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A Nightingale Sang in Russell Square

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London's magical demi-monde were nervous.

It was nothing concrete. That was the most nerve-wracking thing about it. When I asked Bev she couldn't or wouldn't tell me anything except that something was imminent, but she kept jumping at shadows and picking at her meals only to binge on pastries later. For a day or two I thought maybe she was pregnant again and didn't want to tell me yet, but that wasn't how she'd been with the first one. And then I noticed it wasn't just her.

Lady Ty was even more squirrelly than usual at our regular weekly lunch meet, and all of my other contacts and informants in the community were significantly farther along the scale of nervousness and uninformativeness than usual. But it was annoyingly formless, something between a cloud of free-floating anxiety and sheer terror, and none of them could tell me anything other than that something big was coming.

This is not a reassuring thing for a police detective to hear from an informant on the street, much less a dozen of them in a row.

Especially when my governor was also being squirrelly. I'd been acting independently more lately, so we weren't in each other's pockets all the time anymore, but then again, I knew him.

When Thomas got worried - at least about certain types of problems - he reacted by being calm and precise and very, very focused. He was very, very focused that Friday afternoon. I found him in the Folly's mundane library, completely surrounded by piles of very old books from the prophecy section, half lying open and half with page markers in them.

The Folly had what Postmartin was always careful to say was the second best collection of books of prophecy in the British Isles (sometimes he crossed himself when he said it; I'd never figured that out) but they were notoriously inaccurate even as books in the mundane library went. I think I'd consulted one once in the years I'd been working there, and it had been for a book-smuggling case, not for the content of the book.

Thomas was absorbed. I don't think he even noticed me walking into the room, but when he glanced up for a second, a dark look on his face, I caught his eye and said, "Thomas. What's going on?"

He closed the book on his lap, very carefully. "So you've noticed."

"It would be hard not to. What do I need to know that you haven't told me?"

"Nothing," he said, and before I could protest, added, "No, Peter. It's far beyond our paygrade. Yours and mine. What's happening is either going to happen or not happen based on the people whose job it is, and worrying ourselves more won't do any good. At any rate there are Agreements in place to handle this sort of thing."

If his goal was to make me less worried, saying "It's far beyond my paygrade" when he'd once punched out a Tiger tank - among other, more impressive accomplishments - was the wrong tack to take. The audible capital on Agreement helped a little, but then I'd met some of the - people - the Folly had Agreements with, so it didn't help a lot. Also, as I tried to convey to him nonverbally, the pile of prophecy books around him didn't look much like "not worrying". He pretended not to notice the hypocrisy.

"So what can we do to prepare for damage control if it does happen?" I said.

Thomas shook his head. "Go home, Peter. Have a nice evening with your family. Get a good night's sleep."

Well, that wasn't half ominous.

I wanted to say something about how if it was that bad, maybe Thomas shouldn't be stewing by himself in the Folly either, but he clearly wanted to be left alone to stew, and besides, I knew Bev was waiting for me.

It wasn't until late that night, lying in bed with Bev while she stared sleeplessly at the ceiling and gripped my hand, under the covers, just a little bit too tight, that the other shoe dropped.

"Fuck me," I said, and sat up very straight. "The book markers were all at the end."

The next morning was a Saturday, so I had every right to stay in with the wife and progeny but she was twitchy and the progeny were twitchy and I was twitchy and we were all picking at each other, so finally I told them to go in the river the way they clearly wanted to, and Bev told me to go to work and check on Thomas, like I clearly wanted to.

But when I stopped in at the Folly, Thomas wasn't in the library, and most of the prophecy books were returned to the shelf, except one tattered-looking 17th century one that I'd never heard of before, titled "The Nice And Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch." Which you might think was an odd title, if you hadn't spent as much time reading very old County Practictioner incident books with a dictionary next to you as I had, and therefore knew that "Nutter" was actually a fine old name for witchy families in Lancashire, and that in the 17th century "Nice" meant "scrupulous and painstaking".

