Lesley’s only supposed to do so much magic per day. It’s one of the conditions laid down by Dr Walid when he signed off on her apprenticeship. Plus she has to keep a log on what magic she does do and once a week she has to schlep over to the UCH and stick her head in an MRI while Dr Walid checks her brain for the lesions that are the early signs of hyperthaumaturgical degradation. The price of using too much magic is a massive stroke, if you’re lucky, or a fatal brain aneurysm, if you’re not. The fact that, prior to the advent of magnetic resonance imaging, the first warning sign of overuse was dropping dead is one of the many reasons why magic has never really taken off as a hobby.

‘Five minutes,’ she said.

We compromised and called it six.

Detective Inspector Thomas Nightingale is my boss, my governor and my master – purely in the teacher– pupil teacher sense of the term, you understand – and on Sundays we generally have an early dinner in the so- called private dining room. He’s a shade shorter than me, slim, brown hair, grey eyes, looks forty but is much, much older. While he doesn’t routinely dress for dinner he always gives me the strong impression that he only holds back out of a courtesy to me.

We were having pork in plum sauce, although for some reason Molly felt that the ideal side dish was Yorkshire pudding and cabbage sauteed with sugar. As usual Lesley chose to eat in her room – I didn’t blame her; it’s hard to eat a Yorkshire pud with dignity.

‘I’ve got a little jaunt into the countryside for you tomorrow,’ said Nightingale.

‘Oh yeah?’ I asked. ‘Where to this time?’

‘Henley-on-Thames,’ said Nightingale.

‘What’s in Henley?’ I asked.

‘A possible Little Crocodile,’ said Nightingale. ‘Professor Postmartin did a bit of digging for us and uncovered some additional members.’

‘Everybody wants to be a detective,’ I said.

Although Postmartin, as keeper of the archives and old Oxford hand himself, was uniquely suited to tracking down those students we thought might have been illegally taught magic. At least two of these had graduated to total bastard evil magician status, one active back in the 1960s and one who was alive and well and had tried to knock me off a roof back in the summer. We’d been five storeys up so I took it personally.

‘I believe Postmartin has always fancied himself as an amateur sleuth,’ said Nightingale. ‘Particularly if it’s largely a matter of gathering university gossip. He thinks he’s found one in Henley and another residing in our fair city – at the Barbican no less. I want you to drive up to Henley tomorrow and have a sniff around, see if he’s a practitioner. You know the drill. Lesley and I shall visit the other.’

I mopped up the plum sauce with the last of my Yorkshire pudding. ‘Henley’s a bit off my patch,’ I said.

‘All the more reason for you to expand your horizons,’ said Nightingale, ‘I did think you might combine it with a “pastoral” visit to Beverley Brook. I believe she’s currently living on that stretch of the Thames.’

On the Thames, or in it? I wondered.

‘I’d like that,’ I said.

‘I thought you might,’ said Nightingale.

For some inexplicable reason the Metropolitan Police don’t have a standard form for ghosts so I had to bodge one together on an Excel spreadsheet. In the old days every police station used to have a collator – an officer whose job it was to maintain boxes of card files full of information on local criminals, old cases, gossip and anything else that might allow the blue-uniformed champions of justice to kick down the right door. Or at least a door in the right neighbourhood. There’s actually a collator’s office preserved at Hendon College, a dusty room lined wall to wall and top to bottom with index-card boxes. Cadets are shown this room and told, in hushed terms, of the far-off days of the last century, when all the information was written down on pieces of paper. These days, provided you have the right access, you log into your AWARE terminal to access CRIS, for crime reports, Crimint+, for criminal intelligence, NCALT, for training programmes, or MERLIN, which deals with crimes against or involving children, and get your information within seconds.

The Folly, being the official repository of the stuff that right-thinking police officers don’t want to talk about and, least of all, have floating around the electronic reporting system for any Tom, Dick or Daily Mail reporter to get hold of, gets its information the old-fashioned way – by word of mouth. Most of it goes to Nightingale, who writes it out, in a very legible hand I might add, on paper which I then file after transferring the basics to a 5x3 card which goes into the appropriate section of the mundane library’s index-card catalogue.

Unlike Nightingale, I type up my reports on my laptop, using my spreadsheet form, print them and then file them in the library. I estimate that the mundane library has over three thousand files, not counting all the ghost- spotting books left uncollated in the 1930s. One day I was going to get it all onto a database – possibly by teaching Molly to type.

Paperwork done, I did half an hour, all I could stand, of Pliny the Elder, whose lasting claim to fame is for writing the first encyclopaedia and sailing a tad too close to Vesuvius on its big day. Then I took Toby for a walk round Russell Square, popped in for a pint in the Marquis and then back to the Folly and bed.

In a unit consisting of one chief inspector and one constable it is not the chief inspector who is on call in the middle of the night. After accidentally burning out three mobiles I’d taken to leaving mine turned off while inside the Folly. But this meant that in the event of a work-related call Molly would answer the phone downstairs and then inform me by silently standing in my bedroom doorway until I woke up out of sheer creepiness. Leaving a ‘please knock’ sign on my door had no effect, nor did locking it firmly and wedging a chair under the doorknob. Now, I love Molly’s cooking but she nearly ate me once. So the thought of her gliding into my room uninvited while I was kipping meant I found myself getting very little in the way of useful sleep. So by dint of a couple of days of hard work and with the assistance of a curator from the Science Museum I ran a coaxial extension up into my bedroom.

Now when the mighty army for justice that is the Metropolitan Police needs my specialist services it sends a signal up a jacketed copper wire and sets off an electromagnetic bell in a bakelite phone that was manufactured five years before my dad was born. It’s like being woken up by a musical jackhammer but it’s better than the alternative.

Lesley calls it the bat phone.

It woke me up just past three o’clock in the morning.

‘Get up, Peter,’ said Detective Inspector Stephanopoulos. ‘It’s time for you to do some proper policing.’



Baker Street

I miss the company of other police. Don’t get me wrong, my assignment at the Folly has given me a shot at Detective Constable at least two years ahead of schedule, but what with the current unit complement being me, Detective Inspector Nightingale and, possibly soon, PC Lesley May it’s not like I go about my duties mob-handed. It’s one of those things you don’t miss until it’s gone, the smell of wet waterproofs in the locker room, the rush for a terminal in the PCs’ writing room on a Friday morning when they put the new jobs on the system, grunting and joking at the six AM briefing. That feeling of there being a lot of you in one place all mainly caring about the same stuff.

Which was why, when I saw the sea of blue lights outside Baker Street Underground Station, it was a little bit like coming home. Rising out of the lights was the three-metre statue of Sherlock Holmes complete with deerstalker and hash pipe – there to oversee our detective work and ensure that it was held to the highest fictional standards. The metal lattice gates were folded back and a couple of PCs from the British Transport Police were tucked inside as if hiding from Sherlock’s stern gaze but more likely because it was freezing. They barely looked at

Вы читаете Whispers Under Ground
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату