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First had come the requisite clothing, and her choice was simplicity itself. She already had dozens of slogan-bearing T-shirts she could wear—only some of them being truly objectionable—so the single purchase she made was two pairs of leggings, black in colour since black was supposed to be slimming and God knew she wanted to look slimmer than she actually was. Next, naturally, had come the footwear, with an astonishing array of choices she had absolutely not known could exist online or anywhere else. Black, of course, there was lots of black, but there was also the choice of beige, pink, red, silver, and white. One could have glitter as well. One could choose from soles of leather, resin, rubber, or a synthetic material of unnamed and, one hoped, eco-friendly origin. Then came the ribbons or the laces. Or the ankle straps with buckles. And finally presented were the taps themselves. Toe, toe and heel, none at all . . . although why one would purchase tap shoes without taps didn’t make much sense to her. She ended up choosing red—it was, after all, her signature colour when it came to footwear—and she went with straps and buckles as she could not see herself being responsible for keeping either laces or ribbons tied for the length of time that they would need to be tied: ninety minutes each lesson.
The last thing Barbara Havers had ever expected when she’d agreed to tap-dancing lessons in the company of Dorothea Harriman, the department secretary of her division in the Metropolitan Police, was that she would actually enjoy the activity. She’d gone along with the plan merely because she was worn down after listening to relentlessly given arguments on the subject of the benefits of tap dancing as exercise. Although most forms of exercise that didn’t involve pushing a shopping trolley up and down the aisles of the nearest Tesco had long been anathema to Barbara, she’d fairly quickly run out of excuses on the subject of being too busy.
At least she’d managed to remove Dorothea’s hands from her love life or, more specifically, from her lack thereof. To do this, she’d invoked the name of an Italian policeman—Salvatore Lo Bianco—with whom she’d become acquainted during the previous year. That had stirred Dorothea’s interest, which was further stirred when Barbara informed her that she was expecting a visit from Inspector Lo Bianco and his two children round Christmastime. Alas and alack, that hadn’t happened, a sudden appendectomy performed on twelve-year-old Marco having prevented this. But wisely, Barbara hadn’t shared her disappointment with Dorothea. As far as the departmental secretary knew, the visit had occurred and bliss of some acceptable sort was just round the corner.
Dorothea was not to be so moved regarding the tap-dancing lessons, however. Thus, for the last seven months, Barbara had found herself once each week in a dance studio in Southall, where she and Dorothea learned that a shuffle was a brush followed by a spark, a slap was a flap without the weight transfer, and a Maxie Ford involved four different movements that the faint at heart and clumsy of foot were never going to master. Nor were those individuals who did not practise daily between lessons.
At first Barbara had simply refused to practise. As a detective sergeant at New Scotland Yard, she did not have a plethora of open hours in which she could shuffle off to Buffalo or, frankly, to anywhere else. And while the instructor had been good enough to start his neophyte tappers gently and with mounds of encouragement, he wasn’t entirely pleased with Barbara’s progress, and after the tenth lesson he let her know it.
“One must work at this,” he told her as she and Dorothea were restoring their tap shoes to the cloth bags in which they were religiously carried every week to Southall. “If you consider the progress that the other ladies have made and with far more impediments . . .”
Well, yes. Of course. Righto and all that. Barbara knew he was speaking of the group of young Muslim women who were part of the class in which she and Dorothea had enrolled. They were learning to tap while still maintaining their modest garb, and the fact that more than half of them were actually able to execute a Cincinnati while Barbara could still only manage a simple slap was due to the fact that they did what they were told to do, which was practise, practise, practise.
“I’ll bring her up to speed,” Dorothea promised their instructor. He was called Kazatimiru—“You are, of course, to call me Kaz”—and for a recent Belarusian immigrant, he spoke astonishingly good English, with only a slight Slavic accent. “You’re not to give up on her,” Dorothea informed him.
Kaz, Barbara knew, was smitten with Dorothea. Men generally fell for her many charms. So when Dorothea prayed, charmingly, that his patience would hold, Kaz was warm putty in her manicured hands. Barbara reckoned she was completely off the hook at that. She could show up, mess about on the tap floor, pretend she knew what she was doing as long as she made appropriate noise with her shoes, and all would be forgiven. But she hadn’t taken Dorothea into account.