Of course, in the 17th century "Nutter" still meant "batshit crazy person" and "nice" also meant "silly, foolish, doubtful". The 20th century didn't invent sarcasm. Still, at this point in my training, "I'd never heard of it" was generally a bad sign when it came to magic-adjacent books. I opened it up to the passage toward the very end that Thomas had marked with a red post-it flag.

It read: Whene menne of crocus come from the Earth and green manne frome thee Sky, yette ken not why, and Pluto's barres quitte the lightning castels, and sunken landes riseth, and Leviathan runneth free, and Brazil is vert, then Three cometh together and Four arise, upon iron horses ride; I tell you the ende draweth nigh. On the post-it Thomas had notated "Rev. 6".

The Bibles were shelved on the other side of the room, so it took me a minute, but only a minute.

Oh.

Well.

Maybe Thomas was right: the sixth chapter of the book of Revelations was a little bit above my paygrade as a part-trained apprentice Newtonian practitioner.

That didn't mean I was going to stay out of it, of course, obviously I wasn't, but I was willing to acknowledge for posterity that he might have had a valid point about the futility of the effort.

I flipped to a random page earlier in the book, just to get a better idea of its content, and lighted on another post-it-noted prophecy that said Starling, on the last day thou art well advized to remayne within thy Manor, but thou dost not abide, and goest instead to gayze uppon thy Steading, and upon the Fell's.

It was truly amazing the way the human brain could pull apparent meaning out of anything. Weirdly it made me feel better though, because a prophetess who couldn't even use apostrophe's correctly couldn't be all that Nice and Accurate, and anyway I had no plan to go gayze uppon any small farms or hilly moors in the near future. Which the book seemed to think was the only sort of future there would be.

Thomas, it turned out, was still upstairs, sleeping the sleep of the righteously plastered. Molly waved an empty bottle of what she wanted me to know was extremely old, extremely valuable Scotch that Thomas had been saving for a special occasion, possibly my graduation.

If all your loved ones were decades dead, maybe that was the closest you could come to spending your last night with them.

Anyway, I decided the kindest thing I could do was let him sleep.

On my own, though, it was hard to figure out even where to start when the problem was that the Four Horsemen of Revelation were out riding among the people of the Earth. There might have been something - some small lever and the right place to stand - which would make a real difference - but damned if I could figure out what it was.

I ended up spending a couple of hours in the tech cave, reading the last few days' police reports via HOLMES. The good thing was, we didn't have any active Falcon cases for once. Everyone seemed to be keeping their heads down and their tray-tables locked in the upright position. But we have a system in place now to flag anything that comes through any of the reporting systems that meets the criteria for "possibly Falcon". Most of it's nothing - people with big imaginations, or things that could have been magic related but weren't. We also have a list of people and locations that get an automatic flag, ones that are magical enough that anything related to them, even if it starts out mundane, is going to end up on our desk sooner or later.

There was a lot through the system in the last forty-eight hours. And a lot of it was, and I say this as a technical descriptive term from a qualified Falcon investigator, weird shit. Stuff that would automatically go in the "wild imaginations" category any other day - giant sea monsters and rains of fish, flying saucers full of little green men and, I swear to God, Atlantis rising from the deeps. I would have written it all off except that there was about fifty times as much of it as usual, and a lot of it was reported by multiple credible witnesses. And reading over the obviously hoaxed Atlantis report, which involved a cruise ship and quoits, I couldn't stop thinking about "sunken lands riseth" that Thomas had marked in the prophecy book.

I was just printing off something particularly worrying to take to Thomas when the man himself came up the stairs, immaculately pressed in an old-fashioned suit as usual, and not visibly hungover. You'd have to know him as well as I did to tell that inside, he was gripping his composure white-knuckled.

"Peter," he said shortly. "Good morning."

