Commander Peter Grant picks up his teacup off the tray Molly has left for him. “So, Inspector Nightingale. I hear you’re a wizard.”
He is a bright-eyed young black man in a perfectly pressed uniform. Young in this case means forty or so, still, in Thomas’s considered opinion, far too young to believably outrank him. Then again, everybody up to and including the Commissioner has been far too young to outrank him for about fifty years now, so it’s not really worth worrying about.
The wizard comment, on the other hand, is.
“Yes,” Thomas says, because the only thing he knows about Grant, aside from what he can see, is that he’s just been appointed the Commander for Community Engagement - ACPO rank, although that term is, god help him, a decade out of date now. This has, apparently, caused him to be informed about the Folly’s true purpose. “I suppose you’ve been briefed on the Folly - the Special Assessment Unit, that is - on my remit.”
“If you can call that a briefing,” Grant scoffs. “They mumbled a lot about ‘events out of the ordinary’. I think the word magic might have been whispered quickly at one point. So I thought I’d come to the source.”
“I’m not sure what more you’re hoping to learn,” says Thomas. In general, by the time people hit the rank where they have to be informed about magic, if they’ve avoided learning about the Folly on the way up, they’re too invested in the state of the world as it is - as they believe it to be - to really want to take it in. Grant seems…interested.
“Well, neither am I exactly.” Grant smiles, and it’s a good look for him. He is, Thomas thinks, quite good-looking in general, his neatly-trimmed hair just starting to curl. “Because nobody wanted to be specific. Everybody seemed to think I should already know who you are and what you do, and honestly, I’d heard rumours before. They just ranged from the ridiculous to the implausible, and I had a job to do. But apparently your job is even more implausible than the rumours were, so how about we start with this: what sort of community are we talking about?”
“Well, it can’t just be you, or there’d be no point having you being a policeman, would there? Police are for communities. How many people are we talking about who’re involved with - magic? In London, in England - do you have a counterpart in Scotland? They told me you have national responsibilities for this area, but when they packed up and left -”
“I honestly have no idea.” Thomas chooses to leave the somewhat fraught Scottish question alone. “In London, ah - thousands? Nationwide - I don’t know. They’re not exactly eager to engage, by and large.”
“I guess you don’t have the manpower for statistics,” says Grant, with a glance around at the Folly’s dimmed grandeur. “Unless your housekeeper has hidden skills with Excel.”
“I believe she has quite a following on Twitter,” Thomas says, which gets him a slightly startled blink. Grant’s hand twitches towards his pocket, then returns to take a biscuit. Thomas didn’t rescind obligation, when Grant took his first. He probably should have.
“Mmmm. So you’re understaffed.” Grant puts the biscuit back down, apparently distracted. “I started out, a stint in the CPU aside, with a Community Service Unit - hate crimes. Gay bashings, immigrants getting stuff nailed to their front doors, you know how it goes.” Thomas doesn’t, really, those things hadn’t been considered worth investigating once upon a time, but he supposes it’s a sign of progress that now they are. “Do you have that sort of problem in your community? Equivalent things?”
“It’s not really -” Thomas drums his fingers on the arm of his chair for a second. “I think you misunderstand my job. It’s more to keep the peace -” and out of the public eye, of course “- than anything else.”
“Mmmmmmm,” says Grant again, and Thomas has the surprising and unpleasant sense of being weighed and found wanting. “That seems like - a very narrow approach.”
“I have kept it,” Thomas bites out, as if this boy has the first idea what that’s cost or what that means. “That matters.”
“That’s not all that matters.” Grant puts down his cup and saucer, leans forward with his elbows on his knees, an alarmingly direct sincerity in his face. “But we’re getting off topic. Tell me about magic.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I’ve been told it only tends to confuse things.” People come with all sorts of preconceptions and untangling them is usually not worth the bother; he imagines Grant has plenty.
“Look,” Grant says. “I know technically you fall directly under the Commissioner, because she was pretty specific on that point, and even aside from that you’re part of Specialist Crime, but my responsibility covers community engagement across the whole city, with every community. And apparently there’s a whole group of people we have a special unit just to deal with, but whose existence I don’t have the first idea about, and that’s unacceptable, frankly, so, Inspector Nightingale: please tell me about magic.”
“Sir,” Thomas is forced to acknowledge, and Grant holds still for a second, a fractional pause, then smiles again.
“Call me Peter,” he says.
Thomas continues to address Grant as “sir” whenever he gets the chance, and by his first name precisely never. It might be the only thing to do with Grant he really gets any choice in.
It becomes rapidly obvious that the only two things which have been standing between Thomas and Grant’s endless supply of questions – not all of which Thomas knows the answers to –– are DCI Lesley May and the grace of God. May and Grant, it transpires, were at Hendon at the same time and have a longstanding friendship. May was Alexander Seawoll’s golden girl, when she was a constable, and is about as suspicious of Thomas as her mentor ever has been. (He’s mellowed slightly since moving out of the direct line of fire; slightly.)
“I can’t believe you knew about magic all this time and never told me,” Grant says to May in tones of deepest injury. They’re standing huddled together in the street, out of sight of the public, next to a highly inconvenient and inconveniently magical crime scene. It’s May’s case, Thomas’s responsibility, and Grant who has an advisory group meeting later that day and needs a good explanation for what’s happened.
After that first meeting, Thomas used all his limited knowledge of the Internet – or Molly’s much more extensive knowledge, if he’s being honest – to find out what he could of Grant, which included footage of press conferences; he doesn’t want to say know your enemy, but reconnaissance is never useless. Grant’s good at fronting to the public, quick on his feet and hard to fluster. Thomas has seen enough men and women who could deflect press questions with a straight face to not be all that impressed, but – all right. It’s a little impressive. He’s not worried about his ability to carry off a cover-up, at any rate.
“Firstly,” May tells Grant huffily, “I was told not to go spreading it around, secondly, we don’t use the m-word, and thirdly, telling you about it was never going to lead to anything good.”
“Does Sahra Guleed know?” Grant squints at her, unpacified. DCI Guleed is with Fraud now, if Thomas recalls correctly; she certainly knows and worked with May for a long time, having been Miriam Stephanopoulos’ sergeant for years, so likely she’s picked up on some of the odder cases. He never had much direct contact with her.
“Probably.” May glances around. “Look, we’ve got about five minutes before someone spots us all talking, can you just let us brief you on the cover story? And why aren’t we doing this in somebody’s office? You’re far too senior to be wandering around like this. You’re giving my people hives just by standing here.”
“I’ve been in meetings all week, I wanted to get out.” Grant waves a hand. “Okay: cover story, go.”
He offers three objections to the story they’ve thrown together based on the laws of thermodynamics and two objections based on the laws of probability, as well as one based on “the laws of narrativium”, whatever that is, but May browbeats him handily into submission; Thomas is quite reconciled to every suspicious look she’s ever given him.
“The m-word?” Grant asks Thomas, the next week. Thomas isn’t sure how he finds the time.
“Don’t ask me how that got started,” he says wearily. “It wasn’t me.”
“I didn’t think it was.” They’re standing in Russell Square, drinking coffee that Grant brought as a transparent but not unwelcome peace offering; also, Grant is just enough senior to him that Thomas needs a better than paper-thin excuse to avoid him. He’s itching to walk back into the Folly and not leave again for, oh, five years or so, but then Grant asks another question, or offers up a carefully impersonal anecdote, and he forgets to come up with an excuse to leave. Thomas has been around long enough to know why this feels good somewhere amidst the irritation, all that attention; but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t know better.
“You know,” Grant says, like he’s quite impossibly reading Thomas’s mind, “I feel like I’m taking up a lot of your time; are you sure there aren’t any books or anything on this?”
“They’re in Latin, for the most part,” Thomas prevaricates.
“To keep them out of the hands of the plebs.” Grant raises his eyebrows like it’s a joke, but his tone says it isn’t quite, and –
“Ah,” Thomas shrugs, feels his mouth tilt ruefully. “Something like that.”
