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‘What could possibly go wrong?’ I asked with my very best Jeremy Clarkson rhetorical bombast.

Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who thinks Top Gear is the one he’s most likely to utilise in the Jag in case of emergency, frowned at me. ‘I am surprised that you of all people would make light of the situation, Peter. The demonstration organisers say they are expecting attendance in excess of forty-thousand this afternoon, centred on the location of the shooting, and with its recent history of destructive rioting, Tottenham is—’

‘Yeah yeah. I was at the briefing too, remember?’

I do take this seriously – seriously! – which is why we were taking the Asbo, not the aforementioned Jag, and since we were taking the Asbo, I was the one driving. I refrained from slapping the steering wheel in annoyance as we turned onto Ferry Lane. Just.

You see, several years ago, a young half-black man named Mark Duggan was pulled over by police and shot dead on the pavement along this very road. Opinion differs precisely on how much of a delinquent he was, but one thing is certain: If you’re a white cop who shoots an unarmed black man, you can get away with murder. Literally. We’re a lot like the States in that regard here in London. Only with better public transport.

Public outcry over Duggan’s death kicked off riots in the summer of 2011. We at the Metropolitan Police Service refer to them as a ‘grievous failure in community policing efforts and open dialogue.’ The rest of the world remembers them as wall-to-wall, 24-hour news coverage of a sudden spate of arson, looting and general mayhem convulsing London and other parts of Britain. You have probably seen the photographs of the burning – and burnt out shells of – homes, businesses and buses.

And those riots began in Tottenham, a neighbourhood in North London already associated with racially charged rioting. Heard of the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985? Well, I’m not going to go into details, but suffice it to say that the community didn’t appreciate the policing back then either, and people died.

Mark Duggan grew up on the Broadwater Farm Estate. Oh, did I neglect to mention that? He was four years old during the riots of 1985. Funny that, how it’s all connected.

Nightingale was still frowning at me. ‘Peter …’

I didn’t want to have this conversation with my governor, so I ignored him. Detective Constable Peter Grant, Londoner and trueborn son of a white man and a black woman, might – or so it might be reasonably thought – have more sympathy for the demonstrators than the police converging upon Tottenham in force of numbers to corral and control said demonstrators. And even I will admit that I look more the disreputable sort who gets shot by a cop than a cop himself.

To think that once upon a faraway time I used to be worried that I would be forced to work undercover for Operation Trident and learn how to pretend to be a drug dealer. Please note that ‘drug dealer’ was the career choice I had originally declined with extreme prejudice when I applied for a job with the Metropolitan Police Service.

Instead I was apprenticed to Britain’s last known surviving practitioner of magic – one Thomas Nightingale, born 1900 and ageing mysteriously in reverse – and learned how to do magic myself.

But more on that later.

We crossed the bridge over the River Lea and took the first right onto Bream Close. The quiet street leading down an unexpectedly suburban development, neat rows of quaint, semi-detached houses with single-car garages on one side and blocks of redbrick flats boasting Juliet balconies with river views and private parking on the other, was already clogged with police vehicles.

Both the Heron Wharf Management Company, Limited and the Heron Wharf Residents’ Association had happily given the Met permission to use the development as our staging ground for today’s CO11 public order operation. (I’ve been told that riots depress rents and real estate values. Needless to say, they had a vested interest.) Top brass had seconded anyone and everyone who could be spared from their usual divisions for the day to CO11.

In this case, ‘anyone and everyone’ included myself and Nightingale. After the events of One Hyde Park, the Folly had improved its case clearance rate dramatically. So we could be spared. Lucky us. Or lucky me.

All right, all right, I admit it: that bit about our improved clearance rate is a naked, streaking the city centre lie. It is true, however, that we are not normally regarded as the Met’s Most Essential.

I deftly manoeuvred the Asbo between two police vans and parked. As we climbed out of our seats, it occurred to me that Heron Wharf was aptly named: An actual grey heron was flying northward along the river, over the bridge we’d just crossed.

The de facto base of operations appeared to be operating out of one of the car parks, and it was a buzzing beehive of police activity. We headed dutifully in that direction.

‘DCI Nightingale and DC Grant, I presume?’ asked a rookie PC fully suited up in riot gear as we approached. He didn’t bother to check our warrant cards. We may not have come bearing wands, but we from the Folly are famous. No, strike that – infamous. And unwelcome. Did I mention unwelcome?

The unwelcome was palpable, in fact, and CO11’s commanding officer, middle-aged and straight out of central casting for a nineties ITV police procedural, was already wearing a stormy expression, and it became stormier when he caught sight of us. ‘This better be a secondment and not Falcon business,’ he practically snarled.

‘No,’ replied Nightingale smoothly, ‘we are not here on Falcon business. We simply—’

‘Kids these days!’ interrupted the CO11 officer with appropriate contempt for the young. ‘Off work on Monday, and back in on Tuesday to discover that they’ve got together on Facebook overnight and decided to make trouble.’

Nightingale pulled a faux-sympathetic expression, one white man to another. I grunted noncommittally; my POLICE-branded stab vest superseded my age and my skin colour at present – I’d even donned the hated helmet just to be certain – but I knew damn full well that my Good Guy status was always going to be provisional amongst such constitutionally conservative types.

I wasn’t going to blame austerity, nine-thousand quid tuition fees, UKIP or Brexit on the Millennials, though. They were the chief victims, not the perpetrators, of our Very British Troubles, and if a horde of disgruntled hipsters converging on Tottenham to protest the global resurgence of racism and white supremacy this mild, sunny summer day was to be the worst of the Met’s problems, we were getting off lightly as far as I was concerned. If I didn’t see fit to say so, naturally that was merely out of polite consideration for the feelings of my esteemed colleagues in law enforcement.

‘—latest word is that Lammy wants to address the crowd this afternoon. A handful of mealy-mouthed Haringey Council types may make an appearance as well,’ said the CO11 officer, his disgust for Labour politicians such as the (black) MP for Tottenham and occasional PM hopeful David Lammy and Haringey Borough’s affluent progressive types all too apparent. ‘I’m putting the two of you in charge of the security detail on Lammy. I don’t care what you do,’ he snorted with ill humour. ‘Post him back to Parliament in a coffin after it’s over for all I care—’

A faint, distant sound of shattering glass and bodies being pounded by a blunt object interrupted him. With it came the delight in destruction, the adrenaline rush of violence, the raucous mayhem of the mob.

Never laugh when a hearse rolls by, or you may be the next to die!

