/ Language: English / Genre:detective

In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner

Elizabeth George

Two bodies are discovered in the middle of an ancient stone circle. Each met death in a different but violent way. As Detective Inspector Lynley wrestles with the intricacies of the case, the pieces begin to fall into place, forcing Lynley to the conclusion that the blood that binds can also kill.

Elizabeth George

In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner

The tenth book in the Inspector Lynley series, 1999

In loving memory of my father

ROBERT EDWIN GEORGE

and with gratitude for

roller-skating, on Todd Street

trips to Disneyland

Big Basin

Yosemite Big Sur

air mattress rides on Big Chico Creek

the Shakespeare guessing game

the raven and the fox

and most of all

for instilling in me

a passion for our native language

***

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is

To have a thankless child!

– King Lear

June

The West End

PROLOGUE

What David King-Ryder felt inside was a kind of grief and a secondary dying. He felt overcome by a gloom and despair completely at odds with his situation.

Below him on the stage of the Agincourt Theatre, Horatio was reprising Hamlet's “Divinity That Shapes Us” while Fortinbras countered with “O Proud Death.” Three of the four bodies were being borne off the stage, leaving Hamlet lying in Horatio's arms. The cast-thirty strong-were moving towards one another, Norwegian soldiers coming from stage left, Danish courtiers coming from stage right, to meet up-stage from Horatio. As they began the refrain, the music swelled and the ordnance-which he'd initially argued against because of the risk of begging comparisons to the 1812-boomed out in the wings. And at that precise moment, the stalls began rising beneath David's box. They were followed by the dress circle. Then the balconies. And over the music, the singing, and the cannons, thundered applause.

This was what he had craved for more than a decade: a complete vindication of his prodigious talent. And by God, he had it before him. He had it below him and everywhere round him as well, for that matter. Three years of mind-crushing, body-numbing labour were at this moment culminating in the standing ovation that had been denied him at the conclusion of his two previous West End productions. For those extravaganzas, the nature of the applause and what followed the applause had said it all. A polite and perfunctory recognition of the cast members had preceded a hasty exodus from the theatre, which itself had been followed by an opening night party not unlike a wake. After that, the London reviews had finished what the first night word-of-mouth had begun. Two hugely expensive productions sank like concrete battleships. And David King-Ryder had the dubious pleasure of reading countless analyses of his creative decline. Life Without Chandler was the sort of headline he'd read from the reviews of the one or two theatrical critics possessing an emotion akin to sympathy. But the rest of them-the types who crafted vituperative metaphors over their morning Weetabix and spent months waiting for the opportunity to plug them into a commentary more noted for its vitriol than its information-had been merciless. He'd been called everything from an “artistic charlatan” to a “vessel buoyed by past glories,” with those glories ostensibly burgeoning from a single source: Michael Chandler.

David King-Ryder wondered if other musical partnerships had undergone the scrutiny that his collaboration with Michael Chandler had. He doubted it. It seemed to him that musicians and lyricists from Gilbert and Sullivan to Rice and Lloyd-Webber had bloomed, had faded, had risen to prominence, had flourished, had failed, had vanquished critics, had stumbled, and had gloried all without the accompanying baying of the jackals that had snapped at his own heels.

The romance of his association with Michael Chandler had called for this analysis, naturally. When one partner of a team who mounted twelve of the West End's most successful productions dies in such a ghastly stupid way, then a legend is going to be born from that dying. And Michael had died just that sort of death: becoming lost in an underwater Florida cave that had claimed three hundred other divers, violating every rule of diving by going alone, going at night, going inebriated, and leaving only an anchored fifteen-foot boat to mark the spot where he'd entered the water. He left behind a wife, a mistress, four children, six dogs, and a partner with whom he'd dreamed of fame, fortune, and theatrical success from their shared childhood in Oxford, sons of assemblymen at the Austin-Rover plant.

So there had been a logic to the interest that the media had displayed in David King-Ryder's emotional and artistic rehabilitation following Michael's untimely death. And while the critics had battered him for his first solo attempt at pop opera five years later, they'd used fleece-covered clubs as if in the belief that a man who lost both his longtime partner and his lifelong friend in one fell swoop deserved at least a single opportunity to fail without being publicly humiliated in his effort to find the muse by himself. These same critics hadn't been so merciful upon his second failure, however.

But that was over now. That was the past.

Next to him in the box Ginny cried out, “We did it! David! We bloody well did it!” as she doubtless realised that-all charges of nepotism be damned when he'd chosen his wife to direct the production-she'd just risen to the sort of heights occupied by artists like Hands, Nunn, and Hall.

David's son Matthew-as his father's manager, knowing only too well how much they had at stake in the production-grabbed David's hand hard and said gruffly, “Damn. Well done, Dad.” And David wanted to warm to those words and to what they implied, a firm withdrawal of the initial doubts that Matthew had expressed when told of his father's intention to turn Shakespeare's greatest tragedy into his own musical triumph. “You're sure you want to do this?” he'd asked, and the rest of his remarks had remained unspoken: Aren't you setting yourself up for a final deadly fall?

He was indeed, David had confirmed at the time, if only to himself. But what other option did he really have than to try to restore his name as an artist?

He'd managed to do just that: Not only were the audience on their feet, not only were the cast members ecstatically applauding him from the stage, but the critics-whose seat numbers he had memorised, “the better to blow them up,” Matthew had noted sardonically-were also standing, making no move to depart, and joining in the sort of approbation that David had come to fear was as lost to him as was Michael Chandler.

That approbation only grew in the ensuing hours. At the opening night party at the Dorchester, in a ballroom creatively converted into Elsinore Castle, David stood at his wife's side, at the end of a receiving line comprising the production's leading actors. Along that line stepped London's foremost glitterati: Stars of stage and screen gushed over their colleagues and privately gnashed their teeth to conceal their envy; celebrities from all walks of life pronounced King-Ryder Productions’ Hamlet everything from “top notch” and “just fab, darling” to “kept me on the absolute edge of my seat;” It girls and Sloanes-slinkily attired, displaying an astonishing degree of cleavage, and famous either for being famous or for having famous parents-declared that “someone finally made Shakespeare fun”; representatives from that notable drain on the nation's imagination and economy-the Royal Family-offered their best wishes for success. And while everyone was pleased to press the flesh of Hamlet and his thespian cohorts, and while everyone was happy to congratulate Virginia Elliott for her masterful direction of her husband's pop opera, everyone was particularly eager to talk to the man who'd been vilified and pilloried for more than a decade.

So there was triumph to be felt in spades, and David King-Ryder wanted to feel it. He was starved for a sensation that would tell him life was opening before him instead of closing. But that was the feeling that he couldn't escape. It's over boomed in his ears like the cannon.

If he had been able to talk to her about what he had been going through since the curtain call, David knew that Ginny would tell him his feelings of depression, anxiety, and despair were normal. “It's the natural letdown after opening night,” she would have said. She would have pointed out that she had far more reason to be let down than he had anyway. As director, her job was over now. True, there were various components of the production to be tweaked-”It would be satisfying if the lighting designer would cooperate and get the last scene right, wouldn't it?”-but by and large, she had to let go, to begin the process all over again on another production of another play. In his case, the morning would bring a flood of congratulatory phone calls, requests for interviews, and offers to mount the pop opera all over the world. Thus, he could dig into another staging of Hamlet or go on to something else. She didn't have that option.

If he had confessed that he just didn't have it in him to go on to anything else, she would have said, “Of course, you haven't at the moment. That's normal, David. How could you right now? Give yourself some leeway to recover, won't you? You need time to refill the well.”

The well was the wellspring of creativity, and if he'd pointed out to his wife that she never seemed to need to refill her own supplies, she would have argued that directing was different from creating the product in the first place. She, at least, had raw materials to work with-not to mention a score of fellow artists with whom to knock heads as the production took shape. He had only the music room, the piano, endless solitude, and his imagination.

And the world's expectations, he thought morosely. They would always be there as the price of success.

He and Ginny left the Dorchester as soon as they were able to manage it surreptitiously. She'd protested at first when he'd indicated that he wanted to leave-as had Matthew, who, always his fathers manager, had argued that it wouldn't look good for David King-Ryder to depart the party before the party's end. But David had claimed exhaustion and strung-out nerves and Matthew and Virginia had accepted that self-diagnosis. After all, his complexion was jaundiced, and his demeanour throughout the production-alternating between standing, sitting, and pacing in their box-strongly suggested a man whose personal resources had finally been depleted.

They rode from London in silence, David with a vodka curved into his palm and his thumb and forefinger pressed into his eyebrows, Ginny making several attempts to draw him into conversation. She suggested a holiday as a reward for their years of endeavour. Rhodes, she mentioned, Capri, and Crete.

The jolly-hockey-sticks tone of her voice told David that she was becoming increasingly concerned with her failure to reach him. And considering their history together-she'd been his twelfth mistress before he'd made her his fifth wife-there was good reason for her to suspect that his condition had nothing to do with first-night nerves, letdown after triumph, or anxiety about critical reaction to his work. The past few months had been rough on them as a couple, and she knew quite well what he'd done to cure himself of the impotence he'd experienced with his last wife, since he'd done it by moving on to Ginny herself. So when she finally said, “Darling, it happens sometimes. It's nerves, that's all. It'll all come right at the end of the day,” he wanted to reassure her. But he didn't have the words.

He was still trying to find them when their limousine entered the tunnel of silver maples that characterised the woodland in which they lived. Here, not an hour from London, the countryside was thickly grown with trees, and footpaths trod by generations of foresters and farmers disappeared into an undergrowth of ferns.

The car turned between the two oaks that marked their drive. Twenty yards along, an iron gate swung open. The road beyond curved beneath alders, poplars, and beeches, skirting a pond where the reflection of stars made a second sky. It climbed a slight rise, swung past a row of silent bungalows, and pooled out into the alluvial fan of the entrance to the King-Ryder mansion.

Their housekeeper had laid out supper for them, assembling an array of David's favourite foods. “Mr. Matthew did phone,” Portia explained in her quiet, dignified voice. A runaway from the Sudan at the age of fifteen, she'd been with Virginia for the last ten years and she had the melancholy face of a beautiful, sorrowing black Madonna. “My warmest congratulations to both of you,” she added.

David thanked her. He stood in the dining room, where the windows stretched from floor to ceiling and reflected all three of them in the glass. He admired the epergne that spilled white roses onto plaits of ivy. He fingered one of the thin silver forks. He used his thumbnail against a drip of candle wax. And he knew he wouldn't be able to force a crumb of food past the constriction in his throat.

So he told his wife that he needed a bit of time alone to unwind from the evening. He would join her later, he said. He just needed a while to decompress.

One always expected an artist to retreat to the heartbeat of his artistry. So David went to his music room. He flipped on the lights. He poured another vodka and placed the tumbler on the unprotected top of the grand piano.

He realised as he did it that Michael would never have done such a thing. Michael had been careful that way, understanding the value of a musical instrument, respectful of its boundaries, its dimensions, its possibilities. He'd been careful about most of his life as well. It was only on one crazy night in Florida that he'd got careless.

David sat at the piano. Without thinking or planning, his fingers sought out an aria he loved. It was a melody from his most auspicious failure-Mercy-and he hummed as he played it, trying and failing to recall the words to a song that had once held the key to his future.

As he played, he let his gaze travel the walls of the room, four monuments to his success. Shelves held awards. Frames enclosed certificates. Posters and playbills announced productions that even to this day were mounted in every part of the world. And photographs by the silver-framed score documented his life.

Michael was there among them. And when David's glance fell on his old friends face, his fingers shifted-of their own accord-from the aria he'd been playing to the song he knew was destined to be the hit of Hamlet. “What Dreams May Come” was its title, taken from the prince's most famous soliloquy.

He played it only halfway through before he had to stop. He found that he was so monumentally tired that his hands fell from the keys and his eyes closed. But still he could see Michael's face.

“You shouldn't have died,” he told his partner. “I thought a success would make everything different, but it only makes the prospect of failure worse.”

He took up his drink again. He left the room. He tossed back the vodka, set the tumbler next to a travertine urn in a recessed alcove, and didn't notice when he failed to push the glass in far enough and it fell to the carpeted floor.

Above him in the enormous house, he could hear a bath running. Ginny would be soaking away the stress of the evening and the tension of the months that had preceded it. He wished that he could do the same. It seemed to him that he had so much more cause.

He allowed himself to relive those glorious moments of triumph a final time: the audience rising to its feet before the curtain call had begun, the cheers, the hoarse shouts of “bravo.”

All that should have been enough for David. But it wasn't. It couldn't be. It fell, if not on ears that were deaf, then on ears that were listening to another voice entirely.

“Petersham Mews and Elvaston Place. Ten o'clock.”

“But where…? Where are they?”

“Oh, you'll work that out.”

And now when he tried to hear the praise, the excited chatter, the paeans that were supposed to be his air, his light, his food, and his drink, all David could hear were those last four words: You'll work that out.

And it was time.

He climbed the stairs and went to the bedroom. Beyond, behind the closed door to the bathroom, his wife was enjoying her soak. She was singing with a determined happiness that told him how worried she actually was: about everything from the state of his nerves to the state of his soul.

She was a good woman, Virginia Elliott, David thought. She was the very best of his wives. It had been his intention to stay married to her till the end of his days. He simply hadn't realised how abbreviated that time would turn out to be.

Three quick movements did the job neatly.

He took the gun from a drawer in the bedside table. He raised it. He pulled the trigger.

September

Derbyshire

CHAPTER 1

Julian Britton was a man who knew that his life thus far had amounted to nothing. He bred his dogs, he managed the crumbling ruin that was his family's estate, and daily he tried to lecture his father away from the bottle. That was the extent of it. He hadn't been a success at anything save pouring gin down the drain, and now, at twenty-seven years of age, he felt branded by failure. But he couldn't allow that to affect him tonight. Tonight he had to prevail.

He began with his appearance, giving himself a ruthless scrutiny in his bedroom's cheval glass. He straightened the collar of his shirt and flicked a piece of lint from his shoulder. He stared at his face and schooled his features into the expression he wanted them to wear. He should look completely serious, he decided. Concerned, yes, because concern was reasonable. But he shouldn't look conflicted. And certainly he shouldn't look ripped up inside and wondering how he came to be where he was, at this precise moment, with his world a shambles.

As to what he was going to say, two sleepless nights and two endless days had given Julian plenty of time to rehearse what remarks he wished to make when the appointed hour rolled round. Indeed, it was in elaborate but silent fantasy conversations- tinged with no more worry than was enough to suggest that he had nothing personal invested in the matter-that Julian had spent most of the past two nights and two days that had followed Nicola Maiden's unbelievable announcement. Now, after forty-eight hours engaged in endless colloquies within his own skull, Julian was eager to get on with things, even if he had no assurance that his words would bring the result he wanted.

He turned from the cheval glass and fetched his car keys from the top of the chest of drawers. The fine sheen of dust that usually covered its walnut surface had been removed. This told Julian that his cousin had once again submitted to the cleaning furies, a sure sign that she'd met defeat yet another time in her determined course of sobering up her uncle.

Samantha had come to Derbyshire with just that intention eight months previously, an angel of mercy who'd one day shown up at Broughton Manor with the mission of reuniting a family torn asunder for more than three decades. She hadn't made much progress in that direction, however, and Julian wondered how much longer she was going to put up with his father's bent towards the bottle.

“We've got to get him off the booze, Julie,” Samantha had said to him only that morning. “You must see how crucial it is at this point.”

Nicola, on the other hand, knowing his father eight years and not merely eight months, had long been of a live-and-let-live frame of mind. She'd said more than once, “If your dad's choice is to drink himself silly, there's nothing you can do about it, Jules. And there's nothing that Sam can do either.” But then, Nicola didn't know how it felt to see one's father slipping ever more inexorably towards debauchery, absorbed in intensely inebriated delusions about the romance of his past. She, after all, had grown up in a home where how things seemed was identical to how things actually were. She had two parents whose love never wavered, and she'd never suffered the dual desertion of a flower-child mother flitting off to “study” with a tapestry-clad guru the night before one's own twelfth birthday and a father whose devotion to the bottle far exceeded any attachment he might have displayed towards his three children. In fact, had Nicola ever once cared to analyse the differences in their individual upbringing, Julian thought, she might have seen that every single one of her bloody decisions-At that he brought his thoughts up short. He would not head in that direction. He could not afford to head in that direction. He could not afford to let his mind wander from the task that was immediately at hand.

“Listen to me.” He grabbed his wallet from the chest and shoved it into his pocket. “You're good enough for anyone. She got scared shitless. She took a wrong turn. That's the end of it. Remember that. And remember that everyone knows how good the two of you always were together.”

He had faith in this fact. Nicola Maiden and Julian Britton had been part of each other's life for years. Everyone who knew them had long ago concluded that they belonged together. It was only Nicola who, it appeared, had never come to terms with this fact.

“I know that we were never engaged,” he'd told her two nights previously in response to her declaration that she was moving away from the Peaks permanently and would only be back for brief visits henceforth. “But we've always had an understanding, haven't we? I wouldn't be sleeping with you if I wasn't serious about… Come on, Nick. Damn it, you know me.”

It wasn't the proposal of marriage he'd planned on making to her, and she hadn't taken it as such. She'd said bluntly, “Jules, I like you enormously. You're terrific, and you've been a real friend. And we get on far better than I've ever got on with any other bloke.”

“Then you see-”

“But I don't love you,” she went on. “Sex doesn't equate to love. It's only in films and books that it does.”

He'd been too stunned at first to speak. It was as if his mind had become a blackboard and someone had taken a rubber to it before he had a chance to make any notes. So she'd continued.

She would, she told him, go on being his girlfriend in the Peak District if that's what he wanted. She'd be coming to see her parents now and again, and she'd always have time-and be happy, she said-to see Julian as well. They could even continue as lovers whenever she was in the area if he wished. That was fine by her. But as to marriage? They were too different as people, she explained.

“I know how much you want to save Broughton Manor,” she'd said. “That's your dream, and you'll make it come true. But I don't share that dream, and I'm not going to hurt either you or myself by pretending I do. That's not fair on anyone.”

Which was when he finally repossessed his wits long enough to say bitterly, “It's the God damn money. And the fact I've got none, or at least not enough to suit your tastes.”

“Julian, it isn't. Not exactly.” She'd turned from him briefly, giving a long sigh. “Let me explain.”

He'd listened for what had seemed like an hour, although she'd likely spoken ten minutes or less. At the end, after everything had been said between them and she'd climbed out of the Rover and disappeared into the dark gabled porch of Maiden Hall, he'd driven home numbly, shell-shocked with grief, confusion, and surprise, thinking No, she couldn't… she can't mean… No. After Sleepless Night Number One, he'd come to realise-past his own pain-how great was the need for him to take action. He'd phoned, and she'd agreed to see him. She would always, she said, be willing to see him.

He gave a final glance in the mirror before he left the room, and he treated himself to a last affirmation: “You were always good together. Keep that in mind.”

He slipped along the dim upstairs passage of the manor house and looked into the small room that his father used as a parlour. His family's increasingly straitened financial circumstances had effected a general retreat from all the larger rooms downstairs that had slowly been made uninhabitable as their various antiques, paintings, and objets d'art were sold to make ends meet. Now the Brittons lived entirely on the house's upper floor. There were abundant rooms for them, but they were cramped and dark.

Jeremy Britton was in the parlour. As it was half past ten, he was thoroughly blotto, head on his chest and a cigarette burning down between his fingers. Julian crossed the room and removed the fag from his father's hand. Jeremy didn't stir.

Julian cursed quietly, looking at him: at the promise of intelligence, vigour, and pride completely eradicated by the addiction. His father was going to burn the place down someday, and there were times-like now-when Julian thought that complete conflagration might be all for the best. He crushed out Jeremy's cigarette and reached into his shirt pocket for the packet of Dunhills. He removed it and did the same with his father's lighter. He grabbed up the gin bottle and left the room.

He was dumping the gin, cigarettes, and lighter into the dustbins at the back of the manor house when he heard her speak.

“Caught him at it again, Julie?”

He started, looked about, but failed to see her in the gloom. Then she rose from where she'd been sitting: on the edge of the dry-stone wall that divided the back entrance of the manor from the first of its overgrown gardens. An untrimmed wisteria-beginning to lose its leaves with the approach of autumn-had sheltered her. She dusted off the seat of her khaki shorts and sauntered over to join him.

“I'm beginning to think he wants to kill himself,” Samantha said in the practical manner that was her nature. “I just haven't come up with the reason why.”

“He doesn't need a reason,” Julian said shortly. “Just the means.”

“I try to keep him off the sauce, but he's got bottles everywhere.” She glanced at the dark manor house that rose before them like a fortress in the landscape. “I do try, Julian. I know it's important.” She looked back at him and regarded his clothes. “You're looking very smart. I didn't think to dress up. Was I supposed to?”

Julian returned her look blankly, his hands moving to his chest to pat his shirt, searching for something that he knew wasn't there.

“You've forgotten, haven't you?” Samantha said. She was very good at making intuitive leaps.

Julian waited for elucidation.

“The eclipse,” she said.

“The eclipse?” He thought about it. He clapped a hand to his forehead. “God. The eclipse. Sam. Hell. I'd forgotten. Is the eclipse tonight? Are you going somewhere to see it better?”

She said with a nod to the spot from which she'd just emerged, “I've got us some provisions. Cheese and fruit, some bread, a bit of sausage. Wine. I thought we might want it if we have to wait longer than you'd thought.”

“To wait…? Oh hell, Samantha…” He wasn't sure how to put it. He hadn't intended her to think he meant to watch the eclipse with her. He hadn't intended her to think he meant to watch the eclipse at all.

“Have I got the date wrong?” The tone of her voice spoke her disappointment. She already knew that she had the date right and that if she wanted to see the eclipse from Eyam Moor, she was going to have to hike out there alone.

His mention of the lunar eclipse had been a casual remark. At least, that's how he'd intended it to be taken. He'd said conversationally, “One can see it quite well from Eyam Moor. It's supposed to happen round half past eleven. Are you interested in astronomy, Sam?”

Samantha had obviously interpreted this as an invitation, and Julian felt a momentary annoyance with his cousin's presumption. But he did his best to hide it because he owed her so much. It was in the cause of reconciling her mother with her uncle-Julian's father-that she'd been making her lengthy visits to Broughton Manor from Winchester for the past eight months. Each stay had become progressively longer as she found more employment round the estate, either in the renovation of the manor house proper or in the smooth running of the tournaments, fetes, and reenactments that Julian organised in the grounds as yet another source of Britton income. Her helpful presence had been a real godsend since Julian's siblings had long fled the family nest and Jeremy hadn't lifted a finger since he'd inherited the property-and proceeded to populate it with his fellow flower-children and run it into the ground-shortly after his twenty-fifth birthday.

Still, grateful as Julian was for Sam's help, he wished his cousin hadn't assumed so much. He'd felt guilty about the amount of work she was doing purely from the goodness of her heart, and he'd been casting about aimlessly for some form of repayment. He had no available money to offer her, not that she would have needed or accepted it had he done so, but he did have his dogs as well as his knowledge of and enthusiasm for Derbyshire. And wanting to make her feel welcome for as long as possible at Broughton Manor, he'd offered her the only thing he had: occasional activities with the harriers as well as conversation. And it was a conversation about the eclipse that she had misunderstood.

“I hadn't thought…” He kicked at a bare patch in the gravel where a dandelion was shooting up a furry stalk. “I'm sorry, I'm heading over to Maiden Hall.”

“Oh.”

Funny, Julian thought, how a single syllable could carry the weight of everything from condemnation to delight.

“Stupid me,” she said. “I can't think how I got the impression that you wanted to… Well, anyway…”

“I'll make it up to you.” He hoped he sounded earnest. “If I hadn't already planned… You know how it is.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “Mustn't disappoint your Nicola, Julian.”

She offered him a brief, cool smile and ducked into the hollow of the wisteria vine. She hooked a basket over her arm.

“Another time?” Julian said.

“Whatever.” She didn't look at him as she walked past, slipped through the gateway, and disappeared into the inner courtyard of Broughton Manor.

He felt the breath leave him in a gusty sigh. He hadn't realised he'd been holding it back. “Sorry,” he said quietly to her absence. “But this is important. If you knew how important, you'd understand.”

He made the drive to Padley Gorge swiftly, heading northwest towards Bakewell, where he spun across the old mediaeval bridge that spanned the River Wye. He used the journey for a final rehearsal of his remarks, and by the time he'd reached the sloping drive to Maiden Hall, he was fairly assured that before the evening was out, his plans would bear the fruit he wanted.

Maiden Hall sat midway up a slope of woodland. Here the land was thick with sessile oaks, and the incline leading up to the Hall was canopied with chestnuts and limes. Julian cruised up this drive, negotiated the serpentine turns with the skill of long practise, and chugged to a stop next to a Mercedes sports car in the graveled enclosure that was reserved for guests.

He skirted the main entrance and went in through the kitchen, where Andy Maiden was watching his chef put the flame to a tray of créme brulée. The chef-one Christian-Louis Ferrer-had been brought on board from France some five years previously to enhance the solid if not inspired reputation of Maiden Hall's food. At the moment, however, with culinary blow lamp in hand, Ferrer looked more like an arsonist than un grand artiste de la cuisine. The expression on Andy's face suggested that he was sharing Julian's thoughts. Only when Christian-Louis had successfully turned the coating into a perfect, thin shell of glaze, saying, “Et la voila, Andee” with the sort of condescending smile one gives to a doubting Thomas who's once again had his doubts proven groundless, did Andy look up and see Julian watching.

“I've never liked flame throwing in the kitchen,” he admitted with an embarrassed smile. “Hello, Julian. What's the news from Broughton and regions beyond?”

This constituted his usual greeting. Julian made his usual response.

“All's well with the righteous. But as for the rest of mankind… Forget it.”

Andy smoothed down the hairs of his greying moustache and observed the younger man in a friendly fashion while Christian-Louis slid the tray of créme brûlée through a service hatch to the dining room. He said, “Maintenant, on en a fini pour ce soir” and began removing the white apron that was stained with the evenings sauces. As the Frenchman disappeared into a small changing room, Andy said, “Vive la France” wryly and rolled his eyes. Then to Julian, “Join us for a coffee? We've one group left in the dining room and everyone else in the lounge for the after-dinners.”

“Any residents tonight?” Julian asked. An old Victorian lodge once used as a hunting retreat by a branch of the Saxe-Coburg family, Maiden Hall had ten bedrooms. All had been individually decorated by Andy's wife when the Maidens had made their escape from London a decade previously; eight were let out to discerning travelers who wanted the privacy of a hotel combined with the intimacy of a home.

“Fully booked,” Andy replied. “We've had a record summer, what with the fine weather. So what's it to be? Coffee? Brandy? How's your dad, by the way?”

Julian winced inwardly at the mental association implied in Andy's words. Doubtless the whole blasted county paired his father with one type of booze or another. “Nothing for me,” he said. “I've come for Nicola.”

“Nicola? Why, she isn't here, Julian.”

“Not here? She's not left Derbyshire already, has she? Because she said-”

“No, no.” Andy began storing the kitchen knives in a wooden stand, sliding them into slots with a neat snick as he continued talking. “She's gone camping. Didn't she tell you? She set out mid-morning yesterday.”

“But I spoke to her…” Julian thought back, reaching for a time. “Early yesterday morning. She wouldn't have forgotten that quickly.”

“Looks like she has. Women, you know. What did you two have on?”

Julian sidestepped the question. “Did she go alone?”

“Always has done,” Andy replied. “You know Nicola.”

How well he did. “Where? Did she take the proper gear?”

Andy turned from storing his knives. Obviously, he heard something worrying in Julian's tone. “She wouldn't have gone without her gear. She knows how fast the weather changes out there. At any rate, I helped her stow it in the car myself. Why? What's going on? Did you two have a row?”

Julian could give a truthful answer to the last question. They hadn't had a row, at least not what Andy would have considered a row. He said, “Andy, she should've been back by now. We were going to Sheffield. She wanted to see a film-”

“At this time of night?”

“A special showing.” Julian felt his face getting hot as he explained the tradition behind The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But Andy's time undercover in what he always referred to as his Other Life had exposed him to the film long ago, and he waved the explanation off. This time, when he reached for his moustache and stroked it thoughtfully, he frowned as well.

“You're certain about the night? She couldn't have thought you meant tomorrow?”

“I should have preferred to see her last night,” Julian said. “It was Nicola who set the date for tonight. And I'm certain she said she'd be back this afternoon. I'm certain.

Andy dropped his hand. His eyes were grave. He looked beyond Julian to the casement window above the sink. There was nothing to see but their reflections. But Julian knew from his expression that Andy was thinking about what lay beyond them, in the darkness. Vast moors populated only by sheep; abandoned quarries reclaimed by nature; limestone cliffs giving way to screes; prehistoric fortresses of tumbling stone. There were myriad limestone caves to entrap one, copper mines whose walls and ceilings could collapse, cairns whose hotchpotch of stones could snap the ankle of an unwary hiker, gritstone ridges where a climber could fall and lie for days or weeks before being found. The district stretched from Manchester to Sheffield, from Stoke-on-Trent to Derby, and more than a dozen times each year Mountain Rescue was called to bring in someone who'd broken an arm or a leg-or worse-in the Peaks. If Andy Maiden's daughter was lost or hurt somewhere out there, it was going to take the effort of more than two men standing in a kitchen to find her.

Andy said, “Let's get on to the police, Julian.”

***

Julian's initial impulse also was to phone the police. Upon reflection, however, he dreaded the thought of everything phoning the police implied. But in this brief moment of his hesitation, Andy acted. He strode out to the reception desk to make the call.

Julian hurried after him. He found Andy hunched over the phone as if he intended to shelter himself from potential eavesdroppers. Still, only he and Julian stood in Reception while the Halls guests lingered over coffees and brandies in the lounge at the other end of the corridor.

It was from this direction that Nan Maiden approached just as Andy's connection to the Buxton police went through. She came out of the lounge bearing a tray that held an empty cafetiére and the used cups and saucers of coffee for two. She smiled and said, “Why, Julian! Hullo. We weren't expecting…” but her words petered out as she took in her husband's surreptitious appearance-huddled over the phone like an anonymous caller-and Julian's accomplice-like hovering nearby. “What's going on?”

At her question, Julian felt as if the word guilty were tattooed on his forehead. When Nan said, “What's happened?” he said nothing and waited for Andy to take the lead. Nicola's father, however, spoke in a low voice into the phone, saying, “Twenty-five,” and completely ignoring what his wife had asked.

But twenty-five seemed to tell Nan what Julian wouldn't put into words and what Andy avoided. “Nicola,” she breathed. And she joined them at the reception desk, sliding her tray onto its surface, where it dislodged a willow basket of hotel brochures that tumbled to the floor. No one picked them up. “Has something happened to Nicola?”

Andy's answer was calm. “Julian and Nick had a date this evening, which she's apparently forgotten,” he told his wife, left hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. “We're trying to track her down.” He offered the lie ingenuously, with the skill of a man who'd once made falsehood his stock-in-trade. “I was thinking that she might have gone to see Will Upman on her way home, to pave the way for another job next summer. Everything all right with the guests, love?”

Nan's quick grey eyes darted from her husband to Julian. “Exactly who're you talking to, Andy?”

“Nancy…”

“Tell me.”

He didn't do so. On the other end of the line, someone spoke, and Andy looked at his watch. He said, “Unfortunately, we're not altogether sure… No… Thanks. Fine. I appreciate it.” He rang off and picked up the tray that his wife had placed on the desk. He headed towards the kitchen. Nan and Julian followed.

Christian-Louis was just leaving, his chef's whites changed for jeans, trainers, and an Oxford University sweatshirt with its sleeves cut off. He grabbed the handlebars of a bicycle that was leaning against the wall, and taking a moment to measure the tension among the other three people in the kitchen, he said, “Bonsoir, ` dermain,” and he quickly left them. Through the window, they saw the white glow of his bicycle lamp as he pedaled off.

“Andy, I want the truth.” His wife planted herself in front of him. She was a small woman, nearly ten inches shorter than her husband. But her body was solid and tightly muscled, the physique of a woman two decades younger than her sixty years.

“You've had the truth,” Andy said reasonably. “Julian and Nicola had a date. Nick's forgotten. Julian's got himself into a twist and he'd like to track her down. I'm helping him out.”

“But that wasn't Will Upman on the phone, was it?” Nan demanded. “Why would Nicola be seeing Will Upman at-” She glanced at the kitchen clock, a functional and institutional timepiece that hung above a rack of dinner plates. It was eleven-twenty, and all of them knew that the hour was unlikely for paying a social call on one's employer, which was what Will Upman had been to Nicola for the last three months. “She said she was going camping. Don't tell me you actually think she stopped to have a chat with Will Upman in the middle of a camping trip. And why would Nicola fail to show up for a date with Julian? She's never done that.” Nan shifted her sharp gaze. “Have you two had a row?” she asked Julian.

His immediate discomfort came from two sources: having to answer the question another time and concluding that Nicola hadn't yet told her parents of her intention to leave Derbyshire permanently. She would hardly have been seeking her next summer's employment if she'd been planning to leave the county.

“Actually, we talked about marriage,” Julian decided to say. “We were sorting out the future.”

Nan's eyes widened. Something akin to relief wiped the worry from her face. “Marriage? Nicola's agreed to marry you? When? I mean, when did all this happen? And she never said a word. Why, this is wonderful news. It's absolutely brilliant. Heavens, Julian, it makes me feel giddy. Have you told your dad?”

Julian didn't want to lie outright. But he couldn't bring himself to tell the full truth. He settled on the precarious middle ground. “Actually, we're just at the talking stage. In fact, we were supposed to talk again tonight.”

Andy Maiden had been watching Julian curiously, as if he knew very well that any talk of marriage between his daughter and Julian Britton would be as unlikely as a discussion on raising sheep. He said, “Hang on. I thought you were going to Sheffield.”

“Right. But we planned to talk on the way.”

“Well, Nicola would never forget that,” Nan declared. “No woman is likely to forget she has a date to talk about marriage.” And then to her husband, “Which is something you ought to know very well.” She was silent for a moment, dwelling-so it seemed-on that final thought while Julian dwelt on the uneasy fact that Andy still had not answered his wife's questions about the phone call he'd made. Nan reached her own conclusion about this. “God. You've just phoned the police. You think that something's happened to her. And you didn't want me to know about it, did you?”

Neither Andy nor Julian replied. This was answer enough.

“And what was I to think when the police arrived?” Nan demanded. “Or was I just supposed to keep serving coffee?”

“I knew you'd worry,” her husband said. “There may be no cause.”

“Nicola could easily be out there in the dark, lying hurt or trapped or God knows what else and you-both of you-didn't think I should know? Because I might worry?”

“You're working yourself into a state right now. That's why I didn't want to tell you till I had to. It may be nothing. It's probably nothing. Julian and I agree on that. We'll have it all sorted out in an hour or two.”

Nan attempted to shove a handful of hair behind her ear. Cut in a strange fashion that she called a beret-long on the top and clipped on the sides-it was too short to do anything but flop back into place. “We'll set out after her,” she decided. “One of us must start looking for her at once.”

“One of us looking for Nicola isn't going to do much good,” Julian pointed out. “There's no telling where she went.”

“But we know all her haunts. Arbor Low. Thor's Cave. Peveril Castle.” Nan mentioned half a dozen other locations, all of them inadvertently serving to underscore the point that Julian had been attempting to make: There was no correlation between Nicola's favourite spots and their locations in the Peak District. They were as far north as the outskirts of Holmfirth, as far south as Ashbourne and the lower part of the Tissington Trail. It was going to take a team to find her.

Andy pulled a bottle out of a cupboard, along with three tumblers. Into each he poured a shot of brandy. He handed round the glasses, saying, “Get that down.”

Nan's hands circled her glass, but she didn't drink. “Something's happened to her.”

“We don't know anything. That's why the police are on their way.”

The police, in the person of an ageing constable called Price, arrived not thirty minutes later. He asked the expected questions of them: When had she left? How was she equipped? Had she set off alone? What seemed to be her state of mind? Depressed? Unhappy? Worried? What had she declared as her intentions? Had she actually stated a time of her return? Who spoke to her last? Had she received any visitors? Letters? Phone calls? Had anything happened recently that might have prompted her to run off?

Julian joined Andy and Nan Maiden in their efforts to impress upon Constable Price the gravity of Nicola's failure to reappear at Maiden Hall. But Price seemed determined to go his own way, and a painstaking, hair-tearingly slow way it was. He wrote in his notebook at a ponderous pace, taking down a description of Nicola. He wanted to know about her equipment. He took them through her activities during the last two weeks. And he seemed terminally fascinated by the fact that, on the morning before she'd left for her hike, she'd received three phone calls from individuals who wouldn't give their names so that Nan could pass them along to Nicola before she came to the phone.

“One man and two women?” Price asked four times.

“I don't know, I don't know. And what does it matter?” Nan said testily. “It may have been the same woman calling twice. What difference does it make? What's that got to do with Nicola?”

“But just one man?” Constable Price said.

“God in heaven, how many times am I going to have to-”

“One man,” Andy interposed.

Nan pressed her lips into an angry line. Her eyes bored holes into Price's skull. “One man,” she repeated.

“It wasn't you who phoned?” This to Julian.

“I know Julian's voice,” Nan said. “It wasn't Julian.”

“But you have a relationship with the young lady, Mr. Britton?”

“They're engaged to be married,” Nan said.

“Not exactly engaged,” Julian quickly clarified, and he cursed in silence as the damnable heat rose from his collar-bone to suffuse his cheeks yet again.

“Had a bit of a quarrel?” Price asked, voice shrewd. “Another man involved where you didn't like it?”

Jesus, Julian thought. Why did everyone assume they'd rowed? There hadn't been a single harsh word between them. There hadn't been time for that.

They hadn't quarreled, Julian reported steadily. And he knew nothing about another man. Absolutely nothing, he asserted for good measure.

“They had a date to talk about their wedding plans,” Nan said.

“Well, actually-”

“D'you honestly know any woman who'd fail to show up for that?”

“And you are certain she intended to return by this evening?” Constable Price asked Andy He shifted his eyes over his notes, going on to say, “Her gear suggests she might have intended a longer outing.”

“I hadn't thought much about it till Julian stopped by to fetch her to Sheffield,” Andy admitted.

“Ah.” The constable eyed Julian with more suspicion than Julian felt was warranted. Then he flipped his notebook closed. The radio receiver that he wore from his shoulder buzzed with an incomprehensible stream of babble. He reached up and turned down the volume. Easing his notebook into his pocket, he said, “Well. She's done a runner before, and this's no different to that, I expect. We'll have ourselves a wait till-”

“What're you talking about?” Nan cut in. “This isn't a runaway teenager we're reporting. She's twenty-five years old, for heaven's sake.

She's a responsible adult. She has a job. A boyfriend. A family. She hasn't run off. She's disappeared.”

“At present, p'rhaps she has,” the constable agreed. “But as she's bunked off before-and our files do show that, madam-till we know she's not doing another runner, we can't send a team out after her.”

“She was seventeen years old when she last ran off,” Nan argued. “We'd just moved here from London. She was lonely, unhappy. We were caught up getting the Hall in order and we failed to give her the proper attention. All she'd needed was guidance so that-”

“Nancy.” Andy put his hand gently on the back of her neck.

“We can't just do nothing!”

“No choice in the matter,” the constable said implacably. “We've got our procedures. I'll make my report, and if she's not turned up by this time tomorrow, we'll have ourselves another look at the problem.”

Nan spun to her husband. “Do something. Phone Mountain Rescue yourself.”

Julian interposed. “Nan, Mountain Rescue can't begin a search unless they have an idea…” He gestured towards the windows and hoped she would fill in the blanks. As a member of Mountain Rescue himself, he'd been on dozens of cases. But the rescuers had always had a general idea of where to begin looking for a hiker. Since neither Julian nor Nicola's parents could even generalise about Nicola's point of departure, the only avenue left to them was to wait until first light, when the police could request a helicopter from the RAE.

Because of the hour and their lack of information, Julian knew that the only possible activity that actually could have grown from their midnight meeting with Constable Price would have been a preliminary phone call to the closest mountain rescue organization, telling them to assemble their volunteers at dawn. But clearly they had failed to impress upon the constable the gravity of the situation. Mountain Rescue responded only to the police. And the police-at least at the moment and in the person of Constable Price-weren't themselves responding.

They were wasting time talking to the man. Julian could see from Andy's expression that he'd arrived at this same conclusion. He said, “Thank you for coming, Constable,” and when his wife would have protested, Andy went on. “We'll phone you tomorrow evening if Nicola hasn't turned up.”

“Andy!”

He put his arm round her shoulders and she turned into his chest. He didn't speak until the constable had ducked out of the kitchen door, gone to his panda car, switched on the ignition, and flicked on the headlamps. And then he spoke to Julian, not Nan.

“She always likes camping in the White Peak, Julian. There're maps in Reception. Would you fetch them please? We'll each want to know where the other's searching.”

CHAPTER 2

It was just after seven the next morning when Julian returned to Maiden Hall. If he hadn't explored every possible site from Consall Wood to Alport Height, he certainly felt as if he had. Torch in one hand, loud hailer in the other, he'd gone through the motions: He'd trudged the leafy woodland path from Wettonmill up the steep grade to Thor's Cave. He'd scoured along the River Manifold. He'd shone his torchlight up the slope of Thorpe Cloud. He'd followed the River Dove as far south as the old mediaeval manor at Norbury At the village of Alton, he'd hiked a distance along the Staffordshire Way He'd driven as many as he could manage of the single lane roads that Nicola favoured. And he'd paused periodically to use the loud hailer in calling her name. Deliberately marking his presence in every location, he'd awakened sheep, farmers, and campers during his eight hours’ search for her. At heart, he'd believed there was no chance that he would find her, but at least he'd been doing something instead of waiting at home by the phone. At the end of it all, he felt anxious and empty.

He was hungry as well. He could have eaten a leg of lamb had one been offered. It was odd, he thought. Just the previous night-wrought up with anticipation and nerves-he'd barely been able to touch his dinner. Indeed, Samantha had been a bit put out at the manner in which he merely picked at her fine sole amandine. She'd taken his lack of appetite personally, and while his father had leered about a man having other appetites to take care of, Sam, and wasn't their Julie about to do just that with we-all-know-who this very night, Samantha had pressed her lips together and cleared the table.

He'd have been able to do justice to one of her table-groaning breakfasts now, Julian thought. But as it was… Well, it didn't seem right to think about food-let alone to ask for it-despite the fact that the paying guests in Maiden Hall would be tucking into everything from cornflakes to kippers within the half hour.

He needn't have worried about the propriety in hoping for food under the circumstances, however. When he walked into the kitchen of Maiden Hall, a plate of scrambled eggs, mushrooms, and sausage sat untouched before Nan Maiden. She offered it to him the moment she saw him, saying, “They want me to eat, but I can't. Please take it. I expect you could do with a meal.”

They were the early kitchen staff: two women from the nearby village of Grindleford who cooked in the mornings when the sophisticated culinary efforts of Christian-Louis were as unnecessary as they would be unwanted.

“Bring it with you, Julian.” Nan put a cafeti`re on a tray with coffee mugs, milk, and sugar. She led the way into the dining room.

Only one table was occupied. Nan nodded at the couple who'd placed themselves in the bay window overlooking the garden, and after politely inquiring about their night's sleep and their day's plans, she joined Julian at the table he'd chosen some distance away by the kitchen door.

The fact that she never wore make-up put Nan at a disadvantage. Her eyes were troughed by blue-grey flesh. Her skin, which was lightly freckled from time spent on her mountain bicycle when she had a free hour in which to exercise, was otherwise completely pallid. Her lips-having long ago lost the natural blush of youth-bore fine lines that began beneath her nose and were ghostly white. She hadn't slept; that much was clear.

She had, however, changed her clothes from the night before, apparently knowing that it would hardly do for the proprietress of Maiden Hall to show up to greet her guests in the morning wearing what she'd worn as their hostess at dinner on the previous night. So her cocktail dress had been replaced by stirrup trousers and a tailored blouse.

She poured them each a cup of coffee and watched as Julian tucked into the eggs and mushrooms. She said, “Tell me about the engagement. I need something to keep from thinking the worst.” When she spoke, tears caused her eyes to look glazed, but she didn't weep.

Julian made himself mirror her control. “Have you heard from Andy?”

“Not back yet.” She circled her hands round her mug. Her grip was so tight that her fingers-their nails habitually bitten to the quick-were bleached of colour. “Tell me something about the two of you, Julian. Please.”

“It's going to be all right.” The last thing Julian wanted to force upon himself was having to concoct a scenario in which he and Nicola fell in love like ordinary human beings, realised that love, and founded upon it a life together. He couldn't face attempting that lie at the moment. “She's an experienced hiker. And she didn't go out there unprepared.”

“I know that. But I don't want to think about what it means that she hasn't come home. So tell me about the engagement. Where were you when you asked her? What did you say? What kind of wedding will it be? And when?”

Julian felt a chill at the double direction Nan's thoughts were taking. In either case, they brought up subjects he didn't want to consider. One set led him to dwell upon the unthinkable. The other did nothing but encourage more lies.

He went for something that both of them knew. “Nicola's been hiking in the Peaks since you moved from London. Even if she's hurt herself, she knows what to do till help arrives.” He forked up a portion of egg and mushroom. “It's lucky that she and I had a date. If we hadn't, God knows when we might've set out to find her.”

Nan looked away, but her eyes were still liquid. She lowered her head.

“We must be hopeful,” Julian went on. “She's well equipped. And she doesn't panic in a tough situation, when things get dicey. We all know that.”

“But if she's fallen… or got lost in one of the caves… Julian, it happens. You know that. No matter how well prepared someone is, the worst still happens sometimes.”

“There's nothing that says anything's happened. I looked only in the south part of the White Peak. There're more square miles out there than can be covered by one man in total darkness in an evening. She could be anywhere. She could even have gone to the Dark Peak without our knowing.” He didn't mention the nightmare Mountain Rescue faced whenever someone did disappear in the Dark Peak. There was, after all, no mercy in fracturing Nan's tenuous hold on her calm. She knew the reality about the Dark Peak anyway, and she didn't need him to point out to her that while roads made most of the White Peak accessible, its sister to the north could be traversed only by horseback, on foot, or by helicopter. If a hiker got lost or hurt up there, it generally took bloodhounds to find him.

“She said she'd marry you though,” Nan declared, more to herself than to Julian, it seemed. “She did say that she'd marry you, Julian?”

The poor woman seemed so eager to be lied to that Julian found himself just as eager to oblige her. “We hadn't quite got to yes or no yet. That's what last night was supposed to be about.”

“Was she… Did she seem pleased? I only ask because she'd seemed to have… Well, she'd seemed to have some sort of plans, and I'm not quite sure…”

Carefully, Julian speared a mushroom. “Plans?”

“I'd thought… Yes, it seemed so.”

He looked at Nan. Nan looked at him. He was the one to blink. He said steadily, “Nicola had no plans that I know of, Nan.”

The kitchen door swung open a few inches. The face of one of the Grindleford women appeared in the aperture. She said, “Mrs. Maiden, Mr. Britton,” in a hushed voice. And she used her head to indicate the direction of the kitchen. You're wanted, the motion implied.

Andy was leaning against one of the work tops, facing it, his weight on his hands and his head bowed. When his wife said his name, he looked up.

His face was drawn with exhaustion, and his growth of peppery whiskers fanned out from his moustache and shadowed his cheeks. His grey hair was uncombed, looking windblown although there wasn't any wind to speak of this morning. His eyes went to Nan, then slid away. Julian prepared himself to hear the worst.

“Her car's on the edge of Calder Moor,” Andy told them.

His wife drew her hands into a fist at her breast. “Thank God,” she said.

Still, Andy didn't look at her. His expression indicated that thanks were premature. He knew what Julian knew and what Nan herself might well have acknowledged had she paused to probe for the possibilities that were indicated by the location of Nicolas Saab. Calder Moor was vast. It began just west of the road stretching between Blackwell and Brough, and it comprised endless expanses of heather and gorse, four caverns, numerous cairns and forts and barrows spanning time from Paleolithic through the Iron Age, gritstone outcroppings and limestone caves and fissures through which more than one foolish tripper had crawled for adventure and become hopelessly stuck. Julian knew that Andy was thinking of this as he stood in the kitchen at the end of his long night's search for Nicola. But Andy was thinking something else as well. Andy was knowing something else, in fact. That much was evident from the manner in which he straightened and began slapping the knuckles of one hand against the heel of the other.

Julian said, “Andy. For God's sake, tell us.”

Andy's gaze fixed on his wife. “The car's not on the verge, like you'd think it should be.”

“Then where…?”

“It's out of sight behind a wall, on the road out of Sparrowpit.”

“But that's good, isn't it?” Nan said eagerly. “If she went camping, she wouldn't want to leave the Saab on the road. Not where it could be seen by someone who might break into it.”

“True,” he said. “But the car's not alone.” And with a glance towards Julian as if he wished to apologise for something, “There's a motorcycle with it.”

“Someone out for a hike,” Julian said.

“At this hour?” Andy shook his head. “It was wet from the night. As wet as her car. It's been there just as long.”

Nan said, “Then she didn't go onto the moor alone? She met someone there?”

“Or she was followed,” Julian added quietly.

“I'm calling the police,” Andy said. “They'll want to bring in Mountain Rescue now.”

When a patient died, it was Phoebe Neill's habit to turn to the land for comfort. She generally did this alone. She'd lived alone for most of her life, and she wasn't afraid of solitude. And in the combination of solitude and a return to the land, she received consolation. When she was out in nature, nothing man-made stood between her and the Great Creator. Thus on the land, she was able to align herself with the end of a life and the will of God, knowing that the body we inhabit is but a shell that binds us for a period of temporal experience prior to our entering the world of the spirit for the next phase of our development.

This Thursday morning things were different. Yes, a patient had died on the previous evening. Yes, Phoebe Neill turned to the land for solace. But on this occasion, she hadn't come alone. She'd brought with her a mixed breed dog of uncertain lineage, the now-orphaned pet of the young man whose life had just ended.

She'd been the one to talk Stephen Fairbrook into getting a dog as a companion during the last year of his illness. So when it had become clear that the end of Stephen's life was fast approaching, she knew that she'd make his passing easier if she reassured him about the dog's fate. “Stevie, when the time comes, I'm happy to take Benbow,” she'd told him one morning as she bathed his skeletal body and massaged lotion into his shrunken limbs. “You're not to worry about him. All right?”

You can die now was what went unspoken. Not because words like die or death were unmentionable round Stephen Fairbrook, but because once he'd been told his disease, been through countless treatments and drugs in an effort to stay alive long enough for a cure to be found, watched his weight decline and his hair fall out and his skin bloom with bruises that turned into sores, die and death were old companions to him. He didn't need a formal introduction to guests who were already dwelling within his house.

On the last afternoon of his master's life, Benbow had known that Stephen was passing. And hour after hour, the animal lay quietly next to him, moving only if Stephen moved, his muzzle resting in Stephen's hand until Stephen had left them. Benbow, in fact, had known before Phoebe that Stephen was gone. He'd risen, whimpered, howled once, and was silent. He'd then sought out the comfort of his basket, where he'd stayed until Phoebe had collected him.

Now he raised himself on his hind legs, his plumed tail wagging hopefully as Phoebe parked her car on a lay-by near a drystone wall and reached for his lead. He barked once. Phoebe smiled. “Yes. A walk shall make us right as rain, old chap.”

She clambered out. Benbow followed, leaping agilely from the Vauxhall and sniffing eagerly, nose pressed to the sandy ground like a canine Hoover. He led Phoebe directly to the drystone wall and snuffled along it until he came to the stile that would allow him access to the moor beyond. This he leapt over easily, and once on the other side he paused to shake himself off. His ears pricked up and he cocked his head. He gave a sharp bark to tell Phoebe that a solo run, not a walk on a lead, was what he had in mind.

“Can't do it, old boy,” Phoebe told him. “Not till we see what's what and who's who on the moor, all right?” She was cautious and overprotective that way, which made for excellent skills when it came to nursing the housebound dying through their final days, particularly those whose conditions required hypervigilance on the part of their caregiver. But when it came to children or to dog ownership, Phoebe knew intuitively that the natural hovering born of a cautious nature would have produced a fearful animal or a rebellious child. So she'd had no child-although she'd had her opportunities-and she'd had no dog till now. “I hope to do right by you, Benbow,” she told the mongrel. He lifted his head to look at her, past the scraggly kelp-coloured mop of fur that flopped into his eyes. He swung back round towards the open moor, mile after mile of heather creating a purple shawl that covered the shoulders of the land.

Had the moor consisted of heather alone, Phoebe would not have given a second thought to letting Benbow have his romp unrestrained. But the seemingly endless flow of the heather was deceptive to the uninitiated. Ancient limestone quarries produced unexpected lacunae in the landscape, into which the dog could tumble, and the caverns, lead mines, and caves into which he could scamper-and where she could not follow-served as a siren enticement for any animal, an enticement with which Phoebe Neill didn't care to compete. But she was willing to let Benbow snuffle freely through one of the many birch copses that grew in irregular clumps on the moor, rising like feathers against the sky, and she grasped his lead firmly and began heading northwest, where the largest of the copses grew.

Although it was a fine morning, there were no other walkers about yet. The sun was low in the eastern sky, and Phoebe's shadow stretched far to her left as if it wished to pursue a cobalt horizon that was heaped with clouds so white, they might have been giant sleeping swans. There was little wind, just enough of a breeze to slap Phoebe's windcheater against her sides and flip Benbow's tangled fur from his eyes. There was no scent on this breeze that Phoebe could discern. And the only noise came from an unkindness of ravens somewhere on the moor and a flock of sheep bleating in the distance.

Benbow snuffled along, investigating nasally every inch of the path as well as the mounds of heather that edged it. He was a cooperative walker, as Phoebe had discovered from the thrice-daily strolls she and he had taken once Stephen had been completely confined to bed. And because she didn't have to tug him along or pull him back or encourage the little dog in any way, their jaunt on the moor gave her time to pray.

She didn't pray for Stephen Fairbrook. She knew that Stephen was now at peace, quite beyond the necessity of an intervention-Divine or otherwise-in the process of the inevitable. What she prayed for was greater understanding. She wanted to know why a scourge had come to dwell among them, felling the best, the brightest, and frequently those with the most to offer. She wanted to know what conclusion she was meant to draw from the deaths of young men who were guilty of nothing, of the deaths of children whose crime was to be born of infected mothers, and of the deaths of those unfortunate mothers as well.

Phoebe had at first believed that there had to be a message in the symphony of death that she'd been taking part in for the past years. But she was beginning to find that this kind of death had too many tentacles, and those tentacles sought to curl tenaciously round victims too diverse to form a pattern. From years of experience, she knew that death was perfectly impartial, claiming great and small, important and utterly insignificant, rich and poor, strong and weak. No matter one's power, prestige, or potential, one did not bargain when the reaper came. But this death, this particular ending during which the medical fire brigade put out one inferno only to be confronted by another… This was the worst.

So she walked and she prayed. And when Benbow wanted to pick up the pace, she was willing to do so. In this manner, they strode into the heart of the moor, ambling along one path, forking off onto another. Phoebe wasn't worried about becoming lost. She knew that they'd begun their walk southeast of a limestone outcrop that was called Agrícolas Throne. It comprised the remains of a great Roman fort, a windswept outlook shaped not unlike an enormous chair that marked the edge of the moor. Anyone sighting off the throne during a hike was unlikely to get lost.

They'd been trekking for an hour when Benbow's ears pricked up and his stance altered. From shuffling along happily, he came to a sudden halt. His body elongated, back legs stretching out. His feathery tail stiffened into an immobile quill. A low whine issued from his throat.

Phoebe studied what lay before them: the copse of birches she'd intended to allow Benbow to gambol in. “Gracious me,” she murmured. “Aren't you the clever one, Bennie?” She was deeply surprised and just as touched by the mongrel's ability to read her intentions. She'd silently promised him freedom when they reached the copse. And here the copse was. He knew her mind and was eager to be off the lead. “Can't blame you a bit,” Phoebe said as she knelt to unhook the lead from his collar. She wound the rope of braided leather round her hand and rose with a grunt as the dog shot ahead of her into the trees.

Phoebe walked after him, smiling at the sight of his compact body bouncing along the path. He used his feet like springs as he ran, bounding off the ground with all four legs at once as if it was his intention to fly. He skirted a large column of roughly hewn limestone on the edge of the copse and vanished among the birches.

This was the entrance to Nine Sisters Henge, a Neolithic earth-banked enclosure that encircled nine standing stones of varying heights. Assembled some thirty-five hundred years before the time of Christ, the henge and the stones marked a spot for rituals engaged in by prehistoric man. At the time of its use, the henge had been standing in open land that had been cleared of its natural oak and alder forest. Now, however, it was hidden from view, buried within a thick growth of birches, a modern encroachment on the resulting moorland.

Phoebe paused and surveyed her surroundings. The eastern sky-without the clouds of the west-allowed the sun to pierce unimpeded through the trees. Their bark was the white of a seagull's wing, but patterned with diamond-shaped cracks the colour of coffee. Leaves formed a shimmering green screen in the morning breeze, which served to shield the ancient stone circle within the copse from an inexperienced hiker who didn't know it was there. Standing before the birches, the sentry stone was hit by the light at an oblique angle.

This deepened its natural pocking, and from a distance the shadows combined to effect a face, an austere custodian of secrets too ancient to be imagined.

As Phoebe observed the stone, an unaccountable chill passed through her. Despite the breeze, it was silent here. No noise from the dog, no bleating of a sheep lost among the stones, no call of hikers as they crossed the moor. It was altogether too silent, Phoebe thought. And she found herself glancing round uneasily, overcome by the feeling that she was being watched.

Phoebe thought herself a practical woman to the very core, one not given to casual fancies or an imagination run riot. Nonetheless, she felt the sudden need to be away from this place, and she called for the dog. There was no response.

“Benbow!” she called a second time. “Here, boy. Come.”

Nothing. The silence intensified. The breeze stilled. And Phoebe felt the hair stirring on the back of her neck.

She didn't wish to approach the copse, but she didn't know why. She'd walked among Nine Sisters before. She'd even had a quiet picnic lunch there one fine spring day. But there was something about the place this morning…

A sharp bark from Benbow and suddenly what seemed like hundreds of ravens took to the air in an ebony swarm. For a moment they entirely blocked out the sun. The shadow they cast seemed like a monstrous fist sweeping over Phoebe. She shuddered at the distinct sensation of having been marked somehow, like Cain before being sent to the east.

She swallowed and turned back to the copse. There was no further sound from Benbow, no response to her calling. Concerned, Phoebe hurried along the path, passed the limestone guardian of that sacred place, and entered the trees.