They were going to hold post-work practice sessions, Dorothea informed her in very short order. No messing about with excuses, Detective Sergeant. There was a list of women eager to enroll in Kaz’s class, and if Barbara Havers did not soon cut the metaphorical mustard with her tap shoes, she was as good as sacked.
It was only by swearing on the life of her mother that Barbara was able to convince Dorothea to relent. The secretary’s plan had been to hold their practice sessions in the stairwell at work, close to the vending machines where there was room enough to shim sham, scuffle, riffle, and riff. That, Barbara had decided, was all she needed to complete the picture of who she was in the eyes of her colleagues. She promised she would practise nightly, and she did so. For at least a month.
She improved enough to earn Kaz’s nod and Dorothea’s dimpled smile. All the time she kept her dancing a secret from everyone else who touched upon her life.
She’d lost an entire stone, she found, quite effortlessly. She had to move to a smaller skirt size and the bows she tied on her drawstring trousers were getting larger by the week. Soon she would have to move to a smaller size there as well. Perhaps eventually she’d also become the picture of lithesome beauty, she decided. Stranger things had happened.
On the other hand, that lost stone was the open door to tucking into curry two nights a week. Plus, it allowed for absolute piles of naan. Not the plain sort, mind you, but naan dripping with garlic butter, naan with butter and spices and honey and almonds, naan any way that she could find it.
She’d been on her way to a massive weight regain when Kaz brought up the Tap Jam. This was seven months into her lessons, and she was thinking about dahl heaped upon naan alongside a lovely plate of salmon tagliatelle (she was not averse to mixing ethnicities when it came to dinner) when Dorothea said to her, “We must go, Detective Sergeant Havers. You’re free on Thursday night, aren’t you?”
Barbara was roused from her vision of carbohydrates gone wild. Thursday night? Free? Could there ever be a different adjective applied to any night in her life? Dumbly, she nodded. When Dorothea cried, “Excellent!” and called out to Kaz, “You can count on us!” she should have known something was up. It was only after the lesson as they were walking to the Tube that she discovered what it was she’d committed herself to.
“It will be such fun!” Dorothea exclaimed. “And Kaz is going to be there. He’ll stay with us on the renegade stage.”
Stage was what informed Barbara that come Thursday night, she would have to invent a sudden debilitating illness directly related to her feet. She had, apparently, just committed herself to some kind of tap-dancing extravaganza, which was among the very last things she wanted to give a place on her bucket list.
So she made a decent attempt at excuses, touching upon fallen arches and bunions gone quite mad. Dorothea’s response was a pretty, “Don’t even attempt to get out of this, Detective Sergeant Havers,” and to make things worse, she let Barbara know that she was to bring her tap shoes to work on the day in question, and if she did not, Dorothea was utterly certain that Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata would be pleased to fetch Barbara home to get them. Or Detective Inspector Lynley. He loved going out and about in his fancy car, didn’t he? A drive up to Chalk Farm would be the very thing.
“All right, all right,” had been Barbara’s surrender. “But if you even think I’m planning to dance, you’re dead wrong on a dish.”
Thus she found herself in Soho on a Thursday night.
The streets were packed, not only because tourist season had officially begun, but also because the weather was pleasant and because Soho had long attracted clubbers, theatre-goers, diners, gawkers, dancers, and drinkers. So it was a case of muscling through the hordes to get to Old Compton Street. There, a club called Ella D’s was situated.
On an upper floor of the nightclub, twice each month, a Tap Jam occurred. This, Barbara quickly discovered, comprised a Jam Mash, a Renegade Jam, and a Solo Tap, all of which she vowed to eschew the moment she learned what each one demanded.
The Jam Mash was already in progress when they arrived. They waited outside for a quarter hour to see if Kaz was going to show up and introduce them to the promised delights of Ella D’s. After that, however, Dorothea announced impatiently that “he’s had his chance,” and she led the way into the club where, from above their heads, they could hear music coming, along with what sounded like a herd of newly shoed ponies on the run.
The noise intensified as they climbed. Along with the sound of “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy,” they could hear a woman shouting over a microphone: “Scuffle, scuffle! Now try a flap! Good! Now watch this.”
They hadn’t, after all, been abandoned by Kaz. They discovered this as they entered a large room with a raised platform at one end, some two dozen chairs pushed to the walls, and a smaller crowd than Barbara would have hoped. It was clear she wasn’t going to be able to escape notice if she mingled among them.