It was rapidly approaching afternoon but I was kind enough not to mention this. "Good morning, Thomas," I said. "We've just been copied a report about a high-priority location." I pulled it off the printer and re-read the cover. "Apparently, A. Z. Fell & Co has had a major fire."

We didn't have a flag for every location in London that had some kind of magical history or resonance - we could just use the entire Google maps dataset for that; it would have fewer locations listed. But the really important locations, like the homes of genius locii, got the top-priority flag for us in HOLMES. So did Fell's Bookshop. I'd never been there, and I didn't even really know why it was important - Thomas was still catching me up on all the little Powers and agreements that weren't well documented and hadn't caused enough trouble lately to skip ahead in the queue. But I knew that it had been in the same location with the same owner for over two hundred years, and that Mr. Fell didn't attend the Rivers' Courts. Which said something, but I wasn't sure what. So did the fact that I was wondering if Agnes Nutter understood apostrophes after all.

Thomas took the papers from me with worrying speed and frowned. "Right," he said. "Peter, I get the distinct impression, based on the fact that you've voluntarily come in on a Saturday, that you'd like to be doing something."

"It would be a comfort," I admitted.

"Go assess Fell's," he said. "Check around, ask especially about casualties, and look for anything that resembles remains."

"Am I looking for vestigia?"

"You'll find vestigia," he said. "I don't know if you'll be able to get anything relevant over the background. Keep me up to date via mobile if you find anything significant."

"What is significant about Fell's?" I asked

He gave me an inscrutable look. "Well, to start, it was the home of the largest collection of books of prophecy in the UK."

I thought about his research project last night. "And while I'm poking around an antiquarian bookshop, where will you be?"

"A little town called Lower Tadfield, in Oxfordshire. It's idyllic countryside, you'd hate it," he said.

I glared at him.

"Where I will be in exactly the same amount of danger as everyone else, and am very unlikely to be of any use," he conceded. "But you aren't the only one who wants to be doing anything at all right now."

"All right," I said. "I'll head out to Soho, if that's all I'm getting."

"Have Molly pack you a picnic dinner, you may need to do a stakeout."

I sighed. Our latest ex-Panda car was not the most comfortable place to spend a night, but then, I had asked for a job to do.

Nightingale tilted his head at me, and then offered me his keys. "Take the Jag," he said.

I gaped at him. "The world must be ending."

"Is this really the time?" he asked me with raised eyebrows.

"Too soon?" I asked.

"Try me again next week, if there is one. And the Jag might help you out, after all - make some connections."

Off in the distance, thunder began to rumble.

 

The question of the Jaguar started to make a little bit more sense when I (carefully) pulled it up across the street from the burnt-out bookshop and walked over to the firemen, umbrellas up against the storm that had just broken, only to be regaled with the tale of a black 1930s Bentley, "Show condition, I swear." A man had walked out of it into the burning building, right when the fire was at its worst, and then, before the fire brigade had figured out if they had a chance in Hell to safely go in and get him out alive, he'd walked back out. Carrying a book. Oh, yeah, and on fire. With something weird about his eyes. He'd got back into the Bentley - still on fire, mind - and driven away.

I wasn't going to take any bets that the book was The Nice And Accurate Prophecies, but I wasn't going to take any bets that it wasn't, either.

They didn't want to let me into the bookshop given issues of structural safety, i.e. the walls falling in on me and them getting in trouble with their superiors, but the fire was down to sullen damp smouldering in the corners, so it was only mostly stupid, not entirely stupid. After I told them I was Special Assessment Unit they were, if not happy to let me in, at least resigned that they weren't going to be able to stop me; they must have been listening to Frank Caffrey's stories.

A. Z. Fell & Co had once been a beautiful old two-story Georgian townhouse in the classic Soho style, around the same vintage as the Folly but a very different look. The pale brick and solemn pilasters were still just discernible despite the smoke damage and driving rain and several centuries' worth of awful paint choices.