‘Did you hear that?’ I asked.

‘Hear what?’ asked the CO11 officer impatiently.

All goes well for ’bout a week, and then your coffin begins to leak! The worms crawl, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout …

Nightingale’s eyes were wide, and he nodded grimly. He’d heard it.

Mr Punch. The patron saint of the midnight riot.

Your stomach turns a slimy green, and puss comes out like whipping cream. You spread it on a slice of bread, and that’s what you eat when you are DEAD!

A sour taste rose into my mouth. It tasted a lot like fear. Or the grave. In that moment, I almost wished that it had just been my overactive imagination.

Chapter Text

Too many questions. I was struck momentarily speechless. Fortunately, Nightingale was suffering from no such disability.

‘When is the honourable MP expected?’ he asked, unflappable as ever, like we hadn’t just heard something tantamount to a declaration of war from a dangerous – and unpredictable – nemesis.

‘He’s due at four. Figure on the speech no sooner than half past the hour,’ said the CO11 officer.

‘Very good. Thank you. We will make all of the necessary arrangements,’ said Nightingale.

‘Yeah, we’ll handle it. No worries,’ I added with what I hoped was exactly the right amount of false bravado. Enough to forestall questions, not enough to raise suspicions.

‘Excellent. Kit’s over there.’ The CO11 officer jerked his thumb behind him and, deciding he had nothing further to add, sloped off to berate a threesome of idle, Costa latte-sipping coppers.

‘Backup,’ I muttered. ‘We need backup—’

‘I agree,’ said Nightingale, placing a reassuring hand on my upper arm. I could feel the warmth of it straight through my shirtsleeve, and it helped to steady my nerves. ‘Shall we call on Lea?’

I blinked with surprise. I had been thinking Guleed or Stephanopoulos or maybe even Bev. Not the genius loci of the River Lea. But we were on an island in the middle of her river at the moment, after all, and given the close proximity her powers ought to be greatest here in Tottenham.

‘Erm, does she have a number we can ring?’ I asked dubiously. Last time I saw Lea was at Mama Thames’s home in Shoreditch, and it has since been my understanding that, despite being much older than the other urban Rivers, she now lives there most of the time. Shoreditch was too far to travel for a casual social call. We wouldn’t return before MP David Lammy arrived to address the masses. (I am still impatiently awaiting a breakthrough ‘Beam me up, Scotty!’-style teleportation spell.)

‘No, but she does have a houseboat mooring near Stonebridge Lock,’ said Nightingale.

Although my familiarity with Zone 3 geography leaves something to be desired, I knew Stonebridge Lock was somewhere very nearby. ‘Oh? Can we drive there?’ I asked, but even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could hear the tell-tale noises of Ferry Lane being blocked off and traffic being diverted. ‘Never mind. Nothing wrong with walking. Might as well take advantage of the nice weather.’

The Lea Valley Walk is twenty-five kilometres – that’s fifteen and a half miles in Old Empire – of pedestrianised footpath along the River Lea starting at Ponder’s End in the farthest reaches of North London and terminating at Limehouse, where the Lea meets the Thames. It’s favoured by joggers, cyclists, anglers and twitchers who come to take in waterfowl both indigenous and introduced. The Lea Valley Walk is symbolised by a swan logo, and my own eyes were telling me that there are indeed quite a large number of mute swans living along it…and competing for water rights with the ducks, coots, cormorants and geese. (You may find yourself hard-pressed to spot a grey goose in London, but fearless specimens of the invasive Canada variety are everywhere and multiplying rapidly. I wish someone would consider turning the infernal things into Christmas dinners. Unfortunately, that’s probably against some law put down in some dusty ledger, and then Yours Truly would then be obliged to enforce it.)

The river walk is on the bank opposite that of the Heron Wharf development, so Nightingale and I had to backtrack on foot along the bridge we’d recently driven across. Walking along the bridge gave me the opportunity to appreciate how remarkable the view was looking south. There were red-leafed cherry trees and weeping willows; someone had even gone to the effort of hanging baskets from the banks to simulate artificial reed beds.

I was most struck, however, by how different the river itself was on the northern side of the bridge. Whereas the southern side was the usual murky, impenetrable, possibly sewage-stained brown characterising London’s mighty and not so mighty rivers, the northern side was clean and clear as crystal. I could see all the way to the bottom, right down to where silvery schools of finger-sized fish were congregating. I didn’t even have to squat down to see them. The visibility was that good.

Well, if that wasn’t sign of the sustained presence of the genius loci of the River Lea, then I’m a biracial werewolf.

Anyway, this section of the River Lea was canalised for use as a towpath and is properly referred to as the River Lee Navigation by precisely nobody I know. That’s why the nearest tube station – and the surrounding area – is known as Tottenham Hale. Hale being an Old English word for hoisting and pulling. You get the picture.

A handy signpost informed us that Stonebridge Lock was 0.3 km from our current position, and the walk felt shorter than that. It was like being out in the country, with blackberries to pick, morning glories in bloom and rose bushes so tall that they’d become thorn-less trees covered in pink blossoms eight feet overhead. And beyond the lock lay a proper river with natural banks and otter holts and trees whose leaves rustled in the wind.

Lea’s houseboat was, as Nightingale had indicated, less than fifty metres north of Stonebridge Lock. It looked to be well-maintained and was painted in popular royal blue with gold accents houseboat colours. A healthy collection of potted gardenias and tomato plants was growing on the roof, and there were – I swear – a pair of guinea hens just sitting there like they belonged. Its name, rendered in fanciful, curlicue script, was ‘Lea Rose.’ Subtle.

The curtains were drawn and nobody appeared to be home, but any copper will tell you that appearances can be deceiving. The handwritten sign sellotaped to the door was decidedly less equivocal, however:

At the allotment, it said.

‘Wonderful. And which allotment might that be?’ I muttered to myself.

‘One of the ones we passed on the way here, perhaps,’ supplied Nightingale helpfully.

Wait, there are allotments in Tottenham?! I’d been so seduced by the unexpected natural beauty along the river that I hadn’t noticed the obvious. It was a glamour, had to be. That was why I hadn’t noticed the allotments. Yeah, sure it was.

We turned around, Nightingale leading the way. The sky was so blue and clear that I could see Mordor, otherwise known as The Shard, rising in the distance. Did you know that Victorian London’s killing fog was actually smog? These days, (no) thanks to ‘clean’ diesel engines, the smog that gives you a heart attack while cycling along Oxford Street – if the buses don’t flatten you first – is invisible.