“They didn’t exactly offer Latin at my comprehensive.” Grant sounds amiable enough, smiles back. Thomas has asked around, of course, has some idea where Grant comes from; working-class boy, went into the CPU and then the Westminster CSU, rapidly distinguished himself, got headhunted sideways into Fraud and kept climbing the ranks within Specialist Crime before he headed back into the Territorial directorate as a borough commander and now his current job. A career Met officer, and a good one. Thomas has worked with officers like him before, or – he thinks he has. Something about Grant keeps eluding categorisation.
“I must admit Latin’s lost some utility since I was that age, so it’s unsurprising it’s gone out of schools,” slips out before he can think better of it, and that is, of course, a mistake.
“I don’t remember Latin coming up that often in the nineties, although who knows what you were getting up to at public schools,” Grant says, eyeing Thomas speculatively.
“Mmmm,” Thomas says.
Definitely a mistake.
Thomas is aware that many of the Rivers have active interests in a range of areas, which includes social events, but of course he’s never invited; which is why an invitation from Tyburn can mean nothing but trouble. He goes anyway. She will have a purpose, and it’s the quickest way to find out what it is.
He wasn’t expecting Grant to be in the crowd, but if Thomas considers the position he’s about to take up – it’s the sort of thing Tyburn keeps her eye on. She’s been trying to get a handle on him through the Met for years, as well as establish her position in the city more generally. Grant’s new job means he meets with everybody.
“I’m so glad you decided to join us,” Tyburn tells him in friendly tones, but her eyes give the lie to that. “Do you know Commander Grant?”
“Inspector Nightingale, hello,” Grant says warmly, forestalling any attempt on Thomas’s part to minimise the connection. “I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“I invited him,” Tyburn says. “He doesn’t get out much.”
“Commander,” Thomas address Grant, politely. “I wasn’t aware you and Lady Tyburn knew each other.”
It was also only a matter of time, he now realises, before Grant’s continued interest in Thomas and the Folly got Tyburn’s attention. Thomas wonders, rather grimly, if this is just another of her gambits to try and shut the place, and him, down altogether. They have come to a sort of détente over the last decade but he doesn’t flatter himself that she’s given up.
“Lady -” Grant digests this description. “Have I been addressing you the wrong way, Cecelia?”
“Not at all,” Tyburn disclaims, but Grant is moving on. “And how, exactly -”
“She’s the goddess of the river Tyburn,” says Thomas, “which puts her and her sisters in my community, as it were,” and it’s worth the way Tyburn’s mouth draws into a flat line at this description; she doesn’t like him anyway. Worth it for the way Grant’s eyebrows shoot up and he glances between Thomas and Tyburn, and the way he laughs and shakes his head, taking it in.
“Goddess of the river Tyburn,” he repeats. “That makes a disturbing amount of sense, and – wait. Beverley? Beverley.”
Beverley Brook would be not too much younger than Grant, of course; does he know her as well?
Tyburn laughs, thawing slightly; Thomas wasn’t sure that was something she did. “I’m surprised that never came up.”
“We went clubbing a couple of times, that’s all.” Tyburn smiles thinly at that, inclining her head to acknowledge the point, and Thomas feels a certain sense of relief; maybe Grant’s not in her pocket after all. Then again, Tyburn never has quailed at dealing with people she finds useful, whether they’re the type she would find acceptable as romantic partners for her younger sisters or not.
“You know,” Tyburn goes on, “I’m not sure what Inspector Nightingale has been telling you, but I’ve been trying to persuade him the Folly has been in need of reform for years now.”
“That hadn’t come up, no.” Grant shrugs. “But then, neither had the presence of deities for local rivers. Makes me wonder what else I don’t know enough to ask about.”
Almost everything, and God help me if you do, thinks Thomas. “You seem to be managing to find enough questions as it is. Sir.”
Grant just laughs. “Nobody’s ever accused me of not wanting to know, that’s true.”
“It’s antiquated,” Tyburn presses her point, “a relic from before the Second World War – nearly a century ago! – that doesn’t even have a place in the modern Met’s organisational structure.”
“Organisational structures change,” Thomas says. “My job is to keep the old agreements. And those don’t – especially not considering your family’s…longevity of tenure.”
“My mother walked into the Thames fifteen years after the rest of your friends got themselves killed,” Tyburn says. “I’d call that an opportunity for renegotiation.”
“Your mother doesn’t agree.” That’s Thomas’s big gun, of course; perhaps a little early to fire it, but Grant is looking far too interested in this turn of conversation.
Tyburn goes very still, oh dear, but Grant interrupts her handily; Thomas may very well owe him.
“Are we talking the sort of agreements that are written down somewhere, or…?”
“Oh, god no, it’s all the old boys’ network, sealing-wax and secret handshakes, handed down since the end of World War II,” says Tyburn. Grant sighs at this and they grimace at each other in a way that speaks of familiarity. Thomas rescinds his previous thought.
“The better part of a century is a long time for that, though,” Grant says. “A lot of things have changed in the Met since then. But your unit hasn’t at all?” He directs the last at Thomas.
“There’s been no particular need for it,” Thomas says, perhaps a little coolly but Tyburn’s tried to corner him with higher-ranking officers than Peter Grant and failed. Richard Folsom, that was a notable attempt, and in his direct chain of command as well; Thomas feels well shot of him.
“Inspector Nightingale refuses to see the benefits of change, or take a wider viewpoint of his organisation’s responsibilities,” Tyburn says. “No community policing for him. He won’t even retire and let other people sort things out.”
“I don’t think he’s in any danger of needing to retire any time soon,” says Grant, blinking at him. “He looks – perfectly healthy.”
It’s only the slightest of pauses, but Thomas is suddenly convinced that hadn’t been the first way Grant had thought to end that sentence, and that’s – a surprise; alright, he’d looked at Grant that way once or twice, but he’d been so busy throwing up defences against Grant’s curiosity he hadn’t stopped to notice anything else.
“I’m certainly not planning on it.” Thomas tries to sound both certain and bored; the older he gets without resuming aging, inexplicably, the less he wants to be asked for explanations, and he can only imagine the kind of interrogation Grant would be capable of on the topic. At least the backwards part slowed to a halt some years back; he has no desire to be seen as in his twenties again. Sometimes he wonders if that’s why he stopped.
A slightly awkward silence descends for a couple of seconds, and then Thomas is rescued by someone taking advantage of it to get Tyburn’s attention; she’s forced to make her apologies and move on. Grant doesn’t go, just nods to her as she leaves and sips his wine.
“How do you know Tyburn?” Thomas asks once she’s gone; he might as well get a question or two of his own in.
“Met her when I moved up to borough command, she’s just been – around, local politics stuff,” Grant answers easily. “You know, I never quite figured out – I thought she was a lawyer, maybe, or lobbying for somebody. I definitely wasn’t expecting – that.”
“Well, you weren’t wrong, she represents a defined set of interests,” Thomas says.
“Is she really –“ Grant begins.
“Opinions differ, but you’d have to take it up with her, or one of her sisters. I don’t suggest it, personally.” It matters less what genii locorum call themselves and more what they can do, as far as Thomas is concerned. The rest is detail.
“Noted,” Grant says. “How did you meet her, if she’s, ah, in your community? Just go up to – wait, you can’t go up to, the Tyburn’s all underground, fine, go down to the river and say hello, is anybody home?”
“I’ve known her since she was very small.” Thomas remembers Mother Thames as she’d been then, a proud young woman with her hair in a scarf and a toddler on her hip, already echoing with all the power of the tidal Thames. Tyburn had been quite a well-behaved child, as Thomas recalled. Of course, she was a well-behaved adult, as these things went; she didn’t stand for any sort of chaos. She just had her priorities, and they weren’t Thomas’s, and possibly not her mother’s, and therein lay the rub that Thomas, if he had been prone any longer to prayer, would have prayed on a regular basis never arose to trouble him. Or anybody else within the lower Thames Valley.
“Huh,” Grant says, and “Just how long have you been doing this job, Inspector?”
“Probably too long,” Thomas says.
It isn’t just that he doesn’t know how to stop and in any case has nobody to pass it on to, after all these years. It’s that he has not the faintest idea what he’d do, afterwards.