They grew thickly, but visitors to the site had trod a path through them over the years. On this, the natural grass of the moor had been flattened and worn through to the earth in spots. To the sides, however, bilberry bushes formed part of the undergrowth, and the last of the wild purple orchids gave off their characteristic scent of cats in the tough moor grass. It was here beneath the trees that Phoebe looked for Benbow, drawing nearer to the ancient stones. The silence round her was so profound that the very fact of it seemed like an augur, mute but eloquent all at once.

Then, as Phoebe drew near the circles boundary, she finally heard the dog again. He yelped from somewhere, then emitted something between a whine and a growl. It was decidedly fearful.

Worried that he'd encountered a hiker who was less than welcoming of his canine advances, Phoebe hastened towards the sound, through the remaining trees and into the circle. At once, she saw a mound of bright blue at the inner base of one of the standing stones. It was at this mound that Benbow barked, backing off from it now with his hackles up and his ears flattened back against his skull.

“What is it?” Phoebe asked over his noise. “What've you found, old boy?” Uneasily, she wiped her palms on her skirt and glanced about. She saw the answer to her question lying round her. What the dog had found was a scene of chaos. The centre of the stone circle was strewn with white feathers, and the detritus of some thoughtless campers lay scattered about: everything from a tent to a cooking pot to an opened rucksack spilling its contents onto the ground.

Phoebe approached the dog through this clutter. She wanted to get Benbow back on the lead and get both of them out of the circle at once.

She said, “Benbow, come here,” and he yelped more loudly. It was the sort of sound she'd never heard from him before.

She saw that he was clearly upset by the mound of blue, the source of the white feathers that dusted the clearing like the wings of slaughtered moths.

It was a sleeping bag, she realised. And it was from this bag that the feathers had come, because a slash in the nylon that served as its cover spat more white feathers when Phoebe touched the bag with her toe. Indeed, nearly all the feathers that constituted its stuffing were gone. What remained was like a tarpaulin. It had been completely unzipped and it was shrouding something, something that terrified the little dog.

Phoebe felt weak-kneed, but she made herself do it. She lifted the cover. Benbow backed off, giving her a clear look at the nightmare vignette that the sleeping bag had covered.

Blood. There was more in front of her than she'd ever seen before. It wasn't bright red because it had obviously been exposed to air for a good number of hours. But Phoebe didn't require that colour to know what she was looking at.

“Oh my Lord.” She went light-headed.

She'd seen death before in many guises, but none had been as grisly as this. At her feet, a young man lay curled like a foetus, dressed head to toe in nothing but black, with that same colour puckering burnt flesh from eye to jaw on one side of his face. His cropped hair was black as well, as was the ponytail that sprang from his skull. His goatee was black. His fingernails were black. He wore an onyx ring and an earring of black. The only colour that offered relief from the black-aside from the sleeping bag of blue-was the magenta of blood, and that was everywhere: on the ground beneath him, saturating his clothes, pooling from scores of wounds on his torso.

Phoebe dropped the sleeping bag and backed away from the body. She felt hot. She felt cold. She knew that she was about to faint. She chided herself for her lack of backbone. She said, “Benbow?” and over her voice she heard the dog barking. He'd never stopped. But four of her senses had deadened with shock, heightening and honing her fifth sense: sight.

She scooped up the dog and stumbled from the horror.

The day had altered completely by the time the police arrived. In the way of weather in the Peaks, a morning that had been born into sunshine and perfect sky had reached its maturity in fog. It slithered over the distant crest of Kinder Scout, creeping across the high moors from the northwest. When the Buxton police set up their crime scene tape, they did it with the mist falling on their shoulders like spirits descending to visit the site.

Before he went out to join the scenes of crime team, Detective Inspector Peter Hanken had a word with the woman who'd stumbled upon the body. She was sitting in the back of a panda car, a dog on her lap. Hanken normally liked dogs a great deal: He was the master of two Irish setters who were almost as much his pride and joy as were his three children. But this pathetic-looking mongrel with his unkempt coat of mangy fur and his sludge-coloured eyes looked a likely candidate for the dog meat factory. And he smelled like a dustbin left in the sun.

Not that there was any sun, which lowered Hanken's spirits even further. On every side of him, he encountered grey-in the sky, on the landscape, and in the grizzled hair of the old woman before him-and grey had long had the capability of sinking his ship faster than the dawning knowledge of what a murder investigation was going to do to his weekend plans.

Over the top of the car Hanken said to Patty Stewart-a WPC with a heart-shaped face and breasts that had long been the objects of fantasy for half a dozen of the younger DCs-“Name?”

Stewart filled in all the blanks in her typical competent manner. “Phoebe Neill. She's a home nurse. From Sheffield.”

“What the hell was she doing out here?”

“Her patient died yesterday evening. She took it hard. She brought his dog out here for a walk. It helps, she said.”

Hanken had seen plenty of death in his years of policing. And in his experience, nothing helped. He slapped his palm against the roof of the car and opened the door, saying to Stewart, “Get on with it, then.” He slid inside.

“Is it Miss or Missus?” he said after introducing himself to the home nurse.

The dog strained forward against her hands, which she'd placed on his chest just above his legs. She held him in position firmly. She said, “He's friendly. If you'd just let him smell your hand…” and she added, “Miss,” when Hanken obliged.

He excavated the particulars from her, trying to ignore the mongrel's rank odour. When he was satisfied that she'd seen no other sign of life besides the ravens who'd fled the scene like the marauders they were, he said, “You didn't disturb the area?” and narrowed his eyes when she flushed.

“I know what's appropriate in the situation. One does watch police dramas on the television occasionally. But, you see, I didn't know there would be a body beneath the blanket… only it wasn't a blanket at all, was it? It was a sleeping bag that'd been slashed to bits. And as there was rubbish all round the site, I suppose that I-”

“Rubbish?” Hanken interrupted impatiently.

“Papers. Camping things. Lots of white feathers. There were bits and pieces everywhere.” The woman smiled with a pitiful eagerness to please.

“You didn't disturb anything, did you?” Hanken asked.

No. Of course she hadn't done that. Except for the blanket, which she'd moved. Except that it hadn't been a blanket, had it, but a sleeping bag. Which was where the body was. Beneath the bag. As she'd just said…

Right, right, right, Hanken thought. She was a real Aunt Edna. This was probably the most excitement she'd had in her life and she was determined to prolong the experience.

“And when I saw it… him…” She blinked as if afraid to cry and recognising, correctly, how little stock Hanken put in women who shed tears. “I believe in God, you know, in a greater purpose behind all that happens. But when someone dies in such a way, it tests my faith. It surely does.” She lowered her face to Benbow's head. The dog squirmed round and licked her nose.

Hanken asked her what she needed, if she wanted a WPC to take her home. He told her that there would likely be more questions. She was not to leave the country. If she traveled from Sheffield, she was to let him know where she could be reached. Not that he thought he'd need her again. But there were some parts of his job that he did by rote.

The actual murder site was irritatingly remote and inaccessible by any means other than foot, mountain bike, or helicopter. Given these options, Hanken had called in a few favours at Mountain Rescue and had managed to hijack an RAF chopper that was just concluding a search for two lost hikers in the Dark Peak. He used the waiting helicopter now to ferry himself to Nine Sisters Henge.

The fog wasn't heavy-just wet as the dickens-and when they made their approach, he could see the popped lightning of flash bulbs as the police photographer documented the crime scene. To the southeast of the trees, a small crowd milled. Forensic pathologist and forensic biologists, uniformed constables, evidence officers equipped with collection kits, they were waiting for the photographer to finish his work. They were also waiting for Hanken.

The DI asked the helicopter's pilot to hover above the birch copse for a minute prior to landing. From two hundred and fifty feet above the ground-sufficient distance so as not to disturb the evidence-he saw that a campsite had been set up within the perimeter of the old stone circle. A small blue tent domed against the northern face of one stone, and a fire ring burned black like the pupil of an eye in the circle's centre. On the ground lay a silver emergency blanket and nearby a square sit mat coloured bright yellow. A black and red rucksack spat out its contents, and a small camping cook stove tumbled onto its side. From the air, it didn't look like the nasty piece of business that it was,

Hanken thought. But distance did that to you, giving a false assurance that all was well.

The chopper set him down fifty yards to the southeast of the site. He ducked beneath the blades and joined his team on the ground as the police photographer strode out of the copse. He said, “Ugly mess.”

Hanken said, “Right,” and “Wait here,” to the team. He slapped his hand against the limestone sentry marking the entrance to the copse, and alone he started down the path beneath the trees, where the leaves dripped condensation from the fog onto his shoulders.

At the entrance to Nine Sisters proper, Hanken paused and let his gaze roam where it would. From the ground now, he saw that the tent was a size suitable for one, and that fact was in keeping with the rest of the gear scattered round the circle: one sleeping bag, one rucksack, one emergency blanket, a single sit mat. What he hadn't seen from the air he saw now. A map case gaped open with its contents half torn. A single ground cloth crumpled against the solitary rucksack. One small hiking boot toppled into the charred remains of the central fire and another lay nearby discarded. White feathers clung wetly to everything.

When at last he moved from the entrance, Hanken engaged in his usual preliminary observation of a crime scene: He stood over each noticeable physical item and considered it with his mind clear of possible explanations. Most officers, he knew, went directly to the victim. But Hanken believed that a body-brought to its death through human brutality-was traumatic enough to deaden not only the senses but also the intellect, leaving one incapable of seeing the truth when it lay openly before him. So he went from one object to the next, studying it without disturbing it. And thus he made his initial examination of the tent, the rucksack, the mat, the map case, and the rest of the equipment-from socks to soap-that was tossed round in the inside of the circle. He took the most time over a flannel shirt and the boots. And when he'd seen enough of these objects, he turned to the body.

It was a gruesome corpse: a boy of not more than nineteen or twenty. He was thin, almost skeletal, with delicate wrists, dainty ears, and the waxlike skin of the dead. Although one side of his face was badly burnt, Hanken could still tell that the boy had a finely bridged nose and a well-shaped mouth and an overall appearance of femininity that he seemed to have tried to alter by growing a wispy black goatee. He was drenched with blood from numerous wounds, and beneath the mess he wore only a black T-shirt, with no jersey or jacket of any kind. His jeans had faded from black to grey in spots where the wearing was most apparent: along the seams, the knees, and in the seat. And he wore heavy boots on his overlarge feet, Doc Martens by the look of them.

Beneath these boots, half hidden now by the sleeping bag which had been carefully moved to one side by the police photographer in order to document the body, a few sheets of paper lay stained with blood and limp with fog-born condensation. Crouching, Hanken examined these, separating them carefully with the tip of a pencil, which he removed from his pocket. The papers, he saw, were anonymous letters, crudely written, creatively spelled, and assembled with letters and words cut from newspapers and magazines. Thematically, they were all of a piece: They threatened death, although the means that were suggested differed each time.

Hanken directed his gaze from these papers to the boy on the ground. He wondered if it was reasonable to conclude that the recipient of them had met the end augured by the messages left at the scene. The deduction would have seemed reasonable had not the interior of the old stone circle told another tale.

Hanken strode out of it, along the path beneath the birches.

“Start a perimeter search,” he told his team. “We're looking for a second body.”

CHAPTER 3

New Scotland Yard's Barbara Havers took the lift up to the twelfth floor of Tower Block. This housed the extensive library of the Metropolitan Police, and among the scores of reference books and police reports she knew that she would be safe. She very much needed safety at the moment. She also needed privacy and time to recover.

In addition to more volumes than anyone had time to count-much less to look at-the library offered the finest view of London in the entire building. This view spread to the east, encompassing everything from the neo-Gothic spires of the Houses of Parliament to the south bank of the River Thames. It spread to the north, where the dome of St. Paul's dominated the City skyline. And on a day like this one, when the bright hot sunlight of summer was finally altering to the subtle glow of autumn, the sheer scope of the view became secondary to the beauty of everything touched by that light.

Here on the twelfth floor, Barbara thought that if she concentrated on identifying as many of the buildings below her as she could, she might be able to calm herself and forget the humiliation through which she'd just lived.

After three months of a suspension from work, she'd finally received a cryptic phone call at half past seven that morning. It was an order thinly disguised as a request. Would Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers join Assistant Commissioner Sir David Hillier in his office at ten A.M.? The voice was scrupulously polite and even more scrupulously careful to betray no knowledge of what lay behind the invitation.

Barbara, however, had little doubt about the purpose of the meeting. She'd been the object of an enquiry by the Police Complaints Authority for the last twelve weeks, and once the Crown Prosecution Service had declined to instigate legal proceedings against her, the machinery of the Metropolitan Police's internal affairs division had begun to grind. Witnesses to her behaviour had been called. Statements from those witnesses had been taken. Evidence-a high-powered motor-boat, one MP5 carbine, and a Glock semiautomatic pistol-had been examined and evaluated. And Barbara's fate had long been due to be revealed.

So when the phone call had finally come, interrupting her increasingly fitful sleep, she should have been prepared. After all, she had known all summer that two aspects of her behaviour as an officer were under scrutiny. Facing criminal charges of assault and attempted murder, facing disciplinary charges that ran the gamut from abuse of authority to failure to obey an order, she should have begun the process of putting her professional life in order prior to what anyone with a teaspoonful of sense would have called its ineluctable demise. But police work had been Barbara's life for a decade and a half, and she couldn't imagine her world without it. So she had spent her suspension telling herself that every day that passed without her being sacked made it more likely that she would emerge from the investigation unscathed. That hadn't been the case, of course, and a more realistic officer would have known what to expect when she walked into the assistant commissioner's office.

She'd dressed with care, eschewing her usual drawstring trousers for a skirt and jacket. She was hopeless with clothes, so the colour didn't suit her, and the faux pearl necklace was a ludicrous touch that merely emphasised the thickness of her neck. Her shoes, at least, were polished. But getting out of her old Mini in the Yard's underground car park, she'd scraped her calf on a rough edge of door metal and a ladder in her tights had been the result.

Not that perfect tights, a decent piece of jewellery, and a suit of a hue more flattering to her complexion would have altered the inevitable. Because as soon as she'd entered AC Hillier's office, with its four windows indicating the Olympian heights to which he'd risen, she'd seen the writing on the wall.

Still, she hadn't expected the castigation to be so vituperative. AC Hillier was a pig-had always been and would be to the end of his days-but Barbara had never before been on the receiving end of his particular brand of discipline. He'd seemed to feel that a vigorous upbraiding wasn't sufficient to relay his displeasure with her comportment. Nor was sufficient a blistering letter that utilised such terms as “disgracing the reputation of the entire Metropolitan Police” and “bringing the service of thousands of officers into disrepute” and “a disgraceful brand of insubordination unlike anything in the history of the force,” which would be placed in her permanent file and left there through the years for every officer with suzerainty over Barbara to see. AC Hillier had also felt the need to interject his personal commentary on the activities that had brought about her suspension. And knowing that, without witnesses, he could be as free as he wanted to reprimand Barbara in whatever language he chose, Hillier had included in that commentary the sort of risky invective and innuendo that another subordinate officer-with less at stake-might well have taken as crossing over the line that separated the professional from the personal. But the assistant commissioner was nobody's fool. He was perfectly aware that, thankful her punishment did not include being sacked, Barbara would adopt the wise course of action and take whatever he chose to dish out to her.

But she didn't have to like hearing herself referred to as a “bloody stupid slag” and a “sodding minge bag.” And she didn't have to pretend that she was unaffected by having her physical appearance, her sexual proclivities, and her potential as a woman brought into Hillier's ugly monologue.

So she was shaken. And as she stood by the window in the library and observed the buildings that rose between New Scotland Yard and Westminster Abbey, she tried to control the trembling of her hands. She also tried to eliminate the waves of nausea that kept causing her breath to come in great gulps, as if she were drowning.

A cigarette would have helped, but in coming to the library, where she wouldn't be found, she'd also come to one of the many locations in New Scotland Yard where smoking was prohibited. And while at one time she would have lit up anyway and damned the consequences, she wouldn't do that now.

“Once more out of order and you're finished,” Hillier had shouted in conclusion, his florid face grown as maroon as the tie that he wore with his bespoke suit.

That she hadn't been finished already-considering the level of Hillier's animosity-was a mystery to Barbara. Throughout his speech, she'd prepared herself for her inevitable sacking, but it hadn't materialised. She'd been dressed down, slagged off*, and vilified. But the peroration of Hillier's remarks hadn't included her termination. That Hillier wanted to sack her as much as he wanted to abuse her was clear as could be. That he didn't do so told her that someone of influence had taken her part.

Barbara wanted to be grateful. Indeed, she knew she ought to be grateful. But at the moment all that she could feel was a monumental sense of betrayal that her superior officers, the disciplinary tribunal, and the Police Complaints Authority hadn't seen things her way. When the facts are in, she'd thought, everyone would see that she'd had no choice but to take up the nearest weapon to hand and fire it in order to save a life. But that wasn't the way her actions had been viewed by those in power. Except for someone. And she had a fairly good idea who that someone was.

Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley had been on his honeymoon during the birth of Barbara's troubles. Her longtime partner, he'd come home with his bride from ten days on Corfu to find Barbara suspended with an investigation mounted into her conduct. Understandably confounded, he'd driven across town that same night, seeking an explanation from Barbara herself. While their initial conversation hadn't gone as smoothly as she would have wished, Barbara had known at heart that, at the end of the day, DI Lynley would never stand by and let an injustice be done if there was any way that he could prevent it.

He'd be waiting in his office now to hear about her meeting with Hillier. As soon as she recovered from that meeting, she'd go to see him.

Someone came into the quiet library. A woman said, “I'm telling you he was born in Glasgow, Bob. I remember the case because I was at the comprehensive and we were doing reports on current events.”

Bob replied, “You're daft. He was born in Edinburgh.”

The woman said, “Glasgow. I'll prove it.”

Proving it meant having a browse through the library. Proving it meant that Barbara's solitude was at an end.

She left the library and descended by the stairs, buying more time to recover and to come up with the words to thank Inspector Lynley for interceding. She couldn't imagine how he'd done it. He and Hillier were at each other's throats most of the time, so he must have asked a favour of someone above Hillier's head. She knew that doing so would have cost him dearly in professional pride. A man like Lynley wasn't used to going, cap in hand, to anyone. Going cap in hand to those who openly begrudged him his aristocratic birth would have been especially trying.

She found him in his office in Victoria Block. He was on the phone with his back to the door, his chair swung round to face the window. He was saying lightly, “Darling, if Aunt Augusta's declared that a visit's in order, I don't know how we can actually avoid it. It's rather like trying to stop a typhoon… Hmm, yes. But we should be able to keep her from rearranging the furniture if Mother's agreed to come with her, shouldn't we?” He listened, then laughed at something his wife said on the other end of the line. “Yes. All right. We'll announce the wardrobes off-limits in advance… Thank you, Helen… Yes. She does mean well.” He rang off and swiveled his chair to face his desk. He saw Barbara in the doorway.

“Havers,” he said, surprise in his tone. “Hullo. What're you doing here this morning?”

She entered, saying, “I had the word from Hillier.”

“And?”

“A letter in my file and a quarter of an hour's speech that I'd like to forget. Cast your thoughts to Hillier's propensity for seizing the moment and throttling it and you'll have a good idea of how things played out. He's a flamer, our Dave.”

“I'm sorry,” Lynley said. “But that was all? A lecture and a letter in your file?”

“Not all. I've been demoted to detective constable.”

“Ah.” Lynley reached for a magnetic container of paper clips sitting on his desk. Restlessly, his fingers explored the tops of the clips while he apparently gathered his thoughts. He said, “It could have been worse. It could have cost you everything.”

“Right. Yes. I know.” Barbara tried to sound expansive. “Well,

Hillier had his fun. No doubt he'll replay his speech for the big boys at lunch with the commissioner. I thought about telling him to screw himself about halfway through, but I held my tongue. You would've been proud of me.”

At this, Lynley moved his chair away from the desk and stood at the window, looking out at its indifferent view of Tower Block. Barbara saw a muscle move in his jaw. She was about to venture into the arena of gratitude-his uncharacteristic reserve suggested the price he'd paid interceding on her behalf-when he finally spoke, introducing the topic himself by saying, “Barbara, I'm wondering if you know what had to be gone through to keep you from getting the sack. The meetings, the phone calls, the agreements, the compromises.”

“I reckoned as much. Which is why I wanted to say-”

“And all of it to keep you from getting what half of Scotland Yard think you richly deserve.”

Barbara shifted uncomfortably on her feet. “Sir, I know you put yourself out for me. I know I would have been given the sack if you hadn't interceded. And I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am that you recognised my actions for what they were. I wanted to tell you that you won't have any reason to regret taking my part. I won't give you a reason. Or anyone else, for that matter. I won't give anyone a reason.”

“I wasn't the one,” Lynley said, turning back to her.

Barbara looked at him blankly. “You…? What?”

“I didn't take your part, Barbara.” To his credit after making the admission, he kept his eyes on hers. She would think of that later and grudgingly admire it. Those brown eyes of his-so kind and so at odds with his head of blond hair-settled on hers and just stayed there, openly.

Barbara frowned, trying to assimilate what he'd said. “But you… you know all the facts. I told you the story. You read the report. I thought… You just now said the meetings and the phone calls-”

“They weren't mine,” he cut in. “In conscience, I can't let you think that they were.”

So she'd jumped to a conclusion. She'd presumed their years of partnership meant that Lynley would automatically take her part. She said, “Are you with them, then?”

“Them? Who?”

“The half of the Yard that thinks I got what I deserve. I only ask because I s'pose we ought to know where we stand with each other. I mean, if we're going to work-” Her words were starting to tumble together, and she forced herself to slow down, to be deliberate. “So are you? With them? That half? Sir?”

Lynley went back to his desk and sat. He regarded her. She could easily read the regret on his face. She just couldn't tell where it was directed. And that frightened her. Because he was her partner. He was her partner. She said again, “Sir?”

He said, “I don't know if I'm with them.”

She felt deflated. Just a shriveled bit of her skin remained, lying quietly on the office floor.

Lynley must have read this because he continued, his voice not unkind. “I've looked at the situation from every angle. All summer long, I've examined it, Barbara.”

“That's not part of your job,” she told him numbly. “You investigate murders, not… not what I did.”

“I wanted to understand. I still want to understand. I thought if I went at it on my own, I could see how it happened, through your eyes.”

“But you couldn't manage that.” Barbara tried to keep the desolation from her voice. “You couldn't see that a life was at stake. You couldn't get your mind round the fact that I wasn't able to let an eight-year-old drown.”

“That's not the case,” Lynley told her. “I understood that much and I understand it now. What I couldn't get round was that you were out of your jurisdiction, and, given an order to-”

“So was she,” Barbara broke in. “So was everyone. The Essex police don't patrol the North Sea. And that's where it happened. You know that. On the sea.”

“I do know that. All of it. Believe me. I know. How you were chasing a suspect, how that suspect dropped a child from his boat, what you were ordered to do when he took that action, and how you reacted when you heard the order.”

“I couldn't just toss her a life belt, Inspector. It wouldn't have reached her. She would have drowned.”

“Barbara, please hear me out. It wasn't your place-or your responsibility-to make decisions or to reach conclusions. That's why we have a chain of command. Arguing about the order you'd been given would have been bad enough. But once you fired a weapon at a superior officer-”

“I expect you're afraid I'll do that to you next, given half a chance,” she said bitterly.

Lynley let the words hang there between them. In the silence, Barbara found herself wanting to reach into the air and unspeak them, so untrue did she know them to be. “Sorry,” she said, feeling that the huskiness in her voice was a worse betrayal than any action she herself had taken earlier that summer.

“I know,” he said. “I do know you're sorry. I'm sorry as well.”

“Detective Inspector Lynley?”

The quiet interruption came from the door. Lynley and Barbara swung to the voice. Dorothea Harriman, secretary to their divisional superintendent, stood there: well-coifed with a helmet of honey-blonde hair, well-dressed in a pin-striped suit that would have done service in a fashion advert. Barbara all at once felt what she always was in the presence of Dorothea Harriman, a sartorial nightmare.

“What is it, Dee?” Lynley asked the younger woman.

“Superintendent Webberly,” Harriman replied. “He's asked for you. As soon as you can make it. He's had a call from Crime Operations. Something's come up.” And with a glance and a nod at Barbara, she was gone.

Barbara waited. She found that her pulse had begun throbbing painfully. The request from Webberly couldn't have come at a more terrible time.

Something's come up was Harriman shorthand for the fact that the game was afoot. And in the past that summons from Webberly had generally preceded an invitation from the inspector to accompany him in his discovery of what the game was.

Barbara said nothing. She just watched Lynley and waited. She knew very well that the next few moments would constitute the stand he took on their partnership.

Outside his office, business went on as usual. Voices echoed in the lino-floored corridor. Telephones rang in departments. Meetings began. But here, inside, it seemed to Barbara as if she and Lynley had taken themselves into another dimension altogether, one into which much more than merely her professional future was tied.

He finally got to his feet. “I'll need to see what Webberly has going.”

She said, “Shall I…?” despite his use of the singular pronoun that had already said it all. But she found that she couldn't complete the question because she couldn't face the answer at the moment. So she asked another. “What would you like me to do, sir?”

He thought about it, looking away from her at last, seeming to study the picture that hung by the door: a laughing young man with a cricket bat in his hand and a long rip in his grass-stained trousers. Barbara knew why Lynley kept the photo in his office: It served as a daily reminder of the man in the photo and what Lynley had done to him on a long-ago drunken night in a car. Most people put what was unpleasant out of their minds. But DI Thomas Lynley didn't happen to be most people.

He said, “I think it's best that you lie low for a while, Barbara. Let the dust settle. Let people get past this. Let them forget.”

But you won't be able to, will you? she asked silently. What she said, however, was a bleak “Yes, sir.”

“I know that isn't easy for you,” he said, and his voice was so gentle that she wanted to howl. “But I haven't got any other answer to give you at the moment. I only wish that I had.”

And again, the few words she could manage were “Sir. I see. Yes sir.”

“Demotion to detective constable,” Lynley said to Superintendent Malcolm Webberly when he joined him. “That's marks to you, isn't it, sir?”

Webberly was ensconced behind his desk, smoking a cigar. Mercifully, he'd kept the door to his office closed to spare the other officers, the secretaries, and the clerks from the fumes emanating from the noxious tube of tobacco. This consideration, however, did little to deliver anyone who had to enter from experiencing and breathing the fug of smoke. Lynley tried to inhale as little as possible. Webberly used his lips and tongue to move the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. It was the only response he gave.

“Can you tell me why?” Lynley asked. “You've gone out on a limb for officers before. No one knows that better than I. But why in this case, when it seems so cut and dried? And what're you going to have to pay for having saved her?”

“We all have favours,” the superintendent said. “I called a few in. Havers was in the wrong, but her heart was in the right.”

Lynley frowned. He'd been trying to work himself round to this same conclusion from the moment he'd learned about Barbara Havers’ disgrace, but he hadn't been able to manage the feat. Every time he came close, the facts reared up at him, demanding acknowledgement. And he'd gathered a number of those facts himself, driving out to Essex to talk to the principal officer involved. Having talked to her, he couldn't understand how-let alone why-Webberly was able to condone Barbara Havers’ decision to fire a rifle at DCI Emily Barlow. Disregarding his own friendship with Havers, even disregarding the very basic issue of chain of command, weren't they responsible for asking what sort of professional mayhem they were encouraging if they failed to punish a member of the force who'd taken part in such an egregious action? “But to shoot at an officer… Even to pick up a rifle in the first place when she had no authority…”

Webberly sighed. “These things just aren't black and white, Tommy I wish they were, but they never are. The child involved-”

“The DCI ordered a life belt thrown to her.”

“But there was doubt as to whether the girl could swim. And beyond that…” Webberly removed the cigar from his mouth and examined its tip as he said, “She's someone's only child. Evidently, Havers knew it.”

And Lynley knew what that fact meant to his superintendent. Webberly himself had a single light in his life: his one daughter, Miranda. He said, “Barbara owes you on this one, sir.”

“I'll see that she pays.” Webberly nodded at a yellow pad that lay before him on the desk. Lynley glanced at it to see the superintendent's scribbling rendered in black felt-tip pen. Webberly said, “Andrew Maiden. D'you remember him?”

At the question-the name-Lynley sat in a chair near Webberly's desk and said, “Andy? Of course. I'd not be likely to forget him.”

“I thought not.”

“One operation in SO10 and I made a hash of it. What a nightmare that was.”

SO 10 was the Crime Operations Group, the most secret and secretive collection of officers in the Met. They were responsible for hostage negotiation, witness and jury protection, the organisation of informants, and undercover operations. Lynley had once aimed to work among them in the latter group. But at twenty-six, he hadn't possessed either the sangfroid or the performance ability to adopt a persona other than his own. “Months of preparation went straight down the drain,” he recalled. “I expected Andy to string me up.”

Andy Maiden hadn't done so, however. That wasn't his style. The SO 10 officer was a man who knew how to cut his losses, and that's what he'd done, not assigning blame where it was owed but instead matching his moves to the moment's need: He quickly withdrew his men from the undercover operation and waited for another opportunity to introduce them, months later, when he could join them and assure that no outrageous faux pas such as Lynley's could undermine their efforts again.

He'd been called Domino-Andy Maiden-so adept had he been at assuming the character of everyone from hit men to American backers of the IRA. His primary field had ultimately become drug operations, but before he arrived there, he made his mark in murder for hire and organised crime as well.

“I used to run into him from time to time on the fourth floor,” Lynley told Webberly. “But I lost track of him once he left the Met. That was… when? Ten years ago?”

“Just over nine.”

Maiden, Webberly said, had taken early retirement and moved his family to Derbyshire. In the Peaks, he'd poured his life savings and his energy into the renovation of an old hunting lodge. It was a country hotel now, called Maiden Hall. Quite the spot for walkers, holiday-makers, mountain bikers, or anyone looking for an evening out and a decent meal.

Webberly referred to his yellow pad. “Andy Maiden brought more louts to justice than anyone else in SO 10, Tommy.”

“It doesn't surprise me to hear that, sir.”

“Yes. Well. He's asking for our help, and we owe him.”

“What's happened?”

“His daughter was murdered in the Peaks. Twenty-five years old and some bastard left her in the middle of nowhere in a place called Calder Moor.”

“Christ. That's rough. I'm sorry to hear it.”

“There was a second body as well-a boy's-and no one knows who the devil he is. No ID on him. The girl-Nicola-had gone camping and she was geared up for the works: rain, fog, sun, or anything else. But the boy at the site hadn't got any gear at all.”

“Do we know how they died?”

“No word on that.” And when Lynley raised an eyebrow in surprise, Webberly said, “This is coming our way via SO 10. Name the time those bastards made fast and free with their information.”

Lynley couldn't do so. Webberly went on.

“What I know is this: Buxton CID's got the case, but Andy's asking for more and we're giving it to him. He's asked for you in particular.”

“Me?”

“That's right. You may have lost track of him over the years, but it seems he hasn't lost track of you.” Webberly plugged his cigar into his mouth, clamping it into the corner and referring to his notes. “A Home Office pathologist is on his way up there for a formal by-the-books with scalpel and recorder. He's set to do the post-mortem sometime today. You'll be on the patch of a bloke called Peter Han-ken. He's been told that Andy's one of us, but that's all he knows.” He removed the cigar from his mouth again and looked at it instead of at Lynley as he concluded, “Tommy, I'll make no pretence about this. It could turn dicey. The fact that Maiden's asked for you by name…” Webberly hesitated before finishing with, “Just keep your eyes open and move with caution.”

Lynley nodded. The situation was irregular. He couldn't remember another time when a relative of a victim of a crime had been allowed to name the officer who would investigate it. That Andy Maiden had been allowed to do so suggested spheres of influence that could easily encroach upon Lynley's efforts to manage a smooth investigation.

He couldn't handle the case alone, and Lynley knew that Webberly wouldn't expect him to do so. But he had a fairly good idea of what officer the superintendent, given half the chance, would assign as his partner. He spoke to circumvent that assignment. She wasn't ready yet. Neither-if it came down to it-was he.

“I'd like to see who's on rota to take with me,” he told Webberly. “Since Andy's a former SO 10 officer, we're going to want someone with a fair amount of finesse.”

The superintendent regarded him directly. Fifteen seconds ticked by before he spoke. “You know best who you can work with, Tommy,” he finally said.

“Thank you, sir. I do.”

***

Barbara Havers made her way to the fourth floor canteen, where she bought a bowl of vegetable soup which she took to a table and tried to eat while all the time imagining that the word pariah hung from her shoulders on a sandwich board. She ate alone. Every nod of recognition she received from other officers seemed imbued with a silent message of contempt. And while she tried to bolster herself with an interior monologue informing her shrinking ego that no one could possibly yet know of her demotion, her disgrace, and the dissolution of her partnership, every conversation going on round her-particularly those flavoured by light-hearted laughter-was a conversation mocking her.

She gave up on the soup. She gave up on the Yard. She signed herself out-“going home ill” would doubtless be welcomed by those who clearly saw her as a form of contagion anyway-and made her way to her Mini. One half of her was ascribing her actions to a mixture of paranoia and stupidity. The other half was trapped in an endless repetition of her final encounter with Lynley, playing the game of what-I-could-have-would-have-and-should-have-said after learning the outcome of his meeting with Webberly.

In this frame of mind, she found herself driving along Millbank before she knew what she was doing, not heading for home at all. Her body on automatic pilot, she came up to Grosvenor Road and the Battersea Power Station with her brain engaged in a mental castigation of DI Lynley. She felt like a shattered mirror, useless but dangerous with broken edges. How easy it had been for him to cut her loose, she thought bitterly. And what an idiot she had been, believing for weeks that he was on her side.

Obviously, it hadn't been enough for Lynley that she'd been demoted and humiliated by a man whom both of them had loathed for years. It seemed now that he'd also needed an opportunity to do some disciplining on his own. As far as she was concerned, he was wrong wrong wrong taking the direction he'd chosen. And she needed an ally straightaway who would agree with her point of view.

Spinning along the River Thames in the light midday traffic, she had a fairly good idea where to find just such a confederate. He lived in Chelsea, little more than a mile from where she was driving.

Simon St. James was Lynley's oldest friend, his schoolmate from Eton. A forensic scientist and an expert witness, he was regularly called upon by defence counsel as well as Crown Prosecutors to bolster one side or the other of a criminal case that was relying on evidence rather than eyewitnesses to win a conviction. Unlike Lynley, he was a reasonable man. He had the ability to stand back and observe, disinterested and dispassionate, without becoming personally embroiled in whatever situation was roiling round him. He was exactly the person she needed to talk to. He'd see Lynley's actions for what they were.

What Barbara didn't consider in the midst of her turbulent mental gymnastics was that St. James might not be alone in his house in Chelsea's Cheyne Row. However, the fact that his wife was also at home-working in the darkroom that adjoined his own top floor laboratory-didn't make the situation nearly as delicate as did the presence of St. James's regular assistant. And Barbara didn't know that St. James's regular assistant was there until she was climbing the stairs behind Joseph Cotter: father-in-law, housekeeper, cook, and general factotum to the scientist himself.

Cotter said, “All three of them's at work, but it's time to break for lunch and Lady Helen, for one, ‘11 be glad of the diversion. Likes her meals regular, always ’as done. No change there, married or not.”

Barbara hesitated on the second floor landing, saying, “Helen's here?”

“She is.” Cotter added with a smile, “'S nice to know some things's the same as ever was, isn't it?”

“Damn,” Barbara muttered under her breath.

For Helen was also Countess of Asherton, titled in her own right, but also the wife of Thomas Lynley who-although he made no bones about preferring it otherwise-was the other half of the Asherton equation: the official, belted, velvet-and-ermine-clad Earl. Barbara could hardly expect St. James and his wife to join her in a round of denigration doo-dah with the wife of the object of denigration in the room. She realised that retreat was in order.

She was about to beat a hasty one, when Helen came onto the top floor landing, laughing over her shoulder into the lab as she said, “All right, all right. I'll fetch a new roll. But if you'd claw your way into the current decade and replace that machine with something more up-to-date, we wouldn't be out of fax paper at all. I'd think you'd notice these things occasionally, Simon.” She turned away from the door, began to come down the stairs, and spied Barbara on the landing below her. Her face lit. It was a lovely face, not beautiful in any conventional sense, but tranquil and radiant, framed by a smooth fall of chestnut hair.

“Heavens, what a wonderful surprise! Simon. Deborah. Here's a visitor for us, so you'll absolutely have to break for lunch now. How are you, Barbara? Why haven't you called round in all these weeks?”

There was nothing for it but to join her. Barbara nodded her thanks to Cotter, who called up, “I'll lay another place at the table, then,” in the general direction of the lab and headed back down the way they'd come. Barbara climbed upwards and took Helen's extended hand. The handshake turned into a swift kiss on the cheek, a welcome so warm that Barbara knew Lynley hadn't yet contacted his wife about what had occurred at Scotland Yard that day.

Helen said, “This is brilliant timing. You've just saved me from a slog down the King's Road in search of fax paper. I'm famished, but you know Simon. Why stop for anything as incidental as a meal when one has the opportunity to slave for a few more hours? Simon, detach yourself from the microscope, please. Here's someone more interesting than fingernail scrapings.”

Barbara followed Helen into the lab where St. James regularly evaluated evidence, prepared reports as well as professional papers, and organised materials for his recently acquired position as a lecturer at the Royal College of Science. Today he appeared to be in expert-witness mode, because he was perched on a stool at one of the work tables, and he was assembling slides from the contents of an envelope that he'd unsealed. The aforementioned fingernail scrapings, Barbara thought.

St. James was a largely unattractive man, no longer the laughing cricket player but disabled now and hampered by a leg brace that made his movements awkward. His best features were his hair, which he always wore overlong with complete disregard for whatever current fashion dictated, and his eyes, which changed from grey to blue depending on his clothing, which was itself nondescript. He looked up from the microscope as Barbara entered the lab. His smile humanised a lined and angular face.

“Barbara. Hullo.” He eased himself off the stool and came across the room to greet her, calling out to his wife that Barbara Havers had joined them. At the far end of the room, a door swung open. In cutoff blue jeans and a olive T-shirt, St. James's wife stood beneath a line of photographic enlargements that hung from a cord running the length of her darkroom and dripped water onto the rubber-matted floor.

Deborah looked quite well, Barbara noted. Renewing her commitment to her art-instead of brooding and mourning the string of miscarriages that had plagued her marriage-obviously agreed with her. It was nice to think of something going well for someone.

Barbara said, “Hullo. I was in the area and…” She glanced at her wrist to see that she'd forgotten her watch at home that morning in her haste to get to the Yard for her meeting with Hillier. She dropped her arm. “Actually, I didn't think about what time it was. Lunch and everything. Sorry.”

“We were about to stop,” St. James told her. “You can join us for a meal.”

Helen laughed. “‘About to stop?’ What outrageous casuistry. I've been begging for food these last ninety minutes and you wouldn't consider it.”

Deborah looked at her blankly. “What time is it, Helen?”

“You're as bad as Simon” was Helen's dry reply.

“You'll join us?” St. James asked Barbara.

“I just had something,” she said. “At the Yard.”

All three of the others knew what that last phrase meant. Barbara could see the underlying connotation register on their faces. It was Deborah who said, “Then you've finally had word,” as she poured chemicals from their trays into large plastic bottles that she took from a shelf beneath her photographic enlarger. “That's why you've come by, isn't it? What happened? No. Don't explain yet. Something tells me you could do with a drink. Why don't the three of you go downstairs? Give me ten minutes to sort things out here and I'll join you.”

Downstairs meant Simon's study, and that's where St. James took Barbara and Helen, with Barbara wishing that Helen and not Deborah had been the one to stay above and continue working. She thought about denying that her visit to Chelsea had anything to do with the Yard, but she realised that her tone of voice had probably given her away. There was certainly nothing buoyant about it.

An old drinks trolley stood beneath the window that overlooked Cheyne Row, and St. James poured them each a sherry as Barbara made much of inspecting the wall on which Deborah always hung a changing display of her photographs. Today these were more of the suite she'd been working on for the last nine months: oversize enlargements of Polaroid portraits taken in locations like Covent Garden, Lincoln's Inn Fields, St. Botolph's Church, and Spitalfields Market.

“Is Deborah going to show them?” Barbara asked, gripping the sherry she'd been given and stalling for time. She nodded towards the pictures.

“In December.” St. James handed Helen her sherry. She slid out of her shoes and sat in one of the two leather chairs by the fireplace, drawing her slender legs underneath her. She was, Barbara noted, watching her steadily. Helen read people the way other people read books. “So what's happened?” St. James was saying as Barbara wandered from the photo wall to the window and looked out at the narrow street. There was nothing to hold her attention there: just a tree, a row of parked cars, and a line of houses, two of which were currently fronted by scaffolding. Barbara wished she'd gone into that line of work. Considering how frequently it was employed in everything from gentrification projects to washing windows, erecting scaffolding as a career would have kept her busy, out of trouble, and extremely well-oiled with lolly.

“Barbara?” St. James said. “Have you heard something from the Yard this morning?”

She turned from the window. “A letter in my file and demotion,” she replied.

St. James grimaced. “Are you back on the street, then?”

Which had happened to her once before in what had felt like another lifetime during the last three years of working with Lynley. She said, “Not quite,” and went on to explain, leaving out the nastier details of her meeting with Hillier and mentioning Lynley not at all.

Helen did it for her. “Does Tommy know? Have you seen him yet, Barbara?”

Which brings us to the point, Barbara thought morosely. She said, “Well. Yes. The inspector knows.”

A fine line appeared between Helen's eyes. She placed her glass on the table next to her chair. “I've a very bad feeling about what's happened.”

Barbara was surprised at her own response to the quiet sympathy in Helen's voice. Her throat tightened. She felt herself reacting as she might have reacted in Lynley's office that morning had she not been so stunned when he'd returned from his meeting with Webberly and explained that he was setting out on a case. It wasn't the fact of his assignment to a case that stunned and struck her momentarily wordless, however. It was the choice he'd made of a partner to accompany him, a partner who was not herself.

“Barbara, this is for the best,” he'd told her, gathering materials from his desk.

And she'd gulped down what she wanted to say in protest and stared at him, realising that she'd never actually known him before that moment.

“He doesn't seem to agree with the outcome of the internal investigation,” Barbara concluded her story for St. James and Helen. “Demotion and all. I don't think he believes I've been punished enough.”

“I'm so sorry,” Helen said. “You must feel as if you've lost your best friend.”

The authenticity of her compassion stung the backs of Barbara's eyelids. She hadn't expected Helen-of all people-to be the source. So deeply did it touch her to have the sympathy of Lynley's wife that she heard herself stammering, “It's just that his choice… To replace me with… I mean…” She fumbled for the words and instead encountered that rush of pain all over again. “It felt like such a slap in the face.”

All Lynley had done, of course, was to make a selection among the officers available to work with him on an investigation. That his choice was itself a wound to Barbara wasn't a problem he was required to address.

Detective Constable Winston Nkata had done a fine job on two cases in town on which he'd worked with both Barbara and Lynley. It wasn't unreasonable that the DC would be offered an opportunity to demonstrate his talents outside London on the sort of special assignment that had previously gone to Barbara herself. But Lynley couldn't have been blind to the fact that Barbara saw Nkata as the competition nipping at her heels at the Yard. Eight years her junior, twelve years younger than the inspector, he was more ambitious than either Lynley or Barbara had ever been. He was a self-starter, a man who anticipated orders before they were spoken and seemed to fulfill them with one hand tied behind his back. Barbara had long suspected him of showboating for Lynley, trying to outdo her own efforts in order to replace her at the inspector's side.

Lynley knew this. He had to know it. So his choice of Nkata seemed less a logical selection made by a man who weighed the respective gifts of his subordinates and used them according to the needs of a case than it appeared to be an instance of outright in-your-face cruelty.

“Is this Tommy in a temper?” St. James asked.

But it hadn't been anger behind Lynley's actions, and desolate as she was, Barbara wouldn't accuse him of that.

Deborah joined them then, saying, “What's happened?” and fondly kissing her husband on the cheek as she passed him and poured herself a small sherry.

The story was repeated, Barbara telling it, St. James adding details, and Helen listening in thoughtful silence. Like Lynley, the others were in possession of the facts connected to Barbara's professional insubordination and her assault on a superior officer. Unlike Lynley, however, they appeared capable of seeing the situation as Barbara herself had seen it: unavoidable, regrettable, but fully justified, the only course open to a woman who was simultaneously under pressure and in the right.

St. James even went so far as to say, “Tommy'll doubtless come round to your way of thinking at the end of the day, Barbara. It's rough that you have to go through this though.” And the other two women murmured their agreement.

All of this should have been intensely gratifying. After all, their sympathy was what Barbara had come to Chelsea in order to gather. But she found that their sympathy merely enflamed her pain and the sense of betrayal that had driven her to Chelsea in the first place. She said, “I guess it boils down to this: The inspector wants someone he knows he can trust to work with him.”

And no matter the ensuing protests of Lynley's wife and Lynley's friends, Barbara knew she was not, at the present time, anywhere close to being that someone.

CHAPTER 4

Julian Britton could picture exactly what his cousin was doing on the other end of the telephone line. He could hear a steady thwack thwack thwack punctuating her sentences, and that sound told him that she was in the old, ill-lit kitchen of Broughton Manor, chopping up some of the vegetables that she grew at the bottom of one of the gardens. “I didn't say that I was unwilling to help you out, Julian.” Samantha's comment was accompanied by a thwack that sounded more decisive than the earlier ones. “I merely asked what's going on. There's nothing wrong with that, is there?”

He didn't want to reply. He didn't want to tell her what was going on: Samantha, after all, had never made a secret of her aversion for Nicola Maiden.

So what could he say? Little enough. By the time the police in Buxton had made the assessment that it might behoove them to phone the force headquarters in Ripley, by the time Ripley had sent two panda cars to examine the location in which Nicola's Saab and an old Triumph motorcycle were parked, and by the time Ripley and Buxton in conjunction reached the obvious conclusion that Mountain Rescue was needed, an old woman on a morning stroll with her dog had stumbled into the hamlet of Peak Forest, pounded on a door, and told a tale about a body she'd come across in the ring of Nine Sisters Henge. The police had gone there at once, leaving Mountain Rescue waiting at their meeting point for further directions. When those directions came, they were ominous enough: Mountain Rescue would not be needed.

Julian knew all this because as a member of Mountain Rescue, he'd gone to his team's rendezvous site once the call had come through-passed along that morning by Samantha, who intercepted it in his absence at Broughton Manor. So he was standing among the members of his team, checking his equipment as the leader read from a dog-eared checklist, when the mobile rang and the equipment check was first interrupted and then canceled altogether. The team leader passed on the information he was given-the old woman, her dog, their morning walk, the body, Nine Sisters Henge.

Julian had returned immediately to Maiden Hall, wanting to be the one to break the news to Andy and Nan before they heard it from the police. He intended to say that it was only a body after all. There was nothing to indicate that the body was Nicola's.

But when he arrived, there was a panda car drawn up to the front of the hunting lodge. And when he dashed inside, it was to find Andy and Nan in a corner of the lounge where the diamond panes of a large bay window cast miniature rainbows against the wall. They were in the company of a uniformed constable. Their faces were ashen. Nan was holding on to Andy's arm, her fingers creating deep indentations in the sleeve of his plaid flannel shirt. Andy was staring down at the coffee table between them and the constable.

All three of them looked up when Julian entered. The constable spoke. “Excuse me, sir. But if you could give Mr. and Mrs. Maiden a few minutes…”

Julian realised that the constable assumed he was one of the guests at Maiden Hall. Nan clarified his relationship to the family, identifying him as “my daughter's fiancé They've only just become engaged. Come, Julian,” and she extended a hand to him and drew him down onto the sofa so that the three of them sat together as the family they were not and could never be.

The constable had just got to the unsettling part. A female body had been found on the moor. It might be the Maidens’ missing daughter. He was sorry, but one of them was going to have to accompany him to Buxton to make an identification.

“Let me go,” Julian had said impulsively. It felt inconceivable that either of Nicolas parents would have to be subjected to the grisly task. Indeed, it felt inconceivable that the identification of Nicola's body should fall to anyone but himself: the man who loved her, wanted her, and tried to make a difference in her life.

The constable said regretfully that it had to be a member of the family. When Julian offered to go along with Andy, Andy demurred. Someone needed to stay with Nan, he said. And to his wife, “I'll phone from Buxton, if… if.”

He'd been as good as his word. It had taken several hours for the call to come through, owing to the time involved in getting the body from the moor to the hospital where the post-mortems would be performed. But when he'd seen the young woman's corpse, he'd phoned.

Nan hadn't collapsed as Julian thought she might do. She'd said, “Oh no,” shoved the phone at Julian, and run from the lodge.

Julian had spoken to Andy only long enough to hear from his own mouth what Julian already knew to be the fact. Then he'd gone after Nicola's mother. He found her on her knees in Christian-Louis's herb garden behind the Maiden Hall kitchen. She was scraping up handfuls of the freshly watered earth, mounding them round her as if she wished to bury herself. She was saying, “No. No,” but she wasn't weeping.

She fought to break loose when Julian put his hands on her shoulders and began to lift her to her feet. He'd never suspected how strong such a small woman could be and he'd had to shout for help from the kitchen. Both of the Grindleford women had come running. Together with Julian, they'd managed to get Nan back into the lodge and up the staff stairs. With their help, Julian got her to drink two shots of brandy. And it was at this point that she began to weep.

“I must do…” she cried. “Give me something to do.” That last word rose on a chilling wail.

Julian was aware of being out of his depth. She needed a doctor. He went to phone one. He could have left it to the Grindleford duo. But making the decision to call in a doctor got him out of Nan and Andy's bedroom, a space suddenly so close and confined that Julian felt in another minute he would be unable to breathe.

So he'd descended the stairs and commandeered the telephone. He rang for a doctor. And then, finally, he rang Broughton Manor and spoke to his cousin.

Whether they were appropriate or not, Samantha's questions were logical. He'd failed to come home on the previous night, as his unusual absence at breakfast had no doubt telegraphed to his cousin. It was now midday. He was asking her to take on one of his responsibilities. Naturally, she would want to know what had occurred to spur him to behaviour as uncharacteristic as it was mysterious.

Still, he didn't want to tell her. Talking to her about Nicola's death was something he couldn't do at the moment. So he said, “There's been an emergency at Maiden Hall, Sam. I need to hang about. So will you see to the puppies?”

“What sort of emergency?”

“Sam… Come on. Will you do me this favour?” His prize harrier Cass had recently whelped, and the puppies as well as their dam needed to be monitored.

Sam knew the routine. She'd watched him perform it often enough. She'd even helped him on occasion. So it wasn't as if he were asking her to perform the impossible or even, for that fact, the unusual or the unknown. But it was becoming clear that she wasn't going to accommodate him without being told why she was being asked to do so.

He settled on saying, “Nicola's gone missing. Her mum and dad are in a state. I need to be here.”

“What d'you mean‘gone missing?’” Thwack served as punctuation. She would be standing at the wooden work top beneath the kitchen's ceiling-high single window, where generations of knives cutting up vegetables had worn a shallow trough into the oak.

“She's disappeared. She went hiking on Tuesday. She didn't turn up last night when she was supposed to.”

“More likely that she met up with someone,” Samantha announced in that practical way of hers. “Summer's not over yet. There're thousands of people still hiking in the Peaks. How could she have gone missing anyway? Didn't the two of you have a date?”

“That's just the point,” Julian said. “We did have a date, and she wasn't here when I came to fetch her.”

“Hardly out of character,” Samantha pointed out.

Which made him wish she were standing in front of him so that he could punch in her freckled face. “Damn it, Sam.”

She must have heard how close he was to breaking. She said, “I'm sorry. I'll do it. I'll do it. Which dog?”

“The only one with new puppies at the moment. Cass.”

“All right.” Another thwack. “What shall I tell your father?”

“There's no need to tell him anything,” Julian said. The last thing he wanted was Jeremy Britton's thoughts on the topic.

“Well, I take it you won't be back for lunch, will you?” The question was tinged with that particular tone that bordered on accusation: a blend of impatience, disappointment, and anger. “Your dad is bound to ask why, Julie.”

“Tell him I was called out on a rescue.”

“In the middle of the night? A mountain rescue hardly explains your absence at the breakfast table.”

“If Dad was hung over-which, as you've noticed, is usually the case-then I doubt my absence at breakfast was noted. If he's in any condition to realise I'm not there at lunch, tell him Mountain Rescue called me out mid-morning.”

“How? If you weren't here to take the call-”

“Jesus, Samantha, would you stop the bloody hair splitting? I don't care what you tell him. Just see to the harriers, all right?”

The thwacking ceased. Samantha's voice altered. Its sharpness dissipated, and left in its place were apology, hollowness, and hurt. “I'm just trying to do what's best for the family.”

“I know. I'm sorry. You're a brick and we wouldn't be able to cope without you. I wouldn't be able to cope.”

“I'm always glad to do what I can.”

So do this without making it a case for one of the bloody Crown Courts, he thought. But all he said was “The record book for the dogs is in the top drawer of my desk. That's the desk in the office, not in the library.”

“The library desk's been sold at auction,” she reminded him. He received the underlying message this time: The Britton family's financial condition was a perilous one; did Julian truly wish to jeopardise it further by committing his time and his energy to anything other than the rehabilitation of Broughton Manor?

“Yes. Of course. Whatever,” Julian said. “Go easy with Cass. She's going to be protective of the litter.”

“I expect she knows me well enough by now.”

Do we ever know anyone? Julian wondered. He rang off. Shortly thereafter, the doctor arrived. He wanted to give Nan Maiden a sedative, but she wouldn't allow it. Not if it meant leaving Andy to face the first terrible hours of loss alone. So the doctor wrote out a prescription instead, which one of the Grindleford women set off to have filled in Hathersage, where the nearest chemist was. Julian and the second Grindleford woman remained to hold the fort at Maiden Hall.

It was, at best, an effort patched together with Sellotape. There were residents wanting lunch as well as non-residents who'd seen the restaurant sign on the gorge road and had innocently followed the winding drive upwards in the hope of having a decent meal. The serving girls had no experience in the kitchen and the housekeeping staff had the rooms to attend to. So it was left to Julian and his companion from Grindleford to see to what Andy and Nan Maiden usually did themselves: sandwiches, soup, fresh fruit, smoked salmon, pâté, salads… Julian knew within five minutes that he was out of his depth, and it was only when a suggestion that Christian-Louis might be called in supervened upon Julian's dropping a plate of smoked salmon that he realised there was an alternative to trying to captain the ship alone.

Christian-Louis arrived in a flurry of incomprehensible French. He unceremoniously threw everyone out of his kitchen. A quarter of an hour later, Andy Maiden returned. His pallor was marked, worse than before.

“Nan?” he asked Julian.

“Upstairs.” Julian tried to read the answer before he asked the question. He asked it anyway. “What can you tell me?”

Andy's answer was to turn, to begin heavily climbing the stairs. Julian followed.

The older man didn't go to the bedroom he shared with his wife. Instead, he went to the cubicle next to it, a part of the attic that had been fashioned into a small study. There, he sat at an old mahogany kneehole. It was fitted with a secretaire drawer, which he pulled out and lowered into a writing surface. He was taking a scroll from one of its three cubicles when Nan joined them.

No one had been able to prevail on her to wash or to change, so her hands were filthy and the knees of her trousers were caked with earth. Her hair was tangled as if she'd been pulling at it by the fistful.

“What?” she said. “Tell me, Andy. What happened?”

Andy smoothed the scroll against the secretaire drawer's unfolded writing surface. He weighed down the top end with a Bible. The bottom end he held in place with his left arm.

“Andy?” Nan said again. “Tell me. Say something.”

He reached for a rubber. It was stubby and marked with the blackened remains of hundreds of erasures. He bent to work. And when he moved, Julian was able to see the contents of the scroll.

It was a family tree. At the top were printed the names Maiden and Llewelyn and the date 1722. At the bottom were the names Andrew, Josephine, Mark, and Philip. With them were the names of their spouses and below that their issue. There was only a single name beneath those of Andrew and Nancy Maiden, although space for Nicola's spouse had been provided and three small lines branching beneath Nicola's name indicated Andy's hopes for the future of his immediate family.

Andy cleared his throat. He appeared to be regarding the genealogy in front of him. Or perhaps he was only garnering courage. For in the next moment he erased those oversanguine marks reserved for a future generation. And once he'd done that, he picked up a calligraphy pen, dipped it into a bottle of ink, and began to write beneath his daughters name. He formed two neat parentheses. Inside them, he penned the letter d. He followed that with the year.

Nan began to weep.

Julian found that he couldn't breathe.

“A fractured skull” was all that Andy said.

Detective Inspector Peter Hanken was less than chuffed when his CC at the Buxton nick informed him that New Scotland Yard was sending up a team to assist in the investigation into the Calder Moor deaths. A native of the Peak District, he possessed an inherent distrust of anyone who hailed from south of the Pennines or north of Deer Hill Reservoir. The oldest son of a Wirksworth quarryman, he also possessed an inherent dislike of anyone whom their class-weighted society told him he was supposed to consider his social better. The two officers of the Scotland Yard team thus garnered his double animosity. One was a DI called Lynley, a bloke tanned and fit and with hair so gold that it had to be courtesy of the nearest bleach bottle. He had an oarsman's shoulders and a posh public school voice. He wore Savile

Row, Jermyn Street, and the scent of old money like a second skin. What the hell was he doing in the police force? Hanken wondered.

The other was a black, a detective constable called Winston Nkata. He was as tall as his superior officer, but with a tensile rather than a muscular strength. He had a long facial scar that put Hanken in mind of the manhood ceremonies undertaken by African youths. In fact, aside from his voice, which sounded like a curious mixture of African, Caribbean, and South-Bank-of-the-Thames, he reminded Hanken of a tribal warrior. His air of confidence suggested he'd been through trials by fire and had not been found wanting.

Aside from his own feelings in the matter, Hanken didn't particularly like the message it sent to the rest of his team, having New Scotland Yard involved on their patch. If there was a question about his competence or the competence of his officers, then he would have vastly preferred to be told so to his face. And no matter that having two more officers in on the action meant he could end up with time to put together Bella's surprise swing set in advance of her fourth birthday next week. He hadn't asked his CC for help, and he was more than just a little annoyed to have help thrust upon him.

DI Lynley appeared to take the measure of Hanken's irritation within thirty seconds of meeting him, which somewhat elevated Hanken's opinion of the man despite his upper-ten voice. He said, “Andy Maiden's asked for our help. That's why we're here, Inspector Hanken. Your CC told you the dead girls father retired from the Met, didn't he?”