Kaz was on the platform with a stout-looking woman in swirly 1950s gear. No high heels, naturally, but gleaming tap shoes that she was employing to serious effect. She was calling out the steps and doing them with Kaz. Before the platform three lines of tappers were attempting to duplicate the movements.
“Oh, isn’t this brilliant!” Dorothea exclaimed.
For reasons obscure, she had costumed herself for this event. Whereas she had so far always gone to their lessons garbed in a leotard and tights—the leotard covered over by trousers till she reached the dance floor—tonight she’d decided on a period kit. It featured a poodle skirt, a blouse tied up beneath her breasts, and a perky ribbon round her head à la Betty Boop. Barbara had decided it was an effort at incognito, and she wished she’d thought along those lines herself.
Dorothea wasn’t, however, incognito to Kaz. He clocked them within about thirty seconds, and he leapt off the platform and Cincinnatied in their direction. With the sixth sense of a seasoned dancer, he spun round just as he reached their immediate vicinity. Another two steps and he would have knocked both of them to the floor.
“What a vision!” he exclaimed. He was, of course, speaking of Dorothea. Barbara had gone for simplicity: trainers, leggings, and a T-shirt printed with I’M NOT LAUGHING AT YOU. I JUST FORGOT TO TAKE MY MEDS.
Dorothea dimpled and brought forth a quick curtsy. She said, “You looked brilliant!” in clear reference to his dancing. “Who’s she?” she asked.
“That,” he said with some pride, “is KJ Fowler, the number one tapper in the UK.”
KJ Fowler was still calling out the steps. When the music ended, another piece began. “Johnny Got a Boom Boom,” came over the speakers. Kaz said to them, “Put your shoes on, ladies. It’s time to buck.”
He bucked his way back to the platform, where KJ Fowler was executing a series of steps that made the efforts of those attempting to follow her look like the Underground in rush hour. Dorothea’s eyes were alight. “Shoes,” she told Barbara.
At the side of the room, they put on their tap shoes. While Barbara desperately sought a believable reason for sudden paralysis, Dorothea pulled her onto the floor. A cramp roll was being executed on stage by KJ Fowler, and Kaz followed this—upon her instruction—with a dizzying combination of steps that only a fool would have attempted to emulate. Nonetheless there were takers, Dorothea among them. Barbara stepped to one side to observe. She had to admit it: Dorothea was good. She was, in fact, on her way to a solo. And with Barbara and the Muslim women as her main competitors, she was going to be there before she knew it.
They managed close to twenty minutes in the Jam Mash. Barbara was dripping sweat and thinking about the possibility of making an escape without Dorothea noticing when the music stopped—for which she fervently thanked God—and KJ Fowler informed them that time was up. At first Barbara thought this meant a blessed escape. But then KJ announced a real treat for them all. It seemed that Tap Jazz Fury were paying a visit to Ella D’s.
Shouts and applause greeted this news as a small jazz band appeared out of nowhere. The assembled crowd got to it when the band did its stuff. Some of the dancers, Barbara had to admit, were so fleet of foot that she gave half a thought to continuing with tap, just to see if she could become one tenth as skilled.
It was, however, only half a thought, and it was interrupted by a vibration emanating from the area of her waistband. There she’d tucked her mobile phone, for although she’d committed to this Thursday evening extravaganza of tap dancing, she was still on rota. A vibrating phone meant only one thing. The job was ringing her.
She excavated for the phone and glanced at it. Detective Chief Superintendent Isabelle Ardery. She generally rang Barbara only when Barbara had committed some malefaction or another, so before answering, Barbara did a quick look-see at her conscience. It seemed clear.
Considering the level of noise, she knew she’d have to take the call elsewhere, so she tapped Dorothea on the shoulder, held up the mobile, and mouthed Ardery. Dorothea wailed, “Oh no,” but of course she knew there was nothing for it. Barbara had to answer.
Still, she wasn’t able to get to it before the call went to message. She shouldered her way out of the room and made for the ladies’, down the corridor. Once inside, she listened, and the DCS’s message was brief. “You’re being called off rota, ring me at once, and why the devil aren’t you answering in the first place, Sergeant?”
Barbara returned the call, and before Ardery could cook up an accusation about why she hadn’t answered, Barbara said, “Sorry, guv. Noisy where I am. Couldn’t get to you fast enough. What’s up?”
