/ Language: English / Genre:detective

With No One As Witness

Elizabeth George

Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley takes on the case of his career. When it comes to spellbinding suspense and page-turning excitement, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth George always delivers. As the Wall Street Journal raves, “Ms. George can do it all, with style to spare.” In With No One as Witness, Elizabeth George has crafted an intricate, meticulously researched, and absorbing story sure to enthrall her readers. Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley is back, along with his long-time partner, the fiery Barbara Havers, and newly promoted Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata. They are on the hunt for a sinister killer. When an adolescent boy’s nude body is found mutilated and artfully arranged on the top of a tomb, it takes no large leap for the police to recognize this as the work of a serial killer. This is the fourth victim in three months but the first to be white. Hoping to avoid charges of institutionalized racism in its failure to pursue the earlier crimes to their conclusion, New Scotland Yard hands the case over to Lynley and his colleagues. The killer is a psychopath who does not intend to be stopped. Worse, a devastating tragedy within the police ranks causes them to fumble in their pursuit of him.

Elizabeth George

With No One As Witness

Book 11 in the Inspector Lynley series, 2005

For Miss Audra Isadora, with love

…and if you gaze for long into the abyss,

the abyss gazes also into you.

– NIETZSCHE

PROLOGUE

KIMMO THORNE LIKED DIETRICH BEST OF ALL: THE HAIR, the legs, the cigarette holder, the top hat and tails. She was what he called the Whole Blooming Package, and as far as he was concerned, she was second to none. Oh, he could do Garland if pressed. Minnelli was simple, and he was definitely getting better with Streisand. But given his choice-and he was generally given it, wasn’t he?-he went with Dietrich. Sultry Marlene. His number one girl. She could sing the crumbs out of a toaster, could Marlene, make no bloody mistake about it.

So he held the pose at the end of the song not because it was necessary to the act but because he loved the look of the thing. The finale to “Falling in Love Again” faded and he just kept standing there like a Marlene statue with one high-heeled foot on the seat of the chair and his cigarette holder between his fingers. The last note disappeared into silence and he remained for a five count-exulting in Marlene and in himself because she was good and he was good, he was damn damn good when it came down to it-before he altered his position. He switched off the karaoke machine then. He doffed his top hat and fluttered his tails. He bowed deeply to his audience of two. And Aunt Sal and Gran-ever loyal, they were-reacted appropriately, as he’d known they would. Aunt Sally cried, “Brilliant! Brilliant, lad!” Gran said, “Tha’s our boy all over. A hunnert percent talent, our Kimmo. Wait’ll I send some snaps to your mum and dad.”

That would certainly bring them running, Kimmo thought sardonically. But he put his high-heeled foot on the chair once more, knowing Gran meant well, even if she was something of a dim bulb when it came to what she believed about his parents.

Gran directed Aunt Sally to “Move to the right. Get the boy’s best side,” and in a few minutes the pictures had been taken and the show was over for the evening.

“Where you off to tonight?” Aunt Sally asked as Kimmo headed for his bedroom. “You seein’ anyone special, our Kim?”

He wasn’t, but she needn’t know that. “The Blink,” he told her blithely.

“Well, you lads keep yourselfs out of trouble, then.”

He winked at her and ducked into his doorway. “Always, always, Auntie,” he lied. He eased the door shut behind him then and flicked its lock into place.

The care of the Marlene togs came first. Kimmo took them off and hung them up before turning to his dressing table. There, he examined his face and for a moment considered removing some of the makeup. But he finally shrugged the idea aside and rustled through the clothes cupboard for a change that would do. He chose a hooded sweatshirt, the leggings he liked, and his flat-soled, suede, ankle-high boots. He enjoyed the ambiguity of the ensemble. Male or female? an observer might ask. But only if Kimmo spoke would it actually show. For his voice had finally broken and when he opened his mouth now, the jig was up.

He drew the sweatshirt hood over his head and sauntered down the stairs. “I’m off, then,” he called to his gran and his aunt as he grabbed his jacket from a hook near the door.

“’Bye, darlin’ boy,” Gran replied.

“Keep yourself yourself, luv,” Aunt Sally added.

He kissed the air at them. They kissed the air in turn. “Love you,” everyone said at once.

Outside, he zipped his jacket and unlocked his bicycle from the railing. He rolled it along to the lift and pressed the button there, and as he waited, he checked the bike’s saddlebags to make sure that he had everything he’d need. He maintained a mental checklist on which he ticked items off: emergency hammer, gloves, screwdriver, jemmy, pocket torch, pillowcase, one red rose. This last he liked to leave as his calling card. One really oughtn’t to take without giving as well.

It was a cold night outside in the street, and Kimmo didn’t look forward to the ride. He hated having to go by bike, and he hated biking even more when the temperature hovered so close to freezing. But as neither Gran nor Aunt Sally had a car, and as he himself had no driving licence to flash at a copper, along with his most appealing smile if he was stopped, he had no other choice but to pedal it. Going by bus was more or less out of the question.

His route took him along Southwark Street to the heavier traffic of Blackfriars Road till, in a crisscrossing fashion, he reached the environs of Kennington Park. From there, traffic or not, it was more or less a bullet’s path to Clapham Common and his destination: a conveniently detached redbrick dwelling of three storeys, which he’d spent the last month carefully casing.

At this point, he knew the comings and goings of the family inside so thoroughly that he might as well have lived there himself. He knew they had two children. Mum got her exercise riding a bike to work, while Dad went by train from Clapham Station. They had an au pair with a regularly scheduled two nights each week off, and on one of those nights-always the same one-Mum, Dad, and the kids left as a family and went to…Kimmo didn’t know. He assumed it was Gran’s for dinner, but it just as easily could have been a lengthy church service, a session with a counselor, or lessons in yoga. Point was, they were gone for the evening, till late in the evening, and when they arrived home, they invariably had to lug the little ones into the house because they’d fallen asleep in the car. As for the au pair, she took her nights off with two other birds who were similarly employed. They’d leave together chatting away in Bulgarian or whatever it was, and if they returned before dawn, it was still long after midnight.

The signs were propitious for this particular house. The car they drove was the largest of the Range Rovers. A gardener visited them once a week. They had a cleaning service as well, and their sheets and pillowcases were laundered, ironed, and returned by a professional. This particular house, Kimmo had concluded, was ripe, and waiting.

What made it all so nice was the house next door and the lovely “To Let” sign dangling forlornly from a post near the street. What made it all so perfect was the easy access from the rear: a brick wall running along a stretch of wasteland.

Kimmo pedaled to this point after coasting by the front of the house to make sure the family were being true to their rigid schedule. Then he bumped his way across the wasteland and propped his bike against the wall. Using the pillowcase to carry his tools and the rose, he hopped up on the saddle of the bike and, with no trouble, lifted himself over the wall.

The back garden was blacker than the devil’s tongue, but Kimmo had peered over the wall before and he knew what lay before him. Directly beneath was a compost heap beyond which a little zigzagging orchard of fruit trees decorated a nicely clipped lawn. To either side of this, wide flower beds made herbaceous borders. One of them curved round a gazebo. The other graced the vicinity of a garden shed. Last in the distance just before the house were a patio of uneven bricks where rainwater pooled after a storm and then a roof overhang, from which the security lights were hung.

They clicked on automatically as Kimmo approached. He gave them a nod of thanks. Security lights, he’d long ago decided, had to be the ironic inspiration of a housebreaker, since whenever they switched on, everyone appeared to assume a mere cat was passing through the garden. He’d yet to hear of a neighbour giving the cops a bell because of some lights going on. On the other hand, he’d heard plenty of stories from fellow housebreakers about how much easier those lights had made access to the rear of a property.

In this case, the lights meant nothing. The uncurtained dark windows along with the “To Let” sign told him that no one resided in the house to his right, while the house to his left had no windows on this side of it and no dog to set up a spate of barking in the nighttime cold. He was, as far as he could tell, in the clear.

French windows opened onto the patio, and Kimmo made for these. There, a quick tap with his emergency hammer-suitable in a crisis for breaking a car window-was quite sufficient to gain him access to the handle on the door. He opened this and stepped inside. The burglar alarm hooted like an air-raid siren.

The sound was earsplitting, but Kimmo ignored it. He had five minutes-perhaps more-till the phone would ring, with the security company on the line, hoping to discover that the alarm had been tripped accidentally. When they went unsatisfied, they would phone the contact numbers they’d been given. When that didn’t suffice to bring an end to the incessant screeching of the siren, they might phone the police, who in turn might or might not show up to check matters out. But in any case, that eventuality was a good twenty minutes away, which in itself was ten minutes longer than Kimmo needed to score what he was looking for in the building.

He was a specialist in this particular field. Leave to others the computers, the laptops, the CD and DVD players, the televisions, the jewellery, the digital cameras, the Palm Pilots, and the video players. He was looking for only one kind of item in the houses he visited, and the benefit of this item he sought was that it would always be in plain sight and generally in the public rooms of a house.

Kimmo shone his pocket torch round. He was in a dining room, and there was nothing here to take. But in the sitting room, he could already see four prizes glittering on the top of a piano. He went to fetch them: silver frames that he divested of their photographs-one always wanted to be thoughtful about some things-before depositing them carefully in his pillowcase. He found another on one of the side tables, and he scored this as well before moving to the front of the house where, near the door, a half-moon table with a mirror above it displayed two others along with a porcelain box and a flower arrangement, both of which he left where they were.

Experience told him that chances were good he’d find the rest of what he wanted in the master bedroom, so he quickly mounted the stairs as the burglar alarm continued to blare against his eardrums. The room he sought was on the top floor, in the back, overlooking the garden, and he’d just clicked on his torch to check out its contents when the shrieking of the alarm ceased abruptly just as the telephone started to ring.

Kimmo stopped short, one hand on his torch and the other halfway to a picture frame in which a couple in wedding gear kissed beneath a bough of flowers. In a moment, the phone stopped just as abruptly as the alarm, and from below a light went on and someone said, “Hullo?,” and then, “No. We’ve only just walked in…Yes. Yes. It was going off, but I haven’t had a chance to-Jesus Christ! Gail, get away from that glass.”

That was enough to tell Kimmo that matters had taken an unexpected turn. He didn’t pause to wonder what the hell the family were doing home when they were still supposed to be at Gran’s at church at yoga at counseling or wherever the hell they went when they went. Instead, he dived for the window to the left of the bed as below, a woman cried, “Ronald, someone’s in the house!”

Kimmo didn’t need to hear Ronald come tearing up the stairs or Gail shouting, “No! Stop!” to understand that he had to be out of there pronto. He fumbled with the lock on the window, threw up the sash, and heaved himself and his pillowcase out just as Ronald barreled into the room armed with what looked like a fork for turning meat on a barbecue.

Kimmo dropped with an enormous thump and a gasp onto the overhang some eight feet below, cursing the fact that there had been no convenient wisteria vine down which he could Tarzan his way to freedom. He heard Gail shouting, “He’s here! He’s here!,” and Ronald cursing from the window above. Just before he scarpered for the rear wall of the property, he turned back to the house, giving a grin and a saucy salute to the woman who stood in the dining room with an awestruck sleepy child in her arms and another hanging on to her trousers.

Then he was off, the pillowcase bouncing against his back and laughter bubbling up inside him, only sorry he hadn’t been able to leave behind the rose. As he reached the wall, he heard Ronald come roaring out of the dining-room door, but by the time the poor bloke reached the first of the trees, Kimmo was up, over, and heading across the wasteland. When the cops finally arrived-which could be anywhere from an hour to midday tomorrow-he’d be long gone, a faint memory in the mind of the missus: a painted face beneath a sweatshirt hood.

God, this was living! This was the best! If the haul proved to be sterling stuff, he’d be a few hundred quid richer come Friday morning. Did it get better than this? Did it? Kimmo didn’t think so. So what that he’d said he’d go straight for a while. He couldn’t throw away the time he’d already spent putting this job together. He’d be thick to do that, and the one thing Kimmo Thorne was not was thick. Not a bit of that. No way, Hoe-say.

He was pedaling along perhaps a mile from his break-in when he became aware of being followed. There was other traffic about on the streets-when wasn’t there traffic in London?-and several cars had honked as they’d passed him. He first thought they were honking at him the way vehicles do to a cyclist they wish to get out of their way, but he soon came to realise that they were honking at a slow-moving vehicle close behind him, one that refused to pass him by.

He felt a little unnerved by this, wondering if Ronald had somehow managed to get it together and track him down. He turned down a side street to make sure he wasn’t mistaken in his belief in being tailed, and sure enough, the headlights directly behind him turned as well. He was about to shoot off in a fury of pedaling when he heard the rumble of an engine coming up next to him and then his name spoken in a friendly voice.

“Kimmo? That you? What’re you doing in this part of town?”

Kimmo coasted. He slowed. He turned to see who was speaking to him. He smiled when he realised who the driver was, and he said, “Never mind me. What’re you doing here?”

The other smiled back. “Looks like I’m cruising round for you. Need a lift somewhere?”

It would be convenient, Kimmo thought, if Ronald had seen him take off on the bike and if the cops were quicker to respond than they normally were. He didn’t really want to be out on the street. He still had a couple more miles to go, and it was cold as Antarctica, anyway. He said, “I got the bike with me, though.”

The other chuckled. “Well, that’s no problem if you don’t want it to be.”

CHAPTER ONE

DETECTIVE CONSTABLE BARBARA HAVERS CONSIDERED herself one lucky bird: The drive was empty. She’d elected to do her weekly shop by car rather than on foot, and this was always a risky business in an area of town where anyone fortunate enough to find a parking space near their home clung to it with the devotion of the newly redeemed to the source of his redemption. But knowing she had much to purchase and shuddering at the thought of trudging in the cold back from the local grocery, she’d opted for transport and hoped for the best. So when she pulled up in front of the yellow Edwardian house behind which her tiny bungalow stood, she took the space in the drive without compunction. She listened to the coughing and gagging of her Mini’s engine as she turned it off, and she made her fifteenth mental note of the month to have the car looked at by a mechanic who-one prayed-would not ask an arm, a leg, and one’s firstborn child to repair whatever was causing it to belch like a dyspeptic pensioner.

She climbed out and flipped the seat forward to gather up the first of the plastic carrier bags. She’d linked four of them over her arms and was dragging them out of the car when she heard her name called.

Someone sang it out. “Barbara! Barbara! Look what I’ve found in the cupboard.”

Barbara straightened and glanced in the direction from which the voice had chimed. She saw the young daughter of her neighbour sitting on the weathered wooden bench in front of the ground-floor flat of the old converted building. She’d removed her shoes and was in the process of struggling into a pair of inline skates. Far too large by the look of them, Barbara thought. Hadiyyah was only eight years old and the skates were clearly meant for an adult.

“These’re Mummy’s,” Hadiyyah informed her, as if reading her mind. “I found them in a cupboard, like I said. I’ve never skated on them before. I expect they’re going to be big on me, but I’ve stuffed them with kitchen towels. Dad doesn’t know.”

“About the kitchen towels?”

Hadiyyah giggled. “Not that! He doesn’t know that I’ve found them.”

“Perhaps you’re not meant to be using them.”

“Oh, they weren’t hidden. Just put away. Till Mummy gets home, I expect. She’s in-”

“Canada. Right,” Barbara nodded. “Well, you take care with those. Your dad’s not going to be chuffed if you fall and break your head. D’you have a helmet or something?”

Hadiyyah looked down at her feet-one skated and one socked-and thought about this. “Am I meant to?”

“Safety precaution,” Barbara told her. “A consideration for the street sweepers, as well. Keeps people’s brains off the pavement.”

Hadiyyah rolled her eyes. “I know you’re joking.”

Barbara crossed her heart. “God’s truth. Where’s your dad, anyway? Are you alone today?” She kicked open the picket gate that fronted a path to the house, and she considered whether she ought to talk to Taymullah Azhar once again about leaving his daughter on her own. While it was true that he did it rarely enough, Barbara had told him that she would be pleased to look after Hadiyyah on her own time off if he had students to meet or lab work to supervise at the university. Hadiyyah was remarkably self-sufficient for an eight-year-old, but at the end of the day she was still that: an eight-year-old, and more innocent than her fellows, in part because of a culture that kept her protected and in part because of the desertion of her English mother who had now been “in Canada” for nearly a year.

“He’s gone to buy me a surprise,” Hadiyyah informed her matter-of-factly. “He thinks I don’t know, he thinks I think he’s running an errand, but I know what he’s really doing. It’s ’cause he feels bad and he thinks I feel bad, which I don’t, but he wants to help me feel better anyway. So he said, ‘I’ve an errand to run, kushi,’ and I’m meant to think it’s not about me. Have you done your shopping? C’n I help you, Barbara?”

“More bags in the car if you want to fetch them,” Barbara told her.

Hadiyyah slipped off the bench and-one skate on and one skate off-hopped over to the Mini and pulled out the rest of the bags. Barbara waited at the corner of the house. When Hadiyyah joined her, bobbing up and down on her one skate, Barbara said, “What’s the occasion, then?”

Hadiyyah followed her to the bottom of the property where, under a false acacia tree, Barbara’s bungalow-looking much like a garden shed with delusions of grandeur-snowed flakes of green paint onto a narrow flower bed in need of planting. “Hmm?” Hadiyyah asked. Close up now, Barbara could see that the little girl wore the headphones of a CD player round her neck and the player itself attached to the waistband of her blue jeans. Some unidentifiable music was issuing tinnily from it in a feminine register. Hadiyyah appeared not to notice this.

“The surprise,” Barbara said as she opened the front door of her digs. “You said your dad was out fetching you a surprise.”

“Oh, that.” Hadiyyah clumped into the bungalow and deposited her burdens on the dining table where several days’ post mingled with four copies of the Evening Standard, a basket of dirty laundry, and an empty bag of custard cremes. It all made an unappealing jumble at which the habitually neat little girl frowned meaningfully. “You haven’t sorted out your belongings,” she chided.

“Astute observation,” Barbara murmured. “And the surprise? I know it’s not your birthday.”

Hadiyyah tapped her skate-shod foot against the floor and looked suddenly uncomfortable, a reaction entirely unusual for her. She had, Barbara noted, plaited her own dark hair today. Her parting made a series of zigzags while the red bows at the end of her plaits were lopsided, with one tied a good inch higher than the other. “Well,” she said as Barbara began emptying the first of the carrier bags onto the work top of the kitchen area, “he didn’t exactly say, but I expect it’s ’cause Mrs. Thompson phoned him.”

Barbara recognised the name of Hadiyyah’s teacher. She looked over her shoulder at the little girl and raised a questioning eyebrow.

“See, there was a tea,” Hadiyyah informed her. “Well, not really a tea, but that’s what they called it because if they called it what it really was, everyone would’ve been too embarrassed and no one would’ve gone. And they did want everyone to go.”

“Why? What was it really?”

Hadiyyah turned away and began unloading the carrier bags she’d brought from the Mini. It was, she informed Barbara, more of an event than a tea, or really, more of a meeting than an event. Mrs. Thompson had a lady come to talk to them about their bodies, you see, and all the girls in the class and all their mums came to listen and afterwards they could ask questions and after that they had orange squash and biscuits and cakes. So Mrs. Thompson called it a tea although no one actually drank tea. Hadiyyah, having no mum to take along, had eschewed attending the event altogether. Hence the phone call from Mrs. Thompson to her father because, like she said, everyone was really meant to go.

“Dad said he would’ve gone,” Hadiyyah said. “But that would’ve been excruciating. ’Sides, Meagan Dobson told me what it was all about anyway. Girl stuff. Babies. Boys. Periods.” She pulled a shuddering face. “You know.”

“Ah. Got it.” Barbara could understand how Azhar must have reacted to the phone call from the teacher. No one she had ever met had as much pride as the Pakistani professor who was her neighbour. “Well, kiddo, if you ever need a gal pal to act as a substitute for your mother,” she told Hadiyyah, “I’m happy to oblige.”

“How lovely!” Hadiyyah exclaimed. For a moment Barbara thought she was referring to her offer as maternal surrogate, but she saw that her little friend was bringing forth a package from within the bag of groceries: Chocotastic Pop-Tarts. “Is this for your breakfast?” Hadiyyah sighed.

“Perfect nutrition for the professional woman on the go,” Barbara told her. “Let it be our little secret, okay? One of many.”

“And what’re these?” Hadiyyah asked as if she hadn’t spoken. “Oh, wonderful. Clotted-cream ice-cream bars! If I was a grown-up, I’d eat just like you.”

“I do like to touch on all the basic food groups,” Barbara told her. “Chocolate, sugar, fat, and tobacco. Have you come across the Players, by the way?”

“You mustn’t keep smoking,” Hadiyyah told her, rustling in one of the bags and bringing out a carton of the cigarettes. “Dad’s trying to stop. Did I tell you? Mummy’ll be so pleased. She asked him and asked him to stop. ‘Hari, it’ll make your lungs all nasty if you don’t quit,’ is what she says. I don’t smoke.”

“I should hope not,” Barbara said.

“Some of the boys do, actually. They stand round down the street from school. These’re the older boys. And they take their shirttails out of their trousers, Barbara. I expect they think it makes them look cool, but I think it makes them look…” She frowned, thoughtful. “…beastly,” she settled on. “Perfectly beastly.”

“Peacocks and their plumes,” Barbara acknowledged.

“Hmm?”

“The male of the species, attracting the female. Otherwise, she’d have nothing to do with him. Interesting, no? Men should be the ones wearing makeup.”

Hadiyyah giggled at this, saying, “Dad would look a sight wearing lipstick, wouldn’t he?”

“He’d be fighting them off with a broomstick.”

“Mummy wouldn’t like that,” Hadiyyah noted. She scooped up four tins of All Day Breakfast-Barbara’s preferred dinner in a pinch after a longer than usual day at work-and carried them over to the cupboard above the sink.

“No. I don’t expect she would,” Barbara agreed. “Hadiyyah, what is that bloody-awful screeching going on round your neck?” She took the tins from the little girl and nodded at her headphones, from which some sort of questionable pop music was continuing to issue.

“Nobanzi,” Hadiyyah said obscurely.

“No-whatie?”

“Nobanzi. They’re brilliant. Look.” From out of her jacket pocket she brought the plastic cover of a CD. On it, three anorexic twentysomethings posed in crop tops the size of Scrooge’s generosity and blue jeans so tight that the only thing left to imagine was how they’d managed to cram themselves into them.

“Ah,” Barbara said. “Role models for our young. Give that over, then. Let’s have a listen.”

Hadiyyah willingly handed over the earphones, which Barbara set on her head. She absently reached for a packet of Players and shook one out despite Hadiyyah’s moue of disapproval. She lit one as what sounded like the chorus to a song-if it could be called that-assailed her eardrums. The Vandellas Nobanzi definitely was not, with or without Martha, Barbara decided. There was a chorus of unintelligible words. Lots of orgasmic groaning in the background appeared to take the place of both the bass line and the drums.

Barbara removed the headphones, and handed them over. She drew in on her fag and speculatively cocked her head at Hadiyyah.

Hadiyyah said, “Aren’t they brilliant?” She took the CD cover and pointed to the girl in the middle, who had dual-colored dreadlocks and a smoking pistol tattooed on her right breast. “This’s Juno. She’s my favourite. She’s got a baby called Nefertiti. Isn’t she lovely?”

“The very word I’d use.” Barbara screwed up the emptied carrier bags and shoved them in the cupboard beneath the sink. She opened her cutlery drawer and found at the back of it a pad of sticky notes that she generally used to remind herself of important upcoming events like Consider Plucking Eyebrows or Clean This Disgusting Toilet. This time, however, she scribbled three words and said to her little friend, “Come with me. It’s time to see to your education,” before grabbing up her shoulder bag and leading her back to the front of the house, where Hadiyyah’s shoes lay beneath the bench in the flagstoned area just outside the door to the ground-floor flat. Barbara told her to put on her shoes while she herself posted the sticky note on the door.

When Hadiyyah was ready, Barbara said, “Follow me. I’ve let your dad know,” and she headed off the property and in the direction of Chalk Farm Road.

“Where’re we going?” Hadiyyah asked. “Are we having an adventure?”

Barbara said, “Let me ask you a question. Nod if any of these names are familiar. Buddy Holly. No? Richie Valens. No? The Big Bopper. No? Elvis. Well, of course. Who wouldn’t know Elvis, but that hardly counts. What about Chuck Berry? Little Richard? Jerry Lee Lewis? ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ Ring any bells? No? Bloody hell, what’re they teaching you at school?”

“You shouldn’t swear,” Hadiyyah said.

On Chalk Farm Road, it was not an overlong walk to their destination: the Virgin Megastore in Camden High Street. To get there, though, they had to negotiate the shopping district, which, as far as Barbara had ever been able to ascertain, was unlike any shopping precinct in the city: packed shopfront to street with young people of every colour, persuasion, and manner of bodily adornment; flooded by a blaring cacophony of music from every direction; scented with everything from patchouli oil to fish and chips. Here shops had mascots crawling up the front of them in the form of super-huge cats, the gigantic bottom of a torso wearing blue jeans, enormous boots, an aeroplane nose down…Only vaguely did the mascots have anything to do with the wares within the individual shops, since most of these were given over to anything black and many things leather. Black leather. Black faux leather. Black faux fur on black faux leather.

Hadiyyah, Barbara saw, was taking everything in with the expression of a novice, the first indication Barbara had that the little girl had never before been to Camden High Street, despite its proximity to their respective homes. Hadiyyah followed along, eyes the size of hubcaps, lips parted, face rapt. Barbara had to steer her in and out of the crowd, one hand on her shoulder, to make sure they didn’t become separated in the crush.

“Brilliant, brilliant,” Hadiyyah breathed, hands clasped to her chest. “Oh, Barbara, this is so much better than a surprise.”

“Glad you like it,” Barbara said.

“Will we go into the shops?”

“When I’ve seen to your education.”

She took her into the megastore, to classic rock ’n’ roll. “This,” Barbara told her, “is music. Now…Where to start you off…? Well, there’s no question, really, is there? Because at the end of the day, we have the Great One and then we have everyone else. So…” She scanned the section for the H’s and then the H’s themselves for the only H that counted. She examined the selections, flipping each over to read the songs while next to her Hadiyyah studied the photos of Buddy Holly on the CD covers.

“Bit odd looking,” she remarked.

“Bite your tongue. Here. This’ll do. It’s got ‘Raining in My Heart,’ which I guarantee will make you swoon and ‘Rave On,’ which’ll make you want to dance on the work top. This, kiddo, is rock ’n’ roll. People’ll be listening to Buddy Holly in one hundred years, I guarantee it. As for Nobuki-”

“Nobanzi,” Hadiyyah corrected her patiently.

“They’ll be gone next week. Gone and forgotten while the Great One will rave on into eternity. This, my girl, is music.”

Hadiyyah looked doubtful. “He wears awfully strange specs,” she noted.

“Well, yeah. But that was the style. He’s been dead forever. Plane crash. Bad weather. Trying to get home to the pregnant wife.” Too young, Barbara thought. Too much in a hurry.

“How sad.” Hadiyyah looked at the photo of Buddy Holly with awakened eyes.

Barbara paid for their purchase and peeled off its wrapper. She brought out the CD and replaced Nobanzi with Buddy Holly. She said, “Feast your ears on this,” and when the music started, she led Hadiyyah back out to the street.

As promised, Barbara took her into several of the shops where the here-today-passé-in-thirty-minutes fashions were crammed onto clothing racks and hung from the walls. Scores of teenagers were spending money as if news of Armageddon had just been broadcast, and there was a sameness to them that caused Barbara to look at her companion and pray Hadiyyah always maintained the air of artlessness that made her such a pleasure to be around. Barbara couldn’t imagine her transformed into a London teenager in a tearing hurry to arrive at adulthood, mobile phone pressed to her ear, lipstick and eye shadow colouring her face, blue jeans sculpting her little arse, and high-heeled boots destroying her feet. And she certainly couldn’t imagine the little girl’s father allowing her out in public so arrayed.

For her part, Hadiyyah took everything in like a child on her first trip to a fun fair, with Buddy Holly raining in her heart. It was only when they’d progressed upwards to Chalk Farm Road, where the crowds were if anything thicker, louder, and more decorated than in the shops below, that Hadiyyah removed her earphones and finally spoke.

“I want to come back here every week from now on,” she announced. “Will you come with me, Barbara? I could save all my money and we could have lunch and then we could go in all of the shops. We can’t today ’cause I ought to be home before Dad gets there. He’ll be cross if he knows where we’ve been.”

“Will he? Why?”

“Oh, ’cause I’m forbidden to come here,” Hadiyyah said pleasantly. “Dad says if he ever saw me out in Camden High Street, he’d wallop me properly till I couldn’t sit down. Your note didn’t say we were coming here, did it?”

Barbara gave an inward curse. She hadn’t considered the ramifications of what she’d intended as only an innocent jaunt to the music shop. She felt for a moment as if she’d corrupted the innocent, but she allowed herself to experience the relief of having written a note to Taymullah Azhar that had employed three words only-“Kiddo’s with me”-along with her signature. Now if she could just depend on Hadiyyah’s discretion…although from the little girl’s excitement-despite her intention of keeping her father in the dark as to her whereabouts while he was on his errand-Barbara had to admit it was highly unlikely that she’d be able to hide from Azhar the pleasure attendant on their adventure.

“I didn’t exactly tell him where we’d be,” Barbara admitted.

“Oh, that’s brilliant,” Hadiyyah said. “’Cause if he knew…I don’t much fancy being walloped, Barbara. Do you?”

“D’you think he’d actually-”

“Oh look, look,” Hadiyyah cried. “What’s this place called, then? And it smells so heavenly. Are they cooking somewhere? C’n we go in?”

“This place” was Camden Lock Market, which they had come up to in their journey homeward. It stood on the edge of the Grand Union Canal, and the fragrance of the food stalls within it had reached them all the way on the pavement. Within, and mixing with the noise of rap music emanating from one of the shops, one could just discern the barking of food vendors hawking everything from stuffed jacket potatoes to chicken tikka masala.

“Barbara, c’n we go inside this place?” Hadiyyah asked again. “Oh, it’s so special. And Dad’ll never know. We won’t be walloped. I promise, Barbara.”

Barbara looked down at her shining face and knew she couldn’t deny her the simple pleasure of a wander through the market. How much trouble could it cause, indeed, if they were to take half an hour more and poke about among the candles, the incense, the T-shirts, and the scarves? She could distract Hadiyyah from the drug paraphernalia and the body-piercing stalls if they came upon them. As to the rest of what Camden Lock Market offered, it was all fairly innocent.

Barbara smiled at her little companion. “What the hell,” she said with a shrug. “Let’s go.”

They’d taken only two steps in their intended direction when Barbara’s mobile phone rang, however. Barbara said, “Hang on,” to Hadiyyah and read the incoming number. When she saw who it was, she knew the news was unlikely to be good.

“THE GAME’S AFOOT.” It was Acting Superintendent Thomas Lynley’s voice, and it bore an underlying note of tension the source of which he made clear when he added, “Get over to Hillier’s office as quickly as you can.”

Hillier?” Barbara studied the mobile like an alien object while Hadiyyah waited patiently at her side, toeing a crack in the pavement and watching the mass of humanity part round them as it heaved its way towards one market or another. “AC Hillier can’t have asked for me.”

“You’ve got an hour,” Lynley told her.

“But, sir-”

“He wanted thirty minutes, but we negotiated. Where are you?”

“Camden Lock Market.”

“Can you get here in an hour?”

“I’ll do my best.” Barbara snapped the phone off and shoved it into her bag. She said, “Kiddo, we’ve got to save this for another day. Something’s up at the Yard.”

“Something bad?” Hadiyyah asked.

“Maybe yes, maybe no.”

Barbara hoped for no. She hoped that what was up was an end to her period of punishment. She’d been suffering the mortification of demotion for months now, and she couldn’t help anticipating an end to what she considered her professional ostracism every time Assistant Commissioner Sir David Hillier’s name came up in conversation.

And now she was wanted. Wanted in AC Hillier’s office. Wanted there by Hillier himself and by Lynley, who, Barbara knew, had been manoeuvring to get her back to her rank almost as soon as she’d had it stripped from her.

She and Hadiyyah virtually trotted all the way back to Eton Villas. They parted where the flagstone path divided at the corner of the house. Hadiyyah gave a wave before she skipped over to the ground-floor flat, where Barbara could see that the sticky note she’d left for the little girl’s father had been removed from the door. She concluded that Azhar had returned with the surprise for his daughter, so she went to her bungalow for a hasty change of clothes.

The first decision she had to make-and quickly, because the hour Lynley had spoken of on the mobile was now forty-five minutes after her dash from the markets on Chalk Farm Road-was what to wear. Her choice needed to be professional without being an obvious ploy to win Hillier’s approval. Trousers and a matching jacket would do the first without teetering too close to the second. So trousers and matching jacket it would be.

She found them where she’d last left them, in a ball behind the television set. She couldn’t recall exactly how they’d got there, and she shook them out to survey the damage. Ah the beauty of polyester, she thought. One could be the victim of stampeding buffalo and still not bear a wrinkle to show it.

She set about changing into an ensemble of sorts. This was less about making a fashion statement and more about throwing on the trousers and rooting for a blouse without too many obvious creases in it. She decided on the least offensive shoes she owned-a pair of scuffed brogues that she donned in place of the red high-top trainers she preferred-and within five minutes she was able to grab two Chocotastic Pop-Tarts. She shoved them into her shoulder bag on her way out of the door.

Outside, there remained the question of transport: car, bus, or underground. All of them were risky: A bus would have to lumber through the clogged artery of Chalk Farm Road, a car meant engaging in creative rat running, and as for the underground…the underground line serving Chalk Farm was the notoriously unreliable Northern line. On the best of days, the wait alone could be twenty minutes.

Barbara opted for the car. She fashioned herself a route that would have done justice to Daedalus, and she managed to get herself down to Westminster only eleven and a half minutes behind schedule. Still, she knew that Hillier was not going to be chuffed with anything other than punctuality, so she blasted round the corner when she got to Victoria Street, and once she’d parked, she headed for the lifts at a run.

She stopped on the floor where Lynley had his temporary office, in the hope that he might have held off Hillier for the extra eleven and a half minutes it had taken her to get there. He hadn’t done, or so his empty office suggested. Dorothea Harriman, the departmental secretary, confirmed Barbara’s conclusion.

“He’s up with the assistant commissioner, Detective Constable,” she said. “He said you’re to go up and join them. D’you know the hem’s coming out of your trousers?”

“Is it? Damn,” Barbara said.

“I’ve a needle if you want it.”

“No time, Dee. D’you have a safety pin?”

Dorothea went to her desk. Barbara knew how unlikely it was that the other woman would have a pin. Indeed, Dee was always turned out so perfectly that it was tough to imagine her even in possession of a needle. She said, “No pin, Detective Constable. Sorry. But there’s always this.” She held up a stapler.

Barbara said, “Go for it. But be quick. I’m late.”

“I know. You’re missing a button from your cuff as well,” Dorothea noted. “And there’s…Detective Constable, you’ve got…Is this slut’s wool on your backside?”

“Oh damn, damn,” Barbara said. “Never mind. He’ll have to take me as I am.”

Which wasn’t likely to be with open arms, she thought as she crossed over to Tower Block and took the lift up to Hillier’s office. He’d been wanting to sack her for at least four years, and only the intervention of others had kept him from it.

Hillier’s secretary-who always referred to herself as Judi-with-an-i-MacIntosh-told Barbara to go straight in. Sir David, she said, was waiting for her. Had been waiting with Acting Superintendent Lynley for a good many minutes, she added. She smiled insincerely and pointed to the door.

Inside, Barbara found Hillier and Lynley concluding a conference call with someone who was on Hillier’s speakerphone talking about “preparing to engage in damage limitation.”

“I expect we’ll want a press conference, then,” Hillier said. “And soon, so we don’t end up seeming as if we’re doing it just to appease Fleet Street. When can you manage it?”

“We’ll be sorting that out directly. How closely do you want to be involved?”

“Very. And with an appropriate companion at hand.”

“Fine. I’ll be in touch then, David.”

David and damage limitation, Barbara thought. The speaker was obviously a muckety-muck from the DPA.

Hillier ended the conversation. He looked at Lynley, said, “Well?” and then noticed Barbara, just inside the door. He said, “Where the hell have you been, Constable?”

So much, Barbara thought, for having a chance to polish anyone’s apples. She said, “Sorry, sir,” as Lynley turned in his chair. “Traffic was deadly.”

“Life is deadly,” Hillier said. “But that doesn’t stop any of us from living it.”

Absolute monarch of the flaming non sequitur, Barbara thought. She glanced at Lynley, who raised a warning index finger approximately half an inch. She said, “Yes, sir,” and she joined the two officers at the conference table where Lynley was sitting and where Hillier had moved when he’d ended his phone call. She eased a chair out and slid onto it as unobtrusively as possible.

The table, she saw with a glance, held four sets of photographs. In them, four bodies lay. From where she sat, they appeared to be young adolescent boys, arranged on their backs, with their hands folded high on their chests in the manner of effigies on tombs. They would have looked like boys asleep had they not been cyanotic of face and necklaced with the mark of ligatures.

Barbara pursed her lips. “Holy hell,” she said. “When did they…?”

“Over the past three months,” Hillier said.

“Three months? But why hasn’t anyone…?” Barbara looked from Hillier to Lynley. Lynley, she saw, looked deeply concerned; Hillier, always the most political of animals, looked wary. “I haven’t heard a whisper about this. Or read a word in the papers. Or seen any reports on the telly. Four deaths. The same MO. All victims young. All victims male.”

“Please try to sound a little less like an hysterical newsreader on cable television,” Hillier said.

Lynley shifted position in his chair. He cast a look Barbara’s way. His brown eyes were telling her to hold back from saying what they all were thinking until the two of them managed to get alone somewhere.

All right, Barbara thought. She would play it that way. She said in a careful, professional voice, “Who are they, then?”

“A, B, C, and D. We haven’t any names.”

No one reported them missing? In three months?”

“That’s evidently part of the problem,” Lynley said.

“What d’you mean? Where were they found?”

Hillier indicated one of the photographs as he spoke. “The first…in Gunnersbury Park. September tenth. Found at eight-fifteen in the morning by a jogger needing to have a piss. There’s an old garden inside the park, partially walled, not far off Gunnersbury Avenue. That looks to be the means of access. There’re two boarded-up entrances there, right on the street.”

“But he didn’t die in the park,” Barbara noted, with a nod at the photo in which the boy had been positioned supine on a mattress of weeds that grew at the juncture of two brick walls. There was nothing that suggested a struggle had taken place in the vicinity. There was also, in the entire stack of pictures from that crime scene, no photograph of the sort of evidence one expected to find where a murder occurs.

“No. He didn’t die there. Nor did this one.” Hillier picked up another batch of photographs. In it, the body of another slender boy was draped across the bonnet of a car, positioned as neatly as the first in Gunnersbury Park. “This one was found in an NCP car park at the top of Queensway. Just over five weeks later.”

“What’s the murder squad over there saying? Anything from CCTV?”

“The car park doesn’t have closed-circuit cameras.” Lynley answered Barbara’s question. “There’s a sign posted that there ‘may’ be cameras on the premises. But that’s it. That’s supposed to do the job of security.”

“This one was in Quaker Street,” Hillier went on, indicating a third set of photos. “An abandoned warehouse not far from Brick Lane. November twenty-fifth. And this-” he picked up the final batch and handed them over to Barbara-“is the latest. He was found in St. George’s Gardens. Today.”

Barbara glanced at the final set of pictures. In them, the body of an adolescent boy lay naked on the top of a lichen-covered tomb. The tomb itself sat on a lawn not far from a serpentine path. Beyond this, a brick wall fenced off not a cemetery-as one would expect from the tomb’s presence-but a garden. Beyond the wall appeared to be a mews of garages and a block of flats behind them.

“St. George’s Gardens?” Barbara asked. “Where is this place?”

“Not far from Russell Square.”

“Who found the body?”

“The warden who opens the park every day. Our killer got access from the gates on Handel Street. They were chained up properly, but bolt cutters did the trick. He opened up, drove a vehicle inside, made his deposit on the tomb, and took off. Stopped to wrap the chain back round the gate so anyone passing wouldn’t notice.”

“Tyre prints in the garden?”

“Two decent ones. Casts are being made.”

“Witnesses?” Barbara indicated the flats that lined the garden just beyond the mews.

“We’ve constables from the Theobald’s Road station doing the door-to-door.”

Barbara pulled all of the photographs towards her and laid the four victims in a row. She immediately took note of the differences-all of them major ones-between the final dead boy and the first three. All of them were young teenagers who’d died in an identical fashion, but unlike the first three boys, the latest victim was not only naked but also had a copious amount of makeup on: lipstick, eye shadow, liner, and mascara smeared across his face. Additionally, the killer had marked his body by slicing it open from sternum to waist and by drawing with blood an odd circular symbol on his forehead. The most potentially explosive political detail, however, had to do with race: Only the final victim was white. Of the earlier three, one was black and the two others were clearly mixed race: black and Asian, perhaps, black and Filipino, black and a blend of God only knew what.

Seeing this last feature, Barbara understood: why there had been no front-page newspaper coverage, why no television, and worst of all, why no whispers round New Scotland Yard. She raised her head. “Institutionalised racism. That’s what they’re going to claim, isn’t it? No one across London-in any of the stations involved, right?-even twigged there’s a serial killer at work. No one got round to comparing notes. This kid-” here she raised the photograph of the black youth-“might’ve been reported missing in Peckham. Maybe in Kilburn. Or Lewisham. Or anywhere. But his body wasn’t dumped where he lived and disappeared from, was it, so the rozzers on his home patch called him a runaway, left it at that, and never matched him up to a murder that got reported in another station’s patch. Is that what happened?”

“You can see the need for both delicacy and immediate action,” Hillier said.

“Cheap murders, hardly worth investigating, all because of their race. That’s what they’re going to call the first three when the story gets out. The tabloids, television and radio news, the whole flaming lot.”

“We intend to get the jump on what they call anything. If the truth be told, the tabloids, the broadsheets, the radio, and the television news-had they been attuned to what’s going on and not intent on pursuing scandals among celebrities, the government, and the bloody royal family-might have broken this story themselves and crucified us on their front pages. As it is, they can hardly claim institutionalised racism for our failure to see what they themselves could have seen and did not. Rest assured that when each station’s press officer released the news of a body being found, the story was judged a nonstarter by the media because of the victim: just another dead black boy. Cheap news. Not worth reporting. Ho-hum.”

“With respect, sir,” Barbara pointed out, “that’s hardly going to stop them braying now.”

“We’ll see about that. Ah.” Hillier smiled expansively as his office door swung open again. “Here’s the gentleman we’ve been waiting for. Have they sorted out your paperwork, Winston? May we call you Sergeant Nkata officially?”

Barbara felt the question come at her like an unexpected blow. She looked at Lynley, but he was standing to greet Winston Nkata, who’d paused just inside the door. Unlike her, Nkata was dressed with the care he habitually employed: Everything about him was crisp and clean. In his presence-in the presence of all of them, come to that-Barbara felt like Cinderella in advance of the fairy godmother’s visit.

She got to her feet. She was about to do the very worst thing for her career, but she didn’t see any other way out…except the way out, which she decided to take. She said to her colleague, “Winnie. Brilliant. Cheers. I didn’t know.” And then to the other two ranking officers, “I’ve just remembered a phone call I’m meant to return.”

Then she left the room.

ACTING SUPERINTENDENT Thomas Lynley felt the distinct need to follow Havers. At the same time, he recognised the wisdom of staying put. Ultimately, he knew, he’d probably be better able to do her service if at least one of them managed to remain in AC Hillier’s good graces.

That, unfortunately, was never easy. The assistant commissioner’s style of command generally existed on the border between Machiavellian and despotic, and rational individuals gave the man a very wide berth if they could. Lynley’s own immediate superior-Malcolm Webberly, who’d been on medical leave for some time-had been running interference for both Lynley and Havers since the day he’d assigned them to their first case together. Without Webberly at New Scotland Yard, it fell to Lynley to recognise which side of the bread bore the butter.

The present situation was trying Lynley’s determination to remain a disinterested party in his every interaction with Hillier. There’d been a moment early on when the AC could have easily told him about Winston Nkata’s promotion: the very same moment when the man had refused to restore Barbara Havers to her rank.

What Hillier had said with little enough grace was, “I want you heading up this investigation, Lynley. Acting superintendent… I can hardly give it to anyone else. Malcolm would have wanted you on it anyway, so put together the team you need.”

Lynley had mistakenly put the AC’s laconism down to distress. Superintendent Malcolm Webberly was Hillier’s brother-in-law, after all, and the victim of an attempted homicide. Hillier doubtless worried about his recovery from the hit-and-run that had nearly killed him. So he said, “How’s the superintendent’s progress, sir?”

“This isn’t the time to talk about the superintendent’s progress,” was Hillier’s reply. “Are you heading this investigation or am I handing it over to one of your colleagues?”

“I’d like to have Barbara Havers back as sergeant to be part of the team.”

“Would you. Well, this isn’t a bargaining session. It’s a Yes, I’ll get to work directly, sir, or a Sorry, I’m going on an extended holiday.”

So Lynley had been left with the Yes, I’ll get to work directly, and no room to manoeuvre for Havers. He made a quick plan, though, which involved assigning his colleague to certain aspects of the investigation that would be guaranteed to highlight her strengths. Certainly, within the next few months he’d be able to right the wrongs that had been done to Barbara since the previous June.

Then, of course, he’d been blindsided by Hillier. Winston Nkata arrived, newly minted as sergeant, blocking Havers from promotion in the near future, and unaware of what his role was likely to be in the ensuing drama.

Lynley burned at all this, but he kept his features neutral. He was curious to see how Hillier was going to dance round the obvious when he assigned Nkata to be his right-hand man. Because there was no doubt in Lynley’s mind that this was what AC Hillier intended to do. With one parent from Jamaica and the other from the Ivory Coast, Nkata was decidedly, handsomely, and suitably black. And once the news broke of a string of racial killings that had not been connected to one another when they damn well should have been, the black community was going to ignite. Not one Stephen Lawrence but three. With no excuse to be had but the most obvious, which Barbara Havers herself had stated in her usual, politically unastute manner: institutionalised racism that resulted in the police not actively pursuing the killers of young mixed-race boys and blacks. Just because.

Hillier was carefully oiling the skids in preparation. He seated Nkata at the conference table and brought him into the picture. He made no mention of the race of the first three victims, but Winston Nkata was nobody’s fool.

“So you got trouble,” was his cool observation at the end of Hillier’s comments.

Hillier replied with studied calm. “The situation being what it is, we’re trying to avoid trouble.”

“Which’s where I come in, right?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“What manner of speaking is that?” Nkata inquired. “How’re you planning to keep this under the carpet? Not the fact of the killings, mind you, but the fact of nothing being done ’bout the killings.”

Lynley controlled his need to smile. Ah, Winston, he thought. No one’s dancing, blue-eyed boy.

“Investigations have been mounted on all the relevant patches,” was Hillier’s reply. “Admittedly, connections should have been made between the murders, and they weren’t. Because of that, we at the Yard have taken over. I’ve instructed Acting Superintendent Lynley to put together a team. I want you playing a prominent role on it.”

“You mean a token role,” Nkata said.

“I mean a highly responsible, crucial-”

“-visible,” Nkata cut in.

“-yes, all right. A visible role.” Hillier’s generally florid face was becoming quite ruddy. It was clear that the meeting wasn’t following his preconceived scenario. Had he asked in advance, Lynley would have been happy to tell him that, having once done a stint as chief battle counsel for the Brixton Warriors and bearing the scars to show it, Winston Nkata was the last person one ought to fail to take seriously when devising one’s political machinations. As it was, Lynley found himself enjoying the spectacle of the assistant commissioner floundering. He’d clearly expected the black man to snap joyfully at the chance to play a significant role in what was going to become a high-profile investigation. Since he wasn’t doing that, Hillier was left walking a tightrope between the displeasure of an authority being questioned by such an underling and the political correctness of an ostensibly moderate English white man who, at heart, truly believed that rivers of blood were imminently due to flow in the streets of London.

Lynley decided to let them go at it alone. He got to his feet, saying, “I’ll leave you to explain all the finer points of the case to Sergeant Nkata, sir. There’re going to be countless details to organise: men to bring off rota and the like. I’d like to get Dee Harriman on all that straightaway.” He gathered up the relevant documents and photographs and said to Nkata, “I’ll be in my office when you’re through here, Winnie.”

“Sure,” Nkata said. “Soon’s we got the fine print read.”

Lynley left the office and managed to keep himself from chuckling till he was some distance down the corridor. Havers, he knew, would have been difficult for Hillier to stomach as a detective sergeant once again. But Nkata was going to be a real challenge: proud, intelligent, clever, and quick. He was a man first, a black man second, and a cop only a distant third. Hillier, Lynley thought, had got every part of him in the wrong order.

He decided to use the stairs to descend to his office once he crossed to Victoria Block, and that was where he found Barbara Havers. She was sitting on the top step, one flight down, smoking and picking at a loose thread on the cuff of her jacket.

Lynley said, “You’re out of order, doing that here. You know that, don’t you?” He joined her on the step.

She studied the glowing tip of the tobacco, then returned the cigarette to her mouth. She inhaled with showy satisfaction. “Maybe they’ll sack me.”

“Havers-”

“Did you know?” she asked abruptly.

He gave her the courtesy of not pretending to misunderstand. “Of course I didn’t know. I would have told you. Got a message to you before you arrived. Something. He took me by surprise as well. As he doubtless intended.”

She shrugged. “What the hell. It’s not as if Winnie doesn’t deserve it. He’s good. Clever. Works well with everyone.”

“He’s putting Hillier through the paces, though. At least, he was when I left them.”

“Has he twigged that he’s to be window dressing? Black face at press conferences front and centre? No colour problems here, and look at this, everyone: We’ve got the proof in person? Hillier’s so bloody obvious.”

“Winston’s five or six steps ahead of Hillier, I’d say.”

“I should’ve stayed to see it.”

“You should have done, Barbara. If nothing else, it would have been wise.”

She tossed her cigarette to the landing below them. It rolled, stopped against the wall, and sent a lazy plume of smoke upwards. “When have I ever been that?”

Lynley looked her up and down. “With the ensemble today, as a matter of fact. Except…” He leaned forward to look towards her feet. “Are you actually holding the trousers together with staples, Barbara?”

“Quick, easy, and temporary. I’m a bird who hates commitment. I’d’ve used Sellotape but Dee recommended this. I shouldn’t’ve bothered one way or the other.”

Lynley rose from the step and extended his hand to help her up as well. “Apart from the staples, you’ve done yourself proud.”

“Right. That’s me. Today the Yard, tomorrow the catwalk,” Havers said.

They descended to his temporary office. Dorothea Harriman came to the door once he and Havers were spreading the case materials out on the conference table. She said, “Sh’ll I start phoning them in, Acting Superintendent Lynley?”

“The secretarial grapevine round here is, as ever, a model of efficiency,” Lynley noted. “Bring Stewart off rota to run the incident room. Hale’s in Scotland and MacPherson’s involved with that forged-documents situation, so leave them be. And send Winston through when he gets down from Hillier.”

“Detective Sergeant Nkata, right.” Harriman was making her usual competent notes on a sticky pad.

“You know about Winnie as well?” Havers asked, impressed. “Already? Have you got a snout up there or something, Dee?”

“The cultivation of resources should be the aim of every dutiful police employee,” Harriman said piously.

“Cultivate someone across the river, then,” Lynley said. “I want all the forensic material SO7 has on the older cases. Then phone each police borough where a body was found and get every scrap of every report and every statement they have on these crimes. Havers, in the meantime, you’ll need to get on to the PNC-grab at least two DCs from Stewart to help you-and pull out every missing-persons report filed in the last three months for adolescent boys ages…” He looked at the photos. “I think twelve to sixteen should do it.” He tapped the picture of the most recent victim, the boy with makeup smeared across his face. “And I think we’ll want to check with Vice on this one. It’s a route to go with all of them, in fact.”

Havers picked up on the direction his thoughts were taking. “If they’re rent boys, sir-runaways who happened to fall into the game, say-then it may be there’s no missing-person report filed for any one of them. At least not in the same month they were killed.”

“Indeed,” Lynley said. “So we’ll work backwards in time if we have to. But we’ve got to start somewhere, so let’s keep it at three months for now.”

Havers and Harriman left to see to their respective assignments. Lynley sat at the table and felt in his jacket pocket for his reading spectacles. He took another look at the photographs, spending the most time on those pictures of the final killing. They could not, he knew, accurately portray the understated enormity of the crime itself as he’d seen it earlier that day.

When he had arrived at St. George’s Gardens, the scythe-shaped area held a full complement of detectives, uniformed constables, and scenes-of-crime officers. The forensic pathologist was still on the scene, bundled against the grey-day cold in a mustard anorak, and the police photographer and videographer had just completed their work. Outside the tall wrought-iron gates of the gardens, the public had begun to gather, and from the windows of the buildings just beyond the garden’s brick wall and the mews behind it, more spectators were observing the activity taking place: the careful fingertip search for evidence, the minute examination of a discarded bicycle that sprawled near a statue of Minerva, the collection of silver objects that were scattered on the ground round a tomb.

Lynley hadn’t known what to expect when he showed his ID at the gate and followed the path to the professionals. The phone call he’d received had used the phrase “possible serial killing” and because of this, as he walked, he steeled himself to see something terrible: a disembowelment in the manner of Jack the Ripper, perhaps, a decapitation or dismemberment. He’d assumed it would be the horrific that he would be gazing upon when he worked his way to look at the top of the tomb in question. What he hadn’t assumed was that it would be the sinister.

Yet that was what the body represented to him: the sinister, left hand of evil. Ritualistic killings always struck him that way. And that this murder had been a ritual was something that he did not doubt.

The effigylike arrangement of the body served to encourage that deduction, but so did the mark in blood on the forehead: a crude circle crisscrossed by two lines that each bore cruciforms at the top and the bottom. Additionally, the element of a loincloth added support to this conclusion: an odd, lace-edged piece of fabric, which had been tucked, as if lovingly, round the genitals.

As Lynley donned the latex gloves and stepped to the side of the tomb to gaze more closely upon the body, he saw and learned of the rest of the signs that pointed to some sort of arcane rite having been carried out upon it. “What’ve we got?” he murmured to the forensic pathologist, who’d been snapping off his gloves and shoving them into his pocket.

“Two A.M. or thereabouts,” was the succinct reply. “Strangulation, obviously. Incised wounds all inflicted after death. One cut for the primary incision down the torso, with no hesitation. Then…see the separation here? Just at the area of the sternum? It looks like our knife man dipped his hands inside and forced a bigger opening, like a quack surgeon. We won’t know if anything’s missing inside him till we cut him open ourselves. Looks doubtful, though.”

Lynley noticed the inflection the pathologist had given to the word inside. He glanced quickly at the victim’s folded hands and his feet. All digits accounted for. He said, “As to outside the body? Is something missing?”

“The navel. It’s been chopped right off. Have a look.”

“Christ.”

“Yes. Ope’s got a dodgy one on her hands.”

Ope turned out to be a grey-haired woman in scarlet earmuffs and matching mittens who came striding towards Lynley from a group of uniformed constables who’d been in some sort of discussion when he’d arrived on the scene. She introduced herself as DCI Opal Towers, from Theobald’s Road police station, in whose patch they were currently standing. She’d taken just one look at the body and concluded they had a killer who “could definitely go serial,” she’d explained. She’d mistakenly thought that the boy on the tomb was the unfortunate initial victim of someone they could identify quickly and stop before he struck again. “But then DC Hartell over there”-with a nod towards a baby-faced detective constable who chewed gum compulsively and watched them with the nervous eyes of someone expecting a dressing down-“said he’d seen a killing something like this in Tower Hamlets when he worked out of the Brick Lane station a while back. I phoned his former guv and we had a few words. We think we’re looking at the same killer in both cases.”

At the time, Lynley hadn’t asked why she’d then phoned the Met. He hadn’t known till he met with Hillier that there were additional victims. He hadn’t known that three of the victims were racial minorities. And he hadn’t known that not a single one of them had yet been identified by the police. All that was later spelled out to him by Hillier. In St. George’s Gardens, he merely reached the conclusion that reinforcements were called for and that someone was needed to coordinate an investigation that was going to involve turf in two radically different parts of town: Brick Lane in Tower Hamlets was the centre of the Bangladeshi community, containing remnants of the West Indian population who had once been its majority, while the area of St. Pancras, where St. George’s Gardens formed a green oasis among distinguished Georgian conversions, was decidedly monochromatic, the colour in question being white.

He said to DCI Towers, “How far has Brick Lane got in their investigation?”

She shook her head and looked towards the wrought-iron gates through which Lynley had come. He followed her gaze and saw that members of the press and television news-distinguished by their notebooks, their handheld tape recorders, and the vans from which video cameras were being unloaded-had begun to gather. A press officer was directing them to one side. She said, “According to Hartell, Brick Lane did sod all, which is why he wanted out of the place. He says it’s an endemic problem. Now, could be he just has an axe he’s grinding on the reputation of his ex-guv over there, or could be those blokes’ve been sleeping at the wheel. But in either case, we’ve got some sorting to do.” She hunched her shoulders and drove her mittened hands into the pockets of her down jacket. She nodded at the news people. “To say they’re going to have a field day if they twig all that…Between you, me, and the footpath, I thought it best we look like we’ve got coppers from bottom to top crawling all over this.”

Lynley eyed her with some interest. She certainly didn’t look like a political animal, but it was clear that she was quick on her feet. Nonetheless he felt it wise to ask, “You’re sure about what Constable Hartell is claiming, then?”

“Wasn’t at first,” she admitted. “But he convinced me quick enough.”

“How?”

“He didn’t get as close a look at the body as I did, but he took me aside and asked about the hands.”

“The hands? What about the hands?”

She gave him a glance. “You didn’t see them? You best come with me, Superintendent.”

CHAPTER TWO

DESPITE THE EARLY HOUR AT WHICH HE ROSE THE NEXT morning, Lynley found that his wife was already up. He found her in what was going to be their baby’s nursery, where yellow, white, and green were the colours of choice, a cot and changing table comprised the furniture delivered so far, and photographs clipped from magazines and catalogues indicated the placement of everything else: a toy chest here, a rocking chair there, and a chest of drawers moved daily from point A to point B. In her first trimester, Helen was nothing if not changeable when it came to the appearance of their son’s nursery.

She was standing before the changing table, her hands massaging the small of her back. Lynley joined her, brushing her hair away from her neck, making a bare spot for his kiss. She leaned back against him. She said, “You know, Tommy, I never expected impending parenthood to be so political an event.”

“Is it? How?”

She gestured to the surface of the changing table. There, Lynley saw, the remains of a package lay. It had obviously come by post on the previous day, and Helen had opened it and spread its contents upon the table. These consisted of an infant’s snowy christening garments: gown, shawl, cap, and shoes. Next to them lay yet another set of christening garments: another gown, shawl, and cap. Lynley picked up the postal wrapping that had covered the box. He saw the name and the return address. “Daphne Amalfini,” he read. She lived in Italy, one of Helen’s four sisters.

He said, “What’s going on?”

“Battle lines are being drawn. I hate to tell you, but I’m afraid that soon we’ll have to choose a side.”

“Ah. Right. I take it that these…?” Lynley indicated the set of garments most recently unpacked.

“Yes. Daphne sent them along. With a rather sweet note, by the way, but there’s no mistaking the meaningful subtext. She knows that your sister must have sent us the ancestral Lynley baptismal regalia, being so far the only reproductive Lynley of the current generation. But Daph seems to think that five Clyde sisters procreating like bunnies is reason enough why the Clyde apparel should be sufficient unto the christening day. No, that’s not right. Not sufficient unto the day at all. More like de rigueur for the day. It’s all ridiculous-believe me, I know-but it’s one of those family situations that ends up being blown out of proportion if one doesn’t handle it correctly.” She looked at him and offered a quirky smile. “It’s utterly stupid, isn’t it? Hardly comparable to what you’re dealing with. What time did you actually get home last night? Did you find your dinner in the fridge?”

“I thought I’d eat it for breakfast, actually.”

“Take-away garlic chicken?”

“Well. Perhaps not.”

“Any suggestions you care to make about the christening clothes, then? And don’t suggest we forego the christening altogether, because I don’t want to be responsible for my father’s having a stroke.”

Lynley thought about the situation. On the one hand, the christening garments from his own family had been used for at least five-if not six-generations of infant Lynleys as they were ushered into Christendom, so there was a tradition established in using them. On the other hand, if the truth were told, the clothes were beginning to look as if five or six generations of infant Lynleys had worn them. On the other, other hand-presuming three hands were possible in this matter-every child of every one of the five Clyde sisters had worn the more recently vintaged Clyde family raiment, and thus a tradition was being started there, and it would be pleasant to uphold it. So…what to do?

Helen was right. It was just the sort of idiotic situation that bent everyone out of shape. Some sort of diplomatic resolution was called for.

“We can claim both sets were lost in the post,” he offered.

“I had no idea you were such a moral coward. Your sister already knows hers arrived, and in any case, I’m a dreadful liar.”

“Then I must leave you to work out a Solomon-like solution.”

“A distinct possibility, now that you mention it,” Helen remarked. “A careful application of the scissors first, right up the middle of each. Then needle, thread, and everyone’s happy.”

“And a new tradition’s begun into the bargain.”

They both gazed at the two christening ensembles and then at each other. Helen looked mischievous. Lynley laughed. “We don’t dare,” he said. “You’ll work it out in your inimitable fashion.”

“Two christenings, then?”

“You’re on the path to solution already.”

“And what path are you on? You’re up early. Our Jasper Felix awakened me doing gymnastics in my stomach. What’s your excuse?”

“I’d like to head off Hillier if I can. The Press Bureau are setting up a meeting with the media, and Hillier wants Winston there, right at his side. I’m not going to be able to talk him out of that, but I’m hoping to get him to keep it low key.”

He maintained that hope all the way to New Scotland Yard. There, however, he soon enough saw that forces superior even to AC Hillier were at work, making Big Plans in the person of Stephenson Deacon, head of the Press Bureau and intent upon justifying his present job and possibly his entire career. He was doing this by means of orchestrating the assistant commissioner’s first meeting with the press, which apparently involved not only the presence of Winston Nkata at Hillier’s side but also a dais set up before a curtained background with the Union Jack draped artfully nearby, as well as detailed press kits manufactured to present a dizzying amount of noninformation. At the rear of the conference room, someone had also arranged a table that looked suspiciously intended for refreshments.

Lynley evaluated all of this bleakly. Whatever hopes he’d had of talking Hillier into a subtler approach were thoroughly dashed. The Directorate of Public Affairs were involved now, and that division of the Met reported not to AC Hillier but to his superior, the deputy comissioner. The lower downs-Lynley among them-were obviously being transformed into cogs in the vast machinery of public relations. Lynley realised that the best he could do was to protect Nkata from the exposure as much as possible.

The new detective sergeant had already been there. He’d been told where to sit when the press conference took place and what to say should he be asked any questions. Lynley found him steaming in the corridor. The Caribbean in his voice, child of his West Indian mother, always came out in moments of stress. Th became either d or t. Man-pronounced mon-worked its way forward as interjection of choice.

“I di’n’t get into this to be some dancing monkey,” Nkata said. “My job i’n’t meant to be all about my mum turning on the telly and seeing my mug on the screen. He thinks I’m dim, that’s what he thinks. I’m here to tell him I’m not.”

“This goes beyond Hillier,” Lynley said, with a nod of greeting to one of the sound technicians, who was ducking into the conference room. “Stay calm and put up with it for the moment, Winnie. It’ll be to your advantage in the long run, depending on what you want to do with your career.”

“But you know why I’m here. You bloody know why.”

“Put it down to Deacon,” Lynley said. “The Press Bureau are cynical enough to think the public will leap to a preordained conclusion when they see you on the dais elbow to elbow with the assistant commissioner of the Met. Just now Deacon’s arrogant enough to think your appearance there will quiet speculation in the press. But none of that is a reflection on you, either personally or professionally. You’ve got to remember that in order to get through this.”

“Yeah? Well, I don’t believe it, man. And if there’s speculation out there, then it’s deserved. How many more dead is’t going to take? Black-on-black crime is still that: crime. With next to no one looking into it. An’ if this partic’lar situation happens to be white-on-black crime and it’s gone ignored, having me acting like Hillier’s right-hand man when you and he both know he wouldn’t’ve even promoted me if the circumstances’d been different…” Here Nkata paused, drawing breath as he seemed to search for just the right peroration to his remarks.

“Murder as politics,” Lynley said. “Yes. That’s it. Is that nasty? Undoubtedly. Is it cynical? Yes. Unpleasant? Yes. Machiavellian? Yes. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean you need to be-or are-anything less than a decent officer.”

Hillier came out of the room then. He looked pleased with whatever Stephenson Deacon had set up for the coming press briefing. “We’ll be buying at least forty-eight hours once we’ve met with them,” he said to Lynley and Nkata. “Winston, mind you remember your part.”

Lynley waited to see how Nkata would react. To his credit, Winston did nothing but nod neutrally. But when Hillier walked off in the direction of the lifts, he said to Lynley, “These’re kids we’re talking about. Dead kids, man.”

“Winston,” Lynley said, “I know.”

“What’s he doing, then?”

“I believe he’s positioning the press to take a fall.”

Nkata looked in the direction Hillier had taken. “How’s he going to manage that?”

“By waiting long enough for them to expose their bias before he talks to them. He knows the papers will get on to the fact that the earlier victims were black and mixed race, and when they do, they’ll start baying for our blood. What were we doing, asleep at the wheel, et cetera, et cetera. At that point, he’ll counter with piously wondering why it’s taken them so long to glean what the cops knew-and told the press-from the first. This last death makes page one of every paper. It runs near the front of the evening news. But what about the others? he’ll ask. Why weren’t they considered top stories?”

“Hillier’s taking the offensive, then,” Nkata said.

“It’s why he’s good at what he does, most of the time.”

Nkata looked disgusted. “Four white boys killed in different parts of town and the coppers’d be liaising themselves like the bloody dickens from the first.”

“They probably would.”

“Then-”

“We can’t correct their failures, Winston. We can loathe them and try to change them for the future. But we can’t go back and make them different.”

“We c’n keep them from being swept under the rug.”

“We could champion that cause. Yes. I agree.” And as Nkata started to say more, Lynley plunged on with, “But while we do that, a killer goes on killing. So what have we gained? Have we unburied the dead? Brought anyone to justice? Believe me, Winston, the press will recover from Hillier’s allegations about the pot and the kettle shortly after he makes them, and when they do, they’ll be all over him, like gnats on fruit. In the meantime, we’ve got four killings to deal with properly, and we won’t be able to do that if we don’t have the cooperation of those very same murder squads you’re hot to expose as bigoted and corrupt. Does that make sense to you?”

Nkata thought about this. He finally said, “I want a real role in all this. I got no plans to be Hillier’s lad at press conferences, man.”

“Understood and agreed,” Lynley said. “You’re a DS now. No one’s likely to forget that. Let’s get to work.”

The incident room had been set up a short distance from Lynley’s office, where uniformed PCs were already at the computer terminals, logging information that was coming in per Lynley’s request to the police boroughs where the earlier bodies had been found. China boards held crime-scene photographs along with a large schedule containing team members’ names and the identifying numbers of the actions assigned to them. Technicians had set up three video machines so that someone could review all relevant CCTV tapes-where and if they existed-from every area where the bodies had been dumped, and their flexes and cords snaked along the floor. The telephones were already ringing. Manning them at the moment were Lynley’s longtime colleague, DI John Stewart and two DCs. The former was seated at a desk already compulsively organised.

Barbara Havers was in the midst of highlighting data sheets with a yellow marker when Lynley and Nkata walked in. At her elbow sat an opened package of Mr. Kipling strawberry jam tarts and a cup of coffee, which she drained with a grimace, and a “Bloody hell. Cold,” after which she looked longingly at a packet of Players half-buried beneath a pile of printouts.

“Don’t even think of it,” Lynley told her. “What’ve you got from SO5?”

She set down her marker pen and worked the muscles of her shoulders. “You’re going to want to keep this one away from the press.”

“Now that’s a fine beginning,” Lynley commented. “Let’s have it, then.”

“Going back three months, Juvenile Index and Missing Persons together coughed up fifteen hundred and seventy-four names.”

“Damn.” Lynley took the data sheets from her and flipped through them impatiently. Across the room, DI Stewart rang off and finished his notes.

“You ask me,” Havers said, “it looks like things haven’t changed much since the last time SO5 faced the press about not keeping their systems up to date. You’d think they wouldn’t want egg on their neckties again.”

“You’d think so,” Lynley agreed. As a matter of course, the names of children reported missing went into the system at once. But often, when the child was found, the name was not then removed from the system. Nor was it necessarily removed when children who might have started out missing ended up either incarcerated as youth offenders or placed in the care of Social Services. It was a case of the left and right hands not knowing, and more than once this sort of inefficiency on the part of Missing Persons had created a logjam in an investigation.

“I’m reading the news on your face,” Havers said, “but no way can I do this alone, sir. More than fifteen hundred names? By the time I get through them all, this bloke”-with a jerk of her head towards the photographs posted on the china board-“he’ll have his next seven victims dispatched.”

“We’ll get you some help,” Lynley said. To Stewart, “John? Get some additional manpower for this. Put half on the phones checking to see if these kids have turned up since they went missing and have the other half go for a match: our four bodies to descriptions in the paperwork. Anything remotely possible that could allow us to tie a name to a corpse, run with it. And what’ve we heard from Vice on the most recent body? Has Theobald’s Road given us anything on the boy in St. George’s Gardens? Has King’s Cross? What about Tolpuddle Street?”

DI Stewart took up a notebook. “According to Vice, the description doesn’t fit any boy recently on the job anywhere. Among the regulars, no one’s missing. So far.”

“Get on to Vice where the other bodies were found as well,” Lynley said to Havers. “See if you can make a match with anyone reported missing there.” He went to the china board, where he gazed at the photos of the most recent victim. John Stewart joined him. As usual, the DI was nervous energy combined with an obsession for detail. The notebook he carried was open to an outline, which he’d done in various colours significant only to himself. Lynley said to him, “What’ve we got from across the river?”

“No reports yet,” Stewart said. “I checked with Dee Harriman not ten minutes ago.”

“We’ll want them to test the makeup this boy’s wearing, John. See if we can track down the manufacturer. Could be our victim didn’t put it on himself. If that’s the case and if the makeup’s not something available at every Boots in town, the point of sale could move us in the right direction. In the meantime, run a check on recent releases from prison and from mental hospitals. Recent releases from every youth facility within one hundred miles as well. And this works in both directions, so keep that in mind.”

“Both directions?” Stewart looked up from his furious writing.

“Our killer could come from one of them. But so could our victims. And until we have a positive identification on all four of these boys, we don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with, except the most obvious.”

“One sick bastard.”

“There’s enough evidence on the last body to attest to that,” Lynley agreed. His gaze went to that evidence even as he spoke, as if drawn there without his intention: the long postmortem incision on the torso, the blood-drawn symbol on the forehead, the missing navel, and what hadn’t been noted or photographed until the body was moved for the very first time: the palms of the hands burned so thoroughly that the flesh was black.

He shifted his gaze to the list of actions he’d already assigned on the previous long night of setting up the team: There were men and women knocking on doors in the vicinity where every one of the first three bodies had been found; additional officers were studying prior arrests to see if any lesser crimes had been documented that bore the hallmark of escalating behaviour which might lead to such murders as they now had on their hands. This was well and good, but they also needed to get someone on to the loincloth that had dressed the final body, someone to deal with the bicycle and the pieces of silver that had been left at the scene, someone to triangulate and analyse all of the crime scenes, someone to run down all sex offenders and their alibis, and someone to check throughout the rest of the country to see if there were similar unsolved murders elsewhere. They knew they had four, but there was every possibility that they had fourteen. Or forty.

Eighteen police detectives and six police constables were working the case at this moment, but Lynley knew without a doubt they were going to need more. There was only one way to get them.

Sir David Hillier, Lynley thought sardonically, was going to love and hate that fact simultaneously. He’d be pleased as punch to announce to the press that thirty-plus officers were working the case. But he’d hate like the dickens having to authorise the overtime for them all.

Such, however, was Hillier’s lot in life. Such were the disadvantages of ambition.

BY THE NEXT AFTERNOON, Lynley had in hand from SO7 the complete autopsies of the first three victims and the preliminary postmortem information from the most recent killing. He combined this with an extra set of photographs from all four of the murder scenes. He packed this material into his briefcase, went for his car, and set out from Victoria Street in a light mist that was blowing in from the river. Traffic was stop and start, but when he finally got over to Millbank, he had the river to contemplate…or what he could see of it, which was mostly the wall built along the pavement and the old iron street lamps that cast a glow against the gloom.

He veered to the right when he came to Cheyne Walk, where he found a place to park that was being vacated by someone leaving the King’s Head and Eight Bells at the bottom of Cheyne Row. It was a short distance from there to the house at the corner of this street and Lordship Place. Less than five minutes found him ringing the bell.

He anticipated the barking of one very protective long-haired dachshund, but that didn’t happen. Instead the door was opened by a tallish red-haired woman with a pair of scissors in one hand and a roll of yellow ribbon in the other. Her face brightened when she saw him.

“Tommy!” Deborah St. James said. “Perfect timing. I need help and here you are.”

Lynley entered the house, shedding his overcoat and setting his briefcase by the umbrella stand. “What sort of help? Where’s Simon?”

“I’ve already roped him into something else. And one can only ask husbands for so much assistance before they run off with the local floozy from the pub.”

Lynley smiled. “What am I to do?”

“Come with me.” She led him to the dining room, where an old bronze chandelier was lit over a table spread with wrapping materials. A large package there was already brightly wrapped, and Deborah seemed to have been caught in the midst of designing a complicated bow for it.

“This,” Lynley said, “is not going to be my métier.”

“Oh, the plans are laid,” Deborah told him. “You’re only going to need to hand over the Sellotape and press where indicated. It shouldn’t defeat you. I’ve started with the yellow, but there’s green and white to add.”

“Those are the colours Helen’s chosen…” Lynley stopped. “Is this for her? For us? By any chance?”

“How vulgar, Tommy,” Deborah said. “I never saw you as someone who’d hint round for a present. Here, take this ribbon. I’m going to need three lengths of forty inches each. How’s work, by the way? Is that why you’ve come? I expect you’re wanting Simon.”

“Peach will do. Where is she?”

“Walkies,” Deborah said. “Rather reluctant walkies because of the weather. Dad’s taken her, but I expect they’re battling it out somewhere to see who’s going to walk and who’s going to get carried. You didn’t see them?”

“Not a sign.”

“Peach has probably won, then. I expect they’ve gone into the pub.”

Lynley watched as Deborah coiled the lengths of ribbon together. She was concentrating on her design, which gave him a chance to concentrate on her, his onetime lover, the woman who’d been meant to be his wife. She’d found herself face-to-face with a killer recently, and she still hadn’t healed completely from the stitches that had patched up her face. A scar from the sutures ran along her jaw and, typical of Deborah-who’d always been a woman almost completely devoid of ordinary vanity-she was doing nothing to hide it.

She looked up and caught him observing her. “What?” she said.

“I love you,” he told her frankly. “Differently from before. But there it is.”

Her features softened. “And I love you, Tommy. We’ve crossed over, haven’t we? New territory but still somehow familiar.”

“That’s exactly how it is.”

They heard footsteps then, coming along the corridor, and the uneven nature of them identified Deborah’s husband. He came to the door of the dining room with a stack of large photographs in his hands. He said, “Tommy. Hullo. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“No Peach,” Deborah and Lynley said together, then laughed companionably.

“I knew that dog was good for something.” Simon St. James came to the table and laid the photographs down. “It wasn’t an easy choice,” he told his wife.

St. James was referring to the photographs which, as far as Lynley could see, were all of the same subject: a windmill in a landscape comprising field, trees, background hillsides, and foreground cottage tumbling to ruins. He said, “May I…,” and when Deborah nodded, he looked at the pictures more closely. The exposure, he saw, was slightly different in each, but what was remarkable about them all was the manner in which the photographer had managed to catch all the variations of light and dark while at the same time not losing the definition of a single subject.

“I’ve gone for the one where you’ve enhanced the moonlight on the windmill’s sails,” St. James told his wife.

“I thought that was the best one as well. Thank you, love. Always my best critic.” She completed her task with the bow and had Lynley assist with the Sellotape. When she was done, she stood back to admire her work, after which she took a sealed envelope from the sideboard and slipped it into place on the package. She handed it over to Lynley. “With our fondest wishes, Tommy,” she said. “Truly and completely.”

Lynley knew the journey Deborah had traveled in order to be able to say those words. Having a child of her own was something denied her.

“Thank you.” He found that his voice was rougher than usual. “Both of you.”

There was a moment of silence among them, which St. James broke by saying lightly, “A drink is in order, I think.”

Deborah said she would join them as soon as she’d sorted out the mess she’d made in the dining room. St. James led Lynley from there to his study, just along the corridor and overlooking the street. Lynley fetched his briefcase from the entry then, leaving the wrapped package in its place. When he joined his old friend, St. James was at the drinks cart beneath the window, a decanter in his hand.

“Sherry?” he said. “Whisky?”

“Have you gone through all the Lagavullin yet?”

“Too hard to come by. I’m pacing myself.”

“I’ll assist you.”

St. James poured them both a whisky and added a sherry for Deborah, which he left on the cart. He joined Lynley by the fireplace and eased himself into one of the two old leather chairs to one side of it, something of an awkward business for him, owing to the brace he’d worn for years on his left leg.

He said, “I picked up an Evening Standard this afternoon. It looks like a messy business, Tommy, if my reading between the lines is any good.”

“So you know why I’ve come.”

“Who’s working on the case with you?”

“The usual suspects. I’m after clearance to add to the team. Hillier will give it, reluctantly, but what choice has he? We’re going to need fifty officers, but we’ll be lucky to end up with thirty. Will you help?”

“You expect Hillier to give clearance for me?”

“I’ve a feeling he’ll greet you with open arms. We need your expertise, Simon. And the Press Bureau will be only too happy to have Hillier announcing to the media the inclusion of independent forensic scientist Simon Allcourt-St. James, formerly of the Metropolitan police, now an expert witness, university lecturer, public speaker, et cetera. Just the sort of thing to restore public confidence. But don’t let that pressure you.”

“What would you have me do? My crime-scene days are far and away gone. And God willing, you won’t have further crime scenes anyway.”

“You’d consult. I won’t lie to you and say it wouldn’t impinge on everything else you have on your plate. But I’d try to keep the requests to a minimum.”

“Let me see what you have, then. You’ve brought copies of everything?”

Lynley opened his briefcase and handed over what he’d gathered before leaving Scotland Yard. St. James set the paperwork to one side and went through the photographs. He whistled silently. When he looked up at last, he said to Lynley, “They didn’t jump to serial killing at once?”

“So you see the problem.”

“But these have all the hallmarks of a ritual. The burnt hands alone…”

“Just on the final three.”

“Still, with the similarities all along in the positioning of the bodies, they’re as good as advertising themselves as serial killings.”

“For the latest one-the body in St. George’s Gardens?-the DCI on scene marked it as a serial killing at once.”

“As to the others?”

“Each body was left on the patch of a different station. In every case, they appear to have gone through the motions of an investigation, but it seems it was easy to call each of them a one-off crime. Gang related because of the race of the victims. Gang related because of the condition of the bodies. Marked in some way with the signature of a gang. As a warning to others.”

“That’s nonsense.”

“I’m not excusing it.”

“It’s a PR nightmare for the Met, I daresay.”

“Yes. Will you help?”

“Can you fetch my glass from the desk? It’s in the top drawer.”

Lynley did so. A chamois pouch held the magnifying glass, and he brought this to his friend and watched while St. James studied the photographs of the corpses more closely. He spent the most time over the recent crime, and he gazed long upon the face of the victim before he spoke. Even then it seemed he spoke more to himself than to Lynley.

“The abdominal incision on the final body is obviously postmortem,” he said. “But the burning of the hands…?”

“Before death,” Lynley agreed.

“That makes it very interesting, doesn’t it?” St. James looked up for a moment, thoughtfully, his gaze on the window, before he examined victim four another time. “He’s not particularly good with the knife. No indecision about where to cut, but surprised to discover it wasn’t easy.”

“Not a medical student or a doctor, then.”

“I shouldn’t think so.”

“What sort of implement?”

“A very sharp knife will have worked just fine. A kitchen knife, perhaps. That and a certain amount of strength because of all the abdominal muscles involved. And to create this aperture…That can’t have been easy. He’s quite strong.”

“He’s taken the navel, Simon. On the final body.”

“Gruesome,” St. James acknowledged. “One would think he’s made the incision just to get enough blood to make the mark on the forehead, but taking the navel discounts that theory, doesn’t it? What d’you make of the forehead mark, by the way?”

“A symbol, obviously.”

“The killer’s signature?”

“In part, I’d say so. But more than that. If the entire crime is part of a ritual-”

“And it looks like that, doesn’t it?”

“Then I’d say this is the final part of the ceremony. A full stop after the victim dies.”

“It’s saying something, then.”

“Definitely.”

“But to whom? To the police who’ve failed to grasp that a serial killer’s at work in the community? To the victim who’s just completed a real trial by fire? To someone else?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?”

St. James nodded. He laid the pictures to one side and took up his whisky. “Then that’s where I’ll begin,” he said.

CHAPTER THREE

WHEN SHE TURNED OFF THE IGNITION THAT EVENING, Barbara Havers remained inside the Mini, once again listening disconsolately to its sputtering engine. She rested her head on the steering wheel. She was knackered. Odd to think that spending hours upon hours on computers and telephones was more exhausting than hoofing round London to track down witnesses, suspects, reports, and background information, but that was the case. There was something about staring at a computer terminal, reading and highlighting printouts, and running through the same monologue on the phone with one desperate set of parents after another that made her long for baked beans on toast-bring on a tin of Heinz, that ultimate comfort food-followed by a horizontal position on the daybed with the television remote tucked in her hand. Simply put, she hadn’t had an easy time for one moment during the first two endless days.

First there was the subject of Winston Nkata. Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata. It was one thing to know why Hillier had promoted her colleague at this particular point in time. It was quite another to realise that, victim of political machination or not, Winston actually did deserve the rank. What made it all worse was having to work with him in spite of this knowledge, realising that he was just as uneasy with the whole situation as she was.

Had Winston been smug, she would have known how to cope. Had he been arrogant, she would have had a bloody good time taking the piss. Had he been ostentatiously humble, she could have dealt with that in a satisfyingly biting fashion. But he was none of that, just a quieter version of regular Winston, a version that affirmed what Lynley had indicated: Winnie was nobody’s fool; he knew perfectly well what Hillier and the DPA were trying to do.

So ultimately, Barbara felt sympathy for her colleague, and that sympathy had inspired her to fetch him a cup of tea when she fetched one for herself, saying, “Well done on the promotion, Winnie,” as she placed it next to him.

Along with the constables assigned by DI Stewart, Barbara had spent two days and two evenings coping with the overwhelming number of missing-persons reports that she had pulled from SO5. Ultimately Nkata had joined the project. They had managed to cross off the list a good number of names in that time: kids who had returned to their homes or had contacted their families in some way, making their whereabouts known. A few of them-as expected-had turned up incarcerated. Others had been tracked down in care. But there were hundreds upon hundreds unaccounted for, which took the detectives to the job of comparing descriptions of missing adolescents with descriptions of the unidentified corpses. Part of this could be done by computer. Part of it had to be done by hand.

They had the photographs and the autopsy reports from the first three victims to work from, and both parents and guardians of the missing kids were almost universally cooperative. Eventually, they even had one possible identity established, but the likelihood was remote that the missing boy in question was truly one of the bodies they had.

Thirteen years old, mixed race, black and Filipino, shaved head, nose flattened on the end and broken at the bridge… He was called Jared Salvatore, and he’d been gone nearly two months, reported missing by his older brother who-so it was noted in the paperwork-had made the call to the cops from Pentonville Prison where he himself was banged up for armed robbery. How the older brother had come to know young Jared was missing was not documented in the report.

But that was it. Sorting out identities for each corpse from the vast number of missing kids they had was thus going to be like picking fly poo out of pepper if they couldn’t come up with some kind of connection between the murder victims. And considering how widespread the body sites were, a connection seemed unlikely.

When she’d had enough-or at least as much as she could handle for the day-Barbara had said to Nkata, “I’m out of here, Winnie. You staying or what?”

Nkata had pushed back his chair, rubbed his neck, and said, “I’ll stay for a while.”

She nodded but didn’t leave at once. It seemed to her that they both needed to say something, although she wasn’t sure what. Nkata was the one who took the plunge.

“What d’we do with all this, Barb?” He set his biro on a legal pad. “Question is, how do we be? We can’t ’xactly ignore the situation.”

Barbara sat back down. There was a magnetic paper-clip holder on the desk, and she picked this up and played with it. “I think we just do what needs doing. I expect the rest will sort itself out.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “I don’t sit easy with this. I know why I’m here. I want you to unnerstan that.”

“Got it,” Barbara said. “But don’t be rough on yourself. You deserve-”

“Hillier wouldn’t know sod all ’bout what I deserve,” Nkata cut in. “Not to mention DPA. Not before this, not now, and not later.”

Barbara was silent. She couldn’t dispute what they both knew to be the truth. She finally said, “You know, Winnie, we’re sort of in the same position.”

“How d’you mean? Woman cop, black cop?”

“Not that. It’s more about vision. Hillier doesn’t really see either one of us. Fact is, you can apply that to everyone on this team. He doesn’t see any of us, just how we can either help him or hurt him.”

Nkata considered this. “I s’pose you’re right.”

“So none of what he says and does matters because we have the same job at the end of the day. Question is: Are we up for that? ’Cause it means letting go of how much we loathe him and just getting on with what we do best.”

“I’m on for that,” Nkata said. “But, Barb, you still deserve-”

“Hey,” she interrupted, “so do you.”

Now, she yawned widely and shoved her shoulder against the recalcitrant door of the Mini. She’d found a parking space along Steeles Road, round the corner from Eton Villas. She plodded back to the yellow house, hunched into a cold wind that had come up in the late afternoon, and went along the path to her bungalow.

Inside, she flipped on the lights, tossed her shoulder bag on the table, and dug the desired tin of Heinz from a cupboard. She dumped its contents unceremoniously into a pan. Under other circumstances, she’d have eaten the beans cold. But tonight, she decided she deserved the full treatment. She popped bread into the toaster and from the fridge took a Stella Artois. It wasn’t her night to drink, but she’d had a tough day.

As her meal was preparing itself, she went for the television remote, which, as usual, she couldn’t find. She was searching the wrinkled linens of the unmade daybed when someone rapped at her door. She glanced over her shoulder and saw through the open blinds on the window two shadowy forms on her front step: one quite small, the other taller, both of them slender. Hadiyyah and her father had come calling.

Barbara gave up her search for the remote and opened the door to her neighbours. She said, “Just in time for a Barbara Special. I’ve two pieces of toast, but if you behave yourselves, we can divide them three ways.” She held the door wider to admit them, giving a glance over her shoulder to check that she’d tossed her dirty knickers in the laundry basket sometime during the last forty-eight hours.

Taymullah Azhar smiled with his usual grave courtesy. He said, “We cannot stay, Barbara. This will only take a moment, if you do not mind.”

He sounded so sombre that Barbara glanced warily from him to his daughter. Hadiyyah was hanging her head, her hands clasped behind her back. A few wisps of hair escaped from her plaits, brushing against her cheeks, and her cheeks themselves were flushed. She looked as if she’d been crying.

“What’s wrong? Is something…?” Barbara felt dread from a dozen different sources, none of which she particularly cared to name. “What’s going on, Azhar?”

Azhar said, “Hadiyyah?” His daughter looked up at him imploringly. His face was implacable. “We have come for a reason. You know what it is.”

Hadiyyah gulped so loudly that Barbara could hear it. She brought her hands from round her back and extended them to Barbara. In them, she held the Buddy Holly CD. She said, “Dad says I’m to give this back to you, Barbara.”

Barbara took it from her. She looked at Azhar. She said, “But…Sorry, but is it not allowed, or something?” That seemed unlikely. She knew a little about their customs, and gift giving was one of them.

“And?” Azhar said to his daughter without answering Barbara’s question. “There is more, is there not?”

Hadiyyah lowered her head again. Barbara could see that her lips were trembling.

Her father said, “Hadiyyah. I shall not ask you-”

“I fibbed,” the little girl blurted out. “I fibbed to my dad and he found out and I’m meant to give this back to you in consee…con…consequence.” She raised her head. She’d begun to cry. “But thank you, because I thought it was lovely. I liked ‘Peggy Sue’ especially.” Then she spun on her heel and fled, back towards the front of the house. Barbara heard her sob.

She looked to her neighbour. She said, “Listen, Azhar. This is actually my fault. I had no idea Hadiyyah wasn’t supposed to go to Camden High Street. And she didn’t know where we were going when we set off. It was something of a joke anyway. She was listening to some pop group and I was giving her aggro about them and she was saying how great they are and I decided to show her some real rock ’n’ rock and I took her down to the Virgin Megastore but I didn’t know it was forbidden and she didn’t know where we were going.” Barbara was out of breath. She felt like an adolescent getting caught for being out after curfew. She didn’t much like it. She calmed herself and said, “If I’d known you’d forbidden her to go to Camden High Street, I never would have taken her there. I’m dead sorry, Azhar. She didn’t mention it straightaway.”

“Which is the source of my irritation with Hadiyyah,” Azhar said. “She should have done so.”

“But, like I said, she didn’t know where we were going till we got there.”

“Once you arrived, was she wearing a blindfold?”

“Of course not. But then it was too late. I didn’t exactly give her a chance to say something.”

“Hadiyyah should not need an invitation to be truthful.”

“Okay. Agreed. It happened, and it won’t happen again. At least let her keep the CD.”

Azhar glanced away. His dark fingers-so slender, they looked like a girl’s-moved beneath his trim jacket to the pocket of his pristine white shirt. He felt there and brought forth a packet of cigarettes. He shook one out, appeared to think about what to do next, and then offered the packet to Barbara. She took this as a positive sign. Their fingers brushed as she took a cigarette from him, and he lit a match that he shared with her.

“She wants you to stop smoking,” Barbara told him.

“She wants many things. As do we all.”

“You’re angry. Come in. Let’s talk about this.”

He remained where he was.

“Azhar, listen. I know what you’re worried about, Camden High Street and all that. But you can’t protect her from everything. It’s impossible.”

He shook his head. “I don’t seek to protect her from everything. I merely seek to do what’s right. But I find that I don’t always know what that is.”

“Being exposed to Camden High Street isn’t going to pollute her. And Buddy Holly”-here Barbara gestured with the CD-“isn’t going to pollute her either.”

“It’s not Camden High Street or Buddy Holly that comprises my concern,” Azhar said. “It is the lie, Barbara.”

“Okay. I can see that. But it was only a lie of omission. She just didn’t tell me when she could have told me. Or should have told me. Or whatever.”

“That is not it at all.”

“What is it, then?”

“She lied to me, Barbara.”

“To you? About-”

“And this is something I will not accept.”

“But when? When did she lie to you?”

“When I asked her about the CD. She said you had given it to her-”

“Azhar, that was true.”

“-but she failed to include the information about where it had come from. That in itself slipped out when she was chatting about CDs in general. About how many there were to choose from at the Virgin Megastore.”

“Bloody hell, Azhar, that’s not a lie, is it?”

“No. But the outright denial of having been in the Virgin Megastore is. And this is something that I will not accept. Hadiyyah is not to start that with me. She will not begin lying. She will not. Not to me.” His voice was so controlled and his features so rigid that Barbara realised far more was being discussed than his daughter’s initial venture into prevarication.

She said, “Okay. I get it. But she feels wretched. Whatever your point is, I think you made it.”

“I hope so. She must learn that there are consequences to the decisions she makes, and she must learn this as a child.”

“I don’t disagree. But…” Barbara drew in on her cigarette before she dropped it to the front step and ground it out. “It seems like making her admit her wrongdoing to me-sort of like in public?-is punishment enough. I think you should let her keep the CD.”

“I’ve decided the consequences.”

“You can bend, though, can’t you?”

“Too far,” he said, “and you break on the wheel of your own inconsistencies.”

“What happens then?” Barbara asked him. When he didn’t reply, she went on quietly with, “Hadiyyah and lying…This isn’t really what it’s all about. Is it, Azhar.”

He replied, “I will not have her start,” and he stepped back, preparatory to leaving. He added politely, “I have kept you from your toast long enough,” before he returned to the front of the property.

NO MATTER HIS conversation with Barbara Havers and her reassurance on the subject, Winston Nkata didn’t rest easily beneath the mantle of detective sergeant. He’d thought he would-that was the hell of it-but it wasn’t happening, and the comfort he wanted in his employment hadn’t materialised for most of his career.

He hadn’t started out in police work feeling uneasy about his job. But it hadn’t been long before the reality of being a black cop in a world dominated by white men had begun to sink in. He’d noticed it first in the canteen, in the way that glances sidled over to him and then slid onto someone else; then he felt it in the conversations, how they became ever so slightly more guarded when he joined his colleagues. After that it was in the manner that he was greeted: with just a shade more welcome than was given the white cops when he sat with a group at table. He hated that deliberate effort people made to appear tolerant when he was near. The very act of diligently treating him like one of the lads made him feel like the last thing he’d ever become was one of the lads.

At first he’d told himself he didn’t want that anyway. It was rough enough round Loughborough Estate hearing himself called a fucking coconut. It would be that much worse if he actually ended up becoming part of the white establishment. Still, he hated being marked as phony by his own people. While he kept in mind his mother’s admonition that “it doesn’t make you a chair ’f some ignoramus calls you a chair,” he found it increasingly difficult just to keep himself moving in the direction he wanted to go. On the estate, that meant to and from his parents’ flat and nowhere else. Otherwise, it meant upward in his career.

“Jewel, luv,” his mother had said when he phoned her with the news of his promotion. “Doesn’t matter one bit why they promoted you. What matters is they did, and now the opening’s there. You walk through it. And you don’t look back.”

But he couldn’t do that. Instead, he continued to feel weighed down by AC Hillier’s sudden notice of him when before he’d been nothing more to the man than a passing face to which the assistant commissioner could not have put a name if his continued existence had depended upon it.

Yet, there was still so much truth to what his mother had said. Just walk through the opening. He had to learn how to do it. And the entire subject of openings applied to more than one area of his life, which was what he was left thinking about once Barb Havers departed for the day.

He took a final look at the pictures of the dead boys before he too left the Yard. He did it to remind himself that they were young-terribly young-and as a consequence of their racial background, he had obligations that went beyond merely bringing their killer to justice.

Below, in the underground carpark, he sat for a moment in his Escort and thought about those obligations and what they called for: action in the face of fear. He wanted to slap himself stupid for even having that fear. He was twenty-nine years old, for God’s sake. He was an officer of the police.

That alone should have counted for something, and it would have done in other instances. But it counted for nothing in this situation, when being a cop was the single profession in life least designed to impress. Yet…It couldn’t be helped that he was a cop. He was also a man, and a man’s presence was called for.

Nkata finally set off with a deep breath. He followed a route across the river to South London. But instead of heading home, he took a detour round the curved brick shell of the Oval and drove down Kennington Road in the direction of Kennington Station.

The tube itself marked his destination, and he found a place to park nearby. He bought an Evening Standard from a vendor on the pavement, using the activity to build up his courage for walking the length of Braganza Street.

At its bottom, Arnold House-part of Doddington Grove Estate-rose out of a lumpy carpark. Across from this building, a horticultural centre grew behind a chain-link fence, and it was against this fence that Nkata chose to lean, with his newspaper folded beneath his arm and his gaze on the third-floor covered walk that led to the fifth flat from the left.

It wouldn’t take much effort to cross over the street and weave his way through the carpark. Once there, he was fairly certain the lift would be available since, more often than not, the security panel giving access to it was broken. How much trouble would it be, then, to cross, to weave, to punch the button, and then to make his way to that flat? He had a reason to do so. There were boys being murdered across London-mixed-race boys-and inside that flat lived Daniel Edwards, whose white father was dead but whose black mother was very much alive. But then that was the problem, wasn’t it. She was the problem. Yasmin Edwards.

“Ex-convict, Jewel?” his mother would have said had he ever had the nerve to tell her about Yasmin. “What’n God’s name you thinking?”

But that was easy enough to answer. Thinking of her skin, Mum, and how it looks when a lamp shines against it. Thinking of her legs, which ought to be wrapped round a man who wants her. Thinking of her mouth and the curve of her bum and the way her breasts rise and fall when she’s angry. Tall she is, Mum. Tall to my tall. Good woman who made one very big mistake, which she’d paid for like she ought.

And anyway, Yasmin Edwards wasn’t really the point. Nor was she the target of duty. That was Daniel, who at nearly twelve could well be in the sights of a killer. Because who knew how their killer was choosing his victims? No one. And until they did know, how could he-Winston Nkata-walk away from giving a warning where it might be needed?

All that was required of him was to walk across the street, dodge a few cars in the wretched carpark, depend upon the security panel being broken, ring the bell for the lift, and knock on that door. He was fully capable of doing that.

And he was going to. Later, he swore that to himself. But just as he was about to lift his foot in step number one of however many it was going to take to get to Yasmin Edwards’ front door, the woman herself came along the pavement.

She wasn’t walking from the underground station as Nkata himself had done. Rather, she was coming from the opposite direction, from beyond the gardens at the bottom of Braganza Street where, from her little shop in Manor Place, she offered hope in the form of makeup, wigs, and makeovers to black women suffering from disorders of the body and the soul.

In reaction to seeing her, Nkata found himself fading back against the chain-link fence and into a pool of shadow. He hated himself the moment he did it, but he just couldn’t move forward as he ought to have done.

For her part, Yasmin Edwards walked steadily towards Doddington Grove Estate. She didn’t see him in the shadows, and that alone was reason to talk to her. Good-looking woman on the street alone in this neighbourhood after dark? Need to be cautious, Yas. Need to be on the lookout. Someone jump you…hurt you…rape you…rob you…? What’s Daniel going to do if his mum goes the way of his dad and dies on him?

But Nkata couldn’t say that. Not with Yasmin Edwards herself being the reason why Daniel’s father was dead. So he stayed in the shadows and he watched her, even as he felt the terrible shame of his breath going faster and his heart beating harder than it ought.

Yasmin moved forward along the pavement. He saw that her 101 plaits with their beaded ends were gone now, her hair close cropped and no longer making the soft chorus that he would otherwise have heard from where he stood. She shifted the carrier bags she held from one hand to the other, and she felt in the pocket of her jacket. He knew that she was seeking her keys. End of the day, a meal to be got for her boy, life going on.

She reached the carpark and crisscrossed through the ill-defined bays. At the lift, she punched the security code that would give her access, and then she punched the button to call it. She quickly disappeared within.

She came out again on the third floor and strode towards her door. When she put her key in its lock, it opened before she had a chance to unlock it. And there was Daniel, backlit by a shifting glow that would be coming from the television set. He took the carrier bags from his mother, but as he was about to move off, she stopped him. Hands on hips, she stood. Head cocked. Weight on one of her long, lithe legs. She said something and Daniel came back to her. He set the bags down and submitted to a hug. Just at the point when it looked like the hug was being only endured and not enjoyed, his own arms went round his mother’s waist. Then Yasmin kissed the top of his head.

After that, Daniel took the carrier bags inside and Yasmin followed him. She shut the door. A moment later, she appeared at the window which, Nkata knew, looked out from the sitting room. She reached for the curtains to shut them against the night, but before she did that, she stood for twenty seconds or so, gazing into the darkness, her expression set.

He was still in the shadows, but he could sense it, he could feel it: She hadn’t looked his way once, but Nkata could swear that Yasmin Edwards had known all along that he was there.

CHAPTER FOUR

A DAY LATER, STEPHENSON DEACON AND THE DIRECTORATE of Public Affairs decided the time had ripened enough for the first press briefing. Assistant Commissioner Hillier, given the word from above, instructed Lynley to be there for the big event, with “our new detective sergeant” in tow. Lynley wanted to be there as little as Nkata, but he knew the wisdom of at least appearing to cooperate. He and the DS descended via the stairs to arrive promptly at the conference. They encountered Hillier in the corridor.

“Ready?” The AC spoke to Lynley and Nkata as he paused to examine his impressive head of grey hair in the glass cover of a notice board. Unlike the other two men, he looked pleased to be there and he seemed to be restraining himself from rubbing his hands in anticipation of the coming confrontation. Clearly, he expected the briefing to click along like the well-oiled machine it was designed to be.

He didn’t wait for a response to his question. Instead, he ducked into the room. They followed.

The print and broadcasting journalists had been relegated to the rows of seats fanning out before the dais. The television cameras were set to shoot over their heads. This would illustrate later for the public-via the nightly news-that the Met was making all possible efforts to keep the citizenry in the picture through an ostensibly open and welcoming venue for their human conduits of information.

Stephenson Deacon, the head of the Press Bureau, had himself chosen to make the prefatory remarks at this first briefing. His appearance not only signaled the importance of what was about to be announced, but it also telegraphed to the general public the appropriate level of police concern. Only the presence of the head of the DPA could have made a more impressive statement.

The newspapers had, of course, jumped upon the story of a body found on the top of a tomb in St. George’s Gardens, as anyone with a brain at New Scotland Yard had known they would. The reticence of the police at the crime scene, the arrival there of an officer from New Scotland Yard long before the removal of the body, the lapse of time between the body’s discovery and this press conference…All of it had whetted the appetite of the journalists and spoke of a much bigger story to come.

When Deacon turned the meeting over to him, Hillier played on this. He began with the larger purpose of the press conference, which was, he declared, “to make our young people aware of the dangers they face in the streets.” He went on to sketch out the crime under investigation, and just at the point at which anyone might have logically wondered why a briefing was being held to inform the media of a killing they’d already featured at the top of the news and on the first pages of their papers, he said, “At this juncture, we’re looking for witnesses to what appears to be a series of potentially related crimes against young men.”

It took less than five seconds for the word series to lead ineluctably to serial, at which point the reporters jumped aboard like commuters leaping on the night’s final train. Their questions erupted like pheasants from beaten bushes.

Lynley could see the pleasure in Hillier’s features as the reporters asked just the sort of questions that he and the Press Bureau had hoped they would ask, leaving unspoken the very topics that he and the Press Bureau had wished to avoid. Hillier held up a hand with an expression that communicated both his understanding and his tolerance of their outburst. He then went on to say precisely what he had planned to say, regardless of their questions.

The individual crimes, he explained, had initially been investigated by the murder squads most closely associated with the locations in which the bodies had been found. Doubtless their brother and sister journalists who were responsible for gathering the news at each of these relevant stations would be happy to supply the notes they themselves had already assembled on the killings, which would save everyone valuable time just now. For its part, the Met was going to press forward with a thorough investigation of this most recent murder, tying it to the others if there was a clear indication that the crimes were related. In the meantime, the Met’s immediate concern-as he’d already mentioned-was the safety of the young people who populated the streets, and it was crucial that the message get out to them at once: Adolescent boys appeared to be the target of one or more killers. They needed to be aware of that and take appropriate precautions when away from home.

Hillier then introduced the “two leading officers” in the investigation. Acting Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley would be heading it and coordinating all previous investigations done by the local stations, he said. He would be assisted by Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata. No mention was made of DI John Stewart or anyone else.

There followed more questions, these about the composition, size, and strength of the squad, which Lynley answered. After that, Hillier deftly resumed control. He said, as if it had just crossed his mind, “While we’re on the subject of the constitution of the squad…,” and he went on to tell the journalists that he’d personally brought aboard forensic specialist Simon Allcourt-St. James, and to enhance his work and the work of the officers from the Met, a forensic psychologist-otherwise more commonly known as a profiler-would be contributing his services as well. For professional reasons, the profiler preferred to remain in the background, but suffice it to say that he had trained in the U.S. at Quantico, Virginia, home of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s profiling unit.

Hillier then drew the meeting to a practised close, telling the journalists that the Press Bureau would be offering them daily briefings. He switched off his mike and led Lynley and Nkata out of the room, leaving the reporters with Deacon, who signaled a minion to pass out the sheaves of additional information that had previously been determined suitable for media consumption.

In the corridor, Hillier gave a satisfied smile. “Time bought,” he said. “See that you use it well.” His attention then went to a man who was waiting nearby in the company of Hillier’s secretary, a visitor’s badge pinned to his baggy green cardigan. Hillier said to him, “Ah. Excellent. You’ve arrived already,” and he set about making the introductions. This was Hamish Robson, he told Lynley and Nkata, the clinical and forensic psychologist he’d just been speaking about to the journalists. Otherwise employed at the Fischer Psychiatric Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Dagenham, Dr. Robson had kindly agreed to be of assistance by joining Lynley’s murder squad.

Lynley felt his spine stiffen. He realised he’d been blindsided yet again, having erroneously assumed during the press conference that Hillier had been lying through his teeth about an unnamed forensic psychologist. He went through the motions of shaking Dr. Robson’s hand, however, while he said to Hillier, “If we could have a word, sir,” in as agreeable a voice as he could manage.

Hillier made much of glancing at his watch. He made even more of telling Lynley that the deputy commissioner was waiting for a report on the conference they’d only just concluded.

Lynley said, “This will take less than five minutes and I consider it essential,” adding the word sir as a deliberate afterthought whose tone and meaning Hillier could not avoid comprehending.

“Very well,” Hillier said. “Hamish, if you’ll excuse us…? DS Nkata will show you where the incident room-”

“I’ll need Winston for the moment,” Lynley said, not because this was strictly the truth but because somewhere along the line he knew he was going to have to drive home to Hillier the point that the assistant commissioner of police was not running the investigation.

There was a tight little silence during which Hillier appeared to be evaluating Lynley for his level of insubordination. He finally said, “Hamish, if you’ll wait here for a moment,” and he ushered Lynley and Nkata not to an office, not to the stairs, not to the lift to take them above to his own quarters, but into the men’s toilet where he told a uniformed constable in the act of emptying his bladder to vacate the premises and stand before the door, allowing no one to enter.

Before Lynley could speak, Hillier said pleasantly, “Don’t do that again, please. If you do, you’ll find yourself back in uniform so fast that you’ll wonder who zipped your trousers.”

Seeing what the temperature of this conversation was likely to become despite Hillier’s momentarily affable tone, Lynley said to Nkata, “Winston, would you leave us, please? Sir David and I need to have some words I’d prefer you not hear. Go back to the incident room and see where Havers has got to with Missing Persons, particularly with the one that looks like a possibility.”

Nkata nodded. He didn’t ask if he was meant to take Hamish Robson with him as previously ordered by Hillier. Instead, he looked glad of the command that gave him the opportunity to demonstrate where his loyalties lay.

When he was gone, Hillier was the one to speak. “You’re out of order.”

“With due respect,” Lynley returned, although he felt little enough of it, “I believe you are.”

“How dare you-”

“Sir, I’ll bring you up to the minute daily,” Lynley said patiently. “I’ll face the television cameras if you like and sit at your side and force DS Nkata to do the same. But I’m not going to hand over the direction of this investigation to you. You need to stay out of it. That’s the only way this is going to work.”

“Do you want to be up for review? Believe me, that can be arranged.”

“If you need to do it, you’ll have to do it,” Lynley replied. “But, sir, you’ve got to see that at the end of the day, there has to be only one of us heading this inquiry. If you want to be that person, then be him and have done with pretending I’m in charge. But if you want me to be that person, you’re going to have to back off. You’ve blindsided me twice now, and I don’t want a third surprise.”

Hillier’s face went the red of sunset. But he said nothing as he evidently registered the lengths Lynley had gone to to remain calm as he simultaneously evaluated the ramifications of Lynley’s words. He finally said, “I want daily briefings.”

“You’ve been getting them. You’ll continue to get them.”

“And the profiler stays.”

“Sir, we don’t need psychic mumbo jumbo at this point.”

“We need all the help we can get!” Hillier’s voice grew loud. “The papers are twenty-four hours away from starting the hue and cry. You damn well know that.”

“I do. But we also both know that’s going to happen eventually, now that the other murders have been mentioned.”

“Are you accusing me-”

“No. No. You said what had to be said in there. But once they start digging, they’ll go after us, and there’s plenty of truth in what they’re going to allege about the Met.”

“Where the hell are your loyalties?” Hillier demanded. “Those buggers are going to go back and look up the other murders and then they’ll put it down to us-not to themselves-that not one of them ever made the front page. At which point they’ll wave the racism flag, and when they do, the whole community’s going to blow. Like it or not, we have to stay one step ahead of them. The profiler’s one way to do it. And that, as you might say, is that.”

Lynley considered this. He hated the idea of having a profiler onboard, but he had to admit that his presence did serve the purpose of buoying up the investigation in the eyes of the journalists who were covering it. And while he ordinarily had no use for either newspapers or television-seeing the collection and dissemination of information as something that was yearly becoming more opprobrious-he could understand the necessity of keeping their focus on the progress of the current investigation. If they started to rave about the Met’s failure to see the relationships among three prior killings, they would put the police in the position of having to waste time attempting to excuse the lapse. This served no one and nothing but the coffers of the newspapers, who might be able to increase their sales by fanning the flames of a public indignation that always lay like a dragon in repose.

“All right,” Lynley said. “The profiler stays. But I determine what he sees and what he doesn’t.”

“Agreed,” Hillier said.

They returned to the corridor, where Hamish Robson waited for them unaccompanied. The profiler had taken himself down to a notice board some distance from the toilets. Lynley had to admire the man for that.

He said, “Dr. Robson?,” to which Robson replied, “Hamish. Please.”

Hillier said, “The superintendent will take you in hand at this point, Hamish. Good luck. We’re relying on you.”

Robson glanced from Hillier to Lynley. Behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, his eyes looked wary. The rest of his expression was muted by his greying goatee, and as he nodded, a lock of thinning hair flopped onto his forehead. He brushed it off. The glint of a gold signet ring caught the light. “I’m happy to do what I can,” he said. “I’ll need the police reports, the crime-scene photos…”

“The superintendent will give you what you need,” Hillier said. And to Lynley, “Keep me up to speed.” He nodded to Robson and strode off in the direction of the lifts.

As Robson observed Hillier walking off, Lynley observed Robson and decided he looked harmless enough. There was, indeed, something vaguely comforting about his dark green cardigan and his pale yellow shirt. He wore a conservative, solid-brown tie with this, the same colour as his trousers, which were worn and lived in. He was podgy of body and looked like everyone’s favourite uncle.

“You work with the criminally insane,” Lynley said as he led the other man to the stairwell.

“I work with minds whose only outlet for torment is the commission of a crime.”

“Isn’t the one the same as the other?” Lynley asked.

Robson smiled sadly. “If that were only the case.”

LYNLEY BRIEFLY INTRODUCED Robson to the team before he took him from the incident room to his office. There he gave the psychologist copies of the crime-scene photographs, the police reports, and the preliminary postmortem information from the forensic pathologists who’d examined the bodies at the scene of each crime. He held back the autopsy reports. Robson took a cursory look through the material, then explained that it would take him at least twenty-four hours to evaluate it.

That was no problem, Lynley told him. There was plenty for the team to do while they were waiting for his…Lynley wanted to say performance, as if the man were a psychic come to bend spoons in their presence. He settled on information instead. Report gave Robson too much legitimacy.

“The investigators seemed…” Robson appeared to look for a word. “Rather wary to have me among them.”

“They’re used to the old-fashioned way of doing things,” Lynley told him.

“I believe they’ll find what I have to say useful, Superintendent.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Lynley said, and he called Dee Harriman to see Dr. Robson on his way.

When the profiler had departed, Lynley returned to the incident room and the work at hand. What did they have? he wanted to know.

DI Stewart was, as ever, ready with his report, which he stood to present like a schoolboy hoping for high marks from the teacher. He announced he’d subdivided his officers into teams, the better to deploy them in different areas. At this, a few eyes rolled heavenward in the incident room. Stewart did most things like a frustrated Wellington.

They were inching forward, engaging in the tedious plodwork of a complicated investigation. Stewart had two officers from team one-“They’ll be doing background,” he reported-covering the mental hospitals and the prisons. They had unearthed a number of potential leads that they were following up: paedophiles having finished their time in open conditions within the last six months, paroled murderers of adolescents, gang members in remand awaiting trial-

“And from youth offenders?” Lynley asked.

Stewart shook his head. Sod all appeared useful from that end of things. All the youth offenders recently released were accounted for.

“What are we getting from the door-to-doors at the body sites?” Lynley asked.

Little enough. Stewart had constables reinterviewing everyone in those areas, seeking witnesses to anything at all. They knew the drill: It wasn’t so much the unusual that they were looking for, but the ordinary that, upon reflection, made one stop and think. Since serial killers by their very nature faded into the woodwork, the woodwork itself had to be examined, inch by tedious inch.

He’d directed enquiries to hauling companies as well, Stewart explained, and he’d so far come up with fifty-seven lorry drivers who would have been on Gunnersbury Road on the night when the first victim had been left in Gunnersbury Park. A DC was in the process of contacting them, to see if she could jump-start their memories about any kind of vehicle that might have been parked alongside the brick wall of the park, on the road into London. In the meantime, another DC was in touch with every taxi and minicab service, looking for much the same result. As to the door-to-door, a line of houses stood directly across the road from the park, albeit separated from it by four lanes of traffic and a central reservation. There were hopes of getting something from one of them. One never knew who might have been suffering insomnia and gazing out of the window on the night in question. The same went for Quaker Street, by the way, where a block of flats stood opposite the abandoned warehouse in which the third body had been found.

On the other hand, the multi-story carpark location-site of the second body-was going to be more difficult. The only person who might have seen anything inside it was the attendant on duty that night, but he swore he’d seen nothing between one in the morning and six-twenty, when the body was discovered by a nurse heading to an early shift at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. That didn’t, of course, mean he hadn’t slept right through the entire circumstance. The carpark in question had no central kiosk at which an attendant sat day and night, but rather an office tucked away deep in the interior of the structure and furnished with a reclining chair and a television set to make the long hours of the night shift seem moderately less so.

“And St. George’s Gardens?” Lynley asked.

That was somewhat more hopeful, Stewart reported. According to Theobald’s Road’s DC who’d canvassed the vicinity, a woman living on the third floor of the building at the junction of Henrietta Mews and Handel Street heard what she thought was the sound of the garden’s gate being opened sometime round three in the morning. She’d thought it was the park warden at first, but upon reflection she’d realised it was far too early for him to be unlocking the gates. By the time she got herself out of bed, swathed in her dressing gown, and in place at her window, she was just in time to see a van driving off. It passed beneath a streetlamp as she watched. It was “large-ish,” as she described it. She thought the colour of the van was red.

“That’s taken it down to a few hundred thousand vans across the city, however,” Stewart added regretfully. He flipped his notebook closed, his report complete.

“We need to get someone on to Swansea, pulling vehicle records anyway,” Barbara Havers said to Lynley.

“That, Constable, is a complete nonstarter, and you ought to know it,” Stewart informed her.

Havers bristled and began to respond.

Lynley cut her off. “John.” He said the DI’s name in a minatory tone. Stewart subsided, but he didn’t look happy to have Havers-lowly DC that she was-offering her opinion.