The chief constable had done, but what anyone's working for the Met in his salad days had to do with Hanken's ability to get to the bottom of a crime without assistance was an issue that hadn't yet been clarified. He said, “I know. Smoke?” And he offered his packet of Marlboros to the other two. Both demurred. The black looked as if he'd been offered strychnine. “My blokes aren't going to like it much, having London breathing and peeing for them.”

“I expect they'll adjust,” Lynley said.

“Not bloody likely.” Hanken lit his fag. He took a deep drag and observed the other two officers over the cigarette.

“They'll follow your lead.”

“Yeah. Like I said.”

Lynley and the black exchanged a look. It said kid-glove treatment was called for. What they didn't know was that kid gloves, silk gloves, or chain mail gauntlets wouldn't make a difference to their reception in Hanken's office.

Lynley said, “Andy Maiden was an SO 10 officer. Did your CC tell you that?”

This was news. And the mild animosity Hanken had felt towards the London officers was immediately redirected towards his superiors, who'd apparently and deliberately kept the information from him.

“You didn't know, did you?” Lynley said. He dryly directed his next comment to Nkata. “Politics as usual, I expect.”

The DC nodded-his expression disgusted-and crossed his arms. Although Hanken had offered both men chairs when they'd entered his office, the black officer had chosen to stand. He was lounging at the window from which he had a bleak view of the football grounds across Silverlands Street. It was a stadium structure topped by barbed wire. It couldn't have offered a less pleasing prospect.

Lynley said to Hanken, “Sorry. I can't explain why they hold back information from the officer in charge. I expect it's some sort of power game. I've had it played on me once too often to like it.” He went on to fill in the missing information. Andy Maiden had worked undercover. He'd been highly respected and exemplarily successful during a thirty-year career. “So the Yard feels an obligation to one of its own,” Lynley finished. “We're here to fulfill that obligation. We'd like to work as part of a team with you, but Winston and I will stay out of your way as much as possible if that's how you prefer it. It's your case and your patch. We're well aware that we're the interlopers here.”

Each of the statements was graciously made, and Hanken felt a slight de-icing of his attitude towards the other DI. He didn't particularly want to like him, but two deaths and one unidentified body were unusual in this part of the world, and Hanken knew that only a fool would object to having two more minds sorting through the facts in the investigation, especially if both minds in question were absolutely clear about who was giving the orders and making the assignments in the case. Besides, the SO 10 detail was an intriguing one that Hanken was grateful to have passed his way. He needed to ponder it when he had a moment.

He twisted his cigarette down into a spotless ashtray, which he then emptied and cleaned thoroughly with a tissue, as was his custom. He said, “Come with me, then,” and took the ondoners to the incident room, where two of his uniformed WPCs were at computer terminals-apparently doing nothing save chatting to each other-and a third male constable was making an entry on the china board where Hanken had neatly penned assignments earlier in the day. This last constable nodded and left the room as Hanken walked the Scotland Yard officers over to the china board. Next to it, a large diagram of the murder site was hanging alongside two pictures of the Maiden girl-in life and in death-as well as several pictures of the second-and hitherto unidentified-body, and a line of photos of the murder scene.

Lynley put on a pair of reading spectacles to have a look at these as Hanken introduced him and Nkata to the others in the room. Hanken said to one of the WPCs, “The computer still down?”

“What else?” was her laconic response.

“Bloody invention,” Hanken muttered. He directed the Londoners' attention specifically to the diagram of Nine Sisters Henge. He pointed out the spot where the boy's body had been found within the circle. He indicated a second area some distance away from the henge, to the northwest. “The girl was here,” he said. “One hundred and fifty-seven yards from the birch copse where the standing stones are. She'd had her head bashed in with a chunk of limestone.”

“What about the boy?” Lynley asked.

“Multiple stab wounds. No weapon left behind. We've done a fingertip search for it but come up cold. I've constables out scouring the moor right now.”

“Were they camping together?”

“They weren't,” Hanken told them. The girl had gone to Calder Moor alone according to her parents, and the facts at the crime scene backed them up. It was apparently her belongings-and here he indicated the photograph that would document his words-that were strewn round the inside of the stone circle. For his part, the boy seemed to have nothing with him aside from the clothes on his back. So it appeared that, setting out from wherever he'd set out, he hadn't intended to join her for his own night under the stars.

“There was no identification on the boy?” Lynley asked. “My super told me no one can place him.”

“We're running the plates of a motorcycle through the DVLA, a Triumph found near the girl's car behind a wall on the road outside Sparrowpit.” He pointed out this location, using an Ordnance Survey map that was unfolded on a desk that abutted the wall holding the china board. “We've had the bike staked out since the bodies were discovered, but no one's come to claim it. It looks like it probably belongs to the kid. Once our computers are up and running again-”

“They're saying any minute,” one of the WPCs called out.

“Right,” Hanken scoffed, and went on with “We'll have the registration information from the DVLA.”

“Bike could be stolen,” Nkata murmured.

“Then that'll be on the computer as well.” Hanken fished out his fags and lit another.

One of the women officers said, “Have a heart, Pete. We're in here all day,” an entreaty which Hanken chose to ignore.

“What are your thoughts so far?” Lynley asked, his inspection of each of the photographs complete.

Hanken rustled under the Ordnance Survey map for a large manila envelope. Inside were photocopies of the anonymous letters found at the feet of the dead boy. He kept one back, said, “Have a look at these,” and handed the envelope over to Lynley. Nkata joined his superior officer as Lynley began to flip through the letters.

There were eight communications in all, each fashioned from large letters and words that had been clipped from newspapers and magazines and taped to sheets of plain white paper. The message on each was similar, beginning with YOUR GOING TO DIE SOONER THEN YOU THINK; continuing with HOW DOES IT FEEL TO KNOW

YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED?; and concluding with WATCH YOUR BACK BECAUSE WHEN YOUR NOT READY FOR IT, I WILL BE THERE AND YOU WILL DIE. THERES NOPLACE TO RUN AND NOPLACE TO HIDE.

Lynley read every one of the eight letters before he finally raised his head, removed his glasses, and said, “Were these found on either of the bodies?”

“Inside the stone circle. Near to the boy, but not on him.”

“They could have been directed to anyone, couldn't they? They may not even be related to the case.”

Hanken nodded. “My first thought as well. Except they appear to have come from an oversize envelope that was on the scene. With the name Nikki printed straight across it in pencil. And they had blood on them. That's what those dark smears are, by the way: places where our copy machine couldn't register red.”

“Prints?”

Hanken shrugged. “Lab's going through the exercise.”

Lynley nodded and reconsidered the letters. “They're threatening enough. But sent to the girl? Why?”

“The why's our motive for murder.”

“Do you see the boy involved?”

“I see some thick yobbo in the wrong place at the worst possible time. He complicated matters, but that's all he did.”

Lynley returned the letters to the envelope and handed the envelope over to Hanken. He said, “Complicated matters? How?”

“By making it necessary for reinforcements.” Hanken had had the day to evaluate the crime scene, to look over the photographs, to view the evidence, and to develop an idea of the events from what he'd seen. He explained his theory. “We've got a killer who knows the moors well and who knew exactly where to find the girl. But when he got there, he saw what he hadn't expected to find: She'd got someone with her. He had only one weapon-”

“The missing knife,” Nkata noted.

“Right. So he had one of two choices. Either separate the boy from the girl somehow and knife them one at a time…”

“Or bring in a second killer,” Lynley finished. “Is that what you're thinking?”

It was, Hanken told him. Perhaps the other killer was waiting in the car. Perhaps he-or she-set out to Nine Sisters Henge in the company of the other. In any case, when it became clear that there were two able-bodied victims to dispose of instead of just one and only a single knife with which to do the job, the second killer was called into action. And the second weapon-a chunk of limestone-was used.

Lynley went back for another look at the pictures and the site plan. He said, “But why are you marking the girl as the main victim? Why not the boy?”

“Because of this.” Hanken handed over the single sheet of paper that he'd held back from the anonymous letters in anticipation of Lynley's question. Again it was a photocopy. Again it was taken from another note. This one, however, had been scrawled by hand. THIS BITCH HAS HAD IT snaked across the page, the penultimate word underlined three times.

“Was this found with the others?” Lynley asked.

“It was on her body,” Hanken said. “Tucked into one of her pockets nice and neat.”

“But why leave the letters after the murders were done? And why leave the note?”

“To send someone a message. That's the usual purpose of notes.”

“I'll accept that for a note on her body. But what about the cut-and-paste letters? Why would someone have left them behind?”

“Consider the condition of the crime scene. There was rubbish everywhere. And I dare say it was dark when the killers struck.” Hanken paused to crush out his cigarette. “They wouldn't even have known the letters were there in all the mess. They made a mistake.”

At the other end of the room, the computer finally came to life. One of the WPCs said, “About time, that,” and began inputting data and waiting for responses. The other constable did likewise, working with the activity sheets and reports that the investigative team had already turned in.

Hanken continued. “Think about the killer's state of mind, the principal killer, that is. He tracks our girl to the stone circle, all set to do the job, only to find her with a companion. He's got to bring in help, which throws him off his stride. The girl manages to run off, which throws him off further. Then the boy puts up a hell of a fight, and the camping site is turned into a shambles. All he's worried about-this is the killer, not our boy-is dispatching the two victims. When the plan doesn't go smoothly, the last thing on his mind is whether the Maiden girl brought his letters with her.”

“Why did she?” Like his superior, Nkata had gone back to look at the crime scene photos. He turned from them now as he spoke. “To show the boy?”

“There's nothing to indicate that she knew the boy before they died together,” Hanken said. “The girl's dad saw the boy's body, but he couldn't put a name to him. Had never seen him, he said. And he knows her friends.”

“Could the boy have killed her?” Lynley asked. “And then inadvertently become a victim himself afterwards?”

“Not unless my pathologist had the times of death wrong. He puts them dying within an hour of each other. How likely is it that two completely unrelated killings would occur in a single location on a Tuesday night in September?”

“Yet that's what appears to have happened, isn't it?” Lynley said. He went on to ask where Nicola Maiden's car had been in relation to the stone circle. Had plaster impressions of tyre prints been taken from that location? What about footprints in the circle itself? And the boy's face… What did Hanken make of the burns?

Hanken fielded the questions, using the map and the reports that his men had compiled thus far in the case. From the other end of the room, WPC Peggy Hammer-whose countenance had always reminded Hanken of a shovel with freckles-called out, “Pete, we've got it. Here's the DVLA.” She copied something from her terminal's monitor at the far end of the room.

“The Triumph?” Hanken said.

“Right. Got it.” She handed over a slip of paper.

Hanken read the name and the address of the motorcycle's owner, and when he did so, he realised that the London detectives were going to turn out to be a godsend. For the address he was looking at was in London, and using either Lynley or Nkata to handle the London end of things would save him manpower. In these times of budget cuts, belt tightening, and the sort of fiscal responsibility that made him shout about “not being a bloody accountant, for God's sake,” sending someone out on the road was a manoeuvre that had to be defended practically all the way to the House of Lords. Hanken had no time for such nonsense. The Londoners made such nonsense unnecessary.

“The bike,” he told them, “is registered to someone called Terence Cole.” According to the DVLA in Swansea, this Terence Cole lived in Chart Street in Shoreditch. And if one of the Scotland Yard detectives didn't mind taking on that end of things, he'd send him back to London straightaway to find someone at that address who could make an i.d. of the second body from Nine Sisters Henge.

Lynley looked at Nkata. “You'll need to head back at once,” he said. “I'll stay. I want a word with Andy Maiden.”

Nkata seemed surprised. “You don't want London yourself? You'd have to pay me a bundle to stay up here if I was you.”

Hanken glanced from one man to the other. Lynley, he saw, was colouring slightly. This surprised him. Until that moment, the man had seemed utterly unflappable.

“Helen can cope for a few days without me, I expect,” Lynley said.

“No new bride ought to have to do that” was Nkata's rejoinder. He explained to Hanken that “the'spector got himself married three months ago. He's practically fresh from the honeymoon.”

“That'll do, Winston,” Lynley said.

“Newlywed,” Hanken acknowledged with a nod. “Cheers.”

“I'm afraid that's quite a moot sentiment,” Lynley replied obscurely.

He wouldn't have said so twenty-four hours earlier. Then, he had been blissful. While there were numerous rough edges of adjustment that had to be smoothed as he and Helen established their life together, nothing they had come across so far had seemed so scabrous that it couldn't be leveled through discussion, negotiation, and compromise. Until the Havers situation had come along, that is.

In the months since their return from the honeymoon, Helen had maintained a discreet distance from Lynley's professional life, and she'd merely said, “Tommy, there must be an explanation,” when he'd returned from his only visit to Barbara Havers and reported the facts behind her suspension. After that moment, Helen had kept her own counsel, relaying telephone messages from Havers and others interested in the situation but always remaining an objective presence whose loyalty to her husband was beyond question. Or so Lynley had assumed the case to be.

His wife had disabused him of the notion when she'd returned from the St. James house earlier that day. He'd been packing for the journey to Derbyshire, tossing some shirts into a suitcase and rooting out an old waxed jacket and hiking boots for using on the moors, when Helen had joined him. In a departure from her usual more oblique manner of addressing herself to a delicate subject, she'd taken the bull directly by the horns, saying, “Tommy, why've you chosen Winston Nkata rather than Barbara Havers to work this case with you?”

He said, “Ah. You've spoken to Barbara, I see,” to which she replied, “And she practically defended you, although the poor woman's heart was clearly breaking.”

“Do you want me to defend myself as well?” he'd asked mildly. “Barbara needs to keep her head down at the Yard for a while. Taking her along to Derbyshire wouldn't have accomplished that. Winston's the logical choice if Barbara's unavailable.”

“But, Tommy, she adores you. Oh, don't look at me that way. You know what I mean. You can do no wrong in Barbara's eyes.”

He'd placed his last shirt into the suitcase, stuffed his shaving gear in among his socks, closed the case, and draped his jacket on top of it. He'd faced his wife. “Are you here as her intermediary, then?”

“Please don't patronise me, Tommy. I hate that.”

He'd sighed. He didn't want to be at odds with his wife and he thought fleetingly of the compromises one made in attaching another life to one's own. We meet, he told himself, we want, we pursue, and we obtain. But he wondered if the man existed who, caught up in the heat of desire, still managed to consider whether he could possibly live with the object of his passion before he was actually doing so. He doubted it.

He said, “Helen, it's a miracle that Barbara still has her job, considering the charges she was facing. Webberly went to the wall for her, and God only knows what he had to promise, give up, or compromise on in order to keep her in CID. At the moment, she ought to be thanking her lucky stars that she wasn't sacked. What she shouldn't be doing is looking for support in a grievance against me. And, frankly, the last person on earth she should be trying to set against me is my own wife.”

“That's not what she's doing!”

“No?”

“She came to see Simon, not me. She didn't even know I was there. When she saw me, she wanted to turn tail and run. And she would have done had I not stopped her. She needed someone to talk to. She felt terrible, and she needed a friend, which is what you always used to be in her life. What I want to know is why you're not being a friend to her now.”

“Helen, this isn't about friendship. There's no place for friendship in a situation in which everything depends on an officer obeying an order. Barbara didn't do that. And what's worse, she nearly killed someone in the process.”

“But you know what happened. How can you not see-”

“What I see is that there's a purpose to a chain of command.”

“She saved a life.”

“And it wasn't her place to determine that life was in danger.”

His wife had moved towards him then, coming to grasp one of the posts at the end of their bed. She said, “I don't understand this. How can you be so unforgiving? She'd be the first person to forgive you anything.”

“In the same circumstances, I wouldn't expect it. She shouldn't have expected as much of me.”

“You've bent the rules before. You've told me so.”

“You can't think attempted murder is bending the rules, Helen. It's a criminal act. For which, by the way, most people go to prison.”

“And for which, in this case, you've decided to be the judge, the jury, and the executioner. I see.”

“Do you?” He was beginning to get angry and he should have held his tongue. Why was it, he wondered, that Helen could push his buttons in ways no one else ever could? “Then I'll ask you to see this as well. Barbara Havers doesn't concern you. Her behaviour in Essex, the subsequent investigation, and whatever medicine she's asked to swallow as a result of that behaviour and investigation are none of your business. If you're finding your life so circumscribed these days that you need to champion a cause to keep yourself busy, you might consider aligning yourself with me. To be honest, I'd appreciate coming home to support and not to subversion.”

She was as quick to anger as was he and just as capable of expressing it. “I'm not that sort of woman. I'm not that sort of wife. If you wanted an obsequious sycophant to marry-”

“That's tautology,” he said.

And that terse statement finished their argument. Helen had snapped, “You swine,” and left him to gather the rest of his belongings. When he had done so and had gone in search of her to say goodbye, she was nowhere to be found. He'd cursed: her, himself, and Barbara Havers for being the source of a disagreement with Helen. But the drive to Derbyshire had given him time to cool off as well as time to reflect upon how often he hit below the belt. This contretemps with Helen was one of those times, and he had to admit it.

Now, standing on the pavement in front of Buxton police station with Winston Nkata, Lynley saw that there was a way to make amends to his wife. Nkata would be waiting for him to assign another officer to accompany him on any rounds he might have to make in London, and both of them knew who the logical selection was. Yet Lynley found himself temporising by turning the Bentley over to his subordinate officer. He couldn't commandeer a car from the Buxton police for his DC to drive all the way to London, he explained to Nkata, and the only alternative to having him take the Bentley was directing him to return to London by plane from Manchester or by train. But by the time he got himself to the airport and caught a flight or waited for a train and changed from one line to another in God only knew how many towns between Buxton and London, he could have driven the distance.

Lynley hoped Nkata had more finesse behind the wheel than Barbara Havers had employed the last time she happily ran over an old milestone and threw out the car's front suspension. He informed the younger man that he was to drive the Bentley as if he had a litre of ni-troglycerin in the boot.

Nkata grinned. “Don't think I know how to treat a motor this fine?”

“I'd just prefer it to survive its adventure with you unscathed.” Lynley disarmed the car's security system and handed over his keys.

Nkata cocked his head at the front of the station. “Think he'll play our game? Or're we playing his?”

“It's too soon to tell. He's unhappy about our begin here, but I would be as well, in his position. We'll need to tread softly.” Lynley glanced at his watch. It was nearly five. The post-mortems had been scheduled for early that afternoon. With any luck, they would be completed by now and the pathologist would be available to share his preliminary findings.

“What d'you think of his thinking?” Nkata reached into his jacket pocket and brought out two Opal Fruits, his vice of choice. He examined their wrappers, made his flavour selection, and passed the other over to Lynley.

“How Hanken sees the case?” Lynley unwrapped the sweet. “He's willing to talk. That's a good sign. He seems able to shift gears. That's good too.”

“Something edgy about him though,” Nkata said. “Makes me wonder what's eating at him.”

“We all have private concerns, Winnie. It's our job not to let them get in the way.”

Nkata adroitly tagged a final question onto Lynley's thought. “D'you want me working with someone back in town?”

Still, Lynley avoided. “You can call in help if you think you need it.”

“Sh'll I make the choice, or d'you want to do it yourself?”

Lynley regarded the other man. Nkata had made the queries so casually that it was impossible to read into them anything other than a request for direction. And the request was perfectly reasonable considering the fact that Nkata might well have to return to Derbyshire shortly after his arrival in London, bringing someone North with the purpose of identifying the second body. If that happened, someone else in London would be needed to look into Terence Cole's background and business in town.

Here was the moment, then. In front of Lynley was the opportunity to take the decision that Helen would approve of. But he didn't take it. Instead, he said, “I'm not up to date on who's available. I'll leave it up to you.”

Samantha McCallin had learned early into her extended stay at Broughton Manor that her uncle Jeremy didn't discriminate when it came to drink. He imbibed anything with the potential to obliterate his sensibilities quickly. He seemed to like Bombay gin the best, but at a pinch, when the nearest off-licence was closed, he wasn't finicky.

As far as Samantha knew, her uncle had been drinking steadily since adolescence, having taken a brief few years away from booze during his twenties to do drugs instead. Jeremy Britton had been-according to family legend-the once shining star of the Britton clan. But his marriage to a fellow flower-child, who had what Samantha's mother euphemistically and archaically called A Past, had caused him to fall into disfavour with his father. Nonetheless, the laws of primogeniture couldn't prevent Jeremy's inheriting Broughton Manor and all its contents upon his father's death, and the realisation that she'd lived her life as the “good child” for naught-while Jeremy had the time of his life among fellow ingesters of hallucinogenic substances-had planted in the breast of Samantha's mother more seeds of disharmony between her and her brother. That disharmony had only grown throughout the years as Jeremy and his wife produced three children in rapid succession and drank and drugged Broughton Manor into the ground, while in Winchester Jeremy's only sister, Sophie, hired investigators to provide her with periodic reports on her brother's dissolute life and wept, wailed, and gnashed her teeth when she received them.

“Someone's got to do something about him,” she cried, “before he destroys our family's entire history. The way he's carrying on, there'll be nothing left to pass on to anyone.”

Not that Sophie Britton McCallin needed her brother Jeremy's money, which he'd long ago run through anyway. She herself was rolling in it, since her own husband was working himself into an early grave to keep her supply line running.

During that period when Samantha's father had been healthy enough to adhere to a schedule at the family factory that would have felled an ordinary mortal, Samantha herself had ignored her mother's soliloquies on the topic of her brother Jeremy. Those soliloquies changed in both tone and content, however, when Douglas McCallin was felled by prostate cancer. Faced with the grim reality of earthly mortality, his wife had been reborn to a fervent belief in the importance of family ties.

“I want my brother here,” she'd wept in her widow's weeds at the wake. “My only living blood relative. My brother. I want him.”

It was so like Sophie to forget that she had two children herself-not to mention those belonging to her brother-who served as blood relatives. Instead, she seized on a rapprochment with Jeremy as the only solace in her present grief.

Indeed, her grief became so present that it soon was apparent that Sophie had set herself up to outdo Victoria's mourning for Albert. And when she finally saw this, Samantha decided that the only road to peace in Winchester was decisive action. So she'd come to Derbyshire to collect her uncle once she deduced from incoherent phone conversations with the man that he was in no condition to get himself south unaided. And once she'd arrived and had seen his condition for herself, Samantha knew that carting him down to his sister in his present state would probably send Sophie to her grave.

Besides that, Samantha found it a relief to be away from Sophie for a time. The drama of her husband's death had provided her with more fodder than she usually had, and she'd been using it with a gusto that had long left Samantha too exhausted to deal with her.

Not that Samantha didn't mourn her father's passing herself. She did. But she'd long ago seen that Douglas McCallin's first love was the family biscuit factory-not the family itself-and consequently his death seemed more like an extension of his normal working hours than a permanent parting. His life had always been his work. And he'd given it the dedication of a man who'd had the luck to meet his one true love at the age of twenty.

Jeremy, on the other hand, had chosen drink as his bride. On this particular day, he'd started with dry sherry at ten in the morning. During lunch, he'd worked his way through a bottle of something called the Blood of Jupiter, which Samantha assumed from its colour was red wine. And throughout the afternoon, he'd plied himself with one gin and tonic after another. The fact that he was still ambulatory was, to Samantha, remarkable.

He usually spent his days in the parlour, where he shut the curtains and used the ancient eight-millimeter projector to entertain himself with endless meanderings down memory lane. In the months that Samantha had been at Broughton Manor, he'd gone through the Brit-ton family's entire cinematic history at least three times. He always did it the same way: beginning with the earliest films that one Britton or another had shot in 1924 and watching them in chronological order to the point at which there was no Britton with sufficient interest in the family to record their doings. So the pictorial record of fox hunts, fishing expeditions, holidays, pheasant shoots, birthdays, and weddings ended round the time of Julian's fifteenth birthday. Which, according to Samantha's calculations, would have been just the time that Jeremy Britton had fallen from his horse and compressed three vertebrae, for which long-ago injury he religiously plied himself with pain-killers as well as intoxicants.

“He's going to kill himself mixing pills with booze if we don't watch him,” Julian had told her soon after her arrival. “Sam, will you help me? With you here to keep an eye on him, I can get more work done on the estate. I might even be able to put some plans in motion… if you'll help me, that is.”

And within days of meeting him, Samantha had known that she would do anything to help her cousin Julian. Anything at all.

Which was something that Jeremy Britton obviously knew as well. Because hearing her return from the vegetable garden in the late afternoon and clomp across the courtyard ridding her boots of soil, he'd actually emerged from the parlour and sought her out in the kitchen, where she was beginning to prepare their dinner.

“Ah. Here you are, my flower.” He leaned forward in that gravity-defying posture that seemed second nature to drunks. He had a tumbler in his hand: Two small pieces of ice and a slice of lemon were all that remained of his latest gin and tonic. As usual, he was dressed up to the nines, every inch of him the country squire. Despite the late summer weather, he was wearing a tweed jacket, a tie, and heavy wool plus fours that he must have resurrected from a predecessor's wardrobe. He might have passed for an eccentric albeit well-to-do landowner in his cups.

He placed himself at the old wooden work top, precisely where Samantha wished to be. He jiggled the ice in his tumbler and drained what little liquid he was able to coax from the melting cubes. That done, he set the glass next to the large chef's knife that she'd removed from its stand. He looked from her to the knife to her once again. And he smiled a slow, happy inebriate's smile.

“Where's our boy?” he inquired pleasantly, although it came out as whairshare boy? His eyes were so light a grey that their irises might not even have existed, and the whites of them had long since gone yellow, a colour that was beginning to suffuse most of his skin. “Haven't noticed Julie skulking about today, don't you know. Fac’ tis, I don't believe he was home last night at all, our little Julie, because I don't recall seeing his mug at breakfast.” Except it was hishmug-gabrekkest, and having said this much, Jeremy waited for her reaction to his remarks.

Samantha began emptying the vegetable trug of its contents. She placed lettuce, a cucumber, two green peppers, and a cauliflower into the nearby sink. She began to wash them free of soil. To the lettuce she gave particular attention, bending over it like a mother examining her infant child.

“Well,” Jeremy went on with a sigh, “I s'pose we know what Julie was up to, don't we, Sam?” Doe-we-Sham? “That boy won't see what's before his face. I don't know what we're going to do with him.”

“You haven't taken any of your pills, have you, Uncle Jeremy?” Samantha asked. “If you mix them with spirits, you could be in trouble.”

“I was born for trouble,” Jeremy said-I-sh born f'trouble-and Samantha tried to discern if his slurring was any worse than usual, an indication of an assault on his consciousness. It was just past five o'clock, so he'd be slurring anyway, but the last thing Julian needed to contend with was his father's usual drunken slumber working its way into a coma. Jeremy sidled along the work top till he was standing next to Samantha at the sink. “You're a good-looking woman, Sammy,” he said. His breath was a study in mixing his beverages. “Don't you think I'm ever so many sheets to the storm that I don't notice what a looker you are. Thing is, we've got to make our little Julie see that. No point showing off those legs of yours if the only one looking is this old sod. Not that I don't appreciate the sight, mind you. Having a nice young thing like you running about the house in those tight little shorts is just the very thing that-”

“These are hiking shorts,” Samantha interrupted. “I wear them because it's been warm, Uncle Jeremy. Which you'd know if you ever left the house during the day. And they aren't tight.”

“Jus’ a compliment, girl,” Jeremy protested. “Got to learn to accept a compliment. And who better to learn from than your own blood uncle? Christ, it's good to know you, girl. 'Ve I mentioned that?” He didn't bother to wait for a response. He leaned even closer for a confidential whisper-“Now let's figure what to do about Julie.” Less figger whatta do bow Julie.

“What about Julian?” Samantha asked.

“We know what we're dealing with, don't we? He's been mounting the Maiden girl like a randy donkey since he was twenty years old-”

“Please, Uncle Jeremy.” Samantha could feel her neck getting prickly.

“Please Uncle Jeremy what? We got to look at the facts so we know what to do with them. And fact number one is that Julie's been tupping the Padley Gorge ewe every chance he's had. Or, better said, every chance she's given him.”

For a drunk, he was remarkably observant, Samantha thought. But she said, rather more primly than she intended, “I really don't want to talk about Julian's sex life, Uncle Jeremy. It's his business, not ours.”

“Ah,” her uncle said. “Too nasty a topic for Sammy McCallin? Why's it I don't think that's the case, Sam?” ThassacaseSam.

“I didn't say it was nasty,” she replied. “I said it wasn't our business. And it isn't. So I won't discuss it.” It wasn't that she felt odd about sex-embarrassed, shy, or anything like that. Far from it. She'd had sex when it was available to her ever since getting past the awkward inconvenience of virginity by pressing one of her brother's friends into service when she was a teenager. But this… talking about her cousin's sex life… She couldn't afford to discuss it and run the risk of giving herself away.

“Girly girl, listen,” Jeremy said. “I see how you look at him, and I know what you want. I'm on your side. Hell, keep the family for the family in the family's my motto. You think I want him chained to the Maiden tart when there's a woman like you hanging round, waiting for the day when her man'll wise up?”

“You're mistaken,” she said, although the pounding just beneath her skin told her how her blood was giving the lie to her words. “I'm fond of Julian. Who wouldn't be? He's a wonderful man-”

“Right. He is. And d'you actually”-ackshully-“think the Maiden sees that in our Julie? Not on your life. She sees a bit of fun when she's hereabouts, a bit of tumble-in-the-heather-and-poke-me-if-you-can.”

“But,” Samantha went on firmly as if he hadn't spoken, “I'm not in love with him and I can't imagine ever being in love with him. Good grief, Uncle Jeremy. We're first cousins. I think of Julian the way I think of my brother.”

Jeremy was silent for a moment. Samantha took the opportunity to move past him, cauliflower and peppers in hand. She placed them into the cutting trough, where four hundred years of vegetables had been chopped. She began breaking the cauliflower into florets.

“Ah,” Jeremy said slowly, but his tone was sly, which told Samantha for the first time that he wasn't as drunk as he seemed. “Your brother. I see. Yes. I do see. So he wouldn't interest you in the other way. Wonder how I got the idea…? But no matter. Give your uncle Jer a touch of advice, then.”

“About what?” She fetched a colander and scooped the cauliflower into it. She turned her attention to the green peppers.

“About how to cure him.”

“Of what?”

“Of her. The cat. The mare. The sow. What you will.” Whachewill.

“Julian,” Samantha said in a last-ditch effort to divert her uncle from his course, “doesn't need to be cured of anything. He's his own man, Uncle Jeremy.”

“Bollocks, that. He's a man on a string, and we both know where it's tied. She's got him so he can't see up for down.”

“Hardly.”

“Hard's the word, all right. He's been hard so long that his brain's made a permanent journey into his dick.”

“Uncle Jeremy-”

“All he thinks about is having a suck on those pretty pink teats of hers. And once he gets his prong inside and has her moaning like a-”

“All right.” Samantha drove the chef's knife through the green pepper like a cleaver. “You've made your point thoroughly, Uncle Jeremy. I'd like to get on with making dinner now.”

Jeremy smiled slowly, that inebriate's smile. “You're meant for him, Sammy. You know that as well as I.” Swellseye, he said. “So what're we going to do to make it happen?”

He was suddenly looking at her steadily, quite as if he were not drunk at all. What was the mythological creature that could fix you in its stare and kill you? Cockatrice, she thought. Her uncle was a cockatrice.

“I don't know what you're talking about,” she said, but she sounded, even to herself, much less assured and far more afraid.

“Don't you.” He smiled, and when he left the room, he didn't walk the walk of a man who was remotely tipsy.

Samantha kept determinedly chopping the peppers until she heard his footsteps on the stairs, until she heard the kitchen door latch shut behind him. Then, with a careful control that she was proud to be able to muster in the circumstances, she set the knife to one side. She put her hands on the edge of the work top. She bent forward over the vegetables, inhaled their scent, directed her thoughts into a self-created mantra-“Love fills me, embraces me. Love makes me whole”-and tried to regain a sense of serenity. Not that she'd had any serenity since the previous night when she'd realised what a mistake she'd made in conjunction with the lunar eclipse. Not that she'd had serenity at all once she'd realised what Nicola Maiden was to her cousin. But forcing herself to whisper the mantra was habit, so she used it now, despite the fact that love was the very last feeling of which she pictured herself capable at the moment.

She was still attempting the meditation when she heard the harriers barking from their kennels in the converted block of stables just to the west of the manor house. The sound of their sharp, excited yelping told her that Julian was with them.

Samantha looked at her watch. It was feeding time for the adult harriers, observation time for the newly born pups, and rearranging time for the play runs in which the older puppies were beginning the socialisation process. Julian would be out there for at least another hour. Samantha had time to prepare herself.

She wondered what to say to her cousin. She wondered what he'd say to her. And she wondered what it mattered anyway, with Nicola Maiden to consider.

From the moment she'd met her, Samantha hadn't liked Nicola. Her dislike wasn't grounded in what the younger woman represented to her though-primary competition for Julian's affections. It was grounded in what Nicola so patently was. Her easiness of manner was an irritant, suggesting a self-confidence that was entirely at odds with the girl's appalling roots. The daughter of a little more than a publican, graduate of a London comprehensive and a third-rate university that was no better than an ordinary polytechnic college, who was she to move so easily through the rooms of Broughton Manor? Decrepit as they were, they still represented four hundred years of unbroken possession by the Britton family. And that was the kind of lineage that Nicola Maiden could hardly claim for herself.

But this knowledge didn't seem to faze her in the least. Indeed, she never acted as if she was in possession of the knowledge at all. And there was a single good reason for this: the power that went with her English-rose looks. The Guinevere hair-unnatural in colour though it doubtless was-the perfect skin, the dark-lashed eyes, the delicate frame, the seashell ears… She'd been given every physical advantage a woman could be given. And five minutes in her presence had been enough to tell Samantha that she bloody well knew it.

“It's brilliant to meet one of Jules’ relatives at last,” she'd confided to Samantha on their first meeting seven months earlier. “I hope we'll become the best of friends.” Half term for Nicola, she'd come to spend her holiday with her parents. She'd rung Julian on the morning of her arrival, and the moment he pressed the telephone receiver to his ear, Samantha had seen which way the wind was blowing and for whom. But she hadn't known how strong that wind was till she met Nicola herself.

The sunny smile, the frank gaze, the shout of pleased laughter, the artless conversation… Although she'd rather more than mildly disliked her, it had taken several meetings with Nicola for Samantha to make a full evaluation of her cousin's beloved. And when she did, the realisation she reached did nothing but add to Samantha's discomfort whenever they met. For she saw in Nicola Maiden a young woman completely content with who she was, offering herself to the world at large without the slightest care as to whether the offering would be accepted. Not for her were the doubts, the fears, the insecurities, and the crises of confidence of the female in search of a male to define her. Which was probably why, Samantha thought, she had Julian Brit-ton so hot and bothered to do just that.

More than once in the time she'd been at Broughton Manor, Samantha had come upon Julian engaged in an act that was testimony to the thrall into which Nicola Maiden drew a man. Hunched over a letter he was writing to her, sheltering the telephone receiver from unwanted eavesdroppers as he talked to her, staring sightlessly over the garden wall at the footbridge that spanned the River Wye as he thought of her, sitting in his office with his head in his hands as he brooded about her, Samantha's cousin was little more than the prey of a huntress he couldn't begin to understand.

There was no way that Samantha could make him see his beloved as she truly was, however. There was only the option of allowing his passion to play itself out, to culminate in the marriage he was so desperate to attain, or to lead to a permanent break between him and the woman he desired.

Having to accept this as her only course had brought Samantha face-to-face with her own impatience, and it accosted her at her every turn at Broughton Manor. She fought her longing to beat the truth into her cousin's head. Time and again she deliberately turned from the appetite for derogation that rose in her whenever the subject of Nicola came up. But these virtuous efforts at self-control were taxing. And the price she was beginning to pay was anxiety, resentment, insomnia, and outright rage.

Uncle Jeremy didn't help matters. By him, Samantha was daily regaled with lubricious innuendoes and direct assaults, all circling or landing upon the subject of Julian's love life. Had she not quickly seen upon her arrival how necessary was her presence at Broughton Manor, had she not needed a respite from her mother's incessant displays of lugubrious mourning, Samantha knew that she would have decamped months before. But she maintained her position and held her peace-most of the time-because she'd been able to see the bigger picture: Jeremy's sobriety, the blessed distraction that a reunion with him would provide her mother, and Julian's gradual awakening to the contribution Samantha was making to his well-being, his future, and his hope of transforming the derelict manor house and the estate into a thriving business.

“Sam?”

She raised her head. So deeply had she been into her attempt to release the tension of having a conversation with her uncle, she'd failed to hear his son come into the kitchen. Stupidly, she said, “Aren't you with the dogs, Julian?”

“Short shrift,” he said in explanation. “They need more but I can't give it to them now.”

“I did see to Cass. Do you want me to-”

“She's dead.”

“My God. Julian, she can't be,” Samantha cried. “I went out as soon as I spoke with you. She was fine. She'd eaten, the puppies were all asleep. I made notes of everything and left them on the clipboard. Didn't you see it? I hung it on the peg.”

“Nicola,” he said tonelessly. “Sam, she's dead. Out on Calder Moor, where she'd gone camping. Nicola's dead.”

Samantha stared at him as the word dead seemed to echo round the room. He isn't crying, she thought. What does it mean that he isn't crying? “Dead,” she repeated, careful with the word, certain that saying it the wrong way would give an impression that she didn't want to give.

He kept his eyes on her and she wished he wouldn't. She wished he'd talk. Or scream or cry or do something to indicate what was going on inside so that she would know how to behave with him. When he finally moved, it was to walk to the work top where Samantha had been chopping the peppers. He stood examining them as if they were a curiosity. Then he lifted the chef's knife and inspected it closely. Finally, he pressed his thumb firmly against the sharp blade.

“Julian!” Samantha cried. “You'll hurt yourself!”

A thin line of crimson appeared on his skin. “I don't know what to call how I feel,” he said.

Samantha, on the other hand, didn't have that problem.

CHAPTER 5

DI Peter Hanken apparently decided to show mercy when it came to the Marlboros. The first actions he took when they were on the road from Buxton to Padley Gorge were to lean over, flip open the Fords glove compartment, and pluck out a packet of sugarless gum. As he folded a stick of it into his mouth, Lynley blessed him for his willingness to abstain from tobacco.

The DI didn't speak as the A6 began its course through Wye Dale, hugging the placid river for several miles before dipping slightly to the southeast. It wasn't until they passed the second of the limestone quarries scarring the landscape that he made his first comment.

“Newlywed, is it?” he said with a smile. Lynley steeled himself for the ribald humour that was doubtless coming, the price one generally paid for legitimising a relationship with a woman. “Yes. Just three months. That's longer than most Hollywood marriages, I expect.”

“It's the best time. You and the wife starting out. There's nothing else like it. Your first?”

“Marriage? Yes. For both of us. We got a late start.”

“All the better.”

Lynley glanced at his companion warily, wondering if the fallout from his parting argument with Helen could be read on his face, acting on Hanken as an inspiration for a tongue-in-cheek panegyric to the blessings of the marital state. But all he saw in Hanken's expression was the evidence of a man who seemed content with his life.

“Name's Kathleen,” the DI confided. “We've got three kids. Sarah, Bella, and PJ. That's Peter Junior, our newest. Here. Have a look.” He pulled a wallet from his jacket pocket and handed it over. In pride of place was a family photo: two small girls cuddling a blue-blanketed newborn on a hospital bed with Mum and Dad cuddling the two small girls. “Family's everything. But you'll be finding that out for yourself soon enough.”

“I dare say.” Lynley tried to picture himself and Helen similarly surrounded by winsome offspring. He couldn't do it. If he summoned up his wife's image at all, it was as it had been earlier that day, pale-faced as she left him.

He stirred uncomfortably in his seat. He didn't want to discuss marriage at the moment, and he offered a silent imprecation to Nkata for having brought up the subject at all. “They're brilliant,” he said, handing the wallet back to Hanken.

“Boy's the image of his dad,” Hanken said. “Hard to tell from that snap, of course. But there you have it.”

“They're a handsome group.”

To Lynley's relief, Hanken took this as sufficient closing comment on the subject. He returned his full attention to the driving. He gave the road the same concentration that he appeared to give everything else in his immediate environment, a characteristic of the man that Lynley had had little difficulty in deducing. After all, there hadn't been a paper out of place in his office, he was running the most orderly incident room in Lynley's memory, and his clothes made him look as if his next destination were a photo shoot for GQ magazine.

They were on their way to see the parents of the dead girl, having just met the Home Office pathologist who'd traveled up from London to perform the post-mortems. They'd had their conference with her outside the post-mortem room, where she was changing from trainers into court shoes, one of which she was in the process of repairing by pounding its heel into the metal plate on the door. Announcing that women's shoes-not to mention their handbags-were designed by men to promote the enslavement of the female sex, she had eyed the DIs’ comfortable footwear with undisguised hostility and said, “I can give you ten minutes. The report'll be on your desk in the morning. Which one of you is Hanken, by the way? You? Fine. I know what you want. It's a knife with a three-inch blade. Folding knife-pocket knife-most likely, although it could be a small one used in the kitchen. Your killers right-handed and strong, quite strong. That's for the boy. The girl was done in with that chunk of stone you had off the moor. Three blows to the head. Right-handed assailant as well.”

“The same killer?” Hanken asked.

The pathologist gave her shoe five final pounds against the door as she reflected on the question. She said brusquely that the bodies could tell only what they'd told: how they'd been robbed of life, what sort of weapons had been used against them, and whether a right or left hand had wielded those weapons. Forensic evidence-fibres, hairs, blood, sputum, skin, and the like-might tell a longer, more precise story, but they'd have to queue to get the reports back from the lab for that. The naked eye could discern only so much, and she'd told them what that so much was.

She tossed her shoe onto the floor and introduced herself as Dr. Sue Myles. She was a stout woman with short-fingered hands, grey hair, and a chest that resembled the prow of a ship. But her feet, Lynley noted as she slid them into her shoes, were as slender as a debutante's.

“One of the boy's back wounds was more of a gouge,” she went on. “The blow chipped the left scapula, so if you find a likely weapon, we can go for a match from the blade to the bone.”

That wound didn't kill him? Hanken wanted to know.

“The poor sod bled to death. Would've taken some minutes, but once he took a wound to the femoral artery-that's in the groin, by the way-he was done for.”

“And the girl?” Lynley asked.

“Skull cracked like an egg. The post-cerebral artery was pierced.”

Which meant what exactly, Hanken enquired.

“Epidural haematoma. Internal bleeding, pressure on the brain. She died in less than an hour.”

“It took longer than the boy?”

“Right. But she'd have been unconscious once she was hit.”

“Could we have two killers?” Hanken asked directly.

“Could have, yes,” Dr. Myles confirmed.

“Defensive wounds on the boy?” Lynley asked.

None that were obvious, Dr. Myles replied. She settled her trainers into a sports bag and zipped it smartly before giving the officers her attention again.

Hanken asked for confirmation on the times of the deaths. Dr. Myles enquired what times his own forensic pathologist had given him. Thirty-six to forty-eight hours before the bodies had been discovered, Hanken told her.

“I wouldn't argue with that.” And she scooped up her bag, nodded a curt farewell, and headed towards the hospital exit.

Now in the car, Lynley reflected on what they knew: that the boy had brought nothing with him into the camp site; that there were anonymous and threatening letters left at the scene; that the girl was unconscious for close to an hour; that the two means of murder were entirely different.

Lynley was dwelling on this last thought when Hanken swung the car to the left, and they headed north in the direction of a town called Tideswell. Along this route they ultimately regained the River Wye, where the steep cliffs and the woods surrounding Miller's Dale had long since brought dusk to the village. Just beyond the last cottage, a narrow lane veered northwest and Hanken steered the Ford into it. They quickly climbed above the woods and the valley and within minutes were cruising along a vast expanse of heather and gorse that appeared to undulate endlessly towards the horizon.

“Calder Moor,” Hanken said. “The largest moor in all the White Peak. It stretches from here to Castleton.” He drove another minute in silence till they came to a lay-by. He pulled into it and let the engine idle. “If she'd gone camping in the Dark Peak, we'd have had Mountain Rescue going after her eventually when she didn't turn up. No little old bat with a doggy to walk would've taken her constitutional up there and found the bodies. But this”-he swept his hand in an arc above the dashboard-“is accessible, all of it. There're miles and miles to cover if someone gets lost, but at least those miles can be handled on foot. Not an easy walk and not entirely safe. But easier to tackle than the peat bogs you'll find round Kinder Scout. If someone had to be murdered in the district, better it happened here, on the limestone plateau, than the other.”

“Is this where Nicola Maiden set off?” Lynley asked. There was no track that he could see from the car. The girl would have had to fight her way through everything from bracken to bilberry.

Hanken rolled down his window and spat out his chewing gum. He reached over Lynley and flipped open the glove compartment to fish out another stick. “She set off from the other side, northwest of here. She was hiking out to Nine Sisters Henge, which's closer to the western boundary of the moor. Rather more of interest to be looked at on that side: tumuli, caverns, caves, barrows. Nine Sisters Henge is the highlight.”

“You're from this area?” Lynley asked.

Hanken didn't answer at once. He looked as if he was considering whether to answer at all. He made the decision at last and said, “From Wirksworth,” and appeared to seal his lips on the subject.

“You're lucky to live where your history is. I wish I could say the same for myself.”

“Depends on the history,” Hanken said, and changed gears abruptly with, “Want to have a look at the site?”

Lynley was wise enough to know that how he met the offer to look over the crime scene would be crucial to the relationship he developed with the other officer. The truth was that he did want to see the site of the murders. No matter the point at which he joined an investigation, there was always a time during the course of the enquiry when he felt the need to look things over himself. Not because he didn't trust the competence of his fellow investigators but because only through a firsthand viewing of as much as possible of what related to the case was he able to become a part of the crime. And it was in becoming a part of the crime that he did his best work. Photographs, reports, and physical evidence conveyed a great deal. But sometimes the place where a murder occurred held back secrets from even the most astute observer. It would be in pursuit of those secrets that Lynley would inspect a murder scene. However, inspecting this particular murder scene ran the risk of unnecessarily alienating DI Hanken, and nothing Hanken had said or done so far even hinted that he might overlook a detail.

There would be an occasion, Lynley thought, when he and the other officer wouldn't be working this case in each other's presence. When that occasion arose, he would have ample opportunity to examine the location where Nicola Maiden and the boy had died.

“You and your team have covered that end of things, as far as I can see,” Lynley said. “It wastes our time for me to go over what you've already done.”

Hanken gave him another lengthy scrutiny, chewing his gum in staccato. “Wise decision,” he said with a nod as he put the car back into gear.

They cruised northwards along the eastern edge of the moor. Perhaps a mile beyond the little market town of Tideswell, they turned to the east and began to leave the heather, bilberry, and bracken behind. They drove a short distance into a dale-its gentle slopes dotted with trees that were only just beginning to display the foliage of the coming autumn-and at a junction that was curiously signposted to the “plague village,” they headed north again.

Less than quarter of an hour took them to Maiden Hall, situated in the shelter of limes and chestnut trees on a hillside not far from Padley Gorge. The route coursed them through a verdant woodland and along the edge of an incision in the landscape made by a brook that tumbled out of the woods and cut a meandering path between slopes of limestone, fern, and wild grass. The turnoff to Maiden Hall rose suddenly as they entered another stretch of woodland. It twisted up a hillside and spilled out into a gravel drive that swung round the front of a gabled stone Victorian structure and led to a car park behind it.

The hotel entrance was actually at the back of the building. There a discreet sign printed with the single word Reception directed them through a passage and into the hunting lodge itself. A small desk stood just inside. Beyond this a sitting room apparently served as the hotel lounge, where the original entrance to the building had been converted to a bar and the room itself had been restored with oak wainscoting, subdued cream and umber wallpaper, and overstuffed furniture. As it was too early for any of the residents to be gathering for preprandial drinks, the lounge was deserted. But Lynley and Hanken hadn't been in the room for a minute before a dumpling-shaped woman-red-eyed and red-nosed from weeping-came from what appeared to be the dining room and greeted them with some considerable dignity.

There were no rooms available for the evening, she told them quietly. And as there had been a sudden death in the family, the dining room would not be open tonight. But she would be happy to recommend several restaurants in the area should the gentlemen require one.

Hanken offered the woman his police identification and introduced

Lynley. The woman said, “You'll be wanting to speak to the Maidens. I'll fetch them,” and she ducked past the officers, hurried through the reception area, and began climbing the stairs.

Lynley walked to one of the lounge's two alcoves, where late afternoon light was filtering through lead-paned windows. These overlooked the drive that curved round the front of the house. Beyond it, a lawn had been reduced to a heat-baked mat of twisted blades in the previous months’ drought. Behind him, he could hear Hanken moving restlessly round the room. A few magazines shifted position and slapped down onto table tops. Lynley smiled at the sound. His fellow DI was doubtless giving in to his restless need to put things in order.

It was absolutely quiet inside the hunting lodge. The windows were open, so the sound of birds and a distant plane broke the stillness. But inside, it was as hushed as an empty church.

A door closed somewhere and footsteps crunched across gravel. A moment later, a dark-haired man in jeans and a sleeveless grey sweatshirt pedaled past the windows on a ten-speed bicycle. He disappeared into the trees as the Maiden Hall drive began to descend the hill.

The Maidens joined them then. Lynley turned from the window at the sound of their entrance and Hanken's formal “Mr. and Mrs. Maiden. Please accept our sympathies.”

Lynley saw that the years of his retirement had dealt with Andy Maiden kindly. The former SO 10 officer and his wife were both in their early sixties, but they looked at least a decade younger. Andy had developed the appearance of an outdoorsman: a tanned face, a flat stomach, a brawny chest, all of which seemed suited to a man who'd left behind a reputation for disappearing chameleon-like into his environment. His wife matched him in physical condition. She, too, was tanned and solid, as if she took frequent exercise. Both of them looked as if they'd missed more than one night's sleep though. Andy Maiden was unshaven, in rumpled clothing. Nan was haggard, beneath her eyes a puckering of skin that was purplish in hue.

Maiden managed a grateful half-smile. “Tommy. Thank you for coming.”

Lynley said, “I'm sorry it has to be under these circumstances,” and introduced himself to Maiden's wife. He said, “Everyone at the Yard sends condolences, Andy.”

“Scotland Yard?” Nan Maiden sounded dazed. Her husband said, “In a moment, love.” He made a gesture with his arm, indicating the alcove behind Lynley, where two sofas faced each other across a coffee table that was spread with copies of Country Life. He and his wife took one of the sofas, Lynley the other. Hanken swiveled an armchair round and positioned himself just a few inches away from the central point between the Maidens and Lynley. The action suggested that he would play a mediating influence between the parties. But Lynley noted that the DI was careful to place his chair several inches closer to Scotland Yard of the present than to Scotland Yard of the past.

If Andy Maiden was aware of Hanken's manoeuvre and what it implied, he gave no sign. Instead, he sat forward on the sofa with his hands balanced between his legs. Left hand massaged right. Right massaged left.

His wife observed him doing this. She passed him a small red ball that she took from her pocket, saying, “Is it still bad? Shall I phone the doctor for you?”

“You're ill?” Lynley asked.

Maiden squeezed the ball with his right hand and gazed at the spread fingers of his left. “Circulation,” he said. “It's nothing.”

“Please let me phone the doctor, Andy,” his wife said.

“That's not what's important.”

“How can you say-” Nan Maiden's eyes grew suddenly bright. “God. Did I forget even for a moment?” She leaned her forehead against her husband's shoulder and began to cry. Roughly, Maiden put his arm round her.

Lynley cast a look at Hanken. You or I? he asked silently. It's not going to be pleasant.

Hanken's reply was a sharp nod. It's yours, the nod said.

“There isn't going to be an easy time to talk about your daughter's death,” Lynley began gently. “But in a murder investigation-and I know that you're already aware of this, Andy-the first hours are critical.”

As he spoke, Nan Maiden raised her head. She tried to speak, failed, then tried again.

“Murder investigation,” she repeated. “What are you saying?”

Lynley looked from husband to wife. Hanken did likewise. Then they looked at each other. Lynley said to Andy, “You've seen the body, haven't you? You've been told what happened?”

“Yes,” Maiden said. “I've been told. But I-” “Murder?” His wife cried out in horror. “Oh my God, Andy. You never said Nicola was murdered!”

Barbara Havers had spent the afternoon in Greenford, making the decision to use the rest of her sick day to visit her mother in Hawthorn Lodge, an overnamed postwar semi-detached where Mrs. Havers had lived as a permanent resident for the last ten months. In the way of most people who attempt to gain support from others for a position that might be untenable, Barbara had found that there was a price to pay for successfully cultivating advocates among Inspector Lynley's friends and relatives. And because she didn't want to face any more price-paying in one afternoon, she sought a distraction.

Mrs. Havers was nothing if not adept at providing escape hatches from reality, since she herself no longer lived in that realm on a regular basis. Barbara had found her in the back garden of Hawthorn Lodge, where she was engaged in putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle's box top had been propped up against an old mayonnaise jar that was filled with coloured sand holding seven plastic carnations in position. On this box top, a smarmy cartoon prince-perfectly proportioned and demonstrating a sufficient amount of adoration for the occasion-was slipping a high-heeled glass shoe onto the slender and curiously toeless foot of Cinderella while the girl's two cowlike and resentful stepsisters watched jealously to one side, culling a richly deserved comeuppance.

With the tender encouragement of her nurse and keeper Mrs. Flo-as Florence Magentry was called by her three elderly residents and their families-Mrs. Havers had managed successfully to assemble Cinderella, part of the stepsisters, the prince's shoe-wielding arm, his manly torso, and his bent left leg. However as Barbara joined her, she was in the midst of attempting to pound the prince's face onto one of the stepsisters’ shoulders and when Mrs. Flo gently guided her hand towards the proper placement of the piece, Mrs. Havers shouted, “No, no, no!” and pushed the whole puzzle away, knocking over the jar, scattering its plastic carnations, and spilling sand across the table.

Barbara's intervention didn't help matters. Whether her mother recognised her during visits was always a matter of chance, and on this day Mrs. Havers’ clouded consciousness attached Barbara's face to someone called Libby O'Rourke, who apparently had been the school temptress during Mrs. Havers’ childhood. It seemed that Libby O'Rourke had operated in a female version of Georgie Porgie mode most of the time, and one of the boys whom she'd kissed was none other than Mrs. Havers’ own beau, an act of effrontery that Mrs. Havers felt compelled to avenge on this very day by throwing puzzle pieces, shouting invective coloured by the sort of language Barbara wouldn't have thought part of her mother's vocabulary, and ultimately crumpling into a weeping heap. It was a situation that had taken some handling: persuading her mother to leave the garden, urging her upstairs to her room, coaxing her to look through a family album long enough to see that Barbara's round and snubby face appeared on its pages far too often for her to be the loathsome Libby.

“But I don't have a little girl,” Mrs. Havers protested in a voice more frightened than confused when she'd been forced to agree that Libby O'Rourke's being given a position of prominence in the family album made no sense, considering the offence she had once given. “Mummy won't let me have babies. I c'n only have dolls.”

Barbara had no answer for that. Her mother's mind made the tortuous journey into the past too often and with so little warning that she'd long ago forgiven herself her inability to deal with it with any expertise. So, after the album was set aside, she hadn't made any further attempts to argue, persuade, dissuade, or appeal. She'd merely selected one of the travel magazines that her mother loved to thumb through and she'd spent ninety minutes sitting shoulder to shoulder on the edge of the bed with the woman who'd forgotten she'd ever given birth, looking at photographs of Thailand, Australia, and Greece.

That was when her conscience finally gained some dominance over her resistance, and the internal voice that had earlier decried Lyn-ley's actions was confronted by a voice that suggested her own actions might have been wanting. What ensued was a nonverbal argument taking place in her head. One side insisted that Inspector Lynley was a vindictive prig. The other informed her that-prig or not-he didn't deserve her disloyalty. And she had been disloyal. Trotting round to Chelsea in order to denounce him to his intimates was not the behaviour of a steadfast friend. On the other hand, he'd been disloyal as well. Taking it upon himself to amplify her formal punishment by overlooking her on a case, he'd more than illustrated whose side he was on in her battle to save her professional hide, no matter what he claimed about her need to keep a low profile for a while.

Such was the argument that raged within her. It began as she leafed through the travel magazines and murmured comments about fantasy holidays her mother had taken to Crete, Mykonos, Bangkok, and Perth. It continued unabated on her drive from Greenford back into London at the end of the day. Not even an ancient Fleetwood Mac tape playing at maximum volume could subdue the disputing parties inside Barbara's head. Because throughout the drive, singing harmony with Stevie Nicks was the mezzo soprano of Barbara's conscience, a sententious cantata that stubbornly refused to be excised from her brain.

He deserved it, he deserved it, he deserved it! she silently screamed at the voice.

And where did giving him what he deserved get you, my darling? her conscience replied.

She was still refusing to answer that question when she pulled into Steeles Road and slid the Mini into a parking space that was being conveniently vacated by a woman, three children, two dogs, and what appeared to be a cello with legs. She locked up and trudged in the direction of Eton Villas, gratified that she was feeling tired, because tired meant sleep and sleep meant putting an end to the voices.

She heard other voices, however, as she rounded the corner and came upon the yellow Edwardian house behind which sat her mouse-hole dwelling. These new voices were coming from the flagstone area in front of the ground floor flat. And one of these voices-belonging to a child-cried out happily when Barbara came through the gate of bright orange pickets.

“Barbara! Hullo, hullo! Dad and I are blowing bubbles. Come and see. When the light hits them just exactly right, they look like round rainbows. Did you know that, Barbara? Come and see, come and see.”

The little girl and her father were seated on the solitary wooden bench in front of their flat, she in the fast-fading light, he in the growing shadows where his cigarette glowed like a crimson firefly. He touched his daughter's head fondly and rose in the formal fashion that was his by nature. “You'll join us?” Taymullah Azhar asked Barbara.

“Oh do, do, do,” the child exclaimed. “After the bubbles, we're watching a video. The Little Mermaid. And we've got toffee apples for a treat. Well, we've only got two, but I'll share mine with you. One's too much for me to eat anyway.” She scooted off the bench and came to greet Barbara, dancing across the lawn with the bubble wand and creating a trail of round rainbows behind her.

“The Little Mermaid, is it?” Barbara said thoughtfully. “I don't know, Hadiyyah. I've never thought of myself as a Disney sort of bird. All those skinny Sloane-types being rescued by blokes in suits of armour-”

“This is a mermaid,” Hadiyyah interrupted instructively.

“Hence the title. Yeah. Right.”

“So she can't be rescued by someone in armour 'cause he'd sink to the bottom of the sea. And anyways, no one saves her at all. She saves the prince.”