“You’re going up to West Mercia Headquarters,” Ardery told her without preamble.
“I’m . . . But what’ve I done? I’ve not once been out of order since—”
“Ratchet down the paranoia,” Ardery cut in. “I said you’re going, not being reassigned. Bring a packed bag tomorrow and get to work early.”
Isabelle Ardery had quickly concluded that the investigation she’d been told to conduct was going to be awkward. An enquiry by the police into the police was always touchy. An investigation by one police body into another owing to a death of a suspect in custody was much worse. Worst of all, however, was the intrusion of anyone from the government into the mechanics of a police enquiry. Yet within minutes of reaching the office of Assistant Commissioner Sir David Hillier, Isabelle understood she’d be dealing with all of this.
Behind her secretarial desk, Judi-with-an-i MacIntosh gave a modest indication of what was afoot, telling Isabelle to go in directly as Sir David was awaiting her arrival, with a member of Parliament. “No one I’ve heard of,” she admitted, which told Isabelle that the MP in question was an obscure back-bencher.
“Do you know the name?” she asked Judi before she turned the knob on the door.
“Quentin Walker,” the secretary replied. She added, “Not the least idea why he’s here, but they’ve been talking for sixty-five minutes.”
Quentin Walker turned out to be an MP representing Birmingham. As Isabelle opened the door, he and Hillier rose from chairs drawn round a small conference table on which a carafe of coffee stood, two cups of which were already in use. A third awaited. Once introductions had been made, Hillier indicated that she was to help herself, and she did so.
The AC made short work of telling her that on the twenty-fifth of March in the jurisdiction of the West Mercia police, someone had died while in police custody. The incident had been investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission as per usual, and although the IPCC had concluded that things had gone badly amiss, the investigators had also concluded that there was no reason to pass their report along to the Crown Prosecution Service, as there was no criminal charge that could be laid at anyone’s feet. It was a straightforward suicide.
Isabelle glanced at Quentin Walker. There seemed to be no reason for him to be there unless this death took place while someone was in custody in Birmingham, the MP’s bailiwick. But the location of the death—in the jurisdiction of the West Mercia police force— indicated that this could not be the case.
She said, “Who was the victim?”
“Bloke called Ian Druitt.”
“And where was he in custody?”
Curious. Ludlow was not even near Birmingham. Isabelle glanced at Quentin Walker another time.
The MP’s face was impassive, but she took in that he was a nice-looking man with a head of well-groomed chestnut hair and hands that appeared as if he’d never ventured anywhere in the vicinity of manual labour. He also had extraordinarily gorgeous skin. Isabelle wondered if someone appeared in his parliamentary office daily to shave him and administer the hot towels afterwards.
“Why was Druitt in custody? Do we know?” Isabelle asked.
Again, Hillier was the one to answer. “Child molestation.” His
voice was dry.
“Ah.” Isabelle set her coffee cup on its saucer. “What’s the brief, exactly?” She was still waiting to hear from Quentin Walker. He can’t have come to the Met on a social call. He was also at least a decade younger than Hillier, so that eliminated the old school tie.
“Hanged himself while waiting to be fetched from Ludlow to the Shrewsbury custody suite,” Hillier told her. “He’d been taken to the Ludlow station pending the arrival of patrol officers.” He lifted his shoulders, but his look was regretful. “It was quite a cock-up.”
“But why was he taken to the Ludlow nick in the first place? Why not directly to Shrewsbury?”
“Someone seems to have felt that the allegations called for immediate action. As there’s a police station in Ludlow—”
“Was no one watching him?”
“The station’s unmanned.”
Isabelle looked from Hillier to the MP and back to Hillier. A suicide in an unmanned police station wasn’t a cock-up. It was a disaster that heralded a serious lawsuit.
It was very odd, then, that the complaints commission had taken a decision not to hand their report over to the Crown Prosecutors. The affair was irregular and Isabelle had a feeling that the answer Hillier gave to her next question was going to make it more irregular still.
“Who made the arrest?”
“Ludlow’s PCSO. He did exactly what he was told to do: pick the bloke up, take him into the Ludlow station, and wait for patrol officers to come from Shrewsbury to fetch him.”