After cutting back across Stonebridge Lock, we veered onto a new path set slightly away from the river but still paralleling it, through marshland hedgerows, which in turn led us to a fenced in area featuring improbable rows of well-tended allotment plots.

Lea was indeed there, in her customary pearls and twinset, complemented on this particular occasion with a soil-caked pair of gardening gloves. She was stooped over a plot, thinning out neat rows of leafy plants and depositing the extras in a basket hanging from the crook of her arm.

‘Good morning, Lady Lea,’ said Nightingale.

Lea rose from her labours and greeted us. ‘Master Nightingale and his young apprentice. What a pleasant surprise.’

I forced myself not to wince. At least she hadn’t called me ‘Apprentice Grant.’ I like my Masters and Apprentices just fine when they’re a long time ago in a galaxy far away, but I like them rather less in the real world – particularly when the Master in question is old and white and the Apprentice – hello there – is young and black.

‘A local youth group has been growing salad greens. You can purchase their ready-washed packages at the Tesco, I believe. I help out with the gardening; they are well-meaning kids, but they can be neglectful. Would you care to sample some of the rocket? You may do so without obligation to me. The flavour is lovely,’ said Lea.

‘Thank you, but no,’ said Nightingale. ‘This is not a social call, I’m afraid. We wish to discuss the demonstration expected today in Tottenham. You’ve heard, no doubt?’

Lea nodded, silent.

‘We sensed the presence of Mr Punch in Bream Close,’ I interjected. ‘Is there anything you can do to offer the demonstrators your protection from him while they are near your river?’

To my dismay, Lea began shaking her head slowly. ‘Alas, my powers are greatly diminished in Tottenham. I ceded my dominion to the Sisters long ago.’

‘The Sisters?’ I echoed, with a questioning glance at Nightingale.

Nightingale’s expression was unreadable.

‘That is correct, Apprentice Grant. There are – or there used to be – seven of them,’ said Lea.

Chapter Text

There is a rail and underground station on the Victoria line in South Tottenham called Seven Sisters. There is also a Seven Sisters Road, which made international news in 2017 for having been the site of a terrorist attack on London’s Muslim community.

What there is not is a set of supernatural seven sisters doing weird sisterly stuff out amongst the demi-monde. Not to my knowledge, at least, and I am after all only ‘Apprentice Grant.’

‘I see,’ said Nightingale.

Did he? Well, I was glad one of us did!

‘Their trees are known to have been felled long ago,’ he continued.

Trees? Are the Seven Sisters dryads? I know those exist because I have met one before …

‘I see,’ said Lea. ‘That is most unfortunate. You will have to petition whoever rules there now for aid.’ She paused, thoughtful. ‘Of course, their demesne may be unclaimed. Either way, though, I cannot assist you. My apologies.’

It seemed that there was nothing further to discuss.

‘We understand and thank you kindly for your time,’ said Nightingale. He gave a formal bow to Lea, bending deeply at the waist. I mimicked him, albeit more awkwardly.

‘I take it you intend to visit the vicinity of the Seven Sisters?’ asked Lea. Without waiting for a response, she removed her gardening gloves, pulled a ring of keys from the right-hand pocket of her sensible skirt and said, ‘Here, I’ll let you out the back. It’s a shortcut to the station if you head through the Village.’

Lea led us to a little-used padlocked gate and opened it for us. We stepped through and were about to be on our way when Lea abruptly gestured to Nightingale. Evidently there was something she wanted to add—for his ears alone. I waited a polite distance while they conferred. I could hear only snippets of their conversation.

‘—not getting any younger, you Old Bird. I know you haven’t wanted to take a new … if you have feelings … appearances aside … you should seriously consider finding someone to …’ Lea glanced in my direction and lowered her voice. I couldn’t make out anything further.

‘What was that about?’ I asked, curious, after they were finished and Nightingale rejoined me.

‘Nothing,’ he said shortly. His expression was stern, closed off; I knew better than to press the matter.

Hale Village is an urban revitalisation project providing both affordable housing and accommodation for university students convenient to shops and public transport. Some of the otherwise drab buildings had balconies painted in bright primary colours. This summer day, though, in spite of the activity expected in Ferry Lane, it felt less like an urban oasis and more like a soulless developer’s showpiece for supposedly nobly-intentioned endeavours. There were no people apart from ourselves walking the pavement; even the playground was standing empty.

Idly, I wondered if the cladding on all these new buildings was flammable. It wouldn’t surprise me. Frank Caffrey would have had a view on it, no doubt.

We got as far as a wide, curving staircase leading down to Tottenham Hale station before having second thoughts. Although the demonstration was not due to officially begin for several more hours, the station plaza was already a heaving, writhing mass of humanity. I saw people with signs and banners, people in costume, people who were shuffling about and eyeing the crowd nervously like they were already having second thoughts about being here, slickly dressed people with microphones and somewhat less slickly dressed people toting video cameras. The media does love itself a demonstration, and if it turns into a violent riot, all the better for the ratings!

When a reporter for Channel 4 News, having caught sight of my stab vest, starting striding purposely toward us, we beat a hasty retreat back to toward the Tesco Express cashpoint in Hale Village.

Nightingale pulled out of crisp copy of the Tube Map from his breast pocket and began to examine it like a man for whom the twenty-first century was still a novelty. ‘Hmm. Seven Sisters is one stop from Tottenham Hale on the Victoria line,’ he said as he traced the light blue line with a fingertip. ‘There is also a South Tottenham station on the Overground, but …’ His brow furrowed with concentration.

Rolling my eyes, I pulled out a burner smartphone and opened the Google Maps app. ‘Seven Sisters is within walking distance. Let’s do that,’ I suggested. (And incidentally, the South Tottenham Overground station is south of Seven Sisters station, not, as Nightingale’s hopeless Tube Map would suggest, directly north of Tottenham Hale. Harry Beck’s beautifully designed London Underground Map really has been adulterated by the impenetrable orange creamsicle spaghetti that is the London Overground.)

‘As you wish,’ said Nightingale smoothly, returning the map to his pocket.

‘We can cut through the retail park,’ I said.

Tottenham Hale Retail Park, conveniently located directly across Ferry Lane from Tottenham Hale station, was one of the places that made the news back in 2011. You may remember the photos of the boarded up shopfront windows. Once the riots had kicked off, the looters began to arrive, making off with computers, flat screen televisions and games consoles. Some had the audacity to cart their ill-gotten goods away in the shops’ own shopping trolleys.