I went in through a blown-out display window, as this seemed like an easier option than the door, and with as many protective shields up as I could manage. The second story balconies had collapsed onto the first, although in many cases they had just collapsed onto the bookcases that must have covered nearly every possible square foot of the building, leaving dark tunnel-like spaces interspersed with open areas made dangerous by the shattered remains of the upstairs floors. Things that had once been antiquarian books and were now trying to decide if they were bricks of smouldering charcoal or just nests of damp paper were piled dismally everywhere.

I knew, immediately, what Thomas had meant about the vestigia. The place was drenched in them, and it was very hard to describe. A general sense of welcome, love, and well-being; coziness and contentment. But also a very strong paradoxical impression that I was not wanted there and should get out and anyway it was a dismal, dreadful place, full of mold. Tea and old books and fine woolens and good wine and French pastries and something green and growing and feathers and starlight and lightning and apples and fire and steel and blood and eyes and eyes and eyes; and I wrenched my concentration back to the purely physical scents of smoke and damp paper and burnt things before I got lost in it. I had the distinct feeling that if I kept going, I could find all of Earth in the vestigia there, and maybe some things that weren't.

But none of it seemed all that more recent than the rest.

What was definitely recent was the smell of burnt flesh. I couldn't swear in court that it was burnt human flesh, but I'd been doing this job long enough to have an unfortunately well-informed opinion that it was. Or nearly human, anyway. I couldn't find a source of it, but there was a coat of suspicious fine white ash that that seemed to be under most of the fire debris, and seemed to form a sort of blast radius.

The center of the blast was beneath a sort of atrium, now open to the sky. There were shelves and timbers fallen across it, and under that broken glass, and under that - a spell diagram.

I recognized the style - it was more or less Enochian - but Enochian magic wasn't part of the Newtonian canon, so all I could really say was that Enochian ritual magic was generally to do with the sort of people in the 17th century who thought they could summon angels and talk directly to Heaven. I'd never heard of anyone succeeding, and I thought I probably would have, but just because you couldn't talk to God didn't mean you couldn't blow yourself up with a mis-drawn spell diagram.

There were melted white candles all around it, and, I realized after a bit more poking around, the candlewax was also on top of the white ash.

So, working theory: someone tried an Enochian summoning, blew themselves up instead, and then either the unattended candles or the explosion itself lit the bookshop on fire. A little more poking around only revealed that the books in that part of the shop were exactly the kind of collection you'd expect from somebody who messed around with ritual magic without the proper precautions.

It didn't explain the strange vestigia, but Thomas had said not to worry about the vestigia, and some ominous creaking from the upper walls decided me that I'd probably seen enough for a first go.

Back in the Jag I called Thomas to report my findings and my theory. I didn't get much of a response, although that might have been more the sound of sirens and general chaos I could just hear on his side of the phone. I did get a "hmm" when I texted him my photo of the spell diagram.

"Did I read it wrong?" I asked him.

"Oh, no," he said. "I think your theory is excellent. I just wasn't aware that this particular circle could be activated at all by anyone short of a cherub who had stood before the throne of God, and I didn't know there were any cherubim or seraphim in London these days."

I let myself have a moment for that to sink in.

"What does it do?" I said, finally.

"It's meant to connect one directly with the Metatron, the voice of God."

"...are you telling me," I said, "That God - the Christian God, in Heaven, enthroned with angels - is literally real?"

I'd taken the Four Horsemen of the Revelation and rolled with it, so I don't know why this was hitting me so hard, but it was.

"If you do happen to meet any cherubim, I'd be very interested to know if you get an answer to that question," he said. "Anything else to report?"

I told him about the mysterious vintage Bentley, and he seemed unsurprised.

"Yes, well," he said. "I suspect it was the same black Bentley that just crossed the M25 on the A40, on fire."

"The car was on fire?"