A week later, Beverley Brook calls and asks to meet him at the café opposite the Folly in Russell Square, which is a nice touch: she’s not demanding he come to her, but neither is she walking into the site of his power. Of all Mother Thames’ children, Thomas perhaps likes Beverley the best. She was instrumental in defusing the situation with Father Thames and his sons, years ago, and she has continued to build bridges since – many of which Thomas is quite sure he doesn’t know about. She isn’t Tyburn, who wields her power openly, but if Thomas needed to reach out to as many people as possible within the demi-monde, it would be Beverley Brook he’d approach.
He doesn’t think she likes him very much, but he suspects that may be more a matter of age than anything else: she is, after all, very young, and younger now than her true age in appearance, which makes it hard to remember her experience outmatches her face. Thomas has known her since she was a small girl and he was still showing something of his own age. Goddess or not, he suspects he seems at best old-fashioned to her, at worst a relic. But she is always polite and never disdainful, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for. It’s more than he gets from Tyburn, certainly.
“Is there something happening I need to know about?” he asks her, once they’ve exchanged pleasantries and ordered drinks.
“More the other way around,” Beverley says. “Ty was complaining about one of your colleagues – Peter Grant.”
“I rather thought he might be one of her protegés,” Thomas says. “The new Commander for Community Engagement, previously borough commander for Kensington and Chelsea, and he’s rather young for it. A rising star. Tyburn’s type of officer, I would have thought.”
Beverley snorts. “Why, because his mum’s from West Africa and he’s heading places? I know she knows who he is, but no. Definitely not. She thinks he’s something to do with you, now.”
Thomas is saved from having to respond to this immediately by their coffee arriving; much too fast with the crowd in the café, but Beverley smiles up at the waiter and of course. The Glamour.
“He’s something to do with me in that he’s been asking a lot of questions,” Thomas tells her. “We haven’t crossed paths before this, but he’s high enough in rank that he’s had to be told about the Folly – about what I do – and this has apparently inspired his curiosity. That’s all.”
“And because he’s high enough in rank, you can’t just tell him to shove off, is that it?”
Thomas tries not to grimace, and fails. “Well.”
Beverley laughs. “Sorry – I’m just surprised that hasn’t happened before.”
“The normal reaction of senior officers who’ve avoided interacting with me, upon being informed of the Folly’s existence, is to wish it and me to the devil, or at least to pretend I don’t exist. I complicate their understanding of the world. Grant appears to enjoy complications.”
“Sounds about right,” Beverley says. “I knew him a bit, a few years ago; he doesn’t seem to have changed a lot from what Ty says. I should look him up again, find out what he’s on about. And – if you like – I could ask him to stop bothering you.”
It’s an offer that is not without its temptations, but using genii locorum to control officers senior to him is quite clearly over the ethical line, and…
“For the very small price of me owing you a favour,” Thomas says.
Beverley shrugs. “I’m not Ty.”
“Thank you, but no. Although – I think he would rather enjoy meeting you, so if you’re prepared to withstand his curiosity…”
“No rules saying I can’t tell him to stop bothering me,” Beverley points out. “But that’s really what I’m worried about. Ty seemed to think there was some possibility of him mucking with the agreement, that he thinks the Folly needs reforming.”
“Which is what she wants, of course,” Thomas says, “but on her terms, not the Metropolitan Police Service’s – not that they’d know it wasn’t if she succeeds.”
“Mmmm.” Beverley offers no further comment on that observation. “I need to know what you think of that. Is anything going to change?”
Thomas had not considered, up to this point, that it might go that far. “Technically, he has no direct power over me; I report directly to the Commissioner. I should think we have at least a decade before there’s any danger of that, rising star or not.”
There are certain unwritten rules, as well as written, about who Commissioners of the Met are, so that’s not actually a possibility Thomas contemplates seriously: then again, time marches on, and the rules are changing. The supply of officers who’ve served in Northern Ireland is going to dry up, for starters.
“No,” says Beverley, “but he doesn’t have to be the Commissioner, just present a persuasive case. So – what do you think of it?”
“I don’t know,” Thomas says. “I don’t know exactly what he wants. The kind of thing he’s in charge of, it’s not really related to what I do, what I’m here to do.”
“You should find out,” says Beverley. “And if I find out…”
“I’ll keep you informed,” Thomas agrees. “And the same?”
“Done.” Beverley drains the rest of her coffee. “Well, this has been pleasant.”
“Indeed.” She eyes him curiously as she stands, but Thomas means it: with Beverley the lines of what everybody wants are, at least, well-drawn.
“Say hi to Molly for me,” is her Parthian shot. Thomas never has quite figured out how Molly keeps in touch with – well. Anybody. It pre-dates his acquisition of a computer for the Folly; that’s what’s confusing about it.
“I just had the most fascinating conversation and I think you’re to blame for it,” is how Grant greets him a week or so later, when Thomas steps into the lobby to meet him. He’s not in uniform, for once, but his clothes are on the formal side of casual, unusual for his age, if this is how he dresses off the job. Thomas wonders if that’s about Grant, or Grant reading him.
Thomas retreats into formality, although he’s fairly certain he knows where this is going – no, because he’s certain where this is going. “Sir?”
“Does every river in this city have a goddess?” Grant goes on.
“Most of them.” He should invite him into the Reading Room or something like, but Thomas doesn’t want to encourage him. “I take it you spoke with Beverley Brook.”
“We had lunch,” says Grant. “I met her a long time ago, actually – she moved out of town, we lost touch. The goddess thing somehow failed to come up then. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.”
“You’ve been circumspect,” which is the polite version of close-mouthed, “but there’s a lot more to this than just magic, isn’t there? Beverley dropped enough hints. River goddesses, fairy markets…I reckon thousands might be an underestimate.”
“Thousands – oh; the demi-monde. Ah, the magical community.”
“That’s the one.”
“It gets fuzzy around the edges, if you include everybody who knows somebody associated with magic.”
“Which is more people than you’d think, I get the impression.” Grant frowns. “Seriously, though, the goddess thing – a matter of opinion, you said, but what does that mean? Really?”
“There’s entire books on that topic.”
“I did say.”
“I’ll have to add it to my to-do list.” Thomas actually can’t tell if Grant is joking. “They don’t seem much interested in anybody worshipping them.”
“They can compel it,” Thomas says. “Most of the more powerful fae can; it’s a – defensive mechanism.”
“And yet Cecelia – Tyburn – isn’t running the city, and can’t get rid of you, even if she’d like to.”
“It’s possible to resist. If you keep your mind fixed on your own ideas – your own goals. And in general…that’s what we have agreements for.”
“So,” Grant says. “Gods, you’ve mentioned ghosts before, whatever your housekeeper is, don’t try to tell me there’s not something funny there, and you – what about other wizards?”
“What about them?”
“They seem thin on the ground.” Grant gestures around the echoing, empty lobby. “Even if it’s like I was told, magic is ‘dying out’ – which doesn’t seem to be the case at all – there must be people who’ve retired, changed jobs, decided they didn’t like it. How many of them are there, in your magical community? How many people who can do magic unofficially, if you’re the last official wizard?”
“They’re dead, they died,” says Thomas, as bluntly and matter-of-factly as he knows how. “Most of them, and then the rest retired. In and after the war. Tyburn said as much, you were there, it’s true. By this stage – there isn’t anybody left under ninety-five, not……not really. Unofficially…I don’t go looking unless there’s cause. There rarely has been.”
There’s Wheatcroft’s brood of vipers – but so far as Thomas could ever determine, most of them forgot magic after they left Oxford; it was just the one, perhaps two, who’d continued on to darker places. He doesn’t count any of the others, who wouldn’t know the demi-monde if they were fished out of the Thames by a River, if the Rivers ever indulged in that sort of public service. He doesn’t feel like offering up that whole sorry episode to what would undoubtedly be Grant’s measured but pitiless judgement. The investigation, afterwards, had been quite bad enough.
“You were there, weren’t you. The Second World War.”
“What makes you think that?” Thomas has gotten very good at deflecting this sort of question, but Tyburn made him say too much; it’s not going to fly for long.