“Now, there's a twist I might be able to live with.”

“You've never seen it, have you? Well, tonight you can. Do come.” Hadiyyah whirled round in a circle, surrounding herself with a hoop of bubbles. Her long, thick plaits flew about her shoulders, the silver ribbons that tied them glittering like pale dragonflies. “The little mermaid's prettier'n anything. She has auburn hair.”

“A good contrast to her scales.”

“And she wears the sweetest little shells on her chest.” Hadiyyah demonstrated with two small, dark hands cupped over two non-existent breasts.

“Ah. Strategically placed, I see,” Barbara said.

“Won't you watch it with us? Please? Like I said, we've got toffee ap-ples…” Coaxingly, she drew out the last two words.

“Hadiyyah,” her father said quietly, “an invitation once extended needn't be repeated.” And to Barbara, “Nonetheless, we'd be most happy to have you join us.”

Barbara considered the proposition. An evening with Hadiyyah and her father offered the potential for more distraction, and she liked the thought of that very much. She could sit with her little friend, comfortably lounging on enormous floor pillows, their heads in their palms and their feet in the air, swaying side by side as they kept time to the music. She could chat to her little friend's father afterwards, when Hadiyyah herself had been sent off to bed. Taymullah Azhar would expect that much. It was a habit they'd developed during the months of Barbara's enforced leave from Scotland Yard. And in the past few weeks especially, their dialogue had moved from the banalities of relative strangers being polite to the initial delicate conversational probing of two individuals who might become friends.

But in that friendship lay the rub of the matter. It called for Barbara to reveal her encounters with Hillier and Lynley. It required the truth of her demotion and her estrangement from the man she'd sought to emulate. And because Azhar's own eight-year-old daughter was the child whose life had been saved by Barbara's impetuous actions on the North Sea-actions that she'd managed to keep from Azhar in the three months since the chase had occurred-he would feel a responsibility for the fallout to her career that wasn't his to bear.

“Hadiyyah,” Taymullah Azhar said when Barbara didn't answer, “I think we've had enough bubbles for the evening. Return them to your room and wait for me there, please.”

Hadiyyah's small brow furrowed, and her eyes looked stricken. “But, Dad, the little mermaid…?”

“We shall watch it as previously decided, Hadiyyah. Put the bubbles in your room now.”

She gave Barbara an anxious glance. “More'n half the toffee apple,” she said. “If you'd like, Barbara.”

“Hadiyyah.”

She smiled impishly and dashed into the house.

Azhar reached into the breast pocket of his spotless white shirt and brought forth a packet of cigarettes, which he offered. Barbara took one, said thanks, and accepted his light as well. He observed her in silence until she grew so restive that she was compelled to speak.

“I'm knackered, Azhar. I'll have to cry off tonight. But thanks. Tell Hadiyyah I'm happy to watch a film with her another time. Hopefully, when the heroine isn't as skinny as a pencil with a silicone chest.”

His gaze was unwavering. He studied her the way other people studied the labels on tins in supermarkets. Barbara wanted to writhe away, but she managed to restrain herself. He said, “You must have returned to work today.”

“Why'd you think-”

“Your clothing. Has your”-he searched for a word, a euphemism undoubtedly-“situation been resolved at New Scotland Yard, Barbara?”

There was no point in lying. Despite the fact that she'd been able to keep from him the full knowledge of what had occurred to put her there, he knew that she'd been placed on suspension. She was going to have to start dragging herself out of bed and down to work each morning, beginning with the very next day, so he would deduce sooner or later that she wasn't spending her waking hours feeding the ducks in Regent's Park any longer. “Yeah,” she said. “It was resolved today.” And she drew in deeply on her cigarette so that she'd have to turn her head and blow the smoke away from his face, thus hiding her own.

“And? But what am I asking? You're dressed for work, so it must have gone well.”

“Right.” She offered him a spurious smile. “It did. All the way. I'm still gainfully employed, still in CID, still have my pension intact.” She'd lost the confidence of the only person who counted at the Yard, but she didn't add that. She couldn't imagine an occasion when she would.

“This is good,” Azhar said.

“Right. It's the best.”

“I'm happy to know that nothing from Essex affected you here in London.” Again, that level gaze of his, dark eyes the colour of chocolate drops in a face with nut-brown skin that was amazingly un-lined on a man of thirty-five.

“Yeah. Well. It didn't,” she said. “Everything worked out brilliantly.”

He nodded, looking past her finally, above her head and up into the fading sky. The lights from London would hide all but the most brilliant of the coming night's stars. Even those that shone would do so through a thick pall of pollution that not even the growing darkness could dissipate. “As a child, I drew my greatest comfort from the night,” he told her quietly. “In Pakistan, my family slept in the traditional way: the men together, the women together. So at night, in the presence of my father, my brother, and my uncles, I always believed that I was perfectly safe and secure. But I forgot that feeling as I came into adulthood in England. What had been reassuring became an embarrassment from my past. I found that all I could remember were the sounds of my father and my uncles snoring and the smell of my brothers breaking wind. For some time when I came to be alone, I thought how good it was to be away from them at last, to have the night for myself and for whomever I wished to share it with. And that's how I lived for a while. But now I find that I would willingly return to that older way, when whatever one's burdens or secrets were, there was always a sense-at least at night-of never having to bear them or keep them alone.”

There was something so comforting in his words that Barbara found herself wanting to grasp the invitation to disclosure that they implied. But she stopped herself from doing so, saying, “P'rhaps Pakistan doesn't prepare its children for the world's reality.”

“What reality is that?”

“The one that tells us we're all alone.”

“Do you believe that to be the truth, Barbara?”

“I don't just believe it. I know it. We use our daytimes to escape our nighttimes. We work, we play, we keep ourselves busy. But when it's time to sleep, we run out of distractions. Even if we're in bed with someone, their act of sleeping when we can't manage it is enough to tell us that we've got only ourselves.”

“Is this philosophy or experience speaking?”

“Neither,” she said. “Just the way it is.”

“But not,” he said, “the way it has to be.”

At the comment, alarm bells went off in Barbara's head, then quickly receded. Coming from any other bloke, the remark could have been construed as a chat-up line. But her personal history was an illustration of the fact that Barbara wasn't the type of bird blokes chatted up. Besides, even if she'd ever had the odd moments of Aph-rodisian allure, she knew this wasn't one of them. Standing in the semi-dark in a rumpled linen suit that made her look like a transvestite toad, she knew quite well that she was hardly a paragon of desirability. So, ever articulate when it counted, she said, “Yeah. Well. Whatever,” and tossed her cigarette to the ground, where she mashed it with the sole of her shoe. “Goodnight, then,” she added. “Enjoy the mermaid. And thanks for the fag. I needed it.”

“Everyone needs something.” Azhar reached into his shirt pocket again. Barbara thought he was going to offer his cigarettes another time. But instead, he extended to her a folded piece of paper. “A gentleman was here looking for you earlier, Barbara. He asked me to make sure you got this note. He tried to fix it to your door, he said, but it wouldn't stay in place.”

“Gentleman?” Barbara knew only one man to whom that word would automatically be applied by a stranger after a mere moment's conversation. She took the piece of paper, scarcely daring to hope.

Which was just as well, because the writing on the note-a sheet of paper removed from a small spiral notebook-wasn't Lynley's. She read the eight words: Page me as soon as you get this. A number followed them. There was no signature.

Barbara refolded the note. Doing so, she saw what was written on the outside of it, what Azhar himself must have seen, interpreted, and understood the moment it had been handed over. DC Havers was printed in block capitals across it. C for Constable. So Azhar knew.

She met his gaze. “Looks like I'm back in the game already,” she said as heartily as she could manage. “Thanks, Azhar. This bloke say where he'd be waiting for the page?”

Azhar shook his head. “He said only that I should make sure you had the message.”

“Okay Thanks.” She gave him a nod and turned to walk away.

He called her name-sounding urgent-but when she stopped and glanced back, he was studying the street. He said, “Can you tell me…” and then his voice died away. He drew his eyes back to her as if the effort cost him.

“Tell you what?” she asked, though she felt apprehension dance along her spine when she said the words.

“Tell me… How is your mother?” Azhar asked.

“Mum? Well… She's a bloody disaster when it comes to jigsaw puzzles, but otherwise I think she's okay.”

He smiled. “That's good to know.” And with a quiet goodnight, he slipped into the house.

Barbara went to her own lodgings, a tiny cottage that sat at the bottom of the back garden. Sheltered by the limbs of an old false acacia, it was not much larger than a potting shed with mod cons. Once inside, she peeled herself out of her linen jacket, tossed the string of faux pearls onto the table that served purposes as diverse as dining and ironing, and went to the phone. There were no messages on her machine. She wasn't surprised. She punched in the number for the pager, punched in her own number, and waited.

Five minutes later, someone phoned. She made herself wait through four of the double-rings before she answered. There was no reason to sound desperate, she decided.

Her caller, she discovered, was Winston Nkata, and her back went up the instant she heard that unmistakable mellifluous voice with its mixed flavours of Jamaica and Sierra Leone. He was in the Load of

Hay tavern just round the corner on Chalk Farm Road, he told her, finishing up a plate of lamb curry and rice that “was not, do believe me, something my mum would ever put on the table for her favourite son, but it's better than McDonald's although not by much.” He would set off straightaway for her digs. “Be there in five minutes,” he said, and rang off before she had a chance to tell him that his mug was just about the last one she wanted to see putting in an appearance on her doorstep. She hung up the phone, muttered an expletive, and went to the refrigerator to graze.

Five minutes stretched to ten. Ten minutes to fifteen. He didn't show up.

Bastard, Barbara thought. Fine idea of a joke.

She went to the bathroom and turned on the shower.

Lynley tried to adjust quickly to the astonishing fact that Andy Maiden hadn't told his wife that their daughter had been the victim of a crime. Since Calder Moor was a location replete with potential sites of accidents, Lynley's former colleague had apparently and unaccountably allowed his wife to believe that their daughter had fractured her skull in a fall.

When she learned otherwise, Nan Maiden crumpled forward, elbows pressed into her thighs, and fists raised to her mouth. Either shocked, too stricken with grief to comprehend, or comprehending something only too well, she didn't weep further. She merely muttered a guttural “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”

DI Hanken appeared to take a fairly quick measure of what was implied by her reaction. He was observing Andy Maiden with a decidedly unsympathetic eye. He asked no questions in response to Nan's revelation though. Like a good cop, he merely waited.

In the aftermath of all this, Maiden waited as well. Still, he apparently reached the conclusion that something was required of him by way of explanation for his incomprehensible behaviour. “Love, I'm sorry,” he said to Nan. “I couldn't… I'm sorry. Nan, I could barely cope with the fact that she'd died, let alone tell… let alone have to face… have to begin to deal with…” He spent a moment rigidly marshaling the inner resources a policeman learned to develop in order to live through the worst of the worst. His right hand-still in possession of the ball his wife had given him-clutched and released it spasmodically. “I'm so sorry,” he said brokenly “Nan.”

Nan Maiden raised her head. She watched him for a moment. Then her hand-shaking as it was-reached out and closed over his arm. She spoke to the police.

“Would you…” Her lips quivered. She didn't go on until she had the emotion under control. “Tell me what happened.”

DI Hanken obliged with minimal details: He explained where Nicola Maiden had died and how, but he told them nothing more.

“Would she have suffered?” Nan asked when Hanken had concluded his brief remarks. “I know you can't be positive. But if there's anything that might allow us to feel that at the end… anything at all…”

Lynley recounted what the Home Office pathologist had told them.

Nan reflected on the information for a moment. In the silence, Andy Maiden's breath sounded loud and harsh. Nan said, “I wanted to know because… D'you think… Would she have called out for one of us… would she have hoped… or needed…?” Her eyes filled. She stopped talking.

Hearing the questions, Lynley was reminded of the old moors murders, the monstrous tape recording that Myra Hindley and her cohort had made, and the anguish of the dead girl's mother when the recording had been played at the trial and she'd had to listen to her child's terrified voice crying out for her mummy in the midst of her murder. Isn't there a certain kind of knowledge, he thought, that shouldn't be revealed publicly because it can't be borne privately? He said, “The blows to the head knocked her unconscious at once. She stayed that way.”

“And on her body, were there other… Had she been… Had anyone…?”

“She wasn't tortured.” Hanken cut in as if he, too, felt the need to show some mercy to the dead girl's mother. “She wasn't raped. We'll have a fuller report later, but at the moment it seems that the blows to the head were all that she”-he paused, it seemed, in the search for a word that connoted the least pain-“experienced.”

Maiden said, “She looked asleep. White. Like chalk. But still asleep.”

“I want that to make it better,” Nan said. “But it doesn't.”

And nothing will, Lynley thought. “Andy, we've got a possible identification on the second body. We're going to need to press forward. We think the boy was called Terence Cole. He had a London address, in Shoreditch. Is his name familiar to you?”

“She wasn't alone?” The glance Nan Maiden cast at her husband told the police that he'd withheld this information from her as well.

“She wasn't alone,” Maiden said.

Hanken clarified the situation for Nan Maiden, explaining that the camping gear of one person only-which he would later ask Maiden to identify as belonging to his daughter-had been within the enclosure of Nine Sisters Henge along with the body of a teenaged boy who himself had no gear other than the clothes on his back.

“That motorcycle by her car.” Maiden pulled his facts together quickly. “It belonged to him?”

“To a Terence Cole,” Hanken affirmed. “Not reported stolen and so far not claimed by anyone coming off the moor. It's registered to an address in Shoreditch. We've a man heading there now to see what's what, but it seems likely that we've got the right ID. Is the name familiar to either of you?”

Maiden shook his head and said, “Cole. Not to me. Nan?”

“I don't know him. And Nicola… Surely she would have talked about him if he was a friend of hers. She would have brought him round to meet us as well. When did she not? That's… It was her way.”

Andy Maiden then spoke perspicaciously, asking a logical question that rose from his years of policing. “Is there any chance that Nick-” He paused and seemed to prepare his wife for the question by laying a hand gently on her thigh. “Could she just have been in the wrong place? Could the boy have been the target? Tommy?” And he looked to Lynley.

“That would have to be a consideration in any other case,” Lynley admitted.

“But not in this case? Why?”

“Have a look at this.” Hanken produced a copy of the handwritten note that had been found on Nicola Maiden's body.

The Maidens read the five words on it-THIS BITCH HAS HAD IT-as Hanken advised them that the original had been found tucked into their daughter's pocket.

Andy Maiden stared long at the note. He shifted the red ball to his left hand and clutched it. “Jesus God. Are you telling us someone went there to kill her? Someone tracked her to kill her? That this wasn't just a case of her meeting up with strangers? A stupid argument breaking out over something? A psychopath killing her and that boy for the thrill of it?”

“It's doubtful,” Hanken said. “But you know the procedure as well as we do, I expect.”

Which was, Lynley knew, his way of saying that as a police officer Andy Maiden would know that every avenue potentially related to the killing of his daughter was going to be explored. He said, “If someone went out to the moor specifically to kill your daughter, we must consider why.”

“But she didn't have enemies,” Nan Maiden declared. “I know that's what you expect every mother to say, but in this case it's the truth. Everyone liked Nicola. She was that kind of person.”

“Not everyone, apparently, Mrs. Maiden,” Hanken said. And he brought forth the copies of the anonymous letters that had also been at the site.

Andy Maiden and his wife read these in silence and without expression. She was the one who finally spoke. As she did so, her husband's gaze remained locked on the letters. And both man and woman sat still, like statues.

“It's impossible,” she said. “Nicola can't have received these. You're making a mistake if you think that she did.”

“Why?”

“Because we never saw them. And if she'd been threatened-by anyone, by anyone-she would have told us at once.”

“If she didn't want to worry you-”

“Please. Believe me. That wasn't how she was. She didn't think like that: about worrying us and such. She thought only about telling the truth. If something had been going wrong in her life, she would have told us. That's how she was. She talked about everything. Everything. Truly.” And with an earnest look at her husband, “Andy?”

With an effort, he took his eyes off the letters. His face, which had appeared bloodless before, was now even more so. He said, “I don't want to think it. But it's the best possible answer if someone actually tracked her… if someone wasn't with her already… if someone didn't just stumble upon her and kill her and the boy for the sick fun of it.”

“What?” Lynley asked.

“SO10,” he said heavily, looking as if the words cost him dearly. “There were so many cases over the years, so many yobs put away. Killers, drug dealers, crime bosses. You name them, I rolled in the muck with them.”

“Andy! No,” his wife protested, apparently understanding where he was heading. “This has nothing to do with you.”

“Someone out on parole, tracking us down, hanging round long enough to get to know our movements-” He turned to her then. “You see how it could have happened, don't you? Someone out for revenge, Nancy, striking at Nick because he knew that to hurt my daughter-my girl-was to kill me in stages… to sentence me to a living death…”

Lynley said, “It's a possibility that we can't rule out, can we? Because if, as you say, your daughter had no enemies, then we're left with the single question: Who had? If you put away someone who's out on parole, Andy, we're going to need the name.”

“Jesus. There were scores.”

“The Yard can pull all your old files in London, but you can help by giving us some direction. If there's a particular investigation that stands out in your memory, you could halve our work by listing the players.”

“I've got my diaries.”

“Diaries?” Hanken asked.

“I once thought-” Maiden shook his head self-derisively. “I thought of writing after retirement. Memoirs. Ego. But the hotel came along, and I never got round to it. I've got the diaries, though. If I have a look through them, perhaps a name… a face…” He seemed to crumple then, as if the weight of responsibility for his daughter's death bore down on him heavily.

“You don't know this for certain,” Nan Maiden said. “Andy. Please. Don't do this to yourself.”

Hanken said, “We'll follow whatever leads turn up. So if-”

“Then follow Julian.” Nan Maiden spoke as if determined to prove that there were other avenues to explore beyond the one that led to her husband's past.

Maiden said, “Nancy. Don't.”

“Julian?” Lynley said.

Julian Britton, Nan told them. He'd just become engaged to Nicola. She wasn't suggesting him as a suspect, but if the police were looking for leads, then they certainly would want to talk to Julian. Nicola had been with him the night before she left for her camping trip. She might have said something to Julian-or done something even-that would result in another possibility for the police to explore in their investigation.

It was a reasonable enough suggestion, Lynley thought. He jotted down Julian's name and address. Nan Maiden supplied the information.

For his part, Hanken brooded. And he said nothing more until he and Lynley had returned to the car. “It may all be a blind, you know.” He switched on the ignition, reversed out of their parking space, and turned the car to face Maiden Hall. There, he let the engine idle while he studied the old limestone structure.

“What?” Lynley asked.

“SO10. This business of someone from his past. It's a bit too convenient, wouldn't you say?”

“Convenient is an odd choice of words to describe a lead and a potential suspect,” Lynley said. “Unless you yourself already suspect…” He looked towards the Hall. “Exactly what is it that you suspect, Peter?”

“D'you know the White Peak?” Hanken asked abruptly. “It runs from Buxton to Ashbourne. From Matlock to Castleton. We've got dales, we've got moors, we've got trails, we've got hills. This”-with a gesture at the environment-“is part of it. So's the road we came in on, for that matter.”

“And?”

Hanken turned in his seat to face Lynley squarely. “And in all this vast amount of space, on last Tuesday night-or Wednesday morning if we want to believe him-Andy Maiden managed to find his daughter's car hidden out of sight behind a stone wall. What would you say the odds are on that?”

Lynley looked to the building, to its windows reflecting the last of the daylight like row upon row of shielded eyes. “Why didn't you tell me?” he asked the other DI.

“I didn't think of it,” Hanken said. “Not till our boy brought up SO 10. Not till our Andy got caught out keeping the truth from his wife.”

“He wanted to spare her as long as he could. What man wouldn't?” Lynley asked.

“A man with nothing on his conscience,” Hanken said.

Showered and changed into the most comfortable elastic-waisted trousers that she possessed, Barbara was back to grazing-on leftover take-away pork fried rice which, unheated, wasn't about to make it onto anyone's culinary top ten-when Nkata arrived. He announced himself with two sharp raps on the door. She swung it open, take-away container in hand, and leveled a chopstick at him.

“Your watch stopped or something? What goes for five minutes in your book, Winston?”

He stepped inside unbidden and flashed her the full wattage of his smile. “Sorry. Got another page before I could clear out. The guv. I had to phone him first.”

“Of course. Can't keep his lordship waiting.”

Nkata let the comment go. “Damned lucky that service is slow at the pub. I should've been out of there thirty minutes ago, which would've put me too close to Shoreditch to come back here for you. Funny, isn't it? Like my mum always says. Things work out exactly the way they're s'posed to.”

Barbara stared at him, wordless. She felt nonplused. She wanted to tell him off for the note he'd left her-and for the letter C so prominent on it-but his air of ease stopped her. She couldn't explain his nonchalance any more than she could explain his presence inside her dwelling. He could at least look bloody uncomfortable, she decided.

“We got two bodies in Derbyshire and a London angle that needs playing on the case,” Nkata said. He sketched in the details: a woman, a young man, a former SO 10 officer, anonymous letters assembled from newsprint, a threatening note written by hand. “I got to get over to an address in Shoreditch where this dead bloke might've come from,” he told her. “If someone's there who can i.d. the body, I'm on my way back to Buxton in the morning. But the Yard end of things'll need looking into. The spector just told me to set that up. That's why he paged.”

Barbara couldn't hide her eagerness when she said, “Lynley asked for me?”

Nkata's glance shifted away for an instant, but that was enough. Her spirits came to earth.

“I see.” She carried her take-away container to the kitchen work top. The rice sat heavily on her stomach. Its flavour clung to her tongue like fur. “If he doesn't know you're asking me, Winston, I can refuse with no one the wiser, can't I? You can pass me by and get someone else.”

“Can do, sure,” Nkata said. “I can check the rota. Or I can wait till morning and let the super make the call. But doing all that leaves you free to get assigned to Stewart, Hale, or MacPherson, doesn't it? And I didn't much think you'd want to go that way if you didn't have to.” He left unsaid what was legend in CID: Barbara's failure to establish a working relationship with the DIs he'd mentioned, her subsequent return to uniform from which she had only been elevated by her partnership with Lynley.

Barbara swung around, perplexed by what appeared to be the other DCs inexplicable generosity. Another man in his position would have left her hanging in the wind, the better to improve his own position, and to hell with what she might have to face. That Nkata wasn't doing so made her doubly cautious.

He was saying, “It's computer work the guv wants. On CRIS. Not your thing, I know. But I thought if you wanted to come to Shoreditch with me-which is why I was in your neighbourhood in the first place-I could drop you at the Yard afterwards and you could get onto Crime Recording straightaway. If you pull something good from the records quick, who knows?” Nkata shifted on his feet. His air of ease diminished slightly as he concluded. “It could go some distance to setting you right.”

Barbara found an unopened packet of cigarettes wedged between the crumb-dusted toaster and a box of watermelon Pop-Tarts. She lit up, using one of the gas burners on the cooker, and she tried to make sense of what she was hearing. “I don't get it. This is your chance, Winston. Why don't you take it?”

“My chance for what?” he said, looking blank.

“You know for what. To climb the ladder, to ascend the mountain, to fly to the moon. My stock with Lynley couldn't be much lower. Now's your chance to break out of the pack. Why aren't you taking it? Or better said, why're you taking the risk that I might do something to untarnish myself?”

“The spector told me to bring in another DC,” Nkata said. “I thought of you.”

And there they were, those two ugly letters once again. DC. And there was the nasty reminder as well: of what she had been and what she had become. Of course Nkata would have thought of her. What better way to rub her face in her loss of position and authority than by bringing her in as a fellow DC, his superior no longer?

“Ah,” she said. “Another DC. As to that…” She scooped up the note from where she'd left it on the dining table next to her necklace. She said, “I guess I've got to thank you for this, haven't I? I'd been thinking about taking out an advert in the paper to inform the general public, but you've saved me the trouble.”

Nkata's eyebrows knotted. “What're you on about?”

“The note, Winston. Did you honestly think I might forget my position? Or did you just want to remind me that we're equals now, players on a level pitch, lest I forget?”

“Hang on. You've got it dead wrong.”

“Have I?”

“Right.”

“I don't think so. What other reason could there possibly be for you to address me as DC Havers? C for Constable. Just like you.”

“Most obvious reason in the world,” Nkata said.

“Really? What's that?”

“I've never called you Barb.”

She blinked. “What?”

“I've never called you Barb,” he repeated. “Just Sarge. Always that. And then this…” He used his wide hands in a gesture that encompassed the room but meant the day, as she very well knew. “I didn't know what else. The name and everything.” He grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck, which lowered his head and ended eye contact. He said, “DCs only your title anyway. It's not who you are.”

Barbara was struck dumb. She stared at him. His attractive face with its nasty scar looked unsure at the moment, which had to be a first. She thought back and relived in an instant the cases on which she'd worked with Nkata. And in reliving them, she was a witness to the truth.

She covered her confusion with her cigarette, inhaling, exhaling, studying the ash, flicking grey flakes of it into the sink. When the silence between them became too much for her, she sighed and said, “Jesus. Winston. Sorry. Bloody hell.”

“Right,” he said. “So are you in or out?”

“I'm in,” she answered.

“Good,” he said.

“And, Winnie,” she added, “I'm Barbara as well.”

CHAPTER 6

It was dark by the time they cruised into Chart Street in Shoreditch and sought out a parking space along a pavement that was lined with Vauxhalls, Opels, and Volkswagens. Barbara had felt a distinct twinge in her gut when Nkata had led her to Lynley's sleek silver car, a possession so prized by the inspector that merely to have been handed its keys was an eloquent statement of Lynley's confidence in his subordinate officer. She herself had been casually tossed that key ring on only two occasions, but both had come long after she'd worked her first case as the inspector's partner. Indeed, reflecting upon her association with Lynley, she found that she couldn't begin to imagine him passing his car keys over to the person she'd been on the first investigation they'd worked together. That he'd given them so easily to Nkata spoke volumes about the nature of their relationship.

Fine, she thought with resignation, that's just the way it is. She studied the neighbourhood through which they were driving, looking for the street address that the DVLA had listed as belonging to the owner of the motorcycle found near the murder scene in Derbyshire.

Like so many of its sister districts in London, Shoreditch may have been down at one time or another, but it could never be counted fully out. It was a densely populated area comprising a narrow appendix of land that dangled from the greater body of Hackney in northeast London. Since it formed one of the boundaries of the City, some of Shore-ditch had been encroached upon by the sort of financial institutions one expected to see only within the Roman walls of old London. Other parts of it had been taken over by industry and commercial development. But there were still vestiges of the former villages of Haggeston and Hoxton in Shoreditch, even if some of those vestiges merely took the form of commemorative plaques marking the spots where the Burbages had plied their theatrical trade and where associates of William Shakespeare lay buried.

Chart Street appeared to represent the history of the district in one brief thoroughfare. Forming a dogleg that stretched between Pit-field Street and East Road, it contained commercial establishments as well as residences. Some of the buildings were smart, modern, and new, and consequently they expressed the abundance of the City. Others awaited that miracle of London neighbourhoods-gentrification-which could take a simple street and transform it from slum into yuppie paradise within the space of a few short years.

The address produced by the DVLA took them to a line of terraced houses that, in appearance, were somewhere between the two extremes of disintegration and renovation. The terrace itself was flat-fronted and constructed of brick, and while the woodwork of the house in question badly needed painting, its windows were hung with white curtains that, at least from the exterior, looked crisp and clean. Nkata found a parking space in front of the Marie Lloyd pub. He slid the Bentley into it with the sort of concentration that Barbara imagined a neurosurgeon giving to a patient's brain. She shoved open the door and clambered out the third time the other DC meticulously straightened the car. She lit a fag and said, “Winston. Bloody hell. You're not clocking on and neither one of us is getting any younger. Come on.”

Nkata chuckled affably. “Giving you time to see to your habit.” “Thanks. But I don't need to smoke a whole packet.” The car finally parked to his satisfaction, Nkata eased out of it, locked it, and set its alarm. He checked scrupulously to make sure the doors were secured before joining Barbara on the pavement. They walked to the house, Barbara smoking and Nkata ruminating. At the yellow front door, he paused. Barbara thought he was giving her time to finish off her fag, and she puffed away, bulking up on the nicotine as she usually did before embarking on a task that could turn unpleasant.

But when she finally tossed the burning end of the cigarette into the street, Nkata still didn't move. She said, “So? Are we going in? What's up?”

He roused himself to answer, saying, “This's my first.”

“First what? Oh. First time as the bearer of bad tidings? Well, take comfort. It doesn't get any easier.”

He shot her a look, smiled ruefully. “Funny when you think,” he said quietly, the Caribbean in him coming out in his pronunciation of the final word. T'ink, he said.

“Think what?”

“Think how many times it could've been my mum getting a visit like this from the rozzers. If I'd kept on walking the path I was walking.”

“Yeah. Well…” She jerked her head towards the door and mounted the single step. “We've all got blots on our copybooks, Winnie.”

The faint sound of a child's crying seeped round the cracks in the doorjamb. When Barbara rang the bell, the crying approached. It intensified, a woman's harassed voice said, “Shush now. Shush. That's quite enough, Darryl. You made your point,” and then called through the panels, “Who's there, then?”

“Police,” Barbara answered. “Can we have a word?”

There was no response at first, other than Darryl's crying, which went unabated. Then the door swung open and they were confronted by a woman with a small boy on her hip. He was in the act of rubbing his running nose against the collar of the green smock she wore. The Primrose Path was embroidered on the left breast of this, along with the name Sal beneath it.

Barbara had her warrant card ready. She was showing it to Sal when a younger woman came dashing down the narrow stairs that rose about nine feet from the entry. She wore a chenille dressing gown with one chewed-up sleeve. Her hair was wet. She said, “Sorry, Mum. Give him here. Thanks for the break. I needed it. Darryl, what're you on about, luv?”

“Da’,” Darryl sobbed, and reached a grimy hand towards Nkata.

“Wanting his daddy,” Nkata remarked.

“Not likely he'd be wanting that bloody bastard,” Sal muttered. “Give your granna kiss, then, darling boy,” she said to Darryl, who in his distress didn't oblige her. She bussed him noisily on one wet cheek. “It's his tummy again, Cyn. I made him a hot water bottle. It's in the kitchen. Mind you wrap it in a towel before you give it him.”

“Thanks, Mum. You're a queen,” Cyn said. Her son on her hip, she disappeared down the corridor towards the back of the house.

“What's this about, then?” Sal looked from Nkata to Barbara, not moving from her position by the door. She hadn't invited them to step inside. It was clear that she didn't intend to do so. “It's gone ten. I expect you know that.”

Barbara said, “May we come in, Mrs.?”

“Cole,” she said. “Sally Cole. Sal.” She stepped back from the door and scrutinised them as they crossed the threshold. She folded her arms beneath her breasts. In the better light of the entryway, Barbara saw that her hair-cut bluntly just below her ears-was streaked on either side of her face with panels of white-blonde. These served to emphasise her irregular and incongruous features: a broad forehead, a hooked nose, and a tiny rosebud mouth. “I can't cope with suspense, so tell me what you got to tell me straightaway.”

“Could we…?” Barbara nodded towards a door that opened to the left of the stairs. Beyond lay what appeared to be the sitting room, although it was dominated by a large and curious arrangement of gardening tools that stood in its centre. A rake with every other tine missing, a hoe with its edge turned inwards, and a blunted shovel all formed a teepee over a cultivator whose handle had been split in half. Barbara examined this curiosity and wondered if it had anything to do with Sal Cole's manner of dress: The green smock and the words embroidered on it did suggest a source of employment that leaned towards the floral, if not the agricultural.

“He's a sculptor, my Terry,” Sal informed her, corning to stand at Barbara's side. “That's his medium.”

“Gardening tools?”

“He's got a piece with secateurs that makes me want to cry. Both my kids're artists. Cyn's doing a course at the college of fashion. Is this about my Terry? 'S he in some sort 'f trouble? Tell me straightaway.”

Barbara glanced at Nkata to see if he wanted to do the dubious honours. He raised the fingers of one hand to his scarred cheek as if the cicatrix there had begun to throb. She said, “Terry isn't home, then, Mrs. Cole?”

“He doesn't live here,” Sal informed her. She went on to say that he shared digs and a studio in Battersea with a girl called Cilia Thompson, a fellow artist. “Something's not happened to Cilia, has it? You're not looking for Terry because of Cilia? They're only friends, the two of them. So if she's been roughed up again, you best talk to that boyfriend of hers, not to my Terry. Terry wouldn't hurt a flea if it was biting him. He's a good boy, always has been.”

“Is there a… Well, is there a Mr. Cole?” If they were about to suggest to this woman that her son was dead, Barbara wanted another presence-a potentially stronger presence-to help absorb the blow.

Sal gave a hoot. “Mr. Cole-as he was-did a Houdini on us when Terry was five. Found hisself a little bit of fluff with a nice set of kitties down in Folkestone, and that was that for Mr. Family Man. Why?” Her voice had begun to sound more anxious. “What's this all about, then?”

Barbara nodded at Nkata. He, after all, had come to London to fetch the woman should it be necessary. It was in his hands how to break the news that the unidentified body they had might well be her son's. He began with the Triumph. Sal Cole confirmed that her son owned such a motorcycle, and as she did so, she also made the logical leap to a traffic accident. She went on so quickly to ask what hospital he'd been taken to that Barbara found herself wishing that the news they bore was as simple as a crash on the motorway.

There was no easy way. Barbara saw that Nkata had moved to a photograph-laden mantel that spanned a shallow embrasure where a fireplace once had been. He lifted one of the plastic-framed pictures, and the expression on his face told Barbara that carting Mrs. Cole all the way to Derbyshire was probably going to be a mere formality. Nkata had, after all, seen pictures of the corpse if not the corpse itself. And while murder victims sometimes bore little resemblance to their living selves, there were usually enough areas of commonality for the astute observer to make a tentative identification from a photograph.

Seeing the picture appeared to give Nkata the courage to tell the tale, which he did with a simplicity and sympathy that impressed Barbara more than she would have thought possible.

There had been a double homicide in Derbyshire, Nkata informed Mrs. Cole. A young man and a woman were the victims. Terry's motorcycle had been found nearby, and the young man in question bore something of a resemblance to this photograph from the mantel. It could be coincidental, of course, that Terry's motorcycle would be found near the scene of a murder. But, nonetheless, the police needed someone to accompany them to Derbyshire in an attempt to identify the body. Mrs. Cole could be that someone. Or if she believed it would be too traumatic, then someone else-perhaps Terry's sister… It was up to Mrs. Cole. Nkata gently replaced the photograph.

Sal watched him, looking stunned. She said, “Derbyshire? No. I don't think so. My Terry's working on a project in London, a big-money project. A commission taking up all his time. It's why he couldn't be here last Sunday for lunch like he usually is. He dotes on our little Darryl, he does. He wouldn't miss his Sunday afternoon with Darryl. But the commission… Terry couldn't come because of the commission. That's what he said.”

Her daughter joined them then, having donned a blue track suit and slicked back her hair. She paused in the doorway and appeared to take a reading of the room. She went hastily to Sal's side, saying, “Mum. What's wrong? You've gone dead white. Sit down or you'll faint.”

“Where's our baby? Where's our little Darryl?”

“He's settled. That hot water bottle did the trick. Come on, Mum. Sit down before you fall over.”

“You wrapped it in a towel like I said?”

“He's fine.” Cyn turned to Barbara and Nkata. “What's happened?”

Nkata explained briefly The second time through seemed to deplete not his resources but those of Mrs. Cole. When he reached the body another time, she grasped the handle of the hoe in the odd teepee sculpture, said, “It was to be three times this size, his commission was. He told me so,” and made her way to a threadbare overstuffed chair. A small child's toys encircled this, and she reached for one of them: a bright yellow bird that she held to her chest.

“Derbyshire?” Cyn sounded incredulous. “What the hell's our Terry doing in Derbyshire? Mum, he probably borrowed the motorcycle to someone. Cilia would know Let's phone her.”

She strode to do so, punching in the numbers on a phone that stood on a squat table at the foot of the stairs. Her end of the conversation was simple enough: “Is that Cilia Thompson?… This is Cyn Cole, Terry's sister… Yeah… Oh, right. Proper little monster, he is. Got us all running round for him whenever he blinks. Listen, Cilia, 's Terry about?… Oh. D'you know where's he gone off to, then?” A sombre glance over her shoulder at her mother as Cilia answered. Cyn said, “Right then… No. No message. But if he turns up in the next hour or so, have him phone me at home, okay?” And then she rang off.

Sal and Cyn communicated wordlessly in the way of women long used to each other's company. Sal said quietly, “He's set on that commission heart and soul. He said, ‘This'll bring destination art into being. Just you watch, Mum.’ So I don't see why he would've left.”

“‘Destination art?’” Barbara asked.

“His gallery. That's what he wants to call it: Destination Art,” Cyn clarified. “He's always wanted a gallery for moderns. It was to be-is to be-on the south bank near the Hayward. It's his dream. Mum, this could be nothing. You hold on to that. It could be nothing.” But the tone of her voice sounded as if she'd have loved nothing more dearly than to convince herself.

“We'll need the address,” Barbara told her.

“There isn't any gallery yet,” Cyn replied.

“For Terry's digs,” Nkata clarified. “And the studio he shares.”

“But you just said-” Sal didn't finish her remark. A silence fell among them. The source of it was obvious to them all: What could have been nothing was probably something, the worst sort of something that a family like the Coles might ever have to face.

Cyn went in search of the exact addresses. As she did so, Nkata said to Terry Cole's mother, “I'll fetch you first thing in the morning, Mrs. Cole. But if Terry should ring you sometime tonight, you page me. Right? Don't mind the time. Just page me.”

He wrote out his pager number on a sheet of paper that he removed from his neatly kept notebook. He was ripping it out and handing it over to Sal Cole when Terry's sister returned with her brother's information. She gave it to Barbara. Two locations were listed next to the words flat and studio. Both, Barbara saw, were in Battersea. She committed the addresses to memory-just in case, she told herself-and she gave the paper to Nkata. He nodded his thanks, folded it, and shoved it into his pocket. A time was agreed upon for the morning's departure, and the two police constables found themselves out in the night.

A mild wind gusted on the street, blowing a plastic carrier bag and a large Burger King cup down the pavement. Nkata disarmed the security system on the car, but he didn't open the door. Instead, he looked at Barbara over the roof, then beyond her to the dismal-looking council housing on the other side of the street. His face was a study in sadness.

“What?” Barbara asked him.

“I killed their sleep,” he said. “I should've waited till morning. Why didn't I think that? No way could we have driven back there tonight. I'm too shagged out. So why'd I rush over here like there was a fire I had to put out? They got that baby to see to, and I just killed their sleep.”

“You didn't have a choice,” Barbara said. “If you'd waited till morning, they'd probably both've been gone-to work and to school-and you'd've lost a day. Don't drive yourself round the bend on it, Winston. You did what you had to do.”

“It's him,” he said. “The bloke in the picture. He's the one got the chop.”

“I reckoned as much.”

“They don't want to believe it.”

“Who would?” Barbara said. “It's the final goodbye without a chance to say it. And there can't be anything more rotten than that.”

Lynley chose Tideswell. A limestone village climbing two opposing hillsides, Tideswell sat virtually at the midway point between Buxton and Padley Gorge. Housing himself in the Black Angel Hotel-with its pleasing view of the parish church and its surrounding green-would provide him during the investigation with easy access both to the police station and to Maiden Hall. And to Calder Moor, if it came to that.

Inspector Hanken was agreeable to the idea of Tideswell. He would send a car round for Lynley in the morning, he said, pending the return of Lynley's own officer from London.

Hanken had thawed considerably in the hours they'd spent in each other's company. In the bar of the Black Angel Hotel, he and Lynley had enjoyed one Bushmill apiece prior to dinner, a bottle of wine with the meal, and a brandy afterwards, which also gave some assistance in the matter.

The whiskey and wine had elicited from Hanken the sort of professional war stories that were common to most interactions between policemen: rows with superiors, cock-ups in investigations, rough cases he'd been lumbered with. The brandy had provoked more personal revelations.

The inspector from Buxton pulled out the family photograph he'd shown Lynley earlier and gazed upon it long before he spoke. His index finger tracing the bundled shape of his infant son, he said the word children and went on to explain that a man was changed for all time the moment a newborn was placed into his arms. One wouldn't expect that to be the case-that sort of alteration in persona was women's stuff, wasn't it?-but that's what happened. And what resulted from that change was an overwhelming desire to protect, to batten down every hatch in sight, and to secure every route of access into the heart of the home. So to lose a child despite every precaution…? It was a hell beyond his imagining.

“Something Andy Maiden is currently experiencing,” Lynley noted.

Hanken eyed him but didn't argue the point. He went on to confide that his Kathleen was the light of his life. He'd known from the day they'd met that he wanted to marry her, but it had taken five years to persuade her to agree. What about Lynley and his new bride? How had it been for them?

But marriage, wife, and children were the last subjects Lynley wanted to entertain. He sidestepped adroitly by claiming inexperience. “I'm too wet behind the ears as a husband to have anything remarkable to report,” he said.

He found that he couldn't avoid the subject when he was alone with his thoughts later that night in his room. Still, in an attempt to divert them-or at least to postpone them-he went to the window. He notched open the casement an inch and tried to ignore the strong scent of mildew that seemed to permeate the environment. He was as successful at this, however, as he was at overlooking the bed with its concave mattress and its pink duvet covered with a slick pseudo-satin material that promised a night of wrestling to keep it on the bed. He'd at least been equipped with an electric kettle, he observed gloomily, with a wicker basket of PG Tips, seven plastic thimbles of milk, one packet of sugar, and two pieces of shortbread. And he had a bathroom as well, although it had no window and it was fitted out with a water-stained bath encased in linoleum and was lit by a single light bulb of candle-strength wattage. It could have been worse, he told himself. But he wasn't sure how.

When he could no longer avoid doing so, he glanced at the telephone on the iron-legged outdoor table that did service next to the bed. He owed Helen a call, at least to give her his whereabouts, but he was reluctant to punch in the numbers. He considered the reason.

Certainly, Helen was more in the wrong than he. He may have lost his temper with her, but she'd crossed a line when she'd taken the part of Barbara Havers' advocate. As his wife, she was supposed to be his advocate. She might have asked why he'd chosen Winston Nkata to work with and not Barbara Havers instead of attempting to argue him into altering a decision that he had felt compelled to take.

Of course, upon reflection, he recalled that Helen's conversational opening had indeed been to ask him why he'd selected Nkata. It was his series of responses that had led them from a reasonable discussion into a row. Yet he'd responded as he had done because she'd provoked in him a sense of marital-if not moral-outrage. Her questions implied an alliance with someone whose actions couldn't begin to be justified. That he was being asked to justify his own actions-which were reasonable, allowable, and completely understandable-was more than mildly annoying.

Policing worked because of its officers’ adherence to an established chain of command. Senior officers gained their positions by proving themselves capable of performance under pressure. With a life at stake and a suspect fleeing, Barbara Havers’ superior officer had made a split-second decision, giving orders that were as pellucid as they were reasonable. That Havers had contravened those orders was bad enough. That she'd taken matters into her own hands was very much worse. But that she'd wrested power to herself by using a firearm was q. violation of their entire oath of office. It wasn't a simple bending of rules. It was a mockery of everything they stood for. Why hadn't Helen understood all this?

“These things aren't black and white, Tommy.” Malcolm Webberly's comment came back to him as if in answer to his mental question.

But Lynley had to disagree with his superintendent. It seemed to him that some things were.

Still, he couldn't work his way round the fact that he owed his wife a telephone call. They didn't need to pursue their argument. And he could at least offer an apology for losing his temper.

Instead of Helen, however, he found himself talking to Charlie Denton, the young, frustrated thespian who played the role of manservant in Lynley's life, when he wasn't haunting the half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square. The countess wasn't at home, Denton informed him, and Lynley could tell how much the maddening man enjoyed giving Helen the title. She'd phoned round seven o'clock from Mr. St. James's house, Denton went on, and said she'd been asked to stay to dinner. She hadn't yet returned. Did his lordship wish-Lynley cut him off wearily. “Denton,” he warned.

“Sorry.” The younger man chuckled and dropped the mock servility. “D'you want to leave her a message, then?”

“I'll catch her in Chelsea,” Lynley replied. But he gave the Black Angel's number to Denton all the same.

When he phoned the St. James house, however, he discovered that Helen and St. James's wife had gone out straight after dinner. He was left talking to his old friend.

“They mentioned a film,” St. James told him vaguely “I got the impression it was something romantic. Helen said she could do with an evening looking at Americans rolling round on a mattress with sculpted bodies, fashionable hair, and perfect teeth. That's the Americans, not the mattress, by the way.”

“I see.” Lynley gave his friend the number of the hotel with a message for Helen to phone if she returned at a reasonable hour. They hadn't had a proper chance to speak before he'd taken off for Derbyshire, he told St. James. Even to his own ears, it sounded a lame explanation.

St. James said that he'd pass the message to Helen. How was Lynley finding Derbyshire? he wanted to know.

It was a tacit invitation to discuss the case. St. James would never enquire directly. He had too much respect for the unwritten rules that governed a police investigation.

Lynley found himself wanting to talk to his old friend. He reviewed the facts: the two deaths, the differing means by which they'd come about, the absence of one of the weapons, the lack of identification on the boy, the anonymous letters assembled from cut-outs, the scrawled suggestion that “This bitch has had it.”

“It puts a signature on the crime,” Lynley concluded, “although Hanken thinks the note could be part of a blind.”

“Misdirection on the part of the killer? Who?”

“Andy Maiden, if you go along with Hanken's thinking.”

“The father? That's a bit rough. Why is Hanken heading that way?”

“He wasn't at first.” Lynley described their interview with the dead girl's parents: what had been said and what had been inadvertently revealed. He ended with “So Andy believes there's an SO10 connection.”

“What do you think?”

“Like everything else, it needs checking out. But Hanken didn't trust a word Andy said once we learned that he'd been keeping information from his wife.”

“He could merely have been trying to protect her,” St. James offered. “Not an unreasonable thing for a man to do for a woman he loves. And if they were really looking for a blind, wouldn't they misdirect you into considering the boy?”

Lynley agreed. “There's a real bond between the two of them, Simon. It appears to be an extraordinarily close relationship.”

St. James was silent for a moment on the other end of the line. Outside Lynley s hotel room, someone walked down the corridor. A door shut quietly.

“Then there's another way to look at Andy Maiden protecting his wife, isn't there, Tommy?” St. James finally said.

“What's that, then?”

“He may be doing it for another reason. The worst possible reason, in fact.”

“Medea in Derbyshire?” Lynley asked. “Christ. That's horrific, Simon. And when mothers kill, the child's generally young. I'll be pressed for a motive if things go that way.”

“Medea would have argued that she had one.”

In the midst of dealing with one of Nicola's many disappearances prior to the family's move to Derbyshire, Nan Maiden would have been incredulous had anyone suggested to her that there would come a day when she would yearn for something as simple as a teenager's running away from home in a fit of temper. When Nicola had disappeared in the past, her mother had reacted the only way she knew: with a mixture of terror, anger, and despair. She'd phoned the girl's friends, she'd alerted the police, and she'd taken to the streets to trackher down. She'd been capable of nothing else until she'd known her child was safe.

That Nicola would vanish into the streets of London always intensified Nan's worry. For anything could happen on the streets of London. A teenaged girl could be raped; she could be seduced into the netherworld of narcotics; she could be beaten; she could be maimed.

There was one prospective consequence of Nicola's running off that Nan never considered, however: that her daughter had been murdered. The thought simply didn't bear dwelling upon. Not because murder never happened to young girls, but because if it happened to this particular young girl, her mother had no idea how she herself would go on.

And now it had happened. Not during those tempestuous teenage years when Nicola was insisting on autonomy, independence, and what she'd called “the right to self-determination, Mum. We're not living in the Middle Ages, you know.” Not during that torturous period when making a demand of her parents-whether it was for something simple and concrete like a new CD or something complex and nebulous like personal freedom-was no less than an unspoken threat to vanish for a day or a week or a month if that demand wasn't met. But now, when she was an adult, when locking her door and nailing closed her window were actions that were supposed to be not only unthinkable but also unnecessary.

Yet that's exactly what I should have done, Nan thought brokenly. I should have locked her in, tied her to her bed, and refused to let her out of my sight.

“I know what I want,” Nicola had declared so many times throughout the years. “And this is it.”

Nan had heard that in the voice of the seven-year-old who wanted Barbie, Barbie's house, Barbie's car, and every item of clothing that could be slid onto the impossibly shaped plastic figure that was supposed to be the epitome of femininity. In the cry of the twelve-year-old who could not exist another moment unless she was allowed to wear make-up, stockings, and four-inch-high heels. In the black moods of the fifteen-year-old who wanted a separate telephone line, a pair of in-line skates, a holiday in Spain without the burden of her parents along. Nicola had always wanted what Nicola wanted at the moment when Nicola wanted it. And many times over the years, it had seemed so much easier just to give in than to face a day, a week, or a fortnight of her disappearance.

But now Nan wished with all her heart that her daughter had simply chosen to run off again. And she felt the hundredweight of guilt dragging down on her for the occasions during Nicola's adolescence when, faced with yet another of her daughter s petulant flights from home, she'd even for an instant harboured the notion that it would be better to have had Nicola die at birth than not to know where she was or if she'd ever be found at all.

In the laundry room of the old hunting lodge, Nan Maiden clutched one of her daughter's cotton shirts to her chest as if the shirt could metamorphose into Nicola herself. Without a thought that she was doing so, she raised the collar of that shirt to her nose and breathed in the scent that was her child, the mixture of gardenias and pears from the lotions and shampoo that Nicola had used, the acrid odour of her perspiration. Nan discovered that she could visualise Nicola on the last occasion when she'd worn the shirt: on a recent bike ride with Christian-Louis once the Sunday afternoon lunches had all been served.

The French chef had always found Nicola attractive-what man hadn't?-and Nicola had observed the interest in his eyes and had not ignored it. That was her talent: pulling men without effort. She didn't do it to prove anything to herself or to anyone else. She simply did it, as if she gave off a peculiar emanation that was transmitted solely to males.

In Nicola's childhood, Nan had fretted over her sexual powers and what price they might exact from the girl. In Nicola's adulthood, Nan saw that the price had finally been paid.

“The purpose of parenthood is to bring up children who stand on their own as autonomous adults, not as clones,” Nicola had said. “I'm responsible for my destiny, Mum. My life has nothing to do with you.”

Why did children say such things? Nan wondered. How could they believe that the choices they made and the end they faced touched no lives other than their own? The way that events had unfolded for Nicola had everything to do with her mother simply because she was her mother. For one did not give birth and then spare no thought to the future of one's treasured child.

And now she was dead. Sweet Jesus God, there would never be another crash-bang entrance of Nicola coming home for a holiday, of Nicola returning from a hike on the moors, of Nicola slugging her way inside the lodge with carrier bags of groceries dangling from her arms, of Nicola back from a date with Julian all laughter and chatter about what they'd done. Sweet Jesus God, Nan Maiden thought. Her lovely, tempestuous, incorrigible child was truly gone. The pain of that knowledge was an iron band growing tight round Nan's heart. She didn't think she'd be able to endure it. So she did what she had usually done when the feelings were too much to be borne. She continued to work.

She forced herself to lower the cotton shirt from her face and went back to what she had been doing, removing from the laundry all of her daughter's unwashed clothing as if by keeping the scent of her alive, she could also forestall the inevitable acceptance of Nicola's death. She mated socks. She folded jeans and jerseys. She smoothed out creases in every shirt, and she rolled up knickers and matched them to bras. Finally, she slid the clothing into plastic carrier bags from the kitchen. Then she methodically taped these bags closed, sealing in the odour of her child. She gathered the bags to her and left the room.

Upstairs, Andy was pacing. Nan could hear his footsteps above her as she moved noiselessly down the corridor past the guest rooms. He was in his cubbyhole of a den, walking from the tiny dormer window to the electric fire, backwards and forwards, over and over again. He'd retreated there upon the departure of the police, announcing that he would start looking through his diaries immediately in an attempt to find the name of someone with a score to settle against him. But unless he was reading those diaries as he paced, in the intervening hours he'd not begun the search.

Nan knew why. The search was useless.

She wouldn't think of it, Nan told herself. Not here, not now, and possibly not ever. Nor would she think what it meant-or didn't mean-that Julian Britton claimed to be engaged to her daughter.

Nan paused at the staircase that led to the private upper floor of the house where the family's quarters were. Her hands felt slick on the carrier bags, which she held to her chest. Her heart seemed to pound in tandem with her husband's tread. Go to bed, she told him silently. Please, Andy. Turn out the lights.

He needed sleep. And the fact that he was starting to go numb again told her just how badly he needed it. The advent of a detective from Scotland Yard hadn't resulted in a mitigation of Andy's anxiety. The departure of that same detective had only increased it. The numbness in his hands had begun to travel up his arms. A prick of a pin brought no blood to the surface of his skin, as if his whole body were shutting down. He'd managed to hold himself together while the police were present, but once they'd left, he'd fallen apart. That was when he'd said he wanted to start going through the diaries. If he withdrew from his wife into his den, he could hide the worst of what he was experiencing. Or so he thought.

But a husband and wife should be able to help each other through something like this, Nan argued in the stillness. What's happening to us that we're facing it alone?

She had tried to replace conversation with concern earlier in the evening, but Andy had sloughed off her solicitous hovering, consistently refusing her offers of heating pads, brandy, cups of tea, and hot soup. He'd also avoided her attempts to massage some feeling back into his fingers. So ultimately, everything that might have been spoken between them went unsaid.

What to say now? Nan wondered. What to say when dread was among the emotions raging inside like innumerable battalions from a single army, out of control and combating one another?

She forced herself to mount the stairs, but instead of going to her husband, she went to Nicola's bedroom. There, she moved across the green carpet in the darkness and opened the clothes cupboard that was tucked under the eaves. Eyes used to the gloom, she could make out the shape of an old skateboard pushed to the back of a shelf, of an electric guitar leaning long unused against the far wall, where it was draped by trousers.

Touching these with the tips of her fingers, saying idiotically, “tweed, wool, cotton, silk” as she felt the material of each, Nan became aware of a sound in the room, a buzzing that came from the chest of drawers behind her. As she turned, puzzled, the sound stopped. She had almost convinced herself that she'd imagined it, when it occurred again.

Curious, Nan set her packages on the bed and crossed the room to the chest. There was nothing on top of it to make such a noise, just a vase of drooping bladder campion and nightshade collected on a walk through Padley Gorge. These wildflowers were accompanied by a hair brush and comb, three bottles of scent, and a small beanbag flamingo with bright pink legs and large yellow feet.

With a glance towards the open bedroom door as if she were engaged in a surreptitious search, Nan slid open the top drawer of the chest. As she did so, the buzzing sounded for a third time. Her fingers moved in the direction of the noise. She found a small plastic square vibrating beneath a stack of knickers.

Nan carried this plastic square to the bed, sat, and switched on the bedside lamp. She examined what she'd taken from the drawer. It was Nicola's pager. On the top of it were two small buttons, one grey and one black. Across the end of it a thin screen held a single brief message: one page.

The buzzer sounded again, startling Nan Maiden. She pushed down one of the two buttons in response. The thin screen shifted to another message, this a telephone number with an area code that Nan recognised from central London.

She swallowed. She stared hard at the number. She realised that whoever had paged her daughter had no idea that Nicola was dead. It was this thought that took her automatically to the telephone in order to make a reply. But it was another set of thoughts that took her to a telephone in the reception area of Maiden Hall when she could have as easily phoned the London number from the bedroom that she shared with Andy.

She drew a long breath. She wondered if she would have the words. She considered the possibility that having the words would make no difference to anyone. But she didn't want to think about that. She just wanted to phone.

Rapidly, she punched in the numbers. She waited and waited for the connection to be made, till she became light-headed and realised that she was holding her breath. Finally, with a click, a phone somewhere in London began sounding. Double-ring, double-ring. Nan counted eight of them. She had started to think she'd misdialled the number, when she finally heard a man's gruff voice.

He answered in the old way, marking his generation: He gave the last four digits of his number. And because of that fact, and because his way of answering reminded her so much of her own father, Nan heard herself saying what she would not have believed herself capable of saying an hour earlier. A whisper only, “Nicola here.”

“Oh, so it's Nicola tonight, is it?” he demanded. “Where the hell've you been? I paged you over an hour ago.”

“Sorry.” And in her daughters abbreviated style of talking, “What's up?”

“Nothing, and you damn well know it. What've you decided? Have you changed your mind? You can do that, you know. All will be forgiven. When're you back?”

“Yes,” Nan whispered. “I've decided yes.”

“Thank God.” It was fervent. “Oh Jesus. Thank God. Damn. It's become impossible, Nikki. I'm missing you too much. Tell me at once when you're coming back.”

“Soon.” The whisper.

“How soon? Tell me.”

“I'll phone you.”

“No! Good God. Are you mad? Margaret and Molly are here this week. Wait for the page.”

She hesitated. “Of course.”

“Darling, have I made you angry?”

She said nothing.

“I have done, haven't I? Forgive me. I didn't mean to.”

She said nothing.

Then the voice altered, becoming suddenly and bizarrely childlike. “Oh Nikki. Pretty Nikki of mine. Say you're not angry. Say something to me, darling.”

She said nothing.

“I know what you're like when I've made you angry. I'm a wicked boy, aren't I?”

She said nothing.

“Yes. I know. I don't deserve you. I'm wicked, and I must take the medicine. You've got my medicine, haven't you, Nikki? And I must take it. Yes, I must.”

Nan's stomach heaved. She cried out, “Who are you? Tell me your name!”

A muted gasp was the answer. The line went dead.

CHAPTER 7

At the end of her third hour at the computer, Barbara Havers knew she had two alternatives. She could continue with the SO 10 files in CRIS and possibly end up blind. Or she could take a break. She chose the latter option. She flipped her notebook closed, made an exit from the search she'd been conducting, and enquired where the nearest office was in which she could indulge her habit. With New Scotland Yard giving itself ever more over into the eager embrace of ASH, she was told that everyone on this particular floor was abstemious.

“Bloody hell,” she muttered. There was nothing for it but to backslide into behaviour from her schooldays. She slouched towards the nearest stairwell and plunked her squat body onto the stairs, where she lit up, inhaled, and held the wonderful, noxious fumes within her lungs for so long that her eyeballs felt ready to pop from their sockets. Pure bliss, she thought. Life didn't get much better than a fag after three hours away from the weed.

The morning had gained her nothing of scintillating substance. On CRIS she'd discovered that Detective Inspector Andrew Maiden had served with the force for thirty years, and he'd spent the last twenty with SO 10, where only

Inspector Javert could have had a more resplendent career. His record of arrests was transcendent. The convictions that followed those arrests were themselves a marvel of British jurisprudence. But those two facts created a nightmare for anyone looking into his history undercover.