"The M25 is on fire," Thomas said. "Except when it's frozen instead. Apparently the bit where they built the new ring road in the shape of the dread sigil odegra was not, after all, just a bit of a jape. It's what I get for sleeping through the 1970s. But the Bentley was most definitely on fire after it crossed, if not before. The M25 has turned into a sealing circle; they're measuring the air temperature above it in Kelvins when they can get a thermometer to work. I've asked them to copy you any scientific data they record."

I hadn't been planning to ask. I may have thought of asking, but I wasn't going to, I want to make that clear. There were sometimes things more important than scientific data. "Is, er, that where you are?" There were a lot of sirens and other assorted noise in the background.

"Yes, and I suspect I'll be here for the foreseeable future," Thomas said. "Nobody else is getting out of London until this is resolved, one way or another, so I might as well do what I can here. Which isn't going to be a lot," he added.

"Do you need me on the scene?"

"If we make it through the next week, I need one of us to not be having screaming nightmares every time they close their eyes, and I already know it won't be me," he said. "The road was bumper-to-bumper traffic when it all went up. "

It didn't seem worth arguing about it, given the ‘if we make it' at the beginning, even if I was well past done with people treating me like I was going to snap. Especially since just that description of the situation on the road might actually have taken care of me on the nightmares front already. "You want me to go back inside the shop, look for anything else?" I asked instead.

"I doubt you'd find it, and we don't need to be digging you out of rubble again. But stick around, stake out the place overnight, if you don't mind - I'd like to know if the owner comes back."

"You don't think it was the owner who, er, was transmuted into an ash layer?"

"I'm not convinced that would be enough to keep Mr. Fell from minding his shop," Thomas said grimly.

So parked across the street and sat in the Jag and watched the burnt-out building get pounded by the rain.

The thing is, stakeouts are boring. Especially solo stakeouts. Even in the Jaguar, which actually doesn't have that much legroom when you get right down to it and you've been sat there for hours.

The rain was lashing down in a driving wind to the point I could barely see out the windscreen and I seriously considered just giving it up as a bad job and seeing if I could help Thomas anyway - or Bev; all her sisters must have been working all-out to keep London from disastrous flooding in this storm.

At least I didn't have to worry about the kids. One benefit of becoming legally and officially a member of the Thames family is that I'd been let on to the passkeys to the last-ditch safehouse. If something else did happen, they couldn't be anywhere safer, and there would be at least three river goddesses keeping an eye on them.

I tried to call Bev anyway, but the mobile network was down. The radio stations that weren't pure static were nothing but depressing news/traffic updates, and of course the Jag, being mint from the 1960s, didn't have a CD or tape player.

The only downloaded music on my phone was a mislabelled "Best of Queen" album Jaget had sent me as a joke. So I sat in the car, with Molly's picnic basket and Freddie Mercury wailing about how the show must go on as company, while the rain pounded the roof and the police radio crackled with increasingly staticky and bewildered officers.

When I turned Radio 2 back on, it had switched to somebody reading a long list of names of people who wanted their loved ones to know they were okay. I switched it off, and tried to call Bev again - still down. She was probably in her river anyway.

Eventually even the police radio quietened down. People seemed to have decided that whatever was happening, it wasn't worth leaving their nice cozy homes for.

Smart people.

And then the bookshop came back.

Not the bookshop proprietor - the shop itself.

I would swear I hadn't gone to sleep, or even looked away for more than a blink, but maybe the rain obscured the view for a moment, or I drifted off for the barest second, because I didn't see it happen. But I looked over, and suddenly A. Z. Fell & Co was standing proud and tall against the rain, perfectly intact down to its front windows and its terrible paint job.

I pinched myself a couple of times, and then went through the somewhat more complicated exercises I'd learned from Thomas and later Fleet, but this was definitely not a dream or illusion or a timeslip, and if I'd slipped into a different world, it was one that was just as real and solid as my usual world.