“Let me rephrase,” says Grant. “A Captain Thomas Nightingale, who bears a remarkable resemblance to you, and who was born in nineteen hundred, was definitely around for it, and I’m sure you’ve got a good story about how that was your grandfather or great-uncle but your surname isn’t that common.”
“It sounds like you’ve been doing some digging.” It would take rather a lot; most of Thomas’s records, particularly his Met one, have been quietly adjusted as the years go on.
“Nah, this stuff’s all online if you know the right archives. Less than an afternoon. Although I did have the distinct advantage of having had Lesley bitch at me about how her governor said you’d been showing up like a bad smell at his crime scenes, I hope you know that’s a quote, since he was a constable, and that was before I was born, pretty much.”
“I’m not sure where this is going.”
“It’s been you,” Grant says. “Just you. For eighty years. The last official wizard in Britain – in England.”
Thomas just waits; it’s not as if Grant’s telling him anything he doesn’t know.
Grant shakes his head, looks down. When he looks up, there’s a light in his eyes. Of battle, maybe. “You know, I’ve been putting this off because it seemed a bit rude, but: could you show me some magic?”
Thomas has been waiting for this request for several weeks, so it’s not what you’d call a surprise. “That’s a very general request. Sir.”
“Well, I don’t want to put you to too much trouble, and you’re the expert,” Grant says quite seriously. “It’s idle curiosity on my part. And very much a request, so we’re clear.”
“Magic,” Thomas says, and is about to just cast a werelight and get it over with, when another thought occurs. “Would you like to see something impressive?”
He doesn’t quite keep a straight face, because Grant looks immediately suspicious, but in a possibly unjustified display of trust says only “I’d love to.”
“When I was learning,” Thomas says, “the masters used to cast this as an example of a more complicated spell.”
“How long is this going to last for?” Grant shouts from the back courtyard about ten minutes later. He’s holding his jacket over his head, but the steady drizzle from the little raincloud has started to soak through.
“Another quarter hour?” Thomas calls back; he’d just popped into the back corridor to see if Grant was still there. “It’s not precise.”
“Nobody ever timed it or did a study or anything?”
“You know,” Grant says, taking a few steps sideways for a few seconds’ respite, before the cloud drifts back into place. “Basic scientific practice: repeat it however many times you need for statistical significance, time how long it goes for, get an average. Get a bunch of people to do it, to account for variation between wizards, or whatever. You said there used to be thousands of wizards. Somebody must have.”
“If they did I wasn’t paying attention,” Thomas is forced to admit.
“Huh.” Grant squints up at his jacket, then moves it away briefly to look at the cloud; he blinks water out of his eyes and raises it over his head again. “That seems like a pity.”
“If it works, why does it matter?”
“If magic works, magic is subject to the same laws of the physical universe as everything else, stands to reason,” Grant says with exaggerated patience. “The trick is how. And also where the energy comes from, which frankly worries me more than anything else, because the laws of thermodynamics are the only laws that really hold up everywhere, but you’re making that face again so I’m guessing that’s not something you worry about.”
Thomas manages not to say I’m not trying to make a face, sir, because could he sound any more like a wet-behind-the-ears constable? Probably not.
“Anyway, I hope you’re pleased with yourself,” Grant goes on, dryly. Unlike his jacket, his hair, and – increasingly – everything else about him. “I walked into this one. Next time I’ll be forewarned.”
It’s much worse than Grant just calling him out on what an incredibly childish thing it was to do: Thomas stiffens. Best to get it over with. “I overreacted. My apologies.”
Grant gives up and drops his arms to his sides, jacket dangling from one hand, letting the rain fall; it runs in rivulets over his face. “Look, I meant it: I brought it on myself. But – d’you think you could get Molly to lend me a towel? For when this finally stops.”
“I can do that,” Thomas says quickly, and turns to go.
He looks back, just before he’s through the door, and Grant is looking up at the raincloud again; he runs a hand through it, face alight with fascination, and laughs a low, delighted laugh. There are crows’ feet faintly visible at the corners of his eyes when he smiles like that, Thomas notices, for no reason in particular. The sun is out, high enough in the sky right now to penetrate into the courtyard, and there are drops of water sparkling in his dark hair; his shirt is starting to stick to his long torso. Thomas feels his stomach do a slow turn that has nothing to do with having half-drowned a senior officer and everything to do with the sound of Grant’s laughter.
Molly gives Grant three of her best towels, and hisses a laugh behind her hand. Grant grins at her with a half-shrug that says well, at least my day was interesting.
“You like him,” Thomas tells her accusingly, once Grant is gone. “He’s the worst thing that’s happened to the Folly since – since the war.”
Molly gives him a look. Thomas sighs. “Fine. Not quite that bad. But he’s going to make trouble and he’s an up-and-comer; it could be a lot of trouble.”
Molly shrugs, and it says: maybe trouble will be good for you.
Thomas pretends he doesn’t get that particular message.
As another defensive measure, Thomas introduces Grant to Abdul: he hopes that Abdul’s brain collection, at least, might drive Grant away. The use of words like cool and fascinating on Grant’s part do not substantiate this hope.
“So does this happen when people do magic to you, or when you do magic?” Grant asks Abdul.
“Both,” Abdul says. “This one -” he points at a particular favourite “is a jazz player who was killed by a – well, we’re not precisely sure – vampire? Of sorts. Sucked all the……magic…out of him. Anyway, this one is a wizard, or was a wizard, so doing too much magic does the same thing. Not a career for the faint-hearted, obviously.”
“Is there any way to check on this on an ongoing basis?”
“MRIs. I’ve manage to persuade Thomas here to come for a check-up every few months.”
“And how’s his brain?”
“Perfectly fine,” says Abdul, “although whether that’s because he’s been careful or – the other thing, I don’t think I could say.”
“The other – ah, right.” Grant and Abdul both look at Thomas, their eyes assessing; Thomas knows what they’re thinking.
There’s more grey than red in Abdul’s hair now, and he’s started to make noises about having another pathologist take over the Folly cases at least part-time; Thomas has been avoiding the issue. It was one thing when the survivors of Ettersberg started to die, though a few still cling on, here and there. Abdul is of an age with their sons, young enough to be Thomas’s grandson, and now he too is growing old.
Some days – a rare, select few – it makes Thomas wonder how long he can keep doing this; how long he wants to. How many friends he’s prepared to watch come and go.
“So that’s something you’d want to keep doing if we had anybody else doing magic for the Met,” Grant goes on, thankfully oblivious to Thomas’s momentary self-pity. “Check-ups. Good to know.”
“Oh, is that a possibility?” Abdul looks, horrifyingly, enthused by this.
“No,” says Thomas, a defensive reflex. Can everything he was just thinking; he’s not going anywhere until he feels like it, which will be never.
“Anything’s possible,” says Grant. “Although that would, ultimately, be up to Inspector Nightingale and the Commissioner.”
“I’m so glad you see it that way,” Thomas bites off, and doesn’t bother with sir; Abdul looks at him, startled.
“May I ask why you’re taking an interest, then, Commander?” he asks Grant politely.
“Oh, rampant curiosity, mostly.” Grant smiles. “I suddenly get told magic is real and we have a whole branch of the Met dedicated to solving magical crime – well, one DCI, anyway – an entire community of magical people we apparently have no plan for connecting with, and I’m not supposed to be interested? Besides – if magic exists, and I’ve had that demonstrated to my satisfaction, there has to be some sort of scientific basis to it. And that is, quite frankly, the most fascinating thing I’ve heard in my whole life, just about. How does it all work?”
“Precisely,” says Abdul, and, bother, Grant’s got him hooked. “There’s obviously some link with consciousness – I think that explains the problem with electronics somehow, since electricity by itself clearly isn’t affected, it’s not a property of the electromagnetic spectrum, but how that translates from the brain to physical effects -”
Thomas doesn’t even know why he’s here, really; neither of them is paying him the least attention.
“So, your Commander Grant,” says Abdul the next time Thomas comes by his office. “He seems very keen. If he were ten years younger I think he’d be plaguing you to teach him magic.”