“I know I don’t need to mention how strange this is, sir. Ludlow’s community support officer making the arrest? The newspaper must have had a field day with that once this bloke . . . what was his name again . . . Druitt, was it? Once he killed himself. Why on earth didn’t the complaints commission kick this along to the Crown Prosecutors?”
“As I’ve said, they investigated—the IPCC—but there was simply nothing to prosecute. It was a disciplinary matter, not a criminal act. Still, the fact that Druitt had been taken to wait at an unmanned station, the fact that a police community support officer had made the arrest, the fact that the suicide was about to be questioned on the topic of child molestation . . . You see the problem.”
Isabelle did. Cops hated paedophiles. That did not bode well if a paedophile died in custody. But for there to be anything additional required—once the IPCC had concluded its investigation with the decision of no criminality—indicated that something more was going on.
She said to the MP, “I don’t understand why you’re here, Mr. Walker. Are you somehow involved?”
“The death appears suspicious.” Quentin Walker took a white handkerchief from the breast pocket of his jacket and pressed it delicately to his lips.
Isabelle said, “But it obviously wasn’t suspicious to the IPCC if they concluded suicide. It’s unfortunate. It sounds like dereliction of duty on the part of the PCSO. But why is it suspicious?”
Walker told her that Ian Druitt had established an after-school club for boys and girls, associated with the parish church of St. Laurence in Ludlow. It was a successful organisation and much admired. Not the slightest breath of scandal had ever touched it, and none of the children involved with the club had ever come forward with a single concern about Druitt. These facts alone had raised questions in certain quarters. Those quarters had turned to their member of Parliament in order to produce some answers.
“But Ludlow isn’t part of the area you represent,” Isabelle said. “Which seems to suggest that the ‘certain quarters’ you refer to have a personal connection to you or to the dead man. Is that right?”
Walker glanced at Hillier. The look suggested to Isabelle that her questions had somehow reassured the man. She prickled at this outward sign of the doubts he apparently had about her. It was infuriating that women were still considered so bloody secondary in the world, even here.
“Is there a personal connection, Mr. Walker?”
“One of my constituents is Clive Druitt,” he told her. “Are you familiar with the name?”
It sounded only vaguely familiar. She couldn’t place it, so she shook her head.
“Druitt Craft Breweries,” the MP said. “Combination brewery and gastropub. He started his first one in Birmingham. Now there are eight.”
Which meant he probably had money, Isabelle thought. Which meant he had the MP’s attention when he wanted it. She said, “His relationship to the dead man?”
“Ian Druitt was his son. Understandably Clive doesn’t believe his son might have been a paedophile. Nor does he believe he was a suicide.”
What parent ever wanted to believe his child was engaged in criminal behavior? Isabelle thought. But surely a thorough investigation into the suicide in custody had told the dead man’s father that, as regrettable and terrible as it was, Ian Druitt had died at his own hand. The MP must have explained this to Mr. Druitt. As far as Isabelle could see, there was no reason to involve the Met.
She said, with a glance at Hillier, “I still don’t quite see—”
Hillier cut in, “There’ve been enormous cutbacks in the force up there. Mr. Walker is asking us to make certain those cutbacks have no bearing on anything related to this suicide.” He’d emphasised one word: certain. It would be her job to assign someone to smooth the waters of Mr. Druitt’s concern in order to avoid a lawsuit. This didn’t please her, but she knew better than to argue with the assistant commissioner.
She said, “I can spare Philip Hale, sir. He’s just finished—”
“I’d like you to handle this personally, Isabelle. It’s going to require quite a delicate hand.”
She kept her expression steady. This was an assignment for a detec- tive inspector at most. Even if that were not the case, the last thing she needed at the moment was to be asked to travel up to Shropshire. She said, “If we’re speaking of delicate hands, this sounds like something more suited to DI Lynley.”
“Perhaps. But I’d like you to take it on. With Detective Sergeant Havers, by the way. I daresay she’ll be an excellent second. As she acquitted herself so well in Dorset, doubtless she’ll do the same in Shropshire.”
Isabelle did not miss the implicit message here. Having received it, she finally recognised the matter in hand. She said, “Ah. Yes. I hadn’t thought of the sergeant. I do agree, sir.”
Hillier twitched a smile in her direction and said, “I did think you would.” He then turned to the MP and went on. “I’ll be frank, Mr. Walker. We’re stretched thin everywhere and that’s owing to decisions that have been taken by the government. We can give you five days only. After that, DCS Ardery and DS Havers must return to London.”
