice as he agreed. “Perhaps we should conduct this interview in less salubrious surroundings.”
* * * * *
We found ourselves in a greasy spoon not far from the Thames. As far as I could tell we weren't followed, so Lesley must have cleared the way for us. When I said as much to Nightingale, he didn't look particularity pleased. But then we've never really talked about Lesley since she changed sides, and I'm not altogether sure that we ever will.
There were surprisingly few raised eyebrows when we sat down in a corner with our eyes on the exits, but then everyone seemed to be minding their own business, and we certainly didn't look like coppers, which was probably all to the good.
Nightingale went to clean up and then bought us a pot of tea and a full English each. I watched as he talked to the owner and got the use of a phone. Lupita had her back to him but judging by the way she was devouring her breakfast I don't think she'd have noticed if Nightingale had been making the call while sat down next to her.
I was just picking at my food. My head had started pounding once I'd started walking and hit the fresh air and I was grateful for the moment that no was paying attention to me.
I didn't try to engage Lupita in conversation, her mouth was constantly too full for that. Instead I watched Nightingale. It was easy to tell the moment he stopped briefing the Commissioner and started talking to Molly. Better him than me.
“When was the last time you had a decent meal?” I asked Lupita as she licked the plate clean.
“Not since my parents kicked me out,” she said, surprising me with her honesty.
“Why did they do that?”
“Didn't like my girlfriend.”
“And where have you been living since then?”
I swallowed a sigh just as Nightingale sat down and passed me a glass of water and two paracetamol.
I raised an eyebrow, he raised an eyebrow, and I took my medicine like a good boy.
Lupita took a long slurp of her tea and Nightingale's entire body practically twitched.
“What can you tell us about Charles Cooper?”
Lupita looked at Nightingale. “You know his name then.”
“We do,” Nightingale replied. “What was your relationship with him?”
“He helped me. When my parents kicked me out. There were these bins, by his offices, I used to doss there. He'd come out for a smoke and we got chatting. He'd pass me a fiver sometimes, or give me his lunch.”
“And you trusted him?” I asked.
Lupita looked confused by the question. “Course. He was doing that thing you wizards do, to make people talk.”
“You're saying he used magic on you?” Nightingale asked.
“Why else would I have gone with him?”
“We're not using a glamour on you,” I interrupted, because I wanted her to be very clear about that.
“Okay,” Lupita said, but she obviously didn't believe us. Nightingale shook his head a little and I left it. We'd just have to hope that didn't come back to bite us later.
“You said you went with him. Where did you go?” Nightingale asked.
Lupita motioned for another cup of tea, and I went to fetch it, and one for me and Nightingale too. It was while I was at the counter that I saw Guleed sitting in the corner biting into a croissant. And then I noticed the police cars outside and several police officers I recognised loitering about, some in uniform, some not. I nodded at Guleed but didn't move towards her, and then passed back to Nightingale and Lupita.
As I sat down I realised I felt a lot better knowing that there was support nearby. And that Nightingale had thought to call them in.
Nightingale nodded his thanks for the tea and then turned his attention back to Lupita. She took a sip of her drink and settled back into her chair.
“I won't give up my friends.”
“All right,” Nightingale said. “But you do need to start telling us what happened.”
“He took me to a place outside London, for people like me.”
“People like you,” Nightingale gently prompted, as she looked down at her hands and bit at her lower lip.
“People who believe in magic,” she said, whispered it really. Then she moved her hand and opened it up, just like Nightingale had when he'd first shown me magic.
It was only because I knew him so well that I could see him brace himself, and I was dimly aware of doing it myself. But nothing happened.
“He didn't teach you how?” I asked.
“He said you have to be chosen. And I wasn't ready for that. Said there were other things I could do though, that would prepare me. You know, modifications and stuff.”
Nightingale looked over at me and I had absolutely no idea what his expression meant, until he started talking.
“Lupita, magic takes a lot of hard work and is very dangerous; too much magic use can destroy your brain if you don't know what you're doing. But just about everybody can learn magic, if they are shown how. You do not need anything other than a willingness to learn and a wizard to teach you.”
Lupita stared at Nightingale, really stared as if she was reading him for clues as to whether or not he was lying. I knew he was telling the truth and even I was staring a bit, until I got a grip on myself. God knows what this whole thing was looking like to Guleed and the others.
“Charles looked after us,” she started to say, words coming out in more of a rush. I started taking proper notes again. “Said what He did was a small price for the power we could have, if we were chosen to learn magic. Said that we had to keep it quiet though, or the Isaacs would come after us. He said you'd gone mad in the war and would kill us if you knew.”