Stewart said, “Fine. I’ll see to it. I’ll put someone on to the old bat in Handel Street as well. We may be able to jog something else from her memory about what she saw from that window.”

“What about the piece of lace on body four?” Lynley asked.

Nkata was the one to reply. “Looks like tatting, you ask me.”

“What?”

“Tatting. That’s what it’s called. My mum does it. Knotting up string along the edges of a mat. For putting on antique furniture or under a piece of porcelain or something.”

“Are you talking about an antimacassar?” John Stewart asked.

“Anti-what?” one of the DCs asked.

“It’s antique lacework,” Lynley explained. “The sort of thing ladies used to do for their bottom drawers.”

“Bloody hell,” Barbara Havers said. “Our killer’s an Antiques Roadshow freak?”

Guffaws all round greeted this remark.

Lynley said, “What about the bicycle left in St. George’s Gardens?”

“Prints on it are the kid’s. There’s some sort of residue on the pedals and the gear shift, but SO7’s not done with it yet.”

“The silver at the scene?”

Aside from the fact that the silver comprised only photo frames, no one knew anything else about it. Someone made reference to the Antiques Roadshow once again, but the comment was less humorous the second time round.

Lynley told them all to carry on. He directed Nkata to continue trying to make contact with the family of the one missing boy who looked like a possible match, he told Havers to continue with the missing-persons reports-an order she did not embrace with a full heart, if her expression was any indication-and he himself returned to his office and sat down with the autopsies. He put on his reading spectacles and went over the reports with eyes that he tried to make fresh. He also created a crib sheet for himself. On this, he wrote:

Means of death: strangulation by ligature in all four cases; ligature missing.

Torture prior to death: palms of both hands burnt in three of four cases.

Marks of restraints: across the forearms and at ankles in all four cases, suggesting victim tied to an armchair of some kind or possibly supine and restrained another way.

Fibre analysis corroborates this: same leather fibres on the arms and ankles in all four cases.

Contents of stomach: a small amount of food eaten within an hour preceding death in all four cases.

Gagging device: duct-tape residue over the mouth in all four cases.

Blood analysis: nothing unusual.

Postmortem mutilation: abdominal incision and removal of navel in victim four.

Marking: forehead marked in blood in victim four.

Trace evidence on the bodies: black residue (under analysis), hairs, an oil (under analysis) in all four cases.

DNA evidence: nothing.

Lynley went through it all once, then a second time. He picked up the phone and called SO7, the forensic lab on the south bank of the Thames. It had been ages since the first of the murders. Surely by now they had an analysis of both the oil and the residue they’d found on the first of the bodies, no matter how overwhelmed with work they were.

Maddeningly, they had nothing yet on the residue, but “Whale” was the single answer he was given when he finally tracked down the responsible party in Lambeth Road. She was called Dr. Okerlund, and she was apparently given to monosyllables unless pressed for more information.

“Whale?” Lynley asked. “Do you mean the fish?”

“For God’s sake, mammal,” she corrected him. “Sperm whale, to be exact. Official name-the oil, not the whale-is ambergris.”

“Ambergris? What’s it used for?”

“Perfume. All you need from me, Superintendent?”

“Perfume?”

“Are we playing at echoes here? That’s what I said.”

“Nothing else?”

“What else d’you want me to say?”

“I mean the oil, Dr. Okerlund. Is it used for anything besides perfume?”

“Couldn’t tell you,” she said. “That’s your job.”

He thanked her for the reminder as pleasantly as he could manage. Then he rang off. He added the word ambergris in the section for trace evidence, and he returned to the incident room. He called out, “Anyone familiar with ambergris oil? It was found on the bodies. It’s from whales.”

“Cardiff, I reckon,” a DC noted.

“Not Wales,” Lynley said. “Whales. The ocean. Moby-Dick.”

“Moby-who?”

“Christ, Phil,” someone called out. “Try elevating your reading beyond page three.”

Ribald remarks greeted this comment. Lynley let them feed off one another. To his way of thinking, the work they had to engage in was time consuming, wearisome, and gut wrenching, weighing on the shoulders of the officers involved and often causing trouble in their homes. If they needed to relieve the stress of it with humour, that was fine by him.

Nonetheless, what happened next was more than welcome. Barbara Havers looked up from a phone call she had just completed.

“We’ve got a positive ID on St. George’s Gardens,” she announced. “He’s a kid called Kimmo Thorne and he lived in Southwark.”

BARBARA HAVERS INSISTED that they take her car, not Nkata’s. She saw Lynley’s assigning her to the interview of Kimmo Thorne’s relations as an opportunity for a celebratory cigarette, and she didn’t want to pollute the interior of Winston’s pristinely kept Escort with her ash or smoke. She lit up as soon as they hit the underground carpark, and she watched with some amusement as her colleague folded his six-feet, four-inch frame into her Mini. He was left grumbling, with his knees pressed into his chest and his head scraping the ceiling.

Once she finally got the car started, they lurched in the direction of Broadway. From there, Parliament Square opened onto Westminster Bridge and their route across the river. This was more Winston’s territory than it was Barbara’s, and he acted the part of navigator once York Road loomed in front of them on the left. From that point, she found it short work to weave over to Southwark, where Kimmo Thorne’s aunt and grandmother lived in one of the many nondescript blocks of flats that had been thrown up south of the river after the Second World War. The building’s only distinction turned out to be its proximity to the Globe Theatre. But as Barbara sardonically pointed out to Nkata as they alighted into the cramped street, it wasn’t as if anyone who lived in the vicinity could actually afford a ticket.

When they presented themselves at the Thorne establishment, they found Gran and Aunt Sal sitting dully before three framed photographs that had been placed on a coffee table in front of their sofa. They’d identified the body, Aunt Sal explained. “I di’n’t want Mum to go, but she wasn’t having any of that from me. It’s done her in proper, seeing our Kimmo laid out like that. He was a good boy. I hope they hang who did this to him.”

Gran said nothing. She looked shell-shocked. In her hand she clutched a white handkerchief that was embroidered round the edges with lavender bunnies. She gazed on one of the pictures of her grandson-in it he appeared curiously attired as if for a fancy dress party, wearing an odd combination of lipstick, a Mohawk, green tights, and a Robin Hood tunic with Doc Marten boots-and she pressed the handkerchief beneath her eyes when tears welled up in them during the course of their interview.

The police, Barbara told Kimmo Thorne’s gran and aunt, were doing everything they could to find the young man’s killer. It would help enormously if Miss and Mrs. Thorne would tell them everything they could about the last day of Kimmo’s life.

After she said all this, Barbara realised that she’d automatically assumed the role that had once been hers, the very role that now belonged to Nkata. She gave a tiny grimace of chagrin and looked in his direction. He lifted a hand, telegraphing “It’s okay” in a gesture that was unnervingly like one Lynley might have made in the same circumstances. She dug out her notebook.

Aunt Sal took the request seriously. She started with Kimmo’s rising in the morning. He dressed in his usual-

“Leggings, boots, an outsize sweater, that nice Brazilian scarf knotted round his waist…the one his mum and dad sent over at Christmas, do you remember it, Mum?”

– and put on his makeup. He had his breakfast of cornflakes and tea, and he went to school.

Barbara exchanged a glance with Nkata. Considering the description of the boy, along with the pictures on the coffee table and their proximity to the Globe, the next question rose naturally. Nkata asked it. Was Kimmo taking courses at the theatre? Acting classes or the like?

Oh, their Kimmo was made for drama and make no mistake about that, Aunt Sal replied. But no, he wasn’t doing a course at the Globe or anywhere else. As things turned out, this was his regular getup when he left the flat. Or when he stayed in the flat, if it came down to that.

Setting aside the issue of his clothing, Barbara said, “He wore makeup regularly, then?” When the two women nodded, she did a mental cross off on one of their working theories: that the killer might have bought cosmetics somewhere and smeared them across the most recent victim’s face. Yet it was hardly likely that Kimmo was attempting to attend school thus arrayed. Certainly, his aunt and gran would have heard from the head teacher if that had been the case. Still, she asked them if Kimmo had returned home from school-or wherever he’d been, she added mentally-at the usual time on the day of his death.

They said he’d been back by six o’clock as usual, and they’d had dinner together as usual as well. Gran did a fry-up, which Kimmo didn’t much like because he was watching his figure, and afterwards Aunt Sal did the washing up while Kimmo applied the tea towel to the cutlery and crockery.

“He was the same as always,” Aunt Sal said. “Chatting, telling stories, making me laugh till my insides hurt. He had a real way with words. Wasn’t a thing in life he couldn’t make a drama of and act it out. And sing and dance…the boy could do them like magic.”

“‘Do them’?” Nkata asked.

“Judy Garland. Liza. Barbra. Dietrich. Even Carol Channing when he put on the wig.” He’d been working hard lately at Sarah Brightman, Aunt Sal said, only the high notes were a trial for him and he’d not got the hands quite right. But he would’ve, he would’ve, God love the boy, only now…

Finally, Aunt Sal broke down. She began to sob when she tried to speak, and Barbara glanced Nkata’s way to see if he was making the same assessment of this little family: It was clear that as odd as Kimmo Thorne had looked and might have been, he’d also been night and day to his aunt and his gran.

Gran took her daughter’s hand and pressed the bunny-edged handkerchief into it. She took up the story.

He did Marlene Dietrich for them after supper: “Falling in Love Again.” The tails, the mesh stockings, the heels, the hat…Even the platinum hair, with its little scoop of a wave. He had it all down perfect, had Kimmo. And then after the show, he went out.

“What time was this?” Barbara asked.

Gran looked at an electric clock that sat atop the television set. She said, “Half ten? Sally?”

Aunt Sal dabbed her eyes. “Somewhere round there.”

“Where was he going?”

They didn’t know. But he said he’d be messing about with Blinker.

“Blinker?” Barbara and Nkata said together.

Blinker, they confirmed. They didn’t know the boy’s last name-apparently Blinker was male and of the human species-but what they did know was that he was definitely the cause of any trouble their Kimmo ever got into.

The word trouble struck Barbara, but she let Nkata do the honours. “What sort of trouble?”

No real trouble, Aunt Sal assured them. And nothing he’d ever started on his own. It was just that that bloody Blinker-“Sorry, Mum,” she said hastily-had passed along something of some kind to their Kimmo, which Kimmo had flogged somewhere, only to be caught out selling stolen property. “But it was that Blinker responsible,” Aunt Sal said. “Our Kimmo’d never been in trouble before.”

That certainly remained to be seen, Barbara thought. She asked if the Thornes could direct them to Blinker.

They had no phone number for him, but they knew where he lived. They said it shouldn’t be hard to find him on any morning because the one thing they knew about him was that he was up all night hanging about Leicester Square and he slept till one in the afternoon. He kipped on his sister’s sofa, and she lived with her husband on Kipling Estate, near Bermondsey Square. Aunt Sal didn’t know the sister’s name-nor did she have the first idea of Blinker’s Christian name, but she expected if the police went round asking where a bloke called Blinker might be, someone would know for certain. Blinker was someone who always managed to get known.

Barbara asked if they might have a look through Kimmo’s belongings, then. Aunt Sal took them to his room. This was crowded with bed, dressing table, wardrobe, chest of drawers, television, and music system. The dressing table held a display of makeup that would have done Boy George proud. The top of the chest of drawers served as a location for wig stands, of which there were five. And the walls held dozens of professional head shots of Kimmo’s sources of apparent inspiration: from Edith Piaf to Madonna. The boy was nothing if not eclectic in his taste.

“Where’d he get the dosh for all this?” Barbara asked once Aunt Sal had left them to look through the dead boy’s lumber. “She didn’t mention anything about employment, did she?”

“Makes you think about what Blinker was really giving him to sell,” Nkata replied.

“Drugs?”

He waggled his hand: maybe yes, maybe no. “A lot of something,” he said.

“We need to find that bloke, Winnie.”

“Shouldn’t be tough. Someone’ll know him on the estate, ask round enough. Someone always does.”

Ultimately, they got little joy from their efforts in Kimmo’s room. A small stack of cards-birthday, Christmas, and the odd Easter thrown in, all signed “Lovekins, darling, from Mummy and Dad”-were hidden away in a drawer along with a photo of a well-tanned thirtysomething couple on a sunny, foreign balcony. A yellowed newspaper article about a transgender professional model who’d been outed by the tabloids in the distant past surfaced beneath a knot of costume jewellery on the dressing table. A hair-styling magazine-at least in other circumstances-could have indicated a future career.

Otherwise, much of it was what one would expect in the bedroom of a fifteen-year-old boy. Malodorous shoes, underpants screwed up beneath the bed, stray socks. It would have been ordinary, except for the presence of all the items that made it into a hermaphroditic curiosity.

When they’d seen it all, Barbara stood back and said to Nkata, “Winnie, what d’you reckon he was really into?”

Nkata joined her in assessing the room. “I got a feeling this Blinker can tell us.”

They both knew there was no point in looking up Blinker at the moment. They’d be better off trying in the morning just about the time those who had jobs would be setting off for work from the housing estate where Blinker lived. They returned to Aunt Sal and Gran, then, and Barbara asked about Kimmo’s parents. It was the small and pathetic hoard of postcards in the boy’s room that prompted her question, rather than a need to know for purposes of their investigation. It was also what that hoard of postcards said about people’s priorities in life.

Oh, they were in South America, Gran said. They’d been there since just before Kimmo’s eighth birthday. His dad was in the hotel business, you see, and they’d gone there to manage a luxury spa. They intended to send for Kimmo when they got settled in. But Mum wanted to learn the language first, and it was taking her longer than she’d thought it would.

Had they been informed of Kimmo’s death? Barbara asked. Because-

Gran and Aunt Sal had exchanged a look.

– surely there were arrangements they’d want to be making to come home straightaway.

She said this in part because she wanted them to have to acknowledge what she assumed: Kimmo’s parents were parents only because of an egg, a sperm, and an accidental inception. They had more important concerns than what had come of that flesh-rubbing moment between them.

Which led her to think of the other victims. And of what it was that might tie all of them together.

CHAPTER FIVE

BY THE NEXT DAY, TWO PIECES OF NEWS FROM SO7 GAVE cause for what went for good cheer. The two tyre prints at the scene of the St. George’s Gardens body had been identified by manufacturer. They’d also been characterised by a peculiar wearing pattern on one of them that was going to please the Crown prosecutors, when and if the Met made an arrest of someone in possession of those tyres and a vehicle to which they might be attached. The other piece of news had to do with the residue on the pedals and the gears of the bicycle in St. George’s Gardens as well as the residue on all four of the bodies they were dealing with: It was all identical. From this, the murder squad concluded that Kimmo Thorne had been picked up somewhere-bike and all-and murdered somewhere else, after which his killer dumped the body, the bike, and probably the silver photo frames in St. George’s Gardens. All of this constituted meagre progress, but progress all the same. So when Hamish Robson returned to them with his report, Lynley was inclined to forgive him for showing up three and a half hours later than the promised twenty-four hours he’d thought it would take him to assemble some usable information.

Dee Harriman fetched him from reception and returned him to Lynley’s office. He said no to the offer of an afternoon cup of tea and instead he nodded towards the conference table rather than taking one of the two chairs in front of the desk. It seemed a subtle way of telegraphing equality to Lynley. Despite his apparent reticence, Robson didn’t appear to be a man who was going to be easily cowed by anyone.

He carried with him a legal pad, a manila folder, and the paperwork Lynley had given him on the previous day. He folded his hands neatly across the top of it all and asked Lynley what he knew about profiling. Lynley told him he’d never yet had an occasion to use a profiler, although he was aware of what profilers did. He didn’t add any comments about his reluctance to use one or about his belief that, in truth, Robson had only been called in in the first place to give Hillier something to hand to that ravenous dog the media.

“Would you like some background on profiling, then?” Robson asked.

“Not particularly, to tell you the truth.”

Robson observed him evenly. His eyes behind his spectacles looked shrewd, but he made no remark other than to say obscurely, “Right. We’ll see about it, won’t we.” He took up his legal pad without further ado.

They were looking, he told Lynley, for a white male between twenty-five and thirty-five. He would be neat in his appearance: close shaven, short haired, in good physical condition, which was possibly the result of weight training. He would be known to the victims, but not well known. He would be of high intelligence but low achievement, a man with a decent school record but with disciplinary problems stemming from a chronic failure to obey. He would likely possess a history of job losses, and while he would probably be working at this time, it would be in employment below his capabilities. They would find criminal behaviour in his childhood and adolescence: possibly petty arson or cruelty to animals. He would be at this time unmarried and living either alone or with a dominant parent.

Despite what he already knew about profiling, Lynley felt doubtful about the number of details Robson had provided. He said, “How can you know all this, Dr. Robson?”

Robson’s lips moved in a smile that tried-and failed-not to look satisfied. He said, “I do assume you know what profilers do, Superintendent, but do you know how and why profiling actually works? It’s rarely inaccurate, and it’s nothing to do with crystal balls, tarot cards, or the entrails of sacrificed animals.”

At this, smacking of the gentle correction a parent gives to a wayward child, Lynley considered half a dozen ways to regain dominance. They were all a waste of time, he concluded. So he said, “Should we begin again with each other?”

Robson smiled, genuinely this time. “Thank you,” he said. He went on to tell Lynley that to know a killer, one merely had to look at the crime committed, which was what the Americans had begun doing when the FBI had developed their Behavioural Science Unit. By gathering information over the decades of pursuing serial killers and by actually interviewing incarcerated serial killers by the dozens, they’d discovered there were certain commonalities that could be depended upon to be present in the profile of the perpetrator of a certain kind of crime. In this particular crime, for example, they could rely upon the fact that the killings were bids for power although their killer would tell himself that the killings had another reason entirely.

“Not just killing for the thrill of it?”

“Not at all,” Robson answered. “This actually has nothing to do with thrill. This man’s striking out because he’s been frustrated, contradicted, or thwarted. Whatever thrill there is, is secondary.”

“Thwarted by the victim?”

“No. A stressor has set him on this course, but its source isn’t the victim.”

“Who is it, then? What?”

“A recent job loss that the killer thinks is unfair. The breakup of a marriage or another amorous relationship. The death of a loved one. The rejection of a proposal of marriage. A court injunction. A sudden loss of money. The destruction of a home by fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane. Think of something that would put your world or anyone’s world into chaos and you’ll have a stressor.”

“We all have them in our lives,” Lynley said.

“But not all of us are psychopaths. It’s the combination of the psychopathic personality and the stressor that’s deadly, not the stressor alone.” Robson fanned out the crime-scene photographs.

Despite the aspects of the crime suggesting sadism-the burnt hands, for example-their killer felt a certain amount of remorse for what he’d done once he’d done it, Robson said. The body in each case told them that: its position traditional to corpses placed in coffins prior to burial, not to mention the fact that the final victim wore what amounted to a loincloth. This, he said, was called psychic erasure or psychic restitution.

“It’s as if the killing were a sad duty that the perpetrator believes and tells himself he must perform.”

Lynley felt this was going too far. The rest he could swallow; there was sense to it. But this…restitution? Penance? Sorrow? Why do it four times if he felt remorse afterwards?

“The conflict for him,” Robson said, as if in reply to the questions Lynley hadn’t asked, “is the compulsion to kill, which has been triggered by the stressor and can only be relieved by the act of killing itself, versus the knowledge that what he’s doing is wrong. And he does know that, even as he is driven to do it again and again.”

“So you believe he’ll strike another time,” Lynley said.

“There’s no question about it. This is going to escalate. It’s actually escalated from the first. You can see that in how he’s been upping the stakes. Not only in where he’s put the bodies-taking bigger risks of discovery every time he positions one-but also in what he’s done to the bodies.”

“Increasing the marking on them?”

“What we call making his signature more apparent. It’s as if he believes the police are too stupid to catch him, so he’s going to taunt you a bit. He’s burned the hands three times, and you’ve failed to make the connection between the killings. So he’s had to do more.”

“But why so much more? Wouldn’t it have been enough just to slice open the final victim? Why add the mark on the forehead? Why the loincloth? Why take the navel?”

“If we discount the loincloth as psychic restitution, we’re left with the slice, the missing navel, and the mark on the forehead. If we see the slice as part of a ritual that we as yet don’t understand and the missing navel as a gruesome souvenir that allows him to relive the event, then what we really have is the mark on the forehead to serve as a conscious escalation of the crime.”

“What do you make of that mark?” Lynley asked him.

Robson took up one of the photographs that featured it particularly. “It’s rather like a cattle brand, isn’t it? I mean the mark itself, not how it was made. A circle with two two-headed crosses quadrisecting it. It clearly stands for something.”

“So you’re saying it’s not a signature on the crime like the other indicators?”

“I’m saying it’s more than a signature because it’s too deliberate a choice to be merely a signature. Why not use a simple X if you just want your mark on the body? Why not a cross? Why not one of your initials? Any of those would be quicker to put on your victim than this. Especially when time is probably of the essence.”

“You’re saying this mark serves a dual purpose, then?”

“I’d say so. No artist signs a painting till it’s done, and the fact that this mark was made with the victim’s blood tells us that it was likely put on his forehead after death. So yes, it’s a signature, but it’s something more. I think it’s a direct communication.”

“With the police?”

“Or with the victim. Or the victim’s family.” Robson handed the photographs back to Lynley. “Your killer has an enormous need to be noticed, Superintendent. If it isn’t satisfied by the current publicity-which it won’t be because his sort of need is never actually satisfied by anything, you see-then he’ll strike again.”

“Soon?”

“I’d say you can depend upon that.” He handed Lynley the reports as well. He included with them his own report, which he took from the manila folder, neatly typed and official, with a cover sheet on the letterhead of Fischer Psychiatric Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

Lynley added the reports to the photographs Robson had already handed over, along with his card. He thought about everything the profiler had said. He knew other officers who believed completely in the art-or perhaps it was a real science based on irrefutable empirical evidence-of psychological profiling, but he had never been one of them. Put to the test, he’d always preferred his own mind and a sifting through concrete facts to trying to take those same facts and from them create a portrait of someone utterly unknown to him. Besides, he couldn’t see how it actually helped the situation. At the end of the day, they still had to locate a killer among the ten million people who lived in Greater London, and he wasn’t clear on how the profile Robson had provided was going to help do that. The psychologist appeared to know this, however. He added a final detail, as if to put a full stop to his report.

“You also need to prepare yourself for contact,” he said.

“What sort?” Lynley asked.

“From the killer himself.”

ALONE, He was Fu, Creature Divine, eternal Deity of what must be. He was the truth and His was the way, but the knowledge of this was no longer enough.

The need was upon Him again. It had come far sooner than He had expected. It had come in days instead of in weeks, possessing Him with the call to act. Yet despite the pressure to judge and avenge, to redeem and release, He still moved with care. It was essential He choose correctly. A sign would tell, and so He waited. For there had always been a sign.

A loner was best. He knew that much. And naturally, there were loners aplenty to choose from in a city like London, but following one of them was the only way to confirm His selection as right and apt.

Secure in the camouflage of other passengers, Fu performed this task by bus. His chosen one climbed aboard ahead of Him, immediately making for the curve of stairs to the upper saloon. Fu did not follow him there. Instead, once onboard, He remained below, where He took a position two poles away from the exit door with a view of the stairs.

Their journey turned out to be a long one. They inched along congested streets. At each of the stops, Fu kept His attention fixed on the exit. Between the stops, He entertained Himself by studying His companions in the lower saloon: the tired mother with the screaming toddler, the ageing spinster with sagging ankles, the schoolgirls with coats unbuttoned and blouses hanging out of their skirts, the Asian youths with their heads together making plans, the black youths with their earphones on and their shoulders moving to the beat of music no one else could hear. All of them were in need, but most of them didn’t know it. And none of them knew Who stood among them, for anonymity was the greatest gift of living in this place.

Someone somewhere pressed the button that would alert the driver to pull over at the next request stop. A clatter from the stairs and a large mixed group of youths descended. Fu saw that the chosen one was among them, and He eased His own way down the aisle to the door. He ended up directly behind His prey and He could smell the scent of him when He stood on the steps before they disembarked. It was the rank odour of the boy’s early adolescence, restless and randy.

Out on the street, Fu hung back, giving the boy a good twenty yards. The pavement wasn’t as crowded here as it had been elsewhere, and Fu looked round to get an idea of exactly where He was.

The area was mixed race: black, white, Asian, and Oriental. The voices here spoke a dozen languages, and while no one group looked completely out of place, somehow every individual did.

Fear did that to people, Fu thought. Distrust. Caution. Expect the unexpected from any quarter. Be ready either to flee or to fight. Or to go unnoticed, if that was possible.

The chosen one adhered to this latter principle. He walked, head down, and appeared to acknowledge no one he passed. This, Fu thought, was all to the good when it came to His own intentions.

When the boy reached his destination, though, it was not his home, as Fu had thought it might be. Instead, he walked from the bus stop down the length of a commercial area of markets, video shops, and betting parlours till he came to a small shop with soap-covered windows, and there he entered.

Fu crossed the street so that He could observe from the shadows of the doorway to a bicycle shop. The place the boy had entered was well lit, and despite the cold the door was propped open. Brightly clad men and women stood about chatting while among them children darted noisily. The boy himself was talking to a tall man in a colourful collarless shirt that hung to his hips. He had skin the hue of white coffee, and round his neck hung a carved wooden necklace. There appeared to be some sort of connection between this individual and the boy, but it was something less than father and son. For there was no father. Fu knew that. So this man…this particular man…Perhaps, Fu thought, He had not chosen wisely after all.

He was soon reassured. The crowd took seats and began singing. They did so haltingly. Taped music accompanied their efforts, heavy on drums and suggesting Africa. Their leader-the man the boy had spoken to-repeatedly stopped and started them again. While this was going on, the boy himself slipped out. He came back into the street, zipping his jacket, and he headed in the shadows farther along the commercial area. Fu followed, unseen.

Up ahead, the boy turned a corner and headed down another street. Fu hurried His own pace and was just in time to see him duck inside the doorway of a windowless brick building next to a scruffy workman’s café. Fu paused, assessing. He didn’t wish to risk being seen but He needed to know if His choice of the boy was legitimate.

He sidled up to the door. He found it unlocked, so He eased it open. An unlit corridor led to the doorway of a large room that was fully illuminated. From this room came the sounds of thuds, grunts, and the occasional guttural noise of a man ordering someone to “Jab, God damn it” and “Use an upper cut, for Christ’s sake.”

Fu entered this place. Immediately, He smelled the dust and the sweat, the leather and the mildew, the unwashed male clothes. Along the walls of the corridor, posters hung, and midway to the bright room beyond, a trophy cabinet stood. Fu snaked along the wall with care. He had nearly gained the doorway when someone spoke from out of nowhere.

“You need something, man?”

It was a black male voice and none too friendly. Fu allowed Himself to diminish in size before He turned to see who owned it. A refrigerator made flesh stood on the bottom step of a darkened stairway that Fu had not noticed. He was dressed for outdoors and he was slapping a pair of gloves against his palm. He repeated his question.

“Wha’ you need, man? This’s private premises.”

Fu had to be rid of him, but He also had to see. Somehow, He knew, this building contained the affirmation He needed before He could act. He said, “Sorry. I didn’t know it was private. I saw a few blokes come out and I wondered what this place was. I’m new round here.”

The man observed him, saying nothing.

Fu added, “I’m looking for new digs,” and He smiled affably. “Just doing a recce of the area. Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.” He gave His shoulders a little hunch for effect. He moved towards the front door although He had no intention of leaving, and even if He was forced out to the street by this lout, He would return as soon as the other man was gone.

The black said, “You c’n have a look, then. But don’t be bothering no one, you got that?”

Fu felt a bubble of anger rising. The tone of voice, the audacity of the order. He breathed in calm with the stale air of the corridor, and He said, “What is this place?”

“Boxing gym. You c’n have a look. Just try not to look like a punch bag.” The black left then, laughing at his weak attempt at wit. Fu watched him depart. He found that He was longing to follow, to give in to the temptation to let the other learn with whom he had just spoken. The longing fast grew into a hunger, but He refused to submit. Instead, He went to the bright doorway and, keeping to the darkness, He gazed into the room from which the grunts and thuds were coming.

Punch bags, speed bags, two boxing rings. Free weights. A treadmill. Skipping ropes. Two video cameras. Equipment was everywhere. So were the men using the equipment. Mostly blacks, but there were half a dozen white youths among them. And the man who’d been doing the shouting was also white: bald as a baby and wearing a grey towel round his shoulders. He was instructing two boxers in the ring. They were black, sweating, panting like overheated dogs.

Fu sought out the boy. He found him pounding a punch bag. He’d changed his clothes and was wearing a tracksuit. Already, it bore large crescents of sweat.

Fu watched as he pummeled the bag without either style or precision. He hurled himself upon it and pounded ferociously, ignoring everything else around him.

Ah, Fu thought. The journey across London had been well worth the risk after all. What He witnessed now had been worth even the brief interlude with the lout on the stairs. For unlike any other moment before this when Fu had been able to study the boy, this time the chosen one stood revealed.

He had an anger within him to match Fu’s own. He was indeed in need of redemption.

FOR A SECOND TIME, Winston Nkata didn’t go straight home. Instead, he followed the river to Vauxhall Bridge, where he crossed and circled round the Oval once again. He did it all without thinking, simply telling himself that it was time. The press conference made everything easier. Yasmin Edwards would know something about the murders at this point, so his purpose in calling would be to emphasise those details whose importance she might not have fully understood.

It was only when he’d parked across from Doddington Grove Estate that Nkata came fully to what he considered to be his senses. And that didn’t turn out to be an ideal situation, because coming to his senses also meant coming to his sensations, and the one he felt as he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel was again largely cowardice.

On the one hand, he did have the excuse he’d been looking for. More than that, he had the duty he’d taken the attestation to perform. Surely it was a small enough matter to impart the necessary information to her. So why he should be feeling nerved out about doing his job… It was way beyond him to suss that one out.

Except, Nkata knew that he was lying to himself even as he allowed himself thirty seconds to do so. There were half a dozen reasons for his being reluctant to ride the lift up to that third-floor flat, and not the least of them was what he’d deliberately done to the woman who lived within it.

He hadn’t really come to terms with why he’d assigned himself the job of making Yasmin Edwards aware of her lover’s infidelity. It was one thing to be in honest pursuit of a killer; it was quite another to want the killer to be someone who stood in the way of Nkata himself achieving…what? He didn’t want to consider the answer to that question.

He said, “Come on, man,” and shoved open the car door. Yasmin Edwards might have knifed her own husband and done time for it. But the one thing he knew for certain was that if it came to knives between them, he had far more experience in wielding one.

There had been a time when he would have rung a different flat to gain access to the lift, telling the occupant at the other end of the buzzer that he was a cop so he could ride up to the third floor and knock on Yasmin Edwards’ door without her knowing he was on his way. But he didn’t allow himself to do that now. Instead, he buzzed her flat and when he heard her voice asking who was there, he said, “Police, Missus Edwards. I’ll need a word please.”

A hesitation made him wonder if she’d recognised his voice. A moment later, though, she released the lock on the lift. Its doors slid open and he stepped inside.

He thought she might meet him at the door to her flat, but it was as firmly closed as ever-with the curtains drawn for the evening at the sitting-room window-when he strode down the outdoor corridor to it. She answered quickly enough when he knocked, though, which told him she must have been standing just inside, waiting for his arrival.

She observed him expressionlessly, and she didn’t have to lift her head much to do so. For Yasmin Edwards was an elegant six feet tall and as imposing a presence as she’d been when he’d first met her. She’d changed out of her work clothes and was wearing striped pyjamas. She wore nothing else, and he knew her well enough to recognise that she’d deliberately put on no dressing gown when she’d heard who’d come calling, which was her way of signaling to the police that she feared nothing from them, having experienced the worst at their hands already.

Yas, Yas, he wanted to say. That’s not the way it has to be.

But instead, he said, “Missus Edwards,” and reached for his identification, as if he believed she didn’t remember who he was.

She said, “What is it, man? ’Nother murderer you’re sniffing up round here? No one in this flat capable of that but me, so when is it I need the alibi for?”

He shoved his warrant card back into his pocket. He didn’t sigh, although he wanted to. He said, “Could I have a word, Missus Edwards? Truth to tell, it’s about Dan.”

She looked alarmed, in spite of herself. But as if she suspected a trick of some kind, she remained where she was, blocking his entrance. She said, “You best tell me what’s about Daniel, Constable.”

“Sergeant now,” Nkata said. “Or does that make it worse?”

She cocked her head. He found he missed the sight and the sound of her 101 beaded plaits, although her close-cropped hair suited her just as well. She said, “Sergeant, is it? That what you come to tell Daniel?”

“I didn’t come to talk to Daniel,” he said patiently. “I come to talk to you. About Daniel. I c’n do it outside if that’s what you want, Missus Edwards, but you’re gonna get colder if you stand there much longer.” He felt his face get hot because of what his words implied about what he’d noticed: the tips of her breasts peaking against the flannel of the pyjama top, her exposed skin the colour of walnut goose-fleshing where the top formed a V. As best he could, Nkata avoided looking at the vulnerable parts of her that were open to the winter air, but still he could see the smooth and stately curve of her neck, the mole he’d never noticed before, beneath her right ear.

She shot him a look of contempt and reached behind the door where, he knew, she kept a line of hooks for coats. She brought from it a heavy cardigan, which she took her time about donning and buttoning to the throat. When she was garbed to her liking, she gave him her attention again. “Better?” she asked.

“Whatever’s best for you.”

“Mum?” It was her son’s voice, coming from his bedroom doorway, which, Nkata knew, was to the left of the front door. “Wha’s going on? Who’s-” Daniel Edwards stepped into view just beyond Yasmin’s shoulders. His eyes widened when he saw who was calling on them, and his grin was contagious, exposing those perfect white teeth of his, so adult in his twelve-year-old face.

Nkata said, “’Lo, Dan. Wha’s happening?”

“Hey!” Daniel said. “You ’member my name.”

“He’s got it in his records,” Yasmin Edwards said to her son. “Tha’s what cops do. Are you ready for the cocoa yet? It’s in the kitchen if you want it. Homework finished?”

“You coming in?” Daniel said to Nkata. “We got cocoa. Mum makes it fresh. I have enough to share ’f you like.”

“Dan! Is your hearing-”

“Sorry, Mum,” Daniel said. That grin again, though. Daniel disappeared through the kitchen doorway. The opening and closing of cupboards ensued from that direction.

“In?” Nkata said to the boy’s mother, with a nod at the interior of the flat. “This’ll take five minutes. I c’n promise that, cos I got to get home.”

“I don’t want you trying to get Dan-”

Nkata raised his hands in a sign of surrender. “Missus Edwards, I bother you since what happened happened? No, right? I think you c’n trust me.”

She seemed to think this over while, behind her, the cheerful clatter continued in the kitchen. Finally, she swung the door open. Nkata stepped inside and shut it behind him before she had a chance to change her mind.

He gave a quick look round. He’d determined not to care about what he might find inside, but he couldn’t help his curiosity. When he’d met Yasmin Edwards, she’d been living as lovers with a German woman, a lag like herself who’d done time for murder, also like herself. So he wondered if the German had been replaced.

There was no sign of this being the case. Everything was much as it had been before. He turned to Yasmin and found her watching him. She held her arms crossed beneath her breasts and her face read, Satisfied?

He hated being off balance with her. He wasn’t used to that with women. He said, “There’s a boy been murdered. Body was put up in St. George’s Gardens, near Russell Square, Missus Edwards.”

She said with a shrug, “North of the river,” as if she meant, How can that affect this part of town?

He said, “No. It’s more than that. This’s one of a string of boys been found all over town. Gunnersbury Park, Tower Hamlets, carpark in Bayswater, and now the garden. One in the garden’s white, but the rest of them, looks like all been mixed race. And young, Missus Edwards. Kids.”

She shot a look towards the kitchen. He knew what she was thinking: Her Daniel fitted the profile he’d just described. He was young; he was mixed race. Still, she shifted her weight to one hip and said to Nkata, “All north of the river. Don’t affect us over here. And why’re you really here, ’f you don’t mind my asking?,” as if everything she said and the abrupt way she said it could protect her from fearing for her boy’s safety.

Before Nkata could answer, Daniel returned to them, a cup of steaming cocoa in his hand. He appeared to avoid his mother’s look as he said to Nkata, “I brought you this anyway. It’s made from scratch. You c’n have more sugar in it if you want.”

“Cheers, Dan.” Nkata took the mug from the boy and clasped him on the shoulder. Daniel grinned and shifted from one bare foot to the other. “Look like you grown since I saw you,” Nkata added.

“Did,” Daniel said. “We measured. We got marks on a wall in the kitchen. You c’n see if you want. Mum marks me first of every month. I grew two inches.”

“Sprouting up like that,” Nkata said, “make your bones hurt?”

“Yeah! How’d you know? Oh, I ’xpect cos you grew fast as well.”

“Tha’s right,” Nkata said. “Five inches one summer. Ouch.”

Daniel laughed. He appeared ready to settle in for a chat, but his mother stopped this by saying his name sharply. Daniel looked from Nkata to her, then back to Nkata.

“Have your cocoa,” Nkata said. “See you later.”

“Yeah?” The boy’s face asked that a promise be made.

Yasmin Edwards didn’t allow it, saying, “Daniel, this man’s here on business, nothing else.” That was enough. The boy scooted back to the kitchen, casting one final look over his shoulder. Yasmin waited till he was gone before she said to Nkata, “Anything else?”

He took a gulp of the cocoa and set the mug on the iron-legged coffee table where the same red high-heel-shaped ashtray still sat, empty now that the German woman who’d used it was gone from Yasmin Edwards’ life. He said, “You got to have more of a care right now. With Dan.”

Her lips flattened. “You trying to tell me-”

“No,” he said. “You the best mum that boy could have in the world, and I mean it, Yasmin.” He startled himself with his use of her given name, and he was grateful when she pretended not to notice. He hurried on. “I know you got stuff to do coming out ’f your ears, what with the wig business an’ all that. Dan spends time on his own, not cos that’s the way you want it but cos that’s how it is. All I’m saying is, this bleeder’s picking up boys Dan’s age and he’s killing them, and I don’t want that to happen to Dan.”

“He’s not stupid,” Yasmin said curtly, although Nkata could tell this was all bravado. She wasn’t stupid, either.

“I know that, Yas. But he’s…” Nkata searched for the words. “You c’n tell he needs a man. ’S obvious. An’ from what we c’n tell ’bout the boys been killed…They’re going with him. They’re not fighting it. No one sees anything cos there’s nothing to see cos they trust him, okay?”

“Daniel i’n’t about to go with some-”

“We think he uses a van,” Nkata cut in, persisting in spite of her evident scorn. “We think it’s red.”

“I’m saying. Daniel doesn’t take rides. Not from people he doesn’ know.” She cast a look in the direction of the kitchen. She lowered her voice. “What’re you saying? You think I di’n’t teach him that?”

“I know you taught him. Like I said, I c’n see you’re a good mum to the boy. But that doesn’ change what the fact is inside of him, Yas. And the fact is, he needs a man.”

“Thinkin’ you’re going to be it or something?”

“Yas.” Now that he’d begun saying her name, Nkata found he couldn’t say it enough. It was an addiction for him, one he knew he had to be rid of in very short order or he would be lost, like a needle freak dossing in a doorway in the Strand. So he tried again. “Missus Edwards, I know Dan spends time on his own cos you’re busy. And tha’s not good and tha’s not bad. It’s just how it is. All I want you to unnerstan is wha’s going on in your neighbourhood, see?”

“Fine,” she said. “I un’erstand now.” She moved past him to the door and reached for the knob, saying, “You did what you come for, and now you can-”

“Yas!” Nkata wouldn’t be dismissed. He was there to do the woman a service whether she liked it or not, and that service was to impress upon her the danger and urgency of the situation, neither of which she apparently wished to grasp. “There’s a bugger out there going after boys just like Daniel,” Nkata said rather more hotly than he would have liked. “He’s getting them in a van and he’s burning their hands till the skin goes black. Then he’s strangling them and he’s slicing them open.” He had her attention now, and that spurred him to continue, as if each word were a way he proved something to her, although what that something was he didn’t want to consider at the moment. “Then he marks them up a bit more with their own blood. And then he puts their bodies on display. Boys go with him and we don’t know why and till we know…” He saw that her face had changed. Anger, horror, and fear had metamorphosed into…What was it he was seeing?

She was looking beyond him, her gaze fixed on the kitchen. And he knew. Just like that-as if fingers had snapped in front of his face and he suddenly returned to consciousness, he knew. He didn’t have to turn. He only had to wonder how long Daniel had been standing in the doorway and how much he had heard.

Aside from having given Yasmin Edwards a wealth of information that she did not need and that he was not authorised to give to anyone, he’d frightened her son, and he knew that without looking, just as he knew he’d long outstayed whatever welcome he might have had in Doddington Grove Estate.

“Done enough?” Yasmin Edwards whispered fiercely, moving her gaze from her son to Nkata. “Said enough? Seen enough?”

Nkata tore his gaze from her, moving it to take in Daniel. He was standing in the doorway with a piece of toast in his hand, one leg crossed over the other and squeezing as if he needed the toilet. His eyes were big, and what Nkata felt was sorrow that he’d had to see or hear his mum in anything resembling an altercation with a man. He said to Daniel, “I d’n’t want you to hear that, man. No need and I’m sorry. You just be careful on the street. There’s a killer going after boys your age. I don’t want him going after you.”

Daniel nodded. He looked solemn. He said, “’Kay.” And then when Nkata turned to leave, “You come round again or what?”

Nkata didn’t answer him directly. He said, “You just keep safe, okay?” And as he stepped out of the flat, he ventured a final look at Daniel Edwards’ mother. His expression said to her, What did I tell you, Yasmin? Daniel needs a man.

Her expression responded just as clearly, Whatever you’re thinking, that man i’n’t you.

CHAPTER SIX

FIVE MORE DAYS PASSED. THEY COMPRISED WHAT EVERY investigation into murder comprised, cubed by the fact that the squad was dealing with multiple killings. So the hours that stacked upon hours, which worked their way into long days, longer nights, and meals grabbed on the run, ended up being devoted to 80 percent slog. This involved endless phone calls, record checks, fact gathering, statements taking, and reports making. Another 15 percent went to coalescing all the data and trying to make some sense of it. Three percent went to revisiting every piece of information dozens of times to make sure nothing had been misunderstood, misplaced, or missed altogether, and 2 percent went to the occasional feeling that progress was actually being made. Staying power was necessary for the first 80 percent. Caffeine worked well for the rest.

During this time, the Press Bureau did its promised part to keep the media informed, and at these events AC Hillier continued to require DS Winston Nkata-and frequently Lynley as well-to serve as window dressing for the Met’s display of Your Taxes at Work. Despite the maddening nature of the press conferences, Lynley had to admit that, so far, Hillier’s performances in front of the journalists appeared to be paying off, since the press had not begun baying yet. But that didn’t make the time spent with them any less onerous.

“My efforts might best be devoted to other pursuits, sir,” he informed Hillier as diplomatically as possible after his third appearance on the dais.

“This is part of the job,” was Hillier’s reply. “Cope.”

There was little enough to report to the journalists. DI John Stewart having divided his allocation of officers into teams, they were working with a military precision that could not be anything but pleasing to the man. Team one had completed their study of the alibis given by the possible suspects they’d dug up after looking into releases from mental hospitals and prisons. They’d done the same for sex offenders set free within the last six months. They’d documented who was working in open conditions prior to discharge, and they’d added homeless shelters to their list, to see if anyone behaving suspiciously had been hanging about on any of the murder nights. So far they’d uncovered nothing.

In the meantime, team two had taken over beating the bushes in an effort to roust out witnesses…to anything. Gunnersbury Park still looked like their best bet for this, and DI Stewart was, as he put it, damn well determined to find something in that direction. Surely, he had lectured the team, someone had to have seen a vehicle parked on Gunnersbury Road in the early hours of the morning when victim number one had been left inside, for it remained that the only two means of access into the park after hours were over the wall-which at eight feet high seemed an unlikely route for someone carrying a body-or through one of the two boarded-up sections of that wall on Gunnersbury Road. But so far, a canvassing of houses across the street had given team two nothing, and interviews with nearly all the lorry drivers who would have been on that route hadn’t unearthed anything either. Nor had conversations-still ongoing-with taxi and minicab companies.

They were left with the red van seen in the area of St. George’s Gardens. But when Swansea delivered a list of such vehicles registered to owners in the Greater London area, the total was an impossible 79,387. Even Hamish Robson’s profile of the killer-suggesting that they limit their interest to those vehicle owners who were male, single, and between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five-didn’t make that number remotely manageable.

The entire situation made Lynley long for the cinematic version of the detective’s life: a brief period of slog, a slightly longer period of cogitation, and then great scenes of action in which the hero chased the villain over land, over sea, through back alleys, and beneath elevated railway tracks, finally clobbering him into submission and securing his exhausted confession. But that wasn’t how it was.

It was after yet another appearance in front of the press that three hopeful developments occurred within moments of each other, however.

Lynley returned to his office in time to pick up the phone and receive a call from SO7. The analysis of the black residue on all of the bodies and on the bicycle had coughed up a valuable piece of information. The van they were looking for was likely a Ford Transit. The residue came from the disintegration of a type of optional rubber lining that had been offered for use on the floor of this vehicle between ten and fifteen years ago. The Ford Transit detail was going to go some way towards narrowing down the list they’d received from Swansea, although they wouldn’t know by how much until they fed the data into the computer.

When Lynley returned to the incident room with this news, he was greeted by the second development. They’d had a positive identification on the body left in the Bayswater carpark. Winston Nkata had taken a jaunt to Pentonville Prison to show photographs of their killer’s second victim to Felipe Salvatore-doing time for armed robbery and assault-and Salvatore had sobbed like a five-year-old when he declared the dead boy to be his little brother Jared whom he’d reported missing the first time he’d skipped a regular visit to the clink. As for any other members of Jared’s family…They were proving more difficult to locate, a fact apparently having to do with the cocaine addiction and peripatetic nature of the dead boy’s mother.

The final development also came from Winston Nkata, who’d spent two mornings on Kipling Estate, attempting to unearth someone whom they knew only as Blinker. His perseverance-not to mention his good manners-had finally paid off: One Charlie Burov, aka Blinker, had been located and was willing to talk to someone about his relationship with Kimmo Thorne, the St. George’s Gardens victim. He didn’t want to meet up on the housing estate where he dossed at his sister’s, though. Instead he would meet someone-not in uniform, he’d apparently stressed-inside Southwark Cathedral, five pews from the back on the left-hand side, at precisely 3:20 in the afternoon.

Lynley grasped the opportunity to get out of the building for a few hours. He phoned the assistant commissioner with an update that offered fodder for the next press conference, and he himself effected an escape to Southwark Cathedral. He tapped DC Havers to go along. He told Nkata to check Jared Salvatore’s name with Vice in the last police borough in which he’d lived, and after that to get on to the present location of the boy’s family. Then he set off with Havers in the direction of Westminster Bridge.

It was a straightforward affair to get to Southwark Cathedral once the general confusion round Tenison Way was mastered. Fifteen minutes after setting off from Victoria Street, Lynley and the detective constable were in the nave of the church.

Voices came from the direction of the chancel, where a group of what appeared to be students stood round someone pointing out details on the tester above the pulpit. Three out-of-season tourists were flipping through postcards at a bookstall directly across from the entrance, but no one appeared to be waiting for a meeting with anyone. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that, like most medieval cathedrals, Southwark had no regular pews, so there was no fifth-row-from-the-back-and-on-the-left seating where Charlie Burov, aka Blinker, might have slouched in anticipation of their arrival.

“So much for his churchgoing proclivities,” Lynley murmured. As Havers looked round, sighed, and muttered a curse, he added, “Mind the mouth, Constable. Lightning is never a dear commodity when it comes to the Lord.”

“He might’ve at least sussed out the place first,” she groused.

“In the best of all worlds.” Lynley finally spied a spindly, black-garbed figure near the baptismal font, who was darting looks in their general direction. “Ah. Over there, Havers. That could be our man.”

He didn’t run off as they approached him, although he cast a nervous glance towards the group at the pulpit and then another towards the people at the bookstall. When Lynley asked politely if he was Mr. Burov, the boy said, “’S Blinker. You the fuzz, then?” out of the side of his mouth like a character in a bad film noir.

Lynley introduced himself and Havers while he gave the boy a quick appraisal. Blinker appeared to be round twenty years old with a face that would have been completely nondescript had not head shaving and body piercing been in vogue. As it was, studs erupted from his face like a visitation of smallpox in silver and when he spoke, which was with some difficulty, it was to reveal half a dozen additional studs lined up along the edge of his tongue. Lynley didn’t want to think about the difficulty they presented the boy in eating. Hearing the difficulty they presented him in speaking was bad enough.

“This might not be the best place to have our conversation,” Lynley noted. “Is there somewhere nearby…”

Blinker agreed to a coffee. They managed to find a suitable café not far from St. Mary Overy Dock, and Blinker slid onto a chair at one of the grubby, Formica-topped tables where he studied the menu, and said, “C’n I get a spag bol, then?”

Lynley eased a malodorous ashtray towards Havers and said to the boy, “Be my guest,” although he shuddered at the thought of personally ingesting any kind of food-not to mention any kind of pasta-served up in a place where one’s shoes adhered to the lino and the menus looked in need of disinfectant.

Blinker apparently took Lynley’s reply as licence for liberality, for when the waitress came for their order he added gammon steak, two eggs, chips, and mushrooms along with a tuna and sweet-corn sandwich to the spaghetti. Havers ordered an orange juice, Lynley a coffee. Blinker grabbed the plastic salt shaker and began rolling it between his palms.

He didn’t want to talk until he’d “had a nosh,” he told them. So they waited in silence for the first of his plates to arrive, Havers taking the opportunity for another smoke, Lynley nursing his coffee and steeling himself to the spectacle of the boy working food past his tongue studs.

He’d apparently had plenty of practice, as things turned out. When the first plate was deposited in front of him, Blinker made quick work of the gammon steak and its companions, with minimum fuss and-blessedly-even less display. When he’d sopped up the remaining egg yolk and gammon grease with a triangle of toast, he said, “Better, that,” and appeared ready to give himself over for conversation and a cigarette, which he cadged from Havers while he waited for the pasta’s arrival on the scene.

He was “that torn up” about Kimmo, he told them. But he’d warned his mate-he’d warned him a hundred million times-about taking it up the chute from blokes he didn’t know. Kimmo always claimed the risk was worth it, though. And he always made them use a spunk bag…even if, admittedly, he didn’t always turn round at the vital moment to make sure it was on.

“I tol’ him it wa’n’t about some bloke infectin’ him, for God’s sake,” Blinker said. “It was about ’xactly what happened to him anyways. I never wanted him out there alone. Never. When Kimmo was on the streets, I was on the streets wif him. Tha’s the way it was s’posed to be.”

“Ah,” Lynley said. “I’m getting the picture. You were Kimmo Thorne’s pimp, then?”

“Hey. It wa’n’t like that.” Blinker sounded affronted.

“So you weren’t his pimp?” Barbara Havers put in. “What would you call it when it was home with its mother?”

“I was his mate,” Blinker said. “I kept watch for any nasty sort of business ’at might be going on, like some bloke wif more on his mind than a bit ’f fun wif Kimmo. We worked together, like a team. It wa’n’t my fault, was it, Kimmo being the one they fancied?”

Lynley wanted to say that Blinker’s appearance might have had something to do with who was being fancied by the punters, but he let the subject go. He said, “The night Kimmo disappeared, he didn’t start out with you, then?”

“I di’n’t even know he was going out, did I. We’d done Leicester Square the night before, see, and we’d found a party wanting some entertainment over in Hollen Street, so we did a bit of business wif them. We had enough dosh off that that we di’n’t need to be out again and Kimmo said his gran wanted him home for a night anyways.”

“Was that normal?” Lynley asked.

“Nah. So I should’ve known summat was up when he said it, but I didn’t cos it was fine wif me not to go out. I had the telly…and other things to do.”

“Such as?” Havers asked. When Blinker didn’t respond, merely looking in the direction of the kitchen for his spaghetti Bolognese to put in an appearance, she said, “What else were you two into besides prostitution, Charlie?”

“Hey. Like I said. We never were into-”

“Let’s not play games,” Havers cut in. “Tart it up any way you want, but the truth is, if you get paid for it, Charlie, it’s not true love. And you did get paid for it, right? Isn’t that what you said? And isn’t that why you didn’t need to be going out another night? Because Kimmo had earned you enough cash for a week probably, providing ‘entertainment’ in Hollen Street. I’m wondering what you did with the lolly, though. Smoke it, shoot it, snort it? What?”

“You know, I don’ have to talk to you lot,” Blinker said hotly. “I could get up right now and be out of that door faster’n-”

“And miss your spaghetti Bolognese?” Havers asked. “Holy hell, not that.”

Lynley said, “Havers,” in the tone he generally used-with limited success-to restrain her. And to Blinker, “Would it have been like Kimmo to go off on his own? Despite your usual arrangement?”

“He did sometimes, yeah. Like I said. I tol’ him not to, but he did it anyways. I said it wa’n’t safe. He wa’n’t a big bloke, was he, an’ if he misjudged who he let do him…” Blinker crushed his cigarette and looked away. His eyes grew watery. “Stupid little bugger,” he muttered.

His spaghetti Bolognese showed up, along with a dispenser of cheese that looked like sawdust deficient in iron. This he sprinkled delicately over the pasta and tucked in, his emotion subdued by his appetite. The café door opened and two workmen entered, jeans whitened by plaster dust and thick-soled shoes crusted with cement. They called out familiar hellos to the cook who was visible by means of a serving hatch, and they chose a table in a corner where they placed their orders for a multicourse meal not unlike the one Blinker himself had requested.

“I tol’ him this would happen if he went it alone,” Blinker said when he had finished wolfing down the pasta and was waiting for his tuna and sweet-corn sandwich. “I tol’ him over an’ over, but he never listened, did he. He said he could tell about blokes, he could. The bad ones, he said, they have this kind of smell ’bout them. Like they been thinking too long what they want to do to you and it makes their skin all oily and cooked up, like. I tol’ him that was rubbish and he had to take me wif him no matter what, but he wasn’t having any of that, was he, so look what happened.”

“So you think this is the work of a punter,” Lynley said. “Kimmo making a bad judgment call when he was alone.”

“What else could it be?”

“Kimmo’s gran said you’ve got him in trouble,” Havers said. “She claims he was flogging stolen property you handed over to him. What d’you know about that?”

Blinker rose in his chair as if he’d been mortally wounded. “I never!” he said. “She’s a bloody liar, she is. Flaming old cow. She di’n’t like me from the first and now she’s tryin to get me under the cosh, i’n’t she. Well, any trouble Kimmo got in di’n’t have nothing to do wif me. You ask round Bermondsey and see who knows Blinker and who knows Kimmo. Tha’s what you do.”

“Bermondsey?” Lynley asked.

But Blinker was saying nothing else. He was, instead, fuming at the idea that someone had fingered him as a thief instead of as what he really was, a common chili chump on the street, promoting the services of a fifteen-year-old boy.

Lynley said, “Were you and Kimmo lovers, by the way?”

Blinker shrugged, as if the question were unimportant. He looked round for his tuna sandwich, saw it waiting for delivery on the sill of the serving hatch, and went to fetch it himself. The waitress said, “Hang on, mate. I’ll get to you soon ’nough.”

Blinker ignored her and took the sandwich to the table. There, he didn’t sit again. Nor did he eat. Instead, he wrapped the sandwich in his used paper napkin and shoved the package into the pocket of his worn leather jacket.

Lynley watched him and saw that the young man wasn’t so much piqued by his final question as he was grieved in a way that he clearly had not expected to be. In a quivering muscle visible on his jaw, the answer lay. He and the dead boy had indeed been lovers, if not recently then initially, and probably before they had set off on a course of making money through the use of Kimmo’s body.

Blinker looked at them as he zipped his jacket. He said, “Like I said. Kimmo wouldn’t’ve had no trouble if he stayed wif me. But he didn’t, did he? He went his own way when I tol’ him not to. Thought he knew the world, he did. And look where it got him.” That said, he was gone, making for the door and leaving Lynley and Havers studying the remains of his spaghetti Bolognese like high priests searching for auguries.

Havers said, “Didn’t even say cheers for the meal.” She picked up his fork and twirled two strands of the pasta onto it. This she then raised to the level of her eyes. “The body, though. Kimmo’s body. None of the reports claim sex before he died, do they?”

“None of the reports,” Lynley agreed.

“Which could mean…?”

“That his death has nothing to do with working the streets. Unless, of course, what happened that night happened before they ever got to the sex.” Lynley pushed his coffee cup to the centre of the table, most of it undrunk.

“But if we have to eliminate sex as part…?” Havers asked.

“Then the question is: How are you at getting up before dawn?”

She looked at him. “Bermondsey?”

“I’d say that’s our next direction.” Lynley watched her as she considered this, the fork still dangling from her fingers.

She finally nodded, but she didn’t look pleased. “I hope you’re planning to be part of that party.”

“I’d hardly let a lady prowl round South London in the dark on her own,” Lynley replied.

“That’s good news, then.”

“I’m glad you’re reassured. Havers, what are you intending to do with that pasta?”

She glanced at him, then back at the fork still dangling in the air. “This?” she said. She popped the spaghetti into her mouth and chewed it thoughtfully. “They definitely need to do some work on their al dente,” she told him.

JARED SALVATORE, the second victim of their murderer-to whom they’d begun referring as Red Van for want of another sobriquet-had lived in Peckham, some eight miles as the crow flies from where his body had been found in Bayswater. Since from Pentonville Prison Felipe Salvatore had not been able to provide a recent address for his family, Nkata went first to their last-known abode, which was a flat in the wilderness of North Peckham Estate. This was a place where no one wandered unarmed after dark, where cops were not welcome, where turf was marked. It offered the worst there was in communal living: dismal lines of washing hanging from balconies and from drainpipes, broken and tyreless bicycles, shopping trolleys given over to rust, and every kind of rubbish imaginable. The North Peckham area made Nkata’s own housing estate look like Utopia on opening day.

At the address he’d been given for the Salvatore family, Nkata found no one at home. He knocked up neighbours who either knew nothing or were willing to say nothing, until he found one who offered the information that the “crackhead cow and her snivellers” had finally been evicted after a monumental battle with Navina Cryer and her crew, all of whom hailed from Clifton Estate. That was the extent of the information available on the family. But having been given a new name-that of Navina Cryer-Nkata next went to Clifton Estate to seek her and whatever information she could give him of the Salvatores.

Navina turned out to be a sixteen-year-old girl who was hugely pregnant. She lived with her mother and her two younger sisters, along with two toddlers in nappies who, during Nkata’s conversation with the girl, were never identified as belonging to anyone. Unlike the denizens of North Peckham Estate, Navina was only too happy to talk to the police. She took a long look at Nkata’s warrant card, took a longer look at Nkata himself, and ushered him inside the flat. Her mother was at work, she informed him, and the rest of that lot-by which he reckoned she meant the other children-could look after themselves. She led him to the kitchen. There a table held several loads of unwashed laundry, and the air was ripe with the scent of disposable nappies in need of disposal.

Navina lit a cigarette on one of the grimy stove’s gas burners, and she leaned against it rather than taking a seat at the table. Her stomach protruded so far that it was difficult to see how she actually remained upright, and beneath the taut material of her leggings, her veins stood out like worms after rainfall. She said abruptly, “’Bout time, innit. Wha’ was it lit the fire under you lot? I’d like to know, so nex’ time I got the right approach.”

Nkata sorted through these remarks. He concluded from them that she’d been expecting the police. Considering the information he’d gleaned from the one neighbour willing to talk on North Peckam Estate, he assumed she was referring to the outcome-whatever it had been-of her reported altercation with Mrs. Salvatore.

He said, “Woman over North Peckham…? She told me you might know the whereabouts of Jared Salvatore’s mum. ’S that right?”

Navina narrowed her eyes. She took a deep hit on her cigarette-deep enough to make Nkata shudder for her unborn child-and as she blew the smoke out, she studied him, then studied the ends of her fingernails, which were painted fuchsia and matched her toenails. She said slowly, “Wha’ ’bout Jared? You got word on him?”

“Word for his mum, you can tell me where she is,” Nkata replied.

“Like she going t’ care, you mean?” Navina sounded scornful. “Like he mean more to her than flake? That cunt di’n’t even know he was gone till I tol’ her, mister, an’ if you find her under wha’ever car she been dossin since they got done wif her on North Peckham, you c’n tell her I said she c’n die an’ I spit on her coffin an’ be glad to do it.” She took another hit on the cigarette. Nkata saw that her fingers were shaking.

He said, “Navina, c’n we reverse things here? I’m in the dark.”

“How? Wha’ more do I got to tell you lot? He been gone an’ gone an’ it ain’t like him, which is what I been sayin over and over. Only no one’s listenin an’ I just ’bout ready-”

“Hang on,” Nkata said. “C’n I get you to sit over here? I’m sorting this, but you’re going too quick.” He pulled a chair from beneath the table and indicated she should take it. One of the toddlers trundled into the kitchen at that point, nappy hanging nearly to his knees, and Navina took a moment to change him, which consisted of ripping the nappy off, tossing it into a swing bin-with its load mercifully intact-and strapping him into another without undo ceremony, the remains of his droppings still clinging to his flesh. After that, she rooted out a boxed Ribena for the child and handed it over, leaving him to suss out a manner of detaching its straw and driving it into the small carton. Then she lowered herself into the chair. All along her cigarette had dangled from her lips, but now she stubbed it out in an ashtray that she took from beneath the pile of dirty laundry.

Nkata said to her, “You reported Jared missing? Tha’s what you’re telling me?”

“I tol’ the cops d’rectly he di’n’t show up for the antenatal. I knew right then there was summat wrong ’cause he always come, di’n’t he, to see ’bout his baby.”

Nkata said, “He’s the dad, then? Jared Salvatore’s your baby’s dad?”

“An’ proud to be from the first, he was. Thirteen years old, not many blokes get started so fast, and he liked that, Jared. It made him swell up bigger ’n you would’ve believed, the day I tol’ him.”

Nkata wanted to know what she’d been doing messing with a mere boy who should have been at school making a future and not out on the loose making babies, but he did not ask. Navina herself should have been at school, if it came to that, or at least she should have been doing something more useful than offering herself to a randy adolescent at least three years her junior. She also had to have been doing the job with Jared since the boy had been twelve. It made Nkata’s head swim, just thinking about it. And knowing that at twelve years old, with a willing female, he too might have happily plunged away his life, hot for that fleshy moment of contact and thinking about nothing else.

He said to Navina, “We got the report from his brother Felipe, in the Ville. Jared di’n’t show for visiting when he should’ve, and Felipe called him in missing. This was something like five, six weeks ago.”

“I went to them louts two days later!” Navina cried. “Two days af’er he di’n’t show at the antenatal like he was s’posed to. I tol’ the cops and they di’n’t listen. They weren’t havin none of it off me.”

“When was this?”

“More’n a month ago,” she said. “I go to the station and tell that bloke in reception I got someone missin. He say who and I say Jared. I tell him he di’n’t come to the antenatal and he di’n’t ever give me a bell about that or nothin which wa’n’t like him. They figger he done a runner ’cause of the baby, see. They say wait ’nother day or two and when I go back, they say wait ’nother. An’ I keep goin an’ I keep tellin them an’ they jot down my name an’ Jared’s an’ no one does nothing.” She began to cry.

Nkata got up from his own chair and went to hers. He put his hand on the back of her neck. He could feel how slender it was beneath his fingers and how warm her flesh was where it touched his own, and from that he guessed what the girl’s appeal had been prior to being made hugely swollen and ungainly with a thirteen-year-old’s child. He said, “I’m sorry. They should’ve listened, the locals. I’m not from there.”

She raised her wet face. “But you said a cop…Then where?”

He told her. Then as gently as he could, he told her the rest: that the father of her baby was dead at the hands of a serial killer, that he’d probably already been dead on the day of the antenatal appointment he’d missed, that he was one of four victims who, like himself, were adolescent boys whose bodies had been found too far from their homes for anyone in the vicinity to recognise them.

Navina listened and her dark skin shone beneath the tears that continued to roll down her cheeks. Nkata felt torn between the need to comfort her and the desire to lecture some sense into her. What did she actually think, he wondered and wanted to say, that a thirteen-year-old boy would be around forever? Not so much because he’d die, although God knew enough of their young men never made it to thirty, but because he’d come to his senses eventually and realise there was more to life than fathering babies and he wanted whatever that more was?

The need to comfort won out. Nkata fished a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and pressed it on her. He said, “They should’ve listened and they di’n’t, Navina. I can’t ’xplain why. I’m that sorry ’bout it.”

Can’t you ’xplain?” she asked bitterly. “What’m I to them? Cow up the spout, done to by the kid got caught wif two nicked credit cards and tha’s what they remember ’bout him, innit? Snatched a purse once’r twice. Wif some blokes, tried to carjack a Mercedes one night. Some rude boy, so we don’t plan on lookin for him nowhere, so get out of here, girl, and stop pollutin our precious atmosphere, thank you. Well I loved him, I did, and we meant to have a life together and he was makin that life. He was learning cookin and he meant to be a real chef. You ask round about that. You see what they say.”

Cooking. Chef. Nkata took out the slender leather diary he used as a notebook, and he jotted the words down in pencil. He didn’t have the heart to press Navina for more information. From what she’d already said, he reckoned there was going to be a treasure trove of facts about Jared Salvatore at the Peckham police station.

He said, “You be all right, Navina? You got someone I c’n ring for you?”

She said, “My mum,” and for the first time she seemed sixteen and also what she probably was at heart, which was afraid, like so many of the girls who grew up in an environment where no one was safe and everyone was suspect.

Her mum worked in the kitchen at St. Giles Hospital, and when Nkata spoke to her by phone, she said she’d be home at once. “She i’n’t startin, is she?” the woman asked anxiously and then said, “Thank Jesus for that, at least,” when Nkata told her it was something of a different nature entirely but her presence would be a great comfort to the girl.

He left Navina in anticipation of her mother’s arrival, and he went from Clifton Estate to Peckham police station, which was only a short distance along the High Street. In reception, a white special constable was working behind the counter, and he spent just a shade longer than seemed necessary at his tasks before he acknowledged Nkata. Then he said, “Help you?,” with a face that managed to be perfectly blank.

Nkata took a certain pleasure in saying, “DS Nkata,” as he showed his warrant card to the man. He explained why he’d come. As soon as he mentioned the Salvatore family name, it seemed he would need no further introduction. Finding someone at the station who didn’t know the Salvatores would have been more challenging than finding someone who’d mixed with them at one time or another. Aside from Felipe doing time in Pentonville, there was another brother languishing in remand on a charge of assault. The mother had a record going back to her adolescence and the other boys in the family were apparently doing what they could to better it before they reached their twenties. So the real question was, who in the station did DS Nkata want to talk to, because just about anyone could give him an earful.

Nkata said that whoever had taken Navina Cryer’s missing-persons report about Jared Salvatore would do. This, of course, brought up the delicate question of why no one had bothered to file such a report, but he didn’t want to travel that road. Surely someone had listened to the girl if not formally recording what she’d said. That was the person he wanted to find.

Constable Joshua Silver turned out to be the man. He came to fetch Nkata from reception and ushered him into an office shared by seven other officers, where space was at a minimum and noise was at a maximum. He had something of a cubby hole carved out between a bank of perpetually ringing phones and a row of ancient filing cabinets, and he guided Nkata to this. Yes, he admitted, he’d been the person to whom Navina Cryer had spoken. Not the first time she’d come to the station, when she hadn’t apparently got beyond reception, but the second and third times. Yes, he’d written down the information she’d offered, but truth to tell, he hadn’t taken her seriously. The Salvatore yobbo was thirteen years old. Silver reckoned the boy’d done a runner, what with the girl on her way to popping. There was nothing in his past that suggested he’d be apt to hang round waiting for any blessed events to be occurring.

“Kid’s been in trouble since he was eight years old,” the constable said. “He came up before the magistrate first when he was nine-bag snatching from an old lady, this was-and the last time we hauled his bum through the door, it was for breaking into a Dixon’s. Planned to sell the takings in one of the street markets, our Jared.”

“You knew him personally?”

“As good as anyone round here, yeah.”

Nkata handed over a photo of the body that Felipe Salvatore had named as that of his brother. Constable Silver examined it and nodded his confirmation of Felipe’s identification. It was Jared, all right. The almond eyes, the squashed-tip nose. All the Salvatore kids had them, gift of the racial mix of their parents.

“Dad’s Filipino. Mum’s black. A crackhead.” Silver looked up quickly as he said this last, as if he’d suddenly realised he might have given offence.

“I sorted that.” Nkata took the picture back. He asked about the cooking that Jared was supposedly learning.

Silver knew nothing about this and declared it the product of either Navina Cryer’s wishful thinking or Jared Salvatore’s outright prevaricating. All he knew was that Jared had been turned over to Youth Offenders, where a social worker had tried-and obviously failed-to make something of him.

“Youth Offenders over here,” Nkata said, “could they’ve arranged some training for the boy? D’they get jobs for kids?”

“When pigs fly,” Silver said. “Our Jared frying fish in your local Little Chef? Don’t know I’d’ve eaten a meal that bloke put on a plate if I was starving.” Silver took a staple remover from the top of his desk and used it to dig some grime from beneath his thumbnail as he concluded, “Here’s the real truth about scum like the Salvatores, Sergeant. Most of them end up where they’re heading all along, and it was going to be no different for Jared, which was something Navina Cryer couldn’t accept. Felipe’s locked up already; Matteo’s in remand. Jared was third in line of the kids, so he was next in line for the nick. Do-gooders over at Youth Offenders might’ve done their best to stop that from happening, but they had everything set against it from the start.”

“Everything being…?” Nkata inquired.

Silver eyed him over the staple remover and flicked the detritus from beneath his thumbnail onto the floor. “No offence meant, but you’re the exception, man. You’re not the rule. And I expect you had some advantages along the way. But there’re times when people don’t add up to much, and this is one of those times. You start out bad, you end up worse. That’s just how it is.”

Not if someone takes an interest, was what Nkata wanted to reply. Nothing was written in stone.

But he said nothing. He had the information he’d come for. He had no greater understanding of why Jared Salvatore’s disappearance had gone largely unremarked by the police, but he needed no greater understanding. As Constable Silver himself had put it: That’s just how it was.

CHAPTER SEVEN

WHEN SHE GOT BACK TO CHALK FARM AT THE END OF the day, Barbara Havers was feeling almost jaunty. Not only had the interview with Charlie Burov-aka Blinker-seemed like a moment of actual progress, but being out of the incident room and engaged in the human end of the investigation in Lynley’s company made her feel as though regaining her rank was not a pipe dream after all. She was, in fact, blithely humming “It’s So Easy” when she hiked homeward from the spot she’d found to park the Mini. Even when rain began to fall and was driven into her face by the wind, she was not bothered. She merely stepped up her pace-and the tempo of her tune-and hurried towards Eton Villas.

She glanced quickly at the ground-floor flat when she went up the drive. Lights were on inside Azhar’s digs, and through the French windows she could see Hadiyyah sitting at a table with her head bent over an open notebook.

Homework, Barbara thought. Hadiyyah was a dutiful pupil. She stood for a moment and watched the little girl. As she did so, Azhar came into the room and walked by the table. Hadiyyah looked up and followed him longingly with her gaze. He didn’t acknowledge her, and she didn’t speak, merely ducking her head again to her work.

Barbara felt a sharp twinge at the sight of this, struck by an unexpected anger whose source she didn’t want to examine. She went along the path to her bungalow. Inside, she flipped on the lights, tossed her shoulder bag on the table, and dug out a tin of All Day Breakfast, which she dumped unceremoniously into a pan. She popped bread into the toaster and from the fridge took a Stella Artois, making a mental note to cut back on the drinking since this was yet another night when she was not supposed to be imbibing at all. But she felt like celebrating the interview with Blinker.

As her meal was doing what it could to prepare itself without her participation, she went as usual for the television remote, which again as usual she couldn’t find. She was searching for it when she noticed that her answer machine was blinking. She punched it to play as she continued her search.

Hadiyyah’s voice came to her, tense and low, sounding as if she was trying to keep someone else from hearing her. “I got gated, Barbara,” she said. “This’s the first chance I had to ring you ’cause I’m not meant even to use the phone. Dad said I’m gated ‘till further notice’ an’ I don’t think it’s fair at all.”

“Damn,” Barbara muttered, studying the grey box from which her little friend’s voice came.

“Dad said it’s owing to my arguing with him. I di’n’t really want to give back the Buddy Holly CD, see. Then when he said I had to, I said could I just leave it for you with a note. And he said no, I had to do it in person. And I said I di’n’t think that was fair. And he said I was to do what he told me and since I ‘clearly di’n’t want to do it’ he’d make sure it was done properly, which’s why he came with me. And then I said he was mean, mean, mean and I hated him. And he…” A silence as if she were listening to something nearby. She hurried on. “I’m not meant to argue with him ever is what he said and he gated me. So I can’t use the phone and I can’t watch telly and I can’t do anything but go to school and come home and it’s not fair.” She began to cry. “Gotta go. ’Bye,” she managed to say with a hiccup. Then the message was over.

Barbara sighed. She had not expected this of Taymullah Azhar. He had broken rules himself: leaving an arranged marriage and two small children to take up with an English girl with whom he’d fallen in love. He’d been ousted from his family as a result, forever a pariah to his own kin. Of all the people on earth, he was the last person she would have anticipated being so inflexible and unforgiving.

She was going to have to have a talk with him. Punishments, she thought, should match their crimes. But she knew she would have to come up with an approach that didn’t seem like actually talking to him, by which of course she really meant giving him a piece of her mind. No, she was going to have to dress it in the guise of a natural part of a conversation, which meant she was going to have to develop a subject of conversation that would allow the topics of Hadiyyah, lying, being gated, and unreasonable parents to arise naturally. At the moment, though, the very thought of all that verbal manoeuvring made Barbara’s head feel like a balloon too full of air. She made a mental note to seek out a reasonable excuse to talk to Azhar, and she uncapped her Stella Artois.

There was a good chance, she thought, that she would need to consume two bottles of lager tonight.

FU MADE THE necessary preparations. These did not take long because He had laid the groundwork well. Once the chosen boy had proved himself worthy, He had watched him until He knew all his routines and movements. So when the time was right, He was able to make a quick choice of the environs in which He would finally act. He chose the gym.

He felt confident. He’d found a place where He’d been able to park without difficulty each time he’d been in the vicinity. It was in a street where on one side a stained brick wall formed the boundary of a school-yard and on the other a cricket ground lay in darkness. The street wasn’t particularly close to the gym, but Fu didn’t expect that to present much trouble because, more important than anything else, the place He parked was on the route the boy would have to take to get to his home.

When he emerged from the gym, Fu was waiting although He made it seem as though their meeting were a coincidence.

“Hey,” Fu said, all pleased surprise. “Is that…What’re you doing here?”

The boy was three steps ahead of Him, shoulders hunched, as they always were, head hanging down. When he turned, Fu waited for recognition to dawn. It did quickly enough to satisfy.

The boy looked left and right, but it didn’t seem so much because he wanted to escape what was coming, as to see if anyone else was there to witness the circumstance of such a person being in such a place where that person patently didn’t belong. But there was no one nearby, for the gym’s entrance was on the side of the building, not the front on the main route more used by pedestrians.

The boy jerked his head in that age-old male adolescent form of hello. His short dreadlocks bounced round his dark face. “Hey. What’re you doing round here?”

Fu offered the excuse He’d planned. “Trying to make peace with my dad and getting nowhere, as usual.” It meant nothing at all in the general scheme of life, but Fu knew it would mean everything to the boy. It told a tale of brotherhood in twelve brief words, obvious enough to be understood by a thirteen-year-old, subtle enough to suggest that a bond of the unspoken might actually exist between them. “Heading back to the banger. What about you? D’you live round here?”

“Up past the station. Finchley Road and Frognal.”

“I’m parked in that direction. I’ll give you a lift if you like.”

He moved along, keeping His pace somewhere between a stroll and a brisk, wintertime walk. Like a regular mate, He lit a cigarette, offered one to the boy, and confided that He’d parked a bit of a distance from where He’d met His dad because He’d known He’d want to clear His head afterwards with a walk. “Never works out with the two of us talking,” Fu said. “Mum says she only wants us to relate to each other but I keep telling her you can’t relate to a bloke who walked out before you were born.” He felt the boy’s eyes on Him, but they suggested interest and not suspicion.

“I met my dad once. Works on German cars over in North Kensington, he does. I went to see him.”

“Waste of time?”

“Bloody waste.” The boy kicked a squashed Fanta can that lay in their path.

“Loser?”

“Bugger.”

“Wanker?”

“Yeah. No one else’ll prob’ly touch it.”

Fu gave a bark of laughter. “Motor’s just over that way,” He said. “Come on.” He crossed over the road, careful not to watch to see if the boy was following. He took His keys from His pocket and jangled them in His hand, the better to telegraph the nearness of the van should his companion begin to feel uneasy. He said, “Heard you’ve been doing well, by the way.”

The boy shrugged. Fu could tell he was pleased by the compliment, though.

“What’re you on to now?”

“Doing a design.”

“What sort?”

There was no reply. Fu glanced the boy’s way, thinking He might have pushed too far, invading what was delicate territory for some reason. And the boy did look embarrassed and reluctant to speak, but when he finally replied, Fu understood his hesitation: the discomfiture of a teenager afraid of being labelled uncool. He said, “For a church thing meets in a shop down Finchley Road.”

“That sounds good.” But it didn’t, really. The idea of the boy’s being attached to a church group gave Fu pause because the disenfranchised were what He wanted. A moment later, however, the boy clarified the level-or lack thereof-of both his virtue and his connection with others. “Rev Savidge’s got me in care at his house.”

“The…vicar is it?…of the church group?”

“Him and his wife. Oni. She’s from Ghana.”

“From Ghana? Recently?”

The boy shrugged. It seemed a habit with him. “Don’ know. It’s where his own people’re from. Rev Savidge’s people. It’s where they came from before they got sent to Jamaica on a slave ship. Oni, she’s called. Rev Savidge’s wife. Oni.”

Ah. The second and third time he’d said her name. Here, then, was a real something to be mined, several nuggets at once. Fu said, “Oni. That’s a brilliant name.”

“Yeah. She’s a star.”

“Like to live with them, then? Reverend Savidge and Oni?”

The shoulders again, that casual lift of them that hid what the boy no doubt was feeling, not to mention what he was wanting. “All right,” he said. “Better than with my mum anyway.” And before Fu could press, asking the boy questions that would reveal his mum’s imprisonment, thereby allowing Fu to forge yet another false bond with him, the boy said, “So where’s your car, then?” in a restless manner, which could be interpreted as a very bad sign.

Thankfully, though, they were nearly upon it, parked in the shadows of an enormous plane tree. “Right there,” Fu said, and He gave a look round to make sure the street was as deserted as it had been on His every recce of the site. It was. Perfect. He tossed his cigarette into the street, and when the boy had done the same, He unlocked the passenger door. “Hop in,” He said. “You hungry? I’ve some takeaway in that bag on the floor.”

Roast beef, although it should have been lamb. Lamb would have been richer with appropriate associations.

Fu shut the door when the boy was inside and going for the bag of food as required of him. He tucked right in. Happily, he didn’t notice that his door had no interior handle and that his seat belt had been removed. Fu joined him, heaving Himself into the driver’s seat and thrusting the ignition key into its home. He started the van, but He did not put it into gear, nor did He release its hand brake. He said to the boy, “Grab us something to drink, okay? I’ve a cooler back there. Behind my seat. I could do with a lager. There’s Cokes if you want one. Or have a beer yourself if you’d rather.”

“Cheers.” The boy twisted in his seat. He peered into the back where, because the van was carefully panelled and thoroughly insulated, it was conveniently dark as the devil’s bum. He said, “Behind where?” as required of him.

Fu said, “Hang on. I’ve got a torch here somewhere,” and He made much of searching round His seat till He put His hands on the torch in its special hidden spot. He said, “Got it. Have some light, then,” and He flicked it on.

Focused on the cooler and the promise of beer within it, the boy didn’t notice the rest of the van’s interior: the body board firmly in its brackets, the wrist and ankle restraints curled to either side on the floor, the stove from the vehicle’s former days, the roll of tape, the washing line, and the knife. Especially that. The boy saw none of this because like the others who’d preceded him, he was just a male adolescent with the male adolescent’s appetites for the illicit and in this moment the illicit was represented by beer. In another moment, an earlier moment, the illicit had been represented by crime. It was that for which he now stood doomed to punishment.

Turned in his seat and bending to the back of the van, the boy reached towards the cooler. This exposed his torso. It was a movement designed to aid what followed.

Fu turned the torch and pressed it into the boy. Two hundred thousand volts scrambled his nervous system.

The rest was easy.

LYNLEY WAS STANDING at the work top in the kitchen, downing a cup of the strongest coffee he’d been able to manage at half past four in the morning, when his wife joined him. In the doorway, Helen blinked against the overhead lights as she tied the belt of her dressing gown round her. She looked extremely weary.

“Bad night?” he asked her and added with a smile, “All that worry over christening clothes?”

“Stop,” she grumbled. “I dreamed our Jasper Felix was doing backflips in my stomach.”

She came to him and slipped her arms round his waist, yawning as she rested her head against his shoulder. “What are you doing dressed at this hour? The Press Bureau haven’t taken to offering predawn press briefings, have they? You know what I mean: See how diligently we work at the Met; we’re up before the sun on the scent of malefactors.”

“Hillier would ask for that if he thought of it,” Lynley replied. “Wait another week. It’ll occur to him.”

“Misbehaving, is he?”

“Just being Hillier. He’s parading Winston in front of the press like Rod Hull. Except poor Emu doesn’t get to speak.”

Helen looked up at him. “You’re angry about this, aren’t you? It’s not like you not to be philosophical. Is this about Barbara? Winston’s getting the promotion instead of her?”

“That was rotten of Hillier, but I should have seen it coming,” Lynley said. “He’d love to get rid of her.”

“Still?”

“Always. I’ve never known quite how to protect her, Helen. Even doing the superintendent bit temporarily, I feel at a loss. I haven’t a quarter of Webberly’s skill at this sort of thing.”

She released herself from his embrace and went to the cupboard where she took out a mug, which she filled with skimmed milk and put into the microwave to heat. She said, “Malcolm Webberly has the advantage of being Sir David’s brother-in-law, darling. That would have counted for something when they knocked heads on an issue, wouldn’t it?”

Lynley grumbled, neither agreement nor dissent. He watched his wife take her warmed milk from the microwave and stir a spoonful of Horlicks into it. He finished off his coffee and was rinsing out the cup when the front doorbell buzzed.

Helen turned from the work top, saying, “Who on earth…?” as she looked towards the wall clock.

“That’ll be Havers.”

“You are going to work, then? Really? At this hour?”

“Going to Bermondsey.” He left the kitchen and she followed, Horlicks in hand. “The market.”

Tell me it’s not to shop,” she said. “Bargains are bargains, and you know I’d never turn away from one myself, but surely one ought to draw the line at bargains reached before the sun comes up.”

Lynley chuckled. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us? The odd piece of priceless porcelain for twenty-five pounds? The Peter Paul Rubens hidden beneath two centuries of grime, with nineteenth-century household cats painted over it by a six-year-old?” He crossed the marble tiles of the entrance and opened the door to find Barbara Havers leaning against the iron railing, a knitted cap pulled low on her brow and a donkey jacket wrapped round her stubby body.

Havers said to Helen, “If you’re seeing him off at this hour, the honeymoon has definitely gone on too long.”

“My restless dreams are seeing him off,” Helen said. “That and general anxiety over the future, according to my husband.”

“Haven’t decided on the christening clobber yet?”

Helen looked at Lynley. “Did you actually tell her, Tommy?”

“Was it confidential?”

“No. Just inane. The situation, that is, not your telling it.” And then to Barbara, “We may have a small fire in the nursery. It will, unfortunately, burn both sets of clothes beyond use and recognition. What do you think?”

“Sounds just the ticket to me,” Havers said. “Why go for family compromise when you can have arson?”

“Our very thought.”

“Better and better,” Lynley said. He put his arm round his wife’s shoulders and kissed the side of her head. “Lock up behind me,” he instructed her. “And go back to bed.”

Helen spoke to her small bump. “Do not haunt my dreams again, young man. Mind your mummy.” And then to Lynley and Barbara, “And you mind how you go,” before she shut the door behind them.

Lynley waited to hear the bolts shoot into place. Next to him, Barbara Havers was lighting a cigarette. He eyed her with disapproval, saying, “At half past four in the morning? Even in my worst days, Havers, I couldn’t have managed that.”

“Are you aware there’s nothing more sanctimonious than a reformed smoker, sir?”

“I don’t believe it,” he replied, leading them down the street in the direction of the mews, where his car was garaged. “There must be something else.”

“Nothing,” she said. “There’ve been studies done on it. Even your basic Mary Magdalenes living now as nuns don’t rate a sausage compared to your former weed fiends.”

“It must be our concern for the health of our fellows.”

“More like your desire to inflict your misery on everyone else. Give it up, sir. I know you want to rip this out of my hand and smoke it to the nub. How long have you gone without at this point?”

“So long I can’t even remember, actually.”

“Oh, bloody right,” she said to the sky.

They set off in the blessing of early morning London: There was virtually no other vehicle on the streets. Because of this, they zipped through Sloane Square with all traffic lights in their favour, and in less than five minutes they saw the lights of Chelsea Bridge and the tall brick smokestacks of Battersea Power Station rising into the charcoal sky across the Thames.

Lynley chose a route along the embankment that kept them on the wrong side of the river as long as possible, where he was more familiar with the turf. Here too there were very few vehicles, just the odd cab heading into the centre of town for the day’s work and the occasional lorry getting a head start on deliveries. Thus they wended their way to the massive grey fortress that was the Tower of London before crossing over, and from there it was no difficult feat to find Bermondsey Market, not overly far along Tower Bridge Road.

Using the illumination of tall streetlamps, as well as torches, fairy lights strung round the occasional stall, and other localised lights of dubious origin and weak wattage, vendors were in the final stages of setting up for business. Their day would begin shortly-for the market opened at five in the morning and was a thing of memory by two in the afternoon-so they were intent upon the assembly of the poles and tables that defined their stalls. Around them in the darkness waited boxes of countless treasures, which were stacked on carts that had been wheeled into position from vans and cars along the nearby streets.

Already, there were people waiting to be the first to browse through everything from hairbrushes to high-button shoes. No one officially held them back, but it was clear from watching the vendors at work that customers would not be welcome until the goods were fully displayed beneath the predawn sky.

As in most London markets, the vendors occupied the same general area every time Bermondsey was open for business. So Lynley and Havers began at the north end and worked their way south, asking for someone who could talk to them about Kimmo Thorne. The fact that they were police did not garner them the quick cooperation they had hoped for under circumstances that involved the death of one of the vendors’ own. But this they knew was likely due to Bermondsey’s reputation for being a clearing ground for stolen property, a place where the trade part of “in the trade” frequently meant breaking and entering.

They’d spent more than an hour quizzing vendors when a seller of ersatz Victorian dressing-table sets (“This’s guaranteed one hunderd p’rcent the genuine article, sir and madam”) recognised Kimmo’s name, and after declaring both the name and the person in possession of it, “an odd l’tle sod, you ask me,” he directed Lynley and Havers to an elderly couple at a silver stall. “You talk to the Grabinskis over there,” he said, using his chin to indicate the direction. “They’ll be able to tell you what’s what with Kimmo. Dead sorry about wha’ happened to the l’tle sod. Read about it in the News of the World.”

So, evidently, had the Grabinskis, who turned out to be a couple whose only son had died years in the past but at something near the same age as Kimmo Thorne. They’d quite taken to the boy, they explained, not so much because he reminded them physically of their dear Mike but because he had something of Mike’s enterprising nature. This quality the Grabinskis both admired in Kimmo and deeply missed in their departed son, so when Kimmo had turned up on occasion with the odd something or other or a bagful of somethings he wanted to sell, they shared their stall with him and he gave them a portion of his profit.

Not that they’d ever asked him for it, Mrs. Grabinski said hastily. Her name was Elaine and she wore sage green Wellingtons with red wool kneesocks gaily turned over their tops. She was polishing an impressive epergne, and the moment Lynley had said Kimmo Thorne’s name, she’d said, “Kimmo? Who’s come to ask about Kimmo, then? ’Bout time, innit,” and she made herself available to help them. As did her husband, who was hanging a display of silver teapots on strings that dangled from one of the horizontal poles of the stall.

The boy had come to them first, hoping they would buy from him, Mr. Grabinksi-“Call me Ray”-informed them. But he asked a price they weren’t willing to pay, and when no one else in the market was willing to pay it either, Kimmo had returned to them with another offer: to sell from the stall himself and to give them a portion of the takings.

They’d liked the boy-“He was that cheeky,” Elaine confided-so they gave him a quarter of one of the tables along the side of the stall, and there he did his business. He sold silver pieces-some plate, some sterling-with a speciality in photo frames.

“We’ve been told he got into some trouble with that,” Lynley said. “Evidently he sold something that shouldn’t have been on sale in the first place.”

“Having been lifted off someone else,” Havers put in.

Oh, they knew nothing about that, both Grabinskis hastened to say. As far as they were concerned, it was someone wanting to get Kimmo in trouble who told that tale to the local rozzers. Doubtless, in fact, it was their chief competitor in the market: one Reginald Lewis, to whom Kimmo had also gone trying to sell his silver before returning to them. Reg Lewis was that jealous of anyone wanting to set up business round early morning Bermondsey, wasn’t he? He’d tried to keep the Grabinskis out twenty-two years back when they first started, he’d done the same to Maurice Fletcher and to Jackie Hoon when they started up.

“So there was no truth to Kimmo’s goods being stolen?” Havers asked, looking up from her notebook. “Because, when you think of it, how else would a kid like Kimmo be coming across valuable pieces of silver for sale?”

They had assumed he was selling off family pieces, Elaine Grabinski said. They did ask him and that’s what he told them: He was helping out his gran by offering the family silver to the public.

To Lynley it looked like a case of the Grabinskis believing what they had wanted to believe because they liked the boy, rather than a case of Kimmo being a sophisticated liar who pulled the wool over the eyes of an elderly couple. They had to have known at some level that he wasn’t the legitimate article, but at that same level, they had to have not cared.

“We told the police we’d speak up for the boy if it came to court,” Ray Grabinski asserted. “But once they carted poor Kimmo off, we didn’t hear ’nother word about him. Till we saw the News of the World, that is.”

“An’ you ask Reg Lewis ’bout that, you lot,” Elaine Grabinski said, returning to the epergne with renewed vigour. She added ominously, “What I wouldn’t put past him fits in a teaspoon,” and her husband said, “Now, pet,” and patted her shoulder.

Reg Lewis turned out to be only slightly less antique than his wares. He wore bright tartan braces beneath his jacket and they held up a pair of ancient plus fours. His spectacles were as thick as the bottom of whisky tumblers. Overlarge hearing aids protruded from his ears. He fit the profile of their serial killer as well as a sheep fit the profile of a genius.

He “weren’t s’prised none” when the cops had come calling for Kimmo, he told them. Something was off with the bugger first time Reg Lewis laid eyes on the creature. Dressed half man, half woman he did, with them tights of his or whatever they were, and those poncey ankle boots and the like. So when the cops showed up with a list of stolen property in their mitts, he-Reg Lewis, mind you-was not gobsmacked that they found what they were looking for in the possession of one Kimmo Thorne. Carted him off then and there, they did, and good riddance it was. Besmirching the reputation of the market, he was, flogging pinched silver. And not any pinched silver, mind you, but pinched silver that he’d been too thick to notice had personal and immediately identifiable engraving upon it.

What happened to Kimmo after that, Reg Lewis didn’t know and didn’t much care. The only good thing the little nancy boy did at the end of the day was not drag the Grabinskis down with him. And weren’t those two blind as bats in the daylight? Anyone with sense would’ve known that boy was up to no good when he first showed his mug in the market. Reg warned the Grabinskis off him, he did, but would they listen to someone with their best interests at heart? Not bloody likely. Yet who turned out to be right at the end of the day, eh? And who never heard a word of you-were-right-Reg-and-we-apologise-for-our-nastiness from anyone, eh?

Reg Lewis had nothing more to add. Kimmo had vanished that day with the coppers. Perhaps he’d done a stretch in borstal. Perhaps he’d had the fear of God put into him at the police station. All Reg knew was that the boy hadn’t brought any more stolen silver to sell in Bermondsey Market, which was fine by Reg. Cops over in Borough High Street could fill anyone in on the rest, couldn’t they.

Reg Lewis said everything but “good riddance to bad rubbish,” and if he’d read about or heard about Kimmo Thorne’s murder, he made no mention of the fact. But it was clear that the boy had done nothing to enhance the reputation of the market in Reg’s eyes. More than that, as he had pointed out, they would have to suss out from the local police.

They were on their way to do so-wending their way through the market, back to Lynley’s car-when his mobile rang.

The message was terse, its meaning unmistakable: He was wanted immediately on Shand Street, where a tunnel beneath the railway took the narrow little thoroughfare to Crucifix Lane. They had another body.

Lynley flipped off the phone and looked at Havers. “Crucifix Lane,” he said. “Do you know where it is?”

A vendor at a nearby stall answered the question. Right up Tower Bridge Road, he told them. Less than half a mile from where they stood.

A RAILWAY VIADUCT shooting out from London Bridge station comprised the north perimeter of Crucifix Lane. Bricks formed it, so deeply stained with more than a century of soot and grime that whatever their original colour had been, it was now a distant memory. What remained in that memory’s place was a bleak wall done up in variations of carbonaceous sediment.

Into this structure’s supporting arches had been built various places of business: lockups for hire, warehouses, wine cellars, car-repair establishments. But one of the arches created a tunnel through which ran a single lane that was Shand Street. The north part of this street served as the address of several small businesses closed at this hour of the morning and the south part of it-the longer part-curved under the railway viaduct and disappeared into the darkness. The tunnel here was some sixty yards long, a place of deep shadows whose cavernous roof was bandaged with corrugated steel plates from which water dripped, soundless against the consistent rumble of early morning trains heading into and out of London. More water ran down the walls, seeping from the rusty iron gutters at a height of eight feet, collecting in greasy pools below. The scent of urine made the tunnel’s air rank. Broken lights made its atmosphere chilling.

When Lynley and Havers arrived, they found the tunnel completely sealed off at either end, with a constable at the Crucifix Lane end who-clipboard in hand-was restricting entrance. He had apparently met his match in the early representatives of the news media, however, those hungry journalists who monitored every police station’s patch in the hope of being first with a breaking story. Five of them had already assembled at the police barrier, and they were shouting questions into the tunnel. Three photographers accompanied them, creating strobe-like lighting as they shot above and around the constable who was trying vainly to control them. As Lynley and Havers showed their identification, the first of the television news vans pulled up, disgorging camera and soundmen onto the pavement as well. A media officer was needed desperately.

“…serial killer?” Lynley heard one of the journalists call out as he crossed the barrier with Havers behind him.

“…kid? Adult? Male? Female?”

“Hang on, mate. Give us bloody something.”

Lynley ignored them, Havers muttered, “Vultures,” and they moved in the direction of a low-slung, paintless, and abandoned sports car sitting midway through the tunnel. Here, they learned, the body had been discovered by a taxi driver on his way from Bermondsey to Heathrow, from which he would spend the day driving transatlantic fares into London for an exorbitant price made more exorbitant by the perennial tailback on the east side of the Hammersmith Flyover. That driver was long gone, his statement taken. In his place the SOCO team already worked, and a DI from the Borough High Street station waited for Lynley and Havers to join him. He was called Hogarth, he said, and his DCI had given the word to make no moves till someone from Scotland Yard checked out the crime scene. It was clear he wasn’t happy about that.

Lynley couldn’t be troubled with unruffling the DI’s feathers. If this was indeed another victim of their serial killer, there would be far greater concerns than someone’s not liking having his patch invaded by New Scotland Yard.

He said to Hogarth, “What have we got?” as he donned a pair of latex gloves handed over by one of the scenes-of-crime officers.

“Black kid,” Hogarth replied. “Boy. Young. Twelve or thirteen? Hard to tell. Doesn’t fit the MO of the serial, you ask me. Don’t know why you lot got a call.”

Lynley knew. The victim was black. Hillier was covering his well-tailored backside in advance of his next press briefing. “Let’s see him,” he said, and he stepped past Hogarth. Havers followed.

The body had been deposited unceremoniously in the abandoned car, where the driver’s seat had over time disintegrated down to metal frame and springs. There, with its legs splayed out and its head lolling to one side, it joined Coke bottles, Styrofoam cups, carrier bags of rubbish, McDonald’s take-away containers, and a single rubber glove that lay on what had once been the rim of the car’s back window. The boy’s eyes were open, staring sightlessly at what remained of the car’s rusted steering column, short dreadlocks springing out of his head. With smooth walnut skin and perfectly balanced features, he had been quite lovely. He was also naked.

“Hell,” Havers murmured at Lynley’s side.

“Young,” Lynley said. “He looks younger than the last. Christ, Barbara. Why in God’s name…“ He didn’t finish, letting the unanswerable go unasked. He felt Havers’ glance graze him.

She said with a prescience that came from working with him for years, “There’re no guarantees. No matter what you do. Or what you decide. Or how. Or with whom.”

“You’re right,” he said. “There are never guarantees. But he’s still somebody’s son. All of them were that. We can’t forget it.”

“Think he’s one of ours?”

Lynley took a closer look at the boy, and upon a first glance, he found himself agreeing with Hogarth. While the victim was naked as had been Kimmo Thorne, his body clearly had been dumped without ceremony and not laid out like all the others. He had no piece of tatting as a modesty wrap on his genitalia, and there was no distinguishing mark on his forehead, both additional features of Kimmo Thorne’s body. His abdomen did not appear to be incised, but perhaps more important, the position of the body itself suggested haste and a lack of planning that were uncharacteristic of the other murders.

As the SOCO team moved round him with their evidence bags and collection kits, Lynley made a closer inspection. This proved to tell him a more complete tale. He said, “Have a look at this, Barbara,” as he gently lifted one of the boy’s hands. The flesh was deeply burned, and the marks of a restraint dug into the wrist.

There was much about any serial killing that was known only by its perpetrator, held back by the police for the dual reason of protecting the victims’ families from unnecessarily heartbreaking knowledge and of winnowing out false confessions from the attention seekers who plagued any investigation. In this particular case, there was much that still remained police knowledge only, and both the burns and the restraints were part of that knowledge.

Havers said, “That’s a pretty good indication of what’s what, isn’t it?”

“It is.” Lynley straightened up and glanced over to Hogarth. “He’s one of ours,” he said. “Where’s the pathologist?”

“Been and gone,” Hogarth replied. “Photographer and videographer as well. We’ve just been waiting for you lot before we clear him out of here.”

The rebuke was implied. Lynley ignored it. He asked for the time of death, for any witnesses, for the taxi driver’s statement.

“Pathologist’s given us a time of death between ten and midnight,” Hogarth said. “No witnesses to anything so far as we can tell, but that’s not surprising, is it. Not a place you’d find anyone with brains after dark.”

“As for the taxi driver?”

Hogarth consulted an envelope that he took from his jacket pocket. It evidently did duty as his notepad. He read off the name of the driver, his address, and the number of his mobile phone. He’d had no fare with him, the DI added, and the Shand Street tunnel was part of his regular route to work. “Goes past between five and half past every morning,” Hogarth told them. “Said this”-with a nod at the abandoned car-“has been here for months. Complained about it more’n once, he said. Banged on about how it’s asking for trouble when Traffic Division can’t seem to get round to-” Hogarth’s attention went from Lynley to the Crucifix Lane end of the tunnel. He frowned. “Who’s this? You lot expecting a colleague?”

Lynley turned. A figure was coming along the tunnel towards them, backlit from the lights for the television cameras that were rolling in the street. There was something familiar about the shape of him: big and bulky, with a slight stoop to the shoulders.

Havers was saying cautiously, “Sir, isn’t that…” when Lynley himself realised who it was. He drew in a breath so sharp that he felt its pressure beat within his eyes. The interloper on the crime scene was Hillier’s profiler, Hamish Robson, and there could be only one way he’d gained access to the tunnel.

Lynley didn’t hesitate before striding towards the man. He took Robson by the arm without preamble. “You need to leave at once,” he said. “I don’t know how you managed to cross that barrier, but you’ve no business here, Dr. Robson.”

Robson was clearly surprised by the greeting. He glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the barrier through which he’d just come. He said, “I had a phone call from Assistant-”

“I’ve no doubt of that. But the assistant commissioner was out of order. I want you to clear out. Immediately.”

Behind his glasses, Robson’s eyes assessed. Lynley could feel the evaluation going on. He could read the profiler’s conclusion as well: subject experiencing understandable stress. True enough, Lynley thought. Each time the serial killer struck, the bar would be raised. Robson hadn’t seen stress yet, compared to what he’d see if the killer snuffed out someone else before the police got to him.

Robson said, “I can’t pretend to know what’s going on between you and AC Hillier. But now that I’m here, I might be of use to you if I have a look. I’ll keep my distance. There’s no risk I’ll contaminate your crime scene. I’ll wear what you need me to wear: gloves, overalls, cap, whatever. Now I’m here, use me. I can help you if you’ll let me.”

“Sir…?” Havers spoke.

Lynley saw that from the opposite end of the tunnel, a trolley had been wheeled, the body bag upon it ready to be used. A SOCO team member stood with paper bags prepared for the victim’s hands. All that was required was a nod from Lynley and part of the problem engendered by Robson’s presence would be taken care of: There would be nothing for him to see.

Havers said, “Ready?”

Robson said quietly, “I’m already here. Forget how and why. Forget Hillier altogether. For God’s sake, use me.”

The man’s voice was as kind as it was insistent, and Lynley knew there was truth in what he said. He could hold rigidly to the arrangement he’d negotiated with Hillier or he could use the moment and refuse to let it mean anything else than simply that: seizing an opportunity in front of him, one that presented a chance to have a bit more insight into the mind of a killer.

Abruptly, he said to the team members waiting to bag the body, “Hang on for a moment.” And then to Robson, “Have a look, then.”

Robson nodded, murmured, “Good man,” and approached the paintless car. He went no closer than four feet from it and when he wanted to examine the hands, he did not touch them but rather asked DI Hogarth to do it. For his part, Hogarth shook his head in disbelief but cooperated. Having Scotland Yard there at all was bad enough; having a civilian on the scene was unthinkable. He lifted the hands with an expression that said the world had gone mad.

After several minutes of contemplation, Robson returned to Lynley’s side. He said first what Lynley and Havers had themselves said, “So young. God. This can’t be easy for any of you. No matter what you’ve seen in your careers.”

“It isn’t,” Lynley said.

Havers came to join them. By the car, the preparations began for transferring the body onto the trolley, to remove it for postmortem examination.

Robson said, “There’s a change. Things are escalating now. You can see he’s treated the body completely differently: no covering of the genitals, no respectful positioning. There’s no regret at all, no psychic restitution. Instead, there’s a real need to humiliate the boy: legs spread out, genitalia exposed, seated with the rubbish deposited by vagrants. His interaction with this boy prior to death was unlike his interactions with the others. With them, something occurred to stir him to regret. With this boy, that didn’t happen. Rather, its opposite did. Not regret, then, but pleasure. And pride in the accomplishment as well. He’s confident now. He’s sure he won’t be caught.”

Havers said, “How can he think that? He’s put this kid on a public street, for God’s sake.”

“That’s just the point.” Robson gestured to the far end of the tunnel, where Shand Street opened up to the small businesses that lined it in a few dozen yards of South London redevelopment that took the form of modern brick buildings with decorative security gates in front of them. “He’s placed the body where he could easily have been seen doing so.”

“Couldn’t you argue the same of the other locations?” Lynley asked.

“You could do, but consider this. In the other locations, there was far less risk for him. He could have used something no witness would question as he transported the body from his vehicle to the dump site: a wheelbarrow, for example, a large duffel bag, a street sweeper’s trolley. Anything that wouldn’t seem out of place in that particular area. All he had to do was get the body from his vehicle to the dump site itself, and under cover of darkness, using that reasonable means of transport, he’d be fairly safe. But here, he’s out in the open the moment he puts the body into that derelict car. And he didn’t just dump it there, Superintendent. It only looks dumped. But make no mistake. He arranged it. And he was confident he wouldn’t be caught at his work.”

“Cocky bastard,” Havers muttered.

“Yes. He’s proud of what he’s been able to accomplish. I expect he’s somewhere nearby even now, watching all the activity he’s managed to provoke and enjoying every bit of it.”

“What d’you make of the missing incision? The fact that he didn’t mark the forehead. Can we conclude he’s backing off now?”

Robson shook his head. “I expect the missing incision merely means that, for him, this killing was different to the others.”

“Different in what way?”

“Superintendent Lynley?” It was Hogarth, who’d been supervising the transfer of the body from the car to the trolley. He’d stopped the action prior to the body bag being zipped round the corpse. “You might want a look at this.”

They went back to him. He was gesturing to the boy’s midsection. There, what had been obscured before by the body’s slumped position in the seat was visible now that it was stretched on the trolley. While the incision from sternum to navel had indeed not been made on this most recent victim, the navel itself had been removed. Their killer had taken another souvenir.

That he’d done so after death was evident in the lack of blood from the wound. That he’d done so in anger-or possibly in haste-was evident in the slash across the stomach. Deep and uneven, it provided access to the navel, which a pair of secateurs or scissors had then removed.

“Souvenir,” Lynley said.

“Psychopath,” Robson added. “I suggest you post surveillance at all the previous crime scenes, Superintendent. He’s likely to return to any one of them.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

FU WAS CAREFUL WITH THE RELIQUARY. HE CARRIED IT before Him like a priest with a chalice and set it down on a tabletop. Gently, He removed the lid. A vaguely putrescent odour wafted upward, but He found that the smell did not bother Him nearly as much as it had done at first. The scent of decay would fade soon enough. But the achievement would be there forever.

He looked down upon the relics, satisfied. There were two of them now, nestling like shells in a rain cloud. With the slightest of shakes, the cloud subsumed them, and that was the beauty of where He’d placed them. The relics were gone, but still they were there, like something hidden within the altar of a church. In fact, the activity of reverently moving the reliquary from one place to another was indeed just like being in a church, but without the social restrictions that churchgoing always placed upon members of the congregation.

You’ll sit up straight. You’ll stop the fidgeting. D’you need a lesson in how to behave? When you’re told to kneel, you do it, boy. Put your palms together. God damn it. Pray.

Fu blinked. The voice. At once distant and present, telling him a maggot had slunk into his head. In through His ear and onward to His brain. He’d been less than careful, and the thought of church had given it entry at last. A snicker initially. Then an outright laugh. Then the echo of pray, pray and pray.

And, Finally looking for a job, are you? Where d’you expect to find one, stupid git? And you get out of the way, Charlene, or do you want some of this for yourself?

It was yammer and yammer. It was shout and shout. It sometimes went on for hours at a time. He’d thought He’d finally rid Himself of the worm, but thinking of church had been His mistake.

I want you out of this house, you hear? Sleep in a doorway if that’s what it takes. Or don’t you have the bottle for that?

You drove her there, blast you. You did her in.

Fu squeezed His eyes shut. He reached out blindly. His hands found an object, and His fingers felt buttons. He pushed them indiscriminately until sound roared forth.

He found Himself staring at the television set, where a picture came into focus as the voice of the maggot faded away. It took Him a moment to understand what He was looking at: The morning news was assaulting His ears.

Fu gazed at the screen. Things began to make sense. A female reporter with wind-tousled hair stood in front of a police barricade. Behind her, the black arch of the Shand Street tunnel gaped like the upper jaw of Hades, and deep within that piss-scented cavern, temporary lights illuminated the back end of the abandoned Mazda.

Fu relaxed into the sight of that car, released and released. It was, He thought, unfortunate that the barrier had been set up at the south end of the tunnel. From this position, the body could not be seen. And He’d taken such pains to make the message clear: The boy doomed himself, don’t you see? Not to retribution, from which there had never once been a realistic hope of escape, but from release. Until the end, the boy had both protested and denied.

Fu had expected to wake from the night with a sense of disquiet, born of the boy’s refusal to admit his shame. True, He hadn’t felt any such sense at the moment of his death, experiencing instead the momentary loosing of the vice that had His brain in its grasp, tighter and tighter with each passing day. But He had assumed He’d feel it later on, when clarity and personal honesty demanded that He evaluate His choice of subject. Yet upon waking He hadn’t felt anything remotely like unease at all. Instead, until the arrival of the maggot, well-being had continued to suffuse Him, like the sense of repletion after a good meal.

“…not releasing any other information at the moment,” the reporter was saying earnestly. “We know there’s a body, we’ve heard-and let me stress that we’ve only heard, and it has not been confirmed-that it’s the body of a boy, and we’ve been told that officers have arrived from the Met police squad already investigating the last murder in St. George’s Gardens. But as to whether this latest killing is related to the earlier murders…We’re going to have to wait for word on that.”

As she spoke, several individuals came out of the tunnel behind her: plainclothes cops by the look of them. A dumpy woman with pudding-basin hair took some direction from a blond officer in an overcoat that had the look of old money about it. She nodded once and headed out of sight, whereupon the officer stood in conversation with a bloke in a mustard anorak and another with concave shoulders and a crumpled mac.

The reporter said, “I’ll just see if I can have a word…,” and advanced as close to the barricade as she could get. But every other reporter had the same idea, and so much jostling and shouting ensued that no one got an answer to anything. The cops ignored the lot of them, but the telly cameraman zoomed in anyway. Fu got a good look at His adversaries. The dumpy woman was gone, but He had time to study Overcoat, Anorak, and Crumpled Mac. He knew He was more than a match for them.

“Five and counting,” He murmured to the television. “Don’t touch that dial.”

Nearby, He had a cup of tea that He’d made upon waking, and He saluted the television with it before He replaced it on a nearby table. Around Him, the house creaked as its pipes supplied the old radiators with water to heat the rooms, and He heard in those creaks an announcement of the maggot’s imminent return.

Look at this, He would instruct as He pointed to the television where the police discussed Him and His handiwork. I leave the message, and they must read. Every step of it planned in exquisite detail.

The stertorous breathing behind Him, then. That eternal signal of the maggot’s presence. Not in His head now, but here in this room.

What’re you doing, boy?

Fu didn’t need to have even a look. The shirt would be white, as it always was, but worn at both the collar and cuffs. The trousers would be charcoal or brown, the tie knotted perfectly and the cardigan buttoned. He’d have polished his shoes, polished his specs, and polished his round bald head as well.

The question again: What’re you doing? with the threat implicit in the tone.

Fu made no reply since the answer was obvious: He was watching the news and experiencing the unfolding of His personal history. He was making His mark, and wasn’t that exactly what He’d been instructed to do?

You best answer me when I speak to you. I asked what’re you doing and I want a reply.

And then, Where the hell were you brought up? Get that teacup off the bloody wood. You want to polish the furniture in your spare time since you’ve got so much of it? What’re you thinking about anyway? Or are you out of practice in that department?

Fu fixed His attention on the television. He could wait him out. He knew what came next because some things were written: bran in warm milk, soaked into slop, a glass of fibre dissolved in juice, those prayers sent heavenward for a quick movement of the bowels so he wouldn’t have to experience said movement in a public place like the gents’ loo at school. And if movement was achieved, a triumphant notation on the calendar hanging inside the cupboard door. R for regular when regular was the last thing a maggot could ever hope to be.

But something was different this morning. Fu could feel him charging, a horseman directly from Revelations.

Saying, Where are they? What’ve you bloody done…I told you to keep your filthy mitts off. Didn’t I say? Didn’t I expressly tell you? You turn off that God damn telly and look at me when I’m talking to you.

He wanted the remote. Fu would not hand it over.

You defying me, Charlene? You defying me?

What if He was? Fu thought. What if she was? What if they were? What if He did? What if everyone did? Amazingly, He found Himself unafraid, wary nevermore, utterly at ease, even a bit amused. The maggot’s power was nothing in comparison with His own now that He’d finally taken it up, and the beauty of it all was that the maggot had no idea who or what he was dealing with. Fu felt such a presence in His veins, such capability, such sureness and knowledge. He rose from the chair, and He allowed His body to come into its fullness, undisguised. He said, “I wanted and I took. That’s what it was.”

Then nothing. Nothing. It was as if the maggot read Fu’s power. He sensed a sea change.

“Good on you,” Fu said to him. Self-preservation tended to gain you very high marks round here.

But the maggot couldn’t leave it completely alone, not when his way of simply being had long been so thoroughly ingrained in him. So he watched Fu’s every move and he waited, eager for an indication that it was safe to speak.

Fu went to put the kettle on to boil. Perhaps, He thought, He would have a whole bloody pot of tea. And He would choose a blend possessing something of a vaguely celebratory air. He studied the boxes of tea in the cupboard. Imperial gunpowder? He thought. Too weak, although He had to admit that He found the name attractive. He settled on one that had been His mother’s favourite: Lady Grey, with its hint of fruit.

And then, What are you doing up? Before nine a.m. the first time in…how long? When’re you planning to do something useful? That’s what I really want to know.

Fu looked up from spooning Lady Grey into the teapot. “No one knows,” he said. “Not you, not anyone.”

That’s what you think? Taking a slash in public, but no one knows? Your name on the charge sheet three or four times and that’s fine, isn’t it? Who’s going to care? And don’t you touch Charlene! Anyone touches the stupid cow, it’s going to be me.

Now they were in familiar territory: the open-palm slapping so as not to leave a mark, the grip on the hair and the head jerked back, the shove into the wall and the kick in places where it wouldn’t show.

Punctured lung, Fu thought. Was that what it was? Saying, You watch, boy. You learn from this.

Fu felt the urge come upon Him, then. His fingertips tingled and the muscles throughout His body made Him ready to strike. But no. The time was not right. When the day came, though, it was going to be such a pleasure to lower the pudgy, soft, never-known-hard-work hands to the pan, to its burning surface. His face hovering above the maggot and His lips hurling the curses this time…

He would beg like all the others. But Fu would not relent. He would take him to the edge, like the others. And just like the others, He would hurl him over.

See my power. Know my name.

DETECTIVE CONSTABLE Barbara Havers made her way over to Borough police station and found it on the High Street, which in this part of town and at this time of morning was funneling commuters through its narrow canyon. The noise level was intense, and the cold air was heavy with diesel exhaust fumes. These were doing their best to deposit even more grime upon the already grimy buildings that sat back from pavements littered with everything from beer cans to condoms limp with use. It was that kind of neighbourhood.

Barbara was beginning to feel the stress. She’d never worked on a serial killing before, and while she’d always known the sensation of urgency attendant on getting to a killer and making an arrest, she’d never actually experienced what she was experiencing now, which was the feeling that she was somehow personally responsible for this latest murder. Five now, with no one held to an accounting. Whatever else, they weren’t working fast enough.

She was finding it difficult to keep her focus on Kimmo Thorne, victim number four. With number five dead and number six out there, somewhere innocently going about his daily affairs, it was all she could do to stay calm as she entered the Borough High Street station and flashed her identification.