“I’m not sure he won’t anyway,” Thomas mutters, but Grant’s job precludes any real chance of that. “What, you liked him?”
“It’s always nice when people show an interest,” says Abdul. “And this is the first time you’ve had any other officer who wants to know – certainly the first time you’ve had someone senior to you who does. Aren’t you pleased about that?”
“He has a million questions, he’s friendly with Tyburn, and he keeps making noises about me on my own being insufficient to the task,” Thomas says. “And he’s got influence, he’s part of the NPCC. I don’t like where this is going.”
“Is it the having someone who’s not intimidated enough to avoid ordering you around that’s bothering you,” Abdul says, “or that your apple-cart might get upset?”
“It’s that he doesn’t have the faintest idea how all of this really works,” Thomas snaps. “All this community engagement nonsense. As if any of them want to engage with me, especially after - you know what happened. He’s wearing rose-tinted glasses.”
“Then you’d best explain it. He seems very willing to listen.”
“I just don’t,” Thomas says. “Why does he think he has the right.”
“The world’s been ignoring you for eighty years, and you were content to let it,” says Abdul. “So now the world’s come knocking, and because you waited, it’s not on your terms. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.”
“You just enjoy having somebody to talk over your theories with who actually knows something about science,” Thomas accuses him.
Abdul just laughs. “Guilty as charged.”
“I’ve got a question, Inspector,” Grant says. Molly produced tea and biscuits when he arrived without even being asked. She’s definitely taken a liking to him, of all the inexplicable things.
“With all due respect, sir,” Thomas says, “I suspected as much.”
Grant smiles at Molly as she whisks out of the room; she gives him a nod.
“I looked her up on Twitter,” Grant says in response to Thomas’s glance. “And then I tried to look her up through the Met, and I couldn’t. Do you know she doesn’t officially exist?”
“I don’t think officially existing is a great priority of hers,” Thomas temporises, being largely of the opinion that the Metropolitan Police Service probably wants to know about Molly as much as she wants to know about them. She’s here because this is her house, has been for longer than a human lifetime. Thomas is relatively certain nothing up to and including his demise – whenever and however that occurs –– will get her out of the Folly.
“It makes it very hard to get things like equal pay right if we have staff who don’t officially exist, you know,” Grant says, like this is a friendly conversation.
“That’s not part of your responsibility, so far as I’m aware.”
“We won’t be trusted to treat people equally if we don’t treat our staff equally.” Grant looks down at the teapot; Thomas has resorted to the small but satisfying pettiness of not pouring. It’s not as if Grant won’t have got the message by this point.
“You had a question, sir,” Thomas prompts. Grant is clearly weighing up whether to commit the social solecism of pouring for himself, or waiting Thomas out. Thomas is willing to bet on his own patience.
“We’ll get to that,” Grant demurs. “I also had something you probably need to know. Have you ever run into Jaget Kumar, with the BTP? He’s an inspector.”
Thomas shuffles through his most common contacts; he hasn’t had a lot to do with the BTP in general. “It rings a bell.”
“You might not have directly; he doesn’t remember talking to you. Anyway, I think he’s someone you should be in touch with, he’s sort of their point man for weird stuff, which is mostly rat infestations or whatever and sometimes…isn’t. Turns out he’s run into some of Tyburn’s younger sisters a few times, something about underage drinking, I did not ask, and also something about a lost civilisation under Notting Hill, I did ask about talking to them directly but apparently they’re not big on -”
“Lost civilization,” Thomas interrupts, because really, now, but Grant raises a hand and says “I swear on my collection of Discworld hardbacks and my mother’s life, he says they make pottery and did a lot of work on Crossrail, my point is that this seems like something you should know about, and you……don’t?”
He manages to sound honestly puzzled, like he expected better. That stings.
“Then you definitely need to meet Jaget,” Grant goes on, like it doesn’t even matter. “He can fill you in. You can’t possibly expect to know everything that’s going on in this city on your own.”
That stings, too, because it’s true; that club in Soho, more than a decade ago now, was an object lesson in the limitations of Thomas’s awareness. The women in Berwick Street, another. He has his contacts, of course, but there are things he misses. Maybe a lot of things.
“Inspector Jaget Kumar,” Thomas repeats, instead of saying anything else. “I’ll look him up.”
“I can do better than that.” Grant hands him a card; Kumar’s. “I came prepared.”
Thomas tucks the card into a pocket and feels irrationally upset; Grant isn’t wrong and it’s quite clear he needs to talk to Kumar, lost civilisation in the Underground, Tyburn is going to have fifty fits – if she was unaware to start with, charming thought. But he’s perfectly capable of tracking a fellow officer down on his own, he doesn’t need to be led by the hand.
Molly compounds his vague feeling of ill-use by poking her head in, noting the empty teacups, and rather pointedly pouring for both of them before she whisks off again. Thomas supposes she objects to her efforts going to waste; as it is the tea is probably over-brewed.
Grant smiles after her, adds his own milk, and unexpectedly asks as he picks up his teacup, “Will I really be magically obliged to you if I drink this or eat these?” He points his little finger at the plate of custard creams.
That’s an unexpected turn in the conversation. “Probably – not.” Or not any more than he already is.
“Beverley Brook seemed to think it was something I should at least consider.”
“You should certainly ask for a disclaimer before you take the Rivers’ hospitality, and I don’t say that out of hostility.”
“I haven’t been to any of their houses, so you don’t have to worry.” Grant looks down at his tea, then up again. “Probably?”
“You’re not a wizard.” But then, Thomas thinks, there’s also the question of what he is, and isn’t that a vexed one these days. “If it would make you feel better – eat and drink, with no obligation.”
The tea is, it has to be admitted, on the cool side. Thomas warms his up with a whispered spell, because he can do that. Grant glances at the steam now rising from his cup, glances at his own, then shrugs and drinks anyway.
“It’s not really safe at a distance,” Thomas says, relenting. “If you’ll pass it here -”
Despite everything else vexatious about Grant and his existence, the look on his face when he gets his teacup back, cradling it gently in his hands, is – it’s been a long time since anybody looked at Thomas like that.
“What about other magical traditions?” Grant asks. “No official wizards, okay. But - people who’ve moved here, maybe?”
“In,” Thomas gropes for the right words, “immigrant communities, that sort of thing?”
“Look,” says Grant, “you can’t tell me Isaac Newton was the only person who ever wrote this stuff down; he wasn’t even the only person to figure out calculus. Also, you said at one point no women, and any time somebody says that it just means people weren’t paying attention. So……”
“We used to have an agreement with the Chinese,” Thomas offers. “We didn’t ask questions and they didn’t do anything to scare the horses.”
“So are there still practitioners in-”
“I don’t know,” Thomas says, perhaps too quickly. “And yes, of course there were other traditions, all sorts of things, out there in the Empire, but in general – the attitude was that if it wasn’t causing trouble, we didn’t much care, and otherwise, er…”
“There wasn’t anything you could learn from anyone who hadn’t been to Oxford,” Grant filled in. “Or maybe the Sorbonne, if you were feeling generous.”
“Actually the premier centre of magical research on the Continent before the war was the Weiße Bibliothek, in Germany.” The premier centre in the world, quite possibly, according to David, but he’d pulled such a face when he’d said it. “But – yes. Essentially.”
“And yet I distinctly recall you mentioning Arabic as one of the necessary languages for studying magic.”
“I didn’t say it was a coherent worldview.”
Grant has that look on his face again, the one where he’s cataloguing the limits of Thomas’s knowledge. It is, for reasons Thomas hasn’t quite pinpointed, rapidly becoming something he strives to avoid. If it seemed at all sensible he’d just point the man at the Folly library, or perhaps Davis, Postmartin’s successor at the Bodleian. But it doesn’t seem at all sensible.
“If you could make anything you wanted of this, of English magic, of this weird job you’ve got,” Grant says, “what would it be? Not a trick question.”
Thomas takes the time to think about this, and Grant waits patiently.
“What I want to say is,” he says eventually, “is that I’d have the Folly back, the way it was, but that wouldn’t – the world isn’t like that any more, that wouldn’t work.”
“So what does the Folly look like for the world we do have?”