By the time I got out of the car, the storm was already dying down nearly as quickly as it had arrived. When I knocked on the bookshop door, it wasn't even raining anymore.

Nobody answered repeated knocks, and now-intact piles of books around overstuffed shelves kept me from getting much of a view through the window. The sign giving hours of business did not leave me with any confidence that the owner would be on premises at regular times, either.

I considered breaking down the door, and then considered the paperwork that would be involved in making the case that an emergency entry was justified because the building had not burned down, and decided to go back to the car instead.

My mobile claimed to have signal again, although when I tried to call Thomas it didn't connect - everyone else must have had the same idea. I texted him instead - he's better at smartphones than he usually wants people to think - but I'm not sure I managed to convey the sheer wtfery of the bookshop's sudden restoration.

The M25 is back too, he replied. Not on fire, all injuries and damage restored, no casualties detectable.

???? I sent him.

I think whatever has been happening… didn't, he sent. I think, perhaps, we've been granted some breathing space. Go home, get some sleep. I doubt anything more will happen until tomorrow, at least.

I really did intend to do that, too, but before I was out of Soho they were calling all hands to the M25 on the police radio. All the physical injuries and damages had been undone like they'd never happened, but that still left everybody who'd been driving on or near the ring road confused, missing most of an afternoon, and variously traumatized or amnesiac. And it had been the M25 on a Saturday afternoon; that was tens of thousands of people. So that was fun.

Bev eventually texted back everyone OK, flood mitigation ongoing, ♥, so I sent my love back and spent the rest of the night trying to shepherd scared and bewildered people off the road and safe home. Or, really, spending most of my time telling scared and bewildered police that I was Special Assessment Unit and my Special Assessment, as a member of the Special Assessment Unit, was that everything was going to be fine and nothing was wrong and they should just keep helping people.

I don't know if I believed a word of it, but it seemed to keep them going.

I saw Thomas in passing a couple of times and he looked to be doing about the same kind of work. Community policing at its best, I supposed, even if the ‘community' this time was London's first responders, responding to a situation they had no frame of reference for, and I barely had more.

By the time they sent us home too, around 3 AM, London's collective humanity seemed to have decided that there had been massive congestion on the M25 related to wind and flooding damage from the one-a-century storm (Bev would be annoyed, since as far as I could tell they'd managed to keep actual flooding to a minimum, and I heard later that Lea had been badly scalded, going under the road.) Only people who had a reason to seemed to be forgetting the fire, though; the traumatized, the injured, the ones for whom the inexplicable would never be acceptable. I don't know if it was someone looking out for us, or just plain old human resilience, but I thought that given a few months, it would (like various other supernatural disasters I'd witnessed) be largely treated as just another legend of London.

I wrote down a short summary before I finally fell into bed, though. Just in case the amnesia spread. Whatever had restored that bookshop (not to mention tens of thousands of burnt and shattered cars, and who knew what else) could probably erase a bedside notepad without blinking, but it was better than nothing.

I slept like a log. Sometime around dawn Bev fell into bed next to me, hair still wet with river water, and I woke up just long enough for her to mumble that all the kids were still together at her mum's and love you, go back to sleep, before we were both out again, wrapped around each other.

By the time I woke up it was nearly noon, but somehow it still felt like morning. The air was washed clean from the storm, and there was something about the quality of light that felt fresh and new. I rolled out of bed, leaving Bev still snoring away, and stood by the window, and stretched, and thought about Thomas's breathing space, and the day after the end of the world, and new beginnings.

Then I looked down at the street outside and said "Fuck!"

I'd been so tired last night that without even thinking I'd left Thomas's spotless vintage Jaguar Mark 2 out on the street, nowhere even resembling safely in a garage. It was crookedly parallel parked between the neighbor's old Mitsubishi and a white panel van, where anybody could scratch it or dent it or steal it or do anything to it. And if anything had happened, Thomas would never, ever let me drive it again.

And he would be sad.