She needed to speak to whoever had nabbed a kid called Kimmo Thorne in Bermondsey Market, she told the special. The matter was urgent.

She watched as he placed three telephone calls. He spoke low, keeping his eye upon her and no doubt evaluating her as a representative of New Scotland Yard. She didn’t look the part-disheveled and ill dressed, with all the glamour of a wheelie bin-and this morning she knew she was particularly unkempt. One did not rise before four A.M., spend several hours in the grime of South London, and still manage to swan about looking like the catwalk was in one’s afternoon diary. She’d thought her red high-top trainers had added a cheerful touch to her ensemble. But they seemed to be causing the special constable the most concern, considering the disapproving looks he kept casting in their direction.

She paced over to a notice board and read about community-action committees and neighbourhood watch programmes. She considered adopting two sad-looking dogs whose pictures were posted, and she memorised the phone number of someone willing to sell her the secrets of instant weight loss while allowing her to continue to eat whatever she wanted. She went on to read all about “Taking the Offensive When Walking at Night” and was halfway through this when a door opened and a male voice said, “Constable Havers? You’re wanting me, I believe.” She turned and saw a middle-aged Sikh in the doorway, his turban blindingly white and his dark eyes deeply soulful. He was called DS Gill, he told her. Would she accompany him to the canteen? He’d been having his breakfast, and if she didn’t mind his finishing it…Mushrooms on toast with baked beans. He had become more English than the English, he said.

She took a coffee and a chocolate croissant from the food on offer, eschewing the wiser and decidedly more nutritious possibilities. Why indulge in a virtuous half grapefruit when she was soon to learn the secret of weight loss while continuing to eat whatever she wanted, which was usually something laced with lard? She paid for her goodies and carried them to the table where DS Gill was once again tucking into the breakfast she had interrupted.

He told her that everyone at the Borough High Street station knew about Kimmo Thorne, even if not everyone had met the boy. Kimmo had long been one of those individuals whose doings were never far from the police radar screen. When his aunt and his gran had reported him missing, no one at the station had been surprised, although to have him turn up as a murder victim whose body was dumped in St. George’s Gardens…That had shaken a few of the less hardened officers at the station, making them wonder if they had done enough to try to keep Kimmo on the straight and narrow.

“You see, we quite liked the boy here, Constable Havers,” Gill confided in his pleasant Eastern voice. “My gracious, he was a character, Kimmo: always ready with the chat, whatever his circumstances happened to be. To be honest, it was very difficult not to like him, despite the cross-dressing and soliciting. Although, to be frank, we never actually caught him in the act of soliciting, no matter how we went about it. That boy had such a sense for when someone was undercover…If I may say so, he was streetwise beyond his years, and for that reason we may have fallen derelict in our duty to apprehend him by a more advanced means, which could in turn have saved him. And for this, I personally”-he touched his chest-“do feel responsible.”

“His mate-a bloke called Blinker…one Charlie Burov-says they worked it as a pair across the river. Out of Leicester Square and not round here. Kimmo did the deed while Blinker kept watch.”

“That explains some of it,” Gill noted.

“Some?”

“Well, you see, he was not a stupid boy. We’d had him in for warnings. We tried to tell him time and again that it was only luck that was keeping him out of trouble, but he would not hear us.”

“Kids,” Barbara said. She was trying to be delicate with her croissant, but it was defying her attempts at social nicety, dissolving into delicious flakes that she restrained herself from licking from her fingers, not to mention from the table. “What’re you going to do about them, anyway? They think they’re immortal. Didn’t you?”

“At that age?” Gill shook his head. “I was far too hungry then to think immortality was in store for me, Constable.” He’d finished his breakfast and folded his paper napkin neatly. He placed his plate to one side and brought his cup of tea closer. “For Kimmo, it was more than a sense that he could not be hurt, that he could not fall into danger by making the wrong choice. He had to believe himself an astute judge of whom to go with and whom to refuse because he had plans, and soliciting was a means to make them happen. He could not-and would not-give it up.”

“What sort of plans?”

Gill looked momentarily embarrassed, as if against his will he were about to confide an offensive secret to a lady. “Actually, he wished to have a sexual change. He was saving for that. He told us the first time we had him into the station.”

“A bloke over in the market said you lot finally sent him down for selling stolen goods,” Barbara said. “But what I don’t get is why Kimmo Thorne? There’s got to be dozens over there flogging lumber they’ve nicked.”

“This is true,” Gill said. “But as you and I well know, we do not have the manpower to sort through every stall in every market in London to ascertain which products are legitimately on offer and which are not. In this particular case, however, Kimmo was selling items that-without his knowledge-had all been engraved with infinitesimal serial numbers. And the last thing he expected was to find the owners of the items seeking them out Friday after Friday in the market. When they found him with their belongings for sale, they rang us up directly. I was called out and…” He raised his fingers. The gesture said, The rest is history.

“You’d never twigged before that that he was breaking and entering?”

“He was rather like a canine in that,” Gill said. “He did not foul his own den. When he wished to break the law, he did so in another station’s jurisdiction. He was clever that way.”

Thus, Gill explained, Kimmo’s arrest for selling stolen property went down as his first offence. Because of that, when he went in front of the magistrate, he was put on probation. This too the DS deeply regretted. Had Kimmo Thorne been taken seriously, had he been given more than a slap on the hand and a probation officer in Youth Offenders to report to, he might have changed his ways and still been walking the streets today. But alas, that had not happened. Instead, he’d been sent to an organisation for youth at risk and they’d tried to work with him.

Barbara’s ears pricked up. Organisation? she asked. What? Where?

It was a charity called Colossus, Gill told her. “A fine project, right here, south of the river,” he said. “They offer young people alternatives to street life, crime, and drugs. With recreational programmes, community activities, life-skills classes…And not just for youth at risk with the law, but for the homeless, for truants, for those in care…I admit to having relaxed my own vigilance on Kimmo’s behalf when I knew he had been assigned to Colossus. Surely, I thought, someone there would take him under a protective wing.”

“As a mentor?” Barbara asked. “Is that what they do?”

“That’s what he needed,” Gill said. “Someone to take an interest in him. Someone to assist him towards seeing he had a degree of value that he did not quite believe he actually had. Someone to turn to. Someone to…” The DS seemed to bring himself up short, perhaps realising he’d gone from relaying information as an officer of the law to advocating action like a social militant. He loosened the tight grip he had on his teacup.

Small wonder that he was upset by the boy’s death, Barbara thought. With his present mind-set, she wondered not only how long Gill had been a cop but also how he managed to stay one, facing what he had to face at work every day. She said, “It’s not your fault, you know. You did what you could. Fact is, you did more than most cops would’ve done.”

“But as things turned out, I did not do enough. And that is what I must live with now. A boy is dead because Detective Sergeant Gill could not bring himself to do enough.”

“But there are millions of kids like Kimmo,” Barbara protested.

“And most of them are alive at this moment.”

“You can’t help them all. You can’t save each one.”

“That is what we tell ourselves, isn’t it?”

“What else should we tell ourselves?”

“That saving all of them is not required of us. What is required is helping the ones whom we come across. And this, Constable, I failed to do.”

“Bloody hell. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“Who else,” he said, “is there to do so? Tell me that if you will. Because here is exactly what I believe: If more of us were hard on ourselves, more children would live lives all children deserve.”

At this, Barbara dropped her gaze from his. She knew she couldn’t argue with that. But the fact that she wanted to do so told her how close she herself was to caring too much. And this, she knew, made her more like Gill than she, as part of the team investigating these crimes, could afford to be.

That was the irony about police work. Care too little and more people died. Care too much and you couldn’t catch their killer.

“I’D LIKE A WORD,” Lynley said. “Now.” He didn’t add sir and he made no real effort to modulate his voice. Had he been present, Hamish Robson no doubt would have taken note of everything his tone implied about aggression and the need to settle a score, but Lynley didn’t care about that. They’d negotiated an arrangement. Hillier hadn’t upheld it.

The AC had just concluded a meeting with Stephenson Deacon. The head of the Press Bureau had left Hillier’s office looking as grim as Lynley felt. Things were obviously not going smoothly at that end of things, and for a moment Lynley took a perverse pleasure in this. The thought of Hillier eventually dangling in the wind of the Press Bureau’s machinations before a pack of baying journalists was deeply gratifying just now.

Hillier said, as if he hadn’t spoken, “Where the hell is Nkata? We’ve a meeting with the media coming up and I want him here in advance.” He gathered up an array of papers spread out on his conference table and shoved them at an underling who was still seated there, having attended the meeting that had gone on prior to Lynley’s arrival. He was a razor-thin twentysomething in John Lennon spectacles who was continuing to take notes as he apparently tried to avoid becoming the focus of Hillier’s exasperation. “They’re on to colour,” the AC said curtly. “So who the hell over there”-he jerked his finger in what Lynley decided was supposed to be a southerly direction, meaning south of the river, meaning the Shand Street tunnel-“leaked that bit to those predators? I want to know and I want that bugger’s head on a dish. You, Powers.”

The underling jumped to, leaning in to say, “Sir? Yes, sir?”

“Get that halfwit Rodney Aronson on the phone. He’s running The Source these days, and the colour question came in by phone from someone on that rotten little rag. Trace it back to us that way. Put pressure on Aronson. On anyone else you come across as well. I want every leak plugged by the end of the day. Get on to it.”

“Sir.” Powers scooted from the room.

Hillier went to his desk. He picked up the phone and punched in a few numbers, either oblivious of or indifferent to Lynley’s presence and his state of mind. Unbelievably, he began to book himself a massage.

Lynley felt as if battery acid were running through his veins. He strode across the room to Hillier’s desk, and he pushed the button to disconnect the AC from his phone call. Hillier snapped, “What the bloody hell do you think you’re-”

“I said I want a word,” Lynley cut in. “You and I had an arrangement, and you’ve violated it.”

“Do you know who you’re talking to?”

“Only too well. You brought Robson in as window dressing, and I allowed it.”

Hillier’s florid face went crimson. “No one bloody allows-”

“Our agreement was that I would decide what he saw and what he didn’t see. He had no business at anyone’s crime scene, but there he was, given access. There’s only one way that sort of thing happens.”

“That’s right,” Hillier said. “Keep it in mind. There’s only one way anything happens round here and you are not that way. I’ll decide who has access to what, when, and how, Superintendent, and if it comes to me that it might advance the investigation by having the Queen turn up to shake hands with the corpse, then prepare yourself to tug your forelock because her Roller’s going to drop her off for a look. Robson’s part of the team. Cope with it.”

Lynley was incredulous. One moment the assistant commissioner was frothing at the mouth about locating leaks within the investigation; the next moment he was happily welcoming a potential snout right into their midst. But the problem went beyond what Hamish Robson might deliberately or inadvertently reveal to the media. He said, “Had it occurred to you that you’re putting this man at risk? That you’re exposing him to danger just for the hell of it? You’re making yourself look good at his expense, and if anything goes wrong, it’s down to the Met. Have you thought of that?”

“You’re so far out of order-”

“Answer my question!” Lynley said. “There’s a killer out there who’s taken five lives, and for all we know he was standing behind the barrier this morning, among the gawkers, taking note of everyone who came and went.”

“You’re being hysterical,” Hillier said. “Get out of this office. I’ve no intention of listening to you rant like a common lout. If you can’t handle the pressure of this case, then take yourself off it. Or I’ll do it for you. Now where the hell is Nkata? He’s meant to be here when I talk to the press.”

“Are you listening to me? Have you any idea…” Lynley wanted to pound his fist on the top of the AC’s desk, just to feel something beyond outrage for a moment. He tried to calm himself. He lowered his voice. “Listen to me, sir. It’s one thing for a killer to mark one of us. That’s part of the risk we face when we take the job. But to put someone in the sight lines of a psychopath just to protect your political backside-”

“That’s enough!” Hillier looked apoplectic. “That’s bloody well enough. I’ve put up with your insolence for years but you’re so far out of order at this point…” He came round the desk, stopping within three inches of Lynley. “Get out of this office,” he hissed. “Get back to work. For the moment, we’re going to pretend this conversation never happened. You’re going to go about your business, you’re going to obey every order that comes in your direction, you’re going to get to the bottom of this mess, and you’re going to make a prompt arrest. After that”-here Hillier poked Lynley’s chest and Lynley’s vision went red although he managed to restrain himself from reacting-“we’ll decide what’s going to happen to you. Have I made myself clear? Yes? Good. Now get back to work and get a result.”

Lynley allowed the AC the last word although it felt like swallowing poison to do so. He turned on his heel and left Hillier to his political scheming. He used the stairs to descend to the incident room, cursing himself for thinking he could make a difference in Hillier’s way of doing business. He needed to keep his focus on matters that counted, he realised, and the AC’s use of Hamish Robson was going to have to be eliminated from that list.

All the members of the murder squad were in the picture with regard to the Shand Street tunnel body, and when Lynley joined them it was to find them as subdued as he expected. All counted, they numbered thirty-three now: from the constables on the street to the secretaries keeping track of all the reports and relevant documentation. Being defeated by a single individual when they had the power of the Met behind them-with everything from sophisticated communications systems and CCTV films to forensic labs and databases-was more than disheartening. It was humiliating. And worse, it had failed to stop a killer.

So they were much subdued when Lynley entered. The only noise among them was the tapping of computer keys. That too ceased when Lynley said quietly, “What’s the form?”

DI John Stewart spoke from one of his multicoloured outlines. Triangulating the crime scenes wasn’t proving fruitful, he said. The killer was, literally, all over the London map. This suggested a confident knowledge of the city, which in turn suggested someone whose day job would give him that knowledge.

“Taxi driver comes to mind, obviously,” Stewart said. “Minicab driver. Bus driver as well, since not one body site is particularly far off a bus route either.”

“The profiler’s saying he’s working a job below his ability,” Lynley acknowledged, although he was loath even to mention Hamish Robson after his contretemps with Hillier.

“Courier works as well,” one of the DCs pointed out. “Riding round on a motorbike’d give you the Knowledge as good as studying to drive a black cab.”

“Even a bicycle,” someone else said.

“But, then, where does the van come in?”

“Personal transport? He doesn’t use it for his job?”

“What do we have on the van?” Lynley asked. “Who talked to the St. George’s Gardens witness?”

A team two constable spoke up. Careful massaging of the witness had initially gleaned nothing, but she’d phoned in late last night with a sudden memory, which, she said, she hoped was a real memory and not a combination of imagination and her desire to help the police. At any rate, she felt she could say with confidence that it was a full-size van they were looking for. It had faded white lettering on the side, suggesting it was or had once been a business van.

“Confirmation for the Ford Transit, essentially,” Stewart said. “We’re working with the DVLA list, looking for a red one that belongs to a business.”

“And?” Lynley said.

“Takes time, Tommy.”

“We haven’t got time.” Lynley heard the agitation in his voice and he knew the others heard it as well. He was reminded at the worst possible moment that he wasn’t Malcolm Webberly, that he didn’t possess the former superintendent’s calm, nor his steady approach when under pressure. He saw in the faces gathered round him that the other officers were thinking this as well. He said more evenly, “Move forward on that front, John. The moment you’ve got something, I’ll want to know.”

“As to that…,” Stewart hadn’t made eye contact at Lynley’s outburst, instead making a notation that he underscored three times partway down his precise outline. “We’ve got two sources from the Net. For the ambergris oil.”

“Only two?”

“It’s not your everyday purchase.” The two sources were in opposite directions: a shop called Crystal Moon on Gabriel’s Wharf-

“That’s a south-of-the-river location for us,” someone noted hopefully.

– and a stall in Camden Lock Market called Wendy’s Cloud. Someone would need to suss out each place.

“Barbara lives up in the Camden Lock area,” Lynley said. “She can deal with that. Winston can…Where is he, by the way?”

“Hiding from Dave the Knave, probably,” was the reply, an irreverent reference to Hillier. “He’s started getting fan mail from the telly watchers, has Winnie. All those lonely birds looking for a man with promise.”

“Is he in the building?”

No one knew. “Get him on his mobile. Havers as well.”

As he spoke, Barbara Havers arrived. Winston Nkata followed in her wake seconds later. The others greeted them with tension-diffusing hoots and ribald greetings that suggested their dual advent had a personal explanation behind it.

Havers gave them two fingers. “Sod you lot,” she said affably. “I’m surprised to find you outside of the canteen.”

For his part, Nkata merely said, “Sorry. Trying to track down a social worker for the Salvatore boy.”

“Success?” Lynley asked.

“Sod all.”

“Keep with it. Hillier’s looking for you, by the way.”

Nkata scowled. He said, “Got something on Jared Salvatore from Peckham police.” He relayed all the information he’d gathered, while the others listened and made relevant notes. “Girlfriend said he was learning to cook somewhere, but the blokes at the station aren’t giving that credence,” he concluded.

“Have someone check the cookery schools,” Lynley told DI Stewart. Stewart nodded and made a note. Lynley said, “Havers? What about Kimmo Thorne?”

She said that everything they’d been told by Blinker and then by the Grabinskis and Reg Lewis in Bermondsey Market had checked out with the Borough police. She went on to add that Kimmo Thorne had evidently been involved in a programme called Colossus, which she called “Bunch of do-gooders south of the river.” She’d gone there to check out the place: a renovated manufacturing plant not far from the knot of streets that merged at Elephant and Castle. “They weren’t open yet,” Havers concluded. “The place was locked up tight, but there were some kids hanging about, waiting for someone to show up and let them in.”

“What did they give you?” Lynley asked her.

“Not a bloody thing,” Havers said. “I said, ‘You lot involved in this place?’ and they twigged I was a copper. That was that.”

“Look into it, then.”

“Will do, sir.”

Lynley filled them in, then, on what Hamish Robson had had to say about the latest killing. He didn’t tell them that the profiler had been sent to the scene by Hillier. There was no sense in getting them worked up about something over which they had no control. Thus, he mentioned the killer’s change in attitude towards the most recent victim and the indications that he could reappear at any of the crime scenes.

Hearing this, DI Stewart set about arranging surveillance at the body sites before he went on to another report: The officers who’d been slogging through all of the relevant CCTV tapes from the areas near the body-dump sites were continuing that tedious job. It wasn’t exactly gripping drama, but the constables in question were soldiering on, supported by vats of hot coffee. They were looking not only for a van but for another means of transporting a body from point A to point B, and one that wouldn’t necessarily be noticed by people living in the vicinity: milk float, street-sweeping trolley, and the like.

To this information, he added that they’d had a report from SO7 on the makeup worn by Kimmo Thorne. The brand was No. Seven, commonly sold at Boots. Did the superintendent want them to start observing all the CCTV films from the Boots outlets nearest Kimmo Thorne’s home? He didn’t sound thrilled with this possibility. Still, he pointed out, “That might give us something. Bloke at the till disapproving how the Thorne kid was bent and wanting to do him in? That sort of thing.”

Lynley didn’t want to count anything out at this point. So he gave the nod for Stewart to assign a team to get on to the security tapes from the Boots outlets in the vicinity of Kimmo Thorne’s Southwark home. He himself assigned the two outlets for oil of ambergris to Nkata and to Havers, telling Havers to look in on Wendy’s Cloud when she headed home at the end of the day. In the meantime, she would accompany him to Elephant and Castle. He was determined to see himself what could be gained from a call upon Colossus. If one of the boys had been associated with it, what was to say the rest of the victims-still unidentified-might not have been allied with it as well?

“Couldn’t this last’ve been a copycat killing?” Havers asked. “That’s something we haven’t talked about yet. I mean, I know how Robson explained the differences between this body and the others, but those differences could be owing to someone knowing something about the crime scene but not everything, right?”

That couldn’t be discounted, Lynley agreed. But the truth was that copycat killings came from information generated by the news media, and despite the fact that they had a leak somewhere in the investigation, he knew that it was a recent one. The press jumping on the fact that the latest body was black was evidence of that since there were far more sensational details to exploit on the front pages of the tabloids than that one. And Lynley knew how the media worked: They weren’t about to withhold something gruesome if it had the potential to sell another two hundred thousand copies of their papers. So indications were strong that they didn’t have anything gruesome on record yet, which suggested this killing wasn’t a copy of the earlier ones but rather another death in a line of similar deaths, all bearing the signature of a single killer.

That was the person they had to find, quickly. For Lynley was perfectly capable of making the psychological jump implied by everything Hamish Robson had told him that morning about the man they were looking for: If he’d treated this last body with contempt and without remorse, things were escalating now.

CHAPTER NINE

NKATA MANAGED TO DEPART VICTORIA STREET WITHOUT a run-in with Hillier. He’d had a message on his mobile from the AC’s secretary advising him of “Sir David’s wish to confer prior to the next press briefing,” but he decided to ignore it. Hillier no more wanted to confer with him than he wanted to be exposed to the Ebola virus, and that was a fact, one which Nkata had been reading between the lines of his every meeting with the man. He was tired of being Hillier’s token nod-of-head to equal opportunities for minorities at the Met. He knew if he continued to play along with the propaganda, he was going to end up despising his profession, his associates, and himself. That wasn’t fair on anyone. So he escaped from New Scotland Yard directly upon the conclusion of the meeting in the incident room. He used oil of ambergris as his excuse.

He made his way across the river to Gabriel’s Wharf, an expensive square of riverfront tarmac which stood just beyond the midway point between two of the bridges that spanned the Thames: Waterloo and Blackfriars. It was a summertime kind of place, completely open to the air. Despite the cheery lights strung above it in crisscross fashion-and lit, even though it was still daylight-in winter the wharf was experiencing little custom. No one at all was doing business in the shop hiring out bicycles and inline skates, and while there were a few browsers in the small, ramshackle galleries that defined the wharf’s boundaries, the other enterprises were virtually deserted. These comprised restaurants and food stalls, which in summer would be hard pressed to keep up with the demand for the crepes, pizzas, sandwiches, jacket potatoes, and ices that were largely going ignored at present.

Nkata found Crystal Moon lodged between two take-aways: crepes on the left and sandwiches on the right. It was part of the eastern portion of the wharf, where shantylike shops and galleries backed right up to a line of tenements. The upper floors of these had long ago been painted with trompe l’oeil windows, each of a style so different from the last that the overall feeling was one of speeding round Europe on foot. Georgian London windows gave way within four paces to rococo Paris, which in turn faded fast to the doge’s Venice. It was nothing if not fanciful, in keeping with the wharf itself.

Crystal Moon maintained the whimsical atmosphere, inviting one to enter through a beaded curtain fashioned to look like a galaxy dominated by a slice of lunar green cheese. Nkata ducked through this and opened the door beyond it, expecting to be greeted inside by a pyramid- wearing hippie hopeful who called herself something like Aphrodite but whose real name was Kylie from Essex. Instead, he found a grandmotherly type seated on a tall stool next to the till. She was wearing a soft pink twin set and purple beads and she was leafing through a glossy magazine. A stick of incense burning next to her spread the scent of jasmine into the air.

Nkata nodded but did not immediately approach her. Rather, he took stock of what was on offer. Crystals abounded, as one might expect: hanging from cords, decorating small lamp shades, worked into candleholders, loose in small baskets. But so did incense, tarot cards, dream catchers, fragrant oils, flutes, recorders, and-for some reason not immediately apparent-decorated chopsticks. He went to the oils.

Black man in the shop. White woman alone. At another time, Nkata might have set her mind at rest by introducing himself and proffering his identification. Today, however, with Hillier and everything Hillier stood for on his mind, he just wasn’t in the mood for adding to the peace of any white person, old lady or not.

He did a little browsing. Anise. Benzoin. Klinden. Chamomile. Almond. He picked up one, read the label, and noted the multitude of uses. He replaced it and picked up another. Behind him the pages of the magazine continued to turn with no alteration in pace. Finally, after stirring on her stool, the proprietor of the shop spoke.

Only, it turned out she wasn’t the proprietor at all, which she revealed to Nkata with an embarrassed little laugh as she offered to assist him. “I don’t know how much help I can be,” she told him, “but I’m willing to try. I just come in once a week for the afternoon, you see, while Gigi-that’s my granddaughter-has her singing lessons. This is her little place, what she’s doing till she’s broken into the business…Isn’t that how they say it? May I be any help, by the way? Looking for anything special?”

“What’s all this for, then?” Nkata indicated the display of small bottles that contained the oils.

“Oh, many things, dear,” the old lady said. She eased herself off the stool and came over to the display to stand beside him. He towered over her, but she didn’t seem to be disconcerted to discover this. She crossed her arms beneath her breasts, said, “My goodness, you’ve taken your vitamins, haven’t you?,” and went on amiably. “Some of them have medicinal uses, dear. Some are for magic. Some are for alchemy. This is according to Gigi, naturally. I don’t actually know if they’re good for anything. Why d’you ask? D’you need something special?”

Nkata reached for the bottle of ambergris oil. “What about this one?”

She took it from him and said, “Ambergris…Let’s see, shall we?” She carried the bottle back to the counter and from beneath it she brought forth a volume.

If she herself hadn’t been what Nkata expected to find inside a shop called Crystal Moon, the enormous book she heaved to the counter was. It looked like something from the prop room at Elstree Studios: large, leather bound, with dog-eared pages. Nkata expected moths to fly out when she opened it.

She seemed to read his mind because she laughed in an embarrassed fashion and said, “Yes. A bit silly, I know. But people expect this sort of thing, don’t they?” She flipped through some pages and began to read. Nkata joined her at the counter. She started tut-tutting, shaking her head and fingering her beads.

“What?” he asked.

“It’s a bit unpleasant, actually. Its associations, I mean.” Pointing to the page, she went on to tell him that not only did some poor sweet whale have to die in order for people to get their hands on the oil, but the substance itself was used in doing works of wrath or vengeance. She frowned and looked up at him earnestly. “Now, I must ask. Forgive me, please. Gigi would be appalled, but there are some things…Why would you be wanting the ambergris? Lovely man like you. Is it something to do with the scar, dear? It’s unfortunate you have it, but if I might say…Well, it does give your face a certain distinction. So if I might guide you in another direction…?”

She told him that a man like himself should think instead about calamint oil, which would help keep women away because surely he was mobbed by them on a daily basis. On the other hand, bryony could be used in love potions if there was a special woman out there who had struck his fancy. Or agrimony, which would banish negativity. Or eucalyptus for healing. Or sage for immortality. There were so many choices with far more positive uses than the ambergris, dear, and if she could possibly do anything at all to guide him in a direction that would assist him in an outcome having positive repercussions in his life…

Nkata realised it was time. He brought out his identification. He told her that ambergris oil had been associated with a murder.

“Murder?” Her eyes-their blue faded with age-widened as one hand went to her chest. “My dear, you don’t think…Has someone been poisoned? Because I don’t believe…it can’t be possible…the bottle would be marked in some way…I know that…it would have to be…”

Nkata hastened to reassure her. No one had been poisoned, and even if someone had, the shop would only be responsible if the shop had administered the substance. That wasn’t the case, was it?

“Of course not. Of course not,” she said. “But, my dear, when Gigi hears about this, she’ll be devastated. To be even remotely connected to a murder…She is the most peaceable young woman. Truly. If you could see her in here with her customers. If you could hear the music she plays. I’ve the CDs right here and you’re welcome to look through them. See? The God Within, Spiritual Journeys. And there are others. All about meditations and the like.”

It was her mention of the word customers that Nkata brought her back to. He asked if the shop had sold any of the ambergris oil recently. She told him that she didn’t quite know. They probably had done. Gigi did a respectable business, even at this time of year. But they had no records of individual purchases. There were the credit card receipts, of course, so the police might go at things from that end. Otherwise there was only the notebook that customers signed if they wanted a copy of Crystal Moon’s newsletter. Would that help at all?

Nkata doubted it, but he accepted the offer and took it from the woman. He gave her his card and told her that if she remembered anything at all…Or if Gigi could add to what her grandmother knew…

Yes, yes. Of course. Anything at all. And as a matter of fact…

“Heaven knows what help it might be, dear, but there is a list Gigi’s been keeping,” her grandmother said. “It’s only postal codes. She’s been keen to open Crystal Moon Two on the other side of the river-Notting Hill?-and she’s been keeping the postal codes of her customers to buoy her case for a loan from the bank. Would that help at all?”

Nkata didn’t see how, but he was willing to take the list anyway. He thanked Gigi’s gran and started to leave but found himself pausing, in spite of himself, in front of the display of oils once again.

“Is there anything else, then?” Gigi’s gran asked.

He had to admit to himself that there was. He said, “Which one ’d you say banishes negativity?”

“That was the agrimony, dear.”

He scooped up a bottle and carried it to the counter. “This’ll do, then,” he said.

ELEPHANT AND CASTLE existed as a place apparently oblivious of the other Londons that had, over the years, developed and died around it. The Swinging London of miniskirts, vinyl boots, the King’s Road, and Carnaby Street had decades ago passed it by. The catwalks of Fashion Week London had never been laid anywhere near its environs. And while the London Eye, the Millennium Footbridge, and the Tate Modern all stood as examples of the dawn of a brand new century in town, Elephant and Castle remained locked in the past. True, the area was struggling to be redeveloped, as were many places south of the river. But its struggle was one against the odds, and the odds comprised drug users and suppliers doing business on the streets, as well as poverty, ignorance, and despair. It was into this milieu that its founders had set Colossus, taking what had been a derelict structure designed for the manufacture of mattresses and modestly renovating the place to serve the community in an entirely different way.

Barbara Havers directed Lynley to the spot on New Kent Road, where a small carpark behind the jaundiced brick structure offered a place for participants in Colossus to have a smoke. A crowd of them stood round doing just that as Lynley guided his car into one of the parking bays. As he put on the brake and shut down the engine, Havers pointed out that a Bentley was, perhaps, not the best choice of transport to be bringing into the neighbourhood.

Lynley couldn’t disagree. He hadn’t quite thought things through when, in the underground carpark on Victoria Street, Havers had said, “Why don’t we take my motor, sir?” At that moment he’d just wanted to assert some control over things, and one part of getting that control was putting distance between himself and any edifice that happened to shelter the assistant commissioner of police. Another part had been making the decision about how that distance was going to be effected. But now he saw that Havers had been right. It wasn’t so much that they put themselves at risk, driving a posh car into this kind of place. It was more that they made a statement about themselves, which didn’t need making.

On the other hand, he told himself, at least they weren’t announcing the fact that they were coppers to all and sundry. But he was disabused of that notion the moment he stepped out of the Bentley and locked it behind him.

“The filth,” someone muttered, and this caution passed quickly throughout the smokers until all conversation had died among them. So much for the value of vehicular incognito, Lynley thought.

As if he’d spoken, Havers replied in a low voice, “It’s me, sir, not you. They’ve got rozzer radar, this lot. They knew who I was straightaway when they saw me earlier.” She glanced his way. “But you c’n act like my driver if you want. We still might be able to pull the wool. Let’s start with a fag. You c’n light it for me.” Lynley shot her a look. She grinned. “Just a thought.”

They made their way through the silent group to a flight of iron stairs that climbed the back of the building. On the first floor, a broad green door bore “Colossus” inscribed on a small plaque of polished brass. A window set high above this showed a bank of lights along a corridor within. Lynley and Havers entered and found themselves in a combination gallery and modest gift shop.

The gallery constituted a pictorial history of the organisation: its founding, its development of the site that housed it, and its impact on the inhabitants of the area. The gift shop-which was essentially a single display case of reasonably priced items-offered T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, coffee mugs, shot glasses, and stationery, all with identical logos. These consisted of the organisation’s mythological namesake surmounted by dozens of tiny figures who used his massive arms and shoulders as a means to cross from destitution to achievement. Beneath the giant was the word together, forming a half circle that was completed by Colossus, which created the other half above him. Within this case also was a signed photograph of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, lending their royal patronage to some event connected with Colossus. This, apparently, was not for sale.

On the far side of the display case, a door led into the reception room. There, Lynley and Havers found themselves being immediately eyed by three individuals who fell into silence the moment they approached. Two of the three-a slender, youngish man in a EuroDisney baseball cap and a mixed-race boy perhaps fourteen years old-were playing cards at a low table between two sofas. The third-a large young man with neat ginger hair and a wispy beard, nicely trimmed but still barely covering pockmarked cheeks-sat behind the reception desk, a turquoise cross dangling from one earlobe. He wore one of the Colossus sweatshirts, and at the otherwise spotless desk, he’d apparently been making notations in blue pencil upon a calendar while soft jazz came from speakers positioned above him. He did not look friendly once his glance took in Havers. Next to him, Lynley heard the DC sigh.

“I need a bloody makeover,” she muttered.

“You might want to lose the shoes,” he suggested.

“Help you?” the young man asked. From beneath the desk he brought forth a bright yellow bag with “Mr. Sandwich” printed on it. From this he took a sausage roll and crisps, and he set about eating without further ado. Cops, his actions telegraphed to them, would not get in the way of his daily routine.

Although it appeared to be entirely unnecessary, Lynley produced his ID for the ginger-haired young man, ignoring the two others for the moment. A plastic nameplate at the desk’s edge indicated he was introducing himself and Havers to one Jack Veness, who seemed to be deeply unimpressed that the two rozzers standing before him were representing New Scotland Yard.

Giving a glance to the cardplayers, as if for approval, Veness simply waited for more to be said. He chewed his sausage roll, dipped into his crisps, and glanced at the wall clock above the door. Or perhaps it was to the door itself that he looked, Lynley thought, through which Mr. Veness might be waiting for rescue. He seemed all right superficially, but there was an air of unease about him.

They were there to speak to the director of Colossus, Lynley told Jack Veness, or, for that matter, to anyone else who could talk to them about one of their clients…if that was the proper term, he added: Kimmo Thorne.

The name had just about the same effect as a stranger walking into a barroom in an old-time American Western. In other circumstances, Lynley might have been amused: The two cardplayers ceased their game altogether, setting their cards on the table and making no secret of the fact that they intended to listen to everything that was said from that moment on, while Jack Veness ceased chewing his sausage roll. He set it on its Mr. Sandwich bag and pushed his chair away from his desk. Lynley thought he intended to fetch someone for them, but instead he went to a water cooler. There, he filled a Colossus mug from the hot spigot provided, after which he grabbed a tea bag and gave it a few douses inside.

Next to Lynley, Havers rolled her eyes. She said, “’Scuse us, mate. Your hearing aid just blow a fuse or something?”

Veness returned and put his mug on the desk. “I c’n hear you lot fine. I’m just trying to decide if it’s worth giving you an answer.”

Across the room, EuroDisney gave a low whistle. His companion ducked his head. Veness looked pleased that he’d managed to obtain their approval. Lynley decided this was enough.

“You can make that decision in an interview room if you like,” he said to Veness.

To which Havers added, “We’re happy to oblige. Here to serve and all that, you know.”

Veness sat. He wadded a hunk of sausage roll into his mouth and said past it, “Everyone knows everyone else at Colossus. Thorne included. That’s how it works. That’s why it works.”

“That goes for you as well, I take it?” Lynley said. “Regarding Kimmo Thorne?”

“You take it right,” Veness agreed.

“What about you two?” Havers asked the cardplayers. “Did you know Kimmo Thorne as well?” She took out her notebook as she asked the questions. “What’re your names, by the way?”

EuroDisney looked startled to be suddenly questioned at all, but he said cooperatively that he was called Robbie Kilfoyle. He added that he didn’t actually work at Colossus like Jack but merely volunteered several days each week, this being one of those days. For his part, the boy identified himself as Mark Connor. He said he was in day four of assessment.

“That makes him new round here,” Veness explained.

“So he won’t have known Kimmo,” Kilfoyle added.

“But you did know him?” Havers asked Kilfoyle. “Even though you don’t work here?”

“Hey, you know, he didn’t say that,” Veness said.

“You his brief?” Havers retorted. “No? Then I expect he can answer for himself.” And again to Kilfoyle: “Did you know Kimmo Thorne? Where do you work?”

Unaccountably, Veness persisted. “Drop it. He brings in the bloody sandwiches, all right?”

Kilfoyle scowled, perhaps offended by the dismissive tone. He said, “Like I said already. I volunteer. On the phones. In the kichen. I work in the kit room when things pile up. So I saw Kimmo round. I knew him.”

“Didn’t everyone,” Veness said. “And speaking of which…There’s a group going out on the river this afternoon. D’you have time to handle that, Rob?” He gave Kilfoyle a long look, as if some sort of double message were being sent.

“I c’n help you, Rob,” Mark Connor offered.

“Sure,” Kilfoyle said. And to Jack Veness, “You want me to set things up now or what?”

“Now would be brilliant.”

“Well, then.” Kilfoyle gathered up the cards and, accompanied by Mark, he headed for an interior door. Unlike the others, he wore a windbreaker rather than a sweatshirt, and instead of “Colossus” written on it, it bore a logo of a stuffed baguette with arms and legs and the words “Mr. Sandwich” below it.

The departure of these two effected a complete change in Jack Veness for some reason. As if an unseen switch had been suddenly turned off-or on-in him, the young man altered on the head of a pin. He said to Lynley and Havers, “Right then. Sorry. I can be a real streak of piss when I want. Y’know, I wanted to be a cop, but I couldn’t make it. It’s easier to blame you than to look at myself and work out why I didn’t cut it.” He snapped his fingers, offered a smile. “How’s that for instant psychoanalysis? Five years of therapy and the man is cured.”

The change in Veness was disconcerting, like discovering two personalities inside one body. It was impossible not to wonder if the presence of Kilfoyle and Connor had had something to do with who he’d portrayed himself to be earlier. But Lynley went with the change in the man and brought up Kimmo Thorne again. Next to him, Havers flipped open her notebook. The newly minted Jack Veness didn’t quiver an eyelash.

He told them frankly that he knew Kimmo and had known him from the time of Kimmo’s assignment to Colossus. He, after all, was the organisation’s receptionist. Everyone who came, who went, and who remained was someone he quickly got to know. He made it his business to know, he emphasised. It was, he told them, part of his job to know.

Why was this? Lynley asked.

Because, Veness said, you never knew, did you?

Knew what, exactly? Havers put in.

What you were dealing with.

“That lot.” With this, Veness indicated the young people smoking outside in the carpark. “They come from everything, don’t they? The streets, care, Youth Offenders, drug rehab, gangs, turning tricks, running weapons, selling drugs. Doesn’t make sense to trust them till they give me a reason to trust them. So I keep an eye out.”

“Did this apply to Kimmo as well?” Lynley asked.

“Applies to everyone,” Veness said. “Winners and losers alike.”

Havers took up the ball at that remark. She said, “How’s that apply to Kimmo? He get on your bad side some way?”

“Not mine,” he said.

“Someone else’s then?”

Veness contemplatively fingered his sausage roll.

“If there’s something we should know,” Lynley began.

“He was a tosser,” Veness said. “A loser. Look, it happens, sometimes. Kid’s got something here. All’s that’s needed is climbing aboard. But sometimes they just stop coming-even Kimmo, who’s supposed to show up or he’ll be back in borstal in a wink-and I can’t get my brain round that, see. You’d think he’d grab on to anything that’d help him out of that one. But he didn’t, did he? He just stopped showing up.”

“When did he stop?”

Jack Veness thought for a moment. He took a spiral book from the middle drawer of his desk and examined the signatures that crawled down a dozen or more pages. It was, Lynley saw, a signing-in register, and when Veness replied to Lynley’s question, the date he gave for Kimmo’s final appearance at Colossus matched up with his murder, within forty-eight hours.

“Dumb fuck,” Veness said, shoving the signing-in book to one side. “Didn’t know when he was well off. Trouble is, kids can’t wait for the payoff, can they? Some kids, mind you, not all of them. They want the result but not the process that leads to the result. I expect he’s quit. Like I said, that happens.”

“He was murdered, actually,” Lynley said. “That’s why he stopped coming.”

“But you’d worked that out, hadn’t you?” Havers added. “Else why would you be talking about him in the past tense from the start? And why else would the rozzers be dropping in on you? And twice in one day because one of that lot”-as Veness himself had done, she indicated the group who were gathered outside-“must’ve told someone in here that I stopped by earlier, before you opened up.”

Veness shook his head vehemently. “I didn’t…No. No. I didn’t know.” He shot his gaze over to a doorway and a corridor off which brightly lit rooms opened. He appeared to think something over for a moment before he said, “That kid over in St. Pancras? In the gardens?”

“Bingo,” Havers said. “You’re definitely no dummy when you’re breathing, Jack.”

“That was Kimmo Thorne,” Lynley added. “His is one of five deaths we’re investigating.”

Five? Hey now. Wait. You can’t be thinking Colossus-”

“We’re not drawing any conclusions,” Lynley said.

“Hell. Sorry, then. About what I said. Tosser and loser. Hell.” Veness picked up his sausage roll, then put it back down. He wrapped it up and returned it to its take-away bag. He said, “Some kids just drop out, see. They have a chance, but they still walk away. They go for what looks like the easy route. It’s frustrating as hell to watch.” He blew out a breath. “But damn. I’m sorry. Was it in the papers? I don’t read ’em much and-”

“Not his name at first,” Lynley said. “Just the fact of his body being found in St. George’s Gardens.” He didn’t add that chances were good to excellent that the papers were going to become full of the serial killings now: names, places, and dates as well. A young white victim had piqued the tabloids’ interest; this morning’s young black victim gave them the opportunity they needed to cover their own backsides. Mixed race, cheap news of little interest, they’d decided about the earlier killings. All that had changed with Kimmo Thorne. And now with the black boy…The tabloids were going to grab on to the opportunity to make up for lost time and overlooked responsibility.

“The death of a boy associated with Colossus brings up a number of questions,” Lynley pointed out to Jack Veness, “as you can no doubt imagine. And we’ve identified another boy who might be associated with Colossus as well. Jared Salvatore. Sound familiar?”

“Salvatore. Salvatore.” Veness mumbled the name. “No. I don’t think so. I’d remember.”

“Then we’ll need to speak to your director-”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Veness surged to his feet. “You’ll want to talk to Ulrike. She runs the whole operation. Hang on, then. I’ll see…” That said, he shot off through the doorway that led to the interior of the building. He turned a corner and quickly disappeared.

Lynley looked at Havers. “Now that was interesting.”

She agreed. “We don’t even have to look for still waters in that bloke.”

“I got that impression as well.”

“So I s’pose the question is how deep’re things really running with him?” Havers asked.

Lynley reached across the desk and snagged the signing-in book that Jack had been using. He handed it to Havers.

“Salvatore?” she said.

“It’s a thought,” he replied.

CHAPTER TEN

IN VERY SHORT ORDER, LYNLEY AND HAVERS DISCOVERED that not only was the director of Colossus also in the dark about Kimmo Thorne’s death but additionally, for some reason, Jack Veness had not put her in the picture with regard to the matter when he went to find her. Evidently, he had told her only that two cops from New Scotland Yard wanted to see her. It was an intriguing omission.

Ulrike Ellis turned out to be a pleasant-looking young woman in the vicinity of thirty, with sandy cornrow plaits gathered back from her face and enough brass bangles on her wrists to qualify her as the prisoner of Zenda. She wore a heavy black turtleneck, blue jeans, and boots, and she came to reception herself to fetch Lynley and Havers to her office. As Jack Veness resumed his place behind the reception desk, Ulrike led the way down a corridor on the walls of which bulletin boards held neighbourhood announcements, photographs of young people, classes on offer, and schedules of Colossus events. Once in her office, she scooped a small stack of the Big Issue off a chair in front of her desk and shoved the magazines onto a space on a bookshelf crowded with volumes and with files needing replacement in a cabinet. This, standing near her desk, already overflowed with other files.

She said, “I keep buying these,” in reference to copies of the Big Issue, “and then I never get a chance to read them. Take a few if you like. Or do you buy them yourselves?” She glanced over her shoulder and added, “Ah. Well, everyone ought, you know. Oh, I know what people think: If I buy one, this unwashed sod’ll go off and spend the profit on drugs or booze, won’t he, and how will that be of help to him? But what I say is that people might want to stop assuming the worst and start pitching in to make a difference in this country.” She looked round the office as if seeking other employment and said, “Well, that didn’t much help, did it. One of you still has to stand. Or shall we all stand? Is that better? Tell me this: Is TO31 finally going to take notice of us?”

Actually, Lynley told her as Barbara Havers wandered to the bookshelf to have a look at Ulrike Ellis’s many volumes, he and DC Havers were not there representing Community Affairs. Rather, they’d come to talk to the director of Colossus about Kimmo Thorne. Did Ms. Ellis know the boy?

Ulrike sat behind her desk. Lynley took the chair. Havers remained at the volumes, reaching for one of several framed photographs that stood among them. Ulrike said, “Has Kimmo done something? See here, we’re not responsible for the kids’ staying out of trouble. We don’t even claim to be able to do that. Colossus is about showing them alternatives, but sometimes they still choose the wrong ones.”

“Kimmo’s dead,” Lynley said. “You may have read about the body that was found in St. George’s Gardens, up in St. Pancras. He’s been identified in the press by now.”

Ulrike said nothing in reply at first. She merely stared at Lynley for a good five seconds before her glance went to Havers, still in possession of one of her photographs. She said, “Put that down, please,” in the calmest possible voice. She loosed her plaits from their binding and refastened them tightly before she said more. Then it was merely, “I phoned…I did phone the moment I was told.”

“So you knew he was dead?” Havers put the photograph back in place but facing outward so Lynley could see it: a very young Ulrike, an older man in minister’s garb who might have been her father, and between them the brightly clad figure of Nelson Mandela.

Ulrike said, “No. No. I didn’t mean…When Kimmo failed to come to day five of his assessment course, Griff Strong reported him, as he was meant to do. I phoned Kimmo’s probation officer straightaway. That’s how we do it if one of our kids is ordered here by the magistrate or by Social Services.”

“Griff Strong is…?”

“A social worker. Trained as a social worker, I mean. We’re not social workers per se at Colossus. Griff leads one of our assessment courses. He does extremely well with the kids. Very few of them drop out once they’ve had Griff.”

Lynley saw Havers take down this information. He said, “Is Griff Strong here as well today? If he knew Kimmo, we’re going to want to speak to him.”

“To Griff?” Ulrike looked at her phone for some reason, as if this would give her the answer. “No. No, he’s not in. He’s bringing in a delivery…” She seemed to feel the need to toss her plaits into a more comfortable position. “He said he’d be late today, so we’re not expecting him until…You see, he does our T-shirts and sweatshirts. A sideline of his. You may have seen them outside reception. In the glass case. He’s an excellent social worker. We’re very lucky to have him.”

Lynley felt Havers looking his way. He knew what she was thinking: more depths to plumb here.

He said, “We’ve another dead boy as well. Jared Salvatore. Was he also one of yours?”

Another…”

“There are five deaths we’re investigating in all, Ms. Ellis.”

Havers added, “Do you read the newspapers, by any chance? Does anyone round here, if it comes to that?”

Ulrike looked at her. “I hardly think that question’s fair.”

“Which one?” Havers said, but she didn’t wait for an answer. “This is a serial killer we’re talking about. He’s going after boys round the age of those you’ve got standing in your carpark smoking fags. One of them could be next, so pardon my manners, but I don’t care what you think is fair.”

In other circumstances, Lynley would have reined the constable in at this point. But he could see that Havers’ demonstration of impatience had had a positive effect. Ulrike got to her feet and went over to the filing cabinet. She squatted and jerked out one of the crammed drawers, which she fingered through rapidly. She said, “Of course I read…I look at the Guardian. Every day. Or as often as I can.”

“But not recently, right?” Havers said. “Why is that?”

Ulrike didn’t reply. She continued going through her files. She finally slammed the drawer closed and rose, empty handed. She said, “There is no Salvatore among our kids. I hope that satisfies you. And now let me ask you something in turn: Who sent you to Colossus in the first place?”

“Who?” Lynley asked. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, come on. We have enemies. Any organisation like this…trying to make the slightest degree of change in this bloody backward country…Do you honestly think there aren’t people out there who want us to fail? Who put you on to Colossus?”

“Police work put us on to Colossus,” Lynley said.

“The Borough High Street station, to be specific,” Havers added.

“You actually want me to believe…You’ve come here because you think Kimmo’s death has something to do with Colossus, haven’t you? Well, you wouldn’t even be thinking that if it hadn’t been suggested by someone outside these walls, be that someone from Borough High Street station or someone from Kimmo’s life.”

Like Blinker, Lynley thought. Except Kimmo’s stud-faced mate hadn’t once mentioned Colossus, if he even had known about it. He said, “Tell us what happens in the assessment course.”

Ulrike went back to her desk. For a moment, she stood there looking down at her phone, as if waiting for a prearranged deliverance. Beyond her, Havers had moved to a wall of degrees, certificates, and commendations, where she’d been jotting down salient details from the objects on display. Ulrike watched her. She said quietly, “We care about these kids. We want to make a difference for them. We believe that the only way to do that is through connection: one life to one life.”

“Is that the assessment, then?” Lynley asked. “The attempt to connect with the young people who come here?”

It was that and far more than that, she told them. It was the young people’s first experience with Colossus: a fortnight in which they met daily in a group of ten other young people with an assessment leader: Griffin Strong, in Kimmo’s case. The object was to engage their interest, to prove to them that they could achieve success in one area or another, to establish in them a sense of trust, and to encourage them to commit to taking part in the Colossus programme. They began with developing a personal code of conduct for the group, and each day they assessed what had gone on-and been learned-the day before.

“Ice-breaking games at first,” Ulrike said. “Then trust activities. Then a personal challenge, like climbing the rock wall out the back. Then a trip which they plan and take together. Somewhere into the countryside or to the sea. Hiking in the Pennines. Something like that. At the end, we invite them back for classes. Computers. Cookery. Single living. Health. From learning to earning.”

“Jobs, you mean?” Havers asked.

“They aren’t ready for jobs. Not when they first get here. Most of them are monosyllabic if not completely nonverbal. They’re beaten down. What we try to do is show them there’s another way from what they’ve been doing in the streets. There’s returning to school, learning to read, completing college, walking away from drugs. There’s having a belief in their future. There’s managing their feelings. There’s having feelings in the first place. There’s developing a sense of self-esteem.” She looked sharply at them both, as if trying to read them. “Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Such touchy-feely crap. The ultimate in psychobabble. But the truth is that if behaviour is going to change, it’s going to do it from the inside out. No one chooses a different path till he feels differently about himself.”

“That was the plan for Kimmo?” Lynley asked. “From what we’ve learned, he seemed to feel fairly good about himself already, despite the choices he made.”

“No one making Kimmo’s choices feels good about himself at heart, Superintendent.”

“So you expected him to change through time and exposure to Colossus?”

“We have,” she said, “a high level of success. Despite what you’re obviously thinking about us. Despite our not knowing Kimmo was murdered. We did what we were meant to do when he failed to show up.”

“As you said,” Lynley agreed. “And what do you do about the others?”

“The others?”

“Does everyone come to you via Youth Offenders?”

“Not at all. Most of them come because they’ve heard about us in another way entirely. Through church or school, through someone already involved in the programme. If they stay, it’s because they begin to trust us and they start to believe in themselves.”

“What happens with those who don’t?” Havers asked.

“Don’t what?”

“Start to believe in themselves?”

“Obviously, this programme doesn’t work for them all. How can it? We’re up against everything in their backgrounds, from abuse to xenophobia. Sometimes, a kid can’t cope here any better than he can cope anywhere else. So he dips in and then out and that’s how it is. We don’t force anyone to stay who isn’t required to by a court order. As for the rest, as long as they obey the rules, we don’t force them to leave either. They can be here for years, if they like.”

“And are they?”

“Occasionally, yes.”

“Like who?”

“I’m afraid that’s confidential.”

“Ulrike?” It was Jack Veness. He’d come to the doorway of Ulrike’s office, quiet as the fog. “Phone. I tried to tell him you were busy, but he wasn’t having it. Sorry. What d’you want me…?” He raised his shoulders as a way of completing the question.

“Who is it, then?”

“Reverend Savidge. He’s in a state. Says Sean Lavery’s gone missing. Says he didn’t turn up at home last night when he was due back from the computer course. Should I-”

“No!” Ulrike said. “Put him through, Jack.”

Jack left her office. She closed her fingers into a fist. She didn’t look up as she waited for the phone to ring.

“There was another body this morning, Ms. Ellis,” Lynley said.

“Then I’ll put him on the speakerphone,” she replied. “Please God this has nothing to do with us.” While she waited for the phone call to ring through, she told them that the caller was the foster parent of one of the boys in their programme: He was called Sean Lavery, and he was black. She looked at Lynley, the question hanging unasked between them. He merely nodded, confirming her unspoken fears about the body found that morning in the Shand Street tunnel.

When the phone rang, Ulrike punched the button for the speaker. Reverend Savidge’s voice came through, deep and anxious. Where was Sean? he wanted to know. Why hadn’t Sean returned from Colossus last night?

Ulrike told him what little she knew. As far as she understood, Reverend Savidge’s foster son Sean Lavery had been at Colossus as usual on the previous day and had left as usual on his regular bus. She’d heard nothing contrary to that from his computer instructor, and his instructor hadn’t reported him as absent, which he definitely would have done because Sean had come to them via a social worker, and Colossus always kept in touch.

Where the hell was he, then? Reverend Savidge demanded. There were boys going missing all over London. Was Ulrike Ellis aware of that? Or did it not count to her if the boy in question happened to be black?

Ulrike assured him that she’d speak with the computer instructor the first chance she had but in the meantime…Had Reverend Savidge phoned round to see if Sean had perhaps gone home with a friend? Or gone to his dad’s? Or gone to see his mum? She was still in Holloway, wasn’t she, which wasn’t a particularly difficult trip for a boy Sean’s age to make. Sometimes boys do just go off for a bit, she’d said to Savidge.

He said, “Not this boy, madam,” and he rang off abruptly.

Ulrike said, “Oh Lord,” and Lynley knew it was a prayer.

He said one himself. Reverend Savidge’s next call, Lynley reckoned, was going to be to his local police.

ONLY ONE OF THE two detectives left the building after the phone call from Reverend Savidge. The other-the unattractive woman with the chipped front teeth and the ridiculous red high-top trainers-remained behind. The man, Detective Superintendent Lynley, was going to head up to South Hampstead to talk to Sean Lavery’s foster father. His subordinate, Detective Constable Barbara Havers, was going to hang round as long as it was necessary to have a word with Griffin Strong. Ulrike Ellis processed all this in a matter of seconds once the cops had finished with her: Lynley asked for Bram Savidge’s address; Havers asked could she have a wander round the premises, the better to manage a word here and there.

Ulrike knew she could hardly say no. Things were bad enough without her being anything less than cooperative. So she agreed to the constable’s request. For no matter what had happened beyond the walls of this place, Colossus and what Colossus represented were larger than the life of one boy or a dozen boys.

But even as she reassured herself that Colossus would emerge unscathed from this setback, Ulrike worried about Griff. He should have shown up at least two hours ago, no matter what she’d told the cops about the putative delivery of T-shirts and sweatshirts. The fact that he hadn’t…

There was nothing to do but phone him on his mobile and warn him what to expect when he arrived. She wouldn’t be blatant about it, however. She didn’t trust the security of mobile phones. Instead she would tell him to meet her at the Charlie Chaplin pub. Or in the shopping centre up on the corner. Or at one of the market stalls just outside. Or even in the subway that led to the underground station because what did it matter when what was important was simply that they meet so she could warn him…Of what? she asked herself. And why?

Her chest was hurting. It had been hurting for days, but it had suddenly become worse. Did one have heart attacks at thirty years old? When she’d squatted in front of the filing drawer, she’d experienced a combination of light-headedness and increased chest pain that nearly overcame her. She’d thought she would swoon. God. Swoon. Where had that word come from?

Ulrike told herself to stop it. She picked up the phone and dialed for an outside line. When she had it, she tapped in the number of Griff Strong’s mobile. She’d interrupt him doing whatever he was doing, but that couldn’t be helped.

Griff said, “Yes?,” on the other end. He sounded impatient, and what was that about? He worked at Colossus. She was his boss. Deal with it, Griff.

She said, “Where are you?”

He said, “Ulrike…” in a voice whose tone was a message in itself.

But the fact he’d used her name told her he was in a place of safety. She said, “The police have been. I can’t say more. We need to meet before you get here.”

Police?” His previous impatience was gone. Ulrike could hear the fear that replaced it. She herself felt a corresponding frisson.

She said, “Two detectives. One of them is still in the building. She’s waiting for you.”

“For me? Shall I-”

“No. You must come in. If you don’t…Look, let’s not have this conversation on a mobile. How soon can you meet at…say, at Charlie Chaplin?” And then because it was more than reasonable, “Where are you?,” so she could determine how long it would take him to get there.

Even the thought of the police at Colossus didn’t put Griffin off his stride, however. He said, “Fifteen minutes.”

Not at home, then. But she’d deduced that much when he’d said her name. She knew she wouldn’t get anything more from him.

“Charlie Chaplin, then,” she said. “Fifteen minutes.” She rang off.

What remained was the waiting. That and wondering what the constable was doing as she had her ostensible look round the premises. Ulrike had determined in a flash that it benefitted Colossus for the DC to have this look unattended. Allowing her to wander freely sent a message about Colossus having nothing to hide.

But Lord, Lord, her chest was pounding. Her cornrow plaits were far too tight. She knew if she pulled on one of them, the whole lot would detach from her scalp, rendering her bald. What did they call it? Stress causing one’s hair to fall out? Alopecia, that was it. Was there something called spontaneous alopecia? Probably. She’d be afflicted with that next.

She got up from her desk. From a rack next to the door, she plucked her coat, her scarf, and her hat. She slung these over her arm and left her office. She ducked down the corridor and slid into the loo.

There she prepared. She wore no makeup, so there was nothing to check save the condition of her skin, which she blotted with toilet tissue. Her cheeks bore the faint pockmarks of an adolescence given over to outbreaks of acne, but she felt it was an overt mark of self-absorption to use some sort of foundation to cover them. That smacked of a lack of self-acceptance and sent the wrong message to the board of trustees who’d hired her for the strength of her character.