Maiden's convicts had gone through the system and ended up being detained at Her Majesty's pleasure in virtually every one of Her Majesty's prisons within the UK. And while the files gave details of undercover operations-most of them having been named by someone with a distinct taste for loony acronyms, she found-and complete reports into investigations, interrogations, arrests, and charges, the information became sketchy when it came to prison terms and sketchier still in the area of parole. If a ticket-of-leave man was on the streets and after the bloke who caused the silver bracelets to be slapped on him in the first place, he wasn't going to be easy to find.

Barbara sighed, yawned, and tapped her cigarette against the sole of her shoe, dislodging ash onto the step beneath her. She'd abjured her trademark high-top red trainers in deference to her new position-all spit and polish for AC Hillier should he happen past, eager to give her another wigging-and she found that her feet had begun to throb, so unaccustomed had they become to formal footwear. Indeed, sitting on the step in the stairwell, she became aware of entire areas of her body that were screaming discomfort and had doubtless been doing so for most of the morning: Her skirt felt as if an anaconda had taken position round her hips, her jacket appeared to be chewing large bites from her underarms, and her tights had dug so far into her crotch that an episiotomy was going to be unnecessary should she ever be in the position to give birth.

She'd never been one for high fashion during her working hours, choosing drawstring trousers, T-shirts, and jerseys over anything that might be construed as remotely related to haute couture. And used to seeing her more casually arrayed, more than one person this day had encountered Barbara with a raised eyebrow or a stifled grin.

Among this lot had been her near neighbours, whom Barbara had encountered not twenty-five yards from her own front door. Tay-mullah Azhar and his daughter had been loading themselves into Azhar's spotless Fiat when Barbara trundled round the corner of the house that morning, fighting her notebook into her shoulder bag, a half-smoked fag dangling from her lips. She hadn't been aware of them at first, not till Hadiyyah called out happily, “Barbara! Hullo, hullo! Good morning! You shouldn't smoke so awfully much. It'll make your lungs all black and nasty if you don't stop. We learned that in school. We saw pictures and everything. Did I tell you that already? You look quite nice.”

Half in and half out of the car, Azhar extricated himself and nodded at Barbara politely. His gaze travelled from her head to her toes. “Good morning,” he said. “You're off early as well.”

“The bird, the worm, and all that rubbish,” Barbara replied heartily.

“Did you reach your friend?” he enquired. “Last night?”

“My friend? Oh. You mean Nkata. Winston. Right? I mean Winston Nkata. That's his name.” She winced inwardly, wondering if she always sounded so lame. “He's a colleague from the Yard. Yeah. We got in touch. I'm back in the game. It's afoot. Or whatever. I mean, I'm on a case.”

“You aren't working with Inspector Lynley? You've a new partner, Barbara?” The dark eyes probed.

“Oh no,” she said, partial truth, partial lie. “We're all working the same case. Winston's just part of it. Like me. You know. The inspector's handling one arm. Out of town. The rest of us're here.”

He said reflectively, “Yes. I see.”

Too much, she thought.

“I only ate half my toffee apple last night,” Hadiyyah informed her, a blessed diversion. She'd begun to swing on the open door of the Fiat, hanging from the lowered window with her legs dangling and her feet kicking energetically to keep up the momentum. She was wearing socks as white as angel's wings. “We c'n eat it for tea. If you like, Barbara.”

“That'd be nice.”

“I have my sewing lesson tomorrow. Did you know? I'm making something awfully special, but I can't say what it is right now. Because.” She cast a meaningful look at her father. “But you can see it, Barbara. Tomorrow, if you like. Do you want to see it? I'll show it to you if you say you want to see it.”

“That sounds just the ticket.”

“But only if you can keep a secret. Can you?”

“Mum's the absolute word,” Barbara vowed.

During this exchange, Azhar had been regarding her. His professional field was microbiology, and Barbara was beginning to feel like one of his specimens, so intense was his scrutiny. Despite their conversation of the previous night and the conclusion he'd reached upon seeing her manner of dress, he'd witnessed her setting off in her normal work togs long enough to know that the alteration in her get-up had a significance beyond a woman's fancying a fashion make-over. He said, “How content you must be, on a case again. After the weeks of idleness, it's always gratifying to engage one's mind, isn't it?”

“It's definitely the cat's jim-jams.” Barbara dropped her cigarette to the ground and crushed it out, kicking the dog end into the flower bed. “Biodegradable,” she said to Hadiyyah, who was obviously about to reprimand her. “Aerates the soil. Feeds the worms.” She settled the strap of her bag more comfortably on her shoulder. “Well. I'm off. Keep that toffee apple fresh for me, okay?”

“Maybe we can watch a video as well.”

“No damsels in distress though. Let's do The Avengers. Mrs. Peel's my idol. I like a woman who can show off her legs and kick gentlemen's bottoms simultaneously.”

Hadiyyah giggled.

Barbara nodded her goodbye. She was on the pavement, making her escape when Azhar spoke again. “Is Scotland Yard undergoing a reduction in force, Barbara?”

She stopped, puzzled, and answered without thinking of the intent behind the question. “Good grief, no. What made you ask that?”

“Autumn, perhaps,” he said. “And the changes it brings.”

“Ah.” She sidestepped the implication behind the word changes. She avoided his eyes. She took the statement at its most superficial and dealt with it accordingly. “The bad guys want nabbing no matter the season. You know the wicked. They never rest.” She smiled brightly and went on her way. As long as he never confronted her directly with the word constable, she knew that she wouldn't have to explain to him how it had come to be attached to her name. She wanted to avoid that explanation as long as possible, forever if she could, because explaining to Azhar ran the risk of wounding him. And for reasons she didn't care to speculate upon, wounding Azhar was unthinkable to her.

Now, in the stairwell of New Scotland Yard, Barbara strove to put the thought of her neighbours out of her mind. That's all they were at the end of the day anyway: a man and a child whom she had come to know by chance.

She glanced at her watch. It was half past ten. She groaned. The thought of six or eight more hours staring at a computer screen was less than exciting. There had to be a more economical way to delve into DI Maiden's professional history. She tossed round several possibilities and decided to try the most likely one.

In her perusal of the files, she'd come across the same name time and again: DCI Dennis Hextell, with whom Maiden had worked in partnership as an undercover cop. If she could locate Hextell, she thought, he might be able to put her onto a lead that was stronger than something she would have to interpret from reading twenty years of files. That was the ticket, she decided: Hextell. She shoved herself off the stairs and went in search of him.

It turned out to be easier than she had anticipated. A phone call to SO 10 gained her the information that DCI Hextell was still in the department, although now, as detective chief superintendent he directed operations instead of taking part in them on the street.

Barbara found him at a small table in the cafeteria on the fourth floor. She introduced herself, asking if she could join him. The DCS looked up from a set of photographs. His face, Barbara saw, wasn't so much lined as it was gouged, and gravity had taken its toll on his muscles. The years certainly hadn't been good to him.

The chief superintendent gathered his photographs together and didn't answer. Barbara said helpfully, “I'm working on the Maiden killing in Derbyshire, sir. Andy Maiden's daughter. You were a team with him, right?”

That got a response. “Sit.”

She could live with monosyllables. Barbara did his bidding. She'd fetched herself a Coke and a chocolate donut from the cafeteria, and she set these down on the table in front of her.

“Rot your teeth, that,” Hextell noted with a nod.

“I'm a victim of my addictions.”

He grunted.

“That your plane?” Barbara asked with a nod at the picture on the top of his stack. It featured a yellow bi-plane of the sort that had been flown in World War I when aviators wore leather helmets and flowing white scarves.

“One of them,” he said. “The one I use for aerobatics.”

“Stunt pilot, are you?”

“I fly.”

“Oh. Right. Must be nice.” Barbara wondered if the years undercover had made the man so loquacious. She launched into the purpose behind tracking him down: Was there any case, any stake-out, any operation that leapt to mind as being particularly important in the history of his association with Andy Maiden? “We're looking at revenge as a possible motive for the girl's murder, someone that you and DI Maiden put away, someone wanting to settle the score. Maidens trying to come up with a name on his own in Derbyshire, and I've been scrolling through the reports all morning on the computer. But nothings ringing my chimes.”

Hextell began separating his pictures. He appeared to have a system for doing so, but Barbara couldn't tell what it was since each shot was of exactly the same plane, just of varying angles: the fuselage here, the struts there, the wing tip, the engine, and the tail. When the piles were arranged to his liking, he took a magnifying glass from his jacket pocket and began studying each photograph under it. “Could be anyone. We were rubbing elbows with first class rot. Pushers, addicts, pimps, gun runners. You name it. Any one of them would have walked the length of the country to rub us out.”

“But no one's name comes to mind?”

“I've survived by putting their names behind me. Andy was the one who couldn't.”

“Survive?”

“Forget.” Hextell separated one picture from the rest. It documented the plane head-on, its body truncated by the angle. He applied his magnifying glass to every inch of it, squinting like a jeweller with a diamond in question.

“Is that why he left? He was out of here on early retirement, I've heard.”

Hextell looked up. “Who's being investigated here?”

Barbara hastened to reassure him. “I'm just trying to get a feeling for the man. If there's something you can tell me that'll help…” She made a that-would-be-great gesture and gave her enthusiasm to her chocolate donut.

The DCS set down his magnifying glass and folded his hands over it. He said, “Andy went out on a medical. He was losing his nerves.”

“He had a nervous breakdown?”

Hextell blew out a derisive breath. “Not stress, woman. Nerves. Real nerves. Sense of smell went first. Taste went next, then touch.

He coped well enough, but then it was his vision. And that was the end of him. He had to get out.”

“Bloody hell. He went blind?”

“Would have done, no doubt. But once he retired, it all came back. Feeling, vision, the lot.”

“So what'd been wrong with him?”

Hextell looked at her long and hard before answering. Then he raised his index and middle fingers and tapped them lightly against his skull. “Couldn't cope with the game. Undercover takes it out of you. I lost four wives. He lost nerves. Some things can't be replaced.”

“He didn't have wife problems?”

“Like I said. It was the game. Some blokes keep their peckers up fine when they're pretending to be someone they're not. But for Andy, that's not how it was. The lies he had to tell out there… Keeping mum about a case till it was long over… It knocked the stuffing out of him.”

“So there was no one case-one big case, perhaps-that cost him more than the others?”

“Don't know,” Hextell concluded. “Like I said, I put it behind me. If there was one case, I couldn't name it.”

With that sort of memory, Hextell would have been a pearl of low price to the Crown Prosecutors in his salad days. But something told Barbara that the DCS didn't care whether the prosecutors found him useful or not. She packed the rest of her donut into her mouth and washed it down with Coke.

“Thanks for your time,” she told him, and added in a gesture of friendliness, “Looks like fun,” with a nod at the bi-plane.

Hextell picked up the propeller picture, held it top to bottom with the edges of his thumb and index finger so as not to smudge it. “Just another way to die,” he said.

Bloody hell, Barbara thought. What people do to put the job out of mind.

No closer to the name she was looking for but wiser to the potential pitfalls promised by a lengthy career in police work, she returned to the computer. She'd just begun revisiting Andrew Maiden's history when a phone call interrupted her.

“It's Cole.” Winston Nkata's voice came over a line that was thick with static. “Mum took one look at the body, said, ‘Right. That's my Terry,’ walked out 'f the room like she was going for groceries, and just hit the floor. Flat on her face. We thought she'd had heart failure, but she'd just checked out. She had to be sedated once she came to. She's taking it hard.”

“Rough go,” Barbara said.

“She doted on the bloke. Makes me think of my mum.”

“Right. Well.” Barbara couldn't help thinking of her own mother. Doting certainly wouldn't be the word to describe her maternal deportment. “Sorry and all that. Are you bringing her back?”

“Be there by mid-afternoon, I expect. We stopped for coffee. She's in the loo.”

“Ah.” Barbara wondered why he was phoning. Perhaps to serve as intermediary between herself and Lynley, passing along information so that the inspector would have as little contact with her as he apparently deemed necessary at the moment. She said, “I haven't got anything on Maiden's arrests yet. At least not anything that looks useful.” She told him what DCS Hextell had confided about Maiden's nervous complaints, adding, “Whatever the inspector wants to make of that.”

“I'll give him the information,” Nkata told her. “If you c'n break off, there's Battersea to look at. It'd save us some time.”

“Battersea?”

“Terry Cole's digs. His studio as well. One of us needs to get over there, talk to his roommate. This Cilia Thompson, you recall?”

“Yeah. But I thought…” What had she thought? Obviously, that Nkata would keep as much to himself as he could, leaving the grunt work to her. The other DC continued to nonplus her with his easy generosity. “I can break off,” Barbara said. “I remember the address.”

She heard Nkata chuckle. “Now, why'm I not surprised at that?”

Lynley and Hanken had spent the first part of the morning waiting for Winston Nkata to deliver Terry Cole's mother to them for the purpose of identifying the second body found on the moor. Neither man had much doubt that the procedure would be a mere formality-devastating and anguished, but still a formality. When no one had come off the moor by dawn to claim the motorcycle and no one else had reported it stolen, it seemed fairly conclusive that the mutilated male and the owner of the motorcycle were one and the same.

Nkata reached them by ten, and the answer was theirs by quarter past the hour. Mrs. Cole verified that the boy was indeed her son Terry, after which she collapsed. A doctor was summoned, sedative in hand. He took over where the police left off.

“I want his effects,” Sal Cole had sobbed, by which they understood that she meant her sons clothes. “I want his effects for our Darryl. I mean to have them.”

And she would do, they told her, once forensics had completed their analysis, once the jeans and T-shirt and Doc Martens and socks were no longer deemed necessary for a successful prosecution of whoever had committed the crime. Until that time, they would give her receipts for each garment that the boy had been wearing, for his motorcycle as well. They didn't tell her that it could easily be years before the ensanguined clothing was released to her. And for her part, she didn't ask when she might expect it. She just clutched the envelope of receipts and wiped at her eyes with the back of her wrist. Winston Nkata escorted her from the nightmare into the extended nightmare to come.

Lynley and Hanken withdrew to the DI's office in silence. Prior to Nkata's arrival, Hanken had spent the time reviewing his notes on the case thus far, and he'd had another look at the initial report compiled by the constable who'd first talked to the Maidens about their daughter's disappearance. “She had several phone calls on the morning of her hike,” he told Lynley. “Two from a woman, one from a man, neither giving their names to Nan Maiden before she fetched Nicola to take the calls.”

“Could the man have been Terence Cole?” Lynley asked.

It was more grist for the mill of their suspicions, Hanken concluded.

He went to his desk. At its precise centre, someone had placed a sheaf of papers while they'd been with Mrs. Cole. It was, Hanken told Lynley upon taking them up, a document relating to the case. Owing largely to the services of an excellent transcriptionist, Dr. Sue Myles had managed to be as good as her word: They had the post-mortem report in hand.

Dr. Myles had been as thorough as she'd been unconventional, they discovered. Her findings upon external examination of the bodies alone took up nearly ten pages. In addition to a detailed description of every wound, contusion, abrasion, and bruise on both corpses, Dr. Myles had recorded each minute particular associated with a death on the moor. Thus, everything from the heather caught up in the hair of Nicola Maiden to a thorn pricking one of Terry Cole's ankles was assiduously noted. The detectives were made aware of infinitesimal fragments of stone embedded in flesh, evidence of bird droppings on skin, unidentified slivers of wood in wounds, and the postmortem damage done to the bodies by insects and birds. What the detectives didn't have at the end of their reading, however, was what they hadn't had at the beginning of it: a clear idea of the number of killers they were seeking. But they did have one intriguing detail: Aside from her eyebrows and the hair on her head, Nicola Maiden had been completely shaven. Not born hairless, but deliberately shaven.

It was that interesting fact that suggested their next move in the investigation.

Perhaps it was time, Lynley said, to talk to Julian Britton, the grief-stricken fiancé of their primary victim. They set off to do so.

The Britton home, Broughton Manor, sat midway up a limestone outcrop just two miles southeast of the town of Bakewell. Facing due west, it overlooked the River Wye, which at this location in the dale cut a placid curve through an oak-studded meadow where a flock of sheep grazed. From a distance, the building looked not like a manor house that had doubtless once been the centre of a thriving estate but instead an impressive fortification. Erected from limestone that had long ago gone grey from the lichen that thrived upon it, the house consisted of towers, battlements, and walls that rose twelve feet before giving way to the first of a series of narrow windows. The manor's entire appearance suggested longevity and strength, combined with the willingness and the ability to survive everything from the vicissitudes of weather to the whimsies of the family who owned it.

Closer, however, Broughton Manor told a different tale. Glass was missing from some of its diamond-paned windows. Part of its ancient oak roof appeared to have caved in. A forest of greenery-everything from ivy to old man's beard-seemed to be pressing against the remaining windows of the southwest wing, and the low walls that marked a series of gardens falling towards the river were crumbling and gap-ridden, giving wandering sheep access to what had probably once been a descending array of colourful parterres.

“Used to be the showplace of the county,” DI Hanken said to Lynley as they swung across the stone bridge that spanned the river and gave onto the sloping drive up to the house. “Chatsworth aside, of course. I'm not talking about palaces. But once Jeremy Britton got his maulers on it, he ran it straight to hell in less than ten years. The older boy-that's our Julian-has been trying to bring the place back to life. He wants to make it pay for itself as a farm. Or a hotel. Or a conference centre. Or a park. He even lets it out for fetes and tournaments, which probably has his ancestors spinning in their graves. But he's got to stay one step ahead of his dad, who'll drink up the profits if he's got the chance.”

“Julian's in need of funds?”

“Putting it mildly.”

“And there are other children?” Lynley asked. “Julian's the eldest?”

Hanken pulled past an enormous iron-studded front door-its dark oak dun with age, indifferent care, and bad weather-and drove them round to the back of the house, where an arched gate big enough for a carriage to pass through had an additional human-size door cut into it. This stood open, beyond it a courtyard between whose paving stones weeds sprang like unexpected thoughts. He switched off the ignition. “Julian's got a brother permanently at university. And a sister married and living in New Zealand. He's the oldest child-Julian is-and why he doesn't go along the same path as the others and clear out is far beyond me. His dad's a real piece of work, but you'll see that for yourself if you meet him.”

Hanken shoved open his door and led the way towards the house. Behind them, excited howling came from what seemed to be the stables, which stood at the end of an overgrown gravel lane shooting north from a curve in the nearby drive. “Someone's with the harriers,” Hanken told Lynley over his shoulder. “Probably Julian-he breeds the dogs-but we may as well check inside first. This way.”

This way took them into a courtyard, one of two, Hanken informed him. According to the DI, the imperfect rectangle in which they stood was a relatively modern addition to the older four wings of the building, which comprised the west facade of the house. Relatively modern in the history of Broughton Manor, of course, meant that the courtyard was just under three hundred years old and as such it was called the new court. The old court was mostly fifteenth century with a fourteenth-century central portion that constituted the shared boundary between the courts.

Even a cursory inspection of the courtyard was enough to reveal the decay that Julian Britton was attempting to counteract. But there were indications of occupancy intermingling with those of decrepitude: A makeshift clothesline waving incongruous pink sheets had been rigged in one corner, extending in a diagonal between two wings of the house and tied onto two paneless windows by means of their rusting iron casements. Plastic rubbish bags waited to be carted off alongside antique tools that probably hadn't been used for a century A shiny aluminium walking stick lay near an old, discarded mantel clock. Past and present met in every corner of the courtyard, as something new tried to rise from the detritus of the old.

“Hullo there. Can I help you?” It was a woman's voice, calling to them from above. They looked towards the windows, and she laughed and said, “No. Up here.”

She was on the roof, with a rubbish sack slung over her shoulder, giving her the appearance of a decidedly unseasonal and even more outsized Christmas elf in the middle of a delivery. But she was a particularly dishevelled elf: Her bare arms and legs were streaked with grime.

“Gutters,” she said cheerfully in apparent reference to her current occupation. “If you'll wait a moment, I'll be right down.”

Clouds of filth and decomposing leaves rose round her as she worked, her head turned away to keep the worst of the mess from alighting on her face.

“There. That's that,” the young woman said when she reached the gutter's end. She yanked off a pair of gardening gloves and came across the roof to an extension ladder that rested against the building, behind the line of pink sheets. She climbed down agilely and came across the courtyard. She introduced herself as Samantha McCallin.

In an environment so conducive to historical reflections, Lynley saw the young woman as she would have likely been seen in the distant past: extremely plain but hardy, of peasant stock, a perfect specimen for childbearing and labour on the land. In modern terms, she was tall and well built, with the physique of a swimmer. She wore no-nonsense clothes that were suited to her activity. Old cut-off blue jeans and boots were topped by a T-shirt. A bottle of water hung from her belt.

She'd pinned her mouse-brown hair to the top of her head in a coil, and she loosed it as she observed them frankly. It fell in a single thick plait to her waist. “I'm Julian's cousin. And you, I expect, are the police. And this visit, I imagine, is about Nicola Maiden. Am I right?” Her expression told them that she generally was.

“We'd like a chat with Julian,” Hanken told her.

“I hope you're not thinking he was involved in her death.” She unhooked the water bottle and took a slug of it. “That's impossible. He adored Nicola. He played knight to her damsel and all that nonsense. No distress was too much of a challenge for Julie. When Nicola called, he was into his armour before you could say Ivanhoe. Metaphorically speaking, naturally.” She offered them a smile. It was her only mistake. Brittle, it revealed the anxiety beneath her friendly demeanour.

“Where is he?” Lynley asked.

“Gone to the dogs. Fitting, isn't it, for the environment we're in? Come along. I'll show you the way.”

Her guidance wasn't necessary. They could have followed the noise. But the young woman's determination to monitor their meeting with Julian was an intriguing circumstance that a wise investigator would want to toy with. And that she was determined to monitor that meeting was evidenced in the long, sure stride she employed, charging past them out of the courtyard.

They followed Samantha up the overgrown lane. The branches of unpruned limes overhung it, offering an idea of what the leafy, tunnelled path to the stables had once been like.

The stables themselves had been converted to kennels for the breeding of Julian Britton's harriers. There were dogs in abundance in a number of curiously shaped runs, and all of them broke into cacophonous barking as Hanken and Lynley approached with Samantha McCallin.

“Quiten down, you lot,” Samantha shouted. “You, Cass. Why aren't you with the pups?”

In reply, the dog spoken to-stalking back and forth in a separate run from the others-trotted back to the building and disappeared through a dog-size door that had been hewn into the limestone wall. “That's better,” Samantha remarked. And to the men, “She whelped a few nights ago. She's protective of the pups. Julie'll be with them, I expect. It's just inside.” The kennels, she told them as she swung open the door, consisted of exterior and interior dog runs, two birthing rooms, and a dozen puppy pens.

In contrast to the manor house, at the kennels the accent was on the clean and the modern. Outside, the runs had been swept and the water dishes had sparkled. Inside, the detectives found that the walls were whitewashed, the lights were bright, the stone floor was polished, and music played. Brahms, by the sound of it. The thick walls of the building provided an insulation against the noise of the dogs outside. Because they also intensified the damp and the cold, central heating had been installed.

Lynley glanced at Hanken as Samantha led them towards a closed door. It was clear that the other DI was thinking the same thing: The dogs were living better than the humans.

Julian Britton was in a room identified on its door as “Pup Room One.” Samantha knocked twice and called his name. She said, “The police want a word. Can we come in?”

A man's voice said, “Quietly. Cass's uneasy.”

“We saw her outside.” And to Lynley and Hanken, “Act reassuring if you will. Towards the dog.”

Cass set up a ruckus when they entered the room. She was in an L-shaped run that gave on to the exterior run by means of the door through the wall. At the far end of this-well away from the draft-a box contained her new litter of puppies. Four heat lamps shone over this section of the run. The box itself was insulated, sided with sheepskin, and floored with a thick padding of newspaper.

Julian Britton stood inside the run. He held a puppy in his left hand while he offered his right index finger to the tiny dog's mouth. Eyes still closed, the animal sucked eagerly. After a moment, Julian disengaged him, returned him to the nest, and made a note in a three-ring binder. He said, “Easy, Cass,” to calm the dog. She remained wary though, merely exchanging the bark for low growls.

“All mothers should take such an interest in their brood.” It was impossible to tell to whom Samantha was referring: the dog or Julian Britton.

As Cass settled herself in the nest of newspapers, Julian watched. He said nothing until the pup he'd been examining had found its place on one of the teats. Then he merely murmured to the dogs as the rest of the litter nosed into position to nurse.

Lynley and Hanken introduced themselves, producing warrant cards. Julian looked these over, which gave them time to look him over. He was a good-size man, hefty without being overweight. His face bore the sort of irregular freckles on the forehead that were indications of a life spent out-of-doors as well as the precursors of skin cancer, and an additional patch of freckles across his cheeks gave him the appearance of a ginger-haired bandit. In combination with the unnatural pallor of his skin, though, the freckles enhanced a look of malaise.

After he had inspected the detectives' identification to his satisfaction, he removed a blue handkerchief from his trouser pocket and wiped his face with it, although he didn't appear to be perspiring. He said, “I'll do anything I can to help you. I was with Andy and Nan when they got the news. I had a date with Nicola that night. When she didn't turn up at the Hall, we phoned the police.”

“Julie went looking for her himself,” Samantha added. “The police weren't willing to do anything.”

Hanken didn't look pleased with this oblique criticism. He cast a sour glance at the woman and asked if they could have their conversation somewhere where the bitch wouldn't be growling at them. He was, of course, referring to the dog. But Samantha didn't miss the double entente. She gave Hanken a narrow glance and pressed her lips together.

Julian obliged them by leading the way to the puppy runs in a separate section of the building. Here, older pups were engaged in play: The runs were cleverly devised to keep them challenged and entertained, with cardboard boxes to tear apart, complicated multi-level mazes to wander in, toys to play with, and hidden treats to search out. The dog, Julian Britton informed them, was an intelligent animal. Expecting an intelligent animal to thrive in a concrete run devoid of distraction was not only stupid, it was also cruel. He'd talk to the detectives while he worked, he said. He hoped that would be all right.

So much for the grieving fiancé, Lynley thought.

“That'll be fine,” Hanken said.

Julian seemed to know what Lynley was thinking. He said, “Work's a balm at the moment. I expect you understand.”

“Need help, Julie?” Samantha asked. To her credit, the offer was gently made.

“Thanks. You can work with the biscuits if you'd like, Sam. I'm going to rearrange the maze.” He entered the run as Samantha went to fetch the food.

The pups were delighted with this human intrusion into their domain. They stopped playing and gravitated towards Julian, eager for another distraction. He murmured to them, patted their heads, and tossed four balls and several rubber bones to the far end of the run. As the dogs scampered after them, he set to work on the maze, which he disassembled through a series of slots in the wood.

“We've been given to understand that you and Nicola Maiden were engaged to be married,” Hanken said. “We've been told it was a recent engagement as well.”

“You have our sympathy,” Lynley added. “It can't be something you particularly want to talk about, but there might be something you can tell us-something you're not even aware of yourself perhaps-that will help in the investigation.”

Julian gave his attention to the sides of the maze, stacking them neatly as he answered. “I misled Andy and Nan. It was easier at the moment than going into everything. They kept asking if we'd had a row. Everyone kept asking, when she didn't turn up.”

“Misled? Then you weren't engaged to her?”

Julian cast a glance in the direction that Samantha had taken to fetch the dogs’ food. He said quietly, “No. I asked. She turned me down.”

“The feelings weren't mutual?” Hanken asked.

“I suppose they weren't if she didn't want to marry me.”

Samantha rejoined them, lugging a large burlap sack behind her, her pockets bulging with treats for the puppies. She entered the run, saying, “Here, Julie. Let me help you with that,” when she saw that her cousin was wrestling with a part of the maze that didn't want to give way.

He said, “I'm coping.”

“Don't be a goose. I'm stronger than you are.”

In Samantha's capable hands, the maze came apart. Julian stood by and looked uncomfortable.

“Exactly when did this proposal occur?” Lynley asked him.

Samantha's head turned swiftly towards her cousin. Just as swiftly, it turned away. She industriously began hiding dog biscuits throughout the run.

“On Monday night,” Julian told them. “The night before she… before Nicola went out on the moor.” Abruptly, he went back to his work. He spoke to the maze, not to them, saying, “I know how that looks. I'm not such a fool that I don't know exactly how it looks. I propose, she turns me down, then she dies. So yes, yes. I know exactly how it bloody well looks. But I didn't kill her.” Head lowered, he widened his eyes as if by doing so he could keep them from watering. He said only, “I loved her. For years. I loved her.”

Samantha froze where she was at the far end of the run, the puppies cavorting round her. It seemed as if she wanted to go to her cousin, but she didn't move.

“Did you know where she'd be that night?” Hanken asked. “The night she was killed?”

“I phoned her that morning-the morning she left-and we fixed up a date for Wednesday night. But she didn't tell me anything more.”

“Not that she'd be going out hiking?”

“Not that she was going off at all.”

“She had other phone calls before she'd left that day,” Lynley told him. “A woman phoned. Possibly two women. A man phoned as well. No one gave Nicola's mother a name. Have you any idea who might have wanted to speak with her?”

“None at all.” Julian showed no reaction to the knowledge that one of her callers had been male. “It could have been anyone.”

“She was quite popular,” Samantha said from her end of the run. “She was always surrounded by people up here, so she must have had dozens of student friends as well. I expect she got phone calls from them all the time when she was away from college.”

“College?” Hanken asked.

Nicola had just finished doing a conversion course at the College of Law, Julian told them. And he added, “In London,” when they asked him where she'd studied. “She was up for the summer working for a bloke called Will Upman. He's got a firm of solicitors in Buxton. Her dad fixed it up for her because Upman's something of a regular at the Hall. And because, I expect, he hoped she'd work for Upman in Derbyshire when she finished her course.”

“That was important to her parents?” Hanken asked.

“It was important to everyone,” Julian replied.

Lynley wondered if everyone included Julian's cousin. He glanced her way. She was very busy hiding dog biscuits for the puppies to search out. He asked the obvious next question. How had Julian parted from Nicola that night of the marriage proposal? In anger? Bitterness? Misunderstanding? Hope? It was a hell of a thing, Lynley said, to ask a woman to marry you and to be turned down. It would be understandable if her refusal led to depression or an unexpected burst of passion.

Samantha rose from her position at the far end of the run. “Is that your clever way of asking if he killed her?”

“Sam,” Julian said. It sounded like a warning. “I was down, of course. I felt blue. Who wouldn't?”

“Was Nicola involved with someone else? Is that why she refused you?”

Julian didn't reply. Lynley and Hanken exchanged a glance. Samantha said, “Ah. I see where this is heading. You're thinking that Julie came home on Monday night, phoned her up the next day to arrange a meeting, discovered where she'd be that night-which he of course wouldn't admit to you-and then killed her. Well, I can tell you this: That's absurd.”

“Perhaps. But an answer to the question would be helpful,” Lynley noted.

Julian said, “No.”

“No, she wasn't involved with someone else? Or no, she didn't tell you if she was involved with someone else?”

“Nicola was honest. If she'd been involved with someone else romantically, she would have told me.”

“She wouldn't have tried to protect you from the knowledge, to spare your feelings once you'd made them clear to her?”

Julian gave a rueful laugh. “Believe me, sparing people's feelings wasn't her way.”

Despite any suspicions that he had elsewhere, the nature of Julian's response seemed to prompt Hanken to ask, “Where were you on Tuesday night, Mr. Britton?”

“With Cass,” Julian said.

“The dog? With the dog?”

“She was whelping,” Samantha said. “You don't leave a dog alone when she's whelping.”

“You were here as well, Miss McCallin?” Lynley asked. “Helping out with the delivery?”

She caught her lower lip with her teeth. “It was in the middle of the night. Julie didn't get me up. I saw the puppies in the morning.”

“I see.”

“No, you don't!” she cried. “You think Julie's involved. You've come to trick him into saying something that will implicate him. That's how you work.”

“We work at getting to the truth.”

“Oh right. Tell that to the Bridgewater Four. Only it's three now, isn't it? Because one of those poor sods died in prison. Call a solicitor, Julie. Don't say another word.”

Julian Britton in possession of a solicitor was exactly what they didn't need at the moment. Lynley said, “You appear to keep records about the dogs, Mr. Britton. Did you record the time of delivery?”

“They don't all pop out at once, Inspector,” Samantha said.

Julian said, “Cass went into labour round nine at night. She began delivering round midnight. There were six puppies-one was stillborn-so it took several hours. If you want the exact times, I have them in the records. Sam can fetch the book.”

She went to do so. When she returned, Julian said to her, “Thanks. I'm nearly finished in here. You've been a real help. I'll manage the rest.”

Obviously, he was dismissing her. She appeared to communicate something to him through eye contact only. Whatever it was, he either couldn't or didn't want to receive the message. She cast a moderately baleful look at Lynley and Hanken before she left them. The sound of the dogs barking outside rose, then fell as she opened and closed the door behind her.

“She means well,” Julian told them when she was gone. “I don't know what I'd do without her. Trying to put the whole manor back together… It's a hell of a job. Sometimes I wonder why I took it on.”

“Why did you?” Lynley asked.

“There've been Brittons here for hundreds of years. My dream is to keep them here for a few hundred more.”

“Nicola Maiden was part of that dream?”

“In my mind, yes. In her mind, no. She had her own dreams. Or plans. Or whatever they were. But that's fairly obvious, isn't it?”

“She told you about them?”

“All she told me was that she didn't share mine. She knew I couldn't offer her what she wanted. Not at the moment and probably never. She thought it was the wiser course to leave our relationship the way it was.”

“Which was what?”

“We were lovers, if that's what you're asking.”

“In the normal sense?” Hanken asked.

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“The girl was shaved. It suggests… a certain sexual whimsicality to the relationship you had with her.”

Ugly colour flared in Julian's face. “She was quirky. She waxed herself. She had some body piercings done as well. Her tongue. Her navel. Her nipples. Her nose. That's just who she was.”

She didn't sound like a woman who'd be the prospective bride of the impoverished landed gentry. Lynley wondered how Julian Britton had come to think of her as such.

Britton, however, appeared to read the direction Lynley's thoughts were taking. He said, “It doesn't mean anything, all that. She just was who she was. Women are like that these days. At least women her age. As you're from London, I'd expect you know that already.”

It was true that one saw just about everything on the streets of London. It would be a myopic investigator who judged any woman under thirty-or over thirty for that matter-on the basis of waxing herself hairless or allowing holes to be needled into her body. But all the same, Lynley wondered at the nature of Julian's comments. There was an eagerness to them that wanted probing.

“That's all I can tell you.” Having made that remark, Julian opened the record book that his cousin had brought to him. He flipped to a section behind a blue divider and turned several pages until he found the one he wanted. He turned the book round so that Lynley and Hanken could see it. The page was labelled Cass in large block letters. Beneath her name were documented the times of each puppy's delivery as well as the times that parturition had begun and ended.

They thanked him for the information and left him to continue his work with the harriers. Outside, it was Lynley who spoke first.

“Those times were written in pencil, Peter, the lot of them.”

“I noticed.” Hanken nodded in the direction of the manor house, saying, “Make quite a team, don't they? ‘Julie’ and his cousin.”

Lynley agreed. He just wondered what game the team was playing.

CHAPTER 8

Barbara Havers was relieved to be able to leave the claustrophobic confines of the Met headquarters. Once Winston Nkata requested that she get onto the Battersea address of Terry Cole, she wasted little time in dashing for her car. She took the most direct route possible, heading for the river, where she followed the Embankment to Albert Bridge. On the south bank of the Thames she consulted her battered A to Z until she found the street she was looking for sandwiched between the two Bridge Roads: Battersea and Albert.

Terry Cole's digs were in a forest-green brick-and-bay-windowed conversion set among other similar conversions in Anhalt Road. A line of buzzers indicated that there were four flats in the building, and Barbara pressed the one that had Cole/Thompson taped next to it. She waited, glancing round at the neighbourhood. Terraced houses, some in better condition than others, were fronted by gardens. Some were neatly planted, some were overgrown, and more than one appeared to be used as a dumping place for everything from rusting cookers to screenless televisions.

There was no answer from the flat. Barbara frowned and descended the steps. She blew out a breath, not wanting to face another few hours at the computer, and considered her options as she studied the house. A spate of breaking and entering definitely wasn't going to cut the mustard, and she was thinking about a retreat to the nearest pub for a heaped plate of bangers and mash, when she noticed a curtain flick in the bay window of the ground floor flat. She decided to have a go at the neighbours.

Next to flat number one was the name Baden. Barbara pressed the buzzer. A tremulous voice came through the speaker almost at once in reply, as if the person in the corresponding flat had been preparing for a visit from the law. Once Barbara identified herself-and cooperatively held up her warrant card so that it could be observed at a distance through the ground floor window-the lock on the door was released. She pushed it open and found herself inside a vestibule that was the approximate size of a chess board. It was chess board in decoration as well: red and black tiles across which innumerable footprints were smudged.

Flat number one opened to the right of the vestibule. When Barbara knocked, she found that she had to go through the procedure all over again. She held her warrant card to the peep hole in the door this time. When it had been studied to the occupant's satisfaction, two dead bolts and a safety chain were released and the door opened. Barbara was faced with an elderly woman who said apologetically, “One can't be too careful these days, I'm afraid.”

She introduced herself as Mrs. Geoffrey Baden and quickly brought Barbara up to speed on the particulars of her life without being asked. Twenty years a widow, she had no children, just her birds-finches, whose enormous cage occupied one complete side of the sitting room-and her music, the source of which seemed to be a piano that occupied the other side. This was an antique upright and its top held several dozen framed pictures of the late Geoffrey while its music rack displayed enough hand-scored sheet music to suggest that Mrs. Baden might be channelling Mozart in her free afternoons.

Mrs. Baden herself suffered from tremors. They affected her hands and her head, which shook subtly but unceasingly throughout her interview with Barbara.

“No place to sit in here, I'm afraid,” Mrs. Baden said cheerfully when she was done sharing her personal particulars. “Come through to the kitchen. I've a fresh lemon cake, if you'd like a piece.”

She would have loved a piece, Barbara told her. But the truth was that she was looking for Cilia Thompson. Did Mrs. Baden know where Cilia might be found?

“I expect she's working in the studio,” Mrs. Baden replied, confiding, “They're artists, the two of them. Cilia and Terry. Lovely young people, if you don't mind their appearance, which I myself never do. Times change, don't they? And one must change with them.”

She seemed such a gentle, kind soul that Barbara was reluctant to tell her of Terry's death immediately. So she said, “You must know the two of them well.”

“Cilia's rather shy. But Terry's a dear boy, always popping round with the little gift or surprise. He calls me his adopted Gran, does Terry. He sometimes does the odd job when I need him. And he always stops to ask if I want something from the grocery when he pops out for his shopping. Neighbours like that are hard to come by these days. Don't you agree?”

“I'm lucky that way myself,” Barbara said, warming to the old woman. “I've good neighbours as well.”

“Then count yourself among the fortunate, my dear. May I say what a lovely colour your eyes are, by the way? One doesn't see such a pretty blue that often. I expect you've some Scandinavian in your blood. Ancestrally, of course.”

Mrs. Baden plugged in the electric kettle and pulled a packet of tea from a cupboard shelf. She spooned leaves into a faded porcelain pot and brought two mismatched mugs to the kitchen table. Her tremors were so bad that Barbara couldn't imagine the woman wielding a kettle of boiling water, and a few minutes later, when the kettle clicked off, she hastened to make the tea herself. For this activity Mrs. Baden thanked her graciously. She said, “One keeps hearing that young people have become virtual savages these days, but that's not been my experience.” She used a wooden spoon to stir the tea leaves round in the water, then she looked up and said quietly, “I do hope dear Terry's not in some sort of trouble,” as if she'd expected the police to come calling for quite some time, despite her earlier words.

“I'm awfully sorry to tell you this, Mrs. Baden,” Barbara said, “but Terry's dead. He was murdered in Derbyshire several nights ago. That's why I'd like to talk to Cilia.”

Mrs. Baden mouthed the word dead in some confusion. Her expression became stunned as the full implication behind that word made its way past her defences against it. “Oh my goodness,” she said.

“That lovely young boy. But certainly you can't think that Cilia-or even that unfortunate boyfriend of hers-had anything to do with it.”

Barbara filed away the information about the unfortunate boyfriend for future reference. No, she told Mrs. Baden, she actually wanted Cilia to let her inside the flat. She needed a look round the place to see if there was anything that might give the police a clue why Terry Cole had been murdered. “He was one of two people killed, you see,” Barbara told her. “The other was a woman-Nicola Maiden, she was called-and it may well be that the killings happened because of her. But in any event, we're trying to establish whether Terry and the woman even knew each other.”

“Of course,” Mrs. Baden said. “I understand completely. You have a job to do, as unpleasant as it must certainly be.” She went on to tell Barbara that Cilia Thompson would be in the railway arches that fronted Portslade Road. That was where she, Terry, and two other artists pooled their resources to have a studio. Mrs. Baden couldn't give Barbara the exact address, but she didn't think the studio would be difficult to find. “One can always ask along the street in the other arches. I expect the proprietors would know whom you're talking about. As to the flat itself…” Mrs. Baden used a pair of silver tea tongs-their plate worn through in spots-to capture a sugar cube. It took her three tries because of the shaking, but she smiled with real pleasure when she managed it and she dropped the cube into her tea with a satisfied plop. “I do have a key, of course.”

Brilliant, Barbara thought, and she mentally rubbed her hands together in anticipation.

“It's my house, you see.” Mrs. Baden went on to explain that when Mr. Baden had passed on, she'd had the house converted as an investment, to provide her with income in her twilight years. “I let out three flats and live in the fourth myself.” And she added that she always insisted on keeping a key to each of the flats. She'd long ago discovered that the potential of a landlord's surprise visit always kept her tenants on their toes. “However,” she concluded, sinking Barbara's ship with a nonetheless fond smile, “I can't let you in.”

“You can't.”

“I'm afraid it would be such a violation of trust, you see, to let you in without Cilia's permission. I do hope you understand.”

Damn, Barbara thought. She asked when Cilia Thompson generally returned.

Oh, they never kept regular hours, Mrs. Baden told her. She'd be wisest to run by Portslade Road and make an appointment with Cilia while she was painting. And by the way, could Mrs. Baden talk the constable into a slice of lemon cake before she left? One loved to bake but only if one could share one's creations with someone else.

It would balance the chocolate donut nicely, Barbara decided. And since immediate access to Terry Cole's flat was going to be denied her, she thought she might as well continue towards her personal dietary goal of ingesting nothing but sugar and fat for twenty-four hours.

Mrs. Baden beamed at Barbara's acceptance and sliced a wedge of cake suitable for a Viking warrior. As Barbara fell upon it, the older woman made the sort of pleasant chitchat at which her generation so excelled. Buried within it was the occasional nugget about Terry Cole.

Thus, Barbara gleaned that Terry was a dreamer, not entirely practical-to Mrs. Baden's way of thinking-about his future success as an artist. He wanted to open a gallery. But, my dear, the thought that someone might actually want to buy his pieces… or even those done by his colleagues… But then, what did an old woman know about modern art?

“His mother said that he was working on a big commission,” Barbara noted. “Had he mentioned it to you?”

“My dear, he did talk about a big project…”

“But there wasn't one?”

“I'm not quite saying that.” Mrs. Baden made the point hastily. “I think, in his mind, there truly was.”

“In his mind. You're saying that he was delusional?”

“Perhaps he was… just a little overly enthusiastic.” Mrs. Baden gently pressed the tines of her fork against a few cake crumbs and looked reflective. Her next words were hesitant. “It does seem like speaking ill of the dead…”

Barbara sought to reassure her. “You liked him. That's obvious. And I expect you want to help.”

“He was such a good boy. He couldn't do enough to help those he cared for. You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who'll tell you differently.”

“But…?” Barbara tried to sound encouraging.

“But sometimes when a young man wants something so desperately, he cuts corners, doesn't he? He tries to find a shorter and more direct route to get to his destination.”

Barbara seized on the final word. “You're talking about the gallery he wanted to open?”

“Gallery? No. I'm talking about stature,” Mrs. Baden replied. “He wanted to be someone, my dear. More than money and goods, he wanted a sense of having a place in the world. But one's place in the world has to be earned, hasn't it, Constable?” She set her fork by her plate and dropped her hands into her lap. “I feel terrible saying such things about him. He was, you see, so good to me. He gave me three new finches for my birthday. And only this week, some nice piano music… Flowers on Mothering Sunday as well. So considerate a boy. So generous, really. And helpful. He was so truly helpful when I needed someone to tighten a screw or change a bulb…”

“I understand,” Barbara reassured her.

“It's just that I want you to know he had more than one side to him. And this other part-the part in a hurry-well, he would have outgrown that as he learned more about life, wouldn't he?”

“Without a doubt,” Barbara said.

Unless, of course, his hunger for stature was directly related to his death on the moor.

Upon leaving Broughton Manor, Lynley and Hanken stopped in Bakewell for a quick pub meal not far from the centre of town. There, over a filled jacket potato (Hanken) and a ploughman's lunch (Lynley), they sorted through their facts. Hanken had brought with him a map of the Peak District, which he used to make his major point.

“We're looking for a killer who knows the area,” he said, indicating the map with his fork. “And you can't tell me some lag fresh out of Dartmoor prison took a crash course in trek-and-track in order to get revenge on Andy Maiden by killing his daughter. That kite won't fly.”

Lynley studied the map dutifully. He saw that hiking trails snaked all across the district, and destinations of interest dotted it. It looked like a paradise for a hiker or camper, but a huge paradise in which the unwary or unprepared walker could easily become lost. He also noted that Broughton Manor was of enough historical significance to be indicated as a point of interest just south of Bakewell and that the manor's land abutted a forest which itself gave way to a moor. Both across the moor and through the forest were a series of footpaths for the hiker, which led Lynley to say, “Julian Britton's family have been here for a few hundred years. I expect he's familiar with the area.”

“As is Andy Maiden,” Hanken countered. “And he has the look of someone who's been out and about on the land a fair amount. I wouldn't be surprised to learn his daughter inherited her penchant for trekking from him. And he found that car. All night out scouring the whole blasted White Peak, and he managed to find that bloody car.”

“Where was it, exactly?”

Hanken used his fork again. Between the hamlet of Sparrowpit and Winnat's Pass stretched a road that formed the northwest boundary of Calder Moor. A short distance from the track leading southeast towards Perryfoot, the car had been parked behind a dry-stone wall.

Lynley said, “All right. I see that it was a lucky shot-”

Hanken snorted. “Right.”

“-to find the car. But lucky shots happen. And he knew her haunts.”

“He did indeed. He knew them well enough to track her down, do her in, and dash back home with no one the wiser.”

“With what motive, Peter? You can't hang guilt on the man on the strength of his keeping information from his wife. That kite won't fly either. And if he's the killer, who's his accomplice?”

“Let's get back to his SO 10 years,” Hanken said meaningfully. “What old lag fresh out of Newgate would say no to making a few quid on the side, especially if Maiden made him the offer and guided him personally out to the site?” He forked up a mound of potato and prawns and shoveled them into his mouth, saying, “It could have happened that way.”

“Not unless Andy Maiden has undergone a transformation in personality since moving here. Peter, he was one of the best.”

“Don't like him too much,” Hanken warned. “He may have called in markers to get you sent up here for one very good reason.”

“I could take offence at that.”

“My pleasure.” Hanken smiled. “I've a fancy for seeing a nob cheesed off. But mind you, don't think too highly of this bloke. That's a dangerous place to be.”

“Just as dangerous as thinking too ill of the man. In either case, the vision goes to hell.”

“Touché” Hanken said.

“Julian has a motive, Peter.”

“Disappointment in love?”

“Perhaps something stronger. Perhaps an elementary passion. A base one at that. Who's this chap Upman?”

“I'll introduce you.”

They finished their meal and returned to the car. They headed northwest out of Bakewell, climbed upwards, and traversed the northern boundary of Taddington Moor.

In Buxton they cruised along the High Street, finding a place to park behind the town hall. This was an impressive nineteenth-century edifice overlooking The Slopes, a tree-shaded series of ascending paths, where those who once had come to Buxton to take the waters had exercised in the afternoons.

The solicitor's office was further along the High Street. Above an estate agent and an art gallery featuring water colours of the Peaks, it was reached by means of a single door with the names Upman, Smith, & Sinclair printed on its opaque glass.

As soon as Hanken sent his card into Upman's office in the hands of an ageing secretary in secretarial twin set and tweeds, the man himself came out to greet them and to usher them into his domain. He'd heard about Nicola Maiden's death, he told them somberly. He'd phoned the Hall to ask where he should send Nicola's final wages for the summer, and one of the dailies there had given him the news. The previous week had been her last in the office.

The solicitor seemed happy enough to cooperate with the police. He deemed Nicola's death “a damnable tragedy for all concerned. She had tremendous potential in the legal field and I was more than satisfied with her performance for me this past summer.”

Lynley studied the man as Hanken gleaned the background information on the solicitor's relationship with the dead woman. Upman looked like a newsreader for the BBC: picture perfect and squeaky clean. His oak-brown hair was greying at the temples, giving him an air of trustworthiness that probably served him well in his profession. This general sense of reliability was enhanced by his voice, which was deep and sonorous. He was somewhere in his early forties, but his casual manner and his easy bearing suggested youth.

He answered Hanken's questions without the slightest indication that he might be uncomfortable with any of them. He'd known Nicola Maiden for most of the nine years that she and her family had lived in the Peak District. Her parents’ acquisition of the old Padley Gorge Lodge-now Maiden Hall-had brought them into contact with one of Upman's associates, who handled estate purchases. Through him, Will Upman had met the Maidens and their daughter.

“We've been given to understand that Mr. Maiden arranged for Nicola to work for you this summer,” Hanken said.

Upman confirmed this. He added, “It was no secret that Andy hoped Nicola would practise in Derbyshire when she'd completed her articles.” He'd been leaning against his desk as they spoke, having not offered either detective a chair. He seemed to realise this all at once, however, because he hurried on to say, “I'm completely forgetting my manners. Forgive me. Please. Sit. Can I offer you coffee? Or tea? Miss Snodgrass?”

This last he called in the direction of the open door. There, the secretary reappeared. She'd donned a pair of large-framed spectacles that gave her the appearance of a timid insect. “Mr. Upman?” She waited to do his bidding.

“Gentlemen?” he asked Lynley and Hanken.

They declined his offer of refreshment, and Miss Snodgrass was dismissed. Upman beamed upon the detectives as they took seats. Then he remained standing. Lynley noted this, raising his guard. In the delicate game of power and confrontation, the solicitor had just scored. And the manoeuvre had been so smoothly handled.

“How did you feel about Nicola becoming employed somewhere in Derbyshire?” he asked Upman.

The solicitor regarded him affably. “I don't think I felt anything at all.”

“Are you married?”

“Never have been. My line of work tends to give one cold feet when it comes to matrimony. I specialise in divorce law. That generally disabuses one of one's romantic ideals in rather short order.”

“Could that be why Nicola turned down Julian Britton's marriage proposal?” Lynley asked.

Upman looked surprised. “I'd no idea he'd made one.”

“She didn't tell you?”

“She worked for me, Inspector. I wasn't her confessor.”

“Were you her anything else?” Hanken put in, clearly annoyed at the tenor of Upman's last remark. “Aside from her employer, naturally.”

From his desk, Upman picked up a palm-size violin that apparently served as a paperweight. He ran his fingers along its strings and plucked at them as if testing their tuning. He said, “You must be asking if she and I had a personal relationship.”

“When a man and a woman work at close quarters on a regular basis,” Hanken said, “these things do happen.”

“They don't happen to me.”

“By which we can take it that you weren't involved with the Maiden girl?”

“That's what I'm saying.” Upman replaced the violin and took up a pencil holder. He began removing those pencils whose lead was too worn, laying them neatly next to his thigh, which continued to rest against the desk. He said, “Andy Maiden would have liked it had Nicola and I become involved. He'd hinted as much on more than one occasion, and whenever I was at the Hall for dinner and Nicola was home from college, he made a point of throwing us together. So I saw what he was hoping for, but I couldn't accommodate him.”

“Why not?” Hanken asked. “Something wrong with the girl?”

“She wasn't my type.”

“What type was she?” Lynley asked.

“I don't know. Look, what does it matter? I'm… Well, I'm rather involved with someone else.”

“‘Rather involved?’” This from Hanken.

“We have an understanding. I mean, we date. I handled her divorce two years ago, and… What does it matter anyway?” He looked flustered. Lynley wondered why.

Hanken appeared to notice this as well. He began to home in. “You found the Maiden girl attractive though.”

“Of course. I'm not blind. She was attractive.”

“And did your divorcee know about her?”

“She's not my divorcee. She's not my anything. We're seeing each other. That's all there is. And there was nothing for Joyce to know-”

“Joyce?” Lynley asked.

“His divorcee,” Hanken said blandly.

“And,” Upman repeated, “there was nothing for Joyce to know because there was nothing between us, between Nicola and me. Finding a woman attractive and becoming caught up in something that can't go anywhere are two different things.”

“Why couldn't it go anywhere?” Lynley asked.

“Because we were both involved elsewhere. I am, and she was. So even if I'd thought about trying my luck-which I hadn't, by the way-I'd have been signing up for a course in frustration.”

“But she'd turned down Julian,” Hanken interposed. “That suggests she wasn't as involved as you supposed, that perhaps she'd set her sights on someone else.”

“If so, they weren't set on me. And as for poor Britton, I'd wager that she turned him down because his income didn't suit her. My guess is that she'd got her eye on someone in London with a hefty bank balance.”

“What gave you that impression?” Lynley asked.

Upman considered the question, but he appeared relieved to be himself let off the hook of a possible involvement with Nicola Maiden. “She had a pager that went off occasionally,” he finally said, “and once when it did, she asked me would I mind if she phoned London to give someone the number here to ring her back. And he did as much after that. Time and again.”

“Why would you conclude this was someone with money?” Lynley asked. “A few long distance phone calls aren't out of the question even for someone strapped for cash.”

“I know that. But Nicola had expensive tastes. Believe me, she couldn't have bought what she wore to work every day on what I was paying her. I'll lay twenty quid on it that if you trace her wardrobe, you'll find it came from Knightsbridge, where some poor sod's paying piles on an account that she was free to use. And that sod's not me.”

Very neat, Lynley thought. Upman had tied all the pieces together with an adroitness that was a credit to his profession. But there was something calculated in his presentation of the facts that made Lynley wary. It was as if he'd known what they would ask him and had already planned his answers, like any good lawyer. From Hanken's expression of mild dislike, it was clear that he'd reached the same conclusion about the solicitor.

“Are we talking about an affair?” Hanken asked. “Is this a married chap doing what he can to keep the mistress content?”

“I have no idea. I can only say that she was involved with someone, and I expect that someone's in London.”

“When was the last time you saw her alive?”

“Friday evening. We had dinner.”

“But you yourself had no personal relationship with her,” Hanken noted.

“I took her to dinner as a farewell, which is fairly common practice between employers and employees in our society, if I'm not mistaken. Why? Does this put me under suspicion? Because if I'd wanted to kill her-for whatever reason you might have in mind-why would I wait from Friday until Tuesday night to do it?”

Hanken pounced. “Ah. You seem to know when she died.”

Upman wasn't rattled. “I did speak to someone at the Hall, Inspector.”

“So you said.” Hanken got to his feet. “You've been most helpful to our enquiries. If you can just give us the name of Friday night's restaurant, we'll be on our way.”

“The Chequers Inn,” Upman said. “In Calver. But look here, why do you need that? Am I under suspicion? Because if I am, I insist on-”

“There's no need for posturing at this point in the investigation,” Hanken said.

There was also no need, Lynley thought, to put the solicitor any more on the defensive. He intervened with, “Everyone who knew the murder victim is a suspect at first, Mr. Upman. DI Hanken and I are in the process of eliminating possibilities. Even as a solicitor, I expect you'd encourage a client to cooperate if he wanted to be crossed off the list.”

Upman didn't embrace the explanation, but he also didn't press the issue.

Lynley and Hanken took themselves out of his office and into the street, where Hanken immediately said, “What a snake,” as they walked to the car. “What a slimy bugger. Did you believe his story?”

“Which part of it?”

“Any of it. All of it. I don't care.”

“As a lawyer, naturally, everything he said was immediately suspect.”

This effected a reluctant smile in Hanken.

“But he gave us some useful information. I'd like to talk to the Maidens again and see if I can get anything out of them that will corroborate Upman's suspicions that Nicola was seeing someone in London. If there's another lover somewhere, there's another motive for murder.”

“For Britton,” Hanken acknowledged. He jerked his head in the direction of Upman's office. “But what about him? D'you plan to list him among your suspects?”

“Till we check him out, definitely.”

Hanken nodded. “I think I'm starting to like you,” he said.

Cilia Thompson was in residence at the studio when Barbara Havers tracked it down, three arches away from the dead end of Portslade Road. She had the two big front doors completely open, and she was in the midst of what looked like a creative fury, slashing at a canvas with paint as what sounded like African drums emanated rhythmically from a dusty CD player. The volume was high. Against her skin and in her sternum, Barbara could feel the pulsations.

“Cilia Thompson?” she shouted, wrestling her identification from her shoulder bag. “Can I have a word?”

Cilia read the warrant card and put her paint brush between her teeth. She punched a button on the CD player, choked off the drums, and returned to her work. She said, “Cyn Cole told me,” and continued to smother the canvas with paint. Barbara sidled round to have a look at her work: It was a gaping mouth out of which rose a motherly looking woman wielding a teapot decorated with snakes. Lovely, Barbara thought. The painter was definitely filling a vacuum in the art world.

“Terry's sister told you that he was murdered?”

“His mum phoned her from the North soon as she saw the body. Cyn phoned me. I thought something was up when she rang last night. Her voice wasn't right. You know what I mean. But I wouldn't have guessed… I mean, like, who would've wanted to snuff Terry Cole? He was a harmless little prick. A bit demented, considering his work, but harmless all the same.”

She said this last with a perfectly straight face, as if all round her were canvases by Peter Paul Rubens and not depictions of countless mouths regurgitating everything from oil slicks to motorway pile-ups.

The work of her compatriots wasn't much better from what Barbara could see. The other artists were sculptors like Terry. One used crushed rubbish bins as a medium. The other used rusting supermarket trolleys.

“Yeah. Right,” Barbara said. “But I s'pose it's all a matter of taste.”

Cilia rolled her eyes. “Not to someone who's educated in art.”

“Terry wasn't?”