Nightingale's expression didn't falter, he just nodded at her to continue.
“Charles got talking to some of the others, friends,” she added, so we wouldn't ask about their identities. That wouldn't go over well with the higher ups, but Nightingale had agreed so we didn't push the matter. “Said that He was angry with you, about some girl or something? Said you'd been interfering and wouldn't He be pleased if you were taken out of his way.”
She wrapped her fingers around what must have been a cold mug by now and I could see that she was trembling slightly.
“I don't think he meant to kill you or nothing, just, some of the others have been on the streets longer than me. Cops are, well, you know. And wizard cops, even worse. So they got a bit out of hand.”
She looked at me. “I'm sorry, about attacking you. I thought you'd found out about the plan to kidnap you both and you'd got your revenge in first.”
I muttered some soothing nonsense and she seemed satisfied. I wasn't, but well, so much so usual.
“Did you ever seen Him?” Nightingale asked.
“Once. I think. His face was all...” She scrunched up her nose. “Like it wasn't there.”
I tried, and failed, not to twitch.
“What did he say to you?” Nightingale asked.
Lupita laughed. “Me? He didn't say nothing to me. It was Charles he talked to. Charles he gave his messages.”
“You do know he's a very dangerous man,” Nightingale said.
“What does he want?” Lupita surprised me by asking.
“What do you mean?” I countered.
“No one wants something for nothing,” she said. “He's not helping us 'cause he cares.” She said it like caring was a dirty concept, and maybe in her world it was.
“I'm afraid we're not entirely sure,” Nightingale said. “But I hope you'll be able to tell your friends to stay away from him, if they can.”
“He was never going to teach us magic, was he?”
“No,” Nightingale replied. We both saw the next question coming and I could see Nightingale trying to form an answer, but Lupita surprised us.
“I don't suppose...? No, stupid question. I suppose I knew it was all too good to be true.”
“I'm sorry,” Nightingale said. “It isn't fair that you've been caught in the middle of this.”
Lupita looked at Nightingale and almost smiled. “I don't mind being wrong about the Isaacs,” she said. Then she looked over at me. “My name's not really Lupita.”
“Really?” I asked, feigning surprise. She retaliated by kicking my leg under the table, gently(ish).
“Give me your notebook,” she said, taking the pen out of my hand. Curious I flipped it to a clean page and watched her scribble on it in a neat scrawl. “That's where the others are.”
“You're sure about this?” Nightingale asked, closing the notebook so he couldn't see the address.
Lupita flipped the notebook open again. “They need help.”
Nightingale nodded and motioned towards Guleed who started to walk over. I sank back in to my chair. Now the hard work was really going to start.
* * * * * *
We didn't get to inspect the Faceless Man's little recruiting den until we'd both been checked out by Dr Walid (“you should know better,” he'd said to Nightingale; no such comment for me). Thankfully Stephanopoulos just had a broken arm from our encounter and was, against medical advice, back at work and staying behind in the office only because Seawoll was insisting on leading the charge himself.
He probably wouldn't have let me or Nightingale go either if it weren't for the fact that Nightingale needed to check for demon traps.
“All clear,” Nightingale said. He looked fine, but when he took a step back I noted he was holding himself even stiffer than usual.
“Any of these people have magic?” Seawoll asked me, not even making a face like he usually did at the M word.
“We don't think so...” I started to say but he interrupted me before I could finish.
“Then get him in a car before he falls down. Your department's reputation is bad enough as it is.”
He stalked off then, giving orders. I braced myself for an argument but Nightingale actually looked relieved when I suggested he sit down.
“A wizard must know his limits, Peter,” he said and I honestly wasn't sure whether he was being sarcastic or not. So instead of saying anything I just opened the car door for him and moved around to sit next to him. I still had a slight headache and my ribs were protesting and I've never really seen the appeal of playing martyr.
We sat in a companionable silence for a little while. I had no idea what he was thinking but I had about a dozen questions I wanted to ask, on top of my usual list. I didn't make a move to ask them though until we saw several people being led out of the building with blankets around their shoulders and the faint pale sheen of people who'd been out of the sunlight for a while. They all looked pretty human on the surface, but I knew very well by now that that was no indication of anything.
“Do you think killing his own people will make a difference?” I asked. It wasn't the question I wanted answering the most, but I was working my way up to that.
It took a moment for Nightingale to reply, to come back from wherever he went at moments like these, when he retreated back into his own head.
“I don't know,” he said. “Perhaps not. He was willing to kill people for acting against the Folly because they interfered in his own plot against us. That's a powerful message. Maybe not for those poor people he tricked, but the demi-monde will take notice.”