Walker seemed wise enough not to argue the point. He said, “Thank you, Commissioner. Understood. Let me be frank as well. I was opposed to what’s been done to reduce the police force nationally. You have a friend in me. You’ll have more of a friend when this is completed.”
He took his leave soon after that. Hillier had already gestured Isabelle to remain where she was. When the door had closed upon the member of Parliament, Hillier returned to his seat. He examined Isabelle, and his look was speculative.
“I trust,” he said, “that this adventure in Shropshire will suffice to meet our ends at long last?”
Isabelle fully understood the AC’s plan. “That would be my intention,” she told him.
At home later, Isabelle turned her attention to packing for her trip to the Midlands. First, however, she sought the vodka. She’d already had one martini, but she told herself that she was owed another as the day had been long and the developments had been unexpected.
As she sorted out underwear, trousers, jerseys, and nightclothes for the Midlands jaunt, she enjoyed the cocktail. She’d taken to stirring instead of shaking the vodka and the ice, which provided the drink with so much more power to alter the way she looked at life. And she needed to start seeing life differently now, thanks to her shit former husband and his Necessary Career Step, Isabelle. You might consider coming out at holidays, he’d told her with unctuous pleasantry. We’ll have a big enough house, and if that doesn’t appeal, no doubt there’ll be suitable hotels nearby. Or B & B’s? That wouldn’t be bad, would it? And, no, before you ask. The boys may not come to spend holidays with you. It’s out of the question.
Isabelle would not give her former husband the pleasure of hearing her upset. Were she even to say, Please, Bob, she knew where that would take them: into the realm of You Know Why This Is Necessary. That would lead them directly into their shared history, yet another pointless discussion that would deteriorate quickly into accusations and denials. There was no point.
She finished her martini before she finished her packing. There was little enough left to do, so she knew she couldn’t bugger anything up at this point. She was quite pleased with her level of sobriety, so she topped up her martini and then slipped the bottle of vodka carefully into her suitcase. She’d not been sleeping well lately, and she’d sleep worse in a bed that was not her own. The vodka would act as a soporific. No harm in that.
Having completed her preparations for the trip and having also placed her suitcase by the door, she finally went to the phone. She knew both of his numbers by heart, and she punched in one of them, ringing his home and not his mobile. If he wasn’t there, she’d leave a message. She didn’t want to disturb him if he was spending the night elsewhere.
Lynley recognised her voice, as he would do. He sounded surprised and, so completely like him, rather suspicious. After, “Guv. Hullo,” he went on with, “Everything all right?” far too casually.
She schooled herself. Proper diction and cool assurance were called for. She said, “Quite fine, Tommy. Am I interrupting something?” which was a veiled way of saying, “Is Daidre with you?” and “Are you and she in the midst of what lovers are often in the midst of after ten o’clock at night?”
“You’re interrupting something, but it can wait,” Lynley said pleasantly. “Charlie has persuaded me to go over his lines with him. Have I mentioned that he’s captured quite a good role in a Mamet play? Admittedly, it’s not the West End. It’s not actually in London at all. But apparently as long as it’s somewhere in the Home Counties, one is meant to be impressed.”
A voice spoke in the background. Isabelle recognised it as belonging to Charlie Denton. Denton had long kept lodgings in Thomas Lynley’s Belgravia townhouse. In exchange for room and board, he acted as manservant, valet, cook, housekeeper, and general dogsbody, with the understanding that he would require time off to audition for anything of a thespian nature that came along. So far he’d managed a few small roles here and there, but mostly there.
“Yes, of course, you’re absolutely right,” Lynley was answering Charlie. “It’s Mamet that counts.” And then to Isabelle, “He’s also waiting for a callback from the BBC.”
“His experience here in Eaton Terrace has given him—what do they call it?—serious street cred when it comes to roles in costume dramas. If his luck holds, he’s to be an irascible footman in a twelve-part series taking place in the 1890s. He’s asking one and all to keep fingers crossed.”
“Tell him mine are.”
“He’ll be delighted.”
“D’you have a few moments?”
“Of course. We’re finished up here. Or at least I am. Charlie could go on till dawn. Has something come up?”