If you didn’t know the recent history of the place, though, you’d never guess anything like that had ever happened. The retail park – what Americans call a strip mall – appeared to be prospering, and the shops were undoubtedly experiencing a one-time boost in foot traffic today. As we passed the Lidl, I noticed that the queue was literally out the door. Demonstrators need to eat too. I guess I wasn’t going to be buying mum her favourite own-brand European dark chocolate after all. I didn’t even bother looking in the direction of the Burger King or the Costa – that would’ve just been frightening, and the sound of Mr Punch in Tottenham was already plenty scary enough.

By the time we’d made it around the side of the B&Q – home improvement being one of the few things demonstrators did not currently require – we’d escaped the worst of throng. I paused for a moment to pull up Google Maps again. Yes, it looked like the road curving around the retail park and turning sharply westward would take us straight to Seven Sisters. Ten minutes on foot, tops.

‘What do you know about these Seven Sisters?’ I asked Nightingale.

Nightingale shrugged and tapped his cane thoughtfully against the pavement as we walked. ‘Not much. There used to be a grove of seven elm trees in the 1700s, I believe, which is how the area acquired its name. But I was never made aware of any associated supernatural entity.’

‘Hmm. Perhaps we ought to ring Professor Postmartin for a second opinion.’ I had his number on speed-dial, and when he picked up, I put him on speaker.

‘Postmartin,’ he answered, but his voice was practically drowned out by a cacophony of bright chatter and the clatter of dishes and silverware.

‘Harold?! Can you hear us?’ shouted Nightingale down toward my phone.

‘Thomas, is that you? Ah, hold on, just one minute. I am taking a meal at high table today, so …’

Sounds of a chair scraping the floor, the hurried patter of footsteps and the heavy thump of a door closing. Wherever Postmartin had gone, it was considerably quieter.

‘Ah, sorry about that. How can I help?’ he asked, slightly out of breath.

‘Seven Sisters, South Tottenham. Tell us anything you know,’ said Nightingale.

‘The Seven Sisters, eh? I’ll presume you’re referring to the grove of trees. They’re not a subject I’ve heard discussed for quite a long time. Fascinating stuff, though. Some believe the grove in question was sacred to the Celts, but that is probably apocryphal. It does seem certain, however, that there were trees there in the time of the Romans. They may have been an important landmark of sorts for travellers – since, as I’m sure you know, Tottenham High Road is one of London’s Roman roads.’

I hadn’t known that, actually, but Nightingale merely grunted his assent.

‘There are large trees represented at the putative site of the Seven Sisters in the Domesday Book too,’ continued Postmartin. ‘So the site remained significant after the Norman invasion, and it seems likely that a succession of trees have been planted there over the intervening centuries. These plantings have been documented since the nineteenth century. London is tough on trees, though. I seem to recall hearing that the last attempted plantings in the 1950s did not survive.’

‘Is there any evidence of anything magical associated with them?’ I asked.

‘Well … err …’

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that it’s never good news when Postmartin hesitates like that.

Chapter Text

‘Well?’ I echoed. My patience at this juncture was wearing thin.

‘No. No, there isn’t,’ said Postmartin. ‘Well,’ he amended, ‘nothing in the past three-hundred years or so. Prior to the advent of magic organised according to modern Newtonian principles, records are sketchy and inconsistent at best, but I do think it would be safe to assume that the wizards of the Folly would have known and written about it if there were an active genius loci at Seven Sisters.’

A genius loci? Singular, as in one? Not, oh I dunno, seven dryads?’ I asked.

‘Most definitely not,’ said Postmartin. ‘Now, I’m not saying that there weren’t once dryads there long ago,’ he hastened to add, ‘but the odd persistence of the site’s significance in the absence of any single tree of unusual longevity weighs against that hypothesis. You must understand: Creatures such as dryads tend to emerge in places of concentrated magical power, whereas the genii locorum tend to emerge in places of concentrated human attention. The Seven Sisters strike me as more the latter than the former. Unless South Tottenham is unusually magical …?’

‘Not that I know of,’ said Nightingale.

‘Alright. Let me see if I have this straight, then,’ I said. ‘We spoke to Lea – the genius loci of the River Lea – earlier, and she told us that she ceded the demesne which now includes South Tottenham to “the Sisters” long ago. But you’re saying there haven’t been any “Sisters,” singular or plural, there for at least three-hundred years.’

‘That is correct,’ said Postmartin.

I heaved a sigh. Leave it to the antediluvian Lea to have a fuzzy sense of passing time. Of course ‘long ago’ would be prehistorical to someone like her. If Mr Punch was planning the mother of all riots in Tottenham today, as we feared, we would have no special help from the demi-monde.

‘Very good, Harold. That shall be all for now. We will be in contact again soon,’ said Nightingale calmly through my gust of breath.

‘Always happy to be of service, Thomas. Speak soon.’ The call disconnected with an inappropriately cheerful mobile phone chirp.

Certain rituals and mortals of peculiar will are capable of imbuing an important geographic site like a stretch of river or a forest with supernatural sentience. The precise mechanism is not yet known, however, and none of my not inconsiderable interaction with Mama Thames and her daughters have truly taught me how it works. (No, if I’m honest, not even with Bev.)

‘That was unusually unhelpful,’ I grumbled.

‘Looks like we’re nearly there,’ said Nightingale, ignoring my complaint and pointing up ahead.

‘Yeah.’

We’d been walking slowly along Broad Lane the entire time we had been conferring with Postmartin, and now we were coming up at what looked to be an intersection with a wide, busy high street that had to be the Tottenham High Road, the one laid down by the Romans. I could see a London Underground sign on the far side – it had to be an entrance to the Seven Sisters underground station. There was also quite a large number of pedestrians milling about, many of whom were probably on their way to the demonstration via a less direct overland route.

‘What now?’ I asked.

‘We can search for any lingering evidence of magical activity or genius loci,’ suggested Nightingale.

It was as good a suggestion as any, I supposed. We split up to halve the time it would take. For my part, I focused on looking like a Detective Constable with Very Important Business to Attend while in fact extending my senses outward for the slightest hint of vestigia. Nightingale, meanwhile, I couldn’t help but notice, was unwittingly doing his very best impression of a middle-aged gay Englishman on the market for a slightly ethnic younger boyfriend. It was hard not to wince. If there was a place that this sort of behaviour might be taken poorly, it was an Afro-Caribbean neighbourhood such as Tottenham. At least I was assured that Nightingale could more than take care of himself.