Which was what she was going to need if Colossus was to get through this bad period. Strength. Plans had long been laid for the organisation’s expansion to a second location-this one in North London-and the last thing the development committee needed over at the administration and fund-raising offices was the news that Colossus was being mentioned in the same sentence as a murder investigation. That would bring expansion to a screeching halt, and they needed to expand. The urgency was everywhere. Kids in care. Kids on the street. Kids selling their bodies. Kids dying from drugs. Colossus had the answer for them, so Colossus had to be able to grow. The entire situation they were in at the moment had to be dealt with expeditiously.

She had no lipstick, but she did carry gloss. She rooted this out of her bag and smoothed it across her lips. She adjusted the neck of her sweater a bit higher and shrugged on her coat. She put on the hat and the scarf and decided she looked enough like a supervisor to get through the meeting with Griffin Strong without being accused of personifying carpe diem in the worst possible way. This was about Colossus, she reminded herself and would remind Griff when she finally saw him. Everything else was secondary.

BARBARA HAVERS WASN’T about to cool her heels in her wait for Griffin Strong. Instead, after she told Ulrike Ellis that she’d “poke round a bit, if no one minds,” she left the director’s office to do so before Ulrike could assign her a watchdog. She then had a proper wander round the building, which was filling up with Colossus participants newly returned from late lunch, from cigarettes in the carpark, or from whatever dubious else they’d been doing. She watched them drift off to various activities: Some went to a computer room, some to a large educational kitchen, some to small classrooms, some to a conference room where they sat in a circle and talked earnestly, overseen by an adult who documented their ideas or concerns on a flip chart. The adults in question Barbara took close note of. She would need to get the name of each one. Each one’s past-not to mention his present-would have to be checked out. Just because. Grunt work, all of it, but it had to be done.

She got aggro from no one as she had her wander. Most everyone simply and in some cases studiously ignored her. Eventually, she made her way into the computer room, where a mixed bag of adolescents appeared to be working on Web designs and a tubby male instructor round Barbara’s own age was guiding an Asian youth through the use of a scanner. When he said, “You try it this time,” and stepped away, he saw Barbara and came over to her.

“Help you?” he said quietly. He kept it friendly enough, but there was no disguising the fact that he knew who she was and what she was there for. The news was apparently traveling at a jackrabbit pace.

“Grass doesn’t grow here, does it?” Barbara said. “Who’s spreading the word? That bloke Jack in reception?”

“It would be part of his job,” the man replied. He introduced himself as Neil Greenham, and he offered his hand to shake. It was soft, feminine, and a little too warm. He went on to say that Jack’s information had been largely unnecessary. “I would have known you were a cop anyway.”

“Personal experience? Clairvoyance? My fashion sense?”

“You’re famous. Well, relatively. As these things go.” Greenham went to a teacher’s desk in one corner of the room. From there, he took a folded newspaper. He returned to her and handed it over. “I picked up the latest Evening Standard on my way back from lunch. Like I said, you’re famous.”

Curiously, Barbara unfolded it. There on the front page, the headline shrieked the news of the early morning discovery in the Shand Street tunnel. Beneath it, were two photographs: One was a grainy picture of the tunnel’s interior, in which several figures round a sports car were silhouetted by the stark portable lights brought in by the SOCO team; the other was a fine, clear shot of Barbara herself, along with Lynley, Hamish Robson, and the local DI, as they spoke outside the tunnel and in view of the press. Only Lynley was identified by name. There was, Barbara thought, little blessing in that.

She handed the paper back to Greenham. “DC Havers,” she said. “New Scotland Yard.”

He nodded at the paper. “Don’t you want that for your scrapbook?”

“I’ll buy three dozen on my way home tonight. Could we have a word?”

He gestured to the classroom and the young people at work. “I’m in the middle of something. Can it wait?”

“They look like they’re coping without you.”

Greenham ran his gaze over them as if checking for the truth of this statement. He gave a nod then and indicated they could speak in the corridor.

“One of yours is gone missing,” Barbara told him. “Have you heard that yet? Has Ulrike told you?”

Greenham’s eyes shifted from Barbara to the corridor; he looked in the direction of Ulrike Ellis’s office. Here, Barbara thought, was a piece of news that apparently hadn’t traveled on the jackrabbit express. And that was curious, considering Ulrike’s telephone promise to Reverend Savidge to talk to the computer instructor about the newly missing boy.

Greenham said, “Sean Lavery?”

“Bingo.”

“He just hasn’t come in yet today.”

“Aren’t you meant to report him?”

“At the end of the day, yes. He could merely be late.”

“As the Evening Standard’s pointing out, a dead boy was found in the London Bridge area round half past five this morning.”

“Sean?”

“We don’t know yet. But if it is, that’s two.”

“Kimmo Thorne as well. The same killer, you mean. Serial…”

“Ah. Someone does read the newspapers round here. I was getting a little curious about that, why no one seemed to know Kimmo’s dead. You knew, but you didn’t talk about it with any of the others?”

Greenham shifted weight from one leg onto the other. He said, sounding not too comfortable about the admission, “There’s a bit of a divide. Ulrike and the assessment people on one side; the rest of us on the other.”

“And Kimmo was still at the assessment level.”

“Right.”

“Yet you knew him.”

Greenham wasn’t about to be caught by the undercurrent of accusation in the remark. He said, “I knew who he was. But who wouldn’t have known who Kimmo was? Cross-dresser? Eye shadow, lipstick? He was hard to miss and harder to forget, if you know what I mean. So it wasn’t only me. Everyone knew Kimmo five minutes after he walked through the door.”

“And this other kid? Sean?”

“Loner. A bit hostile. Didn’t want to be here, but he was willing to give computers a try. In time, I think we could’ve got through.”

“Past tense,” Barbara said.

Greenham’s upper lip looked damp. “That body…”

“We don’t know who it is.”

“I suppose I assumed…with you here and all…”

“Not a good idea, assuming.” Barbara took out her notebook. She saw the look of alarm pass across Greenham’s pudgy face. She said, “Tell me about yourself, Mr. Greenham.”

He recovered quickly. “Address? Education? Background? Hobbies? Do I kill adolescent boys in my spare time?”

“Start with how you fit in the hierarchy round here.”

“There is no hierarchy.”

“You said there was a divide. Ulrike and assessment on one side. Everyone else on the other. How did that come about?”

He said, “You misunderstand. The divide has to do with information and how it’s shared. That’s all. Otherwise, we’re all on the same page at Colossus. We’re about saving kids. That’s what we do.”

Barbara nodded thoughtfully. “Tell that to Kimmo Thorne. How long have you been here?”

“Four years,” he replied.

“And before?”

“I’m a teacher. I worked in North London.” He gave the name of a primary school in Kilburn. Before she could ask, he told her he’d left that employment because he’d come to realise he preferred to work with older children. He added that he’d also had issues with the head teacher. When Barbara asked what sort of issues, he told her forthrightly that they were about discipline.

“Which side of the fence did you happen to reside on?” Barbara asked. “Sparing and spoiling or as the twig is bent?”

“You’re rather full of clichés, aren’t you?”

“I’m a walking encyclopaedia of them. So…?”

“It wasn’t corporal punishment,” he told her. “It was classroom discipline: the removal of privileges, a thorough talking to, a brief spate of social ostracism. That sort of thing.”

“Public ridicule? A day in the stocks?”

He coloured. “I’m trying to be frank with you. You’ll phone them up, I know. They’re going to tell you we had our differences. But that’s only natural. People are always of different opinions.”

“Right,” Barbara said. “Well, we all have those, don’t we, our different opinions? You have them here as well? Difference of opinions leading to conflicts leading to…Who knows what? Perhaps the divide you mentioned?”

“I’ll repeat the point I tried to make before. We’re all on the same page. Colossus is about the kids. The more people you talk to, the more you’re going to understand that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I see that Yusuf needs my help.” He left her then, returning to his classroom where the Asian boy was bent over the scanner looking as if he wished to hammer it. Barbara knew the feeling.

She left Greenham to his students. Her further exploration of the premises-still unimpeded-took her to the very back of the building. There she found the kit room where a group of kids were being set up with appropriate dress and equipment for winter kayaking on the Thames. Robbie Kilfoyle-he of the earlier cardplaying and the Euro-Disney baseball cap-had them lined up, and he was measuring them for wetsuits, a row of which hung along one wall. He’d pulled life jackets from a shelf as well, and those who were done being measured were sorting through these, finding one that fitted. Conversation among them was muted. It appeared they’d all finally got the word: either about Kimmo Thorne or about the cops asking questions.

Kilfoyle dismissed them to the game room when they had their wet suits and their life jackets. Wait there for Griffin Strong, he told them. He would be assisting their assessment leader on the river trip, and he was going to grouse about it if he didn’t find them all ready when he showed up. Then, as they filed out, Kilfoyle went on to sort through a mound of Wellingtons piled on the floor. He began to pair them and slide them onto shelves that were marked with sizes. He gave Barbara a nod of recognition. “Still here?” he said.

“As ever. Seems we’re all waiting for Griffin Strong.”

“Truth to that, all right.” There was an airiness to his voice suggesting double meanings. Barbara took note.

“Volunteer here long?” she asked him.

Kilfoyle thought about that one. “Two years?” he said. “Bit more. Something like twenty-nine months.”

“What about before that?”

He gave her a look, one that said he knew this was no simple chat on her part. “This’s my first spate of volunteering anywhere.”

“Why?”

“Which? The first-time part or the volunteering-at-all part?”

“Volunteering at all.”

He stopped his work, a set of Wellingtons in his hand. “I do their sandwich deliveries, like I said in reception. That’s how I met them. I could see they needed help because-between you and me-they pay their actual employees shit, so they can never find enough help or keep them long when they do find them. I started hanging about after my lunch deliveries were done for the day. Doing this, doing that, and hey, presto, I was a volunteer.”

“Nice of you.”

He shrugged. “Good cause. Besides, I’d like to be taken on eventually.”

“Even though they pay their employees shit?”

“I like the kids. And anyway, Colossus pays more than I’m currently making, believe me.”

“So how do you make them?”

“What?”

“Your deliveries.”

“Bicycle,” he replied. “There’s a cart that gets attached to the back.”

“Going where?”

“The cart? The deliveries?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Round South London, mostly. A bit in the City. Why? What’re you looking for?”

A van, Barbara thought. Deliveries by van. She noted that Kilfoyle had started to flush, but she didn’t want to put that down as any more significant than Greenham’s damp upper lip or his too soft hands. This bloke was ruddy skinned anyway, in the way of many Englishmen, and he had the doughy face, narrow nose, and knobby chin that would mark him out as British no matter where he went.

Barbara realised then how badly she wanted to read one of these blokes as a serial killer behind their ordinary exteriors. But the truth was, she’d so far wanted to read just about everyone she’d come across exactly the same and, no doubt when he finally showed his mug, Griff Strong was going to look bloody good to her as a serial killer, as well. She needed to keep things slow and easy at this point, she thought. Piece details together, she told herself, don’t cram them into position simply because you want them to be there.

“So how do they keep body and soul together?” Barbara asked. “Not to mention roofs over their heads?”

“Who?”

“You said wages were bad here…?”

“Oh. That. Mostly they’ve got second jobs.”

“Such as?”

He considered. “Don’t know them all. But Jack’s got a weekend job in a pub, and Griff and his wife have a silk-screen business. Fact is, I think only Ulrike’s making enough not to have something else going on at the weekends or at night. It’s the only way anyone can actually do this and still eat.” He looked past Barbara to the doorway and added, “Hey, mate. I was just about to set the hounds on you.”

Barbara turned and saw the same boy who’d been playing cards with Kilfoyle earlier in reception. He was slouching in the doorway, baggy blue jeans crotched at the knees and boxer shorts bulging at the waist. He shuffled into the kit room, where Kilfoyle set him up sorting through a tangle of climbing ropes. He began pulling them out of a plastic barrel and coiling them neatly round his arm.

“Do you happen to know Sean Lavery?” Barbara asked Kilfoyle.

He thought about this. “Been through assessment?”

“He’s on a computer course with Neil Greenham.”

“Then I probably know him. By sight if not by name. Back here”-He used his chin to indicate the kit room-“I only see the kids close up when there’s an activity scheduled and they come in for supplies. Otherwise, they’re just faces to me. I don’t always put a name to them or keep a name on them once they’ve moved beyond the assessment level.”

“Because only assessment-level kids use this stuff?” Barbara asked him, referring to the supplies in the kit room.

“Generally speaking, yes,” he said.

“Neil Greenham tells me there’s a divide between the assessment people and everyone else round here, with Ulrike on the assessment side. He indicated that’s a trouble spot.”

“That’s just Neil,” Kilfoyle said. He shot a look towards his helper and lowered his voice. “He hates being out of the loop. He takes offence easy. He’s keen to have more responsibility and-”

“Why?”

“What?”

“Why’s he keen to have more responsibility?”

Kilfoyle moved from the Wellingtons to the remaining life jackets that had not been chosen for wear by the team going out on the Thames. “Most people want that in their jobs, don’t they? It’s a power thing.”

“Neil likes power?”

“I don’t know him well, but I get the feeling he’d like to have more say about how things are run round here.”

“And what about you? You’ve got to have bigger plans for yourself than volunteering in this kit room.”

“You mean here at Colossus?” He thought about this, then gave a shrug. “Okay, I’ll play. I wouldn’t mind being hired to do outreach when they open the Colossus branch north of the river. But Griff Strong’s angling for that. And if Griff wants it, it’s going to be his.”

“Why?”

Kilfoyle hesitated, weighing a life jacket between one hand and another as if he were also weighing his words. He finally replied, “Let’s just say Neil was right about one thing: Everyone knows everyone else at Colossus. But Ulrike’s going to make the decision on the outreach job, and she knows some people better than others.”

FROM THE BENTLEY, Lynley phoned the police station in South Hampstead and brought them into the picture: the body found that morning south of the river, which was possibly one of a series of killings…if the station would allow him a conversation with a certain Reverend Savidge who might soon be phoning them about a missing boy…Arrangements were made as he crossed the river, heading diagonally through the city.

He found Bram Savidge at his ministry, which turned out to be a former shop for electrical goods whose whimsical name Plugged Inn had been economically used as part of the church’s moniker, Plugged Inn to the Lord. In the Swiss Cottage area of Finchley Road, it appeared to be part church and part soup kitchen. At the moment, it was operating as the latter.

When Lynley walked in, he felt like an overweight nudist in a crowd wearing overcoats: He was the only white face in the establishment, and the black faces looking him over were doing so without much welcome. He asked for Reverend Savidge, please, and a woman who’d been dishing out a savoury stew to a line of the hungry went to fetch him. When Savidge turned up, Lynley found himself face-to-face with six feet, five inches of solid Africa, which was hardly what he’d expected from the public school sound of the man’s voice on the speakerphone in Ulrike Ellis’s office.

Reverend Savidge appeared in a caftan of red, orange, and black, while on his feet were roughly made sandals, which he wore without socks despite the winter weather. An intricately carved wooden necklace lay on his chest, and a single earring of shell, bone, or something very like dangled just below the height of Lynley’s eyes. Savidge might have just stepped off the plane from Nairobi, except his clipped beard framed a face not as dark as one would have expected. Aside from Lynley, he was actually the lightest-skinned person in the room.

“You’re the police?” That accent again, speaking not only of public schools and a university degree, but also of an upbringing in an area that was a far cry from his present community. His eyes-they were hazel, Lynley noted-took in Lynley’s suit, shirt, tie, and shoes. He made his evaluation in an instant, and it wasn’t good. So be it, Lynley thought. He showed his identification and asked if there was somewhere private for them to speak.

Savidge led the way to an office at the back of the building. They wound there through long tables set up for use in eating the meal being dished out by women wearing garb not unlike Savidge’s own. At these, perhaps two dozen men and half as many women wolfed down the stew, drank from small cartons of milk, and slathered bread with butter. Music played low to entertain them, a chant of some sort in an African tongue.

Savidge closed the door on all this when they got to his office. He said, “Scotland Yard. Why? I phoned the local station. They said someone would come. I assumed…What’s happening? What’s this all about?”

“I was in Ms. Ellis’s office when you phoned Colossus.”

“What’s happened to Sean?” Savidge demanded. “He didn’t come home. You must know something. Tell me.”

Lynley could see the reverend was used to being instantly obeyed. There was little doubt why this was the case: He dominated by simple virtue of being alive. Lynley couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a man who so effortlessly exuded such authority.

He said, “I understand Sean Lavery lives with you?”

“I’d like to know-”

“Reverend Savidge, I’m going to need some information. One way or the other.”

They engaged in a brief battle of eyes and wills before Savidge said, “With me and my wife. Yes. Sean lives with us. In care.”

“His own parents?”

“His mum’s in prison. Attempted murder of a cop.” Savidge paused, as if registering Lynley’s reaction to this. Lynley took care not to give him one. “Dad’s a mechanic over in North Kensington. They were never married, and he had no interest in the boy, before or after Mum’s arrest. When she went inside, Sean went into the system.”

“And how did you end up with him?”

“I’ve had boys in my home for nearly two decades.”

“Boys? Are there others, then?”

“Not now. Just Sean.”

“Why?”

Reverend Savidge went to a Thermos, out of which he poured himself a cup of something fragrant and steaming. He offered this to Lynley, who demurred. He took it to his desk and sat, nodding Lynley into a chair. On the desk, a legal pad held jottings, things listed and crossed out, circled and underlined. “Sermon,” Savidge said, apparently noticing the direction of Lynley’s gaze. “It doesn’t come easy.”

“The other boys, Reverend Savidge?”

“I have a wife now. Oni’s English isn’t good. She felt overwhelmed and a bit overrun, so I had three of the boys placed elsewhere. Temporarily. Till Oni settles in.”

“But not Sean Lavery. He’s not been placed elsewhere. Why?”

“He’s younger than the others. It didn’t feel right to move him.”

Lynley wondered what else hadn’t felt right. He couldn’t help concluding it might have been the new Mrs. Savidge, inadequate in English and home alone with a household of adolescent boys.

“How did Sean come to be involved in Colossus?” he asked. “It’s quite a distance for him to go there from here.”

“Colossus do-gooders came to the church. They called it outreach, but what it amounted to was talking up their programme. An alternative to what they obviously believe every child of colour would get up to, given half the chance and absent their intervention.”

“You don’t approve of them, then.”

“This community’s going to help itself from within, Superintendent. It’s not going to improve by having help imposed upon it by a group of liberal, guilt-ridden social activists. They need to toddle back to whichever of the Home Counties they came from, hockey sticks and cricket bats well in hand.”

“Yet somehow Sean Lavery ended up there, despite your feelings.”

“I had no choice in the matter. Neither did Sean. It was all down to his social worker.”

“But surely, as his guardian, you have a strong say in how he spends his free time.”

“Under other circumstances. But there was an incident with a bicycle as well.” Savidge went on to explain: It was a complete misunderstanding, he said. Sean had taken an expensive mountain bike from a boy in the neighbourhood. He’d thought he’d been given permission to use it; the boy had thought otherwise. He reported it stolen and the cops found it in Sean’s possession. The situation was considered a first offence, and Sean’s social worker suggested nipping any potential for illegal behaviour in the bud. So Colossus came into the picture. Savidge had initially, if reluctantly, approved the idea: Of all his boys, Sean had been the first to come to the notice of the police. He was also the first who wouldn’t attend school. Colossus was supposed to remedy all this.

“He’s been there how long?” Lynley asked.

“Closing in on a year.”

“Attending regularly?”

“He has to. It’s part of his probation.” Savidge lifted his mug and drank. He wiped his mouth carefully. He went on with, “Sean’s said from the first that he didn’t steal that bike, and I believe him. At the same time, I want to keep him out of trouble, which you and I know he’s going to get into if he doesn’t go to school and doesn’t get involved with something. He hasn’t exactly looked forward to Colossus every day-from what I can tell-but he goes. He managed the assessment course, and he’s actually had some good words to say about the computer course he’s doing now.”

“Who was his assessment leader?”

“Griffin Strong. Social worker. Sean liked him well enough. Or at least well enough not to complain about him.”

“Has he ever failed to come home before, Reverend Savidge?”

“Never. He’s been late a few times, but he’s phoned to let us know. That’s it.”

“Is there any reason he might have decided to run off?”

Savidge thought about this. He circled his hands round his mug and rolled it between his palms. He finally said, “Once he managed to track down his dad without telling me-”

“In North Kensington?”

“Yes. Munro Mews, a car-repair shop. Sean tracked him down a few months ago. I don’t know exactly what happened. He’s never said. But I don’t expect it was anything positive. His dad’s moved on in his life. He has a wife and kids, which is all I know from Sean’s social worker. So if Sean went hoping to get Dad’s attention…That would have been a real nonstarter. But not enough to cause Sean to run off.”

“The dad’s name?”

Savidge gave it to him: one Sol Oliver. But then he ran out of the willingness to cooperate and self-subordinate. He was clearly not used to doing either. He said, “Now, Superintendent Lynley. I’ve told you what I know. I want you to tell me what you’re going to do. And not what you’re going to do in forty-eight hours or however long you expect me to wait because Sean might have run off. He doesn’t run off. He phones if he’s going to be late. He leaves Colossus and he checks in here on his way to the gym. He pounds the punch bag and then he goes home.”

The gym? Lynley took note of this. What gym? Where? How often did he go? And how did Sean get from Plugged Inn to the Lord to the gym and from there to home? On foot? By bus? Did he ever hitchhike? Did someone drive him?

Savidge regarded him curiously but answered willingly enough. Sean walked, he told Lynley. It wasn’t far. Either from here or from home. It was called Square Four Gym.

Did the boy have a mentor there? Lynley asked. Someone he admired? Someone he spoke of?

Savidge shook his head. He said that Sean went to the gym as part of coping with his anger and upon his social worker’s recommendation. He had no ambition to be a body builder, a boxer, a wrestler, or anything else along those lines, as far as Savidge knew.

What about friends? Lynley asked. Who were they?

Savidge thought about this for a moment before he admitted that Sean Lavery didn’t seem to have friends. But he was a good boy and he was responsible, Savidge insisted. And the one thing he could vouch for was that Sean wouldn’t fail to come home without phoning and explaining why.

And then because somehow Savidge knew that New Scotland Yard would not have come in place of the local police without more of a reason than having been in Ulrike Ellis’s office when he phoned, he said, “Perhaps it’s time you told me why you’re really here, Superintendent.”

In reply, Lynley asked Reverend Savidge if he had a photo of the boy.

Not there in his office, Savidge told him. For that, they would need to go to his home.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

EVEN IF ROBBIE KILFOYLE IN HIS EURODISNEY CAP hadn’t alluded to the fact, Barbara Havers would have twigged that something was going on between Griffin Strong and Ulrike Ellis about fifteen seconds into seeing them together. Whether it was merely a case of angst-filled love going unacknowledged, of footsie in the local canteen, or Kama Sutra under the stars, she couldn’t have said. Nor could she tell if it was just a one-way street with Ulrike doing all the driving in a car she was piloting to nowhere. But that there was something in the air between them-some sort of electrical charge that usually meant naked bodies and moaning exchanges of bodily fluids but could really mean anything in between handshakes and the primal act-only a deaf-mute alien life form would have thought to deny.

The director of Colossus personally brought Griffin Strong to Barbara. She made the introductions, and the way she said his name-not to mention the way she looked at him, with an expression not unlike the one Barbara felt on her own face whenever she gazed upon a fruit-topped cheesecake-pretty much put neon lights round whatever secret she or they were supposed to be keeping. And obviously, there had to be a secret. Not only had Robbie Kilfoyle earlier mentioned the word wife in connection with Strong, but the man himself wore a wedding band the approximate size of a lorry tyre. Which in itself was a wise idea, Barbara thought. Strong was just about the most gorgeous thing she’d ever seen walking unmolested on the streets of London. He no doubt needed something to ward off the hordes of females whose jaws probably dropped to their chests when he passed them. He looked like a film star. He looked better than a film star. He looked like a god.

He also, Barbara realised, looked uneasy. She couldn’t decide if this counted in his favour or marked him down for further study.

He said, “Ulrike’s told me about Kimmo Thorne and Sean Lavery. You might as well know: They were both mine. Sean went through assessment with me ten months ago and Kimmo was going through assessment now. I let Ulrike know straightaway when he-Kimmo-didn’t turn up. Obviously, I didn’t know Sean was missing, as he’s not currently one of mine.”

Barbara nodded. Helpful, she thought. And the bit about Sean was an interesting wrinkle.

She asked was there a spot where they could talk. They didn’t exactly need Ulrike Ellis hanging upon their every word.

Strong said he shared an office with two other assessment leaders. They were off with their kids today, though, and if she’d follow him there, they’d have some privacy. He himself didn’t have a lot of time, though, because he was due to help take some kids out on the river. He gave Ulrike a quick glance and motioned Barbara to follow him.

For her part, Barbara tried to interpret that glance and the nervous smile that quivered on Ulrike’s lips as she received it. You and me, babe. Our secret, darling. We’ll talk later. I want you naked. Rescue me in five minutes, please. The possibilities seemed endless.

Barbara followed Griffin Strong-“It’s Griff,” he said-to an office just the other side of reception. It displayed the same decorating sense as Ulrike’s: heavy on clutter and light on available space. Bookshelves, filing cabinets, one shared desk. The walls held posters intended to influence young people in a positive direction: illiterate football stars with curious hairdos, pretending to read Charles Dickens, and pop singers doing thirty seconds of public service in soup kitchens. Colossus posters joined these. On them, the familiar logo appeared, that giant allowing himself to be used by the smaller and the less fortunate.

Strong went to one of the filing cabinets and fingered through a packed drawer to pull out two files. He consulted them and told her that Kimmo Thorne had come to Colossus via the magistrate’s court, Youth Offenders, and his predilection for selling stolen goods. Sean had come via Social Services and something about a hijacked mountain bike.

Again, that demonstration of helpfulness. Strong returned the files and went to the desk, where he sat and rubbed his forehead.

“You look tired,” Barbara noted.

“I’ve a baby with colic,” he said, “and a wife with postnatal blues. I’m coping. But only just.”

That at least partially explained whatever might be going on with Ulrike, Barbara decided. It fell into the poor-misunderstood-and-neglected-husband class of extramarital whatevers. “Tough times,” she said in acknowledgement.

He flashed her a smile of-what else would it be?-perfect, white teeth. “It’s worth it. I’ll get through them.”

Bet you will, Barbara thought. She asked him about Kimmo Thorne. What did Strong know about his time at Colossus? About his associates here? His friends, mentors, acquaintances, teachers, and the like. Having had him in the assessment course-which she was given to understand would provide the most intimate of the interactions that the kids would engage in at Colossus-he probably knew Kimmo better than anyone else did.

Good kid, Strong told her. Oh, he’d been in trouble, but he wasn’t cut out for criminality. He just did it as a means to an end, not for kicks and not as an unconscious social statement. And he’d rejected that sort of life, anyway… Well, at least that was how it had seemed so far. It had been too soon to tell which way Kimmo would actually go, which was generally the case during a young person’s first weeks at Colossus.

What sort of boy was he? Barbara then asked.

Well liked, Griff told her. Pleasant, affable. He was just the sort of boy who stood a good chance of actually making something of himself. He had real potential and real talent. It was a bloody shame some bastard out there had targeted him.

Barbara took down all of this information, despite knowing most of it already, despite feeling it was all somehow rehearsed. Doing this gave her the opportunity not to look at the man who was passing the details along to her. She evaluated his voice while not distracted by his GQ looks. He sounded sincere enough. Very forthcoming and all that. But there was nothing in what he was telling her that indicated he knew Kimmo better than anyone else, and that didn’t make sense. He was supposed to know him well, or at least to be getting to know him well. Yet there was nothing here to indicate that, and she had to wonder why.

“Any special friends here?” she asked.

He said, “What?” And then, “Do you actually think someone from Colossus may have killed him?”

“It’s a possibility,” Barbara said.

“Ulrike’ll tell you everyone’s thoroughly vetted before they come to work here. The idea that somehow a serial killer-”

“Had a good chat with Ulrike before you and I met, then?” Barbara looked up from her notes. He had a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face.

“Of course she told me you were here when she told me about Kimmo and Sean. But she said there were several other deaths you’re investigating, so it can’t have anything to do with Colossus. And no one knows if Sean’s just bunked off for the day anyway.”

“True,” Barbara said. “Any special friends?”

“Mine?”

“We were talking about Kimmo.”

“Kimmo. Right. Everyone liked him. And you’d think the opposite would be the case, considering how he got himself up and how most kids feel about their sexuality in adolescence.”

“How’s that, then?”

“You know, a bit ill at ease, unsure at first about their own proclivities and consequently unwilling to have anything to do with someone who might cast a questionable light upon them in the eyes of their peers. But no one seemed to shun Kimmo. He didn’t allow it. As to special friends, there was no one he singled out and no one who singled out him more than anyone else. But that’s not something that would happen in assessment anyway. The kids are supposed to bond as a group.”

“What about Sean?” she asked him.

“What about Sean?”

“Friends?”

Strong hesitated. Then, “He had a rougher time than Kimmo, as I recall,” he said reflectively. “He didn’t get close to the group he went through assessment with. But he seemed more standoffish in general. An introvert. Things on his mind.”

“Such as?”

“I don’t know. Except he was angry, and he didn’t try to hide it.”

“About what?”

“Being here, I expect. In my experience, most kids are angry when they come to us through Social Services. They generally break down sometime during their assessment weeks, but Sean never did.”

How long had Griffin Strong been an assessment leader at Colossus? Barbara asked.

Unlike Kilfoyle and Greenham, who’d had to think about how long they’d been associated with the organisation, Griff said, “Fourteen months,” at once.

“And before?” Barbara asked.

“Social work. I’d started out in medicine-thought I’d be a pathologist till I found I couldn’t abide the sight of a dead body-then I switched over to psychology. And sociology. I’ve a first in each.”

That was impressive enough, as well as easily checked out. “Where’d you work?” Barbara asked him.

He didn’t respond at once, so again Barbara lifted her head from her notebook. She found him staring at her, and she knew that he’d intended her to raise her head and that he enjoyed the sensation of having forced her into doing so. Flatly, she repeated her question.

He finally said, “Stockwell, for a time.”

“Before that?”

“Lewisham. Is this important?”

“Just now, everything’s important.” Barbara took her time writing “Stockwell” and “Lewisham” into her notebook. She said, “What sort, anyway?” when she’d put a little flourish on the final letter.

“What sort of what?”

“Social work. Kids in care? Lags on the loose? Single mums? What?”

He didn’t answer a second time. Barbara thought he might be playing the power game again, but she raised her head anyway. This time, though, he wasn’t looking at her but rather at the football player on the poster, ostensibly enraptured by his leather-bound copy of Bleak House. Barbara was about to repeat her question when Griff appeared to come to a decision about something.

He said, “You might as well know. You’ll find out anyway. I was sacked from both jobs.”

“For?”

“I don’t always get on with supervisors, especially if they’re female. Sometimes…” He gave his attention fully back to her, two dark deep eyes compelling her to keep her gaze locked upon him. “There are always disagreements in this sort of work. There have to be. We’re dealing with human lives and each life is different from the last, isn’t it.”

“You could say that,” Barbara said, curious about where he was going with all this. He showed her in short order.

“Yes. Well. I have a tendency to express myself strongly, and women have a tendency not to take that well. I end up getting…let’s call it misunderstood for want of a better term.”

Ah, there it was, Barbara thought, the misunderstood business. It just wasn’t being applied where she’d expected it to be. “But Ulrike doesn’t have that problem with you?”

“Not so far,” he said. “But then, Ulrike likes discussion. She’s not afraid of a healthy debate among the team.”

Or a healthy something else as well, Barbara thought. Especially that. She said, “You and Ulrike are close, then?”

He wasn’t about to get into that. “She runs the organisation.”

“What about when you’re not here at Colossus?”

“What are you asking?”

“If you’re bonking your boss. I guess I’m wondering how the other assessment leaders might feel about it if you and Ulrike happen to be making the beast with two backs after hours. Or how anyone else might feel about it, for that matter. Is that how you lost your other two jobs, by the way?”

He said evenly, “You’re not very nice, are you?”

“Not with five dead bodies to account for.”

“Five…? You can’t possibly conclude…I was told…Ulrike said you’d come here-”

“About Kimmo, yeah. But that’s just one of two dead bodies with names,” Barbara said.

“But you said that Sean…Sean’s only missing, isn’t he? He’s not dead…You don’t know…”

“We’ve a body this morning that could be Sean, and I’m sure Ulrike clued you in on that. Beyond that, we’ve got a kid called Jared Salvatore identified and three others in line to be claimed by someone. Five in all.”

He didn’t say anything, but he seemed to be holding his breath for some reason, and Barbara wondered what that meant. He finally murmured, “Jesus.”

“What’s happened to the rest of your assessment kids, Mr. Strong?” Barbara asked.

“What do you mean?”

“How closely do you follow them when they’re done with their first two weeks at this place?”

“I don’t. I haven’t. I mean, they go on to their instructors next. If they want to go on, that is. The instructors keep tabs on how they’re doing, and they report in to Ulrike. The whole team meets every two weeks and we talk, and Ulrike herself counsels the kids having trouble.” He frowned. He tapped his knuckles on his desk. “If these other kids turn out to be ours…Someone’s trying to discredit Colossus,” he told her. “Or one of us. Someone’s trying to get at one of us.”

“You think that’s the case?” Barbara asked.

“If even one other of the bodies comes from here, what else is there to think?”

“That kids are in danger all over London,” Barbara said, “but that they’re really up against it if they end up here.”

“Like we’re setting out to kill them, you mean?” Strong’s question was outraged.

Barbara smiled and flipped her notebook closed. “Your words, not mine, Mr. Strong,” she said.

REVEREND BRAM SAVIDGE and his wife lived in a West Hampstead neighbourhood that belied the church leader’s we-are-of-the-people demeanour. It was a small house, true. But it was far more than anyone whom Lynley had seen either dishing out the food or eating it at Plugged Inn to the Lord could afford. And Savidge led the way there in a late-model Saab. As DC Havers would have happily pointed out: Someone round here wasn’t hurting for lolly.

Savidge waited for Lynley to find a place for the Bentley on the tree-lined street. He stood on the front step of his house, looking vaguely biblical with his caftan blowing in the winter breeze, coatless despite the frigid winter weather. When Lynley finally joined him, he sorted out three locks on the front door and opened it. He called, “Oni? I’ve brought a visitor, darling.”

He didn’t call out about Sean, Lynley noted. Not “Has the boy phoned?” Not “Any word from Sean?” Just “I’ve brought a visitor, darling,” and in a tentative manner that sounded somehow like a warning and was completely out of character for the man Lynley had been speaking with so far.

There was no immediate reply to Savidge’s call. He said to Lynley, “Wait here,” and directed him to the sitting room. He himself went to a staircase and climbed quickly to the first floor. Lynley heard him moving along a corridor.

He took a moment to gaze round the sitting room, which was simply fitted out with well-made furniture and a brightly patterned rug. The walls held old documents, framed and mounted, and as above him doors opened and closed in rapid succession, Lynley went to examine these. One was an antique bill of lading, apparently from a ship called the Valiant Sheba whose cargo had been twenty males, thirty-two females-eighteen of whom were documented as “breeding”-and thirteen children. Another was a letter written in copperplate on stationery that bore “Ash Grove, nr Kingston” as its letterhead. Faded with time, this proved difficult to read, but Lynley made out “excellent stud potential” and “if you can control the brute.”

“My thrice-great-grandfather, Superintendent. He didn’t quite take to slavery.”

Lynley turned. In the doorway, Savidge stood with a girl at his side. “Oni, my wife,” he said. “She’s asked to be introduced.”

It was hard for Lynley to believe he was looking at Savidge’s wife, for Oni appeared no older than sixteen, if that. She was thin, long necked, and African to the core. Like her husband, her manner of dress was ethnic, and she carried an unusual musical instrument in her arms, its belly not unlike a banjo, but with a tall bridge that lifted more than a dozen strings high up.

One glance at her explained a great deal to Lynley. Oni was exquisite: like midnight unblemished, with hundreds of years of blood untarnished by miscegenation. She was what Savidge himself could never be because of the Valiant Sheba. She was also the last thing a rational man would want to leave alone with a group of teenage boys.

Lynley said, “Mrs. Savidge.”

The girl smiled and nodded. She looked to her husband as if for guidance. She said, “You might wanting?,” and halted, as if sorting through a catalogue of words that she knew and grammar whose rules she barely understood.

He said, “This is about Sean, darling. We don’t mean to disturb your practice with the kora. Why don’t you go on with it down here while I take the policeman up to Sean’s room?”

“Yes,” she agreed. “I will be playing, then.” She went to the sofa and placed the kora carefully on the floor. As they were about to leave her, she said, “It is very sunless today, no? Another month passes. Bram, I…discover…No, not discover isn’t…I learn this morning…”

Savidge hesitated. Lynley discerned a change in him, like tension released. He said, “We’ll talk later, then, Oni.”

She said, “Yes. And the other as well? Again?”

“Perhaps. The other.” Quickly, he directed Lynley to the stairs. He led the way to a room at the back of the house. When they were within it, he seemed to feel the need to explain. He shut the door and said, “We’re trying for a baby. No luck so far. That’s what she meant.”

“That’s rough,” Lynley said.

“She’s worried about it. Worried that I might…I don’t know…discard her or something? But she’s perfectly healthy. She’s perfectly formed. She’s-” Savidge stopped, as if he realised how close he was to describing someone’s breeding potential himself. He settled on changing course altogether, and he said, “Anyway. This is Sean’s room.”

“Did you ask your wife if he’s turned up? Phoned? Sent a message?”

“She doesn’t answer the phone,” Savidge said. “Her English isn’t good enough. She lacks confidence.”

“Anything else?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean did you ask her about Sean?”

“I didn’t need to. She would have told me. She knows I’m worried.”

“What’s her relationship with the boy?”

“What’s that got to do with-”

“Mr. Savidge, I’ve got to ask,” Lynley said, his gaze steady. “She’s obviously much younger than you.”

“She’s nineteen years old.”

“Much closer in age to the boys you’ve sheltered than to yourself, am I right?”

“This isn’t about my marriage, my wife, or my situation, Superintendent.”

Oh, but it is, Lynley thought. He said, “You’re what? Twenty years older than she? Twenty-five years older? And the boys were what age?”

Savidge seemed to grow larger, indignation colouring his reply. “This is about a missing boy. In a circumstance in which other boys of a similar age have gone missing, if the newspapers are anything to go by. So if you think I’m going to let you misdirect my concerns because you lot have botched an investigation, you’d better change course.” He didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he went to a bookcase that held a small CD player and a rank of paperback books that looked untouched. From the top of this, he took up a photograph in a plain wooden frame. He thrust it at Lynley.

In the picture, Savidge himself in his African garb stood with his arm round the shoulders of a solemn-looking boy wearing an overlarge tracksuit. The boy had a head of germinant dreadlocks and a wary expression, like a dog’s too often returned to his cage at the Battersea shelter after a walk. He was very dark, only a little lighter than Savidge’s wife. He was also, unmistakably, the boy whose body they’d found that morning.

Lynley looked up. Beyond Savidge’s shoulder, he saw that the walls of Sean’s room had posters on them: Louis Farrakhan in passionate exhortation, Elijah Mohammed backed by neat-suited members of the Nation. A young Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most famous of the converted. He said, “Mr. Savidge…” And then, for a moment, he found himself in the position of not knowing exactly how to go on. A body in a tunnel became all too human the moment you placed it in a home. At that point, a body altered from a body to a person whose death could not go unmarked by a desire for revenge or a need for justice or the duty to express the simplest form of regret. He said, “I’m sorry. We’ve got a body you’re going to have to look at. It was found this morning, south of the river.”

Savidge said, “Oh my God. Is it…”

“I hope it isn’t,” Lynley said, although he knew it was. He took the other man’s arm to give him support. There were questions he was going to have to ask Savidge eventually, but at the moment there was nothing more to say.

ULRIKE MANAGED to cool her heels in her office till Jack Veness closed down the phones and tidied up the reception room for the day. Once she’d acknowledged his good night and heard the outer door slam behind him, she went in search of Griff.

She found Robbie Kilfoyle instead. He was in the entry corridor, emptying two rubbish bags of Colossus T-shirts and sweatshirts into the storage cupboard beneath the display case of goods for sale. At least, she saw, Griff had told the truth in this. He had spent several hours at his silk-screening business today.

She’d doubted that. When they’d met at the Charlie Chaplin, the first thing she’d said was, “Where’ve you been all day, Griffin?,” and then winced at the tone of her voice because she knew what she sounded like and he knew she knew, which was why he’d said, “Don’t,” before he told her. A piece of equipment had needed repair at the silk-screening shop and he’d seen to it, he said. “I told you I’d be going by the business on my way in. You wanted me to bring more shirts, remember?” That was a quintessential Griffin reply. I was doing what you asked, he implied.

Ulrike said to Robbie Kilfoyle, “Have you seen Griff? I need a word with him.”

Squatting on the floor, Robbie rested back on his heels and tipped his cap to the back of his head. He said, “He’s helping take that new group of assessment kids onto the river. They went off in the vans…round two hours ago?” Robbie’s expression told her he thought she-as director-ought to be aware of this piece of information. He said, “He left this stuff”-with a nod at the rubbish bags-“back in the kit room. I reckoned it was best to pack it all in here. C’n I help you with something?”

“Help me?”

“Well, if you want Griff and Griff’s not here, I might be able to…” He shrugged.

“I said I wanted a word with him, Robbie.” Ulrike was at once aware of how curt she sounded. She said, “Sorry. That was rude of me. I’m frazzled. The police. First Kimmo. Now…”

“Sean,” Robbie said. “Yeah. I know. He’s not dead, though, is he? Sean Lavery?”

Ulrike looked at him sharply. “I didn’t say his name. How d’you know about Sean?”

Robbie seemed taken aback. “That cop asked if I knew him, Ulrike. That woman cop. She came by the kit room. She said Sean was in one of the computer courses, so when I had a chance, I asked Neil what was going on. He said Sean Lavery didn’t turn up today. That was it.” Then he added, “Okay, Ulrike?,” as an afterthought, but he didn’t sound deferential when he said it.

She couldn’t blame him. She said, “I’m…Look, I didn’t mean to sound so…I don’t know…so suspicious. I’m on edge. First Kimmo. Now Sean. And the police. D’you know what time Griff and the kids will be back?”

Robbie took a moment, seeming to evaluate her apology, before he replied. This, she decided, was a wee bit much. He was, after all, only a volunteer. He said, “I don’t know. They’ll probably stop for a coffee afterwards. Half seven p’rhaps? Eight? He’s got his own keys to the place, right?”

True, she thought. He could come and go as he liked, which had been convenient in the past when they’d wanted to have a political powwow. Planning strategies before staff meetings and after hours. Here’s where I stand on an issue, Griffin. What about you?

“I suppose you’re right,” she said. “They could be gone hours.”

“Not too late, though. The dark and all that. And it must be cold as hell on the river. Between you and me, I can’t think why assessment chose kayaking at all for their group activity this time round. Seems a hike would’ve been better. A footpath in the Cotswolds or something. Going between villages. They could’ve stopped for a meal at the end.” He went back to stowing the T-shirts and sweatshirts away in the cupboard.

“Is that what you would have done?” she asked him. “Taken them on a hike? Somewhere safe?”

He looked over his shoulder. “It’s probably nothing, you know.”

“What?”

“Sean Lavery. They bunk off sometimes, these kids.”

Ulrike wanted to ask him why he thought he knew the kids at Colossus better than she. But the truth was, he likely did know them better because she’d been distracted for months on end. Kids had come into and gone from Colossus, but her mind had been elsewhere.

Which could cost her her job, if it came down to the board of directors looking for someone culpable for what was going on…if something was going on. All those hours, days, weeks, months, and years given to this organisation: down the toilet in one hardy flush. She’d be able to get another job somewhere, but it wouldn’t be at a place like Colossus, with all of Colossus’s potential to do exactly what she so fervently believed needed to be done in England: to make change at a grass-roots level, which was at the level of the individual child’s psyche.

Where had it all gone? She’d come into her job at Colossus believing that she could make a difference and she had done just that, right up till the time Griffin Charles Strong had planted his CV on her desk and his mesmerising dark eyes on her face. And even then she’d managed to maintain an air of cool professionalism for months on end, knowing full well the dangers represented by becoming involved with anyone at her place of employment.

Her resolve had weakened over time. Perhaps just to touch him, she’d thought. The gorgeous head of hair, wavy and thick. Or the broad oarsman’s shoulders beneath the fisherman’s sweater he favoured. Or the lower arm whose wrist was banded by a leather plait. Touching him had eventually become such an obsession that the only way possible to rid herself of the preoccupation with her hand grazing some part of his body was simply to do it. Just reach across the conference table and grasp his wrist to emphasise her agreement with some remark he’d made during a staff meeting and then feel the rush of surprise when he briefly closed his other hand over hers and squeezed. She told herself it was merely a sign that he appreciated her support of his ideas. Except there were signs…and then there were signs.

She said to Robbie Kilfoyle, “When you’re finished here, make sure the doors are locked, won’t you?”

“Will do,” he said, and she felt his gaze fixed on her speculatively as she returned to her office.

There, she went to the filing cabinet. She squatted in front of the bottom drawer that she’d opened before, in the presence of the detectives. She fingered through the manila folders and brought out the one she needed, which she shoved into the canvas book bag she used as a briefcase. That done, she grabbed up her bicycle clothing and went to change for the long ride home.

She did her changing in the ladies’ toilet, taking her time and all the while listening for the hopeful sounds of Griff Strong and the assessment kids returning from the river. But the only thing she heard was Robbie Kilfoyle leaving, and then she herself was alone at Colossus.

She couldn’t risk Griff’s mobile this time round, not when she knew he was with a group. There was nothing left but to write him a note. Rather than deposit it on his desk, however, where he could use the excuse of not having seen it, she took it outside to the carpark and shoved it beneath the windscreen wiper of his vehicle. On the driver’s side. She even took a piece of Sellotape to make sure the note didn’t blow away. Then she went for her bike, unlocked it, and headed for St. George’s Road, the first part of the crisscrossing route that would take her from Elephant and Castle up to Paddington.

The ride took her nearly an hour in the bitter cold. Her mask prevented her from breathing the worst of the traffic fumes, but there was nothing to protect her from the constant noise. She reached Gloucester Terrace more exhausted than usual, but at least grateful that the ride itself-and the need to be on guard against traffic-had kept her mind occupied.

She chained her bicycle to the railing in front of number 258, where she unlocked the front door to the usual cooking smells emanating from the ground-floor flat. Cumin, sesame oil, fish. Overcooked sprouts. Rotting onions. She held her breath and went for the stairs. She was up five of them when behind her, the front-door buzzer sounded sharply. The door had a rectangle of glass on top, and through it she saw the shape of his head. She descended quickly.

“I rang your mobile.” Griff sounded irritated. “Why didn’t you answer? Fuck it, Ulrike. If you’re going to leave me a note like that-”

“I was on my bike,” she told him. “I can hardly answer it when I’m riding home. I turn it off. You know that.” She held the door open and turned from it. He would have no choice but to follow her upstairs.

On the first floor, she switched on the timed light and went for the door of her flat. Inside, she dumped her canvas holdall on the lumpy sofa and turned on a single lamp. She said, “Wait here,” and went into her bedroom, where she took off her bike-riding clothes, sniffed her armpits, and found them wanting. A damp flannel took care of that problem, after which she examined herself in the mirror and was satisfied with the heightened colour the ride across London had brought to her cheeks. She slid into a dressing gown and tied its belt. She returned to the sitting room.

Griff had turned on the brighter overhead lights. She chose to ignore that. She went to the kitchen where the fridge held a chilled bottle of white Burgundy. She took out two glasses and fetched the corkscrew.

Seeing this, Griff said, “Ulrike, I’ve just got off the river. I’m knackered and there’s just no way-”

She turned round. “That wouldn’t have stopped you a month ago. Anytime, anywhere. Man the torpedoes and damn the consequences. You can’t have forgotten.”

“I haven’t.”

“Good.” She poured the wine and carried a glass over to him. “I like to think of you as eternally ready.” She hooked her arm round his neck and drew him to her. An instant of resistance and then his mouth was on hers. Tongues, more tongues, a lengthy caress, and after a moment his hand sliding from her waist to the side of her breast. Fingers reaching for her nipple. Squeezing. Coaxing her to groan. Heat shooting into her genitals. Yes. Very nice stuff, Griff. She released him abruptly and moved away.

He had the grace to look flustered. He went to a chair-not the sofa-and sat. He said, “You said this was urgent. Emergency. Twenty-five-line whip. Crisis. Chaos. That’s why I came. This is exactly the opposite direction from home, by the way, which means I’ll not even get home now till God knows what time.”

“How unfortunate,” she said. “With duty calling you and all that. And I’m fully aware of your address, Griffin. As you well know.”

“I don’t want a row. Have you brought me here for a row?”

“Why would you think that? Where were you all day?”

He raised his head to the ceiling, one of those martyred male looks of the sort one saw in paintings of dying early Christian saints. He said, “Ulrike, you know my situation. You’ve always known it. You can’t have…What would you have me do? Now or then? Walk out on Arabella when she was five months pregnant? While she was in labour? Now she’s got an infant to contend with? I never gave you the slightest indication-”

“You’re right.” She produced a brittle smile. She could actually feel how frangible it was, and she loathed herself for reacting to him. She saluted him with her wineglass in a mock toast. “You never did. Bully for you. Everything always in the open and on the up-and-up. Don’t ask anyone to wear a blindfold. That’s a very good way to sidestep responsibility.”

He put his wineglass on the table, its contents untouched. He said, “All right. I surrender. White flag. Whatever you want. Why am I here?”

“What did she want?”

“Look, I was late today because I went to the silk-screening shop. I told you that. Not that it’s actually any of your business what Arabella and I-”

Ulrike laughed, although it was somewhat forced, a bad actress on an overlit stage. “I have a fine idea of what Arabella wanted and what you probably gave her…all seven and a half inches of it. But I’m not talking about you and the darling wife. I’m talking about the policewoman. Constable Whatsername with the broken teeth and bad hair.”

“Are you trying to back me into a corner?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your whole approach. I protest, I call a halt to the way you’re behaving just now, I say enough, I tell you to fuck off, and you’ve got what you want.”

“Which is?”

“My head on a bloody charger, no dancing and no seven veils required.”

“Is that what you think? Is that why you actually think I’ve asked you to come here?” She drained her glass of wine and felt the effect of it almost immediately.

“Are you saying you wouldn’t sack me, given half the chance?”

“In an instant,” she replied. “But that’s not why we’re talking.”

“Then why…?”

“What did she talk to you about?”

“Exactly what you thought she’d talk to me about.”

“And?”

“And?”

“And what did you tell her?”

“What d’you think I told her? Kimmo was Kimmo. Sean was Sean. One was a free-spirit transvestite with the personality of a vaudeville queen, a kid no one in his right mind would want to harm. The other looked like someone who wanted to chew screws for breakfast. I let you know when Kimmo missed a day of assessment. Sean was out of my orbit and on to something else, so I wouldn’t have known if he stopped turning up.”

“That’s all you told her?” She studied him as she asked the question, wondering about what kind of trust could possibly exist between two people who’d betrayed a third.

His eyes had narrowed. He said only, “We agreed.” And as she openly evaluated him, he added, “Or don’t you trust me?”

She didn’t, of course. How could she trust someone who lived by betrayal? But there was a way to test him, and not only that, but a way to fix him in position so that he had to maintain the pretence of cooperation with her, if it was a pretence in the first place.

She went to her canvas holdall. From it, she took the file she’d removed from her office. She handed this over to him.

She watched as his gaze dropped to it, as his eyes took in the label at the top. He looked up at her once he’d read it. “I did what you asked. What am I supposed to do with this, then?”

“What you have to,” she said. “I think you know what I mean.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

WHEN DETECTIVE CONSTABLE BARBARA HAVERS PULLED into the underground carpark at New Scotland Yard the next morning, she was already on her fourth cigarette, not counting the one she’d lit up and sucked down as she made her way from bed to shower. She’d been smoking steadily since leaving her digs, and the always maddening trip from North London had done nothing to improve either her nerves or her mood.

She was used to rows. She’d had run-ins with everyone she’d ever worked with, and she’d even gone so far as to shoot at a superior officer, in the truly advanced row that had cost her her rank and very nearly her job. But nothing that had gone before in her patchy career-not to mention in her life-had affected her as she’d been affected in five minutes of conversation with her neighbour.

She hadn’t intended to take on Taymullah Azhar. Her objective had been to extend a simple invitation to his daughter. Careful research-well, what went for careful research on her part, which was to buy a copy of What’s On, like a tourist come to see the Queen-had informed her that a place called the Jeffrye Museum offered glimpses into social history via models of sitting rooms through the centuries. Wouldn’t it be brilliant for Hadiyyah to accompany Barbara there in order to feed her eager little mind with something other than considerations of the belly rings currently being worn by female pop singers? It would be a journey from North to East London. It would, in short, be edu-bloody-cational. How could Azhar, a sophisticated educator himself, object to that?

Quite easily, as it turned out. When Barbara knocked him up on her way out to her car, he opened the door and he listened politely, as was his habit, with the fragrance of a well-balanced and nutritional breakfast floating out from the flat behind him like an accusation against Barbara’s own morning ritual of Pop-Tart and Players.

“Sort of a double whammy, you could call it,” Barbara finished the invitation, and even as she said it, she wondered where the hell double whammy had come from. “I mean, the museum’s built in a row of old almshouses, so there’s historical and social architecture involved as well. The sort of thing kids pass without knowing what they’re passing, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I thought it might be…” What, she asked herself? A good idea? An opportunity for Hadiyyah? An escape from further punishment?

That last was it, of course. Barbara had passed Hadiyyah’s solemn little gated face in the window one time too many. Enough was bleeding enough, she’d thought. Azhar had made his point. He didn’t need to beat the poor kid over the head with it.

“This is very kind of you, Barbara,” Azhar had said with his usual grave courtesy. “However, in the circumstance in which Hadiyyah and I find ourselves…”

She’d appeared behind him then, having apparently heard their voices. She cried, “Barbara! Hello, hello,” and she peered round her father’s slender body. She said, “Dad, can Barbara not come in? We’re having our breakfast, Barbara. Dad’s made French toast and scrambled eggs. That’s what I’m having. With syrup. He’s having yogurt.” She wrinkled her nose, but not evidently at her father’s choice of food because she went on to say, “Barbara, have you been smoking already? Dad, can Barbara not come in?”

“Can’t, kiddo,” Barbara said hastily so Azhar wouldn’t have to issue an invitation he might not want to issue. “I’m on my way to work. Keeping London safe for women, children, and small furry animals. You know the drill.”

Hadiyyah bounced from foot to foot. “I got a good mark in my maths exam,” she confided. “Dad said he was proud when he saw it.”

Barbara looked at Azhar. His dark face was sombre. “School is very important,” he said to his daughter, although he looked at Barbara as he spoke. “Hadiyyah, please go back to your breakfast.”

“But can’t Barbara come-”

“Hadiyyah.” The voice was sharp. “Have I not just spoken to you? And has Barbara herself not told you that she must go to work? Do you listen to others or merely desire and hear nothing that precludes desire’s fulfillment?”

This seemed a little harsh, even by Azhar’s standards. Hadiyyah’s face, which had been glowing, altered in an instant. Her eyes widened, but not with surprise. Barbara could see she did it to contain her tears. She backed away with a gulp and scooted in the direction of the kitchen.

Azhar and Barbara were left together eyeball to eyeball, he looking like a disinterested witness to a car crash, she feeling the warning sign of heat seeping into her gut. That was the moment when she should have said, “Well. Right. That’s that, then. P’rhaps I’ll see you both later. Ta-ta,” and gone on her way, knowing she was wading out of her depth and mindlessly swimming into someone else’s business. But instead she’d held her neighbour’s gaze and allowed herself to feel the heat and its progression from her stomach to her chest, where it formed a burning knot. When it got there, she spoke.

“That was a bit out of order, don’t you think? She’s just a kid. When’re you planning to give her a break?”

“Hadiyyah knows what she is meant to do,” Azhar replied. “She also knows there are consequences when she goes her own way in defiance.”

“Okay. All right. Got it. Written in stone. Tattooed on my forehead. Whatever you want. But how about punishments fitting the crime? And while we’re at it, how about not humiliating her in front of me?”

“She is not-”

“She is,” Barbara hissed. “You didn’t see her face. And let me tell you this for a lark, all right? Life’s hard enough, especially for little girls. What they don’t need is parents making it harder.”

“She needs to-”

“You want her brought down a peg or two? Want her sorted? Want her to know she’s not numero uno in anyone’s life and she never will be? Just let her out in society, Azhar, and she’ll get the message. She bloody well doesn’t need to hear it from her father.”

Barbara could see she’d gone too far with that. Azhar’s face-always composed-shuttered completely. “You have no children,” he replied. “If one day you find yourself fortunate enough to be a mother, Barbara, you will think otherwise about how and when your child should be disciplined.”

It was the word fortunate and all it implied that allowed Barbara to see her neighbour in an entirely new light. Dirty fighter, she thought. But two could play at that game.

“No wonder she walked out, Azhar. How long did it actually take her to get a reading on you? Too long, I’d guess. But that’s not much of a surprise, is it? After all, she was an English girl, and none of us English girls play the game with all fifty-two cards in the deck, do we?”

That said, she turned and left him, enjoying the coward’s brief triumph at having had the last word. But it was the simple fact that she’d had that word that kept Barbara in raging and internal conversation, with an Azhar who wasn’t present, all the way into Central London. So when she pulled into a parking bay beneath New Scotland Yard, she was still in a state and hardly in the proper frame of mind for a day’s productive employment. She was also light-headed from nicotine.