Isabelle gave him an abbreviated version: suicide, the West Mercia police, the IPCC, a member of Parliament, and his wealthy constituent. At the conclusion, Lynley said what was logical: “If the IPCC have indicated that there’s no further case to pursue, what does Walker expect someone to find?”
“It’s all pro forma, a pouring of oil on the water with the Met doing the pouring for an MP who’ll doubtless be called upon later to repay the favour.”
“That sounds like Hillier.”
“Doesn’t it just.”
“When would you like me to leave? I’ve a jaunt down to Cornwall I intended to make, but that could easily be put off.”
“I do need you to put it off, Tommy, but not in order to head to the Midlands.”
“Ah. Then who . . . ?”
“Hillier’s asked me to take this on.”
Lynley’s silence greeted this. He, too, knew how irregular it was that she would be doing a job that generally would have been taken up by a member of their department whom she outranked. Additionally, there was the not small matter of who was going to replace her while she was gone.
In answer to this, she said, “I’m leaving you in my place. This Midlands situation isn’t going to require a great deal of time, so you won’t have to put off Cornwall for long. I do hope all’s well, by the way.”
She was speaking of his family, living in Cornwall on what was purported to be a walloping great estate somewhere near the coast, which they’d so far managed to hold together without having had to wave the white flag and hand the heap over to the National Trust or English Heritage. He reassured her. This was merely something of an annual trip, he told her, made slightly complicated this season by his sister and her adolescent daughter having sold up in Yorkshire to join his mother and brother in Cornwall. “But, as I said, the trip’s easily put off,” he finished.
“That’s helpful, Tommy. I know you’re owed the time, by the way.”
They had now reached the more delicate part of the conversation. Thomas Lynley was many things—urbane, educated, blue-blooded, and in possession of a dusty old title that he probably used to book tables more easily at London’s most renowned restaurants—but the one thing he wasn’t was a fool. He’d know something was up and he’d work it out soon enough. Still, since she was leaving him in charge, she had to tell him, so she said, “I’ll be taking Sergeant Havers with me. She’s reporting to work with her rucksack packed, in case you arrive after she and I have left and you begin wondering where she’s got herself off to.”
This, too, was met by silence. Isabelle could picture the wheels
spinning in Lynley’s brain. He arrived quickly at, “Isabelle, wouldn’t it be wiser—”
“Guv,” she corrected him.
“Guv,” he agreed. “Sorry. As to having Barbara accompany you . . . Wouldn’t DS Nkata be the better choice? Considering what’s happened, isn’t this going to require . . . well, a softer touch?”
Of course Nkata would be the better choice. Winston Nkata was a man who knew an order when he heard one, a skilled detective who had so far managed without a hint of difficulty to work in concert with the entire cast of detectives under her command. DS Nkata was the better choice for virtually anything. But he did not suit her larger purpose, and Lynley was certain to winkle that out.
“I’d like to witness Barbara back in form,” she told him. “She’s had some success since that Italian business and this is—at least for me— her final hurdle.”
“Are you saying that if Barbara manages to carry off this enquiry without”—Lynley seemed to search for a term, choosing—“without colouring outside the lines, you’ll tear up the transfer paperwork?”
“Destroying her girlish dreams of a future in Berwick-upon-Tweed? I shall put the paperwork through the shredder,” she assured him.
While he seemed satisfied, she knew he would harbour enough suspicions about her intentions towards Barbara Havers that the first thing he’d do upon ringing off would be to contact the detective sergeant and give her a talking to that he hoped would get through to the exasperating woman. She could almost hear it: “Barbara,” in that smooth voice of his, a mixture of Eton and received pronunciation, “this is an opportunity to determine your future. May I encourage you to see it that way?”
“I’m on board,” Havers would tell him. “On it, over it, under it, and whatever you want. I’ll even do without fags on the drive up there. That should impress, eh?”
“What will impress,” he would counter, “is the offering of ideas instead of arguments, a dress sense that speaks of professionalism, and an adherence to procedure at all times. Are we clear?”
“As water in the Caribbean,” she would say breezily. “Trust me, Inspector, I won’t cock things up.”
“See that you don’t,” would be his final remark. He would then ring off, but he would have his doubts. No one knew Barbara Havers better than her long-time partner. Cocking things up was her stock-in-trade.
Isabelle had very little doubt that she was providing Barbara Havers with sufficient rope. She herself merely had to stand back from the gallows in order to have a better view as the body plunged through the trapdoor.