I didn’t sense anything, which, given that most of what was to be found in the area was either newly paved High Road or buildings less than – and in the case of the Tesco, which took up practically an entire block all by its lonesome – significantly less than three hundred years old, wasn’t unexpected. Not a hint of vestigia coming from the tube station either; I made it as far as the first self-service Oyster card top up machine before turning right around and ascending the staircase back to street level.

When we reconvened, I found Nightingale already perched on a large circular ventilation shaft set in the middle of a rather sorry, narrow strip of green fronting an utterly bland row of Victorian terraces. His legs were crossed, and his elbow was propped up on one knee. His chin rested in the palm of one hand. He was gazing off into the middle distance and did not bother turning to acknowledge at me when I plopped heavily down beside him.

‘You know, Peter, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Lea no longer reigns over this particular part of London,’ he mused. ‘The Romans put their road here specifically because it’s one of the few naturally occurring pieces of high ground along the floodplain.’

I nodded. I hadn’t known that, but it made perfect sense. The Romans were fabulous civil engineers, and civil engineers both ancient and contemporary alike prefer to avoid flood-prone areas when- and wherever feasible. The choice of this site for the modern Seven Sisters underground station is telling as well – nobody wants a tube station filling with excess groundwater. In fact, avoidance of flood-prone areas is the reason why the Victoria Line veers so sharply eastward after Seven Sisters, leaving the northern part of Tottenham that includes Broadwater Farm relatively short on public transport options and therefore less gentrified.

‘What now?’ I was starting to sound like a broken record.

‘We hope that nothing goes wrong at the demonstration, and if something does, then we deal with it.’

‘Not the most brilliant plan.’

‘Yes, I am aware of that.’

I checked my mobile. We still had several hours before the fun was due to begin. Maybe, I thought, eyeing the nearby supermarket, I should go pick up some snacks at Tesco. Yeah, a Coke and a bag of prawn-flavoured Walkers crisps might be nice … But it was too much effort to stand at the moment. Instead, on a whim, since the smartphone was still in my hand, I called up a web browser app started Googling. My first search string was ‘seven sisters london,’ and it found plenty of results for me to read. ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ I muttered to myself. Hadn’t Professor Postmartin said that all of the trees once growing in the vicinity had died? It seemed his information hadn’t been up to date. ‘According to this Londonist article, they had this little planting ceremony in 1996 with seven local sisters and—’

My head shot up from the smartphone screen. In this self-same token patch of London green, directly across from the entrance to the Tesco’s aboveground parking garage, I saw them. I saw them. There was no special sign, no commemorative plaque. All too easy to miss entirely. We’d strolled right by them before without realising, completely unsuspecting. The article said they were hornbeams – not that I’d recognise a hornbeam even if I hugged one – but they weren’t ancient or eldritch; they were contemporary. Planted in a neat ring, their trunks still embarrassingly skinny. Seven trees. The Seven Sisters.

And somebody all too familiar was standing in the centre of that ring of trees. Somebody short, petite and blonde.

‘Erm …’ I prodded Nightingale.

‘Hmm?’ Nightingale was still doing his best impression of that famous Rodin statue, the one called ‘The Thinker.’ ‘Le Penseur’ in the original French.

‘Erm!’ I prodded him again in the small of the back, angling him in the direction of the ring of trees.

His posture didn’t change, but now he was seeing Lesley too.

‘Ah.’

We approached with caution, and I was already planning spells in my head, but I might as well have been ticking boxes on one of the Met’s risk assessment training exercises. We’d lost the element of surprise; she had seen us long before we’d seen her. In fact, she may have been waiting here expressly for us, which wasn’t a pleasing thought in the slightest.

‘Where’s Darth Martin? Is he here with you? Or is he too busy having his respirator adjusted to make an in-person appearance in such a downmarket part of the city?’ I called out. It was pure bravado on my part, but it’s not every day that you get to have a chat with your former friend turned Sith Lord’s apprentice. Your former friend with the perfectly reconstructed face who’s probably more talented at magic than you are. Besides, I owed her a good thumping or three from the last time we’d crossed swords.

I mean that proverbially, of course. Swords haven’t actually been involved. Not yet.

Lesley’s perfect new mouth twisted, more a snarl than a smile. She lifted her arms—

—and the world fell away in a lurid swirl of sick-making colour and Mr Punch’s maniacal laughter.

You may be the next to DIE!

Chapter Text

I am standing at the foot of a blazing orange inferno. They say that wool is fire resistant, but that only means ‘resistant.’ Wool isn’t fireproof. When the temperature gets hot enough, even wool carpets will burn.

The carpets are all burning now, and so is the Carpetright store and the entire building which houses it. Flames leap through windows and dance in the bell tower, and their heat seems to cavort through me as well, fanning the fires of generations of rage and fuelling the drive to finally – finally! – do something about it, something that those privileged arseholes in Westminster can’t ignore.

They tell you about the heat, and they tell you about the light. But they never tell you about the noise, the snap and roar of the flames, the shrilling of the sirens, the gasps and jeers of the onlookers, the artificial clicking and winding of digital photos being taken on mobile phones.

They can film me all they want because I don’t care. I have no face of my own anymore; I am every black man in Britain with no job and no family and no education and no future except a gaol cell, living on the leeward side of London’s virtually unthinkable currents of wealth and power. Most days, I am nobody. But tonight, yes, tonight, I will be a force of nature.

The High Road slopes downward towards Central London, and the righteous rioters and I follow its flow down, down, down. Someone – I don’t see who – hands me a brick wrapped in a grimy rag. There are tiny shards of glass embedded in the folds of the rag, so I know that it has been used at least once already.

I use it again, hurling it through a random shopfront window. An alarm goes off. I laugh. It’s the shopkeeper’s own fault for not protecting the shop’s assets better. I don’t even bother to stop and survey the damage. Others will climb through the broken window and take that which the world will not give, and I rejoice in the midst of my rage because I know that the brick will be used to excellent effect again and again and again.

Besides, the really good stuff is further south. Tottenham Hale. My Blackberry messenger tells me that Curry’s PC World is already open for business. If the best deals are already gone by the time I get there, there’s also a Carphone Warehouse and, if needs must, an Argos. I’m sure there will be plenty left over for me.

‘Let’s go! For Mark Duggan!’ I yell.