She stopped in the ladies’ loo to splash some water on her face. She looked in the mirror and hated herself for stooping to examine her image for evidence of what she realized Taymullah Azhar had been seeing for all these months they’d been neighbours: Unfortunate female Homo sapiens, a perfect specimen of everything gone wrong. No chance for a normal life, Barbara. Whatever the hell that was.

“Sod him,” she whispered. Who was he, anyway? Who the bloody hell did he think he was?

She ran her fingers through her chopped-up hair, and she straightened the collar of her blouse, realising she should have ironed it…had she owned an iron. She looked three quarters of the journey towards a fright, but that couldn’t be helped and it didn’t matter. There was a job to do.

In the incident room, she found that the morning briefing was already going on. Superintendent Lynley glanced her way in the middle of listening to something being said by Winston Nkata, and he did not look particularly chuffed as his gaze traveled beyond her to the clock on the wall.

Winston was saying, “…works of wrath or vengeance, ’cording to what the lady at Crystal Moon told me. She looked it up in a book. She handed over a register of shop visitors wanting to be on their newsletter list, and she’s got credit card purchases and postal codes of customers as well.”

“Let’s match the postal codes with the body sites,” Lynley said to him. “Do the same with the register and the credit card purchases. We may get some joy there. What about Camden Lock Market?” Lynley looked towards Barbara. “What did you get from that stall, Constable? Did you stop there this morning?” Which was his way of saying, I trust that’s your reason for walking in here late.

Barbara thought, Holy hell. The run-in with Azhar had wiped every other consideration from her mind. She fumbled round her head for an excuse, but the course of wisdom brought her back from the brink at the last moment. She opted for the truth. “I dropped the ball on that,” she admitted. “Sorry, sir. When I was finished with Colossus yesterday, I…Never mind. I’ll get on to it directly.”

She saw the looks exchanged round her. She saw Lynley’s lips get thin for an instant, so she went on hastily in an attempt to smooth over the moment. “I think the direction we need to take is Colossus anyway, sir.”

“Do you.” Lynley’s voice was even, too even, but she chose to ignore that.

She said, “I do. We’ve got possibles and counting over there that need looking into. Aside from Jack Veness, who seems to know something about everyone, there’s a bloke called Neil Greenham who’s a bit overly helpful. He had a copy of the Standard that he was dead chuffed to show me, by the way. And that Robbie Kilfoyle-he was in reception yesterday, playing cards with that kid?-he volunteers in the kit room. He does lunch deliveries as a second job-”

“Van?” Lynley asked.

“Bike. Sorry,” Barbara said regretfully. “But he admitted he’s aiming for a real job at Colossus if it expands across the river, which gives him a motive to make someone else look-”

“Killing off the customers is hardly going to get him that, is it, Havers?” John Stewart cut in acerbically.

Barbara ignored the dig, going on to say, “His competition could be a bloke called Griff Strong, who’s lost his last two jobs in Stockwell and Lewisham because, according to him, he didn’t get along with female coworkers. That’s four possibles, and they’re all in the age range of the profile, sir.”

“We’ll look into them,” Lynley agreed. And just as Barbara thought she’d redeemed herself, Lynley asked John Stewart to hand out that assignment and he went on to tell Nkata to dig round in the background of Reverend Bram Savidge and to deal with the goings-on at Square Four Gym in Swiss Cottage, and a car repair shop in North Kensington, while he was at it. Then he made additional assignments involving the taxi driver who’d called 999 about the body in the Shand Street tunnel and the abandoned car where that body had been deposited. He took in a report about the cookery schools in London-no Jared Salvatore enrolled in any of them-before he turned to Barbara and said, “I’ll see you in my office, Constable.” He strode out of the incident room with a “Get on with it, then” to the rest of the team, leaving Barbara to follow. She noted that no one looked at her as she trailed after Lynley.

She found herself scurrying to keep up with him, and she didn’t like the dog-and-master feeling this evoked. She knew she’d muffed it by forgetting to check the stall in Camden Lock Market and she supposed she deserved a dressing-down for that, but on the other hand, she’d given them a new direction with Strong, Greenham, Veness, and Kilfoyle, hadn’t she, so that had to count for something.

Once in the superintendent’s office, however, it seemed that Lynley didn’t see things this way. He said, “Shut the door, Havers,” and when she had done so, he went to his desk. Instead of sitting, however, he merely leaned his hips against it and faced her. He gestured her to a chair, and he loomed above her.

She absolutely loathed the way this made her feel, but she was determined that loathing would not rule her. She said, “Your picture was on the front page of the Standard, sir. Yesterday afternoon. So was mine. So was Hamish Robson’s. We were standing just outside of the Shand Street tunnel. You were named. That’s not good.”

“It happens.”

“But with a serial killer-”

Lynley broke in. “Constable, tell me this: Are you deliberately attempting to shoot yourself in the foot or is all of this part of your unconscious?”

“All of this…? What?”

“You were given the assignment. Camden Lock Market. On your route home, for the love of God. Or, for that matter, on your route here. Do you realise how you appear to the others when-as you put it-you ‘drop the ball’? If you want your rank back, which I assume you do and which I also assume you know depends upon your being able to function as part of a team, how do you expect to achieve that if you’re going to make your own decisions about what’s important in this investigation and what is not?”

“Sir, that’s not fair,” Barbara protested.

“And this isn’t the first time you’ve operated on your own,” Lynley said, as if she hadn’t spoken. “If ever an officer had a professional death wish…What the hell were you thinking? Don’t you see I can’t keep running interference for you? Just when I begin to think I’ve got you sorted, you begin it all again.”

“All what?”

“Your infernal bloody-mindedness. Your taking the reins in your hands instead of the bit in your mouth. Your constant insubordination. Your unwillingness even to make a pretence of being part of a larger team. We’ve been through this before. Time and again. I’m doing my best to protect you, but I swear to you if this doesn’t stop…” He threw up his hands. “Get over to Camden Lock Market, Havers. To Wendy’s Rainbow or whatever the hell it was called.”

“Wendy’s Cloud,” Barbara said numbly. “But she may not be open because-”

“Then you can bloody well track her down! And until you do, I don’t want to see your face, hear your voice, or know you exist on the planet. Is that clear?”

Barbara stared at him. Her stare turned into an observation. She’d worked with Lynley for long enough to know how wildly out of character his outburst was, no matter how richly she deserved being sorted. She did a mental riffling through the reasons he was on the edge: another murder, a row with Helen, a run-in with Hillier, trouble with his younger brother, flat tyre on the way to work, too much caffeine, not enough sleep…But then it came to her, as easily as knowing who Lynley was.

She said, “He’s got in touch with you, hasn’t he? He saw your name in the paper and he bloody got in touch.”

Lynley observed her for a moment before making his decision. He moved round his desk. There he took a paper out of a manila folder. He handed it to her, and Barbara saw it was a copy of an original, which, she presumed, was already on its way to forensics.

THERE IS NO DENIAL, ONLY SALVATION was printed neatly in block letters on a single line across the page. Beneath this was not a signature but rather a marking that looked not unlike two squared-off but separated sections of a maze.

“How’d it get here?” Barbara asked, returning it to Lynley.

“By post,” Lynley said. “Plain envelope. Same printing.”

“What d’you make of the marking? A signature?”

“Of sorts.”

“Could be some bugger just wanting to play games, couldn’t it? I mean, he doesn’t actually tell us anything to show he knows something only the killer would know.”

“Except the salvation bit,” Lynley said. “It suggests he knows that the boys-at least the ones we’ve identified-have been in trouble with the law one way or another. Only the killer knows that.”

“Plus everyone at Colossus,” Barbara pointed out. “Sir, that bloke Neil Greenham had a copy of the Standard.”

“Neil Greenham and everyone else in London.”

“But you were named in the Standard, and that’s the edition he showed me. Let me dig around his-”

“Barbara.” Lynley’s voice was patient.

“What?”

“You’re doing it again.”

“‘It’?”

“Handle Camden Lock Market. I’ll deal with the rest.”

She was about to protest-better judgement be damned-when the phone rang and Lynley picked it up. He said, “Yes, Dee?,” to the departmental secretary. He listened for a moment, then said, “Bring him up here, if you will,” before ringing off.

“Robson?” Barbara asked.

“Simon St. James,” Lynley replied. “He’s got something for us.”

HE RECOGNISED that his wife, at this point, was his anchor. His wife and the separate reality that she represented. It was, to Lynley, nothing short of miraculous that he could go home and-for the few hours he was there-become, if not consumed, then at least diverted by something as ridiculous as the drama of trying to keep peace between their families over the idiotic question of christening clothes.

“Tommy,” Helen had said from the bed as she’d watched him dressing for the day, an early morning cup of tea balanced on her growing bump, “did I mention your mother phoned yesterday? She wanted to report that she’d finally found the christening booties after spending days rooting round the apparently spider-and-poisonous-snake-infested attics in Cornwall. She’s sending them along-the booties, not the spiders and the snakes-so be prepared to find them in the post, she said. A little yellowed with age, I’m afraid, she said. But certainly nothing that a good launderer couldn’t sort out. Of course, I didn’t know what to tell her. I mean, if we don’t use your family’s christening clothes, will Jasper Felix even be a proper Lynley?” She yawned. “Lord, not that tie, darling. How old is it? You look like an Etonian on the loose. First free weekend across the bridge to Windsor and trying to look like one of the lads. Wherever did you get it?”

Lynley unlooped it and replaced it in the wardrobe, saying, “The astonishing thing is that, as bachelors, men actually dress themselves for years not knowing they’re completely incompetent without a woman at their sides.” He took out another two ties and held them up for her approval.

“The green,” she said. “You know I love the green for work. It makes you look so Sherlockian.”

“I wore the green yesterday, Helen.”

“Pooh,” she said. “No one will notice. Believe me. No one ever notices men’s ties.”

He didn’t point out to Helen that she was contradicting herself. He merely smiled. He went across to the bed and sat on the edge of it. “What’ve you got on for today?” he asked her.

“I’ve promised Simon to work a few hours. He’s overextended himself again-”

“When has he not?”

“Well, he’s begging for help preparing a paper on a chemical whatsit applied to whosit to produce thisorthat. It’s all beyond me. I just go where he points and attempt to look decorative. Although”-and here she gazed fondly at her bump-“that’s soon going to be impossible.”

He kissed her forehead and then her mouth. “You’ll always look decorative to me,” he told her. “Even when you’re eighty-five and toothless.”

“I plan to keep my teeth right to the grave,” she informed him. “They’ll be perfectly white, completely straight, and my gums will not have receded so much as a millimeter.”

“I’m impressed,” he told her.

“A woman,” she replied, “should always have some kind of ambition.”

He laughed, then. She could always make him laugh. It was why she was a necessity to him. Indeed, he could have done with her this morning, diverting his thoughts from what was clearly Barbara Havers’ death wish.

If Helen was a miracle to him, Barbara was a puzzle. Every time he thought he’d got her on the road to professional redemption at last, she did something to disabuse him of that notion. A team player she was not. Assign her to any action like any other member of an investigation and she was likely to go one of two ways: embellish upon the activity until it was unrecognisable or drift her own way and ignore it altogether. But right now, with five murders demanding action before there was a sixth, there was too much at stake for Barbara to do anything but what she was told to do when she was told to do it.

Still, for all her maddening ways, Lynley had learned the wisdom of valuing Barbara’s opinion. Quite simply, she’d never been anyone’s fool. So he allowed her to remain in his office as Dee Harriman went to fetch St. James up from the lobby.

When the three of them were together and St. James’s demurral to Dee’s offer of coffee had sent her on her way, Lynley indicated the round conference table, and they sat there as they’d done so often in the past in other locations. Lynley’s first words were the same, as well.

“What do we have?”

St. James took a sheaf of papers from the manila envelope he’d carried with him. He made two piles of them. One held autopsy reports. The other consisted of an enlargement of the marking that had been made in blood on the forehead of Kimmo Thorne, a photocopy of a similar symbol, and a neatly typed, albeit brief, report.

“It took a while,” St. James said. “There’re an inordinate number of symbols out there. Everything from universal road signs to hieroglyphics. But on the whole, I’d say it’s a fairly straightforward business.”

He handed Lynley the photocopy and the enlargement of the mark that had been made upon Kimmo Thorne. Lynley laid them side by side as he reached in his jacket for his reading glasses. The parts of the symbol were all present in both of the documents: the circle, the two lines crisscrossing each other within and then extending beyond the circle, the cruciform tips at the end of the two lines.

“The same,” Barbara Havers said, craning her neck to see the two documents. “What is it, Simon?”

“An alchemical symbol,” St. James said.

“What does it mean?” Lynley asked.

“Purification,” he replied. “Specifically, a purification process achieved by burning out impurities. I’d say that’s why he’s scorching their hands.”

Barbara gave a low whistle. “‘There is no denial, only salvation,’” she murmured. And to Lynley, “Burning out their impurities. Sir, I think he’s saving their souls.”

St. James said, “What’s this?,” and looked to Lynley, who fetched him the copy of the note he’d received. St. James read it, frowned, and gazed towards the windows in thought. “It could explain why there’s no sexual component to the crime, couldn’t it?”

“Is the symbol he’s used on the note familiar to you?” Lynley asked his friend.

St. James studied it again. “You’d think it would be, after all the icons I’ve been looking at. May I take this with me?”

“Have at it,” Lynley said. “We’ve other copies.”

St. James put the paper into his manila envelope. He said, “There’s something else, Tommy.”

“What’s that?”

“Call it professional curiosity. The autopsies refer to a consistent bruiselike wound on each of the bodies, on the left side, between two and six inches beneath the armpit. Apart from one of the bodies where the wound also included two small burns in the centre, the description is the same every time: pale in the middle, darker-nearly red in the case of the body from St. George’s Gardens-”

“Kimmo Thorne,” Havers said.

“Right. Darker, then, round the edges. I’d like to have a look at that wound. A photograph will do, although I’d prefer to see one of the bodies. Can that be arranged? On Kimmo Thorne perhaps? Has his body been released to the family yet?”

“I can arrange it. But where are you heading with this?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” St. James admitted. “But I think it might have to do with how the boys were subdued. There’s no trace of any drug from toxicology, so they weren’t sedated. There’s no evidence of a struggle prior to placing restraints round the wrists and ankles, so there wasn’t an initial assault. Assuming this isn’t some sort of S and M ritual-a young boy being seduced into kinky sex by an older man who murders him ahead of the sex act-”

“And we can’t discount that,” Lynley noted.

“Right. We can’t. But assuming this has no overt sexual component to it, then there has to be a way your killer is managing to tie them up prior to the torture and the killing.”

“These are streetwise kids,” Havers noted. “They’re not likely to have cooperated with some bloke wanting to tie them up for a lark.”

“That’s very much the case,” St. James agreed. “And the presence of this consistent wound suggests that the killer knew to expect that from the very first. So not only must there be a connection among all the victims-”

“Which we’ve already found,” Havers cut in. She was beginning to sound excited, which, Lynley knew, was never a good sign when it came to keeping her on track. “Simon, there’s an outreach group called Colossus. Do-gooders working with inner-city youth, kids at risk, young offenders. It’s near Elephant and Castle, and two of these dead kids were involved over there.”

“Two of the identified bodies,” Lynley corrected her. “One other identified body isn’t connected to Colossus. And there are others still not identified at all, Barbara.”

“Yeah, but I say this,” Havers argued, “dig through the records and find out which kids stopped showing up at Colossus round the time of those other deaths we’re dealing with and I’d say Bob’s your mum’s little brother when it comes to identifying the other bodies. This is a Colossus situation, sir. One of those blokes has got to be our man.”

“There’s a strong suggestion they knew their killer,” St. James said, as if in agreement with Havers. “There’s a good possibility that they trusted him as well.”

“And that’s another key to what goes on at Colossus,” Havers added. “Trust. Learning to trust. Sir, Griff Strong told me that’s even part of their assessment course. And he leads the trust games that some of them do together. Bloody hell, we ought to take a team over there and grill the hell out of him. And those three other blokes. Veness, Kilfolye, and Greenham. They’ve all got a connection to at least one of the victims. One of them’s dirty. I swear it.”

“That might be the case, and I appreciate your enthusiasm for the task,” Lynley said dryly. “But you’ve got an assignment already. Camden Lock Market, I believe.”

Havers had the grace to look chastened. She said, “Oh. Right.”

“So perhaps now would be a good time to do it?”

She didn’t appear pleased, but she didn’t argue. She got to her feet and plodded towards the door. “Good to see you, Simon,” she said to St. James. “Cheers.”

“And you,” St. James said as she left them. He turned back to Lynley. “Trouble on that front?”

“When is there anything else when it comes to Havers?”

“I’ve always thought you considered her worth it.”

“I do. She is. Generally.”

“Close to getting her rank back?”

“I’d give it back to her, despite her bloody-mindedness. But I’m not the one making the decision.”

“Hillier?”

“As ever.” Lynley leaned back in his chair and took off his glasses. “He pigeonholed me this morning before I even got to the lift. He’s been trying to run the investigation through the machinations of the Press Bureau, but the reporters aren’t being as cooperative as they were in the beginning, grateful for the coffee, croissants, and the scraps of information Hillier’s been supplying them. It seems they’ve put it all together now: three mixed-race boys murdered in a similar fashion prior to Kimmo Thorne, and so far no appearance on Crimewatch by anyone from the Met. What’s that about? they want to know. What does that say to the community about the relative importance of these deaths to others in which the victim was white, blond, blue-eyed, and decidedly Anglo-Saxon? They’re starting to ask the hard questions, and he’s ruing his decision not to fight to keep the Press Bureau at a greater distance in all this.”

“Hubris,” St. James noted.

“Someone’s hubris run amok,” Lynley added. “And things are about to get worse. The last murdered boy-Sean Lavery-was in care, living up in Swiss Cottage with a community-activist type who-Hillier told me-is having a press conference himself round noon today. One can only anticipate what that’s going to do to the collective blood lust of the media.”

“Making Hillier his usual pleasure to work with?”

“Amen. The pressure’s on everywhere.” Lynley looked at the photocopy of the alchemical sign, considering the possibilities it offered of shedding light on the situation. He said to St. James, “I’m going to make a phone call. I’d like you to listen in, if you’ve time.”

He looked for the number for Hamish Robson and found it on the cover sheet of the report that the profiler had given him. When he had Robson on the phone, he switched it to the speaker and introduced him to St. James. He went through the information that St. James had provided, and to this he added an acknowledgement of Robson’s prescience: He told him the killer had been in contact.

“Has he indeed?” Robson said. “By phone? By post?”

Lynley read him the note. He said, “We’re concluding that the purification symbol on the forehead and the burning of the hands are connected. And we’ve tracked down some information on ambergris oil, which was found on the bodies. Evidently, it’s used for works of wrath or vengeance.”

“Wrath, vengeance, purity, and salvation,” Robson said. “I’d say he’s broadcasting his message fairly clearly, wouldn’t you?”

“There’s thought here that this is all coming from an outreach programme across the river,” Lynley said. “It’s called Colossus. They work with troubled youth. Do you want to add anything at this point?”

There was silence for a moment as Robson thought this over. He finally said, “We know he’s above average intelligence, but he’s frustrated that the world doesn’t see his potential. If you’ve come close to him in the investigation, he’s not going to put a foot wrong to let you get any nearer. So if he’s taking boys from one source-”

“Like Colossus,” Lynley added.

“Yes. If he’s taking boys from Colossus, I very much doubt he’ll carry on doing so when he sees you there asking questions.”

“Are you saying the killings themselves will stop?”

“They might. But only for a time. Killing provides him too much gratification to stop entirely, Superintendent. The compulsion to kill and the pleasure it yields will always overwhelm the fear of capture. But I expect he’ll take far more care now. He may change ground, move farther afield.”

“If he thinks the police are closing in,” St. James said, “why get in touch by post?”

“Ah, that’s part of the psychopath’s sense of invincibility, Mr. St. James,” Robson said. “It’s evidence of what he sees as his omnipotence.”

“The sort of thing that leads to his downfall?” St. James said.

“The sort of thing that convinces him he can’t make the one mistake that will doom him. It’s rather like Brady attempting to bring the brother-in-law into the fun and games: He thinks he’s so mighty a force of personality that no one who knows him would think of turning him in, let alone dare to do it. It’s the great flaw in the psychopath’s already flawed personality. Your killer in this case believes you can’t touch him no matter how close you get. He’ll ask you outright what evidence you have against him should you question him, and he’s going to be careful not to give you any henceforth.”

“We’re thinking there’s no sexual component to the crimes,” Lynley said, “which rules out previous Category A offenders.”

“This is about power,” Robson agreed, “but so are sex crimes. So you may well find something sexual down the line, perhaps a sexual degrading of the body should the murder itself not continue to provide the killer his required degree of satisfaction and release.”

“Is that normally the case?” St. James asked. “In murders like these?”

“It’s a form of addiction,” Robson said. “Each time he indulges his fantasy of salvation via torture, he needs a little bit more to satisfy him. The body grows tolerant of the drug-whatever the drug-and more is necessary to achieve nirvana.”

“So you’re saying to expect more. With possible variations on the theme.”

“Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

HE WANTED TO feel it again: the soaring that came from within. He wanted the sense of freedom that engulfed Him in the final moment. He wanted to hear His soul cry Yes! even as the muted shriek below Him strained out its last weak No! He needed this. More, He was owed it. But when the hunger rose in Him as an exigent presence, He knew that He couldn’t be hasty. This left Him with the wanting and a bubbling mixture of necessity and duty that He could feel in His veins. He was like a diver ascending to the surface too quickly. The longing was fast transforming into pain.

He took some time to attempt a mitigation. He drove to the marshes, where He could walk the tow path along the River Lea. There, He thought, He could seek relief.

They always panicked when they regained their senses and found themselves strapped down to the board, their hands and feet bound, and their mouths taped silver. As He drove them through the night, He could hear them struggling vainly behind Him, some of them in terror, others in anger. By the time He reached the appointed place, though, they had all passed through their preliminary and instinctive reaction and they’d arrived at the bargaining table. I’ll do what you want. Just let me live.

They never said this directly. But it was there, in their frenzied eyes. I’ll do anything, be anything, say anything, think anything. Just let me live.

He always stopped in the same safe spot, where a dogleg in the ice rink’s carpark protected him from view from the street. There, a spot was wildly overgrown with shrubbery and the security lamp above the area had long ago burnt out. He switched off the lights-both inside and out-and climbed into the back. He squatted next to the immobilised form and waited till His eyes adjusted to the darkness. What He said then was always the same, although His voice was gentle as well as regretful. You’ve done wrong. And then, I shall remove this-with his fingers on the tape-but only silence will keep you safe and ensure your release. Can you be silent for me?

They would nod, always, desperate to talk. To reason, to admit, sometimes to threaten or to demand. But no matter where they began or what they felt, they were reduced to supplication.

They felt His power. They could catch the strong scent of it in the oil He’d used to anoint His body. They saw it in the glint of the knife He brought forth. They felt it in the heat from the stove. They heard it in the crackle of the pan.

I don’t need to hurt you, He would tell them. We must talk, and if our talk goes well, this can end in your freedom.

Talk they would. Indeed, they would babble. His recitation of their crimes generally elicited nothing but anxious agreement from them. Yes, I did this. Yes, I am sorry. Yes, I swear…to whatever it is you will have me swear, just let me go.

But they added to that mentally, and He could read their thoughts. You filthy bastard, they concluded. I’ll see you sent to hell for this.

So, of course, He could not possibly release them. At least, not in the way they hoped to be released. But He was nothing if not a man of His word.

The burning came first, just of the hands, to show them His wrath as well as His mercy. Their declarations of guilt opened the door to their redemption, but they had to suffer in order to be cleansed. So He taped their mouths again and He held their hands to the white-hot heat till He smelled the odour of searing meat. Their backs arched for escape, and their bladders and their bowels gave way. Some passed out and did not then feel the garrotte first slide and then tighten round their necks. Others did not, and it was with these that Fu felt Himself truly exulting as their lives left their bodies and transported His.

And then He always meant to free their souls, using the knife against their earthbound flesh, opening them for their final release. It was what He had promised them, after all. They merely had to admit their guilt and express a true desire for redemption. But most of them did only the first. Most of them didn’t begin to understand the second.

The last had done neither. To the end, he’d denied. I didn’t do nothing, you freaking bastard, I didn’t do nothing, you got that straight? Fuck you, motherfucker, let me go.

Release, then, was impossible for him. Freedom, redemption, anything Fu offered, the boy both spat upon and cursed. He went unpurified, with his soul unreleased, a failure on the part of the Creature Divine.

But the infinite pleasure of the moment itself…That had actually remained for Fu. And that was what He wanted again. The seductive narcotic of utter command.

Walking the River Lea did not provide it. Nor did memory. Only one thing ever could.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

BARBARA HAVERS WAS IN A FOUL MOOD WHEN SHE finally reached Camden Lock Market. She was angry with herself for having allowed personal considerations to get in the way of properly doing her job. She was on edge having to drive all the way back to North London shortly after having already suffered through the morning traffic on the way into the centre of town. She was irritated that parking restrictions made it impossible for her to get anywhere close to the market without engaging in a hike. And she was self-righteously positive that this entire engagement was an absolute waste of her time.

The answers resided within the walls of Colossus, not here. Despite the fact that at heart she believed the profiling report was rubbish, she was willing to accept at least part of it, and that part was the description of their serial killer. Since at least four men fitted that description-all of them employed across the Thames at Colossus-she knew that she was unlikely to find anyone else so described wandering round the stalls and the shops near Camden Lock. And she certainly didn’t expect to find any trace of a suspect at Wendy’s Cloud. But she knew the wisdom of appearing to walk the straight and narrow for Lynley at this point. So she fought the traffic and found a distant parking space into which she crammed her Mini like the foot of one of the ugly stepsisters. Then she hoofed it back in the direction of Camden Lock with its shops, its stalls, and its restaurants strung along the water and away from Chalk Farm Road.

Wendy’s Cloud was not easy to find, as it possessed no signage. After reading a directional board and asking round, Barbara finally located it: a simple stall within one of the permanent shops in the market. The shop sold candles and candleholders, greeting cards, jewellery, and handmade stationery. Wendy’s Cloud had massage and aromatherapy oils, incense, soap, and bath crystals on offer.

The eponymous owner of the establishment sat in a beanbag chair, hidden from view behind the counter. Barbara thought at first she was keeping an eye out for light-fingered customers, but when she called, “Excuse me, c’n I have a word?,” it turned out that Wendy was nodding off on a substance that was probably not for sale on her stall. Her eyelids hung well below half-staff. She didn’t so much stagger as claw her way to her feet, using one of the legs of the counter and resting her chin for a moment among the bath crystals.

Barbara cursed inwardly. With her stringy grey hair and Indian bedspread caftan, Wendy didn’t look like a promising wellspring of information. Instead, she looked like a refugee from the hip generation. Only the love beads round her neck were missing.

Nonetheless, Barbara introduced herself, showed her identification, and attempted to stimulate the aging woman’s brain by mentioning New Scotland Yard and the words serial and killer in rapid succession. She went on to talk about ambergris oil, and she asked hopefully about Wendy’s record keeping. For a moment, she thought that only a quick trip to a long, cold shower would bring Wendy round, but just at the point when she was considering where she might find water with which to douse the woman, Wendy finally spoke.

“Cash ’n’ carry,” was what she said. She followed this with, “Sorry.”

Barbara took her comments to mean that she did not keep a record of purchases made. Wendy nodded. She went on to add that when she had only one bottle of an oil left in stock, she ordered another. If, of course, she remembered to look over the stock at the end of the day when she closed. Fact was, she often forgot to do that and it was only when a customer asked for something specifically that she sometimes realised she needed to place another order.

This sounded relatively hopeful. Barbara asked her if she could recall anyone asking for ambergris oil recently.

Wendy frowned. Then her eyeballs went heavenward into her head, as she apparently disappeared into the recesses of her own mind to sort this one out.

“Hello?” Barbara called. “Hey. Wendy. You still with me?”

“Don’t bother with her, luv,” someone said from nearby. “She’s been doping up for thirty-odd years. Not much furniture left in her attic, if you know what I mean.”

Barbara glanced round and saw that the speaker was sitting at the till of the larger shop in which Wendy kept her stall. As Wendy herself disappeared in the direction of the beanbag chair once more, Barbara joined the other woman who introduced herself as Wendy’s long-suffering sister, Pet. Short for Petula, she explained. She’d been allowing Wendy to keep her stall in the shop forever, but whether she showed up on a given day was something open to chance.

Barbara asked what happened on a day when Wendy didn’t appear. What if someone wanted to buy goods from her then? Did Pet-Barbara hoped-make the sale for her sister?

Pet shook her head, grey like Wendy’s but permed to such a point that it resembled steel wool. No, dearie, she’d long ago learned her lesson about enabling the abuser, hadn’t she. Wendy was welcome to her space in the shop as long as she paid for it, but if she wanted to make money and keep herself out of the gutter in which she’d apparently resided for a decade or two prior to Wendy’s Cloud, she had to suit up, show up, open up, and make the sales. Her baby sister wasn’t about to do it for her.

“So you wouldn’t know if someone’s been purchasing ambergris oil from her?” Barbara said.

She wouldn’t, Pet told her. People came and went all the time in Camden Lock Market. Weekends, as the constable might know, were mad round here. Tourists, teenagers, dating couples, families with small children looking for an inexpensive means of entertainment, regular customers, pickpockets, shoplifters, thieves…One could hardly be expected to remember who purchased what from one’s own shop, let alone who was making a purchase from one’s sister’s establishment. No, truth of the matter was that if anyone could tell the constable who had made a purchase from Wendy’s Cloud, it would be Wendy herself. The unfortunate circumstance was, however, that Wendy spent most of her time in the cloud…if the constable knew what Petula meant.

Barbara did. Further, she knew there was nothing more to be gained from this useless trip across town. She bade Pet farewell, leaving her mobile number in the unlikely event that Wendy happened to descend to earth long enough to recall something pertinent, and then she decamped.

So that the entire adventure would not be a waste, Barbara made two additional stops. The first was at a stall along one of the passageways. Her collection of motto-bearing T-shirts always in need of expansion, she inspected the offerings at Pig & Co. She rejected “Princess in Training” and “My Mum and Dad Went to Camden Lock Market and All I Got Was a Lousy T-shirt,” and she settled on “I Brake for Alien Life Forms,” which was printed below a caricature of the prime minister caught beneath the wheels of a London taxi.

She made her purchase and decided a quick meal was in order. A pause at a stall selling jacket potatoes took care of this. She chose a filling of coleslaw, prawns, and sweet corn-one had to make sure one’s basic food groups were being addressed at all times-and she took it, along with a plastic fork, back outside the market where she ate as she engaged in the hike back to her car.

This took her in the direction of her own home, northwest along Chalk Farm Road. She’d got barely 100 yards from the entrance to Camden Lock Market, however, when her mobile chimed deep in her shoulder bag, forcing her to pause, to balance her jacket potato on the top of a rubbish bin at the first street corner, and to dig the mobile out. Perhaps Wendy had come round and given her sister some useful information that Pet wished to pass along… One lived in hope.

Barbara said, “Havers,” encouragingly, and she looked up in time to see a van drive past and park illegally at the side entrance to the Stables Market, an old housing for artillery horses that had long since been put to commercial use just along the street from Camden Lock. She watched it idly as Lynley spoke.

“Where are you, Constable?”

“Camden Lock as commanded,” Barbara said. “No result, I’m afraid.” Ahead of her, a man clambered out of the van. He was oddly garbed, even by cold-weather standards, in a red elfinlike stocking cap, sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and a bulky black coat dangling to his ankles. Too bulky a coat, Barbara thought, and she watched him curiously. It was the sort of coat one could hide explosives under. She gave a closer inspection to his van as he came round to the back of it. It was purple-odd enough colour, that was-with white lettering on the side. Barbara positioned herself for a better look at it. In her ear, Lynley continued to speak.

“So get on that directly,” he was saying. “You may be right about Colossus after all.”

“Sorry,” Barbara said hastily. “Lost you for a moment, sir. Bad reception. Bloody mobiles. Try again?”

Lynley said that someone on DI Stewart’s team two had come up with some information on Griffin Strong. Evidently, Mr. Strong hadn’t been as forthcoming as he might have been on the subject of leaving Social Services prior to his employment at Colossus. A child had died in care while Strong was his social worker at his last posting, in Stockwell. It was time to dig round Strong a little deeper. Lynley gave her the man’s home address and told her to begin there. He lived in a housing estate on Hopetown Street. East One, Lynley told her. It would be a bit of a drive to get there. He could send someone else, but as Havers had been the one who was most insistent about Colossus…

Did he sound regretful? Barbara wondered. Making amends? Suddenly realising that his bad day didn’t have to become everyone else’s as well?

It didn’t matter. She’d take what she could get. She told him a maddening zigzag down to Whitechapel would be just the ticket. She’d get right on it, she said. She was, in fact, trotting back to her car even as they spoke.

“Fine,” Lynley said. “See to it, then.” He rang off before Barbara could tell him what she’d been considering as she watched the purple van ahead of her and the man at its rear, unloading a few boxes from inside.

Purple, Barbara had been thinking. Darkness, illumination provided only by a streetlamp some yards away, and a woman half asleep at a window above.

She walked over to the van and gave it a look. Lettering on the side indicated that the vehicle was operated by Mr. Magic, with a London phone number. That would be the man in the overcoat, Barbara thought, because in addition to concealing explosives, the garment was surely suitable for hiding everything from doves to Dobermans.

As she’d been sauntering over, jacket potato in hand, the man had used his foot to slam home the rear doors of the van. He’d left his hazard lights on, no doubt hopeful that this would prevent an enthusiastic traffic warden from ticketing him. He saw Barbara and said, “Excuse me. Could I ask you…I’ll just be a minute inside. Taking this”-nodding at the two boxes he had in his arms-“to the stall. Would you keep an eye out? They’re heartless round here when it comes to parking.”

“Sure,” Barbara said. “You’re Mr. Magic?”

He made a wry face. “Barry Minshall, actually. I won’t be a tick. Cheers.” He went in the side entrance to the Stables-one of at least four markets in the immediate area-and Barbara took the opportunity to walk round his van. It wasn’t a Ford Transit, but that didn’t matter because she wasn’t considering it as the one they were looking for. She knew how long the odds were that an officer on the case would providentially in the street run into the serial killer she happened to be seeking. But the idea of the van’s colour intrigued her with all it suggested about misinformation wearing the guise of truth.

Barry Minshall returned, expressing his thanks. Barbara took the opportunity to ask him what he sold on his stall. He spoke of magic tricks, videos, and gag items. He made no mention of any kind of oil. Barbara listened, wondering about the sunglasses he wore, considering the weather, but after her interlude with Wendy, she knew the sky was the limit on what one could expect to see in the area.

She took herself off to her car, thoughtful. Someone had said a red van, so they’d been thinking in red throughout the investigation. But red was only part of a larger spectrum of colour, wasn’t it? Why not something closer to blue? It was definitely something they needed to consider.

WHEN DS WINSTON NKATA went up to Plugged Inn to the Lord, he went prepared: In advance he did the requisite digging round in the background of Reverend Bram Savidge. The information he found was enough to arm him to meet the man, who’d been called the Champion of Finchley Road by both the Sunday Times magazine and the Mail on Sunday in special reports about his ministry.

A press conference was in full swing when Nkata entered the shopfront-church cum soup kitchen. The poor and the homeless usually served by the kitchen during the day had formed themselves into a dispirited queue outside along the pavement. Most of them had sunk onto their haunches with the sort of inevitable patience evidenced by people who’d lived too long on the edge of society.

Nkata felt a twinge as he passed them. It was only a twist of circumstance, he thought, the stalwart love of his parents, and the long-ago intervention of one concerned cop that had kept him from a life among them. He experienced the same constriction in his chest that he always experienced when he had to carry out one duty or another among his own people. He wondered if he’d ever get over it: the feeling that somehow he’d betrayed them by following a course that most of them did not understand.

He’d seen the same reaction in the eyes of Sol Oliver when he’d walked into his ramshackle car repair shop less than an hour earlier. It was part of a shantytown of buildings comprising the narrow street of Munro Mews in North Kensington, heavily marked by taggers and graffiti artists, blackened with generations of soot and the residue of a fire, which had gutted the structure next door. The mews itself backed onto Golberne Road, where Nkata had left his Escort. There, traffic trundled through a neighbourhood of dingy shops and grubby market stalls, between cracked pavements and gutters littered with rubbish.

Sol Oliver had been working on an antique Volkswagen Beetle when Nkata came upon him. Hearing his name, the mechanic lifted himself from a contemplation of the car’s minuscule engine. His gaze had taken in Nkata from head to toe and, when shown the DS’s warrant card, whatever Sol Oliver had suspected about Nkata settled his features into a permanent expression of distrust.

Yeah, he’d been put in the picture about Sean Lavery, Oliver told him in short order, although he didn’t sound particularly distressed about the news. Reverend Savidge had phoned with the information. He didn’t have anything to tell the cops about Sean in the days leading up to his death. He hadn’t seen his son in months.

“When was the last time?” Nkata asked.

Oliver looked at a calendar on the wall as if to stimulate his memory. It was hanging below a veritable hammock of cobwebs and above a grimy coffeemaker. A mug sat next to this, painted in a child’s hand with footballs and the single word “Daddy.”

“End of August,” Oliver said.

“You sure?” Nkata asked.

“Why? You think I killed him or summick?” Oliver set down the crescent wrench he was holding. He wiped his hands on a limp blue rag that was bruised with stains. “Look, man, I di’n’t even know the kid. I d’n’t even want to know him. I got a family now and what went on wif me and his mum was just what happens. I tol’ the kid I’m sorry Cleo’s doing time, but no way could I take him in, no matter what he wanted. Tha’s how it is. Not like we were married or nuffink.”

Nkata did his best to keep his face dispassionate, although the last thing he actually felt was disinterest. Oliver epitomised what was wrong with their men: Plant the seed because the woman was willing; walk away from the consequences with a shrug. Indifference became the legacy that was passed along from father to son.

He said, “What’d he want from you, then? I can’t think he was calling round just to chat.”

“Like I said. Wanted to come live wif us, di’n’t he? Me, the wife, the kids. I got two. But I couldn’t take him. I don’t got the room an’ even if I did…” He looked round, as if seeking an explanation hidden within the pungent confines of the old garage. “We ’as strangers, man. Him and me. He was ’xpecting I just take him on cos we share blood but I couldn’t do that, see. He needed to get on wif his life. Tha’s what I did. Tha’s what we all do.” He seemed to read censure on Nkata’s face, because he went on with, “It’s not like his mum wanted me round, innit. She’s in the club, i’n’t she, but it’s not like she tol’ me till I run into her on the street when she’s ’bout ready to pop. Tha’s when she says it’s my kid, right? But how do I know? Anyways, she never comes to me af’er he’s born either. She goes her way. I go mine. Then he’s thirteen and comes round wanting me as a dad. But I don’t feel like his dad. I don’t know him.” Oliver picked up his crescent wrench again, obviously ready to go back to work. “Like I say, I’m sorry ’bout his mum getting herself locked up, but it’s not like I’m responsible for it.”

Right, Nkata thought now as he entered Plugged Inn to the Lord and took a position to one side of the room. He felt certain they could cross Sol Oliver from whatever list of suspects they were generating. The mechanic hadn’t possessed enough interest in Sean Lavery’s life to have seen to his death.

The same, however, couldn’t be said for Reverend Bram Savidge. When Nkata had done his homework on the man, he’d found there were elements of his background that needed exploration, not the least of which was why he’d lied to Superintendent Lynley about the removal from his home of three boys who’d once been in his care.

Dressed in African garb of caftan and head covering, Savidge was at a lectern that held three microphones. The bright lights needed by a television crew shone upon him as he spoke directly to journalists who occupied four rows of chairs. He’d managed to pull together a good audience, and he was making the most of it.

“So we’re left with nothing but questions,” he was saying. “They’re the reasonable questions of any concerned community, but they’re also the questions that habitually go ignored in circumstances where the police response is defined by the community’s colour. Well, we demand an end to that. Five deaths and counting, ladies and gentlemen, with the Metropolitan police waiting until death number four to finally get round to setting up a task force to investigate. And why is that?” His gaze swept over them. “Only the Metropolitan police can tell us.” He began to thunder at this point, touching on every topic that any reasonable person of colour would be asking: everything from why the earlier murders weren’t investigated thoroughly to why no warnings had been posted on the streets. There was an appropriate murmur among the journalists in response to this, but Savidge didn’t rest on any laurels. Instead he said, “And you lot, for shame. You are the whited sepulchres of our society, for you have abnegated your responsibility to the public every bit as much as have the police. These killings have ranked as news not worthy enough to merit front-page attention. So what’s it going to take for you to acknowledge that a life is a life, no matter its colour? That any life’s worthy. That it’s loved and mourned. The sin of indifference should weigh on your shoulders every bit as heavily as it weighs on the shoulders of the police. The blood of these boys cries out for justice and the black community will not rest till justice is done. That’s all I have to say.”

Reporters leapt to their feet, of course. The entire enterprise had been designed for that. They clamoured for Reverend Savidge’s attention, but he did everything save bathe his hands in their presence before he disappeared through a door leading to somewhere at the back of the establishment. He left behind a man who stepped to the lectern and identified himself as the solicitor for Cleopatra Lavery, the incarcerated mother of the fifth murder victim whose interests he was representing. She too had a message for the media, and he would read it to them forthwith.

Nkata didn’t remain to hear Cleopatra Lavery’s words. Instead, he skirted round the side of the room, and he made his way to the door Bram Savidge had used. It was guarded by a man in hieratic black robes. He shook his head at Nkata and crossed his arms.

Nkata showed him his identification. “Scotland Yard,” he said.

The guard took a moment to evaluate this before he told Nkata to wait. He went through to an office, returning in a moment to say that Reverend Savidge would see him.

Behind the door, Nkata found Savidge waiting for him, positioned in a corner of the small room. On either side of him framed photographs hung: Savidge in Africa, one black face among millions.

The reverend asked to see his identification, as if not believing what his bodyguard had told him. Nkata handed it over and inspected Savidge much as Savidge inspected him. He wondered if the minister’s background was sufficient explanation for his adoption of all things African: Nkata knew that Savidge had grown up in Ruislip, the decidedly middle-class child of an air-traffic controller and a science teacher.

Savidge handed Nkata’s ID back to him. “So you’re the sop, are you?” he asked. “How stupid does the Met actually think I am?”

Nkata met Savidge’s eyes, and he held them for five seconds before he spoke, telling himself the other man was angry and with very good reason. There was truth to what he was saying as well.

He said, “We got something wants clarifying, Mr. Savidge. Thought it best ’f I come to do it in person.”

Savidge didn’t reply at once, as if he were taking the measure of Nkata’s refusal to rise to his baiting. He finally said, “What wants clarifying?”

“The boys you had in care. You told my guv that you had three of the four boys you were foster dad to placed in other homes cos of your wife. Her not speaking good English or something, I think you said.”

“Yes,” Savidge said, although he sounded wary. “Oni’s learning the language. If you’d like to see for yourself…”

Nkata moved his hand in a not-what-I-want gesture. He said, “I’m sure she’s learning English, all right. But fact is, Reverend, you di’n’t have the boys put somewhere else. They were taken away by Social Services before you ever married your wife, and what I don’t unnerstan is why you lied ’bout that to Superintendent Lynley when you must’ve figured we’d be looking into you.”

Reverend Savidge didn’t answer at once. A knock sounded at the door. It opened and the guard stuck his head inside. “Sky News want to know will you give them a word on camera with their reporter.”

“They’ve had my word,” Savidge replied. “Clear the whole lot out of here. We’ve people to feed.”

The man said, “Right,” and closed the door again. Savidge went to his desk and sat behind it. He gestured to a chair for Nkata.

Nkata said, “You want to tell me about it? Arrest for lewd conduct was what the records said. How’d you get the matter settled without more in the files?”

“It was a misunderstanding.”

“What sort of misunderstanding ends up with ’n arrest for lewd conduct, Mr. Savidge?”

“The sort that comes from having neighbours who’re waiting with bated breath for the black man to put a step wrong.”

“Meaning?”

“I sunbathe in the nude in the summer, when we actually have a summer. A neighbour saw me. One of the boys had come out of the house, and he decided to join me. That was it.”

“What? Two blokes lying starkers on the lawn or something?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then what?”

Savidge pressed his fingers together beneath his chin, as if considering whether to go on. He made his decision. “The neighbour…It was ridiculous. She saw the boy undressing. She saw me helping him. With his shirt or his trousers. I don’t know which. She leapt to an hysterical conclusion and she made a phone call. The result was an unpleasant few hours with the local authorities in the person of an aging police constable whose brains didn’t equal the leaps his imagination was making. Social Services swept in and took the boys off, and I ended up explaining myself to a magistrate. By the time the matter was officially sorted out, the boys were in other homes and it seemed heartless to uproot them once again. Sean was my first placement since then.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. A naked male adult, a naked male adolescent. A rare bit of sunshine. End of story.”

Not quite, of course, Nkata thought. There was the reason, as well, but he reckoned he knew what it was. Savidge was black enough for a white society to label him a minority, but he was far from black enough to be enthusiastically embraced by his brothers. The reverend was hoping that the summer sun could give him briefly what nature and genetics had denied him, and the rest of the year in a tanning bed could do much the same. Nkata thought about the irony of it and about how mankind’s behaviour was so often dictated by the sheer and lunatic misperception that went by the name Not Good Enough. Not white enough here, not black enough there, too ethnic for one group, too English for another. At the end of the day, he believed Savidge’s story of naked suntans in the garden. It was just on the right side of madness to be true.

He said, “I had a word with Sol Oliver over in North Kensington. He says Sean came asking to live with him.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. Life wasn’t easy for Sean. He’d lost his mother to prison, and he’d been shuffled round the system for two years by the time I got him. I was his fifth placement, and he was tired of it all. If he could talk his dad into taking him in, at least he’d be somewhere permanently. That’s what he wanted. It’s hardly an unreasonable hope.”

“How’d he find out about Oliver?”

“From Cleopatra, I suppose. His mum. She’s in Holloway. He visited her every chance he got. When it could be arranged.”

“Anyplace else he went? Aside from Colossus?”

“Bodybuilding. There’s a gym up Finchley Road just a bit. Square Four Gym. I told your superintendent about it. After Colossus, Sean would stop here to check in with me-say hello and whatever-and then he’d head either home or to that gym.” Savidge seemed to reflect on this piece of information for a moment. Then he went on, reflectively, “I expect it was the men that drew him there, although I didn’t think about that at the time.”

“What did you think about?”

“Just that it was good he had an outlet. He was angry. He felt he’d been dealt a rotten hand in life and he wanted to change it. But now I see…the gym…It could have been how he was trying to make that change. Through the men who go there.”

Nkata sharpened to this. “In what way?”

“Not in the way you’re thinking,” Savidge said.

“Then how?”

“How? In the way of all boys. Sean had a hunger and a thirst for men that he could admire. That’s normal enough. I just pray to God that wasn’t what killed him.”

HOPETOWN ROAD glided east off Brick Lane, deep within a crowded area of London that had been through at least three incarnations within Barbara Havers’ lifetime. The neighbourhood still held a multitude of grimy-looking wholesale garment shops and at least one brewery belching the scent of yeast into the air, but over the years its inhabitants had altered from Jewish to Caribbean to Bengali.

Brick Lane was attempting to make the most of its current ethnicity. Foreign restaurants abounded and along the pavement, and the streetlamps-heralded at the bottom of the street by a fanciful archway wrought of iron with a vaguely mosquelike shape-bore ornate fixtures suspended among filigree-iron decoration. Not what you’d see in Chalk Farm, Barbara thought.

She found Griffin Strong’s home directly across from a little green where hillocks offered children an area in which to play and a wooden bench offered their minders a place to sit. The Strong residence was one of a line of redbrick, plain terraced houses, their individuality expressed in their choice of front doors and front fences and in what they’d decided to do with their patch of front gardens. The Strongs had opted for a draughts-board pattern of large tiles on the ground, and they’d covered them with an array of pot plants that someone had been tending with devotion. Their fence was brick like the house and their door was oak with an oval of stained glass in the middle. All very nice, Barbara noted.

When she rang the bell, a woman answered. She had a crying baby on her shoulder and magenta workout attire on her body. She said, “Yes?,” over the sound of an exercise programme coming from within the house. Barbara showed her identification. She said she’d appreciate a word with Mr. Strong, if he was about. “Are you Mrs. Strong?” she added.

“I’m Arabella Strong,” the woman said. “Come in, please. Just let me get Tatiana settled,” and she carried the squalling infant into the reaches of the house, leaving Barbara to mouth Tatiana? and to follow in her wake.

In the sitting room, Arabella laid the baby on a leather sofa, where a small pink blanket was topped by a smaller pink hot-water bottle. She put the baby on her back, wedged her in place with pillows, and set the hot-water bottle on her abdomen. “Colic,” she said to Barbara over the noise, “the warm seems to help.”

That proved to be true. In a few moments, Tatiana’s screaming subsided to whimpering so that the remaining din in the room came only from the telly. There, via video and to the accompanying ka-boom-diddy-boom of music, an impossibly sculpted woman was panting “lower abs, come on, lower abs, come on,” as she rhythmically thrust her legs and hips into the air from a supine position. As Barbara watched, the woman suddenly leaped to her feet and gave the camera a sideways view of her stomach. It was as flat as a Dutch horizon gone vertical. She was obviously someone who ignored the better things in life. Like Pop-Tarts, Kettle Crisps, battered cod, and chips soaked in vinegar. Miserable cow.

Arabella used the remote to switch off the television and the video recorder. She said, “I expect she’s at that at least sixteen hours a day. What do you think?”

“Rubens is rolling in his grave, you ask me. And she needs to be put out of my misery.”

Arabella chuckled. She sank onto the sofa next to her baby and motioned to a chair for Barbara. She reached for a towel and pressed it against her forehead. She said, “Griff isn’t here. He’s at the factory. We’ve a silk-screen business.”

“Where is it, exactly?” Barbara sat and dug her notebook from her shoulder bag. She flipped it open to take down the address.

Arabella gave it to her-it was in Quaker Street-and watched as Barbara wrote this down. She said, “This is about that boy, isn’t it? The one who was murdered? Griff told me about him. Kimmo Thorne, he was called. And about the other boy who’s gone missing. Sean.”

“Sean’s dead as well. His foster dad’s identified him.”

Arabella glanced at her baby, as if in reaction to this. “I’m sorry. Griff’s devastated about Kimmo. He’ll feel the same when he hears about Sean.”

“Not the first time someone died on his watch, I understand.”

Arabella smoothed Tatiana’s hairless head, her expression soft, before she replied. “As I said, he’s devastated. And he had nothing to do with either boy’s death. With any death. At Colossus or otherwise.”

“It makes him look a bit careless, though, if you know what I mean.”

“As it happens, I don’t.”

“Careless with other people’s lives. Or bloody unlucky. Which do you reckon it is?”

Arabella stood. She went to a metal bookshelf at one side of the room and took up a packet of cigarettes. She lit one jerkily and just as jerkily inhaled. Virginia Slims, Barbara saw. That figured. Mental imaging, or something. And Arabella needed it: She had her work cut out for her, getting back into shape. She was pretty enough-good skin, nice eyes, dark, silky hair-but she looked as if she’d gained a few stone too many during her pregnancy. Eating for two, she’d probably told herself.

“If it’s alibis you’re after-that is what your sort look for, isn’t it?-then Griff’s got one. Her name is Ulrike Ellis. If you’ve been to Colossus, you’ve met her.”

This was a truly interesting turn. Not the fact of Ulrike and Griff, which Barbara had already assumed was a probability, but the fact that Arabella knew about Ulrike and Griff. And didn’t appear upset about them. What was that all about?

Arabella seemed to read her mind. “My husband’s weak,” she said. “But all men are weak. When a woman marries, she marries knowing this and she decides in advance what she’s going to accept when it eventually crops up. She never knows how the weakness is going to manifest itself, but I suppose that’s part of the…the journey of discovery. Will it be drink, food, gambling, excessive work, other women, pornography, football hooliganism, addiction to sports, addiction to drugs? In Griff’s case, it turned out to be an inability to say no to women. But that’s hardly a surprise, considering how they throw themselves at him.”

“Tough to be married to someone so…” Barbara looked for the right word.

“Beautiful? Godlike?” Arabella offered. “Apollo? Narcissus? Whoever? No, it’s not difficult at all. Griff and I plan to stay married to each other. We’re both from broken homes, and we don’t intend that for Tatiana. As it happens, I’ve been able to put it all in perspective. There are worse things than a man who gives in to women’s advances. Griff’s been through this before, Constable. Doubtless, he’ll go through it again.”

Hearing this, Barbara wanted to shake the bewilderment out of her head. She was used to the idea of women fighting for their men or women seeking revenge after an infidelity or women harming themselves-or others, for that matter-when faced with an adulterous spouse. But this? Calm analysis, acceptance, and c’est la vie? Barbara couldn’t decide if Arabella Strong was mature, philosophical, desperate, or simply mad as a hatter.

She said, “So how’s Ulrike his alibi?”

“Compare the dates of the murders with his absences from home. He’ll have been with her.”

“All night?”

“Enough of it.”

And wasn’t that just bloody convenient? Barbara wondered how many phone calls had been placed among the three of them to cook this one up. She also wondered how much of Arabella’s placid acceptance was placid acceptance and how much was actually the result of the vulnerability a woman felt once she had a child to care for. Arabella needed her man to bring home the bacon if she herself wanted to stay home and care for Tatiana.

Barbara flipped her notebook closed and thanked Arabella for her time and her willingness to speak openly about her husband. She knew that if anything more was to be gained from this journey to East London, it wasn’t going to turn up here.

Back at her car, she dug out the A to Z and looked up Quaker Street. Luck was with her for once. She found it was just south of the railway tracks leading to Liverpool Street Station. It appeared to be a short one-way thoroughfare that connected Brick Lane to Commercial Street. She could walk there and work off at least one mouthful of her morning’s Pop-Tart. The jacket potato she’d inhaled at Camden Lock would have to wait.

“WE’RE HAVING a devil of a time with all the phone calls, Tommy,” John Stewart said. The DI had laid a neatly clipped document precisely in front of him. As he spoke, he lined up the corners of it within the curve of the conference table. He straightened his tie, checked his fingernails, and gazed round the room as if to assess its condition, reminding Lynley as he always did, that Stewart’s wife had probably had more than one reason for ending their marriage. “We’ve got parents clamouring from all over the country,” he went on. “Two hundred with missing kids at this point. We need more help on the phones.”

They were in Lynley’s office, trying to work out a change in the deployment of the personnel. They didn’t have enough manpower, and Stewart was right. But Hillier had refused to give them more without the magical production of a “result.” Lynley thought he’d had that with the identification of yet another body: fourteen-year-old Anton Reid, who’d been the first victim of their killer, his body left in Gunnersbury Park. A mixed-race boy, Anton had disappeared from Furzedown on the eighth of September. He’d been a gang member with arrests for malicious mischief, trespassing, petty theft, and assault, all of which had been relayed to New Scotland Yard earlier in the day by the Mitcham Road police station, who’d admitted having written Anton off as yet another runaway when his parents first reported him missing. The newspapers were going to be in a filthy uproar over that piece of data, Hillier had told Lynley at some considerable volume on the phone when he was given the news. So when the hell did the superintendent intend to have something to present to the press office other than a bleeding identity for another sodding body?

“Get on it,” had been the AC’s parting remark. “I don’t expect you lot need me down there wiping your arses. Or do you?”

Lynley had held his tongue and his temper. He’d called Stewart into his office and there they sat, sorting through the action reports.

Finally and definitively, there was nothing from Vice on any of the identified boys beyond Kimmo Thorne. Aside from Kimmo, none of them were engaged in illicit sex as rent boys, transvestites, or streetwalkers. And despite their otherwise chequered histories, none of them could be associated with either the sale or the purchase of drugs.

The interview with the taxi driver who’d discovered Sean Lavery’s body in the Shand Street tunnel had given them nothing. A background check on the man had shown a perfectly clean record without even a parking ticket to mar his reputation.

The Mazda in the tunnel could be associated with no one even tangentially involved in the investigation. With its number plates missing, its engine gone, and its body torched, there was no way to tell whose it was, and no witness could attest to how it had ended up in the tunnel in the first place or even how long it had been there. “That’s a real nonstarter” was how Stewart put it. “We’re better off using the manpower elsewhere. I suggest we have a rethink on those blokes surveilling the crime scenes as well.”

“Nothing there?”

“Sod all.”

“Christ, how can no one not have seen anything worth reporting?” Lynley knew his question would be taken as rhetorical, and it was. He also knew the answer. Big city. People on the underground and in the street all avoiding each other’s eyes. The public’s philosophy of see nothing, hear nothing, leave me alone was the very plague of their jobs as cops. “You’d think someone would at least have seen a car being torched. Or a car on fire, for the love of God.”

“As to that…” Stewart flipped through his neatly assembled paperwork. “We’ve had a wee bit of joy from background. To the point, Robbie Kilfoyle and Jack Veness. Two of the blokes from Colossus.”

Both of the Colossus men, as things turned out, had juvenile records. Kilfoyle’s stuff was relatively minor. Stewart offered a list of truancy problems, vandalism reported by neighbours, and looking in windows where he didn’t belong, saying, “All meagre pickings. Except for the fact that he was dishonourably discharged from the army.”

“For?”

“Continually going AWOL.”

“How does that relate?”

“I was thinking of the profile. Disciplinary problems, failure to obey orders. It seems to fit.”

“If you stretch it,” Lynley said. Before Stewart could take offence, he added, “What else? More on Kilfoyle?”