This is the problem: Thomas is not the person to imagine that. He never has been.
“I don’t know,” he’s forced to say again.
“Do me a favour and think about it?” Grant asks. “Just – think about it. That’s all.”
“That was your question?” Thomas asks in return. It doesn’t seem worth visiting for, but Grant nods.
“Yeah. Just that.”
In general, these days, Tyburn prefers to deal with Thomas at a distance; the invitation two months ago was a rare exception. Thomas prefers to deal with her at a distance, too, so everybody is kept happy. A second summons within such a short period does not bode well.
Thomas declines, partly because he genuinely does have somewhere else to be – Bromley want his opinion on a case, and he’s due to speak with the senior investigating officer that morning – and partly because it doesn’t pay to be too complaisant. Tyburn is not her mother. It’s in everybody’s interest if she remembers that.
This misfires somewhat when she tracks him down to where he’s stopped for lunch, on the way back from Bromley; not a case of his after all, so far as he can tell, although it wasn’t a bad idea to call him in. The deceased’s book collection certainly tended towards the arcane. Just not the sort with any basis in reality.
“Inspector,” Tyburn says, sliding into a chair opposite him. “I get the feeling you’re avoiding me.”
“Not particularly,” Thomas tells her. They’re in Effra’s domain, and that’s going to make Tyburn twitchy; a conversation to be careful of. “May I ask what’s so important it couldn’t wait?”
“I’ve been considering our conversation the other day,” says Tyburn. A barmaid appears with a glass of orange juice; Tyburn does, at least, thank her.
“I’m not sure there was anything to consider.” Thomas can only presume she’s referring to what he thinks of more as a conversation she and Grant happened to have in his presence.
“What if you did retire?” Tyburn goes on, like this is a fascinating new concept.
Thomas puts down his sandwich. This is going to require some concentration. “I can’t imagine that’s likely anytime soon. All things considered.”
“You’re still pretending, aren’t you,” Tyburn says. ““That you’re the same person you used to be, that this is all a temporary aberration, that you can just keep on doing the same job you’ve been doing for how long – forever? – and everything will be fine.”
“Nothing’s forever.” Thomas won’t be; he’s sure of that. Even goddesses aren’t forever, though he won’t say it to her face.
“Oh, I am aware,” says the second Tyburn, “but this is the problem, Inspector Nightingale. You have a certain image of yourself, as some sort of –– bulwark of humanity against the encroaching chaos of magic. And then you started getting younger, and you thought to yourself that maybe it was some sort of blessing, since you’d sat around and failed to train a replacement, and then time went on, and on, and on, and here you still are. But it’s not true, how you think of yourself. You’re not holding the line against the inexplicable, you’re part of it. It’d kill you to admit it, so you don’t; you lie to yourself and pretend it’s good old English reserve.”
“As charming as this amateur psychoanalysis is, I fail to see how it has the first thing to do with me leaving my post – which is what you want.”
“Your existence discommodes the rest of the Met already,” Tyburn says, bluntly. “They don’t want anything to do with you, they don’t know what to do with you. That’s only going to get worse. So let it go, let somebody else step in. It’s a historical accident that you’re associated with them anyway; you weren’t a policeman before Ettersberg, that I know.”
“Let it go, and then what?”
“I don’t know. Stop thinking on timescales that don’t suit you any longer.”
It’s not untrue, what she says about the Met not knowing what to do with him. He doesn’t fit neatly into the organisational chart, his direct superiors in Specialist Crime - direct on paper, at any rate - rarely evidence any desire to provide actual oversight, and the longer he goes on the fewer truly senior officers there are who remember why he’s there. He can’t recall any of the current crop he knows well, offhand. Grant is the first above chief superintendent to interact with him, outside Tyburn’s machinations, in a long while. It’s better with the people on the ground, Lesley May and her ilk; they’re the ones who need his help, even if they don’t like it.
“There will always be a need for magical expertise,” Thomas returns, “and as you pointed out, there’s a shortage of other options; perhaps my fault, but not one I can solve by walking away.”
“I didn’t say there wouldn’t be. But who says it has to be a wizard? The Met could consult with – other people. Your view of our world is astoundingly limited, you know. Of any part of the world, actually.”
“I can’t say I see you or any of your sisters putting on protective gear and walking around crime scenes,” Thomas says. “Or any of Father Thames’ boys, come to that.”
Tyburn flicks a hand. “Not what I was suggesting. And in some ways your crime-solving is a small aspect of the need that’s going unfulfilled.”
Thomas doesn’t need her to lay out her plan; he can imagine it well enough. Tyburn in charge, of course. Regularisation. Organisation. A top-down approach.
He wonders bitterly if Grant is part of it yet, how much he’s been giving away to Tyburn by talking to the man. It’s not like circumspection has ever been a problem for him before. Dammit.
“My job has never been a matter of closure rates or convictions, but where I am is more than historical accident; there was some extensive discussion about it. Before your time, of course.”
Tyburn’s eyes narrow; she absolutely detests it whenever Thomas reminds her that his presence in this city predates hers. He’s not sure why – it’s simple fact, and she’s no less what she is for it.
She switches tack. “I’ve always wondered why you stayed small, why you never tried to build the Folly out again – that’s what I thought when I ran into the Little Crocodiles at Oxford, you know. That they were some plan of yours and Professor Postmartin’s. It seemed the sort of thing you’d do.”
“That’s never how I would have chosen to regrow the Folly,” Thomas says. “That sort of thing, a dining club, a bunch of students playing at magic - it couldn’t be what’s needed.”
He’s been thinking about it, what Grant said, the question he asked him to think about. What would it look like, if he started again. He’d looked for an apprentice for a few months, when the first real signs that magic was surging had emerged with Punch’s reign of terror and Mother and Father Thames butting heads at Teddington Lock, but there hadn’t been anybody quite right. Perhaps he’d been too picky. Perhaps he’d been too restrictive, sticking to police constables, but with the length of the training and the requirements of his job – he was a policeman now, like it or not, planned or not.
“Well, then, I’d be fascinated to know what you do think is needed,” but there’s no point him opening his mouth, because she plunges on, “because I’ll tell you what I think. I think what – our world – needs is integration. Enough of the word of mouth, of the agreements, of new things suddenly popping up out of nowhere – Notting Hill, for instance.”
“I did mean to ask you about that,” Thomas interrupts. “Did you know they were there?”
Tyburn hmphs and doesn’t answer. “They don’t have access to the school system, or proper healthcare, or social services – you can’t tell me you care about any of that. Somebody should. We need to build something meaningful, someone needs to……to take charge, and you aren’t the person for that.”
“No, I’m not,” Thomas is more than willing to acknowledge, “but that’s also not at all my ambition.”
“That’s your problem,” Tyburn says. “You have none. Then again, you never needed to, did you? Everything just laid itself out, until Ettersberg.”
Thomas has no desire to tell Tyburn of his ambitions, such as they have ever been. She’s wrong, in that he’s had them, though maybe not the sort of ambitions Tyburn would recognize.
“There’s an agreement,” he says. “You know that and I know it. It’s not going away just because you think it’s outdated.”
“Agreements can be changed,” she replies, and the certainty in her voice is quietly terrifying. “You aren’t their sole arbiter. I’d remember that if I were you, Inspector.”
She doesn’t wait for his response. Thomas watches her walk away, people moving absent-mindedly out of her path, her heels clicking against the wooden floor.
His lunch has rather lost its flavour, but he makes himself eat anyway. No point letting it go to waste.
This isn’t new, what Tyburn says, but there was something in her demeanour that was new – some confidence. He considers talking to Oxley and Isis, seeing how the other half of that delicate balance thinks; rejects it. The upstream Rivers, the sons of Father Thames, have always been far more interested in ecology than politics. He considers speaking to Beverley Brook, rejects that too. She’s still Tyburn’s sister. She’d called him to mention her conversation with Grant, true to her word, described him indulgently as too curious for his own good and probably too smart for his own good too, but his heart’s in the right place, you don’t need to worry about him.