Scattered roars of agreement behind me—

***

‘For Cynthia Jarrett! For Cherry Groce!’ the crowd yells.

No. No more. No more! We will not stand by quietly while our community is abused by corrupt police and victimised by institutionalised discrimination.

There are cars on fire. Some homes are burning as well. Hooded youths throw bricks and petrol bombs from elevated walkways. Others play games of cat and mouse in the underground car park. The stairwells look like warzones. I see a white police constable beating a black youth with his baton. The Fire Brigade is on the march.

‘For Cynthia Jarrett! For Cherry Groce!’ the crowd yells louder, defiant.

Yes! We will fight, and we will win. We will not let them take back control of our lives and grind us into the dirt. Broadwater Farm will be ours!! Where once there was a floodplain that nobody dared to live upon, there will be a community of once subjugated people who refuse to tolerate their subjugation any longer! My soul rises, swirling with exuberant, chaotic energy; I’m like a proud general leading his army’s charge deep into the heart of darkness.

Into the darkness, where there is singing and laughter.

That’s what you eat when you are DEAD!

A police constable trips and falls, and the mob is on him with their fists, their kitchen knives, their machetes. Thirty people? Forty? Fifty? Does it matter? They all want to get their own cut in, to take a piece of him away for their own personal pleasure …and so do I.

They’ve already removed some fingers. They’re waving them over their heads like wet, crimson trophies. It’s obvious what has to come next.

‘Do it! Take off his head!’ somebody yells.

The mob roars its approval.

‘No! Stop! Oh God, no! Blakelock—! No, get away from him—’ Those would be the panicked cries of another copper making a valiant attempt to rescue his partner.

The mob attacks him. He is punched and slashed in the face. He goes down hard, but he is merely incidental collateral damage. He is not the focus of the mob’s fury.

I force myself forward and into the pile of black bodies in order to find the one white body at the very bottom. The rioters know me for who – and what – I am, and they part for me like the waters parted for Moses. My way is clear. I take aim – and then I plunge the knife in my hand into the back of his neck, right up to the hilt—

***

The knife is wedged in tight. I pull hard, and it slides abruptly out again in a river of dull red blood. By the light of the sun blazing overhead in a cloudless blue sky, I can see that the crimson-stained blade is made of …bronze?

A young woman has been lashed to the trunk of a tree. She is wearing strange but simple clothing, a cross between a toga and a long tunic that is probably called something else entirely but that I don’t know the word for. Blood pours from her neck where I severed her jugular vein, soaking the tunic or toga or whatever the hell it’s called and pouring like a river down into the bare, dusty ground.     

‘Very good,’ says a voice behind me. ‘Only a single sister remains.’

I turn in the direction of the voice. It is Lesley. But at the same time it is not. She’s an odd haze on my vision; I can’t quite focus on her.

What she wants from me is clear enough, though. Another woman, also tied to a tree and seemingly identical in every respect to the previous one, is hissing, spitting and struggling against her restraints. She is cursing me in a language I do not understand.

It doesn’t matter, and I don’t hesitate; I plunge my blade into her neck. She will join her six sisters in their circle of death. Her blood too soaks into the ground, transforming it into a glistening black.

All goes well for ’bout a week, and then your coffin begins to leak!

The seven trees whither and collapse in on themselves; the bodies of the Seven Sisters crumble to dust. And under my feet, the blackness writhes and twists and rises, feeding on the blood in the soil like it is fertiliser, and transmutes itself into a single mighty oak tree with crooked, leafless boughs and ebony bark. Peal after peal of insane laughter echoes between my ears. The wood of this tree will be used to carve powerful cudgels.

Never call them slapsticks. They aren’t a joke. These cudgels which will break skulls.

‘Assume your position,’ commands Lesley.

I understand and obey and rest my shoulders against the black oak tree. It feels like the trunk is welcoming me into its embrace. When Lesley holds out her hand, I give her my knife.

The demesne has been made vacant, and a host has been filled with the spirit of the midnight riot. One last step, and a new genius loci will be born here in Tottenham. Mr Punch will live again. As me.

Lesley’s knife rises—

***

‘No!’

A burst of canary yellow light explodes all around us, and Lesley is thrown backward. The knife intended for my neck buries itself in the trunk of the black oak tree instead.

The tree’s wound oozes sap as black as tar or congealed blood, and the stink of corruption, of the grave, fills my nostrils. I am quivering, suffused with righteous rage.

‘I am reborn in this land, and when it burns, I will rule it. You are too late!’ I snarl. I do not recognise the sound of my own voice.

‘The Peter Grant I know would never want chaos to rule London,’ says Nightingale calmly.

‘And what say have you—?!’

‘Plenty.’

Suddenly, I’ve been snatched, hurtling forward through the air and free from the boughs of Mr Punch’s sinister embrace. For a brief, exhilarating moment, I think I might be flying. That is, until I hit the ground.

Chapter Text

I didn’t know where I was, let alone how I’d got here. I felt confused and disorientated. The temptation, of course, was to leap immediately to my feet, but as a modern law enforcement professional on the clock (as far as I knew), I was obliged to follow proper policing protocol:

‘Step One: Assess the Situation.’

I assessed the situation as follows: I was lying prone, facedown, and there was a body, adult and male by the feel of it, beneath mine. Was it a corpse? The body in question shifted awkwardly and groaned. No, definitely – thankfully – not.

It was Nightingale. ‘Peter?’ he murmured. He sounded a bit winded. Breathless.

Perhaps that was because most of my weight was pressing down on his chest. Embarrassed by our predicament, I began to rise – only to be stopped by the arm that was wrapped around my waist. The arm in question was Nightingale’s too, and it tightened reflexively as he repeated my name once more. ‘Peter?’

He was looking me full in the face, mouth grave, eyes sharply probing. He was seeking any sign that Mr Punch was still inside me, ready to turn me inside out and attack. Mr Punch, though, had fled. Once Nightingale had arrived, it must have become apparent that I wasn’t worth the contest which would otherwise ensue. I had been freed.

Nightingale has grey eyes, I realised not for the first time, grey like a storm cloud except not dark, no, no, never dark. Bright and shining and clear and …

‘Lesley?’ I asked.

Nightingale shook his head distractedly. So she’d managed to elude capture yet again, evidently, but at the moment he didn’t seem to care. No, my governor had other things uppermost in his mind. Namely me. ‘Oh Peter,’ he murmured. ‘That demon had seized control of your mind. I was afraid— I was afraid I had lost you …’ The arm that wasn’t holding me in place rose along the edge of my peripheral vision, and then a hand cupped the side of my face. ‘I would never have forgiven myself …’ A thumb caressed my cheek.