“He’s got a job delivering sandwiches by bicycle round lunchtime. With an organisation called…” He referred to his notes. “Mr. Sandwich. That’s how he ended up at Colossus, by the way. He delivered there, got to know them, and started working as a volunteer after his sandwich hours. He’s been there for the last few years.”

“Where is this place?” Lynley asked.

“Mr. Sandwich? It’s on Gabriel’s Wharf.” And when Lynley looked up at this, Stewart smiled. “Right you are. Home of Crystal Moon.”

“Well done, John. What about Veness?”

“Even more joy. He’s a former Colossus boy. Been there since he was thirteen years old. A little arsonist, he was. Started out with small fires in the neighbourhood, but he escalated things to torching vehicles and then a whole squat. Got caught for that one, did some time in borstal, hooked up with Colossus afterwards. He’s their shining example now. Trot him out to their fund-raisers, they do. He gives the official spiel on how Colossus saved his life after which the hat’s passed round or whatever.”

“His living situation?”

“Veness…” Stewart referred to his notes. “He’s got a room over in Bermondsey. He’s not far from the market, as it happens. Kimmo Thorne flogging stolen silver and all that, if you recall. As for Kilfoyle…He’s got digs in Granville Square. Islington.”

“Smart part of town for a sandwich-delivery boy,” Lynley remarked. “Check on it. Get on to the other bloke, Neil Greenham, as well. According to Barbara’s report-”

“She actually made a report?” Stewart asked. “What miracle brought that about?”

“-he taught at a primary school in North London,” Lynley plunged on. “Had a disagreement of some sort with his superior. About discipline, apparently. It resulted in his resignation. Have someone get on to that.”

“Will do.” Stewart made a note.

A knock on the door brought Barbara Havers into the office then. Close on her heels was Winston Nkata with whom she was in terse conversation. She looked excited. Nkata looked interested. Lynley grew momentarily heartened by the idea that progress might actually be about to occur.

Havers said, “It’s Colossus. Got to be. Listen to this. Griffin Strong’s silk-screening business just happens to be in Quaker Street. Sound familiar? It did to me. Turns out he’s got a smallish factory in one of the warehouses, and when I asked round in the area to suss out which one, an old bloke on the pavement shook his head, made some grave mutterings like the ghost of Christmas past, and pointed out the spot where-as he put it-the ‘devil made his presence known.’”

“Which meant?” Lynley asked.

“That one of the bodies was found not two doors down from our Mr. Strong’s secondary means of employment, guv. The third of the bodies, as it turned out. Which sounded too bloody coincidental to be coincidental, so I checked out the rest. And listen to this…” She stuck half of her arm into her enormous shoulder bag and, after some struggle, pulled out her tattered spiral notebook. She ran a hand through her hair-doing nothing to improve its overall dishevelled look-and went on. “Jack Veness: number eight Grange Walk, not even a mile from the Shand Street tunnel. Robbie Kilfoyle: sixteen Granville Square, sneezing distance from St. George’s Gardens. Ulrike Ellis: two-five-eight Gloucester Terrace, just round two corners from a multi-storey carpark. The multi-storey carpark, if you know what I mean. This has got to be a Colossus situation, start to finish. If the bodies themselves didn’t scream that at us, where the bodies were put bloody well does.”

“The Gunnersbury Park body?” John Stewart asked. He’d been listening with his head cocked, and his face wore an expression of paternal indulgence which Lynley knew that Havers would particularly loathe.

“I haven’t got to that one yet,” she admitted. “But odds are that body from Gunnersbury Park is someone else from Colossus. And bigger odds are that Gunnersbury Park is a hop and a jump from where a Colossus employee lives. So all we have to do is get the names and addresses of everyone who works there. Of volunteers as well. Because believe me, sir, someone inside’s trying to paint the place black.”

John Stewart shook his head. “I don’t like it, Tommy. A serial killer choosing his victims from within his immediate sphere? I can’t see how that plays with what we know about serial killers in general and this one in particular. We know this is an intelligent bloke we’re dealing with, and it’s damned lunacy to think he’d work there, volunteer there, or do anything else there. He’d know we’d twig it eventually, and then what? When we’re hot on his tail, what’s he going to do?”

Havers countered. “You can’t be thinking it’s some major coincidence that every body we’ve been able to identify just happens to be associated with Colossus.” Stewart shot her a look, and she added, “Sir,” as an afterthought. “With respect, that doesn’t make sense.” She pulled out another notebook from her battered shoulder bag. Lynley saw it was the signing-in register they’d taken surreptitiously from the reception desk at Colossus earlier. She opened it, riffling through a few pages as she said, “And listen to this. I had a look through this on my way back from the East End just now. You’re not going to believe…Bloody hell, what liars.” She leafed through the book and read aloud as she flipped through the pages, “Jared Salvatore, eleven A.M. Jared Salvatore, two-ten P.M. Jared Salvatore, nine-forty A.M. Jared Bloody Blooming Salvatore, three twenty-two P.M.” She slapped the notebook down on the conference table. It slithered across and knocked John Stewart’s neatly compiled notes to the floor. “Am I right that no cookery school in London knows the first thing about Jared Salvatore? Well, why would they when he was doing his cookery course at Colossus all along? Our killer’s right there inside that place. He’s picking and choosing. He’s setting things up like a pro, and he doesn’t expect us to catch him at any of it.”

“That fits in with something Robson pointed out,” Lynley said. “The sense of omnipotence the killer must have. How big a leap is it from putting bodies in public places to be working within the walls of Colossus? In both cases, he doesn’t expect to be caught.”

“We need to get every one of these blokes under surveillance,” Havers said. “And we need to do it now.”

“We haven’t the manpower for that,” John Stewart said.

“Then we’ve got to get it. And we’ve also got to grill each one of them, dig into their backgrounds, ask them-”

“As I’ve said, we’ve a manpower issue here.” DI Stewart turned away from Havers. He didn’t look pleased to have her grabbing control of the meeting. “Let’s not forget that, Tommy. And if our killer’s inside Colossus as the constable’s suggesting, then we’d better start looking at everyone else who works there as well. And at the other ‘clients’ who’re attached to the place: the participants or patients, whatever the hell they call themselves. I expect there are enough junior-level villains running round that place to fuel a dozen killings.”

“That’s a waste of our time,” Havers insisted, and, “Sir, listen to me,” to Lynley.

He cut in. “Your points are well taken, Havers. What did you get from Griffin Strong about the child who died on his watch in Stockwell?”

The constable hesitated. She looked abashed.

“Bloody hell,” DI John Stewart said. “Havers, did you not-”

“Look. When I heard about the body in the warehouse-” she began quickly, only to be cut off by Stewart.

“So you haven’t looked into the other yet? It’s a death on Strong’s watch in Stockwell, woman. Does that ring any damn bells for you?”

“I’m getting on to it. I came straight back. I went to the files for this other information first because I thought-”

“You thought. You thought.” Stewart’s voice was sharp. “It’s not your job to do the bloody thinking. When you’re given an order…” His fist hit the table. “Jesus. What the hell is it that keeps them from giving you the sack, Havers? I’d damn well like to know your secret, because whatever’s keeping you here isn’t between your ears and I sure as hell don’t think it’s between your legs.”

Havers’ face went completely white. She said, “You completely sodding piece of-”

“That’ll do,” Lynley said sharply. “You’re both out of order.”

“She’s-”

“That bastard just said-”

“Enough! Keep it out of this office and out of this investigation or both of you are permanently off the case. Christ but we have enough trouble already without you two going for each other’s throats.” He paused, waiting for his blood to cool. In the silence, Stewart shot Havers a look that clearly assessed her as an impossible cow, and Havers herself seethed openly back at him, a man with whom she’d long ago managed to work for only three weeks before charging him with sexual harassment. Meanwhile Winston Nkata remained by the door in the position he nearly always adopted when placed in a room with more than two white colleagues: He stood with his arms crossed and merely observed, as he had been doing since he’d walked in.

Lynley turned to him wearily. “What have you got for us, Winnie?”

Nkata reported on his meetings: first with Sol Oliver in his car repair shop, then with Bram Savidge. He went on with his visit to the gym where Sean Lavery did his workouts. He concluded with something that diffused the tension in the room: He might have found someone who’d actually seen the killer.

“There was some white bloke hanging round the gym not long before Sean went missing,” Nkata said. “He got noticed ’cause not many whites use the place. Seems one night he was lurking in the corridor just outside the workout room, and when one of the lifters asked him what did he want, he said he was new to the neighbourhood and just looking round for a place to work out. He never did go in, though. Not to the gym, not to the locker room, not to the steam room. Didn’t ask about membership or anything like it. Just showed up in the corridor.”

“Did you get a description?”

“Arranging for an e-fit. Bloke at the gym thinks he might be able to come up with a drawing of this bugger. Right off he was able to tell me no way did the villain belong there. Not a lifter at all, he said, smallish and thin. Long face. I think we got a chance here, Super.”

“Well done, Winnie,” Lynley said.

“That’s what I call good work,” John Stewart put in pointedly. “I’ll have you on my team anytime, Winston. And congratulations on the promotion. I don’t think I mentioned it earlier.”

“John.” Lynley tried for patience. He waited till he found it before he went on. “Take the salt outside please. Phone Hillier. See if you can get manpower for surveillance. Winston, we’ve got Kilfoyle working at a place called Mr. Sandwich, back at Gabriel’s Wharf. Try to make a connection between him and Crystal Moon.”

There was a general shuffling as the men went on their way, leaving Havers behind for Lynley to deal with. He waited till the door was shut to do so.

She spoke first, her voice low but still hot. “I don’t have to bloody put up with-”

“I know,” Lynley said. “Barbara. I know. He was out of order. You were in the right to react. But the other side of the coin, whether you want to see it or not, is that you provoked him.”

I provoked him? I provoked him to say…?” She seemed unable to finish. She sank into a chair. “Sometimes I don’t even know you.”

“Sometimes,” he replied, “I don’t know myself.”

“Then-”

“You didn’t provoke the words,” Lynley interrupted. “They were inexcusable. But you provoked the fact of the words. Their existence, if you will.” He joined her at the table. He was feeling exasperated, and that was not a good sign. Exasperation meant he might soon run out of ideas on how to get Barbara Havers back into her position as a detective sergeant. It also meant he might soon run out of the willingness to do so. He said, “Barbara, you know the drill. Teamwork. Responsibility. Taking an action that’s been assigned and completing it. Turning over the report. Waiting for the next assignment. When you have a situation like this, one in which thirty-odd people are relying upon you to do what you’ve been told to do…” He lifted a hand and then dropped it.

Havers watched him. He watched her. And then it was as if a veil somehow lifted between them and she understood. She said, “I’m sorry, sir. What can I say? You don’t need more pressure, and I pile it on, don’t I?” She moved restlessly in her chair and Lynley knew she was longing for a cigarette, for something to do with her hands, for something to jolt her brain. He felt like giving her permission to smoke; he also felt like allowing her to squirm. Something had to give somewhere in the damn woman or she was going to be lost for good. She said, “Sometimes I get so bloody sick of everything in life being such a struggle. You know?”

He said, “What’s going on at home?”

She chuckled. She was slumped in her chair, and she straightened her back. “No. We’re not taking a stroll on that path. You’ve enough to cope with, Superintendent.”

“All things considered, a family dispute over two sets of christening clothes is hardly something to cope with,” Lynley said dryly. “And I’ve a wife politically adept enough to negotiate a truce between the in-laws.”

Havers smiled, it seemed, in spite of herself. “I didn’t mean at home and you know it.”

He smiled in turn. “Yes. I know.”

“You’re getting a platterful from upstairs, I expect.”

“Suffice it to say I’m learning how much Malcolm Webberly actually had to put up with to keep Hillier and everyone else off our backs all these years.”

“Hillier sees you hot on his tail,” Havers said. “A few more steps up the ladder and whammo…You’re heading up the Met and he’s pulling his forelock.”

“I don’t want to head up the Met,” Lynley said. “Sometimes…” He looked round the office he’d agreed to inhabit temporarily: the two sets of windows that ludicrously indicated a rise in rank, the conference table at which he and Havers sat, carpet tiles on the floor instead of lino, and outside beyond the door the men and women under his command for the moment. It was meaningless, really, at the end of the day. And it was far less important than what faced him now. He said, “Havers, I think you’re right.”

“Of course, I’m right,” she replied. “Anyone watching-”

“I don’t mean about Hillier. I mean about Colossus. He’s choosing kids from there, so he has to be connected somehow. It flies in the face of what we usually expect from a serial killer but on the other hand, how different is it, really, from Peter Sutcliffe picking up prostitutes or the Wests going for hitchhiking girls? Or someone targeting women walking dogs across parks or on commons? Or someone else always choosing an open window at nighttime and an elderly woman he knows is alone within? Our man’s doing what’s worked for him. And considering he’s managed to pull it off five times without getting caught-without, for the love of God, even being noticed-why shouldn’t he simply keep on doing it?”

“So you think the rest of the bodies are Colossus boys as well?”

“I do,” he said. “And since the boys we’ve identified so far have been throwaways to everyone but their families, our killer hasn’t had to worry about detection.”

“So what’s next?”

“Gather more information.” Lynley rose and considered her: disastrous of appearance and utterly headstrong. Maddening unto the death of him. But she was quick as well, which was why he’d learned to value having her at his side. He said, “Here’s the irony, Barbara.”

“What?” she said.

“John Stewart agreed with your assessment. He said as much before you walked into the office. He thinks it may be Colossus as well. You might have discovered that-”

“Had I kept my mug plugged.” Havers shoved her chair back, preparatory to getting to her feet. “So am I supposed to crawl? Curry favour? Create my own forelock to pull? Bring in coffee at eleven and tea at four? What?”

“Try staying out of trouble for once,” Lynley said. “Try doing what you’re told.”

“Which is what at this point?”

“Griffin Strong and the boy who died while Strong was with Social Services in Stockwell.”

“But the other bodies-”

“Havers. No one’s arguing with you about the other bodies. But we’re not going to leapfrog through this investigation no matter how much you’d like to do so. You’ve won a round. Now see to the rest.”

“Right,” she said, although she sounded reluctant even as she picked up her shoulder bag to get back to work. She headed for the door and then stopped, turned back to face him. “Which round was that?” she asked him.

“You know which round,” he told her in reply. “No boy’s safe if he ends up getting assigned to a spell at Colossus.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

“ANTON WHAT?” ULRIKE ELLIS SAID INTO THE TELEPHONE. “Could you spell the surname, please?”

On the other end of the line the detective, whose name Ulrike had already schooled herself to forget, spelled out R-e-i-d. He added that the parents of Anton Reid, who’d gone missing from Furzedown and had finally been identified as the first victim of the serial killer who’d so far murdered five boys in London, had listed Colossus as one of the places that their son had frequented in the months leading up to his death. Could the director confirm that, please? And a list of all Anton Reid’s contacts within Colossus would be necessary, madam.

Ulrike did not indulge in a misinterpretation of the courtesy behind the request. But she temporised, nonetheless. “Furzedown is south of the river, and as we’re well known here, Constable…?” She waited for a name.

“Eyre,” he said.

“Constable Eyre,” she repeated. “What I’m saying is that it’s a possibility that this boy-Anton Reid-merely told his parents he was involved with Colossus while using the time to do something else. It happens, you know.”

“He came to you through Youth Offenders, according to the parents. You should have the records.”

“Youth Offenders, is it? Then I’ll have to check. If you could give me your number, I’ll go through the files.”

“We do know he’s one of yours, madam.”

“You may know that, Constable…?”

“Eyre,” he said.

“Yes. Of course. You may know that, Constable Eyre. But at this moment, I do not. Now I shall have to go through our files, so if you give me your number, I’ll get back to you.”

He had no choice. He could get a search warrant, but that would take time. And she was cooperating. No one could claim otherwise. She was merely cooperating within the structure of her schedule, not within the structure of his.

The detective constable recited his phone number and Ulrike took it down. She had no intention of using it-reporting to him like a schoolgirl hauled onto the headmistress’s carpet-but she wanted to have it to wave in front of whomever turned up to gather information on Anton Reid. Because someone would definitely turn up at Colossus. Her job was to develop a plan to handle things when the moment arrived.

Off the phone, she went to the filing cabinet. She rued the system she had developed: the hard-copy backup to computer files. Pressed to it, she could have done something about material left upon hard drives, even if she’d had to reformat every miserable computer in the building. But the cops who’d come to Colossus had already seen her fingering through files in an ostensible search for Jared Salvatore’s paperwork, so they’d be highly unlikely to believe that some boys had electronic documents while others did not. Still, Anton’s folder could go the way of Jared’s. The rest was easy enough to accomplish.

She had Anton’s file halfway out of the drawer when she heard Jack Veness just outside her door. He said, “Ulrike? Could I have a word…?,” and he opened the door without further ado.

She said, “Do not do that, Jack. I’ve told you before.”

“I knocked,” he protested.

“Step one, yes. You knocked. Very nice. Now let’s work on step two, which is all about waiting for me to tell you to come in.”

His nostrils moved, white round the edges. He said, “Whatever you say, Ulrike,” and he turned to go, always the manipulative, petulant adolescent despite his age, which was what? Twenty-seven? Twenty-eight?

Damn the man. She didn’t need this now. She said, “What do you want, Jack?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Just something I thought you might like to know.”

Games, games, games. “Yes? Well, if I might like to know, why don’t you tell me?”

He turned back. “It’s gone. That’s all.”

“What’s gone?”

“The signing-in book from reception. I thought I must’ve misplaced it when I packed up last night. But I’ve looked everywhere. It’s definitely gone.”

“Gone.”

“Gone. Vanished. Disappeared. Abracadabra. Into thin air.”

Ulrike rested back on her heels. Her mind wheeled through the possibilities, and she disliked every one of them.

Jack said helpfully, “Robbie might have taken it for some reason. Or maybe Griff has it. He’s got a key to be in here after hours, doesn’t he?”

This was too much. She said, “What would Robbie, Griff, or anyone else want with a signing-in book?”

Jack shrugged elaborately and drove his fists into the pockets of his jeans.

“When did you notice it was missing?”

“Not till the first kids got here today. I went for the book but it wasn’t there. Like I said, I figured I misplaced it last night when I was packing up. So I just started another one till I could find the one that’s missing. Which I couldn’t. So I reckon someone nicked it off my desk.”

Ulrike thought about the previous day. “The police,” she said. “When you came to fetch me. You left them alone in reception.”

“Yeah. That’s what I reckoned ’s well. Only here’s the thing. I can’t suss out what they want with our signing-in book, can you?”

Ulrike turned from his smug and comprehending face. She said, “Thank you for letting me know, Jack.”

“Do you want me to-”

“Thank you,” she repeated firmly. “Is there anything else? No? Then you can get back to work.”

When Jack left her, after a little mock salute and a click of the heels that she was meant to take as amusing and did not, Ulrike shoved Anton Reid’s paperwork back into place. She slammed the filing drawer home and went for the phone. She punched in Griffin Strong’s mobile number. He was meeting with a new assessment group, their first day together, ice-breaking activities. He didn’t like to be interrupted whenever the kids were “in circle” as they called it. But this interruption couldn’t be helped and he would know that when he heard what she had to say.

He said, “Yeah?” impatiently.

“What did you do with the file?” she asked him.

“As…ordered.”

She could tell he chose the word deliberately, as mocking as was Jack’s sarcastic salute. He hadn’t yet twigged who stood in jeopardy here. But he would presently.

He said, “That all?”

Dead silence in the background told her every member of his assessment group was listening to his end of the exchange. She found a bitter satisfaction in that. Fine, Griffin, she thought. Let’s see how well you can carry on now.

“No,” she told him. “The police know, Griff.”

“Know what exactly?”

“That Jared Salvatore was one of ours. They took the reception book yesterday. They’ll have seen his name.”

Silence. Then, “Shit,” on a breath. Then a whisper, “God damn it. Why didn’t you think of that?”

“I might ask the same of you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Anton Reid,” she said.

Silence again.

“Griffin,” she told him, “you need to understand something. You’ve been an exceptional fuck, but I won’t let anyone destroy Colossus.”

She replaced the phone, carefully and quietly. Let him hang there, she thought.

She turned to her computer. On it, she accessed the electronic information they had on Jared Salvatore. It wasn’t as extensive as had been the documents in his file, but it would do. She chose the print option. Then she picked up the number that Detective Constable Eyre had given her only minutes ago.

He answered immediately, saying, “Eyre.”

She said, “Constable, I’ve come up with some information. You’ll probably want to pass this along.”

NKATA LET THE computer do the work for him on the postal codes amassed by the owner of Crystal Moon. While Gigi-the shop’s owner-would use them to prove the need for a branch of her business in a second location somewhere in London, Nkata intended to use them to make a match between the customers of Crystal Moon and the body sites. After reflecting on what Barb Havers had said on the subject of body sites, however, he decided to expand his search to include a comparison between the postal codes gathered by Crystal Moon and the postal codes of all Colossus employees. This took him more time than he’d expected. At the Colossus end of things, giving out postal codes to the cops was not an idea that anyone immediately embraced.

When he finally had what he wanted, he printed out the document and studied it contemplatively. Ultimately, he passed it over to DI Stewart to relay along to Hillier when he made his request for the manpower to run more surveillance. He was donning his overcoat to head back out, over to Gabriel’s Wharf to see to the next part of his assignment, when Lynley came to the door of the incident room and said his name quietly, adding, “We’re wanted upstairs.”

We’re wanted upstairs meant only one thing. The fact that Hillier was asking for them now-a few hours after the press conference called by Reverend Bram Savidge-suggested the meeting was not going to be pleasant.

Nkata joined Lynley, but he did not remove his overcoat. “I was heading to Gabriel’s Wharf,” he told the acting superintendent, hoping this would be enough to get him off the hook.

“This won’t hold you up long,” Lynley said. It sounded like a promise.

They took the stairs. Nkata said as they climbed, “I think Barb’s right, guv.”

“About?”

“Colossus. I got a match on one of the postal codes from Crystal Moon. I passed it along to DI Stewart.”

“And?”

“Robbie Kilfoyle. He’s got the same postal code as someone who shopped in Crystal Moon.”

“Does he indeed?” Lynley stopped on the stairs. He seemed to think about the information for a moment. Then he said, “Still, it’s only a postal code, Winnie. He shares it with…what? How many thousand people? And his employment is on the wharf as well, isn’t it?”

“Directly next to Crystal Moon,” Nkata admitted. “The sandwich shop.”

“Then I don’t know how much weight we can give it, as much as we’d like to. It’s something, I agree-”

“Which is what we need,” Nkata cut in. “Something.”

“But unless we know what he bought…You see the difficulty, don’t you?”

“Yeah. He works there on the wharf for God knows how long. He’s prob’ly bought something off that shop and every other shop over time.”

“Exactly. But speak to them, all the same.”

In Hillier’s suite, Judi MacIntosh ushered them in at once. Hillier was waiting for them, standing framed by the multiple panes of his windows and the view they offered of St. James’s Park. He was studying this view as they entered. At his fingertips on the credenza beneath the window, a newspaper lay neatly folded.

Hillier turned. As if for an unseen camera, he picked up the paper and let it fall open so that he held the front page like a towel that covered his genitals. He said evenly, “How did this happen?”

Nkata saw it was the latest Evening Standard. The story on the front page dealt with the press conference that Bram Savidge had called earlier in the day. The headline spoke of a foster father’s anguish.

Anguish had not been among the reactions to Sean Lavery’s death that Nkata would have ascribed to Savidge. But he realised that “anguish” was more likely to sell copies of the paper than was “justifiable fury at police incompetence.” Although, truth to tell, it would have been close.

Hillier went on, tossing the Standard onto his desk. He said to Lynley, “You, Superintendent, are supposed to be managing the victims’ families, not giving them access to the media. It’s part of the job, so why aren’t you doing it? Have you any idea what he’s said to the press?” Hillier stabbed at the paper as he made each following declaration: “Institutional racism. Police incompetence. Endemic corruption. All accompanied by calls for a thorough investigation by the Home Office, a Parliamentary sub committee, the Prime Minister, or anyone else who’s willing to take up the subject of house sweeping, which is what he accuses us of needing round here.” He brushed the paper off of his desk and into the rubbish basket next to it. “This bugger’s got their attention,” he said. “I want that changed.”

There was something self-satisfied about Hillier’s expression that was out of keeping both with his tone and with what he was saying. It came to Nkata as he observed this that Hillier’s look had to do with the performance that he was giving, rather than with his outrage. He wanted to dress Lynley down in front of a subordinate officer, Nkata realised. He had the excuse of making that subordinate officer Nkata because of the press briefings that had gone before when Nkata had sat obediently at his side, second cousin to a performing dog.

He said to Hillier before Lynley could respond, “’Scuse me, guv. I was at that briefing. Truth to tell, I di’n’t even think to stop it. My thought was he c’n call the press whenever he wants to call the press. His right to do it.”

Lynley glanced his way. Nkata wondered if Lynley’s pride would allow him to carry off an intervention like this. He wasn’t sure, so before there was an opportunity for the acting superintendent to add something, Nkata went on.

“I could’ve stepped up to the mike right after, ’f course, when Savidge was done with his piece. Could be that’s what I should’ve done ’s well. But I di’n’t think it’d be something you’d really want me to do. Not without you being there.” He smiled affably at the end of this: Little Black Sambo come to London.

Next to him, Lynley cleared his throat. Hillier shot him a look, then one at Nkata. He said, “Get things under control, Lynley. I don’t want every Tom, Dick, and Harry running to the press over this.”

“We’ll work on that angle specifically,” Lynley said. “Is that all, sir?”

“The next press briefing-” Hillier gestured rudely towards Nkata. “I want you down there ten minutes prior.”

“Got it,” Nkata said, tapping his skull with his index finger.

Hillier started to say more, but then he dismissed them. Lynley made no comment till they were out of the office, beyond Hillier’s secretary, and crossing to Victoria Block. Then it was only, “Winston. Listen,” as his footsteps slowed. “Don’t do that again.”

There was the pride, Nkata thought. He’d expected as much.

But then Lynley surprised him. “There’s too much risk for you in taking Hillier on, even obliquely. I appreciate the loyalty, but it’s more important for you to watch your back than to watch mine. He’s a dangerous enemy. Don’t make him into one.”

“He wanted to make you look bad in front of me,” Nkata said. “I don’t like that. Just thought I’d return the favour and let him see how it feels.”

“That presupposes the AC might think he could ever look bad in front of anyone,” Lynley said wryly. They went to the lift. Lynley pushed the down button. He examined it for a moment before he went on. “On the other hand,” he said, “it’s a suitable irony.”

“What’s that, guv?”

“That in giving the rank of sergeant to you and denying it to Barbara, Hillier got more than he bargained for.”

Nkata thought about this. The lift doors slid open. They entered and punched for the floors they needed. “D’you s’pose he reckoned I’d yes-guv him right to the grave?” he asked curiously.

“Yes. I think that’s what he assumed.”

“Why?”

“Because he has no idea who you are,” Lynley replied. “But I expect that’s something you’ve already realised.”

They descended to the floor for the incident room, where Lynley got off, leaving Nkata to ride to the underground carpark. Before the doors closed upon him, however, the acting superintendent stopped them, his hand holding one of them back.

“Winston-” He didn’t say anything else for a moment and Nkata waited for him to go on. When he finally did, it was to say, “Thank you all the same.” He released the lift door and let it slide closed. His dark eyes met Nkata’s for an instant, then were gone.

It was raining when Nkata emerged from the underground carpark. Daylight was fast fading, and the rain exacerbated the gloom. Traffic lights gleamed against the wet streets; taillights of vehicles winked in the prisms of the raindrops hitting his windscreen. Nkata worked his way over to Parliament Square and inched towards Westminster Bridge in a queue of taxis, buses, and government cars. As he crossed, the river heaved in a grey mass below him, puckered with rain and rippled by the incoming tide. There a single barge chugged its way in the direction of Lambeth, and in its wheelhouse a solitary figure kept the craft on its course.

Nkata parked illegally at the south end of Gabriel’s Wharf and put a police placard in the window. Turning up the collar of his coat against the rain, he strode into the wharf area, where the overhead lights made a cheerful crisscrossing pattern above him and the owner of the bicycle rental shop was wisely wheeling his wares indoors.

At Crystal Moon, it was Gigi this time and not her grandmother who was perched on a stool, reading behind the till. Nkata approached her and showed his police identification. She didn’t look at it, however. Instead, she said, “Gran told me you’d probably be back. She’s good that way. A real intuitive. In another time, she’d’ve been done for a witch. Did the agrimony work?”

“Not sure what I’m meant to do with it.”

“Is that why you’re back, then?”

He shook his head. “Wanted to have a word about a bloke called Kilfoyle.”

She said, “Rob?,” and closed her book. It was, he saw, one of the Harry Potters. “What about Rob?”

“You know him, then?”

“Yeah.” She said the word on two notes, a combination of confirmation and question. She looked wary.

“How well?”

“I’m not sure how I’m meant to take this,” she said. “Has Rob done something?”

“He buy stuff here?”

“Occasionally. But so do lots of other people. What’s this about?”

“What’s he buy off you, then?”

“I don’t know. He hasn’t been in in a while. And I don’t write down what people buy.”

“But you know he bought something.”

“Because I know him. I also know that two of the waitresses from Riviera Restaurant have made purchases as well. So have the head cook at Pizza Express and a collection of shop assistants from the wharf. But it’s the same as for Rob: I don’t recall what they bought. Except for the bloke at Pizza Express. He wanted a love potion for a girl he met. I remember that because we got into the whole love thing.”

“Know him how?” Nkata asked her.

“Who?”

“You said you know Kilfoyle. I’m wondering how.”

“You mean is he my boyfriend or something?” Nkata could see the colour deepen round the hollow of her throat. “No. He isn’t. I mean, we had a drink once, but it wasn’t a date. Is he in some sort of trouble?”

Nkata didn’t reply to this. It had always been a long shot, anyway, that the owner of Crystal Moon would remember what someone had bought. But the fact that Kilfoyle had indeed made a purchase gave the investigation grist to move forward, which was what they needed. He told Gigi that he appreciated her help and he gave her his card and told her to phone should she remember anything particular about Kilfoyle that she thought he should know. He realised that chances were good she’d hand over the card to Kilfoyle himself the next time she saw him, but he didn’t see that as a problem. If Kilfoyle was their killer, the fact that the cops were on to him would surely slow him down. At this point, that was nearly as gratifying as nabbing him. They had enough victims on their hands already.

He headed for the door, where he paused to ask another question of Gigi. “How’m I meant to use it, then?”

“What?”

“The agrimony.”

“Oh,” she said. “You burn or anoint.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning: Burn the oil in her presence or anoint her body with it. I take it it’s a her we’re talking about?”

Nkata thought about and then dismissed the likelihood of his being able to accomplish either task. But he also thought about the serial killer: burning and anointing. He was doing both. He thanked Gigi and left the shop. He went next door to Mr. Sandwich.

The little eatery was closed for the day, and the sign said that its hours of business were from ten till three. He looked through the windows but could make nothing out in the semidarkness save the counter and, on the wall behind it, a list of sandwiches and their prices. There was nothing more to be gained in this spot, he decided. It was time to go.

But he didn’t head homeward. Instead, he felt himself compelled to drive yet another time in the general direction of the Oval, weaving over to Kennington Park Road as soon as he was able to do so. He parked again in Braganza Street, but rather than wait for her or enter Doddington Grove Estate to see if she was already home, he walked up to the dispirited patch of green that was Surrey Gardens. From there, he headed into Manor Place, a spot still trying to make a choice between decrepitude and renaissance.

He hadn’t been to her shop since November, but there was no way he could have forgotten where it was. He found her within, just as she’d been the last time he visited. She was at a desk at the back, her head bent over what looked like an accounts book. She had a pencil in her mouth, which made her look vulnerable, like a schoolgirl having trouble doing her sums. When she glanced up as he entered and the buzzer went off, though, she looked adult enough. And equally unfriendly. She set her pencil down and closed the book. She came to the counter and made sure, it seemed, that it stood like a bulwark between them.

He said, “A black boy was killed this time. His body got dumped near London Bridge Station. We got an ID on an earlier boy ’s well. Mixed race, he was. From Furzedown. That’s two boys south of the river now, Yas. Where’s Daniel?”

She said, “If you think-”

He cut her off impatiently. “Yas, Daniel have anything to do with a group of kids meeting up at Elephant and Castle?”

“Dan doesn’t do gangs,” she protested.

“Isn’t a gang, this, Yas. This’s an outreach group. They offer kids activities, kids at…kids at risk.” He hurried on. “I know. I know you’ll say Dan i’n’t at risk, and I’m not here to argue that. The group’s called Colossus, though, and I need to know. You ever talk to them about seeing to Dan after school? While you’re still working? Giving him a place to go?”

“I don’t let Dan up at Elephant and Castle.”

“And he never said Colossus to you?”

“He never…Why’re you doing this?” she demanded. “We don’t want you round us. You’ve done enough.”

She was getting agitated. He could see as much from the rise and fall of her breasts beneath her jersey. It was cropped like all the jerseys he’d ever seen her wear, showing off her smooth stomach, which was flat like a palm. She’d had her navel pierced, he saw. A bit of gold glittered against her skin.

His throat felt dry, but he knew there were things that he had to say to her, no matter how she was likely to receive them. He said, “Yas”-and he thought, What is it about the sound of her name?-“Yas, would you’ve rather not known what was going on? She was cheating on you, had been from the first, and you got to admit that no matter what you think of me.”

“You di’n’t have the right-”

“Would you rather’ve been kept in the dark about her? What good’s that supposed to do, then, Yas? And you and I know you’re not bent like that anyways.”

She pushed away from the counter. “That all? Cos if it is, I got work needs finishing before I go home.”

“No,” he returned. “Not all. There’s this. What I did was right and you know it somewhere.”

“You-”

But,” he continued, “how I did it was wrong. And-” He’d come to the hard part now, the tell-the-truth part, when he didn’t want to admit that truth even to himself. But he plunged forward. “And why I did it, Yasmin. That was wrong ’s well. And it was wrong that I lied to myself about why I did it too. And I’m sorry for all of it. I’m dead sorry. I want to make things right.”

She was silent. There was nothing that could be called kind in her stare. A car pulled up to the kerb outside and her eyes flicked to it, then back to him. “Then stop using Daniel,” she said.

“Using…? Yas, I’m-”

“Stop using Daniel to get to me.”

“Tha’s what you think?”

“I don’t want you. I had a man. I married him, an’ every time I look in the mirror I get to see what he did to me an’ I get to think what I did back to him an’ I’m never going to that place again.”

She’d begun to tremble. Nkata wanted to reach across the counter that separated them and offer her comfort and the assurance that not all men…But he knew she would not believe him and he wasn’t sure if he believed himself. And as he tried to think what to say to her, the door opened, the buzzer went off, and another black man came into the shop. His gaze lit upon Yasmin, made a quick assessment, and flicked to Nkata.

“Yasmin,” he said, and he pronounced it differently. Yasmeen, he said in a soft foreign voice. “Is there trouble here, Yasmin? Are you here alone?”

It was the way he talked to her. It was the tone and the look that went with it. Nkata felt every which way a fool.

He said to the other man, “She is now,” and he left the two of them together.

BARBARA HAVERS decided a fag was in order. She considered it a little reward, the carrot she’d held out in front of herself during her long slog on the computer, followed by her further slogs on the phone. She’d managed this spate of unwelcome work with what she liked to think of as extreme good grace, when all the time what she really wanted to do was have a real slog over to Elephant and Castle so that she might engage the decidedly more pleasant slog of shaking things up at Colossus. During all this time, she’d done her best to ignore her feelings: her outrage at DI Stewart’s remarks, her impatience with the grunt work she was being assigned, her schoolgirl envy-bloody hell, was that what it really was?-seeing Winston Nkata chosen by Lynley to accompany him to duel with the assistant commissioner. So, as far as she was concerned, at this late hour of the day she was owed the metaphorical rosette-on-her-lapel, which she decided a fag would represent.

On the other hand, she had to admit, however much she disliked doing so, that the computer and telephone slog had actually produced more ammunition for her to use when she made her next appearance across the river. So she gave grudging acknowledgement to the wisdom of completing activities assigned to her, and she even considered writing up her report in a timely manner as a way of admitting her earlier error in judgement. But she discarded that notion in favour of a fag. She told herself that, if she had her smoke surreptitiously in the stairwell, she’d be that much closer to the incident room and thus that much closer to a location in which she could fill out the appropriate paperwork…once she had the shot-in-the-eyeball of nicotine for which her body was crying out.

So she decamped to the stairwell, plopped down, lit up, and inhaled. Bliss. Not the plate of lasagne and chips she would have preferred at this hour. But a decent second.

“Havers, exactly what are you doing?”

Bloody hell. Barbara scrambled to her feet. Lynley had just come through the doorway, preparatory to climbing or descending the stairs. He had his overcoat slung over one shoulder, so she assumed descending was the order of the day. It was something of a journey down to the carpark, but the stairwell always gave one time to think, which was probably what he’d planned unless his intention had been to escape without detection, which was also an option that the stairwell afforded.

She said, “Composing my thoughts. I did the Griffin Strong stuff, and I was sorting through how best to present the information.” She offered him the notes she’d taken from both the computer and the telephone calls. She’d begun scribbling them in her spiral book but unfortunately had run out of paper. She’d been reduced to using whatever lay at hand, which had turned out to be two used envelopes from the wastepaper basket and a paper napkin she’d rummaged out of her bag.

Lynley looked from all this to her.

She said, “Hey. Before you give me aggro-”

“I’m beyond it,” he said. “What have you got?”

Barbara happily settled in for a natter, fag dangling from her lips as she spoke. “First of all, according to his wife, Griffin Strong’s doing the mattress polka with Ulrike Ellis. Arabella-that’s the wife-puts him with Ulrike for every killing no matter when it was. Without a second to think it over, mind you. I don’t know about you, but that tells me she’s dead desperate to keep him bringing home the dosh while she cares for the baby and does jumping jacks in front of the telly all day. Fine. That’s understandable, I suppose. But it turns out our Griff has a history of taking up with the ladies at all his places of employment, getting in too deep-if you’ll pardon the pun-then losing his way and letting the ball drop with reference to his responsibilities.”

Lynley leaned against the stair rail, listening tolerantly to her metaphor mixing. He had his eyes fixed on hers, so she entertained the idea that she might actually be on the way to resurrecting something of her reputation, not to mention something of her career. She waxed enthusiastic on her topic.

“Turns out he was sacked from Social Services in Lewisham for falsifying his reports.”

“That’s an interesting twist.”

“He was supposedly checking up on kids in care but in reality only managing to get to one in ten.”

“Why?”

“The obvious. He was too busy bonking his cubicle mate. He got warned off once and written up twice before the axe finally fell, and it seems the only reason he got taken on over in Stockwell was that none of the kids on his roster at Lewisham actually suffered from his neglect.”

“In this day and age, though…There were no repercussions?”

“Not a whisper. I talked to his Lewisham supervisor, who’d got convinced by someone-and for that I wager you can read Griffin Strong-that Griff was far more pursued than pursuer. Beating this bird off with a nail-studded stick for months on end, to hear the way Strong’s guv told the tale. ‘Anyone would have succumbed to her eventually,’ was how he put it.”

“His supervisor being male, I take it?”

“Naturally. And you should’ve heard him talk about this bird. Like she was the sexual equivalent of the bubonic plague.”

“What about at Stockwell?” Lynley said.

“The kid that died under Strong’s care was attacked.”

“By whom?”

“A gang with an initiation rite involving chasing down twelve-year-olds and cutting them up with broken bottles. They caught him crossing Angell Park, and what was s’posed to be a cut on the thigh hit an artery and he bled to death before he could get home.”

“Christ,” Lynley said. “But that was hardly Strong’s fault, was it?”

“When you consider the kid who cut him up was his own foster brother…?”

Lynley raised his head heavenward. He looked done in. “How old was the foster brother, then?”

Barbara glanced at her notes. “Eleven,” she said.

“What happened to him?”

She continued to read. “Psychiatric lockup till he’s eighteen. For all the good it’ll do.” She knocked the growing tube of ash from her fag. “It all made me think…”

“About?”

“The killer. Seems to me that he sees himself ridding the flock of black sheep. Like it’s sort of a religion to him. When you think of all the aspects of ritual that’re part of the killings…” She let him finish the thought for himself.

Lynley rubbed his forehead and leaned against the handrail of the stairs. He said, “Barbara, I don’t care what he’s thinking. These are children we’re talking about, not genetic mutations. Children need guidance when they go wrong, and they need protection the rest of the time. Full stop. End of story.”

“Sir, we’re on the same page,” Barbara said. “Start to finish.” She dropped the nub of her cigarette on the stairs and crushed it out. To cover the trace of her malefaction, she picked up the dog end and placed it, along with her notes, in her shoulder bag. She said, “Trouble upstairs?,” with reference to Lynley’s meeting with Hillier.

“No more than usual,” Lynley said. “Winston isn’t turning out to be the blue-eyed boy the AC thought he’d be, though.”

“Now that’s gratifying,” Barbara said.

“To an extent, yes.” He studied her. A little silence lingered between them during which Barbara looked away, picking at a fuzz ball that needed removing from the arm of her baggy pullover…along with all the other fuzz balls that adorned the garment. “Barbara,” Lynley finally said, “I wouldn’t have it this way.”

She looked up. “What?”

“I think you know. Have you ever considered you’d make better progress towards reinstatement if you worked with someone less…less objectionable to people in power?”

“Like who, for example? John Stewart? Now that would be chummy.”

“MacPherson, possibly. Or Philip Hale. Even out of here altogether, in one of the borough stations. Because as long as you’re in my sphere-not to mention in Hillier’s-with Webberly no longer here to be a buffer for either one of us…” He made a gesture. It said, Finish the thought in a logical manner.

She didn’t need to. She heaved her bag higher on her shoulder and began to head back up to the incident room. She said, “That’s not how this is going to play out. At the end of the day, I know what’s important and what isn’t.”

“Which means?”

She paused at the door to the corridor. She offered him the response he’d given her. “I think you know, sir. Have a good night. I’ve got work to do before I can go home.”

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

IN HIS MIND, HE PUT A BODY BEFORE HIM: LYING ON THE floor, crucified by restraints and the board. It was a soundless but not a lifeless body and when its senses returned, what it knew was that it was in the presence of a power it could not hope to escape. So fear descended in the guise of anger, and in the presence of that fear, Fu’s heart grew large. Blood engorged His muscles, and He rose above Himself. It was the kind of ecstasy that only came from being a god.

Having had it that way, He wanted it again. Once He had experienced the sensation of who He actually was, bursting from the chrysalis of who He only appeared to be, it could not be laid aside. It was forever.

He had attempted to hold on to the feeling for as long as possible once the first boy died. Time and again, He had put Himself into darkness and there He slowly relived each moment that had taken Him from selection to judgement, and from there to admission, onward to punishment, and then to release. But still the sheer exultation of the experience had faded, as all things do. To recapture it, He had no choice but to make another selection, to perform once again.

He told Himself that He was not like the others who had gone before Him: swine like Brady, Sutcliffe, and West. They had all been cheap thrill seekers, cold-blooded killers who preyed on the vulnerable for no other reason than to shore themselves up. They shouted their insignificance to the world through acts the world was not likely to forget.

But for Fu things were different. Not for Him were innocent children at play, streetwalkers chosen at random off the pavement, female hitchhikers taking a fatal decision to climb into a car with a man and his wife…

In the sphere of those killers, the possession, the terror, and the slaughter were all. But Fu trod a different path to theirs, and that was what made His current state far more difficult to cope with. Had He been willing to join the swine, He knew that He would be resting easier now: He’d have only to scour the streets and within hours…ecstasy once again. Because that wasn’t who He was, Fu sought the darkness as an aid to relief.

Once He was there, though, He discerned intrusion. He drew a breath and held it, His senses alert. He listened. He thought of impossibility. But there was no mistaking what His body told Him.

He dispelled the gloom. He looked for the evidence. The light was dim as He preferred it, but enough to show Him that there were no obvious signs of intrusion into this place. Yet still He knew. He had learned to trust the nerve endings at the nape of His neck, and they were murmuring caution.

A book lay discarded on the floor near a chair. A magazine had its cover wrinkled. A stack of newspapers crisscrossed one on top of the other. Words. Words. Words upon words. All of them chattered, all accused. A maggot, they chorused. Here, here.

The reliquary, Fu realised. That was what he wanted. For only through the reliquary would it be possible for the maggot to speak once more. And what he would say…

Don’t tell me you’ve not bought brown sauce, cow. What else have you got to think about all day?

Dear, please. The boy-

Are you trying to tell me …? Get your arse down to the shops for that sauce. And leave the boy. I said leave him. Something wrong with your ears as well as your brain?

Now, dearest…

As if the tone and the words could somehow make a difference to the walking lightly and the loose-boweled fear. Both of which would return if He lost possession of the reliquary or its contents.

Yet He could see that the reliquary stood where He had left it, in its hiding place that was no place of hiding at all. And when He carefully removed the top, He found that the contents seemed to be undisturbed. Even the contents within the contents-carefully buried, preserved, and treasured-were as He’d left them. Or so they appeared.

He went to the pile of crisscrossed papers. He loomed above them, but they spoke only what He could see: a man in African garb. A headline declared the man “Foster Dad in Anguish,” and the story that accompanied the headline told the rest: all the deaths round London and they’d finally sussed out that there was a serial killer at work.

Fu felt Himself relax. He felt His hands warm, and the sickness within Him began to recede as He fingered fondly through the stack of tabloids. Perhaps, He thought, they would suffice.

He sat. He drew the entire stack closer, like Father Christmas embracing a child. How odd it was, He thought, that only with the last boy-the lying, denying, and accusing Sean who had forfeited redemption and release because he’d stubbornly refused to admit his guilt-had the police realised they were dealing with something superior to and larger than what they were used to. He had been giving them clues all along, but they’d refused to see. Now, though, they knew. Not His purpose, of course, but the fact of Him as a single and singular force of justice. Always a step ahead of those who sought Him. Supreme and supreme.

He lifted the most recent copy of the Evening Standard and set it aside. He went down the stack till He found the Mirror, which featured a photo of the tunnel in which He’d left the last body. He laid His hands on the photograph of the scene, and He dropped His gaze to encompass the other pictures on the page: cops because who else could they be? And one of them named so that now He knew who wished to thwart Him, who fruitlessly directed everyone else to turn Him from the course He followed. Lynley, detective superintendent. The name would be easy enough to remember.

Fu closed His eyes and conjured up the image of Himself and this Lynley in confrontation. But not the sort in which He faced him alone. Instead, the image displayed a moment of redemption in which the detective watched, helpless to do anything to stop the cycle of punishment and salvation as it played out before his eyes. That would indeed be something, Fu thought. That would be a statement that no one-no Brady, no Sutcliffe, no West, no anyone else-had ever been able to make.

Fu took in the pleasure of the thought, in the hope it would bring Him close to the heady sensation-what He called the very yesness-of those final moments of the act of redemption. Wanting the swelling of success to possess Him, wanting the knowledge of fully being to fill Him, wanting wanting wanting to feel the emotional and sensual explosion that occurred at the impact of desire and accomplishment…Please.

But nothing happened.

He opened His eyes, every nerve alive. The maggot had been here, defiling this place, and that was why He could not recapture any of the moments in which He’d been most fully alive.

He could not afford the despair that threatened, so He turned it to anger, and the anger itself He lasered on the maggot. Keep out of here, wanker. Keep out. Keep away.

But His nerves still tingled, telling a tale that revealed He would never have peace in this way. Peace could now be generated only by the act that brought another soul to its redemption.

The boy and the act itself, He thought.

What was needed was what would be.

RAIN FELL for the next five days, a heavy midwinter rain of the sort that generally made one despair of ever seeing the sun again. By the sixth morning, the worst of the storm had passed, but the glowering sky heralded the arrival of yet another as the day wore on.

Lynley didn’t go directly into the Yard as he normally would have done. Instead, he drove in the opposite direction, working his way over to the A4, heading out of Central London. Helen had suggested this journey to him. She’d gazed at him over a glass of breakfast orange juice and said, “Tommy, have you considered going out to Osterley? I think it’s what you need.”

He’d said in reply, “Is my self-doubt becoming that obvious?”

“I wouldn’t call it self-doubt. And I think you’re being too hard on yourself if that’s what you’re calling it, by the way.”

“What would you call it, then?”

Helen thought about this, head cocked to one side as she observed him. She hadn’t yet dressed for the day, hadn’t even bothered to comb her hair, and Lynley found he liked her tousled like this. She looked…She looked wifely, he thought, that was the word, although he’d have cut out his tongue before telling her that. She said, “I’d call it a ripple on the surface of your peace of mind, courtesy of the tabloids and the assistant commissioner of police. David Hillier wants you to fail, Tommy. You ought to know that by now. Even as he blusters on about bringing in a result, you’re the last person on earth he wants to do that.”

Lynley knew she was right. He said, “Which makes me wonder why he put me in this position in the first place.”

“Acting superintendent or heading this investigation?”

“Both.”

“It’s all to do with Malcolm Webberly, of course. Hillier told you himself that he knows what Malcolm would have wanted him to do, so he’s doing it. It’s his…his homage to him, for want of a better word. It’s his way of doing his part to ensure Malcolm’s recovery. But his own will-Hillier’s, I mean-gets in the way of his intention of helping Malcolm. So while you have the elevation to acting superintendent and you have the assignment to head this investigation, you also have Hillier’s bad wishes to go along with both.”

Lynley considered this. There was good sense to it. But that was Helen. Scratch the surface of her habitual insouciance and she was both sensible and intuitive to her core. “I’d no idea you’d become so adept at instant psychoanalysis,” he told her.

“Oh.” Lightly, she saluted him with her teacup. “It all comes of watching chat shows, darling.”

“Really? I’d never have thought of you as a covert chat-show viewer.”

“You flatter me. I’m becoming quite fond of the American ones. You know the sort: Someone sits on a sofa, pouring out his heart to the host and half a billion viewers, after which he’s given advice and sent off to slay dragons. It’s confession, catharsis, resolution, and renewal all in a tidy fifty-minute package. I adore the way they solve life’s problems on American television, Tommy. It’s rather the way Americans do most things, isn’t it? That gunslinger approach: Draw the gun, blast away, and the difficulty’s gone. Supposedly.”

“You aren’t recommending I shoot Hillier, are you?”

“Only as a last resort. In the meantime, I suggest a trip to Osterley.”

So he took up her suggestion. It was an ungodly hour for visiting a convalescent hospital, but he reckoned his police identification would be enough to get him inside.

It was. Most of the patients were still at their breakfasts, but Malcolm Webberly’s bed was empty. However, a helpful orderly directed him to the physiotherapy room. There, Lynley found Detective Superintendent Webberly working his way between two parallel bars.

Lynley watched him from the doorway. The fact that the superintendent was alive was miraculous. He’d survived a laundry list of injuries, all of them brought about by a hit-and-run driver. He’d endured the removal of his spleen and a good portion of his liver, a fractured skull and the removal of a blood clot on his brain, nearly six weeks of drug-induced coma, a broken hip, a broken arm, five broken ribs, and a heart attack in the midst of his slow recovery from everything else. He was nothing if not a warrior in the battle to regain his strength. He was also the one man at New Scotland Yard with whom Lynley had long felt he could be unguarded.

Webberly inched along the bars, encouraged by the therapist, who insisted upon calling him luv despite the scowls Webberly sent in her direction. She was approximately the size of a canary, and Lynley wondered how she would approach supporting the burly superintendent should he begin to topple. But it appeared that Webberly had no intention of doing anything other than making his way to the end of the apparatus. When he’d managed that, he said without looking in Lynley’s direction, “You’d think they’d let me have a bloody cigar on occasion, wouldn’t you, Tommy? Their idea of a celebration round here is an enema administered to the sound of Mozart.”

“How are you, sir?” Lynley asked, coming farther into the room. “Have you lost a few stone?”

“Are you saying I needed to?” Webberly looked shrewdly in his direction. He was pale and unshaven and he looked quite tentative about the titanium acting the part of his new hip. He wore a tracksuit instead of hospital garb. The words “Top Cop” decorated its jacket.

“Just a casual observation,” Lynley said. “To me you were always a picture needing no revision.”

“What cock.” Webberly grunted as he reached the end of the bars and made the turn that was necessary for his descent to the wheelchair, which the therapist brought to him. “Wouldn’t trust you as far as I could throw you.”

“Cup of tea, luv?” Webberly’s therapist asked him once he’d lowered himself to his chair. “Nice ginger biscuit? You did very well.”

“She thinks I’m a performing dog,” Webberly informed Lynley. He said to the woman, “Bring the whole damn tin of biscuits, thank you.”

She smiled serenely and patted his shoulder. “Cup of tea and a biscuit it is. And for you?” This last was directed to Lynley, who told her he’d do nicely with nothing. She disappeared into an adjoining room.

Webberly wheeled himself over to a window, where he raised the blinds and looked out at the day. “Bloody weather,” he growled. “I’m that ready for Spain, Tommy. The thought of it…That’s what’s keeping me going.”

“Taking your pension, then?” Lynley tried to make the question light, not a reflection of what he felt at the thought of the superintendent’s permanent removal from the force.

He didn’t fool Webberly with his tone, however. The superintendent gave him a look, cast over his shoulder from his perusal of the day. “David behaving badly, is he? You’ve got to come up with a strategy for coping with him. That’s all I can tell you.”

Lynley joined him at the window. There, they both looked morosely out at the grey day and what the window offered of it, which was a distant view of bare branches, the supplicant winter arms of trees in Osterley Park. Closer in, they had the carpark to gaze upon.

“For myself, I can do it,” Lynley said.

“That’s all anyone asks of you.”

“It’s the others I’m worried about. Barbara and Winston mostly. I’ve not done either of them any favours, taking on your position. It was madness to think I could.”

Webberly was silent. Lynley knew that the other man would see his point. Havers’ boat of dreams at the Yard would doubtless continue to take on water as long as she maintained her association with him. As for Nkata…Lynley knew that any other officer elevated to the rank of acting superintendent would have done a better job of keeping Winston out of Hillier’s clutches. Instead, Havers was looking more professionally doomed every day, while Nkata knew he was being used as a token and might end up carrying round a load of bitterness that could blight his career for years. No matter how he looked at the matter, Lynley felt it was all down to him that Nkata and Havers were in the positions they were in at the moment.

“Tommy,” Webberly said, as if Lynley had spoken all this, “you don’t have that power.”

“Don’t I? You did. You do. I ought to be able-”

“Stop. I’m not talking about the power to be a buffer between David and his targets. I’m talking about the power to change him, to un-David him. Which is what you’d like to do, if you’ll admit it. But he has his own set of demons, just like you. And there’s not a thing in the world that you can do to remove them from him.”

“So how do you cope with him?”

Webberly rested his arms on the windowsill. He was looking, Lynley saw, much older these days. His thin hair-once the faded sand of the redhead going grey-had now reached that destination, while the flesh under his eyes was baggy and the skin beneath his chin was wattled. Seeing this, Lynley was reminded of Ulysses’ rumination, faced with knowledge of his mortality: “Old age hath yet his honour and his toil.” He wanted to recite it to Webberly. Anything, he thought, to postpone the inevitable.

“It’s down to the knighthood, I reckon,” Webberly said. “You think David wears it comfortably. I believe he wears it like a suit of armour, which as we both know, has comfort as the least of its purposes. He wanted it, and he didn’t want it. He schemed to get it, and now he has to live with that.”

“The scheming? But that’s what he does best.”

“Too right. So think about having that on your gravestone. Tommy, you know all this. And if you can let the knowledge just get past that nasty temper of yours, you’ll be able to deal with him.”

There it was, Lynley thought. The dominant truth of his life. He could hear his father comment upon it, though the man had been dead nearly twenty years: Temper, Tommy. You’re allowing passion not only to blind you but to rule you, son.

What had it been at the time? A football match and a wild disagreement with a referee? A call in rugby he hadn’t liked? A row with his sister over a board game? What? And what did it matter now?

But that had been his father’s point. That, full stop. The black passion of the moment did not matter once the moment passed. He merely failed to see that fact, over and over again, resulting in everyone else having to pay for his fatal flaw. He was Othello without the excuse of Iago; he was Hamlet sans ghost. Helen was right. Hillier set traps and he walked right into them.

It was all he could do not to groan aloud. Webberly looked at him. “There’s a learning curve involved with the job,” the superintendent said kindly. “Why don’t you let yourself travel it?”

“Easier said than done when at the other end of the curve is someone waiting with a battle-axe.”

Webberly shrugged. “You can’t stop David from arming himself. Who you have to become is the person who can dodge the blows.”

The canary therapist came back into the room, tea in one hand and paper napkin in the other. On this rested a lone ginger biscuit, the superintendent’s reward for managing the parallel bars. “Here you go, luvvie,” she said to Webberly. “Nice hot cuppa with milk and sugar…I’ve made it just the way you like it.”

“I hate tea,” Webberly informed her as he took the cup and the biscuit.

“Oh, go on with you,” she replied. “You’re being quite naughty this morning. Is that because of your visitor?” She patted his shoulder. “Well, it’s good to see you showing some life. But stop pulling my leg, luv, or I’ll give you what for.”

“You’re the reason I’m trying to get the hell out of here, woman,” Webberly told her.

“That,” she said placidly, “is my whole objective.” She wagged her fingers and headed out of the room, scooping up a medical chart on her way.

“You’ve got Hillier, I’ve got her,” Webberly groused as he bit into his biscuit.

“But at least she offers refreshments,” Lynley said.

Nothing was resolved in the visit to Osterley, but Helen’s prescription did work as she’d thought it would. When Lynley left the superintendent back in his room, he felt ready for another round of hi