“Terry was a poser, no offence. He wasn't educated in anything except lying. And he'd got like a first in that.”

“His mum said he was working on a big commission,” Barbara said. “Can you tell me about it?”

“For Paul McCartney, I have no doubt” was Cilia's dry reply. “Depending on what day of the week you happened to have a chat with him, Terry was working on a project that would bring him millions, or getting ready to sue Pete Townshend for not telling the world he had a bastard son-that's Terry, mind you-or stumbling on some secret documents that he planned to sell to the tabloids, or having lunch with the director of the Royal Academy Or opening a topflight gallery where he'd sell his sculptures for twenty thousand a pop.”

“So there was no commission?”

“That's a safe bet.” Cilia stepped back from her canvas to study it. She applied a smear of red to the mouth's lower lip. She followed with a smear of white, saying, “Ah. Yes,” in apparent reference to the effect she'd attained.

“You're coping quite well with Terry's death,” Barbara noted. “For having just heard about it, that is.”

Cilia read the statement for what it was: implied criticism. Catching up another brush and dipping it into a glob of purple on her palette, she said, “Terry and I shared a flat. We shared this studio. We sometimes had a meal together or went to the pub. But we weren't real mates. We were people who served a purpose for each other: sharing expenses so we, like, didn't have to work where we lived.”

Considering the size of Terry's sculptures and the nature of Cilia's paintings, this arrangement made sense. But it also reminded Barbara of a remark that Mrs. Baden had made. “How did your boyfriend feel about the deal, then?”

“You've been talking to Prune-face, I see. She's been waiting for Dan to cut up rough with someone ever since she saw him. Talk about judging a bloke on appearances.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“And has he ever? Cut up rough, that is. With Terry. It's not your everyday situation, is it, when one bloke's girlfriend is living with another bloke.”

“Like I said, we aren't-weren't-living with like in living with. Most of the time we didn't even see each other. We didn't hang out with the same group even. Terry had his mates and I have mine.”

“Did you know his mates?”

The purple paint went into the hair of the mouth-sprung woman who was holding the teapot in Cilia's painting. She applied it in a thick curving line then used the palm of her hand to smear it, after which she wiped her palm on the front of her dungarees. The effect on the canvas was disconcerting. It rather looked as if Mother had holes in her head. Cilia took up grey next and advanced on Mother's nose. Barbara stepped to one side, not wishing to see what the artist intended.

“He didn't bring them round,” Cilia said. “It was mostly phone chat and they were mostly women. And they phoned him. Not the other way round.”

“Did he have a girlfriend? A special woman, I mean.”

“He didn't do women. Not that I ever knew.”

“Gay?”

“Asexual. He didn't do anything. Except toss off. And even that's a real maybe.”

“His world was his art?” Barbara offered.

Cilia whooped. “Such as it was.” She stepped back from her canvas and evaluated it. “Yes,” she said, and turned it round to face Barbara. “Voila. Now, that tells a proper tale, doesn't it?”

Mother's nose was excreting an unsavoury substance. Barbara decided that Cilia couldn't possibly have spoken words more true about her painting. She murmured her assent. Cilia carried her masterwork to a ledge along which half a dozen other paintings rested. From among them she selected an unfinished canvas and carried it to the easel to continue with her work.

She dragged a stool to the right of her easel. She rustled in a cardboard box and brought forth a mousetrap with its victim still in place. She set this on a stool and made its companions a moth-eaten, taxidermic cat and ajar of pasta cheese. She shuffled these objects this way and that until she had the composition she required. Then she set upon the unfinished canvas, where the lower lip of a mouth had been harpooned by a hook and a tongue protruded.

“Can I assume Terry didn't sell much?” Barbara asked her.

“He sold sod all,” Cilia said cheerfully. “But then he wasn't, like, ever willing to put enough of himself into it, was he? And if you don't give your all to your art, your art isn't going to give anything back to you. I put my guts right onto the canvas and the canvas rewards me.”

“Artistic satisfaction,” Barbara said solemnly.

“Hey, I sell. A real gent bought a piece off me not two days ago. Walked in here, took one look, said he had to have his own Cilia Thompson straightaway, and brought out the chequebook.”

Right, Barbara thought. The woman had quite an imagination. “So if he never sold a sculpture, where did Terry get the beans to pay for everything? The flat. This studio…” Not to mention the gardening tools that he appeared to have amassed by the gross, she thought.

“He said his money was a payoff from his dad. He had enough of it, mind you.”

“Payoff?” Now, here was something that could lead them somewhere. “Was he blackmailing someone?”

“Sure,” Cilia said. “His dad. Pete Townshend, like I said. As long as old Pete kept the lolly rolling in, Terry wouldn't go to the papers crying, ‘Dad's floating in it and I've got sod all.’ Ha. As if Terry Cole had the slightest hope of convincing anyone he wasn't what he really was: a scam man out for the easy life.”

This wasn't too far from Mrs. Baden's description of Terry Cole, albeit spoken with far less affection. But if Terry Cole had been into a scam, what had it been? And who had been its victim?

There had to be evidence of something somewhere. And there seemed to be only one place where that evidence might be. She needed to have a look through the flat, Barbara explained. Would Cilia be willing to cooperate?

She would, Cilia said. She'd be home by five if Barbara wanted to pop round then. But Constable Havers had better have it straight in her head that whatever Terry Cole had been caught up in, Cilia Thompson had not been part of it.

“I'm an artist. First, last, and always,” Cilia proclaimed. She rearranged the dead mouse and pulled the stuffed cat's paw into a more ominous and chasseur-like position.

“Oh, I can see that,” Barbara assured her.

At Buxton police station, Lynley and Hanken parted ways once the Buxton DI arranged for his Scotland Yard associate to pick up a car. Hanken planned to head for Calver, determined to corroborate Will Upman's alleged dinner date with Nicola Maiden. For his part, Lynley set out towards Padley Gorge.

At Maiden Hall he found that afternoon preparations for the evening meal were going on in the kitchen, which backed onto the car park where Lynley left the police Ford. The bar in the lounge was being restocked with spirits, and the dining room was being set for the evening. There was a general air of activity about the place demonstrating that, as much as possible, life was going on at the Hall.

The same woman who'd intercepted the DIs on the previous afternoon met Lynley just beyond the reception desk. When he asked for Andy Maiden, she murmured, “Poor soul,” and left to fetch the former police officer. While he waited, Lynley went to the door of the dining room, just beyond the lounge. Another woman-of similar age and appearance as the first-was placing slender white candles in holders on the tables. A basket of yellow chrysanthemums sat next to her on the floor.

The serving hatch between dining room and kitchen was open, and from within the latter room came the sound of French, rapidly spoken and with some considerable passion. And then in accented English, “And no and no and no! I ask for shallots, it means shallots. These are onions for boiling in the pan.”

There was a quiet response that Lynley couldn't catch, then a torrent of French of which he caught only, “Je t'emtnerde.”

“Tommy?”

Lynley swung round to see that Andy Maiden had come into the lounge, a spiral notebook in his hand. Maiden looked ravaged: He was drawn and unshaven and he wore the clothes he'd had on on the previous evening. “I couldn't wait for the pension,” he said, voice numb. “I lived to retire. I put up with the work without a word because it was leading to something. That's what I told myself. And them. Nan and Nicola. A few more years, I'd say. Then we'll have enough.” Rousing himself to trudge the rest of the way across the lounge to join Lynley seemed to take what few resources he had left. “And look where it's brought us. My daughter's dead and I've come up with the names of fifteen bastards who'd've willingly killed their own mothers if they'd gain by the act. So why the hell did I think they'd serve their time, disappear, and never bother to go after me?”

Lynley glanced at the notebook, realising what it was. “You've got a list for us.”

“I read through the night. Three times. Four. And here's where I ended. D'you want to know?”

“Yes.”

“I killed her. I was the one.”

How many times had he heard that need to take blame? Lynley wondered. A hundred? A thousand? It was always the same. And if there was a glib response that could attenuate the guilt of those who were left behind after violence had done its worst to a loved one, he hadn't yet learned it. “Andy,” he began.

Maiden cut him off. “You remember what I was like, don't you? Keeping society safe from the ‘criminal element,’ I told myself. And I was good at what I did. I was so bloody good. But I never once saw that while I was concentrating on our fucking society, my very own daughter… my Nick-” His voice began to waver. “Sorry,” he said.

“Don't apologise, Andy. It's all right.”

“It'll never be all right.” Maiden opened the notebook and ripped out the last page. He shoved this towards Lynley. “Find him.”

“We will.” Lynley knew how inadequate his words were-as would be an arrest in the case-to mitigate Maiden's grief. Nonetheless, he explained that he'd assigned an officer to go through the SO 10 records in London, but he'd so far heard nothing. Thus, anything that Maiden provided them with-a name, a crime, an investigation-could well end up halving or quartering the London officer's time on the computer and freeing that officer to pursue likely suspects. The police would be in Maiden's debt for that.

Maiden nodded dully. “How else can I help? Can you give me something, Tommy… something else to do… because otherwise…” He ran a large hand through hair that was still curly and thick, albeit quite grey. “I'm a textbook case. Looking for employment so I can stop going through this.”

“It's a natural response. We all put up defences against a shock till we're ready to deal with it. That's part of being human.”

“This. I'm even calling it this. Because if I say the word, that'll make everything real and I don't think I can stand it.”

“You're not expected to cope right now. You and your wife are both owed some time to avoid what's happened. Or to deny what's happened. Or to fall apart altogether. Believe me, I understand.”

“Do you.”

“I think you know I do.” There was no easy way to make the next request. “I need to go through your daughter's belongings, Andy. Would you like to be present?”

Maiden knotted his eyebrows. “Her things are in her room. But if you're looking for a connection to SO 10, what's Nicola's bedroom got to do with that?”

“Nothing, perhaps,” Lynley told him. “But we spoke to Julian Britton and Will Upman this morning. There are several details we'd like to explore further.”

Maiden said, “Good Christ. Are you thinking one of them…?” and he looked beyond Lynley to the window, seeming to ponder what horrors a reference to Britton and Upman implied.

Lynley said quickly, “It's too early for anything but guesswork, Andy.”

Maiden turned back, examined him for a long thirty seconds. He finally seemed to accept the answer. He took Lynley to the second floor of the house and led him to his daughter's bedroom, remaining in the doorway and watching as Lynley began going through Nicola Maiden's belongings.

Most of these comprised exactly what one would expect to find in the room of a twenty-five-year-old woman, and much of it supported points that either Julian Britton or Will Upman had made. A wooden jewellery case contained evidence of the body piercings with which Julian had declared that Nicola had decorated herself: Single gold hoops of varying sizes and without mates suggested rings that the dead girl had worn through her navel, her Up, and her nipple, single studs spoke of the hole in her tongue; tiny ruby and emerald studs with screw tips would have fitted her nose.

The clothes cupboard contained designer clothing: The labels were a who's who of haute couture. Upman had declared that she couldn't have dressed herself on what he'd been paying her for her summers employment, and her clothing fully supported his contention. But there were other indications that Nicola Maiden's whims were being fulfilled by someone.

The room was replete with items that could be associated only with either a considerable discretionary income or with a partner eager to prove himself through gifts. An electric guitar took up space in the cupboard, to the side of which were a CD player, a tuner, and a set of speakers that would have set Nicola Maiden back more than a month's wages. A nearby rotating oak stand designed solely for the occupation held two or three hundred CDs. A colour television in one corner of the room was the resting place for a mobile phone. On a shelf beneath the television stand, eight leather handbags were lined up precisely. Everything in the room spoke of excess. Everything also announced that, at least in one respect, Nicola's employer may have been telling the truth. Either that or the girl had come by her money in a way that ultimately led to her death: through drug pushing, blackmail, the black market, embezzlement. But thinking of Upman reminded Lynley of something else that the solicitor had said.

He went to the chest and began sliding open its drawers upon silk underwear and nightgowns, cashmere scarves and designer socks yet to be worn. He found one drawer devoted solely to the outdoor life, stuffed with khaki shorts, folded jerseys, a small day pack, Ordnance Survey maps, and a silver flask engraved with the girls initials.

The bottom two drawers in the chest contained the only items that didn't look as if they'd been purchased in Knightsbridge. But even they were filled to the very top like the others. They were a storage space for woollen sweaters of every possible style and hue, each bearing an identical label sewn into the neckline: Made with loving hands by Nancy Maiden. Lynley fingered one of the labels thoughtfully.

He said, “Her pager's missing, Andy. Upman said she had one. Do you know where it is?”

Maiden left his position by the door. “A pager? Is Will certain about that?”

“He told us that she was paged at work. You didn't know she had one?”

“I never saw her with one. It's not here?” Maiden did what Lynley had done: He examined the items on the top of the chest, then repeated the search through each of the drawers. He went further, however, by taking Lynley's place at the clothes cupboard, where he checked the pockets of his daughters jackets and the waistbands of her trousers and skirts. There were sealed plastic bags of clothing on the bed, and he went through these as well. Finding nothing, he finally said, “She must have taken it on the hike. It'll be in one of the evidence bags.”

“Why take her pager but leave her mobile phone?” Lynley asked. “The one would be useless on the moor without the other.”

Maidens glance went to the television where the mobile lay, then back to Lynley. “Then it's got to be here somewhere.”

Lynley checked the bedside table. He found a bottle of aspirin, a packet of Kleenex, birth control pills, a box of birthday candles, and a tube of lip balm. He went to the leather handbags beneath the television, opening them, checking each compartment. All of them were empty. As were a satchel, he discovered, a briefcase, and an overnight bag.

“It could be in her car,” Maiden suggested.

“Something tells me not.”

“Why?”

Lynley made no reply Standing in the middle of the room, he saw the details with a vision that was heightened by the absence of a single, simple possession that could have meant nothing and might have meant everything. Doing so, he was able to see what he hadn't noticed before. There was a museumlike quality to everything round him. Nothing in the room was even remotely out of place.

Someone had been through the girl's belongings.

“Where's your wife this afternoon, Andy?” Lynley asked.

CHAPTER 9

When Andy Maiden didn't reply at once, Lynley repeated the question and added, “Is she in the hotel? Is she somewhere in the grounds?”

Maiden said, “No. No. She… Tommy, Nan's gone out.” His fingers shut into his palms, as if in a sudden spasm.

“Where? Do you know?” “Onto the moor, I expect. She took the bike, and that's where she generally rides it.” “On Calder Moor?”

Maiden moved to his daughter's bed and sat heavily on the edge of it. “You've not met Nancy before this, have you, Tommy?” “Not that I recall.”

“She means nothing but well, that woman. She gives, and she gives. But there are times when I can't take any longer.” He looked down at his hands. He flexed his fingers. He raised then dropped his hands to gesture with as he went on. “She was worried about me. Can you credit it? She wanted to help. All she could think about-or talk about or do something about-was getting this numbness out of my hands. All yesterday afternoon she was after me about them. All last night as well.”

“Perhaps it's her way of coping,” Lynley said.

“But it takes too much concentration for her to cut out the thoughts that she's trying to cut out, d'you see that? It takes every ounce of concentration she has. And I found that I couldn't breathe with her round me. Hovering there. Offering cups of tea and heat pads and… I began to feel like my skin wasn't even my own, like she couldn't rest till she'd even managed to invade my pores in order to-” He paused abruptly and in that pause he seemed to evaluate everything he'd said, unguarded, because his next words were hollow. “God. Listen to me. Selfish bastard.”

“You've been dealt a death blow. You're trying to cope.”

“She's been dealt the blow as well. But she thinks of me.” He kneaded one hand with the fingers of the other. “She wanted to massage them. That's all it was, really. And God forgive me, but I drove her off because I thought I'd suffocate if I stayed in the room with her a moment longer. And now… How can we need and love and loathe all at once? What's happening to us?”

The aftershocks of brutality are happening to you, Lynley wanted to reply. But instead he repeated, “Has she gone out to Calder Moor, Andy?”

“She'll be on Hathersage Moor. It's closer. A few miles. The other…? No. She won't be on Calder.”

“Has she ever ridden there?”

“On Calder?”

“Yes. On Calder Moor. Has she ever ridden there?”

“Of course she has. Yes.”

Lynley hated to do so, but he had to ask. Indeed, he owed it both to himself and to his Buxton colleague to ask: “You as well, Andy? Or just your wife?”

Andy Maiden looked up slowly at this, as if finally seeing the road they were travelling. He said, “I thought you were pursuing the London angle. SO 10. And what goes along with SO 10.”

“I am pursuing SO 10. But I'm after the truth, all of the truth. As you are, I expect. Do both of you ride on Calder Moor?”

“Nancy's not-”

“Andy, help me out. You know what the job's like. The facts generally come out one way or another. And sometimes the how of their coming out becomes more intriguing than the facts themselves.

That can easily divert an otherwise simple investigation, and I can't believe you want that.”

Maiden understood: An attempt at obfuscation could ultimately become more arresting than the information one sought to withhold. “Both of us ride on Calder Moor. All of us, in fact. But it's too far to bike there from here, Tommy.”

“How many miles?”

“I don't know exactly. But far, too far. We take the bikes out in the Land-Rover when we want to ride there. We park in a lay-by. Or in one of the villages. But we don't ride all the way to Calder Moor from here.” He canted his head in the direction of the bedroom window, adding, “The Land Rover's still out there. She won't have gone onto Calder this afternoon.”

Not this afternoon, Lynley thought. He said, “I did see a Land Rover when I came through the car park.”

Maiden hadn't been a police officer for thirty years without being capable of a simple act of mind reading. He said, “Running the Hall's a demanding life. It drains our time. We take our exercise when we can. If you want to track her on Hathersage Moor, there's a map in Reception that'll show you the way.”

That wouldn't be necessary, Lynley told him. If Nancy Maiden had ridden her bike out onto the moors, she probably was seeking some time alone. He was happy enough to let her have it.

Barbara Havers knew that she could have purchased some take-away from Uncle Tom's Cabin, a food stall on the corner of Portslade and Wandsworth roads. It occupied little more than a niche at the near end of the railway arches, and it looked just the sort of unhygienic place where one might purchase enough cholesterol-laden grub to guarantee concrete arteries within the hour. But she resisted the impulse-virtuously, she liked to think-and instead took herself to a pub near Vauxhall Station, where she indulged in the bangers and mash upon which she'd been meditating earlier. These went down a treat, eased on their way with half a pint of Scrumpy Jack. Sated with the food and drink and satisfied with the information she'd gathered during her morning in Battersea, she returned to the north side of the Thames and skimmed her way along the river. Traffic moved well on

Horseferry Road. She was pulling into the underground car park at New Scotland Yard before she'd smoked her second Player.

She had two professional options at this point, she decided. She could return to CRIS and the hunt for a suitable ticket-of-leaver out for the blood of a Maiden. Or she could compile the information she'd gathered so far into a report. The former activity-boring and subservient though it was-would demonstrate her ability to take the medicine which certain officers of the law believed she ought to be swallowing. The latter activity, however, appeared to be the one likelier to take them towards some answers in the case. She opted for the report. It wouldn't take that long, it would allow her to set down information in a concrete and thought-provoking order, and it would postpone having to face the glowing screen for at least another hour. She took herself off to Lynley's office-no harm in using the space since it was going empty at the moment, right?-and set to work.

She was thoroughly into it, just coming up to the salient points made by Cilia Thompson concerning Terry Cole's paternity and his propensity towards questionable means of support-BLACKMAIL? she'd just typed-when Winston Nkata strode into the room. He was wolfing down the last of a Whopper, the container of which he sailed into the rubbish. He wiped his hands thoroughly with a paper napkin. He popped an Opal Fruit into his mouth.

“Junk food'll kill you,” Barbara said sanctimoniously.

“But I'll die smiling” was Nkata's reply. He swung one long leg over a chair and took out his leather-bound notebook as he sat. Barbara glanced at a wall clock and then at her colleague. “Just how fast're you driving up and down the Ml? You're setting land speed records from Derbyshire, Winston.”

He avoided answering, which was answer in itself. Barbara shuddered to think what Lynley would say had he known that Nkata was roaring along in his beloved Bentley at just under the speed of sound. “Been to the College of Law,” he told her. “Guv told me to look into the Maiden girl's doings in town.”

Barbara stopped typing. “And?”

“She dropped out.”

“She dropped out of law college?”

“That's how it looks.” Nicola Maiden, he told her, had apparently dropped out of law college on the first of May, approaching exam time. She'd done it responsibly, making appointments to see all the appropriate instructors and administrators before leaving. Several of them had tried to talk her out of it-she'd been near the top of her class and they'd considered it madness to leave when her successful future in law was assured-but she'd been politely adamant. And she'd disappeared.

“Muffed her exams?” Barbara asked.

“Didn't ever take them. Left before she laid eyes on them.”

“Was she scared? Developing nerves like her dad? Getting ulcers? Losing sleep? Realising she'd have to swot and wasn't up to the challenge?”

“Decided she just didn't fancy the law, was what she told her personal tutor.”

She'd been working for eight months part-time at a firm in Not-ting Hill called MKR Financial Management, Nkata went on. Most of the law students did that sort of thing: worked part-time during the day to support themselves, taking instruction at the college in the late afternoons and at night. She'd been offered a full-time placement at the Notting Hill firm, and as she liked the work, she decided to take it. “And that was that,” Nkata said. “No one at the college heard a word from her since.”

“So what was she doing in Derbyshire if she'd taken a full-time position in Notting Hill?” Barbara asked. “Was she having a holiday first?”

“Not 'ccording to the guv, and this is where it starts getting dodgy. She was working for a solicitor on a summer job, getting ready for the future and all that bit. That's why he put me onto the College of Law in the first place.”

“So she's employed in finance in London but takes a summer job doing law in Derbyshire?” Barbara clarified. “That's a new one on me. Does the inspector know she left law college?”

“Haven't rung him yet. I wanted to have a chat with you first.”

Barbara felt a rush of pleasure at this remark. She shot Nkata a look. As always, his face was ingenuous, pleasant, and perfectly professional. “Should we ring him, then? The inspector, I mean.”

“Let's chew on it a bit.”

“Right. Okay. Well, forget what she was doing in Derbyshire for the moment. The London bit at MKR Financial Management must've brought her some decent dosh, right? Because she wouldn't have been hurting for it at the end of the day had she stayed in law, so why drop out of law college unless there was some decent-and immediate-lolly involved? How does all that sound?”

“I'll go with it for now.”

“Okay. So did she need cash quick? And if so, why? Was she making a big purchase? Paying off a debt? Taking a trip? Wanting to live an easier life?” Barbara thought about Terry Cole and added with a snap of her fingers, “Ah. How about being blackmailed by someone? By a London someone who zipped up to Derbyshire wanting to know why her payment was late?”

Nkata flipped his hand back and forth, his who-knows gesture. “Could just be that the MKR gig looked more exciting than a life of wig-wearing at the Old Bailey. Not to mention more profitable in the long run.”

“What did she do for MKR, exactly?”

Nkata referred to his notes. “Money management trainee,” he said.

“Trainee? Come on, Winston. She couldn't've dropped out of law college for that.”

“Trainee's where she started round October last year. I'm not saying that's where she ended up.”

“But then, what was she doing in Derbyshire working for a solicitor? Had she changed her mind about the law? Was she going to go back to it?”

“If she did, she never told the college.”

“Hmm. That's odd.” As she considered the apparent contradictions in the dead girl's behaviour, Barbara reached for her packet of Players, saying, “Mind if I do a fag, Winnie?”

“Not in my breathing zone.”

She sighed and settled for a stick of Juicy Fruit, which she found in her shoulder bag adhered to a stub from her local cinema. She picked off the thin shreds of cardboard and folded the gum into her mouth. “Right. So what else do we know?”

“She left her digs.”

“Why wouldn't she, if she was up in Derbyshire for the summer?”

“I mean she left them permanently. Just like she left the college.”

“Okay. But that doesn't sound like news from the burning bush.”

“Hang on, then.” Nkata reached in his pocket and brought forth another Opal Fruit. He unwrapped it and tucked the sweet into the pocket of his cheek. “The college had her address-this is the old one-so I went there and had a chat with the landlady. In Islington. She had a bed-sit.”

“And?” Barbara encouraged him.

“She moved house-the girl, not the landlady-when she left law college. This was on the tenth of May. No notice given. Just packed her belongings, left behind an address in Fulham to send the post on, and vanished. Landlady wasn't happy about that. She wasn't happy about the row either.” Nkata smiled as he offered this last bit of information.

Barbara acknowledged the manner in which her colleague had played out the bits and pieces he'd gathered by cocking a finger at him and saying, “You rat. Give me the rest, Winston.”

At which Nkata chuckled. “Some bloke and her. They went at it like paddies in the peace talks, landlady said. This was on the ninth.”

“The day before she moved house?”

“Right.”

“Violence?”

“No, just shouting. And some nasty language.”

“Anything we can use?”

“Bloke said, ‘I won't have it. I'll see you dead before I'll let you do it.’”

“Now, that's a nice bit. Dare I hope we have a description of the bloke?” Nkata's expression told her. “Damn.”

He said, “But it's something to note.”

“P'rhaps. Or not.” Barbara considered what he'd told her earlier. She said, “But if she moved house right after the threat, why'd the murder come along so much later?”

“If she moved house to Fulham and then left town, he'd have to track her down,” Nkata pointed out. Then he said, “What'd you get at this end?”

Barbara told him what she'd gathered from her conversations with Mrs. Baden and Cilia Thompson. She concentrated on Terry's source of income and on the contrasting descriptions of him as provided by his flatmate and his landlady. “Cilia says he never sold a thing and wasn't likely to, and I wouldn't disagree. So then, how did he support himself?”

Nkata thought about this, moving his sweet from one side of his mouth to the other. He finally said, “Let's phone the guv,” and he went to Lynley's desk, where he punched in the number. In a moment the connection went through and he had Lynley on the inspector's mobile. He said, “Hang on,” and punched another button on the phone. Over the speaker, Barbara heard Lynley's pleasant baritone saying, “What'Ve we got so far, Winnie?”

Just the sort of thing he would have said to her. She got up and strode to the window. There was nothing to see but Tower Block, of course. It was just something to do.

Winston quickly brought Lynley up to speed on Nicola Maiden's abrupt departure from the College of Law, on her employment at MKR Financial Management, on her moving house without giving notice, on the row that preceded her moving house, and on the particular threat to her life that had been overheard.

“There's apparently a lover in London,” Lynley said in reply. “Upman's given us that. But not a word about her having left law college.”

“Why'd she keep it a secret?”

“Because of the lover, perhaps.” Barbara could tell from Lynley's voice that he was chewing this over mentally. “Because of plans they had.”

“Some married bloke, then?”

“Check out the financial management firm. He could be there.” Lynley related his own information. He concluded with “If the lover in London is a married chap who'd set Nicola up as a permanent mistress in Fulham, it's not the sort of thing she'd want to broadcast in Derbyshire. I can't see her parents feeling pleased with the news. And Britton would have been cut up as well.”

“But what was she doing in Derbyshire in the first place?” Barbara whispered to Nkata. “Her actions are contradicting themselves all over the map. Tell him, Winston.”

Nkata nodded and raised his hand to indicate that he'd heard her. He didn't argue with the inspector's points, however. Instead, he took notes. At the conclusion of Lynley's remarks, he offered the details about Terry Cole. Considering the scope of them in conjunction with the brevity of time Nkata had been back in town, Lynley's comment upon the constable's conclusion was “Good God, Winnie. How have you managed all this? Are you working telepathically?”

Barbara turned from the window to get Nkata's attention, but she didn't manage it before he spoke. He said, “Barb's on to the boy. She did Battersea this morning. She talked to-”

“Havers?” Lynley's voice sharpened. “Is she with you, then?”

Barbara's shoulders sagged.

“Yeah. She's writing-”

Lynley cut in. “Didn't you tell me she was going through Maiden's past arrests?”

“She was doing, yeah.”

“Have you completed that search, Havers?” Lynley asked.

Barbara blew out a breath. Lie or truth? she wondered. A lie would serve her immediate purposes, but it would sink her ship at the end of the day. “Winston suggested I trek out to Battersea,” she told Lynley. “I was just about to go back to CRIS, when he showed up with the information on the girl. I was thinking, sir, that her working for Upman doesn't make sense when you look at the fact that she'd dropped out of law college and had another job in London that she'd apparendy taken leave from for some reason, if she even had another job at all, because we've yet to check that out. And anyway, if there's a lover, as you've said, and if she was getting herself ready to be supported by him, why the hell would she be spending a summer working in the Peaks?”

“You need to get back on CRIS” was Lynley's reply. “I've had a word with Maiden and he's given us some possibilities to look into from his time with SO 10. Take down these names and deal with them, Havers.” He began reciting, spelling when necessary. There were fifteen names in all.

When she had them, Barbara said, “But, sir, don't you think that this Terry Cole business-”

What he thought, Lynley interrupted, was that as an SO 10 officer, Andrew Maiden would have overturned rocks and uncovered slugs, worms, and insects from all walks of life. He could have struck up an acquaintance during his time in undercover who had proved fatal years later. Thus, once Barbara was done looking for the obvious vengeance seekers, she was to read the files again for a more subtle connection: like a disappointed snout whose efforts hadn't been sufficiently rewarded by the police.

“But don't you think-”

“I've told you what I think, Barbara. I've given you an assignment. I'd like you to get on with it.”

Barbara got the message. She said, “Sir,” in reply, a polite affirmative. She nodded to Nkata and left the office. But she took no more than two steps from the doorway,

“Get on to the financial management firm” Lynley said. “I'm going to have a look at the girl's car. If we can find that pager and if the lover's phoned in, the number will put us on to him.”

“Right,” Winston said, and rang off.

Barbara slid back into Lynley's office, sidling along the wall casually as if she'd never had an order to do anything else. “So who is it who told her in Islington that he'd see her dead before he'd let her do it? The lover? Her dad? Britton? Cole? Upman? Or someone we haven't got on to yet? And what's the it anyway, when it's at home? Settling in to be some heavy punter's fluffy bit on the side? Going for the dosh with a bit of blackmail against the lover-that's always nice, isn't it? Having it off with more than one man? What d'you think?”

Nkata looked up from his notebook as she spoke. His glance went beyond her to the corridor, where she'd remained in mild defiance of Lynley's instructions to her. He said, “Barb…” in a monitory fashion. You heard the guv's order remained unsaid.

Barbara said breezily, “There may even be more at MKR Financial Management. Nicola could have been a bird who fancied a regular bonk when she wasn't getting it from the boyfriend in the Peaks and when the London lover was taken up with his wife. But I don't think we want to go at that angle directly at MKR, do you, what with sexual harassment all the rage.”

Nkata didn't miss the plural pronoun. He said, a model of patience and delicacy, “Barb, the guv did say you're to get back on to CRIS.”

“Bollocks to CRIS. Don't tell me you think some lag on the loose squared it with Maiden by taking the cosh to his daughter. That's stupid, Winston. It's a waste of time.”

“Might be. But when the 'spector tells you what road to take, you'd be a wise bird to take it. Right?” And when she didn't reply, “Right, Barb?”

“Okay, okay.” Barbara sighed. She knew that she'd been given a second chance with Lynley through the good graces of Winston Nkata. She just didn't want the second chance to materialise as a lengthy assignment to sit at a computer. She tried a compromise. “What about this, then? Let me go with you to Notting Hill, let me work it with you, and I'll do the computer business on my own time. I promise. I give you my word of honour.”

“The guv's not going to go for that, Barb. And he'll be bloody cheesed off when he twigs what you're doing. And then where'll you be?”

“He won't know about it. I won't tell him. You won't tell him. Look, Winston, I've got a feeling about this. The information we've got is all knotted up, and it wants unknotting, and I'm good at that. You need my input. You'll need it more once you get more details from this MKR place. I'm promising to do the computer slog-I'm swearing to do it-so just let me have a bigger piece of the case.”

Nkata frowned. Barbara waited. She chewed her gum more vigorously.

Nkata said, “When'll you do it, then? Early morning? Night? Weekends? When?”

“Whenever,” she replied. “I'll squeeze it in between tea dancing engagements at the Ritz. My social life's a real whirl, as you know, but I think I can carve out an hour here and there to obey an order.”

“He'll be checking to see you're doing what he says,” Nkata pointed out.

“And I'll be doing it. Wearing bells, if necessary. But in the meantime, don't waste my brain and experience by advising me to spend the next twelve hours at a computer terminal. Let me be part of this while the scent's still fresh. You know how important that is, Winston.”

Nkata slid the notebook into his pocket and observed her evenly. “You're a pit bull sometimes,” he said, defeated.

“It's one of my finer attributes,” she replied.

CHAPTER 10

Lynley pulled into the car park in front of Buxton police station, untangled his lengthy frame from the small police vehicle, and examined the convex brick facade of the building. He was still astounded at Barbara Havers.

He had suspected that Nkata might put Havers on to the task of tracing Andy Maiden's investigations via computer. He knew the black man was fond of her. And he hadn't forbade it because, in part, he was willing to see if-after her demotion and disgrace-she would complete a simple assignment that she was sure not to like. True to form, she'd gone her own way in it, proving once again what her commanding officer believed to be the case: She had no more respect for a chain of command than a bull had respect for Wedgwood china. No matter that Winston had asked her to see to the Battersea end of things, she'd been given a prior assignment and she very well knew she was supposed to complete it before taking on something else. Christ. When would the woman learn?

He strode inside the building and asked for the officer in charge of evidence from the crime scene. After speaking to Andy Maiden, he'd tracked down Nicola's Saab at the pound, where he'd spent a fruitless fifty minutes doing himself what had already been done with exemplary efficiency by Hanken's team: going over every inch of the car, inside and out, stem to stern. The object of his search had been the pager. He'd come up empty-handed. So if Nicola Maiden had indeed left it in the Saab when she'd set off across the moors, the only place remaining to look for it would be among whatever evidence had been taken from her car.

The officer in question was called DC Mott, and he presided over the cardboard boxes, paper bags, plastic containers, clipboards, and record books that constituted the evidence so far linked to the investigation. He gave Lynley the wariest of welcomes into his lair. He was in the middle of tucking into an enormous jam tart onto which he'd just poured a liberal helping of custard and-spoon in hand-he didn't look like a man who wished to be disturbed in the midst of indulging in one of his vices. Munching happily away, Mott leaned back in a metal folding chair and asked Lynley exactly what he wanted to “mess about with.”

Lynley told the constable what he was looking for. Then, hedging his bets, he went on to add that while the pager might well have been left in Nicola Maiden's car, it might also have been left at the crime scene itself, in which case he wouldn't want to limit his search to evidence taken from the Saab. Would Mott mind his having a look through everything?

“Pager, you say?” Mott spoke with the spoon wedged into his cheek. “Didn't come across nowt like that, 'm afraid.” And he dipped his head to the tart with devotion. “Best you have a look through the records book first, sir. No sense sifting through everything till you see what we've got Usted, is there?”

Fully aware of the degree to which he was treading on another man's patch, Lynley sought the most cooperative route. He found a vacant spot to lean against a metal-topped barrel, and he skimmed through the lists in the records book while Mott's spoon clicked energetically against his bowl.

Nothing in the records book came close to resembling a pager, so Lynley asked if he might have a look through the evidence for himself. Taking time to polish off tart and custard with gusto-Lynley half expected the man to lick the sides of the bowl-Mott reluctantly gave Lynley permission to look through the evidence. Once Lynley managed to obtain a pair of latex gloves from the DC, he started with the bags marked Saab. He got only as far as the second bag, however, when DI Hanken came charging into the evidence room.

“Upman's lied to us, the sod,” he announced, flipping Mott a cursory nod. “Not that I'm surprised. Smarmy bastard.”

Lynley went on to the third bag from the Saab. He set it on the top of the barrel, but he didn't open it, saying, “Lied about what?”

“About Friday night. About his supposed”-heavy irony on the word-“guv-to-subordinate relationship with our girl.” Hanken scrambled in his jacket and brought out his Marlboros, at which Constable Mott said, “Not in here, sir. Fire hazard.”

To which Hanken said, “Hell,” and shoved them back into his pocket. He went on. “They were in the Chequers, all right. I even had a word with their waitress, a girl called Margery, who remembered them at once. Seems our Upman's taken more than one dolly bird to the Chequers in the past, and when he does, he asks that Margery serve them. Likes her, she says. And tips like an American. Bloody fool.”

Lynley said, “The lie? Did they ask for a room?”

“Oh no. They left, like Upman said. What he failed to tell us was where they went afterwards.” Hanken smiled thinly, clearly delighted at having caught the solicitor out. “They went from the Chequers to chez Upman,” he announced, “where the Maiden girl checked in for a lengthy visit.”

Hanken warmed to his story. Having learned never to believe the first thing a lawyer said, he'd done a little more scavenging once he'd spoken to Margery. A brief stint in the solicitor's neighbourhood had been enough to unearth the truth. Upman and Nicola Maiden had apparently arrived at the solicitor's house round eleven forty-five, seen by a neighbour who was taking Rover out for his last-of-the-evening. Ana they'd been friendly enough with each other to suggest that a little more existed between them than the employer-employee relationship depicted by Mr. Upman.

“Tongues on the porch,” Hanken said crudely. “Our Will was examining her dental work closely.”

“Ah.” Lynley opened the evidence bag and lifted its contents onto the barrel top. “And do we know it was Nicola Maiden Upman was with? What about the divorcee girlfriend? Joyce?”

“It was Nicola all right,” Hanken said. “When she left-this was at half past four the next morning-the bloke next door was taking a piss. He heard voices, had a look out the window, and got a fine glimpse of her when the light went on in Upman's car. So”-and here he took out his Marlboros once more-“what d'you think they were up to for five hours?”

Mott said again, “Not in here, sir.”

Hanken said, “Shit,” and returned the Marlboros to their place.

“Another talk with Mr. Upman appears to be in order,” Lyn-ley said.

The expression on Hanken's face said that he couldn't wait.

Lynley summarised for his colleague the information that Nkata and Havers had gleaned in London. He concluded by saying thoughtfully, “But no one here in Derbyshire seems to know that the girl had no intention of completing her law course. Curious, don't you think?”

“No one knew or someone's lying to us,” Hanken said pointedly. He seemed to note for the first time that Lynley was sifting through evidence. He said, “What're you doing, then?”

“Satisfying myself that Nicola's pager isn't here. D'you mind?”

“Satisfy away.”

The contents of the third bag appeared to be articles from the Saab's boot. Among the items lying on the barrel top were the car's jack, a box spanner, a wheel brace, and a set of screwdrivers. Three spark plugs looked as if they'd been rolling round the boot since its factory days, and a set of jump leads were curled round a small chrome cylinder. Lynley lifted this last up and looked it over under the light.

“What've we got?” Hanken asked.

Lynley reached for his glasses and slipped them on. He'd been able to identify every other item that had been taken from the car, but what the cylinder was, he couldn't have said. He turned the object over in his hand. Little more than two inches long, the cylinder was perfectly smooth both inside and out, and either end of it was curved and polished, suggesting that as it was, it was all of a piece. It opened to fall precisely in half by means of a hinge. Each half had a hole bored into it. Through each hole an eyebolt was screwed.

“Looks like something from a machine,” Hanken said. “A nut. A cog. Something like that.”

Lynley shook his head. “It hasn't any interior grooves. And if it had, we'd be looking at a machine the size of a space ship, I dare say.”

“Then what? Here. Let me have a look.”

“Gloves, sir,” Mott barked, vigilance in action. He tossed a pair to Hanken, who put them on.

In the meantime, Lynley gave the cylinder a closer scrutiny. “It's got something on the inside. A deposit of some kind.”

“Motor oil?”

“Not unless motor oil solidifies these days,” Lynley said.

Hanken took it from him and had his own go with it. He turned it in his palm and said, “Substance? Where?”

Lynley pointed out what he'd seen: a smear in the shape of a small maple leaf lapping over the top-or the bottom-of the cylinder. Something had been deposited there and had dried to the colour of pewter. Hanken scrutinised this, even going so far as to sniff it in a noisy, houndlike fashion. He asked Mott for an evidence bag and said, “Get this checked out straightaway.”

“Ideas?” Lynley asked him.

“Not off the top of my head,” he replied. “Could be anything. Bit of salad cream. Smear of mayonnaise from a prawn sandwich.”

“In the boot of her car?”

“She went on a picnic. How the devil do I know? That's what forensic is for.”

There was more than a grain of truth to this. But Lynley felt unsettled by the presence of the cylinder, and he wasn't altogether sure why. He said, attempting delicacy with the request and knowing how it might be interpreted, “Peter, would you mind if I had a look at the crime scene?”

He needn't have worried. Hanken was hot to get on to other things. “Have at it. I'll have at Upman.” He peeled off his gloves and fished out his Marlboros a final time, saying to Mott, “Don't have a coronary, Constable. I'm not lighting up in here.” And once outside the constable's demesne, he went on happily as he fired up the tobacco. “You know how it looks, with the girl bonking Upman as well as… what've we got so far, two others?”

“Julian Britton and the London lover,” Lynley verified.

“For starters. And Upman'll make a third once I've talked to him.” Hanken inhaled deeply and with some satisfaction. “So how d'you suppose our Upman felt, wanting her, having her, and knowing she was giving it out to two other blokes just as happily as she was giving it to him?”

“You're getting ahead of yourself on that one, Peter.”

“I wouldn't put money on it.”

“More important than Upman,” Lynley pointed out, “how did

Julian Britton feel? He wanted to marry her, not to share her. And if, as her mother claims, she always told the truth, what might his reaction have been when he learned exactly what Nicola was up to?”

Hanken mulled this over. “Britton is easier to tag with an accomplice,” he admitted.

“Isn't he just,” Lynley said.

Samantha McCallin didn't want to think, and when she didn't want to think, she worked. She trundled a wheelbarrow briskly down the Long Gallery's old oak floor, kitted out with a shovel, a broom, and a dust pan. She stopped at the first of the room's three fireplaces and applied herself to removing the grit, grime, coal dust, bird droppings, old nests, and bracken that over time had fallen down the chimney. In an attempt at disciplining her thoughts, she counted her movements: one-shovel, two-lift, three-swing, four-dump, and in this way she emptied the fireplace of what appeared to be fifty years of detritus. She found that as long as she kept up the rhythm, she held her mind in check. It was when she had to move from shovelling to sweeping that her thoughts began to gallop about.

Lunch had been a quiet affair, with the three of them gathered round the table in a nearly unbroken silence. Only Jeremy Britton had spoken during the meal, when Samantha had placed a platter of salmon in the middle of the table. Her uncle had caught her hand unexpectedly and raised it to his lips, announcing, “We're grateful for all you've been doing round here, Sammy We're grateful for everything.” And he'd smiled at her, a long, slow, meaningful smile, as if they shared a secret.

Which they did not, Samantha told herself. No matter the extent to which her uncle had revealed his feelings about Nicola Maiden on the previous day, she'd been successful in keeping hers to herself.

It was necessary, that. With the police crawling about, asking questions and gazing at one with open suspicion, it was absolutely crucial that how she felt about Nicola Maiden be something Samantha held close to her heart.

She hadn't hated her. She'd seen Nicola for what she was, and she'd disliked her for it, but she hadn't hated her. Rather, she'd simply recognised her as an impediment to attaining what Samantha had quickly decided she wanted.

In a culture requiring her to find a man in order to define her world, Samantha hadn't come across a decent prospect in the last two years. With her biological clock ticking away and her brother refusing to have so much as a cup of coffee with a prospective female lest he be asked to commit his life to her, she was beginning to feel that the responsibility to extend the immediate family line was hers alone. But she'd been unable to sniff out a mate despite the humiliation of taking out personal ads, joining a dating agency, and engaging in such maritally conducive activities as singing in the church choir. And as a result, she'd felt a growing desperation to Settle Down, which meant, of course, to Reproduce.

At one level she knew it was ridiculous to be so marriage-and-offspring minded. Women in this day and age had careers and lives beyond husband and children, and sometimes those careers and those lives excluded husband and children altogether. But on another level, she believed that she would be failing, somehow, if she made her life's journey forever alone. Besides, she told herself, she wanted children. And she wanted those children to have a father.

Julian had seemed so likely a candidate. They'd got on from the first. They'd been such pals. They'd achieved a quick intimacy born of a mutual interest in restoring Broughton Manor. And if that interest had been manufactured on her part initially, it had become real quickly enough when she'd understood how passionate her cousin was about his plans. And she could help him with those plans; she could nurse them along. Not only by working at his side, but by infusing the manor with the copious supply of money she'd inherited upon her father's death.

It had all seemed so logical and meant to be. But neither her camaraderie with her cousin, her ample funds, nor her efforts at proving her worthiness to Julian had sparked the slightest degree of interest in him beyond the affectionate interest one might have had for the family dog.

At the thought of dogs, Samantha shuddered. She would not go in that direction, she thought firmly Walking that path would lead her inexorably to a consideration of Nicola Maiden's death. And thinking about her death was as intolerable a prospect as was thinking about her life.

Yet the act of trying not to think about her spurred Samantha to think about her anyway.

“You don't like me much, do you, Sam?” Nicola had asked her, scanning her face to read what was there. “Yes. I see. It's because of Jules. I don't want him, you know. Not the way women generally want men. He's yours. If you can win him, that is.”

So frank, she was. So absolutely up-front with every word she spoke. Hadn't she ever worried about the impression she was making? Hadn't she ever wondered if someday that relentless honesty was going to cost her more than she was willing to pay?

“I could put in a word for you if you'd like. I'm happy to do it. I think you and Jules would be good together. A frightfully proper sort of match, as they used to say.” And she'd laughed, but it hadn't been malicious. Disliking her would have been so much easier if only Nicola had stooped to ridicule.

But she hadn't. She hadn't needed to when Samantha already knew quite well how absurd her desire for Julian was.

“I wish I could make him stop loving you,” she'd said.

“If you find a way, do it,” Nicola had replied. “And there'll be no hard feelings. You can have him with my blessing. It would be for the best.”

And she'd smiled the way she always smiled, so open and engaging and friendly, so completely without the worries of a woman who knew that her looks were nondescript and her talents worthless that smacking her seemed like the only response Samantha could possibly make. Smacking her and shaking her and shouting, “Do you think it's easy being me, Nicola? Do you think I enjoy my situation?”

That contact of flesh on flesh, of flesh on bone, was what Samantha had wanted. Anything to remove from Nicola's clear blue eyes the knowledge that in a battle in which Nicola didn't even bother to fight, Samantha McCallin still could not win.

“Sam. Here you are.”

Samantha swung hastily round from the fireplace and saw Julian coming along the gallery in her direction, the afternoon sunlight striking his hair. Her sudden movement spilled several globs of petrified ashes onto the floor. Miniature clouds of griseous dust rose from them.

“You frightened me,” she said. “How can you walk so quietly on a wooden floor?”

He looked down at his shoes as if in explanation. “Sorry.” He was carrying a tray with cups and plates on it, and he gestured with it. “I thought you'd like a break. I've made us tea.”

She saw that he'd also cut them each a piece of the chocolate cake she'd made for that evening's pudding. She felt a twinge of impatience at this. Surely, he could have seen it hadn't been cut into yet. Surely, he could have known it was meant for something. Surely, just for once, dear God, he could have drawn one or two conclusions from the facts in hand. But she emptied her shovelful of debris into a wheelbarrow and said, “Thanks, Julie. I could do with something.”

She hadn't been able to eat much of the lunch she'd prepared them. Neither, she had noted, had he. So she knew that she was due for some sustenance. She just wasn't sure she could manage it in his presence.

They went to the windows, where Julian set the tray on the top of an old dole cupboard. Leaning their bums against the dusty sill, they each held a mug of Darjeeling and waited for the other to speak.

“It's coming along” was Julians offering as he looked the length of the gallery to the door through which he'd entered. For an over-long time he seemed to study the grimy, ornate carving of the Britton falcon that surmounted it. “I couldn't manage any of this without you, Sam. You're a brick.”

“Just what a woman longs to hear,” Samantha replied. “Thanks very much.”

“Damn. I didn't mean-”

“Never mind.” Samantha took a sip of tea. She kept her eyes on its milky surface. “Why didn't you tell me, Julie? I thought we were close.”

Next to her, he slurped his tea. Samantha subdued her moue of distaste. “Tell you what? And we are close. At least, I hope we are. I mean, I want us to be. Without you here, I would have packed it all in a long time ago. You're practically the best friend I have.”

“Practically,” she said. “That limbo place.”

“You know what I'm saying.”

And the trouble was, she did know. She knew what he was saying, what he meant, and how he felt. She wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake him into an understanding of what it meant that such an unspoken communication should exist between them. But she couldn't do so, so she settled on trying to ferret out some of the real story of what had occurred between her cousin and Nicola, not really knowing what she'd do with the facts when and if she got them.

“I'd no idea you'd even thought about asking Nicola to marry you, Julie. When the police brought it up, I didn't know what to think.”

“About what?”

“About why you hadn't told me. First, that you'd asked her. Then, that she'd said no.”

“Frankly, I hoped she'd reconsider.”

“I wish you had told me.”

“Why?”

“It would have made things… easier, I suppose.”

At that, he turned. She could feel his gaze on her, and she grew restive under it. “Easier? How could knowing I'd asked Nicola to marry me and been turned down have made anything easier? And for whom?”

His words were guarded, careful for the first time, which made her speak guardedly in reply. “Easier for you, of course. I had the feeling something was wrong all day Tuesday If you'd told me, I could have given you some support. It can't have been easy, waiting through Tuesday night and Wednesday. I expect you didn't get a minute's sleep.”

Silence for a terribly long moment. Then quietly, “Yes. That's true enough.”

“Well, we could have talked about it. It helps to talk, don't you think?”

“Talking would have… I don't know, Sam. We'd been terribly close, the two of us, in the last few weeks. It felt so good. And I-”

Samantha warmed to the words.

“-suppose I didn't want to do anything that might kill the closeness and drive her off. Not that talking to you would have done that, because I know you wouldn't have told her we'd spoken.”

“Naturally,” Samantha said with quiet bleakness.

“I knew she'd be unlikely to reconsider. But I still hoped she would. And it seemed to me that if I said something about what was going on, it would be like bursting a bubble. Idiotic, I know. But there you have it.”

“Putting your hopes into words. Yes. I understand.”

“I suppose the truth is that I couldn't face reality. I couldn't look squarely at the fact that she didn't want me the way I wanted her. I would have done as a friend. As a lover even, when she was in the Peaks. But nothing more than that.” He picked at his wedge of cake with the fork tines. He was, she noted, eating as little as she.

Finally, he set his plate on the window sill. He said, “Did you see the eclipse?”

She frowned, then remembered. It seemed so long ago. “It didn't seem like much fun to wait for it alone. I didn't go after all.”

“That's just as well. We wouldn't want you lost on the moors.”

“Oh, that's unlikely, isn't it? It was only Eyam Moor. And even if it had been one of the others, I've been out there enough by myself that I always know where I'm-” She stopped herself. She looked at her cousin. He wasn't watching her, but his ruddy natural colouring gave him away. “Ah. I see. Is that what you think?”

“I'm sorry.” His voice was wretched. “I can't stop thinking about it. Having the police turn up made everything worse. All I can think about is what happened to her. I can't get it out of my mind.”

“Try doing what I do,” she said past a pounding heartbeat that she heard in her ears. “There are so many ways to keep one's mind occupied. Try considering, for example, the fact that dogs have been giving birth on their own for a few hundred thousand years. It's remarkable, that. One can think about it for hours. That thought alone can fill up one's head so there's no room left for anything else.”

Julian was immobile. She'd made her point. “Where were you on Tuesday night, Sam?” he whispered. “Tell me.”

“I was killing Nicola Maiden,” Samantha said, getting to her feet and walking back to the fireplace. “I always like to end my day with a spot of murder.”

MKR Financial Management was housed in what looked like a pale pink confection on the corner of Lansdowne Road and St. John's Gardens. The decorative icing consisted of woodwork so clean that Barbara Havers imagined a duster-wielding lackey getting up at five in the morning each day to scrub his way from the faux columns on either side of the door to the plaster medallions above the porch.

“Good thing we've still got the guv's motor,” Nkata murmured as he pulled up to the pavement across the street from the building.

“Why?” Barbara asked.

“We look like we fit in.” He nodded to a car whose back end was sloping up the drive at one side of the pink confection. It was a Jaguar XJS, silver in colour. It could have been the Bentley's first cousin. A black Mercedes sat in front of the building, locked between an Aston-Martin and an antique Bristol.

“We're definitely out of our financial depth,” Barbara said, heaving herself from the car. “But that's just as well. We wouldn't like to be rich. People with dibs are always dead choked.”

“You believe that, Barb?”

“No. But it keeps me happier to pretend it. Come on. I need some serious financial managing, and something tells me we've come to a place where it can happen.”

They had to ring to get in. No voice enquired as to who'd come calling, but none was necessary since a high-tech security system on the building included a video camera placed strategically above the front door. Just in case someone was watching, Barbara took out her warrant card and held it up to the camera. Perhaps in response, the door buzzed open.

An oak-floored entry became a hushed corridor of closed doors with a width of Persian carpet running down it. Off this, Reception consisted of a small room that was heavy on antiques and heavier still on silver-framed photographs. There was no one present, just a sophisticated telephone system that appeared to answer calls automatically and send them on their way. This sat on a kidney-shaped desk across whose top were fanned out a dozen brochures with the logo MKR stamped in gold upon them. It was all very reassuring in appearance, just the sort of place one wouldn't mind coming to in order to discuss the delicate matter of one's monetary situation.

Barbara went to investigate the photographs. She saw that the same man and woman were common to them all. He was short, wiry, and angelic in appearance, with a wispy corona of hair round his head, which added to his celestial aura. His companion was taller than he, blonde and as thin as a walking eating disorder. She was beautiful in the fashion of a catwalk model: vacant-looking and all cheekbones and lips. The photographs themselves were vintage Hello!, featuring their subjects with an assortment of well-turned-out nobs, políticos, and celebrities. A former prime minister stood among them, and Barbara had no trouble identifying opera singers, film stars, and a well-known U.S. senator.

A door opened and closed somewhere in the corridor. The floor boards creaked as someone walked along the Persian carpet towards Reception. With a click of heels against a bare section of wood, a woman came into the room to greet them. No more than a glance told Barbara that one of the two photographed subjects had herself come to see why the rozzers were calling.

She was Tricia Reeve, the woman said, assistant director of MKR Financial Management. How might she be of help to them?

Barbara introduced herself. Nkata did the same. They asked the woman if they could have a few minutes of her time.

“Of course,” Tricia Reeve replied politely, but Barbara couldn't help noticing that the assistant director of MKR Financial Management didn't exactly embrace the words Scotland Yard CID with the devotion of a member of the faithful. Instead, her glance moved like nervous quicksilver, sliding between the two detectives as if she wasn't certain how to behave. Her wide eyes looked black, but a lengthier look at them revealed that her pupils were so enlarged that they covered all but a thin edge of iris. The effect was disconcerting, but it was also revealing. Drugs, Barbara realised. Tsk, tsk, tsk. No wonder she was jumpy, with the cops on her doorstep.

Tricia Reeve took a moment to inspect her watch. Gold-banded this was, and coruscating expensively in the light. She said, “I was just about to leave, so I hope this won't take long. I've got to attend a tea at the Dorchester. It's a charity do, and as I'm a member of the committee… I hope you understand. Is there a problem?”

Murder certainly was a problem, Barbara thought. She let Nkata do the honours. For her part, she watched for reactions.

There were none other than perplexity. Tricia Reeve observed Nkata as if she hadn't heard him correctly. After a moment, she said, “Nicola Maiden? Murdered?” and then she added most strangely, “Are you certain?”

“We've had a positive ID from the girl's parents.”

“I meant are you certain she was murdered?”

“We don't think she bashed in her own skull, if that's what you're asking,” Barbara said.

That got a reaction, limited though it was. One of Tricia Reeve's manicured hands reached for the top button of her suit's jacket. It was pin-striped, with a pencil-width skirt that showed several miles of leg.

“Look,” Barbara said. “The College of Law told us that she came to work for you last autumn on a part-time basis that turned to full-time in May. We take it she'd gone on leave for the summer. Is that right?”

Tricia glanced towards a closed door behind the reception desk. “You'll need to speak to Martin.” She went to the door, knocked once, entered, and shut it behind her without another word.

Barbara looked at Nkata. “I'm panting for your analysis, son.”

“She's pilled-up like a pharmacist's cupboard” was his succinct reply.

“She's flying, all right. What d'you reckon it is?”

He flipped his hand. “It's keeping her sweet, whatever she's on.”

It was nearly five minutes before Tricia reappeared. During this time, the phones continued to ring, the calls continued to be routed, and the low murmur of voices came from behind the heavy closed door. When it opened at last, a man stood before them. It was Angel Hair from the photographs, decked out in a well-tailored charcoal suit and waistcoat with the heavy gold chain of a pocket watch slung across his middle. He introduced himself as Martin Reeve. He was Tricia's husband, he told them, managing director of MKR.

He invited Barbara and Nkata into his office. His wife was on her way out to tea, he explained. Would the police be needing her? Because as head of fund raising for Children in Need, she had an obligation to her committee to be present at their Autumn Harvest Tea at the Dorchester. It began the season, and had Tricia not been the chairman-“Sorry, darling, chairperson-” of the event, her presence wouldn't be so crucial. As it was, she happened to have the guest list in the boot of her car. And without that list, the seating assignments for the tea couldn't be made. Reeve hoped the police would understand… He flashed a mouth of perfect teeth in their direction: Straight, white, and capped, they were a testimony to one man's triumph over the vicissitudes of dental genetics.

“Absolutely,” Barbara agreed. “We can't have Sharon Whosis sitting next to the Countess of Crumpets. As long as Mrs. Reeve is available later should we need to talk to her…”

Reeve assured them that both he and his wife understood the gravity of the situation. “Darling…?” He nodded Tricia on her way. She'd been standing hesitantly next to his desk, a massive affair of mahogany and brass with burgundy leather inlaid in the top. At his nod, she made her exit, but not before he stopped her for a goodbye kiss. She was forced to bend to accommodate him. With stilettos on, she was a good eight inches above his height.

That didn't cause them any difficulty, however. The kiss lingered just a bit too long.

Barbara watched them, thinking what a clever move it was on their part. The Reeves were no amateurs when it came to gaining the upper hand. The only question was: Why did they want it?

She could see that Nkata was growing as uncomfortable as they wanted him to be with their unexpected, extended display of affection. Her colleague shifted from one foot to the other as, arms crossed in front of him, he tried to decide where he was supposed to look. Barbara grinned. Because of his impressive height and his equally impressive wardrobe and despite his adolescence spent as chief war counsel with Brixton's most notorious street gang, she sometimes forgot that Winston Nkata was in fact a twenty-five-year-old kid who still lived at home with his mum and his dad. She cleared her throat quietly and he glanced her way She gave a nod to the wall behind the desk where two diplomas hung. He joined her there.