If there is someone who understands what it means to lose somebody, it’s Thomas Nightingale, sole survivor of the Battle of Ettersberg. But this felt different somehow. This felt—

This felt like a man’s erection against my hipbone. Which, if I’m honest, was exactly what it was.

I supposed I had always known. Yes, I’d known right from the start. I’d only been pretending I didn’t.

‘Oh Peter …’

When Nightingale pressed a kiss, hesitant, tender and achingly sweet, to the corner of my mouth, I didn’t resist. Truth be told, I returned it.

***

‘—have been an MP for sixteen years. I am not naïve enough to think that there will be no more political disagreements on race, or that all the battles have now been fought and won. Martin Luther King said that “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle.” He was right, of course. But I do think that we have an opportunity to take another step forward in Britain. Together, we can ensure that this country’s institutions are fair and just for all of its citizens. Let’s make our children and our grandchildren a promise: Their future will be better than ours!’

The conclusion of David Lammy’s speech was met with raucous cheers and applause. The enthusiasm from the crowd of demonstrators seemed genuine, and I daresay Lammy was practically inspiring. He’d had to quote an American orator, naturally – they’re so much better at impassioned sincerity than we are – but it wasn’t an embarrassing performance by any means.

And I was almost able to forget some choice findings he’d also quoted from a report he’d written for Theresa May’s government on bias in the criminal justice system. For example? Black people represent three per cent of the British population but twelve per cent of the British prison population. And for every 100 white men convicted of public order offences in 2015, there were 494 BME convictions. (BME stands for ‘black and minority ethnic’; yes, that’s what they call us.) And although black people are less likely to use illegal drugs than white people, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by police, and they are also more than twice as likely to be charged for drug offences, as opposed to merely cautioned.

No naming of names was required. The souls of Tottenham’s dead haunted those dry statistics.

Amongst the solutions he called for? More ethnically representative law enforcement. Hello there, world. I tried not to squirm under the weight of several hundred pairs of eyes and, undoubtedly, a dozen or so camera lenses. At least the hated police helmet I was wearing for this special occasion helped to hide my face. Oh yeah, and more rigorous oversight too, both internal and external. Hello there, paperwork. I tried not to sigh. I don’t think I succeeded in the second instance.  

Still, this all could have gone so much worse, and if the worst I had to look forward to was a pile of additional forms to fill out, then I was getting off lightly – and I damn well knew it. The demonstrators were energised but peaceful, and for now, Mr Punch had lost his toehold in Tottenham. There would be no midnight riot later tonight. Although this part of North London may not have a genius loci at its heart, it does have an MP whose heart is in the right place. That was some small comfort.

Nightingale reached out to squeeze my arm. I glanced at him. He was smiling, gentle and reassuring. Because I understood better now just how significant this seemingly innocuous sort of touching has always been to him, I reached out and squeezed his arm briefly back. We would figure this thing out, him and me. Soon. It was a silent vow.

But before that could happen, we would be joining Lammy and his entourage at a closed event at the Ferry Boat Inn.

The Ferry Boat Inn was almost directly across the road from the Heron Wharf development, where we’d started this unexpectedly eventful day. It was the most unlikely of London edifices: a quaint country pub sited on the easternmost bank of the River Lea. The squat, whitewashed brick building looked hundreds of years old. It wouldn’t have surprised me to learn that, once upon a time, it had boasted a thatched roof.

Inside, it felt peaceful and unpretentiously prosperous, the kind of quintessentially English place you’d expect to find in Norwich, East Anglia, not North London – never mind Tottenham. In fact, if it weren’t for the little fact that all the servers as well as the young woman pulling pints behind the bar spoke with Eastern European accents, I might have thought I’d somehow ended up in Norwich without realising it.

Well, that and the additional fact that the clientele were a bit too ‘BME’ for Norwich.

Nightingale ordered himself a pint of lager, whereas I had the Coke and crisps I’d been craving earlier. I could have had beer or something stronger, for that matter, but I decided that falling under the influence of Mr Punch was more than enough ‘under the influence’ in a single day for me, thank you kindly. And besides, there was that kiss to contend with …

Lammy was holding court out in the pub’s beer garden, and that was where the crowd was the thickest and loudest, so Nightingale and I decided to remain indoors. Eventually, we found two seats at a table in a reasonably out of the way nook already partially occupied by three women deep into what sounded like work-related conversation.

‘—going to do?! I don’t think Steve and I are going to have that much to say to each other,’ the blonde woman with a Mancunian lilt to her voice and a remarkable resemblance to Jodie Foster was saying.

‘How long is the flight?’ asked the olive-skinned woman with brunette, shoulder-length ringlets and a Continental accent I couldn’t place.

‘Thirteen hours,’ said the blonde woman.

‘Oh, I thought it would be longer. That’s not that bad,’ scoffed the Chinese woman in perfect American English.

‘I’m sorry, what about thirteen hours seated on a plane next to your boss doesn’t sound “that bad” to you?!’

The three women roared with laughter.

‘Okay, okay, I get it,’ said the Chinese woman when the chortling had finally died down. ‘Just watch movies. Or try to get some sleep.’

Underneath the table, greatly daring, I placed my hand on Nightingale’s knee. He flinched but did not pull away. Instead, after a thoughtful pause, he laid his hand atop mine and laced our fingers together. My stomach did a giddy flip-flop; this was like being a besotted teenager again. We didn’t speak, but that was only because no words were necessary.

Thirteen hours next to my boss, enjoying the free seatback entertainment and/or sleeping with my head propped against his shoulder? I could imagine many far more terrible fates. No, that wouldn’t be that bad. Not at all.

Chapter Text

Perhaps an hour or so into the evening, Lea made an appearance at the Ferry Boat Inn. She was wearing the same twinset and pearls as earlier, but she’d dispensed with the gardening gloves. It was excellent timing. The three women at our table had only just vacated their seats, and so there was space free for Lea to claim. Which of course she did.

‘I would like a private word with your Master, if you don’t mind,’ said Lea without preamble, making it abundantly clear in the process that my presence was not required. Or welcome.

‘No worries,’ I said, shrugging and surreptitiously removing my hand from Nightingale’s when Lea wasn’t looking. ‘I’m going to go get another Coke. Do you want anything?’

‘I’m fine,’ said Nightingale.