I threw on the fastest clothes I could find, kissed Bev on the forehead and scribbled her a note, ran downstairs, ran back upstairs to fish the keys out of yesterday's pockets, and then forced myself to slow down for a second and think. Thomas was unlikely to have woken up much before I did; I knew for a fact that he hadn't headed home until after I had, and he'd had a much harder day before that, too. So instead of rushing back over to Russell Square like a fool, I texted Molly and made myself some toast and coffee.

Molly confirmed that Thomas was still asleep, likely to remain so, and that she would personally see to it that nobody disturbed him until he was ready to come down. I assured her I wasn't planning to. So I'd have plenty of time to get the Jag back to the garage and carefully inspect it for damage without Thomas ever having to think about where it had spent the night.

It was a ridiculously pleasant Sunday afternoon for a drive. Everybody in London seemed to be feeling at one with the world, and the motorists, the few who were about, were following the rules of the road, and being polite and even kind to each other. It might have been creepy if there hadn't still been something in the air that felt like the exact opposite of creepy. The police radio was quiet again, and Radio 2 had switched from crisis programming to what seemed to be, inexplicably, a Queen marathon. I left it on: I felt like Freddie and I had been through some stuff together yesterday, and we'd bonded.

And I found myself turning toward Soho rather that Camden. It was just that yesterday's stakeout felt unfinished, and, I justified to myself, I should at least check in and see if the proprietor was back, because breathing space or not, somebody doing full Enochian rituals in Soho was going to be my problem sooner or later.

I pulled into the same spot I'd occupied yesterday, across the street, turned off the radio, and sipped my Thermos of coffee contemplatively, not feeling in any hurry. The bookshop was the same as it had been last night after the storm; more what you would call well-loved than pristine, maybe, but definitely not burnt down at all, even a little bit.

The sign on the door still read "closed" and there was no evidence of anyone inside, but I was just about to go out and knock on the door anyway when a gleaming black 1920s vintage Bentley pulled up in front. It had to be the same car from the firemen's stories yesterday, and it was also very definitely unburnt. The driver got out and then walked around and opened the door for the passenger.

The passenger was a portly, late-middle-aged white man dressed like an Oxford professor from an old movie, with a puff of dandelion-white hair. The driver - and I know certain people will accuse me of having a fixation if I say this, but cliches are cliches for a reason - the driver appeared to be his slightly ethnic younger boyfriend: lanky and slinky, dark hair, dressed like someone had once described a rock star to him in the dark.

And I know you're not supposed to claim you can determine someone's sexuality just by looking at them, even if the fair one was the most blatantly queer person I had ever seen in Soho, but it seemed like a pretty good guess that they were a couple when they were so obviously in love with each other.

The dark-haired one helped his boyfriend out of the car and they looked like they were about to go into the shop, when the fair one glanced across the street and caught my eye. And I could swear I felt his look almost like a physical touch. Then he leaned over and said something to his partner, who turned to look straight at me, and I definitely felt that one.

He crossed the street and tapped on the window. I rolled it down.

"Nice car," he said.

"Thanks," I told him. "One owner from new."

"So's mine," he said, pointing over his shoulder. That would make him well over a hundred if it was true, but then, I'd met much stranger things in London.

"It's gorgeous," I told him honestly.

"Thanks. I do what I can. This is the Nightingale's car, isn't it."

"Yes," I admitted.

"Which would make you the Starling."

"I'm told some people call me that," I said, and showed him my warrant card. "Detective Sergeant Peter Grant, London Metropolitan Police Service."

"Anthony J. Crowley," he told me. "Charmed. And this is Aziraphale."

"Oh dear," Aziraphale said, finally catching up to him. "Have we done something to upset the police?"

"We had several reports of disturbances here yesterday," I said, "So I was just checking in. Is everything okay in the shop?"

"I've barely had a chance to check, my dear, but I don't see why it shouldn't be. It's quite sweet of you to be concerned."