Then there’s Mother Thames – that’s always a last resort, especially if he has to go to her, which of course he will. It doesn’t quite constitute a loss of face, but it says – to her and to everybody at her court – that he has a problem with her daughter he cannot solve, and that could have…consequences. There’s no risk that requires that, yet.
Instead he takes aim at the only part of this developing mess that he has the slightest chance of affecting, and calls Commander Grant. Grant’s questions are difficult and his possible association with Tyburn worrying, but he’s also genuinely fascinated with magic, with the sheer possibility of it. Thomas is willing to be that he can get something honest out of him, if Tyburn is really moving against the Folly in a serious way.
“Inspector Nightingale,” Grant answers the telephone once his assistant patches him through; the one thing Thomas will hand him is that, having not been offered the courtesy of Thomas’s first name, he’s never used it. “This is a pleasant surprise. Unless you’re calling to tell me you’ve got a problem which affects my area of command, in which case it’s just a surprise, but I think that would have worked its way up to me via my actual subordinates first. Is there something I can help you with?”
“I’m not sure, sir.” Thomas has thought about how to phrase this; possibly, now the moment is upon him, not hard enough. “Have you been talking with Tyburn?”
“That’s a broad question,” Grant says. “But in the sense I’m guessing you mean it, no. Why?”
“I thought about it, your question the other day,” Thomas says. “And I have one in return. What is it you want? Why do you care about the Folly so much, now you know about it?”
“Hello.” Grant sounds disbelieving. “Magic. Ghosts. Probably actual deities. In my city. Mucking with the laws of physics, as well as the laws of the land on occasion. What other sort of motivation do I need to be interested?”
“You’d be a practitioner, if you could.” Now Thomas has said it out loud it’s an obvious conclusion.
“I was paying attention to what you said about learning magic,” Grant says, after a silent second; a hit, then. “Ten years, and if you do it wrong you pretty much give yourself early-onset Alzheimers, if you don’t just drop dead of a stroke. Not really the sort of stage I’m at in my career. How on earth did you deal with that sort of training time, back in the day?”
“We started very young, eleven or twelve,” Thomas says. “Boarding school. Most of us, anyway; there was the odd exception.”
Grant wins himself some credit by forebearing to reference a certain popular book series, but what he says is almost worse. “There was something at Oxford after the war, too, or so I heard from Beverley. People trying to learn. You didn’t mention that, earlier.”
“That was nothing to do with me,” Thomas snaps, “nothing I would have sanctioned and nothing I – why would Beverley Brook tell you about that?”
“I asked her, about other practitioners,” Grant explains. “After you said you didn’t really know, I thought she might, she seems to know a lot of people. She didn’t tell me much, she’s not big on letting go of other people’s secrets. Just that there’d been some, unapproved or unofficial or whatever, not your students. Sounds like there’s a bit more to it than that.”
Thomas remembers the club in Soho, the red velvet curtains and dim lights, the silent scream of the demon trap, that head in its glass case, and – he doesn’t care what Grant wants to imply or what questions he asks, he’s not going to talk about that. Nobody who didn’t have to see it ever needs to know about that.
“You want to know about that, look up the files,” he says, because the full copies are at the Bodleian with Davis; only the edited versions are in the Met’s records. Safe enough.
Of course, there’s the rest of it, too, what happened in Berwick Street before he ever found the club in Soho, that smug bastard in his mask and those three women, victims in the end, whatever else they’d been over the years. The inquiry, afterwards, all the rest of it. Grant will find that if he goes looking. But Thomas isn’t trying to hide from that, can’t. Grant will make what he makes of it.
“I’ll do that,” Grant says. “I’m not trying to accuse you of anything, Inspector. I promise.”
“I appreciate that, sir,” Thomas says. He feels old.
He complains to the only person who’ll listen: Molly. Normally he’s cautious about entering her domain – belowstairs is foreign territory, always has been –– but she tolerates it on occasion.
“I’m really worried about all this,” he tells her. “Tyburn’s plotting something and I can’t tell if Grant is part of it or not. Either way, he won’t stop asking questions. And you bring him tea and biscuits – are you really talking to him on the Internet?”
Molly nods absently, takes the lid off a pot and pokes at the contents. Thomas doesn’t try and look; Molly’s dangerous with a wooden spoon.
“You like him,” Thomas goes on. “But I can’t understand why. He’s charming enough in person, but does he ever bloody shut up or stop thinking?”
Molly shakes her head and laughs. Thomas wishes this were funny.
“I really feel like you should be on my side in this,” Thomas says, feeling quite bitter. They’ve known each other for over a century. They’re friends.
As a last-ditch resort, Thomas goes to the Commissioner. It’s as helpful as last-ditch resorts usually are.
“I really don’t know what to say,” she says to him. “Do you know why Commander Grant is taking such an interest in your unit? You’ve never really had much of a, er, community element to your work, so far as I’m aware.”
The curiosity which killed the cat, Thomas does not say. “The whole concept, er, intrigues him. He seems to think there’s - heretofore unrecognised overlap between his remit and what we do.”
“I had been given to understand,” the Commissioner says, “that the magic was, and I quote, ‘dying off’. But that was two years ago when I was appointed, and my predecessor was told the same thing, and yet – if anything, you seem busier than ever.”
Thomas has dealt with plenty of Commissioners in his time; it’s a five-year standard appointment, which by now makes it feel like there’s a new one every time his back is turned. Anybody who’s at all likely to be appointed Commissioner of the Met already knows about the Folly long before they get to the position, but how much experience they’ve had with his cases varies.
This particular Commissioner is in her sixties and not afraid of her grey hairs, projects an air of terrifying competence, and comes to the Met after a series of Chief Constable roles; as qualified as you can possibly be for the job. The ‘first woman’ stories in the media had dried up a few months after her appointment, which Thomas suspects is the result of some stringent media management. The closest she ever got to a Folly case before being made Commissioner, if Thomas recalls correctly, was when she was still a DCS with the Thames Valley force, and he doesn’t think they ever met then - it had been largely handled at a lower level. She hasn’t been as hands-off as some of her predecessors - one or two of whom had avoided him assiduously past the initial meeting - but she seems to regard him and the Folly as an inexplicable quirk of the Met, occasionally useful but at best a cause of problems. This is, to be fair, largely because if any of his cases get as far as her it’s because there’s been trouble. The sign of him doing a good job is that there’s nothing to report.
What he’s hoping is that she’ll see the risks of someone in Grant’s position taking an interest in the Folly - especially someone in Grant’s position, which is all about the public face of the Met. Nobody wants the Folly to get anywhere near the public face of the Met. That’s a first he suspects the Commissioner would go a long, long way to avoid.
Unfortunately, though, she’s got the wrong end of the stick about magic. It’s a story Commissioners have been telling their incoming successors for a few decades now; it seems to make them all feel better. How it survived Berwick Street he has no idea.
“That may have been an exaggeration, ma’am,” he says. “It was true in the fifties, but things have been – coming back.”
“In that case, does Commander Grant not have a point? If there’s enough people involved with this to constitute a community, which we essentially ignore aside from you -”
“I,” Thomas says. “I appreciate his motives are good. But, with all due respect, ma’am, he’s not a wizard, he doesn’t know nearly as much about the magical world as he thinks he does, and I need some reassurance he isn’t going to be allowed to interfere. There’s a delicate balance, and -”
“You’ve been singing that song since I was in primary school, as far as I can tell.” Normally words like wizard make Thomas’s seniors backtrack quickly; this one is made of sterner stuff. They’re not generally prone to referencing his age so baldly, either. “Listen, Inspector –– Commander Grant isn’t in your direct line of command, not least because you don’t have one, although he makes a good argument that given your historic lack of attention, not to mention staff, to address the less, er, confrontational aspects of our organisation’s job -”
Thomas doesn’t know exactly what his face looks like, but it’s enough to make the Commissioner break off. “Anyway. I do appreciate what you’re saying. But you may want to consider the points he’s making. He’s not the only one making points.”
“Ma’am.” Thomas tries not to sound pleading. He’s far, far too old for pleading.
“You have my assurance,” she says, “nothing’s going to happen to you or the Folly without your cooperation. There’s the, ah, national aspect to consider. And I’m not sure I actually want more…wizards…in my police force. We’ve survived so far.”