Lea also declined my offer with a polite shake of her head.

The queue at the bar was quite long – you’d be amazed what people will endure when there are free drinks on offer – and it took me a while to make it back to the table. By the time I’d returned, it looked like whatever conversation Lea had wanted to have with Nightingale was wrapping up.

‘—ahead and take them, Old Bird,’ she was saying. ‘I demand nothing in return. You deserve it.’

Nightingale hesitated, seemingly poised to protest, but then his jaw clenched and, with a puzzling mixture of resolve and resignation, he nodded. ‘Very well.’

‘Then I shall be on my way,’ declared Lea. She rose from her seat at the table, gave the top of Nightingale’s head a somewhat condescending pat, and headed for the door. She didn’t even acknowledge me. It was like I wasn’t there.

‘So. What was that about?’ I asked, curious.

‘Lea has given us the keys to her houseboat. She intends to return to Shoreditch this evening. We have her leave to spend the night here in Tottenham …if that is your wish?’

***

I didn’t remember much of our walk from the Ferry Boat Inn back upriver to the Lea Rose afterwards, nor did I give much attention the houseboat’s cramped, narrow interior. I did notice the neatly-made bed, however, with the paisley duvet cover in red, purple and green that looked like something my mum might be persuaded to splurge on at a John Lewis Boxing Day sale.

Although I undressed quickly, dumping my discarded clothing onto the floor without ceremony, Nightingale was slower and more fastidious than I, neatly folding each item of his wardrobe and putting it aside before moving onto the next one. He had more layers on than I would have thought possible too, so it was a bit like an old-fashioned striptease, and I lay back on the bed and stroked myself idly while I watched.

Nightingale was watching me watching him too, of course, and by the time his pants finally came off, his cock was already hard, unhooded and so wet with desire that it traced a glistening trail between my balls and along the length of my own erection as he climbed into bed atop me.

I shuddered at the sensation and tensed, trying my level best not to buck. I squeezed my eyes shut. I’d never been with a man before, and I didn’t want to—

Nightingale held my face in his hands, thumbs caressing my cheekbones. His pupils were dilated in the dim light, their customary grey almost completely overtaken by amorous pools of blackness. ‘Relax, Peter,’ he said. ‘You look like you’re about to be punished for something. This isn’t a punishment. It’s …’ He paused. ‘Consider it your reward.’

‘My reward …?’ I asked, sceptical of his terminology in this instance. ‘I don’t think—’

And then Nightingale’s mouth came down onto mine, and I couldn’t remember what I didn’t think. I wasn’t, as a matter of fact, thinking much of anything anymore.

Instead, I felt. The softness of lips. The wicked tongue flirting with mine. The hint of stubble, pleasantly rough. The hand, moving deftly between us to hold our cocks together while we kissed and kissed and kissed.

Eventually, Nightingale pulled back to sit himself upright, kneeling between my outspread legs. He was still holding our cocks together, and from this vantage point, I could see how very similar we were in length and girth. The only real difference was the colour of our skin. Oh, and his glans was pinker, which, if I’m honest, was adorable.

When he began to stroke us with some determination, though, I noticed another way we differed: Whereas I might manage a bit of extra moisture right before I peak, Nightingale dripped like a leaky tap – and he was keen to share, transferring the warm, clear fluid onto me and spreading it all around my tip. I will admit that I had a brief moment there worrying about the risk of STIs, but then I dismissed it; I knew I was clean, and if Nightingale hadn’t been taken out of action by some horrific Victorian disease like syphilis in the past hundred years or so, he was probably clean as well.

Anyway, it all became a moot point when Nightingale abruptly threw back his head, groaned and came. That was …something. If you’ve never had another man’s semen pour out of his cock and directly onto yours, it’s an experience I’d recommend highly. I nearly followed him over the edge, but then Nightingale was rearranging my legs and straddling my hips and guiding my semen-slick cock into his arsehole.

I may have blurted out an obscenity or two. Or three. Or five.

He was hot as a furnace and tight as a clamp around the base of my cock, but he took me easily. He was obviously experienced; I shouldn’t have been surprised. But all wry reflections on Nightingale’s boarding school buggery past fled when he began to ride me.

Aaaaah, he was good, setting a steady, fast rhythm, each stroke lifting off of me almost entirely so that only the very tip of my cock remained inside of him, and then falling back down all the way until he was practically sitting on my balls. On occasion, he’d bend forward at the waist to kiss me, his own untouched cock – still erect and throbbing – crushed between us. The pleasure mounted and mounted and mounted until I was sure I’d go insane.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I flipped him over onto his back, still joined, and began to pound him wildly. He laughed, breathless, at my unexpected enthusiasm and twined all four of his limbs around my body, fingers clutching at my shoulders and heels digging into my spine as our bodies slammed together over and over. Sharp, slapping sounds of flesh against flesh filled the air, the houseboat itself seeming to rock with the force of each thrust, and suddenly my orgasm was sweeping through my body, making me convulse and bury my face into Nightingale’s neck and cry out as I quivered, jerked and ejaculated deeply inside of him.

Some hours later, and after no small amount of urging on my part, I convinced Nightingale to have me as I’d had him. He took so long to prepare me – and did it so thoroughly – that I was writhing and practically wailing with aroused impatience by the time his cock started sinking bit by bit into my arse. He’d done such a good job of it, however, that there wasn’t the slightest pain or discomfort, and pretty soon I was being reamed out like I’d been born for nothing else, each delicious stroke stimulating my prostate gland and making me see stars so that when he came, I did too.

Afterwards, we lay together, sweaty and replete, marinating in the intoxicating scent of our sex. I was pleasantly sore and knew I’d be feeling this for days to come.

That was reassuring, at least. Because there was plenty about our situation that wasn’t.

Lesley May was still at large; Operation Carthorse would continue. And now we knew that Mr Punch was actively striving to re-establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in London and that Lesley, possibly along with Martin Chorley, was actively assisting him – and that he had a particular interest in me.

I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to face these horrors alone. I had Nightingale by my side.

‘Hey, how old did you say you were again?’ I asked, nuzzling Nightingale’s cheek with my nose as I reached down between us to take hold of his quiescent cock.

Nightingale muttered something inarticulate that sounded a lot like ‘fuck you’ but couldn’t possibly be anything that vulgar.

His cock twitched against my palm and began to thicken.

‘Whatever you say,’ I agreed.

It was nearly morning, but I figured we ought to have time enough for one more round before returning to the Folly.

 

END