“Love's a beautiful thing,” she murmured quietly. “We must show it respect.”

The Reeves eased up on their mouth-to-mouth suction. “See you later, darling,” Martin Reeve murmured.

Barbara rolled her eyes at Nkata and inspected the two diplomas hanging on the wall. Stanford University and London School of Economics. Both were made out to Martin Reeve. Barbara eyed him with new interest and more than a little respect. It was vulgar to display them-not that Reeve would ever stoop to vulgarity, she thought sardonically-but the bloke was clearly no slouch when it came to brains.

Reeve sent his wife on her way. From his pocket he took a snowy linen handkerchief, which he used to wipe from his face the leavings of her pale pink lipstick.

“Sorry,” he said with a boyish smile. “Twenty years of marriage and the fires're still burning. You've got to admit that's not too bad for two middle-agers with a sixteen-year-old son. Here he is, by the way. Names William. Favours his mom, doesn't he?”

The appellation told Barbara what the Stanford diploma, the antiques, the silver frames, and the careful mid-Atlantic pronunciation had only suggested. “You're an American?” she said to Reeve.

“By birth. But I haven't been back for years.” Reeve nodded at the photo. “What d'you think of our William?”

Barbara glanced at the picture and saw a spotty-faced boy with his mother's height and his father's hair. But she also saw what she was meant to see: the unmistakable cutaway and striped trousers of a pupil at Eton. La-dee-dah-dah, Barbara thought, and handed the picture off to Nkata. “Eton,” she said with what she hoped was the right degree of awe. “He must have brains by the bucketful.”

Reeve looked pleased. “He's a whiz. Please. Sit down. Coffee? Or a drink? But I suppose you don't while you're working, do you? Drink, that is.”

They demurred on everything and got to the point. They'd been told that Nicola Maiden had been employed by MKR Financial Management from October of the previous year.

True enough, Reeve affirmed.

She worked as a trainee?

Equally true, Reeve agreed.

What was that exactly? What was she training for?

Investment advisor, Reeve told them. Nicola was preparing herself to be able to manage financial portfolios: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, derivatives, offshore holdings… MKR managed the investments of some of the biggest hitters in the marketplace. With complete discretion, of course.

Lovely, Barbara told him. It was, then, their assumption that Nicola had remained in his employ until she'd taken a leave of absence to work for a solicitor in Derbyshire for the summer. If Mr. Reeve would-Reeve stopped them from going further. He said, “Nicola didn't take a leave from MKR. She quit at the end of April. She was moving home to the North, she said.”

“Moving home?” Barbara repeated. Then what of the forwarding address she'd left with her landlady in Islington? she wondered. An address in Fulham was hardly north of anything save the river.

“That's what she told me,” Reeve said. “I take it she told others something else?” He offered them an exasperated smile. “Well, to be honest, that doesn't surprise me. I discovered that Nicola sometimes played a bit fast and loose with her facts. It wasn't one of her finer qualities. Had she not quit, I probably would have let her go eventually. I had my…” He pressed his fingertips together. “I had my doubts about her ability to be discreet. And discretion is critical in this line of work. We represent some very prominent players, and as we have access to all their financial data, they have to be able to depend on our ability to be circumspect with our information.”

“The Maiden girl wasn't?” Nkata asked.

“I don't want to say that,” Reeve said hastily “Nicola was quick and bright, no mistake about that. But there was something about her that needed watching. So I watched. She had an excellent hand with our clients, which was certainly to her credit. But she had a tendency to be a bit… well, perhaps overawed is the best way to put it. She was rather overawed by the value of some of their portfolios. And it's never a good idea to make how-much-Sir-Somebody-is-worth the topic of lunchtime conversation with your pals.”

“Was there any client with whom she may have had a special hand?” Barbara asked. “One that extended after business hours?”

Reeves eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

Nkata took the ball. “The girl had a lover here in town, Mr. Reeve. We're looking for him.”

“I don't know anything about a lover. But if Nicola had one, you'll more likely find him at the College of Law.”

“We've been told that she left the College of Law to work full-time for you.”

Reeve looked affronted. “I hope you're not suggesting that Nicola Maiden and I-”

“Well, she was a fine-looking woman.”

“As is my own wife.”

“I'm wondering if your wife had anything to do with why she left. It's odd, you ask me. The Maiden girl leaves law college to work for you full-time, but she leaves you practically the same week. Why d'you think she did that?”

“I told you. She said she was moving home to Derbyshire-”

“-where she went to work for a bloke who tells us she had a man in London. Right. So what I'm wondering is whether that London man's you.”

Barbara shot Nkata an admiring glance. She liked that he was willing to cut to the chase.

“I happen to be in love with my wife,” Reeve said deliberately. “Tricia and I have been together for twenty years, and if you think I'd jeopardise everything we have for a one-time romp with a college girl, then you're wrong.”

“There's nothing to suggest it was a one-off,” Barbara said.

“One-off or every night of the week,” Reeve countered, “I wasn't interested in a liaison with Nicola Maiden.” He seemed to stiffen as his thoughts suddenly took another direction. He drew in a shallow breath and reached for a silver letter opener that sat in the middle of his desk. He said, “Has someone told you otherwise? Has my good name been slandered by someone? I insist on knowing. Because if that's the case, I'll be talking to my solicitor.”

He was definitely an American, Barbara thought wearily. She said, “Do you know a bloke called Terry Cole, Mr. Reeve?”

“Terry Cole? C-o-l-e? I see.” As he spoke, Reeve reached for a pen and a pad of paper and scrawled the name. “So he's the little bastard who's said that-”

“Terry Cole's dead,” Nkata cut in. “He didn't say anything. He died with the Maiden girl in Derbyshire. You know him?”

“I've never heard of him. When I asked who'd told you… Look here. Nicola's dead and I'm sorry she's dead. But I haven't seen her since the end of April. I haven't talked to her since the end of April. And if someone out there is besmirching my good name, I mean to take whatever steps are necessary to rout the bastard out and make him pay.”

“Is that your usual reaction when you're crossed?” Barbara asked.

Reeve set down his pen. “This interview's over.”

“Mr. Reeve…”

“Please leave. You've had my time and I've told you what I know. If you think I'm going to play police patsy and sit here while you attempt to lead me down the garden path towards some sort of self-incrimination…” He pointed at them both. He had, Barbara saw, inordinately small hands, his knuckles cross-hatched with myriad scars. “You guys need to be less obvious,” he said. “Now, get out of here. Pronto.”

There was nothing for it but to accede to his request. Good expatriate Yank that he was, his next move surely was going to be to ring up his solicitor and claim harassment. There was no point pushing anything further.

“Nice work, Winston,” Barbara said when her colleague had unlocked the Bentley and they'd climbed inside. “You put him on the ropes quick and proper.”

“No sense in wasting our time.” He examined the building. “I wonder if there's a real Children in Need do going on at the Dorchester today.”

“There must be something going on somewhere. She was dressed up to the nines, wasn't she?”

Nkata looked at Barbara. His glance traveled over her clothes sorrowfully “With all respect, Barb…”

She laughed. “All right. What do I know about the nines anyway?”

He chuckled and started the car. Pulling away from the pavement, he said, “Seat belt, Barb.”

Barbara said, “Oh. Right,” and turned in her seat to reach for it.

Which was when she saw Tricia Reeve. The assistant director of MKR had taken herself nowhere near the Dorchester, as things turned out. She was skulking round the side of the building, hastening up the front steps, and heading straight for the door.

CHAPTER 11

The moment the cops were out of his office, Martin Reeve pressed the call button that was recessed into one of the shelves on which his collection of Henley photos were arranged. Just as the phony college diplomas were part of the Martin Reeve Story, the Henley photos were a vital piece of the Martin and Tricia Reeve Romance. It was part of their manufactured history that they'd first met at the Regatta. He'd been telling the apocryphal tale of their introduction for so long that he'd begun to believe it himself.

His call was answered in less than five seconds, a record. Jaz Burns entered the room without knocking. “A real cow, she was,” he said with a smirk. “Fancy shagging her, Marty. You'd not soon forget it.”

From his lair at the back of the house, it was Jaz's habit to play Peeping Tom with the surveillance equipment in Martin's office. He had an annoying tendency to voyeurism, which Martin was willing to overlook in the cause of employing his other talents.

“Follow them,” Martin said. “The cops? There's a turnaround for you. What's up?”

“Later. Get on it now.”

Jaz was astute at reading nuances. He jerked his head in a nod, snatched up the keys to the Jaguar, and slipped soundlessly from the room on cat-burglar feet. The door hadn't been closed behind him for more than fifteen seconds, however, when it opened again.

Martin swung round in agitation, saying, “God damn it, Jaz,” and ready to berate his employee for whatever dawdling had caused him to lose the cops’ trail before they'd even begun to lay it. But Tricia, not the spritelike Burns, stood there, and the expression on her face told Martin that a Scene was coming.

Fuck it, he wanted to say, not now. At the moment he didn't have the resources to soothe Tricia through an attack of the Shrills.

“What are you doing here? Tricia, you're supposed to be at the tea.”

“I couldn't.” She shut the door behind her.

“What do you mean, you couldn't? You're expected. This has been set up for months. I pulled a dozen strings to get you on that committee, and if you're on the committee, you're supposed to turn up. You've got the God damn list, Patricia. How're those women supposed to carry on this event-and, by the way, how are we supposed to maintain our good name-if you can't be relied upon to show up on time with a seating plan in your possession?”

“What did you tell them about Nicola?”

He blew out a breath on the word shit. “Is that why you're here? Am I clear on that? You've failed in your part to show open support for one of the worthiest causes in the UK because you want to know what I told the cops about a fucking dead bitch?”

“I don't like that language.”

“Which part? Fucking? Dead? Or bitch? Let's get it straight, because right at this moment there are five hundred women and photographers from every publication in the country waiting for you to appear and God knows you won't be able to manage it if we aren't clear on which part of my language bothers you.”

“What did you tell them?”

“I told them the truth.” He was so irritated that he could almost enjoy the expression of horror that crossed her face.

“What?” When she asked, the question was hoarse.

“Nicola Maiden was a trainee financial advisor. She quit last April. If she hadn't quit, I would have fired her.”

Tricia relaxed noticeably. Martin went on. He vastly preferred his wife on edge. “I'd love to know where the little bitch took herself off to from here, and with any luck, I'll have that information from Jaz within the hour. Cops are nothing if not predictable. If she had a place in London-and my money says she had-then the cops're going to lead us straight to it.”

The tension was, gratifyingly, back in an instant. “Why d'you want to know? What're you going to do?”

“I don't like disrespect, Patricia. You of all people ought to know that. I don't like to be lied to. Trust is the bedrock of any relationship, and if I don't do something when someone screws me over, then it's open season for everyone to take Martin Reeve for all that he's worth. Well, I won't allow that.”

“You had her, didn't you?” Tricia's face was pinched.

“Don't be an idiot.”

“You think I can't tell. You say to yourself, ‘Dear Trish's doped up to her eyeballs half the time. What could she possibly notice?’ But I do. I saw how you looked at her. I knew when it happened.”

Martin sighed. “You need a hit. Sorry to put it so crudely, my dear. I know you'd prefer to avoid the topic. But the truth of the matter is that you always get weird in the head when you're coming down too fast. You need another hit.”

“I know what you're like.” Her voice was rising, and he wondered idly if he could manage the needle without her cooperation. But how the hell much was she shooting up these days anyway? Even if he could cope with the needle and the syringe, the last thing he needed was his wife carted off in a coma. “I know how you like to be the boss, Martin. And what better way is there to prove you're in charge than to tell some college girl to drop her knickers and then watch how fast she's willing to do it.”

“Tricia, this is such awesome bullshit. Are you listening to yourself?”

“So you had her. And then she walked away. Poof. She was gone. Vanished.” Tricia snapped her fingers. Rather weakly, Martin noticed. “And that felt nasty, didn't it? And we know how you react when something feels nasty.”

Speaking of which… Martin itched to strike her. He would have done so had he not been certain that, doped up or not, she'd run straight home to Daddy in an instant with the tale. Daddy would make certain demands if she did that. Detox first. Divorce after that.

Neither of which was acceptable to Martin. Marriage into wealth-no matter that the money came from a successful antiques business and hadn't been passed down through successive generations in best blue-blood fashion-had garnered for him a degree of social acceptance that he'd never have acquired as a mere immigrant to the country, no matter how successful in business he might be. He had no intention of giving that social acceptance up.

“We can have this discussion later,” he said with a glance at his pocket watch. “For now, you still have time to get to the tea without thoroughly humiliating yourself or me. Say it was the traffic: a pedestrian hit by a taxi in Notting Hill Gate. You stopped to hold his hand-no, make it a woman and a child-till the ambulance arrived. A hole in your stocking would support the story, by the way.”

“Don't dismiss me like some mindless tart.”

“Then stop acting like one.” He shot the retort back without thinking and immediately regretted it. What possible purpose could be served by escalating an idiotic discussion into a fully blown row? “Look, sweetheart,” he said, aiming for conciliation, “let's stop the bickering. We're letting ourselves get thrown by a simple, routine visit from the cops. As far as Nicola Maiden goes-”

“We haven't done it in months, Martin.”

He went steadily on. “-it's unfortunate that she's dead, it's unfortunate that she was murdered, but as we weren't involved in what happened to her-”

“We. Haven't. Fucked. Since. June.” Her voice rose. “Are you listening to me? Are you hearing what I'm saying?”

“I'm doing both,” he replied. “And if you weren't blitzed most hours of the day, you'd find your memory improving.”

That, at least and thank God, stopped her. She, after all, had no more wish than he had to end their marriage. He served a purpose in her life that was as necessary to her as the purpose she served was necessary to him: He kept her supply lines open and her secret safe; she increased his mobility and garnered from his fellows the sort of deference one man shows another when that other has possession of a beautiful woman. Thus, she very much wanted to believe. And in Martin's experience, when people desperately wanted to believe, they talked themselves into believing just about anything. In this case, however, Tricia's belief wasn't far from the truth. He did indeed do her when she was tripped out. She just didn't know he preferred it that way.

She said in a smaller voice, “Oh,” and she blinked.

“Yes,” he said. “Oh. All through June, July, and August. Last night as well.”

She swallowed. “Last night?”

He smiled. She was his.

He went to her. “Lets not let the cops wreck what we have, Trish. They're after a killer. They're not after us.” He touched her lips with the battle-weary knuckles of his right hand. Left hand on her buttocks, he drew her near. “Now, isn't that right? Isn't it true that what the police are looking for, they won't find here?”

“I've got to get off the stuff,” she whispered.

He urged her down for a kiss. “One thing at a time,” he said.

In his room at the Black Angel Hotel, Lynley discarded his suit and tie in favour of jeans, hiking boots, and the old waxed jacket that he generally wore in Cornwall, an ancient possession of his long-dead father. He kept glancing at the telephone as he dressed, alternately willing it to ring and willing himself to make the call from this end.

There had been no message from Helen. He'd excused her silence that morning as a result of her late night with Deborah St. James and her probable subsequent lie-in, but he was having difficulty excusing a silence that had apparently continued well into mid-afternoon. He'd even phoned down to Reception, asking that they double-check on his messages, but an extended foray into pigeon holes and rubbish baskets hadn't produced anything different from what he'd had at the beginning: His wife hadn't phoned. Nor had anyone else, for that matter, but silence from the rest of the world didn't concern him. Silence from Helen did.

In the way of people who believe they're in the right, he replayed their conversation of the previous morning. He checked it for subtext and nuance, but no matter how he examined it, he came out on top. The fact was simplicity itself. His wife had been interfering in his professional life, and she owed him an apology. She had no business second-guessing decisions that he made as part of his work any more than he had a place instructing her how and when she could assist St. James in his lab. In the personal arena they each had a vested interest in knowing the others hopes, resolutions, and desires. In the world of their individual occupations, they owed each other kindness, consideration, and support. That his wife-as was clearly indicated by her undeniably perverse refusal to phone him-didn't wish to adhere to this basic and reasonable manner of coexisting was a source of disillusionment to him. He'd known Helen for sixteen years. How could he have gone such a time without actually knowing her at all?”

He checked his watch. He looked out of the window and made note of the sun's position in the sky. There were several good hours of daylight left, so he had no need to rush off right at the moment. Knowing this, and knowing what he could well do because of this, he procrastinated by checking to make sure he had a compass, a torch, and an Ordnance Survey map tucked into the various pockets of his jacket.

Then, without further employment available, he heaved a sigh of defeat. He walked to the phone and punched in his home number. Might as well leave her a message if she's gone out, he thought. One can make a point with one's mate for only a limited period.

He expected Denton. Or the answerphone. What he didn't expect-because if she was at home, why the devil wasn't she phoning him-was to hear his wife's soft voice on the other end of the line.

She said hello twice. In the background he could hear music playing. It was one of his new Prokofiev CDs. She'd taken the call in the drawing room.

He wanted to say “Hello, darling. We parted badly, and I'm longing to make it up with you.” But instead, he wondered how the hell she could sit there in London, blissfully enjoying his music, while they were at odds. And they were at odds, weren't they? Hadn't he just spent most of his working day successfully avoiding an obsessive contemplation of their disagreement, of everything that had led up to it, of what it indicated about the past, of what it presaged for the future, of what it might lead them to if one of them didn't wake up and realise that-Helen said, “This is very rude, whoever you are,” and rang off.

Which left Lynley holding a dead receiver and feeling very foolish. Ringing her back at the moment would make him feel even more foolish, he concluded. So that was that. He replaced the receiver, removed the keys to the police car from his suit coat, and left the room.

He drove northeast, cruising along the road that carved a gully between the limestone slopes upon which Tideswell was built. The land formed a natural siphon here. The wind gusted through it like a gushing river, whipping tree limbs and flipping leaves upside down in an unspoken promise of the season's first rain.

At the junction, a handful of honey-coloured buildings marked the hamlet of Lane Head. Here Lynley veered to the west, where the road made a straight charcoal incision into the moor and drystone walls prevented the accretion of heather, bilberry, and ferns from reclaiming the road and returning it to the land.

It was a wild country. Once Lynley left the last of the hamlets behind, the only signs of life-aside from the vegetation, which was profuse-were the jackdaws and magpies and the occasional sheep that stood serene and cloudlike, grazing among the pink and the green.

Stiles provided access to the moor, and signposts marked the routes of public footpaths that had been used for centuries by farmers or shepherds traveling between the far-flung hamlets. Hiking and biking trails were a more recent addition to the landscape, however, and these carved through the heather and disappeared towards distant lichen-grey outcrops that formed the remains of prehistoric settlements, ancient places of worship, and Roman forts.

Lynley found the spot a few miles northeast of the tiny hamlet of Sparrowpit, where Nicola Maiden had left her Saab upon setting off into the moor. There, a long and knobby border of wall was interrupted by a white iron gate, its thick skin of crusty paint eaten through in spots by blemishes of rust. When he arrived, Lynley did what Nicola Maiden herself had done: He opened the gate, pulled into a narrow paved lane within, and parked behind the stone wall on a patch of earth.

He consulted the map before getting out of the car, opening it against the passenger seat and fixing his reading glasses on his nose. He studied the route he would need to take to get out to Nine Sisters Henge, making note of landmarks that would be useful in guiding him on his way. Hanken had offered him a detective constable as a guide, but he'd refused. He wouldn't have minded an experienced hiker as an escort, but he preferred not to be accompanied by a member of the Buxton police who could possibly take offence-and report such offence to Hanken-when Lynley scrutinised the crime scene with an attention suggesting that the local CID hadn't done its job.

“It's a last possibility for that blasted pager, and I'd like to eliminate it,” Lynley had told Hanken.

“If it had been there, my boys would have found it,” Hanken had replied, reminding him that they'd done a fingertip search for the weapon, which certainly would have turned up a pager even if it hadn't dislodged a knife from the site. “But if it puts your mind at rest to do it, then put your mind at rest and do it.” As for himself, he was off after Upman, champing at the bit to confront the solicitor.

Feeling sure of his route, Lynley folded the map and returned his glasses to their case. He put map and glasses in his jacket pockets and climbed out into the wind. He set out southeast, with the collar of his jacket turned up and his shoulders hunched against the gusts that were blowing against him. The stretch of paved lane led in the direction he wanted, so he started out on it, but after less than a hundred yards, it ended in a crumble of aggregate boulders comprising mostly gravel and tar. From there, the going became rougher, an uneven trail of earth and stones, creased by watercourses that were skeletally dry from a summer without rain.

The walk took him nearly an hour, and he made it in utter solitude. His route followed stony paths that intersected with other, stonier paths. He brushed through heather, gorse, and fern; he climbed limestone outcrops; he passed the remains of chambered cairns.

He was just coming upon an unexpected fork in the trail, when he saw a lone hiker walking his way from the southeast. As he was fairly certain that this was the direction of Nine Sisters Henge, Lynley remained where he was, waiting to see who had made this late-afternoon visit to the scene of the crime. As far as he knew, Hanken still had the stone circle taped off and guarded. So if the hiker was a journalist or press photographer, he would have found little joy in taking an extended walk across the moor.

It wasn't a man, as things turned out. Nor was it either a journalist or a photographer. Instead, as the figure approached, Lynley saw that Samantha McCallin had, for some reason, decided to treat herself to an afternoon hike out to Nine Sisters Henge.

Apparently, she recognised him at the same instant that he realised her identity, because her gait changed its rhythm. She'd been marching along with a whip tail of birch in her hand, flicking it against the heather as she stepped along the path. But seeing Lynley, she chucked the whip tail to one side, squared her shoulders, and came straight at him.

“It's a public place,” she said at once. “You can tape off the circle and post guards out there, but you can't keep people off the rest of the moor.”

“You're some miles from Broughton Manor, Miss McCallin.”

“Don't killers return to the scenes of their crimes? I'm merely living the part. Would you like to arrest me?”

“I'd like you to explain what you're doing here.”

She looked over her shoulder in the direction from which she'd come. “He thinks I killed her. Isn't that rich? I speak out in defence of him this morning, and by afternoon he's decided I did it. It's an odd way to say ‘Thanks for taking my part, Sam,’ but there you have it.”

It could have been the wind, of course, but it looked to Lynley as if she'd been crying. He said, “So what are you doing here, Miss McCallin? You must know that your presence-”

“I wanted to see the place where his fantasy died.” The wind had loosened hair from her plait, and wispy tendrils of it blew round her face. “He'd say, of course, that his fantasy died on Monday night when he asked her to marry him. But I don't think so. I think as long as Nicola walked the earth, my cousin Julian would have held on to his obsession of having a life with her. Waiting for her to change her mind. Waiting for her to-as he would say-really see him. And the funny thing is, if she'd crooked her finger at him just the right way-or even the wrong way, for that matter-he would've interpreted it as the sign he was waiting for, proving to him that she loved him in spite of everything she said and did to the contrary.”

“You disliked her, didn't you?” Lynley asked.

She gave a short laugh. “What difference does it make? She was going to get what she wanted no matter how I felt about her.”

“What she got was death. And she can't have wanted that.”

“She would have destroyed him. She would have sucked out his marrow. She was that sort of woman.”

“Was she?”

Samantha's eyes narrowed as a gust of wind spat chalky bits of earth into the air. “I'm glad she's dead. I won't lie about that. But you're making a mistake if you think that I'm the only person who'd dance on her grave, given half the chance.”

“Who else is there?”

She smiled. “I don't intend to do your job for you.”

That said, she stepped past him and walked off down the path, taking the direction he himself had traveled from the northern boundary of the moor. He wondered how she had come to be on the moor at all, as he'd seen no cars parked on the verge when he'd turned off the road. He also wondered if she parked elsewhere either out of ignorance of the presence of the hard-packed little plot of land behind the drystone wall or to hide her knowledge of the plot's existence.

He watched her, but she didn't turn back to see if he was doing so. She must have wanted to-it was human nature-and the fact that she didn't spoke worlds about her self-discipline. He himself walked on.

He recognised Nine Sisters Henge by the separate stone-the King Stone, he'd been told-that marked its location within a thick copse of birches. He came at the monument from the opposite side, however, and didn't realise that he was actually upon it till he circled the copse, took a compass reading just beyond it, reckoned that the stone circle had to be nearby, and turned back to see the pockmarked monolith rising beside a narrow path into the trees.

He retraced his steps, hands shoved into his pockets. He found DI Hanken's posted guard a few yards from the site, and he admitted Lynley to it, allowing him to duck beneath the crime scene tape and approach the sentry stone alone. Lynley paused by this and examined it. It was weather-worn, as one would expect, but it was man-worn as well. At some time in the past, indentations had been carved into the back side of the enormous column. They formed handholds and footholds so that a climber could ascend to the top.

To what use had the stone been put in ancient times? Lynley wondered. As a means of calling a community to assemble? As a lookout post for someone responsible for the safety of shamans performing rituals within the stone circle? As the reredos of an altar for sacrifice? It was impossible to say.

He slapped his hand against it and went under the trees, where the first thing he noticed was that the birches-growing so thickly together-acted as a natural windbreak. When he finally made his way into the prehistoric circle, not a breath of air was stirring.

His first thought was that it was nothing like Stonehenge, which was when he realised how firmly the word henge was rooted in his mind with a particular image. There were standing stones-nine of them, as the place name suggested-but these were far more roughly hewn than he'd expected. There were no lintel stones as there were at Stonehenge. And the external bank and the internal ditch that enclosed the standing stones were far less distinct.

He entered the circle. It was quiet as death. While the trees prevented the wind from reaching into the circle, the stones appeared to prevent the sound of the leaves being rustled from reaching into the circle either. It wouldn't be difficult for someone at night to come upon the monument unheard, then. He-or she or they-would merely have had to know where Nine Sisters Henge was or to follow a hiker there from a distance in daylight and wait for nightfall. Which in itself would not have been difficult. The moor was vast, but it was also open. On a clear day one could see for miles.

The circle's interior consisted of dying moor grass beaten lateral by a summer of visitors to the site, a flat slice of rock at the base of the northernmost standing stone, and the remains of half a dozen old fires built by campers and worshippers. Starting at the circle's perimeter, Lynley began a systematic search for Nicola Maiden's pager. It was a tedious activity, involving an inch-by-inch scrutiny of the bank, the ditch, the base of each stone, the moor grass, and the fire rings. When he'd completed his inspection of the site without finding a thing and knew he'd next have to trace Nicola's route to the location of her death, he paused to pick out the path of her flight. In doing so, he found his gaze drawn to the central fire ring.

He saw that the ring was distinguished from the rest in three ways. It was fresher-with hunks of charred wood not yet disintegrated into ashes and lumps, it bore the unmistakable marks of having been sifted through by the scenes of crime team, and the stones that encircled it had been disturbed roughly, as if someone had stamped on the fire to put it out and dislodged the barrier in the process. But seeing these stones brought to Lynley's mind the photographs of the dead Terry Cole and the burns that charred one side of the young man's face.

He went to squat by the fire remains, and he thought for the first time about that face and what was indicated by its burnt skin. He realised that the extent of the burning suggested that the boy had had a fairly lengthy contact with the fire. But he hadn't been held down into the flames, because if he had been, there would have been defensive wounds on his body as he struggled to free himself from someone's grasp. And according to Dr. Myles, there had been no such wounds on Terry Cole: no bruising or scratching of his hands or knuckles, no distinctive abrasions on his torso. And yet, Lynley thought, he'd been exposed to the fire long enough to be severely burnt, indeed to have his skin blackened. There seemed to be only one reasonable answer. Cole must have fallen into the fire. But how?

Lynley rested on his haunches and let his gaze wander round the circle. He saw that a second, narrower path led out of the thicket-opposite the path he'd come in on-and from his position by the fire ring, that path was in a direct line with his vision. This, then, had to be Nicola's route. He pictured the young people on Tuesday night, sitting side by side at the fire. Two killers wait outside the stone circle, unheard and unseen. They bide their time. When the moment is right, they charge towards the fire, each of them taking one of the two and making short work of them.

It was plausible, Lynley decided. But if that was what happened, he couldn't see why short work hadn't been made of Nicola Maiden. Indeed, he couldn't see how the young woman had managed to get one hundred and fifty yards from her killer before she was even attacked. While it was true that she could have fled the circle and taken off on the second path that he himself could see cutting through the trees, with the advantage of surprise on the killers' part, how had she managed to elude capture for such a distance? She was an experienced hiker, of course, but what did experience really count for in darkness, with someone in a panic and running for her life? And even if she wasn't in a panic, how could her reflexes have been so good or her understanding of what was happening so acute? Surely, it would have taken her at least five seconds to realise that harm was intended her, and that delay would have been her undoing right then, within the circle and not one hundred and fifty yards away.

Lynley frowned. He kept seeing the photograph of the boy. Those burns were important, a critical point. Those burns, he knew, told the real tale.

He reached for a stick-part of the kindling of the fire-and aimlessly shoved it into the ashes as he thought. Nearby, he spotted the first of the dried splatters of blood that had come from Terry Cole's wounds. Beyond those splatters, the dry moor grass was gouged and torn up in a zigzagging path that led to one of the standing stones.

Slowly, Lynley followed this path. It was speckled with blood for the entire distance.

There were no great gobs of gore though, and not the sort of blood evidence one would expect from someone bleeding to death from an arterial wound. In fact, as he moved along it, Lynley realised that the trail did not offer the sort of blood evidence one would expect to find from the multiple stab wounds that Terry Cole had had inflicted upon him. At the base of the standing stone, however, Lynley saw that the blood had pooled. Indeed, it had splashed onto the stone itself, leaving tiny rivulets from a height of three feet, dribbling down to the ground below.

Lynley paused here. His gaze moved from the fire ring to the beaten path. In his mind he saw the picture of the boy that the police photographer had taken, his flesh eaten black by the flames. He considered all of it point by point:

Blood by the fire in daubs and splatters.

Blood by the standing stone in pools.

Blood in rivulets from a height of three feet.

A girl running off into the night.

A chunk of limestone bashing in her skull.

Lynley narrowed his eyes and drew a slow breath. Of course, he thought. Why hadn't he seen from the first what had happened?

The address they'd been given in Fulham took Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata to a maisonette in Rostrevor Road. They expected to have to deal with a landlady, custodian, or concierge in order to gain access to Nicola Maidens rooms. But when they went through the pro forma business of ringing the bell next to the number five, they were surprised to hear a woman's voice on the speaker, asking them to identify themselves.

There was a pause once Nkata made it clear that Scotland Yard had come calling. After a moment, the disembodied voice said, “I'll be down shortly,” in the cultured accent of a woman who spent her free time reading for parts in costume dramas on the BBC. Barbara expected her to appear in full Jane Austen regalia: done up in a slender Regency dress with ringlets round her face. Some five minutes later-“Where's she coming from, exactly?” Nkata wanted to know, with a glance at his watch, “Southend-on-Sea?”-the door opened and a twelve-year-old in a vintage Mary Quant mini-dress stood before them.

“Vi Nevin,” the child said by way of introduction. “Sorry. I'd just got out of the bath and had to pull on some clothes. May I see your identification, please?”

The voice was the same as the woman's on the speaker, and coming from the pixielike creature in the doorway, it was quite disconcerting, as if a female ventriloquist were lurking somewhere nearby, throwing her voice into a pre-adolescent child for a bit of a lark. Barbara caught herself sneaking a glimpse round the door jamb to see if someone was hiding there. The expression on Vi Nevin's face said that she was used to such a reaction.

After looking over their warrant cards to her satisfaction, she handed them back and said, “Right. What can I do for you?” And when they told her that her rooms had been given as a forwarding address for the post when a student from the College of Law had moved house from Islington, she said, “There's nothing illegal in that, is there? It sounds the responsible thing to do.”

Did she know Nicola Maiden, then? Nkata asked her.

“I don't make a habit of taking up lodgings with strangers” was her reply. And then, glancing from Nkata to Barbara, “But Nikki isn't here. She hasn't been for weeks. She's up in Derbyshire till next Wednesday evening.”

Barbara saw that Nkata was reluctant to do the dubious honours of announcing death to the unsuspecting yet another time. She decided to show mercy upon him, saying, “Is there a place we can talk privately?”

Vi Nevin heard something beyond the simple question, as her eyes indicated. “Why? Have you a warrant or a decree or something? I know my rights.”

Barbara sighed inwardly. What damage the last few revelations of police malfeasance had done to public trust. She said, “I'm sure you do. But we're not here to conduct a search. We'd like to talk to you about Nicola Maiden.”

“Why? Where is she? What's she done?”

“May we come in?”

“If you tell me what you want.”

Barbara exchanged a glance with Nkata. Oh well, her look told him. There was nothing for it but to give the young woman the nasty news on her own front step. “She's dead,” Barbara informed her. “She died in the Peak District three nights ago. Now, may we come in, or should we keep talking out here in the street?”

Vi Nevin looked completely uncomprehending. “Dead?” she repeated. “Nikki's dead?. But she can't be. I spoke to her on Tuesday morning. She was going hiking. She isn't dead. She can't be.”

She searched their faces as if looking for evidence of a joke or a lie. Apparently not finding it, she stood back from the door. She said, “Please come in,” in a hushed and altered voice.

She led them up a flight of stairs to a door that stood gaping on the first floor. This gave into an L-shaped living room, where french windows opened onto a balcony. Below it, water played in a garden fountain, and a hornbeam threw late-afternoon shadows on a pattern of flagstones.

At one side of the room, a sleek chrome and glass trolley held at least a dozen bottles of spirits. Vi Nevin chose an unsealed Glenlivet, and she poured herself three fingers in a tumbler. She took it neat, and any lingering doubts that Barbara had had about her age were put to rest when she tackled the whisky.

While the young woman gathered herself together, Barbara took stock of the living situation… what she could see of it. On the first floor of the maisonette were the living room, the kitchen, and a loo. The bedrooms would be above them, accessed via a staircase that rose along one wall. From where she was standing just inside the front door, she could see to the top of the stairs as well as into the kitchen. This was fitted out with a surfeit of mod cons: refrigerator with ice maker, microwave oven, espresso machine, gleaming copper-bottomed pots and pans. The work tops were granite, and the cupboards and the floor were bleached oak. Nice, Barbara thought. She wondered who was paying for it all.

She glanced at Nkata. He was taking in the low, butter-coloured sofas with their profusion of green and gold cushions tumbling across them. His gaze went from there to the luxurious ferns by the window to the large abstract oil above the fireplace. It was a bloody far cry from Loughborough estate, his expression said. He looked Barbara's way. She mouthed La-dee-dah. He grinned.

Having downed her drink, Vi Nevin appeared to do nothing more than slowly breathe. Finally, she turned to them. She smoothed back her hair-this was blonde and breast-length-and she fixed it in place with a hair band that made her look like Alice in Wonderland.

She said, “I'm sorry. No one phoned. I've not had the television on. I had no idea. I talked to her only Tuesday morning and… for God's sake, what happened?”

They gave her two pieces of information. Her skull had been fractured. Her death hadn't been an accident.

Vi Nevin said nothing. A tremor passed through her.

“Nicola was murdered,” Barbara finally said when Vi requested no details. “Someone beat in her skull with a boulder.”

The fingers of Vis right hand closed tightly on the hem of her mini-dress. She said, “Sit down,” and motioned them to the sofas. She herself sat rigidly on the edge of a deep armchair opposite, knees and ankles together like a well-trained schoolgirl. Still, she didn't ask any questions. She was clearly stunned by the information, but she was equally clearly waiting.

What for? Barbara wanted to know. What was going on? “We're working the London end of the case,” she told Vi. “Our colleague-DI Lynley-is in Derbyshire.”

“The London end,” Vi murmured.

“There was a bloke found dead with the Maiden girl.” Nkata removed the leather notebook from his jacket and twirled a bit of lead from his propelling pencil. “Name's Terry Cole. He's got digs in Battersea. You acquainted with him?”

“Terry Cole?” Vi shook her head. “No. I don't know him.”

“An artist. A sculptor. He's got a studio in some railway arches in Portslade Road. He shares that and a flat with a girl called Cilia Thompson,” Barbara said.

“Cilia Thompson,” she echoed. And shook her head again.

“Did Nicola ever mention either of them? Terry Cole? Cilia Thompson?” Nkata asked.

“Terry or Cilia. No,” she said.

Barbara wanted to point out that there was no Narcissus present, so she could abjure her role in the mythical drama, but she thought the allusion might fall on unappreciative ears. She said, “Miss Nevin, Nicola Maiden's skull was smashed in. This might not break your heart, but if you could cooperate with us-”

“Please” she said as if she couldn't bear to hear the news again. “I haven't seen Nikki since the beginning of June. She went north to work for the summer, and she was due back in town next Wednesday, like I said.”

“To do what?” Barbara asked.

“What?”

“To do what when she got back into town?”

Vi gave no answer. She looked at both of them as if searching the waters for hidden piranhas.

“To work? To take up a life of leisure? To what?” Barbara asked. “If she was coming back here, she must have intended to do something with her time. As her flatmate, I expect you'd know what that was.”

She had intelligent eyes, Barbara saw. They were grey with black lashes. They studied and assessed while her brain doubtless weighed every possible consequence to every answer. Vi Nevin knew something about what had happened to Nicola; that was a certainty.

If she'd learned nothing else from working with Lynley for nearly four years, Barbara had learned that there were times to play hardball and times to give. Hardball produced the intimidation card. Giving offered an exchange of information. Having nothing to use as intimidation with the other woman, the interview was beginning to look like a time to give. Barbara said, “We know she dropped out of law college round the first of May, telling them she'd taken a full-time job with MKR Financial Management. But Mr. Reeve-that's her guv-informed us that she left the company just before that, telling him she was moving home to Derbyshire. Yet when she moved house, she gave this address-not a Derbyshire address-to her landlady in Islington. And, from what we've been able to gather, no one in Derbyshire had an inkling that she was up there for anything more than a summer's visit. What does this suggest to you, Miss Nevin?”

“Confusion,” Vi said. “She hadn't yet made up her mind about her life. Nikki liked to keep her options open.”

“Leaving college? Quitting her job? Telling tales unsupported by the facts? Her options weren't open. They were manufactured. Everyone we've talked to has a different idea of what she intended to do with herself.”

“I can't explain it. I'm sorry. I don't know what you want me to say.”

“Did she have a job lined up?” Nkata looked up from his notebook.

“I don't know.”

“Did she have a source of income lined up?” Barbara asked.

“I don't know that either. She paid her share of the expenses here before she left for the summer, and-”

“Why'd she leave?”

“And as it was in cash” Vi plunged on, “I had no reason to question her source of income. Really, I'm sorry, but that's all I can tell you.”

Fat chance, Barbara thought. She was lying through her pretty, baby-sized white teeth. “How did you come to know each other? Are you at the College of Law yourself?”

“We met through work.”

“MKR Financial?” And when Vi nodded, “What d'you do for them?”

“Nothing any longer. I left in April as well.” What she had done, she told them, was work as Tricia Reeve's personal assistant. “I didn't much care for her,” she said. “She's a bit… peculiar. I handed in my notice in March and left once they found a replacement for me.”

“And now?” Barbara asked.

“Now?”

“What d'you do now?” Nkata clarified. “Where d'you work?”

She'd taken up modeling, she told them. It had long been her dream, and Nikki had encouraged her to go for it. She produced a portfolio of professional photographs which depicted her in a variety of guises. In most of the pictures she looked like a waif: thin and large-eyed with the sort of vacant expression that was currently de rigueur in fashion magazines.

Barbara nodded at the photos, aiming for appreciation but inwardly wondering for a fleeting moment when Rubenesque figures-such as her own, frankly-would ever be in vogue. “You must be doing well. A place like this… I don't expect it comes cheap, does it? Is it your own, by the way? This maisonette?”

“It's rented.” Vi gathered up her pictures. She tapped them together and replaced them in their portfolio.

“From who?” Nkata asked the question without looking up from his meticulous note-taking.

“Does it matter from whom?”

“Tell us and we'll make up our minds,” Barbara said.

“From Douglas and Gordon.”

“Mates of yours?”

“Its an estate agency.”

Barbara watched as Vi replaced the portfolio on a shelf beneath the television. She waited till the young woman had turned back to them before she went on. “Mr. Reeve told us that Nicola Maiden had a problem with the truth and a bigger problem keeping her mouth shut about his clients’ finances. He said he was going to sack her, when she left.”

“That's not true.” Vi remained standing, arms folded beneath diminutive breasts. “If he was going to sack her, which he wasn't, it would've been because of his wife.”

“Why?”

“Jealousy. Tricia wants to eliminate every woman he looks at.”

“And he looked at Nicola?”

“I didn't say that.”

“Listen. We know she had a lover,” Barbara said. “We know he's in London. Could that have been Mr. Reeve?”

“Tricia doesn't give him ten minutes out of her sight.”

“But it's possible?”

“No. Nikki was seeing someone, it's true. But not here. There. In Derbyshire.” Vi went into the kitchen and returned with a handful of picture postcards. They depicted various sites in the Peak District: Arbor Low, Peveril Castle, Thor's Cave, the stepping stones in Dovedale, Chatsworth House, Magpie Mine, Little John's Grave, Nine Sisters Henge. Each was addressed to Vi Nevin, and each bore an identical message: Oooh-laAa. This was followed by the initial N. That was all.

Barbara handed the postcards over to Nkata. She said to Vi, “Okay. I'll bite. Clue me in on the meaning behind these.”

“Those are the places she had sex with him. Every time they did it in a new location, she bought a postcard and sent it along to me. As a joke.”

“A real scream,” Barbara agreed. “Who's the bloke?”

“She never said. But I expect he's married.”

“Why?”

“Because aside from the postcards, she never once mentioned him when we talked on the phone. That's how I'd expect her to act if she had a relationship that wasn't on the up and up.”

“Made a habit of that, did she?” Nkata set the cards on the coffee table and made a note in his book. “She did other married blokes?”

“I didn't say that. Just that I think this one was married. And he wasn't in London.”

But someone was, Barbara thought. Someone had to be. If Nicola Maiden had intended a return to town at the end of the summer, she would have been coming with some means of supporting herself once she got here. With this ultramodern, recently redecorated, plush, posh, and pleasant maisonette having try sting place written all over it, how unreasonable was it to assume that a punter deep in dosh had set her up in style to be at his disposal day and night?

That begged the question of what the hell Vi Nevin was doing there. But perhaps that had been part of the deal. A flatmate with whom the mistress could while away the boring hours while waiting for her lord and master to appear.

It was a stretch. But no more than that which was needed to accommodate the vision of Nicola Maiden as Sir Richard Burton, hiking across the moors to discover new and exciting bonking locations to share with a married lover.

What the hell am I doing in police work, Barbara wondered acerbically, when the rest of the world is having so much fun?

They'd like to have a look at Nicola Maiden's room and belongings, she told Vi Nevin. Somewhere there was going to be concrete evidence that Nicola was up to something, and she was determined to find it.

CHAPTER 12

“He squirmed. The flaming bastard bloody well squirmed!’ DI Peter Han-ken leaned back in his chair and savoured the moment, arms locked behind his head. A lit cigarette dangled from his mouth, and he talked round it with the expertise of a man long practised in the art. Lynley stood at a set of filing cabinets, spreading out on their tops the photographs of both dead bodies. He studied these while doing his best to keep clear of Hanken's tobacco smoke. A former victim of the weed himself, he found cause for celebration in the fact that he experienced the smoke as an irritant at long last, when months before he would have queued just to lick Hanken's ashtray. Not that the other DI was using the ashtray. When the burnt tobacco needed dislodging, he merely turned his head and let the ashes fall to the floor. It was a gesture out of character in the otherwise compulsively neat DI. It spoke of the level of his excitement.

Hanken was recounting his interview with Will Upman. The gusto with which he told the tale was growing as he reached its climax. Metaphorically speaking, it seemed. Because according to Hanken, the solicitor apparently hadn't been able to perform to his usual standards.

“But he said popping his cork doesn't matter to him when he's with a woman,” Hanken scoffed. “Said what matters is ‘the fun of it all.’”

“I'm intrigued,” Lynley said. “How did you manage to get that admission from him?”

“That he shagged her or that he didn't go the distance once he had her on the skewer?”

“Either. Both.” Lynley selected the clearest picture of Terry Cole's face and set it next to the clearest of the wounds on his body. “I trust you didn't use thumb-screws, Peter.”

Hanken laughed. “Didn't have to. I just told him what his neighbours had reported, and he sent the white flag straight up the pole.”

“Why had he lied?”

“Claims he hadn't. Claims he would have told us straight out if we'd asked straight out.”

“That's splitting hairs.”

“Lawyers.” The single word said it all.

Will Upman, Hanken had reported concisely, confessed to a single fling with Nicola Maiden and that fling had occurred on her last night in his employ. He'd felt a strong attraction to her for the entire summer, but his position as her employer had prevented him from making a move.

“Being involved elsewhere didn't prevent him?” Lynley clarified.

Not at all. Because how could he be truly, madly, and deeply in love with Joyce-and consequently legitimately “involved” with her-when he felt so wildly attracted to Nicola? And if he was wildly attracted to Nicola, didn't he owe it to himself to see what that attraction was all about? Joyce had been pressing him for a commitment-she'd had her mind set on their living together-but he couldn't take the next step with her until he cleared his head about Nicola.

“May I assume he dashed off straightaway and proposed to Joyce once his head was cleared with regard to the Maiden girl?” Lynley asked.

Hanken guffawed appreciatively. Upman had oiled the wheels with drinks, dinner, and wine, the DI reported. He took her to his home. More drinks there. Some music. Several cappuccinos. He had candles set up round his bathtub-“Lord.” Lynley shuddered. The man was a victim of Hollywood cinema.

– and he got her undressed and in the water without any trouble.

“Her wanting it as bad as he did, according to Upman,” Han-ken said.

They played in the tub till they looked like prunes, at which point they adjourned to the bedroom.

“Which is where,” Hanken concluded, “the rocket didn't launch.”

“And on the night of the murder?”

“Where was he, you mean?” Hanken recounted that as well. At lunch on Tuesday, Upman had had another set-to with the girlfriend on the topic of cohabitation. Rather than go home after work and run the risk of a phone call from her, he went for a drive. He ended up at Manchester Airport, where he checked into a hotel for the night and had a massage therapist come to his room to relieve him of his tension.

“Even had the receipts to wave in front of me,” Hanken said. “Seems he intends to claim it as a business expense.”

“You're checking it out.”

“I plan to, as I breathe,” Hanken said. “Your end of things?”

This was where he had to tread carefully, Lynley thought. So far, despite his encounter with Upman, Hanken hadn't appeared to be wedded irrevocably to any particular scenario. Still, what he was about to suggest was a contravention of the DI's main conjecture. He wanted to lead into it carefully so that his colleague might be open to its logic.

He hadn't found the pager, he said. But he'd had a rather long look round the site and an even longer think about the two bodies. He wanted to propose an altogether different hypothesis to the one they'd been working with. Would Hanken hear him out?

The DI lowered his chair and smashed out his cigarette. Mercifully, he didn't light another. He ran his tongue over his teeth, eyes speculatively fixed on Lynley. He finally said, “Let's have it,” and settled back as if expecting a lengthy monologue.

“I think we've got one killer,” Lynley said. “And no accomplice. No phone call for reinforcements when our man-”

“Or woman? Or are you giving that up as well?”

“Or woman,” Lynley replied, and he used the opportunity to inform Hanken of his encounter with Samantha McCallin on Calder Moor.

The other DI said, “That puts her back in the running, I'd say.”

“She was never out of it.”

“Okay. Go on.”

“No call for reinforcements when the killer saw there were two targets instead of one.”

Hanken folded his hands over his stomach and said, “Continue.”

Lynley used the photograph of Terry Cole as he did so. Burns on the face but no defensive wounds on the body, Lynley said, indicated that Cole hadn't been held in the fire but, rather, that he had fallen into it. The damage to his skin indicated that contact with the flames had been more than brief. There was no contusion to the head to suggest that he'd been clubbed, knocked unconscious, and left in the fire. So he had to have been wounded or disabled in some way as he sat by the fire in the first place.

“One killer,” Lynley said, “goes out there after the girl. When he arrives at the site-”

“Or she,” Hanken cut in.

“Yes. Or she. When he or she arrives at the site, it's to find that Nicola isn't alone. So Cole has to be eliminated. First, because he's capable of protecting her should the killer go after her, and second, because he's a potential witness. But the killer faces a dilemma. Does he-or she, yes, I see that, Peter-kill Cole at once and run the risk of losing Nicola if she escapes while he's dispatching Cole? Or does he kill Nicola and run the risk of being thwarted by Cole? He has surprise on his side, but that's all he has aside from his weapon.” Lynley sorted through the photographs and pulled out one that showed the trail of blood most clearly. “If you consider all that and take into account the deposits of blood at the site-”

Hanken raised his hand to stop the words. He moved his gaze from Lynley to the window where the unappealing prospect of Buxton football stadium across the street resembled a concentration camp. He said thoughtfully, “The killer rushes forward with his knife and wounds the boy in an instant. The boy topples into the fire, where he's burned. The girl takes to her heels. The killer follows.”

“But his weapon is lodged in the boy.”

“Hmm. Yes. I see how it works.” Hanken turned from the window, eyes cloudy as he considered the scene he went on to describe. “It's dark outside the ring of the fire. The girl's on the run.”

“So does he take the time to remove the knife from the boy or does he take off after the girl straightaway?”

“He goes after the girl. He has to, hasn't he? He dispatches her with three blows to the head, then returns to finish off the boy.”

“By which time Cole's managed to crawl from the fire to the edge of the stone circle. And that's where the killer finishes him off. The blood tells the tale, Peter. Dripping down the standing stone, pooled on the ground.”

“If you're right,” Hanken said, “we've got a killer covered in blood. It's night and in the middle of the back of beyond, so he has an advantage there. But eventually, he's going to need something to hide his clothes, unless he did the killing in the nude, which isn't likely.”

“He may have brought something with him,” Lynley said.

“Or taken something from the scene itself.” Hanken slapped his hands against his thighs and got to his feet. “Let's get the Maidens to take a look at the girl's belongings,” he said.

Barbara fumed, punched her fist into her palm, and paced as Winston Nkata placed the call to Lynley from inside the Prince of Wales pub. They were across the street from Battersea Park and round the corner from Terry Cole's domicile, and while she wanted to grab the phone from Nkata's hand and make a few points more forcefully than Winston was making them, she knew she had to hold her tongue. Nkata was relaying the source of her agitation to their superior officer, and silence on her part was essential lest Lynley realise that she'd left her post at the computer. “I'll get back to CRIS tonight,” she swore to Nkata when she realised that his reluctance to trot from Fulham to Battersea was directly connected to his worries about her willingness to attend to her assigned duties. “Winston, on my mum's life, I tell you that I'll sit at the screen till I'm blind. Okay? But later. Later. Let's do Battersea first.”

Nkata was relaying to Lynley the results of their visits to Nicola's former employer and to her current flatmate. After reporting on the postcards that Nicola had sent to Vi Nevin and explaining what Vi had claimed their implicit message was, he went on to dwell in particular upon the fact that Nicola's bedroom in the Fulham maisonette had apparently been “seen to” prior to his laying eyes upon it. “How many birds you know have nothing that says who they are sitting round?” Nkata asked. “Man, I say this. That bird Vi kept us waiting on the steps before letting us in 'cause she was shoveling that bedroom clear of something once she heard there were rozzers at the door.”

Barbara winced and held her breath at the plural pronouns. No fool, Lynley. On his end of the line, he jumped at once.

Nkata said in reply with a glance at Barbara, “What?… No. Figure of speech, man… Yeah. Believe me, I got that engraved on my soul.” He listened as Lynley apparently relayed how things were playing out in his part of the world. He laughed outright at a piece of information, saying, “The fun of it? Lord, I believe that like the world is flat,” and toyed with the steel tubing of the telephone cord. After a few moments, he said, “Battersea right now. Barb said that Cole's flatmate'd be in for the evening, so I thought to have a look through his traps. Landlady wouldn't let Barb have a peek earlier and-” He stopped as Lynley interrupted at some length.

Barbara tried to read his expression for an indication of what the inspector was saying. The black man's face was completely blank. She whispered tersely, “What? What?”

Nkata waved her off. “Following up on those names you gave her,” he said. “Far as I know, at least. You know Barb.”

“Oh, thanks very much, Winston,” she whispered.

Nkata turned his shoulder and gave her his back. He went on to Lynley, saying, “Barb said the flatmate says anything's possible. The kid was flush with money-always had a wad of cash-and he never sold a stick of his art. Which isn't hard to believe when you see it. Blackmail's sounding nicer every minute.” Again he listened and he finally said, “That's why I want to have a recce. There's a connection somewhere. Has to be.”

That they were on the trail of something significant had been spelled out to them in the complete lack of personal detail in Nicola Maiden's Fulham bedroom. Apart from a few articles of clothing and an innocuous line of seashells on the window sill, there was nothing to suggest the room had ever been occupied by a real person. Barbara would have concluded that the Fulham address was a front and that the Maiden girl had never lived there at all had not the evidence of something having been removed betrayed Vi Nevin's use of the time between their speaking to her from the street and her appearance at the front door of the building. Two drawers in the large chest were completely empty, in the clothes cupboard a space on the hanging rail spoke of a few articles hastily deleted, and on top of the chest bare spots devoid of dust indicated that something had stood there until recently.

Barbara saw all of this, but she didn't bother to request a look at Vi Nevin's own bedroom for the missing items. The young woman had been plain enough earlier that she knew her rights under the law, and there was no point in pushing her to exercise them.

But it meant something that she'd performed the expurgation. And only a fool would walk away from the implications.

Nkata rang off and recounted Lynley's end of the investigation. Barbara listened carefully, looking for connections among the pieces of information they were gathering. When he was done, she said, “The Upman bloke claims he stuffed her on a one-off. But he could be Mr. Oooh-la-la from the postcards and be lying through his teeth, couldn't he?”

“Or lying about what it meant when he had her,” Nkata said. “He could've thought it was something important happening between them. She could've just been doing it for kicks.”

“And when he found out, he did her in? Where was he on Tuesday night, then?”

“Getting a massage near Manchester Airport. For stress, he said.”

Barbara whooped. “That's an alibi I've not heard before.” She slung her bag over her shoulder and jerked her head towards the door. They ducked out into Parkgate Road.

The house that contained Terry Cole's flat was less than five minutes by foot from the pub, and Barbara led Nkata to it. This time when she rang the buzzer next to the tag reading Cole/Thompson, the door catch was released in reply.

Cilia Thompson met them at the top of the stairs. She was dressed for a night out, her metallic silver mini-skirt and matching bustier and beret suggesting an imminent audition for a role in a feminist Wizard of Oz. She said, “I don't have much time.”

Barbara replied, “No problem. We don't need much.” She introduced Nkata and they went inside the flat which, occupying the second floor of the house, had been remodeled into two small bedrooms, a sitting room, a kitchen, and a loo the size of a larder. Not wanting to encounter another Vi Nevin situation, Barbara said, “We'd like to paw through everything, if that's okay with you. If Terry was into something dodgy, he might have left evidence of it anywhere. He might have hidden it as well.”

Cilla had nothing to hide, she informed them, but she didn't fancy them fingering through her knickers personally. She'd show them every one of her belongings, but that was the extent of it. They could do whatever serious trolling they wanted to do among Terry's lumber.

The rules established, they began in the kitchen, where the cupboards revealed nothing except a predilection for instant macaroni cheese which the flat's occupants appeared to consume by the gross. Several bills lay on the draining board-where what looked like six weeks of crockery was drying-and Nkata examined these and handed them over to Barbara. The telephone bill was respectable but not outrageously high. The electricity usage seemed normal. Neither bill was overdue; neither bill had gone unpaid during the previous billing period. The refrigerator was equally unilluminating. A limp lettuce and a plastic bag of sad-looking Brussels sprouts suggested that the flat's inhabitants hadn't been as conscientious about eating their veg as they should have been. But there was nothing more sinister inside the appliance than a tin of pea soup that was open and appeared to have been half eaten as it was, straight up with no heating. Barbara's stomach lurched. And she'd thought her culinary tastes were questionable.

“We eat out mostly,” Cilia said from the doorway.

“Looks like,” Barbara agreed.

They moved to the sitting room, where they paused and took in its unusual decor. The room appeared to be a showplace for their art. There were several pieces of the same agricultural nature as the larger efforts that Barbara had seen earlier that day in the railway arch studio, marking them as the work of Terry. The other objects-paintings, these-were the obvious results of Cilia's endeavours.

Nkata-having not seen Cilia's mouth fixation given concrete form-whistled quietly in reaction to the dozen or more oral cavities that were explored on canvas in the sitting room. Screaming, laughing, weeping, speaking, eating, slobbering, vomiting, and bleeding were all featured in graphic detail. Cilia had also explored further fantastic possibilities of the orifice in her paintings: Several mouths had fully grown human beings rising from them, most notably members of the Royal Family.

“Very… different,” Nkata commented.

“Munch, however, has nothing to worry about,” Barbara murmured next to him.

There were bedrooms on either side of the sitting room, and they ventured into Cilia's first, with the artist herself leading the way. Aside from a collection of Paddington Bears that overflowed from the top of the chest of drawers and the window sill onto the floor, Cilia's room didn't present any contradiction to the artist herself. Her wardrobe contained the usual colour-splodged garments one would associate with a painter; the milk crate serving as bedside table held the box of condoms that one would expect of the sexually active and sexually cautious young woman in the depressing days of STDs; a considerable collection of CDs met with Barbara's approval and told Nkata how far out of the loop he was when it came to rock ‘n’ roll; a number of copies of What's On and Time Out had pages turned down and galleries with newly mounted shows circled. The walls featured her own art, and the floor had been painted by the artist to reveal more of her singular artistic sensibility. Great flapping tongues dribbled partially masticated food onto naked infants who were defecating onto other great flapping tongues. It was certainly one for Freud.

Cilia said, “I told Mrs. Baden I'd paint over it when I move out,” in apparent response to the detectives' failure to keep their expressions dispassionate. “She likes to support talent. She says so. You can ask her.”

“We'll take your word for it,” Barbara said.

They found nothing in the bathroom save a grubby and unhygienic ring round the bath which Nkata clucked at mournfully. From there they went to Terry Cole's bedroom with Cilia dogging their heels as if worried that they might nick one of her masterpieces if she didn't keep watch.