“They were just guinea pigs, weren't they?”
“We won't really know until we start questioning them, but I suspect there will be some like Charles Cooper who, for whatever reason, he had a hold over. People with access to information he wanted. He's shown himself to be manipulative, and to be planning several steps ahead. Clearly he's been amassing information for a lot longer than I'd suspected.”
I looked over at Nightingale and tried to think of something better to say than “it wasn't your fault”, but he was the last man standing. Who else should have been keeping an eye out?
“That wasn't the question you wanted to ask though, was it?” he said, smiling a little sadly at me.
I shook my head. But when it came to it, I just couldn't ask. Part of me wished we'd talked about Lesley before now, part of me didn't ever want to have this conversation.
Nightingale's expression turned even sadder, which I hadn't thought was possible, and he turned to stare out of the window. Seawoll was yelling at a uniform and gesturing over at us.
“I don't know why Lesley May let us out. Perhaps she was merely following orders. I certainly don't think it's because she cares what happens to us.”
I wanted to argue. Even now I wanted to point out that she could have killed me half a dozen times by now, and she hadn't. That she had to have a plan to get away from the Faceless Man, that there was no way she would let herself be tricked by him. But somehow lying to Nightingale has always been worse than lying to myself.
And so I stayed silent.
There were still a lot of loose ends to tie up. A lot of interviews to be conducted. A lot of paperwork to sign. A lot of hard conversations still to come, but right then all I wanted to do was sleep.
We still had one more hurdle to get through first though.
* * * * * *
Molly was pleased to us. And by us I mean Nightingale.
“I'm perfectly fine, Molly,” Nightingale said, which was an outrageous lie if ever I heard one. “And so is Peter.”
We were seated in the kitchen, both of us feeling a little cold and worn out. Molly took the chastisement on the chin, handing me a cup of tea as if she hadn't fully intended for me to make my own. I considered it an olive branch and smiled warmly at her. She narrowed her eyes. Nightingale sighed.
“Good to be home, sir?” I asked, not able to stop myself.
Nightingale snorted softly. “Yes, Peter. It always is.”
* * * * *
It wasn't until two days later, when I'd been giving so many interviews that I was starting to forget my name and Nightingale was starting to look like I felt, that I finally remembered to ask him why he'd let himself be taken.
Judging by the way his body became very still and alert, I gathered he'd been hoping I'd forgotten all about it. And I might have done, if something one of the DPS officers had said hadn't reminded me to ask.
“He did have a gun, Peter,” Nightingale reminded me, turning back to the book he had been reading.
I sat down in the chair opposite him and waited. I wasn't going to beg for an answer, but I also wasn't going to leave until I had one.
Nightingale knew me well enough by now to know that, so he carefully marked his page and put the book on the table between us.
“I was rather hoping not to have this conversation,” Nightingale began. “Selfish really.”
I didn't comment as he looked at the table and the book, but not at me.
“He showed you something,” I finally said, not able to be as patient as Nightingale on my best day, which this certainly wasn't.
For a moment I thought that was all he was going to say, and I could feel my patience thinning. But then he shifted in his seat and looked at me.
“He showed me a picture of your father. At one of his shows.”
I'm not sure what I'd expected, but it hadn't been that.
“Oh,” I said, struggling to find anything else to say. It was like a cold bucket of water had been tipped over my head.
Nightingale gave me a moment to compose myself. “I asked a uniform to keep on eye on your parent's flat for a few days, but I don't believe they are in any particular danger. The Faceless Man must know about them as well, after all.”
Because Lesley would have told him everything, he didn't say. Because Lesley would have used all the information she could to her advantage, he didn't press. Because Lesley had crossed a line she couldn't uncross, he didn't curse.
“You weren't going to tell me,” I said.
“No,” Nightingale said, “I don't suppose I was.”
He didn't try to apologise, and I didn't press the matter.
A few minutes later Molly brought in the tea things and I tried to work out how I felt as Nightingale helped her to set the table.
Finally I decided that it didn't matter. It was true, and I suppose I'd always known that it was true, that my parents were a potential target, but like so many other things I had to worry about, I'd passed that to the back of my mind. I could only do so much to protect the people I cared about, and apparently that went for Nightingale too.
So we sat in silence and drank our tea until Nightingale pushed over the book he had been reading.
“What's this?” I asked, not looking at the cover.
“I think it's about time we brought the fight to them, don't you?”
I looked at Nightingale then, really looked. There was a determination in his eyes that I don't think I'd ever seen before. Not like this. And so I found myself nodding before I really knew what I was getting into.
So, just another day at the office, then.