"Just as well you're here, though," Crowley said, leaning hard on the window frame. "We're going to have to renegotiate some… Agreements with your boss. Circumstances have changed."

I nodded. I'd already started to deduce that these might be some of the people Thomas had referred to as being the ones whose job it was. On the surface they seemed serene and confident, but there's a look you get to recognizing on someone who's been through Hell, but Hell was nothing compared to yesterday. They both had it. They must be part of the massive tangle of arrangements and agreements and debts and oaths that kept the Folly afloat atop the seething undercurrents of England's magical communities. Many of them were still recorded only in Thomas's memory, despite his ongoing efforts to get me up to speed.

"Dinner meeting at the Folly, next week sometime?" Crowley suggested. "The Nightingale still has my mobile number, he can call to set it up."

"That should be fine," I said. "I'll let him know."

"Not at the Folly," Aziraphale said suddenly. "I can't possibly go to Russell Square. Can't we meet at a restaurant or somewhere?"

"Do you have a problem with the Nightingale, angel?" Crowley asked.

"Oh, no, dear, not at all, Tommy is a sweetheart. Do you know we were both members of the same club in the 20s? But my nemesis lives off Russell Square, and I've sworn never to return."

"I thought I was your nemesis!" Crowley said, turning to him with a look of eternal betrayal.

"Of course you are," Aziraphale said, and patted him soothingly on the wrist. "My greatest nemesis, always and forever, across all of history and all the kingdoms of the Earth. But this is different, this is business."

"Oh, him," Crowley said, in a tone of great revelation. "Please pardon him," he said to me, "He has some kind of feud going with the owner of the bookshop near your place, we'll work it out before the meeting."

"He's pure evil," Aziraphale said. "Have you seen what he--"

"It's been a tough week for us, you understand," Crowley said to me over him.

"Of course," I replied. "'The three cometh together and the four arise, upon iron horses ride' and all that; it's been a tough week for a lot of us."

Aziraphale focused in on me like a predator sighting prey, pure hunger in his face. "Where did you hear that?" he said.

"Er, the bit about the iron horses? In an old book in the Folly's library. Book of prophecies by someone called Agnes Nutter. Why?"

"You can't have," he said. "All the unsold copies were burned. And all of the copies were unsold."

"I think one of the Folly's predecessor organizations was getting pre-publication copies of all magic-related books, going back to the Licensing Act in the 1660s," I said. "We still do actually, but they go to Harold Postmartin at the Bodleian first now, otherwise we'd be drowning in New Age dreck."

Aziraphale looked deeply conflicted.

"I heard their wine cellar is barely touched since the war," Crowley murmured alluringly.

"Well," Aziraphale said. "Just this once. Any new Agreement had best involve library access!"

"We'll definitely mention that, angel," Crowley said.

"Fine," I said. "I'll have someone call you to set up a time."

"Cheers," Crowley said. "Anything else you need today?"

"We'll let you know," I said.

"Excellent," he replied. "Oh, and if you lot are still funding the Witchfinder Army, you might want to rejigger your arrangements with them, too."

"Oh?" I said. That name rang a vague bell, although it might have just been my mother's insistence that I was a witchfinder whenever she tried to describe my job to her relatives.

"I suspect they're going to be reorganizing soon. You see, they've found their witches."

I reported all of this to Thomas over tea, once I'd returned the car safely to the garage and the keys safely to him. He nodded along and seemed pleased to have the two over for dinner, although somewhat surprised that it was going to be both of them at once.

"Yes, well," he said when I asked. "It's about time, really. Though I suppose it would take the end of the world for them to figure it out."

I didn't ask. I figured I'd find out enough when the time came, and also I wasn't sure I wanted to know.

I shouldn't have mentioned the part about the Witchfinders, mind you. That's how I ended up spending most of the next week poring over dusty old paper ledgers in the kitchen with Molly. But that's another story, more or less.