If that’s the best he’s going to get, Thomas is quite, quite doomed.
He’s just not sure to what, yet.
“I’ve been going through some of your old case files, like you suggested,” Grant tells him, falling into step beside Thomas has he makes his way out of New Scotland Yard. He doesn’t think it’s any sort of accident. Grant doesn’t act surprised to see him, and Thomas offers up the bare courtesy of not asking what he’s doing here. “The actual case files. Not the expurgated versions that go into HOLMES. Although the differences were very instructive for one or two of them, I have to say.”
“How on earth did you – have you, sir.” It’s not an elegant recovery.
“At the Bodleian,” Grant explains. “The research librarian was very helpful, eventually.”
This, Thomas thinks, is what happens when he doesn’t spend enough time getting to know people. Harold Postmartin would have gone to Casterbrook if the school hadn’t closed, had in fact barely missed out on attending, and has known Thomas most of his adult life, not to mention many of the other survivors of Ettersberg. His handpicked successor as administrator of the Folly’s archives is a pleasant enough man, helpful whenever Thomas needs help, but Thomas is the only wizard he’s ever met and all the history of the Folly is just that to Davis: history. Easy enough for Grant to talk his way around that, apparently, with all the authority of his position.
“Anyway,” Grant says, “I thought we might have a chat. You busy?”
“Not a problem,” Grant replies at once. “I only have half an hour free today. But my Friday is miraculously and mysteriously clear so far. How’s yours?”
“Friday would be fine, sir,” Thomas concedes.
“Relax,” is Grant’s parting shot, “I really do just want to have a chat.”
“Why are you a police officer?” Grant asks. It’s Friday; they’re in Grant’s office. It’s not the sort of question Thomas was expecting him to lead with.
Thomas isn’t, really, somewhere deep down. He’s a wizard. But that’s hardly politic to say. “What else should I be?”
“Good question,” says Grant, slapping down a file for sudden emphasis, “because this isn’t policing.”
“I beg your pardon. Sir.”
“I have a speech on this for functions,” Grant says, “which I’m going to spare you, but what it comes down to is this: you can’t police a community without being part of it. The – what was the word you used – the demi-monde, the magical community, you’re not policing it, you’re the next best thing to an occupying force. I’m starting to see where Ce- where Tyburn’s coming from.”
“Sir,” Thomas says, feeling his lips compress to a thin line, but he remembers: he was a soldier, once.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Grant goes on, “I think you’re doing the best job you can do but it’s not enough. It hasn’t been enough for years. Maybe it looks like enough from a high enough viewpoint, but get down into the details and it’s not.”
“Why are you a policeman, then?” Thomas asks, because he’s had –– enough.
Grant just raises his eyebrows and leans back in his chair. “Do you want the short version or the long one? Actually, never mind – you asked, you’re getting the long one. Lesley asked me this once when we were finishing up probation and it’s taken me about fifteen years to really get it right.” He laces his fingers together, as if to discourage his hands from escape. “I’m a police officer because – we have police because we have a set of rules we all agree on that make society pleasant to live in, right? And to make people keep the rules, we also agree that you need a group of people who have the power to enforce that through violence. Which sounds pretty bloody dystopian, but that’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it? At the end of everything, if somebody doesn’t want to follow the rules, we get to break out the tasers and batons and CO-19, and you get to kill people with your brain.”
“That’s really not -”
Grant loses the battle and waves a hand. “I was quoting, never mind. The point is. If we’re going to do that, then it’s important –– it’s the most important thing – that everybody agrees on how we enforce the law. Because there’s forty thousand people in the Met and eight million people in London town and if that comes to a war, we don’t win; we’re not an army. So the police can’t just be there to enforce the law. We have to go out there and make people want us to enforce the law. We have to be on their side. On everybody’s side. We have to make their lives better by existing. It’s in our fucking original instructions; maintain the respect and approval of the public, emphasis, as far as I’m concerned, on respect. Otherwise at best you get a lot of graffiti in places it shouldn’t be and at worst you get riots. It’s hard, and we don’t always get it right, not by a long shot, but my job, where I am now, where I’ve got to? I get to try and do that right. And you, this, the Folly.”
He taps the pile of case files. Thomas has finally recognized the top one; it’s the report on Berwick Street. Not the inquiry, later; the report Thomas had filed, after. Before they’d found the club, after he’d killed Wheatcroft’s student.
It’s not enough, Grant had said, and when Thomas meets Grant’s eyes he recognizes a grim sort of determination, a look that says that Thomas – that he – that –
Eighty years, and Thomas has had to choose every time because there wasn’t anybody else left, and what surprises him right now is not that Grant, who is after all so very young, thinks he has the right to call him to an accounting – the young are always righteous –– but that Thomas wants to let him.
“You aren’t doing it right because you can’t,” Grant goes on. “It’s been, what – eighty years? More or less. Eighty years calling the shots on how to keep the peace, and when I talk to people they call you the Nightingale, and they respect you – even Tyburn, you’d be surprised – but they don’t really trust you and you have to avoid fights because if you lose one, that’s it, you’re done, you’ve got nothing to hold the peace with. It’s a tightrope walk and it looks like you nearly fell off a few years back in Berwick Street, nobody has anything good to say about it, and what happens when the next one comes along? Or Tyburn makes her move? Or someone gets off a plane at Heathrow and you don’t see them coming? Or you think you see them coming, and you’re wrong.”
“That’s a lot of ifs,” Thomas says. “And when you say you can’t – you don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Pause. “Sir.”
“Maybe I don’t,” Grant allows with an unholy amount of grace. “But what I’m actually trying to say is that you don’t have to. Keep doing it this way. It’s too much for one person and it has been for a long time, even with all your little tweaks to the system. If this is worth doing, you need help. You need people. So let’s get them for you.”
“There was an agreement,” Thomas says, suddenly weary, “a long time ago. Ask the Commissioner. I can’t just put a request in for a constable or two. There are – oaths.”
“Would they have to be trained in magic? For legwork, backup, just going out there and talking to people, that sort of thing. People to speak softly, even if you’ve got to keep carrying the big stick.”
“If it was really going to be helpful, and for ‘just talking to people’, absolutely, but – there’s never been anybody who wanted to, who I could trust; you think I’ve never tried?”
Grant makes a face. “Seriously? Because if I was a constable – but like I just said, forty thousand people in the Met, I know people in other forces, we can find you somebody. What do you even need, in an – apprentice, is it?”
Thomas isn’t even sure how the conversation got to this point. “Some familiarity with Latin would help. They’d need to be clever, obviously. Not easily discouraged. Willing to deal with things they don’t understand. Able to look at things objectively, from a scientific viewpoint, if you like. Tough.”
Grant’s nodding like he’s taking mental notes. “What about if I found you someone who knew about magic already? Not the way you do it, if you really are the last official wizard in England, but there have to be people from immigrant families, maybe even relatives of your old colleagues, unofficially. We had that conversation.”
“Do you have somebody in mind?”
“No, it’s a hypothetical for now. Would it help?”
“I – perhaps. Perhaps not, if they were set in…other ways.”
“Right.” Grant leans forward again, elbows on his desk, intent. “So if I brought you some candidates…”
“I told you, the Commissioner –”
“Let me handle the Commissioner,” Grant says firmly. “So?”
Grant isn’t in charge of him, in any way that matters; Grant doesn’t know what he’s doing, Thomas is almost sure; Thomas could refuse and walk out, tell him no –– what will they do, ask him to resign? Thomas looks at the cooling cups of tea Grant’s assistant brought, that they’ve barely touched, and thinks, he came to my house and ate my food and that’s an obligation, wizard or not, I could, Molly could, and.
There’s more than one way to fall off that tightrope Grant talked about, isn’t there?
“If you could find anybody who’d be willing to consider it,” Thomas says, “I’d be happy to at least interview them.” He hopes it sounds less like help me aloud than it does in his head.
“Fantastic,” says Grant, and smiles. “Thank you. I really think we can help each other here.”
“Thank you, sir,” Thomas says. It almost doesn’t hurt.