Nkata took a post at the chest of drawers, Barbara at the wardrobe. There, she discovered the gripping fact that Terry Cole's preference in colours was black, and he carried this theme out in T-shirts, jerseys, jeans, jackets, and footwear. While Nkata slid open drawers behind her, Barbara began going through the jeans and the jackets in the hope that they might reveal something cogent. She found only two possibilities among the cinema ticket stubs and crumpled tissues. The first was a scrap of paper with 31-32 Soho Square written on it in a small, pointed hand, and the second was a business card that had been folded in half over a wad of discarded chewing gum. Barbara prised this open. One could always hope…

Bowers was engraved in posh script across the card. In the lower left corner was an address on Cork Street and a phone number. On the lower right was a name: Neil Sitwell. The address was W1. Another gallery, Barbara deduced, but she flicked the dried gum onto the bedside table and pocketed the card nonetheless.

“Something here,” Nkata said behind her.

She swung round and saw that he'd taken a humidor from the bottom drawer of the chest. He had it open. “What?” she said.

He tilted it towards her. Cilia craned forward. She said in a rush, “That's none of mine, you lot,” when she saw what was in it.

The humidor contained cannabis. Several lids by the look of it. And from the drawer from which he'd taken the humidor, Nkata pulled out a palm-size bong, rolling papers, and a large freezer bag sealed upon at least another kilo of the weed.

“Ah,” Barbara said. She eyed Cilia suspiciously.

“I said,” Cilia countered. “I wouldn't've let you go through the flat if I knew he had that stuff, would I? I don't touch it. I don't touch anything that could cock up the process.”

“The process?” Nkata looked quizzical.

“My art,” Cilia said. “The creative process.”

“Right,” Barbara said. “God knows you don't want to mess about with that. Wise move on your part.”

Cilia heard no irony. She said, “Talent's precious. You don't want to… like waste it.”

“Are you saying this”-with a nod at the cannabis-“is why Terry couldn't make it as an artist?”

“Like I told you at the studio, he never put enough into it-his art, that is-to get anything out of it. He didn't want to work at it like the rest of us. He didn't think he had to. Maybe this is why.”

“Because he was high too often?” Nkata asked.

Cilia looked uncomfortable for the first time. She shifted from foot to foot on her platform shoes. “Look. It's like… He's dead and all that and I'm sorry about it. But truth's the truth. His money came from somewhere. This is probably it.”

“There's not much here if he's pushing,” Nkata said to Barbara.

“Maybe he's got a cache somewhere else.”

But aside from a lumpy overstuffed chair, the only other article of furniture in the room that afforded a hiding place was the bed. It seemed too obvious to be likely, but Barbara went through the manoeuvre anyway: She lifted the edge of an old chenille counterpane. Doing so, she exposed the side of a cardboard box that had been shoved beneath the bed.

“Ah,” Barbara said. “Perhaps, perhaps…” She crouched and drew the box towards her. Its flaps were tucked in, but they weren't sealed. She separated them and examined the box's contents.

They were, she discovered, postcards, several thousand of them. But they were definitely not the kind that one sent home to the family while on one's yearly hols in regions afar. These postcards weren't for greeting purposes. They weren't for sending messages. They weren't souvenirs. What they were, however, was the first indication of who had killed Terry Cole and why.

A detective constable had been sent to fetch the Maidens to Buxton for their inspection of their daughter's effects. Hanken had pointed out that a mere request for their presence would likely be met with a postponement on their part, since the dinner hour was fast approaching and the Maidens would claim to be tied up seeing to the needs of their guests. “If we want an answer tonight, we fetch them,” Hanken said not unreasonably.

An answer that night would be helpful, Lynley concurred. So while he and Hanken tucked into rigatoni puttanesca at the Firenze Restaurant in Buxton market square, DC Patty Stewart went to Padley Gorge to fetch the parents of the dead girl. By the time the DIs had finished their meal and topped it off with two espressos apiece, Stewart had telephoned to Hanken that Andrew and Nan Maiden were waiting at the station.

“Have Mott sign out the girl's belongings to you,” Hanken directed her from his mobile. “Lay them out in room four and wait for us.”

They were no more than five minutes from Buxton station. Hanken took his time about seeing to the bill. He wanted to make the Maidens sweat if he could, he explained to Lynley. He liked everyone on edge in an investigation because one never knew what a case of nerves could turn up.

“I thought you'd switched your interest to Will Upman,” Lynley remarked to his colleague.

“I'm interested in everyone. I want them all on edge,” Hanken replied. “It's a treat what people will suddenly remember when the pressure builds.”

Lynley didn't point out that Andy Maiden's experience with SO 10 had probably conditioned him to weathering a great deal more pressure than would develop during quarter of an hour's wait for two colleagues inside a police station. This was, after all, still Hanken's case, and he was proving himself to be an accommodating colleague.

“I'm sorry to have missed you this afternoon,” Lynley told Nan Maiden when she and her husband were ushered into room four, where he and Hanken stood on either side of a large pine table. On this, Nicola's possessions had been laid out by DC Stewart, who remained by the door with a notepad in her hand.

“I'd gone out for a bike ride,” Nan Maiden said.

“Andy said you were on Hathersage Moor. Is that a tough ride?”

“I like the exercise. It's not as rough as it sounds.”

“Run into anyone else while you were out there?” Hanken asked.

Andy Maiden's arm went round his wife's shoulders. She replied evenly enough. “Not today. I had the moor to myself.”

“Go out often, do you? Mornings, afternoons? Nights as well?”

Nan Maiden frowned. “I'm sorry, are you asking me-” Her husband's grip, tightening on her shoulders, was enough to stop her.

Andy Maiden said, “I think you wanted us to look through Nicola's belongings, Inspector.”

He and Hanken observed each other across the width of the table. By the door, DC Stewart glanced between them, her pencil poised. Outside the building, a car alarm went off.

Hanken was the one to blink. He said, “Have a go,” with a nod at the articles on the table. “Is there anything missing? Or anything not hers?”

The Maidens moved slowly, inspecting each item. Nan Maiden reached out and fingered a navy sweater with a strip of ivory defining its neckline.

She said, “The neck wasn't right… the way it lay on her skin. I wanted to change it, but she wouldn't have that. She said, ‘You made it, Mum, and that's what counts.’ But I wish I'd fixed it. It would've been no trouble.” She blinked several times, and her breathing became shallow. “I don't see anything. I'm sorry. I'm being so little help.”

Andy Maiden put his hand on the back of his wife's neck and said, “A few moments more, love.” He urged her along the table. He, however, rather than she, was the one to notice what wasn't among the items gathered from the scene of the crime. “Nicola's rain gear,” he told them. “It's blue, hooded. A waterproof. It isn't here.”

Hanken shot a glance at Lynley. Corroboration for your theory, his expression said.

“It didn't rain Tuesday night, did it?” Nan Maiden's question was non-sequiturial. They all knew that anyone who hiked on the moors had to be prepared for swift changes in weather.

Andy spent the longest time with the implements from the camp site: the compass, the stove, the pot, the map case, the trowel. His forehead creased as he examined everything. Then he finally said, “Her pocket knife's missing as well.”

It was a Swiss Army knife that had been his own, he told them. He'd given it to Nick as a gift one Christmas when her fancy for hiking and camping had first developed. She'd always kept it with the rest of her gear. And she'd always taken it when she went into the Peaks.

Lynley felt rather than saw Hanken looking his way He reflected on what the fact of a missing knife might do to their conjecture. He said, “You're sure of that, Andy?”

“She could've lost it,” Maiden replied. “But she would have replaced it with another before camping again.” His daughter was an experienced hiker, he explained. Nick didn't take chances on the moors or in the Peaks. She never went out without being prepared. “Who would try to camp without a knife?”

Hanken asked for a description. Maiden gave him the particulars, listing the features of a multi-use utensil. The largest blade was about three inches, he said.

When the dead girl's parents had completed their task, Hanken asked Stewart to provide them with a cup of tea. He turned to Lynley once the door was shut upon them. “Are you thinking my thinking?” he asked.

“The blade length matches Dr. Myles' conclusions about the weapon used on Cole.” Lynley stared thoughtfully at the items on the table and pondered the spanner that Andy Maiden had inadvertently thrown into the works of his theory. “It could be a coincidence, Peter. She could have lost it earlier that day.”

“But if she didn't, you know what it means.”

“We have a killer on the moors, tracking Nicola Maiden, and for some reason tracking her without a weapon.”

“Which means-”

“No premeditation. A chance encounter in which things got out of hand.”

Hanken blew out a breath. “Where the hell does that take us?”

“To some serious rethinking,” Lynley said.

CHAPTER 13

The night sky was awash with stars when Lynley stepped from the entrance porch of Maiden Hall. And because he'd loved the night sky as a boy in Cornwall where, like the sky in Derbyshire, he could see, study, and name the constellations with an ease that was impossible in London, he paused next to the weather-pitted stone pillar marking the edge of the car park and looked to the heavens. He was seeking an answer to what everything meant.

“There must be a mistake with their records,” Nan Maiden had told him with quiet insistence. She was hollow-eyed, as if the last thirty-six hours had dragged from her a life force that would never be replaced. “Nicola wouldn't have left law college. And she certainly wouldn't have left law college without telling us. That wasn't her way. She loved the law. Besides, she'd spent the whole summer working for Will Upman. So why on earth would she have done that if she dropped out of college in… did you say it was May?”

Lynley had driven them home from Buxton and had followed them into the Hall for a final conversation. Because the lounge was still occupied by hotel residents and diners enjoying postprandial coffees, brandy, and chocolates, they'd repaired to an office next to the reception desk. It was overcrowded with the three of them, a room meant for one person who would work at a computer behind a desk. A fax machine was disgorging a lengthy message when they walked in. Andy Maiden glanced at this, and placed the message into a tray that bore a neat sign declaring it to be the repository of reservations.

Neither of the Maidens had known of their daughter's leaving the College of Law. Neither had known that she had moved house to take up residence in Fulham with a young woman called Vi Nevin, whose name Nicola had never mentioned. Neither had known that she'd gone to work full-time at MKR Financial Management. Which went far to put a significant dent in Nan Maiden's earlier assertion that her daughter had been the incarnation of honesty.

Andy Maiden had been silent in response to the revelations. But he looked beaten, as if each new piece of knowledge about his daughter was a blow to his psyche. While his wife sought to explain away the inconsistencies in their daughter's actions, he merely seemed to be attempting to absorb them while minimising the additional damage to his heart.

“Perhaps she meant to transfer to a college closer to home.” Nan had sounded pathetically eager to believe her own words. “Isn't there one in Leicester? Or in Lincoln? And as she was engaged to Julian, she might have wanted to be nearer to him.”

Disabusing Nicola's mother of the notion of an engagement to Julian Britton had been a tougher task than Lynley would have thought possible. Nan Maiden's efforts at elucidation ceased entirely when he revealed Britton's misrepresentation of the facts of his relationship with her daughter. She looked stricken, saying only, “They weren't…? But then why…?” before falling silent and turning to her husband as if he were capable of giving her an explanation for the inexplicable.

Thus, Lynley reached the conclusion that it wasn't beyond the realm of reason that the Maidens hadn't known of their daughter's possession of a pager. And when Nan Maiden had proved to be as much in the dark as her husband regarding the little device, Lynley had felt inclined to believe her.

Now, as he stood in the penumbrous space between the softly-lit car park and bright-windowed hotel, Lynley allowed himself a few minutes to ponder in a circumstance in which he also allowed himself a few additional minutes to feel. He'd earlier taken the car keys from

Hanken and said, “Go home to your family, Peter. I'll drive the Maidens back to Padley Gorge,” and it was Hanken, his family, and his words earlier that day that Lynley considered as he remained by the pillar. The DI had said that holding in his arms an infant-one's own child and creation-changed a man irrevocably He'd said that the pain of losing that child was something beyond his contemplation. What, then, did a man like Andy Maiden feel at this moment: the fabric of him altered so many years ago at his daughter's birth, the substance of him shifting subtly throughout her childhood and adolescence, and the core of him fractured-perhaps irreparably-at her death. And now to pile on top of the loss of her came the additional knowledge that his only child had had secrets from him… How, Lynley wondered, must it feel?

The death of a child, he thought, kills the future and decimates the past, making the former an imprisonment that seems interminable, rendering the latter an unvoiced reproach for every moment robbed of its significance by the calls of a parent's career. One didn't recover from such a death. One just grew more adept at stumbling on.

He glanced back at the Hall and saw the distant form of Andy Maiden leave the little office, cross the entrance, and trudge towards the stairs. The light remained on in the room he departed and in the window of that room Nan Maiden's silhouette appeared. Lynley saw the Maidens’ separateness and wanted to tell them not to bear their grief in solitude from each other. They'd created their daughter Nicola together and they'd bury her together. So why did they have to mourn her alone?

We're all alone, Inspector, Barbara Havers had told him once in a similar case in which two parents had been forced to mourn the death of a child. And believe me, it's only a bloody illusion that we're anything else.

But he didn't want to think of Barbara Havers, of her wisdom or her lack thereof. He wanted to do something to give the Maidens a measure of peace. He told himself that he owed that much, if not to two parents whose suffering was of a kind he hoped never to have to face, then to a former colleague whose service on the force had placed officers like Lynley in his debt. But he also had to admit that he sought to give them peace as a hedge against potential grief in his own future, in the hope that attenuating their present sorrow might prevent him from ever having to experience a similar pain himself.

He couldn't change the basic facts of Nicola's death and the secrets she'd kept from her parents. But he could seek to disprove what information was beginning to look manufactured, wearing the guise of innocent revelation while all the time created to meet the exigency of the moment.

Will Upman, after all, was the person who had mentioned a pager and a London lover in the first place. And who better than Upman-interested in the young woman himself-to fabricate both possessions and relationships to divert the police's attention from himself? He could have been the lover in question, showering gifts upon a woman who was his obsession as well as his employee. And told that she was leaving the law, leaving Derbyshire, and establishing a life for herself in London, how might he have reacted to the knowledge that he would be losing her permanently? Indeed, they knew from the postcards which Nicola sent to her flatmate that she had a lover in addition to Julian Britton. And she would have hardly felt the need to code a message-let alone to arrange for the assignations suggested by the postcards-had the man in question been someone with whom she felt that she could freely be seen.

And then there was the entire question of Julian Britton's place in Nicola's life. If he had actually loved her and had wished to marry her, what would his reaction have been had he discovered her relationship with another man? It was perfectly possible that Nicola had revealed that relationship to Britton as part of her refusal to marry him. If she'd done so, what thoughts-taking up residence in Britton's mind-did he have and where did those thoughts take him on Tuesday night?

An exterior door closed somewhere. Footsteps crunched in gravel, and a figure came round the side of the building. It was a man wheeling a bicycle. He guided it into a puddle of light that spilled from one of the windows. There, he toed the kick stand downwards and removed from his pocket a small tool which he applied to the base of the bicycle's spokes.

Lynley recognised him from the previous afternoon when, from the lounge window, he'd seen him pedalling away from the Hall as Lynley and Hanken had waited for the Maidens to join them. He was, no doubt, one of the employees. As Lynley watched him, crouched on his haunches next to the bike with a heavy lock of hair falling into his eyes, he saw his hand slip and get caught between the spokes and he heard him cry out, “Merde! Saloperie de bécane! Je sais pas ce qui me retient de Venvoyer a la casse.” He leapt up, knuckles shoved to his mouth. He used his sweatshirt to wipe the blood from his skin.

Hearing him speak, Lynley also recognised the unmistakable sound of a cog in the wheel of the investigation clicking into place. He adjusted his previous conjectures with alacrity, realising that Nicola Maiden had done more than merely joke with her London flatmate. She'd also given her a clue.

He approached the man. “Have you hurt yourself?”

The man swung round, startled, brushing the hair from his eyes. “Bon Dieu! Vous m'avez fait peur!”

“Excuse me. I didn't mean to come out of nowhere like that,” Lynley said. And he produced his warrant card and introduced himself.

A fractional movement of the eyebrows was the other man's only reaction to hearing the words New Scotland Yard. He replied in heavily-accented English-interspersed with French-that he was Christian-Louis Ferrer, master chef of the kitchen and the primary reason that Maiden Hall had been awarded the coveted étoile Michelin.

“You're having trouble with your bike. D'you need a lift somewhere?”

No. Mais merci quand même. Long hours in the kitchen robbed him of time to exercise. He needed the twice-daily ride to keep himself fit. This vélo de merde-with a dismissive gesture at the bicycle-was better than nothing to use for that exercise. But he'd have been grateful for un deux-roues that was a little more dependable on the roads and the trails.

“Might we chat before you leave, then?” Lynley asked politely.

Ferrer shrugged in classic Gallic fashion: a simple uplift of the shoulders communicating that if the police wished to speak with him, he'd be foolish to refuse. He'd been standing with his back to the window, but now he shifted position so that his face was in the light.

Seeing him illuminated, Lynley realised that he was much older than he'd looked from a distance on his bicycle. He appeared to be in his mid fifties, with age and the good life incised on his face and grey threaded through his walnut hair.

Lynley quickly discovered that Ferrer's English was fine when it suited him. Of course he knew Nicola Maiden, Ferrer said, calling her la malheureuse jeune femme. He had laboured for the past five years to raise Maiden Hall to its current position de temple de la gastronomie-did the inspector happen to know how few country restaurants in England had actually been awarded the étoile Michelin?-so of course he knew the daughter of his employers. She had worked in the dining room during all her school holidays ever since he himself had practised his art for Monsieur Andee, so naturally he had come to know her.

Ah. Good. How well? Lynley enquired mildly.

At which time Ferrer failed to understand English, although his anxious, polite smile-spurious though it might have been-indicated his willingness to do so.

Lynley switched to what he'd always referred to as his travel-and-survive French. He took a moment to telegraph a silent message of thanks to his fearsome aunt Augusta who'd often decreed-in the midst of a family visit-that ce soir, on parlera tous frangais a table et apres le diner. C'est la meilleure fagon de se préparer ` passer des vacances d’été en Dordogne, thus attempting to polish his rudimentary skills in a language in which he would otherwise only have been able to request a cup of coffee, a beer, or a room with a bath. He said in French, “Your expertise in the kitchen isn't in doubt, Monsieur Ferrer. What I'd like to know is how well you knew the girl. Her father tells me that all the family are cyclists. You're also a cyclist. Did you have occasion to ride with her?”

If Ferrer was surprised that a barbaric Englishman spoke his language-however imperfectly-he covered it well. He gave no quarter by slowing the pace of his reply though, forcing Lynley to ask him to repeat the answer, which gave the Frenchman the satisfaction he apparently needed. “Yes, of course, once or twice we rode together,” Ferrer told him in his native tongue. He had been riding from Grindleford to Maiden Hall on the road and, when she'd heard about this, the young lady had told him of a route through the forest that was rough going but more direct. She didn't wish him to become lost, so she rode it with him twice to make sure he took all the right paths.

“Grindleford is where you have lodgings?”

Yes. There were not enough rooms here at Maiden Hall to accommodate those who worked for the hotel and restaurant. It was, as the inspector had no doubt observed, a small establishment. So Christian-Louis Ferrer had a room with a widow called Madame Clooney and her spinster daughter who, if Ferrer's account was to be believed, had designs upon him that were-alas-impossible to gratify.

“I am, of course, married,” he told Lynley. “Although my beloved wife remains in Nerville le Forét until such a time as we can be together again.”

This, Lynley knew, was not an unusual arrangement. European couples often lived separately, one of them remaining with their children in their native country while the other emigrated to seek more gainful employment. However, an innate cynicism that he quickly assessed as having flourished within him through too much exposure to Barbara Havers over the past few years made him immediately suspicious of any man who used the adjective beloved in front of the noun wife. “You've been here the entire five years?” Lynley asked. “Do you get home much, for holidays and such?”

Alas, Ferrer confessed, a man of his profession was best served-as indeed were his beloved wife and dearest children-by spending his holiday time in the pursuit of cooking excellence. And while this pursuit could be done in France-and with far more felicitous results, considering with what licence the word cuisine was bandied about in this country-Christian-Louis Ferrer knew the wisdom of thrift. Should he travel back and forth between England and France at holiday time, there would be that much less money to save for the future of his children and the security of his old age.

“It must be difficult,” Lynley said, “such a long separation from one's wife. Lonely as well, I expect.”

Ferrer grunted. “A man does what he must do.”

“Still, there must be times when the loneliness makes one long for a connection with someone. We don't live on work alone, do we? And a man like you… It would be understandable.”

Ferrer crossed his arms in a movement that emphasised the prominence of his biceps and triceps. He was, in so many ways, the perfect image not only of virility but of virility's need to establish its presence. Lynley knew that he was engaging in the worst kind of stereotyping even to think so. But still he allowed himself to think it, and to see where the thinking would lead their conversation. He said with a meaningful, just-between-us-boys shrug, “Five years without one's wife… I couldn't do it.”

Ferrer's mouth-full-lipped, the mouth of a sensualist-curved and his eyes became hooded. He said in English, “Estelle and I understand each the other. It is why we are married for twenty years.”

“So there is the occasional dalliance here in England.”

“Nothing of significance. Estelle, I love. The other…? Well, it was what it was.”

A useful slip, Lynley thought. “Was. It's over, then?”

And Ferrers face-so swiftly guarded-told Lynley the rest. “Were you and Nicola Maiden lovers?”

Silence in reply.

Lynley persevered. “If you and the Maiden girl were lovers, Monsieur Ferrer, it looks far less suspicious if you answer the question here and now rather than find yourself being confronted with the truth of it gathered from a witness who might have seen the two of you together.”

“It is nothing,” Ferrer said, again in English.

“That's not the assessment I'd make about coming under suspicion in a murder investigation.”

Ferrer switched back to French. “I don't mean suspicion. I mean with the girl.”

“Are you saying that nothing happened with the girl?”

“I'm saying that what happened was nothing. It meant nothing. To either of us.”

“Perhaps you'd tell me about it.”

Ferrer glanced at the Hall's front door. It stood open to the pleasant night air, and within, residents were moving towards the stairs, chatting amiably. Ferrer spoke to Lynley but kept his gaze on the residents. “A woman's beauty exists for a man to admire. A woman naturally wishes to augment her beauty to increase the admiration.”

“That's arguable.”

“It is the way of things. All of nature speaks to support this simple, true order of the world. One sex is created by God to attract the other.”

Lynley didn't point out that the natural order of which Ferrer spoke generally called for the male-not the female-of a species to be more attractive in order to be acceptable as a mate. Instead, he said, “Finding Nicola attractive, you did something to support God's natural order, then.”

“As I say, it meant nothing of a serious nature. I knew this. She knew it as well.” He smiled, not without fondness it seemed. “She enjoyed the game of it. I could see this in her when first we met.”

“When she was twenty?”

“It is a false woman who doesn't know her own allure. Nicola was not a false woman. She knew. I saw. She saw that I saw. The rest…” He gave another quintessentially Gallic shrug. “There are limits to every communion between men and women. If one remembers the limits, one's happiness within the communion is safeguarded.”

Lynley made the interruption adroitly. “Nicola knew you wouldn't leave your wife.”

“She did not require that I leave my wife. She had no interest there, believe me.”

“Then where?”

“Her interest?” He smiled, as if with memory. “The places we met. The exertion required of me to get to the places. What was left of my energy once I arrived. And how well I was able to use it.”

“Ah.” Lynley considered the places: the caves, the barrows, the prehistoric villages, the Roman forts. Oooh-la-la, he thought. Or, as Barbara Havers might have said, Bingo, Inspector. They had Mr. Postcard. “You and Nicola made love-”

“We had sex, not love. Our game was to choose a different site for each meeting. Nicola would pass a message to me. A map sometimes. Sometimes a riddle. If I could interpret it correctly, follow it correctly…” Again that shrug. “She would be there to provide the reward.”

“How long had you been lovers?”

Ferrer hesitated before replying, either doing the maths or assessing the damage of revealing the truth. Finally, he chose. “Five years.”

“Since you first came to the Hall.”

“This is the case,” he admitted. “I would, of course, prefer that Monsieur and Madame.… It would only serve to distress them unnecessarily. We were always discreet. We never left the Hall together. We returned first one, then the other later. So they never knew.”

And never had reason to sack you, Lynley thought.

The Frenchman seemed to feel the necessity for a further explanation. “It was that look she gave me when first we met. You know what I mean. I could tell from the look. Her interest matched my own. There is sometimes an animal need between a man and a woman. This is not love. This is not devotion. This is just what one feels-a pain, a pressure, a need-here.” He indicated his groin. “You, a man, you feel this as well. Not every woman has an ache that matches that of a man. But Nicola had. I saw that at once.”

“And did something about it.”

“As was her wish. The game of it came later.”

“The game was her idea?”

“Her way… It was why I never sought another woman while in England. There was no need. She had a way to make a simple affair…” He sought a word to describe it. “Magic,” he settled on. “Exciting. I would not have thought myself capable of fidelity to a mere mistress over five years. One woman had never held me more than three months before Nicola.”

“The game of it was what she enjoyed? That's what kept her tied to the affair with you?”

“The game kept me tied. For her, there was the physical pleasure, naturally.”

There was also the ego, Lynley thought wryly. He said, “Five years is a long time to keep a woman interested, especially with no hope of any future.”

“Of course, there were the tokens as well,” Ferrer admitted. “They were small, but all true symbols of my esteem. I have so little money because most of it… My Estelle would wonder if the money changed… what I send to her, you see… if it became less. So there were tokens only, but they were enough.”

“Gifts to Nicola?”

“Gifts, if you will. Perfume. A gold charm or two. This pleased her. And the game went on.” He dug into his pocket and removed the small tool he'd been using on the bicycle spokes. He hunkered down and went at them again, tightening each spoke with infinite patience. He said, “I shall miss her, my little Nicola. We didn't love. But how we laughed.”

“When you wanted the game to begin,” Lynley said, “how did you let her know?”

The Frenchman raised his head, his expression puzzled. “Please?”

“Did you leave her a note? Did you page her?”

“Ah. No. It was the look between us. Nothing else was needed.”

“So you never paged her?”

“Page? No. Why would I when the look was all that…? Why do you ask this question?”

“Because evidently when she was at work in Buxton this past summer, someone paged her and phoned her a number of times. I thought it might have been you.”

“Ah. I had no need. But the other… He could not leave her alone. The buzzer. Every time it went off. Like a clock's work.”

Corroboration at last, Lynley thought. He clarified with “She received pages when you were together?”

“It was the only imperfection in our game, that little pager. Always, she would ring him back.” He tested the bicycle spokes with his fingers. “Bah. What was she doing with him? There was so little they could have had together. Sometimes when I think of what she had to experience with him, too young to know the first thing about giving a woman pleasure… What a crime against love, him with my Nicola. With him, she endured. With me, she enjoyed.”

Lynley filled in the blanks. “Are you saying it was Julian Britton who paged her?”

“Always he wanted to know when they could meet, when they could talk, when they could make plans. She would say, ‘Darling, how extraordinary that you'd page me now. I was just thinking of you. I swear I was. Shall I tell you what I was thinking? Shall I tell you what I'd do if we were together?’ And then she would tell. And he would be satisfied. With that. Just that” Ferrer shook his head in disgust.

“Are you certain it was Britton who paged her?”

“Who else? She talked to him as she talked to me. The way one talks to a lover. And he was her lover. Not the same as I, of course, but still her lover.”

Lynley set that area of discussion aside. “Did she always have the pager with her? Or did she have it only when she was away from the Hall?”

She always had it as far as he knew, Ferrer answered. She wore it tucked into the waistband of her trousers or her skirt or her hiking shorts. Why? he wanted to know. Was the pager of some importance in the inspector's investigation?

That, Lynley thought, was indeed the question.

Nan Maiden watched them. She'd moved from the office to the first floor corridor, where a bank of windows lined the wall. She stood in the embrasure of one of these windows, someone studying the moonlight striking the trees should any of the residents happen to see her. Nervously, she fingered the tie-back of the heavy curtains. It caught on the bitten skin round her nails. She watched the two men below in conversation, and she fought the desire-the impulse, the need-to run down the stairs with an excuse to join them, to offer explanations and to argue fine points of her daughter's character that might be misconstrued.

“Look, Mum,” Nicola had said, all of twenty years old with the Frenchman's scent clinging to her like the aftertaste of wine gone bad, “I know what I'm doing. I'm quite of an age to know my own mind, and if I want to fuck a bloke old enough to be my dad, then I'm going to fuck him. It's no one's business but my own and it isn't hurting a soul. So why're you in a state about it?” And she'd gazed at Nan with those clear blue eyes, so frank and open and reasonable. She'd unbuttoned her shirt and stepped out of her shorts, dropping bra and knickers on top of them. As she passed her mother and stepped into the tub, Ferrer's scent grew stronger, and Nan choked upon it. Nicola lowered herself into the water, sinking up to her shoulders so that it completely covered her teacup breasts. But not before Nan saw the marks of his teeth. And not before Nicola saw her see them. She said, “He likes it that way, Mummy. Rough. But he doesn't actually hurt me. And anyway, I do the same to him. Everything's okay. You're not to worry.”

Nan said, “Worry? I didn't bring you up to-”

“Mum.” She'd lifted the sponge from the tray and dipped it into the water. The room was steamy and Nan sat on the toilet lid. She felt dizzy and caught in a world gone mad. “You brought me up fine,” Nicola said. “And this isn't about how you brought me up anyway. He's sexy and he's fun and I like to fuck him. There's no need to make an issue out of something that isn't an issue for either one of us.”

“He's married. You know that. He can't offer you marriage. He wants you for… Can't you see it's only sex to him? Free sex without the slightest obligation? Can't you see you're his toy? His little English plaything?”

“It's only sex to me as well,” Nicola said frankly. She brightened as if she suddenly realised why her mother was harbouring such concerns. “Mum! Were you thinking I love him? That I want to marry him or something like that? Lord, no, Mum. I promise you. I just like the way he makes me feel.”

“And when the happiness of being with him makes you long for more and you're not able to have it?”

Nicola picked up her gel soap and applied it to the sponge, dribbling it out like custard over a cake. She looked confused for a moment, then her expression cleared and she said, “I don't mean that kind of feel, that heart kind of feel. I mean physically. The way he makes my body feel. That's all. I like what he does and how I feel when he does it. That's what I want from him and that's what he gives me.”

“Sex.”

“Right. He's quite good, you know.” She'd cocked her head, given an impish grin, and winked at her mother. “Or do you know already? Have you had him as well?”

“Nicola!”

She squirmed in the water and hung her head appealingly on the side of the tub. “Mum, it's okay. I wouldn't tell Dad. God, have you done it with him? I mean when I'm away at college, he must need someone else to… Come on. Tell me.”

Nan had longed to strike her, to mark the lovely elfin face as Christian-Louis had marked the lithe young body. She wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake until her teeth rattled in her head and pebbled from her mouth into the water. She wasn't supposed to be like this. Confronted by her mother with the accusation, she was supposed to deny, to break down when the evidence was presented, to plea for forgiveness, and to ask for understanding. But the last thing she was supposed to do was to confirm her mother's worst suspicions with the same ease that might have gone into answering a question about what she'd eaten for breakfast.

“Sorry,” Nicola said when her mother didn't reply to her light-hearted questions. “It's different for you. I can see that. I shouldn't have intruded. I'm sorry, Mum.”

She'd taken a razor from the bathtub tray and she was applying this to her right leg. It was deeply tanned and long, with a well-shaped calve and muscles taut from hiking. Nan watched her run it along her flesh. She waited for a nick, for a scrape, for the blood. None came.

She said, “What are you, exactly? What do I call you? A scrubber? A slag? A common tart?”

The words didn't wound. They didn't even touch. Nicola set down the razor and gazed at her. “I'm Nicola,” she said. “The daughter who loves you very much, Mummy.”

“Don't say that. If you loved me, you wouldn't be-”

“Mum, I made a decision to do this. Eyes wide open and knowing all the facts. I didn't make the decision to hurt you. I made it because I wanted him. And when this ends-because all things do-how I'll feel is my responsibility. If I'm hurt, I'm hurt. If I'm not, I'm not. I'm sorry you found out about it, because obviously it's upset you. But I'd like you to know that we did try to be discreet.”

The voice of reason, her lovely daughter. Nicola was who Nicola was. She called aces as she saw them and spades the same. And as Nan saw her so vividly-a spectral figure whose image seemed to form on the glass panes of the window at which her mother now stood-she tried not to think, let alone to believe that the girl's forthright honesty was what had killed her.

Nan had never understood her daughter, and she saw that now more clearly than she had done in all the years she'd waited for Nicola to emerge from the chrysalis of her troubled adolescence, fully formed as an adult made in the image and likeness of her progenitors. Thinking of her child, Nan felt settle upon her shoulders the mantle of a failure so profound that she wondered how she would ever be able to continue living. That she had produced such a daughter from her own body… that the years of self-sacrifice had brought her to this moment… that the cooking and cleaning and washing and ironing and worrying and planning and giving giving giving had resulted in her feeling like a starfish taken from the ocean and left to dry-and to rot-too far from the water to save herself… that the sweaters knitted and the temperatures taken and the scraped knees bandaged and the little shoes polished and the clothes kept neat and fresh and sweet had ultimately counted for nothing in the eyes of the single person for whom she lived and breathed… It was too much to bear.

She'd given the effort of motherhood everything she possessed, and she'd failed entirely, teaching her daughter nothing of substance. Nicola was who Nicola was.

Nan was only grateful that her own mother had died during Nicola's childhood. She would never have to see how Nan had failed where her female forebears had known nothing but success. Nan herself was the embodiment of her mother's values. Born into a time of terrible strife, she'd been schooled in the disciplines of poverty, suffering, generosity, and duty. In war, one did not seek to gratify the self. The self was secondary to the Cause. One's home became a haven for convalescing soldiers. One's food and clothing-and, dear God, even the gifts one received at an eighth-year birthday party when the little attendants had been told in advance that the guest of honour had no wants in comparison with what the dear soldiers needed-were gently but firmly removed from one's grasp and passed on to hands worthier than her own. It was a hard time, but it created her mettle on its forge. She had character as a result. This was what she should have passed to her daughter.

Nan had moulded herself in her own mother's image, and her reward had been a cool, unspoken but nonetheless treasured approval communicated by a single nod of the regal head. She'd lived for that nod. It said, “Children learn from their parents, and you have learned to perfection, Nancy.”

Parents gave their children's world both order and meaning. Children learned who they were-and how to be-at their parents' knees. So what had Nicola seen in her parents that resulted in who and what she had become?

Nan didn't want to answer that question. It brought her face-to-face with ghouls that she didn't wish to confront. She's so like her father, Nan's inner voice whispered. But no, but no. She turned from the window.

She climbed the stairs to the private floor of Maiden Hall. She found her husband in their bedroom, sitting in the armchair in the darkness, his head in his hands.

He didn't look up as she closed the door behind her. She crossed the room to him, knelt by the chair, and put her hand on his knee. She didn't say to him what she wanted to say, that Christian-Louis had accidentally burnt pine nuts into tiny lumps of charcoal weeks ago, that the ground floor took hours to lose the acrid scent of the burning, and that he-Andy-hadn't mentioned the odour because he hadn't noticed it in the first place. She didn't say any of this because she didn't want to consider what it implied. Instead, she said, “Let's not lose each other as well, Andy.”

At that, he looked up. She was struck by how the last days had aged him. His natural vibrancy was gone. She couldn't imagine the man she saw before her jogging from Padley Gorge to Hathersage, skiing hell for leather down Whistler Mountain, or tearing along the Tissington Trail on his mountain bike without raising a sweat. He didn't look as if he'd make it down the stairs.

“Let me do something for you,” she murmured, a hand at his temple to smooth back his hair.

“Tell me what you did with it,” he replied.

Her hand dropped. “With what?”

“I don't need to spell it out. Did you take it with you onto the moor this afternoon? You must have done. It's the only explanation.”

“Andy, I don't know what you-”

“Don't,” he said. “Just tell me. And tell me why you said you didn't know she had one. I'd like to know that most of all.”

Nan felt-rather than heard-an odd buzzing in her head. It was very much as if Nicola's pager were somewhere in the room with them. An impossibility, of course. It lay where she had deposited it: deep in a crevice created at the juncture of two pieces of limestone on Hathersage Moor.

“Dearest,” she said, “I really don't know what you're talking about.”

He examined her. She met his gaze. She waited for him to be more direct, to ask with an explicitness of language that she couldn't avoid. She had never been a particularly good liar; she could feign confusion and act ignorant of the facts, but she could do little else.

He didn't ask. Instead, he let his head sink back against the chair, and he closed his eyes. “God,” he whispered. “What have you done?”

She made no reply. He'd been invoking God, not her. And God's ways were a mystery, even to the faithful. Yet Andy's suffering was so excruciating to her that she wanted to give him an anodyne of some sort. She found it in a partial disclosure. He could make of it what he would.

“Things need to stay uncomplicated,” she murmured. “We need to keep things simple as best we can.”

CHAPTER 14

Samantha came across her uncle Jeremy in the parlour when she was making her final rounds of the night. She'd been checking doors and windows-by virtue of habit rather than by virtue of the fact that the family had anything of value worth burgling at this point-and she'd marched into the parlour with the intention of seeing to the windows in there before she realised that he was present.

The lights were off, but not because Jeremy was sleeping. He was, instead, running an old eight-millimeter film through a projector that clacked and whirred as if on its last legs. The picture itself flickered not on a screen, because Jeremy couldn't be bothered setting that up. Rather, it moved against a bookshelf, where the curved backs of mildewing volumes distorted the figures whose images had been filmed.

He was reliving what appeared to be a long-ago birthday. Broughton Manor rose in the background-long before the building had fallen into ruinous disrepair-while in the foreground a floppy-hatted clown played the Pied Piper to a group of little children wearing party hats. The clown led them down the slope to the ancient footbridge that provided access to a meadow beyond the River Wye. And in that meadow a pony stood waiting, its reins in the hand of a man whose resemblance to the adult Jeremy told Samantha that she was looking at her maternal grandfather as a very young man. As she watched, the little boy her uncle once had been ran across the meadow and flung himself ecstatically into his fathers arms. He was lifted onto the pony's back as the other children-Samantha's own mother among them-clustered round and the clown danced a jig to soundless music.

The scene shifted in the way of home films, and they were under a tree where a table had been laid with a birthday cloth and decorations. The same children bobbed and squirmed on either side of the table, and a woman carried into the picture a cake on which five candles burned. The child Jeremy stood upon his chair to make his wish and extinguish the candles. He lost his balance and nearly toppled, to be saved from the fall by his mother. She laughed, waved at the camera, and dropped her arms to hold her son safely on the chair.

“Dead in less than two years,” Jeremy Britton said without turning from the picture that undulated against the backs of the books. His words were only mildly slurred, not nearly as incomprehensible as they usually were after a day of drinking. “She was counting out change to buy me a packet of crisps in Longnor, Mum was-Jesus, can you credit that?-and she dropped dead at the till. Gone before she hit the floor. And I said, ‘Mum, what about my crisps?’ Jesus have mercy on us all.” Jeremy lifted his glass and drank. He replaced it with such precision on the table next to his chair that Samantha wondered what he was actually drinking. He turned his head and squinted in her direction as if the light from the corridor were too bright. “Ah. It's you, Sammy. Come to join the resident insomniac?”

“I was checking the windows. I didn't know you were still up, Uncle Jeremy.”

“Didn't you.”

Jeremy turned from his scrutiny of Samantha, giving his attention back to the film. “You lose your mum, and you're marked forever,” he murmured, taking up his glass once more. “Did I ever tell you, Sammy-”

“Yes. You did.” Numerous times since her arrival in Derbyshire, Samantha had heard the story that she already knew: his mother's untimely death, his father's rapid remarriage, his own banishment to boarding school at the tender age of seven while his only sister was allowed to remain at home. “Ruined me,” he'd said time and again. “Robs a man of his soul, and don't you forget it.”

Samantha decided it was best to leave him to his musings, and she began to depart the room. But his next words stopped her.

“It's nice to have her out of the way, isn't it?” he asked with absolute clarity. “Opens things up the way they should be opened up. That's what I think. What about you?”

She said, “What? I don't… what?” and in her surprise she feigned misunderstanding in a circumstance where no misapprehension was really feasible, especially with the High Peak Courier sitting on the floor next to her uncle's chair with its front-page headline shouting Death at Nine Sisters. So it was foolish to attempt to dissemble with her uncle. Nicola's dead was going to be the subtext of every conversation Samantha had with anyone from this time forward, and it would serve her interests far better to become used to Nicola Maiden as a Rebecca-like figure in the background of her life than it would to pretend the woman had never existed at all.

Jeremy was watching the film, a smile playing round the corners of his mouth as if he found amusement in the sight of his five-year-old self skipping along the path in one of the gardens, dragging a stick along the edge of what was then a well-tended herbaceous border. “Sammy, my angel,” he said to the screen, and again his voice was remarkable for the unusual clarity of his enunciation, “how it happened isn't the point. That it happened is. And what we're going to do now that it's happened is the most important point of all.”

Samantha made no reply. She felt unaccountably rooted to the spot, both trapped and mesmerised by what could destroy her.

“She was never right for him, Sammy. Obvious whenever they were together. She held the reins. And he got ridden. Whenever he wasn't riding her, of course.” Jeremy chuckled at his own joke. “P'rhaps he would've seen the wrongness of it all at the end of the day. But I don't think so. She'd worked herself under his skin too deep. Good at that, she was. Some women are.”

You're not was what he didn't say. But Samantha didn't need him to say it. Pulling men had never been her forte. She'd always believed that an outright demonstration of her virtues would serve to establish her firmly in someone's affections. Womanly virtues had a longevity to them that sexual allure could never match. And when lust and passion died the death of familiarity, one needed something of substance to take their place. Or so she had taught herself to believe through an adolescence and a young adulthood remarkable for their solitude.

“Couldn't have happened any better,” Jeremy was saying. “Sammy, always remember this: Things generally work out the way they're meant to.”

She felt her palms dampening and she rubbed them surreptitiously against the skirt that she'd donned for dinner.

“You're right for him. The other… She wasn't. What you have to offer, she couldn't touch. She would've brought nothing to a marriage with Julie-aside from the only decent pair of ankles the Brittons have seen in two hundred years-whereas you understand our dream. You can be part of it, Sammy. You can make it happen. With you, Julie can bring Broughton Manor back to life. With her… Well. Like I said, things generally work out the way they're meant to. So what we've got to do now-”

“I'm sorry she's dead,” Samantha broke in, because she knew she must say something eventually, and a conventional expression of sorrow was the only statement she could think of at the moment to stop him from going on. “For Julian's sake, I'm sorry. He's devastated, Uncle Jeremy.”

“Isn't he just. And that's exactly where we begin.”

“Begin?”

“Don't play the innocent with me. And for God's sake, don't be a fool. The way's clear and there're plans to be laid. You've taken enough trouble to woo him-”

“You're mistaken.”

“-and what you've done is lay a decent foundation. But this is the point where we start building on that foundation. Nothing hasty, mind you. No going to his bedroom and dropping your knickers just yet. Everything in good time.”

“Uncle Jeremy. I hardly think-”

“Good. Don't think. Let me do that. You keep it simple from this time on.” He raised his glass to his lips and eyed her sharply over its rim. “It's when a woman complicates her plans that her plans get cocked up. If you know what I mean. And I expect you do.”

Samantha swallowed, pinned to his gaze. How was it that an ageing alcoholic-a bloody drunk, for the love of God-could manage to discompose her so easily? Except he didn't seem very much like a drunk right now. Flustered, she went to the windows and locked them, as had been her intention. Behind her, the film came to an end, and the tail of it slapped noisily against its spool as the projector continued to run. Kickateck, kickateck, kickateck. Jeremy didn't seem to notice.

“You want him, don't you?” he asked her. “And don't lie to me about it, because if I'm to help you catch the boy, I want to know the facts. Oh, not all of them, mind you. Just the important one, about you wanting him.”

“He's not a boy. He's a man who-”

“Isn't he just.”

“-knows his own mind.”

“Bollocks, that. He knows his own dick and where he wants to stick it. We just need to see that he learns to want to stick it in you.”

“Please, Uncle Jeremy…” It was horrible, inconceivable, humiliating: to be listening to this. She was a woman who'd forged her own path throughout her life, and to place herself in the position of depending on someone other than herself to mould events and people to her wishes was not only foreign to her thinking, it was also foolhardy and it could be dangerous.

“Sammy, my angel, I'm on your side.” Jeremy's voice coaxed, urging her to declare herself in the very same way that one might urge a frightened puppy to come forward from beneath a chair. She found herself turning from the windows. She saw that he was watching her, his eyes hooded and his chin held by fingers adopting a pious attitude of prayer. “I'm on your side completely and one hundred percent. Only listen, my angel. I need to know exactly what your side is before I take action on your behalf.”

Samantha tried to move her eyes away from him, but she failed completely.

“One little fact, Sammy. You want the boy. Believe me, you don't need to say anything more. Fact is, I don't want to know any more. Just that you want him. End of story.”

“I can't.”

“You can. Simple as anything. Three little words. And they won't kill you. Words, that is. Words don't kill. But I fancy you know that already, don't you?”

She couldn't look away. She wanted to, she was desperate to, and yet she couldn't.

The words came from her at last without volition, as if he drew them from her and she was powerless to stop him. “All right. I want him.”

Jeremy smiled. “Don't tell me anything else.”

Barbara Havers felt as if someone had planted thorns beneath her eyelids. It was her fourth hour into her adventure with the SO 10 files on CRIS, and she was mightily regretting her promise to Nkata that she'd work nights and dawns to fulfill her obligations to the assignment given her by Inspector Lynley. She wasn't getting anywhere with this rubbish, aside from becoming aware of her potential for arriving at destinations marked Damaged Retinas and Imminent Hypermetropia.

Following their recce of Terry Cole's flat, Nkata and Barbara had driven to the Yard. There, after transferring the cannabis and the box of postcards to the front seat of Barbara's Mini-to be dealt with later-they had parted ways. Nkata drove off to return the inspector's Bentley to his home in Belgravia. Barbara reluctantly trudged off to keep her promise to Nkata to do her duty in the Crime Recording Information System.

She'd come up with sod bloody all so far, which hardly surprised her. As far as she was concerned, after the discovery of the postcards in the Battersea flat, neon arrows had begun pointing to Terry Cole as the killer's main target-not to Nicola Maiden-and unless there was some manner in which she could tie Cole to Andy Maiden's time in SO 10, this business of delving through files was a waste of her time. Only a name leaping off the screen, drooling blood, and screaming “I'm the one, baby!” was going to convince her otherwise.

Still, she'd known it was in her best interest to comply with Lynley's orders. So for the fifteen names he had given her, she'd read the cases and organised each into arbitrary-albeit useless-categories that she'd called Drugs, Potential for Blackmail, Prostitution, Organised Crime, and Murder for Hire. Dutifully, she'd placed the names from Lynley's list into these categories and she'd added the prisons to which each malefactor had been sent to while away a few years at Her Majesty's pleasure. She'd tracked down terms of imprisonment and added those to the mix, and she'd begun the process of determining which of the convicts were now on parole. Locating the former lags, however, was something which she knew would be impossible at the time. So feeling that she'd been virtuous, obedient, and responsive to her superior's order to return to CRIS, she decided, at half past twelve, to call it a night.

Traffic was light, so she was home by one. With Terry on her mind and a motive for his murder to be fished from the evidence, she scooped up the box of postcards and carried them through the dark garden to her digs.

Inside, her phone was blinking its message light when she shouldered open the door of her bungalow and heaved the cardboard box onto the table. She switched on a lamp, gathered up a selection of the postcards-which were bundled together with elastic bands-and crossed the room to listen to her calls.

The first was Mrs. Flo, telling her that “Mum looked right at your picture this morning, Barbie dear, and she said your name. Bright and clear as ever was. She said, ‘This is my Barbie.’ What do you think of that? I wanted you to know because… Well, it is distressing when she's got herself into one of her muddles, isn't it? And that silly business about… what was she called? Lilly O'Ryan? Well, no matter. She's been right as rain all day. So don't you worry that she's forgotten you, because she hasn't. All right, dear? I hope you're well. See you soon. Bye now, Barbie. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.”

Praise God for small favours, Barbara thought. A day of lucidity weighed against weeks of dementia was little enough to celebrate, but she'd learned to take her triumphs in teaspoonfuls when it came to her mother's fleeting moments of coherence.

The second message began with a bright “Hello hello”, followed by three breathy notes of music. “Did you hear that? I'm learning flute. I just got it today after school and I'm to be in the orchestra! They asked me special and I asked Dad would it be okay and he said yes so now I play flute. Only I don't play it very well yet. But I'm practising. I know the scale. Listen.” There followed a clatter as the phone was dropped. Afterwards came eight highly hesitant notes, breathy like the first. Then, “See? The teacher says I've a natural talent, Barbara. Do you think so as well?” The voice was interrupted by another, a man's voice speaking quietly in the background. Then, “Oh. This is Khalidah Hadiyyah. Up front in the ground floor flat. Dad says I forgot to tell you that. I expect you know it's me though, don't you?

I wanted to remind you about my sewing lesson. It's tomorrow and you said you wanted to see what I'm making. D'you still want to go? We c'n have the rest of the toffee apple afterwards, for our tea. Pang me back, okay?” And the phone clunked down at her end of the line.

After which Barbara heard the quiet, well-bred tones of Inspector Lynley's wife. Helen said, “Barbara, Winston's just returned the Bentley. He told me you're working on the case here in town. I'm so glad, and I wanted to tell you so. I know your work will put you back in good standing with everyone at the Yard. Barbara, will you be patient with Tommy? He thinks the world of you, and… Well, I hope you know that. It's just that the situation… what happened this past summer… it took him rather by surprise. So… Oh bother. I just wanted to wish you well on the case. You've always worked brilliantly with Tommy, and I know this instance will be no different.”

At which Barbara winced. Her conscience prickled. But she muffled the voice that told her she'd been acting in defiance of Lynley's orders for a good part of the day, and she silently announced that she wasn't defying anyone at all. She was merely taking the initiative, supplementing her assignment with additional activities demanded by the logic of the unfolding investigation.

It was as good an excuse as any.

She kicked off her shoes and flopped onto the day bed, where she pulled the elastic band from the collection of postcards she was carrying. She began to flip through them. And as she did so, she thought of the myriad ways in which Terry Cole's life-as it was unfolding through her investigation of it-was unveiling him as a killer's target while Nicola Maiden's life-no matter how they viewed it-was unveiling her as nothing more than a sexually active twenty-five-year-old who'd had one or two men in every port and a wealthy lover by the string. And while sexual jealousy on the part of one of those men might have led him to give the girl the chop, he certainly wouldn't have needed to do the job out on the moor, especially when he saw that she was with someone. It would have made more sense for him to wait till he found her alone. Unless, of course, she and Terry had been into something at that moment that made him think they were an item. In which case, blinded by rage and jealousy, he could well have stormed into the stone circle and attacked his rival for the Maiden girl's favours, running her down as well after he'd wounded the boy. But that seemed an unlikely scenario. Nothing Barbara had learned about Nicola Maiden had so far suggested that she'd gone for unemployed teenaged boys.

Terry, on the other hand, was turning out to be a field ripe for harvest when it came to activities from which murder could arise. According to Cilia, he'd carried gobs of cash with him, and the postcards that Barbara now arranged on her day bed suggested a field of underworld employment that was absolutely rife with violence. Despite what his mother claimed about the big commission that Terry had, despite what Mrs. Baden had asserted about the boy's good nature and generosity, it was seeming more and more likely that the real Terry Cole had lived close to if not directly within the underbelly of English life. Tied to that underbelly were drugs, pornography, snuff films, paedophilia, exotica, erotica, and white slavery. Not to mention a hundred tasty perversions, all of which could so easily give rise to a motive for murder.

But in Nicola's case, nearly everything had been accounted for: from her lifestyle in London to her supply of dosh. They still had to discover why she'd gone to work in Derbyshire for the summer, but what on earth could that possibly have to do with her murder?

On the other hand, virtually nothing about Terry Cole's life had made sense at all. Until Barbara had unearthed the postcards.

She gazed upon them in their orderly rows on the day bed and pursed her lips. Come on, she told them, give me something to run with. I know it's here, I know one of you can tell me, I know, I know.

She could still hear Cilia Thompson's passionate reaction to seeing the cards: “He never would've told me about this. Never in a hundred years. He was pretending to be an artist, for God's sake. And artists spend their time on their art. When they're not creating, they're thinking about creating. They're not crawling round London sticking these up everywhere. Art begets art so you expose yourself to art. This”-with a contemptuous gesture towards the cards-“is a life exposed to absolute crap.”

But Terry had never been truly interested in art, Barbara guessed. He'd been interested in something else entirely.

In the first set of postcards, there were forty-five in all. Each, Barbara saw, was different. And no matter how she studied them, categorized them, or attempted to eliminate them one by one, she was finally forced to accept the fact that only the telephone-even at this hour of the night-was going to assist her in sussing out her next move in the investigation.

She deliberately set aside any consideration that Terry Cole might be connected to Andy Maiden's past in SO 10. She set aside any consideration that SO 10 was involved in the case at all.

Instead, she reached for the phone. She knew quite well that-despite the hour-at the other end of the line would be forty-five suspects just waiting for someone to ring them and ask a few questions.

By rising at dawn the next morning and driving to Manchester Airport, Lynley managed to catch the first flight to London. It was nine-forty when his taxi left him at the front door of his house in Eaton Terrace.

He paused before entering. Despite the brightness of the morning-with the sun glittering against the transom windows of the houses that lined the quiet street-he felt as if he were walking directly beneath a cloud. His eyes took in the fine white buildings, the wrought iron railings that fronted them without a spot of rust marring their midnight paint, and regardless of the fact that he'd been born into the longest period of peace that his country had ever experienced, he found himself unaccountably thinking of war.

London had been devastated. Night after night the bombs fell upon it, reducing large areas of the metropolis to bricks, mortar, beams, and rubble. The City, the docklands, and the suburbs-both north and south of the river-had sustained the worst of the damage, but no one in the nation's capital had escaped the fear. It was heralded nightly by the sound of the sirens and the whistling of the bombs. It was embodied by explosions, fires, panic, confusion, uncertainty, and the aftermath of them all.

Yet London had continued to persevere, renewing itself as it had done for two thousand years. Boadicea's tribesmen had not vanquished it, neither the plague nor the Great Fire had subdued it, so the firestorm of the Blitz could not have hoped to defeat it. Because out of pain, destruction, and loss it always managed to rise anew.

So perhaps it could be argued that strife and travail could lead one to greatness, Lynley thought, that ones sense of purpose, once tested by adversity, became reliably firm and one's understanding of the world, once questioned in the midst of sorrow and misconception, was forever enhanced. But the thought that bombs ultimately led to peace as a woman's labour led to birth was not enough to dispel the gloom and dread that he was feeling. Good could come out of bad, it was true. It was the hell in between that he didn't want to ponder.

At six that morning he'd phoned DI Hanken and told him that “some crucial information uncovered by the London officers working the case” required his presence back in town. He would be communicating with Derbyshire as soon as he followed up on that information. To Hanken's logical query about the necessity of Lynley's traveling to London when he had two officers already working there and could-with a simple telephone call-garner two or even two dozen more, Lynley replied that his team had uncovered a few details that were making it look as if London and not Derbyshire was where the facts were leading. It seemed reasonable, he said, for one of the two ranking officers on the case to assess and assemble these facts in person. Would Hanken make available to him a copy of the post-mortem report? he asked. He also wanted to hand that document over to a forensic specialist, to see if Dr. Myles's conclusion about the murder weapon was accurate.

“If she's made an error about the knife-the length of the blade, for example-I'd like to know that at once,” he said.

How would a forensic specialist be able to discern an error in the report without seeing the body, the x-rays, the photographs, or the wound itself? Hanken queried.

This, Lynley told him, was no ordinary specialist.

But he asked for copies of the x-rays and the photographs as well. And a quick stop at the Buxton station on his way to the airport had put everything into his possession.

For his part, Hanken was going to start a search for the Swiss Army knife and the Maiden girl's missing rain gear. He would also be talking personally to the masseuse who'd seen to Will Upman's ostensibly tense muscles on Tuesday night. And if time allowed, he'd pay a call at Broughton Manor to see if Julian Britton's father could confirm his son's alibi or that of his niece.

“Look hard at Julian,” Lynley told him. “I've found another of

Nicola's lovers.” He went on to summarise his previous night's conversation with Christian-Louis Ferrer.

Hanken whistled. “Are we going to be able to find a bloke anywhere who wasn't shafting this bird?”

“I expect we might be looking for the bloke who thought that he was the only one.”

“Britton.”

“He said he proposed and she refused. But we have only his word for that, don't we? It's a good way to take the spotlight off himself: saying he wanted to marry her when he wanted-and did-something else entirely.”

Now in London, Lynley unlocked the front door and shut it quietly behind him. He called his wife's name. He was half expecting Helen to be out already-somehow knowing his intention to return without having been told and seeking to avoid him in the aftermath of their earlier disagreement-but as he crossed the entry to the stairs, he heard a door crash shut, a man's voice say, “Whoops. Sorry. Don't know my own strength, do I,” and a moment later Denton and Helen came towards him from the direction of the kitchen. The former was balancing a stack of enormous portfolios across his arms. The latter was following him, a list in her hand. She was saying, “I've narrowed things down somewhat, Charlie. And they were willing to part with the sample books till three o'clock, so I'm depending on you to give me input.”

“I hate flowers and ribbons and that sort of rubbish,” Denton said. “All twee, that is, so don't even show it to me. Makes me think of my gran.”

“So noted,” Helen replied.

“Cheers.” Denton saw Lynley then. “Look what the morning's brought, Lady Helen. Good. You won't be needing me, then, will you?”

“Needing you for what?” Lynley asked.

Helen, hearing him, said, “Tommy! You're home? That was a quick trip, wasn't it?”

“Wallpaper,” Denton said in reply to Lynley's question. He gestured with the portfolios he was carrying. “Samples.”

“For the spare rooms,” Helen added. “Have you looked at the walls in there lately, Tommy? The paper looks as if it hasn't been changed since the turn of the century.”

“It hasn't.”

“Just as I suspected. Well, if we don't get it changed before she gets here, I'm afraid your aunt Augusta will change it for us. I thought we might head her off. I had a look through the books at Peter Jones yesterday, and they were good enough to let me pinch a few at closing time. Just for today though. Wasn't that kind of them?” She started up the stairs, saying over her shoulder, “Why're you back so soon? Have you sorted everything out already?”

Denton trailed her. Lynley made a third in their little procession, suitcase in his hand. He'd followed some information to London, he told his wife. And there were documents he wanted St. James to look over. “The post-mortems. Some photos and x-rays,” he said.

“Arguments among the experts?” she asked, a reasonable assumption. It wouldn't have been the first time St. James had been requested to mediate a dispute among scientists.

“Just some questions in my own mind,” Lynley told her, “as well as a need to look over some information Winston's managed to gather.”

“Ah.” She looked over her shoulder an